What do the invention of anaesthetics in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Nazis' use of cocaine, and the development of Prozac have in common? The answer is that they're all products of the same logic that defines our contemporary era: 'the age of anaesthesia'. Laurent de Sutter shows how large aspects of our lives are now characterised by the management of our emotions through drugs, ranging from the everyday use of sleeping pills to hard narcotics. Chemistry has become so much a part of us that we can’t even see how much it has changed us.
In this era, being a subject doesn't simply mean being subjected to powers that decide our lives: it means that our very emotions have been outsourced to chemical stimulation. Yet we don't understand why the drugs that we take are unable to free us from fatigue and depression, and from the absence of desire that now characterizes our psychopolitical condition. We have forgotten what it means to be excited because our only excitement has become drug-induced. We have to abandon the narcotic stimulation that we’ve come to rely on and find a way back to the collective excitement that is narcocapitalism’s greatest fear.
Law is the most sacred fetish of our time. From radicals to conservatives, there is no militant, activist or thinker who would consider doing without it. But the history of our fascination with law is long and complex, and reaches deeper into our culture than we might think. In After Law, Laurent de Sutter takes us on a journey to uncover the sources of our fascination. He shows that at a certain moment in our history a choice was made to treat law as a decisive feature of civilization, but this choice was neither obvious nor necessary. Other political, social, religious or cultural possibilities could have been chosen instead – from ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia, from medieval Japan to China, from Islam to Judaism, other cultures have devised sophisticated tools to help people live together without having to deal with norms, rules and principles. This is a lesson worth reflecting on, especially at a time when the rule of law and the functioning of justice are increasingly showing their sinister side – and their impotence. Is there life beyond law?