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New theories of the political
Routledge innovations in political theory
Power and Politics in Poststructuralist Thought
This book explores the impact of poststructuralism on contemporary political theory by focusing on a number of problems and issues central to politics today. Drawing on the theoretical concerns brought to light by the ‘poststructuralist’ thinkers Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze and Max Stirner, Newman provides a critical examination of new developments in contemporary political theory: post-Marxism, discourse analysis, new theories of ideology and power, hegemony, radical democracy and psychoanalytic theory. He re-examines the political in light of these developments in theory to suggest new ways of thinking about politics through a reﬂection on the challenges that confront it. This volume will be of great interest to students of postmodernism and poststructuralist theory in political science, philosophy, sociology, philosophy and cultural studies. Saul Newman is a Research Fellow at UWA and a Lecturer in Politics at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. His research focuses on contemporary and Continental political and social theory. He is the author of From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power (Lexington 2001).
Routledge innovations in political theory
1 A Radical Green Political Theory Alan Carter 2 Rational Woman A feminist critique of dualism Raia Prokhovnik 3 Rethinking State Theory Mark J. Smith 4 Gramsci and Contemporary Politics Beyond pessimism of the intellect Anne Showstack Sassoon 5 Post-Ecologist Politics Social theory and the abdication of the ecologist paradigm Ingolfur Blühdorn 6 Ecological Relations Susan Board 7 The Political Theory of Global Citizenship April Carter 8 Democracy and National Pluralism Edited by Ferran Requejo 9 Civil Society and Democratic Theory Alternative voices Gideon Baker
Nationalism and Multiculturalism Edited by Ramón Maiz and Ferrán Requejo 15 Political Reconciliation Andrew Schaap 16 National Cultural Autonomy and its Contemporary Critics Edited by Ephraim Nimni 17 Power and Politics in Poststructuralist Thought New theories of the political Saul Newman .10 Ethics and Politics in Contemporary Theory Between critical theory and post-Marxism Mark Devenney 11 Citizenship and Identity Towards a new republic John Schwarzmantel 12 Multiculturalism. Identity and Rights Edited by Bruce Haddock and Peter Sutch 13 Political Theory of Global Justice A cosmopolitan case for the world state Luis Cabrera 14 Democracy.
Power and Politics in Poststructuralist Thought New theories of the political Saul Newman .
First published 2005 by Routledge 2 Park Square. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic. OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave. or in any information storage or retrieval system. New York. including photocopying and recording. Tyne and Wear Printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd. Abingdon. without permission in writing from the publishers. NY 10016 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group © 2005 Saul Newman Typeset in Sabon by Wearset Ltd. now known or hereafter invented. Milton Park. Bodmin All rights reserved. mechanical. Oxon. or other means. Boldon. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN 0-415-36456-6 .
To Fabienne .
Contents Preface Acknowledgements x xii Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Politics of the ego: Stirner’s critique of liberalism Ressentiment and radical politics New reﬂections on the theory of power: a Lacanian perspective Spectres of Stirner: a contemporary critique of ideology Derrida’s deconstruction of authority On the politics of violence: terror. sovereignty and law Spectres of the uncanny: the ‘return of the repressed’ in politics Towards a poststructuralist politics of universality Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index 1 13 31 51 68 84 100 116 134 153 162 166 172 .
In this sense the book can be seen as partly a work of conceptual translation. and that the reader will forgive their inevitable limitations and repetitions. This hitherto missed encounter between poststructuralism and the discipline of political theory has not always been the fault of the latter. however. and have been published in different forms in various places (see Acknowledgements). The reception of poststructuralist ideas by the mainstream discipline of political theory has been at best sceptical. they can be seen as reﬂecting the underlying themes and arguments that run throughout the book. and seriously challenges many of the paradigms and assumptions that much of Anglo-American political theory is based on. into the political implications of poststructuralist theory. There are a number of limitations. This is no doubt because poststructuralism forces us to think about politics in radically different ways. There is the need. this does not mean that the differences between the two perspectives are totally incommensurable. First. and how political theory generally could beneﬁt from a more sustained engagement with poststructuralism.Preface The essays collected in this book are the product of my investigations. My hope is that they will be taken in both senses. So the second aim of the book was to identify and try to address some of these limitations. to the extent that these essays also relate to one another and to some extent overlap. I wanted to show the way in which poststructuralist approaches could shed new light on conceptual categories central to contemporary political theory. however their general logic and argument have remained unchanged. tensions and conceptual problems in poststructuralist theory itself which to some extent have impeded its engagement in political theory debates. for a more consistent understanding of subjectivity and . They were written between 2000 and 2003. they can be taken as separate interventions in their own right. these essays have all undergone signiﬁcant modiﬁcation. However. My aim in drawing together these disparate threads of my research was threefold. over the past few years. To the extent that they are organized around speciﬁc themes and topics in poststructuralist political theory. for instance. In putting this book together. However.
It is here that I have also utilized insights from theoretical perspectives such as psychoanalysis. Radical left politics. Saul Newman November 2004 . Bush’s re-election. radical politics faces serious challenges today from an aggressive reassertion of state sovereignty and an ideological conservatism that has become increasingly dominant since September 11. one of the central aims here is to show that not only is there a political and ethical commitment implicit in poststructuralist theory. discourse analysis and post-Marxism. There is also the need for some sort of outside – a ‘constitutive outside’ – to relations of power and discourse. Indeed.Preface xi agency in poststructuralist theory. but that it can lead to new understandings of egalitarian politics. must be more seriously reckoned with. and in which new and unheard of forms of control and surveillance form the very parameters of our existence. with its scepticism about universal discourses or ‘metanarratives’. after the fall of Marxism. However. leaving the radical political ground to be taken over by the far right. the challenge has been to develop these possibilities within poststructuralist theory itself – that is. has contributed to this general political lassitude on the left. Third. Also the dangers of the new ‘security’ paradigm that we are all living in today. We can only imagine the difﬁcult times that lie ahead. many have argued that poststructuralism. which can serve as critical point of departure. in which the politics of fear and paranoia pervade social life. or on absolute moral and rational foundations. has been left drifting in uncertain waters. In the face of the global hegemony of neo-liberal economics. my intention was also to explore the implications of poststructuralist theory for radical politics today. many on the left have given up on the idea of emancipation and social transformation. These sanguine hopes notwithstanding. individual autonomy and radical democracy. However. I am writing this Preface in the weeks following George W. without relying on essentialist conceptions of the autonomous subject.
uk/journals] ‘Derrida’s deconstruction of authority’. Special thanks must go to the Discipline Chair. Vol. http://www. for supporting this project and for allowing me generous use of the Department’s facilities. [Reprinted with permission from Taylor & Francis Ltd.co. Vol. ‘New reﬂections on the theory of power: a Lacanian perspective’. Vol. First published under the title ‘Terror.Acknowledgements I would like to thank the various people who have encouraged me and provided invaluable advice on my research over the years. pp. First published in Philosophy and Social Criticism. 5 (3) Autumn 2002. 3 (2) 2004: pp. First published in Contemporary Political Theory. http://www. [Reprinted with permission from Taylor & Francis Ltd. sovereignty and law: on the politics of violence’ in German Law 2 3 4 5 6 .tandf.co. Vol. 27 (3) 2001: pp. [Reprinted with permission from Sage Publications Ltd] ‘On the politics of violence: terror. 1–26. 309–330. First published under the title ‘Anarchism and the politics of Ressentiment’ in Theory and Event. First published in Journal of Political Ideologies. Dr Bruce Stone. sovereignty and law’. 6 (3) 2001: pp. as articles in the following journals (the original title of the article has been provided where different from the chapter title): 1 ‘Politics of the ego: Stirner’s critique of liberalism’. 4 (3) 2000. I would also like to acknowledge the following journals which have kindly granted me permission to reproduce previously published material of mine. First published in Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy – CRISPP. Vol. including friends and colleagues in the Political Science Department at the University of Western Australia. 1–20.tandf. 148–167. published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. The chapters below ﬁrst appeared. Originally delivered at the Australasian Political Science Association Annual Conference in Hobart in 2003. in modiﬁed form. [Reprinted with permission from Palgrave Macmillan] ‘Spectres of Stirner: a contemporary critique of ideology’.uk/journals] ‘Ressentiment and radical politics’.
Originally delivered at the Third Essex Conference in Political Theory at Essex University in 2002.Acknowledgements xiii Journal. No. 115–130. Autumn 2000: pp 94–108. Originally delivered at the International Political Science Association XVIII World Congress in Quebec in 2000. Autumn 2000] 7 8 . London. First published in Telos. 5 (5) 2004. All Rights Reserved] ‘Towards a poststructuralist politics of universality’. First published under the title ‘Universalism/ particularism: Towards a poststructuralist politics of universality’ in New Formations 41. Vol. [Reprinted with permission from Lawrence & Wishart. [Reprinted with permission from 2003 Telos Press Ltd. 124 Summer 2002: pp. [Reprinted with permission from the Editors of German Law Journal] ‘Spectres of the uncanny: The “return of the repressed” in politics’. The Future of Dialogue.
coercion and domination behind these institutions. legitimate and. Moreover. and thus showing how they might be reinterpreted. subjectivity. rights. it shows that there is nothing inevitable or natural about the way we do and think about politics: what we perceive to be our political reality today is a contingent historical formation that has emerged through the suppression of alternative realities. indeed. showing how their consistency is maintained through the more or less arbitrary exclusion of other possibilities. Rather. sovereignty. showing how these might be rethought and taken in new directions. revealing their heterogeneities. ideology.Introduction The aim of this book is to explore the implications of poststructuralist theory for politics. violence and collective identity. A second aim of the book is to understand the implications of poststructuralism for radical politics speciﬁcally. poststructuralist theory can itself be seen as working within the paradigm of radical and anti-authoritarian politics. ethics. This is not only because many poststructuralist thinkers emerged from Marxist and Althusserian theoretical traditions. Therefore. ‘natural’. Poststructuralism poses certain key questions about the future of radical politics in the wake of Marxism – questions that I shall endeavour to address here. the claims to legitimacy and ‘normality’ of dominant political and social institutions. or at least making problematic. In other words. I will suggest that poststructuralist theoretical perspectives allow an interrogation of the discursive and conceptual limits of these ideas. However. the essays collected here should be seen as a series of interventions around speciﬁc themes and conceptual problems in political theory – themes and problems that a poststructuralist approach can shed new light on. It seeks to apply poststructuralist thinking to central conceptual categories in politics. we might say that poststructuralism has an anti-authoritarian ethos – an . discourses and practices – those which we commonly regard as normal. It does this by exposing or unmasking the violence. It is also because a poststructuralist approach is aimed at undermining. These relate to topics such as liberalism. paradoxes and contradictions. the book is not intended as a survey of all aspects of poststructuralist thought or of the thinkers grouped under this label. power.
2 Introduction implicit commitment to question the truth claims of any form of political. this engagement or commitment is not always obvious – it needs to be teased out. poststructuralism does not amount to an apolitical and amoral nihilism. discourse and language. such as rights or the distribution of ‘goods’. Instead. liberalism functions as a kind of meta-ideology or ‘metanarrative’. there seems to be a dissonance between usually AngloAmerican dominated or ‘analytical’ political theory. is more interested in how things work or how things come to be: how might we come to be asking these questions about politics. and this is precisely my aim here. literary criticism and ﬁlm theory. in mainstream political theory. which present obstacles to its political efﬁcacy. if not outright hostility. as I shall show. what are the investments of power and the relations of exclusion that are involved with asking these questions and limiting ourselves to certain political institutions and discourses? For instance. but by redeﬁning them. this book shows how poststructuralism might intervene in debates in political theory. These include the need for a more consistent place for the subject. questioning its assumed ‘neutrality’ and universality. aim in this book is to suggest that. contrary to prevailing criticism. Poststructuralism’s rejection of these metaphysical foundations has perhaps accounted for its rather frosty reception in the mainstream discipline of political theory. My contention here is that they can be resolved within the discursive limits of poststructuralism itself – that is. and more implicit. problems emerge in different ways throughout the essays in this book. Rather. such as cultural studies. on the other hand. universal discourse that determines the conceptual limits of the practice of politics and deﬁnes its very terms of enquiry. However. as well as the need for an ‘outside’ to structures of power. emphasized. poststructuralism might be likened to a kind of anarchism – but an anarchism of a speciﬁc kind. it has become an embedded. and not others. social and even textual authority. Indeed. such as a universal conception of the subject or absolute moral and rational positions. and unveiling the moral and rational assumptions and particular modes of subjectivity that it is based on. The former seems more concerned with devising watertight moral and rational bases for political decisions – decisions which usually revolve around questions concerning the public sphere. . where it is usually regarded with suspicion. These. they can be resolved without falling back onto essential foundations. not by conforming to terms of reference that are dominant in this discipline. and ‘continental’ poststructuralist thought. Indeed. a poststructuralist approach is ethically and politically engaged. there are certain conceptual blind spots or ‘aporias’ – to use Derrida’s term – in poststructuralist theory. Therefore the third. a poststructuralist approach might be more interested in interrogating or deconstructing the discourse of liberalism itself. Therefore. However. Moreover. and which I seek to redress here. The latter. poststructuralist ideas tend to ﬁnd a home in disciplines outside politics. and other.
and engages with. I am using their ideas to solve speciﬁc problems. we should not imagine that postmodernity is an actual historical stage in which we now ‘do’ politics. It is. it refers to a heterogeneous ﬁeld of thinkers who are as marked by their difference from one another as much as by their similarity. and post-Marxism. and which I believe these thinkers can. but also devoting a great deal of attention to Max Stirner – who predates the thinkers listed above by over a century – seeing him as a sort of ‘proto-poststructuralist’. In other words. of course. such as Michel Foucault. However. Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. is the postmodern condition? Postmodernity or postmodernism are ambiguous terms which tend to be bandied about rather meaninglessly. with the exception of Stirner whom I take as a theoretical point of departure for my project. categories and theoretical questions which I consider to be relevant to politics today. there is not much emphasis on these individual thinkers themselves. being after or posthistoire (1988: 1). Rather. such as Ernesto Laclau.Introduction 3 So what exactly is poststructuralism? There is no easy answer to this question. what has been termed the ‘postmodern condition’. my approach to these thinkers is very speciﬁc and. In this book. Wendy Brown and Slavoj Z ˇek. Jacques Rancière. what deﬁnes the postmodern condition is a critical attitude . living in the period that we call modernity – while at the same time. However. philosophy. and. These ‘post-poststructuralist’ thinkers are important to my project here because they tend to focus more explicitly on political questions. art. it has to be seen as a certain critical position or perspective on modernity itself: the postmodern ‘sensibility’ might be understood as the experience of living in the present – that is. politics. aesthetics. the focus is on certain themes. Chantal Mouffe. Jean-François Lyotard famously summed up the postmodern condition as an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ (1984: xxiv). and am including here theoretical strategies such as deconstruction. However. I am adopting a broad understanding of poststructuralism. in different ways. etc. concepts. It is not a coherent body of thought: rather. This is not helped by the fact that postmodernism seems to inﬂuence a seemingly endless variety of ﬁelds: architecture. In other words. rather than writing about them as such. we have still not answered our question – what is poststructuralism? Poststructuralism can be seen as a theoretical strategy – or series of strategies – that responds to. discourse analysis. William ˇ iz Connolly. then. Étienne Balibar. social theory. philosophy. illuminate. like all theoretical ‘paradigms’. it is important to remind the reader that this is not intended as a comprehensive account of poststructuralist theory. So what. I will be discussing not only thinkers generally described as ‘poststructuralist’. as Heller and Fehér put it. Judith Butler. Jacques Derrida. and so on. the political aspects and implications of postmodernity that I am interested in here – what is termed the ‘postmodern political condition’. Rather. as well as discussing more contemporary thinkers who follow in their wake. for reasons of convenience as much as anything else.
we understand ourselves and the world around us only through an external linguistic structure that determines meaning. in which the logic of difference and incommensurability is used to justify the separation of ethnic groups. took the place of Marxist class struggles over economic issues. as the Cartesian model would suggest. Ferdinand de Saussure. For instance. as the name suggests. This is also related to the breakdown of sites of collective decision making. not only with the hegemony of neo-liberal economics. the subject is shown to be affected. complex and fragmented to sustain this idea of a universal rational and moral position. The decline in Marxist projects. of the proletariat as the privileged revolutionary identity. and that the world’s problems can be solved through the application of rational thought and scientiﬁc ideas. positivist convictions and categorical imperatives of the Enlightenment. where the rise of the new social movements around issues such as gender. as well as what might be seen as new forms of ‘postmodern’ racism. for instance. This has had an impact on radical politics in particular. Furthermore. In political terms. at least in Western societies. symbolized most vividly by the collapse of the Communist systems nearly two decades ago. Moreover. by conditions that are often outside his control. The idea that there is a universal rational and moral position that is absolute. and the concomitant decline in importance. Radical politics has also faced new challenges from the Right. How did poststructuralism develop as a response to this condition of postmodernity? Poststructuralism.4 Introduction towards the grand ideals and discourses that emerged with the Enlightenment and which came to characterize modernity. ambiguous. is regarded as an outdated Eurocentric world view. Furthermore. rationality and morality can no longer serve as the absolute foundations for the subject’s political and ethical judgement and decision making (Torfﬁng 1999: 61). there can be no strict separation between the subject and the objective world. and indeed constituted. the postmodern condition is associated with the abandonment of the notion of the universal rational subject who could act as an autonomous and self-willed agent in the political sphere. but also with the re-emergence of ethnic and religious fundamentalisms. postmodernity is sceptical about the rationalist epistemologies. and a general fragmentation of the political and social ﬁeld into a multitude of incommensurable identities and ideological perspectives. was the culmination of transformations in capitalism from industrial to post-industrial modes of production. Central to structuralism is the idea that experience or ‘reality’ is structured primarily through relations of language: that is. as well as environmental causes. the subject is seen to be opaque even to himself – rather than transparent and uniﬁed. came out of the theoretical movement known as structuralism. saw language in terms of a system of linguistic signs composed of signiﬁer (the material sign itself) and signiﬁed . ethnicity and sexual identity. life in post-industrial societies is seen as too pluralistic. Instead.
as a linked chain of determinations of the centre’ (1978b: 279–280). centralized structure. The second position. incomplete and unstable. power relations or ‘assemblages of desire’ that are constitutive of identity. seeing it as a symbolic dimension in which identities were ﬁxed – or overdetermined – within an ideological system that bestowed meaning upon them. structuralism had merely replaced the absolute ground of metaphysics with the absolute ground of the structure itself. it does not reject the fundamental insight of structuralism that identities are constructed discursively through external relations of language: it does not return to a pre-structuralist essentialism. . it could be seen as a kind of essence in itself. Structuralism showed that there was no such thing as the ‘thing in itself’. there are instead multiple and heterogeneous discourses. Now it is important to understand that poststructuralism does not reject structuralism per se but. consistency and stability of the structure itself must be questioned. This ‘deconstruction’ of the structure has taken two basic forms in poststructuralist thought. we could say that poststructuralism takes structuralism to its logical conclusion: in order to avoid the charge of essentialism and foundationalism that was levelled at structuralism. In other words. but rather its relation to other signiﬁers in a ﬁxed system of differences. suggests that rather than there being a single. . the unity. and are immanent throughout the social ﬁeld. radicalizes it. must be thought of as a series of substitutions of centre for centre. The ﬁrst position. structuralism came increasingly to be seen as a new form of essentialism or foundationalism. like ‘table’. One way to think about this is through Gödel’s . The virtue of structuralism was that it avoided essentialist understandings. to refer to a particular object (see Finlayson and Valentine 2002: 8–9). Louis Althusser applied structuralism to an understanding of the political and social ﬁeld. As Derrida says: ‘The entire history of the concept of the structure . In other words. Rather. What really determines the signiﬁer is not the object that is arbitrarily attached to it. exempliﬁed by thinkers like Derrida and Lacan. This could be seen in Althusserian structuralist Marxism. In other words. rather. where the capitalist economy determined in the last instance the entire ﬁeld of social and political relations and symbolic identiﬁcations. exempliﬁed by thinkers like Foucault and Deleuze. the problem with this was that because the structure was so totalizing and determining. However. in which identity and experience were seen as being grounded in an objective intelligible ‘substance’ or ‘reality’ that was internal to it – the ‘thing in itself’. However. places more emphasis on the structure itself. in which identity was once again founded on an absolute ground (see Peters 1997).Introduction 5 (the object to which it referred). the crucial thing here is that there is no necessary or essential relation between the two – it is only a matter of convention that we use a particular signiﬁer. but sees it as indeterminate. and that what really mattered was the way that identity and experience were determined by an external structure.
The structure can therefore only be sustained by a structural element that stands outside it and is incommensurable with it. However. but what they are directed towards is the idea of a ‘constitutive outside’. because there will always be elements within this system whose identity can only be established by something outside it. might be seen as an example of this logic. thus creating ever larger systems. logically speaking. However. political and social identities – blurred and indeterminate. and whether it allows for an outside from which resistance can be conceived. and it is the point around which identity is both constituted and destabilized. the law has to be founded on something that precedes it – that is. Rather. Lacan’s notion of the ‘real’. If we take poststructuralism seriously. is over Foucault’s theory of power. politics must be seen as being based on an antagonistic and unpredictable dimension that both constitutes. Simply put. There is a certain tension in poststructuralist theory between these two ‘positions’ – a tension that will be brought out in this book.6 Introduction ‘incompleteness theorem’. paradoxically. a rejection of essentialism and the idea of an absolute moral and rational ground. then. but rather to unmask . a contamination that makes the border of any identity – including. an extra-legal violence (see Derrida 1992). It is something that is. but at the same time the condition for its emergence and identity. but rather makes it undecidable. there can be no closed. the outside neither eliminates nor reafﬁrms the structure. its limits. as might Derrida’s notion of ‘aporia’ as an internal contradiction within a textual structure that opens onto an outside. complete or self-contained system or structure. Poststructuralism is also characterized not so much by the desire to eradicate or completely overthrow existing political institutions and identities. These different approaches will be explained in the book itself. both poststructuralist positions are united by an anti-foundationalism – that is. In other words. which states that in any given branch of mathematics there will always be certain propositions that cannot be veriﬁed using the axioms of that particular branch. What this undecidability points to is the contamination between the inside and the outside. as that which is excluded from the symbolic order. despite this tension. To give an example of this logic of undecidability. Derrida talks about the aporetic structure of the law and the way that. the practice of politics cannot be seen as being based on notions of a universal autonomous subject and unquestioned moral and rational criteria. One of the ways this tension emerges. and which require going outside the system. which will become a crucial theoretical ﬁgure in my argument: this is the idea that there is an outside to any structure. This is the dimension that Chantal Mouffe refers to as ‘the political’ (2000: 101). and especially. inside and outside the structure simultaneously. this excluded element is not an essential identity or a metaphysical point of departure that emerges from beyond the structure: rather it has to be seen as the internal limit of the structure itself. which is both incommensurable with the inside of the structure. as I shall show. and destabilizes.
uncertainties and heterogeneities in their structure. I suggest that poststructuralist theory can remain politically and ethically committed. revealing the cracks. and that the challenge of politics today is to take political and ethical decisions in the absence of clear guidelines. as many seem to suggest. and that it has actually become incorporated into the dominant politico-ideological system. This is a well worn argument and it is not my intention to devote much time to it here. Nevertheless. This is a point ˇ iz that has also been made by Slavoj Z ˇek. have suggested that because poststructuralism rejects. poststructuralism has been criticized from many different quarters – from liberals to critical theorists and Marxists. It has been made recently by thinkers such as Terry Eagleton. Both thinkers suggest that poststructuralism is dead. In other words. perhaps there is something disingenuous about the poststructuralist critique – the ‘system’ itself has become ‘postmodernized’ and now operates through the logic of difference and the transgression of essentialist identities. capitalism also has a disdain for ﬁxed identities and foundations (2003: 118). and to show how these might give rise to new political meanings. in poststructuralist theory there is an anxiety over the ‘place of power’. As Eagleton argues. a poststructuralist political approach involves a sort of permanent suspension or problematization of institutions and discourses. aspects of my argument in this book can be seen as a response to such a criticism. This is because poststructuralism’s rejection of ﬁrm foundations and essentialist identities reﬂects the very logic of capitalism itself. these guidelines. which is the structural tendency of power to reinvent itself in different forms. In other words. who has called for a return to a quasi-Marxist critique of capitalism. believing that it has no real relevance to politics – which it sees as a purely rational and predictable pursuit – other thinkers. a second criticism of poststructuralism has emerged which is more interesting. However. and a ‘return’ even to Leninist forms of revolutionary politics (1997). and that it no longer offers any radical alternatives to capitalism – indeed. I show that poststructuralism does not reject the Enlightenment outright. or at least questions. . who contends that poststructuralism is no longer radical or subversive. while at the same time questioning absolute moral and rational categories.Introduction 7 them. such as Jürgen Habermas and Nancy Fraser. who want to remain faithful to the Enlightenment tradition of ﬁrm moral and rational conditions for political action. it is ethically vacuous and politically impotent. it seems to be perfectly accommodated within its ideological structures. because of its questioning of moral and rational foundations. However. For instance. thinkers like Foucault and Derrida actually seek to renew the radical political legacy of the Enlightenment through a rethinking of its discursive limits. While Anglo-American analytical theory mostly ignores poststructuralism. To completely overthrow an existing centre or structure of power always risks inventing another in its place. Therefore. On the contrary. Moreover.
for instance. that poststructuralism . and where many people are actually demanding. it operates through the ‘deterritorialization’ of ﬁxed identities and the transgression of boundaries in its ruthless pursuit of proﬁt. there are many people in many parts of the world for whom God is not dead. for every deterritorialization there is a ‘reterritorialization’ (1984: 34). nevertheless it points to a tension internal to capitalism itself between the desire to transgress borders of all kinds. or in ‘bible belt’ USA. let alone postmodernity. So while poststructuralism might have become part of the dominant discourse in university cultural studies departments. perverted form of religious conservatism – one that is itself born of the postmodern condition. as Deleuze and Guattari said. however. thus generating a tension with the capitalist drive towards the free ﬂow of labour and capital across borders. which also operates through the logic of difference and particularity. I try to show.1 where politicians – and not just in the United States – talk openly about the importance of God in their lives. we should not get too carried away by this: as Deleuze and Guattari also said. particularly in the last chapter. this is a new. In a sense. where the gains over the last two centuries in civil liberties and human rights are being rolled back. control and surveillance measures – measures which are inevitably leading to their own domination. rather than those of the transnational CEO. While I agree that the ‘politics of difference’ does not pose a real threat to capitalism. reinforces them or invents them in new forms. particularly in its new. That is.8 Introduction There are several ways of responding to this very important critique. or at least willingly submitting to. Of course. Moreover. Eagleton and Z ˇek both argue that because poststructuralism is a theoretical logic that emphasizes difference over universality. this is certainly not the case in the Middle East. We can see this quite clearly in the way that the modern state. There is. it is the ‘illegal’ migrant whose movements are restricted. where religious and ‘family’ values are once again back on the social and political agenda. an aspect of this critique that I will take on and will seek to address more thoroughly. Borders of new kinds are being created all the time. as a reaction to it. is morally unbearable. nevertheless. postSeptember 11 ‘security’ mode. where capitalism transgresses borders and destabilizes ﬁxed identities and authoritarian structures – such as the family. for whom even modernity. because it needs these social arrangements in order to function and to legitimize itself. it cannot develop a radical political response to capitalism. and the desire to create new borders and exclusions – usually more vicious and cruel – in their place. polices national borders more heavily than ever before. the state and the nation – it also in turn. more intense security. This refers to the question of universality ˇ iz in poststructuralist theory. however. At the same time. It is in many respects valid: capitalism has become postmodernized and. and who really believe in a moral ground that is absolute and non-negotiable. we are living at a time when the forces of conservatism and religious fundamentalism – both Christian and Islamic – are becoming dominant once again.
as well as to radical political struggles. today. there is a Manichean conceptual division between a ‘natural’ and immanently rational and moral social order. Outline Chapter 1 explores Max Stirner’s critique of liberalism. in the revolutionary imaginary of anarchism. which is seen as ‘artiﬁcial’. I use this critique to investigate one of the central paradoxes in liberalism: that the liberal discourse of rights. One of the questions raised by the book. which he sees as the political articulation of Enlightenment humanism. I suggest here that Stirner’s critique of liberalism does not mean that we should abandon liberal notions of rights and autonomy. freedom and individual autonomy is based on a series of practices that can be considered ‘illiberal’. the human or the ‘citizen’. then. far from being dead. However. as Stirner shows. and which involve more subtle forms of domination and normalization. but rather that their discursive limits should be re-examined so that they can be extended and articulated in different ways. to the politico-ethical position of poststructuralism itself. liberalism is based on a certain understanding of the subject which. then. the problem with liberalism is not. Taking Nietzsche’s critique of anarchism and his theory of ressentiment as my point of departure. which is that although the subject is oppressed by power – in other words by the political order of the state – he is. in some ways. I suggest that it can. That is to say. and the order of political power. at the same time. There is a strange paradox. as communitarians argue. poststructuralism continues to be relevant to political analysis and critique.Introduction 9 does not necessarily lead to this form of politics. that it allows too much individual autonomy. uncontaminated by it because he emerges . a non-essentialist form of liberal politics that allows greater scope for plurality and individual autonomy. In Chapter 2. immoral and irrational. because the commitment of the former to anti-authoritarian politics is close. For Stirner. and that there is the possibility of developing new and radical forms of political universality within the anti-foundationalist logic of poststructuralist theory. Here I try to develop a politics of ‘post-liberalism’ – in other words. is whether or not poststructuralism can be used as a theoretical basis for a political critique of capitalism. Here I choose anarchism rather than Marxism. then. I turn to the question of radical politics and how poststructuralist theory might approach it. and argue that the global anti-capitalist movement – whose emergence is one of the most signiﬁcant developments in radical politics in decades – can be seen as a form of a form of poststructuralist politics in action. So. I suggest that in the classical anarchism of thinkers like Bakunin and Kropotkin. but that it does not allow enough. is a discursive formation produced through various disciplinary and normalizing practices that tie the individual to an essentialist identity – Man.
and the question I deal with in Chapter 4. showing that there can be no pure. power is productive rather than repressive. Here I turn to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to understand not only the subjective dimension that both binds itself to power and resists it. not only in radical politics. particularly today when we seem to be surrounded by new and disturbing ideological paradigms? Is it not clear that power relations and institutional practices can only be fully understood if we also take into account the ideological dimension that legitimizes them and gives them a symbolic consistency? Therefore I try to retain the notion of ideology. power relations are plural and emerge from a multitude of points throughout the social ﬁeld. However. then it loses deﬁnitional clarity as a concept because it can no longer be differentiated from other social relations. the politics of emancipation must take place within the world of power. Similar problems have emerged with the concept of ideology. or should it be understood as a function of social structures? Foucault’s radical intervention in this debate is well known: power is neither a capacity to act. at the same time we have to avoid falling back onto essentialist ontological foundations and rational epistemological positions. in which the ‘real’ can be seen as an internal limit to the symbolic order of power – conceptually limiting it and opening a place for resistance to it. but also in the study of political institutions and social relations more generally. and. One of the central debates in politics has been over how power is to be understood: is it. However. I deconstruct this conceptual division in anarchism. 2) if there is no outside to power. who saw it as involving essentialist and rationalist assumptions. but also to develop a new approach to power. and. Using Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s theories of power. is whether there can be a poststructuralist theory of ideology. the effect of Foucault’s theory of power has been. The concept of ideology has been rejected by both Foucault and Deleuze. then how does resistance to power emerge? Therefore. uncontaminated point of departure from which to imagine a revolution emerging. Foucault’s theory presents some conceptual problems: 1) if power is ‘everywhere’. can we afford to jettison the whole problematic of ideology. nor can it be concentrated within a central institution or structure.10 Introduction from an altogether different ontological order. in which the subject is constituted through humanist ideology – around the idea of essence – and yet there is. in which the subject is constructed within power’s limits. ambiguous for radical political theory. moreover. Rather. at best. Here I turn to Stirner’s theory of ideological interpellation. Power is a central concept. a kind of spectral excess in . at the same. but rethink it in a poststructuralist way that avoids Marxist ideas of ‘false consciousness’. Instead. for instance. and can no longer rely on essentialist and rationalist foundations. producing even the very subject who at the same time resists it. The theoretical dilemma that arises is this: while there needs to be some sort of conceptual outside to power. a capacity of individual agents. as I show in Chapter 3.
it must ﬁnd a place for the subject. I argue that there can be no clear. and the violence perpetrated by the state itself. In Chapter 7. and applies this insight to an exploration of terrorism. there must be some understanding of the subject who comes to identify himself in a certain way. at the same time. Ultimately Georges Bataille’s idea of heterogeneity is used to characterize contemporary forms of terrorist violence as involving a nihilistic and quasi-religious politics of the spectacle. and who can engage in political and ethical activity. The question of agency is central to politics and ethics. there needs to be some sort of ‘outside’ to structures and mechanisms of power. for poststructuralism to be politically and ethically engaged. In order. I argue here that Derrida seeks to avoid the ‘place of power’ by deconstructing the binary of inversion/subversion. an anti-authoritarian politics and ethics that is committed to ideas of justice. ideology and discourse – an outside that. then. Here I develop a poststructuralist critique of the contemporary discourse on terrorism – for which the ongoing ‘war on terror’ is the ultimate referent and consequence – a discourse that has become so pervasive and hegemonic that its political dangers are often ignored. developing Foucault’s thesis that power itself is a form of violence and warfare. democracy. rights and emancipation. as I show through thinkers like Benjamin and Agamben. which escapes ideology and forms a dimension of resistance to it. and I show how it might be used to undermine institutions and political structures that we tend to see as legitimate and consistent. I explore Derrida’s idea of deconstruction as a politico-ethical strategy that seeks to locate this outside from within the textual structures of philosophy. but also to power. the usual distinction between legality and illegality does not hold here because. analytical distinction between the violence perpetrated by terrorists as non-state actors. For example. in order for a politics of resistance to emerge. sovereignty – and the violence it entails – ultimately stands outside the law. Chapter 6 pursues a hidden link unearthed by Derrida in the previous chapter between violence. This logic also has political implications. In Chapter 5. Moreover. Deconstructive politics can be seen as a sort of responsible or ethical anarchy – that is. as well as the political structures of the law and sovereignty. avoids essentialist foundations. law and sovereignty. suggesting that radical political action must involve a combining or ‘weaving’ together of these two strategies. Moreover. in order for poststructuralism itself to avoid the charge of nihilism. contradictions and aporias in discursive identities. However. showing the way in which these identities are constituted through the exclusion of a particular structural element that they at the same time rely upon – a relationship that contaminates them and denies them closure.Introduction 11 his notion of the ‘un-man’. Deconstruction reveals the heterogeneities. I explore not only the relationship of violence to law. I try to develop a . thus sharing a paradoxical proximity to terrorism itself.
but also obsessed with a multicultural politics of difference that seems to ﬁt hand-in-glove the ideological structures of global capitalism. I argue that it is precisely in this domain of the passions that we should locate the subject. including identities of difference. as the Cartesian rationalist model would have it. and here I turn to Freudian and Lacanian theory. a relationship that remains crucial to politics today. and through Laclau’s logic of hegemony. I suggest here that there must be some sort of reference to a universal dimension – left vacant by the decline of Marxist ideas of the universal proletariat – if collective projects of emancipation are to be theorized. Second. I show that poststructuralism does not abandon the Enlightenment. on the basis of these theoretical conditions. problematic by showing how they are constituted against a background of universality that also contaminates them. traumatic void that the subject is founded upon – arguing that this has crucial implications for politics. Chapter 8. can inform these struggles and provide a radical emancipative horizon for them. and again the challenge here is to do so without reverting to essentialist assumptions about the subject that are so common to analytical political theory approaches – those which see the practice of politics as based on rational and utility-maximizing models of behaviour from which the dimension of the ‘passions’ has been entirely excluded. yet which. Here I explore Freud’s notion of the uncanny as the ‘return of the repressed’ – the unconscious. which develops an understanding of the subject as being anchored not in certainty. what is important here is that the opposing attempts made by these two thinkers to ﬁll this gap produce different articulations of the relationship between the individual and the community. the subject is anchored in something that at the same time he cannot grasp and which remains fundamentally ambiguous and opaque – that is. at the same time. particularly in understanding how political identiﬁcation takes place against a background of negativity and lack. Third. try to come to terms – ultimately unsuccessfully – with this ﬁgure of the uncanny. . However. explores the question of universality in poststructuralist theory. but rather explores its heterogeneities precisely in order to renew its radical emancipative promise. Here I challenge the usual perception of poststructuralism as being not only politically and ethically ineffective. Rather. seeing it as an alienating gap between the subject and the objective world that surrounds him. the unconscious. Instead. in different ways. I argue that. paradoxically. ﬁrst. the non-essentialist logic of poststructuralism actually makes the limits of any identity. for there to be any real political notion of universality at all. I show how. Both Stirner and Marx. The ﬁnal chapter.12 Introduction more substantive place for subjectivity in poststructuralist theory. but rather in doubt. a universal dimension can emerge – albeit one that is constitutively empty and can be deﬁned through concrete political struggles. In other words. I argue that an interrogation of the discursive limits of universality is the sine qua non.
rational individual. However. rights cannot be seen as abstract and neutral – they cannot be seen outside the speciﬁc forms of subjectivity and political associations that give rise to them. However. neutral rights are given priority over value-laden conceptions of the good. or should remain. the autonomous. Communitarians. disciplinary practices or ideological mechanisms . For liberal philosophers like Rawls. Liberalism presupposes certain forms of subjectivity based on the notion of the autonomous. this does not necessarily mean that we should side with the communitarians and abandon the notion of individual rights and liberal institutions altogether. For instance. rights-bearing individual that liberalism bases itself on is only possible within a certain type of society and cannot be considered apart from this (see Taylor 1985: 309). philosophical and moral perspectives found in contemporary societies (see Rawls 1996: 35–40). it is clear that the liberal notion of abstract rights is unsustainable without considering the social conditions and forms of subjectivity that make it possible. then. the principle of ‘justice as fairness’ refers not to any overarching moral assumption or universal conception of the good. In other words. According to some communitarians. we should reject the liberal valorization of individual rights and return to the idea of a common good and universal normative values.1 Politics of the ego Stirner’s critique of liberalism One of the central problems in contemporary political theory is the question of whether or not liberalism is. without acknowledging the often oppressive conditions under which these subjectivities are constituted. in other words. have objected that this supposedly neutral notion of individual rights presupposes a speciﬁc type of subjectivity and series of conditions that make it possible. Neutral liberalism seeks to achieve a consensus about the conditions for a ‘well-ordered society’ while at the same time allowing for the plurality of identities and religious. The fact that rights are the product of discourses. but merely to a neutral framework that allows for competing conceptions of the good life. neutral with regard to normative conceptions of the good life. For Rawls. what if one were to suggest that the very opposition between liberalism and communitarianism is itself problematic and needs to be deconstructed? For instance. on the other hand.
contingent and undecidable. according to Stirner. Stirner developed a radical critique of liberalism based upon an interrogation of its essentialist premises and foundations. and some have suggested that he may be seen as a precursor to contemporary ‘poststructuralism’ (see Koch 1997). masked a series of strategies designed to negate individual difference. and to allow him to develop the rational and moral faculties proper to his . Stirner’s critique of humanism has been crucial to the development of post-Enlightenment political thought. However. as well as its political articulations. some have suggested that Marx’s so-called ‘epistemological break’ between his classical humanism and more mature economism was inspired by Stirner’s critique of the humanist philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach (see Arvon 1978). These ideals. Stirner’s 1995 critique of Feuerbachian humanism in The Ego and Its Own (published 1844) had more radical and far-reaching implications than simply the effect that it might have had on Marx. this was consistent.14 Politics of the ego does not mean that we should entirely discount their political importance. Central to the Enlightenment humanist project was the attempt to liberate man from the fetters of religious mystiﬁcation and obscurantism. with the subjection of the individual to new disciplinary and normalizing practices. Indeed. While liberalism was ostensibly a philosophy that liberated man from religious mystiﬁcation and political absolutism. moreover. a Christianity reinvented in terms of Enlightenment ideals. He explored the question of how and under what conditions the liberal subject is constituted. Derrida and Lacan. and his subsequent repudiation by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology. For Stirner. Indeed. then. He is best known for the theoretical controversy over his critique of idealism. Stirner’s work has generally received little attention from contemporary political theory. I shall explore the implications of Stirner’s rejection of Enlightenment humanism for liberal political theory. Indeed. It enabled a kind of ‘epistemological break’ within the Enlightenment tradition itself. It simply means that their status is always problematic. opening a theoretical space for an interrogation of the discourses of modernity – its essential identities and rational and moral categories. Humanism’s ‘religious insurrection’ As one of the lesser known of the Young Hegelian philosophers. and what problems this presents for liberal theory. there is an extraordinary resonance between Stirner’s thinking and that of later ‘poststructuralists’ such as Foucault. But leaving this question aside for the moment. Stirner saw the abstract rational universalism and political neutrality of liberalism as merely a new form of religious conviction. Deleuze. the notion of individual rights was meaningless without considering the relations of power on which they were based. I shall argue here that it is through a reconsideration of nineteenth-century thinker Max Stirner’s critique of liberalism that we can approach the question of the limits of individual rights in a new way.
Feuerbach has only inverted them and placed man within them. the ultimate expression of divine attributes – love. having been abstracted from him and projected onto an alien.Politics of the ego 15 humanity. is that man and God have simply exchanged places – man has now become inﬁnite and universal in the same way that God was once believed to have been. Rather than overthrowing the categories of religious authority and alienation. thus keeping intact the structures of religious oppression. if not more so. was to negate man’s humanity and bring him face to face with a sort of inverted mirror image of himself. for instance. as a form of Christianity reinvented. Man becomes. the sublime cruelty of Christianity. Stirner goes beyond the problematic of humanism by seeing human essence – the very essence that has become. external ﬁgure that remains forever out of his grasp. these qualities that religion attributes to God are really the reiﬁed qualities of man as a ‘species being’. in Feuerbach’s eyes. saying to him that he was nothing while God was everything. Here Stirner breaks with the discourse of humanism by introducing a radical division between man and the individual. rationality. merely reinvented it in a new humanist form. it is precisely this secular emancipation of man – so emblematic of humanism – that Stirner questions. love and wisdom. However. man has replaced God as the new ideal abstraction – an abstraction that negates individual difference by attempting to unify it within a general idea of ‘humanity’. . by seeing God’s qualities as really man’s reiﬁed qualities. than God: ‘ “Man” is the God of today. man. with its rational and moral discourses that were supposed to free people from religious mystiﬁcation and idealism. so the individual is subordinated to this perfect being. man becomes like God. Stirner argues that Feuerbach’s critique of religion has not succeeded in overthrowing it. and religion generally. Like God. the essence of man becomes a superstitious ideal that now alienates the individual. Ludwig Feuerbach. goodness and so on. The end result of Feuerbach’s humanist dialectic. for Feuerbach. through Feuerbach’s humanist insurrection. Feuerbach has not displaced God so much as turned man into God. For Stirner. man’s essential self is displaced and stolen. alienated through religion – as an alienating abstraction itself. he denies human dignity. according to Stirner. In humanism. and fear of man has taken the place of the old fear of God’ (1995: 165). leaving him alienated and debased: ‘Man gives up his personality . In other words. . However. and just as man was once subordinated to God. the human ego’ (Feuerbach 1957: 27–28). claimed that Christianity had an alienating effect on man because it confronted him with an abstract image of God as the embodiment of supreme goodness. In other words. In this way. In other words. man is just as oppressive. and man will never be free until this essential humanity is restored to him through the dialectical overcoming of the Christian illusion. God was really an illusory externalization of man’s own humanity. In other words. This is why Stirner sees Enlightenment humanism. .
In a counter-dialectic Stirner shows the way in which liberalism develops through a series of political permutations. is liberalism. political liberalism established itself on the principle of a formal equality of rights: equality before the law. but a general and ‘higher’. However. while it claims to free man. The idea of man was supposed to live inside every individual and yet exceed him as a universal ideal: Man reaches beyond every individual man. In the place of the antiquated system of hierarchy and privilege. Political liberalism may be seen. for atheists. based on the notion of neutrality and institutional transparency. autonomous and rights-bearing bourgeois subject. Just like the concept of God. according to Stirner. and yet – though he be ‘his essence’ – is not in fact his essence (which would rather be as single as he the individual himself). thus confronting the individual with series of moral and rational norms that he is supposed to venerate and live up to because they are seen as intrinsic to his humanity. (Stirner 1995: 38) The dialectics of liberalism Through this critique of Feuerbach. is synonymous with the development of the modern state. This notion of human essence becomes sacred. yes. liberalism has a Janus face1 – its liberation of man from oppression and tyranny is concomitant with its domination of the individual. The rule of the liberal state superseded the political absolutism and obscurantism associated with the old feudal order. ‘the highest essence’. . for Stirner. and culminates in both the ﬁnal liberation of man and the complete subjection of the individual. for example. The dialectic begins with the emergence of ‘political liberalism’ – which. Stirner has turned humanism back upon itself. introducing a radical break within the Enlightenment tradition. The political expression of this new domination. After the fall of the ancien régime a new locus of sovereignty has emerged – the democratic republican state. and equal and unmediated access to political institutions. as the logical political counterpart to the Enlightenment: it is founded on the presupposition of a rational. in this sense. devouring the individual in its abstract generalities and universal ideals. Humanism is seen as a discourse which. This is a distinctly modern form of rule. the concept of essence is radically external to the individual. actually introduces new forms of subjugation and alienation. Liberalism is a secular politics for a secular age. for Stirner. one who has been liberated from the shackles of aristocratic privilege and may now express this freedom in the public sphere.16 Politics of the ego Humanism may be seen as a new secular religion based on a universal idea of human essence. a political counterpart to the epistemology of the Enlightenment – basing itself on reason and law rather than absolutism and tyranny.
In other words. and he sees the liberal state. so Stirner claims that political liberty means only that the state is free to further dominate the individual: ‘Political liberty’. despite its claim to be the embodiment of liberation. like every other. It is precisely this self-interestedness that Stirner wants to protect as the basis for individual difference. Moreover. through the logic of political liberalism. what Stirner objects to is the way that the state.Politics of the ego 17 However. Therefore. reduces all individual difference to a general. it also removes the obstacles and plural arrangements that hitherto stood between political power and the individual. through the doctrine of equality of rights. individual difference. (Stirner 1995: 96) . cutting out the complex intricacies of feudal relationships – tithes. but rather not pluralistic enough. First. guilds. The idiosyncrasy of this critique may be due to the fact that Stirner has in mind here the Hegelian conception of the universal state which would overcome the particularistic self-interestedness and egoism of civil society (Gesellschaft). Political liberalism is not too pluralistic. on the contrary. Rather than giving the individual autonomy from the political authority of the state. political liberalism may be seen as a logic that regulates the individual’s relationship with the state. While this ostensibly frees the individual from arbitrary rule. This is not to say that Stirner sees anything wrong with equality as such. this notion of political rights is limited – it is granted to the individual by the state and is therefore formal and empty. it merely gives the individual unmediated access to the state (or rather the state to the individual) thus allowing him to be more effectively dominated. thus shutting down the autonomous spaces upon which political life did not intrude. because one is a – citizen. The ‘equality of rights’ means only that ‘the state has no regard for my person. and indeed reduces. to be an institution that intrudes upon this individuality. Stirner detects several problems in political liberalism. the notion of formal equality of political rights does not recognize. anonymous political identity – that of the citizen. But why liberty? Because one is no longer separated from the state by intermediaries. what are we to understand by that? Perhaps the individual’s independence from the state and its laws? No. In other words. but stands in direct and immediate relation to it. the individual’s subjection in the state and to the state’s laws. am only a man’ (Stirner 1995: 93). the individual is reduced to a commonality sanctioned by the state. as conventional accounts of liberalism claim. that to it I. just as Marx contended that religious liberty meant only that religion was free to further alienate the individual in civil society. what he is criticizing is the way that. communes and so on – and allowing a more direct and absolute connection with the state.
prostitutes. Where the individual once worked for himself. a further denial of the individual and an intensiﬁcation of oppression. In order for the individual to attain the rights and privileges of citizenship he must conform to certain norms – bourgeois values of hard work and responsibility. While social . the category of bourgeois citizenship creates a series of excluded identities. in the second articulation of liberalism. ‘social liberals’ demand that the principle of equality be extended to the social and economic domain. property is to be owned by society as a whole and distributed equally. that humanity can liberate itself and develop fully. and liberalism as a new secular. Whereas in the discourse of political liberalism. and from which any dissent results in marginalization.18 Politics of the ego This question of citizenship brings us to the further problem. absolute and oppressive as Christian edicts. Behind the visage of political liberalism. Stirner describes liberals as zealots. refers to those who do not or cannot live up to bourgeois norms – the vagabonds. which is seen as an alienating and depersonalizing relation. he must now work for the beneﬁt of the whole of society. and in which rational laws have become as fundamental. This domination is intensiﬁed. then. In this way. who are radically excluded from all notions of citizenship. according to Stirner. The problem with political liberalism. as well as politically. However. Indeed. This can only be achieved through the abolition of private property. equality was restricted to the formal level of political and legal rights. The ‘proletariat’. Stirner ﬁnds behind this talk of social liberation. to turn him into the ‘good citizen of the state’. rational religion – a religion in which the modern state has taken the place of God. For Stirner. for Stirner. it is precisely through the liberal discourse of universal rights and freedoms that the individual is increasingly dominated and subjected to alienating norms. Instead. The individual ﬁnds himself subordinated to a rational and moral order in which certain modes of subjectivity are constructed as essential and enlightened. the discourse of political liberalism constitutes a certain form of subjectivity – the bourgeois citizen – that the individual is forced to conform to. ruined gamblers. for example. there is a whole series of normalizing strategies and disciplinary techniques designed to subjectify the individual. paupers – those with ‘nothing to lose’ (1995: 102). is the rational and moral absolutism that accompanies it. and even from relations of labour and economic exchange. which he calls ‘social liberalism’. People must be equal socially and economically. and the way that this denies individual difference and establishes universal norms that exclude certain identities. according to social liberals. It is only through a sacriﬁce of the individual ego for society. Stirner argues. This subaltern identity constitutes the excluded other of the liberal bourgeois citizen: it refers to those who have no place in society. vagrants. This would be the class that Marx rather dismissively termed the ‘lumpenproletariat’. Citizenship is a mode of subjectivity based on unquestioned obedience and devotion to the modern state.
