The administrative state as second Leviathan. A response to Giacomo Marramao. By Gerardo Muñoz.

The two day conference “All’ombra del Leviatano: tra biopolitica e postegemonia” in Rome Tre University, was extremely productive and rich for continuing thinking the effectivity of posthegemony as a category for contemporary political reflection. Giacomo Marramao made this very clear in his generous introduction, as well as Mario Tronti, who took up the term several times in light of the crisis of depolitization and neutralization in democratic societies on both sides of the Atlantic. Sadly, at times conferences do not allow more time to reshuffle ingrained beliefs and hardened convictions. Thus, I just want to return to a question that was thrown by Giacomo Marramao regarding my paper on posthegemony, constitutionalism, and the administrative state [1]. 

I do not have a recording of Giacomo’s commentary, but from my notes, I recall he asked me a question that had two separate parts: a. whether the administrative state was synonymous with the securitarian state, b. why did I refer to the administrative state as a “second order Leviathan”, which I do explicitly in my text without much elaboration. This a central question, which I would like to elaborate in writing a little bit more, as to get me started thinking about a further relation between posthegemony and legality.

So, I will start with the first question: is the administrative state the same as the security state? My gut reaction in the exchange with Marramao was to say no. However, perhaps today the security state is a compartmentalization within the administrative state. In the United States, there is a clear and substantial difference between the rise of the administrative state and the security state in two separate tracks. In the historical development of American legality, we tend to associate the administrative state with the robust state building social policies of the New Deal, that is, with the classic welfare state. In fact, Moreiras argued a few years back that Keynesianism is one of the last figures of modern katechon [2]. Of course, Keynesian economics is somewhat different from the administrative legal development, but I do think that they complement each other. On the other hand, the so called securitarian state, is usually understood in the wake of the the emergency executive power, the torture memos, Guantanamo, and the expansion of other federal agencies to biometrically further deter terrorism after 9/11. At first sight, it seems to me that in Europe the securitarian state has now normalized and conquered the legal paradigm. In the United States, paradoxically, there seems to be a minimal difference between the security and administrative state.

A good example, in fact, is the case of Kris Kobach, a constitutionalist who favors legal securitization against illegal immigration, but not so much in the name of the administrative state. On the contrary, Kobach wants, very much in line with Steve Bannon, to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’. So, my intuition is that whereas in Europe legal developments have led naturally to the securitarian state, in the US the natural development has been towards deference and the delegation principle of administrative law [3]. We have yet to witness a securitarian state as fully hegemonic within the American legal development.

Now, the second question: why do I (should we?) call the administrative state a second order Leviathan? It is true that I should have made clearer that I was implicitly trying to turn around Schmitt’s argument in The Leviathan in The State Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Everyone remembers that in this book, Schmitt revises the state form in the wake of modern political theology, as already a ‘big machine, a machina machinarum’ within the age of technology [4]. To put it in Gareth Williams’ terms, the katechon was already post-katechontic, unable to fully give form to disorder, and incapable of providing long-lasting authority. In this sense, I agree with Marramao’s paradigmatic thesis that power today lacks authority, and authority lacks power. This seems to me a variation that fully applies to the administrative state. Of course, Schmitt thought administration dispensed anomy. But I think it is quite the opposite. The administrative state has become a great neutralizer of the political as defined by the friend-enemy distinction in the second half of the twentieth century. This is the second katechon.

This administrative katechon withholds the anomy of the full-fleshed market force, as well as the potential force of total politization. This is why both Schmitt from the political sphere, and Hamburger, from the market’s sphere, despise the administrative state. They both seek its destruction, which is an assault against the rule of law. But again, these positions grossly misunderstand the internal development of law’s abnegation, to put it Vermeule’s terms (2016). This katechon has internal legitimacy, but it lacks ex-terior democratic legitimacy of participation and dissent. But the argument of absence of dissent from administration has also been contested (Rodriguez 2014, Williamson 2017). Can one probe the administrative katechon today?

Interestingly, Mario Tronti wrote an essay on the Leviathan to challenge this question. As a Marxist, he called for a will to resist it. Let me briefly quote Tronti: “Men confront the archaic symbols of evil, and against them, they struggle. When men think that, through some of sort divine grace, they do not longer need to struggle, is when they become even more defeated. If time dispenses the tragic, we end up with just a positive acceptance of the world” [5]. This is what Tronti calls the “red heart of conflict”. I have doubts that a principle of subjective will to power can do the work to deactivate the katechon as it stands for the administrative state. In fact, I wonder whether any ‘willing’ against the katechon is even desirable. At the same time, doing so will not differ much from the libertarian position that in the name of an abstract freedom, forgets the infrahuman base of any social existence.

But I also wonder whether Tronti himself still believes in resistance today, since in the conference he called for a reformist political praxis and revolutionary intellectual ideas. I tend to agree more with this scheme, since the administrative state also stands for a process of rationalization. No subjective practice can emerge as an exception to this new katechon without automatically appearing as a bate for this monstrous apparatus. Perhaps another way of thinking about Marramao’s dual question is whether the security state can dethrone the administrative state. Could it happen? If that happens, I will be willing to accept that it will be the end of the second historical katechon as we know it.



  1. My essay written for the Roma Tre Conference on posthegemony can be read here:
  2. Alberto Moreiras. “Keynes y el Katechon”. Anales del Seminario de Historia de la Filosofia, Vol.30, N.1, 2013. 157-168.
  3. This is the central argument in Adrian Vermeule’s important book Law’s abnegation: from law’s empire to the administrative state (Harvard U Press, 2016).
  4. Carl Schmitt. The Leviathan in The State Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 44 pp.
  5. Mario Tronti. “Leviathan In Interiore Homine”. La Política Contra la Historia. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueño, 2016.

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