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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
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. 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 .
Power and Politics in Poststructuralist Thought New theories of the political Saul Newman .
without permission in writing from the publishers. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic. 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 . OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave. or in any information storage or retrieval system. NY 10016 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group © 2005 Saul Newman Typeset in Sabon by Wearset Ltd. or other means. New York. Milton Park. Tyne and Wear Printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd. mechanical. including photocopying and recording. Boldon. Bodmin All rights reserved.First published 2005 by Routledge 2 Park Square. now known or hereafter invented. Abingdon. Oxon.
To Fabienne .
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 .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.
However. My hope is that they will be taken in both senses. they can be taken as separate interventions in their own right. tensions and conceptual problems in poststructuralist theory itself which to some extent have impeded its engagement in political theory debates. they can be seen as reﬂecting the underlying themes and arguments that run throughout the book. In putting this book together. and have been published in different forms in various places (see Acknowledgements). There is the need. There are a number of limitations. However. for a more consistent understanding of subjectivity and . however. and that the reader will forgive their inevitable limitations and repetitions. this does not mean that the differences between the two perspectives are totally incommensurable. To the extent that they are organized around speciﬁc themes and topics in poststructuralist political theory. however their general logic and argument have remained unchanged. They were written between 2000 and 2003. This is no doubt because poststructuralism forces us to think about politics in radically different ways. This hitherto missed encounter between poststructuralism and the discipline of political theory has not always been the fault of the latter. In this sense the book can be seen as partly a work of conceptual translation. My aim in drawing together these disparate threads of my research was threefold. these essays have all undergone signiﬁcant modiﬁcation. I wanted to show the way in which poststructuralist approaches could shed new light on conceptual categories central to contemporary political theory.Preface The essays collected in this book are the product of my investigations. and seriously challenges many of the paradigms and assumptions that much of Anglo-American political theory is based on. First. for instance. The reception of poststructuralist ideas by the mainstream discipline of political theory has been at best sceptical. So the second aim of the book was to identify and try to address some of these limitations. over the past few years. into the political implications of poststructuralist theory. and how political theory generally could beneﬁt from a more sustained engagement with poststructuralism. to the extent that these essays also relate to one another and to some extent overlap.
after the fall of Marxism. However. must be more seriously reckoned with. many on the left have given up on the idea of emancipation and social transformation. and in which new and unheard of forms of control and surveillance form the very parameters of our existence. discourse analysis and post-Marxism. However. In the face of the global hegemony of neo-liberal economics. Third. leaving the radical political ground to be taken over by the far right. which can serve as critical point of departure. Radical left politics. but that it can lead to new understandings of egalitarian politics. It is here that I have also utilized insights from theoretical perspectives such as psychoanalysis. 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. the challenge has been to develop these possibilities within poststructuralist theory itself – that is. I am writing this Preface in the weeks following George W. has been left drifting in uncertain waters. There is also the need for some sort of outside – a ‘constitutive outside’ – to relations of power and discourse. Also the dangers of the new ‘security’ paradigm that we are all living in today. with its scepticism about universal discourses or ‘metanarratives’. without relying on essentialist conceptions of the autonomous subject. one of the central aims here is to show that not only is there a political and ethical commitment implicit in poststructuralist theory. These sanguine hopes notwithstanding. or on absolute moral and rational foundations. my intention was also to explore the implications of poststructuralist theory for radical politics today. individual autonomy and radical democracy.Preface xi agency in poststructuralist theory. many have argued that poststructuralism. Saul Newman November 2004 . We can only imagine the difﬁcult times that lie ahead. in which the politics of fear and paranoia pervade social life. has contributed to this general political lassitude on the left. Indeed. Bush’s re-election.
pp. I would also like to acknowledge the following journals which have kindly granted me permission to reproduce previously published material of mine. 4 (3) 2000. 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’. First published under the title ‘Anarchism and the politics of Ressentiment’ in Theory and Event. [Reprinted with permission from Taylor & Francis Ltd. First published under the title ‘Terror. 27 (3) 2001: pp. ‘New reﬂections on the theory of power: a Lacanian perspective’.co.tandf. 1–20. [Reprinted with permission from Taylor & Francis Ltd. The chapters below ﬁrst appeared. First published in Journal of Political Ideologies. First published in Philosophy and Social Criticism. Vol. sovereignty and law: on the politics of violence’ in German Law 2 3 4 5 6 . in modiﬁed form.Acknowledgements I would like to thank the various people who have encouraged me and provided invaluable advice on my research over the years. Vol. including friends and colleagues in the Political Science Department at the University of Western Australia.uk/journals] ‘Derrida’s deconstruction of authority’. Dr Bruce Stone. [Reprinted with permission from Sage Publications Ltd] ‘On the politics of violence: terror. Originally delivered at the Australasian Political Science Association Annual Conference in Hobart in 2003. sovereignty and law’. 5 (3) Autumn 2002. http://www.tandf. 1–26. 3 (2) 2004: pp.uk/journals] ‘Ressentiment and radical politics’. First published in Contemporary Political Theory. First published in Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy – CRISPP. Special thanks must go to the Discipline Chair. 148–167. Vol. Vol. published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.co. 6 (3) 2001: pp. for supporting this project and for allowing me generous use of the Department’s facilities. [Reprinted with permission from Palgrave Macmillan] ‘Spectres of Stirner: a contemporary critique of ideology’. http://www. 309–330. Vol.
First published in Telos. [Reprinted with permission from 2003 Telos Press Ltd. [Reprinted with permission from the Editors of German Law Journal] ‘Spectres of the uncanny: The “return of the repressed” in politics’. No. 124 Summer 2002: pp. Autumn 2000: pp 94–108. The Future of Dialogue. 5 (5) 2004. Autumn 2000] 7 8 . 115–130. Vol. All Rights Reserved] ‘Towards a poststructuralist politics of universality’. Originally delivered at the Third Essex Conference in Political Theory at Essex University in 2002.Acknowledgements xiii Journal. First published under the title ‘Universalism/ particularism: Towards a poststructuralist politics of universality’ in New Formations 41. Originally delivered at the International Political Science Association XVIII World Congress in Quebec in 2000. London. [Reprinted with permission from Lawrence & Wishart.
Rather. These relate to topics such as liberalism. the book is not intended as a survey of all aspects of poststructuralist thought or of the thinkers grouped under this label. In other words. poststructuralist theory can itself be seen as working within the paradigm of radical and anti-authoritarian politics. paradoxes and contradictions. sovereignty. discourses and practices – those which we commonly regard as normal.Introduction The aim of this book is to explore the implications of poststructuralist theory for politics. legitimate and. I will suggest that poststructuralist theoretical perspectives allow an interrogation of the discursive and conceptual limits of these ideas. rights. Therefore. This is not only because many poststructuralist thinkers emerged from Marxist and Althusserian theoretical traditions. However. indeed. violence and collective identity. 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. or at least making problematic. Poststructuralism poses certain key questions about the future of radical politics in the wake of Marxism – questions that I shall endeavour to address here. subjectivity. we might say that poststructuralism has an anti-authoritarian ethos – an . revealing their heterogeneities. It does this by exposing or unmasking the violence. showing how their consistency is maintained through the more or less arbitrary exclusion of other possibilities. It seeks to apply poststructuralist thinking to central conceptual categories in politics. coercion and domination behind these institutions. A second aim of the book is to understand the implications of poststructuralism for radical politics speciﬁcally. ideology. ‘natural’. power. and thus showing how they might be reinterpreted. the claims to legitimacy and ‘normality’ of dominant political and social institutions. It is also because a poststructuralist approach is aimed at undermining. showing how these might be rethought and taken in new directions. Moreover. 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. ethics.
problems emerge in different ways throughout the essays in this book. social and even textual authority. and other. questioning its assumed ‘neutrality’ and universality. 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. and this is precisely my aim here. These include the need for a more consistent place for the subject. However. this book shows how poststructuralism might intervene in debates in political theory. poststructuralism might be likened to a kind of anarchism – but an anarchism of a speciﬁc kind. Indeed. Therefore the third.2 Introduction implicit commitment to question the truth claims of any form of political. but by redeﬁning them. poststructuralist ideas tend to ﬁnd a home in disciplines outside politics. poststructuralism does not amount to an apolitical and amoral nihilism. in mainstream political theory. such as cultural studies. if not outright hostility. such as a universal conception of the subject or absolute moral and rational positions. Therefore. this engagement or commitment is not always obvious – it needs to be teased out. 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. liberalism functions as a kind of meta-ideology or ‘metanarrative’. Indeed. contrary to prevailing criticism. a poststructuralist approach is ethically and politically engaged. they can be resolved without falling back onto essential foundations. Poststructuralism’s rejection of these metaphysical foundations has perhaps accounted for its rather frosty reception in the mainstream discipline of political theory. where it is usually regarded with suspicion. is more interested in how things work or how things come to be: how might we come to be asking these questions about politics. . emphasized. there are certain conceptual blind spots or ‘aporias’ – to use Derrida’s term – in poststructuralist theory. it has become an embedded. not by conforming to terms of reference that are dominant in this discipline. These. there seems to be a dissonance between usually AngloAmerican dominated or ‘analytical’ political theory. Rather. such as rights or the distribution of ‘goods’. and more implicit. and unveiling the moral and rational assumptions and particular modes of subjectivity that it is based on. The latter. as I shall show. literary criticism and ﬁlm theory. aim in this book is to suggest that. discourse and language. and not others. which present obstacles to its political efﬁcacy. and ‘continental’ poststructuralist thought. My contention here is that they can be resolved within the discursive limits of poststructuralism itself – that is. a poststructuralist approach might be more interested in interrogating or deconstructing the discourse of liberalism itself. universal discourse that determines the conceptual limits of the practice of politics and deﬁnes its very terms of enquiry. However. Moreover. and which I seek to redress here. Instead. on the other hand. as well as the need for an ‘outside’ to structures of power.
then. as Heller and Fehér put it. In other words. and which I believe these thinkers can. and am including here theoretical strategies such as deconstruction. philosophy. It is. In other words. categories and theoretical questions which I consider to be relevant to politics today. Judith Butler. we should not imagine that postmodernity is an actual historical stage in which we now ‘do’ politics. it refers to a heterogeneous ﬁeld of thinkers who are as marked by their difference from one another as much as by their similarity. So what. However. Rather. Jean-François Lyotard famously summed up the postmodern condition as an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ (1984: xxiv). such as Michel Foucault. the political aspects and implications of postmodernity that I am interested in here – what is termed the ‘postmodern political condition’. philosophy. I am using their ideas to solve speciﬁc problems. as well as discussing more contemporary thinkers who follow in their wake. However. of course. and post-Marxism. and. Étienne Balibar. Jacques Rancière. concepts. living in the period that we call modernity – while at the same time. discourse analysis. I will be discussing not only thinkers generally described as ‘poststructuralist’. 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. 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’. I am adopting a broad understanding of poststructuralism. is the postmodern condition? Postmodernity or postmodernism are ambiguous terms which tend to be bandied about rather meaninglessly. social theory. These ‘post-poststructuralist’ Connolly. politics. like all theoretical ‘paradigms’. and engages with. illuminate. being after or posthistoire (1988: 1). Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. what deﬁnes the postmodern condition is a critical attitude . Rather. However. there is not much emphasis on these individual thinkers themselves. and so on. what has been termed the ‘postmodern condition’. Wendy Brown and Slavoj Ziz thinkers are important to my project here because they tend to focus more explicitly on political questions. with the exception of Stirner whom I take as a theoretical point of departure for my project. Jacques Derrida. my approach to these thinkers is very speciﬁc and. This is not helped by the fact that postmodernism seems to inﬂuence a seemingly endless variety of ﬁelds: architecture. the focus is on certain themes. It is not a coherent body of thought: rather. such as Ernesto Laclau.Introduction 3 So what exactly is poststructuralism? There is no easy answer to this question. In this book. rather than writing about them as such. etc. 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. for reasons of convenience as much as anything else. it is important to remind the reader that this is not intended as a comprehensive account of poststructuralist theory. in different ways. William ˇ ˇek. Chantal Mouffe. aesthetics.
Central to structuralism is the idea that experience or ‘reality’ is structured primarily through relations of language: that is. life in post-industrial societies is seen as too pluralistic. postmodernity is sceptical about the rationalist epistemologies. Radical politics has also faced new challenges from the Right. for instance. as the name suggests. by conditions that are often outside his control. where the rise of the new social movements around issues such as gender. was the culmination of transformations in capitalism from industrial to post-industrial modes of production. the subject is seen to be opaque even to himself – rather than transparent and uniﬁed. as well as what might be seen as new forms of ‘postmodern’ racism. complex and fragmented to sustain this idea of a universal rational and moral position. The decline in Marxist projects. not only with the hegemony of neo-liberal economics. we understand ourselves and the world around us only through an external linguistic structure that determines meaning. of the proletariat as the privileged revolutionary identity. took the place of Marxist class struggles over economic issues. as well as environmental causes. 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). at least in Western societies. Furthermore. the subject is shown to be affected. is regarded as an outdated Eurocentric world view. How did poststructuralism develop as a response to this condition of postmodernity? Poststructuralism. Furthermore. ethnicity and sexual identity. ambiguous. and indeed constituted. For instance. symbolized most vividly by the collapse of the Communist systems nearly two decades ago. In political terms. and the concomitant decline in importance. and that the world’s problems can be solved through the application of rational thought and scientiﬁc ideas. but also with the re-emergence of ethnic and religious fundamentalisms. This has had an impact on radical politics in particular. Moreover. in which the logic of difference and incommensurability is used to justify the separation of ethnic groups. there can be no strict separation between the subject and the objective world. 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. and a general fragmentation of the political and social ﬁeld into a multitude of incommensurable identities and ideological perspectives. This is also related to the breakdown of sites of collective decision making. came out of the theoretical movement known as structuralism. as the Cartesian model would suggest. The idea that there is a universal rational and moral position that is absolute. saw language in terms of a system of linguistic signs composed of signiﬁer (the material sign itself) and signiﬁed . positivist convictions and categorical imperatives of the Enlightenment. Instead.4 Introduction towards the grand ideals and discourses that emerged with the Enlightenment and which came to characterize modernity. Ferdinand de Saussure.
and are immanent throughout the social ﬁeld. 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. In other words. Louis Althusser applied structuralism to an understanding of the political and social ﬁeld. where the capitalist economy determined in the last instance the entire ﬁeld of social and political relations and symbolic identiﬁcations. consistency and stability of the structure itself must be questioned. rather. but rather its relation to other signiﬁers in a ﬁxed system of differences. structuralism came increasingly to be seen as a new form of essentialism or foundationalism. it could be seen as a kind of essence in itself. there are instead multiple and heterogeneous discourses. The second position. places more emphasis on the structure itself.Introduction 5 (the object to which it referred). One way to think about this is through Gödel’s . must be thought of as a series of substitutions of centre for centre. 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’. Structuralism showed that there was no such thing as the ‘thing in itself’. However. This could be seen in Althusserian structuralist Marxism. The virtue of structuralism was that it avoided essentialist understandings. like ‘table’. to refer to a particular object (see Finlayson and Valentine 2002: 8–9). In other words. However. seeing it as a symbolic dimension in which identities were ﬁxed – or overdetermined – within an ideological system that bestowed meaning upon them. 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. exempliﬁed by thinkers like Derrida and Lacan. As Derrida says: ‘The entire history of the concept of the structure . radicalizes it. centralized structure. structuralism had merely replaced the absolute ground of metaphysics with the absolute ground of the structure itself. as a linked chain of determinations of the centre’ (1978b: 279–280). . 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. incomplete and unstable. power relations or ‘assemblages of desire’ that are constitutive of identity. in which identity was once again founded on an absolute ground (see Peters 1997). Now it is important to understand that poststructuralism does not reject structuralism per se but. In other words. but sees it as indeterminate. . suggests that rather than there being a single. exempliﬁed by thinkers like Foucault and Deleuze. The ﬁrst position. This ‘deconstruction’ of the structure has taken two basic forms in poststructuralist thought. and that what really mattered was the way that identity and experience were determined by an external structure. the unity. the problem with this was that because the structure was so totalizing and determining. What really determines the signiﬁer is not the object that is arbitrarily attached to it. Rather.
a rejection of essentialism and the idea of an absolute moral and rational ground. It is something that is. There is a certain tension in poststructuralist theory between these two ‘positions’ – a tension that will be brought out in this book. then. might be seen as an example of this logic. and it is the point around which identity is both constituted and destabilized. as might Derrida’s notion of ‘aporia’ as an internal contradiction within a textual structure that opens onto an outside. However. Derrida talks about the aporetic structure of the law and the way that. but at the same time the condition for its emergence and identity. To give an example of this logic of undecidability. the law has to be founded on something that precedes it – that is. an extra-legal violence (see Derrida 1992). political and social identities – blurred and indeterminate. 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. but rather makes it undecidable. logically speaking. complete or self-contained system or structure. which will become a crucial theoretical ﬁgure in my argument: this is the idea that there is an outside to any structure. Rather. If we take poststructuralism seriously. Lacan’s notion of the ‘real’. and which require going outside the system. despite this tension. because there will always be elements within this system whose identity can only be established by something outside it. thus creating ever larger systems. and especially. as I shall show. both poststructuralist positions are united by an anti-foundationalism – that is. but rather to unmask . which is both incommensurable with the inside of the structure. a contamination that makes the border of any identity – including. Poststructuralism is also characterized not so much by the desire to eradicate or completely overthrow existing political institutions and identities. the outside neither eliminates nor reafﬁrms the structure. inside and outside the structure simultaneously. 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. These different approaches will be explained in the book itself. This is the dimension that Chantal Mouffe refers to as ‘the political’ (2000: 101). One of the ways this tension emerges. but what they are directed towards is the idea of a ‘constitutive outside’. However. paradoxically. its limits. politics must be seen as being based on an antagonistic and unpredictable dimension that both constitutes. as that which is excluded from the symbolic order. is over Foucault’s theory of power. Simply put. there can be no closed. In other words. and destabilizes. The structure can therefore only be sustained by a structural element that stands outside it and is incommensurable with it. What this undecidability points to is the contamination between the inside and the outside.6 Introduction ‘incompleteness theorem’. the practice of politics cannot be seen as being based on notions of a universal autonomous subject and unquestioned moral and rational criteria. and whether it allows for an outside from which resistance can be conceived.
and a ‘return’ even to Leninist forms of revolutionary politics (1997). and that the challenge of politics today is to take political and ethical decisions in the absence of clear guidelines. believing that it has no real relevance to politics – which it sees as a purely rational and predictable pursuit – other thinkers. who contends that poststructuralism is no longer radical or subversive.Introduction 7 them. poststructuralism has been criticized from many different quarters – from liberals to critical theorists and Marxists. capitalism also has a disdain for ﬁxed identities and foundations (2003: 118). It has been made recently by thinkers such as Terry Eagleton. However. As Eagleton argues. I show that poststructuralism does not reject the Enlightenment outright. and that it no longer offers any radical alternatives to capitalism – indeed. or at least questions. While Anglo-American analytical theory mostly ignores poststructuralism. who has called for a return to a that has also been made by Slavoj Ziz quasi-Marxist critique of capitalism. I suggest that poststructuralist theory can remain politically and ethically committed. a second criticism of poststructuralism has emerged which is more interesting. Moreover. as many seem to suggest. 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. Both thinkers suggest that poststructuralism is dead. thinkers like Foucault and Derrida actually seek to renew the radical political legacy of the Enlightenment through a rethinking of its discursive limits. In other words. which is the structural tendency of power to reinvent itself in different forms. and to show how these might give rise to new political meanings. To completely overthrow an existing centre or structure of power always risks inventing another in its place. it is ethically vacuous and politically impotent. Nevertheless. while at the same time questioning absolute moral and rational categories. a poststructuralist political approach involves a sort of permanent suspension or problematization of institutions and discourses. However. in poststructuralist theory there is an anxiety over the ‘place of power’. revealing the cracks. it seems to be perfectly accommodated within its ideological structures. these guidelines. such as Jürgen Habermas and Nancy Fraser. 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. . uncertainties and heterogeneities in their structure. On the contrary. who want to remain faithful to the Enlightenment tradition of ﬁrm moral and rational conditions for political action. For instance. because of its questioning of moral and rational foundations. Therefore. have suggested that because poststructuralism rejects. This is a point ˇ ˇek. This is a well worn argument and it is not my intention to devote much time to it here. and that it has actually become incorporated into the dominant politico-ideological system.
polices national borders more heavily than ever before. It is in many respects valid: capitalism has become postmodernized and. There is. which also operates through the logic of difference and particularity. where religious and ‘family’ values are once again back on the social and political agenda. for every deterritorialization there is a ‘reterritorialization’ (1984: 34). Eagleton and Ziz poststructuralism is a theoretical logic that emphasizes difference over universality. however. as Deleuze and Guattari said. While I agree that the ‘politics of difference’ does not pose a real threat to capitalism. for whom even modernity. particularly in its new. is morally unbearable. or in ‘bible belt’ USA. and where many people are actually demanding. At the same time. more intense security. or at least willingly submitting to. because it needs these social arrangements in order to function and to legitimize itself. postSeptember 11 ‘security’ mode.8 Introduction There are several ways of responding to this very important critique. it is the ‘illegal’ migrant whose movements are restricted. as a reaction to it. This refers to the question of universality ˇ ˇek both argue that because in poststructuralist theory. for instance. it operates through the ‘deterritorialization’ of ﬁxed identities and the transgression of boundaries in its ruthless pursuit of proﬁt. and who really believe in a moral ground that is absolute and non-negotiable. where the gains over the last two centuries in civil liberties and human rights are being rolled back. this is a new. I try to show. Borders of new kinds are being created all the time. and the desire to create new borders and exclusions – usually more vicious and cruel – in their place. We can see this quite clearly in the way that the modern state. perverted form of religious conservatism – one that is itself born of the postmodern condition. Moreover. In a sense. rather than those of the transnational CEO. That is. So while poststructuralism might have become part of the dominant discourse in university cultural studies departments. let alone postmodernity. that poststructuralism . this is certainly not the case in the Middle East. we should not get too carried away by this: as Deleuze and Guattari also said. however.1 where politicians – and not just in the United States – talk openly about the importance of God in their lives. nevertheless it points to a tension internal to capitalism itself between the desire to transgress borders of all kinds. an aspect of this critique that I will take on and will seek to address more thoroughly. control and surveillance measures – measures which are inevitably leading to their own domination. the state and the nation – it also in turn. we are living at a time when the forces of conservatism and religious fundamentalism – both Christian and Islamic – are becoming dominant once again. where capitalism transgresses borders and destabilizes ﬁxed identities and authoritarian structures – such as the family. there are many people in many parts of the world for whom God is not dead. reinforces them or invents them in new forms. particularly in the last chapter. Of course. nevertheless. it cannot develop a radical political response to capitalism. thus generating a tension with the capitalist drive towards the free ﬂow of labour and capital across borders.
uncontaminated by it because he emerges . today. Taking Nietzsche’s critique of anarchism and his theory of ressentiment as my point of departure. as well as to radical political struggles. freedom and individual autonomy is based on a series of practices that can be considered ‘illiberal’. That is to say.Introduction 9 does not necessarily lead to this form of politics. Here I choose anarchism rather than Marxism. poststructuralism continues to be relevant to political analysis and critique. liberalism is based on a certain understanding of the subject which. at the same time. which he sees as the political articulation of Enlightenment humanism. then. the problem with liberalism is not. and that there is the possibility of developing new and radical forms of political universality within the anti-foundationalist logic of poststructuralist theory. then. the human or the ‘citizen’. because the commitment of the former to anti-authoritarian politics is close. Outline Chapter 1 explores Max Stirner’s critique of liberalism. to the politico-ethical position of poststructuralism itself. I turn to the question of radical politics and how poststructuralist theory might approach it. but that it does not allow enough. However. I suggest here that Stirner’s critique of liberalism does not mean that we should abandon liberal notions of rights and autonomy. Here I try to develop a politics of ‘post-liberalism’ – in other words. is a discursive formation produced through various disciplinary and normalizing practices that tie the individual to an essentialist identity – Man. I suggest that it can. 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. as communitarians argue. immoral and irrational. 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. I suggest that in the classical anarchism of thinkers like Bakunin and Kropotkin. a non-essentialist form of liberal politics that allows greater scope for plurality and individual autonomy. then. far from being dead. which is that although the subject is oppressed by power – in other words by the political order of the state – he is. In Chapter 2. is whether or not poststructuralism can be used as a theoretical basis for a political critique of capitalism. in some ways. there is a Manichean conceptual division between a ‘natural’ and immanently rational and moral social order. So. One of the questions raised by the book. For Stirner. I use this critique to investigate one of the central paradoxes in liberalism: that the liberal discourse of rights. as Stirner shows. and the order of political power. in the revolutionary imaginary of anarchism. that it allows too much individual autonomy. There is a strange paradox. which is seen as ‘artiﬁcial’.
One of the central debates in politics has been over how power is to be understood: is it. uncontaminated point of departure from which to imagine a revolution emerging. a kind of spectral excess in . a capacity of individual agents. Here I turn to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to understand not only the subjective dimension that both binds itself to power and resists it. in which the subject is constructed within power’s limits. Here I turn to Stirner’s theory of ideological interpellation. Instead. Foucault’s theory presents some conceptual problems: 1) if power is ‘everywhere’. but also to develop a new approach to power. who saw it as involving essentialist and rationalist assumptions. in which the subject is constituted through humanist ideology – around the idea of essence – and yet there is. Using Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s theories of power. However. However. power is productive rather than repressive. the effect of Foucault’s theory of power has been. at the same. at best. power relations are plural and emerge from a multitude of points throughout the social ﬁeld. 2) if there is no outside to power. 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. Rather. producing even the very subject who at the same time resists it. can we afford to jettison the whole problematic of ideology. and. but also in the study of political institutions and social relations more generally. not only in radical politics. The concept of ideology has been rejected by both Foucault and Deleuze. moreover. ambiguous for radical political theory. for instance. the politics of emancipation must take place within the world of power. and. 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. Power is a central concept. 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. then how does resistance to power emerge? Therefore. as I show in Chapter 3. Similar problems have emerged with the concept of ideology. but rethink it in a poststructuralist way that avoids Marxist ideas of ‘false consciousness’. at the same time we have to avoid falling back onto essentialist ontological foundations and rational epistemological positions. I deconstruct this conceptual division in anarchism. and can no longer rely on essentialist and rationalist foundations.10 Introduction from an altogether different ontological order. The theoretical dilemma that arises is this: while there needs to be some sort of conceptual outside to power. then it loses deﬁnitional clarity as a concept because it can no longer be differentiated from other social relations. and the question I deal with in Chapter 4. showing that there can be no pure. nor can it be concentrated within a central institution or structure. is whether there can be a poststructuralist theory of ideology.
Deconstructive politics can be seen as a sort of responsible or ethical anarchy – that is. thus sharing a paradoxical proximity to terrorism itself. For example. as I show through thinkers like Benjamin and Agamben. I try to develop a . in order for a politics of resistance to emerge. but also to power. In order. I argue that there can be no clear. Chapter 6 pursues a hidden link unearthed by Derrida in the previous chapter between violence. suggesting that radical political action must involve a combining or ‘weaving’ together of these two strategies. Moreover. which escapes ideology and forms a dimension of resistance to it. analytical distinction between the violence perpetrated by terrorists as non-state actors. I argue here that Derrida seeks to avoid the ‘place of power’ by deconstructing the binary of inversion/subversion. 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. and the violence perpetrated by the state itself. 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. rights and emancipation.Introduction 11 his notion of the ‘un-man’. as well as the political structures of the law and sovereignty. it must ﬁnd a place for the subject. then. 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. Moreover. democracy. an anti-authoritarian politics and ethics that is committed to ideas of justice. ideology and discourse – an outside that. This logic also has political implications. In Chapter 7. the usual distinction between legality and illegality does not hold here because. I explore not only the relationship of violence to law. and who can engage in political and ethical activity. there must be some understanding of the subject who comes to identify himself in a certain way. Deconstruction reveals the heterogeneities. there needs to be some sort of ‘outside’ to structures and mechanisms of power. contradictions and aporias in discursive identities. in order for poststructuralism itself to avoid the charge of nihilism. law and sovereignty. and I show how it might be used to undermine institutions and political structures that we tend to see as legitimate and consistent. avoids essentialist foundations. at the same time. In Chapter 5. for poststructuralism to be politically and ethically engaged. 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. The question of agency is central to politics and ethics. sovereignty – and the violence it entails – ultimately stands outside the law. and applies this insight to an exploration of terrorism. developing Foucault’s thesis that power itself is a form of violence and warfare. However.
. 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. Chapter 8. on the basis of these theoretical conditions. but rather explores its heterogeneities precisely in order to renew its radical emancipative promise. I show that poststructuralism does not abandon the Enlightenment. paradoxically. However. as the Cartesian rationalist model would have it. a universal dimension can emerge – albeit one that is constitutively empty and can be deﬁned through concrete political struggles. problematic by showing how they are constituted against a background of universality that also contaminates them. the non-essentialist logic of poststructuralism actually makes the limits of any identity. Here I challenge the usual perception of poststructuralism as being not only politically and ethically ineffective. explores the question of universality in poststructuralist theory. including identities of difference. particularly in understanding how political identiﬁcation takes place against a background of negativity and lack. I argue that an interrogation of the discursive limits of universality is the sine qua non. Both Stirner and Marx. In other words. at the same time. in different ways. the unconscious. and through Laclau’s logic of hegemony. Third. traumatic void that the subject is founded upon – arguing that this has crucial implications for politics. I show how. 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. try to come to terms – ultimately unsuccessfully – with this ﬁgure of the uncanny. Rather. ﬁrst. which develops an understanding of the subject as being anchored not in certainty. but rather in doubt. for there to be any real political notion of universality at all. the subject is anchored in something that at the same time he cannot grasp and which remains fundamentally ambiguous and opaque – that is. The ﬁnal chapter. I argue that. seeing it as an alienating gap between the subject and the objective world that surrounds him.12 Introduction more substantive place for subjectivity in poststructuralist theory. Second. but also obsessed with a multicultural politics of difference that seems to ﬁt hand-in-glove the ideological structures of global capitalism. can inform these struggles and provide a radical emancipative horizon for them. 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. I argue that it is precisely in this domain of the passions that we should locate the subject. and here I turn to Freudian and Lacanian theory. a relationship that remains crucial to politics today. yet which. Instead. Here I explore Freud’s notion of the uncanny as the ‘return of the repressed’ – the unconscious.
neutral with regard to normative conceptions of the good life. this does not necessarily mean that we should side with the communitarians and abandon the notion of individual rights and liberal institutions altogether. For liberal philosophers like Rawls. However. 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. Communitarians. in other words. Liberalism presupposes certain forms of subjectivity based on the notion of the autonomous. philosophical and moral perspectives found in contemporary societies (see Rawls 1996: 35–40). but merely to a neutral framework that allows for competing conceptions of the good life. 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. 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. However. neutral rights are given priority over value-laden conceptions of the good. the autonomous. For Rawls. 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). have objected that this supposedly neutral notion of individual rights presupposes a speciﬁc type of subjectivity and series of conditions that make it possible. the principle of ‘justice as fairness’ refers not to any overarching moral assumption or universal conception of the good. According to some communitarians.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. The fact that rights are the product of discourses. we should reject the liberal valorization of individual rights and return to the idea of a common good and universal normative values. or should remain. In other words. For instance. disciplinary practices or ideological mechanisms . then. rational individual. 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.
and some have suggested that he may be seen as a precursor to contemporary ‘poststructuralism’ (see Koch 1997). according to Stirner. Stirner saw the abstract rational universalism and political neutrality of liberalism as merely a new form of religious conviction. moreover. Indeed. However. Stirner developed a radical critique of liberalism based upon an interrogation of its essentialist premises and foundations. I shall explore the implications of Stirner’s rejection of Enlightenment humanism for liberal political theory. then. Stirner’s work has generally received little attention from contemporary political theory. masked a series of strategies designed to negate individual difference. as well as its political articulations. But leaving this question aside for the moment. and his subsequent repudiation by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology. opening a theoretical space for an interrogation of the discourses of modernity – its essential identities and rational and moral categories. Indeed. Indeed. this was consistent. the notion of individual rights was meaningless without considering the relations of power on which they were based. and what problems this presents for liberal theory. a Christianity reinvented in terms of Enlightenment ideals. He is best known for the theoretical controversy over his critique of idealism. contingent and undecidable. and to allow him to develop the rational and moral faculties proper to his . It simply means that their status is always problematic. Deleuze. Derrida and Lacan. These ideals. For Stirner. It enabled a kind of ‘epistemological break’ within the Enlightenment tradition itself. 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). While liberalism was ostensibly a philosophy that liberated man from religious mystiﬁcation and political absolutism. there is an extraordinary resonance between Stirner’s thinking and that of later ‘poststructuralists’ such as Foucault. Humanism’s ‘religious insurrection’ As one of the lesser known of the Young Hegelian philosophers. 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. 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.14 Politics of the ego does not mean that we should entirely discount their political importance. He explored the question of how and under what conditions the liberal subject is constituted. Central to the Enlightenment humanist project was the attempt to liberate man from the fetters of religious mystiﬁcation and obscurantism. Stirner’s critique of humanism has been crucial to the development of post-Enlightenment political thought. with the subjection of the individual to new disciplinary and normalizing practices.
Feuerbach has only inverted them and placed man within them. Stirner argues that Feuerbach’s critique of religion has not succeeded in overthrowing it. In humanism. In other words. For Stirner. man is just as oppressive. he denies human dignity. The end result of Feuerbach’s humanist dialectic. for Feuerbach. these qualities that religion attributes to God are really the reiﬁed qualities of man as a ‘species being’. through Feuerbach’s humanist insurrection. thus keeping intact the structures of religious oppression. and fear of man has taken the place of the old fear of God’ (1995: 165). man becomes like God. saying to him that he was nothing while God was everything.Politics of the ego 15 humanity. love and wisdom. 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. by seeing God’s qualities as really man’s reiﬁed qualities. in Feuerbach’s eyes. the sublime cruelty of Christianity. Rather than overthrowing the categories of religious authority and alienation. merely reinvented it in a new humanist form. was to negate man’s humanity and bring him face to face with a sort of inverted mirror image of himself. 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. Feuerbach has not displaced God so much as turned man into God. God was really an illusory externalization of man’s own humanity. . In other words. . However. for instance. Ludwig Feuerbach. alienated through religion – as an alienating abstraction itself. according to Stirner. and just as man was once subordinated to God. as a form of Christianity reinvented. goodness and so on. with its rational and moral discourses that were supposed to free people from religious mystiﬁcation and idealism. Here Stirner breaks with the discourse of humanism by introducing a radical division between man and the individual. external ﬁgure that remains forever out of his grasp. than God: ‘ “Man” is the God of today. man’s essential self is displaced and stolen. rationality. Man becomes. This is why Stirner sees Enlightenment humanism. . and religion generally. In this way. In other words. However. the essence of man becomes a superstitious ideal that now alienates the individual. leaving him alienated and debased: ‘Man gives up his personality . if not more so. Like God. it is precisely this secular emancipation of man – so emblematic of humanism – that Stirner questions. 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’. and man will never be free until this essential humanity is restored to him through the dialectical overcoming of the Christian illusion. the human ego’ (Feuerbach 1957: 27–28). the ultimate expression of divine attributes – love. having been abstracted from him and projected onto an alien. so the individual is subordinated to this perfect being. man. Stirner goes beyond the problematic of humanism by seeing human essence – the very essence that has become.
in this sense. is liberalism. ‘the highest essence’. Humanism is seen as a discourse which. political liberalism established itself on the principle of a formal equality of rights: equality before the law. . for Stirner. Just like the concept of God. In a counter-dialectic Stirner shows the way in which liberalism develops through a series of political permutations. one who has been liberated from the shackles of aristocratic privilege and may now express this freedom in the public sphere. The political expression of this new domination. for atheists. 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. However.16 Politics of the ego Humanism may be seen as a new secular religion based on a universal idea of human essence. Liberalism is a secular politics for a secular age. a political counterpart to the epistemology of the Enlightenment – basing itself on reason and law rather than absolutism and tyranny. and equal and unmediated access to political institutions. Stirner has turned humanism back upon itself. as the logical political counterpart to the Enlightenment: it is founded on the presupposition of a rational. the concept of essence is radically external to the individual. This is a distinctly modern form of rule. The dialectic begins with the emergence of ‘political liberalism’ – which. 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. and culminates in both the ﬁnal liberation of man and the complete subjection of the individual. This notion of human essence becomes sacred. (Stirner 1995: 38) The dialectics of liberalism Through this critique of Feuerbach. introducing a radical break within the Enlightenment tradition. Political liberalism may be seen. devouring the individual in its abstract generalities and universal ideals. while it claims to free man. In the place of the antiquated system of hierarchy and privilege. but a general and ‘higher’. yes. is synonymous with the development of the modern state. for example. autonomous and rights-bearing bourgeois subject. actually introduces new forms of subjugation and alienation. for Stirner. based on the notion of neutrality and institutional transparency. 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. and yet – though he be ‘his essence’ – is not in fact his essence (which would rather be as single as he the individual himself). After the fall of the ancien régime a new locus of sovereignty has emerged – the democratic republican state. according to Stirner.
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. through the doctrine of equality of rights. this notion of political rights is limited – it is granted to the individual by the state and is therefore formal and empty. so Stirner claims that political liberty means only that the state is free to further dominate the individual: ‘Political liberty’. In other words. despite its claim to be the embodiment of liberation. First. but stands in direct and immediate relation to it.Politics of the ego 17 However. just as Marx contended that religious liberty meant only that religion was free to further alienate the individual in civil society. am only a man’ (Stirner 1995: 93). Rather than giving the individual autonomy from the political authority of the state. through the logic of political liberalism. It is precisely this self-interestedness that Stirner wants to protect as the basis for individual difference. individual difference. anonymous political identity – that of the citizen. Stirner detects several problems in political liberalism. communes and so on – and allowing a more direct and absolute connection with the state. In other words. on the contrary. and he sees the liberal state. what Stirner objects to is the way that the state. the individual is reduced to a commonality sanctioned by the state. like every other. Moreover. 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). Therefore. reduces all individual difference to a general. the notion of formal equality of political rights does not recognize. because one is a – citizen. as conventional accounts of liberalism claim. guilds. that to it I. cutting out the complex intricacies of feudal relationships – tithes. what he is criticizing is the way that. The ‘equality of rights’ means only that ‘the state has no regard for my person. 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. and indeed reduces. to be an institution that intrudes upon this individuality. the individual’s subjection in the state and to the state’s laws. thus shutting down the autonomous spaces upon which political life did not intrude. This is not to say that Stirner sees anything wrong with equality as such. Political liberalism is not too pluralistic. 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. it also removes the obstacles and plural arrangements that hitherto stood between political power and the individual. but rather not pluralistic enough. (Stirner 1995: 96) .
in the second articulation of liberalism. The individual ﬁnds himself subordinated to a rational and moral order in which certain modes of subjectivity are constructed as essential and enlightened. Stirner ﬁnds behind this talk of social liberation. for Stirner. ‘social liberals’ demand that the principle of equality be extended to the social and economic domain. The ‘proletariat’. to turn him into the ‘good citizen of the state’. 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. This subaltern identity constitutes the excluded other of the liberal bourgeois citizen: it refers to those who have no place in society.18 Politics of the ego This question of citizenship brings us to the further problem. Indeed. Citizenship is a mode of subjectivity based on unquestioned obedience and devotion to the modern state. for example. it is precisely through the liberal discourse of universal rights and freedoms that the individual is increasingly dominated and subjected to alienating norms. there is a whole series of normalizing strategies and disciplinary techniques designed to subjectify the individual. who are radically excluded from all notions of citizenship. vagrants. prostitutes. and liberalism as a new secular. equality was restricted to the formal level of political and legal rights. For Stirner. However. While social . paupers – those with ‘nothing to lose’ (1995: 102). rational religion – a religion in which the modern state has taken the place of God. Stirner describes liberals as zealots. People must be equal socially and economically. and even from relations of labour and economic exchange. he must now work for the beneﬁt of the whole of society. refers to those who do not or cannot live up to bourgeois norms – the vagabonds. according to Stirner. property is to be owned by society as a whole and distributed equally. and in which rational laws have become as fundamental. and from which any dissent results in marginalization. that humanity can liberate itself and develop fully. This can only be achieved through the abolition of private property. according to social liberals. is the rational and moral absolutism that accompanies it. Where the individual once worked for himself. ruined gamblers. Whereas in the discourse of political liberalism. then. the discourse of political liberalism constitutes a certain form of subjectivity – the bourgeois citizen – that the individual is forced to conform to. a further denial of the individual and an intensiﬁcation of oppression. as well as politically. This would be the class that Marx rather dismissively termed the ‘lumpenproletariat’. This domination is intensiﬁed. which is seen as an alienating and depersonalizing relation. the category of bourgeois citizenship creates a series of excluded identities. Behind the visage of political liberalism. Stirner argues. In this way. which he calls ‘social liberalism’. The problem with political liberalism. and the way that this denies individual difference and establishes universal norms that exclude certain identities. absolute and oppressive as Christian edicts. It is only through a sacriﬁce of the individual ego for society. Instead.