However. Stirner argues that. not a Christian. To this end. they would be abolishing one of the few remaining places of individual autonomy. it is seen as still caught within the paradigm of materialism and. which socialists now want to do away with. the ﬁnal reconciliation of humanity with itself. Once again the individual is alienated by an abstract generality. is individual egoism: ‘We want to make egoists impossible! . according to Stirner. criticize it away. Because social liberalism is based on labour. every kind of particularity and difference must be overcome for the greater glory of humanity. behind this discourse of social and economic equality for all. Like the liberal state. that “all may have” ’ (1995: 105). However. The labourer in socialist society is still working for himself. rather than the liberal state. as we have seen. which is our humanity itself. all of us must have nothing. what they really ﬁnd intolerable. as the discourse of humanism would have it. alien commonalities. this ideal of universal humanity. but be a human being. despite its restrictions. there is nothing essential about humanity or mankind: they are nothing but ideological apparitions that tie the individual to external. . society itself becomes the new locus of sovereignty and domination. demanding of the individual the same self-sacriﬁce and unquestioned obedience. there is a pernicious and hidden resentment of individual difference. and now even the idea of society is seen as not universal enough.Politics of the ego 19 liberals – or socialists. Rather. Individual difference is simply abolished through the call to identify the essence of man and humanity within everyone: ‘Cast from you everything peculiar. human . Here. the internal ideal of man and the essence of humanity are what people should strive for. the third and ﬁnal articulation of liberalism emerges: ‘humane liberalism’. for instance. Humane liberalism is the last stage in the dialectic of liberalism. even though his labour is regulated by the social whole. nothing but a human being’ (Stirner 1995: 114). In other words. . this ﬁnal stage in man’s liberation is also the ﬁnal and complete abolition of the individual ego. abstract and universal goal. as they may be understood in this analysis – claim to be ﬁghting for equality. in which individual differences have been transcended. Where the previous two stages of liberalism still maintained a distance between humanity and its goal through a devotion to external ideas – the state and society – humane liberalism claims to ﬁnally reconcile us with our ultimate goal. For humane liberals. In other words. Humanity must instead strive for a more ideal. is the ﬁnal goal of man – the state of perfection and harmony in which man has been ﬁnally liberated from the external objective world. in Stirner’s analysis the inexorable dialectic of liberalism continues. For Stirner. Social equality and commonality are thus a more effective means of limiting individual autonomy. egoism. In doing so. the idea of society is seen as sacred and universal. according to Stirner. therefore. There is no essence of humanity residing in each individual waiting to be discovered. according to Stirner. Therefore. political liberalism still allowed certain limited spaces for individuality – in private property. Be not a Jew.
according to Stirner. . Stirner uses the dialectical structure precisely to undermine the dialectic itself. As Stirner shows. for Stirner. an invincible opposite . In other words. and which cannot be incorporated into the general identity of humanity: ‘Liberalism as a whole has a deadly enemy. Moreover. Now. sees Stirner as one of the ‘avatars of the dialectic’ – as ‘the dialectician who reveals nihilism as the truth of the dialectic’ (1992: 161). humane liberalism. there is a point at which the universalizing dialectic of liberalism fails to fully incorporate difference – and difference remains. Humane liberalism. as a radical excess which escapes its logic. despite. even this has been denied under humane liberalism – individual opinions have now been taken over by general human opinion (Stirner 1995: 116). we see in humane liberalism the complete domination of the general over the particular. who. egoism took refuge in individual thoughts and opinions. by the side of man stands the un-man. however. Ethnic. Therefore. Indeed. Stirner’s critique of liberalism would seem to support this. or rather because of. is the whore. Gilles Deleuze. even if only in the spectral form of the un-man. for instance. . it is precisely through these excluded identities that the liberal subject constitutes its own universality. The exemplary ﬁgure of disgust for the humane liberal.20 Politics of the ego essence is something radically alien and external to the individual. is only the political expression of this ﬁnal abdication of the individual ego. national and religious differences – indeed anything that would allow some form of particularity or uniqueness – must all melt into a universal humanity. its proclaimed universality and inclusiveness. marginalized identities. This critique of the dialectic as being hostile to difference is a theme familiar to a number of contemporary poststructuralist thinkers. Nietzsche shows that the oppositions central to the structure of the dialectic – thesis and antithesis – are only superﬁcial. In this way. According to Deleuze. the individual. We have seen the way in which the various forms of liberalism progressively limited the spaces for individual autonomy. and mask its misunderstanding of difference and its attempt to reconcile it with the logic of the same. the ﬁgure of man central to humanism and liberalism is always haunted by an other – the ‘un-man’ or Unmensch. Therefore. because she ‘turns her body into a money-getting machine’ deﬁles her own humanity (1995: 113). and to expose as its culmination not the triumph of freedom or rationality. the egoist’ (Stirner 1995: 125). produces a series of excluded. Once private property was abolished. moreover. Stirner sees the proclaimed liberation of humanity as the culmination of the progressive subordination and alienation of the individual. explores Nietzsche’s thinking in terms of a rejection of the Hegelian dialectic. humane liberalism attempts to abolish all forms of particularity and difference. Thus. but rather the . it is precisely through the humanist drive to overcome alienation that the alienation of the concrete individual is ﬁnally accomplished. The un-man is that part of the individual that is leftover from the dialectical process. Deleuze.
social and humane – were simply stages in the revelation of a new meaning. The dialectic of liberalism. Rather. but rather as a certain ‘technology’ that runs through different political symbolizations and instantiates itself in different ways. Disciplinary liberalism Stirner therefore goes beyond conventional accounts of liberalism in seeing it not as a particular political system or set of institutions. a new logic of domination. disciplinary technology has fundamental implications not only for contemporary understandings of liberalism. The truth of this supremely rational process is the spectre of man and human essence. In the discourse of social liberalism. more than a century before Foucault and Deleuze. In other words. Stirner has unmasked the disavowed underside of liberalism – behind the language of rights. we see that in political liberalism – which is ostensibly a discourse of rights that guarantees the individual freedom from political oppression – the individual is constituted as a subject of the state. but also for conceptualizations of power and ideology in political theory. as we have seen. then. Liberalism may be understood. It might be understood as a disciplinary technology because it involves a mediation between the individual and the norms and institutions that constitute him as a subject. a post-‘juridical’. Humane liberalism completes this subjection through a normalization of the individual according to the ideal of mankind. It may be argued here that Stirner has uncovered. ideological mechanisms and political institutions.Politics of the ego 21 universalization of alienation and mystiﬁcation. there is a covert network of disciplinary technologies and normalizing practices designed to regulate the individual. the individual is tied to external collective arrangements through a subjection to the idea of society. Stirner argues that liberalism is the attempt to impose a universal rational . liberalism does not operate through simple overt repression – its mechanism is much more subtle. has revealed itself in the domination of the individual and the exclusion of difference. it operates by constructing the individual around a certain subjectivity which actively desires its own domination. The oppositions between the different articulations of liberalism – political. it is clear that Stirner’s diagnosis of liberalism as a normalizing. Thus. and may be seen as a strategy of constituting the individual in conformity with this essence – as a subject of external norms. Liberalism is therefore the political articulation of the idea of human essence. the supreme illusion.2 In any case. freedoms and universal ideals. as a progressive ‘taming’ of the individual – a restriction of his difference and singularity by constructing him as a subject of various institutions and norms. Rationality may be seen as one of these liberal disciplinary technologies. This is a strategy that runs through different political arrangements and is progressively intensiﬁed. post-repressive paradigm of power that operates through self-subjection.
However. Going against the Enlightenment humanist tradition. if reason rules. applied to our existing relations. While my purpose here is not to engage in a comparison between Stirner and Nietzsche. precisely by branding these dissenting voices as irrational or unreasonable. is a coercive marginalization of individual difference. human essence can no longer be taken as an ontological certainty. Stirner’s critique has been precisely to make problematic this idea of essence. from Stirner’s perspective. revealing the will to power behind them. The politics of resentment This critique of universal rationality has certain important parallels with Nietzsche. . Stirner is not necessarily opposed to rationality itself. This critique of rationality has clear implications for even contemporary liberal political theory: Rawls’ attempt to establish a rational consensus about the conditions for justice. in other words. According to Stirner.” Its aim is a “rational order”. but rather its status as a universal and absolute discourse. would be seen. Rational truth has no real meaning beyond individual perspectives. based on a resentment of difference and individuality. then the person succumbs’ (Stirner 1995: 96). we should no longer be awed by the transcendental claims of rationality and truth – they are merely discourses based often on the meanest of motives. Nietzsche also talks about the way that rational and moral ideas dominate the modern consciousness and turn the individual against himself.22 Politics of the ego order on the world: ‘“Liberalism is nothing else than the knowledge of reason. Both Stirner and Nietzsche see liberalism as an inverted form of Christianity. Rational truth is always removed from the grasp of the individual and held over him tyrannically. to expose its ideological function and the relations of power that are instantiated through it. What this notion of the rational consensus conceals. thus creating an external alienating ideal that one is expected to conform to. as Stirner has shown. similarly. a “moral behaviour” . Thus. I will explore certain connections between the two thinkers – particularly on the question of modern liberal subjectivity – that allow us to shed light on liberalism. It may be suggested that both thinkers explore a counter-history or genealogy of modernity – an analysis through which modernity’s highest ideals are unmasked. . as a way of excluding different and antagonistic discursive positions – ‘opinions’ – from a universal ‘rational order’. For Stirner. its very status has become a political question. as we have seen. But. Nietzsche was suspicious of this all too conﬁdent . liberalism is based upon an essentialist understanding of the individual – on the idea of a universal rational and moral subject. Rather. liberalism is based on a notion of human essence that the individual is expected to conform to. in particular the desire for power and domination. the idea of the essential human subject is problematic. For Nietzsche. This has enormous implications for liberalism because.
an inverted image of the sacriﬁce of the individual on the humanist altar of self-mortiﬁcation. the individual himself is split between an identiﬁcation with liberal subjectivity. and a recognition of those elements of himself which do not or cannot conform to this ideal. Nietzsche shows. For both Stirner and Nietzsche. In this way. As Stirner shows. Nietzsche sees humanism as only the last metamorphosis of Christianity. then. resentment is turned against oneself and becomes a sickness. in liberal societies. This may be seen in terms of an institutionalized attitude of resentment towards that which is different or other – that which does not conform to the ideal liberal subject. Thus. Perhaps we could understand liberalism in this sense – as a political logic infected by a resentment of difference and individuality. Morality is simply our inability to relinquish Christianity: ‘They have got rid of the Christian God. is hostile to difference – it cannot understand difference except by incorporating it within its moral structures and deﬁning it in oppositional terms. The Feuerbachian image of a god-like man – imbued with rationality and goodness – is for Nietzsche. as well as for Stirner. precisely because without this external other it could not deﬁne itself as good. The human is merely a way of reproducing the divine. still wandering. Even though we have killed God. we should look beyond the formal liberal principle of equal rights to see the spirit of ressentiment that infects its root – the will to power of the weak against the strong. God has simply been reinvented in man: the dialectical reconciliation of man and God that is found in Feuerbach and Hegel is only the high point of Christian nihilism and the triumph of reactive ‘life-denying’ forces. that lies beneath it. the problem with liberalism and its various political offshoots is that they deny individual difference and uniqueness by reducing everyone to the same formal level on the basis of an idealized and universal image of human essence. and which are seen as pathological. and now feel obliged to cling all the more ﬁrmly to Christian morality’ (Nietzsche 1990: 80). in the religious mode of consciousness. Moreover. what is different to itself is necessarily bad. it has not yet reached the ears of men’ (Nietzsche 1974: 182). we are not yet ready for this event – we are still trapped within the categories of metaphysics.Politics of the ego 23 modernist proclamation of the Death of God: ‘The tremendous event is still on its way. individuals who deviate from the accepted moral and rational norms of liberalism are excluded from the liberal polity. Perhaps. of the slave against the master. Stirner’s un-man refers not only to differences outside the modern . inhuman and are often violently repressed. The individual is thus alienated and ‘terriﬁed at himself’ (Stirner 1995: 41). Leaving aside some of their political differences – for instance Stirner did not share Nietzsche’s nostalgia for aristocracy and his valorization of hierarchy and inequality – both thinkers nevertheless engage in a similar critique of the levelling impulse and secular religiosity of modern political systems like liberalism. in other words. Like Stirner. This attitude of ressentiment.
Nietzsche and Connolly show that any analysis of liberalism must take into account the exclusion of difference at the base of its ediﬁce of freedom and equal rights.3 For instance. masking an unprecedented state domination and restriction of individuality. independent. in different ways. Because this universalized abstraction is privileged over the concrete individual. as a decadence from his health. this can only be alleviated by directing it outwards so that it becomes a generalized resentment against those who are perceived as different: ‘Certain weakness is here transformed into merit. as Stirner shows. illegal immigrants and welfare-dependents – are marginalized because they do not live up to the liberal ideal of the autonomous. psychiatric patients. However this subject is shown to be the result of an ideological or discursive operation. the former takes it for a sin of the man against himself. This private space is merely the ideological supplement of liberalism. court injunctions. the homeless. We can easily apply this argument to modern liberal societies. A whole series of punishments. Stirner believes that the modern liberal-humanist treatment of crime as a disease to be cured is only the ﬂip side of the old moralreligious prejudice: Curative means or healing is only the reverse side of punishment. Both Stirner and Nietzsche. medicalization. discipline and taming. conﬁnement in psychiatric wards or detention centres. the moral hygiene of the subject becomes a new norm according to which transgressions are punished. drug addicts.24 Politics of the ego liberal subject. if the latter sees in action a sin against right. Thinkers like Stirner. there is no guarantee in liberalism for even the private space of individual autonomy that it purports to hold sacred (see Warren 1988: 215). (Stirner 1995: 213) In other words. William Connolly analyses this reactive intolerance of difference characteristic of today’s liberal societies. By constructing the liberal subject as responsible and autonomous. prison sentences. Moreover. the theory of cure runs parallel with the theory of punishment. liberalism inculcates a sense of rancour and guilt against the self where it fails to meet this standard. so that what the slave must be becomes the standard against which every difference is deﬁned as a deviation to be punished. Liberalism is based on the assumption of an essential human subject as the locus of rationality and natural rights. disciplinary procedures and social sanctions are applied to those who fall behind: welfare breaches. reformed or converted’ (Connolly 1991: 79). self-reliant subject. but to those within him as well. engage in a genealogy of the autonomous liberal subject – unmasking the way that he is constituted through strategies of domination. in which particular identities – such as the unemployed. responsible. ﬁnes. this domination is articulated in a new paradigm of power and is justiﬁed in terms of the ‘health’ of the subject. This has obvious connec- .
and how this makes liberalism itself problematic. the autonomous rational subject that Enlightenment liberalism invites us to free ‘is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself’ (1991: 30). Brown argues that while rights ostensibly give the individual autonomy from the state. at the same time. independent judiciaries and legal procedures there lies a whole network of normalizing techniques that constitute an entirely different form of power. in other words. for both Stirner and Foucault. Liberalism. are critical of the liberal discourse of rights. Foucault also exposed the disciplinary technologies and subjectifying norms behind the veneer of liberalism. for instance. as well as for Stirner. For instance. but rather a mode of government – or a governmental rationality – that promoted a particular form of life as free.Politics of the ego 25 tions with Foucault’s formula of punishment and incarceration. could be seen as the ‘other side’ of liberalism: behind the liberal institutions of formal rights. is the discursive threshold where individual freedom meets the regulative power of the state. knowledge and discipline that operate there. these two understandings of liberalism ultimately coincide. this simply binds them further to the state. the autonomy and freedom enjoyed by subjects in liberal societies depends on the way they have been normalized as liberal subjects. Furthermore. Indeed. such as Wendy Brown. as for Stirner. and the strategies of power. ‘Ownness’ Stirner has shown that it is through the construction of a particular form of subjectivity that the individual is tied to liberal institutions and . Brown argues that when minority groups and identities situate their demands for recognition and autonomy within the liberal language of rights. the function of liberalism is precisely to mask the nature of this disciplinary power with the outmoded language of sovereignty – the ‘juridico-discursive’ paradigm. are the disciplinary and discursive conditions under which the subject of liberalism – the subject of formal rights and freedoms – has been constructed. to be more precise. liberalism was not so much a philosophy that sought to protect the natural freedom of the individual against the state. Or. in which the new fetters of ‘reason’ and ‘humane punishment’ take the place of the old moral prejudices. the rights claims of certain feminist groups simply reafﬁrm their status as ‘victims’ requiring the protection of the state. the problem with liberal rights is that they are only realizable within a state framework that at the same time limits them. The prison system. because they are sanctioned and prescribed by the state. allowing the state to extend its power over life. In a similar manner to Stirner. Brown asks: ‘Might such protection codify within law the very powerlessness it seeks to redress?’ (1995: 21). for Foucault. then. In other words. That is to say that. Other contemporary thinkers. What is really at issue for Foucault. they only tie the individual more ﬁrmly to it. As Foucault says.
For Stirner. then. for instance. at the same time. It may be seen. on the contrary. this freedom is always tempered by a notion of responsibility – so that a certain degree of freedom is allowed to some and not others. This implies a form of autonomy that goes beyond the transcendental liberal ideal of freedom. the problem with liberalism is not that it allows too much individual freedom and autonomy – as communitarians might claim – but. The problem with a freedom prescribed by formal rights and institutions is that it brings into play a series of universal norms and expectations that are themselves oppressive. identity. oppressive underside of liberalism that palpitates behind its formal ediﬁce of rights and freedoms: the mechanisms of normalization and discipline that go into constituting the autonomous liberal subject. it may be suggested that Stirner’s political philosophy implies an extreme form of liberalism. the will to power and the negation of difference at the base of its proclamations of freedom and tolerance. he takes the concept of property and . the individual must continually ‘consume’ himself and invent himself anew (Stirner 1995: 150). then. Liberal freedom is based on a false universality and neutrality which masks its complicity with power. There is a sense in which Stirner sees individuality as a radical excess that can never be contained within the narrow individuated identities allowed under liberal subjectivity – something that spills over its edges and jeopardizes its limits. This involves an assertion of the self as a contingent. The individual ego is thus seen as ‘creative nothingness’.4 Stirner has exposed the dark. the individual can only free himself from these limitations by inventing new forms of subjectivity and autonomy. In order to remain one step ahead of the subjectifying power of liberalism. as a radical and highly individualistic form of freedom that goes beyond the formal conﬁnes set down for it by liberalism. Here Stirner advocates a radical form of individual autonomy which he calls self-ownership or ownness. Paradoxically. a kind of ‘hyper-liberalism’. a radical emptiness which it is up to the individual to deﬁne (Stirner 1995: 135). Stirner uses the language of liberalism to interrogate its limits. In this way. that it does not allow enough. The individual seeks to conform to a series of moral and rational norms. and thus remains conﬁned to liberal modes of subjectivity that are. By contrast. and is restricted only to particular spheres of life. For Stirner. Ownness increases the individual’s power of self-determination by breaking away from essentialist identities and universal ideals. The individual in contemporary liberal societies is expected to conform to a certain rational mode of freedom – to engage as a free and self-reliant agent in the marketplace. rather than ﬁxed. but by this I cease to be merely a free man.26 Politics of the ego discourses. That is why the individual must go beyond the formal freedoms of liberalism and invent his own forms of autonomy. For instance. ownness is a form of freedom that is created by the individual himself and is based on his power alone: ‘My freedom only becomes complete when it is my – might. and become an own man’ (Stirner 1995: 151). Of course. dominating.
rather like Foucault’s idea of ‘care of the self’ – which involves ethical strategies of self-mastery and self-constitution (see Foucault 1994). then.Politics of the ego 27 turns it against liberalism itself: why should property be restricted to what is allowed under the law? Rather. in political liberalism. Thus. pushing it to its furthest limits and thereby revealing the gap between this message and the reality of liberal politics. This concept of property would include material possessions in certain instances: for example. we could see Stirner’s concept of ‘property’ as pertaining to an open-ended project of individual autonomy. in this sense. and an afﬁrmation of difference and plurality. When the individual lusts after material possessions he is once again placing himself under the power of an external abstract object and abdicating his freedom to it. clearly poses problems for liberal political theory. therefore denying his difference and . It is not that liberalism cynically parades itself as a philosophy that guarantees individual freedom. individual rights and autonomy. Rather. despite its eccentricity. Stirner is only interested in material property in so far as it allows for the development of a much more profound and broader notion of personal self-ownership. it is that the liberal notions of rights and freedoms are based on a certain conceptualization of the subject. Property refers to everything that belongs to the individual and is within his power to determine. private possessions provided a ‘safe haven’ for the individual from the incursions of the state. By unmasking the disciplinary underside of liberalism – the oppressive normalizing practices that go into constituting the neutral liberal subject – Stirner has exposed the paradoxical nature of liberal notions of freedom. but more a notion of self-ownership and selfdeterminacy that goes beyond this. Towards a politics of ‘post-liberalism’ Stirner’s critique. that Stirner’s most radical gesture is to actually take the message of liberalism – the valorization of individual autonomy and freedom – seriously. the liberal institution of private property is made unstable precisely by expanding it beyond all legal and rational limits. as we have seen. Stirner sees material possessions as themselves enslaving the individual. Freedom and autonomy are conditional upon the individual conforming to this abstract generality. derived from Enlightenment humanism and rationalism. which Stirner has shown to be an oppressive and alienating ideological construction. when Stirner talks about ‘property’ he does not necessarily mean material possessions. Perhaps it could be argued. Perhaps.5 In other words. while in actual practice denying it. As soon as material possessions come into conﬂict with self-ownership and autonomy they must be rejected. Moreover. its only limit should be power – the individual’s ability to seize as much as possible. However. at other times. Both point to some kind of ethics of individual autonomy and self-ownership.
A radicalized discourse of rights might be used to challenge some of the practices of institutionalized exclusion and detention. it could be argued that the last thing we need today – what with the unprecedented expansion of state power in the name of ‘national security’ and the ‘war on terror’ – is any kind of weakening of rights. or more contemporary subaltern identities like the homeless. It would encompass a whole series of potentially different and contingent political articulations. but on a series of arbitrary exclusions. however. their status becomes undecidable rather than absolute. however. Through a realization of the power relations upon which they are based. make problematic the status of these regimes themselves? This was precisely what Foucault tried to do: in his advocacy of prisoners’ rights. there is nothing necessarily wrong with liberal ideas of individual freedom and equality of rights themselves. if it is the case that liberal rights and freedoms are founded not on some universal. The point is. liberal rights and freedoms would have to be seen as contingent.28 Politics of the ego individuality. the conditions under which people are incarcerated (see 1977: 227). Stirner may therefore be seen as a crucial link in the post-Enlightenment and poststructuralist critique of liberalism – particularly in his questioning of the conditions under which the liberal subject is constituted. It might involve an expansion of liberal rights and freedoms to those who are marginalized in liberal societies – the ‘lumpenproletariat’. discursive constructions and strategies of power. Indeed. marginalized and subjected to a whole series of regulatory. On the contrary. Illegal migrants and asylum seekers face some of the worst abuses at the hands of governments today. Those who do not or cannot live up to this ideal are excluded. through this. This undecidability does not mean. through this. yet which remains undisclosed and disavowed. I would argue that this interrogation of the limits of liberalism does not necessarily invalidate it. he was attempting to challenge the absolute status of the division between innocence and guilt and. where rights and legal protections are enshrined in citizenship and denied to those who fall outside this . it means that the discourse of rights itself would be expanded beyond its current liberal capitalist conceptualization. For Stirner. for instance. There is an oppressive dimension through which these rights are instantiated. In other words. essential subjectivity. The purpose of Stirner’s critique has been to uncover the relations of power. that there is always another side to this discourse of rights. For instance. why could one not extend the notion of rights and individual autonomy to include identities that are currently excluded by liberal regimes and. practices regarded as acceptable in our so-called liberal-democratic societies. A Stirnerian concept of rights might follow along similar lines. judicial. that the notion of rights itself is jeopardized. the unemployed and illegal migrants. discipline and exclusion through which liberal identities are constituted. However. medical and disciplinary procedures which have as their aim the normalization of the individual.
This tendency derives from liberalism’s indebtedness to a defunct Enlightenment essentialism and rationalism. refers to a political ethos of contestation with practices of domination. Gray theorizes a form of ‘post-liberalism’ which would recognize the irreducibility of difference. afﬁrms competing and different identities. Here a Stirnerian concept of ‘post-liberalism’7 may be likened to John Gray’s attempt to articulate a form of liberalism that was not based on the search for a rational consensus about the ‘best life’. and would concern itself only with establishing a modus vivendi between competing forms of life. and the impossibility of inscribing this within a universal subjectivity. indeed. through Stirner’s critique of liberalism. we may be able to theorize a ‘postliberalism’ – a liberalism which is not conﬁned to essentialist identities and rational frameworks. but which. This would be precisely the kind of ‘post-liberalism’ that the implications of Stirner’s critique would allow us to envisage – a politics of personal autonomy. would be a reconﬁguration of liberalism on the basis of an acknowledgment of the plurality of existence and the singularity of personal freedom. Like Stirner. This would free liberal rights from their current epistemological limits and open them to different articulations. central to which is an ongoing interrogation of the status of the individual and also. So for Stirner. the problem is not the rights and freedoms themselves.Politics of the ego 29 category. we recognize them to be products as much of chance as of choice’ (Gray 2000: 270). through this. Moreover. and thus disentangle these rights and freedoms from it. rather than a universal human essence. which is no longer sustainable in modern plural societies. an interrogation of the very discursive limits of liberalism itself. In this sense. In other words. it would be an agonistic liberalism in the sense that it acknowledges and. from which others can be judged. As Gray says: ‘We do not pretend that our identities express the essence of the species. but rather which recognized the incommensurability of different perspectives in modern society. but rather the discursive regime of essentialist humanism and Enlightenment rationalism that they are articulated in. perspectives and forms of life.6 Again this points to the paradoxical and two-sided nature of this discourse of rights that Stirner has highlighted. Of course. thereby allowing them to be used to interrogate the structures of power and practices of domination inherent in liberal capitalist societies. ‘Post-liberalism’. post-liberalism would be based on the recognition of the contingency of identity. then. rather. there are many aspects of Stirner’s political philosophy that . Stirner’s critique allows us to identify this essentialist paradigm. he believes that the central problem of liberalism lies in its attempt to establish a universal epistemological standpoint – to ﬁnd the best form of life. Gray argues for an ‘agonistic’ liberalism based on the notion of ‘ethical contestability’ (Gray 1995: 86). In attempting to extricate liberalism from its anchoring in Enlightenment epistemologies and universal conceptions of the ‘good life’.
what is important politically in Stirner’s critique of liberalism is the way that it makes problematic the ontological status of the subject. Singularity may be conceptualized as a non-essential form of difference and individuality – one which is itself contingent and undecidable. Instead. . This is the sort of pluralism that Stirner would see as endemic to liberal politics. For instance.8 It would appear that Stirner’s politics would be limited to an individual rebellion. and as a form of essentialism brought in through the back door. a post-liberal politics would seek to invent. his extreme individualism and egoism. rather than deny. contingent and unpredictable nature. Instead. Stirner’s philosophy shows us the multiple possibilities of individuality – its very singular. as this would be another kind of essentialism that in the end is itself hostile to difference. in which any kind of collective identity is seen as an oppressive burden. clearly makes it difﬁcult to theorize a collective politics of resistance. On the basis of this principle of singularity. A politics of ‘postliberalism’ would seek to respect and encourage. perhaps Stirner’s thinking may be seen in terms of a politics of singularity. However. ﬁxed identity of difference. his critique of essentialism could be used against a simplistic ‘politics of difference’. in which the rights of various minority groups are often asserted on the basis of a speciﬁc identity. in Nietzsche’s words ‘the rich ambiguity of existence’ (cited in Connolly 1991: 81). multiply and expand spaces for individual autonomy and singularity that are often denied in modern liberal societies. The idea is not to valorize the individual as a stable. In this sense.30 Politics of the ego are problematic.
On the contrary. and I will attempt to unmask the hidden strains of ressentiment in the Manichean political thinking of classical anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin. He calls them the ‘anarchist dogs’ that are roaming the streets of European culture. assuming they are inclined to study ressentiment close up for once: this plant thrives best amongst anarchists. Nietzsche sees anarchism as poisoned at the root by the pestiferous weed of ressentiment – the spiteful politics of the weak and pitiful. particularly anarchism.2 Ressentiment and radical politics A word in the ear of the psychologists. (Nietzsche 1994: 52) Of all the nineteenth-century political movements that Nietzsche decries – from socialism to liberalism – he reserves his most venomous words for the anarchists. or is he diagnosing a real sickness that has infected our radical political imaginary? Despite Nietzsche’s obvious prejudice towards radical politics. it is necessary to understand the relationship between master morality and . Is Nietzsche here merely venting his conservative wrath against radical politics. This is not with the intention of dismissing anarchism as a political theory. I suggest here that anarchism could become more relevant to contemporary political struggles if it were made to confront the ressentiment at the heart of its revolutionary philosophy. I will explore this cunning logic of ressentiment in relation to radical politics. However. the morality of the slave. particularly in the essentialist identities and oppositional structures that inhabit it. In order to understand ressentiment. however. I see anarchism as an important theoretical precursor to a poststructuralist politics because of its deconstruction of political authority and its critique of Marxist economic determinism. Slave morality and ressentiment Ressentiment is diagnosed by Nietzsche as the sickness endemic to our modern condition. the epitome of the ‘herd-animal morality’ that characterizes modern democratic politics (1994: 161). I will take seriously his charge against anarchism.
whereas the focus of noble morality is on the self. altruism. subterranean hatred that grew the values subsequently associated with the good – pity. it needs. the lowly are good. external stimuli in order to act all – its action is basically a reaction’ (1994: 21–22). cruel. Nietzsche says: ‘In order to come about. to bring about a reversal and held it in the teeth of their unfathomable hatred (the hatred of the powerless). the way we interpret and impose values on the world has a history. rejecting the aristocratic value equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = blessed) ventured with aweinspiring consistency. the powerless – in other words. the slave revolt in morality inverted the noble system of values and began to equate good with the lowly. cursed and damned!’ (Nietzsche 1994: 19) In this way. Slave morality is characterized by an attitude of ressentiment – the resentment and hatred that is felt by the powerless towards the powerful. However. as we understand it. Thus the invention of values comes from a comparison or opposition to that which is outside. only the poor. was invented by the noble and high-placed to apply to themselves. the ugly. This inversion introduced the pernicious spirit of revenge and hatred into the creation of values. slave morality ﬁrst has to have an opposing. ‘Only those who suffer are good. the powerful. the deprived. external world. the sick. the slave says the opposite: ‘He (the master) is bad. This reactive stance. It was from this imperceptible. Ressentiment is characterized by an orientation to the outside. Morality. it was in this pathos of distance between the high-born and the low-born that values were created (1994: 61). the slave. other or different. meekness and so on. According to Nietzsche. for instance. The value of ‘good’. godless. you will also be eternally wretched. lustful.32 Ressentiment and radical politics slave morality in which ressentiment is generated. ‘therefore he is bad’. For Nietzsche. low-placed and plebeian. this equation of the good with the aristocracy began to be undermined by a slave revolt in values: It was the Jews who. this inability to deﬁne any- . in contrast to the common. While the master says ‘I am good’ and adds as an afterthought. psychologically speaking. Nietzsche sees ressentiment as an entirely negative sentiment – the attitude of denying what is life-afﬁrming. its origins are often brutal and far removed from the values they produce. whereas you rich. saying ‘no’ to what is different. what is ‘other’. has its roots in this vengeful will to power of the powerless over the powerful – the revolt of the slave against the master. salvation is for them alone. it was the value of the master – ‘good’ – as opposed to that of the slave – ‘bad’. therefore I am good’. insatiate. the noble. you are eternally wicked. the only ones. Nietzsche’s work On the Genealogy of Morality is a study of the origins of morality. the suffering. saying. are the only pious people. the powerless.
To Nietzsche this is bringing everything down to the level of the lowest common denominator. or Manichean. origins and interpretations. It seeks to level the differences between individuals. a deep-seated. Anarchism is. Anarchism Anarchism. and to equalize the powerful and the powerless. and shows little understanding of the complexities of anarchist theory. communal anarchism of Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. It is the reactive stance of the weak who deﬁne themselves in opposition to the strong. For Nietzsche. The critique of political authority – the conviction that power is oppressive. like anarchism. is the attitude of ressentiment. however. to the collectivist. resulting in the death of aesthetic values and creativity. The weak need the existence of this external enemy to identify themselves as ‘good’. From the individualist anarchism of Stirner. rich and poor. I would nevertheless argue that Nietzsche does uncover a certain element of ressentiment in anarchism’s oppositional. thus erasing the pathos of distance between master and slave. the sense of difference and superiority through which great values are created. It is this ressentiment. Nietzsche sees the democratic movement as an expression of the ‘herd-animal morality’ derived from the Judeo-Christian revaluation of values (1994: 161). Thus the slave takes ‘imaginary revenge’ upon the master. It is necessary to explore this logic to see where it leads and to what extent it imposes conceptual limits on its radical politics. Nietzsche sees this as the worst of the excesses of European nihilism. has many different voices. as a revolutionary political philosophy. logic. arose out of the slave revolt in morality. for Nietzsche. anarchism is diverse series of philosophies and political strategies. master and slave. Is anarchism the political expression of ressentiment? Is it poisoned by a deep hatred of the powerful. the most extreme heir to democratic values. to raze hierarchies to the ground. The man of ressentiment hates the noble with an intense spite. the most rabid expression of the herd instinct. which form the cornerstone of both liberal and radical left politics. They are united. by a fundamental critique and rejection of political authority in all its forms. that advocate them. according to Nietzsche. They are generated by the same spirit of revenge and hatred of the powerful. to abolish class distinctions.Ressentiment and radical politics 33 thing except in opposition to something else. seething hatred and jealousy. that has poisoned the modern consciousness. exploitative and dehumanizing – may be said to be the crucial politico-ethical standpoint of anarchism. as he cannot act without the existence of the master to oppose. ﬁnding its expression in ideas of equality and democracy and in radical political philosophies. values of equality and democracy. as Nietzsche suggests? While Nietzsche’s attack on anarchism is in many respects unjustiﬁed and excessively malicious. For classical anarchists the sovereign state was the embodiment .
and it must be abolished as the ﬁrst act of any social revolution. This last point brought anarchism into sharp conﬂict with Marxism. the fundamental source of oppression in society. was the fundamental site of oppression. because it was currently in the hands of the bourgeoisie. So the state. Once class distinctions had disappeared the state would lose its political character (Marx 1978b: 545). the state is much more than an expression of class and economic power. rather than the state. the anarchists believed that it was actually political oppression that made economic oppression possible (see Bakunin 1950: 49). because the state has its own autonomous logic it can never be trusted as an instrument of revolution. In Bakunin’s words. For Marx. The state is the main target of the anarchist critique of authority.34 Ressentiment and radical politics of all forms of the enslavement and degradation of man. expansion and self-perpetuation and is largely autonomous from class interests. However. For anarchists. So anarchism locates the fundamental oppression and power in society in the very structure and operation of the state. are sanctimoniously immolated and interred’ (1984: 207). for anarchists. in other words. anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin disagreed with Marx on precisely this point. The state has its own logic and momentum. where under the shadow and the pretext of this abstraction (the common good) all the best aspirations. it was largely a reﬂection of economic exploitation and an instrument of class power. If the state is not destroyed immediately. ‘the State is like a vast slaughterhouse and an enormous cemetery. Rather. if it is used as a revolutionary tool as Marx suggested. the state has its own structural logic of domination. for Bakunin. The ruling class. as Marx did. is a priori oppression no matter what form it takes. As an . a new series of class contradictions – creating a new bureaucratic class that will oppress and exploit workers in the same manner that the bourgeois class once did (1984: 228). Indeed Bakunin argues that Marxism pays too much attention to the forms of state power while not taking enough account of the way in which state power operates: ‘They [Marxists] do not know that despotism resides not so much in the form of the State but in the very principle of the State and political power’ (1984: 221). Therefore. as Bakunin claimed. The state was only dominating. which is often beyond the control of the ruling class and does not necessarily reﬂect economic relations. the state could be used as a tool of revolution if it was in the hands of the right class – the proletariat. Oppression and despotism exist in the very structure and symbolic order of the state – it is not merely a derivative of class power. Instead of seeing the state as deriving from social and economic relations. the economy. for anarchists. was only the state’s real material representative: behind every ruling class of every epoch there looms the state. It would generate. It is. then it will be perpetuated in inﬁnitely more tyrannical ways. Marx believed that while the state was indeed oppressive and exploitative. Because of this. all the living forces of a country.
it is based on a founding gesture of violence that is masked by the ideological ﬁction of the contract. society embodied a natural. where there were no common bonds that united people. an ideological ﬁction created to legitimize the state (1984: 136). looming above class and economic concerns. they argue. rending them apart. The state is a mode of domination that imposes a regulated ‘interiorization’ upon the populace. and it is based on an essential commonality between people. how does the social contract. and has nothing to with ‘contracts’ (1994: 63). However Bakunin condemns this theory as an ‘unworthy hoax’. if there is no notion of social unity to begin with. as a repressive and ruthless machinery’. the state haunts different class actualizations – not just the bourgeoisie state. For classical anarchists. which subjugated the population (Nietzsche 1994: 62–63). Society regulates itself according to natural laws and principles. and it comes about through war and conquest. the state emerged as a ‘terrible tyranny. According to Nietzsche.Ressentiment and radical politics 35 abstract machine of domination. Rather. Unlike social contract theorists. The state has no legitimacy: it is a brutal and unnecessary intrusion that disturbs a naturally functioning social order. organic fullness. Marxism was blind to this autonomous dimension of state power. Nietzsche here rejects the fantasy of the social contract – the idea. no common goal that unites humanity. then. as it was in the Hobbesian paradigm. anarchists argued that society has no need for the state. rather than rational agreement. be based on a rational and free agreement between individuals. by a radical and ongoing antagonism. the state actually engenders it. but the workers’ state too. The theory of the social contract is based on the myth of the ‘state of nature’ – a picture of society characterized. He sees the state as an abstract machine of domination which precedes capitalism. as Hobbes contends. therefore. serve to conceal the violence of the state’s origins. Because of its economic reductionism. emerge? Political authority cannot. He exposes the paradox at the heart of the social contract: that if people live a savage existence in the state of nature. Nietzsche also sees modern man as ‘tamed’ and fettered by the state. without rationality or morality. their natural drives. central to liberal theories of sovereignty. Rather than preventing perpetual warfare between people. Instead of being characterized by a . that people voluntarily relinquish their power to a centralized sovereign body in return for their safety and security. how can they have the foresight to come together for their common ends? That is to say. on the contrary. Moreover the origins of this state are violent: it is imposed forcefully from without. This conception of the state ironically strikes a familiar note with Nietzsche. The social contract Anarchists also repudiate social contract theories which. Like the anarchists. this supremely rational gesture.
The social contract relies on a singularly negative idea of human nature. organic life world. they constitute our nature. Kropotkin applied these ﬁndings to human society. . It is this natural mechanism that political power only interferes with. Kropotkin saw this natural mechanism in the ethical principle of mutual aid and co-operation.36 Ressentiment and radical politics nihilistic emptiness. This natural sociability is the principle that binds society together. intellectually and morally’ (Bakunin 1984: 239). Human beings were. These principles are essential to the subject’s existence: they surround us. However. Kropotkin argued that co-operation and mutual aid amongst animals were more prevalent and instinctive than competition and aggression (1955: 5). A state of ‘anarchy’. Contrary to what he saw as a pseudo-Darwinist approach. rather than preventing it. and it is out of this that notions of morality. Kropotkin believed. as Hobbes believed. according to Bakunin. the principle of mutual aid constitutes an essential commonality that is lacking in the ‘state of nature’. by the loneliness and desperation of the ‘state of nature’. human beings were essentially co-operative and sociable. According to the anarchists. however. It is only with the destruction of state power that this dislocation will itself be overcome and society will be reconciled with itself. providing a common basis upon which daily life can be conducted. a war of ‘all against all’ will not ensue once the sovereign power is displaced. Manicheism Central to classical anarchism is a radical conceptual division between two ontological orders – that of ‘natural authority’ and ‘artiﬁcial authority’. a state of ‘anarchy’ exists now. Rather. society is governed by a natural harmony which regulates relations between individuals. It is an organic principle that governs society. justice and ethics grow. It is the intervention of political power that creates social dislocation. selﬁsh. this principle of mutual aid that will naturally replace the principle of political authority. obedience to natural laws is not a form of slavery because these laws are not external to man: ‘Those [natural] laws are not extrinsic in relation to us. and put a stop to its motion’ (1968: 92). in other words. is the dimension that is governed by ‘natural laws’ – that is. and the actions of the state to the clumsy hands that disturb its operation. our whole being physically. He argued that the basic principle of human society is mutual aid. to the spring of a clock. they are inherent in us. As the anarchist William Godwin said: ‘They lay their hand on the spring there is in society. rational principles which are part of a natural. It is. aggressive and competitive. then. Natural authority. shape us and determine the physical world in which we live. moreover. in this paradigm. and that man is naturally co-operative rather than competitive and egoistic. the essential core of the subject’s humanity. In this sense. They are. The natural mechanism may be likened. that this was a misrepresentation of the human condition.
according to Bakunin. Institutionalized political power. has perhaps has fallen into the same reductionist trap as Marxism. One deﬁnes itself in opposition to . irrational and corrupting. This schema. Political power restricts the subject’s rational and moral potential. this form of authority is seen as inherently oppressive. just as the revolutionary subject is essential to the existence of the state. this natural order is diametrically opposed to the ‘artiﬁcial’ order of power and political authority. This form of authority is ‘entirely mechanical and artiﬁcial’. Manicheism is a logic endemic to revolutionary political philosophies like anarchism and Marxism: Political culture is also the systematic pursuit of an antagonism between two essences. as a struggle between these two forms of authority. the other artiﬁcial and evil – is precisely the logic of Manicheism. Moreover. as Marxism did. a theological dualism that ﬁnds its secular form in radical political philosophies like anarchism. anarchism. the tracing of a line of demarcation between two principles. There is no political culture that is not Manichean. whose predominance will be restored after the revolutionary overthrow of political authority. and is constituted by ‘pneumatic machines called governments’ (1984: 239). It is external and alien to human nature. This development is determined by natural laws. two hostile camps. Has it not merely replaced the economy with the state as the essential evil in society. and constitutes an unnatural imposition upon it. This struggle is part of a dialectical process in which the subject develops to a state of full humanity. then. for they impose upon them a system of external and therefore despotic laws’ (1984: 240). two levels of reality which are easily placed in opposition. in subscribing to this logic and making political power the focus of its analysis instead of economic relations. For Bakunin. The Manichean paradigm divides the world into two opposing orders.Ressentiment and radical politics 37 In Bakunin’s schema. which is embodied in political institutions such as the state and in man-made laws. (Donzelot 1979: 74) Moreover. In the case of anarchism. The state is. moreover. political institutions are ‘hostile and fatal to the liberty of the masses. thus. human subjectivity is essentially moral and rational while the state is essentially immoral and irrational. As Jacques Donzelot argues. which establishes a clear opposition between two ontological points – one natural and good. essential to the existence of the revolutionary subject. thus keeping him perpetually enslaved. Anarchism can only be understood through the image of a natural order – an organic wholeness that forms the basis of society. Anarchism may be understood. from which other evils are derived (Donzelot 1979: 74)? Manichean logic thus involves a reverse mirroring operation: the place of revolution is an inverted reﬂection of the place of power. is seen as an external parasitic force that contaminates and distorts this social order. then.
this absolute separation between the dimension of subjectivity and the dimension of political power means that. the two antagonists could not exist outside this relationship. however. They could not. However. the Manichean relationship of opposition between the human subject and political power that is found in anarchism parallels the general logic of ressentiment described above. one could conceivably argue that anarchist subjectivity and ethics – the notion of mutual aid and assistance – is something that develops independently of political power.38 Ressentiment and radical politics the other. as occupying an epistemologically and morally privileged position outside the order of power. Moreover. For instance. the comparison with anarchism is not so clear-cut. Paradoxically. the subject ﬁnds this development impeded by the power of the state. ressentiment is based on the moral prejudice of the powerless against the powerful – the revolt of the ‘slave’ against the ‘master’. I would argue that although there are differences. We can see this moral opposition to power clearly in anarchist discourse. according to which the human species emerges from an ‘animal-like’ state and begins to develop independent moral and rational faculties. Thus the subject cannot achieve his full human identity as long as he remains oppressed by the state. the realization of full human subjectivity is always deferred or put off by the state. it is precisely through this assertion of radical exteriority that ressentiment emerges. Perhaps this paradoxical relationship between subjectivity and power might be seen as a form of ressentiment in the Nietzschean sense. which is seen by anarchists as an obstacle to the full identity of man. This allows anarchist theory to view human subjectivity as a sort of uncontaminated point of departure – in other words. world. although the subject is oppressed by the operation of power. Anarchism subscribes to a dialectical logic. this power is external to him – emanating from an artiﬁcial. exist without each other. Second. which pits the essentially ‘moral’ and ‘rational’ human subject against the essentially ‘immoral’ and ‘irrational’ quality of political power. and that therefore it does not need an oppositional relationship with the state in order to deﬁne itself. in other words. Here. This dialectic of man and state suggests that the identity of the subject is characterized as essentially ‘rational’ and ‘moral’ only in so far as the unfolding of these innate faculties and qualities is prevented by the state. First. ressentiment is characterized by the fundamental need to identify oneself by looking outwards and in opposition towards an external enemy. the state. as opposed to a natural. from which power can be condemned as immoral and irrational. I would suggest that although anarchist subjectivity does indeed develop in a ‘natural’ system which is radically external to the ‘artiﬁcial’ system of political power. as we have seen. While the relationship between the state and the revolutionary subject is one of clearly deﬁned opposition. However. is at the same time essential to the forma- . The purity of revolutionary identity is only deﬁned in contrast to the impurity of political power.
pure where power is impure.Ressentiment and radical politics 39 tion of this incomplete identity. Without this stultifying oppression. For the anarchists. and the extent to which this essential identity is actually constituted through its opposition to the order of power. constitutes the identity of this subject as oppressed (Laclau 1996b: 17–18). Like Nietzsche’s reactive man. The existence of political power is therefore a means of constructing this absent fullness. at the same time. Ernesto Laclau sees this contradiction as being endemic to Enlightenment-based discourses of emancipation. First. if. and the power that denies and. Emancipation. So we could say that the Manicheism that structures anarchist thought – in which revolutionary identity is constituted through its essential opposition to power – follows the logic of ressentiment. there is a contradiction between the idea of the emancipation of a human essence from oppressive external structures of power. which are based on the idea of a radical emancipation of an essential human subjectivity from oppressive political and social arrangements. Both are seen as part of the same rational process of unfolding – in which case. However. There are. a number of contradictions or aporias in anarchism’s logic. and the dialectical process described above. the anarchist revolution was to be the result of a dialectical unfolding of a historically determined rational social essence. His identity is thus complete in its incompleteness. there is a tension between the Manichean oppositional structure that presupposes an absolute division between two ontological orders. at the same time. and between subjectivity and the power that opposes it. which presupposes a deeper underlying social logic that encompasses both subjectivity and the political forms that oppress it. natural where power is artiﬁcial. on the one hand. is based on the idea of a radical break or discontinuity with the preceding social order. That is to say. there is a paradoxical relationship of dependency between the subject to be emancipated. thus implying a relationship of dependence on the very identity it opposes. there is a logical incompatibility in what Laclau calls the dichotomic dimension of emancipation (1996b: 1–3). These aporias suggest that the strict Manichean separation between subjectivity and power central to anarchist theory is at best problematic. then this implies a continuity between the past and the future. revolutionary identity purports to be uncorrupted by power: human essence is seen as moral where power is immoral. the anarchist subject would be unable to see itself as ‘moral’ and ‘rational’. however. as Laclau shows. and yet is deﬁned as the subject of emancipation precisely through its opposition to power. the destruction of state authority as the ﬁrst revolutionary act would symbolize a complete break with the past and the ushering in of new communal social arrangements. . the idea of a radical chasm and discontinuity is jeopardized. Second. As I have suggested above. In revolutionary philosophies like anarchism and Marxism. we see precisely this paradoxical logic in anarchism – where the subject seeks emancipation from power.
