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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

Legitimacy and the administrative state. By Gerardo Muñoz.

To follow up on my previous responses (that can be read here and here) in conversation with José Luis Villacañas’ lecture on Weber and populism, I want to return one more time to the question of legitimacy. I do not want to repeat what I have already said in the other commentaries, rather this time I want to specify the nexus between the administrative state and legitimacy. That is the purpose of this commentary, anticipating a more elaborate presentation of this problem in an upcoming conference at the University of Rome.

The heart of the problem can be laid out in a straightforward manner: is the administrative state legitimate? And if so, from where does the administrative state derive its legitimacy? For a moment I’ll leave aside the fact that for a wide range of legal scholarship, bureaucratic order itself is a material source of legitimation, in part because administration purports separation of the private/public spheres, and deters corruption, thus upholding the well-being of the social. But this answer is in itself tautological and needs of descriptive substance.

Here I find Adrian Vermeule’s typology of the legitimatization of the administrative state helpful and pertinent for a number of reasons. For one, it allows me to affirm my position in this debate [1]. As Vermeule fleshes out, the question of legitimacy of the administrative state is not new, and only recently – that is, the post-Reagan period, once the Federalist Society began having effective impact in the wake of the Neo-Conservative movement – has the legitimacy of the administrative state been challenged on the basis of it being inconsistent with the separation of powers (Epstein 2008, Hamburger 2014).

I cannot go into details about the reason of this development in the space of this commentary. Let me jump right into the analysis. Vermeule notes that the way in which the legitimacy of the administrative state has been posited – from the New Dealers of the 1930s to the current Supreme Court – takes different paths to understanding the core problem of “independence”. This is of no minor importance, since independence of the legislative deference and execution of an agency statute, has everything to do with what Moreiras and Villacañas understand as the reduction of the factual condition of domination. This is also a crucial premise as to move in the direction of a posthegemonic democracy, regardless of how it is defined and developed in each case.

Vermeule insists that “independence” has a heterogeneous form of legitimation of the administrative state in three main tracks (it does not mean that there are only three, but at least these have been highly influential): 1. the one posited by James Landis in Administrative Process (1938) who sought to provide independence of the administrative agency from the executive power; 2. Louis Jaffe’s formulaic deference of a strong position of independent judicial review of agencies; 3. Kagan’s inversion of Landis, who in the early 2001, interprets “independence” of the President against interests groups, or crony interest-restricted legislators. Regardless of the different premises and relational valences of these forms of administrative law, I agree with Vermeule that they affirm a common and perhaps dual legitimization value: to establish independence and internal legal pluralism.

There is good and bad news here for Republicanism. First, the bad news: the forms of legitimization of administrative law emerge in the wake of the crisis of the traditional Madisonian division of powers. However, the crisis of the archaic formulation should not produce neither horror nor nostalgia. In any case, this is an aspect that must be discussed after Villacañas’ own philosophical defense of the division of powers in genealogy of the Western tradition in his Teología Política Imperial (Trotta, 2006). As for the good news: the hermeneutics of administrative legitimation are affirmed on the ground of the equilibrium and an internal pluralism, which is how Vermeule establishes his stance against contemporary anti-administrative libertarians. This entails that the administrative state is not the abdication of the rule of law in a drift towards tyranny or unpopular rule, but rather part of an elastic historical development in a complex field of tensions [2].

Why is this important for thinking populism today? For one, because Villacañas’ Weberian position even when placed in the “factual grid” of the administrative state, perfectly convergences with Elena Kagan’s position (the third path of legitimation). In fact, Vermeule describes Kagan’s most important and enduring contribution in a way that we could also ascribe to Villacañas:

“A constitutional vision that attempt to combined two intellectual and constitutional strands that had often been assumed to be in tension with one another, or even outright contrition. The first strand was technical administration, whose major tool is quantified cost-benefit analysis; the second was Hamiltonian political leadership by an energetic elected President, who hallmark is accountability to a broad national public” (Vermeule 18).

