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on the limits of political philosophy


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INTRODUCTION VIOLENCE AND POLITICS: QUESTIONS Non-violence is, in one sense, the worst kind of violence. —Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics”

IN ONE SENSE, NONVIOLENCE IS INDEED THE WORST FORM of violence.1 But in one sense only, and the whole question lies there, at least under certain circumstances that force us to think about it. That is what I wanted to do, by way of a contribution to this conference, in the form of an attempt to account for the political ambiguousness of the figures of violence and, symmetrically, the ambiguousness of politics when it is confronted with violence. I might as well admit right away, therefore, that the whole of this contribution will be placed under the sign of an aporia from which I do not think I can extricate myself. My justification is that I do not believe I am alone, and that I am doing my best to respond in this way to emergencies whose injunction we all feel. About violence in its “individual” and “collective” forms (one of the insistent questions before us is precisely whether that distinction can be maintained), its “old” (perhaps even archaic) or “new” (not just modern but also “postmodern”) forms, we should surely be able to say something other than that it is unbearable and we are against it—or again, in Thomas Hobbes’s famous formula about the “state of nature,” taken up by Immanuel Kant, that “we must leave it.” But it must be frankly admitted


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that we do not know, or no longer believe we know, how to “leave it.” And we sometimes find ourselves suspecting that, by a new ruse of history less favorable than the old one, this inability of ours is becoming a condition and form of the reproduction and extension of violence. War or racism, aggression or repression, domination or insecurity, sudden explosion or latent threat, violence and all the different kinds of violence may today be, at least in part, precisely the consequence of this nonknowledge. Such is the first aporia or quandary. It is quite sufficient to destabilize our understanding of politics and our confidence in its powers, for the presumption that violence can be eliminated is a constitutive element of our idea of politics. Or, if you prefer, it is constitutive of our idea that politics can be instituted. This can be put still another way: on the horizon of politics, as a condition of possibility and a telos of all its practices, is the political [du politique ]. In the absence of a pure and simple elimination of violence, we sometime fall back on the idea of a limitation of its field and effects, notably in the twofold form of its confinement to the sphere of the a-social and illegal, which we suppose to be extrapolitical (Michel Foucault challenges this way of representing things), and also in the form of an interruption of the endless spiral of acts of violence (the figures of the talion and vendetta). The idea of a political limitation of violence, however, already contains the essence of the idea that it can be eliminated, since it contains the idea that violence is restricted, known, and under control. Politics, insofar as it thus presupposes and presumes the political (the autonomous order of the political), is, to begin with, the negation or sublation of violence. If, however, violence cannot be sublated, or, still worse, if the means and forms of sublating it appear not contingently but essentially as the means and forms of pursuing it—if there exists, consequently, an intrinsic perversity of the political—then politics becomes desperate and a cause for despair. And we know, or think we do, where despairing of politics can lead. Closely bound up with this first quandary is a second. Politics would not present itself as a sublation if violence as we usually conceive it were not at once collectivizing and distributive—if we did not proceed, in other words, by first lumping together all forms of violence, however heterogeneous, in a single category in order to then redistribute them in accordance with hierarchies and distinctions whose effect is to exacerbate or minimize them, identify them as tolerable or intolerable, and so on.2 Thus, the “rape of


