John Rawls and the justice of civil war. by Gerardo Muñoz

Nowhere in his published work does John Rawls treats the concept of civil war explicitly or by that matter in relation of his concept of political liberalism, although it is central to genesis. In a Spring semester of 1969 lecture at Harvard University, which remains for the most part unknown and only alluded by specialists of his (although never subject to substantive treatment), “Moral Problems: Nations and War”, Rawls takes up the problem on its merits [1]. This is a lecture that took place in the wake of the Vietnam war, the post-1968 context, and during the years of the definite settling of “global civil war” intensifying in every corner of the world. There is little that Rawls when treating the problem of war within the tradition of liberalism, was also aware of the factical nature of war of his present; that is, the transformation of war as a legitimate declaration between nations (at that point outlawed by the international Kellogg-Briand Pact) to a predominately a war within nations, that is, a permanent civil war. In this lecture – which one does not need to summarize given its broad historical strokes and technical determinations – Rawls crafts an typology wars in international law, as construed by the ius gentium, a theme that will later be the subject of his late book in international relations principles Laws of the People (1993). What is surprising is that in this typology, Rawls defines civil war as a thorough conflict aiming at “social justice” to transform the state. A civil war, then, is no longer what precedes the foundation of ‘legitimate authority’ proper to sovereignty, but it is rather the means by which something like “justice” becomes the mediation of the “Social”.

From this it follows, that for Rawls civil wars either neither wars of aggression or wars of sessions, two forms that would be exclusionary to his definition grounded on ‘Justice’. Hence, the “justification” of civil war could only be a just war insofar as its aim grounded in social justice as the effective realization of the well-being of all the inhabitants of the polity. For Rawls this was the ‘active’ continuation of the ideal of the French Revolution of 1789. Indeed, one could claim that for Rawls civil war is the continuation of revolution after the principle of universal recognition was achieved through rights. The ideal of Justice, then, was never the well-ordered natural law theory of revolutionary change (endorsed by many Jacobins, such as Saint-Just), but rather an intra-level recognition of social rules within the plural system of value differences. Coinciding with the development of positive law as grounded in social facts and guided by a ‘rule of recognition’ (in H.L.A Hart’s well-known elaboration), Rawls’ theory of civil war was the mechanism for a social fact-based conception of justice that was predicated in the optimization of risks, regulations, and re-distrubution of post-recognition equity of the activist state. Indeed, social justice insofar it was no longer merely sovereign authority, took the function of social facts through the administration of a permanent social civil war.

Neither an event nor an exception, civil war for Rawls is a free-standing metapolitical paradigm of the new “transformative” conception of the Social ordered purposely around the principle of Justice. Paradoxically, the conditions of promoting “social justice” (whose echoes we still hear today from the political class as well as from the jargon of academic political ideology) is not limited to the “veil of ignorance” or the “originary position” for social action, but rather in the actualization of a latent stasiological paradigm. This esoteric unity is neither an exception nor a deviation from Rawls’ mature political thinking around social justice; but as all true political paradigms, an invariant mode of his thinking. This is why he points in the 1969 lecture the Spanish civil war as paradigm of stasis as social justice, and in his essay “My religion”, the American Civil War led by the exceptional executive authority of Abraham Lincoln as necessary to the “original sin” of human slavery [2]. And as Eric Nelson has convincingly argued, the anti-pelagian conception of sin in Rawls’ thought amounts to a secularized theodicy of social force: a regulatory physics in the aftermath of the crisis of the sovereign state. Although ignored by Nelson, the full picture of Rawlsian conception of the “Social” is not complete if one does not take into account the stasiological paradigm that legitimizes the aims of social justice. And if the internal conflict is latent within the Trinitarian ontology (as Political Theology II suggests) there is little doubt that the transformative model of Liberalism rather than moving the conditions of politics forward, ends up descending to the terrain of Christian political theology that it never abandoned.

