Sovereign Nations, Carnal States
Sovereign Nations, Carnal States is an extraordinarily synthetic intellectual tour de force. Kam Shapiro uses the body as a lens to focus on often-overlooked dimensions of modern sovereignty. He provides a novel perspective on one of the most important problems in contemporary political theory: the conflict between the demands of political sovereignty, exemplified in the nation-state, and the economic and cultural dislocations of modern society. It is often assumed that classical political theory conceives of the body as an instrument subordinated to a rational subject. In contrast, Shapiro argues that thinkers from Augustine to Hegel and Carl Schmitt have conceptualized the body as a resource to supplement standard modes of political affiliation and moral agency.
Drawing on critical readings of Augustine, Derrida, Hegel, Schmitt, and Benjamin, Shapiro develops what he refers to as a "political somatics." The author is preoccupied by the way desire and habit are the conditions of possibility for meaningful political affiliation, but he also shows how they constantly risk being held hostage to contingency. Both, he concludes, are important resources for democratic politics. Shapiro marshals both historical and contemporary philosophical accounts of embodiment in order to explain an important contemporary political question: How is the nation-state able to cohere as a functioning political unit despite internal differences and the vagaries of the market?