Environmental Philosophy

Volume 16, Issue 1, Spring 2019

Reading Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign

Geoffrey Bennington
Pages 13-33

Beastly Sovereignty
Three Unequal Footnotes to Derrida

This article examines three textual moments that might plausibly have found their way into Derrida’s late Beast and Sovereign seminars, but that Derrida appears to avoid or overlook. Aristotle’s discussion in the Politics of the “One Best Man” scenario is placed in the context of his earlier characterizations of the naturally apolitical man as akin either to a beast or to a god; Bataille’s late descriptions of sovereignty as a kind of self-perverting hyperbolic structure are juxtaposed with some of Derrida’s own formulations about sovereign autoimmunity; Heidegger’s discussion, in a seminar nominally about Hölderlin, of a striking formula from Sophocles (hupsipolis apolis) is shown to capture something of the “outlaw” status of the sovereign as Derrida describes it.