‘Chasing the hare with the ox, swimming against the swelling tide’: Towards a Posthegemonic Institutionality. (Gerardo Muñoz)

*(Paper read at the workshop “Left Behind: The Ends of Latin America’s Left Turns”, held at Simon Fraser University, December 5, 2016. Organized by Jon Beasley-Murray.)

In an important moment of Alberto Moreiras’ new book Marranismo e inscripción (2016) we read: “La sospecha de no ser lo suficiente correctos en política, con todo el misterio terrífico que esa determinación tiene en la academia [norteamericana], pesó siempre sobren nuestras cabezas como una grave espada de Damocles y todavía pesa…” (Moreiras 125). It might be a good ocassion to say upfront that the waning of the progressive cycle in Latin America will most likely revive old affective demands and well-known pieties that the Left never affords to give up. Someone will be blamed for the broken plates, and the burden of those “left behind”. But this moment should be seized to think not what ‘politics’ should or must do (in Latin America and beyond), but rather how to think politics in what already is taking place. Or to question if perhaps the political today amounts to nothing more than what Arnaut Daniel said of the poet: “[He] chases the hare with the ox, swims against the swelling tide”. Can the paralysis of politics be something other than hunting or resistance?

As this 2016 comes to a close, we have witnessed a series of drawbacks in the political landscape of Latin America: from the outcome of the referendum in Bolivia to the electoral victory of Mauricio Macri’s PRO in Argentina, not to speak of Dilma Rousseff parliamentary impeachment in Brazil. There has been other lesser-known events, although no less disturbing, such as Roxana Pey’s arbitrary dismissal as First President of Universidad de Aysén by the current Chilean Minister of Culture after proposing a debt free and non-corporate public education. The sense of ‘exhaustion’ is at the thicket of the progressive cycle and has only deepened in the last two years, although this prognosis is more than just a motto of ‘ultra-leftistism’. Recently, high profile figures of the so-called Pink Tide governments have also voiced a sense of political stagnation and defunct space to reignite the original rhythm that took place at the turn of the century.

Just about a week ago, in a conversation that took place at Columbia University between philosopher Étienne Balibar and Vice-President of Bolivia Alvaro Garcia Linera, the latter stated that we are now in turbulent times where no horizon is in clear sight. It might be true that the unsettling remark might have partly been influenced in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death as the symptom of Latin American Left’ symbolic orphanhood, although Castro died far from leaving a relevant political legacy. I think many will agree that the guerrilla warfare, the Partido Único, or the concept of ‘struggle’ plays no role in the future of the Latin American Lefts. Yet such announcement from the Vice-President of the Bolivian Plurinational State seems to put to a halt the deep political conviction for transformation that he himself theorized in a wide range of orienting categories such as ‘creative contradictions’, ‘planetary ayllu’, or ‘communist horizon’.

The deficiency of a visible political vista means that we are in times of interregnum; a time when the modern epochality is left behind and a new one that has yet to materialize. The interregnum describes an extraneous temporality that fissures the antinomies of architectonics of modern politics – autorictas and potestas, constituent and constituted power, legitimacy and legality – carrying the very economy between thought and action in a threshold of indeterminacy. At the closure of epochality we are obliged to rethink once again the limits of the Latinamericanist conditions of reflection in light of the contemporary transformation of the space or object of knowledge that we call Latin America. A few years ago, John Beverley made an attempt to propose a new paradigm in his Latinamericanism after 9/11 (2011) under the preliminary notion of post-subalternism, which he defined as an alliance between subaltern and the new progressive State:

“The question of Latinamericanism is, ultimately, a question of the identity of the Latin American state…I would like to suggest here an alternative that is post-subaltenrist, ‘post’ in the sense that it displaces the subaltenrist paradigm but is also a consequence of that paradigm in that it involves rethinking the nature of the state and of the national popular from the perspectives opened by subaltern studies. …This possibility has a double dimension: how can the state itself be radicalized and modified as a consequence of bringing into it demands, values, experiences from the popular subaltern sectors, and how, in turn, from the state, can society can be remade in a more redistributive, egalitarian, culturally diverse way (how hegemony might be constructed from the state, in other words). (Beverley 110-116)”.

