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Societies 2013, 3(1), 66-79; doi:10.3390/soc3010066

Fear, Sovereignty, and the Right to Die

Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, 5-21 HM Tory Building, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2H4, Canada
Received: 31 October 2012 / Revised: 4 January 2013 / Accepted: 5 January 2013 / Published: 16 January 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Of Beasts, Sovereigns and Societies)
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This paper addresses the “right to die” through the lens of Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume One. Specifically focusing on the case of Tony Nicklinson v. Ministry of Justice, 2012, the essay posits two things. First, Derrida’s insight helps us understand how a “fear of death” is a fundamental performative feature of sovereignty politics. Second, in order to maintain its performative role, sovereignty must perpetuate the belief that “man is wolf to man.” I argue that, in right-to-die cases, this has the effect of precluding compassionate reasons for taking the life of another. Thus, I posit that these two points, in part, explain how right-to-die cases fail on appeal. All is not lost, however, as this essay advances Derrida’s position that these performative workings of sovereignty, which currently preclude the right to die, are entirely deconstructable. As such, exploring how right-to-die cases are articulated in law permits a deconstruction of sovereignty politics and allows us to open up other ways of thinking about the relation between sovereignty, life, death, and our relationships with “others”.
Keywords: Derrida; Hobbes; sovereignty; right to die; biopolitics; compassion Derrida; Hobbes; sovereignty; right to die; biopolitics; compassion
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Hardes, J.J. Fear, Sovereignty, and the Right to Die. Societies 2013, 3, 66-79.

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