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conscience by political propaganda” (or religious propaganda, and so on) is under certain circumstances not violence unless certain limits are crossed. Thus war is the worst form of violence, yet it must be accepted under certain conditions (because peace is not the supreme value, or at least not an unconditional value). Thus simple acknowledgment of the reality of this or that act of “private” violence is or is not a political issue—and so on. The political would not be the empire of the nomos if the field of violence were not the empire of evil, both conceivable as such and rationally restricted. 3 Yet this unifying-distributive figure of violence, which is on the order of an anticipation of its negation, breaks down as soon as we are confronted with the equivocality, dissemination, and ambiguousness of the forms of violence. Equivocality because we cannot divide violence up between the “public” and “private” spheres without leaving a remainder. If violence consists in crossing limits, if the general formula for violence is “the boundaries— or barriers, protections, prohibitions, limits of the ‘self,’ and so on—have been violated,” then we cannot assign violence to a definite sphere with any precision. Yet identity, both individual and collective, depends on the existence of such spheres. Equivocality, again, because we cannot clearly assign individuals and groups, once and for all, to the categories of those who suffer and those who perpetrate violence. To all appearances, it is mainly those who suffer it who are also likely to perpetrate it: here, too, “boundaries”— if only intellectual and moral boundaries—are crossed once we can no longer content ourselves with calling this an “unfortunate consequence,” due to the pressure of circumstances or human frailty. As for the fact that those who perpetrate violence sooner or later end up suffering it, it is less often the case; but it makes it easier to see the effect of “immanent justice.” Dissemination of violence because, like the “weapons of mass destruction” the official monopoly on which engenders irresistible calls for their universal redistribution, owing to errors of calculation or apparently chance accidents (this is, indeed, one of the clearest links between violence and institution), the simple act of drawing a borderline to control or reduce violence seems to have the immediate effect of perpetuating if not exacerbating it. Ambiguousness, finally, not so much because of the often-posed question of the “complicity” between victim and perpetrator, or the originary uncertainty of the interrelationship between activity and passivity, but


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because we are unable to assign all the phenomena of “nonviolence” and “violence” once and for all to the poles of positivity and negativity.4 This is so, notably, because we cannot assign unequivocal ethical value to the notions of identity and alterity, as Derrida reminds us in his commentary on Levinas.5 It will be objected that these have always been the characteristics of violence and, in that sense, that it gets us no further to recall them here. But it might also be supposed not that they are new but that there are conjunctures in which they abruptly become more palpable because they are no longer held in reserve or relegated to some margin of philosophy but are rather, in some sort, exhibited at every turn of daily life and “normality.” Thus it would seem—I shall come back to this in my conclusion—that the picture of the conditions of violence yields to that of a condition of violence that, to repeat, “we do not know how to leave” (not even by way of— or, doubtless, especially not by way of—asceticism or the contemplation of “this world” or “this history”). Taking one more step, I would like to recall that politics has never ceased to go round in the circle of the “double” negation of violence, which, precisely, refers to the duality of the (determinate) conditions of this or that act of violence and the condition of (universal) violence. This negation is “double” not in the sense of a “negation of the negation” but in the sense of the two forms of practical negation that would seem to be elicited by the reality of violence and its inherent power of dissemination. They may be called “nonviolence” and “counterviolence.” It would not be hard to show that each of these “strategies” or “logics” (in the sense in which we are today told about the “logic of war”)—one striving to create the external and internal conditions for making violence impossible, the other striving to free us from violence by turning it against those who perpetrate it—is permanently sustained by the shortcomings or failures of the other (“peaceful struggle” and “armed struggle,” or, still more profoundly, struggle and contract, consensus, or friendship). It would also not be hard to show that this circle pertains to both the revolutionary perspective and the perspective of a state-centered politics (notably that of the institution or functioning of a “constitutional state of law”), or, if one prefers, that it pertains to the insurgent and constitutional perspective alike, which, at least in the modern period, imagine the political in the same way, so that each constantly finds