The post-subalternist option largely depends on the temporalization of the State-people alliance, which leaves pressing questions relative to State form and patterns of accumulation untouched, or any excess that disrupts the culturalist consensus at the heart of every hegemonic articulation. The problem that arises from this specific conceptual design is that with the rise of the New Rights, which continue to operate on the basis of the expansion of social inclusion through consumption, the hegemony of a ‘non-State that acts as a State’ (another way through which Beverley defines postsubalternism), will be set to accomplish two simultaneous tasks: on the one hand, contain and polish the heterogeneity or savage dimension of ‘the people’ into the metaphoricity of national-popular representation; while on the other, reducing the State’s structures and institutions to the management of geopolitical processes and rent distribution. In a rather counterintuitive way, the post-sulbanternist option reenacts the decionism from the instrumentalization of the state as the exception to post-sovereign capital in the name of the people.

At the same time, facticity is now fully post-subalternist, but for the opposite reasons as those imagined by Beverley: hegemony’s de-hiearchization and economic administration convergences with the neoliberal general equivalent as real subsumption of capital renders hegemonic politics obsolete for substantial change. Ultimately, post-subalternist alliance curbs posthegemonic temporal intrusion, which forces a relentless displacement of its object of identification to disregard the constitutive tragic repetition of the fissure in its closure.

Post-subalternism is an attempt to reawake the specter of hegemony from the ruins of the political: from the inside it stands politics of subjectivization by the State, and from the outside, as a metapolitical form of order (katechon) to detain internal social explosion (Williams 61).

In recent years the post-subalternist paradigm has been somewhat displaced by what I have called elsewhere a ‘communal or communitarian turn’ (Muñoz 2016). Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar, a key thinker of communal horizontalism and also the author of the influential book Los ritmos de Pachakuti: Movilización y levantamiento indígena-popular en Bolivia (2008), at the end of last year conjured a radical turn towards the “communal” as the site for a new political program. In a more urgent tone, Huascar Salazar Lohman in Se han adueñado del proceso de lucha (2015) defines the position as following:

“Lo relevante es afirmar que la transformación heterogénea y multiforme que emerge de los entramados comunitarios implica la capacidad de dar forma a su reproducción de la vida social, trastocando, trans-formando o reformando la propia forma de la dominación…La manera en que los entramados comunitarios enfrentan al capital es a partir de vetos que permiten conservar, establecer, o restablecer relaciones sociales para reproducción la vida. En este sentido, el telos o el horizonte de deseo que media la lucha comunitaria es el despliegue de su propia forma de reproducir la vida, es decir, ampliar su capacidad de formación” (Salazar Lohman 35).

For both Gutierrez Aguilar and Salazar Lohman, the communitarian horizon requires breaking away from the dichotomy of civil society and State in order to relocate the temporal vitality of an autonomous re-production of life and the re-appropriation of that which the state has expropriated from communal property. However, if the communitarian form is not determined a priori by domination and capital, why is the emancipatory potential of the communitarianism emphasized solely on the basis of re-appropriation of what is valorized in the State? Salazar Huascar himself provides the answer to us when alluding to Bolivar Echevarria’s reconceptualization of the notion of use-value as yielding something like an inner exception within the logic of exchange. Communitarism, then, re-translates use-value as locational propriety.

