Michael Hardt / Antonio Negri


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Whether you affirm infallibility and deduce sovereignty from it or pose sovereignty first and derive infallibility from that, you are forced either way to recognize and sanction an absolute power. And the same result is imposed whether it be through oppression of governments or the reason of philosophers, whether you make the people or the king sovereign.
Fran‡ois Guizot
In the early twentieth-century Vienna of Robert Musil's novel The Man without Qualities, an enlightened aristocrat, Count Leinsdorf, puzzles out the complexities of modernity but gets stuck on a central paradox. "What I still don't understand," he says, "is this: That people should love each other, and that it takes a firm hand in government to make them do it, is nothing new. So why should it suddenly be a case of either/or?"[1] For the philanthropists of Musil's world there is a conflict at the center of modernity between, on the one hand, the immanent forces of desire and association, the love of the community, and on the other, the strong hand of an overarching authority that imposes and enforces an order on the social field. This tension was to be resolved, or at least mediated, by the sovereignty of the state, and yet it continually resurfaces as a question of either/or: freedom or servitude, the liberation of desire or its subjugation. Count Leinsdorflucidly identifies a contradiction that runs throughout European modernity and resides at the heart of the modern concept of sovereignty.
Tracing the emerging figure of the concept of sovereignty through various developments in modern European philosophy should allow us to recognize that Europe and modernity are neither unitary nor pacific constructions, but rather from the beginning were characterized by struggle, conflict, and crisis. We identify three moments in the constitution of European modernity that articulate the initial figure of the modern concept of sovereignty: first, the revolutionary discovery of the plane of immanence; second, the reaction against these immanent forces and the crisis in the form of authority; and third, the partial and temporary resolution of this crisis in the formation of the modern state as a locus of sovereignty that transcends and mediates the plane of immanent forces. In this progression European modernity itself becomes increasingly inseparable from the principle of sovereignty. And yet, as Count Leinsdorflaments, even at the height of modernity the original tension continually breaks through in all its violence.
Modern sovereignty is a European concept in the sense that it developed primarily in Europe in coordination with the evolution of modernity itself. The concept functioned as the cornerstone of the construction of Eurocentrism. Although modern sovereignty emanated from Europe, however, it was born and developed in large part through Europe's relationship with its outside, and particularly through its colonial project and the resistance of the colonized. Modern sovereignty emerged, then, as the concept of European reaction and European domination both within and outside its borders. They are two coextensive and complementary faces of one development: rule within Europe and European rule over the world.
The Revolutionary Plane of Immanence
It all began with a revolution. In Europe, between 1200 and 1600, across distances that only merchants and armies could travel and only the invention of the printing press would later bring together, something extraordinary happened. Humans declared themselves masters of their own lives, producers of cities and history, and inventors of heavens. They inherited a dualistic consciousness, a hierarchical vision of society, and a metaphysical idea of science; but they handed down to future generations an experimental idea of science, a constituent conception of history and cities, and they posed being as an immanent terrain of Knowledge and action. The thought of this initial period, born simultaneously in politics, science, art, philosophy, and theology, demonstrates the radicality of the forces at work in modernity.
The origins of European modernity are often characterized as springing from a secularizing process that denied divine and transcendent authority over worldly affairs. That process was certainly important, but in our view it was really only a symptom of the primary event of modernity: the affirmation of the powers of this world, the discovery of the plane of immanence. "Omne ens habet aliquod esse proprium"-every entity has a singular essence.[2] Duns Scotus' affirmation subverts the medieval conception of being as an object of analogical, and thus dualistic, predication-a being with one foot in this world and one in a transcendent realm. We are at the beginning of the fourteenth century, in the midst of the convulsions of the late Middle Ages. Duns Scotus tells his contemporaries that the confusion and decadence of the times can be remedied only by recentering thought on the singularity of being. This singularity is not ephemeral nor accidental but ontological. The strength of this affirmation and the effect it had on the thought of the period were demonstrated by Dante Alighieri's response to it, thousands of miles away from Duns Scotus' Britannic north. This singular being is powerful, Dante wrote, in that it is the drive to actualize "totam potentiam intellectus possibilis"-all the power of the possible intellect.[3] At the scene of the birth of European modernity, humanity discovered its power in the world and integrated this dignity into a new consciousness of reason and potentiality. In the fifteenth century, numerous authors demonstrated the coherence and revolutionary originality of this new immanent ontological knowledge. Let us simply cite three representative voices. First, Nicholas of Cusa: "Speculation is a movement of the intellect from quia est to quid est; and since quid est is infinitely distant from quia est, such a movement will never come to an end. And it is a very pleasurable movement, since it is the life itself of the intellect; from this fact such movement finds its satisfaction, since its motion does not generate fatigue but rather light and heat."