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abstract

Responding to Derrida's Death Penalty Seminar of 1999–2000 and its interpretation by Michael Naas, in this paper I argue that Derrida's deconstruction of the theologico-political concept of the sovereign right over life and death in view of abolishing capital punishment should be understood in terms of the unconditional renunciation of sovereignty that dominates Derrida's later political writings, Rogues (2005) in particular. My reading takes seriously what I call the functional need for a “theological” moment in sovereignty beyond a merely historicist or genealogical interpretation of the European monotheistic heritage. Further, I ask how Derrida can follow through on his goal of developing the allegedly first principled philosophical stance against capital punishment. To this end, I assemble some ingredients of this complex but “unconditional” abolitionism, one that doubts our comprehension of and active relation to death to the point of questioning the commonsense distinctions among murder, suicide, and legal putting to death. I conclude that, for Derrida, letting another die of hunger or AIDS may be understood as a form of a death sentence, so that a deconstructive abolitionism leaves no room for the development of a good conscience.