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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Notes

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

shellhorse 2017Adam Joseph Shellhorse’s Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina (U Pitt Press, 2017) is a bold and timely intervention in a dire moment for “literary studies” in the field of Latin American Studies. What is the epistemological status of the ‘literary’ today, if not an ambiguous force driven by machinistic inertia? The institutional erosion of the discipline’s legitimacy cannot easily be ignored, as every scholar is confronted today with interrogative demands for ‘definition’. Ambitious in scope, theoretically sophisticated, and generous in its readings of a heterogeneous corpus, Shellhorse attempts to understand “what is meant by “literature in contemporary posthegemonic times” (Shellhorse 3). Whether such interrogation opens up a desirable future, is the very heart of this important book.

Anti-Literature departs from the wake of the exhaustion of a well known triad: the Boom as a last attempt to generate a strong allegorical machine; Ángel Rama’s culturalist thinking to come to grip with the uneven development through transculturation; and the political vanguard experiment of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The aftermath of these watershed moments has led to what is now a permanent state of crisis. The end of ‘hegemony’ in Shellhorse’s reflection demands the end of the centralized state form of the literary, but also the turning away from models of ideological Marxist critique, over that of affect, the multiple, and the experimental in writing. Compensatory to this insolvent condition, Shellhorse proposes ‘anti-literature’ as a new framework for literary studies. Although, more urgently, it offers the minimal condition for the task of reading in a present devoid of objective legitimacy, or what Shellhorse calls, perhaps more prudently, a ‘perilous present’ (Shellhorse 16).

The archive Shellhorse attends to is minimalist, functioning hyperbolically for a larger and more programmatic invitation to read in the anti-literature key. The works sketched throughout the book are the following: Lispector’s language of life and the specular feminism of immanence; David Viñas’ ‘half made literature’ as a de-spiritualized materialist gesture in his novel Dar la cara (1962); concrete poetry as a post-culturalist and post-conceptual artifact; Haroldo de Campos and Osman Lins’ poetics of the baroque; and last but not least, a mediation on historical redemption and the messianic in Salgado’s photography and De Campos’ poem “O anjo esquerdo da historia”. Irreducible in style and geopolitical demarcations, all these anti-literary projects negotiate language within the limits of its own materiality while assuming a writing of finitude. This is crucial, as it is what distinguishes Shellhorse’ anti-literature from John Beverley’s known ‘against literature’.

Whereas Beverley demanded an exception to literary hegemony in the name of a subalternist ‘subject’ formalized in the testimonio, Shellhorse’s following Moreiras’ predicament on exhaustion, does not seek to close off the promise and secret of literature, but only to interrupt its identitarian and representational pretensions (Shellhorse 42). Therefore, against the Boom as an ideological critique towards state building on one hand, and testimonio as exception to high literary sovereignty on the other, Shellhorse proposes anti-literature as posthegemonic experimentation through affect and the sensorium. Whereas testimonio demanded hegemonic filiation until the triumphant victory, anti-literature endorses the post-hegemonic in the face of defeat. Anti-literature is only anti-literary to the extent that it demands a relation to the secret of ‘what might come’. This is why Shellhorse’ Anti-Literature is untimely tied to literature as a singular procedure of writing, instead of organizing a counter-canon, in what could be taken as an effort to immunize itself through an alternate ‘aesthetic form’. This is why, it is important that Shellhorse tells us very late in the book:

“…it could be said that anti-literary writers hook up writing to literature’s outside, to nonwriting and egalitarian modes of imaging the community. What is at issue is precisely this: the concept of anti-literature need not restrict itself to an avant-garde, modernist paradigm of the arts. Rather an approach to the anti-literary entails reconceptualizing the problem of writing as a sensory procedure and perpetual force. The question of what is anti-literature can perhaps best be posed only in the wake of literature’s exhaustion, when the arrival of defeatist accounts demands the time for speaking concretely” (Shellhorse 164).

This comes as a warning to careless readers who, perhaps too hazily, will try to inseminate periodical categories of sociology or history of literature to ensure the timelessness of the boundaries of literature’s autonomy. Indeed, Shellhorse immediately writes: “Indeed, bibliography on the nature of literature in the field is marginal” (Shellhorse 164). We can only guess that the very asymmetry between an understudied Argentine writer (Viñas), ranked among giants of modern Brazilian literature (Andrade, De Campos brothers, Lispector), functions as the affective corpus of Shellhorse’s own singular judgment. This is his secret posthegemonic cabinet, just like everyone has his or her own.

By taking distance from an overdetermination based on a ‘historical period’ or a particular ‘literary movement’, Shellhorse performs his own affective caesura against the hegemonic temptation that demands age-old historico-metaphysical entelechies; such as periodization, social context, base/superstructure dichotomy, form, or aesthetic framework. If the book’s starting point is the fall of the legitimacy of Latinamericanism or Hispanism at large, this means that there is no calculative arrangement that can sustain the alleged bona fide of ‘literature’. The polyphonic assemblage regime of tones and signs is also irreducible to a life, to any life, that belongs to the student and professor of literature in the exercise of the imagination. And as I see it, this is what the anti-literature tries to register so suitably to us.

Yet, at first sight there appears as a latent paradox in the book, and it is a problem that I would like to convey, since it remains of one the strong effects of its reading upon me. Of course, I can only hope to solve it in my own name and style, and I hope that others find their own ways to wrestle with the problem. Basically, the problem could be advanced in this way: if we are in a present condition of interregnum, of the total transitional epoch in the field within a larger transformation that Moreiras has called full machination through the principle of general equivalence, where anything is replaceable and interchangeable, why does the book offers yet another frame to re-invent literary studies? [1]. What is the need of literature at a time in which it can no longer speak for itself (the ‘being’ of Literature)? Isn’t the literary today a mere defunct fossilized object, a repetition for commemorations, and museum-like artifact that only seeks the stimuli of social-media to imagine itself Eternal? Literature automatically wants to be part of the ‘museum’, but the trade-off is that the museification of the new demands its own concrete death. It is difficult to name anything interesting in contemporary literature (nothing that can compare with the Boom), and the fact that we keep reading Lezama Lima or Haroldo de Campos or Borges, bears witness to the aftereffect of being able to establish some livable relation with nihilism at the end of literature. Shellhorse does well to inscribe this important symptom in a crucial moment at the end of the book, which opens to an important discussion:

“If “literature” persists in crisis in our field, the task today is to reconstitute its critical force. Literature becomes anti-literature when it subverts itself. My contention is that it is only by bearing witness to this relation of non-essence, non-identify, and non-closure – literature is not literature – that we can begin to read anew” (Shellhorse 166).

