The faction difficulty. by Gerardo Muñoz

The central contribution of American republican political thought is arguably the way it found a solution to the problem of factions, a legendary difficulty that not only has not disappeared but rather intensified in our present. For the enlightened republicans of the eighteenth century, well versed in the classical tradition and the histories of Florentine medieval strife, factionalism was the cardinal difficulty of social order; how to best deal with conflicting loyalties and the perpetuation of violence for virtuous and at times times even springing from “idleness and courage of the youth”, as told by Carol Lansing’s scholarship [1]. The existence of differences and cleavages in the society ultimately meant the brewing of an ephemeral coalitions and private masters, which, in turn, often resulted in the thorough expulsion of the enemies from the polis. These unregulated clashes of authorities and private actors was called by the fourteenth century jurist Bartolus of Saxoferrato a seventh form of government mixture: a “monstrous government”. The problem of faction will emerge for the moderns as the condition that prompts the articulation of a governmental rationality capable of constructing the homogeneity of social living. In other words, the modern classical homogeneity of the civil society is the creation of the domestication of factions as social grouping units to be obtained and arranged as an indirect power from within to transform ‘barbarism’ to civilization. David Hume’s political writings – and in particular his “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” (1752), which was highly influential to the Federalists, understood that the threat is of “factions” required a new framework: politics had to be reduced to a science [2]. What could politics as science entail? We are not yet in the administrative rationality and professional political vocation of Max Weber’s sociology. The scientific reduction meant a paradigmatic transformation of classical politics properly understood (virtuous, moral, and just) into an economic determination in which interests took the center stage over the combustion of the passions. The new science of politics implied a retooling of the problem of factions by decompressing the clustered interests of unaccounted and disloyal factional expansion under governmental action. For Hume the passage from passions to interests entailed a descaling of factionalism on one hand, while an expansion of a robust form of government over a large territory on the other.

However, if for Hume factions are still an impolitical unit of association that must be minimized, it is James Madison in “Federalist 10” who achieves the complete “scientific” aspiration of political construction over factions as inseparable from the Social ahead of the industrial modern economic division of labor. In fact, as Douglass Adair reminds us, this particular essay of the Federalist Papers only became important towards the end of the nineteenth century in the wake of industrialization and economic power groups; that is, at a moment when indirect economic powers began to exert their influence into the institutional and regulatory composition of the state [3]. One could say that it is only at the outset of the triumph of economic “Americanism” that the Madisonian framework on factions is situated in its proper tripartite structure: factions are conditioned by positive liberty and make up the totality of the economic interests that make up civil society. Indeed, for Madison factions as expressions of the nature of man, and their existence detail degrees of activities in civil society [4]. In a way there is no civil society without factions, and there are only factions because there is civic Liberty.

Madison even constructs a naturalist analogy: what unrestrained Liberty is to faction, air is to a propagating fire. The activity and energy of factionalism is exclusively understood as one of economic interests which, insofar as it is conditioned by positive, differentiated, and unregulated liberty that expresses the unequal distribution of property that characterizes the essence of the social. The new science of government in this framework becomes clear: the end of government is neither properly about political enmity in relation to the state nor about suppressing and limiting factions, but rather about the optimization of the effects of factions. Madison writes in the groundbreaking moment of “Federalist 10”: “The interference to which we are brought is that the causes of faction cannot be removed from that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects” [5]. The optimized logistics of factionalism displaces the modern hobbesian picture of the sovereign state to a minimalist and compensatory nature to attenuate public order against “local and particular state legislatures” [6]. The optimization of factions now appears as the dominant aspect of a fundamental cybernetics that seeks to isolate, fragment, and juxtapose the conflagration of factions without losing the barring of state energetic durability. The faction difficulty lays bare the arcanum at the center of the res publica politics: the administration and reproduction of civil conflict.

The consolidation of the cybernetic solution to the faction difficulty emerges as an upgraded version of state auctoritas whose aim is to establish a balance between public opinion as distrust over “dispute”: “communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary” [7]. If communication becomes a strict science of regulating the means of expression (itself a medium), political authority is superseded over a constant war over words and force of exchange. This means that rather than putting an end to the stasiological tension through a political mediation of the state, the problem of faction reveals that stasis becomes an instrument to manage effects, produce legislative, and translate interests in the struggle of social differences. It goes without saying that perhaps the modernist differentiation between state and civil society in light of the problem of faction loses its predominance, as an entirely new framework emerges: a monstrous socialization that takes the form of a productive stasiology given that if “men were angels no government would be necessary” [8]. The irony is that the auxiliary precautions of factions is a secularized form (or at least one could trace it to) of the ministry of the angels. This reality demands a new ethic of the passions against both the vigorous indirect struggle of factionalism (and its modern rendition in the party form) and the axiological arrangement of interests that made the foundation of the social community possible.




