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”.

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.

 

 

 

Notes

  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.

Stories or fiction? A footnote to Derrida’s The Question of Being and History. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Arguably, one of central problems in Heidegger: The Question of Being and History (2016) is the radical destruction of storytelling proper to onto-theological history. For instance, if we are to take the question of historicity seriously, Giorgio Agamben’s recent efforts on a ‘modal ontology’ provides yet another form of storytelling principled on henological absolutism. A similar gesture appears in Reiner Schürmann’s late work on the possibility of an outside of metaphysics vis-à-vis Plotinus’s hypostases of a “One” prior to all differences and intellect [1]. Although Schürmann points to Derrida’s suggestions on Neo-Platonism as an exception to onto-theology, one should bare in mind that any effective destruction of storytelling would also bring to ruin the henological difference under the critique of the trace. This is the crucial passage delivered very early in the seminar:

“The writing that tells stories is easy, narration is easy and philosophy, in spite of appearances, has never deprived itself of it. The point is to break with the philosophical novel, and to break with it radically and not so as to give rise to some new novel. The philosophical novel, philosophical narration, is of course, but is not only, the history of philosophy as doxography that recounts, reports, gathers and lays out the series of philosophical systems. “Telling stories,” in philosophy, is for Heidegger something much more profound and that cannot be so easily denounced as doxography. The Novelesque from which we must awaken is philosophy itself as metaphysics and as onto-theology“. [2]

As it becomes usual throughout the seminar, telling stories is not just an intellectual operation of the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history. The gesture of going beyond storytelling entails an affirmation of the ontological difference. This leap is not to be understood as a way of entry into a higher kingdom of speculation. Rather, it implies an invitation to radically confront history without exceptions or absolutes. In a way, this is the opposite end of philosophical anthropology’s task, which for Blumenberg amounts to a nonconceptual metaphorics capable of man’s self-affirmation against the absolutism of reality.

But I wonder if one could make the case that the deconstructive operation already in the 1964 seminar vis-à-vis the destruction of storytelling opens to a new conception of fiction. It is telling that ‘fiction’ as such is never brought in the seminar. This displacement, however complex and aporetic, should point to a minimal difference between Heideggerian destruction and Derridean deconstruction when it comes to dismantling every effective onto-theological operation. Should one, then, distinguish between storytelling and fiction? For one, if storytelling belongs the realm of the sleepwalking of philosophy and ontology, then it would be productive to think whether the shift after destruction takes place between thinking and fiction. I am still unable to grasp (if it is indeed possible and consistent) if fiction could effectively be understood as an excess of storytelling. It is not a question of form or even truth.  Should fiction point to the distance between politics and infrapolitics in thought? Could we say that infrapolitics is the dissemination of singular fictions announced after the destruction of onto-theological storytelling? Fiction: a non-metaphorical essence over existence after the end of metaphoric translation.

A negation of fiction puts us in a position of anomy. Here the fiction of law is a productive site for thought, because it is a discipline in which we find that fiction (fictio) is an operation that organizes and brings about a nebulous domain. According to Yan Thomas, who is arguably the central scholar on the fictive nature of Roman law: “The fictio is, from the point of view of Western history, without precedent. It only arrives as an operation of law to fix and keep within its boundaries the limits of reality, and the possible distances that it could trace with the fictive Nature” [3]. Roman law’s artificiality is a second-degree fiction that can no longer represent the state of things, but only the ‘as if’ of every probable manifestation. Fiction is always double, aware and checking its own artificiality. Agamben has appropriated Yan Thomas’ hermeneutical notion of ‘operations of law’ in an opportunity to ‘render inoperative’ the ‘politico-theological machine’ of Western governance. But this non-contained negation of principles speaks to Agamben’s anarchy, which differs from Derrida’s democracy to come. Later on in his life Derrida will establish a coterminous relation between fiction and justice as hyperbolic conditions of democracy.

I think an important moment appears in Rogues, where Derrida endorses a notion of democracy in possession of an “essential historicity” [sic] well beyond the subject and natural rights. Derrida also seems to be grappling with an evolving and transformative notion of democracy that cannot be subsumed either as vulgar historical as principle (arche) nor as reversed impolitical an-archy. One cannot evade history, but can one evade the fiction of democracy?

Back to the seminar. At the very end of the last session, Derrida reasserts that “it is not a matter of substituting one metaphor for another, which is the very movement of language and history, but of thinking this movement as such, thinking metaphor in metaphorizing as such, thinking the essence of metaphor (this is all Heidegger wants to do). There is thinking every time that this gesture occurs, in what is called science, poetry, metaphysics, and so on.” (Derrida 190).

So fiction cannot amount to a mere substitution for storytelling. Fiction should name the process of uncontained de-metaphorization within an evolving economy of democracy that has no political arche. The end of philosophical storytelling will open to a contamination of the turbulence of fiction by which the legal operation is always insufficient, but never deposed. The shift from the absolutist negation of the Roman fictio (the political as roman ratio according to the Parmenides lecture) to democracy as an essential historicity, retreats politics in the shadow of fiction. Couldn’t we say, assuming all the risks involved, that infrapolitics is also a reflection on the nature of fiction as a condition for democratic reinvention?

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Reiner Schürmann. “The One: Substance or Function”. Neoplatonism and Nature (ed. Michael F. Wagner). State University of New York Press, 2002.
  2. Jacques Derrida. Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  3. Yan Thomas. “Fictio legis. L’empire de la fiction romaine et ses limites médiévales”, Droits, no 21, 1995.

A Constitutional Absolutism? On Philip Hamburger’s The Administrative Threat. By Gerardo Muñoz.

AdministrativeThreatPhilip Hamburger’s most recent book, The Administrative Threat (Encounter Books, 2017), is a legal pamphlet as well as constitutional call to arms of sorts. Deliberately written for the general public with the intention of popularizing the central tenets of his otherwise more technical work Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (U Chicago Press, 2015), Hamburger fuses a warning with a call to question the increasing danger posed by the expansion of the administrative state in American public law. In his view, no other force and legal development is undermining the core and purpose of civil liberties as much as administrative law, which today extends to all spheres of social life. This bureaucratic power is not only an existential threat to personal freedoms, but also a betrayal to the original intent of the Constitution.

The idea harboring this perception is that decision-making is only possible on purely market or commercial grounds, which administration continuously obstructs under the guise of regulation. The book cuts sharply through a martial tone: “For better understanding of the administrative threat one must turn to law…for although much administrative state power is economically inefficient, all of it is unconstitutional” (Hamburger 2). But how did the development of legality and American public law reached such a boiling point? This a question that Hamburger must sidestep, and at times reduce to a barely credible narrative regarding a handful of American scholars that studied German administrative law at the turn of the last century. Hamburger accurately notes that in the last century (roughly from 1917 to 2017), there has only been ‘rise and rise’ of administrative delegation. This is undeniable. James M. Landis records in The Administrative Process (1938) about 12-14 federal agencies in 1933. Today there are between 240-456 federal agencies, including sub-agencies, quasi-agencies, and departments. And as if more alarm is needed, each landmark opinion through the century by the Supreme Court has incrementally extended agency statutory powers for execution and judicial interpretation.

