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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

Savage Moralism.


Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a text about the Vietnam War first published in 1990 (Boston: Mariner, 2009), includes one of those phrases that give the reader pause because they make him suspect there is more where it came from.   The phrase is a hapaxlegomenon, or worse: not only is it never used again, the comments that follow it appear as a non-sequitur, and one is uncertain about how to read the thing. The phrase reads: “the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference” (77).   The full phrase is: “any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference—a powerful, implacable beauty.”   So the reader must consider why absolute moral indifference could or should be aesthetically pure, and whether there can be absolute moral indifference, and whether, should it exist, it is the right response to an artillery barrage or an event at the office; and more, and perhaps disturbingly, whether absolute moral indifference could or should rise to the rank of a powerful and implacable beauty.   How would it be, if we managed to live in absolute moral indifference? Would it really be a matter of implacable beauty? It is hard to imagine it. One can hardly say no, and one can hardly say yes. There is some danger there, in that phrase. The danger is intriguing.

The next paragraph—but the reader must decide whether the next paragraph means to explain that phrase, or to hide it—talks about the intensity of sensations the proximity of death brings along. “Proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life” (77). “All around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self—your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it” (77). One get this, intuitively.   Some end of pretenses, being down to the wire brings about a revelation, an unconcealment. The unconcealment is beautiful and you want to dwell in it, not give it up.   What does this have to do with absolute moral indifference? Is this desire already morally indifferent? But the next sentences seem to affirm the very opposite: “In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord . . . you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not” (78).

Are we dealing with a sublime experience of absolute moral indifference, or are we dealing with a radical moralization of the indifferent?   Or, at the limit, are those two things the same?   The text does not say. But it does say, in yet the next paragraph, that “the only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity” (78). The ambiguity, however, that presumed certainty, does not let us off the hook. The question remains.  The certainty only covers it up.





Philosophy of Praxis.


In the middle of his important (but by now slightly dated) essay “Dasein as Praxis: the Heideggerian Assimilation and the Radicalization of the Practical Philosophy of Aristotle,” Franco Volpi says:

“Aristotle considers human life in totality as a praxis and not as a poiesis; and praxis is considered as the specific kinesis of human life, which is not simply oriented toward the conservation of life itself, towards living pure and simple (zen), but which is bios, the project of life which, once vital conservation is assured, comes to terms with itself in the space which opens up before it in relation to the problem of how to live, that it, to the choice of the preferable form of life by man, to the problem of living well (eu zen) and to the means suited to realizing this goal. This means that man, qua political animal endowed with logos, carries the weight of the responsibility of deliberating (bouleusis), of choosing and of deciding (prohairesis) about the modalities and the forms of his life by turning toward that which he takes to be the best. As we know, it is the wise man, the prudent man (phronimos), who succeeds in deliberating well, in choosing and deciding well and who realizes right action (eu prattein), the good life (eu zen), and therefore happiness (eudaimonia).” (Volpi, “Dasein as Praxis,” Michael Macann ed. Critical Heidegger, London: Routledge, 1996, 47).

