Friendship at the end of the world: On Frank Wilderson III’s Afropessimism (2020). by Gerardo Muñoz

The publication of Frank Wilderson III’s Afropessimism (Liveright, 2020) marks an important break in contemporary thought, which has been seating comfortably for too long in the pieties of identity, culturalism, and politization. One of the most immediate effects of Afropessimism is how it unmasks the way in which identity and cultural hegemonic discourses, far from constituting a different horizon of the existing cliché, actually mitigate a spectacle of devices for the domestication of other possibilities of thought. Of course, some were aware of said spectacle, but now with Wilderson’s experiential writing the allure of subaltern subject position is finally destroyed from within. Wilderson’s account escapes two routes of the witness position: that of the personal memoir that contributes to a narrative of redemption; and on its reverse, that of testimonio, which in the postcolonial debates of the 1990s solicited a politics of alliance with the subaltern voice for a new politics of truth. In this sense, Wilderson’s Afropessimism is a post-hegemonic work through and through insofar as it destroys the hegemony of the citizen-subject of Liberalism, but also that of subaltern as a mere stock in the production of hegemony. As Wilderson claims early in the book “Black people embody a meta-aporia for political thought and action”, as such, Afropessimism is a radically unstable force that brings to bear the unthought of the most predomination critical paradigms of university discourse (Marxism, Postcolonial theory, feminism) as aggregation of politics of the subject  (13-14). 

Afropessimism is first and foremost a dislocation of the toolbox of critical of theory as always already complicit with the general movement of the imperial policing of thinking. The strategy is always the same when it comes to administrating a regime of reflexive order: posit a paradigm of a subject position and then mobilize it against other subjects. There is nothing radical about this validation; quite the contrary, it coincides with the arbitrary hierarchization of values proper to Liberalism’s current designs. Wilderson wants to destroy analogy just like he wants to be done with narrative of redemption, or ethical alliance since all of these are forms of reductions of the true experience of living at the “end of the world”. This is the apothegm from Fanon that creates the apocalyptic circuit in the book. What does it mean to live at the end of the world? This the vortex of Afropessimism, the atopic site that inscribes the existential conundrum of the Black form of life. The apocalyptic “end of the world” must be read as a concrete inhabitation of life, that is, “being at the end of the world entails Black folks at their best”, writes Wilderson (40). This entails that there is no world without Blacks, but Black experience is an incessant drift at the limit of the world as captured by the entrapment of Humanity. I take it that Wilderson means that “Afropessimism is Black folks at their best” in relation to a form of life at the level of experience that is not only constitutive of sociability, but that it also an intensity that rejects any domesticating efforts into a more “democratic” or “hegemonic” civil society. Under the rule of equivalent demands, where subjects and objects are exchanged (or camouflaged in the name of “Rights”), the Black can only constitute a “social death” that breaks any equilibrium, or that sustains the hylomorphism of its others (102). This goes to the heart of the articulation of hegemony, which for decades has been the leftist horizon of a good and democratic politics, but which for Wilderson amounts to the very logistics of the democratic plantation. In an important moment of the book, Wilderson argues against the theory of hegemony: 

“In the solicitation of hegemony, so as to fortify and extend the interlocutory life of civil society, ultimately accommodate only the satiable  demands  and  legible  conflicts  of civil society’s junior  partners  (such as immigrants, White women, the working class), but foreclose upon the  insatiable  demands and illegible  antagonisms of Blacks. In short, whereas such coalitions and social movements cannot be called the outright handmaidens of anti- Blackness, their rhetorical structures, political desire, and their emancipatory horizon are bolstered by a life- affirming  anti- Blackness; the death of Black desire.” (240)

There is no hegemony that is not conditioned by a non-subject, an abyss that marks the aggregation of their equivalent subjective demands. This is why the non-demand of the Black, who has nothing for exchange, remains at the limit of hegemony, or rather what I call a posthegemonic fissure, in which democratic desire and hegemonic articulation enter into an incommensurable zone. Given that blackness is the site of “social death…the first step toward the destruction if to assume one’s position and then burn the ship or the plantation from the inside out. However, as Black people we are often psychically unable and unwilling to assume this position. This is as understandable as it is impossible” (103). This is consistent with Wilderson’s label of Afropessimism as an aporetic meta-theoretical paradigm. The question of the possibility of an experiential exodus to an outside, and not just an internal limit to the metaphysics of Humanity is most definitely one question that one could raise about its “epistemological void” as parasitical to the infinite production of subjectivity (164). It is clear that by rejecting hegemony, Wilderson also has to give up any liberationist horizon at the service of a political project committed to Black emancipation. For Wilderson the legitimacy is somewhere else: “Afropessimism is not an ensemble of theoretical interventions that leads the struggle for Black liberation. One should think  of it as a theory  that is legitimate because it has secured a mandate from Black people at their best; which is to say, a mandate to speak the analysis and rage that most Black people are free only to whisper” (173). It is a rage that one could counterpose as the opposite of the subaltern politics of truth; in order words, it is a rage experienced against the “gratuitous violence” that divides the antagonism between a singular life and the world of the state of things and its people. 

The vortex of Wilderson’s Afropessisism, however, is not just the rejection of hegemonic articulation or the benevolent solidarity as administrated domination, it is rather the emphasis of a new world caesura that he frames in this way: “…the essential antagonism is the antagonism between Blacks and the world: the centrality of Black people’s social death, the grammar of suffering of the slave…” (174). This essential conflict stages the antagonism at the level of the debates about the frontier of Humanism, for which the Black, insofar as it is a figure of the non-subject, already acts an archipolitics that frees the intensification of any politics of liberation now transfigured as a liberation from politics [1]. This archipolitics dwells in the intensification of a non-identity that is irreducible to any hegemonic fantasy that labors on solidarity, equivalency, unity, program, demand, projection. And why not, also against the democratic polity (insofar as democracy cannot be thought outside the jointing of two apparatuses of civil society renewal: citizenship and mobilization). This archipolitics of Afropessimism puts into crisis the general categories of modern political thought, I am also tempting to limit this claim to the very notion of democratic practice as previously defined. Here the “legitimacy” that Wilderson evokes is no longer at the level of a new democratic renewal – which is always within the spirit of the modern liberal design; indeed, recently some have made legitimacy and hegemony conceptual couples – but rather as a poking outside the democratic imagination, which ultimately feeds Black social death, even when sustained by the social contract of hegemonic alliances.

Is there something beyond the subjection to alliance? In other words, what if being at the “end of the world” is also the time to undue the mystification of solidarity in the name of friendship? I agree with Jon Beasley-Murray, also writing about Frank Wilderson III, that the idea should not be to win over friends, but rather to suggest that friendship is still possible flight [2]. I would go as far as to call friendship an event of thought. Indeed, friendship has no stories to tell and does not seek redemption; it also betrays normative ethics each and every time. This is not to say that there such a thing as an archipolitics of friendship, nor a political program for a friendship of community. We have enough of that in every community form. Perhaps if we accept the event of singular friendship, we can move beyond the logistics of antagonism and hostility that are constitutive of Humanity, but irreducible to the specie that confronts the destiny of the inhuman. As a great thinker of the twentieth century wrote: “there are infinite possibilities of inhumanity in each man. There is no external enemy; this is why the tragic exists. This simple maxim confirms the fundamental thought of Robert Antelme. The “no-man” in man, attentive to perfection is what allows the sedimentation of the concentration camps. […] Friendship for me is not a positive thing nor a value, but rather a state, a multiplication of death, of interrogation, a neutral site where I can sense the unknown, the site where difference only expands in the place of its contrary – in proximity to death” [3]. One question that must accompany Wilderson’s formative book is whether the “spirit of friendship” with inhuman can be something like solace without redemption at the end of the world. Friendship could be understood here as the marker for the disunification of forms of life outside the condition of hostility without falling into nihilism. At the point, perhaps psychological categories such as optimism or pessimism now lose their relevancy as forms of life realize that they are already dwelling at the of the end of the world. 

Notes

  1. The conceptualization of Afropessisism as an archipolitics I owe to Alberto Moreiras. See his note “Whiteness and Humanity”, July 2020: “https://afropessimismandinfrapolitics.wordpress.com/2020/07/07/whiteness-and-humanity/
  2. 2. Jon Beasley-Murray. “Afropessimism”, July 2020: https://posthegemony.wordpress.com/2020/07/06/afropessimism/
  3. Dionys Mascolo. En torno a un esfuerzo de memoria: sobre una carta de Robert Antelme. Madrid: Arena Libros, 2005. 57. The translation to English is mine. 

Cuaderno de apuntes sobre la obra de Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio. Séptima Parte. Por Gerardo Muñoz

La pregunta por el estilo no se limita a una práctica de escritura. Es por esto que decíamos antes que su naturaleza es siempre experiencial, en la medida en que es un sobrevenido en la vida más allá de la vida, o de la vida fuera de la vida como lo ha elaborado el filósofo Mårten Björk. Esa es la marca de la verdadera vida que irrumpe en la historia de los “argumentos”. Ferlosio tematiza las consecuencias decisivas de su ars stilus en el decisivo “Carácter y Destino”, un texto relativamente breve, trabajado en varias partes de su obra, y finalmente recogido como apéndice de God & Gun (2008). Como lo mencionábamos anteriormente, el punto de partida es una escena experiencial con su hija en el Retiro donde ambos encuentran un retablo de guiñol. Así lo describe Ferlosio:

“Hemos llegado con la obra ya empezado  o avanzada , y ella [la hija] se está riendo con cada paso – o frase – como una unidad que se bastase  sí mismo sin un contexto de sentido del que tomase significación; una unidad completa dentro de sí, que no se cumplía como un eslabón dentro de una cadena causal con un antes y un después. Lo que no echaba de menos era justamente esa estructura de concatenación y consecuencia….un fin que los adultos llamamos un argumento. Por eso no comparará para ella ninguna deficiencia o insuficiencia, sino, por el contrario, una autosuficiencia de la significación, del puro decir en sí, emancipado de cualquier impresión en un campo de sentido” (p.632).

Este teatro de marionetas le revela a Ferlosio una instancia del sin porqué: un tiempo sin causas (dia tade) y sin las secuencias y justificaciones que demanda la Historia. ¿Qué tiene lugar realmente en ese momento? Pues un vínculo con la esencia de lo real más allá de las formas sin “sacrificar la particularidad y la contingencia, que es literalmente que dejarla vacía de vivientes” (p.634). En esa devolución de la contingencia fuera del tiempo del humano, donde encontraremos la posibilidad del ethos (ya volveremos sobre esto luego). Otra vez Ferlosio:

“Esa mañana se me reveló que la pura manifestación era una función independiente, autónoma, autosuficiente de la lengua, y que, en aquella pieza de reír, el argumento no era más que un soporte prextextual destinado a dar pie para los personajes se manifestarán” (p.636).

¿Qué significa manifestarse? Obviamente que la manifestación no tiene que ver con una actuación impostada en la persona, una especie de máscara que encubriría la verdadera esencia del sujeto. La manifestación de los personajes es la liberación del estilo de su carácter; el brillo más intimo de su constancia en la plenitud de su gestualidad y sus movimientos. En el momento de la manifestación se explicita lo invariante del carácter. Por eso dice Ferlosio: “La manifestación del carácter en su plenitud, que es igual que decir “en su gratuidad” es privilegio emite de la comedia…la proyección de intenciones, los trabajos racionalmente dirigidos al logro de los fines lo que constituye un “argumento” en el sentido fuerte, y no pertecer por lo tanto al orden carácter, sino al orden del destino” (p.638). El verdadero carácter, por lo tanto, no tiene destino. O sí lo tiene, pero ese destino siempre ya ha acontecido, puesto que nunca ha podido acontecer. Carácter: la zona de lo invivido en la vida.

Hay una vacilación en Ferlosio entre “comedia” y “drama”, entre humor y tragedia. En efecto, Ferlosio distingue correctamente entre ambos polos. El primero es la manifestación, mientras que el segundo se encuentra ligado al dominio de la proyección de destino. Como ha visto Giorgio Agamben en su libro Pulcinella, ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (2016), mientras que en la tragedia los actos son decisivos (una Tragedia sin acción es imposible, según Aristóteles); la comida depone constantemente la acción en función del carácter, ya que el carácter “remite a una misma experiencia que siempre puede volverse a vivir, mas nunca ser vivida. Etimológicamente ethos (carácter) y ethōs (forma de vida) es una y la misma palabra que quieren decir “individualidad” (seità). La individualidad siempre se expresa en un carácter o en un hábito. En cada caso, se trata de la imposibilidad de vivirla” (p.110). El secreto del carácter (como en el guiñol para Ferlosio o como para Pulcinella de la Comedia del Arte napolitana) es que no hay secreto, sino solo éxodo de los principios burocráticos que rigen la vida “en un sitio para cada cosa y cada cosa en su sitio” (p.639).

La comedia es así la forma en que el carácter entra en contacto con su estilo, mas no con sus acciones. No podríamos pensar una versión más opuesta a la filosofía de la historia y sus dramas esotéricos que dotan un sentido pleno a la forma de la salvación cristiana. Esto explica porqué Carl Schmitt contempló con tanto detenimiento el elemento trágico en la historia de la salvación desde el mito de Hamlet. Los errores, las vacilaciones, el aturdimiento de un monarca caído en la ilegitimidad aparecen redimidos desde el drama de la filosofía de la salvación cristiana y desde el dispositivo del pecado original.

