The Unfathomable Principle: on Helmuth Plessner’s Political Anthropology (2019). By Gerardo Muñoz

Joachim Fischer tells us in the epilogue of Helmuth Plessner’s 1931 Power and Human Nature, now translated as Political Anthropology (Northwestern, 2019), that this short book is very much the intellectual product of its time. It is a direct consequence of Plessner’s elaboration of a philosophical anthropology in the wake of the “philosophies of life” that dominated German philosophical discourse during the first decades of the twentieth century. More importantly, it is also a reflection very much tied to the crisis of the political and parliamentary democracy experienced at the outset of the years of the Weimar Republic. Plessner’s own intellectual position, which suffered tremendously due to his unsuccessful major work, The Levels of the Organic and the Human (1928), occupies a sort of third space in the theoretical debates on the political at the time, carving a zone that was neither that of a romantic impolitical position (the George Group, Thomas Mann, and others), nor that of liberal legalism perhaps best expressed by Hans Kelsen.

Curiously, Plessner’s understanding of the political cohabitates quite conformably in Carl Schmitt’s lesson, albeit in a very particular orbit. On his end, Schmitt himself did not miss the opportunity to celebrate Plessner’s defense of the political as grounded on his friend-enemy distinction elaborated just a few years prior. Indeed, for Schmitt, Plessner’s Political Anthropology drafted an epochal validation to his otherwise juristic formulation, going as far as to write that: “Helmuth Plessner, who was the first modern philosophizer in his book dared to advance a political anthropology of a grand style, correctly says that there exists no philosophy and no anthropology which is not politically relevant, just as there is no philosophically irrelevant politics” (Plessner 104).

Schmitt captures the essence of the convergence between the philosophical anthropology project and the nature of the political as a consequence of modern “loss of center” in search of a principle of autorictas (a “new political center” that the Conservative Revolution will soon try to renew) [1]. In this sense, Plessner, like Schmitt but also like Weber, is a thinker of legitimacy as a supplementary principle, although he declined to craft a theory of legitimation. Unlike Weber, Plessner does not defend charisma as the central concept of political vocation. The nature of the political coincides with the nature of the Human insofar as it is a constitutive element of conflict, and univocally, a “human necessity” (Plessner 5). Hence, Plessner’s theory of political was the ultimate test for philosophical anthropology, given that the general historical horizon of the project was meant to provide a practico-existential position within concrete conditions of its own historicity, responding to both the Weimar Republic and the belated nature of the ‘German national spirit’ [2].

We are to do well to read Plessner’s political anthropological elaboration in conjunction with his other book The Belated Nation (1959), in which he draws a lengthy intellectual genealogy of the decline of the German bourgeoisie as a process of spiritual embellishment with impolitical fantasies. In a certain sense, both Political Anthropology and The Belated Nation (still to be translated into English) are a response to the Weimar intellectual atmosphere of the “devaluation of politics”. There is no doubt that Plessner is thinking of Thomas Mann’s unpolitischen here, but also of the poetic fantasies that Furio Jesi later referred to as the mythical fascination with the “secret Germany” [3]. The impolitical repression from political polemos to consensualism always leads to worse politics (Plessner 3). Politics must be taken seriously, and this means, for Plessner, a position that not only goes against the aesthetes, but one that is also critical of the dominant ideological partisanship preparing the battleground for gigantisms, of which classic liberalism, Marxism, and fascism were manifolds of philosophy of history. Plessner wants to locate politics as a consequence of the Enlightenment (Plessner 9). For Plessner, this entails thinking the conditions of philosophy anew in order to escape the dualistic bifurcation of an anthropological analysis grounded in either empiricism or a transcendental a prori. The conventional biologist program of anthropological analysis never moved beyond the scheme of “mental motivation”, which is why it never escaped the limits of a “pure power politicized, predominantly pessimistic, anti-enlightenment and in that respect, conservative” (Plessner 10).

We could call this an archaic anthropology for political shortcuts. Obviously, Plessner places the project of political anthropology beyond the absolutization of the human in its different capacities. This was the problem of Heidegger’s analysis of existence, according to Plessner, since it stopped at “the conditions of the possibility of addressing existence as existence at the same time have the sense of being conditions of the possibility of leading existence as existence” (Plessner 24). This “essentialization of existence” (Plessner dixit) is only possible at the expense of concrete formilizable categories such as life, world, and culture (Plessner 24). It is only with Wilhelm Dilthey’s work that philosophical anthropology was capable of advancing in any serious way. It is only after Dilthey’s position against a ‘nonhistorical apriorism’ that something like the a characterization of the Human as an unfathomable principle was drawn. The battle against a priori absolutism entails the renunciation of philosophy’s “hegemonic position of its own epistemological conditions…to access the world as the embodiment of all zones and forms of beings” (Plessner 28). We are looking at a post-phenomenological opening of historicity that is neither bounded by existence qua existence (Heidegger’s position), nor by the Hegelian’s labor of the negative. For Plessner, the most interesting definition of the political lies here, but this presupposes the principle of unfathomability of the human. Undoubtedly, this is the vortex of Plessner’s political anthropology.

The principle of the unfathomable is neither precritical nor empirical, as it takes the human relation to the world as what “can never be understood completely. They are open questions” (Plessner 43). This schemata applies to the totality of the human sciences in their relation to life in the world as the only immanent force of history. Thus, for Plessner, this entails that “every generation acts back on history and thereby turns history into that incomplete, open, and eternally self-renewing history that can be adequately approach  the interpreting penetration of this generation open questioning” (Plessner 45). This materialism subscribes neither Marx’s synthetic historical materialism, nor the empirical history of progress. The unfathomable relates to a historicity that, in its reference and relation to the world, presents an “eternal refigurability or openness” (Plessner 46). This is an interpretation close to the definition of modernity as the self-assertive epoch of irreversibility, later championed by Hans Blumenberg. The irreversible, following the unfathomable principle, assumes the ex-centric positionality of the human. The unfathomable principle is what concretely binds the human to the phenomena of the world by means of a radical originary separation that carries an ever-evolving power for historical sense beyond absolute universality.

Of course, Plessner is thinking here of Max Weber’s important insights in Economy and Society regarding the process of legitimation and the separation of powers. The human of political anthropology becomes nothing but the means to “executive the value-democratic equalization of all cultures”, which is a common denominator of civil society pluralism (Plessner 47). But as life itself becomes indeterminate and unfathomable, power is rediscovered as a self-regulating mechanism of inter-cultural relations among human communities. In other words, insofar as the unfathomable principle drives the openness of the human in relation to the world and others, the human always entails a positing of the question of power as a form of a struggle in relation to what is foreign (Plessner 51). Here Plessner follows Carl Schmitt’s concept of the political transposing it to the human: “As power, the human is necessarily entangled in a struggle for power; i.e, in the opposition of familiarity and foreignness, of friend and enemy” (Plessner 53).

We might recall that Schmitt addressed the definition of the enemy from Daubler’s reference to “our own question” (Der Feind ist unsere eigene Frage als Gestalt), that is, with what is one’s most familiar, a sort of originary primal scene of his subjective caesura. For Plessner, as for Schmitt, the friend-enemy relation is an originary confrontation that makes the political an exercise of “every life-domain serviceable and just as well be made to serve every life-domain’s interests” (Plessner 55). The friend-enemy relation accomplishes two functions simultaneously: it takes power seriously in light of the unfathomable principle, and it dispenses conflict without ever reaching a stage of total annihilation. That is why Plessner emphasizes that the political has primacy in the ex-centric essence of the human (Plessner 60).

In fact, for Plessner there is no philosophical anthropology without a political anthropology. And here we reach a crux moment, which is Plessner’s most coherent definition of the political principle: “Politics is then not just a field and a profession…Politics then is not primarily a field but the state of human life in which it gives itself its constitution and asserts itself against and in the world, not just externally and juridically but from out of its ground and essence. Politics is the horizon in which the human acquires the relation that makes sense of itself and the world, the entire a prori of its saying and doing” (Plessner 61).

Philosophical anthropology is to be understood as a process of historical immanence and radical openness of the human’s ex-centric position in coordination with a metaphysical political principle that guides the caesura between thought and action. In fact, we could say that politics here becomes a hegemonic phantasm (very much in the same as in post-foundatonalist thought) that establishes the conditions for the efficacy of immanence, but only insofar it evacuates itself as its own determination. This is why we call it “phantasmatic”. In fact, Plessner tells us that the political principle has only a primacy because it relates to “the open question or to life itself”.

In other words, the movement that Plessner undertakes to shake the absolutism of philosophy’s abstraction over to anthropology has a prior determination that runs parallel: the fundamental absolutization of the political via the immanence of the principle of unfathomability. Under the cloak of the indetermination of the “philosophy of life”, Plessner ultimately promotes a prote philosophia (first philosophy) of the political even if “in no way subsist absolutely, immovable across history or underneath it” (Plessner 72). There is a paradox here that ultimately runs through Plessner’s anthropological project as whole, and which can be preliminary synthesized in this way: the radical unfathomable principle of the human is, at the same time, established as open and immanent, while it acts as a phantasmatic principle to establish the political. Hence, the political becomes a mechanism of amending originary separation and to provide form to the otherwise multiple becoming of the human. This is why politics, understood as political anthropology, ceases to be an autonomous sphere of action to coincide with the ‘essence of humanness’ in its struggle for the organization of the world. Politics becomes synonymous with the administration of a new legibility of the world and in this way reintroduces hegemony of the political unto existence. Plessner is clear about this:

“Politics is the art of the right moment, of the favorable opportunity. It is the moment that counts…That is why anthropology is possible only if it is politically relevant, that is why philosophy is possible only if it is politically relevant, especially when their insights have been radically liberated from all consideration of purposes and values , considerations that could divert an objective coherent to the last” (Plessner 75).

