Picture of the Polis & Democratic Politics (Ed Koch, RIP)


For those of you too young to know, the recently deceased Ed Koch was one time mayor and New York City legend.  About the particulars concerning what Ed Koch did right and wrong, I’ll leave it for others to hash out, for instance here. The ledger would include the failure to respond to the AIDS crisis, the closing of a hospital in Harlem, inflamed racial tensions, the revitalization of the NYC finances, parks, and housing, a racially integrated administration, corruption scandals, the endorsements of George W. Bush and Obama, the intemperate mouth.

I like this photograph of Koch. It’s a picture of democratic politics in the hyper-capitalist super-metropolis, of the political animal who cares about only about himself and the constituents he has to hustle.

There’s nothing stand-offish here, no state of exception, no violent decision, none of the Schmitt fascism that that gets taken up in recent critical theory. Democratic politics has less to do with friends and enemies and more to do with the art of the possible, with getting things right and screwing things up, with the people with whom, ad hoc, you can work and the ones with whom you can’t at any given moment.

This is more a more dirty, rough and tumble picture of politics, less given to perfectionism or to the impossible, not a “democracy to come” but rather the democracy-that-is. With no private life to speak of, Koch was a picture of the polis, pure and simple, warts and all; and of course, the picture of a public Jew who loved not God, but himself and his people and his city first and foremost.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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