Terror, Sovereignty and Law: On the Politics of Violence

Newman, Saul. 2011. Terror, Sovereignty and Law: On the Politics of Violence. In: Russell Miller and Peer Zumbansen, eds. Comparative Law as Transnational Law. USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199795207 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

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 theorizing terrorism is its heterogeneous and indeterminate nature. For instance, if terrorism is to be characterized by a form of violence designed to inspire fear, then one can, of course, speak equally about state terrorism in the same manner as one can speak 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 1790s. 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 symbolization, at the base of every law, no matter how democratic.

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November 2011Published

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Date Deposited:

09 Sep 2010 14:49

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 12:21



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