This is precisely what Villacañas’ response to me meant regarding the potential dismissal (in Castilian: “la patatada en el culo”) of the charismatic leader when he fails to meet the material needs of the People. In effect, this is completely consistent with Weber’s defense of presidentialism in “The Reich President” (not really the same as “charismatic leadership”), as a form of the checking the bureaucracy in line with the Hamiltonian vision of the modern state [3]. So, here is the big picture: whereas Landis favored anti-Presidentialist stance during New Deal legislation, in the case of Kagan it is the figure of the President that can advance the needs of the People in any given circumstance. It is interestingly enough that President Obama (who was a constitutionalist) followed more the track of Landis and not that of Kagan.

It is clear why Kagan needs to embrace a thin margin of presidentialism as a process of legitimation, since to do so entails reducing the ascending problem of factionalism, narrow interests, bad administration, or even more recent problems such as big financial conglomerates (Vermeule 23). Here the contending debate between populism as charismatic leadership (Villacañas), and an anarchic populism (Moreiras) on the other is also properly defined. Whereas I agree with Kagan and Villacañas that presidentialism could buffer certain corporate interests (“la casta”, in Podemos is a perfect example) and the weight of agencies, I also agree with Moreiras that then this could only mean that the “President” is no longer a political figure, but rather a mere administrator, a gestor [4]. The President becomes the perfect justification of an Enlightened monarch (in a phrase revered by Peterson in his response against Schmitt’ political theology): the King rules but does not govern. But I would add, he does function as a filter for what Vermeule calls “accountability to a broad national public”, which is synonymous with what Villacañas calls the “material interests of the People”.

I end with a question to align a few problems for further investigation: if the President is a mere filter in a complex structure that is the political fabric of the administrative state today, isn’t he already a sort of de-centralized and an-archic figure? Also: can there be, for instance, a concrete moment of demand of the People if there are only administrative agencies? Only placed in this backdrop does posthegemonic populism becomes clear: neither effective administrative law without the expansion of the democratic demand, nor effective or defective presidentialism. After all, no threat of factionalism has been tamed from a secure position of leadership without, at the same time, necessarily bending towards the expansion of its own (imperial) hegemony, which always amounts to the phantasm of a corrupted legitimacy.





  1. Adrian Vermeule. “Bureaucracy and Distrust: Landis, Jaffe, and Kagan on the Administrative State”. Forthcoming, Harvard Law Review, 2017.
  1. For Adrian Vermeule, the crisis of legitimacy is actually is greatest strength. See, “What Legitimacy Crisis?” CATO UNBOUND (May 9, 2016). https://www.-
  1. Max Weber presents in “The Reich President” (Social Research, 1987) a defense of presidentialism that is the principle to both Villacañas and Kagan: “For the great movement of democratic party life which develops alongside these popular elections will benefit parliament as well. A president elected by means of particular constellations and coalitions of parties is politically a dead man when these constellations shift. A popularly elected president as head of the executive, head of office patronage, and perhaps possessor of a delaying veto and of the authority to dissolve parliament and to call referenda, is the guarantor of true democracy, which means not feeble surrender to cliques but subjection to leaders chosen by the people them.” 132 pp.
  1. Alberto Moreiras: “Este es por lo tanto un populismo sin líderes (o sin líderes en función hegemónica), es decir, un populismo en el que la posición de líder—el notorio “significante vacío”—está ocupada por el gestor de la radicalidad democrática, y solo por él o ella en cada caso, a cualquier nivel administrativo (seguir llamando a ese “gestor de la radicalidad democrática” líder, o jefe, o caudillo, sería un capricho arbitrario).”. “La hipótesis Podemos”.

Una nota a la pregunta a José Luis Villacañas. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

El intercambio con Villacañas y Moreiras ha sido iluminador, en parte, porque como decía un amigo por comunicación privada estas notas ayudan a delinear posiciones. Yo no quiero disputar ninguna parte de los argumentos, y lo que sigue es tan solo un apunte mental hecho público sobre lo que me parece que es una posición de desacuerdo y que pudiera ser tema de futuros debates. Aunque el punto del desacuerdo tampoco es tan nuevo.

Me refiero, desde luego, a lo que Villacañas llama la necesidad de legitimidad en su réplica a Moreiras. En específico, J.L.V escribe: “El republicanismo no necesita de la hegemonía, pero si necesita de la legitimidad. Y el problema es que la legitimidad no es una afirmación de archē” [1]. Pero, ¿por qué no puede la legitimidad ser jamás una afirmación arcaica? Es sabido que Weber en Economía y Sociedad habla del necesario arcano de la dominación, pero solo como trazo transitorio hacia una función moderna de los tres tipos de apelación a la legitimación racional (la tipología tripartita: racionalización, autoridad personal, y carisma) [2].