This is an important paragraph to the extent that it prefaces many discussions in the last twenty or thirty years of reflection: think of biopolitics, think of “living well” in the late Derridean or even the decolonial sense, think of Giorgio Agamben’s work.  We can agree with Volpi that Heidegger, in the ten years of so prior to Being and Time (1927), picks up many of the Aristotelian determinations for practical life, while reformulating, radicalizing, and ontologizing them.   And it is arguable that Heidegger never gave up on this, and that even his latest musings and reflections are still entirely contained within a practice of thought as the explicit interpretation of practical life, against every productionism (that is, against every form of poietic thought), and against every theoreticism (and the extent to which this is so remains paradoxically unexplored in Heideggerian criticism.)   What emerges as a question—and the question concerns our interpretation of Aristotle’s relevance even more than that of Heidegger’s for contemporary life—is whether Volpi is right in attributing to Aristotle, and by extension to Heidegger, the notion that practical life is fundamentally decided through its “political condition.”  With the exception of any number of things he said or did during the admittedly many pro-Nazi or pro-Hypernazi years, it can be said that Heidegger stepped back from the fundamentally political determination of existence towards what we have been calling infrapolitics. But is that the move identified by Volpi in reference to Aristotle’s definition of “man” as “political animal”?   As a “political animal” you can presumably choose to step back from politics in the same way that as a passionate fellow you can choose to calm yourself down, but what does that mean? Is phronesis a condition that is necessarily implemented within the political world, or is phronesis a condition that helps you determine your interests both within and without politics? Is the phronimos a political animal that has politically succeeded in living well as the culmination of political life, or is the phronimos a practical animal that can eudaimonically choose its field of engagement transpolitically or parapolitically? What is ontologically prior, politics or practical life? If you reread the quotation above, you may see that the answer is not at all clear in Volpi’s words.

Mario Tronti said at a recent meeting in Rome that Antonio Gramsci’s philosophy is a “philosophy of praxis,” connecting it all of course to the famous Marxian thesis on Feuerbach about transforming the world. So, one first question ought to be whether the “philosophy of praxis” as transformation of the world in the Marxist tradition needs forcefully to be “hegemonic praxis” (“hegemonic” or “counterhegemonic” makes no difference here). I think both the Marxist and the post-Marxist traditions actually prove that to be the case. “Transforming the world” ends up being picked up as simply putting the world upside down in hegemonic terms—that is, as a merely ontic transfer of power. The second question is whether the Marxian tradition would allow for any consideration of an alternative form of praxis, namely, posthegemonic praxis. Posthegemonic praxis is already the claim that, even within politics, “transforming the world” does not and cannot simply mean altering its hegemonic constitution. A radical philosophy of praxis is posthegemonic to the very extent it is infrapolitical–that is, to the very extent that it cares about the very conditions of political relation, without presupposing them as always already given, always already enacted. The infrapolitical step-back is the claim that questioning the presupposition of political saturation is already the proof that there is and can be no political saturation (that is, that merely ontic transfers of power are not and could never be the ultimate horizon of human praxis). An infrapolitical philosophy of praxis aims to “transform the world” of the (bogus) world-transformation only ever theoretically invoked by hegemonic thought in its counterhegemonic versions.

The thought of infrapolitical praxis takes its departure from something other than the notion of the radical politicality of the human being, without denying it. Yes, the human being can be or is a “political animal,” also a “productive animal,” also a “theoretical animal,” also an animal pure and simple. But those four determinations do not exhaust the field. There is a fifth determination (within a series that may remain open: there could be n determinations), which is the infrapolitical one. The contention is simply that there is a practical priority for the infrapoltical determination, not because without it the other four are only elements in an undetermined series; rather because infrapolitics is the name for what has remained unthought in any philosophy of praxis, as the very ambiguity of Volpi’s quotation helps confirm.

Piel de lobo.


Concebir un libro como ficción teórica es pensar a la vez algo que no puede darse por descontado: no solo que la ficción teórica es la verdad del libro sino que la verdad del libro es su ficción teórica.  Esto último complica las cosas.

Más si uno reconoce que el libro mismo se escribe como si fuera el producto narrativo de cuatro o cinco narradores diversos–es decir, de haber ingerido píldoras de esos narradores que producirían formalmente el resultado X que sería la ficción teórica del libro (muy al margen de su “contenido,” quizá solo concebible en estado de desobra).

Serían, por ejemplo, el narrador de Memorias del subsuelo, de Fiodor Dostoyevski, el de Un héroe de nuestro tiempo, de Nikolai Lermontov, el de Contra Sainte-Beuve, de Marcel Proust, el de Memorias de un hombre de acción, de Pío Baroja.

Concebir la intersección de esas cuatro estrategias narrativas es quizá todo lo que el libro podría ofrecer, y ya no habría que escribirlo.

