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The Answer is Blowing in the Wind—Giacomo Marramao Responds

Giacomo Marramao25 January 2016

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In the third part of our four-part series on Giacomo Marramao's The Passage West: Philosophy After the Age of the Nation State, Marramao responds to the collection of essays on his book on politics, philosophy, and declining state sovereignty that appeared in a recent issue of Política común. The first two articles can be read here and here.

Let me start by saying that the essays about my book The Passage West that are collected in this issue of Política Común encompass such a wealth of observations that I can only recall the Spinozian tenor of Hegel’s famous dictum on freedom: Einsicht in die Notwendigkeit, the awareness of necessity. Rather than respond I will attempt to reformulate my thesis and redefine its concepts along the lines of the aforementioned readings. Consistent with Hegel’s necessitated liberty I will proceed discursively. It may be the only appropriate way to reply to the many solicitations and questions raised by the contributions presented here, and by the discussion panels that several American universities organized around my book in October-November 2012, from UC Berkeley and UC Irvine to Texas A&M University, Stony Brook University and Columbia University in New York City.

Before I examine these comments, however, I would like to provide the reader with a few indications about my intellectual and philosophical itinerary. Although in the 1970s I published several essays in English-language journals (such as Telos, Differentia, and, later, Constellations) my intellectual profile is more familiar to the Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese speaking areas than to the Anglophone one. Ever since my early days in Florence, both in high school and in college, my education was marked by my crucial encounter with Marx’s work. My Marx was light-years from orthodoxy, however. I met his work at the juncture of the two tendencies that produced a radical rupture within Marxism in the 1960s: the operaismo of Mario Tronti’s Operai e capitale and Louis Althusser’s post-structuralist and anti-humanist stance. I elaborated my critique of the historicist tradition that was typical of Italian Marxism precisely at the intersection of these two interpretive axes. In my first monograph, Marxismo e revisionismo in Italia (1971), I did not leave even Gramsci’s theoretical results untouched. In my view, Giovanni Gentile’s philosophical interpretation of Marx still warped Gramsci’s. In spite of my critical opinion of Gramsci’s still idealist “philosophy of praxis”, in that initial reflection I formulated the two competing and complementary drives that would characterize my future research: a) a search for a scientific approach to historical forms and structures that comprises both moments of continuity and rupture—history-as-a-process as well as history-as-an-event; b) a search for an articulate analysis of the material and symbolic dynamics by which we constitute subjects.

In the mid-1970s, during my years at the Goethe-Universität, my encounter with the Frankfurt School drove me to deepen and broaden these aforementioned lines of research. Over the course of those intense years, I grew familiar with Oskar Negt and Hans-Jürgen Krahl’s radical Critical Theory. Later, I would undergo a fecund intellectual exchange with Jürgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel, Claus Offe, and Axel Honneth, as well as with thinkers distant from Kritische Theorie such as Niklas Luhmann and Reinhart Koselleck, and finally with Hans-Georg Gadamer and Rüdiger Bubner, the leaders of philosophical hermeneutics. On one hand, my understanding of the Frankfurt School’s main theses predisposed me to the turn heralded by the analysis of the “reification” mechanisms typical of mass society and of the practical-theoretical importance of the “objective factor of subjectivity”. On the other, it vaccinated me against the contradictions intrinsic to Horkheimer and Adorno’s notion of “totality”, whose critique I pursued via a thorough confrontation with the social sciences. My appreciation of the theoretical-economical, theoretical-political, and genealogical contributions of authors such as Friedrich Pollock, Henryk Grossmann, Franz Borkenau, Otto Kirchheimer, and Franz Neumann stemmed from my criticism of Dialectic of Enlightenment’s emphasis on “continuity”. Between 1973 and 1975, I thus wrote several essays on the “hidden side” of the Frankfurt School, on Grossman’s theory of crisis, and on Pollock’s planned economy (my friendship with Perry Anderson and encounter with Martin Jay facilitated their publication in English). Later I published the monographs Austromarxismo (1977) and Il Politico e le trasformazioni (1979), where I examined the different ways in which European Marxism tried to deal with the profound mutations in the relationship between economy and politics that occurred between the two wars. I compared those Marxist reelaborations not only to the philosophies of crisis, but also to Weber, Schumpeter, Kelsen, and Schmitt. In 1977-78, I dedicated one of my first university courses to Carl Schmitt’s “concept of the Political”, an author then virtually absent from the Left’s theoretical elaborations. It was also the first course on the topic to be held in an Italian university.

