Spinoza for Our Time
eBook - ePub

Spinoza for Our Time

Politics and Postmodernity

Antonio Negri, William McCuaig

Share book
  1. English
  2. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  3. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Spinoza for Our Time

Politics and Postmodernity

Antonio Negri, William McCuaig

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents
Citations

About This Book

Antonio Negri, one of the world's leading scholars on Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) and his contemporary legacy, offers a straightforward explanation of the philosopher's elaborate arguments and a persuasive case for his ongoing relevance. Responding to a resurgent interest in Spinoza's thought and its potential application to contemporary global issues, Negri demonstrates the thinker's special value to politics, philosophy, and related disciplines.

Negri's work is both a return to and an advancement of his initial affirmation of Spinozian thought in The Savage Anomaly. He further defends his understanding of the philosopher as a proto-postmodernist, or a thinker who is just now, with the advent of the postmodern, becoming contemporary. Negri also connects Spinoza's theories to recent trends in political philosophy, particularly the reengagement with Carl Schmitt's "political theology," and the history of philosophy, including the argument that Spinoza belongs to a "radical enlightenment." By positioning Spinoza as a contemporary revolutionary intellectual, Negri addresses and effectively defeats twentieth-century critiques of the thinker waged by Jacques Derrida, Alain Badiou, and Giorgio Agamben.

Frequently asked questions

How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is Spinoza for Our Time an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access Spinoza for Our Time by Antonio Negri, William McCuaig in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Philosophie & DĂ©construction en philosophie. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.