Fischer is right to remind us that at the heart of Plessner’s Political Anthropology lies an ultimate attempt at combining “spirit” and “power”, a synthesis of Weber and Schmitt for the human sciences inaugurated by Dilthey’s project. But what if the movement towards synthesis and unification of a political theory is the real problem, instead of the solution? Are we to read Plessner’s political anthropology as yet another failed attempt at an political determination in the face of the nihilism of modernity? And what if, as Plessner’s last chapter on politics as a site of the nation for the “human’s possibility that is in each case is own”, is actually something other than political, as Heidegger just a few years later proposed in his readings of Hölderlin’s Hymns? The dialectics between “spirit” and “power”, Weber and Schmitt, the precritical and the humanist empiricism, exclude a third option: a distance from the political beyond the disinterred apolitical thinking and acting, and its secondary partisanship waged around the Political. In this sense, Plessner is fully a product of the Weimar impasse of the political, not yet finding a coherent exodus from Schmitt, and not fully able to confront the ruin of legitimacy. As Wolf Lepenies has reminded us recently, even Weber himself in his last year was uncertain about strong “political determinations”, as Germany started descending into a ‘polar night’ [4].

The oscillation of antithesis – ontology and immanence, predictability and indeterminacy, historicity and the human sciences, politics and existence, nationality and the world  – situate Plessner’s essence of the political as a true secular “complex of opposites” that ended up calling for a ‘civilizing ethics’ (Plessner 85). This essence of the political reduces democracy to the psychic latency of drives of the social order, as the unergrundlich (unfathomable) becomes a principle of management in the form of an ethics. This is not to say that the “historical task” of philosophical anthropology remains foreclosed. However, political anthropology does not break away from the conditions of the crisis of the political that was responding to. For Plessner, these conditions pointed to a danger of total depolitisation. Almost a century later, one can say that its opposite has also been integrated in the current technical de-deification of the world.





  1. Armin Mohler in The Conservative Revolution in Germany 1918-1932 (2018) notes that: “[The Conservative Revolution in 1919]…considered calling themselves the “new Center”. The latter was meant to symbolically represent the need to create a comprehensive political…that would overcome the oppositions of the past”, p.95.
  2. Helmuth Plessner. La nación tardía: sobre la seducción política del espíritu burgués (1935-1959). Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2017.
  3. See, Furio Jesi. Secret Germany: Myth in Twentieth-Century German Culture. Chicago: Seagull Books, 2019.
  4. See, Wolf Lepenies. “Ethos und Pathos”. Welt, February 16, 2019.

The End of the Constitution of the Earth. A review of Samuel Zeitlin’s edition of Tyranny of Values & Other Texts (Telos 2018), by Carl Schmitt. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Samuel Zeitlin’s edition of Tyranny of Values and Other Texts (Telos Press, 2018) fills an important gap in the English publication of Carl Schmitt’s work, in particular, as it relates to his lesser known essays written during the interwar period. This edition is still meant as an introduction to Schmitt’s political thought and it does not pretend to exhaust all the topics that preoccupied the Catholic jurist, such as the geopolitical transformations of the European legal order, the rise of economicism at a planetary scale, or the ruminations over the early modern theories of sovereignty and its defenders. Indeed, these essays sheds light on the complexity of a thinker as he was coming to terms with the weakening of the ius publicum europeum as the framework of European legality and legitimacy, and of which Schmitt understood himself to be the last concrete representative, as he repeatedly claims in Ex captivate salus.

As David Pan correctly observes in the Preface, the Schmitt that we encounter here is one that is confronting the transformations of political enmity in light of a gloomy and dangerous takeover of a global civil war. In fact, one could most definitely argue that the Schmitt thinking within the Cold War epochality is one that is painstakingly searching for a “Katechon”, that restraining force inherited from Christian theology in order to give form to the ruination of modern legal and political order. The global civil war, cloaked under a sense of acknowledged Humanism, now aimed at the destruction of the enemy social’s order and form of life. This thematizes the existential dilemma of a jurist who was consciousness of the dark shadow floating over the efficacy of Western jurisprudence. In other words, the post-war Schmitt is one marked by a profound hamletian condition in the face of the technical neutralization of every effective political theology. This condition puts Schmitt on the defensive, rather than on the offensive, as his later replies to Erik Peterson, Hans Blumenberg, or Jacob Taubes render visible.

The essays in the collection can be divided in three different categories: those on particular political thinkers, some that reflect on political enmity and the concept of war, and two major pieces that deal directly with the crisis of nihilism in the wake of the Cold War (those two essays are “The Tyranny of Values” and “The Order of the World after the Second World War”). Zeitlin includes an early essay on Machiavelli (1927), a brief piece on Hobbes’ three hundred years anniversary (1951), a reflection on his own book Hamlet and Hecuba (1957), and a succinct note on J.J. Rousseau (1962). These are all not necessarily celebratory of each of these figures. Indeed, while in the piece on Hobbes Schmitt celebrates the author of Leviathan as a true political analyst of the English Civil War against Lockean contractualism; the piece on Machiavelli is a clear exposition of his loathe for the Florentine statesman. In fact, to the contemporary student of intellectual history these words might sound unjust: “[Machiavelli] was neither a great statesman nor a great theorist” (Schmitt 46). If politics is understood as the art of reserving an arcanum, as mystery of power against all forces of moral relativism and technical procedures, then, machiavellism’s endgame amounts to a mystified anti-machiavellinism that favors individual pathos over political decisionism. Machiavelli might have said “too much” about politics; and for Schmitt, this excess, points to the flawed human anthropology at the heart of his incapacity for thinking political unity (Schmitt 50).

If juxtaposed with the essay on Hobbes, it becomes clear that Schmitt’s anxiety against Machiavelli is also the result of the impossibility of extracting a Christian philosophy of history, which only the Leviathan was able to guarantee in the wake of a post-confessional world. Whereas Hobbes provided a political theology based on auctoritas, non veritas, facit legem, Machiavellism stood for an impolitical structure devoid of a concrete political kernel. In such light, the essay on Rousseau is astonishingly curious. For one thing, Schmitt paints a portrait of Rousseau that does not adequately fits the contours of a political theologian of Jacobinism. On the reverse side of this, Schmitt also avoids making the case for The Social Contract as a precursor of totalitarianism. Rather, following Julien Freund, Schmitt polishes a Rousseau that stands for limited freedom and equality; a sort of intra-katechon within Liberalism, and in this sense a mirror image of every potential Hegelianism for the unfolding of world history (Schmitt 173). Finally, the piece “What Have I done?”, a response to a critic of his Hamlet and Hecuba, is aimed not so much at the making of a “political Shakespeare”, but rather at shaking up both the “monopoly of dialectical materialist history of art” as well as the “well-rehearsed division of labor” of the university” (Schmitt 139-41). This is critique has not lost any of its relevance in our present.

Whereas the pieces on political thinkers is an exercise in reactroactive gazing on the tradition, the essays on political enmity and war are direct confrontations on the erosion of the European ius publicum europeum in the wake of the Cold War, dominated by the rise of international political entities (NATO, UN), and anticolonial movements of a new global order. It is in this context that Schmitt’s interest in the figure of the partisan begins to take shape as a way to come to terms with the new forms of mobility, irregularity, and changes in its territorial placement of the enemy. In “Dialogue on the Partisan”, Schmitt revises some of his major claims in Theory of the Partisan, while reminding that “the great error of the pacifists…was to claim that one need simply abolish warfare, then there would be peace” (Schmitt 182).The destitution of the ius publicum europeum, that oriented war making vis-a-vis the recognition of political enmity has, in fact, opened up for a de-contained partisanship in which the destiny of populations now was at the center. This new stage of political conflict intensifies the nihilism where potentially anyone is an enemy to be destroyed (Schmitt 194).

As Schmitt claims in the short piece “On the TV-Democracy”, the question becomes who will hold political power and to what extent, as techno-economical machination becomes the force that directly expresses the Goethean myth of nemo eontra deum nisi dens ipse. With the only difference that the mythic in the essence of technology has no political force, but mere force of mobilization of abstract identities and what Heidegger called “standing reserve”. In this new epoch, the human ceases to have a place on earth, not merely because his political persona cannot be defined, but rather because he can no longer identify himself as human (Schmitt 205). Schmitt’s sibylline maxim from poet Theodor Daubler, “The enemy is our question as Gestalt”, thus loses its capacity for orientation. Already in the 1940s, Schmitt is contemplating a crisis that he does not entirely resolve.

This is one way in which the important essay “The Forming of the French Spirit via the Legists”, from 1941, must be understood. This text on the one hand it is a remarkable sketch of French jurisprudence, grounded on “mesura”, “order”, “rationalism”, and sovereignty. It is no doubt an essay directed against royalist French intellectuals (Henri Massis and Charles Maurras are implicitly alluded to); but also at the concept of state sovereignty. Indeed, the most productive way to read this essay is next to The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (1938) written a couple of years prior. The impossibility of crafting a theory of the political in the wake of the exhaustion of the sovereign state form will eminently leave the doors wide open for a global civil war, as he argues in the post-war essay “Amnesty or the Force of Forgetting”. Schmitt’s defense of the a formation of the Reich in the 1940s will be translated in his general theory of a ‘new nomos of the earth’ immediately after the war.

The two most important pieces included in The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts (2018) are “The Tyranny of Values” (1960), and “The Order of the World after the Second World War”. The “actuality” of Schmitt’s political thought has a felicitous grounds on these essays, although by no account should we claim that they adjust themselves to the intensification of nihilism in our current moment. There is much to be said about the weight that Schmitt puts on the “economic question”, a certain pull that comes from the emphasis of the much debated question then concerning “development-underdevelopment”, which does not really capture the metastasis of value in the global form of the general principle of equivalence today. Schmitt also deserves credit in having captured in “The Tyranny of Values”, the ascent of the supremacy of “value” in relation to the philosophies of life (Schmitt 12). Schmitt quotes Heidegger’s analysis, for whom “value and the valuable become the positivistic ersatz for the metaphysical” (Schmitt 29), which we can have only intensified in the twenty-first century. Perhaps with the only difference that “value” is no longer articulated explicitly. But who can deny that identitarian discourse is a mere transposition of the tyranny of values? Who can negate that the cost-benefit analysis, “silent revolution of our times” as one of the most important constitutionalists has called it, now stands as the hegemonic form of contemporary technical rationality? [2].

At one point in the “Tyranny” essay, while commenting on Scheler’s philosophy, Schmitt says something that it has clearly not lost any of its legibility in our times: “Max Scheler, the great master of objective value theory has: the negation of a negation value is a positive value. That is mathematically clear, as a negative times a negative yields a positive. One can see from this that the binding of the thinking of value to its old value-free opposition is not so lightly to be dissolved. This sentence of Max Scheler’s allows evil to be requited with evil and in this way, to transform our earth into a hell, the hell however to be transform into a paradise of values” (Schmitt 38). It is a remarkable conclusion, and one in which the “mystery of evil” (the Pauline mysterium iniquitatis) becomes the primary function of the art of government in our times. It is here where we most clearly see the essence of the techno-political as the last reserve of legal liberalism. Schmitt would have been surprised (or perhaps not) to see that the disappearance of the rhetoric of values also coincides with a new regulation of disorder, whether it takes the name of “security”, “cost and benefits”, or “identity and diversification”. Indeed, now politics even has its own place in the consummation of the race for the “highest values”, since anything can be masked a “political” at the request of the latest demand.

