The posthumous volume Lo cóncavo y lo convexo: escritos filosóficos-político (Guillermo Escolar, 2022) of essays by the late political theorist Jorge E. Dotti is a very much needed contribution that opens up a conversation about a theoretical corpus that witnessed the collapse of the modern state and the crisis of its political categories in times of postliberal forms of global domination. Although an astute observer of the key moments in modern Argentine political history (from Peronism to the dictatorship, from the return to democracy to the failure of the democratic socialist party experiment), Dotti’s intellectual stamina remained on the margins of political adventurism, while openly rejecting the organic intellectual political advisor to heads of state. As editor Damian Rosanovich writes in his introduction, Dotti refused to subordinate his political thinking to immedaite ideological projects; a rather unique position to undertake in a national context like the Argentine, historically inclined towards philosophia militants of the national popular type . Complementary to this inclination, Dotti’s political thinking also had little to say (at least in a direct manner) to the Latin-Americanist disputes about state modernization, regionalism as supranational identity, or cultural formation hegemonies that dominated twentieth century discussions in the region.
Dotti’s theoretical ambitions had a more prudential wager: a confrontation against all kinds of abstract universalities, as well as its partner in crime, locational exceptionalism always ready to infuse doctrinal flavor unto nominal situations and practical problems. A modernist political thinker at heart, Dotti was also a keen observer of the the modern state genealogical crisis, which he read in a tripartite scheme that included the classics of modern political thought (Hobbes, Rousseau, Hegel, Kant), modern philosophy of positive law (infomed by his research years in the Italian context), and finally the work of Carl Schmitt on sovereignty, divisionism, the exception, and the difficulty of “revolution” as the esoteric form of political crises. As an heir to this modern tradition, for Dotti modernity is best defined not as predicated on contingency or anthropological reserves, but rather about a certain ethos, historical in nature and spatially grounded (in this way his vision was close to that of JGA Pocock and the Cambridge School, although less emphatic to the centrality of concepts), which claimed that the political thinking of the classics had to their disadvantage the idealization of every practical situational problems encountered in concrete determinations . In this way, Modernity was best defined as a struggle against abstraction and the taming of indirect powers over the configuration of social stability and endurance.
The classics of political thought, while claiming the intrinsic political nature of man and the primacy of organic totality over every principle of differentiation, imposed a nomalist metaphysics that turned its back to discrete and discontinuous situations. For Dotti at the heart of modern politics – very much in line with Hobbes’s critique of Aristotelian critique of the virtuous politics – is rooted in a practice that is attentive to practical reasons for action and the normative foundation of a social order. Hence, the modern ethos was able to favor the primacy of authority (auctoritas non veritas facit legem) as a minimalist non-substantive framework of public law. In other words, prior to doctrinal and categorical arrangement of modern political theories (social contract, constituent power, or individual conscience), authority helped dissolve the anarchy over words and actions proper to the European civil wars. Needless to say, legal positivism had to walk along modern subjectivity (“Quiero, luego existo…”) inadvertently promoting, while neutralizing, the latency of civil war from its inception. As Dotti claims in an essay on Melville too long to be included in this volume: “Quien contrata se concede el derecho de desencadenar la guerra civil” . The concrete situation of the modern ethos, in this sense, is never enough for containment; and its positive arrangements, being insufficient, will ultimately depend on direct police powers. The story of political modernity is that of legality trumpeting legitimacy for optimal reasons of political control. The insufficiency of the modern political order entails that politics and nihilism walked every step of the way too near each other.
This outlook towards political modernity renounces all nostalgia as it is a genealogical critique. This position speaks to Dotti’s systematic dialogue with Carl Schmitt’s juristic thinking regarding the polemic over secularization of the state and its political categories. Like very few political thinkers of modernity, Dotti accepts Schmitt’s lessons without prejudices and against the political black legends (Schmitt as the poisonous enemy of legal positivism, political liberalism, archaic Catholic, or ally of Nazism) that have been incapable to comprehend the German jurist lessons. If according to Raymond Aaron Schmitt was far from thinking like a Nazi, Dotti take this promises to more refined elaborations: the combination of decisionism and institutional rule of law coagulate an compossitum whose main aim is to regulate the internal functions of validity of the every political order . The force of political theology, then, is neither doctrinal nor axiological, but rather attentive to situational stress of instances as to deter the indirect powers and the logistics of immanence . Dotti understands Schmitt’s political theology as a decision that is only possible within a normative system in order to guarantee the authority of the state. The minimalist conception of political-theology stands as the antithesis of immanent factional ends, which, ultimately, reality will venge in the worst possible ways . Adjacent to the modernist ethos against indirect powers, Dotti’s stages the copernican discovery’ of Schmittian thought: the autonomy of the political as the only category capable of defending the sovereignty of the state in an energetic manner without stepping into either a hyperpolitical or an apolitical vectors common to messianic and subjectivist positions. If for Schmitt there were few things more modern than the battle against the political, for Dotti the consecration of global postmodern time opened a crisis of the political and the expansion of the field of immanence which freely drives “por la autopista preferential de la corriente antipolítica” in which all politics is exception and all exceptions are treated as antagonism for the political . The epochal dispensation of total immanence of power means a liquidation of the regulatory conception of the political as well as the formal recognition of enmity within the modern state now vested into the global fabric of Empire.