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itself playing the role of the other negation for the other, the “bad negation” (in the sense in which there is a “bad infinity”). It is well known how the state of law, for its part, resolves the tension between its objective, which is to create as broad a sphere as possible in which violence is “outlawed,” and the need originally and periodically to employ the counterviolence of overpowering repression in order to attain this objective. It proceeds by delegation, concentrating all the means of violence, which become “legitimate” as a result, in the hands of an at least presumptively rational and impartial central authority. It proceeds, in other words, by mobilizing an antinomic logic that calls for the identification of opposites—peace and war, law and transgression—on condition that this identification be made at a unique, transcendent point. No one has said this better than Hobbes, and no one has understood better than Max Weber how unmistakably it comes down to making politics the metaphysical stage on which is constantly performed, against a backdrop of indecision, the tragedy of the interrelationship between human practice and “evil”: malice and malediction. The same tension, however, marks the revolutionary conception of politics as well, generating antinomies of the same order (at least on a first approximation). For revolutionary politics is commanded, above all, by the twofold thesis that has it, first, that it is necessary to found politics anew in order to deliver it from the reign of violence (the violence of economic alienation and that of the state regarded as an instrument of the ruling classes or as Leviathan); and, second, that this goal can be reached only by eliminating, by means of counterviolence (whether it is brief and tumultuous or, on the contrary, “quiet,” controlled, and deferred), the forces, groups, and apparatuses that perpetrate violence against the people. The eschatological dimension is no less conspicuous here than in the discourse of the state of law. Or is it merely its echo? We need to pause here to consider, however briefly, the relations between the idea of revolution and the ideas of resistance and insurgency. This will also provide an occasion to say a word about the way this aporia has been centrally perceived in the Marxist tradition and Marx himself, but finally put aside. The notion of resistance is crucial to all conceptions of revolution in the modern period (that is, ever since “revolution” has ceased to mean simply


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bringing down a government or periodically replacing one constitution with another) because it evokes the irreducible experience in which a specific form of violence is revealed as such (whether exploitation, inequality, discrimination, or all three at once) and, inseparably, thereby reveals the universal “right” that that violence denies. Without the resistance of the oppressed to oppression—all for one and one for all or, better, everyone for everyone else, transindividually—in other words, without the fact that the effort to put an end to a situation of oppression has always already commenced with oppression itself, there would not only be no revolutionary politics.6 There would also be no “politics of the rights of man,” in the sense in which such a notion is reducible to neither moral invocation nor the legal proclamation of “man” and his “rights” but combines—since the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, if not before—an ethics of the “universal right to politics” with the endeavor collectively to forge the conditions of individual freedom. Nevertheless, although the notion of resistance is crucial, it is not sufficient. Alongside it we must put that of insurgency, even of permanent insurgency, in the broadest possible sense. The politics of the rights of man is the work of those who, in all possible forms, rise up against inequality and oppression; but it also posits, in practice, that there can be no equality without freedom and the other way around. It follows that no one can be emancipated by others but, as well, that no one can emancipate herself without others (I have proposed to call this the proposition of equaliberty). For precisely this reason, the condition for maintaining the “rights of man” at the political level is, in every historical conjuncture, that they be reconquered or extended beyond every instituted “limitation.”7 Here, however, the question arises as to how closely the idea of the revolutionary program is tied to a specific denegation of the self-destructive effects of “revolutionary violence” in the guise of “counterviolence” directed in spontaneous or organized fashion against the violence of the established order.8 Denegation here means either that revolutionary violence, as an expression of the insurgent resistance and (re)conquest of the right to politics by “those at the bottom,” would be by nature exempt from ambivalence or that it contains within itself (precisely because it does not aspire, at least as such, to consolidating a form of domination or even simply an established order) the means of its self-control, its self-moderation. In the one case, as