Chasing the Subject. By Alberto Moreiras.


Over the course of several days of meetings in Rome and Salerno, the members of the Infrapolitics project that made it to Italy were confronted with a great insistence on issues of subjectivity and subjectivation. This struck me as particularly interesting, since the meetings were meant to highlight discussions on biopolitics, posthegemony, and infrapolitics, which seem to be discursive fields where subjectivation as such would have no particular purchase. And yet: Marramao, Esposito, Tronti, the references to Galli, Lisciani-Petri, Tucci, Marianna Esposito, Micciarelli, Tarizzo, all of them, of course in different ways, seemed to center their own discourses around questions of subjectivation as their end-goal or dominant horizon. For instance, Roberto Esposito, in a very intricate and rich presentation in which he insisted on the “present crisis” as extreme, even “terminal,” said that the “invention of a new political language” should be oriented towards the construction of “a new political subjectivity.” Calls for re-subjectivation in the political space were in fact dominant in what we heard, or so it seemed to me.

One wonders why. Without of course dismissing in any way or manner the importance and the urgency of what our Italian colleagues were proposing, rather attempting to learn from it, one recalls that contemporary Italian thought has discussed “the end of the architectonics of modern politics” more forcefully than any other language tradition.   If posthegemony, for instance, takes them at their word, by suggesting that the concept of hegemony is itself part and parcel of modern politics, not a solution to its crisis, but itself part of the problem, I think the same could be said about the subject. In fact, the subject of modernity organizes the totality of modern political concepts, by occupying the very center of the political edifice. If the edifice is crumbling now, would that not ruin its ground as well?   Is the subject really salvageable from present ruination, and can it or should it constitute the founding stone for some new political constellation? Or is the subject, rather, the equivalent of the Roadrunner in the old cartoon where Wile E. Coyote chases him (her) with increasing desperation and to no avail? The final hour of the subject never tolls for the unfortunate coyote or for any one of us.

Say, Antigone, in the play where the very politicity of the polis is first founded for the West, is not looking for subjectivation through her actions.

I suppose infrapolitics stands or falls in its positing of an alternative field of engagement: not the subject, not subjectivation, but existence, and a modified grasp of existential facticity.   I cannot see how any possible reconstruction of the subject—say, the discovery of a new good subject as opposed to the bad subject of modernity—introduces into the political space anything but a totalizing hegemonic demand. If the good subject is discovered, all of us should subjectivize ourselves in it or through it, which is probably the main demand of hegemonic (or counterhegemonic) thought everywhere, and has always been.   But a modified grasp of existence introduces the possibility of a refusal of voluntary servitude, which is the only possible road to the end of politics as social domination.


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: https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/posthegemony-and-the-crisis-of-constitutionalism-in-the-united-states-paper-presented-at-allombra-del-leviatano-tra-biopolitica-e-posegemonia-universita-roma-tre-may-2017-by-gerardo/
  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.

El incidente inconspicuo. Borrador de ponencia para conferencia “Dalla biopolitica alla infrapolitica: nuovi paradigmi di recerca sulla società contemporanea” (Universitá di Salerno, mayo 2017). Por Alberto Moreiras.


  1. Preliminar

Creo que mi misión es tratar de exponer qué está en juego en lo que llamamos infrapolítica de forma más o menos clara y sencilla, en todo lo que pueda. No está fácil, porque no tengo aún la necesaria distancia. Trataré solo de referirme a algunos rasgos que pienso o pensamos cruciales, en toda su problematicidad aún no resuelta, como modo de indicar, más que una definición de infrapolítica, al menos su campo de preguntas, su modo de incidencia.

