Edited by Mat Coleman and John Agnew
Chapter 16: Destituent power and common use: reading Agamben in the Anthropocene
Western political philosophy has focused much of its attention on the concept of “constituent” power, understood as a revolutionary power that both installs and preserves a new order. This chapter explores and evaluates an alternative to constituent power, drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben to imagine a “destituent” power that seeks not to knock down an existing order only to institute a new one, but instead to profane it so as to return it to “common” or “new” use. If the “work” of government is to transform reality in accordance with its telos, and to present that reality as the only possible reality, then, we argue, destituent power is that power which deactivates the governmental machine, depriving it of its metaphysical foundations and enabling an active and experimental elaboration of other possible worlds. We conclude by exploring the strengths and limits of the concept in the context of the Anthropocene, understood as a moment in which “being” is again a question, albeit one that surpasses and exceeds the sovereign figure of “man”.
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