Nietzsche believes that to try exclude or disavow power – as anarchism does – is a sign of ressentiment. this subjectivity is ultimately impossible. necessarily must develop and grow’ (1984: 248). This is the natural lust for power which Bakunin believes is innate in every individual: ‘Every man carries within himself the germs of the lust for power. in Nietzsche’s analysis. that there will always be this desire for power at the heart of human subjectivity. if it can free itself from these essentialist and Manichean concepts. The Superman or Overman. however. he has perhaps unconsciously exposed the hidden contradiction that lies at the heart of anarchist discourse: namely. then how can one be sure that a revolution aimed at destroying power will not turn into a revolution aimed at capturing it? Will to power Has anarchism been invalidated by the aporias and contradictions at the heart of its revolutionary discourse? I have exposed a hidden strain of ressentiment in the essentialist categories and oppositional structures that are found in anarchism. Pure revolutionary identity is torn apart. Rather than denying power. is man ‘overcome’: ‘God . However I would argue that anarchism. and every germ. because of a basic law of life. rather than being presupposed by it: ‘There is no being behind the deed. Bakunin himself throws this strict division into doubt when he talks about the ‘power principle’. Here the ‘power principle’ – this inherent desire for power that Bakunin saw as so dangerous – would be seen by Nietzsche as a positive.40 Ressentiment and radical politics and that perhaps there is a contamination between these two opposing orders. as we know. is a force or capacity that is manifested in the act of will. Nietzsche sees power in terms of a capacity for will and action. subverted by a natural desire for power. that while anarchism bases itself upon a notion of an essential human subjectivity uncontaminated by power. The subject is constituted retroactively through the act of power or force. as well as a force that precedes the subject and is felt only through its effects. asks as the sole and ﬁrst one to do so: “How shall man be overcome?” ’ (Nietzsche 1969: 297). according to Nietzsche we should acknowledge and indeed afﬁrm our desire for power. particularly in the will towards self-overcoming – transforming and going beyond the concept of ‘man’ and inventing new forms of subjectivity and new values: ‘The most cautious people ask today: “How may man still be preserved?” Zarathustra. life-afﬁrming force. Therefore power. “the doer” is invented as an afterthought’ (Nietzsche 1994: 28). can overcome the ressentiment that limits it politically. This forces one to question anarchism’s notion of a revolution of humanity against power: if humans have an essential desire for power. While Bakunin intended to warn us of the corrupting danger inherent in power. and revel in our ability to exercise it. its effect and what becomes of it. for Nietzsche. The power principle means that man cannot be trusted with power.
that there can be pure. Moreover. and without wanting to adopt the triumphalist stance of the Overman – whose new system of values may be of the most reactionary and elitist kind – we have at least to acknowledge that Nietzsche’s understanding of power poses problems for classical anarchism. this tumultuous world of power. how this analysis of power undermines not only the Enlightenment humanist epistemology that classical anarchism based itself upon – in which the distorting effects of power were criticized from the perspective of an essential human rationality and morality – but also the idea of a rational social order governed by ‘natural’ laws.Ressentiment and radical politics 41 has died: now we desire – that the Superman shall live’ (Nietzsche 1969: 297). Rather. and upon which we seek to impose some sort of semblance of order – whether it be through laws. and indeed for any radical politics of emancipation. one that seeks to impose itself upon others: ‘The insistence upon spreading “humaneness” (which guilelessly starts out with the assumption that it is in possession of the formula “What is human”) is all humbug. Active nihilism would be. He comes to redeem a humanity crippled by nihilism and ressentiment. however. harmonious social identities that are uncorrupted by power. it is illusory to imagine that power can be eradicated. If we are to take Nietzschean genealogy seriously. Without. morality. to afﬁrm rather than negate. there is a multitude of conﬂicting power struggles that form the ontological basis of social identities. and out of this create a new system of values. For Nietzsche the Superman replaces God and Man. In other words. this succeeds only in concealing the violence of this ‘essential condition’ – the unruly and discordant clamour of forces that lurks behind the Apollonian masks that ornament our culture. to deny the reality of this power struggle would be to succumb to ‘passive’ or negative nihilism. We can see. beneath the cover of which a certain type of man strives to attain power’ (Nietzche 1964: 255). then. Instead we would have to accept the irreducibility and inevitability of antagonistic power struggles that rend apart stable social identities. Behind the Apollonian illusion of a life-world without power. from a Nietzschean perspective. The strict Manichean separation between humanity and power on which classical anarchism bases itself would be seen. is the Dionysian reality of power that tears away the ‘veil of the maya’ (Megill 1985: 39). Not only does Nietzsche unmask the will to power behind the very ideals of emancipation – democracy. Indeed the universal humanist ideals which try to conceal this power struggle are themselves articulations of a particular position of power. However. or rational Enlightenment ideals of humanity. we would have to abandon the promise of a harmonious social order that would be reconciled with itself once power relations are overcome. wanting to advocate an untrammelled Nietzschean will to power. according to Nietzsche. joyously afﬁrming instead power and eternal return. equality . as an expression of the Apollonian illusion central to Enlightenment humanism. on the other hand.
revealing instead their mutual involvement and complicity. that it undermines any common ground that might exist between them. as I have shown. we must turn to Foucault’s genealogical understanding of power relations. discontinuity and moments of rupture puts paid to the dialectical view of history central to classical revolutionary politics. Instead. moral discourses and legal norms. there is a similarity here . This understanding of history as embroiled in permanent antagonism. particularly that of Foucault. their differences so incommensurable. no system of natural laws or an inherent human sociability upon which a fully reconciled social order could be established. Rather than history unfolding in dialectical stages towards a ﬁnal and rational reconciliation of social forces. there is an ongoing series of unstable power relationships: ‘Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at a universal reciprocity. Foucault arrives at a new methodology for observing power. Genealogy. power and antagonism would be irreducible features of any society. a pure distance. Of course. which indicates that the adversaries do not belong to a common space’ (1984a: 85). according to Foucault. and which is hidden behind universal ideals. Rather than there being an essential dimension of subjectivity that remained uncontaminated by power and from which power could be resisted. This argument ﬁnds a distinct echo in more contemporary poststructuralist thought. In particular. according to Foucault there was only a ‘non-place. In other words. and 2) the ‘Marxist economic’ model – that sees power in terms of economic or class domination. Humanity settles each one of its violences within a system of rules. he displaces any sort of conceptual opposition between subjectivity and power. as the anarchists imagined.42 Ressentiment and radical politics and freedom – but he also denies radical politics an epistemologically and morally privileged position from which to condemn power. Instead Foucault suggests an alternate model – one based on war and conquest (2003: 16). there is no possibility of a society reconciled with itself. any attempt to eliminate these entirely would itself be a form of domination. Through this genealogical understanding of social relations. To shed some light on the theoretical deadlock of radical politics. freed from the distortions and dislocations of power and based on entirely equal social relations. one that goes beyond: 1) the ‘juridico-sovereign’ model – deﬁned by law. right. contract. This is because there is no essential commonality at the base of society. In other words. power and antagonism Nietzsche’s thematic of the will to power is reﬂected in Foucault’s genealogical project. and thus goes from domination to domination’ (Foucault 1984a: 91). which seeks to expose the constant and violent struggle for power that has raged throughout history. Indeed. the struggle between antagonists that underlies identities and social relations is so absolute.
of course. is deeply embroiled in power relations. Foucault believes that it is more productive to examine what he calls ‘rationalities of government’ – that is. emerging from a multitude of inﬁnitesimal points and positions. between natural authority and artiﬁcial authority. by seeing power as deriving from the state. anarchism could sustain the strict conceptual division between society and power. from what particular position of power is a universal social revolution articulated from? Second. seeking instead to uncover a new dimension of power that was based on conquest. Not only is the subject caught up in power relations at the level of his daily interactions – both exercising power and being the target for the exercise of power – but. the very imposition of a post-revolutionary society would itself have to be seen as an act of violence. Foucault’s point. there is no dialectical reconciliation of opposing forces. the state as the anarchists believed. even a post-revolutionary one. but rather that theories of the state often serve to disguise the much more troubling realization that power has already permeated social relations and identities. Foucault argues that to see power as centralized in the mechanism of the state to some extent occludes a concrete analysis of the way that power actually operates and.Ressentiment and radical politics 43 with the anarchist theory of power which also rejected both the contract model and the Marxist economic determinist model of state domination. more radically. moreover. In some ways. it should not be seen as belonging to. In fact. or deriving from. However. Foucault would reject the Manichean separation between political authority and social relations. While power can be colonized by the state. Indeed. the violence that Foucault speaks of merely congeals into the very norms. That is to say. rather than being autonomous from power or somehow external to it. Foucault’s analysis shows that the subject. perpetuates the classical revolutionary strategy of overthrowing power at a single uniﬁed location. antagonism and social dislocation would cease once the state had been overthrown and replaced with an egalitarian social order. Rather. In other words. contending that power and violence would be present in any social order. while the anarchists believed that violence. Foucault shows the way that power relations have colonized the social network and are immanent throughout it. the subject has to be seen . Third. Foucault sees this antagonism as ontological. violence and coercion. principles and relationships that would structure a post-revolutionary society. the plurality of discourses and practices through which government institutions interact with society by discursively constructing social identities in ways that allow them to be regulated. Foucault’s unmasking of the violence behind legal structures and sovereign authority parallels the anarchist critique of authority. Rather than seeing power as emanating from the state as a central symbolic position. is not that the state does not exist. Foucault’s analysis goes beyond the conceptual structures of anarchism in a number of fundamental ways. The fundamental question for the Nietzschean/Foucauldian genealogist is ‘who speaks?’: that is. First.
or power/knowledge. but more particularly through power being exercised over him. subjectivity and power Does this mean that every insurrection against power is doomed to perpetuate it in new ways. not only through his own exercise of power. One could say here that Nietzsche and Foucault are anarchists who take the antiauthoritarian project of unmasking domination and violence beyond the very conceptual limits set down by anarchism itself. From Foucault’s perspective. Indeed. nevertheless it has serious consequences for anarchism which bases itself on the emancipation. the very Enlightenment motifs of human rights. such a revolutionary emancipation would only produce new forms of domination.44 Ressentiment and radical politics as an effect of power relations. are precisely the discourses through which disciplinary/bio-power operates. However. as Foucault contends. this essence is a sort of discursive illusion whose emancipation or bringing forth to the surface further inscribes the subject within the very network of power and knowledge that he purports to oppose. thus subjecting him to regulative norms of behaviour. the human subject is constructed in such a way that he imagines that he has an essence – whether it be a sexual identity or some other ‘secret’ of his being – that is repressed and needs to be emancipated. However. it is through the very concept of the human that we are dominated. universal rational norms and essentialist identities that anarchism believed would overcome power. However. This is rather like Nietzsche’s idea that the subject is a retroactive effect of his own act of power. psychiatry and criminology – through which the subject is constructed as ‘deviant’. rationality and science that radical political theories like anarchism believed would liberate us from power. While Foucault’s understanding of the relation between subjectivity and power is somewhat problematic for conceptualizing resistance. giving it rational.2 Revolution. This is illustrated in Foucault’s numerous analyses of the disciplinary techniques and discourses – particularly those of sexuality. Foucault does not grant us a normatively or epistemologically privileged position from which this domination can be condemned as violation of our humanity. ‘abnormal’ or. also has dominating effects. . ‘normal’. Foucault points to the darker ﬂip side of this process: the way the subject is constructed retroactively. displacing its Enlightenment humanist foundations and exposing their complicity with power. scientiﬁc and moral legitimacy.1 In other words. and that we should give up on the idea of emancipation altogether? Foucault’s and Nietzsche’s thinking would seem to suggest that not only is power endemic and irreducible. through a ‘scientiﬁc’ revolution. of a natural human essence from the external order of power. were themselves merely ideological or discursive masks that hid the reality of violent domination. In other words. Moreover. the will to power. but that the very humanist ideals. and constructing the subject as a subject of humanist norms. indeed.
Second. this is when power becomes domination (Foucault 1994: 292–293). . and allow for as much reciprocity between actors as possible. First. then. In other words. is no longer . while we cannot hope to entirely eliminate power relations from society – there will always be differentiated forms of inﬂuence.Ressentiment and radical politics 45 So where does this leave anarchism as a radical politics of emancipation? I would argue that anarchism can free itself from ressentiment provided that a number of theoretical conditions are met. coercion – we can at least try to ensure that these power relationships remain relatively egalitarian and ﬂuid. engaging in an ongoing and strategic contestation with power. . These exclusions would. As Laclau says: ‘A harmonious society is impossible because power is the condition for society to be possible. Even in the most radical and democratic projects. Here we must draw a distinction between power and domination. that radical political action. involve the operation of power. when these relations become congealed and ﬁxed into asymmetrical systems and unequal hierarchies. this ineradicable condition of power suggests that the Manichean division central to classical anarchism. of course. must instead intervene at the points where power relations become dominating. even one that is based on egalitarian and libertarian principles. This does not mean that anarchism should afﬁrm a nihilistic will to power. contours and limits: certain forms of dangerous or violent behaviour would have to be excluded. anarchist theory must acknowledge that power is an ineradicable dimension in any social identity. not radically eliminating it’ (1990: 33). Foucault sees power relations in their everyday sense as relatively ﬂuid. unstable and reciprocal. Foucault believes. certain limitations or regulations would still apply. social transformation thus means building a new power. at times. while revolutions can be against certain forms and articulations of power. however. This does not mean. that post-revolutionary social arrangements would be necessarily dominating and oppressive. even at the ontological level. between an uncorrupted natural order and the order of power and authority. Therefore. persuasion and even. they cannot be against power altogether. there will always be relations of power and acts of exclusion – even if only discursive exclusion – but their limits and contours would always have to be negotiated democratically. This is why the anarchist idea of a harmonious society without power relations is an impossibility. These relations of domination form the basis of institutions such as the state. Indeed. Therefore. This is because every revolution is itself the act of power – the sometimes violent imposition of a new social order. rather than trying to overcome power entirely. even if these were much less restrictive and coercive than in preceding social arrangements. Even in a post-revolutionary anarchist society there will always be structures. However. a social identity can only constitute itself through the exclusion of a particular element. but rather that it recognize that power relations will always be with us – that power can never be entirely overcome.
identities and ideological positions. that we are always imprisoned in ‘discursive cages’. we must abandon this idea of a universal human essence altogether. poststructuralist theory emphasizes the structural instability and undecidability of our identity – the way that it is constructed contingently through our social interactions. Similarly. too. The point is that our identity is not ﬁxed or determined by a deeper underlying essence. and there is no deeper rational structure at its base. For Nietzsche. this notion of identity as contingent and indeterminate might offer another way of understanding Nietzsche’s concept of the Overman as man ‘overcome’. This can be seen as another way of conceptualizing society as fragmented and differentiated at the ontological level. This means that we can no longer imagine that there is a human essence that emerges from a natural order and that is inherently moral or rational.46 Ressentiment and radical politics sustainable. subjectivity is deeply embroiled in power/knowledge relations that constitute not only the fabric of social relations. In other words. or some notion of an immanent rational social order. On the contrary. however. Third. There is no single underlying principle ﬁxing – and hence constituting – the whole ﬁeld of differences’ (2001: 111). perhaps it can be taken to mean a certain understanding of subjectivity that is no longer deﬁned by essence. and acknowledge the discursively constituted nature of identity. rather than held together by a deeper objective truth. Foucault. as we have seen. the social order conceals nothing but the will to power and the antagonism of competing perspectives. As Laclau and Mouffe argue: ‘ “Society” is not a valid object of discourse. there is no essence at the base of society. as certain critics of Foucault have charged. As Foucault has shown. anarchist theory must abandon its dialectical understanding of . speaks of a ‘non-place’ – an antagonistic dimension at the heart of social identity. However. incommensurable perspectives. Rather than the Overman implying a higher. This does not mean that society will always be antagonistic and violent: Foucault and Nietzsche are referring more to a clash of representations and perspectives that make any stable symbolization of society impossible. This does not mean. and that obviated the need for political authority. on the contrary. the subject cannot be seen as autonomous from power. society can no longer be seen to be transparent to itself in this way. post-human subject that revels in his own sense of superiority. Anarchism understood society as being determined by a natural system of relations that was inherently rational and ethical. but also the discursive limits of identity. society contained the possibility of a harmonious order based on natural laws that could be observed scientiﬁcally. there can be no uncontaminated point of departure that is external to power – whether it be in the form of the essential human subject. In other words. the signiﬁer ‘society’ is something that we have imposed on a fragmented and pluralistic ﬁeld of discursive differences. Moreover. Indeed. In other words. there is no objective truth that transcends the multitudinous layers of dissimulation.
then there would be little room left for contingent political interventions. Indeed. the . and if it were to no longer rely on the dialectic. history does not progress in stages. As the Nietzschean/Foucauldian genealogical model shows. it performed a vital theoretical operation – one that foreshadowed later poststructuralist and post-Marxist understandings of the political. rather than one that was reducible to economic or class domination. political identities and antagonisms that was autonomous from questions of economics and class. as was the case in Marxist theory. This allows us to analyse ‘the political’ as a speciﬁc ﬁeld of power relations. indeed constitute. yet it is in tension with the dialectical and Manichean conceptual structures which seek to occlude it. history is a haphazard and unpredictable series of ruptures. However. if the revolution against state authority is determined by historical forces or the unfolding of natural laws. The autonomy of the political I would suggest. nevertheless. post-Marxists like Laclau and Mouffe assert the primacy of the political over the social (see Laclau 1990: 33). For instance. the revolution against centralized political authority would depend on contingent interventions and forms of resistance at the political and social level – a series of anti-authoritarian struggles and alliances that emerge in an unpredictable fashion. rather than seeing politics as being determined by social and economic relations – as in the Marxist paradigm – it is political decisions that actually shape and. Although anarchism conﬁned this dimension of power relations to the mechanism of the state. The potential contribution of classical anarchism to contemporary radical political theory lies in its theorization of the state as a speciﬁcally political instance of domination. social relations. contesting different forms of domination. however. That is to say. That is. anarchism’s Manichean division between the ‘natural’ social order and the ‘artiﬁcial’ order of political authority. by breaking the structural link that Marxism had established between the political and the economic. contingent and autonomous dimension. That is. Indeed. It would be the plurality and unpredictability of such struggles that would characterize the political as a fully indeterminate. determined by the unfolding of a rational truth.3 According to Laclau and Mouffe. Rather. then it would have to see the revolution as a fully artiﬁcial or synthetic – rather than natural – political act. if anarchism were to reject this division between the natural and the artiﬁcial. one could argue that to see history as rationally or dialectically determined – as classical anarchism does – amounts to a denial of politics.Ressentiment and radical politics 47 history. discontinuities and events. that this conception of the political as an autonomous and contingent dimension is already implicit in classical anarchism. would seem to consign the activity of politics – which inevitably involves acts of power and decisions that discursively exclude certain alternatives – to the corrupted latter order.
environmentalists. ethnic minorities. That is not to say that they do not contest capitalist exploitation. Therefore. Laclau and Mouffe also show the way in which the struggles of workers and artisans in the nineteenth century tended to be struggles against relations of subordination generally. as the Marxist paradigm would contend. that these new struggles and antagonisms point to an anarchist moment in contemporary politics. anti-state – that is anarchist – struggles. and the crucial revolutionary role of the . considered as “class” struggles’ (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 159). It could be suggested. as well as those of students. This refusal to reduce the struggles of workers to the speciﬁc Marxist vision of the proletarian struggle against capitalism would also be characteristic of the classical anarchist position. communal way of life through the introduction of the factory system and new forms of industrial technology such as Taylorism. the permutations of the state over the past ﬁfty or so years – from the welfare state and its increasing bureaucratization.48 Ressentiment and radical politics economic and class determinism of Marxist theory has prevented it from being able to fully grasp the political in its speciﬁcity. to Marxist theory’s neglect of the political sphere as an autonomous and speciﬁc dimension with its own structures and logic. both anarchism and post-Marxism point. autonomy and contingency. domination and surveillance. feminists. In particular. a politicization of social relations is at the base of numerous new antagonisms’ (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 162). to more contemporary forms of security-driven biopolitical sovereignty that have emerged with the ‘war on terror’ – have generated new relations of subordination. intellectuals déclassé. anti-war activists and so on. moreover. to neo-liberal state privatization. and that for some time it has been fragmented by a whole series of different and competing identities and struggles: the struggles of the ‘new social movements’ such as blacks. They did not conform to Marx’s notion of the proletarians embracing the forces of capitalism in order to radicalize it (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 156). These ‘new social movements’ have been primarily struggles against domination rather than economic exploitation. which emphasized the heterogeneity and anti-authoritarian character of subaltern struggles and identities – peasants. and against the destruction of their organic. they are struggles against speciﬁc forms of state power and relations of domination instigated by it. In other words. Laclau and Mouffe argue that the contemporary political ﬁeld is no longer held together by the struggles of the proletariat. gays. In this sense. they are anti-authoritarian. consumers. Class is no longer the dominant category through which radical political subjectivity is deﬁned: ‘The common denominator of all of them would be their differentiation from workers’ struggles. albeit in different ways. and this has led to Marxism’s theoretical and political downfall. as well as concomitant forms of resistance: ‘In all the domains in which the state has intervened. but rather that economic exploitation would be seen here as an aspect of broader relations of domination.
Given the contemporary epistemological conditions of what is termed ‘postmodernity’. It is not that there is an absolute or necessary contradiction between these two moments: anarchism combines both as we have seen. and assert instead the second moment – that of political contingency and heterogeneity. the indeterminacy of history and the new possibilities of emancipation offered by postmodernity. However.Ressentiment and radical politics 49 lumpenproletariat. norms and practices that we tend to accept as normal or legitimate. Post-anarchism would be a series of politicoethical strategies that are aimed at the deconstruction of authority. Post-anarchism might be seen as an anarchism that no longer relies on the epistemological foundations of Enlightenment humanism. then it must distance itself from its classical foundations in the dialectic and positivist and essentialist ideas of Enlightenment humanism. that there is a certain tension between two moments in classical anarchism theory: 1) that which is characterized by scientiﬁc positivism. but left open to be deﬁned contingently during the course of political and social struggles. ‘class’ implying hierarchy and exclusiveness (Bakunin 1950: 47). there is a potential inconsistency or undecidability here that can be developed. where the universal grand narratives of the Enlightenment are coming in for question. which had been dismissed by Marx. radical politics can no longer rely on ﬁxed rational and normative foundations to guide it. and in its deconstruction of political domination. Of course. or on essentialist conceptions of subjectivity. My contention is that if contemporary anarchism is to avoid Nietzsche’s charge of ressentiment. Rather. the discursive limits and contours of these would not be determined in advance. the contribution of anarchism today is in its theorization of power in its speciﬁcity. postanarchism would retain its commitment to freedom and radical egalitarian democracy. particularly those that take place at a more localized level at the interstices of power. and where the social and political ﬁeld is increasingly differentiated and fragmented. or on a universal notion of human essence that seeks emancipation. a dialectical understanding of historical development. radical politics today must remain open to a multiplicity of different identities and struggles. exposing the domination and coercion behind institutions. these political . then. as I have tried to do through a comparison with post-Marxist theory. and a Manichean separation between humanity and power. 2) that which emphasizes the autonomy of the political ﬁeld and the heterogeneity and contingency of anti-authoritarian struggles. However. Here we might refer to a politics of ‘post-anarchism’ – an anti-authoritarian politics that afﬁrms the contingency of political identity. Indeed. Moreover. A postanarchist politics I have shown. Bakunin preferred the word ‘mass’ to ‘class’ to characterise this heterogeneous revolutionary identity. Rather.
50 Ressentiment and radical politics principles of equality and democracy would not sit comfortably with Nietzsche. To acknowledge this ambiguity. . would be the politico-ethical stance of a ressentiment-free radical politics of the future. However. and yet to remain committed to the egalitarian and libertarian values. the value of Nietzschean genealogy and the diagnosis of ressentiment is not in the reactionary values that they are often animated by. but rather in their unmasking of the power relations at the foundation of all systems of values.
as well as transgression. Power is. Imaginary and Real. in which questions of emancipation. Power is dispersed. However. Power is to be thought of as a series of ongoing strategies and relationships rather than a permanent state of . fundamental implications for these questions: no longer could power be seen in simple opposition to the subjectivity it restricted. . or through different discourses such as psychiatry or sexuality. it will allow us to develop new insights into the functioning of power. Foucault’s reconﬁguration of the concept of power had. because it comes from everywhere’ (1978: 93). For Foucault.3 New reﬂections on the theory of power A Lacanian perspective Power is a central category in contemporary political theory. the process of subjectiﬁcation and the question of resistance in contemporary societies. law. a polyvalent force that runs through multiple sites in the social network. Nevertheless. The aim of this chapter is to examine some of these limitations through the use of key Lacanian psychoanalytic concepts such as the Symbolic. freedom and resistance all bear reference to a dominant mode of power which is perceived as being a threat to them. but rather as something that actually constituted this subjectivity. Furthermore. decentralized and diffused throughout society: it may run through the prison or the mental asylum. As Foucault says: ‘Power is everywhere . rather. fantasy and enjoyment ( jouissance). Where it is particularly crucial is in the ﬁeld of radical politics. it has been suggested that Foucault’s theory of power ran into its own conceptual difﬁculties – particularly in relation to the all-pervasiveness of power. . explaining the actual mechanism of subjection and allowing a theoretical space of resistance. I will suggest that an application of these categories allows us to extend the analysis of power to its symbolic and ideological dimensions – aspects that were neglected in Foucault’s approach. Foucault’s ‘microphysics’ of power To sketch the background to some of these theoretical developments we must brieﬂy revisit Foucault’s analysis of power. as I showed in Chapter 2. power could no longer be seen as a capacity to act that could be concentrated in a few hands or in centralized institutions.
Rather. modern power produces and incites (Foucault. a construction of the discourse of sexuality. which still operated in what Foucault called the ‘juridico-discursive’ paradigm. the subject is produced by power. For Foucault then. rather than being an act of liberation that transgresses power. subjectivity is produced in such a way that its assertion or identiﬁcation. More insidiously. It may also be seen in the way that sexual identity itself. rather than being natural and essential. is something that only supports and reafﬁrms power. . This may be seen in the case of the prisoner. is a discursive effect. and previously unobserved discourses and practices. as a ‘mode of action upon the action of others’ (1982: 221). It is a form of power which makes individuals subjects. attaches him to his own identity. This is the ‘ruse of power’ according to Foucault: we are tricked into thinking that there is an essential subject who is repressed. 1991: 94). and the discourses and bodies of knowledge that support them. whose marginalized identity is constructed through the disciplinary and normalizing techniques of power in the prison. it produces the subject as a site of his own domination. Instead. and the assertion of this identity as an attempt to transgress power plays right into its hands. whereas in fact this subjectivity is itself an effect of power. This is what Foucault calls ‘productive power’. in Foucault’s words. ‘The man described for us. imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him. human essence is not only constructed by . This was a radical departure from previous accounts. is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself’ (1991: 30). We need to cut off the King’s head’ (1980: 121). The subjectivity of the prisoner is thus constructed at the intersections of power/knowledge. Power can no longer be seen as purely repressive and prohibitive. It is to be seen. . Foucault was interested in the microphysics of power: the operation of power at the level of minute. (Foucault 1982: 210) For Foucault. This breaks radically with the conviction central to the politics of emancipation – that there is a human essence whose interests are restricted by power. and it is perhaps his most important contribution to theory of power. power was to be understood in terms of intersubjective relationships – relationships that actually constitute the subject: This form of power applies itself to immediate everyday life which categorizes the individual. then. whom we are invited to free.52 New reﬂections on the theory of power affairs. marks him by his own individuality. For Foucault this was an outdated notion: ‘What we need is a political philosophy that isn’t erected around the problem of sovereignty . rather. where power is seen as a capacity that can be possessed and wielded by political actors. Power is therefore ‘subjectifying’ – that is.
but. from which power relations can be criticized in the name of the truth that they deny. Ernesto Laclau says about the theory of ideology that ‘it died as a result of its own imperialist success’ (1996a: 201–222). As Foucault says: ‘It seems to me that . for Foucault. Quite simply. Power no longer operates by distorting. then are we not robbed of any point. There is no gap that separates power from other social relations. if power has already colonized subjectivity and truth-knowledge. if there is a gap or ‘lack’ that separates one identity from others. in this sense. If the ﬁrst problem was that if power is everywhere. one could argue that if power is everywhere. and it therefore loses its speciﬁc identity. to speak the truth about power relations is also to be fundamentally embroiled in them. First. is not error. Foucault’s theory of power ran into its own conceptual limits. the problem with Foucault’s concept of power is that it is so broad and all-encompassing that it becomes indeﬁnable. If we accept Saussure’s idea that language is constituted in a system of differences. we have no such deﬁnitional limit – power is something that pervades every social relation and interaction. the second problem with Foucault’s theory is that if power is everywhere. then from what point does one resist power? In other words. Power. . is all-pervading. operates as a site in which the individual body is disciplined and regulated: ‘The soul is the prison of the body’ (Foucault 1991: 30). epistemological or ontological. concealing or repressing truth – as the critical theory and classical accounts of emancipation would have it – but instead operates through truth itself. In other words. even more perversely.New reﬂections on the theory of power 53 power. alienated consciousness or ideology. it is truth itself’ (Foucault 1980: 133). Exactly the same point could be made about Foucault’s notion of power. from which relations of power may be criticized or resisted?1 There is no doubt that Foucault sees resistance to certain relations of power and modes of subjectiﬁcation . despite these insights. Power. and this is precisely the problem. one is never outside. Resistance and subjection However. Foucault’s theory of productive power also denies radical politics a privileged epistemological point outside power. no longer has an ideological function: ‘The political question . then it loses its identity as power. an identity only has meaning in so far as it differentiates itself from other identities. however. while these in turn allow power to operate. So. as Foucault maintains. Truth is deeply implicated in power: power works through and produces ‘regimes of truth’. then it is nowhere. . then an identity can only be constituted through a radical exclusion of another identity. power has colonized the discourse of truth itself. This has crucial implications for radical politics because it means that there is no essential or autonomous ‘place’ of resistance outside power. . With Foucault’s notion of power. that there are no margins for those who break with the system to gambol in’ (1980: 141). Rather. . illusion.
and calls for their transformation in ways that allow a greater degree of reciprocity. reciprocity. there have been a number of recent attempts to revise and develop Foucault’s theory . However. it is clear that there needs to be some sort of ‘space’ beyond power if a coherent project of resistance is to be conceptualized. there is always the risk that the subject who resists is only playing into the hands of the very power that dominates him. Subjectiﬁcation. ‘there is no foundation . of course. desirable. Resistance is therefore seen as an effect of power. Yet. with this form of criticism is that it once again falls back into the position of implying that there is some sort of stable normative and epistemological standpoint – a universal rational foundation or essence – outside power. The paradox is. upon which the politics of emancipation has always insisted. then. power and resistance exist in a relationship of mutual incitement and provocation. whose precise function is to unmask and contest relations of power: ‘This is a struggle against power. mutual recognition. The problem. at the same time. as Foucault has shown in his numerous analyses. As Foucault quite explicitly states. that because the subject for Foucault. for a critique oriented around the notions of autonomy. ﬂuidity and personal autonomy. for instance. Foucault says that theory must be seen as a form of political practice. that Foucault sees certain relationships of power – particularly when they become crystallized into institutions and hierarchies – as dominating and inequitable. however. In his conversations with Gilles Deleuze. and where the ﬂuidity of this relationship means that resistance is always in danger of being co-opted by power. that this theoretical ‘space’. desire and the psyche As an alternative to the modernist solution discussed above. . dignity. his very subjectivity is an effect of this power. Nancy Fraser argues. It is clear. from which relations of power can be criticized. there is no going beyond power – the subject will always be embroiled in power relations. can no longer be sustained by the categories of human essence and undistorted rational truth. is merely an effect of power relations. is that. Many of the critiques of Foucault on this question have been along lines that he does not allow sufﬁcient normative or epistemological grounds for a critique of power to emerge. if we are to take seriously Foucault’s contention that human essence and the category of truth itself are merely effects of power – and I think we should – then this foundationalist critique simply misses the point: the notion that there is a rational or normative Archimedean point beyond power is merely part of the ‘illusion’ created by power. however.54 New reﬂections on the theory of power as possible and. . where localized forms of power are met with localized forms of resistance. The problem. indeed. the subject who struggles against power is always already caught up in power – indeed. and human rights’ (1989: 56). In other words. a struggle aimed at revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious’ (1977: 208).
according to Foucault. to become a coherent subject. A theory of the psyche. The psyche is what resists the regularization that Foucault ascribes to normalizing discourses. moreover. and has uncovered power’s hidden productive and subjectifying dimension – that is. whereby power was seen as a force that oppresses the subject from the outside. or at least substantially modifying it. is incomplete without a theory of the psyche. and the way in which subjectivity is actually constituted through this very act of subordination (Butler 1997: 2). Yet it is precisely this psychic dimension that Foucault’s theory of power and subject formation has no room for. in other words. that the homosexual comes to desire and afﬁrm his identity of homosexuality. the paradox revealed by Foucault’s analysis is the extent to which one’s subjectivity – one’s sense of self that resists power – is actually formed by. Foucault’s account of subjectiﬁcation. in order to explain resistance to subjectifying power – to a power that demands that we have a coherent identity – there must be some psychic or unconscious dimension that is both conceptually different from the notion of subjectivity. this is precisely what dominates him? According to Butler. it requires going beyond Foucault’s account. in order to adequately theorize this dimension. one’s very subordination to power. and dependent upon. and exceeds it. which includes the unconscious. According to Butler. . It is in this question that a notion of the psyche as that which is different from the subject. For Butler. Therefore the process of subjection has two sides: the mechanism by which the subject is subordinated to power. what is lacking in Foucault’s account of subjectifying power is the dimension of desire itself – an understanding of why we become psychically attached to what dominates us. actually resist their particular modes of subjectiﬁcation. even though. and how this attachment actually sustains this relation of domination. According to Butler. In other words. poststructuralist lines. Therefore. is very different from the subject: the psyche is precisely what exceeds the imprisoning effects of the discursive demand to inhabit a coherent identity.New reﬂections on the theory of power 55 of power along non-essentialist. for example. what is the precise mechanism of subjection by which we actually come to desire a mode of subjectivity that dominates us? Why is it. would have crucial implications for the question of resistance as well. a notion of the psyche would allow Foucault to explain how subjects. its capacity to constitute subjectivity itself. (Butler 1997: 86) In other words. is implicit: Thus the psyche. Most prominent of these would be Judith Butler’s ‘post-Foucauldian’ theory of ‘passionate attachment’. Foucault’s analysis has taken the study of power beyond conventional and critical theory accounts. the central question posed by this realization is: why do we become attached to certain forms of subjection? In other words. going beyond its discursively constructed limits. at times.
the passions that both bind us to power and cause us to try to free ourselves from it.2 However. The ego’s selfidentity is an illusion. rather than give a detailed account of the totality of Lacan’s thinking. A psychoanalytic account would allow us to shed further light on the processes of subject formation through the mechanism of desire. then how can one account for the aspect of the subject that resists power? It is here that Lacan’s account of the subject is relevant. The subject of the ‘lack’: the Lacanian intervention The problem of resistance has therefore highlighted the need for some kind of psychic dimension that goes beyond relations of power and the subjected identities produced by them. the subjectivity is based on not knowing oneself. Indeed. for Lacan. and ways in which the subject might resist or escape this subjectivity. is far from the autonomous. The ‘I’ only has meaning and a sense of its ‘self’ in relation to the signiﬁer that stands in to represent it (Lacan 1977: 3). For Lacan. like Foucault. there is in the unconscious a dimension of radical excess through which the ‘subjectiﬁed’ subject is both formed and unformed – something that is both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ power. but by structures of language. in psychoanalytic terms. the unconscious – the ﬁeld of desires and drives. not by power. the unconscious. Moreover.56 New reﬂections on the theory of power through the insights of psychoanalysis. in Lacan’s account. is ‘structured like a lan- . In an attempt to conceptualize this dimension. that an exploration of particular Lacanian ideas will allow us to uncover psychic. in particular. law. The subject. in order to apply them to the speciﬁc questions of power and resistance that have been raised thus far. in Butler’s words: ‘One cannot account for subjectivation and. transparent and self-reﬂective subject of the Cogito. my aim here is to critically examine certain key Lacanian ideas about subjectivity. becoming the principle of one’s own subjection without recourse to a psychoanalytic account of the formative or generative effects of restriction and prohibition’ (1997: 87). prohibition and fantasy. In other words. The fundamental question that has been raised so far is the status of the subject in power: that is. he sees the subject as ‘constructed’ – although in this case. Although Lacan does not have a speciﬁc notion of power. it is disrupted by a knowledge that is ‘not known’ – namely. This domain would be. rather. nevertheless. Subjectivity. What I am suggesting here is that a psychoanalytic understanding of subjectivity would complement the Foucauldian theory of power. which. is only achieved through its entry into the external world of language and signiﬁers – the Symbolic Order. symbolic and ideological dimensions of power that were not possible within the parameters of Foucault’s theory. the point is not that Lacanian ideas will lead to a new theory of power that will supplant Foucault’s. if the subject is constituted by power and is to be understood within its limits. we will now turn to Lacanian psychoanalysis. desire. as Lacan said.
and which both jeopardizes and constitutes its identity. but because its determination by signiﬁers is fundamentally ﬂawed. which is produced through the external order of images and signiﬁers – the Imaginary and the Symbolic. While this notion of subjectivity may appear to coincide at the outset with Foucault’s account – where the subject is also constituted by external structures and discursive effects – there is nevertheless an important difference. whereas for Foucault the identity of the subject is based on a successful interpellation. So. For Lacan. there is a ‘lack’ in the symbolic identity of the subject – a lack which paradoxically constitutes the subject. precisely by pointing to an unsymbolizable dimension that exceeds them. as we have seen. there is no outside to the discursive limits of subjectivity. In other words.New reﬂections on the theory of power 57 guage’ (1998: 203). and this would explain the difﬁculties he encountered in adequately theorizing resistance to subjectiﬁcation. Foucault could not conceive of a dimension beyond subjectiﬁcation. not because it is entirely determined by signiﬁers. the subject is represented by a ‘cut’ or radical discontinuity in the signifying chain: ‘This cut in the signifying chain alone veriﬁes the structure of the subject as discontinuity in the real’ (1977: 299). unlike Foucault. therefore. That is. there is always a structural gap between the subject and the signiﬁer that is supposed to represent him. For Lacan. For Foucault. the identity of the subject is always incomplete. For Foucault. The subject is incapable of fulﬁlling this symbolic identity. for Lacan the subject’s identity is based on a failed interpellation. and there is no aspect of the subject that is not colonized by power/knowledge. pointing to a radical void that it cannot master. which the subject inhabits. Despite his attempts to see resistance as a kind of counter-movement to power or as some ﬂeeting ‘plebeian’ quality. For Lacan. from where this possibility could emerge. The subject is the name given to this discontinuity in the symbolic structure – the failed place of signiﬁcation. The symbolization of the subject – its self-recognition in the symbolic order – ultimately fails and. So the ego’s recognition of itself is based on a fundamental ‘misrecognition’ or méconnaissance: it is an ‘illusion of autonomy’ (Lacan 1977: 6). So the essential. there is always a distance between the subject and the structures which constitute it. on the other hand. There is a kind of internal fold or limit within the structures of subjectivity itself. then. the subject is wholly constituted by power and discourse. By contrast. autonomous subject is subverted in Lacan’s analysis. The subject here is radically split between its symbolic representation and the void in the symbolic itself – the radical dimension that lies beyond it. The subject’s ego is based on an identiﬁcation with an illusory image of cohesion and stability. This is . the identity of the subject coincides with the discursive parameters that are laid down for it. That is why Lacan writes the subject as S(Ø) – s barred: this recognizes the failure of the signiﬁer to represent the subject. There is an excess or surplus of meaning produced by this failed encounter with the symbolic – a radical void between the identity and meaning. Lacan is able to theorize the limits of subjectivity itself.
This non-essentialist exteriority is precisely what is entailed in Lacan’s notion of the real – a void of contingency and indeterminacy in which the limits of identity are dislocated. The real.58 New reﬂections on the theory of power what he calls the ‘real’ – that which cannot be integrated into the symbolic order of meaning. Indeed. The real is the point at which these symbolic structures break down and the contingency of their operation is revealed. thus disturbing the very borders of any identity. the real is ‘that which always returns to the same place’ (1998: 49) – the immovable limit against which the movement of symbolization is blocked. . in a Lacanian understanding. . this would have to be an exteriority that is impossible to represent or symbolize (Stavrakakis 1999: 67). one would ﬁnd a certain difﬁculty in speaking critically about power relations and discourse. Lacan goes beyond the limits of the ‘constructionist’ position adopted by Foucault. With this notion of the real. it is precisely what displaces what is commonly understood by ‘reality’. has nothing to do with reality as such. our reality – the reality of our identities and our way of seeing the world – is fundamentally conditioned by symbolic and fantasy structures. beyond the level of constructionism itself. that the constructionist position itself needs to be ‘deconstructed’. For Lacan. rather. is that on the one hand it reduces everything to the level of construction and. being able to speak critically about these relations indicates an implicit attempt to step beyond them. making our identities precarious. However. Stavrakakis argues. as one presumably would already be caught up in their ‘truth effects’. what is excluded on the inside (1994: 74–87). While Foucault himself fully acknowledges the way that his thinking is inextricable from the very relations of power and discourse it diagnoses. the real in Lacan may be seen as extimité – an ‘excluded interior’ or ‘intimate exterior’ – in other words. In other words. on the other hand. In other words. According to Jacques-Alain Miller. then. . that everything is constructed by discourse or power – has a theoretical blindspot that it cannot account for: ‘The blindspot of constructionism . The real may be understood as what is missing from the structure of symbolization. The real. is non-essentialist precisely because it is produced by the processes of symbolization. there is still a kind of implicit assumption of a place of enunciation beyond the ‘truth effects’ of power. and yet is also the ‘leftover’ of these processes and the dimension that exceeds them. precisely by positing another level at which meaning is produced. to avert the dangers of falling back into the essentialist position. there must be some kind of constitutive ‘outside’ beyond the discursive limits of the constructionist position. and it is the real – that which cannot be integrated into these structures – which jeopardizes this reality. it occupies a meta-linguistic or essentialist position outside construction’ (1999: 66). in Lacan’s formulation. Yannis Stavrakakis suggests that the constructionist argument – in other words. For example. if one were to take seriously the implications of the constructionist argument.
language. yet non-essentialist. on the other hand. in his Lacanianinspired theory of politics.3 So. because there is a gap between the subject and the symbolic order. However. etc. A further crucial implication of the intervention of the real would be that the very identity of power is itself incomplete. it is nevertheless constituted by a radical dislocation and undecidability. As such. but because I have a failed structural identity’ (Laclau 1990: 44). part of the difﬁculty in accounting for resistance to subjectifying power was that there was no conceptual outside to power – no space that exceeded power and that would allow for ‘free’ action on the part of the subject. The subject in the Lacanian analysis is thoroughly social – spoken through and through by the external structures of language and the symbolic. Laclau shows. discourse. it has a number of important consequences. what is lacking in the structure of the subject is precisely also what is lacking in the objective order itself. As I have suggested. Second. Rather. the subject is not an essentialist and autonomous entity since he is constituted by social structures – power. the radical indeterminacy lies not in the subject but in the structures that determine him.New reﬂections on the theory of power 59 The real and the impossibility of identity The real is the dimension that intervenes to block the full realization of any identity – it refers to the internal limits in the symbolic structure of identity itself. For Laclau. This means that although the subject’s identity is not autonomous to the structure. the indeterminacy of the subject lies in the indeterminacy of the structure. that one can have a notion of the subject that is both indeterminate and ‘free’. First. this psychic exteriority in the subject does not refer to some sort of essential place in the subject that precedes symbolization. This undecidability introduces to the political ﬁeld a radical freedom and contingency of agency: ‘The freedom thus won in relation to the structure is therefore a traumatic fact initially: I am condemned to be free. this notion of the real as that which is lacking in the objective order. If . the real provides a way of conceptualizing the psychic dimension beyond the structures of subjectivity that this discussion has been pointing towards. the very structure that determines the subject is itself fractured and indeterminate. With Foucault. the real is precisely the effect of these very symbolic processes – it refers to an internal void in the symbolic structure itself. With Lacan. because the subject has not been fully constituted. not because I have no structural identity as the existentialists assert. third. In other words. there is room for a certain freedom or radical indeterminacy in the identity of the subject. the real is what undermines the full identity of the subject. In this sense. thus allowing us to theorize a gap or ‘lack’ between the subject and the structures of meaning that constitute him. can perhaps provide a theoretical ground through which resistance to social and political structures and subjectifying practices may be explained. For instance. In other words. which is produced through the failure of this order.
the consistency of power – as a series of determining effects – would itself be problematic. Paradoxically. that there must be something beyond power which it cannot entirely grasp. power is reduced to a dispersed series of ‘concrete’ practices and relations. I shall parody Lacan and add: power cannot be all. in fact. That is to say. that is. Rather. in essence it is ‘not-all’ [pastout]. focusing instead on the direct. However. . this return to the notion of a ‘structure’ or ‘apparatus’ of power does not mean that power is to be seen as absolute. But. and its symbolic dimension is ˇ iz neglected. that both limits it conceptually and allows for the possibility of resistance. for Foucault. is the need to partly revise Foucault’s notion of power. ˇ iz As Slavoj Z ˇek argues: ‘Every power structure is necessarily split. there is a crack in the very foundation of its ediﬁce – and this crack can be used as a lever for the effective subversion of the power structure’ (1996: 3). even a power apparatus. However. power is deﬁcient and lacking: I would say against Foucault . however complex and multiple these ‘centres’ may be . that there is power. as Z ˇek argues. if we were to accept the Lacanian understanding of a structure that is limited by the dimension of the real which is exterior to it. The symbolic dimension of power What this points to. allowing for the possibility of undermining it. as a structure. the structure of power is to some extent deﬁcient and lacking. which has several centres. deﬁcient – even if we include in it its opposite and adver- . Power cannot be everywhere and everything – there must be some sort of ‘outside’ to it. In the Foucauldian analysis. which so broadened the concept as to make it difﬁcult to sustain. in the sense that it claims to be discarding symbolic ‘sovereign’ notions of power. as Étienne Balibar shows. As mentioned earlier. In other words. inconsistent. . the problem with Foucault’s account is that a disavowed spectre of power always haunts his concrete analyses. then. Power. So while Foucault’s analysis might appear to be more ‘concrete’. However. . relations and discourses there looms a symbolic dimension of power which these practices and discourses implicitly refer to – and yet it is precisely this dimension which is denied by Foucault. had no deﬁnitional or structural limit – it pervaded all levels of social and discursive reality. there is in fact nothing concrete about this. Foucault’s theory of power only makes sense if one acknowledges that behind the plurality of practices.60 New reﬂections on the theory of power we were to apply this to the theory of power. we could argue that power too must have some sort of exteriority. having said this. one of the central problems with Foucault’s treatment of power was its all-encompassing nature. There is always an unbridgeable gap in Foucault’s ‘bottom-up’ analysis between micro-practices and power itself ˇ iz (Z ˇek 1999a: 66). power only has ‘concrete’ meaning if it refers to an ‘abstract’ symbolic dimension. local ‘power effects’. .
However. In other words. that is. It is the prohibition against incest that produces and incites the subject’s unconscious desire. counter-power. subjectivity – the dimension of desire – is founded upon a necessary structural impossibility. which brings about Oedipal repression. the micro-practices of power that Foucault describes – the heterogeneous. it is important to note here that for Lacan also. What I am suggesting here is that the theory of power must contain some sort of symbolic dimension based on a fundamental prohibition. To give an example of this symbolic operation. if one were to approach the question of power from a Lacanian perspective. Indeed. . In other words. the emergence of subjectivity itself is based on this Oedipal repression. Lacan argues that psychosis is based on ‘foreclosure’ (Verwerfung) – the radical failure in the subject to register the Father’s ‘No’. localized practices and strategies – would actually presuppose a ‘deeper’ symbolic structure of power. Without this Oedipal prohibition. It is important to emphasize here that Lacan is not talking about an actual father’s ‘no’. revolution and rebellion. it is precisely what produces the subject’s psyche. repression has productive effects. which would provide an interpretive framework through which the ‘concrete’ micro-practices and relations of power can be understood.New reﬂections on the theory of power 61 sary. the abolition of the whole world of demand. and so on. the Thing. the terminal point. resulting in the inability of the subject to constitute a coherent system of meaning. we could suggest that what is important is precisely this ‘abstract’ structural and symbolic dimension that is absent from Foucault’s account. which purports to go beyond the ‘repressive hypothesis’. The desire for the mother cannot be satisﬁed because it is the end. So. ‘anti-systemic movements’. there could be no desire. (Lacan 1992: 68) In other words. power would perhaps be a way of understanding what Lacan calls the Name-of-the-Father – a structural prohibition against incest. rather than this impossibility being merely prohibitive. (Balibar 2002: 136) So. but rather a structural function of the signiﬁer. This notion of power as involving a symbolic repression would seem to be a far cry from the Foucauldian notion of a ‘productive’ power. This is because the symbol of power would be. which is the one that at its deepest level structures man’s unconscious. since desire is always predicated upon a fundamental lack of the impossible ‘lost object’ – the imaginary incestuous relationship with the mother: What we ﬁnd in the incest law is located as such at the level of the unconscious in relation to Das Ding. an operation that depends upon some sort of structural repression (Lacan 1993: 208). a ‘master signiﬁer’ – that is a primary structural interdiction that brings the symbolic order into being. in a Lacanian analysis.
