Beast & Sovereign I, s.1


The reverse order of publication means that we read The Beast and the Sovereign before the Death  Penalty seminars – even though the latter is what helps open up the enquiry of the former. The first two sessions of BS I set out the program: Hobbes, Rousseau, La Fontaine’s fable of the ‘reason of the strongest’. Here we have the background work that results in Rogues. The point in the seminar is to analyse the figure of the beast in political theory. But the emphasis on figure isn’t literary; the beast has a structural value for the architectonics of politics.

The beast is often determined as a particular beast: in this case, the wolf. The association between man and a certain animal reactivates the nature-culture question, a long-time concern of JD’s (see p.15). As usual, a reductive schema is once again the target; the idea that there is no animal society, that the man transcends and opposes the animal, and so on.

The first session sets up an analogy, and traces its effects, that exists between the sovereign and the beast: the sovereign is like the beast; the sovereign is a beast, etc. Both exist ‘outside the law’ (p.17). Schmitt’s idea of exception is fundamental here. Thus the seminar is also a genealogy of the concept of law. We can see JD’s signature method quite clearly here.

JD investigates the hypothesis of an identity between beast and sovereign: the beast is the sovereign. This produces a tension and a division: sometimes political being is presented as superiority over animality; other times, as animality of humanity that must be controlled, constrained in law. The state becomes a historical ‘prosthesis’ (hence, a prosth-state; a play on then advanced Derrida’s prostate cancer; p.26). Hobbes would be one major representative of one side of this tension.

Hobbes’ Leviathan: If it is not natural, but historical, it is therefore deconstructible (p.27). Straightforward statement of deconstruction as concerning the historical formation of institutions. the state can thus be better or worse, it can fall apart, even “die” in civil war (presence of the analogy, again). On p.28, (almost the end of the session), JD comments to the effect that at bottom, war is the subject of the seminar – what is the difference between civil war, and war in general? What identities are in play? How is this related to terrorism? (Recall, this is not long after 9/11.)

The concluding discussion opens up the question of ‘animal states’ in Freud.



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