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The ethnoecocidal eradication of indigenous bodies, cultures,and cartographies in the United States, although not without re-
sistance and remainder, gradually transformed densely texturednetworks of peoples and places into a cleared and open spaceupon which a nation could be imaginatively and materially com-posed. However, securing these lands as unambiguously Amer-ican required an elaborate extension of these violent and amnesiccartographic practices. A reading of the US Declaration of In-dependence and discourses surrounding the US Constitution isused to demonstrate this, with the point of documenting theincessant forgetting requisite for contemporary American self-representations to hold sway and the violent ramifications that
are thereby enabled. KEYWORDS: foundations, US Constitution,cartographic practices, politics of forgetting
A foundation is a promise.Jacques Derrida, Force of Law
The ethnoecocidal eradication of indigenous bodies, cultures, andcartographies gradually transformed densely textured networks ofpeoples and places into a cleared and open space upon which a na-
tion could be imaginatively and materially composed; although notwithout resistance and remainder. Securing these lands as unambig-uously American, that is, producing the conditions for the UnitedStates to represent itself as a self-identical nation-state situated withina state-centric geopolitical cartography required, and still requires, anelaborate extension of these violent and amnesic cartographic prac-tices. An incessant effort of suppression and forgetting (paradoxically,an effort of self-suppression and self-forgetting that puts the integrity,the very selfhood of the self into question) is required for American
Alternatives 34 (2009), 299337
*Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504-5000. E-mail: [email protected]
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self-representations to hold sway, for practices in the name of USsovereign self-interest to proceed without the hesitations and inter-
ruptions that would result from the sort of questioning that resistsdevolution into techno-strategic calculations of preset state problem-atics. Through these efforts, that which must be forgotten is revived,reinvigorated: the constitutive exclusions of competing claims and al-legiances that have always already wounded the heart of the nationalbody, subverting its projected integrity in advance. Precipitously declar-ing itself sovereign (self-enclosed and self-determined, unaccountablebut to itself even if this means appearing wildly capricious, irrational,bestial) despite, or perhaps in view of, the manifest dangers entailedtherein and exacerbated thereby, the United States returns inces-
santly, in the mode of stalwart denial, to its fragility and permeability,its self-incommensurability, its unavoidable failure to meet the sover-eign ideality it establishes for itself, its complicity in a legacy of brutal-ity that piles in the wake of its security and prosperity, its constitutivelydamaged self-image, its inhabitation by or cohabitation with inassim-ilable claims and allegiances. We can follow the fates of these disavowalsin every policy, both foreign and domestic, that is pursued in the nameof US national interest.
Could it be that it is in partbecause ofthe enormous risks entailedby sovereign self-assertion that US sovereignty is so frequently and so
vigorously put on public display? Might the obsessive enactment ofsovereignty signal, albeit obliquely, a (self-)destructive melancholia,even express a death drive? Can the recurrent staging of US self-de-termination as absolute be read as a paranoid testing of survivability,a testing of both the ability of the United States to survive its vulner-ability and others capacities to survive its raging independence?Might the risking of abundantly obvious dangers entailed by belliger-ent assertions of US sovereignty symptomatize an ambition to sufferpunishment at its own hands, for example, as a form of preemptive orpreventative exculpation in the service of aggressive intentions, as aform of retrospective reparation, or as a conflicted, omnivorous iden-tification with its victims? Would the staging of sovereignty put in playa masochistic parody of agency? If frenetic assertions of sovereignty be-speak an effort to forget (and to forget the difficultiesone mighteven say the aporiasof the continual effort of forgetting), an effortof (self-)avoidance, (self-) oblivion, or even (self-)annihilation; if thequasicompulsive enactments of self-absorbed sovereign prerogativeon the part of the United States signal an effort to forget the pain thatits (anti-)memorial practices bear upon the pleasures they promise yet
never fully bring; if rather than risking a sustained confrontation withthe complications, allegations, and nightmarish visitations residuallyinsisting themselves and disquieting the dream of sovereign integrity;
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and if wearied by the work of sequestration and repression necessaryto defer such an encounter, the United States would, in some respect,
welcome the brink of annihilation as that which phantasmatically con-tains both the resolution of its pains and difficulties in the scene of itsdestruction and the assurance of its sovereign invincibility consequentupon its survival, then sustaining a specter of self-destruction may bea complicated response to wounds already inflictedand in somesense self-inflictedthat the United States constantly seeks to deny. Atstake here will be nothing less than the pathology of sovereignty.1
While we could trace the amnesic efficacy of literature or otherprint media, film,2 popular sentiment, or official rhetoric concerningthe various dangers with which the United States finds itself inces-
santly embroiled, in this inquiry into the imaginary consolidation ofUS sovereignty and of the map of sovereign states within or uponwhich it situates itself, I will instead turn to the founding political ges-tures embodied in and performed by the Declaration of Independenceand Constitution. Through a reading of the Declaration, and, in thecase of the Constitution, also through an analysis of the discourses thatorganized themselves around it, I will trace a narrative of determi-nate, fixed, and final founding that seeks to authorize and naturalizean imaginary wherein America would be once and for all situated asa coherent and sovereign national body within or upon a state-centric
international topography. Responding to the insistent and troublingremainder of the violent, constitutive exclusions encoded as if in Amer-icas very landscape, these founding documents contribute to the pro-duction of a political imaginary that attempts to interpellate all (ornearly all) inhabitants of US territories as members of a singular andpersistent national body over which a decidedly American sovereigntyreigns. In order to illuminate the sovereign national body as consti-tuted through violent exclusions that are subsequently concealed andcovered over by the effect of autonomy, yet precisely as such are re- vived and reinvested as the sites around which collective memories(which is to say, collective repressions) organize, here I will focus onthe founding gestures embodied in (performed and covered by) bythe Declaration of Independence and the discourses attendant uponand organized by the Constitution.
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The intelligibility of the nation as a unitary body is largely secured bythe sense of finality encoded into and presumptively performed by
founding political gestures. The ambition of these founding gestures isto encourage those who had represented themselves as inhabitants of,say, a revolutionary-colonial space to now, once and for all, experience
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themselves as, in the language of the Declaration, steadfastly situatedwithin a sovereign national body of separate and equal station to
other powers of the earth. Commitments to the state, as this lan-guage suggests and as we will soon see in much greater detail, emergeinextricably intertwined with commitments to a state-centric interna-tional cartography: As Derrida would have it, there are only coun-tersignatures here. What these founding gestures seek to motivate isan acceptance of the state-centric imaginary that wouldretrospec-tively, circuitouslythen enable these acts of founding to function aspoints of no return (is it at all surprising that the zero point of sov-ereignty is distributed among a succession of momentsnot to men-tion a relay of placesa succession that, all the more scandalously,
extends indefinitely into the future, i.e., that the sovereign instance isrent in advance by its incompletable futurity, by the inherence of thefuture as the indefinite delay and deferral of its self-integration?), asturning points after which commitment to the stateand the statesystembecomes supervenient, negating (which may mean abolishing,subordinating, or reorganizing and rearticulating) all anterior claimsof local authorities.3Anticipatorily projecting the self-representationof colonial-revolutionary subjects as ultimately committed to the UnitedStates as a sovereign nation-state though assertions of this state of af-fairs, and seeking to inaugurate that which they descriptively declare
through a variety of interpellative strategies, such founding gestures,precisely through their anticipatory regulation of contexts and cir-cumstances that would threaten the nation-state as the primary locusof ethico-political commitments, as the sovereign instance organizingcollective imaginaries and practices, project their inevitable failure tofully and finally found such commitments. The origin projects a futureof irremediable insecurity.
In Derridas reading of the Declaration, the we of the Declara-tion speaks in the name of the people. But these people do notexist. They do notexist as an entity, the entity does notexistbeforethisdeclaration, notas such. If it gives birth to itself, as free and indepen-dent subject, as possible signer, this can hold only in the act of the sig-nature. The signature invents the signer.4 But with his attentionfocused on the general structures of diffrance, tracing, and the every-day occurrence of the impossible, Derrida leaves unaddressed thequestion of how and why thisdeclaration will have been taken as apoint of origin for the people in whose name it will have come tospeak. To be sure, Derridas reading makes no pretensions to com-prehensiveness. Further, let it be underscored that though sometimes
it seems as if Derridas lack of concern with the concrete conditionsof the Declarations performative efficacy opens his text to echoes of anAlthusserian presumption of the quasidivine authority of interpellation
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(as if by concealing itself in constative terms a performative speech-actcould be perfectly effective), Derrida is notattributing a divine efficacy
to the inventive or inspired articulation of the Declarationthoughits force is figured as rather miraculous, mystical. He is by no meanssuggesting that it is simply onedeclaration through which the we ofthe Declaration gives birth to itself as [a] free and independent sub-ject, as if this declaration were modeled on the ontological produc-tivity of the divine Word. Thus his reading is in no way incompatiblewith further questions concerning the Declarations efficacy. Nor isDerrida suggesting that the gathering of the people through the in-vention of the signature is simply a matter of retrospective projection(a surreptitious divine speech), technical mastery, or otherwise mag-
isterial capacity. Witness the crucial function of Derridas if (If itgives birth to itself, as free and independent subject, as possiblesigner). But then again, the question remains: What conditions theeffective operation of the Declaration, to the extent that it is effec-tive? If the Declarations efficacy is not guaranteed simply by virtue ofits pronouncement, what contexts are intervened in and rearticulatedin order for the illusion of spontaneous self-founding to gain hold? Be-cause his attention is keyed to the everyday occurrence of the impos-sible, to the fabulous, virtual character of the event of declaration, tothe force that corrupts the purity of the law but without which the law
could not prevail, to the infinite relay and thus perpetually unconsol-idated character of authority, and to thinking beyond transcendentalsignifiers, Derrida is ill-attuned to the details of history and rhetoricthat could better account for the efficacy of the signatory performa-tive(s). Derrida does say that that first signature authorizeshim or herto sign (p. 50; emphasis added), that in signing, the people . . . dowhat they say they do (p. 50), that the Declaration . . . remains pro-ducer and guarantor of its own signature (p. 50); he does speak ofthe declaration that founds an institution, a constitution, or a state(p. 47), of this obscurity, this undecidability between, let us say, a per-formative structure and a constative structure, [that] is required toproduce the sought-after effect, as if the sought-after effect were al-together realized (p. 49; original emphasis), of a representativity[that] isfully legitimatedonly by the signature (p. 50; emphasis added),of those who have the right to sign, in truth [who] . . . already havehad it, and who gave it to themselves (p. 50), of the a signature thatgives or extends credit to itself, in a single coup de force, . . . [a]coup de force that makes right, founds right or law, gives right,brings the law to the light of day, gives both birth and day to the law (p. 50;
original emphasis), and of a relative ease with which another statesignature . . . [was] erased by dissolving the links of colonial pater-nity and maternity (p. 50); and depending on where one places the
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accents in the crucial line cited above (If it gives birth to itself, as freeand independent subject, as possible signer, this can hold only in the act
of signature), it can seem as if Derrida presumes that the act can befully and finally effective. Something seems amiss. Although surely the people in whose name the Declaration is
signed did notexistbeforethis declaration as a signatory party in ex-actly the same way they would subsequently (in some way the signatureinvents the signer), perhaps this people or something akin to it didexist in various ways within revolutionary-colonial practices and imag-inaries, that is, as [a]possiblesigner. Perhaps this anticipated signer,this proto- or para-people even persisted after the delegates signa-tures were collected. Did not the revolutionary colonists develop mo-
mentum for the revolution by publicly anticipating their status as alegitimate signatory party to something like the Declaration? Did thegathering of the delegates to draft the Declaration not presuppose aprior authorization by the good people and thus their right to sign?And how certain is it that a people was established, then and there, asthe last delegates signature comes to an end? To whom and to whatextent was this signing credible? We are left to wonder: given that therevolutionary colonists must have imagined themselves as possible sig-natory parties to something like the Declaration and the sorts of doc-uments it projects, if the Declaration, while seeking a performative
effect on the global stage was, as far as the revolutionary colonists/incipient US citizens were concerned, primarily constative, performa-tive only in the sense of recasting or recharacterizing an extant peo-ple, or something like it, who could or would recognize this people asa free and independent subjectonly afterthe Declaration? Could it bethat the party who would recognize this people as sovereign only afterthe Declaration is one of the primary parties to whom it is addressed,a party it specifically seeks to convince that the people engaged inrevolutionary struggle are, consequent upon this announcement, to beduly recognized as a legitimate, sovereign people among others? Couldit be, then, that when Derrida speaks of the production and guaranteeof the Declarations own signature, of its fully effective self-legitimatingperformance, and so ongenerally, when he focuses on the inventionof the signer by the signature (rather than the claim that there areonly countersignatures)he reads the Declaration a bit too imma-nently and complicitly? At these moments, does Derrida not read theDeclaration from the point of view of the British Crown upon whomthe operations of the Declaration have been effective, that is, fromthe point of view of the Crown as ideally posited or projected by the
Declaration, thus through the (self-)depiction, and in a way, the self-projection of the Declaration? In this sense, would Derridas readingnot be complicit with and blind to the tactical use to which the genre
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of divine speech is put by the Declaration (the delegates dont mis-take themselves for or think they are channeling God, but they speak
as if their text were invested with a divine auto-productive capacity inorder to insinuate this reading into the international scene of the Dec-larations reception; the Declaration seeks to be suggestive)? The Dec-larations interpellative intentions seems to have worked on Derridain a surprising way. Uncharacteristically, he seems rather immediatelyidentified with the texts intended addressee, corroborates its pro-jected ideal reception, reads it too closely in line with its performativeintention. Elsewhere, Derridas intimacy with a texts ideal receptionwould have to be read in terms of a usurpation of sovereignty, thus asa manner of probing and dislocating the texts authority, as a way of
suggesting, of putting on display a figure of sovereignty or ideality asalways already usurped, compromised. But in this text, as Derrida ar-gues that the representativity of the representatives . . . is fully legiti-mated only by the signature, thus after the fact or belatedly, it seems thatover and against the standpoint of the revolutionary colonists forwhom such a representative structure would likely be considered al-ready legitimate, he is reading the Declaration from the standpoint ofthe British Crown as projected by the Declaration, that is, convincedafter the fact or belatedly that the signature is fully legitimated(emphasis added).5 In this case, it seems that Derridas commentary
is best read for its symptomatic value, for what it shows of the revolu-tionary colonists tactics and self-conceptions.
If, as Derrida contends, making it sound as if the subject of theDeclaration were spontaneously auto-authorizing and thus vergingon a mythopoietic discourse, there was no signer, by right, before theDeclaration, which itself remains the producer and guarantor of itsown signature, we must discount the right of signature proposed bysystems of right operativeor at least emergentin revolutionary-colonial political imaginaries and read the Declaration according toone of the following schemas.
On the one hand, the Declaration would be read as if it were aself-enclosed, fully autonomous and autochthonous speech-act whereinthe text itself remains the producer and guarantor of its own signa-ture. When Derrida continues to read the signature as opening foritselfa line of credit, itsown credit for itselftoitself and immediatelythereafter argues that the selfrises forth here in all cases (nomina-tive, dative, accusative) as soon as a signature gives or extends creditto itself, in a single coup de force . . . . [which] makes right, foundsright or law, gives right,6 he seems to suggest that the signature par-
takes of a fully self-referential, indeed autopoietic relation closing backupon itself by opening a line of credit for itself, itsown credit for it-selftoitself, and thereby engaging in a fully self-enclosed self-relation
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whereby a people gives birth to itself as a free and independent sub-ject. To be sure, Derridas primary aim is to emphasize that nothing
canground the peoples autonomy and consequently the institutionsthey authorize, that political institutions are necessarily non-ideal, in-definitely revisable. But the manner in which Derrida pursues thispoint makes it seem as if drawing a line of credit from and attainingrecognition as a legitimate people by the sovereign states of the worldwasnot a major stake of this text.
On the other hand, the Declaration would be read from thestandpoint of the British Crown effectively swayed by the argumentsof the Declaration, coming back to itself through the American revo-lution: a reading of the interpellative, or more generally, performa-
tive intentions of the Declaration. This would be to screen a readingof the Declaration from the perspective according to which there wasno signer, by right, before the Declaration precisely because prior tothe Declaration, the Crown was not compelled to recognize the inde-pendence of the colonies, an independence that would then be, para-doxically, a sovereign concession on the part of the Crown, somethingon the order of pardon or forgiveness. In affording the Crown the op-portunity to cosign, to authorize, and thus to retroactively recognizethe Declaration as producer and guarantor of its own signature, in al-lowing the Crown to maintain face, to sustain its presumption of sov-
ereignty when, or even precisely by, recognizing the sovereignty ofanother, in offering the Crown the opportunity to recognize its prioractions as having already broken the bond between itself and the revo-lutionary colonists/incipient US citizens, and so to recognize the Amer-ican revolution as a continuation of British values and commitments,as a continuation of the British spirit, which would thus make it an op-portunity to maintain its sovereignly self-absorbed frame of reference,the Declaration would induce the Crown to affirm that there was nosigner, by right, before the Declaration.7As if what is at stake in theDeclaration is not a bold self-assertion, an exemplary, inaugural mo-ment of political modernity.
Sovereignty would be on one side or the other. On this or that sideof the Atlantic. On the side of the author or the addressee. These read-ings are but inversions of one another, sharing a presumption of theunitary site and absolute efficacy of sovereignty that results in blind-ness in each case, in their symmetrical inadequacies. Let us try anothertrack.
Rather than focusing on either the spontaneous self-inauguration orthe retrospective positing of a people and thereby risking a mystifying
analysis that either ignores the recognitive conditions of effective au-tonomy or confines itself to the standpoint of the British Crown as pro-jected by the Declaration and wildly overestimates and fundamentally
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misconstrues the efficacy of recognition, let us rather follow through,that is, take to the limit, a perhaps uncomfortably conventional the-
sis. What if we were to read the Declaration as an extension and self-elaboration of a more or less self-conscious community, of a pre-formedpeople or something akin thereto? On this reading, the radicality ofthe Declaration would consist more of the ways in which the peoplein whose name it is signed reconfigure their loyalty to the Crown orthe ideals and values embodied thereby as precisely that which au-thorizes their revolutionary project of independence, thus renderingthe site of sovereignty undecidable. (And would this not be a subtlechallenge to the notion of sovereignty itself? As oblique and muted,would this challenge be more effective than a head-on collision?). In
the name of the motherland and as properly British subjects, the rev-olutionary colonists would claim their independence, thereby send-ing tremors through the sovereign-state-centric arena of geopoliticsand concealing them in the same gesture.
As Arendt suggests in On Revolution,
the conflict of the colonies with the king and Parliament in Englanddissolved nothing more than the charters granted the colonists andthose privileges they enjoyed by virtue of being Englishmen; itdeprived the country of its governors, but not of its legislative as-
semblies, and the people, while renouncing their allegiance to aking, felt by no means released from their own numerous compacts,agreements, mutual promises, and consociations.8
On this reading, rather than entering into their revolutionary war tu-multuously embroiled in a Hobbesian state of nature wherein allcommunity bonds are broken with the abolition of their sovereignguarantor, the revolutionary colonists, united by complex politicalnetworks, would be already something of a people. As Arendt empha-sizes, power came into being when and where people would get to-gether and bind themselves through promises, covenants, and mutualpledges; only such power, which rested on reciprocity and mutuality,was real power and legitimate.9 There is surely reason to be suspi-cious of this fantasy of nonviolent autonomy, indeed of unqualifiedself-invention. First, it is far from certain that the authority conferredby these procedures is entirely self-grounding and self-sustaining.Does the legitimacy they yield not depend to some degree on thelegacy they embody, on their prior investment with authority? That is,does the fact that these practices and the ideals they embody are Eu-
ropean inheritances not impact their authority? To be clear, it wouldnot be just a question of a vulgar Eurocentrismas if promises andpledges were generative of real power and legitimacy only because of
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their European pedigree. Rather, it would be a question of values andideals as unavoidably inherited, operative in advance even if subject
to a certain reworking, thus a question of authority as inherently un-consolidated. Through the latter matrix, the question of Eurocentrismcould be better posed. Second, unsurprisingly, although the revolu-tionary colonists may have understood their legitimacy to be derivedfrom mutual self-determination procedures, they did not recognizethe mutual self-determination procedures of indigenous collectivitiesas likewise conferring legitimate power. In refusing to recognize indige-nous people(s) as likewise legitimate because equally self-determining,in situating them as illegitimate because they are onlyself-determiningand not sovereign nation-states on a Euro-American model, the rev-
olutionary colonists give the lie to the categorical claims of their le-gitimation procedures. However, even if Arendt, like Derrida, seemscaptivated by and focuses too narrowly on the moment of sponta-neous self-assertion and self-determination, it is crucial to underscorethat if she is not wholly off the mark here, the revolutionary colonistswould have been habituated to viewing each other as participants inthe proceduralist/expressivist formations of legitimate power she de-scribes, that is, they would likely recognize each other as participatingin practices of collective self-determination, as already a communityor a people in some way. Although the colonists surely did not be-
lieve that their respective colonies were fully sovereign and indepen-dent politiesthey surely recognized those in the motherland, thosethe terminology of the Declaration identifies still as our Brittishbrethren, as, at the very least, legitimate participants in their ritualsof self-determinationa sense of collective selfhood and the prerog-ative of self-determination is evidently operative.10 The IndependentStates announced as such by the Declaration, then, may be read asseeking their independence(s) as revolutionary reiterations of a pro-found loyalty to the ideals professed by the British Crown. Thus, theAmerican revolution may be read as the unpredictable fate of Britishinterpellative practices whose terms are adhered to with a stringencythat is at once a subversive rearticulation.11
Witness the ways in which prior to 1776 certain colonists had al-ready reconfigured the terms of British interpellative practices intothe conditions of their rebellious agency and the grounds for their in-dependence: The set of resolutions proposed by Samuel Adams andapproved by the House of Representatives of Massachusetts on 29 Oc-tober 1765 stipulate that the colony is Resolved, that any person whoshall, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that any person or per-
sons other than the General Assembly of this colony, have any right orpower to impose or lay any taxation on the people here, shall bedeemed an enemy to His Majestys Colony.12 Strikingly, colonialMassachusetts appropriates the traditionally sovereign prerogative to
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distinguish between friend and foe, and thus to determine the legiti-mate inhabitants of the community, in the name of His Majesty, as
His Majestys Colony. A promiscuous obedience to the Crown en-ables the colonists to speak in the name of their British motherlandagainst the claims and dictates of the motherland itself. Any personor persons other than the General Assembly is a phase specificallydesigned to pertain to the British king, Parliament, and their colonialrepresentatives who were, at the time, taxing the colonies to pay forthe British troops stationed at forts in the colonial west who werecharged with keeping the colonists off indigenous lands and thuswith enforcing the 1763 Proclamation, intended to stabilize relationsbetween Great Britain and Native North Americans after the Treaty
of Paris but which was widely unpopular with the colonists and re-sented even more vehemently once they had to pay for the troopswho would enforce it.
Further suggestive of and itself contributing significantly to a senseof relatively independent proto-American communality was the feder-ation of colonies that arose in response to French threats in 1754 (laterdesignated the French and Indian War). According to the agree-ment of this federation, a collective colonial body would be investedwith responsibility for relations with indigenous people(s), includingmatters of security and negotiations for new land transfers, tax col-
lections for general purposes, and a certain overall legislative and ex-ecutive prerogative necessary for the war looming on the horizon,while individual colonies would retain legislative power over their in-ternal affairs.13Although this federation called in British support toward off French intrusion, these states never supposed that by call-ing in her aid, they thereby submitted themselves to her sovereignty.14More precisely, the colonists calling in Britains aid did not understandthemselves to be thereby submitting to measures later taken to fore-stall any further skirmishes with indigenous people(s) (which were ex-tremely costly to the motherland). Measures with this design, such asthe Proclamation of 1763 and the enforcement mechanisms and tax-ations that accompanied it, were received as all the more egregiousbecause they were unilaterally imposed on the coloniesthe coloniesconsent was not even taken into consideration.
Drawing attention to this sense of community preceding and in-forming the Declaration,15 Derrida notes, by right Jefferson writes[the Declaration] but he does not sign . . . . He was not responsiblefor writing, in the productive or initiating sense of the term, only fordrawing up, as one says of a secretary that he or she draws up a letter,
of which the spirit has been breathed into him or her, or even thecontent dictated . . . . the representatives . . . sign; by right, they signfor themselves but also for others, that is, for those who were alreadysomething of a community inasmuch as they imagined themselves as
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able, as invested with the right, to authorize such a document, to del-egate representatives to draft and sign it, and to fight for its institu-
Furthermore, the Declaration itself, in enumerating certaincrimes of the king, gives voice to a prevailing sense of colonial com-munality. For instance, the complaint that King George was abusingthe colonies rightful power of naturalization by obstructing the Lawsof Naturalization of Foreigners and by claiming those who were cap-tured at sea as British subjects rather than foreign prisoners of war(He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken captive on the highSeas to bear Arms against their Country, to become executioners oftheir friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands) sug-gests that the colonists had already come to represent themselves as
members of either (1) independent and autonomous political com-munities, themselves fundamentally connected in the figure of Coun-try, or (2) duly invested with rights of naturalization by the Crown.Even according to the latter option, the colonies would understandthemselves as asserting their rights in these matters, rights which re-main inviolable without the procedural legitimations to which theywere accustomed, and this bespeaks a sense of community that theCrown had inspired among them. Either way, the colonists appear tohave conceived of themselves as quasi-independent communities.
In many ways, prior to the Declaration there was a pervasive sense
of communal independence(s), of people-hood(s). Let us now turn tothe text of the Declaration in order to more closely examine how thesequasi-independent communities were interpellated as fully and finallycommitted to the sovereign integrity of the American nation-state.
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Seeking to suppress the novelty of the revolution, vitiating concernsthat the revolution will have been an exemplary moment hasteningfurther colonial rebellions and massive geopolitical instabilities, theDeclaration of Independence begins as follows: When in the Courseof human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve thepolitical bands which have connected them with another. The initialwhen both announces a break, an interruption and at once situatesthe revolution as in medias res, encoding the emergent event as a rep-etition, a repetition of a trope common to the Course of humanevents, as in no way a radical rebeginning. Contextualizing the colo-nial rebellion as but an example of that which tends to occur, nowand again, in the Course of human events, these opening words
seek to shut down allegations of illicit insubordination and anar-chism, and thereby seeks to open onto a reception wherein the revo-lution will be accepted by the international community as, while not
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exactly ordinary, common and familiar enough. (Sovereignty and ef-forts to achieve interpretive hegemony go hand in hand; they stand
or fall together.) On the home front, one ambition of this postulatednecessity is to interpellate those whose actions it situates as alreadyabiding by the force of necessity as all the more firmly committed tothe emergent nation. (Perhaps another is to preemptively secure theultimate allegiance ofto tamethose it seeks to embolden by or-chestrating their identification as avatars of Necessity.) The implicitdemand to affirm the necessity that it poses as already enveloping andinforming the revolution calls upon colonists already engaged in thatrevolution and those who may join them to experience the claims ofthe revolution as strictly necessary, to open themselves to the force of
this necessity, and hopefully thereby, to open themselves to a forceof necessity that will carry them to a firm and final commitment tothe union of states calling itself America. It is as if an advance as-sault on the interminable dialectic of revolution and institution, andthereby a preemptive strike against the projected nations democraticautonomy, were under way. (Could it be otherwise?) It is as of thisfounding document can not but foresee its infelicity and cannot helpbut do what it can to cover it over. As the phraseology insists that inthe Course of human events, it becomes necessaryfor one people to dis-solve the political bands which have connected them with another,
the passive voice dissimulates the agency enacted or usurped by in-sinuating a aura of foreordained fate, a sense of necessity already ac-cepted as such or at least derivable from the state of affairs about to bedetailed. The Declaration thus seeks to realize precisely what it states:a sense of necessity enframing the colonial revolution.17 Sovereignself-assertion is here manifestly ill at ease with itself, unable to reposein itself, as if sensing that its pure self-enactment would be its downfall.
As against Derridas emphasis that the link between signature andinstituting act does not allow itself to be reducednot as easily, in anycase, as it does in a scientific text, where the value of the utterance isseparated or cuts itself off from the name of its author without essen-tial risk, and, indeed, must be able to do so in order to lay claim toobjectivity,18 here I would emphasize that the efficacy of the Decla-ration hangs on its ability to fairly easily efface the link between thesignature(s) and the (re)instituting act, indeed to figure signature andinstitution as forms of supplication to generally acknowledged Ne-cessity.19 The Declarationif it and the revolution it announces are togive rise to a sustainable union of states, if it is to be accorded legiti-mate title by the international community and the colonists/citizens
fighting for the recognition of their independencemust be consid-ered called forth by nothing less than the ineluctable force of neces-sity. Precisely like a classical scientific text, in order to lay claim to the
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objectivity of necessity, to present itself as simply documenting an ob-jectively ascertainable state of affairs dictated by the forces of neces-
sity, the Declaration must, on its own terms, suppress its all-too-humanauthorship (the authorship of both those who sign and those in whosename the signing occursthe question of the divine cosigner will beaddressed in a moment). The Declaration must intervene in the con-ditions of its reception in order to secure the legitimacy it posits as al-ready obtaining. By asserting the necessityof the colonial revolution,the Declaration implies an inevitable(as we will see, the language isthat of the Declaration) conferral of legitimacy upon US indepen-dence by precisely the community of nations that it seeks to convincethat its actions are not altogether unusual, indeed abiding by the law
of necessity, and hence legitimate. Simultaneously, it seeks to imposethis sense of necessity, of inevitability, upon those it posits as alreadybearing and fighting in the name of this necessity or who may soonjoin themall the better to secure revolutionary subjects as ultimatelysubject, committed firm and fast, to the emergent nation. When thesovereign is on the scene, there is danger at every turn.
Notice how in the followingquite strikingformulation, theaudaciousness of the revolutionary event, the unconditional, utterlyexceptional natality of the revolution, is announced, and simultane-ously, the announcement is effaced as God is indicated as the cosigner
and ultimate author of the revolution, which situates the revolutionaryactions as obeying laws of necessity. Transcendentalizing the source ofthe revolutionary disregard for British sovereignty and displacingblame for the violation of international propriety perpetrated by therevolution, Adams declares that the colonists are calledwithout ex-pectation and compelled without previous inclination.20 As if therevolution struck with the force of revelation.
