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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

“Decontainment, Standing Reserve, the Central American Migrant, and the Question of Dignity”. Paper presented at “All’ombra del Leviatano: tra biopolitica e postegemonia”. (Universitá Roma Tre, May 2017). By Gareth Williams.

In this presentation I will focus on a recent essay by Carlo Galli, titled “Left and Right: Why They Still Make Sense” (Sovereignty in Crisis, 2017) in order to underline what strikes me as being an important inconsistency in the relation between that recent essay and Galli’s previous theses on global war, and, as such, on the question concerning contemporary technology and violence. In particular, Galli’s work on global war is predicated on the ongoing demise of modern political space, yet his recent distinction between left and right appears to uphold the historicity, state-form and Enlightenment tradition that allows for the continued understanding and experience of modern political space. This will then allow me to examine the question of the “equality of dignity” that Galli upholds in relation to the sustained biopolitics of the left. In light of Galli’s biopolitics of the left, I will then contrast Simone Weil and Marx’s ideas on labor and dignity in order to suggest an infrapolitical turn toward existence. My proposition is that all of the above is particularly pertinent for understanding the regional problematic of technics, death and space in the relation between the U.S., Mexico and Central America at the current time.

In his 2013 book Campo de guerra the Mexican journalist Sergio González Rodríguez presents us with an interpretation of recent techno-militarist and security infrastructures in the Mexican-Central American arena that resonate directly with a number of the basic premises of Carlo Galli’s theses on global war. In particular, González Rodríguez examines Mexico’s technological absorption into the U.S. military security apparatus, as exemplified in the legal ratification in 2008 of The Mérida Initiative, or “Plan México”, which in the last 8 years alone has led to $2.5bn in military and security appropriations destined for the Mexican state. In this book, González Rodríguez strives to examine the “twilight of sovereignty” (Marramao) at a time in which the Mexican state has come increasingly into focus as one of the prime perpetrators of extra-legal narco-violence. González Rodríguez speculates that the absorption of Mexican sovereignty by the U.S. military apparatus indicates that the extreme, un-absorbable violence of the last decade on Mexican soil is already being re-converted into new forms of securitized domination in the sphere of the economic and political elites of the North. There is a lot to criticize in this book. However, what can be said, when taken in conjunction with Galli, is that the current indistinction between war and peace is simultaneously post-katechontic (indicating the twilight of the modern nation-state understood as the restraining force against uncontrolled civil conflict within and across borders), and neo-katechontic (indicating that the very perpetuation of the dissolution of the modern nation-state is the force that globalizes as a katechontic principle of our times). More than ever, surplus value and the force of the ontology of the subject that seeks and guarantees its extension reign supreme as both spatial decontainment and katechon simultaneously. The process of post-katechontic re-conversion of Mexican sovereignty into the U.S. military-security complex ultimately upholds the sovereign performance of the Leviathan, but locates its restraining force exclusively in the United States intelligence and military apparatus (the DEA, FBI, Pentagon, CIA, The National Security Agency, The Department of Homeland Security etc).

Without doubt, it is still too premature to consider the military technological absorption of Mexican sovereignty into the U.S. military-security apparatus as a definitive, unquestionable historical process of post-katechontic re-alignment of hemispheric proportions. Having said that, it is certainly the case when we look beyond the U.S.-Mexico border—that is, toward the militarization and securitization of Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala and Belize ( “Programa Frontera Sur”)—that we can glimpse the absorption of Mexican national territory into a new security and spatial architecture: that is, we can perceive the re-definition of Mexican national territory as a military and paramilitarized zone of security and self-defense beyond the boundaries of the U.S. state proper, yet extending the unique interests of the United States.

This southern geographical arrangement of homeland security establishes a military and paramilitary territory of fixed and mobile immigration checkpoints from Chiapas and Tabasco to Oaxaca, Veracruz and beyond, via the installation of a security network characterized by formal and informal patterns of surveillance, espionage, intimidation, fear, harassment, racism, abuse and extortion, as well as by new protocols for the illicit, increasingly sophisticated and cut-throat industry of drug and human trafficking from Central America to the southern states of the United States.

“Programa Frontera Sur” (2014) is, in rhetorical terms, a humanitarian program. However it also extends the security-intelligence agendas of the DEA and U.S. immigration, customs and border protection all the way down to the Mexico-Guatemala border and even into Honduras and El Salvador. In the process it transforms Mexican territory into the place of execution of U.S. homeland security. It does this by essentially converting national territory into a buffer zone, an architectural network for mass arrest and deportation. What was formerly guaranteed legally as national territory is reconverted into the ritualized performance, living geography, and paramilitary end-game of postkatechontic force, thereby realigning Mexico’s military-economic relation to the north, while also redefining and intensifying Mexican paramilitary force’s relation of dominance over the impoverished political spaces, and the migrant bodies that flee from the social violence of, the south. The national territory of Mexico becomes the new border, the tomb of the proper, the negation of space by the formalization of technological indifference in the relation between the spatial and despatialization.

It is in this sense that “Programa Frontera Sur” inaugurates the pure techne of a new form of Mexican post-katechontic nonsovereignty, or active sovereign abdication. With this, I wish to indicate that this recent humanitarian Program highlights a fundamental double shift in the relation between the principle of sovereignty, post-territorial dominium, and the standing reserve. By becoming absorbed by U.S. security agendas Mexican sovereignty relinquishes authority, yet, in the renunciation itself, increases its regional military and paramilitary strength over Central America under the banner of (non)sovereignty.

I begin with this transnational techno-military landscape precisely because it attests directly to Carlo Calli’s formulation of global war and techno-military force, in particular relation to the ongoing dismantling of modern political space. In contrast, in his 2017 essay “Left and Right: Why They Still Make Sense” (Sovereignty in Crisis, 2017, 64-99), Galli presents ‘left’ and ‘right’ as two ways in which the modern, Enlightenment tradition still manifests itself (75). For our purposes today, I wish to highlight what is for me a constitutive short circuit in Galli’s defense of the precise sense of left and right. Specifically, I wish to highlight the moment in which Galli affirms that the Left “cannot go against the impulse for the free flourishing of subjectivity”, because, he continues, “praxis, which is obviously central to the world of politics—prevents it” (85). But why does praxis pre-empt absolutely everything (including the crisis of the modern understanding of political space and state-form) except the flourishing of subjectivity? Galli continues: “It is precisely the presence or absence of the political centrality of the subject and its equal dignity that makes the difference. This is the case”, he says, “regardless of the awareness of the epistemological crisis of subjectivity” (85). Ultimately, in order to offer a “new vision of the world” (97), Galli affirms, “the left must dynamically incite the power of populism” (97) in the name of the “equal dignity” of the subject, for this is what “makes the difference regardless of the awareness of the epistemological crisis of subjectivity”. Therefore, for Galli “the left has the task of taking on the existence and value of individuals as they ought to be, and of firmly articulating the rights of the subjectivities, but not in an essentialistic, identity-making way; in other words, not to turn the individual into a weapon against the other, but rather to arrive at it in all its concreteness” (97). Ultimately Galli wants a new populist biopolitics of the left capable of administering an “equality of dignity” that is neither identitarian nor constructive of antagonisms. In this privileging of praxis or the centrality of the subject, Galli appears to conflate subjectivity and existence, but does so explicitly sanctioning the active concealment of one of the essential determinations of our times: that is, “the epistemological crisis of subjectivity”.

Against crisis, then, the concealment of crisis in the name of leftist populism. Is this a short circuit created by the primacy of politics? It is striking that in order to reach these conclusions Galli has fallen short of addressing a number of constitutive factors, such as the Christian underpinnings of the “equality of dignity”; the question of historicity, other than that of the already collapsing Enlightenment teleology of progress; and the question of contemporary technology that we see, for example, in the double shift I’ve just traced in the relation between the principle of sovereignty, post-territorial military dominium, and the standing reserve, which is another way of referencing global war in a specific, cross-regional context. These are not insignificant absences in Galli’s essay. Indeed, it might appear that the essay is at least partially predicated on their absence.