In what follows, I want to critically comment the three premises that support Hamburger’s attack on the legitimacy of administrative state: 1. a historical comparison with the King James monarchy in order to make the case that we are returning to a regime of legal absolutism; 2. that we are witnessing the corruption of the separation of powers, which has expounded extralegal boundaries; 3. and the libertarian assumption that civil liberties are prey to the tyrannical might of the administrative state. Hence, as Hamburger says verbatim, the administrative state is fundamentally disloyal to at least two tiers of governmental authority: on the one hand, to an arcana, and on the other, the more real ground of civil liberties and negative freedom (Hamburger 23). While the first lies in that of the level of principle, the second forms that of integrity. It is important to note that, as Hamburger does at the outset of the book, his critique is at the level of legitimacy. Hence, he is not necessarily interested in putting forth a critique of political economy or regulatory reform, which would entail an acceptance of the administrative state one way or another.

Let us take the first premise, which assumes that the administrative state brings about a new absolutism. Hamburger establishes a comparison with King James’s absolute monarchy, which represented a model of constant prerogatives and forms of adjudication to agency discretion, in permanent conflict with legislative decision-making, and interpretative authority of judges. For Hamburger this all takes place in the present, but the situation is much worse, since the administrative state seems to have achieved King James’ absolutist intention. For instance, Hamburger writes: “the lawmaking interpretation that James desired for his prerogative bodies has become a reality for American administrative agencies. Federal judges’ show varying degrees of deference to agency interpretations, and the agencies therefore can use their interpretation to create law” (Hamburger 9). Ultimately, this means that administrative agencies have come to inhabit a sort of juridical monad that can interpret, execute, and legislate its statutory norms and facts in clear violation of the principle of the separation of powers.

Hamburger observes the watershed 1984 decision Chevron vs. National Resources Defense Council, in which Burger Court decided that every time there are statutory ambiguities, judges must defer to agency for clear interpretations, with horror. This does not mean that an agency will rule every time on the agency’s behalf, but it has come to establish what is known as the principle of ‘deference’ in a two-step model. Mainly, that if Congress does not express direct intent on the statute, the agency can uphold the interpretative prerogative for clarification of any ambiguous component. The deference principle to agencies not only violates the principle against subdelegation (the common law axiom delegata potestas non potest delegari), but more importantly for Hamburger it confuses the spheres of interpretation and execution in the hands administrative quasi-judges. The prefix hints at the fact that experts and technicians of different epistemological spheres now have entirely displaced the imperial pretensions of the independent judicial branch. At the same time, we know that there are no judges freed from inter-dependence, and that the very legal process is always politically binding [1]. This transformation does entail that the judiciary is noww marginalized to a thin discretionary position to arbiter reasonable goals.

Furthermore, it is not the case that the way deference is understood in American administrative law hinges on a principle of sub-delegated power. Adrian Vermeule has convincingly argued how the specification of statutes is conceived within the executive branch [2]. Hamburger insists, however, in that “administrative power resembles old absolutism” (Hamburger 14). Absolutism is defined as extra-legality, and as a fundamental and consistent evasion of law (sic). Curiously, Hamburger fails to explain in which way the expansion of the administrative state legality has moved the boundaries unto an extra-legal domain over time. The administrative state cannot amount to a new monarchism for the simple reason that there is no monarch who is deemed as the sovereign mediator capable of dispensing his potentia absoluta without retrains.

The administrative state is a process of self-rationalization towards judicial abdication to experts, abandoning the empire of courts towards reasonable decision-making. It is an enterprise to limit incongruousness and contingency. As we know, this is one of the trademarks of the modern legitimacy. In other words, the administrative state follows integrity, and not the arcanum of political theory. This is something Landis already had in mind in the 1930s [3]. If absolutism is grounded in a principle of contingency and theological nominalism, modern rationality and administration bends towards rationalization of law’s integrity [4]. In doing so, the administrative state is a highly sophisticated machine to regulate all possible risks. Here the question of a constitutionalism of risk within the expansion of the administrative delegation becomes relevant.

Hamburger, in a sense, seeks to revive the specter of Elizabethan judge Edward Coke, while ignoring that the becoming of the administrative state has pluralist aims, at odds with vertical decision protocols vested in the absolute sovereign [5]. The administrative state is a modern legal development, and any comparison to the English monarchy is a serious bend. From a historiographical standpoint, Hamburger’s premise is also ambiguous when he writes: “Early Americans, however, were familiar with English constitutional history, and they therefore were well aware of the danger from the absolute power and its extralegal paths” (Hamburger 19). It is not the case that there is a firm consensus about the patriot political beliefs about presidentialism or the British Monarchy. Eric Nelson in his landmark The Royalist Revolution (2014) has studied how republican patriots were comfortable with ideas of strong centralized executive power in fear of the British parliamentary form regarding commerce and taxation. And here one should ask to what extent the imperial presidency could also be justified on “originalist” grounds. But this is beside the point, since the legal development of administrative law is one thing, and the Atlantic political theory is another.

This takes us the second point regarding the separation of powers. The main problem with Hamburger’s account is that it fails to engage with Adrian Vermeule’s sound critique in Law’s abnegation (2016) of a certain political attachment to an idolatrous understanding of the separation of powers. Vermeule terms ‘idolatry of the separation of powers, in reference to a mechanic execution of the three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial). In this framework, anything that is excess to it is part of a narrative of betrayal. But it should not be so. This is what Landis called rather humorously the “attachment to the number three”:

“To condemn the administrative process simply because it is a fourth branch of government is not to consider what a branch implies. Four, five, and six branches of government may, of course, coexist without violating Montesquieu’s maxim, for the ultimate source and the ultimate division of power remains the same. It is the relations of the administrative state’s three departments of government that are important”  [6]

Needless to say, a mechanistic fixation to the tripartite separation of powers fails to account for the ways in which the administrative state is already an expression of specifically allocated knowledge, decisions, and state-national-agency conflicts over a long period of time.  The question that should be asked is not in which way the administrative state profanes a sacrosanct Madisonian separation of powers structure, but rather whether there are powers in separation that are legitimate within the classic design of contemporary government, which is what Vermeule brings to bear in his important book [7]. The fact that Hamburger is silent about the different arguments made on behalf of the administrative state’s legitimacy (Landis, Kagan, or Mashaw ), speaks about his originalist obliviousness to historical and legal evolutionary nature of the separation of powers. As a process of self-rationalization, the legitimacy of the administrative state is rooted in its immanent force against any transcendental arcanum. Hence, the way to test the status of legitimacy is not by probing on the grounds of the separated powers in 1789 or the seventeenth century, or in terms of what Madison or Montesquieu thought of them, but rather on how well those powers today can withhold actions within a frame of reasonable judgment regarding the material need of the res publica. The administrative state does not stand for a vicarious being, since its delegated powers are not ideal immovable concepts, but rational conditions for risk management of human action.

