Derrida Today 10 (1):38-50 (2017)

Kelly Oliver
Vanderbilt University
In this paper I develop a deconstructive analysis of the relationship between humanitarian aid and state sovereignty. First, I sketch Derrida's analysis of the Christian roots of contemporary concepts of tolerance, forgiveness, and hospitality. Second, I trace the history and etymology of the word ‘humanitarian’ to reveal its Christian heritage; and argue that ‘humanitarian’ is bound to the violence of Christ's crucifixion, on the one hand, and to the sovereignty of God, on the other. Third, I set out three phases in the politics of contemporary humanitarian aid in relation to an increasing concern for humanitarian warfare. I conclude that international humanitarian aid and humanitarian warfare are bound together through an autoimmune logic that simultaneously challenges and shores up state sovereignty. State sovereignty creates ‘refugees’, which necessitates humanitarian aid organizations to step in and literally fill the space between state borders, a space that has become a kind of ‘no-man's land’ beyond citizenship. Police and military respond to refugee camps by patrolling them to shore up national borders and state sovereignty. Non-governmental humanitarian aid organizations, supposedly operating outside of nation states, become a necessary supplement to state sovereignty.
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DOI 10.3366/drt.2017.0141
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Hostipitality.Jacques Derrida - 2000 - Angelaki 5 (3):3 – 18.
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