Pero lo que Villacañas entiende por legitimidad tiene sus propios tintes, y ya ha quedado muy bien esbozado en su importante ensayo “Poshegemonía de Gramsci a Weber”. Allí, J.LV. pide el abandono de la hegemonía gramsciana en nombre de una noción de legitimidad en función de una institución visible [sic], capaz de renovación en cada instancia, y garante del pacto social [3]. Y es cierto que esto no tiene nada que ver con un principio legislativo supremo o metafísico, tal y como lo comenta Schürmann en el apartado sobre la legitimidad y la legalidad en la primera parte de Broken Hegemonies.

Ahora bien, en la medida en que la legitimidad no tiene arcano, habría que preguntarse si en el momento de la expansión del estado administrativo – que pienso que es consistente con lo que Moreiras llama la ruina del orden categorial moderno de lo político, o lo que Williams llama decontainment – no hace de la legitimidad algo defectuoso. Pero defectuoso ya no como ‘equilibrio’ de movilización e instalación propiamente político, sino defectuoso en el sentido de un vacío o abismo efectivo. De ser así: ¿cómo pensar aquí la legitimidad caída hacia la pura administración?

Si se apela a la “legitimidad” se apelaría solo al concepto. Por eso la cuestión medular es si la legitimidad tiene gancho compensatorio, o es todo lo contrario. En su librito sobre Benedicto XVI, Il mistero del male (2013), Agamben ha declarado que no existe estructura de gobierno legítima hoy en la tierra. Y quizás Villacañas diría que esta conclusión se debe a su prole schmittiana que desde el registro del mito deja intactas “muchas realidades históricas operando”. Y es verdad que tiene razón.

Y con esto concluyo: lo que si es importante derivar de esto es que si ya la legitimidad no es compensatoria para un momento democratizante, lo que prosigue a la hegemonía es la poshegemonía en la medida en que, en cuanto a su segundo registro infrapolítico, abandona ya la ratio última de la política como acceso de mundo y de vida. La biopolitica ha sido el último avatar de esta posición. Si el populismo contemporáneo – la mejor posibilidad populista, digamos Bernie Sanders, digamos ciertos grupos a escala estatal batallando contra los intentos revocatorios del Civil Rights Act en el sur estadounidense, el errejonismo – tiende hacia a la apelación a la legitimidad o a la poshegemonía es ya otro asunto. Pero yo no tengo dudas que esta es la verdadera bifurcación en nuestro momento para el pensamiento.




  1. Ver en este mismo espacio, a José Luis Villacañas. “Réplicas”.
  1. Max Weber. Economy and Society. University of California Press, 1978. P.953-54.
  1. José Luis Villacañas. “Poshegemonía: De Gramsci a Weber”, en Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina (Biblioteca Nueva, 2015). P.165-66.

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.

Presidencialismo y liderazgos. Una pregunta para José Luis Villacañas. Por Gerardo Muñoz.


En los buenos talleres siempre pareciera que nos traiciona el tiempo. Y el congreso “Populismos”, que tuvo lugar el pasado viernes en Princeton, no fue una excepción. Hubo tres excelentes ponencias que darán mucho de qué hablar y pensar, aunque en este comentario solo quiero atenerme a un aspecto que quedó colgado del intercambio con el Profesor José Luis Villacañas.

José Luis leyó un magnífico texto sobre Max Weber, Ernesto Laclau, y la actualidad de la crisis constitucional de Weimar para pensar nuestro tiempo. Implícitamente estaba en juego una hermenéutica relativa a la interpretación de la crisis democrática alemana de los treinta, y aunque no fue nombrado, se podía escuchar cierto eco de Helmuth Plessner, cuya Nación tardía: sobre la seducción política del espíritu burgués (1935-1959), acaba de aparecer por el sello Biblioteca Nueva en una magnifica edición y estudio crítico del propio Villacañas. No quiero intentar hacer un resumen de la charla de José Luis, la cual puede escucharse aquí. Me sumo al gesto de Alberto, y tan solo quiero dejar por escrito un comentario para avanzar en la discusión.

