§ 4 The Laws of Reflection

Nelson Mandela, in Admiration
Admirable Mandela.
Period, no exclamation. I am not using this punctuation to moderate
my enthusiasm or to quell my fervor. Instead of speaking only in honor of
Nelson Mandela, I will say something about his honor without succumb-
ing, if this is possible, to loftiness, without proclaiming or acclaiming.
The homage will perhaps be more just, as will its tone, if it seems to
surrender its impatience-without which there would be no question of
admiring-to the coldness of an analysis. Admiration reasons, despite
whar people say; it works things out with reason; it astonishes and inter-
rogates: how can one be Mandela? Why does he seem exemplary-and
admirable in what he thinks and says, in what he does or in what he suf-
fers? Admirable in himself. as well as for what he conveys in his testimony,
another word for marryrdom, namely, the experience of his people?
"My people and I," he always says, without speaking like a king.
Why does he also force one to admire him? This word presupposes some
resistance, for his enemies admire him without admitting it. Unlike those
who love him among his people and along with his inseparable Winnie,
from whom they have always kept him separated in vain, these enemies
This essay was firs< published in POllr Nelson Mandtla ("Quinze ccrivains sal,,-
rill Nelson Mandela or Ie combar dont sa vie porre ",moignage [Fifreen wrirers
A"llIll' Nelson Mandela and rhe fight to which his life bears witness]" (Paris: GaI-
lilllard. I'JH6) . I thank Antoine Gallimard for permission to reprint it here.
The Laws of Reflection
fear him. If his mast hateful persecutors secredy admi re him, this proves
Ihat, as one says, he compels admirati on.
So, this is the question: where does this force come from? Where does
it lead? For what is it used, Or to what is it applied? Or rat her: what does
it cause to fold' What form is to be recognized in this fold? What line?
First of all we wi U see there, and let us say ir withour further premise,
the line of a reflection. It is first of all a force of reflection. What is obvi-
OliS right away is that Mandela's political experience or passion can never
he separated from a theoretical reflection: on history, culture, and above
all, law. An unremitting analysis enlightens the rationality of his acts, his
demonstrations, his speeches, his strategy. Even before being constrained
to withdraw (au repl,] by prison-and during a quarter century of incar-
ceration, he has not ceased to act and direcr the struggle-Mandela has
always been a man of reflecrion. Like all great politicians.
But in "force of reflection" there is somerhing else that can be heard,
something that signals toward the li terality of the mirror and the scene of
speculation. Not so much toward the physical laws of reflection as toward
specular paradoxes in the experience of rhe law. There is no law without
mirror. And in this properly reversible structure, we will never avoid the
moment of admiration.
Admirat ion, as its name indicates, one will say, and so on. No, no mat-
tcr whar irs name or the fact thar it always enables us ro see, admi ration
tloc., not only belong to sight. It translates emotion, astoni shmenr, sur-
prise, interrogation in the face of what oversteps Ihe measure: in the face
of the "exrraordinary," says Descanes, and he considers it a passion, the
lim of the six primitive passions, before love, hare, desire, joy, and sad-
neSS. It enables understanding. Outside of it, there is only ignorance, he
~ d d s , and in it resides "a great deal of force" of "surprise" or of "sudden
'lI'rivallflrrivement mbitl ." The admiring look is astonished; ir questions
it., illluilin,,; ir opens ilself to the light of a question, but of a question
rcai ved "n less rhan asked. This experi ence lets irself be traversed by rhe
ray or a tl"esrion, which in no way prevents its reflection. The ray comes
fronl Iht· very thing that forces admiration; it thus splits admiration into
~ ' I"'ndar Illowmenr that seems srrangely fascina ring.
Mandda hecomes admirable for baving known bow to admire. And
whal Itt' Itas leartll·d, he has learned in admiration. He fascinales toO, as
WI' .hall "'t', Ii' r having heen r:lscinaled.
III a 'tTlain way Ihal Wt' will have In undersrand, he sap this. He say.
The Laws of Reflection
what he does and what has happened to him. Such a li ght, its reRected
passage, experi ence as the departure- return of a question, would thus also
be the erupti on [kim] of a voice.
Nelson Mandela's voice- what does it evoke, ask, enjoin? What would
it have to do with sight, reRecti on, admiration, I mean the energy of this
voice bur also of what sings in its name? (hear the clamor of his people
when thi s people demonstrates in his name: Man-de-la!).
Admirat ion of Nclson Mandela, as we mi ght say the passion of Nclson
Mandela. Admirati on of Mandela, a doubl e genitive: the one he inspires
and the one he feels. The tWO have the same focus, they arc reRected in
it. I have already stated my hypothes is: he becomes admirable for having
admired, with al l his st rength, and for having made a force of his admira-
tion-an inAexible and irreducible fi ght ing power. T he law itself, the law
above other laws.
For in fact what has he admired? [n one word: t he Law.
And what inscribes it in discourse, in history, in the instiwtion, namely,
Ri ght.
A first quotari on-a lawyer is speaking, during a trial, his trial, the one
where he is also prosecut ing, the one in whi ch he prosecutes those who
accuse him, in the name of the law:
The basic task at the presenr momenc is the removal of race discrimination
and the attai nmem of democrari c rights on the basis of the [o reedom Char-
ter . . .. From my readi ng of Marxist lirera<ure and from conversations with
Marxists, [ have gained the impression rhat communists rega rd the parlia-
mentary system of rhe Wesr as undemocratic and react ionary. But, on the
contrary, I tim an admirer of such a system.
The Maglla Carta, the Perit ion of Rights, and the Bill of Ri ghts arc docu-
ments which arc held in veneration by democrats throughout the worl d.
I bave [,elll mp"t for Bri tish political institutions, and for the country's
system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic in-
stitut ion in the world, and the independence and imparti al ity of its judiciary
never fail ro I l r o u s ~ Illy admiration. '
He admires the law, he says it clearl y, but is this law, whi ch commands
wnsrituri ons and decl arations, essenti ally a thing of the West? Does its
formal universali ty retain some irreduci ble link with European or even
An!\l o-Amcrican hisrory? If it were so, we would of course still have to
"lInsider Ihis strange I'0ss ihili ty: that irs formal character would be as es-
.<clllial lO till' 1IIli v"rsaliIY of th,' law as Ihe ,'v,' Il ! of irs presenrarion in a
66 The Laws of Reflection
determined moment and place in hisrory. How could we conceive of such
a hisrory? The Struggle agai nst apartheid, wherever it takes place and such
as Mandela carries it on and reHects it, would this remain a sort of specu-
lar opposition, an internal war (har rhe West would maintain in irself, in
its own name? An internal comradicrion thar would suffer neirher radical
alrcriry nor rrue dissymmetry?
