A Constitutional Absolutism? On Philip Hamburger’s The Administrative Threat. By Gerardo Muñoz.

AdministrativeThreatPhilip Hamburger’s most recent book, The Administrative Threat (Encounter Books, 2017), is a legal pamphlet as well as constitutional call to arms of sorts. Deliberately written for the general public with the intention of popularizing the central tenets of his otherwise more technical work Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (U Chicago Press, 2015), Hamburger fuses a warning with a call to question the increasing danger posed by the expansion of the administrative state in American public law. In his view, no other force and legal development is undermining the core and purpose of civil liberties as much as administrative law, which today extends to all spheres of social life. This bureaucratic power is not only an existential threat to personal freedoms, but also a betrayal to the original intent of the Constitution.

The idea harboring this perception is that decision-making is only possible on purely market or commercial grounds, which administration continuously obstructs under the guise of regulation. The book cuts sharply through a martial tone: “For better understanding of the administrative threat one must turn to law…for although much administrative state power is economically inefficient, all of it is unconstitutional” (Hamburger 2). But how did the development of legality and American public law reached such a boiling point? This a question that Hamburger must sidestep, and at times reduce to a barely credible narrative regarding a handful of American scholars that studied German administrative law at the turn of the last century. Hamburger accurately notes that in the last century (roughly from 1917 to 2017), there has only been ‘rise and rise’ of administrative delegation. This is undeniable. James M. Landis records in The Administrative Process (1938) about 12-14 federal agencies in 1933. Today there are between 240-456 federal agencies, including sub-agencies, quasi-agencies, and departments. And as if more alarm is needed, each landmark opinion through the century by the Supreme Court has incrementally extended agency statutory powers for execution and judicial interpretation.

In what follows, I want to critically comment the three premises that support Hamburger’s attack on the legitimacy of administrative state: 1. a historical comparison with the King James monarchy in order to make the case that we are returning to a regime of legal absolutism; 2. that we are witnessing the corruption of the separation of powers, which has expounded extralegal boundaries; 3. and the libertarian assumption that civil liberties are prey to the tyrannical might of the administrative state. Hence, as Hamburger says verbatim, the administrative state is fundamentally disloyal to at least two tiers of governmental authority: on the one hand, to an arcana, and on the other, the more real ground of civil liberties and negative freedom (Hamburger 23). While the first lies in that of the level of principle, the second forms that of integrity. It is important to note that, as Hamburger does at the outset of the book, his critique is at the level of legitimacy. Hence, he is not necessarily interested in putting forth a critique of political economy or regulatory reform, which would entail an acceptance of the administrative state one way or another.

Let us take the first premise, which assumes that the administrative state brings about a new absolutism. Hamburger establishes a comparison with King James’s absolute monarchy, which represented a model of constant prerogatives and forms of adjudication to agency discretion, in permanent conflict with legislative decision-making, and interpretative authority of judges. For Hamburger this all takes place in the present, but the situation is much worse, since the administrative state seems to have achieved King James’ absolutist intention. For instance, Hamburger writes: “the lawmaking interpretation that James desired for his prerogative bodies has become a reality for American administrative agencies. Federal judges’ show varying degrees of deference to agency interpretations, and the agencies therefore can use their interpretation to create law” (Hamburger 9). Ultimately, this means that administrative agencies have come to inhabit a sort of juridical monad that can interpret, execute, and legislate its statutory norms and facts in clear violation of the principle of the separation of powers.

Hamburger observes the watershed 1984 decision Chevron vs. National Resources Defense Council, in which Burger Court decided that every time there are statutory ambiguities, judges must defer to agency for clear interpretations, with horror. This does not mean that an agency will rule every time on the agency’s behalf, but it has come to establish what is known as the principle of ‘deference’ in a two-step model. Mainly, that if Congress does not express direct intent on the statute, the agency can uphold the interpretative prerogative for clarification of any ambiguous component. The deference principle to agencies not only violates the principle against subdelegation (the common law axiom delegata potestas non potest delegari), but more importantly for Hamburger it confuses the spheres of interpretation and execution in the hands administrative quasi-judges. The prefix hints at the fact that experts and technicians of different epistemological spheres now have entirely displaced the imperial pretensions of the independent judicial branch. At the same time, we know that there are no judges freed from inter-dependence, and that the very legal process is always politically binding [1]. This transformation does entail that the judiciary is noww marginalized to a thin discretionary position to arbiter reasonable goals.

Furthermore, it is not the case that the way deference is understood in American administrative law hinges on a principle of sub-delegated power. Adrian Vermeule has convincingly argued how the specification of statutes is conceived within the executive branch [2]. Hamburger insists, however, in that “administrative power resembles old absolutism” (Hamburger 14). Absolutism is defined as extra-legality, and as a fundamental and consistent evasion of law (sic). Curiously, Hamburger fails to explain in which way the expansion of the administrative state legality has moved the boundaries unto an extra-legal domain over time. The administrative state cannot amount to a new monarchism for the simple reason that there is no monarch who is deemed as the sovereign mediator capable of dispensing his potentia absoluta without retrains.

The administrative state is a process of self-rationalization towards judicial abdication to experts, abandoning the empire of courts towards reasonable decision-making. It is an enterprise to limit incongruousness and contingency. As we know, this is one of the trademarks of the modern legitimacy. In other words, the administrative state follows integrity, and not the arcanum of political theory. This is something Landis already had in mind in the 1930s [3]. If absolutism is grounded in a principle of contingency and theological nominalism, modern rationality and administration bends towards rationalization of law’s integrity [4]. In doing so, the administrative state is a highly sophisticated machine to regulate all possible risks. Here the question of a constitutionalism of risk within the expansion of the administrative delegation becomes relevant.

Hamburger, in a sense, seeks to revive the specter of Elizabethan judge Edward Coke, while ignoring that the becoming of the administrative state has pluralist aims, at odds with vertical decision protocols vested in the absolute sovereign [5]. The administrative state is a modern legal development, and any comparison to the English monarchy is a serious bend. From a historiographical standpoint, Hamburger’s premise is also ambiguous when he writes: “Early Americans, however, were familiar with English constitutional history, and they therefore were well aware of the danger from the absolute power and its extralegal paths” (Hamburger 19). It is not the case that there is a firm consensus about the patriot political beliefs about presidentialism or the British Monarchy. Eric Nelson in his landmark The Royalist Revolution (2014) has studied how republican patriots were comfortable with ideas of strong centralized executive power in fear of the British parliamentary form regarding commerce and taxation. And here one should ask to what extent the imperial presidency could also be justified on “originalist” grounds. But this is beside the point, since the legal development of administrative law is one thing, and the Atlantic political theory is another.

This takes us the second point regarding the separation of powers. The main problem with Hamburger’s account is that it fails to engage with Adrian Vermeule’s sound critique in Law’s abnegation (2016) of a certain political attachment to an idolatrous understanding of the separation of powers. Vermeule terms ‘idolatry of the separation of powers, in reference to a mechanic execution of the three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial). In this framework, anything that is excess to it is part of a narrative of betrayal. But it should not be so. This is what Landis called rather humorously the “attachment to the number three”:

“To condemn the administrative process simply because it is a fourth branch of government is not to consider what a branch implies. Four, five, and six branches of government may, of course, coexist without violating Montesquieu’s maxim, for the ultimate source and the ultimate division of power remains the same. It is the relations of the administrative state’s three departments of government that are important”  [6]

Needless to say, a mechanistic fixation to the tripartite separation of powers fails to account for the ways in which the administrative state is already an expression of specifically allocated knowledge, decisions, and state-national-agency conflicts over a long period of time.  The question that should be asked is not in which way the administrative state profanes a sacrosanct Madisonian separation of powers structure, but rather whether there are powers in separation that are legitimate within the classic design of contemporary government, which is what Vermeule brings to bear in his important book [7]. The fact that Hamburger is silent about the different arguments made on behalf of the administrative state’s legitimacy (Landis, Kagan, or Mashaw ), speaks about his originalist obliviousness to historical and legal evolutionary nature of the separation of powers. As a process of self-rationalization, the legitimacy of the administrative state is rooted in its immanent force against any transcendental arcanum. Hence, the way to test the status of legitimacy is not by probing on the grounds of the separated powers in 1789 or the seventeenth century, or in terms of what Madison or Montesquieu thought of them, but rather on how well those powers today can withhold actions within a frame of reasonable judgment regarding the material need of the res publica. The administrative state does not stand for a vicarious being, since its delegated powers are not ideal immovable concepts, but rational conditions for risk management of human action.

This leads me to the third and final premise of The Administrative Threat. Hamburger does have something to say about the current condition of citizenship, and it comes by way of the libertarian defense of civil rights. The idea here is that the administrative state trumps individual rights in the name of “public” rights, which Hamburger calls a “disgraceful assault on the Bill of Rights and the due process” (Hamburger 35). This argument is supplanted with a meditation on the historical valance between voting rights and the administrative state. Going as far as to the Wilson presidency, Hamburger shows that throughout the twentieth century, bureaucracies were at odds with the voting rights of disfranchised minorities. Of course, the implicit assertion here befalls on a defense of the courts, primarily the judicial activism of the Warren Court, which Bruce Ackerman, on the opposite side of the political spectrum has called the last legal revolution in American constitutional development [8]. This is even truer today in light of the Shelby County decision, and the rise of Kris Kobach or Jeff Sessions to national public office, both intellectually committed to voting suppression [9]. One could say that both Hamburger and Ackerman, albeit in very different ways, lament the dawn of the traditional judicial authority. But even if there were a one-direction movement between the expansion of rights and the rise of the administrative state, it seems illogical to defend a return of a court-centric model on the basis of past historical experiences.

If we are, indeed, at the end of the court-centric legal revolution model, are we to assume that the dismantling of the administrative state will restore its capacities? I am doubtful of the eschatological weight of such a proposal. And if voting rights is a concern for Philip Hamburger, why isn’t electoral reform an optimal option for democratic expansion? Of course, this would necessary entail something like a Federal Voting Commission, which would in turn require more of the administrative state. But we are in no position to think that if we were to imagine the end of the administrative state (even as a thought experiment), a new type of liberty would be distributed across the board.

