We had a very rich and productive conversation this week with Josep Rafanell i Orra around the new and updated edition of his book En finir avec le capitalisme thérapeutique (éditions météores, 2022). But here I just want to entertain an early moment in the book that has some importance for some ongoing discussions. In the introduction that he writes for the new edition, Rafanell engages in a rare and honest exercise in self-critique. This is what he writes:
“Dans mon livre, je défendais une politique du soin. Onze ans après, je me livrerai bien volontiers à une autocritique rétrospective : la politique me semble destinée, irrémédiablement, à devenir une métapolitique, si nous entendons par là l’inévitable ré-institution d’identités qu’il faut représenter. Retour éternel de la police avec la violence de ses abstractions. Je pense que la politique, le politique (que vaut-t-elle encore aujourd’hui cette distinction?) nous condamne à nous absenter des mondes pluriels de la communauté et à neutraliser les effectuations de la différence” .
A lot could change in a matter of a decade. Indeed, a lot has changed for some of us, and it seems that for Orra it is no different. He is willing to admit it. He is no longer interested in defending a “politics of care” (or a hyperbolic politics), and not because it has become a recursive cliché in the empty chatter of governing metropolitan progressivism (I think of NYC or Colau’s Barcelona), but more fundamentally because the full affirmation of politics today can only contribute to the ever expansive calculative scheme of representational politics; a representational enframing that has become defunct and emptied out with the rise of administrative rationality evolving from the internal premises of political liberalism. It is true that the liberal democratic project from its inception was too weak to deal with indirect powers, and its long-lasting solution has been to engage in practices of optimization and value dispensation. But no amount of social representation can minimize effective domination. No one could defend this except in bad faith. The destiny of politics now transformed into metapolitical saturation can only muster social existence into predatory lines.
But there is another sense in which the metapolitical collapse could be understood. At least this is where I would like to displace Rafanell’s lucid intuition: the metapolitical destiny of politics emerges in the wake of the fault line between the metapolitical conditions of politics and political representation and mediation as such. Obviously, this is the problem that, already in the 1960s, the German jurist Ernst Böckenförde had to confront in his now famous theorem: the liberal state lives through conditions that it can no longer guarantee or promote.
In other words, the metapolitical conditions required for secularization have evolved (now fully realized through the West with different intensities and semblances) into the collapse of society-state mediations, turning to police powers to maintain the ‘one piece garment’ of social life. Theoretically, the dissociation between politics and its metapolitical conditions has led to attempts at generating sedative hegemonies that are always furiously defended – even at the expense of their failures – through rhetorical bravado. So, the decline of metapolitical condition entails the passage from the conditions of social contact to the endgame of the flexible and coercive management of indirect powers.
1. Josep Rafanell i Orra. En finir avec le capitalisme thérapeutique (éditions météores, 2022), 21.
Some will surely remember the figure of the painter Tirtorelli in Kafka’s The Trial who executes portraits of monotone and serious judges and magistrates on demand. The aura of these portraits is of absolute austereness and seriousness, as if Kafka wanted to capture the lackluster liturgy of the empire of judges and their repetitive exercise of legal adjudication. This seriousness, however, must be contrasted to the comic dimension of bureaucracy, that is known to anyone who might have glimpsed at the administrative processes that control even the tiniest details of daily life (the literary and cultural objects are too many to even reference them). The comic and the serious are also visual tones in the exhibition of modern public powers. If the empire of judges is gray and inexpressive, the bureaucratic agencies have been rendered as playful even if they repeatedly yield tragic effects on anyone entrapped in the legal construction of the “case”.
