Agonal sovereignty: Rethinking war and politics with Schmitt, Arendt and Foucault

Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (7):775-793 (2011)
The notion of biopolitical sovereignty and the theory of the state of exception are perspectives derived from Carl Schmitt’s thought and Michel Foucault’s writings that have been popularized by critical political theorists like Giorgio Agamben and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri of late. This article argues that these perspectives are not sufficient analytical points of departure for a critique of the contemporary politics of terror, violence and war marked by a growing global exploitation of bodies, tightened management of life, and endless and unpredictable abusive force. To better capture the singularity of our present condition of violence, war and terror, a supplementation of Schmitt’s and Foucault’s approaches by way of Hannah Arendt’s language of political action and agonistic engagement is useful. By bringing Arendt’s language of political agony to bear on contemporary biopolitical debates and discourses, we wish to revisit common practices of war and terror as matters of ‘agonal sovereignty’. ‘Agonal sovereignty’ allows us to peer into the ‘abyss of total violence’ that manifests itself after sovereign decisionism and biopolitical modalities of power have taken over the everyday conduct of political affairs
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DOI 10.1177/0191453711410030
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