1. Carol Lansing. “Violence and Faction”, in The Florentine Magnates: Lineage and Faction in a Medieval Commune (Princeton U Press, 2014), 181.

2. David Hume. “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth”, in Political Writings (Hackett Publishing, 1994), 240-252.

3. Douglass Adair. “The Tenth Federalist Revisited”, The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1951, 48-67.

4. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, & John Jay. “Federalist 10”, in The Federalist Papers (Mentor, 1961). 79.

5. Ibid., 80.

6. Ibid., 83.

7. Ibid., 83.

8. “Federalist 51”, in The Federalist Papers (Mentor, 1961), 322.

Chesterton y Podemos. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

En estos días he recordado un artículo de G. K. Chesterton sobre Lenin, donde este dice que podemos entender la justificación del leninismo de ser antidemocrático ante la ignorancia del campesinado ruso, pero lo que no podemos aceptar es una idea que es en sí irracional [1]. Algo parecido se puede decir sobre Pablo Iglesias en la segunda asamblea en Vistalegre. Esto es, podemos escuchar su arenga sobre la unidad y el enemigo, pero más difícil es razonar cómo eso se ajusta a las ideas errejonistas de transversalidad y pluralismo.

La brecha entre el primer postulado y el segundo que han salido a flote al final de Vistalegre 2, encajan con lo que Chesterton llamó ‘ilogicidad’. Ese déficit de razón solo se entiende con el significante vacío y la teoría que la sostiene. Pero sabemos que todo político que se considere digno de esa vocación, tiene que cuidar, a distancia, la diferencia irreducible de su par. Es esto lo que va al traste con el brochazo que ha dado Iglesias en su discurso de clausura [2]. Ahora el balón está del lado de los errejonistas, y tendremos que esperar para ver si hay posibilidad de recomposición de su parte. Pero lo cierto es que al imponerse el significante vacío se arriesga el destape de una violencia aún mayor siempre depositada en el oppositorum cesarista.

En un provechoso encuentro con algunos miembros de Podemos en estos días, la pregunta caliente fue qué hacer después de Vistalegre 2. Esta pregunta ya de por sí visibiliza las grietas y visiones encontradas, los desaires y las traiciones. Todo es resumible con lo que hemos llamado antes “falta de legitimidad”. Una solución entre optimista y reparadora, se afinca en buscar exceder a Podemos como partido-institución-líder. Esto es, volver a cierto ‘originalismo’ del 15M bajo la idea de la comunidad. Sin embargo, la comunidad no puede ser principio último de la razón política, como tampoco puede ser una alternativa contra-hegemónica ante el belicismo hegemónico. El comunitarismo como propuesta es siempre insuficiente.

Hay que tomar distancia del comunitarismo reparador y redentor. La tarea de hoy recae solo en una formulación de contracomunidad, capaz de disociarse del ascenso de particularismos radicales que conducen inevitablemente al fin de la política (que por cierto, lo decía el propio Ernesto Laclau, como lo ha recordado en estos días Alberto Moreiras). Tampoco se puede rebobinar la historia ni echar para adelante hacia una dirección que solo llevaría al PP, y a un mayor deterioro del espacio europeo. La comunidad desvinculante solo conduce al arrinconamiento nocivo de unas cuantas voces altisonantes y fuera de lugar. Frente a eso me sigue pareciendo que la opción de un «republicanismo poshegemónico» está a la altura de los tiempos. Este republicanismo atiende a dos principios fundamentales, aunque tampoco se limitan a estos: 1. trabajar con coherencia sobre lo que está dado en la facticidad y en el sentido común en curso, y 2. sostener la división de poderes a cambio de un contrapeso que reduce la dominación sobre la vida del singular.

Por ahora, la gran incógnita es si Errejón y los errejonistas estarán en condiciones de armar un plan más o menos simultáneo con estos principios, o si se plegaran a la ilogicidad de Iglesias. Esto también convoca a preguntarse cómo quedarán los territorios. ¿Habilitará la nueva matriz organizativa espacios para disensos territoriales, o se solidificará el verticalismo desde arriba? Sin lo primero ese deseo de unidad oppositorum del pablismo será solo pulsión de muerte. Pero un paso del errejonismo no sería un paso de quiebre, sino que marcaría otro ritmo del ‘hacer’ en los territorios. A largo plazo esto podría tomar la forma de un nuevo federalismo.