En realidad, ese nivel de abstracción de la filosofía de la salvación cristiana no le interesa a Ferlosio. Aquí se juega una via de salida: ubi fracassorium, ibi fuggitorium (donde hay una catástrofe, hay un derrotero de fuga). ¿Cuál es la catástrofe? Ferlosio lo resume citando un importante momento de Filosofía de la Historia de Hegel y que es importante reproducir en su totalidad:

“Precisamente en Hegel nos hemos de apoyar para poner un ejemplo inmediatamente accesible a cualquier experiencia que ilustra la oposición entre el orden del carácter y el orden del destino. En uno de los pasajes mass celebres y que mass han preocupado a toda suerte de lectores de la Filosofia de la Historia dice Hegel así: “También al contemplar la Historia se puede tomar la felicidad como punto de visto; pero la Historia no es un suelo en el que florezca la felicidad. Los tiempos felices en ella son páginas en blanco. Cierto que en la Historia universal se da también la satisfacción, pero esta no es lo qu se llama felicidad, pues es la satisfacción de fines que sobrepasan los intereses particulares. Fines de importancia para la Historia universal requieren voluntad abstracta, energía, para ser mantenidos. Los individuos de significado para la Historia universal, que han perseguid o esos fines, han encontrado ciertamente satisfacción, pero han renunciado a la felicidad”. (p.641).

Como vemos, una vez que se ha renunciado a la felicidad también se ha renunciado al carácter, y, por lo tanto, a la vida verdadera que nos consagra el estilo. Por esta razón es que la felicidad se reemplaza por la “satisfacción” (satisfacción es acción + efectividad) en tanto que forma finalista por la cual el goce se transfiere como búsqueda de lo necesario y lo inmediato en nuestra época expresionista. Y es que la satisfacción no solo es lo inmediato y la realización y la proyección de una acción, sino también lo que cuenta como narrable y contable. En cambio, la felicidad, como dice Ferlosio unas páginas después, “carece de cualquier posible contenido histórico, porque, literalmente, no tiene nada que contar. Salvo que hoy parece que el estigma de lo historico ha penetrado tan profundamente el mundo de la vida que se ha apoderado de casi todas las cosas y hechos de los hombres” (p.645). En realidad, no vivimos en el fin de la Historia, sino en la espuma infinita de su acumulación sin trascendencia y sin transmisión de una tradición que esté en condiciones de liberar los gestos que potencien la felicidad.

No es que un momento de felicidad no pueda ser narrado, sino que la felicidad como momento epifánico y milagroso prescinde de todo relato. ¿Cuándo fue la última vez que has estado feliz o que has experimentado la felicidad? En nuestra época esta pregunta se vuelve esquizofrénica, o abiertamente cínica; siempre vinculada al aparato de la satisfacción. Yo recuerdo un momento específico: era niño, debí tener unos 5 o 6 años, y mi padre me había enviado el primer Nintendo, aunque no le había dicho cual videojuego quería. Finalmente un día llegó y ese dia vi, junto al aparato, uno de los juegos más conocidos (creo que se llamaba Contra) de esos años. (Jugar videojuegos o ajedrez, paradójicamente,  no deja experiencia: es la experiencia). La felicidad fue indescriptible porque se trataba de un encuentro con lo inesperable.

El juego como relación de carácter con el tiempo en el tiempo, con el lenguaje en el lenguaje, con las imaginación desde las formas, no es algo que pueda ser fácilmente narrado. En efecto, la narración es siempre secundaria. Tal vez esta sea la diferencia más importante: mientras que la satisfacción tiene lugar gracias a una estructura clara de narración y causalidad, la felicidad puede ser narrada a posteriori a cambio de que pierda la efervescencia de su aparición. Por eso es que la felicidad no puede ser un destino de lo humano, sino siempre instancia de carácter; forma del cómo que vincula al singular con el tiempo, con el mundo, con las cosas.

Pero, ¿le podemos llamar a esto “libertad”? ¿Es la felicidad el momento supremo de la libertad? Como es sabido, uno de los Founding Fathers del constitucionalismo norteamericano, Thomas Jefferson, se permitió hablar del “pursuit of happiness” como finalidad de la existencia ciudadana en la nueva república. Pero lo cierto es que Jefferson, aunque entendía la felicidad como el propósito de la vida, jamás ofreció una definición de la felicidad. La felicidad no puede ser la promesa realizada por la política (este es el error del Tomismo), sino el sobrevenido en el carácter de una vida. Sin embargo, podemos intuir que para Jefferson la felicidad – la “Gran Felicidad en Democracia” – era del orden de los fines, y por lo tanto, el argumento caía en el plano de lo individual.

En el “Query XIV”, comentando la educación de una nueva ciudadanía ilustrada, Jefferson escribe que estos saberes humanísticos (la Historia, las lenguas clásicas, el derecho): “may teach them how to work out their greatest happiness, by shewing them that it dies not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed them, but is always a result of good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits” (p.389).

Esto contrasta con la felicidad que le sobreviene al brillo de carácter, ya que esta no puede ser buscada, y jamás puede ser entendida como un “pursuit”. El misterio de una “libertad” ya siempre decida para el sujeto moral de la democracia solo tiene lugar como administración distributiva que, a su vez, encubre la existencia. De ahí que la felicidad no pueda ser búsqueda, como tampoco scopo de lo político. Aquí Ferlosio es iluminador: “cuando el argumento se rompe sobreviene la felicidad” (p.651). A la luz de Jefferson, podemos decir que este es el momento en que el misterio de la libertad es depuesto a la zona de nuestro estilo.

 

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The triumph of res idiotica and communitarianism: on Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Patrick Deneen’s much-awaited book Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, 2017) is a timely contribution that, in the wake of the Trump presidency, vehemently confirms the epochal crisis of political liberalism, the last standing modern ideology after the demise of state communism and short-lived fascist mass movements of the twentieth century. It is difficult to distinguish whether liberalism is still a viable horizon capable of giving shape to citizenship or if on the contrary, it endures as a residual form deprived of democratic legitimacy and popular sovereignty [1]. In fact, contemporary liberalism seems incapable of attending to social demands that would allow for self-renewal. In a slow course of self-abdication, which Carl Schmitt predicted during the Weimar Republic, liberalism has triumphed along the lines of a logical administration of identity and difference through depolitization that has mutated as a global war in the name of ‘Humanity’ [2]. The catastrophic prospect of liberalism is far from being a schmittian alimony of political exceptionalism. In fact, Mark Lilla in his recent The Once and Future Liberal (2017) claims, quite surprisingly, that the “liberal pedagogy of our time is actually a depolitizing force” [3]. What is at stake at the threshold of liberal politics is the irreducible gap between idealia and realia that stages a moment where old principles wane, no longer accounting for the material needs in our contemporary societies [4].

Deneen confronts the foundation of its idealia. Deneen’s hypothesis on the failure of liberalism does not follow either the track of betrayal or the path of abdication. Rather, Deneen claims that liberalism has failed precisely because it has remained “true to itself” (Deneen 30). In other words, liberalism has triumphed in its own failure, crusading towards liberation as a philosophy of history, while administrating and containing every exception as integral to its own governmentality. If modern liberalism throughout the nineteenth century (an expression of the Enlightenment revolutionary ethos) provided a political referent for self-government, the grounds for the rule of law, and the exercise of liberty against divine absolute powers (the medieval theology of the potentia absoluta dei); contemporary liberalism has found consolidation as a planetary homogeneous state that reintroduces a new absolutism that interrupts modern man’s self-affirmation against divine contingencies [5]. Since its genesis, liberalism was held by two main anthropological assumptions: individualism as the kernel for the foundation of negative liberty and the radical separation of the human from nature, both by way of an economic-political machine that liberates the individual at the same time that it expands the limits of the state. The rise of the securitarian state is the effective execution of this logic, by which politics centers on governing over the effects in a perpetual reproduction of its causes. These ontological premises are the underlying infrastructures of a two-headed apparatus that ensembles the state and the market in the name of the unrestrained conception of liberty. As Deneen argues: “…liberalism establishes a deep and profound connection; its ideal of liberty can be realized only through a powerful state. If the expansion of freedom is secured by law, then the opposite also holds true in practice: increasing freedom requires the expansion of law” (Deneen 49).

But the same holds true for the unlimited market forces that today we tend to associate with late-modern neo-liberal laissez-faire that presupposes the expansion of functional units of state planning as well as the conversion of the citizen as consumer. The duopoly of state-market in liberalism’s planetary triumph spreads the values of individual autonomy, even if this necessarily entails the expansion of surveillance techniques and the ever-increasing pattern of economic inequality within an infinite process of flexible accumulation and charity that maintain mere life. In this sense, globalization becomes less a form of cosmopolitan integration, and more the form of planetarization driven by the general principle of equivalence that metaphorizes events, things, and actions into an abstract process of calculability [6]. This new nomic spatialization, which for Deneen discloses the erosion of local communitarian forms of life as well as the capacity for national destiny, is the epochē of sovereignty as the kernel principle of liberalism. In other words, Liberalism’s sovereigntist traction was always-already exceptio through which the governance of the nomos is only possible as the effective proliferation and rule over its anomic excess.

The substantial difference with early forms of liberalism is that only in the wake of contemporary globalization and the post-industrial reorganization of labor, this exceptionalism  no longer functions as a supplement to the normative system, since it is what marks the subsumption of all spheres of action without reminder. In this scenario, liberalism is no longer a political ideology nor is it a horizon that orients a modern movement towards progress; its sole task is to control the imports of identity and difference within the social. One could say that liberalism is a technique for containing, in the way of a thwarted katechon, a society without limits. Paradoxically, liberalism, which once opposed sovereign dictatorship, now endorses a universality that cannot be transmitted, and a principle of democracy that has no people (populus).

In the subsequent chapters of Why Liberalism Failed, Deneen turns to liberalism’s imperial mission in four distinct social paradigms: culture, technology, the Liberal Arts in the university, and the rise of a new aristocracy. The commonality in each of these topoi is that in each and every one of these social forms, liberalism has produced the opposite of what it had intended. Of course, it did so, not by abandoning its core principles, but precisely by remaining faithful to them, while temporalizing the hegemony of the same as eternal. First, in the sphere of culture, Deneen argues that liberalism’s inclination towards an anticultural sentiment is consistent with multiculturalism as the “eviscerated and reduction of actual cultural variety to liberal homogeneity loosely dressed in easily discarded native garb” (Deneen 89). The culturalism promoted by liberalism is a process of deletion that knows only a fictive transmutation within the logic of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ that seeks to exhaust the cosmos of the singular. The price to be paid for policed inclusion of cultural differences into liberal anticultural norms, aside from leaving the economic accumulation untouched, is that it forces a form of consent that tailors the radically irreducible worldviews to standardized and procedural form of subjective recognition. Although Deneen does not articulate it in these terms, one could say that culturalism – which Deneen prefers to call liberalism anticulturalism-, amounts, in every instance, to a capture that supplies the maintenance of its hegemonic thrust.

Nowhere is this perceived with more force today than in liberal arts colleges and universities across the country, where from both ideological extremes, the Liberal Arts as a commitment to thinking and transmission of institutional knowledge is “now mostly dead on most campuses” (Deneen 113). From the side of the political conservative right, the way to confront the ongoing nihilism in the university, has been to completely abandon the liberal arts, pledging alliance to the regime of calculative valorization (the so called “STEMS” courses) on the basis of their attractive market demand. But the progressive left does not offer any better option, insisting by advancing the abstract “critical thinking” and one-sided ideological politization, it forgets that critique is always-already what feeds nihilism through the negative, which does little to confront the crisis in a democratic manner. The demise of the liberal arts in the contemporary university, depleted by the colonization of the dominance by principle of general equivalence, reduces the positionality of Liberal Arts to two forms of negations (critique and market) for hegemonic appropriation [7]. In one of the great moments of Why Liberalism Failed, Deneen declares that we are in fact moving slowly into the constitution of a res idiotica:

“The classical understanding of liberal arts as aimed at educating the free human being ids displaced by emphasis upon the arts of the private person. An education fitting for a res publica is replaced with an education suited for a res idiotica – in the Greek, a “private” and isolated person. The purported difference between left and right disappears as both concur that the sole legitimate end of education is the advance of power through the displacement of the liberal arts” (Deneen 112).

Liberalism idiotism is invariable, even when our conduct is within the frame of public exposition. One must understand this transformation not merely as a consequence of the external economic privation of the public university (although this adds to the decline of whatever legitimacy remains of the Liberal Arts), but more importantly as a privatization of the modes of the general intellect into a dogmatic and technical instrumentality that “can only show their worth by destroying the thing they studied” (Deneen 121). The movement of liberalization of higher education, both in terms of its economic indexes and flexible epistemic standardization, dispenses the increasing erosion of institutions, whose limits have now become indeterminate within the general mechanics of valorization. The res idiotica is the very exhaustion of the res publica within liberal technicality, where any form of impersonal commonality is replaced by the unlimited expansion of expressive subjectivism. In a total reversal of its own conditions of possibility, the outplay of the res idiotica is satisfied in detriment of any use of public reason and freedom, if by the latter we understand a commitment to the polis as a space in which the bios theoretikos was never something to be administered, but constructed every time [8]. The emergence of res idiotica coincides with the decline of politics as a force of democratization in the public use of reason.

In the economic sphere, the assault of the res publica entails the emergence of a new aristocracy, which as Deneen argues, was already latent in liberalism’s great ideologues’ (Locke, Mill, and Hayek) commitment to a ruling class formation and arbitrary economic distribution. For Deneen, one did not have to wait for Hayek’s experiments in active market liberalism to grasp that what J.S.Mill called “experiments of the living” as the promise of liberation from the social shackles, but only to consecrate an even more stealth system of domination between expert minorities rule and ordinary people. What remains of Liberalism in its material deployment is not much: a res idiotica that fails at constituting a public and civil society devoid of cives, and a state that expands the limits of administration in pursuit of freedom only to perpetuate an aristocratic class. In broad strokes, Deneen’s narrative about liberalism could be well said to be a story about how a “living body” (the People) became an absolute in absentia that only leave us with a practice of idolatry to a supreme and uncontested principle [9].

