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Insurgent Universality

Insurgent Universality

An alternative legacy of modernity

(Oxford University Press, 2019)

Massimiliano Tomba

(History of Consciousness, University of California Santa Cruz)

 Scholars commonly take the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789, written during the French Revolution, as the starting point for the modern conception of human rights. According to the Declaration, the rights of man are held to be universal, at all times and all places. But as recent crises around migrants and refugees have made obvious, this idea, sacred as it might be among human rights advocates, is exhausted. It’s long past time to reconsider the principles on which Western economic and political norms rest. This book advocates for a tradition of political universality as an alternative to the juridical universalism of the Declaration. Insurgent universality isn’t based on the idea that we all share some common humanity but, rather, on the democratic excess by which people disrupt and reject an existing political and economic order. Going beyond the constitutional armor of the representative state, it brings into play a plurality of powers to which citizens have access, not through the funnel of national citizenship but in daily political practice. We can look to recent history to see various experiments in cooperative and insurgent democracy: the Indignados in Spain, the Arab Spring, Occupy, the Zapatistas in Mexico, and, going further back, the Paris Commune, the 1917 peasant revolts during the Russian Revolution, and the Haitian Revolution. This book argues that these movements belong to the common legacy of insurgent universality, which is characterized by alternative trajectories of modernity that have been repressed, hindered, and forgotten.

John Brenkman

(Comparative Literature and English, CUNY Graduate Center and Baruch College, Emeritus)

Anne Norton 

(Political Science, University of Pennsylvania)

Uday Mehta

(Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center)


 Friday, December 8, 2023

 10 am to 12 pm CST