The enemy from the argument of purity. by Gerardo Muñoz

A rebuttal against the notion of enemy frequently hinges on conflating the enemy with total enmity. It usually takes the form of a hypothetical: once an enemy is declared as such, is there anything that can deter the escalation into total enmity? The historical record provides analytical reassurance to the hypothetical, but it does not eliminate its generality, since its ultimate probe is conditioned by an ideal of conceptual purity. Not every hypothetical is idealistic, but every hypothetical exerted from purity is. This concerns any understanding of politics, given that the notion of the enemy presupposes an impure origin of conflict, threats, disorder, or unjustified propensity towards evil. If the enemy is best understood as an operative principle between repression and totalization of enmity, it also entails a rejection of purity as sacralization of the political.

The argument from purity has been deployed with equal force by both Liberalism and Marxism, although they are not the only two contenders. Whereas the first suppresses the enemy from civility and economic utility; for the second, there are no necessary enemies given that politics is a process that will culminate in moral emancipation. For both Liberalism and Marxism, the problem of separation is fixed in two opposite poles: for Liberalism the separation is originary and consubstantial to the genesis of modernity as the separation of Church and State; for Marxism, the separation comes to end in the future collapse of the alienation of ideal and manual labor, and state and civil society. The argument from purity liquidates the enemy as the operative function because it doesn’t consider conflict intra muros on its merits. It is always surpassed or to come.

From the argument of impurity, the notion of the enemy demands that the political be understood as here and now (more than temporal it is topological: externality). Let us consider Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is a tragedy that stages the friction between the suppression of the political enemy in medieval society and the not-yet autonomy of the political of the moderns. In an old essay Leo Lowenstein noted that Hamlet is an existential limbo as to whether to judge and execute his father’s murderer, or to desist in his decision of revenge and become paranoid crossing the line into madness [1]. The world of Hamlet’s indecision is no longer that of imperium theologiae where the enemy is an entity to be deposed of; but rather it vacillates because it knows the fracture between wrongdoing and action, legality and legitimacy. The malaise of Hamlet condition is the impossibility of enemy mediation: “Shakespeare’s theatre, in general, and his Hamlet, in particular, are no longer ecclesiastical, in the medieval sense. On the other hand, they are not yet a political state theatre, in the concrete sense state and politics acquired on the Continent as a result of the development of state sovereignty.” [2]. The intrusion of historical time reminds us that original separation will not be enough in the face of a concrete conflict.

The tragic dimension in Hamlet is given negatively: the paralysis of not being able to establish the proper mediation to deal with political enmity. This paralysis – or the inconceivable regicide of naturalist theologians – can only amount to madness. Indeed, one becomes one’s enemy, because the enemy (the usurper King) lacks the mediation with its exteriority: “Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged / His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy…That I have shot my arrow o’er the house / And hurt my brother” [3]. What does it mean to be one’s own enemy, and who could decide here? The incapability of generating an external hostis will prompt bad consciousness and perpetual resentment.

From the side of impurity, the enemy as “one’s own form” means a depersonalization of the political and the neutralization of the stasiological force that places reasons, justifications, and actions as primary ends. But a civil war waged on internal reasons do not imply mediation. From the argument of purity the dismissal of the enemy is no longer Hamlet’s negativity; it turns itself into subjectivism and unfettered self-autonomy that will require not the judge but the priest, and not political form but the police.

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Notes 

1. Leo Lowenstein. “Terror’s Atomization of Man”, Commentary, 1946, 7.

2. Carl Schmitt. Hamlet or Hecuba: The Intrusion of the Time into the Play (Telos Press, 2009), 51.

3. William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Hamlet (Signet Classics, 1987), 168. 

The technification of thinking: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Writings (V). by Gerardo Muñoz

In the “Fourth Prison Notebook”, Gramsci offers a treatment of the science of “historical materialism”. A science that is not to be understood as a region of thought, but rather as a totalization and condition of possibility of the very opening of a new epoch. At some point in the notebook, Gramsci writes the following (which is also exemplary exposition of the reduction of his program): “As a matter of fact, historical materialism has no need for extraneous support: it is itself so robust that the old world turns to it to supply its own arsenal with some more effective weapons. This means that while historical materialism is not subjected to hegemonies, it has itself stared to exercise a hegemony over the old intellectual world. (156). We do not want to put too much pressure on the term “intellectual” here, but it is a notable expression. There is a dual logic of “hegemony” at play: hegemony is both the archê that can sustain an epoch phantasmatically never fully closing it; while, at the same time, it is also the opening of the epoch of the “reign of freedom”, which is the discovery of historical materialism as a science of totality. When Gramsci writes that historical materialism has potential hegemony over the totality of the intellectual world, he is strongly positing a civilizational principle as a new conception of the spiritualization of the world. From this basic condition of transitional political thinking, it is difficult to see how Gramscianism can ever be freed from Hegelianism, given that Hegelianism is what informs substantially the theory of hegemonic reduction. Hegemony: what reduces the world.

