Movement : Hagar Kotef

4.1.1 A Lexical Pause

By the turn of the nineteenth century, this concept of freedom as movement changes. Whereas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the liberty of the liberal subject anchored him to his moving body, by the end of the eighteenth century liberty is largely attached to reason, and the will emerges as the substance of freedom. What is significant in this change is not merely that the “element” within man to which freedom is attached shifts; the important difference is that for many later liberals “man’s will is himself.”38 The subject becomes abstract thereby. As we see in the case of the bloomers or Wollstonecraft, movement remains a privileged form through which the subject appears as corporeal in the liberal political sphere even when freedom is conceived in more abstract terms.

Nevertheless, these appearances become interruptions; a mode through which the body emerges on a surface that is characterized by the attempt to erase the body rather than the very rule of this surface. It is therefore not surprising that, as the examples above indicate, many of these moments occurred in tandem with another mode of disturbing the political surface of liberalism: gendering the liberal subject. Either way, by Rawls’s time, freedom of movement is so marginalized, it is altogether absent from his list of “basic rights and liberties.”39 I elaborate about this process elsewhere and cannot do so here.40 All this is brought here to demonstrate a different point, namely, that the argument of this section cannot be that “movement is the principle of materialization of liberal freedom (or subjectivity; or rationality),” but rather, “movement was such a principle and now it is something else.” “Movement”—or any concept, for that matter—is always given within some sequence of “was,” “is” (for now) and “may become,” as well as of “here” and “there.”

4.2 “Layers” of Meanings

In the context of the bloomer campaign, “mobility” has a double meaning: the physical movement of human bodies, as well as social mobility; the crossing of a doorstep and a transgression of a “sphere.” Yet much like we saw with Plato, these meanings, which can perhaps be marked as the literal and the metaphorical, collapse here into one. The social mobility is a function of the physical ability to walk, climb upstairs, or run in a field, and these physical movements are the manifestation (the result, but also the meaning) of a social transgression.

At the edge of this symbiosis of meanings stands the notion of the body-politic. In her history of the concept, Adriana Cavarero refers to it as a “metaphor,” yet often this metaphor is, once again, taken quite literally. Hobbes, who was to a great degree a philosopher of motion, is perhaps the best example for this literal understanding.41 For Hobbes, the materiality of the body-politic and its movement was indispensible. The state-as-a-body may be artificial, yet in a cosmos in which nature can be imitated by “the Art of man,” in which the Heart is “but a Spring,” and in which, accordingly, Automata can be seen as having “artificial life since life is but the motion of limbs,” in a cosmos, in short, in which God himself operates like a clockmaker, the separation between the organic and the artificial does not hold. The Hobbesian commonwealth is a giant moving man; a union of all the people “that moves with one will.”42

But we do not have to go all the way with the frontispiece of Leviathan­ in order to claim that thinking about politics necessitates us to constantly shift between the material and the metaphorical, between thinking about the act of people coming together, the congregation of bodies in particular spaces (be it the state or the city square), the negotiations of change and stability, the formation of a community, and even more so—the formation of a community through which change becomes possible (or at least conceivable). All these movements (and all these meanings of the concept) are eventually tangled together. In the case of the bloomer episode we see how a certain appearance in space, a certain movement through space is a way of re-forming and challenging both a symbolic and a spatial order that are almost one and the same: a certain gendered order, an order of identity categories and political hierarchies, that is also an order of an “inside” and “outside.”

4.3 Imperial Movements

To make the third point I should return to the end of the bloomer story. After two years in which any public appearance with the bloomer resulted in much scorn and contempt, Stanton and her friends abandoned the new dress. Stanton explains:

[T]o escape constant observation, criticism, ridicule, and persecution, one after another gladly went back to the old slavery, and sacrificed freedom of movement to respect. I have never wondered since that the Chinese women allow their daughter’s feet to be encased in iron shoes, for great are the penalties of those who dare resist the behests of the tyrant Custom.43

The image of the bounded feet of Chinese girls—which Stanton evokes here and which seems to hound political philosophers at least since the seventeenth century—marks more than a lack of freedom illustrated through an image of disabled mobility.44 It also situates freedom as movement within an imperial context. In Stanton, as well as in Wollstonecraft or Mill before her, a contrast of sedentary respectability and mobile freedom becomes the mold through which gender and spatial (or racial) hierarchies are superimposed on each other.

With this superimposition the lack of mobility appears not as the manifestation and means of oppression of a certain minority, but as the fate of the many, indeed, the fate of “the greater part of the world,” as Mill would put it.45 Once again then, much along the lines we identified in Plato, the disabled movement of the many is tied to the protection of both knowledge and political order (in Mill’s case: enlightenment; also as a schema of global governance). As Uday Metha has noted, the liberal justification of the empire relies on the argument that since most of the world has lost its own capacity of movement, without Europe’s mobile (almost motorist) powers, the rest of the world would not be able to move (read: improve). Progress in its global articulation “is like having a stalled car towed by one that is more powerful and can therefore carry the burden of an ascendant gradient.”46

38. Thomas Hill Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, and Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 37.

39. John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

40. Hagar Kotef, Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: A History of a Political Problem (forthcoming).

41. Adriana Cavarero, Stately Bodies: Literature, Philosophy, and the Question of Gender (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002).

42. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 9; Adriana Cavarero, Stately Bodies, 165.

43. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More, 204.

44. In her books on the practice Dorothy Ko notes that this “visceral” image began to circulate in China around that time, in travelogues, plays, popular songs, and novels. c.f. especially Dorothy Ko, Cinderella’s Sisters, A Revisionist History of Footbinding (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), ch. 5. One may speculate that these descriptions soon found their way to Europe.

45. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 70.

46. Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 81-82 and 94.

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