In his 1962 conference “The Order of the World after the Second World War”, delivered in Madrid by invitation of his friend Manuel Fraga, Schmitt still is convinced that he can see through the interregnum. Let me quote him one last time: “I used the word nomos as a character denomination for the concrete division and distribution of the earth. If you now ask me, in this sense of the term nomos, what is today, the nomos of the earth, I can answer clearly : it is the division of the earth industrially developed regions or less developed regions, joined with the immediate question of who accepts development from whom…This distribution is today the true constitution of the earth” (Schmitt 163). It is a sweeping claim, one that seeks to illuminate a specific opaque moment in history.

But I am not convinced that we can say the same thing today. Here I am in agreement with Galli and Williams, who have noted that the disappearance of a Zentralgebiet no longer solicits the force of the Katechon [3]. And it is the Katechon that guarantees an effective philosophy of history for the Christian eon. The Katechon provides for a juridical sense of order against a mere transposition of the theological. Indeed, it is never a matter of theological reduction, which is why Schmitt had to evoke Gentilis’ outcry: Silenti theologi, in munere alieno!  I guess the question really amounts to the following: can a constitution of the earth, even if holding potestas spiritualis, regulate the triumph of anomia and the unlimited? Do the bureaucrat and the technician have the last world over the legitimacy of the world? Here the gaze of the jurist turns blank and emits no answer. One only wonders where Schmitt would have looked for new strengths in seeking the revival of a constitution of the earth; or if this entails, once and for all, the closure of the political as we know it.




  1. Carl Schmitt. The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts, Translated by Samuel Garrett Zeitlit. New York: Telos Publishing Press, 2018.
  2. Cass Sunstein. The Cost Benefit Revolution. Massachusetts: MIT Press 2018.
  3. See Carlo Galli, “Schmitt and the Global Era”, in Janus’s Gaze: Essays on Carl Schmitt. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015, p.129. Also, Gareth Williams, “Decontainment: The Collapse of the Katechon and the End of Hegemony”, in The Anomie of the Earth (Duke University Press 2015), p.159-173.

Some Notes Regarding Hölderlin’s “Search for the Free Use of One’s Own”. By Gerardo Muñoz.

In what follows, I want to comment on Martin Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin’s well-known dictum from his 1801 letter to his friend Casimir Bohlendorff, “the free use of the proper is the most difficult thing”. Heidegger devotes a whole section to this enigmatic phrase in the recently translated 1941-42 Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance” (2018) seminar, which dates to the years in which he was confronting Nietzsche’s work, and also more explicitly and for obvious reasons, the issue of German nationalism [1]. In the wake of recent conversations about nationalism and patriotism in political rhetoric, it seems like a fitting time to return to Heidegger’s comments on Hölderlin’s work. This also marks a turn in Heidegger’s thinking of the poetic in the strong sense of the term, which has been analyzed widely in the literature.

Heidegger begins by claiming that the “free use of one’s ownmost” requires a direct confrontation with “the foreign” but that at the same time, it is the easiest thing to miss (Heidegger 105). What is difficult is that which is already one’s own and nearest, and because it is intuitive, it is easy to overlook it. What is difficult is not due to some kind of epistemological overcapacity that today we would associate with the complexity of technical density, but rather, it is an immediate inhabitation, a mood of our belonging that is grasped beyond consciousness and propriety. Hence, it is easy to discard it in a gesture of dismissal due to its familiarity. It happened even to the Greeks.

Heidegger quotes Hölderlin’s verses referencing the loss of the ‘fatherland’: “Of the fatherland and pitifully did / Greece, the most beautiful, perish” (Heidegger 105). Following an obscure Pindar fragment on the “shadow’s dream”, Heidegger shows that the absence is the most important element to illuminate the unreal as it transitions to the real. And this is what the poet does. Indeed, the poet can establish a “footbridge”, or rather it came bring it forth, to initiate a transition towards “what is historically one’s own” (Heidegger 109). If anything, what Greece and Germania point to in Hölderlin’s poetry is this otherwise of historical presencing, which Heidegger admits has nothing to do with historiographical accumulation or cultural metaphorcity (Heidegger 109). At times it is all too easy to dismiss what is at stake here. In the beginning of the twentieth century, for instance, E.M. Butler wrote a book titled The Tyranny of Greece over Germany (1935), which studied the “classical influence” of all things Greek since Winckelmann and German Idealism. Many do not cease to repeat the cliché that Heidegger’s thinking – even Schmitt in Glossarium laments the fascination with Hölderlin over Daubler, which is also the controversy between the critique of logos and a Christological conception of History – is a flight back to Greek ruminations for a new German beginning.

Obviously, this is not Heidegger’s interest in reading the holderlinian use of one’s own. There is no cultural equivalence between the German and the Greek sense of belonging; rather it seems that what Heidegger is after is another way of thinking the historicity of the people, which is fundamentally a problem with the relation with time: “A humankind’s freedom in relation to itself consists in funding, appropriating, and being able to use of what is one’s own. It is in this that the historicality of a people resides” (Heidegger 111). The poet is the figure that, by asking the question about the most difficult thing (one’s use of the proper), can discover this task. Only he can take over the business of founding it (Heidegger 112). The task of the poet is always this “seeking”, which is already in Hölderlin’s first fragment in his novel Hyperion: “We are nothing: what we seek is everything” (Heidegger 113). The task of seeking opens itself to what is the highest and the most holy, which for Hölderlin is the “fatherland’. It is “holy” precisely because it is forbidden and the most difficult to retain.

We are far away here from the sacrificial structure of Hölderlin’s “Der Tod Furs Vaterland” (“To Die for the Homeland”), which Helena Cortés Gabaudan has read in light of the archaic Horacian trope of ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’; a staging of the heroic ethos against the backdrop of the aporetic conceit between thinking and action, the sword and the pen, the poet and the warrior in the early stages of the artist fallen into the age of revolutions [2]. Something else is going on in “Remembrance” use of one’s own at the level of the very transformative nature of historical time, in so much as that which is most holy is nothing that resembles a past principle (a work of art stored in a museum, or the poem as an artistic medium), but rather an atheology, which is never negation or lack; it is always nearness to one’s own as the encounter with what’s “holy” (Heidegger 117).

This atheology suspends any given theistic structure in the act of poetizing. (Is it even correct to refer it as an “act”?). And this poetizing is the task as passage is the inscription of the impossible relation with one’s use here and now. But where does the “political” fit in this picture, one could ask? Is Hölderlin’s turn towards the “use of the national” (Vaterland) entirely a question driven by a political vocation of some sort? This is a poet, one must remember, frustrated by the belated condition of nationhood that sealed Germany’s destiny in the wake of the French Revolution. Hölderlin is first and foremost a poet of political disenchantment and a witness to how politics cannot escape this tragic fate. Indeed, only the poet can actually look straight at this predicament, unlike the political thinker who fantasies with a programmed “assault on the heavens”. In an important moment of the analysis, Heidegger touches this problem:

“What is more obvious than to interpret the turn to the fatherland along the lines of a turn to the “political”? However, what Hölderlin names the fatherland is not enchanted by the political, no matter how broadly one may conceive the latter…The turn to the fatherland is not the turn to the political either, however“. (Heidegger 120).

Undoubtedly, this is a Parthian arrow directed at the political essence of the national understood as a gigantism of state, culture, and history as it was conjuring up in the European interwar period. It is also takes a distance from any given “standpoint” of the national becoming. In this sense, I am in agreement with poet Andrés Ajens’ suggestion that, against the dialectics of locational “alternative histories”, the problem of the national is that of an infinite task of the “desnacional” (this is Ajens’s own term) under erasure, in relation to the “foreign”, in preparation for the “passage of learning to appreciate one’s own” (Heidegger 120) [3]. What we cannot grasp in the national is precisely what bears the trace of the task of ‘denationalization’ as the homecoming of “the clarity of presentation” in its discrete singularity (Heidegger 122). This last line is also from the letter to Bohlendorff.

It is interesting that every time that the form of denationalization has been referred to in strictly political terms, it entails the overcoming of politics by an exogenous force that liquidates the capacities for its own limits. This is, indeed, the realm of the political in the strong sense of the term, in line with the emergence of sovereignty that Hölderlin’s poetic thought wants to curve toward an otherwise of the national. This use of the national wouldn’t let itself be incubated by the supremacy of the political. Let us call this an infrapolitical kernel of patriotism.

This is why at the very end of this session Heidegger mentions that Hölderlin, unlike Nietzsche, must be understood as a “harbinger of the overcoming of all metaphysics” (Heidegger 122). We wonder whether the emphasis on the “People”, however fractured or originary, does not carry a residue of metaphysical rouse. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that Hölderlin aims at something higher. Perhaps he aims at an “inebriation that is different from the “intoxication of enthusiasm” (Heidegger 125); that is, a distance from Kant who elevated the perception of the French Revolution as an anthropological affection.

The step back of the singularity is driven by the “soul” – which Heidegger connects to the polysemic usage of the word Gemüt (at times translated as disposition or gathering) – as other than politics, since it sees through the offering of the dark light and keeps thinking in the human. Transposing it to our discussion, we can say that a politics is irreducible to Gemüt, and that only Gemüt is the excess in every politics. The use of one’s own, vis-a-vis the national (or the process of denationalization), is a resource to attune oneself with this “disposition”. No human can bear to be human without it. Hölderlin seeks to reserve this poverty as the primary task of the poet as a radical neutralization of all techno-political missteps. Or, in the last words in the session: “…it is the while of the equalization of destiny” (Heidegger 131).





  1. Martin Heidegger. Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance”. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018.
  2. Friedrich Hölderlin. Poesía esencial, ed. Helena Cortés Gabaudan. Madrid: Oficina de Arte y Ediciones, 2018.
  3. From a personal exchange with Andrés Ajens.