In the end, however, one is left wondering whether in the current conditions of techno-militaristic globalization there could really be any difference between the “equality of dignity” in Galli’s modernist formulation, and Heidegger’s definition of the standing reserve as the place assigned to human doing—to praxis, for example—in a world dominated by techne (Heidegger, 1977, 17). For example, I wonder in what way the equality of dignity that Galli wishes to extend—an equality that appears to remain sutured to the modern teleology of progress—would not also be constitutive of technology’s order “to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so it [that which is allowed to have a standing] may be on call for a further ordering”. Jacques Derrida recuperates the question of the modern standing reserve and its relation to equality in the following terms, highlighting the constitutive concealment—the person, the unique self— upon, and against which, it is erected: “The individualism of technological civilization relies precisely on a misunderstanding of the unique self. It is the individualism of a role and not of a person . . . Equality for all, the slogan of bourgeois revolution, becomes the objective or quantifiable equality of roles, not of persons” (1999, 37).

In a slightly different though intimately related register, Jean-Luc Nancy (2007) echoed the standing reserve in his notion of “general equivalence” beyond the specific money-form, to the extent that global capital operationalizes—biopoliticizes—humanity itself: “If globalization has thus a necessity—the necessity that Marx designated as the ‘historical performance’ of capital and that consists in nothing other than the creation by the market of the global dimension as such—it is because, through the interdependence of the exchange of value in its merchandise-form (which is the form of general equivalency, money), the interconnection of everyone in the production of humanity as such comes into view” (2007, 37).

Derrida and Nancy’s formulations lead to a question regarding Galli’s recuperation and understanding of the equality of dignity: For example, if biopolitics is the technological production of life that places itself (life) in the role of self- production, and if it does this as a means of re-appropriating social roles in such a way as to accomplish politics, then is there anything in Galli’s equality of dignity other than the biopolitical concealment of the unique self, or person, which accompanies the production of the subject? Within Galli’s formulation, it appears that the thinking of the left is necessarily a thinking of biopolitics—a thinking, that is, of the standing within the order of the social that is sutured to capital in such an intimate way that it preconditions and orients every hegemony, determining our understanding of praxis.

But what if, in the epoch of global war, the question were no longer exclusively that of producing life and reproducing the centrality and will to power of the subject? What if we were to confront the possibility of thinking at a distance from biopolitics, (at a distance, for example, from the technological anthropologization of “equal dignity”) in the name of freedom from the standing-reserve that every biopolitics presupposes, and naturalizes. Can our understanding of the political, and of its limitations, only ever be immanent to the brutal perpetuation of techno-economic force and the ontology of the subject that perpetuates it? Or is there available to us an infra-political turn or distancing from the ontology of the subject? Let us not forget Reiner Schurmann’s fundamental insight in Broken Hegemonies, when he observes that “A thinking of being, which has been disengaged from subjectivism—if such a thinking is at all to come within our reach—forces one to think the political in another way”.

It is with this in mind that I would like to approach the distinction between Simone Weil and Marx, who had fundamentally interconnected though in the end different conceptions of the relationship between dignity, freedom and praxis. Technology lies at the heart of this distinction, as does the relation between attentiveness, or contemplation, and the decision. Weil was correct in highlighting that Marx “had failed to give sufficient attention to the degree to which science and technology themselves tend to reinforce alienation” (Sparling, 92). She was also correct to think that Marx had failed to see that inequality could not be erased “through the abolition of bourgeois property because it was an inherent part of technological life itself” (92-3). Clearly, Weil and Marx are very close (Weil notes, for example, that “the idea of labor considered as a human value is doubtless the one and only spiritual conquest achieved by the human mind since the miracle of Greece” (106). But Weil was certainly closer to Heidegger in her insistence on technology.

Whereas for Marx praxis emancipates man from his alienated, contemplative existence, for Weil it is attentiveness that liberates, opening labor up to the dignity of thinking, which she would also equate with attentiveness to God. In Weil, in other words, labor—the ontical experience that takes place only at the level of the ‘they’ and nowhere else—cuts through to something that is not political, and even lets come forth the possibility for an existence. Whereas Marx sought to turn contemplation into creative activity, thereby transforming philosophy into praxis and, as such, into a form of self-creation akin to un-alienated labor, Weil sought to transform labor into a contemplative activity; not into a means for, or another zone of, instrumentality, but as the forging of an unforeseen path toward the un-concealment of a dignity of thinking that extracts labor from mediocre banality. In Marx philosophy becomes the creative action of the subject, who alters reality; in Weil labor—the creative action—becomes a form of contemplation that alters the relation between thinking and world. Marx’s is a thought of life that produces a common auto-production or auto-creation whose vitality accomplishes politics in itself. In contrast, Weil holds to the possibility of a becoming that is not necessarily subservient to auto-production or self-creation. Her thinking of becoming exists in a register that is slightly different from that of self-creation as the sole pathway toward praxis: “Nothing on earth can stop man from feeling himself born for liberty. Never, whatever may happen, can he accept servitude; for he is a thinking creature . . . the time has come to give up dreaming of liberty, and to make up one’s mind to conceive it”, for, Weil continues, “in order to cease being delivered over to society as passively as a drop of water is to the sea, he would have to be able both to understand it and to act upon it” (83-97).

Perhaps we could say that what distinguishes Weil is a decision for thinking not as manufacturing, not as surrendering passively to the sea of biopolitics or to the standing reserve. For Weil, what is at stake is the possibility of un-concealing a beyond to the productivist suture of biopolitics, an un-concealment in which what is disclosed as previously concealed is the fact that existence cannot be produced entirely through politics, while politics is only ever produced within, and against, existence. In Weil, the purely ontic experience of labor can be uprooted from the disclosedness of the ‘they’ in order to be exposed to the undecidability that is existence.

In contrast, and perhaps in a relation of proximity to Carlo Galli’s notion of the ‘equality of dignity’, Giorgio Agamben ends his essay on stasis by noting that in global civil war “the sole form in which life as such can be politicized is its unconditional exposure to death—that is, bare life” (nuda vita). There is no doubt that this is currently the common sense politics of the left in relation to human rights and the politics of inclusion. Consider, for example, the relation between dignity and the standing reserve in the following rendering of the Central American migrant, which is designed to inspire in the reader both humanist respect and the equality of dignity:

There’s an image from the migrant trails that I’ll never forget. A man missing his right leg, a crutch under each arm, stepping into the darkness toward the train tracks. It was 2009. Before leaving, the man told me: It has stolen so much from me, I don’t think there’s much more to take. It was the train, which sliced his leg off two years before I saw him step toward the tracks in Ixtepec . . . the train—The Beast—devoured his right leg . . . When I saw him, he was about to catch his second train of the trip. Two years and one mutilation later the man had the same goal: make it to the United States to work . . . I write this scene to explain something to the reader: undocumented migration to the United States will not stop. (Martinez, 269-70)

This is the humanist dignity not of an exodus from biopolitical reproduction, but of the journey from one form of bare life to another; a journey traversing the differential conditions of the standing reserve, from subordination to subordination, from will to power to will to power, across the geographies of global war. But bare life’s perpetual inscription of its exposure to death is never a thinking that can be disengaged from subjectivism. In other words, it never forces us to think the ontical experience of labor (such as reading and writing) as a possibility for uprootedness, or exscription, from the political in the name of existence (Nancy, 107), (in which case exscription would announce the problem of the text exposed to labor). Rather, bare life reinscribes the metaphysics of subjectivism as the primacy of politics.

In contrast, the infrapolitical register for thinking the decision for existence, rather than for exposure to death, is a decision for thinking not in light of bare life or the equality of dignity. This would be a completely different register of decisiveness, of decision-making, and of dignity, beyond the biopolitical administration of life and the subjectivity that underpins it, and most certainly beyond the primacy of politics or the centrality of subjectivity and the preconceived notions of praxis that accompany it. It would be an infrapolitical register in which the decision would be “the own-making event of the disclosedness” of existence as “fundamental ownlessness” (Nancy). This infrapolitical register would be an opening to the thinking of the singular—to Being as ownlessness—and, as such, to the thinking of a fundamental modification in our understanding of praxis that would never cease to uncover the question of the relation between justice and the community of beings, certainly, but would do so in light of Being and the ontological difference, rather than in light of the biopolitical administration of life and its assignation of social roles, general equivalence, and the standing reserve, for the latter are only ever indicators of the history of a certain subjectivist nihilism that always underlies both hegemony and counterhegemony.

“Posthegemony and the Crisis of Constitutionalism in the United States”. Paper presented at “All’ombra del Leviatano: tra biopolitica e postegemonia”. (Universitá Roma Tre, May 2017). By Gerardo Muñoz.

