A New Priest: Notes on Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings. by Gerardo Muñoz

While reading the articles of the young Antonio Gramsci (penned from 1914 to 1920) it becomes evident that he was a keen observer of the historical and geopolitical reality of his time. Gramsci was a realist thinker but of a strange kind. The emphasis on “faith”, for instance, runs through the articles conforming a providential design of history. There are many “entities” that incarnate this providentialism: the Party, the transitional state, the proletarian culture, the organizational discipline, and the productionism of the working class. In fact, all of these subjects are vicarious and obedient to historical developmentalism. In a way, Gramsci appears as a “new Priest” (humanist, Hegelian, and providential) rather than a “new Prince” (Machiavellian, contigent, desicionist), which has become the gentle image through which he is remembered today. The 1914-1920 newspaper articles are filled with theological deposits, but I will limit these notes to three subdivisions, which do not exhaust other possible combinations.

  • The Party. The conception of the “Party” is understood by Gramsci in the same way that official authorities of the Church understood the providential mission; that is, as “the structure and platform” for salvation. But it is also a subjunctivizing apparatus that demands submission and supreme cohesion under a party-culture. For instance, in “Socialism and Culture” (1916) he writes: “Culture is something quite different. It is the organization, the discipling of one’s inner self; the mastery of one’s personality, the attainment of a higher awareness, through which come to understand our value and plea within history, our proper function in life, our rights and duties” (9-10). So, for Gramsci, it is through the energic investment with the Party that one “becomes master of oneself, assert one’s own identity, to enter from choke and become an agent of order, but of one’s own order, one’s own disciplined dedication to an ideal” (11). In the same way that official Church administered the “soul” through a regulatory exercise of “sin”; Gramsci’s conception of the Party is limited to an administration of “revolutionary energy” vis-à-vis discipline and sacrifice in the name of an objective ideal of “philosophy of history”.


  • Faith. The notion of faith in Gramsci is intimately intertwined with History. To have faith is to “transcend” the otherwise empty void of History. In this well-known theological conception, faith is the force to have true “objects of History”. The object here means two things: both the intention and “end” to carry forth the revolutionary process. But faith here is nothing like the “knight of faith” who stands beyond the ethical and universalist positions. On the contrary, faith is always a communal faith of believers, whose are the resilient militants of the communist idea. As Gramsci says clearly in “The Conquest of the State” (1919): “And it must be ensured that the men who are active in them are communist, aware of the revolutionary mission that their institution must fulfill. Otherwise all our enthusiasm and faith of the working classes will not be enough to prevent the revolution from degenerating wretchedly…” (114). Or as confirmed in “History” (1916): “Our religion becomes, once again, history. Our father becomes; one again, man’s will and his capacity for action” (14). We see the double movement produced by the apparatus of “faith”: it unifies under a command (the Party), but it also instantiates an objectification to cover the void of History. Indeed, “life without an end’ is a ‘life not worth living”, says Gramsci. This particular instrumentalization of faith legitimizes the struggle against the bourgeois cosmos.


  • Order. Throughout these articles the defense of order is quite explicit. It is in this point where Gramsci comes closer to upholding a political theology that transposes the principles of liberalism unto “socialism”. He writes in “Three Principles and Three Kinds of Political order” (1917): “And the socialist program is a concrete universal; it can be realized by the will. It is a principle of order, of socialist order” (25). There is never a substantive idea of “order”, in the same way that there is no clear “transformation” of the state once the state has been occupied and functional to “administrating”, “managerial”, “productive systematization”, “vertical planning’, and “coordinating functions” (“The Conquest of the State”, 113). Gramsci goes as far as to say that “the proletarian state is a process of development…a process of organization and propaganda” (114). And although he claims that it is not, the occupation of the state is a pure “thaumaturgic” act pushed by the community of believers. Isn’t someone like Álvaro García Linera today a faithful follower of this strategy?

So, in this early Gramsci I find a priest rather than a modern prince. A priest driven by a substantive and coordinated theological effort to establish a voluntarist and teleological dogma for historical change, which really does not differ much from the principles of modern Liberalism and its potestas indirecta. It is interesting that in the last issue (1977) of the mythical Italian journal L’erba Voglio, there is a small satirical portrait of Gramsci dressed as a bishop with pen in hand, which speaks to the theological garments of Gramscianism well into our days. But the problem is not theology; it is rather that it is a theology of submission organized around order, reproduction, and history as idols in the name of consented domination.

Finally, I could very well imagine that some could rebuttal these theological imprints by claiming that this is only early Gramsci, and that things change later on. I am not too sure about this. It seems that this heuristic claim is analogous to Kafka’s “Leopards in the Temple” parable. In other words, isolating an “early” from a “late” Gramsci becomes a general ceremony to save the philosopher in spite of himself. But this is a self-defeating maneuvering from the very start.



*Image source: from the magazine L’erba Voglio, N.30, 1977.

Rough Notes on Antonio Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings. by Gareth Williams

  1. What Gramsci is, or appears to be:
  2. “Gramscianism” (here between October 1914 and June 1919) is an orthodox humanist Hegelianism.

Gramsci’s geopolitical world comprises Turin, Italy (as object of political commentary and an under-developed ethical state-form), Germany (as ethical state-form), England (as ethical state-form), France (as ethical state-form), and Russia (as revolutionary process and challenge to the previous ethical state-forms).

  1. The overall dispositive of writing in these pages is comprised of three essential historical determinations:
  • World War I:  shifts in the extension, dimension, and form of the capitalist mode of production.
  • The Russian Revolution, as apparently the least suitable (“Anti-Capital”) of environments for revolution. And yet . . .
  • The understanding of “socialist history” in relation to organization, consciousness, and the regional/national conditions of the capitalist mode of production, the coming revolution etc.
  1. The last of these three (c) is perhaps the most important for reading pre-prison Gramsci, since it leads to the question of how, and whether, Gramsci comprehends historicity in general, and the historicity of capitalism in particular. At this point there are a number of questions and problems herein, which Gramsci himself extends, naturalizes, and does not resolve.
  2. Why? Because he is a card-carrying orthodox Hegelian who puts the cart of Absolute Spirit (that is, his conclusions; the coming into being of the revolutionary dialectic of consciousness) before the horse (of historicity, or of analytic method etc). He does this in the name of objective commentary, knowledge, and therefore science. Socialist history remains internal to the dialectical relation between knowledge and Spirit; it is this enclosure and presupposition that establishes the “actuality” of the ground of his thinking, and also the idea that socialism, or communism, raise political thinking to the level of science. Absolute Spirit is the presupposition and structuring principle of Gramsci’s understanding of the entirety of Enlightenment history and of the coming politics. But does this not mean that Gramsci’s understanding of history is in fact groundless, or at the very least, myopic? Gramsci, like Hegel before him, and, indeed, like Marx to an extent, had already decided in what direction history was flowing and why.  “Spirit” is the moving forward of the new shape of the new era.  It is this glaring contradiction alone—between the claim to method and having decided on a prior conclusion regarding finality, or Absolute Spirit—that informs Gramsci’s understanding of a socialist epochality. While the proletariat is the determined negation of the bourgeoisie, the dialectical passage by which the proletariat ceases to be merely a negation of the bourgeoisie and becomes entirely Other is never really elucidated, other than by claiming the absolute reconciliation of the State-society relation at some point in the proletarian overtaking of the State and the full achievement of consciousness; the entirety of humanity coming into its own (humanity achieving its destinal completion). The signifier “Russia” is almost itself a stand-in for this constitutive lack, or absence.  As a result, the proletariat as the determined negation of the bourgeoisie is the positive content of (bourgeois-socialist-communist) progress in the direction of Spirit. The proletariat in the unfolding of its consciousness is the “not that” of the bourgeoisie; it is the bourgeoisie’s inverted positive, which, in Hegelian terms, could only ever be recognized as such from within the bourgeois dialectic of recognition, the dialectic of Lord and Bondsman in which both are recognized by the other, in their self-consciousness.

This is the heart of both Hegel and Gramsci’s essentially topological imagination (topos of recognition, the proximity of the common, friend-enemy relation etc; question: how could planetary revolution be imagined from within such a topological imagination?). One is left wondering, moreover, how a “true” revolution can be created by the dialectic of an inverted positive alone (again, the mere signifier “Russia” might appear to stand in as the resolution for that problem [?]). This might be why “true” revolution appears to be akin to the collapse of all mediation itself, in the name of “reconciliation”, or “Spirit” as the unity of all the different independent self-consciousnesses which, in their unification, enjoy perfect freedom and independence via the I that is we and the we that is every I (however, a world in which both I and Other disappear, it might be said, is no world; the world of absolute spirit can only be no world, because it has no movement). “True revolution” is the vanishing of mediation itself that has come about, somewhat mysteriously, via the (disciplined, disciplinary, moral) desire for absolute mastery. Is this a desire for an objectless world? To be master in the absence of the object—of the Other—? Can such a thing be possible? Obviously not. No language is given to the status of the object within the epoch of the collapse of all mediation, which is also referred to as “perfection”. From with the advent of “true revolution”, how could anything be grasped, dialecticized, actualized? Can there be a world in which the object—the Other—has no status? And yet Gramsci says that this arrival is inevitable, underway, realistic, already in the process of coming into being in consciousness.