In this form, such a hypothesis still implies roo many indistincr presup-
posirions. We wi ll try to identifY them later on. For rhe moment, let us
retain an obvious, more limi red but also morc certain fact: whar Mandela
admires and says he admires is the tradition inaugurated by rhe Magna
Carta. rhe Universal Declaration of the Righrs of Man in irs different
limns (he frequendy appeals ro "me digniry of man." ro man "worthy of
Ihe name"); it is also parliamentary democracy and, srill more precisely.
Ihe doctrine of me separation of powers, (he independence of justice.
Bur if he admires this rradition, does ir mean rhat he is irs heir, its
heir? Yes and no, depending on whar is meant here by inherirance.
One can recognize an authentic heir in the one who conserves and repro-
duces. but also in the one who respects the logic of the legacy even to the
poilll of turning it on occasion against those who claim ro be its guard-
ians. ro the poine of reveal ing. against the usurpers, what has never been
in the inheritance: ro the point of giving birth, by me unheard-of act
"f ;1 reRection, to what had never seen the li ght of day.
This inAexible logic of re.flection was also Mandela's practice. Here are
leasl IWo signs of it.
I . first sil('l. The African National Congress, of which he was one of the
leaders afler having joined it in 1944, succeeded the South African Na-
1i"";1 1 ( :ungrcss. Now, the structure of the latter already reRected mat of
Ihe AI11l'CiCII1 Congress and the House of Lords. Ir included in particular
.1 lligh (:hamber. The paradigm was thus already the parliamentary de-
IllIllTa,"y Iha! Mandela admired. The Freedom Charter, which he promul-
galed in 195\. also enunciates those democratic principles inspired by the
llnivt"rsal /)" ci:t rmi on of the Rights of Man. And yet, with an exemplary
rigur. Mandda none!heless refuses a pure and simple alliance with the
Iilwral whilt·, who want to mailllain the struggle wit hin the constitutional
franl(·wllrk. '1I,'h OIl lea.'! as il was established then. Indeed. Mandela re-
The Laws of Refoction
calls a [ruth: the establishment of this constitutional law had not only, in
fact and as always, taken the form of a singular coup de force, the violent
acr rhar both produces and presupposes the unity of a nation. In this case,
the coup de force remailled a coup de force, thus, a bad blow [coup)-the
failure of a law that is unable to esrablish itself. Irs authors and beneficia-
ries were only rhe particular wills of a part of the population, a limited
number of private interests, those of rhe white minority. The latter be-
comes the privileged subject, indeed rhe only subject of this amiconstiru-
tional constitution. In facr. one might say that such a coup de force always
marks the advent of a nation. state, or nation-state. The properly pl1jiJr-
malive act of such an institution must in effect produce (proclaim) that
which it claims. declares. assures it is describing according to a comtative
act. The simulacrum or fiction then consists in bringing to the lighr of
day. in giving birth to. that which one daims to reflect so as to take nore of
it [en prendre acre), as though ir were a matter of recording whar will have
been there. the unity of a narion. the founding of a stare. whereas one is in
the act of producing that event. But legirimacy. indeed legality, becomes
permanently installed; it recovers its originary violence. and is forgotten
only on certain condirions. Not all performatives. a theoretician of speech
acts would say, are "felicitous." That depends on a great number of condi-
tions and conventions thar form rhe context of such events. In rhe case
of South Africa. certain "conventions" were not respected, the violence
was too great, visibly too great. at a moment when rhis visibility extended
to a new internarional scene. and so on. The white community was too
much in the minority. the disproportion of wealth too Aagranr. From then
on this violence remains borh excessive and powerless. insufficient in itS
resulr, lost in its own contradiction. It cannot be forgotten. as in the case
of srates founded on genocide or quasi-extermination. Here. the violence
of origin must repeat itself indefinircly and imitare right in a legislative
apparatus whose monsrrosity fails to allay suspicion: a pathological prolif-
eration of juridical prostheses (laws. actS. amendments) destined to legal-
ize down to the smallest derail rhe most everyday effecrs of fundamental
racism. of a srare racism. rhe only and lasr state racism in the world.
The consri£l1tion of such a state cannot. then. refer to the popular will
with enough verisimilitude. As the Freedom Chaner recalls: "South Africa
helongs to all its inhabitants. black and white. No government can prevail
nvt'r an aurhority that is nOt founded on the will of the entire nation."
Rcf':rring to tht' gt'ncral will. which .:;mnnt be reduced to the sum of the
Th( Laws of Reflection
wills of me "entire nation," Mandela often reminds us of Rousseau, even
if he never quotes him. And he thus contests the authority, the legali ty,
the constitutional ity of me constitution. He refuses the proposal of-and
the alliance wim-me white libetals who would struggle agai nst apartheid
and yet claim to respect the legal framework: "The credo of the liber-
als consists in 'the use of democratic and constitutional means, rejecting
the different forms of totali tarianism: fascism and communism.' Only
a people already enj oying democratic and constitutional ri ghts has any
grounds for speaking of democratic and constitutional means. This makes
no sense for those who do not benefit from them. "2
What does Mandela oppose to me coup d( force of me white minority
that has instituted a supposedly democratic law to the advantage of a sin-
gle ethnonarional entity? The "entire narion, " that is to say, another eth-
1I0national entity, another popular collectivity formed of all the groups,
including the white minority, that inhabits the territoty named South
Africa. This other entity could not have instituted nor in the future will it
he able to institute itself as the subject of the state or of rhe consritution
of "Soum Africa" except by a performative act . And the latter will not ap-
pear to refer to any prior, fundamental law, but only to the "convention"
of a geographic and demographic division [dicoupageJ effected, in large
measure, by white coloni zation. This fact cannot be erased. The will of
the "entire nation," or at least the general wi ll , should of course exclude
all empirical determination. Such is at leasr its regulative ideal. And it
~ e e l l l s no more attainable here than elsewhere. The definition of the "en-
I ire lIation" registers-and thus seems to reRect- rhe event of the coup de
lim', that was white occupation, followed by the founding of the Soum
Afri,an Republic. Wimout this event, how could we see even the slightest
rel ,"ionship between a general will and what the Freedom Charter call s
dIe "will of the entire nation"? The latter finds irself paradoxically united
hy dIe violence done to it, which tends to disintegrate or to desrructure it
lim'vl'r, down to its most vinual identity. This phenomenon marks the es-
lahlishment of almosr all states after decolonization. Mande.la knows thar:
11 11 mattcr how democrati c it is, and even if it seems to conform to the
prilll'iplc of the equality of all before the law, the absolute establishment
Ill' aSia", " "11101 presuppose the previously legitimized existence of a na-
lillllal entilY. Thc samc is true for a first constitution. The total unity of a
prlll'll' l'all ollly he ilk,ntilied for the lirst time by contract-whether for-
111011 or lUll , Wl'iliCII or lIol -that institutes somc fundamental law. Now
The Laws of Reflection
this contract is never signed, in fact, except by the supposed represen-
tatives of the supposedly "entire" people. This fundamental law cannot,
either by right or in fact, simpl y precede that which at once institutes it
and yet presupposes it: projects it and reflects ir! lr can in no way precede
this extraordinary performative by which a signature authorizes itself to
sign, in a word, legalizes itsel f on irs own initiarive [de son propre cbif)
without t he guarantee of a preexisting law. This aurographic violence and
fi ction are to be found at work just as surely in what we call individual
autobiography as in the "historical" origin of states. In the case of South
Africa, the fi ction lies in this-and it is fiction against fiction: the uniry
of the "entire nation" could not correspond to the division effected by the
white minority. It should now constitute a whole (the white minority +
all the inhabitants of "South Africa") whose configuration was only estab-
lished, or in any case identified, on the basis of minority violence. That
such a unity might then oppose this violence changes nothing about this
implacable contradiction. The "entire nation," a unity of "all the national
groups, " will grant itself existence and legal force only by the very same
act to which the Freedom Charter appeals. This Charter speaks in the
present, a present that one supposes to be founded on the description of
a past given that should be recognized in the future; and it also speaks in
the future, a future that has the value of a prescription:
South Africa belongs to all its inhabitants, black and white. No government
can prevai l over an authority that is nOt founded on the will of the entire na-
- The people will govern.
