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Ruses of Freedom, Violence of Empire

ASE Commons (Coordinated by Macarena Gómez-Barris, Maria Elena Martinez, Treva Ellison and Jujuana Preston)

A Series on Race, Power, and Critical Thought whose aim is to highlight the research of American Studies & Ethnicity (ASE) core and affiliated faculty and graduate students, and to build community through sustained conversations and workshops.


Co-sponsored with USC Comparative Literature and the Department of English

Speaker: Lisa Lowe (Tufts University)


Contemporary discourse is filled with reports that we occupy a moment in which violence has become ubiquitous and mundane, implying that violence is no longer an exception, that it is antithetical to the reasoned social order that would otherwise contain it.  This presentation suggests instead that violence is precisely a part of the world of reason, and discusses an historical episode in which liberal ideas of free trade and government were crucial vehicles for the violence of Anglo-American imperial expansion in British colonized India and Hong Kong.  John Stuart Mill, for example, famously defined the "best government" as the one that discerned those who were "unfit for liberty" and proclaimed despotism "a necessary medicine for diseases of the body politic which could not be rid of by less violent means."  Classic liberal rule of law provided for the state's "legitimate" violence against the threat of "illegitimate" from the violent "vagrants" and "criminals" it deemed disturbers of the "peace."