In what follows, I will only have time to roughly sketch a couple of ideas of a larger project on “Constitutionalism and posthegemony”. The starting point driving this investigation forward is that we are currently living in the ruin of hegemony, understood as the orienting principle of modern political thought, as it pertains to the crisis of popular sovereignty for democratic legitimation. To the extent that legitimacy is integral to constitutional designs, I want to advance a populist posthegemonic model as one of the ways to think democratic reinvention. I must say here at the offset, that if the trending populist experiments around the globe teach us anything, it is that appealing to the notion of ‘hegemony’, in the wake of Ernesto Laclau’s theorization, is bound to be consistent with neoliberal and administrative machination, but also bound to a communitarian metapolitics [1]. Of course, Laclau’s theory of hegemony is already a theory that tries to come to term with the crisis of popular sovereignty as such, and it is a hegemony after the crisis of inter-state hegemony [2]. My thesis is that hegemony cannot do the work. An implicit premise that guides this reflection is that the rule of law is central to any discussion of the contemporary crisis of democracy. I think that if we are to move beyond liberalism’s impasse, we must do more than traverse the myth of political theology or reenact the critique of political economy. In other words, posthegemony needs to seriously challenge the current transformations of juridical rationalities and legal developments.

From these premises, it follows that constitutionalism has never been more pressing, albeit the skepticism of some scholars, and the systematic disregard for institutional thinking in critical and political theory today in the wake of the ‘political turn’ [3]. But I will return to this debate at the conclusion of my paper. As follows, the route of my exposition will be pretty straightforward, consisting of three precise movements: first, I want to draw attention to the internal crisis of legal legitimacy in the United States; secondly, I will move on to the external crisis of political legality focusing on the work of Krisis Kobach; and lastly, I will state the contours of my larger thesis on posthegemonic populism as an institutional design.

1. Crisis of Legitimacy in the America

There is a wide agreement that there is an ongoing crisis of American constitutionalism. The Terrorist attacks of 9/11, led to several transformative acts, such as the enactment of the Patriot Act, and the boundless statuary power of the Office of Legal Council (think the so-called “torture memos” written by John Yoo), which have severely brought to the attention of the general public the undermining of the separation of powers in conjunction with the menacing rise of the emergency securitarian state [4]. But for many constitutionalists, the effective executive power as a re-ordering of internal national security has been an expression and consequence of the rise of the Imperial Presidency. Although popularized by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. during the Nixon presidency in a book of the same title, the imperial presidency has been the central diagnosis of accounting for the rising threat within the constitutional republic [5]. Presidential illegitimacy is expressed today thoroughly in a set of concrete practices, such as executive orders, unilateral declarations of wars to non-existent entities (ISIS), or ‘rubber stamping’ by NSC lawyers. On the other hand, let us recall that Congress has become incapable of legislating for almost a decade now, which has led some, including the recent SC appointee, Neil Gorsuch, to argue that the courts is now the legislating site (Gorsuch 2005). Let me recall here what liberal constitutionalist Bruce Ackerman told me in an exchange I conducted with him at the beginning of the year: “With the new president, Donald J. Trump, what we are really going to see is if the Constitution will survive the next four years” (Muñoz 2017). The concern is not only coming from Yale Law School. Take, for instance, historian Timothy Snyder, who has made the case in On Tyranny (2017), that Trump’s populism is almost entirely paralleling the constitutional crisis of the Weimar Republic of the 1930s in his depreciation of truth and the rule of law.

Although these diagnoses have many sharp insights in them, it is also the case that they are instances of what Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule have termed “tyranophobia”, which emphasizes the rise of presidentialism in a sort of vacuum (Posner & Vermeule 2009). The reality is that a potential rise of a tyrant in the American politico-legal context will be rare, if not almost entirely impossible. As a case in point, let us remember Trump’s early executive decision to bar certain nationalities from entering the US was immediately dismissed by lower courts. Or what is more, let’s recall the expedite way in which Trump redirected his anti-globalist views of foreign policy into a more global cohesive imperial strategy as suggested by the military cadres. In fact, Presidentialism is not the most threatening menace of the constitutional crisis, and I would like to suggest that there are two other internal tracks that are more worrisome, to the extent that they have legal and political effects. I call them internal, because they emerge from within the development of American law, putting legitimacy in dispute. One is a long duré transformation, and the second, a specific legal case, although both have fundamental implications for democracy.

Let me first start with the transformation. The crisis of American legitimacy has everything to do with the expansion of the administrative state, or the exceeding power of governmental agencies. Take, for instance, Columbia University Professor Philip Hamburger, who in his book Is Administrate Law Unlawful? (2014) argues that the juridical and executive delegations to Federal Agencies are unconstitutional under the principle of separation of powers and the illegality of a deferred delegation of power (undermining the common law delegate potestas non potesta delegari). When Steve Bannon says that one of the missions of the White House is to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’, he is actually popularizing the libertarian opinion against the administrative law’s deference and delegation powers allocated to bureaucracies. Although some (Mashaw 2012, Ernst 2014), have argued that the administrative state has been a long process of American legal tradition, its centrality has undertaken a more controversial tone after the watershed case Chevron vs. NRDC (1984), in which the Burger Court inaugurated the so called principle of ‘deference’. Simply, this means that whenever there is an ambiguous interpretation of a regulatory statue, the case is deferred to the agency for clarification. This does not mean that courts will always rule in favor of agencies; it just means that deference always takes place (agencies still win in about a 92% ratio, according to statistics compiled from 1983 to 2014). But the most important consequence is this: Courts since then have given administrative agencies a broad statutory discretion to enact several components at once: rationalize, interpret, allocate, and execute specific norms and facts under highly arbitrary contexts of decision-making within a ‘thin rationality’ framework.

From an abstract historical projection, the rise of the administrative state into all spheres of public regulation and everyday planning is an assault on the Jeffersonian tradition of democracy, which sought to lessen centralization of power among a large federalist arrangement. For good reasons, some theorists have called it “Tocqueville’s Nightmare”. If what Tocqueville admired in American Democracy was its communitarian and free association patchwork, the new ‘heart’ of law’s integrity in America since the New Deal rests on a bulky administrative state. However, from an internal perspective, the expansion of the administrative state is consistent with development of law’s rationalization to abandon the centrality of courts and judges. This is important, since it is difficult to name what is exactly illegitimate in terms of the law’s integrity. According to Adrian Vermeule (who follows Ronald Dworkin’s premise of Law’s Empire as integrity) the administrative state appears as the natural and rational process of abnegation. Vermeule’s thesis goes as such: “…law has abdicated its imperial pretension, and has done so for valid lawyerly reasons. But there is no real methodological puzzle here; good Dowkinians have to follow integrity where it leads…The trend of deference is not derived from any one judicial decision; it is a global feature of law in the administrate state, observable in many legal systems over time […] Law has decided that it best serves its own ends by lying more or less quietly under the throne” (Vermeule 18-22). It is important to note, however, that the triumph of the administrative state is, in some way, a shadow katechon or second degree Leviathan, at the moment of the disintegration of the popular sovereign state. It is as if the state had to compensate the crisis of democratic deliberation with a form of administrative machination. In the void of sovereignty, a new legitimacy is supplemented with an effective form of machination that widens its domains without fissures.

​Let us now consider the second case, which should make visible this problem in an even brighter light. In 2008, the non-profit group with strong ties to the Tea Party Movement, Citizens United released a documentary entitled Hillary: the documentary (2007), just a few days before the Democratic Primaries at the beginning of that year. I do not have time to comment the documentary, although it only takes a few seconds into the movie to perceive its apocalyptic overtones, conspiracy tropes, and ultra-nationalist rhetoric, to make spectators believe that Hillary Clinton would bring the Armageddon if elected. The documentary did not see its worldwide screen as scheduled, due to FEC (Federal Election Comission) regulation of funding sixty days before an election, which led to the filing of the case by C.U demanding that those regulations were unconstitutional restrictions in violation of the First Amendment (Moss 2017). The question that the Roberts Court had to decide was uniquely worrying: do corporations have 1st Amendment rights? And if so, could they be treated like “persons”, which would amount to an unlimited scrimmage for funding as a necessary condition for speech? In a highly contested opinion, which divided the court 5-4, Justice Kennedy decided in favor of C.U in these terms:

“By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinate with a candidate. The fact that a corporation, or any other speaks is willing to spend money to try to persuade voters presuppose that they have the ultimate influence over the elected officials. This is inconsistent wit many suggestions that the electorate will refuse to take part in a democratic governance because of additional political speech made by a corporation or any other speak” (Post 63).

The opinion not only decided that corporations can influence elections, a precedent that was already in place in Buckley vs. Valeo (1976), but more effectively that there was no limitation on campaign expenditures, since corporations’ medium of public speech is money. It follows from this, of course, that to the extent that money is a medium that amplifies speech, politics, and democracy at large, benefits from the incremental influence of currency in the public. Regulations of financial capital, within this logic, discourage democratic exchange. Robert Post has made the case that the strict reading of the 1st Amendment in Kennedy’s opinion was utterly oblivious to the fact that it not only protests collective right to speech, but also the integrity of electoral campaigns. Corporations have rights of speech under the 1st A and the Commerce Clause, but speech presupposes that we freely speak and remain silent. Money, on the other hand, makes corporations each and every time obliged to speak as public speech.

Of course, legitimacy in a democratic republic rests upon the belief that political representation is responsive to your needs and concerns. When this fails, legitimacy enters a crisis, making democracy into pure administration. If Citizens United means anything it is that, analogous to the administrative state, money becomes an active general equivalent for democratic decision and deliberation. For instance, take a step back and think about how this case fundamentally erodes political parties’ structures (which I think we must stop and reflect how at a global scale we are witnessing the decline of political parties as another expression of the interregnum): between insider loyalists, and those in the shadow; between visible party constituents and members, and corporations and interest groups that support legislation for deregulation effects only (Gerken 2013). Through the principle of equivalence, politics becomes anti-politics as they draw systematically towards a well-established end, always on reserve and computed to bypass the administrative state [6].

That is why, one of the aftereffects of Citizens United’s decision is that it marks the end of political parties as legitimate actors, installing long shadows of players, corporations, and groups as actors of a new anti-democratic structure. This is the factual realization of what Roberto Esposito has called in his book Due: La macchina della teologia politica e il posto del pensiero (2013), the process of machination or ge-stell, which today expresses itself in what I have been calling the principle of general equivalence as the compensatory form of hegemonic domination (Moreiras 2017). In both cases, the administrative state and corporate speech, the People become a phantom sovereign in what is clearly an anti-democratic metastasis.

2. Kris Kobach and the activist legality

​When this occurs, politics and law conflate and become not very different from the police. In fact, one of the consequences of the fall of legitimacy is a crisis of legality, as it trends towards a politics of citizen policing. Take here, as an example, Kris Kobach, a Yale Law School graduate, and current Secretary of the State of Kansas. Who is Kris Kobach? To just draw a minimal profile of the figure: before Yale Law School, Kobach finished his dissertation under Samuel Huntington on the role of political participations of corporations during the apartheid in South Africa, and later in Oxford he completed a book about referendums in Switzerland [7]. He is a comprehensive actor that combines in his research interests on the one hand, populist plebiscitary mechanisms, and on the other, corporation flexibility in the state. In the United States, however, he is known for having drafted the Arizona Bill 1070, which required that state police made irregular arrests to undocumented immigrants wherever it thought there was ‘reasonable suspicion’ (Anderson & Smith 2015). Kobach appears in the context of constitutional crisis, as a representative of what I call, paraphrasing Judith Shklar, an activist legality of moral cruelty [8]. When liberal legitimacy crumbles into machination and administration, politics can emergence to uphold a hegemonic closure, and the effect can only be one of cruelty for those standing on the margins of the rule of law (i.e.: virtue of being citizens). This is very clear if one reads attentively a series of academic articles that Kobach published in 2008, all of them treating the problem of illegal immigration and offering radical solutions.

​In “Reinforcing the Rule: What States can do to stop illegal immigration” (2008), Kobach begins with the Freedmanian premise that a contemporary state cannot be a welfare state and have free migration at the same time. He immediately lays out a detailed set of provisions recommending how states and local authorities could tighten migratory restrictions in order to exert what he calls in another article “attrition through enforcement”: removing social protections, drivers licenses, and higher state education grants to illegal residents. Kobach writes these articles in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, and in fact, he begins most of them considering illegal migrants and refugees always already as potential terrorists. Kobach’s implicit response to the crisis of democratic legitimacy hinges on three forms of reactionary legal-political tactics: first a fiscal premise, in which an immigrant is not considered a subject for the expansion of citizenship, but as a burden to taxpayers. Hence, the only possible solution is self-deportation as a more efficient solution than amnesty (Kobach 2008).

Secondly, he draws on a legal argument that asks the Federal State to become activist at local and state levels. This is a novel political transformation of in United States, since until the 1960s, Republicans and conservatives ideologues favored states rights, and this made sense during the decades of Jim Crow in the South as a way to ‘resist’ the national government anti-segregation laws passed in the 1950s in the Warren Court (Brown vs. BOE). But today, someone like Kobach emerges as a “Conservative Hamiltonian” who incites states to subordinate their federal sovereignty to the national government. In part, Kobach is implicitly responding to the unavoidable presence of the administrative state, recoiling to the national government vis-à-vis emergency statutes, in order to act politically in the face of bureaucratic neutralization. His dismissal of amnesty, for example, is predicated on a hatred for what he takes to be costly disputed management within bureaucracies. Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, Kobach perceives citizenship as an assault on a fictive national identity, which is informed after Huntington’s last book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity (2005).

Forward to the present: Kobach heads Trump’s executive order to establish a Voter Freud Commission, which limits minorities voting access rights and imposes severe registration restrictions for specific electoral filtering under the veneer of anti-freud security. In the wake of Shelby County vs. Holder, which aggressively limited Article V of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, Kobach emerges as an archaic regression of a reactive populism. This is a new politics for and in hegemony while facing bureaucracy, in which cruelty becomes the principle for the logic of inclusion-exclusion mechanism in the polity. As the “People” disappear as a unifying political principle, the hegemonic phantasm of identity and police take the scene.

3. Posthegemonic populism in a constitutional regime

How do we move from the exhaustion of popular sovereignty, as we face the objective and unmovable administrative state and external reactive policing, as the Janus face of a dual hegemonic arrangement? To start, allow me to quote here Bruce Ackerman who asks a similar question in the last chapter “Betrayal?” of his We The People: Civil Rights Revolution (2013), in which he is lamenting decision of the Roberts Court to overturn Article V of the Civil Rights Acts that protects minority voting rights:

“If we hope to sustain the tradition of popular sovereignty into a new century, we cannot afford to cast these leaders as tired epigones living off the constitutional heritage left by the giants of an ever-receding past. We should be reflecting on their achievements – both in adopting New Deal modals to speak for the People and in moving beyond the Frist Reconstruction to establish new egalitarian principles for the modern age” (Ackerman 316)

Following this, Ackerman notes, however, that any hopes for an activist Supreme Court is exhausted, and there is no hope in the horizon that an activist Court will rise to the central scene once again. First all, because the judicial activism was perhaps an epochal reflection that we associate with the Warren Court. But the rise of such decisions was expressions of complex political defeats and contentions of an epoch, now long gone [9]. The administrative state has displaced Court’s hegemony to dynamically play a substantial role in assuming the task of thinking the present under the “living constitution”. This is an epochal transformation of the legal tradition in United States, and which could perhaps inform mirroring problems in Western democracies as we confront new rising Leviathans of equivalences, in which corporations can speak or become persons, and citizens deprived of their legal status become bare persons. I think the pressing question to ask is the following: can constitutionalism become a new form of legitimation amidst the crisis of legitimacy of democracy?

According to scholars such as Bruce Ackerman and Dieter Grimm, constitutionalism as a form of legitimation has been on the rise, since the end of the Second World War (Ackerman 2008 & Grimm 2014). It is worthwhile noting, for example, that Max Weber did not include constitutions or constitutionalism in his typology of legitimacy. Rather, Weber favored charismatic leadership in the spearheaded figure of the President, which can guarantee democracy in the face of factions and the Congress (Weber 1987). Today this is no longer so. The Weberian charismatic figure can rise today to legitimacy only on behalf of the administrative state as best possible case scenario, as Justice Elena Kagan makes the case for in her article “The Presidential Administration”.

If a new constitutionalism is predicated in old categories of the legacy of modern political thought, I do not think we could advance forward. This is why, for me, to the extent that constitutionalism is a project for democratic institutionalism it demands what I call a posthegemonic populism, slightly modifying, but carrying forward Alberto Moreiras’ important notion of marrano populism (Moreiras 2017). Against hegemonic charismatic leadership from above, and dispersed mechanistic administrative state, a posthegemonic populism as a regime of constitutionalism is the only guarantee of democratic reinvention in the post-popular sovereignty epoch.

