A Latin empire against the German dominance? The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben explains his much-discussed thesis. Apparently, he had been misunderstood.
Professor Agamben, when you floated the idea in March of a ‘Latin imperium’ against Germanic domination in Europe, could you have imagined the powerful resonance this contention would have? In the meantime your essay has been translated into countless languages and passionately discussed across half the continent…
No, I didn’t expect this. But I believe in the power of words, when they are spoken at the right time.
It has become customary, when criticising the imperialism of Western reason, to emphasise its reliance on the production of 'others' – pathological, animalistic, irrational, pre-modern. The tale told in this book was occasioned, like most genealogies and histories of ideas, by the attempt to confront and counter a prominent feature of its present: the designation of 'fanaticism' as the principal menace to social peace. In the metropoles of global capital, the first decade of the new millennium seemed to unfold under the ideological sign of a renewed war between Enlightenment and unreason – in the guise of that unstable amalgam of religion, politics and violence represented by international or, more commonly, 'Islamic' terrorism. There is no shortage of coruscating denunciations of how the spontaneous philosophy of the 'war on terror' – the many variations on how 'our values' of liberalism and tolerance are threatened by the murderous radicalisation of subaltern populations – spread a very thin veneer over a long global history of dispossession, racialisation and the instrumental uses of fundamentalist groups against popular movements and geopolitical foes. The task I set myself was very different, if not unrelated: not so much to engage in a critique of the dominant ideology, but to show, through the systematic investigation of certain crucial episodes in the life of an idea, how 'fanaticism' could serve both as an instrument of depoliticisation and as a kind of inverted prism through which to rethink the question of intransigent subjectivity, in a period when, throughout the world, precarious efforts at emancipatory politics are met by well-tested apparatuses of neutralisation.