- “... the new-old enigma, of sovereignty”
The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, released mid-March 2006, makes use of the term “rogue” on eight occasions. In typical fashion, “rogue” appears next to “state(s)” in seven of those occurrences.1 Six of those seven times, the term appears in some connection to “terrorist(s)”; on five of those six occasions, “rogue state(s)” and “terrorist(s)” are connected by an “and” or “or,” and usually “WMD” or some reference to nuclear arms technology is in the same or an adjacent sentence. On that remaining instance among those six, the text’s drafters suggest more substantial relations than “and” or “or” might convey: first, rogue states “support and harbor” terrorist groups; second and consequently, terrorists and rogue states are equivalent in that the “United States and its allies in the War on Terror make no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them.” Probably strategically, it remains unclear whether all or only some rogue states “support and harbor” terrorists, whether, that is, “support and sanctuary” to terrorists define the rogue state necessarily and sufficiently.2 Yet this complication need not matter inasmuch as they are equivalent, therefore interchangeable, qua enemy in the War on Terror.
Jacques Derrida would no doubt have taken pleasure in the many turns of this newest National Security Strategy, and in a sense, although his death arrived a year and a half before its appearance, he already has. For Derrida’s own text Rogues: Two Essays on Reason — essays on reason and rationality, sovereignty and democracy, the worlds of globalization and its non-equivalent, mondialisation — not only has something to say about rogue states, but also takes the figure of the turn as a guiding leitmotiv. His figure, though, is not the sinuous twist of a hooded, tortured body. It is rather a turning around an axis in such a way as to describe a circle, sphere, or earthly globe. This turn is meant to conjure up at least two figures: the autarkic, autoaffectionate, self-centered self-enclosure of ipseity; the turning-on qua turning-against oneself that Derrida calls “autoimmunity,” which destroys ipseity by immunizing itself against autarky so as to open up to the other. Though his turn may differ, Derrida is no stranger to Bush & Co.’s sort of turn and devotes some fine analysis to its predictably semblable precursors.
When I first read Derrida’s Rogues, which consists of two lectures published in France as Voyous in 2003, it was the first essay that stuck with me, the one entitled “The Reason of the Strongest (Are There Rogue States?),” the one that demonstrates that nation-state sovereignty enacts roguery in the very move of nominating others as “rogues” because this charge carries along with itself the implicit arrogation of a power to mete out punishing, roguish violence: that is, the sovereign power to accuse and then to chasten is itself a rogue power.3 But as I reflected further, I concluded that the second piece, “The ‘World’ of the Enlightenment to Come (Exception, Calculation, and Sovereignty),” yields just as promising insights for political theory. When made to cast its glow backward, one formulation in particular from the second lecture helps to assuage a certain unease I have been suffering over Derrida’s so-called “late” work, the writings from the last decade and a half of his life.
Allow me to defer the relief and instead to specify first my unease: I wonder whether the ease with which Derrida’s late work is read as continually emphasizing aporetic structures has not led us toward an abyss. Derrida is not unaware of this tendency to over- or mis-read certain aspects of his late work. He writes in an endnote of one egregious instance:
Several friends recently brought to my attention a recent publication . . . whose author pontificates, without verifying anything, on what I’ve written and taught for a number of years...