Galli’s Lo sguardo di Giano: Passing Beyond Schmitt. By Alberto Moreiras.

The title words in Carlo Galli`s book, soon to be published in English, are a reference to the passage between form and the formless, chaos and order, war and peace. Carl Schmitt´s thought is said to carry a tremendous capacity to account for the radical reversibility of the political realm—ultimately, from form to crisis and from crisis to form. If the ability to experience both sides of the political, to see both, and to dwell in the ambivalence of political time is important for a thinker, then Carl Schmitt, who has that capacity to an eminent degree, is himself required passage for “whoever wants to think politics radically.”   Schmitt is a modern classic, and one of the last classics of modernity, through what Galli calls the tragic drift of his thought (based on the experience of the ultimate indetermination of political order, that is, of violence as the immanent destiny of the political).   But even Schmitt’s radical reach cannot reach beyond the historical limits of the modern as such. Today, that is, Schmitt’s thought needs to be abandoned, needs to be crossed through and left behind, in order to find cognitive access to new political spaces beyond the modern. We must pass beyond Schmitt’s theory of the passage: this is the core of Galli’s proposal in this book, which takes up and elaborates aspects of Schmittian thought that Galli’s previous Genealogia della politica. Carl Schmitt e la crisi del pensiero politico moderno had not covered.

And of course one cannot cross the thought of a thinker without experiencing it first in as intimate a proximity as possible. Lo sguardo di Giano is composed of five chapters where Galli discusses Schmitt’s relationship to State theory, to political theology, to the so-called global age, and to Machiavelli, Strauss, and Spinoza.   They are all masterpieces of critical exegesis.

The chapter on the State takes up the notion that Schmitt, without considering that the State is the core of the political, thinks of the State as the principal aspect of political modernity precisely as the very symptom of the inherent gap between form and reality, which at the same time the State attempts to mediate.   That the State can be or is at the same time the symptom and the cure is only paradoxical if one does not realize that the order of the State is never fixed, never static, but rather tragic, unpacified, transitory, mobile. The study of the perpetual mobility of the State can therefore only be undertaken through a simultaneously theoretical, historical, and utterly political, that is, local gaze. If in this analysis the history of the State is constantly undergoing an unstable passage from the God-State to the Machine-State, in the same way that the God of metaphysics comes to be substituted in modernity by technology as the referential center of reality, the liberal phase of the State starts to appear as a depoliticized State-form: in the liberal State politics are disavowed into a technical de-politicization that of course cannot survive its own neutrality. The rise of potentially catastrophic political myths is never far from that terminal point, after which, through conceptual necessity, a new world space opens up, post-state and post-modern, for which we do not yet have a concept.  [Infrapolitics, while itself not politics, is of course the name we are pushing as a precondition for a possible reinvention of the political in the post-Schmittian age.]

The chapter on political theology continues the previous story by pointing out how it is precisely the liberal pretension of a radical neutralization of political theology that must be subjected to deconstruction by Schmitt as a way of finding his own path into the epistemic and practical state of the political.   The modern neutralization of political theology is nihilism as such, to which we cannot oppose a reinvention of the Divine, but rather simply a radical objection to its efficacy: that neutralization is in every case a disavowal of forces nevertheless profoundly powerful can only be forgotten at one’s own risk. And the theory of the exception is the place where Schmitt sustains the possibility of an understanding of the political between abyss and reason, between arbitrariness and necessity. After all, a proper understanding of authority as factically decisionistic, and not based on rational mediation, not based on legal self-foundation, is the best protection against political blindness, hence disaster. But blindness acts today for the most part through the very automatism of neutralization, through the de-politicization that disavows any principle of political transcendence in the ostensible triumph of politics as technics.  And this goes not just for neoliberal or rightwing practices, but also for whatever it is the conventional left–today the pro-hegemony, populist left, in general terms–has come to understand it should do.  The end of political theology is also the end of any concrete stability for the modern State, hence the end of the modern State; and the beginning of something else for which the categorical apparatus deployed by Schmitt can only show its insufficiency.  We need to push further.

The chapters that follow, on Machiavelli, and then on Spinoza as mediated by the figure of Leo Strauss, are tours de force of intellectual history where the presuppositions of Schmittian thought are brought to bear on the work of two other seminal thinkers of modern political thought. Galli concludes that Machiavelli is not in fact a significant segment in Schmitt’s intellectual genealogy, but in the process a highly useful explanation of the difference between a theory of the State as virtue or force and a theory of the State as the friend/enemy stasis emerges (or, as Galli puts it, the difference between the State as immediacy versus the State as negated mediation).   In the same way Spinoza comes through as outside the purview of Schmitt’s understanding of what is central to modern political theory.   But can Spinoza really help today?  It is an open question.

The last chapter on Schmitt and the global age brings the antecedent to an intricate discussion of the specific status Schmitt holds in contemporary thought: as a deconstructor of political modernity, as one of the 20th century thinkers whose depth, in all its conflicts and tensions, and in his great, unforgivable errors, gives us more to understand about politics as such, and politics in the overall history of the West, and as someone endowed with the kind of intellectual power that can become conscious of its own limitations–hence make others conscious of their limitations as well.   Schmitt represents an “extreme deconstruction” of modern political thought as “architectonic nihilism.” As such, Schmitt illuminates or reveals the radical aporias of modern political thought, and brings us to the end of a history that we must now discard, as the “new destiny of the world,” which is that of the “global age,” can no longer be accounted for through modern categories.   A new nomos has taken root, but that means in the first place that we must bring ourselves to a position from which we can interpret it. Galli presents here some of his ideas on globalization as global mobilization, but suspends the answer as to whether global mobilization can eventually reveal itself as order-bearing.   For the time being, Galli sustains, global war is a form of conflictuality without a restrainer. This is no longer a Schmittian horizon, which means that non-Schmittian political categories must be developed. Our best tool is still the understanding of the end of the political categories of modernity accessible to us as the very reverse or the other side of Schmittian thought. Schmitt still works as a deconstructor, to such an extent that one needs to read Schmitt to get rid of Schmitt—which is the same as saying that an opening to the imperatives of contemporary political thought requires a successful passage through the Schmittian passage itself.   Now, to where?


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