Hannes Bajohr and Rieke Trimcev about Judith Shklar | EUROtoday

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Von Liberalismus reden viele, wenige meinen dasselbe. Für die amerikanische Politologin Judith N. Shklar gab es nur eine „zu rechtfertigende Bedeutung“ von Liberalismus: „Jeder erwachsene Mensch sollte in der Lage sein, ohne Furcht und Vorurteil so viele Entscheidungen über so viele Aspekte seines Lebens zu fällen, wie es mit der gleichen Freiheit eines jeden anderen erwachsenen Menschen vereinbar ist.“ Die Definition findet sich in Shklars Essay „Der Liberalismus der Furcht“, veröffentlicht 1989, jenem Jahr, in dem die Sowjetunion zusammenbrach und in dem auch Shklars Fachkollege Francis Fukuyama einen (später auf Buchlänge ausgeweiteten) Aufsatz publizierte, in dem er den globalen Siegeszug der liberalen Demokratie und damit das Ende der Geschichte dia­gnostizierte.

Die These war damals optimistisch, heute wirkt sie mindestens blauäugig. Shklar hingegen bietet einen Liberalismus, der nicht weniger selbstbewusst auftritt, sich aber von jeder geschichtsphilosophisch imprägnierten Siegesgewissheit fernhält. Anders als Fukuyama sah sie im Liberalismus eben keine unausweichliche Begleiterscheinung der Moderne. Stattdessen hob sie hervor, dass die Tyrannei in den letzten zwei Jahrhunderten die Regel gewesen sei, liberale Gesellschaften hätten nur kurz und ausnahmsweise prosperiert. Ihr zentraler Gedanke: Liberalismus sollte nicht mit Glücksversprechen und Idealen aufwarten, sondern sich auf die Vermeidung des Schlimmsten konzen­trieren, auf die Eindämmung der Grausamkeit und der Furcht vor Grausamkeit. Denn wer sich fürchtet, der kann nicht frei handeln.

Hannes Bajohr und Rieke Trimçev: „ad Judith N. Shklar“.
Hannes Bajohr and Rieke Trimçev: „ad Judith N. Shklar“.European Publishing House

In the USA, Shklar has long been one of the canonical driving forces of political thought. In this country, the days when her name was only known to the initiated are now over. The philosopher Hannes Bajohr made a significant contribution to this when he began translating and publishing Shklar's writings a good decade ago. Now, together with the political scientist Rieke Trimçev, Bajohr has written an introductory commentary on Shklar's entire work. In addition to a concise sketch of the life and work of the theorist, who died in 1992, it contains three essays in which her thinking is tested on the current battlefields of debates about identity politics, the climate crisis and migration.

Fundamental skepticism

Shklar, who was born to Jewish parents in Riga in 1928 and whose family fled to Canada in 1939 from the Nazis and Communists under adventurous circumstances, is characterized as a typical and idiosyncratic representative of a cohort of intellectuals who narrowly escaped the totalitarian horrors of the twentieth century and wrote from this experience. Shklar also had a fundamental skepticism. As far as her own approaches were concerned, she demonstratively distanced herself from the European metaphysical tradition of thought, to which she nevertheless devoted herself tirelessly as a historian of ideas. In 1956, Shklar received her doctorate from Harvard, and later became one of the first women to receive a professorship there. She was critical of the feminism of her time and even more critical of the student protests.

At first glance, it may seem surprising that Bajohr and Trimçev find in Shklar primarily material that supports today's left-liberal and emancipatory positions, particularly in matters of minority rights, sea rescue and naturalization. But the author duo provides thorough evidence of this reading. Shklar's “The Liberalism of Fear”, their most widely read text, with its seemingly defensive and minimalistic demand to simply avoid cruelty, has sometimes inspired interpretations that attribute its author to conservative or laissez-faire liberalism. A careful examination of the work shows how hasty these interpretations are. In “On Injustice” (1990) in particular, Shklar spelled out her clearly social-liberal basic idea: the freedom of the individual cannot be thought of in isolation from the freedom of the weakest.

The value of “secondary snobbery”

Other makes an attempt to replace Shklar's work have been much less convincing. Especially these involving a French graphic novel concerning the African-American civil rights activist Claudette Colvin. An American writer initially expressed curiosity within the translation, however then raised issues about “cultural appropriation” as a result of the illustrator of Colvin's life story was white. Four years in the past, the French feminist Caroline Fourest denounced this case in her polemic “Generation Insulted” for instance of counterproductive activism that, beneath the flag of anti-racism, solely will get caught up in racializing classes once more.

Trimçev and Bajohr strongly contradict Fourest and consult with Shklar's “secondary snobbery”. This refers back to the “exclusive group formations of like-minded people” that inevitably happen in plural societies. For Shklar, this clique was not a liberal advantage in itself, however definitely of “indirect value”. Because solely amongst “their own kind” can folks expertise true “intimacy, equality and brotherhood”. The indisputable fact that it’s generally an existential necessity for members of a discriminated minority, as Trimçev and Bajohr emphasize, to affix collectively in teams to which the bulk shouldn’t have entry is just not talked about within the snobbery chapter of Shklar's “Normal Vices” (1984), however the thought is however believable. However, the query stays as to what extent the American writer within the case described is a part of a minority that’s worthy of safety. Isn’t it extra of an organization that’s pursuing low cost symbolic politics on the expense of a person, the illustrator?

The “groundlessness of politics”

Fundamentally, nonetheless, the amount can’t be accused of reinterpreting Shklar as a pioneer of identification politics. The basically liberal core of her pondering is clearly labored out: Shklar's dedication to pluralism, her rejection of any “ideology of unity” and any absolutist communal utopia that not tolerates a society round or alongside it. But nothing was set in stone with Shklar. As a lot as she insisted on drawing the road between non-public and public, between injustice and misfortune, she wished this line to be understood as fluid, context- and time-dependent, with out falling into relativism.

Shklar's liberalism didn’t present a security internet of guidelines and constructive directions for motion, however merely an “awareness of the groundlessness of politics” and a tireless train in “liberal judgement,” as Bajohr and Trimçev put it. Both sometimes go just a little recklessly with Shklar, going past Shklar, however however present impressively that the liberalism of worry is just not for the faint-hearted.

Hannes Bajohr and Rieke Trimçev: “ad Judith N. Shklar”. Life – Work – Present. EVA, Hamburg 2024. 284 S., Abb., br., 22,– €.