The law of bare life

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Ian Ward


Agamben, bio-politics, Schmitt, contagious diseases, COVID-19


2020 proved to be a remarkable year. Not the least remarkable was the realisation that, in a moment of perceived crisis, the instinctive response of the UK Government was to sweep away various so-called rights and liberties which might, in a calmer moment, have been presumed fundamental, and to rule by means of executive fiat. The purpose of this article is to interrogate both the premise and the consequence. Because, on closer inspection, there is nothing at all remarkable about how the Government reacted, for the same reason that there was little that was unprecedented about the experience of COVID-19. History is full of pandemics and epidemics, and government invariably acts in the same way. The first part of this article will revisit a particular theory of governance, again proved by history; that which brings together ‘bio-politics’ and the jurisprudence of the ‘exception’. The second part of the article will then revisit a prescient moment in British history; another disease, another panicked government, another lockdown. In the third, we will reflect further on the experience of COVID-19 and wonder what might be surmised from our foray into the past.

Abstract 152 | NILQ 73.3.2 Ward Downloads 86