Second thoughts on Giorgio Agamben and civil war. by Gerardo Muñoz

In a recent entry in his Quodlibet roster entitled “Sul diritto di resistenza“, Giorgio Agamben takes up once more time the question of civil war, but this time tested against the “right to resistance” (diritto di resistenza) as included in many Western constitutions. What is interesting in this note is that the for the first time – as far as I know, although it complements superbly an old intervention a propos of the publication of Tiqqun, along with Fulvia Carnevale and Eric Hazan – Agamben lays out quite explicitly how the “planetary civil war” tips the enumerated constitutional right of resistance on its head, making it indistinguishable from the management of civil war and the blurring of the category of formal enemy and that of the terrorist.

Indeed, the very notion of “planetary civil war” in an unified society without a strong discriminatory principle of enmity turns politics, as Carl Schmitt noted in his prologue to the 1971 Italian edition of The Concept of the Political, into something like a world police [1]. And the historical present has given Schmitt his due. Following Schmitt’s sound diagnosis, Agamben says nothing different, although this is the thesis that marks the limit of Schmitt’s modern categorical delimitations as well. In other words, if the unity of friend-enemy collapses, and now there is only the stratified value of association based on moral justifications, how can one speak of the “political” in this scenario (it is no longer about war, as we commented in a previous occasion). Is there even one?

And, if the political collapses so do the total sum of actions oriented as political resistance, and even resistance to the collapse of the political. For Schmitt it is very clear that it is even the internal exhaustion of the juridical order (ius publicum europeum) insofar as positivism is concerned, leading the way to the rise of what he called a world legal revolution consistent with what Karl Loewenstein already in the 1930s had termed “militant democracy” (1937). Once the modern state loses its monopoly on the legitimacy of authority, then anyone can establish an authoritative force; while, in turn, every enmity becomes a potential absolute enmity (even more so in legality, as we clearly see in the American context). In this sense, it is a misnomer to call a state “the state” if its function becomes a full equipped instrument of the optimization of civil war that rests on a sort of dual structure: on the one hand there is civil war at the limit of the collapse of legitimacy, but also the total domination that incorporates stasis as a functioning vector of its regulatory order.

In this sense, the advent of civil war after the collapse of the state is not a return to the confessional civil wars of early modern Europe, but rather the total unification of state and society without residue. So, if “right to resistance” presupposes not just the formal limitation of enmity but also the separation of society and state, it only makes sense that this category becomes defunct once the social emerges as proper site of the total administration: “the reunification gave us a new tyrant: the social” [2]. This entails that proper civil resistance is already subsumed in the process of civil war in the threshold of the political. In the context of civil war, resistances can mean both administration of the stasis, and the embedded position of a sacrificial subject, which has been costly (and it remains so) for the any calls for contestation, striking, or insubordination. Resistance here could only amount as a shadow apocalypticism. And sacrifice insofar as it is the fuel of any philosophy of history, merely relocates the energy of hostilities as measured by the factors of optimization.

It is only implicitly that Agamben concludes by suggesting that any “true resistance” must be imagined as a form of life in retreat from the social and its sacrificial idiolatry, from which one must draw its consequences or effects. This is the grounds of an ethical life, but also the way of reimagining another possibility of freedom, which in the brilliant definition of Carlo Levi, it means to live in freedom within our passions instead of being free of passions (precisely, because no principle can determine the true object of our passions, this demands a total reworking of modern notions of liberal and republican determinations of liberty) [3]. The time of the civil war, then, is best understood as a time of the affirmation of the conatus essendi, which rediscovers freedom through the sense of the event insofar as we are capable of attuning to the separability from any principle of socialization.

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Notes

1.  Carl Schmitt. “Premessa all’edizione italiana”, Le categorie del politico (ll Mulino 1972), 34.

2. Tiqqun. Introduction to Civil War (Semiotext, 2010), 61.

2. Carlo Levi. Paura della libertà (Neri Pozza, 2018), 45.

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