Torture and the Dream of Reason


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Abstract
The torture prohibition is not just one rule among many. Its status as an absolute prohibition in both domestic and international law suggests that it lies at the very foundation of the rule of law. Yet, the prohibition is oddly discontinuous with other practices of state sanctioned violence. I argue here that the prohibition functions as much as symbol as norm. To explain what it symbolizes, I deploy some of the interpretive methodology Freud used to interpret dreams. The torture prohibition is a kind of waking dream. As with other dreams, we must pierce the manifest content to reveal the unconscious meaning. The prohibition, I argue, comes less from a concern about victims than about torturers, for the right to torture was a claim of the sacral monarch. The affective weight of the prohibition emerges from the relationship of law to sovereignty, and to the violent, sacrificial demand of even a popular sovereign
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