- Al l the national groups will enjoy equal rights . .. .
- All will be equal before the law.'
The Charter docs not annul the founding act of the law, an act that is
necessarily a-legal in itself, which finally institutes South Africa and can
only become legal afterward, in particular if it is ratified by the law of the
international community. No, the Charter refounds it, or in any case in-
tends to refound it, by reflecting, against the white minority, the principles
hy whi ch it claimed to be inspired, whereas in foct it never ceased to be-
[ray [hem. Democracy, yes, South Africa yes, but this time, says the Char-
[cr. [he "entire nation" must include all the national groups, such is the
very logic of the law to whi ch the white minority claimed to appeal. On
[he thus delimited, all human hcings, all human beings "worthy
lit" tiw 1I:1I1W."· will tiWII dl"nivei y thc suhjccts of law.
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2. Second sign. The declared "admiration" for the model of parliamen-
tary democracy of the Anglo-American kind and for rhe separari on of
powers, me fa ithfulness of the Charrer co all the principles of such a de-
mocracy, the logic of a radi calization that oppo es mese very princi ples
co me Western defenders of apartheid, all of this mi ghr seem co resemble
rhe coup de force of a simple specular inversion: thc srruggle of the "black"
communiry (of non-"whire" communiries) would be undertaken in rhe
name of an imporred law and model-a law and model thar were be-
rrayed, in rhe firsr place, by rheir firsr imporrers. A rerri fyi ng dissymme-
rry. Bur ir seems co reduce irself, or rarher co reRecr irself co rhe poinr of
withdrawing from every objecrive represenration: neimer symmerry nor
dissymmerry. This is because rhere would be no imporration, no simply
assignable origin for rhe hiscory of law, only a reHecring apparatus, wirh
projecrions of images, inversions of rrajeccories, mises en abfme, effecrs of
hisrory for a law whose srructure and whose "hiscory" consisr in carrying
off [emporurl rhe origin. Such an apparatus- and by rhi s word I only
mean rhar mis X is nor narural (which does nor necessaril y define ir as
an artifacr broughr forrh by human hands)-cannot be represenred in
oojecrive space. For at least two reasons rhar I will relate co rhe case thar
concerns us here.
A. The first reason concerns rhe SfIuCture of the law, of the principle,
or the model being considered. Whatever the hiscorical place of irs forma-
tillll nr formulation, of its revelation or presenration, a structure of rhi s
kind tends coward universaliry. Here we have, as ir were, irs inrenrional
nlntt' nr : its meaning requires rhar it immediarely exceed the hiscorical,
national . geographical, linguistic, and culturallimi rs of irs phenomenal
mil(in. Everything should begin wirh uprooring. The limi rs would rhen
" 1 ' 1 ' ~ a r til be empirical conringencies. They mi ghr even dissimulate what,
it St·<"IllS. they let appear. Thus one mi ght think that the "white minoriry"
III" SlIuth Africa occults me essence of rhe principles co which it claims co
"1'1',.,,1; it privarizes rhem, parri cularizes mem, appropri ates them, and in
this w"y subjects rhem co rhe inspecrion of reason [les arraisonnel againsr
rlwir vt'ry reason for being, against reason irsclf. Whereas, in the suuggle
,,!(ainst apartheid, rhe "reRecrion" of which we are speaking here makes
visihit· what was no longer even visible in me political phenomenality
c1ol1linatnl hy whites. Ir obliges us co see whar was no longer seen or was
11111 y,·t to Ill" St·cn. It tries ro open the eyes of whires; it does not repro-
<111"" rI,,' visihlt-. it produ(,"s it. T his reRection makes visihle a law that
The Laws of Reflection
in truth it does more than reflect, because this law, in its phenomenon,
was invisible: had become invisible or was still invisible. By bringing the
invisible into t he visible, this reflection does nOt proceed from the visible;
rather it passes through understanding. More precisely, it gives us ro un-
derstand what exceeds understanding and accords only with reason. This
was a first reason, reason itself.
B. The second reason seems more problematic. It concerns precisely
this phenomenal apparition, the histori cal constitution of the law, of
democratic principles, and of the democratic model. Here again, the ex-
peri ence of decl ared admiration, this time of an admiration that is al so
said to be foscinated, follows the fold of a reAection. Always a reAection on
the law: Mandela perceives, he sees, others might say that he projects and
reflects without seeing, the very ptesence of this law inside African society.
Even before "the arrival of the white man."
In what he himself says about thi s subject, I will underline three mo-
(a) that of fascination: fixed attention of the gaze rransfixed, as if perri-
fied by something that, without being simpl y a visible object, looks at
you, already concerns you, understands you, and orders you to continue
to observe, to respond, to make yourself responsible for the gaze that
gazes at you and calls you beyond the visible: neither perception nor hal -
(b) that of the seed: it furnishes an indispensable schema for interprera-
tion. It is on account of its vircualiry that the democrati c model would
have been present in the sociery of ancestors, even if ir was nor to be
revealed, developed as such (or reAection, until afterward, after the violent
irruption of the "white man," the bearer of the same model ;
(c) that of the South African homeland [patrie], the birthplace of all the
national groups called upon to live under the law of the new South Afri-
can Republic. This homel and is nOf to be confused either with the state
nr with the nation:
Many years ago, when I was a boy brought up in my village in the Transkei,
I listened to the elders of the tribe tel ling stories abour the good old days,
I,,!orr tb, arriv/II of ,b, white man. Then our people li ved peacefully, under
I he "mwemtic rul e of thei r kings and thei r amapakati, and moved freely and
wllfidclltl y lip and down rhe COll ntry without let or hindrance. Then the
rtHlIHI')' wa." ours . . . . I hoped and vowed rhen that. among [he treasures [hat
2 The Laws of Reflection
life might offer me, would be the opportunity to serve my people and make
my own humble contribution to their freedom struggles.