Puedo empezar proponiendo que la infrapolítica remite a la necesidad de tematizar la existencia como condición de todo pensamiento político, es decir, de todo pensamiento sobre la política.   Otra forma de decirlo es que la existencia es el horizonte de la práctica infrapolítica, incluso si limitamos la idea de práctica a la de uso o ejercicio del pensamiento.   Dado el título de nuestro taller, merece quizá la pena decir desde el principio que al decir “existencia” no se dice “vida,” no porque la infrapolítica no esté interesada en la vida en general, sino porque, precisamente, se acerca a la vida desde una interrogación sobre la existencia, a la que puede definirse provisionalmente como el modo humano de relación con la vida.   Hace apenas unos días, en una discusión informal en un grupo de facebook, un conocido erudito heideggeriano reaccionó de forma para mí sorprendente al vincular inmediatamente todo posible pensamiento de la existencia a la noción sartreana de “compromiso,” y a las llamadas a la “acción social, económica y política.” Supongo que podría decirse que la infrapolítica pretende pensar la existencia, desde luego no al margen de su uso (la infrapolítica es, desde luego, antes que nada, un uso del pensamiento), pero sí al margen de su instrumentalización directamente política, que es lo que puede vislumbrarse en la noción sartreana.   La infrapolítica constituye en ese sentido un paso atrás con respecto de la política, no por ninguna voluntad de despolitización ni a través de ningún deseo antipolítico, sino cabalmente porque rehúsa entender que la política pueda constituir el primer o último horizonte del pensamiento, y postula que, en cualquier caso, todo pensamiento de la política es derivado y secundario respecto de modos de ejercicio existencial.   Es la existencia la que remite a la política, no la política la que remite a la existencia.   Quizá esa afirmación, aunque contraintuitiva respecto de lo que constituye hoy la deriva general del pensamiento académico, sea lo suficientemente incontrovertible como para que no tenga que pasar demasiado tiempo explicándola.

Una consecuencia de entender pensamiento como uso de la existencia—que depende a su vez de cierta sobredeterminación: el pensamiento que usa la existencia y que es uso de la existencia insiste en pensar la relación de pensamiento y existencia—es la emergencia inmediata de su dimensión imperativa. Uno piensa porque tiene que pensar, pensar es existir o habitar, pensar es habitar la existencia, y no es una opción entre otras, sino una necesidad humana, aunque frecuentemente no tematizada. Pero, si la relación entre pensamiento y existencia es imperativa, entonces se puede decir que también lo es la relación entre existencia y pensamiento: esto es, pensar es habitar la existencia, pero la existencia impone cierta necesidad al pensamiento.   Si podemos distinguir dos modalidades de infrapolítica, una de las cuales sería la infrapolítica fáctica, inevitable, la infrapolítica que está siempre de antemano por todas partes como dimensión constitutiva de la existencia, de cada existencia, de todas las existencias, hay también una infrapolítica reflexiva, que acepta su condición imperativa.   De esta última puede decirse que es a la vez causa y consecuencia de una cierta ruptura existencial, lo que Reiner Schürmann, en su meditación sobre Meister Eckhart, llamaba durchbruch. La ruptura infrapolítica, suceso o incidente inconspicuo, no deja de ser sometimiento a cierta necesidad, pero es un tipo especial de necesidad, spinoziana o cuasi-spinoziana: el reconocimiento de que el existente está atrapado en sus condiciones de existencia, y que solo ellas pueden tolerar prácticas relativas de libertad; el reconocimiento de que solo en el sometimiento a la dimensión imperativa de la existencia podemos encontrar algo otro que mando y dominación.

