How equal is the Other?

May 11, 2011

Leunig, The Age April 30 2011

How equal is the Other?

A city, from the Greek origin polis, is a body of citizens. Derrida argues in his article On Cosmopolitanism that it is impossible to distinguish between modern cities and the State (that which controls it). International law that relates to the description, classification and reaction of the people is the domain solely of the Sovereign State and not of the city. Sitting completely outside of these State laws are the stateless – those that for political, economic, social or humanitarian needs are no longer protected under the definition of their (previous) State. Derrida argues that we must look to the city, rather than the State, and instigate the ‘duty’ of hospitality alongside the ‘right’ to hospitality in the creation of “cities of refuge” to house those displaced by inflexible State laws.

From Hannah Arendt’s writing, in particular The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man, we learn that two “upheavals” occurred in the mid twentieth century. The first was that the right to asylum, which previously had a “sacred history”, was taken away. The second was the discovery that, with the great amount of displaced people that followed the two World Wars, repatriation or naturalisation were no longer viable options. Derrida argues that the State still does not have a valid alternative.

Derrida agrees with Arendt in her statement that all international law “still operates in terms of reciprocal agreements and treaties between sovereign states”. In this way, international law serves primarily the State and secondly the people. Inherent in this relationship is some sort of ‘transaction’ that must take place between the immigrant and the host. The recent immigration policy of the Gillard government and previous Australian policies such as the “Pacific Solution” clearly illustrate this. There is an expectation of return on investment by the State.  Derrida paraphrases Luc Legoux in saying that in France “asylum will be granted only to those who cannot expect the slightest economic benefit upon immigration”. To combat this Derrida argues that the city must “elevate itself above nation-states or at least free itself from them”. The manner that this occurs practically is not as clearly defined as the philosophical shift needed.

Derrida argues that “ethics is hospitality”. At the basis for all ethics is the willingness to allow the Other into your home. This recognition of the Other, “Whether it be the foreigner in general, the immigrant, the exiled, the deported, the stateless or the displaced person” as being different but equal is the foundation for Derrida’s “cities of refuge”. These cities must be made of citizens who are willing to honour the ‘duty’ of hospitality to allow the Other their ‘right’ to hospitality. Derrida does concede however that “hospitality, whether public or private, is dependent on and controlled by the law and the state police”. Whilst great emphasis is placed on the power an individual can make in creating “cities of refuge” it appears that the co-operation or sanctioning by the State is still required.

-Tim Brooks

Benjamin’s Critique of Violence

Benjamin argues that at the base of any critique of violence are morals. In the eyes of the law, there is a reasoning that violence can be justified depending on a judgement of its purposes – its ends. Benjamin questions the assumption however, posing the question in terms of positive versus natural law. Natural law states that violence is merely a “product of nature”, and that if the ends is appropriate it can justify the means. Positive law however “sees violence as a product of history”, judging violence by “criticizing its means”. Within both of these views is the belief that one can define violence as appropriate (and therefore sanctioned) or not (unsanctioned).

Violence can be used by a State as a law-making action or a law-preserving action. The former is used to legitimise those in power, to prove they are in power with the law on their side. Benjamin calls this “executive violence”. Law-preserving violence, such as involuntary conscription, is “used as a means of legal ends”, to maintain the sanctity of their power. Benjamin notes however that this “is subject to the restriction that it may not set itself new ends”. It can no longer preserve the law with the initial violent act if the ends (the law) are changed. Because of this it is termed “administrative violence”.

The police are an interesting exception in that they operate between these two categories, in so far as they can justify violence as both means and ends.

There can be a third category of violence termed divine violence, “which is the sign and seal but never the means of sacred execution”. This is almost a preventative constriction (and hence an act of violence) as it stops action before the thought has occurred. The divine judgement does not understand the specifics of the case however, so if the act has occurred, there can be no further judgement. This is also described as “sovereign” violence. You can claim it as a justification but not a means as, as in calling a higher judgement you are recognising that you yourself are not divine.

-Tim Brooks

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