The following year, in Il Politico e le trasformazioni (1979), my writing on Schmitt garnered some pronounced criticism. I still remember the surprise, or the unease, expressed by friends with whom I enjoyed intense philosophical exchanges in the late 1970s. A few years later, those friends would consider Schmitt differently: from Christine Buci-Glucksmann to Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau (I am deeply indebted to them, especially for leading me to revise my initial negative judgment of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony), to Étienne Balibar and Giorgio Agamben (who was already the sharp scholar of Heidegger, Arendt, and Benjamin, but not yet the theorist of homo sacer and of the “state of exception”). Setting off from this background, I strove for an appreciation of the “heretical” propensity that Kulturkritik demonstrated at the juncture of philosophy and the social sciences, in-between the two wars, and in the Mittel-European context. Thus the attention I paid to the philosophical-political and epistemological debates of Weimar Germany, and to the role the Austro-Marxist intelligentsia (Otto Bauer, Max Adler, Karl Renner) played in the Austrian culture of the first three decades of the 20th century. Two distinct and complementary reasons motivated my interest in these themes. On one hand, I attempted to locate the breaking points of both metaphysical and scientific “essentialism”. On the other, I concentrated on the precise moments at which 20th century thought brought into focus the phenomena of fragmented sovereignty and of dislocated forms of power and conflict. With regard to the first aspect, in the volume Austromarxismo (which was followed by a series of articles on the same topic published in Italy and abroad) I aimed at shedding light on the all-together innovative and problematic qualities of this particular line of thought, which re-interpreted Marx through the epistemological revolution brought about by Ernst Mach and Otto Neurath, and I engaged with Hans Kelsen's juridical and political philosophy from the point of view of Ernst Cassirer’s seminal essay “Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff” (1910). In spite of beings at odds on many issues, both the “Austro-Marxists” and Kelsen tried to “de-substantialize” the notions of State, Sovereignty, and People, and to transform them into “relational” and “functional” terms.

As far as the second aspect is concerned, in Il Politico e le trasformazioni I summed up the research I carried out during my Frankfurt years in order to inaugurate a new intellectual trajectory. By placing different forms of Marxism in conversation with Weber and Schumpeter’s analyses of the “rationalization” phenomenon, I then concentrated on the metamorphosis of the political in the transition from liberal to mass societies and on the shift from “Manchester-style” to “organized capitalism”. In that book, I rephrased a few motifs prevalent in the Anglo-American debates within the fields of historiographical and political science debates (in reference to Charles S. Maier and Philippe Schmitter) in terms of social philosophy, and pointed to “corporate pluralism” as one of the main factors responsible for the fragmentation of sovereignty. Moreover, I looked at the totalitarian solutions of the 1930s not as a reinstatement of sovereignty, but as an attempt to contain its splintering via practices of consensus, discipline, discrimination, and repression that aimed at a “nationalization of the masses”. (My first encounters with the works of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, strengthened by my friendship with Félix Guattari, dates back to the 1970s, as does my intellectual and then personal rapport with George Mosse). Furthermore, by freeing Weber’s category of “rationalization” from the unilateral reading characteristic of the Frankfurt School, Il Politico e le trasformazioni concluded by stressing the “polytheism of values” as a conflictual constellation of attack-points rather than a harmonic pluralism of point-of-views. Unlike its irenic and edifying versions, Weber’s Wertpolytheismus appeared to me at the time, and still does, not as a Pantheon but a Pandemonium. I connected Max Weber’s diagnosis-prognosis with Carl Schmitt’s “concept of the Political” along similar lines. For Schmitt, once the “epoch of neutralizations and de-politicizations” distinguished it and rendered it independent from the modern State-form, the “concept of the Political” had to relate to the tragic dimension of the conflict between values and world-visions marking the new technische Zeit. My joint reading of Weber and Schmitt, and the problem of politics’ transformations in the direction of Philippe Schmitter’s “post-Hobbesian order” have become constant reference points for my work, as attested by L’Ordine disincantato (1985) and Dopo il Leviatano (1995). Further on, I reached another conclusion: the roots of the processes that caused the crisis of the modern Leviathan’s grand structure will escape us as long as we limit our focus to traditional political philosophy. Instead, we need to broaden our analysis and produce a much-needed genealogical reconstruction of the premises of “Western rationalism”.