I would like to advance the thesis that Anti-literature as a project comes to us in the form of what I would call a friendly katechon. While it is clear that Shellhorse is not proposing a new “turn” beyond literature, anti-literature is not just repetition of the same as the new. To do so would be “old”, since it would be integral to the register of High Modernity up to the readymade, that is, to the museum. Rather, anti-literature is something akin to a shadow that overlaps in what we call “literature”; a sort of dirty stain in the tradition and in the immemorial institutionality of texts. At same time, anti-literature has a reformist undertone, in the theological sense of celebration and transformation through transference.

But it is a katechon to the extent that Anti-literature retains and delays the temporal disappearance of the evermore so irrelevance of literature. As we know, the Pauline Greek word katechon (κατέχον) means restrainer (who or what), a mysterious force that helps avoiding the fall unto the anomia that imposes illegitimacy in any particular historical epoch. Although at times the katechon is understood in tandem with its own archaic regression, I do not think this is Shellhorse’s intention or effect in inviting us to partake in Anti-literature to “begin anew”. The reason is fairly simple: to the extent that we have literature, there is always already excess to every hegemonic phantasm, and that is enough to retain literature as a residual condition for thought, even when we move beyond textualism or politization.

Like Carl Schmitt, who appears in Ex captivate salus, as the last conscious representative of Modern European Law of Nations, Shellhorse appears to us as the last existential witness of the literary in the form of the anti-literary. But like an Anti-Schmittian, he does not succumb in the myth of political theology and Empire. His katechon can only be one of friendship: in the love of the text, and for the friendship of an-other to come. Anyone, at any time. But isn’t this a mirror of the measureless principle of democracy? The friendly katechon does not seek what Nietzsche called the antiquarian relation to History, but rather a reflexive and disinterested democratic thinking. The katechon, in the platonic reading that I favor here, thoroughly deters disintegration of the authentic life of the mind, which is consistent with Lispector’s language of life [2]. That is, literature is no longer revealed as accumulation and principle (archē of the archive), but as homecoming of Justice. Shellhorse explicitly sets foot on this trail this in his reading of De Campos at the very end of the book (which I would like also to de-center from the given messianism):

“Such a field no doubt defines the logic of domination. Justice as a continuous line of singularities: blurs, bends back, and breaks up the reified character of social relations as well as banal accounts of “progress” that fail to count the part that has no part in society. Citable in all their moments, as freed expressions that articulate the desire to be exception, to think the relationless relation, the affective dimension of Campos’ text inscribe the crisis of poetry in the wake of subaltern tragedy” (Shellhorse 196).

But can the Poem be a secondary substitute before the ruin, a safeguard against tripping into the abyss? It is useful to paraphrase Derrida here to remember that, neither the poem nor deus absconditus, neither decorative baroque nor the messianic community, neither the experimental sensorium nor philosophy of history, can exert as hyperbolic condition of any possible living democratic construction [3]. This is only literature’s task. Anti-literature as friendly katechon, keeps this unavowable promise as its dearest secret that nourishes from the democratic expectancy in an incalculable waiting. A politics among friends? It could well be, but only with the caveat that like friends, literature also comes like a stranger late in the day. Will it come again? All of this to say that anti-literature resists succumbing in the nihilistic abyss of equivalence as the last avatar of the contemporary university’s death-drive. The friendly invitation of anti-literature confronts us, once more, as a lux acarna. We only hope that it is not too late, and that another path could open in the very place of what has always been.

 

 

 

 

 Notes

1. Alberto Moreiras. “Universidad. Principio de Equivalencia”. Enero 17, 2017. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/universidad-y-principio-de-equivalencia-hacia-el-fin-de-la-alta-alegoria-borrador-de-conferencia-para-17-instituto-de-estudios-criticos-mexico-df-22-de-enero-2017-por-alberto-moreiras/

2. For example, at one point the baroque/ neo-baroque appears as a trope for anti-literature. In my account, this will amount to the ‘catholic’ affirmation the katechon, raising its status in a complexio oppositorum between archaic and an-archy of the eschatology, which is always political theology. Consider this passage cited from Haroldo de Campos: “…Brazilian culture was born under the sign of the baroque…it cannot be understood from ontological, substantialist, metaphysical point of view. It should not be understood from an ontological, substantialist, metaphysical point of view. It should not be understood in the sense of an idealist quest for “identity” or “national” character. Baroque, paradoxically, means non-infancy. The concept of “origin” here will only fit if it does not imply the idea of “genesis”, of a generative process with a beginning, middle, and maturity…Baroque is, therefore, a non-origin. A non-infancy. Our literature, springing up from the baroque vortex, was never aphastic; it has never developed from a speechless, aphasic-infantile limbo in the fullness of discourse”. 115 pp. The baroque as literary form, even deprived of genesis, seems to lead stray into the “frame” whether in transcendental or immanentist planes of the modern metaphysics of the political.

3. Panagiotis Christias has recently offered a very interesting reading of the figure of the katechon in a platonic key, in which he suggests that the restrainer stands against potential rise of tyranny, thus making the Philosopher, the Greek antecedent of the katechon fearing the disintegration of the polis. To what extent philosophy can deter anomia today is a completely different question. I am interested in the figure of the Philosopher as metonymic for life as it converges with passion without sacrifice. See, Platon et Paul au bord de l’abîme. Pour une politique katéchontique (2014).

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

Rome dignitas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An explanation for ‘deconstructing the administrative state’. By Gerardo Muñoz.

A few weeks ago at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), when Steve Bannon, Donald J. Trump’s White House chief strategist, laid out the principle of “the deconstruction of the administrative state” as one of the immediate objectives of the Trump administration, there followed a storm of commentaries. For academics in the humanities, it was a perfect setting to mock ‘deconstruction’, and assert the un-political character of this so called “theoretical trend” in the academia, easily linking Derrida with Bannon’s strategic plan.

Just to cite one of many examples, French writer Alain Mabanckou twitted: “Steve Bannon, le mentor de Trump parle de “deconstruction” du povuir de Washington. Deconstrution? Srait-il un lecteur de Derrida?”. Many more followed on social media and in academic groups. These witty remarks were, of course, written under the sign of irony, which is certainly a central stimmung of our time. But irony is also one of the most serious genres to discuss a serious affair, of which I would like to briefly contemplate. Of course, my intention is not to defend Derrida, or even worse, to prove that Bannon has not read Derrida. I am sure that Bannon has not read Derrida, and even if he has heard of him, or someone told him a few things about deconstruction as a critical strategy of contemporary thought, this is irrelevant.