Lacan is perhaps closest to Foucault. without any limit stopping me in the capriciousness of the exactions that I might have the taste to satiate’. crossing the ‘line’. moreover. the law of prohibition produces also a desire to transgress this prohibition. Indeed. the transgressive excess of Sade is the logical counterpart to the universal laws. it raises once again the troublesome question of resistance. This results in a kind of eroticization of the law – a jouissance or enjoyment that palpitates at the law’s limits. to health. according to this argument. rational imperative – an operation enacted in the sheer monotony one encounters in the Sadian boudoir. In other words. and beyond all the oppressions and “alienations”. It is not only that the coldness of the law – embodied by Kant – produces its own form of perverse and excessive enjoyment. and I will exercise this right. and the way that power operated in a perpetual spiralling relationship with pleasure (1978: 45). has a number of implications for this discussion. anyone can say to me. then. to one’s body. (Lacan 1989: 58) It is here that. injunctions and categorical imperatives of Kant. We can see this paradoxical relationship in capitalist culture today. For Lacan. As Foucault suggests.62 New reﬂections on the theory of power In doing so. where there is a continual injunction to enjoy – an enjoyment. is actually a function of power – then does this not mean that every act of resistance only reafﬁrms the power it is supposedly working against? In other words. As Lacan says: ‘The Law appears to be giving the order. if power now operates through its own transgression – if breaking the law. First. This paradoxical relationship in both Lacan and Foucault’s thinking between law or power and transgression. supposedly achieved through consumption. there is an inextricable link between enjoyment and the forces that would seem to restrict it. We can see this paradoxical relationship between law and enjoyment in Lacan’s reading of Kant and Sade. to the satisfaction of needs. that resistance can no longer be seen in terms of simple transgression. modern ‘bio-power’ operates through an enforced sense of ‘well-being’: ‘The “right” to life. strangely enough. to happiness. the “right” to discover what one is and all that one can be’ (1978: 145). how can we think about resistance if. Sade unmasks the hidden enjoyment in Kantian law by holding up to it its dialectical mirror – the universal law of enjoyment: Let us enunciate the maxim: ‘I have the right of enjoyment over your body. universal. In other words. “Jouis!” ’ (1977: 319). It is also that excessive enjoyment itself becomes rigidiﬁed into its own cold.4 Second. which is sold to us as a ‘hidden’ form of transgression and self-afﬁrmation. prohibition incites a certain dimension of desire in relation to the law itself. the relationship between . That is to say. for both thinkers. it is already included in the very structures it resists? It is clear. Foucault also recognized the eroticization of power itself.
in the clinical setting the analysand is quite likely to present to the analyst an endless series of objectively ‘true’ facts about his or her life. However. In other words. rather than re-invoke the critical theory account of ideology. according to this account. this new notion of ideology will involve some rethinking of question of resistance beyond the problematic of transgression. under the ideological conditions of capitalism. Marx’s formula for ideology was that subjects in capitalist society do not know it. I will explore the possibility of a new approach – one that is informed by the Lacanian categories of fantasy and object petit a. That is why. but they are doing it. In contrast to the critical theory account. what is important to the question of psychoanalytic truth are not matters of objective truth and falsehood. . and yet this does not make it any less ideological. truth is not the opposite of falsehood (1990: xx). in a desperate attempt to conceal a deeper underlying truth – the truth of the unconscious (see Lacan 1988: 306). as Jacques-Alain Miller says. For example. and are therefore deceived into supporting relations and institutions that exploit and dominate them. as well as through the very discourses of truth that a critique of ideology would be founded upon. what if we could develop a notion of ideology that did not rely on essentialist assumptions – one that was not premised on the distortion of the subject’s ‘real’ interests? I would suggest that such a rethinking of the problematic of ideology is possible along Lacanian lines. That is. Ideological fantasy and resistance One of the problems with the classical and critical theory approaches to ideology was that they were based on the presupposition of a human essence whose ‘real interests’ ideology distorted. ideology operates through a fundamental distortion of perception. but rather the place of enunciation itself – the position from where the unconscious psyche of the subject is spoken. subjects do not know what their ‘real’ interests are. However.New reﬂections on the theory of power 63 law/power and transgression suggests the need for a including an ideological dimension in the understanding of power – something that is denied in Foucault’s account. a Lacanian approach to ideology might proceed as follows: ideology does not operate through distortion or deception but through truth itself. the assumptions about ‘false consciousness’ implied in this account led to the ‘poststructuralist’ rejection of the whole problematic of ideology. Moreover. This is based on the Lacanian thesis that it is quite possible to lie in the guise of the truth. In other words. Just as Freud believed that the truth of unconscious desire emerged in a distorted way through dissimulation – for example in dreams – so too Lacan showed that a lie can take the guise of truth itself. Foucault’s theory of power attempted to bypass the notion of ideology altogether by seeing power as functioning directly at the level of the body. However. which is psychic truth of the unconscious. What ‘objective’ truth and falsehood both ultimately refer to is another order of truth.
ideology actually operates through objective truth – what it conceals is not the essential interests of the subject. but one which operates within the structure of truth. It is important to point out here that in this formulation.64 New reﬂections on the theory of power Let us apply this Lacanian understanding of truth to the question of ideology. unlike the Foucauldian argument. the role of fantasy for Lacan is to conceal or cover over the lack in the Other. government reports and so on. fantasy is not the opposite of reality but. If ideology does not conceal objective truth. an illusory representation of reality. the realization of this lack is unbearable because it means that his identity. To give an example. with a mistaken. In a Lacanian account. . distorted representation of its social content. but rather in the position of power from which it is ˇ iz articulated. what exactly is its function? It is here that we would apply the Lacanian category of fantasy. even if this is objectively ‘true’ and borne out by statistics. but rather a particular position of power from which it is articulated. Here the ideological distortion would be not at the level of its objective content. as constituted through the symbolic. Our ‘reality’ is really symbolic reality – constituted by signiﬁers and structures of representation – and this is sustained by the fantasy of an escape to a ‘lost’ Edenic state beyond the symbolic. which is the illusory semblance of fullness or wholeness – the lost state of oneness with the Mother. In other words. yet thoroughly ideological’ (1999a: 60). the ideological ‘distortion’ is not in the content of the discourse or utterance. which saw ideology as merely the distortion of an objective truth. It is this that designates the ideological character of reality itself – the fact that ideology does not repress ‘true’ representations of reality. As Z ˇek argues: ‘Ideology has nothing to do with “illusion”. Simply put. For the subject. However. rather. when the media focuses on a certain ethnic community. I would see this as the very reason for retaining the concept. for Lacan. There is still a distortion or concealment here. Fantasy is a way of coming to grips with this trauma – it has the role of masking this lack in symbolic reality itself (see Stavrakakis 1999: 46–47). but in the ‘place’ of enunciation – the concealment of the power relations operating here. claiming that it has higher rates of crime. but rather conditions this very reality: ‘Ideology is not simply a “false consciousness”. is also lacking. the dimension that sustains it. it is rather this reality itself which is already to be conceived of as “ideoˇ iz logical” ’ (Z ˇek 1989: 21). it is still ideological because it conceals the racist gaze through which this particular community is being observed. which sees the involvement of power with truth as grounds for dismissing ideology. To put it succinctly: a political standpoint can be quite accurate (“true”) as to its objective content. The dimension of fantasy is constituted around what Lacan calls object petit a. or poses a greater risk of sponsoring terrorism than other communities. We can see here how this notion of ideology goes beyond the critical theory understanding. the Other is always lacking – there is an irreducible void around which the symbolic order is structured. As we have seen.
It thus sustains. as has been shown. According to this ‘materialist’ thesis. If we were to apply this argument to political analysis.New reﬂections on the theory of power 65 However. rather than internal. perhaps. not a utopian state of oneness but the unbearable and traumatic void of the real itself – that which threatens to disrupt these symbolic structures. The role of ideology here is precisely to cover over. Moreover. homogeneous totality . We are not expected to believe in the ˇ iz ideological content. . . ˇ iz Z ˇek gives a concrete example of this ideological operation in the ﬁgure of the Jew in Nazi anti-Semitic discourse. Society is not prevented from achieving its full identity because of the Jews: it is prevented by its own antagonistic nature. then. but the lack at the heart of social reality itself. we could say that the subject’s social reality – the social world as constructed by signiﬁers and images that structure our beliefs – is also lacking. to ‘patch up’ this void – to sustain the fantasy of fullness and wholeness. The ideological ﬁgure of the Jew thus allowed lack to be bypassed in this discourse. In this way. but our “effective” conduct in the presence of bureaucratic machinery is regulated . Ideology therefore has the function of sustaining the political fantasy of a lost state of fullness – a state which is actually impossible: ‘Symbolization makes us believe that what was impossible was prohibited and thus can also be recaptured’ (Stavrakakis 1999: 52). that ideology is still a form of concealment – only what it conceals is not our perception of social reality. the Jew embodied a fantasmic ﬁgure upon which all social ills could be blamed. through the operation of fantasy. and it ‘projects’ this internal negativity into the ﬁgure of the ‘Jew’. for Nazism. ‘The Jew’ is: just the embodiment of a certain blockage – of the impossibility which prevents society from achieving its full identity as a closed. this ideological distortion operates not at the level of the subject’s beliefs. thus masking the radical lack which existed at the level of the social itself. it allowed the fantasy of a lost Nazi utopia to be sustained: ‘We could restore the purity and organic harmony of the German race if only it were not for the Jew’. as long as we act as though we believe in it. there is a kind of structural gap in social representation itself – a radical discontinuity in the way social identity is represented. ideology retains a cynical distance between itself and the subject. We can see. As Z ˇ ek says: ‘We all know very well that bureaucracy is not all-powerful. at the limits of reality is. by its own immanent blockage. That is. Ideological distortion here is radically external. the subject’s participation in social reality. and the fantasy of social fullness to be sustained. but at the level of his actions. Even more radically. the Jew – as a construction of ‘the enemy’ – was crucial to Nazism attaining a consistent political and ideological identity. ˇ iz (Z ˇek 1989: 127) In other words. It is something that functions at the heart of social reality.
utopian ‘place’ beyond the law. So if it is the case that ideology actually functions by sustaining the fantasy of an undistorted. we still buy the product. while we can retain some cynical distance from the ideological message at the level of belief. or identify with. Indeed. we are not expected to believe in. the fantasy of transgression is sustained by the illusory promise of a lost state of fullness – an enjoyment that has been supposedly prohibited by the law. In a sense. So where does this leave us with regards to resistance? The question of resistance to power. It is precisely this action – action without belief – that sustains structures and relations of domination. and which is accessible to us on the other side of the law. this notion of prohibition. we are still caught up in it. While we might congratulate ourselves on being able to see through the deception of the advertisement and on making an ‘informed’ choice at the supermarket. The same ideological principle operates in advertising. Therefore the knowledge that we are being deceived does not render ideology ineffective. In other words. and this is precisely how advertising works.66 New reﬂections on the theory of power by a belief in its all-powerfulness’ (1989: 30). When we see an advertisement for a brand of toothpaste. This distance between ideology and the subject is built into the logic of contemporary ideological mechanˇ iz isms. what we are being told is nonsense – it is ideological in the usual sense of the word – and those in power know that we know this. However. it is not necessarily an act of resistance to cynically satirize the ideological message. and we are being told that this toothpaste is far superior to all other brands because of some revolutionary secret formula. Indeed. the usual strategies of transgression are ultimately unsuccessful. the ideological message. articulated and extended. our actions believe for us and. as long as we ‘buy the (ideological) product’. given the way that ideology functions through maintaining a certain distance between its message and the subject. as long as we ‘obey’ at the level of our actions. It does not matter if we believe in what the state tells us. We know that. we know that this is nonsense. the makers of the product know that we know it is nonsense. in a Lacanian analysis. in most cases. only serves to mask a much more fundamental structural impossibility. the ‘hold’ that ideology has over us is never more complete than when we claim to be able to see through its deception. Moreover. but it does not matter as long as we conform to the ideological message at the level of our actions. On the contrary. However. ˇ iz then how exactly do we resist this lure? As Z ˇek has shown. I would suggest. they only reafﬁrm the structures of the law. Moreover. So what would a ˇ iz genuine act of resistance to ideology be? Z ˇek suggests that. it is precisely through this cynical distance that ideology operates. As we have seen. We are not supposed to take it seriously (Z ˇek 1989: 28). the point is that we still buy the toothpaste. is also the question of resistance to the ideological dimension through which structures and relations of power are sustained. the only way to resist ideological subjectiﬁcation is by taking its surface content at face value and by identifying with it . Ideology works in exactly the same way.
This strategy of forging an ‘outside’ from the ‘inside’ – of creating the conditions for free political action on the part of the subject – is made possible through the logic of the real. In the following chapter I will explore more thoroughly the effect that ideological systems have on the subject. and allowing us to perceive more clearly both its subjectifying function and the processes by which the subject comes to resist this subjectiﬁcation. thus avoiding the trap of false transgression. By doing this we would be refusing to play the game of ideology. in this sense. and the ways in which the subject can resist this domination. I have argued that the Lacanian real is what allows us to theorize a psychic dimension at the limits of power. . which renders any structure of power or ideology open to the contingency and indeterminacy of what it cannot integrate. unmasking its symbolic and ideological dimensions. In other words. the ultimate act of transgression is perhaps to follow it to the letter. the only effective form of ˇ iz resistance is ‘to simply do what is allowed’ (Z ˇek 2000: 147). and indeed power. something that was needed in Foucault’s analysis. because ideology only prohibits on the surface. While it would be difﬁcult to imagine how such a strategy might actuˇ iz ally work in political terms – something that Z ˇek himself never really spells out – it does nevertheless point to what is crucial in the way that contemporary systems of ideology. Perhaps. this strategy attacks the inverse logic of the ideology by operating at its surface level. they also cynically incite their own transgression.New reﬂections on the theory of power 67 absolutely. while it secretly incites its own transgression. operate. and through concepts of enjoyment and fantasy – can extend the theory of power. because ideology expects to be taken cynically. This naïve identiﬁcation with the content of ideology causes a ‘short circuit’ in its logic by exposing the cynical processes it relies upon. In other words. I have also shown the ways in which Lacan’s understanding of the psyche – through structures of language. to thoroughly identify with it. thus making the act of resistance much more ambiguous. According ˇ iz to Z ˇek. thus ﬁnding its limits by working from ‘within’. the only way to effectively resist is precisely to ‘go through’ the symbolic ediﬁce of ideology or the law. Rather than simply prohibiting.
which they saw as prevalent in several of the young Hegelian philosophers including Feuerbach. turning them . contradictory theories of ideology. and now come to dominate the individual in the same way that Christianity once did. develop two different and. Here I continue this line of enquiry. in The German Ideology. These philosophers. material world. I will argue that Stirner’s critique of the ‘spectres’ of humanism is crucial to this debate. ‘ﬁxed ideas’ – such as human essence. as well as questions of resistance to the way that ideology positions us as subjects. morality and rational truth – are ideas that have been made ‘sacred’ or ‘essential’. He engages in an iconoclastic project of unmasking the ideology of Enlightenment humanism. at the same time. Marx and Engels argue. Marx’s critique of idealism This latter point emerged as the crucial difference between Stirner and Marx.4 Spectres of Stirner A contemporary critique of ideology The last chapter developed new approaches to the concepts of power and ideology. material basis of ideology. exceeds them and forms their outside. For Stirner. First. I suggested that power and ideology cannot be seen as all encompassing. exposing the relations of domination behind its serenely rational. allowing us to go beyond both essentialist and structuralist understandings of how ideology functions. The German Ideology may be seen as a critique of German idealism. are ideologists because they abstract ideas and consciousness from their basis in the real. In doing so he went beyond materialist accounts of ideology that reduced it to an epiphenomenon of capitalism and bourgeois social relations. exploring the contemporary status of the theory of ideology. Stirner was one of the ﬁrst to systematically analyse ideological systems in their own right. Stirner’s importance as a theorist of ideology has been largely overlooked by contemporary political and social theory. Bauer and Stirner. humanist visage. and that there must be a subjective dimension that is both constituted by them and. in some respects. Marx’s central charge against Stirner was that he ignored the real. Marx and Engels.
universal interests of all. but setting out from real active men. the Idea is determined by the material world and concrete social practices: In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth. In this way. conceived. conceive. and on the basis of their real life-process demonstrating the development of their ideological reﬂexes and echoes of this life process. as Marx and Engels accuse the idealist philosophers of doing.Spectres of Stirner 69 into otherworldly. . Each new ruling class ‘has to give its ideas the form of universality. Ideology. is the distortion of the real relationship between life and ideas. That is to say. It is a sort of camera obscura which performs an inversion of the particular and the universal. ideas and consciousness are a reﬂection of material life. produce the illusion of universality – so that the interests of the ruling class are always presented as the common interest. is always the expression of the dominance of an economic class. nor from men as narrated. rather than being determined by it. not of setting out from what men say. imagined. masking particular interests by giving them the appearance of universality and rationality. . The ‘German Ideologists’ have inverted the real state of things. in order to arrive at men in the ﬂesh. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of dominant material relations’ (1975: 59). in actual fact. universally valid ones’ (Marx and Engels 1975: 60). moreover. Members of the ruling class are also producers of ideas. imagine. Ideology thus involves a certain illusion or deception – it presents the particular interests of a class as the common. and present them as the only rational. of the concrete activities and processes that people engage in. It is these material processes that determine consciousness. where the ﬁrst one may be said to be epistemological. The second understanding of ideology found in The German Ideology is political. is an ideological gesture. To invert this relationship. seeing the material world as being determined by the Idea. (Marx and Engels 1975: 36) In other words. ideas which legitimize and perpetuate their rule. to hide the material basis of ideas and to see ideas as abstract. metaphysical spectres. Ideology prevents . Ideology. the disguising of the real. autonomous entities that determine the material world. here it is a matter of ascending from earth to heaven. in other words. For Marx and Engels. For instance. Ruling ideas. effects this ideological inversion. Each new ruling class that takes the place of the old. ideology may be explained as the reﬂection of class domination: ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas . the real interests of the bourgeoisie – to exploit economically the proletariat – are disguised as the universal interests of humanity. when. material basis of consciousness. thus legitimizing them. then. the proletariat is deceived through this ideological misrepresentation into identifying its interests with those of the bourgeoisie. thought of.
in both senses then. masking the particularity of bourgeois interests. implies a rational truth or a notion of real interests that is being distorted. in other words. and thus deceiving the proletariat as to its own. The ﬁrst notion of ideology sees it as a disguising of material and social basis of ideas. material struggles. essential interests. whereas the second locates ideology in the actual ideas themselves and the role they play in very real. murky waters of superstition and religious mystiﬁcation. disguises the reality of class rule and the interests of the proletariat. in which rational truth is counterpoised to obfuscating ideological mechanisms that distort this truth. Scientiﬁc . distorts the real relationship between material life and ideas and. This notion of ideology obeys a rationalist logic. According to Engels. implies a ruse or deception. The latter version perhaps allows ideology a more internal role in material life than the former.70 Spectres of Stirner the proletariat from identifying its true interests – which would be to overthrow bourgeois social relations – and thus perpetuates these exploitative and oppressive relations. Paradigms of ideology: rationalism and structuralism This approach to ideology has its roots in the rationalism of the Enlightenment. the proletariat suffered from ‘false consciousness’. a fundamental distortion of reality. in the second sense. material life – an epistemological distortion. thus inducing a state of ‘false consciousness’. There is a central contradiction here: is ideology that which disguises the fact that ideas do not have a determining effect on material and social life? Or is ideology a series of ideas that plays an active role in supporting and maintaining a certain system of social relations? Is ideology that which abstracts ideas from the real world. which mask its particularity in the guise of universality. Ideology as deception. Ideology in the ﬁrst sense. The proletariat cannot perceive the truth of its real interests because it is deceived in this regard by ideological mechanisms. Ideology is therefore inherently irrational. therefore. The Enlightenment claimed to bring the bright light of reason to the dark. However. the ﬁrst theory sees ideology as the abstraction of ideas from material and social life. I would argue that despite these differences the two versions of ideology developed by Marx and Engels are united in one crucial sense: they both see ideology as pertaining to a fundamental illusion – a distortion or mystiﬁcation of reality. Ideology. and blinding the proletariat to its own essential interests. Ideology thus involves a distortion: it has the function of obscuring bourgeois relations of domination and exploitation. The ﬁrst notion of ideology sees it as the abstraction of ideas from their basis in real. The second sees ideology as creating an illusion of universality. as we have seen. The second sees ideology in a more directly political sense as a series of ideas produced by the ruling class. The two understandings of ideology presented here are quite different. which sees it purely as the abstraction from material life. or is it an active weapon in real political and social struggles? In other words.
which have been misperceived due to the operation of bourgeois ideology. for human essence to be realized. and if only he could develop his innate rational and moral faculties. he could free himself from political oppression. in the form of an essential human subjectivity and rational scientiﬁc discourse. This was the language of Enlightenment humanist political philosophies. or historical materialism. it is clear that. these interests themselves remain outside ideology and can be grasped rationally and scientiﬁcally. that there is a point of departure. there must be a rational truth or essence that is distorted. Here materialism. that these Enlightenment thinkers who sought to develop rational systems of ideas and bring reason to bear on obscurantism. Here we may say. In other words. If rule by divine right could be exposed as irrational then it would be overthrown. essential interests of the proletariat. In other words. For Marx. Rational science is thus seen as the antidote to ideological distortion. With Marx and Engels. from liberalism to socialism: man was enslaved by his own ignorance. One has only to remove these ideological obstacles. from which one can critically reﬂect on them. and a core of essential interests within the subjectivity of the proletariat as a class. although the subject’s perception of his true interests is distorted by ideology. despite the inversion of terms. and can only be correctly and rationally perceived through the scientiﬁc study of actual historical conditions. In other words. and this provides a critical point of departure beyond ideology. there is an essential identity whose rational realization is distorted or denied by ideology. If ideology involves distortion. that is hidden under layers of ideological mystiﬁcation and false consciousness and is waiting to be discovered. More importantly. It is interesting. with Marx and Engels there is a notion of the real.Spectres of Stirner 71 and rational thought was seen as a tool that would liberate man from obscurantism and tyranny. however. to exorcise these mystifying spectres with scientiﬁc and rational discourses. the term ‘ideology’ itself became associated with the mystiﬁcation and distortion of rational truth. there is an essential and rational truth about society. In the language of Enlightenment rationality there is always a non-ideological standpoint – a rational position that remains outside ideological mechanisms. that is uncontaminated by ideology. this extra-ideological rational discourse was historical materialism. as Terry Eagleton remarks. It is precisely from this standpoint outside ideological . In any case. this theory of ideology subscribes to the rationalist logic of the Enlightenment. This essentialism is central to the logic of Enlightenment rationalism: there is an essentially rational and moral subject who has only to grasp this inherent rationality and morality to liberate himself from the metaphysical obscurantism and political authoritarianism that keep him in chains. were themselves ﬁrst known as ideologists or ‘ideologues’ (1991: 67). is precisely this scientiﬁc antidote to ideological mystiﬁcation. in which rational and scientiﬁc knowledge is seen as an antidote to obfuscating and illusory ideas. then. as we have seen.
to posit a vantage point outside ideology. In other words. that we can see through its distortions from a certain epistemological viewpoint. from which we can supposedly rationally reﬂect upon it. For Marx and Engels. because these interests do not exist. and to think that we can step outside ideology merely afﬁrms our position squarely within it. as rationalist Enlightenment thinkers supposed. Rather. rational interests. or what Althusser calls ideological state apparatuses (ISAs). essential interests. Indeed. .72 Spectres of Stirner mechanisms – this uncontaminated point of departure – that ideology can be criticized as an irrational distortion. In other words. or rather they are constructed by ideological apparatuses. The subject is not deceived as to his true. forming the very basis of social existence.’ (1977: 171) Ideological structures. is itself an ideological gesture. However. from an uncontaminated point of departure outside it? A ‘structuralist’ account of ideology would contend that this uncontaminated. or ‘interpellated’ by ideological mechanisms. rational point of departure beyond ideology. Indeed Althusser’s theory of ideology is a radical break with humanist forms of Marxism. then. ideology is all around us. in which ideology is seen as an irrational distortion of the subject’s essential. thus becoming ‘class conscious’. and the structuralist account. the human subject is constructed. extra-ideological position does not exist. There is no ‘false consciousness’ in this account. an understanding of the logic of history would allow the proletariat to shed the scales of ‘false consciousness’ and ﬁnally grasp its true interests. Ideology has colonized this place. there is no human essence beyond the grasp of ideology. The rationalist Enlightenment understanding of ideology therefore contends that we can step outside ideology. We have. This gap is itself an ideological distortion. and that we cannot simply extricate ourselves from ideological mechanisms. can we simply step outside ideology in this way? Can we engage in a rational critique of ideology from a safe distance. from which one can rationally reﬂect upon it. there is no gap between ideology and the subject – there is no division between ideological distortion and rational thought. There can be no essential. produce the subject through the misrecognition and distortion that is at the heart of social reproduction. and the subject itself is constituted by ideological structures. ideology is eternal for Althusser – there is no going beyond ideological interpellation. two radically opposed accounts of ideology: the rational Enlightenment account. Althusser here inverts the paradigm in which the subject constitutes ideology: ‘the category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology insofar as all ideology has the function (which deﬁnes it) of “constituting” concrete individuals as subjects. For Althusser. in which the notion of essential interests is dismissed. according to this account. Let me explain this structuralist account with reference to Althusser. I have argued that the ﬁrst understanding of ideology provides an uncontaminated point of departure outside ideology.
What forms has this abandonment of ideology taken? The two main responses to the crisis of ideology are logical extensions of the two radically opposed accounts of ideology outlined above. presents us with a number of problems and throws the concept of ideology into crisis. if it abandons these essentialist categories. as Z ˇek argues. The question of ideology is skewed on these two opposing poles. The gap that separated ideology from a rational understanding of it functioned as a constitutive gap which allowed ideology to be deﬁned in opposition to something. ‘one of the main reasons for progressive abandonment of the notion of ideology’ (1999a: 69). The structuralist critique of the Enlightenment humanist position. then it can retain an uncontaminated point of departure outside ideology. then ideology became impossible to deﬁne. grown ‘too strong’. and it has become consequently meaningless: ‘It begins to embrace everything. however. had to presuppose an essential dimension of subjectivity outside ideology. The rational Enlightenment . inclusive of the very neutral. Rather. The question of ideology is therefore caught in a quandary: if it retains the notion of ideology as a distortion of rational truth. ideology has colonized the subject. Once this gap or point of departure was removed. how can there be any conception of a political critique of dominant ideological structures? Second. if there is no point outside ideology.Spectres of Stirner 73 while the second position allows no such privileged vantage point. it may be argued that these radically different positions have led to the theoretical stagnation of ideology as a concept. The rational Enlightenment account. as structuralists have argued. extra-ideological ground supposed to provide the standard by means of which one can measure ideological distortion’ (1999a: 69). yet it has to rely on spurious essentialist claims. The end of ideology? Moreover. This over-inﬂation of the ˇ iz concept of ideology is. It relies on dubious essentialist and metaphysical notions of subjectivity. as I have argued. in Slavoj Z ˇek’s words. and to posit a gap between ideology and the subject is the ultimate ideological gesture. how can ideology be analysed and resisted? If the subject is already determined by ideology. this concept of a privileged viewpoint outside ideology can no longer be sustained. then it loses this extra-ideological standpoint and thus falls into the trap of expanding the concept of ideology to the point where it loses any theoretical value. Alternatively. It relied. However. on an uncontaminated point of departure from which ideology could be resisted. First. in order to see ideology as an irrational distortion of reality. then how can we continue to deﬁne a concept of ideology? How do we distinguish it from ˇ iz other practices? The concept of ideology has. There is no gap here between ideology and the subject. without some kind of point of departure outside ideology. if ideology has colonized this non-ideological gap whereby ideology was seen as a distortion or illusion.
In the Habermasian universe. as shown above. Ideology is still seen as a distortion of understanding and communication. the concept of ideology simply has no place – its distorting effects can simply be bypassed by rational consensus achieved through an ‘ideal speech situation’. consequently. Habermas’ notion of communicative action subscribes to an Enlightenment rationalist understanding of the world. in this world of perfect communication. for Foucault as we have seen. non-coercive communication in which ideology has no place. Why not just do away with ideology altogether? Does it continue to have any value conceptually or politically? Is it not more relevant and effective to see the world in terms of discourses. What is more important here are the power relationships and practices that are implicit in the discourse of truth. then questions of the ideological distortion of truth are no longer relevant. it would seem. Jürgen Habermas presents a theory of rational. This led. however. and it is precisely this idea of absolute truth that Foucault questions. then it loses meaning. then. in attempting to bypass ideological distortion through the ‘ideal speech situation’. practices and strategies of power? This is precisely what Foucault does. It is perhaps the circularity of this argument – the ‘ideology is everywhere’ thesis – that has prompted the second version of the abandonment of ideology – ‘poststructuralism’. to the chief problem that if the concept of ideology is expanded to encompass everything.74 Spectres of Stirner account of ideology ﬁnds its logical conclusion. is not Habermas. Subjects can reach a rational understanding about the world through speech acts referring to this context. is itself ideological. So. there is no essential human subjectivity that is . there was no uncontaminated place of departure outside ideology. open to the same charge that in trying to go beyond ideology one merely reafﬁrms one’s place within it? As I have suggested before. To try to step outside ideology is the ultimate ideological gesture. For Foucault. it is no longer valuable to think in terms of ideological distortion because this implies that there is some rational truth whose representation is being distorted. or at least a particular strand of it. ideology has become obsolete – it ceases to have any theoretical or political relevance. rather. For Habermas there is always the possibility of undistorted communication between subjects. what is in doubt is not the representation of truth. However. the subject was produced by ideological apparatuses and. and this presupposes a universal intersubjective understanding (1990: 136). if the status of truth itself is in doubt. in Habermas’ rationalist abandonment of the ideology thesis. Moreover. However. this non-ideological place. The poststructuralist dismissal of the idea of ideology may be seen to be the logical conclusion of the structuralist position. In other words. for Foucault. Structuralism. without the distorting effects of ideology. rejected the idea of an essential human subjectivity. but the ontological and epistemological status of truth itself. whether it takes the form of human essence or an intersubjectively achieved rational consensus.
it is paradoxically assuming an ‘objective’ gaze above this endless plurality of discourses and power relations. Ideology continues to pop up obstinately in the very places where we think we have eschewed it. However. So it seems that we are back to where we started. or should we say indebtedness. there is a problem with this discursive abandonment of ideology. denying us a place outside. and is involved in our everyday actions and relationships. ‘such a quick. it is actually produced by power and discourse. As Z ˇek argues. our most minute practices. While this positing of all-pervasive networks of power and discourse is supposed to deny the possibility of any critical standpoint outside these networks and. from the very rejection of this essential identity. an ideological gesture. this is the ‘last trap’ of ideology. in an ironical way. to ideology. paradoxically. the Foucauldian position here is somewhat disingenuous: in humbly denying itself a neutral standpoint. not from the perspective of an autonomous. power has usurped ideology as the analytical focus – power is dispersed throughout the social network at all levels. this time. This is distinctly non-ideological because there is no distortion here – not even a constitutive distortion as there was with Althusser. We have seen the way that the rationalist attempt to separate ideology from reality. In holding that we must abandon the whole problematic of ideology because it presupposes a non-ideological essence that does not exist. For Z ˇek. In other words. is ideology par excellence’ (1999a: 70). However. constructing the subject as disciplined and normalized. slick “postmodern” solution. by seeing its own voice as merely one discourse amongst many. Foucault looks at the material practices and techniques that are applied directly to the body and its movements. at the same time. in itself. deny the thinker himself any such objective vantage ˇ iz point. rather than the subject being constituted by ideology. however. Maybe this also reafﬁrms our conceptual ‘enslavement’. a fabrication. more precisely through. and to posit an uncontaminated point of departure outside ideology. In the words ˇ iz of Z ˇek: ‘The stepping out of ideology is the very form of our enslavement to it’ (1999a: 60).Spectres of Stirner 75 denied or deceived by ideology – the subject is a product. one’s attempts to elude it. essential subject. Foucault is actually performing two contradictory operations simultaneously. I have shown that the radically opposed rational Enlightenment and structuralist accounts of . He is attempting to step outside ideology while. However. but. it is an attempt to go beyond the problematic of ideology by dismissing it in place of discourses and practices that constitute the subject. It represents a further attempt to step outside ideology. was itself ideological. this is. to respond to this by completely dismissing the notion of an extra-ideological reality and to see the world solely in terms of discursive fabrications – in other words to give up completely on the possibility of a critical standpoint from which ˇ iz to reﬂect on ideology – is itself ideological. That is to say. What this amounts to is a reafﬁrmation of ideology despite or. With Foucault. as Althusser contended.
as many have already heralded. His critique of ideology goes beyond both rational Enlightenment and structuralist accounts of ideology. ﬁrst. The rest of the discussion will be devoted to exploring Stirner’s theory of ideology and developing his logic of spectrality. I have also shown that this abandonment of ideology has taken two radically opposed forms: the Habermasian approach. I shall argue. However. that there is no getting away from ideology. that ideology is an impossible spectre. and the Foucauldian poststructuralist approach. thus denying the extra-ideological standpoint of rationalist Enlightenment thought. and satisﬁes the two seemingly contradictory theoretical conditions that I have outlined – that a theory of ideology retain a point of departure outside ideology. as I shall show. at the same time. which is an extension of the structuralist account of ideology. and paradoxically. He does this. and. So it would seem. will be well and truly with us. from the problematic outlined above. It is clear. I have shown the way in which these two rejections of ideology as a concept have ultimately failed and. Stirner’s spectral critique of ideology Stirner’s theorization of ideology. in their very attempts to dispense with ideology. Stirner had no doubts that ideology was a spectre – one that bedevilled and haunted . provides a possible way out of this quandary. It would seem. without this critical standpoint outside ideological structures. which will provide vital clues to a contemporary retheorization of ideology. It would seem. have both led to its reafﬁrmation. and that to posit an uncontaminated point of departure outside ideology is itself ideological. Moreover. essential subject. then. It is an apparition that repeatedly comes to haunt us. without this point of departure. yet reject the notion of an autonomous. then. and vanishes once again when we try to approach it. We must have some extra-ideological ‘space’ with which to reﬂect on the mechanisms of ideology. it is also immanently clear that we cannot present a critique of ideology. that there are two contradictory requirements: that the theory of ideology must reject the notion of an essentialist identity.76 Spectres of Stirner ideology have led to the stagnation and progressive abandonment of ideology as a project. retain this extra-ideological point of departure for there to be any critical theory of ideology at all. Second. However. it is perhaps by acknowledging this spectral nature of ideology that we can begin to understand it. or indeed have any meaningful notion of ideology at all. otherwise the critique of ideology cannot proceed any further and the ‘end of ideology’. the discussion thus far has yielded some interesting conclusions. The structuralist intervention has shown that the subject is a product of ideology. through a radical reformulation of the ideological subject. which is concomitant with the rational Enlightenment position. despite our most ardent attempts to exorcise it. that ideology can no longer be theorized as a distortion of human essence.
between human essence and the ego. just because it is his essence and not he himself. and therefore it is all one in the main whether I think of the essence as in me or outside me. if we look more closely we see that Stirner represents a paradigmatic break with the Enlightenment and constructs a radically different and non-essentialist theory of ideology. . and depict to yourself a whole world of gods that has an existence for you. Ideological systems contain oppressive ideas that haunt the individual by confronting him with a series of illusory ideals. a ghostly world surrounds you everywhere. In this way the individual becomes interpellated by this spectre – his subjectivity is constructed . your head is haunted . rational truth and morality. you are always having “apparitions [Erscheinungen]” or visions’ (1995: 36). You imagine great things. rather than being at the core of the individual’s subjectivity. ideology is seen as a distorting system of ideas that alienates the individual from his essential interests. is an external ideological abstraction that now oppresses him: The supreme being is indeed the essence of man. which have been raised to the level of an absolute generality. it remains quite immaterial whether we see it outside him and view it as ‘God’. or ﬁnd it in him and call it ‘essence of man’ or ‘man’. a spirit-realm to which you suppose yourself to be called. These apparitions are what he calls ‘ﬁxed ideas’ – ideological abstractions like essence. (Stirner 1995: 34) According to Stirner. Ideology is therefore seen as an illusion or distortion that alienates the individual. as explained above. man and the discourse of humanism have become the substitutes for the Christian illusion: ‘The human religion is only the last metamorphosis of the Christian religion’ (1995: 158). If this was all there was to Stirner’s theory of ideology. neither the supreme essence nor my essence. As Stirner declares: ‘Man.Spectres of Stirner 77 modern man: ‘Look out near or far. goals and promises that he futilely pursues. an ideal that beckons to you’ (1995: 43). Stirner’s critique of Feuerbach and his ‘epistemological break’ with Enlightenment humanism has already been touched upon in Chapter 1. Human essence. desecrating his uniqueness and difference by comparing him to an ideal which is not of his own creation. but. then it would merely be an extension of the rationalist Enlightenment understanding in which. By showing that Feuerbach’s secular emancipation of man from religious alienation simply reinvents this alienation in a humanist form – man and human essence becoming the substitutes for the Christian illusion of God and divinity – Stirner introduces a radical conceptual division between man and the individual. I am neither God nor man. The humanist ﬁgure of man is a new ideological spectre that oppresses the individual and alienates the individual. . However.
‘ﬁxed ideas’ or ‘spooks’ that deceive us. human essence is itself the ideological distortion. Stirner exposes the will to . The very idea of essence – the idea that there is some sort of unchanging identity at the base of our existence – is. The strange ideological doublet of God/man is central to the discourse of humanism. Man is. We can see here how radical Stirner’s inversion of the Enlightenment humanist understanding of ideology actually is. he abandons the idea – central to humanism and classical radical politics – that it is human essence which is distorted: rather. essential human subject that is deceived by ideology. Stirner believes that morality is not only a ﬁction derived from Christian idealism. then. ‘a new feudalism under the suzerainty of “man” ’ (1995: 278). We can see the way that Stirner’s logic of spectrality goes beyond classical theories of ideology. inculcating a sense of shame and guilt. the world has been freed from the obfuscation of Christianity only to be plunged into a new darkness. by the spectre of ‘essence’ inside him. It becomes the basis for a spectral ideological world which takes its absolute authority from human essence and traps us within its rigid paradigms. the ideological illusion created by the humanist ‘inversion’ of religion. then. this essential subjectivity has itself been constructed by ideological mechanisms. Humanist ideology constitutes. Morality has become the new religion – a secular religion – through which individuals are subjectiﬁed. in Stirner’s words. While Stirner retains the idea of ideology as distortion. man himself becomes the spectre. however. ‘Moral faith is as fanatical as religious faith!’ (1995: 45). there is no essentialist point of departure outside ideological systems – essence is itself ideological. while at the same time entailing an intensiﬁcation of the oppression over ourselves and denying us the power to resist this self-subjection. but also a discourse that oppresses the individual. Ideology and power For Stirner.78 Spectres of Stirner around an essence that is illusory. for Stirner. in a sense. As Stirner claims. Within the humanist language of rights and freedoms there is a trap: rights and freedoms are granted to the individual in return for the relinquishment of power over oneself. Here the individual has only pseudo-sovereignty. Morality is merely the leftover of Christianity. haunted and alienated by himself. In Stirner’s theorization. Moral ideas rule over the conscience. It is a discourse that claims to free individuals from all sorts of institutional oppressions. there is no autonomous. What Stirner objects to is not morality itself. For Stirner. Second. In Stirner’s formulation. On the contrary. only in a new humanist garb. An important site of this humanist ideological domination is morality. First. humanism is an ideological worldview in which we have become trapped. but the way that it has become a sacred law. spectrality is applied to ideology in the classical sense – we are haunted by illusions. an ideological illusion.
The ‘un-man’ However. if the subject himself is constructed by the very ideological systems that also dominate him. in other words. which perpetuates its power. thus constructing him as a site of his own oppression. Stirner exposes here a new ideological operation that eluded nineteenthcentury theory – the link between human essence as an ideological spectre and political domination. Stirner suggests. because at some level they desire it. it is also rooted in psychological needs. ideological domination cannot be explained entirely by economic relations and socio-political structures. it seeks to direct his desire to it alone. essential subject – seeing him instead as an ideological artefact – has he also denied himself any critical point of departure? I would argue here that Stirner does theorize an extra-ideological point of departure. Moreover. For Stirner. it is nothing else than this humiliation itself. People are dominated. Rather than the state simply repressing desire. the cruelty and domination behind moral ideas: ‘Moral inﬂuence takes its start where humiliation begins. in the passions which bind us to power. if the individual is subjectiﬁed in this way – as a site of his own domination – how can we theorize resistance to the systems of politicoideological domination that Stirner unmasks? If there is no autonomous human essence. Stirner shows that state power functions by tying the subject to an ideological ﬁgure of man. Stirner was one of the ﬁrst thinkers to explore the links between desire and self-domination. In other words. Moreover. yes. Stirner suggests that this subjectiﬁcation functions at the level of desire. ideology constructs the individual as a subject of the state. as Marx would argue.Spectres of Stirner 79 power. he goes beyond both the Enlightenment humanist and structuralist accounts of . so that he can be made part of state society and dominated in this way. this love of the state. The state demands that the individual be human and conform to certain moral and rational norms and modes of behaviour. It is this desire for authority. then upon what basis can we critically engage with these mechanisms? Because Stirner has rejected the idea of the autonomous. In doing so. and to content that desire with what it offers’ (Stirner 1995: 276). one that does not rely on essentialist categories. Rather than the state directly oppressing the subject. thus foreshadowing Deleuze and Guattari’s notion that desire can ‘desire its own repression’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987: 133). it channels it to itself: ‘The state exerts itself to tame the desirous man. Morality therefore mutilates the individual: the individual must conform to prevailing moral codes otherwise he becomes alienated from his ‘essence’. the breaking and bending of the temper [Mutes] down to humility [Demut]’ (1995: 75). morality is linked directly to state domination: ‘This popular rage for the moral protects the police institution more than the government could in any way protect it’ (Stirner 1995: 215).
It does not pre-exist in the individual prior to ideological interpellation. society. moreover. This extra-ideological ‘place’ of resistance is made possible through his radical formulation of the ideological subject. However. may provide the non-essentialist. . The chief advantage of Stirner’s notion of subjectivity is that the subject. a spectral remainder that escapes ideological symbolization and provides a point of resistance against it. the un-man. The ‘un-man’ is ‘a man who does not correspond to the concept man. In this sense. The identity of the ideological subject is never complete. It may be seen. . to the ideal of man. State. In this way. rather than being an essence. a point at which the ideological subject does not entirely reﬂect ideological symbols and images but. how is he blocked? . It is something that dislocates the identity of the essential human subject by transgressing its narrow boundaries and unmasking the arbitrary and contingent nature of this ideological spectre. which refuses to conform to human essence. extra-ideological . Perhaps it may be considered in the Lacanian psychoanalytic sense as the ‘real’: an excess of meaning produced by its inability to be inscribed within meaning. This excess lies in what Stirner terms ‘the un-man’. There is a kind of ﬂaw in ideological mirroring. in other words. it represents the limits of ideological symbolization. the un-man. then. there is always an excess of meaning that escapes this signiﬁcation (Lacan 1977: 306). both a creation of man and a threat to it. Rather the ‘un-man’ is a spectral excess produced through the process of interpellation: it only comes into being once an ‘essential’ identity is constructed for the individual. nothing that is designated my essence exhausts me’ (Stirner 1995: 324). as it is in structuralist accounts. rather. the subject is faced with a series of signiﬁers that are supposed to represent him. As an excess which escapes symbolization. there is always the possibility of the subject resisting his subjectiﬁcation. . In other words. while constituted by ideology. . exceeds them. The un-man is a force that cannot be contained.80 Spectres of Stirner ideology and satisﬁes the two opposed requirements for a critique of ideology outlined above. a distortion of distortion. by its inability to be signiﬁed. as the limit of ideological symbolization. as the inhuman is something human which is not conformed to the concept of the human’ (Stirner 1995: 159). For Stirner. is never fully determined by it. It is important. It is an excess produced by ideological interpellation. humanity do not master this devil’ (1995: 125). the un-man may be seen as a point beyond ideology and a ﬁgure of resistance against it. as a distortion of ideology itself. ideological interpellation never fully accounts for the individual: ‘No concept expresses me. the other of man: ‘But the un-man (Unmensch) who is somewhere in every individual. to understand that the ‘un-man’ is not an essence of some sort. For Lacan. It is the point at which ideology breaks down and the contingent nature of its operation is exposed. There is always a left-over. There is always a ‘lack’ in symbolization that undermines the fullness of this identity. by the side of man stands always the un-man . is the very failure of this essence.