Within this frame of reference, Potere e secolarizzazione (1983) marked a significant turn in my intellectual itinerary. In this book, I assigned to the philosophical problem of time, axially related to the problem of power, the crucial role that it has occupied in my reflections ever since. From my perspective, the “theorem of secularization” is the most efficient analytic pattern by which we can reconstruct the genealogy of power. Such has been the case ever since the symbolic constellation established by Judeo-Christian—linear—time left the mark of its abyssal long wave on the body of Western thought. This cumulative temporality, irreversible and oriented toward the future, broke with the paradigmatic, synoptic, and Greek circularity of time, transforming the prophetic word into the first expression of worldly disenchantment, and historical time into the trajectory of the éschaton’s progressive secularization. As Max Weber and Karl Löwith pointed out, in spite of Heidegger and his “History of Nihilism and Metaphysics”, Jerusalem determined the Western destiny as much as Athens. Therefore, I saw that the metaphoric and symbolic constellation of a “futuring” time, together with the ideas of Progress, Revolution, and Liberation that were its pillars, revealed itself as the inescapable horizon of the modern concept of Universal History or World-History (Weltgeschichte) which, starting with Kant, was bound to permeate the unfolding of the philosophy of history between the 19th and 20th centuries.

In Potere e secolarizzazione, I retraced the steps of Western rationalism from the perspective of the metamorphosis of the intuition and experience of time. I summoned philosophical, artistic, and literary sources such as the Schmitt-Blumenberg debate on secularization; the Begriffsgeschichte of Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck; and, beginning with Hayden White’s seminal Metahistory, the English-language research on metaphor. Moreover, in my trajectory I addressed the very story of the social and natural sciences, from the first scientific revolution to the epistemological turn represented by Luhmann’s systemic paradigm and Thom’s “catastrophe theory”. To philosophical postmodernism I opposed the category of “hyper-modernity”, thus following Ludwig Wittgenstein’s thesis according to which Progress’ cumulative and “futuring” temporality is not merely a feature of Modernity, but rather its form, a “typically constructive” form (typisch aufbauend) whose activity amounts to erecting “ever more complex structures”. The latter assumption, via a philosophical reinterpretation of Koselleck’s “semantics of historical times”, led me to conclude that we can sum up our hyper-modern experience of time, whose “future past” syndrome is marked by increasingly intense and vertiginous innovations: we no longer wait or hope for a better future, but experience the future as a déjà-vu and as a repetition of the same. In a subsequent monograph, Cielo e terra (1994), I mapped out the long series of semantic shifts and metaphorical extensions that characterized the term “secularization”. Couched in the typically Western dualist horizon defined by the “eternity/secular world” pair, “secularization” morphed from a terminus technicus originating in the juridical realm to a theological notion and a concept in the philosophy of history. Eventually, in a hyper-modern Zeitgeist toddling along between the two poles of disenchantment, one at the hands of science and the other represented by the powerful return to myth and to forms of religious fundamentalism and “imagined communities,” “secularization” ended up denoting the crisis of all models of “teleological history”.

