Notes on violence: Walter Benjamin's relevance for the study of terrorism

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Abstract

This article uses Walter Benjamin's theoretical claims in the 'Critique of violence' to shed light on some current conceptualisations of terrorism. It suggests an understanding of terrorism as an essentially contested concept. If the theorist uncritically adopts the state's account of terrorism, she occludes an important dimension of the phenomenon that allows for a rethinking of the state's claim to a monopoly on legitimate violence. Benjamin's essay conceptualises the state as resulting from a conjunction of violence, law, legitimacy and power that rests on mythical ideas about nature and history. It shows why the state claims to be justified in taking exceptional measures when this link is challenged and when its prerogative to the legitimate use of force is called into question. This, I argue, is what terrorism does. Thus, Benjamin's essay adds to a more nuanced and less one-sided understanding of both terrorism and state violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-178
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Global Ethics
Volume6
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Benjamin
  • legality
  • legitimacy
  • terrorism
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science

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