In this important new book, Daniel Loick argues that in order to become sensible to the violence imbedded in our political routines, philosophy must question the current forms of political community – the ways in which it organizes and executes its decisions, in which it creates and interprets its laws – much more radically than before. It must become a critical theory of sovereignty and in doing so eliminate coercion from the law.
The book opens with a historical reconstruction of the concept of sovereignty in Bodin, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant. Loick applies Adorno and Horkheimer’s notion of a ‘dialectic of Enlightenment’ to the political sphere, demonstrating that whenever humanity deemed itself progressing from chaos and despotism, it at the same time prolonged exactly the violent forms of interaction it wanted to rid itself from. He goes on to assemble critical theories of sovereignty, using Walter Benjamin’s distinction between ‘law-positing’ and ‘law-preserving’ violence as a terminological source, engaging with Marx, Arendt, Foucault, Agamben and Derrida, and adding several other dimensions of violence in order to draw a more complete picture. Finally, Loick proposes the idea of non-coercive law as a consequence of a critical theory of sovereignty.
The translation of this work was funded by Geisteswissenschaften International – Translation Funding for Humanities and Social Sciences from Germany, a joint initiative of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the German Federal Foreign Office, the collecting society VG WORT and the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publisher & Booksellers Association)
Preface, Axel Honneth
I. Traditional Theories of Sovereignty
II. Critical Theories of Sovereignty
III. Critical Theory Without Sovereignty
An essential reading on sovereignty, Daniel Loick’s book is a real feast in political theory. Moving effortlessly through a wide array of thinkers from Jean Bodin to Walter Benjamin and beyond, Loick reconstructs modern theories of state sovereignty with remarkable systematicity and erudition, only to problematize and decenter this dominant tradition with the best tools of contemporary critical theory. With an acute sense of irony, he deciphers the contradictions that characterize the great thinkers of sovereignty and offers a patient demystification of the modern state. Loick reminds us that law without coercion and life without sovereignty are not only possible but also eminently desirable.
Daniel Loick’s book offers a masterful critique of traditional theories of sovereignty from Bodin through Hobbes and Rousseau to Kant; a compelling reconstruction of critical theories of sovereignty from Marx through Benjamin and Arendt to Foucault, Derrida, and Agamben; and a bold and ambitious proposal for rethinking critical theory beyond the concept of sovereignty. A timely, original, and insightful contribution to contemporary critical theory.
As richly erudite as it is thoughtful and provocative, A Critique of Sovereignty is remarkable for the sheer number of literatures it plumbs--across the history of political thought and across multiple generations and genres of critical theory. Loick also models thinking expansively, rigorously and imaginatively about one of the important predicaments of our time: democratic possibility at the end of the nation's state monopoly of political power and violence. Beautifully written and translated, this is a book to read, ponder, argue with and teach.
Most contemporary critical theory looks at sovereignty as something to democratize or improve, thus failing to set up a thorough critique. On the contrary, Loick does not aim at making sovereignty work better. With this book, he radically questions its very legitimacy. This is critical theory at its best.
Daniel Loick is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany. He is the author and editor of several books published in German.