Information

| ONE |
SPINOZA
A Heresy of Immanence and of Democracy
Some time ago now, when I was working on the political undertones in the thought of Descartes, I provided an outline of what I called the “reasonable politics” of the ideology of modernity,1 plotting its different lines of development and range of alternatives. Recently I have returned to the topic, comparing my own reading to the new readings of Descartes that have appeared over the last thirty years. And I have found my earlier theses confirmed. These focused on the genesis and development of early capitalism, and the choices made by bourgeois ideology at a time when it was attempting to construct political forms corresponding both to primitive capital accumulation (through the construction of the absolutist state), and to the formation and long-term consolidation of the third estate in that context.2
As everyone knows, a privileged place was occupied within the “reasonable ideology” of the third estate by the organs of repression required to put down rural and urban revolts (revolts by craftworkers who were really just proletarians) when these revolts threatened capitalist development. No matter where on the spectrum of political thought one stood, some reference to transcendence was required in the age of Descartes in order to underwrite absolute sovereignty and the efficacity of its action. Power, which was being organized in the bosom of capital and which allowed and stimulated its development, had necessarily—or rather, given the intensity of the resistance it encountered, could not not—root itself in the absolute of transcendence. Theological necessity had, in that age, totally permeated the development of capital and the philosophies of the present: this is precisely how the ontotheological metaphysics of modernity was instituted.
In other words, when the modern world was opened up to capitalist development, the new productive forces (above all living labor) had to be subjected to an old eternal figure of power, to the absolute character of a power capable of legitimizing the new relations of production. From that moment on, any attempt to challenge this state of affairs was regarded as damnable and heretical, and any aspiration to modify this general framework was only acceptable if it touched on the relations of production in a highly theoretical and moderate manner, and with a very prudent lucidity. This is exactly what Descartes did. So part of my task was to register the degree to which modern metaphysics (and when one speaks of metaphysics one is also always speaking, one way or another, about theology) honed and reinforced its political pretensions. From then on, metaphysics has always been political.
It was within a climate governed by such moderation and reticence that the theory of power develops in the modern era. The political thinkers of transcendence become hegemonic. The modern theory of sovereignty is born with Hobbes. Bodin had already tried, with all his well-known intelligence—for what he in effect maintains is that every form of government is logically monarchical. Monarchy covers both aristocratic government and democratic government, because both of them are governed by the principle of the One. Consequently they are monarchic, whatever the hypocritical cloak of legitimacy donned by power. But we have to wait for Hobbes for the citizens as such to become fundamental in the construction of the absolute character of power. What we have with Hobbes is a transfer of the potency of civil subjects to the sovereign.
It is a strange thing, this transfer of the potency of the citizens to the sovereign. Why does that have to happen? Because of the English civil war? But isn’t it precisely with Leviathan, which enables sovereign power to come into existence, that civil society itself is enabled? So then how can there be a civil war prior to civil society? And as if that fairytale weren’t enough, Hobbes can always fall back on the divine potency that overrides and legitimizes the power of Leviathan. Genuine civil war of the kind that primitive accumulation had unleashed (and the surplus of violence that the expropriation of the common had provoked)—is that what the critical gaze is being trained on here? No, not that at all, and without any critique either: everything is immediately justified, rendered necessary and legitimate simply by the theological power of the sovereign.
But there was more. It was not enough to impose sovereign rule and so make the surge of capital possible; subjects had to be stripped of the ability to recognize their own singular potency; the expropriation of that potency and their consciousness of their own alienation had to be justified by a state of necessity; and finally, all the justifications for an eventual rebellion, for possible resistance, had to be suppressed. Alienation thus becomes inevitable and paradoxically advantageous. The construction of this condition represents the essential axis of the political theories that develop around the transcendence of sovereignty. The shift that takes place is the invention of the public. The expropriation of the common that developed during the process of primitive accumulation is transfigured and mystified through the invention of public utility. In this context, the theory of the general will in Rousseau is in a certain sense perfectly intelligible.
And it was on this basis that Hegel accomplished his synthesis of the public and the sovereign, of command and progress, through the dialectical Aufhebung of civil society into the State—completing in fact the necessary subjection of living labor to sovereign power.
And yet the modern era saw the rise of another strain of philosophy that takes form and grows quite differently. It is a thought that cohabits with the struggles, with the revolts, with the revolutions that recur throughout modernity. It is a thought that foregrounds the rule of immanence, that is incarnated in a politics of immanence. The position is absolutely clear if you contrast the thought of Spinoza with that of Bodin and Hobbes. For them, as we just saw, any government is necessarily the government of the One. For Spinoza, in contrast, if there were no more democratic conatus there would no longer be any State; and without democracy there is no longer any political life or authority: monarchy is always naked, meaning incapable of absolute sovereignty and contradicted by the citizens; and aristocracy is lame in the same fashion. It is only immanence that can produce the polis.
But how to understand the notion of immanence? Immanence signifies that this world here has no beyond; that it is only possible to live (move, create) inside this world, here below; that the being in which we find ourselves—and of which we cannot free ourselves because we are made of it, and because all the things we do are no more than an acting upon our being (which is also always our being in action)—I was saying, that the being in which we find ourselves is an open becoming, not a closed one, that it is not prefigured or preformed, but is on the contrary produced. If we put ourselves, in Sartre’s phrase, en situation, may we thereby conclude that the relations of production do not dominate, but are dominated by, the productive forces? I believe so profoundly. We are in the situation exactly contrary to what the political theorists of transcendence were prescribing, which was that the relations of production—the fact that one born a slave must necessarily die a slave—constitute a necessity guaranteed by the goodness of God. If, as the theologians and political theorists tell us, the power of man over man is in the DNA of creation (please pardon that image), then it becomes imperative to respond that immanence is being-against.
Then we start to detect striking “anomalies” with respect to the main modern tradition of sovereignty: exceptions and ruptures that are posited by the thinkers of immanence at the core of the history of modern political thought. Machiavelli anticipates a conflictual theory of power by reversing in advance the civil war theory that Hobbes will use, in a naturalistic and contractual fashion, to construct his own theory of absolute power—in other words, by pretending to refer to a history of individualistic and proprietorial relations. No, says Machiavelli, the conflict is always ongoing, power is always a rapport, there are winners and losers—but let’s not tell ourselves fairytales: he who has power is simply he who has greater force. Now, if all that is what our own experience tells us, then it necessarily follows that power cannot exist without a subject, and that command can only ever come about over or against a resistance. Theoretically this resistance can always topple the power in its turn. And if that is the case, is the door not then open to a democratic theory of power?
It is here that Spinoza steps in.3
Spinoza tells us that society has no need of power in order to be constituted. Only the subjects can construct society—or better still produce, through insisting on the potency of singularities, through the passions that traverse the multitudes, all the forms of the State. And any form of State can be legitimated only by the relation that is woven between the subjects and the sovereign, or vice versa, between the sovereign and the subjects. There is no “sacred history,” other than the narration of this very human thing; and if a God does exist, it is one whom the desire for happiness invents through the movements and transformations of the multitude. In Spinoza, the productive forces produce the relations of production. But inasmuch as the forces of production are in all respects cupiditates, forces of passion, multitudes open to the constitution of the political, we have verification of what Machiavelli’s theory had already anticipated back in his day: the forms of command are subject to the activity of the multitude.
In Marx, finally, the pairs conflict/becoming and production/potency are reconciled through the critique of political economy. Marx gives meaning to this “exceptional” process that the anomalies of modernity have produced—and his meaning is communism. It would be profoundly mistaken to confuse this political meaning with some telos in history, however. In Marx it is struggle that molds the visage of institutions, it is the forces of production that produce and eventually overturn the social relations within which they are paradoxically clamped and restrained.
After Marx, the alternatives to communism will often attempt to realize themselves on the terrain of immanence as well. Transcendence appears to be permanently ruled out. Even the grand synthesis of Hegel (transcendental from the start and before very long transcendent too, following the rhythm of the absolute spirit) is caught up in the whirlwind of the materiality of historical processes—of struggle, resistance, revolution—in which the political theorists of immanence express themselves. And the political theorists of immanence express themselves in a manner that the sovereign finds increasingly alarming. So a sense of propriety and prudence demands that the alternatives realize themselves on the terrain of immanence as well, since it appears to have prevailed completely. But beware: this terrain has been tampered with. Immanence has become a new fetish, in the name of which are presented to us theoretical experiences that, against communism, surreptitiously reintroduce into political discourse this idea of necessity, which blocks and denies the processes of liberation and the effectual practices of liberty.
Kant—a philosopher all too often associated with idealism, whereas in fact he is essentially a man and an author of the Enlightenment—had foreseen, in his Conflict of the Faculties, that out of the affirmation of liberty, and beyond liberty, new instances of repression of the forces of production would emerge, in the definition of the historical process, in the organization of its finalities and in the structures of power that would flow from it. And he added: these will be reactionary experiments.
Let us pick up the hint Kant drops for us, let us try to classify some of them.
First of all, there are the experiments in “Abderitism” (atomism). We are talking here of an opaque materialism that reduces the world to an ensemble of irrational contingencies, combinations of circumstances (in the context of a metaphysical necessity dominating existence), and that consequently subordinates historical development to a deterministic finality. This is what Louis Althusser, for example, sometimes does when he likens hazard and necessity. Now, long before Althusser, and with much less elegance and conceptual suppleness, so-called scientific socialism and dialectical materialism were formidable examples of this manner of utilizing immanence so as to eliminate, paradoxically, the ontological creativity that represents the most salient trait of the “abnormal philosophies” of modernity, in other words and once again: the mark of liberty. Note that when I speak here of liberty, I am speaking not of spiritual essences but of resistance and rebellion, directly entailing imagination and invention. An invention not so much of souls as of bodies, of cooperation, of new forms of labor. How many tragedies of knowledge and of the political will unfurl within this horizon in the decades that lie ahead?
Let us return to Kant. Kant says on the other hand that there is “terrorism.” What does this word signify for Kant? For him, it is any theory that posits that revolution is impossible, and thus terrorizes people by holding them in thrall to the presence of death, by pointing it out to them as their inevitable destiny, and by flattening their every desire beneath the weight of the shadow of death. A far cry from Kantian thought, this position and the authors who embody it constitute a second group that gives rise to experiments that mystify immanence in the twentieth century. The passivity that necessity entails, and the listlessness that springs from the uncertain consciousness of the inevitable defeat of desire, indeed the complacency maintained vis-à-vis this condition, represent the mark of a new ethic of transcendence on the scene of contemporary philosophy. From Heidegger to the weak and marginal variants of the postmodern, reactionary ideology waxes today under these forms. We are at the antipodes of a thought of immanence of the sort whose birth we have sought to pinpoint in the theoretical clash that characterized the origins of modernity: anomaly, exception, rupture.4
What a heap of other charges of this kind could be laid at the door of this broad reactionary lineage. Not, of course, the histories and philosophies, the practices and ideologies, that led to the horrible atrocities of fascist or Stalinist terror, but tendencies that are often hegemonic from the rhetorical and political point of view, and whose essential meaning is a sense of impotency, even an incapacity (aspiring to be critical) to express any force whatever. Some of these positions (think, for example, of the works of Jacques Derrida or Giorgio Agamben) try to present themselves as heretical stances, opposed to the dominant ideology. But they are a far cry indeed from how they imagine themselves. Heresy is always a break in the order of the branches of knowledges, or more precisely a positive overflow, the product of a theoretical invention expressing itself with creativity and thus exalting the ontological singularity of the present. But what we encounter in the stances mentioned above are weak, marginal variants, ethically otiose. Or else we meet wonder, more or less aestheticized, at the sublime. We meet the beauty of life, we meet flight from struggle, we meet contempt for historical determinations, we meet libertine-destructive skepticism taking the place of overflow and true resistance. It is the triumph of the sad passions.
Second point: “heresy” signifies the refusal of transcendence in all its forms, so it is likewise a disagreement about just what a concept might be, because the heretical concept is no longer even trying to be universal, but common. Heresy refuses to accept the habits of command and instituted knowledge, and, knowing well their ends, it resists them in critical fashion. The heretic is the intellectual moved by a specific, particular point of view, which is not that of totality but of rupture, and which thus constructs the figure of a situated knowledge and an action conditioned by a common project of resistance and struggle. It is precisely there that the overflow of heresy can begin to open itself up 
 open itself up to what? To a generous construction of the common.
So we arrive at a crucial element that may make it possible to distinguish clearly the political theorists of transcendence from the political theorists of immanence.
But before going deeper into what the common is, allow me to draw attention in passing to a group of heretics—among so many others—who did, so to speak, build a bridge between the critique of modernity and the philosophico-political configuration that obtains today. I wish to dwell for a moment on this strange subversive thought that, in France, and through a thousand rivulets very different among themselves (fr...

Table of contents