The labourer in socialist society is still working for himself. In doing so. which is our humanity itself. behind this discourse of social and economic equality for all. Social equality and commonality are thus a more effective means of limiting individual autonomy. as they may be understood in this analysis – claim to be ﬁghting for equality. what they really ﬁnd intolerable. Once again the individual is alienated by an abstract generality. they would be abolishing one of the few remaining places of individual autonomy. this ﬁnal stage in man’s liberation is also the ﬁnal and complete abolition of the individual ego. according to Stirner. Because social liberalism is based on labour. human . but be a human being. 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. Individual difference is simply abolished through the call to identify the essence of man and humanity within everyone: ‘Cast from you everything peculiar. the ﬁnal reconciliation of humanity with itself. egoism. in Stirner’s analysis the inexorable dialectic of liberalism continues. political liberalism still allowed certain limited spaces for individuality – in private property. For humane liberals. every kind of particularity and difference must be overcome for the greater glory of humanity. There is no essence of humanity residing in each individual waiting to be discovered. even though his labour is regulated by the social whole. Like the liberal state. and now even the idea of society is seen as not universal enough. this ideal of universal humanity. In other words. for instance. is individual egoism: ‘We want to make egoists impossible! . according to Stirner. it is seen as still caught within the paradigm of materialism and. Stirner argues that. the idea of society is seen as sacred and universal.Politics of the ego 19 liberals – or socialists. that “all may have” ’ (1995: 105). Therefore. in which individual differences have been transcended. Humane liberalism is the last stage in the dialectic of liberalism. demanding of the individual the same self-sacriﬁce and unquestioned obedience. . the internal ideal of man and the essence of humanity are what people should strive for. all of us must have nothing. there is a pernicious and hidden resentment of individual difference. not a Christian. there is nothing essential about humanity or mankind: they are nothing but ideological apparitions that tie the individual to external. Here. society itself becomes the new locus of sovereignty and domination. is the ﬁnal goal of man – the state of perfection and harmony in which man has been ﬁnally liberated from the external objective world. rather than the liberal state. nothing but a human being’ (Stirner 1995: 114). Be not a Jew. as we have seen. In other words. criticize it away. Humanity must instead strive for a more ideal. abstract and universal goal. as the discourse of humanism would have it. To this end. the third and ﬁnal articulation of liberalism emerges: ‘humane liberalism’. alien commonalities. which socialists now want to do away with. However. However. therefore. For Stirner. according to Stirner. Rather. despite its restrictions. .
This critique of the dialectic as being hostile to difference is a theme familiar to a number of contemporary poststructuralist thinkers. even if only in the spectral form of the un-man. as a radical excess which escapes its logic. In other words. Thus. Gilles Deleuze. by the side of man stands the un-man. explores Nietzsche’s thinking in terms of a rejection of the Hegelian dialectic. is the whore. however. Stirner’s critique of liberalism would seem to support this. Ethnic. Indeed. marginalized identities. . and mask its misunderstanding of difference and its attempt to reconcile it with the logic of the same. Therefore. The un-man is that part of the individual that is leftover from the dialectical process. according to Stirner. Once private property was abolished. and to expose as its culmination not the triumph of freedom or rationality. sees Stirner as one of the ‘avatars of the dialectic’ – as ‘the dialectician who reveals nihilism as the truth of the dialectic’ (1992: 161). egoism took refuge in individual thoughts and opinions. In this way. for Stirner. The exemplary ﬁgure of disgust for the humane liberal. Nietzsche shows that the oppositions central to the structure of the dialectic – thesis and antithesis – are only superﬁcial. Humane liberalism. the individual. produces a series of excluded. As Stirner shows. but rather the . . the egoist’ (Stirner 1995: 125). We have seen the way in which the various forms of liberalism progressively limited the spaces for individual autonomy. who. humane liberalism. it is precisely through these excluded identities that the liberal subject constitutes its own universality. even this has been denied under humane liberalism – individual opinions have now been taken over by general human opinion (Stirner 1995: 116). it is precisely through the humanist drive to overcome alienation that the alienation of the concrete individual is ﬁnally accomplished. humane liberalism attempts to abolish all forms of particularity and difference. an invincible opposite . we see in humane liberalism the complete domination of the general over the particular. Deleuze. is only the political expression of this ﬁnal abdication of the individual ego. According to Deleuze. national and religious differences – indeed anything that would allow some form of particularity or uniqueness – must all melt into a universal humanity. Moreover. there is a point at which the universalizing dialectic of liberalism fails to fully incorporate difference – and difference remains.20 Politics of the ego essence is something radically alien and external to the individual. despite. the ﬁgure of man central to humanism and liberalism is always haunted by an other – the ‘un-man’ or Unmensch. and which cannot be incorporated into the general identity of humanity: ‘Liberalism as a whole has a deadly enemy. its proclaimed universality and inclusiveness. Stirner sees the proclaimed liberation of humanity as the culmination of the progressive subordination and alienation of the individual. Therefore. Stirner uses the dialectical structure precisely to undermine the dialectic itself. because she ‘turns her body into a money-getting machine’ deﬁles her own humanity (1995: 113). or rather because of. for instance. Now. moreover.
The truth of this supremely rational process is the spectre of man and human essence. a new logic of domination. has revealed itself in the domination of the individual and the exclusion of difference. In the discourse of social liberalism. there is a covert network of disciplinary technologies and normalizing practices designed to regulate the individual. Stirner has unmasked the disavowed underside of liberalism – behind the language of rights. a post-‘juridical’. the supreme illusion. Liberalism may be understood. The dialectic of liberalism. and may be seen as a strategy of constituting the individual in conformity with this essence – as a subject of external norms. but rather as a certain ‘technology’ that runs through different political symbolizations and instantiates itself in different ways. ideological mechanisms and political institutions. Thus. Liberalism is therefore the political articulation of the idea of human essence. social and humane – were simply stages in the revelation of a new meaning. Stirner argues that liberalism is the attempt to impose a universal rational . 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. it is clear that Stirner’s diagnosis of liberalism as a normalizing. The oppositions between the different articulations of liberalism – political. then. it operates by constructing the individual around a certain subjectivity which actively desires its own domination. freedoms and universal ideals. In other words. liberalism does not operate through simple overt repression – its mechanism is much more subtle. Rather. Humane liberalism completes this subjection through a normalization of the individual according to the ideal of mankind. more than a century before Foucault and Deleuze. 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. It may be argued here that Stirner has uncovered. the individual is tied to external collective arrangements through a subjection to the idea of society. This is a strategy that runs through different political arrangements and is progressively intensiﬁed.2 In any case. post-repressive paradigm of power that operates through self-subjection.Politics of the ego 21 universalization of alienation and mystiﬁcation. 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. but also for conceptualizations of power and ideology in political theory. Rationality may be seen as one of these liberal disciplinary technologies. as we have seen. disciplinary technology has fundamental implications not only for contemporary understandings of liberalism. Disciplinary liberalism Stirner therefore goes beyond conventional accounts of liberalism in seeing it not as a particular political system or set of institutions.
as a way of excluding different and antagonistic discursive positions – ‘opinions’ – from a universal ‘rational order’. Nietzsche was suspicious of this all too conﬁdent . While my purpose here is not to engage in a comparison between Stirner and Nietzsche. 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. in other words.22 Politics of the ego order on the world: ‘“Liberalism is nothing else than the knowledge of reason.” Its aim is a “rational order”. Rational truth is always removed from the grasp of the individual and held over him tyrannically. . its very status has become a political question. Stirner’s critique has been precisely to make problematic this idea of essence. For Nietzsche. Thus. thus creating an external alienating ideal that one is expected to conform to. Going against the Enlightenment humanist tradition. human essence can no longer be taken as an ontological certainty. liberalism is based on a notion of human essence that the individual is expected to conform to. precisely by branding these dissenting voices as irrational or unreasonable. a “moral behaviour” . Nietzsche also talks about the way that rational and moral ideas dominate the modern consciousness and turn the individual against himself. . For Stirner. The politics of resentment This critique of universal rationality has certain important parallels with Nietzsche. Stirner is not necessarily opposed to rationality itself. from Stirner’s perspective. But. if reason rules. According to Stirner. revealing the will to power behind them. Both Stirner and Nietzsche see liberalism as an inverted form of Christianity. then the person succumbs’ (Stirner 1995: 96). 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. the idea of the essential human subject is problematic. as Stirner has shown. However. based on a resentment of difference and individuality. would be seen. in particular the desire for power and domination. is a coercive marginalization of individual difference. What this notion of the rational consensus conceals. Rather. Rational truth has no real meaning beyond individual perspectives. as we have seen. applied to our existing relations. similarly. but rather its status as a universal and absolute discourse. liberalism is based upon an essentialist understanding of the individual – on the idea of a universal rational and moral subject. 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. to expose its ideological function and the relations of power that are instantiated through it. 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. This has enormous implications for liberalism because.
the individual himself is split between an identiﬁcation with liberal subjectivity. that lies beneath it. then. As Stirner shows. 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. Nietzsche sees humanism as only the last metamorphosis of Christianity. Thus. For both Stirner and Nietzsche. resentment is turned against oneself and becomes a sickness. Nietzsche shows. is hostile to difference – it cannot understand difference except by incorporating it within its moral structures and deﬁning it in oppositional terms. Even though we have killed God. and now feel obliged to cling all the more ﬁrmly to Christian morality’ (Nietzsche 1990: 80). and a recognition of those elements of himself which do not or cannot conform to this ideal. 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. This attitude of ressentiment. and which are seen as pathological. still wandering. Stirner’s un-man refers not only to differences outside the modern .Politics of the ego 23 modernist proclamation of the Death of God: ‘The tremendous event is still on its way. it has not yet reached the ears of men’ (Nietzsche 1974: 182). inhuman and are often violently repressed. what is different to itself is necessarily bad. as well as for Stirner. In this way. we are not yet ready for this event – we are still trapped within the categories of metaphysics. The human is merely a way of reproducing the divine. 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. individuals who deviate from the accepted moral and rational norms of liberalism are excluded from the liberal polity. precisely because without this external other it could not deﬁne itself as good. Like Stirner. of the slave against the master. in the religious mode of consciousness. 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. 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. Perhaps. The individual is thus alienated and ‘terriﬁed at himself’ (Stirner 1995: 41). The Feuerbachian image of a god-like man – imbued with rationality and goodness – is for Nietzsche. an inverted image of the sacriﬁce of the individual on the humanist altar of self-mortiﬁcation. Perhaps we could understand liberalism in this sense – as a political logic infected by a resentment of difference and individuality. in other words. Moreover. Morality is simply our inability to relinquish Christianity: ‘They have got rid of the Christian God. in liberal societies.
court injunctions. in different ways. psychiatric patients. disciplinary procedures and social sanctions are applied to those who fall behind: welfare breaches. the theory of cure runs parallel with the theory of punishment. reformed or converted’ (Connolly 1991: 79). the homeless. illegal immigrants and welfare-dependents – are marginalized because they do not live up to the liberal ideal of the autonomous. (Stirner 1995: 213) In other words. By constructing the liberal subject as responsible and autonomous. discipline and taming. in which particular identities – such as the unemployed. Because this universalized abstraction is privileged over the concrete individual. Moreover. 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. as Stirner shows. Thinkers like Stirner. 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. the moral hygiene of the subject becomes a new norm according to which transgressions are punished. self-reliant subject. William Connolly analyses this reactive intolerance of difference characteristic of today’s liberal societies. as a decadence from his health. masking an unprecedented state domination and restriction of individuality.24 Politics of the ego liberal subject. this domination is articulated in a new paradigm of power and is justiﬁed in terms of the ‘health’ of the subject. responsible. engage in a genealogy of the autonomous liberal subject – unmasking the way that he is constituted through strategies of domination. We can easily apply this argument to modern liberal societies. but to those within him as well. 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. ﬁnes. there is no guarantee in liberalism for even the private space of individual autonomy that it purports to hold sacred (see Warren 1988: 215). if the latter sees in action a sin against right. Both Stirner and Nietzsche. independent. liberalism inculcates a sense of rancour and guilt against the self where it fails to meet this standard. conﬁnement in psychiatric wards or detention centres. Liberalism is based on the assumption of an essential human subject as the locus of rationality and natural rights. medicalization. prison sentences. the former takes it for a sin of the man against himself.3 For instance. drug addicts. This has obvious connec- . This private space is merely the ideological supplement of liberalism. A whole series of punishments. so that what the slave must be becomes the standard against which every difference is deﬁned as a deviation to be punished. However this subject is shown to be the result of an ideological or discursive operation.
liberalism was not so much a philosophy that sought to protect the natural freedom of the individual against the state. and how this makes liberalism itself problematic. such as Wendy Brown. Brown asks: ‘Might such protection codify within law the very powerlessness it seeks to redress?’ (1995: 21).Politics of the ego 25 tions with Foucault’s formula of punishment and incarceration. are the disciplinary and discursive conditions under which the subject of liberalism – the subject of formal rights and freedoms – has been constructed. What is really at issue for Foucault. the function of liberalism is precisely to mask the nature of this disciplinary power with the outmoded language of sovereignty – the ‘juridico-discursive’ paradigm. Indeed. these two understandings of liberalism ultimately coincide. to be more precise. The prison system. the rights claims of certain feminist groups simply reafﬁrm their status as ‘victims’ requiring the protection of the state. ‘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 . in other words. is the discursive threshold where individual freedom meets the regulative power of the state. Brown argues that while rights ostensibly give the individual autonomy from the state. That is to say that. Liberalism. for Foucault. for instance. at the same time. could be seen as the ‘other side’ of liberalism: behind the liberal institutions of formal rights. In a similar manner to Stirner. Brown argues that when minority groups and identities situate their demands for recognition and autonomy within the liberal language of rights. As Foucault says. For instance. and the strategies of power. knowledge and discipline that operate there. because they are sanctioned and prescribed by the state. then. 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. as for Stirner. Foucault also exposed the disciplinary technologies and subjectifying norms behind the veneer of liberalism. Other contemporary thinkers. allowing the state to extend its power over life. 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). Or. they only tie the individual more ﬁrmly to it. for both Stirner and Foucault. as well as for Stirner. in which the new fetters of ‘reason’ and ‘humane punishment’ take the place of the old moral prejudices. In other words. but rather a mode of government – or a governmental rationality – that promoted a particular form of life as free. are critical of the liberal discourse of rights. independent judiciaries and legal procedures there lies a whole network of normalizing techniques that constitute an entirely different form of power. the problem with liberal rights is that they are only realizable within a state framework that at the same time limits them.
Liberal freedom is based on a false universality and neutrality which masks its complicity with power. Of course. For Stirner. this freedom is always tempered by a notion of responsibility – so that a certain degree of freedom is allowed to some and not others. at the same time. for instance. he takes the concept of property and . the problem with liberalism is not that it allows too much individual freedom and autonomy – as communitarians might claim – but. then. the individual must continually ‘consume’ himself and invent himself anew (Stirner 1995: 150). For instance. 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. It may be seen. a kind of ‘hyper-liberalism’. rather than ﬁxed. and is restricted only to particular spheres of life. Ownness increases the individual’s power of self-determination by breaking away from essentialist identities and universal ideals. on the contrary. and become an own man’ (Stirner 1995: 151). This involves an assertion of the self as a contingent. Stirner uses the language of liberalism to interrogate its limits. the individual can only free himself from these limitations by inventing new forms of subjectivity and autonomy. The individual ego is thus seen as ‘creative nothingness’. identity. Here Stirner advocates a radical form of individual autonomy which he calls self-ownership or ownness.26 Politics of the ego discourses. For Stirner. Paradoxically. That is why the individual must go beyond the formal freedoms of liberalism and invent his own forms of autonomy. 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.4 Stirner has exposed the dark. as a radical and highly individualistic form of freedom that goes beyond the formal conﬁnes set down for it by liberalism. that it does not allow enough. In this way. dominating. and thus remains conﬁned to liberal modes of subjectivity that are. In order to remain one step ahead of the subjectifying power of liberalism. then. 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. The individual seeks to conform to a series of moral and rational norms. This implies a form of autonomy that goes beyond the transcendental liberal ideal of freedom. the will to power and the negation of difference at the base of its proclamations of freedom and tolerance. a radical emptiness which it is up to the individual to deﬁne (Stirner 1995: 135). 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. but by this I cease to be merely a free man. 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. By contrast. it may be suggested that Stirner’s political philosophy implies an extreme form of liberalism.
Perhaps. Rather. 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. It is not that liberalism cynically parades itself as a philosophy that guarantees individual freedom. However. 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. while in actual practice denying it. in this sense.5 In other words. it is that the liberal notions of rights and freedoms are based on a certain conceptualization of the subject. 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. its only limit should be power – the individual’s ability to seize as much as possible. private possessions provided a ‘safe haven’ for the individual from the incursions of the state. but more a notion of self-ownership and selfdeterminacy that goes beyond this. as we have seen. Property refers to everything that belongs to the individual and is within his power to determine. Thus. As soon as material possessions come into conﬂict with self-ownership and autonomy they must be rejected.Politics of the ego 27 turns it against liberalism itself: why should property be restricted to what is allowed under the law? Rather. which Stirner has shown to be an oppressive and alienating ideological construction. when Stirner talks about ‘property’ he does not necessarily mean material possessions. despite its eccentricity. This concept of property would include material possessions in certain instances: for example. pushing it to its furthest limits and thereby revealing the gap between this message and the reality of liberal politics. Stirner sees material possessions as themselves enslaving the individual. in political liberalism. the liberal institution of private property is made unstable precisely by expanding it beyond all legal and rational limits. Freedom and autonomy are conditional upon the individual conforming to this abstract generality. therefore denying his difference and . derived from Enlightenment humanism and rationalism. Perhaps it could be argued. rather like Foucault’s idea of ‘care of the self’ – which involves ethical strategies of self-mastery and self-constitution (see Foucault 1994). Both point to some kind of ethics of individual autonomy and self-ownership. at other times. we could see Stirner’s concept of ‘property’ as pertaining to an open-ended project of individual autonomy. then. that Stirner’s most radical gesture is to actually take the message of liberalism – the valorization of individual autonomy and freedom – seriously. Towards a politics of ‘post-liberalism’ Stirner’s critique. Moreover. and an afﬁrmation of difference and plurality. clearly poses problems for liberal political theory. individual rights and autonomy.
through this. liberal rights and freedoms would have to be seen as contingent. however. the unemployed and illegal migrants. that there is always another side to this discourse of rights. This undecidability does not mean. Through a realization of the power relations upon which they are based. Those who do not or cannot live up to this ideal are excluded. It would encompass a whole series of potentially different and contingent political articulations.28 Politics of the ego individuality. In other words. There is an oppressive dimension through which these rights are instantiated. judicial. there is nothing necessarily wrong with liberal ideas of individual freedom and equality of rights themselves. discursive constructions and strategies of power. A radicalized discourse of rights might be used to challenge some of the practices of institutionalized exclusion and detention. however. for instance. I would argue that this interrogation of the limits of liberalism does not necessarily invalidate it. if it is the case that liberal rights and freedoms are founded not on some universal. discipline and exclusion through which liberal identities are constituted. The purpose of Stirner’s critique has been to uncover the relations of power. but on a series of arbitrary exclusions. 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. The point is. the conditions under which people are incarcerated (see 1977: 227). marginalized and subjected to a whole series of regulatory. make problematic the status of these regimes themselves? This was precisely what Foucault tried to do: in his advocacy of prisoners’ rights. 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. their status becomes undecidable rather than absolute. Indeed. where rights and legal protections are enshrined in citizenship and denied to those who fall outside this . Illegal migrants and asylum seekers face some of the worst abuses at the hands of governments today. essential subjectivity. why could one not extend the notion of rights and individual autonomy to include identities that are currently excluded by liberal regimes and. For Stirner. For instance. or more contemporary subaltern identities like the homeless. It might involve an expansion of liberal rights and freedoms to those who are marginalized in liberal societies – the ‘lumpenproletariat’. he was attempting to challenge the absolute status of the division between innocence and guilt and. it means that the discourse of rights itself would be expanded beyond its current liberal capitalist conceptualization. that the notion of rights itself is jeopardized. On the contrary. practices regarded as acceptable in our so-called liberal-democratic societies. through this. yet which remains undisclosed and disavowed. However. medical and disciplinary procedures which have as their aim the normalization of the individual. A Stirnerian concept of rights might follow along similar lines.
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’. there are many aspects of Stirner’s political philosophy that . indeed. through this. Gray theorizes a form of ‘post-liberalism’ which would recognize the irreducibility of difference. would be a reconﬁguration of liberalism on the basis of an acknowledgment of the plurality of existence and the singularity of personal freedom. perspectives and forms of life. central to which is an ongoing interrogation of the status of the individual and also. from which others can be judged.Politics of the ego 29 category. through Stirner’s critique of liberalism. afﬁrms competing and different identities. rather than a universal human essence. Like Stirner. In other words. an interrogation of the very discursive limits of liberalism itself. In attempting to extricate liberalism from its anchoring in Enlightenment epistemologies and universal conceptions of the ‘good life’. In this sense. 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. Of course. and the impossibility of inscribing this within a universal subjectivity. but rather which recognized the incommensurability of different perspectives in modern society. then. ‘Post-liberalism’. which is no longer sustainable in modern plural societies. rather. thereby allowing them to be used to interrogate the structures of power and practices of domination inherent in liberal capitalist societies. post-liberalism would be based on the recognition of the contingency of identity. and would concern itself only with establishing a modus vivendi between competing forms of life. This would free liberal rights from their current epistemological limits and open them to different articulations. So for Stirner. and thus disentangle these rights and freedoms from it. but rather the discursive regime of essentialist humanism and Enlightenment rationalism that they are articulated in. it would be an agonistic liberalism in the sense that it acknowledges and. Stirner’s critique allows us to identify this essentialist paradigm. Moreover. Gray argues for an ‘agonistic’ liberalism based on the notion of ‘ethical contestability’ (Gray 1995: 86). 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. we recognize them to be products as much of chance as of choice’ (Gray 2000: 270). the problem is not the rights and freedoms themselves. This tendency derives from liberalism’s indebtedness to a defunct Enlightenment essentialism and rationalism.6 Again this points to the paradoxical and two-sided nature of this discourse of rights that Stirner has highlighted. but which. refers to a political ethos of contestation with practices of domination. we may be able to theorize a ‘postliberalism’ – a liberalism which is not conﬁned to essentialist identities and rational frameworks. As Gray says: ‘We do not pretend that our identities express the essence of the species.
30 Politics of the ego are problematic.8 It would appear that Stirner’s politics would be limited to an individual rebellion. in Nietzsche’s words ‘the rich ambiguity of existence’ (cited in Connolly 1991: 81). a post-liberal politics would seek to invent. This is the sort of pluralism that Stirner would see as endemic to liberal politics. as this would be another kind of essentialism that in the end is itself hostile to difference. Singularity may be conceptualized as a non-essential form of difference and individuality – one which is itself contingent and undecidable. and as a form of essentialism brought in through the back door. in which any kind of collective identity is seen as an oppressive burden. A politics of ‘postliberalism’ would seek to respect and encourage. . in which the rights of various minority groups are often asserted on the basis of a speciﬁc identity. On the basis of this principle of singularity. multiply and expand spaces for individual autonomy and singularity that are often denied in modern liberal societies. Stirner’s philosophy shows us the multiple possibilities of individuality – its very singular. clearly makes it difﬁcult to theorize a collective politics of resistance. Instead. his extreme individualism and egoism. contingent and unpredictable nature. his critique of essentialism could be used against a simplistic ‘politics of difference’. Instead. perhaps Stirner’s thinking may be seen in terms of a politics of singularity. However. what is important politically in Stirner’s critique of liberalism is the way that it makes problematic the ontological status of the subject. For instance. In this sense. rather than deny. ﬁxed identity of difference. The idea is not to valorize the individual as a stable.
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. He calls them the ‘anarchist dogs’ that are roaming the streets of European culture. the epitome of the ‘herd-animal morality’ that characterizes modern democratic politics (1994: 161). Slave morality and ressentiment Ressentiment is diagnosed by Nietzsche as the sickness endemic to our modern condition. particularly in the essentialist identities and oppositional structures that inhabit it. it is necessary to understand the relationship between master morality and . (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. This is not with the intention of dismissing anarchism as a political theory. I will explore this cunning logic of ressentiment in relation to radical politics. and I will attempt to unmask the hidden strains of ressentiment in the Manichean political thinking of classical anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin. Nietzsche sees anarchism as poisoned at the root by the pestiferous weed of ressentiment – the spiteful politics of the weak and pitiful. I will take seriously his charge against anarchism. In order to understand ressentiment.2 Ressentiment and radical politics A word in the ear of the psychologists. Is Nietzsche here merely venting his conservative wrath against radical politics. However. or is he diagnosing a real sickness that has infected our radical political imaginary? Despite Nietzsche’s obvious prejudice towards radical politics. however. 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. assuming they are inclined to study ressentiment close up for once: this plant thrives best amongst anarchists. On the contrary. the morality of the slave. particularly anarchism.
are the only pious people. the only ones. therefore I am good’. it was the value of the master – ‘good’ – as opposed to that of the slave – ‘bad’. it was in this pathos of distance between the high-born and the low-born that values were created (1994: 61). to bring about a reversal and held it in the teeth of their unfathomable hatred (the hatred of the powerless). Nietzsche says: ‘In order to come about.32 Ressentiment and radical politics slave morality in which ressentiment is generated. While the master says ‘I am good’ and adds as an afterthought. cruel. The value of ‘good’. This inversion introduced the pernicious spirit of revenge and hatred into the creation of values. godless. slave morality ﬁrst has to have an opposing. Thus the invention of values comes from a comparison or opposition to that which is outside. This reactive stance. Nietzsche’s work On the Genealogy of Morality is a study of the origins of morality. the lowly are good. the powerless. lustful. For Nietzsche. Morality. However. its origins are often brutal and far removed from the values they produce. ‘Only those who suffer are good. was invented by the noble and high-placed to apply to themselves. subterranean hatred that grew the values subsequently associated with the good – pity. saying. for instance. what is ‘other’. meekness and so on. the powerful. only the poor. this inability to deﬁne any- . whereas you rich. cursed and damned!’ (Nietzsche 1994: 19) In this way. Ressentiment is characterized by an orientation to the outside. the powerless – in other words. low-placed and plebeian. the noble. you will also be eternally wretched. insatiate. the slave says the opposite: ‘He (the master) is bad. external world. salvation is for them alone. the way we interpret and impose values on the world has a history. as we understand it. other or different. the ugly. whereas the focus of noble morality is on the self. altruism. psychologically speaking. saying ‘no’ to what is different. in contrast to the common. According to Nietzsche. has its roots in this vengeful will to power of the powerless over the powerful – the revolt of the slave against the master. Nietzsche sees ressentiment as an entirely negative sentiment – the attitude of denying what is life-afﬁrming. the slave. ‘therefore he is bad’. you are eternally wicked. It was from this imperceptible. the deprived. the slave revolt in morality inverted the noble system of values and began to equate good with the lowly. rejecting the aristocratic value equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = blessed) ventured with aweinspiring consistency. this equation of the good with the aristocracy began to be undermined by a slave revolt in values: It was the Jews who. the sick. Slave morality is characterized by an attitude of ressentiment – the resentment and hatred that is felt by the powerless towards the powerful. it needs. external stimuli in order to act all – its action is basically a reaction’ (1994: 21–22). the suffering.
the sense of difference and superiority through which great values are created. The critique of political authority – the conviction that power is oppressive. as Nietzsche suggests? While Nietzsche’s attack on anarchism is in many respects unjustiﬁed and excessively malicious. to the collectivist. that advocate them. They are generated by the same spirit of revenge and hatred of the powerful. Is anarchism the political expression of ressentiment? Is it poisoned by a deep hatred of the powerful. anarchism is diverse series of philosophies and political strategies. that has poisoned the modern consciousness. as a revolutionary political philosophy. Anarchism is. Thus the slave takes ‘imaginary revenge’ upon the master. Nietzsche sees the democratic movement as an expression of the ‘herd-animal morality’ derived from the Judeo-Christian revaluation of values (1994: 161). the most rabid expression of the herd instinct. however. To Nietzsche this is bringing everything down to the level of the lowest common denominator. logic. master and slave.Ressentiment and radical politics 33 thing except in opposition to something else. is the attitude of ressentiment. to abolish class distinctions. For classical anarchists the sovereign state was the embodiment . I would nevertheless argue that Nietzsche does uncover a certain element of ressentiment in anarchism’s oppositional. ﬁnding its expression in ideas of equality and democracy and in radical political philosophies. values of equality and democracy. origins and interpretations. to raze hierarchies to the ground. according to Nietzsche. communal anarchism of Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. Anarchism Anarchism. the most extreme heir to democratic values. and to equalize the powerful and the powerless. for Nietzsche. Nietzsche sees this as the worst of the excesses of European nihilism. or Manichean. From the individualist anarchism of Stirner. seething hatred and jealousy. It is necessary to explore this logic to see where it leads and to what extent it imposes conceptual limits on its radical politics. like anarchism. has many different voices. The weak need the existence of this external enemy to identify themselves as ‘good’. a deep-seated. It seeks to level the differences between individuals. and shows little understanding of the complexities of anarchist theory. rich and poor. by a fundamental critique and rejection of political authority in all its forms. which form the cornerstone of both liberal and radical left politics. It is the reactive stance of the weak who deﬁne themselves in opposition to the strong. arose out of the slave revolt in morality. exploitative and dehumanizing – may be said to be the crucial politico-ethical standpoint of anarchism. resulting in the death of aesthetic values and creativity. It is this ressentiment. The man of ressentiment hates the noble with an intense spite. as he cannot act without the existence of the master to oppose. For Nietzsche. They are united. thus erasing the pathos of distance between master and slave.
in other words. it was largely a reﬂection of economic exploitation and an instrument of class power. the state has its own structural logic of domination. Once class distinctions had disappeared the state would lose its political character (Marx 1978b: 545). is a priori oppression no matter what form it takes. for Bakunin. ‘the State is like a vast slaughterhouse and an enormous cemetery. 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). The ruling class. So anarchism locates the fundamental oppression and power in society in the very structure and operation of the state. As an . for anarchists. for anarchists.34 Ressentiment and radical politics of all forms of the enslavement and degradation of man. However. was the fundamental site of oppression. Rather. if it is used as a revolutionary tool as Marx suggested. Oppression and despotism exist in the very structure and symbolic order of the state – it is not merely a derivative of class power. For Marx. all the living forces of a country. The state is the main target of the anarchist critique of authority. If the state is not destroyed immediately. The state was only dominating. This last point brought anarchism into sharp conﬂict with Marxism. which is often beyond the control of the ruling class and does not necessarily reﬂect economic relations. Instead of seeing the state as deriving from social and economic relations. The state has its own logic and momentum. and it must be abolished as the ﬁrst act of any social revolution. the fundamental source of oppression in society. For anarchists. So the state. It is. expansion and self-perpetuation and is largely autonomous from class interests. It would generate. 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). as Bakunin claimed. where under the shadow and the pretext of this abstraction (the common good) all the best aspirations. the state is much more than an expression of class and economic power. because the state has its own autonomous logic it can never be trusted as an instrument of revolution. In Bakunin’s words. the anarchists believed that it was actually political oppression that made economic oppression possible (see Bakunin 1950: 49). anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin disagreed with Marx on precisely this point. because it was currently in the hands of the bourgeoisie. was only the state’s real material representative: behind every ruling class of every epoch there looms the state. the economy. as Marx did. Therefore. Because of this. Marx believed that while the state was indeed oppressive and exploitative. the state could be used as a tool of revolution if it was in the hands of the right class – the proletariat. are sanctimoniously immolated and interred’ (1984: 207). then it will be perpetuated in inﬁnitely more tyrannical ways. rather than the state.
Ressentiment and radical politics 35 abstract machine of domination. no common goal that unites humanity. the state emerged as a ‘terrible tyranny. Unlike social contract theorists. Rather than preventing perpetual warfare between people. how can they have the foresight to come together for their common ends? That is to say. Nietzsche here rejects the fantasy of the social contract – the idea. their natural drives. This conception of the state ironically strikes a familiar note with Nietzsche. and has nothing to with ‘contracts’ (1994: 63). The social contract Anarchists also repudiate social contract theories which. how does the social contract. without rationality or morality. society embodied a natural. that people voluntarily relinquish their power to a centralized sovereign body in return for their safety and security. by a radical and ongoing antagonism. He sees the state as an abstract machine of domination which precedes capitalism. Because of its economic reductionism. as it was in the Hobbesian paradigm. Like the anarchists. this supremely rational gesture. emerge? Political authority cannot. as a repressive and ruthless machinery’. Society regulates itself according to natural laws and principles. the state actually engenders it. rather than rational agreement. Moreover the origins of this state are violent: it is imposed forcefully from without. the state haunts different class actualizations – not just the bourgeoisie state. which subjugated the population (Nietzsche 1994: 62–63). The theory of the social contract is based on the myth of the ‘state of nature’ – a picture of society characterized. but the workers’ state too. if there is no notion of social unity to begin with. where there were no common bonds that united people. Rather. rending them apart. therefore. then. they argue. For classical anarchists. and it is based on an essential commonality between people. an ideological ﬁction created to legitimize the state (1984: 136). serve to conceal the violence of the state’s origins. He exposes the paradox at the heart of the social contract: that if people live a savage existence in the state of nature. central to liberal theories of sovereignty. The state has no legitimacy: it is a brutal and unnecessary intrusion that disturbs a naturally functioning social order. it is based on a founding gesture of violence that is masked by the ideological ﬁction of the contract. Nietzsche also sees modern man as ‘tamed’ and fettered by the state. However Bakunin condemns this theory as an ‘unworthy hoax’. as Hobbes contends. Instead of being characterized by a . and it comes about through war and conquest. The state is a mode of domination that imposes a regulated ‘interiorization’ upon the populace. anarchists argued that society has no need for the state. organic fullness. According to Nietzsche. Marxism was blind to this autonomous dimension of state power. on the contrary. looming above class and economic concerns. be based on a rational and free agreement between individuals.
These principles are essential to the subject’s existence: they surround us.36 Ressentiment and radical politics nihilistic emptiness. and the actions of the state to the clumsy hands that disturb its operation. and that man is naturally co-operative rather than competitive and egoistic. in other words. providing a common basis upon which daily life can be conducted. It is only with the destruction of state power that this dislocation will itself be overcome and society will be reconciled with itself. It is the intervention of political power that creates social dislocation. However. aggressive and competitive. organic life world. rather than preventing it. selﬁsh. According to the anarchists. the essential core of the subject’s humanity. rational principles which are part of a natural. Human beings were. then. a state of ‘anarchy’ exists now. they are inherent in us. as Hobbes believed. and put a stop to its motion’ (1968: 92). shape us and determine the physical world in which we live. Manicheism Central to classical anarchism is a radical conceptual division between two ontological orders – that of ‘natural authority’ and ‘artiﬁcial authority’. Kropotkin saw this natural mechanism in the ethical principle of mutual aid and co-operation. the principle of mutual aid constitutes an essential commonality that is lacking in the ‘state of nature’. human beings were essentially co-operative and sociable. As the anarchist William Godwin said: ‘They lay their hand on the spring there is in society. Kropotkin applied these ﬁndings to human society. A state of ‘anarchy’. Kropotkin argued that co-operation and mutual aid amongst animals were more prevalent and instinctive than competition and aggression (1955: 5). by the loneliness and desperation of the ‘state of nature’. moreover. This natural sociability is the principle that binds society together. They are. The natural mechanism may be likened. our whole being physically. It is. this principle of mutual aid that will naturally replace the principle of political authority. a war of ‘all against all’ will not ensue once the sovereign power is displaced. It is this natural mechanism that political power only interferes with. The social contract relies on a singularly negative idea of human nature. society is governed by a natural harmony which regulates relations between individuals. however. . according to Bakunin. to the spring of a clock. and it is out of this that notions of morality. Contrary to what he saw as a pseudo-Darwinist approach. intellectually and morally’ (Bakunin 1984: 239). is the dimension that is governed by ‘natural laws’ – that is. that this was a misrepresentation of the human condition. 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. Kropotkin believed. justice and ethics grow. Natural authority. in this paradigm. Rather. they constitute our nature. He argued that the basic principle of human society is mutual aid. It is an organic principle that governs society. In this sense.
the other artiﬁcial and evil – is precisely the logic of Manicheism. This struggle is part of a dialectical process in which the subject develops to a state of full humanity. in subscribing to this logic and making political power the focus of its analysis instead of economic relations. Anarchism may be understood. Institutionalized political power. according to Bakunin. 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. this form of authority is seen as inherently oppressive. as a struggle between these two forms of authority. This development is determined by natural laws. two levels of reality which are easily placed in opposition.Ressentiment and radical politics 37 In Bakunin’s schema. This schema. This form of authority is ‘entirely mechanical and artiﬁcial’. and constitutes an unnatural imposition upon it. thus keeping him perpetually enslaved. (Donzelot 1979: 74) Moreover. then. Has it not merely replaced the economy with the state as the essential evil in society. essential to the existence of the revolutionary subject. which is embodied in political institutions such as the state and in man-made laws. this natural order is diametrically opposed to the ‘artiﬁcial’ order of power and political authority. moreover. Moreover. political institutions are ‘hostile and fatal to the liberty of the masses. As Jacques Donzelot argues. whose predominance will be restored after the revolutionary overthrow of political authority. For Bakunin. The state is. and is constituted by ‘pneumatic machines called governments’ (1984: 239). as Marxism did. just as the revolutionary subject is essential to the existence of the state. Political power restricts the subject’s rational and moral potential. It is external and alien to human nature. irrational and corrupting. is seen as an external parasitic force that contaminates and distorts this social order. There is no political culture that is not Manichean. a theological dualism that ﬁnds its secular form in radical political philosophies like anarchism. thus. then. anarchism. for they impose upon them a system of external and therefore despotic laws’ (1984: 240). two hostile camps. human subjectivity is essentially moral and rational while the state is essentially immoral and irrational. In the case of anarchism. has perhaps has fallen into the same reductionist trap as Marxism. the tracing of a line of demarcation between two principles. Anarchism can only be understood through the image of a natural order – an organic wholeness that forms the basis of society. which establishes a clear opposition between two ontological points – one natural and good. The Manichean paradigm divides the world into two opposing orders. 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. One deﬁnes itself in opposition to .
is at the same time essential to the forma- . which pits the essentially ‘moral’ and ‘rational’ human subject against the essentially ‘immoral’ and ‘irrational’ quality of political power. although the subject is oppressed by the operation of power. as we have seen. from which power can be condemned as immoral and irrational. First. Moreover. The purity of revolutionary identity is only deﬁned in contrast to the impurity of political power. Anarchism subscribes to a dialectical logic. the realization of full human subjectivity is always deferred or put off by the state. this absolute separation between the dimension of subjectivity and the dimension of political power means that. 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. as occupying an epistemologically and morally privileged position outside the order of power. one could conceivably argue that anarchist subjectivity and ethics – the notion of mutual aid and assistance – is something that develops independently of political power. this power is external to him – emanating from an artiﬁcial. 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. However. However. world. exist without each other. ressentiment is based on the moral prejudice of the powerless against the powerful – the revolt of the ‘slave’ against the ‘master’. Second. as opposed to a natural. Thus the subject cannot achieve his full human identity as long as he remains oppressed by the state. and that therefore it does not need an oppositional relationship with the state in order to deﬁne itself. I would argue that although there are differences. the state. Paradoxically. 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. This allows anarchist theory to view human subjectivity as a sort of uncontaminated point of departure – in other words. which is seen by anarchists as an obstacle to the full identity of man. the two antagonists could not exist outside this relationship. We can see this moral opposition to power clearly in anarchist discourse. however. in other words. it is precisely through this assertion of radical exteriority that ressentiment emerges. the comparison with anarchism is not so clear-cut.38 Ressentiment and radical politics the other. Perhaps this paradoxical relationship between subjectivity and power might be seen as a form of ressentiment in the Nietzschean sense. While the relationship between the state and the revolutionary subject is one of clearly deﬁned opposition. Here. the subject ﬁnds this development impeded by the power of the state. They could not. ressentiment is characterized by the fundamental need to identify oneself by looking outwards and in opposition towards an external enemy. according to which the human species emerges from an ‘animal-like’ state and begins to develop independent moral and rational faculties. For instance.