En el tiempo que tuvimos de preguntas y comentarios, yo le preguntaba a José Luis cómo pensar la “actualidad” de Weber en un momento como el nuestro (al menos en EEUU, que es donde vivo), dominado por lo que los constitucionalistas norteamericanos (Posner 2008, Hamburger 2014, Vermeule 2016), han venido llamando la expansión del estado administrativo. Sobre esto y la conspicua frase de Steve Bannon, ya hemos comentado en este espacio [1]. La cuestión es relevante en la medida en que el problema del administrative state y la burocracia es central en el propio pensamiento de Weber. Pero también es fundamental si aceptamos cierta irreversibilidad del derecho de los estatutos de las agencias gubernamentales administrativas cuyo peso ya han desplazado lenta pero decisivamente el centralismo de las cortes.

Si esta es la realidad fáctica, entonces no es posible ni deseable, volver al centralismo jurídico, en la medida en que volver al centralismo jurídico no sería más que volver a re-inscribir las condiciones que en un primer momento hicieron posible la expansión del estado administrativo. Lo que hay es lo que hay, como a veces se dice desde cierto “realismo”. Esto es, un estado administrativo que solo puede ser más o menos democrático. Pero el estado administrativo no solo desplaza lo que Dworkin entendió, en el que quizás sea el más influyente libro del derecho norteamericano del siglo veinte, el ‘Imperio de la Justicia’. En la última sesión de debate con Moreiras y Svampa, Villacañas retomó el tema de Weber ahora visto desde la rama del executivo. Quiero citar a Villacañas, y luego pasar a mi pregunta:

“….por eso el carisma anti-autoritario es específicamente democrático, puesto que el carisma es delegado en la medida en que responde a los intereses de los dominados. Cuando Weber establece esa diferencia está pensando en el Presidente de los Estados Unidos que es para él es el prototipo del carisma antiautoritario que tiene que defender los intereses de los dominados si quiere ser reconocido como tal. El líder anti-autoritario es quien está en condiciones de representar intereses que no son los suyos. Pero que los mira con una objetividad que está en condiciones de producirles la pasión…”

Seguido de este comentario, Moreiras le preguntó a Villacañas si esa descripción aplicaba a todos los líderes norteamericanos, o si era una especie de “tipo ideal”, pinchando una categoría medular del pensamiento sociológico de Weber. Lo que yo quisiera anotar es que si asumimos la realidad fáctica del estado administrativo, entonces quizás el “principialismo” (¿es principial?) del líder anti-autoritario en Weber, quizás ya no tenga tanto efecto como lo pudiera haber tenido, digamos, durante Weimar o durante período de Woodrow Wilson (quien además es una figura admirable, puesto que escribió una de las mejores defensas del cuerpo legislativo que hay en la tradición política norteamericana titulada Congressional Government, de 1885). ¡Y no olvidemos que el Congreso de EEUU no aprueba una ley en el Congreso en casi una década!

Villacañas diría, y en efecto, dijo: “el líder anti-autoritario es aquel que está en condiciones de recibir una patada en el culo…en caso de no cumplir las demandas materiales de la sociedad”. Y estoy de acuerdo con este razonamiento. Y hasta ahora Trump ha sido eso. Pero el problema es que si aceptamos la condición del estado administrativo, tal vez solo un nuevo parlamentarismo se adaptaría mejor al tejido de nuestras sociedades poshegemónicas. Al fin y al cabo, el sistema norteamericano es presidencialista, y como ha visto Bruce Ackerman y antes el gran historiador Arthur J. Schlesinger, desde hace décadas está en ascenso hacia una metamorfosis imperial. Me pregunto si el anarco-populismo de Moreiras, o el énfasis en los movimientos propuestos por Svampa, serían más susceptibles a un nuevo parlamentarismo, incluso a un federalismo, que es por otro lado lo que a mí me interesa, para un futuro democrático y democratizante [2]. Pero si es así, tendría que ser necesariamente anti-presidencialista, esto es, sin líder.






  1. Gerardo Muñoz. “An explaination for deconstructing the administrative state”.
  1. Alberto Moreiras. “Republicanismo arcaico”.

*Foto, de Pablo Dominguez-Galbraith. 7 de Abril, Princeton University.