Dotti’s scene of writing is that of the closure of the eon of the liberal secular state from its very conditions that made possible the development of its genesis. It is in this specific sense that Dotti’s prognosis is similar to that of Ernst W. Böckenförde’s famous theorem: the liberal secular state survives by conditions that it can no longer guarantee . For both Böckenförde and Dotti the epigonal process of secularization meant the end of state authority and the exhaustion of the separation of state legitimacy and the internal legal rules for social action. Dotti, however, introduces a minimal although fundamental nuance to Böckenförde’s theorem: the liberal state collapses not at the apex of the compilation of secularization, but rather at its very origins in the notion of revolution. This is a lesson extracted from Political Theology II: the ius reformandi of the ecclastical powers soon became an unlimited ius revolutionis of subjective domination during the nineteenth century. . It is to this transformation that political theology effectively looks to respond to. In fact Dotti suggests that the category of revolution is the strongest force to be secularized, which entails that what paved the way for the modern liberal state becomes an open ended indirect force against all mediations of legitimate rule. As Dotti writes in his late essay “Incursus teológico político”: “Estado y revolución son inseparables en su complementación y en su simultánea oposición inconciliable. Esta relación es el cogollo mismo de la legitimación de todo orden político moderno: está en el origen y la muerte de la era de la estatalidad.”  The immanent force of revolution has no single figure: it is the movement against state sovereignty, the emergence of the total state in the twentieth century, as well the legal interpretation of statutes as idealistic forms (as in the jurisprudence of Robert Alexy) that intensifies a permanent state of exception whose real end is now a power for “definition, differentiation, regulation” as the tripartite form of political struggle. In this framework, the revolutionary spirit against formal mediation and authority can only take the form of an uninterrupted holy war against its enemies without end .
To the extent that revolution does not disappear but becomes unmatched immanent power, it becomes possible to understand Dotti’s central theorem in its proper light: “the problem with the revolution is not how to make it, but rather how to bring it to a close” . There are at least two things we can say regarding the theorem: first, political modernity was fundamentally understood as the making of the revolution without any attention to formal mediation and the autonomy of the political; secondly, even the exponents of political liberalism during the second half of the twentieth century did not think of a revolution as closure, but rather they continued to foment an aperture based on a necessary retheologizaiton. It is in this way that John Rawls’ social state depends on a specific conception of original sin for equity; while Ronald Dworkin’s defense of principles and moral interpretative constitutionalism reintroduces a secularized form of the old iusnaturalist model. The socialization of the modern state at the historical instance of its eclipse had to pay the price of abandoning its commitments to both Pelagianism and positive law on behalf of a permanent exceptionality now dressed as the balancing of social equity. It is an irony that the two strongest attempts at the secularization of the concept of the revolution provided, in turn, a restitution of theological hidden subtleties that are ultimately optimal for the transformation of the rule of law into an instrument of world legal revolution. And, it is no coincidence that the closure of the eon of the state meant the end of exclusive legal positivism, while socializing the state police powers as compensatory for the collapse of the modern transcendental authority. The alleged neo-liberal state now subsists as an all encompassing administrative rule that mimics the practice of the confessional state. This could explain why today some jurists continue to understand the practical function of the administrative state as the concrete instance to constitute an uninterrupted iustitium. Dotti’s comprehensive and panoramic view of the modern tradition and its conceptual fulmination leaves open a task for future political thought: how would the closure of revolution might look like? This is no optimist question, as the only honest answer must depart from the farewell of the modern state, while also rejecting the substantive, doctrinal, and militant reallocations of power that steer, but never bring to an end, the violence of a planetary unity devoid of separation or enmity.
1. Jorge Dotti. Lo cóncavo y lo convexo: los escritos filosoficos-polilicos (Guillermo Escolar, 2022)
2. Ibid., 133.
3. Ibid., 28.
4. Ibid., 174.
5. Ibid., 176.
6. Ibid., 26.
7. Ibid., 79.
8. Ernst W. Böckenförde. “The Rise of the State as a Process of Secularization”, en Religion, Law, and Democracy: Selected Writings (Oxford U Press, 2022). 167.
9. Carl Schmitt. Political Theology II (Polity, 2008 ), 101.
10. Ibid., 434.
11. Ibid., 424.
12. Ibid., 421.