Since today we are facing the end of the state form, any historical analogies with the past tremble on very weak grounds. Furthermore, we know that beyond the moment of casting a vote a ballot, a civil equality protection really amounts, as Anatole France used to say, to whether we chose to sleep in a park bench or under bridges. While might be true is that the administrative state is a neutralizer of political dynamics, to use the language of Carl Schmitt; it is in no way reasonable seek its destruction in the name of a libertarian ideal of freedom within an unequal social space. It is defeatist to turn to political theory in exchange for the integrity of administrative legality, as Hamburger seems to do here.

It is rather strange for a libertarian to end a book on a legitimacy crisis quoting Lenin. But there is another implicit paradox here on Hamburger’s part; mainly, that while Lenin offered a theory of state, we cannot say the same for Hamburger. The modern state was able to implement and model itself with commerce, but much harder is to image a state emerging from contemporary anarchic markets. Hamburger writes in a section sarcastically subtitled what is to be done?: “Lenin asked his fellow Russians, “What is to be done?”. Fortunately for Americans, the answer is not revolution but a traditional American defense of civil liberties. To this end, Americans will have to work through all three branches of government. Of course, none of the branches have thus far revealed much capacity to limit administrative power” (Hamburger 61). This is a self-defeating argument, since as Vermeule has argued quite convincingly, even if one could ‘magically’ undue the administrative state and return to the original institutional design of 1789, it will evolve into the administrative state. This is an argument centered on the integrity of the American legal development that Hamburger needs to ignore in order to render somewhat possible the return to the  idolatrous originalism of the separation of powers and principled judicial review. The other part of the ‘what is to be done’ plan resonates with a populist overtone: “Ultimately the defeat of administrative power will have to come from the people. Only their spirit of liberty moves Congress, inspires the president, and braces the judges…” (Hamburger 64).

But who are the People? Is We The People the progressive mobilizing force within a constitutional regime? Is the People here a spirit or idea for the return to the courts? It is difficult to say, mainly, because Hamburger himself has no idea either. I take this to be the impasse of libertarian and liberal thought facing the irreversibility of the administrative state. This explains why libertarians, at times, equate deregulation with lessening the administrative power. This impasse is, in effect, the same currently stamping Trump’s strange brand of populism, which has, on one end, the mission to ‘destroy the administrative state’, and on the other, the nationalist protectionist banner to cushion transnational market forces. For better or worse, neither of these two goals seems plausible together. At best, they represent a double-bind of the liberal impasse. Only in this sense, the administrative state is a temporary katechon [10].

The trumpist complexio oppositorum in the form of a schizophrenic symptom is showing, paradoxically, that the administrative state will only be reinforced through new checks and balances emerging from executive administrative inefficiency. We are now in conditions to reach a somewhat different conclusion from that of Hamburger’s: we are far from an absolutist monarchic regime, since the human cannot endure the absolutism of reality devoid of a sense of anticipation [11]. The principles of delegation and anticipation seem to be two components of the administrative state that have their legitimacy in modern self-rationalization. In the end, it might be Hamburger who, in validating an ostensible and yet dissolute world beyond administration, promises the humanity an archaic absolutism of an unbearable nature. However, no man can live in the absolute. But even if we are to image an alleged triumph of an original law under the supervision of a New Coke, this would require in the form of an eternal recurrence, the invention of the administrative state.

 

 

 

 

Notes

  1. See Braden, George D., “The Search for Objectivity in Constitutional Law”, Faculty Scholarship Series. 4031, 1948. However, for a contending non-political moral stand of the judicial process, see Alexander Bickel. “Constitutionalism and the Political Process”, in The Morality of Consent. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.
  2. See Vermeule’s argument on the lawfulness of administrative law on the principle of delegation through executive power in Law’s Abnegation (2016), 50-54 pp.
  3. Landis will write in The Administrative Process (1938): “A similar development with reference to the administrative seems more a matter of time than of political theory, of demonstration by the administrative that intervention of this character is futile and tends more to prejudice than to further a client’s cause”. 102-103 pp.
  4. Hans Blumenberg. Legitimacy of the Modern Age. MIT, 1985. 125-205 pp.
  5. Sunstein, Cass & Vermeule, Adrian. “The New Coke: On the Plural Aims of Administrative Law”. The Supreme Court Review, Number 1, Volume 2015.
  6. Landis, James M. The Administrative Process (1938). 88 pp.
  7. Vermeule Adrian, Law’s Abnegation: from law’s empire to the administrative state (Harvard U Press, 2016). 56-87 pp.
  8. Ackerman, Bruce. We The People III: The Civil Rights Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.
  9. Berman, Ari. “The Man Behind Trump’s Voter-Fraud Obsession”. New York Times, June 13, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/magazine/the-man-behind-trumps-voter-fraud-obsession.html
  10. On the administrative state as a counter-schmittian katechon, see my “The administrative state as a second Leviathan: a response to Giacommo Marramao”. Although I do not mean by any means that the administrative state is a universal katechon in the way that the Church and the early modern state were, but this I will try to develop somewhere. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/the-administrative-state-as-second-leviathan-a-response-to-giacomo-marramao-by-gerardo-munoz/
  11. On the absolutism of reality and the anthropogenesis of anticipation as an intrinsic separation of powers, see Hans Blumenberg’s Work on Myth (MIT, 1985). 2-40 pp.

Illegitimacy? Review of Giorgio Agamben’s The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days. By Gerardo Muñoz.

agamben mystery 2017Giorgio Agamben’s Il mistero del male, now translated in English as The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days (Stanford U Press, 2017), is an intense repudiation of the mundane legitimacy of every institution, costume, and political structure hitherto existing on earth. For Agamben, the decline towards illegitimacy has not been a matter of a few years or decades, but part of a larger inherited drama. The core of the book reads Benedict XVI’s “great refusal” as an ‘exemplary act’ [sic] against the Church, bringing to awareness a vital “loss of substantial legitimacy” (Agamben 3). Overstating the dual structure characteristic to Western governmentality – potestas and autorictas, or economy and mystery, legality and legitimacy – Agamben asserts that Ratzinger’s gesture cuts through the very thicket of the ekklesia arcanum, reversing the mystery of faith in time to the point of abandoning the very vicarship of Christ (Agamben 5). Of course, this comes as no surprise to those that have engaged with his prior The Kingdom and the Glory (2011), where Agamben interprets the Trinity as a stasiological foundation of an oikonomia that plays out (vicariously) as a praxis without Being [1].

In many ways, this essay is supplemental to the larger turn already undertaken in The Kingdom, only that this time, Agamben brings to focus a seminal institution of the Western political tradition. Here Agamben seems to be pressing more heavily on the state of global affairs in which the Church is a metonymy: “…if this gesture interests us, this certainly is not solely insofar as it refers to a problem internal to the Church, but much more because it allows us to focus on a genuinely political theme, that of justice, which like legitimacy cannot be the eliminated from the praxis of our society” (Agamben 16-17). This is consistent with overall structure of The Kingdom, by which the structure of the oikonomia is understood vis-à-vis the true ‘providential machine’ of human administration. So every administrative structure is illegitimate, since for Agamben, it governs through de-substantial vicarious being. It is a true ‘kakokenodicy’ (referring to the emptying) that can only justify effective evil (Agamben 36). To the extent that Agamben’s overarching project seeks to establish a responsive unity to the problem of discessio or internal division, it is not difficult to grasp how Benedict XVI’s return to Tyconius’ obscure thesis of the Church composite of good and evil is highly relevant, as we shall see.

We are far from Augustine’s City of God, where the split was produced between two cities, allowing for what Erik Peterson understood, against Schmitt, as the impossibility of any political theology. Tyconius is, in a sort of way, the persistence of an Anti-Augustinian gnosis. Agamben’s effort, let’s be clear, tries to make Augustine a son of Tyconius, which makes it even more mysterious; since whereas Augustine separated Church and Empire, Tyconius separates evil and good in the temporal katechontic nature of the Church (Agamben 10-11). Agamben cites Illich’s testimony to claim that the Church is always already mysterium iniquitatis as corruption optima pessima (the worst possible corruption of the best). But once again, Agamben seems to be forcing positions, since whereas for Illich the Church, consistent with Augustine, allowed for ius refomandi (reform), Agamben posits discessio as the arche of the corporeal Church, in this way reintroducing the myth of political theology to stage the mysterical drama of History.

In a strange sense, the mystery is not that mysterious. It becomes messianic eschatology on reserve. According to Agamben’s narrative, the Church as a dual nature of opposites, possesses an internal stasis between a temporal restrainer (katechon), the evil that runs counter to against law’s integrity (anomos), and the eschatological dimension of the End. This last character points to the Pauline’ messianicity, which allows Agamben to link Benjamin and Tyconius’ in a common salvific structure. As he writes: “The mysterium iniquitatis…is a historical drama, which is underway in every instant, so to speak, and in which the destiny of humanity, the salvation or fall of human beings, is always at stake.” (Agamben 14). Benedict XVI is a counter-katechon, as he is able to reveal, in his exodus, the eschatological structure that leaves behind the vicarious economy. According to Agamben, Benedict XVI’s message was “nothing but the capacity to keep oneself connected to one’s own end” (Agamben 16).

On the reverse, this entails subscribing a messianic turning of life from within the Church in order to posit a metapolitical form without remainder. The renunciation of the katechon implies that we are left with an economy (oikonomia) devoid of legitimacy. The central problem here is that history itself has become mystery of the economy, instead of an economy of mystery, which is the Pauline arche. What compensates for this illegitimacy becomes messianic politics that “does not remain a mere idea, entirely inert and impotent in the face of law and economy, but succeeds in finding political expression in a force capable of counter-balancing the progressing leaving out onto a single technico-economic plane of the two coordinated but radically heterogeneous principles [legitimacy and legality] that constitutes the most preciouses patrimony of European culture” (Agamben 18).

But if the machine of governance of the West is dual, playing legitimacy and legality in a skirmish co-dependency, why does Agamben conflate the renewal of legitimacy to the coming of a new politics? The reason seems to be that once you accept the condition that what exhausts government is an economical structure of the Christian katechon, you can then accept as exodus a metapolitics of salvation. What is interesting is that this politics, seemingly against Schmitt, actually re-enacts the same movement for an exact, albeit reverse, political trade-off. Agamben does not follow Peterson here. Let us recall that Peterson’s argument was never that the Church is an oikonomia, but that Schmitt’s totalizing and unifying political theology applied not to the Church, but only to Empire. This principial politics, as we know, has always led to catastrophic dominance, from Rome to Christian Monarchy to Nazi Germany. Counter to Schmitt, Agamben wants to produce not an imperial katechon, but “a time of the end, [where] mystery and history correspond without remainder” (Agamben 30).

