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Eight - Lawfare: A Long History

from Part Three - The Abyssal Law under the Mode of Abyssal Exclusion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 August 2023

Boaventura de Sousa Santos
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Madison
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Summary

In this and the following chapters I analyse the history of abyssal exclusions brought about by modern state law. I define lawfare as any performance in the name of law (a declaration, norm, sentence, official action or omission) premised on the extreme strangeness of the addressee or target, either because the latter is not fully human (the stranger as a subhuman being) or because its actions must be sanctioned without the normative constraints of the rule of law (the stranger as an internal or external enemy). The long journey of lawfare is the long journey of capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. It has undergone multiple metamorphoses and reincarnations since the sixteenth century. From colonial law to imperial law, from the penal law of the enemy to the criminalisation of protest, and from the war on corruption to the war on migration, the abyssal exclusion of targeted social groups has been carried out by lawfare. In every instance, modern domination has found ways of separating humanity from subhumanity, friend from enemy, and non-abyssal social exclusion from abyssal exclusion. There is no reason to believe that new metamorphoses will not appear. The abyssal line is the most resilient and most fundamental structure of Western domination. Only successful struggles against capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy will bring about the progressive dislocation of the abyssal line through sustained interruptions of the institutions upon which Western domination reproduces itself, namely the state and the law.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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