Quizás esta fue la gran intuición heideggeriana—quizás esta fue la gran intuición que sostiene el trabajo de Heidegger más allá de cualquier “giro” o división interna de su obra en períodos definidos por énfasis cambiantes. Quiero advertir, antes de seguir por este camino, que la infrapolítica no es ni heideggerianismo ni derrideanismo, excepto en el sentido convencional en el que se podría decir que el mismo Heidegger era un nietzscheano, o un husserliano, o un aristotélico. Pero la infrapolítica, por razones esenciales, no busca una relación de exégesis sometida a ningún corpus textual—su vector decisivo está en el otro lado, no más allá del texto, sino en el lugar de la traza de todo texto, en su estela anónima.   Parece justo, sin embargo, reconocer pasos previos en el movimiento del pensamiento que han sido y continuarán siendo sin duda instrumentales para la formulación misma de la empresa infrapolítica. En el escaso tiempo disponible me limito a repasar tres de esos textos, y a hacerlo selectivamente—el ensayo de Jacques Derrida “Ousía et grammé,” el ensayo de Jean-Luc Nancy “La decisión de existencia,” y un reciente ensayo de Thomas Sheehan, “¿Pero qué viene antes del después?,” sobre la prolongación de la analítica existencial de Ser y tiempo en el Heidegger tardío.   Creo que todos ellos configuran acercamientos a una tematización de la existencia—explícita en Nancy y Sheehan, solo implícita en Derrida—de los que la reflexión infrapolítica debe hacerse cargo. Añadiré también una coda sobre cierto aspecto de un texto de Heidegger de 1957.

  1. “Ousia et grammé”

Antes de la última y decisiva sección de su ensayo, “La clotüre du gramme et la trace de la différence,” Derrida comenta el texto de Heidegger de 1946, “La palabra de Anaximandro.”   En él detecta Derrida una vacilación profunda—por un lado, Heidegger piensa o se esfuerza por pensar modalidades de la presencia, por otro lado busca llamar a tales modalidades de presencia en su conjunto “la clausura (mism) greco-occidental-filosófica.”   Derrida dice que todas las arduas meditaciones fundamentales de Heidegger sobre la presencia, incluido el texto sobre Anaximandro, son meditaciones intrametafísicas, pero dice también que Heidegger lo sabe, y en ese saber prepara o cuida siempre otro gesto, “el más difícil, el más inaudito, el más cuestionante, aquel para el cual estamos menos preparados.” Se trata de un gesto que “se deja solamente esbozar, se anuncia en ciertas fisuras calculadas del texto metafísico.”   Derrida va a tratar de remarcar ese gesto bajo la figura de la traza, de la que piensa que no puede darse a leer bajo forma de presencia alguna, ni a través de la cópula, ni a través de su negación, que remitiría solo a modalidades negativas de presencia.   La traza es pues el nombre derrideano para el “gesto difícil” de Heidegger—la traza no es ni presente ni ausente, “ni perceptible ni imperceptible.”

La traza no es un gesto heideggeriano ni tampoco un gesto derrideano, sino que pertenece a toda la tradición metafísica, pero pertenece en cuanto borrada, en cuanto olvidada. La misma diferencia óntico-ontológica se pierde como traza, se olvida en cuanto traza. Si la diferencia ontológica es solo detectable en cuanto olvido, entonces el olvido del olvido de la diferencia es traza de traza, traza de segundo orden.   Y es aquí donde se abre la posibilidad inaudita—inaudita también o ante todo para Heidegger—y al mismo tiempo siempre ensayada: Si la diferencia ontológica es traza de un olvido, no es posible hacer aparecer la diferencia “en cuanto tal,” no es posible hacer aparecer la traza “en cuanto tal.” La traza “en cuanto tal”—Ereignis, quizá, por ejemplo, Das Viertel, quizá, por ejemplo, Be-reich, quizá, por ejemplo, aunque Derrida no da estos ejemplos—es siempre en cada caso el nuevo nombre del ser de los entes, un nombre intrametafísico. La traza “en cuanto tal” establece en cada caso el nuevo plano de figuralidad principial, y restituye al pensamiento a un plano hegemónico o hegemonizante. No hay traza en cuanto tal—la traza es solo remisión a la facticidad de la cosa.

