The State of Sovereignty: Lessons from the Political Fictions of Modernity (SUNY series in Contemporary French Thought)
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Considers the problems of sovereignty through the work of Rousseau, Arendt, Foucault, Agamben, and Derrida.
Following up on the fables and stories surrounding political sovereignty—once theological, now often nationalist—Peter Gratton’s The State of Sovereignty takes aim at the central concepts surrounding the post-9/11 political environment. Against those content to conceptualize what has been called the “sovereign exception,” Gratton argues that sovereignty underwent profound changes during modernity, changes tracked by Rousseau, Arendt, Foucault, Agamben, and Derrida. Each of these thinkers investigated the “fictions” and “illusions” of claims to sovereign omnipotence, while outlining what would become the preeminent problems of racism, nationalism, and biopower. Gratton illustrates the principal claims that tie these philosophers together and, more importantly, what lessons they offer, perhaps in spite of themselves, for those thinking about the future of politics. His innovative readings will open new ground for new and longtime readers of these philosophers alike, while confronting how their critiques of sovereignty reshape our conceptions of identity, freedom, and selfhood. The result not only fills a long-standing need for an up-to-date analysis of the concept of sovereignty but is also a tour de force engaging readers in the most important political and philosophical questions today.
“Gratton’s methodological rigour in reconstructing each pathway is a great strength of the book … This is a very pedagogical book, full of lessons in the way it treats each of the authors under discussion. It is therefore a good graduate student text, and for each discussed author the book makes significant contributions to current scholarship.” — Philosophy in Review
“Drawing on eminent thinkers including Boulainvilliers, Rousseau, Arendt, Foucault, Agamben, and Derrida, Gratton … provides a novel synthesis. He concludes that for those who believe in freedom and democracy, questioning rather than resigning to sovereignty as it presents itself is essential. The book reflects some of Gratton’s earlier published work and further attests to his facility with French political thought … Gratton’s discussion overall is penetrable and stimulating.” — CHOICE
Peter Gratton is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the coeditor (with John Panteleimon Manoussakis) of Traversing the Imaginary: Richard Kearney and the Postmodern Challenge.
on a given tradition. Thus, we come to a certain ambivalence regarding sovereignty: depictions of its final undoing that nevertheless reinsert sovereignty at another level. Our last chapter focuses on the later work of Jacques Derrida, particularly his writings on sovereignty’s autoimmunity, such as Rogues and his 2001–2003 lecture courses, La bête et la souverain. We go beyond his better‑known arguments about sovereignty to note that throughout his later writings, Derrida teased out a thinking
formation of property in the Discourse on Inequality, which itself is not an event, but an unfolding of a certain story leading to this inexorable moment), but rather its re‑founding: “all men are born free, but are in chains.” The chains exist in societies already in formation, for a peuple naissant. The nation is already born; to right its political structure requires preserving the people already born as a nation, but now adding virtue to private interest through the contract‑ ing of the
which were neither natural nor juridical. What is called Boulainvilliers’ “dangerous doctrine of the conquest” therefore contested the mythoi of Louis XIV in two important ways: First, he challenged the substance of these histoires, arguing that behind the thèse royale was a history of unacknowledged and forgotten battles that must be remembered if the aristocracy was to reclaim its historical rights, which were ultimately derived from violence. Secondly, Boulainvilliers changed the subject of
they represent, in absolute monarchy, the power of a ruler in which legislative and executive supremacy are united, than in democracies where their existence, elevated by no such relation, bears witness to the greatest conceivable degeneration of violence.191 Sovereign Freedom, or Freedom from Sovereignty Foucault in his later lectures links governmentality to self‑governance, and this thinking of self‑governance is one of the reasons he turns to the Greek “care of the self” and self‑mastery as
of men,”28 since it fills in and encircles the zone of indistinction between bios and zo¯ e¯. That is to say, zo¯ e¯, as excluded by the sovereign, is immediately politicized, and the mark of this politicization is life’s relation to the law and hence the sovereign right over life and death. Once life is exposed to death, that is, its finitude, poli‑ tics is possible: “Not simply natural life, but life exposed to death (bare life or sacred life) is the originary political element.”29 The