Strategies of resistance But how might this act of resistance be conceptualized? It is clear that one can no longer call upon the notion of a repressed human essence as the foundation for political resistance. a politics of resistance can no longer be based on the idea of the emancipation of an essential identity because it is precisely this identity that conﬁnes us. an insurrection does not aim at directly overthrowing political institutions. for Stirner. Thus the insurrection is aimed not only at the external impediments to the subject’s freedom – political institutions such as the state – but more precisely at our ‘passionate attachment’ to the modes of subjectivity that tie us to these institutions: . and that it allows. which differs from a revolution in the sense that the latter is based on the notion of a liberation of essential identities from external oppression. but at the individual overthrowing the essential identity that ties him to these institutions. One could argue that the idea of revolution itself should be abandoned. of one identity. going beyond both rationalist and structuralist understandings of ideology and providing the foundations for a contemporary critique. By contrast. For Stirner. as we have seen. We are tied to ideological and political institutions through our attachment to an essential identity. and often ending up perpetuating new forms of power and domination.Spectres of Stirner 81 point of departure from which a critique of ideology may be constructed. The idea of a political revolution parallels the Feuerbachian humanist revolution which. In this way. In other words. Rather. but also internal to him. It satisﬁes the two conditions mentioned above for a contemporary critique of ideology: that it dispenses with the essentialist human subject. Stirner’s notion of the un-man can be understood as a non-essentialist position of resistance to ideology. whereas the former is a process through which the individual frees himself from the internal constraints of essence. One such strategy of resistance for Stirner is the ‘insurrection’. revolutions in the past have failed: they have remained trapped by the paradigm of authority. in the name of a universal idea of emancipation. constituting the limits of his very identity. nevertheless. a critical point of departure. Stirner’s critique has shown us that this notion of essence is precisely the problem – that ideological subjectiﬁcation operates through this very idea of essence. the individual must seek to free himself from the discursive limits of his ‘essential’ identity. only reafﬁrms religious oppression by putting man in the place of God. changing the form of authority but not the category of authority itself. This is why. or at least questioned: revolution is the imposition. it is an intervention that takes into account the way that ideological and political domination is not only external to the subject. one particularity on others.
it is through this insurrection – through this process of ‘working forth of me out of the established’ – that the egoistic subject starts to emerge. beyond the limitations of essence. This strategy of ‘ownness’ allows the subject to work at the limits of ideology. to a dislocation of politico-ideological structures. while produced by ideological symbolisation. This idea of rejecting one’s essential identity and exploring new subjectivities is of course a feature of various poststructuralist strategies.1 Moreover. ‘from men’s discontent with themselves’ (1995: 280). It starts. seeking ‘lines of ﬂight’ from it. is only a negative concept that is still tied to essentialist humanist discourses – it always posits ‘freedom from’ something. but to arrange ourselves. which leads. Instead. according to Stirner. It is a rejection of essence. Freedom itself is therefore an ideological spectre: ‘I cannot create it: I can only wish it and – aspire toward it. we must acknowledge that. an escape from essential subjectivities. to some extent. is not about becoming what one ‘is’. This allows us to theorise. to effectively contest ideological domination. looking for the cracks and points of dislocation in its ediﬁce.82 Spectres of Stirner The revolution aimed at new arrangements. since. Here the individual reinvents his subjectivity. there is also a constitutive openness in its structure. The subject is actually constituted by the spectral excess which. It is not a ﬁght against the established. for it remains an ideal. It abandons the idea of an essential subjectivity that can only be expressed once ideology is abolished. against his ideologically constructed identity. nevertheless. and contesting the way we have been interpellated by it. insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged. as Stirner suggests. only temporary and ﬁnite. We must. and rather exhorts the subject to reconstruct his identity as he chooses. creating new forms of freedom. a possible way out of the quandary of both rationalism and structuralism through a spectral reconﬁguration of the ideological subject. of course. as I have suggested. a spook’ (Stirner 1995: 143). (Stirner 1995: 280) Therefore the insurrection is not a rebellion of the subject against political institutions. exceeds it and. There is no ultimate state of freedom from ideology. and to strive for this is to show how much we are still enslaved to the concept we seek to free ourselves from. but about becoming what one ‘is not’. exposes the very limits of ideology. and sets no glittering hopes on ‘institutions’. Indeed. in other words. then. freedom. it is only a working forth of me out of the established. if it prospers. the established collapses of itself. ideology will always be with us. While the subject is constructed by ideology. Insurrection. but rather a rebellion of the subject against himself. as Stirner says. in doing so. a non-essentialist extra-ideological . there is no ﬁnal place beyond ideology that the subject can pass into. work on ourselves to resist our own ideological subjectiﬁcation and renegotiate our position within ideology. This escape from ideological subjectiﬁcation is. Stirner provides.
contradictions and arbitrary exclusions inherent in the discourses and institutions that structure our political and social reality. seeing human essence not as an undistorted identity outside ideology. its function being not only to dissimulate. but rather as something located at the heart of ideological distortion itself. that poststructuralism must not abandon the problematic of ideology but. and explores ‘deconstruction’ as a political strategy aimed at unmasking the oppositions. Stirner has explored the subtle connections between ideology. subjectivity. I have suggested. desire and power. As Stirner has shown us. The following chapter examines the metaphysical gesture invoked in such claims to absolute truth. rather.Spectres of Stirner 83 point of departure necessary for a contemporary critique of ideology. . but also to universalize a particular epistemological perspective and to conceal the domination that lies behind its claims to truth. rethink it in ways that no longer presuppose a universal rationality or an essential identity whose interests are distorted. moreover. ideology can operate precisely through these rational discourses and essential identities.
is often neglected. However. Derrida allows us to explore radically new understandings of democracy. of political institutions and sovereign forms of authority that are founded upon them. while it is a widely misunderstood and misused term. and indeed the practices. looking for hidden antagonisms that destabi- . Moreover. It might be said that deconstruction is a certain way of reading texts – philosophical texts in particular – with the intention of making these texts question themselves. Derrida works within the discourse of Western philosophy itself. ethics and justice. and exposing the antagonisms they have ignored or repressed. differences and ‘aporias’ within the Western philosophical discourse. it will nevertheless be used here to describe the general direction of his work. however. is a philosophical system. as well as an anti-authoritarian politics of emancipation. His critique has important implications for political theory: his questioning of the claims of philosophy may be applied also to the claims. a discourse whose claims to universality. Rather. What deconstruction is not. wholeness and lucid self-reﬂection have been sounded since the time of Plato. his interrogation of rational and essentialist structures in philosophy makes his work crucial to any critical analysis of political institutions and discourses. Derrida does not question one kind of philosophy from the standpoint of another more complete or less contradictory system. and an unmasking of ‘aporias’ and moments of self-contradiction in philosophy (1987: 19). Derrida instigates a series of strategies or ‘moves’ to unmask the suppressed antagonisms.5 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority The political aspect of Jacques Derrida’s thinking. He therefore does not come from a point of departure outside philosophy. Christopher Norris deﬁnes deconstruction as a series of moves which include the dismantling of conceptual oppositions and hierarchical systems of thought. Deconstruction ‘Deconstruction’ is the term most commonly associated with Derrida and. in particular his critique of authority. forcing them to take account of their own contradictions. This is a trap Derrida assiduously tries to avoid. This would merely be to substitute one kind of authority for another.
an invention which cannot be a substitute for the authenticity and immediate presence of meaning attributed to speech. Speech is. Writing is thus a supplement to speech: it is excluded by speech. The privileging of speech over writing in philosophical texts is an example of what Derrida calls the ‘metaphysics of presence’. It is an indication of how much Western philosophy is still grounded in the metaphysical concepts it claims to have transcended. of writing to speech. Derrida does not want to deny selfidentity or presence: he merely wants to show that this presence is never as pure as it claims to be. dependent on the writing that it excludes. By opening philosophy to this mode of questioning. Derrida shows that this authenticity and purity of identity are always questionable. in which one term is subordinated to another. Derrida sees these as ‘violent hierarchies.’ Logocentrism establishes the binary hierarchy of speech/writing. while writing is seen by Plato as a threat to this authority because it allows the pupil to learn without the teacher’s guidance. which is destructive of memory and susceptible to deceit. but is nevertheless necessary for the presence of speech. Any identity is contaminated by what it tries to exclude. Derrida’s critique of philosophy is itself fundamentally philosophical. He shows that Plato cannot represent speech except through the metaphor of writing: ‘It is not any less remarkable here that the so-called living discourse should suddenly be described by a metaphor borrowed from the order of the very thing one is trying to exclude from it’ (Derrida 1981a: 148). writing is seen as a dangerous corruption of speech – a lesser form of speech. According to this logic. The unmasking of this logic of supplementarity is one of the chief deconstructive moves employed by Derrida. Moreover speech is associated with the authority of the teacher. Deconstruction may be seen as a critique of the authoritarian structures inherent in philosophy. in which writing is subordinated to speech. Here it is seen as an artiﬁce. at the same time. Writing is an example of the ‘logic of supplementarity’: a supplement is excluded by presence. Where speech is seen as a means of approaching the truth because of its immediacy. for Derrida. Derrida points to Plato’s Phaedrus in which writing is rejected as a medium for conveying and recording truth. It establishes a series of hierarchical binary relationships in philosophy. Furthermore.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 85 lize it. Moreover. but is. whereas writing is seen as what diminishes this presence. his aim is not to undermine philosophy. which refers to philosophy’s subordination. Derrida is being faithful to the spirit of philosophy: unquestioning and slavish adulation ultimately makes a mockery of philosophy. necessary for the formation of its identity. representation to . in particular ‘logocentrism’. However. as has often been claimed. the idea of a pure. Derrida points out certain contradictions within this logocentric way of thinking. Speech claims to be a self-presence that is immediate and authentic to itself. therefore. On the contrary. It is always open to the other and contaminated by it. complete self-identity is authoritarian. throughout its history. no identity is ever complete or pure: it is constituted by that which threatens it.
as Stirner would argue. as I have shown. We have seen the way. in different guises. which. Derrida also recognizes the dangers of the more radical or ‘anarchistic’ strategy of subversion – that is. (Derrida 1978a: 81) . such revolutionary strategies only reafﬁrm the place of power. and the strategy of subversion exempliﬁed by anarchism – are two sides of the same logic of ‘place’. this authority is continually jeopardized by the excluded supplement because. In political terms. Binary structures in philosophy perpetuate discourses and practices of domination. that anarchist theory. He does not want to put writing in the place of speech for instance. Both radical politico-theoretical strategies – the strategy of inversion exempliﬁed by Marxism. that Marxism fell victim to this logic by replacing the bourgeois state with the equally authoritarian workers’ state. for an-archy only consolidates just as surely the established order of a metaphysical hierarchy. One could argue. that Derrida does not simply want to invert the terms of these binaries so that the subordinated term becomes the privileged term. In most cases. For instance. However Derrida argues that subversion and inversion culminate in the same thing – the reinvention of authority. for example.86 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority presence. nevertheless relies on metaphysical concepts such as universal humanity and rationality. nor is it a simple change or reversal in the terms of any given hierarchy. This sort of inversion merely leaves intact the hierarchical. So for Derrida: What must occur then is not merely a suppression of all hierarchy. are a reafﬁrmation of religious idealism. authoritarian structure of the binary division. These binary structures nevertheless form what might be termed a place of power in philosophical discourse. Inversion/subversion It must be made clear. Presence constitutes a form of textual authority that attempts to dominate and exclude its supplement. Therefore the anarchists believed that the state and all forms of institutionalized political power must be abolished as the ﬁrst revolutionary act. Rather the Umdrehung must be a transformation of the hierarchical structure itself. the radical strategy of overthrowing all hierarchies and structures of authority. forming also the foundations for political authority. for instance. However. in its desire to overturn political hierarchies and institutions. revolutionary political theories have often only succeeded in reinventing power and authority in their own image. the classical anarchist critique of Marxism went along the lines that Marxism neglected political authority – in particular the institutionalized power of the state – and that this would lead to a restoration of political authority in a Marxist revolution. as well as a Manichean imaginary. However. it is essential to the formation of the identity of the dominant term. however.
we have not yet ousted God from philosophy. how much philosophy is still tied to metaphysics: it is still dominated.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 87 Derrida therefore points to the risks associated with overthrowing a hierarchy – this can often result in the reinvention of another hierarchy in its place. inscribed in the demand for presence. the residue of the category of the divine. Political action must involve a rethinking of revolution and authority in a way that traces a path between these two terms. The demand for a self-identical essence in politics and philosophy would be. then. The authority of the divine remains intact. according to Derrida. For Derrida. In the same way. in the metaphysical presuppositions of language. according to Derrida. (Derrida 1982: 116) The spectre of God-Man has yet to be exorcised from our midst. . Atheism changes nothing in this fundamental structure. God has only been reinvented in the form of essence – in the humanist ﬁgure of man in which Stirner detected the lingering presence of Christian idealism. the project of becoming God as the project of constituting human-reality. and tries to make problematic. by the need for some sort of essential subjectivity or universal epistemological position that it has never had and yet continually tries to invoke. If we want to avoid this trap the hierarchical structure must be transformed. On the contrary. in essence. God has been inscribed in the secular ﬁgure of man central to humanism: What was named in this way . just as man was only a re-inscription of God. so that it does not merely reinvent the place of power. and the mere reversal of terms. was nothing other than the metaphysical unity of Man and God. As much as we may claim the contrary. the relation of man to God. . Derrida shows that Heidegger’s notion of Being does not displace the category of God-Man-Essence as it claims to have done. not simply overthrown. one must go beyond both the anarchic desire to destroy hierarchy. it questions. by the place of metaphysics. God has not been completely usurped from philosophy. one might argue that political theory is still dominated by the metaphysics of presence. The place of religion and metaphysics remains intact (Derrida 1982: 128). Deconstruction adopts a strategy of displacement here: rather than reversing the terms of the binary opposition. its very structure. The end(s) of man The prevalence of such binary structures indicates. Derrida’s analysis is important because it exposes the authoritarianism . For instance. who argues that as long as we continue to believe absolutely in grammar. The notion of Being is only a reinscription of humanist essence. Derrida is inﬂuenced here by Nietzsche. To avoid the lure of authority. we continue to believe in God. as has been proclaimed since the Enlightenment. Being merely reafﬁrms this place. in other words.
However. by using against the ediﬁce the instruments or stones available in the house. Derrida can perhaps show us a way out of this theoretical . of seeking an outside to which one can escape. he argues. The continuous process of making explicit. and must therefore navigate a course between them. (Derrida 1982: 135) This is the alternative move of making an absolute break with the discourse of humanism. by brutally placing oneself outside. by repeating what is implicit in the founding concepts and the original problematic. Derrida argues that deconstruction is always caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of these two impossible strategies. Here. according to Derrida is: To decide to change terrain. involved a replacement of man with the equally essentialist and metaphysical Being. that which one allegedly deconstructs. one risks ceaselessly conﬁrming. consolidating. equally. relifting [relever]. the simple practice of language ceaselessly reinstates the new terrain on the oldest ground.88 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority that still inhabits certain structures of thought. are the two alternate paths awaiting radical politics. moreover. (Derrida 1982: 135) So this strategy of working within the metaphysical structure of humanist discourse. and by afﬁrming an absolute break or difference. Here Derrida allows us to re-evaluate the problem of humanism. thereby inhabiting more naively and strictly than ever the inside one declares one has deserted. in a discontinuous and irruptive fashion. at an always more certain depth. According to Derrida. this would have the same effect as the ﬁrst strategy: by attempting a complete change of terrain. Derrida is referring here to Heidegger’s critique of humanism which. in language. These two strategies of deconstruction. Without mentioning all the other forms of trompe-l’oeil perspective in which such a displacement can be caught. risks sinking into the autism of the closure. Moreover it shows that any kind of radical political theory must ﬁrst become aware of its own latent metaphysical structures. one only reafﬁrms one’s place within the old terrain. and using its terms and language. The more one tries to escape the dominant paradigm. the more one ﬁnds oneself frustratingly within it. risks reafﬁrming and consolidating it. that is. The ﬁrst strategy is: To attempt an exit and a deconstruction without changing terrain. The second strategy. He describes two possible ways of dealing with the problem of metaphysical authority in philosophy – the two temptations of deconstruction. moving toward an opening.
perhaps in terms of Nietzsche’s Higher Man. non-binary differences. whose identity as difference is always unstable and never absolute. However. it is characterized by its very inability to constitute an identity. as Rodolphe Gasché argues. It threads together differences and antagonisms in a way that neither orders nor effaces them. to inhabit a stable place. There may be a way of combining these two seemingly irreconcilable paths in a way that allows radical politics to advance beyond the problematic of metaphysics and humanism without reafﬁrming these structures. as Foucault does. the mufﬂed. . Because différance does not constitute itself as an essential identity. because it remains open to the other. but différance instigates the subversion of every kingdom’ (Derrida 1982: 22). ‘re-evaluated’. or series of differences. For Derrida. The difference is that. This series of differences has a structure or. thus providing a point a departure for politics. It does not have a stable or autonomous identity.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 89 abyss. reigns over nothing. man will not be completely transcended but. . It is rather a difference. Instead. Différance Deconstruction tries to account for the suppressed. half-stiﬂed murmurs of disunity and antagonism. Rather he seeks to displace and re-evaluate it. Derrida refers to this as ‘différance’ – difference spelt with an a. not only can it not allow itself to be taken up into the as such of its name or its appearing. the authority of man will be decentred within language. for Derrida. non-essentialist category. rather. Rather than choosing one strategy over another. in order to signify that it is not an absolute or essential form of difference. an ‘infrastructure’. thereby transcending them. For instance. this is a system whose very nature is that of a non-system: it is comprised of non-dialectical. and nowhere exercises any authority . Rather than think in terms of the end of man. We must ﬁnd a way of combining or ‘weaving’ these two possible strategies. it can become a motif for an antiauthoritarian form of politics: ‘It governs nothing. Derrida does not dispense with the category of the subject. but the subject will not be discarded altogether. hidden differences and heterogeneities in philosophical discourse. existing as its own limit. but it . Not only is there no kingdom of différance. Infrastructures are not essentialist – their very essence is that of a non-essence (Gasché 1986: 150). Derrida’s refusal to dispense with the subject points to a number of interesting possibilities for political thought: perhaps the category of the subject can be retained as a de-centred. Derrida refers to the ‘closure’ of man in metaphysics. nor is it governed by an ordering principle or central authority. As Derrida says: There is no essence of the différance. Derrida believes that we must follow the two paths simultaneously (Schrift 1988: 138).
disrupting the identities of both terms. irrational exterior. However. it neither afﬁrms identity or non-identity. and absence a new presence. (Derrida 1973: 158) The infrastructure may be seen as a model for anti-authoritarian thought: by its own structural absence of authority. There is a strange logic at work here. As I have already suggested. Rather. the thing’s presence in its essence. as deconstruction has shown. It works from within the discourse of philosophy. Deconstruction cannot attempt an immediate neutralization of philosophy’s authoritarian structures. it traces a path of undecidability between the two positions. it must proceed through a strategy of displacement – what Derrida calls a ‘double writing’. which is a form of critique neither strictly inside. The point of Derrida’s thinking is not to seek the establishment of a new order. which denies it a selfenclosed identity by referring to what is outside it and which it cannot account for. This positioning of limits is important here because it points to the possibility of an outside – one that is paradoxically on the inside. absence over presence. They are not possible and effective. Moreover. there is a need for poststructuralist political theory to develop a notion of a non- . It is a strategy of continually interrogating the selfproclaimed ‘closure’ of this discourse. Derrida argues that the strategy of deconstruction cannot work entirely within the structures of logocentric philosophy. This would be. This aporia which deconstruction tries to identify confronts philosophy with a limit to its limitlessness. Deconstruction unmasks this limit of the limit. yet nor can it work entirely outside it. The proclaimed totality and limitlessness of philosophy is itself a limit. As Derrida says: ‘The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from outside. to reverse the established order only to found a new order in its place.90 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority threatens the authority of the as such in general. essential to its identity. as I have suggested. nor can they take accurate aim. a limit to its closure. complete system. Rather. thereby allowing us to transcend binary ways of thinking. Therefore the aim of deconstruction is not to afﬁrm difference over identity. they do not come from a nihilistic. except by inhabiting those structures’ (1976: 24). it undermines from within various structures of textual authority. at the same time. but rather the displacement of all orders. the thing that it attempts to exclude is. The aporia might be seen as a contradiction internal to the structure itself. a logic which continually impedes philosophy’s aspiration to be a closed. but remains in a state of indeterminacy between the two. nor strictly outside philosophy. operating at its limits in order to ﬁnd an outside (Gasché 1994: 28). Difference would become a new identity. It does this by forcing it to account for the aporias which jeopardize this closure. The limits that Derrida identiﬁes are produced within the tradition of philosophy. its complete closure to what threatens it is impossible because.
Any kind of transgression. However. It is therefore an outside that avoids the two temptations of deconstruction. as Derrida argues. from within the structures of discourse. one never lives elsewhere. they open philosophical discourse to an Other. The ‘outside’ of ethical responsibility So the internal limit of philosophy. in transgressing the limits of metaphysics. The more one tries to escape to an absolute outside. the interpretation of these limits is always contingent and depends on political interventions. and functions as their internal limit. to position oneself entirely on the outside of any structure. can only be ﬁnite. It is precisely the force and the efﬁciency of the system that regularly changes transgressions into “false exits” ’ (Derrida 1976: 135). It is therefore an outside that is ﬁnite and temporary. It afﬁrms nothing. This is a radical outside. Indeed. moreover. This constitutive outside is necessary. as a form of resistance to it. also transgresses itself. As Derrida has shown. is only to reafﬁrm. the more one ﬁnds oneself obstinately on the ‘inside’: ‘The logic of every relation to the outside is very complex and surprising. it obeys a strange logic: it exists only in relation to the inside which it threatens. the impossibility of its closure. the point at which their consistency is destabilized. what one resists. in a reversed way. paradoxically. These contradictions make closure impossible. This would be a radical exteriority that emerges. this idea of an outside constituted through the limits of the inside. and it cannot establish a permanent outside: by means of the work done on one side and the other of the limit the ﬁeld inside is modiﬁed. if any sort of resistance to these structures is to be possible. does not come from an oppositional outside. while the inside exists only in relation to it. One is never installed within transgression. Each is necessary for the constitution of the identity of the other. and it does not have a stable identity. at the same time refers to an outside – one that is constituted through the limitations and contradictions of the inside. may allow us to conceive of a politics of resistance which does not restore the place of power. power and ideology themselves. as this would only reconsolidate the inside that it opposes. Derrida makes it clear that it cannot be seen as an absolute outside. and a transgression is produced that consequently is nowhere present as a fait accompli. It is not clearly divided from the ‘inside’ by an inexorable line: this ‘line’ is continually disrupted and redrawn. (Derrida 1981b: 12) So deconstruction may be seen as a form of transgression which. and dissipates upon crossing this limit. Moreover.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 91 essentialist outside of this kind. It exposes the limits of a text by tracing the repressed . It is not part of the binary structure of inside/outside. while at the same time threatening the identity of the other.
Deconstruction is by no means a rejection of ethics. a question – one that is open to political and ethical reinterpretation. violence and sovereignty The undecidability of judgement that is produced by a deconstructive critique has implications for political discourses and institutions. an alterity that is ethical in its exclusion and singularity. re-inscribing it as a problem. in a similar sense perhaps. beyond the conﬁnes of reason and historical necessity. John Caputo argues that Derrida’s thinking might be seen as a responsible anarchy. then can it still be considered moral or ethical? Deconstruction allows us to open the realm of ethics to re-interpretation and difference. to rupture it by confronting it with the Other. It tries to step. it involves a re-evaluation of ethics (Kearney 1993: 30). Rather. the point of irreducibility which cannot be accommodated within its structures. deconstructive ethics has no such privileged place and. and this momentary ‘stepping beyond’ constitutes an ethical dimension – an ethics of alterity. enjoys no such self-assurance. Derrida argues that authority of the law is fundamentally ambiguous and open to question. ethical: the act of forcing philosophy to confront its own structures of exclusion can be seen as a thoroughly ethical gesture. particularly legal institutions. Deconstruction may be seen. Moral judgement must always be self-questioning and cautious because its foundations are not absolute. In other words. who attempts to think the limits of the Hegelian tradition by showing the point at which it encounters an ethical outside. as an ethical strategy which opens philosophy to the Other. Good is always contaminated by evil. as has often been claimed. It is therefore an ethics of impurity. This deconstructive interrogation of philosophy does not lead to an amoral nihilism. and this opening is itself ethical. Levinas tries to transcend Western philosophy. if only for an instant.92 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority absences and discontinuities within the text – the excess that the text fails to contain (Clifford 1987: 230). Deconstruction therefore neither afﬁrms. not an irresponsible anarchy (1988: 18). therefore. Unlike much moral philosophy that is grounded on the ﬁrm foundations of the categorical imperative. Law. It shows us that moral principles cannot be absolute or pure: they are always contaminated by what they try to exclude. the limit it ‘crosses’. if morality is always contaminated by its other – if it is never pure – then every moral judgement or decision is necessarily undecidable. reason by unreason. rather it re-evaluates it. This radical outside is. What Derrida questions is the ethics of morality: if morality becomes an absolute discourse. for Derrida. This is because the basis of the law – the authority that it is grounded on – is only legitimized once law is instituted. even when it involves questioning and challenging moral philosophy. Derrida is inﬂuenced here by Emmanuel Levinas. the law is ultimately grounded on some- . nor destroys.
shows the way that the law is closely intertwined with violence. In unmasking this ambiguity in the foundations of the law. legal violence – the violence involved in enforcing the law – and illegal or illegitimate violence. However. and how it sanctions a number of coercive practices and functions such as military and police violence. the law itself can be seen as an articulation of a form of violence. this violence occupies a position of undecidability with regards to the law. the structure of the law is aporetic – it cannot form a closed. in the name of enforcing the law or preserving ‘national security’. In other words. it is something that is both inside and outside the law. for Derrida. every expression of the law. allowing one also to interrogate any institutional and political discourse or series of practices that claim to derive their authority from the law. Walter Benjamin. It would be an illegitimate act of discursive violence. thus making the legitimacy of the law itself ambiguous. Derrida asks how it is possible to distinguish legitimate. this foundation in violence does not mean that the origins of law are illegal: because they are prior to law. in which its legitimacy is simultaneously afﬁrmed and put into question. or when asylum seekers and illegal migrants are forcibly detained and coerced in Western ‘liberal democracies’. the foundation or ground. the violence of the law is revealed in all its nakedness and brutality. A deconstructive interrogation of law therefore reveals the absence. as others would quickly say. when the law itself is founded on a violence that is ‘neither legal nor illegal – or. the empty place in the ediﬁce of law. strictly speaking. and that this violence is disavowed. Derrida shows that the origins of laws and institutions are violent.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 93 thing that is. Derrida’s point is that every legal decision. nor illegal. Indeed. for instance. routinely detain people without charge. neither legal. and the violence at the base of institutional authority. and cannot be fully incorporated into it. the position of the law can’t by deﬁnition rest on anything but themselves. they are themselves a violence without ground’ (1992: 14). non-legal because it had to exist prior to law. Rather. When the police and security apparatus. . Like Foucault. they are. The justness or legitimacy of any legal decision is put into question through such a critique. yet at the same time inscribed within the structures of the law itself. As Derrida says: ‘Since the origin of authority. The original act of instantiating the law is outside the limits of the law: it is prior to the law and therefore has no legal authority. complete identity because its foundations derive from something that is outside itself. invokes at least a kind of discursive violence or ‘force’. The authority of law can therefore be questioned from the perspective of its own ambiguity: it can never reign absolute because it is contaminated by its own foundational violence. neither just nor unjust?’ (1992: 6). deconstruction has important political consequences. strictly speaking. Rather than violence being antithetical to the law and external to its structures – as has been the contention of classical theories of sovereignty – violence is internal to the law.
94 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority Indeed. political discourse in the world’s most powerful democracy. with its violence and authoritarianism. The state of exception. as Derrida points out. giving it a moral foundation (Caputo 2003: 10). Indeed. For instance. at the same time. because it is itself grounded ultimately in this violence. Derrida believes that there is a potential tension between the principle of sovereignty. Indeed. as Agamben shows. the ability to stand outside the law and to suspend it. sovereignty has its roots in theology and it continues to be inextricably linked with it. but rather a dimension of violence that is beyond the limits of the law. the condition of sovereignty is. since it was God who created the law. However. the law cannot protect us from the violence of the state. A deconstructive analysis thus exposes this link between violence. .1 From this perspective. one becoming indistinguishable from the other. democracy has a revolutionary potential that remains unfulﬁlled. have argued that sovereignty occupies a dimension that is both inside and outside the law simultaneously. is a state of lawlessness and violence in which normal juridical protections no longer apply and sovereign power is unrestricted. and which sits at odds with sovereignty. Like Stirner. Derrida detects vestiges of this ‘onto-theology’ even in modern understandings of the sovereign state. sovereignty and law. It is perhaps no surprise that the USA is currently locked into a sort of theological duel – complete with references to the ‘axis of evil’ and ‘inﬁnite justice’ (see Derrida in Borradori 2004: 117) – with another form of fundamentalism. notwithstanding its claims to democratic secularism. this ambiguous relation between law and violence allows the very idea of sovereignty itself to be deconstructed. even though this onto-theological reference continues in modern democracies. This means that because the authority of the law rests on the power of the sovereign to enforce it. it might be said that sovereignty is an embodiment of this violence. Moreover. Furthermore. The position of exception or exteriority to the law that is occupied by the sovereign is strictly parallel to the theological notion that God is beyond the law. can we have a form of democracy which is not tied to the principle of sovereignty. that emanating from the Islamic world. The question is. and that they continue to be haunted by it. A number of contemporary thinkers. the United States – despite its formal separation of church and state – is strongly marked by religious references. including Derrida and Giorgio Agamben. he believes that the spectre of God has not been exorcized from modern structures of power and authority. and democracy with its secularizing and emancipative impulse. Sovereignty therefore has a homologous relation to the extra-legal violence that grounds the law. then. Sovereignty might be understood as the point where violence and law intersect. pointing to Carl Schmitt’s deﬁnition of the sovereign as the one who can proclaim a state of exception (see Agamben 1998: 15–16). the claims of the sovereign state to moral and legal legitimacy would be precarious – what lies at the heart of sovereignty is not the public good.
Indeed. The possibility of justice Moreover. there is no point separating the deconstruction of philosophical texts from the deconstruction of political institutions and power relations: the two realms of struggle are inextricable because political authority is dependent upon not only its sanctioning by various texts – including legal texts. by the institution of the state. deconstruction is an eminently political practice – a way of reading the ‘text’ of politics in radically new ways. Indeed. and which allows new. Justice forms a kind of internal limit to structures of sovereignty and law. For Derrida. this deconstructive opening of the text of politics to what it excludes. for Derrida. the democratic messianic promise is one that is never fulﬁlled or completed. deconstruction’s questioning of the authority of meaning – the ‘state’ – in the text of philosophy corresponds with the questioning of sovereign authority and political institutions.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 95 which is not circumscribed within the limits of the sovereign state (Caputo 2003: 11)? Derrida refers to a ‘democracy to come’ – a democracy that has no speciﬁc form and which is not grounded in any concrete political practice. but rather refers to a radically open political horizon. Therefore a politics of deconstruction would be a radical democratic politics that is not based on any particular programme or speciﬁc vision of democracy. that is to say the present state of reading or what ﬁgures the State. However. In this sense. Deconstruction therefore involves a radical moment in which sovereignty can be brought into question. in the state of possible reading. (Derrida 1992: 37) In this sense. rather. it opens a space in which what is currently unthinkable or ‘unreadable’ from the perspective of existing political paradigms can become thinkable. as well as those of classical political philosophers and theorists of sovereignty such as Hobbes and Bodin – but also by the logocentric discourses which lend themselves to existing forms of political rationality. and is therefore inﬁnitely perfectible. unlike the religious notion of the messianic. Indeed. Derrida likens this revolutionary moment in deconstruction to Benjamin’s notion of the general strike: For there is something of the general strike. it would based on the contingency and openness of the political ﬁeld itself. in ways that are no longer determined by the idea of sovereignty. is synonymous with justice. democracy has the character of a sort of messianic promise. nonauthoritarian forms of politics to be conceived. with a capital S. justice must be . and thus of the revolutionary situation in every reading that founds something new and that remains unreadable in regard to established canons and norms of reading.
and this is precisely the dimension of justice. That is. programs. it must continually reinvent the rule. rather. because if it is. but at the same time it suspends the law because it is being continually reinterpreted (Derrida 1992: 23). Justice functions as an open. it must be different each time. This is not necessarily to reject out of hand existing political discourses. As Derrida says: ‘There is an avenir for justice and there is no justice except to the degree that some event is possible which. thus leaving them open to continual and unpredictable reinterpretations. For a decision to be just. it is the promise of something yet to come. which has been with us since the French Revolution. Its effects are always unpredictable because it cannot be determined. is not an absolute rejection of the existing order because this only leads to the founding of a new order. by an a priori discourse. Indeed. Like democracy. but rather to reinterpret and re-evaluate them. to the impossible. thus performing a deconstructive displacement of law. anticipations’ (1992: 27). Justice exists in a relation of ‘alterity’ to law: it opens the discourse of law to an outside. deconstruction is justice. reformulated. Justice is the experience of the impossible because it always exists in a state of suspension and undecidability. as law can. exceeds calculation. it would cease to be justice and become law. Justice. rules. and it is for this reason that justice opens up the possibility for a transformation of law and politics (Derrida 1992: 27). for it to account for the singularity denied by law. deconstruction traces within the structure of the law moments of aporia and undecidability which open it up to a singularity beyond it. Justice is an event that opens itself to the other. It cannot be the mere application of the rule. lawlessness and illegitimacy of their origins. unmasks the violence. should not be rejected but. While the Enlightenment-humanist ideal of emancipation has the potential to become a discourse of domination through its universalizing of rational and moral categories – as thinkers like Foucault and Stirner have shown – it can also become a discourse of liberation if it can be unmoored from its . Justice occupies a politico-ethical dimension that cannot be reduced to law or political institutions. rather. something that can never be completely grasped or understood. This strategy can be applied to our contemporary political reality. to the singularity which the law cannot account for. as I have suggested. It is always incalculable. while justice is an opening of the law to the other. It is an excess which overﬂows the boundaries of the law and cannot be grasped by it. It is much more radical than that: it is a re-founding of political and legal discourses in a way that. but. Law is merely the general application of a rule. as an event. Therefore justice conserves the law because it operates in the name of the law. though. This transformation. empty signiﬁer: its meaning or content is not pre-determined. not only does justice involve a deconstruction of the law. exists in an ethical realm because it implies freedom and responsibility of action (Derrida 1992: 22–23). moreover. For instance.96 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority carefully distinguished from law. the discourse of emancipation. as Derrida asserts.
The logic of emancipation is still at work today. Deconstruction. and on the need to question their ontological foundations: the concept of the ‘humanity of man’. Yet Derrida also insists on the historicity of these rights. We need [il faut] human rights’ (Derrida in Borradori 2004: 132). In other words. But beyond these identiﬁed territories of juridico-politicization on the grand political scale. human and political rights. The Declaration of the Rights of Man has in the past been expanded to encompass the rights of women. at least not without treating it too lightly and forming the worst complicities. for instance. inalienable rights. challenge and rethink their foundations and discursive limits. thereby expanding it to include other political struggles hitherto regarded as of little importance. would question the idea of natural. that classical revolutionary politics sees these rights as essential and founded in natural law. other areas must constantly open up that at ﬁrst seem like secondary or marginal areas. so that its content would no longer be limited or determined by its foundations. It could even in the future include animals. particularly as a standpoint from which the sovereign state can be challenged: ‘We must [il faut] more than ever stand on the side of human rights. . although in different forms and represented by different struggles. In other words. and sexual and ethnic minorities. The question of rights highlights the differences between deconstructive politics and classical revolutionary politics.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 97 foundations and radically re-founded as a non-essentialist. whether crudely or with sophistication. while also being able to question. though. beyond all selfserving interpretations . while the politics of deconstruction would see these rights as radically founded. Both strategies have a notion of political rights and a conception of emancipative struggles on the basis of these rights. Derrida argues that these ‘natural’ rights are actually constituted discursively through the social contract and that therefore they cannot claim to be . these rights would be without stable foundations and therefore their content would not be ﬁxed in advance. (Derrida 1992: 28) Derrida suggests that we can free the discourse of emancipation from its essentialist foundations and categorical imperatives. . In other words. unconditionally. We cannot attempt to disqualify it today. For instance. The difference is. This leaves them open to a plurality of different political articulations. the discourse of emancipation can be left structurally open. involves a series of discursive assumptions and exclusions that can be deconstructed. as Derrida suggests (1992: 28). constitutively open political signiﬁer. we must have the courage to assert. As Derrida says: Nothing seems to me less outdated than the classical emancipatory ideal. for instance. In his critique of liberal social contract theory. Derrida insists on the ongoing and universal importance today of human rights.
Therefore. Moreover. The idea of natural rights can only be formulated discursively through the contract. it is not necessarily determined or limited by them. An-archic action is the possible outcome of a deconstructive strategy aimed at undermining the metaphysical authority of various political and philosophical discourses. They can no longer remain inscribed within human essence and. because identity is in part constituted by what it opposes. then. and in the process they will be reformulated by these struggles. It is this self-questioning which allows political action to resist authority. not in the name of a founding principle. can no longer be taken for granted. but in the name of the deconstructive enterprise which it has embarked upon. Derrida occupies a number of crucial terrains in the radical political thinking. An-archic action is distinguished here from the political philosophy of the classical anarchists like Proudhon. an-archic action is forced to account for itself. by original founding principles such as human essence and rationality. there is no pure natural foundation for rights. This undermines oppositional politics. action forced to question itself. one cannot always assume that they will continue to exist. are displaced from the social to the natural realm. a deconstructive notion of an-archy might be somewhat different: it can be seen as action with a ‘why?’ – that is. he allows us to examine the subtle and pernicious logic of the place of power – the propensity for radical politics to reafﬁrm the authority it seeks to overthrow. the social is the supplement which threatens and. while an-anarchic action is also conditioned by certain principles. As Derrida suggests in his critique of Rousseau. of the contemporary political institutions and discourses based on this authority. In other words. Reiner Schurmann deﬁnes an-archic action as action without a ‘why?’ (1987: 10) However. These rights. and the social is subordinated to the natural. The discourse of classical anarchism is governed. as we have seen. Kropotkin and Bakunin. and this leaves them open to change and reinterpretation. just as it forces authority to account for itself. They must be fought for. therefore. using the same logic. He explores the limits of the two possible strategies of radical politics – inversion and subversion – showing that they both culminate in the re-afﬁrmation of authoritarian . just as writing was subordinated to speech. to avoid becoming what it opposes. Derrida allows us to develop a critique. On the other hand. He also shows us that no identity is pure and closed – it is always contaminated by what it excludes. Through the unmasking and deconstruction of the textual authority of logocentrism. If they are without ﬁrm foundations. the identity of the natural. through the various deconstructive strategies and moves that Derrida employs.98 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority natural (Ryan 1983: 160). at the same time is necessary for. Derrida’s an-archy It is through this form of deconstructive logic that political action becomes an-archic.
. unmasking its hidden relation to violence. as an an-archism. These strategies are the two poles that skewer radical political theory. Derrida’s political thinking may be seen. he is able to formulate a notion of an ‘outside’ – one that is constructed through the limits of the inside. In doing so. however. and thus destabilizing institutions that are based on it. and a politico-ethical strategy which forces us to reevaluate the limits of our contemporary political reality. shows a way of transcending this impasse by weaving together subversion and inversion. an interrogation of authority. I have suggested that this notion of a constitutive outside is central to any understanding of the political. in a way that re-evaluates these terms and thus displaces place. It opens up a politico-ethical dimension of justice and emancipation at the limits of legal and political authority. then.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 99 structures and hierarchies. afﬁrmation and absolute rejection. Derrida.
sovereignty and law Deconstruction has exposed the fundamentally ambiguous and paradoxical nature not only of central philosophical concepts. This chapter continues with the theme of violence. In the context of the major terrorist attacks on September 11. and which forms part of a dominant discourse and ideology that is increasingly coming to deﬁne our political reality. it immediately brings into play a whole discursive apparatus and a series of moral assumptions which have concrete political effects. emanating from every media outlet and every politician across the spectrum. Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida – who have taken a different approach. the word ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’ cannot be used in any objective or neutral sense. anti-state violence – that is. is a form of anti-institutional. from left to right. ‘terrorist’. Alain Badiou. but also. according to Badiou: ﬁrst. the psychoanalytic notion of fantasy to understand the symbolic importance of the ˇ iz September 11 strikes as a media event (see Z ˇek 2002b). it determines a subject or. which is used so problematically.6 On the politics of violence Terror. today. terrorism. at least on the surface. such as whether terrorism can or cannot be morally justiﬁed. a ‘victim’ – ‘the West’. yet unquestioningly. most analyses coming out of the disciplines of politics and philosophy have tended to focus on normative questions relating to just war theory. this time exploring what. or even simply the . ‘Terror’. However. rather. from social democrat to conservative. and examine its hidden links with law. the ‘war on terror’ are the terms on everyone’s lips today. for instance. there have been a number of contemporary continental thinkers ˇ iz – like Slavoj Z ˇek. power and sovereignty. While there has been an enormous and renewed interest in terrorism recently. unmasking the latter’s intimate relation to violence. Rather. of political and legal institutions. as well as looking at the current discourse on terrorism and its political effects. They explore some of the ambiguities in the term ‘terrorism’. as we have seen. as Badiou suggests. ‘democracy’. However. ‘terrorism’. employing. The word ‘terrorism’ has the following functions. as well as of the so-called ‘war on terror’ – whose dark implications we have seen unfolding – I will seek to explore the phenomenon of terrorist violence.
if terrorism is to be deﬁned by a form of violence designed to inspire fear. through a systematic yet often indiscriminate register of violence. not to mention the justiﬁcation – almost a blank cheque – for external military action. Saint-Just’s words stand out as one of the most infamous justiﬁcations of state terrorism: ‘What do you want. no matter how democratic. despite the dubious and problematic nature of a war against an unseen enemy. In other words. One of the tasks of a poststructuralist or deconstructionist approach to this discourse on terrorism would be to make it problematic. unmasking the violence implicit in every political symbolization. the appellation ‘terrorism’ forms part of a discursive series that appears to be self-evident. permanent detention and control over its internal population. as well determining dominant categories of ‘truth’ and normality through an exclusion of other voices and perspectives. It speaks perhaps to the very nature of any political discourse. at the base of every law. third. you who do not want the Terror to be used against the wicked?’ (see Lefort 1988: 72–73). For instance. lending itself to practices of domination and military aggression and prohibiting any dissenting voices from emerging – or even any attempt to understand the reasons for terrorism. it determines a sequence – it justiﬁes an ongoing ‘war on terrorism’ (Badiou 2002: 1–2). that Republican virtue came to be associated with the willingness to be merciless. you who do not want virtue in order to be happy? What do you want. As Foucault has shown. and indeed inscribed. it forms a predicate – terrorism is now always ‘Islamic’ fundamentalist terrorism. The ‘war on terrorism’. The Jacobins on the Committee for Public Safety – those who instigated the Terror. would have been unthinkable. assuming the character of a ‘radical evil’. Indeed. and. serving to legitimise a series of measures which. the purges and mass executions that followed the French Revolution – called themselves ‘terrorists’. has given the state unheard-of powers of surveillance. second. in turn. and yet which functions as an ideological tool of the modern Western state. That the highest ideals of the Republic were accompanied. for instance. The USA Patriot Act and the extra-juridical detention camps in Guantánamo Bay have become emblematic of a new war – a war that we are now told will last a generation. . The contemporary discourse on terrorism functions in a similar way. prior to September 11. Indeed. perpetuating. is more than just a vicissitude of history.On the politics of violence 101 United States.1 ‘Terrorism’ implies in advance its own moral condemnation. institutional power relations. discourse is inextricably intertwined with power – being both constituted by and. without national sovereignty or even territorial locality. to point out its ambiguities and contradictions. but which are now accepted as necessary and normal. never Christian fundamentalist terrorism (the Oklahoma City bombing) or Jewish fundamentalist terrorism (the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin). then one can of course speak equally about state terrorism as one can about non-state terrorism. one might recall that the very word ‘terrorism’ derives from La Terreur of the post-revolutionary French Republic in the early 1790s.
better still. in order to continually justify itself. to retroactively invent its foundations. to ﬁll the gap in the place of power that would from now on remain empty. more and more insidious plots against the Revolution. Terrorist violence always threatens to expose the emptiness and indeterminacy at the base of the symbolic authority of the law and the state. It is as though the terrorists constantly had to create the ground in which they want the Republic to take root.102 On the politics of violence For Claude Lefort. in both its state and non-state forms? It may be suggested that this abyss – the indeterminacy haunting any political or social symbolization – is present in the modern dialectic of terrorism and counter-terrorism. the Terror threatened from the outset to be interminable. and if today’s terrorists are characterized by the very ‘illegality’ of their actions. and yet is constantly haunted by the absence of foundation. It unmasks the violent and mysterious foundations of this authority. is more than a mere feature of the new ideological ‘war on terrorism’. as well as the attempt to disguise this violence through a terrorism of its own? The desire to continually ﬁnd new enemies. can we not see in the state’s response to terrorism both the sovereign violence at the base of state authority. Terror was the ‘law in action’ or the ‘sword of the law’ (see Lefort 1988: 73). As Lefort says: The image of a society which is at one with itself and which has been eliminated from its divisions can only be grasped during the administration of the purge. this raises fundamental questions about the validity of the distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ violence. Like the Terror of the Republic. to put off the traumatic realization of the ambiguity of its own foundations. .2 Was there not a strange. the discourse of Terror was a form of dissimulation – a desperate attempt to give substance to the Revolution. In that sense. If. it refers to something at the heart of political violence itself and its shrouded link with law and authority. or. during the work of extermination . the abyss of indeterminacy that opens up below one’s feet and threatens to swallow the Revolution. both external and internal. Their fascination with being is at the same time their fascination with the abyss. of a society reconciled with itself. . . (Lefort 1988: 84) Is there not something like this fascination with the abyss in contemporary terrorist violence. the Terror of the French Republic was a way of masking or covering over the symbolically empty place of power that was left in the wake of the Ancien Régime. almost sublime suspension of the law – a sense of the very impotence and vulnerability of its authority – as we watched the collapse of the Twin Towers? Moreover. for the terrorists of French Republic. Terror embodies the fantasy of a social whole. In other words. The Terror was therefore characterized by a hysterical need to ﬁnd more and more enemies of the Republic.
but whether these intentions are pursued with violence. Nevertheless. Do we not see this ‘great criminal’ in the . it is the mere existence of violence outside the law that constitutes a threat. Benjamin here talks about the ‘great criminal’ and the admiration that he arouses because of the ‘unsanctioned’ violence that his deed invokes. this notion of natural law does not provide adequate criteria for a critique of violence. ‘From this maxim it follows that the law sees violence in the hands of individuals as a danger undermining the legal system’ (1996: 238). according to this analysis. however. exposing its ambiguous relationship with the law. According to Benjamin. regardless of the justness of its ends. according to Benjamin. come under legal scrutiny. Counterpoised to this notion of natural law. In other words. is positive law. despite the shortcomings of positive law. regardless of whether the ends pursued by terrorists are ‘natural’ and legitimate? The state. on the notion that violence is a natural force or capacity that can be put to either just or unjust ends. just as natural law leaves unresolved the question of means.On the politics of violence 103 Benjamin’s critique of violence This is precisely the question that Walter Benjamin takes up in his ‘Critique of Violence’ (‘Zur Kritik der Gewalt’). positive law providing at least general grounds for critical reﬂection on a central question: under what conditions is it possible to make a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence? The ground for this distinction is found in the sanction provided by the state and the legal system. as it may be difﬁcult to conceive of violence being moral even if it was for a just cause. in the ﬁrst sense. so positive law leaves unresolved the question of ends. Violence may. That is to say that an action may be judged violent if its ends or objectives are considered unjust. As Benjamin argues. but also because it shows the complicity between the two seemingly opposed orders of violence and law. engaged in by non-state actors. in which violence was justiﬁed as long as it served just ends (1996: 236–237). Benjamin presents here a genealogy of violence. sees in the terrorist a rival to its own monopolistic exercise of violence. The state tries to establish a monopoly on violence by restricting others from exercising it. What implications does this insight have for terrorist violence? Is terrorism considered threatening simply because it is a form of violence outside the order of state authority. Benjamin begins by showing the different conditions under which an action may be considered violent. even if it is in order to attain ‘natural’ ends. in which the means of a certain action. That is to say. be seen as a pure means to an end. However. Indeed. then. what is most threatening to the state is not the legality or illegality of people’s intentions. This view would be based. Benjamin’s essay is important here not only because it allows us to reﬂect on the ambiguities of terrorist violence. it is this question of means that Benjamin’s study focuses upon. Benjamin uses as an example of this ‘natural’ understanding the terrorism of the French Revolution.
