Friday, June 14, 2013

On the Origin of the Laws

‘At the beginning’ of the law, there is a certain ‘outlaw,’ a certain Real of violence which coincides with the act itself of the establishment of the reign of law: the ultimate truth about the reign of law is that of a usurpation, and all classical politico-philosophical thought rests on the disavowal of this violent act of foundation . . . this illegitimate violence by which law sustains itself must be concealed at any price because this concealment is the positive condition of the functioning of law: it functions insofar as its subjects are deceived, insofar as they experience the authority of law as authentic and eternal.
-Slavoj Zizek, "For They Know Not What They Do"

Law begins in trauma. From the standpoint of the old law, the violent establishing of something new is crime. The old law is disobeyed, overthrown, transgressed, usurped. From the standpoint of the new law, this crime is self-negating. It vanishes (or is concealed) as a crime once the new order is constituted. Put somewhat differently, the establishment of law overthrows law, for example, the law of custom, the law of nature, or even law as an ideal that only existed at the very moment of its loss. And, because establishing is overthrowing, there is a risk--the negation of law such. Establishing manifests a disregard for law as it perversely (or criminally) turns crime into law. This paradox, this traumatic identity of law and crime, is the repressed origin of law.


For law to function as law, the Real of violence must be concealed. As Zizek explains (with reference to Kant), law's validity requires that we remain within law, that we don't go outside law and emphasize its contingent, historical founding. If we do go outside the law, we can't even see the order as law; its claim to authority becomes just another contingency or act of violence. Zizek is not making a facile point regarding stupid subjects duped by a malevolent legal order. Rather, he is emphasizing the fact that law involves more than the violent, arbitrary, control of people. People need a kind of faith in law; they have to believe it (to believe that others believe it) for it to function at all. The fantasy of an original contract, for example, provides something in which people can believe; this fantasy attaches them to law as it conceals the Real of violence. Belief in law is that something extra that distinguishes law from violence, that separates the founding moment of violence from what comes after it.
- Jodi Dean, "Zizek on Law"

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