Flavio Cuniberto’s new book, Strategie imperiali: America, Germania, Europa (Quodlibet, 2019), is a timely meditation on the uncertain future of European geopolitics in the wake of recent transformations of Atlantic relations. The drastic shift of United States’ foreign policy towards Asia, the escalating trade war with China, and the continuous erosion of the Eurozone as an influential political player reopens the question of the crisis of Europe. The fact that that we are still talking about a “crisis” means that these transformations are not merely about global markets and production, but rather about the new curvature of American empire in relation to the world (9). What comes as a surprise in Cuniberto’s essay – and specially from an Italian art historian and cultural critic – is that his target is not Germany as the hegemon of Europe. In this sense, Cuniberto differs from Giorgio Agamben or Jean Luc Melenchon’s contestations to the Protestant North. For Cuniberto, Germany foreshadows the question of Europe because it is already signaling a potential emergency for the United States. A concrete reality that will most definitely upset the geopolitical equilibrium in region (14). Recent highly influential geopolitical analysts prove Cuniberto’s point: to the eyes of American grand strategy, a stable Germany is now rubricked under the contradictory label of a ‘peaceful threat’ .
Hence, Cuniberto’s gaze is highly realist. There are no fantasies of going back to a “Latin Europe”, nor is there the counter-hegemonic fantasy of an infinite mobilization that, at some point in the future, will “save the day”. If Germany appears as a double-bind, it is because it can guarantee “another beginning”. But, against whom? On the one hand, from the imperial inter-dependence spearheaded by the United States; but on the other, from the Russian obstinate expansion on the East. At the heart of Cuniberto’s thesis is that the “German question” is fundamentally an interrogation about the extent to which Germany could offer an exit from these two imperial destinies.
For Cuniberto, the current form of Empire amounts to homogenization and administration of differences. Empire is what integrates cultures in their heterogeneity so that idioms and forms of life cease to have an effect in the world. The thicket of Empire is the equivalence of values. The traditional concepts that once organized liberal ideology have fallen to this mere administration of subjects and things. Hence, to be a subject and to be a thing means to participate in the reign of consumption of values. The ideal of governing over equivalence means that the central operation becomes the redistribution of the goods of the politeia. In this way, democracy becomes archaic; a mere standing reserve for what Marcell Detienne once called the ‘distribution of the booty’ . Although the golden age of production has been liquidated after the arbeiter, distribution and allocation is all that liberal politics seem to achieve through consumption.
It only takes a gaze at progressive politicians from across the world (take Elizabeth Warren from the United States’ Democratic Party, of economist Axel Kicillof from Argentina, or Pablo Iglesias in Spain) to draw a coherent picture of contemporary “leftism”. Under the new mode of Empire, politics amounts to the infinite management of the subject of consumerism: whether defending freely aired soccer games on public TV, or counting the number of air-conditioners units sold per household (something that Cristina Kirchner proudly defended a few years ago as a highpoint of her administration); lowering the cost of the monthly electricity or giving away tablets, one does not exaggerate when saying that progressive politicians have become the new guardians of a more stable administrative bureaucracy. The goal amounts to the same: “protect the consumer’s rights”. Under Empire, it is not a matter of a regulated sphere of political economy as it was under the epoch of Production. In our times, it is about the integration of the totality of life into the administration of value. In a way, this is a coup to the eighteenth century theories of the “Social Contract”, which today has been fully integrated into the spirit of extraction. Cuniberto writes:
“Se esiste ancora un’«opinione pubblica», Facebook la drena e la neutralizza, svuotandola di ogni possibile incidenza all’esterno dello spazio virtuale. Facebook («social» in genere) hanno il potere quasi magico di virtualizzare il dissenso trasportandolo in un teatro fizio e narcisisticamente appagante.” (39).
