Absolute adversity: Schmitt, Levinas, and the exceptionality of killing

Philosophy and Social Criticism 31 (2):223-252 (2005)
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Abstract

Derrida describes the relationship between ethics and politics as an absolute hiatus . One problematic consequence of this formulation is that there seems to be no way for the ethical law to bear on political practice. I attempt to locate a link between the ethical and the political within this hiatus, through a reading of texts by two thinkers whose confrontation is suggested by Derrida: Carl Schmitt and Emmanuel Levinas. The link between the ethical and the political is that they are respectively defined by the prohibition and the sanctioning of the same act: killing. In the discourses of both thinkers, killing is pivotal on account of its exceptional character. Through an analysis of the role of the exception in their work, I determine that Schmitt’s conception of the political requires Levinas’s conception of the ethical as its formal condition. I end by considering what consequences this derivation has for politics. Key Words: decision • Jacques Derrida • the ethical • ethics • exception • killing • Emmanuel Levinas • the political • politics • Carl Schmitt.

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