Ode to Panacea
Ross Hulkes Kenneth Pietrobono
Ode to Panacea
Text by Ross Hulkes Artwork by Kenneth Pietrobono
Printed 2014, New York City Text © Ross Hulkes, 2014 Images and image text © Kenneth Pietrobono, 2014 Printed on the occasion of ‘The Natural’ The Front, New Orleans, 2014
Contents 9 Preface 13 Free Trade 23 State 35 Anarchy 43 The Body 51 Wage Labor 61 Invention 71 Theory 75 (Legitimate) Sovereignty 85 Empire 93 Ideology 99 Postscript (Education)
For the benefit of the reader, the following tract constitutes an attempt to provide a horizon for political action in the 21st century. Moving away from any naive presumption that politics is the exclusive preserve of parliamentary or electoral democracy, it will be argued that it is the very demise of the liberal-democratic nation state that now prompts and necessitates a reconceptualization of the political landscape: Through an examination and redefinition of some key terms such as state, ideology, body, sovereignty and empire, the following meditations seek to offer a way through which the historical meaning and genealogies of these terms can be interrupted and re-diverted to accommodate the current demands of political action. Far from offering a comprehensive theory, these meditations suggest a basic theoretical framework and terminology that seek to prompt a re-thinking of the way in which we approach not just political action, but the very language through which it is expressed and understood. However, moving away from the approach of social and political critique, these meditations aim not merely to criticize the current political landscape, but to reclaim it with a view to offering a concertedly prescriptive framework for contemporary political activism. Being neither explicitly Marxist nor Anarchist in affiliation, the following concerns itself less with the self-conscious creation of a new philosophy or political movement, than drawing the readerâ€™s attention to some of the key problems and issues that currently demand our attention and intervention.
EFFECT AND CONSTRAINT
Meditation One Free Trade
One may have been struck by the dearth of response in the mainstream media to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and its counterpart, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. However, for those unfamiliar with the emergence of these so-called â€œtrade pactsâ€? it is no small irony that they are being touted - like NAFTA was - as an attempt to remove the barriers to free trade. In the former case - and for a free trade pact - surprisingly little is known (save some leaked documents about patenting and copyright restrictions) about the proposed content of any resulting agreement. We know that it is being largely written in secret with the collusion of the corporations whose interests it will serve. Indeed, some senators in the U.S. have fervently complained about the lack of access they have been allowed to the details of the TPP. In one respect, however (and aside from fears about potential resistance to such controversial measures), the answer to why elected officials are being excluded from negotiations is, perhaps, glaringly simple: The most controversial provision of both trade pacts consists in a clause that grants corporations the right to sue nation states for breach of the trade agreement. On the face of it, what this means in real terms is that national law will no longer be sufficient to protect its citizens from the encroachment of corporate power, and that the sovereign power of the nation state will be transferred to the corporate class. Consequently, if the TPP is fast-tracked (as president Obama seems to hope it will be) the views of public and state officials will, in the end, be of little, if any, practical consequence. Yet, there is another line of thinking to be considered here, one which renders the function of the
state more ambiguous. It is perhaps no secret that the actual negotiations for both agreements constitute the perpetuation of another all too familiar paradigm: Indeed, in addition to surrendering its sovereignty to corporate power, the function of the state in such a context is - albeit in an unprecedented way - to support, maintain and perpetuate the dominance and interests of a ruling class (here, the corporate class). Vladimir Lenin writes prophetically in his “State and Revolution” how this has, since Karl Marx, been the role of the state and all of its violent and bureaucratic machinery. With the example of Marxist theory in mind, therefore - and besides the lack of mainstream media response to the rise of the trade pacts - one might also be struck by the lack of intellectual response to the proliferation of “free trade”. Some familiar names have, of course, voiced some strong reservations and/ or objections - Noam Chomsky, Paul Krugman and Dean Baker to name the few. But nothing from the wider intellectual left, the Marxists, the Anarchists, etc... The processes that are being negotiated, then, do, for sure, play out the familiar Marxist-Leninist line of thinking. However, it is the consequences of these agreements that are most decisively without analogue in, say, classical Marxism: On the one hand, to talk of the state as the state of the ruling class - as Marxism does - is to acknowledge that the function of the state is to administer and perpetuate the dominance of the corporate class. Subsequently, the proposition that nation states are or were uncomplicatedly sovereign is, in many ways, a problematic statement (hasn’t the Supreme Court just granted the wealthy unlimited scope to buy elections?). Yet, to grant corporations the power in their own right to sue nation states for breach
of these trade agreements, marks a point of transition without philosophical precedent: In other words, in any scenario in which the corporate class might successfully exercise its right to sue the nation state, not only would the state relinquish its role as an instrument of that class. Corporations would unambiguously exercise and administer sovereign power in their own right. If, therefore, Marxism stipulates that the state is an instrument of the ruling class, Marxist theory clearly has no analogue for this emergent historical paradigm. However, these facts lead us to another, even more crucial point about the way in which Marxism falls short as a political theory. Marxism, it can be said, prescribes two stages of revolutionary change: The first dubbed “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, constitutes the process through which the proletariat (i.e. the oppressed class) seizes and takes control of the apparatus of state. Where the obvious effect of this act of seizure is that the proletariat would no longer be a subjugated class, the role of the state as the instrument of that subjugation is entirely undermined. Indeed, it is this act of seizure which leads to the process that Engels enigmatically calls the “withering away of the state”, the process through which history would logically witness the disappearance of the state form in its Marxist sense. By contrast, if within the context of contemporary reality the disappearance of the state in either its instrumental or sovereign sense is to coincide with the extension of corporate domination, then the current historical paradigm actually turns revolutionary Marxist utopia on its head: The disappearance - or, the “withering away” - of the state, far from coinciding with the proletarian revolution, would bear witness to the near absolute condition of corporate
dominance. The function of â€œfreeâ€? trade agreements of this kind would, in other words, be to turn the Marxist dream into nightmare, to turn utopia into dystopia. If Marxism canâ€™t provide a paradigm to explain the consequences of these trade pacts, and if the capacity of the nation state to exercise its sovereignty is to be radically curtailed, what, then, are the logical limits of this trajectory, and what of the fate of the concept of state? What, in other words, could happen to a concept of state that no longer possesses sovereign authority nor administers the power of the ruling class?