Benjamin argues. both these dimensions of violence. as it is a form of violence that can be used for legal ends – it can be used. in other words. who. For instance. As I have shown. but to construct new ones in their place. Similarly. This is why. Benjamin introduces a further distinction – between law-making and law-preserving violence. As I have mentioned. as opposed to natural. Violence. combines these two functions: while most people would see police violence as law-preserving in the sense that it enforces existing laws. in which the law is both preserved and transgressed through the very violence and arbitrariness with which it is enforced. Here the pursuit of legal. brings the law into being. What Benjamin is endeavouring to do here is study violence on its own terms. with reference to Agamben. Even if violence is directed towards changing or reforming a particular law. it can also be seen as law-making because its violence often functions beyond the realm of the law. Law-making violence is violence against existing laws and conditions with the effect of constituting new laws.104 On the politics of violence modern ﬁgure of Osama bin Laden. this undecidability between violence and law – this ‘zone of indistinction’ . Therefore violence pursued for natural ends always has the potential not only to conﬂict with existing laws. at least arouses our fascination? Bin Laden is a ﬁgure heavily invested with fantasies of transgression. of being somehow ‘outside’ the law and embodying an excessive violence that threatens it. the modern institution of the police. Police violence can be seen as a kind of suspension of legal authority. according to Benjamin. beyond the normative considerations that would be applied to its ends. outside the parameters of the law (Benjamin 1996: 243). constitutes a phenomenon that goes beyond the question of its particular objectives. To this end. in other words. violence which both grounds the law in the sense pointed to by Derrida. while not exactly arousing our admiration. Even action that has as its consequence the overthrowing of existing legal conditions inevitably establishes a new system of laws in its place. as simply an arm of state authority. It refers to the founding act of violence that. and yet also exceeds its limits. It has its own logic and analytics. according to Benjamin. This form of violence is distinguished from law-preserving violence which refers to the enforcement of existing laws. and consequently to the establishment of new laws in its place. it is law-making in the sense that it can lead to the overthrowing of an existing legal system in the pursuit of natural ends. ends has the function of maintaining and perpetuating the authority of the existing legal system. it is also law-preserving. The police often intervene for ‘for security reasons’ in an arbitrary fashion. as Derrida shows. military action – or militarism – embodies. as pure means. military conquest always culminates in a peace treaty – in the sanctioning of a new legal system. Perhaps we could say here that the law is supplemented by a shadowy zone of illicit violence. it still operates within the paradigm of the legal system and therefore sustains its authority (Benjamin 1996: 243).
more precisely. face. Indeed. if we are to deﬁne terrorism by the illegality of its violence. the danger of the new ‘security’ paradigm that we are living in today is precisely that the state ‘can always be provoked by terror to become terroristic’ (2002). because it represents a violence that is beyond the state and outside its control – in other words. rather than the extra-legal violence of police being anomalous or exceptional. yet true. in other words. but the rule (see Benjamin 1982: 259). we might say that the state of exception is upon us already: the extra-ordinary powers of indeﬁnite detention that have been given to police and security apparatuses as part of new anti-terrorist legislation. we can say that terrorism and state violence share an analytical structure and logic. Therefore. So. violence. it is essential to the law. the two examples of violence that Benjamin provides – militarism and the police – are examples of state. state violence is always characterized by a combination of its lawpreserving and law-making functions. power. which often goes beyond the parameters of the law in the very name of enforcing it. points to the fact that sovereign power. the sovereignty of the state exists precisely in the ambiguous and twodimensional nature of the violence it exercises – the ‘double-edged weapon’ of Terror that Saint-Just spoke of (see Lefort 1988: 73). The violence that they both display is in its very nature excessive. as Agamben argues. Indeed. As I have suggested. Law-preserving violence. According to Agamben sovereignty is deﬁned by a ‘state of exception’. Terrorism. The second point is that despite the differences between law-making and law-preserving violence. as Agamben argues. it is this very distinction which is suspended here. an alternate law-making violence – presents a supreme challenge to the authority of the state. but rather ‘extra-legal’ – which is to say that they are made possible through a ‘space of exception’ where the normal juridical order no longer applies. the law no longer affording us any real protection from the state. rather than non-state. arbitrary and often falls outside the law. suspends the distinction between law-making and law-preserving violence. as part of the same dialectic of violence. It might be seen as its hidden. following Benjamin’s formulation. There are a couple of points that can be made here. in this sense.On the politics of violence 105 where one passes imperceptibly into the other – is the very condition of sovereignty. This form of intervention. Agamben is fond of invoking Benjamin’s aphorism from his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ that the state of exception is no longer the exception. First. In other words. Does this perhaps indicate that the problematic of violence lies primarily within the paradigm of state authority? One could suggest that. these actions are not illegal as such. thus provoking in the state a kind of terrorism of its own. More precisely. because it acts either . rules increasingly by decree. they both lead to a perpetuation of the law or. They may be seen. where the sovereign – whose position is deﬁned paradoxically by standing inside and outside the law simultaneously – can suspend the normal juridical framework (1998: 15).
the violence in law-making is paradoxical: it has as its aim. the law is based. has the effect of exposing this hidden sovereign violence precisely by inciting it. One could argue. ‘it speciﬁcally establishes as law not an end unalloyed by violence but one necessarily and intimately bound to it. and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence’ (1996: 248). Law-making violence is particularly problematic for Benjamin because it succumbs to the illusion that one is breaking absolutely with existing forms of authority. in other words. only establishes new ones in their place. eliciting it in response. or to change only particular laws. inextricably. as a certain articulation of violence. making its formulations problematic. in turn. violence is instantiated and reafﬁrmed at the very moment of this establishment of the law. the dismissal or overcoming of violence. ‘Lawmaking is powermaking. refers here to this irreducible connection between violence and the law: violence against the law always involving a reafﬁrmation of the law. in so far as it seeks that which is to be established as a new system of laws. and to reexamine the relationship between violence and power. Moreover. Therefore law-making violence only reafﬁrms the place of power. Rather than the dismissal of violence. The spectre of an immanent law looms up behind every act of violence against it. under the title of power’ (Benjamin 1996: 248). at the same time. reafﬁrming the link between violence. on a disavowed violence which haunts its foundations. the law which seeks to dismiss violence always involving a violence of its own. In fact law-making violence is irreducibly related to the problem of power. but of law as well. thus remaining. Law and violence have been shown to exist in an ambiguous relationship. that there is always a violence at the heart of every form of political and legal authority – a disavowed original crime or act of violence that brings the body of the law into existence and which is now hidden in its symbolic structures. Benjamin has presented a genealogy not only of violence. That is why. As Benjamin argues.106 On the politics of violence to enforce existing laws. through this genealogical analysis Benjamin has introduced the problematic of power. unmasking it in the very . Law-making violence. Benjamin therefore forces us to rethink the question of violence within the problematic of power. only to establish a new authority in its place. within the very paradigm it seeks to overthrow. yet. maintains the authority of the legal system and the state. there is an irreducible violence at the heart of the law. then. In other words. In both cases. Power is the signiﬁer that presides over this connection. So the paradox of the law is that it contains a hidden complicity with violence: violence cannot abolish the law without erecting a new legal order in its place. as Benjamin argues. law and power. the symbolic position of the law is sustained and perpetuated. in which violence reafﬁrms the law and the law reafﬁrms violence. which is directed towards the overthrowing of existing laws. and law cannot abolish violence without itself acting violently. Terrorism. assumption of power. despite the attempt of law-making to disavow the violence at its own foundations. Power.
like violence. over the course of history. violence – or more precisely war – could serve as the theoretical basis for deciphering power relations. Violence. woven into the very tapestry of the social. Foucault examined the discourse of war and conquest through a body of different texts. for Foucault. from those of Edmund Coke and John Lilburne to French aristocratic thinker Boulainvilliers. must ultimately refer to the question of power. language. As we shall see. Rather than war and violence being seen as something external to civil society. That is to say that all instances of violence. Foucault’s genealogical analysis allows us to examine the originating violence at the heart of social symbolizations. in the schema of struggle or struggles a principle that can help us understand and analyse political power. it is the very constitutive principle of any social identity. power is a particular encoding of violence which operates at the heart of political and social discourse. Indeed. struggles. was not a phenomenon of power – rather power was a phenomenon of violence. Power is not conceived here as an instrument or a capacity to achieve ‘natural’ or even legal ends.On the politics of violence 107 nexus of law and violence. The violence of this war – now seen in metaphorical terms as a clash of representations – has stolen its way into institutions. Instead of seeing power from the ‘juridico-discursive’ perspective of law and sovereignty. to interpret political power in terms of war. Foucault raised the possibility of using violence and war as an analytical tool for understanding power relations: ‘Can we ﬁnd in bellicose relations. he explored the way that war – as a strategic principle and a practice of violence and conquest – had become. must be understood on its own terms and as having its own logic and analytics. In a sort of counterhistory. between violence and power? To what extent can violence be seen as an act of power. and confrontations?’ (2003: 23). In a series of lectures organized around the title ‘Society must be defended’ (‘Il faut defendre la société’). Like Benjamin. as well as of law. law and power itself. Rather. and to what extent can a relation of power be seen as a certain articulation of violence? This was a question that was central to Foucault’s thinking – particularly in his genealogical analysis of discourses. Indeed. then. in other words. Here Foucault reverses Clausewitz’s axiom that war is politics . power. A violent analytics of power Is there a speciﬁc connection. in the model of war. moreover. Foucault observes it through the lens of violence. Foucault is interested in the question of power and violence as pure means. which has its origins in actual warfare. institutions and practices of power. Indeed. Not only is violence inextricably linked with power but. discontinuity and violence at the heart of human history. laws and institutions. genealogy itself is precisely an unmasking of the disruption. our way of seeing society and its political formations is based on a metaphor of struggle and violence. Like Benjamin’s ‘Critique’.
politics is war continued by other means (2003: 15). That is to say. institutions and the sovereign power of the state. Foucault’s strategic model implies a new kind of political philosophy – one that ontologically and epistemologically privileges war over peace. we may see terrorism as a form of violence which. of masked victories or defeats. Political sovereignty itself is merely a form of conquest that has fallen silent and now tries to disavow the violence of its own origins through the discourse of law. As Pasquale Pasquino has argued – following Foucault’s analysis of Hobbes – the starting point of political theory must be the problem of disorder and threat of violence. is a ‘grid of intelligibility’. and the task of the genealogist. both metaphorical and real. yet it is now codiﬁed in institutions. if we are to understand terrorism as a certain technology of violence. laws. The possibility of stable political identities. in other words. contract and rational agreement. The violence that the discourse of political philosophy has for centuries tried so hard to keep at bay can be seen at the very heart of civil society. in this sense. which continues to haunt it. in this sense. sovereignty and political power are merely articulations of an ‘unspoken’ warfare that has raged throughout history. the register of the law itself must be seen as a form of violence. is to unmask it. it is difﬁcult to separate it analytically from the violence that has been codiﬁed in laws. Indeed. Foucault does not believe that violence can be dismissed once the law is established. economic inequalities and even in language. Like Benjamin. terrorism has the effect of unmasking this con- . and violence over contract and law. historical and political formations can be deciphered: ‘Can the phenomenon of war be regarded as primary with respect to other relations (relations of inequality. Violence speaks through these very laws. are ‘the very sum of peace’. laws. is a certain unstable relation or constellation of hostile forces. according to Foucault. the blood that has dried on the codes of law’ (1976: 17–18). as I have suggested. Power. hierarchies and institutions that have been established to suppress it. creeping into the very structures. in the Foucauldian sense. the primary condition and single reality from which social and political structures must be understood. War and violence. et cetera)?’ (Foucault 2003: 47). This violence is ongoing. Rather. relations of exploitation. divisions of labour. Law. Rather than society being founded on the idea of contract – as in liberal political theory – it is based on a constitutive violence. is both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ civil society. Foucault’s strategic model of analysis allows us to see violence as being at the basis of social and political identity. is based on the overcoming of the condition of ‘terror’ (Pasquino 1993: 84). he suggests. a metaphorical ‘essential condition’ by which different social. Indeed. Perhaps. to ‘awaken beneath the form of institutions and legislations the forgotten past of real struggles. in this paradigm.108 On the politics of violence continued by other means: rather. Violence operates as an ontological schema for interpreting the world – war. dis-symmetries.
its ‘alterity’ to civil society. calculation and administration of populations.3 Sovereign societies. Power was exercised here in a highly symbolic fashion. The target of politics in contemporary societies. . These discourses thus allowed the state to intervene more directly in social relations. birth and death rates. and whose emergence during the late eighteenth century coincided with governmental discourses that sought to monitor. There is forever a spectre of violence and terror that is marked as a ‘trace’ at the borders of the social – neither entirely outside nor inside civil society. Sovereign societies were characterized by the power of the spectacle – witness the ‘spectacle of the scaffold’ whose grotesque horrors and excessive violence Foucault famously described in the execution of the regicide Damiens in Discipline and Punish. On the other hand. Security and biopower This inscription of violence and war in the framework of the social ﬁnds its modern permutation in what Foucault terms ‘biopolitics’. However. the crucial difference with modern regimes of biopower is that. demographics. the literal sacriﬁce of the body of the condemned. Foucault argues that this notion of violence as spectacle and . . The symbolic register of these societies was a supreme power over life and death: ‘The sovereign exercised his right of life only by exercising his right to kill . but suspended above it as a permanent threat. Its symbol was. spectacular and ritualized. It gives us a glimpse of the ‘liminal’ condition of terror – the absolute violence that haunts society at its limits. simultaneously threatening and constituting the borders of social and political identities. The operation of power was now aimed at the regulation. now wars are waged on a massive scale by states on behalf of the populations they administer. the condition of terrorism is internal to civil society. for instance. according to Foucault. by contrast. In this sense.On the politics of violence 109 stitutive violence. through a violence that was excessive. for the ﬁrst time. is the administration of life itself. terrorism would be characterized by its absolute exteriority. were symbolized by the sword and by the right of the sovereign either to take life or to spare it. The ‘race wars’ of earlier periods have now become codiﬁed in modern political rationalities that have as their central concern the preservation of the biological life of the species. or to intervene in humanitarian crises in order to sustain the life of the local population. designating a new modality of power which had the purpose of securing and sustaining the conditions of life. after all. the sword’ (Foucault 1978: 136). longevity and the fertility of the population (Foucault 2003: 243). Violence is still inscribed at the heart of these modern societies. This designates a new technology of power – biopower – whose focus is on the ‘health’ of the population. Punishment involved. unlike sovereign regimes where blood was shed symbolically on behalf of the sovereign.
of Foucault’s analysis is in showing the way that the discourse of war can be readily mobilized by the modern state precisely for the purposes of internal control. of life. the symbolic order of biopower is non-violent.110 On the politics of violence symbolic sacriﬁce is no longer characteristic of modern societies. the concern with security and the preservation of life. in the name of protecting the biological health and purity of the population from contaminants. methodical. has now become the fundamental principle of state activity (2002). methodi- . That power is now organized around securing and preserving the conditions of life is an undeniable fact of modern politics. However. having produced unprecedented genocides and holocausts. the power of the sovereign was deﬁned by the right to take life or to let live. That the terrorists were prepared to sacriﬁce their own lives and the lives of others in a highly symbolic and violent fashion is deeply shocking to a modernity governed by the principle of the preservation of life and the careful. Moreover. rather than the sacriﬁce. Thus. these are now carried out. it is based on the principle of the preservation. regulative fashion. that are engaged in precisely in the name of the preservation of life. for Foucault. whereas biopower is characterized by precisely the opposite right to make live or to let die (2003: 241). Therefore. perhaps Foucault’s argument about the essentially nonviolent and regulative nature of power in modern biopolitical societies ﬁnds its ultimate justiﬁcation in the astonishment that the terrorist attacks on September 11 provoked. while always one of the several prerogatives of modern state power. That is to say. where power now operates in a quiet. The only explanation for our transﬁxed fascination with this spectacle of excessive violence can be that we live in a society where the symbolic sacriﬁce of life is unthinkable. with a new invisible enemy that can strike anywhere at any time. Needless to say. The security and protection of internal populations from this invisible enemy – that is seen as both an external threat and an internal contaminant – has become the primary concern of political power. perversely. We can see this new preoccupation with security in the obsession with ‘terrorist plots’ within one’s own borders. this new raison d’être of the modern state has as its ﬂip side the systematic destruction of life – the meaningless military operations. The value. Questions of national security and protection from terrorism are now the central feature of any political platform. The fact that campaigns against terrorism are articulated in the language of war – the ‘war on terrorism’ – is indicative of the extent to which the principle of war has intersected and become infused with the logic of biopolitics. As Agamben argues. therefore. This modern technology of power is no less bloody according to Foucault. Modern societies are deﬁned by an entirely different register and technology of power – one in which the symbolic power of the sovereign to take life has been supplanted by a power that operates at the level of population and whose fundamental principle is to secure life. for instance.
almost inconceivable spectacle of destruction. However. the heterogeneous is the ‘waste-product’ of homogeneous society – it includes everything that is unproductive and extraneous. what are we to make of the recent terrorist attacks. did we not see in the World Trade Center attacks a strange anachronism – almost the vague glimpse of an older order of sovereignty. and . in Foucault’s analysis. the uncanny ﬁgure of a sovereign violence long thought to be dead? It would seem that in an age where the spectacle of sovereign power has vanished from the register of politics. However. For Bataille. by freeing the study of power from juridical questions and notions of the contract. norms and technologies of regulation – into a political register that. that it has returned as the power of the spectacle itself – the spectacle of excessive violence that. instead of the symbolic right of the sovereign to take life. To speak of the ‘heterogeneity’ here – which is a term borrowed from Georges Bataille – means simply that there is an aspect of this violence that is unmediated. Moreover. Foucault’s analysis. between power and violence. Are we perhaps witnessing a new economy of violence. in which we saw a ‘return’ of the very symbols of sovereign force – the power of the spectacle. of the absolutism of death over life? Did we not see. Foucault has placed violence at the heart of social and political identity. symbolic sacriﬁce of life has been excluded. Medusa-like. amidst the ﬂames and the tumbling debris. The terrorist attacks bore witness to a new form of violence as spectacle – the symbolic dimension of the sovereign sacriﬁce of life. its very ontological condition. one that can no longer be contained within the analytic of power itself? Violence and heterogeneity There are several elements of violence – in particular. Foucault argues. Modern political power. in this strange. almost nihilistic quality of the violence. operates through a register from which the violent. he has shown the way that modern biopolitical societies are based on a violence that has been rigidiﬁed into codes. Violence is not only linked to power but becomes. terrorist violence – that allow us to detect in it an irreducible particularity. of the symbolism of blood and the sword. and the symbolic sacriﬁce of life? That is to say. paralyses our gaze. the intense spirituality of suicide and martyrdom. has developed the connection. ﬁrst hinted at by Benjamin. or biopower. the excessive. which is precisely unthinkable in our contemporary times. in this excessive violence and sacralizing of death. has as its deﬁning principle the preservation and protection of life. This form of violence is characterized by what might be termed heterogeneity. There are a couple of points to be made about this constellation of violence and power.On the politics of violence 111 cal and administrative functioning of power. can we not see the intervention of a different order – one that is no longer intelligible within the paradigm of biopower? One could perhaps go further here.
we are back to the question of sovereign authority raised by Benjamin. or that contains elements of.112 On the politics of violence which is therefore excluded from homogeneous society. as Bataille argues. The stable and commensurable political structures and identities of this order were disrupted by a certain irreducible particularity – in this case a violent articulation of Islamic radicalism – that is excluded from this order. however. . The very condition of sovereignty lies in an excessive or superﬂuous power that goes beyond the logic of homogeneous society. mob activity. there is a dynamic interplay and antagonism between these two forces. Rather. delirium and madness characterize the heterogeneous (Bataille 1985: 142). contains elements of both the homogeneous and the heterogeneous – both the construction of order and its dissolution. as I have already suggested. Is this not reminiscent.4 Furthermore the aestheticized element of heterogeneity was evident in the deliberate use of the spectacle by the terrorists. depends upon this interaction – different political articulations draw upon heterogeneous elements in order to constitute an identity. There is a certain register of the political here that operates through. According to Bataille. New forms of terrorist violence are characterized by a similar heterogeneity. For instance. etc. sovereignty itself is also in principle heterogeneous. excess. it is once again displayed in the state’s equally violent and symbolic reaction to the non-state terrorist activity that has drawn its sword. . the attacks on September 11 represented a violent intrusion of excluded heterogeneous forces into the homogeneous order of globalized capitalist society. Violence. Bataille argues. Political change in society. This is particu- . The WTC attacks were a symbolic strike. once again. in violence against the forces that oppose it: ‘Situated above homogeneous society . an enacted excess of violence – a spectacle of violence. in the same way that there is an interplay between the state order and terrorism. for instance. street parades. However. it requires the bloody repression of what is contrary to it and becomes synonymous in its split-off form with the heterogeneous foundations of the law’ (1985: 148). It would seem that. Heterogeneous elements are present in fascism in the aesthetics of the spectacle – marches. Bataille shows that fascism. who also brings to light the heterogeneous and violent foundations of the law. of the power of spectacle – ‘the spectacle of scaffold’ – which was the symbolic register of sovereignty? Here it seems the sovereign power of the spectacle has returned in this new aestheticized form of terrorist violence. despite Foucault’s insistence that sovereign power is a thing of the past. Indeed. This heterogeneous authority often manifests itself. while heterogeneity is usually found in nonstate or revolutionary elements. for instance. the heterogeneous does not exist as a simple essence outside the order of the homogeneous and strictly separated from it. manufactured for a television audience and designed for maximum visual impact. the spectacle of violence that once characterized sovereign power has now become the violence of the pure spectacle itself. Here.
secular and technocratic social reality. military power itself is also heterogeneous in principle – its violence and its phantasmic reversal of slaughter into ‘glory’ go beyond the order of homogeneity (1985: 150). in the case of this new paradigm of terrorism. as we were confronted with a violence characterized by its very meaninglessness and absence of content – a violence without purpose or goal.On the politics of violence 113 larly evident in the state’s use of military power to symbolize its authority. contains. However. So. as pure means. Indeed. Suicide and martyrdom are essential to the symbolic force of these attacks. The point here is that terrorist violence and the violence of the state share the symbolic register of sovereignty. those responsible remained nameless and faceless. A further example that Bataille gives of heterogeneity is religious power. Perhaps what was truly shocking about the September 11 attacks. violence itself – the spectacle of violence – is both the means and end. according to Bataille. more precisely. but (as heresies did in their day) to radicalize the world through sacriﬁce’ (2002: 10). is that we are witnessing a religious fervour – a spiritual jouissance – that is entirely alien to us. ‘Its goal is no longer to transform the world. through the veiled and mysterious authority of the divine. This power of the sacred is largely unthinkable today. They are both examples of heterogeneous excess and spectacle that exceed the logic of a carefully ordered and administered homogeneous society. or. We see in this form of violence the operation of the power of the sacred. . which functions through the affective power of the sacred. here was an instance of pure means returning as a form of ultra-violence. in the case of this new form of terrorism. Revolutionary struggles have become. Religion. as well as other suicide bombings that are taking place around the world. After all. The deliberate meaningless of the act of martyrdom highlights a further dimension of this new mode of violence – its nihilism. to use their bodies as guided missiles. What perhaps most distinguished the September 11 terrorist strikes was the absence of any sense of concrete political or strategic objectives: there were no demands made. or the notion of ‘divine violence’). far from Benjamin’s contention that the violence of pure means would be a kind of ‘non-violence’ (exempliﬁed by the general proletarian strike. As Baudrillard says about this new form of terrorist violence. here are people who are prepared to die for their cause. This was perhaps the ultimate answer to Benjamin’s attempt to see violence beyond the question of ends. the terrorist strikes on September 11 displayed an intense spirituality – embodied in ideas of martyrdom and self-sacriﬁce – that was utterly incommensurable with our modern. The effect of this was pure terror. as Bataille shows. a dimension of ‘undifferentiated’ heterogeneity (1985: 151). beyond all ideologies and direct political concerns. to sacriﬁce themselves in the absolute conviction that it is God’s will. In other words. no one claimed responsibility for the attacks. heterogeneous spiritual struggles characterized by a martyrdom for its own sake.
and non-state violence. and the terrifying nihilism of ‘pure means’. it is a ‘fascist’ nihilism (2002: 10). on the one hand. On the contrary. re-enacting the trauma of its own origins. The excessive dimension of violence that I have spoken about refers precisely to this nihilistic void. contemporary terrorist violence is nihilistic and draws on the worst aspects of religious symbolism and the paraphernalia of sovereignty.114 On the politics of violence the very suspension of these categories. It can no longer be measured by the operation of power it contests. or terrorism. violence has the function of covering up this traumatic void. the terror of pure form. The excessive dimension of violence is perhaps the ‘fundamental fantasy’ – to speak in Lacanian psychoanalytic terms – of political power. between state violence which is seen as legitimate. the function of law-making or law-preserving. Perhaps one could argue that. Terrorism. then through the problematic of power – I have tried to understand this fundamental function of violence. I would suggest. which is seen as illegitimate. In Alain Badiou’s words. both disavowing and afﬁrming its symbolic link with sovereignty. heterogeneous and spectacular. that there is a contamination between these two orders of violence – sovereign and legal structures themselves resting on a form of violence which exceeds the boundaries of the law. It refers ultimately to the death drive. is increasingly apparent in the new modalities of terrorist violence that we are witness to today: violence that is characterized by a dimension that is excessive. opens ‘onto no future’ (Derrida in Borradori 2004: 113). instead. central to political philosophy. has the effect of exposing this disavowed violence – the abyss of illegitimacy – at the foundations of existing political and legal institutions. they are actually grounded in it. and the violent response it elicits from the state. At the base of all forms of political power and authority is the unspeakable abyss of indeterminacy. I have suggested. Yet. are important to any . rather than these being based on the elimination of violence. and the death-drive that approaches the edges of the abyss. as I have tried to show. It is a nihilism at whose heart there is nothing but emptiness. Violence encircles the edges of this abyss. However. that involves the sacriﬁce of life and the symbolism of death. however. of ﬁlling it and giving it meaning – in Benjamin’s terms. the condition of ‘terror’ referring to a point of liminality that is both inside and outside civil society. violence also has the effect of exposing this very abyss. This function. Therefore. in Derrida’s words. In exploring this link – ﬁrst through the question of law. as I have tried to show. and is a form of action and thinking that. Such questions of nihilism and violence. this parallel – or even equivalence – that I am drawing between state and non-state violence should not be taken as any sort of rationalization or justiﬁcation for terrorism. This was the paradoxical nature of the Terror that Lefort spoke of. In this chapter I have tried to deconstruct the current discourse on terrorism by disrupting the accepted division. of tracing the hidden discontinuity at the origins of the law and political power.
On the politics of violence 115 consideration of poststructuralist political theory. Many have charged that because poststructuralism and deconstruction challenge existing moral, rational and legal categories, they amount to a kind of a-political nihilism which may bring with it its own forms of violence. While I have suggested that poststructuralism is ethically and politically engaged, this is at least a charge that must be taken seriously. In the following section, which is devoted to exploring new forms of radical politics and subjectivity, I shall try to show, particularly with the last chapter, that poststructuralism does not exclude ethical and political forms of universality, and indeed, is not thinkable without them.
Spectres of the uncanny
The ‘return of the repressed’ in politics
Previous chapters have highlighted the need to formulate, within the parameters of poststructuralist theory, a more substantive notion of subjectivity. In Chapter 3, I suggested that the Foucauldian understanding of the subject as constructed by power/discourse, neglected the dimension of the psyche – that part of the subject that not only binds itself to power but also, at times, resists it. This dimension could be revealed, I argued, through psychoanalysis. In this chapter, I return to the problem of subjectivity, particularly as it relates to the formation of political identities and the way we view ourselves as political actors. In other words, how do we explain acts of political identiﬁcation today; upon what ontological basis do they take place? Once again, we are faced with the same challenge: to be able to develop a theory of political identiﬁcation without falling back into the essentialist category of the subject with natural or rational ‘interests’. This is a central question for radical politics today, which can no longer be based on the universal Marxist category of subjectivity – the proletariat. On the other hand, if collective political projects of resistance and emancipation are to be imagined today, political identity cannot be based on an egoistic individualism either. Rather, radical politics must involve a deconstruction of these two opposing modes of subjectivity. To do this, I turn once more to psychoanalytic theory, speciﬁcally to Freud’s concept of the uncanny as the ‘return of the repressed’ in the subject. This logic of the uncanny, I argue, is fundamental to both Marx and Stirner’s critique of the ideological void or ‘lack’ that separates the subject from the objective world. I show that despite Stirner’s and Marx’s attempts to overcome the spectre of the uncanny, they nevertheless rely on this dimension in order to conceptualize their different understandings of the political subjectivity. I attempt to develop from this a political logic of ‘disidentiﬁcation’ which allows contingent and non-essentialist radical identities to be constructed.
Spectres of the uncanny 117
John Fletcher argues in his critique of Derrida’s Spectres of Marx, that Derrida misinterprets the concept of the uncanny. Even though Derrida claims that the alternate title to the book might have been ‘Marx – the Uncanny’ (Marx – das Unheimlich), he does not deal with the concept of the uncanny, as derived from Freud, in any great depth, thus robbing it of its theoretical force (see Fletcher 1996). Derrida discovers a ‘hauntological’ dimension in Marx’s thinking – a spectral ‘counter-ontology’ that Marx tries to eschew, but which reasserts itself in his very attempt to exorcise it. As I shall show, for example, Marx cannot refute Stirner – whom he accuses in The German Ideology of idealism – without referring to the very spectres and ghosts that he has tried to exorcise from his own thought. Marx can only dispel this apparition by invoking it at every turn. Derrida uses the example of Hamlet’s father’s ghost returning to haunt the troubled young prince, to characterize this spectral dimension in the Marxian universe. That the ‘time is out of joint’, that the world is somehow characterized by a fundamental dislocation, a lack or inconsistency in the structure of representation, is seen as being the chief concern of Marx. Moreover, Derrida takes issue with Freud’s insistence that the ghost in Hamlet is not uncanny. Freud had argued that the apparitions that appear in Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet, while they might be terrifying, are not examples of the uncanny. This is because they appear in the context of ﬁction, in the imaginary world of fairy tales, and therefore do not provoke feelings of intellectual uncertainty because we accept from the outset their ﬁctive context (Freud 1949: 405). The uncanny, on the other hand, is characterized precisely by this feeling of intellectual uncertainty. In other words, the uncanny is something that happens in ‘real life’, or at least when the author writes in a realistic way. It does not occur in ﬁction, and it is precisely this that renders it inexplicable and terrifying. For Freud, in other words, the uncanny is something that dislocates our sense of reality because it emerges through this very reality. Derrida appropriates the idea of the uncanny from Freud, interpreting it through the generalized structure of hauntology. He equates Freud’s uncanny with ghosts, apparitions and haunting – es spukt, or ‘it spooks’ (Derrida 1994: 1743). He suggests that Freud’s discussion of the uncanny begins with, and indeed presupposes, this very notion of es spukt. While the logic of haunting is important in this discussion, I would argue that Derrida’s formulation might be turned around. Rather than the logic of the uncanny presupposing a hauntology – a certain spectral dimension – it is actually presupposed by it. That is to say, the uncanny produces spectral effects – effects that are terrifying and haunting – rather than being produced by them. In other words, the uncanny cannot be reduced to a logic of haunting, but rather emerges, as we shall see, from something entirely different – from the ‘return of the repressed’. It is possible, then, to
Freud shows the way that the identity of the group is constituted through a series of libidinous ties with the leader – where each member of the group forms a relation of love and identiﬁcation with the leader. However. politics and the subject It might seem strange at the outset that Freud. If we are to reconstruct the uncanny in this way. in which the subject is transparent to himself. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. a street mob. and upon which the libidinal energies of the individual group members are focused. psychoanalysis is a mode of inquiry that seeks to explain the interactions of the individual with those around him – with. That is to say. psychoanalysis shows us that political action may be motivated as much by unconscious impulses and drives – our passionate attachments to others. The collective identity of the group – be it a political group. being ration- . or even an institutional association like the Church or an army unit – is therefore constituted through a point of singularity that stands outside it. as that dimension of the subject which remains enigmatic and opaque even to himself. projecting onto this ﬁgure his own ego. psychoanalysis goes beyond the realm of individual psychology and refers to the intersubjective ﬁeld of social relations: indeed. Politics is not always reducible to rational choice models of behaviour and ‘utility maximizing’ action. Indeed. should enter into a discussion about politics – particularly when politics would seem to refer to a collective and social dimension beyond that of the individual psyche. In that sense. Freud’s discovery of the unconscious. Thus the ﬁgure of the leader holds the group together.1 Furthermore. and even to authoritarian ﬁgures who dominate us – as by rational calculations about our ‘best interests’. Psychoanalysis. thus provides a new way of looking at politics and the way that political identities are formed – one that goes beyond conventional liberal and even Marxist accounts. as Freud says.118 Spectres of the uncanny theorize the uncanny in a more radically Freudian way as a ‘return of the repressed’ which produces spectral effects. becoming a sort of cipher of love through which the individual members of the group can identify with each other. and later with broader society. Rather. we must return to Freud. psychoanalysis is intrinsically concerned with ‘social phenomena’ (Freud 1995: 627). and indeed psychoanalytic theory generally. most understandings of politics are still based on a Cartesian idea of subjectivity. his family. as Freud contends. Freud demonstrates the political importance of psychoanalysis in his famous study of mob behaviour and group psychology. any understanding of politics must take into account the ‘irrational’ dimension of the psyche. foreshadowing the rise of fascist group politics in the 1930s. The importance of Freud’s contribution here is in showing that political behaviour cannot be explained entirely on a rational basis. Without the leader the group loses its collective identity and falls apart. ﬁrst.
that this one dimensional notion of the subject was only half the story. nor any sort of substance. and in order to come to terms with it. Freud showed. and that the ego as the centre of the subject’s sense of identity and self-certainty was displaced by the awareness of an unconscious that thinks ‘where he is not’. by the ‘certainty that eludes it’ (Lacan 1998: 126). paradoxically. the Freudian/Lacanian subject is grounded in a kind of void or abyss – the radical trauma of emptiness – and it is in relation to this lack. Similarly for Freud – notwithstanding the biological and positivistic conceptual language to which he at times resorted to explain the unconscious – there is still a point of opacity. not by what it knows. provoking an experience of the uncanny. the trauma of the void which has been repressed in the subject. whether primordial or secondary. his suffering. That is to say. but by the knowledge of what it does not know. it could be seen as leading to a fuller understanding of the subject. interests and motivations.Spectres of the uncanny 119 ally aware of his own thoughts. it would be a mistake to imagine that this decentring of subject amounts to an abandonment of the subject altogether. On the contrary. or to the problematic of agency. is no longer a subject of certainty but of doubt. of course. . the radical innovation of the Freudian/Lacanian intervention is that it retains the category of the subject. accidents and those dreams which occasionally disturb our waking life. nor any possessing knowledge in his pathos. The subject was henceforth irretrievably split and decentred. Therefore. the ‘navel of the dream’ that remains indecipherable and that forms the core of the subject. while at the same time avoiding both essentialism and structuralism. However. that reveals itself in slips. the post-Cartesian subject. Lacan makes it clear that the Freudian psychoanalytic enterprise can still be situated within the problematic of the Cartesian subject – only now this subject is constituted. and is anchored no longer in rational understanding and selfconsciousness. Freud sees the ‘uncanny’ as pertaining to what is frightening. returns in various forms throughout his life. but in a dimension of himself that he cannot grasp. The uncanny For Freud. unlike his predecessor. that the subject constitutes his identity. there is always a dimension of the subject that cannot be symbolized – what Lacan terms ‘the real’ – and which forms the internal void or limit around which acts of identiﬁcation take place. the subject is constituted not on the basis of a rational essence – not on ‘the living substratum needed by this phenomenon of the subject. However. seeing the unconscious in terms of external social structures of language. Lacan’s rereading of Freud through structuralist linguistics has further radicalized this notion of the split subject. However. In other words. nor even some incarnating logos’ (1998: 126) – but rather through external structures of language. For Lacan.
whom Nathaniel associates with the death of his father. The Sand-Man is a dreaded character in a children’s tale – a ﬁgure who comes in the dead of night and steals the eyes of children. yet is somehow different or strange. and Freud points out the closeness in translation of the German expression an ‘unheimliches house’ to a ‘haunted house’ (1949: 395). Freud detects several instances of the uncanny in this story. there is the link between the anxiety of having one’s eyes put out. place or number. something that may have even been with us since childhood. there is the question of the uncanniness of the double: in the story. heimlich becomes its opposite – unheimlich or ‘uncanny’. the different variations on the meaning of the German word heimlich or ‘homely’ eventually slide into their opposite meaning of ‘unfamiliar’. Other coincidences.120 Spectres of the uncanny arousing horror and dread. He argues that this fear is provoked by the familiar or ‘homely’ (heimlich) becoming somehow ‘unfamiliar’ or strange (unheimlich). to the uncanny or eerie feeling one gets when one is lost and one keeps returning to the same place despite one’s attempts to escape it. Even ghosts and spirits may be seen as the uncanny ‘return’ of the dead person. and the castration complex in childhood. which has now become something horrifying: ‘The “double” has become a vision of terror. the uncanny only emerges as a ‘return’ of that which has been repressed. Second. Freud explains this repression: ‘An uncanny experience . Through the different meanings that he explores in the everyday usage of the term ‘homely’. according to Freud. but this time in a way that is strange and different. From these different examples. Thus. just as after the fall of their religion the gods took on daemonic shapes’ (1949: 389). There is a strongly uncanny feeling that is provoked by the uncertainty as to whether the doll is living or inanimate. the ‘uncanny’ is related to what is familiar. It is something familiar. It may be likened. Olympia. involving an unexplained repetition or return of some entirely arbitrary object. something ‘old-established in the mind’. there is a gradual progression towards that which is secretive and strange. That is to say. but which assumes the vague terror of strangeness and unfamiliarity through its repression and subsequent return. Freud offers a general deﬁnition of the uncanny: the uncanny is something familiar. First. Freud relates the notion of the uncanny to the story of ‘The Sand-Man’ in Hoffmann’s Nachtstucken. it is something that appears in the form of the familiar. Coppelius returns time and time again in different guises to haunt Nathaniel. Nathaniel falls in love with an uncannily life-like doll. The uncanny therefore involves a notion of repetition – the return of the same thing. Freud argues that the creation of the double was originally a form of early childhood ego defence. are all instances of the uncanny. The young Nathaniel in the story sees the ﬁgure of the SandMan return throughout his life in the form of the odious lawyer Coppelius. In this way. which has become alienated from it through a process of repression (1949: 394). What is interesting is the way that. eventually throwing him into a state of madness leading to his suicide. as Freud shows.
‘Fixed ideas’ are constructs that govern thought – discursively closed.Spectres of the uncanny 121 occurs either when infantile complexes which have been repressed are once more revived by some impression. the political uncanny is always undecidable. Modern man. yet which insist upon returning in uncannily familiar forms. The uncanny may also be characteristic of a certain conservatism in politics – the fact that revolutions are somehow a return to the old order. for instance. Uncanny ‘spooks’: Stirner’s fear of ghosts Stirner. was surrounded and alienated by this ghostly world of ﬁxed ideas: ‘Everything that appears to you is only the phantasm of an indwelling spirit. is a ghostly “apparition”. metaphysical abstractions like human essence. Politics is always simultaneously the attempt to construct something new. precisely because it is the same. but is always the return of the same. Stirner argued. Its effects are unpredictable. as we shall see. the world is to you only a “world of appearances [Erscheinungswelt]”. which have been repressed. The uncanny is therefore characterized by a fundamental ambiguity. is always haunted by the ghosts of the past – the revolutionary traditions which are dead. it is frightening precisely through its familiarity. the return of the familiar in an alienated form. the chief political and epistemological problem for Stirner. behind which the spirit walks’ (1995: 36). Modern consciousness. was intensely troubled by the spectres. is a crucial one for politics. Radical politics. As J. Fritzman remarks in his work on nostalgia. or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be conﬁrmed’ (1949: 403). It must be emphasized that the uncanny does not refer to something different. yet acquires the nature of something different and alien through repression. In order to understand the ambiguous operation of the ‘return of the repressed’ in politics. the struggles and narratives of workers’ movements and revolutionary traditions are the repressed which nevertheless ‘return’ in the form of new struggles against oppression: ‘The struggle against injustice always is revolutionary in that it contains the potential for the return of the repressed’ (1993: 186). was haunted and alienated by apparitions or ‘spooks’. This idea of the uncanny as a ‘return of the repressed’. thereby alienating him and denying his individuality. rationality and morality. absolute paradigms that deny difference and plurality. the most radical of the Young Hegelians. M. That is to say. They are conceptual generalities which try to represent or ‘speak for’ the individual. These spooks are ﬁxed ideas. coupled with the re-invoking of something old. which are reafﬁrmed at the very instance where one thinks one has overthrown them. we must turn our attention to Stirner and his critique of the uncanny spectres of Enlightenment humanism. he argued. Like the intellectual uncertainty which always accompanies Freud’s uncanny. to the old forms of power. which have been raised to the absolute level of ‘the sacred’. . yet remain unburied. This was.
for Stirner. religious alienation has been suppressed and replaced by rational humanism. the remnants of Christianity that have returned in a new guise – that of human essence. but internal to him. These apparitions that haunt the world are. The individual aspires to these ideals but can never approach them. it is uncanny through and through’ (1995: 36). Something has returned from the past – something unfamiliar and disconcerting. It is literally alive with spectres. this strange world of apparitions. God has been replaced by man. has the character of the uncanny: ‘Yes the whole world is haunted! Only is haunted? Indeed. the spectres of humanism are uncanny because they are the return of a repressed Christian idealism. Rationality and morality have become the new forms of religious fanaticism. for Stirner. something that we believed to be dead and long forgotten. and it starts to ‘walk’ of its own accord. turning everything into an appearance or representation of something more fundamental? For Stirner. that is strange. in typical cases. This spectral world of essence and the sacred is. What is this singular sense of the unease that Stirner feels. In other words. according to Stirner. it itself “walks”. this unfamiliarity that lies in the familiar? There is something unhiemlich or ‘strange’ about the world – it resembles something else. this spirit is essence – the conviction that humanity must have a unifying core. the very discourses that were supposed to dispel them. It is not just that the whole world is haunted – the whole world has become uncanny. This religious essence is no longer external to the individual. In the humanist paradigm. Man has thus become a kind of uncanny double of himself – an embodiment of . thus dividing the individual between his concrete and idealized selves. but at himself. so unfamiliar yet familiar – it is this same ﬁgure of God only now in a human form. That is why the spectre of human essence is so uncanny for Stirner. shudders at ghosts outside him. However.122 Spectres of the uncanny What is this ‘spirit’ that dwells behind the material world. It is as if the world has become haunted by a strange double of itself. Religious essence – the essence of God – has returned in the form of human essence and the ﬁgure of Man. as if animated by an invisible internal force (1949: 397). Moreover. Rather. an underlying morality and rationality that reﬂect man’s ‘species being’. profoundly oppressive and alienating. therefore. It is not merely that man is haunted. man himself has become a ghost: ‘Henceforth man no longer. The same spectres of religious mystiﬁcation and obscurantism have returned in the form of Enlightenment rationality and humanism. this is precisely what alienates the individual: human essence is held up as a sacred ideal that the individual must live up to. The sacredness of the world is uncanny: ‘In everything sacred there lies something “uncanny”. Sacred ideals like morality and rationality function as ideological spectres that subsume the individual. for Stirner. he is terriﬁed at himself’ (Stirner 1995: 41). yet strangely familiar. Yet the repressed has ‘returned’ in the form of its replacement. rather like Freud’s image of dismembered limbs and body parts that uncannily move or ‘dance’ by themselves. such as we are not quite familiar and at home in’ (Stirner 1995: 38).
a fundamental dislocation or deadlock that needs to be resolved. at the same time. Therefore. It is generally acknowledged that Stirner’s diagnosis of idealism had a dramatic effect on the direction of Marx’s thinking. and the collective forms of society that derive from it. The ‘objective’ world that is supposed to have been freed from obfuscation. It forced Marx to take account of the idealist presuppositions in his own early notions of human essence and species being that he derived. The individual is alienated from this world of abstract ideals – he does not feel ‘at home’ there. humanism is uncanny because it represents the return of the repressed – the return of old forms of alienation and religious oppression in our ‘secular’ and ‘enlightened’ attempt to overcome them. Marx also recognized this gap in representation. located it in Stirner’s notion of the individual ego. The relationship between Stirner and Marx is complicated and paradoxical. to a large extent. deepening the gap or ‘lack’ between the individual and the objective world. there is always an ideological gap between the individual and the objective world. they claim. Marx was troubled by Stirner’s suggestion that the species being. is the question of the uncanny and how it functions in both Stirner and Marx’s thinking. accused Marx of being indebted to the same Feuerbachian humanism and idealism that Stirner had linked to religious alienation (see Arvon 1954: 45–46). it inspired criticism of Marx from some of his contemporaries. then. Arnold Ruge and Gustav Julius. We see that. was similarly disconcerted by the uncanny. ‘Saint Max’ The German Ideology is Marx and Engels’ critique of German idealist philosophy. This work can be seen as a cathartic attempt by Marx to tarnish Stirner with the same brush that Marx himself had been tarnished with – that of idealism – while. Indeed. who were both inﬂuenced by Stirner. Moreover. however. and sought its resolution. is still caught within the categories of . the Freudian nightmare of the gods taking on daemonic shapes after the fall of religion. this dislocation in the structure of experience wrought by idealism. to banish this spectre from his own thought.Spectres of the uncanny 123 both God and the individual. Marx. for instance. Marx’s new found disillusionment with humanism is manifested in a vitriolic attack on Stirner to which the largest part of The German Ideology is devoted.2 For Stirner. The return of these spectres has intensiﬁed the experience of alienation. for Stirner. which. Humanism failed to overcome this lack – it has only further entrenched alienation in its own structures. What is important here. for Stirner. as if to exorcise it from his midst. In light of Stirner’s critique. has become even more incomprehensible and mystifying. has been realized in the logic of Enlightenment humanism. Marx is forced to recognize the uncanny return of idealism in his own thinking and. like Stirner. from Feuerbach. are tainted with the same idealism as Christianity.
While the ‘German ideologists’ are attempting to overcome religious idealism by condemning the dominance of abstract ideals. absurdly allows the state to be dismissed by an act of ‘wishful thinking’ (1975: 379). has neglected the material. Stirner argues that the state itself is an ideological abstraction. In other words.3 However. corporeal world. is conﬁned to a critique of religious conceptions. it was Marx who neglected the importance of political power by reducing it to economic and class relations. Rather. they are reafﬁrming the idealist inversion of reality. for Stirner. and seeing in it only struggles of spirits. as a spectral phenomenon. the state cannot function only through top-down repression. or as ‘Sancho’. they contend. They argue that German philosophical criticism.124 Spectres of the uncanny Hegelianism. this argument ignores the economic and class relations that form the material basis of the state. as this would expose its power in all its nakedness and brutality. this issue of the state in Stirner and Marx’s thinking raises important questions about subjectivity and resistance. the state relies on us allowing it to dominate us. In other words. Stirner is considered to be merely perpetuating the idealist illusion that ideas determine the world. from Strauss to Stirner. in fact. and neglects the concrete materiality of the world. Stirner is not suggesting that . and it only exists because we allow it to exist. (Marx and Engels 1975: 160) In other words. in seeing the world in terms of spirits. Marx and Engels attempt to show that Stirner is caught in the world of his own illusions. Marx and Engels claim that Stirner is an ideologist par excellence: by seeing the world as haunted by ghostly abstractions or ‘ﬁxed ideas’. where he is caricatured as the religious thinker ‘Saint Max’. in doing so. They argue that he has merely conjured up the very apparitions that he sees as so besetting the world: Saint Max has so far done no more than give instruction in the rudiments of spirit-seeing. according to Marx and Engels. than in Stirner’s analysis of the state. thus falling into the idealist trap themselves. As Stirner realized. they are. This is nowhere more apparent. Stirner argues that we are as much dominated by idea of the state – by the idea of sovereignty or the ‘ruling principle’ (1995: 200) – as we are by concrete political institutions. While it may be contended that. by regarding the ancient and modern world only as a ‘pseudo-body of a spirit’. In a relentless parody of Stirner. and by seeing these ideas as dominating consciousness. the deluded servant of Don Quixote. by conﬁning their critique to the effect that ideas have on the world. Stirner. because we surrender to it our own authority. only reafﬁrming the idealist conception of the world. the state’s dominance is really based on an alienation of the individual’s power over himself and his willing submission to state authority (1995: 174–175). Stirner’s ‘idealism’. Marx and Engels argue. much like God.
They see the ego as no more corporeal. does the ego escape alienation in this way? According to Marx and Engels. of overcoming the lack in representation created by the return of a repressed religious idealism. Stirner’s distinction between ‘ordinary egoist’ and the ‘self-conscious egoist’ is an illusory one. then. “idealism” and “realism”. or ‘in agreement with himself’. The individual should therefore assert his egoistic qualities and not be limited by existing moral and rational norms. According to Marx and Engels. the ego is merely the highest point of idealism. and provides an escape from the experience of alienation. in order to escape the world of illusions and apparitions that he has conjured up. Moreover. become each of you an almighty ego. while the individual is alienated by the idea of human essence. . become egoists. according to Stirner. The individual. but seek for yourselves. They argue that Stirner. Stirner’s main criticism of socialism was that it sacriﬁced personal interests to the general interest of society. there is an element of individuality that escapes this. The ego is the irreducible element of subjectivity that cannot be contained by the idea of essence. He should become a ‘self-conscious’ egoist – an egoist ‘reconciled with himself’. . is no “corporeal” Ego. who has always been egoistic – although this egoism has in the past been repressed by the injunction to conform to a ﬁctional human essence – should throw off the alienating and oppressive fetters of morality and self-sacriﬁce and become a self-conscious egoist: Thousands of years of civilization have obscured to you what you are. in ‘self-denial’. This element Stirner calls the ‘ego’ (der Einzige) or the ‘unique one’.Spectres of the uncanny 125 the state is an illusion – rather that its institutions and mechanisms are sustained by an ideological underside that gives them a symbolic consistency and. . Moreover. the only way to effectively resist its domination is to rid oneself of our enthralment to its power. a merely conceptual existence’ (Marx and Engels 1975: 259). no less abstract and conceptual than human essence or ‘ﬁxed ideas’: ‘This “Ego”. it is an “Ego” born of the spirit from two categories. the ego – which for Stirner is the corporeal subjectivity that escapes idealism – is itself an abstract spectre or ideal that has no impact on the material world. for Marx and Engels. born of the ﬂesh of man and woman . Stirner is concerned with ﬁnding a way of reconciling the world with the self. This is because there is no contradiction between ‘personal’ and ‘general interests’. have made you believe that you are not egoists but are called to be idealists (‘good men’) Shake that off! Do not seek for freedom. (Stirner 1995: 149) The ego and society However. the end of historical construction. binds us to them. at the same time. creates the ultimate apparition in the ego. Therefore. which does precisely deprive you of yourselves.
could we not say that Stirner’s ‘false’ division between the ‘ordinary egoist’ and the ‘egoist in agreement with himself’ is mirrored in Marx’s distinction between the proletariat ‘in itself’ and the proletariat ‘for itself’? For Marx. But it is only when it becomes conscious of itself as a class. that in socialism or communism this is a false opposition. as we have seen. thus becoming a political subject – an ‘egoist in agreement with himself. The individual only has real meaning outside collective entities. rather than being presupposed by it. It must be a deliberate construction of the individual and not be based on any essentialist categories. One ﬂows from the other. the individual only becomes a political subject when his collective or class context is realized and asserted – in other words. rather than the other way round. when it unites and politicizes its struggle. in this context. It would seem that Marx and Engels. had incorporated his egoistic stance into their notions of socialism. Moreover. With Stirner. that it becomes a class ‘for itself’ (Marx 1978c: 218). in which he said any ‘general cause’ striven for by communists must ﬁrst be made an egoistic cause: ‘It is equally from egoism that we are communists’ (see Paterson 1971: 103). Marx and Engels argued in response. So too. communities are abstract idealistic spectres which imprison the individual.126 Spectres of the uncanny However. For Stirner. Marx would argue. rather than being in opposition to one another are. the economic conditions of capitalism have created the proletariat as a class in itself. Indeed. For Marx. everyday’ egoist until he becomes conscious of his egoism. For Marx. It represents. any notion of a community must ﬂow from the individual egoist. In other words.’ The point here is that this dispute revolves around the notion of subjectivity and its relation to community or collective identity. the return of idealism in one’s attempt to escape it. on the other hand. in light of Stirner’s attack on idealism. It is only when the individual breaks away from ﬁxed collective structures and communities that he becomes a fully self-conscious egoist. Rather. the ‘general interest’ is produced through the very ‘private interest’ that Stirner sees as being diagrammatically opposed to it (Marx and Engels 1975: 267). it is precisely the opposite: the individual is the core reality and society is the idealist spectre. This is not to say that he rejects all notions of community: indeed he believes that egoists can at times more effectively attain their ends in voluntary associations (1995: 161). as Stirner does. inextricably tied to one another. once proletarians consciously unite as a class. is to posit an abstract ideal with no basis in corporeal reality. However. to propose an idea of individuality beyond social identities. for Marx and Engels the general and private interest. with Stirner. That is to say that. on the contrary. Engels’ initially enthusiastic response to Stirner’s work The Ego and Its Own in a letter to Marx. the egoist’s struggle only becomes politicized through a radical break with collective identities. It is interesting to see. The individual presupposes society. . the egoist remains an ‘ordinary. the individual only has meaning within a social or collective context.
at the same time. represents a new form of alienation: it mystiﬁes or ‘spectralizes’ the objective world. that this idea of ‘civil society’ as being autonomous from. Moreover. For Marx. the social itself is an idealist spectre with no basis in the corporeal. The individual can only realize his possibilities and overcome alienation if he frees himself from the binds of society. as Stirner has shown. it is also clear that the idea of society itself must be rethought. In classical liberalism. then. Thus. First. this gap or dislocation operates in a similar way – only this time. For Stirner. as Marx has shown. for Marx at least. however. the uncanny is seen in terms of an alienating gap or lack separating the subjective and objective world. ‘civil society’ is a natural commonality that provides the basis for legitimate forms of sovereign power while. However. this falls into the trap of idealism. is also an abstract ideal that reintroduces alienation. and acting as check upon. Stirner’s individual egoist as an entirely autonomous subjectivity is an idealist presupposition grounded in nothing. In Marxism. the generality of society is embodied in the particularity of the . Yet. Marx sees the individual as being inextricably part of the social. making it unattainable to the individual. It cannot be founded on essentialist categories. Second. we have seen that. idealism returns in the form of the egoistic separation of the individual from society. we must reject the idea that there is an internal logic or identity whose unfolding determines social relations and identities. including Marxism and liberalism. on the other hand. is false – ‘civil society’ is merely state-dominated society. or seen as being governed by a dialectical process or by inexorable historical laws. we have seen that. any attempt to see the individual as being inextricably bound up in social life further alienates the individual from himself. for Stirner. For Marx. keeping this power in check. This idea has been central to Enlightenment-based political theory. would seem to be able to escape the uncanny return of idealism. because it assumes the category of the sacred. there is the uncanny return of religious idealism in the form of humanist notions of essence. Essentialism. in his critique of liberalism. political power. Stirner has shown. From this we can conclude the following: while it is clear that we cannot see the individual as entirely autonomous from society.Spectres of the uncanny 127 These different articulations of the relationship between the individual and community are ultimately different ways of attempting to overcome the gap in social representation. For Stirner. generalities like society actually deny individuality. Stirner tries to overcome alienation through a radically autonomous form of individuality. both thinkers’ approaches to overcoming this problem of alienation and lack are ultimately ﬂawed. On the other hand. There are a number of themes that can be drawn from this discussion. That is to say. Neither position. if we accept Stirner’s critique of essentialism. Marx’s notion of a social collectivity to which the individual is inextricably bound. the alienating lack in subjectivity is caused by the separation of the individual from a collective social context.
remains open to different political articulations which try. making the identity of ‘society’ ultimately incomplete (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 111). what if it is precisely the opposite – that political identiﬁcation relies on an uncanny element that disturbs or disrupts the sociopolitical ﬁeld? The uncanny. the ‘notorious crime of the whole of society’ (1978d: 63). This is the gap upon which society is radically founded. Society may be seen as a kind of ‘empty signiﬁer’ that is not ﬁxed by any essence and. ultimately unsuccessfully. in effect. the nothing out of which I myself as creator create everything’ (1995: 7). he believed that essence was a form of repressed religious idealism that has returned in a different form.128 Spectres of the uncanny proletariat. As we have seen. is a spectral dimension that alienates the individual from himself. This nothingness at the heart of subjectivity – the void out of which a new form of egoism will emerge – is only conceivable through the experience of alienation. In other words. It is governed by a radical dislocation or ‘lack’. however. rather than the uncanny imposing a hindrance or a limit to the openness of identity. it is only made possible through the split in . According to Laclau and Mouffe. The individual becoming egoistic involves an act of identiﬁcation with a certain mode of subjectivity that is not ‘natural’ to him – a kind of constitutive leap from the subjectivity of the ‘ordinary egoist’ to the ‘egoist in agreement with himself’. there is a gap between the individual and the humanist ideal that he is supposed to conform to. Society has no essence. to ‘ﬁll’ this symbolic empty place in society. This constitutive ‘leap’ or act of identiﬁcation is only made possible through the alienating split in subjectivity that derives from the uncanny and that Stirner seeks to abolish. On the basis of Stirner’s rejection of social essence. Stirner’s way of overcoming this is for the individual to become egoistic – to explore egoistic modes of experience and subjectivity. He says: ‘I am the creative nothing [schöpferische Nichts]. his attempt to overcome the uncanny. That is to say. but rather one that is fractured and constitutively open. rather than an essential unity or underlying rationality. but crucial to the theorization of a non-essentialist form of politics? That is to say. for Marx. for Stirner. thus. The only way Stirner can overcome alienation is to afﬁrm the pure void of subjectivity that is created by alienation. what if we were to turn this argument around? What if we were to argue that the logic of the uncanny is not only fundamental to the process of political identiﬁcation. it is precisely this notion of the ‘whole of society’ that we should question. However. there is always something missing from the social totality. no uniﬁed identity. The class position of the proletariat in capitalism represented. as Stirner claims. something that escapes social symbolizations. I would argue. However. Stirner’s rejection of essence – in particular social essence – was. that this injunction to become egoistic invokes the very uncanny logic of dislocation that it is supposed to overcome. perhaps we can reformulate the social in the following way: society is not a complete identity. for Stirner.
