Following Hegel’s Sovereign Beast: An Excursus on the Right of Heroes
In The Beast and the Sovereign , Derrida addresses an association that is as paradoxical as it is common. On the one hand, it seems as if the sovereign is, or at least should be, the furthest from the beast. And yet, as soon as we consult the various archives of political mythology––myth, theology, philosophy, art, etc .––we find them together, inseparable despite their distance. The seminar itself is a continuation of his previous explorations of the host concepts and figures that populate the political and philosophical history of sovereignty. The course takes him through a series of texts that stretches from Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau, to Freud, Heidegger, Lacan and Schmitt, among others, but his engagement with Hegel is limited. The few times that Hegel’s name does appear, it is almost exclusively a reference or aside within other more substantial engagements (Lacan and Heidegger, in particular). This absence is at least somewhat curious given the extent of Derrida’s previous engagements with Hegel’s corpus. I am not suggesting that this absence constitutes some essential oversight; rather, it is an opportunity to set out on an excursion from the course of The Beast and the Sovereign without leaving its territory. After all, Hegel also has an account of the origins of law. He, too, has a character that is set apart by his (almost) animal quality. This figure arrives on stage before history begins. His role––and indeed his “right”––is to found the most basic elements of the state. We are told that his “right” is absolute. He is no Lord. He is not driven by a desire for the recognition of the other. However, who confers this “absolute” right? If his actions are not bound by any measure or proportion, how do we distinguish between the hero and the criminal?
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