While Potere e secolarizzazione gave rise to intense international discussions, particularly in Italy, Germany, France, and in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, in the two ensuing volumes—Minima temporalia. Tempo, spazio, esperienza (1990) and Kairós. Apologia del tempo debito (1992), published in English as Kairós: Towards an Ontology of ‘Due Time’ (2007)—I dealt with time in the strictly theoretical sense. Somehow anticipating themes of the spatial turn, in these books I applied a “lateral shift” onto the views I had adopted in my genealogical research on secularization. Albeit with greatly different outcomes, both Bergson and Heidegger posited a pure or “authentic” form of temporality that was more “original” than its representations/spatializations. On the contrary, I argued that we could not cut through the time-space nexus. Recalling contemporary post-relativistic physics, I ascribed an aporetic and impure profile to the structure of time, whose spatial dimension was the inescapable formal referent by which we thought the paradoxes of time. Thus, I promoted a philosophical alternative, developed in dialogue with the languages of the arts and sciences, as a post-metaphysical ontology of “disorientation” and “difference” that I clearly conceived as utterly dissimilar from the current declensions of “nihilism”. I did not leverage the usual rhetoric of “overcoming” and “reversal”, but aimed at a practice of “perspectival de-angulation”. In other words, I was after a radical displacement of how the entire Western philosophical tradition—from Plato to Bergson, Aristotle to Leibniz, Nietzsche to Foucault, and Baudelaire to Benjamin—had visualized the “question of time”.

From that moment on, the category of difference came to play a pivotal role in my work. In my recent books—from Passaggio a Occidente (2003; The Passage West [2012]) to La passione del presente. Breve lessico della modernità-mondo (2008) and Contro il potere. Filosofia e scrittura (2011; English translation forthcoming with the John Cabot University Press)—I took the category of difference, which I elaborated in dialogue with the variegated archipelagos of the feminist philosophical thought of the 1970s, to be the reconstructive criterion for a “non-identitarian” i.e. plural and always conflictual, universal. In order to shed light on the conceptual and symbolic constellation of our global present, I brought together the genealogical perspective prevalent in Il Politico e le trasformazioni, Potere e secolarizzazione, Cielo e terra and Dopo il Leviatano with the theoretical stance of Minima temporalia and Kairós. But before I address the comments and answer the questions posed in the contributions collected here, please allow me yet another clarification.

In La passione del presente I developed further the perspective of a universalism of difference and of cosmopolitan multilateralism that already present in the first Italian edition of The Passage West (Passaggio a Occidente. Filosofia e globalizzazione, 2003). I organized the former around a series of key words; a possible lexicon the reader could use to circumnavigate the logic and structure of our world-modernity from different conceptual positions. In one of his famous pronouncements, Hegel assigned to the philosopher the task of providing a conceptual understanding of her or his own times in thought. As far as I can see, we cannot entrust this exquisitely philosophical and modern responsibility to other forms of knowledge, and even less to any self-described ultimate source of meanings. We should not, however, confuse the perspectives of an “ontology of the present” with those of an “ontology of actuality”, as Foucault did. In order to think of the present in a radical and conceptual way, we must grasp that secret, Nietzschean (and hence future-, not past-oriented), untimely fold which, Kant would say, carries in itself the signum prognosticum of an advent we conceive not as a “horizon” but as a symbolic “potential” bound to bring about an opening of experience to the future. This is how I explain the title: the passion of the present, of a present calling us, implies not only that philosophical reflection is part and parcel of the destiny of our times, but also that the present implicates our very same philosophical subjectivity (like all subjectivities) in the way we feel or suffer under the weight and the necessitating logics of such a present.[1]