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in the other, violence would not be a “Gift,”* a poison circulating between the camps that each gives to the other, but an attribute of just one of them that can be provisionally turned against it, pending its eventual neutralization or exhaustion. It is, however, hard to miss the inadequacy of that presentation of things today. When we compare it to that of state-centered politics, we see, to be sure, that revolutionary politics sheds the hypocrisy that consists in holding up the established order (notably the legally instituted order simply because the legal form is that of a consensus or a rationality) as the very reality of nonviolence when it is quite often only the common framework for a host of general or particular, open or veiled forms of violence. We also see, however, that revolutionary politics deprives itself, in advance, of a realistic possibility authorized by the idea of a “monopoly on the legitimate use of force” [violence]: that of considering the state (that “bludgeon,” as Lenin puts it) and power in general as instruments dangerous for the very people who wield and institute them precisely because they are nothing other, at the limit, than crystallized or stabilized violence and, in the final analysis, the relative stabilization, by groups and individuals in a given society, of their own violence—in the form of a distantiation and unequal distribution, a more or less permanent appropriation of the means of violence by some of them.* What is Marx’s position on this issue? It seems to me to be highly paradoxical in that there are, in Marx, elements that reinforce the denegation just discussed or even make it absolute, and others that open up the possibility of theoretically overcoming the cycle of nonviolence and counterviolence—in other words, of concretizing still another type of “negation” (which I shall call in a moment antiviolence). Moreover, all these contradictory elements are directly bound up with what is and will remain the strong point in the Marxian theoretization of politics, namely, the radical short circuit that it operates between politics and what is at least apparently politics’ “other”: the economy. To put it differently, they are directly bound up with a radical refusal to confer any “autonomy” whatsoever on

*Translator’s note: “Gift,” which means “poison” in German, has the same etymology as the English word “gift,” a fact that Jacques Derrida exploits in his Given Time I, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 12–13; Donner le Temps (Paris: Galilée, 1991), 25.


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politics vis-à-vis its economic conditions and effects: not, of course—at least not in Marx himself—in order to “depoliticize politics,” that is, to make it something merely technical or naturalize it in the element of the economy, but quite the opposite: in order to materialize it, to invest it with the real materiality and “power” of economic antagonisms while fully politicizing the play of “economic contradictions.”9 In other words, the difficulty I want to discuss here is lodged not in the theory’s margins or contingent applications but at the very center of its conception of historicity. It may be summed up by way of two possible interpretations of a pair of famous formulas in Capital, one of which describes violence [Gewalt ] as the “midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”10 The other postulates (about state intervention in the regulation of the working-day and, more generally, the limitation of exploitation) that “between equal rights, force (or violence: Gewalt) decides.”11 That (revolutionary) violence is the means necessary for, and the path leading to, the destruction of an “old society,” the task of those whom society oppresses and exploits, is not just a tautological way of expressing the idea of overthrow or the logic of the “seizure of power” (which Foucault would typically have associated with what he calls the “repressive hypothesis”). It is also the result of an analysis of the conditions of violence (the economic violence of exploitation and the extra-economic violence based on exploitation and, reciprocally, required to reproduce it) that does not content itself either with “isolating” those conditions in linear fashion as causes or with ascribing them to an eternal curse but, rather, inscribes them in a structure.12 However, because the economic and political structure in question is that of the mode of production itself—in other words, because it refers us to the way all social practices depend on the “human” activity par excellence, labor (by which, according to The German Ideology, “men produce the conditions of their own existence” and thus “begin to define themselves”)—the result of carrying out such a structural analysis against the backdrop of an anthropology is always double. In Marx, more than in any other revolutionary theorist, there emerges a problematic that is no longer that of the “all or nothing” (that is, of nonviolence or counterviolence) but, tendentially at least, one of antiviolence. Let us say that this problematic rises a step higher—but no more—in order to identify and anticipate in a


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historical structure of “production” of social relations the determinate conditions of the historical repetition of violence. At the same time, however, the anthropological thesis of essence (the alienation of essence) inexorably drives Marxism toward new absolutes, especially a new indeterminacy of history and nature—perhaps nothing but the two metaphysical names for the idea of structure between which the “materialist theory of history” never ceases to waver. The result is, in some sort, a “transcendental deduction” of revolutionary politics as the violent abolition of violence as such.13 We might say that the denegation of the self-destructive effects of revolutionary violence and their transposition into the terms of an antinomic eschatology are, paradoxically, all the more insistent the more determinate the conditions of oppressive violence are and the more sharply they are distinguished from the fantasy of the oppressors’ malign will or innate iniquity. Similar conclusions may be drawn from Marx’s other formula, the one that sums up the way “violence” and “law” are intertwined in the conditions of exploitation. Their close association, dating from the beginnings of “primitive accumulation” and the process of expropriating the producers (in “mud and blood,” in Rosa Luxemburg’s phrase), has been perpetuated throughout the political history of capital and its sway over social relations in the guise of the “industrial reserve army” (mass unemployment) and the “despotism of the factory system,” the two poles, as it were—the Charybdis and Scylla—of the proletarian condition. Marx never thought that capitalist domination was a functional process; more exactly, he shows throughout his work that capitalism simultaneously develops economic functionality and the excess of repression over the functional demands of the economy as one of the very conditions of its form: an excess of superexploitation over exploitation, without which there would be no exploitation; an excess of the class struggle (beginning with the dominant class’s preventive or repressive struggle14) over the state itself, without which there would be no state; an excess of “physical” violence over law, without which there would be no law; but also an excess of law, which codifies and legitimizes violence over “naked” violence.15 One possible consequence of such an analysis is that the “revolutionary class struggle” may appear as a liberation of/from violence (in every sense), considered as the latent “truth” of the forms of law themselves. At the limit, we again have the antinomic


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representation of a passage to extremes in which the supersession or sublation of violence as such would be the more imminent the more thinly veiled the form in which violence appears. An analysis of this kind can, however, also lead to the idea that all politics, revolutionary politics included, is a combination or endless “negotiation” of strategies of force and law: law versus law, violence versus violence, law versus violence, and violence versus law (an idea that, be it noted in passing, is rather Leninist because it is rather Machiavellian). From that standpoint, the necessary resort to counterviolence and even its effectiveness depend on its capacity to incorporate a moment (moral and intellectual but, above all, political) of antiviolence.16 That Marx’s thought never really got beyond this oscillation, the consequence of a double movement of a “critique of politics” and a “critique of the economy” (or of the theorization of a generalized economy that links property and labor to the state and class struggle) comprising the most profound aspect of his conception of historicity, and that, as a result, Marxists after Marx have been paralyzed by it (very few have proved capable of simply continuing to treat the multiplicity of the forms of revolutionary politics as an open question; as everyone knows, they have tended once again to promote this or that “strategy” as absolute depending on circumstances and organizational logics)—all this makes it necessary, today more than ever, to think politics (or the “question of politics”) in Marx’s categories but also against them. The generalized economy is at least one of the names under which the constitutive impurity of politics has found recognition, that heteronomy of the political that rules out straightforward “sublation” of oppression or inequality by the state, law, the will and the rights of man. It is also one of the names under which the utopia of the end of history, as the end of the cycle of violence and counterviolence, has once again been conceived as the foundation or ultimate reference point for a “true” politics. This aporia is the more interesting in that it may be compared and contrasted with other in some respects antithetical ways of thinking the heteronomy of politics in which we have to do with not a generalized economy but symbolic violence or a generalized ideology. Think of Spinoza, for example: his analysis of the problem of the freedom of expression and religious conflicts in the Tractatus theologico-politicus follows a trajectory that, quite like Marx’s, ultimately anchors emancipation in resistance. I


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once tried to show that the politics of emancipation in Spinoza, as a politics of the “internal transformation of religion,” is based on the idea that there exists an “incompressible minimum” (the term is Gilles Deleuze’s) for the expression of theological-political opinions.17 This is because a “private opinion”—in the sense of a “private language”—is a contradiction in terms: thought’s condition of possibility is always its communication, and no man has it in his power (because “man thinks”) not to talk with others or, above all, not to tell them what he thinks. A man is the less capable of holding his tongue the more powerful the prohibition imposed on him. It follows that no act of repression or censorship (even, indeed especially, if it scrupulously respects people’s right to their “private opinions,” as in Hobbes) can ever “settle” the question of the existence of ideological conflict in a human society. It further follows that, from the movement of the communication of thoughts (the transformation of thoughts into “common notions”) that has already begun with the formation and formulation of any particular thought, there proceeds without pause or interruption (thanks to an irrepressible conatus) an “antiviolent” movement of trans-individual political negation and affirmation. Individual resistance to censorship is thus, by definition, collective and accordingly contributes to a new foundation of politics. This by no means implies, however, that all collective opinions are good or democratic in and of themselves, and it must for that very reason be admitted that the question of the institution of social peace or of a space for the “unrestricted exchange” of opinions and beliefs is bound to remain indefinitely open, at least to the extent that it targets a community’s stability and legitimacy. The antinomy designated by the famous slogan “no freedom for the enemies of freedom!” remains insurmountable.18 Thus, exactly like Marx, albeit on a completely different terrain, and at antipodes from Hobbes, Spinoza shows that the “state of nature” lives on in the “state of society,” or, rather, that there is no state of nature strictly speaking, and that the history of society or the field of politics is that of an excess or irreducible remainder of violence (if only latent violence) over the institutional, legal, or strategic forms for reducing and eliminating it. Simply, the “natural-historical” melange or structure involved here is one of not production and exploitation but belief and communication: it is what might be called the field of the imaginarization of the symbolic in which violence arises because the communitarian scheme still figures as the


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condition and form of communication and of the political itself, projecting itself onto the figure of the normality and abnormality of bodies, behaviors, values, “cultures” and “affiliations” marked with the signs of identity and difference. Derrida’s “shibboleth” is, in my opinion, an admirable statement and analysis of this imaginarization of the symbolic.19 In a word, there is a remarkable parallelism between the structure analyzed by Marx, which forms the background for his thesis that violence plays an irreducible role in emancipation, and the one analyzed by Spinoza, which forms the background for his thesis that violence makes its return in the institution of collectivity. Paradoxically, these two theses are at the same time utterly incompatible. It would be easy to conclude that Marx is basically unaware of the “other scene” of politics, the scene of communitarian affiliation, and therefore unaware of symbolic violence as well (although he names it or has bequeathed us with the word ideology, one of the aptest names for it); and to conclude that Spinoza, for his part, basically ignores the irreducible nature of economic antagonism (doubtless because, at the economic level, where conatus can perhaps be conceived of as a “productive force,” Spinoza is basically an optimist and a utilitarian). It is even tempting to conclude that each of them ignores the “absent cause” whose effects he perceives in the guise of an excess of violence over political rationality (whether it is a question of the rationality of production or of communication). Hence, the condition (the “reason for the effects,” in Pascalian terms) that continues to escape each of them is in a certain way the one that the other designates for him: the economy as the condition of ideology; ideology as the condition of the economy. In fact, if the economy has clearly been (and still is) the other of politics (and, consequently, the very locus of its reality, its “causes” and “effects”), ideology never stops manifesting itself as the other of this other and, therefore, the very reality (or “matter”) of this reality. The opposite, however, is no less true. The specific “locus” of the emergence of violence in its intersection with history, where politics finds itself both summoned to “intervene” and at a loss “to settle the question once and for all,” thus appears to be nothing more nor less than the point at which the economy encounters and “shifts into” ideology, and vice versa. However, this locus is only a line of flight, although it incessantly assumes concrete form, in the suffering and protest of bodies, for example.20 I shall here risk the remark that the one (purely nega-


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tive) thing that strikes me as intelligible in the atrocious Yugoslavian tragedy is that the confrontation between ethnic-religious “communities,” however ancient or recent their enmity, would never have eluded their own political capacities to the point it has (and, therefore, eluded all hope of a real solution: for how can anyone imagine that an external authority will find a solution?—it is then that we would truly witness the “end of politics”) if it were not completely overdetermined by the iron constraint of an international economy marked by domination and exclusion. At the same time, however, the competition between social systems, economic policies, and productive forces on the European or world market would never have so utterly eluded all calculation based on self-interest or all institutional mediation if it had not been overdetermined by the iron constraint of identification with an imaginary community, whether sociopolitical or nationalsocial, ethnic-national, or ethnic-religious. But “at the extremes” (the extremes about which one almost never knows that they have been reached until it is too late to steer clear of them), there exists no common discourse, to the best of our knowledge, that might simultaneously address these two constraints, although they are inseparable. Nevertheless, because I have repeatedly suggested the term antiviolence as a hypothetical designation for a “different” kind of political “negation” of violence, I wish to say a few words in concluding about what characterizes, in my view, the form in which we are called on to continue working on this aporia today. It seems to me that we are paradoxically obliged to think the ever greater objectivity and, simultaneously, ever greater subjectivity of violence. Or, if you like, the forms and effects of the violence confronting us today, which call the very possibility of politics into question, appear, in comparison with classic, normalized descriptions, to be simultaneously “ultraobjective” and “ultrasubjective.” Ultraobjective forms of violence: this means forms in which violence is even more closely intertwined with naturalness and universality. I have in mind, to begin with, the effects that certain epidemics, floods, earthquakes, or phenomena of desertification have today, and the way they are presented to us. Nothing is less purely natural than these supposedly “natural” disasters; rather, nothing is less natural than their differential effect on the regions of the world and their populations, some of which are considered masterworks in danger while others are portrayed as supernumerary and


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blamed for the “demographic time-bomb” threatening the planet. From here to the supposition that there exists an “instituted” correspondence between the unequal distribution of the means of fighting AIDS, on the one hand, and a need to “control” the global population on the other, it is but a short step, which it would be madness to take, but frankly naive to dismiss out of hand, just as it is impossible not to posit a relation between that “excess world population” and the way third-world children and adults are used, with or without their “consent,” as factories to provide organs needed for transplants in the developed world’s hospitals. It is, to be sure, also clear that the use of such regulative “strategies,” even if it is only “passive,” is a double-edged sword, but that it tendentially effaces the boundary between social and physical-biological processes.21 In other words, a form of mass violence that is patently not without social (notably, economic) causes irremediably lacks a social subject. So much for naturalness. I have in mind, secondly, the way the phenomena of nationalism and racism are disseminated in what is known as the “world economy”—which is, no less, the “world ideology.” Modern racism has always been nationalism’s “internal supplement,” that is, not merely exacerbated xenophobia but in a sense the very opposite: the rejection and discrimination directed against the “complementary enemy” arise from internal exclusions and borders, or produce them as required for the constitution of a fictive ethnicity.22 But what happens when—as a result of the abolition of external borders or, rather, their internalization and instrumentalization by economic, military, humanitarian, and communicational policies [ politiques ] whose field of maneuver is immediately a planetary geopolitical space—nothing but internal borders survive, tendentially, whether or not they are underscored by a line of “sovereignty”? What happens now that the drawing or redrawing of such borders, or the way they are monitored as well as their selective permeability to populations in different categories, rich and poor, from the north and the south, the east and the west, and so on—in short, to different “superior” and “inferior” species of human beings, armed or not, “televisualized” or not—has become both the testing ground for a “new world order” and a point of fi xation for institutional forms of violence and their more or less spontaneous individual or collective by-products? All indications are that the traditional relationship between racism and nationalism has a tendency to re-