I recall this, because if today we are in the rise of an administrative state, this fundamentally entails a collapse of the bureaucratic comedy and the judge’s seriousness. The joining of the two spheres implies not only a transformation of the legal culture in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, but also a confusion regarding both the comic and serious that now form an integral techno-political unit. As humor eclipses, comedy becomes controlled, assessed, and weighted against what must be free-standing seriousness each and every time. This integralist institutional imagination, at first sight, could be taken as a return of theology of sorts; but, according to Hans Urs Von Balthasar, it is quite the contrary: the integralist suture is so alien to Catholic theology and the mystery that it only deserves to be taken as a distance from the divine. As Von Balthasar writes in Il Complesso antiromano (1974):
“For humor is a mysterious but unmistakable charism inseparable from Catholic faith, and neither the “progressives” nor the “integralists” seem to possess it—the latter even less than the former. Both of these tend to be faultfinders, malicious satirists, grumblers, carping critics, full of bitter scorn, know-it-alls who think they have the monopoly of infallible judgment; they are self-legitimizing prophets—in short, fanatics.” 
And Von Balthsar reminds us that fanatic is a word that comes from fanum – “holy place” – which alludes to the site that the guardian must guard to keep the divinity at bay. In the same way today, the fanatic is the nexus that organizes the administrative process that covers all spheres of human activity and purpose. If this is the case, then one could say that our current society is “fanatical” not because of the new religious factions or outnumbering of social cults, but rather because new legal administrators exert their control in the guise of priests that speak the rhetoric of a social intelligible common good. This is, indeed, the ultimate comic aspiration of a very seriousness legal process (it impacts literally every living species) in which the precondition to safeguards the “good” must be exerted as to keep everyone away from the irreducibility of what is good, beautiful, and just.
The seriousness of the administrative agents is transformed into a perpetual laughter that secures a social bond where no transgression and sensation is possible. Against this backdrop, we see how Gianni Carchia was correct when suggesting that the passage from comedy to enjoyment (divertimento) renders impossible the laughter of redemption in a life that ceases to be eventful . In this way, comedy mutates into a mere socialization of laughter. And the impossibility of entering in contact with the comic initiates the commencement of the social parody.
1. Hars Von Balthasar. Il Complesso antiromano. Come integrare il papato nella chiesa universale (Queriniana, 1974), 304.
2. Gianni Carchia. “Lo cómico absoluto y lo sublime invertido”, en Retórica de lo sublime (Tecnos, 1990), 153.
These are further notes on the mini-series of conversations within the framework of the course that I am teaching at 17 instituto on contemporary Italian political thought. This second installment we had the opportunity of discussing a few ideas with Philippe Theophanidis on Roberto Esposito’s notion of community and its general horizon of inscription within contemporary discussions on immunity, the commons, and communication (a topic already explored with Philippe a couple of months back a propos of the publication of Dionys Mascolo’s La Révolution par l’amitiè, in which he participated). Although Philippe recommended reading and focusing on the first chapter of Roberto Esposito’s Communitas, his presentation intentionally exceeded the mere philological and description exposition. He suggested, perhaps too prudently, that the vocabulary of Italian theory or contemporary political thought is expressively ambivalent. This is already food for thought, as it puts pressure (at least in my reading) to the ‘conceptual’ register of Italian theory, while reminding us of the necessity of thinking against every moral or ideological political analysis. This also seems to traverse all of contemporary Italian theory regardless of what P.P. Portinaro claims on this ground. But I would like to register a few movements of Philippe’s talk in order to provide continuation in the upcoming discussions.
1. Theophanidis began insisting on the relationship between community and language. Because we are speaking beings, capable of saying, we are in the common of language regarding what or how we speak. Beyond and prior to any substance of community and its predication, there is a koine of language as sayability. This of course connects to the vulgar language or the poetics that marks the Italian tradition and that it enters into crisis with the acceleration process of modernization in Italy the postwar scenario, and to which names such as Pasolini, Zanzotto, Morante, or Levi will respond to. The crisis of community is, first and foremost, the crisis of the commonality of language in its rich materiality of the living community of beings. Here I am reminded that in the same way that there is no “theory” of language – as it remains purely inconceptual before grammar – there is no theory of substantive community, nor can there be one. To posit the community in the economy of predication is already to instrumentalize the very need to liberate it from whatever is done in its name.
