Statelessness

On Almost Not Existing

2022

Tony C. Brown

A pathbreaking new genealogy of statelessness

Statelessness asserts that Europe first encountered mass statelessness neither inside its borders nor during the twentieth century, but in the New World, several hundred years earlier. Through close readings of political philosophers, it argues that statelessness became a central problem for political thought early on, with far-reaching implications for thinking both on the state and on being human.

Just as the modern state and the citizenship associated with it are commonly thought of as a European invention, so too is citizenship’s negation in the form of twentieth-century diaspora and statelessness. Statelessness sets forth a new genealogy, suggesting that Europe first encountered mass statelessness neither inside its own borders nor during the twentieth century, as Hannah Arendt so influentially claimed, but outside of itself—in the New World, several hundred years earlier.

Through close readings of political philosophers from Hobbes to Rousseau to Kant, Tony C. Brown argues that statelessness became a central problem for political thought early on, with far-reaching implications for thinking both on the state and on being human. What Europeans thought they saw among the “savages” of the Americas was life without political order, life less than human. Lacking almost everything those deemed clearly human had achieved, the stateless existed in a radically precarious, almost inhuman privation.

And yet this existence also raised the unsettling possibility that state-based existence may not be inevitable, necessary, or even ideal. This possibility, as Brown shows, prompts the response—as defensive as it was aggressive—that we call Enlightenment political philosophy, which arguably still orders much thinking on being stateless today, including our discourses concerning migrants and Indigenous peoples.

Cover alt text: Title and author in very thin sans-serif font over abstract, white, tissue paper–like waves.

Tony C. Brown is associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. He is author of The Primitive, the Aesthetic, and the Savage: An Enlightenment Problematic.

Contents

Note on Translations and References

Introduction: Among the Names of Being

Prolegomenon: Aristotle’s Stateless One

Part 1. The State Being of State Metaphysics

1.1. From States Natural to Nonnatural

1.2. Reason of State in a World without Law

1.3. The Chain of Being

1.4. Unfolding the Chain: Becoming Historically Enstated

1.5. The Genesis of Social Contract Theory

1.6. The Contracted State’s Necessity

1.7. Civilized, Barbarian, Savage

Intermezzo I

Part 2. The State of Anthropological Security

2.1. State as Human Vocation

2.2. The Higher Actuality: Of Being Human

2.3. Being Full of Being-Without

2.4. Being Represented: Negating the Natural

2.5. The State of Representation: Hobbes’s Mimetic Leviathan

2.6. Being Human, Perhaps

2.7. Ending a Just Natural Life

Intermezzo II

Part 3. Being-Almost-Absolutely-Without

3.1. The New Orbis Terrarum

3.2. Savage Essence Does Not Involve Existence

3.3. Neither by Nature nor by Necessity

3.4. Humans, Savages, Animals

3.5. Being Negative, Almost Nothing: On the Way to Being-Almost-Absolutely-Without

3.6. The Difference of Not-Nothing

3.7. A Being without Consequence

Postlegomenon: Arendt’s Mass Statelessness

Conclusion: Stateness(less) Today

Notes

Index