Bannon’s usage of deconstruction of the administrative state is correct, although in another sense. For one thing, deconstructing the administrate state is a technical term used in sociology and political science analysis as it relates to the fiscal state. In his new book Democracy against Domination (2017), Sebeel Rahman discusses the deconstructive force of computative fiscal logic over institutional structures and governmental regulatory bureaucracy [1]. In a good portion of the literature, whenever the notion of deconstruction of the administrative state is used, it refers directly to the dismantling of the fiscal regulatory apparatus (see Norris 2000). Whereas it might, at first sight, seem that Bannon is misinformed or just downright clownish, he is deeply versed in the specific discipline that he wants to target; mainly, political science of the welfare state as it has been discussed from the New Deal onwards.

One could press this point even further: the idea that Bannon wants to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’ does not merely amount to ‘more neoliberalism’ as cultural critics seem to reduce the problem. This is part of the truth, but not the whole truth. The attempt to attack the administrative state entails a serious assault on the rule of law, since as the most intelligent constitutionalists have recently noted, the administrative state is today the legal structure that has supplanted legitimacy over the deficit of presidentialism of the executive branch. Adrian Vermuele (2016) makes it clear that the administrative state is the law’s greatest triumph after the weakening of the separation of powers. This ultimately entails, that perhaps Bannon is well aware that it is not enough to destroy a democratic society from the standpoint of a sovereign executive, since it must be done from the very place where the rule of law resides, and this is where the administrative state plays a fundamental role. Bannon’s deconstructive gesture goes to the heart of the rule of law, which we have already started seeing as a check mechanism to Trump’s rampant executive unilateralism. Hence, the rumor that says that Bannon is a Leninst should be taken very seriously: Leninism seeks the destruction of the state and rule of law in order to create a dictatorship of the proletariat, which is Bannon’s civilizational response to globalization [2]. Bannon is a full-fleshed anti-institutionalist who admires not only Lenin, but also the decade of the thirties that he has called “exciting”.

At this point, it is perhaps almost unnecessary to say that Derrida’s deconstruction has little do with Bannon’s loaded attack on institutions of the welfare state. However, what is important is to note that Bannon’s articulation of deconstruction is inequivalent to Derrida, and a comparison becomes only possible if one subscribes to a transparent conceptual reservoir of the linguistic turn in order to abuse it. Thus, whenever a linguistic component is emphasized as hyperbolic of intellectual thought, the latter is suspended to favor an easy advantage in tandem with anti-politics.

Derrida emphasized that deconstruction was a condition of democracy, and that democracy could not take place without deconstruction. Democracy is really not a political concept in Derrida’s thought. It is not reducible to a tradition of “intellectual history”, and not even to the primal causation of life as predicated in the political. Such was, for Derrida, the exemplary nature of Mandela [3]. But to the extent that it solicits unconditional hospitality, it alters the alterity of the singular that is never reducible to political finality. This coming of friendship or non-enmity is another way of thinking through an infrapolitical existence. It is this demotic existence beyond the political what Bannon wants to destroy and obstruct in a move that is both fully ultra-political and non-political.

Notes

  1. K. Sebeel Rahman. Democracy against Domination. Manhattan: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  2. “Steve Bannon, Trump’s top guy, told me he was ‘A Leninst’ who wants to ‘destroy the State’. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/22/steve-bannon-trump-s-top-guy-told-me-he-was-a-leninist.html
  3. Jacques Derrida. The Politics of Friendship. London: Verso, 2005. P.102-106. “Admiration of Nelson Mandela, or The Laws of Reflection”, Law & Literature, Vol.26, 2014.

Abendland: on Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Banality of Heidegger. By Gerardo Muñoz.

nancy-banalityJean Luc Nancy’s The Banality of Heidegger (Fordham, 2017) is yet another contribution to the ongoing debate on Heidegger and Nazism, in the wake of the publication of the Black Notebooks in recent years. Originally delivered as a conference on Heidegger and the Jews in 2014, Nancy’s brief essay expounds on other contributions on the topic, such as those by Peter Trawny, Donatella Di Cesare, and the Heidelberg Conference of 1988 (now also available) between Georg Gadamer, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Jacques Derrida. Nancy’s intervention in the debate is important for several reasons; one of them being that the essay maps the strange career of the ‘banality of antisemitism’ into philosophical discourse. And not just any philosophical discourse, but Heidegger’s discourse, which remained ambitious, as we know, in unleashing a destruction of Western metaphysics for the recommencement of thought. Moving beyond Arendt’s own characterization of banality, Heidegger, in Nancy’s view, is not an administrator that followed the categorical imperative immunized by a bureaucratization of moral judgment. The banality of antisemitism in Heidegger is the displacement of the juridical register into the proper philosophical one (Nancy 2). This is why, for Nancy, the catastrophe of Heidegger’s philosophical antisemitism is a failure that also happened to us in thought, and that it is still very much open as a possibility for us today (Nancy 62). In a certain way, Nancy’s essay also reads as a timely warning for anyone wanting to commit to thinking at all.

Nancy’s point of departure shares Peter Trawny’s hypothesis elaborated in Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy (2015) that the Jew possesses absent historiality that does not allow for destinial movement towards soil, decision, and people (Nancy 25).  The technical term for historial, as Jeff Fort reminds us in the Preface, corresponds to weltgeschichtlich, and could also be translated as “world-historical”. This provenance explicitly thematizes the banal anti-semitic myth coming out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but also from Theodor Lessing’s “Jewish Self-Hatred” published in the 1930s. It is hard to know how Heidegger would have not known these works, although harder is to think how they arrived as such a central place in his philosophy. In fact, this is the ‘knot’ of the banality of antisemitism in philosophical thought. The Jew in Heidegger’s thinking becomes metonymic for machination and gigantism, democracy and Americanism. In fact, according to Nancy, Heidegger’s anti-jewish trope might have fallen into what he has called the principle of general equivalence, in which humanity is flattened out by generalities of particular traits that come to represent the total abendland or decline of the West. Nancy writes, rehearsing here arguments from his previous Truth of Democracy and After Fukushima:

“But the machination that gives rise to such a naturalist principle leads in the direction of a complete ‘deracialization’ of a humanity reduced to the undifferentiated equality of all, and in general of all beings. It is interesting to note that the argument is not very far removed from the one in which Marx qualifies money as a “general equivalent” in which productive humanity is alienated from its proper existence and therefore from its value or meaning…[..]. The Jewish people is the identifiable agent, property identifiable (or more properly, a bizarre notion that must no doubt be recognized), of what at the same time is a broad composition of masses and identities, America or Americanism, communism and technics, French, English, Europeans, Germans, even, and “Abendland”, evening, decline, collapse. At bottom, the “decline of the west” is a pleonasm.” (Nancy 15-18).

