Three comments on Michele Spanò’s lecture on patrimony as a legal institution. by Gerardo Muñoz

One of the most illuminating talks at a recent workshop at Kingston University (hosted by the Centre for Modern in Modern European Thought) on institution, legal philosophy, and political thought, was Michele Spanò’s archaeology of the institution of patrimony entitled “Patrimony and the Legal Institution of Subjectivity”. Spanò’s work for some of us has been of extreme importance in thinking about roman law, the historical school of the German legal tradition, as well as the work of Yan Thomas whom he has edited and translated for Quodlibet. Although Spanò’s lecture was based primary on notes and part of a larger project on the ‘invention of subjective rights’, it made a few transitions that thematized the legal infrastructure of property that will be perhaps fundamental to understand, and radically transform, the problem of political economy and the logic of the capital coding that Katharina Pistor has recently explored in our post-sovereign present (I have discussed some aspects of imperial coding of capital here). But it is in the invention of “patrimony” in Roman law, where for Spanò a new epochal conception between things, persons, and reality (-res) was established as a relational matrix that he termined, following the Italian legal philosopher Riccardo Orestano, a conception of law without a subject [1]. This infrastructure of a relation without a central subject of authority – a problem too complex to analyze in this simple side note – revises and displaces the more modernist-style discussion on natural law and positive law, but also intra-conceptual determinations such as the subjects and the impersonal, between rights and obligations, which are part of the long dure Roman-modern matrix of the patrimonial foundation. For me there were at least three important elements that derive from Michele Spanò’s work, which I will leave here for some future elaboration in upcoming writing project on the problem of patrimonial and civil as roman categories of modern juristic-political thought and the American context.

1. The relationality or nexus of the conception of the patrimony (a. every person has a patrimony, b. all patrimony belongs to a person, c. there is a relation between obligation and patrimony) is an early form of exchange value; in fact, it is the equivalent structure that designs the total apparatus of social reproduction and the passage from the polis to the domus (housing / domestication). In this sense, Roman law of patrimony is not about substance or morality, but about the circulation, organization, and exchange of metaphoric value codified. This ensemble appears very similar to what will later be Ernesto Laclau’s theory of hegemony. If this is so, then hegemony is not about political “articulation”, but rather its “politics” is a mere veneer for a spectral patrimony. There is no patrimony without the work of hegemony, and the form of hegemony is a reduction of value that keeps it off from the autonomy of the political. In this light, it makes sense that even a Marxist political economist like former Vice-President of Bolivia, Álvaro García Linera, understood statecraft as the development of and from “patrimonialism”, which entailed necessarily the devastation of the ecological life world [2]. The patrimonial form will ultimately transform the exteriority of the natural world into an object at the service of value.

2. Spanò offered a typology of patrimony in two phases: a. For whom is the patrimony (the personalist type), and b. For what (the functionalist type). In a certain sense, we are now in a term phase of legal adjudication: c. what are the costs and benefits of the management of a patrimony? This entails the logistics of ‘creative destruction’ (Schumpeter) into the very interiority of the legal rationality based on balancing and equity functions. For the paradigm of the cost & benefit equity the problem is no longer posed as a question of function or proprietary, but rather of thorough administration and optimization: to what extent can the risk and security of a patrimony can render X costs in relation to Y benefits of Z of the social body? Here the abstraction of the regulation of patrimony coincides fully with the domination of the social space into the juridical logistics. The distinction between private and public law spheres of the European legal traditions (ius commune and Common Law) collapses. As we have suggested in recent investigations, this collapse today is expressed on the rise of administrative law as a restituted Lex Regia.

3. Finally, the collapse implies a chiasmatic movement in the history of the archaeology of Western domination: Roman law and modern positivist law, subject and object, production of rationality and extraction of resources for production of life, the limitations of Roman Law on property and Canon Law on statutes and morality. If medieval canon law of the Church was quenched in the wells of Roman Law, then the question regarding the modern state (its presuppositions, its conditions, crisis, and collapse) amounts to the problem of institution of patrimony as a regulatory of principle of rationality and network of the legislation between spheres (legality, economic, political, rational, instrumental, etc). If there is something to be today against and beyond “hegemony” (no longer an index of politics or culture), then the problem of the patrimonial framework must be understood as a juridical-economic paradigm in which “politics” is incapable of responding to. On the contrary, it could well be that the crisis of politics is an effect of this complex archaeology that, for some of us, Spanò’s work has already started to grasp in light of the return of ‘principles’ for social maintenance.




