Eros, destiny, and politics. by Gerardo Muñoz

At his rubric at Quodlibet, Giorgio Agamben has recently reflected on the famous Goethe-Napoleon exchange on the destiny of human beings as entirely political. This theme is central to any observer of contemporary geopolitics, which as Carl Schmitt noted towards the end of The Concept of the Political (1932) was realized through the indirect powers of economy and war. During the interwar years Schmitt wanted to preserve the autonomy of the political at all costs, although he will soon conclude in his postwar writings that it was no longer possible given the full extent of a global police management (as he notes in the Italian prologue “Premessa alla edizione” to the 1963 Mulino edition).

What does it mean that politics has become the only destiny of Western Man? One could only imagine Goethe’s surprise at Napoleon given that he was the poet that most passionately reflected on the demonic opening towards destiny. Now, the fact that politics is destiny is a way to emphasize the dislocation of character from destiny as the search for one’s own freedom.

It is no surprise that it was another poet, William Butler Yeats who, in the dark hour of 1939, confronted this issue in his poem “Politics” published in his very last book. The poem in question is a sort of farewell to the eclipse of life of the soul constituting the releasement of destiny. It is also interesting that Yeats does not cite the Napoleon-Goethe scene recorded by Eckermann, and rather uses an epigraph from Thomas Mann to reiterate this preposition. The poem should be considered in its totality:

“Politics” (1939)

‘In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms.’ – Thomas Mann 

How can I, that girl standing there,

My attention fix

On Roman or on Russian

Or on Spanish politics,

Yet here’s a traveled man that knows

What he talks about,

And there’s a politician

That has both read and thought,

And maybe what they say is true

Of war and war’s alarms,

But O that I were young again

And held her in my arms.

No destinial politics, however, can totalize the experience of language and thought. This is the crux of Yeats’ poem, it seems to me. In the opening of an epoch of catastrophic politics (as Unger would register it), it was a poet that resisted the metaphysical valence of political destiny working through the imaginal remembrance through the appearance of a “girl standing there”. The last poetic apostrophe of a caducous time could only be redeemed erotically; forever disentangling the fictive conflation of life and politics.

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.

Operative determinations in Carl Schmitt’s concept of the enemy. by Gerardo Muñoz

If the modern state presupposes the concept of the political, then the notion of the political presupposes the concept of the enemy. And if in Political Theology (1922) Schmitt claimed that the modern ethos was predicated as a struggle against the political, a decade later The concept of the political makes the case as to why the political could have only emerged in the wake of the crisis of the modern liberal state aggravated by the rise of the total state and the politization of the economy. All things considered, what Schmitt claims about “politics as destiny” (quoting Walter Rathenau, although the original is handed to us by Hegel quoting the Napoleon- Goethe conversation) has been misunderstood: “It could be more exact to say that politics continues to remain the destiny, but what has occurred is that economics has become political and thereby destiny” [1]. The total politization of economic relations – social contract as structured in value transaction and production – does not imply that Schmitt thinks that politics is destiny. If the ‘concept of the political’ is suppressed and subsumed by economics and techno-administration, then this implies that every sphere of human activity becomes political including one’s destiny. But no destiny can be fully administered or it ceases to be one.

The suppression- expansion of the political allows for the destruction of the enemy, who turns a mere protuberance in a pacified world order. In other words, for Schmitt (unlike what is usually said on his behalf) proposes a concept of the political to achieve a separation from politics that doesn’t amount to ‘critique of politics’ (allegedly what Liberal epoch offers), in the same way that the figure of the enemy is not to be understood normatively as the telos of political activity, but rather an operation that indicates degrees of association and dissociation given that the modern theory of the state is inseparable from plural conflict. In fact, as Schmitt states, the concept of the political as operatively defined by the enemy does not turn its back to pluralism, but rather wants to produce (“yield other consequences” is the language used) pluralism without suppressing the political unit itself [2]. And to yield “space of recognition” for friend-enemy divide does not entail war is neither the end nor the continuation of politics, as it has been understood, but rather an optimal effect whenever there is the existence of political units [3]. In this sense, the notion of enemy as presupposed in the concept of the political is not a substantive and personalist notion, but a particular operation that tries to contain domination while providing breathing space for a non-suppressive practice of politics (a counterpoint to fleeing from catastrophic techno-politics, suggested by Erich Unger’s Politics and Metaphysics during the same time).

One could outline at least four operative determinations of the enemy, which support the thesis of Schmitt’s effort to amend the conditions of the liberal state not negating them: a) the enemy is always a public enemy (hostis) and not a private one (enemicus). Here Schmitt retains the modern juristic conception of positive law. As Schmitt recalls in Ex captitvate salus, for the theologians the enemy is something to destroy, but he thinks as a jurist and not a theologian [4]. b) the hostis is not reducible to a person, but rather to a political unit, although the political could amount to an existential condition. If the “enemy is one’s own question as figure (Gestalt)”, as Schmitt quotes from Däubler, this also means that enemy is a principle of differentiation and mediation rather than a substantive essence, ideological or otherwise [5]. This is why it could be a mistake to confuse the gestalt formation with the unity and relative homogeneity of society required for the modern state.

c) If any political thinking is a thinking oriented towards optimization of the extreme case (this presupposes a negative anthropology), then it follows that the enemy is also the “enemy” in a concrete conflict. And it is clear why Schmitt taught that the suppression of war in the wake of the Kellogg Pact 1928 meant, as least tendentially, that enemies cease to be taken as a unit of differentiation transforming politics into a world police as the dominant practice of managing partners that eradicate the hostis. d) Finally, the notion of the enemy allows the state to recognize concrete threats and dispose of capabilities to respond to a crisis (here the polarity between decision and discussion comes to light), but also without discarding the basic principles of the rule of law such as nulla poena sine lege. In this final determination, the concept of the political is directed at displacing the separation of state and civil society, which according to Schmitt was incapable to offering a concrete response to the rise of neutralization posed by totalization of the “society” superseding the authority of the state (this is a variant of the economic primacy). The notion of the enemy is thus understood best as an optimal operativity that seeks to relieve politics from this polarity (totalization and repression) laying bare at the origin of the modern state.




1. Carl Schmitt. The Concept of the Political (University of Chicago Press, 1996), 78.

2. Ibid., 45

3. Ibid., 34.

4. Carl Schmitt. Ex Captivate Salus (Polity, 2017), 135.

5. Ibid., 136.

6. Carl Schmitt. “Premessa all’edizione italiana”, Le categorie del politico (Il Mulino, 1972), 39.