The idolatrous character of liberal principles is rendered optimal in recent theoretical claims against democracy, where the latter is seen as an obstacle for government rather than as the premise for the legitimacy of popular sovereignty. Hence, democracy is turned into a mechanical arrangement that includes whatever supports liberal assumptions and beliefs, and excludes all forms of life that it sees as a threat to its enterprise. In this way, liberalism today is a standing reserve that administers the proliferation of any expressive differential identities, while scaffolding an internal apparatus for self-reproduction. In one of the most eloquent passages of the book, Deneen evokes the anti-democratic shift of liberalism in the contemporary reflection:

“…the true genius of liberalism was subtly but persistently to shape and educate the citizens to equate “democracy” with the ideal of self-made and self-making individuals – expressive individualism – while accepting the patina of political democracy shrouding a power and distance government whose deeper legitimacy arises from enlarging the opportunity and experience of expressive individualism. As long as liberal democracy expands “the empire of liberty”, mainly in the form of expansive rights, power, and wealth, the actual absence of active democratic self-rule is not only an acceptable but a desired end”. Thus liberalism abandons the pervasive challenge of democracy as a regime requiring the cultivation of disciplined self-rule in favor of viewing the government as a separate if beneficent entity that supports limitless provision of material goods and untrammeled expansion of private identity” (Deneen 155-156).

The triumph of the res idiotica works in tandem with the expansion of the administrative state at the level of institutional reserve, and through the presidentialist charismatic populism in covering the void of an absent demos. These two cathetic instances of hegemonic closure maintain the democratic deficit that organizes the polis against any attempt at active dissent against the unlimited forms of commence and war that, according to Deneen, “have increasingly come to define the nation” (Deneen 172). At the very core of its innermost material practices, liberalism amounts to a technical-war machine that, in the name of a homogenous and uprooted ‘humanity’, liquidates the commitment to the res publica as the only political system that can uphold any form of consistent and durable endurance against the imbalanced domination of an unruly and anarchic power. If the political as a modern invention it is said to be a flight from the condition of servitude and slavish subordination, as Quentin Skinner has observed, we are in a position to claim that contemporary liberalism is as much a movement forward in unlimited freedom that articulates a regression to the form of dependence of the slave [10]. Once the singular is dependent on a power that he interiorizes as fully spectral and all encompassing, freedom amounts to a slave restraint over the potentiality of desiring and retreating. In the planetary stage governed by equivalence as the administration of cultural identity formation, the singular comes to occupy the position of the slave that, although is free to exercise his self-command in an unlimited region for self-recognition, any transgression of the normative regime is always-already anticipated by the securitarian apparatus. Politics, as we know it, has come to a close in the liberal paradigm.

Why Liberalism Failed does not shy away from offering a way out, a ‘what is to be done’ to the liberal dominium that puts in crisis the relations between thinking and action, imagination and political ideologies. For some contemporary thinkers (in particular, the post-Heideggerian tradition opened by the work of Reiner Schürmann and Giorgio Agamben) have endorsed a positivization of an-archy as a way for clearing the path beyond the saturation of apolitical liberalism [11]. But if we grant this speculative move, we forget that liberalism is an economy that governs the very excess of foundation that is already well within the anarchy principle. In other words, failure is not an exception or achievement or telos of liberal rationality; it is rather something like its irreducible latent force that gives semblance to the ‘actuality’ of the idolatrous principle. However, if liberalism is only semblance without material substance (barren from popular sovereignty), then it is no longer a constituted principle or archē. Anarchy is thus a false option, although it is not the option that Deneen subscribes. The question remains: what is to be done at the end of liberal politics that have brought to ruin the triad of action, freedom, and even citizenship?

Deneen’s wager is not an endorsement of a new and better theoretical articulation, but the affirmation of a community form that he associates with Tocquevillian ‘schoolhouse of democracy’ as well as with Wendell Berry’s practical communitarianism as a “rich and varied set of personal relations, a complex of practices and traditions drawn from a store of common memory and tradition, and a set go bonds forged between people and place that is not portable, mobile, fungible, or transferable” (Deneen 78). It is at this critical point in the conjuncture, where I see Deneen’s proposal as insufficient on grounds of both his own intellectual premises in his critique of liberalism, as well in relation to what the community form if understood as a locational and identitarian structure.

First, it is not very clear that community as understood here can do the work to retreat from liberal machination. The community form, assumed as a foreclosed and identitarian contained social form, can offer only a thetic instance of what liberalism promotes in its rule through management. The community as a countercultural reaction to liberalism’s promotion of identities leaves intact its own identitarian closure reduced to propriety and consensus [12]. Could one reconcile democracy with a communitarian horizon for a singular that opts for dissent against the communitarian majority? Probably not, because the horizon of communitarization, like that of liberalism, rests on the production of exclusion for anyone that chooses to retreat from the community. The fact that these questions are left unanswered by Deneen’s proposal is a sign the community form does not offer any substantial alternative to atomized identity. Rather, the community form only call to legitimacy is a set of metaphysical niceties such as ‘inheritance’, ‘location’, and ‘practicality’.

By subscribing to organic communitarianism, Deneen postulates a theoretical archē of the community that thrives on what it excludes in order to properly define and constrain itself. In other words, as conceived under the banner of “practical” (not ‘theoretical’) forms of life, the community form becomes an active self-reproductive logic that bars dissent before any threat from the outside. However, there is a second consideration when thinking about community form. Essentially, that it is not convincing that Deneen’s affirmation of the community can claim to be an exception to liberalism’s empire. By retorting that liberalism amounts to a “demolition that comes at the expense of these communities’ settled forms of life”, Deneen immunizes the community as an impolitical form that can be extracted from the logic of real subsumption (Deneen 143). In an ironic endgame, Deneen’s practical communitarianism as a ‘personalized and settled form of life’ recasts contemporary Marxist and current vice-president of Bolivia Alvaro Garcia Linera’s thinking of the community form as organic entelechy that accelerates use value against global transnational capitalism [12]. But whereas for the Bolivian thinker, the task amounts to an actualization of the community form in order to radically transform the state, in the case of Deneen’s proposal, the return to the communitarian patchwork amounts to the fantasy of a radical detachment from the administrative state and national popular structures. These two positions, although from opposing extremes of the ideological spectrum, do not provide an exit from the crisis of politics, but rather the full realization of politics as ongoing nihilism against the negative labor of liberalism. It would seem that the best that either the Left or the Right can offer today is a form of communitarianism.

If community form is always one of theological salvation – as a set of practices that would include care, humility, and modesty at the level of local communities (Deneen 191-192) – then this entails that communitarism works through a theological foundation of faith as the dissuasion of any possible instance of the profane interruption. As Elettra Stimilli has observed, the Christian community of salvation is always already consigns an unknown dimension of freedom, which reintroduces the dependence model of servitude [13]. The factical life of Christian community of faith can only be maintained as an ascetic practice for those that already within the parameters of its beliefs. In short, community form does not only leave unperturbed the functioning of the liberalism’s empire of liberty, and unfortunately can only provide the same broken idealia that fails to confront the interregnum that today names the fracture between theory and practice of the political.

Could it be, rather counter intuitively, that Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed is actually an esoteric defense of liberalism? I would like to read the consequences of the book in that direction, by slightly displacing the question of liberalism to that of the anthropological genesis of modernity. This speaks to the book’s admirable tension between the triumphs of liberalism as a failure (or as always failing), while at the same time liberalism’s appeal to realize the admirable ideals that liberalism often only promised (Deneen 184). What if these aporias could allow us to rethink the Enlightenment as a project ‘to come’ that can guarantee open universal conditions for reform and in pursuit of modern man’s self-affirmative counter-communitarian, and institutional durability? What if the Enlightenment could desist on being a triumphalist account of humanist withdrawal, and instead be rendered as a project of radical deficiency, of the crisis of modern science, and the scope of singularity that can never amount to a metaphorization of the idea of liberty, but one that allows for the disturbance of myth (as well the theology) against transcendental action? [14]

The failed triumphalism of liberalism, and here I must agree with Deneen, was confined on its reducibility on subjectivation and subjectivity as an absolute anthropologism. This metaphysical anthropology, in fact, made the psychic life of the singular into identity reproduction between duty and guilt as the dual symptomology of becoming ‘subject’. Liberalism has been a compulsive and failed politics, not because of what it has not achieved by remaining all too faithful to its promises, but because it has substantially realized subjectivity as the uncontested hegemonic principle of the political. Against the servitude of liberalism’s imperial drive, and the communitarian countercultural obligations, the task remains to think the emergence of a universal, marrano, and non-subjective democratic enlightenment that could reinstate the res publica from within the ruins of the res idiotica, only if it is not already too late.

Notes

  1. The retraction of legitimacy in all political systems of the West has been argued by Giorgio Agamben in The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days (2017). Slightly in a different register, what I am arguing here is that the exhaustion of popular sovereignty in liberal hegemony, in part, is due to liberalism’s extreme distance, and at times even explicit rejection, from any transaction with the ‘popular’. At the same time, one could also claim that the emergence of populism in contemporary societies is a latent expression that seeks to ground popular mobilization to readdress the democratic deficit in technocratic governance.
  2. See La Guerra Globale (2002), by Carlo Galli.
  3. Mark Lilla. The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (2017). 137-138.
  4. The epigraph of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, we read: “When the gap between ideal and the real becomes too wide, the system breaks down. Legend and story have always reflected this in the Arthurian romances the Round Table is shattered from within. The sword is returned to the lake; the effort beings anew. Violent, destructive, greedy, fallible as he may be, man retains his vision or order and resumes his search”. The question is whether in the current interregnum the capacity for ‘myth’ can still provide a source to cope with the fissure between a desirable political horizon and a theoretical set of concepts capable of giving form to a new order.
  5. This is the argument for the legitimacy of modernity beyond the theological-political underpinnings in the wake of secularization advanced by Hans Blumenberg in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1985).
  6. Although the term general equivalent spans from Marx to Jean Luc Nancy to account for the logic of exchange, for an assessment of the question of equivalence as the logic of nihilistic measurement at a planetary scale, see “Infrapolitical Action The Truth of Democracy at the End of General Equivalence” (2016), by Alberto Moreiras at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/pc/12322227.0009.004?view=text;rgn=main
  7. The insufficiency of hegemonic politics today has nothing to do with a partisan, theoretical, or ideological inclination. If we say that the theory of hegemony is no longer viable today, it is because it can only work as a collectivization of identity proliferation, whether in the form of the equivalent demand or in through the closure of the community form, failing to provide in either case for a demotic impersonal region. For the crisis of the modern university and the insufficiency of critique, see La crisis no moderna de la universidad moderna (1996), by Willy Thayer.
  8. As Arendt writes in her essay “What is Freedom?”: “The way of life chosen by the philosopher was understood in opposition to the bios theoretikos, the political way of life. Freedom, therefore, the very center of politics as the Greeks understood it, was an idea which almost by definition could not enter the framework of Greek philosophy”.
  9. I am thinking here of Adrian Vermeule’s important critique of the idolatrous conception of the separation of powers by legal liberalism in his most recent Law’s abnegation: from Law’s Empire to the administrative state (2017).
  10. Quentin Skinner. “A Genealogy of Liberty”, unpublished lecture read at Stanford University, October 2016.
  11. See, “On Constituting Oneself an Anarchistic Subject” (1986), by Reiner Schürmann.
  12. For an important assessment of the limits of the communitarian model, see “Consensus, Sensus Communis, Community” (2016), by Maddalena Cerrato, at https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/pc/12322227.0010.005?view=text;rgn=main
  13. Elettra Stimilli. The Debt of the Living: Ascesis and Capitalism (2017). 9-10.
  14. This is the moment where Hans Blumenberg, who labeled himself as a disillusioned child of the Enlightenment, took maximum distance from the Kantian unlimited freedom as a necessary presupposition of reason: “However, the danger of using an absolute metaphorics for the idea of freedom can be discerned in Kant himself, and its grave, necessarily misleading consequences can be seen in the introduction of the conception of transcendental action. This makes it natural to regard as freedom anything that can be represented as a transcendental action of understanding”, in Shipwreck with spectator (1997), 101.

A Constitutional Absolutism? On Philip Hamburger’s The Administrative Threat. By Gerardo Muñoz.

AdministrativeThreatPhilip Hamburger’s most recent book, The Administrative Threat (Encounter Books, 2017), is a legal pamphlet as well as constitutional call to arms of sorts. Deliberately written for the general public with the intention of popularizing the central tenets of his otherwise more technical work Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (U Chicago Press, 2015), Hamburger fuses a warning with a call to question the increasing danger posed by the expansion of the administrative state in American public law. In his view, no other force and legal development is undermining the core and purpose of civil liberties as much as administrative law, which today extends to all spheres of social life. This bureaucratic power is not only an existential threat to personal freedoms, but also a betrayal to the original intent of the Constitution.

The idea harboring this perception is that decision-making is only possible on purely market or commercial grounds, which administration continuously obstructs under the guise of regulation. The book cuts sharply through a martial tone: “For better understanding of the administrative threat one must turn to law…for although much administrative state power is economically inefficient, all of it is unconstitutional” (Hamburger 2). But how did the development of legality and American public law reached such a boiling point? This a question that Hamburger must sidestep, and at times reduce to a barely credible narrative regarding a handful of American scholars that studied German administrative law at the turn of the last century. Hamburger accurately notes that in the last century (roughly from 1917 to 2017), there has only been ‘rise and rise’ of administrative delegation. This is undeniable. James M. Landis records in The Administrative Process (1938) about 12-14 federal agencies in 1933. Today there are between 240-456 federal agencies, including sub-agencies, quasi-agencies, and departments. And as if more alarm is needed, each landmark opinion through the century by the Supreme Court has incrementally extended agency statutory powers for execution and judicial interpretation.

