The Creature Before the Law: Notes on Walter Benjamin’s Critique of Violence
journal contributionposted on 22.05.2017 by Mathew Abbott
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Transforming as it does from an exemplar of meticulous philosophical analysis into an allusive political/messianic tract, Walter Benjamin's "Critique of Violence" is representative of all that is most difficult about his work. Against those critics who find the eschatological dimensions of Benjamin's texts unpalatable and/or philosophically bankrupt, however, the wager of this paper is that it is possible to extract a philosophically sophisticated and politically interesting concept of the messianic from Benjamin. For it remains the case that the mortification of law carried out in "Zur Kritik der Gewalt" does not simply boil down to a naive antinomianism; that Benjamin's argument is far more subtle than any simple call for "a radical destruction of the legal order." Indeed, if we read the text in conjunction with certain others in the Benjaminian oeuvre it becomes clear that it engages lucidly with a set of crucial, difficult questions about the status of law in modernity.