Si el olvido de la diferencia óntico-ontológica es traza de segundo orden, hay una traza del olvido que sería traza de traza de traza: “habría una diferencia más impensada todavía que la diferencia entre el ser y los entes . . . Más allá de la diferencia entre el ser y los entes, esta diferencia, diferenciándose-difiriéndose sin cesar, (se) trazaría (a sí misma), esta différance . . . “ Différance apunta o nombra en Derrida el gesto difícil que permite abandonar el horizonte presencial, y en ese sentido resuelve lo que Derrida identifica como el titubeo residual de Heidegger en su ensayo del 46: la différance sería “más vieja que el ser mismo,” en la medida precisa en que el ser mismo es siempre y necesariamente concebible solo como arkhé originario.

El juego—pero no es juego, tampoco su contrario—es vincular traza y différance, que en su mismo nombre rechazan el nombramiento de todo arkhé, y remiten solo a una facticidad incesante, dispersa, scattered, como diría Geoffrey Bennington, al movimiento de la existencia—algo que el mismo Derrida no hace.   Trataré de indicar cómo sería posible hacerlo en relación con los ensayos de Nancy y Sheehan.

  1. “La decisión de existencia.”

Para Nancy, la decisión de pensamiento tiene lugar cuando el existente repara en el carácter esencial—yo lo he llamado imperativo arriba—de su relación con su propio pensamiento. Dice Nancy: “El pensamiento en su decisión no es el pensamiento que intenta fundar el ser (o fundarse en el ser). Es solo la decisión que arriesga y afirma la existencia en su propia ausencia de fundamento” (84).   Esa decisión—que para Nancy es el “solo” contenido del pensamiento—no tiene ella misma contenido positivo alguno.   En cuanto decisión remitida a la existencia es siempre decisión sobre lo que es fácticamente posible.   Este es para Nancy el sentido de la Ereignis heideggeriana—“Ereignis es, o hace, la decisión, y la decisión es, o hace, Ereignis” (87).   Pensar es por lo tanto, dice Nancy, el ejercicio, en cuanto tal apropiativo, de la decisión—todo se mueve en el terreno óntico, existencial. No hay trascendental alguno. Pensar es una relación a la facticidad, nunca el descubrimiento de algo otro que ella.

Pero, de la misma forma en que es posible distinguir dos modos de infrapolítica, el modo fáctico y el modo que he llamado reflexivo, Nancy distingue dos modos de facticidad—si el existente está por la mayor parte suspendido en su existencia cotidiana, se trata de suspender esa suspensión—sin ir, por otro lado, a ninguna otra parte. Se trata de suspender fácticamente la facticidad misma. Se trata de pensar la facticidad en la facticidad, y lograr así una relación modificada con ella. Es un incidente inconspicuo siempre en cada caso—no descubre nada, no trasciende nada, no corta nada, no funda nada. Si hay durchbruch, si hay ruptura en esta suspensión de la suspensión fáctica, lo que se logra es una modificación en la relación existencial con la propia existencia.

Nancy habla por lo tanto de dos, al menos, decisiones. Una de esas decisiones del pensamiento sería la decisión media, la decisión metafísica, la decisión subjetiva o identitaria, la decisión egoica—que es, siempre en cada caso, la decisión del héroe que corta algún nudo gordiano y alcanza, o fracasa en alcanzar, un nuevo nivel de existencia. A esta decisión, a esta modalidad de decisión, podemos llamarla “maquinación heroica,” y es la decisión propiamente política. Pero está también la decisión modificada. En ella el existente, muy al margen de su constitución como “sujeto,” sutura o vincula su propia relación con la existencia—y eso es todo. Y es la decisión infrapolítica, aunque Nancy no le de ese nombre.