By calling it a regime, I want to take a distance from the constitution as a firm mold to just restrain governmental power. There is no doubt that constitutions not only consolidate rules, but in a commanding way, allow governments to exist to enact mechanisms create order and authority. Let me turn here to Jeremy Waldron’s essay “Constitutionalism: a skeptical view”, where he proposes that we move from a constitutionalism of restrains to one that “empowers those who would otherwise be powerless, the ordinary people with in most polities are the subject, not the agents of political power” (Waldron 37).

I agree with Waldron’s turn from a constitution of counter-majoritarian restrains to one of singular empowerment, and I also accept his intuition that “popular sovereignty can be the source of nondemocratic government” (Waldron 37). I will take issue with Waldron’s stance to the extent that he continues to address popular sovereignty as just a concept: in a way, as if popular sovereignty is nothing but a term in dry ink on paper after the administrative state and the equivalence between corporations, money, and citizens. His constitutionalism is still one of a design for / of the “citizen”. That is why Waldron does not address the question of legitimacy or that of the administrative state. He can only favor a constitutionalism as a concept in the shadow of the People. Let me quote Waldron at length in the closing of his essay, where he takes a clear anti-populist position:

“…popular sovereignty is not always a stable position, even as an account of constitutional origins. In America, a great many constitutionalists are as comfortable talking about “the Framers” and their extraordinary virtue— which is a decidedly nonpopulist conception—as they are talking about popular sovereignty. They will scramble back to the rhetoric of popular sovereignty whenever they feel the need to give constitutional limits and restraints credentials that can stand up to those of the legislative enactments they are supposed to strike down. But their true view of constitutional origins reveals itself as a decidedly aristocratic conception” (Waldron 39).

Here I bracket the ‘originalist’ component of Waldron’s claim, and move on to what I see as the limitation of this position, which analogously allow us to press forward. It is of little interests if the Framers were believes in popular sovereignty (Ackerman), or defenders of Royalism (Nelson). What is important, is a living constitutionalism that can emergence in the wake of the end of popular sovereignty, against hegemonic positions; whether presidentialist, identitarian, or administrative. In all of these three tracks, the People have been erased from the scene. If we accept that populism is a latent expression of democratic deliberation at any given time, always oppositional to an elite, then the solution to Waldron’s skepticism is posthegemonic populism in a constitutional design.

Whereas I think that constitutionalism without posthegemony is blind in practice, I also think that posthegemony without constitutionalism is shortsighted in time. What constitutionalism provides to populism is a temporal register: a horizontal line to institutionalize demotic time against archaic forces of regression in the economic and political spheres. Posthegemonic populism faces the crisis of popular sovereignty and the equivalent machination of the citizen, as a relay for a transitional phase for a possible democratic reinvention. Posthegemony is, in this sense, the figure that allows for a democracy vis-à-vis populism without succumbing to telic and vertical form of hegemony.

How is this to be done practically, if praxis was, in fact, absent in Waldron’s idolatrous separation of powers unifying popular sovereignty? In this conjuncture I think that constitutionalism plays a temporal dimension of democratic legitimacy, and federalism a dynamic republicanist “living” form against hegemonic phantasies. First of all, because federalism is irreducible to sovereignty, which entails an always contingent and uncooperative dissenting nature (Amar 1987 & Gerken 2008). The are two scenarios where this is plays out in the present, and which I will to elaborate in forthcoming essay: 1. Sanctuary cities and legal defense clinics at state levels in United States, 2. the aftermath of errejonismo in Spain, where after Errejón lost to Iglesias in Vistalegre2, “transversality” is being assimilated in the political design of the autonomy of Murcia, in what is an evident tactic of ‘uncooperative federalism’ against Iglesias’ vertical unity. This does not mean that “transversality” is posthegemonic, and Errejón insistance on building a ‘Pueblo’ is a symptom of an impasse. What we are trying to push errejonismo in a post-hegemonic transversality, where hegemony is abandoned as a way for democratic breakthrough (Muñoz 2017).

Federalism is the practical space by which a posthegemonic populism can be concretely elaborated at an epochal of impasse, dominated by efforts of hegemonic machination of the administrative state, even its Presidentialist phase, and the vertical politization of identity. In this light, only a populism without hegemony can return democracy to a dignity that is infra-political in nature; where democracy is irreducible to the political. This amounts to a transformative turn towards a legitimacy that does requires neither hegemonies nor eschatological awaiting to cover up the void at the center of our epoch.




1. See here the pieces against hegemonic populism, by Villacañas (2017), Moreiras (2017), and Muñoz (2017) in the context of Podemos in Spain. This exchange took place during a workshop on Populism held at Princeton University, April 4, 2017.

2. I thank Peter Baker for a conversation on this precise point, and who has elaborated this in his essay “Politics of the Multitude”, also read in this conference.

3. Take, as an example, Giorgio Agamben in Il Misterio del male (2013) who argues that all institutions in the West are undergoing a crisis of legitimacy. However, in order to contest such illegitimacy, Agamben portrays Benedict XVI in an eschatological time that is “inherently political”. Agamben writes: “Powers and institutions are not legitimate today because they have fallen into illegality; rather the contrary is true, namely that illegality is so diffuse and generalized because the powers have lost all awareness of their legitimacy…a crisis that affects legitimacy cannot be resolved solely on the level of law”. But as a trade off for law, Agamben offers a metapolitics of salvation. But as Villacañas as shown (2016), legitimacy needs not hegemony or metapolitics. See my review “Illegitimacy? On Giorgio Agamben’s The Mystery of Evil” (2017). The discarding of institutions in political theory has being recently criticized by Jeremy Waldron (2016).

4. Bruce Ackerman. The Decline and Fall of the American Republic (2014), 87-116 pp.

5. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. The Imperial Presidency. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.

6. Moreiras has argued that posthegemony opens up a destiny without calculation, undecidible: “Quizás la practica poshegemónica no es mas que compulsión de destino en la teoría: el intento poslibidinal de retorno a un estado previo…Su única compensación – pero también la sombra de su politicidad efectiva – es que, buscando la manera de producir su propia muerte, la pulsión poshegemónica lucha contra toda muerte impuesta, es decir, contra la invención libidinal del otro sujeto. También aquí el ethos es daimon”. 140 pp.

7. See, The referendum: direct democracy in Switzerland (1993), and Political capital: the motives, tactics, and goals of politicized businesses in South Africa (1990).

8. Judith Shklar (1984): “Moreover, society did not depend on personal virtue for its survival. A society of complete villains would be glued together just as well as ours, and would be no worse in general. Not morality, but physical need and laws, even the most ferocious, keep us together. After years of religious strife, Montaigne’s mind was a miniature civil war…But his jumble of political perceptions reflected not intellectual failure, but a refusal to accept either the comforts of political passivity or of Machiavelli’s platitudes”. 37 pp.

9. Laura Kalman has recalled how the epithet “activist court” emerged during the politized years of the LBJ Presidency and Abe Fortas. See her new The Long Reach of The Sixties: LBJ, Nixon, and The Making of the Contemporary Supreme Court (2017). 252-307 pp.

Legitimacy and the administrative state. By Gerardo Muñoz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Réplicas. Por José Luis Villacañas. 

Querido Gerardo: muchas gracias por tu comentario, que nos permite mantener la conversación que mantuvimos en Princeton. Wilson es un modelo para el pensamiento de Weber sobre el líder antiautoritario, desde luego. No conozco el libro que citas, pero me parece muy relevante y voy a hacerme con él. Pues lo peculiar de Weber es ciertamente una defensa del parlamentarismo. Este solo hecho hace de Schmitt un hijo ilegítimo de Weber. El parlamentarismo es electivamente afin con lo aprincipial, desde luego. La discusion infinita es el reconocimiento de la falta de fundamentos.

En realidad, el parlamento no es una escuela de teoría, sino una aspiración a la concreción y singularización de las decisiones y por eso es la mayor institución al servicio del control del estado administrativo. Por supuesto que el parlamento es coral, y desde luego no tiene nada que ver con el líder concentrado presidencial. Sin embargo, es el lugar en el que se puede apreciar la manera en que se acredita que alguien es capaz defender intereses materiales de los dominados.