Hegemony, Legitimacy, and the Mature Position: on Chantal Mouffe’s For A Left Populism. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Chantal Mouffe’s For A Left Populism (Verso, 2018) is deliberately written for the ‘populist moment’. It resembles the patriotic pamphlets, which according to historian Bernard Bailyn fueled passions months prior to the American Revolution. For Mouffe, the crisis of democracy will continue to grow if populism is not taken seriously both politically and theoretically, and her book is an excellent guide in that direction. For A Left Populism does not pretend to tease out new arguments. Rather, it seeks to revise and render accessible some of the main tenants of the radical democracy project that she elaborated, along with her late partner Ernesto Laclau, in books dating back to Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985). Mouffe reminds us that their task was to propose a theoretical horizon in the wake of the crisis of Eurocommunism, and against the ‘third-way’ of liberal democracies that dismantled the Welfare State. The populist agenda is ambitious: it proposes a move beyond Marxist liberationism, but in doing so it takes distance from market liberalism of Western democracies.

But what does “left populism” has to offer? For Mouffe the answer is short: a politics for the People, “in the name of the People”, capable of organizing an equivalency of social demands through the construction of a political frontier against a common adversary (the elite). Mouffe is right about the diagnosis: both Liberalism and Communism were attempts to deface the People. Whereas Communism promised a new man in a society outside capital, Liberalism offered the guarantee of happiness for the individual citizen. These two attempts were ways to neutralize social contingency between civil society and state relations. Contrary to the citizen and the subject, populism assumes heterogeneous social actors that vis-à-vis their equivalent demands are capable of radicalizing democracy. This process of radicalization entails that a social dynamic attentive to material needs could avoid the pitfalls of the Marxist historical subject as well as the sedimentary flow of institutions. The strategy that catalyzes such radicalization is the theory of hegemony (Mouffe 24).

Now, the logic of hegemony introduces an array of important elements for the radicalization thesis. First, hegemony, according to Mouffe, is what effectively disputes the “consolidation of neoliberal hegemony in Western Europe” (Mouffe 33). In a way, hegemony here takes the form of an avatar of the existing order of domination; a political transposition of capitalist reproduction. In fact, what hegemony shares with capitalism is the formalization of equivalence. Secondly, hegemony is understood as the missing tool in liberalism, which shrinks democratic life (Mouffe 38). Finally, hegemony emerges as an alternative to communism’s eschatology by accepting the current institutional designs in pursuit of ‘passion for equality’ (Mouffe 43). Common to all of these arguments is the main claim that only hegemony can rescue democracy from its post-political gloom. Hence, the theory of hegemony posses two important edges: one is descriptive and the other one is prescriptive. On the one hand, neoliberal postpolitics is already hegemonic. In other words, it does not allow an outside to what is provided by the general equivalent. On the other hand, hegemony appears, following Antonio Gramsci’s lessons, as a central political force that can transform the real-existing order.

But as political philosopher Jorge Yágüez has noted, Gramsci considered hegemony as a passive development that cannot be merely reduced to a political technique of state domination [1]. Mouffe would reply that she is not interested in gramscian textualism, but rather in the practical uses well beyond his original intentions. That is fair, but at the same time there is no reason to think that Gramsci’s theoretical horizon was more complacent under the sign of radical revolution than in the republican separation of powers or popular sovereignty. In fact, there is something to be said about Mouffe’s efforts in trying to move the discussion about populism outside the sociological determinations. Mouffe is aware that rendering the notion of hegemony effective within liberal-democratic order requires attending to the problem of legitimacy. Indeed, in one of the cardinal moments of For A Left Populism, Mouffe writes:

“A liberal-democratic society supposes the existence of an institutional order informed by the ethico-political principles that constitute its principles of legitimacy. What is at stake in a hegemonic transformation is the constitution of a new historical bloc based on a different articulation between constitutive political principles of the liberal-democratic regime and the socioeconomic practices in which they institutionalized. In the case of a transformation from on hegemonic order to another, those political principles remain in force, but they are interpreted and institutionalized in a different way” (Mouffe 45).

By disposing the idea of a drastic rupture in institutional life, hegemony accepts the liberal-democratic framework in exchange for coming to terms with the principle of legitimacy. But if we are in an epoch that has gone through an absolute decline of founding principles, is a “different way” of management enough? In studying the administrative state, for instance, I have argued that legitimation, once centered on charisma, has ceased its domain to administration. This means that legitimacy becomes synonymous with technique, and the political leader becomes synonymous with the bureaucrat.

How does hegemony stand in relation to legitimacy? Hegemony can stand as a superstructural element above it, but it can also become the principle of legitimacy itself to renew democracy. Mouffe is not explicit about this, except when she considers the Gramscian notion of the ‘integral state’ as significant to remake the contract between state and society (Mouffe 47). It is curious that this formulation coincides with José Luis Villacañas’ recent preface to Gramsci’s prison notebooks [2]. Let me briefly turn to Villacañas’ text.

For Villacañas, hegemony does entail a substitute of the legitimacy principle, now in crisis, which can open a transformative epoch beyond the domination of economy. Villacañas and Mouffe converge on this point: the essence of hegemony juxtaposes the political region against the economic region. But where as for Mouffe hegemony operates to defend and radicalize the principles of democracy, for Villacañas, hegemony is a “civilizational principle” that secures an ethical state in the form of a passive revolution (Mouffe 49, Villacañas 19). But, can legitimacy be resurrected from a political will unified under hegemony? There are two possibilities here. If we say that hegemonic populism is a struggle to politize a post-political scenario, then hegemony is merely a temporal stand-in to the current legitimacy. On the other hand, if we say that hegemony is a principle of legitimacy, what can guarantee its force is the cathexis between the political leadership (“clase dirigente”, says Villacañas) and the People. In reality, neither of the two options have the capacity to offer a social contract to reform democracy.

Mouffe claims that hegemony stands for identification via “different forms of subjectivities” (Mouffe 76-77). In other words, hegemony is a form of subjection. This means that in order to partake in hegemony you must necessarily be subjected to it. The civilizational drive of hegemony repeats the same step that led to the crisis of democratic politics in the first place, since it reduces democracy to a legislation of demands for recognition. It is not surprising that the minimal unit of equivalency is the demand. Thus, hegemony is first and foremost the demand to be a subject of hegemony. This is why leftist democratic politics based on hegemony is a self-defeating mechanism: it promises conflict but it reduces it through an empty signifier; it promises to displace the historical subject but it relocates it through equivalent subjective agglutination; it cares for legitimacy but it offers management not very different from the liberal paradigm. In this way, hegemony reintroduces politics as administration cloaked under political cordiality [3]. But we know that no effective politics were ever created on the basis of love or good intentions or unity.

If neoliberalism upgrades the “totalitarian” aspiration onto its economic indexation of life, as Argentine psychoanalyst Nora Merlin has argued, then the concept of hegemony runs the risk of absolutizing political domination as its substitute principle [4]. By reminding faithful to principle of unity and equivalence, the logic of hegemony tends to reproduce the results that it attempts to avoid. In other words, hegemony merely displaces the technique of the economy to a technique of the political. Is there a different position without discarding populism and moving back to liberal technicity? It is interesting that Mouffe mentions in passing posthegemony, which she reduces to an “affective turn” that ignores the lessons of psychoanalysis (Mouffe 74).

I would like to argue, on the contrary, that posthegemonic populism is the mature position that avoids the closure of conflict internal to hegemonic rationality. In fact, if psychoanalysis were to be taken seriously, hegemony would amount to yet another master discourse that aims at administering singular desire through a two step procedure: vertical cathexis and horizontal agglutination. The hegemonic recentralization of conflict leads necessarily to the closure of other potential conflicts and risks. Posthegemony, on the other hand, names the political position that aims at liberating the conflictive nature of politics within any democracy. It comes as no surprise that at the very end of her essay, Mouffe comes full circle to posit faith in “certain forms of consensus” once hegemony has been accepted as the logic of the political (Mouffe 93). By insisting on the optimization of conflicts, rather than in its verticalization, posthegemonic populism would allow turbulence in politics beyond the dead end of consensus.

A hegemonic alternative to legitimacy not only fails to renew democratic life, but it taxes life on behalf of the political. In this sense, by becoming a technique of dominance hegemony is incapable of transcending the antinomies of state and civil society, politics and economics at the root of the crisis. In broader terms, we know that the disintegration of the modern state form is neither an economic nor a political problem, but one of a deeper symbolization as a result of the primacy of legality over legitimacy, something that Carl Schmitt noted in his later works [5]. Hegemony can only offer a political legislation out of the crisis, but not much more.

Legitimacy is vital for democracy. But hegemony cannot do the work, except as faith. Democratic politics, however, is precisely what is incommensurable to beliefs. By positing hegemony as integration from within, Mouffe leaves us with an alternative political theology. This political theology works solely on behalf of its believers. The posthegemonic position concedes Mouffe & Laclau’s formula a winner for democratic politics, but it prefers to recognize conflicts at face value; that is, not as a question of principles, but rather of optimization beyond the intended precautions. It seems that this is the mature position for populism if it wants to be successful today.


  1. Jorge Álvarez Yágüez. “Retorno a Gramsci” (2017).
  2. José Luis Villacañas. Pasado y presente: Cuadernos de la cárcel. Prefacio de J. L. Villacañas Berlanga. Barcelona: Gedisa, 2018. See also, the debate between Villacañas and Moireras on hegemony & posthegemony:
  3. Antoni Puigverd, “Hegemonía de la cordialidad” (2018):
  4. Nora Merlin, “Neoliberalismo, el retorno del totalitarismo por otros medios” (2018):
  5. For Carl Schmitt’s critique of values and a self-critique of his concept of sovereignty, see The Tyranny of Values (1996) and Glossarium (2015).

El Santo y el Político. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

El ascenso del ‘servidor público’ nos sitúa ante la pregunta sobre el agotamiento de la figura del político de vocación. Se trataría de algo más que un mero desplazamiento de Weber a Kant, aún cuando estas categorías hayan sido heredadas de las gramáticas del pensamiento moderno. Hoy estamos en condiciones de preguntar: ¿podemos hoy seguir hablando de liderazgos políticos? ¿O es acaso todo líder reducible a la figura del gestor de las buenas intenciones? Esta sigue siendo una conversación pendiente entre quienes nos interesa pensar las mutaciones de las élites políticas.