The problem becomes that in order to set the stage for such “drama”, Agamben needs to avoid at all costs the Augustinian/Petersonian split of the Church in its facticity (as it actually happened). This explains why, in the second essay, history is understood as mysterical. In this context, it is noteworthy that Peterson is fully absent, even though he famously authored the essay “The Church”. There he writes in an important passage:

“The worship the Church celebrates is public worship and not a celebration of the mysterious; it is an obligatory public work, a leitourgia, and not an initiation dependent on voluntary judgment. The public-legal character of Christian worship reflects the fact that the church stands much closer to political entities like kingdom and polis, rather than voluntary associations and unions” [2].

I highlight Peterson’s reference to the “the mysterious”, because this is an explicit polemical stance against Casel, the Benedictine monk that informs Agamben’s mysterical adventure in history. But this has important implications, only two of which I will register here. First, accepting Casel’s mysterical Church leads us to conclude that internal worldly illegitimacy requires that we embrace a messianic politics ‘again’ (Agamben 38). In fact, politics is ultimate salvation in Tyconius, Casal, and Benjamin.

Secondly, mysterical historicity demands voluntary filiation. Agamben lays this out in plain sight: “it is in this drama, always underway, that all are called to play their part without reservation and ambiguity” (Agamben 39). Messianism forces agonic politics, displacing administrative vicarship with a conceptual theodicy. But profane life does not need to coincide with or abdicate a metapolitics of salvation. Now, if this is so, perhaps the accusation raised against governmental structure as illegitimate is in itself not legitimate. What if instead of being on the side of the metapolitics of the eschatological mystery, legitimacy is nothing other than the internal rational enactment of the separation of the profane that is always taking place in the world?

 

 

Notes

  1. Agamben writes in The Kingdom and the Glory (2011): “And, more generally, the intra-Trinitarian relation between the Father and the Son can be considered to be the theological paradigm of every potestas vicaria, in which every act of the vicar is considered to be a manifestation of the will of the one who is represented by him. And yet, as we have seen, the an-archic character of the Son, who is not founded ontologically in the Father, is essential to the Trinitarian economy. That is, the Trinitarian economy is the expression of an anarchic power and being that circulates among the three persons according to an essentially vicarious paradigm… The mystery of being and of the deity coincides entirely with its “economical” mystery. There is no substance of power, but only an “economy,” only a “government.” 138-39 pp.
  2. Erik Peterson. “The Church”. Theological Tractates (Stanford U Press, 2011). 38 pp.

 

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.

The Paradox of the Void at the End of Hegemony: on Maristella Svampa’s Debates Latinoamericanos: Indianismo, desarrollo, dependencia, y populismo. Notes from Presentation & Workshop at the University of Pennsylvania. By Gerardo Muñoz.

debateslat2017Maristella Svampa’s most recent book Debates Latinoamericanos: Indianismo, desarollo, dependencia, y populismo (Edhasa 2016) is truly a significant book. It is the result of more than a decade of archival research and theoretical elaboration, with deep implications in the sociological and political scholarship of the region. In a recent workshop held at the University of Pennsylvania this week, Prof. Tulia Falletti referred to Svampa after the publication of Debates Latinoamericanos and Maldesarrollo (2014) as a “new Guillermo O’Donnell” given the long-lasting impact that her systematic work will produce for so many fields of investigation both in the United States and in Latin America. Framed through four competing analytical problems – indigeneity, development, dependency theory, and the Latin American populist tradition – Debates Latinoamericanos engages and assesses the limits of the political reflection of the region in the last half a century. Furthermore, the book is beneficial for both specialists and students, since it covers a large bulk of historiographical debates in a polemical fashion. And I say polemical here not just in terms of its heterodoxy, but also in terms of a polemos relief that moves thought forward, inviting further reflection and contestation.

In the space of a brief commentary on the book, I cannot attempt the impossible, and offer an substantial summary of such a massive book. Rather, I want to take this opportunity to advance some of the questions that we juggled a few days ago when I presented this book in a workshop. I also want to have in mind Maristella Svampa’s brilliant keynote on populism and the end of the Latin American Progressive Cycle, which she delivered the day after and that was linked to relevant problems elaborated in the book [1].

Svampa writes Debates Latinoamericanos facing the ruinous space of the political in the Latin American tradition. But what and where is the origin of this catastrophe? To what extent can we offer a counter-imperial explanation for imperial domination against a marginalized locality in the world system of modern capitalism? Svampa does not say that the counter-imperial position is insufficient as a model to explain internal expropriation and continuous democratic deficit, but she runs a scan through the different four paradigms that shed light to what is, certainly, the meaty question of Latin American political reason: why has there not been democratic legitimacy in the region for the last two hundred years? I want to pause briefly in a moment that seems to provide a good starting point for conversation, and that I think should be cited at length:

“En ambos países [Argentina y Chile] el espacio ocupado por los indígenas era visto como “desierto”, “espacio vacío”, o para utilizar libremente la imagen de David Viñas, como la “contradicción de lo vacío que debe ser llenado” (1981:73). En Argentina, la metáfora del desierto creaba así una determinada idea de la nación, que tanto había obsesionado a la Generación del 37: más que una nación para el desierto, se trata a de construir un desierto que justificara la expansión de la nación. En Argentina, la expansión del capitalismo agrario y la consolidación del Estado nacional (mediante la estrategia de control territorial y afirmación de la frontera con Chile), se realizaría a través de la violencia genocida contra las poblaciones originarias en diferentes campañas militares, en la Patagonia y en el norte del país, entre 1870 y 1885. Dicha violencia tuvo un efecto demoledor sobre los diferentes pueblos indígenas.” (Svampa 43)

At first sight, it could well be that this passage is just a strict gloss of Tulio Halperin Donghi’s Un nación para el desierto argentino (1989) juxtaposed with David Viñas ’ Indios, Ejercito, y Frontera (1983). But I want to suggest that Svampa is doing something else here too. Whereas for Halperin Donghi the Dessert Campaign commanded by General Roca was the consolidation and crowning of the national state, for Svampa it marks the void at the center and origin of the political in Argentina. The extermination of the indigenous population as a form of ongoing originary accumulation, to say it with John Kranaiuskas, is what is common to the historical development in neoliberal times. But I do not think that Svampa is in agreement with David Viñas’ thesis either. According to Viñas’ narrative, the military defeat of the indigenous community is equivalent, a mere repetition, to the desaparecidos of the military dictatorship during 1976-1983. This repetition points to an originary and symmetrical violence that must be overcome by revolution. As I have studied in my work on Viñas, this critique of historicism of the Argentine state remains within the horizon of revolutionary violence as transcendental excess for liberation [2].

Svampa seems to tell us that this paradox or contradiction at the void makes us aware of a different problem, but also of an alternate reasoning beyond national consolidation and subjective militant liberation. A few pages after this moment, Svampa writes: “Cierto es que la “invisibilización no los borró por completo, sino que los transformó en una presencia no-visible latente y culturalmente constitutiva de formas hegemónicas de la nacionalidad”. Tan hegemónico ha sido el dispositivo fundamental en la representación de la Argentina como nación que muchos argentinos que se lamentaron de la brutalidad de la Campaña del Desierto, incorporaron el dispositivo invisiblizador, contribuyendo a reproducir la idea de que lo indígena ya no es parte de la nación” (Svampa 45). This is telling for a number of reasons. But I mainly want to suggest that the paradox of the void is integral to the labor of hegemony, both as an apparatus of exclusion, but also in its function as a spectral and residual transport.

Whereas both Halperin and Viñas, one from the side of Liberalism and the other from Sartrean Marxism, subscribe a hegemonic closure of history, Svampa’s paradox of the void concerns the very articulation of hegemony as what is installed as the central problem of accounting for the democratic deficit of the region as well as for the exceptional and fissure legitimacy of sovereignty. It is in this way that documents as important as Alberdi’s axiomatic principle of “gobernar es poblar”, Rodolfo Walsh’s “Carta Abierta a la Junta Militar”, or even Ernesto Laclau’s theory of the empty signifier of populist theory, are just different variations the same problem; that is, heterogeneous ways of coming to terms with the paradox of the void, but only to legislate the time of its ruin. What is Laclau’s theory of hegemony if not the assumption that there is a void, but only to the extent that we must find an equivalent filling to constrain the cavity that is constitutive of its origin? Take, for instance, what Laclau says in a moment of his posthumous The Rhetorical Foundations of Society (2014):

“”…the precise relationship between ’empty’ and ‘floating’ signifiers – two terms that have had a considerable currency in contemporary semiotic and post-structuralist literature. In the case of a floating signifier…while an empty signifier on the contrary, would ultimately be a signifier would a signified. All this leads to an inevitable conclusion: understanding the workings of the ideological within the field of collective representations is synonymous with understanding this logic of simplification of the social field that we have called ‘equivalence’.” [3]

In her talk on the end of the Latin American Progressive Cycle, Svampa mentioned three analytical models of populism. First, there is the weak version associated with Loris Zanatta’s analysis which obstinately, and in my opinion erroneously, conflates populism and theological irrationalism. This allows for outrageous comparisons, such as that of Eva Perón with Marie Le Pen, or even Juan Domingo Perón with Trump or Eastern European fascism. Secondly, there is Laclau’s model as first elaborated in his early Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (1977) and later in his On Populist Reason (2002), which tried to advance a coterminous elaboration of hegemony theory with the political vis-à-vis discourse theory and lacanian topologies. Third, is the sociology of populism, which Svampa inscribes herself, in particular elaborated in her book La plaza vacía: las transformaciones del peronismo (1997). This model is also shared by political scientists such as Margarita Lopez Maya, Carlos de la Torre, and in a different way with Benjamin Arditi. This third option is what Svampa offered as a model of “ambivalent populism”, which is in constant struggle with the problem of democracy. But just like the label suggests, ambivalent populism remains just that: ambivalent, which amounts to an impasse and limit. Can we move beyond it?