[4] Second, Pico della Mirandola: "When you conceive of God as a living and knowing being, make sure before all else that this knowledge and this life are understood as free from every imperfection. Conceive of a knowledge that knows all and everything in a most perfect manner; and add still that the knower knows all by itself, so there is no need to search outside itself, which would make it imperfect."[5] In this way Pico della Mirandola, rather than conceiving a distant, transcendent God, makes the human mind into a divine machine of Knowledge. Finally, Bovillus: "The one who was by nature merely human [homo] becomes, through the rich contribution of art, doubly human, that is, homohomo."[6] Through its own powerful arts and practices, humanity enriches and doubles itself, or really raises itself to a higher power: homohomo, humanity squared. In those origins of modernity, then, knowledge shifted from the transcendent plane to the immanent, and consequently, that human knowledge became a doing, a practice of transforming nature. Sir Francis Bacon constructed a world in which "what has been discovered in the arts and the sciences can now be reorganized through usage, meditation, observation, argumentation . . . because it is good to treat the most distant realities and the occult secrets of nature through the introduction of a better use and a more perfect technique of the mind and the intellect."[7] In this process, Galileo Galilei maintains (and this will conclude our circle de dignitate hominis), we have the possibility of equaling divine knowledge:
Taking the understanding to be intensive, insofar as that term carries with it intensively, that is perfectly, several propositions, I say that the human intellect understands some things so perfectly and it has such absolute certainty of them that it equals nature's own understanding of them; those things include the pure mathematical sciences, that is, geometry and arithmetic, about which the divine intellect knows infinitely more propositions since it knows them all, but of those few understood by the human intellect I believe that its knowledge equals divine knowledge in its objective certainty.[8]
What is revolutionary in this whole series of philosophical developments stretching from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries is that the powers of creation that had previously been consigned exclusively to the heavens are now brought down to earth. This is the discovery of the fullness of the plane of immanence. Just as in philosophy and science, in politics, too, humanity reappropriated in this early period of modernity what medieval transcendence had taken away from it. In the span of three or four centuries, the process of the refoundation of authority on the basis of a human universal and through the action of a multitude of singularities was accomplished with great force, amid dreadful tragedies and heroic conquests. William of Occam, for example, claimed that the church is the multitude of the faithful-"Ecclesia est multitudo fidelium"9-meaning that it is not superior to and distinct from the community of Christians but immanent to that community. Marsilius of Padua posed the same definition for the Republic: the power of the Republic and the power of its laws derive not from superior principles but from the assembly of citizens.[10] A new understanding of power and a new conception of liberation were set in motion: from Dante and the late medieval apologia of the "possible intellect" to Thomas More and the celebration of the "immense and inexplicable power" of natural life and labor as foundation for the political arrangement; from the democracy of the Protestant sects to Spinoza and his notion of the absoluteness of the democracy. By the time we arrive at Spinoza, in fact, the horizon of immanence and the horizon of the democratic political order coincide completely. The plane of immanence is the one on which the powers of singularity are realized and the one on which the truth of the new humanity is determined historically, technically, and politically. For this very fact, because there cannot be any external mediation, the singular is presented as the multitude.[11]
Modernity's beginnings were revolutionary, and the old order was toppled by them. The constitution of modernity was not about theory in isolation but about theoretical acts indissolubly tied to mutations of practice and reality. Bodies and brains were fundamentally transformed. This historical process of subjectivization was revolutionary in the sense that it determined a paradigmatic and irreversible change in the mode of life of the multitude.
Modernity as Crisis
Modernity is not a unitary concept but rather appears in at least two modes. The first mode is the one we have already defined, a radical revolutionary process. This modernity destroys its relations with the past and declares the immanence of the new paradigm of the world and life. It develops knowledge and action as scientific experimentation and defines a tendency toward a democratic politics, posing humanity and desire at the center of history. From the artisan to the astronomer, from the merchant to the politician, in art as in religion, the material of existence is reformed by a new life. This new emergence, however, created a war. How could such a radical overturning not incite strong antagonism? How could this revolution not determine a counterrevolution? There was indeed a counterrevolution in the proper sense of the term: a cultural, philosophical, social, and political initiative that, since it could neither return to the past nor destroy the new forces, sought to dominate and expropriate the force of the emerging movements and dynamics. This is the second mode of modernity, constructed to wage war against the new forces and establish an overarching power to dominate them. It arose within the Renaissance revolution to divert its direction, transplant the new image of humanity to a transcendent plane, relativize the capacities of science to transform the world, and above all oppose the reappropriation of power on the part of the multitude. The second mode of modernity poses a transcendent constituted power against an immanent constituent power, order against desire. The Renaissance thus ended in war- religious, social, and civil war.