Esta sería una hipótesis optimista. Es decir, quizás la humillante propuesta de Iglesias de ofrecerle a Errejón el Ayuntamiento de Madrid, tuvo un filo errejonista y llegaría a producir efectos que ni la camarilla de pablistas prevén. A la larga esto pudiera demostrar una vez más que para eso de ‘tomar el cielo por asalto’ no hay soga que sea tan larga. La ilogicidad que veía Chesterton en Lenin también implica eso: al final, esa soga siempre tiende a vencerse por uno de sus cabos.


*Imagen: Malagón Humor, Febrero 2017.

1.G. K. Chesterton. “The logic of Lenin”. The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (XXXI). Ignatius Press, 1989. 275-79.


The republicanist drift: on José Luis Villacañas’ Populismo. (Gerardo Muñoz)

Villacañas populismoThere is little doubt that populism has profoundly upset the debates on thinking politics in recent times. Indeed, Jose Luis Villacañas’ motto in his recent essay Populismo (La Huerta Grande, 2015) correctly captures this anxiety: “el populismo acecha”. In this brief and intelligent essay – this must be underscored, since unlike other monumental studies of his, this text is meant for a widely informed public, hence the lack of footnotes and historical reconstructions – populism is weighted with the much needed urgency that it deserves against its superficial dismissal by liberal thinkers or conventional political pundits that understand it as irrationalism or Catholicism in politics.

Villacañas’ starting point is twofold. On one hand, he affirms the confusion that structures today’s international political scene; the multiple uncertainties, and unclear directions. The fact that the Democratic and Republican parties have opposing national and international agendas, attest to this indecision even within imperial reason. The reemergence of populism departs from this current predicament. On the other, Villacañas confronts Loris Zanatta’s liberal reconstruction of populism, as one that profoundly derives its consequences as a confrontation between modernization and the survival of its archaic remnants. In Zanatta’s conceptualization, populism is the outcome of an ancestral community predicated on the mystic body of Catholic representation, a formulation that seems to repeat early Schmittian theory without too many nuances. But the problem with this overarching thesis is that, although there are analogic mediations between the Pauline figure of the katechon and populist structuration, it dismisses all too easily the populist experiences in Protestant national communities, such as that of Nazi Germany or the North American democratic ‘We the people’ that runs from Abraham Lincoln to F.D. Roosevelt.

Nonetheless, it is not a matter of disagreeing with Zanatta’s conceptual limitations in El Populismo (Katz, 2015). What is crucial is that this assessment allows Villacañas to clear a space of for his own intervention that neither affirms a hyperbolic thesis of secularization (populism as a sort of plebeian Catholicism), nor discards the recent debates on the Left regarding the specificity of populism. Against Zanatta, Villacañas defines the point of departure of populism in the contingent articulation of a “people”:

“…nosotros hemos dicho que el pueblo es una comunidad construida mediante una operación hegemónica basada en el conflicto, que diferencia en el seno de una unidad nacional o estatal entre amigos/enemigos como salida a la anomia política y fundación de un nuevo orden” (Villacañas 2015, 28).

The author of ¿Qué imperio? admits that he does not seek to sketch an “ideal type” of populism, if there ever was one. Instead, he offers a rough guide to interrogate more complex associations that the concept generates. In the subsequent chapters the discussion is displaced over a mapping of Ernesto Laclau’s important architectonics of populism through the reformulation of the categories of the people, the equivalence of social demands, the role of affect, the friend-enemy antinomy, the elaboration (and distortion) of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony and the intertwinement with charismatic leadership. It is important to note that Villacañas is not interested in a recapitulation of Laclau’s political trajectory, to the extent that Laclau’s On populist reason (Verso, 2006) is the culmination of a long political and militant itinerary that commences in the argentine syndicalist experience and comes to a close in the British school of cultural studies, so well studied by John Kraniauskas (2014). Opting for a different path, Villacañas situates Laclau as the symptomatic figure that condenses a series of problems in the history of the modern categories of the political since Hobbes; showing how, far from irrationality or even anti-liberalism, the author of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy is a quintessential modern political thinker at its core.

There are analytical limits to Villacañas’ Laclau, which serve to ground the arguments of his essay. For example, throughout the book, there is an insistence in reading the argentine thinker in confrontation with the neoliberal epochality, as if Laclau’s theory of equivalence of demands or the catachrestic national popular springs as a response to the so-called ‘big-bang’ of global neoliberalism. A second imposed limit is the role of affect and power, which implicitly (it is not developed to its outermost consequences in the essay) has much to do with the debate on post-hegemony, which connects not only to Jon Beasley-Murray’s well known contribution of the same time, but also to the most recently published volume Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina (ed. Castro-Orellana, Biblioteca Nueva 2015). A central gesture in Villacañas’ essay is to move away from a reductionist opposition between the “populism and post-hegemony” debate, while simultaneously drifting toward a discussion of populism beyond the concept of hegemony as identitarian production embedded in the principle of equivalence.

