First of all, do take a look at Jon Beasley-Murray’s previous blog on Althusser’s Machiavelli: http://posthegemony.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/machiavelli-and-us/. What follows, and what antecedes in my previous post, are just an elaboration of it.
In “La récurrence du vide chez Louis Althusser,” another essay published as an appendix to the book edition in French of Machiavel et nous, Francois Matheron quotes a private communication from Althusser to some of his friends: “It so happens we have a certain number of definite means that we are the only ones to have. It just happens that, as a function of this transitory privilege, we are the only ones that can occupy, and that occupy, an empty space: the space of Marxist-Leninist theory, and more particularly the place of Marxist-Leninist philosophy” (224-25). It is an intriguing text, where Althusser is saying “we are here, we might as well use it.” Or even: “we are here. We must use it. If not us, then who?” Which means that the space Althusser and his friends occupy is the mere occasion to launch the possibility of a beginning, of a political beginning. The occasion binds the political agent to the very extent that the political agent is only an agent seeking an occasion. It is a structural place, in the sense that it is a particular site within the general structure, but it is more than anything a conjunctural place. From which to make a leap, were it the case that Fortune helped. In the meantime, one is not in politics, but preparing for politics. Preparing the necessary virtue. Thinking under the conjuncture. Waiting in active waiting.
This means, a political objective must be in place, which we need to understand under the figure of “determinate absence” (Machiavel 137). It is not there, or rather, it is there but under the form of a void that must be filled. And it will only be filled if an encounter were to happen that cannot be anticipated, only desired. A political act is always an absolute beginning because its event is aleatory.
Althusser and his friends are therefore preparing themselves to take on the role of the New Prince, which they understand can only happen from within the Party. The Party is seen as a necessary part of the conjuncture, as a necessary part of political virtue, but also as a necessary part of historical Fortune. In the name of a political objective, which is no longer, for Althusser and his friends, the constitution of a lasting national State, but rather the constitution of the state of communism. This complicates the notion of “determinate absence.” For Machiavelli, the determinate absence could only be filled by the absolute solitude of the New Prince. But the absolute solitude of the Prince can hardly be translated to the solitude of the Party. There is no solitude to the Party, witness Althusser’s own words to his friends.
Althusser has of course denied that Machiavelli must be understood as a democratic republican, and even more so that he has any secret or esoteric intentions. Everything is out in the open if one cares to understand The Prince in the context of the Discourses. What is at stake is the creation of a new political space, a lasting national Italian space, without tyranny, with laws that can protect the people. Against whom? Not just against foreign agents, but particularly against the grossi, the dominant class. The dominant class is characterized by its desire to command, by its desire to oppress. The small people, the people as such, only care about their own safety. Freedom is for them freedom from oppression. If the Prince must on occasion act as a scoundrel, well, it can be forgiven if it is done for the sake of a lasting national constitution without tyranny. But it won’t be forgiven if it results in tyranny.
The solitude of the Prince is then compensated, at a second or later moment, by the Prince becoming the people. This is the politics of the day-after, in other words, not the politics of the act of political irruption, not the politics of the aleatory encounter that might enable a change in the coordinates of the situation, even an impossible change (a change that only becomes possible after it happens, but could not have been predicted). One supposes the Party must follow a similar course, since the Party is the new Prince. The Party must become the people, even if only after power has been taken, that is, starting the day after. This might be the task prospectively self-assigned to Marxist-Leninist philosophy and his agents, Althusser and his friends. Discussing this, still allegorically, still in the name of an exegesis of Machiavelli´s work, is presumably the object of the last extant chapter in Machiavel et nous (which we know was left unfinished).
It has to do with the development of the Marxist State apparatus, and Althusser’s first interest is then showing the similarity between Machiavelli’s take and the Marxist one. For Althusser, Machiavelli would already be signaling in the direction of Gramsci’s definition of the state, “une hégémonie (consentement) bardée de coercition (force)” (147). Beasley-Murray is right, in his blog entry mentioned above, that what follows is a fundamental endorsement of hegemony theory through the analysis of the Machiavellian popular army, the function of base ideologies (religion) and secondary ideologies, and particularly of the Prince as state individual.
