Hölderlin on the serene life. by Gerardo Muñoz

In a letter from the beginning of 1799 addressed to his mother, Hölderlin makes a sort of confession that fully illuminates (in a multum in parvo fashion) what he understood as a quiet or serene life. Or at least, it allows to grasp how he comes to envision it and towards what end. At first sight, what is striking is its bare literalness, too strange for a poet, and too mundane if it were not for its intrinsic lyricism. It is a lyricism that comes forth effortlessly, which speaks to the quality of its furtive testimony. Literalness is also described in its engagement with the world – and, more fundamentally, the sufficient condition for sense to emerge. This is the fragment in question (from Helena Cortés’ translation of the correspondence):

“No quise rechazar de plano para tener por si acaso una vía de escape, y sobre todo puesto que se ofrece a buscarme una plaza que consiste en acompañar a la universidad a un jovencito. Conocer más mundo (conocer el pueblo alemán le es tan necesario, especialmente a todo el que quiera convertirse en un escritor alemán, como conocer el suelo al jardinero) es al fin y al cabo la única compensación que me puede ofrecer una situación tan fatigosa, y lo alejado del lugar, que de todos modos muy lejos no puede estar de alguna universidad, me parece más ventajoso que perjudicial durante un par de años en los que aun no puedo contar con gozar de una vida tranquila entre los míos”. [1]. 

There is little doubt that the world disclosed here is well within the bourgeois interiority: there is economic calculation and anticipation. At this time Hölderlin was being offered the position of a preceptor to a university student. But there is hardly only this. There is also the affirmation of fleeing from what this world has to offer – and this means quite a lot in the early quarters of the Enlightenment. Una vía de escape – for Hölderlin the way out is not merely from economic hardship, but also the possibility to retain a certain knowledge that he dares to qualify as “of the world”: “to know the world, which is the only compensation to a fatigued situation and the remoteness of place”. Loss of fixity to place demands access to the world.

This is not your expected aesthetic education of man. The subject of the Enlightenment – its commitment to historical abstraction and the possession of aesthetic form as mediation to totality – prevails at the epistemic register at the cost of rescinding the dislocation from nature. By contrast, the knowledge implicated in knowing thy world should be like that of the soil with the gardener (pay attention to how Hölderlin inverts subject and thing: it is the ground that becomes accustomed to the gardener, and not the other way around). But at the threshold of the eighteenth century, Hölderlin’s “vía de escape” was also compensatory to the fatigue of a nascent epoch of the subject. The compensation did not entail an excess of knowledge; it was rather knowledge a way to disengage with the presupositions grounding the historical epoch.

This seems to me the operation at work in Hölderlin’s epistolary confession. Carchia was right in positing Hölderlin’s poetological aspiration of spirit and nature was entirely pre-Olympian, which requires subtracting himself from the modern parody of cultic romanticism [2]. A way out appears in cleared space when serene life is finally realized between friends; that is, among those that I make as friends (“los míos”). Poetry and making are here at their closest proximity cutting through the thicket of experience. This is what it means to know thy world. At the center of Hölderlin’s ethics there is a sense of distance – the waiting for a serene life in which language will finally gather itself unto presence. Ultimately, this is the plain literalness that the 1799 letter offers us.




1. Friedrich Hölderlin. Correspondencia completa, traducción de Helena Cortés y Arturo Leyte (Libros Hiperión, 1990), 467.

2. Gianni Carchia. “Introduzione” to Walter Otto’s Il poeta e gli antichi dèi (Guida Editori, 1991), 8.

The future of Saint Cassian. by Gerardo Muñoz

There is a painting from the early sixteenth century at the galleries of the University of Bologna that depicts the gruesome death of Saint Cassian of Imola at the hands of his own students. The story goes that Cassian was a fleeing Christian in the Roman Empire who found a teaching position in the town of Imola, until he was discovered and exposed. In the saints’ hagiographies, it is emphasized his passion concerning reading and writing for his students. This would confirm the high price of Cassian’s punishment: torture and death at the hands of young students (some allegedly even brought their sharpened styli). The Bologna painting is, in fact, a miniature of about five by seven inches, and it depicts eight young students striking at a naked and tied up Cassian. The anonymous painter has chosen carefully to have all of the figures turn away from the spectator, except for a student in the far right corner of the painting who seems to be holding a sort of bowl in the air. He seems disengaged from the frenzied mob. And yet, there are no wounds or bruises in Cassian’s body, which could be an allegorical statement by the painter about the martyrdom condition, or, more literally, the plain fact that the cruel feast has just begun. Cassian’s face is monotone, and one of disbelief, but not yet of someone consumed by the ecstasy of bodily suffering. He is definitely humiliated amidst such violent and naked act. This is highlighted by the stage-like setting of the assault, which does not seem to be taking place somewhere outside, but rather in a strange room whose only way out is a dark and ominous black counter to the left side of the painting.

This black square immediately recalls martyrdom. And yes, in modernity this means David’s Death of Marat (1793) floating figure who stands as the secularized martyr at the year zero of modern representation. In the early modern bolognese painting we are far from there, but the resources at the painter’s disposal (myth, depth, and figure) speak to a postreligiousity at the threshold of a new historical time. Strangely, the figure of Saint Cassian as represented here by the anonymous bolognese painter throws a shadow to our present, given that the teacher or professor has been sacrificed, not so much the literal violence of his students, but by the an even greater disposition towards a shameless nakedness driven by value and a complicit abandonment of its mission. In the United States at least, the long dispensation of the “closing of the American mind” – driven by competition, ranking, placement, mentorship, cultural wars, and identity politics – entails the uttermost collapse of the teacher into the administrator and facilitator of a rather unknown enterprise.

Even in 1983 Carl Schmitt could identify the martyrdom of Saint Cassian as an emblem of the professor betrayed by his former students: “I have also been stabbed by my students”, he will confess to Lanchester [1]. So, just four decades ago the teacher could still stand as an object of fidelity and betrayal. It would be hard to make the case for this hypothesis today, since the pain of the teacher is no longer of betrayal, but of indifference insofar as he can be disposed of. In this sense, only something that possesses a certain aura can be said to be betrayed; while something that can be discarded altogether is something that has seen better days and no longer has value. And if universities and schools today have become larger centers of monotony and alienation of the most basic activities (such as discussion, reading and writing), this is because both students and professors have been, for the most part, replaced by “mentors” and consumers” under the holy contract of hypocrisy, the true and last ethics of the enlightened metropolitan class.

Anyone that has ever had the good fortune to encounter a good teacher or professor will know that his example springs not from what he knows or professes to know, but rather from what he can transpire unto others: to search of a form of one’s own path. The ethos of a teacher has little do with specialization or success, and everything to the incarnation of a gestalt that is not accidental or transient, but perpetually springing from its myth, as Carchia suggested for the work of art [2]. And myth is the sensorial mediation that resista to be instrumentalized into the endless amassing of value by the powerful administrative subjects. This amounts to saying that the teacher finds self-legitimization in its capacity to inspire the shared sense of wonder of the inaccessible.

Or, at least, this has been the teacher at its most groundbreaking moments. The eradication of teaching – which like mostly every other area foreclosed by the crisis of the human experience was unveiled during the years of the pandemic – and its complete abdication to models of “leadership” and “training” (under the fictitious rubric of the syllabus as an economic contract) is the bleakest of the futures that Cassiano could have taken. A nihilist future that, it goes without saying, will be void of martyrs and myths.




1. Carl Schmitt. “Un jurista frente a sí mismo: entrevista de Fulco Lanchester a Carl Schmitt”, CSS, 1, 2017, 220.  

2. Gianni Carchia. Il mito in pittura: la tradizione come critica (Celuc Libri, 1987), 155. 

Police and Schools: two vectors of American civility. by Gerardo Muñoz

The conservative journalist David French has recently reported an interesting empirical fact about the social reality in the United States: according to a recent Gallup survey that measures public confidence in American public institutions, there are two institutions defended and discredited by both left and right: those on the conservative right expressed confidence in the police (about 70% or so), and those on the progressive left expressed confidence in schools and higher education (about the same percentage). This is an interesting fact only for the reason that it reveals with immense clarity – very much against French’s political idealism of overcoming the caesura – the two effective vectors of American civil society: police and schooling. In fact, aside from their divergent emphasis, progressives and conservatives agree fundamentally that policing and schooling are the indispensable elements in this moment of civil society. Let’s call it the “high modernist moment of the metropolis”.

This is why to any attentive observer of American reality, police and schooling are so intertwined and mingled with each other that it becomes impossible to separate them, and not just because there is police presence on university campuses or because the police articulates a discourse of “community” and educational instruction in their daily practice. Police and Schools are two vectors in the structure of civil society in the wake of the collapse of modern politics. In other words, what emerges after the end of politics in America is the intersection between police and school as two intersecting poles that sustain, nurture, and reproduce the axiomatic organization of civil society.

The zone of convergence of police and school is culture. Now culture should not be understood as symbolic distribution of mass consumption and public goods, but more specifically as a flexible regime of adaptation whose proper end is the optimization of the civil order. Hence, the fascination and continuous arousal of “cultural battles” in the public spheres is nothing but empty chatter of the same end: the acceleration of techniques and symbolic amalgamations in a social roundup of self-governance. When Sir Ernest Barker defined the necessity of civility as the precondition of the commonwealth, he took for granted that culture was meant to maximize singular character and conduct [1]. On the contrary, today the maximization of culture presupposes a paideia that revokes every character in the name of a flattening conduct that must be adaptive to the ends of abstract civil organization of values. If civility for Barker was condensed in the figure of the “gentleman”, in contemporary America, the figure is the nowhereman: an all-capable human-species that must adapt to the latest marching order and its temporal justifications. In this context, the police and school are elevated from social institutions to productive vectors of civil cohabitation.

It is still striking today to read what theologian Karl Barth wrote in 1928: “In paradise there were no schools and no police. Similarly, and in view of its intensity we must say specifically there was no gentleman unseen, and all the more penetrating “they” of costumes” [2]. And for Barth, it is only in the wake of Romanticism – in this way confirming Gianni Carchia’s important thesis about the consolidation of a subjective romantic modernity – that the police and the school was unleashed against every costume and against everything that stood in its way. Social abstraction is incapable of grasping this stealth transformation. And it cannot see it due to the fact that romantic civility offers, in return, a fundamental oblivion: eternal security within a hellish reality. All things considered, this is also why the United States remains the beacon of endless optimism – while being a deadly playground. The vectors of policing and schooling grammar of force expulses any possible ethical notion of paradisal life.




1. Ernest Barker. Traditions of Civility (Cambridge University Press, 1948), 137.

2. Karl Barth. Ethics (Wipf and Stock, 2013), 390.

Karl Barth’s suum cuique. by Gerardo Muñoz

In his chapter on the radical theology of abundance and ethics of Karl Barth, Mårten Björk discloses a central concept to the reformist theologian: the suum cuique, a term that prima facie could be rendered in natural law definition of legal justice, inherited from Roman lawyer Ulpian, as “may all get their due”. In the thomist tradition the legal notion of epikeia promptly became equity as the moral supervision of law’s principle (ius) understood as the application of the fair and the objective good. The justification of the balancing of aequum became a regulatory mediation on the grounds of a fictive principle of nature as moral reasoning, which has been well documented by Stephen Humphreys [1]. What makes Barth’s drawing on the notion of suum cuique in his interwar pamphlet Church and State (originally entitled Justification and Law, 1938), on the contrary, is precisely that it is not reducible to equity, but rather as Björk explains it: “the limit to our life, a limit brought forth by death itself, is in the end the vast chams that posits the creature as create of God…and this has ethical and political consequences” [2]. This is telling, and my aim here is to supplement the discussion in “Abundance and Scarcity” by showing its radical asymmetry with the reasonableness of the natural law. Barth’s anti-activist Church (although not neutral in the wake of the total state of the 30s) and apathy towards morality, stands as a sui generis bearing.

First, in the moral natural law tradition of equity (epikeia) “giving each one their due” becomes a strict legal-authoritative command principle on the reasonableness of nature centered on the ontology of the person. It is quite the opposite for Barth who does not favor a constant moral adjudication, since the separation between Church and State presupposes a previous divine justification that belongs exclusively to the Church, but not to the state. In fact, law practiced on the condition of natural principles will undermine the authority of the liberal positivist state, which Barth defends vehemently, making the case for its coherence with the teachings of the New Testament: “The democratic conception of the state is justifiable expansion of the of the New Testament…Christians must not only endure the earthly state but they must will it as a just state, not as a “Pilate” state” [3]. It is not surprising, then, that Barth wrote this tract openly defending the authority of the modern positivist state, contrasting it to the anti-statist unjust pretarian judgement of the trial of Jesus. This makes sense given that the pretorian ius honorarium could be understood, at least in part, as belonging to the tradition of the moral balancing of equity between morality and norms (just as the two irreducible kingdoms) [4]. Barth’s defense of the positivist state is even contrasted to natural law, which for Barth is incommensurable with the word of God: “We cannot measure what law is [in the State] by any idea of natural law…” [5].

Accepting the primacy of the equity of a substantive bonum will not only serve to override the authority of the state, but also, and more importantly, to flatten out theology’s monopoly over divine justification. At this point Barth is quite explicitly in saying that this is what took place – and I think he is correct, specially if we take into account that the degenerate legality in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia was not an abuse of positivism, but a consequence of the open-ended common and natural law principles to the point of distortion – in the wake of fascism and Bolshevism in the interwar years of Europe. Barth writes with this in mind against artificial heavens on earth, as part of a hyperbolic “politicizing from above”:

“Fascism and Bolshevism alike will be dethroned and the true order of human affairs will arise. Not as heaven (not even a miniature heaven) on earth! No, this “true order” will be able to arise only upon this earth and within the present age, but this will take the place really and truly, already upon this earth, and this present age, in this world of sin and sinners…this is what the Church has to offer to the state…” [6]. 

The political domination of the total state amounted to a conflation between the lapsarian condition of man and the theology of eternal life. The passage or mediation between the two dimensions, which he also described as a “tailor made garment” was the suum cuique, understood as a limit to life and death beyond morality and biological reductions. Barth insisted on the principle of separation in face of every temptation of technico-rational closures. Thus, by externalizing divine justification to the sphere of theological eternity, Barth’s conception of “giving one’s due” was radically disambiguated from the Nazi motto “Jedem das Seine” (to each his own) in the concentration camp of Buchenwald in 1937, made possible by the opened force of common law adjudication against the state positivist authority (understood by Nazi legal scholars as “too Jewish”). This was the barbaric dereliction of duty of the state becoming what Barth called a “clerical state” [7]. Barth’s ethical limit on finite and eternal life, so well reconstructed in Björk’s brilliant monograph, can only be a witness to a ‘world passeth away’ to which no priestly jurists have the last word unless catastrophic consequences are expected. The ethical response to the lapsarian condition was a radical drift from the dangers of natural absolute rationalism that was directly implicated in the arousal of immanent powers and the reduction of the population as mere administration of doctrine of last things through consciousness and not grace. The suum cuique introduced a radical exteriority in which all men became “strangers” (to the Church, national identity, the community, to the social) whose proper involvement pertained to the eternal mystery of life and death.




1. Stephen Humphreys. “Equity before ‘Equity’”, Modern Law Review, 2022, 1-37.

2. Mårten Björk. The politics of immortality in Rosenzweig, Barth, and Goldberg: Theology and Resistance Between 1914-1945 (Bloomsbury, 2022), 115.

3. Karl Barth. “Church and State”, in Community, State, and Church (Anchor Books, 1960), 146.

4. Gerardo Muñoz. “El pretor romano y el ius honorarium”, Infrapolitical Reflections, 2022: https://infrapoliticalreflections.org/2022/04/24/el-pretor-romano-y-el-ius-honorarium-por-gerardo-munoz/ 

5. Ibid., 147.

6. Ibid., 148.

7. Ibid., 132.