This leads me to the third and final premise of The Administrative Threat. Hamburger does have something to say about the current condition of citizenship, and it comes by way of the libertarian defense of civil rights. The idea here is that the administrative state trumps individual rights in the name of “public” rights, which Hamburger calls a “disgraceful assault on the Bill of Rights and the due process” (Hamburger 35). This argument is supplanted with a meditation on the historical valance between voting rights and the administrative state. Going as far as to the Wilson presidency, Hamburger shows that throughout the twentieth century, bureaucracies were at odds with the voting rights of disfranchised minorities. Of course, the implicit assertion here befalls on a defense of the courts, primarily the judicial activism of the Warren Court, which Bruce Ackerman, on the opposite side of the political spectrum has called the last legal revolution in American constitutional development [8]. This is even truer today in light of the Shelby County decision, and the rise of Kris Kobach or Jeff Sessions to national public office, both intellectually committed to voting suppression [9]. One could say that both Hamburger and Ackerman, albeit in very different ways, lament the dawn of the traditional judicial authority. But even if there were a one-direction movement between the expansion of rights and the rise of the administrative state, it seems illogical to defend a return of a court-centric model on the basis of past historical experiences.

If we are, indeed, at the end of the court-centric legal revolution model, are we to assume that the dismantling of the administrative state will restore its capacities? I am doubtful of the eschatological weight of such a proposal. And if voting rights is a concern for Philip Hamburger, why isn’t electoral reform an optimal option for democratic expansion? Of course, this would necessary entail something like a Federal Voting Commission, which would in turn require more of the administrative state. But we are in no position to think that if we were to imagine the end of the administrative state (even as a thought experiment), a new type of liberty would be distributed across the board.

Since today we are facing the end of the state form, any historical analogies with the past tremble on very weak grounds. Furthermore, we know that beyond the moment of casting a vote a ballot, a civil equality protection really amounts, as Anatole France used to say, to whether we chose to sleep in a park bench or under bridges. While might be true is that the administrative state is a neutralizer of political dynamics, to use the language of Carl Schmitt; it is in no way reasonable seek its destruction in the name of a libertarian ideal of freedom within an unequal social space. It is defeatist to turn to political theory in exchange for the integrity of administrative legality, as Hamburger seems to do here.

It is rather strange for a libertarian to end a book on a legitimacy crisis quoting Lenin. But there is another implicit paradox here on Hamburger’s part; mainly, that while Lenin offered a theory of state, we cannot say the same for Hamburger. The modern state was able to implement and model itself with commerce, but much harder is to image a state emerging from contemporary anarchic markets. Hamburger writes in a section sarcastically subtitled what is to be done?: “Lenin asked his fellow Russians, “What is to be done?”. Fortunately for Americans, the answer is not revolution but a traditional American defense of civil liberties. To this end, Americans will have to work through all three branches of government. Of course, none of the branches have thus far revealed much capacity to limit administrative power” (Hamburger 61). This is a self-defeating argument, since as Vermeule has argued quite convincingly, even if one could ‘magically’ undue the administrative state and return to the original institutional design of 1789, it will evolve into the administrative state. This is an argument centered on the integrity of the American legal development that Hamburger needs to ignore in order to render somewhat possible the return to the  idolatrous originalism of the separation of powers and principled judicial review. The other part of the ‘what is to be done’ plan resonates with a populist overtone: “Ultimately the defeat of administrative power will have to come from the people. Only their spirit of liberty moves Congress, inspires the president, and braces the judges…” (Hamburger 64).

But who are the People? Is We The People the progressive mobilizing force within a constitutional regime? Is the People here a spirit or idea for the return to the courts? It is difficult to say, mainly, because Hamburger himself has no idea either. I take this to be the impasse of libertarian and liberal thought facing the irreversibility of the administrative state. This explains why libertarians, at times, equate deregulation with lessening the administrative power. This impasse is, in effect, the same currently stamping Trump’s strange brand of populism, which has, on one end, the mission to ‘destroy the administrative state’, and on the other, the nationalist protectionist banner to cushion transnational market forces. For better or worse, neither of these two goals seems plausible together. At best, they represent a double-bind of the liberal impasse. Only in this sense, the administrative state is a temporary katechon [10].

The trumpist complexio oppositorum in the form of a schizophrenic symptom is showing, paradoxically, that the administrative state will only be reinforced through new checks and balances emerging from executive administrative inefficiency. We are now in conditions to reach a somewhat different conclusion from that of Hamburger’s: we are far from an absolutist monarchic regime, since the human cannot endure the absolutism of reality devoid of a sense of anticipation [11]. The principles of delegation and anticipation seem to be two components of the administrative state that have their legitimacy in modern self-rationalization. In the end, it might be Hamburger who, in validating an ostensible and yet dissolute world beyond administration, promises the humanity an archaic absolutism of an unbearable nature. However, no man can live in the absolute. But even if we are to image an alleged triumph of an original law under the supervision of a New Coke, this would require in the form of an eternal recurrence, the invention of the administrative state.

 

 

 

 

Notes

  1. See Braden, George D., “The Search for Objectivity in Constitutional Law”, Faculty Scholarship Series. 4031, 1948. However, for a contending non-political moral stand of the judicial process, see Alexander Bickel. “Constitutionalism and the Political Process”, in The Morality of Consent. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.
  2. See Vermeule’s argument on the lawfulness of administrative law on the principle of delegation through executive power in Law’s Abnegation (2016), 50-54 pp.
  3. Landis will write in The Administrative Process (1938): “A similar development with reference to the administrative seems more a matter of time than of political theory, of demonstration by the administrative that intervention of this character is futile and tends more to prejudice than to further a client’s cause”. 102-103 pp.
  4. Hans Blumenberg. Legitimacy of the Modern Age. MIT, 1985. 125-205 pp.
  5. Sunstein, Cass & Vermeule, Adrian. “The New Coke: On the Plural Aims of Administrative Law”. The Supreme Court Review, Number 1, Volume 2015.
  6. Landis, James M. The Administrative Process (1938). 88 pp.
  7. Vermeule Adrian, Law’s Abnegation: from law’s empire to the administrative state (Harvard U Press, 2016). 56-87 pp.
  8. Ackerman, Bruce. We The People III: The Civil Rights Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.
  9. Berman, Ari. “The Man Behind Trump’s Voter-Fraud Obsession”. New York Times, June 13, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/magazine/the-man-behind-trumps-voter-fraud-obsession.html
  10. On the administrative state as a counter-schmittian katechon, see my “The administrative state as a second Leviathan: a response to Giacommo Marramao”. Although I do not mean by any means that the administrative state is a universal katechon in the way that the Church and the early modern state were, but this I will try to develop somewhere. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/the-administrative-state-as-second-leviathan-a-response-to-giacomo-marramao-by-gerardo-munoz/
  11. On the absolutism of reality and the anthropogenesis of anticipation as an intrinsic separation of powers, see Hans Blumenberg’s Work on Myth (MIT, 1985). 2-40 pp.