Ahora bien, por si solo no es suficiente para controlar el estado administrativo, porque sería como perseguir el ratón al gato. De lo que se trata es de que el que da las órdenes en el estado administrativo tenga que responder también a los intereses de los dominados. Desde este punto de vista, argumenté que sólo las dos dimensiones (Parlamento y Gobierno) están en condiciones de controlar la burocracia.

El primero porque analiza las decisiones de los burócratas, las hace públicas, exige preguntas y describe procesos, por mucho que tengan base legal; el segundo porque permite que el activismo legislativo o incluso el ordenamiento esté en condiciones de responder a los intereses de los dominados. Sin esta figura, sólo se controlaría a la contra; por un presidente adecuado se presiona a favor de que se atiendan positivamente los intereses de los dominados. El parlamento en todo caso puede ser decisivo para que se no violen o se lesionen.

Querido Alberto: para comprender este debate debemos marcar el sentido bastante limitado de lo que Galli llama pensamiento moderno. Lo que Galli quiere es, como Duso, eliminar como marco de conversación el planteamiento de Hobbes. Esto significa que todo pensamiento contractualista moderno es principial y desde luego nadie quiere caer en sus redes. Desde luego, el pensamiento republicano no cae en esas redes porque ciertamente no asume esa creatio ex nihilo del contrato bajo ninguna de sus maneras. Y desde luego, tienes razón: el anarquismo no es sino una manifestación más radical de la teoría del contrato, como se descubre cuando observamos las deudas que Proudhon mantiene respecto de Rousseau.

Las paradojas de este pensamiento principial llevaron a Kant a hablar del contrato como un ideal del futuro y nunca como un fundamento político. Y desde luego, no confundo el anarco-populismo con el anarquismo en tanto tradición que forma parte de la historia de las ideas.

El problema, como dijimos en conversaciones anteriores, es definir bien el asunto a-principial. Y sinceramente, este es el punto que no entiendo bien. Pues lo decisivo para mí no es reconocer que desde luego nada en política ni en filosofía política invoca un fundamento. El hecho de que Laclau intente suturar su pensamiento político con el líder como referente vacío no es solo el más sincero de los reconocimientos de esa ausencia, sino también pensamiento no completamente reconciliado con ella, por cuanto intenta por todos los medios buscarle un subrogado. Sin embargo, no es claro para mí que las rupturas con los órdenes conceptuales fundamentales, y su disolución, signifique la ruptura con los órdenes materiales, y entre ellos los psíquicos. Y creo que hay una cierta filosofía de la historia cuando la primera destrucción se confunde con la segunda.

De hecho, acerca de esto iba mi conferencia, un tema al que nadie entró porque implica una relativización de la filosofía como aparato conceptual para apresar estas realidades materiales. La filosofía de la historia, siempre de naturaleza utópica, consiste en suponer que nos libramos de la historia justo al librarnos de algunos conceptos metafísicos. Esto me separa de los juegos conceptuales de Heidegger. Una filosofía aprincipial deja todavía muchas realidades materiales históricas operando.

Mi posición es que el populismo no puede ser hegemónico porque las realidades materiales no lo permitirán mientras el centro de gravedad de la vida histórica no se condense al límite de las tragedias. Mientras esto no ocurra, lo que quiere decir la teoría de la hegemonía de forma real es que los regímenes presidencialistas exigen que la población se divida en dos para la elección y que por tanto se tendrá tanto más poder cuanto más clara sea la división y menos se llegue a la mayoría sin compromisos de pactos. Pero en los regímenes parlamentarios la hegemonía no significa nada. Y el mayor de los errores de Iglesias ha sido acuñar un pensamiento de la hegemonía en un régimen parlamentario puro, que no tiene ningún escenario propio del presidencialismo.

El republicanismo por supuesto que comparte la conciencia de la necesidad de acabar con ese pensamiento principial. Pero reconoce que eso es una condición necesaria, pero en modo alguno suficiente para avanzar hacia un estado de mínima dominación del ser humano por el ser humano. Y llama la atención acerca de la carencia de mediaciones entre el anarco-populismo y la política. Por eso no se trata de populismo sin líder. Se trata de política capaz de reducir la dominación, lo que positivamente es otra cosa completamente. Y esto nos lleva a la cuestión de nuestro viejo debate.

El republicanismo no necesita de la hegemonía, pero sí necesita de la legitimidad. Y el problema es que la legitimidad no es una afirmación de arché. Y sin embargo, tampoco queda bien abordado mediante un pensamiento exclusivamente deconstructivo del arché. Aquí las categorías del republicanismo exige algún forma de diferencia entre decisiones, algo que no veo en el anarco-populismo que defiendes. Por eso creo que a partir del republicanismo se pueden traducir mejor las categorías de la emancipación.


(*Esta réplica contesta a los textos “Presidencialismo y liderazgo. Una pregunta para José Luis Villacañas”, de Gerardo Muñoz y “El desacuerdo de José Luis Villacañas”, de Alberto Moreiras.)

*Fotografía: Princeton University. April 7.2017.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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.





  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.






  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.

Infrareligion in the abyss: on Jaime Rodriguez Matos’ Writing of the Formless: José Lezama Lima and the End of Time. By Gerardo Muñoz.

writing-of-the-formless_2017Jaime Rodriguez Matos’ Writing of the Formless: José Lezama Lima and the End of Time (Fordham U Press, 2016) is an ambitious and truly mesmerizing mediation on the Cuban poet José Lezama Lima in light of contemporary theoretical debates concerning the status of the political in the wake of Modernity’s decline into nihilism. Rodriguez Matos’ sophisticated intervention attempts to accomplish several objectives at once, and in this sense, the book does not pretend to be an exegetical or philological contribution to scholarly debates on the poet. Rather, in the book, Lezama is taken as a poet-thinker of the informe, whose main import into Western history of writing and thought is that of a ‘writing of the formless’ (Rodriguez Matos 171). In its totality, the whole book is a groundwork for such a claim, and it works through a series of tropologies, figures, and debates that extend from Lezama’s specific cultural Cuban context and its readers, to a set of wider debates pertinent to Left-Heideggerianism, political theology, or the event (although by no means, is the complex set of debates reducible to these three philosophical indexes).

If one were to describe the project in its most far-reaching ends, Writing of the Formless is important yet for another reason: by handling several topologies of Lezama Lima’s oeuvre, we are offered an in-depth analysis of the intricate conceptual wager in infrapolitics, or in infrapolitical-deconstruction, which as Rodriguez Matos suggests, is the provenance of Lezama Lima’s contribution as a critical task. The book is divided in two parts. In the first one, four chapters grid an explication of the problem of time, as well as that of the formless, revolution, and nihilism. In the second, Rodriguez Matos engages in an innovative reading of different zones in Lezama Lima that evidence the destruction of principial politics, and the opening towards an (infra)politics of the void. In this review, I can hardly do justice to a book that I truly consider a masterwork of contemporary thought. In my opinion, this monograph comes as close as it gets to being flawless in establishing conceptual premises and argumentative deployment. In what follows I will map some provocative elements of his exposition, in hope that it will be a starting point for a discussion with those critically engaging Latin America, the political, and the stakes of thought in our time.

The point of departure of Writing of the Formless is the temporal question (in Latin America, although it is not localized here as a site of privilege) of Modernity, which is registered as a Janus face machine: on one end, the linear time of Hegel’s philosophy of history; and on the other, the teleological time of the messianic redemption and reservoir to many salvific political theologies. Early in the book, Rodriguez Matos sets up to establish the conditions that guide the development of his task:

“But it now it seems that in fact modernity, and not any possible redemption or liberation from its political and economic deadlocks, is itself a mixed temporality that is constantly battling between a circular and a linear time – a linear time of alienation and a circulation teleological time of redemption. The two need to be taken together, even in the very (im)possibility of such a synthesis. And this would mean that modernity is no longer the other of the revolutionary interruption of empty chronological time; rather, these are two sides of a single coin” (Rodriguez Matos 33).

