Pro-Life

During our class on Foucault, I briefly pondered explanations for why the Pro-Life movement argues so vehemently against abortion but not nearly as much against capital punishment. There are undoubtedly those that succeed in connecting these two causes. I feel these people are the exception, though. On a nationwide-scale, The Republican party in general/ 'Dubya' in particular, proposed a 'culture of life'. This 'culture' (for reasons unknown) really wants every baby to be born but does not mind capital punishment. For those who haven't heard this ad nauseum, W executed record numbers of inmates while Governator of Texas.

I posited that a Foucaultian reading might conclude abortion garners greater attention because of its sexual implications and our power structures center on sexuality. However, Agamben's notion of homo sacer provides a clearer explanation of this phenomenon. If I understand his notion of sovereignty correctly, entrance into the realm of the sovereign (nation-state, for instance) implies a subjugation of life to the sovereign himself. However, before one is born, no such compact has been made. It is of the utmost importance that this life enter the politico-juridico-whatever realm before it is allowed to be killed. Perhaps then, Bush is not committing a simplistic logical fallacy as much as conforming to our basic ideas of power and society. (Think he read much Agamben at Yale?)

But what's interesting, of course, is that at least part of the secular (civil?) rhetoric of pro-life (and I'm paraphrasing lunchtable arguments, not actual jurisprudential articles) is that the fetus does have protectable 'rights,' among them the 'right to life.' Witness, for instance, cases where murdering a pregnant woman counts as double homicide (is this merely an apocryphal example that surfaces over the course of lunchtable debates? I'm sure I could google and find out, but I'd rather just ask the resident law school applicants [here's looking at you, 3NT]). Which is to say, fetal life very much has entered the politico-juridico-whatever realm of biopolitics, and as such can either count as homo sacer (e.g. when the abortive mother/abortion doctor is sovereign to the fetus) or can't (e.g. when aborting a woman's child 'against her will' is homicidal).

--Guattari Hero

Could the main distinction between abortion and capital punishment be the reason behind the killing ( if you consider abortion killing). I mean to say that the Homo Sacer is life that can be killed, but not sacrificed. Can abortion be considered "sacrifice" on some level? Either "sacrifice" the fetus for the sake of the mother, or "sacrifice" it for the sake of itself, or "sacrifice" it for society? Maybe there is some sort of undertones of sacrifice through the desctruction of could be life, or at least more than would be associated with the killing of someone who has murdered someone else.

I agree that abortion is a "sacrifice" on some level. Despite my pro-choice sentiments, a creature that is meant to live is being sacrificed for the beneift of the mother and whoever else. It is interesting to examine the chapter Vitae Necisque Potestas where Agamben describes how once man is born, he is suceptible to his own death. He writes that "every male citizen immediately finds himself in a state of virtually being able to be killed and in some way sacer with respect to his father." The parental roles are suddenly reversed and I dont think anyone would argue that the father's physical murder of his son is on a grander scale than a mother's choice to abort. But which is more of a sacrifice? Is death of the son a sacrifice for politics? I am baffled by this concept of citizens having to subject themselves to death in order to play a role in political life. I don't understand how it can viewed as politcially appropriate to kill someone without a trial. Perhaps I am reading it on too personal of a level but the prospect of handing a son over for execution is beyond my realm of comprehension.

While it's true that homo sacer is disqualified as an object of sacrifice, the connection you draw between the fetus and the father's murder of the son in 'Vitae Necisque Potestas' is a sacral one: the son is 'in some way sacer with respect to his father,' and so in that respect his death is not (and in fact cannot be) sacrificial. Your question, though - i.e. would it be possible to read the father's killing the son as a variety of sacrifice? - is an interesting one, since answering 'yes' might disqualify the son as sacer. I find myself wondering, though, whether 'secular sacrifice' (e.g. I sacrifice a fetus's 'life' for my own; I sacrifice my son's life out of fidelity to some principle against treachery; etc.) isn't quite the sacrifice Agamben has in mind - on the one hand it seems narrow-minded to read sacrifice as strictly theological (e.g. a sacrifice specifically to and for the divinities), but on the other it seems conceptually muddled to allow secular sacrifice to encroach on the homo sacrality of established homo sacers (e.g. what if we said that the victim of euthanasia was being 'sacrificed' for the good of her family, or that the VPs were 'sacrificed' to scientific progress, etc., and so didn't qualify as sacer?). Does anyone have a sense of where to draw the line?

One solution, at least with regard to the VP question, is the figure of Wilson, a 'biochemist who decided to make his own body and life into a research and experimentation laboratory upon discovering that he suffered from leukemia. Since he is accountable only to himself, the barriers between ethic and law disappear...His body is no longer private, since it has been transformed into a laboratory; but neither is it public, since only insofar as it is his own body can he transgress the limits that morality and law put to experimentation...It is easy to see that "experimental life" is a bios that has, in a very particular sense, so concentrated itself on its own zoe as to become indistinguishable from it' (185-6).

Wilson may be construed, or may construe himself, as a 'sacrifice to medicine' - or he may not. But it's clear that, at least as far as Agamben is concerned, his isn't a 'bare life' or a homo sacer so much as something closer maybe to the Dasein Agamben alludes to (see my class discussion post). Could we find analogous Wilson figures to finesse the sacrifice/bare life distinction in some of the other cases (the son, the euthanasia patient, the aborted fetus, et al.)?

--Guattari Hero

I read the example of the patria potestas as a model that explores sovereign relationships, and the way that "(bare life or sacred life) is the originary political element" (88). On 88 Agamben goes further to say "patria potestas was felt to be a kind of public dute...a 'residual and irreducible sovereignty", from which I took that the way that the father can deal with the son as bare life is the way sovereign power deals with subjects, as ultimately being outside the realm of prohibitions that govern subject-subject interactions. I read the Wilson example as a situation in which someone exercised sovereignty over themselves, since Wilson passes outside the limits that ethics place on experimentation in making himself into a laboratory, but am still teasing out what the significance of the public/private blurring there might be.

I'm glad a discussion of what 'sacrifice' means in the modern world has come up, because I was confused as to this as well and couldn't quite map it. I can't quite figure out what the equivalent of another 'sphere' that has a claim on human life as equally valid as law; maybe some kind of sense of the natural world, perhaps? But I can't figure out what this would mean; we certainly don't just let people die when they get sick because it's the way 'things are supposed to be'.