This article provides a critical reading of Giorgio Agamben’s writings on the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures imposed by Western states. Taking the theme of fear to be central to Agamben’s interventions on this topic, it constructs a genealogy of the political theology of fear through The Book of Job to Thomas Hobbes and up to the work of Agamben. Contrary to readings which treat Agamben’s pandemic texts as examples of conspiracy theorizing, this article takes them seriously as works of political thought. Nonetheless, they ultimately fall victim to their own politics of fear: what Michel Foucault has termed ‘state-phobia’. Against this state-phobia, the article turns to Antonio Negri’s reading of The Book of Job in order to gesture towards a politics of solidarity grounded in a shared understanding of suffering which overcomes the weaknesses of Agamben’s interventions.


Copyright © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

Cite as

Gorby, P. 2023, 'The biopolitics of fear : assessing Agamben's analysis of the COVID-19 lockdowns', Distinktion. https://doi.org/10.1080/1600910X.2023.2254010

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Last updated: 15 November 2023
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