Perhaps in a moment of self-flagellation, I’ve recently chosen Jean-Luc Nancy’s Being Singular Plural as bedtime reading. After suffering through the titular essay (I think Nancy’s analysis of “with” is essential to an understanding of the social — “with” being, of course, a mutant Durkheimian/Heideggerian moment in his thought, by the way), I finally made it to what the copy says are “five shorter essays that internally related to ‘Being Singular Plural’”.
No extensive commentary, just highlighting a few interesting passages and formulations. There is, in a sense, nothing ‘new’ in Nancy’s reading of sovereignty in “War, Right, Sovereignty – Techne”. The ideas in the essay are already present in his other writings and largely present in other writings on the topic. What is most interesting about his essay is his attempt to think “Sovereignty AND War” in the symbolic order. A symbolic that is not quite Lacanian and which leads one to wonder as to the relationship between his division of the symbolic/imaginary/real to Lefort, rather than, in the first instance, to Lacan.
As a point of introduction, Nancy intervene’s into his own text as it is being written: “it is worth noting that I am beginning to write on 26 February 1991; the ground attack has begun; its future is still uncertain”, “Note added 6 April 1991: today, in the face of the suppression of the Kurds…”, etc.
“In other words, the return of ‘war,’ not as the reality of military operations but as a figure (War) in our symbolic space, is undeniably a new and singular phenomenon, because it produces itself in a world where this symbol seems to have been all but effaced.”
“Since 1914, it has seemed that, in one way or another, “War” demanded a “global” dimension.”
“For war is necessarily the war of sovereigns; that is, there is no war without Warlords…”
“… attention devoted to the sovereign of and in war reveals war as techne, as art, the execution or putting to work of sovereignty itself.”
“… War is also the Event par excellence … the Event that suspends and repoens the course of history, the sovereign-event.”
“… in the symbolic dimension of war; this dimension is expressed only in terms of victory or defeat, of sovereignty affirmed, conquered, or reconquered.”
“For thinking of war which is still ours, war is sovereignty’s technology par excellence; it is its setting to work and its supreme execution (end).”
“The execution of this desire for war is not only one of the proper ends of the executive organ; it also represents the extreme mode of these ends.”
[Unified Executive Theory!?]
“In essence, war is collective, and the collectivity that is endowed with sovereignty (the Kingdom, State, or Empire) is by definition endowed with the right to war…”
[A Durkheimian moment. But also a Schmittian moment.]
“In world war, democracy does not go to war against a sovereign (Germany and the countries of the Alliance), but against bad leaders.”
[This is possibly the essential comment in his essay, by the way.]
“It is in this way that even today, in philosophy and in all the nerve centers of our culture, war undertaken for peace can never stop being war for war’s sake, and against peace.”
“… true sovereignty takes place not only in plenitude but in excess and as excess.”
“Sovereignty has always been mixed up with the ‘sacred’ through the mechanism of exception and excess, but the implications of sovereignty have still not been as clearly thought out as those of the ‘sacred’ itself…”
[The comment, I think, goes beyond mere 'political theology' and points to the radical Durkheimian tradition: Durkheim, Mauss, Callois, Bataille. As confirmed by the point to 'excess' in the previous passage.]
“As a corollary to the development of a world market, one can see in the invention of world war the result of all the wars that accompanied the creation of the contemporary world: on the one hand, there are the American Revolutionary War and Civil War, wars in the tradition of sovereign war and bearing the self-affirmation of a new and distinct Sovereignty (during the nineteenth century, these served as the model for the wars and/or founding of nations, principally the new Germany; even later, this model was inherited by various colonies); on the other hand, there is the war of liberation in the name of humankind, in the name of its ‘natural’ rights and fraternity, such as it was invented in the French Revolution. It is this second model that no longer correspondes strictly to the sovereign schema: it oscillates between a general revolt against the very order of sovereigns (who are called tyrants, a term that makes an appeal for a possible legitimacy of rebellion within the ethico-juridical tradition) and a policed administration of humankind, with restrains itself from abusing its governance.”
“… the history of sovereignties is a history of devastation…”
“… if there is no sovereignty, then there can be no politics.”
[Two nice aphorisms.]
Back to comments on ‘the social’ later. Likely on Donzelot’s book, The Policing of Families, or, at least, its reception. Also, a more explicit attempt to deal with comments and criticisms thus far raised. This means something on ‘morality’ and something on ‘Durkheim’.