In this book, I explicitly state the need to bring together the alternative styles of analytic and hermeneutic philosophies. Among the inescapable preconditions of our coming to terms with the truth/interpretation quandary that currently paralyzes contemporary philosophical research is the necessity of keeping open the tense space these two traditions of thought delimit. Moreover, and above all, in doing so we will connect our diagnosis of the present to the dimension of the possible and of decision, steering it towards the frame of reference of an ontology of the contingent. This task is particularly urgent in a contemporary global juncture such as ours, which is, more than ever, characterized at the symbolical level by the implosion of the future and the dominance of a “past future”, and at the theoretical level by the divergence of “absolutism” and “relativism”. Therefore, the thesis I propose in my book arises from the influential scene of a world-modernity I identify as the passage from the “colonization of the future” (fulfilled by the Western ideology of Progress) to the “eternizing of the present”. We see this present in the guise of a paradoxical imago æternitatis that pairs up “agitation and sterility” (Alain Badiou), feverish acceleration and stagnation, thereby incurring the risk of removing the “kairological” dimension, i.e. the possible and contingent that is proper to all junctures. Under the mask of religious fundamentalisms, identitarian violence characterizes the trans-territorial and transcultural conflicts typical of a glocalized world that is homogeneous and diasporic at once. Such conflicts are but the interface of an epoch of “sad passions” brought about by the crisis of the future as a horizon of expectations. Yet next to the perverse interlacing of the phenomena of depressive implosions with molecular explosions that we ascribe to the looming pathological quality of identity logic, in various parts of the planet we also witness the rise of freedom movements demanding a multilateral reconstruction of the universalistic project. Sharing Hamlet’s famous warning to Horatio, the participants of those movements deem that the forms of rationality, and hence the roads to freedom and democracy, are more numerous than our insufficient philosophies currently imagine. My book’s key words are therefore the threads I weave to achieve the fabric of such a philosophical reconstruction. I am convinced that only if we set off by radically critiquing the reified, substance-like, notions of the Self, acknowledging that all identities—personal or collective, cultural or religious—are irreducibly dynamic and processual, simultaneously relational and antonymic, do we open the theoretic-processual perspective of a universalism of difference that Deleuze’s fecund, quasi-Kantian intuition made pivot on the logic of “disjunctive synthesis”.

In light of this perhaps slightly impertinent but also hopefully useful self-description, I will now finally proceed to my brief “reactive commentary” to the intense and stimulating contributions collected here.

Among the first aspects of my book to attract the readers’ interest is the representational form of the global scene. I am particularly grateful to Teresa M. Vilarós for her acute and elegant remarks on the “topological quality” of my “theoretical map of the global”, and for seeing in it “a figure-movement alternative to the traditional Euclidean geometrical one”. She detects in my book the echo of the “quantum fold” of the catastrophe theory that René Thom described mathematically. Her observation is accurate. In the early 1980s philosophical and political discussions were in the throes of a “crisis of the concept of crisis”. As I already pointed out, it occurred to me that the paradigm of katastrophé, as a radical break and a change of shape (morphogenesis), was our only chance to abandon the concept of crisis, a lemma we had already weakened and ritualized by converting it from a pathological condition into the description of the physiological state of a self-perpetuating system. For this reason, the concepts of catastrophe and “bifurcation” have been firm points of reference for me since the first edition of Potere e secolarizzazione (1983). As both The Passage West and Dopo il Leviatano attest, these references are still valid today for my mapping of the glocal, and for my broader project, which is topological-qualitative (in the Leibnizian sense), not quantitative-uniform (in the Newtonian sense). Aptly comparing Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth with his 1962 lecture titled “El orden del mundo después de la segunda guerra mundial”, Teresa Vilarós stresses Schmitt’s awareness of the evident discontinuity existing between the modern, flat, and “smooth” territorial dimension of modern spatiality and the new “striped” and multidimensional feature of global spatiality characterized by “magnetic fields of energy and human work”. She also notes correctly that Schmitt’s vision of technische Zeit, though registering the “bio-political quality” of a global force field shifting from the land-sea dualism to the dominance of the air, could not account for the scenarios currently opened by the advent of the digital and of a “plethora of smart biotechnologies”.

Finally, I agree with the last step of her reasoning. She argues that the no longer Promethean, but nostalgic, posthumous (akin to a “Christian Epimetheus”) attitude typical of the late Schmitt reflects back to us a distorted, yet specular, image of Benjamin’s “Angel of History”. However, in my conception of a passage “without a destination”, which is contingent and risky precisely because neither teleology nor destiny can guarantee it, she is right to perceive my claim for a radically new philosophical style made up of non-linear sets of conjunctions and disjunctions, as my beloved poet-thinker Octavio Paz put it, via a hendiadys. By interlacing concepts and images the philosophy I pursue should in fact convey the paradoxical synchronicity of what is asynchronous in a world that has become global. On this globe, the material and the symbolic dimensions are often out of synch, thus forcing dynamics of liberation that are potentially universal and positive to coexist in the curvature of the same space with identitarian mechanisms that are merely reactive and negative. The latter, especially in their pseudo-fundamentalist and terrorist guises, are doomed to be annihilated in the internecine wars raised by the parasitical chrysalides competing for global dominion.