However, the desired sense of necessity and hence legitimacy isnot so easily conferred. For, even if the Declaration effectively insin-uates as a general maxim that in the Course of human events, it be-comes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands whichhave connected them with another, the recognition of the Americanrevolution as a case partaking of such necessity is far from guaran-teed. Though the Declarations performative efficacy is considerablyenhanced by the manner in which it conceals its performative, inter-pellating, and inaugural efforts in the lineaments of constative utter-ances, specifically in constative claims to necessity and intimations ofdivine legitimacy,21 its operations thus far are hardly sufficient to winthe acceptance of political revolution as necessary in this case. The Dec-
laration, at least at this point, cannot compel the recognition of theAmerican/colonial revolution as a particular caseof the general ne-cessity of revolution. The American Revolution is still threatened with
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being received, both on the home front and abroad, as an exemplaryevent of destabilizing initiative that risks inaugurating a new histori-
rather than as a simple example of the necessities in-cumbent to the Course of human events. As a radical beginning(returning to origins, to be sure, but in order to begin anew and quiteotherwise, a return that is bound up with a dramatic change of course,an unexpected turn), the revolution would be all the more illicit fromthe purview of those called upon by the Declaration to affirm thatthe Course of human events is governed by necessity, a necessitywhich we will soon see linked to the Laws of Nature and . . . NaturesGod. Raising the stakes of its textual performance considerably, theDeclaration will situate the revolution as either abiding by or abrasive
with respect to the laws of necessity, nature, and the divine. If the Dec-laration can effectively insinuate a sense of governing necessity intothe political purview of the colonists,23 their commitments to the rev-olution and perhaps then to the emergent union of states will be inor-dinately intensified. A dangerous game, indeed quite a gamble. Likewise,if the Declaration can effectively insinuate this necessity-imbued con-text into the political purview of the international community and thuscondition the framework of its own international reception, the statusof the United States as a viable actor (or, more precisely, the status of theseveral states as independently viable actors) in the international polit-
ical economy will have been greatly enhanced.With the stakes thus raised, the Declaration seeks the recognition
of the revolutionary colonists/incipient US citizens as members of apolitical body among the powers of the earth that are entitled sep-arate and equal station by the Laws of Nature and of Natures God.However, an appeal to conscience, personal revelation, or otherwiseto the interiority of the signers souls as the sites at which the divinereveals the right of the United States to be recognized as an inde-pendent polity will be of no avail. Though appeal to the SupremeJudge of the world is called upon as that which would disclose therectitude of our intentions, notice that this appeal comes in the verylast paragraph, as if to confirm, only once the interpellative opera-tions of the Declaration have had their chance, that the people inwhose name the Declaration is signed are indeed a good people,that the revolution was necessary, as God knows. The appeal comeslate, as if were a quasiperfunctory gesture or at least one whose effi-cacy is doubted, much as, in the course of an ordinary financial trans-action, one might appeal to a cosigner whose guarantee is formallynecessary, but, realistically, could just as well be done without.24 Un-
less its lateness signals the authority of God as ultimate, as the in-stance beyond which one cannot go, beyond which there could be noneed to go, and to which, in the end, one must appeal if questions of
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authority are to be brought to rest. Or drawing these two possibilitiestogether, could it be that with this appeal the signatory parties pre-
sume to speak for, to stand in for, the divine? Audaciously assumingthe supervisory authority of God, and thereby opening a questionabout the status and site of authority, this highly ambiguous gesture would express most economically the primary problematic of theDeclaration itself. Or perhaps with this gesture, the Declarations ad-dressees, habituated to view the revolution as necessary, are finally,and quite surreptitiously, induced to assume the standpoint of the di- vine from which they can once and for all confirm (countersign,usurp) with absolute assurance the necessity of the revolution, the ne-cessity that has, presumably, governed the intentions of the colonists
from the beginning.The recesses of the framers souls, those obscure zones of abso-lute interiority, will not serve as a sufficiently public site of divine rev-elation for the latter to do the work expected of it. If the will of Godis to justify the revolution, it must be legible on the surface of things.If an appeal to subjectively revealed plans of the divine will be of noavail here, we may do well to read this appeal to the divine as implic-itly encoding an appeal to the worldly mediators of divine will: thecommunity of nations. Seeking recognition among the powers of theearth as separate and equal, the revolutionary colonists/incipient
American citizens must appeal to those earthly powers that could con-fer this recognition in the name ofthe Laws of Nature and of NaturesGod. For, it was well known that if a polity was not recognized as le-gitimate by the community of nations (think of indigenous commu-nities here, whether villages, bands, cities, federations, or empires), itwould not be treated according to the laws of nationsthat is, accord-ing to intra-Christo-European norms of ethicopolitical proprietyandthus could not expect the norms of nonintervention or faithful con-tract necessary for it to maintain itself as an independent polity. In ef-fect, as far as the revolutionary colonists/incipient American citizensare concerned, the international community is God.
Although in this appeal to divine entitlement one may detect anaura of sovereign self-assurance, a belief that the revolution is simply,as a matter of fact, warranted by divine necessity, a hubristic procla-mation that the American rebellion is grounded by an exceptional,perhaps even exclusive American access to the Laws of Nature andNatures God, notice that immediately subsequent to the appeal to di-vine entitlement is an appeal to the opinions of mankind. In orderto produce its sought-after effects, signs of hubris must be suppressed
if not altogether erased: Such is the ambivalence of sovereign self-assertion. It is the opinions of mankind represented by those of theinternational community, or more specifically, the Christo-European
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community, to whom the rebellious party must petition, declaring thecauses which impel them to the separation. It is to this forum that,
even at the height of their rebelliousness, even in the midst of theirsovereign self-assertion, the good people of the United States mustdeclare allegiance. Even if the revolutionary colonists or their repre-sentatives were unabashedly, wholeheartedly convinced of their enti-tlement to independent political status by the Laws of Nature andNatures God, they could not avoid appeal to the recognitive regimeof those who could effectively realize or moot this self-confident asser-tion. Eminently practical, this appeal would indicate a belief in the ne-cessity of international recognition even ifAmerica is divinely entitledto independence. This appeal, then, would bear a subtle question, an
almost silent challenge, to the site of sovereignty: It would put sover-eignty into question through the very gestures by which it is claimedand secured. However sovereign they may have understood them-selves to be, the framers and colonists/citizens in whose name theysigned were still beholden to a regime of normativity wherein a de-cent respect to the opinions of mankind requiresthat they should de-clare the causes which impel them to the separation. Sovereignsifthere are anytravel in packs even if sovereignty implies absolute sep-aration and self-determination. To be sure, this decent respect is nota mere matter of politeness, decorum, or courtesy. More than a mat-
ter of mere etiquette, this decent respect requires, if the revolutionarycolonists/incipient Americans are to show themselves as due respectbythe opinions of mankind, a persistent awareness of their obligations (asovereign self-suppression?). Never politics without political economy.
As we have seen, the efficacy of the Declaration in securing thelegitimacy of the revolutionary union of states, both domestically andabroad, turns on its ability to figure forth the revolutionary union asascertainable by allin its necessity. But the question remains: Howwillthe Declaration induce those at home and abroad to recognize therevolution as partaking of necessity and thus of legitimacy? As weshould have expected from our analysis of its interpellative and otherrhetorical tactics, the Declaration asserts that which it seeks to realize:in this case, the recognition of the American revolution as a case abid-ing by the laws of necessity.
Now declaring the causes which impel . . . to separation, the Dec-laration gives voice to a strange triumvirate. Corralling its triplicityinto a harmonious unison, it speaks at once (1) from the standpointof the revolutionaries who seek to have the abuses inflicted uponthem recognized as situating the American case as abiding by the gen-
eral laws of necessity, (2) from the anticipated standpoint of colonists/citizens who do not now but will soon concur with this sense of ne-cessity, and simultaneously (3) from the standpoint of those in the
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international community who could confer, who in fact or at least inprinciple have already conferred, recognition of the abuses enumer-
ated as sufficiently warranting American independence. (Perhaps thestandpoint of those who have in fact recognized the necessity and le-gitimacy of the revolution is distinct from that of those who havedone so in principle, in which case we would be better off speakingof four voices rather than three. Perhaps there are more than threeor four voices operative in this cacophony, as we will see. If so, wemust do our best to attune to as many as we can. There is a sort of wildness to the Declaration, a profound self-incommensurability.)More concisely, speaking as we who hold these truths to be self-ev-ident, the Declaration speaks at once from the position of those
seeking legitimacy for their self-evidently necessary struggle for inde-pendence and from the position of those to whom this discourse isaddressed, both at home and abroad, that is, from the standpoint ofthose who are (to be) convinced of this self-evident necessity. Let usattempt to unfold the exceedingly entangled polysemy of this we.
Obviously, the we who hold these truths to be self-evident arethose who already accept the American case as an instance of the gen-eral laws of necessity that compel, from time to time, the dissolutionof political ties between one people and another, that compel theself-splitting of what was once one people into two or more,
whether by means of restoration or something more akin to birthing.Less obviously, but perhaps as such all the more effectively, the wewho hold these truths to be self-evident are those colonists who arecalled upon to accept the claims soon to be enumerated as warrant-ing treatment of the American case as a recognizable instance of thegeneral laws of necessity. Attempting to commit these not yet com-mitted colonists to the necessity of the revolutionary cause, the Dec-laration assumes their concord with the general necessity of therevolution, speaks of the self-evidence of this necessity in their name,and ventures that once the warrants for this specific revolution are ar-ticulated, the not-yet-convinced will identify with the we who al-ready profess the self-evidence of these warrants as situating therevolution as governed by necessity. Even as it projects their unifica-tion, the Declaration speaks ofgives voice tonothing but a di-vided people. Once these self-evident truths are confirmed as such bythe colonists, their self-evidence may motivate their retroactive posi-tioning as always already informing the revolutionary project, thus,hopefully, securing the commitment of the colonists to the emergentnation in whatever shape it might take.25 Finally, even more obscurely
but quite crucially, the we speaks in the name of Europe itself, inthe name of Europes core values and categorical commitments. The
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site and voice of sovereignty (e.g., the we of the Declaration), pre-sumably indivisible, seems forever on the move, always in the midst of
acts of usurpation and contestation, always caught up in a struggle forinterpretive hegemony. In this case, the we who hold these truthsto be self-evident are the Europeans (both those self-identified as Eu-ropean, or at least as British, in the colonial context and those on thecontinentthere are many voices here) whose principles have, in away, already confirmed the necessity and legitimacy of the Americanclaim to independence. The we in this case (or these cases) speaksin the name of Europeansor perhaps, more specifically, in thename of British subjectswhose professed values are precisely theterms reconfigured by the rebellious agency (or the radical receptiv-
ity) of the American revolutionaries. As we will soon see, the self-evi-dent truths enumerated as necessitating American independence aresubversive reconfigurations of terms to which (from the colonists/in-cipient citizens point of view) Europe, or at least Britain, is alreadycommitted, terms without which Europe would not be Europeand/or Britain would not be Britain, terms most intimate to their self-representations, terms that justify their politicoeconomic activitiesand thus bestow a sense of propriety inextricable from their self-im-ages. These self-evident truths, as immanent extensions of Europeanand/or British values,26 carry with them an implied consent to Amer-
ican independence.27 Or so the colonists/incipient American citizensseek to suggest.
