Seyla Benhabib
Stanford Humanities Center




On the public and the private:

“All struggles against oppression in the modern world begin by redefining what had previously been  considered private, non-public, and nonpolitical issues as matters of public concern, as issues of  justice, as sites of power that need discursive  legitimation.”

Seyla Benhabib in: Habermas and the Public Sphere, Craig Calhoun, ed.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992.

On democracy and culture:

“[T]he task of democratic equality is to create impartial  institutions in the public sphere and civil society where the struggle for the recognition of  cultural differences and contestation for cultural narratives can take place without domination.”

Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

On feminism and postmodernist views that reject autonomous subjectivity:

“[They] undermine the feminist commitment to women's agency and sense of selfhood, to the reappropriation of women's own history in the name of an emancipated future, and to the exercise of radical social criticism which uncovers gender  ‘in all its endless variety and monotonous similarity’.”

Seyla Benhabib, “Feminism and Postmodernism: An Uneasy Alliance,”
Praxis International
, vol. 11, no. 2 (July 1991), p. 146.

On multiculturalism:

“The term ‘multiculturalism’ has been used in recent discussions to refer to phenomena ranging from the integration of migrant workers and postcolonials into European nation- states like France and Germany, to the right of the Francophone community in Quebec to assert its cultural, linguistic, and political autonomy, to debates about teaching the “canon” of the Western tradition in philosophy, literature and the arts. Because of its confusing deployment in all these instances, the term has practically lost meaning . . .”

Seyla Benhabib, Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996, p. 17.

On taking ideas seriously, the embeddedness of philosophers and academic philosophy’s relation to culture:

“Citizens in a republic of voyeurs, we are intent on microscopic moralism, incapable of appreciating more gracefully the contradictions, tensions, and ragged edges of all lives and unwilling to take ideas seriously, as something more than bandages for personal wounds. [We must ask philosophers what] was their understanding of the relationship between reason and culture? Is education the key to the acquisition of human reason? What is culture? And when we do that, we link our efforts at historical interpretation and contextualization with our own efforts to join the debate and engage hard questions about morality, politics, and history, rather than using historical interpretation as a way to satisfy a suspicion, evade these questions, and pretend that we already know their answers.”

Seyla Benhabib, “Taking Ideas Seriously: Can We Distinguish Political Choices
from Philosophical Truths?” Boston Review, Dec. 2002 / Jan. 2003.

On the politics of culture:

“The emergence of ‘culture’ as an arena of intense political contestation and controversy is certainly one of the most puzzling aspects of our current condition. We are daily confronted with various ‘culture wars’ and skirmishes. From Supreme Court decisions concerning the right of performance artists to smear themselves with excrement-like substances to the rebuke of the so-called ‘cultural left’ by Richard Rorty and Todd Gitlin, from struggles over how to preserve historical memory through public art works to constitutional decisions…that orally transmitted documents of Native American peoples could be used as legitimate evidence in the eyes of the law, the politics of culture surrounds us.”

 Seyla Benhabib, “The Liberal Imagination and the Four Dogmas of Multiculturalism,”
The Yale Journal of Criticism
, vol. 12, no. 2 (1999), 401-413.

On citizenship and the rights of others:

“The rights of foreigners and aliens, whether they be refugees or guest workers, asylum seekers or adventurers, indicates the threshold, the boundary, at the site of which identity of the ‘we, the people’ is defined and renegotiated, bounded and unraveled, circumscribed or rendered fluid.”

Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 177.

On cosmopolitanism:

“Cosmopolitanism [...] then is a philosophical project of mediations, not of reductions or of totalizations. Cosmopolitanism is not equivalent to a global ethic or such; nor is it adequate to characterize cosmopolitanism through cultural attitudes and choices alone. I follow the Kantian tradition in thinking of cosmopolitanism as the emergence of norms that ought to govern relations among individuals in a global civil society. These norms are neither merely moral nor just legal. They may best be characterized as framing the ‘morality of law’ but in a global rather than domestic context. They signal the eventual legalization and juridification of the rights claims of human beings everywhere, regardless of their membership in bounded communities.”

Seyla Benhabib, et al., Another Cosmpolitanism, Robert Post, ed.
Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 20.

On the Public Sphere, Deliberation, Journalism and Dignity:

“We are facing a generation who is getting all its information online. The consequence is that one’s points of reference are so multiple that they may not intersect and a common world may not emerge. But fragmentation can also bring effervescence. One medium that is in great crisis is television. I would like to see a citizens’ forum, rather than these continuously self-referential talking heads and so-called experts. We extend the boundaries of our sympathy by understanding the conditions of others who may be radically different than us.... At its best journalism does this; it extends your vision of the world by making you see the world through the eyes of the others.”

Seyla Benhabib, interviewed by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen (21 July 2008).

On the existential question that moves her scholarly and political life:

“[M]ost people who do philosophy…have a certain central question, an existential question that accompanies most of their lives. You write different works, you write different books, but I believe that you are basically asking the same question.  For me, the issue starting already in that work [her dissertation on Hegel and Natural Right] was how to reconcile universalistic principles of human rights, autonomy, and freedom with our concrete identity as members of certain human communities divided by language, by ethnicity, by religion.”

Conversation with Seyla Benhabib, Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, 2004.

On the vocation and passion of political philosophy:

“[It] is a vocation for thinking about the political. Not just the just day-to-day politics, but about the phenomenon of the political, that all communities of any degree of complexity organize themselves according to certain principles of justice, equality, reciprocity, and authority. These are anthropological universals…But there also has to be a passion about politics. There has to be a passionate involvement with it. You must care about the world around you to really want to bring the principles of philosophy to bear upon the world, rather than simply seeing the world as fallen.”

Conversation with Seyla Benhabib, Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, 2004.

Selections by Tony Angiletta, Morrison Curator for the Social Sciences and Population Studies.
Stanford University Libraries & Academic Information Resources ©2008



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