The Exceptionalist State and the State of Exception: Herman by William V. Spanos

By William V. Spanos

Critics predominantly view Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor as a "testament of acceptance," the paintings of a guy who had turn into politically conservative in his final years. William V. Spanos disagrees, arguing that the novella used to be not just a politically radical critique of yank exceptionalism but additionally an eerie preview of the kingdom of exception hired, such a lot lately, by way of the George W. Bush management within the post--9/11 warfare on Terror. whereas Billy Budd, Sailor is ostensibly concerning the Napoleonic Wars, Spanos contends that it really is at center a cautionary story addressed to the yankee public because the kingdom ready to increase its westward growth into the Pacific Ocean when it comes to setting up an international imperial army. via a detailed, symptomatic studying of Melville's textual content, Spanos rescues from serious oblivion the pervasive, dense, and decisive info that reveal the results of normalizing the kingdom of exception -- specifically, the transformation of the legal into the policeman (Claggart) and of the political man or woman into the disposable reserve that may be killed with impunity (Billy Budd). What this exhibits, Spanos demonstrates, is that Melville's uncanny attunement to the darkish facet of the yank exceptionalism delusion enabled him to foresee its hazard to the very center of democracy within the 20th and twenty-first centuries. This view, Spanos believes, anticipates the country of exception conception that has emerged within the contemporary paintings of Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, and Jacques Ranciere, between different severe theorists. The Exceptionalist country and the nation of Exception illustrates that Melville, in his personal time, used to be conscious of the adverse results of the deeply inscribed exceptionalist American id and famous the basic family and international coverage concerns that tell the country's nationwide safety application this day.

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We must rather blame the nature of the operations in which they were engaged, and that system of defensive war prescribed by the French government, which as Pitt, in the English Parliament, proclaimed [sic] to be the forerunner of certain ruin. ’’ (ISP, pp. 46–47)≥∏ Following this all too brief summary analysis of the disastrous failure of French maritime strategy in the Napoleonic wars, culminating at Trafalgar, Mahan goes on to conclude this first, theoretical, chapter by turning to its lessons for contemporary governments and their peoples, inasmuch as the question of sea power pertains to both peace and war.

As I have noted, the historical analysis Mahan undertakes in The Influence of Sea Power is fundamentally ideological and is informed by two related intentions. The first is to show that the history of the world, especially modern history— Late Melville and His Historical Occasion 19 the imperial history inaugurated by European powers in the so-called age of exploration—has been determined, not so much by nations warring over control of continental land masses, but by those aggressively enterprising mercantile and colonialist nations that sought control of the seas’ highways and the scattered network of ports of call that dotted them.

103): Nelson, by transcending the merely expedient, provided an immortal example of ‘‘supreme heroism, conformable to the highest ideals governing human behavior’’ (p. 109). [Laurence] Barrett (1955), pp. 622–23, takes the chapter as ‘‘really a statement of the theme of the whole story, . . that measured form . . ] Noone (1957), p. 261, argues conversely that ‘‘whereas Vere equates successful leadership with complete submission to form, Nelson is noted for his daring departures from forms. .

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