But is it even ‘transformative’ within the conditions of the Christian model that it allegedly secularized? Is the primacy on social justice on civil war truly a political theology, or rather the consequential triumph of theology over the institutionality to restrain the ballistic aspiration of social hegemony? Both questions collapse if tested on the grounds offered by Carl Schmitt regarding both political theology and the critique of moral neutralization of values as direct application of the principle of Justice, which would turn social relations into pure subjection, a form of Homo homini Radbruch (Rabruch referring to the Radbruch formula of an unjust of law as non-law, thus requiring principles) [3]. What is “just” to a hegemonic stance indicates a clear crisis of institutional deficiency in the face of what values determine the scope and content of the “Just”.

Similarly, the transformative conception of Rawlsian “activist liberalism” is closer to the realism of latent civil war than what the Christian idea required on a thing and minimalist basis; which, according to Ladner implied retreat form the social as well as from liturgical participation. On the contrary, rather than moral unity, reform entailed a separation, solus ad solum, in order to transform the habits and costumes without direct enforcement [4]. Contrary to the Christian monastic ius reformandi, Rawls’ renovation of political liberalism, vis-à-vis the civil war paradigm, accepted the hellish reality of the social by affirming “social justice” as the only real means for subjective social cohesion. And if the just war principle stood largely under the guidance of positive sovereign rules and commands; the deployment of justice of civil war will be based on the exertion of principles and higher content without end. The true efficacy of civil war alien to the concept of the political, made possible a regime of socialization on the mere basis of values stratification and moral abstraction.



1. John Rawls. “Moral Problems: Nations and War”, Spring 1969, Harvard University. Harvard U Library Archives. 

2. John Rawls. “On my religion”, in A brief inquiry into the meaning of sin and faith (Harvard U Press, 2009), 263.

3. Carl Schmitt. “Un jurista frente a sí mismo: entrevista de Fulco Lanchester a Carl Schmitt”, Carl-Schmitt-Studien, 1. Jg. 2017, 212.

4. Gerhart B. Ladner. The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action (Harper Torchbooks, 1969), 322.

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.



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.

Homo Lupus Felix: Against Civilization. Notes for a presentation in the Eckhardt S. Program, Lehigh University. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is no question that Alice Rohrwacher’s Lazzaro felice (2018) is a marvelous cinematic work insofar as it measures up against the epoch by radically questioning the principles that have upheld what we know as civilization. This slight adjustment is critical given that ideology, political economy, or subject oriented frameworks of analysis have become insufficient to deal with the crisis of civilization. As a matter of fact, they have become functional (mere deployments of technique, to put it in Willy Thayer’s vocabulary) to the infrastructure, and its specific philosophy of History that promotes the maintenance of Order after the liquidation of its legitimacy. I would like to clarify that I am understanding civilization in a twofold register: as a genetic process of human anthropology based on the matrix of “appropriation, distribution, and production” of the world (a techno-political grid popularized by Carl Schmitt); but also as the total realization of an economic or political theology, which we can directly link to the function of “credit” (and the process of abstract dialectic between credit and debt, as a ground of a new “faith”) that is deployed as the medium of the total sum of social relations that commands beings in the world. Civilization is the general matrix of a process of optimal rationalization of the events that take place in the world, making us potential reactionary agents of the time of its phenomenality.

Aside from all the Christian and religious imaginary, Lazzaro felice is a theological film, but only insofar as it takes the irruption of the mythical remnant very seriously. There is something to be said here – and I think the film stresses this in several parts of the story – between religion and theology, dogma and the spiritual (anima), and the sacred and the commandment solicited by faith (pistis). In other words, Lazzaro felice enacts a destruction of a political theology by insisting on the civilizatory decline towards reproduction of as mere life of survival; a life that is delegated to the abstract faith of credit. In this sense, it is no mistake that Lazzaro’s homicide takes place in a bank and executed by the community of believers (capital, in the end, has already been incarnated; it is the Subject). The laboratory where this takes place is the metropolis, which as I have argued elsewhere is the site of devastation and optimization life in our epoch, which unifies world and life putting distance into crisis, in a suspense of the experiential [1]. The consumption of the new political theology of unreserved equivalence between humans and objects is what Rohrwacher interrupts through the fable of the beatitude of Lazzaro as a life to come in the threshold of the highest phase of the metropolitan stagnation. I will limit my commentary here to three nodes that allow the Lazzaro felice to expand this critique of civilization and the principle of the “civil society”, a notion that we will return to.

