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  • Law after the Law: Contemporary Approaches to the Paradoxical Relationship between Law and Violence
  • María del Rosario Acosta López (bio)

Any philosophical approach to the relationship between law and violence must confront an unavoidable paradox. Law finds its legitimation in its capacity to neutralize, interrupt, or, at best, overcome violence. Yet certain philosophical critiques of the law have taught us that violence also stands at the foundation of law’s own legitimation. What grounds the normativity of the law, in other words, is what simultaneously denies it its legitimacy. Violence exists not only external to the law, that is, as a means of its enforcement and conservation, but also lies at the core of what the law is, at the ground of its own presupposition and legitimation. [End Page 1]

This line of critique has traditionally been associated with Walter Benjamin’s germinal essay “Critique of Violence” (“Zur Kritik der Gewalt”), and this critique transverses contemporary political thinking in myriad ways. If violence is a structural condition of the law, the question still remains, is there any way out of this violence? Is the political necessarily constituted and arranged according to a violent ground that can neither be overcome nor interrupted but at best reflected upon and negotiated? And, if violence truly lies at the ground of any and all attempts to legitimate the law, what kind of perspective do we need to call such a violent ground into question? What would be the consequences, theoretical and practical, of adopting such a point of view? And what would be the consequences of renouncing it?

“Law and violence,” the title of this special issue, is therefore already the formulation of a problem that lies in plain sight. The paradox that underlies the relationship between these two concepts leads to a series of questions that have been addressed by some of the major figures in contemporary thinking. From Benjamin to Arendt, from Heidegger to Lévinas, and more recently, among thinkers like Derrida, Nancy, Agamben, and Rancière: these are all obligatory references if one wants to approach the history of this problem in the twentieth century. A close look at the work of these figures reveals that, rather than having a paralyzing effect, the paradox has mobilized much philosophical thinking. By challenging the grounds of modern political and philosophical categories, and by tracing the experience of political and ethical violence all the way back to questions regarding our experience of language and history, the paradox that binds law and violence together is also the place where philosophy finds today one of its most urgent and unpostponable tasks.

Each of the papers collected in this issue offers a singular and original proposal on how to respond to this urgency. They are all driven by the conviction that searching for new ways of posing as well as addressing the questions suggested by the paradoxical relation between law and violence entails a dialogical confrontation with the history of philosophy, including its most contemporary figures. This confrontation is not exclusively inspired by the need to show the limits of the ways in which the problem of law and right, in its relation to language and history, has been addressed by ethical and political philosophical thinking. What initiates the dialogue is also a confidence in the [End Page 2] possibilities still lying at the heart of modern and contemporary philosophical discourses; possibilities that remain yet to be explored and that can open new paths for our present and most pressing concerns.

Motivated by this confidence, the first two articles of this issue take one step back into the history of philosophy and propose to look again at the way G. W. F. Hegel addresses the problem of law, power, and violence. The intention behind both papers is not to question the risks of a modern approach to law, sovereignty, and right that, as it has been critically treated by contemporary thinking, finds perhaps its most problematic exposition in Hegel’s philosophy. What Rocío Zambrana proposes in her article, as well as what I attempt to do in my own contribution to this issue, is rather to resituate Hegel in a fruitful dialogue...


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