Nancy habla de una “alegría” que se genera en esa decisión modificada, o en esa modificación de la decisión. Es la alegría del que decide “existir, hacerse pasible a su no-esencia,” la alegría de la “existencia que existe solo en su existir, esto es, en la ‘nulidad’ libre de su fundación de ser” (107).   Esta alegría es el afecto infrapolítico primario—la alegría que, precisamente, habita en el rechazo de la fundación de presencia a favor del asentimiento a la facticidad y del asentimiento en la facticidad.   En la precisa medida en que renuncia a toda fundación, que sería escape, abraza aquello que Derrida cifra en los nombres desnombrantes de traza y différance. Nancy también habla de ella como necesaria e imperativa: “la decisión activa, esencial, de la existencia. Su necesidad se llama también libertad . . . pero la libertad no es lo que dispone de posibilidades dadas. Es la apertura en la que el ser infundado de la existencia se expone, en la ansiedad y la alegría de ser sin suelo, de ser en el mundo” (109).

Resulta enigmático en este contexto que Nancy diga que “es necesario entender que la decisión, su ansiedad y su alegría, tienen lugar ‘afuera’ del texto—en la existencia” (107). Esta existencia que parece por lo tanto sustraerse en sí a toda traza y a toda différance—según las cuales, en la explicación de Derrida, no habría “nada fuera del texto”—, pero que se sustrae haciéndolas visibles, suspendiendo su suspensión, reclamaría lo que Nancy llama una “ex-scripción” 107).   Nancy nos da con ello una posibilidad parergonal de la infrapolítica—un parergon infrapolítico, o una infrapolítica como práctica del parergon—en la que convendrá reflexionar. Por lo pronto cabría preguntar si ese parergon infrapolítico no define la modalidad de ruptura existencial de la que he hablado. La durchbruch infrapolítica, en la precisa medida en que no va a ninguna (otra) parte, es siempre y solo ruptura parergonal, o ex-scripción.

  1. “¿Pero qué viene antes del después?”

Sheehan también parte de una dimensión imperativa o protréptica del pensamiento en el texto heideggeriano, de la que dice que es “la última meta del trabajo de Heidegger,” y nunca abandonada (3).   De forma consistente con lo que hemos visto del titubeo heideggeriano entre formas de la presencia y su otro, con la demarcación derrideana de la traza contra el arkhé, y con la presentación de Nancy de sus dos formas de decisión, todo ello recibido en las dos modalidades de infrapolítica indicadas arriba, Sheehan insiste en una estructura dual de la existencia en Heidegger—Sheehan prefiere ex-sistence.   Ex-sistence remite a la estructura (existencial) del Da-sein y también a “las personas y actividades (existenciel) que esa estructura hace posible” (4). La estructura existencial abre el campo mismo de la significación, y lo existenciel está siempre en relación con ello, aunque se trate de una relación que puede asumir muchas formas.   Una de ellas es la que traza explícitamente la relación entre existencial y existenciel—la que tematiza la diferencia ontológica, o la estructura de la traza en términos derrideanos. Cada modo lleva en sí la traza de su otro—y esto es necesariamente así también para todas las diferenciaciones anteriores (no hay autonomía ni autosuficiencia en los modos, ninguno de ellos es externo al otro).

La tarea del ex-istente es solo hacer su propia facticidad explícita. La modalidad existencial de la existencia coincide con la segunda decisión de Nancy—es solo la forma parergonal o ex-scripta de relación con la relación misma, el paso atrás que es no más que hacer explícita la relación, y vivirla, imperativamente, como explícita. En algún momento (en Ser y tiempo), Heidegger llamó a esa forma parergonal la forma “auténtica,” pero esa terminología fue abandonada en la obra posterior.   Sheehan se refiere a su supervivencia en otros términos desde el hapaxlegomenon heraclíteo que Heidegger usa en Conversaciones en un camino rural: ankhibasie, el “acercarse,” que conforma una condición asintótica que no puede calcularse ni planearse de antemano (10). Si la relación entre infrapolítica y política es una versión de esa relación, lo es no porque la infrapolítica busque “acercarse” a la política. Por el contrario, la infrapolítica busca su acercamiento asintótico a un afuera no domable ni reducible por la angustiada pretensión de que todo es político. Pensar ese afuera, un afuera parergonal que no es sino otra forma del adentro, o que el adentro lleva en sí como traza, de la misma forma que ese afuera no es sino la traza del adentro, es la relación infrapolítica misma, en la que uno vive sin saber si su cercanía se hará accesible. Pero ese no-saber es también una forma de goce.

