Movement : Hagar Kotef
4.1. Three Definitions
Stanton had a long, rich, and at times paradoxical philosophy concerning women’s political status, and simply classifying her as a “liberal feminist” would be misleading. Nevertheless, it is more or less safe to argue that in the first half of the 1850s, during the time our story takes place, her arguments were primarily based on a universalistic logic; focused more on equality than on difference; sought primarily legal equality; and were translated into a form of activism that may best be described as a performance of liberalism.27 Hence, I want to draw on this story to say something about this discourse more broadly. My first claim is that we can see in the bloomer episode a manifestation of Arendt’s brief claim that freedom of movement is the materialization of the liberal concept of liberty.28
Hobbes identified freedom as but “the absence of . . . external impediments of motion.” It was primarily “freedom from chains, and prison,” situated within a minimal matrix wherein the degree of one’s freedom is a function of her available space for movement (“so that a man who is held in custody in a large prison has more liberty than in a cramped one”).29 Accordingly, liberty was, for Hobbes, an attribute of bodies alone. Applying the concept “to any thing but Bodies,” is an “abuse” of the term according to Hobbes, “for that which is not the subject of Motion is not the subject of Impediment.”30 Whereas the corpus of texts that would become the foundation of liberal thought would propose more and more complex and nuanced accounts of freedom that can no longer be reduced to this formulation, at least until the eighteenth century (and as we can see from the bloomer story, to some extent also later) movement continues to serve as a pivot around which liberal notions of freedom obtain material, concrete meanings.
Even Locke—the philosopher who identified freedom with law and with reason (rather than the body), with stability, and even with enclosure—still saw movement as central to freedom. A man is free, Locke argues in the Essay “so far as a man has a power to think, or not to think; to move or not to move, according to the preference or direction of his own mind.”31 One may maintain that the words “according to the preference or direction of his own mind” re-situate the question of liberty within the will, thereby sidelining movement. But Locke saw such an ascription of freedom to will as an absurdity. Freedom, “which is but a power, belongs only to agents, and cannot be an attribute of modification of the will, which is also but a power.”32 The relation between thinking and moving in Locke is more complicated than I can account for here, but ultimately, his concept of freedom is not reducible to volition and is very much attached to the power of locomotion.33
But the bloomer episode enables us to push the claim regarding freedom, movement, and liberalism even further. Movement emerges here as the principle of the materialization of liberal subjectivity, not merely liberal freedom. In other words, we can say that the subject at the core of liberal discourse appears as a subject which is simultaneously corporeal and political—a concrete, embodied political being—in the moments when he/she can be configured as a moving body. Accordingly, in the bloomer campaign, amidst a struggle for political representation which was often reduced to “the vote,” the moving body becomes a conduit through which other modes of oppression could be attached to the body, and essentially corporeal problems (such as health) could appear as political. Addressing the question of movement as a political “thing” is above all to ask how our bodies affect, are affected by, become the vehicle of, or the addressees of political orders, ideologies, institutions, relations, or powers. Asking this question in regard to liberalism entails reading it against the common understanding of this political tradition, which assumes that liberalism perceives and constructs subjects as essentially universal, abstract judicial entities.
The centrality of movement to liberal notions of freedom and citizenship demonstrates that we cannot read these texts as simply putting forth an ontology of abstract subjectivity. My point in this claim is not merely to rehearse the well-established critique that this figure was in fact racialized, classed, or gendered. My point is rather that even within the logic of liberalism the subject at the core of liberal theory has a corporeal dimension: the capacity of locomotion. Movement thus becomes a “pivot of materialization” for the liberal body. Indeed, it is with imprisonment, with the denial of liberty as the freedom of movement, that we first find the right of habeas corpus, the right “to bring his body before the Court of King’s Bench or Common Pleas.”34 It is here that the body of the subject enters the law almost literally, brought to the king’s court, to stand, as it were, in front of the law.
Nevertheless, at the very moment the question of movement forces us to take the body into account even when we consider classic liberalism, it also renders the body almost insignificant. The body appears within this frame in a narrow, diluted form that is produced, precisely, by reducing it to a change of position between given coordinates. Furthermore, the moving body (or to be more precise some moving bodies; and we shall return to this “some” in 4.4) emerges as a form of rational body, and it is not clear whether the mind/body dichotomy is disturbed or reproduced thereby. “To preserve personal beauty,” writes Mary Wollstonecraft, “the limbs and faculties [of women] are cramped with worse than Chinese bands and the sedentary life which they are condemned to live, while boys frolic in the open air, weakens the muscles and relaxes the nerves.” This, in turn, “naturally produces dependence of the mind.” In short, sitting down jeopardizes rationality. Indeed, “most of the women, in the circle of my observation, who have acted like rational creatures, or shown any vigour of intellect, have accidently been allowed to run wild.”35
Here resides the third definition of this section: Motion (and more accurately – the movements of limbs) was not simply the materialization of freedom, and not simply the privileged mode by which the liberal subject was corporealized, but the corporeal condition for rationality itself (and perhaps it was the first two because it was also the latter.) This definition, may be further supported by Barbara Arneil’s claim that western political thought assumes a connection between rationality and ability. Arneil seems to be quite perplexed by what she sees as a reoccurring “conflation of physical and mental disabilities” and concludes that “there is something about disability itself and not simply the principle of “irrationality” that leads some liberal theorists to exclude all disabled people from their principles of justice.”36 She traces this “something” to narratives of tragedy and loss, yet I propose that there is a way to link rational and physical modes of disability without recourse to notions of memory and narrative. These lines from Wollstonecraft (or similar lines from Locke’s Thoughts Concerning Education) enable us to either further refine, or somewhat revise, Arneil’s conclusion: the in/ability to move is assumed to have implications as to one’s rationality.37
27. “Performance” in the Butlerian meaning of the concept. See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Thinking Gender (New York: Routledge, 1990).↩
28. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 2006); Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times (London: Cape, 1970).↩
29. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 145 and 147, respectively; Thomas Hobbes, De Cive 9.9, in Hobbes and Republican Liberty, ed. Quentin Skinner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 116-17. The translation in The English Works suggests a slightly different formulation: “And every man hath more or less Liberty, as he hath more or less space in which he employs himself: as he hath more Liberty, who is in a large, than he that is kept in a close prison.” See Thomas Hobbes, The English Works (London: John Bohn, 1841), ii:120.↩
30. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 146.↩
31. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (London: Penguin Books, 1997), II.21.8.↩
32. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II.21.13.↩
33. Locke makes this claim most explicitly in his thought-experiment he proposes on the man locked in a room with a good friend. See John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II.21.10.↩
34. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1765), 131.↩
35. Mary Wollstonecraft, The Vindication of the Rights of Women (Mineola, NY: Dover Thrift Edition, 1996), 77, 41, and 42 respectively (my emphasis).↩
36. Barbara Arneil, “Disability, Self Image, and Modern Political Theory,” Political Theory 37:2 (2009): 224.↩
37. John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1996), 15-16.↩