By way of this dual apparatus of time, it becomes clear that linear time represents the time of alienation, where the eternal return marks its radical detachment only to become the engine of the theological messianic interruption. The two temporalities that frame Modernity, according to Rodriguez Matos, are a policing force, as well as “a residual effect or the symptom of the emergence of order itself” (Rodriguez Matos 22). And it is this formal legislation that synthesizes a duality that veil, in a variety of effective techniques, the formless of any foundation. Throughout the book the formless has different dispositions, such as the “intemporal”, “time of the absence of time”, or Lezama’s own “muerte del tiempo”. These all play key strategic functions and deconstructive relays. It might be the case, at least implicitly, that Rodriguez Matos knows that the history of metaphysics to cover up the void is, at the same time, the narrative produced by its apparatuses. What is important, however, is that by allocating these two times, Rodriguez Matos is able to set up what was otherwise obstructed: mainly, the time of void, which falls right beneath all principial politics, always in retreat and outside legitimizing messianic and developmental policity of Western modernity that governs both the time of the One and that of the multiple. Lezama is the figure that mobilizes a drift away from these two modalities:

“…beyond the politization of politics, and beyond the image of time as synthetic operation, what remains is the possibility of thinking with the poet beyond the current apparatus of academic-imperial) knowledge and all of its returns” (Rodriguez 25).

One would not exaggerate much in concluding that Lezama Lima as a thinker of the informe becomes the necessary antidote and hospitable dispensary against the philological exercises of the traditional belleletrism, but also of decolonial and neocommunist designs that, although attempting at the surface to break-away with imperial semblances, end up carrying the guise of principial politics as the highest flagpole for self-legitimation.

The reading of the informe allows us to move beyond the temporal dichotomy between revolution and conservation, messianic originalism (such as that of catholic, later convert post-socialist official poet Cintio Vitier), and the multiplicity of historical time (such as that endorsed by Rafael Rojas, Cuba’s most sophisticated neo-republican intellectual historian). It must be noted, however, that many other intellectuals and thinkers are tested on this basis. The common ground shared by diverse thinkers such as Rafael Rojas, Ernesto Laclau, Cintio Vitier, Walter Benjamin, Bruno Bosteels, Alain Badiou, and those that subscribe to post-foundationalism becomes clear: mainly, the assumption that the crisis of nihilism of temporality can be amended by always providing an adjustment for the abyss. In this way, Rodriguez Matos offers a frontal critique of any claim instantiated in hegemonic phantasms: “Our task remains to think time in all its radical complexity – that is, to think time as something other than a solution” (Rodriguez Matos 44). Writing of the Formless stands up to this deliverance.

There are many important elements that come forth in this argumentation, one of them being that the covering of the formless, or the lack of foundation, is usually articulated through a master and masterable political theology. It is not just Rodriguez Matos who arrives at this conclusion, but also Bruno Bosteels by way of observing the inscription of Christianity in many of contemporary thinkers of the Left. In a passage cited by Rodriguez Matos from Marx and Freud in Latin America, we read: “All these thinkers [Badiou, Negri, Zizek], in fact, remain deeply entangled in the political theology of Christianity – unable to illustrate the militant subject except through the figure of the saint” (Rodriguez Matos 44). It is even more perplexing then, that Bosteels’ own solution to this problem ends up being just more political theology by way of Leon Rozitchner’s reading of Saint Augustine, and merely exchanging the category of the saint for that of the militant subject, even though this is already part of the history of alienation of Christianity [1]. But the reason for this might be, as Rodriguez Matos thematizes a few pages later, that any predicament for politization as supreme value today needs to ascertain some sort of militant subject of the event in order to guarantee a consensus on “contemporaneity”, and in this way avoids what the present is or what it actually stands for (Rodriguez Matos 109).

The chapters 2 (“Sovereignties, Poetic, and Otherwise) and three (“The Mixed Times of the Revolution”) attend to how the question of time was conceived within the Cuban Revolution. This framing, one must first note, already dislocates the grounds of the discussion centered on the sovereign or the caudillo, a fetish so dear to both revolutionary and liberal imaginations when confronting the ‘Latinamericanist object’. Hence, in chapter two, Rodriguez Matos advances a demolishing reading of the temporality of foquismo, although not on the grounds that one could have imagined. From a historiographical standpoint, it is common to agree on the fact that that both Guevara and Debray’s formulations have little substance in historical experience, since they are theoretical fictions that develop to master a non-repeatable event (the Cuban Revolution), which was far from being successful solely because of the foco guerrillero in the first place. But this is not Rodriguez Matos’ critique. The argument is set up to make the claim that the Revolution, in order to become flesh and conceive the unity and sameness with the people, theory must be first discarded (Rodriguez Matos 60). Rather mysteriously, in foquismo it is the people that ‘act’, while Guevara becomes its narratological supplement. This is the inversion of the Leninist principle that alleged that in order for a revolution to materialize it needs a good theory beforehand.

Guevara, in Rodriguez Matos, takes the role of the anti-Lenin. In fact, in a strange way, Che appears as a sort of naturalist-philosopher: “…what Guevara is after is the same time that was at issue in Marti: the idealism of the Revolution has to become a force of nature, sprouting in the wind without being cultivated…in all its originary ontological stability, phusis) and the people, without the transubstantiation of the idea into flesh yielding intimate unity, and without this force of nature forging revolutionary ideology…this passage would be nothing but the declaration of one individual from Argentina who has recently landed in a foreign land…” (Rodriguez Matos 60). Guevara is a hopeless romantic, who recaps the Romantic ideal of the fragmented temporality in the pedagogical poem, only that for him the impolitical people are in a “time out of joint”. This is why they must also become a New Man. The catastrophe of foquismo, is thus not merely at the level of a massive historical evidence, but an afterfact of a metaphysics that is already one step away from thinking the void, while formalizing it through a dialectical moment. Rodriguez Matos stages the central problem, just after having glossed Guevara’s revolutionary thought:

“For the metaphysics in question already relies heavily on the form in which it makes multiple small narratives. For the metaphysics in question already relieves heavily on the form in which it makes multiple temporalities appears together. That is, modernity is fundamentally and internally committed to the constant confrontation of disparate forms of time. Instead, I suggest taking a closer look at the time of lost time, the time of the void, and what might happen when it is not filled in but, rather, allowed to resonate in all its formlessness.” (Rodriguez Matos 61).

How should we understand this echo? The turn to Celan and Heidegger’s immersion in noise and the ontological difference validates immediately any vacillation in the answer, since what is at stake is ultimately to think not the “standstill of all time” of the messianic force, but our being in time understood as our most basic and intimate relation that we have with time (Rodriguez Matos 70). It is only this absent time of the formless that will be one of majesty, capable of undoing sovereign authority and its governability over the singular.

The third chapter moves against the belief that Lezama Lima can be grasped in interested disputes regarding his intellectual provenance, political ideology, or assumed Catholicism (origenismo). This is an arduous task, but Rodriguez Matos makes it look easy through a threefold operation. First, Lezama is moved beyond the antinomies of secularization and aesthetics, placed in the proper site of the religion of the formless (we will come back to this). Secondly, Rodriguez Matos confronts Lezama’s own interpretation of the Revolution as parusia or Second Coming, which coincides perfectly with Guevara’s own model of the “ways things are” that folds revolutionary Cuba into globalization due an ingrained total administrate apparatus over life (Rodriguez Matos 93).

This entails that revolutions, if we take the Cuban experience as metonymic of the phenomenon, are always already biopolitical experiences, even though Rodriguez Matos does not frame it in such terms. Third, by understanding the ‘mixed’ temporality of communism and revolutionary politics as convergent with the temporality of capitalism, we come to understand that the second is always on reserve in the backdrop of the state and its institutions (Rodriguez Matos 96-97). In sum, the superposition of revolutionary times with the time of capital is here shown, once again, to be two sides of the same dual narrative of modernity that turns away from the abyss at the heart of politics. This complicates many, if not all, of the assumptions that Cuban transitologists have disputed with very futile outcomes, in my opinion, in the last decade.

Finally, the fourth chapter “Nihilism: Politics as the Highest Value” rightly places the question of nihilism at the center. This is a return to the question of political theologies discussed above. Whereas many of the thinkers on both sides, republicanist and communist alike, take up the question of nihilism, the result, according to Rodriguez Matos, is that it is presented as a fight against those that think the problem of nihilism. Thus, the “banality of nihilism must be dismissed or critiqued” (Rodriguez Matos 104). The operation rests on the fact that the question of being must be avoided at all costs. And this is achieved in at least two main forms: discarding nihilism by proposing a “multiplicity of times” (Rojas), or by proposing a “living philology” (Vitier, Bosteels) that would be able to restitute a truth of a text of the past to give proper political ground (Rodriguez Matos 115). Now the tables are turned, and those that seek to cover the void, as if that were an option, appear as agents of a true nihilistic force.

