A lot of my recent work has been in the area of sovereignty, in particular critiquing the focus on state figures (the president, etc.) that Schmitt’s decisionism leads to. But the story of modernity is the movement of sovereignty and sovereign decisions out of the oval offices and so on–that’s what national sovereignty has meant with the rise of those “executive agencies” working outside the law in order to protect it. Schmitt’s decisionism deflects the focus from where it needs to be, or least it tends to in the readings of him. In other words, it’s this form of sovereignty that Benjamin means when he talks about the “state of exception” in his Theses on History, and perhaps we might side with Benjamin as I read him, since he was taking on Schmitt. Strangely, in the legacy of that battle, the force seems to be on the side of Schmitt in academia, no matter how much Benjamin is brought out as this strange oracle to cite in texts that otherwise have nothing to do with him.
Anyway… all of that is to note Chris Hayes’ good piece in The Nation on the need for a new Church commission, but more importantly, what’s inherent is the danger that this sovereignty always poses in latter day states that hold themselves democratic.
The Church Committee came at a time when the public was in the midst of a wrenching (and necessary) loss of innocence. But in our age, secret government crimes and plots are almost a cliché. Polling shows trust in government has returned roughly to its mid-’70s nadir. The danger now isn’t naïveté but cynicism–that we just come to accept that the government will commit crimes in our name under the cover of secrecy and that such activities are more or less business as usual, about which nothing can be done. But something can be done. Something must be done. And Congress should do it.