La liberación de la facticidad a sí misma—su hacerse explícita—es para Sheehan un ejercicio en pensamiento post-epocal (aquello que Derrida llamaba el gesto difícil o inaudito). Dice Sheehan: “Uno puede librarse de estar restringido a la metafísica como época abrazando la apropiación [existencial] y viviendo desde ella” (12). Las épocas—principiales siempre, en términos de Schürmann: toda época está regida por un principio que la organiza y determina como época—son secuestros de la historicidad de la historia, “acotamientos de lo Abierto” en cada caso. Pero la infrapolítica es relación con lo abierto mismo, y en cuanto tal es relación destructiva con el pensamiento epocal, un intento de pensamiento postepocal, un ejercicio an-árquico a favor de la ruptura inconspicua, asintótica.   De modo que la facticidad, la política, la historia queden liberadas a sí mismas, y no ocupen impostoramente el espacio existencial que no les corresponde.

En cuanto reflexión sobre la existencia como condición de toda política, la infrapolítica no es una política, tampoco una arqueología de la política—es, cabalmente, una contramirada a la política y un éxodo que renuncia a su hegemonía o la rechaza, no para vivir al margen de la política, sino para incidir en ella y para habitarla de otra forma. Esa otra forma queda pendiente de discusión futura.

  1. Coda:

En sus Conferencias de Freiburg (Principios básicos del pensar), de 1957, Heidegger usa la expresión “incidente callado” o inconspicuo para referirse a los cambios en los “principios del pensar” que han definido la historia de la metafísica.   Yo he estado usando la expresión en el sentido opuesto, y para referirme a un paso atrás con respecto de las modalidades epocales que la infrapolítica pretende abandonar.   Mi gesto no es ajeno al gesto heideggeriano. En la primera de las Conferencias, Heidegger, después de haber contado cómo lo que es inconspicuo en la autopresentación histórica de los principios básicos del pensamiento “permanece velado en lo oscuro para nosotros,” reconoce que tal oscuridad está en juego en todo tiempo. Pero, insiste, “lo oscuro permanece distinto de lo absolutamente opaco como mera y absoluta ausencia de luz. Lo oscuro es . . . el secreto de la luz. Lo oscuro guarda luz en sí mismo. La luz pertenece a lo oscuro. Lo oscuro tiene su propia limpidez” (88).   Desde esa limpidez de lo oscuro uno no busca sin más entrar en luz alternativa alguna. Se trata más bien de procurar otra mirada para la que quizá no hay todavía ojos, o no pueda haberlos: “nos faltan los ojos para ver el aspecto esencial del logos, para aguantar su visión, y para traer a esa visión una contramirada apropiada” (100).


La infrapolítica no es más que el intento de acercarse a esa contramirada desde lo oscuro. En ese sentido, quizá sea el gesto contrario al de la mariposa que no puede evitar ser quemada por la luz ardiente del principio solar, que es el fin secreto de toda política tal como la conocemos.


Alberto Moreiras

Texas A&M University



Obras citadas

Derrida, Jacques. “Ousia et grammé.” En Marges de la philosophie. París: de Minuit,

  1. 31-78.


Heidegger, Martin. Basic Principles of Thinking. Freiburg Lectures 1957. En

Bremen and Freiburg Lectures. Andrew J. Mitchell trad. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2012. 77-166.


Nancy, Jean-Luc. “The Decision of Existence.” En Birth to Presence. Brian Holmes

trad. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993. 82-109.


Sheehan, Thomas. “But What Comes Before the After?” en Richard Polt y Greg Fried

eds., After Heidegger?, por salir.