2. For Theophanidis the conversation about community emerges in the wake of the collapse of 20th century communism and the absolutization of individualism due to the rise of economic management. But this does not imply restitution; it rather points to an ambivalent sense by which the very separation of the modern installment of individual and collective, community and substance, the person and the law, collapses. The unity of ‘munus’ in Esposito is a way to think the irreducibility of what is common between more than one without a securing a principle of mediation. Now, this unbridgeable gap is the negative foundation of the community in Esposito after Bataille, and the French tradition of the 50s.
3. However, Theophanidis assesses Esposito’s insistence in notions such as debt and obligation as an attempt to escape the nihilism of equivalence and the modern delegation of state sovereignty to fully become individuals capable of accumulating the spiritualization of freedom. However, what to make of Esposito’s dependence on categories of the Christian metaphysical tradition such as obligation? I mentioned to Philippe that this registered could be contrasted to the position of natural law, which also emphasis on foundational obligations as to delimit a set of normatively public goods (this typology is most clearly expressed in John Finnis classic Natural Law and Natural Rights). From this it follows not only that Esposito would be close (even if residually) to natural law principles but inscribe his conceptual grid in tension with the mediation of obligations on the one hand, and the reality of a concrete community on the other. In other words, it seems to me that if Esposito cannot guarantee a mediation for the notion of “obligation”, then this notion insofar as it is freestanding concept cannot do the job for any community. It could only stand as such: that is, a merely conceptual. This is something that has reemerged somehow in Esposito’s most recent work in institutions, human rights, and political anthropology in his Pensiero istituente (2020) where mediation does play a role, suggesting that he does not want to be taken as merely conceptual. Of course, I agree with Theophanidis that munus is void, a schism that Esposito does not want to suture, and so in this sense (also as a critic of personalism and the persona) he differs fundamentally from the general ends of iusnaturalism. However, it seems to me that the difficulty regarding the operativity of obligation in Esposito’s renewal of community does not disappear, quite the contrary.
4. A question emerged as to whether community can transform the crisis of political form, or whether any talk about community had to be done ex politico or infrapolitically. Theophanidis defended separating community and politics, if by politics we mean a return to the classical principles of sovereignty and representation; but also, if by politics we imply a general morality that would inseminate direct consensus and legislation across the members of the community. Any reworking of the political has to be done from a counter-communitarian perspective insofar as what is ruined is precisely the community of salvation guaranteed by those that confess or by those that assent to a principle of representation that marks our crisis. Perhaps the negative community (the community of a poetics of language and use) is what remains the fiction of socialization that drags the collapse of political representation. Otherwise, community is a sort of aggregate form of administration that exist comfortably well within the regime of biopolitics (another ambivalent term for Esposito).
5. Finally, Theophanidis expressed, rightly so, some skepticism at the famous Thomas Müntzer’s motto Omnia sunt communia, which on the surface established a totalization of the commons, but in actuality it rendered a moral legislation of what is understood as commons on behalf of a consent of total ownership of property. In this sense, the communitarian claim of Müntzer was a precursor to Carl Schmitt attack against humanitarianism: whoever says Human wants to fool us, since the outermost limit becomes the inhuman or the uncommon that must be obligated, erased, and destroyed whether it is in the name of the Human or the Commons. This is ideology at its finest, and it explains why the itinerary of both humanity and community have experienced such a happy voyage well into our present: it has consolidated a dominating morality veiled under the guise of a contingent good of and for the community. Of course, the price to be paid, just like Thomas Müntzer had to pay, is that the price of one’s head: the figure of acephaly now funds the differential structure of equivalence. Any reworking of community must be thought from and against collective equivalent execution, which is the real truth latent underneath every consensus and every morality.