Like Nietzsche’s reactive man. Second. Both are seen as part of the same rational process of unfolding – in which case. we see precisely this paradoxical logic in anarchism – where the subject seeks emancipation from power. Ernesto Laclau sees this contradiction as being endemic to Enlightenment-based discourses of emancipation. on the one hand. thus implying a relationship of dependence on the very identity it opposes. 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. For the anarchists. revolutionary identity purports to be uncorrupted by power: human essence is seen as moral where power is immoral. and the power that denies and. there is a paradoxical relationship of dependency between the subject to be emancipated. then this implies a continuity between the past and the future. These aporias suggest that the strict Manichean separation between subjectivity and power central to anarchist theory is at best problematic. and between subjectivity and the power that opposes it. 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 anarchist subject would be unable to see itself as ‘moral’ and ‘rational’. at the same time. In revolutionary philosophies like anarchism and Marxism. His identity is thus complete in its incompleteness. which presupposes a deeper underlying social logic that encompasses both subjectivity and the political forms that oppress it. there is a contradiction between the idea of the emancipation of a human essence from oppressive external structures of power. and the extent to which this essential identity is actually constituted through its opposition to the order of power. there is a tension between the Manichean oppositional structure that presupposes an absolute division between two ontological orders. natural where power is artiﬁcial. the anarchist revolution was to be the result of a dialectical unfolding of a historically determined rational social essence. However. is based on the idea of a radical break or discontinuity with the preceding social order. there is a logical incompatibility in what Laclau calls the dichotomic dimension of emancipation (1996b: 1–3). . and yet is deﬁned as the subject of emancipation precisely through its opposition to power. Emancipation. which are based on the idea of a radical emancipation of an essential human subjectivity from oppressive political and social arrangements. pure where power is impure. As I have suggested above. constitutes the identity of this subject as oppressed (Laclau 1996b: 17–18). Without this stultifying oppression. and the dialectical process described above. First.Ressentiment and radical politics 39 tion of this incomplete identity. There are. That is to say. if. at the same time. however. The existence of political power is therefore a means of constructing this absent fullness. as Laclau shows. the idea of a radical chasm and discontinuity is jeopardized. a number of contradictions or aporias in anarchism’s logic.
because of a basic law of life. according to Nietzsche we should acknowledge and indeed afﬁrm our desire for power. This forces one to question anarchism’s notion of a revolution of humanity against power: if humans have an essential desire for power. as we know. The power principle means that man cannot be trusted with power. for Nietzsche.40 Ressentiment and radical politics and that perhaps there is a contamination between these two opposing orders. Here the ‘power principle’ – this inherent desire for power that Bakunin saw as so dangerous – would be seen by Nietzsche as a positive. rather than being presupposed by it: ‘There is no being behind the deed. subverted by a natural desire for power. The Superman or Overman. “the doer” is invented as an afterthought’ (Nietzsche 1994: 28). Bakunin himself throws this strict division into doubt when he talks about the ‘power principle’. is a force or capacity that is manifested in the act of will. 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. as well as a force that precedes the subject and is felt only through its effects. Pure revolutionary identity is torn apart. Therefore power. he has perhaps unconsciously exposed the hidden contradiction that lies at the heart of anarchist discourse: namely. that while anarchism bases itself upon a notion of an essential human subjectivity uncontaminated by power. its effect and what becomes of it. life-afﬁrming force. While Bakunin intended to warn us of the corrupting danger inherent in power. this subjectivity is ultimately impossible. However I would argue that anarchism. The subject is constituted retroactively through the act of power or force. however. necessarily must develop and grow’ (1984: 248). can overcome the ressentiment that limits it politically. and revel in our ability to exercise it. 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. Nietzsche believes that to try exclude or disavow power – as anarchism does – is a sign of ressentiment. 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. asks as the sole and ﬁrst one to do so: “How shall man be overcome?” ’ (Nietzsche 1969: 297). if it can free itself from these essentialist and Manichean concepts. is man ‘overcome’: ‘God . that there will always be this desire for power at the heart of human subjectivity. Rather than denying power. Nietzsche sees power in terms of a capacity for will and action. in Nietzsche’s analysis. and every germ.
equality . to afﬁrm rather than negate. we would have to abandon the promise of a harmonious social order that would be reconciled with itself once power relations are overcome. For Nietzsche the Superman replaces God and Man. Behind the Apollonian illusion of a life-world without power. Rather. and upon which we seek to impose some sort of semblance of order – whether it be through laws. He comes to redeem a humanity crippled by nihilism and ressentiment. is the Dionysian reality of power that tears away the ‘veil of the maya’ (Megill 1985: 39). Instead we would have to accept the irreducibility and inevitability of antagonistic power struggles that rend apart stable social identities. as an expression of the Apollonian illusion central to Enlightenment humanism. 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. harmonious social identities that are uncorrupted by power. there is a multitude of conﬂicting power struggles that form the ontological basis of social identities.Ressentiment and radical politics 41 has died: now we desire – that the Superman shall live’ (Nietzsche 1969: 297). according to Nietzsche. 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. from a Nietzschean perspective. however. wanting to advocate an untrammelled Nietzschean will to power. Without. However. morality. 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. Moreover. on the other hand. In other words. and indeed for any radical politics of emancipation. 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. Indeed the universal humanist ideals which try to conceal this power struggle are themselves articulations of a particular position of power. and out of this create a new system of values. The strict Manichean separation between humanity and power on which classical anarchism bases itself would be seen. beneath the cover of which a certain type of man strives to attain power’ (Nietzche 1964: 255). Not only does Nietzsche unmask the will to power behind the very ideals of emancipation – democracy. If we are to take Nietzschean genealogy seriously. joyously afﬁrming instead power and eternal return. this tumultuous world of power. that there can be pure. We can see. to deny the reality of this power struggle would be to succumb to ‘passive’ or negative nihilism. Active nihilism would be. or rational Enlightenment ideals of humanity. then. it is illusory to imagine that power can be eradicated.
This argument ﬁnds a distinct echo in more contemporary poststructuralist thought. contract. Instead Foucault suggests an alternate model – one based on war and conquest (2003: 16). power and antagonism Nietzsche’s thematic of the will to power is reﬂected in Foucault’s genealogical project. any attempt to eliminate these entirely would itself be a form of domination. Instead. Through this genealogical understanding of social relations. discontinuity and moments of rupture puts paid to the dialectical view of history central to classical revolutionary politics. 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. which seeks to expose the constant and violent struggle for power that has raged throughout history. and 2) the ‘Marxist economic’ model – that sees power in terms of economic or class domination. and which is hidden behind universal ideals. Indeed. Genealogy. the struggle between antagonists that underlies identities and social relations is so absolute. according to Foucault.42 Ressentiment and radical politics and freedom – but he also denies radical politics an epistemologically and morally privileged position from which to condemn power. one that goes beyond: 1) the ‘juridico-sovereign’ model – deﬁned by law. revealing instead their mutual involvement and complicity. there is no possibility of a society reconciled with itself. particularly that of Foucault. Rather than there being an essential dimension of subjectivity that remained uncontaminated by power and from which power could be resisted. In other words. which indicates that the adversaries do not belong to a common space’ (1984a: 85). according to Foucault there was only a ‘non-place. as the anarchists imagined. Foucault arrives at a new methodology for observing power. power and antagonism would be irreducible features of any society. Humanity settles each one of its violences within a system of rules. and thus goes from domination to domination’ (Foucault 1984a: 91). a pure distance. In other words. we must turn to Foucault’s genealogical understanding of power relations. he displaces any sort of conceptual opposition between subjectivity and power. right. This understanding of history as embroiled in permanent antagonism. freed from the distortions and dislocations of power and based on entirely equal social relations. In particular. their differences so incommensurable. that it undermines any common ground that might exist between them. Of course. To shed some light on the theoretical deadlock of radical politics. no system of natural laws or an inherent human sociability upon which a fully reconciled social order could be established. there is a similarity here . moral discourses and legal norms. as I have shown. Rather than history unfolding in dialectical stages towards a ﬁnal and rational reconciliation of social forces. This is because there is no essential commonality at the base of society.
Foucault’s analysis shows that the subject. Foucault’s unmasking of the violence behind legal structures and sovereign authority parallels the anarchist critique of authority. is deeply embroiled in power relations. antagonism and social dislocation would cease once the state had been overthrown and replaced with an egalitarian social order. principles and relationships that would structure a post-revolutionary society. more radically.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. 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. 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. Foucault sees this antagonism as ontological. the subject has to be seen . While power can be colonized by the state. the violence that Foucault speaks of merely congeals into the very norms. In fact. the state as the anarchists believed. First. it should not be seen as belonging to. However. Rather. anarchism could sustain the strict conceptual division between society and power. is not that the state does not exist. 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. from what particular position of power is a universal social revolution articulated from? Second. Third. of course. between natural authority and artiﬁcial authority. or deriving from. Indeed. Foucault’s point. the very imposition of a post-revolutionary society would itself have to be seen as an act of violence. seeking instead to uncover a new dimension of power that was based on conquest. The fundamental question for the Nietzschean/Foucauldian genealogist is ‘who speaks?’: that is. violence and coercion. That is to say. even a post-revolutionary one. Foucault shows the way that power relations have colonized the social network and are immanent throughout it. 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. Foucault believes that it is more productive to examine what he calls ‘rationalities of government’ – that is. by seeing power as deriving from the state. there is no dialectical reconciliation of opposing forces. perpetuates the classical revolutionary strategy of overthrowing power at a single uniﬁed location. moreover. contending that power and violence would be present in any social order. Foucault would reject the Manichean separation between political authority and social relations. In some ways. In other words. Foucault’s analysis goes beyond the conceptual structures of anarchism in a number of fundamental ways. emerging from a multitude of inﬁnitesimal points and positions. rather than being autonomous from power or somehow external to it. while the anarchists believed that violence. Rather than seeing power as emanating from the state as a central symbolic position.
From Foucault’s perspective. Indeed. psychiatry and criminology – through which the subject is constructed as ‘deviant’. ‘normal’. giving it rational. . the very Enlightenment motifs of human rights. and constructing the subject as a subject of humanist norms. such a revolutionary emancipation would only produce new forms of domination. 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. subjectivity and power Does this mean that every insurrection against power is doomed to perpetuate it in new ways. or power/knowledge. were themselves merely ideological or discursive masks that hid the reality of violent domination. displacing its Enlightenment humanist foundations and exposing their complicity with power. universal rational norms and essentialist identities that anarchism believed would overcome power. 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. also has dominating effects. thus subjecting him to regulative norms of behaviour. through a ‘scientiﬁc’ revolution. nevertheless it has serious consequences for anarchism which bases itself on the emancipation. but more particularly through power being exercised over him. 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. 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.44 Ressentiment and radical politics as an effect of power relations. This is illustrated in Foucault’s numerous analyses of the disciplinary techniques and discourses – particularly those of sexuality. the will to power. While Foucault’s understanding of the relation between subjectivity and power is somewhat problematic for conceptualizing resistance. scientiﬁc and moral legitimacy. This is rather like Nietzsche’s idea that the subject is a retroactive effect of his own act of power. not only through his own exercise of power.2 Revolution. Moreover. However. indeed. of a natural human essence from the external order of power. ‘abnormal’ or. However.1 In other words. as Foucault contends. Foucault does not grant us a normatively or epistemologically privileged position from which this domination can be condemned as violation of our humanity. are precisely the discourses through which disciplinary/bio-power operates. rationality and science that radical political theories like anarchism believed would liberate us from power. but that the very humanist ideals. However. Foucault points to the darker ﬂip side of this process: the way the subject is constructed retroactively. In other words. it is through the very concept of the human that we are dominated.
persuasion and even. contours and limits: certain forms of dangerous or violent behaviour would have to be excluded. rather than trying to overcome power entirely. but rather that it recognize that power relations will always be with us – that power can never be entirely overcome. This does not mean. Second. involve the operation of power. Indeed. this is when power becomes domination (Foucault 1994: 292–293). These relations of domination form the basis of institutions such as the state. This does not mean that anarchism should afﬁrm a nihilistic will to power. unstable and reciprocal. of course. This is why the anarchist idea of a harmonious society without power relations is an impossibility. even at the ontological level. between an uncorrupted natural order and the order of power and authority. even one that is based on egalitarian and libertarian principles. Therefore. This is because every revolution is itself the act of power – the sometimes violent imposition of a new social order. must instead intervene at the points where power relations become dominating. anarchist theory must acknowledge that power is an ineradicable dimension in any social identity. Even in the most radical and democratic projects. However. and allow for as much reciprocity between actors as possible. Here we must draw a distinction between power and domination. even if these were much less restrictive and coercive than in preceding social arrangements. they cannot be against power altogether. when these relations become congealed and ﬁxed into asymmetrical systems and unequal hierarchies. Foucault believes. while we cannot hope to entirely eliminate power relations from society – there will always be differentiated forms of inﬂuence. a social identity can only constitute itself through the exclusion of a particular element. As Laclau says: ‘A harmonious society is impossible because power is the condition for society to be possible. coercion – we can at least try to ensure that these power relationships remain relatively egalitarian and ﬂuid.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. engaging in an ongoing and strategic contestation with power. at times. is no longer . this ineradicable condition of power suggests that the Manichean division central to classical anarchism. . that post-revolutionary social arrangements would be necessarily dominating and oppressive. social transformation thus means building a new power. then. not radically eliminating it’ (1990: 33). In other words. These exclusions would. however. certain limitations or regulations would still apply. 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. while revolutions can be against certain forms and articulations of power. Even in a post-revolutionary anarchist society there will always be structures. that radical political action. . Therefore. Foucault sees power relations in their everyday sense as relatively ﬂuid. First.
there can be no uncontaminated point of departure that is external to power – whether it be in the form of the essential human subject. too. For Nietzsche. Foucault. as certain critics of Foucault have charged. Third. In other words. Anarchism understood society as being determined by a natural system of relations that was inherently rational and ethical. as we have seen. In other words. As Laclau and Mouffe argue: ‘ “Society” is not a valid object of discourse. speaks of a ‘non-place’ – an antagonistic dimension at the heart of social identity.46 Ressentiment and radical politics sustainable. the social order conceals nothing but the will to power and the antagonism of competing perspectives. Moreover. incommensurable perspectives. There is no single underlying principle ﬁxing – and hence constituting – the whole ﬁeld of differences’ (2001: 111). rather than held together by a deeper objective truth. In other words. anarchist theory must abandon its dialectical understanding of . or some notion of an immanent rational social order. perhaps it can be taken to mean a certain understanding of subjectivity that is no longer deﬁned by essence. post-human subject that revels in his own sense of superiority. and there is no deeper rational structure at its base. Rather than the Overman implying a higher. society can no longer be seen to be transparent to itself in this way. subjectivity is deeply embroiled in power/knowledge relations that constitute not only the fabric of social relations. we must abandon this idea of a universal human essence altogether. 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. and acknowledge the discursively constituted nature of identity. However. on the contrary. society contained the possibility of a harmonious order based on natural laws that could be observed scientiﬁcally. This can be seen as another way of conceptualizing society as fragmented and differentiated at the ontological level. but also the discursive limits of identity. this notion of identity as contingent and indeterminate might offer another way of understanding Nietzsche’s concept of the Overman as man ‘overcome’. there is no objective truth that transcends the multitudinous layers of dissimulation. 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. identities and ideological positions. This does not mean. poststructuralist theory emphasizes the structural instability and undecidability of our identity – the way that it is constructed contingently through our social interactions. The point is that our identity is not ﬁxed or determined by a deeper underlying essence. there is no essence at the base of society. that we are always imprisoned in ‘discursive cages’. Indeed. however. the signiﬁer ‘society’ is something that we have imposed on a fragmented and pluralistic ﬁeld of discursive differences. Similarly. the subject cannot be seen as autonomous from power. As Foucault has shown. On the contrary. and that obviated the need for political authority.
social relations. it performed a vital theoretical operation – one that foreshadowed later poststructuralist and post-Marxist understandings of the political. The autonomy of the political I would suggest. as was the case in Marxist theory. 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. As the Nietzschean/Foucauldian genealogical model shows. political identities and antagonisms that was autonomous from questions of economics and class. It would be the plurality and unpredictability of such struggles that would characterize the political as a fully indeterminate. contingent and autonomous dimension. contesting different forms of domination. Indeed.3 According to Laclau and Mouffe. That is to say. if anarchism were to reject this division between the natural and the artiﬁcial. that this conception of the political as an autonomous and contingent dimension is already implicit in classical anarchism. That is. This allows us to analyse ‘the political’ as a speciﬁc ﬁeld of power relations. For instance. then there would be little room left for contingent political interventions. then it would have to see the revolution as a fully artiﬁcial or synthetic – rather than natural – political act. anarchism’s Manichean division between the ‘natural’ social order and the ‘artiﬁcial’ order of political authority.Ressentiment and radical politics 47 history. Indeed. history does not progress in stages. However. the . history is a haphazard and unpredictable series of ruptures. however. post-Marxists like Laclau and Mouffe assert the primacy of the political over the social (see Laclau 1990: 33). 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. Although anarchism conﬁned this dimension of power relations to the mechanism of the state. discontinuities and events. Rather. by breaking the structural link that Marxism had established between the political and the economic. yet it is in tension with the dialectical and Manichean conceptual structures which seek to occlude it. and if it were to no longer rely on the dialectic. indeed constitute. That is. nevertheless. determined by the unfolding of a rational truth. if the revolution against state authority is determined by historical forces or the unfolding of natural laws. one could argue that to see history as rationally or dialectically determined – as classical anarchism does – amounts to a denial of politics. 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. rather than one that was reducible to economic or class domination. 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.
albeit in different ways. anti-war activists and so on. and this has led to Marxism’s theoretical and political downfall. the permutations of the state over the past ﬁfty or so years – from the welfare state and its increasing bureaucratization. but rather that economic exploitation would be seen here as an aspect of broader relations of domination. Laclau and Mouffe argue that the contemporary political ﬁeld is no longer held together by the struggles of the proletariat. These ‘new social movements’ have been primarily struggles against domination rather than economic exploitation. as the Marxist paradigm would contend. It could be suggested. and the crucial revolutionary role of the . to Marxist theory’s neglect of the political sphere as an autonomous and speciﬁc dimension with its own structures and logic. 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.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 more contemporary forms of security-driven biopolitical sovereignty that have emerged with the ‘war on terror’ – have generated new relations of subordination. moreover. that these new struggles and antagonisms point to an anarchist moment in contemporary politics. they are anti-authoritarian. consumers. feminists. as well as concomitant forms of resistance: ‘In all the domains in which the state has intervened. ethnic minorities. as well as those of students. anti-state – that is anarchist – struggles. gays. 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. 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. considered as “class” struggles’ (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 159). communal way of life through the introduction of the factory system and new forms of industrial technology such as Taylorism. 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. a politicization of social relations is at the base of numerous new antagonisms’ (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 162). environmentalists. autonomy and contingency. both anarchism and post-Marxism point. to neo-liberal state privatization. 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). domination and surveillance. In this sense. In other words. they are struggles against speciﬁc forms of state power and relations of domination instigated by it. which emphasized the heterogeneity and anti-authoritarian character of subaltern struggles and identities – peasants. intellectuals déclassé. That is not to say that they do not contest capitalist exploitation. In particular. and against the destruction of their organic.
2) that which emphasizes the autonomy of the political ﬁeld and the heterogeneity and contingency of anti-authoritarian struggles. Post-anarchism might be seen as an anarchism that no longer relies on the epistemological foundations of Enlightenment humanism. Of course. exposing the domination and coercion behind institutions. the contribution of anarchism today is in its theorization of power in its speciﬁcity. but left open to be deﬁned contingently during the course of political and social struggles. or on a universal notion of human essence that seeks emancipation. radical politics today must remain open to a multiplicity of different identities and struggles. radical politics can no longer rely on ﬁxed rational and normative foundations to guide it. Indeed. It is not that there is an absolute or necessary contradiction between these two moments: anarchism combines both as we have seen. Bakunin preferred the word ‘mass’ to ‘class’ to characterise this heterogeneous revolutionary identity. A postanarchist politics I have shown. a dialectical understanding of historical development. there is a potential inconsistency or undecidability here that can be developed. My contention is that if contemporary anarchism is to avoid Nietzsche’s charge of ressentiment. ‘class’ implying hierarchy and exclusiveness (Bakunin 1950: 47). and assert instead the second moment – that of political contingency and heterogeneity. However. the discursive limits and contours of these would not be determined in advance. Post-anarchism would be a series of politicoethical strategies that are aimed at the deconstruction of authority. or on essentialist conceptions of subjectivity. Rather. Given the contemporary epistemological conditions of what is termed ‘postmodernity’. these political . as I have tried to do through a comparison with post-Marxist theory. Here we might refer to a politics of ‘post-anarchism’ – an anti-authoritarian politics that afﬁrms the contingency of political identity. and where the social and political ﬁeld is increasingly differentiated and fragmented. and in its deconstruction of political domination. Moreover. particularly those that take place at a more localized level at the interstices of power.Ressentiment and radical politics 49 lumpenproletariat. the indeterminacy of history and the new possibilities of emancipation offered by postmodernity. and a Manichean separation between humanity and power. Rather. norms and practices that we tend to accept as normal or legitimate. then. postanarchism would retain its commitment to freedom and radical egalitarian democracy. that there is a certain tension between two moments in classical anarchism theory: 1) that which is characterized by scientiﬁc positivism. However. which had been dismissed by Marx. then it must distance itself from its classical foundations in the dialectic and positivist and essentialist ideas of Enlightenment humanism. where the universal grand narratives of the Enlightenment are coming in for question.
the value of Nietzschean genealogy and the diagnosis of ressentiment is not in the reactionary values that they are often animated by. However.50 Ressentiment and radical politics principles of equality and democracy would not sit comfortably with Nietzsche. and yet to remain committed to the egalitarian and libertarian values. To acknowledge this ambiguity. would be the politico-ethical stance of a ressentiment-free radical politics of the future. but rather in their unmasking of the power relations at the foundation of all systems of values. .
in which questions of emancipation. the process of subjectiﬁcation and the question of resistance in contemporary societies. decentralized and diffused throughout society: it may run through the prison or the mental asylum. power could no longer be seen as a capacity to act that could be concentrated in a few hands or in centralized institutions.3 New reﬂections on the theory of power A Lacanian perspective Power is a central category in contemporary political theory. it will allow us to develop new insights into the functioning of power. Foucault’s ‘microphysics’ of power To sketch the background to some of these theoretical developments we must brieﬂy revisit Foucault’s analysis of power. fundamental implications for these questions: no longer could power be seen in simple opposition to the subjectivity it restricted. For Foucault. 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. Foucault’s reconﬁguration of the concept of power had. as well as transgression. explaining the actual mechanism of subjection and allowing a theoretical space of resistance. . As Foucault says: ‘Power is everywhere . Power is dispersed. fantasy and enjoyment ( jouissance). Furthermore. a polyvalent force that runs through multiple sites in the social network. Imaginary and Real. 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. Nevertheless. However. Power is. as I showed in Chapter 2. or through different discourses such as psychiatry or sexuality. 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. Power is to be thought of as a series of ongoing strategies and relationships rather than a permanent state of . but rather as something that actually constituted this subjectivity. rather. because it comes from everywhere’ (1978: 93). law. Where it is particularly crucial is in the ﬁeld of radical politics.
rather than being natural and essential. human essence is not only constructed by . 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 . whose marginalized identity is constructed through the disciplinary and normalizing techniques of power in the prison. imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him. . ‘The man described for us. the subject is produced by power. This may be seen in the case of the prisoner. It may also be seen in the way that sexual identity itself. 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. Instead. . Power is therefore ‘subjectifying’ – that is. (Foucault 1982: 210) For Foucault. This is what Foucault calls ‘productive power’. For Foucault then. It is a form of power which makes individuals subjects. is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself’ (1991: 30). This was a radical departure from previous accounts. whereas in fact this subjectivity is itself an effect of power. and previously unobserved discourses and practices. This breaks radically with the conviction central to the politics of emancipation – that there is a human essence whose interests are restricted by power. rather. and the discourses and bodies of knowledge that support them. and it is perhaps his most important contribution to theory of power. Rather. This is the ‘ruse of power’ according to Foucault: we are tricked into thinking that there is an essential subject who is repressed. More insidiously. subjectivity is produced in such a way that its assertion or identiﬁcation. We need to cut off the King’s head’ (1980: 121). a construction of the discourse of sexuality. is something that only supports and reafﬁrms power. The subjectivity of the prisoner is thus constructed at the intersections of power/knowledge. modern power produces and incites (Foucault. Power can no longer be seen as purely repressive and prohibitive. is a discursive effect. then. 1991: 94). in Foucault’s words. which still operated in what Foucault called the ‘juridico-discursive’ paradigm. attaches him to his own identity. whom we are invited to free. it produces the subject as a site of his own domination. as a ‘mode of action upon the action of others’ (1982: 221). Foucault was interested in the microphysics of power: the operation of power at the level of minute. and the assertion of this identity as an attempt to transgress power plays right into its hands.52 New reﬂections on the theory of power affairs. where power is seen as a capacity that can be possessed and wielded by political actors. rather than being an act of liberation that transgresses power. It is to be seen.
however. If the ﬁrst problem was that if power is everywhere. is not error. as Foucault maintains. Exactly the same point could be made about Foucault’s notion of power. then it is nowhere. in this sense. This has crucial implications for radical politics because it means that there is no essential or autonomous ‘place’ of resistance outside power. Power. despite these insights. Ernesto Laclau says about the theory of ideology that ‘it died as a result of its own imperialist success’ (1996a: 201–222). Foucault’s theory of power ran into its own conceptual limits. 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). one could argue that if power is everywhere. then are we not robbed of any point. from which power relations can be criticized in the name of the truth that they deny. epistemological or ontological. There is no gap that separates power from other social relations. for Foucault. if there is a gap or ‘lack’ that separates one identity from others. . then it loses its identity as power. and it therefore loses its speciﬁc identity. and this is precisely the problem. Power no longer operates by distorting. an identity only has meaning in so far as it differentiates itself from other identities. First. As Foucault says: ‘It seems to me that . while these in turn allow power to operate. . So. Foucault’s theory of productive power also denies radical politics a privileged epistemological point outside power. Quite simply. Power. power has colonized the discourse of truth itself. we have no such deﬁnitional limit – power is something that pervades every social relation and interaction. If we accept Saussure’s idea that language is constituted in a system of differences. even more perversely. to speak the truth about power relations is also to be fundamentally embroiled in them. that there are no margins for those who break with the system to gambol in’ (1980: 141). one is never outside. the problem with Foucault’s concept of power is that it is so broad and all-encompassing that it becomes indeﬁnable. the second problem with Foucault’s theory is that if power is everywhere. illusion. if power has already colonized subjectivity and truth-knowledge.New reﬂections on the theory of power 53 power. then from what point does one resist power? In other words. but. concealing or repressing truth – as the critical theory and classical accounts of emancipation would have it – but instead operates through truth itself. it is truth itself’ (Foucault 1980: 133). Rather. Resistance and subjection However. no longer has an ideological function: ‘The political question . then an identity can only be constituted through a radical exclusion of another identity. Truth is deeply implicated in power: power works through and produces ‘regimes of truth’. With 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 . alienated consciousness or ideology. . In other words.
from which relations of power can be criticized. for a critique oriented around the notions of autonomy. upon which the politics of emancipation has always insisted. reciprocity. ‘there is no foundation . 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. It is clear. where localized forms of power are met with localized forms of resistance. there is no going beyond power – the subject will always be embroiled in power relations. and calls for their transformation in ways that allow a greater degree of reciprocity. then. 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. it is clear that there needs to be some sort of ‘space’ beyond power if a coherent project of resistance is to be conceptualized. for instance. In his conversations with Gilles Deleuze. . Nancy Fraser argues. Resistance is therefore seen as an effect of power. 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. Subjectiﬁcation. and where the ﬂuidity of this relationship means that resistance is always in danger of being co-opted by power. ﬂuidity and personal autonomy. a struggle aimed at revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious’ (1977: 208). indeed. that because the subject for Foucault. can no longer be sustained by the categories of human essence and undistorted rational truth. The problem. desire and the psyche As an alternative to the modernist solution discussed above. however. there is always the risk that the subject who resists is only playing into the hands of the very power that dominates him. of course. there have been a number of recent attempts to revise and develop Foucault’s theory . that this theoretical ‘space’. Yet. is that. The paradox is. desirable. whose precise function is to unmask and contest relations of power: ‘This is a struggle against power. is merely an effect of power relations. dignity. and human rights’ (1989: 56). the subject who struggles against power is always already caught up in power – indeed. 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. at the same time. . However. In other words. mutual recognition. his very subjectivity is an effect of this power. The problem. however.54 New reﬂections on the theory of power as possible and. As Foucault quite explicitly states. as Foucault has shown in his numerous analyses. power and resistance exist in a relationship of mutual incitement and provocation.
and the way in which subjectivity is actually constituted through this very act of subordination (Butler 1997: 2). Therefore the process of subjection has two sides: the mechanism by which the subject is subordinated to power. is implicit: Thus the psyche. According to Butler. according to Foucault. . Yet it is precisely this psychic dimension that Foucault’s theory of power and subject formation has no room for. to become a coherent subject. is incomplete without a theory of the psyche. and has uncovered power’s hidden productive and subjectifying dimension – that is. The psyche is what resists the regularization that Foucault ascribes to normalizing discourses. In other words. going beyond its discursively constructed limits. whereby power was seen as a force that oppresses the subject from the outside. It is in this question that a notion of the psyche as that which is different from the subject. and exceeds it. would have crucial implications for the question of resistance as well. for example. or at least substantially modifying it. moreover. 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. what is the precise mechanism of subjection by which we actually come to desire a mode of subjectivity that dominates us? Why is it. the central question posed by this realization is: why do we become attached to certain forms of subjection? In other words. a notion of the psyche would allow Foucault to explain how subjects. (Butler 1997: 86) In other words. For Butler. in other words. is very different from the subject: the psyche is precisely what exceeds the imprisoning effects of the discursive demand to inhabit a coherent identity. and how this attachment actually sustains this relation of domination. 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. 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. Foucault’s account of subjectiﬁcation. and dependent upon. actually resist their particular modes of subjectiﬁcation.New reﬂections on the theory of power 55 of power along non-essentialist. its capacity to constitute subjectivity itself. even though. one’s very subordination to power. Foucault’s analysis has taken the study of power beyond conventional and critical theory accounts. which includes the unconscious. that the homosexual comes to desire and afﬁrm his identity of homosexuality. at times. this is precisely what dominates him? According to Butler. A theory of the psyche. Most prominent of these would be Judith Butler’s ‘post-Foucauldian’ theory of ‘passionate attachment’. poststructuralist lines. According to Butler. in order to adequately theorize this dimension. it requires going beyond Foucault’s account. Therefore.
For Lacan. nevertheless. is far from the autonomous. in particular. in Lacan’s account. What I am suggesting here is that a psychoanalytic understanding of subjectivity would complement the Foucauldian theory of power. transparent and self-reﬂective subject of the Cogito. the subjectivity is based on not knowing oneself. symbolic and ideological dimensions of power that were not possible within the parameters of Foucault’s theory. in psychoanalytic terms. 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). but by structures of language. he sees the subject as ‘constructed’ – although in this case. that an exploration of particular Lacanian ideas will allow us to uncover psychic. 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). the unconscious – the ﬁeld of desires and drives. the passions that both bind us to power and cause us to try to free ourselves from it. prohibition and fantasy. my aim here is to critically examine certain key Lacanian ideas about subjectivity. Indeed. it is disrupted by a knowledge that is ‘not known’ – namely. 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. 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 unconscious. if the subject is constituted by power and is to be understood within its limits. in Butler’s words: ‘One cannot account for subjectivation and. is only achieved through its entry into the external world of language and signiﬁers – the Symbolic Order. In an attempt to conceptualize this dimension. The fundamental question that has been raised so far is the status of the subject in power: that is. law.56 New reﬂections on the theory of power through the insights of psychoanalysis. The ego’s selfidentity is an illusion. rather. In other words. The subject. the point is not that Lacanian ideas will lead to a new theory of power that will supplant Foucault’s. Subjectivity. and ways in which the subject might resist or escape this subjectivity.2 However. in order to apply them to the speciﬁc questions of power and resistance that have been raised thus far. A psychoanalytic account would allow us to shed further light on the processes of subject formation through the mechanism of desire. like Foucault. Moreover. desire. for Lacan. which. is ‘structured like a lan- . we will now turn to Lacanian psychoanalysis. This domain would be. 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. as Lacan said. rather than give a detailed account of the totality of Lacan’s thinking. not by power. Although Lacan does not have a speciﬁc notion of power.
on the other hand. whereas for Foucault the identity of the subject is based on a successful interpellation. The subject is incapable of fulﬁlling this symbolic identity. There is a kind of internal fold or limit within the structures of subjectivity itself.New reﬂections on the theory of power 57 guage’ (1998: 203). So. So the essential. For Lacan. For Lacan. So the ego’s recognition of itself is based on a fundamental ‘misrecognition’ or méconnaissance: it is an ‘illusion of autonomy’ (Lacan 1977: 6). which the subject inhabits. and this would explain the difﬁculties he encountered in adequately theorizing resistance to subjectiﬁcation. the subject is wholly constituted by power and discourse. then. By contrast. 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). Lacan is able to theorize the limits of subjectivity itself. there is always a structural gap between the subject and the signiﬁer that is supposed to represent him. there is always a distance between the subject and the structures which constitute it. not because it is entirely determined by signiﬁers. precisely by pointing to an unsymbolizable dimension that exceeds them. Foucault could not conceive of a dimension beyond subjectiﬁcation. unlike Foucault. but because its determination by signiﬁers is fundamentally ﬂawed. from where this possibility could emerge. for Lacan the subject’s identity is based on a failed interpellation. That is. For Lacan. Despite his attempts to see resistance as a kind of counter-movement to power or as some ﬂeeting ‘plebeian’ quality. there is a ‘lack’ in the symbolic identity of the subject – a lack which paradoxically constitutes the subject. That is why Lacan writes the subject as S(Ø) – s barred: this recognizes the failure of the signiﬁer to represent the subject. and there is no aspect of the subject that is not colonized by power/knowledge. In other words. The symbolization of the subject – its self-recognition in the symbolic order – ultimately fails and. The subject is the name given to this discontinuity in the symbolic structure – the failed place of signiﬁcation. The subject here is radically split between its symbolic representation and the void in the symbolic itself – the radical dimension that lies beyond it. This is . the identity of the subject is always incomplete. there is no outside to the discursive limits of subjectivity. therefore. the identity of the subject coincides with the discursive parameters that are laid down for it. which is produced through the external order of images and signiﬁers – the Imaginary and the Symbolic. There is an excess or surplus of meaning produced by this failed encounter with the symbolic – a radical void between the identity and meaning. as we have seen. 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. autonomous subject is subverted in Lacan’s analysis. pointing to a radical void that it cannot master. and which both jeopardizes and constitutes its identity. For Foucault. The subject’s ego is based on an identiﬁcation with an illusory image of cohesion and stability. For Foucault.
and yet is also the ‘leftover’ of these processes and the dimension that exceeds them. In other words. being able to speak critically about these relations indicates an implicit attempt to step beyond them. if one were to take seriously the implications of the constructionist argument. that everything is constructed by discourse or power – has a theoretical blindspot that it cannot account for: ‘The blindspot of constructionism . there is still a kind of implicit assumption of a place of enunciation beyond the ‘truth effects’ of power. as one presumably would already be caught up in their ‘truth effects’. . For Lacan. in Lacan’s formulation. thus disturbing the very borders of any identity. . Stavrakakis argues. rather. in a Lacanian understanding. on the other hand. it occupies a meta-linguistic or essentialist position outside construction’ (1999: 66). Lacan goes beyond the limits of the ‘constructionist’ position adopted by Foucault. precisely by positing another level at which meaning is produced.58 New reﬂections on the theory of power what he calls the ‘real’ – that which cannot be integrated into the symbolic order of meaning. The real may be understood as what is missing from the structure of symbolization. The real. to avert the dangers of falling back into the essentialist position. With this notion of the real. what is excluded on the inside (1994: 74–87). there must be some kind of constitutive ‘outside’ beyond the discursive limits of the constructionist position. However. The real. our reality – the reality of our identities and our way of seeing the world – is fundamentally conditioned by symbolic and fantasy structures. the real is ‘that which always returns to the same place’ (1998: 49) – the immovable limit against which the movement of symbolization is blocked. this would have to be an exteriority that is impossible to represent or symbolize (Stavrakakis 1999: 67). According to Jacques-Alain Miller. then. For example. . While Foucault himself fully acknowledges the way that his thinking is inextricable from the very relations of power and discourse it diagnoses. it is precisely what displaces what is commonly understood by ‘reality’. one would ﬁnd a certain difﬁculty in speaking critically about power relations and discourse. that the constructionist position itself needs to be ‘deconstructed’. In other words. making our identities precarious. has nothing to do with reality as such. the real in Lacan may be seen as extimité – an ‘excluded interior’ or ‘intimate exterior’ – in other words. The real is the point at which these symbolic structures break down and the contingency of their operation is revealed. and it is the real – that which cannot be integrated into these structures – which jeopardizes this reality. Indeed. is that on the one hand it reduces everything to the level of construction and. Yannis Stavrakakis suggests that the constructionist argument – in other words. beyond the level of constructionism 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. is non-essentialist precisely because it is produced by the processes of symbolization.