In what follows, I want to critically comment the three premises that support Hamburger’s attack on the legitimacy of administrative state: 1. a historical comparison with the King James monarchy in order to make the case that we are returning to a regime of legal absolutism; 2. that we are witnessing the corruption of the separation of powers, which has expounded extralegal boundaries; 3. and the libertarian assumption that civil liberties are prey to the tyrannical might of the administrative state. Hence, as Hamburger says verbatim, the administrative state is fundamentally disloyal to at least two tiers of governmental authority: on the one hand, to an arcana, and on the other, the more real ground of civil liberties and negative freedom (Hamburger 23). While the first lies in that of the level of principle, the second forms that of integrity. It is important to note that, as Hamburger does at the outset of the book, his critique is at the level of legitimacy. Hence, he is not necessarily interested in putting forth a critique of political economy or regulatory reform, which would entail an acceptance of the administrative state one way or another.

Let us take the first premise, which assumes that the administrative state brings about a new absolutism. Hamburger establishes a comparison with King James’s absolute monarchy, which represented a model of constant prerogatives and forms of adjudication to agency discretion, in permanent conflict with legislative decision-making, and interpretative authority of judges. For Hamburger this all takes place in the present, but the situation is much worse, since the administrative state seems to have achieved King James’ absolutist intention. For instance, Hamburger writes: “the lawmaking interpretation that James desired for his prerogative bodies has become a reality for American administrative agencies. Federal judges’ show varying degrees of deference to agency interpretations, and the agencies therefore can use their interpretation to create law” (Hamburger 9). Ultimately, this means that administrative agencies have come to inhabit a sort of juridical monad that can interpret, execute, and legislate its statutory norms and facts in clear violation of the principle of the separation of powers.

Hamburger observes the watershed 1984 decision Chevron vs. National Resources Defense Council, in which Burger Court decided that every time there are statutory ambiguities, judges must defer to agency for clear interpretations, with horror. This does not mean that an agency will rule every time on the agency’s behalf, but it has come to establish what is known as the principle of ‘deference’ in a two-step model. Mainly, that if Congress does not express direct intent on the statute, the agency can uphold the interpretative prerogative for clarification of any ambiguous component. The deference principle to agencies not only violates the principle against subdelegation (the common law axiom delegata potestas non potest delegari), but more importantly for Hamburger it confuses the spheres of interpretation and execution in the hands administrative quasi-judges. The prefix hints at the fact that experts and technicians of different epistemological spheres now have entirely displaced the imperial pretensions of the independent judicial branch. At the same time, we know that there are no judges freed from inter-dependence, and that the very legal process is always politically binding [1]. This transformation does entail that the judiciary is noww marginalized to a thin discretionary position to arbiter reasonable goals.

Furthermore, it is not the case that the way deference is understood in American administrative law hinges on a principle of sub-delegated power. Adrian Vermeule has convincingly argued how the specification of statutes is conceived within the executive branch [2]. Hamburger insists, however, in that “administrative power resembles old absolutism” (Hamburger 14). Absolutism is defined as extra-legality, and as a fundamental and consistent evasion of law (sic). Curiously, Hamburger fails to explain in which way the expansion of the administrative state legality has moved the boundaries unto an extra-legal domain over time. The administrative state cannot amount to a new monarchism for the simple reason that there is no monarch who is deemed as the sovereign mediator capable of dispensing his potentia absoluta without retrains.

The administrative state is a process of self-rationalization towards judicial abdication to experts, abandoning the empire of courts towards reasonable decision-making. It is an enterprise to limit incongruousness and contingency. As we know, this is one of the trademarks of the modern legitimacy. In other words, the administrative state follows integrity, and not the arcanum of political theory. This is something Landis already had in mind in the 1930s [3]. If absolutism is grounded in a principle of contingency and theological nominalism, modern rationality and administration bends towards rationalization of law’s integrity [4]. In doing so, the administrative state is a highly sophisticated machine to regulate all possible risks. Here the question of a constitutionalism of risk within the expansion of the administrative delegation becomes relevant.

Hamburger, in a sense, seeks to revive the specter of Elizabethan judge Edward Coke, while ignoring that the becoming of the administrative state has pluralist aims, at odds with vertical decision protocols vested in the absolute sovereign [5]. The administrative state is a modern legal development, and any comparison to the English monarchy is a serious bend. From a historiographical standpoint, Hamburger’s premise is also ambiguous when he writes: “Early Americans, however, were familiar with English constitutional history, and they therefore were well aware of the danger from the absolute power and its extralegal paths” (Hamburger 19). It is not the case that there is a firm consensus about the patriot political beliefs about presidentialism or the British Monarchy. Eric Nelson in his landmark The Royalist Revolution (2014) has studied how republican patriots were comfortable with ideas of strong centralized executive power in fear of the British parliamentary form regarding commerce and taxation. And here one should ask to what extent the imperial presidency could also be justified on “originalist” grounds. But this is beside the point, since the legal development of administrative law is one thing, and the Atlantic political theory is another.

This takes us the second point regarding the separation of powers. The main problem with Hamburger’s account is that it fails to engage with Adrian Vermeule’s sound critique in Law’s abnegation (2016) of a certain political attachment to an idolatrous understanding of the separation of powers. Vermeule terms ‘idolatry of the separation of powers, in reference to a mechanic execution of the three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial). In this framework, anything that is excess to it is part of a narrative of betrayal. But it should not be so. This is what Landis called rather humorously the “attachment to the number three”:

“To condemn the administrative process simply because it is a fourth branch of government is not to consider what a branch implies. Four, five, and six branches of government may, of course, coexist without violating Montesquieu’s maxim, for the ultimate source and the ultimate division of power remains the same. It is the relations of the administrative state’s three departments of government that are important”  [6]

Needless to say, a mechanistic fixation to the tripartite separation of powers fails to account for the ways in which the administrative state is already an expression of specifically allocated knowledge, decisions, and state-national-agency conflicts over a long period of time.  The question that should be asked is not in which way the administrative state profanes a sacrosanct Madisonian separation of powers structure, but rather whether there are powers in separation that are legitimate within the classic design of contemporary government, which is what Vermeule brings to bear in his important book [7]. The fact that Hamburger is silent about the different arguments made on behalf of the administrative state’s legitimacy (Landis, Kagan, or Mashaw ), speaks about his originalist obliviousness to historical and legal evolutionary nature of the separation of powers. As a process of self-rationalization, the legitimacy of the administrative state is rooted in its immanent force against any transcendental arcanum. Hence, the way to test the status of legitimacy is not by probing on the grounds of the separated powers in 1789 or the seventeenth century, or in terms of what Madison or Montesquieu thought of them, but rather on how well those powers today can withhold actions within a frame of reasonable judgment regarding the material need of the res publica. The administrative state does not stand for a vicarious being, since its delegated powers are not ideal immovable concepts, but rational conditions for risk management of human action.

This leads me to the third and final premise of The Administrative Threat. Hamburger does have something to say about the current condition of citizenship, and it comes by way of the libertarian defense of civil rights. The idea here is that the administrative state trumps individual rights in the name of “public” rights, which Hamburger calls a “disgraceful assault on the Bill of Rights and the due process” (Hamburger 35). This argument is supplanted with a meditation on the historical valance between voting rights and the administrative state. Going as far as to the Wilson presidency, Hamburger shows that throughout the twentieth century, bureaucracies were at odds with the voting rights of disfranchised minorities. Of course, the implicit assertion here befalls on a defense of the courts, primarily the judicial activism of the Warren Court, which Bruce Ackerman, on the opposite side of the political spectrum has called the last legal revolution in American constitutional development [8]. This is even truer today in light of the Shelby County decision, and the rise of Kris Kobach or Jeff Sessions to national public office, both intellectually committed to voting suppression [9]. One could say that both Hamburger and Ackerman, albeit in very different ways, lament the dawn of the traditional judicial authority. But even if there were a one-direction movement between the expansion of rights and the rise of the administrative state, it seems illogical to defend a return of a court-centric model on the basis of past historical experiences.

If we are, indeed, at the end of the court-centric legal revolution model, are we to assume that the dismantling of the administrative state will restore its capacities? I am doubtful of the eschatological weight of such a proposal. And if voting rights is a concern for Philip Hamburger, why isn’t electoral reform an optimal option for democratic expansion? Of course, this would necessary entail something like a Federal Voting Commission, which would in turn require more of the administrative state. But we are in no position to think that if we were to imagine the end of the administrative state (even as a thought experiment), a new type of liberty would be distributed across the board.

Since today we are facing the end of the state form, any historical analogies with the past tremble on very weak grounds. Furthermore, we know that beyond the moment of casting a vote a ballot, a civil equality protection really amounts, as Anatole France used to say, to whether we chose to sleep in a park bench or under bridges. While might be true is that the administrative state is a neutralizer of political dynamics, to use the language of Carl Schmitt; it is in no way reasonable seek its destruction in the name of a libertarian ideal of freedom within an unequal social space. It is defeatist to turn to political theory in exchange for the integrity of administrative legality, as Hamburger seems to do here.

It is rather strange for a libertarian to end a book on a legitimacy crisis quoting Lenin. But there is another implicit paradox here on Hamburger’s part; mainly, that while Lenin offered a theory of state, we cannot say the same for Hamburger. The modern state was able to implement and model itself with commerce, but much harder is to image a state emerging from contemporary anarchic markets. Hamburger writes in a section sarcastically subtitled what is to be done?: “Lenin asked his fellow Russians, “What is to be done?”. Fortunately for Americans, the answer is not revolution but a traditional American defense of civil liberties. To this end, Americans will have to work through all three branches of government. Of course, none of the branches have thus far revealed much capacity to limit administrative power” (Hamburger 61). This is a self-defeating argument, since as Vermeule has argued quite convincingly, even if one could ‘magically’ undue the administrative state and return to the original institutional design of 1789, it will evolve into the administrative state. This is an argument centered on the integrity of the American legal development that Hamburger needs to ignore in order to render somewhat possible the return to the  idolatrous originalism of the separation of powers and principled judicial review. The other part of the ‘what is to be done’ plan resonates with a populist overtone: “Ultimately the defeat of administrative power will have to come from the people. Only their spirit of liberty moves Congress, inspires the president, and braces the judges…” (Hamburger 64).

But who are the People? Is We The People the progressive mobilizing force within a constitutional regime? Is the People here a spirit or idea for the return to the courts? It is difficult to say, mainly, because Hamburger himself has no idea either. I take this to be the impasse of libertarian and liberal thought facing the irreversibility of the administrative state. This explains why libertarians, at times, equate deregulation with lessening the administrative power. This impasse is, in effect, the same currently stamping Trump’s strange brand of populism, which has, on one end, the mission to ‘destroy the administrative state’, and on the other, the nationalist protectionist banner to cushion transnational market forces. For better or worse, neither of these two goals seems plausible together. At best, they represent a double-bind of the liberal impasse. Only in this sense, the administrative state is a temporary katechon [10].

The trumpist complexio oppositorum in the form of a schizophrenic symptom is showing, paradoxically, that the administrative state will only be reinforced through new checks and balances emerging from executive administrative inefficiency. We are now in conditions to reach a somewhat different conclusion from that of Hamburger’s: we are far from an absolutist monarchic regime, since the human cannot endure the absolutism of reality devoid of a sense of anticipation [11]. The principles of delegation and anticipation seem to be two components of the administrative state that have their legitimacy in modern self-rationalization. In the end, it might be Hamburger who, in validating an ostensible and yet dissolute world beyond administration, promises the humanity an archaic absolutism of an unbearable nature. However, no man can live in the absolute. But even if we are to image an alleged triumph of an original law under the supervision of a New Coke, this would require in the form of an eternal recurrence, the invention of the administrative state.

 

 

 

 

Notes

  1. See Braden, George D., “The Search for Objectivity in Constitutional Law”, Faculty Scholarship Series. 4031, 1948. However, for a contending non-political moral stand of the judicial process, see Alexander Bickel. “Constitutionalism and the Political Process”, in The Morality of Consent. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.
  2. See Vermeule’s argument on the lawfulness of administrative law on the principle of delegation through executive power in Law’s Abnegation (2016), 50-54 pp.
  3. Landis will write in The Administrative Process (1938): “A similar development with reference to the administrative seems more a matter of time than of political theory, of demonstration by the administrative that intervention of this character is futile and tends more to prejudice than to further a client’s cause”. 102-103 pp.
  4. Hans Blumenberg. Legitimacy of the Modern Age. MIT, 1985. 125-205 pp.
  5. Sunstein, Cass & Vermeule, Adrian. “The New Coke: On the Plural Aims of Administrative Law”. The Supreme Court Review, Number 1, Volume 2015.
  6. Landis, James M. The Administrative Process (1938). 88 pp.
  7. Vermeule Adrian, Law’s Abnegation: from law’s empire to the administrative state (Harvard U Press, 2016). 56-87 pp.
  8. Ackerman, Bruce. We The People III: The Civil Rights Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.
  9. Berman, Ari. “The Man Behind Trump’s Voter-Fraud Obsession”. New York Times, June 13, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/magazine/the-man-behind-trumps-voter-fraud-obsession.html
  10. On the administrative state as a counter-schmittian katechon, see my “The administrative state as a second Leviathan: a response to Giacommo Marramao”. Although I do not mean by any means that the administrative state is a universal katechon in the way that the Church and the early modern state were, but this I will try to develop somewhere. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/the-administrative-state-as-second-leviathan-a-response-to-giacomo-marramao-by-gerardo-munoz/
  11. On the absolutism of reality and the anthropogenesis of anticipation as an intrinsic separation of powers, see Hans Blumenberg’s Work on Myth (MIT, 1985). 2-40 pp.