The second part of the book titled “Writing the Formless,” provides a roaming through Lezama’s conceptualization of the void against politico-theological closure, arriving at the unthought sites of the ontological difference after Heidegger and deconstruction, and moving into infrapolitics. This is an exemplary section in the sense that Rodriguez Matos warns that he is in no position to offer a transhistorical formal theory of Lezama’s writing, and in this way he calmly avoids the universitarian-Master demand for a totalizing expertise of lezamianos. This operation is undertaken not for the sake of confrontation against Lezama specialists, but rather due to a more modest motive: it is not the point that drives Writing of the Formless. Anyone to counter argue on this level is rather to sidestep its most important contribution of this book. Finally, Rodriguez Matos lays out what is at stake, which is tailored as a question that by far exceeds Lezama Lima as a single corpus:

“Ultimately what is at issue whether there is a difference between those texts of the Western tradition that forget the question of being and those whose starting point is the challenge and the difficulty that the question poses, the challenge and the resistance involved in dealing with the ground that is and is not there in its absence. What is at stake is whether or not it is possible to imagine a writing and a thought that do not simply fall silent in order to guarantee the continuity of the narrative of legitimacy and sovereign authority in the poem or in politics – but the link between these two is also at issue here. That is, whether or not it is possible for posthegemonic infrapolitics to be something other than the trace of politics” (Rodriguez Matos 136).

What immediately follows is a series of closely knit constellations of the writing of the formless as absent time in Lezama, which I can only register here without much commentary: Lezama’s own critique of T.S. Eliot’s notion of the difficult, a critique of Garcia Marruz’s reading of the aposiopesis as rhetoric’s hegemonic property, Lezama’s understanding of Aristotelian metaphoricity; Lezama’s philosophy of an atopical One, and finally Rodriguez Matos’ own conceptual position of Lezama as an infrareligious and infrapolitical figure that pushes politico-theological legislation of principles to their very limit into a ‘nonsynthesizable reminder’ [sic] (Rodriguez Matos 154). Further, Lezama’s vitalist response to the Platonist pros hen, unlike the immanentist modern reversal, concludes in a Platonist affirmation instead of an overcoming of Platonism (Rodriguez Matos 139). Rodriguez Matos intelligently resolves this bizarre multiplicity vis-à-vis a parallel reading of Paul Claudel, who rejects aposteriori knowledge in exchange for the cognizant objectification of God before the sovereignty of the Poet. Although I am left thinking about the status of Neo-Platonism as it relates to the discussion of Christian Trinitarian thought [2].

But Rodriguez Matos goes further, and the Lezama that emerges from this destructive multi-level procedure is one that resists alleogrization, taking cue from Alberto Moreiras’ pioneering reading in Tercer Espacio (1999), as well as a privileged and secured position of a profane materialism over the question of form. And it is also in this very instance where Rodriguez Matos opens up to a complicated debate, which although unresolved, is the most striking and illuminating kernel of his book. In short: does ‘the roaming of the formless’ [sic] in Lezama offer something other than a trace of politics? I want to suggest, from my first reading of what is certainly a complex conversation, that this remains unresolved in Writing of the Formless. Let’s consider a key moment at the end of the book:

“For part of what I am calling attention to is the fact the staging of the formless in Lezama involves a thematization and an awareness of what should only be there as trace. This awareness goes beyond a more familiar claim regarding the self-deconstruction of discourses of their own accord – this is, after all, also what the trace is supposed to underscore. I would like to read this excess of awareness as a radicalization of deconstruction” (Rodriguez Matos 176).

This radicalization will entail leaving behind the moment of ecriture, which characterized the first wave of deconstruction in literary fixation and textual playfulness. Infrapolitics will be, programmatically speaking, post-deconstruction, or what Moreiras has recently called a second turn towards instituted deconstruction [3]. But the question remains: is infrapolitics then, a trace of politics? It is an unresolved question, but perhaps the most important one. Rodriguez Matos leaves us a clue at the very end of the book. When discussing the baroque – and let’s not lose sight of the fact of how late the question arrives, which is a merit and not a pitfall – Rodriguez Matos cites a letter of Lezama to Carlos Meneses: “I think that by now the baroque has begun to give off a stench” (Rodriguez Matos 181). The Baroque has come become an exchangeable token for the Boom, the last stage of identitarian transaction. But it is more than this: the baroque can no longer account for the informe at the heart of the image and rhythm.

Let’s probe this further. If the baroque is now exhausted, it is because all politics of the frame are insufficient to cope with the formless. The primacy of the critique of political economy today, for example, remains just one of its last formal avatars. But one could also respond to Rodriguez Matos’ final invitation, and say that while the aesthetic program of the baroque is demolished or turned into ashes, perhaps a trace of it remains in posthegemonic politics. To the extent that we understand the baroque as a political of self-affirmation against Imperium beyond hegemony, the baroque necessarily entails a republicanist politics [4].

In other words, while the infrareligious trace depends on the abyss, posthegemonic politics of republicanism sprouts from the baroque in early modernity against any imperial and counter-imperial conversions. Rodriguez Matos interchangeably speaks of infrapolitics and posthegemony throughout the book, therefore this nuance could be taken as a radicalization of the second term in line with the disclosure regarding the baroque. Post-deconstructive infrapolitics remains open. But if Lezama’s legacy is waged on having confronted the formless abyss of the absent time; perhaps, the author of Dador can also reemerge as a political thinker and existential representative not of Paradise, but of the secret Republic. This will entail a republicanism that, in each and every single time, does not longer participate in the eternal arcanum.






  1. This does not mean that St. Augustine cannot be read against the myth of political theology. Such is the task that José Luis Villacañas has accomplished in his Teología Political Imperial: una genealogía de la division de poderes (Trotta, 2016). In my view, Rozitchner’s La Cosa y la Cruz (1997) is a flagrant misreading of Augustinian anti-political-theology in exchange for a superficial materialist affective analysis. Although I do not have space to discuss this at length, I must note that Rodriguez Matos’ discussion of contemporary materialisms is also a timely warning about the easy exists that the so-called “materialisms” offer today as an effective transaction in contemporary thought. For his discussion of materialism see, pgs. 104-108.
  1. The question of Neo-Platonism is a fascinating story by itself, which speaks about the multiple in the One. Pierre Hadot studied its influenced in debates of early Trinitarian thought in his work of Marius Victorinus; recherches sur sa vie et ses œuvres (Paris: Etudes augustiniennes, 1971). Now, it seems that Lezama Lima himself was not foreign to Plotinus and Neoplatonism, which he linked it to the emergence of the modern poem. In fact, while reading Writing of the Formless, I revisited my copy of Lezama Lima’s unpublished notes in La Posibilidad Infinita: Archivo de José Lezama Lima, ed. Iván González Cruz (Verbum Editorial 2000). It was interesting to find that in “Oscura vencida”, a fragment from 1958, Lezama writes: “Si unimos a Guido Cavalcanti, March, Maurice Sceve, John Donne, en lo que puede ser motejados de oscuros, con distintos grados de densidad, precisamos que sus lectores, puede ser los más distinguidos cortesanos, o estudiantes que versifican cuando la hija del tabernero inaugura unos zarbillos…Con una apresurada lectura de la Metafísica de Aristóteles, sobre todo su genial concepto del tiempo que pasa a Hegel (sic) y a Heidegger; con cuatro diálogos platónicos, donde desde luego no faltara el Parménides. Con algunas añadiduras de Plotino sobre la sustancia y el uno…ya está el afanoso de la voluptuosos métrica en placentera potencialidad para saborear una canción medieval, un soneto del renacimiento florentino, o una ingenua aglomeración escolástica que se quiere sensibilizar, o una súmala de saber infantil, regida por un pulso que no se abandonó a la plácida oficiosa…” (252). This does not necessarily dodge Rodriguez Matos’ discussion of Claudel, but complicates it, since the trinity also merges at different points throughout the book. My question is whether any discussion of Trinitarian co-substantialism is still embedded in metaphysical structuration as potentia absoluta, or if Lezama’s informe is a Parthian attack against this influential model of absolute potentiality by turning it into a monstrous infrareligion. At stake here is also the issue of ‘reversibility’ that is obliquely exposed at the end of the book (Rodriguez Matos 189).
  1. See Alberto Moreiras, “Comentario a Glas, de Jacques Derrida”.
  1. The question of the republicanist politics, Imperium, and the baroque is studied in detailed in Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solis’ La República de la Melancolía: Politica y Subjetividad en el Barroco (La Cebra, 2015).