POL 8260, "Topics in Political Theory: Violence and the State"

POL 8260, "Topics in Political Theory: Violence and the State" will be taught spring 2011 by Professor Yves Winter. The seminar will investigate some of the seminal theoretical arguments concerning the relation between violence and the state.

POL 8260, "Topics in Political Theory: Violence and the State"

Prof. Yves Winter

Violence is at the heart of the modern state's capacity to guarantee order and maintain the rule of law. Indeed, Max Weber's assertion that the modern state is characterized by its successful claim to a monopoly of legitimate violence has become a commonplace definition and criterion for statehood in the social sciences.

But what exactly does it mean to speak of a "monopoly" of legitimate violence? It is clear that there have always been formations of violence (for example racial, sexual, and economic violence) that have operated in the shadow of the state's "monopoly" and that many of these forms of non-state violence have benefited if not from the explicit sanction by or complicity of state authorities then at least from a benign indifference. Instead of accepting the state monopoly of violence as a given, we must ask what economies of violence, to what modes of production, circulation, and consumption of violence the claim to such a monopoly gives rise. What forms of violence are rendered visible or masked? In sum, the state monopoly of violence is never an established fact: it relies on a recurrent inscription of a distinction between state and non-state violence, mediated by modes of representation.

In this seminar, we will investigate some of the seminal theoretical arguments concerning the relation between violence and the state by looking at the ways in which the monopoly of violence is established and undone in modern European political theory. The first half of the semester will be spent on the sovereign logic of violence. Our trajectory will start with the question, posed by early modern European political theory, concerning the origins and legitimacy of the state's monopolization of violence. We will discuss the postulate of a natural right to violence and how 17th century social contract theorists, such as Hobbes and Locke, explain the transmogrification of this natural right to violence into a dimension of sovereignty. We will pay special attention to the ways in which this conversion relies on a selective representation of violence, on the constitutive exclusion of certain types of violence, and on a normative hierarchy between different types of violence. Two alternative models of the state's monopoly of violence--the historicist (Foucault) and the ethical (Hegel)--will complete this part of the course. Building on the conceptual work in the first part of the semester, we will then turn to a closer examination of two aspects of the state's monopoly of violence and its limits: the monopoly of punishment and the monopoly of war. We will read a selection of texts on the historical and contemporary dimensions of these formations of violence.

Readings will include texts by the following authors: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, GWF Hegel, Max Weber, Michel Foucault, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Catharine MacKinnon, Charles Mills, Carole Pateman, W.G. Sebald, Loic Wacquant, Talal Asad, Vanita Seth.

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