I read Debates Latinoamericanos as a timely opportunity to pose this problem, and think further. In response to my question about the possibility of a democratic populism without hegemonic closure and charismatic leadership, Svampa mentioned that in Latin America there has been only populisms of hegemony and nothing else. It is also clear that in Latinamericanist reflection, the narrative has been thoroughly populist, but only disguised as “cultural studies”, which was argued already late nineties by Jon Beasley-Murray. It is time to move beyond hegemony theory, in particular if it has proven catastrophic in short and long terms across the political spectrum. Populism with hegemony cannot fly very high, and there is no need to carry heavy burdens of a time long gone [3]. It is time to abandon it. If times have changed, and the composition of the national popular or integral state is no longer the main restraint of politics in the external global networks or even in the internal expansion of the administrative law, it only makes sense that we move towards a demotic populism for posthegemonic times.

This displacement will make a crucial difference between, on one hand, a posthegemonic populist experiment, and on the other a reactionary populism. Whereas right-wing charismatic leaders such as Le Pen or Petry promise a popular nationalism, they do so on the (false) premise that something other than factual globalization is still possible and better. The same could be argued in terms of the rule of law. According to Bruce Ackerman, there are moments of popular expansion of unmet social demands, and there are reactionary constitutional moments that restrain or betray these goals (take the Shelby County vs. Holder case of 2013 decided by the Roberts Court against the constitutionality of two key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965) [5]. Neither delinking from the global economy nor a remote imperial past is desirable as the political fate for millions of citizens and social communities of the West. Such a demand, if called upon, could only be part of a decolonial neo-imperial fantasy. On the reserve of reaction, we could think about Errejón’s important political program “Recuparar la Ilusión”: here we have a great populist proposal that is based neither on charismatic presidentialism, nor in delinking from the Eurozone. Errejón openly sketches a program based on democratic transversality and European integration. In fact, the defeat of Errejón in the Second Congress held in Vistalegre earlier this year was a political catastrophe for those hoping for democratic revival in the European zone.

But we can also look at the so-called emergence of the Right in Latin America. Svampa correctly pointed out that Mauricio Macri’s government has not defunded the main welfare programs of the state during kirchnerismo. This is consistent with Pablo Stefanoni’s hypothesis a couple of years before the meltdown of the progressive cycle, that suggested that after a decade out of power, the Right might have learned to move around the structures of the state in tandem with global multinationals, avoiding the conditions of possibility that early in the millennium, led to the overthrow of several presidents in Argentina, and to the political rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela [6]. In a strange way, the Right knows better than anyone that the situation is no longer that of the 30’s or 40’s (or even the 90’s!), and that in order to foster new and stealth forms of domination, there is a need for constant adjustment. It is time for the Left to also learn from its mistakes if it wants to avoid the pendulum movement that bestows the dismantling of the social gains of the regulatory state in a time of decentralized administrations. Thus, it is not exaggerated or immodest to say that only by affirming a posthegemonic politics does a new progressive project have the capability for a democratic reinvention in Latin America, and across Europe where the future is even gloomier.

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Maristella Svampa. “Latin American Populisms at the End of the Progressive Cycle”. Talk given at the University of Pennsylvania, April 5, 2017. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/lals/event/lalses-seminar-2
  2. See my “Gloria y revolución en David Viñas: sobre “Sábado de Gloria en la Capital (Socialista) de América Latina”. La Habana Elegante, Mayo de 2012. http://www.habanaelegante.com/Archivo_Revolucion/Revolucion_Munoz.html . Also, John Kraniauskas, “Gobernar es repoblar: sobre la acumulación originaria neoliberal” (2003).
  3. Ernesto Laclau. “The Death and Resurrection of the Theory of Ideology”, in The Rhetorical Foundations of Society. London: Verso, 2014.
  4. The idea of hegemony as heavy weight that leads to disaster has been recently posed by Moreiras when reading Podemos in Spain, See, Alberto Moreiras. “The Populist Debate in Spain after 20-D”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/the-populist-debate-in-spain-after-20-d-draft-paper-for-mla-2017-by-alberto-moreiras/
  5. Bruce Ackerman. “Reactionary Constitutional Moments: Further Thoughts on The Civil Rights Revolution”. Jerusalem Review of Legal Studies (2016) 13: 47-58.
  6. Pablo Stefanoni. “La lulización de la izquierda latinoamericana”. http://www.eldiplo.org/notas-web/la-lulizacion-de-la-izquierda-latinoamericana

*This a commentary related to a two-day discussion with Maristella Svampa that took place at the University of Pennsylvania, April 4-5, 2017. The two events were organized by the Latino and Latin American Program & Political Science Dept. This is a work in progress for a forthcoming publication [DNC].

Is There an Infrapolitical Dignity Worthy of the Name? By Gareth Williams.

Rome dignitas

Geoffrey Bennington, Scatter 1: The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger and Derrida. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.

My presentation is framed as a question, but is simply an attempt to think alongside scatter, with no definitive response to the question itself. I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Alberto Moreiras for this gathering, and my admiration to Geoffrey Bennington for Scatter 1, which, via the “politics of politics” in Foucault, Heidegger and Derrida, posits a thinking not of the political per se, but of a certain autoimmune distance from the political, which is, of course, a distance from politics understood as the dialectical orientation and administration of force. Bennington proposes a dismantling of the hermeneutics of the political, and, as such, a deconstruction of the originary polemos/polis relation. He does this in such a way as to unveil—that is, to loosen and scatter—just some of the originary concealments that lie at the heart of the political. Bennington presents us with what one might call, perhaps a little inappropriately, a form of anticipatory resoluteness that is extended, however, not in the name of power over Dasein’s existence, as in Heidegger’s not so surreptitious decision, but in the name of autoimmunity. This movement uncovers a “modest falling short of the transcendental”; the potentiality of a turn toward a thinking of autoimmunity that traces the contours of a thinking without mastery; an opening to a certain environmentality within thinking that remains at a significant remove from the dialectic of reason and the certainties of political consciousness that animate every teleology.

We could understand Scatter1, therefore, as a protocol of reading that highlights, and animates, a certain trembling at the heart of the political; a trembling that is covered over, concealed, and systematically rendered oblivious in the name of teleology. Bennington’s is a protocol that is extended with a view to dispersing all fugitive Self-Other concealments. This is obviously not the work of a card carrying Heideggerian, however. Quite the contrary, the author proposes the detours of scatter in such a way as to open up a task for thinking that does not regurgitate Heidegger’s troublesome metaphorics of proximity and gathering; a metaphorics that Derrida in May ‘68 (“The Ends of Man”), but also in his lectures from a few years before On the Question of Being and History, had already outlined as a thinking of “simple and immediate presence, a metaphorics associating the proximity of Being with the values of neighboring, shelter, house, service, guard, voice and listening” (“Ends, 130). As Derrida highlights in reference to Heideggerian metaphorics, this is “not an insignificant rhetoric” (130).

With this in mind, Scatter 1 takes aim at the underlying problems of the “moment of vision” (Augenblikt), which Heidegger developed with a view to anchoring and holding together the factical and the transcendental, the existential and the existentiell; the gathering together of all thrownness, dispersal and ek-sistence. In contrast to Heidegger’s moment of vision, Bennington invites us to approach the politics of politics in the absence of such a problematic metaphorics, in the process raising the question of metaphoricity in general, and along with it the very conceivability of plurality, coexistence and simultaneity.

Echoing Derrida’s “differance”, Scatter 1 offers its readers the tomb of the proper, the death of the tyranny contained in Heidegger’s metaphysics of gathering and proximity (Derrdia, 1972, 4). As such, the politics of politics unveils an economy of death that lies at the heart of the metaphorics of the familial and the proper. Rather than positing presence, scatter loosens, breaches and breaks open in a movement toward the politics of politics; politics in its autoimmune self-difference, or alter. The politics of politics marks not the sign politics, but the sign of the sign, and therefore the opening to the unveiling trace of the erasure of the trace itself. As a result, Scatter is the movement of an autoimmune destitution of political presence that moves in the name of an economy without reserve, always preceding and differentiating itself from the political.

In these movements the politics of politics governs nothing. If it is anything, scatter is the name for that which “lingers in the expanse of unconcealment” (Derrida,”Ousia and gramme), and, as such, in the expanse of the trace of the erasure of the trace. Scatter is a thought of lingering and of falling short. Making the unveiling of oblivion the issue not of politics, but of the politics of politics, scatter suspends teleology from the start, in the name of always, humbly, and necessarily, falling short of gathering. As such, it remains at all times without a kingdom and without an epoch; as Derrida observes in reference to differance, which remains at all times the underlying movement of scatter, it is an “affirmation foreign to all dialectics” (27). As a result, there is no philosophy of bios and zoe available to us here; there is no affirmative biopolitics in scatter. Rather, it is thinking in the name of blind tactics, empirical wandering (Derrida, 7), and the circumventing of the willful politics of the decision, of any specific political consciousness, and of the operation or action of a subject on an object. In scatter sovereignty is nothing and the only democracy worthy of the name would be an-archic.

This is, of course, a fundamental project for our times, understanding our times as our atrocious, forced familiarity with a seismic shift in the coordination of teleology and eschatology that we have come to call globalization. Half a century ago, in “The Ends of Man”, Derrida first approached the question of dignity and democracy, highlighting the following limit: “What is difficult to think today is an end of man which would not be organized by a dialectics of truth and negativity, an end of man which would not be a teleology in the first person plural” (121). Fifty years later our phrasing would have to be slightly different, since that limit evoked by Derrida has been displaced by the globalizaton of techne and the determination of humanity as standing reserve. In these dire circumstances, we might now have to say that what is difficult to think is an end of man that could possibly be organized by a dialectics of truth and negativity, an end of man that could possibly be a teleology in the first person plural, other than that which leads to the eschaton of complete nomic collapse, of course.

It is in this context that Bennington returns to Derrida’s approach to, and distancing from, the Kantian stipulation that a dignity “worthy of the name” be returned to politics, in such a way that a new politics—a repoliticization, another concept of the political—be forged in which rational beings are treated always as an end, “and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will” (Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals). What is ultimately at stake (and this is inevitable in this proposition) is the aporia of a political re-instrumentalization of man as an end in itself, rather than as a value, even though dignitas is only ever an expression of value—of a certain auctoritas—and, as such, the expression of a certain property of the State. The question of force still, and perhaps only ever, haunts this attempt to make room for, and to distance oneself from, dignity in the politics, property and titles of the State.

