Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Spaces of Benevolent Abandonment: The German Air Security Decision of 2006

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Spaces of Benevolent Abandonment: The German Air Security Decision of 2006

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper presents the 2006 Air Security decision rendered by the German Constitutional Court as an occasion to question typical assumptions in critical scholarship about the relations between sovereign power and biopolitics and about the kinds of political spaces these logics can generate. After a brief overview of the argument the first part of the paper summarizes the 2006 Air Security decision and the legislation it addressed. Public debates in Germany around the issue are then surveyed, with an emphasis on the contrast drawn by a number of commentators between utilitarian and 'Kantian' ethical positions. As a result of the apparently Kantian line it took, the Court conjured a specific but ambivalent space of 'benevolent abandonment'. The latter half of the paper explores the theoretical implications of the decision, arguing that understanding it as Kantian is too simple, and relating it to Michel Foucault's and Georgio Agamben's theorizations of the nexus of biopower and sovereignty. While the 2006 decision does not easily fit within Agamben's discussion of the 'sovereign ban' in Homo Sacer (Stanford University Press, 1998), it can be grasped by means of another strand of his reasoning, most fully developed in his discussion of "inoperativity" in The Kingdom and the Glory (Stanford University Press, 2011).

Keywords: sovereignty, biopower, Germany, state phobia, emergency, Kant

1 Introduction

In 2005 the German Bundestag passed a law that, among other things, would have allowed the shooting down of a hijacked passenger jet to prevent its use as a weapon after the fashion of the attacks of September 11th 2001 in the United States. The following year, amidst intense public debate, the Federal Constitutional Court struck down this particular provision of the 2005 Air Security Law (Luftsicherheitsgesetz, or LSG), effectively barring the government from downing a hijacked plane regardless of the potential disaster that might ensue in such a situation. The purpose of this paper is to explore the political and ethical reasoning surrounding the 2006 decision, in order to highlight the beneficial, life-supporting possibilities inherent in sovereign power but little explored in recent critical debates. The 2006 Air Security Decision, I argue, constructed a hypothetical 'space of benevolent abandonment' that is not adequately grasped by Giorgio Agamben's theorization of the sovereign ban, nor easily squared with Michel Foucault's thinking on biopower. A line of reasoning Agamben develops in The Kingdom and the Glory (2011a) regarding the role of 'inoperativity' in sovereign rule, however, offers more insight into the significance of the 2006 decision.

Much of the discussion of biopower and biopolitics in recent years has revolved around relations between the government of life and the production of death. Different authors have probed the ways in which the seemingly sharp distinction between biopower and sovereignty identified by Foucault in his History of Sexuality Volume I (1978) is in fact belied or qualified by much more intimate relations between the fostering of life and deadly state violence (Agamben 1998; 1999; 2000; 2005; Campbell, 2011; Dauphinee and Masters, 2007; Esposito, 2008; Hardt and Negri, 2004; Mbembe, 2003; Minca, 2006). The publication of Foucault's 1975-76 lectures (Foucault, 2003; Philo, 2007) has further fueled this reexamination of the articulation of life and death in technologies of power. Regardless of the particular approaches taken by these writers, there have been two points of broad agreement: (1) the very cursory account of sovereign power that appears in many of Foucault's writings needed to be fleshed out and supplemented with more searching theorizations of the link between sovereignty and death; (2) earlier understandings of biopolitical logics as essentially nonviolent need to be seriously reconsidered. September 11th 2001 and its aftermath, so this second line of thinking goes, have shown us that biopower, too, can be, perhaps is at bottom, violent. …

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