Sacrificial settler colonialism: Marshall Scheider, Adam Culver, ‘Liberalism, Settlement, Sacrifice: Towards a Genealogy of Sacrificial Politics’, McNair Symposium, 2021


Abstract: In recent years, political theorists have begun to explore the sacrificial dimensions of liberalism and neoliberalism in the global North. Little of this work, however, grapples with the ways settler colonialism informs contemporary political sacrifice or conceptions of the sacrificial. This paper traces a genealogy of contemporary political sacrifice through the archive of early British colonialism in North America. When theorists ignore this archive, they do more than render colonization mute: they also fail to apprehend what I term political sacrifice’s differential function—the mechanism by which sacrifice’s burdens fall on subordinated groups while its benefits accrue to the socially, politically, and economically powerful. Methodologically, the paper works across disciplines, establishing links between critical analyses of settler colonialism and studies in political theology. If a theological notion of sacrifice underpins modern notions of citizenship, and settler colonization furnishes an historical key to the differential function of modern political sacrifice, then a bridge is formed between two research programs which rarely interact. While the modern liberal state promises a politics founded on the dignity and rights of the abstract citizen, a close examination of the role of sacrifice in liberalism’s past and present underscores the limitations of liberal citizenship as a category of analysis. Foregrounding the violent structures of settlement, this genealogy exposes the constitutive character of asymmetrical sacrifice within American liberalism. In so doing, it unsettles some of liberalism’s core conceits: the displacement of violence by law, and the saliency of abstract citizenship.

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