A Friendly Katechon: on Adam Joseph Shellhorse’s Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina. By Gerardo Muñoz.

shellhorse 2017Adam Joseph Shellhorse’s Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina (U Pitt Press, 2017) is a bold and timely intervention in a dire moment for “literary studies” in the field of Latin American Studies. What is the epistemological status of the ‘literary’ today, if not an ambiguous force driven by machinistic inertia? The institutional erosion of the discipline’s legitimacy cannot easily be ignored, as every scholar is confronted today with interrogative demands for ‘definition’. Ambitious in scope, theoretically sophisticated, and generous in its readings of a heterogeneous corpus, Shellhorse attempts to understand “what is meant by “literature in contemporary posthegemonic times” (Shellhorse 3). Whether such interrogation opens up a desirable future, is the very heart of this important book.

Anti-Literature departs from the wake of the exhaustion of a well known triad: the Boom as a last attempt to generate a strong allegorical machine; Ángel Rama’s culturalist thinking to come to grip with the uneven development through transculturation; and the political vanguard experiment of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The aftermath of these watershed moments has led to what is now a permanent state of crisis. The end of ‘hegemony’ in Shellhorse’s reflection demands the end of the centralized state form of the literary, but also the turning away from models of ideological Marxist critique, over that of affect, the multiple, and the experimental in writing. Compensatory to this insolvent condition, Shellhorse proposes ‘anti-literature’ as a new framework for literary studies. Although, more urgently, it offers the minimal condition for the task of reading in a present devoid of objective legitimacy, or what Shellhorse calls, perhaps more prudently, a ‘perilous present’ (Shellhorse 16).

The archive Shellhorse attends to is minimalist, functioning hyperbolically for a larger and more programmatic invitation to read in the anti-literature key. The works sketched throughout the book are the following: Lispector’s language of life and the specular feminism of immanence; David Viñas’ ‘half made literature’ as a de-spiritualized materialist gesture in his novel Dar la cara (1962); concrete poetry as a post-culturalist and post-conceptual artifact; Haroldo de Campos and Osman Lins’ poetics of the baroque; and last but not least, a mediation on historical redemption and the messianic in Salgado’s photography and De Campos’ poem “O anjo esquerdo da historia”. Irreducible in style and geopolitical demarcations, all these anti-literary projects negotiate language within the limits of its own materiality while assuming a writing of finitude. This is crucial, as it is what distinguishes Shellhorse’ anti-literature from John Beverley’s known ‘against literature’.

Whereas Beverley demanded an exception to literary hegemony in the name of a subalternist ‘subject’ formalized in the testimonio, Shellhorse’s following Moreiras’ predicament on exhaustion, does not seek to close off the promise and secret of literature, but only to interrupt its identitarian and representational pretensions (Shellhorse 42). Therefore, against the Boom as an ideological critique towards state building on one hand, and testimonio as exception to high literary sovereignty on the other, Shellhorse proposes anti-literature as posthegemonic experimentation through affect and the sensorium. Whereas testimonio demanded hegemonic filiation until the triumphant victory, anti-literature endorses the post-hegemonic in the face of defeat. Anti-literature is only anti-literary to the extent that it demands a relation to the secret of ‘what might come’. This is why Shellhorse’ Anti-Literature is untimely tied to literature as a singular procedure of writing, instead of organizing a counter-canon, in what could be taken as an effort to immunize itself through an alternate ‘aesthetic form’. This is why, it is important that Shellhorse tells us very late in the book:

“…it could be said that anti-literary writers hook up writing to literature’s outside, to nonwriting and egalitarian modes of imaging the community. What is at issue is precisely this: the concept of anti-literature need not restrict itself to an avant-garde, modernist paradigm of the arts. Rather an approach to the anti-literary entails reconceptualizing the problem of writing as a sensory procedure and perpetual force. The question of what is anti-literature can perhaps best be posed only in the wake of literature’s exhaustion, when the arrival of defeatist accounts demands the time for speaking concretely” (Shellhorse 164).

This comes as a warning to careless readers who, perhaps too hazily, will try to inseminate periodical categories of sociology or history of literature to ensure the timelessness of the boundaries of literature’s autonomy. Indeed, Shellhorse immediately writes: “Indeed, bibliography on the nature of literature in the field is marginal” (Shellhorse 164). We can only guess that the very asymmetry between an understudied Argentine writer (Viñas), ranked among giants of modern Brazilian literature (Andrade, De Campos brothers, Lispector), functions as the affective corpus of Shellhorse’s own singular judgment. This is his secret posthegemonic cabinet, just like everyone has his or her own.

By taking distance from an overdetermination based on a ‘historical period’ or a particular ‘literary movement’, Shellhorse performs his own affective caesura against the hegemonic temptation that demands age-old historico-metaphysical entelechies; such as periodization, social context, base/superstructure dichotomy, form, or aesthetic framework. If the book’s starting point is the fall of the legitimacy of Latinamericanism or Hispanism at large, this means that there is no calculative arrangement that can sustain the alleged bona fide of ‘literature’. The polyphonic assemblage regime of tones and signs is also irreducible to a life, to any life, that belongs to the student and professor of literature in the exercise of the imagination. And as I see it, this is what the anti-literature tries to register so suitably to us.

Yet, at first sight there appears as a latent paradox in the book, and it is a problem that I would like to convey, since it remains of one the strong effects of its reading upon me. Of course, I can only hope to solve it in my own name and style, and I hope that others find their own ways to wrestle with the problem. Basically, the problem could be advanced in this way: if we are in a present condition of interregnum, of the total transitional epoch in the field within a larger transformation that Moreiras has called full machination through the principle of general equivalence, where anything is replaceable and interchangeable, why does the book offers yet another frame to re-invent literary studies? [1]. What is the need of literature at a time in which it can no longer speak for itself (the ‘being’ of Literature)? Isn’t the literary today a mere defunct fossilized object, a repetition for commemorations, and museum-like artifact that only seeks the stimuli of social-media to imagine itself Eternal? Literature automatically wants to be part of the ‘museum’, but the trade-off is that the museification of the new demands its own concrete death. It is difficult to name anything interesting in contemporary literature (nothing that can compare with the Boom), and the fact that we keep reading Lezama Lima or Haroldo de Campos or Borges, bears witness to the aftereffect of being able to establish some livable relation with nihilism at the end of literature. Shellhorse does well to inscribe this important symptom in a crucial moment at the end of the book, which opens to an important discussion:

“If “literature” persists in crisis in our field, the task today is to reconstitute its critical force. Literature becomes anti-literature when it subverts itself. My contention is that it is only by bearing witness to this relation of non-essence, non-identify, and non-closure – literature is not literature – that we can begin to read anew” (Shellhorse 166).

I would like to advance the thesis that Anti-literature as a project comes to us in the form of what I would call a friendly katechon. While it is clear that Shellhorse is not proposing a new “turn” beyond literature, anti-literature is not just repetition of the same as the new. To do so would be “old”, since it would be integral to the register of High Modernity up to the readymade, that is, to the museum. Rather, anti-literature is something akin to a shadow that overlaps in what we call “literature”; a sort of dirty stain in the tradition and in the immemorial institutionality of texts. At same time, anti-literature has a reformist undertone, in the theological sense of celebration and transformation through transference.

But it is a katechon to the extent that Anti-literature retains and delays the temporal disappearance of the evermore so irrelevance of literature. As we know, the Pauline Greek word katechon (κατέχον) means restrainer (who or what), a mysterious force that helps avoiding the fall unto the anomia that imposes illegitimacy in any particular historical epoch. Although at times the katechon is understood in tandem with its own archaic regression, I do not think this is Shellhorse’s intention or effect in inviting us to partake in Anti-literature to “begin anew”. The reason is fairly simple: to the extent that we have literature, there is always already excess to every hegemonic phantasm, and that is enough to retain literature as a residual condition for thought, even when we move beyond textualism or politization.

Like Carl Schmitt, who appears in Ex captivate salus, as the last conscious representative of Modern European Law of Nations, Shellhorse appears to us as the last existential witness of the literary in the form of the anti-literary. But like an Anti-Schmittian, he does not succumb in the myth of political theology and Empire. His katechon can only be one of friendship: in the love of the text, and for the friendship of an-other to come. Anyone, at any time. But isn’t this a mirror of the measureless principle of democracy? The friendly katechon does not seek what Nietzsche called the antiquarian relation to History, but rather a reflexive and disinterested democratic thinking. The katechon, in the platonic reading that I favor here, thoroughly deters disintegration of the authentic life of the mind, which is consistent with Lispector’s language of life [2]. That is, literature is no longer revealed as accumulation and principle (archē of the archive), but as homecoming of Justice. Shellhorse explicitly sets foot on this trail this in his reading of De Campos at the very end of the book (which I would like also to de-center from the given messianism):

“Such a field no doubt defines the logic of domination. Justice as a continuous line of singularities: blurs, bends back, and breaks up the reified character of social relations as well as banal accounts of “progress” that fail to count the part that has no part in society. Citable in all their moments, as freed expressions that articulate the desire to be exception, to think the relationless relation, the affective dimension of Campos’ text inscribe the crisis of poetry in the wake of subaltern tragedy” (Shellhorse 196).

But can the Poem be a secondary substitute before the ruin, a safeguard against tripping into the abyss? It is useful to paraphrase Derrida here to remember that, neither the poem nor deus absconditus, neither decorative baroque nor the messianic community, neither the experimental sensorium nor philosophy of history, can exert as hyperbolic condition of any possible living democratic construction [3]. This is only literature’s task. Anti-literature as friendly katechon, keeps this unavowable promise as its dearest secret that nourishes from the democratic expectancy in an incalculable waiting. A politics among friends? It could well be, but only with the caveat that like friends, literature also comes like a stranger late in the day. Will it come again? All of this to say that anti-literature resists succumbing in the nihilistic abyss of equivalence as the last avatar of the contemporary university’s death-drive. The friendly invitation of anti-literature confronts us, once more, as a lux acarna. We only hope that it is not too late, and that another path could open in the very place of what has always been.

 

 

 

 

 Notes

1. Alberto Moreiras. “Universidad. Principio de Equivalencia”. Enero 17, 2017. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/universidad-y-principio-de-equivalencia-hacia-el-fin-de-la-alta-alegoria-borrador-de-conferencia-para-17-instituto-de-estudios-criticos-mexico-df-22-de-enero-2017-por-alberto-moreiras/

2. For example, at one point the baroque/ neo-baroque appears as a trope for anti-literature. In my account, this will amount to the ‘catholic’ affirmation the katechon, raising its status in a complexio oppositorum between archaic and an-archy of the eschatology, which is always political theology. Consider this passage cited from Haroldo de Campos: “…Brazilian culture was born under the sign of the baroque…it cannot be understood from ontological, substantialist, metaphysical point of view. It should not be understood from an ontological, substantialist, metaphysical point of view. It should not be understood in the sense of an idealist quest for “identity” or “national” character. Baroque, paradoxically, means non-infancy. The concept of “origin” here will only fit if it does not imply the idea of “genesis”, of a generative process with a beginning, middle, and maturity…Baroque is, therefore, a non-origin. A non-infancy. Our literature, springing up from the baroque vortex, was never aphastic; it has never developed from a speechless, aphasic-infantile limbo in the fullness of discourse”. 115 pp. The baroque as literary form, even deprived of genesis, seems to lead stray into the “frame” whether in transcendental or immanentist planes of the modern metaphysics of the political.

3. Panagiotis Christias has recently offered a very interesting reading of the figure of the katechon in a platonic key, in which he suggests that the restrainer stands against potential rise of tyranny, thus making the Philosopher, the Greek antecedent of the katechon fearing the disintegration of the polis. To what extent philosophy can deter anomia today is a completely different question. I am interested in the figure of the Philosopher as metonymic for life as it converges with passion without sacrifice. See, Platon et Paul au bord de l’abîme. Pour une politique katéchontique (2014).

Is There an Infrapolitical Dignity Worthy of the Name? By Gareth Williams.

Rome dignitas

Geoffrey Bennington, Scatter 1: The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger and Derrida. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.

My presentation is framed as a question, but is simply an attempt to think alongside scatter, with no definitive response to the question itself. I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Alberto Moreiras for this gathering, and my admiration to Geoffrey Bennington for Scatter 1, which, via the “politics of politics” in Foucault, Heidegger and Derrida, posits a thinking not of the political per se, but of a certain autoimmune distance from the political, which is, of course, a distance from politics understood as the dialectical orientation and administration of force. Bennington proposes a dismantling of the hermeneutics of the political, and, as such, a deconstruction of the originary polemos/polis relation. He does this in such a way as to unveil—that is, to loosen and scatter—just some of the originary concealments that lie at the heart of the political. Bennington presents us with what one might call, perhaps a little inappropriately, a form of anticipatory resoluteness that is extended, however, not in the name of power over Dasein’s existence, as in Heidegger’s not so surreptitious decision, but in the name of autoimmunity. This movement uncovers a “modest falling short of the transcendental”; the potentiality of a turn toward a thinking of autoimmunity that traces the contours of a thinking without mastery; an opening to a certain environmentality within thinking that remains at a significant remove from the dialectic of reason and the certainties of political consciousness that animate every teleology.

We could understand Scatter1, therefore, as a protocol of reading that highlights, and animates, a certain trembling at the heart of the political; a trembling that is covered over, concealed, and systematically rendered oblivious in the name of teleology. Bennington’s is a protocol that is extended with a view to dispersing all fugitive Self-Other concealments. This is obviously not the work of a card carrying Heideggerian, however. Quite the contrary, the author proposes the detours of scatter in such a way as to open up a task for thinking that does not regurgitate Heidegger’s troublesome metaphorics of proximity and gathering; a metaphorics that Derrida in May ‘68 (“The Ends of Man”), but also in his lectures from a few years before On the Question of Being and History, had already outlined as a thinking of “simple and immediate presence, a metaphorics associating the proximity of Being with the values of neighboring, shelter, house, service, guard, voice and listening” (“Ends, 130). As Derrida highlights in reference to Heideggerian metaphorics, this is “not an insignificant rhetoric” (130).