  1. What Gramsci is not (or at least, not yet):
  • He is not a thinker of value, of surplus value, of commodity fetishism per se. He is a thinker of exploitation of the masses by the capitalists, and the place/role of these groupings in the overall terrain of national politics. Capital Volume I does not appear to be here in any specific way, though the Manifesto clearly is (perhaps excessively so).
  • He is not a thinker of anything that might be behind, beneath or beyond consciousness. He maintains no critical, or even agnostic, relation to the cogito. The proletariat exists internally to the epochality of the bourgeois cogito, as its negation. By definition, the proletariat does not think for itself (yet). Gramsci is a thinker of the proletarian amelioration of the cogito, but the cogito itself remains untouched. His thinking appears to be profoundly Cartesian (I think, I am).
  • He is not a thinker of language, of the signifier, metaphor, or of metaphor’s limits or decomposition(s)
  • He is not a thinker of the drives. Rather, he is a moralist. A thinker of the law, of mastery.
  • He is not a critic of “police thought”; on the contrary, “emancipation” is a variant manifestation of the police (discipline, order, morality, confession, self-other improvement, single-mindedness, organization of the army of the masses etc)
  • He is not a thinker of the decision
  • He is not a thinker of the relation between capital and the body; of gender; sexual difference (there is no reason to expect him to be so either).
  • He is not a thinker of the economy.
  1. Up to now, is there anything here to be salvaged for 2020, a “Gramsci for our times”?

Reality, or the social, is exactly the same at Gramsci’s point of departure in any given writing as it is at the point at which his thinking lands again at the end of any given writing. The real itself remains unquestioned. Perception remains unquestioned (faith in the cogito). In this sense, he is a 19th century realist thinker of the political, or, rather, he would be, if it were not for his faith in the Hegelian dialectic of Spirit. He is an astute commentator of the political conditions of his place and time.  But I cannot yet see anything for our times, since, as said at the beginning of these notes, Gramsci is an orthodox humanist Hegelian, a thinker of humanity’s movement in the historical direction of Absolute Spirit.  What we now comprehend as the modern historicity of capitalism itself circumvents Gramsci’s understanding; his secular faith in modern history—in temporality itself—as the bourgeois-socialist-communist teleology of human progress and development is unconvincing, though it remains the structural principle of his reading, and understanding, of both history and capital before, during, and in the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Un comentario al diálogo radial de Alberto Moreiras en “Dublineses”. Por Gerardo Muñoz

En el último programa radial “Dublineses” que Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solís y sus colegas coordinan desde la Ibero 90.9 participó Alberto Moreiras, cuya intervención quisiera desglosar en estos apuntes por al menos dos razones. Primero, porque algunas de las ideas de Alberto continúan la conversación de estas semanas, a propósito de la cuarentena o confinamiento de la pandemia del coronavirus. Y, en segundo lugar, porque algunas de estas tesis contribuyen a una conversación que tendrá lugar próximamente con una serie de colegas quienes intentan pensar la frágil composición de este momento. Ángel partió de una primera nota de Alberto sobre el “siniestro sosiego”  del confinamiento. Lo siniestro – e imagino que muchos en Estados Unidos dirían lo mismo con excepción de aquellos que viven en metrópolis – no hace otra cosa que explicitar el grado extremo de confinamiento en el que ya se vive hoy día. Yo mismo con frecuencia me he preguntado cómo es posible vivir en tal grado de alienación de la especie. Obviamente, a mayor grado de alienación, mayor rango de compensaciones. La cuarentena, en primer lugar, devela el déficit de posibilidades de encuentro. Y la extención va imponiendo su ritmo. Alberto recuerda que, como en el famoso relato de Edgard Allan Poe, los confinados abrazan la solidaridad, pero con el paso del tiempo las tensiones van incrementando, el hostis comienza a ganar espacio, y la angustia se desata. El espacio de comunicación compartido deviene un silencio ominoso. Ya lo estamos viendo con nuestros allegados o conocidos. ¿No es aquí donde se mide la amistad– esto es, en la posibilidad de un intercambio que no es ni hostis pero tampoco silencio sepulcral? Y así las cosas esenciales vuelven a su lugar: la amistad, el pensamiento, lo que has amado. Todo lo elemental cobra un nuevo fuego.

Alberto recuerda una reciente intervención de Jorge Alemán en su canal “Punto de Emancipación”, donde el autor de Soledad: Común (2012) habla de una “separación del mundo para volver al mundo”, En efecto, lo que se expone no tiene nada que ver con una potencia de la ‘interioridad’, sino con una exterioridad con respecto al mundo. Solo ahí puede aparecer la tonalidad de la “vida verdadera”. (Algo de esto he anotado al releer, después de casi una década, la novela Point Omega (2010) de Don Delillo: “The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we’re alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamily self-aware, submicroscopic moments” (p.17)). Y toda esta temporalidad ciega, como le llama Delillo, ahora despeja la constante bulla de los “administradores y los metafísicos de las intelligence agencies”. En efecto, despeja todos los discursos del saber. No sabemos que pueda acontecer en esta crisis. En efecto, no estamos en condiciones ni tan siquiera de saber si es un acontecimiento.

Ángel le pregunta a Alberto sobre el 11 de septiembre del 2001. Alberto recuerda como en los debates de aquel año la izquierda académica le concedía poca importancia histórica. Recuerdo aquí lo que Eric Hobsbawm repetía con sorna: ¡Pero si es que Nueva York no se paralizó ni por 48 horas! La izquierda siempre llega tarde a la comprensión de los acontecimientos; tal vez porque siempre está pensando fijamente en como producir uno mediante la “toma del poder”, cuando es justo ahí cuando los problemas importantes comienzan. Lenin o Laclau no tenían una sola idea de la institucionalidad, aunque sí muchos croquis de la técnica de la usurpación. Bien, ¿puede ser la actual pandemia del covid-19 un acontecimiento en un sentido fuerte de época? Puede haber varias posibilidades aquí:

  1. Puede ser un acontecimiento negativo – como en efecto indicó Alberto. Un acontecimiento que, como el 2001, recrudezca todos los aparatos de extracción de lo social. Yo también pienso es la hipótesis para considerar dado el dominio fáctico de la hipótesis cibernética.
  2. Puede ser que sea un acontecimiento en el sentido civilizacional de extinción de la especie. Esta es la tesis que el pensador francoitaliano Jacques Camatte ha compartido con algunos de nosotros (traduzco su carta aquí), y que, en realidad, sería un acontecimiento parcial en la medida en que ya estaba anunciado dentro del propio devenir de la errancia del humano una vez entregada a la antropomorforsis del capital.
  3. Y, en tercer lugar, puede que sea un acontecimiento que permita una regresión de tipo antropológica, y así “salvar” las mediaciones entre la especie y la naturaleza. Camatte entiende esto como una “inversión”, la cual solo se alcanzaría mediante una destrucción de los modos de producción y a la vuelta a una proximidad con el mundo natural. Es la más improbable.

Alberto recuerda que Alain Badiou, en un seminario de los 90s, insiste que el gran desastre de la política en el siglo veinte fue el estalinismo en tanto que espacio de totalización de la politica. Y es muy probable que, además de los tres primeros puntos, haya entonces también un cuarto: un repliegue a una noción tética de comunitarismo. Un comunitarismo que compartirían tanto la izquierda como la derecha. Toda la exaltación de los balcones como “espacios de resistencia” en España tiene un lado siniestro, ya sea porque genera un control “comunitario” que se impone a nivel de cuadra (vigilancia popular le llamaban a los “Comités de Defensa de la Revolución”, en la Cuba revolucionaria), o bien por la propagación del virus desde la euforia colectiva. Sin embargo, desde la derecha, estamos viendo el ascenso de programas fuertes ligados a la comunidad, al “bien-común” de la tradición tomista de la “persona”, y al soberanismo policía como nuevo “principio regulador”. Creo que Alberto estaría de acuerdo si digo que el comunitarismo es una batalla perdida para la izquierda, porque tendencialmente es hoy una fuerza de conservación civilizatoria; más verticalista que democrática, más a la derecha que a la izquierda. Una salida comunitaria, por lo tanto, es una salida de conservación de las ruinas civilizatorias.

Alberto aludió a una salida posible, contra los comunitarismos, que pasaría por un modelo tipo “New Deal” impulsado por FDR. Sin embargo, para mi esto no es imaginable en la medida en que ya no estamos en la época del fordismo, lo cual impide una recentralización de la acumulación en correspondencia con la expansión de los derechos sociales. En segundo lugar, si estamos ante crisis de élites que carecen del más mínimo programa de “responsabilidad cívica”, entonces, como ha visto Peter Sloterdijk es casi imposible que puedan ser forzadas a pagar al estado (de ahí que Sloterdijk trabaje desde la interesante hipótesis de una “fiscalidad voluntaria”), porque justo la mediación estado y mercado es lo que se ha fisurado. Por otro lado, también estaría la pregunta si la “lenta muerte” del estado del bienestar es una “traición” a los propios principios del liberalismo, o, al contrario, una consecuencia necesaria de los mismos. Por eso creo que el liberalismo debe ser pensado aquí, tanto contra su polo libertario (neoliberal, o desregulado), pero también contra su polo “activista moral” (estado de bienestar, con una regulación burocrática cost & benefit). Hay que reinventar otra forma de la convivencia, donde la democracia sea otra cosa que un reparto del botín entre sus partes. ¿Pero es posible esto todavía?

