Laws, Exceptions, Norms: Kierkegaard, Schmitt, and Benjamin on the Exception

Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary 2013 (162):77-96 (2013)
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Abstract

The concept of the exception has heavily shaped modern political theory. In modernity, Kierkegaard was one of the first philosophers to propound the exception as a facilitator of metaphysical transcendence. Merging Kierkegaard’s metaphysical exception with early modern political theorist Jean Bodin’s theory of sovereignty, Carl Schmitt introduced sovereignty to metaphysics. He thereby made an early modern concept usable in a post-metaphysical world. This essay carries Schmitt’s appropriation one step further. Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s replacement of transcendental metaphysics with contingent creaturehood, it reintroduces the anti-foundationalist concept of repetition that was implicit in Kierkegaard’s paradigm but which was not made lucid until Benjamin crafted from the Schmittian exception a vision of political life grounded in creaturely existence.

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