With this in mind, Scatter 1 takes aim at the underlying problems of the “moment of vision” (Augenblikt), which Heidegger developed with a view to anchoring and holding together the factical and the transcendental, the existential and the existentiell; the gathering together of all thrownness, dispersal and ek-sistence. In contrast to Heidegger’s moment of vision, Bennington invites us to approach the politics of politics in the absence of such a problematic metaphorics, in the process raising the question of metaphoricity in general, and along with it the very conceivability of plurality, coexistence and simultaneity.

Echoing Derrida’s “differance”, Scatter 1 offers its readers the tomb of the proper, the death of the tyranny contained in Heidegger’s metaphysics of gathering and proximity (Derrdia, 1972, 4). As such, the politics of politics unveils an economy of death that lies at the heart of the metaphorics of the familial and the proper. Rather than positing presence, scatter loosens, breaches and breaks open in a movement toward the politics of politics; politics in its autoimmune self-difference, or alter. The politics of politics marks not the sign politics, but the sign of the sign, and therefore the opening to the unveiling trace of the erasure of the trace itself. As a result, Scatter is the movement of an autoimmune destitution of political presence that moves in the name of an economy without reserve, always preceding and differentiating itself from the political.

In these movements the politics of politics governs nothing. If it is anything, scatter is the name for that which “lingers in the expanse of unconcealment” (Derrida,”Ousia and gramme), and, as such, in the expanse of the trace of the erasure of the trace. Scatter is a thought of lingering and of falling short. Making the unveiling of oblivion the issue not of politics, but of the politics of politics, scatter suspends teleology from the start, in the name of always, humbly, and necessarily, falling short of gathering. As such, it remains at all times without a kingdom and without an epoch; as Derrida observes in reference to differance, which remains at all times the underlying movement of scatter, it is an “affirmation foreign to all dialectics” (27). As a result, there is no philosophy of bios and zoe available to us here; there is no affirmative biopolitics in scatter. Rather, it is thinking in the name of blind tactics, empirical wandering (Derrida, 7), and the circumventing of the willful politics of the decision, of any specific political consciousness, and of the operation or action of a subject on an object. In scatter sovereignty is nothing and the only democracy worthy of the name would be an-archic.

This is, of course, a fundamental project for our times, understanding our times as our atrocious, forced familiarity with a seismic shift in the coordination of teleology and eschatology that we have come to call globalization. Half a century ago, in “The Ends of Man”, Derrida first approached the question of dignity and democracy, highlighting the following limit: “What is difficult to think today is an end of man which would not be organized by a dialectics of truth and negativity, an end of man which would not be a teleology in the first person plural” (121). Fifty years later our phrasing would have to be slightly different, since that limit evoked by Derrida has been displaced by the globalizaton of techne and the determination of humanity as standing reserve. In these dire circumstances, we might now have to say that what is difficult to think is an end of man that could possibly be organized by a dialectics of truth and negativity, an end of man that could possibly be a teleology in the first person plural, other than that which leads to the eschaton of complete nomic collapse, of course.

It is in this context that Bennington returns to Derrida’s approach to, and distancing from, the Kantian stipulation that a dignity “worthy of the name” be returned to politics, in such a way that a new politics—a repoliticization, another concept of the political—be forged in which rational beings are treated always as an end, “and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will” (Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals). What is ultimately at stake (and this is inevitable in this proposition) is the aporia of a political re-instrumentalization of man as an end in itself, rather than as a value, even though dignitas is only ever an expression of value—of a certain auctoritas—and, as such, the expression of a certain property of the State. The question of force still, and perhaps only ever, haunts this attempt to make room for, and to distance oneself from, dignity in the politics, property and titles of the State.

Bennington asks: “Is it possible to think of a dignity that is not bound up in (and, one might be temped to say, compromised by) the teleological structures of the Kantian Idea?” It is this question that leads to the question of the structure of (in)dignity—the constitutive indignity—that upholds “the supposed dignity of [all] metaphysical concepts”. From an infrapolitical, rather than from a classical political perspective, what is at stake here is how to try to make room not for dignity in real politics, and therefore in the administration of force (auctoritas), but to let the dignity of a remove from the metaphysics of force (that is, a constitutive indignity) be involved in existence. With this question of constitutive indignity in mind, we are left to wonder if there is an infrapolitical inflection—an inflection that is without doubt akin at all times to the protocols of deconstruction, but that is not necessarily bound by the protocols of deconstruction—; I repeat, is there an infrapolitical inflection available to us that might allow us to reckon with the distance from auctoritas, from the property titles of the State or the dignity of metaphysics, from a site other than that of the Kantian inheritance that Derrida reckons with from “The Ends of Man” (1968) all the way through to the end itself in 2004?

At this point I will merely offer an example, and that, precisely, is the weakness of everything that follows (though in Specters of Marx Derrida notes that “an example always carries beyond itself; it opens up a testamentary dimension” (41). I wonder, then, whether in the example there lies the problem and possibility of an infrapolitical inflection that turns away from the political, and turns in the direction of allowing that the dignity of a remove from force be involved not in politics, but in existence.

Of all people, it is Cicero the elderly statesman who might exemplify such an inflection. In a brief essay published in 1960, the Oxford classicist J.P.V.D. Balsdon recounts Cicero’s return from exile and ultimate political capitulation in 56BC, when, in the face of “the prolonged triumph of gangsterdom which followed his exile” (49), Cicero found himself obliged to turn his back on the dignity and prestige of a public life. He had become an ineffective pariah in the motley world of populist resentment. What is at stake in Balsdon’s treatment of this moment in the history of the Republic are the slight shifts in Cicero’s uses of the terms dignitas and otium, together, at this particular time of capitulation and relinquishment.

In general, the term otium referred to the private or retired, as opposed to active public, life. However, in public life otium could also refer to peace and freedom from disturbance, or relief after war and internal disorder (47). It referred to a form of serenity or harmony in the wake of war. Upon Cicero’s political capitulation, Balsdon says, “the opening remark of the De Oratore, [signaling pseudos] which was finished in 55, introduces the new conception ‘cum dignitate otium’. ‘Otium’ is now retirement, the condition of the elder statesman who turns his back on the political. His active political life, his consulships and proconsulships are at an end (49). “Battling through the stormy seas of popular agitation”, observes Balsdon, Cicero had to “make for a different harbor . . . ‘cum dignitate otium’” (50). For the classicist Balsdon this is a harbor of studious relief from disturbance, freedom from agitation, and relief after war and internal disorder, for “persistence in opposition which was doomed to ineffectiveness would not, for the Roman world at large, promote “cum dignitate otium’” (50).

Learning to turn one’s back on the political in order to exist “cum dignitate otium”, learning to be without or in the absence of the dignitas of auctoritas, and, as a result, detouring back toward the constitutive indignity of the pre-political, and doing so while understanding at all times the agitations of the world of force, Cicero would have confronted and suffered the weight of a dignity uprooted from all titles of community. This would have been a dignity without dwelling in political life, and therefore not entirely worthy of its name, since at the same time it would have been a return to a constitutive indignity that was destined to always fall short of the political metaphysics of gathering, of majesty, or of any harbor.

Surely Cicero would have lived it as a “sad or sober pragmatic renunciation of some fuller version of dignity”, as Bennington puts it at the end of Scatter. But perhaps one could speculate that it is here—“cum dignitate otium”, in the infrapolitical turn back to a constitutive indignity that is exposed to real and symbolic death itself—that one could learn to exist, think, and write in an infrapolitical rather than a political fashion. It is there that one might have to learn to live with the without, in such a way as to exist not in the name of dignity or of a future politics or communal title anchored by the sublime or the general structure of “going beyond”, but in the name of a without that nevertheless lets the dignity of the remove from the public world of force be involved in existence. Perhaps it is cum dignitate otium’s passive movement of allowing to be involved in existence—of a care for that which comes at a remove from the biopolitical orientation and administration of forcethat forges the possibility not of a new democratic form, of a re-democratization built liberally on the logics of inclusion and exclusion, but of an infrapolitical scatter of mastery and title that casts freedom from among the ashes.

An explanation for ‘deconstructing the administrative state’. By Gerardo Muñoz.

A few weeks ago at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), when Steve Bannon, Donald J. Trump’s White House chief strategist, laid out the principle of “the deconstruction of the administrative state” as one of the immediate objectives of the Trump administration, there followed a storm of commentaries. For academics in the humanities, it was a perfect setting to mock ‘deconstruction’, and assert the un-political character of this so called “theoretical trend” in the academia, easily linking Derrida with Bannon’s strategic plan.

Just to cite one of many examples, French writer Alain Mabanckou twitted: “Steve Bannon, le mentor de Trump parle de “deconstruction” du povuir de Washington. Deconstrution? Srait-il un lecteur de Derrida?”. Many more followed on social media and in academic groups. These witty remarks were, of course, written under the sign of irony, which is certainly a central stimmung of our time. But irony is also one of the most serious genres to discuss a serious affair, of which I would like to briefly contemplate. Of course, my intention is not to defend Derrida, or even worse, to prove that Bannon has not read Derrida. I am sure that Bannon has not read Derrida, and even if he has heard of him, or someone told him a few things about deconstruction as a critical strategy of contemporary thought, this is irrelevant.

Bannon’s usage of deconstruction of the administrative state is correct, although in another sense. For one thing, deconstructing the administrate state is a technical term used in sociology and political science analysis as it relates to the fiscal state. In his new book Democracy against Domination (2017), Sebeel Rahman discusses the deconstructive force of computative fiscal logic over institutional structures and governmental regulatory bureaucracy [1]. In a good portion of the literature, whenever the notion of deconstruction of the administrative state is used, it refers directly to the dismantling of the fiscal regulatory apparatus (see Norris 2000). Whereas it might, at first sight, seem that Bannon is misinformed or just downright clownish, he is deeply versed in the specific discipline that he wants to target; mainly, political science of the welfare state as it has been discussed from the New Deal onwards.

One could press this point even further: the idea that Bannon wants to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’ does not merely amount to ‘more neoliberalism’ as cultural critics seem to reduce the problem. This is part of the truth, but not the whole truth. The attempt to attack the administrative state entails a serious assault on the rule of law, since as the most intelligent constitutionalists have recently noted, the administrative state is today the legal structure that has supplanted legitimacy over the deficit of presidentialism of the executive branch. Adrian Vermuele (2016) makes it clear that the administrative state is the law’s greatest triumph after the weakening of the separation of powers. This ultimately entails, that perhaps Bannon is well aware that it is not enough to destroy a democratic society from the standpoint of a sovereign executive, since it must be done from the very place where the rule of law resides, and this is where the administrative state plays a fundamental role. Bannon’s deconstructive gesture goes to the heart of the rule of law, which we have already started seeing as a check mechanism to Trump’s rampant executive unilateralism. Hence, the rumor that says that Bannon is a Leninst should be taken very seriously: Leninism seeks the destruction of the state and rule of law in order to create a dictatorship of the proletariat, which is Bannon’s civilizational response to globalization [2]. Bannon is a full-fleshed anti-institutionalist who admires not only Lenin, but also the decade of the thirties that he has called “exciting”.

At this point, it is perhaps almost unnecessary to say that Derrida’s deconstruction has little do with Bannon’s loaded attack on institutions of the welfare state. However, what is important is to note that Bannon’s articulation of deconstruction is inequivalent to Derrida, and a comparison becomes only possible if one subscribes to a transparent conceptual reservoir of the linguistic turn in order to abuse it. Thus, whenever a linguistic component is emphasized as hyperbolic of intellectual thought, the latter is suspended to favor an easy advantage in tandem with anti-politics.

Derrida emphasized that deconstruction was a condition of democracy, and that democracy could not take place without deconstruction. Democracy is really not a political concept in Derrida’s thought. It is not reducible to a tradition of “intellectual history”, and not even to the primal causation of life as predicated in the political. Such was, for Derrida, the exemplary nature of Mandela [3]. But to the extent that it solicits unconditional hospitality, it alters the alterity of the singular that is never reducible to political finality. This coming of friendship or non-enmity is another way of thinking through an infrapolitical existence. It is this demotic existence beyond the political what Bannon wants to destroy and obstruct in a move that is both fully ultra-political and non-political.

Notes

  1. K. Sebeel Rahman. Democracy against Domination. Manhattan: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  2. “Steve Bannon, Trump’s top guy, told me he was ‘A Leninst’ who wants to ‘destroy the State’. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/22/steve-bannon-trump-s-top-guy-told-me-he-was-a-leninist.html
  3. Jacques Derrida. The Politics of Friendship. London: Verso, 2005. P.102-106. “Admiration of Nelson Mandela, or The Laws of Reflection”, Law & Literature, Vol.26, 2014.

Abendland: on Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Banality of Heidegger. By Gerardo Muñoz.

nancy-banalityJean Luc Nancy’s The Banality of Heidegger (Fordham, 2017) is yet another contribution to the ongoing debate on Heidegger and Nazism, in the wake of the publication of the Black Notebooks in recent years. Originally delivered as a conference on Heidegger and the Jews in 2014, Nancy’s brief essay expounds on other contributions on the topic, such as those by Peter Trawny, Donatella Di Cesare, and the Heidelberg Conference of 1988 (now also available) between Georg Gadamer, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Jacques Derrida. Nancy’s intervention in the debate is important for several reasons; one of them being that the essay maps the strange career of the ‘banality of antisemitism’ into philosophical discourse. And not just any philosophical discourse, but Heidegger’s discourse, which remained ambitious, as we know, in unleashing a destruction of Western metaphysics for the recommencement of thought. Moving beyond Arendt’s own characterization of banality, Heidegger, in Nancy’s view, is not an administrator that followed the categorical imperative immunized by a bureaucratization of moral judgment. The banality of antisemitism in Heidegger is the displacement of the juridical register into the proper philosophical one (Nancy 2). This is why, for Nancy, the catastrophe of Heidegger’s philosophical antisemitism is a failure that also happened to us in thought, and that it is still very much open as a possibility for us today (Nancy 62). In a certain way, Nancy’s essay also reads as a timely warning for anyone wanting to commit to thinking at all.