The structure and organization of early African societies in this coulllry
fascinated me very much and greatly inAuenccd the evolution of my politi-
cal outlook. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the
whole tribe, and there was no individual ownership whatsoever. There were
no classes, no ri ch or poor, and no exploitation of man by man. All men were
free and equal and this was the foundation of government. Recognition of this
general principle found expression in the consrirution of the council. . . .
There was much in such a society that was primitive and insecure and it
certainly could never measure up to the demands of the present epoch. But
in such a society are contained th.IUds of a Y(Vo/utioflary demorral)' in which
none will be held in slavery or servitude, and in which poverty, want, and
insecurity shall be no more. (149-50)
It is common knowledge that the conference decided that, in place of the
IInilateral proclamation of a republic by the white minority of South Africans
nnly, it would demand in the name of the African people the calling of a trul y
national conventi on representative of all South Afri cans, irrespective of their
<nlor, black and white, to sit ami cably round a table, to debate a new conSti-
nllion for South Africa, which was in essence what the government was doing
hy the proclamation of a republic, and furthermore, to press on behalf of the
African people, that such a new constit uti on should differ from the consti-
IlItion of the proposed South African Republi c by guaranteeing democratic
rilllllS on a basis of full equality to all SOUlh Africans of adult age. (148)
What fascination seems to bri ng into view here, what mobilizes and
illllllllhilizcs Mandela's anention, is nO! onl y parli amentary democracy,
whlls,' principle presents itSelf for example but not exemplarily in the West.
h is dll" IIlready virtually accomplished passage, if one can say thi s, from
plirlialllcnrary democracy to revolutionary democracy: a sociery without
d 'lss alld without private property. We have just encountered, then, a
.'lIpl'lclllentary paradox: the effictive accomplishmem, the fulfillment of
die dl"ll\()ctolti c form, the real determination of the formality, will only
hl/llr II/lim piau in the past of this non-Western society, in the form [SOItS
IrsphrJ "f virtualiry, in other words, of "seeds. " Mandela lets himself be
/Ii.rrilltllrtlhy what he sees being reRected in advance, by what is not yet to
he seell, wh,\! he fore-sees: the properl y revolutionary democracy of whi ch
Ihe Allf;lo-Alllericall West, in sum, would have delivered only an incom-
1'1"1", lim11a!. 1/fIt! Ihlls IIU" potential image. Potentiality against potemial -
ilY. I'nwn allaillSl I'"Wl"f. For if he "admires" the parliamentary systems
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of the mOSt Western West, he also declares his "admiration," and this is
still his word, always the same word, for the "structure and organization
of early African societ ies in this country. " It is a question of "seed" and
of preformation, accordi ng to the same logic or rhe same rhetori c, a sort
of genoptics. The figures of African society prefigute; they give one to see
in advance what st ill remains invisible in its histotical phenomenon, that
is to say, the "classless" society and the end of the "exploitation of man
by man": "Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an at-
(raction that springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my
admiration of the structure and organization of early African societi es in
this country. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to
the tribe. There were no ri ch or poor, and there was no exploitation of
ma.n by man" (150).
I n all the senses of this term, Mandela remains, then, a man of law. He
has always appealed to right even if, in appearance, he had to oppose him-
self to this or that determinate legality, and even if certain judges made of
him, at certai n moments, an outlaw.
A man oflaw, he was this first by vocation. On the one hand. he always
appeals to tl,e law. On the other hand, he was always attracted. caJIed by
the law before which he was asked to appear. He accepted moreover to
appear before the law, even if he was also forced to do so. He seized the
occasion. not to say the chance. Why chance? Let us reread his "defense,"
which is in truth an indictment. We will find in it a political autobiogra-
phy. his own and that of his people. indissociably. The "I" of this auto-
biography founds itself and justifies itsel f, reasons and signs in (he name
of "we." He always says "my people," as we have already noted. especiaUy
when he raises the question of the subject responsible before the law:
1 am charged with inciting people to commit an offence by way of protest
agai nst the law. a law that neilher I nor any of my people had any say in
preparing. The law against which the protest was directed is the law which
established a republic in lhe Union of Soulh Africa . . .. Bur in weighing up
the decision as to the senlence which is to be imposed for such an offence.
Chl' court must take in ro accounr lhe question of responsibility, whether it is
I who 3m fl·sponsihle or whether. in fac r. a large measure of the rcsponsibiliry
dOt'S 110t lil' on lilt., ,11OlIlc.lc.:rs of (he govc,,'rnl11cnr whi ch promulga[cd thar law,
The Laws of Reflection
knowing that my people. who constitute the majority of the population of
this countty. were opposed to that law. and knowing further that every legal
means of demonstrating that opposition had been closed to them by prior
legislation. and by government admi nistrative action. (148)
Thus he himself presenrs himself. He presents himself, himself in his
people. before the law. Before a law he impugns. cenainly. bur rhar he
impugns in rhe name of a hi gher law. rhe one he declares ro admire and
hefore which he agrees to appMr. In such a presenrari on of self, he jusrifies
himself by gathering his hisrory-thar he reflecrs in a single focal point.
a and double focal poinr. his hisrory and rhar of his people. Ap-
pearance: they appear rogerher. he gathers himself by appearing before
Ihe law that he summons as much as he is summoned by ir. Bur he does
nor presenr himself in view of a jusrificarion that would follow. The self-
presenration is not in the service of law; ir is nor a means. The unfolding
of rhis history is a Justification; ir is possible and has meaning only before
Ihe law. He only is whar he is, Nelson Mandela. he and his people. he has
presence only in this movement of j ustice.
Memories and confessions of an at rorney-advocate. The advocate
"avows" a fault from rhe poinr of view of legality. even as he justifies it.
