Justifying Subversion: Why Nussbaum Got (the Better Interpretation of) Butler Wrong

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Herstein, Ori J.
Feminist theory; Social ethics; Judith Butler; Martha C. Nussbaum; Poststructuralism; Deconstruction; Law and Politics; Law and Society
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One of the most common critiques directed at deconstructive and poststructuralist theories is that they are amoral – rejecting the validity of the very idea of norms and moral principles as grounds for justifying or criticizing political action and social structures – and that in rejecting the validity of the distinction between what is just and what is unjust, they “collaborate with evil.” By now, an almost canonical example of this common critique is found in Martha Nussbaum’s highly critical essay on the work of Judith Butler, titled The Professor of Parody.3 Here, I focus on Nussbaum’s critique and on Butler’s work as examples of the “common critique” and of deconstruction and poststructuralism in political theory. I argue that the more modest and sounder understanding of Butler – taken as a deconstructive and poststructuralist theorist – is not susceptible to these accusations of amorality and collaboration with evil.