The consequence of such operation is clear: the principle of general equivalence entails an extreme and unprecedented form of evil. Hence, Nancy concludes, rightly so, in my opinion, that no generality can contain or exempt a true opening from its system. Then, we must assume that there is really no authentic “letting be” in Heidegger’s thought. In fact, the exclusive-inclusive status of Judaism in heideggerianism is hyperbolic to the disastrous limitations of the ‘letting be’ in his philosophy. This will also be consistent with Giorgio Agamben’s reservations in L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014) of the gelassenheit as shorthand for the logic of the political ‘ban’. The philosophical status of the Jew in Heidegger, starting in the thirties onward, is marked by the assumption that the Jew is the main figure (and its gestalt, meaning that is also giving shape) of Western decline. This formulation is only possible from the standpoint of the condition of equivalence. The kernel of equivalence in Nancy’s Banality of Heidegger is the strongest critique, as far as I am aware, directed against Heidegger’s anti-semitism. I say this for two reasons, which are connected to Nancy’s argument, but that I will try to push towards a different direction.

First, if antisemitism is integrated in the principle of equivalence, this allows for thinking the problem of democracy, not abandoning it. This implies that the principle of democracy is not surpassed by Heidegger’s own convergence of the term as identical to the event of the “masses”, “people”, “race”, or “technical development”. Nancy asks the question in light of the “Jew”, but one could also alter the term by asking for the status of “democracy” in Heidegger’s thought. In fact, Heidegger’s politics in the Black Notebooks advance a strong position for a metapolitics of the people, which Nancy does not get to discuss in such a brief essay.  This is consistent with Heideggerian emphasis on ‘original beginnings’ (in the Greek sense, which Nancy does overtly emphasize), amounting to a rhetoric of reversibility. In fact, Heidegger’s position on the Jew is equally grounded in what I would call a metapolitics of reversibility, that is, a firm belief that capitalist democracy is reversible and that there is a, or some, originary beginnings. Heidegger’s antidemocratic metapolitics points to his most extreme failure, since democracy as a practical political arrangement in the name of the singular is always fissured, evolutionary, and opened to contingent configurations in its divisions of power without reassurance for the destinial [1]. This is also why only democratic republicanism can be a politics without metapolitics and without arcana. Heidegger’s thought in the Black Notebooks and elsewhere is anti-democratic as much as it is anti-semitic, or it is anti-democratic because it is anti-semitic.

My second reason: any talk of the past presupposes a sense of history of the human. At one point in the essay, Nancy rightfully points to something not always discussed in Heidegger: “It was important to him [Christianity], therefore, above all not to retain the traces of other beginnings throughout the history of the West, and especially not at the points of its most perceptible inflections (Christianity, Renaissance, the industrial and democratic revolution). At the same time, the rejection or exclusion of the Jews by Christianity aims to reject and exclude something could complicate even disturb the strict Christian initiality” (Nancy 56). Nancy concludes that in Heidegger’s work there was never an attempt to flesh out the differences between Christian dogmatics and non-apologetics, the Church and its forms of communizations. Thus, Heidegger remained oblivious to the survival of Christian forms. In the indiscriminate package ‘Judeo-Christian onto-theology’, the equivalence surfaces as yet another form of emphasizing the course of the destinial sending of the West, while leaving aside a more complicated history proper to the human. Also, since destination was always thought as an aftereffect of errancy, Nancy suggests, following Rigal, that the Heideggerian errancy never abandoned the arcanum of an originary proper beginning and a possible recommencement. This is even stranger if we are to consider Judaism’s provenance in errancy without territory.

But this slight neglect is the place where Heidegger is closer to the doctrinal philosophy of Hitlerism. Since, as historian Timothy Snyder has shown, Hitler believed that the Jew was a vicarious agent of technology and capital, lacking territory and place, which only after its destruction could the notion of the ‘struggle of the species’ reappear in truth and proper light [2]. It does nothing to the argument to respond that Heidegger remained detached from the racial or biological assumptions of Hitlerism. It only matters that he shared the belief of the destruction of the Jewish people, and the Jew as one of the ‘oldest figures’ (sic) of self-destruction.

The essay concludes with Nancy’s two pleas to continue thinking with and through Heidegger: first, to break away with the historical mode of progress as a world conquest made by man with “exponential finalities” and second, to reject any substantial intromission into a new “ontology”, while opening errancy against any destinial metapolitics (Nancy 58). One wonders to what extent the late Heidegger came to subscribe the second position, or if the Ereignis is the continuity of thought in banality and bad faith (Nancy seems to think the latter). It is much harder to accept the rejection of the idea of progress. Although, this is the common ground that both Nancy and Heidegger share as reject sons from the project of the Enlightenment. Yet, as we remain alert to ways of questioning its irreversibility, we know that this is still today a strong antidote against common banalities.

Notes

  1. I sympathize with José Luis Villacañas’ critique of Heidegger’s return to the Greek beginning in his Teología Política Imperial: una genealogía de la división de poderes (Trotta, 2016).
  1. Timothy Snyder. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. New York: Tim Dugan Books, 2016.

Acts of Engagement: on Marranismo e Inscripción. (Djurdja Trajkovic)

What is the relation between negative engagement and deconstruction? Negative engagement is a singular engagement of separation that instead of proposing a binary problem/solution proper to contemporary thinking, offers new questions and the possibility of pushing thought further. It is negative since it does not look for empathy nor compassion, neither redemption nor recognition. It is an engagement that abandons the “state of things”, only to open up thought to the unthinkable, and to the difficult experience of freedom. It is engagement as a form of life, since what is at stake is a relation to existence outside of hegemony, identity, and quality; that is, at the margins of institution (if there is such a thing anymore).

In Moreiras’ anti-book, Marranismo e Inscripción (Escolar & Mayo, 2016), we bear witness to such a difficult intervention. It is a book made up of heterogeneous writings, some highly intimate, others profoundly distant, which overwhelms the reader with their arduous insistence and demand for thinking. It is as if Moreiras is repeating the Heideggerian conclusion that we have not even begun to think. And what is there to think about in “times of interregnum”?

Firstly, the crucial task that Alberto offers up for thought is what cannot be said: the crisis of the Humanities. Suggesting that we do not posses even the concepts or language with which we could start this process, Moreiras is suspicious of returns to national history and grand (canonical) literature. If this is a crisis of crisis, how do we think about the Humanities within the eye of the storm? What kind of crisis are we bearing witness to? It seems that the Humanities has become sort of a bad word: it is a space where a fundamental interrogation on the state of humanity could have been put into question once, and that today increasingly mirrors only the loss of academic jobs of academics and its contingency. Global capitalism turns a necessity, the cultivation of thought and the letter, into contingency by naturalizing the status quo and refusing to recognize the conflict.