[() the poinr of assuming it proudl y. Taking as his witness humanity
" whole. he addresses himself ro the universal justice over rhe heads of
who are but his judges for a day. Whence this paradox: one can per-
a sort of joyous trembling in the narrarive of this martyrdom. And
"I limeN one can make our the inflexion of Rousseau in these confessions.
v"kc Ihat never ceases ro appeal ro the voice of conscience. ro rhe imme-
and unfailing fecling of jusrice. ro rhis law of laws that speaks in us
hdi,r,· us hecause ir is inscribed in our heart. In the same tradirion. ir is
"I", Ih,· place of a caregorical imperative. of a morality incommensurate
wilh Ih,' hyporheses and condiri onal srraregies of inreresr. as ir is wi rh rhe
lil\lII"cs "f Ihis or rhar civil law:
I "" nlll believe. Your Worship. that this COUrt . in inAicting penalries on me
Ii" .h,· crime, for which I am convicted. should be moved by the belief rhar
p<"nalc i,'" J"lt'r men from rhe course thaI they believe is right. Hisroty shows
Ihall'wald,'s do 11m J eter men when their conscitnuis aroused, (158)
Wh;Hl'Vl"r Sl'ntt'lll'f,,' Your Worship sees fir ro impose upon me for rhe crime
li.r whit-I. I haV<' bt" ' n cullvi"eJ before thi s COUrt. may it rest assured thaI
wl,,'n Ill y ," ' nll'll n' has bn'n mmpk.eu, I wili stili be moved, as men are al-
The Laws of Reflection
ways moved, by their comcienw; I will still be moved by my dislike of the race
discrimination against my people when I come OUt from servi ng my sentence,
to rake Up again, as besr I can, the srruggle for the removal of those injustices
until they are finall y aboli shed once and for all. (159)
It was an act of defiance of the law. We were aware thar it was, but, never-
theless, rhar act had been forced on us against our wishes, and we could do no
other than to choose between compli ance with the law and compliance with
our conscimctJ. (15 1)
[We] were faced with this conflict lAw and ollr conscience. In the
face of rhe complete fai lure of the government to heed, to consider, or even to
respond to our seriously proposed objections and our solutions to the forrh-
coming republic, what were we to do? Were we to allow the law, whi ch States
that you shall not commit an offence by way of protest, to rake irs course and
thus betray our conscience? ... [II n such a dilemma, men of honesty, men
of purpose, and men of public morality and of conscience can only have one
answer. They must follow rhe dictate o/their comcience irrespective of the con-
sequences which might overrake them for it. We of the Action Council, and I
particularl y, as Secretary, followed Ollr conscimce. (153-54)
Conscience and consciousness of the law, these two make only one.
Presentation of oneself and presentation of one's people, t hese two make
only a single history in a single reAection. In both cases, as we have said,
a singl e and double focus. And it is that of admiration, si nce this con-
science presents itsel f, gathers itself, collects itself by reRecting itself before
the law. That is to say, let us not forget, before what is admirable.
The experience of admiration is also doubly internal. It reAects reflec-
tion and draws from it all the strength that it turns agai nst its Western
judges. For it proceeds, dramatically, from a double internalization. Man-
dela first internalizes, he takes into himself an ideal thought of the law
that may appear to come from the West. Mandela also interiorizes, at the
same time, the principle of interiority in the figure that the ChriStian West
has given to it. All its traits are to be found in the philosophy, the politics,
the right and morality that dominate in Europe: the law of laws resides
in the most intimate conscience; we must in the final inStance judge the
intention, goodwill, and so on. Before any juridical or political discourse,
hefore the texts of positive law, the law speaks in the voice of conscience
or is insaibed in the furthest reaches of the heart.
A 111;\11 oflaw by vocation, then, Mandela was also a man oftaw by pro-
We know that he firs! studied law on the advice of Walter Sisulu,
The Laws of Reflection
the then secretary of the African National Congress. In particular. it was a
matter of mastering Western law. this weapon to turn against the oppres-
sors. The laner misrecognize. in the end. in spite of all their legal ruses.
the true force of a law that they manipulate. violate. and betray.
To inscribe himself in the system. and above all in the faculty of law.
Mandela takes courses by correspondence. He wants to obtain first a de-
I\ree in lecters. Let us Stress this episode. Since he cannot have immedi-
ale access to direct. "live" exchanges. he has to begin by correspondence.
Mandela will complain about this later on. The context will certainly be
different. but it will always be abOUt a politics of voice and writing. of the
between what is said "aloud" and what is wrinen. between the
"live voice" and "correspondence. "
We have been conditioned by the hi story of White governments in this coun-
try to accept the fact that Africans. when they make their demands strongly
and powerfully enough to have some chance of success. will be met by force
,md terror on the part of the government. Thi s is not something we have
taught the African people. this is something the Afri can people have learned
from their own bilter experience .... Already [1921-231 there are indications
in this country that people. my people. Africans. are turning to deliberate acts
"f violence and of force against the government. in order to persuade the gov-
crnment. in the only language which thi s government shows. by its behavior.
Ihal il understands.
Elsewhere in the world. a court would say co me. "You should have made
f<l'rcSl·Ilta<ions to the government. » This Court, I am confident. will not say
'". n"pfCsentations have been made. by peopl e who have gone before me.
dint' and time again. Representati ons were made in thi s case by mCj I do
Hot Wolll1 agrti n to repeat the experi ence of those represenrati ons. The (oun
"UHUH l'xpccr a respect for (he process of representation and negoriari on ro
an"lIlgst the African people. when lhe government shows every day.
hy ils .... ,,<lU([ . that it despises such processes and frowns upon them and
will 11111 illdulge in them. Nor wi ll the court. I bel ieve, say lhat. under the
,iOllllll>lances. my people are condemned forever to say nothing and to do
11I1lhilll\. (oSS-56)
1111)[(1<- .. 1I0( to hear. nOt to understand. the white government requires
tloal ellll" wrill' to ir. But it intends thereby nOt to answer and first of all
l10t III ,,·ad. Mandd. reminds us of the lener that Albert Luthuli . then
thl' p"'si,kllt of th,· ANC, addressed to Prime Minisrer ] . G. St rijdom.
It was .1 1"nl\lhy analysis of Ihe siruation. accompanied by a request for
The Laws of Reflection
a consultation. Not the sli ghtest response. "The standard of behavior of
the South African government towards my people, and its aspirations, has
not always been what it should have been, and is not always the standard
whi ch is to be expected in serious hi gh-level dealings between civilized
peoples. Chi ef Luthuli's letter was not even favored wi th t he courtesy of
an acknowledgment from the Pri me Minister's offi ce" (153).
Whi te power does nOt think it has to respond, does not hold itself
responsible to the black people. The latter can nOt even assure itself, by
return mai l, by an exchange of words, looks or signs, that any image of it
has been formed on the other side, an image that mi ght then return to it
in some way. For white power does not COntent itself with not answering.
