Three ideas for a discussion on «Éléments de décivilisation» by Gerardo Muñoz.

[These are some preliminary notes for an ongoing discussion on Lundi Matin’sÉléments de décivilisation’’, a text that condenses a series of problems dealing with, although by no means, limited to infrapolitical reflection, the event, world, and the question of civilization in the wake of the ruin of hegemonic principles. This particular essay, more than content, raises the question of the status of the style of thought; and, in broad terms, I tend to link the notion of style to the constitution of an ethos. But let me offer three theses to open the discussion in very broad terms. What follows is the reconstruction of three brief points in a recent group meeting about this text.] 

i. The priority of the event. For me at least it is very important to consider that Éléments de décivilisation’’ moves away from at least two important precedents of a common intellectual orbit: messianism and the political theory of modern sovereignty. Of course, this is important for many reasons, but most it speaks to what I would call a strong opposition between thought and philosophy (favoring the first over the second). These two registers open important distinctions, such as, for instance, a displacement between historical temporality (messianism) to a notion of the taking place (the event or encounter) as exteriority. Whereas we were told that the “event is the enemy within Empire” (Gloss in Thesis 60 of Introduction à la guerre civile) , now we have a more through sketch about the way in which the form-of-life is not a category reducible to vitalism or the problem of the subject, but rather about the play between form and event. Here I think that Carlo Diano’s Forma ed evento (1952) is crucial as a backdrop that is not just philosophically (Aristotelian formalization against Stoic predication), but rather a sound position of thinking in relation to what has been passed down as “civilization”. 

ii. Civilization as a principle. Now, the question of civilization raises to a problem of thought insofar as is neither an ontological problem nor an operative idea in the history of intellectual concepts. Civilization becomes the apparatus by which the total regimen of production in any given epoch is structured to establish an order. And here order is both authority and police. To put it in juridical terms: the first secures legitimacy while the second posits the flexible energy of legality and execution. This is the same problem in the relation to the world. In other words, civilization means enclosing, domesticating, and producing. By the same token, civilization is the operative domain by which nomōs, history and the subject come together in virtue of their separation. Is not this the very issue in the Greek polis in the wake of the discovery of measurement, isonomy, and the distribution of the goods in which hegemony replaces the basileus (Vernant)? It is one of the merits of the text not having understood this problem at the level of an “archeology of Western political thought” (Agamben), but rather as an evolving transhistorical process that binds the axis of domination and power to the axis of anthropology and domestication. Civilization, then, would name the total apparatus of hegemony under which politics falls as a problem of metaphysical structure (I have tried this problem in recent positions here). Whether there is an assumed anthropological anarchy at the level of substance, capable of “inversion” (Camatte), is something that must be explored in further detail. 

iii. Happiness cuts absolute immanence. My last point. I would like to insist on something that Rodrigo Karmy mentioned recently: “Happiness is the unthought of the Weestern tradition”. I agree with Karmy not on the basis that there has not been any reflection of “happiness” in the tradition, but rather that this reflection has either been a) subordinated to politics or economics (Jeffersonian “happiness” conditioned by commerce); or, as a moral virtue of self-regulation and privation. But it seems to me that “Elements” wants to offer something else in a very novel way. It is here where the question of violence must be inscribed. A curious displacement since violence has been thought in relation to beauty, but not happiness. The violence at the level of forms puts us in proximity with the event at the end of life itself. In this sense, the Pacôme Thiellement footnote is important:

“l y a deux lumières: il y a la lumière d’avant la nuit et il y a la lumière d’après. Il y a celle qui était là au début, l’aube radieuse du jour d’avant, et puis il y a celle qui a lutté contre les ténèbres, la lumière qui naît de cette lutte : l’aube scintillante du jour d’après. Il n’y a pas seulement deux lumières, il y a aussi deux joies : il y a la joie d’avant la peine et il y a celle d’après. La joie originelle, la joie innocente, primitive, cette joie est sublime, mais c’est juste un cadeau de la vie, du ciel, du soleil… La joie qui vient après la peine, c’est le cadeau que tu te fais à toi-même : c’est la façon dont tu transformes ta peine en joie, l’innocence que tu réussis à faire renaître des jours d’amertume et des nuits de bile noire. C’est le moment où tu commences à vivre, mais vivre vraiment, parce que tu commences à renaître de toutes tes morts successives. C’est le moment où tu t’approches de la divinité ou du monde”. This position  – which I think it is prevalent throughout the text – allows the opening of a series of articulations:

a) it is no longer happiness an effect on the subject, which has only grown in the Spectacle or consumption; that is happiness as an exception to life.

