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Critiquing Sovereign Violence

Law, Biopolitics, Bio-Juridicalism

Gavin Rae

Hardback (Forthcoming)

Criticises the historically dominant classic–juridical model of sovereign violence and defends a bio-juridical model instead

  • Works across the disciplines of critical theory, political theory, biopolitical theory, poststructuralism and deconstruction
  • Develops three models – radical-juridical, biopolitical, and bio-juridical – to understand contemporary debates
  • Situates current thinking in relation to the classic–juridical model, thereby linking contemporary debates to historical ones
  • Moves beyond the dominant biopolitical model to a bio-juridical paradigm

Gavin Rae offers an original approach to sovereign violence by looking at a wide range of thinkers, which he organises into three models. Benjamin, Schmitt, Arendt, Deleuze and Guattari form the radical-juridical perspective; Foucault and Agamben the biopolitical; Derrida the bio-juridical – which Rae argues produces the most nuanced account.

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Introduction: The Classic-Juridical Model

Part I: The Radical-Juridical Critique

1. Critiquing Violence: Walter Benjamin on Law and the Divine

2. Divinity within the Law: Carl Schmitt on the Violence of Sovereignty

3. Violence and Power: Arendt on the Logic of Totalitarianism

4. Disrupting Sovereignty: Deleuze and Guattari on the War Machine

Part II: The Biopolitical Critique

5. From Law to Life: Foucault, Sovereignty, and Biopolitical Racism

6. Agamben on Sovereignty, Biopolitics, and Civil War

Part III: The Bio-Juridical Critique

7. Life and Law: Derrida on the Bio-Juridicalism of Sovereign Violence


Bibliography; Index

About the Author

Gavin Rae is Conex Marie Skłodowska-Curie Experienced Research Fellow at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. He is the author of Critiquing Sovereign Violence (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), Evil in the Western Philosophical Tradition (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), The Problem of Political Foundations in Carl Schmitt and Emanuel Levinas (Palgrave, 2016), Ontology in Heidegger and Deleuze: A Comparative Analysis (Palgrave, 2014) and Realizing Freedom: Hegel, Sartre and the Alienation of Human Being (Palgrave, 2011). He is co-editor of Subjectivity and the Political: Contemporary Perspectives (Routledge, 2017) and The Meanings of Violence: From Critical Theory to Biopolitics (Routledge, 2018).


Gavin Rae here offers a welcome addition to the philosophical literature on a topic -sovereignty and its relation to violence - that is at the cutting edge of contemporary scholarship in a variety of fields. After carefully articulating several 20th century theorists’ challenges to a law-based model of sovereignty, Rae argues that Derrida’s "bio-juridical" approach offers an innovative perspective that avoids the problems that he diagnoses in Benjamin, Schmitt, Arendt, Agamben, and other theorists.

- Alan D. Schrift, Grinnell College

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