Tampoco se trata de negar la política, matizó Alberto. Lo que en estos años se ha llamado “infrapolítica” es la condición impensada de como entrar en la política, más allá de sus cierres comunitarios o biopolíticos; más allá de las piedades voluntaristas de la razón militante, y por supuesto, más allá del gramscianismo y de la teoría de la hegemonía. La politica hoy es “estrechamiento de la experiencia”, afirmó Alberto. Sin embargo, cuando “todo es político” se cae en el abismo mismo de la anti-política. Pero la pobreza de la experiencia hoy lleva a esa noche donde todas las vacas son negras: todo es política, y la política es Todo. En realidad, es un círculo policial, como dice Lacan en el seminario sobre el sinthome.

Este marco mental es el que ha cerrado al pensamiento la posibilidad de otras “las condiciones materiales de existencia”. Cuando solo hay militancia no hay experiencia, porque el tiempo del mundo de la vida es lo que sobra. Así, posthegemonía sería el nombre para romper contra una imagen del mundo que sostenga a la política como compensación ante la falta de tiempo de vida. La posthegemonía deja una brecha abierta entre el mundo de la vida y el diseño general de la organización social. Nadie puede organizar un infinito, y es por eso que su temporalidad es trágica.

El problema con la política comunitaria es su fuerza balística de inventar destino; cuando sabemos que lo más importante es el establecer un camino. Hay un cuadro reciente de la artista italiana Mónica Ferrando que representa un pasaje zigzagueante en medio de un fondo negro que se abre un cono de Toscana. No sabemos muy bien a dónde nos remite, pero despeja una separación en el espacio que hace mundo. Al final la separación no tiene que ser un esfuerzo por el “climb the lookout”. Al contrario, es lo que encontramos en lo más próximo, lo que está a la mano, lo inaparente, en la región oscura del no-saber. En el desierto no hay comunidad, sino olvido del nombre, dice Alberto. Seres cualquieras. Para mi todo esto abre a cómo pensar otra forma de habitar irreductible a la “victorias del espíritu de la libertad” que hemos heredado de la modernidad política. Es hora de salir de este sentimiento que puede parecer ahora seductor. Y sobre todo muy seductor para el poder una vez que el confinamiento haya cesado.


*imagen: Monica Ferrando, “Paesaggio perduto III, Campi-in-Toscana, olio su tela, 2019.

Nota sobre el “centrismo” de Carlo Galli. Por Gerardo Muñoz

Varios amigos que estimo han reaccionado con algo que dice Carlo Galli en el intercambio. El momento en cuestión es el siguiente: “Una democracia carente de un centro político y de la capacidad de analizar sus dinámicas y de poder responder a ellas, se encuentra a la merced de cada crisis y de cada amenaza.”

Es cierto que es una sentencia que no escatima su buena dosis de schmittianismo. Pero en ningún caso es reducible a “filosofía política ni al “acuerdo consensualista”. Al contrario, es  todo lo que le antecede: la energía misma de la política. En otras palabras, es la mirada realista en torno al poder. La filosofía política tradicionalmente ha sido un deber-ser y una teoría de la jurisprudencia (como dice J.G.A. Pocock); mientras que la teoría del consenso se ha expresado como parlamentarismo de lo neutro. (En Estados Unidos, por citar una de las “democracias residuales de Occidente”, no es difícil imaginar cómo sería la política si no existiera el Congreso).

¿Qué es el centro? Obviamente, el centro nada tiene que ver con lo que hoy entendemos por “centrismo”, esa forma más o menos grotesca de apoliticismo. No quiero hablar por Galli, pero mi impresión es que un centro político es la capacidad de actuar en el momento en el que somos arrojado al espacio volátil de lo político. Yo no pondría el acento en “crisis” ni en “centro”, sino en amenaza o riesgo. Dicho en otras palabras, la política siempre se da en función de la naturaleza del riesgo que, por su parte, abre el conflicto.

Esto es lo que yo llamo la postura madura. Y ese es el an-arcano de todo centro. La asignación de una habilidad debe tener presente que el riesgo se genera no sólo en el contenido de las precauciones, sino también en el diseño que se elevan para contenerlas. Ya si Carl Schmitt representa la postura madura o una decisión decidida de antemano (‘el mandato es lo primero, luego vienen los hombres’, como dice en el temprano Aurora Boreal) es otro tema.

Notas sobre “Pensiero e Politica”, una ponencia de Mario Tronti en La Sapienza, Roma 2019. Por Gerardo Muñoz

En las notas que siguen quiero dejar registro de algunos de los movimientos de una ponencia que pronunció hace algunas semanas el filósofo italiano Mario Tronti en La Sapienza. La intervención de Tronti titulada “Pensiero e Politica”, trata de un central de nuestro tiempo: la crisis de la economía entre pensamiento y acción. Desde sus inicios, la revolución copernicana del operaismo de Tronti fue capaz de mostrar algunas de las contradicciones internas de la filosofía de la historia marxiana en el momento de la descomposición de la clase obrera. Las tesis de Tronti son, de algún modo, una continuación revaluación de aquel desplazamiento paradigmático.

En efecto, Tronti arranca con la indicación de que habría una diferencia abismal entre pensamiento y filosofía. La filosofía política es siempre historia de las ideas, mientras que el pensamiento trata de relacionarse con la política porque su movimiento es siempre colindante con la contingencia de la Historia. Por lo tanto, pensamiento y política  remite a la economía del pensar y de la acción. La política, dice Tronti, siempre tiene que ver con un proyecto, y por eso siempre remite a un cálculo. En efecto, el modelo revolucionario insurreccional de los setenta tenía esta carga de lo que pudiéramos llamar “idealismo activo” (mi término, no de Tronti): se inventa una idea, luego se la aplica, y entonces se llega a la emancipación. Si pensamos en la guerrilla, por ejemplo, vemos que simplemente se trató de un esquematismo idealista. Tronti resiste fuertemente esta ingenuidad con la que la izquierda pensó la política a lo largo del siglo veinte. Esa politicidad, en realidad, fue solo una metafísica idealista.

En cambio, para Tronti debemos acercarnos a la política como movimiento abierto entre pensamiento y acción. Para Tronti, política es una determinación primaria que está por encima del pensamiento y de la acción. Ya hemos visto que la acción sin pensamiento es idealidad, y pensamiento en solitario es un pensamiento apolítico. Tronti prefiere nombrar política la región donde pensamiento y acción se conjugan. Aquí recurre a una imagen muy interesante de Babel: “la curva de la línea recta de Lenin”. Esta es una imagen de la política. Esto significa que el trabajo de la política es estar en condiciones de atender a la contingencia en el devenir de la Historia. No nos queda muy claro que la ‘Historia’ sea un depósito de la acción, o si, por el contrario, la crisis de la acción es un efecto del agotamiento de la transmisión histórica que se devela tras el fin de la Historia.

A Tronti le interesa mantener una separación abierta entre pensamiento y acción. Otra imagen la provee Musil: necesitamos una “acción paralela”. Ese paralelismo en política es lo que sostiene un movimiento sin síntesis que hace posible la eficacia del pensamiento en la acción. Tronti cita al Kojeve del ensayo de la tiranía, quien mostraba que ideas filosóficas nunca pueden ser categorías de mediación para la realidad. Cuando una vocación política se ejecuta desde ahí, se cae rápidamente en la tiranía. Digamos que ese ejercicio es un desvío absoluto en la inmanencia.

Una confesión interesante de Tronti es que admite que, a lo largo de toda su vida, se ha interesado por entender cómo ha sido posible que la “idea” del marxismo no haya podido limar al cosmos burgués. Tronti da una respuesta preliminar: mientras que el marxismo se limitó a tener herramientas ajenas a la realidad, el pensamiento conservador siempre ha estado abierto al “realismo”. Por eso dice Tronti que la tradición revolucionaria siempre tuvo un déficit de “instancia realista”. Esto es una crítica no sólo a los modelos revolucionarios, sino también a los las formas contemporáneas. La idealidad izquierdista es perfectamente asumible por el capitalismo contemporáneo, pero sin transformar un ápice de la realidad. La idealidad es concepto hueco, es arqueología, o mandato político. Pero sabemos que solo la mala política es una política reducible al mandato. Por otro lado, las “revueltas expresivas” pueden encandilarnos en un momento , pero tampoco nos colocan en la interioridad del enemigo. Tronti: las revueltas no ya no llevan a nada.

Aquí Tronti da un giro hacia Schmitt: conocer al enemigo es conocernos a nosotros mismos como forma (gestalt). Esta es la lección que Schmitt aprende del poeta de la aurora boreal. Como nos recuerda Tronti, esta operación también la encontramos en Marx: generar la gramática de la economía política con el fin de conocer mejor arquitectónica del sistema. Sin embargo, hoy estamos en el crepúsculo del l’ultimo uomo que es un derivado del homo economicus del Humanismo residual de la Técnica, cuya gramática general es el valor. Por lo tanto, todo radicalismo político (de una vanguardia, pero no solo) es insuficiente. Y es insuficiente porque no crea destino, ni enmienda la relación entre pensamiento y acción. Estamos, en efecto, en una instancia anárquica.