The phenomenon of the exponential inflation of the logics of identity is also the departure point of Manuela Marchesini’s intense and sophisticated essay. The true nature of the identitarian phenomenon is obfuscated by readings in the interpretive line of the “end of history” and of the “clash of civilizations”. In spite of their antithetic stances, at once neutralizing and depoliticizing, those interpretations share the same complicitous and unilateral approach to the global. On the contrary the universalism of difference that I propose clearly differs from, on one hand, the universalism of an Enlightenment tradition that is supremacist even in its nobler formulations, and, on the other, the anti-universalism of the cultural differences that call themselves multiculturalist. Because it posits what the liberal democrat Amartya Sen called a sort of “plural mono-culturalism” or, as I prefer to say, a mosaic of ironclad monads with “neither doors nor windows”, multiculturalism is no less identitarian than its supposed alternative. Manuela Marchesini appropriately connects my universalism of difference with two themes that are crucial to me: the symbolic and the threshold, or the field-effect and the boundary-line. Such themes summon illustrious theories or well-known positions in international debates, from which I nonetheless distance myself. While I do consider Lacan’s work as a definitive acquisition, as I have stated on multiple occasions and also at two international meetings organized by Jacques-Alain Miller, I cannot but find Lacan’s Imaginary-Symbolic-Real tripartition of psychic life insufficient. In particular, I deem the last two terms of the triad especially weak. The almost cacophonic variety of Lacan-inspired elaborations characteristic of both native and affiliated philosophical exponents of “French Theory”, from Badiou and Žižek to my dear late friend Ernesto Laclau, is there to prove it.

Coming now to the question that Manuela Marchesini puts forth concerning the relationship between the Symbolic and the Real, I surely do not deny the idea of the traumatic shock we suffer when we encounter the “opaque material” that resists symbolization. But I have serious doubts about the mechanical transposition of such shocks from the individual plane to the plane of political and historical events. The risk I see is that the Real will end up functioning as it does in Žižek, as a container that does not differentiate among the most disparate events. But in the sphere of collective social experience, we still have to discriminate between Adorno’s “unthinkable” Horror of Auschwitz and the unforeseeable or unimaginable character of 9/11, without renouncing the Hegelian “conceptual work” by which we bring those events to the Real that contains them. Therefore the redefinition of the symbolic I propose, implicit in The Passage West but developed in my others works, points to a field-effect that includes not just mere polyphony but also dissonance, not consent but dissent, not dialogue but conflict, not Habermas’ Verständigung but Mißverständnis, not agreement but disagreement as its constitutive and vital factors (I am not sure if at this point my interests converge with Rancière. In any case it would be an unintentional point of contact since my line of thought has been maturing independently of his writings). As far as the Real is concerned, I would posit it as a boundary-line, a threshold we conceive as a margin between the inside and the outside, between identity and alterity, like a non-place of separation-condivision or, to adopt the oxymoron used by another great exponent of post-Freudian psychoanalysis such as Wilfred Bion, a “contact barrier” between what is conscious and what is unconscious. In its orderly recursivity, as well as in the fragmentariness that the traumatic irruption of opacity engenders, the flux of daily experience springs out from this cum-tangere in forms that obviously differ at the singular and at the collective levels. Marchesini paints an exquisite portrait of the threads connecting rhetoric, narrativity, and the universal-singular interface (to which I will return later), all themes that are dear to me. I hope these ideas of mine will meet her need for an engagement with the specifically Italian—not only the philosophical, but also the literary and philological traditions—from the perspective of a cosmopolitanism of difference centering on the shift in the passage from a comparative paradigm to that of a politics-of-translation. I cannot but share her need having studied on multiple occasions key figures, such as Dante and Machiavelli, Pasolini and Gramsci. Moreover, during my studies in Florence I benefited not just from Eugenio Garin’s teachings on the culture of Renaissance Italy, but also from the great philologist Gianfranco Contini’s brilliant lessons, which notoriously encompassed literary, political, and philosophical texts.