What the broad polysemic range of this we puts forward in var-ious ways is that in declaring all men are created equal, that they areendowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, thatamong these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, the Dec-laration is hardly engaged in any sort of innovative political radical-ism. Rather, this we suggestsin a hyperbolic rejoinder to themoment of hyperbolic self-assertionthat the assertion of (Christ-ian) equality and inalienable rights constitute not the positing of anynew values or ideals, not the least questionable initiative, but the in-heritance and reaffirmation (in a way, the auto-affirmation) of aChristo-European legacy. According to the wager of the Declaration,if Europeans are to profess the (Christian) ideal of equality28 and theinalienability of natural rights, thus if they are to sustain their self-image, their way of life, they have already conceded the indepen-dence of the United States.
Notice that the we, seeking to display strict fidelity to, even anidentity with, the spirit of (Christian) Europe, even goes so far as to
reproduce the tensions between Euro-Christian values claim to uni-versality and their geopolitically constrained scope of application, as
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well as the typical Euro-Christian strategies for reducing this tension.For example, what will qualify certain creations as men rather than,
for instance, beasts, will be a profoundly Christian schema.Also notice that even as late as the latter decades of the eighteenthcentury, political authority was not yetif it can ever beconsidereda fully secular matter of mutual recognition and self-determination.The emergence of sovereign state-centrism is notconcomitant with afull and final disenchantment of the world. Quite to the contrary, therevolutionary appeal to Christian equality seeks to situate the inde-pendence of the United States as a necessary consequence of Chris-tian universalism. Furthermore, the rights articulated as inalienableby the Declaration are to be understood, if the rhetorical strategies of
the Declaration are effective, not as resulting from or preserving thevalue of revolutionary self-positing but rather as guaranteed by (andperhaps in a way a guarantee ofbut this makes matters more com-plicated) divine law and its natural law permutations already holdingsway throughout Europe and most emphatically in Britain.
But in another voice, drawing upon and repeating the social con-tract discourses propagated by the British and other Europeans witha loyalty that is at once a subversive disobedience, that renders the dis-tinction between devoted adherence and dissident defiance extraor-dinarily complex and ultimately undecidable, the Declaration
contends that to secure these rights [that is, the rights to Life, Liberty,and the Pursuit of Happiness], Governments are instituted amongmen, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.The tension between the secular origins of just power articulated hereand the aforementioned commitment to the terms of Euro-Christianuniversalism is striking and not easily reduced. But with respect torhetorical effectiveness, this tension might not be a problem, not if itmirrors the divided, undecided structures of authority operative inthe Declarations addressees.
In the mode of a promiscuous obedience to British, and morebroadly, Christo-European values, and with an authority that cannotbut be at some level a usurpation, the Declaration hails the colonistsand foreign powers yet to be convinced of the necessity of the revo-lution in the name of their own identity, their own values, their ownreligious and/or more or less secular commitments. It calls them backto themselvesand thereby, slyly calls them deviants, roguesandmore to the point, attempts to remind those yet to be convinced of theirimplicit commitments to the necessity of the American revolution.
As was said, there are many voices clamoring to insist themselves
in and through the sovereign we. Perhaps this is part of what Derridameans by there are only countersignatures in this process: not justcountersignatures as operators of belated, supplemental regathering,
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but as the irreducible fact of adjacency, or better, spacing, of irreme-diable finitude and mutual exteriority that interrupts or unworks the
operation of regathering, subjecting it to dissemination and disper-sion.29 In addition to the interpellation of Euro-Americans as equalsunder God and due recognition as natural-rights-bearing beings, per-haps as an echo or undertone of secular, social contractarianrhetoric, the Declaration enacts a call for Europeans (both colonialEuro-Americans and those on the Continent) to recognize themselves,qua Europeans, as individuals not necessarily beholden any particu-lar governmental authority, European or otherwise. (This would be aparadigmatic instance of speech addressed to sovereignty.) As indi- viduals, each would be singular and irreplaceable, yet interchange-
able, able to imagine himself or herself indefinitely elsewhere andotherwise, in the place of any other individual. Calling upon its ad-dressees as individuals would be a subtle form of manipulation, indeedsubjection (speech addressed to sovereignty always isa usurpation).If one is willing to grant the hypotheses of an all but silent undercur-rent of individualism coursing through the Declaration, it would beprecisely by and for individuals, but paradoxically, individuals whocan recognize themselves as such only insofar as they are informed,gathered, and mobilized, by a particular European legacy, that theself-evident truths professed by the Declaration are enumerated.
We who hold these truths to be self-evident would be those whorecognize, as individuals, that whenever any Form of Governmentbecomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit ofHappiness] it is the Right of the People, that is, the people who havegiven their consentas individualsor more precisely, as individualscreated as equals and invested with natural rights, which is to say, asindividual Christo-Europeansto dissolve their political bands withsuch a government. We who hold these truths to be self-evidentare also those who recognize, as (Christo-European) individuals, thatit is impermissible for a ruler to call together legislative bodies atplaces unusual, uncomfortable and distant from the depository oftheir public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into com-pliance with his measures . . . [and to dissolve] Representative Housesrepeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on therights of the people, and that as individuals, the colonists are in-vested with the right to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Gov-ernment, laying the foundation on such principles and organizing itspower in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect theirSafety and Happiness. Individuals at home and abroad are called
upon to recognize themselves in their individuality as those who havealready confirmed, in principle, the demands articulated by this ag-gregated we. As individuals, those at home and abroad are called
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upon to imagine themselves in the position of the proto-American rev-olutionaries whose profession of self-evident truths bespeak the ne-
cessity of revolution.These calls upon Christo-Europeans as individuals would operateall the more persuasively on the British, as the framers may well haveknown in their heart of hearts, if as Timothy Brennan contends, rely-ing on the work of Hans Kohn, the first appearance of incipient [Eu-ropean] nationalist consciousness . . . took place in the Cromwellianforces of the English Civil War. The ideas here were so tightly boundup with the aspirations of the middle classes for free expression,self-assertion, and freedom from the authority of a willful and tyran-nical monarchy, that individual liberty became inseparable from the
nationalist ethos.30These interpellative tactics can be traced as they cross througheach line of the Declaration. In every line, a multitude of prior com-mitments are called upon as already conferring necessity upon theAmerican revolution. Let us explore but a few of the more interestingcases. When the Declaration stipulates a long train of abuses andusurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object [that] evinces a de-sign to reduce them under absolute Despotism, the ambition is to sit-uate British authority as self-destructive or self-repealing insofar as ithas devolved into a despotism illicit from the perspective of European
ethicopolitical commitments. The rhetorical venture is that Euro-peans will easily recognize an induction from the evidence of certainharms (a train of abuses and usurpation) to the concept of a despotsdesigns bringing these harms to bear; and when a train of abusesand usurpation makes evident the transubstantiation of a legitimatestate into a despotic terror, it will be altogether evident that thedespots claim upon his colonies is void, self-repealing. The insistenceon British despotism is crucial, for if it can be established as self-evi-dent that the British no longer adhere to the ethicopolitical standardsof the European community of nations or are in violation of a Euro-Christian regime of individual rights, the responsibility for the im-proprieties of and uncertainties unleashed by revolution will bedisplaced onto the British decline into despotism. The Europeancommitment to natural rights and Christian equality and thus to theillicitness of despotism is put in the service of the claims of US inde-pendence.31 The jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unac-knowledged by our laws that the Declaration lambastes is not thejurisdiction of Britain over the American colonies, it is the jurisdic-tion of a despot over a free Christo-European people. Hence the Dec-
larations insistence on the character of British abuses as all havingin direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny. The fram-ing of the enumerated abuses as manifestations of despotism seems
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designed to convince those at home and abroad that Britain fits thefigure of A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which
may define a tyrant and is thus unfit to be the ruler of a free people.In order to insinuate the American revolution as a case that fits thegeneral laws of necessity, the Declaration seeks to evoke British abusesas fitting the general contours of despotism, which the ethicopoliticalcommitments of the candid world of Christo-Europeans could notabide. The two operations of subsumption are inextricable. The pur-suit of sovereignty always crosses paths with issues of framing, specifi-cally framing up (i.e., with dissimulation, projecting sites or scenes ofdanger and making spectacles of threat, preparing for punishment,scapegoating).
