Unmasking the Stranger: American Welfare Residency Rules and the Encounter with the Other
Law Text Culture, Vol. 1, No. 5, 2000
Posted: 17 Jan 2001
A recurrent theme in American welfare law is the imposition of residency rules barring newcomers from applying for public assistance, even in the face of Supreme Court decisions declaring these rules unconstitutional. This paper looks at three views about the timeless, deep-seated fear of the stranger represented in these laws, which focus on the face of the Other and its masking. Judge John Noonan, in Persons and Masks of the Law, focuses on a first mask, which uncovers the face of the self and the face of the other, that abstracts the ethical encounter. French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas takes off a second mask: the illusion that oppressors and victims can be before they are in ethical relation to each other, that they can choose to absorb or be absorbed by the Other. Theologian Martin Luther recognizes that every living thing is a mask of a hidden God, both awful and loving, and that every encounter with the other is a mask of the other, as well as possibly the hidden God, a prospect both terrifying and inviting.
Note: This is a description of the paper and not the actual abstract.
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