La cuestión del liderazgo ha estado a flor de piel en los últimos días en la coyuntura española. Y no solo por la salida de Rajoy de la Moncloa, sino también por la discusión que se abre en torno a sus relevos. El periodista Pedro Vallín subrayó el liderazgo de Pablo Iglesias (Unidos Podemos) en la moción de censura. Y por su parte Iglesias le recomendó a Sánchez aparentar “presidenciable” y no un mero “mal menor”.

Liderazgos para política de alta presión y mirada larga. La imagen misma de Iglesias como político-santo (del bien común) tiene entre sus múltiples propósitos liberarse de los subusleos de un modelo financiero inscrustado en los lazos sociales. Esto lleva el nombre “corrupción”, aunque tampoco es reducible a lo que normalmente entendemos por esto.

Se abre un hondísimo problema para pensar el nudo entre política y moral. El caso del chalet de Iglesias-Montero, por ejemplo, permite un manejo gradualista bajo el presupuesto de que es un asunto ‘privado’. Pero la moción de censura anticorrupción hegemoniza aquello que constituye ‘lo público’ (el fisco) desde las más diversas alianzas (PSOE, UP, PNV, las fuerzas independentistas catalanas, etc.). La hegemonía en política hoy coincide con el político como gran gestor. Y el tema viene al caso dada la incidencia ganadora de la teoría de Laclau en la hipótesis Podemos. Es el mayor dilema de toda propuesta política contemporánea sin obviar sus riesgos de neutralización.

El carisma de santo de Iglesias – como bien lo ha notado Enric Juliana – es franciscano. La mirada del Fatricelli encaja con el pastoreo de Francisco (Papa Peronista, no lo olvidemos) y entona con el ethos sacrificial que ha naturalizado la crisis. El líder franciscano descarga el peso ominoso de los líderes jesuíticos. Piénsese en Fidel Castro, quien provenía de esas filas. Pero el franciscanismo trae las malas noticias en tanto que práctica ajena al goce, es incapaz de producir el corte de una emancipación efectiva. Aunque como también ha visto Jorge Alemán en su lectura lacaniana En la frontera: sujeto y capitalismo (2014), aquí también puede producirse un singular desvío al interior del discurso capitalista y de la política consumada en Técnica. El franciscano se mide en ajustes y contenciones, hábitos y reglas. Puesto que experimenta el sinthome desde otro lado.

Vale la pena volver a ver Francisco, Juglar de Dios (1950) de Roberto Rossellini sobre la habítica comunidad del Fatricelli. O sea, de su relación mínima con la propiedad. Una delicada trama, puesto que ante el goce ilimitado que todos buscan hoy en día, el gestor franciscano pareciera desatender la tesis de que es el consumo el que libera y no al revés.

*Una versión de esta columna se escribió para Tecla Eñe Revista.

La sinousia de Platón. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

Plato laws Penguin

En el intercambio que acabo de terminar con Giorgio Agamben (de próxima aparición en el número monográfico sobre su obra editado en la revista Papel Máquina), el filósofo italiano vuelve a insistir, luego de una pregunta mía sobre L’uso dei corpi (2014), sobre la necesidad de pensar una “institucionalización de la potencia destituyente”. Esta operación es completamente contradictoria, dice Agamben, ya que el poder destituyente es, en cada caso, lo que permanece irreducible al derecho y lo que se desprende de cualquier cuadratura jurídica. Agamben cita el término platónico synousia, que no es fácil de traducir, pues consta de varios sentidos técnicos en los diálogos socráticos. Sinousia puede significar “estar-juntos”, pero también “estar-con” o “juntarse” (recogimiento de más de una persona), y a veces “vivir juntos” o “aprender juntos”.

Al final de L’uso dei corpi (2014), Agamben lo emplea en la designación que aparece en Leyes de Platón (y no en la “Carta VII”, que es el otro lugar con el que se le suele asociar): metà synousia pollen. Pudiera traducirse como “perdurar estando-juntos”. Parecería una definición más o menos convencional de la institución política entendida como la descarga de pruebas para “aliviar” los hábitos de los hombres ante la realidad.

Pero Agamben pasa a recordarnos que la sinousia de Platón no es una institución política, ni puede pensarse en función de la esfera del derecho, ni tampoco como instrumento jurídico. Esto tiene sentido en la obra del filósofo italiano, para quien la concepción de institución política en Occidente es ya una figura caída a la dinámica del gobierno (oikonomia) en cuanto administración del mal, tal y como ha sido expuesto en su ensayo sobre Benedicto XVI (hace algún tiempo reseñamos ese libro aquí). Por lo tanto, la sinousia platónica es de otro orden.

Este orden Agamben lo relacionada con la harmonía musical. Una metáfora que implícitamente alude a la concepción de la kallipolis, o de la belleza de la ciudad griega que integra la singularidad como exceso de la politización. La sinousia produce belleza en la polis, pero esa belleza no es ni puede ser una belleza política. Claro, una práctica sinousyal produciría mayor rango de Justicia, que es, al fin y al cabo, la posibilidad de rebajar la dominación del hombre por el hombre. Pero la kallipolis no es un agregado de ‘diferencias culturales’, ni se vincula a la metaforización de identidades en equivalencia. Se prepara una kallipolis desde la sinousia.

En cualquier caso, la sinousia nos remite a un singular en relación que, sorprendentemente, tiene un parecido a lo que Jorge Alemán ha llamado una soledad-común. La soledad del singular evita dormirse ante el anhelo de una totalidad sin fisuras. Es llamativo, por ejemplo, que en varios de los diálogos platónicos (Teages, Teeteto, Epístola VII, o Apología), Sócrates emplee la sinousia para referirse a dos cosas opuestas: al trabajo de una partera que acoge al recién nacido, y al maestro (Sócrates) en relación con sus discípulos.

Una primera intuición nos haría pensar que la sinousia es una vía para “formar personas” o dar “entrada al sujeto”. Sin embargo, sabemos muy bien que Sócrates es un filósofo que no sabe nada. Por eso es válida la distinción entre Sócrates y el platonismo, así como entre Jesucristo y el Cristianismo. En el diálogo Teages, por ejemplo, el discípulo Arístides le confiesa que él no ha aprendido absolutamente nada. La sinousia es una renuncia a la relación de subordinación al discurso maestro, y solo así está en condiciones de inscribir un quiebre en el saber que ha dejado de cumplir las tareas de “epistemizar” contenidos y producir formas.

La única manera en que la sinousia innova es cuando deja madurar al daimonion. Estamos ante el trabajo de un filósofo-analista que descree de las ingenuidades de la conciencia y rechaza administrar el goce del otro en nombre de una comunidad nómina. Por eso la sinousia platónica apunta a algo más allá de la subordinación a la ley del maestro o de una ‘voluntad colectiva’. Me atrevería a decir que la institucionalización que estaría pensando Agamben, aunque él no la hace explícita, es la de un anarco-institucionalismo, contra la supremacía de los teólogos (punto ambiguo en Leyes), que cuida de un proceso transformativo del singular más allá de lo propiamente político o antipolítico. La sinousia es índice de la separación en toda relación de co-existencia.

Es llamativo que Foucault en el curso de 1982-83, oponga la sinousia a la mathemata. Mientras la segunda da “forma” y vuelve “formulaicos” los contenidos del saber, la sinousia es destello de luz y “secreto lubricante del alma” en la absorción generativa de la filosofía. O en palabras de Sánchez Ferlosio, el “fondo de un punto ciego por el que entra la noche. Ese nadir es la aporía de una Razón completa”.

Errejonismo y poshegemonía. Por Gerardo Muñoz

En una reciente ponencia en el seminario “Feminismo y Hegemonía” que tuvo lugar en el Departamento de Filosofía y Sociedad de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Íñigo Errejón junto a Clara Serra, afirmó provocativamente que en el feminismo hay algo nuevo para la teoría de la hegemonía [1]. Algo así como un “impensado” de la hegemonía, aunque Errejón no lo explicitó de esta forma. Jorge Alemán diría que la nueva noticia en realidad son malas noticias, si bien es cierto que esas ‘malas noticias’ son buenas noticias para la reinvención de toda política contemporánea. Creo que no hay dudas que este es el gran tema de debate en nuestro tiempo. Aunque Errejón no lo elaborara, lo que me gustaría hacer aquí es ensanchar un poco más el desmarque intuitivo de Errejón.

Pues bien, la noticia que el feminismo le anuncia a la teoría de la hegemonía tiene que ver, necesariamente, con lo que Jacques Lacan tematizó como la “sexuación femenina”, y que para Joan Copjec supone la fisura y fallo en la universalidad de la sexualidad masculina [2]. En la conferencia, Errejón llega a reconocer esto explícitamente (minuto 7:30). El deseo masculino por la universalidad es la fantasía utópica de una política de la anti-separación, y, por lo tanto, de la abnegación del fallo de la diferencia sexual. Esto es siempre mala politica, o por lo menos una política con altos grados de deficiencia democrática. En cambio, la sexualidad femenina invocaría un resto irreducible en toda política, y que tiene su fundamento en la imposibilidad de homologar el deseo singular con el de sus semejantes y en tanto tal solo tendría una instancia de quiebre con respecto a toda formalización articulatoria.

Hasta aquí creo que no habría desacuerdos básicos con la posición de Errejón. El desacuerdo estaría en lo siguiente: si tomamos en serio la diferencia de la sexuación femenina, ¿podemos seguir hablando de la lógica de la hegemonía como clave maestra de la articulación de equivalencia? ¿No es acaso la sexuación femenina necesariamente poshegemónica, en la medida en que recoge la premisa laclausiana de la contingencia diferencial del vacío o el no-todo social, pero que rechaza el cierre equivalencial casuístico de lo masculino? Sí, los feminismos le traen noticias atractivas a la teoría de la hegemonía. Pero estas noticias no tienen nada que ver con el orden un ‘agregado de cuerpos’ o de ‘subjetivación’, o de ‘movimientos desde abajo’ o de ‘negación’; operaciones que vendrían a rectificar cierta dinámica masculina aparente en la lógica de significación, tan solo expandiendo la lógica equivalencial sin alteración alguna. Por eso de ninguna manera interesa un feminismo de la subjetividad cuyo horizonte sea el suplemento equivalencial como forma de alianza y sumisión obligatoria a la organización política. Obviamente, interesan la sexuación femenina y también la lógica de alianzas, aunque recompuestas de otro modo.