Illegitimacy? Review of Giorgio Agamben’s The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days. By Gerardo Muñoz.

agamben mystery 2017Giorgio Agamben’s Il mistero del male, now translated in English as The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days (Stanford U Press, 2017), is an intense repudiation of the mundane legitimacy of every institution, costume, and political structure hitherto existing on earth. For Agamben, the decline towards illegitimacy has not been a matter of a few years or decades, but part of a larger inherited drama. The core of the book reads Benedict XVI’s “great refusal” as an ‘exemplary act’ [sic] against the Church, bringing to awareness a vital “loss of substantial legitimacy” (Agamben 3). Overstating the dual structure characteristic to Western governmentality – potestas and autorictas, or economy and mystery, legality and legitimacy – Agamben asserts that Ratzinger’s gesture cuts through the very thicket of the ekklesia arcanum, reversing the mystery of faith in time to the point of abandoning the very vicarship of Christ (Agamben 5). Of course, this comes as no surprise to those that have engaged with his prior The Kingdom and the Glory (2011), where Agamben interprets the Trinity as a stasiological foundation of an oikonomia that plays out (vicariously) as a praxis without Being [1].

In many ways, this essay is supplemental to the larger turn already undertaken in The Kingdom, only that this time, Agamben brings to focus a seminal institution of the Western political tradition. Here Agamben seems to be pressing more heavily on the state of global affairs in which the Church is a metonymy: “…if this gesture interests us, this certainly is not solely insofar as it refers to a problem internal to the Church, but much more because it allows us to focus on a genuinely political theme, that of justice, which like legitimacy cannot be the eliminated from the praxis of our society” (Agamben 16-17). This is consistent with overall structure of The Kingdom, by which the structure of the oikonomia is understood vis-à-vis the true ‘providential machine’ of human administration. So every administrative structure is illegitimate, since for Agamben, it governs through de-substantial vicarious being. It is a true ‘kakokenodicy’ (referring to the emptying) that can only justify effective evil (Agamben 36). To the extent that Agamben’s overarching project seeks to establish a responsive unity to the problem of discessio or internal division, it is not difficult to grasp how Benedict XVI’s return to Tyconius’ obscure thesis of the Church composite of good and evil is highly relevant, as we shall see.

We are far from Augustine’s City of God, where the split was produced between two cities, allowing for what Erik Peterson understood, against Schmitt, as the impossibility of any political theology. Tyconius is, in a sort of way, the persistence of an Anti-Augustinian gnosis. Agamben’s effort, let’s be clear, tries to make Augustine a son of Tyconius, which makes it even more mysterious; since whereas Augustine separated Church and Empire, Tyconius separates evil and good in the temporal katechontic nature of the Church (Agamben 10-11). Agamben cites Illich’s testimony to claim that the Church is always already mysterium iniquitatis as corruption optima pessima (the worst possible corruption of the best). But once again, Agamben seems to be forcing positions, since whereas for Illich the Church, consistent with Augustine, allowed for ius refomandi (reform), Agamben posits discessio as the arche of the corporeal Church, in this way reintroducing the myth of political theology to stage the mysterical drama of History.

In a strange sense, the mystery is not that mysterious. It becomes messianic eschatology on reserve. According to Agamben’s narrative, the Church as a dual nature of opposites, possesses an internal stasis between a temporal restrainer (katechon), the evil that runs counter to against law’s integrity (anomos), and the eschatological dimension of the End. This last character points to the Pauline’ messianicity, which allows Agamben to link Benjamin and Tyconius’ in a common salvific structure. As he writes: “The mysterium iniquitatis…is a historical drama, which is underway in every instant, so to speak, and in which the destiny of humanity, the salvation or fall of human beings, is always at stake.” (Agamben 14). Benedict XVI is a counter-katechon, as he is able to reveal, in his exodus, the eschatological structure that leaves behind the vicarious economy. According to Agamben, Benedict XVI’s message was “nothing but the capacity to keep oneself connected to one’s own end” (Agamben 16).

On the reverse, this entails subscribing a messianic turning of life from within the Church in order to posit a metapolitical form without remainder. The renunciation of the katechon implies that we are left with an economy (oikonomia) devoid of legitimacy. The central problem here is that history itself has become mystery of the economy, instead of an economy of mystery, which is the Pauline arche. What compensates for this illegitimacy becomes messianic politics that “does not remain a mere idea, entirely inert and impotent in the face of law and economy, but succeeds in finding political expression in a force capable of counter-balancing the progressing leaving out onto a single technico-economic plane of the two coordinated but radically heterogeneous principles [legitimacy and legality] that constitutes the most preciouses patrimony of European culture” (Agamben 18).

But if the machine of governance of the West is dual, playing legitimacy and legality in a skirmish co-dependency, why does Agamben conflate the renewal of legitimacy to the coming of a new politics? The reason seems to be that once you accept the condition that what exhausts government is an economical structure of the Christian katechon, you can then accept as exodus a metapolitics of salvation. What is interesting is that this politics, seemingly against Schmitt, actually re-enacts the same movement for an exact, albeit reverse, political trade-off. Agamben does not follow Peterson here. Let us recall that Peterson’s argument was never that the Church is an oikonomia, but that Schmitt’s totalizing and unifying political theology applied not to the Church, but only to Empire. This principial politics, as we know, has always led to catastrophic dominance, from Rome to Christian Monarchy to Nazi Germany. Counter to Schmitt, Agamben wants to produce not an imperial katechon, but “a time of the end, [where] mystery and history correspond without remainder” (Agamben 30).

The problem becomes that in order to set the stage for such “drama”, Agamben needs to avoid at all costs the Augustinian/Petersonian split of the Church in its facticity (as it actually happened). This explains why, in the second essay, history is understood as mysterical. In this context, it is noteworthy that Peterson is fully absent, even though he famously authored the essay “The Church”. There he writes in an important passage:

“The worship the Church celebrates is public worship and not a celebration of the mysterious; it is an obligatory public work, a leitourgia, and not an initiation dependent on voluntary judgment. The public-legal character of Christian worship reflects the fact that the church stands much closer to political entities like kingdom and polis, rather than voluntary associations and unions” [2].

I highlight Peterson’s reference to the “the mysterious”, because this is an explicit polemical stance against Casel, the Benedictine monk that informs Agamben’s mysterical adventure in history. But this has important implications, only two of which I will register here. First, accepting Casel’s mysterical Church leads us to conclude that internal worldly illegitimacy requires that we embrace a messianic politics ‘again’ (Agamben 38). In fact, politics is ultimate salvation in Tyconius, Casal, and Benjamin.

Secondly, mysterical historicity demands voluntary filiation. Agamben lays this out in plain sight: “it is in this drama, always underway, that all are called to play their part without reservation and ambiguity” (Agamben 39). Messianism forces agonic politics, displacing administrative vicarship with a conceptual theodicy. But profane life does not need to coincide with or abdicate a metapolitics of salvation. Now, if this is so, perhaps the accusation raised against governmental structure as illegitimate is in itself not legitimate. What if instead of being on the side of the metapolitics of the eschatological mystery, legitimacy is nothing other than the internal rational enactment of the separation of the profane that is always taking place in the world?

 

 

Notes

  1. Agamben writes in The Kingdom and the Glory (2011): “And, more generally, the intra-Trinitarian relation between the Father and the Son can be considered to be the theological paradigm of every potestas vicaria, in which every act of the vicar is considered to be a manifestation of the will of the one who is represented by him. And yet, as we have seen, the an-archic character of the Son, who is not founded ontologically in the Father, is essential to the Trinitarian economy. That is, the Trinitarian economy is the expression of an anarchic power and being that circulates among the three persons according to an essentially vicarious paradigm… The mystery of being and of the deity coincides entirely with its “economical” mystery. There is no substance of power, but only an “economy,” only a “government.” 138-39 pp.
  2. Erik Peterson. “The Church”. Theological Tractates (Stanford U Press, 2011). 38 pp.

