Cover for Lavin: The Politics of Responsibility. Click for larger image

The Politics of Responsibility

An urgent argument for political responsibility, rooted in responsive action

Politics cannot function without responsibility, but there have been serious disagreements about how responsibility is to be understood and huge controversies about how it is to be distributed, rewarded, legislated, and enforced. The liberal notions of personal responsibility that have dominated political thinking in the West for more than a century are rooted in the familiar territory of individual will and causal blame, but these theories have been assailed as no longer adequate to explain or address the political demands of a global social structure. Informed by Marx, Foucault, and Butler, Chad Lavin argues for a "postliberal" theory of responsibility, formulating responsibility as a process that is anchored in a persistent ability to respond, not reproach. Lavin works this formulation through discussions of contemporary political issues such as globalization, police brutality, and abortion.

Rather than assigning individual blame, postliberal responsibility challenges the supposed autonomy of individual subjects by taking structural arguments into account. Lavin concludes that a liberal concept of responsibility gives rise to a moralistic and oppressive approach to social problems, while a postliberal approach highlights a shared responsibility for developing collective solutions to systemic problems. Postliberal responsibility not only suggests more generous and democratic responses to social ills, it also allows us to theorize a greater range of issues that demand political response.


"[A] fascinating political discussion of a stalwart ethical concept. . . . Recommended."--Choice

"In a timely and provocative theoretical intervention, Lavin deftly critiques liberal notions of responsibility that have consistently forced us to assume political concepts such as limited causality and sovereign individuality. He argues that ontopolitical assumptions hinder our ability to develop truly relevant political responses to a variety of perplexing conditions that we confront in the twenty-first century."--Bradley J. Macdonald, author of Performing Marx: Contemporary Negotiations of a Living Tradition

"A very good job of demonstrating the unavoidability of the question of responsibility and its particular philosophical difficulties. It is often the case that philosophically sophisticated political theorists avoid the hot-button issues of current topics such as globalization, police brutality, and abortion; or, when contemporary issues are addressed, sophisticated analysis gives way to the standard slogans. One of the strengths of Lavin's work is that contemporary debates animate his philosophical discussion."--Jason Read, author of The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory of the Present


Chad Lavin is an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech.

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