Bennington asks: “Is it possible to think of a dignity that is not bound up in (and, one might be temped to say, compromised by) the teleological structures of the Kantian Idea?” It is this question that leads to the question of the structure of (in)dignity—the constitutive indignity—that upholds “the supposed dignity of [all] metaphysical concepts”. From an infrapolitical, rather than from a classical political perspective, what is at stake here is how to try to make room not for dignity in real politics, and therefore in the administration of force (auctoritas), but to let the dignity of a remove from the metaphysics of force (that is, a constitutive indignity) be involved in existence. With this question of constitutive indignity in mind, we are left to wonder if there is an infrapolitical inflection—an inflection that is without doubt akin at all times to the protocols of deconstruction, but that is not necessarily bound by the protocols of deconstruction—; I repeat, is there an infrapolitical inflection available to us that might allow us to reckon with the distance from auctoritas, from the property titles of the State or the dignity of metaphysics, from a site other than that of the Kantian inheritance that Derrida reckons with from “The Ends of Man” (1968) all the way through to the end itself in 2004?

At this point I will merely offer an example, and that, precisely, is the weakness of everything that follows (though in Specters of Marx Derrida notes that “an example always carries beyond itself; it opens up a testamentary dimension” (41). I wonder, then, whether in the example there lies the problem and possibility of an infrapolitical inflection that turns away from the political, and turns in the direction of allowing that the dignity of a remove from force be involved not in politics, but in existence.

Of all people, it is Cicero the elderly statesman who might exemplify such an inflection. In a brief essay published in 1960, the Oxford classicist J.P.V.D. Balsdon recounts Cicero’s return from exile and ultimate political capitulation in 56BC, when, in the face of “the prolonged triumph of gangsterdom which followed his exile” (49), Cicero found himself obliged to turn his back on the dignity and prestige of a public life. He had become an ineffective pariah in the motley world of populist resentment. What is at stake in Balsdon’s treatment of this moment in the history of the Republic are the slight shifts in Cicero’s uses of the terms dignitas and otium, together, at this particular time of capitulation and relinquishment.

In general, the term otium referred to the private or retired, as opposed to active public, life. However, in public life otium could also refer to peace and freedom from disturbance, or relief after war and internal disorder (47). It referred to a form of serenity or harmony in the wake of war. Upon Cicero’s political capitulation, Balsdon says, “the opening remark of the De Oratore, [signaling pseudos] which was finished in 55, introduces the new conception ‘cum dignitate otium’. ‘Otium’ is now retirement, the condition of the elder statesman who turns his back on the political. His active political life, his consulships and proconsulships are at an end (49). “Battling through the stormy seas of popular agitation”, observes Balsdon, Cicero had to “make for a different harbor . . . ‘cum dignitate otium’” (50). For the classicist Balsdon this is a harbor of studious relief from disturbance, freedom from agitation, and relief after war and internal disorder, for “persistence in opposition which was doomed to ineffectiveness would not, for the Roman world at large, promote “cum dignitate otium’” (50).

Learning to turn one’s back on the political in order to exist “cum dignitate otium”, learning to be without or in the absence of the dignitas of auctoritas, and, as a result, detouring back toward the constitutive indignity of the pre-political, and doing so while understanding at all times the agitations of the world of force, Cicero would have confronted and suffered the weight of a dignity uprooted from all titles of community. This would have been a dignity without dwelling in political life, and therefore not entirely worthy of its name, since at the same time it would have been a return to a constitutive indignity that was destined to always fall short of the political metaphysics of gathering, of majesty, or of any harbor.

Surely Cicero would have lived it as a “sad or sober pragmatic renunciation of some fuller version of dignity”, as Bennington puts it at the end of Scatter. But perhaps one could speculate that it is here—“cum dignitate otium”, in the infrapolitical turn back to a constitutive indignity that is exposed to real and symbolic death itself—that one could learn to exist, think, and write in an infrapolitical rather than a political fashion. It is there that one might have to learn to live with the without, in such a way as to exist not in the name of dignity or of a future politics or communal title anchored by the sublime or the general structure of “going beyond”, but in the name of a without that nevertheless lets the dignity of the remove from the public world of force be involved in existence. Perhaps it is cum dignitate otium’s passive movement of allowing to be involved in existence—of a care for that which comes at a remove from the biopolitical orientation and administration of forcethat forges the possibility not of a new democratic form, of a re-democratization built liberally on the logics of inclusion and exclusion, but of an infrapolitical scatter of mastery and title that casts freedom from among the ashes.

A partir de Marranismo e inscripción…, de Alberto Moreiras, Madrid: Escolar y Mayo, 2016. Por Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia.

I

La toma del tiempo

“¿Te gustó el libro, te parece que funciona?” me preguntas. Cuando contesto que sí, que me gustó, siento que la afirmativa es, de inmediato, la tachadura de toda la incomodidad e intensidad asociadas a los libros que he disfrutado. Y éste, como otros que me han gustado, me tomó tiempo. Los que me gustan, me toman tiempo, necesito acompañarlos —por razones que no sé ni quiero explicar— con otras lecturas, con otros textos. Por eso me tardo. Hace tiempo, mucho antes que se pusiera de moda la lentitud académica o universitaria, que abracé las consecuencias y la singularidad de mi “tardarme”. No hay nada que hacer. Además, evité leer las reseñas hasta haber terminado de leer el libro. No quiero que me dañen la película, ni me predispongan, ni me lo cuenten en ninguna dirección.

Ya que se trata de un libro eminentemente autográfico, me gustaría acompañar tu gesto en Marranismo e inscripción con las condiciones, algo del contexto desde donde te vengo leyendo hace un tiempo. Consignar aquí todo el ruido que tengo que poner al lado para poder leer(te).

No creo que nos hayamos dado las manos. No recuerdo un estrechón de manos. Es probable que hayamos coincidido en los pasillos de alguna conferencia profesional y recuerdo algunas fotos colgadas en un panel en el último LASA en Washington, DC. Tu nombre fue primero una cita, una referencia, un pasaje —de hecho recuerdo el uso de The Exhaustion of Difference (2001) en el libro de Juan Duchesne Winter, Fugas incomunistas (2005)— luego devendría parte de esa suerte de epicentro polémico, de chismes e incesantes rumoreos académicos. Esta última situación, de hecho, se convirtió en un escena que precisamente estorbaba o neutralizaba cualquier lectura o comentario mío sobre tus textos. Cuando en medio de alguna conversación con amigos —intelectuales, escritores o universitarios— mencionaba alguno de tus textos, en demasiadas ocasiones, se instalaban rostros, “peros” y muecas. La plantilla de adjetivos, juicios (morales), calificativos o descalificaciones que de inmediato procedían, tenían el efecto (en mi) de abrir ese estúpido “disclaimer” que no me interesaba mediar, que quién carajos va a saber lo que sucedió, que no sé lo que en verdad allí pasó, ni me interesaba, etc., etc. Este gesto mío tampoco ayudaba a mantener la continuidad de la conversación, pues pocos o casi ninguno parecían haberte leído o querían hacerlo. Para muchos, a pesar o quizás debido a su filiación o endeudamiento disciplinario, decir cosas como “ese tipo es un_____________” o “esa tipa es una _____________” es parte de una carga y descarga afectiva y moral que acompaña y firma su labor crítica, aunque dejen esto para el cotilleo y el aparte entre panas. Quería y quiero hablar de otras cosas que no pasan por ahí. ¿De qué estamos hablando, de los textos, de la labor de pensamiento que allí se despliega o de la “estatura moral de las personas envueltas”, de cuán humildes, simpáticos o arrogantes son? No creo que en estos asuntos existan víctimas y victimarios absolutos, impolutos. Ni me importa. En fin.

Creo que el “affaire en Z” o el ground zero que estalló con el “subalternismo” y “post-subalternismo” tiene los visos de un concurso de popularidad, de torneo político-institucional ante los administradores y ganaron los más astutos, los mercadeables, quizás “los más agradables”, los instrumentalizables, los que hablan o hablaron un mejor “Decanish” (la lengua del decanato). Me consta haber sentido y escuchado la “sospecha”, el pasarle la cuenta, el goce ante el —entonces— extraño “latinoamericanista”, al “antipático” español que para colmo no visitaba los santos lugares de la diferencia o la identidad “latinoamericanista”. Nada de lo que aparece entre comillas ni lo afirmo, ni me interesa desmentirlo, porque nada de esto, repito, me consta, ni me parece relevante, ni mucho menos ando por ahí buscando versiones o contra-versiones. De la misma manera, ya se pasea con nuevas vestiduras la “sospecha” y la paranoia ante el deseo infrapolítico por hablar de la esquemática histórica heiddegeriana de cara a América Latina.

Siempre he dicho que me parecen mucho más retadores e estimulantes los lugares de tu enunciación y algunos de tus textos que cualquiera de los textos de tus “enemigos”, adversarios o sus epígonos. Incluso los disfruto más aunque difiera de ellos o cuando todavía no los “entiendo” del todo. Para mi esta es la marca de un texto que “funciona”. By the way, la discursividad decolonial se me cae de las manos porque telegrafía, le sirve la mesa a la simplificación y reduce la diferencia o la complejidad desde la salida. Todo termina cayendo en su sitio y desde la salida se sabe cómo y qué se va a “concluir”.

Creo que mi distancia y desconocimiento íntimo asociados a los días convulsos en “Z” me ha permitido escapar tanto de la moralina institucional, del torneo citacional sectario, de la verbosidad teórica, como del fisiculturismo discursivo o del craso anti-intelectualismo que nuclea, en ocasiones, el bochinche sobre lo que pasó en “Z” y sus consecuencias. Con lo anterior ni niego, ni dudo de los dolores y sufrimientos realmente vividos durante esos años, como subestimo la “realidad” de movidas y maquinaciones que pueden “testimoniar” o negar cualquiera de sus participantes o testigos. En verdad, Alberto, me aburre el tema. Igual me siento como quien se asoma a una escena obscenamente íntima y no tiene manera de salir de allí. Esto en particular ni lo celebro, ni lo agradezco, lo doy por recibido. Sobre el sujeto que escribe Marranismo e inscripción este relato sobre “Z” parece una herida sin sutura. Espero, sin embargo, que esto sea lo menos discutido, leído o comentado de Marranisno e inscripción. O que por curiosidad malsana permita que otros lectores se acerquen al libro. Si se va a convertir en otra re-edición del dime-y-direte entre los que son y los que no son (algo), paso. Las reseñas que he leído ya enfatizan lo que me parece importante del libro.

