The faction difficulty. by Gerardo Muñoz

The central contribution of American republican political thought is arguably the way it found a solution to the problem of factions, a legendary difficulty that not only has not disappeared but rather intensified in our present. For the enlightened republicans of the eighteenth century, well versed in the classical tradition and the histories of Florentine medieval strife, factionalism was the cardinal difficulty of social order; how to best deal with conflicting loyalties and the perpetuation of violence for virtuous and at times times even springing from “idleness and courage of the youth”, as told by Carol Lansing’s scholarship [1]. The existence of differences and cleavages in the society ultimately meant the brewing of an ephemeral coalitions and private masters, which, in turn, often resulted in the thorough expulsion of the enemies from the polis. These unregulated clashes of authorities and private actors was called by the fourteenth century jurist Bartolus of Saxoferrato a seventh form of government mixture: a “monstrous government”. The problem of faction will emerge for the moderns as the condition that prompts the articulation of a governmental rationality capable of constructing the homogeneity of social living. In other words, the modern classical homogeneity of the civil society is the creation of the domestication of factions as social grouping units to be obtained and arranged as an indirect power from within to transform ‘barbarism’ to civilization. David Hume’s political writings – and in particular his “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” (1752), which was highly influential to the Federalists, understood that the threat is of “factions” required a new framework: politics had to be reduced to a science [2]. What could politics as science entail? We are not yet in the administrative rationality and professional political vocation of Max Weber’s sociology. The scientific reduction meant a paradigmatic transformation of classical politics properly understood (virtuous, moral, and just) into an economic determination in which interests took the center stage over the combustion of the passions. The new science of politics implied a retooling of the problem of factions by decompressing the clustered interests of unaccounted and disloyal factional expansion under governmental action. For Hume the passage from passions to interests entailed a descaling of factionalism on one hand, while an expansion of a robust form of government over a large territory on the other.

However, if for Hume factions are still an impolitical unit of association that must be minimized, it is James Madison in “Federalist 10” who achieves the complete “scientific” aspiration of political construction over factions as inseparable from the Social ahead of the industrial modern economic division of labor. In fact, as Douglass Adair reminds us, this particular essay of the Federalist Papers only became important towards the end of the nineteenth century in the wake of industrialization and economic power groups; that is, at a moment when indirect economic powers began to exert their influence into the institutional and regulatory composition of the state [3]. One could say that it is only at the outset of the triumph of economic “Americanism” that the Madisonian framework on factions is situated in its proper tripartite structure: factions are conditioned by positive liberty and make up the totality of the economic interests that make up civil society. Indeed, for Madison factions as expressions of the nature of man, and their existence detail degrees of activities in civil society [4]. In a way there is no civil society without factions, and there are only factions because there is civic Liberty.

Madison even constructs a naturalist analogy: what unrestrained Liberty is to faction, air is to a propagating fire. The activity and energy of factionalism is exclusively understood as one of economic interests which, insofar as it is conditioned by positive, differentiated, and unregulated liberty that expresses the unequal distribution of property that characterizes the essence of the social. The new science of government in this framework becomes clear: the end of government is neither properly about political enmity in relation to the state nor about suppressing and limiting factions, but rather about the optimization of the effects of factions. Madison writes in the groundbreaking moment of “Federalist 10”: “The interference to which we are brought is that the causes of faction cannot be removed from that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects” [5]. The optimized logistics of factionalism displaces the modern hobbesian picture of the sovereign state to a minimalist and compensatory nature to attenuate public order against “local and particular state legislatures” [6]. The optimization of factions now appears as the dominant aspect of a fundamental cybernetics that seeks to isolate, fragment, and juxtapose the conflagration of factions without losing the barring of state energetic durability. The faction difficulty lays bare the arcanum at the center of the res publica politics: the administration and reproduction of civil conflict.

The consolidation of the cybernetic solution to the faction difficulty emerges as an upgraded version of state auctoritas whose aim is to establish a balance between public opinion as distrust over “dispute”: “communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary” [7]. If communication becomes a strict science of regulating the means of expression (itself a medium), political authority is superseded over a constant war over words and force of exchange. This means that rather than putting an end to the stasiological tension through a political mediation of the state, the problem of faction reveals that stasis becomes an instrument to manage effects, produce legislative, and translate interests in the struggle of social differences. It goes without saying that perhaps the modernist differentiation between state and civil society in light of the problem of faction loses its predominance, as an entirely new framework emerges: a monstrous socialization that takes the form of a productive stasiology given that if “men were angels no government would be necessary” [8]. The irony is that the auxiliary precautions of factions is a secularized form (or at least one could trace it to) of the ministry of the angels. This reality demands a new ethic of the passions against both the vigorous indirect struggle of factionalism (and its modern rendition in the party form) and the axiological arrangement of interests that made the foundation of the social community possible.




1. Carol Lansing. “Violence and Faction”, in The Florentine Magnates: Lineage and Faction in a Medieval Commune (Princeton U Press, 2014), 181.

2. David Hume. “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth”, in Political Writings (Hackett Publishing, 1994), 240-252.

3. Douglass Adair. “The Tenth Federalist Revisited”, The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1951, 48-67.

4. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, & John Jay. “Federalist 10”, in The Federalist Papers (Mentor, 1961). 79.

5. Ibid., 80.

6. Ibid., 83.

7. Ibid., 83.

8. “Federalist 51”, in The Federalist Papers (Mentor, 1961), 322.