Important as it may be to address the contingency of academic work, however, the crisis is profound since what is at its heart is the very crisis of thought and intellectuality. It seems that the brutal acceleration and instrumentalization of life itself has surpassed our capability to rethink it without falling into nostalgia and melancholia and other “solutions” that lead nowhere. I am not suggesting here embracing all too quickly a “happy” form of living without really dwelling into the question of globalization. But does anyone really need the Humanities anymore, if anyone ever really did? Is the university, as a space of hospitality without condition, possible today? Can the Humanities offer once again a thought of/for transformation? How is transformation to be enacted irreducibly to wishful thinking and pure dreaming? Critical thinking stutters here, as it fears its own disappearance.

There is no room for cynicism or nihilism, however. And even if there is, we must reject it. The situation is difficult, unbearable. Inviting us to abandon recognition, Moreiras underlines the acknowledgment of finitude; the very possibility of doubt and doubting of decolonial and communist impulses (you may want to revise this last phrase, as it is difficult to figure out what you mean). He is one of the rare thinkers who trace the problem of the temporality of thinking itself. For example, he asserts that our accustomed “tools” fail us today as the exhaustion of modern (political) concepts is beckoning us. Perhaps we are bearing witness to the death of modernity. And yet, Moreiras does not offer to salvage those concepts but instead proposes without proposition a further deconstruction of politics. One must ask then what is left of politics and the political after deconstruction? What is unthinkable after deconstruction? Is deconstruction in need of deconstruction? Is deconstruction possible in the eye of a mass depolitization that the failure of neoliberalism made visible?

Infrapolitics, as something that happens, offers itself as the radicalization of deconstruction. It is a labor of difficult passion, of possibilization of the impossible, and a constant search, a desire, for the outside. Moreiras himself is hesitant to affirm if and when such a possibility might open up. Certainly not today when the conditions of possibility of/for thinking in the university of equivalence have closed even the possibility of putting into question the university itself and division of labor. Not even to mention the anti-intellectuality and anti-theoretical turn haunting the Humanities. After all, all is said and done, right? And yet, at the same time, Moreiras does not want to abandon the possibility of a new historicity, a new writing of history irreducible to instrumentalization and to the capture of history for supposedly progressive goals.

How to exercise such a demand? I believe that the question is not anymore ‘what is to be done’ but how to think the end of doing and the beginning of thinking. At the heart of his intervention is a thinking of radical democracy, a demand for a freedom of life liberated from the identitarian and hegemonic drives, a demand for other thought and time irreducible to the techno-political machine which captures experience and knowledge into another fetish and concept to be applied. In Moreiras we are distant from destruction, and what is being offered is the very possibility of experiencing freedom anew.

How so? He suggests in his reading of Javier Cercas’ El impostor that thinking is inseparable from freedom, not inseparable from love as for Jean Luc Nancy, but freedom itself. Thinking is irreducible to philosophy and literature is the risk one must take if there is going to be freedom at all. Thinking is sick thought. And only patient attention to this sickness (how could it be otherwise after the violence of metaphysics?) through the cultivation of other thought and letter could bring about the “cure”. However, the cure is not restoration of health but precisely the opening, the region, where freedom could appear. Moreiras uses here a curious word, “appearing,”- which is not appearance but “appearing.” For example, freedom appears when and if, a (wo)man opens herself to letting it be, when the character is separated from destiny, and when we consider what we are not and what we have not been able to be. Also letting it be so that the unknown can appear. Not doing but being. Is this the attempt to write a history of what has not happened and could have been? It is certainly a demand irreducible to “restorative nostalgia.”

This is a similar suggestion to what Sergio Chejfec exercises in his Los incompletos. We are not speaking here of mourning, but of the possibility of confronting the real as unforeseeable, as imperfect and inconclusive past. When we understand that, as Javier Marias reminds us, grace without use is also “la suma de todas las posibilidades no realizadas en nuestras vidas no como destino fallido”. Perhaps only then we will be ready to let freedom appear in its inexhaustibility. This is the task and promise of brave negative engagement for any Hispanist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podemos, ¿en nombre de qué? Transversalidad y Democracia. (Gerardo Muñoz)

En el artículo “Una patada en la mesa”, publicado el pasado 17 de Mayo, el pensador David Soto Carrasco pone sobre la mesa dos estrategias fundamentales para acercarnos sobre lo que viene acechando a la política española (aunque para los que estamos interesados en pensar la política más allá de un caso nacional, España es solamente un paradigma de la tarea central para el pensamiento político). Primero, Soto señala, contra los críticos convencionales tanto de la derecha como de la izquierda, que el nuevo acuerdo entre Podemos-Izquierda Unida no es una radicalización ultraizquierdista de la nueva fuerza política de Pablo Iglesias. Y segundo, sugiere que el nuevo acuerdo tampoco es un “acto de resistencia” en el sentido de una mera filiación para mantenerse a flote en la escena de la política nacional.

Soto Carrasco nos dice que se trata de un acto político de madurez que convoca a la ciudadanía española a través de una táctica de transversalidad. La alianza con Izquierda Unida, de esta manera, no estaría implicada en arribismo hegemónico, sino en nuevas posibilidades para “dibujar líneas de campo” y enunciar otras posiciones por fuera del belicismo gramsciano (guerra de posiciones). Soto Carrasco le llama a esto “sentido común”, pero le pudiéramos llamar democracia radical, o bien lo que en otra parte he llamado, siguiendo a José Luis Villacañas, deriva republicana. Conviene citar ese momento importante del artículo de Soto Carrasco:

“En política, la iniciativa depende fundamentalmente de la capacidad de enunciar tu posición, la posición del adversario pero también de definir el terreno de juego. Si se quiere ganar el partido, no solo basta con jugar bien, sino que hay que dibujar las líneas del campo. Dicho con otras palabras si se quiere ganar el cambio hay que recuperar la capacidad de nombrar las cosas y redefinir las prioridades. Generalmente esto lo hacemos a través de lo que llamamos sentido común. Para ello, la izquierda (como significante) ya no es determinante” [1].

El hecho que los partidos políticos y sus particiones ideológicas tradicionales estén de capa caída hacia el abismo que habitamos, es algo que no se le escapa ni al más desorientado viviente. Contra el abismo, el sentido común supone colocar al centro del quehacer de la política las exigencias de una nueva mayoría. Pero esa gran mayoría, en la medida en que es una exigencia, no puede constituirse como identidad, ni como pueblo, ni como representación constituida. La gran política no puede radicarse exclusivamente como restitución de la ficción popular bajo el principio de hegemonía.

