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  • The Nonviolent “Enjunction” of BeingHeidegger on Ge-walt
  • Krzysztof Ziarek (bio)

Law, truth, aletheia, violence, nonviolence, dike, jointure, right, Heidegger, being, ontology, sovereignty, letting be, compelling without force or violence, Gewalt, Walten

The conceptual distinction between “ law ” and “ right ” in English brings into view the crucial question of law’s relation to what is right and/or rightful, not only in the sense of having a lawful or legitimate claim but also being just, equitable, fitting. Yet this distinction appears to be subsumed, if not set aside, in the very term “law,” which refers both to the idea of law and to specific, legislated rule, statute, ordinance, or regulation. Etymologically, “law” derives from the Proto-Germanic lagan, “to put” or “to lay” by way of the Old Norse lagu (law), the plural of lag (“layer, measure, stroke,” literally something laid down or fixed) and Old English lagu, “law, ordinance, regulation.”1 “Law” is thus closely related to the verb “to lay,” and this etymological derivation automatically emphasizes the idea of laying down and fixing a rule, which means that, at least linguistically speaking, law does not appear preoccupied [End Page 65] outright with the notion of right/fullness or being in the right. It is specifically with regard to the idea of right(s) that the coimplication between law(s) as a legal system or code and the notion of “being (in the) right” emerges. But even in this context, rights are thought principally in juridical terms—that is, with regard to law (ius)—as the issue of entitlements, prerogatives, and dues, which have to do with liberties and freedom, as in the rights of individuals or birthright. At stake are primarily legal guarantees and protections of such rights, and less obviously a concern with being or obtaining as right. It seems, therefore, that the English name “law” needs to be deliberately and intentionally troubled or interrogated, for instance, juxtaposed with the etymological resonances of the word “rights,” if one wants to raise the question of its relation to the idea of what is right.

This is less the case in Latin, where the difference between ius, or law in its general or abstract sense, and lex, an established or legislated bill or law, from the start disquiets the idea of laws with regard to the postulate of justice (ius, iusticia). Both French and German differentiate between the idea of law as what is in principle right (droit or Recht) and the system of laws or the legal code (lois or Gesetze). These terminological and etymological differences between languages signal that the linguistic framework in which such issues arise tends to influence, perhaps even orient and determine, the tenor and direction of deliberations. Arguably, this brief illustration suggests that the double terminology for law in German and French forces, at least in (linguistic) principle, the problem of what is right up front and directly into the determination of what is law(ful). If in Latin each specific law (lex) is part of the general sense of law (ius) and thus referred to the idea of justice, in German and French, such laws appear to bear the burden or at least the trace of (being) right (droit, Recht).

Yet even this implicit questioning inscribed in the double terminology for law in some languages does not necessarily indicate, beyond the invocation or appeal to the idea of “right,” how law and laws are to derive from or relate to what obtains as right, not simply in moral-juridical terms but rather ontologically, that is, with regard to what is fitting and befits human existence. If law is to have its origin in and reflect what is “right” in this ontological sense, how, even before one can think of introducing and establishing a specific law, can [End Page 66] “what is right” be thought and discerned? Where does (being) right come from? The understanding of what is ontologically fitting or “right” hinges on the notion of truth and its disclosure. Though the English “right” brings the etymological connection to what is straight and correct, and thus perhaps to the notion of truth as correctness, at issue is a more complex...


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