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The will and the necessity – Giorgio Agamben

The question of whether governments are consciously using the pandemic to declare a state of exception that reinforces their powers beyond all limits or whether they have no choice but the emergency is misplaced.

What happens today, as in any decisive historical crisis, is that the two things are both true: the use of the state of exception as a stratagem and the impossibility of governing otherwise that they coincide through it.

The sovereign, while acting in an absolutely arbitrary way, is at the same time forced to make an incessant decision on the exception that ultimately defines its nature.

The epoch we are living in is, that is, one in which the illegitimacy of the powers that govern the earth appears in full light: since they have lost any possibility of configuring themselves in a recognizable symbolic order, they are obliged to suspend the law and constitutional which could define it.

The state of exception becomes in this sense the normal state and whoever governs cannot under any circumstances govern otherwise.

It is perhaps possible that the state of exception is formally revoked: but a government of national salvation such as the one that is taking shape, in which all opposition ceases, is the perfect continuation of the state of exception.

Our diagnosis of a definitive decline in the age of bourgeois democracies is in any case confirmed.

It remains to be seen how long the suspension of politics and the emergency as a paradigm of government can last without taking on a form other than the medical terror on which they have been based so far.

February 12, 2021
Giorgio Agamben


  • Translated