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Legal Theory and the Media of Law

Thomas Vesting

As many disciplines in the humanities have experienced a focus on culture’s impact in recent decades, questions surrounding the significance of media such as writing, print and computer networks have become increasingly relevant. This book seeks to demonstrate that a media and cultural theory perspective can also be highly productive for legal theory.
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Chapter 14: “Excarnation” of sovereignty

Thomas Vesting


That the reality of human life is not simply “empirically” given has been impressively demonstrated in the fields of systems theory, philosophy of language, and phenomenology. What is given is in fact only ever an accidental, contingent – essentially inscrutable – chain of individual details and events that make up one’s own life, together with a series of non-repeatable attendant circumstances in situations of everyday action. Thus for the individual, being-in-the-world represents nothing less than “an immeasurable potential for surprises.”1 In everyday practice, the referential surplus of this potential is bound by a collective order that invariably precedes any and all subjects and lends their lives coherence and meaning. In experience, human beings consistently encounter a world already disclosed by culture, a framework of meaning in which social coexistence plays out before any moment of reflection begins. Not even the most abstract theory or philosophy can “escape those human forms of life which alone provide the coherence of our expression.”2 Claude Lefort is thus right to suggest that human existence “can only be grasped on the basis of an experience that is already social,” an “experience of coexistence” that in turn is “inseparable from [our] experience of the world, from [our] experience of the visible and the invisible in every register.”3 Beginning in the sixteenth century, Europe’s experience of coexistence included a theologico-political formation of sovereignty rooted in the twofold body of the king that even before the collapse of the ancien régime had...

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