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April 15, 2008


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"One started to suggest a harm principle: the state should be mindful of causing harm. So it shouldn't tell the people too much about terrorists and airplanes because this will lead them not to fly and will hurt the economy."

Doesn't this sort of get things the wrong way round? The government seems very keen on having us know things, particularly about terrorists and crime; indeed, if the government didn't tell us what to be scared of, how would it be able to tell us we are safe?


This reminds me of the great scene on fear in the last episode of the Sopranos, when Tony asks the FBI agent how bad it really is out there. Of course, you don't want to know.
Yet looking at the scene from another perspective it is amazing how we have mystified one form of violence (al Qaeda) over another, which Tony is intimately involved in. He doesn't want to know about a certain type, or aesthetic of fear, even if he can manage the fear of getting killed on a daily basis.
This is sort of my problem with the Hegelian exposition of poltics, so expertly laid out by Rosenzweig in his book on Hegel and the State. There is an aesthetic mystification of the agglomeration called the state over other political groupings.


good post. excellent comment too Chakira. Rosenzweig is really interesting on the crit. of Hegel.

The discussion reminds me of a common binary: state as parent vs state as enemy...


I think the relevant problematic here comes from Kantorwicz (sp?) and his famous discussion of the political theology of the kings two bodies. It is no coincidence that the age of mystification of kings immediately precedes the rise of the modern European constellation known as the nation state. Here what Jodi is referring to is the idea that the nation state should know stuff that we are unable to know. Just as God is seen as the seer of secrets and the inquirer into hearts and minds, before whom all is nakedly revealed (to paraphrase the liturgy) so too George W. Bush, his chosen representative, may violate the mystical domestic sanctity, or transcends that sanctity, in order to run the world. What is interesting to me is that no contemporary theologian would really talk this way about God any more. Only God's proxies on earth still explicitly reflect the violence of their fashioner.
So my new question for Prof Dean is why there is no Post Heideggarian political (a) theology that does what Jean Luc Marion and Levinas do to God to the sovereign? Or is this Agamben? (he comes close in his essay in Potentialities on Messiah and Sovereign).


Hi Chakira, thanks for your comments. I have no idea how to answer your question. On the subject supposed to know: in Publicity's Secret I argue that after absolutism the ideal of the public becomes that of a public supposed to know and a public supposed to believe; this public is supposed to know the truth of power (and so is in opposition to the secrecy of the absolute sovereign). I don't think Bush functions politically like a sovereign or like God but like a perverse instrument.

Your point on aesthetic mystification is interesting. I haven't read Rosenzweig (just Santner). I have found Zizek's discussion of the obscene supplement of power helpful.


Hi again - Oh, ok, well then, it might be useful to explain how you get from Kantorowicz to the post Heideggerian thingy...and then on to Jean Luc Nancy et al. I think it is one thing to argue that K's study helps us to make sense of the emergence the nation-state-god connection, and quite another to attempt to immediately link this is to Heidegger's ontology and then GWB's red phone. Just wondering really; I think you are on to something.


Im just saying the post-Spinoza god is not seen as a METAPHOR for the sovereign, and the post Heidegger god even less so. When was the last time you saw someone refer to the revealing concealingness of Dick Cheney, even if this might be true?
I was simply asking if G Agamben and others might be moving in this direction.


So, you are suggesting that Agamben's conceptualization of sovereignty is correct: we have entered a period in which law is so deeply connected to an arbitrary will or state of exception that it becomes possible to conceive of it as a dead law; as a law that is no longer obeyed by anyone because it is in a permanent state of exception. Law is an inoperative 'nomos' that, paradoxically, enables new and important political gestures.


Barret, I am not sure that is Agamben so much as Schmitt.
What I am referring to is the idea that Agamben lays out in potentialites (based on WBs theses on the philosophy of history) where the Messiah is used to justify this Schmittian logic of sovereignty. So that would be the opposite trajectory of the one you have just sketched.


I'm not sure how a 'justification' of the Schmittian logic of sovereignty would be 'the opposite' of what I stated.


Yeah, you are right it is not the opposite so much as the other side of the coin. Agamben has two trajectories of history of history: Auschwitzian/biopolitical and Messianic. I was just discussing Messianic and you were more focusing on the other side.


Hi! In linguist George Lakoff's work (_Moral Politics_) the "sovereign" and "God" would both be seen as metaphors for the parent - in a 'family values' sense, not a freudian sense.

The question is what image of the parent citizens have. The liberal image is the nurturing parent. The conservative image is the strict father.

Getting back to the students who started all this out, the conservative ones played true to form by expecting the strict father to take care of the business of security in a dangerous world. That's what the image is good for and it's what Bush/Cheney offered. Children don't question strict fathers or they get smacked. Strict fathers are to be trusted and obeyed.

In one of my own classes I had a young woman who declared, sort of out of the blue, that she could never vote for a woman for president because she "would not feel safe." About a third of the class (the expected percentage) nodded as if this was an obvious thing to say. Well yes, if you need your government to be run by a strict father it is.

Obviously this is a patriarchy effect, hegemonic, yadayada. It's also a fact about the emotional content of our politics. It's interesting to watch Hilary struggle with it. A lot of the heat of her rhetoric is being generated here.

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