Es aquí, me parece, donde habría un punto de encuentro importante entre lo que se ha venido llamando errejonismo y la cuestión de la poshegemonía. Si partimos de que la transversalidad errejonista es la clave fundamental para cualquier reinvención política democrática real, entonces la hegemonía no puede entenderse como la ratio última de esta estrategia. Esto implicaría una regresión al cierre del universo masculino y la suspensión de la fisura de la sexuación femenina. En un intercambio reciente con el brillante teórico de En Comu Podems, Adrià Porta Caballé, me interrogaba si de alguna manera introducir la poshegemonía no implica suspender el conflicto de la hegemonía en nombre de la neutralización de lo político en registro liberal. El mismo Porta Caballé ha hecho un trabajo muy importante sobre la copertenencia entre hegemonía y conflicto convergente [3]. En eso estamos de acuerdo. Obviamente, la poshegemonía no busca imaginar un estado de pureza o de pacificación de la sociedad, ni tampoco le interesa quebrar alianzas en nombre de algún deseo destructivo o de un egoísmo resentido como reacción anti-populista. Al revés, lo que interesa es desplazar el cierre de la teoría de la hegemonía por lo que he llamado antes una fisura poshegemónica que implica justamente que el conflicto no puede cerrarse en el momento de su deriva verticalista que organiza en cada caso el significante vacío (Fernández Liria usa una buena imagen para esto: cerrar el círculo con una línea para armar un cono). Por lo tanto, la poshegemonía se hace cargo de la transversalidad errejonista más allá de todos los pacificismos apolíticos, pero también tomando distancia del discurso del Amo que viene a decir ‘ustedes, niños malos, si no se unen a la alianza equivalencial, quedan irremediablemente fuera. Móntense en el carrito hegemónico. O terminarán como unos niños extraviados en el corral político’.

Me parece que esta treta en función de la incorporación subjetiva se cifra en eso que Moreiras, vis-a-vis Perry Anderson, ha llamado recientemente el corazón katapléxico de toda hegemonía [4]. En efecto, Anderson nos invita a que miremos más allá de las dicotomías gramscianas de coerción y consenso que son, al fin de cuenta, acicates para la propia dinámica del conflicto en toda política democrática. Volviendo a la sexuación femenina, diríamos entonces que la noticia que trae a la teoría de la transversalidad es la recomposición de la conflictividad, evitando de esta manera la peluca que la propia lógica hegemónica le impone a la política una vez que se ha cerrado en la forma del cono. Aquí la figura del líder aparece de forma paradojal: por un lado es siempre contingente previa a su instancia de ascensión; pero por el otro, es siempre absoluta e irremplazable posteriormente.

Lo curioso de todo esto es que quien siga el debate sobre Cataluña en el último año, se dará cuenta que más allá de su fuerte composición de lucha hegemónica en varios frentes (Madrid vs. autonomía, eje soberanista vs. eje “constitucionalista”, convergen vs. esquerristas), la solución más atractiva resulta ser justamente la de Xavier Domenech y el federalismo pactado contra los juegos de “significantes vacíos” que ha funcionado para soterrar lo que Jordi Amat ha llamado la “competición de los liderazgos” [5]. La hegemonía ha cancelado esta posibilidad, como bien se ha visto al menos desde diciembre.

En la manera ‘hegemonicista’, la política democrática, aun cuando habla del conflicto, corre el riesgo de apelar a una totalidad de lo social en detrimento de la disputa. El deseo femenino, si nos dice algo hoy a quienes estamos interesados en pensar los procesos populares, es que la irrupción al interior de la equivalencia hegemónica (su “fallo matemático”), le da riendas a las posibilidades de una mejor política democrática (minimización de la dominación y expansión del antagonismo social) de máxima duración y de mayores deseos.






  1. El recording de la conferencia de Serra y Errejón puede verse aquí: .
  2. Joan Copjec. Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (Verso, 2015). 217-225.
  3. Adrià Porta Caballé. “Què és l’hegemonia convergent?”, diciembre de 2016.
  4. Alberto Moreiras. “Plomo hegemónico en las alas: hegemonía y kataplexis”, mayo de 2017.
  5. Jordi Amat. La conjura de los irresponsables (Barcelona: Anagrama, 2018).

A Merciful Reason: on David Soto Carrasco’s España: Historia y Revelación, un ensayo sobre el pensamiento político de María Zambrano. By Gerardo Muñoz.

In the new book España: Historia y Revelación, un ensayo sobre el pensamiento político de María Zambrano (Círculo Rojo, 2018), David Soto Carrasco has given us a systematic treatment of Zambrano’s philosophical project in a double interpretative frame (in the sense that he considers both the philosophy-political implications of her work for Spain and European modernity simultaneously) of her oeuvre. According to Soto Carrasco, Zambrano’s originality resides in a highly unique modality of thought that goes well beyond the confines of Philosophy (the metaphysical tradition), which produced a speculative critique of European history as it descended into political nihilism. In fact, Zambrano, very much like Simone Weil or Judith Shklar, writes from the abysmal non-place of the ruin of the political, and the rise of new tempting fears and pieties. Her confrontation with liberalism and democracy, at least since her vocational years as a student of Jose Ortega y Gasset, expands thinking to the turbulence of those historically defeated. Indeed, Zambrano never stopped reflecting upon what she perceived as the sacrificial structure of history and the need to open up to a non-imperial relation to politics in the name of democracy.

España: Historia y Revelación fills an important gap in contemporary thinking about the origins of the political, which remains unsteady if not failing in confronting the complex philosophical inheritance of the great thinker from Malaga [1]. Quite to our surprise, and very early on in his book, Soto Carrasco advances a downy version of his thesis, in which he calls for Zambrano’s thinking as that which bends towards an infrapolitical relation to sovereignty against the liberal foundation of politics. Carrasco states:

“…[Zambrano] pretenderá abandonar todo intento de política soberana, esto es, de establecer lo político sobre la base de un concepto infrapolítico de soberanía. De este modo, nuestro ensayo plantea que hay un mesianismo impolítico que recorre toda la obra de Zambrano. Desde esta perspectiva, la historia consistirá en que haya siempre victimas e ídolos” (Soto Carrasco 19).

Taking distance from the Schmittian critique of liberal neutralization from the friend-enemy divide integral to unity of political theology, Soto Carrasco identifies that Zambrano’s “infrapolitics” (which he only mentions once without specifications of a narrow sense of the term) announces a solicitation of democratic community against a thwarting of sacrificial history and the subject of sacrifice. This is fair enough. Soto Carrasco has in mind Zambrano’s categories of “el claro”, “la vida sin textura”, and “razón poética”, which prepare the path for an athological gnosis and arranges the conditions for what the philosopher termed the “person of democracy” [2]. Zambrano’s project for the interwar and postwar period was undoubtedly an extraordinary meditation for the Liberal interregnum and its modern political ideologies. In what follows, I would like to assess the limits and reaches of Zambrano’s project in Soto Carrasco’s reading, which in our times, due to the conditions of global and the effective disintegration of inter-state sovereignty, could allow us to think beyond some of the impasses of the valence of reason and poetics, which are still latent in contemporary thought.

Zambrano’s thinking took off in the 1930s in books such as Horizonte del liberalismo (1930) and Hacia un saber del alma (1934). This is a period of a strong readjustment of European politics and parliamentary democracy. It was a period that went through the rise of fascism, totalitarianism from the right and the left, but also of instances of restoration (conservatism), revolution (left-wing communism), and welfare containment (United States). As Carrasco reminds us, Zambrano not only wanted to make these epochal shifts legible. She also wanted to assume an “insalvable distancia”, or an “irreducible distance” from a politics that had “shipwrecked into scientism and the most mediocre form of positivism” as the justification of dictatorship and ius imperi. This is a position that Zambrano shares with the Heidegger of the Parmenides, who understood the imperial inheritance of the hegemonic domination under the sign of the Roman falsum. Zambrano was highly aware of the calculative operation of the politics that we now associate with the principle of general equivalence as the ontology of modern civil society. In this sense, fascism and communism were two ends of the continuation of absolutism.

But so was liberalism, which in Zambrano’s view, failed due not just to its foundation on a “moral economy”, but because it eluded to the sentimental dimension of man, making him a human, but not a person. The modern foundationalism of the political ran in tandem with a process of the absolutization of the logos. This meant that reason was opposed to myth, a component that had always helped the psychic balance to battle the different external absolutisms of reality. In this way, Zambrano’s definition of conservatism – “it wants to not just have reason, but absolute reason” – could well apply across the ideological spectrum to identify the nihilism of politics. This dead end leads to a philosophy of history, whose horizon of sacrifice undermines the res publica as well as the separation of powers of democracy. The notion of person, in a complete reversal of Simone Weil’s impersonal characterization of the sacred, was the condition for democracy as a livable experience in Zambrano’s own propositional horizon in light of the crisis of liberalism.

Against a politics of domination and sacrifice, one would expect Zambrano to turn to philosophy or tradition. But it is here, as Soto Carrasco argues, that we find a poetological turn in her work as a retreat from the imperial-theological drift of modernity. Carrasco asserts: “La poesía se reivindicará como género para evadir la sistemática razón moderna y rememorar un orden sagrado perdido. La poesía será su más clara revelación” (Soto Carrasco 51). It is at conjuncture where Zambrano’s Spanish context should be taken into account, says Carrasco, since due to the insufficiency or absence of a philosophical tradition in the Iberian Peninsula, there was no concept to find refuge in, but rather, the Spanish ethos was to be found in poetry or the novel. In authors like Machado, Bergamín, Unamuno, or Galdós, Zambrano will clear a path for what she calls an “intuition of a world and a concept of life” (Soto Carrasco 55). In this turn, we arrive at a substitution of Philosophy for the Poem with the promise that it will grant a “verdadera vida” or a true life, at least at the level of intra-national Spanish topoi. This strategy is more or less repeated for the European space in the essays published between 1943 and 1945, such as La agonía de Europa or La confesión, género literarios y método, which for Soto Carrasco complements her critique of logos in the tradition of the West that runs from Plato to Heidegger (Soto Carrasco 73). It is difficult to accept Heidegger as a thinker of logos; a task that became the central operation for the destruction of Western onto-theology and the new beginning of philosophy for an authentic life. Soto Carrasco never fleshes out this complex discussion, and I suspect whether Zambrano herself engaged in a thorough way with Heidegger’s work after the 1930s. But there is an important distinction that Carrasco makes in the last part of his book in relation to Heidegger. When commenting on Zambrano’s notion of “claro”, he writes:

“Por ello, el claro [de Zambrano] no es un Lichtung. Si para Heidegger la “apertura” va a actuar como sorge, como una luz que ilumina la verdad la acción desde la capacidad interrogante, para Zambrano, el “claro” es luz opaca, donde la Palabra surge a las “entrañas” porque en ellas se padece con pasividad. De ahí que el filósofo se oponga al bienaventurado” (Soto Carrasco 125).