En los últimos días he vuelto sobre uno de los ensayos de Il fuoco e il racconto (Nottetempo 2014) de Giorgio Agamben, donde el pensador italiano argumenta que justamente de lo que carecemos hoy es de “hablar en nombre de algo” en cuanto habla sin identidad y sin lugar [2]. La política (o el populismo) habla hoy en nombre de la hegemonía; como el neoliberalismo lo hace en nombre de la técnica y de las ganancias del mercado, o la universidad en nombre de la productividad y los saberes de “campos”. Hablar desde el mercado, la universidad, o el gobierno no son sino un mismo dispositivo de dominación, pero eso aun no es hablar en nombre de algo. Agamben piensa, en cambio, en un habla abierta a la impotencia del otro, de un resto que no se subjetiviza, de un pueblo que no se expone, y de una lengua que no llegaremos a entender. El mayor error de la teoría de la hegemonía es abastecer el enunciado del ‘nombre’ con fueros que buscan armonizar (en el mejor de los casos) y administrar el tiempo de la vida en política.

Por eso tiene razón José Luis Villacañas cuando dice que el populismo es política para idiotas (Agamben dice lo mismo, sin variar mucho la fórmula, que hoy solo los imbéciles pueden hablar con propiedad). Podríamos entender – y esta sería una de las preguntas que se derivan del artículo de Soto Carrasco – el dar nombre, ¿desde ya como función política que abandona la hegemonía, y que contiene en su interior el rastro poshegemónico? ¿No es ese “sentido común” siempre ya “sentido común” de la democracia en tanto toma distancia de la hegemonía como producción de ademia? Si la democracia es hoy ilegítima es porque sigue dirigiendo las fuerzas de acción propositiva hacia la clausura del significante “Pueblo” en nombre de un “poder constituido”.

En este sentido estoy de acuerdo con Moreiras cuando dice que la poshegemonía “nombra” la posibilidad de cualquier posible invención política en nuestro tiempo [3]. Es una brecha del pensamiento. Lo que siempre “nombramos” nunca habita en la palabra, en el concepto, o en prefijo, sino en la posibilidad entre nosotros y la potencia de imaginación para construir algo nuevo. Y eso es lo que pareciera constituir el olvido de los que permanecen enchufados a la política de la hegemonía, o la hegemonía como siempre reducible de una manera u otra a la política.

Soto Carrasco propone una transversalidad entendida como “principio político y nueva cultura política”. Y esto, nos dice, es lo decisivo para un nuevo rumbo y renovación de la política. La transversalidad es momento y estrategia de invención de las propias condiciones de la política real, y por eso necesariamente se escapa al orden de la hegemonía o del doblez en “Pueblo”. ¿Qué tipo de transversalidad? ¿Y cómo hacerlo sin volver a dibujar un mapa de alianzas políticas y sus digramacionoes de poder, siempre en detrimento del orden institucional y de la división de poderes? Fue esto lo que en buena medida limitó y finalmente llevó a la ruina y agotamiento la capacidad de ascenso del progresismo en América Latina durante este último ciclo histórico de luchas más reciente [4]. La transversalidad no puede ser alianza meramente con fines electoralistas o populistas de un lado u otro péndulo del poder.

A la transversalidad habría que superponerla con su suplemento: una segmentariedad inconmensurable, poshegemónica, y anti-carismática. Como lo ha notado recientemente José Luis Villacañas, quizás varíen las formas en que aparezca el lenguaje: “Es posible que lo que yo llamo republicanismo no sea sino la mirada de un senior de aquello que para alguien jóvenes es populismo…” [5]. Pero si las palabras y los términos fluctúan (siempre son otros para los otros), lo único que queda es la pregunta: ¿en nombre de qué?

Más allá de la palabra o el concepto, la política que viene tendría que estar en condición de hablar-se en nombre del fin de la hegemonía y la identidad. Solo así sus nombres del presente podrían ser democracia poshegemónica, populismo, comunismo del hombre solo, transversalidad, institucionalismo republicano, o división de poderes…

 

 

 

Notas

  1. David Soto Carrasco. “Una patada al tablero”. http://www.eldiario.es/murcia/murcia_y_aparte/patada-tablero_6_516958335.html
  1. Giorgio Agamben. Il fuoco e il racconto. Nottetempo, 2014.
  1. Alberto Moreiras. “Comentario a ‘una patada al tablero’, de David Soto Carrasco. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/comentario-a-una-patada-al-tablero-de-david-soto-carrasco-por-alberto-moreiras/
  1. Ver, “Dossier: The End of the Progressive Cycle in Latin America” (ed. Gerardo Muñoz, Alternautas Journal, n.13, 2016). Ver en particular la contribución de Salvador Schavelzon sobre las alianzas en Brazil, “The end of the progressive narrative in Latin America”. http://www.alternautas.net/blog?tag=Dossier
  1. José Luis Villacañas. “En La Morada”: “Es posible que lo que yo llamo republicanismo no sea sino la mirada propia de un senior de aquello que para alguien más joven es populismo. La res publica también provoca afectos, como el pueblo, aunque puede que los míos sean ya más tibios por viejos. Su gusto por las masas es contrario a mi gusto por la soledad. Yo hablo en términos de legitimidad y ellos de hegemonía; yo de construcción social de la singularidad de sujeto, y ellos de construcción comunitaria; yo de reforma constitucional, y ellos de conquistas irreversibles; yo de carisma antiautoritario, y ellos de intelectual orgánico. En suma, yo hablo de Weber y ellos de Gramsci, dos gigantes europeos. Es posible que una misma praxis política permita más de una descripción. Es posible que todavía tengamos que seguir debatiendo cuestiones como la de la fortaleza del poder ejecutivo, algo central hacia el final del debate. En realidad yo no soy partidario de debilitarlo, sino que sólo veo un ejecutivo fuerte en el seno de una división de poderes fuerte.” http://www.levante-emv.com/opinion/2016/05/17/morada/1418686.html

Macrismo: populismo y nuevas derechas. (Gerardo Muñoz)

Aun no ha pisado la Casa Rosada y las medidas del macrismo ya dan un primer acorde a la época que se abre con Cambiemos: una explicitada alianza con la derecha regional en búsqueda de un acelerado agrietamiento del eje Mercosur (que en primera escena del bunker del PRO estuviese Lilian Tintori, esposa del encarcelado líder político venezolano Leopoldo López, no es un dato menor). Reclamarle a TeleSUR y a la prensa bolivariana neutralidad parece no solo injusto, sino incorrecto, ya que ha sido el mismo Ingeniero Macri el primero en hacer un guiño a la opinión pública de la nueva reorganización geopolítica en la región. Es obvio que el eje bolivariano haya contestado beligerantemente y se sienta interpelado por un marcado giro en las relaciones bilaterales con el nuevo gobierno porteño.