The cybernetics dominion proves the insufficiency of theatrical political gestures in the name of a ‘new hegemony’. This is the discontent of Antonio Negri’s immaterial multitude or identitarian politics as compensatory ethics of “inclusion”, as Cuniberto explains. When politics coincides with technical administration, demands for “unity” become the dominant forms of the metropolitan ethos (50): “perciò integrabile nel proge o di dominio planetario proprio del grande Capitale (50)”. For Cuniberto this force operates through two conjoined planes of oscillation: credit (time), and technique (space) (61). If credit guarantees a perspective on the future (it buys Time as constant anticipation); technique makes any place in the world into a territorial surface (legible, extractive, smooth, resourceful).
If we can say that we live in anomie, it is because even the most elementary categories of appearance, of being-there-in-the-world, are up for grabs vis-à-vis any technique of legibility. We are far from Blumenberg’s “legibility of the world” as the proper distance needed to confront the absolutism of reality. On the contrary, now the world becomes fully integrated into machination (Gestell), since everything that counts needs to be exposed, and only that which is exposed is what ‘counts’. As we know, the efficacy of the question of technology is that it makes everything transparent. Ultimately, this implies that we become incapable of intimacy. To be exposed is not merely being-there; to be exposed means to be mobilized into a temporal and spatial orderability. This is what it means to “become an integrated subject”. Following the track of Heidegger, Cuniberto argues that there is no possibility of turning things around without first breaking away from these two conditions of ontological nihilism:
“Quello che Heidegger chiamerebbe il Wesen della rivoluzione (la sua «essenza») non è di natura politica, o politico-sociale, ma ontologica. La rivoluzione in senso politico, l’evento rivoluzionario – decapitazione del sovrano, abbaiamento della monarchia per dirio divino, riedizione del Potere come espressione della «volontà popolare», o delle masse – non è che il riesso sul piano politico di un movimento ontologico che detronizza l’Unico, sostituendolo. L’Occidente moderno è il «luogo» spaziotemporale di questa operazione” (70).
At this point we should be wondering how does Germany fit into this picture, or if it fits at all. Cuniberto gives Heidegger an important role, since it is Heidegger who stands for the destruction of the metaphysics of Western logos. Heidegger is also the movement that clears a path against any form of titanism, which Cuniberto defines as the illusion of gigantism and technological command (112). Titanism toys with the fantasy of becoming an idiom of the gods. But, Cuniberto reminds us that German is precisely a non-sacred language. Thus, fallen into the order of the profane, German has a direct relation to the earthly. Now, a sense of earth does not coincide with a territory or a nomos. If Germany means anything is that it is that it avoids a territory of permanence (ius solis). As Cuniberto explains:
“…fin dall’inizio Heidegger si preoccupa di chiarire che l’idea corrente di Heimat come «paese natale» non è altro che il punto di partenza di un percorso filosofico orientato verso una Heimat «finale». Un luogo che non coincide con un territorio situabile sulla carta geografica perché è piu osto la «terra come tale», la terra come elemento e dimensione cosmica, non come «spazio vitale» o territorio di conquista. La «terra come tale» non è la Germania geografica.” (90)
The German question intervenes in the caesura between language and the national community, reopening the “use of the national” as irreducible to a political destiny. In the 1941 Seminar on “Remembrance”, Heidegger notes that Hölderlin fatherland is something other than ‘political’. In a certain sense, we are still under the interrogation of Hölderlin’s question of the nomos in the wake of modernity. Cuniberto himself does not solve this task, although he gives us at least three conditions for what could prepare a transfiguration of Europe from the German vortex. I would like to outline them as preamble for further discussion.
First, the problem of titanism as a catastrophic derive of the German spirit. In its “determinazione feroce”, the titans follow their destiny to the point of self-destruction and higher transcendence (108). Cuniberto leaves the question open ended: would Germany renounce the titan temptation? (109). At the very end of the war, Fredrich Jünger wrote Die Titanen (1944), in which the Titans find shelter from Hephaestus, the only god that resembles a technician. But the titan is also the compulsive drive to repeat its previous faults. If the titan drifts towards the tragic, it is because it represses an Epimethean readjustments. Titanism is the spiritual movement towards seizing epochal supremacy, forgetting that underneath there are only “broken hegemonies”. The titan is blind to this ultimate bind.
