The Real State of Exception?

An Illinois legislator named Darren Bailey has convinced a judge to overrule the governor’s stay-at-home order for him — and him alone. It is worth pondering the peculiar form of life that emerges as one individual is excepted from the general state of exception. He is able to move freely, unencumbered by social distancing requirements, and yet every other resident in the state is obliged to stay away from him. He can leave his home freely, and yet there is nowhere for him to go. He is an outcast insofar as he is the only resident of the “normal” society that the stay-at-home order suspended. His civil rights thus enter into a state of pure inoperativity, rendered useless by the very order that supposedly vindicated them.

Is Bailey a messianic figure? The response of the sovereign — in this case, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker — may tempt us to think so. Yet it is a curious messiah who promises only to lead us back to the normal functioning of law. To be truly messianic, Bailey would have to renounce any claim to serve as a precedent, choosing instead to live out his peculiar form-of-life in a way that enacts its absurdity. We can imagine that solitary vigil as a kind of performance art piece that repeatedly exposes the limit of the bourgeois rights he has uselessly reclaimed.

The messianic condition is one in which all the rights of citizenship will be useless in their current sense — pointing to the potential for a new, unheard-of use.

2 thoughts on “The Real State of Exception?

  1. Dear Adam:
    Thank you for an interesting post. Against the seeming paradox of the “exception to the exception” it isn’t clear how being served such an exemption would make one a strictly Messianic figure? Does it not rather reinforce the Exceptional Powers of the Sovereign, demonstrated through his ability to precisely grant such an exemption?
    Again, it is a curious point, worthy of further reflection.
    All the best, and take care.

  2. I was suggesting that someone who has somehow evaded the sovereign exception could be messianic, but then I go on to specify that he hasn’t escaped it in the relevant way and hence isn’t messianic. It’s a possibility I raise just to dismiss it.

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