First, there is the fable, a capsule of an ancient gnostic wisdom. The fable is what can radically alter evil by tipping its objective realism into a real of the imagination against the grammar of order. Avoiding the order of narration based to account for the history of progress and developmentalism from the rural to the civilization of the metropolis, Rohrwacher’s strategy resorts to the ancient craft of the fable. This is fundamental for a number of reasons. First of all, because the fable allows to withdrawal from pure counter-narrative of historical development and its justifications that allow for the interruption of the time of development, while offering a possibility of an otherwise transformation of the world. This is the gnostic texture of the fable that Hans Blumenberg identified in this form, since obscuring of the distinction between humans and animals relaxes the burden of proof of the absolutism of reality as predicated in the matter of facts [2]. It through fables that something escapes, because there is always an image that escapes the narration of the events of this world. But the fable also offered something else: the beginning of myth as the site of legitimation for foundations of social relations. This is why, as T.J. Clark has reminded recently, Hegel associated the fable with the origin of master and slave dialectic, as a new form of domination of world once the world’s enchantment and mystery was dissolved: “In the slave, prose begins” [3]. The end of a paractical poetics? Perhaps. This means that the price to be paid to enter into the prose of “civilization” is to assimilate the unfathomable and invisible contours of the world into the polemos of storytelling; to be a subject of a story, and as a result, of historical transition. This is what civilization mobilizes through the fable as its posited legitimacy. It is in the fable where the abyss that separates us from the world becomes animated, ordered, and narrated in order for the apparatus of production to commence. It seems to me that Alice Rohrwacher goes to arcanum of civilization when she treats the fable of the wolf, which has functioned to legitimize the passage from the state of nature to the modern concept of the civil in Hobbes’s theory of the state. We should remember the brief fable in Lazzaro felice:

“Let me tell you the story of the wolf. A very old wolf had become decrepit, he could hunt wild animals anymore. So, he was excluded from the pack…and the old wolf went to houses, to steal animals, checks and sheep. He was hungry. The villagers tried to kill him in every way possible, but they didn’t succeed…as if he were invisible.”

It is a remarkable fable that inverts the political fiction of the wolf in Hobbes; mainly: a man is an arrant wolf to another man (homo homini lupus), which justifies the exodus from the state of nature as the “miserable condition of civil war” between men. The stakes are clear: by repressing civil war (stasis), civil society emerges as a divided but unified body under a sovereign principle of authority [2]. The wolf is first established as creature of fear and depredation in order to allow for the principle of civilization to emergence as uncontested and necessary. The fable of the wolf is the protofigure that guards the history of perimeters of civilization as a way to pacify and repress the latency of civil war. Rohrwacher, against the Hobbes political fable, gives us a fable of the wolf that not only is uncapable of waging life as war, but that it enacts full refusal and desertion to be hunted; that is, to be invisible, which ultimately entails a life not outside of a politics of hunting and the secondary pacification by which the end of hunting mutates to the enclosure of domestication [4]. 

If the wolf stands for the invisible it is because it occupies the excess of total legibility of a new civil order, that is, of a world administered by technique of order. The wolf is a prefiguration of the invisible that is improper to every life (and thus to all biopolitical domestication proper to civilization) in the passage from the organic community of the living to the civilizatory topos of the metropolis. The wolf condenses the instructive character in every life; that is, what cannot be reduced to the fiction or the depredatory total war of the civilization nor the fiction of the community lacking an open relation to the world.  This fable, then, is not just what unveils the fictional grounds of the legitimacy of civilization (its “black magic” under the light of rationality and control) but also what reprepares another community. A community in which what we have in common is not an attribute, a substance, or an identity, but an irreducible ethical relation in which civil war cannot equate total hostility and what establishes an absolute difference between life and the “principle of the civil” that formalized the aspiration of isonomic equality:

“The immemorial bad reputation of the wolf (wolf bashing) informs us about one of the oldest tricks of civilization. This consists of bearing the weight of predation on what is heterogeneous to it. To be able to say that man is a wolf of man, the wolf must first have been disguised as a “predator.” We do not mean that the wolf is gardener of daisy flowers, we mean that he behaves neither as a tyrant nor as a bloodthirsty animal, and even less as an individualist (the famous “lone wolf”). In fact, the wolf may have taught communism to humans. The cub that opens its eyes among humans recognizes them as part of its clan. Two lessons: 1) friendship ignores categories; 2) the common is the place where we open our eyes to the world. What the human, for his part, has “taught” to the wolf – like an angry father yelling at his son “I’ll teach you!” – is the servility of the good puppy and the good cop”. [5]. 

               The end of the film comes full circle with the only condition of finding a way out, producing a break in the infrastructure of the domestication, opening a path within and against the metropolis. It is almost as if the film, like in life, was a preparation for the moment of exodus and retreat. In fact, the wolf deserts the metropolis passing through and beyond the highway in plain rush hour. According to Alice Rohrwacher, the wolf leaving the city and not being seen was a reinforcement of the invisible ethical dimension that is proper to every life (an ethos, which in the old Pindaric sense that refers not only our character, but also, and more fundamentally to our abode and habits that are world-forming), and that is devastated by the anthropological crisis of the species in the wake of the process of civilization [6]. However, the wolf exit from the metropolis is not an abandonment of the world in the manner of a monastic communitarian retreat; but rather the pursuit of liberating an encounter with the events of the world foreclosed by topological circulation of credit that amounts to borrowed life without destiny. 

Now to the question that signals an instance of construens in what follows the desertion: what about happiness? It is here, it seems to me, where the beatitude of Lazzaro could be thought as an ethical form of life – as preparation to learn to how live a life against the abstract processes of domestication – that exceeds the two hegemonic paradigms of happiness offered by Western civilization: on the one hand, happiness understood as an equilibrium operative to virtue (aretē); or, on the other, the community of salvation as a compensatory effect for the structural gap of the fallen subject, original sin (felix culpa). One could clearly see that politics at the level of civilization could now be defined as the instrument that manages the production of happiness as a temporal exception in life, but never a defining form of our character.

The wolf that is Lazzaro’s form of life – at a posthistorical threshold that dissolves the anthropological divide man and animal – offers us a third possibility: happiness understood as the refusal to partake in the promises of civilization in order to attune oneself to an errancy of life that allows itself to be hunted by an experiential imbuing of the world. Happy Lazzaro? Yes, but never a Sisyphus who is incapable of experiencing the vanishing horizon between earth and sky in infinite divisibility of the world. The wolf unleashed traverses a geography against domestication, revoking the phantasy of home (the oikos). I will let the last words be made by some fellow-travelers contemporary American thinkers: “Civilisation, or more precisely civil society, with all its transformative hostility was mobilized in the service of extinction, of disappearance. Fuck a home in this world, if you think you have one.” [7].



1. Gerardo Muñoz. “Dix thèses sur Lazzaro felice” en tant que forme de vie”, Lundi Matin, May 2019:

2. Hans Blumenberg. “Of Nonunderstanding: Glosses on Three Fables” (1984), in History, Metaphors, Fables (Cornell University Press, 2020), 562-566.

3. T. J. Clark. “Masters and Fools”, LRB, vol.43, No.18, September 2021. 

4. Thomas Hobbes. Man and Citizen (De Homine and De Cive) (Hackett, 1991), 11.

5. “Éléments de descivilisation” (part 2), Lundi Matin, april 2019:

6. Jerónimo Aterhortúa Arteaga. “Creer en las imágenes: entrevista a Alice Rohrwacher.”, Correspondencias, May 2021:

7. Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Minor Compositions, 2013), 132.