Today, one problem still seems to stand in the kernel of our contemporary political situation (if there is such a situation), namely the problem of violence. But this problem cannot simply be accounted for in juridical coordinates. It is, as many – and not only contemporary – thinkers claim, due to the fact that the very recourse to juridical explanations itself obfuscates the very problem that one is trying to deal with. This diagnosis has received many different articulations and many proposals to overcome it have also been phrased. Alain Badiou, for example, has claimed that our contemporary situation is one of a constant ‘war’ and fetishisms of law can only be overcome by completely rethinking the coordinates of political action and orientation (including how in former attempts of emancipation violence and terror have been employed); 1 Slavoj Žižek has proposed to resurrect for this very sake the idea and concept of emancipatory violence that historically appeared under the name of revolutionary terror (in the French Revolution). 2 One might therefore legitimately ask how Giorgio Agamben, one of the thinkers who puts the question of law and its relation to life in the centre of his thought, stands on this front. This question is even more pressing with regard to Agamben’s oeuvre, since it was he who once in a quite opaque wording suggested that any paradigm of a coming politics – a politics that might do away with the intimate link between violence and law – ‘will no longer be a struggle for the conquest of the State, but a Struggle between the State and the non-State humanity’ – assembling ‘singularities peacefully demonstrating their being in common’. 3
In what terms might one conceive of this very struggle? Is it a violent one? What sort of violence might be involved? We will enter the Agambenian cosmos via the category of violence, since we take the question of emancipation to be intimately connected to it. Yet, we will not directly address Agamben’s own elaboration. Rather, we will refer to an author who – as often has been pointed out, even by Agamben himself – is crucial for Agamben’s entire enterprise, Walter Benjamin. Although we are aware that
reading Benjamin on the question of violence can be said to be a proper mineﬁ eld, given the intricacies and sheer amount of already presented readings, we nonetheless believe that it will prove to be instructive to take another closer look at what Benjamin proposes in his Critique of Violence .