¿Qué queda? Tronti piensa que hay otra opción: la posibilidad de generar formas irreversibles en el interior informe del capitalismo. Ese movimiento paralelo es el movimiento irreductible entre pensamiento y acción que jamás puede ser “unitario” (y cuando coincide es en el “estado de excepción”, dice Tronti, en una crítica explicita a Agamben). El pensamiento en soledad no es político, mientras que una política de la “idea” carece de realidad. Tronti reconoce que el viejo registro de la “filosofía de la praxis”, ha explotado por los aires, por lo que hay no hay proyecto concreto de emancipación. Hay que apostar por un pensamiento abierto a la realidad, ya que en la realidad la política se abre a su energía volátil y conflictiva. Tronti recuerda que la distinción amigo-enemigo de Carl Schmitt no tiene que ver con la aniquilación de un enemigo (ese es el proyecto del Liberalismo Humanitario). Al contrario, Schmitt busca darle dignidad al enemigo al interior del conflicto.

Para Tronti, esta condicion nos ayudaría a ir más lejos. En realidad, nos pondría de frente a la permanencia del mal que siempre padece la política. Hoy, sin embargo, el mal solo se reconoce como administración de sus efectos. Si la política es separación es porque la separación es siempre diabólica. Para mi sorpresa, Tronti dice que la historia del marxismo hubiese sido radicalmente distinta si Marx, en lugar de haber escrito las “Tesis sobre Faeurbach”, hubiese escrito “Las tesis sobre Kierkegaard”. Puesto que Kierkegaard pudo penetrar la condición “demoniaca de la política”. Cada político tiene que lidiar con el demonio, el cual, aunque Tronti no lo diga, es también su daimon. De esto sí que podemos aprender mucho de Max Weber. Estamos ante la dimensión trágica de la política que el marxismo jamás tomó en serio. O al revés: lo tomó tan serio que lo tradujo en “ciencia”.

No haber comprendido lo demoniaco en la política permitió hiperbolizar la acción sobre pensamiento sin mediación con la realidad. Pero hoy ya no podemos hablar de una ‘economía de la salvación’ que obedezca a las pautas de la representación, o a la diferenciación entre idea y trabajo, o entre sujeto y objeto. Tronti termina con una clave teológica-política que tampoco es capaz de nombrar un afuera de la condición infernal: encontrar un equilibrio entre Katechon y escathon, entre el poder de conservación y la inmanencia de la vida. Necesitamos en el interior de la contingencia un corte trascendental. Hace algún tiempo atrás, Roberto Esposito y Massimo Cacciari sostuvieron un intercambio, donde también se ponía de manifiesto este cierre teológico-político. Tronti queda inscrito en esta órbita.

Citando una carta de Taubes a Schmitt, Tronti dice que la política en cada época tiene que enfrentar a Poncio Pilato. La fuerza del pensamiento estaría en marcar una negatividad con respecto a esa autoridad. Sin embargo, ¿es posible hoy fijar hoy un Katechon? ¿Quiere esto decir que toda transformación radica en aquel que pudiera encarnar el negatio de Jesucristo? ¿O más bien se trata de insistir en la separación (los dos Reinos) como la cesura irreductible entre pensamiento y acción, entre derecho y Justicia, entre comunidad y su afuera?

The Unfathomable Principle: on Helmuth Plessner’s Political Anthropology (2019). By Gerardo Muñoz

Joachim Fischer tells us in the epilogue of Helmuth Plessner’s 1931 Power and Human Nature, now translated as Political Anthropology (Northwestern, 2019), that this short book is very much the intellectual product of its time. It is a direct consequence of Plessner’s elaboration of a philosophical anthropology in the wake of the “philosophies of life” that dominated German philosophical discourse during the first decades of the twentieth century. More importantly, it is also a reflection very much tied to the crisis of the political and parliamentary democracy experienced at the outset of the years of the Weimar Republic. Plessner’s own intellectual position, which suffered tremendously due to his unsuccessful major work, The Levels of the Organic and the Human (1928), occupies a sort of third space in the theoretical debates on the political at the time, carving a zone that was neither that of a romantic impolitical position (the George Group, Thomas Mann, and others), nor that of liberal legalism perhaps best expressed by Hans Kelsen.

Curiously, Plessner’s understanding of the political cohabitates quite conformably in Carl Schmitt’s lesson, albeit in a very particular orbit. On his end, Schmitt himself did not miss the opportunity to celebrate Plessner’s defense of the political as grounded on his friend-enemy distinction elaborated just a few years prior. Indeed, for Schmitt, Plessner’s Political Anthropology drafted an epochal validation to his otherwise juristic formulation, going as far as to write that: “Helmuth Plessner, who was the first modern philosophizer in his book dared to advance a political anthropology of a grand style, correctly says that there exists no philosophy and no anthropology which is not politically relevant, just as there is no philosophically irrelevant politics” (Plessner 104).

Schmitt captures the essence of the convergence between the philosophical anthropology project and the nature of the political as a consequence of modern “loss of center” in search of a principle of autorictas (a “new political center” that the Conservative Revolution will soon try to renew) [1]. In this sense, Plessner, like Schmitt but also like Weber, is a thinker of legitimacy as a supplementary principle, although he declined to craft a theory of legitimation. Unlike Weber, Plessner does not defend charisma as the central concept of political vocation. The nature of the political coincides with the nature of the Human insofar as it is a constitutive element of conflict, and univocally, a “human necessity” (Plessner 5). Hence, Plessner’s theory of political was the ultimate test for philosophical anthropology, given that the general historical horizon of the project was meant to provide a practico-existential position within concrete conditions of its own historicity, responding to both the Weimar Republic and the belated nature of the ‘German national spirit’ [2].

We are to do well to read Plessner’s political anthropological elaboration in conjunction with his other book The Belated Nation (1959), in which he draws a lengthy intellectual genealogy of the decline of the German bourgeoisie as a process of spiritual embellishment with impolitical fantasies. In a certain sense, both Political Anthropology and The Belated Nation (still to be translated into English) are a response to the Weimar intellectual atmosphere of the “devaluation of politics”. There is no doubt that Plessner is thinking of Thomas Mann’s unpolitischen here, but also of the poetic fantasies that Furio Jesi later referred to as the mythical fascination with the “secret Germany” [3]. The impolitical repression from political polemos to consensualism always leads to worse politics (Plessner 3). Politics must be taken seriously, and this means, for Plessner, a position that not only goes against the aesthetes, but one that is also critical of the dominant ideological partisanship preparing the battleground for gigantisms, of which classic liberalism, Marxism, and fascism were manifolds of philosophy of history. Plessner wants to locate politics as a consequence of the Enlightenment (Plessner 9). For Plessner, this entails thinking the conditions of philosophy anew in order to escape the dualistic bifurcation of an anthropological analysis grounded in either empiricism or a transcendental a prori. The conventional biologist program of anthropological analysis never moved beyond the scheme of “mental motivation”, which is why it never escaped the limits of a “pure power politicized, predominantly pessimistic, anti-enlightenment and in that respect, conservative” (Plessner 10).

We could call this an archaic anthropology for political shortcuts. Obviously, Plessner places the project of political anthropology beyond the absolutization of the human in its different capacities. This was the problem of Heidegger’s analysis of existence, according to Plessner, since it stopped at “the conditions of the possibility of addressing existence as existence at the same time have the sense of being conditions of the possibility of leading existence as existence” (Plessner 24). This “essentialization of existence” (Plessner dixit) is only possible at the expense of concrete formilizable categories such as life, world, and culture (Plessner 24). It is only with Wilhelm Dilthey’s work that philosophical anthropology was capable of advancing in any serious way. It is only after Dilthey’s position against a ‘nonhistorical apriorism’ that something like the a characterization of the Human as an unfathomable principle was drawn. The battle against a priori absolutism entails the renunciation of philosophy’s “hegemonic position of its own epistemological conditions…to access the world as the embodiment of all zones and forms of beings” (Plessner 28). We are looking at a post-phenomenological opening of historicity that is neither bounded by existence qua existence (Heidegger’s position), nor by the Hegelian’s labor of the negative. For Plessner, the most interesting definition of the political lies here, but this presupposes the principle of unfathomability of the human. Undoubtedly, this is the vortex of Plessner’s political anthropology.

The principle of the unfathomable is neither precritical nor empirical, as it takes the human relation to the world as what “can never be understood completely. They are open questions” (Plessner 43). This schemata applies to the totality of the human sciences in their relation to life in the world as the only immanent force of history. Thus, for Plessner, this entails that “every generation acts back on history and thereby turns history into that incomplete, open, and eternally self-renewing history that can be adequately approach  the interpreting penetration of this generation open questioning” (Plessner 45). This materialism subscribes neither Marx’s synthetic historical materialism, nor the empirical history of progress. The unfathomable relates to a historicity that, in its reference and relation to the world, presents an “eternal refigurability or openness” (Plessner 46). This is an interpretation close to the definition of modernity as the self-assertive epoch of irreversibility, later championed by Hans Blumenberg. The irreversible, following the unfathomable principle, assumes the ex-centric positionality of the human. The unfathomable principle is what concretely binds the human to the phenomena of the world by means of a radical originary separation that carries an ever-evolving power for historical sense beyond absolute universality.