Displacing responsibility for the revolution onto the British de-cline into despotism and thereby making its case for the necessity ofthe revolution, the Declaration seeks in various ways to advance animage of Britain as a rogue, pariah, or outlaw state. The aim is to mo-tivate Europeans at home and abroad to recognize that it is theirright, it is their duty as beholden to international, individualist, and/or divinely ordained norms of ethicopolitical propriety, as the defend-ers of the international, individualist, and/or divine order (hardly asinsurgent rebels), to throw off such Government, and to providenew Guards for their future security. The Declaration aims to place
the security of those values that Christo-Europeans hold most dear asat stake in the American Revolution, thereby situating what is hap-pening on the American stage as a return of the European spirit to it-self. As King George is depicted as making Judges dependent on hisWill alone for the tenure of their tenure offices, and the amount andpayment of their salaries, he and his nation are posed as transgres-sors of Christo-European determined norms of international proprietyand in violation of a regime of individual rights ultimately guaranteedby the Christian God. Similarly, when the Declaration claims thatKing George has refused for a long time, after dissolution, to cause. . . [Representative Houses] to be elected, the image figured forthis one wherein King George refuses any measure of colonial involve-ment in the policies imposed upon them, indeed wherein politics hasbeen dissolved and supplanted by psychological fancy, an image thatseeks to reveal the transubstantiation of a king into a tyrant and there-with display the self-abolishment of Britains authority. When describ-ing this factual state of affairs, as expected, the Declaration invokesthe passive voice of necessity, insisting that consequent upon thesetyrannical usurpations, the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihi-
have returnedto the People at large for their exercise. In fa-miliar fashion, the declarations audacious, innovative character isdissimulated by a claim to mere constation: here, Legislative powers
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are all the better laid claim to through an asserted self-withdrawal ofa prior claim upon them (thus through a suppression of the link be-
tween sovereignty and usurpation), that is, through an assertion of areturn that denies in advance the need for any reclaiming, let aloneinitiating. As King George is further depicted as having obstructedthe Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for es-tablishing Judiciary powers and as having refused to pass other Lawsfor the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those peo-ple would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, aright inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only, the imageof tyranny is brilliantly enhanced.33As the king is again and again de-picted as a despot, the aim is to frame his treatment of the American
colonies within the context of official Euro-Christian ethicopoliticalcommitments, which would, in turn, render the kings metamorpho-sis into a tyrant as a revocation of his rights over the American coloniesand thus situate the revolution as necessary by definition and asmerely confirming the state of affairs that already obtains. The kingwould be on the side of disorder, even capricious chaos, the Ameri-can revolutionaries on the side of a call to order.
Another interesting twist occurs as Britain is figured as responsi-ble for a Hobbesian nightmare. When the Declaration accuses KingGeorge of Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us . . .
protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States, ofabolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Prov-ince, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging itsBoundaries so as to render it at once an example and a fit instrumentfor introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies, of keep-ing among us, in times of peace, standing Armies without the Con-sent of our legislatures, of inciting domestic insurrections amongus, and of provoking attacks by the inhabitants of our frontiers, themerciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undis-tinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions, the accusa-tions seek to situate the king as heralding a reign of terror in thecolonies, as establishing a wholly unviable context in which deathlooms at every corner and remains unopposed by the force of the sov-ereign. Notice the Hobbesian character of these accusations, i.e., theuse of the father-philosopher against the son-king, or in a curious, butfor the Declaration, not wholly unusual anachronistic twist, the use ofthe cherished son (Hobbes) against the corrupt father (King George).The sovereigns actions and refusals of actions are framed as giving rise
to more terror, death, and uncertainty than they alleviate, and as perthe dictates of the Hobbesian imaginary to which the British were, pre-sumably, deeply committed, such sovereignty would be self-revoking,
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or at least legitimately contested. To crystallize the message that theking acts not as a sovereign presiding over his colonies but as initiat-
ing a state of war with them, the Declaration describes his abdicationof Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and wag-ing War against us, emphasizing that the king has plundered ourseas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the Lives ofour people . . . [and] is at this time transporting large Armies of for-eign Mercenaries to compleat [sic] the works of death, desolationand tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidyscarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthythe Head of a civilized nation.
As we have seen, in a variety of ways the Declaration seeks to com-
pel those at home and abroad to recognize the revolution as partak-ing of necessity and thus legitimacy, and therewith hopes to securetheir commitments to US national sovereignty as fixed and final.Through a vast array of interpellative maneuvers, the Declaration as-serts what it seeks to realize: recognition of the revolution as a caseabiding by the laws of necessity. Only consequent upon the effective-ness of these interpellative tactics, only by means of a consistent con-founding of any distinction between the performative and thedescriptive, could it be asserted that all political connection betweenthem and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dis-
solved, that such is now the necessity which constrains themto alter theirformer Systems of Government, that we must, therefore, acquiescein the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, aswe hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends, thatthese usurpations . . . would inevitablyinterrupt our connections andcorrespondence. Speaking in the name of necessity and inevitability,the Declaration asserts what it seeks to realize (what is and ought tobe): (1) the international communitys steadfast commitment to theindependence of the American union, and (2) the colonists/incipi-ent citizens commitments of loyalty to this union of states as bodythat, by the laws of necessity, by the laws of nature and natures God,is entitled to equal station with all other sovereign states. But thereby,speaking in the nameof necessity and inevitability, the Declaration alsonames the precarity of its projections, of its fundamental project.
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The Declaration of Independence could hardly secure colonial/in-cipient American commitments to the emergent nation-state once
and for all, nor establish firm international commitments to the sov-ereign integrity of the United States. It could not finalize a narrativeof founding according to which the United States could represent itself
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as a sovereign national body within a state-centric international topog-raphy. Muted but insistent claims breaking through the justificatory
armature of US ethicopolitical imaginaries still troubledstill trou-blethe lands not yet fully saturated as American. In addition tothe residual insistence of indigenous cartographies and claims uponthe land, claims on behalf of individual state sovereignties onlyloosely united into a federation for the purposes of securing their re-spective independences and mutual prosperities loomed large andwere often abrasive with respect to fledgling discourses of nationalunity. Both the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confed-eration testify to the diffusion of authority in postrevolutionary Amer-ica as they figure the United States as a federation of states that, in
their severality, retain a great many sovereign prerogatives. It was notuntil the Constitution mandated that no State shall enter into anyTreaty, Alliance, or Confederation34 and that no State shall, withoutConsent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Shipsof War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact withanother State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actu-ally invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay35that the powers traditionally designated as sovereign were divestedfrom the prerogatives of the several states. Prior to the Constitution,whether the United States would become a sovereign nation-state or
remain a loose-knit federation of relatively independent sovereignstates was still very much a question. To be sure, a sense of Americannational community had partially consolidated prior to the Declara-tion and was gaining momentum in the years following the revolution:Witness the resolution passed in the Continental Congress of 30 Sep-tember 1783, stipulating that individual states can treat with indige-nous people(s) for land transfers but reserving matters of war andpeace between the United States and indigenous people(s) for thenational Congress.36 However, as noted, powers over war and peaceand the privilege to distinguish between friend and foe were still somuch at the discretion of state authorities in 1787 that the Constitu-tion would have to explicitly withdraw them from state authorities.Prior to the Constitution, intense commitments to the sovereignties ofthe several states pervaded American identificatory dynamics. For in-stance, New York presumed itself to be so much a sovereign that it ap-pealed to the doctrine of discovery in order to secure exclusive rightsto treating with indigenous people(s), just like any European statewould. On the basis of the doctrine of discovery, New York claimed ab-solute exclusivity in negotiating land transfers with the indigenous
people(s) within its borders and arrested the agents of the Confeder-ated government seeking to negotiate peace treaties with them.37 In-dicating that the sovereignty of the several states was jealously
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guarded, as it was felt to be in an inverse relation with federal sover-eigntysovereignty is, let us underline in passing, constitutively con-
tested, always in the process of usurpation, in advance of itself, apresumptionPennsylvania and New York preferred to set up desksat federal treaty proceedings and, as the unwary Indians passed by, tohave them sign papers ceding lands to these states rather than to thefederal government.38 Clearly, the character of the United States as asovereign nation-state was still very much in question.
