Law and Critique 27 (2):151-169 (2016)

Authors
Michael Naas
DePaul University
Abstract
During his 2000–2001 seminar on the death penalty, Jacques Derrida argues that Kant is the most ‘rigorous’ philosophical proponent of the death penalty and, thus, the thinker who poses the most serious objections to the kind of philosophical abolitionism that Derrida is trying to develop in his seminar. For Kant, the death penalty is the logical result of the fundamental principle of criminal law, namely, talionic law or the right of retaliation as a principle of pure, disinterested reason. In this paper, I demonstrate how Derrida attempts to undermine Kant’s defence of the death penalty by demonstrating both its internal contradictions and its strange affinities with the law of primitive peoples. I argue that Derrida’s repeated returns throughout the seminar to Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals suggest that Kant’s seemingly rational defence of the death penalty is ultimately motivated by interests that belie the supposed disinterestedness of modern law and by a notion of natural justice that at once subtends and subverts all criminal law.
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DOI 10.1007/s10978-016-9182-3
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