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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Agonistic Politics and the 'War on Terror'


This paper marks the beginning of a new research project for me that explores the relation between being human and ‘the political.' I begin my analysis from the theoretical standpoint of political agonism, which argues for the creative potential of conflict in human political relations and its importance in the very definition of the realm of politics. I then turn my attention to consideration of the structure of opposition that defines what US President George W. Bush designated as the conflict with the ‘axis of evil,' and the ‘war on terror' it inaugurated. Reviewing various important policy documents and actions of the US military and government during the past twenty-five years, I suggest that the present conflict is organized in terms that are different from the familiar clash of ‘good' versus ‘evil.' Although it might seem as though the goal that the ‘war on terror' seeks is the destruction of enemies, I argue that the pursuit and execution of the war seeks and depends upon the disappearance of the enemy. The final part of my paper offers an example of this in a philosophical analysis of the mysterious death of a US army colonel.

Insights Paper