the included, the excluded, and the difference

For any student of history contemplating the Arab Spring and in particular the situation in Egypt, the set of conflicts are quite familiar. The emblematic situation for our era is still the plight of the Weimar government in relation to the so-called “negative parties” in 1920s Germany – the Communists and Nazis in approximately the same position as today’s Islamists and other non-liberals, participating in whatever liberal constitutional system under disagreement with its precepts – but Weimar merely happens to be one of the most extensively documented and sharply defined epochs of the catastrophic heightening of broadly speaking liberal-illiberal contradictions. The catastrophe has occurred many times, and has threatened many times more. It has been closely enough pre-figured in ancient history, long before the emergence of any doctrine of liberal rights, as to imply that it bears on matters even deeper and more primary than the typically modern metaphysics of individualism and the assertion of a universal private interest. It is in a strong sense always present, always already under way. Under other names – the “state of nature” for Hobbes, the failure of law and order, the fall of the republic, civil war, the barbarians at the city gates – it is theoretically and actually foundational for the modern state, as its reason for being and the circumstances of its birth, but investigations by numerous writers, ancient and modern, continually re-discover figures of this same tripartite division – zone of peace; zone of danger; sovereign power defining the border – in effect wherever they have looked. Recent writers – Agamben, Kahn – have further emphasized that these divisions are not merely territorial. The zone of war precedes us, it threatens to succeed us, it surrounds us, it exists within us as individuals, and it operates within society and politics wherever the exceptional circumstance arises or is invoked. In all cases, sovereign power is closely identified with it, as both the force that holds the predators and dangers at bay, and also as another or greater predator and danger, the brute force or monstrous leviathan whose “monopoly on violence” within the zone of peace can be exerted in any and all directions, at the crucial moment even throwing aside the very institutions whose construction has been its more customary self-justification before society. For these reasons no one ever stands completely outside of these questions, and, because any political philosophy is always actually political as well as philosophical, any political philosophical investigation of them must always implicate the intentions and self-interest of the writer. Any opinion we form on the exception is an opinion we form about and for ourselves, of and in our own interest. It must be presumed in the act of looking. Non-dialectical political science is purely pseudo-science on this matter that would be most important to it if only it could ever properly remove itself from the inquiry, but every attempted movement away from the center of discussion converts necessarily and immediately into a new problem for the selfsame discussion, a new proposition of the included, the excluded, and the difference. The discussion is the tracking of this motion: We continue it for the sake of putting our prejudices to tests that they can fail. Suspicion or resistance on the part of the reader must also vary with his or her own also inextricably compromised position.

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  1. […] Those saving their loudest cries of outrage for an Obama Second Term may find themselves deprived of an object to protest. Still, even if strikes in Yemen and elsewhere also subside, and other remnants of the War on Terror fade away, the problem will return in some other form, and not because drones are here (or everywhere) to stay (at least until the countermeasures). The damning implications of the exceptional circumstance and the “extra-legal” decision will return because they are inherent in government itself. […]

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