The differences are set straight here: Heidegger, in Carrasco’s reading of Cacciari’s reading Zambrano, remains tied too deep into “philosophy”, where Zambrano opens a clear path for a poem that instantiates itself in the divine and recognizes the blessed in ‘thy neighbor’. Zambrano will be on the side of the poem of salvation, but also on the side of ethics. Whereas Heidegger is situated in the threshold of a philosophical project that demands the question of being to be asked; Zambrano’s poematic offering opens an inter-subject mode of care. Again, Soto Carrasco thematizes the differences: “Si para Heidegger pensar el olvido del ser era pensar una posibilidad no-imperial de lo político, para Zambrano, toda posibilidad de lo política fuera de una historia sacrificial solo puede pensar desde el olvido de lo divino, de la relación abismada entre el hombre y Dios, que el bueno de Molinos definió” (Soto Carrasco 83). Zambrano’s “new beginning” is not properly existential, nor can we say after this description that it is one of an infrapolitics of existence, but rather that of an ethics for a human history based on errancy and exile. But it is also an exile that finds is meaning in opposition to the loss of country.

It is in this aporetic limit of Zambrano’s project that I would like to derive a few consequences from Soto Carrasco’s intelligent and important reading. Just a couple of pages before this allusion to Heidegger, Soto Carrasco quotes from La agonía de Europa that reads “in the Roman imperial dominion, existence is lived like a nightmare” (Soto Carrasco 77). If existence is liberated from imperial politics, but substituted to the ethical determination of the poem, isn’t there a risk of assuming that the endgame of the “poetical reason”, based on “misericordia” and “un saber de salvación y sufrimiento” is only capable of being moved by the delirium of the suffering of the world, but not properly achieving a transformative freeing of existence against the transparency of the concept (“la claridad de la idea”)? And does not the inverted messianic and redemptive time posited by a gnosis arrangement against political gigantism, give us yet another chapter in the history of salvation of the onto-theological tradition and its historical productivity? If, as Soto Carrasco does not fail to remind us vis-à-vis Nietzsche, we need History but “History otherwise”, what follows is that any messianic poematic history has unfulfilled this promise as it remains tied to an account of subjection to salvation in detriment to existence, and hence within the walls of imperi and its economy of “novelerías” (Soto Carrasco 105) [3].

It makes sense that the occlusion of existence paves the way for an explicit affirmation on “life”, which Carrasco systematically teases out in the last chapters of the book. He quotes Zambrano affirming that “la vida resulta ser, por lo pronto…un género literarios”; or in relation to Galdos’ characters “una vida habiendo conocido la extrema necesidad acaba libre de ella” (Soto Carrasco 107-08). It is not difficult to find in this concept of life the texture of the Franciscan form of life that, while shredding off the goods of commerce, it still carries the vestiges of an ethical rule of an ontology of the totality of the living (in fact Zambrano in a moment writes “una totalidad desconocida que nos mueve”). This becomes even more present in Soto Carrasco’s defining moment of “razón poética” for Zambrano as based on “love”:

“Es la razón poética hecha razón misericordiosa o piadosa. Amor que solo puede emerger de la revelación, desde un nuevo nacimiento. Es fundar una “comunidad de corazones”. Ante las Palabras de Juliana, se nuestro este eros…”. Yéndose de sí misma seguía sirviendo a la Piedad sin ser devorada por ella, en la verdad de su vida” (Soto Carrasco 113).

Poetical reason offers a communitarian symbolization for a more “ethical Christianity” against the dark night of imperial politics in the name of a new salvation. Zambrano’s mysticism sought in the Spanish tradition of symbols that could mobilize a détente against the force of philosophy and politics, and the hegemony of reason spiraling downwards. The question is whether Zambrano’s poetical and merciful reason can provide us with an authentic exodus from onto-theology and alternative foundations. Or, if on the contrary, the articulation of a substitute ethical condition to the sacrificial horizon of history is really an exception that is already contained within the dual machine of modern historical development that hampers singularization from community and as well as from the negative structure of the political. That is why it remains puzzling why Soto Carrasco states at the very end of the book that Zambrano’s thinking is also a “political philosophy” that is tied to history (Soto Carrasco 134). If Zambrano’s poem produces a reification of political philosophy, then there is no question that the ius imperi is still haunting a counterhegemonic practice even when it wants to speak in the music of democracy. No political philosophy can open a path for infrapolitics, and no infrapolitics can amount to the closure of a political philosophy.

But then again, much could be said about ethics and Zambrano, but also about the ethical traction in contemporary thinking today as politics enters an irreversible crisis for conceptual renovation. In his recent book Karman (2018), Giorgio Agamben interestingly makes the claim that Alain Badiou’s recourse to the “event” amounts to a substitution for the general crisis of modern Kantian ethics, upholding an ethical determination while repeating the antinomies of being and acting proper to the fractured political foundation [4]. I suspect that the same duality can be registered about ethics and politics, or the poem and the logos. There seems to be no other pressing problem today in contemporary thought than to move, for once and for all, beyond the ethico-political axis without any reservations to messianic and poetological substitutes. What is at stake, as Soto Carrasco reminds us, is an originary sense of being. But this would require us to move beyond the mercies of lovable life and the reassurances and prospects of a glorious subject too comfortable in the pieties and mercies that cloak modern ethics. The astuteness and intensity of Soto Carrasco’s brief essay on Zambrano’s thinking asserts the need for us today to push beyond the community and the political into a region that draws out an infrapolitical fissure unbinding the temporalities of singularization in the outlook of a politics that never coincides with life.





  1. Roberto Esposito has juxtaposed two different ontologies of the political by contrasting Arendt and Weil’s projects in relation to imperial and totalitarian politics. See The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? (Trans. Gareth Williams, 2017).
  2. See Alberto Moreiras, “Last God: María Zambrano’s Life without Texture”. A Leftist Ontology: Beyond Relativism and Identity Politics (2009). 170-184.
  3. For a dual critique of the modern Hegelian philosophy of history and its messianic reversal, see Writing of the Formless: Jose Lezama Lima and the End of Time (2016), by Jaime Rodriguez Matos.
  4. See Giorgio Agamben, Karman: A Brief Treatise on Action, Guilt, and Gesture (2018). 42.

Political poetics and posthegemony: on Jorge Alemán’s Soledad: Común: Políticas en Lacan. By Gerardo Muñoz.

img_7272The horizon of Jorge Alemán’s thinking is constituted by a desire to confront two deficiencies that have become commonplace in contemporary political thought. The first calls for radical subjectivation to achieve liberation, and the second, the articulation of psychoanalytical theory as an instrument to move away from certain impasses of social emancipation in a moment where the outside of the capitalist general principle of equivalence has become the reification of itself through negation. Subjectivity and theoretical supplementary negation are what constitutes the frame of today’s so-called “Leftist critical hemisphere,” which has achieved nothing but the fides for those persuaded in the subtleties of the Communist Idea, the Multitude, or the biopolitical subject. The refreshing theoretical import of Alemán’s thinking is, first and foremost, that it radically breaks with all theories of subjectivity that guard the foundation of politics today and their sadistic Master discourse.

Just a couple of days ago at a conversation panel session, a person said to another with all sincerity: “there are times where you have to join the Resistance, and give up European critical theory. There are times where there are no other options.” Putting aside the extreme decisionism that such opinion entails, the surge in the absolute of inclusion through communization is today the logical and linguistic articulation by which nihilism today takes the form of exceptional politics. Renouncing communization, or thinking the common otherwise, is enough for radically expulsing whoever brings to bear the fractures within every order of majoritarian hegemony. Against the possibility of a counter-majoritarian hegemonic undoing (which would only be inverting the demand for a narcissistic and thetic contraction of the sameness, of another community, etc.), Alemán’s Soledad:Común: Políticas en Lacan (Capital Intelectual 2012) proposes a radical suspension from every communitarian closure in favor of a solitude of singular desire against the demand of the Master, the equivalence of capitalist structural differentiation, as well as the economy of salvation that is presupposed in every communitarian interdependence as mass psychology of the political. According to Alemán, what is at stake today is to think the “Common” not as a dispensation of propriety and genus, but in relation to the ontological gap that is irreducible to meaning and representation and that opens itself to “existence” (18).

This ontological indeterminacy brings to divergence the poles of politics and psychoanalysis and displaces the metaphysical subjectivist politicity at the core of leftist subjective productionism in thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, and Alain Badiou. The metaphysics of the subject, Alemán reminds us, is still caught up in the Master discourse and logic of identification, unable to properly give an account of the common as that what names the “void space in every social linkage” (25). Of course, the separation of the void that constitutes the unground of the subject’s ontological indeterminacy is to be distinguished from the liberal and Rortyan relativism that articulates the social space vis-à-vis moral good intentions before the Big Other. For Alemán, on the contrary, facing the non-knowledge of the psychoanalytical school is to confront the very void as the essence of every social contract, which fundamentally exposes the singular to its tragic finitude. For Alemán, and this is of major importance, Heidegger and Lacan are two proper names that untie the Master’s discourse towards a destruction of every commonality onto-theologically grounded for a messianic enterprise of liberation. Alemán calls this other than messianic subjectivist politics a “poetical politics,” which he links to the task of thought and the new beginning for politics:

“La tarea del pensar, en el sentido de Heidegger, aquella que ya ha franqueado el plano “ontoteológico” de la misma filosofía, tiene entre sus propósitos la apertura a un acontecimiento epocal que nos entregue las senas de una nueva donación del Ser. A nuestro juicio, si despojamos esta propuesta de sus acentos teológicos, se trata de construir una “poética política” hecha con los mimbres de Freud, Marx, Heidegger, y Lacan.” (38-39).

