Exploring a European tradition of allyship with sovereign struggles against colonial violence: A critique of Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Derrida through the heretical Jewish Anarchism of Gustav Landauer (1870–1919)

Abstract

Recently, indigenous struggles against ongoing colonial violence have become prominent in the context of growing environmental destruction and the ascendancy of the far right in the United States and parts of South America. This article suggests that European radical theory is not always equipped to provide normative frameworks of allyship with such struggles. Exploring the ‘messianic tone’ (Bradley and Fletcher, 2010, p. 3) in European radical theory, and in particular the works of Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben, the article argues that the analytical tendency to render the subject entirely dissolute acts against indigenous demands for justice built around the latter’s sovereignty. In an effort to excavate a ‘European’ tradition that might enable relations of allyship between those in relatively privileged positions and indigenous peoples, the article foregrounds the life and thought of Gustav Landauer (1870–1919), a German, Jewish, anarchist revolutionary who lost his life during the 1919 German revolution. Landauer’s anarchism was suffused with his reading of his Jewishness, and as such, although he prefigures Derrida and Agamben in many ways, he ultimately refused to completely reject the sovereignty of the subject, providing a means by which to engage European political theory with indigenous struggles in the world today.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank colleagues at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Politics and International Relations Theorylab collective, who have provided ongoing support, feedback and advice on the development of the arguments here as well as in related articles. I would also like to reserve special thanks for Clare Woodford, who held my hand through the early stages, and lastly, two anonymous reviewers, in particular for pointing me to some crucial sources.

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Gabay, Senior Lecturer in International Politics: Queen Mary University of London.

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Gabay, C. Exploring a European tradition of allyship with sovereign struggles against colonial violence: A critique of Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Derrida through the heretical Jewish Anarchism of Gustav Landauer (1870–1919). Contemp Polit Theory 19, 251–273 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41296-019-00358-4

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Keywords

  • indigenous
  • sovereignty
  • messianism
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Giorgio Agamben
  • Gustav Landauer