Of course, Plessner is thinking here of Max Weber’s important insights in Economy and Society regarding the process of legitimation and the separation of powers. The human of political anthropology becomes nothing but the means to “executive the value-democratic equalization of all cultures”, which is a common denominator of civil society pluralism (Plessner 47). But as life itself becomes indeterminate and unfathomable, power is rediscovered as a self-regulating mechanism of inter-cultural relations among human communities. In other words, insofar as the unfathomable principle drives the openness of the human in relation to the world and others, the human always entails a positing of the question of power as a form of a struggle in relation to what is foreign (Plessner 51). Here Plessner follows Carl Schmitt’s concept of the political transposing it to the human: “As power, the human is necessarily entangled in a struggle for power; i.e, in the opposition of familiarity and foreignness, of friend and enemy” (Plessner 53).

We might recall that Schmitt addressed the definition of the enemy from Daubler’s reference to “our own question” (Der Feind ist unsere eigene Frage als Gestalt), that is, with what is one’s most familiar, a sort of originary primal scene of his subjective caesura. For Plessner, as for Schmitt, the friend-enemy relation is an originary confrontation that makes the political an exercise of “every life-domain serviceable and just as well be made to serve every life-domain’s interests” (Plessner 55). The friend-enemy relation accomplishes two functions simultaneously: it takes power seriously in light of the unfathomable principle, and it dispenses conflict without ever reaching a stage of total annihilation. That is why Plessner emphasizes that the political has primacy in the ex-centric essence of the human (Plessner 60).

In fact, for Plessner there is no philosophical anthropology without a political anthropology. And here we reach a crux moment, which is Plessner’s most coherent definition of the political principle: “Politics is then not just a field and a profession…Politics then is not primarily a field but the state of human life in which it gives itself its constitution and asserts itself against and in the world, not just externally and juridically but from out of its ground and essence. Politics is the horizon in which the human acquires the relation that makes sense of itself and the world, the entire a prori of its saying and doing” (Plessner 61).

Philosophical anthropology is to be understood as a process of historical immanence and radical openness of the human’s ex-centric position in coordination with a metaphysical political principle that guides the caesura between thought and action. In fact, we could say that politics here becomes a hegemonic phantasm (very much in the same as in post-foundatonalist thought) that establishes the conditions for the efficacy of immanence, but only insofar it evacuates itself as its own determination. This is why we call it “phantasmatic”. In fact, Plessner tells us that the political principle has only a primacy because it relates to “the open question or to life itself”.

In other words, the movement that Plessner undertakes to shake the absolutism of philosophy’s abstraction over to anthropology has a prior determination that runs parallel: the fundamental absolutization of the political via the immanence of the principle of unfathomability. Under the cloak of the indetermination of the “philosophy of life”, Plessner ultimately promotes a prote philosophia (first philosophy) of the political even if “in no way subsist absolutely, immovable across history or underneath it” (Plessner 72). There is a paradox here that ultimately runs through Plessner’s anthropological project as whole, and which can be preliminary synthesized in this way: the radical unfathomable principle of the human is, at the same time, established as open and immanent, while it acts as a phantasmatic principle to establish the political. Hence, the political becomes a mechanism of amending originary separation and to provide form to the otherwise multiple becoming of the human. This is why politics, understood as political anthropology, ceases to be an autonomous sphere of action to coincide with the ‘essence of humanness’ in its struggle for the organization of the world. Politics becomes synonymous with the administration of a new legibility of the world and in this way reintroduces hegemony of the political unto existence. Plessner is clear about this:

“Politics is the art of the right moment, of the favorable opportunity. It is the moment that counts…That is why anthropology is possible only if it is politically relevant, that is why philosophy is possible only if it is politically relevant, especially when their insights have been radically liberated from all consideration of purposes and values , considerations that could divert an objective coherent to the last” (Plessner 75).

Fischer is right to remind us that at the heart of Plessner’s Political Anthropology lies an ultimate attempt at combining “spirit” and “power”, a synthesis of Weber and Schmitt for the human sciences inaugurated by Dilthey’s project. But what if the movement towards synthesis and unification of a political theory is the real problem, instead of the solution? Are we to read Plessner’s political anthropology as yet another failed attempt at an political determination in the face of the nihilism of modernity? And what if, as Plessner’s last chapter on politics as a site of the nation for the “human’s possibility that is in each case is own”, is actually something other than political, as Heidegger just a few years later proposed in his readings of Hölderlin’s Hymns? The dialectics between “spirit” and “power”, Weber and Schmitt, the precritical and the humanist empiricism, exclude a third option: a distance from the political beyond the disinterred apolitical thinking and acting, and its secondary partisanship waged around the Political. In this sense, Plessner is fully a product of the Weimar impasse of the political, not yet finding a coherent exodus from Schmitt, and not fully able to confront the ruin of legitimacy. As Wolf Lepenies has reminded us recently, even Weber himself in his last year was uncertain about strong “political determinations”, as Germany started descending into a ‘polar night’ [4].

The oscillation of antithesis – ontology and immanence, predictability and indeterminacy, historicity and the human sciences, politics and existence, nationality and the world  – situate Plessner’s essence of the political as a true secular “complex of opposites” that ended up calling for a ‘civilizing ethics’ (Plessner 85). This essence of the political reduces democracy to the psychic latency of drives of the social order, as the unergrundlich (unfathomable) becomes a principle of management in the form of an ethics. This is not to say that the “historical task” of philosophical anthropology remains foreclosed. However, political anthropology does not break away from the conditions of the crisis of the political that was responding to. For Plessner, these conditions pointed to a danger of total depolitisation. Almost a century later, one can say that its opposite has also been integrated in the current technical de-deification of the world.





  1. Armin Mohler in The Conservative Revolution in Germany 1918-1932 (2018) notes that: “[The Conservative Revolution in 1919]…considered calling themselves the “new Center”. The latter was meant to symbolically represent the need to create a comprehensive political…that would overcome the oppositions of the past”, p.95.
  2. Helmuth Plessner. La nación tardía: sobre la seducción política del espíritu burgués (1935-1959). Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2017.
  3. See, Furio Jesi. Secret Germany: Myth in Twentieth-Century German Culture. Chicago: Seagull Books, 2019.
  4. See, Wolf Lepenies. “Ethos und Pathos”. Welt, February 16, 2019. https://www.welt.de/print/die_welt/debatte/article188905813/Essay-Ethos-und-Pathos.html

Hegemony, Legitimacy, and the Mature Position: on Chantal Mouffe’s For A Left Populism. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Chantal Mouffe’s For A Left Populism (Verso, 2018) is deliberately written for the ‘populist moment’. It resembles the patriotic pamphlets, which according to historian Bernard Bailyn fueled passions months prior to the American Revolution. For Mouffe, the crisis of democracy will continue to grow if populism is not taken seriously both politically and theoretically, and her book is an excellent guide in that direction. For A Left Populism does not pretend to tease out new arguments. Rather, it seeks to revise and render accessible some of the main tenants of the radical democracy project that she elaborated, along with her late partner Ernesto Laclau, in books dating back to Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985). Mouffe reminds us that their task was to propose a theoretical horizon in the wake of the crisis of Eurocommunism, and against the ‘third-way’ of liberal democracies that dismantled the Welfare State. The populist agenda is ambitious: it proposes a move beyond Marxist liberationism, but in doing so it takes distance from market liberalism of Western democracies.

But what does “left populism” has to offer? For Mouffe the answer is short: a politics for the People, “in the name of the People”, capable of organizing an equivalency of social demands through the construction of a political frontier against a common adversary (the elite). Mouffe is right about the diagnosis: both Liberalism and Communism were attempts to deface the People. Whereas Communism promised a new man in a society outside capital, Liberalism offered the guarantee of happiness for the individual citizen. These two attempts were ways to neutralize social contingency between civil society and state relations. Contrary to the citizen and the subject, populism assumes heterogeneous social actors that vis-à-vis their equivalent demands are capable of radicalizing democracy. This process of radicalization entails that a social dynamic attentive to material needs could avoid the pitfalls of the Marxist historical subject as well as the sedimentary flow of institutions. The strategy that catalyzes such radicalization is the theory of hegemony (Mouffe 24).

Now, the logic of hegemony introduces an array of important elements for the radicalization thesis. First, hegemony, according to Mouffe, is what effectively disputes the “consolidation of neoliberal hegemony in Western Europe” (Mouffe 33). In a way, hegemony here takes the form of an avatar of the existing order of domination; a political transposition of capitalist reproduction. In fact, what hegemony shares with capitalism is the formalization of equivalence. Secondly, hegemony is understood as the missing tool in liberalism, which shrinks democratic life (Mouffe 38). Finally, hegemony emerges as an alternative to communism’s eschatology by accepting the current institutional designs in pursuit of ‘passion for equality’ (Mouffe 43). Common to all of these arguments is the main claim that only hegemony can rescue democracy from its post-political gloom. Hence, the theory of hegemony posses two important edges: one is descriptive and the other one is prescriptive. On the one hand, neoliberal postpolitics is already hegemonic. In other words, it does not allow an outside to what is provided by the general equivalent. On the other hand, hegemony appears, following Antonio Gramsci’s lessons, as a central political force that can transform the real-existing order.

But as political philosopher Jorge Yágüez has noted, Gramsci considered hegemony as a passive development that cannot be merely reduced to a political technique of state domination [1]. Mouffe would reply that she is not interested in gramscian textualism, but rather in the practical uses well beyond his original intentions. That is fair, but at the same time there is no reason to think that Gramsci’s theoretical horizon was more complacent under the sign of radical revolution than in the republican separation of powers or popular sovereignty. In fact, there is something to be said about Mouffe’s efforts in trying to move the discussion about populism outside the sociological determinations. Mouffe is aware that rendering the notion of hegemony effective within liberal-democratic order requires attending to the problem of legitimacy. Indeed, in one of the cardinal moments of For A Left Populism, Mouffe writes:

“A liberal-democratic society supposes the existence of an institutional order informed by the ethico-political principles that constitute its principles of legitimacy. What is at stake in a hegemonic transformation is the constitution of a new historical bloc based on a different articulation between constitutive political principles of the liberal-democratic regime and the socioeconomic practices in which they institutionalized. In the case of a transformation from on hegemonic order to another, those political principles remain in force, but they are interpreted and institutionalized in a different way” (Mouffe 45).

By disposing the idea of a drastic rupture in institutional life, hegemony accepts the liberal-democratic framework in exchange for coming to terms with the principle of legitimacy. But if we are in an epoch that has gone through an absolute decline of founding principles, is a “different way” of management enough? In studying the administrative state, for instance, I have argued that legitimation, once centered on charisma, has ceased its domain to administration. This means that legitimacy becomes synonymous with technique, and the political leader becomes synonymous with the bureaucrat.

How does hegemony stand in relation to legitimacy? Hegemony can stand as a superstructural element above it, but it can also become the principle of legitimacy itself to renew democracy. Mouffe is not explicit about this, except when she considers the Gramscian notion of the ‘integral state’ as significant to remake the contract between state and society (Mouffe 47). It is curious that this formulation coincides with José Luis Villacañas’ recent preface to Gramsci’s prison notebooks [2]. Let me briefly turn to Villacañas’ text.

For Villacañas, hegemony does entail a substitute of the legitimacy principle, now in crisis, which can open a transformative epoch beyond the domination of economy. Villacañas and Mouffe converge on this point: the essence of hegemony juxtaposes the political region against the economic region. But where as for Mouffe hegemony operates to defend and radicalize the principles of democracy, for Villacañas, hegemony is a “civilizational principle” that secures an ethical state in the form of a passive revolution (Mouffe 49, Villacañas 19). But, can legitimacy be resurrected from a political will unified under hegemony? There are two possibilities here. If we say that hegemonic populism is a struggle to politize a post-political scenario, then hegemony is merely a temporal stand-in to the current legitimacy. On the other hand, if we say that hegemony is a principle of legitimacy, what can guarantee its force is the cathexis between the political leadership (“clase dirigente”, says Villacañas) and the People. In reality, neither of the two options have the capacity to offer a social contract to reform democracy.

Mouffe claims that hegemony stands for identification via “different forms of subjectivities” (Mouffe 76-77). In other words, hegemony is a form of subjection. This means that in order to partake in hegemony you must necessarily be subjected to it. The civilizational drive of hegemony repeats the same step that led to the crisis of democratic politics in the first place, since it reduces democracy to a legislation of demands for recognition. It is not surprising that the minimal unit of equivalency is the demand. Thus, hegemony is first and foremost the demand to be a subject of hegemony. This is why leftist democratic politics based on hegemony is a self-defeating mechanism: it promises conflict but it reduces it through an empty signifier; it promises to displace the historical subject but it relocates it through equivalent subjective agglutination; it cares for legitimacy but it offers management not very different from the liberal paradigm. In this way, hegemony reintroduces politics as administration cloaked under political cordiality [3]. But we know that no effective politics were ever created on the basis of love or good intentions or unity.

If neoliberalism upgrades the “totalitarian” aspiration onto its economic indexation of life, as Argentine psychoanalyst Nora Merlin has argued, then the concept of hegemony runs the risk of absolutizing political domination as its substitute principle [4]. By reminding faithful to principle of unity and equivalence, the logic of hegemony tends to reproduce the results that it attempts to avoid. In other words, hegemony merely displaces the technique of the economy to a technique of the political. Is there a different position without discarding populism and moving back to liberal technicity? It is interesting that Mouffe mentions in passing posthegemony, which she reduces to an “affective turn” that ignores the lessons of psychoanalysis (Mouffe 74).

I would like to argue, on the contrary, that posthegemonic populism is the mature position that avoids the closure of conflict internal to hegemonic rationality. In fact, if psychoanalysis were to be taken seriously, hegemony would amount to yet another master discourse that aims at administering singular desire through a two step procedure: vertical cathexis and horizontal agglutination. The hegemonic recentralization of conflict leads necessarily to the closure of other potential conflicts and risks. Posthegemony, on the other hand, names the political position that aims at liberating the conflictive nature of politics within any democracy. It comes as no surprise that at the very end of her essay, Mouffe comes full circle to posit faith in “certain forms of consensus” once hegemony has been accepted as the logic of the political (Mouffe 93). By insisting on the optimization of conflicts, rather than in its verticalization, posthegemonic populism would allow turbulence in politics beyond the dead end of consensus.

A hegemonic alternative to legitimacy not only fails to renew democratic life, but it taxes life on behalf of the political. In this sense, by becoming a technique of dominance hegemony is incapable of transcending the antinomies of state and civil society, politics and economics at the root of the crisis. In broader terms, we know that the disintegration of the modern state form is neither an economic nor a political problem, but one of a deeper symbolization as a result of the primacy of legality over legitimacy, something that Carl Schmitt noted in his later works [5]. Hegemony can only offer a political legislation out of the crisis, but not much more.

Legitimacy is vital for democracy. But hegemony cannot do the work, except as faith. Democratic politics, however, is precisely what is incommensurable to beliefs. By positing hegemony as integration from within, Mouffe leaves us with an alternative political theology. This political theology works solely on behalf of its believers. The posthegemonic position concedes Mouffe & Laclau’s formula a winner for democratic politics, but it prefers to recognize conflicts at face value; that is, not as a question of principles, but rather of optimization beyond the intended precautions. It seems that this is the mature position for populism if it wants to be successful today.


  1. Jorge Álvarez Yágüez. “Retorno a Gramsci” (2017). https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=6135405
  2. José Luis Villacañas. Pasado y presente: Cuadernos de la cárcel. Prefacio de J. L. Villacañas Berlanga. Barcelona: Gedisa, 2018. See also, the debate between Villacañas and Moireras on hegemony & posthegemony: https://infrapolitica.com/2018/06/23/respuesta-de-jose-luis-villacanas-a-precision-sobre-posthegemonia/
  3. Antoni Puigverd, “Hegemonía de la cordialidad” (2018): https://www.lavanguardia.com/opinion/20180709/45776820190/pedro-sanchez-parlament-torra-cordialidad.html
  4. Nora Merlin, “Neoliberalismo, el retorno del totalitarismo por otros medios” (2018): https://www.eldestapeweb.com/neoliberalismo-el-retorno-del-totalitarismo-otros-medios-n46759
  5. For Carl Schmitt’s critique of values and a self-critique of his concept of sovereignty, see The Tyranny of Values (1996) and Glossarium (2015).

El Santo y el Político. Por Gerardo Muñoz.


El ascenso del ‘servidor público’ nos sitúa ante la pregunta sobre el agotamiento de la figura del político de vocación. Se trataría de algo más que un mero desplazamiento de Weber a Kant, aún cuando estas categorías hayan sido heredadas de las gramáticas del pensamiento moderno. Hoy estamos en condiciones de preguntar: ¿podemos hoy seguir hablando de liderazgos políticos? ¿O es acaso todo líder reducible a la figura del gestor de las buenas intenciones? Esta sigue siendo una conversación pendiente entre quienes nos interesa pensar las mutaciones de las élites políticas.

La cuestión del liderazgo ha estado a flor de piel en los últimos días en la coyuntura española. Y no solo por la salida de Rajoy de la Moncloa, sino también por la discusión que se abre en torno a sus relevos. El periodista Pedro Vallín subrayó el liderazgo de Pablo Iglesias (Unidos Podemos) en la moción de censura. Y por su parte Iglesias le recomendó a Sánchez aparentar “presidenciable” y no un mero “mal menor”.

Liderazgos para política de alta presión y mirada larga. La imagen misma de Iglesias como político-santo (del bien común) tiene entre sus múltiples propósitos liberarse de los subusleos de un modelo financiero inscrustado en los lazos sociales. Esto lleva el nombre “corrupción”, aunque tampoco es reducible a lo que normalmente entendemos por esto.

Se abre un hondísimo problema para pensar el nudo entre política y moral. El caso del chalet de Iglesias-Montero, por ejemplo, permite un manejo gradualista bajo el presupuesto de que es un asunto ‘privado’. Pero la moción de censura anticorrupción hegemoniza aquello que constituye ‘lo público’ (el fisco) desde las más diversas alianzas (PSOE, UP, PNV, las fuerzas independentistas catalanas, etc.). La hegemonía en política hoy coincide con el político como gran gestor. Y el tema viene al caso dada la incidencia ganadora de la teoría de Laclau en la hipótesis Podemos. Es el mayor dilema de toda propuesta política contemporánea sin obviar sus riesgos de neutralización.