Si esto es así en materia internacional, en la economía ha seguido una ‘intempestiva suba de precios’ que, como ha visto en su última nota el historiador Alejandro Horowicz, marcan la clara tendencia de un proceso de devaluación y comienzo de una serie de medidas de ajuste económico que el propio jefe de gabinete Marcos Peña no ha dudado de adjetivar como “impresionante” [1]. Por el frente doméstico la sorpresiva nominación de Patricia Bullrich para el Ministerio de Seguridad prepara la grilla policial para lo que se espera que pueda ser otro ‘Diciembre caliente’. Es cierto que el actual ministro de seguridad Sergio Berni no se queda atrás en cuanto a los cumplidos de represión y despliegue securitario, pero lo nuevo aparece aquí como una réplica naturalizada por los dispositivos del discurso instalados en el mismo seno del macrismo triunfante. Lo que antes pudiera haberse leído como errónea anomalía, ahora se registra como el estado de excepción desde los cuerpos y las lenguas que lo gobiernan. Si le agregamos a todo esto, la nominación de Pablo Avelluto en Cultura y el indecente editorial de La Nación “No mas venganza” apenas un día después de la derrota del Frente para la Victoria, vale confirmar el regreso de la naturalización del discurso de los ‘dos demonios’ y de una lengua de pacificación que escamotea la continuación de la guerra sobre los cuerpos y la del propio campo de la política [2].

Están las cartas echadas y los cromos de pie para hacernos una idea de la nueva escena post-Kirchner. En efecto, esta podría ser un espejismo del kirchnerismo, aunque aun está por verse si el macrismo está en interesado o no en colonizar las reductos estatales del kirchnerismo o aplicar a la menemista, una serie de shocks sin anestesia. Esto es, solo el tiempo dirá si la ‘nueva derecha’ se constituye como tal y si el macrismo logra navegar gradualmente sobre la estatalidad y la reestructuración económica distanciándose de las formas compulsivas que caracterizaron a las derechas neoliberales de los noventa en la región; o si, por el contrario, la nueva derecha será capaz de emprender el incierto camino hacia el “cambio” aprendiendo de sus enemigo y de una larga derrota que ha durado más de una década. El mismo lema de “cambiemos” instala y apropia el horizonte progresista en una nueva jerga de la ciudadanía votante [3]. Si bien no hay elementos contundentes para afirmar uno de los dos derroteros para la derecha, si partimos de la hipótesis de la supervivencia de la cultura del consumo al interior de la era “posnacional”, como la ha designado el historiador Pablo Hupert, entonces es muy probable que la acomodación hacia una postura de nueva derecha no sea un proyecto tan arduo ni voluntarista de construir como parece.

La inclusión por el consumo y la revitalización de un neoliberalismo de baja intensidad – que se repliega y organiza a varios niveles, en la esfera laboral informal, tal y como lo ha estudiado Veronica Gago en La razón neoliberal (Tinta Limón, 2015) – sumado a la devaluación internacional de los precios de los commodities que signa el límite de la matriz de acumulación para la expansión democrática, sería consistente con una agenda de esa new right investida en clausurar el esquema de la gran política en cuanto antagonismo social y reformulación de grandes preguntas triangulantes (entrecruzamientos entre Estado, cultura, subjetividad, símbolos, y retórica). No es casual que el globo amarillo sea el símbolo de PRO, si nos esforzamos a leer en ese signo el pasaje del viejo nacionalismo culto de las banderas fascistas, a una simbología más light, donde el carnaval (notable topos de la cultura de masas) es apropiado por nuevos insumos colectivos sin aquel viejo identitarismo ocultista que sabiamente había estudiado Furio Jesi y que ahora se parecieran estar a la altura cultural del hombre común [4]. El insigne globo macrista es consistente con la esferología contemporánea de la globalización, tan animado como las propias mercancías que circulan por cada urbe. Como en las escalofriantes masas carnavalescas de los relatos anti-peronistas de Rodolfo Wilcock, el macrismo es la perversión de lo nacional-popular, aunque sin el matiz grotesco que caracterizó tradicionalmente al fascismo.

Lo que llama la atención de la novedad macrista es que reinstala ese ‘salgan todos que ahora entramos nosotros’ que apunta no solo al tan discutido ‘continuismo peronista’ de parte del FpV, sino a otro problema de fondo, tal vez un poco menos referido: el presidencialismo hegemónico. No es que Macri sea en este sentido una réplica de Kirchner, sino que ambos se cobijan sobre una misma estructura. A la apuesta de los movimientos sociales no estaría mal suplementarle el tema de la democratización del presidencialismo desde arriba, como pedía Eugenio Zaffaroni recientemente [5]. Una democratización al presidencialismo de facto funcionaría como bastidor en momentos transicionales e incluso como resguardo de los errores del gobierno de turno y sus timonazos inequívocos. Esta es la vieja tensión entre ruptura y conservación en los precarios modelos democráticos latinoamericanos, así como la pregunta que coloca en el centro la posibilidad de la democracia real en América Latina por fuera del ropaje republicano del institucionalismo de derecha (conservacionismo tradicional) y de las “transiciones” (y con lo mismo estoy diciendo una interrupción del orden que siempre ha sido interrumpido, esto es, un orden de excepcionalidad soberana).

Es aquí también donde se impone el dilema del constitucionalismo y la necesidad de su reforma. Buena parte del éxito de gobiernos de la Marea Rosada (particularmente los de Ecuador y Bolivia), se deben a procesos constituyentes capaces de reinscribir constitucionalmente la extensión de derechos plurinacionales o no-humanos al interior del Estado. Está es una tarea que excede la matriz funcionalista del derecho y que profundiza sobre sus condiciones operativas. Es por esta razón que el repetido reclamo ilustrado ‘anti-corrupción’ o ‘legalista’ corre el riesgo de perder de vista la insuficiencia del derecho como organismo imparcial (‘qué no me venga a decir Habermas sentado en una oficina en Alemania que la constitución y la ley es el canal de solución’, escribe Spivak en su reciente Nationalism and the imagination). Tal vez por estar inscrita en la tradición republicana y muy ausente de los modelos de gobernabilidad latinoamericanos, la pregunta constitucionalista, sin embargo, siempre acaba siendo menoscabada o relegada a la opción populista. Es difícil incluso imaginar que significaría un nuevo republicanismo para el debate de la política latinoamericana de cara al agotamiento del ciclo progresista sin repetir esta doble estructuración.