         At the same time, and in order to secure this transition to this new epochal principle, another operation comes to the forefront: to obtain hegemony over the totality of the old intellectual world requires a technified form of thinking as such vis-à-vis its intellectual class as an active player in the process. A few pages later after he treats the exception to epochal hegemonies, Gramsci writes that: “…the importance of the technique of thinking in the construction a pedagogical program; here, again, one cannot make the comparison between the technique of thinking and the old rhetorics…the technique of thinking cannot be compared to these things, which is why one can say that it is as important to teach this technique as it is to reading and writing.” (160). This thematizes the political hegemony that harbors above the alleged organic development of the new epoch; as if, the menace of the deviation from hegemony is a “bad adventure” in thought, a derailing of intensity that needs to be straighten out by the force of pedagogic reinforcement. Gramsci recognizes that thought does not have a technique, but it is in virtue of said absence that its instrumentalization must be set tightly. There is no doubt that this is catastrophic. This is the internal catastrophe of any thought when reduced to hegemony. By positing thought as pedagogical techne, Gramsci cancels any possible relation to the world. The world has already been annihilated, since it has been taken to the limit of its realization, making it only accessible from the condition of the specie’s alienation with reality. To a certain extent, pedagogy and the “common school” program stands for the performance of the laws that make up the new science of history. Hegemony becomes the accessory that guarantees the entry into a theoretical totality that pushes out any relation with the world. 

There is a “genetic problem” that can be contested even at the level of its own “scientific” assumptions. Already Hans Blumenberg in The Genesis of the Copernican World (1975) argued that the configuration of a totality of knowledge is impossible given its heterogenous conditions and “inherent pressures of its workings”. There problem of epochal hegemony, then, it is not that it elevates a supreme and all-inclusive principle; but rather that, as a concept, it cannot name a process of rationalization required to advance a civilizatory principle. Indeed, Gramsci calls “the conquest of the historical world, a new civilization” (164). This is why Gramscian appeals again and again to Catholic ecclesiastical administrative capacities for the formation of the new communist integral state. However, whereas for Weber “bureaucratic rationalization” was an organic process within history; for Gramsci, on the contrary, it is conceptual and pedagogical. In other words, it is a mimesis that transforms itself as a command of the Party, the militant, and disciplinary orientation. The Gramscian cosmos of production is a secular form of angeology for the intellectual class that must guide the working class (203). Of course, as we know, angels are not mere mediators between God and the sublunar world, they are also the keepers that glorify the dogma. And dogma here is the secular science of historical materialism. 

One last point about the date of this notebook (1932). This is most certainly a Gramsci that is no longer the one writing in the 1910s full of enthusiasm and good convictions; a Gramsci that could sense the trembling of gates of the revolution conquering the world. On the contrary, the Gramsci writing in the wake of the 1930s is one that is already noticing that “workerism” is dominion and form, or form that is already the byproduct of total mobilization. It is no coincidence that Ernst Jünger’s The Worker is published this year. At this point the worker is no longer a fixed transcendental category of the philosophy of history, but rather an energetic gestalt driven by mobilization and will to power. This means that formation – giving form – is always infinite, while the world remains objectivized into this total encompassing movement. Gramsci would mobilize intellectuals – but also thinking and imagination – to accomplish the labors of hegemonic politics.

The problem, already in 1932, should have been contested at the level of the form of life and distance between domination and world that I call post-hegemony. The false exit was taken: the multiplication of the modes of production, including the production of an “intellectual class” in an attempt to tilt the bourgeois order towards true hegemony. By 1930s it becomes clear that Gramsci cannot stand up to a problem oriented at the level of the critique of metaphysics. By adopting the science of historical materialism, Gramsci seems only capable of giving us a regional political practice masked by the metaphyisical pretensions of universality and totality. It wasn’t enough then, and it is most definitely not enough today.