El carisma de santo de Iglesias – como bien lo ha notado Enric Juliana – es franciscano. La mirada del Fatricelli encaja con el pastoreo de Francisco (Papa Peronista, no lo olvidemos) y entona con el ethos sacrificial que ha naturalizado la crisis. El líder franciscano descarga el peso ominoso de los líderes jesuíticos. Piénsese en Fidel Castro, quien provenía de esas filas. Pero el franciscanismo trae las malas noticias en tanto que práctica ajena al goce, es incapaz de producir el corte de una emancipación efectiva. Aunque como también ha visto Jorge Alemán en su lectura lacaniana En la frontera: sujeto y capitalismo (2014), aquí también puede producirse un singular desvío al interior del discurso capitalista y de la política consumada en Técnica. El franciscano se mide en ajustes y contenciones, hábitos y reglas. Puesto que experimenta el sinthome desde otro lado.

Vale la pena volver a ver Francisco, Juglar de Dios (1950) de Roberto Rossellini sobre la habítica comunidad del Fatricelli. O sea, de su relación mínima con la propiedad. Una delicada trama, puesto que ante el goce ilimitado que todos buscan hoy en día, el gestor franciscano pareciera desatender la tesis de que es el consumo el que libera y no al revés.

*Una versión de esta columna se escribió para Tecla Eñe Revista.

La sinousia de Platón. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

Plato laws Penguin

En el intercambio que acabo de terminar con Giorgio Agamben (de próxima aparición en el número monográfico sobre su obra editado en la revista Papel Máquina), el filósofo italiano vuelve a insistir, luego de una pregunta mía sobre L’uso dei corpi (2014), sobre la necesidad de pensar una “institucionalización de la potencia destituyente”. Esta operación es completamente contradictoria, dice Agamben, ya que el poder destituyente es, en cada caso, lo que permanece irreducible al derecho y lo que se desprende de cualquier cuadratura jurídica. Agamben cita el término platónico synousia, que no es fácil de traducir, pues consta de varios sentidos técnicos en los diálogos socráticos. Sinousia puede significar “estar-juntos”, pero también “estar-con” o “juntarse” (recogimiento de más de una persona), y a veces “vivir juntos” o “aprender juntos”.

Al final de L’uso dei corpi (2014), Agamben lo emplea en la designación que aparece en Leyes de Platón (y no en la “Carta VII”, que es el otro lugar con el que se le suele asociar): metà synousia pollen. Pudiera traducirse como “perdurar estando-juntos”. Parecería una definición más o menos convencional de la institución política entendida como la descarga de pruebas para “aliviar” los hábitos de los hombres ante la realidad.

Pero Agamben pasa a recordarnos que la sinousia de Platón no es una institución política, ni puede pensarse en función de la esfera del derecho, ni tampoco como instrumento jurídico. Esto tiene sentido en la obra del filósofo italiano, para quien la concepción de institución política en Occidente es ya una figura caída a la dinámica del gobierno (oikonomia) en cuanto administración del mal, tal y como ha sido expuesto en su ensayo sobre Benedicto XVI (hace algún tiempo reseñamos ese libro aquí). Por lo tanto, la sinousia platónica es de otro orden.

Este orden Agamben lo relacionada con la harmonía musical. Una metáfora que implícitamente alude a la concepción de la kallipolis, o de la belleza de la ciudad griega que integra la singularidad como exceso de la politización. La sinousia produce belleza en la polis, pero esa belleza no es ni puede ser una belleza política. Claro, una práctica sinousyal produciría mayor rango de Justicia, que es, al fin y al cabo, la posibilidad de rebajar la dominación del hombre por el hombre. Pero la kallipolis no es un agregado de ‘diferencias culturales’, ni se vincula a la metaforización de identidades en equivalencia. Se prepara una kallipolis desde la sinousia.

En cualquier caso, la sinousia nos remite a un singular en relación que, sorprendentemente, tiene un parecido a lo que Jorge Alemán ha llamado una soledad-común. La soledad del singular evita dormirse ante el anhelo de una totalidad sin fisuras. Es llamativo, por ejemplo, que en varios de los diálogos platónicos (Teages, Teeteto, Epístola VII, o Apología), Sócrates emplee la sinousia para referirse a dos cosas opuestas: al trabajo de una partera que acoge al recién nacido, y al maestro (Sócrates) en relación con sus discípulos.

Una primera intuición nos haría pensar que la sinousia es una vía para “formar personas” o dar “entrada al sujeto”. Sin embargo, sabemos muy bien que Sócrates es un filósofo que no sabe nada. Por eso es válida la distinción entre Sócrates y el platonismo, así como entre Jesucristo y el Cristianismo. En el diálogo Teages, por ejemplo, el discípulo Arístides le confiesa que él no ha aprendido absolutamente nada. La sinousia es una renuncia a la relación de subordinación al discurso maestro, y solo así está en condiciones de inscribir un quiebre en el saber que ha dejado de cumplir las tareas de “epistemizar” contenidos y producir formas.

La única manera en que la sinousia innova es cuando deja madurar al daimonion. Estamos ante el trabajo de un filósofo-analista que descree de las ingenuidades de la conciencia y rechaza administrar el goce del otro en nombre de una comunidad nómina. Por eso la sinousia platónica apunta a algo más allá de la subordinación a la ley del maestro o de una ‘voluntad colectiva’. Me atrevería a decir que la institucionalización que estaría pensando Agamben, aunque él no la hace explícita, es la de un anarco-institucionalismo, contra la supremacía de los teólogos (punto ambiguo en Leyes), que cuida de un proceso transformativo del singular más allá de lo propiamente político o antipolítico. La sinousia es índice de la separación en toda relación de co-existencia.

Es llamativo que Foucault en el curso de 1982-83, oponga la sinousia a la mathemata. Mientras la segunda da “forma” y vuelve “formulaicos” los contenidos del saber, la sinousia es destello de luz y “secreto lubricante del alma” en la absorción generativa de la filosofía. O en palabras de Sánchez Ferlosio, el “fondo de un punto ciego por el que entra la noche. Ese nadir es la aporía de una Razón completa”.

A Merciful Reason: on David Soto Carrasco’s España: Historia y Revelación, un ensayo sobre el pensamiento político de María Zambrano. By Gerardo Muñoz.

In the new book España: Historia y Revelación, un ensayo sobre el pensamiento político de María Zambrano (Círculo Rojo, 2018), David Soto Carrasco has given us a systematic treatment of Zambrano’s philosophical project in a double interpretative frame (in the sense that he considers both the philosophy-political implications of her work for Spain and European modernity simultaneously) of her oeuvre. According to Soto Carrasco, Zambrano’s originality resides in a highly unique modality of thought that goes well beyond the confines of Philosophy (the metaphysical tradition), which produced a speculative critique of European history as it descended into political nihilism. In fact, Zambrano, very much like Simone Weil or Judith Shklar, writes from the abysmal non-place of the ruin of the political, and the rise of new tempting fears and pieties. Her confrontation with liberalism and democracy, at least since her vocational years as a student of Jose Ortega y Gasset, expands thinking to the turbulence of those historically defeated. Indeed, Zambrano never stopped reflecting upon what she perceived as the sacrificial structure of history and the need to open up to a non-imperial relation to politics in the name of democracy.

España: Historia y Revelación fills an important gap in contemporary thinking about the origins of the political, which remains unsteady if not failing in confronting the complex philosophical inheritance of the great thinker from Malaga [1]. Quite to our surprise, and very early on in his book, Soto Carrasco advances a downy version of his thesis, in which he calls for Zambrano’s thinking as that which bends towards an infrapolitical relation to sovereignty against the liberal foundation of politics. Carrasco states:

“…[Zambrano] pretenderá abandonar todo intento de política soberana, esto es, de establecer lo político sobre la base de un concepto infrapolítico de soberanía. De este modo, nuestro ensayo plantea que hay un mesianismo impolítico que recorre toda la obra de Zambrano. Desde esta perspectiva, la historia consistirá en que haya siempre victimas e ídolos” (Soto Carrasco 19).

Taking distance from the Schmittian critique of liberal neutralization from the friend-enemy divide integral to unity of political theology, Soto Carrasco identifies that Zambrano’s “infrapolitics” (which he only mentions once without specifications of a narrow sense of the term) announces a solicitation of democratic community against a thwarting of sacrificial history and the subject of sacrifice. This is fair enough. Soto Carrasco has in mind Zambrano’s categories of “el claro”, “la vida sin textura”, and “razón poética”, which prepare the path for an athological gnosis and arranges the conditions for what the philosopher termed the “person of democracy” [2]. Zambrano’s project for the interwar and postwar period was undoubtedly an extraordinary meditation for the Liberal interregnum and its modern political ideologies. In what follows, I would like to assess the limits and reaches of Zambrano’s project in Soto Carrasco’s reading, which in our times, due to the conditions of global and the effective disintegration of inter-state sovereignty, could allow us to think beyond some of the impasses of the valence of reason and poetics, which are still latent in contemporary thought.

Zambrano’s thinking took off in the 1930s in books such as Horizonte del liberalismo (1930) and Hacia un saber del alma (1934). This is a period of a strong readjustment of European politics and parliamentary democracy. It was a period that went through the rise of fascism, totalitarianism from the right and the left, but also of instances of restoration (conservatism), revolution (left-wing communism), and welfare containment (United States). As Carrasco reminds us, Zambrano not only wanted to make these epochal shifts legible. She also wanted to assume an “insalvable distancia”, or an “irreducible distance” from a politics that had “shipwrecked into scientism and the most mediocre form of positivism” as the justification of dictatorship and ius imperi. This is a position that Zambrano shares with the Heidegger of the Parmenides, who understood the imperial inheritance of the hegemonic domination under the sign of the Roman falsum. Zambrano was highly aware of the calculative operation of the politics that we now associate with the principle of general equivalence as the ontology of modern civil society. In this sense, fascism and communism were two ends of the continuation of absolutism.