1. Riccardo Orestano. “Diritti soggettivi e diritti senza soggetto”, Jus: Rivista di Scienze Giuridiche, 2, 1960.

2. Alvaro García Linera. Geopolítica de la Amazonía: Poder hacendal-Patrimonial y acumulación capitalista (Vicepresidencia del Estado de Bolivia, 2013).

The regime of adaptation. by Gerardo Muñoz

The collapse of the categorial and formal mediations proper to the foundations of modern politics open up a regime of adaptation as optimized administration. In a concrete sense the well-known Böckenförde formula comes to a closure as it is realized: the liberal secularized state draws its life from preconditions it can no longer guarantee. The fulfillment of secularization entails, paradoxically, a re-theologization of the separation between the species and the experience of the world already leaving behind the temporality of the saeculum. It is no coincidence that three excellent new books recently published and discussed – Conspiracionist Manifiesto (2022), The Politics of Immortality (2022) by Marten Björk, and Adapt! A New Political Imperative (2022) by Barbara Stiegler – share a common thread: the emergence of the regulatory system of adaptation in the wake of the end of political liberalism.

In other words, the marginalization of the logic of representation, the erasure of institutional mediations, and the depolitization of life (which also entails that everything becomes measurable to the value of the political) entails the intensification of a process of abstraction that is deployed on the surround of the human species itself, increasingly optimized given the contingent transformations and irruptions. The Conspiracionist Manifiesto goes as far as to claim that the current articulation of domination should be understood as a full restitution of the nineteenth century project of positivism as the integration of science and life. Comte and his followers, in fact, thought of positivism as a world religion concerning the reproduction of life whose aim was the general crafting of society as an plastic integral organism.

The acceleration of adaptation presupposes the triumph of immanence that was already exerting its force as an indirect power in the nineteenth century drift by romantic subjectivism and expansion of conditions for action in civil society. In the regime of adaptation, the realization of action, devoid of institutional justified reasons, becomes allocated in the processes of production fitted to the incessant demand for adaptation. It is obvious that the acceleration of immanence – first expressed in the subject’s will to power and now folded into the willing slave of adaptation – has intensified in the last years or so, coinciding with the pandemic event and the generic systematization of health understood as a set of coping techniques of behavior.

Already in the 1990s, in an unpublished lecture in Hannover, Ivan Illich described adaptation as an systematization of health: “Adaptation to the misanthropic genetic, climatic, chemical and cultural consequences of growth is now described as health. Neither the Galenic-Hippocratic representations of a humoral balance, nor the Enlightenment utopia of a right to “health and happiness”, nor any Vedic or Chinese concepts of well-being have anything to do with survival in a technical system” [1].

Insofar as it is concerned with the captive reproduction of life, the regime of adaptation puts to rest any believe in positive biopolitics or the community as exception to the social. Yes, this includes even the “community of friends” that Carlo Michelsteader, in his Il dialogo della salute thought as too much of a rhetorical illusion predicated on the exclusion of suffering and death: “In the friendly communities that emerge in light of common vanity, every one lives thanks to the death of those outside the community” [2]. In short, the regime of adaptation solicits nothing else than the task of coming to terms with the principle of the civil (truly the condition of state’s authority), which in even as far as in Roman law made possible the extraneous movement of the subjectum iuris as total equivalence. The predicament of the regime of adaptation – and its irreversible apparatus of administrative law – obliges us to imagine something other than civility (the principle from the Roman Empire to the modern to put it in Cooper Francis’ terms) but without sidestepping into the barbarism of ergonomic processes that are now at the center of what is understood as life. Barbarism and civility’s straight line now bends towards adaptation.




1. Ivan Illich. “Health as one’s own responsibility. No, thank you!”, Speech given in Hannover, Germany, September, 1990.