It does worse: it does nOt even acknowledge teceipt. After Luthuli, Man-
dela experiences it himsel f. He has just written to Verwoerd to inform
him of a resolution voted on by the National Action Council, of whi ch
he is then the secretary. He also requests that a national convention be
convoked before the deadline determined by the resoluti on. No answer,
no acknowledgment of receipt:
In a civilized counuy one would be outraged by the fa ilure of the head of
government even to tlckllow/,dge ""ipt oj a lefter, or to consider such a rea-
sonable request put to him by a broadly reptesentative collection of important
personali ties and leaders of the most important communi ty of the country.
Once again, government standards in dealing with my people fell below what
[he civilized lIIorld would ex peer. No reply, no response whatsoever, was re-
ceived to our letter. no indication was even given that ir had received any
consideration wha[soever. Here we, the Afri can people, and especially we of
[he Nat ional Acti on Council , who had been entrusted with the tremendous
mpomibility of safeguarding the interests of the African people, were faced
with this cOIlf/ict bttween the law fwd Ollr comcience. (153)
Not to acknowledge receipt is to bet ray the laws of civi li ty but first of
all those of civilizarion: a primit ive behavior, a return to the state of na-
ture, a presocial phase, before the law. Why does the government return to
this noncivi li zed practice? Because it considers the majori ty of the people,
rhe "most important communi ty," to be noncivili zed, before or outside
t he law. By acting in th is way, by interrupting the correspondence in a
fashion, the white man is no longer respecting his own law. He
is hl ind to the evi dence: a letter received signifies rhat the other is appeal-
The Laws of Rejlection
ing [0 the law of the community. By scorning his own law, the white man
makes law contemptible:
Perhaps the court will say that despite our human rights to protest. to object.
to make ourselves heard, we should stay within the lencr of the law. ) would
say. Sir. that it is rhe government, its administration of the law. which brings
the inw into such comonpt lind disrepttu that one is no longer concerned in this
countty to stay with in the letter of the law. I will illustrate this from my own
experience. The Government has used the process oflaw to handicap me, in
my personal life. in my career, and in my political work, in a way which is
calculated. in my opinion, to bring about comonpt ofth, inw. (156)
This contempt for the law (the symmetrical inverse of the respect for
the moral law, as Kant would say: is not his, is not
Mandela's. By accusing, by responding, by acknowledging receipt, he re-
flects. in a sense, the contempt of the whites for their own law. It is always
a reAection. Those who, one day, made him an outlaw simply did not
have the right: they had already placed themselves outside the law. By
Jcscribing his own outlaw condition, Mandela analyzes and reAects the
hcing-outside-the-Iaw of the law in the name of which he wi ll have been
nO! judged but persecured, prejudged, taken for a criminal beforehand, as
if: in this endless trial , the trial had already taken place, before the investi-
j(:Hinn. whereas it is being endlessly adjourned:
I was made, by the law, a criminal. not because of what I had done, but
hecause of what I stood for. because of what I thought. because of my con-
"iencc. Can it be any wonder to anybody that such conditions make a man
OIn olltlaw of sociery? Can it be wondered that such a man, having been
ollll:lw,'u by the government, should be prepared to lead the life of an out-
1:IW. as I have led for some months. according to the evidence before this
rUllrt? .. . Bur there comes a time, as it came in my life, when a man is denied
Ihe ril\11I (() live a normal li fe. when he can only live the life of an ouclaw
hn',HISl' the government has so decreed [Q use the law to impose a state of
outlawry "pon him. (t 57)
ManJd" th us accuses white governments of never answering. while at
Ihe sam,' lillle demanding that blacks be quiet and make written rep-
reselll :llions: resign yourself to correspondence and to corresponding all
'1'1,,· .,illislt·r irony of counterpoint: after his conviction. Mandela is
The Laws 0/ Reflection
kept in solitary confinement (Wenty-three hours a day in Pretoria Central
Prison. He is employed in sewing mailbags.
A man oflaw by vocation, Mandela submits the laws of his profession,
the professional code of ethics, its essence and its contradictions, to the
same reflection. This lawyer, enjoined by that code of ethics "to observe
the laws of this country and to respect its traditions," how could he have
conducted a campaign and incited others to strike against mc politics of
this same country? Hc himself raises this question before his judges. The
answer requires nothing less than the story of his life. The decision to
conform or not to conform to a code of ethics does nor depend on emics
as SIIch. The question of what to do about the professional code of ethics,
"should one respect it or not?" is not of a professional order. The response
is a dccision that engages onc's whole existence in its moral, political, and
historical dimensions. In a way, one has to recount one's life to explain or
rathcr to justify the transgression of a professional rule; "In order that the
court shall understand the frame of mind which leads me to action such
as this, it is necessary for me to explain the background to my own politi-
cal development and to try to make this court aware of me factors which
influenced me in deciding to act as I did. Many years ago, when I was a
boy brought up in my village in the Transkei ... " (149).
Is Mandela treating his professional obligations lightly? No, he is trying
to mink his profession, which is not just one profession among others. He
reflects the deontology of deontology, the deep meaning and me spirit of
deontologicallaws. And once again, our of admiring respect, he decides
to come down on the side of a deontology of deontology that is also a
deontology beyond [au-dela] deontology, a law beyond (par-dela] legality.
But the paradox of mis reflection (me deontology o/deontology) , which
carries bryondwhat it reflects, is that responsibility takes its meaning again
from insidethc professional apparatus. It is reinscribed wimin it, for Man-
dela decides, to all appearances against the code, to exercise his profession
exactly when they Want to Stop him from doing so. As an "acrorney worm
his salt," he sets himself against the code in the code, by reflecting me code,
and thereby making visible what thc code in force makes unteadable.
Once again his reflection exhibits what phenomenality still dissimulates.
It dOl's IHlI tl'-I'rodun', il prodllces the visihle. This production oflight
80 The Laws of Reflection
is justice-moral or political. For phenomenal dissimulation must nOt be
confused with a natural process; [here is nothing neutral abour it, nothing
innocent or fatal. Ir rranslates here the political violence of the whites; it
holds to their interpretation of the laws, to char proliferation of juridi-
~ a l purviews whose letter is destined to contradict the spirit of the law.
ror example, because of the color of his skin and his membership in the
ANC, Mandela cannot occupy any professional premises in the ciry. He
must therefore, unlike any white lawyer, have a special authori7.ation from
I he government, in accordance with the Urban Areas Act. Authorization
refused. And then a waiver that is not renewed. Mandela must from then
on practice in a "native location," accessible only wit h difliculry to chose
who need his counsel in the ciry:
This was tantamount to asking us to abandon our legal practice, to give up
the legal service of our people, for which we had spent many years rraining.
