Sacrifice and Sovereignty
KILLING STATES: LETHAL DECISIONS/FINAL JUDGMENTS, J. Culbert, A. Sarat, eds., Cambridge University Press
24 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2008 Last revised: 11 Dec 2012
Date Written: October 15, 2008
This Chapter examines a complement to the concept of the state’s monopoly of legitimate violence, what I call a ‘monopoly of sacrifice.’ It describes some of the difficulties the United States government has confronted in authoritatively designating which and whose losses and deaths in the name of the nation are considered transcendent or sacred. Through detailed case studies, it describes a state that uses legal form and policy to construe certain deaths as sacrificial, and others as banal, and then explores some of the challenges these designations encounter as non-state actors - Iraqi insurgents, private military contractors, American mothers of soldiers, and detainees - purport to have direct access to sacrificial action and sovereign meanings. Each of these cases illustrates not simply that an ex ante governmental designation is vulnerable to challenge, but the particular role of sacrifice in initiating such a challenge.
Keywords: sacrifice, sovereignty, privatization, violence
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation