EI\-IAN CIPATIC)N (S

)
Ernesto Lac/au
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Fir.;t published by Veno 1996
o Ernc:sto Ladau 1996
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Contents
PREFACE vii
ACXNOWLI!OOEMENJ'S ix
1 Beyond Emancipation 1
2 Universalism, Particularism and
the Question of Identity 20
3 Why do Empty Signifiers Matter to Politics? 36
4 Subject of Politics, Politics of the Subject 47
5 'The lime is Out of Joint' 66
6 Power and Representation 84
7 Community and its Paradoxes:
Richard Rorty's 'Liberal Utopia' lOS
INDEX 125
Preface
With the exception of the last piece in this volUIDe, which was written
in 1989, all the essays were written and published between 1991
and 1995. This period witnessed momentous changes in the world
scene: the restructuring of the world order as a result of the collapse
of the Eastern bloc; the civil war in former Yugoslavia; the growth
of a populist right in Western Europe, whose racist politics were
focused on its opposition to immigrants from Southern Europe and
Northern Africa; the expansion of multicultural protest in Nonh
America; the end of apartheid in South Africa.
If we wanted briefly to characterize the distinctive features of the
first half of the 19905, I would say that they are to be found in the
rebellion of various panicularisms - ethnic, racial, national and sexual
- against the totalizing ideologies which dominated the horizon of
politics in the preceding decades. We could say that, in some way,
the Cold War was - in the ideologies of its two protagonists - the
last manifestation of the Enlightenment: that is, that we were dealing
with ideologies which distributed the ensemble of the forces operating
in the historical arena in two opposite camps, and which identified
their own aims with those of a global human emancipation. Both
'free world' and 'communist society' were conceived by their
defenders as projects of societies without internal frontiers or
divisions.
It is the 'globality' of these projects that is in crisis. Whatever the
sign of the new vision of politics which is emerging is going to be, it
is clear that one of its basic dimensions is going to be the redefinition
of the existing relation between universality and particularity. How
is the unity - as relative as one wants - of the community to be
viewed, when any approach to it must stan from social and cultural
panicularisms not only stronger than in the past but constituting
also the element defining the central imaginary of a group? Does
not this imaginary exclude any identification with more universal
human values? And, seen from the other angle, does not the very
proliferation of antagonisms, the fact itself that there is not exact
overlapping between cultural group and global community, require
a language of 'rights' which must include the universalist reference
that is in question?
These essays were written in the conviction that both universalism
and particularism are two ineradicable dimensions in the making of
political identities, but that the articulation between them is far from
being evident. Some of the essays briefly summariu the most impon-
ant historical stages in the thinking of this aniculation. We could
say, with reference to the contemporary scene, that the dominant
tendencies have been polarized around two positions. One of them
unilaterally privileges universalism and sees in a dialogical process a
way of reaching a consensus transcending all particularism
(Habermas); the other, dedicated to the celebration of pure panic-
ularism and contextualism, proclaims the death of the universal (as
in some forms of postmodernism). For reasons that are presented in
extmso in the essays, neither of these extreme positions is acceptable
to me. But what is important to determine is the logic of a possible
mediation between the two. The main thesis of these essays is that
such a mediation can only be a hegemonic one (which involves
reference to the universal as an empty place), and that the operation
it performs modifies the identities of both the particular and the
universal. It is for the reader to judge what is achieved through this
kind of approach.
A last word about the occasions on which these essays were written.
In all cases they were circumstantial interventions, taking place
around a concrete event. They should be seen as provisional explor-
ations rather than as fully-fledged theoretical constructs, as answers
to the ethical and political imperative of intervening in debates about
transformations which were taking place before our eyes. Thus their
ad hoc character, their inevitable repetitions, and their lacunae. I
hope, anyway, that they can be useful in tbrowing a cenain light on
some of the more pressing political problems of our rime.
Princeton, October 1995
viii
Acknowledgements
'Beyond Emancipation' was originally presented as a paper at a
conference held at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, 3 ~ 3 1
January 1991, and published in Jan Nederveen Pieterse (ed.),
Emancipations, Modern and Postmodern, London, Sage 1992.
'Universalism, Particularism and the Question of Identity' was
originally delivered at a symposium held on 16-17 November 1991
at City University, New York. It was published in John Rajchman
(ed.), The Identity in Question. New York and London, ROl!t1edge
199J.
'Why do Empty Signifiers Matter to Politics?' was published in Jeffrey
Weeks (ed.), The Lesser Evil and the Greater Good. The Theory and
Politics of Social Diversity, London, Rivers Oram Press 1994.
'Subject of Politics, Politics of the Subject' was delivered at the Seventh
East-West Philosophers Conference on 'Democracy and Justice: A
Philosophical Exploration', held in Honolulu on 9-23 January 1995
and sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, University of
Hawaii, in co-operation with the East-West Centre. It was published
in Differences, 7.1, Spring 1995.
'The Time is Out of Joint' was delivered in Leeds on 9 September
1995, as the keynote speech of a conference on 'Ghosts', organized
by the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory, University ofWaJes,
Cardiff, and the University of Leeds. It was published in Diacritics,
vol. 25, no. 2, Summer 1995.
'Power and Representation' was originally delivered at the Critical
Theory Institute. University of California, Irvine in 1989. The present
is an expanded version published in Mark Poster (ed.), Politics, Theory
and Contemporary Culture. New York. Columbia University Press
1993.
'Community and its Paradoxes: Richard Rorty's "Liberal Utopia'"
was originally published in Miami Theory Collective (cd.).
Community at Loose Ends. Minnesota University Press 1991.
1
Beyond Emancipation
I see 'cmancipation' - a notion which has been part of our
political imaginary for centuries and whose disintegrarion we
are witnessing today - as being organized around six distinctive
dimensions. The first is what we could call the dichotomic
dimension: between the emancipatory moment and the social
order which has preceded it there is an absolute chasm, a radical
discontinuity. The second can be considered a holistic dimension:
emancipation affects all areas of social life and there is a relation
of essenrial imbrication betwcen its various contents in these
different areas. The third dimension can be referred to as the
transparency dimension: if alienation in its various aspects -
religious, political, economic, etcetera - has been radically erad-
icated, there is only the absolute coincidence of human essence
with itself and there is no room for any relation of either power
or representation. Emancipation presupposes the elimination of
power, the abolition of the subject/object distinction, and the
management - without any opaqueness or mediation - of
communitarian affairs by social agents identified with the
viewpoint of social totality. It is in this sense that in Marxism,
for instance, communism and the withering away of the state
logically entail each other. A fourth dimension is the pre-existence
of what has to be emancipated vis-davis the act of emancipation.
There is no emancipation without oppression, and there is no
without the presence of something which is impeded
in its free development by oppressive forces. Emancipation is
not, in this sense, an act of creation but instead of liberation of
something which precedes the liberating act. In the fifth place,
we can speak of a dimension of ground which is inherent in the
project of any radical emancipation. If the act of emancipation
EMANCIPATION(S)
is truly radical, if it is really going to leave behind everything
preceding it, it has to take place at the level of the 'ground' of
the social. If there is no ground, if the revolutionary act leaves a
residue which is beyond the transforming abilities of the
emancipatory praxis, the very idea of a radical emancipation
would become contradictory. Finally, we can speak of a ration-
alistic dimension. This is the point where the emancipatory
discourses of secularized eschatologies part company with the
religious ones. For religious eschatologies the absorption of the
real within a total system of representation does not require the
rationality of the latter: it is enough that the inscrutable designs
of God are transmitted to us through revelation. But in a secular
eschatology this is not possible. As the idea of an absolute tepres-
entability of the real cannot appeal to anything external to the
real itself, it can only coincide with the principle of an absolute
rationality. Thus, full emancipation is simply the moment in
which the real ceases to be an opaque positivity confronting us,
and in which the latter's distance from the rational is finally
cancelled.
To what extent do these six dimensions conform to a logically
unified whole? Do they constitute a coherent theoretical
structure? I shall try to show that they do not, and that the
assertion of the classical notion of emancipation in its many
variants has involved the advancement of incompatible logical
claims. This should not lead us, however, to the simple abandon-
ment of the logic of emancipation. It is, on the contrary, by
playing within the system of logical incompatibilities of the latter
that we can open the way to new liberating discourses which are
no longer hindered by the antinomies and blind alleys to which
the classical notion of emancipation has led.
Let us start with the dichotomic dimension. The dichotomy
that we are facing here is of a very particular kind. It is not a
simple difference between two elements or stages which
t:ontcmporarily or successively coexist with each other, and which
in thllt way contribute to the constitution of each other's
differential identity. If we are speaking about real emancipation,
the 'other' opposing the emancipated identity cannot be a purely
pCI.hlve or neutral other but, instead, an 'other' which prevents
the full conltitution of the identity of the first element. In that
leRle, the dlc:hotomy involved in the emancipatory act is in a
relation of IOlical lolidarity with our fourth dimension - the
2
BEYOND EMANCIPATION
pre-existence of the identity to be emancipated vis-tl-vis the act
of emancipation. It is easy to See why: without this pre-existence
there would be no identity to repress or prevent from fully
developing, and the very notion of emancipation would become
meaningless. Now, an unavoidable conclusion follows from this:
true emancipation requires a real 'other' - that is, an 'other'
who cannot be reduced to any of the figures of the ·same'. But,
in that case, between the identity to be emancipated and the
'other' opposing it, there can be no positive objectivity underlying
and constituting the identity of both poles of the dichotomy.
A very simple consideration can help to clarify this point. Let
us suppose for a moment that there is a deeper objective process
giving its meaning to both sides of the dichotomy. If so, the
chasm constituting the dichotomy loses its radical character. If
the dichotomy is not constitutive but is rather the expression of
a positive process, the 'other' cannot be a real other: given that
the dichotomy is grounded in an objective necessity, the
oppositional dimension is also necessary and, in that sense, it is
part of the identity of the two forces confronting each other.
The perception of the other as a radical other can only be a
matter of appearance. If a stone is broken when it clashes with
another stone, it would be absurd to say that the second stone
negates the identity of the first - on the contrary, being broken
in certain circumstances expresses the identity of the stone as
much as remaining unaltered if the circumstances are different.
The characteristic of an objective process is that it reduces to its
own logic the totality of its constitutive moments. The 'other'
can only be the result of an internal differentiation of the 'same'
and, as a result, it is entirely subordinated to the latter. But this
is not the otherness that the chasm of the emancipatory act
requires. There would be no break, no true emancipation if the
act constitutive of the latter was only the result of the internal
differentiation of the oppressing system.
This can be expressed in an only slightly different way by
saying that if the emancipation is a true one, it will be incompat-
ible with any kind of 'objective' explanation. I can certainly
explain a set of circumstances that made possible the emergence
of an oppressive system. I can explain how forces antagonistic
to that system Were constituted and evolved. But the strict
moment of the confrontation between both of them, if the chasm
is a radical o"e, will be refractory to any kind of objective
3
EMANCIPATION(S)
explanation. Between two incompatible discourses, each of them
constiruting the pole of an antagonism between them, there is
no common measure, and the strict moment of the clash between
them cannot be explained in objective terms. Unless, of course,
the antagonistic moment is purely a matter of appearance and
the conflict between social forces is assimilated to a narural
process, as in the clash between the two stones. But, as we said,
this is incompatible with the otherness required by the founding
act of emancipation.
Nuw, if the dichotomic dimension requires the radical otherness
of a past which has to be thrown away, in that case, this dimension
is incompatible with most of the others which we have presented
as constirutive of the classical notion of emancipation. In the
first place, dichotomic radicalism and radical ground are
incompatible. As we have seen, the condition of the radical chasm
that the emancipatory logic requires is the irreducible otherness
of the oppressive system which is rejected. But, in that case,
there can be no single ground explaining both the order which is
rejected and the order that emancipation inaugurates. The
alternative is clear: either emancipation is radical and, in that
case, it has to be its own ground and confine what it excludes to
a radical otherness constiruted by evil or irrationality; or there is
a deeper ground which establishes the rational connections
between the pre-emancipatory order, the new "emancipated' one
and the transition between both - in which case, emancipation
cannot be considered as a truly radical foundation. The
philosophers of the Enlightenment were perfectly consequent
when they asserted that if a rational society was a fully-fledged
order resulting from a radical break with the past, any
organization previous to that break could only be conceived as
the product of ignorance and of the folly of men, that is as
deprived of any rationality. The difficulty, however, is that if the
founding act of a truly rational society is conceived as the victory
over the irrational forces of the past - forces which have no
common measure with the victorious new social order - the
founding act itself cannot be rational but is itself utterly
contingent and depends on a relation of power. In that case, the
emancipated social order also becomes purely contingent and
cannot be considered as the liberation of any true human essence.
We are in the same dilemma as before: if we want to assert the
rationality and permanence of the new social order that we are
4
IIEYOND EMANCJPATION
establishing, we have to extend that rationality to the founding
act itself and, a5 a result, to the social order which is to be
overthrown - but in that case, the radicalism of the dichotomic
dimension vanishes. If, on the contrary, we assert this latter rad-
icalism, both the founding act and the social order resulting
from it become entirely contingent; that is, the conditions for a
permanent structural outside have been created and what now
vanishes is the dimension of ground in the classical notion of
emanci pation.
This incompatibility within the discourse of emancipation
between the dichotomic dimension and the dimension of ground
creates two fundamental matrices around which all the other
dimensions are organized. As we have said, the pre-existence of
the oppressed vis-a-v;s the oppressing force is a corollary of the
radicalism of the chasm required by the dichotomic dimension;
if the oppressed did not pre-exist the oppressing order, it would
be an effect of the latter and, in that case, the chasm would be
constitutive. (A different matter is whether the chasm is not
represented by the oppre5sed through forms of identification
which presuppose the presence of the oppressor. We shall return
later to this point.) But all the other dimensions logically require
the presence of a positive ground and are, consequently,
incompatible with the constitutivity of the chasm required by
the dichotomic dimension. Holism would be impossible unless a
positive ground of the social unifies in a self-contained totality
the variety of its partial processes, antagonisms and dichotomies
included. But in that case, the chasm has to be internal to the
social order and not a dividing line separating social order from
something outside it. Transparency requires full representability,
and there is no possibility of achieving it if the opaqueness
inherent in radical otherness is constitutive of social relations.
Finally, as we have seen., in secularized eschatologies full
representability is equivalent to full knowledge - understood as
full reduction of the real to the rational - and this is only achiev-
able if the other is reduced to the same.
So, we can see that the discourses of emancipation have been
historically constituted through the putting together of two
incompatible lines of thought: one that presupposes the
objectivity and full representability of the social, the other whose
whole case depends on showing that there is a chasm which
makes any social objectivity ultimately impossible. Now, the
5
EMANCIPATJON(S)
important point is that these two opposite lines of thought are
not simple analytical mistakes so that we could choose between
one or the other and formulate an emancipatory discourse which
would be free of logical inconsistencies. The matter is more
complicated than that because these two lines of thought are
equally necessary for the production of an emancipatory
discourse. It is by asserting both of them that the notion of
emancipation becomes meaningful. Emancipation means at one
and the same time radical foundation and radical exclusion;
that is. it postulates, at the same time, both a ground of the
social and its impossibility. It is necessary that an emancipated
society is fully transparent to itself and at the same time that
this transparency is constituted through its demarcation from
essential opaqueness, with the result that the demarcating line
cannot be thought from the side of transparency and that
transparency itself becomes opaque. It is necessary that a rational
society is a self-enclosed totality which subordinates to itself all
its partial processes; but the limits of this holistic configuration
- without which there would be no holistic configuration at all -
can only be established by differentiating the latter from an
exterior which is irrational and formless. We have to conclude
that the two lines of thought are logically incompatible and yet
require each other: without them the whole notion of
emancipation would crumble.
What follows, however, from this logical incompatibility? In
what way does the notion of emancipation crumble as its result?
It is clear that it only crumbles in a logical terrain, but it does
not follow at all that this is enough to make it non-operative
socially - unless, of course, we espouse the absurd hypothesis
that the social terrain is structured as a logical one and that con-
tradictory propositions cannot have social effectivity. We must
carefully distinguish two very different assertions at this point.
The first is that the principle of contradiction does not apply to
society and that, as a result, somebody can be and not be in the
same place at the same time, or that the same piece of legislation
has been both promulgated and not promulgated, etcetera. I do
not think that anybody would be bold enough to formulate this
kind of proposition. But it is a completely different proposition
to assert that social practices construct concepts and institutions
whose inner logic is based on the operation of incompatible
logics. And, obviously, here there is no denial of the principle of
6
BEYOND I!MANCIPATION
contradiction, because to say the opposite would be to assert
that it is logically contradictory to formulate contradictory
propositions, which certainly is not the case. Now, if the
operation of contradictory logics can perfectly well be at the
root of many institutions and social practices, a problem arises
as to the extent to which this operation is possible. Could it be
the case that incompatible logics operate within society but cannot
be extended to society as a whole; that is, that formulating
contradictory propositions in certain circumstances is a logical
requirement for society as a whole not to be contradictory?
Here we are close to Hegel's 'cunning of reason'. But it is clear
that in this case we are dealing with an o .. tological hypothesis,
not with a logical requirement. And this ontological hypothesis
is nothing other than a new formulation of the 'dimension of
ground' that we have already discussed.
But what about the hypothesis itself? Is it logically impeccable
and our only task to determine if it is right or wrong? Evidently
not, because everything that we have said about the logic of the
ground and its concomitant dimensions - transparency, holism,
etcetera fully applies here. Transparency, as we have seen,
constitutes itself as a terrain through the act of excluding
opaqueness. But what about the act of exclusion itself, what
about the constitutive difference between transparency and
opaqueness: is it transparent or opaque? [t is clear that the
alternative is undecidable, and that the two equally possible
logical moves - to make the opaque transparent or to make the
transparent opaque - blur the neatness of the alternative.
This whole digression on the status of logical contradictions in
society is important to make us aware of two aspects which have
to be taken into account in dealing with the language games that
it is possible to play within the logic of emancipation. The first
is that if the term 'emancipation' is to remain meaningful, it is
impossible to renounce eithc;r of its two incompatible sides.
Rather, we have to play one against the other in ways which
have to be specified. The second aspect is that this double and
contradictory requirement is not simply something that we have
to assert if emancipation is to be maintained as a relevant political
term. If that was the whole problem, we could avoid it just by
denying that emancipation is a valid concept and by asserting
the validity of either of the two logics taken separately. But this
is precisely what is not possible: our analysis has led us to the
7
EMANCIPATION(S}
conclusion that it is the contradictory sides themselves that
require the presence and, at the same rime, the exclusion of each other:
each is both the condition of possibility and the condition of
impossibility of the other. Thus, we are not simply dealing with
a logical incompatibility but rather with a real undecidability
between the two sides. This already indicates to us the way in
which the logic of emancipation has to be approached: by looking
at the effects which follow from the subversion of each of its
two incompatible sides by the other. The very possibility of this
analysis results from what we said earlier: the social operation
of two incompatible logics does not consist in a pure and simple
annulment of their respective effects but in a specific set of mutual
deformations. This is precisely what we understand by subversion.
It is as if each of the two incompatible logics presupposes a full
operation that the other is denying, and that this denial leads to
an orderly set of subversive effects of the internal 5tructure of
both of them. It is clear that in analysing these subversive effects
we are not witnessing the rise of something new that leaves both
logics behind but, rather, an orderly drifting away from what
would otherwise have been their full operation.
Before we move on to describe the general pattern of this
drifting away, however, we have to consider the way in which
classical emancipatory discourses dealt with our basically
incompatible dimensions, which certainly did not go entirely
unnoticed. A discourse of radical emancipation emerged for the
first time with Christianity, and its specific form was salvation.
With elements partly inherited from Jewish apocalypse,
Christianity was going to present the image of a future humanity
- or post-humanity - from which all evil would have been
eradicated. Both the dichotomic and the ground dimensions are
present here: world history is a permanent struggle between the
saints and the forces of evil, and there is no common ground
between them; the future society will be a perfect one without
any internal splits, opaqueness or alienation; the various
alternatives in the struggle against the forces of evil and the final
triumph of God are known to us by revelation. Now, within this
world-embracing picture, we see the emergence of a theological
difficulty which is nothing but the theological recognition of uur
two incompatible dimensions. God is almighty and absolute
goodness, tbe creator ex nihilo of everything existing and the
absolute source and ground of all created beings. In that case,
8
BEYOND EMANCIPATION
how do we explain the presence of evil in the world? The
alternative is clear: either God is almighty and the source of
everything existing - and, in that case, He cannot be absolute
goodness because He is responsible for the presence of evil in
the world - or He is not responsible for such a presence and,
therefore, is not almighty. We see emerging here the same problem
that we posed in non-theological terms: either the dichotomy
separating good and evil is a radical one, without common ground
between the two poles; or there is such a ground and, in that
case, the radicalism of the opposition between good and evil is
blurred. Christian thought, confronted with this alternative,
oscillated between asserting that the designs of God are
inscrutable and that the dilemma was the result of the limitation
of human reason - so that the problem was set aside without
solution - and looking for a solution which, if it was going to be
consistent at all, could only maintain an image of God as absolute
source by asserting in one way or another the necessary character
of evil. Eriugena, asserting in the Carolingian renaissance that
God reaches perfection through necessary phases of transition
involving fmitude, contingency and evil, started a tradition which,
passing through Northern mysticism, Nicholas Cusanu, and
Spinoza, would reach its highest point in Hegel and Marx.
The Christian vision of history was also confronted with
another problem - this time without contradiction - and that is
the incommensurability existing between the universality of the
tasks to be performed and the limitations of the finite agents in
charge of them. The category of incarnation was designed in
order to mediate between these two incommensurable realities.
The paradigm of all incarnation is, of course, the advent of
Christ himself, but each of the universal moments in world history
is marked by divine interventions through which finite bodies
have to take up universal tasks which were not predetermined in
the least by their concrete finitude. The dialectic of incarnation
presupposes the infinite distance between the incarnating body
and the incarnated task. It is only God's mediation that establishes
a bridge between the two, for motives which escape human
reaSOD. Returning to our various dimensions of emancipation,
we can say that in Christian discourse transparency is ensured at
the level of representation but not at the level of knowledge.
Revelation gives us a representation of the totality of history,
but the rationality which·expresses itself in that story will always
9
EMANCIPATION(S)
escape us. That is why the rationalistic dimension had to be
absent from theological accounts of salvation.
It is this chasm between representation and rationality that
modern eschatologies will attempt to bridge. Since God is no
longer in the foreground as guarantor of total representability,
the ground has to show its all-embracing abilities without any
appeal to an infinite distance from what it actually embraces. So
total representation becomes possible only as total rationality.
The first consequence of this modern trend is that the turn
insinuated in pantheistic and semi-pantheistic versions of
Christianity is brought now to its logical conclusions. If there is
a ground out of which human history shows itself as purely
rational - and, as a result, fully transparent to itself - evil,
opaqueness, otherness can only be the result of partial and
distorted representations. The more the dimension of ground
imposes itself, the more the irretrievable alterity of the chasm
inherent in the dichotomic dimension has to be dismissed as
false consciousness. We have mentioned before the Hegelian
'cunning of reason'. But the Marxian versions of the same
principle art: not far away. It is enough to remember the
description of the emergence and development of antagonistic
societies: primitive communism had to disintegrate in order to
develop the productive forces of humanity; the latter's
development required, as its historical and logical condition, the
passage through the hell of the successive exploitative regimes;
and it is only at the end of the process, when history reaches the
peak of a new communism representing a further development
of the productive forces, that the meaning and rationality of all
the previous suffering is finally shown. As Hegel said, universal
history is not the terrain of happiness. Seen from the vantage
point of universal history, everything - slavery, obscurantism,
terrorism, exploitation, Auschwitz - reveals its rational substance.
Radical rejection, antagonism, ethical incompatibilitic5. in sum
anything linked to the dichotomic dimension, belong to the realm
of superstructures, to the way in which social actors live
(distortedly) their relations to their real conditions. As it was
asserted in a famous text:
The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the:
transformation of the whole immense supentrucrure. In studying such
Iranlformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the mate-
ritli fnnaformation of the economic conditions of production. which
10
BEYOND EMANCIPATION
can be distinguishN with the precision of natural science, and the legal,
political, religious, artistic or philosophic - in shon, ideological forms
in which men become conscious of this conflia and fight it out. Just as
one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so
one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness,
but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the con-
tradictions of material life, from the conOict existing between the social
forces of production and the relations of production.'
So, in this reading the dichotomic dimension becomes a
'superstructure' of the dimension of ground, and emancipation
becomes a mere rhetorical ornament of a substantive process
which has to be understood in entirely different terms. As a
result of that, the second logical requirement of this essential
turn is that we have to do away altogether with the dialectic of
incarnation. As we have seen, incarnation requires connection
between two elements through the mediation of a third external
to them, in such a way that, left to themselves, there is an
unbridgeable distance between the first tWO elements: without
the third element there would be no connection at all between
them. So incarnation was possible as long as God was part of
the expl4n4ns, but if He retreats to the background, the connect-
ion between incarnated universality and incarnating body
becomes impossible. That is, a fully rationalistic and secular
eschatology has to show the possibility of a universal actor who
is beyond the contradictions between particularity and
universality, or rather, one whose particularity expresses in a
direct way, without any system of mediations, pure and universal
human eSSence. This actor is for Marx the proletariat, whose
particularity expresses universality in such a direct fashion that
his advent is conceived as the end of the need for any process of
representation. No incarnation can take place here. But if we
look at the matter closely, we shall see that this actor, who is
presented as the only one who can carry out a true process of
emancipation, is precisely the one for whom 'emancipation' has
become a meaningless term. How do we construct the identity
of this actor? As we have seen, the agent of emancipation has to
be one whose identity is prevented in its constitution/development
by an existing oppressive regime. But if the process of
disintegration of that regime and the process of formation of the
'emancipatory' actor are the same, then We can hardly say that
slhe is oppressed by the same regime that constitutes him or her.
11
EMANCIPATION(S)
We can, of course, perfectly well argue that the proletariat is the
product of capitalist development, for only the laner creates the
separation between the direct producer and the ownership of
the means of production, but this only explains the emergence
of the proletariat as a particular subject position within capitalist
society, not the emergence of the proletariat as an emancipatory
subject. In order to have the latter, we need to show that the
capitalist negates in the worker something which is not the mere
product of capitalism. In our terminology: we need to show that
there is an antagonistic dichotomy which is not reducible to a
single ground. That is, that the condition of true emancipation
is, as we have mentioned before, a constitutive opaqueness that
no grounding can eradicate. This means that the two operations
of closure which founded the political discourse of modernity
have to be unmade. If, on the one hand, modernity started by
strictly tying representability to knowledge, the constitutive
opaqueness resulting from the dialectic of emancipation involves
not only that society is no longer transparent to knowledge, but
also - since God is no longer there to substitute knowledge by
revelation - that all representation will be necessarily partial
and will take place against the background of an essential
unrepresentability. On the other hand, this constitutive
opaqueness withdraws the ground which had made it possible to
go beyond the dialectic of incarnation, given that there is no
longer a transparent society in which the universal can show
itself in a direct unmediated way. But again, as God is no longer
there, ensuring through His word the knowledge of a universal
destiny which escapes human reason, opaqueness cannot lead to
a restoration of the dialectic of incarnation either. The death of
the ground seems to lead to the death of the universal and to the
dissolution of social struggles into mere particularism. This is
the other dimension of the emancipatory logic that we stressed
before: if the absence of a ground is the condition of radical
emancipation, the radicalism of the founding emancipatory act
cannot be conceived otherwise but as an act of grounding.
So it looks as if whatever direction we take, emancipation
becomes impossible. However, we hesitate to extend a death
certificate. For, although we have explored the logical cons-
equences which follow from each of the two alternatives taken
separately, we have still said nothing about the effects that could
derive from the social interaction of these two symmetrical
12
8EYOND EMANCIPATION
impossibilities. Let us consider the matter carefully. Emancipation
i ~ strictly linked to the destiny of the universal. If the dimension
IIf ground is going to prevail, or if emancipation is going to be
;1 true act of radical foundation, its performance cannot be the
work of any particularistic social agency. We have seen that these
twO dimensions - ground and radical chasm - are actually
incompatible, but both alternatives equally require the presence
IIf the universal. Without the emergence of the universal within
the historical terrain, emancipation becomes impossible. In
theological thought, as we have seen, this presence of the
universal was guaranteed by the logic of incarnation, which
mediated between particularistic finitude and universal task. In
secularized eschatologies, the universal had to emerge without
any kind of mediation: the 'universal class' in Marx can perform
its emancipatory job because it has become, precisely, pure human
essence which has abandoned any particularistic belonging. Now,
the ultimate logical impossibility of either a chasm which is
rruly radical, or of the dissolution of emancipation in some
version of the 'cunning of reason', seems to destroy the very
possibility of any totalizing effects. With this the only terrain in
which the universal could emerge - that is social totality - has
apparently disappeared. Does this mean that this death of the
universal, with the impossibility of emancipation as its necessary
corollary, leaves us in a purely particularistic world in which
social actors pursue only limited objectives? One moment of
reflection is enough to show us that this is not an adequate
conclusion. 'Particularism' is an essentially relational concept:
something is particular in relation to other particularities and
the ensemble of them presupposes a social totality within which
they are constituted. So, if it is the very notion of a social totality
that is in question, the notion of 'particular' identities is equally
threatened. The category of totality continues haunting us
through the effects that derive from its very absence.
This last remark opens the way to a form of conceiving the
relationship between universalism and particularism which differs
from both an incarnation of one in the other and the cancellation
of their difference and which, in fact, creates the possibility of
new discourses of liberation. These go, certainly, beyond
emancipation, but are constructed by movements taking place
within the system of alternatives generated by the latter. Let us
start our analysis with the consideration of any social antagonism
13
EMANCIPATION(S)
- for instance, a national minority which is oppressed by an
authoritarian state. There is a chasm here between the two, and
we already know that there is in all chasms a basic undecidability
as to which of its two sides the line separating them belongs. Let
us suppose that at some point other antagonistic forces - a foreign
invasion, the action of hostile economic forces, etcetera -
intervene. The national minority will see all the antagonistic
forces as equivalent threats to its own identity. Now, if there is
equivalence, this means that through all the very different
antagonistic forces something equally present in all of them is
expressed. This common element, however, cannot be something
positive because, from the point of view of their concrete positive
features, each of these forces differs from the other. So it has to
be something purely negative: the threat that each of them poses
to the national identity. The conclusion is that in a relation of
equivalence, each of the equivalent elements functions as a symbol
of negativity as such, of a certain universal impossibility which
penetrates the identity in question. To put the matter in other
terms: in an antagonistic relation, that which operates as a
negative pole of a certain identity is constitutively split. All its
contents express a general negativity transcending them. But for
that reason, the 'positive' pole cannot be reduced to its concrete
contents either: if that which opposes them is the universal form
of negativity as such, these contents have to express, through
their equivalential relation, the universal form of fullness or
identity. We are not dealing here with 'determinate negation' in
the Hegelian sense: while the latter comes out of the apparent
positivity of the concrete and 'circulates' through contents that
are always determinate, our notion of negativity depends on the
failure in the constitution of all determination.
This constitutive split shows the emergence of the universal
within the particular. But it shows as well that the relation
between particularity and universality is an essentially unstable
and undecidable one. What particular content was going to
incarnate universality was God's decision in Christian eschat-
ologies and wall, as a result, entirely fixed and predetermined.
AT. selt-transparent universality was a moment in the rational
self·development of particularity, which particular actor was
going to abolish his or her distance from the universal, was
lomething equally fixed by essential determinations in the
H ... lianJMarxist vision of history. But if the universal results
14
8!YOND EMANCIPATION
from a constitutive split in which the negation of a particular
identity transforms this identity in the symbol of identity and
fullness as such, in that case, we have to conclude that: (1) the
universal has no content of its own, but is an absent fullness or,
rather, the signifier of fullness as such, of the very idea of fullness;
(2) the universal can only emerge out of the particular, because
it is only the negation of a particular content that transforms
that content in the symbol of a universality transcending it; (3)
since, however, the universal - taken by itself - is an empty
signifier, what particular content is going to symbolize the latter
is something which cannot be determined either by an analysis
of the particular in itself or of the universal. The relation between
the two depends on the context of the antagonism and it is, in
the strict sense of the term, a hegemonic operation. It is as if the
undecidable line separating the two poles of the dichotomy had
expanded its undecidable effects to the interior of the poles
themselves, to the very relation between universality and
particularity.
Let us now consider, in the light of these conclusions, what
happens to the six dimensions of the notion of emancipation
with which we started. The dimension of ground, we have shown,
is incompatible with emancipation and it also involves us in
insurmountable logical aporias. Does this, however, mean that
we can have no further dealings with the notion of 'ground',
that it has to be merely abandoned? Obviously not, if for no
other reason than because disaggregation and particularism,
which constitute the only possible alternative, presuppose, at
the same time that they deny, the notion of ground. It is possible,
however, to make the interplay of these incompatible logics the
very locus of a certain political productivity. Particularity both
denies and requires totality, that is the ground. These contra-
dictory movements expres.s themselves in what we have called
the constitutive split of all concrete identity. Totality is impossible
and, at the same time, is required by the particular: in that
sense, it is present in the particular as that which is absent, as a
constitutive lack which constantly forces the particular to be
more than itself, to assume a universal role which can only be
precarious and unsutured. It is because of this that we can have
democratic politics: a succession of finite and particular identities
which attempt to assume universal tasks surpassing them; but
that, as a result, are never able to entirely conceal the distance
15
EMANCIPATJON(S)
between task and identity, and can always be substituted by
alternative groups. Incompletion and provisionality belong to
the essence of democracy.
[t goes without saying that the holistic dimension moves along
the same path as the dimension of ground: the two of them are,
in fact, the same dimension seen from two different angles. As
far as the rationalistic dimension is concerned, we should take
into account that the secularist turn of modernity involved both
the assertion that the meaning of history is not to be found
outside history itself. that there is no supernatural power
operating as the ultimate source of everything that exists. and
the very different assertion that this purely worldly succession
of events is an entirely rational process that human beings can
intellectually master. Thus reason reoccupies the terrain that
Christianity had attributed to God. But the eclipse of the ground
deprives reason of its all-embracing abilities and only the first
assertion (or rather commitment). the inrraworldly character of
all explanation. remains. Reason is necessary, but it is also
impossible. The presence of its absence is shown in the various
attempts to 'rationalize' the world that finite social agents carry
out. Precariousness and ultimate failure (if we persist in measuring
success by an old rationalistic standard) are certainly the destiny
of these attempts, but through this failure we gain something
perhaps more precious than the certainty that we are losing: a
freedom v;s-d-v;s the different forms of identification, which are
impotent to imprison us within the network of an unappealable
logic. The same applies to the dimension of transparency: total
representability is no longer there as a possibility. but this does
not mean that its necessity has been eradicated. This unbridgeable
gap between possibility and necessity leads straight into what
Nietzsche called a 'war of interpretations'. If limited and finite
beings try to know, to make the world transparent to themselves.
it is impossible that this limitation and finitude is not transmitted
to the products of their intellectual activity. [n this sense. the
abandonment of the aspiration to 'absolute' knowledge has
exhilarating effects: on the one hand, human beings can recognize
themselves as the true creators and no longer as the passive
recipients of a predetermined structure; on the other hand, as
.UlOCi.1 agentl have to recognize their concrete finitude, nobody
can •• pire to he the true consciousness of the world. This opens
16
BEYOND EMANCIPATION
(he way to an endless interaction between various perspectives and
makes ever more distant the possibility of any totalitarian dream.
What about those aspects that arc incompatible with the
dimension of ground and the ones depending on it? As we have
seen, the dichotomic dimension presupposes the structural
location of a ground and, at the same time, makes the latter
unthinkable. Only if it takes place at the level of a ground of the
social is the chasm constituting the dichotomy radical from the
point of view of its location, but the operation that the dichotomy
performs - the separation of emancipation from a totally alien
past - is logically incompatible with the notion of such a structural
location. Now, as in the case of the other dimensions, some
positive consequences follow from this double movement of self-
positing and withdrawal of the ground. The most important one
is that if, on the one hand, no dichotomy is absolute, there can
be no act of fully revolutionary foundation; but if, on the other
hand, this dichotomi:tation is not the result of an elimination of
radical otherness but, on the contrary, of the very impossibility
of its total eradication, partial and precarious dichotomies have
to be constitutive of the social fabric. This precariousness and
incompletion of the frontiers constituting social division are at
the root of the contemporary possibility of a general
autonomization of social struggles - the so-called new wcial
movements - instead of subordinating them to a unique frontier
which would be the only source of social division. Finally, the
pre-existence of the identity to be emancipated lIis-d-lIis the
oppressive forces is also subverted and submitted to the same
contradictory movement that the other dimensions experience.
In classical discourses, the emancipated identities had to pre-
exist the act of emancipation as a result of their radical otherness
lIis-d-vis the forces opposing them. It is true that this is
unavoidable in any antagonistic struggle; but if, at the same
time, dichotomization is not truly radical - and as we have just
seen it cannot be 50 - then the identity of the oppressive forces
has to be in some way inscribed in the identity searching for
emancipation. This contradictory situation is expressed in the
undecidability between internality and externality of the
oppressor in relation to the oppressed: to be oppressed is part of
my identity as a subject struggling for emancipation; without
the presence of the oppressor my identity would be different.
17
EMANCIPATION(S)
The constitution of the latter requires and at tbe same time
rejects the presence of the other.
Contemporary social struggles are bringing to the fore this
contradictory movement that the emancipatory discoune of both
religious and modern secularized eschatologies had concealed
and repressed. We are today coming to terms with our own
finitude and with the political possibilities that it opens. This is
tbe point from which the potentially liberatory discourses of
our postmodern age have to start. We can perhaps say that today
we are at the end of emancipation and at the beginning of
freedom.
1
Notes
1. Karl Man, A COlltribtdiml '0 lb. erl,""" of PolirU:1Il &OftOlII)', London,
LawullCe lind Wilbut 1971, p. 24.
2. Since this cuay wu .. risinAlly published in 1992, a comiderable SCI of
mi.understandinp hat arilen around its 11151 scnrence. Does aliening tbllt we
are at the beainning of freedom imply nqaling COIerytbing that the enay
lustains? If freedom is self-determination, in wbat sense would that freedom
be different from the one poltulaled by tbe danical nOlion of emancipation1
It is neceaar" to diSliipale this misunderstanding. By freedom I do not mean a
poIitive and unnuanced fullneu, but somethiog eIKotially ambiguoul. To make
this point perfectly dear, I wanl to reproduce the last question (together with
my answer) that David Howartb and Aletta Norval put to me in a recent
interview for the journal A,.,,,/ ... ; ('Nqotiating the Paradoxes of ConremporlUJ
Politics. AD Inter .. iew with Ernesto Lad.u', ANp/.A!i, Oxford, Anselaki 1994,
1:3, pp. 43-50).
D.H. a.d A.N: In yonr work the category of dislocation hu taken on a
morc and more cenlral role. Tbis is 10 especially with rqard to your daim
tbat 'dislocation is the source of freedom'. A number of question. regarding
the relation between dislocation and freedom. and Ihe nature of freedom
ieself, arise here. It is with the nature of the movement from dislocation to
'freedom' that we arc mainly conl:emed. How are we to understand the nature
of this freedom? You distance yourself \'Cry clearly Irom accounr. which
emphuiu the 'freedom of a subject with a positive identity' (N,w RIf/"ctioJlS
0" the IUlIO/raio,. of Our Tim" Verso 1990, p. 60). arguing that freedom here
is that of a 'structural fawI'. Thus, freedom has no positive contents but is
'mere pOlSibility'. However. leen from tbe vantage point of dislocation, there
il no freedom here. The failure of the structure fall" to constitute the subject,
forces the subject to be subject, to rake a decision, 10 act, to identify anew. We
have to respond, we are not free. It seems, therefore. that the relation of
dislocation/freedom could be thought more produl:tively. by emphasizins both
the dimension of possibility and in impossibility. That i, to "y. rather than
.imply being free to act, to dtOOIC in • Sartrean KOSC. the moment of freedom
Ind pOSlibilily is simultaneously the moment of my greatest constraint, of
unfreedom. Tlking this laner dimenaion into account could - to come back to
uur silualion - help 10 make sense of the experience of dislocation
II nol heinl i"o f,"'o aomerhins positive and wonhy of celebration. In other
18
BEYOND EMANCIPATION
wllrcls, would you agree that Stressing the terror and force at the hean of
freedom, has to form part of our very al:count of the possihilities arisinll out
.. I severe
E.L: J could not agree more with your tonclusion. As yuu cogently point
lilli, the experlenl:e of dislocation is not ipso faCIO 'something positive and
... "rthy of celebration'. But this also means rhat, if freedom and dislocation are
rd.lled in the way J havc SUllllested - that you sccm to accept - thc vcry
upericnl:c of frcedom is ambiguous. For rhar reason, although as J said, I
\lIh.crihe to your conclusion, J cannot follow you in one of rhe intcrmediatc
""'tles of your argumcnr, when you asscrt rhar, because the failure of rhe
_\rUClure 'forccs rhe subjcl:t to bc a when we are furced to respond
we are unfree. If this was so, we would cenainly be In Ihe best of all possible
worlds: the villain of thc piece would be 'dislocation', while 'freedom', ali
lack of consuaint, would be preserved as an uncontaminated posilivc
value. But. as you yourself recognile. Ihis impecnblc solulion is impossible:
freedom and dislocation cannot be scparated rhar way. On the one hand. a
freedom that dislocation doci nOl coercc 10 choose, would not be my freedom
bur Ihe freedom of the slIuCture which has l:oDstruCied me as a subjcct. On the
other hand, a freedom which is my freedom, which avoids both rhe pitfalls of
the Splnozian freedom, reduced to n; necessity, and the Saruean
Ireedom of being a chooser who has no longcr :IDY grounds to choosc, can
only be the freedum of II structural failure - i.e. dislontion. But in thar casc
Ihe 3mbilluity of dislocation (what you call 'the terror and force 3t the hean of
freedom') contaminates frcedom itself. Freedom is both liberating IIDd enslavinJl,
exhilarating and traumatic, enahlinll and destructive. In a fragmented and
heterogeneous society, the spaces of freedom I:enainly increase, bur this is nUl
.I phenomenon which is uniformly positive. because it also in,ull. in those
.paces the ambiguity of freedom. As a result, the possibility emerges of more
radical attempts at renouncing freedom than those that we have known in the
past. If freedom and dislocation go together, it is in the terrain of a lIeneralind
freedom that CIIperiences such as those of contemporary totalitarianism become
pnssible. If rhis is so, it means that the quest for an absolute freedom for the
subject is tantamount to a quest for an unrestricted disloc:nion and rhe total
disintegration of the social fabric. It allo meanl that a democratic society
which has becomc a viable social order will not be a totally free society, but
line which has nCllmiated in a 5p«ihC way the duality frecdomlunfreedonl.
19
2
U ni versalism, Particularism
and the Question of Identity
There is today a lot of talk about social, ethnic, national and
political identities. The 'death of the subject', which was proudly
proclaimed urbi et orb; not so long ago, has been succeeded by a
new and widespread interest in the multiple identities that are
emerging and proliferating in our contemporary world. These two
movements are not, however, in such a complete and dramatic
contrast as we would be tempted to believe at first sight. Perhaps
the death of the Subject (with a capital 'S') has been the main
precondition of this renewed interest in the question of subjectivity.
It is perhaps the very impossibility of any longer referring the
concrete and finite expressions of a multifarious subjectivity to a
transcendental centre that makes it possible to concentrate our
attention on the multiplicity itself. The founding gestures of the
1960s are still with us, making possible the political and theoretical
explorations in which we are today engaged.
If there was, however, this temporal gap between what had
become theoretically thinkable and what was actually achieved,
it is because a second and more subtle temptation haunted the
intellectual imaginary of the Left for a while: that of replacing
the transcendental subject with its symmetrical other, that of
reinscribing the multifarious forms of undomesticated
subjectivities in an objective totality. From this derived a concept
which had a great deal of currency in our immediate prehistory:
that of 'subject positions'. But this was not, of course, a real
transcending of the problematic of transcendental subjectivity
(something which haunts us as an absence is, indeed, very much
present). 'History is a process without a subject'. Perhaps. But
how do we know it? Is not the very possibility of such an
assertion already requiring what one was trying to avoid? If
UNIVERSALISM. PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION Of IDENTITY
history as a totality is a possible object of experience and
tliscourse, who could be the subject of such an experience but
rhe subject of an absolute knowledge? Now, if we try to avoid
this pitfall. and negate the terrain that would make that assertion
a meaningful one. what becomes problematic is the very notion
of 'subject position'.
What could such a position be but a special location within a
totality. and what could this totality be but the object of
experience of an absolute subject? At the very moment in which
[he terrain of absolute subjectivity collapses, it also collapses the
very possibility of an absolute object. There is no real alternative
between Spinol.a and Hegel. But this locates us in a very different
terrain: one in which the very possibility of the subject/object
distinction is the simple result of the impossibility of constituting
either of its two terms. I am a subject precisely because I cannot
he an absolute consciousness, because something constitutively
alien confronts me; and there can be no pure object as a result
of this opaqueness/alienation which shows the traces of the
subject in the object. Thus. once objectivism disappeared as an
'epistemological obstacle'. it became possible to develop the full
implications of the 'death of the subject'. At that point, the
latter showed the secret poison that inhabited it, the possibility
of its second death: 'the death of the death of the subject'; the
re-emergence of the subject as a result of its own death; the
proliferation of concrete finitudes whose limitations are the
source of their strength; the realization that there can be
'subjects' because the gap that 'the Subject' was supposed to
bridge is actually unbridgeable.
This is not just abstract speculation; it is instead an intellectual
way opened by the very terrain in which history has thrown us:
rhe multiplication of new - and not so new - identities as a
result of the collapse of the places from which the universal
subjects spoke: - the explosion of ethnic and national identities
in Eastern Europe and in the territories of the former USSR,
struggles of immigrant groups in Western Europe, new forms of
multicultural protest and self-assertion in the USA, to which we
have to add the gamut of forms of contestation associated with
the new social movements. Now, the question arises: is this
proliferation thinkable iust as proliferation - that is, simply in
terms of its multiplicity? To put the problem in its simplest
terms: is particularism thinkable iust as particularism, only out
21
EMANCIPATION(S)
of the differential dimension that it asserts? An the relations
between universalism and particularism simple relations of
mutual exclusion? Or, if we address the matter from the opposite
angle: does the alternative between an essential objectivism and
a transcendental subjectivism exhaust the range of language
games that it is possible to play with the 'universal'?
These are the main questions that I am going to address. I will
not pretend that the piau of questioning does not affect the
nature of the questions, and that the latter do not predetermine
the kind of answer to be expected. Not all roads lead to Rome.
But by confessing the tendentious nature of my intervention, I
am giving the reader the only freedom that it is in my power to
grant: that of stepping outside of my discourse and rejecting its
validity in terms which are entirely incommensurable with it.
So, in offering you some surfaces of inscription for the
formulation of questio"s rather than answers. I am engaging in
a power struggle for which there is a name: hegemony.
Let us start by considering the historical forms in which the
relationship between universality and particularity has been
thought. A first approach asserts: <a> that there is an
uncontaminated dividing line between the universal and the
particular; and (b) that the pole of the universal is entirely
graspable by reason. In that case, there is no possible mediation
between universality and particularity: the particular can only
corrup' the universal. We are in the terrain of classical ancient
philosophy. Either the particular realizes in itself the universal -
that is it eliminates itself as particular and transforms itself in a
transparent medium through which universality operates - or it
negates the universal by asserting its particularism (but 8.'1 the
latter is purely irrational, it has no entity of its own and can
only exist as corruption of heing). The obvious question concerns
the frontier dividing universality and particularity: is it universal
or particular? If the latter, universality can only be a particularity
which defines itself in terms of a limitless exclusion. if tbe
former, the particular itself becomes part of the universal and
the dividing line is again blurred. But tbe very possibility of
formulating this last question would require tbat the form of
universality as such is subjected to a clear differentiation from
the actual co"tents to which it is associated. The thought of this
difference, however, is not available to ancient philosophy.
The second possibility in thinking of the relation between
22
IINIVERSAl.ISM, PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
IIniversality and particularity is related to Christianity. A point
uf view of the totality exists bllt it i!; God's, not ours, so that it
I!> not accessible to human reason. Credo quia absurdum. Thus,
the universal is mere event in an eschatological succession, only
.u:cessible to us through revelation. This involves an entirely
different conception of the relationship between particularity
ilnd universality. The dividing line cannot be, as in ancient
though.t, that between rationality and irrationality, between a
IJeep and a superficial layer within the thing, but that between
Iwn series of events: those of a finite and contingent succession
nn the one hand, and those of the eschatological series on the
lither. Because the designs of God are inscrutable, the deep layer
cannot be a timeless world of rational forms, but a temporal
lillccession of essential events which are opaque to human reason;
and because each of these universal moments has to realize itself
111 a finite reality which has no common measure with them, the
.. clation between the two orders also has to be an opaque and
Incomprehensible one. This type of relation was called incarn-
;ltion, its distinctive feature being that between the universal
,lnd the body incarnating it there is no rational connection
whatsoever. God is the only and absolute mediator. A subtle
logic destined to have a profound influence on our intellectual
rradition was started in this way: that of the privileged agent of
history, the agent whose particular body was the expression of a
universality transcending it. The modern idea of a 'universal
dass' and the various forms of Eurocentrism are nothing but the
distant historical effects of the logic of incarnation.
Not entirely so, however, because modernity at its highest
point was, to a large extent. the attempt to interrupt the logic of
incarnation. God, as the absolute source of everything existing,
was replaced in its function of universal guarantor by reason,
but a rational ground and source has a logic of its own, which is
very different from that of a divine intervention - the main
difference being that the effects of a rational grounding have to
be fully transparent to human reason. Now, this requirement is
entirely incompatible with the logic of incarnation; if everything
has to be transparent to reason, the connection between the
universal and the body incarnating it also has to be so; in that
case, the incommensurability between the universal to be
incarnated and the incarnating body has to be eliminated. We
have to postulate a body which is, in and of itself, the universal.
23
F.MANCIPATION(S)
The full realization of these implications took several centuries.
Descartes postulated a dualism in which the ideal of a full
rationality still refused to become a principle of reorganization
of the social and political world; but the main currents of the
Enlightenment were going to establish a sharp frontier between
the past, which was the realm of mistakes and follies of men,
and a rational future, which had to be the rcsult of an act of
absolute institution. A last stage in the advance of this rational-
istic hegemony took place when the gap between the rational
and the irrational was closed through the representation of the
act of its cancellation as a necessary moment in the self-
development of reason: this was the task of Hegel and Marx,
who asserted the total transparency, in absolute knowledge, of
the real to reason. The body of the proletariat is no longer a par-
ticular body in which a universality external to it has to be
incarnated: it is instead a body in which the distinction between
parricularity and universality is cancelled and, as a result, the
need for any incarnation is definitely eradicated.
This was the point, however, at which social reality refused to
abandon its resistance to universalistic rationalism. For an
unsolved problem still remained. The universal had found its
own body, but this was still the body of a certain particularity -
European culture of the nineteenth century. So European culture
was a particular one, and at the same time the expression - no
longer the incarnation - of universal human essence (as the USSR
was going to be considered later the 'motherland' of socialism).
The crucial issue here is that there was no intellectual means of
distinguishing between European particularism and the universal
functions that it was supposed to incarnate, given that European
universalism had constructed its identity precisely through the
cancellarion of the logic of incarnation and, as a result, through
the universalization of its own particularism. So, European
imperialist expansion had to be presented in terms of a universal
civilizing function, modernization and so forth. The resistances
of other cultures were, as a result, presented not as struggles
between particular identities and cultures, but as part of an all-
embracing and epochal struggle between universality and
particularisms - the notion of peoples without history expressing
precisely their incapacity to represent the universal.
This argument could be conceived in very explicit racist terms,
as in the various forms of social Darwinism, but it could also be
24
UNIVEIlSAlISM, PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
Klven some more 'progressive' versions - as in some sectors of
.he Second International- by asserting that the civilizing mission
tlf Europe would finish with the establishment of a universally
I reed society of planetary dimensions. Thus, the logic of
Ilu:arnation was reint.roduced - Europe having to represent, for
a certain period, universal human interests. In the case of
Marxism, a similar reintroduction of the logic of incarnation
rakes place. Between the universal character of the tasks of the
working class and the particularity of its concrete demands an
increasing gap opened, which had to be filled by the Party as
representative of the historical interests of the proletariat. The
gap between class itself and class for itself opened the way to a
of substitutions: the Party replaced the class, the
autocrat the Party, and so on. Now, this well-known migration
nf the universal through the successive bodies incarnating it
.Iiffered in one crucial point from Christian incarnation. In the
hitter a supernatural power was responsible both for the advent
IIf the universal event and for the body which had to incarnate
rhe latter. Human beings were on an equal footing vis-a-vis a
I,ower that transcended all of them. In the case of a secular
eschatology, however, as the source of the universal is not
external but internal to the world, the universal can only
manifest itself through the establishment of an essential
inequality between the objective positions of the social agents.
Some of them are going to be privileged agents of historical
change, not as a result of a contingent relation of forces but
because they are incarnations of the universal. The same type of
logic operating in Eurocentrism will establish the ontological
privilege of the proletariat.
As this ontological privilege is the result of a process which
was conceived as entirely rational, it was doubled into an
epistemological privilege: the point of view of the proletariat
supersedes the opposition subject/object. In a classless society,
social relations will finally be fully transparent. It is true that if
the increasing simplification of the social structure under
capitalism had taken place in the way predicted by Marx, the
consequences of this approach would not necessarily have been
authoritarian. because the position of the proletariat as bearer
of the viewpoint of social totality and the position of the vast
majority of the population would have overlapped. But if the
process moved - as it did - in the opposite direction, the
2S
EMANCIPATION(S)
successive bodies incarnating the viewpoint of the universal
class had to have an increasingly remitted social base. The vanguard
party, as concrete particularity, had to claim to have knowledge
of the 'objective meaning' of any event, and the viewpoint of the
other particular social forces had to be dismissed as false
consciousness. From this point on, the authoritarian turn was
unavoidable.
This whole story is apparently leading to an inevitable
conclusion: the chasm between the universal and the particular
is unbridgeable - which is the same as saying that the universal
is no more than a particular that at some moment has become
dominant, that there is no way of reaching a reconciled society.
And, in actual fact, the spectacle of the social and political
struggles of the 19905 seems to confront us, as we said before,
with a proliferation of particularisms, while the point of view of
universality is increasingly put aside as an old-fashioned
totalitarian dream. However, I will argue that an appeal to pure
particularism is no solution to the problems that we are facing
in contemporary societies. In the first place, the assertion of
pure particularism, independently of any content and of the
appeal to a universality transcending it, is a self-defeating
enterprise. For if it is the only accepted normative principle, it
confronts us with an unsolvable paradox. I can defend the right
of sexual, racial and national minorities in the name of
particularism; but if particularism is the only valid principle, I
have to also accept the rights to self-determination of all kinds
of reactionary groups involved in antisocial practices. Even
more: as the demands of various groups will necessarily clash
with each other, we have to appeal - short of postulating some
kind of pre-established harmony - to some more general
principles in order to regulate such dashes. In actual fact, there
is no particularism which does not make appeal to such
principles in the construction of its own idenrity. These principles
can be progressive in our appreciation, such as the right of
peoples to self-determination - or reactionary, such as social
Darwinism or the right to Lebensraum - but they are always
there, and for essential reasons.
There is a second and perhaps more important reason why
pure particularism is self-defeating. Let us accept, for the sake
of the argument, that the above-mentioned pre-established
harmony is possible. In that case, the various particularisms
26
UNIVERSALISM, PARTICULAIlISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
wnuld not be in antagonistic relation with each other, but would
,"('xist one with the other in a coherent whole. This hypothesis
_hllWs clearly why the argument for pure particularism is
ultimately inconsistent. For if each identity is in a differential,
IIIIII-antagonistic relation to all other identities, then the identity
III \fuestion is purely differential and relational; so it presupposes
IIl1t only the presence of all the other identities but also the total
Kround which constitutes the differences as differences. Even
Wtlfsc: we know very well that the relations between groups are
wnstituted as relations of power - that is, that each group is not
IIlIly different from the others but constitutes in many cases
\nch difference on the basis of the exclusion and subordination
CI' other groups. Now, if the particularity asserts itself as mere
particularity, in a purely differential relation with other partic-
ularities, it is sanctioning the status quo in the relation of power
hctween the groups. This is exactly the notion of 'separate
tlevelopments' as formulated in apartheid: only the differential
aspect is stressed, while the relations of power on which the
latter is based are systematically ignored.
This last example is important because. coming from a
discursive universe - South African apartheid - which is quite
opposite to that of the neW particularisms that we are discussing,
and revealing, however, the same ambiguities in the construction
of any difference, it opens the way to an understanding of a
dimension of the relationship particularism/universalism which
has generally been disregarded. The basic point is this: I cannot
assert a differential identity without distinguishing it hom a
context, and, in the process of making the distinction, I am
asserting the context at the same time. And the opposite is also
true: I cannot destroy a context without destroying at the same
time the identity of the particular subject who carries out the
destruction. It is a very well known historical fact that an
oppOSitionist force whose identity is constructed within a certain
system of power is ambiguous vis-a-vis that system, because the
latter is what prevents the constitution of the identity and it is,
at the same time, its condition of existence. And any victory
against the system also destabilizes the identity of the victorious
force.
Now, an important corollary of this argument is that if a fully
achieved difference eliminates the antagonistic dimension as
constitutive of any identity, the possibility of maintaining this
27
EMANCIPATION(S)
dimension depends on the very failure in the full constitution of
a differential identity. It is here that the 'universal' enters into
the scene. Let us suppose that we are dealing with the constit-
ution of the identity of an ethnic minority for instance. As we
said earlier, if this differential identity is fully achieved, it can
only be so within a context - for instance, a nation-state - and
the price to be paid for total victory within the context is total
integration with it. If, on the contrary, total integration does not
take place, it is because that identity is not fully achieved - there
are, for instance, unsatisfied demands concerning access to
education, to employment, to consumer goods and so on. These
demands cannot be made in terms of difference, but of some
universal principles that the ethnic minority shares with the rest
of the community: the right of everybody to have access to good
schools, or live a decent life, or participate in the public space of
citizenship, and so on.
This means that the universal is part of my identity as far as I am
penetrated by a constitutive lack, that is as far as my differential
identity has failed in its process of constitution. The universal
emerges out of the particular not as some principle underlying and
explaining the particular, but as an incomplete horizon suturing a
dislocated particular identity. This points to a way of conceiving
the relations between the universal and the particular which is
different from those that we have explored earlier. In the case of
the logic of incarnation, the universal and the particular were fully
constituted but totally separated identities, whose connection was
the result of a divine intervention, impenetrable to human reason.
In the case of secularized eschatologies, the particular had to be
eliminated entirely: the universal class was conceived as the
cancellation of all differences. [n the case of extreme particularism
there is no universal body - but, as the ensemble of non-antagonistic
particularities purely and simply reconstructs the notion of social
totality, the classical notion of the universal is not put into question
in the least. (A universal conceived as a homogeneous space
differentiated by its internal articulations and a system of differences
constituting a unified ensemble are exactly the same.) Now we are
pointing to a fourth alternative: the universal is the symbol of a
missing fullness and the particular exists only in the contradictory
movement of asserting at the same time a differential identity and
cancelling it through its subsumption in the non-differential
medium.
28
IINlvnSALISM, PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
I will devote the rest of this paper to diKUssing three important
"uliliul conclusions that one can derive from this fourth alter-
IIltllve. The first is that the construction of differential identities
1111 the basis of total closure to what is outside them is not a
Ylllhic or progressive political alternative. It would be a
u'IKliunary policy in Western Europe today, for instance, for
IIlIIlIigrants from Northern Mrica or Jamaica to abstain from all
,llIrlil:ipation in Western European institutions, with the
,IINlifil:ation that theirs is a different cultural identity and that
I'.uropean institutions are not their concern. In this way, all forms
!If and exclusion would be consolidated with the
rx(use of maintaining pure identities. The logic of apartheid is
nut only a discourse of the dominant groups; as we said before,
it (an also permeate the identities of the oppressed. At its very
limit, understood as mere difference, the discourse of the
and the discourse of the oppressed cannot be
Jistinguished. The reason for this we have given earlier: if the
lip pressed is defined by its difference from the oppressor, such a
difference is an essential component of the identity of the
IIppressed. But in that case, the latter cannot assert its identity
without asserting that of the oppressor as well:
" y a bien des dangers a invoquer des differences pures, liberees de
"identique, devenucs independantes du negatif. Le plus grand danger
est de tomber dans les representations de la belle-arne: rien que des
differences, conciliables et federables, loin des luttes sanglantes. La belle·
dit: nous sommes differentes, main non pas 1
The idea of 'negative' implicit in the dialectical notion of
lOntradiction is unable to take us beyond this conservative logic
of pure difference. A negative which is part of the determination
of a positive content is an integral part of the latter. This is what
shows the two faces of Hegel's Logic: if, on the one hand, the
inversion defining the speculative proposition means that the
predicate becomes subject, and that a universality transcending
all particular determinations 'circulates' through the latter, on
the other hand, that circulation has a direction dictated by the
movement of the particular determinations themselves, and is
strictly reduced to it. Dialectical negativity does not question in
the least the logic of identity (= the logic of pure difference).
This shows the ambiguity which is inherent in all forms of
radical opposition: the opposition, in order to be radical, has to
29
IiMANCIPATION(S)
put in a common ground both what it asserts and what it
excludes, so that the exclusion becomes a particular form of
assertion. But this means that a particularism really committed
to change can only do so by rejecting both what denies its own
identity and that identity itself. There is no dear-cut solution to
the paradox of radically negating a system of power while
remaining in secret dependency on it. It is well known how
opposition to certain forms of power requires identification with
the very places from which the opposition takes place; as the
latter are, however, internal to the opposed system, there is a
certain conservatism inherent in all opposition. The reason why
this is unavoidable is that the ambiguity inherent in all
antagonistic relation is something we can negotiate with but not
actually supersede - we can play with both sides of the ambiguity
and produce results by preventing any of them prevailing in an
exclusive way, but the ambiguity as such cannot be properly
resolved. To surpass an ambiguity involves going beyond both its
poles. but this means that there can be no simple politics of
preservation of an identity. If the racial or cultural minority, for
instance, has to assert its identity in new social surroundings, it
will have to take into account new situations which will
inevitably transform that identity. This means, of course, moving
away from the idea of negation as radical reversal.
l
The main
consequence that follows is that, if the politics of difference
means continuity of difference by being always an other, the
rejection of the other cannot be radical elimination either, but
constant renegotiation of the forms of his presence. Aletta J.
Norval asked herself recently about identities in a post-apartheid
society:
The question looming on the horizon is this: what are the implications
of recognizing that the identity of the other is constirutive of the s e l ~ in
a situation where apanheid itself will have become: something of the
past? That is, how do we think of sucial and political identities as post·
apanheid?
And after asserting that:
[1)1 the other is merely rejected, externalized in tuto in the movement in
which apartheid receives its signified, we would have effected a reversal
of the order, remaining in effect in the terrain in which apartheid has
organiud and ruled ...
30
IINIVF.RSAI.ISM, PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
.he: points to a different possibility:
rhrough a of apartheid as other, post-apartheid could
Ion ume ,he site from which rhe final dosure and suturing of identities is
It> be prevented. Paradoxically, :I post-apartheid society will then only
hI' radially beyond apartheid in so tar ,'IS apartheid itself is present in it
irs other. Irn;tcad of being effaced once and for all, 'apartheid' Itself
wnuld have to play the role of ,he element keepmg open the relation to
the other, of serving as watchword against any discourse daiming to be
able: to create a final unity. I
Thi!> argument can be generalized. Everything hinges on which
Clf the two equally possible movements leading to the suppression
IIf oppression is initiated. None can avoid maintaining the
reference to the 'other', hut they do so in two completely
,Iifferent ways. If we simply invert the relation of oppres-'Iion,
I he other (the former oppressor) is maintained as what is now
uppressed and repressed, but this inversion of the contents leaves
Ih" form of oppression unchanged. And as the identity o'(ihe
lIewly emancipated groups has been constituted through the
£t·jection of the old dominant ones, the lalter continue shaping
the: identity of the former. The operation of inversion takes place
"ntirely within the old formal system of power. But as we have
seen, all political identity is internally split, because no
J13rticularity can be c:onstituted except by maintaining an internal
reference to universality as that which is missing. But in that
case, the identity of the oppressor will equally be split: on the
line hand, he will represent a particular system of oppressiun;
tin the other, he will symbolize the form of oppression as such.
This is what makes the second move suggested in Norval's text
possible: instead of inverting a particular relation of uppressionl
dusure in what it has of concrete particularity, inverting it in
what it has of universality: the form of oppression and closure
as such. The reference to the other is also maintained here but,
as the inversion takes place at the level of the universal reference
and not of the concrete contents of an oppressive system, the
identities of both oppressors and oppressed are radically
changed. A similar argument was made by Walter Benjamin with
reference to Sorel's distinction between political strike and
proletarian strike: while the political strike aims at obtaining
concrete reforms that change a system of power and thereby
constitute a new power, the proletarian strike aims at the
31
I!MANCIPATION(S)
destruction of power as such, of the very form of power, and in
this sense it does not have any particular objective.
4
These remarks allow us to throw some light on the divergent
courses of action that current struggles in defence of multi-
culturalism can follow. One possible way is to affirm, purely
and simply, the right of the various cultural and ethnic groups to
assert their differences and their separate development. This is
the route to self-apartheid, and it is sometimes accompanied by
the claim that Western cultural values and institutions are the
preserve of white, male Europeans or Anglo-Americans and have
nothing to do with the identity of .other groups living in the
same territory. What is advocated in this way is total segregation-
ism, the mere opposition of one panicularism to another. Now,
it is true that the assenion of any particular identity involves. as
one of its dimensions, the affirmation of the right to a separate
existence. But it is here that the difficult questions stan. because
the separation - or better, the right to difference - has to be
asserted within the global community - that is within a space in
which that particular group has to coexist with other groups.
Now, how could that coexistence be possible without some
shared universal values, without a sense of helonging to a
community larger than each of the particular groups in question?
Here people sometimes say that any agreement should be reached
through negotiation. Negotiation, however, is an ambiguous term
that can mean very different things. One of these is a process of
mutual pressures and concessions whose outcome depends only
on the balance of power between antagonistic groups. It is
obvious that no sense of community can be constructed through
that type of negotiation. The relation between groups can only
be one of potential war. Vis pacis para bellum. This is not far
away from the conception of the nature of the agreement
between groups implicit in the Leninist conception of class
alliances: the agreement concerns only cin:umstantial matters,
but the identity of the forces entering it remains uncontaminated
by the process of negotiation. Translated into the cultural field,
this affirmation of an extreme separatism led to the sharp
distinction between bourgeois science and proletarian science.
Gramsci was well aware that, in spite of the extreme diversity of
the social forces that had to enter into the construction of a
hegemonic identity, no collective will and no sense of community
could result from such a conception of negotiation and alliances.
32
IINIVI-R!>AlISM, PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
nit· dilemma of the defenders of extreme particularism is that
'!.,"Ir political action is anchored in a perpetual incoherence. On
I hc' nllC hand, they defend the right to difference as a universal
Illdll, and this defence involves their engagement in struggles
1m dlanges in legislation, for the protection of minorities in
'Ullrts, against the violation of civil rights, and so forth. That is
Iln.·y arc engaged in a struggle for the internal reform of the
I'rrscnt institutional setting. But on the other hand, as they
'"lIultaneously assert both that this setting is necessarily rooted
III the cultural and political values of the: traditional dominant
.rc.:tors of the West a"d that they have nothi"g to do with that
',aditio", their demands cannot be articulated into any wider
hcgemonic operation to reform the system. This condemns them
In an ambiguous peripheral relation with the existing institutions,
which can have only paralyzing political effects.
This is not, however, the only possible course of action for
Ihuse engaged in particularistic struggles - and this is our second
,·unclusion. As we have seen before, a system of oppression (that
IS of closure) can be combated in two different ways - either by
.111 operation of inversion which performs a new closure, or by
negating in that system its universal dimension: the principle of
f10sure as such. It is one thing to say that the universalistic
Vililies of the West are the preserve of its traditional dominant
it is vety different to assert that the historical link
bctween the two is a contingent and unacceptable fact which
be modified through political and social struggles. When
Mary Wollstonecraft, in the wake of the French Revolution,
defended the rights of women, she did not present the exclusion
uf women from the declaration of the rights of man and citizen
as a proof that the latter are intrinsically male rights, but tried,
un the contrary, to deepen the democratic revolution by showing
the incuherence of establishing universal rights which were
restricted to particular sectors of the pupulatiun. The democratic
process in present-day societies can be considerably deepened
and expanded if it is made accountable to the demands of large
sections of the population - minorities, ethnic groups and so on
who traditionally have been excluded from it. Liberal
democratic theury and institutions have in this sense, to be
deconstructed. As they were originally thought for sodeties
which were far more homogeneous than the present ones, they
were based on all kinds of unexpressed assumptions which no
33
F.MANCIPATION(S)
longer obtain in the present situation. Present-day social and
political struggles can bring to the fore this game of decisions
taken in an undecidable terrain, and help us to move in the
direction of new democratic practices and a new democratic
theory which is fully adapted to the present circumstances. That
political participation can lead to political and social integration
is certainly true, but for the reasons we gave before, political
and cultural segregation can lead to exactly the same result.
Anyway, the decline of the integrationist abilities of the Western
states make political conformism a rather unlikely outcome. I
would argue that the unresolved tension between universalism
and particularism opens the way to a movement away from
Western Eurocentrism, through the operation that we could call
a systematic decentring of the West. As we have seen,
Eurocentrism was the result of a discourse which did not
differentiate between the universal values that the West was
advocating and the concrete social agents that were incarnating
them. Now, however, we can proceed to a separation of these
two aspects. If social struggles of new social actors show that
the concrete practices of our society restrict the universalism of
our political ideals to limited sectors of the population, it
becomes possible to retain the universal dimension while
widening the spheres of its application - which, in turn, will
define the concrete contents of such universality. Through this
process, universalism as a horizon is expanded at the same time
as its necessary attachment to any particular content is broken.
The opposite policy - that of rejecting universalism i" toto as
the particular content of the ethnia of the West - can only lead
to a political blind alley.
This leaves us, however, with an apparent paradox - and its
analysis will be my last conclusion. The universal, as we have
seen, does not have a concrete content of its own (which would
close it on itself), but is an always receding horizon resulting
from the expansion of an indefinite chain of equivalent demands.
The conclusion seems to be that universality is incommensurable
with any particularity but cannot, however, exist apart from the
particular. In terms of our previous analysis: if only particular
actors, or constellations of particular actors can actualize the
universal at any moment, in that case, the possibility of making
visible the nonclosure inherent to a post-dominated society -
that is a society that attempts to transcend the very form of
34
UNIVERSALISM, PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
!llImination - depends on making the asymmetry between the
IIlIIyersal and the particular permanent. The universal is
lIu;nmmensurable with the particular, but cannot, however, exist
without the latter. How is this relation possible? My answer is
Ih;1I this paradox cannot be solved, but that its non-solution is
I he Ycry precondition of democracy. The solution of the paradox
would imply that a particular body had been found, which would
he the true body of the universal. But in that case, the universal
would have found its necessary location, and democracy would
he impossible. If democracy is possible, it is because the universal
11;1'1 no necessary body and no necessary content; different
Kroups, instead, compete between themselves to temporarily give
to their particularisms a function of universal representation.
Society generates a whole vocabulary of empty signifiers whose
Icmporary signifieds are the result of a political competition. It
is this final failure of society to constitute itself as society -
which is the same thing as the failure of constituting difference
as difference - which makes the distance between the universal
and the particular unbridgeable and, as a result, burdens concrete
l;ueial agents with the impossible task of making democratic
itneraction achievable.
Notes
1. Gilles Deleuze, Di{fhtnte t' Paris, Presses Universitaires de
france 1989, p. 2.
2. It is at this point that, in my recent work, I ha\'e tried fO me
,dra of radical antagonism - which still involves the possibility of a radical
r"presentability - with the notion of dislocation which is previous to any kind
of antagonistic representation. Some of the dimensions of this dualiry han
"nn explored by Bobby Sayyid and Lilian bc in a short, written presentarion
to a Ph.D. seminar on Ideology and Discourse Analysis, University of Essex,
Oecemher 1990 .
. l. Aletta J. Norval, 'letrer to F.rnesto', in Ernesto ladau, New R,flutio,,.
"" the Rel)o/N';on of OIlT Time, London, Verso 1990, p. 157.
4. Cf. Walter Benjamin, 'Zur Kritik der Gewalt', in R. Tiedemann and H.
Schweppenhauser (cds. I, GII_mllllll 179, 1977. See a commentary
on Benjamin', text in Werner Hamacher, 'Afformative, Strike', c..,dozo Law
Rtvirw. vol. 13, no. 4, December 1991.
35
3
Why do Empty Signifiers Matter
to Politics?
The Social Production of 'Empty Signifien'
An empty signifier is, stricrly speaking, a signifier without a signified.
This definition is also, however, the enunciation of a problem. For
how would it be possible that a signifier is not attached to any
signified and remains, nevertheless, an integraJ parr of a system of
signification? An empty signifier would be a sequence of sounds,
and if the latter are deprived of any signifying function the term
'signifier' itself would become excessive. The only possibility for a
stream of sounds being detached from any particular signified while
still remaining a signifier is if, through the subversion of the sign
which the possibility of an empty signifier involves, something is
achieved which is internal to significations as such. What is this
possibility?
Some pseudo answers can be discarded quite quickly. One would
be to argue that the same signifier can be attached to different
signifieds in different contextS (as a result of the arbitrariness of the
sign). But it is dear that, in that case, the signifier would not be
empty bur equivocal: the function of signification in each context
would be fully reaJised. A second possibility is that the signifier is
nor equillOCal but ambiguous: that either an overdetermination or
an underdetermination of signifieds prevents it from being fully
fIXed. Yet this floating of the signifier still does not make it an
empty one. Although the floating takes us one step towards the
proper answer to our problem. the terms of the latter are still
avoided. We do not have to deal with an excess or deficiency of
signification, but with the precise theoretical possibility of something
which points, from within the process of signification, to the
discursive presence of its own limits.
WHY DO EMPTY S'GNIFIERS MATTER TO POLITICS?
An empty signifier can, consequently, only emerge if there is a
,ullctural impossibility in signification as such, and only if this
IIl1l'nssibility can signify itself as an interruption (subversion, distor-
111111. etcetera) of the structure of the sign. That is, the limits of
can only announce themselves as the impossibility of
I'l'aliling what is within those limits - if the limits could be signified
III .1 direct way, they would be internal to signification and. ergo,
would not be limits at all.
An initial and purely formal consideration can help to clarify the
I'llint. We know, from Saussure, that language (and by extensiun,
.111 signifying systems) is a system of differences, that linguistic
identities - values - are purely relational and that, as a result. the
IIItality of language is involved in each single act of signification.
Nnw, in that case, it is clear that the totality is essentially required -
if" the differences did not constitute a system, no signification at all
would be possible. The problem, however, is that the very possibility
IIf signification is the system, and the very possibility of the system
IN the possibility of its limits. We can say, with Hegel, that to think
nl the limits of something is the same as thinking of what is beyond
those limits. But if what we are talking about are the limits of a
signifying system, it is clear that those limits cannot be themselves
signified, but have to show themselves as the interruption or
breakdown of the process of signification. Thus, we are left with
the paradoxical situation that what constitutes the condition of
possibility of a signifying system - its limits - is also what constitutes
its condition of impossibility - a blockage of the continuous
expansion of the process of signification.
A first and capital consequence of this is that true limits can
never he neutral limits but presuppose an exclusion. A neutral limit
would be one which is essentially continuous with what is at its two
sides, and the two sides are simply different from each other. As a
signifying totality is, however, precisely a system of differences.
this means that both are part of the same system and that the limits
between the two cannot be the limits of the system. In the case of
an exclusion we have, instead. authentic limits because the
actualization of what is beyond the limit of exclusion would involve
the impossibility of what is this side of the limit. True limits are
always antagonistic. But the operation of the logic of exclusionary
limits has a series of necessary effects which spread to both sides of
the limits and which will lead us straight into the emergence of
empty signifiers:
37
EMANCIPATION(S)
1. A first effect of the exclusionary limit is that it introduces an
essential ambivalence within the system of differences constituted
by those limits. On the one hand, each element of the system has
an identity only so far as it is different from the others: difference
= identity. On the other hand, however, all these differences are
equivalent to each other inasmuch as all of them belong to this side
of the frontier of exclusion. But, in that case, the identity of each
clement is constitutively split: on the one hand, each difference
expresses itself as difference; on the other hand, each of them
cancels itself as such by entering into a relation of equivalence with
all the other differences of the system. And, given that there is only
system as long as there is radical exclusion, this split or ambivalence
is constitutive of all systemic identity. It is only in so far as there is a
radical impossibility of a system as pure presence, beyond all
exclusions, that actual systems (in the plural) can exist. Now, if the
systematicity of the system is a direct result of the exclusionary
limit, it is only that exclusion that grounds the system as such. This
point is essential because it results from it that the system cannot
have a positive ground and that, as a result, it cannot signify itself
in terms of any positive signified. Let us suppose for a moment that
the systematic ensemble was the result of all its elements sharing a
positive feature (for example that they all belonged to a regional
category). In that case, that positive feature would be different
from other differential positive features, and they would all appeal
to a deeper systematic ensemble within which their differences
would be thought of as differences. But a system constituted through
radical exclusion interrupts this play of the differentiallogjc: what
is excluded from the system, far from being something positive, is
the simple principle of positivity pure being. This already
announces the possibility of an empty signifier - that is a signifier
of the pure cancellarion of all difference.
2. The condition, of course, for this operation to be possible is
that what is beyond the fronrier of exclusion is reduced to pure
negativity - that is to the pure threat that what is beyond poses to
the system (constituting it that way). If the exclusionary dimension
was eliminated, or even weakened, what would happen is that the
differential character of the 'beyond' would impose itself and, as a
result, the limits of the system would be blurred. Only if the beyond
becomes the signifier of pure threat, of pure negativity, of the simply
excluded, can there be limits and system (that is an objective order).
But in order to be the signifiers of the excluded (or, simply of
38
WHY DO EMPTY SIGNIFIERS MATTER TO POLITICS?
".dusion), the various excluded categories have to cancel their
.hlh·renees through the formation of a chain of equivalences to
Ihlll which the system demonizes in order to signify itself. Again,
wr see here the possibility of an empty signifier announcing itself
Ihmllgh this logic in which differences collapse into equivalential
, h;III15.
I. Rut, we could ask ourselves, why does this pure being or
of the system, or - its reverse - the pure negativity of
Ihe excluded, require the production of empty signifiers in order to
itself? The answer is that we are trying to signify the limits
IIf siWlification - the real, if you want, in the Lacanian sense - and
I here is no direct way of doing so except through the subversion of
Ihe process of signification itself. We know, rhrough psychoanalysis,
hllw what is not directly representable - the unconscious - can
IIlIly find as a means of representation the subversion of the signify.
inK process. Each signifier constitutes a sign by attaching itself to a
"articular signified, inscribing itself as a difference within the
MMnifying process. But if what we are trying to signify is not a diff·
('rence but, on the contrary, a radical exclusion which is the ground
.lOtI condition of all differences, in that case, no production of one
mCJn1 difference can do the trick. As, however, all the means of
representation are differential in nature, it is only if the differential
nature of the signifying units is subverted, only if the signifiers
empty themselves of their attachment to panicular signifieds and
a.'isume the role of representing the pure being of the system - or,
rather, the system as pure Being - that such a signification is possible.
What is the ontological ground of such subversion, what makes it
J'Ossible? The answer is: the split of each unit of signification that
the system has to construct as the undecidable locus in which both
the logic of difference and the logic of equivalence operate. It is
only by privileging the dimension of equivalence to the point that
its differential nature is almost entirely obliterated - that is emptying
it of its differential nature - that the system can signify itself as a
totality.
Two points have to be stressed here. The first is that the being or
systematicity of the system which is represented through the empty
signifiers is not a being which has not been actually realized, but
one which is constitutively unreachable, for whatever systematic
effects that would exist will be the result, as we have seen, of the
unstable compromise between equivalence and difference. That is,
39
F.MANCIPATION(S)
we are faced with a constitutive lack. with an impossible object
which. as in Kant, shows itself through the impossibility of its
adequate representation. Here, we can give a full answer to our
initial question: there can be empty signifiers within the field of
signification because any system of signification is structured around
an empty place resulting from the impossibility of producing an
object which, none the less, is required by the systematicity of the
system. So, we are not dealing with an impossibility without location,
as in the case of a logical contradiction, but with a positive impossibility,
with a real one to which the " of the empty signifier points.
However, if this impossible object lacks the means of its adequate
or direct representation, this can only mean that the signifier which
is emptied in order to assume the representing function will always
be constitutively inadequate. What, in that case, does determine
that one signifier rather than another assumes in different
circumstances that signifying function? Here, we have to move to
the main theme of this essay: the relation between empty signifiers
and politics.
Hegemony
let me go back to an example that we discussed in detail in
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: I the constitution, according to
Rosa Luxemburg, of the unity of the working class through an
overdetermination of partial struggles over a long period of time.
Her basic argument is that the unity of the class is not determined
by an a priori consideration about the priority of either the political
struggle or the economic struggle, but by tbe accumulated effects
of the internal split of all partial mobilizations. In relation to our
subject, her argument amounts to approximately the following: in
a climate of extreme any mobilization for a partial
objective will be perceived not only as related to the concrete
demand or objectives of that struggle, but also as an act of opposition
against the system. This last fact is what establishes the link between
a variety of concrete or partial struggles and mobilizations - all of
them are seen as related to each other, not because their concrete
objectives are intrinsically related but because they are all seen as
equivalent in confrontation with the repressive regime. It is not,
consequently, something positive that all of them share which
establishes their unity, but something negative: their opposition to
40
WHY DO EMPTY SIGNIFIERS MATTER TO POLITICS?
II l:CJmmon enemy. Luxemburg's argument is that a revolutionary
lII"fI,.\ identity is established through the overdetermination, over a
whule historical period, of a plurality of separate struggles. These
trllllirions fused, at the revolutionary moment, in a ruptural point.
I.e.·t us try to apply our previous categories to this sequence. The
meaning (the signified) of all concrete struggles appears, right from
Ihe beginning, internally divided. The concrete aim of the struggle
II lIut only that aim in its concreteness; it also signifies opposition
III the system. The first signified establishes the differential character
uf that demand or mobilization vis-a-vis all other demands or
IIlfIbilizations. The second signified establishes the equivalence of
"II these demands in their common opposition to the system. As we
nm see, any concrete struggle is dominated by this contradictory
muvement that simultaneously asserts and abolishes its own
.. ingularity. The function of representing the system as a totality
,I('rends, consequently, on the possibility of the equivalentiaJ function
nearly prevailing over the differential one; but this possibility is
Nilllply the result of every single struggle always being already,
IIriginally, penetrated by this constitutive ambiguity.
It is important to observe that, as we have already established, if
the function of the differential signifiers is to renounce their
llifferential identity in order to represent the purely equivalential
ulentity of a communitarian space as such, they cannot construct
this equivalential identity as something belonging to a differential
urder. For instance: we can represent the Tzarist regime as a
repressive order by enumerating the differential kinds of oppression
that it imposed on various sections of the population as much as we
want; but such enumeration will not give us the specificity of the
repressive moment, that which constitutes - in its negation - what
I ~ peculiar to a repressive relation between entities. Because in such
.1 rdation each instance of the repressive power counts as pure
bearer of the negation of the identity of the repressed sector. Now,
if the differential identity of the repressive al..-non is in that way
'distanced' from itself by having itself transformed into the mere
in<:arnating body of the negation of the being of another entity, it is
dear that between this negation and the body through which it
expresses itself there is no necessary relation - nothing predetermines
that one particular body should be the one predestined to incarnate
negation as such.
It is precisely this which makes the relation of equivalence possible:
different particular struggles are so many bodies which can
41
EMANC"ATION(S)
indifferently incarnate the opposition of all of them to the reprmive
power. This involves a double movement. On the one hand, the
more the chain of equivalences is extended, the l ~ each concrete
struggle will be able to remain closed in a differential self - in
something which separates it from all other differential identities
through a difference which is exclusively its own. On the contrary,
as the equivalent relation shows that these differential identities are
simply indifferent bodies incarnating something equally present in
all of them, the longer the chain of equivalences is, the less concrete
this 'something equally present' will be. At the limit it will be pure
communitarian being independent of all concrete manifestation.
And, on the other hand, that which is beyond the exclusion
delimiting the communitarian space - the repressive power - will
count less as the instrument of particular differential repressions
and will express pure anti-community, pure evil and negation. The
community created by this equivalential expansion will be, thus,
the pure idea of a communitarian fullness which is absent - as a
result of the presence of the repressive power.
But, at this point, the second movement starts. This pure
equivalential function representing an absent fullness which shows
itself through the collapse of all differential identities is something
which cannot have a signifier of its own - for in that case, the
'beyond all differences' would be one more difference and not the
result of the equivalential collapse of all differential identities.
Precisely because the community as such is not a purely differential
space of an objective identity but an absent fullness, it cannot have
any form of representation of its own, and has to borrow the latter
from some entity constituted within the equivalential space - in the
same way as gold is a particular usc value which assumes, as well,
the function of representing value in general. This emptying of a
particular signifier of its particular, differential signified is, as we
saw, what makes possible the emergence of 'empty' signifiers as the
signifiers of a lack, of an absent totality. But this leads us straight
into the question with which we closed the previous section: if all
differential struggles - in our example - are equally capable of
expressing, beyond their differential identity, the absent fullness of
the community; if the equivalential function makes all differential
positions similarly indifferent to this equivalenrial representation;
if none is predetermined per se to fulfil this role; what does determine
that one of them rather than another incarnates, at particular periods
of time, this universal function?
42
WHY DO EMPTY SIGNIPIERS MATTER TO POLITICS?
The answer is: the unevenness of me social. For if the equivalential
tends to do away with the relevance of all differential location,
IIII!! is only a tendential movement that is always resisted by the
11t":11: of difference which is essentially non-equalitarian. (It comes
liS 110 surprise that Hobbes's model of a state of nature, which tries
III depict a realm in which the full operation of the logic of
c''IlIivalence makes the community impossible, has to presuppose
,III original and equality between men.) Not any position
III !;ociety, not any struggle is equally capable of transforming its
IIwn contents in a nodal point that becomes an empty signifier.
Nnw, is this not to return to a rather traditional conception of the
historical effectivity of social forccs, one which asserts that the
unevenness of structural locations determines which one of them is
Klling to be the source of totalizing effects? No, it is not, because
I hesc uneven structural locations, some of which represent points
Ilf high concentration of power, are themselves the result of processes
ill which logics of difference and logics of equivalence overdetermine
1';Il:h other. It is not a question of denying the historical effectivity
"f the logic of differential structural locations but, ramer, of denying
III them, as a whole, the character of an infrastructure which would
,Ietermine, out of itself, the laws of movement of society.
If this is correct, it is impossible to determine at the level of the
mere analysis of the form difference/equivalence which particular
difference is going to become the: locus of equivalential effects -
this requires the study of a particular conjuncture, precisely because
the presence of equivalential effects is always necessary, but the
rclation equivalence/difference is not intrinsically linked to any
particular differential content. This relation by which a particular
becomes the signifier of the absent communitarian fullness
is exactly what we call a hegemonic relationship. The presence of
empty signifiers - in the sense that we have defined them - is the
very condition of hegemony. This can be easily seen if we address a
very well known difficulty which forms a recurring stumbling block
in most theorizations of hegemony - Gramsci's included. A class or
group is considered to be hegemonic when it is not closed in a
narrow corporatist perspective, but presents itself as realizing the
broader aims either of emancipating or ensuring order for wider
masses of the population. But this faces us with a difficulty if we do
not determine precisely what these terms 'broader aims', 'wider
masses' refer to. There are two possibilities: first, that society is an
addition of discrete groups, each tending to their particular aims
43
EMANCIPATION(S)
and in constant collision with each other. In that case, 'broader'
and 'wider' could only mean the precarious equilibrium of a
negotiated agreement between groups, all of which would retain
their conflicting aims and identity. But 'hegemony' dearly refers to
a stronger type of commllnitarian unity than such an agree:ment
evokes. Second, that society has some kind of pre-established
essence, so that the 'broader' and 'wider' has a content of its own,
independent of the will of the particular groups, and that 'hegemony'
would mean the realization of such an essence. But this would not
only do away with the dimension of contingency which has always
been associated with the hegemonic operation, but would also be
incompatible with the consensual character of 'hegemony': the
hegemonic order would be the imposition of a pre-given organiz-
ational principle and not something emerging from the political
interaction between groups. Now, if we consider the matter from
the point of view of the social production of empty signifiers, this
problem vanishes. For in that case, the hegemonic operations would
be the presentation of the particularity of a group as the incarnation
of that empty signifier which refers to the communitarian order as
an absence, an unfulfilled reality.
How does this mechanism operate? let us consider the extreme
situation of a radical disorganization of the social fabric. In such
conditions - which are not far away from Hobbes's state of nature
- people need an order, and the actual content of it becomes a
secondary consideration. 'Order' as such has no content, because it
only exists in the various forms in which it is actually realized, but
in a situation of radical disorder 'order' is present as that which is
absent; it becomes an empty signifier, as the signifier of that absence.
In this sense, various political forces can compete in their efforts to
present their particular objectives as those which carry out the
filling of that lack. To hegemonize something is ex;u.-tly to carry out
this filling function. (We have spoken about 'order', but obviously
'unity', 'liberation" 'revolution', etcetera belong tu the same order
of things. Any term which, in a certain political context becomes
the signifier of the lack, plays the same role. Politics is possible:
because the constitutive impossibility of society can only represe:nt
itself through the production of empty signifiers.)
This explains also why any hegemony is always unstable and
penetrated by a constitutive ambiguity. Let us suppose that a workers'
mobilization succeeds in presenting its own objectives as a signifier
of 'liberation' in general. (This, as we have seen, is possible because
44
WHY DO F.MPTY SIGNIFlEltS MATTER TO POLITICS?
Ihr wClrkers' mobilization, taking place under a repressive regime,
I, .I!il) seen as an anti-system struggle.} In one sense this is a
hrNclIIClnic victory, because the objectives of a particular group are
hl"lIlificd with society at large. But, in another sense, this is a
,IIIIINl'roUS victory. If 'workers' struggle' becomes the signifier of
Ilhrrittion as such, it also becomes the surface of inscription through
whll"h all liberating struggles will be expressed, so that the chain of
"IUlvalences which are unified around this signifier tend to empty
II, IIlld to blur its connection with the actual content with which it
originally associated. Thus, as a result of its very success, the
hC'K('monic operation tends to break its links with the force which
Willi irs original promoter and beneficiary.
Hegemony and Democracy
1.('1 liS conclude with some reflections on the relation between empty
hegemony and democracy.
(:onsider for a moment the role of social signifiers in the
rmergence of modern political thought - I am essentially thinking
III the work of Hobbes. Hobbes, as we have seen, presented the
of nature 3.'i the radically opposite of an ordered society, as a
only defined in negative terms. But, as a result of that
description, the order of the ruler has to be accepted not because of
;IIIY intrinsic virtue that it can have, but just because it is an order,
;lIId the only alternative is radical disorder. The condition, however,
IIf the coherence of this scheme is the postulate of the equality of
Ihe power of individuals in the srate of nature - if the individuals
were uneven in terms of power, order could be guaranteed through
shcer domination. So, power is eliminated twice: in the state of
nature, as all individuals equally share in it, and in the
I."ommonwealth, as it is entirely concentrated in the hands of the
ruler. (A power which is total or a power which is equally distributed
among all members of the community is no power at all.) So, while
Hobbes implicitly perceives the split between the empty signifier
'order as such' and the actual ordet imposed by the ruler, as he
reduces - through the covenant - the first to the second, he cannot
think of any kind of dialectical or hegemonic game between the
two.
What happens if, on the contrary, we reintroduce power within
the picture - that is if we accept the unevenness of power in social
45
EMANCIPATION(S)
relations? In that case, civil society will be partially structured and
partially unstructured and, as a result, the total concentration of
power in the hands of the ruler ceases to be a logical requirement.
But in that case, (he credentials of the ruler to claim total power
are much less obvious. If panial order exists in society, the legitimacy
of the identification of tbe empty signifier of order with the will of
the ruler will have the further requirement that the content of this
will does not clash with something the society already is. As society
c:hanges over time this process of identification will be always
prec:arious and reversible and, as the identification is no longer
automatic, different projects or wills will try to hegemonize the
empty signifiers of the absent community. The recognition of the
c:onstitutive nature of this gap and irs political institutionalization
is the starting point of modern democracy.
Note
I. F,mrSfO Lac:lau and Chantal Mouffe. lind Sr'II'rgy.
London, Verso 19115.
4
Subject of Politics, Politics of the
Subject
The question of the relationship (complementarity? tension? mutual
,",,,:Iusion?) between universalism and particularism occupies a
,-cntral place on the current political and theoretical agenda.
Universal values are seen either as dead or - at the very least - as
Ihreatened. What is more important, the positive character of those
values i ~ no longer taken for granted. On the one hand, under the
h.mner of multiculturalism, the classical values of the Enlightenment
arc under fire, and considered as little more than the cultural
preserve of Western imperialism. On the other hand, the whole
tlcbate concerning the end of modernity, the assault on
fuundationalism in its various expressions, has tended to establish
an c5Sentiallink between the obsolete notion of a ground of history
and society, and the actual conte"ts which, from the Enlightenment
clOwards, have played that role of ground. It is important, however,
1O realize that these two debates have not advanced along
symmetrical lines, that argumentative strategies have tended to move
from one to the other in unexpected ways, and that many apparently
paradoxical combinations have been shown to be possible. Thus.
the so-called postmodern approaches can be seen as weakening the
imperialist foundational ism of Western Enlightenment and opening
the way to a more democratic cultural pluralism; but they can also
he perceived as underpinning a notion of 'weak' identity which is
incompatible with the strong cultural attachments required by a
'politics of authenticity'. And universal values can be seen as a
strong assertion of the 'ethnia of the West' (as in the later Husserl),
hut al50 as a way of fostering - at least tendentially - an attitude of
respect and tolerance vis-a-vis cultural diversity.
It would certainly be a mistake to think that concepts such as
'universal' and 'particular' have exactly the same meaning in both
EMANCIPATION(S)
debates; but it would also be mistaken to assume that the continuous
interaction of both debates has had no effect on the central categories
of each. This interaction has given way to ambiguities and
displacements of meaning which are - [ think - the source of a
certain political productivity. It is to these displacements and
interactions that I want to refer in this essay. My question, put in its
simplest terms, is the following: what happens with the categories
of 'universal' and 'particular' once they become tools in the language
games that shape contemporary politics? What is performed through
them? What displacements of meaning are at the root of their
current political productivity?
Multiculturalism
Let us talee both debates successively and see the points in which
each cuts across the central categories of the other. Multiculturalism
fmt. The question can be formulated in these terms: is a pure
culture of difference possible, a pure particularism which does away
entirely with any kind of universal principle? There are various
reasons to doubt that this is possible. In the first place, to assert a
purely separate and differential identity is to assert that this identity
is constituted through cultural pluralism and difference. There is
no way that a particular group living in a wider community can live
a monadic existence - on the contrary, part of the definition of its
own identity is the constru(."tion of a complex and elaborated system
of relations with other groups. And these relations will have to be
regulated by norms and principles which transcend the particularism
of any group. To assert, for instance, the right of all ethnic groups
to cultural autonomy is to make an argumentative claim which can
only be justified on universal grounds. The assertion of one's own
particularity requires the appeal of something transcending it. The
more particular a group is, the less it will be able to control the
global communitarian terrain within which it operates, and the
more universally grounded will have to be the justification of its
claims.
But there is another reason why a politics of pure difference
would be self-defeating. To assert one's own differential identity
involves, as we have just argued, the inclusion in that identity of
the other, as that from whom one delimits oneself. But it is easy to
see that a fully achieved differential identity would involve the
48
SUBJECT OF POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT
•• IIKtioning of the existing status quo in the relation between groups.
I'm an identity which is purely differential vis-a-vis other groups
IhlS rn assert the identity of the other at the same time as its own
.1I1l1. as a result, cannot have identity claims in relation to those
.. 1I1(·r groups. Let us suppose that a group bas such claims - for
illS' alice, the demand for equal opportunities in employment and
"llm:arion, or even the right to have confessional schools. In so far
, I ~ these are claims presented as rights that I share as a member of
,hl' community with all other groups, they presuppose that I am
lIut simply different from the others but, in some fundamental
respects, equal to them. If it is asserted that all particular groups
IlllVe the right to respect of their own particularity, this means that
rhey are equal to each other in some ways. Only in a situation in
which all groups were different from each other, and in which
nune of them wanted to be anything other than what they are,
would the pure logic of difference exclusively govern the relations
hc:tween groups. ]n all other scenarios the logic of difference will
he interrupted by a logic of equivalence and equality. It is not for
nuthing that a pure logic of difference - the notion of separate
llevelopments - lies at the root of apanheid.
This is the reason why the struggle of any group that attempts to
.lssc:rt its own identity against a hostile environment is always
wnfronted by two opposite but symmetrical dangers for which
rhere is no logical solution, no square circle - only precarious and
contingent attempts of mediation. If the group tries to assert its
identity as it is at that moment, as its location within the community
ilt large is defined by the system of exclusions dictated by the
dominant groups, it condemns itself to a perpetually marginalized
;md ghettoiud existence. Its cultural values can be easily retrieved
as 'folklore' by the establishment. If, on the other hand, it struggles
\I) change its location within the community and to break with its
situation of marginalization, it has to engage in a plurality of political
initiatives which take it beyond the limits defming its present identity
- for instance, struggles within the existing institutions. As these
institutions arc, however, ideologically and culturally moulded by
the dominant groups, the danger is that the differential identity of
the struggling group will be losi. Whether Ihe new groups will
manage to transform the institutions, or whether the logic of the
institutions will manage to dilute - via co-option - the identity of
those groups is something which, of course, cannot be decided
beforehand and depends on a hegemonic struggle. But what is certain
49
EMANCIPATION(S)
is that there is no major historical change in which the identity of
all intervening forces is not transformed. There is no possibility of
victory in terms of an already acquired cultural authenticity. The
increasing awareness of this fact explains the centrality of the concept
of 'hybridization' in contemporary debates.
If we look for an example of the early emergence of this alternative
in European history, we can refer to the opposition between social-
democrats and revolutionary syndicalists in the decades preceding
the First World War. The classical Marxist solution to the problem
of the disadjustment between the particularism of the working class
and the universality of the task of socialist transformation had been
the assumption of an increasing simplification of the social structure
under capitalism: as a result, the working class as a homogeneous
subject would embrace the vast majority of the population and
could take up the task of universal transformation. With this type
of prognostic discredited at the turn of the century, two possible
solutions remained open: eimer to accept a dispersion of democratic
struggles only loosely unified by a semi-corporative working dass,
or to foster a politics of pure identity by a working dass unified
through revolutionary violence. The first road led to what has been
depicted as social-democratic integration: the working dass was
co-opted by a State in whose management it participated but whose
mechanisms it could not master. The second road led to working-
class segregation ism through violence and the rejection of all
participation in democratic institutions. It is important to realize
that the myth of the general strike in Sorel was not a device to keep
a purely working-class identity as a condition for a revolutionary
victory. As the revolutionary strike was a regulative idea rather
than an actual event, it was not a real Strategy for the
seizure of power: its function was exhausted in being a mechanism
endlessly recreating the workers' separate identity. In the option
between a politics of identity and the transformation of the relations
of force between groups, Sorelianism can be seen as an extreme
form of unilateralization of the first alternative.
however, we renounce a unilateral solution, then the tension
between these two contradictory extremes cannot be eradicated: it
is there to stay, and a strategic calculation can only consist of the
pragmatic negotiations between them. Hybridization is not a
marginal phenomenon but the very terrain in which contemporary
political identities are constructed. Let us just consider a formula
such as 'strategic essentialism' which has been much used lately.
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SUBJECT OF POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT
IllIr a variety of reasons, I am not entirely satisfied with it, but it
1!lIlIo the advantage of bringing to the fore the anti nomic alternatives
III which we have been referring and the need for a politically
III'Kotiated equilibrium between them. 'Essentialism' alludes to a
,.mng identity politics, without which there can be no bases for
11IIInicai calculation and action. But that essentialism is only strategic
,hat is it points, at the very moment of its constitution, to its own
Ilinringency and its own limits.
contingency is cenual to understanding what is perhaps the
lII(lst prominent feature of contemporary politics: the full
rl'!:ugnition of the limited and fragmented character of its historical
ill(cnts. Modernity started with the aspiration to a limitless historical
'I!:tor, who would be able to ensure the fullness of a perfectly
instituted social order. Whatever the road leading to that fullness-
lin 'invisible: hand' which would hold a multiplicity of
4lillperse individual wills, or a universal class who would ensure a
transparent and rational system of social relations - it always implied
that the agents of that historical transformation would be able to
uvercome all particularism and all limitation and bring about a
society reconciled with itself. That is what, for modernity, true
universality meant. The starting point of contemporary social and
p()litical struggles is, on the contrary, the strong assertion of their
particularity, the conviction that none of them is capable, on its
IIwn, of bringing about the fullness of the community. But precisely
because of that, as we have seen, this particularity cannot be
I:onmucted through a pure 'politics of difference' but has to appeal,
as the very condition of its own assertion, to universal principles.
The question that at this point arises is to what extent this
universality is the same as the universality of modernity, to what
c:xtent the very idea of a fullness of sodety experiences, in this
4:hanged political and intellectual climate, a radical mutation that -
while maintaining the double reference to the universal and the
particular - entirely transforms the logic of their articulation. Before
tmswering this question, however, we have to move to our second
debate, that related to the critique of foundationalism.
Contexts and the Critique of Foundationalism
Let us start our discussion with a very common proposition: that
there is no truth or value independent of the context, that the validity
S1
EMANCIPATlON(S)
of any statement is only contextually determined. In one sense, of
course, this proposition is uncontroversial and a necessary corollary
of the critique of foundationalism. To pass from it to assert the
incommensurability of contexts and to draw from there an argument
in defense of cultural pluralism seems to be only a logical move,
and I am certainly not prepared to argue otherwise. There is,
however, one difficulty that this whole reasoning does not
contemplate, and it is the following: how to determine the limits of
a context. let us accept that all identity is a differential identity. In
that case two consequences follow: (1) that, as in a Saussurean
system, each identity is what it is only through its differences from
all the others; (2) that the context has to be a closed one - if all
identities depend on the differential system, unless the latter defines
its own limits, no identity would be finally constituted. But nothing
is more difficult - from a logical point of view - than defining
those limits. If we had a foundational perspective we could appeal
to an ultimate ground which would be the source of all differences;
but if we are dealing with a true pluralism of differences, if the
differences are constitutive, we cannot go, in the search for the
systematic limits that define a context, beyond the differences
themselves. Now, the only way of defining a context is, as we have
said, through its limits, and the only way of defining those limit5 is
to point out what is beyond them. But what is beyond the limits
can only be other differences, and in that case - given the constitutive
character of all differences - it is impossible to establish whether
these new differences are internal or external to the context. The
very possibility of a limit and, ergo, a context, is thus jeopardized.
As I have argued elsewhere (see chapter 3), the only way out of
this difficulty is to postulate a beyond which is not one more
difference but something which poses a threat to (that is negates)
all the differences within that context - or, better, that the context
constitutes itself as such through the act of exclusion of something
alien, of a radical otherness. Now, this possibility has three
consequences which are capital for our argument:
1. The first is that antagonism and exclusion are constitutive
of all identity. Without limits through which a (non-dialectical)
negativity is constructed, we would have an indefinite dispersion
of differences whose absence of systematic limits would make
any differential identity impossible. But this very function of
constituting differential identities through antagonistic limits is
52
SUBJECT Of POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT
whal. a( (he same time, destabilizes and subverts those differences.
I'lif if the limit poses an equal threat to all the differences, it
I I h l k e ~ them all equivalent to each other, interchangeable with
rllrh (Ither as far as the limit is concerned. This already announces
I hr possibility of a relative universalization through equivalential
IIiKin., which is not incompatible with a differential particularism,
hili is required by the very logic of the latter.
1.. The system is what is required for the differential identities
III he constituted, but the only thing - exclusion - which can
l'Ulistitutc the system and thus make possible those identities, is
"lIio what subverts them. (In deconstructive terms: the conditions
IIf possibility of the system are also its conditions of impossibility.)
(;untexts have lO be internally subverted in order to become
I,,)ssible. The system (as in Jacques Lacan's object petit a) is that
which the very logic of the context requires but which is, however,
Impossible. It is present, if you want, through its absence. But
Ihis means rwo things. First, that all differential identity will be
I:()nstitutively split; it will be the crossing point between the
logic of difference and the logic of equivalence. This introduces
illto it a radical undecidability. Second, that although the fullness
;md universality of society is unachievable, its need does not
disappear: it will always show itself through the presence of its
:lhsence. Again, what we see announcing itself here is an intimate
connection berween the universal and the particular which does
nut consist, however, in the subsumption of the latter in the
furmer .
.1. Finally, if that impossible object - the system - cannot be
represented but needs, however, to show itself within the field of
representation, the means of that representation will be constitutively
inadequate. Only the particulars are such means. As a result the
systemaricity of the system, the moment of its impossible totalization,
will be symbolized by particulars which contingently assume such a
representative function. This means, first, that the particularity of
the particular is subverted by this function of representing the
universal, but second, that a certain particular, by making its own
particularity the signifying body of a universal representation, comes
to occupy - within the system of differences as a whole - a
hegemonic role. This anticipates our main conclusion: in a society
(and this is finally the case of any society) in which its fullness - the
moment of its universality - is unachievable, the relation berween
the universal and the particular is a hegemonic relation.
53
EMANCIPATJON(S)
Let us see in more detail the logic of that relation. I will talee as an
example the 'universalization' of the popular symbols of Per6nism
in the Argentina of the 19605 and 19705. After the coup of 1955
which overthrew the Per6nist regime, Argentina entered a period
of institutional instability which lasted for over twenty years.
Per6nism and other popular organizations were proscribed, and
the succession of military governments and fraudulent civilian
regimes which occupied the government were clearly incapable of
meeting the popular demands of the masses through the existing
institutional channels. So, there was a succession of less and less
representative regimes and an accumulation of unfulfilled democratic
demands. These demands were certainly particular ones and came
from very different groups. The fact that all of them were rejected
by the dominant regimes established an increasing relation of
equivalence between them. This equivalence, it is important to
realize. did not express any essential a priori unity. On the contrary,
its only ground was the rejection of all those demands by successive
regimes. In terms of our previous terminology, their unification
within a context or system of differences was the pure result of all
of them being antagonized by the dominant sectors.
Now. as we have seen. tbis contextual unification of a system of
differences can only take place at the price of weakening the purely
differential identities, through the operation of a logic of equivalence
which introduces a dimension of relative universality. In our
example, people felt that through the differential particularity of
their demands - housing, union rights, level of wages, protection of
national industry, etcetera - something equally present in all of
them was expressed, which was opposition to the regime. It is
important to realize that this dimension of universality was not at
odds with the particularism of the demands - or even of the groups
entering into the equivalential relation - but grew out of it. A
certain more universal perspective, which developed out of the
inscription of particular demands in a wider popular language of
resistance, was the result of the expansion of the equivalentiallogic.
A pure particularism of the demands of the groups, which had
entirely avoided the equivalential logic, would have been possible
only if the regime had succeeded in dealing separately with the
particular demands and had absorbed them in a 'ttansformistic'
way. But in any process of hegemonic decline, this transformistic
absorption becomes impossible and the equivalentiallogics interrupt
the pure particularism of the individual democratic demands.
S4
SUBJECT OF POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT
As we can see, this dimension of universality reached through
rlluivalence is very different from the universality which results
'rom an underlying essence or an unconditioned a priori
,)finciple. It is not a regulative idea either - empirically
unreachable but with an unequivocal teleological content -
hccause it cannot exist apart from the system of equivalences
trom which it proceeds. But this has important consequences for
hnth the content and the function of that universality. We have
before that the moment of totalization or universalization
of the community - the moment of its fullness - is an impossible
object which can only acquire a discursive presence through a
"articular content which divests itself of its particularity in order
10 represent that fullness. To return to our Argentinian example,
this was precisely the role that, in the 19605 and 19705, was
played by the popular symbols of Per6nism. As I said earlier, the
had entered into a rapid process of de-institution-
alization, so the equivalential logics could operate freely. The
l>c:r6nist movement itself lacked a real organization and was rather
a series of symbols and a loose language unifying a variety of
political initiatives. Finally, Per6n himself was in exile in Madrid,
intervening only in a distant way in his movement's actions,
being very careful not to take any definitive stand in the factional
struggles within Per6nism. In those circumstances, he was in
ideal conditions to become the 'empty signifier' incarnating the
moment of universality in the chain of equivalences which unified
the popular camp. And the ulterior destiny of Per6nism in the
19705 clearly illustrates the essential ambiguity inherent in any
hegemonic process: on the one hand, the fact that the symbols
of a particular group at some point assume a function of universal
representation certainly gives a hegemoilic power to that group;
but, on the other hand, the fact that this function of universal
representation has been acquired at the price of weakening the
differential particularism of the original identity, leads necessarily
to the conclusion that this hegemony is going to be precarious
and threatened. The wild logic of emptying the signifiers of
universality through the expansion of the equivalential chains
that no fixing and particular limitation on the sliding of
the signified under the signifier is going to be permanently
assured. This is what happened to Per6nism after the electoral
victory of 1973 and Per6n's return to Argentina. Per6n was no
longer an empty signifier but the president of the country, who
ss
EMANCIPATlON(S)
had to carry out concrete politics. Yet the chains of equivalences
constructed by the different factions of his movements had gone
beyond any possibility of control - even by Per6n himself. The
result was the bloody process which led to the military
dictatorship in 1976.
The Dialectics of Universality
The previous developments lead us to the following conclusion:
the dimension of universality - resulting from the incompletion of
all differential identities - cannot be eliminated so long as a
community is not entirely homogeneous (if it were homogeneous,
what would disappear is not only universality but also the very
distinction universality/particularity). This dimension is, however,
just an empty place unifying a set of equivalential demands. We
have to determine the nature of this place both in terms of its
conteDts and of its function. As far as the content is concerned, it
does not have one of its own but just that which is given to it by a
transieDt articulation of equivalential demands. There is a paradox
implicit in the formulation of universal principles, which is that all
of them have to present themselves as valid without exception,
while, even in its own terms, this universality can easily be questioned
and can never be actually maintained. Let us take a universal
principle such as the right of nations to self-determination. As a
universal right, it claims to be valid iD any circumstance. Let us
suppose now that within a nation genocidal practices are takiDg
place: in that case has the international community the duty to
intervene, or is the principle of self-determination an unconditionally
valid one? The paradox is that while the principle has to be
formulated as univenally valid, there will always be exceptions to
that universal validity. But perhaps the paradox proceeds from
believing that this universality has a content of its own, whose
logical implications can be analytically deduced, without realizing
that its own function - within a particular language game - is to
make discursively possible a chain of equivalential effectS, but
without pretending that this universality can operate beyond the
context of its emergence. There are innumerable contexts in which
the principle of national self-determination is a perfectly valid way
of totalizing and universalizing a historical experience.
But in that case, if we always know beforehand that no
S6
SUBJECT OF POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT
universalization will live up to its task, if it will always fail to
deliver the goods, why does the equivalential aggregation have to
express itself through the universal? The answer is to be found in
what we said before about the formal structure on which the
aggregation depends. The 'something identical' shared by all the:
terms of the equivalential chain - that which makes the equivalence
possible - cannot be something positive (that is one more difference
which could be defined in its particularity), but proceeds from the
unifying effects that the external threat poses to an otherwise
perfectly heterogeneous set of differences (particularities). The
'something identical' can only be the pure, abstract, absent fullness
of the community, which lacks, as we have seen, any direct form of
representation and expresses itself through the equivalence of the
differential terms. But, in that case, it is essential that the chain of
equivalences remains open: otherwise its closure could only be the
result of one more difference specifiable in its particularity and we
would not be confronted with the fullness of the community as an
absence. The open character of the: chain means that what is
expressed through it has to be universal and not particular. Now,
this universality needs - for its expression - to be incarnated in
something essentially incommensurable with it: a particularity (as
in our example of the right to self-determination). This is the source
of the tension and ambiguities surrounding all these so-called
'universal' principles: all of them have to be formulated as limitless
principles, expressing a universality transcending them: but they
all, for essential reasons, sooner or later become entangled in their
own contextual particularism and are incapable of fulfilling their
universal function.
As far as the function (as different from the content) of the
'universal' is concerned, we have said enough to make clear what it
consists of: it is exhausted in introducing chains of equivalence in
an otherwise purely differential world. This is the moment of
hegemonic aggregation and articulation and can operate in two
ways. The first is to inscribe particular identities and demands as
links in :l wider chain of equivalences, thereby giving each of them
a 'relative' universalization. If, for instance, feminist demands enter
into chains of equivalence with those of black groups, ethnic
minorities, civil tights activists, etcetera, they acquire a more global
perspective than is the case where they remain restricted to their
own particularism. The second is to give a particular demand a
function of universal representation - that is to give it tbe value of
57
EMANCIPATION(S)
a horizon giving coherence to the chain of equivalences and, at
the same time, keeping it indefinitely open. To give just a few
examples: the socialization of the means of production was not
considered as a nanow demand concerning the economy but as
the 'name' for a wide variety of equivalential effects radiating
over the whole society. The introduction of a tnarket economy
played a similar role in Eastern Europe after 1989. The return of
Per6n, in our Argentinian example, was also conceived in the
early 19705 as the prelude to a much wider historical
transformation. Which particular demand. or set of demands, are
going to play this function of univeJ,'Sal representation is something
which cannot be determined by a priori reasons (if we could do
so, this would mean that there is something in the particularity of
the demand which predetermined it to fulfil that role, and that
would be in contradiction to our whole argument).
We can now return to the two debates which were the starting
point of our reflection. As we can see, there are several points in
which they interact and in which parallelism can be detected. ~
have said enough about multiculturalism for our argument concerning
the limits of particularism to be clear. A pure particularistic stand is
self-defeating because it bas to provide a ground for the constitution
of the differences as djfferences, and such a ground can only be a new
version of an essentialist universalism. (If we have a system of
differences AlBIC, etcetera, we have to account for this systemic
dimension and that leads us straight into the discourse of ground. If
we have a plurality of separale elements A, B, C, etcetera, which do
not constitute a sy.em, we still have to account for this separation -
to be separated is also a form of relation between objects - and we
are again entangled, as Leibnitz knew well, in the positing of a
ground. lbe pre-established harmony of the monads is as essential a
ground as the Spinozean totality.) So, the only way out of this dilemma
is to maintain the dimension of universality but to propose a different
form for its articulation with the particular. This is what we have
tried to provide in the preceding pages through the notion of the
universal as an empty but ineradicable place.
It is important, however. to realize that this type of articulation
would be theoretically unthinkable if we did not introduce into the
picture some of the central tenets of the contemporary critique of
foundationalism (it would be unthinkable, for instance, in a
Habcnnasian perspective). If meaning is fixed beforehand either,
in a strong senae, by a mdicaI ground (a position that fewer and fewer
58
SUBJ!!CT OF POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT
Jleople would sustain today) or, in a weaker version, through the
rt"Kulative principle of an undistoned communication, the very
pllssibility of the ground as an empty place which is politically
.l1Id contingently filled by a variety of social forces disappears.
Differences would not be constitutive hecause something previous
II) their play already fixes the limit of their possible variation and
l'Mablishes an external tribunal to judge them. Only the critique of
a universality which is determined in all its essential dimensions
hy the metaphysics of presence opens the way for a theoretical
"pprehension of the notion of 'articulation' that we are trying to
daborate - as different from a purely impressionistic apprehension,
10 terms of a discourse structured through concepts which are
perfectly incompatible with it. (We always have to remember
Pascal's critique of those who think that they are already converted
hecause they have just started thinking of getting converted.)
But if the debate concerning multiculturalism can draw clear
advantages from the contemporary critique of foundationalism
(broadly speaking. the whole range of intellectual developments
embraced by labels such as 'postmodernism' and 'post-
structuralism'), these advantages also work in the opposite direction.
For the requirements of a politics based on a universality compatible
with an increasing expansion of cultural differences are clearly
incompatible with some versions of postmodernism - particularly
those which conclude from the critique of foundationalism that
there is an implosion of all meaning and the entry into a world of
'simulation' (8audrillard). I don't think that this is a conclusion
which follows at all. As we have argued, the impossibility of a
universal ground does not eliminate its need: it just transforms the
ground into an empty place which can be panially filled in a variety
of ways (the strategies of this filling is what politics is about). Let us
go back for a moment to the question of contextualization. If we
could have a 'saturated' context we would indeed be confronted
with a plurality of incommensurable spaces without any possible
tribunal deciding between them. But, as we have seen, any such
saturated context is impossible. Yet,the conclusion which follows
from this verification is not that there is a formless dispersion of
meaning without even any possible kind of relative articulation
but, rather, that whatever plays such an articulating role is not
predetermined to it by the form of the dispersion as such. This
means first that all articulation is contingent and, second, that the
articulating moment as such is always going to be an empty place
59
EMANCIPATION(S)
- the various attempts at filling it being transient and submitted to
contestation. As a result, at any historical moment, whatever
dispersion of differences exists in society is going to be submitted
to contradictory processes of contextualization and de-contextualiz-
ation. For instance, those discourses attempting to close a context
around cenain principles or values will be confronted and limited
by discourses of rights, which try to limit the closure of any context.
This is what makes so unconvincing the attempts by contemporary
neo-Aristotelians such as Mcintyre at accepting only the
contextualizing dimension and closing society around a substantive
vision of the common good. Contemporary social and political
struggles open, I think, strategies of filling the empty place of the
common good. The ontological implications of the thought
accompanying these 'filling' strategies clarifies, in turn, the horizon
of possibilities opened by the anti-foundationalist critique. It is to
these strategic logics that I want to devote the rest of this essay.
Ruling aod Uoiversality: Four Moments
We can start with some conclusions which could easily be derived
from our previous analysis concerning the staniS of the universal.
The first is that if the place of the universal is an empty one and
there is no a priori reason for it not to be filled by arry content, if
the forces which fiJI that place are constitutively split between the
concrete politics that they advocate and the ability of those politics
to fill the empty place, the political language of any society whose
degree of institutionalization has, to some extent, been shaken or
undermined, will also be split. Let us just take a term such as
'order' (social order). What are the conditions of its universalization?
Simply, that the experience of a radical disorder makes awy order
preferable to the continuity of disorder. The experience of a lack,
of an absence of fullness in social relations, transforms 'order' into
the signifier of an absent fullness. This explains the split we were
referring to: any concrete politics, if it is capable of bringing about
social order, will be judged not only according to its merits in the
abstract, independently of any circumstance, but mainly in terms of
that ability to bring about 'order' - a name for the absent fullness
of Ioc:iety. ('Change', 'revolution', 'unity of the people', etcetera
III olh.r lianifiera which have historically played the same role.)
-. for •• nrl.1 feuanl as we have pointed out, the fullness of
60
SUBJECT Of POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT
society is unreachable, this split in the identity of political agents
is an absolutely constitutive 'ontological difference' - in a sense
not entirely unrelated to Heidegger's use of this expression. The
universal is certainly empty, and can only be filled in different
contexts by concrete particulars. But, at the same time, it is absolutely
essential for any kind of politiclzl interaction, for if the latter took
place without universal reference, there would be no political
interaction at all: we would only have either a complementarity of
differences which would be totally noo-antagonistic, or a totally
antagonistic one, one where differences entirely lack any
commensurability, and whose only possible resolution is the mutual
destruction of the adversaries.
Now, it is our contention that politico-philosophical reflection
since the ancient world has been largely conscious of this constitutive
split, and has tried to provide various ways of dealing with it.
These ways follow one or the other of the logical possibilities pointed
out in the previous analysis. To suggest how this took place, we will
briefly refer to four moments in the politico-philosophical tradition
of the West in which images of the ruler have emerged which
combine universality and particularity in different ways. We will
refer successively to Plato's philosopher-king, to Hobbes's sovereign,
to Hegel's hereditary monarch, and to Gramsci's hegemonic class.
In Plato the situation is unambiguous. There is no possible tension
or antagonism between the universal and the particular. Far from
being an empty place, the universal is the location of all possible
meaning, and it absorbs the particular within itself. Now, for him
however, there is only one articulation of the particularities which
actualize the essential form of the community. The universal is not
'filled' from outside, but is the fullness of its own origin and expresses
itself in all aspects of social organization. There can be no
'ontological difference' here between the fullness of the community
and its actual political and social arrangements. Only one kind of
social arrangement, which extends itself to the most minute aspects
of social life, is compatible with what the community in its last
instance is. Other forms of social organization can, of course,
factually exist, but they do not have the status of alternative forms
among which one has to choose according to the circumstances.
They are just degenerate forms, pure corruption of being, derived
from obfuscation of the mind. In so far as there is true knowledge,
only one particular form of social organization realizes the universal.
And if ruling is a matter of knowledge and not of prudence, only
61
EMAN'CIPATION(S)
the bearer of that knowledge, the philosopher, has the right to
rule. Ergo: a philosopher-king.
With Hobbes we are apparently at the antipodes of Plato. Far
from being the sovereign, the one who has the knowledge of what
the community is before any political decision, his decisions are the
only source of social order. Hobbes is well aware of what we have
called the 'ontological difference'. Inasmuch as the anarchy of the
state of nature threatens society with radical disorder, the unification
of the will of the community in the will of the ruler (or rather, the
will of the ruler as the only unified will that the community can
have) will count in so far as it imposes order, whatever the contents
of the latter could be. Any order will be better than radical disorder.
There is something close to a complete indifference here to the
content of the social order imposed by the ruler, and an exclusive
concentration on the function of the latter: ensuring order as such.
'Order' certainly becomes an empty place, but there is in Hobbes
no hegemonic theory about the transient forms of its filling: the
sovereign, the 'mortall God', fills the empty place once and forever.
So, Plato and Hobbes are apparently at the antipodes of the
theoretical spectrum. For Plato, the universal is the only full place;
for Hobbes, it is an absolurely empty place which has to be filled by
the will of the sovereign. But if we look more closely at the matter,
we will see that this difference between them is overshadowed by
what they actually share, which is not to allow the particular any
dynamics of its own vis-A-vis the fulVempty place of the universal.
In the first case, the particular has to actualize in its own body a
universality transcending it; in the second case equally, although by
artificial means, a particular has detached itself from the realm of
particularities and has become the unchallengeable law of the
community.
For Hegel, the problem is posed in different terms. Since, for
him, the particularism of each stage of social organization is
aN{gJ1oben at a higher level, the problem of the incommenswability
between particular content and universal function cannot actually
arise. But the problem of the empty place emerges in relation to the
moment in which the community has to signify itself as a totality -
that is the moment of its individUillity. This signification is obtained,
as we know, through the constitutional monarch, whose physical
body represents a rational totality absolutely dissimilar to that body.
(This representation, in Hegel, of something which has no content
of its own through something else which is its exact reverse, has
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SUBJECT OF POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT
Vtry ohen been stressed by Slavoj fiiek, who has contributed
several other examples such as the assenion, in the Phenomenology
of Spirit, that 'the Spirit is a bone'.) But this relation, by which a
physical content can represent, in its pure alienation of any spiritual
content, this last content. entirely depends on the commmunity
having reached, through successive sublations of its partial contents,
the highest form of rationality achievable in its own sphere. For
such a fully rational community no content can be added and it
only remains, as a requirement for its completion. the signification
of the achievement of that functional rationality. Because of that,
the rational monarch cannot be an elected monarch: he has to be a
hereditary one. If he were elected, reasons would have to be given
for that election, and this process of argumentation would mean
that the rationality of society would not have been achieved
independently of the monarch. and that the latter would have to
playa greater role than a pure function of ceremonial representation.
Finally Gramsci. The hegemonic class can only become such by
linking a particular content to a universality transcending it. If we
say - as Gramsci did - that the task of the Italian working class is
to fulfil the tasks of national unification that the Italian people had
posed themselves since the time of Machiavelli and, in some way,
to complete the historical project of the lUsorgimento, we have a
double order of reference. On the one hand, a concrete political
programme - that of the workers - as different from those of other
political forces; but, on the other hand, that programme - that is
that set of demands and political proposals - is presented as a
historical vehicle for a task transcending it: the unity of the Italian
nation. Now. if this 'unity of the Italian nation' was a concrete
content, specifiable in a particular context, it could not be something
which extended over a period of centuries and that different
historical forces could bring about. However, if this can happen, it
is because 'unity of the Italian nation' is just the name or the symbol
of a lack. Precisely because it is a constitutive lack, there is no
content which is a priori destined to fill it, and it is OpeD to the
most diverse aniculations. But this means that the 'good' aniculatioD,
the one that would finally suture the link between universal task
and concrete historical forces will never be found, and that all
partial victory will always take place against the background of an
ultimate and unsurpassable impossibility.
Viewed from this perspective the Gramscian project can be seen
as a double displacement, vis-4-lIis both Hegel and Hobbes. In one
63
EMANCIPATION(S)
sense it is more Hobbesian than Hegelian, because, as society and
State are less self-structured than in Hegel, they require a dimension
of political constitution in which the representation of the unity of
the community is not separated from its construction. There is a
remainder of panicularity which cannot be eliminated from the
representation of that unity (unity = individuality in the Hegelian
sense). The presence of this remainder is what is specific to the
hegemonic relation. The hegemonic class is somewhere in between
the Hegelian monarch and the Leviathan. But it can equally be said
that Gramsci is more Hegelian than Hobbesian, in the sense that
the political moment in his analysis presupposes an image of social
crises which is far less radical than in Hobbes. Gramsci's 'organic
crises' fall far short, in terms of their degrees of social structuring,
from the Hobbesian state of nature. In some senses, the succession
of hegemonic regimes can be seen as a series of 'partial covenants'
- partial because, as society is more structured than in Hobbes,
people have more conditions under which to enter into the political
covenant; but partial also because, as the result of that, they also
have more reasons to substitute the sovereign.
These last points allow us to go back to our earlier discussion
concerning contemporary particularistic struggles and to inscribe it
within the politico-philosophical tradition. In the same way that
we have presented Gramsci's problematic through the displacements
that he introduces vis-a-vis the two approaches that we have
symbolized in Hobbes and Hegel, we could present the political
alternatives open to multicultural struggles through similar
displacements vis-a-vis Gramsci's approach. The first and most
obvious displacement is to conceive a society which is more
particularistic and fragmented and less amenable than Gramsci's to
enter into unified hegemonic articulations. The second is that the
loci from which the articulation takes place - for Gramsci they
were locations such as the Party, or the State (in an expanded sense)
- are also going to be more plural and less likely to generate a chain
of totalizing effects. What we have called the remainder of
particularism inherent in any hegemonic centrality grows tbicker
but ",llu more plural. Now, this has mixed effects from the viewpoint
of • democratic: politics. Let us imagine a Jacobinic scenario. The
puhllc IIphere i. one, the place of power is one but is empty, and a
.... 11'" nf polilinl forces can occupy the laner. In one sense we
IhIt m" I- an ideal situation for democracy, because the
•• 1 __ 11 .... ,., and we can conceive the democratic process
SUBJECT OF POLITICS, POLITICS 0' Till! UII,IIC l
as a partiaJ articulation of the empty univel'1llUt)' of thl
and the particularism of the transient political forc'l I nelrnltl n. It.
This is true, but precisely because the univerul place II .mply. II
can be occupied by any force, not necessarily democratic. A. I, wrll
known, this is one of the roots of contemporary touUwianlun (I.efnrt).
If, on the contrary, the place of power is not unique, thto remlinder,
as we said, will be weightier, and the possibility of con.tructinR I
common public sphere through a series of equivalential effec:tl
cutting across communities will dearly be less. This has ambiguoul
results. On the one hand, communities are certainly more protected
in the sense that a Jacobinic totalitarianism is less likely. But, on the
other hand. for reasons that have been pointed out earlier, this also
favours the maintenance of the status quo. We can perfectly well
imagine a modified Hobbesian scenario in which the law respects
communities - no longer individuals - in their private sphere, while
the main decisions concerning the future of the community as a
whole are the preserve of a neo-Leviathan - for instance a quasi-
omnipotent technocracy. To realize that this is not at aJI an unrealistic
scenario, we only have to think of Samuel Huntington and, more
generally, of contemporary corporatist approaches.
The other alternative is more complex but it is the only one, I
think, compatible with a true democratic: politics. It wholly accepts the
plural and fragmented nature of contemporary societies but, instead
of remaining in this particularistic moment, it tries to inscribe this
plurality in equivalentiallogics which make possible the construction
of new public spheres. Difference and particularisms are the
necessary starting point, but out of it, it is possible to open the way
to a relative universalization of values which can be the basis for a
popular hegemony. This universalization and its open character
certainly condemns all identity to an unavoidable hybridization,
but hybridization does not necessarily mean decline through the
loss of identity: it can also mean empowering existing identities
through the opening of new possibilities. Only a conservative
identity, closed on itself, could experience hybridization as a loss.
But this democratico-hegemonic possibility has to recognize the
constitutive contextualizedldecontextualized terrain of its
constitution and take fun advantage of the political possibilities
that this undecidability opens.
All this finally amounts to saying is that the particular can only
fulty realize itself if it constantly keeps open, and constantly re-
defines, its relation to the universal.
6S
5
'The Time is Out of Joint'
Since this singular end of the political would correspond to the
presenrarion of an absolute living reality, this is one more reason to
think that the essence of the political will always have the inessential
figure, the very anesscnce of a ghost.
Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Mar%
Halfway through Spectres of Marx (SM), Derrida links the
concept of production to that of trauma and speaks of 'the
spectral spiritualization that is at work in any tekh"e' (SM, p.
97). He immediately connects this assertion to Freud's remarks
concerning the three traumas inflicted on the narcissism of the
decentred man: the psychological trauma derived from the
psychoanalytic discovery of the unconscious, the biological
trauma resulting from the Darwinian findings about human
descent, and the cosmological trauma proceeding from the
Copernican revolution. To this Derrida adds the decentring
effects coming from Marxism which, according to him,
accumulate and put the other three together:
The century of 'Marxism' will have been that of the techno-scientific
and effective deceDtring of the earth, of geopolitia, of the antlwofXJS in
its onto·theological identity or its genetic properties, of the ego cogito -
and of the very concept of narcissism whose aporias are, let us say in
order to go too quickly and save ourselves a lot of references, the explicit
theme of deconstruction. (SM. p.98)
So deconstruction inscribes itself in a secular movement of
decentring, to which Marxism itself belongs. In fact, at various
points of Spectres of Marx, Derrida insists that deconstruction
would be either inconceivable or irrelevant if it were not related
to the spirit or the tradition of a certain Marxism. And yet
'THE TIME IS OUT OP JOINT'
deconstruction is not iust Marxism: it is a certain operation
practised in the body of Marxism, the locating in Marx's texts
of an area of undecidability which. in Derrida's terms. is that
circumscribed by the opposition between spirit and spectre.
hetween o"tology and ha,mtology. The performing of this
deconstructive operation - to which the last two chapters of
the book are devoted - is far from a purely academic exercise:
the very possibility of justice - but also of politics - is at stake.
Without the constitutive dislocation that inhabits all hauntology
- and that ontology tties to conceal - there would be no politics,
just a programmed, predetermined reduction of the other to
the same:
It is easy to go from disadjusted to unjust. That is our problem: how to
justify this passage from disadJustment (with its rather more techno·
ontological value affec:ring a presence) to an injustice that would DO
longer be ontological? And what if disadjustment were on the contrary
the condition of justice? And what if this double register condensed its
enigma. precisely (jllSteme"t), and potentialized its superpower in that
which gives its unheard-of force to Hamlet's words: 'The rime is our of
}oint'? (SM. pp. 19-20)
To find a double logic in Marx's work, to detect in the Marxian
texts a double gesture that the theory makes possible but is
unable to control conceptually in a credible synthesis: all this
looks rather familiar. Since the end of the nineteenth century,
this duality, deeply inscribed in Marx's work, has been the
object of countless analyses. The duality of, or the oppositions
between, economic determinism and the ethical orientation of
socialism, between economism and the primacy of politics,
even between the 'scientific' and the 'ideological' components
of the theory, have been not only recurrent themes in Marxist
discussions but the very issues that have made possible a history
of Marxism. However, none of these apparent reformulations
of the terms of a widely perceived dualism has been similar to
the others. We are not dealing with a purely nominalistic
operation of renaming: the displacement that these
reformulations operate, the logics of the social they imply,
and, above all, the political strategies they make possible are
radically different.
Derrida does not trace the genealogy of his intervention in
the Marxist text. This is regrettable, among other things because
67
EMANCIPATlON(S)
the specificity, originality and potentialities of his intervention
do not come sufficiently to light. In what follows, I will try to
stress some of these specific features, as well as their originality
vised-vis other comparable attempts. To this end, I will refer to
what I think are the two central theoretical points in Derrida's
book: the logic of the spectre (the hauntology) and the category
of messianism.
The Logic of the Spectre
[T]he spectre is a paradoxical incorporation, the becoming-body, a certain
phenomenal and carnal form of the spirit. It becomes, rather, some 'thing'
that remains dimwit to name: neither soul nor body, and both one and
the other. For it is flesh and phenomenality that give to the spirit its
spectral apparition, but which disappear right away in the apparition, in
the very coming of the mHmIlnt or the return of the spectre. There is
something disappeared. depaned in the apparition itself as reapparirion
of the departed. (SM, p. 6)
Anachronism is essential to spectraHty: the spectre, interrupting
all specularity, desynchronizes time. The very essence of
spectrality is to be found in this undecidability between flesh
and spirit: it is not purely body - for, in that case, there would
be no spectrality at all; but it is not pure spirit either - for the
passage through the flesh is crucial:
For there is no ghost, there is never any becoming-spectre of the spirit
without at least an appearance of flesh, in a space of invisible visibility,
like the disappearing of an apparition. For there to be ghost, there must
be a return to the body, but to a body that is more abstract than ever.
The spectrogenic process corresponds therefore to a paradoxical
incorporlltion. Once ideas or thoughts (Gedllnke) are detached from the
substratum, one engenders some ghost by givi", them tl body.
(SM. p. 126)
From this point onward, Derrida makes a classic de constructive
move: the spectre being undecidable between the two extremes
of body and spirit, these extremes themselves become
contaminated by that undecidability. Thus, having shown how,
in Marx's analysis of commodity, exchange value depends for
its constitution on a spectral logic, Derrida concludes that this
logic is not absent from use value either:
The said use-value of the said ordinary sensuous thing, simply hule, the
68
'THE TIME IS OUT OF JOINT'
wood of the wooden table concerning which Marx supposes that it has
not yet begun to 'dance', its very form, the form that informs its hllk,
must indeed have at least promised it to iterabiliry, to substitution, to
exchange, to value; it must have made a start, however minimal it may
have been, on an idealization that pennits ODe to identify it as the same
throughout possible repetitions, and so forth. Just as there is no pure
U5e, there is no use-value which the possibility of exchange and
commerce ... has not in advance inscribed in an ollt-of-uu - an excessive
signification that cannot be reduced to the useless.
(SM. p. 160)
Similarly, if the spirit is something whose invisibility has to
produce its own visibility, if the very constitution of spirit
requires the visibility of the invisible, nothing is more difficult
than to keep a strict separation between spirit and spectre.
Once this point has been reached, the conclusions quickly follow.
We find in Marx a hauntology, an argument about spectrality
af the very heart of the constitution of the social link. Time
being 'out of joint', dislocation corrupting the identity with
itself of any present, we have a constitutive anachronism that
is at the root of any identity. Any 'life' emerges out of a more
basic life/death dichotomy - it is not 'life' as uncontaminated
presence but slIrv;e that is the condition of any presence. Marx,
however, attempted the critique of the hauntological from the
perspective of an ontology. If the spectre inhabits the root of
the social link in bourgeois society, the transcendence of the
latter, the arrival at a time that is no longer 'out of joint', the
realization of a society fully reconciled with itself will open
the way to the 'end of ideology' - that is to a purely 'ontological'
society which, after the consummation of the proletarian
millennium, will look to hauntology as irs past. And since
hauntology is inherent to politics, the transcendence of the
split between being and appearance will mean the end of
politics. (We could, in fact; put the argument in Saint·Simonian
terms: the transition from the government of men to the
administration of tbings.) If, however, as the de constructive
reading shows, 'ontology' full reconciliation - is not
achievable, time is constitutively 'out of joint', and the ghost
is the condition of possibility of any present, politics too
becomes constitutive of the social link. We could say of the
spectre what Groucho Marx said about sex: it is going to stay
with us for a while.
69
EMANCIPATION(S)
This contamination of presence by the spectre can be
considered from the two perspectives involved in a double
genitive. There are, in the first place, spectres of Marx, in so
far as Marx himself - an abbreviation for communism - is
haunting us today as a horizon preventing the possibility of its
final exorcism by the apparently triumpha°nt capitalist
'democracies' (here the main reference is to Fukuyama). But
there are also the spectres of Marx that visited Marx himself
and prevented him from establishing a non-haunted ontology.
Thus, the ground we reach - that of a present never identical
with itself - is the very terrain of this phantasmatic, anessential
practice we caU politics.
What to say about this Derridian sequence? A first remark -
first both temporally and logically - is that I have nothing to
object to. The deconstructive operation is impeccable, the
horizons that it opens are far-reaching, and the intertextuality
within which it takes place is highly illuminating. However, as
with any deconstruction worthy of the name, there is a plurality
of directions in which one can move, and it is to consider this
plurality that I would like to pause for a moment. My own
work has largely concentrated on the deconstruction of Marxist
texts, and I could, prima facie, relate what I have called
hegemonic logic I - which silently deconstructs Marxist
categories - to the logic of the spectre as described by Derrida.
Others, too, have recently linked 'deconstruction' and
'hegemony'. Simon Critchley, for instance, asserts:
Against the ttoubling tendency to subordinate the political to the socio-
economic within Marx's 'ontolosy' •.• Derrida's argument for a logic of
spc:crrality within Marxism can be: linked to the claim for the irreducibility
of the political understood as that moment where the sedimented
meanings of the socio-economic are contested. Following Ernesto
Laclau's radicalization of Gramsci, one might link the losic of lpectrality
to the logic of hegemony; that is if one renounces - as one: must - the
communist eschalological '.-theodicy' of the economic contradictions
of capitalism inevitably culminating in revolution, then politics and
politico-cultural-ideological hegemonization is indispensable to the
possibility of radical change.
I hesitate, however, to entirely endorse such an apparently
obvious assimilation. Although there is no incompatibility
between hegemony and spectral logic as far as the latter goes,
a hegemonic logic presupposes two further steps beyond
spectrality that I am not sure Derrida is prepared to take:
70
'THE TIME IS OUT OF JOIN1"
1. Spectrality presupposes, as we have seen, an undecidable
relation between spint and flesh which contaminates, in turn,
these two poles. It presupposes, in that sense, a weakened
form of incarnation. Weakened because a full incarnation - an
incarnation in the Chnstian sense - transforms the flesh into a
purely transparent medium through which we can see an entirely
spiritual reality with no connection to its incarnating body.
God's mediation is what establishes the link between spirit
and flesh in so far as He is at an infinite distance from both.
So the lack of natural connection between both poles is what
transforms the flesh into the medium through which the spirit
shows itself. At the same time, however, it is this lack of
connection that prevents the contamination of one by the other.
No doubt this Chrilltian polarity can be deconstructed in turn,
but the point is that this deconstruction will not take place
through the collapse of the frontier between spirit and spectre.
For in the spectre the relation between spirit and flesh is much
more intimate: there is no divine mediation that both sanctions
and supersedes the essential heterogeneity of the two poles.
Now, a hegemonic relat,ion is one in which a certain body
presents itself as the incarnation of a certain spirit. The
hegemonic relation is certainly spectral: a certain body tries to
present its particular features as the expression of something
transcending its own particularity. The body is an undecidable
point in which universality and particularity get confused, but
the very fact that other bodies compete to be the incarnating
ones, that they are alternative forms of materialization of the
same 'spirit', suggests a kind of autonomization of the latter
which cannot be explained solely by the pure logic of spectrality.
2. Of what does this autonomization consist? This is our
second step. Let us remember that any step that is taken out of
the logic of spectrality cannot be in contradiction to the latter
but must, on the contrary, presuppose it. If the autonomization
of the 'spirit' is to take place within spectrality, 'autonomy'
cannot mean identify with oneself, self-representation, because
that would precisely restore a rigid frontier between 'spirit'
and 'spectre' But autonomy does not require full identity as
its precondition: it can also emerge out of a constitutive
impossibility, an absolute limit whose forms of representation
will be necessarily inadequate. Let us suppose a situation of
71
EMANCIPATION(S)
generalized social disorder: in such a situation 'order' becomes
the name of an absent fullness, and if that fullness is
constitutively unachievable, it cannot have any content of its
own, any form of self-representation. 'Order' thus becomes
autonomous vis-a.-vis any particular order in so far as it is the
name of an absent fullness that no concrete social order can
achieve (the same can be said of similar terms such as
'revolution', 'unity of the people', etcetera). That fullness is
present, however, as that which is absent and needs, as a result,
to be represented in some way. Now, its means of representation
will be constitutively inadequate, for they can only be particular
contents that assume, in certain circumstances, a function of
representation of the impossible universality of the community.
This relation, by which a certain particular content overflows
its own particularity and becomes the incarnation of the absent
fullness of society is exactly what I call a hegemonic relation.
As we can see, it presupposes the logic of the spectre: the
fullness of the 'spirit', as it has no content of its own, can exist
only through irs parasitic attachment to some particular body;
but that body is subverted and deformed in its own particularity
as it becomes the embodiment of fullness. This means, inter
alia, that the anachronistic language of revolutions, which Marx
refers to and Derrida analyses, is inevitable: the old revolution
is present in the new one, not in its particularity but in its
universal function of being a revolution, as the incarnation of
the revolutionary principle as such. And the Marxian aspiration
of a revolutionary language that only expresses the present, in
which the 'content' overcomes 'phraseology', is a pure
impossibility. If the fullness of the revolution - as all fullness
- is unachievable, we cannot but have a dissociation between
the revolutionary content and the fullness of a pure
revolutionary foundation, and this dissociation will reproduce
sine die the logic of spectrality and the split between 'phraseo-
logy' and 'content'.
What precedes is an attempt to show the type of move that I
would make out of the logic of spectrality. But, as I said, it i5
not the only move that one can make. The steps that lead from
the logic of spectrality to a hegemonic logic are steps that the
former logic certainly makes possible, but they are not neces-
sary corollaries that are derived (rom it.
72
'THE TIME IS OUT OF JOINT'
But what political consequences does Derrida himself draw
from his deconstruction of Marx's texts? Although these
consequences are not entirely developed in his book, we can
get a broad hint of the direction that Derrida is taking if we
move to our second theme: the question of the messianic.
The Question of the Messianic
Let us quote Derrida again. After having indicated that both
Marxism and religion share the formal structure of a messianic
eschatology, he asserts:
While it is common to both of them, with the exception of the content
it is also the case that its formal structure of promise exceeds
them or precedes them. Well, what remains irreducible to any
deconstruction, what remains as undeconstructible as the possibility
itself of deconstruction is, perhaps, a certain experience of the
emancipatory promise; it is perhaps even the formality of a structural
messianism, a messianism without religion, even a messianic without
messianism, an idea of justice - which we distinguish from law or
right and even from human rights - and an idea of democracy - which
we distinguish from its current concept and from its determined
predicates today. (SM, p. 59)
Here Derrida summarizes themes that he developed in full in
'Force of Law'. These themes and concepts require, however,
that they be reinserted in the various discursive contexts within
which they were originally formulated, first because these
contexts considerably diverge among themselves and, second,
because the high metaphoricity of some of the categories
employed - such as the messianic - can lead [0 an undue
association of these categories with the concrete historical
phenomena to which they are usually applied. I cannot properly
do this job in the limited space of a review, but let us, at least,
make some specifkations. 8y the 'messianic' we should not
understand anything directly related to actual messianic
movements - of the present or past - but, instead, something
belonging to the general structllre of experience. It is linked to
the idea of 'promise' This does not mean this or that particular
promise, but the promise implicit in an originary opening to
the 'other', to the unforeseeable, to the pure: event which cannot
be mastered by any aprioristic discourse. Such an event is an
73
EMANCIPATION(S)
interruption in the normal course of things. a radical dislocation.
This leads to the notion of 'justice' as linked to an absolute
singularity which cannot be absorbed by the generality of law.
The chasm between law and justice is one which cannot be
closed. The existence of this chasm is what makes deconstruction
possible. Deconstruction and justice - or, rather, deconstruction
as justice - is what cannot be deconstructed. Deconstructing
law - which is finally what politics is about - is possible because
of this structure of experience in which the messianic, the
promise and justice are categories in a relation of mutual
implication.
On the basis of these premisses, Derrida elaborates his concept
of 'democracy to come' (democratie a veni,). This 'a veni,'
does not involve any teleological assertion - not even the limited
one of a regulative idea - but simply the continual commitment
to keep open the relation to the other, an opening which is
always a veni" for the other to which one opens oneself is
never already given in any aprioristic calculation. To summarize:
the messianism we are speaking about is one without
eschatology, without a pre-given promised land, without
determinate content. It is simply the lItructure of promise which
is inherent in all experiencc and whose lack of content - rcsulting
from thc radical opening to the event, to the other - is the very
possibility of justice and gives its meaning only to the democracy
to come. Singularity as the terrain of justice involves the radical
undecidability which makes the decision possible:
It was thcn a matter of thinking another historicity ... anothcr opening
of event-ness as historicity that pcrmined one not to renouncc, but on
the contrary to open up acc:ess to an affirmativc thinking of the messianic
and cmancipatory promise as promise: as promise and not as ooto-
theological or teleo-csc:hatological programme or design .
But at a certain point promise and decision, which is to say
responsibility, owe their possibility to the ordeal of undeddability which
will always remain their condition. (SM, pp. 74-5)
What can we say about the various theoretical operations that
Derrida performs starting from this conceptual construction?
I think that we can distinguish three levels here. The first
refers to the deconstruction of the concept of messianism that
we have inherited from the religious but also from the Marxist
tradition. This deconstruction proceeds by showing the
contingent character of the articulations that have coalesced
74
'THE TIME IS OUT Of JOINT'
around the actual historical messianisms. We can do away with
the teleological and eschatological dimensions, we can even
do away with all the actual contents of the: historical
rnessianisms, hut what we cannot do away with is the 'promise',
because it is inscribed in the structure of all experience. This,
ill> we have seen, is not a promise of anything concrete; it is
some son of 'existential', in so far as it is what prevents any
presence from being closed around itself. If we link this to the
rdations law/justice, undecidability/decisions, we can see the
general movement of Derrida's theoretico-political intervention,
which is to direct the historico-political forms back to the
primary terrain of their opening to the radically heterogeneous.
This is the terrain of constitutive undecidability, of an experience
of the impossible that, paradoxically, makes responsibility,
decision, law and - finally - the messianic itself possible in its
actual historical forms. I find myself in full agreement with
this movement.
Derrida's argument, however, docs not stop there. From this
first movement (for reasuns that will become clear presently, I
keep this 'from' deliberately vague, undecided between the
derivative and the merely sequential), he passes to a sort of
ethico-political injunction by which all the previuusly mentioned
dimensions converge in the project of a democracy to come,
which is linked to the classical notion of 'emancipation'. Derrida
is very firm in his assertion that he is not at all prepared tu put
the latter into question. But we have to be very careful about
the meaning of such a stand, because the classical notion of
emancipation is no more than another name for the
eschatological messianism that he is trying to deconstruct.
Various aspects have to be differentiated here. If by reasserting
the classical notion of emancipation Derrida does not mean
anything beyond his particular way of reasserting messianism
- that is doing away with all the teleo-onrological paraphernalia
of the latter and sticking to the moment of the 'promise' -
then I would certainly agree with him but, in that case, the
classic idea of emancipation, even if we retain from it an
ultimately undeconstructible moment, is deeply transformed. I
find it rather m"isleading to call this operation a defence of the
classic notion of emancipation. But - second aspect - the classic
notion of emancipation was something more than the formal
structure of the promise. It was also the crystallization and
7S
EMANCIPATION(S)
synthesis of a series of contents such as the elimination of
economic exploitation and all forms of discrimination, the
assertion of human rights, the consolidation of civil and political
freedom, and so forth. Derrida, understandably, does not want
to renounce this patrimony, and it would be difficult not to
join him in its defence. The difficulty, however, is that in the
classic notion of emancipation the defence and grounding of
all those contents were intimately connected to the teleological
eschatology that Derrida is deconstructing. So, if he wants to
maintain the results of his deconstruction and at the same time
to defend those contents, since the ground of the latter can no
longer be an eschatological articulation, there are only two
ways open to him: either to show that those contents can be
derived from the 'promise' as a general structure of experience,
or to demonstrate that those contents are grounded in something
less than such a general structure - in which case the 'promise'
as such is indifferent to the actual nature of those contents.
There is, finally, a third aspect to be distinguished. The
previous distinctions have to be situated against the background
of the real target of Derrida's discussion in Spectres of Marx:
the exposure of a prevalent common sense (that he exemplifies
through his brilliant critique of Fukuyama) according to which
the collapse of the communist regimes is supposed to mean
humanity'S arrival at a final stage where all human needs will
be satisfied and where no messianic consummation of time is
any longer to be expected. Derrida reacts against this new
dominant consensus and its grounding by
showing, at the empirical level, the gap between historical reality
and the capitalist West's satisfied image of itself and, at the
theoretical level, the inconsistencies of the notion of an end to
history. It is against the background of this polemic that the
whole discourse about the ever returning spectres of Marx has
to be understood. What Derrida is finally saying is that isolated
demands, grievances, injustices, and so forth are not empirical
residues of a historical stage which has - in all essentials -
been superseded, but that they are, on the contrary, the
symptoms of a fundamental deadlock of contemporary societies
that pushes isolated demands to some kind of phantasmatic
articulation which will result in new forms of political
reaggregation. The latter are not specified beyond Derrida's
quick allusions to the historical limits of the 'parry' form and
76
'THE TIME IS OUT OF JOINT'
to a 'New International' in the making. However, it is clear
that any advance in formulating a theory of political
reaggregation crucially depends on how the transition between
the general structure of experience - the promise - and the
contents of the classical emancipatory project is conceived.
This is the third level at which the argument of Spectres of
Marx can be considered: the type of link it establishes between
the promise as a (post-) transcendental or (post-) ontological
(non-) ground and the ethical and political contents of an
emancipatory project. This is the level at which I find the
argument of Spectres less convincing. For here an illegitimate
logical transition can easily be made. I am not necessarily
asserting that Derrida is making that transition, but, at any
rate, it is one frequently made by many defenders of
deconstruction and one to which the very ambiguity of the
Derridian texts gives some credence. The illegitimate transition
is to think that from the impossibility of a presence closed in
itself, from an 'ontological' condition in which the openness
to the event, to the heterogeneous, to the radically other is
constitutive, some kind of ethical injunction to be responsible
and to keep oneself open to the heterogeneity of the other
necessari Iy follows. This transition is illegitimate for two
reasons. First, because if the promise is an 'existential'
constitutive of all experience, it is always already there, before
any injunction. (It is like the voluntaristic argument criticized
by Ortega y Gasset: on the one hand, it asserts that life is
constitutive insecurity; on the other, it launches the imperative
Vivere peric%samente, as if to do it or not to do it were a
matter of choice.) But, second and most important, from the
fact that there is the impossibility of ultimate closure and
presence. it does not follow that there is an ethical imperative
to 'cultivate' that o p e n n e s ~ or even less to be necessarily
committed to a democratic society. I think the latter can certainly
be defended from a deconstructionist perspective, but that
defence cannot be logically derived from constitutive openness
- something more has to be added to the argument. Precisely
because of the undecidability inherent in constitutive openness,
ethico-political moves different from or even opposite to a
democracy 'to come' can be made - for instance, since there is
ultimate undecidability and, as a result, no immanent temlency
of the structure to closure and full presence, to sustain that
77
EMANCIPATION(S)
closure has to be artificially brought about from the outside.
In that way a case for totalitarianism can be presented starting
from deconstructionist premisses. Of course, the totalitarian
argument would be as much a n01l sequitur as the argument
for democracy: either direction is equally possible given the
situation of structural undecidability.
We have so far presented our argument concerning the non-
connection between structural undecidability and ethical
injunction, starting from the 'ontological' side. But if we move
to the 'normative' side. the conclusions are remarkably similar.
Let us suppose. for the sake of the argument, that openness to
the heterogeneity of the other is an ethical injunction. If one
takes this proposition at face value, one is forced to conclude
that we have to accept the other as different because she is
different, whatever the content of that heterogeneity would
be. This does not sound much like an ethical injunction but
like ethical nihilism. And if the argument is reformulated by
saying that openness to the other does not necessarily mean
passive acceptance of her but rather active engagement which
includes criticizing her. attacking her. even killing her, the whole
argument starts to seem rather vacuous: what else do people
do all the time without any need for an ethical injunction?
Yet I think that deconstruction has important consequences
for both ethics and politics. These consequences, however,
depend on deconstruction '5 ability to go down to the bottom
of its own radicalism and avoid becoming entangled in all the
problems of a Levinasian ethics (whose proclaimed aim, to
present ethics as first philosophy. should from the start look
suspicious to any deconstructionist). I see the matter this way.
Undecidability should be literally taken as that condition from
which no course of action necessarily follows. This means that
we should not make it the necessary source of any concrete
decision in the ethical or political sphere. In a first movement
deconstruction extends undecidability - that is that which makes
the decision necessary - to deeper and larger areas of social
relations. The role of deconstruction is, from this perspective,
to reactivate the moment of decision that underlies any
sedimented set of social relations. The political and ethical
significance of this first movement is that. by enlarging the
area of structural undecidability, it also enlarges the area of
responsibility - that is of the decision. (In Derridian terms:
78
·THE TIME IS OUT Of JOINT'
I he requirements of justice become more complex and
multifaceted vis-Ii-vis law.)
But this first movement is immediately balanced by another
tine of the opposite sign, which is also essential to
deconstruction. To think of undecidability as a bottomless abyss
that underlies any self-sufficient 'presence' would still maintain
too much of the imagery of the 'ground'. The duality
undecidability/decision is something that simply belongs to the
logic of any structural arrangement. Degrounding is, in this
sense, also part of an operation of grounding except that this
grounding is no longer to refer something back to a foundation
which would act as a principle of derivation but, instead, to
reinscribe that something within the terrain of the undecidables
(iteration, re-mark, difference, etcetera) that make its emergence
possible. So, to go back to our problem, it is no longer a
question of finding a ground from which an ethical injunction
should be derived (even less to make such a ground of
undecidabiliry itself). We live as bricoleurs in a plural world,
having to take decisions within incomplete systems of rules
(incompletion here means undecidability), and some of these
rules are ethical ones. It is because of this constitutive
incompletion that decisions have to be taken, but because we
are faced with incompletion and not with total dispossession,
the problem of a total ethical grounding - either through the
opening to the otherness of the other, or through any similar
metaphysical principle - never arises. 'The time is out of joint'
but, because of that, there is never a beginning - or an end -
of time. Democracy does not need to be - and cannot be -
radically grounded. We can move to a more democratic society
only through a plurality of acts of democratization. The
consummation of time - as Derrida knows well - never arrives.
Not even as a regulative idea.
This leaves us, however, with a problem: how to conceive of
emancipation within this framework. What kind of collective
reaggregation is open to us once we have moved away from
the eschatological dimension of the classical emancipatory
model? This will be my last discusliion, and 1 will broach it by
locating Derrida's intervention within the tradition of critique
and reformulation of Marxism:
79
EMANCIPATION(S)
The Question of the Tradition
Derrida very cogently maintains that one thinks only from
within a tradition, and shows that this thinking is possible
only if one conceives one's relation with that past as a critical
reception. Now, the reception of Marxism since the turn of
the century has, in my view, turned around the discussion of
two capital and interrelated issues: (l) how to make compatible
- if it can be done at all - the various contradictory aspects of
Marx's thought, as in Derrida's version, which relates the
'ontological' and the 'phantasmaric'; (2) how to think forms
of reaggregation of political wills and social demands once the
obviousness of the identification of the working class with the
emancipatory agency started to dissolve. It is my contention
that the deconstructionist intervention represents a crucial turn
in connection with both issues. To show this, let us recapitulate
the broad lines of the main classical attempts at recasting
Marxism:
I. A first tendency represents the accentuation of the
ontological dimension (in the Derridian sense) of Marx's
thought. The absolute reconciliation of society with itself will
arrive as a result of the elimination of all forms of distorted
representation. The latter will be the consequence of the
proletarian revolution. This tendency can be found in a vulgar
materialist version (for example, Plekhanov) or in an apparently
more 'superstrucruralist' one, centred in the notion of 'false
consciousness' (as in Luklics). Here there is no reaggregation
of collective wills (the revolutionary agent is the working class),
and human emancipation is fixed in its contents by a full-
fledged eschatology.
2. The various forms of 'ethical' socialism to be found in
Bernstein and in some currents of Austro-Marxism. The common
feature of all these tendencies is a rerurn to a Kantian dualism.
Here the ontological dimension becomes weaker: the 'necessary
laws of history' become more erratic, the agent of emancipation
becomes more contingent and indeterminate, and the Entkjel
I o . ~ s most of its eschatological precision. However, the determina<."y
which has been lost at the level of an objective history is retrieved
at the level of an ethical regulative idea. The moment of the
political decision is as absent as in Marxist orthodoxy.
80
'THf. TIME IS OUT OF JOINT'
.1. The Sorelian-Gramscian tradition; it is here that the
phantasmatic dimension finally takes the upper hand. The
anchoring of social representations in the ontological bedrock
of an objective history starts dissolving. The unity of the class
is, for Sorel, a mythical unity. For Gramsci, the unity of a
collective will results from the constitutive role of an organic
ideology. History becomes an open and contingent process that
does not reflect any deeper underlying reality. Two aspects are
important for us: (a) the link between concrete material forces
and the function that they fulfil in the classical Marxist scheme
becomes loose and indeterminate. 'Collective will', 'organic
ideology', hegemonic group', and so forth become empty forms
that can be filled by any imaginable political and social content.
They are certainly anchored in a dialectics of emancipation
but, as the latter is not necessarily linked to any particular
content, it becomes something like an 'existential' of historical
life and is no longer the announcement of a concrete event.
Now, is this not something like a deconstruction of eschat-
ological messianism: the automization of the messianic promise
from the contents that it is attached to in 'actually existing'
messianisms? (b) the distinction between the ethical and the
political is blurred. The moment of the ethico-political is
presented as a unity. This can, of course, be given a Hegelian
interpretation, but my argument is that what is really at stake
in Gramsci's intervention is a politicization of ethics, in so far
as the acts of institution of the social link are contingent acts
of decision that presuppose relations of power. This is what
gives an 'ontological' primacy to politics and to 'hegemony' as
the logic governing any political intervention.
I have said enough to make it clear that, for me, it is only as
an extension and radicalization of this last tendency that
deconstruction can present itself both as a moment of its
inscription in the Marxist tradition as well as a point of turning!
deepening/supersession of the latter. My optimistic reading of
Spectres of Marx is that it represents a step forward in the
pro5ecution of this task. The main stumbling block that I still
see to this being accomplished - at least as far as Derrida is
concerned - is that the ambiguity previously pointed out
between undecidability as a terrain of radicalization of the
decision, and undecidability as the source of an ethical injunction
81
EMANC1PATlON(S)
is still hovering in Derrida's texts. Once this ambiguity is
superseded, however, deconstruction can become one of the
most powerful tools at hand for thinking strategically.
This rethinking of politics in a deconstructive fashion can (if
we start from the Marxist tradition) produce three types of
effect. [n the first place, if we are thinking in terms of the
third tendency within Marxism, we can recast and extend its
system of categories far beyond the intellectual tools to which
Sorel and Gramsci had access. This recasting in terms of the
logic of differance can open the way to much more refined
forms of strategic thinking.
Second, the logics of hegemonic reaggregation face, in the
contemporary world, much more serious challenges than those
that a Gramsd was confronted with. Our societies are far less
homogeneous than those in which the Marxian models were
formulated, and the constitution of the collective wills takes
place in terrains crossed by far more complex relations of
power - as a result, inter alia, of ttie development of mass
media. The dissolution of the metaphysics of presence is not a
purely intellectual operation. It is profoundly inscribed in the
whole experience of recent decades. Deconstruction, as a result,
faces the challenge of reinscribing the Marxian model in this
complex experience of present-day society.
Finally, operating deconstructively within Marx's texts can
help in a third vitally important task: reinscribing Marxism
itself and each of its discursive components as a partial moment
in the wider history of emancipatory discourses. Derrida is
quite right to combat the current amnesia of the Marxist
tradition. But let us not make the opposite mistake and think
that the history of Marxism overlaps with the history of
emancipatory projects. Many more ghosts than those of Marx
are actually visiting and revisiting us. Benjamin's angel should
become a symbol constantly reminding us of our complex and
multilayered tradition. I remember that during my childhood
in Argentina, in the continuous performance cinemas there
was an announcement saying, 'The performance begins when
you arrive'. Well, I think that 'emancipation' is the opposite:
it is a performance at which we always arrive late and which
forces us to guess, painfully, about its mythical or impossible
origins. We have, however, to engage ourselves in this impossible
task, which is, among other things, what gives deconstruction
its meaning.
82
'THE TIME IS OUT Of JOINT'
Note
1. The basic formularion concerning of can
f,,"nd in Laclau and Mouffe, Hege",()ny and Srn;ialist Strategy, J
.11U1 4. I reformulated basic dimensions 01 this concept, linking it
more closely to the category 01 'dislocation', in New Reflections 0,. 'he
of aNr Timt'.
Bibliograpby
Critchley, Simon. 'On Derrida's Spectres of Marx', Society for Phenomenology
and Existential Philosophy, Seattle, October 1994. Forthcoming in
Philosophy and Social Criticis",.
Derrida, Jacques. 'Force of Law: The MMystical Foundation of Authority.· ..
in Drucilla Cornell et al.(eds.), Deconstruction and the Possibility of
INstice, New York, Routledge 1992.
Spectres of Mane: The State of the CHbt, the Work of Mou",ing, and 'he
New Inte",alio"a/, trans. Peggy Kamuf, New York, Routledge 1994.
Ladau, Ernesto. New Reflections on the Retlo/lflio" of Our Time, London,
Verso 1990.
Laclau, [rnesto, and Cb.ntal Mouffe. Hegemony and Soc;udisc Strattgy,
London, Verso 198.5.
83
6
Power and Representation
The aim of this essay is to explore some of the consequences
that follow - for both political theory and political action -
from what has been called our 'postmodern condition' There
is today the widespread feeling that the exhaustion of the great
narratives of modernity, the blurring of the boundaries of the
public spaces, the operation of logics of undecidability, which
seem to be robbing all meaning from collective action, are
leading to a generaliz.ed retreat from the political. I would like
to try to explore this claim and shall do so by considering, as
my starting point. some of the most fundamental assumptions
of the modern approach to politics. From the point of view of
the meaning of any significant political intervention, there was
in modernity the generalized conviction that the former had
to take place at the level of the ground of the social - that is
that politics had the means to carry out a radical transformation
of the social, whether such a transformation was conceived as
a founding revolutionary act, as an orderly set of bureaucratic
measures proceeding from an enlightened elite, or as a single
act opening the way to the operation of those mechanisms
whose automatic unfolding would be sufficient to produce a
'society effect'. There is, in addition, the question of the frame-
work that allows a conceptual grasp on such a political
intervention. This was provided by the notion of social totality
and by the series of causal connections that necessarily followed
from it. As has been pointed out,· if we take Machiavelli and
Hobbes as opposite poles in the modern approach to politics -
the first centring his analysis in a theory of strategic calculation
within the social, the second in the mechanisms-producing
society as a totality - it is the Hobbesian approach that has
POWER AND REPRESENTATION
constituted the mainstream of modern political theory. This
leads us to a third feature of political action as conceived in
the modern age: its radical representability. It could not have
been otherwise; if there is a ground of the social - which is a
condition of its intelligibility - and if, as a result, society can
only be considered as an orderly series of effects, that is as a
totality, then an action whose meaning derives from such a
ground and such a totality has to be fully transparent to itself
and thus endowed with limitless rcprcsentability. As well, this
transparency and representability had to be necessarily
translated to the agent of the historical transformation. A
limited historical actor could only carry out a universal task in
so far as he was denied access to the meaning of his actions, in
so far as his consciousness was a 'false' one. But as both Hegel
and Marx knew well, a social totality that lacks the mirror of
its own representation is an incomplete social totality and,
consequently, not a social totality at all. Only full reconciliation
between substance and subject, between being and knowledge,
can cancel the distance between the rational and the: real. But,
in that case, representation is a necessary moment in the self·
constitution of the totality, and the latter is only achieved so
long as the distinction between action and representation is
abolished. Only a limitless historical actor - a 'universal class'
- can make this abolition actual. This dual movement, by which
the ground becomes subject through a universal class that
abolishes all 'alienation' in the forms of representation and by
which the subject becomes ground by abolishing all external
limitations posed by the object, is at the centre of the modern
view of history and society.
These four features converge in a fifth one that could perhaps
be considered the true horizon of the modern approach to
politics: once the last foundation of politics is made fully visible,
power becomes a purely appariential phenomenon. The reasons
for this reduction are clear: if one social group exercises power
over another, this power will be experienced by the second
group as irrational; but if history is, however, a purely rational
process, the irrationality of power must be purely appariential.
In that case, either historical rationality belongs to the discourse
of the dominant groups - and the claims of the oppressed are
the necessary but distorted expression of a higher rationality
that generates, as its own condition of possibility, an area of
85
EMANCIPATlON(S)
opaqueness; or the discourses of the oppressed are the ones
that contain the seeds of a higher rationality - in which case,
their full realization involves the elimination of any opaqueness
(and therefore any power). In the first case, coercion and
opaqueness are indeed present; but, as the power of the
dominant group i ~ fully rational, the resistance to power cannot
be external but must be internal to power itself; in that case,
the coercion and opaqueness of the brute fact of domination
can only be the necessary appariential forms through which
the rationality of power takes shape. If a system of domination
is rational, its repressive character: can only be appariential.
This leaves us with only two alternatives: either the gaze of
the dominant group is fully rational, in which case that group
is a limitless historical actor, or the gazes of both the dominant
and the dominated groups are partial and limited ones, in which
case, the attributes of full rationality are automatically trans-
ferred to the historical analyst. The important point is that in
both cases, reality of power and representability of history are
in inverse relationship.
These distinctive features of modernity are so deeply
entrenched in our usual forms of conceiving society and history
that recent attempts to call them into question (what has been
called, in very general terms, 'postmodernity') have given rise
to a tendency to substitute them for their pure absence by a
simple negation of their content, a negation which continues
inhabiting the intellectual terrain that those positive features
had delineated. Thus, the negation that there is a ground out
of which all social contents obtain a precise meaning can be
easily transformed into the assertion that society is entirely
meaningless; questioning the universality of the agents of
historical transformation leads quite often to the proposition
that all historical intervention is equally and hopelessly limited;
and showing the opaqueness of the process of representation
is usually considered equivalent to a denial that representation
is possible at all. It is, of course, easy to show that - in a
fundamental sense - these nihilistic positions continue
inhabiting the intellectual terrain from which they try to
distance themselves. To assert, for instance, that something is
meaningless is to assert a very classical conception of meaning,
adding only that it is absent. But in a more important sense, it
is possible to show that these apparently radical reversals can
86
POWER AND REPRESENTATION
only acquire whatever force of conviction they carry by a clearly
detectable inconsistency. If I conclude - as I will later in this
text - that no pure relation of representation is obtainable
because it is of the essence of the process of representation
that the representative has to contribute to the identity of
what is represented, then this cannot be transformed without
inconsistency into the proposition that 'representation' is a
concept that should be abandoned. For in that case, we would
be left with the nude identities of the represented aDd the
representative as self-sufficient ones, which is precisely the:
assumption that the whole critique of the notion of repre-
sentation was questioning. In the same way, the critique of the
notion of 'universality' implicit in the idea of a universal agent
cannot be transformed into the assertion of the equally uniform
limitation of all agents - because we could then ask ourselves,
limitation in relation to what? And the answer can only be
that it is in terms of a structure that equally limits all agents
and that, in this sense, it assumes the role of a true universality.
Finally, in order to be radically meaningless, something requires,
as its condition of possibility, the contrastive presence of a
full-fledged meaning. Meaninglessness grows out of meaning
or, as has been asserted in a proposition that stated exactly the
same, meaning grows out of non-meaning.
Against these movements of thought, which remain within
the terrain of modernity by simply inverting its fundamental
tenets, I would like to suggest an alternative strategy: instead
of inverting the contents of modernity, to deconstruct the terrain
that makes the alternative modernity/postmodernity possible.
That is, instead of remaining within a polarization whose
options arc entirely governed by the basic categories of modern-
ity, to show that the latter do not constitute an essentially
unified block but are rather the sedimented result of a series
of contingent articulations. To reactivate the intuition of the
contingent character of these articulations will thus produce a
widening of horizons, in so far as other articulations - equally
contingent - will also show their possibility. This involves, on
the one hand, a new attitude towards modernity: not a radical
break with it but a new modulation of its themes; not an
abandonment of its basic tenets but a hegemoniz.ation of them
from a different perspective. This also involves, on the other
hand, an expansion of the field of politics instead of its retreat
87
EMANCIPATION(S)
- a widening of the field of structural undecidability that opens
the way to an enlargement of the field of political decision. It
is here that 'deconstruction' and 'hegemony' show their
complementarity as the two sides of a single operation. It is
these two sides that I shall discuss now.
Let me start by referring to one of the originary texts of
deconstruction: the analysis of the relation between meaning
and knowledge in Husser! (the 'formalist' and the 'intuitionist'
sides of his approach), as presented by Derrida in Speech and
Phenomena. Husserl, in a first movement, emancipates meaning
from the necessity of fulfilling it with the intuition of an object.
That is, he emancipates meaning from knowledge. An
expression such as 'square circle' has indeed a meaning: it is
such a meaning that allows me to say that it refers to an
impossible object. Meaning and object fulfilmenr, as a result,
do not necessarily require each other. Moreover, Derrida
concludes that if meaning can be strictly differentiated from
knowledge, the essence: of meaning is better shown when such
fulfilment does not take place. But, in a second movement,
Husser! quickly closed the possibilities that this breach
established between knowledge and meaning had just opened:
In other words, the genuine and true meaning is the will to say the
truth. This subtle shift incorporates the eidos into the telos, and the
language into knowledge. A speech could well be in conformity with
its ellSCnce as speech when it is false; it nonetheless attains its entelechy
when it is true. One caD speak in saying 'The circle is square'; one
speaks well, however, in saying that it is not. There is already sense
in the first proposition, bUI it would be wrong to conclude from this
that sense docs not wait "pon truth. It does not await truth as
expecting it; it only precedes truth as its anticipation. /n truth, the
telos which announces the fulfilment, promised for 'later', has already
and beforehand opened up sense as a relation with the object.
1
The important point - the deconstructive moment of Derrida's
analysis - is that if 'meaning' and 'object intuition' are not
related to each other in a teleological way, in that case - from
the point of view of meaning - it is undecidable whether the
latter will or will not be subordinated to knowledge. In this
respect the path followed by Joyce, as Derrida points out, is
very different from Husserl's. But if Husserl subordinates
meaning to knowledge, and if this subordination is not required
by the essence of meaning, it can only be the result of an
88
POWF.R AND REPRESf.NTATlON
intervention that is contingent V;S-tJ-II;S meaning. It is the result
of what Derrida calls an 'ethico-theoretical decision' on the
part of Husserl. We can see how the enlargement of the field
of structural undecidability brought about by the deconstructive
intervention has, at the same time, widened the terrain to be
filled by the decision. Now, a contingent intervention taking
place in an undecidable terrain is exactly what we have called
a hegemonic intervention.]
I would like to explore in some more detail this relation of
mutual implication between deconstruction and hegemony.
What the deconstructive move has shown is not the actual
separation between meaning and knowledge, because the two
are closely linked in Husserl's text - in fact, the unity of the
latter results from this double requirement by which meaning
has to be both subordinated to and differentiated from
knowledge. So, the deconstructive intervention shows, first,
the contingency of a connection, and second, the contingency
of a connection. This has an important consequence for our
argument. If only the dimension of contingency was underlined,
we would have merely asserted the synthetic character of the
connection between two identities, each of them fully
constituted in itself and not requiring anything outside itself
for that full constitution. We would be in the terrain of pure
dispersion, which would be a new and contradictory form of
essentialism given that each one of the monadic identities should
be defined in and for itsclf (first extreme) and that, because
dispersion is, however, a form of reilltion between objects, it
requires a terrain that operates as ground or condition of
possibility of that dispersion (second extreme) - in which case
the identities could not, after all, be monadic. So, that
connection to something else is absolutely necessary for the
constitution of any identity, and this connection must be of a
contingent nature. In that case, it belongs to the essence of
something to have contingent connections and contingency,
therefore, becomes a necessary part of the essence of that
something. This leads us to the following conclusions. That if
having accidents is an essential feature of a substance - or, if
the contingent is an essential pan of the necessary - this means
that there is a necessary undecidability inscribed within any
structure (by 'structure' I mean a complex identity constituted
by a plurality of moments). For the structure requires the
89
EMANCIPATION(S)
contingent connections as a necessary part of its identity, but
these connections - precisely because they are contingent -
cannot be logically derived from any point within the structure.
So, the fact that only one of the possible paths is followed,
that only one of the possible contingent connections is
actualized. is undecidable from within the structure. The
'structurality' of the structure, so far as it is the actualization
of a series of contingent connections, cannot find the source
of these connections within itself. This is why in Derrida's
analysis, Husserl's ethico-theoretical decision must be brought
into the picture as an essential element in order to establish
the subordination of meaning to knowledge. An external source
of a certain set of structural connections is what we will call
force.
4
This is exactly the point at which deconstruction and
hegemony cross each other. For if deconstruction discovers
the role of the decision out of the undecidability of the
structure, hegemony as a theory of the decision taken in an
undecidable terrain requires that the contingent character of
the connections existing in that terrain is fully shown by
deconstruction. The category of hegemony emerged in order
to think about the political character of social relations in a
theoretical arena that had seen the collapse of the classical
Marxist conception of the 'dominant class' - the latter conceived
as a necessary and immanent effect of a fully constituted
structure. The hegemonic articulations were from the beginning
conceived as contingent, precarious and pragmatic
constructions. This is why. in Gramsci, there is a sustained
effort to break with the identification of hegemonic agencies
to objective social positions within the structure. His notion
of 'collective will' tries precisely to effect this break. so far as
the collective wills are conceived as unstable social agencies,
with imprecise and constantly redefined boundaries, and
constituted through the contingent articulation of a plurality
of social identities and relations. The two central features of a
hegemonic intervention are, in this sense, the contingent
character of the hegemonic articulations and their constitutive
character, in the sense that they institute social relations in a
primary sense, not depending on any a priori social rationality.
This, however, poses two problems. The first refers to the
external instance that takes the decision. Is this not to
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POWER AND REPRESENTATION
reintroduce a new essentialism via the subject? Is it not to
replace an objective closure of the structure by a subjective
dosure through the intervention of the agent? The second
problem concerns the conditions of visibility of the contingency
of the structure. For reasons that will become apparent in a
moment, these two problems must be tackled successively, as
in the order just presented.
Regarding the first point, it is obvious that the matter cannot
be solved on the basis of simply asserting that the trick is done
by a subject who rearticulates around its project the dispersed
elements of a dislocated structure. There is, in fact, a far more
complex relation between subject and structure than the one
that this simplistic version of what is involved in a hegemonic
articulation suggests. For the obvious question arises: who is
the subject and what is the terrain of its constitution? If we
want to avoid facile deus ex machina solutions, this question
must be answered. A first answer would be in terms of a well-
mannered and 'enlightened' Marxism: there is a primary terrain
on which social agencies are constituted - the relations of
production - and a secondary terrain on which the dispersed
elements to be begemonized operate. In this way, we are in the
best of both worlds: we can assert the full role of agency in
doing the articulating job without falling into any demodl
subjectivism; we can maintain the notion of a fundamental
agent of historical change without renouncing the multiform
and rich variety of social life; we can give free rein to the
intriguing game of historical contingency knowing that we have
the disciplinary means to bring them back - 'in the last instance'
- to the stern world of structural constraints. What a beautiful
and tidy little world! The drawback to the picture is, of course,
that if the separation between the two levels has any validity
at all, then we have to mak.e explicit the totality within which
that separation takes place; and if there is such a totality, contin-
gency cannot be true contingency. For if the limits of the
contingent are necessary, then these limits arc: part of the
contingent identity. Conversely, as the necessary limits are limits
of the contingent variation, the presence of that variation is
absolutely necessary for the existence of the limits and in that
case, as we asserted earlier, contingency becomes necessary.
The world is, after all, more wild and unforeseeable than the
tidy blueprints of our bien pensant Marxist.
91
EMANCIPATlON(S)
So, Jet us mix the cards and start the game again. The
hegemonic subject cannot have a terrain of constitution different
from the structure to which it belongs. But, however, if the
subject was a mere subject position within the structure, the
latter would be fully closed and there would be no contingency
at all - and no need to hegemonize anything. The terms of our
problem are the following: hegemony means contingent
articulation; contingency means externality of the articulating
force vis-a-vis the articulated elements, and this externality
cannot be thought of as an actual separation of levels within a
fully constituted totality because that is no externality at all.
So, how are we to account for an externality emerging within
the structure in a way that is not the result of a positive
differentiation of its constitutive levels? This can only happen
if the structure is not fully reconciled with itself, if it is inhabited
by an original lack, by a radical undecidability that needs to
be constantly superseded by acts of decision. These acts are
preCisely what constitute the slIb;ect, who can only exist as a
will transcending the structure. Because this will has no place
of constitution external to the structure but is the result of the
failure of the structure to constitute itself, it can be formed
only through acts of identification. If I need to identify with
something, it is because I do not have a full identity in the first
place. These acts of identification can only be thought of as
the result of the lack within the structure and have the perman-
ent trace of that lack. Contingency is shown in this way: as the
inherent distance of the structure from itself. (fhis is, in fact,
the matrix of all visibility and of all representation: without
this distance no vision would be possible.)
This leads us to our second problem: what are the conditions
for visibility of the contingency of the structure? Part of the
question has actually been answered: in so far as no specific
content is predetermined to fill the structural gap, it is the
conflict between various contents in their attempt to play this
filling role that will make the contingency of the structure
visible. But this leads to another consequence, which is of
greater importance for our argument. The visibility of the
contingent character of the content that closes the structure
requires that such a content is seen as indifferent to the
structural gap and, in that sense, as equivalent to other possible
contents. This means that the relation between the concrete
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POWER AND REPRESENTATION
(On tent and its role as filler of the gap within the structure is
purely external - that is precisely where the contingency lies.
Sut in that casc, the concrete content that does the filling will
he constitutively split: on the one hand, it will be its own
literal content; on the other - so far as it fulfils a function
that is contingent vis-a-vis that control - it will represent a
general function of filling that is independent of any particular
content. This second function is what. in another text, I have
called the general form of fullness. S Thus, the complete answer
10 our second problem would be that the condition for visibility
IIf the contingency of the structure is visibility of the gap
between the general form of fullness and the concrete content
that incarnates that form. In a situation of great disorder, the
need for an order becomes more pressing than the concrete
content of the latter; and the more generalized the disorder,
the greater will be the distance between these two dimensions
and the more indifferent people will be to the concrete content
of the political forms that bring things back to a certain
normality. '
We can now draw some general conclusions about this split.
It is easy to see that were a total closure of the structure to be
achieved, the split would be superseded because, in that case,
the general form of the fullness would be immanent to the
structure and it would be impossible to differentiate it from
the concrete - literal - content of the latter. It is only if the
fullness is perceived as that which the structure lacks that
general form and concrete content can be differentiated. In
that case, we would apparently be left with a simple duality by
which we would have, on the one hand, the (partially destruc-
tured) structure and, on the other, the various and - as we
have seen - partially equivalent attempts to fill the structural
gaps, to introduce new restructuring discourses and practices.
There is, however, a sleight of hand in this way of presenting
the matter, by which something essentially important is
concealed. Let us examine the matter carefully. Everything turns
around the status of this category of 'equivalence', which we
have introduced to characterize one of the dimensions of the
relationship between the various discourses that try to fill the
structural gap. What is the condition of possibility of such an
equivalence? Let us think of the well-known example of people
who live in the neighbourhood of a waterfall. They live hearing
93
EMANCIPATlON(S)
all their lives the noise of the water falling - that is, the sound
is a permanent background of which they are normally unaware.
So they do nut actually hear the noise. But if for any reason
the fall of the water suddenly stops one day, they will start
hearing that which, strictly speaking, cannot be heard: silence.
It is the lack of something that has thus acquired full presence.
Now, let us suppose that this silence is intermittently interrupted
by noises of different origin that the fall of the water had
made inaudible before. All these sounds will have a split identity:
on the one hand they are specific noises; on the other, they
have the equivalent identity of breaking the silence. The noises
are only equivalent because there is silence; but the silence is
only audible as the lack of a former fullness.
This example, however, misses one dimension of the com-
munitarian lack: the latter is experienced as deprivation, while
I can be perfectly indifferent to the presence or absence of the
noise of the fall. This is why the social lack will be lived as
disorder, as disorganization, and attempts to supersede it will
exist via identifications. But if social relations are discursive
relations, symbolic relations that constitute themselves through
processes of signification, then the failure of this process of
constitution, the presence of the lack within the structure, must
itself be signified. So the question is, are there specific discursive
forms of presence of the lack? Does this split between concrete
content and general form of fullness have specific ways of show-
ing itself? The answer is yes, and I will argue that the general
form of fullness shows itself through the discursive presence of
floating signifiers that are constitutively so - that is, they are
not the result of contingent ambiguities of meaning but of the
need to signify the lack (the absent fullness within the structure).
Let us suppose a political discourse asserting that 'Labour is
more capable than the Tory Party to ensure the unity of the
British people'. In a proposition like this, which is fairly common
in political argument, we have an entity - 'unity of the British
people' - that is qualitatively different from the other two -
Labour and the Tories. First, this unity is something to be
achieved, so that, contrary to the other two entities, it is not
something actually existent but the name of an absent fullness.
But second, the kind of political unity that Labour and the
Tories would bring about would be substantially different, so
that if the term unity meant a concrete entity at the same level
94
POWER AND REPRESENTATION
of the two political forces, the proposition would be almost
tautological- it would be equivalent to 'Labour is more capable
than the Tories to ensure a Labour kind of unity of the British
J)eople'. But obviously the original proposition does not intend
10 say that. So on the one hand, the various political forces
provide the concrete content of the unity, without which the
unity cannot exist, but, on the other hand, that unity is not
fully exhausted by any of these alternative concrete contents.
'Unity' is a floating signifier because its signifieds are fixed
only by the concrete contents provided by the antagonistic
forces; but, at the same time, this floating is not a purely
wntingent and circumstantial one, because without it political
argument would be impossible and political life would be a
dialogue between the deaf, in which we would only have incom·
mensurable propositions. The basic split mentioned earlier finds
the form of its discursive presence through this production of
empty signifiers representing the general form of fullness. In
another essay,' I have shown that if an expression su(;h as 'the
fascists succeeded in carrying out the revolution in which the
communists failed' made any sense in Italy in the early 1920s,
it is because the signifier 'revolution' was an empty one,
representing people's feeling that the old order coming from
the Risorgimento was obsolete and that a radical refoundation
of the Italian state was needed.
Let U5 take one last example. In an article published some
years ago,' Quentin Skinner takes issue with the way Stuart
Hampshire presents an imaginary dialogue between a liberal
and a Marxist.
9
According to Hampshire the disagreement turns
around the meaning of the term political: the Marxist gives to
it an extensive application while liberal use far more res-
tricted. For Skinner, however, much more than the meaning of
the term is involved in the dispute, given that it is not at all
clear why incommensurable meanings attributed to a term
would establish a criterion for preferring one to the other.
And he concludes:
If the Marxist is genuinely to persuade the Liberal to share or at least
acknowledge some political insight, he needs in effect to make two
points. One is of course that the term political can appropriately be
applied to a range of actions where the Liberal has never thought of
applying it. But the other, which his application of the term
the Liberal to admit, is that this is due not to a disagreement about
95
EMANCIPATlON(S)
the meaning of the term but rather to the fact that the Liberal is a
person of blinkered political sensitivity and awareness. \0
I agree with Skinner's two points, but I would like to add
something concerning the kind of dialogical process that the
two operations involve. To convince the liberal ~ h a t the term
political can he applied to a range of actions that it had not
encompassed before is something that can be done, as Skinner
himself points out, only if the Marxist were able to claim with
some plausibility that he or she is employing the term in virtue
of its agreed sense.
ll
Now, if the liberal docs not perceive that
this agreed sense encompasses the kind of situation that the
Marxist is referring to, this could be for one of two reasons:
either because of a logical mistake or, more plausibly, because
of a 'blinkered political sensitivity and awareness'. So, Skinner's
two points are not really different from each other; to apply a
term to a new range of actions on the basis of an agreed sense
requires, as a sine qua non condition, a redescription of a given
situation in terms that do away with blinkered political sensit-
ivity. But with this we have advanced very little. For why would
a redescription be accepted at all? If somebody is perfectly
happy and well-installed in a description A, he or she has no
reason whatsoever to move to another description B. The only
way out of this impasse is if the description B does not come
to replace a full-fledged description A, but provides a descrip-
tion to a situation that had become increasingly undescribable
in terms of the old paradigm. That is, the only way the process
of conviction can operate is if it moves from lack of conviction
to conviction, not from one conviction to another. This means
that the function of a new language is to fill a gap. So, Hamp-
shire is correct in thinking that there is no possibility of choice
between two separate worlds of thought; but Skinner is also
correct in maintaining that the dispute is not just about the
meaning of the terms but about wider redescriptions. If we
agreed that the condition of a successful redescription is that
it not only replaces an old one but also fills a gap opened in
the general describability of a situation, then the valid
redescription will have a split identity: on the one hand, it will
be its own content; on the other, it will embody the principle
of describability as such - that is what we have called the
general form of fullness. Without this second order of
96
POWI!R AND RI!PRESENTATION
signification, without what we could call the hegemonization
of the general form of describability by a concrete description,
we would be in Hampshire's 'separate worlds of thought', and
no interaction between political discourses would be possible.
The previous developments provide some elements to address
uur initial question: how can the historical horizon of modernity
be transcended without falling into the trap of an exclusive
alternative modernity/postmodernity in which the purely
negative character of the contents of the second pole means
that those of the first continue dominating unchallenged? How
to go beyond a nihilism whose very logic reproduces precisely
that which it wants to question? Our argument will be, first,
that it is the structural undecidability discussed in the preceeding
pages, when accepted in all its radical consequences, that makes
it possible to go beyond both modernity and its nihilistic re-
verse; and second, that this going beyond modernity consists
not in an abandonment of all its contents but rather in the 1055
of its dimension of horizon (a category that I must explain). I
shall discuss the first point in connection with the operation
of the logics of representation and power in contemporary
societies and shall move later to the question of the crisis of
the basic horizon of modernity.
Representation first: what is involved in a process of
representation? Essentially the fictio iuris that somebody is
present in a place from which he or she is materially absent.
The representation is the process by which somebody else -
the representative - 'substitutes for' and at the same time
'embodies' the represented. The conditions for a perfect
representation, would be mer, it seems, when the representation
is a direct process of transmission of the will of the represented,
when the: act of representation is totally transparent in relation
to that will. This presupposes that the will is fully constituted
and that the: role of the representative is exhausted in its
function of intermediation. Thus the opaqueness inherent in
any substitution and embodiment must be reduced to a min-
imum; the body in which the incarnation takes place must be
almost invisible. This is, however, the: point at which the
difficulties start. For from neither the side of the representative
nor that of the represented do the conditions of a perfect
representation obtain - and this is a result not of what is
empirically attainable but of the very logic inherent in the
97
EMANCIPATION(S)
process of representation. So far as the represented is concerned,
if he or she needs to be represented at all, this is the result of
the fact that his or her basic identity is constituted in a place
A and that decisions that can affect this identity will be taken
in a place B. But in that case his or her identity is an incomplete
identity, and the relation of representation - far from referring
to full-fledged identity - is a supplement necessary for the
constitution of that identity. The crucial problem is to determine
whether this supplement can simply be deduced from the place
A. where the original identity of the represented was constituted,
or if it is an entirely new addition, jn which case, the identity
of the represented is transformed and enlarged through the
process of representation. It is my view that the latter is always
the case. Let us take a very simple example, in which the
contribution of the representative to the constitution of the
'interest' to be represented is apparently minimal: a deputy
representing a group of farmers whose overriding interest is
maintaining the prices of agricultural products. Even in this
case, the role of the representative far exceed" the simple
transmission of a preconstituted interest. For the terrain on
which this interest must be represented is that of national
politics, where many other things are taking place, and even
something apparently as simple as the protection of agricultural
prices requires processes of negotiation and articulation with
a whole series of forces and problems that far exceeds what is
thinkable and deducible from place A. So, the representative
inscribes an interest in a complex reality different from tbat in
which the interest was originally formulated and, in doing so,
he or she constructs and transforms that interest. But the
representative is thus also transforming the identity of the
represented. The original gap in the identity of the represented,
which needed to be filled by a supplement contributed by the
process of representation, opens an undecidable movement in
two directions that is constitutive and irreducible. There is an
opaqueness, an essential impurity in the process of
representation, which is at the same time its condition of both
possibility and impossibility. The 'body' of the representative
cannot be reduced for essential reasons. A situation of perfect
accountability and transmission in a transparent medium would
not involve any representation at all.
So, the idea of having a perfect representation involves a
98
POWEll AND REPRF.SENTATION
logical impossibility - but this does not mean that representation
IS entirely impossible. The problem, rather, is that representation
is the name of an undecidable game that organizes a variety of
mcial relations but whose operations cannot be fixed in a
rationally graspable and ultimately univocal mechanism.
Representation has been criticized very often in democratic
theory for the difficulties it poses for an accountability that is
considered essential in a democratic society. Sut most versions
of this criticism are ill-grounded. To see the danger only in the
possibility that the will of a constituency is ignored or betrayed
by its representative is a one-sided view. There are, of course,
many cases in which such will is ignored and many cases of
systematic distortion. But what this criticism ignores is the
role of the representative in the constitution of such a will. If,
as I stated, there is a gap in the identity of the represented that
requires the process of representation to fill it, it is simply not
true that the reduction of the social areas in which
representative mechanisms operate will necessarily lead to more
democratically managed societies. We live in societies in which
we are increasingly less able to refer to a single or primary
level as the one on which the basic identity of social agents is
constituted. This means, on the one hand, that social agents
are becoming more and more 'multiple selves', with loosely
integrated and unstable identities; and on the other, that there
is a proliferation of the points in society from which decisions
affecting their lives will be taken. As a result, the need to 'fiJI
in the gaps' is no longer a 'supplement' to be added to a basic
area of constitution of the identity of the agent but, instead,
becomes a primllry terrain. The constitutive role of represen-
tation in the formation of the will, which was partly concealed
in more stable societies, now becomes fully visible. The level
of national polities, for instance, can operate as one on which
the discourses of the representatives propose forms of artic-
ulation and unity between otherwise fragmented identities. This
means that we cannot escape the framework of the represent-
ative processes, and that democratic alternatives must be
constructed that multiply the points from and around which
representation operates rather than attempt to limit its scope
and area of operation.
We have seen what is involved in a situation in which the
discourse of the representative must fill the gap in the identity
99
IiMANCIPATION(S)
of the represented: that dis<;ourse will have the dual role, to
which I referred before, of both being a particular filler and
symbolizing the filling function. But this means that the gap
between the two terms of this duality will necessarily increase
in present-day societies and that the role of the 'representatives'
will be ever more central and constitutive. Is that really so
bad? Are we increasingly distancing ourselves, through that
developing gap, from the possibility of having democratically
managed societies? I do not think so. The situation is ratber
the reverse. In a situation in which concrete content and general
form of fullness cannot be differentiated - that is in a closed
universe in which no representation is required - no democratic
competition is possible. The transparency of a fully-acquired
identity will be the automatic source of all decisions. This is
the world of the Homeric heroes. But if there is a gap in the
identity of social actors, the filling of tbis gap will necessarily
generate the split between filling content and filling function
and, because the latter is not assodated with any
content, there will be a competition between the various
contents to incarnate the very form of fullness. A democratic
society is not one in which the 'best' content dominates un-
challenged but, rather, one in which nothing is definitely
acquired and there is always the possibility of challenge. If we
think, for instance, of the resurgence of nationalism and all
kinds of ethnic identities in present-day Eastern Europe, then
we can easily see that the danger for democracy lies in the
closure of these groups around fully-fledged identities that can
only reinforce their most reactionary tendencies and create
the conditions for a permanent confrontation with other groups.
It is, on the contrary, the integration of these nations into
wider ensembles - such as the EU - that can create the bases
for a democratic deve1opmenr, and that requires the split from
oneself, the need to be represenred outside oneself to be a
proper self. There is democracy only if there is the recognition
of the positive value of a dislocated identity. the term
hybridiutio" aptly proposed by Homi Bhabha and other writers
is fully applicable here. But in that case, the condition of a
democratic society is constitutive incompletion - which
involves, of course, the impossiblity of an ultimate grounding.
We can see that this is a degrounding that escapes the perverse
and sterile modernity/nihilism dichotomy: it confronts us not
100
POWER AND REPRESENTATION
with the alternative presence/absence of a ground but with the
unending search for something that has to give a positive value
to its very impossibility.
We are in the same situation if we refer to power. The
traditional notion of an emancipated society is that of a fully
rational society from which power has been entirely eliminated.
But as we have seen, power must, for the rationalistic concep-
tion of society on which the notion of emancipation is based,
be purely appariential. This presents us with the terms of an
antinomian situation. If emancipation is to be possible as a
real event - that is if it is to have an ontological status and not
be just the lived content of the false consciousness of people -
then power must also be real. But if power is real, the relation
between power and that which emancipates itself from it must
be one of radical exteriority - otherwise there would be a
rational link leading from power to emancipation, and emanc-
ipation would not be truly so. The difficulty lies in the fact
that a relation of radical exteriority between two forces is a
contingent relation and, consequently, if emancipation elim-
inates power through a contingent process of struggle, it must
itself be power. Could it not be said, however, that once
emancipation has destroyed power it ceases to be power? No,
because full transparency and rationality cannot logically pro-
ceed from the opaqueness inherent in a contingent act of power.
It is only if the overthrowing of power had been the expression
of a higher rationality that had transformed it into a necessary
step that emancipation would he rational through and through.
But in that case, as we have seen, it would have ceased to be
emancipation. So the very condition of emancipation - its
radical break from power - is what makes emancipation impos-
sible because it becomes indistinguishable from power. The
consequence is not, however, the nihilistic result that
emancipation is impossible and that only power remains,
because what our conclusion asserts is that power is the very
condition of emancipation. If all emancipation must constitute
itself as power, there will be a plurality of powers - and, as a
result, a plurality of contingent and partial emancipations. We
are in the Machiavellian situation of a plurality of struggles
within the social, not in an act of radical rdoundation that
would become the source of the social. What is displaced is
the logically impossible idea of a radical dichotomy that makes
101
EMANCIPATION(S)
emancipation synonymous with the elimination of power. But,
as in the case of the impurity inherent in the process of rep-
resentation, the dimension of power that is ineradicable and
constitutive of all social identity should be seen not as a burden
but as the source of a new historical optimism. For if a total
elimination of power were attainable, social relations would
be entirely transparent, difference would become impossible,
and freedom would be a redundant term. We would reach,
effectively, the end of history.
This leads me to my last point. What we are witnessing in
our contemporary experience is the end of modernity as a
horizon, but not necessarily of the particular objectives and
demands that have constituted its contents. We call horizon
that which establishes, at one and the same time, the limits
and the terrain of constitution of any possible object - and
that, as a result, makes impossible any 'beyond'. Reason for
the Enlightenment, progress for positivism, communist society
for Marxism - these are the names not of objects within a
certain horizon but of the horizon itself. In this sense, the
basic features of the modern conception of politics that I
pointed out at the beginning of my text are firmly rooted in
the main dimensions of modernity conceived as a fundamental
horizon. Now, generalizing the main conclusions of my
argument, I could assert that the crisis of that horizon, which
has been pointed out from many quarters, has - far from leading
to a generalized implosion of the social and a retreat from
participation in public spheres - instead, for the first time,
created the possibility of a radically political conception of
society. Let us go briefly to our five features and see in what
way the 'postmodern' turn helps to liberate politics from its
limiting modern ties.
Radical transformation in the first place: if this transformation
is conceived as taking place at the level of a rationally graspable
ground of the social, then the transformation is the work of
reason and not of ourselves. A rationality transcending us fully
determines what is to happen, and our only possible freedom
is to be conscious of necessity. It is in this respect that a universal
class can be only a limitless historical actor who abolishes the
subject/object duality. But if there is no ground of the social,
any historical intervention will be the work of limited historical
agents. This limitation, however, is more than compensated
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POWER AND REPRESENTATION
for by a new freedom that social agents win as they become
the creators of their own world. As a result, the notion of
radical transformation is displaced: its radical character is given
by the overdetermination of partial changes that it involves,
not by its operation at the level of fundamental ground. This
explains why the second and fourth features that we found in
the modern approach to politics are also displaced. The category
of 'social totality' certainly cannot be abandoned because in
so far as all social action takes place in an overdetermined
terrain, it 'totalizes' social relations to some extent; but totality
now becomes the name of a horizon and no longer of a ground.
And, for the same reason, social actors try to overcome their
limitations but, to the extent that the notion of a limitless
historical actor has been abandoned, this overcoming can be
only the pragmatic process of the construction of highly over-
determined social identities. What about representability? It is
clear that if there is no ultimate rational ground of the social,
total is impossible. But in that case, we could
speak of 'partial' representations, which, within their limits,
would be more or less adequate pictures of the world. If radical
contingency has occupied the terrain of the ground, any social
meaning will be a social construction and not an intellectual
reflection of what things 'in themselves' are. The consequence
is that in this 'war of interpretations', power, far from being
merely appariential, becomes constitutive of social objectivity.
Three conclusions follow from the preceding developments.
The first is that politics, far from being confined to a super-
structure, occupies the role of what we can call an ontology of
the social. If politics is the ensemble of the decisions taken in
an undecidable terrain - that is a terrain in which power is
constitutive - then the social can consist only in the sedimented
forms of a power that ha& blurred the traces of its own
contingency. The second conclusion is that if the movement
from modernity to postmodernity takes place at the level of
their intellectual and social horizons, this movement will not
necessarily involve the collapse of all the objects and values
contained within the horizon of modernity but, instead, will
involve their reformulation from a different perspective. The
universal values of the Enlightenment, for instance, do not
need to be abandoned but need, instead, to be presented as
pragmatic social constructions and not as expressions of a
103
EMANCIPATION(S)
necessary requirement of reason. Finally, the previous reflections
show, I think, the direction into which the construction of a
postmodern social imaginary should move: to indicate the
positive communitarian values that follow from the limitation
of historical agents, from the contingency of social relations,
and from those political arrangements through which society
organizes the management of its own impossibility.
Notes
1. S. R. Clegg, l'ram,worlts of PoWIT, London, Sage 1 ~ 8 ~ , ch. 2.
2. Jacques Derrida. Speech lind Pb,,,ometl4, Evanston, Northwestern
Uuiversity Pre". p. !l8.
3. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony aNd Socialist Strlltegy,
London, Venn 1 ~ 8 5 .
4. This is, to some extent, the direction in which Derrida is moving in
his el5ay 'Force and Signification', in Writi"g a"d Differellct, Chicago,
University of Chicago Press 1978.
5. In the fint elSay of New Reflections 0" th, Revolutio" of Our Tim,.
London, Verso 1990.
6. On the basis of this argument I have tried to establish a conn. position
between Plato and Hobbes in ibid., pp. 68-72.
7. See chapter 7.
8. Quentin Skinner, 'Language and Social Changc', in J. Tully (ed.),
M,a";,,g and Co"tnt: QI/,nti" Slt;"",r 11M His Critics, London, Polity Press
1988, pp. 125-6.
9. Stuart Hampshire, Thol/ght aNd Action, london, Chano and Windus
1959, p. 97.
10. Skinner, 'Language and Social Change', p. 126.
11. Ibid.
104
7
Community and its Paradoxes:
Richard Rorty's 'Liberal Utopia'
Anti-foundationalism has so far produced a variety of intellectual
and cultural effects, but few of them have referred to the terrain
of politics. It is one of the merits of Richard Rorty's work to
have attempted, vigorously and persuasively, to establish such a
connection. In his book, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cam-
bridge University Press 1989), he has presented an excellent
picrure of the intellectual transformation of the West during the
last two centuries and, on the basis of it, has drawn the main
lines of a social and political arrangement that he has called a
'liberal utopia'. It is not that Rorty tries to present his (post-)
philosophical approach as a theoretical grounding for his political
proposal - an attempt (which Rorty rejects) that would simply
'reoccupy' with an anti-foundationalist discourse the terrain of
the lost foundation. It is rather that anti-foundationalism, together
with a plurality of other narratives and cultural interventions,
has created the intellectual climate in which certain social and
political arrangements are thinkable.
In this essay J will try to show that, though 1 certainly agree
with most of Rorty's philosophical arguments and positions, his
notion of 'liberal utopia' presents a series of shortcomings which
can only be supcnieded if the liberal features of Rony's utopia
are reinscribed in the wider framework of what we have called
'radical democracy'.'
EMANCIPATlON(S)
I
Let us summarize, in the first place, the main points of Rony's
argument. At the beginning of the book he asserts his primary
thesis in the following terms:
this book tries to show how things look if we drop the demand
for a theory which unifies the public and private, and are content to
treat the demands of self-creation and of human solidarity as equally
valid, yet for ever incommensurable. It sketches a figure whom I call
the 'liberal ironist'. I borrow my definition of 'liberal' from Judith
Shklar, who says that liberals arc the people who think that cruelty is
the worst thing we do. I use 'ironist' to name the sort of person who
faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs
and desires - someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have
abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back
to something beyond the reach of time and chance. l.iberal ironists
are people who include among these ungroundable desires their own
hope that suffering will be diminished, that the humiliation of human
beings by other human beings may cease.
l
The milieu in which these objectives are attainable is that of a
postmetaphysical culture.
The specifically political argument about the contingency of
the community is preceded by two chapters on 'the contingency
of language' and 'the contingency of selfhood' which constitute
its background. Rorty points out that two hundred years ago
two main changes took place in the intellectual life of Europe:
the increasing realization that truth is fabricated rather than
found - which made possible the utopian politics of reshaping
social relations - and the Romantic revolurion which led to a
vision of art as self-creation rather than as imitation of reality.
These changes joined forces and progressively acquired cultural
hegemony. German idealism was a first attempt at drawing the
intellectual consequences of this transformation, but ultimately
failed as a result of confusing the idea that nothing has an internal
nature to be represented with the very different one that the
spatio-temporal world is a product of the human mind. What
actually lies behind these dim intuitions of the Romantic period
is the increasing realization that there is no intrinsic nature of
the real, but that the real will look different depending on the
languages with which it is described, and that there is not a
meta-language or neutral language which will allow us to decide
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COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXI!S
between competing first-order languages. Philosophical argument
does not proceed through an internal deconstruction of a thesis
presented in a certain vocabulary but rather through the
presentation of a competing vocabulary:
Interesting philosophy is rarely an examination of the pros and cons of
a thesis. Usually it is, implicitly or explicitly, a conrest between an
entrenched vocabulary which has become a nuisance and a half·formed
new vocabulary which vaguely promises great things.
J
At this point, Rorty, faithful to his method, simply drops the old
conception of language and embarks upon a new operation of
redescription through Donald Davidson's philosophy of language,
with its rejection of the idea that language constitutes a medium
of either representation or expression, and its similarity with the
Wittgensteinian conception of alternative vocabularies as alter-
native tools. Mary Hesse's 'metaphoric redescriptions' and Harold
Bloom's 'strong poet' are also quoted in this connection.
After having shown the contingency of language, Rorty gives
selfhood a turn. Here the main heroes are Nietzche and (espec-
ially) Freud. For Niettche it is only the poet who fully perceives
the contingency of self:
Western tradition thinks of a human life as a triumph just in 50
far as it breaks out of the world of time, appearance and idiosyncratic
opinion into another world - the world of enduring truth. Niet'l.che.
by contrast, thinks the imponant boundary to cross is not the one
separating time from atemporal truth but rather the one which divides
the old from the new. He thinks a human life triumphant just in so
far as it escapes inherited descriptions of the contingencies of its
el'istcnce and finds new descriptions. This is the difference between
the will to trutb and the will to self-overcoming. It is the difference
between thinking of redemption as malting contact with something
larger and more enduring than oneself and redemption as Niet'l.che
describes it: 'recreating all "it was" into a "thus I wilJed it .. •.•
But it is Freud who represents the most important step forward
in the process of de-divinization of the self. He showed the way
in which all the features of our conscience can be traced back to
the contingency of our upbringing:
He de-universalizes the moral sense. making it as idiosyncratic as the
poet's inventions. He thus let us see the moral consciousness as
historically conditioned. a product as much of time and chance as of
political or aesthetic consciousness. I
107
EMANCIPATION(S)
In spite of their many points in common, Freud is more useful,
according to Rorty, than Nietzche, because the former shows
that the conformist bourgeois is only dull on the surface, before
the psychoanalytic exploration, while the latter relegates 'the
vast majority of humanity to the status of dying animals'.'
Finally we reach the contingency of the community, which
should be dealt with in more detail because it concerns the main
topic of this essay. Rorty finds an initial difficulty here: he is
attached to both liberal democracy and anti-foundationaHsm,
but the vocabulary in which the former was initially presented is
that of Enlightenment rationalism. The thesis that he tries to
defend in the following two chapters is that, although this
vocabulary was essential to liberal democracy in its initial stages,
today it has become an impediment to its further progress and
consolidation. This involves him in an effort to reformulate the
democratic ideal in a non-rationalist and non-universalist way.
Rorty starts by clearing out of his way the possible charges of
relativism and irrationalism. He quotes Schum peter as saying,
'To realize the relative validity of one's convictions and yet stand
for them unflinchingly, is what distinguishes a civilized man from
a barbarian'; and he includes Isaiah Berlin's comment on this
passage, 'To demand more than this is perhaps a deep and
incurable metaphysical need: but to allow it to determine one's
practice is a symptom of an equally deep, and more dangerous,
moral and political immaturity,.7lt is these assertions that Michael
Sandel is brought into the picture to oppose: 'If one's convictions
are only relatively valid, why stand for them unflinchingly?"
Thus, the relativism debate is opened in its classical terms. Rorty
steps into this debate by trying to make a non-issue of relativism.
He starts by discarding two notions of absolute validity: that
which identifies as absolutely valid with what is valid to everyone
and anyone - because in this case, there would be no interesting
statement which would be absolutely valid; and that which
identifies it with those statements which can be justified to all
those who are not corrupted - because this presupposes a division
of human nature (divine/animal) which is ultimately incompatible
with liberalism. The only alternative is, as a consequence, to
restrict the opposition between rational and irrational forms of
persuasion to the confines of a language game, where it is possible
to distinguish reasons of belief from causes for belief which are
not rational. This, however, leaves open the question about the
108
COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES
rationality of the shifts of vocabularies and, as there is no neutral
ground upon which to decide between them, it looks as if all
important shifts in paradigms, metaphorics or vocabularies would
have causes but not reasons. But this would imply that all great
intellectual movements such as Christianity, Galilean science or
the Enlightenment should be considered to have irrational origins.
This is the point at which Rorty concludes that the usefulness of
a description in terms of the opposition rational/irrational
vanishes. Davidson - whom Rorty quotes at this point - notes
that once the notion of rationality has been restricted to internal
coherence, if the use of the term is not also restricted, we will
find ourselves calling 'irrational' many things we appreciate (the
decision to repress a certain desire, for instance, will appear
irrational from the: point of view of the desire itself). If Davidson
and Hesse are right, metaphors are causes and not reasons for
changes in beliefs but this does not make them 'irrational'; it is
the very notion of irrationality that has to be questioned. The
consequence is that the question of validity is essentially open
aDd conversational. Only a society in which a system of taboos
and a rigid delimitation of the order of subjects has been imposed
and accepted by everybody will escape the conversational nature
of validity; but this is precisely the kind of society which is
strictly incompatible with liberalism:
It is central to the idea of a liberal society that, with respect to words
as opposed to deeds, penuasion as opposed to force, anything goes.
This open minded ness should not be fostered because, as Scripture
teaches, Truth is great and will prevail, not because, as Milton suggests,
Truth will always win in a free and open encounter. It should be
fostered for its own sake. A Liberal society is one which is content to
cal/ 'true' whateller thll upshot of such encounters t",ns out to be.
That is wby a liberal society is badly served by an attempt to supply
it with 'philosophical foundations'. For the attempt to supply such
foundations presupposes a natural order of topics and arguments
which is prior co, and overrides the results of, encounters between
old and new vocabularies.'
This question of the relationship between foundationalism
(rationalism) and liberalism is treated by Rorty through a
convincing critique of Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of
Enlightenment. He accepts their vision that the forces put into
movement by the Enlightenment have undermined the
Enlightenment's own convictions, but he does not accept their
109
EMANCIPATlON(S)
conclusions that, as a result of this, liberalism is at present intel-
lectually and morally bankrupt. According to Rorty the
vocabularies which presided over the initiation of a historical
process or intellectual movement are never adopted by them
when they reach maturity, and in his view ironic thinking is far
more appropriate to a fully-fledged liberal society than rationalism.
The poet and the utopian revolutionary, who are central
historical actors in Rorty's account, play the role of 'protesting
in the name of society itself against those aspects of the society
which are unfaithful to its own self-image'. And he adds in a
crucial passage:
This substitution (of the protest of alienated people by the revolu-
tionary and the poet) seems to cancel out the difference between the
revolutionary and the refurmer. But one can define the ;detd/y liberal
society as one in which the difference ;$ cancelled out. A liberal society
is one whose ideals can be fulfilled by persuasion rather than force.
by reform rather than revolution, by the free and open encounters of
present linguistic and other practices with suggestions for new
practices. But this is to say that an ideal liberal society is one which
has no purpose except freedom, no goal except a willingness to see
how such encounters go and to abide by the outcome. It has no
purpose except to make life easier for poets and revolutionaries while
seeing to it that they make life harder for others only by words, and
not deeds. It is a society whose hero is the strong poet and the
revolutionary because it recognizes that it is what it ii, has the morality
it has, speaks the language it does, not because it approximates the
will of God or the nature of man but because certain poets and
revolutionaries of the past spoke as they did.
IG
Rorty brings the figure of the liberal ironist into focus by
comparing it with Foucault (an ironist who is not liberal) and
with Habermas (a liberal who is not ironist). In the case of
Foucault, there is an exclusive emphasis on self-realization, self-
enjoyment. Foucault is unwilling to consider the advantages and
improvements of liberal societies because he is much more
concerned with the ways in which these societies still present
this process of self-creation. They have even, in many senses,
imposed increased controls over their members which were
unknown in pre-modem societies. Rotty's main disagreement
with Foucault is that, in his view, it is not necessary to create a
new 'we'; 'we liberals' is enough. With Habermas the situation
is the opposite. For him, it is essential that a democratic society'S
110
COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES
self-image has an element of universalism which is to be obtained
through what he calls a process of domination-free commun-
ication. He tries to maintain - even if through a radical recasting
- a bridge with the rationalistic foundation of the Enlightenment.
So, Rofty's disagreement with Foucault is essentially political
while with Habermas it is purely philosophical.
Finally, we should consider for our purposes twO possible
objections to Rotty's liberal utopia which he tries to answer. The
first is that the abandonment of the metaphysical grounding of
liberal societies will deprive them of a social glue which is indis-
pensable for the continuation of free institutions. The second is
that it is not possible - from a psychological point of view - to
be a Ijberal ironist and, at the same time, not to have some
metaphysical beliefs about the nature of human beings. Rony's
answer to the first objection is that society is not pulled together
by any philosophical grounding but by common vocabularies
and common hopes. The same objection was made in the past
about the disastrous social effects which would derive from the
masses' loss of religious beliefs, and the prophesy proved to be
wrong. Itonists have been essentially elitist and have not
contributed excessively to the improvement of the community.
The redescription in which they engage frequently leads to attack
on the most cherished values of people and to their humiliation.
On top of that, though the metaphysicians also engage in
redescriptions, they have the advantage over ironists in that they
give to people what claims to be true in nature, a new faith to
which they can adhere. But here Rorty says that the primary
difficulty is that people are demanding from ironist philosophers
something that philosophy cannot give: answers to questions
such as 'Why not be cruel?' or 'Why be kind?' The expectation
that a theoretical answer can be given is simply the result of a
metaphysical lag. In the post-philosophical era it is the narratives
which perform the function of creating those values:
Within an ironist culture. it is the disciplines which specialize in
thick description of the private and idiosyncratic which are assigned
a job. In particular, novels and ethnographies which sensitize one to
the pain of those who do not speak our language must do the job
which demonstration of a common human nature was supposed to
do.
1I
111
EMANCIPATJON(S)
n
I am in agreement with a great deal of Rorty's analysis, especially
with his pragmatism and with the account that he gives of what
is happening in contemporary theory. I certainly subscribe to his
rejection of any metaphysical grounding of the social order and
with his critique of Habermas. Finally, I also endorse his defence
of the liberal democratic framework. However, I think that there
is in his 'liberal utopia' something which simply does not work.
And I do not think that it is a matter of detail or incompletion
but an internal inconsistency of his. 'ideal society'
Let us start with his characterization of liberal society as a type
of social arrangement in which persuasion substitutes for force.
My main difficulty is that I cannot establish between the two as
sharp a distinction as Rorty does. Of course, in one sense the
distinction ;s clear: in persuasion there is an element of consensus
while in force there is not. But the question which remains is: to
what eXtent in persuasion/consensus is there not an ingredient of
force? What is it to persuade? Except in the extreme case of
proving something to somebody in an algorithmic way, we are
engaged in an operation which involves making somebody change
her opinion without any ultimate rational foundation. Rorty quite
correctly limits the domain of reason to the interior of any
particular language game, but the difficulty subsists, because
language games are not absolutely closed universes and, as a
consequence, decisions within them have to be made which are
undecidable by the system of rules which define the structure of
the game. I agree with Rotty/Davidson that recognition of this
fact does not justify describing the decision as irrational, and
that the whole distinction between rational and irrational is of
little use. But what I want to point out is something different: it
is that a decision to be made under those conditions is going to
inevitably include an element of force. Let us take Davidson's
example of somebody who wants to reform herself and decides
to suppress a desire - for example, an alcoholic who decides to
stop drinking. From the point of view of the desire there is only
repression - that is force. And this argument can be generalized.
Let us consider various possible situations:
Situation A
I am confronted with the need to choose between several possible
112
COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES
courses of action, and the structure of the language game that I
am playing is indifferent to them. Mter having evaluated the
situation, I conclude that there is no obvious candidate for my
decision but I nevertheless make one choice. It is clear that in
this case I have repressed the alternative courses of action.
Situation B
I want to persuade somebody to change his opinion. As the
belief I want to inculcate in him is not the Hegelian truth of the
opposed belief that he actually has, what I want to do is not to
develop his belief but to cancel it out of existence. Again, force.
Let us suppose that I succeed in my efforts. In that case, he has
been converted to my belief. But the element of force is always
tbere. All I have done is to convince my friend that be becomes
my ally in killing his belief. Persuasion, consequently, structurally
involves force.
Situation C
There are two possible courses of action and two groups of
people are split about which to follow. As the two courses of
action are equally possible within the structure of the situation,
the di{flrend can only be solved by force. Of course this element
of force will be actualized in many different ways: either by one
group persuading the other (and we are back to situation B); or
through a system of rules accepted by both pans to settle the
difflrend (a vote for instance); or by the ultima ratio. But the
important point to see is that the element of force is going to be
present in all cases.
Clearly the kind of society that Rorty prefers is that in which the
third solution to situation C is excluded, but this still presents
various difficulties. The first is that it is simply not possible to
oppose force and persuasion given that persuasion is one form
of force. The discussion is thus displaced to an analysis of the
way in which force is organized in society and of tbe types of
force that are acceptable in a liberal society. The second problem
is tbat the element of physical force cannot be eliminated even in
the freest of societies. I doubt that Rorty would advocate
persuasion as an adequate method of dealing with a rapist. And
strikes, or student sit-ins - which are perfectly legitimate actions
in a free society - try to achieve their goals not only through
113
EMANCIPATION(S)
persuasion but also by forcing their antagonist to surrender to
violence. There are, of course, many intermediate cases.
For the same reasons I tend to deal with the distinction between
reform and revolution in a different way from Rorty. In my view,
the problem is to displace the terrain which made the distinction
possible. For the classical ideal of Revolution does not involve only
the dimension of violence that Rorty underlines but also the idea
that this violence had to be directed towards a very specific end,
which was to give a new foundation to the social order. Now, from
this point of view I am a reformist, not because my social aims are
limited but simply because I do not believe that society has such a
thing as a foundation. No doubt Rorty would agree with me on this
point. Even the events which in the past have been called revolutions
were only the overdetermination of a multiplicity of reforms which
cover vast aspects of society but by no means the totality of them.
The idea of turning the whole society upside-down does not
make any sense. (Which does not mean that many ugly things
were not committed in the attempt to perform this impossible
operation.) But if, on the one hand, I am trying to relocate rev-
olution within reform, on the other hand, I am very much in
favour of reintroducing the dimension of violence within reform.
A world in which reform takes place without violence is not a
world in which I would like to live. It could be either an absolutely
unidimensional society, in which 100 per cent of the population
would agree with any single reform, or one in which the decisions
would be made by an army of social engineers with the backing
of the rest of the population. Any reform involves changing the
status quo and in most cases this will hurt existing interests. The
process of reform is a process of struggles, not a process of quiet
piecemeal engineering. And there is nothing here to regret. It is
in this active process of struggle that human abilities - new
language games - are created. Could we, for instance, think
what the workers' identity would have been without the active
struggles with which they were involved during the first stages
of industrial societies? Certainly many of the workers' abilities
which will be essential to the process of democratization of
Western societies would not have developed. And the same, of
course, can be said of any other social force. Thus, the radical
democratic 'utopia' that I would like to counterpose to Rorty's
liberal one does not preclude antagonisms and social division
but, on the connary, considers them as constitutive of the social.
114
COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES
So, in my view, Roft}' has based his argument on certain types
of polarization - persuasion/fnrce, reform/violence-revolution -
which are not only simplistic but also inconsistent because the
role of the goodies presupposes the presence, inside it, of baddies.
Any theory about power in a democratic society has to be a
theory about the forms of power which are compatible with
democracy, not about the elimination of power. And this is not
the result of any particular persistence of a form of domination
but of the very fact that society, as Rofty knows well, is not
structured as a jigsaw puzzle and that, as a consequence, it is
impossible to avoid the collision of different demands and
language games with each other. Let us take the case of recent
debates in America concerning pornography. Various feminist
groups have argued that pornography offends women - something
with which I could not agree more. But some of these groups
have gone so far as to ask for legislation permitting any woman
to take to court the publishers of the pornographic material or
advertisement. This has raised the objection - which I also share
- that this would create a climate of intimidation which could
affect freedom of expression. Where should the line be drawn
between what is pornographic and what is artistic expression,
for instance?
Obviously a balance has to be established between antagonistic
demands. But it is important to stress that the balance is not
going to be the result of having found a point at which both
demands harmonize with each other - in which case, we would
be back to the jigsaw puzzle theory. No, the antagonism of the
two demands is, in that context, ineradicable, and the balance
consists of limiting the effects of both so that a sort of social
equilibrium - something very different from a rational harmon-
ization - can be reached. But, in that case, the antagonism, though
socially regulated and controlled, will subsist under the form of
what could be called a 'war of position'. Each pole of the conflict
will have a certain power and will exercise a certain violence
over the other pole. The paradoxical corollary of this conclusion
is that the existence of violence and antagonisms is the very
condition of a free society. The reason for this is that antagonism
results from the fact that the social is not a plurality of effects
radiating from a pre-given centre, but is pragmatically constructed
from many starting points. But it is precisely because of this,
because there is an ontological possibility of clashes and
115
EMANCIPATION(S)
unevenness, that we can speak of freedom. Let us suppose that
we move to the opposite hypothesis, the one contained in the
classical notion of emancipation - that is a society from which
violence and antagonisms have been entirely eliminated. In this
society, we can only enjoy the Spinozian freedom of being
conscious of necessity. This is a first paradox of a free community:
that which constitutes its condition of impossibility (violence)
constitutes at the same time its condition of possibility. Particular
forms of oppression can be eliminated, but freedom only exists
in so far as the achievement of a total freedom is an ever receding
horizon. A totally free society and a totally determined society
would be, as I have argued elsewhere, exactly the same. I think
that the reason why Rorty is not entirely aware of these
antinomies is the result of his insufficient theorization of what is
involved in the notion of 'persuasion' and of the total opposition
he has established between 'persuasion' and 'force'.
III
Persuasion is an essentially impure notion. One cannot persuade
without persuasion's other - that is, force. One can speak of the
force of persuasion but one would never say that one had been
'persuaded' of the correctness of the Pythagorean theorem. The
latter is simply shown, without any need for persuasion. But one
cannot say either that persuasion is simply reducible to force.
Persuasion is the terrain of what Derrida would have called a
'hymen'. It is the point in which the 'reasons' for a belief and the
'causes' of the belief constitute an inseparable whole. The
adoption of a neW paradigm in Kuhnian terms is a good example
of what I mean. A multitude of small reasons/causes ranging
from theoretical difficulties to technical advances in the tools of
scientific research overdetermine each other in determining the
transition from normal to revolutionary science. And for reasons
that 1 have explained earlier - and which are also clearly present
in some way in Kuhn's account - this transition is not an indif-
ferent and painless abandonment but involves repression of other
possibilities, it is the result of a struggle. This is obviously more
clearly visible when we refer to the politico-ideological field.
Now, as I have argued with Chantal MouUe in Hegemony and
Socialist Struggle, there is a name in our political tradition which
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COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES
refers to this peculiar operation called persuasion which is only
constituted through its inclusion, within itself, of its violent
opposite: this name is 'hegemony',
I refer to our book for all aspects concerning the genealogy of
the concept of hegemony from the Russian social-democrats to
Gramsci, for its structural characteristics and for its forms of
theoretical articulation within the project of a radical democracy,
Here I want only to underline some aspects which are relevant
to the present discussion. The most important one is that 'hegem-
ony' is the discursive terrain in which foundationalism began
disintegrating in the history of Marxism. What had been so far
presented as a necessary consequence of an endogenous develop-
ment determined by the contradiction between development of
the productive forces and existing relations of production,
became, escalating from Lenin to Gramsci, the result of a
contingent process of political articulation in an open ensemble
whose elements had purely relational identities. That is that
History (with a capital 'H') was not a valid object of discourse
because it did not correspond to any a priori unified object. The
only thing we had was the discontinuous succession of hegemonic
blocs which was not governed by any rationally graspable logic
- neither teleological, nor dia1ectical or causal. As in the relation
between the desire that I want to suppress - in Davidson's example
- and the decision to suppress it, there is no internal connection
at all. On the other hand, there is an important dialectic here to
detect between necessity and contingency. If each of the elements
intervening in a hegemonic bloc had an identity of its own, its
relations with all the others would be merely contingent; but if,
on the contrary, the identity of all elements is contingent upon
its relations with the others, those relations. if the identity is
going to be maintained, are absolutely necessary.
Now, the problem to be discussed is the internal logic of the
hegemonic operation which underlies the process of persuasion.
We will approach it by bringing to the analysis various devices
which are thinkable as a result of the transformations which
have taken place in contemporary theory. Let us start with the
Wittgensteinian example of the rule: governing the sequence of a
numerical series. I say 'one, twO, three, four' and ask a friend to
continue it: the spontaneous answer would be to say 'five, six,
seven,' etcetera. But I can say that the series I have in mind is not
that but 'one, two, three, four, nine, ten, eleven, twelve; etcetera.
117
EMANCI'ATION(S)
My friend thinks that he has now understood and proceeds
accordingly, but I can still say that the series is not what I had in
mind, etcetera. The rule governing the series can be indefinitely
changed. Everything depends, as Lewis Carroll would put it, on
who is in command. Let us slightly change the example now. Let
us suppose that we are speaking of a game in which player A
starts a series and player B has to continue it the way be wants,
providing that there is some visible regularity. Now, when it is
again A's turn he has to invent a new rule which takes as its
starting point the series as it has been left by B and so on. In the
end, the loser is the one who finds the whole business so
complicated that he is unable to imagine a new rule. The corol-
laries which follow from this example are the following: (a> that
there is no such thing as the ultimate rule: it can always be
subverted; (b) that as an indefinite number of players can come
to participate in the game, the rule governing the series is
essentially threatened - it is, to use. Rorty's expression, radically
contingent; (c) that the identity of each of the individual figures
within the series is entirely relational, it is given only by its
structural position within the rule that is at that moment
hegemonizing the series, and it will change with the formulation
of a new rule. I think this is important because the process of
persuasion is frequently described as if somebody who has a
belief A is presented with a belief B and the suggestion is of
moving from one to the other. Things never happen that way.
What happens is, rather, that new elements enter into the picture
and the old rule is unable to hegemonize them - as if, for instance,
an apparently chaotic series of numbers is introduced into our
series and the challenge is to find a coherent rule which will he
compatible with the new state of affairs. Very frequently the new
rule is accepted, not because it is liked in itself, but just because
it is a rule, because it introduces a principle of coherence and
intelligibility in an apparent chaos. In the confused Italian
situation of the early 19205, many liberals accepted Fascism not
because they particularly liked it, but because an explosive social
situation existed which was both unthinkable and unmanageable
within the framework of the traditiona1 political system, and
Fascism appeared the onl" coherent discourse which could deal
with the new chaotic events. And if liberalism had wanted -
which it did not - to present itself as an alternative hegemonic
discourse articulating the new elements, it could only have done
118
COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES
so by transforming itself. Between the liberalism of 1905 and the
liberalism of 1922 there are only 'family resemblances'. This is
beause, among other reasons, the latter had to be anti-fascist
and this involved dealing with a new series of problems that
radically transformed the discursive field. This is the reason why
I do not agree with Rorty's assertion that we can be jNst liberals;
that our 'we' has reached a point which does not require any
further transformation. Even if we want to continue being liberals
we will always have to be something more. Liberalism can only
exist as a hegemonic attempt in this process of articulation - as
a result of the radically relational character of all identity. Here
I think that Rorty has not been historicist enough.
This is also the point - moving from Wittgenstein to Derrida
- at which deconstruction becomes central for a theory of politics.
Derrida has shown the essential vulnerability of all context. In
his words:
Every sign, linguistic or not linguistic, spoken or written (in the current
sense of this opposition), in a small or large unit, can be cited, put
between quotation marks; in so doing it can break with every given
context, engendering an infinitude of new contexts in a manner which
is absolutely illimitable. This does not imply that the mark is valid
outside of a context, but on the contrary that there are only contexts
without any centre of absolute anchorage This
citationality, this duplication or duplicity, this iterability of the mark
is neither an accident nor an anomaly, it is that (normaVabnormal)
without which a mark could not even have a function called 'normal'.
What would a mark be that could not be cited? Or one whose origins
would not get lost along the way?12
Now, what is this saying if not that all context is essentially
vulnerable and open, that the fact that one of the possibilities
rather than the othets has been chosen is a purely contingent
fact? If the choice is not determined by the structure, it is down
to the bottom a hegemonic operation, an essentially political
decision.
Let us go back, with this distinction in mind, to Rotty's text.
The fitst aspect of his liberal utopia with which ( would take
issue is his sharp division between the public and the private. It
is not, of course, that I want to return to some 'grand theory' which
would embrace both. The reason for my disagreement is exactly the
opposite: Rorty sees as necessarily united many things which, for
me, are radially discontinuous and held together only through
119
ItMANCI.ATION(S)
contingent articulations. Is the realm of personal self-realization
really a private realm? It would be so if that self-realization took
place in a neutral medium in which individuals could seek unimpeded
the fulfilment of their own aims. But this medium is, of course, a
myth. A woman searching for her self-realization will find obstacles
in the fonn of male oriented rules which will limit her penon41
aspirations and possibilities. The feminist struggles tending to change
those rules wiIJ constitute a collective 'we' different from the 'we' of
abstract pubtic citizenship. but the space which these struggles create
- remember the motto 'the personal is political' - wiU be no less a
communitarian and public space than the one in which political
parties intervene and in which elections are fought. And the same
can be said, of course, of any struggle which begins as a result of the
existence of social nonns, prejudices, regulations, etcetera that
frustrate the self-realization of an individual. I see the strength of
the democratic sociery in the multiplication of these public spaces
and its condition in the recognition of their plurality and autonomy.
This recognition is based on the essential discontinuity existing
between those social spaces, and the essential character of these
discontinuities malc:es possible its exact opposite: the contingent-
hegemonic articulation among them of what could be called a global
sense of communiry, a certain democratic common sense. We see
here a second paradox of communiry: it has to be essentially
unachievable to become pragmatically possible. So, what about the
private? It is a residual category, limited to those aspects of our
activiry in which out objectives are not interfered with by any
structural social barrier, in which their achievement does not require
the constitution of any struggling community, of any 'we'. So, as we
see, the classical terms of the problem are displaced: it is no longer
a question of preventing a public space from encroaching upon that
of private individuals, given that the public spaces have to be
constituted in order to achieve individual aims. But the condition
for a democratic society is that these public spaces have to be
plural: a democratic society is, of course, incompatible with the
existence of only one public space. What we should have is a multiple
'civic republicanism'.
As is clear, my idea of a democratic society is different in
central respects from Rorty's liberal utopia. Rorty's utopia
consists of a public space limited - as for all good liberals - to
minimal funcrions and a private sphere in which individual agents
seek tbeir own ends. This system can certainly be reformed and
120
COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES
improved, but one has the impression that such improvements
are of the type of improving a machine by designing a better
model, not the result of struggles. Antagonism and violence do
not play either a positive or negative role, simply because they
are entirely absent from the picture. For me, a radically demo·
cratic society is one in which a plurality of public spaces,
constituted around specific issues and demands, and strictly
autonomous of each other, instils in its members a civic sense
which is a central ingredient of their identity as individuals.
Despite the plurality of these spaces, or, rather, as a consequence
of it, a diffuse democratic culture is created, which gives the
community its specific identity. Within this community, the liberal
institutions - parliament, elections, divisions of power - are
maintained, but these are one public space, not the public space.
Not only is antagonism not excluded from a democratic society,
it is the very condition of its institution.
For Rotty the three words 'bourgeoiS liberal democracy'
constitute an indivisible whole; for me there is between them
only a contingent articulation. As a socialist I am prepared to
fight against capitalism for the hegemony of liberal institutions
and, as a believer in the latter, I am prepared to do my best to
make them compatible with the whole field of democratic public
spaces, but I see this compatibility as a hegemonic construction,
not as something granted from the beginning. I think that a great
deal of twentieth-century history can be explained by dislocations
in the aniculation of the three components just mentioned. Liberal
institutions (let alone capitalism) have fared badly in Third World
countries and of the attempt to articulate socialism and democracy
(if attempt it can be called) in the countries of the Eastern bloc,
the record is simply appalling. Though my preference is for a
liberal·democratic-socialist society, it is clear to me that if I am
forced under given circumstances to choose one out of the three,
my preference will always be for democracy. (For instance, if in
a Third World country I have to choose between, on the one
hand, a corrupt and repressive liberal regime, in which elections
are a farce manipulated by clientelistic gangs, with no partici-
pation of the masses; and on the other, a nationalist military
regime which tends to social reform and the self-organization of
the masse!$, my preference will be for the latter. All my experience
shows that, while in some cases the second type of regime can
lead - with many difficulties - to an increasing liberalization of
121
£MANCIPATION(S)
its institutions, the opposite process does not take place in the
first case: it is just a blind alley.)
IV
Finally, I want to address the two possible objections to the
argument that Rorty raises (see above), and his answers to them.
Regarding the first objection, I think that Rorty is entirely correct
and I have nothing to add. But in the case of the second objection,
I feci that Rorty's answer is unnecessarily defensive and that a
much better argument can be made. I would formulate it this
way. The question is whether the abandonment of universalism
undermines the foundation of a democratic society. My answer
is yes, I grant tbe whole argument. Without a universalism of
sorts - the idea of human rights, for instance - a truly democratic
society is impossible. But in or-der to assert this, it is not at all
necessary to muddle through the Enlightenment's rationalism or
Habermas's 'domination-free communication'. It is enough to
recognize that democracy needs universalism while asserting, at
the same time, that universalism is one of the vocabularies, of
the language games, which was constructed at some point by
social agents and it has become a more and more central part of
our values and our culture. It is a contingent historical product.
It originated in religious discourse - all men are equal before
God - was brought down to this world by the Enlightenment,
and has been generalized to wider and wider social relations by
the democratic revolution of the last two centuries.
A historicist recasting of universalism has, I would think, two
main political advantages over its metaphysical version, and these,
far from weakening it, help to reinforce and to radicalize it. The
first is that it has a liberating effect: human beings will begin
seeing themselves more and more as the exclusive authors of
their world. The historicity of being will become more apparent.
If people think that God or nature have made the world as it is,
they will tend to consider thetr fate inevitable. But if the being
of the world which they inhabit is only the result of the contingent
discourses and vocabularies that constitute it, they will tolerate
their fate with less patience and will stand a better chance of
becoming political 'strong poets'. The second advantage is that
the perception of the contingent character of universalist values
122
COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES
will make us all more conscious of the dangers which threaten
them and of their possible extinction. If we happen to believe in
those value" the consdousness of their historicity will not make
us more indifferent to them but, on the contrary, will make us
more responsible citizens, more ready to engage in their defence.
Historicism, in this way, helps those who believe in those values.
As for those who do not believe in them, no rationalist argument
will ever have the slightest effect.
This leads me to a last point. This double effect - increasing
freeing of human beings through a more assertive image of their
capacities, increasing social responsibility through the conscience
of the historicity of being - is the most important possibility, a
radically political possibility, that contemporary thought is open-
ing to us. The metaphysical discourse of the West is coming to
an end, and philosophy in its twilight has performed, through
the great names of the century, a last service for us: the decon-
struction of its own terrain and the creation of the conditions
for its own impossibility. Let us think, for instance, of Derrida's
undecidables. Once undecidability has reached the ground itself,
once the organization of a certain camp is governed by a
hegemonic decision - hegemonic because it is not objectively
determined, because different decisions were also possible - the
realm of philosophy comes to an end and the realm of politics
begins. This realm will be inhabited by a different type of
discourse, by discourses such as Ratty's 'narratives', which tend
to construct the world on the grounds of a radical undecidability.
But I do not like the name 'ironist' - which evokes all kinds of
playful images - for this political strong poet. On the contrary,
someone who is confronted with Auschwitz and has the moral
strength to admit the contingency of her own beliefs, instead of
seeking refuge in religious or rationalistic myths is, I think, a
profoundly heroic and tragic figure. This will be a hero of a new
type who has still not been entirely created by our culture, but
one whose creation is absolutely necessary if our time is going to
live up to its most radical and exhilarating possibilities.
123
EMANCIPATION(S)
Notes
1. unello Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, H.,nnony IIlId Socilliisl S,rll'.".,
TOUItIrds II RJjdielll Poli,ia, London. Verso 1985.
2. Ric:hard Ron)" COIItillp'"Y, IrollYlllld Solid4rity, Cambridge. Cambridge
University PreIS 1989, p. xv.
3. Ibid. p. 9.
4. Ibid. p. 29.
5. Ibid. p. 30.
6. Ibid. p. 35.
7. Ibid. p. 46.
I. Ibid.
9. Ibid. pp. 51-1.
10. Ibid. pp. 60-1.
11. Ibid. p. 94.
12. Jacques Derrida. 'Signature Event Context'. in Limited 'IK., Evanston,
Northwestern University PreIS 1988, p. 12.
124
Index
Adorno, T., 109
Baudrillard. J., 59
Benjamin, w.. 31, 35.82
Berlin. I., J 08
Bernstein, E., 80
Bhabha. H.. 100
Bloom, H., 107
Carroll. lo, 118
Clea, S.R .. 104
Cornell, D., 83
Critch Icy, S., 70, 83
Cusanllli. N .• 9
Davidson, D., 107. 109.112.117
Deleuze, G., 35
Derrida, J .• 66-HJ (JMu;m), 88, 89, 90,
104. 116, 119, 123, 124
Dcscanes. R., 24
Eriullena, S .• 9
Foucault, M., 110, III
Freud,S., 66, 107,108
FukLJyama, F., 70, 76
Gramsci, A., 32, 43, 61, 63-4, 70, 81,
82,90,117
Habermas. J., viii, 110. 11 1,112, 122
Hamacher, w., J5
Hampshire, S •• 9.5-7, 104
Hesel, G.W.F., 7, 9, 10,21.24.29.37,
61. 62, 64, 85
lieidesger. M., 61
Hes!C, M., 107, 109
Hobbes, T., 4.1, 44. 61, 62, 63, 64,
84,104
Horkheimcr. M .• 109
Howanh, D., 18-9
Huntington. S., 65
HusserI. E .. 47, 8R, 89,90
Joyce, J., 88
Kanl.I.,40
Kuhn, T., 116
Lacan, J., 53
Laclau. E., 18, 19,35,46,70,83,104,
124
Lefon, C., 6.5
Leibnitz, G. w., S 8
Lenin, V.I., 117
luucs, G., 80
Mcintyre, A., 60
N., 63, 84
Marx, G., 69
Marx, K., 9, I I, 13, 18,24,25,66-83
(pamm),85
Millon, J., 109
Mouffe, C., 46, U, 104, 116, 124
Nieasche, F., 16, 107, 108
Norval, A .• 18-9. 30, J 1. 35
Onep y Ga$$Cl. J., 77
Pascal. B •• S9
Perlin, J.D., 54-6. 58
Pieterse. J.N., ix
Plato, 6], 62, 104
Plelchancw, G., 80
PoKer,M.,x
Rajchman. J., ix
Rorry, R., X, 105-24 (p;Iui".)
Sandel, M., 108
Sauuurc, F. de, 37
Sayyid, B., 3 S
Scbumpercr, J., 108
Shldar, J., 106
Skinner, Q., 95--6, 104
EMANCIPATION(S)
Sorel, G., 31, 50,81,82
Spinou, B., 9, 21
Tully, J., 104
Weeb,J., ix
Wittgensrcin, 1_, 119
WolIsronecrafr, M., 33
Zac, L, 3S
~ i c k , S., 63
Phronesis titles from Verso
ISLAMS AND MODERNITIES
Aziz AI-Avneh
THE MAICING OF POUTICAL IDENTITIES
Edited by E ~ l I o LaclaN
NEW REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION OF OUR TIME
Emesto Laclau
POLmcs AND IDEOLOGY IN MARXIST THEORY
Capilalism - Fascism - Populism
Emesto Lacla ..
HEGEMONY AND SOCIALIST STRATEGY
Towards a Radical Democratic Politics
Emesto Laclau a"d Chantal Mouffe
DIMENSIONS OF RADICAL DEMOCRACY
Pluralism, Citizenship, Community
Edited by Chantal MONffe
THE RETURN OF THE POLITICAL
Chantal MONffe
DECONSTRUCTING APARTHEID DISCOURSE
Aletta J. Norval
ON THE SHORES OF POLITICS
Jacques Rtmt:im
Translated by Liz Heron
MICHEL FOUCAULT
(dnealosy as Critique
Rudi Ylsker
Translated by Chris Turner
FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO
Enjoyment as a Political Factor
SJavoj Zitek
THE Sl}BLlME OBJECT OF IDEOLOGY
Slavoj Ziiek

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Contents

PREFACE
ACXNOWLI!OOEMENJ'S

vii ix
1

1

Beyond Emancipation Universalism, Particularism and the Question of Identity Why do Empty Signifiers Matter to Politics? Subject of Politics, Politics of the Subject 'The lime is Out of Joint' Power and Representation Community and its Paradoxes: Richard Rorty's 'Liberal Utopia'

2 3

20 36

4
5
6
7

47
66

84

lOS
125

INDEX

of the community to be viewed.the last manifestation of the Enlightenment: that is.in the ideologies of its two protagonists . which was written in 1989. It is the 'globality' of these projects that is in crisis. the Cold War was . Whatever the sign of the new vision of politics which is emerging is going to be. How is the unity . the civil war in former Yugoslavia. national and sexual . If we wanted briefly to characterize the distinctive features of the first half of the 19905. the growth of a populist right in Western Europe.against the totalizing ideologies which dominated the horizon of politics in the preceding decades.ethnic. the expansion of multicultural protest in Nonh America. racial.as relative as one wants . when any approach to it must stan from social and cultural panicularisms not only stronger than in the past but constituting . it is clear that one of its basic dimensions is going to be the redefinition of the existing relation between universality and particularity. This period witnessed momentous changes in the world scene: the restructuring of the world order as a result of the collapse of the Eastern bloc. and which identified their own aims with those of a global human emancipation.Preface With the exception of the last piece in this volUIDe. that we were dealing with ideologies which distributed the ensemble of the forces operating in the historical arena in two opposite camps. the end of apartheid in South Africa. all the essays were written and published between 1991 and 1995. whose racist politics were focused on its opposition to immigrants from Southern Europe and Northern Africa. We could say that. I would say that they are to be found in the rebellion of various panicularisms . Both 'free world' and 'communist society' were conceived by their defenders as projects of societies without internal frontiers or divisions. in some way.

require a language of 'rights' which must include the universalist reference that is in question? These essays were written in the conviction that both universalism and particularism are two ineradicable dimensions in the making of political identities. as answers to the ethical and political imperative of intervening in debates about transformations which were taking place before our eyes. I hope. that the dominant tendencies have been polarized around two positions. their inevitable repetitions.also the element defining the central imaginary of a group? Does not this imaginary exclude any identification with more universal human values? And. A last word about the occasions on which these essays were written. The main thesis of these essays is that such a mediation can only be a hegemonic one (which involves reference to the universal as an empty place). but that the articulation between them is far from being evident. In all cases they were circumstantial interventions. neither of these extreme positions is acceptable to me. the fact itself that there is not exact overlapping between cultural group and global community. October 1995 viii . the other. We could say. anyway. and their lacunae. taking place around a concrete event. Some of the essays briefly summariu the most imponant historical stages in the thinking of this aniculation. For reasons that are presented in extmso in the essays. They should be seen as provisional explorations rather than as fully-fledged theoretical constructs. proclaims the death of the universal (as in some forms of postmodernism). One of them unilaterally privileges universalism and sees in a dialogical process a way of reaching a consensus transcending all particularism (Habermas). with reference to the contemporary scene. and that the operation it performs modifies the identities of both the particular and the universal. But what is important to determine is the logic of a possible mediation between the two. Princeton. Thus their ad hoc character. that they can be useful in tbrowing a cenain light on some of the more pressing political problems of our rime. does not the very proliferation of antagonisms. It is for the reader to judge what is achieved through this kind of approach. dedicated to the celebration of pure panicularism and contextualism. seen from the other angle.

The Hague.Acknowledgements 'Beyond Emancipation' was originally presented as a paper at a conference held at the Institute of Social Studies. 'The Time is Out of Joint' was delivered in Leeds on 9 September 1995. The Lesser Evil and the Greater Good. 3~31 January 1991. as the keynote speech of a conference on 'Ghosts'. Spring 1995. 2. Rivers Oram Press 1994. . ROl!t1edge 199J. vol. in co-operation with the East-West Centre. Summer 1995. and the University of Leeds. London.). Particularism and the Question of Identity' was originally delivered at a symposium held on 16-17 November 1991 at City University. The Identity in Question. It was published in Differences. and published in Jan Nederveen Pieterse (ed. New York and London. 'Universalism. 'Why do Empty Signifiers Matter to Politics?' was published in Jeffrey Weeks (ed. It was published in Diacritics. Politics of the Subject' was delivered at the Seventh East-West Philosophers Conference on 'Democracy and Justice: A Philosophical Exploration'. 'Subject of Politics. It was published in John Rajchman (ed. organized by the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory. The Theory and Politics of Social Diversity. 25. held in Honolulu on 9-23 January 1995 and sponsored by the Department of Philosophy.). University ofWaJes. London. Modern and Postmodern. Sage 1992. University of Hawaii. New York. Cardiff. no.).1. Emancipations. 7.

'Power and Representation' was originally delivered at the Critical Theory Institute. Minnesota University Press 1991. New York. The present is an expanded version published in Mark Poster (ed. University of California.). Columbia University Press 1993. Politics. Irvine in 1989. Community at Loose Ends.). Theory and Contemporary Culture. 'Community and its Paradoxes: Richard Rorty's "Liberal Utopia'" was originally published in Miami Theory Collective (cd. .

A fourth dimension is the pre-existence of what has to be emancipated vis-davis the act of emancipation. In the fifth place.has been radically eradicated. economic. for instance. there is only the absolute coincidence of human essence with itself and there is no room for any relation of either power or representation.of communitarian affairs by social agents identified with the viewpoint of social totality. The first is what we could call the dichotomic dimension: between the emancipatory moment and the social order which has preceded it there is an absolute chasm. The second can be considered a holistic dimension: emancipation affects all areas of social life and there is a relation of essenrial imbrication betwcen its various contents in these different areas. an act of creation but instead of liberation of something which precedes the liberating act. we can speak of a dimension of ground which is inherent in the project of any radical emancipation. Emancipation is not. The third dimension can be referred to as the transparency dimension: if alienation in its various aspects religious. If the act of emancipation . a radical discontinuity. It is in this sense that in Marxism.a notion which has been part of our political imaginary for centuries and whose disintegrarion we are witnessing today .as being organized around six distinctive dimensions. There is no emancipation without oppression. and there is no oppres. Emancipation presupposes the elimination of power. in this sense. and the management . the abolition of the subject/object distinction. etcetera . political.1 Beyond Emancipation I see 'cmancipation' . communism and the withering away of the state logically entail each other.~ion without the presence of something which is impeded in its free development by oppressive forces.without any opaqueness or mediation .

To what extent do these six dimensions conform to a logically unified whole? Do they constitute a coherent theoretical structure? I shall try to show that they do not. This is the point where the emancipatory discourses of secularized eschatologies part company with the religious ones. If there is no ground. it can only coincide with the principle of an absolute rationality.EMANCIPATION(S) is truly radical. Finally. the dlc:hotomy involved in the emancipatory act is in a relation of IOlical lolidarity with our fourth dimension . by playing within the system of logical incompatibilities of the latter that we can open the way to new liberating discourses which are no longer hindered by the antinomies and blind alleys to which the classical notion of emancipation has led. to the simple abandonment of the logic of emancipation. an 'other' which prevents the full conltitution of the identity of the first element. It is. This should not lead us. on the contrary. if it is really going to leave behind everything preceding it. and that the assertion of the classical notion of emancipation in its many variants has involved the advancement of incompatible logical claims. But in a secular eschatology this is not possible. however.hlve or neutral other but. it has to take place at the level of the 'ground' of the social. For religious eschatologies the absorption of the real within a total system of representation does not require the rationality of the latter: it is enough that the inscrutable designs of God are transmitted to us through revelation. If we are speaking about real emancipation. The dichotomy that we are facing here is of a very particular kind. In that leRle. the very idea of a radical emancipation would become contradictory. As the idea of an absolute tepresentability of the real cannot appeal to anything external to the real itself. instead. It is not a simple difference between two elements or stages which t:ontcmporarily or successively coexist with each other. Thus. Let us start with the dichotomic dimension. we can speak of a rationalistic dimension. the 'other' opposing the emancipated identity cannot be a purely pCI. and in which the latter's distance from the rational is finally cancelled. and which in thllt way contribute to the constitution of each other's differential identity.the 2 . if the revolutionary act leaves a residue which is beyond the transforming abilities of the emancipatory praxis. full emancipation is simply the moment in which the real ceases to be an opaque positivity confronting us.

There would be no break. I can explain how forces antagonistic to that system Were constituted and evolved. If so. If the dichotomy is not constitutive but is rather the expression of a positive process. as a result. and the very notion of emancipation would become meaningless. there can be no positive objectivity underlying and constituting the identity of both poles of the dichotomy.on the contrary. It is easy to See why: without this pre-existence there would be no identity to repress or prevent from fully developing. it is part of the identity of the two forces confronting each other.BEYOND EMANCIPATION pre-existence of the identity to be emancipated vis-tl-vis the act of emancipation. But. will be refractory to any kind of objective 3 . This can be expressed in an only slightly different way by saying that if the emancipation is a true one. it will be incompatible with any kind of 'objective' explanation. if the chasm is a radical o"e. But this is not the otherness that the chasm of the emancipatory act requires. Now. in that sense. an 'other' who cannot be reduced to any of the figures of the ·same'. in that case.that is. no true emancipation if the act constitutive of the latter was only the result of the internal differentiation of the oppressing system. between the identity to be emancipated and the 'other' opposing it. it would be absurd to say that the second stone negates the identity of the first . the chasm constituting the dichotomy loses its radical character. the oppositional dimension is also necessary and. But the strict moment of the confrontation between both of them. being broken in certain circumstances expresses the identity of the stone as much as remaining unaltered if the circumstances are different. The 'other' can only be the result of an internal differentiation of the 'same' and. The characteristic of an objective process is that it reduces to its own logic the totality of its constitutive moments. Let us suppose for a moment that there is a deeper objective process giving its meaning to both sides of the dichotomy. The perception of the other as a radical other can only be a matter of appearance. I can certainly explain a set of circumstances that made possible the emergence of an oppressive system. the 'other' cannot be a real other: given that the dichotomy is grounded in an objective necessity. an unavoidable conclusion follows from this: true emancipation requires a real 'other' . A very simple consideration can help to clarify this point. it is entirely subordinated to the latter. If a stone is broken when it clashes with another stone.

As we have seen. The difficulty. and the strict moment of the clash between them cannot be explained in objective terms. it has to be its own ground and confine what it excludes to a radical otherness constiruted by evil or irrationality. in that case. there is no common measure.in which case. dichotomic radicalism and radical ground are incompatible. however. of course.forces which have no common measure with the victorious new social order . as in the clash between the two stones. Unless. The alternative is clear: either emancipation is radical and.EMANCIPATION(S) explanation. In that case. this dimension is incompatible with most of the others which we have presented as constirutive of the classical notion of emancipation. in that case. each of them constiruting the pole of an antagonism between them. In the first place. Nuw. in that case.the founding act itself cannot be rational but is itself utterly contingent and depends on a relation of power. the emancipated social order also becomes purely contingent and cannot be considered as the liberation of any true human essence. is that if the founding act of a truly rational society is conceived as the victory over the irrational forces of the past . Between two incompatible discourses. But. any organization previous to that break could only be conceived as the product of ignorance and of the folly of men. the antagonistic moment is purely a matter of appearance and the conflict between social forces is assimilated to a narural process. We are in the same dilemma as before: if we want to assert the rationality and permanence of the new social order that we are 4 . if the dichotomic dimension requires the radical otherness of a past which has to be thrown away. the condition of the radical chasm that the emancipatory logic requires is the irreducible otherness of the oppressive system which is rejected. that is as deprived of any rationality. there can be no single ground explaining both the order which is rejected and the order that emancipation inaugurates. or there is a deeper ground which establishes the rational connections between the pre-emancipatory order. the new "emancipated' one and the transition between both . emancipation cannot be considered as a truly radical foundation. The philosophers of the Enlightenment were perfectly consequent when they asserted that if a rational society was a fully-fledged order resulting from a radical break with the past. But. this is incompatible with the otherness required by the founding act of emancipation. as we said.

on the contrary. But in that case. a5 a result. in secularized eschatologies full representability is equivalent to full knowledge .understood as full reduction of the real to the rational .. If.IIEYOND EMANCJPATION establishing.and this is only achievable if the other is reduced to the same. (A different matter is whether the chasm is not represented by the oppre5sed through forms of identification which presuppose the presence of the oppressor. the 5 . as we have seen. that is. consequently. Transparency requires full representability. incompatible with the constitutivity of the chasm required by the dichotomic dimension. we assert this latter radicalism. in that case. Finally. Now.but in that case. it would be an effect of the latter and. This incompatibility within the discourse of emancipation between the dichotomic dimension and the dimension of ground creates two fundamental matrices around which all the other dimensions are organized. we can see that the discourses of emancipation have been historically constituted through the putting together of two incompatible lines of thought: one that presupposes the objectivity and full representability of the social. both the founding act and the social order resulting from it become entirely contingent. We shall return later to this point. antagonisms and dichotomies included. Holism would be impossible unless a positive ground of the social unifies in a self-contained totality the variety of its partial processes. the chasm would be constitutive.) But all the other dimensions logically require the presence of a positive ground and are. So. As we have said. we have to extend that rationality to the founding act itself and. the pre-existence of the oppressed vis-a-v. the chasm has to be internal to the social order and not a dividing line separating social order from something outside it. if the oppressed did not pre-exist the oppressing order.s the oppressing force is a corollary of the radicalism of the chasm required by the dichotomic dimension. to the social order which is to be overthrown . the other whose whole case depends on showing that there is a chasm which makes any social objectivity ultimately impossible. and there is no possibility of achieving it if the opaqueness inherent in radical otherness is constitutive of social relations. the radicalism of the dichotomic dimension vanishes. the conditions for a permanent structural outside have been created and what now vanishes is the dimension of ground in the classical notion of emanci pation.

The first is that the principle of contradiction does not apply to society and that. that is.unless. both a ground of the social and its impossibility. But it is a completely different proposition to assert that social practices construct concepts and institutions whose inner logic is based on the operation of incompatible logics. Emancipation means at one and the same time radical foundation and radical exclusion. here there is no denial of the principle of 6 . but it does not follow at all that this is enough to make it non-operative socially . And. somebody can be and not be in the same place at the same time. It is by asserting both of them that the notion of emancipation becomes meaningful. we espouse the absurd hypothesis that the social terrain is structured as a logical one and that contradictory propositions cannot have social effectivity. with the result that the demarcating line cannot be thought from the side of transparency and that transparency itself becomes opaque. We must carefully distinguish two very different assertions at this point. as a result. The matter is more complicated than that because these two lines of thought are equally necessary for the production of an emancipatory discourse. It is necessary that an emancipated society is fully transparent to itself and at the same time that this transparency is constituted through its demarcation from essential opaqueness. We have to conclude that the two lines of thought are logically incompatible and yet require each other: without them the whole notion of emancipation would crumble. or that the same piece of legislation has been both promulgated and not promulgated. it postulates. from this logical incompatibility? In what way does the notion of emancipation crumble as its result? It is clear that it only crumbles in a logical terrain. It is necessary that a rational society is a self-enclosed totality which subordinates to itself all its partial processes. however. etcetera. of course.EMANCIPATJON(S) important point is that these two opposite lines of thought are not simple analytical mistakes so that we could choose between one or the other and formulate an emancipatory discourse which would be free of logical inconsistencies.without which there would be no holistic configuration at all can only be established by differentiating the latter from an exterior which is irrational and formless. I do not think that anybody would be bold enough to formulate this kind of proposition. at the same time. but the limits of this holistic configuration . obviously. What follows.

The first is that if the term 'emancipation' is to remain meaningful. Rather. But what about the hypothesis itself? Is it logically impeccable and our only task to determine if it is right or wrong? Evidently not.transparency.. and that the two equally possible logical moves . what about the constitutive difference between transparency and opaqueness: is it transparent or opaque? [t is clear that the alternative is undecidable. Transparency. If that was the whole problem. But this is precisely what is not possible: our analysis has led us to the 7 .blur the neatness of the alternative. which certainly is not the case.tological hypothesis. Now. we could avoid it just by denying that emancipation is a valid concept and by asserting the validity of either of the two logics taken separately. The second aspect is that this double and contradictory requirement is not simply something that we have to assert if emancipation is to be maintained as a relevant political term.r of its two incompatible sides. etcetera fully applies here. constitutes itself as a terrain through the act of excluding opaqueness. But it is clear that in this case we are dealing with an o . it is impossible to renounce eithc. And this ontological hypothesis is nothing other than a new formulation of the 'dimension of ground' that we have already discussed. a problem arises as to the extent to which this operation is possible. because everything that we have said about the logic of the ground and its concomitant dimensions . Could it be the case that incompatible logics operate within society but cannot be extended to society as a whole. that is. as we have seen. holism.BEYOND I!MANCIPATION contradiction. we have to play one against the other in ways which have to be specified. not with a logical requirement. that formulating contradictory propositions in certain circumstances is a logical requirement for society as a whole not to be contradictory? Here we are close to Hegel's 'cunning of reason'. But what about the act of exclusion itself. because to say the opposite would be to assert that it is logically contradictory to formulate contradictory propositions.to make the opaque transparent or to make the transparent opaque . This whole digression on the status of logical contradictions in society is important to make us aware of two aspects which have to be taken into account in dealing with the language games that it is possible to play within the logic of emancipation. if the operation of contradictory logics can perfectly well be at the root of many institutions and social practices.

Both the dichotomic and the ground dimensions are present here: world history is a permanent struggle between the saints and the forces of evil. we see the emergence of a theological difficulty which is nothing but the theological recognition of uur two incompatible dimensions. an orderly drifting away from what would otherwise have been their full operation. This is precisely what we understand by subversion.from which all evil would have been eradicated. and its specific form was salvation. at the same rime. the exclusion of each other: each is both the condition of possibility and the condition of impossibility of the other. the various alternatives in the struggle against the forces of evil and the final triumph of God are known to us by revelation. rather. Before we move on to describe the general pattern of this drifting away. and that this denial leads to an orderly set of subversive effects of the internal 5tructure of both of them.or post-humanity . It is as if each of the two incompatible logics presupposes a full operation that the other is denying. Christianity was going to present the image of a future humanity . we have to consider the way in which classical emancipatory discourses dealt with our basically incompatible dimensions. within this world-embracing picture. This already indicates to us the way in which the logic of emancipation has to be approached: by looking at the effects which follow from the subversion of each of its two incompatible sides by the other. It is clear that in analysing these subversive effects we are not witnessing the rise of something new that leaves both logics behind but.EMANCIPATION(S} conclusion that it is the contradictory sides themselves that require the presence and. however. opaqueness or alienation. With elements partly inherited from Jewish apocalypse. Now. the future society will be a perfect one without any internal splits. A discourse of radical emancipation emerged for the first time with Christianity. In that case. God is almighty and absolute goodness. Thus. The very possibility of this analysis results from what we said earlier: the social operation of two incompatible logics does not consist in a pure and simple annulment of their respective effects but in a specific set of mutual deformations. we are not simply dealing with a logical incompatibility but rather with a real undecidability between the two sides. tbe creator ex nihilo of everything existing and the absolute source and ground of all created beings. 8 . and there is no common ground between them. which certainly did not go entirely unnoticed.

but each of the universal moments in world history is marked by divine interventions through which finite bodies have to take up universal tasks which were not predetermined in the least by their concrete finitude. in that case. passing through Northern mysticism. therefore.this time without contradiction . in that case. The dialectic of incarnation presupposes the infinite distance between the incarnating body and the incarnated task. Christian thought. The paradigm of all incarnation is. We see emerging here the same problem that we posed in non-theological terms: either the dichotomy separating good and evil is a radical one. without common ground between the two poles. confronted with this alternative.BEYOND EMANCIPATION how do we explain the presence of evil in the world? The alternative is clear: either God is almighty and the source of everything existing . and Spinoza. The Christian vision of history was also confronted with another problem .and.or He is not responsible for such a presence and. or there is such a ground and. would reach its highest point in Hegel and Marx.so that the problem was set aside without solution . for motives which escape human reaSOD. It is only God's mediation that establishes a bridge between the two. Eriugena. the advent of Christ himself. He cannot be absolute goodness because He is responsible for the presence of evil in the world . but the rationality which·expresses itself in that story will always 9 .and looking for a solution which. if it was going to be consistent at all. started a tradition which. Returning to our various dimensions of emancipation. of course. Revelation gives us a representation of the totality of history. The category of incarnation was designed in order to mediate between these two incommensurable realities. the radicalism of the opposition between good and evil is blurred. could only maintain an image of God as absolute source by asserting in one way or another the necessary character of evil. Nicholas Cusanu.and that is the incommensurability existing between the universality of the tasks to be performed and the limitations of the finite agents in charge of them. contingency and evil. oscillated between asserting that the designs of God are inscrutable and that the dilemma was the result of the limitation of human reason . we can say that in Christian discourse transparency is ensured at the level of representation but not at the level of knowledge. asserting in the Carolingian renaissance that God reaches perfection through necessary phases of transition involving fmitude. is not almighty.

EMANCIPATION(S) escape us. to the way in which social actors live (distortedly) their relations to their real conditions. exploitation. If there is a ground out of which human history shows itself as purely rational . obscurantism. In studying such Iranlformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the materitli fnnaformation of the economic conditions of production. As it was asserted in a famous text: The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the: transformation of the whole immense supentrucrure. as its historical and logical condition. That is why the rationalistic dimension had to be absent from theological accounts of salvation. It is enough to remember the description of the emergence and development of antagonistic societies: primitive communism had to disintegrate in order to develop the productive forces of humanity. The more the dimension of ground imposes itself.and. Since God is no longer in the foreground as guarantor of total representability.slavery. terrorism. the latter's development required. antagonism. Seen from the vantage point of universal history. belong to the realm of superstructures. But the Marxian versions of the same principle art: not far away. otherness can only be the result of partial and distorted representations. It is this chasm between representation and rationality that modern eschatologies will attempt to bridge. fully transparent to itself .reveals its rational substance. the more the irretrievable alterity of the chasm inherent in the dichotomic dimension has to be dismissed as false consciousness. opaqueness. As Hegel said. when history reaches the peak of a new communism representing a further development of the productive forces. ethical incompatibilitic5. The first consequence of this modern trend is that the turn insinuated in pantheistic and semi-pantheistic versions of Christianity is brought now to its logical conclusions. which 10 . in sum anything linked to the dichotomic dimension. that the meaning and rationality of all the previous suffering is finally shown. and it is only at the end of the process. Auschwitz . We have mentioned before the Hegelian 'cunning of reason'.evil. the passage through the hell of the successive exploitative regimes. So total representation becomes possible only as total rationality. as a result. the ground has to show its all-embracing abilities without any appeal to an infinite distance from what it actually embraces. universal history is not the terrain of happiness. Radical rejection. everything .

and emancipation becomes a mere rhetorical ornament of a substantive process which has to be understood in entirely different terms. So incarnation was possible as long as God was part of the expl4n4ns.BEYOND EMANCIPATION can be distinguishN with the precision of natural science. No incarnation can take place here. and the legal. then We can hardly say that slhe is oppressed by the same regime that constitutes him or her. on the contrary. That is. artistic or philosophic . But if the process of disintegration of that regime and the process of formation of the 'emancipatory' actor are the same. a fully rationalistic and secular eschatology has to show the possibility of a universal actor who is beyond the contradictions between particularity and universality. one whose particularity expresses in a direct way. but if He retreats to the background. is precisely the one for whom 'emancipation' has become a meaningless term. How do we construct the identity of this actor? As we have seen. whose particularity expresses universality in such a direct fashion that his advent is conceived as the end of the need for any process of representation.in shon. the connection between incarnated universality and incarnating body becomes impossible. who is presented as the only one who can carry out a true process of emancipation. in such a way that. there is an unbridgeable distance between the first tWO elements: without the third element there would be no connection at all between them. political. or rather. religious. the second logical requirement of this essential turn is that we have to do away altogether with the dialectic of incarnation. but. 11 . Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself. ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflia and fight it out. from the conOict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. without any system of mediations.' So. This actor is for Marx the proletariat. As a result of that. As we have seen. the agent of emancipation has to be one whose identity is prevented in its constitution/development by an existing oppressive regime. But if we look at the matter closely. pure and universal human eSSence. this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life. incarnation requires connection between two elements through the mediation of a third external to them. in this reading the dichotomic dimension becomes a 'superstructure' of the dimension of ground. so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness. left to themselves. we shall see that this actor.

For. but also . emancipation becomes impossible. If.that all representation will be necessarily partial and will take place against the background of an essential unrepresentability. we have still said nothing about the effects that could derive from the social interaction of these two symmetrical 12 . but this only explains the emergence of the proletariat as a particular subject position within capitalist society. this constitutive opaqueness withdraws the ground which had made it possible to go beyond the dialectic of incarnation. the constitutive opaqueness resulting from the dialectic of emancipation involves not only that society is no longer transparent to knowledge. the radicalism of the founding emancipatory act cannot be conceived otherwise but as an act of grounding. On the other hand. given that there is no longer a transparent society in which the universal can show itself in a direct unmediated way. a constitutive opaqueness that no grounding can eradicate. However. on the one hand. That is. as we have mentioned before. perfectly well argue that the proletariat is the product of capitalist development. we need to show that the capitalist negates in the worker something which is not the mere product of capitalism. not the emergence of the proletariat as an emancipatory subject. for only the laner creates the separation between the direct producer and the ownership of the means of production. although we have explored the logical consequences which follow from each of the two alternatives taken separately. we hesitate to extend a death certificate. In order to have the latter. This is the other dimension of the emancipatory logic that we stressed before: if the absence of a ground is the condition of radical emancipation. The death of the ground seems to lead to the death of the universal and to the dissolution of social struggles into mere particularism. that the condition of true emancipation is.EMANCIPATION(S) We can.since God is no longer there to substitute knowledge by revelation . So it looks as if whatever direction we take. of course. opaqueness cannot lead to a restoration of the dialectic of incarnation either. ensuring through His word the knowledge of a universal destiny which escapes human reason. In our terminology: we need to show that there is an antagonistic dichotomy which is not reducible to a single ground. as God is no longer there. modernity started by strictly tying representability to knowledge. But again. This means that the two operations of closure which founded the political discourse of modernity have to be unmade.

precisely. In secularized eschatologies.has apparently disappeared. If the dimension IIf ground is going to prevail. but are constructed by movements taking place within the system of alternatives generated by the latter.are actually incompatible. In theological thought. seems to destroy the very possibility of any totalizing effects. emancipation becomes impossible. the ultimate logical impossibility of either a chasm which is rruly radical. in fact. Emancipation strictly linked to the destiny of the universal. leaves us in a purely particularistic world in which social actors pursue only limited objectives? One moment of reflection is enough to show us that this is not an adequate conclusion. 'Particularism' is an essentially relational concept: something is particular in relation to other particularities and the ensemble of them presupposes a social totality within which they are constituted. beyond emancipation. Does this mean that this death of the universal. This last remark opens the way to a form of conceiving the relationship between universalism and particularism which differs from both an incarnation of one in the other and the cancellation of their difference and which. the notion of 'particular' identities is equally threatened. The category of totality continues haunting us through the effects that derive from its very absence. its performance cannot be the work of any particularistic social agency. These go. Let us consider the matter carefully.ground and radical chasm . but both alternatives equally require the presence IIf the universal. or of the dissolution of emancipation in some version of the 'cunning of reason'. Let us start our analysis with the consideration of any social antagonism i~ 13 . pure human essence which has abandoned any particularistic belonging. creates the possibility of new discourses of liberation.8EYOND EMANCIPATION impossibilities. Now. this presence of the universal was guaranteed by the logic of incarnation. which mediated between particularistic finitude and universal task.that is social totality . if it is the very notion of a social totality that is in question. certainly. or if emancipation is going to be . with the impossibility of emancipation as its necessary corollary. We have seen that these twO dimensions . as we have seen. With this the only terrain in which the universal could emerge . the universal had to emerge without any kind of mediation: the 'universal class' in Marx can perform its emancipatory job because it has become.1 true act of radical foundation. So. Without the emergence of the universal within the historical terrain.

AT. the universal form of fullness or identity. This common element. and we already know that there is in all chasms a basic undecidability as to which of its two sides the line separating them belongs. each of these forces differs from the other. Now.. But if the universal results 14 . So it has to be something purely negative: the threat that each of them poses to the national identity. a national minority which is oppressed by an authoritarian state. etcetera intervene. Let us suppose that at some point other antagonistic forces . But it shows as well that the relation between particularity and universality is an essentially unstable and undecidable one. these contents have to express. if there is equivalence. of a certain universal impossibility which penetrates the identity in question. selt-transparent universality was a moment in the rational self·development of particularity. was lomething equally fixed by essential determinations in the H. entirely fixed and predetermined. But for that reason. There is a chasm here between the two. through their equivalential relation. the action of hostile economic forces. The conclusion is that in a relation of equivalence.a foreign invasion. which particular actor was going to abolish his or her distance from the universal. All its contents express a general negativity transcending them.for instance. as a result. this means that through all the very different antagonistic forces something equally present in all of them is expressed. We are not dealing here with 'determinate negation' in the Hegelian sense: while the latter comes out of the apparent positivity of the concrete and 'circulates' through contents that are always determinate.EMANCIPATION(S) . that which operates as a negative pole of a certain identity is constitutively split.lianJMarxist vision of history. from the point of view of their concrete positive features.. To put the matter in other terms: in an antagonistic relation. each of the equivalent elements functions as a symbol of negativity as such. the 'positive' pole cannot be reduced to its concrete contents either: if that which opposes them is the universal form of negativity as such. This constitutive split shows the emergence of the universal within the particular. however. What particular content was going to incarnate universality was God's decision in Christian eschatologies and wall. cannot be something positive because. our notion of negativity depends on the failure in the constitution of all determination. The national minority will see all the antagonistic forces as equivalent threats to its own identity.

however. as a constitutive lack which constantly forces the particular to be more than itself. The dimension of ground. rather. in that case. as a result. are never able to entirely conceal the distance 15 .s themselves in what we have called the constitutive split of all concrete identity. a hegemonic operation. however. but that. to the very relation between universality and particularity.8!YOND EMANCIPATION from a constitutive split in which the negation of a particular identity transforms this identity in the symbol of identity and fullness as such. (2) the universal can only emerge out of the particular.taken by itself . It is as if the undecidable line separating the two poles of the dichotomy had expanded its undecidable effects to the interior of the poles themselves. what particular content is going to symbolize the latter is something which cannot be determined either by an analysis of the particular in itself or of the universal.is an empty signifier. presuppose. that it has to be merely abandoned? Obviously not. Let us now consider. to assume a universal role which can only be precarious and unsutured. in the strict sense of the term. that is the ground. what happens to the six dimensions of the notion of emancipation with which we started. we have to conclude that: (1) the universal has no content of its own. because it is only the negation of a particular content that transforms that content in the symbol of a universality transcending it. to make the interplay of these incompatible logics the very locus of a certain political productivity. we have shown. the signifier of fullness as such. the notion of ground. if for no other reason than because disaggregation and particularism. mean that we can have no further dealings with the notion of 'ground'. however. it is present in the particular as that which is absent. These contradictory movements expres. It is possible. but is an absent fullness or. which constitute the only possible alternative. is required by the particular: in that sense. of the very idea of fullness. The relation between the two depends on the context of the antagonism and it is. in the light of these conclusions. at the same time. is incompatible with emancipation and it also involves us in insurmountable logical aporias. at the same time that they deny. (3) since. Totality is impossible and. It is because of this that we can have democratic politics: a succession of finite and particular identities which attempt to assume universal tasks surpassing them. the universal . Particularity both denies and requires totality. Does this.

we should take into account that the secularist turn of modernity involved both the assertion that the meaning of history is not to be found outside history itself. [n this sense. and the very different assertion that this purely worldly succession of events is an entirely rational process that human beings can intellectually master. This unbridgeable gap between possibility and necessity leads straight into what Nietzsche called a 'war of interpretations'. but this does not mean that its necessity has been eradicated. [t goes without saying that the holistic dimension moves along the same path as the dimension of ground: the two of them are. and can always be substituted by alternative groups.s the different forms of identification. it is impossible that this limitation and finitude is not transmitted to the products of their intellectual activity. as . the abandonment of the aspiration to 'absolute' knowledge has exhilarating effects: on the one hand. The presence of its absence is shown in the various attempts to 'rationalize' the world that finite social agents carry out. This opens 16 . that there is no supernatural power operating as the ultimate source of everything that exists. But the eclipse of the ground deprives reason of its all-embracing abilities and only the first assertion (or rather commitment). Incompletion and provisionality belong to the essence of democracy. nobody can •• pire to he the true consciousness of the world.1 agentl have to recognize their concrete finitude. which are impotent to imprison us within the network of an unappealable logic. on the other hand. Precariousness and ultimate failure (if we persist in measuring success by an old rationalistic standard) are certainly the destiny of these attempts. Reason is necessary. to make the world transparent to themselves. in fact. but through this failure we gain something perhaps more precious than the certainty that we are losing: a freedom v. the same dimension seen from two different angles. remains. If limited and finite beings try to know.UlOCi. but it is also impossible.EMANCIPATJON(S) between task and identity. Thus reason reoccupies the terrain that Christianity had attributed to God. As far as the rationalistic dimension is concerned.s-d-v. human beings can recognize themselves as the true creators and no longer as the passive recipients of a predetermined structure. The same applies to the dimension of transparency: total representability is no longer there as a possibility. the inrraworldly character of all explanation.

What about those aspects that arc incompatible with the dimension of ground and the ones depending on it? As we have seen. the pre-existence of the identity to be emancipated lIis-d-lIis the oppressive forces is also subverted and submitted to the same contradictory movement that the other dimensions experience.the separation of emancipation from a totally alien past . but if. at the same time.BEYOND EMANCIPATION (he way to an endless interaction between various perspectives and makes ever more distant the possibility of any totalitarian dream. Finally. there can be no act of fully revolutionary foundation. without the presence of the oppressor my identity would be different.the so-called new wcial movements . In classical discourses. It is true that this is unavoidable in any antagonistic struggle. Only if it takes place at the level of a ground of the social is the chasm constituting the dichotomy radical from the point of view of its location. the dichotomic dimension presupposes the structural location of a ground and. no dichotomy is absolute. dichotomization is not truly radical . the emancipated identities had to preexist the act of emancipation as a result of their radical otherness lIis-d-vis the forces opposing them. as in the case of the other dimensions. This precariousness and incompletion of the frontiers constituting social division are at the root of the contemporary possibility of a general autonomization of social struggles . 17 . some positive consequences follow from this double movement of selfpositing and withdrawal of the ground. on the one hand. This contradictory situation is expressed in the undecidability between internality and externality of the oppressor in relation to the oppressed: to be oppressed is part of my identity as a subject struggling for emancipation. makes the latter unthinkable.is logically incompatible with the notion of such a structural location.instead of subordinating them to a unique frontier which would be the only source of social division. partial and precarious dichotomies have to be constitutive of the social fabric. this dichotomi:tation is not the result of an elimination of radical otherness but.and as we have just seen it cannot be 50 . The most important one is that if.then the identity of the oppressive forces has to be in some way inscribed in the identity searching for emancipation. on the contrary. but if. on the other hand. of the very impossibility of its total eradication. but the operation that the dichotomy performs . at the same time. Now.

To make this point perfectly dear. How are we to understand the nature of this freedom? You distance yourself \'Cry clearly Irom accounr. 2. of PolirU:1Il &OftOlII)'. of Our Tim" Verso 1990. forces the subject to be subject.. However. ANp/. we are not free. 24. but somethiog eIKotially ambiguoul. in wbat sense would that freedom be different from the one poltulaled by tbe danical nOlion of emancipation1 It is neceaar" to diSliipale this misunderstanding. pp.H. London. regarding the relation between dislocation and freedom.. In other erl. 60).N: In yonr work the category of dislocation hu taken on a morc and more cenlral role. We are today coming to terms with our own finitude and with the political possibilities that it opens. We can perhaps say that today we are at the end of emancipation and at the beginning of freedom.EMANCIPATION(S) The constitution of the latter requires and at tbe same time rejects the presence of the other. 10 act.to come back to uur ~ontempurlU"" silualion . Karl Man.. to "y. A number of question. 43-50). and Ihe nature of freedom ieself.u'."'o aomerhins positive and wonhy of celebration. to dtOOIC in • Sartrean KOSC. It seems.. rather than .w RIf/"ctioJlS 0" the IUlIO/raio. arise here. arguing that freedom here is that of a 'structural fawI'. A COlltribtdiml '0 lb.understandinp hat arilen around its 11151 scnrence. that the relation of dislocation/freedom could be thought more produl:tively. Oxford. D.. iew with Ernesto Lad./. the moment of freedom Ind pOSlibilily is simultaneously the moment of my greatest constraint. Since this cuay wu ..""" A. 1 Notes 1. It is with the nature of the movement from dislocation to 'freedom' that we arc mainly conl:emed.. The failure of the structure fall" to constitute the subject. That i. Contemporary social struggles are bringing to the fore this contradictory movement that the emancipatory discoune of both religious and modern secularized eschatologies had concealed and repressed. leen from tbe vantage point of dislocation. Does aliening tbllt we are at the beainning of freedom imply nqaling COIerytbing that the enay lustains? If freedom is self-determination.d A. by emphasizins both the dimension of possibility and in impossibility... Anselaki 1994. p. a comiderable SCI of mi. to rake a decision. Tbis is 10 especially with rqard to your daim tbat 'dislocation is the source of freedom'. LawullCe lind Wilbut 1971. a. I wanl to reproduce the last question (together with my answer) that David Howartb and Aletta Norval put to me in a recent interview for the journal ('Nqotiating the Paradoxes of ConremporlUJ Politics. Thus.imply being free to act. of unfreedom.. Tlking this laner dimenaion into account could . 1:3. freedom has no positive contents but is 'mere pOlSibility'. AD Inter . 18 . which emphuiu the 'freedom of a subject with a positive identity' (N.help 10 make sense of the experience of dislocation II nol heinl i"o f. risinAlly published in 1992. We have to respond. therefore. to identify anew.A!i. This is tbe point from which the potentially liberatory discourses of our postmodern age have to start. there il no freedom here. By freedom I do not mean a poIitive and unnuanced fullneu. p.

BEYOND EMANCIPATION

wllrcls, would you agree that Stressing the terror and force at the hean of freedom, has to form part of our very al:count of the possihilities arisinll out .. I severe dj~localion? E.L: J could not agree more with your tonclusion. As yuu cogently point lilli, the experlenl:e of dislocation is not ipso faCIO 'something positive and ... "rthy of celebration'. But this also means rhat, if freedom and dislocation are rd.lled in the way J havc SUllllested - that you sccm to accept - thc vcry upericnl:c of frcedom is ambiguous. For rhar reason, although as J said, I \lIh.crihe to your conclusion, J cannot follow you in one of rhe intcrmediatc ""'tles of your argumcnr, when you asscrt rhar, because the failure of rhe _\rUClure 'forccs rhe subjcl:t to bc a ~ubject', when we are furced to respond we are unfree. If this was so, we would cenainly be In Ihe best of all possible worlds: the villain of thc piece would be 'dislocation', while 'freedom', ali ~ompletc lack of consuaint, would be preserved as an uncontaminated posilivc value. But. as you yourself recognile. Ihis impecnblc solulion is impossible: freedom and dislocation cannot be scparated rhar way. On the one hand. a freedom that dislocation doci nOl coercc 10 choose, would not be my freedom bur Ihe freedom of the slIuCture which has l:oDstruCied me as a subjcct. On the other hand, a freedom which is my freedom, which avoids both rhe pitfalls of the Splnozian freedom, reduced to CODKiousn~ n; necessity, and the Saruean Ireedom of being a chooser who has no longcr :IDY grounds to choosc, can only be the freedum of II structural failure - i.e. dislontion. But in thar casc Ihe 3mbilluity of dislocation (what you call 'the terror and force 3t the hean of freedom') contaminates frcedom itself. Freedom is both liberating IIDd enslavinJl, exhilarating and traumatic, enahlinll and destructive. In a fragmented and heterogeneous society, the spaces of freedom I:enainly increase, bur this is nUl .I phenomenon which is uniformly positive. because it also in,ull. in those .paces the ambiguity of freedom. As a result, the possibility emerges of more radical attempts at renouncing freedom than those that we have known in the past. If freedom and dislocation go together, it is in the terrain of a lIeneralind freedom that CIIperiences such as those of contemporary totalitarianism become pnssible. If rhis is so, it means that the quest for an absolute freedom for the subject is tantamount to a quest for an unrestricted disloc:nion and rhe total disintegration of the social fabric. It allo meanl that a democratic society which has becomc a viable social order will not be a totally free society, but line which has nCllmiated in a 5p«ihC way the duality frecdomlunfreedonl.

19

2

U ni versalism, Particularism and the Question of Identity

There is today a lot of talk about social, ethnic, national and political identities. The 'death of the subject', which was proudly proclaimed urbi et orb; not so long ago, has been succeeded by a new and widespread interest in the multiple identities that are emerging and proliferating in our contemporary world. These two movements are not, however, in such a complete and dramatic contrast as we would be tempted to believe at first sight. Perhaps the death of the Subject (with a capital 'S') has been the main precondition of this renewed interest in the question of subjectivity. It is perhaps the very impossibility of any longer referring the concrete and finite expressions of a multifarious subjectivity to a transcendental centre that makes it possible to concentrate our attention on the multiplicity itself. The founding gestures of the 1960s are still with us, making possible the political and theoretical explorations in which we are today engaged. If there was, however, this temporal gap between what had become theoretically thinkable and what was actually achieved, it is because a second and more subtle temptation haunted the intellectual imaginary of the Left for a while: that of replacing the transcendental subject with its symmetrical other, that of reinscribing the multifarious forms of undomesticated subjectivities in an objective totality. From this derived a concept which had a great deal of currency in our immediate prehistory: that of 'subject positions'. But this was not, of course, a real transcending of the problematic of transcendental subjectivity (something which haunts us as an absence is, indeed, very much present). 'History is a process without a subject'. Perhaps. But how do we know it? Is not the very possibility of such an assertion already requiring what one was trying to avoid? If

UNIVERSALISM. PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION Of IDENTITY

history as a totality is a possible object of experience and tliscourse, who could be the subject of such an experience but rhe subject of an absolute knowledge? Now, if we try to avoid this pitfall. and negate the terrain that would make that assertion a meaningful one. what becomes problematic is the very notion of 'subject position'. What could such a position be but a special location within a totality. and what could this totality be but the object of experience of an absolute subject? At the very moment in which [he terrain of absolute subjectivity collapses, it also collapses the very possibility of an absolute object. There is no real alternative between Spinol.a and Hegel. But this locates us in a very different terrain: one in which the very possibility of the subject/object distinction is the simple result of the impossibility of constituting either of its two terms. I am a subject precisely because I cannot he an absolute consciousness, because something constitutively alien confronts me; and there can be no pure object as a result of this opaqueness/alienation which shows the traces of the subject in the object. Thus. once objectivism disappeared as an 'epistemological obstacle'. it became possible to develop the full implications of the 'death of the subject'. At that point, the latter showed the secret poison that inhabited it, the possibility of its second death: 'the death of the death of the subject'; the re-emergence of the subject as a result of its own death; the proliferation of concrete finitudes whose limitations are the source of their strength; the realization that there can be 'subjects' because the gap that 'the Subject' was supposed to bridge is actually unbridgeable. This is not just abstract speculation; it is instead an intellectual way opened by the very terrain in which history has thrown us: rhe multiplication of new - and not so new - identities as a result of the collapse of the places from which the universal subjects spoke: - the explosion of ethnic and national identities in Eastern Europe and in the territories of the former USSR, struggles of immigrant groups in Western Europe, new forms of multicultural protest and self-assertion in the USA, to which we have to add the gamut of forms of contestation associated with the new social movements. Now, the question arises: is this proliferation thinkable iust as proliferation - that is, simply in terms of its multiplicity? To put the problem in its simplest terms: is particularism thinkable iust as particularism, only out 21

Let us start by considering the historical forms in which the relationship between universality and particularity has been thought. In that case. We are in the terrain of classical ancient philosophy. there is no possible mediation between universality and particularity: the particular can only corrup' the universal. if tbe former. Either the particular realizes in itself the universal that is it eliminates itself as particular and transforms itself in a transparent medium through which universality operates . A first approach asserts: <a> that there is an uncontaminated dividing line between the universal and the particular.or it negates the universal by asserting its particularism (but 8. is not available to ancient philosophy. in offering you some surfaces of inscription for the formulation of questio"s rather than answers. I am engaging in a power struggle for which there is a name: hegemony. I am giving the reader the only freedom that it is in my power to grant: that of stepping outside of my discourse and rejecting its validity in terms which are entirely incommensurable with it. universality can only be a particularity which defines itself in terms of a limitless exclusion.EMANCIPATION(S) of the differential dimension that it asserts? An the relations between universalism and particularism simple relations of mutual exclusion? Or. The thought of this difference. The second possibility in thinking of the relation between 22 . The obvious question concerns the frontier dividing universality and particularity: is it universal or particular? If the latter. and (b) that the pole of the universal is entirely graspable by reason.'1 the latter is purely irrational. But tbe very possibility of formulating this last question would require tbat the form of universality as such is subjected to a clear differentiation from the actual co"tents to which it is associated. however. Not all roads lead to Rome. So. and that the latter do not predetermine the kind of answer to be expected. the particular itself becomes part of the universal and the dividing line is again blurred. it has no entity of its own and can only exist as corruption of heing). But by confessing the tendentious nature of my intervention. I will not pretend that the piau of questioning does not affect the nature of the questions. if we address the matter from the opposite angle: does the alternative between an essential objectivism and a transcendental subjectivism exhaust the range of language games that it is possible to play with the 'universal'? These are the main questions that I am going to address.

its distinctive feature being that between the universal . the . the universal is mere event in an eschatological succession. the agent whose particular body was the expression of a universality transcending it. the universal.clation between the two orders also has to be an opaque and Incomprehensible one. God. PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY IIniversality and particularity is related to Christianity. the incommensurability between the universal to be incarnated and the incarnating body has to be eliminated. God is the only and absolute mediator. Credo quia absurdum. however. Now. We have to postulate a body which is. was replaced in its function of universal guarantor by reason. and because each of these universal moments has to realize itself 111 a finite reality which has no common measure with them. The modern idea of a 'universal dass' and the various forms of Eurocentrism are nothing but the distant historical effects of the logic of incarnation. the deep layer cannot be a timeless world of rational forms. if everything has to be transparent to reason. This type of relation was called incarn. the connection between the universal and the body incarnating it also has to be so. between a IJeep and a superficial layer within the thing.ltion.the main difference being that the effects of a rational grounding have to be fully transparent to human reason.. which is very different from that of a divine intervention . Thus. Not entirely so. God's. the attempt to interrupt the logic of incarnation.t. only . in and of itself.lnd the body incarnating it there is no rational connection whatsoever. as the absolute source of everything existing. but a rational ground and source has a logic of its own. but a temporal lillccession of essential events which are opaque to human reason. so that it I!> not accessible to human reason. Because the designs of God are inscrutable.IINIVERSAl. not ours. 23 . This involves an entirely different conception of the relationship between particularity ilnd universality. in that case. as in ancient though. but that between Iwn series of events: those of a finite and contingent succession nn the one hand. A point uf view of the totality exists bllt it i!. A subtle logic destined to have a profound influence on our intellectual rradition was started in this way: that of the privileged agent of history. The dividing line cannot be. because modernity at its highest point was. this requirement is entirely incompatible with the logic of incarnation. that between rationality and irrationality.u:cessible to us through revelation. to a large extent.ISM. and those of the eschatological series on the lither.

the need for any incarnation is definitely eradicated. The universal had found its own body. in absolute knowledge. through the universalization of its own particularism. presented not as struggles between particular identities and cultures. which was the realm of mistakes and follies of men.no longer the incarnation . as in the various forms of social Darwinism. The body of the proletariat is no longer a particular body in which a universality external to it has to be incarnated: it is instead a body in which the distinction between parricularity and universality is cancelled and. This was the point. as a result. This argument could be conceived in very explicit racist terms. but the main currents of the Enlightenment were going to establish a sharp frontier between the past. but it could also be 24 .F. of the real to reason. as a result. So.the notion of peoples without history expressing precisely their incapacity to represent the universal. however.of universal human essence (as the USSR was going to be considered later the 'motherland' of socialism). but this was still the body of a certain particularity European culture of the nineteenth century. which had to be the rcsult of an act of absolute institution. So European culture was a particular one. given that European universalism had constructed its identity precisely through the cancellarion of the logic of incarnation and. and a rational future. A last stage in the advance of this rationalistic hegemony took place when the gap between the rational and the irrational was closed through the representation of the act of its cancellation as a necessary moment in the selfdevelopment of reason: this was the task of Hegel and Marx. European imperialist expansion had to be presented in terms of a universal civilizing function. who asserted the total transparency.MANCIPATION(S) The full realization of these implications took several centuries. but as part of an allembracing and epochal struggle between universality and particularisms . The crucial issue here is that there was no intellectual means of distinguishing between European particularism and the universal functions that it was supposed to incarnate. Descartes postulated a dualism in which the ideal of a full rationality still refused to become a principle of reorganization of the social and political world. at which social reality refused to abandon its resistance to universalistic rationalism. and at the same time the expression . modernization and so forth. For an unsolved problem still remained. as a result. The resistances of other cultures were.

In the hitter a supernatural power was responsible both for the advent IIf the universal event and for the body which had to incarnate rhe latter.roduced . PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY Klven some more 'progressive' versions . a similar reintroduction of the logic of incarnation rakes place.ower that transcended all of them. the consequences of this approach would not necessarily have been authoritarian. In a classless society. Thus.by asserting that the civilizing mission tlf Europe would finish with the establishment of a universally Ireed society of planetary dimensions. and so on. In the case of Marxism. The same type of logic operating in Eurocentrism will establish the ontological privilege of the proletariat.Iiffered in one crucial point from Christian incarnation.in the opposite direction. for a certain period. because the position of the proletariat as bearer of the viewpoint of social totality and the position of the vast majority of the population would have overlapped.as it did . not as a result of a contingent relation of forces but because they are incarnations of the universal. social relations will finally be fully transparent. however. But if the process moved . the autocrat the Party. which had to be filled by the Party as representative of the historical interests of the proletariat. Some of them are going to be privileged agents of historical change. the logic of Ilu:arnation was reint. The gap between class itself and class for itself opened the way to a ~lIccession of substitutions: the Party replaced the class. In the case of a secular eschatology. as the source of the universal is not external but internal to the world. the 2S .Europe having to represent.UNIVEIlSAlISM. universal human interests.as in some sectors of . Human beings were on an equal footing vis-a-vis a I. It is true that if the increasing simplification of the social structure under capitalism had taken place in the way predicted by Marx. Between the universal character of the tasks of the working class and the particularity of its concrete demands an increasing gap opened. Now. this well-known migration nf the universal through the successive bodies incarnating it . As this ontological privilege is the result of a process which was conceived as entirely rational. the universal can only manifest itself through the establishment of an essential inequality between the objective positions of the social agents.he Second International. it was doubled into an epistemological privilege: the point of view of the proletariat supersedes the opposition subject/object.

I will argue that an appeal to pure particularism is no solution to the problems that we are facing in contemporary societies.EMANCIPATION(S) successive bodies incarnating the viewpoint of the universal class had to have an increasingly remitted social base. There is a second and perhaps more important reason why pure particularism is self-defeating. For if it is the only accepted normative principle. had to claim to have knowledge of the 'objective meaning' of any event. the spectacle of the social and political struggles of the 19905 seems to confront us. From this point on. These principles can be progressive in our appreciation. while the point of view of universality is increasingly put aside as an old-fashioned totalitarian dream. the authoritarian turn was unavoidable. as concrete particularity.which is the same as saying that the universal is no more than a particular that at some moment has become dominant. Even more: as the demands of various groups will necessarily clash with each other. I can defend the right of sexual. the assertion of pure particularism. for the sake of the argument. such as social Darwinism or the right to Lebensraum . we have to appeal . racial and national minorities in the name of particularism. in actual fact. In the first place. Let us accept. but if particularism is the only valid principle. In actual fact. independently of any content and of the appeal to a universality transcending it.to some more general principles in order to regulate such dashes. as we said before.but they are always there. with a proliferation of particularisms. is a self-defeating enterprise. and for essential reasons. there is no particularism which does not make appeal to such principles in the construction of its own idenrity. This whole story is apparently leading to an inevitable conclusion: the chasm between the universal and the particular is unbridgeable . In that case. it confronts us with an unsolvable paradox. I have to also accept the rights to self-determination of all kinds of reactionary groups involved in antisocial practices.short of postulating some kind of pre-established harmony . that there is no way of reaching a reconciled society.or reactionary. And. However. The vanguard party. and the viewpoint of the other particular social forces had to be dismissed as false consciousness. such as the right of peoples to self-determination . the various particularisms 26 . that the above-mentioned pre-established harmony is possible.

South African apartheid . an important corollary of this argument is that if a fully achieved difference eliminates the antagonistic dimension as constitutive of any identity. Now. It is a very well known historical fact that an oppOSitionist force whose identity is constructed within a certain system of power is ambiguous vis-a-vis that system. coming from a discursive universe . because the latter is what prevents the constitution of the identity and it is. while the relations of power on which the latter is based are systematically ignored."('xist one with the other in a coherent whole. And any victory against the system also destabilizes the identity of the victorious force. its condition of existence. it opens the way to an understanding of a dimension of the relationship particularism/universalism which has generally been disregarded. then the identity III \fuestion is purely differential and relational. For if each identity is in a differential. so it presupposes IIl1t only the presence of all the other identities but also the total Kround which constitutes the differences as differences. Now. and. it is sanctioning the status quo in the relation of power hctween the groups. the possibility of maintaining this 27 . This hypothesis _hllWs clearly why the argument for pure particularism is ultimately inconsistent.that is. if the particularity asserts itself as mere particularity. This last example is important because. and revealing. however. in the process of making the distinction.which is quite opposite to that of the neW particularisms that we are discussing. the same ambiguities in the construction of any difference. Even Wtlfsc: we know very well that the relations between groups are wnstituted as relations of power . in a purely differential relation with other particularities. at the same time. that each group is not IIlIly different from the others but constitutes in many cases \nch difference on the basis of the exclusion and subordination CI' other groups. And the opposite is also true: I cannot destroy a context without destroying at the same time the identity of the particular subject who carries out the destruction. The basic point is this: I cannot assert a differential identity without distinguishing it hom a context. I am asserting the context at the same time.UNIVERSALISM. PARTICULAIlISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY wnuld not be in antagonistic relation with each other. This is exactly the notion of 'separate tlevelopments' as formulated in apartheid: only the differential aspect is stressed. IIIIII-antagonistic relation to all other identities. but would .

and so on. the classical notion of the universal is not put into question in the least. If. total integration does not take place. or participate in the public space of citizenship. it can only be so within a context .EMANCIPATION(S) dimension depends on the very failure in the full constitution of a differential identity. but as an incomplete horizon suturing a dislocated particular identity. These demands cannot be made in terms of difference. [n the case of extreme particularism there is no universal body . the universal and the particular were fully constituted but totally separated identities. but of some universal principles that the ethnic minority shares with the rest of the community: the right of everybody to have access to good schools. it is because that identity is not fully achieved . Let us suppose that we are dealing with the constitution of the identity of an ethnic minority for instance. on the contrary.for instance. It is here that the 'universal' enters into the scene. that is as far as my differential identity has failed in its process of constitution.but. impenetrable to human reason. This points to a way of conceiving the relations between the universal and the particular which is different from those that we have explored earlier. whose connection was the result of a divine intervention. the particular had to be eliminated entirely: the universal class was conceived as the cancellation of all differences. as the ensemble of non-antagonistic particularities purely and simply reconstructs the notion of social totality. to consumer goods and so on. or live a decent life. a nation-state . In the case of secularized eschatologies. if this differential identity is fully achieved. This means that the universal is part of my identity as far as I am penetrated by a constitutive lack. to employment. (A universal conceived as a homogeneous space differentiated by its internal articulations and a system of differences constituting a unified ensemble are exactly the same.) Now we are pointing to a fourth alternative: the universal is the symbol of a missing fullness and the particular exists only in the contradictory movement of asserting at the same time a differential identity and cancelling it through its subsumption in the non-differential medium. unsatisfied demands concerning access to education. In the case of the logic of incarnation.there are. The universal emerges out of the particular not as some principle underlying and explaining the particular. 28 . As we said earlier.and the price to be paid for total victory within the context is total integration with it. for instance.

But in that case. as we said before. such a difference is an essential component of the identity of the IIppressed. The reason for this we have given earlier: if the lip pressed is defined by its difference from the oppressor. for instance. 1 The idea of 'negative' implicit in the dialectical notion of lOntradiction is unable to take us beyond this conservative logic of pure difference. and that a universality transcending all particular determinations 'circulates' through the latter. on the one hand. and is strictly reduced to it.uropean institutions are not their concern. it (an also permeate the identities of the oppressed. the inversion defining the speculative proposition means that the predicate becomes subject. the discourse of the IIppre~sor and the discourse of the oppressed cannot be Jistinguished. in order to be radical. Le plus grand danger est de tomber dans les representations de la belle-arne: rien que des differences. Dialectical negativity does not question in the least the logic of identity (= the logic of pure difference). PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY I will devote the rest of this paper to diKUssing three important "uliliul conclusions that one can derive from this fourth alterIIltllve. the latter cannot assert its identity without asserting that of the oppressor as well: " y a bien des dangers a invoquer des differences pures.llIrlil:ipation in Western European institutions.IINlifil:ation that theirs is a different cultural identity and that I'. has to 29 . The logic of apartheid is nut only a discourse of the dominant groups. main non pas oppos~. liberees de "identique. with the . La belle· ~me dit: nous sommes differentes. for IIlIIlIigrants from Northern Mrica or Jamaica to abstain from all . This shows the ambiguity which is inherent in all forms of radical opposition: the opposition. that circulation has a direction dictated by the movement of the particular determinations themselves. conciliables et federables. In this way. all forms !If ~ubordination and exclusion would be consolidated with the rx(use of maintaining pure identities. At its very limit. understood as mere difference. on the other hand. The first is that the construction of differential identities 1111 the basis of total closure to what is outside them is not a Ylllhic or progressive political alternative. devenucs independantes du negatif. loin des luttes sanglantes. It would be a u'IKliunary policy in Western Europe today.IINlvnSALISM. A negative which is part of the determination of a positive content is an integral part of the latter. This is what shows the two faces of Hegel's Logic: if.

it will have to take into account new situations which will inevitably transform that identity. has to assert its identity in new social surroundings. To surpass an ambiguity involves going beyond both its poles. but the ambiguity as such cannot be properly resolved. we would have effected a reversal of the order. Aletta J. There is no dear-cut solution to the paradox of radically negating a system of power while remaining in secret dependency on it. so that the exclusion becomes a particular form of assertion. if the politics of difference means continuity of difference by being always an other. If the racial or cultural minority. for instance. however. internal to the opposed system.. It is well known how opposition to certain forms of power requires identification with the very places from which the opposition takes place. 30 . This means. moving away from the idea of negation as radical reversal. remaining in effect in the terrain in which apartheid has organiud and ruled ..we can play with both sides of the ambiguity and produce results by preventing any of them prevailing in an exclusive way. the rejection of the other cannot be radical elimination either. but this means that there can be no simple politics of preservation of an identity. as the latter are. l The main consequence that follows is that. of course. But this means that a particularism really committed to change can only do so by rejecting both what denies its own identity and that identity itself. The reason why this is unavoidable is that the ambiguity inherent in all antagonistic relation is something we can negotiate with but not actually supersede . how do we think of sucial and political identities as post· apanheid? And after asserting that: [1)1 the other is merely rejected. there is a certain conservatism inherent in all opposition.IiMANCIPATION(S) put in a common ground both what it asserts and what it excludes. externalized in tuto in the movement in which apartheid receives its signified. but constant renegotiation of the forms of his presence. Norval asked herself recently about identities in a post-apartheid society: The question looming on the horizon is this: what are the implications of recognizing that the identity of the other is constirutive of the sel~ in a situation where apanheid itself will have become: something of the past? That is.

tcad of being effaced once and for all. PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY . the proletarian strike aims at the 31 . None can avoid maintaining the reference to the 'other'. he will symbolize the form of oppression as such. post-apartheid could Ion ume . And as the identity o'(ihe lIewly emancipated groups has been constituted through the £t·jection of the old dominant ones. The operation of inversion takes place "ntirely within the old formal system of power. inverting it in what it has of universality: the form of oppression and closure as such.he site from which rhe final dosure and suturing of identities is It> be prevented. 'apartheid' Itself wnuld have to play the role of . but this inversion of the contents leaves Ih" form of oppression unchanged. of serving as watchword against any discourse daiming to be able: to create a final unity. as the inversion takes place at the level of the universal reference and not of the concrete contents of an oppressive system.RSAI.ISM. Irn. because no J13rticularity can be c:onstituted except by maintaining an internal reference to universality as that which is missing.he: points to a different possibility: rhrough a n:mrmbran~e of apartheid as other. But in that case. hut they do so in two completely . he will represent a particular system of oppressiun.'IS apartheid itself is present in it .he element keepmg open the relation to the other. all political identity is internally split. the identities of both oppressors and oppressed are radically changed. Everything hinges on which Clf the two equally possible movements leading to the suppression IIf oppression is initiated.I~ irs other. This is what makes the second move suggested in Norval's text possible: instead of inverting a particular relation of uppressionl dusure in what it has of concrete particularity. If we simply invert the relation of oppres-'Iion. Paradoxically.Iifferent ways. tin the other. :I post-apartheid society will then only hI' radially beyond apartheid in so tar .IINIVF. the identity of the oppressor will equally be split: on the line hand. I he other (the former oppressor) is maintained as what is now uppressed and repressed. But as we have seen. The reference to the other is also maintained here but. A similar argument was made by Walter Benjamin with reference to Sorel's distinction between political strike and proletarian strike: while the political strike aims at obtaining concrete reforms that change a system of power and thereby constitute a new power. I Thi!> argument can be generalized. the lalter continue shaping the: identity of the former.

because the separation . But it is here that the difficult questions stan. no collective will and no sense of community could result from such a conception of negotiation and alliances. Vis pacis para bellum. without a sense of helonging to a community larger than each of the particular groups in question? Here people sometimes say that any agreement should be reached through negotiation.I!MANCIPATION(S) destruction of power as such. male Europeans or Anglo-Americans and have nothing to do with the identity of . Gramsci was well aware that. The relation between groups can only be one of potential war.4 These remarks allow us to throw some light on the divergent courses of action that current struggles in defence of multiculturalism can follow. Now. the mere opposition of one panicularism to another.that is within a space in which that particular group has to coexist with other groups. in spite of the extreme diversity of the social forces that had to enter into the construction of a hegemonic identity. Translated into the cultural field. One possible way is to affirm. it is true that the assenion of any particular identity involves. This is the route to self-apartheid. and in this sense it does not have any particular objective. purely and simply.has to be asserted within the global community . This is not far away from the conception of the nature of the agreement between groups implicit in the Leninist conception of class alliances: the agreement concerns only cin:umstantial matters. What is advocated in this way is total segregationism. is an ambiguous term that can mean very different things. the right of the various cultural and ethnic groups to assert their differences and their separate development. 32 .or better. but the identity of the forces entering it remains uncontaminated by the process of negotiation. the affirmation of the right to a separate existence.other groups living in the same territory. however. how could that coexistence be possible without some shared universal values. It is obvious that no sense of community can be constructed through that type of negotiation. and it is sometimes accompanied by the claim that Western cultural values and institutions are the preserve of white. the right to difference . this affirmation of an extreme separatism led to the sharp distinction between bourgeois science and proletarian science. Now. Negotiation. One of these is a process of mutual pressures and concessions whose outcome depends only on the balance of power between antagonistic groups. of the very form of power. as one of its dimensions.

however. On Ihc' nllC hand. or by negating in that system its universal dimension: the principle of f10sure as such. un the contrary.·y arc engaged in a struggle for the internal reform of the I'rrscnt institutional setting. Liberal democratic theury and institutions have in this sense.·unclusion.minorities. as they '"lIultaneously assert both that this setting is necessarily rooted III the cultural and political values of the: traditional dominant . for the protection of minorities in 'Ullrts. The democratic process in present-day societies can be considerably deepened and expanded if it is made accountable to the demands of large sections of the population . their demands cannot be articulated into any wider hcgemonic operation to reform the system. That is Iln. to be deconstructed. she did not present the exclusion uf women from the declaration of the rights of man and citizen as a proof that the latter are intrinsically male rights. to deepen the democratic revolution by showing the incuherence of establishing universal rights which were restricted to particular sectors of the pupulatiun. This is not. in the wake of the French Revolution. This condemns them In an ambiguous peripheral relation with the existing institutions.111 operation of inversion which performs a new closure.rc.. But on the other hand. As they were originally thought for sodeties which were far more homogeneous than the present ones. but tried. they were based on all kinds of unexpressed assumptions which no '!. It is one thing to say that the universalistic Vililies of the West are the preserve of its traditional dominant ~roups. ethnic groups and so on who traditionally have been excluded from it. which can have only paralyzing political effects. and this defence involves their engagement in struggles 1m dlanges in legislation. defended the rights of women.IINIVI-R!>AlISM. As we have seen before. PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY is that political action is anchored in a perpetual incoherence.:tors of the West a"d that they have nothi"g to do with that '. a system of oppression (that IS of closure) can be combated in two different ways . it is vety different to assert that the historical link bctween the two is a contingent and unacceptable fact which ~'an be modified through political and social struggles. and so forth.and this is our second . against the violation of civil rights."Ir nit· dilemma of the defenders of extreme particularism 33 . the only possible course of action for Ihuse engaged in particularistic struggles . When Mary Wollstonecraft.aditio".either by . they defend the right to difference as a universal Illdll.

That political participation can lead to political and social integration is certainly true.F. Present-day social and political struggles can bring to the fore this game of decisions taken in an undecidable terrain. political and cultural segregation can lead to exactly the same result. but is an always receding horizon resulting from the expansion of an indefinite chain of equivalent demands. Anyway. the decline of the integrationist abilities of the Western states make political conformism a rather unlikely outcome.that of rejecting universalism i" toto as the particular content of the ethnia of the West . Eurocentrism was the result of a discourse which did not differentiate between the universal values that the West was advocating and the concrete social agents that were incarnating them. does not have a concrete content of its own (which would close it on itself). however.MANCIPATION(S) longer obtain in the present situation. The opposite policy . but for the reasons we gave before. however.and its analysis will be my last conclusion. exist apart from the particular.can only lead to a political blind alley. in that case. we can proceed to a separation of these two aspects. The conclusion seems to be that universality is incommensurable with any particularity but cannot. through the operation that we could call a systematic decentring of the West. with an apparent paradox . This leaves us. and help us to move in the direction of new democratic practices and a new democratic theory which is fully adapted to the present circumstances. Now. As we have seen. as we have seen. or constellations of particular actors can actualize the universal at any moment. however. it becomes possible to retain the universal dimension while widening the spheres of its application . The universal. will define the concrete contents of such universality. If social struggles of new social actors show that the concrete practices of our society restrict the universalism of our political ideals to limited sectors of the population. I would argue that the unresolved tension between universalism and particularism opens the way to a movement away from Western Eurocentrism.which. universalism as a horizon is expanded at the same time as its necessary attachment to any particular content is broken. the possibility of making visible the nonclosure inherent to a post-dominated society that is a society that attempts to transcend the very form of 34 . in turn. In terms of our previous analysis: if only particular actors. Through this process.

in Ernesto ladau. no. 'letrer to F. Some of the dimensions of this dualiry han "nn explored by Bobby Sayyid and Lilian bc in a short. seminar on Ideology and Discourse Analysis. Presses Universitaires de france 1989. I ha\'e tried fO comple~nr me . I. the universal would have found its necessary location. New R. which would he the true body of the universal.nmmensurable with the particular. 35 . The universal is lIu. c. p. as a result. p. compete between themselves to temporarily give to their particularisms a function of universal representation. Society generates a whole vocabulary of empty signifiers whose Icmporary signifieds are the result of a political competition. It is this final failure of society to constitute itself as society which is the same thing as the failure of constituting difference as difference . 2.1I this paradox cannot be solved.ueial agents with the impossible task of making democratic itneraction achievable. but cannot. 2. 13.which still involves the possibility of a radical r"presentability . however. .. Di{fhtnte t' Rl~'i'. Cf. vol.o". GII_mllllll S~hrifltn. and democracy would he impossible. Walter Benjamin.. Verso 1990. in R. in my recent work. 179...flutio.which makes the distance between the universal and the particular unbridgeable and.1'1 no necessary body and no necessary content. 157. See a commentary on Benjamin'. but that its non-solution is I he Ycry precondition of democracy.on of OIlT Time. December 1991. 4. Notes 1. It is at this point that. Aletta J.UNIVERSALISM. How is this relation possible? My answer is Ih. University of Essex. Strike'. 'Afformative. Oecemher 1990.dra of radical antagonism . 1977.l. text in Werner Hamacher.D. burdens concrete l. exist without the latter.with the notion of dislocation which is previous to any kind of antagonistic representation. PARTICULARISM AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY !llImination . 'Zur Kritik der Gewalt'. instead. If democracy is possible.dozo Law Rtvirw. Paris. different Kroups. Tiedemann and H. Gilles Deleuze. The solution of the paradox would imply that a particular body had been found. London. Norval. 4.depends on making the asymmetry between the IIlIIyersal and the particular permanent.rnesto'. written presentarion to a Ph. Schweppenhauser (cds. "" the Rel)o/N'. it is because the universal 11. But in that case.

A second possibility is that the signifier is nor equillOCal but ambiguous: that either an overdetermination or an underdetermination of signifieds prevents it from being fully fIXed. the enunciation of a problem. Although the floating takes us one step towards the proper answer to our problem. This definition is also. in that case. through the subversion of the sign which the possibility of an empty signifier involves. We do not have to deal with an excess or deficiency of signification. an integraJ parr of a system of signification? An empty signifier would be a sequence of sounds.3 Why do Empty Signifiers Matter to Politics? The Social Production of 'Empty Signifien' An empty signifier is. however. from within the process of signification. the terms of the latter are still avoided. But it is dear that. For how would it be possible that a signifier is not attached to any signified and remains. What is this possibility? Some pseudo answers can be discarded quite quickly. something is achieved which is internal to significations as such. stricrly speaking. and if the latter are deprived of any signifying function the term 'signifier' itself would become excessive. . nevertheless. The only possibility for a stream of sounds being detached from any particular signified while still remaining a signifier is if. the signifier would not be empty bur equivocal: the function of signification in each context would be fully reaJised. One would be to argue that the same signifier can be attached to different signifieds in different contextS (as a result of the arbitrariness of the sign). Yet this floating of the signifier still does not make it an empty one. but with the precise theoretical possibility of something which points. to the discursive presence of its own limits. a signifier without a signified.

Nnw. We can say. authentic limits because the actualization of what is beyond the limit of exclusion would involve the impossibility of what is this side of the limit. however. we are left with the paradoxical situation that what constitutes the condition of possibility of a signifying system .its limits . distor111111. they would be internal to signification and. however. A first and capital consequence of this is that true limits can never he neutral limits but presuppose an exclusion. As a signifying totality is. that language (and by extensiun.if the limits could be signified III . But if what we are talking about are the limits of a signifying system. True limits are always antagonistic. But the operation of the logic of exclusionary limits has a series of necessary effects which spread to both sides of the limits and which will lead us straight into the emergence of empty signifiers: 37 .a blockage of the continuous expansion of the process of signification. that linguistic identities . would not be limits at all. Thus. and the two sides are simply different from each other. that to think nl the limits of something is the same as thinking of what is beyond those limits.111 signifying systems) is a system of differences. and the very possibility of the system IN the possibility of its limits. in that case. In the case of an exclusion we have. is that the very possibility IIf signification is the system. it is clear that those limits cannot be themselves signified. this means that both are part of the same system and that the limits between the two cannot be the limits of the system. instead. the limits of \1~lIification can only announce themselves as the impossibility of I'l'aliling what is within those limits .ullctural impossibility in signification as such. as a result. no signification at all would be possible. and only if this IIl1l'nssibility can signify itself as an interruption (subversion.values . That is. from Saussure. An initial and purely formal consideration can help to clarify the I'llint.are purely relational and that. the IIItality of language is involved in each single act of signification. it is clear that the totality is essentially required if" the differences did not constitute a system. consequently. but have to show themselves as the interruption or breakdown of the process of signification.WHY DO EMPTY S'GNIFIERS MATTER TO POLITICS? An empty signifier can. precisely a system of differences. . only emerge if there is a . with Hegel. We know.is also what constitutes its condition of impossibility .1 direct way. ergo. The problem. etcetera) of the structure of the sign. A neutral limit would be one which is essentially continuous with what is at its two sides.

simply of 38 . it is only that exclusion that grounds the system as such. as a result. if the systematicity of the system is a direct result of the exclusionary limit. 2.that is a signifier of the pure cancellarion of all difference. In that case. given that there is only system as long as there is radical exclusion. If the exclusionary dimension was eliminated. A first effect of the exclusionary limit is that it introduces an essential ambivalence within the system of differences constituted by those limits. But in order to be the signifiers of the excluded (or. And. for this operation to be possible is that what is beyond the fronrier of exclusion is reduced to pure negativity . far from being something positive. The condition. and they would all appeal to a deeper systematic ensemble within which their differences would be thought of as differences. But.that is to the pure threat that what is beyond poses to the system (constituting it that way). the identity of each clement is constitutively split: on the one hand. beyond all exclusions. what would happen is that the differential character of the 'beyond' would impose itself and. as a result. can there be limits and system (that is an objective order). however. this split or ambivalence is constitutive of all systemic identity. On the one hand. or even weakened. Now. all these differences are equivalent to each other inasmuch as all of them belong to this side of the frontier of exclusion. But a system constituted through radical exclusion interrupts this play of the differentiallogjc: what is excluded from the system. of course. It is only in so far as there is a radical impossibility of a system as pure presence. Only if the beyond becomes the signifier of pure threat.EMANCIPATION(S) 1. on the other hand. of the simply excluded. the limits of the system would be blurred. is the simple principle of positivity pure being. This point is essential because it results from it that the system cannot have a positive ground and that. in that case. On the other hand. it cannot signify itself in terms of any positive signified. each element of the system has an identity only so far as it is different from the others: difference = identity. that positive feature would be different from other differential positive features. Let us suppose for a moment that the systematic ensemble was the result of all its elements sharing a positive feature (for example that they all belonged to a regional category). each of them cancels itself as such by entering into a relation of equivalence with all the other differences of the system. This already announces the possibility of an empty signifier . each difference expresses itself as difference. that actual systems (in the plural) can exist. of pure negativity.

why does this pure being or ~rH'cmaticity of the system.hlh·renees through the formation of a chain of equivalences to Ihlll which the system demonizes in order to signify itself. Again.'isume the role of representing the pure being of the system .the real.dusion). What is the ontological ground of such subversion. or . Two points have to be stressed here. We know.that is emptying it of its differential nature . if you want. of the unstable compromise between equivalence and difference. 39 .the unconscious . inscribing itself as a difference within the MMnifying process. The first is that the being or systematicity of the system which is represented through the empty signifiers is not a being which has not been actually realized. the various excluded categories have to cancel their .the pure negativity of Ihe excluded.III15. as we have seen. for whatever systematic effects that would exist will be the result. a radical exclusion which is the ground . it is only if the differential nature of the signifying units is subverted. hllw what is not directly representable . I. rather. It is only by privileging the dimension of equivalence to the point that its differential nature is almost entirely obliterated .that such a signification is possible. only if the signifiers empty themselves of their attachment to panicular signifieds and a. h. Rut.can IIlIly find as a means of representation the subversion of the signify. the system as pure Being . rhrough psychoanalysis. As. all the means of representation are differential in nature.that the system can signify itself as a totality. in that case. That is. we could ask ourselves. but one which is constitutively unreachable. in the Lacanian sense . wr see here the possibility of an empty signifier announcing itself Ihmllgh this logic in which differences collapse into equivalential .and Ihere is no direct way of doing so except through the subversion of Ihe process of signification itself. on the contrary. But if what we are trying to signify is not a diff· ('rence but.WHY DO EMPTY SIGNIFIERS MATTER TO POLITICS? ".or. Each signifier constitutes a sign by attaching itself to a "articular signified.lOtI condition of all differences. what makes it J'Ossible? The answer is: the split of each unit of signification that the system has to construct as the undecidable locus in which both the logic of difference and the logic of equivalence operate. inK process. no production of one mCJn1 difference can do the trick.its reverse .i~lIify itself? The answer is that we are trying to signify the limits IIf siWlification . require the production of empty signifiers in order to . however.

of the unity of the working class through an overdetermination of partial struggles over a long period of time. in that case. In relation to our subject. However. as in the case of a logical contradiction.F. So. we are not dealing with an impossibility without location. but with a positive impossibility. none the less. does determine that one signifier rather than another assumes in different circumstances that signifying function? Here. this can only mean that the signifier which is emptied in order to assume the representing function will always be constitutively inadequate. we have to move to the main theme of this essay: the relation between empty signifiers and politics. as in Kant. Here. but also as an act of opposition against the system. Her basic argument is that the unity of the class is not determined by an a priori consideration about the priority of either the political struggle or the economic struggle.MANCIPATION(S) we are faced with a constitutive lack. according to Rosa Luxemburg. with a real one to which the " of the empty signifier points. but by tbe accumulated effects of the internal split of all partial mobilizations. What. if this impossible object lacks the means of its adequate or direct representation. is required by the systematicity of the system.~ion any mobilization for a partial objective will be perceived not only as related to the concrete demand or objectives of that struggle. consequently. It is not. Hegemony let me go back to an example that we discussed in detail in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: I the constitution. her argument amounts to approximately the following: in a climate of extreme repres. with an impossible object which. something positive that all of them share which establishes their unity. but something negative: their opposition to 40 . not because their concrete objectives are intrinsically related but because they are all seen as equivalent in confrontation with the repressive regime.all of them are seen as related to each other. This last fact is what establishes the link between a variety of concrete or partial struggles and mobilizations . we can give a full answer to our initial question: there can be empty signifiers within the field of signification because any system of signification is structured around an empty place resulting from the impossibility of producing an object which. shows itself through the impossibility of its adequate representation.

-non is in that way 'distanced' from itself by having itself transformed into the mere in<:arnating body of the negation of the being of another entity. For instance: we can represent the Tzarist regime as a repressive order by enumerating the differential kinds of oppression that it imposed on various sections of the population as much as we want.\ 41 . as we have already established. The concrete aim of the struggle II lIut only that aim in its concreteness. right from Ihe beginning. if the function of the differential signifiers is to renounce their llifferential identity in order to represent the purely equivalential ulentity of a communitarian space as such. of a plurality of separate struggles. on the possibility of the equivalentiaJ function nearly prevailing over the differential one. It is precisely this which makes the relation of equivalence possible: different particular struggles are so many bodies which can lII"fI. they cannot construct this equivalential identity as something belonging to a differential urder. it also signifies opposition III the system. Luxemburg's argument is that a revolutionary identity is established through the overdetermination.. Because in such . These trllllirions fused. The meaning (the signified) of all concrete struggles appears. IIriginally. that which constitutes . but such enumeration will not give us the specificity of the repressive moment.e..ingularity. I. Now. internally divided. any concrete struggle is dominated by this contradictory muvement that simultaneously asserts and abolishes its own .1 rdation each instance of the repressive power counts as pure bearer of the negation of the identity of the repressed sector. It is important to observe that.what I~ peculiar to a repressive relation between entities.in its negation . if the differential identity of the repressive al. The second signified establishes the equivalence of "II these demands in their common opposition to the system. consequently.nothing predetermines that one particular body should be the one predestined to incarnate negation as such. The function of representing the system as a totality . but this possibility is Nilllply the result of every single struggle always being already..I('rends. over a whule historical period.·t us try to apply our previous categories to this sequence. As we nm see. The first signified establishes the differential character uf that demand or mobilization vis-a-vis all other demands or IIlfIbilizations.WHY DO EMPTY SIGNIFIERS MATTER TO POLITICS? II l:CJmmon enemy. penetrated by this constitutive ambiguity. in a ruptural point. at the revolutionary moment. it is dear that between this negation and the body through which it expresses itself there is no necessary relation .

if the equivalential function makes all differential positions similarly indifferent to this equivalenrial representation. that which is beyond the exclusion delimiting the communitarian space . the more the chain of equivalences is extended. at this point. on the other hand. the second movement starts. The community created by this equivalential expansion will be. the less concrete this 'something equally present' will be.in the same way as gold is a particular usc value which assumes. On the one hand. the pure idea of a communitarian fullness which is absent . the function of representing value in general. This pure equivalential function representing an absent fullness which shows itself through the collapse of all differential identities is something which cannot have a signifier of its own . as we saw. of an absent totality. On the contrary. At the limit it will be pure communitarian being independent of all concrete manifestation.as a result of the presence of the repressive power. Precisely because the community as such is not a purely differential space of an objective identity but an absent fullness. and has to borrow the latter from some entity constituted within the equivalential space . the longer the chain of equivalences is.the repressive power . thus. the 'beyond all differences' would be one more difference and not the result of the equivalential collapse of all differential identities. the l~ each concrete struggle will be able to remain closed in a differential self .for in that case. And. as well.in our example . differential signified is. But this leads us straight into the question with which we closed the previous section: if all differential struggles . it cannot have any form of representation of its own. beyond their differential identity.in something which separates it from all other differential identities through a difference which is exclusively its own. what does determine that one of them rather than another incarnates. But. this universal function? 42 . at particular periods of time. what makes possible the emergence of 'empty' signifiers as the signifiers of a lack. pure evil and negation.are equally capable of expressing. This emptying of a particular signifier of its particular. as the equivalent relation shows that these differential identities are simply indifferent bodies incarnating something equally present in all of them. the absent fullness of the community. This involves a double movement. if none is predetermined per se to fulfil this role.will count less as the instrument of particular differential repressions and will express pure anti-community.EMANC"ATION(S) indifferently incarnate the opposition of all of them to the reprmive power.

but presents itself as realizing the broader aims either of emancipating or ensuring order for wider masses of the population. 'wider masses' refer to. precisely because the presence of equivalential effects is always necessary. has to presuppose . ramer. are themselves the result of processes ill which logics of difference and logics of equivalence overdetermine 1'. Nnw. it is impossible to determine at the level of the mere analysis of the form difference/equivalence which particular difference is going to become the: locus of equivalential effects this requires the study of a particular conjuncture. This relation by which a particular ~ontent becomes the signifier of the absent communitarian fullness is exactly what we call a hegemonic relationship. (It comes surprise that Hobbes's model of a state of nature.III original and es. the character of an infrastructure which would .) Not any position III !. because I hesc uneven structural locations. A class or group is considered to be hegemonic when it is not closed in a narrow corporatist perspective. If this is correct.ociety. the laws of movement of society. There are two possibilities: first.Il:h other. not any struggle is equally capable of transforming its IIwn contents in a nodal point that becomes an empty signifier. that society is an addition of discrete groups. some of which represent points Ilf high concentration of power.is the very condition of hegemony. but the rclation equivalence/difference is not intrinsically linked to any particular differential content. For if the equivalential l"Io:I~' tends to do away with the relevance of all differential location. is this not to return to a rather traditional conception of the historical effectivity of social forccs. it is not. which tries depict a realm in which the full operation of the logic of c''IlIivalence makes the community impossible. one which asserts that the unevenness of structural locations determines which one of them is Klling to be the source of totalizing effects? No.in the sense that we have defined them . out of itself. It is not a question of denying the historical effectivity "f the logic of differential structural locations but. But this faces us with a difficulty if we do not determine precisely what these terms 'broader aims'. The presence of empty signifiers .Gramsci's included.WHY DO EMPTY SIGNIPIERS MATTER TO POLITICS? The answer is: the unevenness of me social. each tending to their particular aims liS 110 III 43 . as a whole. This can be easily seen if we address a very well known difficulty which forms a recurring stumbling block in most theorizations of hegemony .~ntial equality between men. of denying III them.Ietermine. IIII!! is only a tendential movement that is always resisted by the 11t":11: of difference which is essentially non-equalitarian.

Any term which. In that case. but in a situation of radical disorder 'order' is present as that which is absent. plays the same role. Let us suppose that a workers' mobilization succeeds in presenting its own objectives as a signifier of 'liberation' in general. the hegemonic operations would be the presentation of the particularity of a group as the incarnation of that empty signifier which refers to the communitarian order as an absence. In such conditions . In this sense. and that 'hegemony' would mean the realization of such an essence. 'Order' as such has no content. but would also be incompatible with the consensual character of 'hegemony': the hegemonic order would be the imposition of a pre-given organizational principle and not something emerging from the political interaction between groups. that society has some kind of pre-established essence. But 'hegemony' dearly refers to a stronger type of commllnitarian unity than such an agree:ment evokes. as the signifier of that absence.-tly to carry out this filling function. 'broader' and 'wider' could only mean the precarious equilibrium of a negotiated agreement between groups. because it only exists in the various forms in which it is actually realized. Politics is possible: because the constitutive impossibility of society can only represe:nt itself through the production of empty signifiers. (We have spoken about 'order'. 'liberation" 'revolution'.u. so that the 'broader' and 'wider' has a content of its own. and the actual content of it becomes a secondary consideration. but obviously 'unity'. is possible because 44 . it becomes an empty signifier. various political forces can compete in their efforts to present their particular objectives as those which carry out the filling of that lack. But this would not only do away with the dimension of contingency which has always been associated with the hegemonic operation. Now.which are not far away from Hobbes's state of nature .people need an order. For in that case. (This. etcetera belong tu the same order of things. all of which would retain their conflicting aims and identity. this problem vanishes. How does this mechanism operate? let us consider the extreme situation of a radical disorganization of the social fabric.EMANCIPATION(S) and in constant collision with each other. independent of the will of the particular groups. an unfulfilled reality.) This explains also why any hegemony is always unstable and penetrated by a constitutive ambiguity. in a certain political context becomes the signifier of the lack. Second. as we have seen. if we consider the matter from the point of view of the social production of empty signifiers. To hegemonize something is ex.

IIIY intrinsic virtue that it can have. I. But.IIIIINl'roUS victory.WHY DO F.that is if we accept the unevenness of power in social 1. So. Hegemony and Democracy conclude with some reflections on the relation between empty hegemony and democracy. order could be guaranteed through shcer domination. Hobbes. so that the chain of "IUlvalences which are unified around this signifier tend to empty II. in another sense. however.) So. we reintroduce power within the picture . . while Hobbes implicitly perceives the split between the empty signifier 'order as such' and the actual ordet imposed by the ruler."ommonwealth. What happens if. and in the I. IIlld to blur its connection with the actual content with which it WII~ originally associated. 45 . as all individuals equally share in it. (A power which is total or a power which is equally distributed among all members of the community is no power at all. it also becomes the surface of inscription through whll"h all liberating struggles will be expressed. If 'workers' struggle' becomes the signifier of Ilhrrittion as such. (:onsider for a moment the role of social signifiers in the rmergence of modern political thought . but just because it is an order. The condition. he cannot think of any kind of dialectical or hegemonic game between the two.'i the radically opposite of an ordered society. as he reduces . as a result of its very success. the hC'K('monic operation tends to break its links with the force which Willi irs original promoter and beneficiary. the order of the ruler has to be accepted not because of .('1 liS ~IKllifiers.lIId the only alternative is radical disorder. as a result of that description.I am essentially thinking III the work of Hobbes. as a ~il1l3tion only defined in negative terms. on the contrary.I!il) seen as an anti-system struggle.the first to the second. power is eliminated twice: in the state of nature. this is a . But. Thus.through the covenant . . as we have seen. because the objectives of a particular group are hl"lIlificd with society at large. presented the ~tate of nature 3.} In one sense this is a hrNclIIClnic victory.if the individuals were uneven in terms of power.MPTY SIGNIFlEltS MATTER TO POLITICS? Ihr wClrkers' mobilization. IIf the coherence of this scheme is the postulate of the equality of Ihe power of individuals in the srate of nature . taking place under a repressive regime. as it is entirely concentrated in the hands of the ruler.

London. the legitimacy of the identification of tbe empty signifier of order with the will of the ruler will have the further requirement that the content of this will does not clash with something the society already is. as a result. As society c:hanges over time this process of identification will be always prec:arious and reversible and. . Verso 19115. The recognition of the c:onstitutive nature of this gap and irs political institutionalization is the starting point of modern democracy. the total concentration of power in the hands of the ruler ceases to be a logical requirement.mrSfO Lac:lau and Chantal Mouffe.EMANCIPATION(S) relations? In that case. F. But in that case. civil society will be partially structured and partially unstructured and. If panial order exists in society. Note I.st Sr'II'rgy. different projects or wills will try to hegemonize the empty signifiers of the absent community. Hq~mn"y lind S~ial. as the identification is no longer automatic. (he credentials of the ruler to claim total power are much less obvious.

the assault on fuundationalism in its various expressions.an attitude of respect and tolerance vis-a-vis cultural diversity. and considered as little more than the cultural preserve of Western imperialism. What is more important. And universal values can be seen as a strong assertion of the 'ethnia of the West' (as in the later Husserl).-cntral place on the current political and theoretical agenda.:Iusion?) between universalism and particularism occupies a . 1O realize that these two debates have not advanced along symmetrical lines.at least tendentially . the positive character of those values i~ no longer taken for granted.at the very least . It is important.. On the other hand. however. under the h. It would certainly be a mistake to think that concepts such as 'universal' and 'particular' have exactly the same meaning in both . and the actual conte"ts which. Universal values are seen either as dead or . hut al50 as a way of fostering . have played that role of ground.4 Subject of Politics. that argumentative strategies have tended to move from one to the other in unexpected ways. the classical values of the Enlightenment arc under fire. Politics of the Subject The question of the relationship (complementarity? tension? mutual ."..as Ihreatened. but they can also he perceived as underpinning a notion of 'weak' identity which is incompatible with the strong cultural attachments required by a 'politics of authenticity'. and that many apparently paradoxical combinations have been shown to be possible.mner of multiculturalism. On the one hand. from the Enlightenment clOwards. the so-called postmodern approaches can be seen as weakening the imperialist foundational ism of Western Enlightenment and opening the way to a more democratic cultural pluralism. the whole tlcbate concerning the end of modernity. Thus. has tended to establish an c5Sentiallink between the obsolete notion of a ground of history and society.

[ think . The more particular a group is. the less it will be able to control the global communitarian terrain within which it operates. But there is another reason why a politics of pure difference would be self-defeating. My question.EMANCIPATION(S) debates. and the more universally grounded will have to be the justification of its claims.on the contrary. as that from whom one delimits oneself. a pure particularism which does away entirely with any kind of universal principle? There are various reasons to doubt that this is possible. There is no way that a particular group living in a wider community can live a monadic existence . It is to these displacements and interactions that I want to refer in this essay. The assertion of one's own particularity requires the appeal of something transcending it. In the first place. but it would also be mistaken to assume that the continuous interaction of both debates has had no effect on the central categories of each. This interaction has given way to ambiguities and displacements of meaning which are . as we have just argued. put in its simplest terms. The question can be formulated in these terms: is a pure culture of difference possible. for instance. And these relations will have to be regulated by norms and principles which transcend the particularism of any group. But it is easy to see that a fully achieved differential identity would involve the 48 . to assert a purely separate and differential identity is to assert that this identity is constituted through cultural pluralism and difference. To assert one's own differential identity involves. To assert."tion of a complex and elaborated system of relations with other groups. the inclusion in that identity of the other. the right of all ethnic groups to cultural autonomy is to make an argumentative claim which can only be justified on universal grounds. part of the definition of its own identity is the constru(. is the following: what happens with the categories of 'universal' and 'particular' once they become tools in the language games that shape contemporary politics? What is performed through them? What displacements of meaning are at the root of their current political productivity? Multiculturalism Let us talee both debates successively and see the points in which each cuts across the central categories of the other. Multiculturalism fmt.the source of a certain political productivity.

in some fundamental respects.lssc:rt its own identity against a hostile environment is always wnfronted by two opposite but symmetrical dangers for which rhere is no logical solution. cannot be decided beforehand and depends on a hegemonic struggle. If it is asserted that all particular groups IlllVe the right to respect of their own particularity. would the pure logic of difference exclusively govern the relations hc:tween groups.. the demand for equal opportunities in employment and "llm:arion. As these institutions arc.hl' community with all other groups. POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT ••IIKtioning of the existing status quo in the relation between groups. they presuppose that I am lIut simply different from the others but. Let us suppose that a group bas such claims .1I1(·r groups. struggles within the existing institutions. Whether Ihe new groups will manage to transform the institutions. this means that rhey are equal to each other in some ways. Only in a situation in which all groups were different from each other.for instance. equal to them. Its cultural values can be easily retrieved as 'folklore' by the establishment. It is not for nuthing that a pure logic of difference . as a result. This is the reason why the struggle of any group that attempts to . cannot have identity claims in relation to those . however.the identity of those groups is something which. it condemns itself to a perpetually marginalized .I~ these are claims presented as rights that I share as a member of . ]n all other scenarios the logic of difference will he interrupted by a logic of equivalence and equality. ideologically and culturally moulded by the dominant groups. and in which nune of them wanted to be anything other than what they are. it has to engage in a plurality of political initiatives which take it beyond the limits defming its present identity .lies at the root of apanheid.for illS' alice. In so far .md ghettoiud existence. If. or even the right to have confessional schools.the notion of separate llevelopments . no square circle . or whether the logic of the institutions will manage to dilute .via co-option . If the group tries to assert its identity as it is at that moment. I'm an identity which is purely differential vis-a-vis other groups IhlS rn assert the identity of the other at the same time as its own . as its location within the community ilt large is defined by the system of exclusions dictated by the dominant groups. it struggles \I) change its location within the community and to break with its situation of marginalization.SUBJECT OF POLITICS.only precarious and contingent attempts of mediation. of course. But what is certain 49 . the danger is that the differential identity of the struggling group will be losi. on the other hand.1I1l1.

I~ however.EMANCIPATION(S) is that there is no major historical change in which the identity of all intervening forces is not transformed. In the option between a politics of identity and the transformation of the relations of force between groups. Sorelianism can be seen as an extreme form of unilateralization of the first alternative. we renounce a unilateral solution. The first road led to what has been depicted as social-democratic integration: the working dass was co-opted by a State in whose management it participated but whose mechanisms it could not master. we can refer to the opposition between socialdemocrats and revolutionary syndicalists in the decades preceding the First World War. There is no possibility of victory in terms of an already acquired cultural authenticity. or to foster a politics of pure identity by a working dass unified through revolutionary violence. The second road led to workingclass segregation ism through violence and the rejection of all participation in democratic institutions. Let us just consider a formula such as 'strategic essentialism' which has been much used lately. Hybridization is not a marginal phenomenon but the very terrain in which contemporary political identities are constructed. and a strategic calculation can only consist of the pragmatic negotiations between them. so . The classical Marxist solution to the problem of the disadjustment between the particularism of the working class and the universality of the task of socialist transformation had been the assumption of an increasing simplification of the social structure under capitalism: as a result. then the tension between these two contradictory extremes cannot be eradicated: it is there to stay. The increasing awareness of this fact explains the centrality of the concept of 'hybridization' in contemporary debates. As the revolutionary strike was a regulative idea rather than an actual pos. the working class as a homogeneous subject would embrace the vast majority of the population and could take up the task of universal transformation. With this type of prognostic discredited at the turn of the century. two possible solutions remained open: eimer to accept a dispersion of democratic struggles only loosely unified by a semi-corporative working dass. It is important to realize that the myth of the general strike in Sorel was not a device to keep a purely working-class identity as a condition for a revolutionary victory..~ible event. If we look for an example of the early emergence of this alternative in European history. it was not a real Strategy for the seizure of power: its function was exhausted in being a mechanism endlessly recreating the workers' separate identity.

Modernity started with the aspiration to a limitless historical 'I!:tor. I am not entirely satisfied with it.. of bringing about the fullness of the community. we have to move to our second debate. The question that at this point arises is to what extent this universality is the same as the universality of modernity. That is what. that related to the critique of foundationalism. for modernity. Contexts and the Critique of Foundationalism Let us start our discussion with a very common proposition: that there is no truth or value independent of the context. that the validity S1 . true universality meant. or a universal class who would ensure a transparent and rational system of social relations . But precisely because of that.it always implied that the agents of that historical transformation would be able to uvercome all particularism and all limitation and bring about a society reconciled with itself. this particularity cannot be I:onmucted through a pure 'politics of difference' but has to appeal. on the contrary. to what c:xtent the very idea of a fullness of sodety experiences. The starting point of contemporary social and p()litical struggles is. without which there can be no bases for 11IIInicai calculation and action. the strong assertion of their particularity. a radical mutation that while maintaining the double reference to the universal and the particular . as the very condition of its own assertion. as we have seen. but it the advantage of bringing to the fore the anti nomic alternatives III which we have been referring and the need for a politically III'Kotiated equilibrium between them. 'Essentialism' alludes to a . on its IIwn. in this 4:hanged political and intellectual climate. to its own Ilinringency and its own limits. however. at the very moment of its constitution.SUBJECT OF POLITICS.hat is it points. Thi~ contingency is cenual to understanding what is perhaps the lII(lst prominent feature of contemporary politics: the full rl'!:ugnition of the limited and fragmented character of its historical ill(cnts. Before tmswering this question. to universal principles. the conviction that none of them is capable. who would be able to ensure the fullness of a perfectly instituted social order.entirely transforms the logic of their articulation. Whatever the road leading to that fullnesslin 'invisible: hand' which would hold tog~ther a multiplicity of 4lillperse individual wills. But that essentialism is only strategic . POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT 1!lIlIo IllIr a variety of reasons.mng identity politics.

In that case two consequences follow: (1) that. In one sense. Without limits through which a (non-dialectical) negativity is constructed. and in that case . however. the only way of defining a context is. As I have argued elsewhere (see chapter 3). and it is the following: how to determine the limits of a context. ergo. this possibility has three consequences which are capital for our argument: 1. Now. of a radical otherness.it is impossible to establish whether these new differences are internal or external to the context. but if we are dealing with a true pluralism of differences. and the only way of defining those limit5 is to point out what is beyond them. But this very function of constituting differential identities through antagonistic limits is 52 . we would have an indefinite dispersion of differences whose absence of systematic limits would make any differential identity impossible. (2) that the context has to be a closed one .from a logical point of view . the only way out of this difficulty is to postulate a beyond which is not one more difference but something which poses a threat to (that is negates) all the differences within that context . The first is that antagonism and exclusion are constitutive of all identity.given the constitutive character of all differences .or. a context. unless the latter defines its own limits. this proposition is uncontroversial and a necessary corollary of the critique of foundationalism. There is. we cannot go. if the differences are constitutive. But what is beyond the limits can only be other differences. The very possibility of a limit and. that the context constitutes itself as such through the act of exclusion of something alien.if all identities depend on the differential system. beyond the differences themselves.EMANCIPATlON(S) of any statement is only contextually determined. If we had a foundational perspective we could appeal to an ultimate ground which would be the source of all differences. and I am certainly not prepared to argue otherwise. in the search for the systematic limits that define a context. as in a Saussurean system. of course. no identity would be finally constituted. is thus jeopardized. let us accept that all identity is a differential identity. one difficulty that this whole reasoning does not contemplate. through its limits. as we have said. To pass from it to assert the incommensurability of contexts and to draw from there an argument in defense of cultural pluralism seems to be only a logical move. But nothing is more difficult . better.than defining those limits. each identity is what it is only through its differences from all the others. Now.

will be symbolized by particulars which contingently assume such a representative function. Only the particulars are such means. its need does not disappear: it will always show itself through the presence of its :lhsence.is unachievable. that a certain particular. (In deconstructive terms: the conditions IIf possibility of the system are also its conditions of impossibility. Impossible. in the subsumption of the latter in the furmer . This means. 53 . First.within the system of differences as a whole . a( (he same time. the relation berween the universal and the particular is a hegemonic relation.SUBJECT Of POLITICS. however. that all differential identity will be I:()nstitutively split. This anticipates our main conclusion: in a society (and this is finally the case of any society) in which its fullness . through its absence.the system .1. As a result the systemaricity of the system.) (.md universality of society is unachievable. but second. if that impossible object . The system is what is required for the differential identities III he constituted.. it will be the crossing point between the logic of difference and the logic of equivalence. It is present. Second. to show itself within the field of representation. that the particularity of the particular is subverted by this function of representing the universal. comes to occupy . it IIhlke~ them all equivalent to each other. I'lif if the limit poses an equal threat to all the differences. the means of that representation will be constitutively inadequate. but the only thing . what we see announcing itself here is an intimate connection berween the universal and the particular which does nut consist.cannot be represented but needs. The system (as in Jacques Lacan's object petit a) is that which the very logic of the context requires but which is.)ssible. . which is not incompatible with a differential particularism.. destabilizes and subverts those differences. 1. hili is required by the very logic of the latter.a hegemonic role. the moment of its impossible totalization. interchangeable with rllrh (Ither as far as the limit is concerned.exclusion .. however. by making its own particularity the signifying body of a universal representation. POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT whal. Again. is "lIio what subverts them. This introduces illto it a radical undecidability.untexts have lO be internally subverted in order to become I. first.the moment of its universality . that although the fullness . But Ihis means rwo things. This already announces I hr possibility of a relative universalization through equivalential IIiKin. if you want. however. Finally.which can l'Ulistitutc the system and thus make possible those identities.

level of wages. Argentina entered a period of institutional instability which lasted for over twenty years. A pure particularism of the demands of the groups. would have been possible only if the regime had succeeded in dealing separately with the particular demands and had absorbed them in a 'ttansformistic' way. people felt that through the differential particularity of their demands . S4 . A certain more universal perspective. etcetera . In our example. protection of national industry. It is important to realize that this dimension of universality was not at odds with the particularism of the demands . and the succession of military governments and fraudulent civilian regimes which occupied the government were clearly incapable of meeting the popular demands of the masses through the existing institutional channels. tbis contextual unification of a system of differences can only take place at the price of weakening the purely differential identities. which developed out of the inscription of particular demands in a wider popular language of resistance. was the result of the expansion of the equivalentiallogic. In terms of our previous terminology. On the contrary. did not express any essential a priori unity. This equivalence. After the coup of 1955 which overthrew the Per6nist regime. So. as we have seen.or even of the groups entering into the equivalential relation .housing. I will talee as an example the 'universalization' of the popular symbols of Per6nism in the Argentina of the 19605 and 19705. Now.but grew out of it. The fact that all of them were rejected by the dominant regimes established an increasing relation of equivalence between them. there was a succession of less and less representative regimes and an accumulation of unfulfilled democratic demands. its only ground was the rejection of all those demands by successive regimes.something equally present in all of them was expressed. through the operation of a logic of equivalence which introduces a dimension of relative universality. union rights. These demands were certainly particular ones and came from very different groups. this transformistic absorption becomes impossible and the equivalentiallogics interrupt the pure particularism of the individual democratic demands. it is important to realize. But in any process of hegemonic decline. their unification within a context or system of differences was the pure result of all of them being antagonized by the dominant sectors. Per6nism and other popular organizations were proscribed. which had entirely avoided the equivalential logic. which was opposition to the regime.EMANCIPATJON(S) Let us see in more detail the logic of that relation.

this dimension of universality reached through rlluivalence is very different from the universality which results 'rom an underlying essence or an unconditioned a priori . The l>c:r6nist movement itself lacked a real organization and was rather a series of symbols and a loose language unifying a variety of political initiatives. the ~ountry had entered into a rapid process of de-institutionalization. We have ~cen before that the moment of totalization or universalization of the community . was played by the popular symbols of Per6nism. POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT As we can see. It is not a regulative idea either . In those circumstances. the fact that the symbols of a particular group at some point assume a function of universal representation certainly gives a hegemoilic power to that group. The wild logic of emptying the signifiers of universality through the expansion of the equivalential chains m~ans that no fixing and particular limitation on the sliding of the signified under the signifier is going to be permanently assured.empirically unreachable but with an unequivocal teleological content hccause it cannot exist apart from the system of equivalences trom which it proceeds.SUBJECT OF POLITICS. Per6n was no longer an empty signifier but the president of the country. who ss . This is what happened to Per6nism after the electoral victory of 1973 and Per6n's return to Argentina. this was precisely the role that. And the ulterior destiny of Per6nism in the 19705 clearly illustrates the essential ambiguity inherent in any hegemonic process: on the one hand.)finciple. the fact that this function of universal representation has been acquired at the price of weakening the differential particularism of the original identity. in the 19605 and 19705. leads necessarily to the conclusion that this hegemony is going to be precarious and threatened. intervening only in a distant way in his movement's actions.is an impossible object which can only acquire a discursive presence through a "articular content which divests itself of its particularity in order 10 represent that fullness. To return to our Argentinian example. on the other hand. but. As I said earlier. being very careful not to take any definitive stand in the factional struggles within Per6nism. he was in ideal conditions to become the 'empty signifier' incarnating the moment of universality in the chain of equivalences which unified the popular camp. Finally. so the equivalential logics could operate freely. Per6n himself was in exile in Madrid.the moment of its fullness . But this has important consequences for hnth the content and the function of that universality.

There are innumerable contexts in which the principle of national self-determination is a perfectly valid way of totalizing and universalizing a historical experience. it does not have one of its own but just that which is given to it by a transieDt articulation of equivalential demands. As a universal right. Let us take a universal principle such as the right of nations to self-determination. which is that all of them have to present themselves as valid without exception. We have to determine the nature of this place both in terms of its conteDts and of its function. without realizing that its own function . what would disappear is not only universality but also the very distinction universality/particularity). there will always be exceptions to that universal validity. even in its own terms. or is the principle of self-determination an unconditionally valid one? The paradox is that while the principle has to be formulated as univenally valid.within a particular language game .even by Per6n himself. whose logical implications can be analytically deduced. The result was the bloody process which led to the military dictatorship in 1976. Yet the chains of equivalences constructed by the different factions of his movements had gone beyond any possibility of control . Let us suppose now that within a nation genocidal practices are takiDg place: in that case has the international community the duty to intervene. but without pretending that this universality can operate beyond the context of its emergence.EMANCIPATlON(S) had to carry out concrete politics. if we always know beforehand that no S6 . this universality can easily be questioned and can never be actually maintained. As far as the content is concerned. But perhaps the paradox proceeds from believing that this universality has a content of its own. just an empty place unifying a set of equivalential demands.resulting from the incompletion of all differential identities . The Dialectics of Universality The previous developments lead us to the following conclusion: the dimension of universality . But in that case. it claims to be valid iD any circumstance.cannot be eliminated so long as a community is not entirely homogeneous (if it were homogeneous. while. This dimension is. There is a paradox implicit in the formulation of universal principles. however.is to make discursively possible a chain of equivalential effectS.

etcetera. expressing a universality transcending them: but they all. it is essential that the chain of equivalences remains open: otherwise its closure could only be the result of one more difference specifiable in its particularity and we would not be confronted with the fullness of the community as an absence. but proceeds from the unifying effects that the external threat poses to an otherwise perfectly heterogeneous set of differences (particularities). The second is to give a particular demand a function of universal representation . As far as the function (as different from the content) of the 'universal' is concerned.SUBJECT OF POLITICS.for its expression . as we have seen.that which makes the equivalence possible . This is the moment of hegemonic aggregation and articulation and can operate in two ways. this universality needs . they acquire a more global perspective than is the case where they remain restricted to their own particularism. if it will always fail to deliver the goods. we have said enough to make clear what it consists of: it is exhausted in introducing chains of equivalence in an otherwise purely differential world. sooner or later become entangled in their own contextual particularism and are incapable of fulfilling their universal function. feminist demands enter into chains of equivalence with those of black groups. for essential reasons. thereby giving each of them a 'relative' universalization. any direct form of representation and expresses itself through the equivalence of the differential terms.that is to give it tbe value of 57 .cannot be something positive (that is one more difference which could be defined in its particularity). Now. which lacks. The first is to inscribe particular identities and demands as links in :l wider chain of equivalences. for instance. This is the source of the tension and ambiguities surrounding all these so-called 'universal' principles: all of them have to be formulated as limitless principles. in that case. The open character of the: chain means that what is expressed through it has to be universal and not particular. The 'something identical' shared by all the: terms of the equivalential chain . civil tights activists. abstract. POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT universalization will live up to its task.to be incarnated in something essentially incommensurable with it: a particularity (as in our example of the right to self-determination). ethnic minorities. But. absent fullness of the community. If. The 'something identical' can only be the pure. why does the equivalential aggregation have to express itself through the universal? The answer is to be found in what we said before about the formal structure on which the aggregation depends.

this would mean that there is something in the particularity of the demand which predetermined it to fulfil that role.and we are again entangled. in a strong senae. however. in the positing of a ground. The return of Per6n. As we can see.) So. (If we have a system of differences AlBIC. and that would be in contradiction to our whole argument). the only way out of this dilemma is to maintain the dimension of universality but to propose a different form for its articulation with the particular. we have to account for this systemic dimension and that leads us straight into the discourse of ground. B.'Sal representation is something which cannot be determined by a priori reasons (if we could do so. To give just a few examples: the socialization of the means of production was not considered as a nanow demand concerning the economy but as the 'name' for a wide variety of equivalential effects radiating over the whole society. in our Argentinian example. ~ have said enough about multiculturalism for our argument concerning the limits of particularism to be clear. at the same time. we still have to account for this separation to be separated is also a form of relation between objects . The introduction of a tnarket economy played a similar role in Eastern Europe after 1989. If we have a plurality of separale elements A. to realize that this type of articulation would be theoretically unthinkable if we did not introduce into the picture some of the central tenets of the contemporary critique of foundationalism (it would be unthinkable. there are several points in which they interact and in which parallelism can be detected. We can now return to the two debates which were the starting point of our reflection. A pure particularistic stand is self-defeating because it bas to provide a ground for the constitution of the differences as djfferences. lbe pre-established harmony of the monads is as essential a ground as the Spinozean totality. was also conceived in the early 19705 as the prelude to a much wider historical transformation. It is important. etcetera. which do not constitute a sy. keeping it indefinitely open. or set of demands. for instance. Which particular demand.EMANCIPATION(S) a horizon giving coherence to the chain of equivalences and. C. and such a ground can only be a new version of an essentialist universalism. in a Habcnnasian perspective). If meaning is fixed beforehand either. by a mdicaI ground (a position that fewer and fewer 58 . are going to play this function of univeJ. as Leibnitz knew well. This is what we have tried to provide in the preceding pages through the notion of the universal as an empty but ineradicable place.em. etcetera.

SUBJ!!CT OF POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT

Jleople would sustain today) or, in a weaker version, through the rt"Kulative principle of an undistoned communication, the very pllssibility of the ground as an empty place which is politically .l1Id contingently filled by a variety of social forces disappears. Differences would not be constitutive hecause something previous II) their play already fixes the limit of their possible variation and l'Mablishes an external tribunal to judge them. Only the critique of a universality which is determined in all its essential dimensions hy the metaphysics of presence opens the way for a theoretical "pprehension of the notion of 'articulation' that we are trying to daborate - as different from a purely impressionistic apprehension, 10 terms of a discourse structured through concepts which are perfectly incompatible with it. (We always have to remember Pascal's critique of those who think that they are already converted hecause they have just started thinking of getting converted.) But if the debate concerning multiculturalism can draw clear advantages from the contemporary critique of foundationalism (broadly speaking. the whole range of intellectual developments embraced by labels such as 'postmodernism' and 'poststructuralism'), these advantages also work in the opposite direction. For the requirements of a politics based on a universality compatible with an increasing expansion of cultural differences are clearly incompatible with some versions of postmodernism - particularly those which conclude from the critique of foundationalism that there is an implosion of all meaning and the entry into a world of 'simulation' (8audrillard). I don't think that this is a conclusion which follows at all. As we have argued, the impossibility of a universal ground does not eliminate its need: it just transforms the ground into an empty place which can be panially filled in a variety of ways (the strategies of this filling is what politics is about). Let us go back for a moment to the question of contextualization. If we could have a 'saturated' context we would indeed be confronted with a plurality of incommensurable spaces without any possible tribunal deciding between them. But, as we have seen, any such saturated context is impossible. Yet,the conclusion which follows from this verification is not that there is a formless dispersion of meaning without even any possible kind of relative articulation but, rather, that whatever plays such an articulating role is not predetermined to it by the form of the dispersion as such. This means first that all articulation is contingent and, second, that the articulating moment as such is always going to be an empty place 59

EMANCIPATION(S)

- the various attempts at filling it being transient and submitted to contestation. As a result, at any historical moment, whatever dispersion of differences exists in society is going to be submitted to contradictory processes of contextualization and de-contextualization. For instance, those discourses attempting to close a context around cenain principles or values will be confronted and limited by discourses of rights, which try to limit the closure of any context. This is what makes so unconvincing the attempts by contemporary neo-Aristotelians such as Mcintyre at accepting only the contextualizing dimension and closing society around a substantive vision of the common good. Contemporary social and political struggles open, I think, strategies of filling the empty place of the common good. The ontological implications of the thought accompanying these 'filling' strategies clarifies, in turn, the horizon of possibilities opened by the anti-foundationalist critique. It is to these strategic logics that I want to devote the rest of this essay.

Ruling aod Uoiversality: Four Moments
We can start with some conclusions which could easily be derived from our previous analysis concerning the staniS of the universal. The first is that if the place of the universal is an empty one and there is no a priori reason for it not to be filled by arry content, if the forces which fiJI that place are constitutively split between the concrete politics that they advocate and the ability of those politics to fill the empty place, the political language of any society whose degree of institutionalization has, to some extent, been shaken or undermined, will also be split. Let us just take a term such as 'order' (social order). What are the conditions of its universalization? Simply, that the experience of a radical disorder makes awy order preferable to the continuity of disorder. The experience of a lack, of an absence of fullness in social relations, transforms 'order' into the signifier of an absent fullness. This explains the split we were referring to: any concrete politics, if it is capable of bringing about social order, will be judged not only according to its merits in the abstract, independently of any circumstance, but mainly in terms of that ability to bring about 'order' - a name for the absent fullness of Ioc:iety. ('Change', 'revolution', 'unity of the people', etcetera III olh.r lianifiera which have historically played the same role.) - . for ••nrl.1 feuanl as we have pointed out, the fullness of 60

SUBJECT Of POLITICS, POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT

society is unreachable, this split in the identity of political agents is an absolutely constitutive 'ontological difference' - in a sense not entirely unrelated to Heidegger's use of this expression. The universal is certainly empty, and can only be filled in different contexts by concrete particulars. But, at the same time, it is absolutely essential for any kind of politiclzl interaction, for if the latter took place without universal reference, there would be no political interaction at all: we would only have either a complementarity of differences which would be totally noo-antagonistic, or a totally antagonistic one, one where differences entirely lack any commensurability, and whose only possible resolution is the mutual destruction of the adversaries. Now, it is our contention that politico-philosophical reflection since the ancient world has been largely conscious of this constitutive split, and has tried to provide various ways of dealing with it. These ways follow one or the other of the logical possibilities pointed out in the previous analysis. To suggest how this took place, we will briefly refer to four moments in the politico-philosophical tradition of the West in which images of the ruler have emerged which combine universality and particularity in different ways. We will refer successively to Plato's philosopher-king, to Hobbes's sovereign, to Hegel's hereditary monarch, and to Gramsci's hegemonic class. In Plato the situation is unambiguous. There is no possible tension or antagonism between the universal and the particular. Far from being an empty place, the universal is the location of all possible meaning, and it absorbs the particular within itself. Now, for him however, there is only one articulation of the particularities which actualize the essential form of the community. The universal is not 'filled' from outside, but is the fullness of its own origin and expresses itself in all aspects of social organization. There can be no 'ontological difference' here between the fullness of the community and its actual political and social arrangements. Only one kind of social arrangement, which extends itself to the most minute aspects of social life, is compatible with what the community in its last instance is. Other forms of social organization can, of course, factually exist, but they do not have the status of alternative forms among which one has to choose according to the circumstances. They are just degenerate forms, pure corruption of being, derived from obfuscation of the mind. In so far as there is true knowledge, only one particular form of social organization realizes the universal. And if ruling is a matter of knowledge and not of prudence, only

61

With Hobbes we are apparently at the antipodes of Plato. For Plato.EMAN'CIPATION(S) the bearer of that knowledge. fills the empty place once and forever. the will of the ruler as the only unified will that the community can have) will count in so far as it imposes order. it is an absolurely empty place which has to be filled by the will of the sovereign. Ergo: a philosopher-king. for Hobbes. in Hegel. the philosopher. So. Plato and Hobbes are apparently at the antipodes of the theoretical spectrum. the one who has the knowledge of what the community is before any political decision. But the problem of the empty place emerges in relation to the moment in which the community has to signify itself as a totality that is the moment of its individUillity. although by artificial means. the problem of the incommenswability between particular content and universal function cannot actually arise. Hobbes is well aware of what we have called the 'ontological difference'. Inasmuch as the anarchy of the state of nature threatens society with radical disorder. a particular has detached itself from the realm of particularities and has become the unchallengeable law of the community. 'Order' certainly becomes an empty place. and an exclusive concentration on the function of the latter: ensuring order as such. but there is in Hobbes no hegemonic theory about the transient forms of its filling: the sovereign. Any order will be better than radical disorder. of something which has no content of its own through something else which is its exact reverse. as we know. In the first case. for him. whose physical body represents a rational totality absolutely dissimilar to that body. (This representation. whatever the contents of the latter could be. For Hegel. we will see that this difference between them is overshadowed by what they actually share. Far from being the sovereign. the universal is the only full place. the particularism of each stage of social organization is aN{gJ1oben at a higher level. But if we look more closely at the matter. the unification of the will of the community in the will of the ruler (or rather. the problem is posed in different terms. Since. the 'mortall God'. has the right to rule. in the second case equally. There is something close to a complete indifference here to the content of the social order imposed by the ruler. his decisions are the only source of social order. has 62 . which is not to allow the particular any dynamics of its own vis-A-vis the fulVempty place of the universal. This signification is obtained. the particular has to actualize in its own body a universality transcending it. through the constitutional monarch.

specifiable in a particular context. as a requirement for its completion. we have a double order of reference. to complete the historical project of the lUsorgimento. On the one hand. Now. there is no content which is a priori destined to fill it. and that the latter would have to playa greater role than a pure function of ceremonial representation. Finally Gramsci. But this means that the 'good' aniculatioD. who has contributed several other examples such as the assenion.SUBJECT OF POLITICS. it could not be something which extended over a period of centuries and that different historical forces could bring about. Because of that. vis-4-lIis both Hegel and Hobbes. and it is OpeD to the most diverse aniculations. If we say . However. in the Phenomenology of Spirit. that 'the Spirit is a bone'. Viewed from this perspective the Gramscian project can be seen as a double displacement.that is that set of demands and political proposals . the rational monarch cannot be an elected monarch: he has to be a hereditary one. through successive sublations of its partial contents. that programme . if this can happen. and this process of argumentation would mean that the rationality of society would not have been achieved independently of the monarch. entirely depends on the commmunity having reached. In one 63 . the one that would finally suture the link between universal task and concrete historical forces will never be found. it is because 'unity of the Italian nation' is just the name or the symbol of a lack. if this 'unity of the Italian nation' was a concrete content. For such a fully rational community no content can be added and it only remains. and that all partial victory will always take place against the background of an ultimate and unsurpassable impossibility.is presented as a historical vehicle for a task transcending it: the unity of the Italian nation. POLITICS OF THE SUBJECT Vtry ohen been stressed by Slavoj fiiek. The hegemonic class can only become such by linking a particular content to a universality transcending it. Precisely because it is a constitutive lack. reasons would have to be given for that election. on the other hand.as different from those of other political forces. the highest form of rationality achievable in its own sphere. a concrete political programme . this last content.that the task of the Italian working class is to fulfil the tasks of national unification that the Italian people had posed themselves since the time of Machiavelli and. but. If he were elected. in some way. in its pure alienation of any spiritual content.as Gramsci did .that of the workers . by which a physical content can represent. the signification of the achievement of that functional rationality.) But this relation.

. as the result of that. one. The presence of this remainder is what is specific to the hegemonic relation. The hegemonic class is somewhere in between the Hegelian monarch and the Leviathan. the succession of hegemonic regimes can be seen as a series of 'partial covenants' . In one sense we IhIt I. this has mixed effects from the viewpoint of • democratic: politics.. people have more conditions under which to enter into the political covenant. we could present the political alternatives open to multicultural struggles through similar displacements vis-a-vis Gramsci's approach.11'" nf polilinl forces can occupy the laner. Gramsci's 'organic crises' fall far short. The first and most obvious displacement is to conceive a society which is more particularistic and fragmented and less amenable than Gramsci's to enter into unified hegemonic articulations. they also have more reasons to substitute the sovereign. as society and State are less self-structured than in Hegel.. What we have called the remainder of particularism inherent in any hegemonic centrality grows tbicker but "..an ideal situation for democracy.llu more plural. But it can equally be said that Gramsci is more Hegelian than Hobbesian. In some senses. but partial also because.for Gramsci they were locations such as the Party. in terms of their degrees of social structuring. In the same way that we have presented Gramsci's problematic through the displacements that he introduces vis-a-vis the two approaches that we have symbolized in Hobbes and Hegel..partial because. from the Hobbesian state of nature.. they require a dimension of political constitution in which the representation of the unity of the community is not separated from its construction. The second is that the loci from which the articulation takes place . Now. and we can conceive the democratic process _ m" .. The puhllc IIphere i. Let us imagine a Jacobinic scenario. There is a remainder of panicularity which cannot be eliminated from the representation of that unity (unity = individuality in the Hegelian sense). in the sense that the political moment in his analysis presupposes an image of social crises which is far less radical than in Hobbes. These last points allow us to go back to our earlier discussion concerning contemporary particularistic struggles and to inscribe it within the politico-philosophical tradition. as society is more structured than in Hobbes. because the • • 1 _ 11 . the place of power is one but is empty. and a .. because.. or the State (in an expanded sense) .EMANCIPATION(S) sense it is more Hobbesian than Hegelian.are also going to be more plural and less likely to generate a chain of totalizing effects.

while the main decisions concerning the future of the community as a whole are the preserve of a neo-Leviathan . Difference and particularisms are the necessary starting point. and the possibility of con. But this democratico-hegemonic possibility has to recognize the constitutive contextualizedldecontextualized terrain of its constitution and take fun advantage of the political possibilities that this undecidability opens. instead of remaining in this particularistic moment. I. POLITICS 0' Till! UII. on the other hand. communities are certainly more protected in the sense that a Jacobinic totalitarianism is less likely. This universalization and its open character certainly condemns all identity to an unavoidable hybridization. it is possible to open the way to a relative universalization of values which can be the basis for a popular hegemony. this also favours the maintenance of the status quo. more generally. this is one of the roots of contemporary touUwianlun (I. but hybridization does not necessarily mean decline through the loss of identity: it can also mean empowering existing identities through the opening of new possibilities. we only have to think of Samuel Huntington and. It. thto remlinder. closed on itself. The other alternative is more complex but it is the only one. and constantly redefines. Only a conservative identity. the place of power is not unique. All this finally amounts to saying is that the particular can only fulty realize itself if it constantly keeps open. as we said. will be weightier. This is true. A.tructinR I common public sphere through a series of equivalential effec:tl cutting across communities will dearly be less. but out of it.efnrt). 6S . To realize that this is not at aJI an unrealistic scenario. not necessarily democratic. it tries to inscribe this plurality in equivalentiallogics which make possible the construction of new public spheres. compatible with a true democratic: politics.SUBJECT OF POLITICS. I think.mply. but precisely because the univerul place II . on the contrary.no longer individuals . II can be occupied by any force. If. But. of contemporary corporatist approaches.for instance a quasiomnipotent technocracy. We can perfectly well imagine a modified Hobbesian scenario in which the law respects communities . This has ambiguoul results.in their private sphere. On the one hand. for reasons that have been pointed out earlier. could experience hybridization as a loss.IIC l as a partiaJ articulation of the empty univel'1llUt)' of thl ~lImmunlt)' and the particularism of the transient political forc'l Inelrnltl n. its relation to the universal. It wholly accepts the plural and fragmented nature of contemporary societies but. wrll known.

In fact. this is one more reason to think that the essence of the political will always have the inessential figure. the biological trauma resulting from the Darwinian findings about human descent. And yet . of the antlwofXJS in its onto·theological identity or its genetic properties. (SM. let us say in order to go too quickly and save ourselves a lot of references. to which Marxism itself belongs.5 'The Time is Out of Joint' Since this singular end of the political would correspond to the presenrarion of an absolute living reality. 97). p. of the ego cogito and of the very concept of narcissism whose aporias are. p. Jacques Derrida. Derrida links the concept of production to that of trauma and speaks of 'the spectral spiritualization that is at work in any tekh"e' (SM. accumulate and put the other three together: The century of 'Marxism' will have been that of the techno-scientific and effective deceDtring of the earth. and the cosmological trauma proceeding from the Copernican revolution. of geopolitia. Derrida insists that deconstruction would be either inconceivable or irrelevant if it were not related to the spirit or the tradition of a certain Marxism. Spectres of Mar% Halfway through Spectres of Marx (SM). the explicit theme of deconstruction. He immediately connects this assertion to Freud's remarks concerning the three traumas inflicted on the narcissism of the decentred man: the psychological trauma derived from the psychoanalytic discovery of the unconscious.98) So deconstruction inscribes itself in a secular movement of decentring. at various points of Spectres of Marx. according to him. To this Derrida adds the decentring effects coming from Marxism which. the very anesscnce of a ghost.

between economism and the primacy of politics. Derrida does not trace the genealogy of his intervention in the Marxist text. deeply inscribed in Marx's work. the political strategies they make possible are radically different.to which the last two chapters of the book are devoted . even between the 'scientific' and the 'ideological' components of the theory. have been not only recurrent themes in Marxist discussions but the very issues that have made possible a history of Marxism. and. precisely (jllSteme"t).'THE TIME IS OUT OP JOINT' deconstruction is not iust Marxism: it is a certain operation practised in the body of Marxism. is that circumscribed by the opposition between spirit and spectre. none of these apparent reformulations of the terms of a widely perceived dualism has been similar to the others. 19-20) To find a double logic in Marx's work. We are not dealing with a purely nominalistic operation of renaming: the displacement that these reformulations operate. pp. and potentialized its superpower in that which gives its unheard-of force to Hamlet's words: 'The rime is our of }oint'? (SM. the locating in Marx's texts of an area of undecidability which. The duality of. economic determinism and the ethical orientation of socialism. This is regrettable. hetween o"tology and ha. to detect in the Marxian texts a double gesture that the theory makes possible but is unable to control conceptually in a credible synthesis: all this looks rather familiar.but also of politics . the logics of the social they imply. this duality. That is our problem: how to justify this passage from disadJustment (with its rather more techno· ontological value affec:ring a presence) to an injustice that would DO longer be ontological? And what if disadjustment were on the contrary the condition of justice? And what if this double register condensed its enigma. Since the end of the nineteenth century. among other things because 67 . above all. Without the constitutive dislocation that inhabits all hauntology . The performing of this deconstructive operation .mtology. has been the object of countless analyses. However. predetermined reduction of the other to the same: It is easy to go from disadjusted to unjust.is at stake. just a programmed.and that ontology tties to conceal .is far from a purely academic exercise: the very possibility of justice .there would be no politics. or the oppositions between. in Derrida's terms.

interrupting all specularity. There is something disappeared. simply hule. having shown how. desynchronizes time. the becoming-body. Anachronism is essential to spectraHty: the spectre. The spectrogenic process corresponds therefore to a paradoxical incorporlltion. Derrida concludes that this logic is not absent from use value either: The said use-value of the said ordinary sensuous thing. For it is flesh and phenomenality that give to the spirit its spectral apparition. in that case. The very essence of spectrality is to be found in this undecidability between flesh and spirit: it is not purely body .EMANCIPATlON(S) the specificity. in Marx's analysis of commodity. exchange value depends for its constitution on a spectral logic. in the very coming of the mHmIlnt or the return of the spectre. the 68 .for. but to a body that is more abstract than ever. (SM. 6) of the departed.for the passage through the flesh is crucial: For there is no ghost. I will try to stress some of these specific features. in a space of invisible visibility. and both one and the other. depaned in the apparition itself as reapparirion (SM. a certain phenomenal and carnal form of the spirit. In what follows. Once ideas or thoughts (Gedllnke) are detached from the substratum. I will refer to what I think are the two central theoretical points in Derrida's book: the logic of the spectre (the hauntology) and the category of messianism. there is never any becoming-spectre of the spirit without at least an appearance of flesh. It becomes. 126) From this point onward. The Logic of the Spectre [T]he spectre is a paradoxical incorporation. but which disappear right away in the apparition. but it is not pure spirit either . like the disappearing of an apparition. there must be a return to the body. To this end. some 'thing' that remains dimwit to name: neither soul nor body. them tl body. p. these extremes themselves become contaminated by that undecidability. as well as their originality vised-vis other comparable attempts. For there to be ghost. rather. there would be no spectrality at all. p. Thus. one engenders some ghost by givi". originality and potentialities of his intervention do not come sufficiently to light. Derrida makes a classic de constructive move: the spectre being undecidable between the two extremes of body and spirit.

) If. in fact. we have a constitutive anachronism that is at the root of any identity.. Any 'life' emerges out of a more basic life/death dichotomy . and so forth. there is no use-value which the possibility of exchange and commerce. to substitution. an argument about spectrality af the very heart of the constitution of the social link. We find in Marx a hauntology. the form that informs its hllk. and the ghost is the condition of possibility of any present. if the spirit is something whose invisibility has to produce its own visibility.it is not 'life' as uncontaminated presence but slIrv. time is constitutively 'out of joint'. Once this point has been reached. to exchange. however minimal it may have been. Just as there is no pure U5e. 160) Similarly.is not achievable. however. however. politics too becomes constitutive of the social link. p. And since hauntology is inherent to politics. Time being 'out of joint'.e that is the condition of any presence.that is to a purely 'ontological' society which. the transcendence of the latter. Marx. on an idealization that pennits ODe to identify it as the same throughout possible repetitions. put the argument in Saint·Simonian terms: the transition from the government of men to the administration of tbings. has not in advance inscribed in an ollt-of-uu . the realization of a society fully reconciled with itself will open the way to the 'end of ideology' . 'ontology' full reconciliation . (SM. nothing is more difficult than to keep a strict separation between spirit and spectre.. dislocation corrupting the identity with itself of any present.'THE TIME IS OUT OF JOINT' wood of the wooden table concerning which Marx supposes that it has not yet begun to 'dance'. to value. If the spectre inhabits the root of the social link in bourgeois society. We could say of the spectre what Groucho Marx said about sex: it is going to stay with us for a while.an excessive signification that cannot be reduced to the useless. the transcendence of the split between being and appearance will mean the end of politics. it must have made a start. the arrival at a time that is no longer 'out of joint'. attempted the critique of the hauntological from the perspective of an ontology. will look to hauntology as irs past. if the very constitution of spirit requires the visibility of the invisible. 69 . must indeed have at least promised it to iterabiliry. as the de constructive reading shows. its very form. the conclusions quickly follow. (We could. after the consummation of the proletarian millennium.

anessential practice we caU politics.as one: must .• Derrida's argument for a logic of spc:crrality within Marxism can be: linked to the claim for the irreducibility of the political understood as that moment where the sedimented meanings of the socio-economic are contested. in the first place. But there are also the spectres of Marx that visited Marx himself and prevented him from establishing a non-haunted ontology. My own work has largely concentrated on the deconstruction of Marxist texts. Although there is no incompatibility between hegemony and spectral logic as far as the latter goes.is the very terrain of this phantasmatic. asserts: Against the ttoubling tendency to subordinate the political to the socioeconomic within Marx's 'ontolosy'•. one might link the losic of lpectrality to the logic of hegemony.is haunting us today as a horizon preventing the possibility of its final exorcism by the apparently triumpha°nt capitalist 'democracies' (here the main reference is to Fukuyama). and the intertextuality within which it takes place is highly illuminating. that is if one renounces . the horizons that it opens are far-reaching. the ground we reach . prima facie.EMANCIPATION(S) This contamination of presence by the spectre can be considered from the two perspectives involved in a double genitive.to the logic of the spectre as described by Derrida. However.is that I have nothing to object to. and it is to consider this plurality that I would like to pause for a moment.the communist eschalological '. too. as with any deconstruction worthy of the name.an abbreviation for communism . have recently linked 'deconstruction' and 'hegemony'. there is a plurality of directions in which one can move. The deconstructive operation is impeccable. in so far as Marx himself .that of a present never identical with itself . spectres of Marx. for instance. Thus. Others. however. a hegemonic logic presupposes two further steps beyond spectrality that I am not sure Derrida is prepared to take: 70 . to entirely endorse such an apparently obvious assimilation. relate what I have called hegemonic logic I .which silently deconstructs Marxist categories .-theodicy' of the economic contradictions of capitalism inevitably culminating in revolution. Following Ernesto Laclau's radicalization of Gramsci. and I could. I hesitate. What to say about this Derridian sequence? A first remark first both temporally and logically . Simon Critchley. then politics and politico-cultural-ideological hegemonization is indispensable to the possibility of radical change. There are.

in turn. Let us remember that any step that is taken out of the logic of spectrality cannot be in contradiction to the latter but must. presuppose it. So the lack of natural connection between both poles is what transforms the flesh into the medium through which the spirit shows itself. that they are alternative forms of materialization of the same 'spirit'. Of what does this autonomization consist? This is our second step. At the same time. 'autonomy' cannot mean identify with oneself. it is this lack of connection that prevents the contamination of one by the other. The hegemonic relation is certainly spectral: a certain body tries to present its particular features as the expression of something transcending its own particularity.an incarnation in the Chnstian sense . 2. It presupposes. in that sense. on the contrary. these two poles. Now. For in the spectre the relation between spirit and flesh is much more intimate: there is no divine mediation that both sanctions and supersedes the essential heterogeneity of the two poles. but the point is that this deconstruction will not take place through the collapse of the frontier between spirit and spectre. Let us suppose a situation of 71 . because that would precisely restore a rigid frontier between 'spirit' and 'spectre' But autonomy does not require full identity as its precondition: it can also emerge out of a constitutive impossibility.ion is one in which a certain body presents itself as the incarnation of a certain spirit. as we have seen. The body is an undecidable point in which universality and particularity get confused. self-representation. an undecidable relation between spint and flesh which contaminates. suggests a kind of autonomization of the latter which cannot be explained solely by the pure logic of spectrality. God's mediation is what establishes the link between spirit and flesh in so far as He is at an infinite distance from both. If the autonomization of the 'spirit' is to take place within spectrality. however. a hegemonic relat. No doubt this Chrilltian polarity can be deconstructed in turn. Spectrality presupposes. but the very fact that other bodies compete to be the incarnating ones.'THE TIME IS OUT OF JOIN1" 1. an absolute limit whose forms of representation will be necessarily inadequate.transforms the flesh into a purely transparent medium through which we can see an entirely spiritual reality with no connection to its incarnating body. Weakened because a full incarnation . a weakened form of incarnation.

is inevitable: the old revolution is present in the new one. This means.-vis any particular order in so far as it is the name of an absent fullness that no concrete social order can achieve (the same can be said of similar terms such as 'revolution'. The steps that lead from the logic of spectrality to a hegemonic logic are steps that the former logic certainly makes possible. in certain circumstances. however. to be represented in some way. And the Marxian aspiration of a revolutionary language that only expresses the present. can exist only through irs parasitic attachment to some particular body. That fullness is present. as the incarnation of the revolutionary principle as such. and this dissociation will reproduce sine die the logic of spectrality and the split between 'phraseology' and 'content'. which Marx refers to and Derrida analyses. any form of self-representation. is a pure impossibility. in which the 'content' overcomes 'phraseology'. but that body is subverted and deformed in its own particularity as it becomes the embodiment of fullness. not in its particularity but in its universal function of being a revolution. it i5 not the only move that one can make. Now. and if that fullness is constitutively unachievable.as all fullness . by which a certain particular content overflows its own particularity and becomes the incarnation of the absent fullness of society is exactly what I call a hegemonic relation.EMANCIPATION(S) generalized social disorder: in such a situation 'order' becomes the name of an absent fullness. This relation. But. as I said. a function of representation of the impossible universality of the community. 'unity of the people'. but they are not necessary corollaries that are derived (rom it. for they can only be particular contents that assume. as a result. as that which is absent and needs. What precedes is an attempt to show the type of move that I would make out of the logic of spectrality. that the anachronistic language of revolutions. If the fullness of the revolution . etcetera).is unachievable. its means of representation will be constitutively inadequate. it presupposes the logic of the spectre: the fullness of the 'spirit'. it cannot have any content of its own. 72 . As we can see. we cannot but have a dissociation between the revolutionary content and the fullness of a pure revolutionary foundation. as it has no content of its own. inter alia. 'Order' thus becomes autonomous vis-a.

p. Well. we can get a broad hint of the direction that Derrida is taking if we move to our second theme: the question of the messianic. at least. that they be reinserted in the various discursive contexts within which they were originally formulated. but the promise implicit in an originary opening to the 'other'. first because these contexts considerably diverge among themselves and. to the pure: event which cannot be mastered by any aprioristic discourse.which we distinguish from law or right and even from human rights . what remains irreducible to any deconstruction. however.and an idea of democracy . I cannot properly do this job in the limited space of a review. second. 8y the 'messianic' we should not understand anything directly related to actual messianic movements . an idea of justice . a messianism without religion. what remains as undeconstructible as the possibility itself of deconstruction is. After having indicated that both Marxism and religion share the formal structure of a messianic eschatology.'THE TIME IS OUT OF JOINT' But what political consequences does Derrida himself draw from his deconstruction of Marx's texts? Although these consequences are not entirely developed in his book. a certain experience of the emancipatory promise. perhaps. 59) predicates today.which we distinguish from its current concept and from its determined (SM. to the unforeseeable. it is perhaps even the formality of a structural messianism. with the exception of the content it is also the case that its formal structure of promise exceeds them or precedes them. even a messianic without messianism.such as the messianic .can lead [0 an undue association of these categories with the concrete historical phenomena to which they are usually applied. instead. make some specifkations. but let us.but. because the high metaphoricity of some of the categories employed . Here Derrida summarizes themes that he developed in full in 'Force of Law'. The Question of the Messianic Let us quote Derrida again. he asserts: While it is common to both of them. These themes and concepts require. something belonging to the general structllre of experience. It is linked to the idea of 'promise' This does not mean this or that particular promise.of the present or past . Such an event is an 73 .

Deconstruction and justice . (SM.but simply the continual commitment to keep open the relation to the other.or. anothcr opening of event-ness as historicity that pcrmined one not to renouncc. which is to say responsibility. but on the contrary to open up acc:ess to an affirmativc thinking of the messianic and cmancipatory promise as promise: as promise and not as oototheological or teleo-csc:hatological programme or design .. deconstruction as justice . To summarize: the messianism we are speaking about is one without eschatology. Deconstructing law .is what cannot be deconstructed. 74-5) What can we say about the various theoretical operations that Derrida performs starting from this conceptual construction? I think that we can distinguish three levels here. to the other . This leads to the notion of 'justice' as linked to an absolute singularity which cannot be absorbed by the generality of law. pp.). rather. without determinate content. It is simply the lItructure of promise which is inherent in all experiencc and whose lack of content . This deconstruction proceeds by showing the contingent character of the articulations that have coalesced 74 .' does not involve any teleological assertion .is the very possibility of justice and gives its meaning only to the democracy to come.not even the limited one of a regulative idea . Singularity as the terrain of justice involves the radical undecidability which makes the decision possible: It was thcn a matter of thinking another historicity ..rcsulting from thc radical opening to the event.is possible because of this structure of experience in which the messianic. On the basis of these premisses.which is finally what politics is about . Derrida elaborates his concept of 'democracy to come' (democratie a veni. without a pre-given promised land. The chasm between law and justice is one which cannot be closed. The existence of this chasm is what makes deconstruction possible.EMANCIPATION(S) interruption in the normal course of things. a radical dislocation. This 'a veni. But at a certain point promise and decision. The first refers to the deconstruction of the concept of messianism that we have inherited from the religious but also from the Marxist tradition. owe their possibility to the ordeal of undeddability which will always remain their condition. the promise and justice are categories in a relation of mutual implication. an opening which is always a veni" for the other to which one opens oneself is never already given in any aprioristic calculation.

Derrida's argument. ill> we have seen. is not a promise of anything concrete. docs not stop there. I find myself in full agreement with this movement. Various aspects have to be differentiated here. If we link this to the rdations law/justice. undecidability/decisions.the classic notion of emancipation was something more than the formal structure of the promise. We can do away with the teleological and eschatological dimensions. law and . If by reasserting the classical notion of emancipation Derrida does not mean anything beyond his particular way of reasserting messianism . From this first movement (for reasuns that will become clear presently. in that case. This. But . however. because the classical notion of emancipation is no more than another name for the eschatological messianism that he is trying to deconstruct.the messianic itself possible in its actual historical forms. I find it rather m"isleading to call this operation a defence of the classic notion of emancipation. I keep this 'from' deliberately vague.'THE TIME IS OUT Of JOINT' around the actual historical messianisms. which is linked to the classical notion of 'emancipation'. it is some son of 'existential'. which is to direct the historico-political forms back to the primary terrain of their opening to the radically heterogeneous. he passes to a sort of ethico-political injunction by which all the previuusly mentioned dimensions converge in the project of a democracy to come. because it is inscribed in the structure of all experience. hut what we cannot do away with is the 'promise'. decision. This is the terrain of constitutive undecidability. undecided between the derivative and the merely sequential). is deeply transformed. in so far as it is what prevents any presence from being closed around itself. we can even do away with all the actual contents of the: historical rnessianisms. we can see the general movement of Derrida's theoretico-political intervention.that is doing away with all the teleo-onrological paraphernalia of the latter and sticking to the moment of the 'promise' then I would certainly agree with him but. the classic idea of emancipation. It was also the crystallization and 7S . of an experience of the impossible that.second aspect . But we have to be very careful about the meaning of such a stand. Derrida is very firm in his assertion that he is not at all prepared tu put the latter into question.finally . makes responsibility. even if we retain from it an ultimately undeconstructible moment. paradoxically.

at the theoretical level. on the contrary. but that they are. The previous distinctions have to be situated against the background of the real target of Derrida's discussion in Spectres of Marx: the exposure of a prevalent common sense (that he exemplifies through his brilliant critique of Fukuyama) according to which the collapse of the communist regimes is supposed to mean humanity'S arrival at a final stage where all human needs will be satisfied and where no messianic consummation of time is any longer to be expected. There is. is that in the classic notion of emancipation the defence and grounding of all those contents were intimately connected to the teleological eschatology that Derrida is deconstructing. Derrida. and so forth are not empirical residues of a historical stage which has . the symptoms of a fundamental deadlock of contemporary societies that pushes isolated demands to some kind of phantasmatic articulation which will result in new forms of political reaggregation. injustices. and it would be difficult not to join him in its defence. a third aspect to be distinguished. What Derrida is finally saying is that isolated demands. if he wants to maintain the results of his deconstruction and at the same time to defend those contents. at the empirical level. and so forth. Derrida reacts against this new dominant consensus and its Hegelo-Koj~vian grounding by showing. there are only two ways open to him: either to show that those contents can be derived from the 'promise' as a general structure of experience.EMANCIPATION(S) synthesis of a series of contents such as the elimination of economic exploitation and all forms of discrimination. So. It is against the background of this polemic that the whole discourse about the ever returning spectres of Marx has to be understood. the consolidation of civil and political freedom. the inconsistencies of the notion of an end to history. grievances. understandably. the gap between historical reality and the capitalist West's satisfied image of itself and. or to demonstrate that those contents are grounded in something less than such a general structure . The latter are not specified beyond Derrida's quick allusions to the historical limits of the 'parry' form and 76 .in which case the 'promise' as such is indifferent to the actual nature of those contents. since the ground of the latter can no longer be an eschatological articulation. however. The difficulty. does not want to renounce this patrimony.in all essentials been superseded. the assertion of human rights. finally.

for instance.the promise . no immanent temlency of the structure to closure and full presence. However. some kind of ethical injunction to be responsible and to keep oneself open to the heterogeneity of the other necessari Iy follows.'THE TIME IS OUT OF JOINT' to a 'New International' in the making. as a result. it is one frequently made by many defenders of deconstruction and one to which the very ambiguity of the Derridian texts gives some credence. but that defence cannot be logically derived from constitutive openness . second and most important. I am not necessarily asserting that Derrida is making that transition. at any rate. (It is like the voluntaristic argument criticized by Ortega y Gasset: on the one hand.something more has to be added to the argument. but. from an 'ontological' condition in which the openness to the event. on the other. I think the latter can certainly be defended from a deconstructionist perspective. it asserts that life is constitutive insecurity. it is clear that any advance in formulating a theory of political reaggregation crucially depends on how the transition between the general structure of experience . because if the promise is an 'existential' constitutive of all experience. it launches the imperative Vivere peric%samente. before any injunction. First. This transition is illegitimate for two reasons. as if to do it or not to do it were a matter of choice. For here an illegitimate logical transition can easily be made. it is always already there. to sustain that 77 . to the heterogeneous. it does not follow that there is an ethical imperative to 'cultivate' that opennes~ or even less to be necessarily committed to a democratic society. This is the third level at which the argument of Spectres of Marx can be considered: the type of link it establishes between the promise as a (post-) transcendental or (post-) ontological (non-) ground and the ethical and political contents of an emancipatory project.) But. since there is ultimate undecidability and. from the fact that there is the impossibility of ultimate closure and presence. This is the level at which I find the argument of Spectres less convincing. ethico-political moves different from or even opposite to a democracy 'to come' can be made .and the contents of the classical emancipatory project is conceived. to the radically other is constitutive. The illegitimate transition is to think that from the impossibility of a presence closed in itself. Precisely because of the undecidability inherent in constitutive openness.

depend on deconstruction '5 ability to go down to the bottom of its own radicalism and avoid becoming entangled in all the problems of a Levinasian ethics (whose proclaimed aim. In that way a case for totalitarianism can be presented starting from deconstructionist premisses. But if we move to the 'normative' side. from this perspective. the totalitarian argument would be as much a n01l sequitur as the argument for democracy: either direction is equally possible given the situation of structural undecidability. In a first movement deconstruction extends undecidability . to reactivate the moment of decision that underlies any sedimented set of social relations. This does not sound much like an ethical injunction but like ethical nihilism.that is that which makes the decision necessary . Undecidability should be literally taken as that condition from which no course of action necessarily follows. the conclusions are remarkably similar. This means that we should not make it the necessary source of any concrete decision in the ethical or political sphere. should from the start look suspicious to any deconstructionist). by enlarging the area of structural undecidability. If one takes this proposition at face value. whatever the content of that heterogeneity would be. The role of deconstruction is.that is of the decision. it also enlarges the area of responsibility . attacking her. Of course. The political and ethical significance of this first movement is that.to deeper and larger areas of social relations. And if the argument is reformulated by saying that openness to the other does not necessarily mean passive acceptance of her but rather active engagement which includes criticizing her. (In Derridian terms: 78 . that openness to the heterogeneity of the other is an ethical injunction. one is forced to conclude that we have to accept the other as different because she is different. even killing her. for the sake of the argument. These consequences. We have so far presented our argument concerning the nonconnection between structural undecidability and ethical injunction. the whole argument starts to seem rather vacuous: what else do people do all the time without any need for an ethical injunction? Yet I think that deconstruction has important consequences for both ethics and politics. however. starting from the 'ontological' side. Let us suppose. I see the matter this way.EMANCIPATION(S) closure has to be artificially brought about from the outside. to present ethics as first philosophy.

or through any similar metaphysical principle . also part of an operation of grounding except that this grounding is no longer to refer something back to a foundation which would act as a principle of derivation but. This leaves us. Degrounding is. Not even as a regulative idea. The consummation of time . What kind of collective reaggregation is open to us once we have moved away from the eschatological dimension of the classical emancipatory model? This will be my last discusliion.either through the opening to the otherness of the other. and some of these rules are ethical ones. etcetera) that make its emergence possible.·THE TIME IS OUT Of JOINT' I he requirements of justice become more complex and multifaceted vis-Ii-vis law. It is because of this constitutive incompletion that decisions have to be taken. Democracy does not need to be . to reinscribe that something within the terrain of the undecidables (iteration. which is also essential to deconstruction. difference. The duality undecidability/decision is something that simply belongs to the logic of any structural arrangement. 'The time is out of joint' but. in this sense. We live as bricoleurs in a plural world. to go back to our problem. there is never a beginning . having to take decisions within incomplete systems of rules (incompletion here means undecidability).never arrives.as Derrida knows well .and cannot be radically grounded. with a problem: how to conceive of emancipation within this framework. because of that.never arises. it is no longer a question of finding a ground from which an ethical injunction should be derived (even less to make such a ground of undecidabiliry itself). re-mark. We can move to a more democratic society only through a plurality of acts of democratization.) But this first movement is immediately balanced by another tine of the opposite sign. instead. and 1 will broach it by locating Derrida's intervention within the tradition of critique and reformulation of Marxism: 79 .or an end of time. however. To think of undecidability as a bottomless abyss that underlies any self-sufficient 'presence' would still maintain too much of the imagery of the 'ground'. So. the problem of a total ethical grounding . but because we are faced with incompletion and not with total dispossession.

centred in the notion of 'false consciousness' (as in Luklics). turned around the discussion of two capital and interrelated issues: (l) how to make compatible . and the Entkjel Io. Plekhanov) or in an apparently more 'superstrucruralist' one.EMANCIPATION(S) The Question of the Tradition Derrida very cogently maintains that one thinks only from within a tradition. and human emancipation is fixed in its contents by a fullfledged eschatology. let us recapitulate the broad lines of the main classical attempts at recasting Marxism: I. However. Here there is no reaggregation of collective wills (the revolutionary agent is the working class). The moment of the political decision is as absent as in Marxist orthodoxy. To show this. 2. Now. A first tendency represents the accentuation of the ontological dimension (in the Derridian sense) of Marx's thought. as in Derrida's version. (2) how to think forms of reaggregation of political wills and social demands once the obviousness of the identification of the working class with the emancipatory agency started to dissolve. The various forms of 'ethical' socialism to be found in Bernstein and in some currents of Austro-Marxism. the agent of emancipation becomes more contingent and indeterminate. the reception of Marxism since the turn of the century has. Here the ontological dimension becomes weaker: the 'necessary laws of history' become more erratic.if it can be done at all . The latter will be the consequence of the proletarian revolution. and shows that this thinking is possible only if one conceives one's relation with that past as a critical reception."y which has been lost at the level of an objective history is retrieved at the level of an ethical regulative idea. It is my contention that the deconstructionist intervention represents a crucial turn in connection with both issues. The absolute reconciliation of society with itself will arrive as a result of the elimination of all forms of distorted representation. This tendency can be found in a vulgar materialist version (for example. in my view. the determina<.~s most of its eschatological precision. The common feature of all these tendencies is a rerurn to a Kantian dualism.the various contradictory aspects of Marx's thought. which relates the 'ontological' and the 'phantasmaric'. 80 .

Now. a mythical unity. but my argument is that what is really at stake in Gramsci's intervention is a politicization of ethics. 'Collective will'.at least as far as Derrida is concerned . Two aspects are important for us: (a) the link between concrete material forces and the function that they fulfil in the classical Marxist scheme becomes loose and indeterminate. be given a Hegelian interpretation.'THf.is that the ambiguity previously pointed out between undecidability as a terrain of radicalization of the decision. it becomes something like an 'existential' of historical life and is no longer the announcement of a concrete event. History becomes an open and contingent process that does not reflect any deeper underlying reality. 'organic ideology'. My optimistic reading of Spectres of Marx is that it represents a step forward in the pro5ecution of this task. it is only as an extension and radicalization of this last tendency that deconstruction can present itself both as a moment of its inscription in the Marxist tradition as well as a point of turning! deepening/supersession of the latter. The anchoring of social representations in the ontological bedrock of an objective history starts dissolving. of course. hegemonic group'. is this not something like a deconstruction of eschatological messianism: the automization of the messianic promise from the contents that it is attached to in 'actually existing' messianisms? (b) the distinction between the ethical and the political is blurred.1. The moment of the ethico-political is presented as a unity. for Sorel. The main stumbling block that I still see to this being accomplished . The Sorelian-Gramscian tradition. For Gramsci. the unity of a collective will results from the constitutive role of an organic ideology. They are certainly anchored in a dialectics of emancipation but. I have said enough to make it clear that. in so far as the acts of institution of the social link are contingent acts of decision that presuppose relations of power. and undecidability as the source of an ethical injunction 81 . as the latter is not necessarily linked to any particular content. it is here that the phantasmatic dimension finally takes the upper hand. for me. This is what gives an 'ontological' primacy to politics and to 'hegemony' as the logic governing any political intervention. TIME IS OUT OF JOINT' . and so forth become empty forms that can be filled by any imaginable political and social content. This can. The unity of the class is.

inter alia. among other things. Benjamin's angel should become a symbol constantly reminding us of our complex and multilayered tradition. however. of ttie development of mass media. which is. But let us not make the opposite mistake and think that the history of Marxism overlaps with the history of emancipatory projects.EMANC1PATlON(S) is still hovering in Derrida's texts. Once this ambiguity is superseded. the logics of hegemonic reaggregation face. in the contemporary world. if we are thinking in terms of the third tendency within Marxism. we can recast and extend its system of categories far beyond the intellectual tools to which Sorel and Gramsci had access. deconstruction can become one of the most powerful tools at hand for thinking strategically. I think that 'emancipation' is the opposite: it is a performance at which we always arrive late and which forces us to guess. operating deconstructively within Marx's texts can help in a third vitally important task: reinscribing Marxism itself and each of its discursive components as a partial moment in the wider history of emancipatory discourses. The dissolution of the metaphysics of presence is not a purely intellectual operation. Derrida is quite right to combat the current amnesia of the Marxist tradition. Second. This recasting in terms of the logic of differance can open the way to much more refined forms of strategic thinking. Our societies are far less homogeneous than those in which the Marxian models were formulated. 'The performance begins when you arrive'. much more serious challenges than those that a Gramsd was confronted with. Many more ghosts than those of Marx are actually visiting and revisiting us. and the constitution of the collective wills takes place in terrains crossed by far more complex relations of power . 82 . what gives deconstruction its meaning. to engage ourselves in this impossible task. I remember that during my childhood in Argentina. faces the challenge of reinscribing the Marxian model in this complex experience of present-day society. in the continuous performance cinemas there was an announcement saying. about its mythical or impossible origins. painfully. as a result. This rethinking of politics in a deconstructive fashion can (if we start from the Marxist tradition) produce three types of effect. Well.as a result. [n the first place. Finally. We have. however. It is profoundly inscribed in the whole experience of recent decades. Deconstruction.

New Reflections on the Retlo/lflio" of Our Time. The basic formularion concerning th~ conc~pt of h~gemony can b~ f. Hege". Ernesto. and Cb. New York.udisc Strattgy. Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. Forthcoming in Philosophy and Social Criticis". linking it more closely to the category 01 'dislocation'. Simon. Derrida. Peggy Kamuf. London.·. 83 . and 'he New Inte".).11U1 4.(eds. Hegemony and Soc. Routledge 1992.. Routledge 1994.. Seattle. New York.ntal Mouffe. of aNr Timt'."nd in Laclau and Mouffe. the Work of Mou".. Deconstruction and the Possibility of INstice. London. October 1994. in New Reflections 0..'THE TIME IS OUT Of JOINT' Note 1. [rnesto.. 'Force of Law: The MMystical Foundation of Authority.5. Laclau. 'On Derrida's Spectres of Marx'. Spectres of Mane: The State of the CHbt. Jacques.alio"a/.ing. Verso 1990. I hav~ reformulated th~ basic dimensions 01 this concept..ialist Strategy. Verso 198..()ny and Srn. Ladau. Bibliograpby Critchley. in Drucilla Cornell et al. chapt~rs J . trans. 'he R~vo/lftj.

· if we take Machiavelli and Hobbes as opposite poles in the modern approach to politics the first centring his analysis in a theory of strategic calculation within the social. the question of the framework that allows a conceptual grasp on such a political intervention. or as a single act opening the way to the operation of those mechanisms whose automatic unfolding would be sufficient to produce a 'society effect'. are leading to a generaliz. which seem to be robbing all meaning from collective action. some of the most fundamental assumptions of the modern approach to politics.for both political theory and political action from what has been called our 'postmodern condition' There is today the widespread feeling that the exhaustion of the great narratives of modernity. as an orderly set of bureaucratic measures proceeding from an enlightened elite.that is that politics had the means to carry out a radical transformation of the social. the second in the mechanisms-producing society as a totality . whether such a transformation was conceived as a founding revolutionary act.6 Power and Representation The aim of this essay is to explore some of the consequences that follow . the operation of logics of undecidability. in addition. I would like to try to explore this claim and shall do so by considering. There is.it is the Hobbesian approach that has . there was in modernity the generalized conviction that the former had to take place at the level of the ground of the social . This was provided by the notion of social totality and by the series of causal connections that necessarily followed from it. From the point of view of the meaning of any significant political intervention.ed retreat from the political. as my starting point. the blurring of the boundaries of the public spaces. As has been pointed out.

and the claims of the oppressed are the necessary but distorted expression of a higher rationality that generates. not a social totality at all. is at the centre of the modern view of history and society. if there is a ground of the social . either historical rationality belongs to the discourse of the dominant groups . can cancel the distance between the rational and the: real. It could not have been otherwise.POWER AND REPRESENTATION constituted the mainstream of modern political theory. an area of 85 . This dual movement. in that case. representation is a necessary moment in the self· constitution of the totality. society can only be considered as an orderly series of effects. a purely rational process. this power will be experienced by the second group as irrational.can make this abolition actual. A limited historical actor could only carry out a universal task in so far as he was denied access to the meaning of his actions.which is a condition of its intelligibility . a social totality that lacks the mirror of its own representation is an incomplete social totality and. But as both Hegel and Marx knew well. This leads us to a third feature of political action as conceived in the modern age: its radical representability. as its own condition of possibility. consequently. then an action whose meaning derives from such a ground and such a totality has to be fully transparent to itself and thus endowed with limitless rcprcsentability. In that case. and the latter is only achieved so long as the distinction between action and representation is abolished. between being and knowledge. by which the ground becomes subject through a universal class that abolishes all 'alienation' in the forms of representation and by which the subject becomes ground by abolishing all external limitations posed by the object. as a result. The reasons for this reduction are clear: if one social group exercises power over another. however.and if. but if history is. As well.a 'universal class' . These four features converge in a fifth one that could perhaps be considered the true horizon of the modern approach to politics: once the last foundation of politics is made fully visible. Only full reconciliation between substance and subject. the irrationality of power must be purely appariential. Only a limitless historical actor . that is as a totality. But. this transparency and representability had to be necessarily translated to the agent of the historical transformation. in so far as his consciousness was a 'false' one. power becomes a purely appariential phenomenon.

these nihilistic positions continue inhabiting the intellectual terrain from which they try to distance themselves. coercion and opaqueness are indeed present. in which case that group is a limitless historical actor. and showing the opaqueness of the process of representation is usually considered equivalent to a denial that representation is possible at all. questioning the universality of the agents of historical transformation leads quite often to the proposition that all historical intervention is equally and hopelessly limited. It is. its repressive character: can only be appariential. in very general terms. that something is meaningless is to assert a very classical conception of meaning. or the gazes of both the dominant and the dominated groups are partial and limited ones. reality of power and representability of history are in inverse relationship.in which case. In the first case. 'postmodernity') have given rise to a tendency to substitute them for their pure absence by a simple negation of their content. The important point is that in both cases. for instance.EMANCIPATlON(S) opaqueness. adding only that it is absent. To assert. the negation that there is a ground out of which all social contents obtain a precise meaning can be easily transformed into the assertion that society is entirely meaningless. as the power of the dominant group i~ fully rational. or the discourses of the oppressed are the ones that contain the seeds of a higher rationality . This leaves us with only two alternatives: either the gaze of the dominant group is fully rational. it is possible to show that these apparently radical reversals can 86 . the coercion and opaqueness of the brute fact of domination can only be the necessary appariential forms through which the rationality of power takes shape. Thus.in a fundamental sense . the attributes of full rationality are automatically transferred to the historical analyst. easy to show that . the resistance to power cannot be external but must be internal to power itself. a negation which continues inhabiting the intellectual terrain that those positive features had delineated. of course. If a system of domination is rational. These distinctive features of modernity are so deeply entrenched in our usual forms of conceiving society and history that recent attempts to call them into question (what has been called. in which case. But in a more important sense. but. in that case. their full realization involves the elimination of any opaqueness (and therefore any power).

it assumes the role of a true universality. on the one hand. meaning grows out of non-meaning. This also involves. a new attitude towards modernity: not a radical break with it but a new modulation of its themes.as I will later in this text .will also show their possibility. on the other hand. Meaninglessness grows out of meaning or.POWER AND REPRESENTATION only acquire whatever force of conviction they carry by a clearly detectable inconsistency. which remain within the terrain of modernity by simply inverting its fundamental tenets. in so far as other articulations . the contrastive presence of a full-fledged meaning. to deconstruct the terrain that makes the alternative modernity/postmodernity possible. limitation in relation to what? And the answer can only be that it is in terms of a structure that equally limits all agents and that.ation of them from a different perspective.that no pure relation of representation is obtainable because it is of the essence of the process of representation that the representative has to contribute to the identity of what is represented. an expansion of the field of politics instead of its retreat 87 . Finally. we would be left with the nude identities of the represented aDd the representative as self-sufficient ones. the critique of the notion of 'universality' implicit in the idea of a universal agent cannot be transformed into the assertion of the equally uniform limitation of all agents . To reactivate the intuition of the contingent character of these articulations will thus produce a widening of horizons. then this cannot be transformed without inconsistency into the proposition that 'representation' is a concept that should be abandoned.equally contingent .because we could then ask ourselves. in this sense. This involves. instead of remaining within a polarization whose options arc entirely governed by the basic categories of modernity. in order to be radically meaningless. If I conclude . something requires. not an abandonment of its basic tenets but a hegemoniz. For in that case. to show that the latter do not constitute an essentially unified block but are rather the sedimented result of a series of contingent articulations. as has been asserted in a proposition that stated exactly the same. which is precisely the: assumption that the whole critique of the notion of representation was questioning. Against these movements of thought. as its condition of possibility. That is. In the same way. I would like to suggest an alternative strategy: instead of inverting the contents of modernity.

and if this subordination is not required by the essence of meaning. Derrida concludes that if meaning can be strictly differentiated from knowledge. do not necessarily require each other. as Derrida points out.a widening of the field of structural undecidability that opens the way to an enlargement of the field of political decision. as presented by Derrida in Speech and Phenomena. one speaks well. the essence: of meaning is better shown when such fulfilment does not take place. and the language into knowledge. An expression such as 'square circle' has indeed a meaning: it is such a meaning that allows me to say that it refers to an impossible object. In this respect the path followed by Joyce. emancipates meaning from the necessity of fulfilling it with the intuition of an object. One caD speak in saying 'The circle is square'. it can only be the result of an 88 . But if Husserl subordinates meaning to knowledge. Husser! quickly closed the possibilities that this breach established between knowledge and meaning had just opened: In other words. It does not await truth as expecting it. in a second movement. Meaning and object fulfilmenr. however. Let me start by referring to one of the originary texts of deconstruction: the analysis of the relation between meaning and knowledge in Husser! (the 'formalist' and the 'intuitionist' sides of his approach).it is undecidable whether the latter will or will not be subordinated to knowledge. bUI it would be wrong to conclude from this that sense docs not wait "pon truth. It is these two sides that I shall discuss now. is very different from Husserl's.the deconstructive moment of Derrida's analysis . in saying that it is not. A speech could well be in conformity with its ellSCnce as speech when it is false. as a result. There is already sense in the first proposition. But. the telos which announces the fulfilment. /n truth. in a first movement. in that case . That is. Husserl. the genuine and true meaning is the will to say the truth. Moreover.from the point of view of meaning .EMANCIPATION(S) . 1 The important point .is that if 'meaning' and 'object intuition' are not related to each other in a teleological way. promised for 'later'. It is here that 'deconstruction' and 'hegemony' show their complementarity as the two sides of a single operation. This subtle shift incorporates the eidos into the telos. it nonetheless attains its entelechy when it is true. it only precedes truth as its anticipation. he emancipates meaning from knowledge. has already and beforehand opened up sense as a relation with the object.

because the two are closely linked in Husserl's text . if the contingent is an essential pan of the necessary . becomes a necessary part of the essence of that something.or.POWF. the deconstructive intervention shows. we would have merely asserted the synthetic character of the connection between two identities. This has an important consequence for our argument. which would be a new and contradictory form of essentialism given that each one of the monadic identities should be defined in and for itsclf (first extreme) and that.S-tJ-II. What the deconstructive move has shown is not the actual separation between meaning and knowledge. the unity of the latter results from this double requirement by which meaning has to be both subordinated to and differentiated from knowledge. the contingency of a connection. If only the dimension of contingency was underlined. therefore. That if having accidents is an essential feature of a substance .in fact. at the same time. each of them fully constituted in itself and not requiring anything outside itself for that full constitution. however. it belongs to the essence of something to have contingent connections and contingency. be monadic. It is the result of what Derrida calls an 'ethico-theoretical decision' on the part of Husserl.in which case the identities could not.NTATlON intervention that is contingent V. This leads us to the following conclusions. So. Now.S meaning. and second. In that case. We would be in the terrain of pure dispersion. that connection to something else is absolutely necessary for the constitution of any identity. because dispersion is. it requires a terrain that operates as ground or condition of possibility of that dispersion (second extreme) .] I would like to explore in some more detail this relation of mutual implication between deconstruction and hegemony. a contingent intervention taking place in an undecidable terrain is exactly what we have called a hegemonic intervention. first. the contingency of a connection. and this connection must be of a contingent nature. For the structure requires the 89 .this means that there is a necessary undecidability inscribed within any structure (by 'structure' I mean a complex identity constituted by a plurality of moments). We can see how the enlargement of the field of structural undecidability brought about by the deconstructive intervention has. after all. widened the terrain to be filled by the decision. a form of reilltion between objects.R AND REPRESf. So.

in Gramsci. in this sense. The 'structurality' of the structure. that only one of the possible contingent connections is actualized. So. is undecidable from within the structure. in the sense that they institute social relations in a primary sense. Husserl's ethico-theoretical decision must be brought into the picture as an essential element in order to establish the subordination of meaning to knowledge. not depending on any a priori social rationality. the fact that only one of the possible paths is followed. poses two problems. The first refers to the external instance that takes the decision. The two central features of a hegemonic intervention are. so far as it is the actualization of a series of contingent connections. there is a sustained effort to break with the identification of hegemonic agencies to objective social positions within the structure. The hegemonic articulations were from the beginning conceived as contingent.the latter conceived as a necessary and immanent effect of a fully constituted structure. For if deconstruction discovers the role of the decision out of the undecidability of the structure. with imprecise and constantly redefined boundaries. This is why in Derrida's analysis. and constituted through the contingent articulation of a plurality of social identities and relations. however. 4 This is exactly the point at which deconstruction and hegemony cross each other.EMANCIPATION(S) contingent connections as a necessary part of its identity. cannot find the source of these connections within itself. so far as the collective wills are conceived as unstable social agencies. An external source of a certain set of structural connections is what we will call force. This is why. This. Is this not to 90 . the contingent character of the hegemonic articulations and their constitutive character. The category of hegemony emerged in order to think about the political character of social relations in a theoretical arena that had seen the collapse of the classical Marxist conception of the 'dominant class' . but these connections . precarious and pragmatic constructions. hegemony as a theory of the decision taken in an undecidable terrain requires that the contingent character of the connections existing in that terrain is fully shown by deconstruction.precisely because they are contingent cannot be logically derived from any point within the structure. His notion of 'collective will' tries precisely to effect this break.

in fact. after all. For if the limits of the contingent are necessary. For reasons that will become apparent in a moment. these two problems must be tackled successively. then these limits arc: part of the contingent identity.e explicit the totality within which that separation takes place.to the stern world of structural constraints. that if the separation between the two levels has any validity at all. this question must be answered.POWER AND REPRESENTATION reintroduce a new essentialism via the subject? Is it not to replace an objective closure of the structure by a subjective dosure through the intervention of the agent? The second problem concerns the conditions of visibility of the contingency of the structure. and if there is such a totality. There is. 91 .'in the last instance' .and a secondary terrain on which the dispersed elements to be begemonized operate. For the obvious question arises: who is the subject and what is the terrain of its constitution? If we want to avoid facile deus ex machina solutions. more wild and unforeseeable than the tidy blueprints of our bien pensant Marxist. as in the order just presented. as we asserted earlier. we can maintain the notion of a fundamental agent of historical change without renouncing the multiform and rich variety of social life. Conversely. In this way. then we have to mak. it is obvious that the matter cannot be solved on the basis of simply asserting that the trick is done by a subject who rearticulates around its project the dispersed elements of a dislocated structure. the presence of that variation is absolutely necessary for the existence of the limits and in that case. of course. as the necessary limits are limits of the contingent variation. a far more complex relation between subject and structure than the one that this simplistic version of what is involved in a hegemonic articulation suggests. we can give free rein to the intriguing game of historical contingency knowing that we have the disciplinary means to bring them back . A first answer would be in terms of a wellmannered and 'enlightened' Marxism: there is a primary terrain on which social agencies are constituted . contingency cannot be true contingency. we are in the best of both worlds: we can assert the full role of agency in doing the articulating job without falling into any demodl subjectivism.the relations of production . contingency becomes necessary. Regarding the first point. The world is. What a beautiful and tidy little world! The drawback to the picture is.

and no need to hegemonize anything. contingency means externality of the articulating force vis-a-vis the articulated elements. how are we to account for an externality emerging within the structure in a way that is not the result of a positive differentiation of its constitutive levels? This can only happen if the structure is not fully reconciled with itself. Jet us mix the cards and start the game again. (fhis is.EMANCIPATlON(S) So. the matrix of all visibility and of all representation: without this distance no vision would be possible. The hegemonic subject cannot have a terrain of constitution different from the structure to which it belongs. The visibility of the contingent character of the content that closes the structure requires that such a content is seen as indifferent to the structural gap and.ect. as equivalent to other possible contents. Contingency is shown in this way: as the inherent distance of the structure from itself. This means that the relation between the concrete 92 . The terms of our problem are the following: hegemony means contingent articulation. These acts of identification can only be thought of as the result of the lack within the structure and have the permanent trace of that lack. who can only exist as a will transcending the structure. it is the conflict between various contents in their attempt to play this filling role that will make the contingency of the structure visible. Because this will has no place of constitution external to the structure but is the result of the failure of the structure to constitute itself. however. So.) This leads us to our second problem: what are the conditions for visibility of the contingency of the structure? Part of the question has actually been answered: in so far as no specific content is predetermined to fill the structural gap. But. and this externality cannot be thought of as an actual separation of levels within a fully constituted totality because that is no externality at all. by a radical undecidability that needs to be constantly superseded by acts of decision. in that sense. which is of greater importance for our argument. it can be formed only through acts of identification. it is because I do not have a full identity in the first place. in fact. These acts are preCisely what constitute the slIb. if it is inhabited by an original lack. the latter would be fully closed and there would be no contingency at all . But this leads to another consequence. If I need to identify with something. if the subject was a mere subject position within the structure.

and the more generalized the disorder. This second function is what. What is the condition of possibility of such an equivalence? Let us think of the well-known example of people who live in the neighbourhood of a waterfall. by which something essentially important is concealed. In that case. S Thus. the various and . it will be its own literal content.content of the latter. on the other.partially equivalent attempts to fill the structural gaps. on the other . Sut in that casc. Let us examine the matter carefully.literal . the concrete content that does the filling will he constitutively split: on the one hand. however. the (partially destructured) structure and. to introduce new restructuring discourses and practices. on the one hand. the need for an order becomes more pressing than the concrete content of the latter.so far as it fulfils a function that is contingent vis-a-vis that control . we would apparently be left with a simple duality by which we would have. in another text.that is precisely where the contingency lies.POWER AND REPRESENTATION (On tent and its role as filler of the gap within the structure is purely external . which we have introduced to characterize one of the dimensions of the relationship between the various discourses that try to fill the structural gap. I have called the general form of fullness.it will represent a general function of filling that is independent of any particular content. There is. ' We can now draw some general conclusions about this split. the general form of the fullness would be immanent to the structure and it would be impossible to differentiate it from the concrete . the greater will be the distance between these two dimensions and the more indifferent people will be to the concrete content of the political forms that bring things back to a certain normality. the split would be superseded because.as we have seen . Everything turns around the status of this category of 'equivalence'. They live hearing 93 . in that case. a sleight of hand in this way of presenting the matter. It is easy to see that were a total closure of the structure to be achieved. the complete answer 10 our second problem would be that the condition for visibility IIf the contingency of the structure is visibility of the gap between the general form of fullness and the concrete content that incarnates that form. It is only if the fullness is perceived as that which the structure lacks that general form and concrete content can be differentiated. In a situation of great disorder.

while I can be perfectly indifferent to the presence or absence of the noise of the fall. It is the lack of something that has thus acquired full presence. and I will argue that the general form of fullness shows itself through the discursive presence of floating signifiers that are constitutively so .that is. So they do nut actually hear the noise. But if for any reason the fall of the water suddenly stops one day. All these sounds will have a split identity: on the one hand they are specific noises.that is. First.that is qualitatively different from the other two Labour and the Tories. let us suppose that this silence is intermittently interrupted by noises of different origin that the fall of the water had made inaudible before. This example. must itself be signified. then the failure of this process of constitution.'unity of the British people' . The noises are only equivalent because there is silence. we have an entity . however. which is fairly common in political argument. cannot be heard: silence. they have the equivalent identity of breaking the silence. Now. Let us suppose a political discourse asserting that 'Labour is more capable than the Tory Party to ensure the unity of the British people'. they will start hearing that which. the presence of the lack within the structure. so that. misses one dimension of the communitarian lack: the latter is experienced as deprivation. This is why the social lack will be lived as disorder. In a proposition like this. and attempts to supersede it will exist via identifications. are there specific discursive forms of presence of the lack? Does this split between concrete content and general form of fullness have specific ways of showing itself? The answer is yes. it is not something actually existent but the name of an absent fullness. strictly speaking.EMANCIPATlON(S) all their lives the noise of the water falling . so that if the term unity meant a concrete entity at the same level 94 . But second. But if social relations are discursive relations. on the other. the sound is a permanent background of which they are normally unaware. as disorganization. but the silence is only audible as the lack of a former fullness. they are not the result of contingent ambiguities of meaning but of the need to signify the lack (the absent fullness within the structure). the kind of political unity that Labour and the Tories would bring about would be substantially different. this unity is something to be achieved. contrary to the other two entities. So the question is. symbolic relations that constitute themselves through processes of signification.

the proposition would be almost tautological. In another essay.h as 'the fascists succeeded in carrying out the revolution in which the communists failed' made any sense in Italy in the early 1920s. One is of course that the term political can appropriately be applied to a range of actions where the Liberal has never thought of applying it. And he concludes: If the Marxist is genuinely to persuade the Liberal to share or at least acknowledge some political insight. For Skinner. that unity is not fully exhausted by any of these alternative concrete contents.' I have shown that if an expression su(. In an article published some years ago.it would be equivalent to 'Labour is more capable than the Tories to ensure a Labour kind of unity of the British J)eople'. in which we would only have incom· mensurable propositions. 9 According to Hampshire the disagreement turns around the meaning of the term political: the Marxist gives to it an extensive application while liberal use i~ far more restricted. But the other. on the other hand. 'Unity' is a floating signifier because its signifieds are fixed only by the concrete contents provided by the antagonistic forces. without which the unity cannot exist. the various political forces provide the concrete content of the unity.POWER AND REPRESENTATION of the two political forces. but. given that it is not at all clear why incommensurable meanings attributed to a term would establish a criterion for preferring one to the other. much more than the meaning of the term is involved in the dispute. at the same time.' Quentin Skinner takes issue with the way Stuart Hampshire presents an imaginary dialogue between a liberal and a Marxist. however. but. this floating is not a purely wntingent and circumstantial one. it is because the signifier 'revolution' was an empty one. he needs in effect to make two points. So on the one hand. representing people's feeling that the old order coming from the Risorgimento was obsolete and that a radical refoundation of the Italian state was needed. which his application of the term challeng~ the Liberal to admit. because without it political argument would be impossible and political life would be a dialogue between the deaf. is that this is due not to a disagreement about 95 . The basic split mentioned earlier finds the form of its discursive presence through this production of empty signifiers representing the general form of fullness. But obviously the original proposition does not intend 10 say that. Let U5 take one last example.

on the other. \0 I agree with Skinner's two points. But with this we have advanced very little. but Skinner is also correct in maintaining that the dispute is not just about the meaning of the terms but about wider redescriptions. to apply a term to a new range of actions on the basis of an agreed sense requires. then the valid redescription will have a split identity: on the one hand.EMANCIPATlON(S) the meaning of the term but rather to the fact that the Liberal is a person of blinkered political sensitivity and awareness. not from one conviction to another. Skinner's two points are not really different from each other. but provides a description to a situation that had become increasingly undescribable in terms of the old paradigm.that is what we have called the general form of fullness. this could be for one of two reasons: either because of a logical mistake or. it will be its own content. the only way the process of conviction can operate is if it moves from lack of conviction to conviction. as Skinner himself points out. The only way out of this impasse is if the description B does not come to replace a full-fledged description A. Hampshire is correct in thinking that there is no possibility of choice between two separate worlds of thought. he or she has no reason whatsoever to move to another description B. For why would a redescription be accepted at all? If somebody is perfectly happy and well-installed in a description A. To convince the liberal ~hat the term political can he applied to a range of actions that it had not encompassed before is something that can be done. ll Now. So. This means that the function of a new language is to fill a gap. because of a 'blinkered political sensitivity and awareness'. it will embody the principle of describability as such . So. only if the Marxist were able to claim with some plausibility that he or she is employing the term in virtue of its agreed sense. Without this second order of 96 . as a sine qua non condition. If we agreed that the condition of a successful redescription is that it not only replaces an old one but also fills a gap opened in the general describability of a situation. but I would like to add something concerning the kind of dialogical process that the two operations involve. That is. a redescription of a given situation in terms that do away with blinkered political sensitivity. more plausibly. if the liberal docs not perceive that this agreed sense encompasses the kind of situation that the Marxist is referring to.

The previous developments provide some elements to address uur initial question: how can the historical horizon of modernity be transcended without falling into the trap of an exclusive alternative modernity/postmodernity in which the purely negative character of the contents of the second pole means that those of the first continue dominating unchallenged? How to go beyond a nihilism whose very logic reproduces precisely that which it wants to question? Our argument will be. For from neither the side of the representative nor that of the represented do the conditions of a perfect representation obtain . Representation first: what is involved in a process of representation? Essentially the fictio iuris that somebody is present in a place from which he or she is materially absent. without what we could call the hegemonization of the general form of describability by a concrete description. that makes it possible to go beyond both modernity and its nihilistic reverse. however. when the: act of representation is totally transparent in relation to that will. when accepted in all its radical consequences. and second. The representation is the process by which somebody else the representative . I shall discuss the first point in connection with the operation of the logics of representation and power in contemporary societies and shall move later to the question of the crisis of the basic horizon of modernity.and this is a result not of what is empirically attainable but of the very logic inherent in the 97 .'substitutes for' and at the same time 'embodies' the represented. This presupposes that the will is fully constituted and that the: role of the representative is exhausted in its function of intermediation. and no interaction between political discourses would be possible. first. that it is the structural undecidability discussed in the preceeding pages. that this going beyond modernity consists not in an abandonment of all its contents but rather in the 1055 of its dimension of horizon (a category that I must explain). This is. we would be in Hampshire's 'separate worlds of thought'. would be mer. Thus the opaqueness inherent in any substitution and embodiment must be reduced to a minimum. the: point at which the difficulties start. The conditions for a perfect representation. the body in which the incarnation takes place must be almost invisible. when the representation is a direct process of transmission of the will of the represented.POWI!R AND RI!PRESENTATION signification. it seems.

It is my view that the latter is always the case. he or she constructs and transforms that interest. the representative inscribes an interest in a complex reality different from tbat in which the interest was originally formulated and. But the representative is thus also transforming the identity of the represented. where the original identity of the represented was constituted. which is at the same time its condition of both possibility and impossibility. the identity of the represented is transformed and enlarged through the process of representation. So far as the represented is concerned. where many other things are taking place. So. opens an undecidable movement in two directions that is constitutive and irreducible. The crucial problem is to determine whether this supplement can simply be deduced from the place A. the role of the representative far exceed" the simple transmission of a preconstituted interest. and the relation of representation . The original gap in the identity of the represented. this is the result of the fact that his or her basic identity is constituted in a place A and that decisions that can affect this identity will be taken in a place B. which needed to be filled by a supplement contributed by the process of representation. Even in this case. the idea of having a perfect representation involves a 98 . if he or she needs to be represented at all. Let us take a very simple example. in doing so. The 'body' of the representative cannot be reduced for essential reasons. For the terrain on which this interest must be represented is that of national politics.is a supplement necessary for the constitution of that identity. an essential impurity in the process of representation. and even something apparently as simple as the protection of agricultural prices requires processes of negotiation and articulation with a whole series of forces and problems that far exceeds what is thinkable and deducible from place A.far from referring to full-fledged identity .EMANCIPATION(S) process of representation. jn which case. or if it is an entirely new addition. So. There is an opaqueness. in which the contribution of the representative to the constitution of the 'interest' to be represented is apparently minimal: a deputy representing a group of farmers whose overriding interest is maintaining the prices of agricultural products. A situation of perfect accountability and transmission in a transparent medium would not involve any representation at all. But in that case his or her identity is an incomplete identity.

that there is a proliferation of the points in society from which decisions affecting their lives will be taken. for instance. This means. Sut most versions of this criticism are ill-grounded. becomes a primllry terrain. The constitutive role of representation in the formation of the will. can operate as one on which the discourses of the representatives propose forms of articulation and unity between otherwise fragmented identities.POWEll AND REPRF. now becomes fully visible. many cases in which such will is ignored and many cases of systematic distortion. We live in societies in which we are increasingly less able to refer to a single or primary level as the one on which the basic identity of social agents is constituted.but this does not mean that representation IS entirely impossible. The problem. with loosely integrated and unstable identities. As a result. The level of national polities. as I stated. of course. is that representation is the name of an undecidable game that organizes a variety of mcial relations but whose operations cannot be fixed in a rationally graspable and ultimately univocal mechanism. which was partly concealed in more stable societies. To see the danger only in the possibility that the will of a constituency is ignored or betrayed by its representative is a one-sided view. there is a gap in the identity of the represented that requires the process of representation to fill it. But what this criticism ignores is the role of the representative in the constitution of such a will. We have seen what is involved in a situation in which the discourse of the representative must fill the gap in the identity 99 . There are. rather. instead. This means that we cannot escape the framework of the representative processes. and that democratic alternatives must be constructed that multiply the points from and around which representation operates rather than attempt to limit its scope and area of operation. on the one hand. and on the other. it is simply not true that the reduction of the social areas in which representative mechanisms operate will necessarily lead to more democratically managed societies.SENTATION logical impossibility . If. that social agents are becoming more and more 'multiple selves'. the need to 'fiJI in the gaps' is no longer a 'supplement' to be added to a basic area of constitution of the identity of the agent but. Representation has been criticized very often in democratic theory for the difficulties it poses for an accountability that is considered essential in a democratic society.

one in which nothing is definitely acquired and there is always the possibility of challenge. In a situation in which concrete content and general form of fullness cannot be differentiated . There is democracy only if there is the recognition of the positive value of a dislocated identity. then we can easily see that the danger for democracy lies in the closure of these groups around fully-fledged identities that can only reinforce their most reactionary tendencies and create the conditions for a permanent confrontation with other groups. The situation is ratber the reverse.IiMANCIPATION(S) of the represented: that dis<. the impossiblity of an ultimate grounding. The transparency of a fully-acquired identity will be the automatic source of all decisions.that can create the bases for a democratic deve1opmenr. But in that case. But if there is a gap in the identity of social actors. of both being a particular filler and symbolizing the filling function.that is in a closed universe in which no representation is required .ourse will have the dual role. to which I referred before. of the resurgence of nationalism and all kinds of ethnic identities in present-day Eastern Europe. the integration of these nations into wider ensembles . This is the world of the Homeric heroes. If we think. We can see that this is a degrounding that escapes the perverse and sterile modernity/nihilism dichotomy: it confronts us not 100 . there will be a competition between the various contents to incarnate the very form of fullness. It is. for instance. because the latter is not ne~essarily assodated with any content.such as the EU . of course. the filling of tbis gap will necessarily generate the split between filling content and filling function and. rather. and that requires the split from oneself.which involves. the condition of a democratic society is constitutive incompletion . through that developing gap. But this means that the gap between the two terms of this duality will necessarily increase in present-day societies and that the role of the 'representatives' will be ever more central and constitutive.no democratic competition is possible. on the contrary. from the possibility of having democratically managed societies? I do not think so. the need to be represenred outside oneself to be a proper self. A democratic society is not one in which the 'best' content dominates unchallenged but. Is that really so bad? Are we increasingly distancing ourselves. the term hybridiutio" aptly proposed by Homi Bhabha and other writers is fully applicable here.

and. there will be a plurality of powers . But in that case. it would have ceased to be emancipation. Could it not be said. If all emancipation must constitute itself as power. a plurality of contingent and partial emancipations. as a result. We are in the Machiavellian situation of a plurality of struggles within the social. It is only if the overthrowing of power had been the expression of a higher rationality that had transformed it into a necessary step that emancipation would he rational through and through. be purely appariential. it must itself be power. If emancipation is to be possible as a real event .its radical break from power . We are in the same situation if we refer to power. What is displaced is the logically impossible idea of a radical dichotomy that makes 101 . because what our conclusion asserts is that power is the very condition of emancipation. not in an act of radical rdoundation that would become the source of the social. consequently. the relation between power and that which emancipates itself from it must be one of radical exteriority . the nihilistic result that emancipation is impossible and that only power remains. This presents us with the terms of an antinomian situation. But as we have seen. however. as we have seen. because full transparency and rationality cannot logically proceed from the opaqueness inherent in a contingent act of power. But if power is real. for the rationalistic conception of society on which the notion of emancipation is based.POWER AND REPRESENTATION with the alternative presence/absence of a ground but with the unending search for something that has to give a positive value to its very impossibility. power must. The consequence is not.that is if it is to have an ontological status and not be just the lived content of the false consciousness of people then power must also be real. and emancipation would not be truly so.is what makes emancipation impossible because it becomes indistinguishable from power. The traditional notion of an emancipated society is that of a fully rational society from which power has been entirely eliminated. however. if emancipation eliminates power through a contingent process of struggle. that once emancipation has destroyed power it ceases to be power? No. So the very condition of emancipation .otherwise there would be a rational link leading from power to emancipation. The difficulty lies in the fact that a relation of radical exteriority between two forces is a contingent relation and.

But if there is no ground of the social. communist society for Marxism .EMANCIPATION(S) emancipation synonymous with the elimination of power. as a result. What we are witnessing in our contemporary experience is the end of modernity as a horizon.and that. any historical intervention will be the work of limited historical agents. however. is more than compensated 102 . This leads me to my last point.these are the names not of objects within a certain horizon but of the horizon itself. Reason for the Enlightenment. created the possibility of a radically political conception of society. Radical transformation in the first place: if this transformation is conceived as taking place at the level of a rationally graspable ground of the social. It is in this respect that a universal class can be only a limitless historical actor who abolishes the subject/object duality. and our only possible freedom is to be conscious of necessity.far from leading to a generalized implosion of the social and a retreat from participation in public spheres . the basic features of the modern conception of politics that I pointed out at the beginning of my text are firmly rooted in the main dimensions of modernity conceived as a fundamental horizon. the end of history. But. We call horizon that which establishes. has . progress for positivism. social relations would be entirely transparent. This limitation. A rationality transcending us fully determines what is to happen. then the transformation is the work of reason and not of ourselves. but not necessarily of the particular objectives and demands that have constituted its contents. the limits and the terrain of constitution of any possible object . In this sense. and freedom would be a redundant term. as in the case of the impurity inherent in the process of representation. Let us go briefly to our five features and see in what way the 'postmodern' turn helps to liberate politics from its limiting modern ties. For if a total elimination of power were attainable. for the first time. I could assert that the crisis of that horizon. which has been pointed out from many quarters. We would reach. difference would become impossible. the dimension of power that is ineradicable and constitutive of all social identity should be seen not as a burden but as the source of a new historical optimism. effectively. Now. at one and the same time.instead. makes impossible any 'beyond'. generalizing the main conclusions of my argument.

far from being confined to a superstructure. this movement will not necessarily involve the collapse of all the objects and values contained within the horizon of modernity but. If radical contingency has occupied the terrain of the ground. total repr~sentability is impossible. As a result. but totality now becomes the name of a horizon and no longer of a ground. instead. The category of 'social totality' certainly cannot be abandoned because in so far as all social action takes place in an overdetermined terrain. If politics is the ensemble of the decisions taken in an undecidable terrain . This explains why the second and fourth features that we found in the modern approach to politics are also displaced. The second conclusion is that if the movement from modernity to postmodernity takes place at the level of their intellectual and social horizons. The universal values of the Enlightenment. power. this overcoming can be only the pragmatic process of the construction of highly overdetermined social identities. instead. occupies the role of what we can call an ontology of the social. not by its operation at the level of fundamental ground. Three conclusions follow from the preceding developments. to the extent that the notion of a limitless historical actor has been abandoned. to be presented as pragmatic social constructions and not as expressions of a 103 . it 'totalizes' social relations to some extent. would be more or less adequate pictures of the world. any social meaning will be a social construction and not an intellectual reflection of what things 'in themselves' are. But in that case. the notion of radical transformation is displaced: its radical character is given by the overdetermination of partial changes that it involves. social actors try to overcome their limitations but. which. do not need to be abandoned but need. becomes constitutive of social objectivity.POWER AND REPRESENTATION for by a new freedom that social agents win as they become the creators of their own world.then the social can consist only in the sedimented forms of a power that ha& blurred the traces of its own contingency.that is a terrain in which power is constitutive . The first is that politics. What about representability? It is clear that if there is no ultimate rational ground of the social. far from being merely appariential. we could speak of 'partial' representations. The consequence is that in this 'war of interpretations'. within their limits. will involve their reformulation from a different perspective. And. for instance. for the same reason.

nti" Slt. This is. Hegemony aNd Socialist Strlltegy..worlts of PoWIT. london. Chicago. M..). London. 9. On the basis of this argument I have tried to establish a conn. 10. Finally. Evanston. Notes 1. University of Chicago Press 1978. 7. 68-72.g and Co"tnt: QI/. London. Speech lind Pb. London. ch. 6. to some extent. R. the previous reflections show. Venn 1~85. position between Plato and Hobbes in ibid. from the contingency of social relations. Clegg.. in J.r 11M His Critics. I think. Thol/ght aNd Action. Sage 1~8~. 4. Chano and Windus 1959. Stuart Hampshire. S.a". the direction into which the construction of a postmodern social imaginary should move: to indicate the positive communitarian values that follow from the limitation of historical agents. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. Jacques Derrida. 126. 11. 5. 2.. Polity Press 1988. Northwestern Uuiversity Pre". Skinner. Verso 1990. Revolutio" of Our Tim. 3. p. p. pp. 'Language and Social Change'. 8. and from those political arrangements through which society organizes the management of its own impossibility. the direction in which Derrida is moving in his el5ay 'Force and Signification'.. 97. in Writi"g a"d Differellct.. London. Quentin Skinner. 125-6.EMANCIPATION(S) necessary requirement of reason. 2. See chapter 7. pp. !l8. p. In the fint elSay of New Reflections 0" th.ometl4."". 104 . 'Language and Social Changc'. Ibid. Tully (ed. l'ram.

though 1 certainly agree with most of Rorty's philosophical arguments and positions. has drawn the main lines of a social and political arrangement that he has called a 'liberal utopia'. on the basis of it. Contingency. In this essay J will try to show that. he has presented an excellent picrure of the intellectual transformation of the West during the last two centuries and. to establish such a connection. his notion of 'liberal utopia' presents a series of shortcomings which can only be supcnieded if the liberal features of Rony's utopia are reinscribed in the wider framework of what we have called 'radical democracy'. It is rather that anti-foundationalism. Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge University Press 1989).7 Community and its Paradoxes: Richard Rorty's 'Liberal Utopia' Anti-foundationalism has so far produced a variety of intellectual and cultural effects. together with a plurality of other narratives and cultural interventions. It is one of the merits of Richard Rorty's work to have attempted. has created the intellectual climate in which certain social and political arrangements are thinkable. In his book.' . It is not that Rorty tries to present his (post-) philosophical approach as a theoretical grounding for his political proposal .an attempt (which Rorty rejects) that would simply 'reoccupy' with an anti-foundationalist discourse the terrain of the lost foundation. vigorously and persuasively. but few of them have referred to the terrain of politics.

The specifically political argument about the contingency of the community is preceded by two chapters on 'the contingency of language' and 'the contingency of selfhood' which constitute its background. and are content to treat the demands of self-creation and of human solidarity as equally valid. What actually lies behind these dim intuitions of the Romantic period is the increasing realization that there is no intrinsic nature of the real. Rorty points out that two hundred years ago two main changes took place in the intellectual life of Europe: the increasing realization that truth is fabricated rather than found . but that the real will look different depending on the languages with which it is described. and that there is not a meta-language or neutral language which will allow us to decide 106 . yet for ever incommensurable.someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance. These changes joined forces and progressively acquired cultural hegemony. l The milieu in which these objectives are attainable is that of a postmetaphysical culture.and the Romantic revolurion which led to a vision of art as self-creation rather than as imitation of reality.iberal ironists are people who include among these ungroundable desires their own hope that suffering will be diminished.EMANCIPATlON(S) I Let us summarize. At the beginning of the book he asserts his primary thesis in the following terms: this book tries to show how things look if we drop the demand for a theory which unifies the public and private. that the humiliation of human beings by other human beings may cease. German idealism was a first attempt at drawing the intellectual consequences of this transformation. in the first place. I borrow my definition of 'liberal' from Judith Shklar.which made possible the utopian politics of reshaping social relations . the main points of Rony's argument. It sketches a figure whom I call the 'liberal ironist'. l. I use 'ironist' to name the sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs and desires . who says that liberals arc the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing we do. but ultimately failed as a result of confusing the idea that nothing has an internal nature to be represented with the very different one that the spatio-temporal world is a product of the human mind.

•. with its rejection of the idea that language constitutes a medium of either representation or expression. He showed the way in which all the features of our conscience can be traced back to the contingency of our upbringing: He de-universalizes the moral sense. thinks the imponant boundary to cross is not the one separating time from atemporal truth but rather the one which divides the old from the new. He thinks a human life triumphant just in so far as it escapes inherited descriptions of the contingencies of its el'istcnce and finds new descriptions. Usually it is. For Niettche it is only the poet who fully perceives the contingency of self: Western tradition thinks of a human life as a triumph just in 50 far as it breaks out of the world of time. a product as much of time and chance as of political or aesthetic consciousness. simply drops the old conception of language and embarks upon a new operation of redescription through Donald Davidson's philosophy of language. faithful to his method. making it as idiosyncratic as the poet's inventions.• But it is Freud who represents the most important step forward in the process of de-divinization of the self. This is the difference between the will to trutb and the will to self-overcoming. J At this point..che.COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXI!S between competing first-order languages. and its similarity with the Wittgensteinian conception of alternative vocabularies as alternative tools. appearance and idiosyncratic opinion into another world . by contrast. He thus let us see the moral consciousness as historically conditioned. Niet'l. Rorty. Philosophical argument does not proceed through an internal deconstruction of a thesis presented in a certain vocabulary but rather through the presentation of a competing vocabulary: Interesting philosophy is rarely an examination of the pros and cons of a thesis.the world of enduring truth. Here the main heroes are Nietzche and (especially) Freud. Rorty gives selfhood a turn. implicitly or explicitly. I 107 . It is the difference between thinking of redemption as malting contact with something larger and more enduring than oneself and redemption as Niet'l. a conrest between an entrenched vocabulary which has become a nuisance and a half·formed new vocabulary which vaguely promises great things. After having shown the contingency of language. Mary Hesse's 'metaphoric redescriptions' and Harold Bloom's 'strong poet' are also quoted in this connection.che describes it: 'recreating all "it was" into a "thus I wilJed it.

because in this case. He starts by discarding two notions of absolute validity: that which identifies as absolutely valid with what is valid to everyone and anyone . leaves open the question about the 108 . The thesis that he tries to defend in the following two chapters is that. to restrict the opposition between rational and irrational forms of persuasion to the confines of a language game. moral and political immaturity. is what distinguishes a civilized man from a barbarian'. before the psychoanalytic exploration. where it is possible to distinguish reasons of belief from causes for belief which are not rational. which should be dealt with in more detail because it concerns the main topic of this essay. why stand for them unflinchingly?" Thus. and that which identifies it with those statements which can be justified to all those who are not corrupted . than Nietzche. 'To realize the relative validity of one's convictions and yet stand for them unflinchingly. the relativism debate is opened in its classical terms. because the former shows that the conformist bourgeois is only dull on the surface..7lt is these assertions that Michael Sandel is brought into the picture to oppose: 'If one's convictions are only relatively valid. Rorty starts by clearing out of his way the possible charges of relativism and irrationalism. This involves him in an effort to reformulate the democratic ideal in a non-rationalist and non-universalist way. while the latter relegates 'the vast majority of humanity to the status of dying animals'.' Finally we reach the contingency of the community.because this presupposes a division of human nature (divine/animal) which is ultimately incompatible with liberalism. Rorty steps into this debate by trying to make a non-issue of relativism. Freud is more useful. although this vocabulary was essential to liberal democracy in its initial stages. however. The only alternative is. 'To demand more than this is perhaps a deep and incurable metaphysical need: but to allow it to determine one's practice is a symptom of an equally deep. today it has become an impediment to its further progress and consolidation. He quotes Schum peter as saying. and he includes Isaiah Berlin's comment on this passage. but the vocabulary in which the former was initially presented is that of Enlightenment rationalism. This. according to Rorty. and more dangerous.EMANCIPATION(S) In spite of their many points in common. there would be no interesting statement which would be absolutely valid. as a consequence. Rorty finds an initial difficulty here: he is attached to both liberal democracy and anti-foundationaHsm.

encounters between old and new vocabularies.ns out to be. Davidson .' This question of the relationship between foundationalism (rationalism) and liberalism is treated by Rorty through a convincing critique of Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. If Davidson and Hesse are right. as Scripture teaches. it looks as if all important shifts in paradigms. as there is no neutral ground upon which to decide between them. Truth is great and will prevail.whom Rorty quotes at this point . For the attempt to supply such foundations presupposes a natural order of topics and arguments which is prior co. but he does not accept their 109 . Truth will always win in a free and open encounter. anything goes. This is the point at which Rorty concludes that the usefulness of a description in terms of the opposition rational/irrational vanishes. But this would imply that all great intellectual movements such as Christianity. That is wby a liberal society is badly served by an attempt to supply it with 'philosophical foundations'. as Milton suggests. This open minded ness should not be fostered because. it is the very notion of irrationality that has to be questioned. metaphorics or vocabularies would have causes but not reasons. Galilean science or the Enlightenment should be considered to have irrational origins. for instance.COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES rationality of the shifts of vocabularies and. with respect to words as opposed to deeds. but this is precisely the kind of society which is strictly incompatible with liberalism: It is central to the idea of a liberal society that. penuasion as opposed to force. and overrides the results of. The consequence is that the question of validity is essentially open aDd conversational. will appear irrational from the: point of view of the desire itself).notes that once the notion of rationality has been restricted to internal coherence. Only a society in which a system of taboos and a rigid delimitation of the order of subjects has been imposed and accepted by everybody will escape the conversational nature of validity. He accepts their vision that the forces put into movement by the Enlightenment have undermined the Enlightenment's own convictions. metaphors are causes and not reasons for changes in beliefs but this does not make them 'irrational'. A Liberal society is one which is content to cal/ 'true' whateller thll upshot of such encounters t". we will find ourselves calling 'irrational' many things we appreciate (the decision to repress a certain desire. if the use of the term is not also restricted. not because. It should be fostered for its own sake.

$ cancelled out. With Habermas the situation is the opposite. who are central historical actors in Rorty's account. According to Rorty the vocabularies which presided over the initiation of a historical process or intellectual movement are never adopted by them when they reach maturity. has the morality it has. liberalism is at present intellectually and morally bankrupt. as a result of this. Foucault is unwilling to consider the advantages and improvements of liberal societies because he is much more concerned with the ways in which these societies still present this process of self-creation. It has no purpose except to make life easier for poets and revolutionaries while seeing to it that they make life harder for others only by words. there is an exclusive emphasis on self-realization. 'we liberals' is enough. IG Rorty brings the figure of the liberal ironist into focus by comparing it with Foucault (an ironist who is not liberal) and with Habermas (a liberal who is not ironist). in his view. It is a society whose hero is the strong poet and the revolutionary because it recognizes that it is what it ii. play the role of 'protesting in the name of society itself against those aspects of the society which are unfaithful to its own self-image'.EMANCIPATlON(S) conclusions that. For him. no goal except a willingness to see how such encounters go and to abide by the outcome. A liberal society is one whose ideals can be fulfilled by persuasion rather than force.detd/y liberal society as one in which the difference . The poet and the utopian revolutionary. not because it approximates the will of God or the nature of man but because certain poets and revolutionaries of the past spoke as they did. by the free and open encounters of present linguistic and other practices with suggestions for new practices. They have even. speaks the language it does. and not deeds. selfenjoyment. Rotty's main disagreement with Foucault is that. In the case of Foucault. imposed increased controls over their members which were unknown in pre-modem societies. in many senses. it is not necessary to create a new 'we'. it is essential that a democratic society'S 110 . But one can define the . by reform rather than revolution. But this is to say that an ideal liberal society is one which has no purpose except freedom. And he adds in a crucial passage: This substitution (of the protest of alienated people by the revolutionary and the poet) seems to cancel out the difference between the revolutionary and the refurmer. and in his view ironic thinking is far more appropriate to a fully-fledged liberal society than rationalism.

Itonists have been essentially elitist and have not contributed excessively to the improvement of the community. On top of that. The same objection was made in the past about the disastrous social effects which would derive from the masses' loss of religious beliefs. at the same time. The first is that the abandonment of the metaphysical grounding of liberal societies will deprive them of a social glue which is indispensable for the continuation of free institutions.to be a Ijberal ironist and. though the metaphysicians also engage in redescriptions. a new faith to which they can adhere. But here Rorty says that the primary difficulty is that people are demanding from ironist philosophers something that philosophy cannot give: answers to questions such as 'Why not be cruel?' or 'Why be kind?' The expectation that a theoretical answer can be given is simply the result of a metaphysical lag. not to have some metaphysical beliefs about the nature of human beings. In particular. He tries to maintain . So. The second is that it is not possible . novels and ethnographies which sensitize one to the pain of those who do not speak our language must do the job which demonstration of a common human nature was supposed to do. they have the advantage over ironists in that they give to people what claims to be true in nature. we should consider for our purposes twO possible objections to Rotty's liberal utopia which he tries to answer. it is the disciplines which specialize in thick description of the private and idiosyncratic which are assigned a job.from a psychological point of view . Finally. The redescription in which they engage frequently leads to attack on the most cherished values of people and to their humiliation. 1I 111 . Rony's answer to the first objection is that society is not pulled together by any philosophical grounding but by common vocabularies and common hopes.even if through a radical recasting . and the prophesy proved to be wrong.COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES self-image has an element of universalism which is to be obtained through what he calls a process of domination-free communication. Rofty's disagreement with Foucault is essentially political while with Habermas it is purely philosophical.a bridge with the rationalistic foundation of the Enlightenment. In the post-philosophical era it is the narratives which perform the function of creating those values: Within an ironist culture.

in one sense the distinction . Rorty quite correctly limits the domain of reason to the interior of any particular language game. Of course.for example. However. as a consequence. I also endorse his defence of the liberal democratic framework. And this argument can be generalized. And I do not think that it is a matter of detail or incompletion but an internal inconsistency of his. 'ideal society' Let us start with his characterization of liberal society as a type of social arrangement in which persuasion substitutes for force. but the difficulty subsists. Let us take Davidson's example of somebody who wants to reform herself and decides to suppress a desire . decisions within them have to be made which are undecidable by the system of rules which define the structure of the game.that is force. I certainly subscribe to his rejection of any metaphysical grounding of the social order and with his critique of Habermas. I think that there is in his 'liberal utopia' something which simply does not work. Finally. Let us consider various possible situations: Situation A I am confronted with the need to choose between several possible 112 . and that the whole distinction between rational and irrational is of little use. because language games are not absolutely closed universes and. an alcoholic who decides to stop drinking.s clear: in persuasion there is an element of consensus while in force there is not. I agree with Rotty/Davidson that recognition of this fact does not justify describing the decision as irrational. But the question which remains is: to what eXtent in persuasion/consensus is there not an ingredient of force? What is it to persuade? Except in the extreme case of proving something to somebody in an algorithmic way. we are engaged in an operation which involves making somebody change her opinion without any ultimate rational foundation.EMANCIPATJON(S) n I am in agreement with a great deal of Rorty's analysis. From the point of view of the desire there is only repression . But what I want to point out is something different: it is that a decision to be made under those conditions is going to inevitably include an element of force. My main difficulty is that I cannot establish between the two as sharp a distinction as Rorty does. especially with his pragmatism and with the account that he gives of what is happening in contemporary theory.

the di{flrend can only be solved by force. or through a system of rules accepted by both pans to settle the difflrend (a vote for instance). he has been converted to my belief. but this still presents various difficulties. The first is that it is simply not possible to oppose force and persuasion given that persuasion is one form of force. force. what I want to do is not to develop his belief but to cancel it out of existence. The second problem is tbat the element of physical force cannot be eliminated even in the freest of societies. And strikes.try to achieve their goals not only through 113 . Persuasion. I doubt that Rorty would advocate persuasion as an adequate method of dealing with a rapist. Mter having evaluated the situation. Let us suppose that I succeed in my efforts. Clearly the kind of society that Rorty prefers is that in which the third solution to situation C is excluded. As the belief I want to inculcate in him is not the Hegelian truth of the opposed belief that he actually has. Situation C There are two possible courses of action and two groups of people are split about which to follow. Of course this element of force will be actualized in many different ways: either by one group persuading the other (and we are back to situation B). I conclude that there is no obvious candidate for my decision but I nevertheless make one choice.which are perfectly legitimate actions in a free society . The discussion is thus displaced to an analysis of the way in which force is organized in society and of tbe types of force that are acceptable in a liberal society. Again. As the two courses of action are equally possible within the structure of the situation. All I have done is to convince my friend that be becomes my ally in killing his belief. or by the ultima ratio. consequently.COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES courses of action. It is clear that in this case I have repressed the alternative courses of action. or student sit-ins . But the important point to see is that the element of force is going to be present in all cases. Situation B I want to persuade somebody to change his opinion. structurally involves force. and the structure of the language game that I am playing is indifferent to them. But the element of force is always tbere. In that case.

The process of reform is a process of struggles. not a process of quiet piecemeal engineering. There are. Even the events which in the past have been called revolutions were only the overdetermination of a multiplicity of reforms which cover vast aspects of society but by no means the totality of them. Now.new language games . many intermediate cases. Could we. It could be either an absolutely unidimensional society. In my view. I am trying to relocate revolution within reform. or one in which the decisions would be made by an army of social engineers with the backing of the rest of the population. think what the workers' identity would have been without the active struggles with which they were involved during the first stages of industrial societies? Certainly many of the workers' abilities which will be essential to the process of democratization of Western societies would not have developed. the problem is to displace the terrain which made the distinction possible. (Which does not mean that many ugly things were not committed in the attempt to perform this impossible operation.) But if. 114 . in which 100 per cent of the population would agree with any single reform. Thus.are created. the radical democratic 'utopia' that I would like to counterpose to Rorty's liberal one does not preclude antagonisms and social division but. For the same reasons I tend to deal with the distinction between reform and revolution in a different way from Rorty. considers them as constitutive of the social.EMANCIPATION(S) persuasion but also by forcing their antagonist to surrender to violence. on the other hand. A world in which reform takes place without violence is not a world in which I would like to live. not because my social aims are limited but simply because I do not believe that society has such a thing as a foundation. from this point of view I am a reformist. which was to give a new foundation to the social order. For the classical ideal of Revolution does not involve only the dimension of violence that Rorty underlines but also the idea that this violence had to be directed towards a very specific end. Any reform involves changing the status quo and in most cases this will hurt existing interests. No doubt Rorty would agree with me on this point. for instance. And there is nothing here to regret. on the one hand. And the same. of course. of course. The idea of turning the whole society upside-down does not make any sense. I am very much in favour of reintroducing the dimension of violence within reform. on the connary. It is in this active process of struggle that human abilities . can be said of any other social force.

the antagonism. inside it. And this is not the result of any particular persistence of a form of domination but of the very fact that society. in that case.something with which I could not agree more. as Rofty knows well. but is pragmatically constructed from many starting points. The reason for this is that antagonism results from the fact that the social is not a plurality of effects radiating from a pre-given centre.that this would create a climate of intimidation which could affect freedom of expression. because there is an ontological possibility of clashes and 115 . No.in which case. The paradoxical corollary of this conclusion is that the existence of violence and antagonisms is the very condition of a free society. But. not about the elimination of power. But it is important to stress that the balance is not going to be the result of having found a point at which both demands harmonize with each other . Each pole of the conflict will have a certain power and will exercise a certain violence over the other pole. Roft}' has based his argument on certain types of polarization . is not structured as a jigsaw puzzle and that. in that context. Where should the line be drawn between what is pornographic and what is artistic expression. for instance? Obviously a balance has to be established between antagonistic demands. But some of these groups have gone so far as to ask for legislation permitting any woman to take to court the publishers of the pornographic material or advertisement. ineradicable.which I also share . Various feminist groups have argued that pornography offends women . of baddies. Let us take the case of recent debates in America concerning pornography. will subsist under the form of what could be called a 'war of position'. the antagonism of the two demands is.persuasion/fnrce. we would be back to the jigsaw puzzle theory.something very different from a rational harmonization . it is impossible to avoid the collision of different demands and language games with each other. This has raised the objection . as a consequence. in my view. But it is precisely because of this.COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES So. and the balance consists of limiting the effects of both so that a sort of social equilibrium . Any theory about power in a democratic society has to be a theory about the forms of power which are compatible with democracy. reform/violence-revolution which are not only simplistic but also inconsistent because the role of the goodies presupposes the presence. though socially regulated and controlled.can be reached.

This is a first paradox of a free community: that which constitutes its condition of impossibility (violence) constitutes at the same time its condition of possibility. The adoption of a neW paradigm in Kuhnian terms is a good example of what I mean.that is a society from which violence and antagonisms have been entirely eliminated. Now. A totally free society and a totally determined society would be. Let us suppose that we move to the opposite hypothesis. Particular forms of oppression can be eliminated. force. And for reasons that 1 have explained earlier . It is the point in which the 'reasons' for a belief and the 'causes' of the belief constitute an inseparable whole.this transition is not an indifferent and painless abandonment but involves repression of other possibilities. we can only enjoy the Spinozian freedom of being conscious of necessity. In this society. Persuasion is the terrain of what Derrida would have called a 'hymen'. III Persuasion is an essentially impure notion. One can speak of the force of persuasion but one would never say that one had been 'persuaded' of the correctness of the Pythagorean theorem. without any need for persuasion. as I have argued with Chantal MouUe in Hegemony and Socialist Struggle. This is obviously more clearly visible when we refer to the politico-ideological field.EMANCIPATION(S) unevenness.that is. it is the result of a struggle. the one contained in the classical notion of emancipation .and which are also clearly present in some way in Kuhn's account . there is a name in our political tradition which 116 . A multitude of small reasons/causes ranging from theoretical difficulties to technical advances in the tools of scientific research overdetermine each other in determining the transition from normal to revolutionary science. But one cannot say either that persuasion is simply reducible to force. The latter is simply shown. I think that the reason why Rorty is not entirely aware of these antinomies is the result of his insufficient theorization of what is involved in the notion of 'persuasion' and of the total opposition he has established between 'persuasion' and 'force'. that we can speak of freedom. as I have argued elsewhere. exactly the same. but freedom only exists in so far as the achievement of a total freedom is an ever receding horizon. One cannot persuade without persuasion's other .

On the other hand. I refer to our book for all aspects concerning the genealogy of the concept of hegemony from the Russian social-democrats to Gramsci. That is that History (with a capital 'H') was not a valid object of discourse because it did not correspond to any a priori unified object. those relations. the identity of all elements is contingent upon its relations with the others. four. nine. three. What had been so far presented as a necessary consequence of an endogenous development determined by the contradiction between development of the productive forces and existing relations of production. the problem to be discussed is the internal logic of the hegemonic operation which underlies the process of persuasion. eleven. Let us start with the Wittgensteinian example of the rule: governing the sequence of a numerical series.' etcetera. but if.COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES refers to this peculiar operation called persuasion which is only constituted through its inclusion. of its violent opposite: this name is 'hegemony'. two. I say 'one. twO. there is an important dialectic here to detect between necessity and contingency. 117 . four' and ask a friend to continue it: the spontaneous answer would be to say 'five.and the decision to suppress it. six. became.neither teleological. escalating from Lenin to Gramsci. for its structural characteristics and for its forms of theoretical articulation within the project of a radical democracy. three. nor dia1ectical or causal. etcetera. We will approach it by bringing to the analysis various devices which are thinkable as a result of the transformations which have taken place in contemporary theory. its relations with all the others would be merely contingent. But I can say that the series I have in mind is not that but 'one. The most important one is that 'hegemony' is the discursive terrain in which foundationalism began disintegrating in the history of Marxism. The only thing we had was the discontinuous succession of hegemonic blocs which was not governed by any rationally graspable logic . As in the relation between the desire that I want to suppress . Now. twelve. Here I want only to underline some aspects which are relevant to the present discussion. if the identity is going to be maintained.in Davidson's example . If each of the elements intervening in a hegemonic bloc had an identity of its own. within itself. on the contrary. ten. the result of a contingent process of political articulation in an open ensemble whose elements had purely relational identities. seven. there is no internal connection at all. are absolutely necessary.

In the confused Italian situation of the early 19205. but because an explosive social situation existed which was both unthinkable and unmanageable within the framework of the traditiona1 political system. the loser is the one who finds the whole business so complicated that he is unable to imagine a new rule.as if. the rule governing the series is essentially threatened . and it will change with the formulation of a new rule. Let us suppose that we are speaking of a game in which player A starts a series and player B has to continue it the way be wants. What happens is. etcetera. when it is again A's turn he has to invent a new rule which takes as its starting point the series as it has been left by B and so on. radically contingent. as Lewis Carroll would put it. that new elements enter into the picture and the old rule is unable to hegemonize them . it is given only by its structural position within the rule that is at that moment hegemonizing the series. it could only have done 118 . And if liberalism had wanted which it did not . not because it is liked in itself.to present itself as an alternative hegemonic discourse articulating the new elements. Things never happen that way. many liberals accepted Fascism not because they particularly liked it. to use. and Fascism appeared the onl" coherent discourse which could deal with the new chaotic events. rather.it is. but just because it is a rule. an apparently chaotic series of numbers is introduced into our series and the challenge is to find a coherent rule which will he compatible with the new state of affairs.EMANCI'ATION(S) My friend thinks that he has now understood and proceeds accordingly. (c) that the identity of each of the individual figures within the series is entirely relational. on who is in command. Very frequently the new rule is accepted. for instance. In the end. providing that there is some visible regularity. but I can still say that the series is not what I had in mind. (b) that as an indefinite number of players can come to participate in the game. The corollaries which follow from this example are the following: (a> that there is no such thing as the ultimate rule: it can always be subverted. Rorty's expression. Everything depends. because it introduces a principle of coherence and intelligibility in an apparent chaos. Now. I think this is important because the process of persuasion is frequently described as if somebody who has a belief A is presented with a belief B and the suggestion is of moving from one to the other. Let us slightly change the example now. The rule governing the series can be indefinitely changed.

that our 'we' has reached a point which does not require any further transformation.at which deconstruction becomes central for a theory of politics. spoken or written (in the current sense of this opposition). This is beause. it is down to the bottom a hegemonic operation. Let us go back. Between the liberalism of 1905 and the liberalism of 1922 there are only 'family resemblances'. put between quotation marks. this duplication or duplicity. engendering an infinitude of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable. in a small or large unit. it is that (normaVabnormal) without which a mark could not even have a function called 'normal'. This is the reason why I do not agree with Rorty's assertion that we can be jNst liberals. What would a mark be that could not be cited? Or one whose origins would not get lost along the way?12 Now.~hrag.). to Rotty's text. Liberalism can only exist as a hegemonic attempt in this process of articulation .as a result of the radically relational character of all identity.COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES so by transforming itself. linguistic or not linguistic. with this distinction in mind. of course. but on the contrary that there are only contexts without any centre of absolute anchorage (a. that the fact that one of the possibilities rather than the othets has been chosen is a purely contingent fact? If the choice is not determined by the structure. The reason for my disagreement is exactly the opposite: Rorty sees as necessarily united many things which. This does not imply that the mark is valid outside of a context. an essentially political decision.. In his words: Every sign. Even if we want to continue being liberals we will always have to be something more. The fitst aspect of his liberal utopia with which ( would take issue is his sharp division between the public and the private. are radially discontinuous and held together only through 119 . this iterability of the mark is neither an accident nor an anomaly. can be cited. Here I think that Rorty has not been historicist enough. that I want to return to some 'grand theory' which would embrace both. Derrida has shown the essential vulnerability of all context. what is this saying if not that all context is essentially vulnerable and open. for me. the latter had to be anti-fascist and this involved dealing with a new series of problems that radically transformed the discursive field. This is also the point . This citationality. among other reasons. in so doing it can break with every given context.moving from Wittgenstein to Derrida . It is not.

But this medium is.to minimal funcrions and a private sphere in which individual agents seek tbeir own ends. of any 'we'. What we should have is a multiple 'civic republicanism'. of any struggle which begins as a result of the existence of social nonns. of course. So.wiU be no less a communitarian and public space than the one in which political parties intervene and in which elections are fought. what about the private? It is a residual category. of course. regulations. but the space which these struggles create . incompatible with the existence of only one public space. in which their achievement does not require the constitution of any struggling community. a myth. my idea of a democratic society is different in central respects from Rorty's liberal utopia.ATION(S) contingent articulations.ItMANCI. This recognition is based on the essential discontinuity existing between those social spaces. But the condition for a democratic society is that these public spaces have to be plural: a democratic society is. prejudices.remember the motto 'the personal is political' . So. a certain democratic common sense.as for all good liberals . Is the realm of personal self-realization really a private realm? It would be so if that self-realization took place in a neutral medium in which individuals could seek unimpeded the fulfilment of their own aims. given that the public spaces have to be constituted in order to achieve individual aims. the classical terms of the problem are displaced: it is no longer a question of preventing a public space from encroaching upon that of private individuals. as we see. The feminist struggles tending to change those rules wiIJ constitute a collective 'we' different from the 'we' of abstract pubtic citizenship. etcetera that frustrate the self-realization of an individual. Rorty's utopia consists of a public space limited . I see the strength of the democratic sociery in the multiplication of these public spaces and its condition in the recognition of their plurality and autonomy. We see here a second paradox of communiry: it has to be essentially unachievable to become pragmatically possible. limited to those aspects of our activiry in which out objectives are not interfered with by any structural social barrier. of course. A woman searching for her self-realization will find obstacles in the fonn of male oriented rules which will limit her penon41 aspirations and possibilities. As is clear. And the same can be said. and the essential character of these discontinuities malc:es possible its exact opposite: the contingenthegemonic articulation among them of what could be called a global sense of communiry. This system can certainly be reformed and 120 .

COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES

improved, but one has the impression that such improvements are of the type of improving a machine by designing a better model, not the result of struggles. Antagonism and violence do not play either a positive or negative role, simply because they are entirely absent from the picture. For me, a radically demo· cratic society is one in which a plurality of public spaces, constituted around specific issues and demands, and strictly autonomous of each other, instils in its members a civic sense which is a central ingredient of their identity as individuals. Despite the plurality of these spaces, or, rather, as a consequence of it, a diffuse democratic culture is created, which gives the community its specific identity. Within this community, the liberal institutions - parliament, elections, divisions of power - are maintained, but these are one public space, not the public space. Not only is antagonism not excluded from a democratic society, it is the very condition of its institution. For Rotty the three words 'bourgeoiS liberal democracy' constitute an indivisible whole; for me there is between them only a contingent articulation. As a socialist I am prepared to fight against capitalism for the hegemony of liberal institutions and, as a believer in the latter, I am prepared to do my best to make them compatible with the whole field of democratic public spaces, but I see this compatibility as a hegemonic construction, not as something granted from the beginning. I think that a great deal of twentieth-century history can be explained by dislocations in the aniculation of the three components just mentioned. Liberal institutions (let alone capitalism) have fared badly in Third World countries and of the attempt to articulate socialism and democracy (if attempt it can be called) in the countries of the Eastern bloc, the record is simply appalling. Though my preference is for a liberal·democratic-socialist society, it is clear to me that if I am forced under given circumstances to choose one out of the three, my preference will always be for democracy. (For instance, if in a Third World country I have to choose between, on the one hand, a corrupt and repressive liberal regime, in which elections are a farce manipulated by clientelistic gangs, with no participation of the masses; and on the other, a nationalist military regime which tends to social reform and the self-organization of the masse!$, my preference will be for the latter. All my experience shows that, while in some cases the second type of regime can lead - with many difficulties - to an increasing liberalization of 121

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its institutions, the opposite process does not take place in the first case: it is just a blind alley.)

IV
Finally, I want to address the two possible objections to the argument that Rorty raises (see above), and his answers to them. Regarding the first objection, I think that Rorty is entirely correct and I have nothing to add. But in the case of the second objection, I feci that Rorty's answer is unnecessarily defensive and that a much better argument can be made. I would formulate it this way. The question is whether the abandonment of universalism undermines the foundation of a democratic society. My answer is yes, I grant tbe whole argument. Without a universalism of sorts - the idea of human rights, for instance - a truly democratic society is impossible. But in or-der to assert this, it is not at all necessary to muddle through the Enlightenment's rationalism or Habermas's 'domination-free communication'. It is enough to recognize that democracy needs universalism while asserting, at the same time, that universalism is one of the vocabularies, of the language games, which was constructed at some point by social agents and it has become a more and more central part of our values and our culture. It is a contingent historical product. It originated in religious discourse - all men are equal before God - was brought down to this world by the Enlightenment, and has been generalized to wider and wider social relations by the democratic revolution of the last two centuries. A historicist recasting of universalism has, I would think, two main political advantages over its metaphysical version, and these, far from weakening it, help to reinforce and to radicalize it. The first is that it has a liberating effect: human beings will begin seeing themselves more and more as the exclusive authors of their world. The historicity of being will become more apparent. If people think that God or nature have made the world as it is, they will tend to consider thetr fate inevitable. But if the being of the world which they inhabit is only the result of the contingent discourses and vocabularies that constitute it, they will tolerate their fate with less patience and will stand a better chance of becoming political 'strong poets'. The second advantage is that the perception of the contingent character of universalist values 122

COMMUNITY AND ITS PARADOXES

will make us all more conscious of the dangers which threaten them and of their possible extinction. If we happen to believe in those value" the consdousness of their historicity will not make us more indifferent to them but, on the contrary, will make us more responsible citizens, more ready to engage in their defence. Historicism, in this way, helps those who believe in those values. As for those who do not believe in them, no rationalist argument will ever have the slightest effect. This leads me to a last point. This double effect - increasing freeing of human beings through a more assertive image of their capacities, increasing social responsibility through the conscience of the historicity of being - is the most important possibility, a radically political possibility, that contemporary thought is opening to us. The metaphysical discourse of the West is coming to an end, and philosophy in its twilight has performed, through the great names of the century, a last service for us: the deconstruction of its own terrain and the creation of the conditions for its own impossibility. Let us think, for instance, of Derrida's undecidables. Once undecidability has reached the ground itself, once the organization of a certain camp is governed by a hegemonic decision - hegemonic because it is not objectively determined, because different decisions were also possible - the realm of philosophy comes to an end and the realm of politics begins. This realm will be inhabited by a different type of discourse, by discourses such as Ratty's 'narratives', which tend to construct the world on the grounds of a radical undecidability. But I do not like the name 'ironist' - which evokes all kinds of playful images - for this political strong poet. On the contrary, someone who is confronted with Auschwitz and has the moral strength to admit the contingency of her own beliefs, instead of seeking refuge in religious or rationalistic myths is, I think, a profoundly heroic and tragic figure. This will be a hero of a new type who has still not been entirely created by our culture, but one whose creation is absolutely necessary if our time is going to live up to its most radical and exhilarating possibilities.

123

moc'lIti~ Poli.EMANCIPATION(S) Notes 1. 'Signature Event Context'. p. pp.. 9. 3. I. Ibid. 35. pp.rll'. 30. p. London. H. 124 .ia. Verso 1985. 6. 11. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Northwestern University PreIS 1988. Ibid. p. 7. 60-1.. xv. Ibid. unello Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. p. Cambridge. Ibid. Ric:hard Ron)" COIItillp'"Y. p. 29. Cambridge University PreIS 1989. in Limited 'IK. Ibid. 12. 4. IrollYlllld Solid4rity. 10. 12.. 2. Evanston. p. Ibid. p. 94. 5. 9. p. Jacques Derrida. TOUItIrds II RJjdielll o. 46.nnony IIlId Socilliisl S. 51-1.".

63. 88 Clea. A. 18-9 Huntington. 109.. T.24.117 Deleuze.. 124 Nieasche. M . K. 122 Hamacher.• 9 Laclau. G. 59 Benjamin. Onep y Ga$$Cl. 118 Hobbes. 64.. 80 Mcintyre. J. 124 Lefon. 76 Gramsci...90. w.m)....90 Joyce. 32. 107.104 Horkheimcr. G. S.. 63.. 108 Norval. D.. E.S.40 Kuhn. J 1. 65 HusserI. 61. 107.112. 11 1.37. 70.29. 4. J.35.5-7. 109 Pascal. 119. H. F... S. lo. 8R. E. 62. 54-6.. 24 Eriullena. 104 .F. 100 Bloom. 9.D.• 9 Kanl. 19. w. 88. 13. G. 60 Machi~vcl1i.~. J.82 Berlin.25. T. J5 Hampshire. 107 Carroll.21. G. 84 Marx..... 35. Marx..I. C.. 46.. 7. 116 Lacan...83. 10... U.104.. M. 6].. M. ix Plato. 61. w.. 85 lieidesger.117 Habermas. 35 Derrida.. 62. 104 Cornell. 9. 44. N. J 08 Bernstein.. I I. 43. I.70. 70. 58 Pieterse. 104.. 83 Cusanllli. 31.1.. 70. 4. J.Index Adorno.. 64. 124 Dcscanes. 117 luucs. 18. S. C. M. D. 63-4. J. 110. 89. 107.. 107. A. S. T. 104. 123. S8 Lenin.W. D.85 Millon. 69 Foucault. 116. 90. 81. 84. S•• 9.5 Leibnitz.66-83 (pamm). F. J. 89.46. 30. 66.R. B•• S9 Perlin.• 109 Howanh... 61 Hes!C. E. J. J. 77 61.24. 80 Bhabha.. 47.• 18-9.112. 116. 110.. G. 109 Baudrillard. 16. 109 Mouffe. A.. 6.• 66-HJ (JMu.. 53 Davidson.. III Freud. 62.I.108 FukLJyama. J.N. 104 Hesel.. 35 82.. V. N . viii. 83 Critch Icy. H.. 18. R..

ix Rorry. 21 Tully. S. B.. 105-24 (p. 33 Zac.x Rajchman.. 9. R.. J.Iui".) Sandel. L. J... 3S ~ick. G.EMANCIPATION(S) Plelchancw. M.. 3 S Scbumpercr. ix Wittgensrcin.. J.. 104 Sorel. 63 . 95--6.. 108 Shldar. G. B. M.. J. 119 WolIsronecrafr. X.. 31. 108 Sauuurc. 1_. de. 80 PoKer. Q..J. 50. F..M.81.82 Spinou... 104 Weeb. 37 Sayyid. 106 Skinner.

Norval ON THE SHORES OF POLITICS Jacques Rtmt:im Translated by Liz Heron . Citizenship. HEGEMONY AND SOCIALIST STRATEGY Towards a Radical Democratic Politics Emesto Laclau a"d Chantal Mouffe DIMENSIONS OF RADICAL DEMOCRACY Pluralism.Populism Emesto Lacla .Phronesis titles from Verso ISLAMS AND MODERNITIES Aziz AI-Avneh THE MAICING OF POUTICAL IDENTITIES Edited by E~lIo LaclaN NEW REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION OF OUR TIME Emesto Laclau POLmcs AND IDEOLOGY IN MARXIST THEORY Capilalism .Fascism . Community Edited by Chantal MONffe THE RETURN OF THE POLITICAL Chantal MONffe DECONSTRUCTING APARTHEID DISCOURSE Aletta J..

MICHEL FOUCAULT (dnealosy as Critique Rudi Ylsker Translated by Chris Turner FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO Enjoyment as a Political Factor SJavoj Zitek THE Sl}BLlME OBJECT OF IDEOLOGY Slavoj Ziiek .

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