That said, from the field of tension framed by the polarity universal/singular, we now see arising the stricto sensu political issue underlying my reading of globalization as a “passage West”: who is the subject of the passage? And, subsequently, what role is the Subject Europe called to play in this passage? These are the key questions that Alberto Moreiras poses, conjuring up several theses I put forth in the new, augmented edition of Dopo il Leviatano (2013). These eight theses summarize the (provisional) result of my philosophical journey, thus shedding some retrospective light on The Passage West. After a swift summary of the first six theses, Moreiras directs his attention to the last two, the more explicitly “normative” ones. In those two theses I try to hypothesize a potentially innovative role for the European macro-region in a context (and contest) that is global. Inviting me to purge my perspective of any suspicious Eurocentrism, Moreiras wonders if we should understand Europe not as an autonomous subject, one that is now politically absent, but as an allegory of the new global entity we need to build. I find his remark insightful and pertinent. To clarify my project, allow me to recall a few preliminary considerations I drew in the preface to Dopo il Leviatano, without which my proposal would be difficult to understand. First, how are we to understand the title of the book? We should not take it as alluding to an “overcoming” of the postmodern sort, but rather as a hint to our awareness of the forever-defining threshold that the Leviathan represents, namely the advent of egalitarianism on the scene of history. To us, this is an irreversible change, a point of no return which should remind us of Tocqueville’s injunction: once it bursts onto history’s stage, egalitarianism will never be thrown out. It may well be, as, indeed, it has been violated, denied, warped, distorted in a thousand manners; but it will never be erased from the horizon of procedural change and from the consciousness of subjugated subjects. As in any genuine rupture, however, this fact does not prevent what followed the Leviathan from unlocking the possibility of different, even unheard of, ways of rethinking what preceded it.

First of all, it lets us re-read the last five “long centuries” of Western history, as Giovanni Arrighi felicitously called them, in terms of the cyclical alternative or conflictual cohabitation of two principles: the ideas of worldhood and territoriality. Far from historical reconstruction, this perspective gives us the interpretive keys necessary to grasp three crucial features of our present as well as of our possible future. First, the demise of the state-form will not be rapid but possibly as long lasting as its formation was. Second, this demise will be anything but uniform. In fact, because of the specific dynamics of mondialisation, we see spaces that are characterized by the juxtaposition of “variable geometries”. Take, for instance, the declining state-form in the West vis-à-vis its rise in Asia and Latin America, where terms like homeland, nation, and people have positive connotations which oppose the hegemonic appetites of Western “globalism”. Third, the “bi-logic” split between the trend toward the uniformity of global capital and the trend toward the differentiation of life-styles generates not only a sort of perverse homologation/diaspora double bind, but also a structural sort of bidirectional relationship between “Supercapitalism” (Robert Reich) and the geo-cultural articulation of the global market. Any geopolitical approach that fails to take into account this articulation is bound to remain antiquarian.

The radical mutation we face today is in the order of spatiality, but not in the sense, as many are saying, that we have shifted from a modern to a global space. Neither did we shift sic et simpliciter from a solid to a “liquid modernity” (though if we look at the current political phenomenology of Europe, we might more properly talk of a “gaseous modernity”). On the contrary, each fluctuation and each current presupposes a higher source located in nuclei of power that are not in the least less “hard”, though they constantly move from one point of the planet to the next. The issue with spatiality now is that those “hard” logics of power transmigrated from the old spaces, defined by political representative systems, to the new, non-Euclidean ones defined by the relationships between geo-economy and geo-culture. The global world thus appears to be articulated in broad macro-regional or continental areas (from BRICs to Latin America) whose ethical and cultural forms of “capitalism” happen to be quite at odds with those of Western capitalism. In particular, non-Western capitalisms tend to be anti-individualistic, communitarian-hierarchical, and bound to forms of assistentialism, statism, and solidarity. For this reason, in my works I stressed the necessity to revise the extraordinary comparative framework of economical ethics that Max Weber gave us in his Religionssoziologie. Weber regarded non-Western ethics, starting with Confucianism, as unsuitable in promoting the development of a dynamic and productive society.