Meditation Two State
Ask most political philosophers to define the concept of state and most will probably imply some kind synonymity between the concept of state and sovereignty. In fact, whilst it is arguably the case that the nation state in its current form is an instrument of the ruling class, from a legislative point of view - and until the aforementioned trade pacts are finalized - the state is still, ultimately, a sovereign entity. The idea in its contemporary sense goes back at least as far as German philosopher and jurist Carl Schmidt. In his seminal essay “The Concept of The Political”, Schmidt writes of the nation state: “In its literal sense and in its historical appearance, the state is a specific entity of a people. Vis-a-vis the many conceivable types of entities, it is in the decisive case the ultimate authority.” Analogously, Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou in defining the state more generally as “the system of constraints that limit the possibility of possibilities (here the possibility that something new might occur in excess of the state)” acknowledges that it does so precisely in order to preserve the sovereignty of that system. Consequently, where - by definition - sovereignty always denotes the highest form of authority, any synonymity between the concept of state and sovereignty implies that the disappearance of the sovereignty of the state means nothing other than the disappearance of the state in any functional sense. A few years ago, a fierce debate concerning the relation of politics to the liberal-democratic (nation) state erupted between Simon Critchley and Slavoj Zizek, two prominent intellectuals on the left. Zizek, taking a classically Leninist line, insisted that politics was a direct assault against the state, seeking in the first instance the seizure and control of its apparatus,
and, by consequence, the emergence of the interim period that Marxism labels “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. By contrast, Critchley insisted that the state was here to stay, but that politics must take place at what he calls an “interstitial” distance from the state, that politics was an assault against the wrong or injustice committed by the state and not its physical apparatus/ institutions. One way, therefore, to look at the opposing arguments is to say that Zizek views politics as a direct assault against the state, whereas Critchley views politics as an indirect assault against the state. However, another way to look at the distinction between these two thinkers is that Zizek seeks to attack what the state “is” (its apparatus - the police, the bureaucracy etc.), whereas Critchley demands an assault against what the state “does” (its acts of wrong or injustice). But what if the latter distinction is practically and functionally false? As we have noted above, Badiou defines the state more generally as the “system of constraints that limit the possibility of possibilities”. According to Badiou’s definition, then, if we are to give a substantive definition of what the state “is”, the state is always that which practically and functionally has a limiting force; what the state “is” is always, to greater or lesser degrees - actively or passively - what the state “does”. For sure, the state may actively commit injustice or wrong, and it might, as Badiou acknowledges, use physical violence to actively maintain its sovereignty. However, isn’t the point here that, insofar as the concept of state is to be imagined in any sovereign sense, it always - and in whatever manifest form it takes - subjects us to this fundamental constraint? In other words - and in distinction to the way in which the state legitimately restricts corporate dominance - isn’t
the concept of state in its contemporary form always, practically and functionally, actively or passively, to be understood as a kind of limiting or coercive force for us here? One is immediately reminded of Marx’s critique of Hegel in which Marx insists that it is not the physical characteristics of the human being that make the human being a human being, but his or her social quality. So too here, we could say that what defines the state is not its physical characteristics - for example, its apparatus, the police, etc. - but its social quality, its limiting force, the act of violence, if you will.... But, then, what do we mean by violence here? It is key to note that from all of Critchley’s examples of injustice or wrong, the state has one defining feature: The state always - actively or passively - exists to limit, assault, or compromise not only the rights, but - by extension the agency or self-determination of a class of people. Similarly for Carl Schmitt, whilst the ultimate political act consists in the public disposal of human life, the very existence of the internal order of the state always functions, more or less, to prohibit the emergence of other autonomous political entities. Consistent with Badiou’s more general definition of the state, therefore a state which, by definition, seeks to limit the possibility that something new might occur in excess of the state - violence can be thought of more generally as the limitation imposed upon the subjective capacities of human beings, as an assault not so much against their physical characteristics (although, in the final instance, the state, in all the forms considered thus far, always reserves this right), but against their social quality. Subsequently, if we are to proceed on the understanding that the essence or kernel of what the state “is” is
what the state â€œdoesâ€?, that, practically and functionally, actively or passively, sovereign power in this context manifests itself through the act of violence, then what could become of the concept of state post nation state?
Meditation Three Anarchy
Ask most people to define the concept of anarchy, and you will probably hear a definition that - to some degree or another - conflates anarchy with the notion of chaos. From a political standpoint, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Within a political context, an anarchist - in its most literal sense - seeks dispensation with, and abandonment of any relation to an arche. In fact, the term arche, according to its ancient Greek definition, is comprised of two main elements: On the one hand, it denotes a first, founding or originary principle. In the second instance, it constitutes an expression of sovereignty or sovereign rule. Unsurprisingly, therefore, where the state has - from an historical point of view - come to be synonymous with the concept of sovereignty, an-archist doctrine is a doctrine fundamentally against the existence of the state. Of course, anarchists have good reason for resistance to, and scepticism of the state form. If the concept of state is bound to the concept of sovereignty, and sovereign power (within the context of its association with the concept of state) functions by limiting not just the social quality, but, more generally, the freedom of human beings, then its existence cannot be rightly justified any more than any other manifestation of violence. It is interesting to note, however, that in Simon Critchleyâ€™s own particular variant of anarchist philosophy, in order for genuine ethical activity to occur (what he calls an ethics of responsibility), the appearance of an injustice or moral wrong must be its first or founding element. By analogy, whilst anarchist doctrine may object to the state on the grounds that it limits the social quality of the human being, it is precisely this limitation that constitutes the precondition for a kind of
ethical experience: Indeed, if in this context the function of the state is to limit the freedom of human beings, then not only is it the case that - by logical effect and constraint - the social quality of the human being consists in its power or capacity to emancipate human beings from this condition. Emancipatory activity and by extension - ethical experience cannot occur without, in the first and founding instance, the prior existence of this gesture. According to the principles of ancient Roman rhetoric, the practice of oratory had the equivalent of a first or founding principle. The term “status” - the etymological root of our word state - was, according to the orator Quintilian, a term used to denote the central point of issue in a legal dispute (3.6.21). Analogous to the relation between emancipatory action and state violence, the “status” was not only that towards which all legal proofs or argumentation were to be directed, but, in the first instance, the precondition, and, therefore, the predicate for all such discourse. If we could formalize this first or founding principle in such a way that the point of issue (the “status”) always referred to an act of violence that limited the social quality of the human being, not only would we have a concept that encapsulated the two elements of the arche - the foundational element and the sovereign element. Where the “sovereign” element here (consistent with the function of sovereign power vis-a-vis its association with the state) is to be imagined as an act of violence that limits the social quality of the human being, the term “status” constitutes a reconceptualization of the notion of state, one which consolidates the passage of the latter from entity to action. Indeed, if in order for emancipatory action and ethical experience to occur in this
context, a gesture limiting not just the social quality, but - by extension - the freedom of the human being is required, then the state - the â€œstatusâ€?, if you will - can be reconceptualized as any action whose function is to limit, restrict or in some way compromise the social quality of human beings, to, in other words, suppress the very thing that makes us human.
Meditation Four The Body
If it is the case that the necessity for emancipatory action is, by logical effect and constraint, a consequence of the state (that is to say, where the state denotes any action that limits, compromises or curtails the social quality of the human being), then the social quality of the human being in this context cannot take place except where - in the first instance - there exists an example or expression of the state. However, one of the implications of this dialectical arrangement is that precisely what constitutes the social quality of the human being is necessarily a convention that exists as a consequence of the state, and is not, therefore, a natural or “a priori” category. In other words, the ethical experience of the human being in this context cannot be uncomplicatedly attributed to some natural quality that the human being possesses. In the Western philosophical canon, we are accustomed to thinking of the human being as a kind of duality in which we distinguish the various functions of the human being’s social quality, from its organic, biological or vegetative existence: In this particular case, if the social quality of the human being consists in its capacity for emancipatory action, then the former category is the expression of a kind of moral reality, whereas the latter category is not. However, if we are to understand that what defines the human being is this duality, but that - at the same time - the ultimate provenance of the human being is its capacity for emancipatory action, then the human being must be regarded - almost paradoxically - as the sum and the consequence of this distinction, as a duality and the moral component of this duality. In a similar vein, Giorgio Agamben writes in his “The Open: Man and Animal”: “The division of life into vegetal and relational, organic and animal, animal and human, therefore passes first of all as a mobile border within living man.... But if this is true, if the
caesura between the human and the animal passes first of all within man, then it is the very question of man - and of “humanism” - that must be posed in a new way. In our culture, man has always been thought of as an articulation and conjunction of a body and a soul, of a living thing and a “logos”, of a natural (or animal) element and a supernatural or social or divine element. We must learn to think of man as what results from the incongruity of these two elements... What is man, if he is always the place - and, at the same time - the result of ceaseless divisions and caesurae? It is more urgent to work on these divisions, to ask in what way - within man - has man been separated from non-man, and the animal from the human...” In one sense, then, Agamben’s philosophical concerns centre around the way in which - within man - man has separated itself from non-man, the divine from the animal element, our social quality from the body. In other words - and where the human being has been considered the place of a human and a non-human element - Agamben is concerned here with the way in which the human element of man is to be distinguished from non-man (i.e. it’s non-human element). However (and in the very last instance here), Agamben raises converse, even counter-humanistic questions about the way in which non-man has been separated from man, the animal from the human, the body from the soul. Indeed, it is precisely this latter separation of non-man from man that has important ramifications for the concept of the body, for the component of the human being that is non-man (i.e. non-human): On the one hand, the body, being a component of man that exists within man (that is, where man is to be recognized as the place of its caesura) is to be considered a function of the human being. And yet at the same time, the body is also to be entirely distinguished from the divine element of the human
being, the element that constitutes (in our context, at least) its moral/social quality, the element which ultimately makes the human being the human being. Viewed in this way, then, the body can be considered - quite paradoxically - at once a function and not a function of the human being. It is of no small significance that the same paradox can be applied to our concept of state in relation to the human or divine element under discussion here. Indeed, if what defines the human being in our context is its capacity for emancipatory action, then, viewed as a function of the sphere of human action, the state is at once a function and not a function of the human being: If the state is now to be understood as an act of violence that limits or restricts the social quality of human beings, then it is - like its divine counterpart - an expression or product of the sphere of human action. And yet if in contrast to its divine counterpart, the state limits the social quality of the human being - as opposed to constituting the very expression of that social quality which emancipates us from the experience of the state - then the state is at once not a function of the human being. In other words, we can say that the state is a function of the human being because it is a product of the sphere of human action, but at once not a function of the human being because it seeks to oppress rather than emancipate the human being. Viewed in this way, then, our concept of state can be understood - metaphorized even - as an expression of the body: Like the body, the state can be considered at once a function and not a function of the human being. What is the advantage of recognizing the state and, by extension, the legacy of sovereign power as an expression of the body? In the Western philosophical canon, political philosophy is founded on the idea that sovereign power is the expression of divine principles, the part of the human being that is imagined to exist in distinction to the body: In his â€œDe Clementiaâ€?, the
younger Seneca describes emperor Nero as the expression of a metaphysical element; Nero is the life-giving “animus” for which the people are his body. So too in Hobbes’ Leviathan, the sovereign is imagined as a kind of artificial soul whose function is to animate the body politic. And it is Carl Schmidt’s contention in his “Political Theology” that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of state are secularized theological concepts”. If it is the case, however, that the state functions through a kind of violence that limits the social and divine quality of the human being, and that, by consequence, the social function of the human being consists in its ability to resist, limit and eliminate the state, then not only is the legacy of sovereign power in this context - that is, the state qua act of violence - actually opposed (and opposite) to divine principles. By re-founding the concept of the state on the paradigm of the body, it is now possible to subvert and re-divert the genealogy of sovereign power in such a way that the divine or metaphysical element of the human being can be restored to its proper place. In other words, by refounding both sovereign power and the state on the paradigm of the body, the human being is granted a kind of divinity in the very moment that it commits itself not so much to the separation, but to the emancipation from, and destruction of a body.
THE SUM AND THE CONSEQUENCE
Meditation Five Wage Labor
To describe the state as any action that limits or compromises the social quality of a human being or a group of human beings is to offer only a partial exposition of the logic of sovereignty. Within the context of the way in which the state has been historically conceived (i.e. prior to our current definition of the state) sovereign power - that is, sovereign violence - arguably exists for the same purpose: To preserve the sovereignty of the entity administering the act of violence. What, more specifically, do we mean by sovereignty in this context? In all the instances considered thus far, the condition of sovereignty not only implies, but is the direct consequence of the condition of hegemony; to be sovereign in this context that is, to obtain the highest form of authority - means to exist in a dominant sense at the internal suppression and exclusion of all other potentially autonomous entities, to exercise dominance, in other words, by this very means or method (indeed, in spite of Carl Schmittâ€™s more general legal definition of sovereign power, this is also the underlying paradigm of sovereignty that arguably pervades â€œThe Concept of The Politicalâ€?). Consequently, whilst we have argued that there is no practical and functional distinction between what the state is and what the state does, it is nevertheless the case that what the state does (i.e. the act of sovereign violence) exists to preserve what the state is, that there is a conceptual distinction to be drawn between the exercise of sovereign power and the resulting condition of sovereignty. How would this logic translate within the confines of a post-statist trajectory, that is to say, outside of the way in which the state has been historically conceived? Any attempt to do so meets with an immediate problem: If we are to think a distinction between sovereignty and sovereign power, what the state is and what the state does, then any entity administering an act of violence limiting the social quality of the human being immediately falls within the provenance of what
the state is. Within a post-statist context, are we bound to the facile tautology that the corporation, for example, is the new state? Not so, if we return to the meaning of the concept of “status”. In fact, if we are to understand that a “status” constitutes nothing other than the “point of issue” within the context of a legal debate - the element that necessitates the creation of a discourse - then to understand the state or act of limiting violence as a point of issue, is to dissociate and - ultimately - dislocate the concept of state from the entity administering that action. In other words, understanding the functional kernel of the state as the act of violence permits us to think of the state now as a discreet action whose function is to necessitate an emancipatory discourse. If, therefore, the logic of sovereignty implies a kind of dialectical relation between sovereignty and (the exercise of) sovereign power, the entity administering violence and the state, then what is the horizon of the state? Understood from a Marxist perspective, wage labor offers a potentially interesting example of the function of the state because it submits the human being to a kind of paradox. On the one hand, wage labor creates a fiscal problem: it extracts a kind of surplusvalue from the worker in the sense that the value of what the worker produces is not co-extensive with the value of what he or she receives in compensation. The difference between the two values (that is, the surplus-value) is what the capitalist makes as profit. On this basis, capitalism is a fundamentally exploitative enterprise because the wage-laborer is not paid for the value of its work. However, the fiscal problem also brings to bear an ontological problem; that is to say, the fiscal problem has implications for the very being of the human being. If it is the case that the wage-laborer is not paid for the full value of their work, then the wage-laborer always exists and works more or less - for the benefit and preservation of the capi-
talist. With this in mind, one of the most important things to underline about the social quality of the human being is that it exists not just in distinction to its biological or vegetative function. It possesses a kind of creative and imaginative excess above and beyond that function (i.e. the state) which compels it to creative action. And yet if, within the cycle of wage labor, the laborer exists for the preservation of (the life of) the capitalist, then the laborer is bound to a very reductive process of socio-economic reproduction: Far from creating or enacting something new, wage labor ultimately shackles the human being to a living state of finitude in which it ceaselessly maintains and preserves not just the life, but the economic dominance of the capitalist. The paradox of human existence in this context, therefore, is that, if action always supposes not just a kind of autonomous, but creative action, then the human being’s divine or metaphysical quality is suppressed. In other words, through a kind of finite experience here, the human being is suspended in a state of action and non-action at the same time. Subsequently, the quality of the body qua the state (being at once a function and not a function of the human being) is not only an ontological experience here inflicted upon the wage-laborer via the affective value of the state. Indeed, if we can understand any active imposition of wage labor as an example of the state (because the state limits the social quality of human beings), then we have one possible horizon for what the state is in a post-statist context (and, ultimately, a predicate for the emergence of an emancipatory discourse); at its most basic level, and as it is to be understood within the general logic of sovereignty, what the state “does” here (the violent imposition of wage labor) functions - through the uneven and iniquitous distribution of resources - to preserve not only what the capitalist “is” (i.e. its life, its well-being), but its economic dominance/sovereignty. As a consequence - and
to delineate now between the concept of state and sovereign power - we can also say that, where the state in general is any action that limits or compromises the social quality of the human being, (the exercise of) sovereign power can be though of as the application of the concept of state to the logic of sovereignty. Crucially, the two complimentary aspects of wage labor here - the imposition of finitude on the laborer, and the uninterrupted economic dominance of the capitalist - go some way to explaining the more general mood that comprises the paradoxical nature of capitalist culture. In his book on capitalism entitled â€œCapitalist Realityâ€?, Mark Fisher discusses how capitalism can be described in terms of a cessation of historical processes, as an experience in which nothing new will occur; capitalism can, it has been said, be described as a kind of crisis of novelty. Many will object - especially at a technological level - that innovation does occur within capitalist culture, and that it is precisely free market capitalism that enables this to happen. But isnâ€™t the paradox that, if - at an ontological level - the generalized condition of wage labor imposes a kind of finitude on the human being, and that this finitude is a consequence of the coordinated reproduction of a plutocratic elite, then capitalist reality is always - at base - a finite reality?
Meditation Six Invention
Wage labor creates a condition of inequality in two ways. At a fiscal level, it secures the uneven distribution of wealth and resources; if wage labor extracts a surplus value from the worker, then not only is the wage-laborer compelled into an arrangement in which it works for less than the actual value of its work. If the capitalist extracts this value multiple times over - as it would do where it owns the means of production, the factory, etc. - then wage labor creates a situation in which the capitalist amasses a lot of wealth, and the worker relatively little. Secondly, wage labor creates inequality at an ontological level. If the wage-laborer does not gain full compensation for the value of its work, then it always - more or less - works to ceaselessly preserve and reproduce not only the life, but the economic dominance of the capitalist. In other words, through this perpetual act of reproduction, the worker maintains itself in a kind of finite experience. Consequently, if what defines the human being is its ability to construct itself in a kind of creative excess over any given or finite situation, then wage labor suppresses the very thing that makes the human being a human being in this context. In other words, the human being is made unequal, so to speak, because it is denied the very experience that otherwise makes it human. Why emphasize the ontological basis for inequality here? Firstly, of course, because it presents another way to describe the manner in which the state imposes a limitation on the dignity of the human being. But secondly, insofar as an ontological inequality places a constraint on the social quality of the human being, it is only by re-directing the action and labor force of human beings that a discourse can be constructed through which the dual problem of inequality is to be
redressed. That is to say, it is only by an initial process of creative self-mobilization that both the fiscal and ontological problem of inequality can be eliminated. In classical rhetoric, the concept of invention (or “inuentio” in Latin) referred to the creative process through which one found or discovered the best available means of persuasion for winning a legal dispute. Consequently, all proofs or arguments that constituted the result of the process of invention were to be directed towards the “status”, or the point of issue in the legal dispute. On this basis, the process of invention was, by definition, not only a creative, but an intellectual process. What would the process of invention mean or imply within the context of the political situation under consideration? Invention in its legal context referred to the creative process through which one found the best available means of persuasion. Consequently, if wage labor not only suppresses the social quality of the human being, but, by extension, the freedom of the human being, then invention in this context would refer not only to the process through which one devised the best available means of emancipation from the condition of wage labor. Where - by logical effect and constraint - to exercise one’s freedom in this context would actually consist in one’s ability to engage in the act of emancipation (here, from the condition of wage labor), invention would refer to the intellectual process through which one devised, created, and formalized the experience of freedom. Two general consequences follow from these observations. Firstly, if to suppress the freedom of the human being (and thereby limit its social quality) is to make the human being unequal, then to destroy the condition of inequality is not only to engage in the act
emancipation. Where, by logical effect and constraint, the experience of freedom (that is, the social quality of the human being) consists in the act of emancipation, to be free means to destroy or eliminate an inequality. And yet, if to engage in the act of emancipation is to not only experience freedom, but - practically speaking - to make or construct oneself equally as a human being (because the human being exists as the experience of freedom), then the experience of equality supposes the destruction of an inequality, just as the experience of freedom consists in the act of emancipation. From this it follows that, whilst the act of emancipation also has the function of freeing the emancipator from the violence of the state, the general interface between the concepts of freedom and equality here also suggest a distinction between emancipator and emancipated, the person or entity subjected to (state) violence, and the person or entity that assumes responsibility for emancipating the subjugated from this condition. Indeed, logically this would have to be the case. If to experience freedom - and, therefore, to be free - is to engage in the act of emancipation, and if the act of emancipation always presumes an object of or for that action (i.e. the one who needs to be freed), any universally coordinated attempt by human beings to engage in the act of emancipation would render such a gesture entirely unnecessary: From within the universal experience of freedom, all human beings would already be free, and, therefore, not be required to engage in the act of emancipation. That is to say, the universal experience of freedom would obviate the need for the emancipatory action of which the experience of freedom is the expression. The consequence of this logical impasse is that not only would political change be incremental
rather than universal. Under conditions of incremental rather than universal change, where there would always be those requiring emancipation, such a need would always suppose a distinction between those participating in emancipatory action and those who would be emancipated by it. Secondly, if, in this context, the process of invention means discovering and creating the best available means of emancipatory action, then to speak of an optimal mode of emancipation implies that, for every expression of the state - for every point of issue - there is not only a very definite and corresponding act of emancipation. Every act of emancipation is prescribed by, and predetermined by the state itself. Consequently, if the process of invention implies the construction of a fundamentally new discourse (because invention is a creative process), then not only is the creative act first and foremost a theoretical process. What is to be conceived of and, ultimately, executed as an expression of the new through emancipatory action, is - paradoxically - prescribed by, and inscribed latent within its predicatory term (i.e. the state). In other words, what is to be counted as new is to be found within what - relatively speaking - already exists. In fact, if we recognize that the term “inuentio” is cognate to the Latin verb “inuenio” - which also means “to find” - then to invent in this context means not only to create, but to find something which, by definition, is understood (notionally, at least) to already exist. How, in a practical sense, might this paradox actually work, and what would the theoretical process of invention look like in practical terms? The theoretical process of invention could take place in a number of contexts and in a number of ways: It could occur in
the shape of a meeting between two friends, it could take place in the form of a gathering amongst some disgruntled workers in a coffee house, or it could emerge as the result of a town hall meeting. What is important, however, is that a genuine process of intellectual and collective deliberation takes place in which the concerned party or parties are interrogating the historical circumstances from which the act of emancipation must emerge. In other words, it is not only that the historical circumstances that constitute and encompass the state condition the act of emancipation. The act of emancipation exists latent within those circumstances: In the generic case of wage labor, if wage labor creates an inequality because it fails to pay the worker for the value of his or her work, then any mode of invention would in, in the very first instance, have to demand and, ultimately, theorize the creation of a system which collapsed any disparity between the compensation the laborer receives and the value of what they produce. The effect of any implementation of this theoretical process, however, would be that, without the extraction of a surplus value, the asymmetry between the worker and the capitalist would collapse. In other words, without the process of exploitation through wage labor, the capitalist would not exist. Consequently, where the capitalist otherwise owns the means of production (the factory, machinery etc.), any discourse seeking to formalize the mode of collective action that would end the existence of wage labor would prescribe the creation of a system of egalitarian production and free association that simultaneously collapsed any disparity between the worker and the owner. More precisely, where a system of egalitarian association would,
by definition, also be a system of voluntaristic and democratic association, the creation of such a system would eliminate inequality at both the ontological and an economic level; the redistribution of wealth would ultimately take place under the auspices of a system of collective self-determination unbound from the finite experience of wage labor. Indeed, it is precisely these principles that define the socio-economic arrangement known as the Worker Co-operative. Consequently, let us now say that if the state in this particular instance constitutes any action or gesture that imposes the condition of wage labor, then invention constitutes the intellectual and deliberative process through which an emancipatory discourse theorizes the creation of the Worker Co-operative.
Meditation Seven Theory
If invention is the intellectual and deliberative process through which one constructs or theorizes an emancipatory discourse, then what is at stake in recognizing invention as a fundamentally intellectual activity? On the one hand, to recognize the process of invention as an intellectual activity is to recognize the necessity of theory for political action, to recognize how the former must direct the course of the latter. Reciprocally, if it is the case that the act of invention is not only prescribed by, but inscribed within the state (that is, where the state is any action that limits the social quality of the human being), then theory here is always conditioned by the historical circumstances upon which it is predicated. However - and in contrast to sweeping philosophical theories that deploy meta-narratives which attempt to explain (and direct) political action - if invention is always particular to the historical circumstances upon which it is predicated (i.e. the state as it manifests itself in each and every instance), then the process of invention serves to narrow the gap between theory and practice; far from providing a universal - and, potentially abstract theory of political action, invention is always the process of invention for the given time and place. In other words, and because invention here means finding the best available means of emancipation, what is theorized within this process has utility only for the specific historical conditions that give rise to it. There are, of course, obvious advantages to thinking about theory in this way. In the first place, if theory is always conditioned and prescribed by the historical circumstances that it ultimately hopes to redress, then theory avoids the trappings of meaningless abstraction. At even a cursory glance, probably the single biggest problem with much contemporary philosophical commentary is that it is very difficult to see how it would apply to what is actually taking place in the world. By contrast, because theory in this context
is actually prescribed by the state, then theory will always provide the framework for an emancipatory discourse that can actually be put into action. In other words, where invention is the process through which one theorizes the best available course of emancipatory action, it provides a theory of emancipation that is demonstrably workable. Finally, more than narrowing the gap between theory and practice, the process of invention actually threatens to collapse the distinction entirely. When one thinks of theory - especially in a philosophical context - one thinks of a kind of ivory-tower practice in which one is committed to writing lengthy and abstract philosophical treatises. However, if it is the case that invention is a deliberative process that can take place in a town hall, a coffee house, or even as the result of a spontaneous meeting between two friends on a street corner, then invention constitutes a kind of social practice in its own right. In other words, whilst the function of theory is to find and formalize the best available course of emancipatory action, theory can now be thought of as a kind of participatory action in its own right.
Meditation Eight (Legitimate) Sovereignty
As we have already suggested, where the experience of freedom can be defined as the act of emancipation, and the act of emancipation always supposes a beneficiary of that action, there can be no singular and universal enactment of the experience of freedom. Theoretically speaking - and because within the grip of such a gesture, human beings would already be universally free - any universal experience of freedom would preclude the necessity for that act of emancipation of which the experience of freedom was itself the expression. In other words, the (universal) experience of freedom in this context would actually preclude the very necessity of its occurrence. The significance of this logical impasse cannot be understated. Firstly, where the experience of freedom implies participation in the act of emancipation, there can be no experience of absolute revolutionary change. When one thinks of the concept of revolution, one tends to think of a singular gesture in which a universal system of domination is decisively overthrown (in Marxism, the first stage of this process constitutes the violent seizure of the state apparatus known as the dictatorship of the proletariat). Consequently, if we are to think of any concept of revolution in this context, then revolutionary change demands the thinking of an incremental process in which emancipation - in various ways and in various contexts - must take place over time. In fact, that there can - theoretically speaking - be potentially limitless examples or expressions of the state, means that historical circumstances would be perfectly conducive to a theory of such change. For the purpose of the overall theory outlined thus far, then, notions of universal change constitute nothing more than theoretical abstractions. However, more than implying a theory of incremental change, our theory here would enable us to mobilize the distinction between emancipator and emancipated in such a way that it would also lay the ground for a
theory of legitimate sovereignty. Drawing upon the existing paradigm of worker co-operatives, execution of the mode of action devised and formalized through the process of invention would not only demand the creation of a system of free and egalitarian economic association. The existence of this association would itself initiate the destruction of the system of capitalist economics, and, with it, the imposition of an inequality. Therefore, analogous to the way in which sovereign power may have historically exercised violence to maintain its sovereignty, so too the act of emancipation implies an act of violence through the destruction of an inequality. Moreover, where sovereign power always denotes the highest form of authority, the sovereignty - and, by extension - the hegemony of the worker co-operative is to be created here not only through the incremental destruction of capitalist economics, but the simultaneous proliferation of free and egalitarian economic association; analogous to the logic of sovereignty, sovereign violence now functions less to maintain and preserve, than to proliferate and disseminate the dominance of the sovereign entity (here, the worker co-operative). Yet, there is another way to conceive of the exercise of sovereignty in this context, one which also highlights a moral asymmetry between emancipator and emancipated. If sovereign authority is always the highest form of authority, sovereignty can also be understood as the expression of a fundamentally moral authority: That is to say, where the experience of freedom consists in the act of emancipation, then moral, and, therefore, sovereign authority is demonstrated through the performance of emancipatory action. Consequently, the logic of sovereignty through which what the sovereign does functions to preserve what sovereign is, also finds its analogue in the proposition that it is precisely through the destruction of an inequality - rather than its imposition that one maintains and demonstrates oneself as sovereign,
as the moral authority (and not only in relation to the emancipated, but - ultimately - in relation to the capitalist). However, if in contrast to the conventional paradigm of sovereignty, violence is expressed not through the act of violence per se, but the experience of freedom, then sovereign power no longer finds its sole expression through the concept of state. More precisely, whilst the state must still be considered a manifestation of the body, to reconceptualize sovereign power not only as the experience of freedom, but as the metaphysical part or element of the human being, ultimately serves to arrest, dissociate and dislocate sovereign power from the state: Whilst the capitalist might exercise sovereign power through the violent and anti-egalitarian imposition of wage labor, it is through the act of emancipation - and, the destruction of an inequality - that sovereign power is, in the very last instance, to be reclaimed by human - that is to say, divine - experience.
INQUIRY (HORIZON OF)
Meditation Nine Empire
One of the clear effects of defining the concept of invention as the deliberative process through which the act of emancipation is actually formalized, is that politics makes a very particular type of distinction between theory and practice. Considering that - as philosophers themselves might like to think - politics has always relied on philosophy for guidance, this distinction might be considered nothing new but for the fact that theory qua invention constitutes a kind of social practice in its own right. The act of emancipation, and, by extension, the human beingâ€™s immortal excess over its animal being is ultimately expressed through the sovereign execution of the mode of action devised from within the process of invention. However, invention itself bridges the gap between the purely theoretical and abstract process of producing philosophical doctrine and the social quality of the human being. That said, we must still underline the fact that freedom and the experience of equality cannot itself occur except where - through the sovereign act of emancipation there exists a very definite change in social practice, where the labor force of the human being is re-directed to this very purpose. The number of ways in which the act of emancipation, and, therefore, the concept of freedom can be expressed has no theoretical limit; the salient pre-condition for any act of emancipation is that there exists an expression of the state (and, metaphorically speaking, a body). With this in mind, it is almost elementary to say that freedom - that is, the act of emancipation cannot be experienced in the abstract. The experience of freedom is always - as per the particular historical manifestation of the state - a particular act of emancipation conditioned and prescribed by its situation within
a particular time and place. Consequently, we can say that, if freedom can be imagined to have any abstract existence, it is one which - from the point of view of social practice - is entirely extraneous to time and space. In the Roman poet Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid, during the very first book in which the God Jupiter delivers a speech detailing the fate, ancestry and history of the Roman race, Jupiter gives a now ubiquitously (in)famous qualification for the scope and influence of Roman imperialism: “his ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono; imperium sine fine dedi - For these things, I impose neither the limit of space nor time; I grant empire without limit” (1.278-9). Considered in this way, “imperium” here (etymological root of our word empire), like the (abstract) concept of freedom, is subject to neither the imposition of finitude, nor the limitations of time and space; freedom and empire can be understood as directly analogous to one another. What is at stake in understanding the concept of freedom as the expression of empire here? If we recognize that the Latin word “imperium” is cognate to the verb “imperio” - which means to order or command - then to understand the concept of freedom as an “imperium” is to understand it as a demand or imperative. As we have suggested, the experience of freedom is not just the construction of a kind of immortal excess over our organic life. The experience of freedom consists in an action whose function is to emancipate us from the finite condition imposed on us by each and every expression of the state. Thought of in this way, to think - by contrast - of the concept of freedom as an expression of empire, is to think quite literally of a demand - an imperative - whose function is to invoke us to emancipatory action, to the experience of freedom.
And yet, if this imperative is not just outside of time and space, but without limit (i.e. it can be expressed in a potentially infinite number of ways), then to think of the concept of freedom as a command is, quite paradoxically, to think of a command which, far from limiting or coercing us, is the horizon to which all emancipatory action is limitlessly indexed; empire, to the extent that it commands us, ceaselessly frames and lays the ground for the sovereign experience of freedom.
Meditation Ten Ideology
Aside from the fact that it designates a limitless horizon for the act of political emancipation, there are wider political advantages to understanding the concept of freedom as an imperative or demand: In contrast to the rather banal market-economy notions of freedom that seem to either endorse immersion within the most degraded aspects of the consumer economy or advocate the kind of neo-liberal projects that pursue the illusion of free trade, freedom in this context contains a very clear moral and ethical prescription. In other words, to understand freedom as the act of emancipation is to arrest and reclaim the concept from a series of almost indiscriminate abuses and misuses that otherwise come to render the term pejorative, overused and - ultimately - meaningless. However, the concept of freedom in this context is not just a prescriptive call to action. As a pure concept, and abstracted from the realm of social experience, it can be grasped eidetically. More precisely, as an abstract concept, it can only be experienced as a thought or aspect of our consciousness (in distinction to the eminently historical way in which it is experienced within social practice). Marxism ascribed the term ideology to forms of consciousness as they sought to describe and explain social and economic practices. And it is from this fundamental premise that Engels introduced the term â€œfalse consciousnessâ€? to describe how these forms of consciousness inaccurately represent and conceive their relation to material reality: Far from being a scientific reflection of reality, such ideas or ideologies attempt to determine and describe reality independent of any proper relation to material and social processes. Consequently, what ideology describes in a Marxist context - independent of
any proper reference to material reality - exists only as an idea or pure consciousness (a propensity that Marx and Engels in “The German Ideology” called Idealism). Whilst Marx’s heir Louis Althusser collapsed the distinction between the realm of ideas and material reality by maintaining that ideas have a material existence of their own, one still needs to make a distinction here between what can only be experienced at the level of consciousness and what can be experienced at the level of social practice. Indeed, if ideology is called such because its overall provenance - in distinction to social reality - is the realm of consciousness and ideas, then can’t we say that empire, as the concept freedom, is the ideological element in this context? What, in other words, is the relation between ideology and empire, between the idea of freedom as an impression/expression of our consciousness, and the concept of freedom as it is understood to exist outside of the constraints of time and space? Quite simply, one is the means or method of apprehending the other; if empire escapes the immanent confines of time and space in any social sense, then the only way it can be apprehended as a pure concept is as an idea. Consequently, whilst we can say that empire is the ideological element, we can also say that it is only in ideology, so to speak, that we can apprehend and comprehend empire as a pure concept. Ideology and empire are, at this level, complementary aspects of the same phenomenon. Why in a more practical sense might it be useful to consider ideology in this way? Ideology, according to the Marxist definition, occupies the domain of false consciousness, a distortion of our relation to and perception of social reality. However, by recogniz-
ing ideological experience as the method by which we apprehend not just empire, but the concept of freedom, it is also possible to both subvert and re-appropriate the implied relationship between the true and the false here. Indeed, if what can be understood as â€œfalseâ€? in our context is not the misapprehension of social and historical processes, but - at the level of social practice - the experience of finitude and the violence of the state, then the domain of the true refers not only to what exceeds finite reality, but the very action that emancipates us from its imposition. More precisely, if we can now understand the experience of freedom as the true, then not only can we re-define the relationship between the true and the false, we can turn the Marxist concept of ideology on its head: If the experience of the concept of freedom can, by definition, only take place through the experience of emancipatory action, then the true (i.e. the experience of emancipatory action) is always an expression of the concept of freedom - the latter being the ideological element. In other words, the ideological element - here, the concept of freedom - is now to be considered the ultimate referent and index of the true.
