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Agamben and the Politics of Human RightsStatelessness, Images, Violence$
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John Lechte and Saul Newman

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748645725

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748645725.001.0001

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Nihilism or Politics? An Interrogation of Agamben

Nihilism or Politics? An Interrogation of Agamben

(p.96) Chapter 5 Nihilism or Politics? An Interrogation of Agamben
Agamben and the Politics of Human Rights

John Lechte

Saul Newman

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter explores and responds to a number of important critiques of Agamben's thinking, and considers the common perception that his thinking amounts to ethical nihilism and lacks political commitment. Firstly, it engages with the charge that Agamben downplays the significance and uniqueness of the Nazi camps by seeing them as part of a broader logic of biopolitical sovereign power and thus on the same continuum as other exceptional spaces of detention that might also be found modern in democratic societies. Secondly, it examines Derrida's objection that the zoē/bios distinction, that much of Agamben's argument in Homo Sacer rests upon, is much more slippery and ambiguous than Agamben allows. The third and fourth criticisms emerge in response to what is seen to be Agamben's overly stark, deterministic, totalising and one-sided representation of law and sovereignty, as a historically transcendental framework of power and violence always conditioned by the exception. Related to this is the fifth point – and, from our point of view, the most significant – which is that there is no space for politics in Agamben's thought, as politics is always subsumed by power and violence.

Keywords:   Aushwitz, zoē and bios, law, homo sacer, sovereignty, state of exception, politics, Laclau, Rancière

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