2. Carlo Michelstaedter. Il dialogo della salute e altri dialoghi (Adelphi, 1988).

Ulpiano y Pablo: el problema de la fuente superior. por Gerardo Muñoz

Uno de los problemas fundamentales del principialismo – tal vez “el problema” fundamental que subsume a otros – radica en la ardua tarea por justificar la legitimidad de una fuente superior de la supremacía del ius. Esta justificación debe hacerse tanto contra la tesis de un principio compensatorio, en el umbral del derecho positivismo (cuando este toca un límite en casos difíciles), pero también contra la justificación que suministra razones prácticas para el actuar y obedecer, y así generar validez autoritativa. Cuando se apela a una fuente superior y final, en realidad, se quiere establecer un ideal de justificación (desde una postura contra la injusticia), que es, siempre en cada caso, la instancia de una omnipresencia externa. Como vio en su momento Edward Corwin, se trata de establecer, de una vez por todas, quién tiene la última palabra sobre la decisión del derecho, aunque con una salvedad: lo importante es prescindir de la lógica interna de la autoridad, favoreciendo un principio co-extensivo con una fuente superior.

El problema es que la manera de estabilizar externamente una fuente superior es que inmediatamente evacua garantías comunes sobre una ‘zona de construcción’, por decirlo en términos modernos, sobre cuales materiales o cánones constituyen dicha fuente. ¿O acaso no sería la propia fuente superior también objeto de escrutinio o desacuerdo? Por ejemplo, para los defensores de una “Higher Law”, o fuente superior, la respuesta es el derecho romano y su derivas en los cánones de la Iglesia. Por tomar solo un ejemplo paradigmático, algunos han notado la divergencia entre Ulpiano y Pablo de Tarso en cuanto al canon de uno no ser testigo de uno mismo en un proceso penal [2]. La fuente de ‘Ulpiano’, más cercana a la teoría penal moderna, descreía que uno podía constituirse como testigo de su “caso”, mientras que Pablo sugería que un incriminado podía servirse de su testimonio.

Y, como sabemos, Ulpiano y Pablo tenían visiones irreductibles sobre los fines de la ley. Sabemos que el interés de Pablo era disolverla en la justicia mediante la figura de nomos pisteos (Romanos 3:27), mientras que para Ulpiano la ley aspira a la equidad y a otorgar “a cada uno lo que es suyo”, lo que implicaba una connotación que no podía poseer una dimensión “mistérica” sino pública y en acorde con un standard de la ius prudentia [3]. Aunque a prima facie tanto Pablo como Ulpiano son principialistas y defensores de la “Justicia “contra toda norma acotada no hay nada más distante para Pablo que el sentido de la ley como derecho público, ya que su objetivo es la “ley de la fe” y la disolución efectiva del derecho en el umbral de la Justicia. Por decirlo de otra manera, mientras que Ulpiano se interesa por coordinar la iustitia mediante principios y reglas, para Pablo la Justicia disuelve el derecho en la pistis.

En cualquier caso, los casos de Ulpiano y Pablo demuestran paradigmáticamente (no hablo de una exégesis) que incluso una fuente superior no se exime del problema del desacuerdo sobre el suelo del derecho (“grounds of law”), sino que más bien lo exacerba [4]. Al apelar a un principio externo e inmanente en el derecho, la función de una fuente superior en lugar de estabilizar la “integridad interna” y la coordinación, en realidad, agiliza la función el principio deshaciendo el control de la mediación institucional. En realidad, este es el mismo problema de la unificación, mediante un principio escatológico, de la separabilidad que se establece entre ekklesia e imperium, en pro de un providencialismo integral. De forma paradójica, entonces, la apelación e instrumentalización externa de la fuente superior, en realidad, es el motor moral para efectuar resultados ya siempre previstos de antemano. Así, la fuente superior no es otra cosa que la disputa por la optimización de los efectos.