Going nowhere: on Jason E. Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work (2020). by Gerardo Muñoz

Jason Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work (Reaktion Books, 2020) provides us with a renewed cartography of the labor transformations in the wake of automation and the cybernetic revolution, which has ultimately created a “vast service sector” (9). Although at first sight Smith’s book seems to be preoccupied with questions of technology innovation in the post-fordist epoch, the central vortex of the book sheds light on the notion of “servant economy” that has become the fast-evolving segment of today’s job-market. Smith notes that the expansion of the servant economy propelled by automation “poses special obstacles to organization and action in a fragmented workforce. The rise of the “servant economy”, increasingly forces workers into smaller, spatially dispersed workplaces, where they carry out labor-intensified production processes…. deemed low-skill occupations and therefore poorly paid” (14). The new region of the service economy is an effect of the exceptionality of capital form self-abdication where unemployment becomes an existential problem for the social fabric. 

The nuanced analysis undertaken by Smith shows how the fragmented spatialization of labor has become the byproduct of the automation in which control, optimization, and feedback ensemble a new regime of total calculation. Already in 1956, Friedrich Pollock warned of a potential “totalitarian government” that could lead to mass unemployment. Pollock’s Cold War predicament was not off target: the fear of totalitarian unemployment (Habermas would call it crisis of legitimation) was answered with a total (service) economy that compensated for the paradox of stagnation of profit growth. The encompassing force of real subsumption through compartmentalization of services rendered effective James Boggs’ “nowhere to go” in the final dispensation of historical capitalism.

The phase of stagnation announces the “productivity paradox”. Smith writes glossing Mason: “If ours is an age defined by monopolies, cheap credit, rent-seeking and asset bubbles, it is not due to the concerted efforts of elites keen to forestall or smother in the cradle a new, sustained period of productivity gains….despite claims to the contrary, the weather of stagnation and drift that has settle over the advanced capitalist economies since the 1970s, and special since the turn of the century is attributable in no small part technological inertia” (41). The boom of “diversionary gadgets” are on the side of unproductiveness; and, as Ure argues, “do nothing towards the supply of the physical necessities of society” (43). But perhaps diversion usage accounts for the mobilization of the medium of the new phase of automated capitalism. In other words, precisely because traditional form of political legitimacy has crumbled, zero value technology becomes the compensatory psychic equilibrium within the process of abstraction of profit. The subjective dimension of the “medium” in the new phase of automation operates to drive dynamism in the “historic low” of labor productivity growth and the disjointed structural relation between economic growth and rise in wages (64, 69).

One of the conclusions that one can derive from Smith’s rich political economy empirical analysis is that the expansion of the service economy is fundamentally an anti-institutional phenomenon, both at the level of social forms (unions, movements, legal grounds for disputes) as well as in terms of mediations of exchange (intellectual labor, shadow-work, spatial relations to urban centers, etc.). In this sense, the absolutization of the regional “service economy” is the reallocation of reduced labor. In the same way that all ‘originary accumulation’ is an ‘onging accumulation’; the “crisis” of the economy is always already the recurrent stagnation of growth. But Smith notes with precision: “services therefore appear to obscure more than it clarifies” (80). This new process of rationalization mobilizes the valorization of the outside, that is, of every non-market sphere. This process draws a specific ordo rationality: “The true “advances” such as they are, have been in the domination of the labor process by employers: their ability to coerce more labor out of a given hour by means of refinement in supervision, oversight, and workplace discipline” (112). 

Mirroring the optimal logistics of cybernetic and automation processes, one could claim that the expansion of the service economy initiates a regime of governmentality that allows for the attenuation and cost-benefit management of flows. Now I think one can clearly see that “service” is not just an avatar to formal processes of value, but also, as Ivan Illich showed, a secularized theological concept of the Christian notion of hospitality. According to Illich, hospitality was transformed into a use of power and money to provide services and needs [1]. For the ex-Catholic priest, this meant nothing less than the corruption of human freedom, which became tied to the logistics of equivalence. This is why, more than an economic theory, neoliberalism needs to defend an ever-expanding freedom of the subject. In the context of deep social atomization, the service economy self-legitimizes itself as absolute freedom in the social (141). 

At the end of the book, Smith notes that in the wake of automation the relation between political struggles and the new economic composition begin to diverge. There is on one side the model of the teachers and that of the expendables (146-147). In a sense, the “nowhere land” registered by Boggs in the 60s has only intensified, as modern politics forms no longer seem up to the task in the face of total extraction and exclusion. If we think of arguably the most successful leftist political strategy in the last decade or so (the strongest cases have been in Latin America and Spain), the left populism rooted in the theory of hegemony; it becomes clear that after the empirical analysis of Smart Machines, any set of ‘equivalential demands’ is already a demand for exploitation within the regime of the service economy. During this months of pandemic the right has been calling for the immediate reintegration into the economy, bring to bear the internal production at the heart of the project of hegemony. Rather than thinking about a new multitude or unified subject of class, the expendables that Smith situates at the outskirts of the metropolis (the ‘hinterland’), constitute perhaps a new experiential texture of life that is no longer moved by representation but rather expression; it is no longer defined by class, but consumption; it is not interested in negation, but rather in “discovery” (148). Indeed, the new marginalized surplus population does not constitute a new “subject”, but an energy that seeks an exodus from the ruins of the political given the collapse of the whole framework of leftist hegemony [2]. It seem reasonable to think that it is precisely in the threshold of Boggs’ call for a “discovery” (a movement of anabasis), devoid of place and time, where the unfathomable stagnation of our epoch is defied.




1. Ivan Illich. The Rivers North of the Future (Anansis, 2005). 

2. “Onwards Barbarians”, Endnotes, December 2020: