Thursday, January 26, 2012

Between the City of Athens and the City of God [Incomplete Rough Draft]

I apologize for the unfinished character of this, it is very much under constructions.

                I've been thinking about the problem of politics a lot lately.  This may seem a bit obvious, but I don't mean it to be.  The problem I have been thinking about is what constitutes politics.  I have been re-reading a series of books and articles by thinkers as diverse as Gillian Rose, Gaspar Tamás and Jacques Rancière.  I was looking for an essay on Hegel's notion of Law and I ran across an essay called "On Law, Transgression, and Forgiveness: Hegel and the Politics of Liberalism" by Sharon Hoff, who teaches at The Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto.  I am struck by the broad similarities of all of these contributions, as well as of the subtle differences between them, and I believe a broad presentation of the ideas of each, a discussion of their differences, and a working through of the whole offers some important ways to begin to rethink what politics entails.
                Jacques Rancière, in Hatred of Democracy, opens up the question of democracy by posing the modern complaint against democratic society as simultaneously an ancient complaint against democracy: democracy is the uncontrolled individual and appetite, the self-serving egoistic world in which fathers address their sons, teacher their students, governors their governed as equals and vice-versa.  It is a society in which no one knows their place nor does anyone really have a place.
                The only democracy which is recognized as good is "that form of government and social life capable of controlling the double excess of collective activity and individual withdrawal inherent to democratic life." (p. 8)  This is necessary because "in modern terms, it will be said that underneath the universal citizen of the democratic constitution, we must recognize the real man, that is to say, the egotistical individual of democratic society." (p. 35)  These are all so many ways of saying that left to their own devices people will not be responsible.  This is the political corollary of the economic argument that if people weren't forced to work for a living, they would just lay around and do nothing.  The same disingenuous logic applies in both cases, as the persons enunciating the argument always see themselves as not only not in need of such external discipline, but in some sense as qualified to at least defend this punitive and moralistic coercion and maybe even enact it.
                This however is not politics; this is the logic of police or oligarchic governance.  For police logic the right to govern belongs only to those with legitimate claims to rule, whether by natural or social differences, kinship or ability.  Democracy is the rule by lot, by chance, the de-legitimating of rule from kinship or ability, and as such democracy is like the part of no part.  Politics only actually begins with the separation of governance from natural or social hierarchy.  Hence Rancière's implied claim that all politics is actually democratic and all democracy is political.  Even in oligarchic governance there must be the presence of politics because either the elders must govern the educated or the educated must govern the faithful or the faithful must govern the elders, in all their infinite permutations of hierarchical claims.  All of them must appeal to something which is held by none of them, but which is also something held by those with no title to govern: this is the part of no part. 

It is simply the power peculiar to those who have no more entitlements to govern than to submit. (p. 46-7)
As soon as the link with nature is severed, as soon as governments are obliged to represent themselves as instances of the common of the community, separated from the sole logic of relations of authority immanent to the reproduction of the social body, there is a public sphere, which is a sphere of encounters and conflicts between two opposed logics of police and politics, of the naturl government of social competencies and the government of anyone and everyone. (p. 55)

                If democratic society is a society of non-rule as the difference between policing and politics, most of what we think of as politics is actually policing, and it takes two particular forms: the liberal administrative-rational conception and the communitarian conception. All governments and societies are oligarchic in his view; they all separate life into a public sphere and a private sphere, a sphere of citizens and of bourgeois, and they seek to make the sphere of politics into their own private sphere.  The public sphere is the sphere of open contestation, of what is everyone's concern.  The two modes of policing, however much they differ in their own modes of functioning, share the same desire to privatize politics and make it a matter of policing.  Politics then becomes the process of justifying the right to rule of this or that oligarchy, whether along liberal-rationalist lines of justification or along communitarian lines of justification.  The public sphere is privatized by being purged of private interest and thereby reduced to the domain of the interplay of professionals and institutions.
                Democracy is a double transgression of this tendency because it is a movement of extending the equality of public man to other domains of life in common, particularly those that govern the limitlessness of capitalist wealth, and it is also a movement reaffirming the belonging of anyone and everyone to that public sphere.  Democracy is the struggle to make public what has been privatized.  The hatred of democracy then is not the hatred of choice, of voting, of rights, but of the tendency to identify what domination would prefer to treat privately as a public matter, something to be openly contested as a matter of everyone's concern.
                There is a brief critique of the Arendt-Agamben notion that rights are either purely tautological (a citizen is someone who had rights, and someone who has rights is a citizen) or empty (human rights refer to bare life, the rights of those who have no rights because they are not a political subject.)  In this way, Rancière discusses the split between Man and Citizen.  Police logic would separate Man from Citizen absolutely, separating thereby Public from Private.  Arendt and Agamben do not, as they seem to think, register a truth, but reinforce police logic by hypostatizing the dualism of Man and Citizen.  Again, politics and political action
…opposes to the police logic that separates into spheres another usage of the same juridical text, another staging of the duality between public man and private individual.  It overturns the distribution of terms and places by playing man against citizen and citizen against man.  As a political name, the citizen opposes the rule of equality fixed in law and in principle to the inequalities that characterize 'men', that is to say private individuals subjected to the powers of birth and wealth.  And, conversely, the reference to 'man' opposes the equal capacity of everyone to all privatization of citizenship: those which exclude such and such a part of the population from citizenship, of those which exclude such and such a domain of collective life from the rule of citizen equality. (p. 59)
                A first significant limitation presents itself here, because Rancière also has in mind a critique of Marx, but Rancière elides that confrontation because 'Man' for Marx is never merely 'Man as such', but a definite man in a definite set of social relations.  Marx does not lay out Man and Citizen, but Bourgeois and Citizen.  This is the dynamic particular to capitalist society.  This presentation of the contestation between democracy and oligarchy as an eternal struggle, where democracy can never be a way of running the world, but only a kind of perpetual contestation, marks an absolute limit in his presentation.  Rancière is to this extent a liberal thinker of resistance, not a radical thinker of revolution. 
                Nevertheless, let us continue a little further, for as a description of the dynamic of capitalist society this is reasonably true, and since we seek to leave capitalist society, we must exit from within, by the means given us.  As we shall see, his basic notion of democracy as especially encroaching on capitalist wealth and power on one side and communitarian forms that would impose direct relations of domination on the other, can be found in Tamás' work as well.
                So we have neither the privileging of Man over Citizen in the manner of the communitarian logic, nor Citizen over Man as in the administrative logic, but the interplay between the moments without either their absolute reconciliation or rupture.  Universal plays against particular and particular against universal, politics inhabits the aporias of each and in this even "the opposition of 'bare life' to political existence itself can also be politicized." (p. 59).  We do not yet live in a universal concentration camp.
In so doing, they factually refute the demonstration of Burke or Hannah Arendt.  Either, they say, the rights of man are the rights of the citizen, that is, the rights of those who have rights, which is a tautology; or the rights of the citizen are the rights of man. But since bare man has no rights, they are the rights of those who have no rights, which is an absurdity. So, in these presumed logical pincers, Olympe de Gouges and her companions insert a third possibility: the “rights of woman and citizen” are the rights of those who do not have the rights they have and who have the rights they do not have. They are arbitrarily deprived of the rights the Declaration grants without distinction to members of the French nation and the human species. But they also exercise, through their action, the rights of citizens that the law denies them. They thus demonstrate that they indeed have the rights they are denied. “Having” and “not having” are terms that are doubled. And politics is the operation of this doubling. The young black woman who, one day in December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, decided to remain in her seat on the bus, which was not hers, decided by this very fact that she had, as a citizen of the United States, the right that she did not have as a resident of a state that denied that seat to any individual having one-sixteenth or more “non-Caucasian” blood. And the blacks of Montgomery, who decided, with regard to this conflict between a private person and a transport company, to boycott the company, acted politically by staging the double relation of exclusion and inclusion inscribed in the duality of human being and citizen.

This is what is implied by the democratic process: the activity of subjects who, by working on the interval between identities, reconfigure the distribution of private and public, universal and particular. Democracy can never be identified with the simple domination of the universal over the particular. For, according to the logic of the police, the universal is incessantly privatized, incessantly brought back to a distribution of power between birth, wealth, and “ability” that plays out in the state as well as in society. This privatization is readily carried out in the name of the purity of public life, which is opposed to the particularities of private life or the social world. But this alleged purity of the political is only the purity of a distribution of terms, of a given state of relations between social forms of the power of wealth and the state privatization of the power of all. The argument confirms only what it presupposes: the separation between those who are and those who are not “destined” to deal with public life and the distribution of public and private. The democratic process must therefore constantly bring the universal into play in a polemical form. The democratic process is the process of this perpetual bringing into play, this invention of forms of subjectification and cases of verification that counteract the perpetual privatization of public life. Democracy indeed signifies, in this sense, the impurity of politics, the challenge to governments’ claims to embody the sole principle of public life and thereby to  circumscribe the understanding and extension of this public life. If there is an “illimitation” proper to democracy, this is where it resides: not in the exponential multiplication of the needs or desires emanating from individuals, but in the movement that unceasingly displaces the limits of public and private, of the political and the social. p. 60-1

                Rancière is not indifferent to what would make our system of representation more democratic in his sense, either.  That is, there are practical steps which would be taken, and they remind me a bit of Marx's discussion of the Paris Commune and the steps enacted that pointed towards the abolition of the state.
                Overall, his insight points towards a tendency that is anarchistic as well, of a world without government.  This would be the other side of a liberal politics of resistance, that it ultimately inscribes the side of Law as always that of domination, and the side of ethics as always that of resistance to domination.  The Law and the Ethical, Reason and Will, remain split irretrievably in Rancière.  I am reminded of nothing so much as Hegel's discussion of Enlightenment and Faith in the Philosophy of Spirit, and the logic of Enlightenment which ends in the attempted immediate unity of individual and universal will in absolute freedom, the result of which was absolute Terror.
                A different reading of public and private, Law and Ethics, emerges in the work of Gaspar Tamás.  Society and government are not transhistorical oligarchic structures where a minority dominates a majority, although the dynamic of civic man and ethical man remains central to his discussion.  The split between citizen and bourgeois identified by Marx animates Tamás conception of modern politics, and he stakes his analysis on the trend since the Enlightenment to assimilate citizenship to the human condition, within the limits of the nation-state.  This tendency goes against the limited notion of citizen in pre-capitalist society, which was restricted to the elite and conferred by
the lawfully constituted authority, according to expediency.  Christianity, like some Stoics, sought to transcend this kind of limited citizenship by considering it second-rate or inessential when compared to a virtual community of the saved. Freedom from sin was superior to the freedom of the city. During the long, medieval obsolescence of the civic, the claim for an active membership in the political community was superseded by the exigencies of just governance, and civic excellence was abbreviated to martial virtue.[1] 
Citizenship since the Enlightenment is associated with human dignity.  This is evident in the universalizing collective struggles of the workers' movement, the women's movement, the civil rights movement, and so on.  These struggles, fundamentally about the improvement of the condition of the people involved and about their unqualified claim to human dignity and equal treatment, did not eschew conceiving of this universalizing of human dignity with rights, equality before the law, and full citizenship.  As Tamás puts it, "it appeared fairly obvious that the merger of the human and the political condition was, simply, moral necessity."  His conception of post-fascism applies to the entire matrix of contemporary politics because in his view both liberalism and communitarianism now seek to generate what he calls, following Ernst Fraenkl's analysis of Nazi Germany, a dual-state.  Post-fascism seeks as assuredly as fascism did to reverse "Enlightenment tendency to assimilate citizenship to the human condition."[2]
                Not unlike in Rancière's notion of democracy, the assimilation of citizenship to the human condition entails the expansion of the public against the private.  For Tamás however what is at issue is not "real politics" versus "policing", but a politics of liberation versus a politics of domination.  Both are very much real politics, but the political philosophy of socialism inverts the relation of private and public[3].  Everything that was private for capitalist society, such as wealth, income, housing, medical care, etc., that is, the entire range of civil society, is public, is political.  For Tamás, following Marx, the abolition of domination is certainly possible, but to do so does not mean fleeing from the assimilation of citizenship to the human condition, to an unmediated, apolitical flight, but from the radical completion of that assimilation which "required a revolution (doing away with the appropriation of surplus value and an end to the social division of labor)."[4]
                However, such an inversion does not go far enough.  Tamás understates the magnitude of the dilemma.  As the women's movement of the 1970's put it, "the personal is political".  That is, most importantly, what seem like family and interpersonal relations are also relations of power.  What seem like attitudes and prejudices are actually relations of domination as well.  The universalizing element of these struggles thus not only inverted the public and private, but struggled along the lines of Rancière's thought, to make public and subject to general contestation those relations of domination, or to put it another way, to constitute them as relations of domination rather than as organic, biological matters or as matters of bad legislation and administration, exactly by resisting them as such.  There is thus a sense in which Rancière exceeds Tamás, but Tamás exceeds Rancière.  Tamás' resolution is also more or less squarely in the domain of councilist thought.  His ending makes clear this limitation:
Social justice, that is, petty bourgeois egalitarianism (sorry) opposes mostly consumer interests, i. e., interests of private persons, thereby perpetuates the cleavages at the basis of alienation. Addressing exploitation head-on is a reply to liberal political philosophy where politics stops at the factory gate and at the office door. The private/public dichotomy as it is currently operated is groundless. Reuniting producers with the means of production would theoretically and practically solved this problem caused by their separation.[5]
Reuniting the producers with the means of production by itself is not good enough.  It assumes that the producers in a way still belong to the means of production and it to them.  The productive capacity of society is a social capacity, but the engagement of the individual has to be her own.  Only if the individual is free in relation to the productive capacity of society and if that capacity is bound to serve humanity as a whole can we speak of communism.
                Nor will reuniting the producers with the means of producing ensure that "the reference to 'man' opposes the equal capacity of everyone to all privatization of citizenship: those which exclude such and such a part of the population from citizenship, of those which exclude such and such a domain of collective life from the rule of citizen equality." (Hatred of Democracy p. 59)  The moment which would undermine the communitarian is lost.
                Gillian Rose confronts the problems of private and public and libertarian and communitarian politics in another way.  Both libertarians (roughly akin to neo-liberal liberals) and communitarians accuse the liberal welfare state and socialism of failure due to waste and bureaucracy.  There is a general move from statism (socialism, fascism, and welfare statism) to an anti-statism (libertarianism a.k.a. liberal individualism, communitarianism), which is also a move from a universalism still entrapped within the illusory community of the state to various kinds of particularism (in philosophy as well as in politics.)  We might thus think of four moments in the current constellation of liberal, libertarian, communitarian, ethno-cultural identitarian and work out a map in the following manner of the interplay of those moments:

The constellation of current positions in the absence of a universalizing politics presents itself fairly clearly in these binary relations[6].
                As Rose notes, "liberals defend the autonomy and independence of the individual as conceived in the legal notion of human and civic 'rights', across the range of social and political meanings from 'entitlement' to 'free choice', while communitarians draw attention to the embeddedness of individuals in networks of shared meanings and social norms." (p. 3).  At issue is the voluntary association of free individuals constituting the polity versus the organic community resting on history, territory, language and custom which cements the political bond.[7]  The libertarian demands a minimal state and taxes and an emphasis on individual choice.  In the resultant cultural pluralism (common both to the neo-liberalism, produced by the mixing of liberalism with libertarianism, and to identity politics, created by the mixing of liberal pluralism with communitarianism), class is gone and communalities are formed by race, gender, religion, nationality, sexuality, language, ad infinitum.  What differentiates one kind of communitarianism from the other, liberal pluralist from libertarian, is exactly the use of preferential legislation to redress and advance the empowerment of previously disadvantaged cultural 'categories' of people.  Both libertarian individualism and the communitarian interest group are arbitrary, but both have something crucial in common: "both are types of legitimizing domination as authority". (p. 4)
                Neither one is political insofar as "Politics begins not when you organize to defend an individual or particular or local interest, but when you organize to further the 'general' interest within which you particular interest may be represented." (p.4)  Rose notes that in light of "this shard refusal to take responsibility for what Weber called the 'legitimate violences' of modern politics, libertarianism and communitarianism require other agencies to act on their behalf.
Libertarian extensions of the right of 'individuals', the right to purchase and consume goods and services, presuppose and widen the already unequal distribution of opportunities and resources within capitalist society.  Extension of individual rights amounts to an extension not an attenuation of coercion: it calls for a reinforcement of the police function to contain the consequences of inequality.  Communitarian empowerment of 'ethnic' and gender pluralities presupposes and fixes a given distribution of 'identities' in a radically dynamic society.  'Empowerment' legitimizes the potential tyranny of the local or particular community in its relations with its members and at the boundary with competing interests.  It is the abused who become the abusers; no one and no community is exempt from the paradoxes of 'empowerment'. (p. 4-5)
The perspicacity of this analysis is evident from the riots in England and the response of Cameron and the Liberal Party to the experience of 'community politics' and racialized and gendered struggles over representation in urban politics where only someone "from the community" can represent "the community".
                Both the liberal and the communitarian split Law and Ethics and demand their re-fusion in an immediacy that places one over the other.  These re-fusions do not have only one form, but play out as I noted above, in the form of liberal and libertarian forming an individualistic multi-culturalism
                For Rose, these splits are reflective of the Kantian diremption if Law and Ethics, both philosophically and in the split of citizen and bourgeois, practically.  Rose seeks a bringing together of Law and Ethics, but without the pretense of one succeeding over the other or that such a bringing together entails some perfect, non-contradictory fit.  Tamás at one point in his discussion of post-fascism recognizes exactly this split in a very clear way:
Before the Enlightenment, citizenship was a privilege, an elevated status limited by descent, class, race, creed, gender, political participation, morals, profession, patronage, and administrative fiat, not to speak of age and education. Active membership in the political community was a station to yearn for, civis Romanus sum the enunciation of a certain nobility. Policies extending citizenship may have been generous or stingy, but the rule was that the rank of citizen was conferred by the lawfully constituted authority, according to expediency. Christianity, like some Stoics, sought to transcend this kind of limited citizenship by considering it second-rate or inessential when compared to a virtual community of the saved. Freedom from sin was superior to the freedom of the city. During the long, medieval obsolescence of the civic, the claim for an active membership in the political community was superseded by the exigencies of just governance, and civic excellence was abbreviated to martial virtue.
If the Enlightenment tends to bring Law and Ethics into relief, it does not really bring them together.  The problem Rose takes up is that there is never an immediate identity of Law and Ethics.  Where there is a claim to such a thing, you have tyranny and ethical crisis.  Kant, like capitalist society, formally accepts the non-identity of Law and Ethics, but for Hegel and Marx there must be a speculative relationship of the two, both in concept and in practice.  This I believe is what Rose has in mind with her notion of the Broken Middle.[8]
                That is, while the possibility of overcoming domination is possible, this does not lead to an exalted state of immediate, direct sociality shorn of contradiction or of risk.  If anything, I believe we should consider direct, unmediated sociality for what it would be: a state of psychosis.  The apolitical imaginarium of anarchism and to a lesser degree councilist thought is of course no worse than the statist Panopticons of Leninism and its multiple progeny.  What is at issue is the possibility of creating conditions in which the broken middle may be a terrain negotiated without mass violence and mass suffering, without the fantasy that it can be negotiated magically with no violence and no suffering, whether by a perfected Ethics or an iron-clad Law.  At best, such a perfected Ethics remains impotent and the iron-clad Law is too rigid to be effective. 
                In her paper "On Law, Transgression and Forgiveness: Hegel and the Politics of Liberalism", Shannon Hoff suggests that Law is inadequate to particular situations and persons, being “generally incapable of reflecting the dependence of universality upon singularity.”  “With the concept of forgiveness, however, Hegel defends the priority of this singularity.”

