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State of Exception and the politics

of Identity

Sovereignty 1
James J. Sheehan, in his 2005 Presidential Address to the

American Historical Association, entitled The Problem of

Sovereignty in European History, begins his lecture as follows:
What is the problem of sovereignty? It is, first of all, a problem of
definition. Sovereignty is obviously a political concept, but
unlike political concepts such as democracy or monarchy, it is
not about the location of power (the sovereign, Hobbes wrote,
can be the one or the many); unlike parliament or bureaucracy,
it does not describe institutions that exercise power; and unlike
order or justice, it does not define the purposes of power.

Sovereignty 2
The concept of sovereignty has to do with the relationship of

political power to other forms of authority. Sovereignty assumes,

first of all, that political power is distinct from other organizations
in the community religious, familial, economic. Second,
sovereignty asserts that this public authority is preeminent and
autonomous, that is, superior to institutions within the
community and independent from those outside. In theory, the
sovereign can be no ones vassal: at home, sovereigns are
masters; abroad, they are the equals of other sovereigns.

Political Theology
In his Political Theology (1922), Carl Schmitt

(1888-1985) established the essential

proximity between the state of emergency
and sovereignty. But although his famous
definition of the sovereign as "the one who
can proclaim a state of emergency" has been
commented on many times, we still lack a
genuine theory of the state of emergency
within public law.

Theory of Sovereignty
Schmitt's theory of sovereignty can be read as the response to

Benjamin's critique of violence. What is the problem Benjamin

poses in his "Critique of Violence"? For him, the question is how
to establish the possibility of a future violence outside of, or
beyond the law, a violence which could rupture the dialectic
between the violence that poses and the one that conserves the
law. Benjamin calls this other violence "pure," "divine," or
"revolutionary." That which the law cannot stand, that which it
resents as an intolerable menace, is the existence of a violence
that would be exterior to it, and this not only because its finalities
would be incompatible with the purpose of the legal order, but
because of the "simple fact of its exteriority."

Walter Benjamin
Benjamin reformulates the opposition in order to turn

it against Schmitt: once the possibility of a state of

emergency, in which the exception and the norm are
temporally and spatially distinct, has fallen away,
what becomes effective is the state of emergency in
which we are living, and where we can no longer
distinguish the rule. In this case, all fiction of a bond
between it and law disappears: there is only a zone
of anomy dominated by pure violence with no legal

Western Political Systems

The Western political system thus seems to be a double apparatus,

founded in a dialectic between two heterogeneous and, as it were,

antithetical elements; nomos and anomy, legal right and pure violence,
the law and the forms of life whose articulation is to be guaranteed by
the state of emergency. As long as these elements remain separated,
their dialectic works, but when they tend toward a reciprocal
indetermination and to a fusion into a unique power with two sides,
when the state of emergency becomes the rule, the political system
transforms into an apparatus of death. We ask: why does nomos have
a constitutive need for anomy? Why does the politics of the West have
to measure up to this interior void?
What, then, is the substance of the political, if it is essentially assigned
to this legal vacuum? As long as we are not able to respond to these
questions, we can no more respond to this other question whose echo
traverses all of Western political history: what does it mean to act

Dick Pels

Property and Power. A study in intellectual Rivalry

Dick Pels (Amsterdam, 26 February 1948) was

Professor of Sociology at Brunel University (West

London), and is currently working as a free-lance
writer and political commentator in the Netherlands.
Previously, he has held teaching and research
appointments at the universities of Amsterdam,
Groningen, Harvard, and Cape Town. Among his
books are Property and Power. A Study in Intellectual
Rivalry (Routledge, 1998)


1. Control or the exercise of control;


propertyless nature of power and the powerless nature of property.

propertyless nature of power and the

powerless nature of property.

Modern distinction between property

This modern distinction between property, the rule over things by the

individual, and sovereignty, the ruleas it was originally conceivedover all

individuals by the prince, was absent from the doctrines of the church
fathers, whose conception of dominion still reflected the highly fragmented,
stratified, and interfused system of personal obligation and land tenure
which had developed after the economic contraction and political
disintegration of the Roman world.