 

Réplicas. Por José Luis Villacañas. 

Querido Gerardo: muchas gracias por tu comentario, que nos permite mantener la conversación que mantuvimos en Princeton. Wilson es un modelo para el pensamiento de Weber sobre el líder antiautoritario, desde luego. No conozco el libro que citas, pero me parece muy relevante y voy a hacerme con él. Pues lo peculiar de Weber es ciertamente una defensa del parlamentarismo. Este solo hecho hace de Schmitt un hijo ilegítimo de Weber. El parlamentarismo es electivamente afin con lo aprincipial, desde luego. La discusion infinita es el reconocimiento de la falta de fundamentos.

En realidad, el parlamento no es una escuela de teoría, sino una aspiración a la concreción y singularización de las decisiones y por eso es la mayor institución al servicio del control del estado administrativo. Por supuesto que el parlamento es coral, y desde luego no tiene nada que ver con el líder concentrado presidencial. Sin embargo, es el lugar en el que se puede apreciar la manera en que se acredita que alguien es capaz defender intereses materiales de los dominados.

Ahora bien, por si solo no es suficiente para controlar el estado administrativo, porque sería como perseguir el ratón al gato. De lo que se trata es de que el que da las órdenes en el estado administrativo tenga que responder también a los intereses de los dominados. Desde este punto de vista, argumenté que sólo las dos dimensiones (Parlamento y Gobierno) están en condiciones de controlar la burocracia.

El primero porque analiza las decisiones de los burócratas, las hace públicas, exige preguntas y describe procesos, por mucho que tengan base legal; el segundo porque permite que el activismo legislativo o incluso el ordenamiento esté en condiciones de responder a los intereses de los dominados. Sin esta figura, sólo se controlaría a la contra; por un presidente adecuado se presiona a favor de que se atiendan positivamente los intereses de los dominados. El parlamento en todo caso puede ser decisivo para que se no violen o se lesionen.

Querido Alberto: para comprender este debate debemos marcar el sentido bastante limitado de lo que Galli llama pensamiento moderno. Lo que Galli quiere es, como Duso, eliminar como marco de conversación el planteamiento de Hobbes. Esto significa que todo pensamiento contractualista moderno es principial y desde luego nadie quiere caer en sus redes. Desde luego, el pensamiento republicano no cae en esas redes porque ciertamente no asume esa creatio ex nihilo del contrato bajo ninguna de sus maneras. Y desde luego, tienes razón: el anarquismo no es sino una manifestación más radical de la teoría del contrato, como se descubre cuando observamos las deudas que Proudhon mantiene respecto de Rousseau.

Las paradojas de este pensamiento principial llevaron a Kant a hablar del contrato como un ideal del futuro y nunca como un fundamento político. Y desde luego, no confundo el anarco-populismo con el anarquismo en tanto tradición que forma parte de la historia de las ideas.

El problema, como dijimos en conversaciones anteriores, es definir bien el asunto a-principial. Y sinceramente, este es el punto que no entiendo bien. Pues lo decisivo para mí no es reconocer que desde luego nada en política ni en filosofía política invoca un fundamento. El hecho de que Laclau intente suturar su pensamiento político con el líder como referente vacío no es solo el más sincero de los reconocimientos de esa ausencia, sino también pensamiento no completamente reconciliado con ella, por cuanto intenta por todos los medios buscarle un subrogado. Sin embargo, no es claro para mí que las rupturas con los órdenes conceptuales fundamentales, y su disolución, signifique la ruptura con los órdenes materiales, y entre ellos los psíquicos. Y creo que hay una cierta filosofía de la historia cuando la primera destrucción se confunde con la segunda.

De hecho, acerca de esto iba mi conferencia, un tema al que nadie entró porque implica una relativización de la filosofía como aparato conceptual para apresar estas realidades materiales. La filosofía de la historia, siempre de naturaleza utópica, consiste en suponer que nos libramos de la historia justo al librarnos de algunos conceptos metafísicos. Esto me separa de los juegos conceptuales de Heidegger. Una filosofía aprincipial deja todavía muchas realidades materiales históricas operando.

Mi posición es que el populismo no puede ser hegemónico porque las realidades materiales no lo permitirán mientras el centro de gravedad de la vida histórica no se condense al límite de las tragedias. Mientras esto no ocurra, lo que quiere decir la teoría de la hegemonía de forma real es que los regímenes presidencialistas exigen que la población se divida en dos para la elección y que por tanto se tendrá tanto más poder cuanto más clara sea la división y menos se llegue a la mayoría sin compromisos de pactos. Pero en los regímenes parlamentarios la hegemonía no significa nada. Y el mayor de los errores de Iglesias ha sido acuñar un pensamiento de la hegemonía en un régimen parlamentario puro, que no tiene ningún escenario propio del presidencialismo.

El republicanismo por supuesto que comparte la conciencia de la necesidad de acabar con ese pensamiento principial. Pero reconoce que eso es una condición necesaria, pero en modo alguno suficiente para avanzar hacia un estado de mínima dominación del ser humano por el ser humano. Y llama la atención acerca de la carencia de mediaciones entre el anarco-populismo y la política. Por eso no se trata de populismo sin líder. Se trata de política capaz de reducir la dominación, lo que positivamente es otra cosa completamente. Y esto nos lleva a la cuestión de nuestro viejo debate.

El republicanismo no necesita de la hegemonía, pero sí necesita de la legitimidad. Y el problema es que la legitimidad no es una afirmación de arché. Y sin embargo, tampoco queda bien abordado mediante un pensamiento exclusivamente deconstructivo del arché. Aquí las categorías del republicanismo exige algún forma de diferencia entre decisiones, algo que no veo en el anarco-populismo que defiendes. Por eso creo que a partir del republicanismo se pueden traducir mejor las categorías de la emancipación.

 

(*Esta réplica contesta a los textos “Presidencialismo y liderazgo. Una pregunta para José Luis Villacañas”, de Gerardo Muñoz y “El desacuerdo de José Luis Villacañas”, de Alberto Moreiras.)

*Fotografía: Princeton University. April 7.2017.

The Paradox of the Void at the End of Hegemony: on Maristella Svampa’s Debates Latinoamericanos: Indianismo, desarrollo, dependencia, y populismo. Notes from Presentation & Workshop at the University of Pennsylvania. By Gerardo Muñoz.

debateslat2017Maristella Svampa’s most recent book Debates Latinoamericanos: Indianismo, desarollo, dependencia, y populismo (Edhasa 2016) is truly a significant book. It is the result of more than a decade of archival research and theoretical elaboration, with deep implications in the sociological and political scholarship of the region. In a recent workshop held at the University of Pennsylvania this week, Prof. Tulia Falletti referred to Svampa after the publication of Debates Latinoamericanos and Maldesarrollo (2014) as a “new Guillermo O’Donnell” given the long-lasting impact that her systematic work will produce for so many fields of investigation both in the United States and in Latin America. Framed through four competing analytical problems – indigeneity, development, dependency theory, and the Latin American populist tradition – Debates Latinoamericanos engages and assesses the limits of the political reflection of the region in the last half a century. Furthermore, the book is beneficial for both specialists and students, since it covers a large bulk of historiographical debates in a polemical fashion. And I say polemical here not just in terms of its heterodoxy, but also in terms of a polemos relief that moves thought forward, inviting further reflection and contestation.

In the space of a brief commentary on the book, I cannot attempt the impossible, and offer an substantial summary of such a massive book. Rather, I want to take this opportunity to advance some of the questions that we juggled a few days ago when I presented this book in a workshop. I also want to have in mind Maristella Svampa’s brilliant keynote on populism and the end of the Latin American Progressive Cycle, which she delivered the day after and that was linked to relevant problems elaborated in the book [1].

Svampa writes Debates Latinoamericanos facing the ruinous space of the political in the Latin American tradition. But what and where is the origin of this catastrophe? To what extent can we offer a counter-imperial explanation for imperial domination against a marginalized locality in the world system of modern capitalism? Svampa does not say that the counter-imperial position is insufficient as a model to explain internal expropriation and continuous democratic deficit, but she runs a scan through the different four paradigms that shed light to what is, certainly, the meaty question of Latin American political reason: why has there not been democratic legitimacy in the region for the last two hundred years? I want to pause briefly in a moment that seems to provide a good starting point for conversation, and that I think should be cited at length:

“En ambos países [Argentina y Chile] el espacio ocupado por los indígenas era visto como “desierto”, “espacio vacío”, o para utilizar libremente la imagen de David Viñas, como la “contradicción de lo vacío que debe ser llenado” (1981:73). En Argentina, la metáfora del desierto creaba así una determinada idea de la nación, que tanto había obsesionado a la Generación del 37: más que una nación para el desierto, se trata a de construir un desierto que justificara la expansión de la nación. En Argentina, la expansión del capitalismo agrario y la consolidación del Estado nacional (mediante la estrategia de control territorial y afirmación de la frontera con Chile), se realizaría a través de la violencia genocida contra las poblaciones originarias en diferentes campañas militares, en la Patagonia y en el norte del país, entre 1870 y 1885. Dicha violencia tuvo un efecto demoledor sobre los diferentes pueblos indígenas.” (Svampa 43)

At first sight, it could well be that this passage is just a strict gloss of Tulio Halperin Donghi’s Un nación para el desierto argentino (1989) juxtaposed with David Viñas ’ Indios, Ejercito, y Frontera (1983). But I want to suggest that Svampa is doing something else here too. Whereas for Halperin Donghi the Dessert Campaign commanded by General Roca was the consolidation and crowning of the national state, for Svampa it marks the void at the center and origin of the political in Argentina. The extermination of the indigenous population as a form of ongoing originary accumulation, to say it with John Kranaiuskas, is what is common to the historical development in neoliberal times. But I do not think that Svampa is in agreement with David Viñas’ thesis either. According to Viñas’ narrative, the military defeat of the indigenous community is equivalent, a mere repetition, to the desaparecidos of the military dictatorship during 1976-1983. This repetition points to an originary and symmetrical violence that must be overcome by revolution. As I have studied in my work on Viñas, this critique of historicism of the Argentine state remains within the horizon of revolutionary violence as transcendental excess for liberation [2].

Svampa seems to tell us that this paradox or contradiction at the void makes us aware of a different problem, but also of an alternate reasoning beyond national consolidation and subjective militant liberation. A few pages after this moment, Svampa writes: “Cierto es que la “invisibilización no los borró por completo, sino que los transformó en una presencia no-visible latente y culturalmente constitutiva de formas hegemónicas de la nacionalidad”. Tan hegemónico ha sido el dispositivo fundamental en la representación de la Argentina como nación que muchos argentinos que se lamentaron de la brutalidad de la Campaña del Desierto, incorporaron el dispositivo invisiblizador, contribuyendo a reproducir la idea de que lo indígena ya no es parte de la nación” (Svampa 45). This is telling for a number of reasons. But I mainly want to suggest that the paradox of the void is integral to the labor of hegemony, both as an apparatus of exclusion, but also in its function as a spectral and residual transport.

Whereas both Halperin and Viñas, one from the side of Liberalism and the other from Sartrean Marxism, subscribe a hegemonic closure of history, Svampa’s paradox of the void concerns the very articulation of hegemony as what is installed as the central problem of accounting for the democratic deficit of the region as well as for the exceptional and fissure legitimacy of sovereignty. It is in this way that documents as important as Alberdi’s axiomatic principle of “gobernar es poblar”, Rodolfo Walsh’s “Carta Abierta a la Junta Militar”, or even Ernesto Laclau’s theory of the empty signifier of populist theory, are just different variations the same problem; that is, heterogeneous ways of coming to terms with the paradox of the void, but only to legislate the time of its ruin. What is Laclau’s theory of hegemony if not the assumption that there is a void, but only to the extent that we must find an equivalent filling to constrain the cavity that is constitutive of its origin? Take, for instance, what Laclau says in a moment of his posthumous The Rhetorical Foundations of Society (2014):

“”…the precise relationship between ’empty’ and ‘floating’ signifiers – two terms that have had a considerable currency in contemporary semiotic and post-structuralist literature. In the case of a floating signifier…while an empty signifier on the contrary, would ultimately be a signifier would a signified. All this leads to an inevitable conclusion: understanding the workings of the ideological within the field of collective representations is synonymous with understanding this logic of simplification of the social field that we have called ‘equivalence’.” [3]

In her talk on the end of the Latin American Progressive Cycle, Svampa mentioned three analytical models of populism. First, there is the weak version associated with Loris Zanatta’s analysis which obstinately, and in my opinion erroneously, conflates populism and theological irrationalism. This allows for outrageous comparisons, such as that of Eva Perón with Marie Le Pen, or even Juan Domingo Perón with Trump or Eastern European fascism. Secondly, there is Laclau’s model as first elaborated in his early Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (1977) and later in his On Populist Reason (2002), which tried to advance a coterminous elaboration of hegemony theory with the political vis-à-vis discourse theory and lacanian topologies. Third, is the sociology of populism, which Svampa inscribes herself, in particular elaborated in her book La plaza vacía: las transformaciones del peronismo (1997). This model is also shared by political scientists such as Margarita Lopez Maya, Carlos de la Torre, and in a different way with Benjamin Arditi. This third option is what Svampa offered as a model of “ambivalent populism”, which is in constant struggle with the problem of democracy. But just like the label suggests, ambivalent populism remains just that: ambivalent, which amounts to an impasse and limit. Can we move beyond it?

I read Debates Latinoamericanos as a timely opportunity to pose this problem, and think further. In response to my question about the possibility of a democratic populism without hegemonic closure and charismatic leadership, Svampa mentioned that in Latin America there has been only populisms of hegemony and nothing else. It is also clear that in Latinamericanist reflection, the narrative has been thoroughly populist, but only disguised as “cultural studies”, which was argued already late nineties by Jon Beasley-Murray. It is time to move beyond hegemony theory, in particular if it has proven catastrophic in short and long terms across the political spectrum. Populism with hegemony cannot fly very high, and there is no need to carry heavy burdens of a time long gone [3]. It is time to abandon it. If times have changed, and the composition of the national popular or integral state is no longer the main restraint of politics in the external global networks or even in the internal expansion of the administrative law, it only makes sense that we move towards a demotic populism for posthegemonic times.

This displacement will make a crucial difference between, on one hand, a posthegemonic populist experiment, and on the other a reactionary populism. Whereas right-wing charismatic leaders such as Le Pen or Petry promise a popular nationalism, they do so on the (false) premise that something other than factual globalization is still possible and better. The same could be argued in terms of the rule of law. According to Bruce Ackerman, there are moments of popular expansion of unmet social demands, and there are reactionary constitutional moments that restrain or betray these goals (take the Shelby County vs. Holder case of 2013 decided by the Roberts Court against the constitutionality of two key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965) [5]. Neither delinking from the global economy nor a remote imperial past is desirable as the political fate for millions of citizens and social communities of the West. Such a demand, if called upon, could only be part of a decolonial neo-imperial fantasy. On the reserve of reaction, we could think about Errejón’s important political program “Recuparar la Ilusión”: here we have a great populist proposal that is based neither on charismatic presidentialism, nor in delinking from the Eurozone. Errejón openly sketches a program based on democratic transversality and European integration. In fact, the defeat of Errejón in the Second Congress held in Vistalegre earlier this year was a political catastrophe for those hoping for democratic revival in the European zone.

But we can also look at the so-called emergence of the Right in Latin America. Svampa correctly pointed out that Mauricio Macri’s government has not defunded the main welfare programs of the state during kirchnerismo. This is consistent with Pablo Stefanoni’s hypothesis a couple of years before the meltdown of the progressive cycle, that suggested that after a decade out of power, the Right might have learned to move around the structures of the state in tandem with global multinationals, avoiding the conditions of possibility that early in the millennium, led to the overthrow of several presidents in Argentina, and to the political rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela [6]. In a strange way, the Right knows better than anyone that the situation is no longer that of the 30’s or 40’s (or even the 90’s!), and that in order to foster new and stealth forms of domination, there is a need for constant adjustment. It is time for the Left to also learn from its mistakes if it wants to avoid the pendulum movement that bestows the dismantling of the social gains of the regulatory state in a time of decentralized administrations. Thus, it is not exaggerated or immodest to say that only by affirming a posthegemonic politics does a new progressive project have the capability for a democratic reinvention in Latin America, and across Europe where the future is even gloomier.

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Maristella Svampa. “Latin American Populisms at the End of the Progressive Cycle”. Talk given at the University of Pennsylvania, April 5, 2017. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/lals/event/lalses-seminar-2
  2. See my “Gloria y revolución en David Viñas: sobre “Sábado de Gloria en la Capital (Socialista) de América Latina”. La Habana Elegante, Mayo de 2012. http://www.habanaelegante.com/Archivo_Revolucion/Revolucion_Munoz.html . Also, John Kraniauskas, “Gobernar es repoblar: sobre la acumulación originaria neoliberal” (2003).
  3. Ernesto Laclau. “The Death and Resurrection of the Theory of Ideology”, in The Rhetorical Foundations of Society. London: Verso, 2014.
  4. The idea of hegemony as heavy weight that leads to disaster has been recently posed by Moreiras when reading Podemos in Spain, See, Alberto Moreiras. “The Populist Debate in Spain after 20-D”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/the-populist-debate-in-spain-after-20-d-draft-paper-for-mla-2017-by-alberto-moreiras/
  5. Bruce Ackerman. “Reactionary Constitutional Moments: Further Thoughts on The Civil Rights Revolution”. Jerusalem Review of Legal Studies (2016) 13: 47-58.
  6. Pablo Stefanoni. “La lulización de la izquierda latinoamericana”. http://www.eldiplo.org/notas-web/la-lulizacion-de-la-izquierda-latinoamericana

*This a commentary related to a two-day discussion with Maristella Svampa that took place at the University of Pennsylvania, April 4-5, 2017. The two events were organized by the Latino and Latin American Program & Political Science Dept. This is a work in progress for a forthcoming publication [DNC].

Is There an Infrapolitical Dignity Worthy of the Name? By Gareth Williams.

Rome dignitas

Geoffrey Bennington, Scatter 1: The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger and Derrida. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.

My presentation is framed as a question, but is simply an attempt to think alongside scatter, with no definitive response to the question itself. I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Alberto Moreiras for this gathering, and my admiration to Geoffrey Bennington for Scatter 1, which, via the “politics of politics” in Foucault, Heidegger and Derrida, posits a thinking not of the political per se, but of a certain autoimmune distance from the political, which is, of course, a distance from politics understood as the dialectical orientation and administration of force. Bennington proposes a dismantling of the hermeneutics of the political, and, as such, a deconstruction of the originary polemos/polis relation. He does this in such a way as to unveil—that is, to loosen and scatter—just some of the originary concealments that lie at the heart of the political. Bennington presents us with what one might call, perhaps a little inappropriately, a form of anticipatory resoluteness that is extended, however, not in the name of power over Dasein’s existence, as in Heidegger’s not so surreptitious decision, but in the name of autoimmunity. This movement uncovers a “modest falling short of the transcendental”; the potentiality of a turn toward a thinking of autoimmunity that traces the contours of a thinking without mastery; an opening to a certain environmentality within thinking that remains at a significant remove from the dialectic of reason and the certainties of political consciousness that animate every teleology.

We could understand Scatter1, therefore, as a protocol of reading that highlights, and animates, a certain trembling at the heart of the political; a trembling that is covered over, concealed, and systematically rendered oblivious in the name of teleology. Bennington’s is a protocol that is extended with a view to dispersing all fugitive Self-Other concealments. This is obviously not the work of a card carrying Heideggerian, however. Quite the contrary, the author proposes the detours of scatter in such a way as to open up a task for thinking that does not regurgitate Heidegger’s troublesome metaphorics of proximity and gathering; a metaphorics that Derrida in May ‘68 (“The Ends of Man”), but also in his lectures from a few years before On the Question of Being and History, had already outlined as a thinking of “simple and immediate presence, a metaphorics associating the proximity of Being with the values of neighboring, shelter, house, service, guard, voice and listening” (“Ends, 130). As Derrida highlights in reference to Heideggerian metaphorics, this is “not an insignificant rhetoric” (130).

With this in mind, Scatter 1 takes aim at the underlying problems of the “moment of vision” (Augenblikt), which Heidegger developed with a view to anchoring and holding together the factical and the transcendental, the existential and the existentiell; the gathering together of all thrownness, dispersal and ek-sistence. In contrast to Heidegger’s moment of vision, Bennington invites us to approach the politics of politics in the absence of such a problematic metaphorics, in the process raising the question of metaphoricity in general, and along with it the very conceivability of plurality, coexistence and simultaneity.

Echoing Derrida’s “differance”, Scatter 1 offers its readers the tomb of the proper, the death of the tyranny contained in Heidegger’s metaphysics of gathering and proximity (Derrdia, 1972, 4). As such, the politics of politics unveils an economy of death that lies at the heart of the metaphorics of the familial and the proper. Rather than positing presence, scatter loosens, breaches and breaks open in a movement toward the politics of politics; politics in its autoimmune self-difference, or alter. The politics of politics marks not the sign politics, but the sign of the sign, and therefore the opening to the unveiling trace of the erasure of the trace itself. As a result, Scatter is the movement of an autoimmune destitution of political presence that moves in the name of an economy without reserve, always preceding and differentiating itself from the political.