Nancy’s point of departure shares Peter Trawny’s hypothesis elaborated in Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy (2015) that the Jew possesses absent historiality that does not allow for destinial movement towards soil, decision, and people (Nancy 25).  The technical term for historial, as Jeff Fort reminds us in the Preface, corresponds to weltgeschichtlich, and could also be translated as “world-historical”. This provenance explicitly thematizes the banal anti-semitic myth coming out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but also from Theodor Lessing’s “Jewish Self-Hatred” published in the 1930s. It is hard to know how Heidegger would have not known these works, although harder is to think how they arrived as such a central place in his philosophy. In fact, this is the ‘knot’ of the banality of antisemitism in philosophical thought. The Jew in Heidegger’s thinking becomes metonymic for machination and gigantism, democracy and Americanism. In fact, according to Nancy, Heidegger’s anti-jewish trope might have fallen into what he has called the principle of general equivalence, in which humanity is flattened out by generalities of particular traits that come to represent the total abendland or decline of the West. Nancy writes, rehearsing here arguments from his previous Truth of Democracy and After Fukushima:

“But the machination that gives rise to such a naturalist principle leads in the direction of a complete ‘deracialization’ of a humanity reduced to the undifferentiated equality of all, and in general of all beings. It is interesting to note that the argument is not very far removed from the one in which Marx qualifies money as a “general equivalent” in which productive humanity is alienated from its proper existence and therefore from its value or meaning…[..]. The Jewish people is the identifiable agent, property identifiable (or more properly, a bizarre notion that must no doubt be recognized), of what at the same time is a broad composition of masses and identities, America or Americanism, communism and technics, French, English, Europeans, Germans, even, and “Abendland”, evening, decline, collapse. At bottom, the “decline of the west” is a pleonasm.” (Nancy 15-18).

The consequence of such operation is clear: the principle of general equivalence entails an extreme and unprecedented form of evil. Hence, Nancy concludes, rightly so, in my opinion, that no generality can contain or exempt a true opening from its system. Then, we must assume that there is really no authentic “letting be” in Heidegger’s thought. In fact, the exclusive-inclusive status of Judaism in heideggerianism is hyperbolic to the disastrous limitations of the ‘letting be’ in his philosophy. This will also be consistent with Giorgio Agamben’s reservations in L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014) of the gelassenheit as shorthand for the logic of the political ‘ban’. The philosophical status of the Jew in Heidegger, starting in the thirties onward, is marked by the assumption that the Jew is the main figure (and its gestalt, meaning that is also giving shape) of Western decline. This formulation is only possible from the standpoint of the condition of equivalence. The kernel of equivalence in Nancy’s Banality of Heidegger is the strongest critique, as far as I am aware, directed against Heidegger’s anti-semitism. I say this for two reasons, which are connected to Nancy’s argument, but that I will try to push towards a different direction.

First, if antisemitism is integrated in the principle of equivalence, this allows for thinking the problem of democracy, not abandoning it. This implies that the principle of democracy is not surpassed by Heidegger’s own convergence of the term as identical to the event of the “masses”, “people”, “race”, or “technical development”. Nancy asks the question in light of the “Jew”, but one could also alter the term by asking for the status of “democracy” in Heidegger’s thought. In fact, Heidegger’s politics in the Black Notebooks advance a strong position for a metapolitics of the people, which Nancy does not get to discuss in such a brief essay.  This is consistent with Heideggerian emphasis on ‘original beginnings’ (in the Greek sense, which Nancy does overtly emphasize), amounting to a rhetoric of reversibility. In fact, Heidegger’s position on the Jew is equally grounded in what I would call a metapolitics of reversibility, that is, a firm belief that capitalist democracy is reversible and that there is a, or some, originary beginnings. Heidegger’s antidemocratic metapolitics points to his most extreme failure, since democracy as a practical political arrangement in the name of the singular is always fissured, evolutionary, and opened to contingent configurations in its divisions of power without reassurance for the destinial [1]. This is also why only democratic republicanism can be a politics without metapolitics and without arcana. Heidegger’s thought in the Black Notebooks and elsewhere is anti-democratic as much as it is anti-semitic, or it is anti-democratic because it is anti-semitic.

My second reason: any talk of the past presupposes a sense of history of the human. At one point in the essay, Nancy rightfully points to something not always discussed in Heidegger: “It was important to him [Christianity], therefore, above all not to retain the traces of other beginnings throughout the history of the West, and especially not at the points of its most perceptible inflections (Christianity, Renaissance, the industrial and democratic revolution). At the same time, the rejection or exclusion of the Jews by Christianity aims to reject and exclude something could complicate even disturb the strict Christian initiality” (Nancy 56). Nancy concludes that in Heidegger’s work there was never an attempt to flesh out the differences between Christian dogmatics and non-apologetics, the Church and its forms of communizations. Thus, Heidegger remained oblivious to the survival of Christian forms. In the indiscriminate package ‘Judeo-Christian onto-theology’, the equivalence surfaces as yet another form of emphasizing the course of the destinial sending of the West, while leaving aside a more complicated history proper to the human. Also, since destination was always thought as an aftereffect of errancy, Nancy suggests, following Rigal, that the Heideggerian errancy never abandoned the arcanum of an originary proper beginning and a possible recommencement. This is even stranger if we are to consider Judaism’s provenance in errancy without territory.

But this slight neglect is the place where Heidegger is closer to the doctrinal philosophy of Hitlerism. Since, as historian Timothy Snyder has shown, Hitler believed that the Jew was a vicarious agent of technology and capital, lacking territory and place, which only after its destruction could the notion of the ‘struggle of the species’ reappear in truth and proper light [2]. It does nothing to the argument to respond that Heidegger remained detached from the racial or biological assumptions of Hitlerism. It only matters that he shared the belief of the destruction of the Jewish people, and the Jew as one of the ‘oldest figures’ (sic) of self-destruction.

The essay concludes with Nancy’s two pleas to continue thinking with and through Heidegger: first, to break away with the historical mode of progress as a world conquest made by man with “exponential finalities” and second, to reject any substantial intromission into a new “ontology”, while opening errancy against any destinial metapolitics (Nancy 58). One wonders to what extent the late Heidegger came to subscribe the second position, or if the Ereignis is the continuity of thought in banality and bad faith (Nancy seems to think the latter). It is much harder to accept the rejection of the idea of progress. Although, this is the common ground that both Nancy and Heidegger share as reject sons from the project of the Enlightenment. Yet, as we remain alert to ways of questioning its irreversibility, we know that this is still today a strong antidote against common banalities.

Notes

  1. I sympathize with José Luis Villacañas’ critique of Heidegger’s return to the Greek beginning in his Teología Política Imperial: una genealogía de la división de poderes (Trotta, 2016).
  1. Timothy Snyder. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. New York: Tim Dugan Books, 2016.

Acts of Engagement: on Marranismo e Inscripción. (Djurdja Trajkovic)

What is the relation between negative engagement and deconstruction? Negative engagement is a singular engagement of separation that instead of proposing a binary problem/solution proper to contemporary thinking, offers new questions and the possibility of pushing thought further. It is negative since it does not look for empathy nor compassion, neither redemption nor recognition. It is an engagement that abandons the “state of things”, only to open up thought to the unthinkable, and to the difficult experience of freedom. It is engagement as a form of life, since what is at stake is a relation to existence outside of hegemony, identity, and quality; that is, at the margins of institution (if there is such a thing anymore).

In Moreiras’ anti-book, Marranismo e Inscripción (Escolar & Mayo, 2016), we bear witness to such a difficult intervention. It is a book made up of heterogeneous writings, some highly intimate, others profoundly distant, which overwhelms the reader with their arduous insistence and demand for thinking. It is as if Moreiras is repeating the Heideggerian conclusion that we have not even begun to think. And what is there to think about in “times of interregnum”?

Firstly, the crucial task that Alberto offers up for thought is what cannot be said: the crisis of the Humanities. Suggesting that we do not posses even the concepts or language with which we could start this process, Moreiras is suspicious of returns to national history and grand (canonical) literature. If this is a crisis of crisis, how do we think about the Humanities within the eye of the storm? What kind of crisis are we bearing witness to? It seems that the Humanities has become sort of a bad word: it is a space where a fundamental interrogation on the state of humanity could have been put into question once, and that today increasingly mirrors only the loss of academic jobs of academics and its contingency. Global capitalism turns a necessity, the cultivation of thought and the letter, into contingency by naturalizing the status quo and refusing to recognize the conflict.

Important as it may be to address the contingency of academic work, however, the crisis is profound since what is at its heart is the very crisis of thought and intellectuality. It seems that the brutal acceleration and instrumentalization of life itself has surpassed our capability to rethink it without falling into nostalgia and melancholia and other “solutions” that lead nowhere. I am not suggesting here embracing all too quickly a “happy” form of living without really dwelling into the question of globalization. But does anyone really need the Humanities anymore, if anyone ever really did? Is the university, as a space of hospitality without condition, possible today? Can the Humanities offer once again a thought of/for transformation? How is transformation to be enacted irreducibly to wishful thinking and pure dreaming? Critical thinking stutters here, as it fears its own disappearance.

There is no room for cynicism or nihilism, however. And even if there is, we must reject it. The situation is difficult, unbearable. Inviting us to abandon recognition, Moreiras underlines the acknowledgment of finitude; the very possibility of doubt and doubting of decolonial and communist impulses (you may want to revise this last phrase, as it is difficult to figure out what you mean). He is one of the rare thinkers who trace the problem of the temporality of thinking itself. For example, he asserts that our accustomed “tools” fail us today as the exhaustion of modern (political) concepts is beckoning us. Perhaps we are bearing witness to the death of modernity. And yet, Moreiras does not offer to salvage those concepts but instead proposes without proposition a further deconstruction of politics. One must ask then what is left of politics and the political after deconstruction? What is unthinkable after deconstruction? Is deconstruction in need of deconstruction? Is deconstruction possible in the eye of a mass depolitization that the failure of neoliberalism made visible?

Infrapolitics, as something that happens, offers itself as the radicalization of deconstruction. It is a labor of difficult passion, of possibilization of the impossible, and a constant search, a desire, for the outside. Moreiras himself is hesitant to affirm if and when such a possibility might open up. Certainly not today when the conditions of possibility of/for thinking in the university of equivalence have closed even the possibility of putting into question the university itself and division of labor. Not even to mention the anti-intellectuality and anti-theoretical turn haunting the Humanities. After all, all is said and done, right? And yet, at the same time, Moreiras does not want to abandon the possibility of a new historicity, a new writing of history irreducible to instrumentalization and to the capture of history for supposedly progressive goals.

How to exercise such a demand? I believe that the question is not anymore ‘what is to be done’ but how to think the end of doing and the beginning of thinking. At the heart of his intervention is a thinking of radical democracy, a demand for a freedom of life liberated from the identitarian and hegemonic drives, a demand for other thought and time irreducible to the techno-political machine which captures experience and knowledge into another fetish and concept to be applied. In Moreiras we are distant from destruction, and what is being offered is the very possibility of experiencing freedom anew.

How so? He suggests in his reading of Javier Cercas’ El impostor that thinking is inseparable from freedom, not inseparable from love as for Jean Luc Nancy, but freedom itself. Thinking is irreducible to philosophy and literature is the risk one must take if there is going to be freedom at all. Thinking is sick thought. And only patient attention to this sickness (how could it be otherwise after the violence of metaphysics?) through the cultivation of other thought and letter could bring about the “cure”. However, the cure is not restoration of health but precisely the opening, the region, where freedom could appear. Moreiras uses here a curious word, “appearing,”- which is not appearance but “appearing.” For example, freedom appears when and if, a (wo)man opens herself to letting it be, when the character is separated from destiny, and when we consider what we are not and what we have not been able to be. Also letting it be so that the unknown can appear. Not doing but being. Is this the attempt to write a history of what has not happened and could have been? It is certainly a demand irreducible to “restorative nostalgia.”

This is a similar suggestion to what Sergio Chejfec exercises in his Los incompletos. We are not speaking here of mourning, but of the possibility of confronting the real as unforeseeable, as imperfect and inconclusive past. When we understand that, as Javier Marias reminds us, grace without use is also “la suma de todas las posibilidades no realizadas en nuestras vidas no como destino fallido”. Perhaps only then we will be ready to let freedom appear in its inexhaustibility. This is the task and promise of brave negative engagement for any Hispanist.

‘Chasing the hare with the ox, swimming against the swelling tide’: Towards a Posthegemonic Institutionality. by Gerardo Muñoz

*(Paper read at the workshop “Left Behind: The Ends of Latin America’s Left Turns”, held at Simon Fraser University, December 5, 2016. Organized by Jon Beasley-Murray.)

In an important moment of Alberto Moreiras’ new book Marranismo e inscripción (2016) we read: “La sospecha de no ser lo suficiente correctos en política, con todo el misterio terrífico que esa determinación tiene en la academia [norteamericana], pesó siempre sobren nuestras cabezas como una grave espada de Damocles y todavía pesa…” (Moreiras 125). It might be a good ocassion to say upfront that the waning of the progressive cycle in Latin America will most likely revive old affective demands and well-known pieties that the Left never affords to give up. Someone will be blamed for the broken plates, and the burden of those “left behind”. But this moment should be seized to think not what ‘politics’ should or must do (in Latin America and beyond), but rather how to think politics in what already is taking place. Or to question if perhaps the political today amounts to nothing more than what Arnaut Daniel said of the poet: “[He] chases the hare with the ox, swims against the swelling tide”. Can the paralysis of politics be something other than hunting or resistance?