Creo que la mejor funcionalidad de este libro, es esa funcionalidad averiada que tan productiva y dialogante me parece y que firma lo que me atrevería a subrayar como una singularidad de lo literario y, borgianamente, de lo teórico. Algunos de los aspectos me parecen contribuciones del libro son: 1) la inscripción decisiva del daño y regocijo anti-teórico que plaga la academia contemporánea. Necesitamos asediar la hegemonía de la pulsión anti-intelectual, anti-teórica que regentea la universidad tal y como la conocemos hoy. Fue toda una sorpresa, más que estimulante, leer en las páginas dedicadas al episodio en “Z” el espejeo de un momento efervescente en el campo intelectual puertorriqueño del pasado fin de siglo. Me refiero a las discusiones y debates, además de las histerizaciones de algunos ante el denostado corpus “post-moderno” en el Puerto Rico universitario de finales de los 1990’s y comienzo de los 2000’s, 2) la puesta en discusión de las posibilidades e imposibilidades críticas de la “infrapolítica como una crítica del giro político” (33) y 3) el abandono de la secundariedad intelectual, del enmarcado cientista de la labor crítica, en tanto ficción crítica o ficción teórica. La voluntad escritural, literaria del libro lo coloca serenamente, si se me permite, entre “nuestros extraños libros” latinoamericanos. Nada de esto merece meramente aplausos, sino discusión y deliberación amplios.

II

Asociaciones libres y preguntas. Asocio y pregunto recordando las palabras de mi madrina santera quien me decía, cuando veía venir una pregunta sobre el secreto: lo que se sabe no se pregunta. También porque aquí, tal vez, expongo, no sé, algunas de mis resistencias o confusiones ante MI. Uso MI autorizado por el gesto indigerible, indigesto con el que Brett Levinson presentaba la performance de tu pensamiento en Marranismo e interpretación: “Marranismo e inscripción, henceforth MI, is both a performance and explanation of its own undigestibility, which is to say, the undigestibility of Moreiras within Hispanism as well as within, let us call them, the theoretical humanities.” Recordé que MI es también la abreviatura utilizada por los productores de la película-franquicia de acción y espionaje Mission Impossible protagonizada por Tom Cruise. Y más que cualquier extrapolación efectista o el relleno del vacío que desaloja lo imposible con la proeza visual, me gustaría seguir pensando el carácter imposible de tu crítica al “latinoamericanismo del yo” y el “llamado de una lengua no metafórica”.

En tu lectura del “latinoamericanismo del yo”, éste parece ser consecuencia de una movida cartográfica, de haber padecido una “cartografía” donde se te convirtió en personaje capturado por dicho mapa. Más o mejor que una concepción cartográfica del “yo” ¿podríamos repensar lo “yoico” desde otras coordenadas? Que al igual que la resistencia a la experiencia psicoanalítica se manifiesta con ese “psicoanalizarse es lo que siempre necesita el otro”, también pudieramos evitar la trampa de que “más yoico eres tú” y responsabilizarnos por ese estar implicados hasta el tuétano en la opción de la primera persona. Creo que MI expone un “yo”, tal vez indigesto pero también en vías de fuga, abandonándose a otros placeres y por lo mismo, ojalá, camino a otra interlocución. Ahora bien, más o menos que el diseño o una captura cartográfica lo “yoico” me parece un privilegiar, un totalizar la presencia y el actuar del “yo”, volverlo escenario y protagonista indispensable de la labor crítica, la reducción de lo personal o de lo íntimo a la primera persona. ¿El “no hay un nosotros” que exhibe la infrapolítica sería una marca de su carácter post-yoico, infrayoico, su posibilidad imposible?

III

La espalda de lo imposible-lo posible del pensar (:) Deconstruir, desmetaforizar, desnarrativizar ¿des-equivalenciar? “Despertar en el pensamiento”

“No sabemos lo que podría ser una vida sin metáforas, pero sabemos o podemos intuir lo que la metáfora traiciona. Marranismo e inscripción (135)

Me consta, por varias instancias, lecturas e intercambios por Facebook, tu deseo reflexivo por continuar o asumir la tarea de-constructiva derrideana como un despertar del sueño sonámbulo del metafísico —a diferencia del, pero relacionado con el sonámbulo poético (sobre el cual dices poco)— pues el sonámbulo metafísico es quien sueña “sin romper el carácter metafórico de la lengua” o citando a Derrida  despertar como la escucha de la «llamada de una lengua no metafórica imposible» (278).” Es casi seguro que aquí y ahora pulse mi condición crónica, poética, o mi inhabilidad para elucidar, o habitar la lucidez del sujeto de la luz (si se me perdona la redundancia) que ha despertado. Romper la metáfora es producir otra metáfora o al menos suspenderla por un instante. ¿Qué haría posible políticamente esta lengua-no-metafórica-imposible? ¿Con qué tipo de oído escuchas ese “llamado”? ¿O escuchas tal vez el llamado desde una viscosidad literalizante en la que creerías como escritor, como marrano y que nunca deviene discurso en tanto expondría tu secreto? ¿Por qué no lidiar, des-obrar con ese tacto, con el pálpito con “lo real” que también recorre lo meta-phorein como escape de lo dicotómico, como transferencia a otro o cualquier lugar?

Si la metáfora “traiciona”, falta o delinque, sino es leal, ¿cuál es el problema de este “sueño”, cuál es la naturaleza de su deslealtad y qué o quién decide su “politicidad? A veces me parece —puedo, sin duda, equivocarme colosalmente— que si “desmetaforizar es deconstruir” bajo el signo de lo imposible, este des-obrar el trabajo de la metáfora tal vez arrastre una noción muy específica, quizás muy parcial o limitada de lo metafórico que todavía transporta un binario y sólo percibe y reconoce espasmódicamente la potencialidad múltiple, abierta de lo metafórico. ¿La infrapolítica “sospecha” de toda voluntad, más bien de la inevitabilidad-potencialidad metafórica? ¿Insiste alguna voluntad equivalencial, alguna ideologización en el trabajo de la metáfora?

Espero que estas notas (menores) te hayan sacado de las “ascuas”, de allí donde mis salidas o silencios en el pasado te habían colocado.

Gracias por el libro y en cuanto me lleguen ejemplares de La hoja de mar te paso uno firmado. Un abrazo.

Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia

20 de marzo de 2017, Silver Spring, Maryland

Ius imperii: on Roberto Esposito’s The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? By Gerardo Muñoz.

Vicenzo Binetti and Gareth Williams’ translation of Roberto Esposito’s The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? (Fordham U Press, 2017) fills an important gap in the Italian thinker’s philosophical trajectory, connecting the early works on the impolitical (Categorie dell’impolitico, Nove pensieri) to the latest elaborations on negative community and the impersonal (Terza persona, Due, Da Fuori). Origins is also an important meditation on the problem of thought, and Esposito admits that had he written this work today, he would have dwelled more on this question central to his own philosophical project up to Da Fouri and the turn to “Italian Thought” (pensiero vivente). Nevertheless, The Origin of the Political is a unique contribution that crowns a systematic effort in mapping the rare misencounter and esoteric exchange between two great Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century: Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil.

In a sequence of thirteen sections, Esposito dwells on the question of the origin of the political in light of western decline into nihilism, empire, and modern totalitarianism. He is not interested in writing a comparative essay, and this book could not be further from that end. Rather, Arendt and Weil are situated face to face in what Esposito calls a “reciprocal complication”, in which two bodies of work can illuminate, complement, and swerve from instances of the said and unsaid (Esposito 2). Albeit their dissimilar intellectual physiognomies and genealogical tracks, which Esposito puts to rest at times, the underlying question at stake is laid out clearly at the beginning. Mainly, the question about the arcanum or principle of the political:

“Does totalitarianism have a tradition, or is it born of destruction? How deep are its roots? Does it go back two decades, two centuries, or two millennia? And ultimately: is it internal or external to the sphere of politics and power? Is it born from lack or from excess? It is on this threshold that the two response, in quite clear-cut fashion diverge.” (Esposito 4).

Whereas for Arendt the causes and even the texture of the political is extraneous from the totalitarian experience that took place in the war theaters of the central Europe, Weil’s response solicits a frontal interrogation of the ruinous catering of the political, going back at least to the Roman Empire. But Esposito does not want to exploit differences between the Weil and Arendt too soon. In the first sections of Origins he brings them to common grounds. First, Esposito notes how important Homer’s Iliad was to both Arendt and Weil in terms of the question of “origins”. In fact, the Iliad does not only represent a ‘before of history’, a poem that cannot be reduced to the narrative of the event; it is also an artifact that allows for truth. Esposito writes: “It is precisely the defense of truth through the name of Homer that most intimately binds our authors” (Esposito 8). Whereas totalitarianism emerges once politics is only a legislative instrument for seeking ends, truth for the an-archic Homeric poem praises both accounts; that of the victor and the defeated. Thus, any an-archic (beyond or before origin or command) is always, necessarily, a history of the defeated, which remains a demand in the order of memory. This is what Arendt’s admires and defends in “Truth and Politics” regarding the Homerian telling of both Hector and Achilles. But it’s also what Weil in her pre-Christian intuitions accepts as the survival of the Greek beginning in the commencement of Christianity without mimesis. To recollect truth in history beyond arcana (origins and commanding force) is to take distance from the force of philosophy of history, and its salvific messianic reversals. This is far from the negation of history; it is the radicalization and the durability of the historical, which Esposito frames with a cue from Broch:

“How can something conceived in terms of a caesura lay the foundations for something enduring? How can one derive the fullness of Grund from the emptiness of Abgrund? How to stabilize and institute freedom when it is born literally from the “abyss of nothingness” This is the question that returns with increasing intensity in Arendt’s essay on revolution…However, revolution cannot be an inaugural caesura and constitutio libertatis simultaneously” (Esposito 17-18).

This explains, perhaps only implicitly (Esposito does not say so openly), Arendt’s convicted defense of the American Founders over the Jacobinism of the French Revolution, which has only been an achievement in history due to the enduring progressive force of living constitutionalism. Esposito does not take up the fact that, Weil also responded critically to the Jacobin rule in her influential “Note sur la suppression générale des partis politiques” (1940). Esposito does claim, however, that any historical an-archy, insofar as it remains incomplete and evolving, must not resolve itself in genesis or redemptive messianism of the “now-time” [1]. This clearing allows for a passage through the origin that brings to bear the proximity of war to politics, which for Arendt delimits the antinomy of polemos and polis, as well as the difference between power and violence elaborated in her book On Violence.

Esposito lays down three different levels of Arendt’s positing of the origin of the political: a first one predicated on the space of the polis for the action of the citizen (polis becoming a theater); a second one, in which the agon is manifested without death; and a third, a Romanization of the Greek physis into auctoritas. For Arendt, Rome becomes a sort of retroactive payment for what was lost and destroyed. It is an after Troy in order to experience “beginning as (re)commencement” (Esposito 31). Rome is the possibility of another polis after the incineration, a tropology for amnesty within the historical development of stasis or social strife. Once again, the hermeneutics of memory over forgetting is placed above a philosophy of history that absolutizes the valence of the political. But it is in this conjuncture where Weil’s thought announces itself as an interruptive force in Arendt’s ontological conversation of the polis.

Esposito immediately tells us that for Weil the “origin” of the political does not run astray due to accumulation of historical catastrophe. According to Weil, the Fall is already original in the sense of being grounded in the event of creation (Esposito 36). Here Weil’s neoplatonic Christianity carries the weight. Weil posits an understanding of contradiction in Christian Trinitarian thought, although unlike the Carl Schmitt of Roman Catholicism and Political Form (1923), she does not substantialize this split through the reciprocity of its division into decision in the name of legitimate order. Weil, as it is well known, affirms a moment of creation grounded in its own abnegation. This revolves in the concept of de-creation that Esposito defines as: “a presence that proposes itself in the modality of absence, as a yes to the other expressed by the negation of self in an act fully coincident with its own renunciation” (Esposito 39). Conceptually consistent with Eckhart’s kenosis and later in modernity with Schelling’s philosophy of revelation, decreation is the Weil’s stamp of unoriginary foundation.

At stake here is the question of impersonal life, which in different ways, Italian thinkers as diverse as Giorgio Agamben, Elettra Stimilli, Davide Tarizzo, or Roberto Esposito himself have articulated in multiple ways in a debate that has come to us under the label of biopolitics. To the extent that decreation is an an-archy of this neoplatonic theology, Weil remains a thinker of the non-subject or of the trace of the finite that is irreducible to any modality of the political [2]. At this point, Esposito exposes the problem of force. Without fully embarking on a phenomenology of the concept in Weil’s reading of the Iliad, Esposito notes that force has the character of a total encompassing sensation that strips life unto death, belonging to no one, and viciously bypassing all limits. Here Weil cuts away from Arendt’s agonistic impulse of the polis.

The maximum distance with Arendt also emerges at this point: whereas Arendt conceived the Iliad of glory and claritas, for Weil it is “a nocturnal canto of mortality, finitude, and human misery” (Esposito 52). The uncontained force, the true and central protagonist of Homer’s epic, unfolds a negative community that Esposito calls, after Jan Patočka, a community “of the front”. Although Weil’s utmost divergence from Arendt becomes effective in the question of Roman politicity, which for her amounts to a juridical idolatry and a theologico-political glorification, as well as a prelude for the modern totalitarian experiment. In a key moment of this treatment of Weil’s critique of Roman law, Esposito writes:

“But what is even more significant for Weil’s arguments, and this is in contrast to Arendt, is that Roman law – ius, whose intrinsic nexus with iubeo drags the entire semantic frame of iustitia far from the terrain of the Greek dikē – is annexed to the violent sphere of domination. While the latter alludes to the sovereign measure that subsides parts according to their just proportion, the Roman iustum always belongs to he ho stands higher in respect to others who for this very reason are judged to be inferior, or, in the literal sense of the expression, “looked down upon”. This is the principle of a “seeing” that in the roman action of war is always bound to “vanquishing”…” (Esposito 56).

For Weil, Rome was representative of imperium and ius that subordinated the transcendence of its uncontested rule above citizenship equality, such as it existed in the Greek polis through isonomia. Devoid of citizenship, the Roman ius imperii is necessarily a dependent on slavery. Esposito notes that Weil’s anti-roman sense is more consistent with Heidegger’s critique of the falsum of the Roman pax as well as with Elias Canneti’s understanding of roman perpetual war, than with the Romantic anti-roman verdict. In its decadence, Roman politics as based on fallare opens up Christian pastoral power in a long continuum that later reproduces the basis for supreme hegemony. At the same time, Rome never truly stands for war, since it negates by declining conflictivity to peace in the name of domination. That is why for Weil the greatest discovery of the Greeks was to abide by strife as the mother of all things, while realizing its destructive nature. This makes Weil, as Esposito is aware, a figure of ignition, and a “combative thinker”. There is a sense in which the imagination of warring also colors Weil’s reading of Love in Plato’s Symposium, which positively informs her deconstruction of Roman ius.

But is this enough to leave imperial legislative domination? Should one accept Love as contained in war, as a form of warring and as a sword? (Esposito 72). The question that emerges at the very end of the Origins is whether Love can be at the center of a elaboration of a third dimension of the political, traversing both Weil and Arendt’s thought, and establishing perhaps a new principle for politics. It is to this end that Esposito argues: “…justice – love and thought, the thought of love – requires that what appears to others be sacrificed to what is, even if it remains obscured, misunderstood, or despaired (and this is precisely what Weil’s hero also proposes)” (Esposito 77).

Esposito writes just a few pages before that perhaps only Antigone succeeded in facing this differend, but only at the highest possible cost of destruction. It is at this crossroads where we find the last attempt to reconnect Weil and Arendt. However, love (eros) stops short of being a legislative antinomy and premise for a politics of non-domination beyond sacrifice or the payment with one’s own life. One should recall that Arendt’s doctoral work on Saint Augustine and love sheds light on Weil’s pursuit of love in facticity of war [3]. And if love always retains a sacrificial and Christological trace, then it entails that at any moment the condition of eros could dispense towards the very falsum that it seeks to undue. Could there be a politics predicated on love as an origin, capable of obstructing imperial renewal?

This is the question that Esposito’s book elicits, but that it also leaves unanswered. While it is surprising that the question of ‘the friend’ goes without mention in The Origins of the Political – the last twist in the book is on the figure of the hero or the antihero – it begs to ask to what extent friendship, not love, becomes the “deviation of the political” into an post-hegemonic region irreducible to the negation of war? This region is not possible to subsume in the impersonal reversal of the lover, the enemy or the neighbor. Perhaps the “He” that Esposito analyzes in Kafka at the very end of the book cannot be properly placed as an amorous figure, since the friend always arrives, quite unexpectedly, at the game of life. We abide to this intimate encounter beyond ethical and the political maximization. Moreover, we care for him, even when we do not love him. It is the friend, in fact, a figure that finds itself in a hospitable region, in a city like Venice so admired by Weil, where “he can rest when he is exhausted” (Esposito 78). This is a region no longer ruled by imperial politics, nor by its exacerbated modern perpetuity.

 

 

 

Notes

  1. The target here is messianism as represented mainly by Walter Benjamin and other representatives of salvific philosophies. Esposito notes that Hannah Arendt was critical of Walter Benjamin’s messianism in her “Gnoseological Foreword” of Benjamin’s Origin of German Tragic Drama. For a devastating critique of messianism and philosophy of history as a dual machine of political theologies, see Jaime Rodriguez Matos’ Writing of the Formless: José Lezama Lima and the End of Time (Fordham U Press, 2016).
  2. For the non-subject, see Alberto Moreiras’ contribution to the debate of the political in his Línea de sombra: el no-sujeto de lo político (Palinodia, 2006).
  3. Giorgio Agamben makes the claim that love in Heidegger, as informed by Arendt’s early work on St. Augustine, stands for facticity. See his “The Passion of Facticity”, in Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy (Stanford U Press, 1999). 185-205.

Retreating from the Politics of Eternity: on Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. By Gerardo Muñoz.

snyder-on-tyrannyWe often cite James Madison’s acute observation from Federalist 10: “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm”. Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017), is written keeping this political conviction in sight, so indispensable to the democratic aspiration of the framers more than two centuries ago. Snyder, however, is no messenger of good news. In line with those that have taken seriously the rise of presidentalism, and the expansive politization of the executive branch in recent decades, Snyder is making the case for a timely warning against a potential threat for tyranny in the wake of Donald J. Trump victory at the end of last year.

On Tyranny is informed by Snyder’s expertise and research as a historian of Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, which have resulted in landmark contributions such as Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (2012), and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015). In both of these books, Snyder has shown quite convincingly, how the erosion of institutions and the rule of law, due to both communist and fascist planning and dismantling over the control of the eastern region, paved the way for absolute anarchy and systematic destruction that made the Holocaust a juridical and political reality. Snyder does not mean to say, by way of an easy equivalence, that Trumpism amounts to a repetition of this historical period. Rather, On Tyranny is a precise warning on two levels: on one hand, it is a plea to rethink the necessity of institutions in the times of the rise of what Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the imperial presidency; and secondly, to learn as much as we can from History, particularly from the historical evidence that confirms that every republic has always combated and affirmed itself against a latent imperial drift. Snyder’s thesis, presumably informed from a historiographical position, also suggests a political anthropology. In other words, the battle against an empire solicits an abandonment of the voluntary servitude that only feeds the incremental force of reaction. Our present shall not be indifferent to this.

After the 2016 election what is really at stake is whether the Federalist warning against the rise of factions is enough to contain an unprecedented alignment of vertical hegemonic power. There have been scholars, such as constitutional lawyer Eric Posner in The Executive Unbounded (2013), who have said farewell to Madisonian democracy in light of the exceptional upsurge of the executive branch [1]. On Tyranny does not go this far, but it is obvious that its purpose is not to engage in the aporias and intricate developments of constitutional law in order to render feasible an argument in favor of a retreat from hegemonic politics. Non-hegemonic politics always entail breaking the spell of a given set of coordinates that have produced an impasse. Snyder provides an array of historical examples: Rosa Parks in 1955 or Winston Churchill in the darkest moment when Hitler materializes his territorial expansion. It is in these perilous moments that the retreat from hegemonic politics does not mean renouncing political action. It means, first and foremost, abandoning the hyper-political consistency that defines the eternity and enmity of the political. But I do not want to get ahead of myself while briefing Snyder’s book. Havel, Parks, Churchill, Arendt, these are names that metonymically index Snyder’s plea for a politics of vocation in a time when rhinoceros are roaming through the landscape. The reference here is, of course, Ionesco’s well-known 1959 play Rhinoceros, which Snyder introduces when discussing the submission to politics of untruth:

“Ionesco’s aim was to help us see just how bizarre propaganda actually is, but how normal it seems to those who yield to it. By using the absurd image of the rhinoceros, Ionesco was trying to shock people into noticing the strangles of what was actually happening. The Rhinoceri are roaming through our neurological savannahs….And now, as then, many people confused faith in a hugely flawed leader with the truth about the world we all share. Post-truth is pre-fascism” (Snyder 70-71).