What does it mean to say that the riots in England or the strike at Verizon are or are not 'political'?  Interestingly, neither the rioters nor the Verizon strikers who took independent action against attempts at scabbing viewed themselves as quite outside society. 
                In the case of Verizon it was quite evident that the workers saw themselves as fighting to maintain their middle class status.  The corporatist limitations of the unions were evident in this fight, among the workers as well, insofar as they were defending their contract, which they were entitled to as Verizon workers and IBEW members.  There is still no notion in the U.S. that the things they were striking to maintain should be universal.  One of the particularities of the U.S. is that much of what makes a contract like the one at Verizon one of the last bastions of the power of the old labor movement is that it privatized, in the sense of reducing to a corporate body, things like a good retirement plan and nearly free medical care.  Even retaining this limited, semi-privatized contract practically entailed a political struggle against the right of the company to bring in "replacement workers", scabs, and the court injunctions to limit their strike actions.  What the union was unwilling to do the workers frequently took upon themselves in organizing a necessarily unpleasant reception for the scabs.

[1] "On Post Fascism", Gaspar M. Tamas, Boston Review, 2000
[2] "On Post Fascism", Gaspar M. Tamas, Boston Review, 2000
[3] "Rudiments of a Political Philosophy of Socialism", Gaspar M. Tamas, 2006.
[4] "On Post Fascism", Gaspar M. Tamas, Boston Review, 2000
[5] "Rudiments of a Political Philosophy of Socialism", Gaspar M. Tamás, 2006.
[6] As I have noted elsewhere, following on Richard Gunn's 'Notes on Class", capitalist society has a tendency to produce such binary oppositions and we are not here simply making matters up.
[7] Rose refers to the "…echoes of Kant versus Herder, Paine versus Burke…" (p. 3)
[8] Richard Gunn, in his work on Hegel's notion of recognition in "Hegel on Theory and Practice", and Moishe Postone in some less developed comments on politics and mediation in his opus magnum, both take up similar themes.

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