As much as the Declaration may have contributed to consolidat-ing a political imaginary wherein the United States could figure as aseparate and equal power on the international stage, as a sovereignnation-state among others, it could not induce proto-American citi-
zens to prioritize loyalty to the national body over loyalties to their re-spective states. In order to track the ways in which incessant efforts of(re)founding became necessary to secure the sovereign national bodyas the primary object of political commitment among the Americancitizenry, we will turn to the Constitution, a document in and around which a great many foundational discourses organized themselves.The Constitution and its attendant discourses will be read in terms oftheir attempts to incite an experience of the United States as an inte-grated, sovereign national body that, precisely in accommodating theclaims of individual state sovereignties and the political loyalties they
inspire, overwhelms these claims and commitments by coding themas attributes or elements of a fully integrated, sovereign national body.Sovereignty: a principle of assimilation seeming always to proceedfrom and gesture toward irreducible alterity.
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In order to construe US citizens commitments to nationalsovereigntyas firm and final, the Constitution invokes a radical discontinuity be-tween all that has happened prior to and all that will follow its ratifi-cation: yet another gesture at radical self-founding. As it states what itseeks to realize, namely, a loosening of the authoritativeness of priorhistories, practices, beliefs, and commitments sufficient to situate what-ever authorities such histories, practices, beliefs, and commitments re-tain after the ratification of the Constitution as stemming from theirauthorization by the Constitution, that is, from their explicit or tacitincorporation into a Constitutionalfully founded and integrated America, the Constitution seeks to deny its audacious initiative, itsgesture at self-determination. For, let us recall, the legitimacy of the
United States. as a sovereign state among others was predicated on itsframing as a loyal re-elaboration and realization of Christo-Europeancategorical and evaluative commitments, as by no means radically
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inaugural, novel, or in any way generating a rupture in the course ofpolitical events.39 As the preamble declares that We the People of
United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,insure domestictranquility, provide for the commondefense, promote thegeneralWelfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves andour Posterity, it seeks to bring about this very people who under-stand tranquility and common defense as nationally domestic con-cerns rather than as concerns of the several states, who understandtheir welfare as inextricably linked to the flourishing or founderingof the entire nation, who understand the grace according to whichBlessings of Liberty are bestowed to ourselves and our Posterity assecured through eminently common, general, that is, national en-
deavors (emphases added). The Constitution as founding gesture, then,garners what authority it may precisely by denying and absorbing theauthorities that precede it or loom on its horizonbut this wouldalso be to recall and preserve them: The founding gesture, gesturingat what it must override, and thus making a spectacle of it, guaranteesthe externality of its authority vis--vis what it seeks to authorize, con-demns itself no matter how successful it will have been to, at somelevel, a mere ought-ishness. To be sure, its attempt to suppress, sup-plant, or envelop alternative authority structures and the identifica-tory habits they inspire would be boisterous yet futile gestures if there
were not, inherent in this founding document and its attendant dis-courses, incredibly compelling interpellative maneuvers or otherrhetorical strategies capable of inducing strong identifications with,even ultimate commitments to, the American nation-state. The Con-stitution and its attendant discourses must not only state and/or de-mand what they seek to realize; they must implement interpellativetechniques adequate to effect a widespread (re)subjectification, apervasive interiorization of their insistently national terminologiessuch that those living throughout the spaces cleared by colonial ex-pansion would be compelled to interpret themselves as, primarily,We the People of the United States rather than, say, the peoples ofthe several states. Only by inducing the subjects that it claims to speakfor and about to abstract themselves from their historical, social, andother identifying circumstances, and most imperatively, from theircommitments to their states of origin, could it induce them to im-agine themselves within its own sphere of intelligibility and therebycontribute to the production of those in whose name it speaks: theAmerican people.40
Accordingly, it is notthat the Constitution, in some heavy-handed
or authoritarian manner, simply posits the temporal, territorial, andidentificatory integration it seeks to realize. Such tactlessness wouldbe viciously self-defeating. Rather, it promises a variety of goods that
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are vague enough to appeal to nearly anyone (Justice, domestictranquility, common defense, the Blessings of Liberty, etc.) as en-
couragements for individuals to imagine themselves as (1) linkedthrough a set of abstract equivalents (e.g., citizens rights) that wouldsecure these benefits and (2) beholden to a national government thatcould secure these rights. As the preamble elaborates the establish-ment of the Constitution as responding to the needs of citizens disaf-fected by the Articles of Confederation, that is, citizens who havecome to view themselves as united in need to form a more perfectunion, it seeks to put the rather vague goals (bordering on floatingsignifiers) that it sets for itself in the service of its interpellative tac-tics. To the extent that the interpellative operations of the document
are effective, desires for Justice, domestic Tranquility, etc., will beallied with commitments to the promised more perfect union andtheir combined force will orient political identificatory commitmentsto the United States as a sovereign national body.
As Article IV, Section 4 maintains that The United States shallguarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Gov-ernment, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and . . .against domestic Violence, the Constitution subtly implies what atthe time was widely suspected: that the states could well be dangers toeach other, unable to maintain security within their borders, and vul-
nerable to threats from abroad. They would be in need of a Repub-lican Form of Government able to defend against these dangers.Fear is channeled as a primary political passionin order to secure the loy-alties of the citizens of the several states to the American nation-state.And as is often the case in the context of assertions of sovereignty, itis fear of plurality and insecuritythe sovereigns fears par excel-lencethat are projected. Once interpellated as first and foremostcitizens of the American nation(notice the production of the nationthrough state machinations, rather than vice versa), a self-fulfillingprophecy is inaugurated according to which individuals are inducedto participate in webs of concrete interpersonal relations that eitherforeground their abstract equivalence as rights-bearing citizens or areorganized by ultimate commitments to this abstract equivalence.41Thereby, the Constitution seeks to bring about precisely what it statesalready obtains: the abstract equivalence of its citizens.
As the Constitution calls each of its addressees to abstract her self-understanding from the particularities of her history, psychology,habits, and identificatory commitments concentrated at the site ofher singular embodiment, as it calls each individual to imagine her-
self as primarily or ultimately a citizen equal to others, it promises amore secure mode of embodiment: participation in the national body.Juxtaposed to the aforementioned dangers of Invasion by foreign
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agents and domestic Violence within and among the states, set againstthe imperfect common defense implied by the preamble, the promise
of a more secure embodiment becomes all the more enticing. At-tempting to stabilize a phantasmatic isomorphism between individualembodiment and the national body, the Constitution and its atten-dant discourses figure forth, indeed make a spectacle of, the dangersof the current state of affairs and contrast these dangers with the im-plied security of national embodiment, offering the national body asa less porous, less vulnerable, and in many respects, less bodily arma-ture of those bodies willing to accede to its decidedly national au-thority. According to the seductive terms of this phantasmatic template,once identified with the American national body, individual integrity
would be secured by efforts of national self-defense and the might ofthe national body would become consubstantial with that of the indi-vidual. As the Constitution exerts its subtly cajoling force to prioritizeidentifications with the US national body in order to alleviate anxi-eties pertaining to the vulnerabilities of all-too-human embodiment,and especially those pertaining to the eminently human context ofplurality, the political imaginary of sovereign national integrity is psy-chopolitically secured.
Although a number of factors converged to motivate a wide-spread heeding of the Constitutions covert injunction to national-
ized self-identification, here we will focus on the ways its authority wasfigured at the moment of its inception. Quite simply, despite divisiveand heated debates concerning the particularities of the proposedConstitution, the framers, those who pushed for its ratification in thestate assemblies, and concerned citizens who engaged in pamphle-teering and other modes of public political expression uniformly rep-resented the Constitution as fated to structure all future political life.As a result of and contributing to the efficacy of these discourses, it wasdeemed