The rhinoceros are the political converts, which are always one step too close to the work of hegemony and its delirious power. It is then entirely consistent that Snyder also makes the claim for the protection of a new sense of privacy (sic) that could contain the boundaries between oikos (private) and the polis (public) against the drift towards totalitarianism (Snyder 88). Tyrannical politics is also a politics without secrets. It does not necessarily emanate from this position that a new egotist sense of privacy will act as a modality in an existence that is now beyond risk, guarding its own skin from the wild beasts. Snyder recognizes that there is no politics without factions, as Madison would have also said. Hence, there is no real politics without a minimal corporeal investment (Snyder 83-85).

But we have moved away from the level of hegemonic thirst for domination, conceiving a relation with politics that is not exhausted in the singular existence. Or put in different terms, only in existence could a politics of lesser domination be allowed to emerge against the threat of factions. Politics should not be oriented towards the end of the administration of life, which always amounts to a biopolitics. A republicanist politics is the orgazanition of public and social life that prevents both, the intensification and nullification of life in the polis.

What becomes troublesome, as Snyder makes clear, is that the administration of politics is today justified under the name of terror. In fact, Snyder states: “Modern tyranny is terror management” (Snyder 103). This is, indeed, an actualization of the schmittian withholding of the state of exception now normalized at the heart of democratic systems. Hence, the new danger is not just juridical, although it is also that. Snyder presses on the fact that current governments and parties – from Putin’s Russia to Le Pen’s Front National to Trump’s populist rallies in Florida or North Carolina – are borrowing props and gestures from the 1930s, a decade that Steve Bannon has labeled “exciting”. It is no surprise to anyone that we are currently living in times justified by exception in the name of the “crisis”. It is this time of excitement that provides a grammar of historical teleology and inevitability, and further, of judgment. However, the passage from inevitability to something darker is what Snyder calls the politics of eternity, which is really the core of his book, and the sign under which neo-fascism abides:

“…the politics of eternity performs a masquerade of history, though a different one. It is concerned with the past, but in a self-absorbed way, freed from with any real concern with facts….Eternity politicians bring us the past as a vast misty courtyard of illegible monuments to national victimhood, all of them equally distant from the present.” (Snyder 121).

If there is no real concern with facts, it is because all politics of untruth are politics to cover the Real, or what Jaime Rodriguez Matos has recently called the formless thing [2]. And for Snyder, national populists of the far right are eternity politicians providing a form that at the end of the day is just sending signs of smoke (Snyder 122). What is being covered is the void that leads to a point of no return: mainly, that there is no “greatest moment to return to”, since it is impossible to resurrect Empire. This inevitable untruth provides illusory grounds to radical right rhetoric in Europe. Although, we must infer that this is also the moment where Trump appears in its maximum existential danger to us.

It is uncertain if the institutions of the West will withstand this immanent threat. Although it is in this conjuncture that the rule of law becomes as central as ever before, and to discard it, is perhaps one of the greatest acts of moral decrepitude. It is here where we awake from the sleepwalking of eternal politics, as we are confronted with the historical sense that gives us the phantasmatic company of those who have perished, and that have suffered more than us (Snyder 125). It is in this affirmation, we agree with Snyder, that we find a substantial push against all tyrannies.

 

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Eric Posner & Adrian Vermeule. The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  2. Jaime Rodriguez Matos. “Politics, Trace, Ethics: Disciplinary Delirium—On Trump and Consequences”. Paper Read at USC Conference, November, 2016. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/politics-trace-ethics-disciplinary-delirium-on-trump-and-consequences/

Entrevista a Bruce Ackerman en CTXT. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

ackerman2017

Esta  semana entrevisto al Prof. Bruce Ackerman (Yale University) para el medio español ctxt. Reconocido como uno de los constitucionalistas más importantes en los Estados Unidos, Ackerman es autor de dieciocho libros, entre los que destacan su serie We The People, en tres volúmenes, un trabajo monumental que reconstruye el desarrollo histórico del constitucionalismo del país, el cual propone una interpretación del ‘espíritu de vivencia’ de la Constitución norteamericana contra la exégesis originalista y el centralismo de las cortes. Recientemente en España se ha publicado el primer volumen, bajo el título We The People: Fundamentos de la Historia Constitucional Estadounidense (Traficantes de sueños, 2015). Conversamos sobre Trump, Podemos, y las posibilidades para la reinvención de una agenda progresista para el siglo veintiuno. Leer la entrevista aquí.

¿Qué significa la unidad post-Vistalegre II? Por Luis Villacañas de Castro.

No es lo mismo perder que quedar sentenciado. Si bien era previsible que el errejonismo perdiese en Vistalegre II, no era necesario que quedase sentenciado. A mi entender, esto último sucedió a partir del momento en que la palabra coreada por los asistentes (la que acabó cifrando el mensaje oficial del congreso) fue “unidad” y no “diversidad”. Creo que la diversidad sería lo propio de quienes se tratan, a pesar de todo, como aliados. De haber reclamado diversidad, los asistentes a Vistalegre II hubiesen lanzado un mandato al ganador para que integrase al aliado que quedaba por debajo. Porque la diversidad se organiza, forzosamente, en torno al que pierde, o de lo contrario no habría posiciones diversas que conservar. La unidad, en cambio, sólo puede tener como eje al ganador (sería un contra-sentido crear unidad alrededor del perdedor). Al corearla, el pabellón de Vistalegre II no sólo aclamaba ya al Secretario General, sino que enviaba un claro mensaje a aquéllos que habían acabado siendo su alternativa: dimitid o sumaos a la corriente ganadora, pero no cuestionéis su proyecto. Sólo así podrían evitar ser enemigos internos.

Ahora queda entender en qué va a consistir esta unidad. Permitid que me acerque al tema de una manera indirecta.

Creo que alguien ya lo dijo alguna vez: cuando miramos las fotografías trucadas del estalinismo, sin duda ocurre algo raro. Las más frecuentes son aquéllas en las que Stalin se va quedando solo a medida en que antiguos dirigentes y compañeros de fatigas van desapareciendo de su lado. Donde antes había un grupo (por lo general, retratado en blanco y negro) al final sólo existe Stalin (en ocasiones, a todo color). Pero el raro fenómeno al que me estoy refiriendo no es éste, sino el siguiente: cuando uno mira estas imágenes con atención, no puede sino percibir que los rasgos de los desaparecidos permanecen, de alguna manera, en la cara del Stalin que queda. No sé si se trata de una modificación real, de un efecto simbólico o de un mero automatismo del recuerdo, pero es imposible ignorar esta sensación. Por medio de un proceso que Zizek a buen seguro asociaría con la dialéctica de Hegel, Stalin parece incorporar de forma vampírica al menos un rasgo físico de cada uno de los individuos que fue borrando de su lado, sobre la foto y en la realidad.

Así, la desaparición de un hombre con bigote se traduce, en la figura de Stalin, en un renovado vigor de su mostacho. Y cuando desaparece un dirigente más joven, es Stalin quien entonces aparece más lozano y, además, copiando su peinado. En la última foto de una famosa serie, el gran líder ya aparece solo, tras haber convertido a tres camaradas en fantasmas, y se muestra a pleno color y plenamente humanizado. Parece una oruga que, tras una ardua metamorfosis, se hubiese convertido en mariposa. Sin duda, se trata de una experiencia singular.

La función política y propagandística de todo ello era obvia: promover la visión de que el gran líder lo hizo todo y, además, sin ayuda. Ni siquiera en los buenos tiempos hubo diversidad, y precisamente por eso el discurso oficial podía decir que tampoco hubo enemigos internos. Como lo prueban las fotos, Stalin siempre estuvo solo. Lo verdaderamente interesante, sin embargo, es que, al adoptar los rasgos de aquéllos que va derrotando, Stalin no sólo rescribía el pasado sino que lograba lo más difícil: que el ojo de quien miraba no echase de menos el cambio. Pues parte de los rostros que el observador busca al aproximarse a la foto los encuentra, de alguna forma, incorporados e integrados en el rostro de Stalin. Aunque sabe que ocurre algo raro, el observador ve sus expectativas parcialmente satisfechas y se convence a sí mismo de que aquello que falta jamás estuvo verdaderamente ahí. Así que debió ser verdad: Stalin lo hizo todo y, demás, sin ayuda. Así se reparaba la unidad simbólica que había quedado dañada al acabar con los aliados del pasado.

No traigo a colación esta práctica propagandística para hablar sobre purgas. Esto sería de mal gusto e improcedente. Lo único que pretendo es sugerir por dónde creo que va a ir la futura unidad de Podemos, ahora que la diversidad ha sido derrotada. Pues, si Iglesias es el líder maquiavélico que quiere ser, entonces, a partir del lunes, hará exactamente lo que decía Errejón que había que hacer, pero sin Errejón ni el errejonismo. Lo de menos es que estos últimos se queden o se marchen, se suman o dimitan. Porque el equipo de Iglesias va a vampirizar su discurso para que el errejonismo pierda su razón de ser, presente, pasada y futura. No sólo se les va a derrotar sino que les va a expropiar el suelo que los mantenía en pie. Los mismos que ayer gritaban convocando a la lucha en las calles de la clase obrera no van a tardar ni dos días en abrazar la moderación discursiva y la transversalidad. De pronto, va a haber unidad hasta en el pasado, cuando Iglesias recuerde que él desde siempre fue transversal (y es cierto que en algún momento lo fue; como cierto es que de pronto dejó de serlo, ahora sabemos con qué cálculo).

Lo más paradójico de todo es que este viraje hacia un errejonismo sin errejonistas se habrá hecho gracias al apoyo interno de la militancia más pablista, la cual, empachada de victoria, tardará algún tiempo en entender lo que está pasando. A saber: que Iglesias se ha apoyado en ellos para sentenciar aquello a lo que, a partir de ahora, se acabará pareciendo. Tras sentenciar la Transversalidad como alternativa (tras proteger su flanco derecho), asumirá su discurso para crear su propia unidad simbólica.

Hasta ahora el argumento ha sido paradójico. Pero me temo que será trágico a partir de ahora, cuando se descubra que todo este proceso ha sido catastrófico desde el punto de vista electoral.