language. A further crucial implication of the intervention of the real would be that the very identity of power is itself incomplete. thus allowing us to theorize a gap or ‘lack’ between the subject and the structures of meaning that constitute him. etc. because the subject has not been fully constituted. it has a number of important consequences. Second. in his Lacanianinspired theory of politics. the subject is not an essentialist and autonomous entity since he is constituted by social structures – power. which is produced through the failure of this order. With Foucault. can perhaps provide a theoretical ground through which resistance to social and political structures and subjectifying practices may be explained. The subject in the Lacanian analysis is thoroughly social – spoken through and through by the external structures of language and the symbolic. the real is precisely the effect of these very symbolic processes – it refers to an internal void in the symbolic structure itself. For Laclau. yet non-essentialist. the radical indeterminacy lies not in the subject but in the structures that determine him. this psychic exteriority in the subject does not refer to some sort of essential place in the subject that precedes symbolization. but because I have a failed structural identity’ (Laclau 1990: 44). what is lacking in the structure of the subject is precisely also what is lacking in the objective order itself. it is nevertheless constituted by a radical dislocation and undecidability. Rather. This means that although the subject’s identity is not autonomous to the structure. this notion of the real as that which is lacking in the objective order. If . third. In this sense. not because I have no structural identity as the existentialists assert. the real is what undermines the full identity of the subject. With Lacan.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. that one can have a notion of the subject that is both indeterminate and ‘free’. because there is a gap between the subject and the symbolic order. discourse.3 So. the real provides a way of conceptualizing the psychic dimension beyond the structures of subjectivity that this discussion has been pointing towards. on the other hand. As I have suggested. However. the very structure that determines the subject is itself fractured and indeterminate. there is room for a certain freedom or radical indeterminacy in the identity of the subject. 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. As such. the indeterminacy of the subject lies in the indeterminacy of the structure. Laclau shows. 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. First. For instance. In other words. In other words.
is the need to partly revise Foucault’s notion of power. 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. However. . inconsistent. allowing for the possibility of undermining it. Rather. which so broadened the concept as to make it difﬁcult to sustain. Paradoxically. Power cannot be everywhere and everything – there must be some sort of ‘outside’ to it. That is to say. as Ziz argues. as Étienne Balibar shows. there is in fact nothing concrete about this. 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). . this return to the notion of a ‘structure’ or ‘apparatus’ of power does not mean that power is to be seen as absolute. one of the central problems with Foucault’s treatment of power was its all-encompassing nature. and its symbolic dimension is ˇ ˇek neglected. So while Foucault’s analysis might appear to be more ‘concrete’. Foucault’s theory of power only makes sense if one acknowledges that behind the plurality of practices. In other words. power only has ‘concrete’ meaning if it refers to an ‘abstract’ symbolic dimension. power is reduced to a dispersed series of ‘concrete’ practices and relations. 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. However. Power. that both limits it conceptually and allows for the possibility of resistance. that is. However. as a structure. The symbolic dimension of power What this points to. having said this. I shall parody Lacan and add: power cannot be all. . . which has several centres. however complex and multiple these ‘centres’ may be . that there must be something beyond power which it cannot entirely grasp. the structure of power is to some extent deﬁcient and lacking. even a power apparatus. There is always an unbridgeable gap in Foucault’s ‘bottom-up’ analysis between micro-practices and power itself ˇ ˇek (Ziz 1999a: 66). for Foucault. the problem with Foucault’s account is that a disavowed spectre of power always haunts his concrete analyses. in the sense that it claims to be discarding symbolic ‘sovereign’ notions of power. As mentioned earlier. in fact. we could argue that power too must have some sort of exteriority. power is deﬁcient and lacking: I would say against Foucault . focusing instead on the direct. But. In the Foucauldian analysis. then. that there is power.60 New reﬂections on the theory of power we were to apply this to the theory of power. ˇ ˇek As Slavoj Ziz argues: ‘Every power structure is necessarily split. in essence it is ‘not-all’ [pastout]. deﬁcient – even if we include in it its opposite and adver- . the consistency of power – as a series of determining effects – would itself be problematic. local ‘power effects’.
repression has productive effects. To give an example of this symbolic operation. which is the one that at its deepest level structures man’s unconscious. power would perhaps be a way of understanding what Lacan calls the Name-of-the-Father – a structural prohibition against incest. resulting in the inability of the subject to constitute a coherent system of meaning. which brings about Oedipal repression. (Balibar 2002: 136) So. it is precisely what produces the subject’s psyche. 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. In other words. the Thing. that is. but rather a structural function of the signiﬁer. in a Lacanian analysis. the terminal point. 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. What I am suggesting here is that the theory of power must contain some sort of symbolic dimension based on a fundamental prohibition. . we could suggest that what is important is precisely this ‘abstract’ structural and symbolic dimension that is absent from Foucault’s account. ‘anti-systemic movements’. an operation that depends upon some sort of structural repression (Lacan 1993: 208). The desire for the mother cannot be satisﬁed because it is the end. This is because the symbol of power would be. It is important to emphasize here that Lacan is not talking about an actual father’s ‘no’. (Lacan 1992: 68) In other words. the micro-practices of power that Foucault describes – the heterogeneous. However. which purports to go beyond the ‘repressive hypothesis’. a ‘master signiﬁer’ – that is a primary structural interdiction that brings the symbolic order into being. counter-power. This notion of power as involving a symbolic repression would seem to be a far cry from the Foucauldian notion of a ‘productive’ power. and so on. 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’. if one were to approach the question of power from a Lacanian perspective. In other words. Without this Oedipal prohibition. subjectivity – the dimension of desire – is founded upon a necessary structural impossibility. Indeed. there could be no desire. rather than this impossibility being merely prohibitive. the abolition of the whole world of demand. localized practices and strategies – would actually presuppose a ‘deeper’ symbolic structure of power. it is important to note here that for Lacan also. It is the prohibition against incest that produces and incites the subject’s unconscious desire. So. revolution and rebellion.
universal. which is sold to us as a ‘hidden’ form of transgression and self-afﬁrmation. according to this argument. then. 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. where there is a continual injunction to enjoy – an enjoyment. to one’s body. it is already included in the very structures it resists? It is clear. without any limit stopping me in the capriciousness of the exactions that I might have the taste to satiate’. moreover. has a number of implications for this discussion. In other words. This results in a kind of eroticization of the law – a jouissance or enjoyment that palpitates at the law’s limits. 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. It is also that excessive enjoyment itself becomes rigidiﬁed into its own cold. how can we think about resistance if. if power now operates through its own transgression – if breaking the law. That is to say. First. It is not only that the coldness of the law – embodied by Kant – produces its own form of perverse and excessive enjoyment. the relationship between . and the way that power operated in a perpetual spiralling relationship with pleasure (1978: 45). that resistance can no longer be seen in terms of simple transgression. the “right” to discover what one is and all that one can be’ (1978: 145). As Lacan says: ‘The Law appears to be giving the order. Foucault also recognized the eroticization of power itself. Indeed. crossing the ‘line’. Lacan is perhaps closest to Foucault. “Jouis!” ’ (1977: 319). the law of prohibition produces also a desire to transgress this prohibition. to happiness. there is an inextricable link between enjoyment and the forces that would seem to restrict it.62 New reﬂections on the theory of power In doing so. For Lacan. injunctions and categorical imperatives of Kant. As Foucault suggests. We can see this paradoxical relationship in capitalist culture today. and I will exercise this right. modern ‘bio-power’ operates through an enforced sense of ‘well-being’: ‘The “right” to life. anyone can say to me. and beyond all the oppressions and “alienations”. This paradoxical relationship in both Lacan and Foucault’s thinking between law or power and transgression. In other words. (Lacan 1989: 58) It is here that. supposedly achieved through consumption. prohibition incites a certain dimension of desire in relation to the law itself. for both thinkers. to the satisfaction of needs. We can see this paradoxical relationship between law and enjoyment in Lacan’s reading of Kant and Sade. it raises once again the troublesome question of resistance. rational imperative – an operation enacted in the sheer monotony one encounters in the Sadian boudoir. to health. strangely enough.4 Second. the transgressive excess of Sade is the logical counterpart to the universal laws.
That is. In other words. However. This is based on the Lacanian thesis that it is quite possible to lie in the guise of the truth. 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. In other words. and yet this does not make it any less ideological. Marx’s formula for ideology was that subjects in capitalist society do not know it. ideology operates through a fundamental distortion of perception. but they are doing it. 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. this new notion of ideology will involve some rethinking of question of resistance beyond the problematic of transgression. as Jacques-Alain Miller says. which is psychic truth of the unconscious. Moreover. 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). 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. rather than re-invoke the critical theory account of ideology. However. subjects do not know what their ‘real’ interests are. I will explore the possibility of a new approach – one that is informed by the Lacanian categories of fantasy and object petit a. according to this account. 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. For example. a Lacanian approach to ideology might proceed as follows: ideology does not operate through distortion or deception but through truth itself.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. In contrast to the critical theory account. but rather the place of enunciation itself – the position from where the unconscious psyche of the subject is spoken. and are therefore deceived into supporting relations and institutions that exploit and dominate them. However. the assumptions about ‘false consciousness’ implied in this account led to the ‘poststructuralist’ rejection of the whole problematic of ideology. What ‘objective’ truth and falsehood both ultimately refer to is another order of truth. as well as through the very discourses of truth that a critique of ideology would be founded upon. what is important to the question of psychoanalytic truth are not matters of objective truth and falsehood. . 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. under the ideological conditions of capitalism. That is why.
an illusory representation of reality. the ideological ‘distortion’ is not in the content of the discourse or utterance. but one which operates within the structure of truth. the realization of this lack is unbearable because it means that his identity. It is important to point out here that in this formulation. As Ziz argues: ‘Ideology has nothing to do with “illusion”. for Lacan. claiming that it has higher rates of crime. as constituted through the symbolic. Here the ideological distortion would be not at the level of its objective content. when the media focuses on a certain ethnic community. the role of fantasy for Lacan is to conceal or cover over the lack in the Other. is also lacking. it is still ideological because it conceals the racist gaze through which this particular community is being observed. To put it succinctly: a political standpoint can be quite accurate (“true”) as to its objective content. what exactly is its function? It is here that we would apply the Lacanian category of fantasy. Simply put. There is still a distortion or concealment here.64 New reﬂections on the theory of power Let us apply this Lacanian understanding of truth to the question of ideology. but rather in the position of power from which it is ˇ ˇek articulated. However. the dimension that sustains it. We can see here how this notion of ideology goes beyond the critical theory understanding. but in the ‘place’ of enunciation – the concealment of the power relations operating here. In a Lacanian account. the Other is always lacking – there is an irreducible void around which the symbolic order is structured. 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). yet thoroughly ideological’ (1999a: 60). In other words. As we have seen. government reports and so on. For the subject. The dimension of fantasy is constituted around what Lacan calls object petit a. 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. distorted representation of its social content. rather. If ideology does not conceal objective truth. but rather a particular position of power from which it is articulated. which sees the involvement of power with truth as grounds for dismissing ideology. To give an example. but rather conditions this very reality: ‘Ideology is not simply a “false consciousness”. . unlike the Foucauldian argument. with a mistaken. fantasy is not the opposite of reality but. it is rather this reality itself which is already to be conceived of as “ideoˇ ˇek logical” ’ (Ziz 1989: 21). or poses a greater risk of sponsoring terrorism than other communities. ideology actually operates through objective truth – what it conceals is not the essential interests of the subject. I would see this as the very reason for retaining the concept. which is the illusory semblance of fullness or wholeness – the lost state of oneness with the Mother. even if this is objectively ‘true’ and borne out by statistics. It is this that designates the ideological character of reality itself – the fact that ideology does not repress ‘true’ representations of reality. which saw ideology as merely the distortion of an objective truth.
If we were to apply this argument to political analysis. by its own immanent blockage. The role of ideology here is precisely to cover over. and it ‘projects’ this internal negativity into the ﬁgure of the ‘Jew’. That is. As Zizek says: ‘We all know very well that bureaucracy is not all-powerful. then. rather than internal. for Nazism. and the fantasy of social fullness to be sustained. Ideological distortion here is radically external. The ideological ﬁgure of the Jew thus allowed lack to be bypassed in this discourse. ideology retains a cynical distance between itself and the subject.New reﬂections on the theory of power 65 However. but at the level of his actions. Society is not prevented from achieving its full identity because of the Jews: it is prevented by its own antagonistic nature. as long as we act as though we believe in it. the Jew – as a construction of ‘the enemy’ – was crucial to Nazism attaining a consistent political and ideological identity. ˇ ˇek Ziz gives a concrete example of this ideological operation in the ﬁgure of the Jew in Nazi anti-Semitic discourse. that ideology is still a form of concealment – only what it conceals is not our perception of social reality. there is a kind of structural gap in social representation itself – a radical discontinuity in the way social identity is represented. at the limits of reality is. We are not expected to believe in the ˇ ˇ ideological content. thus masking the radical lack which existed at the level of the social itself. 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). as has been shown. Moreover. the subject’s participation in social reality. In this way. ‘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. ˇ ˇek (Ziz 1989: 127) In other words. Even more radically. 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. homogeneous totality . . but our “effective” conduct in the presence of bureaucratic machinery is regulated . . It thus sustains. According to this ‘materialist’ thesis. but the lack at the heart of social reality 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’. It is something that functions at the heart of social reality. 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. We can see. through the operation of fantasy. to ‘patch up’ this void – to sustain the fantasy of fullness and wholeness. the Jew embodied a fantasmic ﬁgure upon which all social ills could be blamed.
Indeed. the only way to resist ideological subjectiﬁcation is by taking its surface content at face value and by identifying with it . This distance between ideology and the subject is built into the logic of contemporary ideological mechanˇ ˇek isms. On the contrary. as long as we ‘obey’ at the level of our actions. and we are being told that this toothpaste is far superior to all other brands because of some revolutionary secret formula. So where does this leave us with regards to resistance? The question of resistance to power. 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. ˇ ˇek has shown. but it does not matter as long as we conform to the ideological message at the level of our actions. it is not then how exactly do we resist this lure? As Ziz necessarily an act of resistance to cynically satirize the ideological message. So what would a ˇ ˇek genuine act of resistance to ideology be? Ziz suggests that. It is precisely this action – action without belief – that sustains structures and relations of domination. We know that. When we see an advertisement for a brand of toothpaste. Moreover. the point is that we still buy the toothpaste. the usual strategies of transgression are ultimately unsuccessful. we still buy the product. In a sense. utopian ‘place’ beyond the law. they only reafﬁrm the structures of the law. 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. as long as we ‘buy the (ideological) product’. As we have seen. Indeed. The same ideological principle operates in advertising. articulated and extended. We are not supposed to take it seriously (Ziz 1989: 28). and which is accessible to us on the other side of the law. is also the question of resistance to the ideological dimension through which structures and relations of power are sustained. However. the ‘hold’ that ideology has over us is never more complete than when we claim to be able to see through its deception. 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. we are still caught up in it. I would suggest. or identify with. the makers of the product know that we know it is nonsense. However. in most cases. Moreover. only serves to mask a much more fundamental structural impossibility. we know that this is nonsense. we are not expected to believe in.66 New reﬂections on the theory of power by a belief in its all-powerfulness’ (1989: 30). while we can retain some cynical distance from the ideological message at the level of belief. it is precisely through this cynical distance that ideology operates. Therefore the knowledge that we are being deceived does not render ideology ineffective. this notion of prohibition. our actions believe for us and. So if it is the case that ideology actually functions by sustaining the fantasy of an undistorted. given the way that ideology functions through maintaining a certain distance between its message and the subject. Ideology works in exactly the same way. and this is precisely how advertising works. It does not matter if we believe in what the state tells us. in a Lacanian analysis. the ideological message. In other words.
In the following chapter I will explore more thoroughly the effect that ideological systems have on the subject. unmasking its symbolic and ideological dimensions. and indeed power.New reﬂections on the theory of power 67 absolutely. something that was needed in Foucault’s analysis. while it secretly incites its own transgression. because ideology expects to be taken cynically. they also cynically incite their own transgression. Rather than simply prohibiting. . because ideology only prohibits on the surface. this strategy attacks the inverse logic of the ideology by operatto Ziz ing at its surface level. thus avoiding the trap of false transgression. and the ways in which the subject can resist this domination. According ˇ ˇek. While it would be difﬁcult to imagine how such a strategy might actuˇ ˇek ally work in political terms – something that Ziz himself never really spells out – it does nevertheless point to what is crucial in the way that contemporary systems of ideology. in this sense. In other words. to thoroughly identify with it. This naïve identiﬁcation with the content of ideology causes a ‘short circuit’ in its logic by exposing the cynical processes it relies upon. thus making the act of resistance much more ambiguous. and allowing us to perceive more clearly both its subjectifying function and the processes by which the subject comes to resist this subjectiﬁcation. the only effective form of ˇ ˇek resistance is ‘to simply do what is allowed’ (Ziz 2000: 147). I have also shown the ways in which Lacan’s understanding of the psyche – through structures of language. thus ﬁnding its limits by working from ‘within’. By doing this we would be refusing to play the game of ideology. the ultimate act of transgression is perhaps to follow it to the letter. In other words. operate. Perhaps. 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. I have argued that the Lacanian real is what allows us to theorize a psychic dimension at the limits of power. the only way to effectively resist is precisely to ‘go through’ the symbolic ediﬁce of ideology or the law. and through concepts of enjoyment and fantasy – can extend the theory of power. which renders any structure of power or ideology open to the contingency and indeterminacy of what it cannot integrate.
morality and rational truth – are ideas that have been made ‘sacred’ or ‘essential’. and now come to dominate the individual in the same way that Christianity once did. Marx and Engels. The German Ideology may be seen as a critique of German idealism. at the same time. ‘ﬁxed ideas’ – such as human essence. I suggested that power and ideology cannot be seen as all encompassing. exceeds them and forms their outside. material world. Here I continue this line of enquiry. allowing us to go beyond both essentialist and structuralist understandings of how ideology functions. exploring the contemporary status of the theory of ideology. as well as questions of resistance to the way that ideology positions us as subjects. and that there must be a subjective dimension that is both constituted by them and. exposing the relations of domination behind its serenely rational. Marx’s central charge against Stirner was that he ignored the real. contradictory theories of ideology.4 Spectres of Stirner A contemporary critique of ideology The last chapter developed new approaches to the concepts of power and ideology. For Stirner. In doing so he went beyond materialist accounts of ideology that reduced it to an epiphenomenon of capitalism and bourgeois social relations. First. Stirner was one of the ﬁrst to systematically analyse ideological systems in their own right. are ideologists because they abstract ideas and consciousness from their basis in the real. I will argue that Stirner’s critique of the ‘spectres’ of humanism is crucial to this debate. Bauer and Stirner. humanist visage. material basis of ideology. These philosophers. in some respects. Marx’s critique of idealism This latter point emerged as the crucial difference between Stirner and Marx. Marx and Engels argue. Stirner’s importance as a theorist of ideology has been largely overlooked by contemporary political and social theory. in The German Ideology. develop two different and. He engages in an iconoclastic project of unmasking the ideology of Enlightenment humanism. which they saw as prevalent in several of the young Hegelian philosophers including Feuerbach. turning them .
in other words. Ruling ideas. the real interests of the bourgeoisie – to exploit economically the proletariat – are disguised as the universal interests of humanity. The second understanding of ideology found in The German Ideology is political. For Marx and Engels. produce the illusion of universality – so that the interests of the ruling class are always presented as the common interest. (Marx and Engels 1975: 36) In other words. universally valid ones’ (Marx and Engels 1975: 60). then. That is to say. The ‘German Ideologists’ have inverted the real state of things. In this way. nor from men as narrated. imagine. Ideology prevents . and present them as the only rational. 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 . autonomous entities that determine the material world. of the concrete activities and processes that people engage in. thus legitimizing them. ideas and consciousness are a reﬂection of material life. Ideology thus involves a certain illusion or deception – it presents the particular interests of a class as the common. For instance. and on the basis of their real life-process demonstrating the development of their ideological reﬂexes and echoes of this life process. material basis of consciousness. here it is a matter of ascending from earth to heaven. effects this ideological inversion. as Marx and Engels accuse the idealist philosophers of doing. masking particular interests by giving them the appearance of universality and rationality. in actual fact. when. is the distortion of the real relationship between life and ideas. Ideology. seeing the material world as being determined by the Idea. the Idea is determined by the material world and concrete social practices: In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth. rather than being determined by it. in order to arrive at men in the ﬂesh. moreover. thought of.Spectres of Stirner 69 into otherworldly. to hide the material basis of ideas and to see ideas as abstract. . It is a sort of camera obscura which performs an inversion of the particular and the universal. To invert this relationship. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of dominant material relations’ (1975: 59). conceive. universal interests of all. It is these material processes that determine consciousness. is always the expression of the dominance of an economic class. metaphysical spectres. is an ideological gesture. Members of the ruling class are also producers of ideas. not of setting out from what men say. . the disguising of the real. the proletariat is deceived through this ideological misrepresentation into identifying its interests with those of the bourgeoisie. conceived. imagined. ideas which legitimize and perpetuate their rule. Ideology. but setting out from real active men. Each new ruling class ‘has to give its ideas the form of universality. where the ﬁrst one may be said to be epistemological.
However. disguises the reality of class rule and the interests of the proletariat. The proletariat cannot perceive the truth of its real interests because it is deceived in this regard by ideological mechanisms. The ﬁrst notion of ideology sees it as the abstraction of ideas from their basis in real. and thus deceiving the proletariat as to its own. The second sees ideology as creating an illusion of universality. distorts the real relationship between material life and ideas and. whereas the second locates ideology in the actual ideas themselves and the role they play in very real. Ideology is therefore inherently irrational. masking the particularity of bourgeois interests. in both senses then. implies a rational truth or a notion of real interests that is being distorted. Scientiﬁc . The Enlightenment claimed to bring the bright light of reason to the dark. a fundamental distortion of reality. which mask its particularity in the guise of universality. or is it an active weapon in real political and social struggles? In other words. The second sees ideology in a more directly political sense as a series of ideas produced by the ruling class. in the second sense. thus inducing a state of ‘false consciousness’. murky waters of superstition and religious mystiﬁcation. According to Engels. The two understandings of ideology presented here are quite different. The latter version perhaps allows ideology a more internal role in material life than the former. Paradigms of ideology: rationalism and structuralism This approach to ideology has its roots in the rationalism of the Enlightenment. material struggles. Ideology thus involves a distortion: it has the function of obscuring bourgeois relations of domination and exploitation. material life – an epistemological distortion. 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. 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. as we have seen. This notion of ideology obeys a rationalist logic. therefore. the ﬁrst theory sees ideology as the abstraction of ideas from material and social life. The ﬁrst notion of ideology sees it as a disguising of material and social basis of ideas. in which rational truth is counterpoised to obfuscating ideological mechanisms that distort this truth. Ideology. implies a ruse or deception. essential interests. Ideology in the ﬁrst sense. which sees it purely as the abstraction from material life. in other words. and blinding the proletariat to its own essential interests. Ideology as deception. the proletariat suffered from ‘false consciousness’.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.
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. these interests themselves remain outside ideology and can be grasped rationally and scientiﬁcally. More importantly. It is precisely from this standpoint outside ideological . In other words. or historical materialism. If ideology involves distortion. 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. With Marx and Engels. this theory of ideology subscribes to the rationalist logic of the Enlightenment. In other words. Rational science is thus seen as the antidote to ideological distortion. that is hidden under layers of ideological mystiﬁcation and false consciousness and is waiting to be discovered. and this provides a critical point of departure beyond ideology. although the subject’s perception of his true interests is distorted by ideology. there must be a rational truth or essence that is distorted. despite the inversion of terms. and if only he could develop his innate rational and moral faculties. there is an essential identity whose rational realization is distorted or denied by ideology. essential interests of the proletariat. and a core of essential interests within the subjectivity of the proletariat as a class. Here materialism. In other words. to exorcise these mystifying spectres with scientiﬁc and rational discourses. is precisely this scientiﬁc antidote to ideological mystiﬁcation. from which one can critically reﬂect on them. from liberalism to socialism: man was enslaved by his own ignorance. that these Enlightenment thinkers who sought to develop rational systems of ideas and bring reason to bear on obscurantism. the term ‘ideology’ itself became associated with the mystiﬁcation and distortion of rational truth. in the form of an essential human subjectivity and rational scientiﬁc discourse. however. that is uncontaminated by ideology. For Marx. In any case. for human essence to be realized. as Terry Eagleton remarks. it is clear that. which have been misperceived due to the operation of bourgeois ideology. If rule by divine right could be exposed as irrational then it would be overthrown. this extra-ideological rational discourse was historical materialism. This was the language of Enlightenment humanist political philosophies. as we have seen. in which rational and scientiﬁc knowledge is seen as an antidote to obfuscating and illusory ideas. were themselves ﬁrst known as ideologists or ‘ideologues’ (1991: 67).Spectres of Stirner 71 and rational thought was seen as a tool that would liberate man from obscurantism and tyranny. that there is a point of departure. then. One has only to remove these ideological obstacles. Here we may say. he could free himself from political oppression. with Marx and Engels there is a notion of the real. It is interesting. and can only be correctly and rationally perceived through the scientiﬁc study of actual historical conditions.
Let me explain this structuralist account with reference to Althusser. Ideology has colonized this place. according to this account. and the structuralist account. or what Althusser calls ideological state apparatuses (ISAs). that we can see through its distortions from a certain epistemological viewpoint. from which one can rationally reﬂect upon it. rational interests. In other words. . in which ideology is seen as an irrational distortion of the subject’s essential. or rather they are constructed by ideological apparatuses. thus becoming ‘class conscious’. forming the very basis of social existence. There is no ‘false consciousness’ in this account. then. and that we cannot simply extricate ourselves from ideological mechanisms. and to think that we can step outside ideology merely afﬁrms our position squarely within it. is itself an ideological gesture.72 Spectres of Stirner mechanisms – this uncontaminated point of departure – that ideology can be criticized as an irrational distortion. produce the subject through the misrecognition and distortion that is at the heart of social reproduction. We have. The subject is not deceived as to his true. or ‘interpellated’ by ideological mechanisms. In other words. as rationalist Enlightenment thinkers supposed. Indeed. However. The rationalist Enlightenment understanding of ideology therefore contends that we can step outside ideology. rational point of departure beyond ideology. from an uncontaminated point of departure outside it? A ‘structuralist’ account of ideology would contend that this uncontaminated. I have argued that the ﬁrst understanding of ideology provides an uncontaminated point of departure outside ideology. essential interests. 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. Indeed Althusser’s theory of ideology is a radical break with humanist forms of Marxism. Rather. There can be no essential. extra-ideological position does not exist. there is no human essence beyond the grasp of ideology. can we simply step outside ideology in this way? Can we engage in a rational critique of ideology from a safe distance. For Marx and Engels. in which the notion of essential interests is dismissed. ideology is eternal for Althusser – there is no going beyond ideological interpellation. there is no gap between ideology and the subject – there is no division between ideological distortion and rational thought. an understanding of the logic of history would allow the proletariat to shed the scales of ‘false consciousness’ and ﬁnally grasp its true interests.’ (1977: 171) Ideological structures. because these interests do not exist. For Althusser. This gap is itself an ideological distortion. from which we can supposedly rationally reﬂect upon it. to posit a vantage point outside ideology. ideology is all around us. the human subject is constructed. two radically opposed accounts of ideology: the rational Enlightenment account. and the subject itself is constituted by ideological structures.
Alternatively. this concept of a privileged viewpoint outside ideology can no longer be sustained. ‘one of the main reasons for progressive abandonment of the notion of ideology’ (1999a: 69). However. as Ziz argues. then ideology became impossible to deﬁne. if there is no point outside ideology. The rational Enlightenment account. other practices? The concept of ideology has. however. First. if it abandons these essentialist categories. in Slavoj Ziz grown ‘too strong’. This over-inﬂation of the ˇ ˇek concept of ideology is. without some kind of point of departure outside ideology. The rational Enlightenment . Once this gap or point of departure was removed. presents us with a number of problems and throws the concept of ideology into crisis. 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. It relied. as structuralists have argued. and it has become consequently meaningless: ‘It begins to embrace everything. on an uncontaminated point of departure from which ideology could be resisted. as I have argued. There is no gap here between ideology and the subject. had to presuppose an essential dimension of subjectivity outside ideology. how can ideology be analysed and resisted? If the subject is already determined by ideology. 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. then how can we continue to deﬁne a concept of ideology? How do we distinguish it from ˇ ˇek’s words. The question of ideology is therefore caught in a quandary: if it retains the notion of ideology as a distortion of rational truth. 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. ideology has colonized the subject. Rather. in order to see ideology as an irrational distortion of reality.Spectres of Stirner 73 while the second position allows no such privileged vantage point. then it can retain an uncontaminated point of departure outside ideology. and to posit a gap between ideology and the subject is the ultimate ideological gesture. inclusive of the very neutral. how can there be any conception of a political critique of dominant ideological structures? Second. 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. it may be argued that these radically different positions have led to the theoretical stagnation of ideology as a concept. It relies on dubious essentialist and metaphysical notions of subjectivity. The end of ideology? Moreover. if ideology has colonized this non-ideological gap whereby ideology was seen as a distortion or illusion. The question of ideology is skewed on these two opposing poles. The structuralist critique of the Enlightenment humanist position.
Ideology is still seen as a distortion of understanding and communication. Structuralism. then questions of the ideological distortion of truth are no longer relevant. 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. in attempting to bypass ideological distortion through the ‘ideal speech situation’. or at least a particular strand of it. This led. then it loses meaning. practices and strategies of power? This is precisely what Foucault does. The poststructuralist dismissal of the idea of ideology may be seen to be the logical conclusion of the structuralist position. for Foucault as we have seen. So. However. consequently. is not Habermas. In other words. however. Moreover. if the status of truth itself is in doubt. 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’. then. In the Habermasian universe. there was no uncontaminated place of departure outside ideology. what is in doubt is not the representation of truth. to the chief problem that if the concept of ideology is expanded to encompass everything. is itself ideological. ideology has become obsolete – it ceases to have any theoretical or political relevance. To try to step outside ideology is the ultimate ideological gesture. However. as shown above. in this world of perfect communication. there is no essential human subjectivity that is .74 Spectres of Stirner account of ideology ﬁnds its logical conclusion. the concept of ideology simply has no place – its distorting effects can simply be bypassed by rational consensus achieved through an ‘ideal speech situation’. Subjects can reach a rational understanding about the world through speech acts referring to this context. without the distorting effects of ideology. For Foucault. this non-ideological place. whether it takes the form of human essence or an intersubjectively achieved rational consensus. 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. it would seem. and it is precisely this idea of absolute truth that Foucault questions. the subject was produced by ideological apparatuses and. for Foucault. Jürgen Habermas presents a theory of rational. and this presupposes a universal intersubjective understanding (1990: 136). For Habermas there is always the possibility of undistorted communication between subjects. Habermas’ notion of communicative action subscribes to an Enlightenment rationalist understanding of the world. in Habermas’ rationalist abandonment of the ideology thesis. 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. non-coercive communication in which ideology has no place. but the ontological and epistemological status of truth itself. rather. rejected the idea of an essential human subjectivity. What is more important here are the power relationships and practices that are implicit in the discourse of truth.
However. this is the ‘last trap’ of ideology. This is distinctly non-ideological because there is no distortion here – not even a constitutive distortion as there was with Althusser. is ideology par excellence’ (1999a: 70). For Ziz “postmodern” solution. and is involved in our everyday actions and relationships. however. or should we say indebtedness. constructing the subject as disciplined and normalized. power has usurped ideology as the analytical focus – power is dispersed throughout the social network at all levels. an ideological gesture. essential subject. As Ziz argues. this is. more precisely through. it is paradoxically assuming an ‘objective’ gaze above this endless plurality of discourses and power relations. Foucault looks at the material practices and techniques that are applied directly to the body and its movements. one’s attempts to elude it. In holding that we must abandon the whole problematic of ideology because it presupposes a non-ideological essence that does not exist. Maybe this also reafﬁrms our conceptual ‘enslavement’. So it seems that we are back to where we started. from the very rejection of this essential identity. and to posit an uncontaminated point of departure outside ideology. In the words ˇ ˇek: ‘The stepping out of ideology is the very form of our enslaveof Ziz ment to it’ (1999a: 60). 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. paradoxically. to ideology. deny the thinker himself any such objective vantage ˇ ˇek point. it is an attempt to go beyond the problematic of ideology by dismissing it in place of discourses and practices that constitute the subject. but. denying us a place outside. this time. We have seen the way that the rationalist attempt to separate ideology from reality. ‘such a quick. as Althusser contended. 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 ˇek. was itself ideological. slick to reﬂect on ideology – is itself ideological. In other words. I have shown that the radically opposed rational Enlightenment and structuralist accounts of . It represents a further attempt to step outside ideology. rather than the subject being constituted by ideology.Spectres of Stirner 75 denied or deceived by ideology – the subject is a product. the Foucauldian position here is somewhat disingenuous: in humbly denying itself a neutral standpoint. Ideology continues to pop up obstinately in the very places where we think we have eschewed it. What this amounts to is a reafﬁrmation of ideology despite or. a fabrication. at the same time. Foucault is actually performing two contradictory operations simultaneously. He is attempting to step outside ideology while. by seeing its own voice as merely one discourse amongst many. our most minute practices. That is to say. in an ironical way. However. not from the perspective of an autonomous. there is a problem with this discursive abandonment of ideology. With Foucault. in itself. it is actually produced by power and discourse. However.
He does this. and that to posit an uncontaminated point of departure outside ideology is itself ideological. otherwise the critique of ideology cannot proceed any further and the ‘end of ideology’. that ideology is an impossible spectre. it is also immanently clear that we cannot present a critique of ideology. I have also shown that this abandonment of ideology has taken two radically opposed forms: the Habermasian approach. Moreover. It is clear. The rest of the discussion will be devoted to exploring Stirner’s theory of ideology and developing his logic of spectrality. or indeed have any meaningful notion of ideology at all. It is an apparition that repeatedly comes to haunt us. His critique of ideology goes beyond both rational Enlightenment and structuralist accounts of ideology. from the problematic outlined above. provides a possible way out of this quandary. and the Foucauldian poststructuralist approach. We must have some extra-ideological ‘space’ with which to reﬂect on the mechanisms of ideology. which is concomitant with the rational Enlightenment position.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. essential subject. which will provide vital clues to a contemporary retheorization of ideology. in their very attempts to dispense with ideology. and satisﬁes the two seemingly contradictory theoretical conditions that I have outlined – that a theory of ideology retain a point of departure outside ideology. I have shown the way in which these two rejections of ideology as a concept have ultimately failed and. It would seem. at the same time. yet reject the notion of an autonomous. without this point of departure. Stirner’s spectral critique of ideology Stirner’s theorization of ideology. as I shall show. that ideology can no longer be theorized as a distortion of human essence. have both led to its reafﬁrmation. that there is no getting away from ideology. as many have already heralded. thus denying the extra-ideological standpoint of rationalist Enlightenment thought. It would seem. will be well and truly with us. Second. and paradoxically. then. without this critical standpoint outside ideological structures. So it would seem. The structuralist intervention has shown that the subject is a product of ideology. and. and vanishes once again when we try to approach it. However. which is an extension of the structuralist account of ideology. then. ﬁrst. it is perhaps by acknowledging this spectral nature of ideology that we can begin to understand it. the discussion thus far has yielded some interesting conclusions. despite our most ardent attempts to exorcise it. that there are two contradictory requirements: that the theory of ideology must reject the notion of an essentialist identity. through a radical reformulation of the ideological subject. Stirner had no doubts that ideology was a spectre – one that bedevilled and haunted . However. I shall argue.
a ghostly world surrounds you everywhere. your head is haunted . However. you are always having “apparitions [Erscheinungen]” or visions’ (1995: 36). Ideology is therefore seen as an illusion or distortion that alienates the individual. I am neither God nor man. As Stirner declares: ‘Man.Spectres of Stirner 77 modern man: ‘Look out near or far. If this was all there was to Stirner’s theory of ideology. then it would merely be an extension of the rationalist Enlightenment understanding in which. ideology is seen as a distorting system of ideas that alienates the individual from his essential interests. rather than being at the core of the individual’s subjectivity. Stirner’s critique of Feuerbach and his ‘epistemological break’ with Enlightenment humanism has already been touched upon in Chapter 1. neither the supreme essence nor my essence. is an external ideological abstraction that now oppresses him: The supreme being is indeed the essence of man. it remains quite immaterial whether we see it outside him and view it as ‘God’. as explained above. an ideal that beckons to you’ (1995: 43). 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. just because it is his essence and not he himself. desecrating his uniqueness and difference by comparing him to an ideal which is not of his own creation. Ideological systems contain oppressive ideas that haunt the individual by confronting him with a series of illusory ideals. . goals and promises that he futilely pursues. between human essence and the ego. The humanist ﬁgure of man is a new ideological spectre that oppresses the individual and alienates the individual. a spirit-realm to which you suppose yourself to be called. and depict to yourself a whole world of gods that has an existence for you. In this way the individual becomes interpellated by this spectre – his subjectivity is constructed . 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. 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). rational truth and morality. . You imagine great things. which have been raised to the level of an absolute generality. These apparitions are what he calls ‘ﬁxed ideas’ – ideological abstractions like essence. but. or ﬁnd it in him and call it ‘essence of man’ or ‘man’. and therefore it is all one in the main whether I think of the essence as in me or outside me. (Stirner 1995: 34) According to Stirner. Human essence.
Humanist ideology constitutes. human essence is itself the ideological distortion. an ideological illusion. the ideological illusion created by the humanist ‘inversion’ of religion. Moral ideas rule over the conscience. We can see the way that Stirner’s logic of spectrality goes beyond classical theories of ideology. in Stirner’s words. the world has been freed from the obfuscation of Christianity only to be plunged into a new darkness. Second. ‘Moral faith is as fanatical as religious faith!’ (1995: 45). however. Stirner believes that morality is not only a ﬁction derived from Christian idealism. We can see here how radical Stirner’s inversion of the Enlightenment humanist understanding of ideology actually is. there is no essentialist point of departure outside ideological systems – essence is itself ideological. It is a discourse that claims to free individuals from all sorts of institutional oppressions. spectrality is applied to ideology in the classical sense – we are haunted by illusions. only in a new humanist garb. then. While Stirner retains the idea of ideology as distortion. Here the individual has only pseudo-sovereignty. 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. On the contrary. inculcating a sense of shame and guilt. humanism is an ideological worldview in which we have become trapped. ‘ﬁxed ideas’ or ‘spooks’ that deceive us. by the spectre of ‘essence’ inside him. In Stirner’s theorization. then. but the way that it has become a sacred law. for Stirner. For Stirner. It becomes the basis for a spectral ideological world which takes its absolute authority from human essence and traps us within its rigid paradigms. while at the same time entailing an intensiﬁcation of the oppression over ourselves and denying us the power to resist this self-subjection. Morality has become the new religion – a secular religion – through which individuals are subjectiﬁed. An important site of this humanist ideological domination is morality. but also a discourse that oppresses the individual. As Stirner claims. In Stirner’s formulation. First. Morality is merely the leftover of Christianity. man himself becomes the spectre. The very idea of essence – the idea that there is some sort of unchanging identity at the base of our existence – is. this essential subjectivity has itself been constructed by ideological mechanisms. there is no autonomous.78 Spectres of Stirner around an essence that is illusory. What Stirner objects to is not morality itself. Stirner exposes the will to . haunted and alienated by himself. ‘a new feudalism under the suzerainty of “man” ’ (1995: 278). essential human subject that is deceived by ideology. in a sense. Man is. he abandons the idea – central to humanism and classical radical politics – that it is human essence which is distorted: rather. Ideology and power For Stirner. The strange ideological doublet of God/man is central to the discourse of humanism.
it is nothing else than this humiliation itself. The ‘un-man’ However. yes. in other words. the cruelty and domination behind moral ideas: ‘Moral inﬂuence takes its start where humiliation begins. and to content that desire with what it offers’ (Stirner 1995: 276). so that he can be made part of state society and dominated in this way. ideological domination cannot be explained entirely by economic relations and socio-political structures. 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 is this desire for authority. Rather than the state directly oppressing the subject. Stirner suggests. in the passions which bind us to power. Stirner was one of the ﬁrst thinkers to explore the links between desire and self-domination. thus constructing him as a site of his own oppression. it channels it to itself: ‘The state exerts itself to tame the desirous man. the breaking and bending of the temper [Mutes] down to humility [Demut]’ (1995: 75). it seeks to direct his desire to it alone. one that does not rely on essentialist categories. ideology constructs the individual as a subject of the state. which perpetuates its power. as Marx would argue. Stirner shows that state power functions by tying the subject to an ideological ﬁgure of man. thus foreshadowing Deleuze and Guattari’s notion that desire can ‘desire its own repression’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987: 133). People are dominated. The state demands that the individual be human and conform to certain moral and rational norms and modes of behaviour. Moreover. then upon what basis can we critically engage with these mechanisms? Because Stirner has rejected the idea of the autonomous. Stirner suggests that this subjectiﬁcation functions at the level of desire. because at some level they desire it. 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. Morality therefore mutilates the individual: the individual must conform to prevailing moral codes otherwise he becomes alienated from his ‘essence’. For Stirner.Spectres of Stirner 79 power. this love of the state. he goes beyond both the Enlightenment humanist and structuralist accounts of . Stirner exposes here a new ideological operation that eluded nineteenthcentury theory – the link between human essence as an ideological spectre and political domination. In other words. Rather than the state simply repressing desire. Moreover. In doing so. 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. if the subject himself is constructed by the very ideological systems that also dominate him. it is also rooted in psychological needs.
to the ideal of man. as the limit of ideological symbolization. it represents the limits of ideological symbolization. For Stirner. which refuses to conform to human essence. the un-man. a spectral remainder that escapes ideological symbolization and provides a point of resistance against it. to understand that the ‘un-man’ is not an essence of some sort. This extra-ideological ‘place’ of resistance is made possible through his radical formulation of the ideological subject. The ‘un-man’ is ‘a man who does not correspond to the concept man. nothing that is designated my essence exhausts me’ (Stirner 1995: 324). It is an excess produced by ideological interpellation. It does not pre-exist in the individual prior to ideological interpellation. may provide the non-essentialist. is the very failure of this essence. It may be seen. The un-man is a force that cannot be contained. there is always an excess of meaning that escapes this signiﬁcation (Lacan 1977: 306). . a distortion of distortion. as it is in structuralist accounts. 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. 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. There is a kind of ﬂaw in ideological mirroring. as a distortion of ideology itself. State. how is he blocked? . For Lacan. As an excess which escapes symbolization. there is always the possibility of the subject resisting his subjectiﬁcation. humanity do not master this devil’ (1995: 125). . the subject is faced with a series of signiﬁers that are supposed to represent him. ideological interpellation never fully accounts for the individual: ‘No concept expresses me. It is the point at which ideology breaks down and the contingent nature of its operation is exposed. then. is never fully determined by it. the un-man. while constituted by ideology.80 Spectres of Stirner ideology and satisﬁes the two opposed requirements for a critique of ideology outlined above. extra-ideological . It is important. both a creation of man and a threat to it. moreover. In this sense. as the inhuman is something human which is not conformed to the concept of the human’ (Stirner 1995: 159). a point at which the ideological subject does not entirely reﬂect ideological symbols and images but. . This excess lies in what Stirner terms ‘the un-man’. the un-man may be seen as a point beyond ideology and a ﬁgure of resistance against it. In other words. 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. rather. . There is always a left-over. society. The chief advantage of Stirner’s notion of subjectivity is that the subject. in other words. by the side of man stands always the un-man . The identity of the ideological subject is never complete. the other of man: ‘But the un-man (Unmensch) who is somewhere in every individual. There is always a ‘lack’ in symbolization that undermines the fullness of this identity. rather than being an essence. However. In this way. by its inability to be signiﬁed. exceeds them.
but also internal to him. 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. whereas the former is a process through which the individual frees himself from the internal constraints of essence. In this way. constituting the limits of his very identity. in the name of a universal idea of emancipation. or at least questioned: revolution is the imposition. for Stirner. as we have seen. 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. one particularity on others. 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. One such strategy of resistance for Stirner is the ‘insurrection’. of one identity. The idea of a political revolution parallels the Feuerbachian humanist revolution which. only reafﬁrms religious oppression by putting man in the place of God. revolutions in the past have failed: they have remained trapped by the paradigm of authority. By contrast. nevertheless. It satisﬁes the two conditions mentioned above for a contemporary critique of ideology: that it dispenses with the essentialist human subject. We are tied to ideological and political institutions through our attachment to an essential identity. the individual must seek to free himself from the discursive limits of his ‘essential’ identity. but at the individual overthrowing the essential identity that ties him to these institutions. In other words. an insurrection does not aim at directly overthrowing political institutions. Rather. going beyond both rationalist and structuralist understandings of ideology and providing the foundations for a contemporary critique. and often ending up perpetuating new forms of power and domination. a critical point of departure.Spectres of Stirner 81 point of departure from which a critique of ideology may be constructed. and that it allows. One could argue that the idea of revolution itself should be abandoned. 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: . Stirner’s notion of the un-man can be understood as a non-essentialist position of resistance to ideology. 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. it is an intervention that takes into account the way that ideological and political domination is not only external to the subject. This is why. changing the form of authority but not the category of authority itself. For Stirner.
is only a negative concept that is still tied to essentialist humanist discourses – it always posits ‘freedom from’ something. but about becoming what one ‘is not’. to a dislocation of politico-ideological structures. since. to some extent. beyond the limitations of essence. then. The subject is actually constituted by the spectral excess which. but rather a rebellion of the subject against himself. only temporary and ﬁnite. a non-essentialist extra-ideological .1 Moreover. It is not a ﬁght against the established. against his ideologically constructed identity. ‘from men’s discontent with themselves’ (1995: 280). exceeds it and. of course. Insurrection. the established collapses of itself. Stirner provides. creating new forms of freedom. exposes the very limits of ideology. in other words. While the subject is constructed by ideology. Here the individual reinvents his subjectivity. This escape from ideological subjectiﬁcation is. as Stirner suggests. as I have suggested. ideology will always be with us. This idea of rejecting one’s essential identity and exploring new subjectivities is of course a feature of various poststructuralist strategies. a spook’ (Stirner 1995: 143). but to arrange ourselves. nevertheless. we must acknowledge that. it is through this insurrection – through this process of ‘working forth of me out of the established’ – that the egoistic subject starts to emerge. Instead. there is no ﬁnal place beyond ideology that the subject can pass into. a possible way out of the quandary of both rationalism and structuralism through a spectral reconﬁguration of the ideological subject. work on ourselves to resist our own ideological subjectiﬁcation and renegotiate our position within ideology. We must.82 Spectres of Stirner The revolution aimed at new arrangements. if it prospers. there is also a constitutive openness in its structure. is not about becoming what one ‘is’. for it remains an ideal. seeking ‘lines of ﬂight’ from it. (Stirner 1995: 280) Therefore the insurrection is not a rebellion of the subject against political institutions. it is only a working forth of me out of the established. It abandons the idea of an essential subjectivity that can only be expressed once ideology is abolished. and rather exhorts the subject to reconstruct his identity as he chooses. while produced by ideological symbolisation. to effectively contest ideological domination. as Stirner says. Freedom itself is therefore an ideological spectre: ‘I cannot create it: I can only wish it and – aspire toward it. freedom. in doing so. There is no ultimate state of freedom from ideology. insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged. and contesting the way we have been interpellated by it. It is a rejection of essence. an escape from essential subjectivities. and sets no glittering hopes on ‘institutions’. This allows us to theorise. which leads. This strategy of ‘ownness’ allows the subject to work at the limits of ideology. according to Stirner. It starts. and to strive for this is to show how much we are still enslaved to the concept we seek to free ourselves from. looking for the cracks and points of dislocation in its ediﬁce. Indeed.
desire and power. subjectivity. seeing human essence not as an undistorted identity outside ideology. I have suggested. its function being not only to dissimulate. but also to universalize a particular epistemological perspective and to conceal the domination that lies behind its claims to truth. Stirner has explored the subtle connections between ideology. contradictions and arbitrary exclusions inherent in the discourses and institutions that structure our political and social reality. ideology can operate precisely through these rational discourses and essential identities. and explores ‘deconstruction’ as a political strategy aimed at unmasking the oppositions. rethink it in ways that no longer presuppose a universal rationality or an essential identity whose interests are distorted.Spectres of Stirner 83 point of departure necessary for a contemporary critique of ideology. but rather as something located at the heart of ideological distortion itself. . The following chapter examines the metaphysical gesture invoked in such claims to absolute truth. As Stirner has shown us. moreover. rather. that poststructuralism must not abandon the problematic of ideology but.
a discourse whose claims to universality. it will nevertheless be used here to describe the general direction of his work. differences and ‘aporias’ within the Western philosophical discourse. however. His critique has important implications for political theory: his questioning of the claims of philosophy may be applied also to the claims. in particular his critique of authority. ethics and justice. Derrida works within the discourse of Western philosophy itself.5 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority The political aspect of Jacques Derrida’s thinking. Derrida does not question one kind of philosophy from the standpoint of another more complete or less contradictory system. and exposing the antagonisms they have ignored or repressed. What deconstruction is not. 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 allows us to explore radically new understandings of democracy. looking for hidden antagonisms that destabi- . This is a trap Derrida assiduously tries to avoid. his interrogation of rational and essentialist structures in philosophy makes his work crucial to any critical analysis of political institutions and discourses. Deconstruction ‘Deconstruction’ is the term most commonly associated with Derrida and. Christopher Norris deﬁnes deconstruction as a series of moves which include the dismantling of conceptual oppositions and hierarchical systems of thought. forcing them to take account of their own contradictions. Rather. while it is a widely misunderstood and misused term. is a philosophical system. and indeed the practices. However. He therefore does not come from a point of departure outside philosophy. as well as an anti-authoritarian politics of emancipation. Moreover. Derrida instigates a series of strategies or ‘moves’ to unmask the suppressed antagonisms. and an unmasking of ‘aporias’ and moments of self-contradiction in philosophy (1987: 19). is often neglected. This would merely be to substitute one kind of authority for another. of political institutions and sovereign forms of authority that are founded upon them. wholeness and lucid self-reﬂection have been sounded since the time of Plato.
as has often been claimed. whereas writing is seen as what diminishes this presence. no identity is ever complete or pure: it is constituted by that which threatens it. an invention which cannot be a substitute for the authenticity and immediate presence of meaning attributed to speech. 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). representation to . Speech is. However. in which one term is subordinated to another. the idea of a pure. Deconstruction may be seen as a critique of the authoritarian structures inherent in philosophy. of writing to speech. According to this logic. Derrida points out certain contradictions within this logocentric way of thinking. throughout its history. 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.’ Logocentrism establishes the binary hierarchy of speech/writing. Any identity is contaminated by what it tries to exclude. in particular ‘logocentrism’. dependent on the writing that it excludes. in which writing is subordinated to speech. Speech claims to be a self-presence that is immediate and authentic to itself. It is always open to the other and contaminated by it. Moreover speech is associated with the authority of the teacher. It is an indication of how much Western philosophy is still grounded in the metaphysical concepts it claims to have transcended. his aim is not to undermine philosophy. complete self-identity is authoritarian. The unmasking of this logic of supplementarity is one of the chief deconstructive moves employed by Derrida. Writing is thus a supplement to speech: it is excluded by speech. but is nevertheless necessary for the presence of speech. at the same time. Furthermore. Derrida is being faithful to the spirit of philosophy: unquestioning and slavish adulation ultimately makes a mockery of philosophy. which is destructive of memory and susceptible to deceit. necessary for the formation of its identity. On the contrary. which refers to philosophy’s subordination. therefore. writing is seen as a dangerous corruption of speech – a lesser form of speech.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 85 lize it. Derrida points to Plato’s Phaedrus in which writing is rejected as a medium for conveying and recording truth. for Derrida. Here it is seen as an artiﬁce. Moreover. but is. Derrida’s critique of philosophy is itself fundamentally philosophical. It establishes a series of hierarchical binary relationships in philosophy. The privileging of speech over writing in philosophical texts is an example of what Derrida calls the ‘metaphysics of presence’. Derrida shows that this authenticity and purity of identity are always questionable. Writing is an example of the ‘logic of supplementarity’: a supplement is excluded by presence. while writing is seen by Plato as a threat to this authority because it allows the pupil to learn without the teacher’s guidance. Where speech is seen as a means of approaching the truth because of its immediacy. By opening philosophy to this mode of questioning. Derrida sees these as ‘violent hierarchies.
Presence constitutes a form of textual authority that attempts to dominate and exclude its supplement. He does not want to put writing in the place of speech for instance. Therefore the anarchists believed that the state and all forms of institutionalized political power must be abolished as the ﬁrst revolutionary act. However Derrida argues that subversion and inversion culminate in the same thing – the reinvention of authority. and the strategy of subversion exempliﬁed by anarchism – are two sides of the same logic of ‘place’. such revolutionary strategies only reafﬁrm the place of power. in different guises. We have seen the way. (Derrida 1978a: 81) . for an-archy only consolidates just as surely the established order of a metaphysical hierarchy. One could argue. however. in its desire to overturn political hierarchies and institutions. Both radical politico-theoretical strategies – the strategy of inversion exempliﬁed by Marxism. authoritarian structure of the binary division. In most cases. for example. Binary structures in philosophy perpetuate discourses and practices of domination. are a reafﬁrmation of religious idealism. as well as a Manichean imaginary. However. For instance. which. So for Derrida: What must occur then is not merely a suppression of all hierarchy. this authority is continually jeopardized by the excluded supplement because. that Marxism fell victim to this logic by replacing the bourgeois state with the equally authoritarian workers’ state. In political terms. Derrida also recognizes the dangers of the more radical or ‘anarchistic’ strategy of subversion – that is. forming also the foundations for political authority. nor is it a simple change or reversal in the terms of any given hierarchy. that anarchist theory. However. for instance. it is essential to the formation of the identity of the dominant term. the radical strategy of overthrowing all hierarchies and structures of authority. as I have shown. Rather the Umdrehung must be a transformation of the hierarchical structure itself. that Derrida does not simply want to invert the terms of these binaries so that the subordinated term becomes the privileged term. Inversion/subversion It must be made clear.86 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority presence. revolutionary political theories have often only succeeded in reinventing power and authority in their own image. These binary structures nevertheless form what might be termed a place of power in philosophical discourse. as Stirner would argue. This sort of inversion merely leaves intact the hierarchical. 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. nevertheless relies on metaphysical concepts such as universal humanity and rationality.
and the mere reversal of terms. according to Derrida. one must go beyond both the anarchic desire to destroy hierarchy. Derrida is inﬂuenced here by Nietzsche. Derrida’s analysis is important because it exposes the authoritarianism . Derrida shows that Heidegger’s notion of Being does not displace the category of God-Man-Essence as it claims to have done. one might argue that political theory is still dominated by the metaphysics of presence. God has been inscribed in the secular ﬁgure of man central to humanism: What was named in this way . the relation of man to God. just as man was only a re-inscription of God. The place of religion and metaphysics remains intact (Derrida 1982: 128). The notion of Being is only a reinscription of humanist essence. in the metaphysical presuppositions of language. the residue of the category of the divine. The authority of the divine remains intact. not simply overthrown. For instance. was nothing other than the metaphysical unity of Man and God. the project of becoming God as the project of constituting human-reality. by the place of metaphysics. who argues that as long as we continue to believe absolutely in grammar. Being merely reafﬁrms this place. On the contrary. its very structure. As much as we may claim the contrary. how much philosophy is still tied to metaphysics: it is still dominated. then. Political action must involve a rethinking of revolution and authority in a way that traces a path between these two terms.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. 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. (Derrida 1982: 116) The spectre of God-Man has yet to be exorcised from our midst. For Derrida. by the need for some sort of essential subjectivity or universal epistemological position that it has never had and yet continually tries to invoke. God has not been completely usurped from philosophy. as has been proclaimed since the Enlightenment. so that it does not merely reinvent the place of power. we continue to believe in God. and tries to make problematic. . Atheism changes nothing in this fundamental structure. according to Derrida. Deconstruction adopts a strategy of displacement here: rather than reversing the terms of the binary opposition. in other words. To avoid the lure of authority. In the same way. we have not yet ousted God from philosophy. in essence. The demand for a self-identical essence in politics and philosophy would be. inscribed in the demand for presence. it questions. If we want to avoid this trap the hierarchical structure must be transformed. The end(s) of man The prevalence of such binary structures indicates. .
relifting [relever]. The ﬁrst strategy is: To attempt an exit and a deconstruction without changing terrain. The continuous process of making explicit. by brutally placing oneself outside. according to Derrida is: To decide to change terrain. Here. and by afﬁrming an absolute break or difference. According to Derrida. Derrida argues that deconstruction is always caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of these two impossible strategies. the simple practice of language ceaselessly reinstates the new terrain on the oldest ground. Without mentioning all the other forms of trompe-l’oeil perspective in which such a displacement can be caught. in a discontinuous and irruptive fashion. risks sinking into the autism of the closure. moreover. are the two alternate paths awaiting radical politics. by using against the ediﬁce the instruments or stones available in the house. However. that which one allegedly deconstructs. risks reafﬁrming and consolidating it. equally. consolidating. (Derrida 1982: 135) So this strategy of working within the metaphysical structure of humanist discourse. involved a replacement of man with the equally essentialist and metaphysical Being. moving toward an opening. Derrida can perhaps show us a way out of this theoretical . one risks ceaselessly conﬁrming. that is. in language. Moreover it shows that any kind of radical political theory must ﬁrst become aware of its own latent metaphysical structures. Here Derrida allows us to re-evaluate the problem of humanism. and must therefore navigate a course between them. the more one ﬁnds oneself frustratingly within it. The second strategy. by repeating what is implicit in the founding concepts and the original problematic. These two strategies of deconstruction.88 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority that still inhabits certain structures of thought. He describes two possible ways of dealing with the problem of metaphysical authority in philosophy – the two temptations of deconstruction. of seeking an outside to which one can escape. and using its terms and language. Derrida is referring here to Heidegger’s critique of humanism which. The more one tries to escape the dominant paradigm. at an always more certain depth. thereby inhabiting more naively and strictly than ever the inside one declares one has deserted. he argues. this would have the same effect as the ﬁrst strategy: by attempting a complete change of terrain. one only reafﬁrms one’s place within the old terrain. (Derrida 1982: 135) This is the alternative move of making an absolute break with the discourse of humanism.
thereby transcending them. Not only is there no kingdom of différance. the mufﬂed. this is a system whose very nature is that of a non-system: it is comprised of non-dialectical. but it . but différance instigates the subversion of every kingdom’ (Derrida 1982: 22). Rather than think in terms of the end of man. an ‘infrastructure’. 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. This series of differences has a structure or. non-binary differences. the authority of man will be decentred within language. 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. half-stiﬂed murmurs of disunity and antagonism. as Foucault does. or series of differences. it is characterized by its very inability to constitute an identity. . It is rather a difference. to inhabit a stable place. Because différance does not constitute itself as an essential identity. The difference is that. for Derrida. Derrida believes that we must follow the two paths simultaneously (Schrift 1988: 138). ‘re-evaluated’. It threads together differences and antagonisms in a way that neither orders nor effaces them. it can become a motif for an antiauthoritarian form of politics: ‘It governs nothing. It does not have a stable or autonomous identity. perhaps in terms of Nietzsche’s Higher Man. in order to signify that it is not an absolute or essential form of difference. However. We must ﬁnd a way of combining or ‘weaving’ these two possible strategies. whose identity as difference is always unstable and never absolute. as Rodolphe Gasché argues. thus providing a point a departure for politics. Différance Deconstruction tries to account for the suppressed. Derrida refers to this as ‘différance’ – difference spelt with an a. and nowhere exercises any authority . As Derrida says: There is no essence of the différance. hidden differences and heterogeneities in philosophical discourse. rather. Rather than choosing one strategy over another. man will not be completely transcended but. . Derrida does not dispense with the category of the subject. not only can it not allow itself to be taken up into the as such of its name or its appearing. reigns over nothing. but the subject will not be discarded altogether. Instead. For instance. Infrastructures are not essentialist – their very essence is that of a non-essence (Gasché 1986: 150). because it remains open to the other. nor is it governed by an ordering principle or central authority.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 89 abyss. Rather he seeks to displace and re-evaluate it. Derrida refers to the ‘closure’ of man in metaphysics. For Derrida. existing as its own limit. non-essentialist category.
which denies it a selfenclosed identity by referring to what is outside it and which it cannot account for. Difference would become a new identity. nor strictly outside philosophy. It is a strategy of continually interrogating the selfproclaimed ‘closure’ of this discourse. Therefore the aim of deconstruction is not to afﬁrm difference over identity. it neither afﬁrms identity or non-identity. (Derrida 1973: 158) The infrastructure may be seen as a model for anti-authoritarian thought: by its own structural absence of authority. yet nor can it work entirely outside it. This aporia which deconstruction tries to identify confronts philosophy with a limit to its limitlessness. thereby allowing us to transcend binary ways of thinking. and absence a new presence. Rather. nor can they take accurate aim. Rather. the thing that it attempts to exclude is. it undermines from within various structures of textual authority. a limit to its closure. irrational exterior. As I have already suggested. The limits that Derrida identiﬁes are produced within the tradition of philosophy. it traces a path of undecidability between the two positions. Deconstruction unmasks this limit of the limit. as I have suggested. but remains in a state of indeterminacy between the two. However. to reverse the established order only to found a new order in its place. but rather the displacement of all orders. They are not possible and effective. There is a strange logic at work here. a logic which continually impedes philosophy’s aspiration to be a closed. It works from within the discourse of philosophy. operating at its limits in order to ﬁnd an outside (Gasché 1994: 28). there is a need for poststructuralist political theory to develop a notion of a non- . they do not come from a nihilistic. It does this by forcing it to account for the aporias which jeopardize this closure. This would be. as deconstruction has shown. The aporia might be seen as a contradiction internal to the structure itself. which is a form of critique neither strictly inside. absence over presence. the thing’s presence in its essence. Moreover. This positioning of limits is important here because it points to the possibility of an outside – one that is paradoxically on the inside.90 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority threatens the authority of the as such in general. it must proceed through a strategy of displacement – what Derrida calls a ‘double writing’. The proclaimed totality and limitlessness of philosophy is itself a limit. its complete closure to what threatens it is impossible because. at the same time. essential to its identity. complete system. The point of Derrida’s thinking is not to seek the establishment of a new order. As Derrida says: ‘The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from outside. Derrida argues that the strategy of deconstruction cannot work entirely within the structures of logocentric philosophy. except by inhabiting those structures’ (1976: 24). Deconstruction cannot attempt an immediate neutralization of philosophy’s authoritarian structures. disrupting the identities of both terms.
in a reversed way. power and ideology themselves. from within the structures of discourse. while the inside exists only in relation to it. they open philosophical discourse to an Other. It afﬁrms nothing. as Derrida argues.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 91 essentialist outside of this kind. It is therefore an outside that avoids the two temptations of deconstruction. the more one ﬁnds oneself obstinately on the ‘inside’: ‘The logic of every relation to the outside is very complex and surprising. also transgresses itself. It is therefore an outside that is ﬁnite and temporary. Moreover. paradoxically. and a transgression is produced that consequently is nowhere present as a fait accompli. 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. while at the same time threatening the identity of the other. This constitutive outside is necessary. if any sort of resistance to these structures is to be possible. Any kind of transgression. Indeed. may allow us to conceive of a politics of resistance which does not restore the place of power. the impossibility of its closure. This is a radical outside. Each is necessary for the constitution of the identity of the other. (Derrida 1981b: 12) So deconstruction may be seen as a form of transgression which. and it does not have a stable identity. It is not clearly divided from the ‘inside’ by an inexorable line: this ‘line’ is continually disrupted and redrawn. It is precisely the force and the efﬁciency of the system that regularly changes transgressions into “false exits” ’ (Derrida 1976: 135). However. at the same time refers to an outside – one that is constituted through the limitations and contradictions of the inside. the point at which their consistency is destabilized. The more one tries to escape to an absolute outside. moreover. and functions as their internal limit. One is never installed within transgression. the interpretation of these limits is always contingent and depends on political interventions. to position oneself entirely on the outside of any structure. this idea of an outside constituted through the limits of the inside. what one resists. is only to reafﬁrm. it obeys a strange logic: it exists only in relation to the inside which it threatens. in transgressing the limits of metaphysics. It exposes the limits of a text by tracing the repressed . As Derrida has shown. This would be a radical exteriority that emerges. as a form of resistance to it. and dissipates upon crossing this limit. Derrida makes it clear that it cannot be seen as an absolute outside. can only be ﬁnite. The ‘outside’ of ethical responsibility So the internal limit of philosophy. one never lives elsewhere. These contradictions make closure impossible. as this would only reconsolidate the inside that it opposes. does not come from an oppositional outside. It is not part of the binary structure of inside/outside.
a question – one that is open to political and ethical reinterpretation. Good is always contaminated by evil. rather it re-evaluates it. Deconstruction therefore neither afﬁrms. re-inscribing it as a problem. if morality is always contaminated by its other – if it is never pure – then every moral judgement or decision is necessarily undecidable. This deconstructive interrogation of philosophy does not lead to an amoral nihilism. Moral judgement must always be self-questioning and cautious because its foundations are not absolute. Unlike much moral philosophy that is grounded on the ﬁrm foundations of the categorical imperative. violence and sovereignty The undecidability of judgement that is produced by a deconstructive critique has implications for political discourses and institutions. therefore. then can it still be considered moral or ethical? Deconstruction allows us to open the realm of ethics to re-interpretation and difference. who attempts to think the limits of the Hegelian tradition by showing the point at which it encounters an ethical outside. the point of irreducibility which cannot be accommodated within its structures. This radical outside is. enjoys no such self-assurance. Deconstruction is by no means a rejection of ethics. John Caputo argues that Derrida’s thinking might be seen as a responsible anarchy. Rather. to rupture it by confronting it with the Other. the law is ultimately grounded on some- . an alterity that is ethical in its exclusion and singularity. particularly legal institutions. Deconstruction may be seen. if only for an instant. It tries to step. It shows us that moral principles cannot be absolute or pure: they are always contaminated by what they try to exclude. as an ethical strategy which opens philosophy to the Other. beyond the conﬁnes of reason and historical necessity. in a similar sense perhaps. as has often been claimed.92 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority absences and discontinuities within the text – the excess that the text fails to contain (Clifford 1987: 230). for Derrida. What Derrida questions is the ethics of morality: if morality becomes an absolute discourse. it involves a re-evaluation of ethics (Kearney 1993: 30). the limit it ‘crosses’. and this opening is itself ethical. and this momentary ‘stepping beyond’ constitutes an ethical dimension – an ethics of alterity. not an irresponsible anarchy (1988: 18). It is therefore an ethics of impurity. Law. deconstructive ethics has no such privileged place and. Levinas tries to transcend Western philosophy. Derrida is inﬂuenced here by Emmanuel Levinas. ethical: the act of forcing philosophy to confront its own structures of exclusion can be seen as a thoroughly ethical gesture. Derrida argues that authority of the law is fundamentally ambiguous and open to question. In other words. reason by unreason. nor destroys. 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’s point is that every legal decision. It would be an illegitimate act of discursive violence. the empty place in the ediﬁce of law. they are. the violence of the law is revealed in all its nakedness and brutality. strictly speaking. invokes at least a kind of discursive violence or ‘force’. the structure of the law is aporetic – it cannot form a closed. Like Foucault. . neither legal. it is something that is both inside and outside the law. this foundation in violence does not mean that the origins of law are illegal: because they are prior to law. nor illegal. When the police and security apparatus. every expression of the law. this violence occupies a position of undecidability with regards to the law. yet at the same time inscribed within the structures of the law itself. In unmasking this ambiguity in the foundations of the law. the position of the law can’t by deﬁnition rest on anything but themselves. legal violence – the violence involved in enforcing the law – and illegal or illegitimate violence. strictly speaking. Indeed. the law itself can be seen as an articulation of a form of violence. thus making the legitimacy of the law itself ambiguous. in the name of enforcing the law or preserving ‘national security’. or when asylum seekers and illegal migrants are forcibly detained and coerced in Western ‘liberal democracies’. The justness or legitimacy of any legal decision is put into question through such a critique. shows the way that the law is closely intertwined with violence. Walter Benjamin. deconstruction has important political consequences. Derrida asks how it is possible to distinguish legitimate. for instance. complete identity because its foundations derive from something that is outside itself. and that this violence is disavowed. when the law itself is founded on a violence that is ‘neither legal nor illegal – or. allowing one also to interrogate any institutional and political discourse or series of practices that claim to derive their authority from the law. In other words. Derrida shows that the origins of laws and institutions are violent. Rather. and the violence at the base of institutional authority. 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. 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. 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. for Derrida. neither just nor unjust?’ (1992: 6). they are themselves a violence without ground’ (1992: 14). non-legal because it had to exist prior to law. A deconstructive interrogation of law therefore reveals the absence. and how it sanctions a number of coercive practices and functions such as military and police violence. and cannot be fully incorporated into it. However. routinely detain people without charge.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 93 thing that is. as others would quickly say. the foundation or ground. in which its legitimacy is simultaneously afﬁrmed and put into question. As Derrida says: ‘Since the origin of authority.
notwithstanding its claims to democratic secularism. as Agamben shows. it might be said that sovereignty is an embodiment of this violence. giving it a moral foundation (Caputo 2003: 10). can we have a form of democracy which is not tied to the principle of sovereignty. For instance. Sovereignty might be understood as the point where violence and law intersect. the United States – despite its formal separation of church and state – is strongly marked by religious references. one becoming indistinguishable from the other. political discourse in the world’s most powerful democracy. 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. the law cannot protect us from the violence of the state. The state of exception. this ambiguous relation between law and violence allows the very idea of sovereignty itself to be deconstructed. However. the ability to stand outside the law and to suspend it. as Derrida points out. Like Stirner. but rather a dimension of violence that is beyond the limits of the law. The question is. Furthermore. Derrida believes that there is a potential tension between the principle of sovereignty.94 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority Indeed. because it is itself grounded ultimately in this violence. democracy has a revolutionary potential that remains unfulﬁlled. including Derrida and Giorgio Agamben. he believes that the spectre of God has not been exorcized from modern structures of power and authority. the condition of sovereignty is.1 From this perspective. is a state of lawlessness and violence in which normal juridical protections no longer apply and sovereign power is unrestricted. that emanating from the Islamic world. pointing to Carl Schmitt’s deﬁnition of the sovereign as the one who can proclaim a state of exception (see Agamben 1998: 15–16). at the same time. sovereignty has its roots in theology and it continues to be inextricably linked with it. since it was God who created the law. . then. A deconstructive analysis thus exposes this link between violence. even though this onto-theological reference continues in modern democracies. A number of contemporary thinkers. Indeed. with its violence and authoritarianism. 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. sovereignty and law. have argued that sovereignty occupies a dimension that is both inside and outside the law simultaneously. Derrida detects vestiges of this ‘onto-theology’ even in modern understandings of the sovereign state. Sovereignty therefore has a homologous relation to the extra-legal violence that grounds the law. This means that because the authority of the law rests on the power of the sovereign to enforce it. Moreover. and democracy with its secularizing and emancipative impulse. and which sits at odds with sovereignty. 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. and that they continue to be haunted by it. Indeed.
However. justice must be . unlike the religious notion of the messianic. but rather refers to a radically open political horizon. Derrida likens this revolutionary moment in deconstruction to Benjamin’s notion of the general strike: For there is something of the general strike. is synonymous with justice. Therefore a politics of deconstruction would be a radical democratic politics that is not based on any particular programme or speciﬁc vision of democracy. and is therefore inﬁnitely perfectible. Justice forms a kind of internal limit to structures of sovereignty and law. (Derrida 1992: 37) In this sense. Indeed. in the state of possible reading. deconstruction is an eminently political practice – a way of reading the ‘text’ of politics in radically new ways. Indeed. it would based on the contingency and openness of the political ﬁeld itself. rather. 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. In this sense. for Derrida. this deconstructive opening of the text of politics to what it excludes. Deconstruction therefore involves a radical moment in which sovereignty can be brought into question. with a capital S. For Derrida. 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. in ways that are no longer determined by the idea of sovereignty. that is to say the present state of reading or what ﬁgures the State. The possibility of justice Moreover. 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. by the institution of the state. Indeed. democracy has the character of a sort of messianic promise. nonauthoritarian forms of politics to be conceived. it opens a space in which what is currently unthinkable or ‘unreadable’ from the perspective of existing political paradigms can become thinkable. 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.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. and which allows new.
as Derrida asserts. Therefore justice conserves the law because it operates in the name of the law.96 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority carefully distinguished from law. it is the promise of something yet to come. by an a priori discourse. rules. This strategy can be applied to our contemporary political reality. is not an absolute rejection of the existing order because this only leads to the founding of a new order. Justice functions as an open. Law is merely the general application of a rule. as I have suggested. For instance. thus performing a deconstructive displacement of law. It is an excess which overﬂows the boundaries of the law and cannot be grasped by it. 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 . though. it must be different each time. It cannot be the mere application of the rule. empty signiﬁer: its meaning or content is not pre-determined. programs. Justice. it must continually reinvent the rule. which has been with us since the French Revolution. as an event. deconstruction traces within the structure of the law moments of aporia and undecidability which open it up to a singularity beyond it. lawlessness and illegitimacy of their origins. rather. exceeds calculation. something that can never be completely grasped or understood. the discourse of emancipation. it would cease to be justice and become law. as law can. and this is precisely the dimension of justice. deconstruction is justice. exists in an ethical realm because it implies freedom and responsibility of action (Derrida 1992: 22–23). thus leaving them open to continual and unpredictable reinterpretations. for it to account for the singularity denied by law. not only does justice involve a deconstruction of the law. This is not necessarily to reject out of hand existing political discourses. Justice is an event that opens itself to the other. This transformation. Indeed. anticipations’ (1992: 27). but. unmasks the violence. Justice is the experience of the impossible because it always exists in a state of suspension and undecidability. Like democracy. moreover. For a decision to be just. That is. Justice exists in a relation of ‘alterity’ to law: it opens the discourse of law to an outside. Justice occupies a politico-ethical dimension that cannot be reduced to law or political institutions. It is always incalculable. It is much more radical than that: it is a re-founding of political and legal discourses in a way that. but at the same time it suspends the law because it is being continually reinterpreted (Derrida 1992: 23). reformulated. rather. Its effects are always unpredictable because it cannot be determined. should not be rejected but. to the impossible. because if it is. and it is for this reason that justice opens up the possibility for a transformation of law and politics (Derrida 1992: 27). to the singularity which the law cannot account for. while justice is an opening of the law to the other. but rather to reinterpret and re-evaluate them. As Derrida says: ‘There is an avenir for justice and there is no justice except to the degree that some event is possible which.
unconditionally. Derrida insists on the ongoing and universal importance today of human rights. for instance. Deconstruction. beyond all selfserving interpretations . Both strategies have a notion of political rights and a conception of emancipative struggles on the basis of these rights. human and political rights. The question of rights highlights the differences between deconstructive politics and classical revolutionary politics. constitutively open political signiﬁer. We cannot attempt to disqualify it today. these rights would be without stable foundations and therefore their content would not be ﬁxed in advance. This leaves them open to a plurality of different political articulations. It could even in the future include animals. As Derrida says: Nothing seems to me less outdated than the classical emancipatory ideal. In other words. For instance. . though. The logic of emancipation is still at work today. We need [il faut] human rights’ (Derrida in Borradori 2004: 132). that classical revolutionary politics sees these rights as essential and founded in natural law. . for instance. In other words. whether crudely or with sophistication. and sexual and ethnic minorities. inalienable rights. so that its content would no longer be limited or determined by its foundations. (Derrida 1992: 28) Derrida suggests that we can free the discourse of emancipation from its essentialist foundations and categorical imperatives. Yet Derrida also insists on the historicity of these rights. The difference is. other areas must constantly open up that at ﬁrst seem like secondary or marginal areas.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 97 foundations and radically re-founded as a non-essentialist. at least not without treating it too lightly and forming the worst complicities. challenge and rethink their foundations and discursive limits. and on the need to question their ontological foundations: the concept of the ‘humanity of man’. Derrida argues that these ‘natural’ rights are actually constituted discursively through the social contract and that therefore they cannot claim to be . the discourse of emancipation can be left structurally open. while the politics of deconstruction would see these rights as radically founded. while also being able to question. we must have the courage to assert. The Declaration of the Rights of Man has in the past been expanded to encompass the rights of women. would question the idea of natural. as Derrida suggests (1992: 28). although in different forms and represented by different struggles. But beyond these identiﬁed territories of juridico-politicization on the grand political scale. In other words. thereby expanding it to include other political struggles hitherto regarded as of little importance. In his critique of liberal social contract theory. 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. involves a series of discursive assumptions and exclusions that can be deconstructed.
just as writing was subordinated to speech. The idea of natural rights can only be formulated discursively through the contract. An-archic action is distinguished here from the political philosophy of the classical anarchists like Proudhon. These rights. then. Derrida occupies a number of crucial terrains in the radical political thinking. it is not necessarily determined or limited by them. Through the unmasking and deconstruction of the textual authority of logocentrism. the social is the supplement which threatens and. 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. and in the process they will be reformulated by these struggles. He also shows us that no identity is pure and closed – it is always contaminated by what it excludes. not in the name of a founding principle. a deconstructive notion of an-archy might be somewhat different: it can be seen as action with a ‘why?’ – that is. therefore. Kropotkin and Bakunin. through the various deconstructive strategies and moves that Derrida employs. but in the name of the deconstructive enterprise which it has embarked upon. an-archic action is forced to account for itself. They must be fought for. are displaced from the social to the natural realm. Derrida allows us to develop a critique. An-archic action is the possible outcome of a deconstructive strategy aimed at undermining the metaphysical authority of various political and philosophical discourses. at the same time is necessary for. Moreover. This undermines oppositional politics. one cannot always assume that they will continue to exist. can no longer be taken for granted. as we have seen. just as it forces authority to account for itself. and this leaves them open to change and reinterpretation. Derrida’s an-archy It is through this form of deconstructive logic that political action becomes an-archic. In other words. 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 . there is no pure natural foundation for rights. of the contemporary political institutions and discourses based on this authority.98 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority natural (Ryan 1983: 160). using the same logic. On the other hand. to avoid becoming what it opposes. The discourse of classical anarchism is governed. If they are without ﬁrm foundations. by original founding principles such as human essence and rationality. the identity of the natural. action forced to question itself. because identity is in part constituted by what it opposes. while an-anarchic action is also conditioned by certain principles. and the social is subordinated to the natural. Reiner Schurmann deﬁnes an-archic action as action without a ‘why?’ (1987: 10) However. As Derrida suggests in his critique of Rousseau. Therefore. They can no longer remain inscribed within human essence and. It is this self-questioning which allows political action to resist authority.
These strategies are the two poles that skewer radical political theory. he is able to formulate a notion of an ‘outside’ – one that is constructed through the limits of the inside. and thus destabilizing institutions that are based on it. shows a way of transcending this impasse by weaving together subversion and inversion. It opens up a politico-ethical dimension of justice and emancipation at the limits of legal and political authority.Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 99 structures and hierarchies. unmasking its hidden relation to violence. in a way that re-evaluates these terms and thus displaces place. Derrida. I have suggested that this notion of a constitutive outside is central to any understanding of the political. an interrogation of authority. then. however. afﬁrmation and absolute rejection. . In doing so. Derrida’s political thinking may be seen. as an an-archism. and a politico-ethical strategy which forces us to reevaluate the limits of our contemporary political reality.
This chapter continues with the theme of violence. according to Badiou: ﬁrst. it immediately brings into play a whole discursive apparatus and a series of moral assumptions which have concrete political effects. the word ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’ cannot be used in any objective or neutral sense. this time exploring what. rather. the ‘war on terror’ are the terms on everyone’s lips today. unmasking the latter’s intimate relation to violence. anti-state violence – that is. employing. ‘democracy’. but also.6 On the politics of violence Terror. However. which is used so problematically. power and sovereignty. of political and legal institutions. The word ‘terrorism’ has the following functions. terrorism. While there has been an enormous and renewed interest in terrorism recently. or even simply the . They explore some of the ambiguities in the term ‘terrorism’. as we have seen. it determines a subject or. today. 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. However. In the context of the major terrorist attacks on September 11. and examine its hidden links with law. from social democrat to conservative. yet unquestioningly. at least on the surface. ‘terrorist’. the psychoanalytic notion of fantasy to understand the symbolic importance of the ˇ ˇek 2002b). from left to right. a ‘victim’ – ‘the West’. most analyses coming out of the disciplines of politics and philosophy have tended to focus on normative questions relating to just war theory. for instance. ‘terrorism’. sovereignty and law Deconstruction has exposed the fundamentally ambiguous and paradoxical nature not only of central philosophical concepts. as well as September 11 strikes as a media event (see Ziz looking at the current discourse on terrorism and its political effects. as Badiou suggests. there have been a number of contemporary continental thinkers ˇ ˇek. is a form of anti-institutional. such as whether terrorism can or cannot be morally justiﬁed. Rather. Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida – – like Slavoj Ziz who have taken a different approach. emanating from every media outlet and every politician across the spectrum. Alain Badiou. and which forms part of a dominant discourse and ideology that is increasingly coming to deﬁne our political reality. ‘Terror’.
Indeed. Indeed. has given the state unheard-of powers of surveillance. assuming the character of a ‘radical evil’.1 ‘Terrorism’ implies in advance its own moral condemnation. and. is more than just a vicissitude of history. without national sovereignty or even territorial locality. 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. and yet which functions as an ideological tool of the modern Western state. and indeed inscribed. prior to September 11. As Foucault has shown. that Republican virtue came to be associated with the willingness to be merciless. it determines a sequence – it justiﬁes an ongoing ‘war on terrorism’ (Badiou 2002: 1–2). if terrorism is to be deﬁned by a form of violence designed to inspire fear. The contemporary discourse on terrorism functions in a similar way. perpetuating. One of the tasks of a poststructuralist or deconstructionist approach to this discourse on terrorism would be to make it problematic. In other words. the purges and mass executions that followed the French Revolution – called themselves ‘terrorists’. never Christian fundamentalist terrorism (the Oklahoma City bombing) or Jewish fundamentalist terrorism (the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin). It speaks perhaps to the very nature of any political discourse. second. in turn. to point out its ambiguities and contradictions. one might recall that the very word ‘terrorism’ derives from La Terreur of the post-revolutionary French Republic in the early 1790s. for instance. not to mention the justiﬁcation – almost a blank cheque – for external military action. would have been unthinkable. serving to legitimise a series of measures which. permanent detention and control over its internal population. no matter how democratic. despite the dubious and problematic nature of a war against an unseen enemy. through a systematic yet often indiscriminate register of violence. The ‘war on terrorism’. as well determining dominant categories of ‘truth’ and normality through an exclusion of other voices and perspectives. Saint-Just’s words stand out as one of the most infamous justiﬁcations of state terrorism: ‘What do you want. you who do not want the Terror to be used against the wicked?’ (see Lefort 1988: 72–73). it forms a predicate – terrorism is now always ‘Islamic’ fundamentalist terrorism. . unmasking the violence implicit in every political symbolization.On the politics of violence 101 United States. The Jacobins on the Committee for Public Safety – those who instigated the Terror. 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. but which are now accepted as necessary and normal. discourse is inextricably intertwined with power – being both constituted by and. That the highest ideals of the Republic were accompanied. For instance. the appellation ‘terrorism’ forms part of a discursive series that appears to be self-evident. at the base of every law. institutional power relations. third. then one can of course speak equally about state terrorism as one can about non-state terrorism. you who do not want virtue in order to be happy? What do you want.
In that sense. for the terrorists of French Republic. In other words. to ﬁll the gap in the place of power that would from now on remain empty. Terrorist violence always threatens to expose the emptiness and indeterminacy at the base of the symbolic authority of the law and the state. can we not see in the state’s response to terrorism both the sovereign violence at the base of state authority.102 On the politics of violence For Claude Lefort. the abyss of indeterminacy that opens up below one’s feet and threatens to swallow the Revolution. . The Terror was therefore characterized by a hysterical need to ﬁnd more and more enemies of the Republic. is more than a mere feature of the new ideological ‘war on terrorism’. If. (Lefort 1988: 84) Is there not something like this fascination with the abyss in contemporary terrorist violence. 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. Terror embodies the fantasy of a social whole. as well as the attempt to disguise this violence through a terrorism of its own? The desire to continually ﬁnd new enemies. Their fascination with being is at the same time their fascination with the abyss. It is as though the terrorists constantly had to create the ground in which they want the Republic to take root.2 Was there not a strange. the Terror threatened from the outset to be interminable. 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. Like the Terror of the Republic. and if today’s terrorists are characterized by the very ‘illegality’ of their actions. more and more insidious plots against the Revolution. and yet is constantly haunted by the absence of foundation. it refers to something at the heart of political violence itself and its shrouded link with law and authority. in order to continually justify itself. . 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. It unmasks the violent and mysterious foundations of this authority. both external and internal. 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. during the work of extermination . . the discourse of Terror was a form of dissimulation – a desperate attempt to give substance to the Revolution. to retroactively invent its foundations. or. Terror was the ‘law in action’ or the ‘sword of the law’ (see Lefort 1988: 73). to put off the traumatic realization of the ambiguity of its own foundations. better still. this raises fundamental questions about the validity of the distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ violence. of a society reconciled with itself.
so positive law leaves unresolved the question of ends. be seen as a pure means to an end. then. regardless of the justness of its ends. however. Violence may. it is the mere existence of violence outside the law that constitutes a threat. just as natural law leaves unresolved the question of means. Indeed. As Benjamin argues. as it may be difﬁcult to conceive of violence being moral even if it was for a just cause. 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 here talks about the ‘great criminal’ and the admiration that he arouses because of the ‘unsanctioned’ violence that his deed invokes. The state tries to establish a monopoly on violence by restricting others from exercising it. According to Benjamin. That is to say that an action may be judged violent if its ends or objectives are considered unjust.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’). engaged in by non-state actors. In other words. Benjamin’s essay is important here not only because it allows us to reﬂect on the ambiguities of terrorist violence. Benjamin uses as an example of this ‘natural’ understanding the terrorism of the French Revolution. it is this question of means that Benjamin’s study focuses upon. in which violence was justiﬁed as long as it served just ends (1996: 236–237). despite the shortcomings of positive law. in which the means of a certain action. ‘From this maxim it follows that the law sees violence in the hands of individuals as a danger undermining the legal system’ (1996: 238). Do we not see this ‘great criminal’ in the . but also because it shows the complicity between the two seemingly opposed orders of violence and law. exposing its ambiguous relationship with the law. However. That is to say. according to Benjamin. this notion of natural law does not provide adequate criteria for a critique of violence. according to this analysis. come under legal scrutiny. regardless of whether the ends pursued by terrorists are ‘natural’ and legitimate? The state. Counterpoised to this notion of natural law. is positive law. Benjamin begins by showing the different conditions under which an action may be considered violent. but whether these intentions are pursued with violence. This view would be based. sees in the terrorist a rival to its own monopolistic exercise of violence. 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. even if it is in order to attain ‘natural’ ends. Nevertheless. what is most threatening to the state is not the legality or illegality of people’s intentions. Benjamin presents here a genealogy of violence. on the notion that violence is a natural force or capacity that can be put to either just or unjust ends. in the ﬁrst sense.
Benjamin introduces a further distinction – between law-making and law-preserving violence. ends has the function of maintaining and perpetuating the authority of the existing legal system. As I have shown. Therefore violence pursued for natural ends always has the potential not only to conﬂict with existing laws. as opposed to natural. according to Benjamin. beyond the normative considerations that would be applied to its ends. as Derrida shows. Law-making violence is violence against existing laws and conditions with the effect of constituting new laws. combines these two functions: while most people would see police violence as law-preserving in the sense that it enforces existing laws. The police often intervene for ‘for security reasons’ in an arbitrary fashion. What Benjamin is endeavouring to do here is study violence on its own terms. Police violence can be seen as a kind of suspension of legal authority. it is also law-preserving. Here the pursuit of legal. Perhaps we could say here that the law is supplemented by a shadowy zone of illicit violence. brings the law into being. and yet also exceeds its limits. It refers to the founding act of violence that. of being somehow ‘outside’ the law and embodying an excessive violence that threatens it. Violence. it can also be seen as law-making because its violence often functions beyond the realm of the law. at least arouses our fascination? Bin Laden is a ﬁgure heavily invested with fantasies of transgression. For instance. it still operates within the paradigm of the legal system and therefore sustains its authority (Benjamin 1996: 243). but to construct new ones in their place. Even if violence is directed towards changing or reforming a particular law. military conquest always culminates in a peace treaty – in the sanctioning of a new legal system. according to Benjamin. in other words. with reference to Agamben. as it is a form of violence that can be used for legal ends – it can be used. Even action that has as its consequence the overthrowing of existing legal conditions inevitably establishes a new system of laws in its place. who. To this end. Benjamin argues. violence which both grounds the law in the sense pointed to by Derrida. while not exactly arousing our admiration. It has its own logic and analytics.104 On the politics of violence modern ﬁgure of Osama bin Laden. This is why. This form of violence is distinguished from law-preserving violence which refers to the enforcement of existing laws. as pure means. constitutes a phenomenon that goes beyond the question of its particular objectives. military action – or militarism – embodies. and consequently to the establishment of new laws in its place. As I have mentioned. in which the law is both preserved and transgressed through the very violence and arbitrariness with which it is enforced. this undecidability between violence and law – this ‘zone of indistinction’ . both these dimensions of violence. the modern institution of the police. outside the parameters of the law (Benjamin 1996: 243). as simply an arm of state authority. 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. in other words. Similarly.
as part of the same dialectic of violence. So. we can say that terrorism and state violence share an analytical structure and logic. which often goes beyond the parameters of the law in the very name of enforcing it. arbitrary and often falls outside the law. face. power. 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. Law-preserving violence. in other words. these actions are not illegal as such. violence. There are a couple of points that can be made here. but the rule (see Benjamin 1982: 259). as Agamben argues. It might be seen as its hidden. it is this very distinction which is suspended here. they both lead to a perpetuation of the law or. because it represents a violence that is beyond the state and outside its control – in other words. the two examples of violence that Benjamin provides – militarism and the police – are examples of state. rules increasingly by decree. 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). They may be seen. In other words. in this sense. The second point is that despite the differences between law-making and law-preserving violence. following Benjamin’s formulation. Indeed. rather than non-state. 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). as Agamben argues.On the politics of violence 105 where one passes imperceptibly into the other – is the very condition of sovereignty. suspends the distinction between law-making and law-preserving violence. the law no longer affording us any real protection from the state. Does this perhaps indicate that the problematic of violence lies primarily within the paradigm of state authority? One could suggest that. an alternate law-making violence – presents a supreme challenge to the authority of the state. thus provoking in the state a kind of terrorism of its own. because it acts either . 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. This form of intervention. The violence that they both display is in its very nature excessive. As I have suggested. Terrorism. 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. more precisely. points to the fact that sovereign power. if we are to deﬁne terrorism by the illegality of its violence. Indeed. it is essential to the law. rather than the extra-legal violence of police being anomalous or exceptional. state violence is always characterized by a combination of its lawpreserving and law-making functions. yet true. Therefore. More precisely. where the sovereign – whose position is deﬁned paradoxically by standing inside and outside the law simultaneously – can suspend the normal juridical framework (1998: 15). According to Agamben sovereignty is deﬁned by a ‘state of exception’. First.
and to reexamine the relationship between violence and power. as a certain articulation of violence. which is directed towards the overthrowing of existing laws. That is why. unmasking it in the very . The spectre of an immanent law looms up behind every act of violence against it. at the same time. ‘it speciﬁcally establishes as law not an end unalloyed by violence but one necessarily and intimately bound to it. and law cannot abolish violence without itself acting violently. on a disavowed violence which haunts its foundations. violence is instantiated and reafﬁrmed at the very moment of this establishment of the law. the symbolic position of the law is sustained and perpetuated. Law-making violence. law and power. In both cases. the law which seeks to dismiss violence always involving a violence of its own. in which violence reafﬁrms the law and the law reafﬁrms violence. only to establish a new authority in its place. eliciting it in response. despite the attempt of law-making to disavow the violence at its own foundations. as Benjamin argues. within the very paradigm it seeks to overthrow. maintains the authority of the legal system and the state. One could argue. the violence in law-making is paradoxical: it has as its aim. reafﬁrming the link between violence. Therefore law-making violence only reafﬁrms the place of power. 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. thus remaining. making its formulations problematic. Terrorism. has the effect of exposing this hidden sovereign violence precisely by inciting it. assumption of power. Benjamin therefore forces us to rethink the question of violence within the problematic of power. Benjamin has presented a genealogy not only of violence. refers here to this irreducible connection between violence and the law: violence against the law always involving a reafﬁrmation of the law. or to change only particular laws. the law is based. In fact law-making violence is irreducibly related to the problem of power. in other words. through this genealogical analysis Benjamin has introduced the problematic of power. In other words. under the title of power’ (Benjamin 1996: 248). Rather than the dismissal of violence. only establishes new ones in their place. As Benjamin argues. ‘Lawmaking is powermaking. 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. Law and violence have been shown to exist in an ambiguous relationship. in turn. inextricably. then. in so far as it seeks that which is to be established as a new system of laws. Power. Law-making violence is particularly problematic for Benjamin because it succumbs to the illusion that one is breaking absolutely with existing forms of authority. Moreover. yet. Power is the signiﬁer that presides over this connection. but of law as well.106 On the politics of violence to enforce existing laws. the dismissal or overcoming of violence. there is an irreducible violence at the heart of the law. and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence’ (1996: 248).
Rather than war and violence being seen as something external to civil society. Foucault’s genealogical analysis allows us to examine the originating violence at the heart of social symbolizations. 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. he explored the way that war – as a strategic principle and a practice of violence and conquest – had become. Here Foucault reverses Clausewitz’s axiom that war is politics . must ultimately refer to the question of power. like violence. Indeed. in the schema of struggle or struggles a principle that can help us understand and analyse political power. laws and institutions. Not only is violence inextricably linked with power but. struggles. in other words. Like Benjamin’s ‘Critique’. The violence of this war – now seen in metaphorical terms as a clash of representations – has stolen its way into institutions. in the model of war. which has its origins in actual warfare. language. and confrontations?’ (2003: 23). discontinuity and violence at the heart of human history. moreover. over the course of history. then. violence – or more precisely war – could serve as the theoretical basis for deciphering power relations. 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. it is the very constitutive principle of any social identity. our way of seeing society and its political formations is based on a metaphor of struggle and violence. A violent analytics of power Is there a speciﬁc connection. to interpret political power in terms of war. Indeed. Foucault examined the discourse of war and conquest through a body of different texts. Violence.On the politics of violence 107 nexus of law and violence. Indeed. from those of Edmund Coke and John Lilburne to French aristocratic thinker Boulainvilliers. as well as of law. genealogy itself is precisely an unmasking of the disruption. In a series of lectures organized around the title ‘Society must be defended’ (‘Il faut defendre la société’). must be understood on its own terms and as having its own logic and analytics. power is a particular encoding of violence which operates at the heart of political and social discourse. woven into the very tapestry of the social. In a sort of counterhistory. Foucault observes it through the lens of violence. institutions and practices of power. power. for Foucault. Foucault raised the possibility of using violence and war as an analytical tool for understanding power relations: ‘Can we ﬁnd in bellicose relations. That is to say that all instances of violence. Like Benjamin. Rather. law and power itself. Foucault is interested in the question of power and violence as pure means. As we shall see. between violence and power? To what extent can violence be seen as an act of power. Instead of seeing power from the ‘juridico-discursive’ perspective of law and sovereignty.
historical and political formations can be deciphered: ‘Can the phenomenon of war be regarded as primary with respect to other relations (relations of inequality. according to Foucault.108 On the politics of violence continued by other means: rather. a metaphorical ‘essential condition’ by which different social. The possibility of stable political identities. is a ‘grid of intelligibility’. Like Benjamin. if we are to understand terrorism as a certain technology of violence. as I have suggested. Foucault does not believe that violence can be dismissed once the law is established. Indeed. contract and rational agreement. in other words. 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. War and violence. the primary condition and single reality from which social and political structures must be understood. both metaphorical and real. are ‘the very sum of peace’. in this paradigm. hierarchies and institutions that have been established to suppress it. terrorism has the effect of unmasking this con- . Law. This violence is ongoing. laws. 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. is to unmask it. and the task of the genealogist. in the Foucauldian sense. dis-symmetries. Foucault’s strategic model implies a new kind of political philosophy – one that ontologically and epistemologically privileges war over peace. creeping into the very structures. Foucault’s strategic model of analysis allows us to see violence as being at the basis of social and political identity. which continues to haunt it. Perhaps. economic inequalities and even in language. and violence over contract and law. relations of exploitation. Power. is a certain unstable relation or constellation of hostile forces. yet it is now codiﬁed in institutions. Violence speaks through these very laws. Violence operates as an ontological schema for interpreting the world – war. the blood that has dried on the codes of law’ (1976: 17–18). Rather than society being founded on the idea of contract – as in liberal political theory – it is based on a constitutive violence. laws. Rather. in this sense. in this sense. he suggests. the register of the law itself must be seen as a form of violence. it is difﬁcult to separate it analytically from the violence that has been codiﬁed in laws. institutions and the sovereign power of the state. That is to say. et cetera)?’ (Foucault 2003: 47). divisions of labour. 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. Indeed. of masked victories or defeats. sovereignty and political power are merely articulations of an ‘unspoken’ warfare that has raged throughout history. politics is war continued by other means (2003: 15). is based on the overcoming of the condition of ‘terror’ (Pasquino 1993: 84). is both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ civil society. to ‘awaken beneath the form of institutions and legislations the forgotten past of real struggles. we may see terrorism as a form of violence which.
It gives us a glimpse of the ‘liminal’ condition of terror – the absolute violence that haunts society at its limits.On the politics of violence 109 stitutive violence.3 Sovereign societies. The operation of power was now aimed at the regulation. its ‘alterity’ to civil society. The target of politics in contemporary societies. designating a new modality of power which had the purpose of securing and sustaining the conditions of life. Violence is still inscribed at the heart of these modern societies. through a violence that was excessive. after all. spectacular and ritualized. were symbolized by the sword and by the right of the sovereign either to take life or to spare it. unlike sovereign regimes where blood was shed symbolically on behalf of the sovereign. Punishment involved. terrorism would be characterized by its absolute exteriority. birth and death rates. the literal sacriﬁce of the body of the condemned. is the administration of life itself. In this sense. or to intervene in humanitarian crises in order to sustain the life of the local population. On the other hand. according to Foucault. Its symbol was. However. 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. This designates a new technology of power – biopower – whose focus is on the ‘health’ of the population. calculation and administration of populations. . but suspended above it as a permanent threat. and whose emergence during the late eighteenth century coincided with governmental discourses that sought to monitor. . 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. 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 . Security and biopower This inscription of violence and war in the framework of the social ﬁnds its modern permutation in what Foucault terms ‘biopolitics’. the condition of terrorism is internal to civil society. for instance. simultaneously threatening and constituting the borders of social and political identities. These discourses thus allowed the state to intervene more directly in social relations. longevity and the fertility of the population (Foucault 2003: 243). the sword’ (Foucault 1978: 136). for the ﬁrst time. now wars are waged on a massive scale by states on behalf of the populations they administer. demographics. Foucault argues that this notion of violence as spectacle and . Power was exercised here in a highly symbolic fashion. the crucial difference with modern regimes of biopower is that. by contrast. 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.
therefore. the power of the sovereign was deﬁned by the right to take life or to let live. the symbolic order of biopower is non-violent. However. This modern technology of power is no less bloody according to Foucault. whereas biopower is characterized by precisely the opposite right to make live or to let die (2003: 241). 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. That is to say. perversely.110 On the politics of violence symbolic sacriﬁce is no longer characteristic of modern societies. this new raison d’être of the modern state has as its ﬂip side the systematic destruction of life – the meaningless military operations. We can see this new preoccupation with security in the obsession with ‘terrorist plots’ within one’s own borders. for Foucault. As Agamben argues. 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. with a new invisible enemy that can strike anywhere at any time. 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. 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. methodi- . That power is now organized around securing and preserving the conditions of life is an undeniable fact of modern politics. methodical. 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. Moreover. it is based on the principle of the preservation. of life. Therefore. in the name of protecting the biological health and purity of the population from contaminants. rather than the sacriﬁce. The value. Questions of national security and protection from terrorism are now the central feature of any political platform. 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. regulative fashion. 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. for instance. has now become the fundamental principle of state activity (2002). Thus. the concern with security and the preservation of life. that are engaged in precisely in the name of the preservation of life. Needless to say. having produced unprecedented genocides and holocausts. where power now operates in a quiet. these are now carried out.
Foucault’s analysis. in this excessive violence and sacralizing of death. or biopower. has developed the connection. This form of violence is characterized by what might be termed heterogeneity. of the absolutism of death over life? Did we not see. in which we saw a ‘return’ of the very symbols of sovereign force – the power of the spectacle. terrorist violence – that allow us to detect in it an irreducible particularity. the intense spirituality of suicide and martyrdom. There are a couple of points to be made about this constellation of violence and power. paralyses our gaze. symbolic sacriﬁce of life has been excluded. Moreover. in this strange. the excessive. However. Modern political power. that it has returned as the power of the spectacle itself – the spectacle of excessive violence that. 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. and . did we not see in the World Trade Center attacks a strange anachronism – almost the vague glimpse of an older order of sovereignty. The terrorist attacks bore witness to a new form of violence as spectacle – the symbolic dimension of the sovereign sacriﬁce of life. he has shown the way that modern biopolitical societies are based on a violence that has been rigidiﬁed into codes. by freeing the study of power from juridical questions and notions of the contract. 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. of the symbolism of blood and the sword. ﬁrst hinted at by Benjamin.On the politics of violence 111 cal and administrative functioning of power. what are we to make of the recent terrorist attacks. operates through a register from which the violent. in Foucault’s analysis. almost inconceivable spectacle of destruction. which is precisely unthinkable in our contemporary times. instead of the symbolic right of the sovereign to take life. its very ontological condition. norms and technologies of regulation – into a political register that. However. amidst the ﬂames and the tumbling debris. one that can no longer be contained within the analytic of power itself? Violence and heterogeneity There are several elements of violence – in particular. Medusa-like. has as its deﬁning principle the preservation and protection of life. Foucault has placed violence at the heart of social and political identity. 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. almost nihilistic quality of the violence. Are we perhaps witnessing a new economy of violence. Foucault argues. Violence is not only linked to power but becomes. For Bataille. between power and violence. and the symbolic sacriﬁce of life? That is to say. the heterogeneous is the ‘waste-product’ of homogeneous society – it includes everything that is unproductive and extraneous.
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. for instance. despite Foucault’s insistence that sovereign power is a thing of the past. street parades. however. Indeed. in the same way that there is an interplay between the state order and terrorism. This is particu- . while heterogeneity is usually found in nonstate or revolutionary elements. According to Bataille. However. New forms of terrorist violence are characterized by a similar heterogeneity. etc. once again. 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). Rather. sovereignty itself is also in principle heterogeneous.112 On the politics of violence which is therefore excluded from homogeneous society. as I have already suggested. mob activity. . 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. as Bataille argues. delirium and madness characterize the heterogeneous (Bataille 1985: 142). For instance. Violence. There is a certain register of the political here that operates through. 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. . It would seem that. manufactured for a television audience and designed for maximum visual impact. Political change in society. excess. The very condition of sovereignty lies in an excessive or superﬂuous power that goes beyond the logic of homogeneous society. an enacted excess of violence – a spectacle of violence. for instance. Heterogeneous elements are present in fascism in the aesthetics of the spectacle – marches. the heterogeneous does not exist as a simple essence outside the order of the homogeneous and strictly separated from it. contains elements of both the homogeneous and the heterogeneous – both the construction of order and its dissolution. depends upon this interaction – different political articulations draw upon heterogeneous elements in order to constitute an identity. Bataille shows that fascism.4 Furthermore the aestheticized element of heterogeneity was evident in the deliberate use of the spectacle by the terrorists. there is a dynamic interplay and antagonism between these two forces. Is this not reminiscent. This heterogeneous authority often manifests itself. we are back to the question of sovereign authority raised by Benjamin. Bataille argues. the spectacle of violence that once characterized sovereign power has now become the violence of the pure spectacle itself. who also brings to light the heterogeneous and violent foundations of the law. Here. in violence against the forces that oppose it: ‘Situated above homogeneous society . The WTC attacks were a symbolic strike. or that contains elements of. the attacks on September 11 represented a violent intrusion of excluded heterogeneous forces into the homogeneous order of globalized capitalist society.
Religion. ‘Its goal is no longer to transform the world. in the case of this new form of terrorism. here are people who are prepared to die for their cause. Suicide and martyrdom are essential to the symbolic force of these attacks. However. heterogeneous spiritual struggles characterized by a martyrdom for its own sake. The point here is that terrorist violence and the violence of the state share the symbolic register of sovereignty. in the case of this new paradigm of terrorism. 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. is that we are witnessing a religious fervour – a spiritual jouissance – that is entirely alien to us. to sacriﬁce themselves in the absolute conviction that it is God’s will. After all. here was an instance of pure means returning as a form of ultra-violence. This was perhaps the ultimate answer to Benjamin’s attempt to see violence beyond the question of ends. Indeed. Revolutionary struggles have become. but (as heresies did in their day) to radicalize the world through sacriﬁce’ (2002: 10). as well as other suicide bombings that are taking place around the world. as we were confronted with a violence characterized by its very meaninglessness and absence of content – a violence without purpose or goal. secular and technocratic social reality. So. As Baudrillard says about this new form of terrorist violence. as Bataille shows. violence itself – the spectacle of violence – is both the means and end. We see in this form of violence the operation of the power of the sacred. or. In other words.On the politics of violence 113 larly evident in the state’s use of military power to symbolize its authority. a dimension of ‘undifferentiated’ heterogeneity (1985: 151). The deliberate meaningless of the act of martyrdom highlights a further dimension of this new mode of violence – its nihilism. The effect of this was pure terror. contains. 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 pure means. no one claimed responsibility for the attacks. beyond all ideologies and direct political concerns. 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). A further example that Bataille gives of heterogeneity is religious power. . those responsible remained nameless and faceless. They are both examples of heterogeneous excess and spectacle that exceed the logic of a carefully ordered and administered homogeneous society. 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. Perhaps what was truly shocking about the September 11 attacks. to use their bodies as guided missiles. which functions through the affective power of the sacred. This power of the sacred is largely unthinkable today. through the veiled and mysterious authority of the divine. more precisely. according to Bataille. or the notion of ‘divine violence’).
Such questions of nihilism and violence. which is seen as illegitimate. however. or terrorism. instead. Terrorism. Violence encircles the edges of this abyss. I have suggested. In this chapter I have tried to deconstruct the current discourse on terrorism by disrupting the accepted division. opens ‘onto no future’ (Derrida in Borradori 2004: 113). and the death-drive that approaches the edges of the abyss. and non-state violence. on the one hand. heterogeneous and spectacular. However. violence also has the effect of exposing this very abyss. This function. that involves the sacriﬁce of life and the symbolism of death. In Alain Badiou’s words. both disavowing and afﬁrming its symbolic link with sovereignty. central to political philosophy. of tracing the hidden discontinuity at the origins of the law and political power. The excessive dimension of violence that I have spoken about refers precisely to this nihilistic void. then through the problematic of power – I have tried to understand this fundamental function of violence. The excessive dimension of violence is perhaps the ‘fundamental fantasy’ – to speak in Lacanian psychoanalytic terms – of political power. rather than these being based on the elimination of violence. the condition of ‘terror’ referring to a point of liminality that is both inside and outside civil society. Perhaps one could argue that. and the terrifying nihilism of ‘pure means’. as I have tried to show. and the violent response it elicits from the state. contemporary terrorist violence is nihilistic and draws on the worst aspects of religious symbolism and the paraphernalia of sovereignty. in Derrida’s words. has the effect of exposing this disavowed violence – the abyss of illegitimacy – at the foundations of existing political and legal institutions. It is a nihilism at whose heart there is nothing but emptiness. At the base of all forms of political power and authority is the unspeakable abyss of indeterminacy. This was the paradoxical nature of the Terror that Lefort spoke of. On the contrary. re-enacting the trauma of its own origins. are important to any . Therefore. It refers ultimately to the death drive. they are actually grounded in it. the function of law-making or law-preserving. It can no longer be measured by the operation of power it contests. the terror of pure form. 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. it is a ‘fascist’ nihilism (2002: 10). as I have tried to show. violence has the function of covering up this traumatic void. I would suggest. In exploring this link – ﬁrst through the question of law.114 On the politics of violence the very suspension of these categories. 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. Yet. of ﬁlling it and giving it meaning – in Benjamin’s terms. and is a form of action and thinking that. between state violence which is seen as legitimate. 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.
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
any understanding of politics must take into account the ‘irrational’ dimension of the psyche. If we are to reconstruct the uncanny in this way. in which the subject is transparent to himself. Psychoanalysis.1 Furthermore. In that sense. being ration- . his family. Politics is not always reducible to rational choice models of behaviour and ‘utility maximizing’ action. we must return to Freud. politics and the subject It might seem strange at the outset that Freud. Rather. as that dimension of the subject which remains enigmatic and opaque even to himself.118 Spectres of the uncanny theorize the uncanny in a more radically Freudian way as a ‘return of the repressed’ which produces spectral effects. The importance of Freud’s contribution here is in showing that political behaviour cannot be explained entirely on a rational basis. 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. 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. 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. That is to say. Freud demonstrates the political importance of psychoanalysis in his famous study of mob behaviour and group psychology. foreshadowing the rise of fascist group politics in the 1930s. Thus the ﬁgure of the leader holds the group together. Without the leader the group loses its collective identity and falls apart. psychoanalysis is intrinsically concerned with ‘social phenomena’ (Freud 1995: 627). and later with broader society. However. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. psychoanalysis is a mode of inquiry that seeks to explain the interactions of the individual with those around him – with. as Freud contends. psychoanalysis shows us that political action may be motivated as much by unconscious impulses and drives – our passionate attachments to others. Freud’s discovery of the unconscious. as Freud says. ﬁrst. The collective identity of the group – be it a political group. psychoanalysis goes beyond the realm of individual psychology and refers to the intersubjective ﬁeld of social relations: indeed. and indeed psychoanalytic theory generally. and even to authoritarian ﬁgures who dominate us – as by rational calculations about our ‘best interests’. or even an institutional association like the Church or an army unit – is therefore constituted through a point of singularity that stands outside it. most understandings of politics are still based on a Cartesian idea of subjectivity. Indeed. projecting onto this ﬁgure his own ego. becoming a sort of cipher of love through which the individual members of the group can identify with each other. a street mob. and upon which the libidinal energies of the individual group members are focused.
However. and in order to come to terms with it. by the ‘certainty that eludes it’ (Lacan 1998: 126). For Lacan. the radical innovation of the Freudian/Lacanian intervention is that it retains the category of the subject. unlike his predecessor. The uncanny For Freud. nor any possessing knowledge in his pathos. nor even some incarnating logos’ (1998: 126) – but rather through external structures of language. interests and motivations. it would be a mistake to imagine that this decentring of subject amounts to an abandonment of the subject altogether. the subject is constituted not on the basis of a rational essence – not on ‘the living substratum needed by this phenomenon of the subject. provoking an experience of the uncanny. not by what it knows.Spectres of the uncanny 119 ally aware of his own thoughts. it could be seen as leading to a fuller understanding of the subject. and is anchored no longer in rational understanding and selfconsciousness. that reveals itself in slips. the post-Cartesian subject. that the subject constitutes his identity. 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. but by the knowledge of what it does not know. 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’. is no longer a subject of certainty but of doubt. that this one dimensional notion of the subject was only half the story. seeing the unconscious in terms of external social structures of language. . In other words. while at the same time avoiding both essentialism and structuralism. Lacan’s rereading of Freud through structuralist linguistics has further radicalized this notion of the split subject. his suffering. 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 trauma of the void which has been repressed in the subject. Therefore. whether primordial or secondary. The subject was henceforth irretrievably split and decentred. However. Freud sees the ‘uncanny’ as pertaining to what is frightening. nor any sort of substance. or to the problematic of agency. accidents and those dreams which occasionally disturb our waking life. paradoxically. the ‘navel of the dream’ that remains indecipherable and that forms the core of the subject. However. On the contrary. 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. returns in various forms throughout his life. but in a dimension of himself that he cannot grasp. of course. 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. Freud showed. That is to say.
Freud explains this repression: ‘An uncanny experience . according to Freud. are all instances of the uncanny. but this time in a way that is strange and different. It is something familiar. but which assumes the vague terror of strangeness and unfamiliarity through its repression and subsequent return. Through the different meanings that he explores in the everyday usage of the term ‘homely’. which has now become something horrifying: ‘The “double” has become a vision of terror. eventually throwing him into a state of madness leading to his suicide. Even ghosts and spirits may be seen as the uncanny ‘return’ of the dead person. Freud argues that the creation of the double was originally a form of early childhood ego defence. 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. From these different examples. and Freud points out the closeness in translation of the German expression an ‘unheimliches house’ to a ‘haunted house’ (1949: 395). Nathaniel falls in love with an uncannily life-like doll. as Freud shows. Freud detects several instances of the uncanny in this story. That is to say. Coppelius returns time and time again in different guises to haunt Nathaniel. The young Nathaniel in the story sees the ﬁgure of the SandMan return throughout his life in the form of the odious lawyer Coppelius. There is a strongly uncanny feeling that is provoked by the uncertainty as to whether the doll is living or inanimate. the different variations on the meaning of the German word heimlich or ‘homely’ eventually slide into their opposite meaning of ‘unfamiliar’. Thus. Second. there is a gradual progression towards that which is secretive and strange. something that may have even been with us since childhood. there is the question of the uncanniness of the double: in the story. and the castration complex in childhood. involving an unexplained repetition or return of some entirely arbitrary object. Freud relates the notion of the uncanny to the story of ‘The Sand-Man’ in Hoffmann’s Nachtstucken. Other coincidences. something ‘old-established in the mind’. which has become alienated from it through a process of repression (1949: 394). heimlich becomes its opposite – unheimlich or ‘uncanny’. What is interesting is the way that. the uncanny only emerges as a ‘return’ of that which has been repressed.120 Spectres of the uncanny arousing horror and dread. place or number. whom Nathaniel associates with the death of his father. just as after the fall of their religion the gods took on daemonic shapes’ (1949: 389). He argues that this fear is provoked by the familiar or ‘homely’ (heimlich) becoming somehow ‘unfamiliar’ or strange (unheimlich). First. 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. Freud offers a general deﬁnition of the uncanny: the uncanny is something familiar. In this way. the ‘uncanny’ is related to what is familiar. yet is somehow different or strange. it is something that appears in the form of the familiar. It may be likened. The uncanny therefore involves a notion of repetition – the return of the same thing. Olympia. there is the link between the anxiety of having one’s eyes put out.
Like the intellectual uncertainty which always accompanies Freud’s uncanny. This idea of the uncanny as a ‘return of the repressed’. the world is to you only a “world of appearances [Erscheinungswelt]”. which are reafﬁrmed at the very instance where one thinks one has overthrown them. yet which insist upon returning in uncannily familiar forms. is always haunted by the ghosts of the past – the revolutionary traditions which are dead. ‘Fixed ideas’ are constructs that govern thought – discursively closed. Politics is always simultaneously the attempt to construct something new. the political uncanny is always undecidable. which have been repressed. to the old forms of power. Fritzman remarks in his work on nostalgia. This was. coupled with the re-invoking of something old. As J. the most radical of the Young Hegelians. . he argued. for instance. but is always the return of the same. In order to understand the ambiguous operation of the ‘return of the repressed’ in politics. was intensely troubled by the spectres. It must be emphasized that the uncanny does not refer to something different. is a ghostly “apparition”. which have been raised to the absolute level of ‘the sacred’. the chief political and epistemological problem for Stirner. Uncanny ‘spooks’: Stirner’s fear of ghosts Stirner. 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). yet remain unburied. is a crucial one for politics. Stirner argued.Spectres of the uncanny 121 occurs either when infantile complexes which have been repressed are once more revived by some impression. rationality and morality. precisely because it is the same. metaphysical abstractions like human essence. M. That is to say. was haunted and alienated by apparitions or ‘spooks’. The uncanny is therefore characterized by a fundamental ambiguity. behind which the spirit walks’ (1995: 36). the return of the familiar in an alienated form. They are conceptual generalities which try to represent or ‘speak for’ the individual. Its effects are unpredictable. or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be conﬁrmed’ (1949: 403). was surrounded and alienated by this ghostly world of ﬁxed ideas: ‘Everything that appears to you is only the phantasm of an indwelling spirit. Modern man. Radical politics. Modern consciousness. These spooks are ﬁxed ideas. thereby alienating him and denying his individuality. yet acquires the nature of something different and alien through repression. as we shall see. it is frightening precisely through its familiarity. The uncanny may also be characteristic of a certain conservatism in politics – the fact that revolutions are somehow a return to the old order. we must turn our attention to Stirner and his critique of the uncanny spectres of Enlightenment humanism. absolute paradigms that deny difference and plurality.