Feudal Sovereignty

No one within the feudal compass could claim to exercise the concentrated,
pointlike sovereignty which became a familiar conception only at a later period;
no one could claim to own the land in the typically Roman sense of holding
property as an absolute and exclusive privilege against all the world. Everyone,
from the king down to the meanest peasant, exercised a portion of dominion
over it, without anyone holding it in full severalty, i.e. as a walled-in area
forbidden to all others.
But since the legists of Renaissance Bologna first rebuilt the edifice of Roman
law, and reanimated the typically Antique distinction between dominium and
imperium, property and sovereignty were characteristically relegated to discrete
realms of factuality and seen as governed by essentially dissimilar principles.
With amazing regularity and concord, political thinkers came to repeat Senecas
maxim that to kings belonged authority over all, to private persons, property.
Bartolus, Du Moulin, Bodin, Grotius, and numerous others reappropriated this
motto. Francis Bacon recognized a true and received division of law into ius
publicum and ius privatum, the one being the sinews of property, and the other
of government (cit. Lawson 1958:90).

Dynamics of Property/Power

Diamond Pattern from Domain to disposition

Meaning Shifts

The Ruin of Representation

The Logic of Difference Iris Marion Young

Historically, Young argues, group-based oppression and conflict has been most
extreme when it is grounded in a conception of difference as otherness and
exclusion. This, in turn, presupposes a "logic of identity" according to which
groups natures are defined as essential and/or substantial. For example, men
and women have been stereotyped as rational or emotional, public or private,
and one group makes use of these essential or substantive differences to
subjugate the other group. The obvious problem with the logic of identity is that
whatever group tends to dominate, to have the most privilege and power, will
represent themselves as active human subjects and represent everyone else as
"others," not up to the level of the original, until and unless they find a way to
conform to the definition of the individual or the citizen established by the
dominant group. The long, sad history of colonialism and racism attest to this
disparity and conformism. The "others," those who have been colonized or
enslaved, have found themselves judged "lacking" in relation to the dominant
group: "The privileged and dominating group defines its own positive worth by
negatively valuing the Others and projecting onto them as an essence or nature
the attributes of evil, filth, bodily matter; these oppositions legitimate the
dehumanized use of the despised group as sweat labor and domestic servants,
while the dominant group reserves for itself the leisure, refined surroundings,
and high culture that mark civilization."

The Norm
In western nations, the white bourgeois male is taken to be the

norm and model for the female and for all minorities; against this
standard all other humans are considered lacking and deficient.
Additionally, within this schema, mind is given priority over
body, reason over emotion, activity over passivity. In each
case the valued member of the pair is valued absolutely. Thus,
any variation or contextual valuation of differences is denied or
repressed. Any attributes of specific groups that do not fit into
the schema of genus, species, and differences must be either
assimilated to one of the accepted categories (as inferior
copies) or denied and suppressed.

Aristotle's conceptualization does not simply create

hierarchies of thought; rather it serves to legitimate or

justify certain visual, linguistic, social, and political
practices that developed around the demand for
intelligibility, rigidity, and hegemony. Therefore,
merely reconceptualizing difference is not enough to
restore difference as difference; rather, the ruin of
representation can be accomplished only on the level
of actual practices.

Logic of Identity vs. Logic of Difference

To challenge the logic of identity and the conception of group identity as

essence or substance, Young proposes something very much like what we will
find in the work of Gilles Deleuze. That is, she proposes a logic of relation that is
less a relational arrangement than a conception of difference that begins with
the fact of heterogeneity and the interrelation of groups. I would prefer to call
this a logic of difference, since it must be stressed that relation in this case does
not refer to some notion of relativity, and that Young is not arguing for relativity.
Conceiving of groups on the basis of a logic of relations or a logic of difference
means that different groups can no longer be evaluated in terms of the
categorical definitions demanded by the structure genus, species, and
difference, for this leaves the nonprivileged groups with the designation of
merely contingent "other," or even with no designation at all.

Ultimately, Young suggests, "social movements of oppressed or disadvantaged

groups need a political vision different from both the assimilationist and
separatist ideals . . . a politics that treats difference as variation and specificity,
rather than exclusive opposition.

Regimes of Signs

Gilles Deleuze (IPA: [il dlz]), (January 18, 1925 November 4, 1995) was a French philosopher of the late 20th century.
From the early 1960s until his death, Deleuze wrote many influential works on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art.