But so was liberalism, which in Zambrano’s view, failed due not just to its foundation on a “moral economy”, but because it eluded to the sentimental dimension of man, making him a human, but not a person. The modern foundationalism of the political ran in tandem with a process of the absolutization of the logos. This meant that reason was opposed to myth, a component that had always helped the psychic balance to battle the different external absolutisms of reality. In this way, Zambrano’s definition of conservatism – “it wants to not just have reason, but absolute reason” – could well apply across the ideological spectrum to identify the nihilism of politics. This dead end leads to a philosophy of history, whose horizon of sacrifice undermines the res publica as well as the separation of powers of democracy. The notion of person, in a complete reversal of Simone Weil’s impersonal characterization of the sacred, was the condition for democracy as a livable experience in Zambrano’s own propositional horizon in light of the crisis of liberalism.

Against a politics of domination and sacrifice, one would expect Zambrano to turn to philosophy or tradition. But it is here, as Soto Carrasco argues, that we find a poetological turn in her work as a retreat from the imperial-theological drift of modernity. Carrasco asserts: “La poesía se reivindicará como género para evadir la sistemática razón moderna y rememorar un orden sagrado perdido. La poesía será su más clara revelación” (Soto Carrasco 51). It is at conjuncture where Zambrano’s Spanish context should be taken into account, says Carrasco, since due to the insufficiency or absence of a philosophical tradition in the Iberian Peninsula, there was no concept to find refuge in, but rather, the Spanish ethos was to be found in poetry or the novel. In authors like Machado, Bergamín, Unamuno, or Galdós, Zambrano will clear a path for what she calls an “intuition of a world and a concept of life” (Soto Carrasco 55). In this turn, we arrive at a substitution of Philosophy for the Poem with the promise that it will grant a “verdadera vida” or a true life, at least at the level of intra-national Spanish topoi. This strategy is more or less repeated for the European space in the essays published between 1943 and 1945, such as La agonía de Europa or La confesión, género literarios y método, which for Soto Carrasco complements her critique of logos in the tradition of the West that runs from Plato to Heidegger (Soto Carrasco 73). It is difficult to accept Heidegger as a thinker of logos; a task that became the central operation for the destruction of Western onto-theology and the new beginning of philosophy for an authentic life. Soto Carrasco never fleshes out this complex discussion, and I suspect whether Zambrano herself engaged in a thorough way with Heidegger’s work after the 1930s. But there is an important distinction that Carrasco makes in the last part of his book in relation to Heidegger. When commenting on Zambrano’s notion of “claro”, he writes:

“Por ello, el claro [de Zambrano] no es un Lichtung. Si para Heidegger la “apertura” va a actuar como sorge, como una luz que ilumina la verdad la acción desde la capacidad interrogante, para Zambrano, el “claro” es luz opaca, donde la Palabra surge a las “entrañas” porque en ellas se padece con pasividad. De ahí que el filósofo se oponga al bienaventurado” (Soto Carrasco 125).

The differences are set straight here: Heidegger, in Carrasco’s reading of Cacciari’s reading Zambrano, remains tied too deep into “philosophy”, where Zambrano opens a clear path for a poem that instantiates itself in the divine and recognizes the blessed in ‘thy neighbor’. Zambrano will be on the side of the poem of salvation, but also on the side of ethics. Whereas Heidegger is situated in the threshold of a philosophical project that demands the question of being to be asked; Zambrano’s poematic offering opens an inter-subject mode of care. Again, Soto Carrasco thematizes the differences: “Si para Heidegger pensar el olvido del ser era pensar una posibilidad no-imperial de lo político, para Zambrano, toda posibilidad de lo política fuera de una historia sacrificial solo puede pensar desde el olvido de lo divino, de la relación abismada entre el hombre y Dios, que el bueno de Molinos definió” (Soto Carrasco 83). Zambrano’s “new beginning” is not properly existential, nor can we say after this description that it is one of an infrapolitics of existence, but rather that of an ethics for a human history based on errancy and exile. But it is also an exile that finds is meaning in opposition to the loss of country.

It is in this aporetic limit of Zambrano’s project that I would like to derive a few consequences from Soto Carrasco’s intelligent and important reading. Just a couple of pages before this allusion to Heidegger, Soto Carrasco quotes from La agonía de Europa that reads “in the Roman imperial dominion, existence is lived like a nightmare” (Soto Carrasco 77). If existence is liberated from imperial politics, but substituted to the ethical determination of the poem, isn’t there a risk of assuming that the endgame of the “poetical reason”, based on “misericordia” and “un saber de salvación y sufrimiento” is only capable of being moved by the delirium of the suffering of the world, but not properly achieving a transformative freeing of existence against the transparency of the concept (“la claridad de la idea”)? And does not the inverted messianic and redemptive time posited by a gnosis arrangement against political gigantism, give us yet another chapter in the history of salvation of the onto-theological tradition and its historical productivity? If, as Soto Carrasco does not fail to remind us vis-à-vis Nietzsche, we need History but “History otherwise”, what follows is that any messianic poematic history has unfulfilled this promise as it remains tied to an account of subjection to salvation in detriment to existence, and hence within the walls of imperi and its economy of “novelerías” (Soto Carrasco 105) [3].

It makes sense that the occlusion of existence paves the way for an explicit affirmation on “life”, which Carrasco systematically teases out in the last chapters of the book. He quotes Zambrano affirming that “la vida resulta ser, por lo pronto…un género literarios”; or in relation to Galdos’ characters “una vida habiendo conocido la extrema necesidad acaba libre de ella” (Soto Carrasco 107-08). It is not difficult to find in this concept of life the texture of the Franciscan form of life that, while shredding off the goods of commerce, it still carries the vestiges of an ethical rule of an ontology of the totality of the living (in fact Zambrano in a moment writes “una totalidad desconocida que nos mueve”). This becomes even more present in Soto Carrasco’s defining moment of “razón poética” for Zambrano as based on “love”:

“Es la razón poética hecha razón misericordiosa o piadosa. Amor que solo puede emerger de la revelación, desde un nuevo nacimiento. Es fundar una “comunidad de corazones”. Ante las Palabras de Juliana, se nuestro este eros…”. Yéndose de sí misma seguía sirviendo a la Piedad sin ser devorada por ella, en la verdad de su vida” (Soto Carrasco 113).

Poetical reason offers a communitarian symbolization for a more “ethical Christianity” against the dark night of imperial politics in the name of a new salvation. Zambrano’s mysticism sought in the Spanish tradition of symbols that could mobilize a détente against the force of philosophy and politics, and the hegemony of reason spiraling downwards. The question is whether Zambrano’s poetical and merciful reason can provide us with an authentic exodus from onto-theology and alternative foundations. Or, if on the contrary, the articulation of a substitute ethical condition to the sacrificial horizon of history is really an exception that is already contained within the dual machine of modern historical development that hampers singularization from community and as well as from the negative structure of the political. That is why it remains puzzling why Soto Carrasco states at the very end of the book that Zambrano’s thinking is also a “political philosophy” that is tied to history (Soto Carrasco 134). If Zambrano’s poem produces a reification of political philosophy, then there is no question that the ius imperi is still haunting a counterhegemonic practice even when it wants to speak in the music of democracy. No political philosophy can open a path for infrapolitics, and no infrapolitics can amount to the closure of a political philosophy.

But then again, much could be said about ethics and Zambrano, but also about the ethical traction in contemporary thinking today as politics enters an irreversible crisis for conceptual renovation. In his recent book Karman (2018), Giorgio Agamben interestingly makes the claim that Alain Badiou’s recourse to the “event” amounts to a substitution for the general crisis of modern Kantian ethics, upholding an ethical determination while repeating the antinomies of being and acting proper to the fractured political foundation [4]. I suspect that the same duality can be registered about ethics and politics, or the poem and the logos. There seems to be no other pressing problem today in contemporary thought than to move, for once and for all, beyond the ethico-political axis without any reservations to messianic and poetological substitutes. What is at stake, as Soto Carrasco reminds us, is an originary sense of being. But this would require us to move beyond the mercies of lovable life and the reassurances and prospects of a glorious subject too comfortable in the pieties and mercies that cloak modern ethics. The astuteness and intensity of Soto Carrasco’s brief essay on Zambrano’s thinking asserts the need for us today to push beyond the community and the political into a region that draws out an infrapolitical fissure unbinding the temporalities of singularization in the outlook of a politics that never coincides with life.





  1. Roberto Esposito has juxtaposed two different ontologies of the political by contrasting Arendt and Weil’s projects in relation to imperial and totalitarian politics. See The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? (Trans. Gareth Williams, 2017).
  2. See Alberto Moreiras, “Last God: María Zambrano’s Life without Texture”. A Leftist Ontology: Beyond Relativism and Identity Politics (2009). 170-184.
  3. For a dual critique of the modern Hegelian philosophy of history and its messianic reversal, see Writing of the Formless: Jose Lezama Lima and the End of Time (2016), by Jaime Rodriguez Matos.
  4. See Giorgio Agamben, Karman: A Brief Treatise on Action, Guilt, and Gesture (2018). 42.