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Universal War, In a Quasi-industrial Manner Angela Mitropoulos
ή θα νικήσει ο τρόμος, ή θα νικήσει ο δρόμος As is more or less well-known, Kant’s writings on the university, collected under the heading of The Conflict of the Faculties, are preoccupied with establishing limits, borders – above all, the limits to conflict. I won’t go into the details – suffice perhaps to reiterate the main points. On the one hand, there is the distinction between philosophy (which includes the ‘life sciences’ and sociology) and what he refers to as the ‘higher faculties’ of law, theology and medicine – ‘higher’ because closer to sovereignty. In its initial formulation, this distinction is rendered as the difference between thinking and doing, contemplation and action. This is also for Kant, and as it assumes conventional form in liberalism, a distinction between a freedom assigned to thought (as the so-called autonomy of reason) and the limits upon action in deference to sovereignty. On the other hand, and as might be expected, Kant goes on to distinguish between legal and illegal forms of conflict. Regarding the illegal forms of conflict, they are further bifurcations of the previous categories, or what he deems to be their excess. It would take too long to reiterate those in their complexities, but one of these, the one he considers to be the most dangerous, should be underscored. For Kant, the freedom of reason does not presuppose a freedom of action or, indeed, freedom to speak beyond the university. It is a semi-private, intellectual freedom that is endowed to the university by the sovereign. The university, in short, negotiates the proper relation between autonomy and obedience or, to put it another way and insofar as Kant assumes this as its parallel, between intellectuals and the state. In this, it might be noted that Kant is a kind of anti-Pascalian: one does not have to believe, but kneel you must. In any case, what is remarkable I think about Kant’s account is that these boundaries are not strictly speaking the boundaries of the university. They are, if I might put it like this, the internalisation of the border of the university within the university – and one cannot understate the sense in which this marks a significant turn in concepts of the university, or inaugurates a modern understanding of the university. And, more significantly than this, they are the proposition of the limits of politics elaborated through the paradigm of the university, which is to say: as a universitas. In some respects, it is possible to explain this preoccupation with division and its organisation by recourse to historical location. Kant’s writings on the university are firmly situated within, and seek to navigate, the conflicts between medieval absolutism and the development of an emerging managerial class. One only has to read his assertions of intellectual mastery coupled with a disdain for – in his terms – pleasure-seeking, useless theory, to see the traces of much later, Fordist accounts of the proper relation between the university and the state in view of the divisions of
labour, its superintendance, innovation and so forth. And this conflict, and its construal of what is proper to conflict, will be inscribed within the university, but also universalised as the proper form of politics – that is, politics as a ‘competition of ideas’ that is constrained (to an interminable and self-managed dynamic of competition among other things) by its very sense of language as divorced from action. That is, Kant’s ruminations on the proper valences of conflict foreground what Marx’s discussion of ‘real subsumption’ can only but hint at, namely: the conditions of the political. In other words, they indicate the seemingly paradoxical circumstance of a politics in which there are borders but no ‘outside’, in the sense that those borders are internal or, to be more precise, internalised as an ongoing condition of institution. This suggests it is not so much that, paradigmatically speaking, the factory is now superceded by the university, since the installation of a certain division between management and manual labour was both coincident and premised on the emergence of the modern university. It is no small matter that Kant announces the modern university in these terms: It was not a bad idea, whoever first proposed and conceived a public means for treating the sum of knowledge (and properly the heads who devote themselves to it), in a quasi-industrial manner. Rather, in the current integration and in the trajectory of the coincidence of the factory with the university, politics is not only reduced to a question of the limits of conflict, where conflict is accepted as interminable, but it is not, and nor does it signal for all that – which is to say, Kant will insist on this – war. I will come back to this. This is why, for Kant, attempts to cross the limits participates on both sides of those limits and, moreover, why any sense of the border as the distinction between inside and outside is annulled in a cosmopolitan universality (and the cosmopolitan university, it might be added) which, nevertheless, retains borders, but in the more emphatic sense as checkpoints, filters and the demarcation of zones, identities and peoples. Divisions are universalised, multiplied, internalised – even as division itself becomes an object and preoccupation. This is also why, and for some time now, universities have been mesmerised with the motifs of ‘cutting edge’ research, inter-disciplinarity, margins which suggest less the walls of an ivory tower than an opportunity for innovation. There remains much to be said with regard to the borders of the university in a geopolitical sense, not least the centripetal forces of Europe and the US and the accompanying flows of labour, capital (symbolic and otherwise), and students. Just as there is a sense in which the relation and conflicts between the internets and the universities remains to be played out, though I doubt few if any universities can muster the legal and financial pressure of, say, studios and record companies. Yet, insofar as the ‘problem’ of politics becomes posed as a question of the distinction between legal and illegal forms of conflict, these ‘border disputes’ become increasingly vectored and understood as matters of competition and questions of juridico-commercial propriety – for the most part, as issues of copyright – and approached as frontiers, which is to say: as a space to be colonised. But if Kant’s schema presents a world in which competition is interminable, proliferating and internalised, but this fact is disavowed as indicating a state of (perpetual) war, it should go without saying that Kant’s attempts to protect the
university from war or, what is much the same thing, to disavow the violence of reason and the materiality of language, are no longer tenable, if they ever were. Here, one could return to Marx’s discussion of ‘real subsumption’, to a consideration of immaterial labour and its material inclination to substantive indifference, to a discussion of the psychic landscape of the cognitariat (as Franco Berardi has done), or to an exploration of, as Berardi puts it elsewhere, the militarisation of the general intellect. But, in opening these remarks with a slogan from the recent protests in Greece – ‘ή θα νικήσει ο τρόμος, ή θα νικήσει ο δρόμος‘, which I’ll translate as ‘either the terror will be overcome or the streets will be overwhelmed’ – I wanted to foreshadow a sense in which Kant’s idea of the university is also the persistent disavowal of the intimate terror of competition that is also a state of war, one which purports to manage its ‘excesses’ while promising its interminability. To be sure, the recent protests in Greece, as elsewhere (not to mention the literal insertion of the ‘war on terror’ and its border patrolling in the university, and the recent arrests of students in Australia by ‘anti-terror’ squads), point to an explicit violence whose horror and intimidatory effects should not be made synonymous with the perpetual grind of competition and a self-managed censoriousness. But if we do not grant Kant’s proposition that there can be freedom of thought where bodies remain docile, or that a proper, or properly universal, politics consists in a ‘competition of ideas’ bereft of either action or force, then I think that we cannot grant the university its paradigmatic status in deriving a sense of politics. The stakes, it seems to me, are much broader than this. Either the terror will be overcome or the streets will be overwhelmed – this does not have to be read only as a call to rally in the streets, though it is obviously this. It could also, and I think much more fruitfully, be read as a refusal of the paradigmatic status of the university, even where the conflict, as it does here, involves the university.