As this 2016 comes to a close, we have witnessed a series of drawbacks in the political landscape of Latin America: from the outcome of the referendum in Bolivia to the electoral victory of Mauricio Macri’s PRO in Argentina, not to speak of Dilma Rousseff parliamentary impeachment in Brazil. There has been other lesser-known events, although no less disturbing, such as Roxana Pey’s arbitrary dismissal as First President of Universidad de Aysén by the current Chilean Minister of Culture after proposing a debt free and non-corporate public education. The sense of ‘exhaustion’ is at the thicket of the progressive cycle and has only deepened in the last two years, although this prognosis is more than just a motto of ‘ultra-leftistism’. Recently, high profile figures of the so-called Pink Tide governments have also voiced a sense of political stagnation and defunct space to reignite the original rhythm that took place at the turn of the century.

Just about a week ago, in a conversation that took place at Columbia University between philosopher Étienne Balibar and Vice-President of Bolivia Alvaro Garcia Linera, the latter stated that we are now in turbulent times where no horizon is in clear sight. It might be true that the unsettling remark might have partly been influenced in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death as the symptom of Latin American Left’ symbolic orphanhood, although Castro died far from leaving a relevant political legacy. I think many will agree that the guerrilla warfare, the Partido Único, or the concept of ‘struggle’ plays no role in the future of the Latin American Lefts. Yet such announcement from the Vice-President of the Bolivian Plurinational State seems to put to a halt the deep political conviction for transformation that he himself theorized in a wide range of orienting categories such as ‘creative contradictions’, ‘planetary ayllu’, or ‘communist horizon’.

The deficiency of a visible political vista means that we are in times of interregnum; a time when the modern epochality is left behind and a new one that has yet to materialize. The interregnum describes an extraneous temporality that fissures the antinomies of architectonics of modern politics – autorictas and potestas, constituent and constituted power, legitimacy and legality – carrying the very economy between thought and action in a threshold of indeterminacy. At the closure of epochality we are obliged to rethink once again the limits of the Latinamericanist conditions of reflection in light of the contemporary transformation of the space or object of knowledge that we call Latin America. A few years ago, John Beverley made an attempt to propose a new paradigm in his Latinamericanism after 9/11 (2011) under the preliminary notion of post-subalternism, which he defined as an alliance between subaltern and the new progressive State:

“The question of Latinamericanism is, ultimately, a question of the identity of the Latin American state…I would like to suggest here an alternative that is post-subaltenrist, ‘post’ in the sense that it displaces the subaltenrist paradigm but is also a consequence of that paradigm in that it involves rethinking the nature of the state and of the national popular from the perspectives opened by subaltern studies. …This possibility has a double dimension: how can the state itself be radicalized and modified as a consequence of bringing into it demands, values, experiences from the popular subaltern sectors, and how, in turn, from the state, can society can be remade in a more redistributive, egalitarian, culturally diverse way (how hegemony might be constructed from the state, in other words). (Beverley 110-116)”.

The post-subalternist option largely depends on the temporalization of the State-people alliance, which leaves pressing questions relative to State form and patterns of accumulation untouched, or any excess that disrupts the culturalist consensus at the heart of every hegemonic articulation. The problem that arises from this specific conceptual design is that with the rise of the New Rights, which continue to operate on the basis of the expansion of social inclusion through consumption, the hegemony of a ‘non-State that acts as a State’ (another way through which Beverley defines postsubalternism), will be set to accomplish two simultaneous tasks: on the one hand, contain and polish the heterogeneity or savage dimension of ‘the people’ into the metaphoricity of national-popular representation; while on the other, reducing the State’s structures and institutions to the management of geopolitical processes and rent distribution. In a rather counterintuitive way, the post-sulbanternist option reenacts the decionism from the instrumentalization of the state as the exception to post-sovereign capital in the name of the people.

At the same time, facticity is now fully post-subalternist, but for the opposite reasons as those imagined by Beverley: hegemony’s de-hiearchization and economic administration convergences with the neoliberal general equivalent as real subsumption of capital renders hegemonic politics obsolete for substantial change. Ultimately, post-subalternist alliance curbs posthegemonic temporal intrusion, which forces a relentless displacement of its object of identification to disregard the constitutive tragic repetition of the fissure in its closure.

Post-subalternism is an attempt to reawake the specter of hegemony from the ruins of the political: from the inside it stands politics of subjectivization by the State, and from the outside, as a metapolitical form of order (katechon) to detain internal social explosion (Williams 61).

In recent years the post-subalternist paradigm has been somewhat displaced by what I have called elsewhere a ‘communal or communitarian turn’ (Muñoz 2016). Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar, a key thinker of communal horizontalism and also the author of the influential book Los ritmos de Pachakuti: Movilización y levantamiento indígena-popular en Bolivia (2008), at the end of last year conjured a radical turn towards the “communal” as the site for a new political program. In a more urgent tone, Huascar Salazar Lohman in Se han adueñado del proceso de lucha (2015) defines the position as following:

“Lo relevante es afirmar que la transformación heterogénea y multiforme que emerge de los entramados comunitarios implica la capacidad de dar forma a su reproducción de la vida social, trastocando, trans-formando o reformando la propia forma de la dominación…La manera en que los entramados comunitarios enfrentan al capital es a partir de vetos que permiten conservar, establecer, o restablecer relaciones sociales para reproducción la vida. En este sentido, el telos o el horizonte de deseo que media la lucha comunitaria es el despliegue de su propia forma de reproducir la vida, es decir, ampliar su capacidad de formación” (Salazar Lohman 35).

For both Gutierrez Aguilar and Salazar Lohman, the communitarian horizon requires breaking away from the dichotomy of civil society and State in order to relocate the temporal vitality of an autonomous re-production of life and the re-appropriation of that which the state has expropriated from communal property. However, if the communitarian form is not determined a priori by domination and capital, why is the emancipatory potential of the communitarianism emphasized solely on the basis of re-appropriation of what is valorized in the State? Salazar Huascar himself provides the answer to us when alluding to Bolivar Echevarria’s reconceptualization of the notion of use-value as yielding something like an inner exception within the logic of exchange. Communitarism, then, re-translates use-value as locational propriety.

Ironically, this is not very different from Álvaro Garcia Linera’s own attempt to “restore the communal (ayllu), against the logics of subsumption, through a re-functioning of culture and democracy and the recent juridical-political attempting to contain the ‘cunning of capital’ as it imposes its logics through its others…” (Kraniauskas 48). Although it seems the polar opposite of Huascar’s position, Garcia Linera’s instrumentalization of the communitarian through use-value mediates an indianization of the subject of social emancipation in the ‘community form’” (Kraniauskas 48). In fact, communitarianism ends up offering yet another exceptional particularism legitimized by the normative assumption of propriety and properness via-a-vis collective decision-making ( as ‘participacion directa y obligatoria’), and an alternative biopolitics of the ‘reproduction of life’ (reproducción de la vida). Communitarianism as a locational politics of resistance is already contained in the State’s shadow of community use-value, which is inverted on behalf of communitarian decisionism.

A similar paradox is at the heart of Diego Sztulwark and Veronica Gago’s essay that expands the temporality of the ‘end’ of the Latin American progressive cycle from below. On the one hand, they note that neoliberalism runs parallel to constituting a governmentality from above, and is also “inextricably linked to popular consumption, apparatuses of indebtness, and new forms of violence” as two dynamics that permute and sustain one another” from below (Gago & Sztulwark 610). While discerning the spectral dimension of contemporary flexible capital, they immediately move on to claim that it is on this plane where new counter-powers are transformed, modes of weaving together a resistance and a set of practical actions for political efficacy… (Gago & Sztulwark 612). However, counter-hegemonic subjective vitalism is already captured by the plasticity of financial subjectivization. Thus, this new vitalism framed solely as resistance only lifts political imagination to the domain of stasis or civil war already taking place in the territories, in which the struggle for subsistence takes the form of a neo-Francicanism eschatology (minimal relation to propriety) immanent to the financial subaltern bodies.

I would like to suggest that the two reflexive options sketched above, that of a post-subaltern state and the particular communitarian horizon, coincide in fashioning a politics of resistance after the closure of hegemonic principles. At the same time, the failure of hegemonic theory in the region is in this sense neither accidental nor limited to the temporalization of the so-called progressive cycle, since it also characteristic of the phenomenology of the originary fissure in the State form over the last two hundred years.

Hegemony or hegemon as an ultimate ontology of the political constitutes itself as a phantasm, which following Reiner Schürmann, denies the tragic dimension of the singular, translating norms and legislating laws in the name of its own sovereign principle. A phantasm is hegemonic when an entire culture relies on it as if it provided that in the name of which one speaks and acts. Such a chief-represented (hêgemôn) is at work upon the unspeakable singular classifying, inscribing, and distributing proper and commonality (Schürmann 22). In this sense, communitarianism and state hegemony are not just contending procedures of political decisionism, but more importantly, the two poles of a same structure waged on life as ultimate referent.

This is why, according to Schürmann, there is a “kind of joy of violent submission to it. Perhaps the intoxication they wish for us, or that we wish for ourselves through them” (Schürmann 29). To the extent that is waged on life, there has always been hegemony, although only as a phantasmatic economy to flatten and systematically erase the time of the tragic, whenever it appears to interrupt and ascend into the political principle. This is the time of the singular that is neither reducible to a subject in the eventfulness of history (a movement, a people or a multitude), nor a cultural schematization of identity and difference.

The challenge for thought is necessarily post-hegemonic, which I define as the potentiality for institutionalization of the tragic (singularity) in the anomic epoch of neoliberal administration. It is no coincide that both communitarian and hegemonic options define themselves against institutions, and they both respond to the moment of crisis of political epochality. A reformulation of an institutional form can mediate the ever-present pendulum movement that oscillates from neoliberal deregulation to the populist anti-institutionalism and back. But it so happens that populism does not posses a theory of institutionality, therefore is in no condition of providing a strategy to cope with the movement of the pendulum (Villacañas 2016). Since populism is always a decision on a concrete existential situation, it always remains attached to the perpetuity of the state of crisis as a decision made on and for life (understood in the Greek sense of krisis as judgment). As such, populism is the temporality of expropriation, and its process of abstractation into finite demands coincides with the money form (general equivalent) that structures the contemporary financial body of the living.

In the introduction to their edited volume Left Turns (2010), Beasley-Murray & Cameron & Herschberg noted that “if the Latin American states are to survive their current crisis of legitimacy they then need to be better funded, more efficient, and more reflexive of public preferences…the entire political class confronts the challenge of refunding the Latin American State” (Cameron & Herschberg 6). This was the promise and the stakes .Since then, the Latin American Progressive Cycle’s extreme presidencialism led to the withering of institutionalization making it easier for an accelerated restructuring of the State’s institutions by the New Rights technocrats. As the populist interpellation between friend and enemy evaporates in each political cycle, the price to be paid is life as thetic communitarian identity formation or as counter-hegemonic biopolitical vitalism. Constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman alerts in his The Decline and Fall of the American Republic (2010) that the expansion of the powers of the ‘most dangerous branch’ (executive) effectively prepares the ground for an ominous neoliberal anti-institutionalization. This is what lurks in United States’ political future after the President-elect Donald Trump, and more generally, what haunts the spatial configuration of every western state’s void of legitimacy.

A posthegemonic institutionality for post-hegemonic times seeks the thinking of another relation with the political that is not reducible to the principle of a hegemonic phantasm as the oblivion of its own excess to equivalence. But perhaps more importantly here is how to think a posthegemonic institutional form that that would break away from the indeterminate concrescence of law as always already short-handed for internal exceptionality in order to redirect and put in motion the temporality of development. Thus, a posthegemonic institutionality will thrive to move beyond a notion of interruption or an insurrectionary moment dispensed in the phantasm of hegemony.

How can we imagine a form of life instituted not only in its irreducibility to the movement of vital ‘rhythm’, but in the arrival of the day after, when the last lights have gone off, after everyone has returned home, and mobilization gives way to demobilization? In his book on the Spartacist uprising, Furio Jesi says that the ‘decisive day of freedom’ is that which takes place the day after tomorrow, in which the time of living is not exhausted in life or death (Jesi 134). The crucial distinction here is a temporal one: living against life or death.

To institutionalize not life in the frame of biopolitics or communitarism, constituent power as passage to constituted power, but a destituent time of the living. The day after tomorrow is posthegemonic demobilization as distance from political ontology and its conversion into metapolitical community. Only by institutionalizing the temporality of an improper singularity could something like an inequivalent and ungraspable form of democracy and radical freedom could be conceived as the new truth in and beyond politics.

Bibliography

Ackerman, Bruce. The Decline and Fall of the American Republic. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Beverley, John. Latinamericanism after 9/11. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.

Cameron, Maxwell & Herschberg, Eric. Latin America’s Left Turns: Politics, Policies, and Trajectories of Change. Boulder: Reinner Publishers, 2010.

Gago Verónica & Sztulwark Diego. “The Temporality of Social Struggle at the End of the “Progressive” Cycle” in Latin America”. SAQ, 115:3, July 2016.

Kraniauskas, John. “Universalizing the ayllu”. Radical Philosophy, 192, July-August, 2015.

Moreiras, Alberto. Marranismo e inscripción. Madrid: Escolar & Mayo, 2016.

Muñoz Gerardo (ed.). “The End of the Latin American Progressive Cycle” (dossier). Alternautas (3.1, July 2016). http://las.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2016/11/Alternautas_End-of-Progressive-Cycle-Dossier-2016.pdf

Salazar Lohman, Huascar. “Se Han adueñado del proceso de lucha”: horizonte comunitario-populares en tensión y la reconstitución de la dominación en la Bolivia del MAS. La Paz: autodeterminación, 2015.

Schürmann, Reiner. Broken Hegemonies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Villacañas, José Luis. Populismo. Madrid: La Huerta Grande, 2015.

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Williams, Gareth. “Los límites de la hegemonía”. Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina (Castro Orellana, ed.). Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2015.