In these movements the politics of politics governs nothing. If it is anything, scatter is the name for that which “lingers in the expanse of unconcealment” (Derrida,”Ousia and gramme), and, as such, in the expanse of the trace of the erasure of the trace. Scatter is a thought of lingering and of falling short. Making the unveiling of oblivion the issue not of politics, but of the politics of politics, scatter suspends teleology from the start, in the name of always, humbly, and necessarily, falling short of gathering. As such, it remains at all times without a kingdom and without an epoch; as Derrida observes in reference to differance, which remains at all times the underlying movement of scatter, it is an “affirmation foreign to all dialectics” (27). As a result, there is no philosophy of bios and zoe available to us here; there is no affirmative biopolitics in scatter. Rather, it is thinking in the name of blind tactics, empirical wandering (Derrida, 7), and the circumventing of the willful politics of the decision, of any specific political consciousness, and of the operation or action of a subject on an object. In scatter sovereignty is nothing and the only democracy worthy of the name would be an-archic.

This is, of course, a fundamental project for our times, understanding our times as our atrocious, forced familiarity with a seismic shift in the coordination of teleology and eschatology that we have come to call globalization. Half a century ago, in “The Ends of Man”, Derrida first approached the question of dignity and democracy, highlighting the following limit: “What is difficult to think today is an end of man which would not be organized by a dialectics of truth and negativity, an end of man which would not be a teleology in the first person plural” (121). Fifty years later our phrasing would have to be slightly different, since that limit evoked by Derrida has been displaced by the globalizaton of techne and the determination of humanity as standing reserve. In these dire circumstances, we might now have to say that what is difficult to think is an end of man that could possibly be organized by a dialectics of truth and negativity, an end of man that could possibly be a teleology in the first person plural, other than that which leads to the eschaton of complete nomic collapse, of course.

It is in this context that Bennington returns to Derrida’s approach to, and distancing from, the Kantian stipulation that a dignity “worthy of the name” be returned to politics, in such a way that a new politics—a repoliticization, another concept of the political—be forged in which rational beings are treated always as an end, “and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will” (Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals). What is ultimately at stake (and this is inevitable in this proposition) is the aporia of a political re-instrumentalization of man as an end in itself, rather than as a value, even though dignitas is only ever an expression of value—of a certain auctoritas—and, as such, the expression of a certain property of the State. The question of force still, and perhaps only ever, haunts this attempt to make room for, and to distance oneself from, dignity in the politics, property and titles of the State.

Bennington asks: “Is it possible to think of a dignity that is not bound up in (and, one might be temped to say, compromised by) the teleological structures of the Kantian Idea?” It is this question that leads to the question of the structure of (in)dignity—the constitutive indignity—that upholds “the supposed dignity of [all] metaphysical concepts”. From an infrapolitical, rather than from a classical political perspective, what is at stake here is how to try to make room not for dignity in real politics, and therefore in the administration of force (auctoritas), but to let the dignity of a remove from the metaphysics of force (that is, a constitutive indignity) be involved in existence. With this question of constitutive indignity in mind, we are left to wonder if there is an infrapolitical inflection—an inflection that is without doubt akin at all times to the protocols of deconstruction, but that is not necessarily bound by the protocols of deconstruction—; I repeat, is there an infrapolitical inflection available to us that might allow us to reckon with the distance from auctoritas, from the property titles of the State or the dignity of metaphysics, from a site other than that of the Kantian inheritance that Derrida reckons with from “The Ends of Man” (1968) all the way through to the end itself in 2004?

At this point I will merely offer an example, and that, precisely, is the weakness of everything that follows (though in Specters of Marx Derrida notes that “an example always carries beyond itself; it opens up a testamentary dimension” (41). I wonder, then, whether in the example there lies the problem and possibility of an infrapolitical inflection that turns away from the political, and turns in the direction of allowing that the dignity of a remove from force be involved not in politics, but in existence.

Of all people, it is Cicero the elderly statesman who might exemplify such an inflection. In a brief essay published in 1960, the Oxford classicist J.P.V.D. Balsdon recounts Cicero’s return from exile and ultimate political capitulation in 56BC, when, in the face of “the prolonged triumph of gangsterdom which followed his exile” (49), Cicero found himself obliged to turn his back on the dignity and prestige of a public life. He had become an ineffective pariah in the motley world of populist resentment. What is at stake in Balsdon’s treatment of this moment in the history of the Republic are the slight shifts in Cicero’s uses of the terms dignitas and otium, together, at this particular time of capitulation and relinquishment.

In general, the term otium referred to the private or retired, as opposed to active public, life. However, in public life otium could also refer to peace and freedom from disturbance, or relief after war and internal disorder (47). It referred to a form of serenity or harmony in the wake of war. Upon Cicero’s political capitulation, Balsdon says, “the opening remark of the De Oratore, [signaling pseudos] which was finished in 55, introduces the new conception ‘cum dignitate otium’. ‘Otium’ is now retirement, the condition of the elder statesman who turns his back on the political. His active political life, his consulships and proconsulships are at an end (49). “Battling through the stormy seas of popular agitation”, observes Balsdon, Cicero had to “make for a different harbor . . . ‘cum dignitate otium’” (50). For the classicist Balsdon this is a harbor of studious relief from disturbance, freedom from agitation, and relief after war and internal disorder, for “persistence in opposition which was doomed to ineffectiveness would not, for the Roman world at large, promote “cum dignitate otium’” (50).

Learning to turn one’s back on the political in order to exist “cum dignitate otium”, learning to be without or in the absence of the dignitas of auctoritas, and, as a result, detouring back toward the constitutive indignity of the pre-political, and doing so while understanding at all times the agitations of the world of force, Cicero would have confronted and suffered the weight of a dignity uprooted from all titles of community. This would have been a dignity without dwelling in political life, and therefore not entirely worthy of its name, since at the same time it would have been a return to a constitutive indignity that was destined to always fall short of the political metaphysics of gathering, of majesty, or of any harbor.

Surely Cicero would have lived it as a “sad or sober pragmatic renunciation of some fuller version of dignity”, as Bennington puts it at the end of Scatter. But perhaps one could speculate that it is here—“cum dignitate otium”, in the infrapolitical turn back to a constitutive indignity that is exposed to real and symbolic death itself—that one could learn to exist, think, and write in an infrapolitical rather than a political fashion. It is there that one might have to learn to live with the without, in such a way as to exist not in the name of dignity or of a future politics or communal title anchored by the sublime or the general structure of “going beyond”, but in the name of a without that nevertheless lets the dignity of the remove from the public world of force be involved in existence. Perhaps it is cum dignitate otium’s passive movement of allowing to be involved in existence—of a care for that which comes at a remove from the biopolitical orientation and administration of forcethat forges the possibility not of a new democratic form, of a re-democratization built liberally on the logics of inclusion and exclusion, but of an infrapolitical scatter of mastery and title that casts freedom from among the ashes.