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verse itself here. In other words, nationalism (an “anachronistic” nationalism that it is tempting to call “postnational nationalism” because it comes after all possibility of creating or re-creating autonomous nation-states has disappeared) is increasingly becoming a function of racism.23 There results, evidently, a very profound aporia as far as the political utilization of the notion of humanism is concerned. For if antiracist politics has necessarily inscribed itself, and conceived of itself, in a humanist perspective, it is because it has opposed the assumption that humanity is one to the supposedly natural divisions of humanity. But now that this oneness of humanity exists in practical, not ideal, fashion as a world population in immediate communication with the totality of itself, and now that this oneness is linked, precisely, to a multiplication of internal borders and a universalization of “thresholds of tolerance,” it is no longer possible in any simple way to imagine and symbolize universal fraternity as the ideal unity of the human species. Precisely when no one really believes any longer in the existence of distinct humanities, there are no longer any limits on the process of differentiation. The triumph of humanitarianism and the violence specific to it are humanism’s tomb. So much for universalism. The closer we come to a description of contemporary forms of institutional violence, however, the more conspicuously the ultraobjective forms of violence are reversed in the current conjuncture, becoming forms of its ultrasubjectivity. I would like to suggest the following paradox, which formally echoes certain diagnoses of “postmodern individualism,” although I wish to avoid both the characteristically cynical presentation of them as well as their naive enthusiasm. It is doubtless a commonplace today that the “return” of communitarian ideologies based on exclusive belonging and particularism—or, on the contrary, on cosmic aspirations to a “world citizenship” understood as a return to nature after the misdeeds of civilization—is a phenomenon, itself violent, of reaction to or compensation for the real or symbolic collapse of institutional frameworks. Rather than rejecting this idea, would it not be preferable to enrich it with a new element? Is there any reason to wonder at the general retreat of the political, the widespread feeling that it is useless and helpless, when violence no longer appears to be either the antithesis of the institution or the symptom


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of its capture and the perversion of its function by a “caste” or a “ruling class” but rather, in some sort, the general condition of the functioning of institutions, the “universal naturalness” of institutions? When it appears as both the principle of their proliferation and a daily reminder of their elusive “thinghood,” from which flows, constantly, the ambivalence of the protection and security that those institutions guarantee?24 Such a situation is doubtless at the root of the revival of “Hobbesian” portrayals of politics and history as the “war of all against all,” in opposition to the optimistic visions stemming from the Enlightenment (the Marxist vision included). Yet such a situation has nothing of a “state of nature” about it, for it is not founded on the division between nature and culture, violence and the institution but, quite the contrary, on their fusion and abiding equivocality. That is why it carries to an extreme the effects of ambivalence and the double bind that always characterize individuals’ “subjective” relationship to violence. It contains both an imperious invitation to individuals to recognize in the depths of their being, beyond any determinate condition or structure, a “radical evil” or originary source of violence; yet it contains at the same time a condition that rules out the possibility of developing any properly subjective (or intersubjective) dialectic of emancipation as a transition from passivity to activity, oppression to freedom, or isolation to the collective. Ultimately, the common premise of Spinoza’s “incompressible minimum,” the revolutionary “politics of the rights of man,” Marxian struggle and emancipation, and so on, was always the idea of a minimal human nature in which the trans-individual relation (whether it was called utility, sympathy, fraternity, communism, communication, or something else) was originally tied to an affirmation of the subject. It was on this basis that a political practice tending toward the conservation, reform, or new foundation of the institution could unfold. But with the generalization of a situation of indistinction (or “nonseparation”) between the production of institution and the production of violence, a representation of that sort obviously becomes more and more fantastic. This perhaps means, quite simply, that it is no longer possible to conceive of any political practice that does not aim simultaneously to drive back, everywhere, in each of its forms, the subjective-objective violence that ceaselessly suppresses the possibility of politics. Politics, accordingly, can no longer be thought as either a simple sublation of violence (as a going


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INTRODUCTION

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beyond it toward nonviolence) or as a simple transformation of its determinate conditions (which can require the application of counterviolence). It is no longer a means or an instrument employed to accomplish something else, but it is also no longer an end in itself. It is, rather, the uncertain stakes of a confrontation with the element of irreducible alterity that it carries within itself. This infinite circularity is what I have here called, at least hypothetically, “antiviolence.”

Violence and Civility, by Etienne Balibar  

Read "Violence and Politics: Questions," the introduction to "Violence and Civility: On the Limits of Political Philosophy," by Etienne Bali...

Violence and Civility, by Etienne Balibar  

Read "Violence and Politics: Questions," the introduction to "Violence and Civility: On the Limits of Political Philosophy," by Etienne Bali...