In other words. such as we are not quite familiar and at home in’ (Stirner 1995: 38). as if animated by an invisible internal force (1949: 397). That is why the spectre of human essence is so uncanny for Stirner. that is strange. The same spectres of religious mystiﬁcation and obscurantism have returned in the form of Enlightenment rationality and humanism. Sacred ideals like morality and rationality function as ideological spectres that subsume the individual. this strange world of apparitions. turning everything into an appearance or representation of something more fundamental? For Stirner. Rather. Yet the repressed has ‘returned’ in the form of its replacement. It is not merely that man is haunted. God has been replaced by man. Moreover. These apparitions that haunt the world are. The individual aspires to these ideals but can never approach them. Rationality and morality have become the new forms of religious fanaticism. the very discourses that were supposed to dispel them. it itself “walks”. shudders at ghosts outside him. he is terriﬁed at himself’ (Stirner 1995: 41). In the humanist paradigm. this spirit is essence – the conviction that humanity must have a unifying core. rather like Freud’s image of dismembered limbs and body parts that uncannily move or ‘dance’ by themselves. Man has thus become a kind of uncanny double of himself – an embodiment of . profoundly oppressive and alienating. according to Stirner. However. It is as if the world has become haunted by a strange double of itself. for Stirner. Something has returned from the past – something unfamiliar and disconcerting. in typical cases. for Stirner. Religious essence – the essence of God – has returned in the form of human essence and the ﬁgure of Man. this unfamiliarity that lies in the familiar? There is something unhiemlich or ‘strange’ about the world – it resembles something else. but internal to him. so unfamiliar yet familiar – it is this same ﬁgure of God only now in a human form. This spectral world of essence and the sacred is.122 Spectres of the uncanny What is this ‘spirit’ that dwells behind the material world. man himself has become a ghost: ‘Henceforth man no longer. It is literally alive with spectres. therefore. the remnants of Christianity that have returned in a new guise – that of human essence. but at himself. the spectres of humanism are uncanny because they are the return of a repressed Christian idealism. and it starts to ‘walk’ of its own accord. This religious essence is no longer external to the individual. What is this singular sense of the unease that Stirner feels. an underlying morality and rationality that reﬂect man’s ‘species being’. It is not just that the whole world is haunted – the whole world has become uncanny. The sacredness of the world is uncanny: ‘In everything sacred there lies something “uncanny”. religious alienation has been suppressed and replaced by rational humanism. it is uncanny through and through’ (1995: 36). something that we believed to be dead and long forgotten. has the character of the uncanny: ‘Yes the whole world is haunted! Only is haunted? Indeed. yet strangely familiar. this is precisely what alienates the individual: human essence is held up as a sacred ideal that the individual must live up to. thus dividing the individual between his concrete and idealized selves. for Stirner.
as if to exorcise it from his midst. was similarly disconcerted by the uncanny. to banish this spectre from his own thought. 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 Freudian nightmare of the gods taking on daemonic shapes after the fall of religion. Indeed. Marx is forced to recognize the uncanny return of idealism in his own thinking and. Therefore. for instance. has become even more incomprehensible and mystifying. and sought its resolution. 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. and the collective forms of society that derive from it. this dislocation in the structure of experience wrought by idealism. 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. to a large extent. Humanism failed to overcome this lack – it has only further entrenched alienation in its own structures. from Feuerbach. The ‘objective’ world that is supposed to have been freed from obfuscation. at the same time. a fundamental dislocation or deadlock that needs to be resolved. The return of these spectres has intensiﬁed the experience of alienation. Moreover. is the question of the uncanny and how it functions in both Stirner and Marx’s thinking. Arnold Ruge and Gustav Julius. has been realized in the logic of Enlightenment humanism. which. 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. The relationship between Stirner and Marx is complicated and paradoxical. then. are tainted with the same idealism as Christianity. Marx also recognized this gap in representation. ‘Saint Max’ The German Ideology is Marx and Engels’ critique of German idealist philosophy. What is important here. We see that. it inspired criticism of Marx from some of his contemporaries. is still caught within the categories of . The individual is alienated from this world of abstract ideals – he does not feel ‘at home’ there. there is always an ideological gap between the individual and the objective world. located it in Stirner’s notion of the individual ego. accused Marx of being indebted to the same Feuerbachian humanism and idealism that Stirner had linked to religious alienation (see Arvon 1954: 45–46). like Stirner. however. It is generally acknowledged that Stirner’s diagnosis of idealism had a dramatic effect on the direction of Marx’s thinking. they claim.Spectres of the uncanny 123 both God and the individual. for Stirner. who were both inﬂuenced by Stirner. Marx. for Stirner. In light of Stirner’s critique. Marx was troubled by Stirner’s suggestion that the species being.2 For Stirner. deepening the gap or ‘lack’ between the individual and the objective world.
Stirner’s ‘idealism’. they are reafﬁrming the idealist inversion of reality. much like God. this issue of the state in Stirner and Marx’s thinking raises important questions about subjectivity and resistance. (Marx and Engels 1975: 160) In other words.124 Spectres of the uncanny Hegelianism. according to Marx and Engels. While it may be contended that. the state relies on us allowing it to dominate us. absurdly allows the state to be dismissed by an act of ‘wishful thinking’ (1975: 379). and by seeing these ideas as dominating consciousness. by regarding the ancient and modern world only as a ‘pseudo-body of a spirit’. In other words. They argue that German philosophical criticism. While the ‘German ideologists’ are attempting to overcome religious idealism by condemning the dominance of abstract ideals. thus falling into the idealist trap themselves. from Strauss to Stirner. they contend. only reafﬁrming the idealist conception of the world. In a relentless parody of Stirner. the state cannot function only through top-down repression.3 However. they are. than in Stirner’s analysis of the state. 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). Marx and Engels claim that Stirner is an ideologist par excellence: by seeing the world as haunted by ghostly abstractions or ‘ﬁxed ideas’. this argument ignores the economic and class relations that form the material basis of the state. is conﬁned to a critique of religious conceptions. or as ‘Sancho’. by conﬁning their critique to the effect that ideas have on the world. This is nowhere more apparent. and seeing in it only struggles of spirits. Rather. 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. because we surrender to it our own authority. in seeing the world in terms of spirits. and it only exists because we allow it to exist. as a spectral phenomenon. Stirner. corporeal world. Stirner is not suggesting that . in fact. for Stirner. Stirner is considered to be merely perpetuating the idealist illusion that ideas determine the world. in doing so. as this would expose its power in all its nakedness and brutality. Marx and Engels attempt to show that Stirner is caught in the world of his own illusions. the deluded servant of Don Quixote. Marx and Engels argue. has neglected the material. 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. Stirner argues that the state itself is an ideological abstraction. As Stirner realized. where he is caricatured as the religious thinker ‘Saint Max’. In other words. and neglects the concrete materiality of the world. it was Marx who neglected the importance of political power by reducing it to economic and class relations.
Therefore. or ‘in agreement with himself’. the ego is merely the highest point of idealism. but seek for yourselves. of overcoming the lack in representation created by the return of a repressed religious idealism. while the individual is alienated by the idea of human essence. it is an “Ego” born of the spirit from two categories. creates the ultimate apparition in the ego. in ‘self-denial’. does the ego escape alienation in this way? According to Marx and Engels. (Stirner 1995: 149) The ego and society However. a merely conceptual existence’ (Marx and Engels 1975: 259). The individual should therefore assert his egoistic qualities and not be limited by existing moral and rational norms. which does precisely deprive you of yourselves. born of the ﬂesh of man and woman . Moreover. is no “corporeal” Ego. no less abstract and conceptual than human essence or ‘ﬁxed ideas’: ‘This “Ego”. . there is an element of individuality that escapes this. 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. He should become a ‘self-conscious’ egoist – an egoist ‘reconciled with himself’. Stirner’s distinction between ‘ordinary egoist’ and the ‘self-conscious egoist’ is an illusory one. the only way to effectively resist its domination is to rid oneself of our enthralment to its power. binds us to them. and provides an escape from the experience of alienation. “idealism” and “realism”. According to Marx and Engels. The individual. Stirner is concerned with ﬁnding a way of reconciling the world with the self. This element Stirner calls the ‘ego’ (der Einzige) or the ‘unique one’. for Marx and Engels. Stirner’s main criticism of socialism was that it sacriﬁced personal interests to the general interest of society. in order to escape the world of illusions and apparitions that he has conjured up. They see the ego as no more corporeal. become egoists. then. the end of historical construction. Moreover. become each of you an almighty ego. 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. They argue that Stirner. at the same time. .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. according to Stirner. . 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. The ego is the irreducible element of subjectivity that cannot be contained by the idea of essence.
rather than being in opposition to one another are. Marx and Engels argued in response. with Stirner. But it is only when it becomes conscious of itself as a class. rather than being presupposed by it. For Marx. . thus becoming a political subject – an ‘egoist in agreement with himself. is to posit an abstract ideal with no basis in corporeal reality. once proletarians consciously unite as a class. inextricably tied to one another. communities are abstract idealistic spectres which imprison the individual. that it becomes a class ‘for itself’ (Marx 1978c: 218). For Stirner. any notion of a community must ﬂow from the individual egoist. Indeed. in light of Stirner’s attack on idealism. the individual only has meaning within a social or collective context. that in socialism or communism this is a false opposition. the economic conditions of capitalism have created the proletariat as a class in itself. everyday’ egoist until he becomes conscious of his egoism. It would seem that Marx and Engels. It is interesting to see. the egoist’s struggle only becomes politicized through a radical break with collective identities. 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). It represents. It is only when the individual breaks away from ﬁxed collective structures and communities that he becomes a fully self-conscious egoist. 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. had incorporated his egoistic stance into their notions of socialism. Moreover. the egoist remains an ‘ordinary. However. as Stirner does. For Marx. in this context. rather than the other way round.’ The point here is that this dispute revolves around the notion of subjectivity and its relation to community or collective identity. the individual only becomes a political subject when his collective or class context is realized and asserted – in other words. It must be a deliberate construction of the individual and not be based on any essentialist categories. The individual only has real meaning outside collective entities. Rather.126 Spectres of the uncanny However. for Marx and Engels the general and private interest. With Stirner. on the contrary. The individual presupposes society. to propose an idea of individuality beyond social identities. Engels’ initially enthusiastic response to Stirner’s work The Ego and Its Own in a letter to Marx. 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). That is to say that. One ﬂows from the other. In other words. on the other hand. as we have seen. when it unites and politicizes its struggle. it is precisely the opposite: the individual is the core reality and society is the idealist spectre. the return of idealism in one’s attempt to escape it. So too. Marx would argue. the ‘general interest’ is produced through the very ‘private interest’ that Stirner sees as being diagrammatically opposed to it (Marx and Engels 1975: 267).
at the same time. keeping this power in check. making it unattainable to the individual. there is the uncanny return of religious idealism in the form of humanist notions of essence. In Marxism.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. because it assumes the category of the sacred. For Marx. this gap or dislocation operates in a similar way – only this time. and acting as check upon. Stirner has shown. in his critique of liberalism. that this idea of ‘civil society’ as being autonomous from. Yet. For Marx. On the other hand. From this we can conclude the following: while it is clear that we cannot see the individual as entirely autonomous from society. it is also clear that the idea of society itself must be rethought. Stirner’s individual egoist as an entirely autonomous subjectivity is an idealist presupposition grounded in nothing. would seem to be able to escape the uncanny return of idealism. this falls into the trap of idealism. political power. Neither position. as Stirner has shown. For Stirner. In classical liberalism. then. the social itself is an idealist spectre with no basis in the corporeal. for Stirner. both thinkers’ approaches to overcoming this problem of alienation and lack are ultimately ﬂawed. the alienating lack in subjectivity is caused by the separation of the individual from a collective social context. There are a number of themes that can be drawn from this discussion. Marx sees the individual as being inextricably part of the social. the uncanny is seen in terms of an alienating gap or lack separating the subjective and objective world. The individual can only realize his possibilities and overcome alienation if he frees himself from the binds of society. any attempt to see the individual as being inextricably bound up in social life further alienates the individual from himself. the generality of society is embodied in the particularity of the . This idea has been central to Enlightenment-based political theory. Moreover. It cannot be founded on essentialist categories. if we accept Stirner’s critique of essentialism. including Marxism and liberalism. is false – ‘civil society’ is merely state-dominated society. ‘civil society’ is a natural commonality that provides the basis for legitimate forms of sovereign power while. Thus. as Marx has shown. we have seen that. we must reject the idea that there is an internal logic or identity whose unfolding determines social relations and identities. represents a new form of alienation: it mystiﬁes or ‘spectralizes’ the objective world. for Marx at least. idealism returns in the form of the egoistic separation of the individual from society. Marx’s notion of a social collectivity to which the individual is inextricably bound. however. or seen as being governed by a dialectical process or by inexorable historical laws. Stirner tries to overcome alienation through a radically autonomous form of individuality. That is to say. Essentialism. is also an abstract ideal that reintroduces alienation. on the other hand. we have seen that. However. First. For Stirner. Second. generalities like society actually deny individuality.
it is only made possible through the split in . This is the gap upon which society is radically founded.128 Spectres of the uncanny proletariat. in effect. 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. Stirner’s way of overcoming this is for the individual to become egoistic – to explore egoistic modes of experience and subjectivity. there is always something missing from the social totality. to ‘ﬁll’ this symbolic empty place in society. Society has no essence. perhaps we can reformulate the social in the following way: society is not a complete identity. rather than an essential unity or underlying rationality. Society may be seen as a kind of ‘empty signiﬁer’ that is not ﬁxed by any essence and. Stirner’s rejection of essence – in particular social essence – was. it is precisely this notion of the ‘whole of society’ that we should question. no uniﬁed identity. However. rather than the uncanny imposing a hindrance or a limit to the openness of identity. for Marx. but rather one that is fractured and constitutively open. However. as Stirner claims. there is a gap between the individual and the humanist ideal that he is supposed to conform to. the ‘notorious crime of the whole of society’ (1978d: 63). As we have seen. According to Laclau and Mouffe. 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. something that escapes social symbolizations. that this injunction to become egoistic invokes the very uncanny logic of dislocation that it is supposed to overcome. for Stirner. but crucial to the theorization of a non-essentialist form of politics? That is to say. That is to say. 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’. he believed that essence was a form of repressed religious idealism that has returned in a different form. is a spectral dimension that alienates the individual from himself. I would argue. remains open to different political articulations which try. his attempt to overcome the uncanny. what if it is precisely the opposite – that political identiﬁcation relies on an uncanny element that disturbs or disrupts the sociopolitical ﬁeld? The uncanny. In other words. It is governed by a radical dislocation or ‘lack’. ultimately unsuccessfully. the nothing out of which I myself as creator create everything’ (1995: 7). thus. for Stirner. On the basis of Stirner’s rejection of social essence. He says: ‘I am the creative nothing [schöpferische Nichts]. however. making the identity of ‘society’ ultimately incomplete (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 111). 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. The class position of the proletariat in capitalism represented.
for that matter. for both Stirner and Marx. this subjective void out of which proletarian consciousness emerges is only possible through the dislocation of existing identities. Put simply. feminist or environmentalist. because it involves a symbolic and constitutive ‘leap’ across a void from one mode of subjectivity to another. this act of political identiﬁcation or subjectivization relies precisely on the lack created by the uncanny. an alienating logic that distorts reality. A similar argument can be made with respect to Marx. It is crucial to the act of radical political identiﬁcation. which rely on a constitutive dislocation of an existing identity whose position of subordination . Both thinkers try to ground this uncanny dimension in a positive ﬁgure of subjectivity that is supposed to overcome alienation. However. Therefore it may be argued that. The uncanny may be seen. can emerge. Indeed. However. Both Marx and Stirner are threatened by the uncanny. However. then. Both thinkers try to ground this uncanny dimension in a positive subjectivity: the egoist for Stirner. then. the contemporary political ﬁeld is characterized by these acts of symbolization. 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. which requires the subject to move beyond his ‘ordinary’. as a kind of supplement in Stirner’s thinking: Stirner tries to exorcise the uncanny through the radical experience of individuality or egoism.Spectres of the uncanny 129 subjectivity created by the operation of the uncanny. then. unavoidable dimension in political subjectivization. We may suggest. ‘Disidentiﬁcation’ It may be argued. the proletarian for Marx. as I have argued. yet he cannot do so without relying on the dimension of the uncanny in order to constitute precisely this form of subjectivity. this act of political identiﬁcation. that the uncanny is an irreducible dimension in the political ﬁeld. It is a spectral dimension that creates a rift between the subjective and objective world. rather than the uncanny imposing essentialist identities on the individual. it is only through the drive to overcome alienation – the rift in subjectivity – that new forms of non-essentialist subjectivity. it is precisely what disrupts essences and allows the creation of new identities. yet at the same time. which henceforth appears strange and ‘unhomely’ to him. ‘everyday’ identity to articulate a conscious political position – egoist or proletarian. that makes things appear different and strange. that for both thinkers the uncanny is a disavowed. In other words. The proletariat must go from being a class ‘in itself’ to a class ‘for itself’ – in other words a self-conscious proletariat. the uncanny is what dislocates the subject. The same kind of ‘leap across the void’ is present in Marx’s notion of proletarian subjectiﬁcation. is only possible through this very dimension of the uncanny. or. creating a rift between him and the objective world. like egoism.
The subject is. There is a lack between the signiﬁer and what it signiﬁes. and the uncanny effect that is achieved when one realizes that the object that one is looking at is actually looking back at us. This notion of anamorphosis is related to Lacan’s theory of the gaze. that returns our gaze . subjectivity is always incomplete and ‘lacking’. It allows us to see political identities as ultimately failed symbolizations of the ‘real’. paradoxically. however. revealing its constructed nature.130 Spectres of the uncanny was hitherto accepted as normal or natural. but which is now questioned and challenged. The real. As Lacan shows. the order of signiﬁers where he is represented for another signiﬁer. in this sense. and it only retroactively constitutes itself through acts of identiﬁcation. is a void in the symbolic order itself. a void. an excess of meaning that eludes signiﬁcation. he is always seeking recognition in the symbolic order through a series of (ultimately incomplete) identiﬁcations. 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. Because the subject is split in this way. an empty place in the structure of symbolization. The subject is. appearing alien or uncanny to the subject who tries to ﬁnd his place in it. Indeed. the individual enters the symbolic network. for Lacan. the element which cannot be incorporated into its structures of signiﬁcation. the real can be seen here as an ‘anamorphic stain’ that disrupts the objective order of ‘reality’. by this failure of signiﬁcation. According to Lacan. Identity is actually constituted by this gap. For Lacan. this experience is fundamental to the structure of the subject and the process of identiﬁcation. in this way. and yet. It is therefore the way that the subject tries to overcome this lack that is of central importance to politics. whereas the real is the irreducible and traumatic void that does not ﬁt into these structures. constitutively split: his alienation within the symbolic order of language cannot be overcome. So the identity of the subject is constituted through a méconnaissance or misrecognition – through the fundamental inability to recognize himself in the symbolic order. This creates a disturbance in the objective order. enables it to take place. 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. 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. When we are confronted with this void we experience the uncanny in all its alienating effects. in our sense of reality: ‘reality’ is itself lacking or incomplete. and which thus has a destabilizing effect on our sense of reality. This representation ultimately fails – there is a lack or gap between the subject and its symbolization.
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. It is a place made unfamiliar by the continual return of repressed symbolizations which disrupt our contemporary political and ideological frameworks. everyday experience of reality is disrupted. unheimlich. as we are confronted with the ideologically constituted nature of our identities. This spectral absence. The ghosts of the past. In this way our usual position in the social order is disturbed. producing new and radical forms of politicization. This distortion in our subjective experience of the world again refers to the dimension of the ‘real’ – a trauma that has been repressed. that the uncanny is a certain point or ‘place’ of dislocation in which our normal. Indeed. at the same time. The uncanny is something that disturbs the subject position of the individual in this way. becomes now strange. what previously appeared natural and normal to us. alien. politics is a dislocation of the natural order of domination – an egalitarian disruption of established social hierarchies. ‘any subjectiﬁcation is a disidentiﬁcation. This unfamiliar place of ‘disidentiﬁcation’ may be likened to Freud’s notion of the haunted house or the unheimlich house. yet which returns to disturb the symbolic order. the real is ‘that which always comes back to the same place – to the place where the subject in so far as he thinks. the repressed voices and lost dreams of radical movements return to haunt the ideological symbolizations of the present. the political struggles of contemporary . 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. this dimension of the uncanny is crucial for politics: the place of dislocation and alienation is. As Lacan says. So we might say. For Marx himself. unmasking the contingency of their operation. is precisely the experience of the uncanny. In other words. The skull in the painting represents the trauma of death.Spectres of the uncanny 131 (1998: 88–89). the ‘lack’ upon which they are based. It is only when the individual ﬁnds himself in an unfamiliar place or subject position. does not meet it’ (1998: 49). where the res cogitans. then. 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. However. thus constituting a new political subjectivity. It emerges from a ‘disidentiﬁcation’ of the subject. allowing us to imagine new political articulations and construct new identities. The uncanny may be seen in terms of this process of disidentiﬁcation – a removal or estrangement of the subject from the ‘naturalness’ of place. removal from the naturalness of place’ [my italics] (1999: 36). as Jacques Rancière argues. For Rancière. where the subject no longer identiﬁes with his ‘natural’ place of subordination within this order. the place in which new political identities are constituted. and where its constructed nature is revealed. this trace of a repressed trauma that always returns to haunt the objective order.
but its end. we have ‘rational’ policies and ‘good governance’. ‘new age ‘cults and so on. patrician and plebian. It would seem that there is no tension between the individual and the community. as I have argued. However. Both Stirner and Marx. to reconcile the subjective and objective worlds. As Rancière says: ‘A world where everyone needs everyone else. in this pluralistic world. this is only achieved through its depoliticization. The ‘end of politics’ and the uncanny community It would appear that the ‘end of politics’ might already be upon us. 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. Differences between minority groups are ofﬁcially tolerated and ‘respected’. though. where the ideological struggles over equality and community simply have no place. this is its very antithesis? This is because. 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). this gap is crucial for political identiﬁcation. It would seem that in this sanitised world we can simply choose our particular communities: we can join internet chat groups. The world of ‘post-politics’ is more mystifying than ever. that this ‘end of ideologies’ thesis is the worst kind of ideological obfuscation – an example of ideology at its most cunning and insidious. the question of community is depoliticized. While the political problem of community appears to have been solved through a formal liberal pluralism. However. and that the individual can freely participate in any number of different community identities. Instead of the turbulent. The idea of .132 Spectres of the uncanny society were haunted by the ghostly conﬂicts of the past. machinic hum of the technocratic administration of a thousand particularities. We live in an age that proclaims itself to be ‘post-ideological’. what if we were to argue that. I am suggesting here that the uncanny is the necessary constitutive gap between the subject and the objective world of ‘ideology’. as we have seen. yet this results in a kind of global compartmentalization of these differences and an essentialization of their limits. 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. The reconciliation of the subjective and objective world is not the beginning of politics. rather than being the ultimate expression of community. tried to close this gap. religious and sexual minorities. It is no longer seen as a challenge to the dominant politico-economic order – its threat is vitiated through the granting of differential rights. One could argue. The struggles between the ‘freeman and slave. 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. This is the age technocratic ‘post-politics’.
However the problem of community is not accounted for by these formulations. However. 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. universal demand for both equality and liberty is the repressed trauma in politics. The question of community is the question of politics itself. It threatens to disrupt the neat world of administered particularities and individual pleasures that condition our contemporary culture. Indeed. a spectral injunction emerging from the muted voices of history. Its unconditional.Spectres of the uncanny 133 community is thus particularized into different identity groups which are all tolerated by the dominant ideological system. it continues to return as an impossible demand. but rather. Marx tried to incorporate it into a notion of collective class identity. . always exceeds the structures that have been established to contain it. 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. The notion of community is politically uncanny because it does not ﬁt into. the troubling spectre of the community continues to represent an unresolved deadlock in political theory.
marginalized and exploited. communitarian and critical theory to establish a universal foundation for action – whether through a communicative rationality. discourse and power. I showed that this idea of the community could neither be contained within a Marxist class identity. This is why. various attempts in liberal. Instead. or even a stable identity. according to this perspective. as having either natural moral and rational capacities. one that goes beyond particular identities. and the autonomous subject of the Enlightenment is displaced by the external and unconscious structures of language. 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. There must be a dimension of universality – whether it is understood through some notion of rights. So given these epistemological conditions. What this amounts to is an understanding of the subject as unﬁxed and open to different discursive and political articulations. equality or even radical democracy – if we are to engage in collective projects of resistance and emancipation. as we have seen. genealogy undermines the dialectic. This demand for community refers to a universal dimension in radical politics. nor could it be dismissed through a radical individualism. In poststructuralist theory. then this universal dimension can no longer rest on some essentialist foundation such as human rationality or morality. it had to be seen as an uncanny and open-ended demand that returns unexpectedly. and speaks to all those who are dominated. 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. oppressed. how is it possible to retain a universal referent for radical political thought and action? This question is becoming particu- . Universality is crucial to any understanding of radical politics. Therefore it becomes impossible to see the subject in essentialist terms.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. struggles and concerns. nor can it emerge dialectically.
contrary to prevailing critiques of poststructuralism. 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. makes their particularity problematic by unmasking their reliance on a dimension of universality. there is the possibility of a radical and emancipative universality emerging from within its own logic. yet has subjected him to new oppressions and exclusions. poststructuralism is irrelevant and politically impotent. particular identities. poststructuralism is a philosophy whose logic implies an immanent universality. as Étienne Balibar argues. but rather with many centres. Moreover. necessary for there to be any real notion of the universal at all. on the other hand. my contention here is that not only is poststructuralism politically and ethically engaged. as the politico-ideological ﬁeld. while the proliferation of particularized political identities and struggles – of gays. which are incommensurable and seem to bear no reference to anything beyond their own limits. I shall argue that poststructuralism. particular politics. on the one hand. and argue that. but also by a general fragmentation of once central political. far from being a philosophy of difference and particularism. the expansion of capital (1995: 69–70). the worldwide web and so on – the more atomized and antagonistic we . One might be tempted to say that in the face of these new dangers. blacks. I shall also argue that. It appears that today we are living in the world of the particular – particular lifestyles. It has created a world in which universality is more of a possibility now than ever before. Capital confronts us with an ‘ambiguous universality’. women. ethnic minorities. on the contrary. social and cultural identities. This compartmentalization of our lives and identities is concomitant with. does not deny difference and swallow up the particular in the name of a universal subject. is undergoing a series of authoritarian and conservative transformations in which even liberal notions of universal human rights are coming to be questioned. Yet it is also a world without a universal centre and periphery. post-September 11. but that the poststructuralist interrogation of Enlightenment universality is. and that we need to return to a more substantive and universal idea of Enlightenment rationality or the Kantian ‘categorical imperative’. transcends today’s narrow identity politics and yet. I will explore this ambiguous logic of the particular and the universal. for instance – has often been associated with poststructuralist theory. inviting new antagonisms. and more incompatible and antagonistic. Global capital has freed the individual from traditional community ties. Identities are at the same time less isolated. paradoxically.1 However.A poststructuralist politics of universality 135 larly relevant today. So it seems that the more we are brought together – through the global economy. This would be a political dimension of universality that.
Everywhere there is the assertion of a particular identity with its own demands for exclusive social. Political identities are constructed not only around a perceived incommensurability or uniqueness. this often results in an oppression of other groups and identities. another. One thinks here of the new forms of anti-immigrant racism that have been emerging throughout Europe and the world. However. feminism became the struggle of women against the oppressive patriarchal structures of capitalism or against the structures of oppression in general. men. or having suffered an injustice at the hands of. are increasingly making any real political dimension of the universal unthinkable. Identity politics is deﬁned by this clinging to a certain identity to the exclusion of others. There is an oppositional logic at work here that is profoundly authoritarian – the valorization of a particular identity through the denigration of other identities. largely in reaction to the consequences of economic globalization. We also seem to be surrounded today by a multitude of identities. when some feminist groups demonize men as oppressors. this process ‘generalizes minority-status.136 A poststructuralist politics of universality become. reproducing. For instance. structures of domination.2 The notion that. Certain political identities deﬁne themselves through the sense of being oppressed by. a perception of having been injured by an Other – that is. for instance. lifestyles and ethnic and sexual minorities. and often antagonistic and exclusionary sites of oppression. thus claiming a moral high ground. we can say that this universal political centre has been replaced by the proliferation of separate. If we apply Balibar’s argument. for instance. in an inverted way. ﬁrst of all in the sense that there are now “minorities” everywhere’ (1995: 53). According to Brown. 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. Wendy Brown sees this culture of ressentiment at work in certain forms of modern feminism (Brown 1995: 45). As Balibar says. they seem to be reafﬁrming the very oppression and exclusion they claim to be struggling against. struggle and identity. men and women could be really struggling for the same thing – the removal of structures of domination and hierarchy that affect us all – is . The antagonism concomitant with this universalizing capital is inherent in the politics of identity. but also around an experience of oppression. These new antagonisms and differences. 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. She argues that certain feminist identities or positions are constructed around a sense of ‘woundedness’. while born of the ‘universalizing’ logic of capitalism. political and cultural rights. 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.
they do not challenge structures of domination and oppression in any signiﬁcant way. Indeed. is the very ideology of global capitalism. 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. The claim of many theorists of identity politics is that the category of the universal contains a totalizing logic that is inherently authoritarian. the domain of the universal is fundamental to any struggle against domination. Hence the demands of many minority . On the contrary. I would argue. any kind of antagonism is contained by treating each identity or minority in its speciﬁcity and meeting its demands in an orderly.A poststructuralist politics of universality 137 met with the charge that in suggesting this. ˇ ˇek Slavoj Ziz has commented on the way that demands of minority identities are easily addressed and met by the capitalist system. one of the most important achievements of poststructuralist theory is precisely the unmasking of the domination inherent in the universalizing logic of Enlightenment humanism. to reafﬁrm the very totalizing logic one was against by robbing oneself of the ability to resist it. One gets the sense that particularized identity politics and struggles do not really resist domination. face certain speciﬁc forms of oppression. not antagonism towards any kind of general structures of domination and exploitation. To do this is. each of which is comfortably accommodated within the ‘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 ˇek politics proper’ (Ziz 1999b: 209). However. therefore. as though there is a logical connection between the realization of this speciﬁcity and the absolute dismissal of any possibility of a universal struggle. Liberal multiculturalism embodies a pluralistic attitude of ‘respect’ and ‘tolerance’ for different identities. there is a closing off of the political terrain here around this speciﬁcity. which is based on a differentiation of identities in which each minority group or identity is assigned its place within the system. There is no doubt that women. On the one hand this is certainly true. So the antagonism that is implicit in these particular struggles is. their demands seem to be easily accommodated by these very structures and institutions. and that denies the particularity and speciﬁcity of minorities. but also towards the inscription of these struggles in any notion of the universal. he argues that ‘liberal multiculturalism’. paradoxically. and it is necessary if we are to have any notion of the political at all. one seeks to devalue the speciﬁcity of the struggle of women. Politics has become a kind of consumerism where people shop around for different lifestyles and identities. On the other hand. however.3 In this paradigm. but rather antagonism not only towards other more marginalized groups and identities. that this disavowal of the universal supports structures of domination and exploitation more than its afﬁrmation ever could. or cultural and sexual minorities.
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. The potentially radical and subversive nature of identity politics is vitiated in its rejection of the universal. to be free from traditional patriarchal ties is met with more institutions. as those who do so try to retain a sense of radicalism. that it ends up reafﬁrming domination. by which he means the constitution and universalization of social hegemonies such as state institutions (1995: 71). Because it eschews the universal.138 A poststructuralist politics of universality or feminist groups. No wonder there is. moreover. One could argue that it is precisely because the politics of the particular eschews the dimension of the universal. Would not political correctness be a case par excellence of this increasing normalization and policing of everyday life? The struggle of women. more bureaucracies and more regulations. Balibar argues that there are three dimensions to the question of universality. In its desire to resist the totalizing possibilities of the universal. The ﬁrst is real universality. excludes other identities and often ﬁnds its expression in institutional and oppressive forms. for instance. while their demands. the politics of the particular that so bombards us today. These policing strategies. in its desire to preserve this very particularity. is a politics which. and often result in a proliferation of institutional strategies of surveillance and regulation. no matter how ‘radical’ or ‘excessive’. oppress other more marginalized minorities. So it seems that identity politics. Balibar talks about another dimension of universality – what he calls ﬁctitious universality. accompanied by the increase of minority identities and the possibility . He argues that the liberation of the subject from traditional community ties is accompanied by the increased normalization and institutional domination of the individual. or policies on ‘sexual harassment’. Moreover these demands are usually implemented in extremely oppressive ways. as we have seen. for instance. ˇ ˇek as Ziz argues. and which is. 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. for example. the politics of the particular afﬁrms the totalizing logic of the state and capitalism instead. identity politics cannot present a challenge to general structures of power and domination. a sense of being against ‘the system’. are met through the institutional imposition of rules regulating language and conduct – the use of ‘non-sexist’ language. 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. are calmly implemented by this very system. a certain hysteria in voicing these demands. ‘Political correctness’. for instance. 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. which refers to the spread of global capital and the proliferation of centres.
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
A similar deconstructive operation is performed by Foucault in his approach to the Enlightenment. As we have seen. Derrida calls for an unconditional defence of the notion of universal human rights. the acknowledgment that human rights are social and historical rather than natural. These two positions are by no means contradictory. Foucault considers Kant’s insistence on the free and public use of autonomous reason as an escape. 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. a ‘way out’ for man from a state of immaturity and subordination (1984b). However. at the same time. In his essay ‘What is Enlightenment?’. This sort of deconstruction that Derrida advocates has already been made possible by thinkers like Stirner. While Foucault believes that this autonomous reason is useful because it allows a critical ethos towards modernity. On the contrary. this notion of human rights needs to be rethought and deconstructed. particularly in the face of the aggressive reassertion of state sovereignty. who revealed the two-sided and paradoxical character of discourses like humanism and liberalism. 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. as well as the question of the history of recent juridical concepts or performatives such as a ‘crime against humanity’). (Derrida in Borradori 2004: 132–133) In other words. it is only through a questioning of the ontological conditions – the assumed ‘naturalness’ – of the discourse of human rights that they can be renewed. they are never complete or sufﬁcient as they are. showing that the Enlightenment ﬁgure of man was an ideological construction that had a whole series of dominating effects. as Derrida says. 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. The need for this sort of discursive interrogation of the Enlightenment is more pressing now than ever. which raises the whole question of nonhuman living beings. However. means that they are immanently ‘perfectible’ – that is. and even the concept of history. Indeed. 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. but must always be reinterpreted and updated. The problem with Kant is that he opens . as I have suggested. and then the very concept of rights or of law [droit].A poststructuralist politics of universality 145 only by interrogating its discursive limits in this way that the Enlightenment can once again become politically effective.
and which shattered existing structures of power. We may in this sense use the critical capacities of the Enlightenment against itself. Here Foucault attests a deep reverence for a space of universality. According to Foucault. Moreover. to be intransigent when power offends against the universal’ (1981: 9). the legacy of the Enlightenment is deeply ambiguous. seeing it as the wellspring of revolt. exposed the very limits of the power that oppressed them. only to close this space down by re-inscribing it in transcendental notions of rationality and morality which require absolute obedience. 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. no matter how particular. Indeed. focusing on its more liberatory aspects: here we are encouraged to interrogate the limits of modernity. In this context. because of the stakes involved. and the Enlightenment of continual questioning and uncertainty (see Gordon 1986). Foucault shows how one might read Kant. 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. This critical condition is concomitant with a ‘will to revolution’. This anti-strategic approach. a life and death struggle between people and power which. Foucault talks about adopting an anti-strategic stance on the question of resistance: ‘to be respectful when something singular arises. this tension is reﬂected in Kant’s own treatment of the Enlightenment. the empty horizon which any political action or struggle. characterized by an ‘audacity to know’ and the free and autonomous public use of reason. It is this domain that is vital to politics and must be defended against the incursions . because people were prepared ‘to die to resist’. This idea of a revolutionary Event that creates a space or opening through which the conditions of the present may be questioned. is also reﬂected in Foucault’s writings on the Iranian Revolution. 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. absolute identity and destiny. For Foucault. As Foucault shows. he argues. 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). I would argue. thus opening up public spaces for autonomy. to reﬂect critically on the way we have been constituted as subjects. pays homage to. is a vigorous defence of the dimension of the universal in politics. in a heterogeneous way. it might be said that for Foucault there are two Enlightenments: the Enlightenment of rational certainty. parties and identities. freedom and critical reﬂection within its ediﬁce. It was.146 A poststructuralist politics of universality up a space for individual autonomy and critical reﬂection on the limits of oneself. and indeed the Enlightenment itself. with the attempt to understand revolution – in Kant’s case. Kant sees the Enlightenment (Aufklärung) as a critical condition. for Foucault.
Poststructuralism therefore develops an approach to universality that is immanently political. inexplicable. come to signify the universality of a situation. Rather. it is seen. thus allowing people to question existing social conditions and the politico-ideological frameworks that had hitherto legitimized it. Its tendency is therefore towards a de-politicization of the mass. by singularity Foucault does not mean particularity in the sense of a particular political identity. for instance. to ﬁll its empty place. almost by accident. he means a kind of singular event whose emergence is unpredictable and. and a reduction of the political terrain through a process of individualization. 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. might be seen as the central politico-ethical position of poststructuralist political theory. as emerging in a contingent way through concrete political action itself. creating a new space in the political imaginary which can animate subsequent struggles. believes that the French Revolution. contained an emancipative potential. then we should risk our lives defending it. which shatters our political reality and fundamentally dislocates the structures of power. It is if an event of this kind that makes a tear in the fabric of history. There are a number of contemporary thinkers who employ similar ideas. despite its subsequent concretization into a Republican order. 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. the ensemble of dominant social and political structures. according to Rancière. This profound veneration of universality in politics. The ‘police’ order refers to the status quo. 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. Alain Badiou. Rancière sees politics itself as being conditioned by this disruptive element. to some extent. although it lies dormant today. when the state or the forces of domination try to shut this domain down. We can see the contemporary order of state capitalism operating in . When power ‘offends against the universal’. what he calls an inﬁnite multiplicity – expressed in the demand for universal egalitarian democracy – that. from a poststructuralist perspective. Foucault also talks about a respect for singularity. It is based. In other words.A poststructuralist politics of universality 147 of power. Also. has the potential to create a general dislocation in the system itself (1999: 42). on a process of ‘calculation’ that seeks to separate the individual from the mass and assign each his place within the dominant order. practices and institutions. coupled with a desire at the same time to question its discursive limits and foundations. However. In other words. can nevertheless be reactivated (Barker 2002: 83–84). what deﬁnes a radical political event – like a revolution – is that a series of particular demands or grievances. Rather than universality existing as an abstract series of ideals or preordained moral and rational norms that politics must live up to.
