The philosophy and literature of the death penalty: Two sides of the same sovereign

Southern Journal of Philosophy 50 (s1):39-55 (2012)

Authors
Michael Naas
DePaul University
Abstract
This essay demonstrates that in his 1999–2000 Death Penalty Seminar Jacques Derrida pursues the deconstruction of political theology that he had been pursuing in a more or less explicit fashion for more than two decades. Derrida's interest in the theme of the death penalty can be traced back in large part, it is argued, to the theological and essentially Judeo-Christian origins that Derrida finds in discourses both for and against the death penalty. This emphasis on the theological origins of the death penalty helps explain why Derrida spends much more time questioning the principles, rhetoric, and images of abolitionist discourses than pro–death penalty discourses. For Derrida, this essay concludes, a critique or deconstruction of discourses surrounding the death penalty is never more critical than in a putatively postreligious, secular age. In the end, Derrida hopes to provide what may be the very first philosophical abolitionist discourse, one that argues against the death penalty without relying on the language, tropes, symbols, and images of Judeo-Christian theology
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DOI 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2012.00120.x
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