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"Chattel of the gods: Assisted Suicide and the Politics of Patience" Notes and Resources


[1] See Desmond, 2001

[2] President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has written a book on assisted suicide and euthanasia (Gorsuch, 2009). My impression: a careful, knowledgeable exploration of the legal complexities in different political jurisdictions, dealing with the ethical issues connected with a stress on autonomy, also dealing with utilitarian, indeed cost considerations, relative to medical care. He comes down strongly on the side of a moral sense on the inviolability of life, expressed in a rejection of the legalization of assisted suicide.

[3] There seems to be two other references to ktema in the New Testament: Acts 2:45: They [Christians] sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need; Acts 5:1: Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property.

[4] Of course, regimes of power take different forms, yet one is dealing with what I speak of as the community of erotic sovereignty, with its immanent excellences and corruptions (Desmond, 2001, chapter 15).  Of course also the connection of politics and war is intimate and complex. Henry Adams says something to the effect that politics is an “organization of hatreds.”  Polemos is the father of all things, Heraclitus said. One thinks of the libido dominandi in Augustine, the bellum omnium contra omnes in Hobbes, the master and slave relation in Hegel as well as in Nietzsche where the contrast of the sovereign and servile is central.

[5] From Hobbes and Spinoza onwards modern politics is often a politics of the conatus. One also notes the stress on “the free will that wills the free will” of Hegel (Hegel, 2008, §27) and Nietzsche’s later concern with grosse Politik and will to power. By contrast, granting the doubleness of passio and conatus puts one in mind of action by non-action, the Wu-wei of the Tao.

[6] On first affirmation and second, see “Pluralism, Truthfulness and Patience of Being,” in Desmond, 2012, chapter 7.

[7] I recall also how Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, referred to L’Arche communities as “places of patience.” See The Tablet, 24 January 2015, p. 34.

[8] Notice the way serviceable disposability colonizes all areas of life, including health care. One thinks of what has been called “granny dumping” which, it seems, happens in winter, especially after Christmas, manifesting itself in overload in A&E units. There was a case of an American man, apparently suffering from dementia, abandoned in England, apparently by members of his family who had flown from Los Angeles to England to leave him there (see One thinks also of the disposing of unwanted human fetuses in what has been called the “Two minus one” pregnancy – the elimination of one of twins, the reduction to “singletons”; see Padawer, 2011. 

[9] On this idiocy of being, see Desmond, 1995, chapter 3.

[10] On the meaning of this exceeding virtue, see Desmond, 2012a. 

[11] In contemporary politics the stress is not on statesmen, though when one emerges we are happy; mostly now we content ourselves with managers, CEOs (say, of Ireland INC), needing consultants to pry into the intimate and to manipulate it if necessary. Politician as media mechanics of power are tempted to an infantilization of the people, with the aid of consultants, expert in the arts of advertising, to massage democratic desire. Then serviceable disposability governs politics, not in the services of the immanent excellences of erotic sovereignty which the true statesman might intermediate, and all the while counterfeiting the service of the agapeic.

[12] See Desmond, 2003.

[13] Nietzsche, 2005, p. 4.


Desmond, W. 1995. Perplexity and Ultimacy: Metaphysical Thoughts from the Middle. Albany: State University of New York Press.

------. 2001. Ethics and the Between. Albany: State University of New York Press.

------. 2003. “Caesar with the Soul of Christ: Nietzsche’s Highest Impossibility”. In Is There a Sabbath for Thought: Between Religion and Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press. pp. 200-237

------. 2012. The Intimate Strangeness of Being: Metaphysics after Dialectic. Washington, D.C. Catholic University of America Press.

------. 2012a. “Exceeding Virtue: Aquinas and the Beatitudes”.  In: J. McEvoy, M. W. Dunne, J. Hynes, eds. Thomas Aquinas: Teacher and Scholar. The Aquinas Lectures at Maynooth, volume 2: 2002-2010. Dublin: Four Courts Press. pp. 28-49.

Gawande, A. 2014.  Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End London Profile Books.

Gorsuch, Neill 2009. The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hegel, G.W.F. 2008. Outlines of the Philosophy of Right. Trans. T.M.Knox. Revised, edited and introduced by Stephen Houlgate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich 2005. The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings. Edited A. Ridley and J. Norman. Trans. J. Norman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Padawer, Ruth. 2011. “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”.  In: The New York Times Magazine, August 10, 2011.


William Desmond

Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven, Belgium

Philosophy Department, Villanova University, USA

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