The European Renaissance, but above all the Italian Renaissance, with the splendid and perverse works that characterize it, was the site of the civil war over the realization of modernity. When the Reformation spread throughout Europe, it was like a second cyclone added to the first, repeating in the religious consciousness of the masses the alternatives of humanist culture. The civil war thus invested popular life and mingled with the most intimate recesses of human history. Class struggle moved across this terrain, marshaling up in the genesis of capitalism the creativity of the new mode of laboring and the new order of exploitation within a logic that carries together signs of both progress and reaction. It was a clash of titans, like the one Michelangelo depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: the tragic conflict of the genesis of modernity.
The revolution of European modernity ran into its Thermidor. In the struggle for hegemony over the paradigm of modernity, victory went to the second mode and the forces of order that sought to neutralize the power of the revolution. Although it was not possible to go back to the way things were, it was nonetheless possible to reestablish ideologies of command and authority, and thus deploy a new transcendent power by playing on the anxiety and fear of the masses, their desire to reduce the uncertainty of life and increase security. The revolution had to be stopped. Throughout the sixteenth century, whenever the fruits of the revolution appeared in all their splendor, the scene had to be painted in twilight colors. The demand for peace became paramount-but which peace? While the Thirty Years' War in the heart of Europe exemplified in the most terrible forms the outlines of this irreversible crisis, the consciousnesses, even the strongest and wisest, yielded to the necessity of the Thermidor and the conditions of the miserable and humiliating peace. Peace was a value that in a short stretch of time had lost the humanist, Erasmian connotations that had previously made it the path of transformation. Peace had become the miserable condition of survival, the extreme urgency of escaping death. Peace was marked simply by the fatigue of the struggle and the usury of the passions. The Thermidor had won, the revolution was over. The Thermidor of the revolution, however, did not close but only perpetuated the crisis. Civil war did not come to an end but was absorbed within the concept of modernity. Modernity itself is defined by crisis, a crisis that is born of the uninterrupted conflict between the immanent, constructive, creative forces and the transcendent power aimed at restoring order.[12] This conflict is the key to the concept of modernity, but it was effectively dominated and held in check. The cultural and religious revolutions were forced toward rigid and sometimes ferocious structures of containment. In the seventeenth century, Europe became feudal again. The counterreformist Catholic Church was the first and most effective example of this reaction, because that church itself earlier had been rocked by an earthquake of ref orm and revolutionary desire. The Protestant churches and political orders were not far behind in producing the order of the counterrevolution. Throughout Europe the fires of superstition were lit. And yet the movements of renewal continued their work of liberation at the base. Whereever spaces were closed, movements turned to nomadism and exodus, carrying with them the desire and hope of an irrepressible experience.[13] The internal conflict of European modernity was also reflected simultaneously on a global scale as an external conflict. The development of Renaissance thought coincided both with the European discovery of the Americas and with the beginnings of European dominance over the rest of the world. Europe had discovered its outside. "If the period of the Renaissance marks a qualitative break in the history of humanity," writes Samir Amin, "it is precisely because, from that time on, Europeans become conscious of the idea that the conquest of the world by their civilization is henceforth a possible objective . . . From this moment on, and not before, Eurocentrism crystallizes."[14] On the one hand, Renaissance humanism initiated a revolutionary notion of human equality, of singularity and community, cooperation and multitude, that resonated with forces and desires extending horizontally across the globe, redoubled by the discovery of other populations and territories. On the other hand, however, the same counterrevolutionary power that sought to control the constituent and subversive forces within Europe also began to realize the possibility and necessity of subordinating other populations to European domination. Eurocentrism was born as a reaction to the potentiality of a newfound human equality; it was the counterrevolution on a global scale. Here too the second mode of modernity gained the upper hand, but again not in a definitive way. European modernity is from its beginnings a war on two fronts. European mastery is always in crisis-and this is the very same crisis that defines European modernity.
In the seventeenth century the concept of modernity as crisis was definitively consolidated. The century began with the burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake, and it went on to see monstrous civil wars break out in France and England, and above all it witnessed the horrible spectacle of thirty years of German civil war. At the same time, the European conquest of the Americas and the slaughter and enslavement of its native populations proceeded with everincreasing intensity. In the second halfof the century, monarchic absolutism seemed definitively to block the course of freedom in the countries of continental Europe. Absolutism sought to fix the concept of modernity and strip it of the crisis that defines it through the deployment of a new armory of transcendentals. At the same time, outside of Europe conquest slowly gave way to colonialism, and the precarious search for gold, riches, and plunder was progressively displaced by trade exclusives, stable forms of production, and the African slave trade. The seventeenth century, however-and this is what makes it so ambiguous-was a fragile, baroque century. From the abysses of the social world always arose the memory of what it tried to bury.