Secondly, Cuniberto makes a plea for Thomas Mann’s ‘impolitical man’ who takes distance from general equivalence in favor of a “borghesie esquisitamente medievale dell’operosità artigiana e ciadiana, non dell’accumulo capitalistico” (115). The Mannian position, however, raises the question about to what extent the ‘impolitical man’ is not a direct result of a historical belated national condition, as famously theorized by Helmuth Plessner. Is not an aesthetic flight the compensatory act of a hyper-political composition lacking the proper separation of powers against the absolutism of reality? . Of course, we can also say that to the extent that Western elites have abdicated their relation to the politeia, the impolitical man could be radicalized as the singular that rejects being subjected to any organizing principle (archē). Finally, Cuniberto upholds the ideal of the “Secret Germany”, as a fold where Israel and Germania, the political and the impolitical, the national and the use, could be rethought anew. But, is a Secret Germany possible without the tutelage of a poetic genialismus, whose gestalt finds expression in the “Dichter als Führer”, to paraphrase Max Kommerell’s well known study? Cuniberto cites Ernst Kantorowicz, a member of the George Group, a Jewish aristocrat, an exile, and also an esoteric critic of the arcana of democratic acclamation in his monograph Laudes Regiae (1946). However, we should not forget that Kantorowicz is also the thinker that promotes the “sovereign artist” in the figure of the poet as commander ex ingenio . In other words, the dichter hegemōn acts from a privileged site of diremption, ignoring that this world detests to follow any authorial orientation. Hölderlin final desperation also speaks to this challenge.
If poetic errancy must destitute titanism, it must also leave behind the genialismus vocation that makes the destruction of the soul a concrete possibility. To save the soul entails preserving a free relation of every inclination without previous commandment. To posit any substitute legitimacy is already a gesture towards the corruption of character. Hölderlin’s lesson is precisely this: only an exercise of character can attune a world in all of its phenomena. The secret here is no longer encrypted in an obscure mystery, but rather in what remains the most apparent: friendship, landscape, dwelling, the iteration of the voice or the distance between earth and sky. When the Earth frees itself from the nomos, something like a musical atopic dwelling is preserved.
This means that a world of fragments seeks no order. This form of dwelling is irreducible to cosmopolitanism, the political nation, or the titanic symptom. As Hölderlin writes in “The Titans”: “What is high must feel at home….pensive it is on Earth, and not for nothing are eyes fixed on the ground” . It is not surprising that the new titans drift extra terram (Jeff Bezos trying to ‘invest’ on Mars is just one ludicrous example). In the open path upon Earth a new humility grows, which is why the best we can do is a description of phenomena of an event of experience. This is what Empire prohibits. In fact, one could say that empire today is the configuration (its spatial model is that of the metropolis) of a cybernetic rationality without description. The programmer’s civilizational heliopolis of Silicon Valley is the culmination of a depredatory civilization that has taken flight from the earthly experience. Cuniberto’s Strategie Imperiali closes precisely where this question opens: when traversing the ground of a measureless world, are we not also soliciting an exodus from any geopolitical reorientation (Germanic or otherwise)?
- Jakub Grygiel, “Germany: The Pacifist Menace”, The American Interest, March 2019. https://www.the-american-interest.com/2019/03/26/germany-the-pacifist-menace/
- Marcel Detienne. “Misogynous Hestia”, in The Writing of Orpheus. Maryland: John Hopkins university Press, 2003. 61.
- Helmuth Plessner. La nación tardía: sobre la seducción política del espíritu burgués(1935-1959).Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2017.
- See Ernst Kantorowicz’s essay, “The Sovereignty of the artist: a note on legal maxims and Renaissance Theories of Art”, in Selected Studies(1965).
- Friedrich Hölderlin. “The Titans”, in Selected Poems and Fragments. New York: Penguin Edition, 1998. 285.