‘Terror, Sovereignty and Law: On the Politics of Violence.’

Newman, Saul. 2004. ‘Terror, Sovereignty and Law: On the Politics of Violence.’. German Law Journal, 5(5), pp. 569-584. [Article]

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This paper examines the ambiguous relationship between violence, law, and sovereignty in the context of terrorism today. It focuses, not on normative questions about terrorist violence, but on its structural relationship to law and the sovereign state. Part of the difficulty in theorising terrorism is its heterogeneous and indeterminate nature. For instance, if terrorism is to be characterised by a form of violence designed to inspire fear, then one can of course speak equally about state terrorism as one can about non-state terrorism. Indeed, one might recall that the very word terrorism derives from La Terreur of the post-revolutionary French Republic in the early 1790’s. Saint-Just’s words stand out as one of the most infamous justifications of state terrorism: “What do you want, you who do not want virtue in order to be happy? What do you want, you who do not want the Terror to be used against the wicked?” That the highest ideals of the Republic were accompanied, and indeed inscribed, through a systematic, yet often indiscriminate, register of violence – that Republican virtue came to be associated with the willingness to be merciless – is more than just a vicissitude of history. It speaks perhaps to the very nature of political discourse itself, unmasking the violence implicit in every political symbolisation, at the base of every law, no matter how democratic.

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Date Deposited:

11 Aug 2015 14:15

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 12:21

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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