Deconstructing the Leviathan: Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign

18 Nov 2013

Derrida’s The Beast & the Sovereign volume I, explores the contradictory appearance of animals in political discourse. Sometimes, as he points out, political man and the sovereign state appear in the form of an animal, and at other times, as superior to animals, which he is the master of. In session two of the Seminar, the main focus of this essay, Derrida explores the ‘origin’ of this contradictory logic inter alia with reference to animal fables, which he contends draw on unconscious forces in their invocation of images. They pretend to make known something that cannot be the object of knowledge. In the same vein Derrida shows how Hobbes’s Leviathan, and sovereignty itself, are constructed and maintained through an uncanny fear, a fear not in the first place of one’s fellow man, but of the wolf within the self, that is, the drive to self-destruction. It is the repression of this wolf, Derrida suggests, which leads to the further contradictory logic (in Hobbes) of excluding both beast and God from the covenant, whilst maintaining God as the model of sovereignty. God, in other words, ‘is’ the beast repressed, and can therefore hardly serve as foundation of sovereignty. The self, and ultimately sovereignty, it can be said in view of Derrida’s analysis, is never purely present to itself, but instead arrives at itself by way of the ‘binding’ of unconscious forces. Sovereignty in this way ultimately shows itself to be divisible.