The etymological root of our word education captures a strange kind of paradox: In fact, the word education derives from its corresponding Latin verb “educere” which - presented in its infinitive form here - means, quite literally, “to lead out”. On the one hand, then (and in its finite form), the function or purpose of any subject of the verb “educere” is to not only act as a kind of guide but - by extension - to assume authority/responsibility for the one who is being guided. And yet, if the purpose of authority in this particular context is to “lead out” any potential recipient or object if its action, then the term education implies the existence of a kind of authority whose purpose is to steer the object of that authority away from any potentially restrictive or finite situation. To put it another way, the authority of the subject of the verb here rests entirely upon its ability to condition its object in such a way that the existence of the latter is productive rather than reductive. Considered in this way, curriculum-based learning in its contemporary form should be considered fundamentally antithetical to the process of education (that is, where education is, by definition, a process): Ultimately concerned as it is with producing the form of education best suited to the market economy and capitalism, contemporary (Western) education concerns itself with economic viability in its conventional sense, and not the cultivation of human beings. In other words, the contemporary experience of “education” (such that it is) maintains its human object not only in a kind of subservience to the regime of money, but - for the vast majority - constitutes preparation for a system of wage labor which, as we have suggested, exists only to preserve the economic dominance of a plutocratic
elite. Education in this context, therefore - and in distinction to the promise of its name-sake - is the experience and expression of a finite situation through which it is merely the executioner for the system to which it is beholden. As such, therefore, we can say that any imposition of this contemporary form of education - bearing physical expression in the form of the curriculum constitutes another example of what we might call the state; not just, in other words, any action that restricts, limits or in some way compromises the creative capacity of the human being. Where in this case that action ultimately compels the human being into the reproduction of the sovereignty of the economic system in dominance, the state plays out the aforementioned logic of sovereignty vis-a-vis the dialectic between sovereign power and the sovereign entity. To be more precise, the contemporary form of education limits the creative autonomy of the human being insofar as the human being is forced - through the very experience of education - to perpetuate not just the hegemony, but, by extension, the sovereignty of the market economy and global capitalism. However, if the concept of education in general is, by definition, entirely congruous with the sense of what it is to be human here, if, in other words, the function of education is lead and draw us out of the experience of finitude, then how are we to endow the system of education with a human and humane purpose? What, in other words, should the process of invention demand here? Invention as a deliberative social activity dictates that the means of emancipation for each and every expression of the state is prescribed by, and, therefore, inscribed within the state itself. In what way,
therefore, might the state (i.e. the imposition of not just curriculum-based learning, but of finitude) manifest the very discourse through which it would be supplanted and eliminated? Firstly, if the experience of contemporary education implies the experience of finitude, then the task of invention is to theorize the creation of an open process of intellectual inquiry that resists closure. In other words, and in accordance with human beingâ€™s ability to forge itself as a kind of creative excess over a purely finite being, education ultimately demands the practice of a critical and creative process that not only seeks to surpass, but constitutes a critical interrogation of each and every horizon of inquiry. However, if it is only by logical constraint that what defines the human being in our context is its capacity for emancipatory action, then - quite paradoxically - it is the role of education to open up - and remain open to - new lines of inquiry concerning precisely what it means to be human. In other words, to be human within the context of the practice of education is to both guide and participate in the critical practice of a kind of humanity that protects against the propensity to finite forms of humanism, to guard against the very imposition that might otherwise undermine the very meaning of what it is to be human.
Ross Hulkes is a New Orleans based transplant and independent writer whose work is concerned with the way in which we reclaim and reconceptualize political terminology to effect a change in the nature and representation of political practice. Moving away from social critique, his work seeks to devise and prescribe ways in which we can forge a new political destiny in the wake of the demise of the nation-state and the hegemony of corporate capitalism. Kenneth Pietrobono is a New York based artist whose work focuses on political and social critique. Through photography, works on paper and installations, his work presents reflections of the civic and social environment. With alteration of language, imagery and context he works to make the underlying cultural experience more visible in the landscape.
Both a diagnosis of and prognosis for the contemporary political landscape, this text seeks to provide an incipient framework for contempora...
Published on Jul 1, 2014
Both a diagnosis of and prognosis for the contemporary political landscape, this text seeks to provide an incipient framework for contempora...