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“Torture and Democratic Violence,” 22 Ratio Juris (2009).


To understand the problem of torture in a democratic society, we have to take up a political-theological perspective. We must ask how violence creates political meaning. Torture is no more destructive and no more illiberal than other forms of political violence. The turn away from torture was not a turn away from violence, but a change in the locus of sacrifice: from scaffold to battlefield. Torture had been a ritual of mediation between sovereign and subject. Once sovereignty is located in the people, it no longer makes sense to speak of being sacrificed for the sovereign. Instead, sovereign presence is now realized in an act of self-sacrifice. The wars of modern nation-states have been acts of reciprocal self-sacrifice. Terror invokes torture in response because both speak a primitive language of political sacrifice, denying the enemy the privilege of self-sacrifice.

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