We can find testimony to this fact with one single but enormous reference: Spinoza's philosophy of immanence, which dominated the latter half of the century of European thought. It is a philosophy that renewed the splendors of revolutionary humanism, putting humanity and nature in the position of God, transforming the world into a territory of practice, and affirming the democracy of the multitude as the absolute form of politics. Spinoza considered the idea of death-that death that states and powers carried like a weapon against the desire and hope of liberation-merely a hostage used to blackmail the freedom of thought, and thus banned it from his philosophy: "A free man thinks about nothing less than of death, and his knowledge is a meditation on life, not on death."[15] That love that the humanists considered the supreme form of the expression of intelligence was posed by Spinoza as the only possible foundation of the liberation of singularities and as the ethical cement of collective life. "There is nothing in nature which is contrary to this intellectual Love, or which can take it away."[16] In this crescendo ofthought, Spinoza testified to the uninterrupted continuity of the revolutionary program of humanism in the course of the seventeenth century.
The Transcendental Apparatus
The counterrevolutionary project to resolve the crisis of modernity unfolded in the centuries of the Enlightenment.[17] The primary task of this Enlightenment was to dominate the idea of immanence without reproducing the absolute dualism of medieval culture by constructing a transcendental apparatus capable of disciplining a multitude of formally free subjects. The ontological dualism of the culture of the ancien r‚gime had to be replaced by a functional dualism, and the crisis of modernity had to be resolved by means of adequate mechanisms of mediation. It was paramount to avoid the multitude's being understood, … la Spinoza, in a direct, immediate relation with divinity and nature, as the ethical producer of life and the world. On the contrary, in every case mediation had to be imposed on the complexity of human relations. Philosophers disputed where this mediation was situated and what metaphysical level it occupied, but it was fundamental that in some way it be defined as an ineluctable condition of all human action, art, and association. Hence the triad vis-cupiditas-amor (strength-desire-love) which constituted the productive matrix of the revolutionary thought of humanism was opposed by a triad of specific mediations. Nature and experience are unrecognizable except through the filter of phenomena; human knowledge cannot be achieved except through the reflection of the intellect; and the ethical world is incommunicable except through the schematism of reason. What is at play is a form of mediation, or really a reflexive folding back and a sort of weak transcendence, which relativizes experience and abolishes every instance of the immediate and absolute in human life and history. Why, however, is this relativity necessary? Why cannot knowledge and will be allowed to claim themselves to be absolute? Because every movement of self-constitution of the multitude must yield to a preconstituted order, and because claiming that humans could immediately establish their freedom in being would be a subversive delirium. This is the essential core of the ideological passage in which the hegemonic concept of European modernity was constructed. The first strategic masterpiece in this construction was accomplished by Ren‚ Descartes. Although Descartes pretended to pursue a new humanistic project of Knowledge, he really reestablished transcendent order. When he posed reason as the exclusive terrain of mediation between God and the world, he effectively reaffirmed dualism as the defining feature of experience and thought. We should be careful here. Mediation in Descartes is never well defined, or really, ifwe stay close to the text, we find that mediation resides mysteriously only in the will of God. Descartes's cunning stratagem consists primarily in this: When he addresses the centrality of thought in the transcendental function of mediation, he defines a sort of residual of divine transcendence. Descartes claims that the logics of mediation reside in thought and that God is very far from the scene, but a new man such as Blaise Pascal is perfectly right to object that this is just an example of descartes's trickery.[18] In fact, Descartes's God is very close: God is the guarantee that transcendental rule is inscribed in consciousness and thought as necessary, universal, and thus preconstituted:
Please do not hesitate to assert and proclaim everywhere that it is God who has laid down these laws in nature just as a king lays down laws in his kingdom. There is no single one that we cannot understand ifour mind turns to consider it. They are all inborn in our minds just as a king would imprint his laws on the hearts of all his subjects ifhe had enough power to do so. The greatness of God, on the other hand, is something which we cannot comprehend even though we know it. But the very fact that we judge it incomprehensible makes us esteem it the more greatly; just as a king has more majesty when he is less familiarly known by his subjects, provided of course that they do not get the idea that they have no king-they must know him enough to be in no doubt about that.[19]

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