Derrida Contra Agamben: Sovereignty, Biopower, History
This essay is concerned with criticisms of Giorgio Agamben’s biopolitical theory of sovereignty that are developed by Jacques Derrida in his final seminar titled The Beast and the Sovereign (2009). The implicit interlocutor for much of the seminar is theories of biopolitics. However, when these theories are addressed explicitly, it is through the work of Agamben. The article proceeds first with a brief account of the main issues that preoccupy Derrida in the seminar. In general, these relate to conceptualizing sovereignty and its relationship to the division between human and animal. The second section introduces the criticisms of Agamben, which are articulated initially in terms of the latter’s tendency to declare the origin of ideas and concepts. The third section outlines some central aspects of Agamben’s theory that are pertinent for evaluating Derrida’s criticisms. The fourth section turns to the conceptual and textual basis for the criticisms, which involve a way of thinking history and an interpretation of Aristotle. The final section of the paper extrapolates the implications of Derrida’s criticisms for thinking sovereignty and its future.
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