1. Edward Corwin. The Higher Law Background of American Constitutional Law (Liberty Fund, 2008). 21.

2. Bernard H. Stolte. “Did Paul and Ulpian Disagree?”, Mnemosyne, 1984, 152-153.

3. Una observación de Honoré. Ver, Tony Honoré. Ulpian: Pioneer of Human Rights (Oxford U Press, 2002). 84.

4. Ronald Dworkin. Law’s Empire (Harvard U Press, 1986). 113.

Principio de deferencia y emergencia. por Gerardo Muñoz

El auge del derecho administrativo tiene en el centro un núcleo jurídico central, sin lugar a duda el más importante: el principio de deferencia. Este principio lo hemos explicado en otra parte, por eso aquí tan solo quiero anotar un elemento que se puso en discusión en la tercera sesión del Foro Euroamericano en el que tratamos el derecho administrativo, la institucionalidad, y algunos de los hilos de la interpretación de la filosofía del derecho. En un momento de la conversación, el profesor José Luís Villacañas relacionó la cuestión de la práctica deferencial a su uso en una situación de “terror”, o “tortura”; escenario hipotético que a veces figura como límite en los debates jurídicos. La relación entre deferencia y terror, sin embargo, apunta directamente a la relación entre este principio y emergencia, ya que en la emergencia supuestamente debemos suspender las normas. Y aunque no se aludió a este hecho, es importante recordar que el mismo Adrian Vermeule junto con Eric Posner firmaron hace algunos años el libro titulado Terror on the balance: security, liberty, and the courts (Oxford University Press, 2006) en el que explicitamente conectaban el principio de deferencia y la “ponderación” en torno a la tortura y las formas de “interrogación” para tiempos de “emergencia” (hablamos de los años posteriores a la Invasion de Irak, el memoradum firmado por John Yoo de la OLC, y la llamada War on terror). Me permito citar un fragmento programático de la introducción del libro de Vermeule & Posner donde esto aparece de manera nítida:

“The difference thesis does not hold that courts and legislators have no role at all. The view is that courts and legislators should be more deferential than they are during normal times; how much more deferential is always a hard question and depends on the scale and type of emergency. […]. In our view, the historical baseline of great deference during emergencies is also the right level of deference. Therefore, deference to the government should increase during emergencies.” [1]

Aunque ciertamente habría mucho que desglosar, a mi me interesa poner el énfasis en lo último: el principio de deferencia “incrementa” durante las emergencias. Desde luego, la pregunta central es: ¿Y cuándo estamos en una “emergencia”? ¿Y quién la decide? Aludir a la “emergencia” nos lleva directamente al pensamiento de Carl Schmitt. Aunque Schmitt entendía la “emergencia” dentro de un sistema institucional “concreto” y positivo, la novedad del sentido de emergencia yuxtapuesta al principio de deferencia, es que ya no hay una mera “decisión” política acotada a un tiempo, sino una administración a partir de una justificación de principios genéricos (ius). En este sentido, la emergencia ya no es una excepción regulada, sino una forma integral al principialismo discreacional que se habilita gracias a la deferencia.

De manera que ya no se trata de “decidir” qué es el estado de excepción, sino orientar la excepcionalidad mediante la deferencia. De ahí que esta unidad jurídica es común al “sistema constitucional” de Vermeule, en el que la estructura justificatoria y discrecional principialista asume la orientación misma del gobierno. Por esta razón es que en Common Good Constitutionalism (2022) se nos dice de manera explícita que el principio de subsidiariedad es siempre “excepción” que orienta, como no puede se de otra manera, la supremacía del principialismo moral (ius). También aquí vemos una extrapolación del marco administrativo ius-interpretativista de Vermeule, puesto que incluso para John Finnis el principio de subsidiariedad es una forma de “gatantizar” las condiciones de “ bienestar”, pero sin aspiración a un común substantivo contra la diferencia. Incluso, llevar a cabo esta aspiración solo podría ser desastroso para el bien-común, tal y como escribía Finnis: “Any attempt, for the sake of the common good, to absorb the individual altogether into common enterprises would thus be disastrous for the common good, however much the common enterprises might prosper” [2].

Más tarde, glosando a Luigi Taparelli, Finnis nos recuerda que el principio de subsidiariedad responde a una manera de equalizar la forma “hipotáctica” (sistema ipotattico di associazione) entre diferentes partes. Esto es muy distinto en Vermeule, para quien la supremecia del ius jurídico entiende la excepcionalidad subsidiaria en un sentido “unitario” y unidireccional del bien común. Mientras que en Finnis la autoridad estatal puede orientar la subsidiaridad en casos excepcionales; para Vermeule, la naturaleza misma del principio de subsidiariedad coincide sin resto con la excepción. Para volver al inicio, la única manera de entender la supuesta “legitimidad” de esta operación pasa por la fuerza que la deferencia ha cobrado en tiempos del ascenso principialista en el derecho.




1. Adrian Vermeule & Eric Posner. Terror on the balance: security, liberty and the courts (Oxford University Press, 2006)5-6.

2. John Finnis. “Subsidiarity’s Roots and History: Some Observations”, The American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 61, 2016, 133-141.