I am intrigued by what Alemán is trying to pursue here under the concept “political poetics” (poética política), which he registers in passing, but fails to define at length, immediately moving to what the concept itself has to promise for “emancipation” of the European and the Latin American regional spaces. It is obvious that poetical politics is not a new regionalism, and is not interested in the least in articulating something like a politics for Latin America, or a post-imperial (or Kojevean grand space) European geopolitics. Of course, there is an echo of Heidegger’s concept of the artwork and poetry as solicitation of dwelling; a path that for Alemán needs to suspend the Badiousian militant subjectivity, which he calls a dead subject (un sujeto muerto) at the end of the day. Later on, Alemán provides a clue when he says, “for us the problem today is how to understand the expression of the Will” (49). So, is political poetics a new re-formulation of a political will? But what is a will if not a step back to the command, whether in political, ethical, moral, or theological structure? I am suspicious of a new call for will that could leave behind the Kantian and medieval disputatio that has a long and complicated history in the medieval debates around the Infinite (the work of François Loiret here is very much at stake in thinking through the history of the Will in medieval metaphysics). Alemán is very well versed in the difficulties that the question of the will presupposes, and that is why he will identify the will with Lacan’s “decided desire” (50).

However, this decided desire is the fundamental fiction produced by the neurotic subject. Hence, the question for Alemán is whether this passage from solitude/common to the Will to the neurotic decided subject does not amount to a final story-telling that needs to be rendered inoperative in order to liberate the path of un-grounding (desfundamentación) radically open beyond the Master discourse and the faith in the general principle of equivalence. This is a problem that Alemán does not solve in Soledad:Común. But it is here where the maximum intensification between hegemony and posthegemony resides. In other words, whereas hegemony is the decided desired, posthegemony as I define it, would be the name of a fissured democratic politics that accepts the void of the social contract without subsequent compensatory hegemonic-political reconstruction of the social space. Later on in Soledad: Común, and when Alemán is teasing out the role of knowledge in Lacan’s understanding of School, he writes:

“…las distintas manifestaciones de lo Real, angustia, trauma, pesadilla, repetición, pulsión de muerte, debe ser recibidas, en su “no saber” para luego elaborar la construcción correspondiente propia de una “invención de saber y su transmisión”. El no saber no es la pasión por la ignorancia, es la distancia irreducible entre la verdad y el saber, distancia que debe ser habitada para que surja un invención.” (56-57).

It would seem that for Alemán the destruction of all grounds of politics are preparatory for establishing what he calls, following Laclau, a new “logical dignity that takes the People as the invitation of a logic of hegemony” (59). The problem of the Will seems to allow the hasty move from the fantasy of the neurotic to the construction of a social hegemony. In a way, what at first what discarded as a mass psychology of Freudianism is later achieved by submitting thought to the operation of the Will that re-organizes hegemony in the name of the People. And the problem is that this hegemony of the social is refractory of the singular. In fact, Alemán says at the very end: “This Equality would be identical to what we have called the Common” (69). But can hegemony be then the name of the psychoanalytical cure? Alemán warns us that the Common always opposes, each and every time, the logic of equivalence and value, since the sinthome of the barred-subject is always irreplaceable.

But, it is precisely for this reason why hegemony cannot do the work and it remains insufficient as a mechanism of translation for a generalized cure in the social. In other words, it is because there is always something that fails, that post-hegemony advances a politics of common solitude and the singular sinthome.

Beyond rigorisms: notes on Martin Heidegger’s “What is Metaphysics?” (1929). By Gerardo Muñoz.

A preliminary note: it is important to have in mind that Heidegger understood metaphysics as onto-theology. This means that metaphysics was not anevent among others in history, but rather the event that allows the dispensation of the history of the forgetting of being as such. This is why it is always insufficient to take up the mission of founding an “alternative metaphysics” or an immanentization of the metaphysical horizon, which is, at the end of the day, the high price that Averroism has to pay for reenacting absolute aristotelianism against Christian dogmatics. Already in the opening line of “What is Metaphysics?” (1929), (“The question awakens expectations of a discussion about metaphysics…” 82), we encounter the gesture of awakening from the sleepwalking that is the essence of metaphysics as constituted by figures of the supreme (those “idols” that Gareth Williams already brought up to our attention in his commentary) on the one hand; and by the logic reconstruction of identity and difference of historical time on the other.

The engagement against all metaphysical rigorisms must open to a region of factical existence that clears a distinctive path that does not coincide with the demand for “exactness” in the wake of modern scientific development and the legitimacy of the ‘spiritualization of technology’. This spiritualization grounds the objectivity of scientific knowledge as its self-legitimation: “Today the only technological organization of universities and faculties consolidates this multiplicity of dispersed disciplines; the practice establishment of goals by each discipline provides the only meaning source of unity. Nonetheless, the rootedness of the science in their essential ground has atrophied” (82-83). Thus, the question of Da-Sein must necessarily move away, in a counter-universitarian fold, from the demand of exactness of mathematics and the rigorisms of inquiry that is only capable of establishing grounds. The techno-universitarian machination vis-à-vis exactness and rigor ascertains legitimacy through being understood as unveiled will-to-power and reserve for transformation, production, and distribution-organization.

But how? Of course, Heidegger not once speaks of legitimacy in this essay, and I would leave it open to whether the ontological difference and existence is a path that could be thought as an otherwise point of entry into the inquiry for legitimacy in the modern age. (A long parenthesis: this question seems pertinent, in my view, in order to bypass the recurring indictment of Heideggerianism as a “mystical step back” to the antiquity of the Greeks, to the inhumane hypsipolis apolis of the city, or turn to dichtung as the stamp of the German genialismus destroyer of the Enlightenment. I would bracket this question here for future investigation. I must clarify, however, that I pose this question not in the order of intellectual history, but as someone interested in the problem of the genesis of modernity. Also at stake here is the crucial debate with Ernst Jünger regarding the “crossing over the line” as the condition of nihilism, as well the unexplored relation between Lacan’s psychoanalysis, anthropological deficiency, and the ontological difference). In “What is Metaphysics”, Heidegger suggests that any real confrontation must be done through the nothing. The question of nothing for science and the techno-spiritual constellation is “an outrage and a phantasm”, a sort of suppository for transparent rationality (84). Indeed, Heidegger writes: “Science wants to know nothing about the nothing.” (84). But the nothing is never sutured, and that is why it takes a spectral figure; it returns whenever science fails to bring to unity of its own ground.

The question regarding nothing must be cleared from the logic operation of ‘negation’, which for Heidegger is “a doctrine of logic and a specific act of the intellect” (85). Here, Heidegger not only wants to break away from all forms of the Hegelo-Marxist dialectical philosophy of history, but with a deeper anthropological assumption that resides in the insistence of the condition of anticipation (86). (Note for future elaboration: a central kernel of philosophical anthropology – from Helmuth Plessner to Arnold Gehlen, from Hans Blumenberg to Odo Marquard – has been the story of finding ways to institute conditions of anticipation to discharge the absolutism of phenomena and organizing symbolic reality through compensatory and manageable partitions of spheres and actions). But I agree with Gareth Williams that what is at stake in the non-grasping of the question of the nothing is sustaining thinking as nihiliation to an “unconcealed strangeness” that opens up the condition of finitude. Originary attunement is what “makes manifest the nothing” (88), for Heidegger, the possibility of the closest proximity and near true distance. The unwelt of attunement (which never constitutes the idealism of a weltanschauung) is said to be found in boredom or anxiety that rips a hole in language, since “anxiety robs us of speech” (89). Boredom puts us in relation to the animal.

Now, this ur-stimmung knows no hypokeimenon (the pure “that is” of the subject, what subjects the pre-supposition), and that is why it is an instance where the “nothing is manifest” as the clearing of being as a sort of black sun in the open of nothing. “Nihiliation will not submit to calculation in terms of annihilation and negation. The nothing itself nihiliates” (90). This original attunement is what allows for freedom completely disintegrate “logic itself in the turbulence of a more originary questioning” (92). The digression on freedom is important. That is, the freedom that is evoked here is necessarily detached from the freedom of the subject of dialectical thought, the two conceptions of freedom in classical Liberalism (positive and negative), and freedom understood as a conatus of experience engrained in the subjective fabric of affects and habits in the tradition of immanence and philosophies of vitalism, etc. Let’s bracket it in a schematic form: freedom against liberty (liberalism):: attunement against affect (life). A question at this point: is the emergence of the freedom in this early text as a vortex of the attunement of anxiety and boredom, later displaced in Heidegger’s insistence on the Galassenheit as the fundamental mood of a suspended topology? Or is the Galassenheit an adjoined mood as the attunement with the nothing? The question of freedom emerges again at the end in an important passage:

“We are so finite that we cannot even bring ourselves originally before the nothing through our own decision and will. So abyssally does the process of finitude entrench itself in Dasein that our most proper and deepest finitude refuses to yield to our freedom” (93).

The question of freedom as posited here runs all absolute rigorisms amok, whether ethical or political, which ultimately makes their propositions fall within the regime of the “legitimacy of the dominion of “logic” in metaphysics” (95). I would like to call the freedom that opens up in this region where philosophizing takes place infrapolitical freedom. But philosophy here is trans-formed; this is thought. The dismissal of the nothing “with a lordly wave of the hand” as science does, or through an accumulation of facts as it is done in historiography, cannot guarantee freedom in the originary sense that is housed in existence.

As Heidegger says at the very end: “no amount of scientific rigor attends to the seriousness of metaphysics. Philosophy can never be measured by the standard of the idea of science” (96). Not fully abandoning Husserl (or at least that is my wager here, briefly crossing to a late essay on the question of “Earth” beyond science), the philosozing occurs in the measureless earth, an earth that does not move, and beyond any conception as a ready-made idea of measurement. The moment that philosophy raises the question of our existence, it embarks in a decisive removal of all rigorisms of truth (be it ethical, logical, political, anthropological, or historical –hegemonikai or guiding faculties) as well as the absolute trepidations of the negative. Only when positing being at the proximity of the fissured ark, there is the possibility of a bringing the questioning of the nothing. It is here where all rigorisms collapse and good theories end.


Edmund Husserl. “Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature: The Original Ark, the Earth, does not move”. Shorter Works (University of Notre Dame, 1981). 222-233.

Gareth Williams. “First Take on “What is Metaphysics” by Martin Heidegger”.

Martin Heidegger. “What is Metaphysics” (1929), Pathmarks (University of Cambridge Press, 1998). 82-97