Rethinking the Encounter Between Law and Nature in the Anthropocene: From Biopolitical Sovereignty to Wonder

Law and Critique 31 (3):329-349 (2020)
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Abstract

The rise of the idea of the Anthropocene is promoting multiple reflections on its meaning. As we consider entering this new geological epoch, we realize the pervasiveness of humankind’s deconstruction and reconstruction of the Earth, in both geophysical and discursive terms. As the body of the Earth is marked and reshaped, so is its idea. From a hostile territory to be subjugated and exploited through sovereign commands, the Earth is now reframed as a vulnerable domain in need of protection. The mode of sovereignty, which has accompanied human and legal history and practice during modernity and its project of mastery, is no longer useful. Humanity’s control of the Earth is being reimagined and reconfigured along biopolitical coordinates of thought and action. Biopolitics shifts the focus of power, changes its modalities of interventions, and rearticulates its legitimacy on the idea of taking responsibility for the Earth, for nature. A biopolitical re-orientation of law captures the fundamental aim of caring for nature, of fostering its vital possibilities and of enhancing its productive potential. Yet, biopolitics engulfs nature in its entirety under its framework of control, where protection and subjugation, vulnerability and productivity, life and death are constantly entangled in a reciprocal and inevitable relation of indistinguishability. Sovereignty becomes thus a key modality of biopolitical intervention, when nature is recalcitrant, wild, spontaneous, unpredictable, violent, dangerous. Biopolitics, thus, remains caught in an undecidable dilemma, where in order to protect the Earth, it must subjugate it; to save it, it must condemn it. In this respect, biopolitics remains utterly modern, or as argued by Roberto Esposito, modernity has always been biopolitical, insofar as modernity has emerged as a framework for the protection of life against life’s own excesses. But how can we escape the biopolitical reframing and enframing of the Earth and its total subsumption under its matrix of control? How can we rethink the encounter between law and nature without remaining entangled in the aporetic dilemma of biopolitics? An aesthetics of wonder may offer a way.

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