Defending Shklar: A Counterargument of Sorts

The previous article about Shklar was rather harsh; although I had a lot of problems with the dense, unorganized structure of her book, I didn’t think her ideas were quite as reprehensible as the previous author thought. Considering the substance of Shklar’s work, I don’t think anyone (except Jennet who’s probably read this text a hundred times) can make an “I 100% know what she’s trying to say” statement, but here are my 2 cents about what I took from Shklar.

“Judith Shklar argues that individuals who have been left out of the ‘club’ of citizenship in the past are only concerned because of social standing implied, that no one wants to be beneath another individual,” starts the post. The main problem I have with this assertion is the use of the word only. I see Shklar’s main point as: the significance of citizenship in the United States today is defined by historical exclusion…and it’s an assertion that makes sense. Can you think of any “idea” today that’s not defined in relative terms? What’s joy without sorrow? How does one define good without evil? Defining “citizenship” may not be quite as much of a metaphysical cluster(CENSORED), but I think Shklar had a parallel thought process when writing this book.

She’s saying because of this historical exclusion, people care about the concept of citizenship more than the consequences of citizenship. She’s not necessarily making the assertion that nobody cares about voting or participating in the government. Think about two siblings: the older sibling is given a bigger dinner portion than the younger one. The one who is given nothing will request a bigger portion even though he or she may not be able to finish all of the food because the concept of exclusion bothers him/her. Shklar is simply saying the concept is valued more than the act of participation.

It’s all fun and the games…until somebody doesn’t get a pony.

Shklar is like a modern day Aristotle in the sense that she doesn’t think everybody should  participate in politics. In fact, she takes it one step further and claims that not everybody even wants to participate. Her target is not the individual who is actively involved in politics. She is denouncing people who use the rhetoric of the democratic wish. She is denouncing those people who are “wet-dreaming” about Athens, those who think that a perfect democracy can be achieved in the real world. She thinks that some aspects of Civic Republicanism are total BS, and that most people don’t want the civic republican idea of active participation in the government. BUT she never explicitly advocates taking the vote away from people (not to mention turning the US into Cuba).

Imma let you finish, but Shklar has one of the best books of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Shklar DOES NOT “imply that citizens don’t care about voicing their opinions of the government.” She is saying that 100% participation in politics is a “utopian idea”, and that people will not care about voicing their opinions until they find themselves excluded, or “out the doors” in some way. And when they are excluded, they will definitely voice out to protect their “standing” as a citizen.

Shklar is making general conclusions, and I don’t think it’s valid to extrapolate too far from what is in the text. The previous author is an apotheosis for the idea of Athens: “Regardless of whether people want to inconvenience themselves to better their political representation, it is their responsibility as a citizen.” I am playing Devil’s Advocate and taking up Aristotle’s side.

Feel free to join in on the debate-like festivities! Considering this blog is a forum for intellectual exchange, I would really love for someone to point out any important one-liners that I might have missed (I’m the first to admit I found the Shklar text to be super complicated). $10 for the person who can change my mind…OK, it might have to be $1 because I’m kind of broke at the moment.

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3 Responses to Defending Shklar: A Counterargument of Sorts

  1. beneikey says:

    Unfortunately, I agree with your argument, so no attempt at getting the dollar bill here. One thought that did cross my mind however while reading Shklar’s book was about voting and the contrast between public and private actions. Voting is one of the most private actions that we do within our society. However, it has been at the very forefront of nearly every debate to gain citizenship. I just find it interesting how one thing can speak such truth to two polar ends of the public vs. private spectrum. What do you think?

  2. nmajie says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post. One of the things that I liked the most was your “utopian ideal” argument. I agree that Shklar is not at all advocating for a utopian democracy, but at the same time, is she necessarily condemning it? When you wrote, “Shklar is like a modern day Aristotle in the sense that she doesn’t think everybody should participate in politics,” I began to wonder if Shklar would agree? Shklar believes that the right to vote and the right to earn are the core aspects of citizenship because these two rights influence standing. If someone has both of these rights, they are not obliged to practice them in order to prove their citizenship nor are they advised to never practice them. She understands that not every citizen is looking to practice their right to vote or right to earn. “For the voters, on the other hand, voting is ‘an affirmation of belonging’ rather than the exercise of a right” (Shklar 26). I believe that voting and earning are aspects of citizenship that can either be zealously practiced or just obtained and never practiced. I don’t necessarily agree with you that Shklar would not want everybody to participate in politics; I think that she would be indifferent toward citizenship participation.

    • czli2011 says:

      I think you bring up a good point. Reading back, I notice the language is not so clear. I actually agree with you that Shklar would be indifferent to participation in politics. I was wording it in a way that sets Shklar in opposition to those who believe that everybody must participate in politics.

      Carrying on the Athens example, Athens believed that everybody needed to participate in politics to reach their human potential, or telos. Aristotle believed that it’s ok if not everybody participates in politics, because there are some people who are of lower calibur than others (vulgar mechanics and laborers) who don’t have the virtue necessary to participate in politics. So it’s a rather loose metaphor because Shklar clearly doesn’t believe one group of people is better than another. The word “should” in that sentence would have been better replaced with “doesn’t have to” participate in politics.

      Shklar disagrees with civic republicanism in that not everyone should be required or needs to participate in politics.

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