Ironically, this is not very different from Álvaro Garcia Linera’s own attempt to “restore the communal (ayllu), against the logics of subsumption, through a re-functioning of culture and democracy and the recent juridical-political attempting to contain the ‘cunning of capital’ as it imposes its logics through its others…” (Kraniauskas 48). Although it seems the polar opposite of Huascar’s position, Garcia Linera’s instrumentalization of the communitarian through use-value mediates an indianization of the subject of social emancipation in the ‘community form’” (Kraniauskas 48). In fact, communitarianism ends up offering yet another exceptional particularism legitimized by the normative assumption of propriety and properness via-a-vis collective decision-making ( as ‘participacion directa y obligatoria’), and an alternative biopolitics of the ‘reproduction of life’ (reproducción de la vida). Communitarianism as a locational politics of resistance is already contained in the State’s shadow of community use-value, which is inverted on behalf of communitarian decisionism.

A similar paradox is at the heart of Diego Sztulwark and Veronica Gago’s essay that expands the temporality of the ‘end’ of the Latin American progressive cycle from below. On the one hand, they note that neoliberalism runs parallel to constituting a governmentality from above, and is also “inextricably linked to popular consumption, apparatuses of indebtness, and new forms of violence” as two dynamics that permute and sustain one another” from below (Gago & Sztulwark 610). While discerning the spectral dimension of contemporary flexible capital, they immediately move on to claim that it is on this plane where new counter-powers are transformed, modes of weaving together a resistance and a set of practical actions for political efficacy… (Gago & Sztulwark 612). However, counter-hegemonic subjective vitalism is already captured by the plasticity of financial subjectivization. Thus, this new vitalism framed solely as resistance only lifts political imagination to the domain of stasis or civil war already taking place in the territories, in which the struggle for subsistence takes the form of a neo-Francicanism eschatology (minimal relation to propriety) immanent to the financial subaltern bodies.

I would like to suggest that the two reflexive options sketched above, that of a post-subaltern state and the particular communitarian horizon, coincide in fashioning a politics of resistance after the closure of hegemonic principles. At the same time, the failure of hegemonic theory in the region is in this sense neither accidental nor limited to the temporalization of the so-called progressive cycle, since it also characteristic of the phenomenology of the originary fissure in the State form over the last two hundred years.

Hegemony or hegemon as an ultimate ontology of the political constitutes itself as a phantasm, which following Reiner Schürmann, denies the tragic dimension of the singular, translating norms and legislating laws in the name of its own sovereign principle. A phantasm is hegemonic when an entire culture relies on it as if it provided that in the name of which one speaks and acts. Such a chief-represented (hêgemôn) is at work upon the unspeakable singular classifying, inscribing, and distributing proper and commonality (Schürmann 22). In this sense, communitarianism and state hegemony are not just contending procedures of political decisionism, but more importantly, the two poles of a same structure waged on life as ultimate referent.

This is why, according to Schürmann, there is a “kind of joy of violent submission to it. Perhaps the intoxication they wish for us, or that we wish for ourselves through them” (Schürmann 29). To the extent that is waged on life, there has always been hegemony, although only as a phantasmatic economy to flatten and systematically erase the time of the tragic, whenever it appears to interrupt and ascend into the political principle. This is the time of the singular that is neither reducible to a subject in the eventfulness of history (a movement, a people or a multitude), nor a cultural schematization of identity and difference.

The challenge for thought is necessarily post-hegemonic, which I define as the potentiality for institutionalization of the tragic (singularity) in the anomic epoch of neoliberal administration. It is no coincide that both communitarian and hegemonic options define themselves against institutions, and they both respond to the moment of crisis of political epochality. A reformulation of an institutional form can mediate the ever-present pendulum movement that oscillates from neoliberal deregulation to the populist anti-institutionalism and back. But it so happens that populism does not posses a theory of institutionality, therefore is in no condition of providing a strategy to cope with the movement of the pendulum (Villacañas 2016). Since populism is always a decision on a concrete existential situation, it always remains attached to the perpetuity of the state of crisis as a decision made on and for life (understood in the Greek sense of krisis as judgment). As such, populism is the temporality of expropriation, and its process of abstractation into finite demands coincides with the money form (general equivalent) that structures the contemporary financial body of the living.

