13. SOVEREIGN CONTEMPT

Publication Date30 Dec 2004
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1016/S1059-4337(04)34013-5
Pages269-277
AuthorPeter J. Hutchings
13. SOVEREIGN CONTEMPT
Peter J. Hutchings
In starting to think about the events of September 11, 2001 (I give the year lest
we forget the Chilean coup of that date in 1973), two quotations hovered above
my thoughts. Perhaps not surprisingly, they both derive from the eve of that very
different conflict – WorldWar II – which is constantly invoked as a reference point
for the current situation. Both are almost too well-known. First, Carl Schmitt:
Sovereign is he who decides the exception (1985,p.5).
Second, Walter Benjamin:
Fiat ars – pereat mundus’, says Fascism, and, as Marinetti admits, expects war to supply
the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology. This is
evidently the consummation of ‘l’art pour l’art’. Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an
object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has
reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the
first order (1973, p. 244).
For as much as Benjamin’s words were called up by the compulsive repetition of
those images of jets crashing into the Twin Towers, and by the pervasive sense
that what we were seeing had been seen before in cinema, Schmitt’s definition of
sovereignty appeared to emerge with a renewed relevance from the very dust of
those collapsed towers.
The paradox of border protection and other responses to the terrorist threat
involves a transformation of the field of sovereignty. As the geographical extent
of sovereign power shrinks – in the Australian example – the countervailing
movement is towards a more intense control of the remaining territory.
Contemporary sovereignty remakes law, reminding us that the mythos of English
An Aesthetics of Law and Culture: Texts,Images, Screens
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society,Volume 34, 269–277
Copyright © 2004 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1059-4337/doi:10.1016/S1059-4337(04)34013-5
269

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