b) it is not that happiness is a theological state of ‘blessed life’, which would presuppose the transmutation of sin and thus overcoming of the non-subject. This position depends on conditions of mythic-history and theology.

c) It is rather that happiness is the way in which the singular gathers his possibilities in use without enclosing the other possibles. To live a life among the fragmentation of the use of our disposed potentialities is a way to violently cut the seduction of absolute immanence in which style is diluted. Play could name the variations of use. But there is a second order risk in what constitutes “play”: a transfiguration of politic as civil war. The problem becomes how to think of ‘play’ (i. messianic abandonment, ii. political intensification – insurrection, or the separation between rhythm and voice, a poesis). I am interested in pushing for the third figure of play; a third figure in which the event and happiness impose a new division of souls, moving away from the separation from life. 

Politics as substantive morality: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Writings (VI). by Gerardo Muñoz

In section 79 of Gramsci’s Notebook 6 we are offered a strong definition of “politics” that I think illuminates the core of the Gramscian program fundamentally as a substantive morality. Gramsci writes the following against the “particularism” of normal associations (say the aristocracy, the elite, or the vanguard): “[an universal] association does not set itself up as a definite and rigid entity but as a something that aims to extend itself to a whole social grouping that is itself conceived as aiming to unify all humanity. All these relationships give a universal character to the group ethic that must be considered capable of becoming a norm of conduct for humanity as a whole. Politics is conceived a process that will culminate in a morality; in other words, politics is seen as leading towards a form of sociality in which politics and hence morality as well are both superseded.” (30). It is an astonishing definition, given the precise way it mobilizes the content of this new politics. Of course, there is the explicit the Hegelianism of the ‘universalist’ translation through the dialectical conflation between state and civil society, which just a few sections prior to 79, Gramsci deploys in order to posit the ultimate goal of communist society. 

But in this section he goes further, since it becomes clear that the state and civil society, as they march towards an ‘integral state’, dissolves politics into pure morality. But Gramsci immediately clarifies that it is not just a “morality” of a new dominant class (which could still be contested vis-a-vis other values), but rather a “morality that is superseded”. This is an absolute morality beyond value disputes. In other words, it is an absolute morality that needs to be so because state and civil society have become a unified whole. Concretely, this means the dissolution of politics and of any concrete order of the republican tradition, which recognizes that, precisely because civil war is the latent in the social, no morality can be granted hegemonic status. At bottom, this is the reason why we need politics and institutions to mitigate conflict. The Gramscian moral universe frames a world in which the conflict not only disappears, but rather it becomes pure morality towards a “substantive common good” in which every person is obliged to participate. Indeed, one could claim that the theory of hegemony as morality has never appeared as strongly as in this fragment. I think it is fair to say that the telos of hegemony is, in every case, a drive towards the consolidation of this uncontested morality. 

Needless to say, this is a frontal assault on positive law, which aimed, from Hobbes to H. L. Hart, to clearly differentiate between politics, institutions, and morals. In a surprising but direct way, Gramsci’s definition of politics as substantive morality is closer to the tradition of “Thomism” in at least three compartments of Aquinas’ thinking. First, because it posits a substantive morality as a unified conception of aims, which negates any competing positions between values. Secondly, the substantive morality of politics informs the Gramscian theory of the state, which, very much like the Thomist subsidiary structure, understands institutions not as a concrete order of conflict (stasis), but rather as a depository for the reproduction of civil society (that is why Gramsci also in notebook 6 will speak about the “state without a state”) in the image of the state. However, if we are to be fair to the natural law tradition, I think we can claim that Gramsci is really an archaic and not a “modern” (or revolutionary) Thomist, since even John Finnis in his Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford, 1980), in an attempt to square natural law with modern liberalism, countered Hart’s objection of unified moral aims in this way: “…there are basic aspects of human existence that are good leaving aside all the predicaments and implications…all questions of whether and how one is to devote oneself to these goods” (30). Finnis distinguishes between general principles and personal elaborations of aims. However, Gramsci is not interested in establishing generic “principles” for plural aims, but rather he seeks the actualization of a morality that is substantive because it is understood as “superseded as morality” as such. The kingdom of the Gramscian integral state is only realized if the heterogeneity of the social is captured by the hegemony of a supreme morality of Humanity. 

