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Radical Philosophy Today

Volume 5, 2007

Democracy, Racism, and Prisons

Jeffrey Paris
Pages 237-247
DOI: 10.5840/radphiltoday2007514

Abolition Democracy and the Ultimate Carceral Threat

The series of conversations between Angela Y. Davis and Eduardo Mendieta entitled Abolition Democracy is a powerful investigation of the failed moral imagination of imperial democracies. After examining their discussion of how truncated political discourses enable abuses in both war and imprisonment, I look to the “exceptional” status of war prisons such as at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. I argue that domestic prisons, like international war prisons, are means for the paradigmatic functioning of the exception in modern democracy, as described by Giorgio Agamben, and thus constitute no less of an “ultimate carceral threat.” Within the domestic prison, the legal status of inmates is virtually suspended and they are reduced to bare life. I conclude that we may yet share the hopes of Davis and Mendieta for an abolition democracy, and that such a democracy would bear the echoes of the unconditional sovereignty “to come” theorized by Jacques Derrida.