Is communitarianism a substitute for State-University discourse? (Gerardo Muñoz)

Julian Velez Bolivia 2015

As we witness the exhaustion of the Latin American progressive cycle, it is obvious that new demands emerge for thought. What began more than ten years ago in Venezuela, Ecuador, and a little later in Argentina and Bolivia, has now come to a full close. Concretely, this signifies a halt in the processes of democratization in the region. It also entails the need to think new categories, demand imagination to other possible configurations, and abandon principles that have been subsumed into the ‘duopoly’ of market-State formulation [1].

If the last decade was characterized by democratization through consumption, this could well mean that the Latin American plebs will now consume less, will party only part-time under surveillance, and will have to reimagine themselves otherwise (even if it is around a Coca-Cola late at night in the villa). The runfla lives (the lives of the marginalized, of the popular sectors, the villeros, etc.) will have to regain the time of life, which is the time of the commons in consumption.

Out of the many concepts that circulated in the ‘Universidad Posible’ Conference (generously organized by Willy Thayer & Raul Rodriguez Freire) that took place in Santiago (April 18-21) it was that of ‘the commons’ which had intellectual political purchase to ‘invert’ and transform the waning of progressive political structuration, now in the hands of right-wing administrative governmentality. But the idea or concept of ‘commons’ was in itself ambivalent: on one hand, the ‘idea of the commons’  (it is always an idealistic affirmation) thrives on the general horizon of resistance from below, but on the other, it necessarily feeds off the crystallization of the crisis of hegemonic articulation.

This resonated in the phrase that Eduardo Rinesi repeated throughout the four days of the conference: ‘let us not forget that something has happened all these years in Latin America’ (“recordemos que algo ha venido pasando en América Latina”). On one hand, this introduced the experience of someone implicated in a progressive State apparatus, but on the other, this was also an implicit response to those who called for radical suspension of university epochality [2].

But what is that that has happened (in Latin America)? In any case, what happened must remained silenced, and merely evoked. The event cannot be given its proper weight, its semantic density, and its full hermeneutic dis-closure. Perhaps, because what has happened is democratization, but also (now) the crisis of democratization. In other words: in the time of the ruin of hegemony proper, there is a decline and trans-formation into its other, the shadow of post-hegemony as translated and incorporated against the time of democracy. Hegemony flows back as time past to avoid its spectral present.

More importantly, that ‘that which has happened’ provides for political verisimilitude that guarantees specificity of location, which is also a guarantee of the political. But in its closure, it also unveils a temporality of the past. A past that cannot assume the present, and when it tries to do so, it renders a telic result of what has already taken place. In this variation of university discourse, thought is incorporated into the prison of consequential necessity of time. It has happened, but it must remain outside of the now. If according to a maxim of the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, the prison is maximum time with minimum space; university discourse is maximum past with minimum present. In the carceral reflection on the university in time of crisis, thought itself enters prison with no possibility for parol.

It is at this point where the communitarian option emerges from below as co-substantial with the crisis of democracy. In fact, its demand appears as its supplement that affirms time present of horizontal an-institutionalization with the ‘something has happened’ of partial (interrupted) democratic life. Communitarism becomes a safety-vowel to recast hegemony form from below in the crisis of hegemony form. Thus, communitarianism is a necessary supplement of hegemony to keep its ground intact.

It is in this double movement – between hegemony of the effectual past and the localization of the movement in the present – where something like a crisis of university discourse could be located in the Latin American intellectual reflection when confronted with the inevitable sinking progressive cycle in the region. This movement is full stasis in a double sense: it provides balance and form to principal (intellectual) reflection, and it also guards the conflict between fracture of institutional hegemony and immanentization of hegemony translated into community.

Can the Latin American crisis assume the form of a political plebeization to save itself? What is the time for a plebeization of the university? This was the question posed by Oscar A. Cabezas against reflexive modalities of political closure or the substantialization of the political (as stasis) into thinking the present [2]. Plebeization becomes a possible horizon when it demands the integration of the unity of conflict. But the turn to a communitarian unity of intellect must first posit political struggle as a primary antagonism of the friend-enemy divide, as Luis Tapia forcefully argues [3]. In fact, this is the argumentative core in Tapia’s Universidad y Pluriverso (2014), an inverse but affirmative schmittianism.

Plebeization (a term that interestingly Tapia himself does not deploy) organizes the time of the ‘future’ as a way to govern the present, in the name of forgetting the singular. Or is plebeiazation an invisible remainder of what is always taking place? Or is it a dirty eschatology for post-katechontic times? In both cases, the ‘something has happened’ and the ‘immanentization of the ultimate struggle’ amount to a dual machine of a particular historical fabric that, in the face of the fissures the political, is unable to see the open.





*Image: Popular procesion after Tiwanaku, by Maria Alejandra Escalante & Julian Velez, 2015. (Do not reproduce without their permission).


  1. The duopoly of State and market was thematized by Gareth Williams following Brett Levinson’s Market and Thought: Meditations on the Political and Biopolitical (Fordham, 2004).
  2. Moreiras referred the a-positional ‘ex-universitatis’, Villalobos-Ruminott a suspension of the principle of equivalence, whereas I called for a ‘postunivesity form beyond community’. Rodrigo Karmy’s averroism against ‘epistemic personhood’ was also consistent with these positions. These were all rehearsals for an infra-university, as Williams called it.
  3. Oscar A. Cabezas. “Los intelectuales y la universidad norteamericana”. (Paper read at Universidad Posible Conference, 2016).
  4. Luis Tapia’s Universidad y Pluriverso (2014). The reference to Schmitt’s concept of the political is thematized explicitly in Tapia’s essay.

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