The distance between Gramscian moral politics and the modern natural law foundation (Fuller, Finnis) is driven home when later in section 88 of notebook 6 he claims that: “…one should not think of a “new liberalism” even if the beginning of an era of organic freedom were at hand” (76). This confirms that Gramsci is interested in crafting a morality tied to the efficacy of immanent individual ends and desires, and not at the level of generic principles of a common order. If one takes this moral politics seriously, then it becomes difficult (impossible, in my opinion), to square the primacy of this morality with positive law and the republican tradition at large. At its “best light”, the Gramscian absolute morality can only yield a faith in “Humanity”, which feeds from the production of enmity (turning dissent into ‘inhumanity’) in a civil war, as it cannot be otherwise.

A few remarks about Giorgio Agamben’s theory of civil war. by Gerardo Muñoz

In the conference “The Undercommons & Destituent Power”, I was particularly interested in a suggestion made by Idris Robinson regarding the status of the theory of civil war in Giorgio Agamben’s work. I think Robinson’s position on this problem pushes thought forward, and it allows me say a little more about a possible transfiguration of politics, a sort of unsaid in many of the recent discussions. There are at least two levels that I would like to address: the first one is philological, and the second one is more speculative. The moment that I want to dwell upon specifically is when Robinson claimed that Giorgio Agamben at some point abandoned the question of “civil war”. Robinson is right. There is no mention about civil war, insurrectional politics, or even forms of direct political strategy in the endgame of L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014). Indeed, in this book it is as if the “concrete political” horizon is transformed by recasting a modal ontology, a theory of use, and an archeology of “form of life”. My hypothesis, however, is that the logistics of civil war never fully disappear, since it is explored through other regional quadrants of the tradition. In other words, one should understand civil war as fold within the signatura of potentiality. This is an important point of departure since, early in Homo Sacer, we thought that the vortex of the project was going to be the critique of sovereignty; but, on the contrary, it ended up being an archeology of the notion of potentiality. Thus, in a way, civil war is to war what potentiality (dunamis) is to actuality (energeia). 

But the question of civil war never truly disappears. In a new gloss included in the Italian “integral edition” (Quodlibet, 2018) entitled “Nota sulla guerra, il gioco, e il nemico”, Agamben thematizes the concept of war in a way that sheds light to the problem of civil war. Agamben starts by pointing to the circularity of war and enmity in Schmitt’s theory of the political. For Schmitt – says Agamben – enmity “presupposes” [Voraussetzung] war, insofar as war is the condition for every enmity distinction [1]. Agamben continues to say that war and enmity converge in the same doctrine of the political: politics is always about war. However, the important metaphysical ingredient here is that war brings about a “serious” dimension to the political. So, state and politics, by means of seriousness (war), deters the influence of the “society of entertainment”, play, and the end of order. The legitimacy of war in Schmitt is weighted by a neo-Hobbesian maximization of “total war”. However, Agamben invites to take a step back. This is important, because at this point enters Johan Huizinga’s critique of Schmitt’s concept of the political, which reminds us war is constitutive of the ludic sphere that suspends all seriousness of politics rooted in enmity. So, it is war’s capacity to translate “political seriousness” what generates a politics of sacrifice proper to bare life. 

Unlike war, civil war would be a “zone of indetermination” (an event of human separation) that is more at home in play than in political action. Civil war is, each and every time, irreducible to war as the central conflict of human existence, since it stands for the free-playing interactions between forms of life as they come into inclination and divergence without ever being domesticated to a regulatory war. I take this also to be consistent with Agamben’s theory of comedy as an unthought site of Western metaphysics, which works against the tragic (constitutive to destiny), but also against war (constitutive of the political). This stasiological theory insofar as it expresses the movement of potentiality, it’s also an exodus from desire. This is why for Agamben the figure (gestalt) of the “coming politics” or a transfigured politics, is not the militant but a sort of puppet, as he writes in his book the character of Pulcinella. The comic texture of form of life leaves the epoch of tragic titanism behind. It is now expression or style what colors the outside to a politics of desire, which is always substantiated on a lack. Pulcinella does not desire anything, but only “seeks a way out”. The civil war, then, is the moment in which the comic destitutes the fiction of the subject into a form of life. This is why, as Julien Coupat has recently argued, that the role of the police is to watch and intervene at the moment when the game of civil war breaks out. The taskforce of the police become the exercise of the flattening of civil war into the grammar of war that regulates the very functioning of social order [2].




1. Giorgio Agamben. “Nota sulla guerra, il gioco e il nemico”, in Homo Sacer: Edizione Integrale (Quodlibet, 2018). 296-310.

2. Julien Coupat. “Engrenages, fiction policière”, in Police (La Fabrique, 2020).