Although he tempered it in the last years of his life, we find a similar flaw even in Marx’s prognosis of capitalism’s future. According to Marx, the progressive expansion of the capitalist mode of production would have determined a substantial homogenization of social relationships at the planetary level. On the contrary, today we see capitalist domination on a global scale causing not mere uniformity, but generating simultaneous differentiations in the forms of social organization. This phenomenon carries a huge theoretical import, which we can summarize as follows: the production mode based on the commodity-form does not produce a society. In short, a market economy cannot totally transform itself into a market society. The passage from modes of production to social relationships is never mechanical. It always requires some symbolic and historical-deontic glue, cementing and shaping the socialization process. Consequently, every once in a while chameleonic capital must adapt to forms of social relations that arose in different times and contexts, and were modeled on different ethical, anthropological, and cultural bases. Rather, in today’s global scenario, societies shaped by communitarian ethics are able to achieve productivity levels superior to those of the individualistic and consumerist Western societies, despite, of course, the great contradictions and conflicts they undergo and the monstrous and disquieting hybrids they spawn. This drastic displacement of Western hegemony is precisely the context in which I formulated my appeal to Europe as a subject that, by upsetting the prognosis of its own great intellectuals (from Hegel to Marx, from Tocqueville to Weber), would potentially have all it takes to be ... the future of America.

Of course I think of a virtual subject that is incommensurable with the actual role (once hegemonic and today subaltern) that Europe played and continues to play in the context of globalization. Moreiras is right: Europe is the allegory of a subject that we have yet to build. The constitution of this new actor is neither the exclusive or predominant business of Europe as the geopolitical entity, nor the center of cultural irradiation that spawned the civilizations of the Americas, as Darcy Ribeiro dubbed it. Instead, this new subject appeals to all the forces and drives that on a planetary scale are moving in the direction of a multipolar cosmopolitanism. In other words, Europe will contribute to the constitution of such an actor, but surely not in terms of either cultural hegemony or yet another pathetic iteration of the self-assessed, allegedly universalistic, brand of humanitas. Instead, it will play its part in terms of a politics of translation based on a genealogy of ruins.

I am aware that a genealogy of ruins is bound to sound “archeological” to those who, like my friend Toni Negri, extol in its stead the “power of the multitude” as an already-constituted subject. The noble term multitude, however, which refers to a notion that has competed with the concept of “people” since the beginning of the modern era, happens to give off an archeological whiff far stronger than my proposal: namely, the constitution of a revolutionary transcultural subjectivity that we can create via a politics of translation at whose heart will lie an act of “self-narration” on the part of the European philosophical and political heritage. This narration will not amount to a memorializing of European glories—even those genuinely revolutionary—but to an elaboration of mourning and a genealogy of ruins in line with Walter Benjamin. Since I agree with myself on the philosophical and political battle I wage against all reductio ad Unum, I cannot but agree with Negri, whose theoretical work I find of remarkable importance, when he states that we should identify “new political categories” through the “analysis of commonwealth rather than through the hypostasis of unity” (2003, 29). Therefore, I understand his call for a conception of the subject as “a multiplicity of singularities that under no condition can find a representative unity” (2003, 29) to be the same as the artificial unity to which the modern state ascribed the name of the people. However, I do not see why the only concept fitting the figure of the singular Universal or of the multiple Commonwealth should perforce be that of multitude and not that of “people”, if we take the latter to be not the juridical fiction of a tradition spanning from Hobbes to Kelsen but as a political construct perhaps more akin to Machiavelli’s postulate than it is to Ernesto Laclau’s theory of the “empty signifier”.

- this piece was originally published in Política común.

- In part one Martin Jay responds to The Passage West. 

- In part two of the series Hayden West provides his own response to the book.

- You can read the second part of Marramao's response to commentators on his book here.


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