In a classical liberal model of society, morality begins from

individuals, who bear abstract natural rights or duties set by

themselves or a God. Following Deleuzes rejection of any
metaphysics based on identity, Deleuze criticizes the notion of
an individual as an arresting or halting of differentiation (as the
etymology of the word "individual" suggests). Guided by the
ethical naturalism of Spinoza and Nietzsche, Deleuze instead
seeks to understand individuals and their moralities as products
of the organization of pre-individual desires and powers.
Deleuze describes history as a congealing and regimentation of
"desiring-production" (a concept combining features of Freudian
drives and Marxist labor) into the modern individual (typically
neurotic and repressed), the nation-state (a society of
continuous control), and capitalism (an anarchy domesticated
into infantilizing commodification).

Regimes of Signs (cont)

Semiotics, in general, is the study of signs and their signification. As noticed by

Genosko (1998), Deleuze and Guattaris semiotics present a conceptual mix of
Peirces logic of relatives and Hjelmslevs linguistics; both frameworks are taken
to oppose Saussurean semiology. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) assert that
content is not a signified, neither expression is a signifier: instead both are
variables in common assemblage. An a-signifying rupture ensures transfer from
the form of expression to the form of content. Dyadic, or binary, signification
gives way to the triadic, a-signifying semiotics, and Deleuze and Guattari employ
Peircean notion of a diagram as a constructive part of sign-dynamics. A diagram
is a bridge, a diagonal connection that, by means of double articulations,
connects planes of expression and content leading to the emergence of new
forms. Fixed and rigid signifieds give way to the production of new meanings in
accord with the logic of sense (Deleuze 1990). Concepts that exist in a triadic
relationship with percepts and affects express events rather than essences and
should be understood not in a traditional representational manner of analytic
philosophy, which would submit a line to a point, but as a pluralistic, a-signifying,
distribution of lines and planes.

--Inna Semetsky, Ph.D.,


The Phenomenology of Tarot, or: The Further


Regimes of Signs (cont)

For Deleuze, the theory of signs is meaningless without the relation between signs and the
corresponding apprenticeship in practice. Reading Proust from the perspective of triadic
semiotics, Deleuze notices the dynamic character of signs, that is, their having an
increasingly intimate (Deleuze 2000: 88) relation with their enfolded and involuted
meanings so that truth becomes contingent and subordinate to interpretation. Meanings are
not given but depends on signs entering into the surface organization which ensures the
resonance of two series (Deleuze 1990: 104), the latter converging on a paradoxical
differentiator, which becomes both word and object at once (Deleuze 1990: 51).
Yet, semiotics cannot be reduced to just linguistic signs. There are extra-linguistic semiotic
categories too, such as memories, images, or immaterial artistic signs, which are
apprehended in terms of neither objective nor subjective criteria but learned in practice in
terms of immanent problematic instances and their practical effects. Analogously, a formal
abstract machine exceeds its application to (Chomskian) philosophy of language; instead
semiotics is applied to psychological, biological, social, technological, aesthetic, and
incorporeal codings (Guattari 1995). Semiotically, discursive and non-discursiive formations
are connected by virtue of transversal communication, transversality being a concept that
encompasses psychic, social, and even ontological dimensions. As a semiotic category,
transversality exceeds verbal communication and applies to diverse regimes of signs;
--Inna Semetsky, Ph.D.,

The Phenomenology of Tarot, or: The Further Adventures of a Postmodern Fool ,

Baruch Spinoza and Conatus


The Dutch lone thinker and optician Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) is most known for his
metaphysical doctrine of monism - one substance, God or Nature. Immanence instead of
transcendence. "There is only one substance which can be understood to depend on no
other thing whatsoever, namely God" he claimed. The substance is expressed or actualised
in two attributes, Extension and Thought, of which there are infinitely more, but unknown to
human senses. The two attributes are within substance/God/nature, but need a third kind
existence to "enter" the world, i.e. modi, infinite and finite modes which as the attributes all
are immanently within substance, or God, or as we might prefer to call all that exists, Nature.
There is nothing outside Nature. No goal, no finalism, no teleology. No external
transcendent Creator, but a participating infinite existence that exists on one plane of
immanence. This concept of God is not personal, but abstract and more like a principle of
explanation. One does not need another relation to God than the intellectual love,scientia
intuitiva, which may lead to the state of beatitudo (an individual salvation, which is supported
by a commonwealth though but in the end apolitical, see Smith, p. 388).

