La filósofa Judith Butler durante una conferencia reciente en el Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, CCCB. © CCCB, Miquel Taverna, 2018
American philosopher Judith Butler during a recent conference at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, CCCB. © CCCB, Miquel Taverna, 2018

"Nonviolence is not about Love, but about Knowing What We Do with our Hatred"

With one foot in the academy and another in activism, the American philosopher and expert in gender studies Judith Butler, who developed the "Queer theory", is…


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Last November, a hundred Brazilian right-wing activists took to the streets of Sao Paulo to protest the presence of Judith Butler, a well-known American LGBTQ rights activist and philosopher, who had traveled to the city to participate in a conference entitled "The end of democracy ". "Queimem a bruixa!" - "Burn the witch! - protestants shouted, while burning her effigy in front of the building where a group of academics and philosophers from all over the world met to discuss the challenges facing democracy, from authoritarianism to climate change.

"They assumed I was going to talk about gender issues, but that was not the issue," Butler told the Daily Californian, a newspaper linked to the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, where she has been a professor of comparative literature and critical theory since 1993.

For Judith Butler (Cleveland, Ohio, 1956), finding herself in the middle of controversy is nothing new. Born in a Jewish family that emigrated from Central Europe during World War II (much of her mother's family died in the Holocaust), Butler is considered one of the totems of feminism and gender issues. With one foot in the academy and another in activism, Judith Butler has dedicated her life to theorizing about the concepts of feminism - her voice has sounded high in the #MeToo - queer, transgender movements-, as well as studying protest movements collective.

Her two best known works are Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,  where she developed the principles of the so-called "queer theory" and challenged the preconceived idea that gender identities are immutable and find their roots in nature, in the body or in a normative and obligatory heterosexuality. And Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? , a reflection on the impact of the US military leadership, which has imposed a distinction between those lives that deserve to be mourned and those that do not.

In her most recent book, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, an essay published in February 2018, Butler focuses on another of his favorite topics: analyzing the dynamics that drive public protests and public demonstrations under current political and economic conditions, a trending topic in the news after the success of movements such as the International Women's Day or the march in support of the DACA.

"I do not ask anyone to put aside their anger. I think anger should be cultivated, " Butler said at a recent conference in Barcelona, where she presented her theory about the need to go out to the streets to protest. "Nonviolence is not about love, but about knowing what we do with our hatred. And going out on the street, putting our bodies as a barrier, is a way of doing it, "said the philosopher.

In 2015, for example, the philosopher already made very clear her support for the peaceful resistance movement of the "Black Lives Matter", which prompted thousands of people in the United States to demonstrate against police brutality against black citizens.

"One reason why the chant  "Black lives matter "is so important is because it states something obvious, but the obvious has not yet existed in the past of this country. Therefore, it is a declaration of indignation and demand for equality, for the right to live without restrictions, but also a song that links the history of slavery, segregation and a penitentiary system aimed at containing, neutralizing and degrading the lives of blacks, but also a police system that every time easier and often can take a black life in an instant, all because an officer has felt threatened," Butler said in an interview published by The New York Times.

Alone we are nothing

Judith Butler's philosophy is based on the prevailing need of every human being to go out to protest in a non-violent way if they feel they are discriminated against or in a position of inequality before another. And his argument rests on a clear idea: inequality begins when dependency relationships are created, in which a human being exploits the vulnerability of the other. Black-white, colonized-colonized, male-female ... "We must put an end to the liberal and individualist concept - stereotyped in the figure of the white man - that the human being is self-sufficient and independent," ahe said, "because nobody can hold standing up alone. If someone wants to live a good life, he or she has to admit that his life will depend on other beings, and that these will also depend on him. "

According to Butler, admitting our condition of interdependence - on Nature, on other human beings - is also a necessary condition to resolve current conflicts, such as that of Israel and Palestine, or the fight against climate change. "If the government of my country (the U.S)  accepted the interdependence that we all have on the climate, it would not continue immersed in a frantic race to increase economic resources," she said, rebuking the Trump administration's for not taking environment preservation into account. 

"Only by recognizing interdependence can we think of global obligations and policies that take into account marginal populations, such as the Roma, immigrants, Palestinians ... ", commented Butler, who, despite being Jewish, is very critical of Israel and the occupation of Palestine. "I happily give money to the Palestinian cause, despite the fact that they only use it to repair houses that have been destroyed over and over again. We see with impotence that nothing changes. But I believe that this form of passive and peaceful resistance must continue to exist," she added.

However, she remarked, the use of violence, at least in countries where the rule of law prevails, should not be necessary. "Only when the law becomes an instrument of violence, then fighting against the law is equivalent to fighting against violence," she said. "But do not get me wrong," she added, half jokingly, "I'm an occasional anarchist, I like the laws."


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