In the introduction to their edited volume Left Turns (2010), Beasley-Murray & Cameron & Herschberg noted that “if the Latin American states are to survive their current crisis of legitimacy they then need to be better funded, more efficient, and more reflexive of public preferences…the entire political class confronts the challenge of refunding the Latin American State” (Cameron & Herschberg 6). This was the promise and the stakes .Since then, the Latin American Progressive Cycle’s extreme presidencialism led to the withering of institutionalization making it easier for an accelerated restructuring of the State’s institutions by the New Rights technocrats. As the populist interpellation between friend and enemy evaporates in each political cycle, the price to be paid is life as thetic communitarian identity formation or as counter-hegemonic biopolitical vitalism. Constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman alerts in his The Decline and Fall of the American Republic (2010) that the expansion of the powers of the ‘most dangerous branch’ (executive) effectively prepares the ground for an ominous neoliberal anti-institutionalization. This is what lurks in United States’ political future after the President-elect Donald Trump, and more generally, what haunts the spatial configuration of every western state’s void of legitimacy.

A posthegemonic institutionality for post-hegemonic times seeks the thinking of another relation with the political that is not reducible to the principle of a hegemonic phantasm as the oblivion of its own excess to equivalence. But perhaps more importantly here is how to think a posthegemonic institutional form that that would break away from the indeterminate concrescence of law as always already short-handed for internal exceptionality in order to redirect and put in motion the temporality of development. Thus, a posthegemonic institutionality will thrive to move beyond a notion of interruption or an insurrectionary moment dispensed in the phantasm of hegemony.

How can we imagine a form of life instituted not only in its irreducibility to the movement of vital ‘rhythm’, but in the arrival of the day after, when the last lights have gone off, after everyone has returned home, and mobilization gives way to demobilization? In his book on the Spartacist uprising, Furio Jesi says that the ‘decisive day of freedom’ is that which takes place the day after tomorrow, in which the time of living is not exhausted in life or death (Jesi 134). The crucial distinction here is a temporal one: living against life or death.

To institutionalize not life in the frame of biopolitics or communitarism, constituent power as passage to constituted power, but a destituent time of the living. The day after tomorrow is posthegemonic demobilization as distance from political ontology and its conversion into metapolitical community. Only by institutionalizing the temporality of an improper singularity could something like an inequivalent and ungraspable form of democracy and radical freedom could be conceived as the new truth in and beyond politics.


Ackerman, Bruce. The Decline and Fall of the American Republic. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Beverley, John. Latinamericanism after 9/11. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.

Cameron, Maxwell & Herschberg, Eric. Latin America’s Left Turns: Politics, Policies, and Trajectories of Change. Boulder: Reinner Publishers, 2010.

Gago Verónica & Sztulwark Diego. “The Temporality of Social Struggle at the End of the “Progressive” Cycle” in Latin America”. SAQ, 115:3, July 2016.

Kraniauskas, John. “Universalizing the ayllu”. Radical Philosophy, 192, July-August, 2015.

Moreiras, Alberto. Marranismo e inscripción. Madrid: Escolar & Mayo, 2016.

Muñoz Gerardo (ed.). “The End of the Latin American Progressive Cycle” (dossier). Alternautas (3.1, July 2016). http://las.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2016/11/Alternautas_End-of-Progressive-Cycle-Dossier-2016.pdf

Salazar Lohman, Huascar. “Se Han adueñado del proceso de lucha”: horizonte comunitario-populares en tensión y la reconstitución de la dominación en la Bolivia del MAS. La Paz: autodeterminación, 2015.

Schürmann, Reiner. Broken Hegemonies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Villacañas, José Luis. Populismo. Madrid: La Huerta Grande, 2015.

Williams, Gareth. “Los límites de la hegemonía”. Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina (Castro Orellana, ed.). Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2015.


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