Since all is in God as substance, political matters are also a part of God. All pieces hang
together. Laws of nature and laws of the mind are the same . "The only philsopher of the
day who succeded in providing a coherent theory of nature, of human passion and desire,
or reason and of legal and moral norms is Spinoza", Harris states (in Deugd ed. 1984 p. 64),
his 16- 17th century forerunners in political theory Grotius, Pufendorf and Hobbes were all
limited in some ways.
AND DELEUZE/GUATTARi, Dept of philosophy, Uppsala Univ, Sweden, May 1998


No thing can be exterminated except by an eternal force, Spinoza

states , referring to the concept of conatus. (latin for "striving- toexist"). This "life-force", power to exist, is what the thing is, its
essence, Spinoza maintains, in his major work from 1677, the Ethics,
part III, prop 7: "The striving by which each thing strives to perserve
in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing ".

"Spinozas true politics is his metaphysics" Negri says (1992). The

political implications of his metaphysics are his definition of things by
their capacity of act (potentia agendi ). This capacity is enhanced or
diminished according to the affects or passions that encounter modes,
how they are being affected, affect others or let others, by their
passions, rule them. If there exists nothing else but the acting powers
of human individuals, it follows that the power of the state and its
government is nothing but the disposition of all the citizens powers
together, i.e. democracy in a sense before it got its liberal
interpretation. And since power gives rights, people have as much
rights as they have power, contra Hobbes who saw men as giving up
their powers in a fictious contract.

Power has two equal sides, the power to exist

and to be affected . Above all we seek in all

ways to become active, yes even joyful !
Production of affects (chosen actions from
self-preservation, conatus) and sensibility to
be affected. Their sum is constant (either you
decide, or someone else). This sensibility may
be chosen, actively, internally caused , or
passive, externally caused. Most of our lives
are filled with passive affections, since we do
not understand the real causes behind things
and events.

If we grant men their necessary passions, we may build

up a secure state. Politicians who relie on good faith are

not long-lived and would prepare his own destruction, a
Machiavellian theme, the difference is that Machiavelli
recognised a civic virtue in all men that possibly could
ground a stable state, whereas Spinoza kept the
virtuous way open only to the wise. The multitude
(people,) neither could nor wanted to walk the narrow
road to higher political or theoretical interests.
Machiavelli resigned himself to the peoples passions
("They should know better!"), but Spinoza noted that
they probably neither should nor could ("No, theyre
only natural !").

Right as Power
Spinoza starts his theory of right from a state

of nature, as in Hobbes, but this right is equal

to the power of the right - holder. The contract
is not an abstract entity which keeps a society
stable. Rather all rules must depend on power,
i.e. Machiavellian force or Spinozist (divine)
power in all beings.

"Nobody can so completely transfer to another

all his right, and consequently all his power,

as to cease to be a human being/. . ./It must
therefore be granted that the individual
reserves to himself a considerable part of his
right, which therefore depends on nobodys
decision but his own" (TTP, ch.17).

Government or governmentality
the totality of practices, by which one can

constitute, define, organize, instrumentalize

the strategies which individuals in their liberty
can have in regard to each other. It is free
individuals who try to control, to determine, to
delimit the liberty of others and, in order to do
that, they dispose of certain instruments to
govern others (Foucault 1987b: 130-31).
--Roger Alan Deacon, Fabricating Foucault

Power as Sovereignty

Power as sovereignty conceives of both power and knowledge in the form

of a tree, maturing over time: primarily vertical and hierarchical, with roots
and branches, top and bottom, dominant and dominated; where every
subject knows its place in a relatively fixed if historically mutating order of
things; and where discourses and texts are grouped into specialized
disciplines and fields and ranged in order of importance. Power as
governance conceives of both power and knowledge in the form of a web,
a fine, differentiated, continuous networkinstitutionally-supported,
knowledge-producing and discipline-effecting relaysthat connects points
and intersects with its own skein (Foucault 1979e: 89; 1986c: 22):
simultaneously vertical and horizontal, hierarchical and lateral, with nodes
and interstices in multiple, complex and contested interconnection such that
what is dominant or subordinate is not always clearly apparent even if
always potentially present; where different and shifting locations may be
occupied by diverse subjects; and where discourses and texts refer
constantly to other texts across genre distinctions. Power conceived in this
way as a web of strategic or war-like relations is appropriate for our rapidly
evolving epoch of simultaneity (Foucault 1986c: 22), the age of
information and virtual reality in which what only recently was a global
village is now being produced as a global body, in all senses of the word
(body politic; body of knowledge; body corporate; and, not least, the

