Political Life: Giorgio Agamben and the Idea of Authority

Research in Phenomenology 43 (2):220-242 (2013)
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This article explores the relation between biological life and political life, placing it in the context of the ancient Greek distinction between the life of the home and the realm of politics. In contrast with the oikos, the life of the polis was characterized by attempts to exclude from its sphere both the constraints of necessity that oblige human action to conform to the exigencies of survival as well as the violence that accompanies this pursuit. Although this exclusion has never been successful, the question of how to achieve it lies at the heart of the oldest philosophical reflections on politics and, in a more concealed fashion, remains central to our political concerns today. Invoking the work of Giorgio Agamben, this article explores the earliest discussions concerning the question “what is political life?” to show why so much depends upon how we answer this question.

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Steve DeCaroli
Goucher College


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