Éste sería un republicanismo como crítica efectiva de eso que el sociólogo boliviano Luis Tapia ha llamado, justamente, la tiranía del derecho. Por eso no estaría mal comenzar a pensarlo no solo en línea con la eventualidad del macrismo, sino como debate crítico sobre el populismo, cuya interpretación de la instucionalidad (como ha observado recientemente José Luis Villacañas) aparejado de su silencio sobre la esfera del derecho (la soberanía) pareciera ser unas de las patas flojas de la teoría de significación equivalencial de Ernesto Laclau [6].

Si el anti-institucionalismo depende de la estructuración (identitaria) de la equivalencia, ¿por qué no pensar y hacerse cargo desde el pensamiento de un republicanismo institucional de la inequvialencia? Traídos al presente, ¿no querrían populistas y neoliberales esa misma flexibilidad institucionalidad para un voluntarismo político cuya fórmula redonda es el anti-institucionalismo de la hegemonía? Es en este punto donde hegemonía equivale a soberanía excepcional de la razón transicional del poder. Las nuevas derechas – y el macrismo como encarnación inmediata – pudiera tomar este camino, sin que esto suponga un retroceso necesario hacia el “mínimo Estado” que caracterizaron a las derechas tipo Sánchez de Lozada, Vargas Llosa, o Fujimori a finales de la pasada centuria [7]. Y esto no implicaría, en modo alguno, la expansión del horizonte democrático, sino todo lo contrario. Será interesante seguir la metamorfosis del macrismo en los próximos meses, pero desde ya pareciera más fascinante pensar un institucionalismo por fuera de la equivalencia del populismo, así como del liberalismo criollo históricamente excluyente y subalternizante.

 

 

Notas

  1. Ver la columna de Alejandro Horowicz. “Los precios de la derrota”. http://tiempo.infonews.com/nota/197116/los-precios-de-la-derrota
  1. “No mas venganza”. Editorial del 23 de Noviembre. http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1847930-no-mas-venganza
  1. La pérdida de horizonte por parte de la izquierda es tal que pareciera que solo la derecha la que puede hoy enunciar o apenas trazar un plan de la utopía. Esto se comprueba con el hecho que buena parte de los gobiernos de la Marea Rosada en estos tiempos ha estado anclada en lo que Fernando Coronil llamó en uno de sus últimos ensayos una nueva teleología nacional como índice de legitimidad. Ver, “The future in question: History and Utopia in Latin America (1989-2010)”.
  1. Furio Jesi. Cultura de derechas. Barcelona: Muchnik, 1989.
  1. Eugenio Zaffaroni.” El derecho latinoamericano en la fase superior del colonialismo”. Passagens, Mayo-Agosto, 2014.
  1. José Luis Villacañas. Populismo. Madrid: La Huerta Grande Editorial, 2015.
  1. Veronica Giordano. “¿Qué hay de nuevo en las «nuevas derechas»? Nueva Sociedad, Noviembre-Diciembre de 2014.

Link

“Infrapolitical Action: The Truth of Democracy at the End of General Equivalence”

I. Extroduction

Jean-Luc Nancy refers to general equivalence, in his short book La communauté affrontée (2001), a bit counterintuitively: “What arrives to us is an exhaustion of the thought of the One and of a unique destination of the world: it exhausts itself in a unique absence of destination, in an unlimited expansion of the principle of general equivalence, or rather, by counterblow, in the violent convulsions that reaffirm the all-powerfulness and all-presentiality of a One that has become, or has again become, its own monstrosity” (12). Only a few pages later he speaks about the increasing “inequality of the world to itself,” which produces a growing impossibility for it to endow itself with “sense, value, or truth.” The world thus precipitously drops into “a general equivalence that progressively becomes civilization as a work of death;” “And there is no other form in the horizon, either new or old” (15). If the loss of value organizes general equivalence, it is the general equivalence of the nothing. Nancy is talking about nihilism in a way that resonates with the end of Martin Heidegger’s essay “The Age of the World Picture,” where Heidegger discusses “the gigantic” as the culmination of modern civilization in order to say that quantitative-representational technology can also produce its own form of greatness. It is at the extreme point of the gigantic that general calculability, or general equivalence, projects an “invisible shadow” of incalculability (“This incalculability becomes the invisible shadow cast over all things when man has become the subiectum and world has become picture” [Heidegger 72)]). Heidegger’s invisible shadow could be compared with Nancy’s hint of “an obscure sense, not a darkened sense but a sense whose element is the obscure” (20). Let me risk the thought that this obscure sense, as the invisible shadow of an undestined world, is for Nancy the wager of a radical abandonment of the neoliberal world-image, a notion that has become commonplace in political discourse today. But we do not know towards what yet—the invisible shadow within nihilism that projects an obscure sense out of nihilism is a political alogon whose function remains subversive, but whose sense remains elusive.

In The Truth of Democracy (2008) Nancy says that, in 1968, “something in history was about to overcome, overflow, or derail” the principal course of the political struggles of the period (15). This statement is probably not meant to be understood as springing from any kind of empirical analysis. Rather, the book makes clear that “something in history” is precisely the truth of history, understood as the epochal truth of history along classically Heideggerian lines (“Metaphysics grounds an age in that, through a particular interpretation of beings and through a particular comprehension of truth, it provides that age with the ground of its essential shape. This ground comprehensively governs all decisions distinctive of the age” [Heidegger, “Age” 57). There was a truth that the Europeans, for instance, could only obscurely perceive under the veil of a “deception,” and such a truth is, for Nancy, the truth of democracy that titles his book. My contention is that Nancy’s insistence on that truth of history, or truth of democracy, preserves a Hegelian-Kojèvian position that Nancy proceeds to overdetermine from a critique of nihilism. In other words, for Nancy, a truth of history was about to overcome and derail the main course of political struggles from the left in 1968, and it was the event of true democracy, only accessible on the basis of an opening to an epochal mutation of thought whose necessary condition would have been, would be, the renunciation of the principle of the general equivalence of things, infrastructurally represented by the Marxian Gemeinwesen, money, as the unity of value and as generic unity of valuation. The truth withdrawn under the veil of disappointment is the possibility of overcoming the nihilism of equivalence. Such is the modification Nancy imposes on the Kojévian thematics of the end of history, which now becomes understandable as the history of nihilism. Against it Nancy wants to offer a new metaphysics of democracy. Nancy’s understanding of democracy coincides with his “obscure sense” of the incalculable. In this essay, I will try to explain it, first, and then raise a question at the end.

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