The poststructuralist approach deconstructs the opposition between the universal and the particular. identities are constituted in a system of differences: for these differences to be different from one another. He argues. in other words. What really poses a threat to this order is therefore not cultural difference. 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. open onto a universality which threatens to destabilize the entirety of the social and political order that opposes them. what is implied. if they are to have any real political effect. compartmentalizing and incorporating different cultural identities. there is a particular series of concrete demands that. must be articulated in some sort of relation to a common ground or universal horizon. So we see here how universality emerges from a point of particularity that does not quite ﬁt. and which therefore is incompatible with the dominant order. For both Ranciere and Badiou. Contamination and hegemony However. they . because part of the deﬁnition of this particular identity is constituted in the context of relations with other groups. thus contaminating the identities of both terms. which is of course another form of essentialism. In other words. but rather a certain position of exclusion that. thus de-politicizing them. 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. This relationship of contamination is perhaps best theorized by Ernesto Laclau. 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 one of contamination. The relation between the universal and the particular is therefore not one of opposition. always bears reference to a universal dimension. Particular demands and struggles. because they cannot be accommodated in an institutional way. For Laclau. In other words.148 A poststructuralist politics of universality the same way. and such a ground can only be a new version of essentialist universalism’ (1996b: 58). so prevalent in multicultural societies. showing one to be dependent upon the other. for instance. Laclau is sceptical of the ‘politics of difference’. showing that political identities cannot exist without a dimension of universality that contaminates them. invokes a universal position. that it is impossible for a group to assert a purely separate and differential identity. the purely particularistic position presupposes some sort of absolute difference. 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). 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. yet disavowed. at the same time. For instance. the demand for cultural autonomy or minority rights.
a political identity must form what Laclau calls ‘chains of equivalence’ with other identities and groups. and yet it can only be represented if a particular element comes to ‘stand in’ for it or partially embody it. this universal dimension is. If we apply this formula to politics. as we have seen. if they are not acceded to by the government. 2000: 56). at the same time. for example – can articulate a certain vision of it. 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. To give an example. 2000: 58). the government that denies students their rights also denies workers their . an open horizon. the demand of students for better conditions and more funding cannot remain within this speciﬁcity for long. However. no matter how particular. will eventually overlap with the demands of other political identities in forming relations of united opposition to the power that denies them. In this way. It cannot be completely symbolized or embodied because it is constitutively empty. then. its partial symbolization is crucial if we are to have any notion of politics at all. Therefore. at once both impossible and necessary: impossible because it cannot represent or symbolize itself in any absolute sense. To give an example. the universal might be seen as an ‘empty signiﬁer’.A poststructuralist politics of universality 149 must refer to the system that constitutes their horizon. the universal is split between its universality and its need to be represented through a concrete particularity. Laclau says. Because of this paradoxical position of being there yet not there. the dimension through which all political identities are ultimately constituted. the idea of ‘society’ is an impossible discursive object whose universality can only be represented if a particular ideology or political identity – like Communism. particularity is always contaminated by the dimension of universality it resists. Universality is therefore the positive condition for politics. we see that no identity or demand. can be asserted without referring to a universal dimension that governs its horizon. Here we see. 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. these demands. Thus. It is. This means that the identity of these differences is constitutively split between their own particularity and the universality of the system that constitutes them. So in this hegemonic relationship of mutual contamination. and necessary because it is. an empty place. for example. because there is no longer any universal subject or rational or moral position that serves as the ultimate foundation for politics. each is dependent on the other as its positive condition. While no particularity can fully symbolize this universal. while the particular is split between its particularity and its reference to a universality which constitutes its horizon (Laclau in Butler et al. So to articulate a certain demand. that although the universal and the particular are the opposite poles of the political ﬁeld. the universal requires that a particular element ‘stand in’ for it. without which the universal itself loses all meaning.
as it is caught between the imperatives of its own particular identity and of the universality it comes to embody. unlike Marxist struggles which were centralized around the primary subjectivity of the proletariat. this universal position remains empty. it is one of the most important developments in radical politics in recent years. Rather it is something that emerges through concrete political struggles themselves. exploitation and exclusion: corporate . Therefore. if it manages to articulate adequate chains of equivalence. and its identity is destabilized by the universality it ‘represents’ (Laclau 1996b: 53). In other words. is not determined in an essentialist way.150 A poststructuralist politics of universality rights. The ‘stand in’ is decided in an open ﬁeld of discursive articulation and political contestation. What is radical about this movement is not only the breadth of its scope. in which one particular identity ‘stands in’ for the others. targeting speciﬁc sites of domination. and it does this from a universal position. through a contamination of different identities. In other words. but the new forms of political action it entails. Theoretically any identity. and so on. the particularity that ‘stands in’ for the universal does so only temporarily. we can see how a universal dimension can be realized within the epistemological conditions of poststructuralist theory. perhaps we could point once again to the broadly termed ‘antiglobalization’ movement. the groups in this chain are increasingly unable to maintain their own particularity as they become united in opposition to a common enemy. can come to represent a common political struggle. As a series of mass interventions and protests against the capitalist globalization. Egaliberté So in this hegemonic operation outlined by Laclau. It challenges the neo-liberal vision of globalization that so dominates us today. universality does not need to be founded on predetermined moral and rational positions or on an essentialist conception of the subject. but. incorporates a multitude of different struggles and identities. this opens the political ﬁeld to other identities to attempt to fulﬁl this incarnating function. the anti-globalization movement has no centre. because this link is indeterminate and contingent. To give an example of this poststructuralist politics of universality in action. It is important to note here that this hegemonic political relationship. despite its temporary lull due to the ‘war on terror’ and the repressive post-September 11 political climate. groups and political demands. In other words. 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. However. rather. the relation of incarnation is entirely contingent and indeterminate. In this way. Furthermore. According to Laclau. open to be deﬁned and redeﬁned in ways that are not yet speciﬁed. Also. its status as a representative is increasingly made more difﬁcult to sustain as the struggle progresses.
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. and so on. then the reverse is also true: no liberty can be achieved without equality’ (Balibar 1995: 66). beyond any institutional embodiment (Balibar 1995: 64). unfulﬁlled demand for liberty/equality haunts our political horizon like an unseen dream. yet it has the potential to dislocate its structures. these are accompanied by a sort of spectre – an insurrectionary dimension of universality that refers to the ideals of emancipation and justice. more democratic and egalitarian vision of globalization. If we recall. labour and human rights abuses. draconian border protection practices. Foucault believed that we are living in the time of revolution. The irresolvable. it could be seen as an instance of what Balibar has termed ideal universality or universality as a symbol. This movement. in documents like The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. keeping alive the vital tension between the particular and the universal.A poststructuralist politics of universality 151 power and greed.5 It allows us to imagine an alternative to the current neo-liberal global order racked by poverty. what would distinguish radical politics would be the refusal to separate liberty and equality. 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. However. Ideal universality is characterized by a demand for what Balibar calls ‘equaliberty’ or egaliberté – that is. so that the more liberty one had the less equality one had and vice versa. the second dimension – ﬁctitious universality – referred to the emergence of normalizing institutions and practices that sought to discipline the individual. However. is a genuinely contemporary form of radical politics that transcends the old paradigms of Marxism and identity politics. a demand that was explicit. which is still in its infancy. Liberal theory has generally seen liberty and equality as mutually limiting. In this sense. workplace surveillance. The conditions for ideal universality were also generated by capitalism. However. environmental degradation. . a refusal to see one as imposing limits on the other. 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. and a conviction that it is simply unjust to do so: ‘If no equality can be achieved without liberty. always returning to its place at the centre of our political universe. embodying entirely new forms of activism and collective identity. exclusion and violence. displacement of indigenous peoples. for instance. particularities whose identities are themselves contingently constructed through the struggle itself. a kind of unconditional and necessarily excessive demand for both full liberty and full equality. The ‘anti-globalization’ movement also invokes a new.
as I have argued. revolution must be something that keeps the space of the universal open to the possibilities of the particular. and keeps the space of the particular open to the possibilities of the universal. imposes its will on others. It is this kind of inscription and re-inscription of the possibilities of the universal that emerges from a poststructuralist critique of identity. . to close off the possibilities of the universal – to deny the universal in the name of the universal. No. This would be.152 A poststructuralist politics of universality we are not talking here about revolution in the sense of a dialectical overturning in which one class. or one particularity.
This is because thinkers like Stirner. as I have suggested. Derrida and Lacan. 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. on the other side. the political might be seen as the unconscious dimension of politics itself. To speak in psychoanalytic terms. 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. Foucault. antagonism that can take many forms and emerge in different types of social relations. repressed. what we usually refer to as politics – the simulacra of institutional activities. it is a traumatic place that is disavowed. is immanently political. and in which new discursive meanings can emerge. in which practices. The moment of the political is therefore a moment in which the oppression. and yet which has potentially destabilizing effects on dominant institutions and discourses through the production of new meanings and symbolizations. The essays collected in this book have all been attempts to engage with and explore this idea of ‘the political’ through poststructuralist theory. and others. indicates the ensemble of practices. ‘Politics’. violence and exclusion concealed behind the dominant order is exposed.Conclusion In her book The Democratic Paradox. have. in different ways. Poststructuralism. and thus politicized. (Mouffe 2000: 101) In other words. policy debates. political parties. The political is always there as a kind of spectral underside of politics. 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. challenged the discourses and theoretical coordinates through . 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’.
Poststructuralism therefore politicizes politics. as I have argued. then. nor is it guided by any absolute telos. thus allowing new political meanings and practices to be conceived. ‘creative nothingness’ for Stirner. It has created the conditions through which these discourses might be challenged by unmasking their ultimately arbitrary character – by showing that. The impact of a poststructuralist approach to politics therefore lies in ‘de-naturalizing’ it. We can say. on the contrary. It simply means that the practice of politics today – in the conditions of ‘postmodernity’ – is given no ultimate guarantees. democracy.1 To see social and political identities as historical and discursively constituted. they are constituted through the often violent exclusion of other possibilities. différance and alterity for Derrida. rights. They have shown us how we might rethink the central political categories of subjectivity. 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. 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. the unsymbolizable trauma of the real for Lacan. Moreover. etc. or on the moral and rational coordinates of Enlightenment humanism. 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. discourses and practices. ethics. rather than being natural. In other words. in showing that there is nothing natural or eternal about existing political identities. poststructuralism makes visible the hidden discontinuities behind these structures and discourses. rational or inevitable. are historical formations whose meaning can be contested and whose structures can be transformed. but rather on a constitutive absence or emptiness which makes it unstable. community and universality. but. Politics can no longer be based on metaphysical foundations. power. This void is precisely the dimension of the political – an ontological absence that forms the unsteady ground of politics. 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 .154 Conclusion which we normally approach politics. They are not set in stone. nor on an essential idea of humanity. has been the central contribution of poststructuralism to political theory. In other words. They have revealed the aporias and heterogeneities internal to these ideas. that we should abandon emancipative or democratic political projects. in a poststructuralist analysis the practice of politics is founded not on the stable ground of universal rationality or absolute morality. In other words. thus opening discursive spaces through which they can be reinterpreted. This does not mean. thus confronting them with their own contingency. rather than natural.
was just as abstract and illusory – and. indeed. an emptiness. From the perspective of poststructural theory. secular political categories still conditioned by religious concepts? For instance. The subject has to be situated within discourse. In all of these cases there is no essential core of subject that stands outside these structures. a reafﬁrmation of the idea of a God who stands outside. Indeed. as I suggested. The problem with essentialism is that it is a form of metaphysics in the rationalist guise of the Enlightenment. The idea of the universal human subject with essential moral and rational properties – the idea that is central to modern political discourses. 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. 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. Moreover. which is structured through external linguistic and symbolic relations. This was. The idea of essence – the essence of man. for Lacan. knowledge and discourse. and lives on in the secular discourses of modernity. whose ‘epistemological break’ with Enlightenment humanism was the theoretical point of departure for my project. with no basis in reality. as the limits of identity are formed through what they exclude and are thus contaminated by this excluded element. the idea of state sovereignty. etc. Moreover. foreshadowing. the subject is decentred by the unconscious. Stirner can be seen as one of the ﬁrst postmodernists. 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 subject is an idealist abstraction created by humanist discourses. the central problem for Stirner. social identities have to be seen as discursively constructed – that is. human affairs. for Derrida. of course. has its roots in ‘onto-theological’ categories that derive directly from the idea of divine authority. from liberalism to Marxism – is displaced in poststructuralist theory: for Stirner. in other words. or human essence – was a ‘ﬁxed idea’. and determines the course of. as both Stirner and Derrida have shown. in showing that the idea of God had yet to be exorcized from our midst. It is. the discursive limits of the subject are constructed through relations of power. Rather. Indeed.Conclusion 155 properly ‘human’. for Foucault. The essence of the world. they are constituted through external structures of language and power. an absence: ‘By bringing essence into prominence one degrades the hitherto misapprehended appearance to a mere semblance. or some sort of rational social logic. just as oppressive – as the idea of God. a deception. a political . is for him who looks to the bottom of it – emptiness’ (1995: 40). as Stirner says. later poststructuralist perspectives. there can be no self-presence of identity. a new kind of religious conviction that dominated our thinking. The search for an essence – for an eternal secret at the base of existence – only reveals. this idea is simply unsustainable.
Poststructuralist perspectives can be understood within the ‘paradigm’ of radical politics. in that they seek to unmask the domination and coercion behind established political institutions. but also. but that it is also a form of subjectivity that dominates us. Moreover. democracy. The poststructuralist critique of essentialism therefore not only has important implications for the way we view politics generally. more speciﬁcally. tying the subject to a ﬁxed identity. The value of Stirner’s intervention for political theory has been to show how these essentialist concepts and categories severely limit our political horizons. and show how they might be undermined and resisted. 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. for the question of radical politics today. we abandon the idea of an absolute moral and rational ground? I have tried to address some of these questions in the book. new forms of oppression – now. is concomitant with. they result in more subtle and internalized forms of domination. as well as its moorings in the dialectic. in . 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.156 Conclusion discourse such as liberalism. particularly those around the issue of globalization today. Indeed. I have suggested in this book that there is an immanent convergence between poststructuralist thought and radical political theory. I would go as far as to say that anarchism – or postanarchism – can be seen as the closest political approximation of poststructuralism. as Stirner argues. Stirner has shown that modern political discourses – not just liberalism. at the same time. Poststructuralism. Indeed. then we can begin to explore new possibilities for political thought and action. In other words. exploring some of the limitations and also the potentialities of classical anarchism through Nietzsche’s idea of ressentiment. in Chapter 2. I have dealt speciﬁcally with the issue of radical politics. In particular. practices and discourses. Why have I chosen anarchism here. which is based on the idea of the liberation of the subject from both political absolutism and religious obscurantism. 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. instead of Marxism? Because I see anarchism – provided that it can free itself from its Manichean logic. the absolutism of rationality and the tyranny of the norm. freedom and human rights if. In other words. Indeed. if we accept Stirner’s contention that not only is the essential human subject a discursive and ideological construction. human nature and natural law – as becoming a referent for contemporary political and social struggles. 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.
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 ˇek’s account – as a distortion that can operate through the objective Ziz 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
I have shown how Derrida develops a notion of deconstructive ethics through concepts of justice. objective entity has to be questioned. at the same time. for Marx. which I explored in Chapter 7. 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. that both lack legitimacy and cannot be grounded in anything other than violence itself. This was the key point of contention. the individual was intrinsically part of these broader identities. or on universal rational and moral ideals. where I show that there is a structural link between the violence at the base of sovereign institutions and legal structures. However. In other words. especially in order to formulate collective projects of resistance and emancipation. the idea of ‘society’ is a discursive construction that seeks to hide the disunity and antagonism at the heart of social relations. it was what threatened to destabilize these structures. human rights and democracy to come.160 Conclusion be reinterpreted through concrete political and social struggles. 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. social collectives were abstractions that denied individuality. nor could it be accommodated within dominant political discourses and structures. the problem here was that if one accepts the validity of the poststructuralist approach. In Chapter 5. However. Rather. However. these are not regulative ideals or absolute normative standards. between Stirner and Marx. 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. but rather function as ways of opening existing political and legal structures to the Other. and the violence exhibited by anti-state terrorism. The question of nihilism also emerges in Chapter 6. Out of this discussion emerged the idea of community as an openended promise that could not. I have argued that it is crucial that there be some sort of universal dimension in politics. However. In . moreover. be embodied in any objective content. then this universal dimension cannot be based on a universal human subject. While for Stirner. at the same time the idea of ‘society’ or the ‘social whole’ as a uniﬁed. Poststructuralism and universality Perhaps the most important question that this book has addressed is that of universality in poststructuralist theory. the practice of politics cannot be an entirely individual experience. Individuality and community The question of community and collective identity is a central one for politics. to what is excluded by them.
The aim of this book was not only to explore the implications of poststructuralism for political theory. Without this universal dimension. despite its important achievements over the past couple of decades. whose dark potentialities we can only speculate on. . 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. Thus I showed that a radical universal dimension can emerge from within the discursive limits of poststructuralism itself. Moreover. through the constitutive tension and contamination between the orders of the universal and the particular. constitutively open to a universal dimension that lies beyond their borders. universality would have to be theorized without absolute foundations. which. radical political theory must be able to develop a universal dimension around which new forms of emancipative and democratic politics can be constellated. therefore. but to show that poststructuralist strategies are politically and ethically relevant to the social and political struggles of today. because poststructuralist theory rejects the idea of a universal subject. radical politics cannot hope to advance beyond the deadlock of identity politics. is now becoming increasingly irrelevant. 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.Conclusion 161 other words. Difference and particularity are.
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 . there is almost a Superego injunction to enjoy. not to himself. might be seen as an aspect of the ‘bioculture’ we live in today. over-activity. Gilles Deleuze argues that desire desires its own repression (see Deleuze and Parnet 1987: 133). where transgressions of the norm are seen as having biological causes and are treated medically – drugs for depression. the ethical tragedy of this is that torture has become an accepted part of public discourse. be happy. strive for the ‘good life’. experience full sexual jouissance. detected by Stirner. and it is now legitimate to talk about the use of torture on terrorist suspects. seeking instead to reconcile the conﬂict between competing and plural ways of life without privileging one above the others (see Gray 2000: 1). for whom he seeks the lucre. This emphasis on health and happiness. is a slave of lucre. This normalization. anxiety. consume. not raised above lucre. etc. 2 For instance. prescriptive and vicious as the religious and moral codes of previous centuries. underperformance.Notes Introduction 1 This was never clearer than when. the use of torture was ˇ ˇek being openly discussed and debated in the United States. 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. to not be depressed. the ‘health’ of the subject has become a regulatory. As Slavoj Ziz remarks. he is not his own’ (1995: 266). whereas before it would have been seen as the government’s ‘dirty little secret’ that must be concealed and publicly disavowed (2002b). ﬁnd fulﬁlment. 5 Stirner: ‘Yet he. 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. 3 Today more than ever. he is the one who belongs to lucre. the moneybag. smoking and so on. the second being that which acknowledges the impossibility of achieving this consensus. post-September 11. 1 Politics of the ego 1 John Gray also unmasks the other side or ‘face’ of liberalism. disciplinary norm – we are increasingly required to conform to various standards of physical and mental health: we are told to exercise more. which is everywhere accompanied by anxieties around issues like obesity. is just as dominating. 4 I borrow this term from Beiner’s ‘Foucault’s Hyper-liberalism’ (1995).
or are rights based on the notion of citizenship. however. which . 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). let alone to theories of power. regardless of where one was born – and ‘Citizen’ – which implies a more narrow deﬁnition of rights. have failed to realize that the State always acts to protect its own interests. 7 I borrow this term ‘post-liberalism’ from Gray (see 1993). and its only function can be to highlight the limit. 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”. In other words. 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. . which discovered the liberties. Bakunin’s idea of applying scientiﬁc techniques of ‘social hygiene’ on an individual and collective basis. whose claim to human rights beyond national state borders calls into question this very ﬁction of citizenship (see 1998: 131). 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). on belonging to a nation state? The ambiguity is profoundly exposed by the ﬁgure of the refugee. What the State might do. 2 Indeed. 2 Ressentiment and radical politics 1 ‘The “Enlightenment”. gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies’ (1977: 35). . as being limited to citizens of a nation state. See his discussion of the ‘union’ (1995: 161). 3 As Stavrakakis argues. they have fallen into the trap of the state: ‘Marxists. does one have rights purely by virtue of his being human. 4 Foucault shows that transgression and limit depend upon one another – transgression is produced by the limit.Notes 163 imply a universality of rights. instead. Indeed. 2 While Jacques Lacan is not a thinker often applied to the ﬁeld of contemporary political theory. 8 Stirner does. being ‘man’. 3 Anarchism also recognizes that the political domain can have a determining effect on economic and social relations. 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 to the interventions of Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Ziz Stavrakakis’ Lacan and the Political (1999). also invented the disciplines’ (Foucault 1991: 222). 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. and which has the greatest consequences for political theory (1999: 40). burning itself up once it has crossed it: ‘like a ﬂash of lightning in the night. Here I am referring ˇ ˇek. therefore. 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. 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). .
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). 2 This experience of ‘the new opacity’ is never more present than in our ˇ ˇek contemporary world. our daily experience is mystifying: modernization generates new obscurantisms. terrorist violence would be an attack on the very foundations of the law and. the reduction of freedom is presented to us as the arrival of new freedoms’ (1997: 1). for instance. but to liberate ourselves from the State and the type of individualization linked to it’ (1982: 216). 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). philosophical problem of our days is not to liberate the individual from the State and its institutions. 7 Spectres of the uncanny 1 Lacan develops this idea. 8 Towards a poststructuralist politics of universality 1 Martha Nussbaum. for instance. with reference to Habermas’ claim about the neue Undurchsichtlichkeit. 3 As Agamben contends. 4 Jean Baudrillard. 5 Derrida’s deconstruction of authority 1 Agamben suggests that we are currently moving into a generalized state of exception. social. ethical. even in our ‘Western democracies’. seeing the unconscious itself – because it is structured ‘as a language’ – as a thoroughly social and intersubjective. ‘more than ever. talks about the way that the terrorist strikes were an attack on the order of global capital itself. thus. as subjects.164 Notes 4 Spectres of Stirner 1 As Foucault suggests. rather than. For instance. ‘Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover who we are. humanitarian operations are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from wars and standard military operations – one thinks here of Kosovo. deﬁned by a generalized system of exchange which the terrorists were able to disrupt (2002: 9). the legitimacy of the state (see Borradori 2004: 169). for Derrida. for instance (1998: 187). but to refuse who we are . thus providing a moral legitimacy for their aggression against these other identities (1993: 204). . As Ziz argues. who was also interested in why we. willingly submit to state authority. arguing that state power depends on our voluntary servitude (see La Boétie 1963). 2 In this sense. The political. 2 This ideology of victimization is also characteristic of certain ethnic and reliˇ ˇek gious identities. . . 3 Here Stirner might be seen in the same light as a thinker like Étienne La Boétie. Ziz shows the way in which the Bosnian Serbs saw themselves as the victims of Muslim or Croat oppression and discrimination. 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. individual domain (1998: 20).
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. and that goes beyond utilitarian or even ideological considerations. for instance. 5 Derrida prefers to call it the ‘alter-globalization’ movement.Notes 165 3 As Terry Eagleton remarks. so that it can peddle its commodities to consumers’ (2003: 19). because. They are conditioned by a jouissance or enjoyment – to speak in psychoanalytic terms – that is not intelligible within the economy of power relations. capitalism is remarkably tolerant of cultural difference – indeed difference and diversity are what it thrives upon: ‘Most of the time. at least. or through ethical strategies that we apply to ourselves. institutional coercion. rather than being against globalisation as such. whether it be through scientiﬁc discourses. and how we come to constitute ourselves as subjects (1994: 281–282). 2 Étienne Balibar talks about forms of ultra-violence violence that are emerging around us. 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’. and which also naturalize and give legitimacy to existing liberal modes of governance (see Finlayson and Valentine 2002: 7). . Foucault is not just talking about ‘marginals’ here but about all of us. Such practices contain a dimension of cruelty that is unmediated or unsymbolizable. it [capitalism] is eager to mix together as many diverse cultures as possible. In other words. it is against the particular capitalist form that globalization has taken. corresponding more to the ravages of the pre-Oedipal Id (2002: 143). which converge onto an irrational and excessive cruelty – such as ethnic cleansing. it offers an alter-native vision of a global order.
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149. 27–8 Badiou. 92 ‘closure’ 89. 94. 113 Baudrillard. 45–6. understanding of history 46–7. 151 Barker. M. 32 ‘artiﬁcial authority’ 36–7. John 92. Wendy 25. 138. 14. 33. J. 127–8 class 48. 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. 110 agnostic liberalism 29 alienation 127. 111–12. Judith 55–6. 156 collective identity 30. 93. Bruno 68 Being: Heidegger’s notion of 87 Benjamin. 145 bourgeoisie state 34–5 bourgeois relations 69–70 Brown. 97. 160 communism 126. Marxism 34. G. 122. 47. 98–9 anarchism: Derrida 86–7. and power 9–10. M. emancipation 44–7. 34. Georges 11. 95 Christianity 15. 98. 90–1 coercion 43. 114. 136 Butler. 63. Nietzsche 31. Étienne 60–1. and poststructuralism 2. Manicheism 36–40. political authority 33–5. 147 Bakunin. Osama 104 ‘biopolitics’ 109–11 biopower 109 borders 8 Borradori. J. 48–9. 41. 150–1 Apollonian illusion 41 ‘aporia’ 6. 156–7 classical anarchists 33–4. 123 asylum seekers 28–9 authoritarianism 87–8 authority 36–7 autonomy 26. 41. A. 155 citizenship 17. global 143–4 capitalist exploitation 48 Caputo. 31. Carl von 107 Clifford. R. 103–7. 112. 137. 114. 94. 22. 9. 49. social contract theories 35–6. and the state 34. 139. 143 capital 135–6 capitalism 7–9. 72 ‘analytical’ political theory 2 anamorphosis 130–1 an-archic action: Derrida. Louis 5. 151. 126–7. 128–9 Althussarian structuralist Marxism 5 Althusser. 113 binary structures 85–6 Bin Laden. H. 45. 11. G. 135. 36–7. collapse of 4 communitarianism 13–14 . 40. 113 Bauer. 18. 147 Bataille. 28 civil liberties 8 civil society (Gesellschaft) 17. 35–6 classical liberalism 127 Clausewitz. 90 aristocracy 23. 136. 94. 43. J. 49 Balibar. 49 classical anarchism 36. 23.Index Agamben. 78. 35. 48. W. 104–5. 100–1. 11. 47 Arvon.
strategies of 88–9. M. 127. 5. 90 domination 45. 136–8 Feuerbach. the subject 155. the subject 155. Ferdinand 4 desire 55–6.Index 173 communities 126–7 community 132–3. justice 95–8. 99 contamination 6. 157. 40. 151 deconstruction: an-archic action 98–9. Jacques 37 ‘double writing’ 90 Eagleton. 96–7. 8. 148–50 ‘continental’ poststructuralism 2 cosmopolitanism 143 crime: treatment of 24 Critchley. 68–9. 154–5. 27–8. deconstruction 11. S. 30. 8. difference 139. deﬁnition 84–6. 111 . 33. 23. 20. human rights 145. 48. Terry 7.: biopolitics 109–11. terrorism 114. 20. rationality 143. theory of power 51–4. 54. identity politics 141–2. 21. 155 Fletcher. law-making violence 104. 126 Enlightenment. 156 Engels. Karl 68–9 Declaration of the Rights of Man 97. 52. 71 economic exploitation 48 economic oppression 34–5 ego. 141 democracy 33. 48 Donzelot. ‘différance’ 89–91. 68. process of 142 false universality 26 fantasy 64–6 fascism 112 ‘fascist’ nihilism 114 Fehér. 24–5. the Enlightenment 7.: an-archic action 98–9. ethical outside 91–2. metaphysics 87–8. 139. 145–6. 151 essence 10–11. 18. deconstruction strategies 88–9. 3 feminist groups 25. 30. sovereignty 94–5. truth 74–5. 157. sovereignty 94–5. see also human essence essentialism 5. Iranian Revolution 146–7. subjectivity 57. 155 Enlightenment rationalism 29 ‘equaliberty’ (egaliberté) 151 equality 16–17. 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. ‘différance’ 89–91. 79. F. undecidability 6 de Saussure. 139–41 Dionysian reality of power 41 disciplinary liberalism 21–2 disciplinary techniques 13. 124. genealogical project 42–4. 5. The 14. 41. J. liberalism 25. William 24. justice 95–8. 44. 126 egoism 19. 128–9 emancipation 39. 144–6 Enlightenment humanism 14–16. 70–1. structuralism 5. G. 15. 84–6. 156 Discipline and Punish 109 disidentiﬁcation 131 displacement 87. difference 139. A. poststructuralism 3. 134. John 117 Foucault. identities 140. 159. sovereign power 112. 123–4. 7. the 4. 159 critique of idealism: Marx. 27–8. exclusion 142. 160 conformity 23–4. 71–2. 154 difference 8. 125–6. 79 despotism 34 ‘différance’ 89–91. hauntology 117–18. Enlightenment 7. exclusion 142. power 107–9. transgression 91–2 Deleuze. 14. 91. 26. 61–3. individual autonomy 27. 30 conservatism 8. 114. 123 ﬁctitious universality 138. 30. authority of the law 92–3. 23. 86–7. revolution 151–2. 41–2. the 125–6 Ego and Its Own. foundations of law 92–3. power relations 45. 77. F. inversion/subversion 11. 140. 28. 27–8 Connolly. 10. violence 107–9. ideology 10. rights 28. 142 exclusion 27–9. 161 ‘constitutive outside’ 6. 133. 15–16. 20. 95 Democratic Paradox. 5 ‘ﬁxed ideas’ 121. Ludwig 14. 139 Finlayson. The 153 democratic republican state 16 Derrida. 44–7. general 11.
54. replaced by man 77. G. 95.: identities 140. power 51–67 Lacanian psychoanalytical theory 10. 19–20. E. 30. 116. 47–8. 128. 59 identity politics 136–8. 160 individual rights 27–8 inequality 23. 77. Rodolphe 89. 134. Thomas 35. the subject 119. Stirner’s critique 14–16 humanity 18–19. 149–50 Heidegger. 156 God: death of 23. 141–2. 108 infrastructures 89–90 institutional transparency 16 insurrection 81–2 inversion/subversion 86–7. 155 ‘hyper-liberalism’ 26. 78. 161 Gasché. 46. 36. 74. M. 160 idealism: Stirner 14. 20. 22–3. 148–50 La Terreur 101–2 law: authority of 92–3. 146 government: mode of 25. Nancy 7. 44. 81. 33. 145 human subjectivity 37–40. A. 12. the ‘real’ 6. 8. 122. new approach 63–6. 47 German Ideologists 68–9. 108 homogeneous society 111–13 ‘humane liberalism’ 19–20 human essence 15–16. 26. 46. 9. 41 human rights 8. rationalities 43 Gray. 92 Koch. 52–3. spectre of 94 Gödel’s ‘incompleteness theorem’ 5–6 Godwin. image of 15. 40–1. 31. 7. 130 identities 48. John 29 group psychology 118 Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego 118 Guattari. liberal 26. Stirner’s critique 76–83. power 61. 121–2 humanism 23. 22. 45. William 36 Gordon. 90 gaze: theory of 130–1 genealogy: Foucault 42–4. 146. 140. theories of 53. 123 Gesellschaft (civil society) 17 global capitalism 143–4 globalization 150. 105–6 law-preserving violence 104. and violence 106–7 law-making violence 104–6. 27–8 French Revolution 101–2. A. 3 heterogeneity 11. poststructuralist approach 74–6. 155. 125. 6. structuralist approach 72–4. and transgression 61–3. subjectivity 130 Lacanian approach: to ideology 63. Gustav 123 juridico-discursive paradigm 25. 24. Emmanuel 145–6 Kearney. 158. 123–4. 27–8. P. 34. 71. the structure 5. 12. 80. 46. 141 Habermas. 87. 139. 98–9 Iranian Revolution 146 Julius. 23. J. 94. truth 64–6. 79. M. 159.174 Index foundationalism 5 Fraser. 151 identiﬁcation 23. F. 14 Kropotkin. 105–6 . 23 Hegelian philosophers 68–9 hegemony: logic of 12. concept of 10–11. W. 74 hauntology 117 Hegel. F. 77. 130–1. 97–8. 8. 39. 160 individuality 19. 147 Freud. 136. R. 123–4 German ideology. 36 Lacan. J. 56–8 Laclau. 121 fundamentalism 4. excluded 20. 52 juridico-sovereign model 42 justice 95–8 Kant. C. 59. 54 freedom 82. The 14. 155. and law 94.: notion of Being 87 Heller. 53. 24 identity 5. 122. Sigmund: truth 63. 126–7. 161 ideological fantasy 63–6 ideological interpellation 10–11 ideology: abandonment of 73–6. 127 ideal universality 139. 68–9 ‘illegal’ immigrants 28–9 immigration 8 ‘incompleteness theorem’ 5–6 individual autonomy 24 individualism 30. the uncanny 117–21 Freudian theory 12 Fritzman. J. and rationalism 70–2. 68. 111–13 hierarchy 23 Hobbes.
morality 32–3. 5 Phaedrus 85 ‘place of power’ 7 Plato 85 pluralism 30 police violence 104–5 political. 9. 46 Nazism 65 negative nihilism 41 neutral liberalism 13 ‘new social movements’ 48 Nietzsche. 137–8 modern societies: power of 110 moral hygiene 24–5 morality 23. 27 Norris. 16–22. 136–7. 86 master morality 31–2 materialism 19 material possessions 27 Megill. 48 ‘postmodern condition’ 135 postmodernism 3–4 ‘postmodern political condition’ 3 ‘postmodern politics’ 137 poststructuralism: criticism of 7–9. 102. religious liberty 17. 38. Claude 101. 114 legitimacy 93 lesbian groups 136 Levinas. subjectivity 116 ‘political liberalism’ 16–22. and the Enlightenment 144–6.-. 136–7. Pasquale 108 ‘passionate attachment’ 55–6 ‘passive’ nihilism 41 Paterson. will to power 40–2 nihilism 113–15. 45–6. K. power 10. 24. and Stirner 14. 155 Middle East 8 migrants 8. 25. 31. 27 political oppression 34–5 political power 37. ethics of 92 Mouffe. 160. 63 minority groups 25. the 153. 49 Lyotard. J. 157. 82 Parnet. 13–14. 127. 47–8. 23–4. 41. 70. practice of 7 positive law 103 post-anarchism 49–50. 68–9. 46 ‘ownness’ 25–7. the 92 outside. 105. 156 ‘post-ideological’ age 132–3 ‘post-liberalism’ 9. 47 marginalised identities 142 martyrdom 113–14 Marx. Jacques-Alain 58. 121–2. 156 normalizing practices 21. difference 20. 46. 30. negative 41. ‘passive’ 41 normalization 27–8. M. 113 Miller. 25. 117–18. A. 28–9. 48–9. 79 ‘particular’. W. liberalism 22–3. 129. 32. 71–2. 47 natural laws 36–7. ‘lumpenproletariat’ 18. see also immigrants militarism 104–5. 126 Peters. the state 35. 47. 78–9. F. 39. the state 34. Overman 46.Index 175 Lefort. Karl: ideology 63. 156 liberal multiculturalism 137 liberal political theory: problems for 27–30 liberal rights 25. 41 metaphysical authority 88–9 metaphysics 87–8. the: politics of 135–8 Pasquino. 132. 37. development 4–6. 151 logocentrism 85–6 ‘lumpenproletariat’ 18. 37. 30. 153 mutual aid 36 national security 28 ‘natural authority’ 36–7. 156 Other. 48.F. 27–30 post-Marxists 47. and identities 139–41. genealogical model 47. 128. 39 political rights 16–17 political theory: and poststructuralism 2 politics: and the political 153. political ethics of 144–8. autonomy of 47–8 ‘political correctness’ 138 political identities 118–19. 136. 131–2 Marxism 34–5. C. Chantal 7. 29 liberty 133. Christopher 84 Nussbaum. deﬁnition 3. God 87. the 159 Overman 40–1. 123–9. Martha 143 object petit a 64 On the Genealogy of Morality 32 oppression 34–5. and political theory 2 . R. the uncanny 12. Emmanuel 92 liberal freedom 26 liberalism 2.: anarchism 9. 3 Manichean separation 41.
Carl 94 Schrift. 156 ‘social liberalism’ 18–19 society 19. 23. 31–3. critique of liberalism 14–22. 118 psychoanalytical theory 10. 25. post-anarchism 49. 43. normalizing techniques 24–5. 13. 130–1 real universality 138–9. theory of 6. 8 religious liberty 17 religious power 113 religious values 8 repression 21. 151–2 Revolution. 33. French 101–2. 19. problems with political philosophy 29–30. 105. 64. Louis de 101 Sand-Man story 120 Schmitt. 38. political 37. 125–8. the uncanny 121 Rancière. universality of 8–9 power: Butler’s ‘post-Foucauldian’ theory 55–6. 113–14 signiﬁers 4–5. 20. the 34–5. 47. Yannis 58. Foucault’s analysis 42–4. 66–7. 16–17. place of 7. 20. 103 state authority 104. 45. 128. 69–70. 22 the ‘real’ 6. 60–1. 130 singularity 30. 94–5. 79. identity politics 161. 89 Schurmann. and power 41–2. 97–8 Ruge. understanding of 10. 87–8. 94 religious alienation 123 religious fundamentalism 4. 110. 119. 26–7 ‘productive power’ 52 proletariat 18. 143 rational principles 36–7 rational truth 22 Rawls. 111. 65 Stirner. 56–7. 37. A. 9–10. 98 Saint-Just. 58–60. 132. 130–1 reality 58. political discourses 156. 19. 112 spectrality 76–8 Spectres of Marx 117 speech 85–6 ‘spooks’ 121–3 state. 64–5. 12 punishment 24–5. M. 132. 156.176 Index poststructuralist theory: tension in 6–7. Max: anarchism 33. 87 revolutions 40. Iranian 146 revolutionary identity 38–9. and ressentiment 31. J. 62. Enlightenment 29 rationality 21–2. 110–11. 149. 40–2. 151 religion 15. and poststructuralism 1. 56. symbolic dimension 60–3. liberalism 9. 16. 81–3 responsibility 26 ressentiment 9. Marx and Engels on 123–8. 38–9. 46. 45 ‘reterritorialization’ 8 ‘return’: of the repressed 120–1. . 25. 97–8 social identities 155 socialism 125–6. 27–8. 105 sovereign violence 109. and violence 105–9. 111 species being 122–3 spectacle: of violence 109–10. 157–8. 51–4. 35–6. 120–1. 81–2 rights 13–14. 147 slave morality 31–3 social contract theory 35–6. 124 ‘state of nature’ 35–6 state sovereignty 155. 45 presence: metaphysics of 85–6 prisoners’ rights 28 prison system 25 private property 18. essence 155. 57. national 28 self-domination 79 self-ownership 26–7 self-sacriﬁce 113 self-subjection 21 September 11 attacks 100. 122–3 revolution 39. 48. 55. 112. Reiner 98 security 8. 147 Revolution. 26–7 psyche: theory of the 55–6 psychoanalysis 56–8. 126. Jacques 131. concept of property 26–7. 109 racism: ‘postmodern’ 4 radical politics: anarchism 45. 87. exteriority of 59–60. 4. 121–2. 80. 21. 161 state violence 105 Stavrakakis. 151 property 18. 122–3 resistance 53–4. will to 40–2 ‘power principle’ 40 power relations 43. 19. 160 sovereign authority 112–13 sovereign societies 109 sovereignty 11. Arnold 123 ruling classes 69–70 Ryan. 110. 147 rationalism 70–3. 23–4.
political approach 147–8. process of exclusion 142. the ‘un-man’ 23–4. 128–9. 158 Warren. 128. 101. 76–83. 112. martyrdom 113–14 theory of ideology 53 Torfﬁng. lawmaking 104–6. in poststructuralist theory 8. 52. 23–4. 113. 151. 111–13. 136–7. 24 workers’ struggles 48 World Trade Centre attacks see September 11 attacks writing 85–6 Zarathustra 40 ˇ ˇek. 148 students 48 subaltern identities 28–9 subjectiﬁcation 55–6 subjection: and resistance 53–4 subjectivity: Cartesian idea of 118–19. 158 . the 114 terrorism: Benjamin’s critique 103–7. and nihilism 114–15. T. as a term 100–1 terrorist violence 101–4. 158 USA: religion 94 Valentine. 20. 130–1. and heterogeneity 111–14. 8. Foucault 107–9. and law 93. the uncanny 128–9 subversion 86–7 suicide bombings 113 Superman 40–1. 63–4. 160–1. 131–2. 61. 127. 137. French Revolution 101–2.Index 177 ‘proto-poststructuralist’ 3. 110–11. political identities 116. 130. the 119–21. protection from 110. citizenship 18. 13 Terror. Stirner’s notion of 79. Slavoj 7. 159 structuralism 4–5. Stirner 25–6. and poststructuralism 158–9. ideal 139. J. 106–7. 65. and the particular 147–8. W. 111–14 war 42–3. ‘spooks’ 121–3. and sovereignty 94–5. 48. 80–1. understanding of 143–4 universal state 17 ‘un-man’ 11. 72–4 struggles 48. concept of 117–18 undecidability 6 universal humanity 19 universality: of the Enlightenment 144–6. and law 61–3 truth 53. 60. as a spectacle 109–10. 139. theorization of 134–5. and power 38. 114. and minority struggles 136–7. 107–8 ‘war on terror’ 28. 110. terrorism 101–2. egoism 124–6. 66–7. 142–4. J. real 138–9. Ziz 100. ﬁctitious 138. society 127–8. 46 Taylor. 12. 151. 64. and civil society 108–9. Lacan 56–7. theory of ideology 68. 5 violence: Benjamin’s critique 103–7. the uncanny 12. 42. Foucault on the Iranian Revolution 146–7. subjectivity 25–6. and global capitalism 143–4. 54. psychoanalytical understanding 56–8. 4 transgression: deconstruction 91–2. rational 22 uncanny. 73.
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