Power Relations
Power relations produce responses, or instigate reactions, which

are relational and thus internal to them, not least because the
operation of power presupposes free subjects faced with several
possible ways of behaving or comporting themselves. To speak of
the productivity of power relations also allows one to conceive of
power outside of binary oppositions or, at the very least, as
simultaneously negative and positive: power relations may inhibit
the possibility of some actions and increase the possibility of
The productivity of power relations are tied to their propensity to

provoke, oblige, entice, gratify and discipline. Power incites, it

induces, it seduces, it makes easier or more difficult; in the extreme
it constrains or forbids absolutely; it is nevertheless always a way of
acting upon an acting subject or acting subjects by virtue of their
acting or being capable of action (SP: 220).

Power Relations
techniques of power are invented to meet the demands of

production. I mean production here in the broad senseit can be a

matter of the production of destruction, as with the army (Foucault
1980a: 161). To reiterate: not only production in the strict sense,
but also the production of knowledge and skills in the school, the
production of health in the hospitals, the production of destructive
force in the army (DP: 219), and not least the manufacture of
those being educated, healed or destroyed (Foucault, quoted in
Macey 1993: 288).
Much of Foucaults work, however, argued that forms of knowledge
are to a large degree the fabricated effects of complex relations of
power (which may indeed include but are not confined to an
infrastructure). Contrary to the conventional humanist wisdom, it is
not truth but power which limits power: it is the power over self
which will regulate the power over others, reducing the everpresent potential for domination to a minimum (Foucault 1987b:
129, 119).

Power Relations
What I wanted to show [in The History of Sexuality] is how power

relations can materially penetrate the body in depth, without

depending even on the mediation of the subjects own
representations. If power takes hold on the body, it isnt through its
having first to be interiorized in peoples consciousnesses (Foucault
1980a: 186).
The problem is not changing peoples consciousnessor whats in

their headsbut the political, economic, institutional regime of the

production of truth. Its not a matter of emancipating truth from
every system of power (which would be a chimera, for truth is
already power), but of detaching the power of truth from the forms
of hegemony, social, economic, and cultural, within which it
operates at the present time (Foucault 1984a: 74-5).

The Individual
The individual at the heart of Western humanist thought (whether

as natural hero or as bte noire), is not a natural essence but an

artifact, a reality fabricated (DP: 194; see also 1976a: 170), a
recent and fragile product of disciplinary mechanisms which were
built upon Christian practices of confession and examination, and
came into their own during the Enlightenment. Indeed, Western
individualism, far from being a common human experience, is in
fact an eccentricity among cultures (Morris 1972: 2), albeit an
extremely useful and productive one. The individual, an ambiguous
being whose personal rights are nevertheless subjected to the laws
of nature and society, is also only one among many subjected
sovereignties invented by humanism (albeit perhaps the most
important of these inventions): there are also the soul (ruling the
body, but subjected to God), consciousness (sovereign in a context
of judgment, but subjected to the necessities of truth), ... [and] basic
freedom (sovereign within, but accepting the demands of an
outside world and aligned with destiny) (Foucault 1977a: 221).

Man/woman, the self-conscious, reflective and creative author of

scientific knowledge and the empowered agent of progressive

social transformation, is a recent product of a centuries-long
process which can be traced back through various brands of
Christianity and mysticism to at least Greek Stoicism.
While the human sciences are unique in having as their object a
knowing subject, the natural sciences share their embeddedness in
specifically social practices: the sciences of man were born at the
moment when the procedures of surveillance and record-taking of
individuals were established, while the sciences of naturefrom
geography and astronomy to medicine, botany and zoologygrew
out of general practices of investigation modelled on the religious or
administrative inquisitio of the early Middle Ages or derived from
late-eighteenth century travellers tales (Foucault 1980a: 74; 2000a:
49-50), just as, in Greece, mathematics were born from techniques
of measurement (DP: 226; AK: 189).

Theories of ideology are completely oblivious to the presence of

power relations in and around the truths they ironically seek to

defend against power, and thus persist in targeting those they
assume to have been duped rather than those, including those
engaged in ideology-critique, who take for granted the power of

Logic of Difference
Iris Marion Young (2 January 1949 - 1 August 2006) was

Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and

affiliated with the Center for Gender Studies and the Human Rights
program there. Her research covered contemporary political theory,
feminist social theory, and normative analysis of public policy.