However. which requires the subject to move beyond his ‘ordinary’. which henceforth appears strange and ‘unhomely’ to him. A similar argument can be made with respect to Marx. that makes things appear different and strange. Therefore it may be argued that. for that matter. then. this subjective void out of which proletarian consciousness emerges is only possible through the dislocation of existing identities. However. However. for both Stirner and Marx. then. like egoism. Both thinkers try to ground this uncanny dimension in a positive ﬁgure of subjectivity that is supposed to overcome alienation. is only possible through this very dimension of the uncanny. this act of political identiﬁcation or subjectivization relies precisely on the lack created by the uncanny. an alienating logic that distorts reality. feminist or environmentalist. the proletarian for Marx. it is precisely what disrupts essences and allows the creation of new identities. yet at the same time. which rely on a constitutive dislocation of an existing identity whose position of subordination . it is only through the drive to overcome alienation – the rift in subjectivity – that new forms of non-essentialist subjectivity. because it involves a symbolic and constitutive ‘leap’ across a void from one mode of subjectivity to another. then. yet he cannot do so without relying on the dimension of the uncanny in order to constitute precisely this form of subjectivity. That is the only way that it can overcome the experience of alienation wrought by the capitalist productive process and the ideological form of commodity fetishism. It is a spectral dimension that creates a rift between the subjective and objective world. as a kind of supplement in Stirner’s thinking: Stirner tries to exorcise the uncanny through the radical experience of individuality or egoism. Both thinkers try to ground this uncanny dimension in a positive subjectivity: the egoist for Stirner. that the uncanny is an irreducible dimension in the political ﬁeld. as I have argued. creating a rift between him and the objective world. ‘Disidentiﬁcation’ It may be argued. Both Marx and Stirner are threatened by the uncanny. Put simply. that for both thinkers the uncanny is a disavowed. The proletariat must go from being a class ‘in itself’ to a class ‘for itself’ – in other words a self-conscious proletariat. The uncanny may be seen. or.Spectres of the uncanny 129 subjectivity created by the operation of the uncanny. Indeed. this act of political identiﬁcation. unavoidable dimension in political subjectivization. the contemporary political ﬁeld is characterized by these acts of symbolization. The same kind of ‘leap across the void’ is present in Marx’s notion of proletarian subjectiﬁcation. can emerge. ‘everyday’ identity to articulate a conscious political position – egoist or proletarian. We may suggest. the uncanny is what dislocates the subject. It is crucial to the act of radical political identiﬁcation. rather than the uncanny imposing essentialist identities on the individual. In other words.
subjectivity is always incomplete and ‘lacking’. enables it to take place. but which is now questioned and challenged. This representation ultimately fails – there is a lack or gap between the subject and its symbolization. According to Lacan. whereas the real is the irreducible and traumatic void that does not ﬁt into these structures. appearing alien or uncanny to the subject who tries to ﬁnd his place in it. the individual enters the symbolic network. The example Lacan uses here is Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors: our serene contemplation of the two richly dressed ﬁgures is suddenly disturbed when our gaze falls upon an object in the middle of the room that we cannot immediately make out – it appears almost as a three-dimensional blot or distortion – and yet it eventually reveals itself to be a skull that looks back at us. Here it is necessary to distinguish between ‘reality’ as such and the real: reality is our everyday understanding of the world as structured through symbolic relations. constitutively split: his alienation within the symbolic order of language cannot be overcome. in this way. and yet. however. There is a lack between the signiﬁer and what it signiﬁes. this experience is fundamental to the structure of the subject and the process of identiﬁcation. This is precisely the experience of the uncanny that Stirner talks about – that the subject no longer recognizes himself in the abstract imagery of humanism and now ‘shudders’ at himself. in our sense of reality: ‘reality’ is itself lacking or incomplete. the real can be seen here as an ‘anamorphic stain’ that disrupts the objective order of ‘reality’. is a void in the symbolic order itself. This notion of anamorphosis is related to Lacan’s theory of the gaze. So the identity of the subject is constituted through a méconnaissance or misrecognition – through the fundamental inability to recognize himself in the symbolic order. It is therefore the way that the subject tries to overcome this lack that is of central importance to politics. The subject is. an excess of meaning that eludes signiﬁcation. and it only retroactively constitutes itself through acts of identiﬁcation. a void. paradoxically. for Lacan. Indeed.130 Spectres of the uncanny was hitherto accepted as normal or natural. It allows us to see political identities as ultimately failed symbolizations of the ‘real’. As Lacan shows. an empty place in the structure of symbolization. the order of signiﬁers where he is represented for another signiﬁer. in this sense. The real. The subject is. and the uncanny effect that is achieved when one realizes that the object that one is looking at is actually looking back at us. he is always seeking recognition in the symbolic order through a series of (ultimately incomplete) identiﬁcations. This creates a disturbance in the objective order. by this failure of signiﬁcation. that returns our gaze . When we are confronted with this void we experience the uncanny in all its alienating effects. the element which cannot be incorporated into its structures of signiﬁcation. and which thus has a destabilizing effect on our sense of reality. For Lacan. Because the subject is split in this way. revealing its constructed nature. Identity is actually constituted by this gap.
alien. Indeed. at the same time. everyday experience of reality is disrupted. the place in which new political identities are constituted. where the res cogitans. and where its constructed nature is revealed. yet which returns to disturb the symbolic order. It emerges from a ‘disidentiﬁcation’ of the subject. producing new and radical forms of politicization. what previously appeared natural and normal to us. thus constituting a new political subjectivity. that the uncanny is a certain point or ‘place’ of dislocation in which our normal. As Lacan says. It is a place made unfamiliar by the continual return of repressed symbolizations which disrupt our contemporary political and ideological frameworks. The skull in the painting represents the trauma of death. then. where the subject no longer identiﬁes with his ‘natural’ place of subordination within this order. unheimlich. the repressed voices and lost dreams of radical movements return to haunt the ideological symbolizations of the present. this trace of a repressed trauma that always returns to haunt the objective order. The uncanny may be seen in terms of this process of disidentiﬁcation – a removal or estrangement of the subject from the ‘naturalness’ of place. allowing us to imagine new political articulations and construct new identities. It is only when the individual ﬁnds himself in an unfamiliar place or subject position. In this way our usual position in the social order is disturbed. In other words. politics is a dislocation of the natural order of domination – an egalitarian disruption of established social hierarchies. is precisely the experience of the uncanny. the political struggles of contemporary . However. The uncanny is something that disturbs the subject position of the individual in this way. For Rancière. when he no longer feels ‘at home’ in the existing social order – when things appear ‘not quite right’ – that he undergoes the traumatic process of politicization. The experience here is uncanny because our sense of the outside world – which we seek to master with the gaze – is disrupted by a kind of distortion in the objective order itself. ‘any subjectiﬁcation is a disidentiﬁcation. removal from the naturalness of place’ [my italics] (1999: 36). unmasking the contingency of their operation. This spectral absence. this dimension of the uncanny is crucial for politics: the place of dislocation and alienation is. the ‘lack’ upon which they are based. as we are confronted with the ideologically constituted nature of our identities. For Marx himself. as Jacques Rancière argues. which is precisely what cannot be mastered or symbolized – the absolute limit of our existence – and which shows to us the indeterminacy of our place in the objective order. does not meet it’ (1998: 49). So we might say. the real is ‘that which always comes back to the same place – to the place where the subject in so far as he thinks. This distortion in our subjective experience of the world again refers to the dimension of the ‘real’ – a trauma that has been repressed. The ghosts of the past. This unfamiliar place of ‘disidentiﬁcation’ may be likened to Freud’s notion of the haunted house or the unheimlich house.Spectres of the uncanny 131 (1998: 88–89). becomes now strange.
and that the individual can freely participate in any number of different community identities. The harsh clamour of politics – the antagonism between the dominant hierarchy and the community of those who have ‘no place’ in this hierarchy – has now become the quiet. Perhaps the proletariat could itself be seen as an example of the uncanny in this way – an embodiment of previous struggles between oppressor and oppressed. rather than being the ultimate expression of community. While the political problem of community appears to have been solved through a formal liberal pluralism. One could argue. As Rancière says: ‘A world where everyone needs everyone else. Both Stirner and Marx. It would seem that there is no tension between the individual and the community. tried to close this gap. However. this is its very antithesis? This is because. However. as we have seen. where everything is permitted so long as it is on offer as individual pleasure and where everything is jumbled together is proposed to us as a world of self-paciﬁed multiplicity’ (1995: 23). that this ‘end of ideologies’ thesis is the worst kind of ideological obfuscation – an example of ideology at its most cunning and insidious. machinic hum of the technocratic administration of a thousand particularities. but its end. The struggles between the ‘freeman and slave. the question of community is depoliticized. The reconciliation of the subjective and objective world is not the beginning of politics. this gap is crucial for political identiﬁcation. The idea of . We live in an age that proclaims itself to be ‘post-ideological’. where the ideological struggles over equality and community simply have no place. ‘new age ‘cults and so on. The ‘end of politics’ and the uncanny community It would appear that the ‘end of politics’ might already be upon us. It would seem that in this sanitised world we can simply choose our particular communities: we can join internet chat groups. this is only achieved through its depoliticization. we have ‘rational’ policies and ‘good governance’. what if we were to argue that. patrician and plebian. I am suggesting here that the uncanny is the necessary constitutive gap between the subject and the objective world of ‘ideology’. This is the age technocratic ‘post-politics’. lord and serf’ appear to return from the past and ﬁnd their expression in the struggles between bourgeois and proletarian (Marx 1978a: 473–474). violent political and ideological conﬂicts of the past. as I have argued. Instead of the turbulent. to reconcile the subjective and objective worlds. It is no longer seen as a challenge to the dominant politico-economic order – its threat is vitiated through the granting of differential rights. in this pluralistic world.132 Spectres of the uncanny society were haunted by the ghostly conﬂicts of the past. religious and sexual minorities. though. Differences between minority groups are ofﬁcially tolerated and ‘respected’. The world of ‘post-politics’ is more mystifying than ever. yet this results in a kind of global compartmentalization of these differences and an essentialization of their limits.
Its unconditional. It threatens to disrupt the neat world of administered particularities and individual pleasures that condition our contemporary culture. but rather.Spectres of the uncanny 133 community is thus particularized into different identity groups which are all tolerated by the dominant ideological system. the troubling spectre of the community continues to represent an unresolved deadlock in political theory. . We have seen the ways in which both Stirner and Marx tried to domesticate this traumatic spectre: Stirner sought to dismiss it in place of a radical individual egoism. Indeed. However. universal demand for both equality and liberty is the repressed trauma in politics. However the problem of community is not accounted for by these formulations. Marx tried to incorporate it into a notion of collective class identity. it continues to return as an impossible demand. always exceeds the structures that have been established to contain it. The notion of community is politically uncanny because it does not ﬁt into. That it appears in forms that are strange or alien is because it has been marginalized – yet it remains at the universal horizon of our political imaginary. The question of community is the question of politics itself. a spectral injunction emerging from the muted voices of history.
deliberative democracy or a common acceptance of rational and moral norms – are ultimately bound to fail: they assume a kind of impossible subjective position without considering the power relationships and discursive exclusions that go into constructing it. genealogy undermines the dialectic. struggles and concerns. I showed that this idea of the community could neither be contained within a Marxist class identity. and speaks to all those who are dominated. communitarian and critical theory to establish a universal foundation for action – whether through a communicative rationality. There must be a dimension of universality – whether it is understood through some notion of rights. equality or even radical democracy – if we are to engage in collective projects of resistance and emancipation. Therefore it becomes impossible to see the subject in essentialist terms. This demand for community refers to a universal dimension in radical politics. various attempts in liberal.8 Towards a poststructuralist politics of universality Chapter 7 explored the idea of community as a radical ﬁeld of political identiﬁcations which had the potential to disrupt existing social hierarchies and structures. how is it possible to retain a universal referent for radical political thought and action? This question is becoming particu- . oppressed. Universality is crucial to any understanding of radical politics. So given these epistemological conditions. as having either natural moral and rational capacities. nor can it emerge dialectically. Instead. as we have seen. What this amounts to is an understanding of the subject as unﬁxed and open to different discursive and political articulations. The central problem that I am seeking to address here is how exactly to theorize this universal dimension? If we are to take seriously the implications of poststructuralist theory. and the autonomous subject of the Enlightenment is displaced by the external and unconscious structures of language. In poststructuralist theory. This is why. one that goes beyond particular identities. marginalized and exploited. then this universal dimension can no longer rest on some essentialist foundation such as human rationality or morality. according to this perspective. it had to be seen as an uncanny and open-ended demand that returns unexpectedly. or even a stable identity. nor could it be dismissed through a radical individualism. discourse and power.
while the proliferation of particularized political identities and struggles – of gays. as the politico-ideological ﬁeld. So it seems that the more we are brought together – through the global economy. inviting new antagonisms. which are incommensurable and seem to bear no reference to anything beyond their own limits. for instance – has often been associated with poststructuralist theory. and that we need to return to a more substantive and universal idea of Enlightenment rationality or the Kantian ‘categorical imperative’. women. particular politics. ethnic minorities. the expansion of capital (1995: 69–70). Yet it is also a world without a universal centre and periphery. and more incompatible and antagonistic.1 However. Identities are at the same time less isolated. This compartmentalization of our lives and identities is concomitant with. The politics of the particular The ‘postmodern condition’ that is said to be upon us is characterized not only by a decline in ‘metanarratives’ and universal epistemological and normative categories.A poststructuralist politics of universality 135 larly relevant today. I shall also argue that. yet has subjected him to new oppressions and exclusions. on the other hand. contrary to prevailing critiques of poststructuralism. blacks. It appears that today we are living in the world of the particular – particular lifestyles. far from being a philosophy of difference and particularism. there is the possibility of a radical and emancipative universality emerging from within its own logic. This would be a political dimension of universality that. but rather with many centres. It has created a world in which universality is more of a possibility now than ever before. my contention here is that not only is poststructuralism politically and ethically engaged. the worldwide web and so on – the more atomized and antagonistic we . I will explore this ambiguous logic of the particular and the universal. poststructuralism is irrelevant and politically impotent. but also by a general fragmentation of once central political. as Étienne Balibar argues. poststructuralism is a philosophy whose logic implies an immanent universality. transcends today’s narrow identity politics and yet. does not deny difference and swallow up the particular in the name of a universal subject. necessary for there to be any real notion of the universal at all. social and cultural identities. but that the poststructuralist interrogation of Enlightenment universality is. particular identities. on the contrary. is undergoing a series of authoritarian and conservative transformations in which even liberal notions of universal human rights are coming to be questioned. post-September 11. One might be tempted to say that in the face of these new dangers. paradoxically. and argue that. Global capital has freed the individual from traditional community ties. Capital confronts us with an ‘ambiguous universality’. makes their particularity problematic by unmasking their reliance on a dimension of universality. Moreover. I shall argue that poststructuralism. on the one hand.
reproducing. These new antagonisms and differences. or having suffered an injustice at the hands of. in an inverted way. this process ‘generalizes minority-status. structures of domination. Wendy Brown sees this culture of ressentiment at work in certain forms of modern feminism (Brown 1995: 45). struggle and identity. largely in reaction to the consequences of economic globalization. We also seem to be surrounded today by a multitude of identities. feminism became the struggle of women against the oppressive patriarchal structures of capitalism or against the structures of oppression in general. when some feminist groups demonize men as oppressors. There is an oppositional logic at work here that is profoundly authoritarian – the valorization of a particular identity through the denigration of other identities. For instance.136 A poststructuralist politics of universality become. we can say that this universal political centre has been replaced by the proliferation of separate. they seem to be reafﬁrming the very oppression and exclusion they claim to be struggling against. another. or when lesbian groups exclude transgender women because they are somehow ‘not woman enough’ and could have no idea of what it feels like to be a ‘real’ woman suffering ‘real’ oppression. a perception of having been injured by an Other – that is. while born of the ‘universalizing’ logic of capitalism. Certain political identities deﬁne themselves through the sense of being oppressed by. According to Brown. political and cultural rights. men and women could be really struggling for the same thing – the removal of structures of domination and hierarchy that affect us all – is . ﬁrst of all in the sense that there are now “minorities” everywhere’ (1995: 53). Political identities are constructed not only around a perceived incommensurability or uniqueness. lifestyles and ethnic and sexual minorities. and often antagonistic and exclusionary sites of oppression.2 The notion that. for instance. but also around an experience of oppression. She argues that certain feminist identities or positions are constructed around a sense of ‘woundedness’. If we apply Balibar’s argument. The political terrain is deﬁned by the absence of a universal centre which cuts across particular struggles – in the way that the Marxist struggle against capitalism was able to interpellate other struggles so that. this often results in an oppression of other groups and identities. thus claiming a moral high ground. for instance. Everywhere there is the assertion of a particular identity with its own demands for exclusive social. are increasingly making any real political dimension of the universal unthinkable. men. However. Identity politics is deﬁned by this clinging to a certain identity to the exclusion of others. The antagonism concomitant with this universalizing capital is inherent in the politics of identity. One thinks here of the new forms of anti-immigrant racism that have been emerging throughout Europe and the world. As Balibar says. this position of weakness conceals a ‘will to power’ – a resentment and vengefulness that is directed outwards towards other identities that are perceived as oppressive.
not antagonism towards any kind of general structures of domination and exploitation. However. any kind of antagonism is contained by treating each identity or minority in its speciﬁcity and meeting its demands in an orderly. they do not challenge structures of domination and oppression in any signiﬁcant way. to reafﬁrm the very totalizing logic one was against by robbing oneself of the ability to resist it. On the other hand. but also towards the inscription of these struggles in any notion of the universal. that this disavowal of the universal supports structures of domination and exploitation more than its afﬁrmation ever could. So the antagonism that is implicit in these particular struggles is. Indeed. paradoxically. I would argue. One gets the sense that particularized identity politics and struggles do not really resist domination.3 In this paradigm. or cultural and sexual minorities.A poststructuralist politics of universality 137 met with the charge that in suggesting this. which is based on a differentiation of identities in which each minority group or identity is assigned its place within the system. On the one hand this is certainly true. the domain of the universal is fundamental to any struggle against domination. Hence the demands of many minority . therefore. ˇ iz Slavoj Z ˇek has commented on the way that demands of minority identities are easily addressed and met by the capitalist system. institutionalized way: ‘What is usually praised as “postmodern politics” (the pursuit of particular issues whose resolution must be negotiated within the “rational” global order allocating its particular component its proper place) is thus effectively the end of ˇ iz politics proper’ (Z ˇek 1999b: 209). he argues that ‘liberal multiculturalism’. as though there is a logical connection between the realization of this speciﬁcity and the absolute dismissal of any possibility of a universal struggle. there is a closing off of the political terrain here around this speciﬁcity. their demands seem to be easily accommodated by these very structures and institutions. Politics has become a kind of consumerism where people shop around for different lifestyles and identities. Liberal multiculturalism embodies a pluralistic attitude of ‘respect’ and ‘tolerance’ for different identities. is the very ideology of global capitalism. To do this is. one of the most important achievements of poststructuralist theory is precisely the unmasking of the domination inherent in the universalizing logic of Enlightenment humanism. So to respond to the totalitarian potential of the universal with the complete dismissal of this category altogether is an approach that should be rejected. On the contrary. and it is necessary if we are to have any notion of the political at all. The claim of many theorists of identity politics is that the category of the universal contains a totalizing logic that is inherently authoritarian. each of which is comfortably accommodated within the ‘system’. however. and that denies the particularity and speciﬁcity of minorities. face certain speciﬁc forms of oppression. one seeks to devalue the speciﬁcity of the struggle of women. There is no doubt that women. but rather antagonism not only towards other more marginalized groups and identities.
ˇ iz as Z ˇek argues. Moreover these demands are usually implemented in extremely oppressive ways. as those who do so try to retain a sense of radicalism. while their demands. are calmly implemented by this very system. that it ends up reafﬁrming domination. In its desire to resist the totalizing possibilities of the universal. to be free from traditional patriarchal ties is met with more institutions. No wonder there is. for example.138 A poststructuralist politics of universality or feminist groups. The ﬁrst is real universality. oppress other more marginalized minorities. identity politics cannot present a challenge to general structures of power and domination. accompanied by the increase of minority identities and the possibility . That is to say that because the politics of the particular rejects any notion of the universal it is a ‘non-politics’ – a politics which denies any meaning to the political dimension. So the minor subversions and transgressions of identity politics – the excessive particularity of their demands dressed up as radicalism – actually supports and perpetuates the power it claims to be subverting. more bureaucracies and more regulations. The potentially radical and subversive nature of identity politics is vitiated in its rejection of the universal. for instance. Balibar argues that there are three dimensions to the question of universality. Because it eschews the universal. He argues that the liberation of the subject from traditional community ties is accompanied by the increased normalization and institutional domination of the individual. a sense of being against ‘the system’. ‘Political correctness’. for instance. no matter how ‘radical’ or ‘excessive’. the politics of the particular that so bombards us today. are met through the institutional imposition of rules regulating language and conduct – the use of ‘non-sexist’ language. which refers to the spread of global capital and the proliferation of centres. the politics of the particular afﬁrms the totalizing logic of the state and capitalism instead. a certain hysteria in voicing these demands. as we have seen. is a politics which. in its desire to preserve this very particularity. for instance. So it seems that identity politics. by which he means the constitution and universalization of social hegemonies such as state institutions (1995: 71). or policies on ‘sexual harassment’. is a discourse which involves a whole series of discursive and non-discursive forms of coercion – a myriad of rules regulating the way we behave and think. Balibar talks about another dimension of universality – what he calls ﬁctitious universality. excludes other identities and often ﬁnds its expression in institutional and oppressive forms. moreover. and which is. It is clear that without some notion of universality – without a truly political dimension – one is condemned to remain in this dead-end politics of particularity. and often result in a proliferation of institutional strategies of surveillance and regulation. One could argue that it is precisely because the politics of the particular eschews the dimension of the universal. These policing strategies. Would not political correctness be a case par excellence of this increasing normalization and policing of everyday life? The struggle of women.
A poststructuralist politics of universality 139 of antagonism between them. The second is ﬁctitious universality, which is the liberation of the individual from traditional community ties and the concomitant normalization of the individual by social institutions and hegemonies. We have seen these two dimensions of the universal in operation in the politics of the particular, where the antagonism of differences resolves itself in institutionalized and oppressive ways. There is, however, a third dimension of universality, a subversive dimension – what Balibar calls ideal universality. Ideal universality invokes an inﬁnite horizon of the universal, one of liberty and equality and their radical interconnectedness (Balibar 1995: 72). I would argue that this is the horizon of the political – a dimension of universality that is truly subversive. It may be theorized in different ways, but it is something that is irrepressible, returning time and time again. It is the absent centre of politics, the real of the political that has the potential to dislocate the dominant politico-economic order. Perhaps it can be seen as that dimension of the universal which subverts the ﬁrst and second dimensions in Balibar’s schema. It is a radical universality that rends apart the universalization of the particular and the particularization of the universal.
Poststructuralism and the possibility of the universal
How is this subversive dimension of universality to be theorized? As I have suggested, an emancipative political universality can no longer be anchored in the essentialist subject of humanism, or in the rational and moral epistemologies of the Enlightenment. Given the breakdown of these discourses, the decline of the universal revolutionary subject, and the fragmentation of the social and political ﬁeld into a multitude of competing identities and particularisms, universality must be now theorized on the basis of its own ontological limits. In other words, we must try to examine the ways in which a universal political dimension can actually emerge through the discursive conditions that would seem to exclude it – those of postmodernity. Poststructuralism – as a series of critical strategies that take the postmodern condition as their point of departure – has been seen by many as a philosophical approach that valorizes difference over sameness and emphasizes particularity at the expense of universality. Thinkers such as Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze and Guattari are commonly referred to as ‘philosophers of difference’, who unmask the domination and denial of difference inherent in any universal identity. Does not Foucault, for instance, show the way that certain rational discourses have become universalized into a series of norms which exclude and marginalize different discourses and forms of experience such as madness, criminality or homosexuality? Does not Derrida’s deconstruction of universal philosophical identities and categories unmask the arbitrary exclusions and suppressions of difference? Do Deleuze and Guattari not emphasize difference and
140 A poststructuralist politics of universality plurality over unity and sameness, through their concept of the ‘rhizome’? This apparent assertion of difference, through the unmasking of the exclusion and discursive violence behind any unity, has led to the association of poststructuralism with the identity politics that so dominates our contemporary political landscape. However, here I would propose a very different reading of poststructuralism. Rather than asserting identities of difference against the universal, a poststructuralist approach can be seen as a rejection of the essentialism of difference that identity politics is founded upon. Poststructuralism unmasks the rift and antagonism, not just in the identity of the universal, but in the identity of the particular as well. It shows that all identities, whether they are universal or particular, are ultimately impossible. They cannot form closed, complete identities and they are therefore problematic, unstable and constitutively open. For Derrida, as we have seen, identities are never ﬁxed and complete: an identity is always made indeterminate by its relation to an excluded supplement which destabilizes it, yet which nevertheless is necessary for the constitution of this very identity. According to Derrida, the supplement constitutes an ‘originary difference’ in the structure of identity, but it is an originary difference – or différance – that is ‘neither absence, nor presence, neither negative nor positive’ (1976: 167). Similarly for Lacan, identities are incomplete and deﬁcient because there is always a radical lack or gap in the structure of identity itself which resists symbolization. The ‘real’, as we have seen, is the structural void which, paradoxically, both dislocates identity and yet, at the same time, is the point around which identity is constructed. So Lacan’s notion of the real and Derrida’s concept of différance may be seen as structural principles that actually prevent identity from being fully constituted. These concepts cannot be seen as identities of difference in themselves. Rather, they refer to the very limits of identity, the point at which any identity breaks down and becomes radically impossible. Therefore the implications of a poststructural approach are that any identity is problematic: it cannot form a closed whole because there is always a structural element which resists it. This radical indeterminacy would be characteristic of any identity – not just the identity of the universal, but the identity of the particular as well. Even at this basic level, then, it would be extremely problematic to assert a particular political identity on the basis of a poststructuralist analysis. For instance, the identity of ‘the homosexual’ is itself an impossible, incomplete identity. For this identity to be asserted as part of a gay identity politics, in opposition to the domination of ‘universal’ heterosexual norms would be, according to a poststructural approach, to subscribe to an essentialism which it rejects. Even ‘hybrid’ identities – the ‘Chicana lesbians’ for example – which are often associated with poststructuralism, are themselves problematic and cannot be asserted as pure particularities. Poststructuralist theory rejects such an essentialization of difference, showing that the discursive limits of even –
A poststructuralist politics of universality 141 and especially – marginalized identities are inherently unstable. Far from being a philosophy of difference, poststructuralism is the point at which difference becomes as problematic as sameness, particularity as problematic as universality. Poststructuralist thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari also reject the essentialization of difference. This would be to contain difference within a binary oppositional relationship with the Same, the fundamental gesture of the ‘aborescent’ form of thought they want to transcend. Instead of this oppositional structure, Deleuze and Guattari propose a ‘rhizomatic’ model of thinking that breaks down binary oppositions into a multiplicity of haphazard connections, ruptures and becomings (1988: 7). The rhizome is characterized by a radical openness to the Outside, where identities are fractured by the heterogeneities they try to repress. This way of thinking makes it impossible to afﬁrm any essential identity, even an identity of difference. They are destabilized and contaminated by the unpredictable connections they form with other differences. Difference here is open to other possibilities, even to the possibility of the Same. Here the particular is constitutively open to the possibilities of the universal. For Deleuze and Guattari, moreover, to construct a politics around a pure identity of difference is not only impossible, but also dangerous. It sets up a false Manichean division between the identity of resistance and the identity that it resists. This politics of pure opposition which characterizes much of today’s identity politics, neglects the possibility that lines of resistance are capable of forming multiple connections, even connections with the very power it resists: ‘These lines tie back to one another. That is why one can never posit a dualism or a dichotomy, even in the rudimentary form of the good and the bad’ (1988: 9). So, to assert a pure particularity and inscribe this in an oppositional struggle with a universal identity is hazardous because it ignores the dark, volatile, authoritarian energies that are released in any political struggle, the lines that cross and re-cross the political terrain, forming unpredictable connections with the very power it intended to resist. Deleuze and Guattari talk here about the potential ‘microfascisms’ of groups (1988: 10–11). In this sense, a pure particularity cannot be asserted against the universal, not only because this pure particularity is impossible, but also because it often ends up perpetuating existing structures of domination and inventing new ones. Foucault, too, rejects the oppositional logic of identity politics. To posit a particular identity of opposition – to think solely in terms of the oppression of women by men, gays by straights, blacks by whites, and so on – is to severely limit our political possibilities. Instead we should be thinking outside these oppositional structures: The problem is not so much that of deﬁning a political ‘position’ (which is to choose from a pre-existing set of possibilities) but to imagine and to bring into being new schemas of politicization. If
142 A poststructuralist politics of universality ‘politicization’ means falling back on ready-made choices and institutions, then the effort of analysis involved in uncovering the relations of force and mechanisms of power is not worthwhile. (Foucault 1980: 190) Here Foucault exhorts us to avoid the trap that the politics of the particular has fallen into – the politics of asserting an identity in opposition to another identity, and inscribing this struggle within ‘ready-made choices and institutions’.
Moreover, the focus of a poststructuralism is not on the particular identity that resists the universal, but always on the universal itself, and on the heterogeneities and aporias in its structure. The emphasis here is not on the particular identities excluded from the universal, but on the process of exclusion itself, the way that a particular identity or discourse – rationality for instance – has achieved a universal status by excluding and repressing other identities and discourses. When Derrida talks about writing as the excluded supplement of speech, the focus of his analysis is not really on writing itself, but on the exclusion that takes place when speech constitutes itself as having a universal immediacy. When Foucault talks about the subjects of exclusion – homosexuals, madmen, prisoners, etc. – his emphasis is not really on these identities, but on the way that they unmask the processes of exclusion and domination that go into constructing the universal, essential status of rationality and morality. These excluded identities are not important in themselves: their function is only to expose the arbitrariness of the universal. There is nothing essential or morally privileged about these identities just because they are excluded. On the contrary, they are just as arbitrary and unstable as the universal norms and forms of subjectivity they have been excluded from. So while Foucault was interested in these marginalized identities, the real focus of his thinking is on the universal itself. In other words his focus is on ‘us’ – on how we have been constituted as universal subjects, how we have come to think of ourselves as ‘normal’, ‘rational’, ‘moral’.4 So, far from sacriﬁcing the universal to the particular, the focus of the poststructuralist approach is on the universal and its emergence. One could argue, further, that it is only through the poststructuralist interrogation of the universal – highlighting of the discursive exclusions inherent in its structure – that we can have any real political notion of the universal at all. What a poststructuralist critique puts in question is the universality of certain conceptual categories that were bound up with the Enlightenment – an essentialist notion of the subject, as well as a universal moral and rational position. It shows that there is always a particularity behind this universal – a particularity that has assumed the mantle of universality only by
A poststructuralist politics of universality 143 excluding other elements, discourses, subjectivities. Rationality, for instance, has only become a universal discourse through a violent suppression and marginalization of other discourses that are henceforth seen as ‘irrational’. Foucault has shown that it is only through the incarceration of the mad, through the marginalization of the experience of insanity, that rationality has become universal. The crucial operation performed by thinkers like Stirner and Nietzsche through to Foucault and Derrida, is asking the question ‘who speaks?’: which voice, which discourse, which particularity speaks through the dimension of the universal and in its name? In other words, we cannot assume that universality is somehow politically or ideologically neutral, or that it is universally understood in some abstract sense. It often conceals a particular position of power. This is precisely the point made by Judith Butler in her debate with Martha Nussbaum over the idea of cosmopolitanism. Nussbaum argues for a universal cosmopolitan sensibility based on universal Kantian moral and legal principles, as an antidote to narrow patriotism. However, Butler responds to this by pointing out that the concept of universality is never universally understood in the same way, as Nussbaum implies it can be. That is to say, the problem with basing the notion of cosmopolitanism on an abstract morality is that it assumes that this morality is universally accepted, whereas in reality it emerges from a particular European cultural and epistemological perspective that is not necessarily applicable or even meaningful in other cultures. Put simply, what is seen as universally applicable from one culture’s perspective, may not be so from another culture’s perspective. Indeed, it may mark, in Butler’s words, the very limit to universalizability (Butler in Nussbaum 1996: 46). In other words, rather than universality being universal, it has to be understood as culturally situated and, therefore, variable. But, crucially, as Butler suggests, this does not mean that we should abandon the category of universality altogether. It simply means that the discursive contours and limits of universality are never predetermined in an abstract sense, but rather are contingent and contestable. In other words, universality is a constitutively open concept: its meaning and limits – which identities and practices it includes and excludes – are redeﬁned through different political and cultural struggles. It is important to note that this is not a relativist argument: Butler is not saying that there is no universality, and that there are only different and incommensurable perspectives. Rather, she is saying that there is a universal dimension, but that its limits are understood differently and have to be negotiated. Universality is seen here as an open-ended project, rather than as a pre-existing legal ideal. One could argue, moreover, that to simply accept the idea of universality without questioning its parameters and conditions is to accept a universality whose coordinates have already been decided for us by global capitalism. Indeed, Nussbaum’s vision of a cosmopolitan global order
144 A poststructuralist politics of universality could easily correspond to a global capitalist order of borderless transactions, that has long been the fantasy of many a multinational corporation. The struggles that we have seen, in recent years, around the question of globalization demonstrate that the idea of a universal global order is a fundamentally contested vision. The ‘anti-globalization’ movement – the mass mobilizations around the WTO and G8 meetings – is an example of the way that the dominant neo-liberal conception of the global order might be challenged by another, competing vision of universality – one of global democracy and egalitarianism. So the question that we must pose when considering universality is which universality are we being asked to accept? By showing that universality is never simply neutral – that is, universal – and that it always conceals particular perspectives, poststructuralist theory allows us to ask precisely this question. As I have suggested, however, this does not mean that the category of universality itself should be abandoned in light of this poststructuralist critique. On the contrary, by revealing the epistemological limits of universality, poststructuralism allows it to be politicized and therefore to be opened to different and, indeed, more universal articulations. Perhaps we could say that a poststructuralist approach to universality, in a very paradoxical sense, implies an ethical demand that universality be truly universal, that it live up to its own promise.
The political ethics of poststructuralism
The interrogation of the discursive limits of universality highlights an important politico-ethical dimension in poststructuralist thought. The commonplace criticism of poststructuralism is that because it seeks to question the moral and rational categories of the Enlightenment, it amounts to an ethical nihilism that robs it of any genuine critical political perspective. However, I would suggest that not only is poststructuralist theory ethically committed and politically engaged, but that its stance on the Enlightenment is much more complex than its critics allow. Far from rejecting the Enlightenment out of hand, poststructuralist thinkers such as Derrida and Foucault are actually committed to a rethinking of the Enlightenment’s discursive limits and, through this, a renewal of its critical and emancipative project. The Enlightenment contained a universal political legacy – one that has been invoked for two centuries to liberate people from obscurantism, oppression and exploitation. However, this emancipative project was at the same time articulated through positivist assumptions, notions of absolute rationality, the categorical imperative, as well as an essentialist conception of the human subject – discourses and concepts that are no longer sustainable today and which have come to impose limits upon radical politics. So the challenge of poststructuralist political theory has been to reinvigorate the radical energies and subversive potential of the Enlightenment by freeing it from its foundation in these ideas. Indeed, it is
However. as Derrida says. As we have seen. means that they are immanently ‘perfectible’ – that is. but must always be reinterpreted and updated. Derrida calls for an unconditional defence of the notion of universal human rights. they are never complete or sufﬁcient as they are. The need for this sort of discursive interrogation of the Enlightenment is more pressing now than ever. However. Derrida’s point is that it is only through engaging in this sort of critique that we can tease out what is potentially subversive and liberating in these ideas. the acknowledgment that human rights are social and historical rather than natural. at the same time. A similar deconstructive operation is performed by Foucault in his approach to the Enlightenment. who revealed the two-sided and paradoxical character of discourses like humanism and liberalism. which raises the whole question of nonhuman living beings. and then the very concept of rights or of law [droit]. He says: To take this historicity and this perfectibility into account in an afﬁrmative way we must never prohibit the most radical questioning possible of all concepts at work here: the humanity of man (the ‘proper of man’ or of the human. On the contrary. In his essay ‘What is Enlightenment?’. a ‘way out’ for man from a state of immaturity and subordination (1984b). The problem with Kant is that he opens . (Derrida in Borradori 2004: 132–133) In other words. This sort of deconstruction that Derrida advocates has already been made possible by thinkers like Stirner. Indeed. as well as the question of the history of recent juridical concepts or performatives such as a ‘crime against humanity’). particularly in the face of the aggressive reassertion of state sovereignty. Foucault considers Kant’s insistence on the free and public use of autonomous reason as an escape. showing that the Enlightenment ﬁgure of man was an ideological construction that had a whole series of dominating effects.A poststructuralist politics of universality 145 only by interrogating its discursive limits in this way that the Enlightenment can once again become politically effective. These two positions are by no means contradictory. in order to reinvigorate human rights we must be able to question not only their discursive foundations – the idea of ‘man’ for instance – but also the juridical apparatuses and relations of power they are tied to. he refuses the ‘blackmail’ of the Enlightenment – the insistence that this critical ethos at the heart of the Enlightenment be inscribed in an absolute rationality and morality. this notion of human rights needs to be rethought and deconstructed. and even the concept of history. it is only through a questioning of the ontological conditions – the assumed ‘naturalness’ – of the discourse of human rights that they can be renewed. as I have suggested. While Foucault believes that this autonomous reason is useful because it allows a critical ethos towards modernity.
This idea of a revolutionary Event that creates a space or opening through which the conditions of the present may be questioned. In this context. Foucault talks about adopting an anti-strategic stance on the question of resistance: ‘to be respectful when something singular arises. Moreover. Foucault saw in the Iranian Revolution – notwithstanding its culmination in authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism – a kind of radical political event which embodied new forms of identity and collectivity. and indeed the Enlightenment itself. Here Foucault attests a deep reverence for a space of universality. is a vigorous defence of the dimension of the universal in politics. This critical condition is concomitant with a ‘will to revolution’. According to Foucault. in a heterogeneous way. parties and identities. this tension is reﬂected in Kant’s own treatment of the Enlightenment. thus opening up public spaces for autonomy. to be intransigent when power offends against the universal’ (1981: 9). the empty horizon which any political action or struggle. Foucault shows how one might read Kant. pays homage to. seeing it as the wellspring of revolt. the French Revolution – as an Event that allows an interrogation of the conditions of modernity as well as the way we as subjects stand in relation to it (see Foucault 1986). focusing on its more liberatory aspects: here we are encouraged to interrogate the limits of modernity. he argues. characterized by an ‘audacity to know’ and the free and autonomous public use of reason. a life and death struggle between people and power which. As Foucault shows. freedom and critical reﬂection within its ediﬁce. This anti-strategic approach. is also reﬂected in Foucault’s writings on the Iranian Revolution. because of the stakes involved. It is this domain that is vital to politics and must be defended against the incursions . exposed the very limits of the power that oppressed them. the legacy of the Enlightenment is deeply ambiguous.146 A poststructuralist politics of universality up a space for individual autonomy and critical reﬂection on the limits of oneself. Indeed. no matter how particular. with the attempt to understand revolution – in Kant’s case. and which shattered existing structures of power. For Foucault. it might be said that for Foucault there are two Enlightenments: the Enlightenment of rational certainty. to reﬂect critically on the way we have been constituted as subjects. and the Enlightenment of continual questioning and uncertainty (see Gordon 1986). because people were prepared ‘to die to resist’. We may in this sense use the critical capacities of the Enlightenment against itself. Foucault suggests that we may adopt this critical strategy to reﬂect upon the limits of the discourse of the Enlightenment itself and its rational and moral injunctions. It was. absolute identity and destiny. only to close this space down by re-inscribing it in transcendental notions of rationality and morality which require absolute obedience. I would argue. Kant sees the Enlightenment (Aufklärung) as a critical condition. the Iranian Revolution was a revolution precisely because it referred to a dimension of universality – an intense communal spirituality arose from this struggle and cut across different groups. for Foucault.
In other words. Poststructuralism therefore develops an approach to universality that is immanently political. then we should risk our lives defending it. has the potential to create a general dislocation in the system itself (1999: 42). according to Rancière. almost by accident. It is based. what deﬁnes a radical political event – like a revolution – is that a series of particular demands or grievances. and a reduction of the political terrain through a process of individualization. by singularity Foucault does not mean particularity in the sense of a particular political identity.A poststructuralist politics of universality 147 of power. Rather. what he calls an inﬁnite multiplicity – expressed in the demand for universal egalitarian democracy – that. Jacques Rancière talks about the way that the irrepressible demand of the oppressed and excluded – those who have ‘no place’ in the system – for political recognition and inclusion. believes that the French Revolution. come to signify the universality of a situation. It is if an event of this kind that makes a tear in the fabric of history. However. Alain Badiou. it is seen. inexplicable. might be seen as the central politico-ethical position of poststructuralist political theory. this ‘disagreement’ (mésentente) between the excluded demos or ‘the people’ and the ‘police order’ it opposes – a disagreement that has its origins in Athenian democracy. universality is the ontological space or void that is opened when a singular political event goes beyond its own discursive limits and makes implicit reference to broader issues and conditions. Rather than universality existing as an abstract series of ideals or preordained moral and rational norms that politics must live up to. which shatters our political reality and fundamentally dislocates the structures of power. coupled with a desire at the same time to question its discursive limits and foundations. when the state or the forces of domination try to shut this domain down. although it lies dormant today. Its tendency is therefore towards a de-politicization of the mass. on a process of ‘calculation’ that seeks to separate the individual from the mass and assign each his place within the dominant order. the ensemble of dominant social and political structures. to ﬁll its empty place. despite its subsequent concretization into a Republican order. This profound veneration of universality in politics. contained an emancipative potential. he means a kind of singular event whose emergence is unpredictable and. Rancière sees politics itself as being conditioned by this disruptive element. There are a number of contemporary thinkers who employ similar ideas. can nevertheless be reactivated (Barker 2002: 83–84). Foucault also talks about a respect for singularity. creating a new space in the political imaginary which can animate subsequent struggles. Also. In other words. practices and institutions. for instance. The ‘police’ order refers to the status quo. as emerging in a contingent way through concrete political action itself. from a poststructuralist perspective. to some extent. When power ‘offends against the universal’. We can see the contemporary order of state capitalism operating in . thus allowing people to question existing social conditions and the politico-ideological frameworks that had hitherto legitimized it.
For Laclau. yet disavowed. the purely particularistic position presupposes some sort of absolute difference. for instance. there is no simple opposition between particularity and universality: to see the political terrain in this way is to fall back into an essentialist position. but rather a certain position of exclusion that. in the ‘politics of difference’ is precisely a place of enunciation which forms a background upon which these differential ‘subject positions’ and identities are constituted. Contamination and hegemony However. and such a ground can only be a new version of essentialist universalism’ (1996b: 58). As Laclau says: ‘A pure particularistic stand is self-defeating because it has to provide a ground for the constitution of the differences as differences. In other words. He argues. they . at the same time. This relationship of contamination is perhaps best theorized by Ernesto Laclau. The poststructuralist approach deconstructs the opposition between the universal and the particular. showing that political identities cannot exist without a dimension of universality that contaminates them. the demand for cultural autonomy or minority rights. because part of the deﬁnition of this particular identity is constituted in the context of relations with other groups. and which therefore is incompatible with the dominant order. What really poses a threat to this order is therefore not cultural difference. that it is impossible for a group to assert a purely separate and differential identity. identities are constituted in a system of differences: for these differences to be different from one another. compartmentalizing and incorporating different cultural identities. must be articulated in some sort of relation to a common ground or universal horizon. because they cannot be accommodated in an institutional way. For both Ranciere and Badiou. open onto a universality which threatens to destabilize the entirety of the social and political order that opposes them. always bears reference to a universal dimension. invokes a universal position. what is implied. there is a particular series of concrete demands that. in other words. we need to explain how this process actually works in political terms – exactly how does a universal dimension emerge through a certain point of particularity? For poststructuralists. Particular demands and struggles. so prevalent in multicultural societies. The relation between the universal and the particular is therefore not one of opposition. In other words. which is of course another form of essentialism. if they are to have any real political effect. showing one to be dependent upon the other. Laclau is sceptical of the ‘politics of difference’. but rather one of contamination. thus de-politicizing them. So we see here how universality emerges from a point of particularity that does not quite ﬁt. thus contaminating the identities of both terms. The idea of a purely particular or differential ‘subject position’ is problematic because it implies a ﬁxed position or location within a totality (Laclau 1996b: 21). For instance.148 A poststructuralist politics of universality the same way.
a political identity must form what Laclau calls ‘chains of equivalence’ with other identities and groups. While no particularity can fully symbolize this universal. If we apply this formula to politics. without which the universal itself loses all meaning. 2000: 58). will eventually overlap with the demands of other political identities in forming relations of united opposition to the power that denies them. It cannot be completely symbolized or embodied because it is constitutively empty. Therefore. for example. its partial symbolization is crucial if we are to have any notion of politics at all. Here we see. In this way. To give an example. So in this hegemonic relationship of mutual contamination. So to articulate a certain demand. the demand of students for better conditions and more funding cannot remain within this speciﬁcity for long. It is. the government that denies students their rights also denies workers their . no matter how particular. then. while the particular is split between its particularity and its reference to a universality which constitutes its horizon (Laclau in Butler et al.A poststructuralist politics of universality 149 must refer to the system that constitutes their horizon. and necessary because it is. can be asserted without referring to a universal dimension that governs its horizon. the universal requires that a particular element ‘stand in’ for it. Because of this paradoxical position of being there yet not there. if they are not acceded to by the government. the universal might be seen as an ‘empty signiﬁer’. for example – can articulate a certain vision of it. particularity is always contaminated by the dimension of universality it resists. It is this political operation of attempting to ﬁll the ‘unﬁllable’ place of universality that Laclau refers to as the logic of ‘hegemony’ (Laclau in Butler et al. This means that the identity of these differences is constitutively split between their own particularity and the universality of the system that constitutes them. at the same time. Laclau says. 2000: 56). that although the universal and the particular are the opposite poles of the political ﬁeld. because there is no longer any universal subject or rational or moral position that serves as the ultimate foundation for politics. we see that no identity or demand. However. the idea of ‘society’ is an impossible discursive object whose universality can only be represented if a particular ideology or political identity – like Communism. these demands. as we have seen. each is dependent on the other as its positive condition. this universal dimension is. Universality is therefore the positive condition for politics. at once both impossible and necessary: impossible because it cannot represent or symbolize itself in any absolute sense. an open horizon. To give an example. Thus. the dimension through which all political identities are ultimately constituted. the universal is split between its universality and its need to be represented through a concrete particularity. and yet it can only be represented if a particular element comes to ‘stand in’ for it or partially embody it. an empty place. The demand of an ethnic minority for differential rights is always made with some sort of reference to a dimension of universality that goes beyond the speciﬁcity of this demand – equal rights with other groups.