And it is in the analysis of the latter that a curious contradiction comes up. The Prince must “become the people,” but it turns out to be a fake becoming. The Prince is before all, through his or her very virtue, a master of what Kant would have called radical evil, that is, a master at making political appearances look like righteous behavior. It is always a matter of fooling the people, then, either with the truth, that is, by conforming to the ideology that supports the state (religion, laws), or with a falsity meant to appear as a truth. That is, even the Prince’s righteous behavior appears as a form of deceit, once it is accepted that the capability of becoming evil is also proper to the Prince. Because the people, il volgo, want to be content, the Prince must do everything he or she can to keep them ideologically content—and this is of course the limit of the hegemonic model Althusser establishes Machiavelli proposes, and Althusser seems to sanction. “Parmi tous les tromperies possibles, il en est une qui intéresse le Prince: la tromperie par excellence, celle qui présente aux hommes l’apparence mëme en laquelle ils croient, qu’ils se reconnaissent, oú ils se reconnaissent, disons oú leur idéologies se reconnaït en eux, celle des lois morales et religieuses” (169).
The fakely-becoming-people of the Prince is never addressed as such except as a political necessity. But it marks a gap, or a “vide,” to use one of Althusser’s favorite words, in the very conception of politics proposed. Politics takes absolute priority, for the sake of its end, true (Althusser has argued earlier that the prevalence of the end makes Machiavelli´s theory anything but a form of pragmatism: “only results count, but it is only the end that judges the results that count” ), except that the end, politically speaking, is the necessary becoming people of the Prince, which is barred through the essential falsity of the Prince’s political action. When we transpose this situation to the actions of the Party, either before or after it takes power, we can see how unsatisfactory the theory becomes. Just as unsatisfactory as the history we know. If, as Althusser puts it, the Prince looks, not for the love, but for the “friendship” of the people (172), even as State individual, then the friendship gained in the political game remains a function not just of consent and coercion, but of duped concern sustained in the violence of the constant ruse (in addition to coercion based on force). Bad friendship, which may be all hegemony can offer at best. Althusser calls it “ideological politics” (173).
It is clear that Althusser’s text does not manage to resolve the tension between politics as aleatory encounter, as the virtuous ability to seize the unforeseeable conjuncture and to keep itself within the rigor of the unforeseeable, and the hegemonic politics of the day-after, which are no longer aleatory politics, but a politics determined to gain and accumulate at the cost of perfectly foreseeable and presumably systematically organized state duping. Critics have become accustomed to accepting something like two Althussers that can find no common ground. Beasley-Murray associates posthegemony to the Althusser of the encounter, to the extent that the notion of the aleatory encounter as master trope of political action excludes and must even denounce hegemonic procedures of constitution.
But does infrapolitics figure here? Clearly, Althusser’s intent, whether it is the first or the other Althusser, is to theorize the political as such. That it is an insufficient and broken theorization (and I do recommend Francois Matheron’s “’Des problèmes qu’il faudra bien appeler d’un autre nom et peut-ëtre politique’”), that politics ends up offering a disappointing result, may point the way towards the need for infrapolitical reflection. So far we can only see it in the definition of il volgo as those who do not have the desire to command and opress but would rather be left alone in their everyday life, would rather reject the false friendship of the Prince who prides herself or himself in her or his capability for evil and ruses.
If we may understand infrapolitics as the region of historical facticity, the factical opening of historical space, that is, of spatial temporality for a life, for any life, infrapolitical reflection is first of all a destruction of political inconsistency, which ceaselessly hijacks both time and space (it is not only that, as Marx puts it in the Grundrisse, all economy is an economy of time, but all politics are equally a politics of time). It is as a destroyer of political inconsistency, which may be politics’ only consistency, that Althusser’s essay on Machiavelli may be claimed to be part of the infrapolitical archive. When it comes to infrapolitics, perhaps the people will decide that they have better things to do than to prepare for politics, than to wait in active waiting for an event of beginning. Perhaps, after all, thinking under the conjuncture may enable us to dismiss the conjuncture, and to look for something else.