David Womble responds to Rithika Ramamurthy

Rithika Ramamurthy sees an intriguing question of resistance—whether social systems leave any possibility for internally generated resistance that the system cannot colonize or reference for its own purposes—latent in Steinlight’s account of a misalignment between systems of population management and the populations they produce. Resistance is especially interesting here, given Daniel T. Kasper’s sense that this same dynamic in Steinlight’s argument is actually what liberalism relies on to justify itself. The proliferation of surplus populations seems both to destabilize the system, and to provide a very particular kind of destabilization that serves as grist for the mill of liberalism’s constitutive demarcation between what is internal to the social body and what is external. It is telling that two such astute readers each can sustain and interrogate one side or the other of this paradox; Steinlight’s Foucauldian model captures something that Foucault himself seldom acknowledges, namely, the ambivalence and overdetermination of historical causality. A single cultural force, such as the systematic designation of some populations as disposable, tends to work in at least two directions at once—in this case, producing not only spectacular forms of resistance in the French Revolution and 1848, but also (perhaps the more pernicious legacy) post-Burkean conservatism.

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