According to Laclau. the particularity that ‘stands in’ for the universal does so only temporarily. but. The ‘stand in’ is decided in an open ﬁeld of discursive articulation and political contestation. despite its temporary lull due to the ‘war on terror’ and the repressive post-September 11 political climate. groups and political demands. the groups in this chain are increasingly unable to maintain their own particularity as they become united in opposition to a common enemy. because this link is indeterminate and contingent. and its identity is destabilized by the universality it ‘represents’ (Laclau 1996b: 53). through a contamination of different identities. It challenges the neo-liberal vision of globalization that so dominates us today. open to be deﬁned and redeﬁned in ways that are not yet speciﬁed. In this way. In other words. In other words. the relation of incarnation is entirely contingent and indeterminate. Furthermore. this universal position remains empty. its status as a representative is increasingly made more difﬁcult to sustain as the struggle progresses.150 A poststructuralist politics of universality rights. universality does not need to be founded on predetermined moral and rational positions or on an essentialist conception of the subject. there is no a priori link – as there was in Marxist theory with the proletariat – between the universal and the particular identity that comes to incarnate it. and so on. exploitation and exclusion: corporate . To give an example of this poststructuralist politics of universality in action. the anti-globalization movement has no centre. Therefore. this opens the political ﬁeld to other identities to attempt to fulﬁl this incarnating function. it is one of the most important developments in radical politics in recent years. is not determined in an essentialist way. Rather it is something that emerges through concrete political struggles themselves. targeting speciﬁc sites of domination. and it does this from a universal position. can come to represent a common political struggle. but the new forms of political action it entails. as it is caught between the imperatives of its own particular identity and of the universality it comes to embody. It is important to note here that this hegemonic political relationship. perhaps we could point once again to the broadly termed ‘antiglobalization’ movement. However. Egaliberté So in this hegemonic operation outlined by Laclau. we can see how a universal dimension can be realized within the epistemological conditions of poststructuralist theory. incorporates a multitude of different struggles and identities. unlike Marxist struggles which were centralized around the primary subjectivity of the proletariat. In other words. What is radical about this movement is not only the breadth of its scope. As a series of mass interventions and protests against the capitalist globalization. in which one particular identity ‘stands in’ for the others. Also. rather. Theoretically any identity. if it manages to articulate adequate chains of equivalence.
it could be seen as an instance of what Balibar has termed ideal universality or universality as a symbol. The ‘anti-globalization’ movement also invokes a new. more democratic and egalitarian vision of globalization. In this sense. for instance. However. Maybe the interconnectedness of the demand for equality and the demand for liberty is the real of politics which refuses to be symbolized or contained in the political order – a radical excess which disrupts any political identiﬁcation. This movement. If we recall. what would distinguish radical politics would be the refusal to separate liberty and equality. a refusal to see one as imposing limits on the other. the ﬁrst dimension in Balibar’s schema – real universality – referred to the conditions of global capitalism itself and the fragmentation and antagonisms it was generating. embodying entirely new forms of activism and collective identity.5 It allows us to imagine an alternative to the current neo-liberal global order racked by poverty. a kind of unconditional and necessarily excessive demand for both full liberty and full equality. environmental degradation. However. displacement of indigenous peoples. particularities whose identities are themselves contingently constructed through the struggle itself. However. The difference between this movement and the Marxist concept of revolutionary politics is that while Marxism created an imaginary universality on the basis of one particularity – the proletariat – ‘the anti-globalization’ movement creates a real universality on the basis of multiple particularities. keeping alive the vital tension between the particular and the universal. and a conviction that it is simply unjust to do so: ‘If no equality can be achieved without liberty. then the reverse is also true: no liberty can be achieved without equality’ (Balibar 1995: 66). The irresolvable. unfulﬁlled demand for liberty/equality haunts our political horizon like an unseen dream. Foucault believed that we are living in the time of revolution. always returning to its place at the centre of our political universe. a demand that was explicit. . yet it has the potential to dislocate its structures. beyond any institutional embodiment (Balibar 1995: 64). these are accompanied by a sort of spectre – an insurrectionary dimension of universality that refers to the ideals of emancipation and justice. Ideal universality is characterized by a demand for what Balibar calls ‘equaliberty’ or egaliberté – that is. and so on. the second dimension – ﬁctitious universality – referred to the emergence of normalizing institutions and practices that sought to discipline the individual. workplace surveillance. is a genuinely contemporary form of radical politics that transcends the old paradigms of Marxism and identity politics. so that the more liberty one had the less equality one had and vice versa.A poststructuralist politics of universality 151 power and greed. labour and human rights abuses. The conditions for ideal universality were also generated by capitalism. which is still in its infancy. in documents like The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Liberal theory has generally seen liberty and equality as mutually limiting. exclusion and violence. draconian border protection practices.
to close off the possibilities of the universal – to deny the universal in the name of the universal. . This would be. and keeps the space of the particular open to the possibilities of the universal. No.152 A poststructuralist politics of universality we are not talking here about revolution in the sense of a dialectical overturning in which one class. revolution must be something that keeps the space of the universal open to the possibilities of the particular. It is this kind of inscription and re-inscription of the possibilities of the universal that emerges from a poststructuralist critique of identity. as I have argued. or one particularity. imposes its will on others.
and thus politicized. The essays collected in this book have all been attempts to engage with and explore this idea of ‘the political’ through poststructuralist theory. on the other side. as I have suggested. The moment of the political is therefore a moment in which the oppression. and others. in different ways. institutions and discourses that we hitherto accepted as normal and legitimate are made problematic. An administrative decision or an institutional practice – no matter how seemingly uncontroversial or routine – can be at any moment challenged or resisted. The political is always there as a kind of spectral underside of politics. (Mouffe 2000: 101) In other words. repressed. This is because thinkers like Stirner. what we usually refer to as politics – the simulacra of institutional activities. challenged the discourses and theoretical coordinates through . elections and so on – is a way of domesticating a much more unstable and antagonistic social dimension that at times threatens to disrupt this established order. Chantal Mouffe makes the following distinction between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’: By ‘the political’ I refer to the dimension of antagonism that is inherent in human relations. policy debates. violence and exclusion concealed behind the dominant order is exposed. antagonism that can take many forms and emerge in different types of social relations. ‘Politics’. is immanently political. indicates the ensemble of practices. Foucault. discourses and institutions which seeks to establish a certain order and organize human coexistence in conditions that are always potentially conﬂictual because they are affected by the dimension of ‘the political’. political parties.Conclusion In her book The Democratic Paradox. and in which new discursive meanings can emerge. have. To speak in psychoanalytic terms. Poststructuralism. in which practices. the political might be seen as the unconscious dimension of politics itself. Derrida and Lacan. and yet which has potentially destabilizing effects on dominant institutions and discourses through the production of new meanings and symbolizations. it is a traumatic place that is disavowed.
then. The impact of a poststructuralist approach to politics therefore lies in ‘de-naturalizing’ it. democracy. that a poststructuralist approach to politics points always to a certain void that makes social and political identities indeterminate: genealogical rupture and antagonism for Foucault. Politics can no longer be based on metaphysical foundations. In other words. they are constituted through the often violent exclusion of other possibilities. in a poststructuralist analysis the practice of politics is founded not on the stable ground of universal rationality or absolute morality. This void is precisely the dimension of the political – an ontological absence that forms the unsteady ground of politics. discourses and practices. what is rejected in poststructuralism is the idea that there is an underlying essence or unchanging substratum that forms the basis of social identities and interactions – whether this be a notion of what is . rational or inevitable. They have shown us how we might rethink the central political categories of subjectivity. etc. ethics. rights. thus allowing new political meanings and practices to be conceived. thus opening discursive spaces through which they can be reinterpreted. are historical formations whose meaning can be contested and whose structures can be transformed. thus confronting them with their own contingency. We can say. In other words. power.1 To see social and political identities as historical and discursively constituted. nor on an essential idea of humanity. has been the central contribution of poststructuralism to political theory. community and universality. poststructuralist theory has politicized or made problematic ‘normal’ social and political practices and discourses by exposing the unequal power relationships on which they are based. This does not mean. They have revealed the aporias and heterogeneities internal to these ideas. It has created the conditions through which these discourses might be challenged by unmasking their ultimately arbitrary character – by showing that. but rather on a constitutive absence or emptiness which makes it unstable. rather than natural. Moreover. in showing that there is nothing natural or eternal about existing political identities. the unsymbolizable trauma of the real for Lacan. as I have argued. différance and alterity for Derrida. nor is it guided by any absolute telos. ‘creative nothingness’ for Stirner.154 Conclusion which we normally approach politics. that we should abandon emancipative or democratic political projects. but. or on the moral and rational coordinates of Enlightenment humanism. What brings together the different thinkers and theoretical perspectives that I have been discussing – what perhaps is the deﬁning feature of poststructural theory is a critique of essentialism. It simply means that the practice of politics today – in the conditions of ‘postmodernity’ – is given no ultimate guarantees. Poststructuralism therefore politicizes politics. on the contrary. In other words. rather than being natural. They are not set in stone. poststructuralism makes visible the hidden discontinuities behind these structures and discourses.
Indeed. an emptiness. etc. a deception. secular political categories still conditioned by religious concepts? For instance. from liberalism to Marxism – is displaced in poststructuralist theory: for Stirner. The search for an essence – for an eternal secret at the base of existence – only reveals. for Foucault. indeed. The essence of the world. a political . or some sort of rational social logic. or human essence – was a ‘ﬁxed idea’. a new kind of religious conviction that dominated our thinking. there can be no self-presence of identity. The subject has to be situated within discourse. knowledge and discourse.Conclusion 155 properly ‘human’. as both Stirner and Derrida have shown. Moreover. poststructuralism reminds us that God is not really dead after all – he has been reborn in the idea of man and in the categorical imperative. This was. From the perspective of poststructural theory. In all of these cases there is no essential core of subject that stands outside these structures. Stirner can be seen as one of the ﬁrst postmodernists. as I suggested. social identities have to be seen as discursively constructed – that is. for Derrida. It is. the discursive limits of the subject are constructed through relations of power. as the limits of identity are formed through what they exclude and are thus contaminated by this excluded element. The problem with essentialism is that it is a form of metaphysics in the rationalist guise of the Enlightenment. The radical innovation of Stirner’s critique lay in showing that the discourse of Enlightenment humanism was simply Christianity reinvented in a secular form: the idea of Man. has its roots in ‘onto-theological’ categories that derive directly from the idea of divine authority. was just as abstract and illusory – and. this idea is simply unsustainable. The idea of the universal human subject with essential moral and rational properties – the idea that is central to modern political discourses. with no basis in reality. later poststructuralist perspectives. Stirner’s unmasking of the religious character of Enlightenment humanism had important consequences for politics: to what extent are our modern. central to the experience of modernity. and determines the course of. they are constituted through external structures of language and power. a reafﬁrmation of the idea of a God who stands outside. as Stirner says. of course. and lives on in the secular discourses of modernity. in showing that the idea of God had yet to be exorcized from our midst. whose ‘epistemological break’ with Enlightenment humanism was the theoretical point of departure for my project. for Lacan. just as oppressive – as the idea of God. in other words. this subject is an idealist abstraction created by humanist discourses. Rather. an absence: ‘By bringing essence into prominence one degrades the hitherto misapprehended appearance to a mere semblance. Indeed. is for him who looks to the bottom of it – emptiness’ (1995: 40). the central problem for Stirner. human affairs. the subject is decentred by the unconscious. foreshadowing. The idea of essence – the essence of man. Moreover. the idea of state sovereignty. which is structured through external linguistic and symbolic relations.
The value of Stirner’s intervention for political theory has been to show how these essentialist concepts and categories severely limit our political horizons. Moreover. tying the subject to a ﬁxed identity. human nature and natural law – as becoming a referent for contemporary political and social struggles. exploring some of the limitations and also the potentialities of classical anarchism through Nietzsche’s idea of ressentiment. Stirner has shown that modern political discourses – not just liberalism. I have dealt speciﬁcally with the issue of radical politics. for the question of radical politics today. as Stirner argues. but also. is concomitant with. but also socialism – are based on a certain construction of the subject around a series of idealized moral and rational norms that at the same time dominate him. then we can begin to explore new possibilities for political thought and action. Poststructuralist perspectives can be understood within the ‘paradigm’ of radical politics. Why have I chosen anarchism here. if we accept Stirner’s contention that not only is the essential human subject a discursive and ideological construction. Stirner’s critique of liberalism – discussed in Chapter 1 – exposed behind its formal ediﬁce of rights and freedoms a whole series of ‘illiberal’ disciplinary and normalizing practices. in that they seek to unmask the domination and coercion behind established political institutions. freedom and human rights if. instead of Marxism? Because I see anarchism – provided that it can free itself from its Manichean logic. Poststructuralism. Indeed. Indeed. new forms of oppression – now. and show how they might be undermined and resisted. I would go as far as to say that anarchism – or postanarchism – can be seen as the closest political approximation of poststructuralism. they result in more subtle and internalized forms of domination. more speciﬁcally. In other words. as well as its moorings in the dialectic. at the same time. in Chapter 2. we abandon the idea of an absolute moral and rational ground? I have tried to address some of these questions in the book. democracy. In particular. The poststructuralist critique of essentialism therefore not only has important implications for the way we view politics generally. the absolutism of rationality and the tyranny of the norm. In other words. because these political discourses are based on a certain essential image of the subject that is derived from Enlightenment humanism and which the subject is expected to conform to. in . poststructuralism poses broader theoretical questions and challenges for radical politics: what is the future for radical politics in the wake of the collapse of Marxist projects? What happens to the idea of emancipation if there is no essential subject to be emancipated? How do we rethink the ideas of equality. I have suggested in this book that there is an immanent convergence between poststructuralist thought and radical political theory. practices and discourses. but that it is also a form of subjectivity that dominates us.156 Conclusion discourse such as liberalism. particularly those around the issue of globalization today. which is based on the idea of the liberation of the subject from both political absolutism and religious obscurantism. Indeed.
Conclusion 157 its interrogation and subversion of dominant discourses and institutions, entails an implicit anti-authoritarian ethos. However, the point I have made in the book is that poststructuralism turns the anti-authoritarian project back on anarchism itself, undermining the rational, moral and conceptual categories that informed classical radical politics. This last point highlights one of the central controversies over poststructuralist theory and the question of whether it has any relevance for politics. Many have argued that precisely because poststructuralism questions the idea of human essence and the moral and rational categories of the Enlightenment, that it denies us any ﬁrm ethical or rational foundation for political critique or action. This is a serious charge, especially at a time when we are increasingly seeing around us new forms of nihilistic violence, from fundamentalist terrorism to anti-immigrant racism.2 However, I have tried to show throughout this book, and particularly in the ﬁnal chapters, that poststructuralism is ethically and politically engaged. Abandoning the idea of absolute rational and moral foundations for politics does not mean that we should give up on the idea of political and ethical critique, but simply that its trajectory is no longer predetermined and is therefore open to different articulations. For instance, in the last chapter, I showed that neither Foucault nor Derrida seeks to abandon the legacy of the Enlightenment. On the contrary, they try to renew its emancipative potential by interrogating its discursive structures. Moreover, I also suggested that through a critique of the existing discursive limits of universality, poststructuralism can develop new and radical forms of universality that remain constitutively open to different political identities and struggles. We might say, then, that poststructuralism implies an ethics and politics of contingency – a position that can give rise to new understandings of egalitarianism and democracy. However, while it presents fundamental challenges to the way we think about politics – revealing the aporias, tensions and internal contradictions within central political categories and discourses – poststructuralism is not without its own internal tensions. We should not assume that poststructuralism is a coherent body of thought; the thinkers I have discussed here are all very different and hold often divergent positions. However these points of disagreement and tension in poststructuralist theory are important because of the way they highlight certain conceptual problems in politics. I have attempted to explore and tease out some of these tensions here. Indeed, these aporias must at least be addressed if we are to understand the relevance of poststructuralism for political theory. Power In Chapter 3, I investigated some of the conceptual and political limitations surrounding Foucault’s theory of power: if power was ‘everywhere’, as Foucault contended, then, ﬁrst, it lost deﬁnitional clarity as a concept
158 Conclusion because it could not be differentiated from other social relations; and second, it was difﬁcult to formulate a critical point of departure from which resistance could emerge. The central dilemma here was that while political theory, and indeed, radical politics needed some sort of point outside the play of power, we could not at the same time revert to essentialist foundations – such as human nature or a universal rationality – to formulate it. Here I turned to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory in order to account for a subjective unconscious dimension that resists power, and to revise the concept of power itself, giving it a structural and symbolic identity, albeit one that was ﬂawed and inconsistent. Here Lacan’s concept of the real – as the internal limit of symbolic identity – was central: it provided a traumatic point around which the structures of power were destabilized, and from where some form of resistance could emerge. However, the real was not some sort of essential foundation outside the order of language/discourse/power – rather it is something that emerges from within these very structures themselves, as their internal point of discontinuity. Ideology A similar conceptual dilemma emerged around the concept of ideology. The problematic of ideology has been dismissed in several poststructuralist accounts – including Foucault’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s – because it is seen to be a concept that presupposes essentialist assumptions about the subject not being able to clearly perceive his ‘interests’. However, at a time when we feel the effects of ideological obfuscation all around us – the ‘war on terror’ being a prime example – we need to retain the concept of ideology, yet rethink it along non-essentialist lines. Here I developed two complementary approaches: ﬁrst, to see ideology – along the lines of ˇ iz Z ˇek’s account – as a distortion that can operate through the objective order of truth itself, rather than dissembling it (Chapter 3); and second, to see Stirner’s ﬁgure of the ‘un-man’ as a subjective dimension that was produced through ideological interpellation and, at the same time, exceeded it (Chapter 4). Subjectivity One of the central challenges of the book was to try to ﬁnd a place for the subject in poststructuralist theory, especially as most conceptions of politics rely on some notion of autonomous agency. However, this idea of agency is somewhat problematic in poststructuralism, which sees the subject as being constructed through external structures of language, power and discourse. This has been a problem particularly for Foucault, and his later works on ethics can be seen as a way of reintroducing the category of the subject. Here I tried to develop a more substantive account of
Conclusion 159 subjectivity through the contribution of both Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. In Chapter 3, I explored the subjective dimension of the unconscious as the place of ‘passionate attachments’ that forms a possible outside to power. In Chapter 7, I returned to the question of subjectivity, and tried to develop a theory of political identiﬁcation through the Freudian concept of the uncanny. As I showed, acts of political identiﬁcation take place when the subject is somehow displaced from his normal subjective position, from his usual ‘place in the world’, and is confronted with the contingency and unfamiliarity (unheimliches) of his own existence. Here I was trying to understand political agency without relying on rationalist models of behaviour common to political theory. The outside The question of whether there can be a notion of an outside in poststructuralist theory has been one of the underlying themes of several essays here. Many of the above-mentioned problems that I have sought to address refer to the possibility of an outside. The problem is this: while there needs to be some notion of an outside to the relations of language/discourse/power that structure and limit our experience, how can we theorize this outside without falling back onto metaphysical foundations like human essence or an absolute epistemological position? Here I have tried to show that an outside can emerge, paradoxically, from the inside – that is, from within these very structures of language, discourse and power. There were several ways that this was formulated: through Lacan’s concept of the real, as the internal limit of the symbolic order; through Stirner’s concept of the ‘un-man’ as the point of excess or transgression that goes beyond the discursive and ideological structures of humanism; and also through Derrida’s notions of alterity and aporia, which refer to an ethical outside that is opened up from within the limits of philosophy and language. Ethics, nihilism, violence As I have suggested above, I see poststructuralism as being ethically committed rather than nihilistic. But where do we locate the ethical dimension of poststructuralism, without the ﬁrm moral and rational coordinates of the Enlightenment? It is clear that poststructuralism does not lay down clear ethical guidelines for political action. Indeed, the relationship between the ethical and the political is one of the most keenly contested questions in continental political theory today (see Critchley 1998). I would suggest that a poststructuralist approach to this question, rather than seeking to force politics to conform absolute ethical guidelines, would instead seek to politicize ethics itself: that is, to see the discursive limits of ethics as being contingent rather than ﬁxed and absolute, and thus able to
This was the key point of contention. the problem here was that if one accepts the validity of the poststructuralist approach. However. where I show that there is a structural link between the violence at the base of sovereign institutions and legal structures. I have argued that it is crucial that there be some sort of universal dimension in politics. In . The question of nihilism also emerges in Chapter 6. at the same time. I have shown how Derrida develops a notion of deconstructive ethics through concepts of justice. While for Stirner. Individuality and community The question of community and collective identity is a central one for politics. social collectives were abstractions that denied individuality. However. it was what threatened to destabilize these structures. that both lack legitimacy and cannot be grounded in anything other than violence itself. then this universal dimension cannot be based on a universal human subject.160 Conclusion be reinterpreted through concrete political and social struggles. which I explored in Chapter 7. the idea of ‘society’ is a discursive construction that seeks to hide the disunity and antagonism at the heart of social relations. for Marx. Poststructuralism and universality Perhaps the most important question that this book has addressed is that of universality in poststructuralist theory. at the same time the idea of ‘society’ or the ‘social whole’ as a uniﬁed. the practice of politics cannot be an entirely individual experience. especially in order to formulate collective projects of resistance and emancipation. nor could it be accommodated within dominant political discourses and structures. the individual was intrinsically part of these broader identities. A poststructuralist approach has shown here – contrary to the claims of the classical theorists of sovereignty – that there can be no strict conceptual separation between these two orders of violence. Out of this discussion emerged the idea of community as an openended promise that could not. or on universal rational and moral ideals. I have suggested that what needs to be deconstructed are the very conceptual terms of this opposition: while the individual cannot be considered outside larger social identities. but rather function as ways of opening existing political and legal structures to the Other. be embodied in any objective content. moreover. However. In other words. objective entity has to be questioned. these are not regulative ideals or absolute normative standards. However. between Stirner and Marx. human rights and democracy to come. to what is excluded by them. we saw in Chapter 1 that Stirner’s politics of the ego amounted to a radical individualism – a kind of ‘hyper-liberalism’ – that shunned broader social and political identities. Rather. In Chapter 5. and the violence exhibited by anti-state terrorism.
Moreover. it tends to be associated with a politics of difference – an association I have challenged in Chapter 8 by showing that the logic of poststructuralism is precisely what makes identities of difference unstable and problematic. because poststructuralist theory rejects the idea of a universal subject. whose dark potentialities we can only speculate on. therefore. but to show that poststructuralist strategies are politically and ethically relevant to the social and political struggles of today. constitutively open to a universal dimension that lies beyond their borders. Without this universal dimension. universality would have to be theorized without absolute foundations. The aim of this book was not only to explore the implications of poststructuralism for political theory. which. At a time when we are beginning to see the aggressive reassertion of state sovereignty and the emergence of new forms of conservatism and fundamentalism. through the constitutive tension and contamination between the orders of the universal and the particular.Conclusion 161 other words. Difference and particularity are. Thus I showed that a radical universal dimension can emerge from within the discursive limits of poststructuralism itself. radical political theory must be able to develop a universal dimension around which new forms of emancipative and democratic politics can be constellated. despite its important achievements over the past couple of decades. is now becoming increasingly irrelevant. radical politics cannot hope to advance beyond the deadlock of identity politics. .
5 Stirner: ‘Yet he. and it is now legitimate to talk about the use of torture on terrorist suspects.Notes Introduction 1 This was never clearer than when. is a slave of lucre. not raised above lucre. the moneybag. post-September 11. the second being that which acknowledges the impossibility of achieving this consensus. 3 Today more than ever. detected by Stirner. experience full sexual jouissance. over-activity. etc. be happy. disciplinary norm – we are increasingly required to conform to various standards of physical and mental health: we are told to exercise more. It is worth noting that Stirner’s term ‘property’ must be seen in its Hegelian sense – as that which becomes incorporated into the self so that it is no longer an alienating external object – rather than being derived from the language of laissez-faire liberalism. is just as dominating. the ‘health’ of the subject has become a regulatory. might be seen as an aspect of the ‘bioculture’ we live in today. for whom he seeks the lucre. This normalization. In The Two Faces of Liberalism he shows that there is a central and unresolved antagonism between two dimensions of liberalism – the ﬁrst being that which sees liberal toleration as a pursuit of a universal rational consensus and an ideal form of life. 1 Politics of the ego 1 John Gray also unmasks the other side or ‘face’ of liberalism. underperformance. whereas before it would have been seen as the government’s ‘dirty little secret’ that must be concealed and publicly disavowed (2002b). to not be depressed. he is not his own’ (1995: 266). 6 Giorgio Agamben shows that in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789 there is a strange ambiguity between ‘Man’ – which would . consume. As Slavoj Z ˇek remarks. anxiety. Gilles Deleuze argues that desire desires its own repression (see Deleuze and Parnet 1987: 133). 2 For instance. not to himself. there is almost a Superego injunction to enjoy. seeking instead to reconcile the conﬂict between competing and plural ways of life without privileging one above the others (see Gray 2000: 1). the use of torture was ˇ iz being openly discussed and debated in the United States. smoking and so on. ﬁnd fulﬁlment. he is the one who belongs to lucre. prescriptive and vicious as the religious and moral codes of previous centuries. which is everywhere accompanied by anxieties around issues like obesity. strive for the ‘good life’. 4 I borrow this term from Beiner’s ‘Foucault’s Hyper-liberalism’ (1995). where transgressions of the norm are seen as having biological causes and are treated medically – drugs for depression. This emphasis on health and happiness. the ethical tragedy of this is that torture has become an accepted part of public discourse.
4 Foucault shows that transgression and limit depend upon one another – transgression is produced by the limit. and which has the greatest consequences for political theory (1999: 40). let alone to theories of power. 3 Anarchism also recognizes that the political domain can have a determining effect on economic and social relations.Notes 163 imply a universality of rights. See his discussion of the ‘union’ (1995: 161). being ‘man’. however. 2 Indeed. burning itself up once it has crossed it: ‘like a ﬂash of lightning in the night. 3 As Stavrakakis argues. 7 I borrow this term ‘post-liberalism’ from Gray (see 1993). This is why they have failed to see that a vanguard which seized control of the State could not be trusted to ensure that the State would “wither away”. . and its only function can be to highlight the limit. 2 While Jacques Lacan is not a thinker often applied to the ﬁeld of contemporary political theory. Here I am referring ˇ iz to the interventions of Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Z ˇek. . also invented the disciplines’ (Foucault 1991: 222). have failed to realize that the State always acts to protect its own interests. as being limited to citizens of a nation state. gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies’ (1977: 35). instead. 3 New reflections on the theory of power 1 Many have suggested that there is a central tension in Foucault between his rather pessimistic descriptions of the intractability of power. does one have rights purely by virtue of his being human. Bakunin’s idea of applying scientiﬁc techniques of ‘social hygiene’ on an individual and collective basis. Indeed. it is Lacan’s contention that there is a radical lack or void at the objective level – in the very external structures of social meaning – that is perhaps the truly innovative aspect of Lacan’s thinking. as well as to Yannis Stavrakakis’ Lacan and the Political (1999). and his sometimes quite explicit and impassioned advocacy of resistance to practices of domination – something that implies a clear normative argument (see Hindess 1996: 156). on belonging to a nation state? The ambiguity is profoundly exposed by the ﬁgure of the refugee. What the State might do. they have fallen into the trap of the state: ‘Marxists. there have been a number of recent attempts to utilize certain Lacanian psychoanalytic concepts to address central problems in politics and social and cultural theory. 8 Stirner does. in order to combat the hereditary transmission of ‘physical and moral maladies’ – while it was intended to supersede the regressive moral and religious prejudices of the times – takes on almost ominous dimension in light of Foucault’s analysis of the normalizing and regulatory regimes that now surround us (see Bakunin 1984: 243). therefore. whose claim to human rights beyond national state borders calls into question this very ﬁction of citizenship (see 1998: 131). regardless of where one was born – and ‘Citizen’ – which implies a more narrow deﬁnition of rights. talk about the possibilities of voluntary collective arrangements amongst egoists. anarchist theorist Alan Carter argues that because many Marxists have neglected the possibility of political forces determining economic forces. or are rights based on the notion of citizenship. 2 Ressentiment and radical politics 1 ‘The “Enlightenment”. which . In other words. which discovered the liberties. . is back different relations of production to those which might serve the present dominant economic class if it believed that such new economic relations could be used to extract from the workers an even greater surplus – a surplus which would then be available to the State’ (1989: 184).
even in our ‘Western democracies’. 2 This ideology of victimization is also characteristic of certain ethnic and reliˇ iz gious identities. the legitimacy of the state (see Borradori 2004: 169). in her essay ‘Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism’ calls for a return to a Kantian universal morality as the basis for a new cosmopolitan sensibility (see Nussbaum 1996: 3–16). but to liberate ourselves from the State and the type of individualization linked to it’ (1982: 216). The political. For instance. philosophical problem of our days is not to liberate the individual from the State and its institutions. 3 As Agamben contends. 4 Jean Baudrillard. ‘Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover who we are. for instance (1998: 187). for instance. ethical. deﬁned by a generalized system of exchange which the terrorists were able to disrupt (2002: 9). in which the extra-legal powers assumed by democratic states in the wake of September 11 point to the emergence of a new political paradigm in which power rules increasingly by emergency decree: the multitude of laws being promulgated in new ‘anti-terrorist’ bills gradually lose their signiﬁcance as law and become indistinguishable from sovereign power (2003). 7 Spectres of the uncanny 1 Lacan develops this idea. . 2 This experience of ‘the new opacity’ is never more present than in our ˇ iz contemporary world. 6 On the politics of violence 1 The dangers of this new discourse on terrorism are clear: not only can it be used by the state to attack external enemies – ‘rogue states’ – but it can also be used as a convenient label for internal political dissidents and protest movements. terrorist violence would be an attack on the very foundations of the law and. As Z ˇek argues. with reference to Habermas’ claim about the neue Undurchsichtlichkeit. 2 In this sense. Z ˇek shows the way in which the Bosnian Serbs saw themselves as the victims of Muslim or Croat oppression and discrimination. . willingly submit to state authority.164 Notes 4 Spectres of Stirner 1 As Foucault suggests. talks about the way that the terrorist strikes were an attack on the order of global capital itself. thus. as subjects. ‘more than ever. arguing that state power depends on our voluntary servitude (see La Boétie 1963). social. seeing the unconscious itself – because it is structured ‘as a language’ – as a thoroughly social and intersubjective. who was also interested in why we. rather than. 5 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 1 Agamben suggests that we are currently moving into a generalized state of exception. 8 Towards a poststructuralist politics of universality 1 Martha Nussbaum. the reduction of freedom is presented to us as the arrival of new freedoms’ (1997: 1). individual domain (1998: 20). our daily experience is mystifying: modernization generates new obscurantisms. . 3 Here Stirner might be seen in the same light as a thinker like Étienne La Boétie. for instance. but to refuse who we are . thus providing a moral legitimacy for their aggression against these other identities (1993: 204). for Derrida. humanitarian operations are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from wars and standard military operations – one thinks here of Kosovo.
so that it can peddle its commodities to consumers’ (2003: 19). it [capitalism] is eager to mix together as many diverse cultures as possible. at least. capitalism is remarkably tolerant of cultural difference – indeed difference and diversity are what it thrives upon: ‘Most of the time. Conclusion 1 Here I agree with Alan Finlayson and Jeremy Valentine that the value of poststructuralist approaches is in interrogating the often narrow conceptual and discursive categories that modern political theory is articulated in – categories which determine in advance what are ‘legitimate’ forms of political inquiry. institutional coercion. and how we come to constitute ourselves as subjects (1994: 281–282). Such practices contain a dimension of cruelty that is unmediated or unsymbolizable. 5 Derrida prefers to call it the ‘alter-globalization’ movement. Foucault is not just talking about ‘marginals’ here but about all of us. or through ethical strategies that we apply to ourselves. it is against the particular capitalist form that globalization has taken. which converge onto an irrational and excessive cruelty – such as ethnic cleansing. and which also naturalize and give legitimacy to existing liberal modes of governance (see Finlayson and Valentine 2002: 7). 4 Foucault makes this quite clear when he says in an interview that his focus has always been on how the ‘human subject ﬁts into certain games of truth’. whether it be through scientiﬁc discourses. it offers an alter-native vision of a global order. corresponding more to the ravages of the pre-Oedipal Id (2002: 143). . In other words. for instance. They are conditioned by a jouissance or enjoyment – to speak in psychoanalytic terms – that is not intelligible within the economy of power relations.Notes 165 3 As Terry Eagleton remarks. rather than being against globalisation as such. 2 Étienne Balibar talks about forms of ultra-violence violence that are emerging around us. because. and that goes beyond utilitarian or even ideological considerations.
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104–5. Wendy 25. M. 93. 49 Balibar. 122. 45. 100–1. 49 classical anarchism 36. R. 137. Georges 11. 156–7 classical anarchists 33–4. 11. 49. 48. 139. 110 agnostic liberalism 29 alienation 127. 113 Bauer. Carl von 107 Clifford. global 143–4 capitalist exploitation 48 Caputo. collapse of 4 communitarianism 13–14 . Bruno 68 Being: Heidegger’s notion of 87 Benjamin. 151. Judith 55–6. 40. 123 asylum seekers 28–9 authoritarianism 87–8 authority 36–7 autonomy 26. 33. 35–6 classical liberalism 127 Clausewitz. 98. and the state 34. 114. M.Index Agamben. 32 ‘artiﬁcial authority’ 36–7. 92 ‘closure’ 89. 150–1 Apollonian illusion 41 ‘aporia’ 6. 90–1 coercion 43. and poststructuralism 2. 28 civil liberties 8 civil society (Gesellschaft) 17. John 92. 127–8 class 48. 114. 136 Butler. J. 94. 128–9 Althussarian structuralist Marxism 5 Althusser. H. see also classical anarchism Anglo-American analytical theory 7 antagonism: Foucault 42–4 anti-authoritarian ethos 1–2 anti-capitalist movement: global 9 anti-foundationalism 6–7 anti-globalization movement 144. A. 34. Nietzsche 31. understanding of history 46–7. 18. 27–8 Badiou. G. 47. W. 113 binary structures 85–6 Bin Laden. Étienne 60–1. 11. 143 capital 135–6 capitalism 7–9. Marxism 34. 90 aristocracy 23. 72 ‘analytical’ political theory 2 anamorphosis 130–1 an-archic action: Derrida. J. G. 9. 136. 94. 63. emancipation 44–7. 151 Barker. 43. 126–7. 149. 135. 78. 147 Bakunin. 41. 31. 22. 155 citizenship 17. 103–7. 14. and power 9–10. Manicheism 36–40. 138. political authority 33–5. 48–9. 36–7. 145 bourgeoisie state 34–5 bourgeois relations 69–70 Brown. J. 113 Baudrillard. 97. 98–9 anarchism: Derrida 86–7. Louis 5. 41. 47 Arvon. 111–12. 160 communism 126. 147 Bataille. 23. Osama 104 ‘biopolitics’ 109–11 biopower 109 borders 8 Borradori. social contract theories 35–6. 95 Christianity 15. 156 collective identity 30. 94. 112. 35. 45–6.
Jacques 37 ‘double writing’ 90 Eagleton. 44. 70–1. Ferdinand 4 desire 55–6. 28. 7. 5. 27–8. 79 despotism 34 ‘différance’ 89–91. 30 conservatism 8. process of 142 false universality 26 fantasy 64–6 fascism 112 ‘fascist’ nihilism 114 Fehér. undecidability 6 de Saussure. F. sovereignty 94–5. Enlightenment 7. hauntology 117–18. the Enlightenment 7. John 117 Foucault. 142 exclusion 27–9. 10. 95 Democratic Paradox. the subject 155. 5. general 11. 84–6. metaphysics 87–8. 144–6 Enlightenment humanism 14–16. justice 95–8. 155 Enlightenment rationalism 29 ‘equaliberty’ (egaliberté) 151 equality 16–17. rationality 143. individual autonomy 27. deconstruction strategies 88–9. 3 feminist groups 25. M. exclusion 142. 79. 156 Discipline and Punish 109 disidentiﬁcation 131 displacement 87. structuralism 5. 20. 99 contamination 6. 141 democracy 33. 123–4. revolution 151–2. 27–8 Connolly. A. Ludwig 14. 23. 30. violence 107–9. 30. F. 14.Index 173 communities 126–7 community 132–3. sovereign power 112. law-making violence 104. 48 Donzelot. 151 essence 10–11. 123 ﬁctitious universality 138. G. strategies of 88–9. Iranian Revolution 146–7. genealogical project 42–4. justice 95–8. the 125–6 Ego and Its Own. 24–5. see also human essence essentialism 5. 54. 151 deconstruction: an-archic action 98–9. 48. rights 28. 111 . 124. transgression 91–2 Deleuze. 61–3. power relations 45. ethical outside 91–2. 21. 68. 136–8 Feuerbach. 157. the 4. 20. 44–7. 114. 133. power 107–9. 157. Terry 7. 41. 154–5. human rights 145. 15–16. inversion/subversion 11. 126 Enlightenment. 41–2. truth 74–5. liberalism 25. 159 critique of idealism: Marx. poststructuralism 3. difference 139. 90 domination 45. 139 Finlayson. 8. 8. The 153 democratic republican state 16 Derrida. theory of power 51–4.: biopolitics 109–11. 139. 23. 71–2. exclusion 142. 77. difference 139. 161 ‘constitutive outside’ 6. William 24. authority of the law 92–3.: an-archic action 98–9. 86–7. 160 conformity 23–4. identity politics 141–2. 71 economic exploitation 48 economic oppression 34–5 ego. sovereignty 94–5. 140. 139–41 Dionysian reality of power 41 disciplinary liberalism 21–2 disciplinary techniques 13. deconstruction 11. 68–9. 40. 52. 155 Fletcher. The 14. Karl 68–9 Declaration of the Rights of Man 97. terrorism 114. 154 difference 8. 30. 134. 145–6. 91. rejection of 7 essentialist humanism 29 es spukt (it spooks): Derrida 117–18 ethics 159–60 ethnic fundamentalism 4 ethnic minorities 48 excluded others 18. S. 159. 20. 26. 33. J. 128–9 emancipation 39. deﬁnition 84–6. 127. ‘différance’ 89–91. 96–7. foundations of law 92–3. ideology 10. 5 ‘ﬁxed ideas’ 121. 125–6. identities 140. 27–8. 156 Engels. 15. subjectivity 57. the subject 155. 148–50 ‘continental’ poststructuralism 2 cosmopolitanism 143 crime: treatment of 24 Critchley. 126 egoism 19. 18. ‘différance’ 89–91.
71. 3 heterogeneity 11. 136. J. 46. concept of 10–11. 80. 36 Lacan. 155. Sigmund: truth 63. The 14. 126–7. 41 human rights 8. 27–8. subjectivity 130 Lacanian approach: to ideology 63. 160 individual rights 27–8 inequality 23. 54 freedom 82. 95. 47–8. 161 ideological fantasy 63–6 ideological interpellation 10–11 ideology: abandonment of 73–6. 52 juridico-sovereign model 42 justice 95–8 Kant. 155. 31. A. Emmanuel 145–6 Kearney. truth 64–6. 128. 20. structuralist approach 72–4. 22–3. 27–8 French Revolution 101–2. 74. 145 human subjectivity 37–40. 155 ‘hyper-liberalism’ 26. 149–50 Heidegger. 14 Kropotkin. the structure 5. F. 123–4 German ideology. 74 hauntology 117 Hegel. 39. 87. 8. 148–50 La Terreur 101–2 law: authority of 92–3. 134. 46. John 29 group psychology 118 Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego 118 Guattari. 160 individuality 19. 146 government: mode of 25. 98–9 Iranian Revolution 146 Julius. 30. and law 94. Rodolphe 89.174 Index foundationalism 5 Fraser. poststructuralist approach 74–6. 9. 111–13 hierarchy 23 Hobbes. 77. 77. 59 identity politics 136–8. excluded 20. 36. 116. 123–4. 33. 105–6 . 78. 23. P. the ‘real’ 6. image of 15. E. and violence 106–7 law-making violence 104–6. 56–8 Laclau. 59. R. M. 141–2. M. 108 homogeneous society 111–13 ‘humane liberalism’ 19–20 human essence 15–16. William 36 Gordon. 47 German Ideologists 68–9. 151 identiﬁcation 23. Stirner’s critique 14–16 humanity 18–19. Nancy 7. 122. 125. 22. 141 Habermas. 97–8. G. 146. power 51–67 Lacanian psychoanalytical theory 10. and rationalism 70–2.: notion of Being 87 Heller. 24. 7. replaced by man 77. 45. 159. J. 68–9 ‘illegal’ immigrants 28–9 immigration 8 ‘incompleteness theorem’ 5–6 individual autonomy 24 individualism 30. 127 ideal universality 139. 156 God: death of 23. C. 158. rationalities 43 Gray. power 61. the uncanny 117–21 Freudian theory 12 Fritzman. 46. 139. 44. 53. 130–1. 108 infrastructures 89–90 institutional transparency 16 insurrection 81–2 inversion/subversion 86–7. 26. new approach 63–6. 23 Hegelian philosophers 68–9 hegemony: logic of 12. theories of 53. 81. F.: identities 140. Thomas 35. 12. 94. and transgression 61–3. 121–2 humanism 23. 160 idealism: Stirner 14. A. 52–3. 54. 90 gaze: theory of 130–1 genealogy: Foucault 42–4. 6. 92 Koch. Stirner’s critique 76–83. Gustav 123 juridico-discursive paradigm 25. 147 Freud. 40–1. 140. 130 identities 48. 79. W. 122. 8. 12. 34. 24 identity 5. 105–6 law-preserving violence 104. liberal 26. 121 fundamentalism 4. J. 123 Gesellschaft (civil society) 17 global capitalism 143–4 globalization 150. 19–20. 68. spectre of 94 Gödel’s ‘incompleteness theorem’ 5–6 Godwin. 161 Gasché. the subject 119.
see also immigrants militarism 104–5. 71–2. 128. A. the 153. 153 mutual aid 36 national security 28 ‘natural authority’ 36–7. 136. 27 Norris. 46. Claude 101. and political theory 2 . Jacques-Alain 58. and the Enlightenment 144–6. religious liberty 17. 41 metaphysical authority 88–9 metaphysics 87–8. Overman 46. 47–8.: anarchism 9. C. 137–8 modern societies: power of 110 moral hygiene 24–5 morality 23. 39 political rights 16–17 political theory: and poststructuralism 2 politics: and the political 153.-. negative 41. Chantal 7. M. 37. 86 master morality 31–2 materialism 19 material possessions 27 Megill. subjectivity 116 ‘political liberalism’ 16–22. 47 marginalised identities 142 martyrdom 113–14 Marx. 156 ‘post-ideological’ age 132–3 ‘post-liberalism’ 9. 79 ‘particular’. autonomy of 47–8 ‘political correctness’ 138 political identities 118–19. 102. 151 logocentrism 85–6 ‘lumpenproletariat’ 18. R. 3 Manichean separation 41. the uncanny 12. 23–4. Martha 143 object petit a 64 On the Genealogy of Morality 32 oppression 34–5. political ethics of 144–8. 63 minority groups 25. Karl: ideology 63. Christopher 84 Nussbaum. K. 126 Peters. 46 ‘ownness’ 25–7. 68–9. 29 liberty 133. 30. ‘passive’ 41 normalization 27–8. 25. 113 Miller. W. 78–9. 16–22. 136–7. 131–2 Marxism 34–5. 45–6. 117–18. will to power 40–2 nihilism 113–15. 105. 49 Lyotard. 39.Index 175 Lefort. 156 normalizing practices 21. the 92 outside. genealogical model 47. Emmanuel 92 liberal freedom 26 liberalism 2. 41. 27 political oppression 34–5 political power 37. F. the: politics of 135–8 Pasquino. the 159 Overman 40–1. 31. 48 ‘postmodern condition’ 135 postmodernism 3–4 ‘postmodern political condition’ 3 ‘postmodern politics’ 137 poststructuralism: criticism of 7–9. 132. 123–9. Pasquale 108 ‘passionate attachment’ 55–6 ‘passive’ nihilism 41 Paterson. 82 Parnet. and Stirner 14. 28–9. ethics of 92 Mouffe. and identities 139–41. 121–2. 47. 136–7. 155 Middle East 8 migrants 8. 24. God 87. practice of 7 positive law 103 post-anarchism 49–50. 156 Other. 156 liberal multiculturalism 137 liberal political theory: problems for 27–30 liberal rights 25. 27–30 post-Marxists 47. difference 20. 32. 48–9. the state 34. 129. 46 Nazism 65 negative nihilism 41 neutral liberalism 13 ‘new social movements’ 48 Nietzsche. liberalism 22–3. deﬁnition 3. 9. 5 Phaedrus 85 ‘place of power’ 7 Plato 85 pluralism 30 police violence 104–5 political. 25. 30.F. J. 70. morality 32–3. 47 natural laws 36–7. 38. power 10. 48. the state 35. 160. 13–14. 37. 157. 114 legitimacy 93 lesbian groups 136 Levinas. ‘lumpenproletariat’ 18. 127. development 4–6.
38–9. the uncanny 121 Rancière. 97–8 Ruge. 110–11. 130–1 real universality 138–9. 66–7. place of 7. 47. 81–2 rights 13–14. 118 psychoanalytical theory 10. 20. 105. 40–2. 4. 97–8 social identities 155 socialism 125–6. 22 the ‘real’ 6. 45. 105 sovereign violence 109. 120–1. 94–5. 12 punishment 24–5. exteriority of 59–60. M. 8 religious liberty 17 religious power 113 religious values 8 repression 21. problems with political philosophy 29–30. 56–7. 65 Stirner. 25. 147 rationalism 70–3. 31–3. universality of 8–9 power: Butler’s ‘post-Foucauldian’ theory 55–6. 38. 112 spectrality 76–8 Spectres of Marx 117 speech 85–6 ‘spooks’ 121–3 state. 151 property 18. 126. A. 147 Revolution. 147 slave morality 31–3 social contract theory 35–6. normalizing techniques 24–5. concept of property 26–7. national 28 self-domination 79 self-ownership 26–7 self-sacriﬁce 113 self-subjection 21 September 11 attacks 100. 33. 19. 79. symbolic dimension 60–3. 124 ‘state of nature’ 35–6 state sovereignty 155. 58–60. 132. 160 sovereign authority 112–13 sovereign societies 109 sovereignty 11. 157–8. Carl 94 Schrift. Marx and Engels on 123–8. 122–3 revolution 39. 13. 51–4. Reiner 98 security 8. critique of liberalism 14–22. and power 41–2. and poststructuralism 1. 128. 62. 109 racism: ‘postmodern’ 4 radical politics: anarchism 45. 130 singularity 30. Iranian 146 revolutionary identity 38–9. 132. 112. 125–8. 21. theory of 6. 110. French 101–2. 48. 60–1. 64. the 34–5. 43. 37. 16–17. 9–10. 23–4. 156. 130–1 reality 58. 103 state authority 104. political discourses 156. 110. Arnold 123 ruling classes 69–70 Ryan. . 35–6. and ressentiment 31. 81–3 responsibility 26 ressentiment 9. Max: anarchism 33. 87 revolutions 40.176 Index poststructuralist theory: tension in 6–7. 87. 16. 45 ‘reterritorialization’ 8 ‘return’: of the repressed 120–1. 26–7 ‘productive power’ 52 proletariat 18. 27–8. 56. 57. 122–3 resistance 53–4. 26–7 psyche: theory of the 55–6 psychoanalysis 56–8. 143 rational principles 36–7 rational truth 22 Rawls. 94 religious alienation 123 religious fundamentalism 4. 25. 151–2 Revolution. liberalism 9. and violence 105–9. Enlightenment 29 rationality 21–2. 87–8. 156 ‘social liberalism’ 18–19 society 19. Foucault’s analysis 42–4. 80. 64–5. 69–70. post-anarchism 49. will to 40–2 ‘power principle’ 40 power relations 43. 113–14 signiﬁers 4–5. 151 religion 15. 149. essence 155. 46. 19. Jacques 131. J. 119. Louis de 101 Sand-Man story 120 Schmitt. 19. 98 Saint-Just. 121–2. 111. understanding of 10. Yannis 58. 161 state violence 105 Stavrakakis. 111 species being 122–3 spectacle: of violence 109–10. identity politics 161. 55. political 37. 45 presence: metaphysics of 85–6 prisoners’ rights 28 prison system 25 private property 18. 89 Schurmann. 23. 20.
8. 72–4 struggles 48. 23–4. 61. 60. 73. 107–8 ‘war on terror’ 28. and heterogeneity 111–14. process of exclusion 142. and law 93. W. 54. 100. 46 Taylor. as a spectacle 109–10. 159 structuralism 4–5. Foucault 107–9. 13 Terror. Slavoj 7. 136–7. martyrdom 113–14 theory of ideology 53 Torfﬁng. citizenship 18. 101. political approach 147–8. Stirner’s notion of 79. political identities 116. J. theory of ideology 68. 130–1. 137. the uncanny 128–9 subversion 86–7 suicide bombings 113 Superman 40–1. lawmaking 104–6. 42. protection from 110. 110. society 127–8. and civil society 108–9. T. 4 transgression: deconstruction 91–2. the ‘un-man’ 23–4. 12. 158 . in poststructuralist theory 8. the 119–21. 65. and sovereignty 94–5. theorization of 134–5. as a term 100–1 terrorist violence 101–4. J. ‘spooks’ 121–3. 151. 106–7. and the particular 147–8. 139. 113. and poststructuralism 158–9. 127. 66–7. concept of 117–18 undecidability 6 universal humanity 19 universality: of the Enlightenment 144–6. and law 61–3 truth 53. 160–1. the uncanny 12. 148 students 48 subaltern identities 28–9 subjectiﬁcation 55–6 subjection: and resistance 53–4 subjectivity: Cartesian idea of 118–19. 48. 158 USA: religion 94 Valentine. 80–1. 111–14 war 42–3. 131–2. psychoanalytical understanding 56–8. 158 Warren. 24 workers’ struggles 48 World Trade Centre attacks see September 11 attacks writing 85–6 Zarathustra 40 ˇ iz Z ˇek. 114. and minority struggles 136–7. 64. subjectivity 25–6. 151. real 138–9. Foucault on the Iranian Revolution 146–7. 128. and nihilism 114–15. ideal 139. 52. and power 38. egoism 124–6. 76–83. terrorism 101–2. 130. Stirner 25–6. 63–4. 142–4.Index 177 ‘proto-poststructuralist’ 3. 112. Lacan 56–7. 5 violence: Benjamin’s critique 103–7. French Revolution 101–2. 111–13. 110–11. 20. and global capitalism 143–4. the 114 terrorism: Benjamin’s critique 103–7. ﬁctitious 138. rational 22 uncanny. 128–9. understanding of 143–4 universal state 17 ‘un-man’ 11.
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