No attorney worth his salt will agree easily [0 do so. For some ycars, [herefore,
we continued to occupy premises in the ciry, illegally. The [hrea, of prosecu-
rion and ejection hung menacingly over us throughout [hal period. It was an
act of dtfianu of tilt law. We were aware ,hal i[ was , but, never[heless, that
act had been forced on us against our wishes, and we could do no other [han
III choose berween compliance with ,he law and compliance with our con-
sdences .. . . [ regarded i[ as a dury which lowed. nor JUSt [0 my people. bur
alsn to my profession, [0 [he practice of law, and to justice for all mankind, [0
rry nUl against this discri mination which is essentially unjust and opposed [0
Ihc whole basis of [he attitude towards justice which is part of the [radi,ion of
ICI4:01 ,raining in this country. (' 51)
A 111:111 of the law by vocation: i[ would be greaely simplifying things
10 ,:IY that he places respect for the law and a cerrain categorical impera-
livr a"ow professional ethics. The "profession of attorney" is not JUSt any
jo". It profcsses, one might say, [hal to which we are all bound, even
Olll,idl' Ihc profession. An attorney is an expert in respect or admiration;
he jlldf:cs himself or submits to judgment wi th added rigor. Or in any
,'as(' hl' .,Iwuld. Mandela must [hen find, inside professional deontology,
Ihr "cSI rcason for failing a legisla[ive code rhat was already betraying the
I'ri""il'it-s of every good professional deontology. As if, through reAection.
he al", had 10 rcpair. supplement, reconstruct. add something [0 a deon-
wIClf:Y whnc Ihl' whilcs in f.1Ct showed themselves to be deficient.
·lwi'T. tlwn. Iw confcsscs to a certai n "contempt for the law" (this is
The Laws of Reflection 81
always his expression) in order to hold out to his adversaries the mirror
in which they will have to recognize and see their own scorn for the law
reRected. But with this supplementary inversion: on Mandela's side, the
apparent contempt signifies an added respect [un surcroft de respect] for
the law.
And yet he does not accuse his judges, not immediately, at least not
at the moment he appears before rhem. Certainly, he will have begun by
chall enging them: on the one hand, there was not a single black on the
court and rhus the court could not guarantee the necessary impartialiry
("T he South African Government affi rms that the Universal Declaration
of the Rights of Man is applied in this country but, in truth, equaliry
before the law in no way exists in relat.ion to the concerns of OUf people");
on the other hand, the presiding judge remained, between sessions, in
contact with the political police. Bur once in front of his judges, these
objections nOt having been sustai ned, of course, Mandela no longer ac-
cuses the tribunal. First, he continues to observe his deeply respectful
admiration for those who exercise a function that is exemplary in his eyes
and for the digniry of a tribunal. Moreover, the respect for the rules al -
lows him to confirm the ideal legitimacy of an instance before which he
also must appear. He wants to seize the occasion, and I dare not say once
again the chance, of this trial in order to speak, to give to his word a space
of public and virtually universal resonance. His judges must indeed rep-
resent a uni versal instance. He will thus be able to speak to them, while
speaking over their heads. This doubl e opportuniry permits him to gather
together the meaning of his history, his and that of his people, in order
to articulate it in a coherent narrative. The image of what ties his story
to that of his people must be formed in this double focal point, which at
the same rime welcomes [accueille] it, takes it in [recl/eille] by gathering it,
and preserves [garde] it, yes, preserves it above all: the judges here present
who are listeni ng to Mandcla, and behind them, rising high and fa r above
them, [he universal court. And in a moment we will rediscover the man
and the phil osopher of this tribunal . For once, then, [here will have been
the spoken discourse and the correspondence, the written text of his plea,
which is also an indictment: it has come down to us, here it is, we are
reading it at this very moment.
The Laws 0/ Reflection
This text is both unique and exemplary. Is it a testament? What has be-
come of it in the past twenry years? What has hislOry done, what will his-
lOry do with it? What will become of the example? And Nelson Mandela
himself? His jailers dare speak of exchanging him, of negotiating for his
freedom! Of bargaining for his freedom and that ofSakhalOv!
There are at least twO ways of receiving a testament-and twO mean-
ings of the word, two ways, in short, of acknowledging receipt. One can
inRect it toward what bears wit1less only 10 a past and knows itself con-
demned to reRecti ng that which will not return: a kind of West in gen-
eral , the end of a race that is also the trajeclOry fro m a luminous source,
the close of an epoch, for example that of the Christian West (Mandela
speaks its language, he is also an English Chri sti an). But, another inRec-
tion, if the testament is always made in front of witnesses, a witness in
front of witnesses, it is also so as 10 open and to enjoin, it is 10 confide in
mhers the responsibi li ty of a fut ure. To testily, ro test, 10 attest, ro COntest,
to present oneself before witnesses-for Mandcla, it was not onl y ro show
himself. ro give himself 10 be known, himself and his people, it was also
to re-institute the law for the future, as if, at botrom, the law had never
raken place. As if, havi ng never been respected, it had remained, this arch-
ancien! thing that had never been present, the future itse.lf-still invisible.
' Ib he reinvented.
These two inRections of the testament are not opposed: they meet in
I "x,'mplarity of the example when it concerns respect for the law. Re-
li,r a person, Kant tells us, is fi rst addressed to the law of which this
ollly gives us the example. Stri ctly speaking, respect is onl y due
law, whi ch is its sole cause. And yet, it is the law, we must respect the
olher fi,r himself, in his irreplaceable singularity. It is true that, as a per-
son or a reasonable being, the other always tesrifies, in his very singularity,
10 respect for the law. He is exemplary in this sense. And still reRect-
inj.\ - ;t(wrding ro the same optic, that of admiration and respect-these
lij.\IIf'·s of (he gaze. Some mi ght be tempted ro see in Mandela the witness
or til" 111artyr of the past. He let himself be captured (literally, impri s-
011",1) ill the perspective [oplique] of the West, as in the machination of its
l'db·';nj.\ apparatus; he nOt onl y internalized the law, as we were saying,
h .. illl",";.Ii1."d th,· principle of interiority in its testamentary tradition
( :hl'i"ian, ROI1.,s,·a ll i", Kanlian, ctc).
The Laws of Reflection
But one could say the opposite: his reflection lets liS see- in the most
singular geopolitical situation, in this exueme concenuation of all human
history that are today the places or the stakes called "South Africa," or "Is-
rael," for example--the promise of what has never yet been seen or heard,
in a law that only presented itself in the West, at the Western border, in
order to disappear immediately. Whar will be decided in these so-called
"places"-which are also formidable metonymies-would decide every-
thing, if there were srill that; they would decide the whole.
