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” .
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” . 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).