To this end, “el populismo acecha” is not a matter of competing master tropes or schools of thought in the contemporary university where intellectual battles sometimes seem to be placed. Villacañas’ wager is that thinking populism allows for clearing the political opacity and anti-institutionalism promoted by neoliberalist machination. It in this conjuncture that populism, for Villacañas, is situated in a permanent double-bind, that is, populism is the effective response to “neoliberalism’s stealth revolution”, as Wendy Brown recently has called it; and inversely, it also coincides with neoliberalism’s drift for anti-institutionalization that fuels the anarchic principle of economic valorization at all levels of the social life.

This double bind is a secondary contradiction, since Villacañas rightfully notes that populist anti-institutionalism also rests on a minimal institutional differentiation and a maximum expansion of equivalent demands. This entails that with no institutionalization; populism cannot consecrate a principle of equivalent conversion. However, with full institutionalization there is no longer any possibility for populism, since this would result in the fulfillment of all social demands withdrawing the need for charismatic personalism. Carlos de la Torre’s informative analysis of Ecuadorian Rafael Correa’s technocratic populism confirms Villacañas conceptual reflection on the convergence of populism and neoliberalism in relation to the question of institutionalization (De la Torre 2013).

At the risk of an evermore-latent alliance between neoliberalism as the reactive form of government and populism as the proactive response to the crisis, we are limiting the political to nihilist circularity. Nihilism should not be understood lightly here. The question of time is implicitly located in Villacañas’ essay as what anti-institutionalization cannot account neither from the side of populism, nor from destructive hyperneoliberalism. The more we push for second one, the more the populist dessert grows. In fact, according to Villacañas, this seems to be a necessary consequence that neoliberal and liberal administrators should seriously accept. More important than the fact that the populist option does merely plays the game with neoliberalism, it obfuscates the necessity of a “third” option that would allow for a change beyond this circular temporality.

What, then? For Villacañas this third option is the republicanist drift. This republicanism is not limited to the Republican governmental form of State but rather to a contingent democratic form (opened to the extension of social demands and antagonism of singulars) based on the guarantee of institutional stability. In a few words, it is the time of justice:

“Pero la justicia es un empeño positive que surge de lo más propio que ofrece el republicanismo: una percepción de confianza y seguridad que abre el tiempo del futuro sostenido por estabilidad institucional. Si no se atiende con una voluntad específica, la justicia no se producirá de modo natural. Abandonar toda idea de justifica facilita la agenda populista de configurar una nueva…Donde el republicanismo no ejerce su función estabilizadora a través de instituciones, el tiempo del la sociedad se reviste de esos tonos inseguros que el populismo tiene como premisa”. (Villacañas 114)

The Republicanist drift affirms a post-hegemonic form of democratic politics against the neoliberal structuration of the world. It radicalizes the “minimal republicanism” that populism trims through anti-institutional time of “grand politics” (Villacañas 117). This republicanism is not manufactured on the question of personal freedoms – which is still the limit of Liberal political theory from Rawls to Nussbaum – but grounded on firm redistributive policies that, unlike populism, could transform the time of life. In this light, Villacañas understands the eruption of participatory politics in the Spanish scene (the so called “Mareas”) not as an anti-institutional equivalence of demands, but as a republicanist affirmation of deepening democratic and public institutionalization (Villacañas 124-25).

This republicanist turn, unlike liberalism’s promise of redistribution, centers political life, as Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil understood so well, in the polis or citè as radical desistance from principial (State) order. Positing the polis as the minimal unit of political community, Villacañas retains the popular demand along with the always impossible pursuit of the singular. The extent to which this republicanist drift can account for the generic production of the subject is not clearly outlined in Villacañas’ essay. But Populismo (La Huerta Grande, 2015) does open productive ways for future probing and interrogations.





Carlos de la Torre. “El tecnopopulismo de Rafael Correa: ¿es compatible el carisma con la tecnocracia? LARR, Vol.48 No.1 Spring 2013, pp. 24-43.

John Kraniauskas. “Rhetorics of populism”. Radical Philosophy, July/August 2014.

José Luis Villacañas. Populismo. Madrid: La Huerta Grande, 2015.