Thus the exemplary witnesses are often those who distinguish berween
the law and laws, berween the respect for the law that speaks immediately
to conscience and submission to positive law (historical , national, insti-
tuted). Conscience is nor only memory but promise. The exemplary wit-
nesses who make us think abour the law they reflect arc those who, in cer-
tain situations, do not respect the laws. They are sometimes torn berween
their conscience and the laws; ar times they let themselves be condemned
by the tribunals of their country. And there arc witnesses of this kind ill
every country, which proves that the place of appearance or formulation
is for the law also the place of the first uprooting. III every country, thus,
for example, yet again, in Eutope, for example in England, for example,
among philosophers. The example chosen by Mandela, the most exem-
plary of the witnesses he seems to call to the bar is an English philosopher,
a peer of the realm (still this admiration for the most elevated forms of
parliamentary democracy), the "most respected philosopher in the West-
ern world" who knew how, in certain situations, nOt to respect the law,
how to put "conscience," "duty," "belief in the morality of the essential
rightness of the cause" before the "respect for the law." It is out of respect
that he did not show respect: (no) more respect. Respect for the sake of
respect. Can we regulate some oprical model on what such a possibility
promises? Admiration of Mandela-for Bertrand Russell:
Your Worship, I would say that the whole life of any thinking African in
this country drives him continuollsly [Q a conRicr bcrween his conscience on
the one hand and the law on the mher. This is not a conRict peculiar to this
country. The conRict arises for men of conscience, for men who think and
who feel deeply in every COUntry. Recently in Britain. a peer of the rcalm. Earl
RlIs.ell. probably t/" mOIt mptCled philosopher of ,he Western world, was
sentenced. convicted for precisely ,he type of activities for which [ stand be-
li>« YOli today. fnr following his conscience in defiance of ,he law, as a protest
:lJ!.aill!-o1 :1 1H1c.:lc:ar-Wt:;lpnns polic.:y hring fullowco hy hi s own government. For
Tbe Laws of Reflection
him, his dury to the public, his belief in the moraliry of the essential rightness
of the cause for which he stood, rose superior to his high mptet for the law. He
could nOt do other than to oppose the law and [0 suffer the consequences for
it. Nor can I. Nor can many Mricans in this country. The law as it is appl ied,
the law as it has been developed over a long period of history, and especiall y
the law as it is written and designed by the Nationalis< government, is a law
which. in OUf view, is immoral, unjust, and inrolerable. OUf consciences dic-
tate chat we must protest againsr irJ thar we must oppose it, and that we must
attempt to alter it. (152)
' Ii> oppose the law, to then try and transform it: once the decision is
lIIade, the recourse to violence should not take place without measure and
without rule. Mandela explains in minute detail the strategy, the limits,
Ihe progress reRected upon and observed. First, there was a phase during
Ihe course of which, all legal opposition being forbidden, the infraction
had nevertheless to remain nonviolent: "All lawful modes of expressing
opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were
placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of
inferiority or to defy the government. We chose to defy the law. We first
broke Ihe law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence" (162.).
The infraction still manifests the absolute respect for the supposed
spirit of the law. But it was impossible to scop there. For the government
invelHcd new legal devices co repress these nonviolent challenges. To this
vinlelH response, which was also a nontesponse, the transition co violence
was in its turn the only possible response. Response co the nonresponse:
"When this form was legislated agai nst, and then the government resorted
In a show of force ro crush opposition to its policies, only then did we
.JcdJc to answer violence with violence" (162.) .
11111 there again, the violence remains subject to a rigorous law, "a
"rktly controlled violence. " Mandela insists, he underlines these words
;11 Ihe poil)( where he explains the genesis of Umkonco we Sizwe (Spear
of til<" Nation) in November 1961. In founding that combat organization,
he illl""d, to suhmit it co the political directives of the ANe, whose stat-
IIlcs I""'scrihc lion violence. In front of his judges, Mandela describes in
.Jelaillile rules of actioll, rhe strategy, the tacties, and above all the limits
illlpos"d nil lil,' militants charged with sabotage: co wound or kill no Olle,
eilh"r ill Ihe prel'ar;lIiOIl or the execu tion of the operations. The militants
11111S1 "01 h"ar arlllS. Irhe recognizes "having prepared a plan of saborage,"
T h ~ Laws of Reflection
it was neither through "adventurism" nor through any "love of violence
in itself." On the contrary, he wanted (0 interrupr whar is so oddly called
the cycle of violence, one entailing rhe other because firsr of all ir answers,
reAecrs, sends it back irs image. Mandela meant (0 limir the risks of explo-
sion by controlling rhe actions of the militants and by constantly devoting
himself (0 what he calls a "reAective" analysis of the situation.
He was arrested four months after the crearion of Umkonto, in August
1962. In May 1964, at the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial, he was sen-
tenced to life imprisonment.
P.S. The postscript is for the future-in what is most undecided about
ir (Oday. I wanted (0 speak, of course, of Nelson Mandela's future, of what
does not allow irself (0 be anticipared, caughr, captured by any mirror.
Who is Nelson Mandela?
We will never s(OP admiring him, him and his admiration. But we do
not yet know whom (0 admire in him, the one who, in the past, will have
been the captive of his admiration or the one who, in a future amerior,
will always have been free (the freest man in the world, let us not say that
lightly) for having had the parience of his admiration and having known,
passionately, whar he had to admire. Going so far as (0 refuse, again yes-
terday, a conditional freedom.
Would they thus have imprisoned him, for almost a quarter century
now, in his very admiration? Was that not the very objective--I mean
that in the sense of pho(Ography and of the optical machine- the right
(0 oversee [Ie droit de regara1? Did he let himself be imprisoned' Did he
gn himself imprisoned? Was it an accident? Perhaps we must place our-
selves at a point where these alternatives lose their meaning and become
the justification and the srarting point for new questions. Then we must
leave rhese quesrions open, like doors. And what remains (0 come in these
questions, which are not only theoretical or philosophical, is also the fig-
ure of Mandela. Who is it? Who is coming rhere?
We have looked at him through words that are sometimes rhe devices
for observarion, or can in any case become rhar if we are nOt careful.
Whar we have described, while trying precisely (0 escape speculation, is a
kind of great historical mirador or watch (Ower. Bur there is nothing thar
permits us to rest assured of the unity, still less of rhe legirimacy of this
optic of reAection, of its singular laws, of rhe Law, of its place of insritu-
86 The Laws of Reflection
rion. of presentation or of revelation. for example. of what we gather too
quickly under the name of the West. But does this presumption of unity
not produce something like an effect (J am not attached to this word) that
.'0 many forces. always. tty to appropriate for themselves? An effect visible
and invisible. like a mirror, hard also, like the walls of a prison.
Everything that still hides Nelson Mandela from our sight.
-Translated by Mary Ann Caws and Isabelle Lorenz