Exile in America: Political Expulsion and the Limits of Liberal Government
McGinnis, Briana L.
"Exile," as a concept, remains largely neglected by political theory. Of the few pieces addressing it, most approach exile as a phenomenon peculiar to ancient cultures, or as a tool of the illiberal, even authoritarian, regime. But a survey of American history indicates that although communities may not openly ostracize, outlaw, or exile, they have not suppressed the desire to purge their membership rolls. Rather, they have become more adept at disguising it, draping illiberal exile practices in the language of law, consent, and contract. Perhaps it is the complexity of defining, and consequently recognizing, exile in the twenty-first century that leads us to regard it as a fringe occurrence. Nonetheless, exile is alive and well in the present day.This project has three aims. First, to offer a working conception of "exile" that clears away rhetorical confusion and returns the idea to the realm of the political. I explore exile as a political phenomenon, wherein the coercive power of government is used to expel members from their home communities for purposes of membership control. Second, to demonstrate that although it may have taken on a more mundane appearance in the democratic age, exile still exists at the sub-national (and, less commonly, at the national) level. Finally, the project situates exile in the particular context of America, where it continues to thrive despite its seeming incompatibility with liberal commitments to individual rights.Analyzing specific cases of political expulsion, both historical and current, reveals the purposes exile serves in liberal communities. While exile is not necessarily incompatible with fundamental liberal commitments (an opinion expressed by liberal thinkers like Constant, Locke, Tocqueville, and Burke), the uses to which exile has been put in the United States do not meet commitments to toleration and equality. This is, perhaps, why political expulsions have been concealed in the depoliticizing contexts of criminal, administrative, and civil law. The continued existence of exile in America, and its concealment, reveals deep tensions within the idea of "liberal community," but also the persistence of a strong sense of community in twenty-first century America.