The Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths University of London

Research Centre run jointly between the Departments of Sociology and English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths University, London

CANCELLED: Elsa Dorlin – The Police and the Violence of the Democratic State (Dec 2)

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The Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought at Goldsmiths, University of London cordially invites you to its Lecture Series 20/21 on “Critiques of Violence”:

The Police and the Violence of the Democratic State 

Elsa Dorlin (Paris 8)

Wednesday, 2 December 2020 

4:00-6:00pm GMT


(please visit to register)

In my book Se défendreUne philosophie de la violence (Defending Oneself: A Philosophy of Violence), a major reference is missing: Walter Benjamin’s text, Toward the Critique of Violence (1921). Not that the text was not relevant, nor that Benjamin’s work and the thought were not familiar to me. It was by following the theses On the Concept of History that I initiated my genealogical approach to the notion of constellated time; but it was by tacitly shadowing Benjamin, grasping in the breaches of history for what belongs to an ontology of divine violence – of which revolutionary violence is like the replica and imprint – that I made explicit my intention to turn to muscle rather than law in order to think self-defense, because “there is something rotten in the law”.  

Toward the Critique of Violence is never cited in Se défendre, and yet this reference is there as a foundation, an inaugural starting point: all of its tragic protagonists – the state, natural law, positive law, the working class, the concept of property, the critique of the contract, life and death, the revolution, but also the mystical part of the carnal gesture that saves – are reanimated in the book I wanted to write. As a hidden reference, it is the fictitious dialogue between Walter Benjamin (but also Sorel) and Frantz Fanon that is deployed there. The critique of state violence, of the state itself – of right, of law, of the legal contract – and of their attendant mythologies is at the heart of my reflection.  

In this presentation, I would like to unfold this silent reference and extend the reflections of Se défendre by attempting to write what could be the last “missing” chapter of the book. A ghost chapter on the present, on the immediate reality from which I had deliberately kept myself at a distance, so difficult it is to think when our thoughts are glued to the present. At the crossroads of the present, I find Benjamin facing the democratic state, its police and their founding or constitutive violence; I find the French State and its police and the question: how to depose them? 

About the speaker: 

Elsa Dorlin is Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes/Saint-Denis. She is the author of several books, including La Matrice de la race. Généalogie sexuelle et coloniale de la nation française (Paris: La Découverte, 2006) and Se Défendre. Une philosophie de la violence (Paris: Zones, 2017; Suhrkamp, 2020; Verso, forthcoming), Frantz Fanon Book Prize from the Caribbean Philosophical Association 2018.


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