A Philosophy of War by Henri Hude

The English edition of A Philosophy of War, by the French philosopher, Henri-Paul Hude, has just been published. We are happy to bring you an excerpt from this very important and timely book.

What is war today? To answer this question, we can no longer rely on notions of war elaborated in various classic works, because we are faced with a new problem—how to save humankind from annihilation in a total world war involving weapons of mass destruction. The simplest answer is to establish a “Leviathan,” whose promise and project is straight forward: cancel all powers except one, which will be universal and absolute, and start a war without end against all free powers and all liberties. This way eventually you will get peace forever. But can Leviathan actually deliver on this promise? And peace at what cost, because Leviathan demands absolute and unlimited power over the entire human race? It is this problem that Philosophy of War lays out in all its chilling detail. Is there another solution that can bring political and cultural peace to the world? Indeed, there is, and this book next details a very clear path, one that also ensures that we do not become enslaved by Leviathan. Nations, and their “wisdoms” (that is, “religions”) can unite as peace becomes possible. If you love liberty and desire peace, then this book is for you.

Please consider supporting the work of Professor Hude by purchasing a copy of the book.

I was twenty years old and suffocating at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, in Paris, often just called “Ulm” because of its location on the rue d’Ulm. There, Marxism lay heavy and it was oppressive. But there was an exchange program with Amherst College, in Massachusetts. Seizing the opportunity, I fled to America. On the flight over, I listened to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” In America I breathed free. I enrolled in a course on the Cold War (even then!). But I was not a diligent student. I meditated, read, wrote, reflected, contemplated and prayed. I was happy. France is my mother. America was my first love.

I spent a year at Amherst, as a teaching assistant in French, in what was then called the Department of Romance Languages, at the top of the hill, next to the great library, which was so precious to me, since I also had to return to the Sorbonne with a demanding piece of work on the status of logic in William of Ockham.

Next to the library was a memorial, which looked over a particularly beautiful view of the forest below that stretched as far as the eye could see. Nature has never moved me more than in its autumnal glory in New England. Large stone parallelepipeds were arranged in a sober, solemn semicircle. Names of battles were engraved on them. I always sat on the one that read, “Normandy.”

Another memory comes to me, with particular intensity, one day, when we came to revisit the D-Day landing beaches. Our sons were swimming in Omaha Beach. They were playing, splashing and shouting with joy. It was life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. I kept an eye on them. But I was thinking of your sons of long ago.

When I arrived in the United States, my mind was in a fog. At Ulm, my first “caiman” [slang for a supervising tutor who resembles an allegator because he devours your time, your freedom] had been the philosopher Jacques Derrida, one of the pontiffs of French Theory. From the outset, our relationship was atrocious. I dumped him, but was left with a choice between two other tutors, a half-mad Nietzschean and the famous Marxist theorist Louis Althusser. I made the rational choice, though I soon realized that I had fallen out of the pan and into the fire. Good God! Between French Theory, Marx and the Antichrist, where to go? I went to America, thanks to my English tutor.

I am a citizen, a philosopher of action. The practical is my element. I abhor idle questions. I love knowledge, not sterile erudition. For me, man is the decision-making animal. But to decide, you have to see things clearly and live in the real world. What I encountered in the United States was reality. When I landed in Boston, I was intellectually cataracted. I knew the world existed, but I saw everything through a kind of fog; I could not really see that it existed for real. I knew there was a God, but that was even less clear. Between God and me, a wall. Among you Americans, the veil dissipated, my lens cleared. After much reflection, one winter’s day, at dusk, after the rain, I left Crossett, where I shared an apartment with three truly excellent roommates, and, walking aimlessly, stopping suddenly, in the light of a street lamp, I admired the damp bark of a birch tree, its tender green beneath the brilliant white, hemmed in black. I was finally in the world and the world was here. Later, the wall fell, too.

By the time I left the States, my mind was at rest. There is nothing like a year of freedom, in a free country. For America was then a free country: a well-possessed middle class, powerful industry, a functioning political constitution, a decent culture, both classical and original. Infinitely less ideology than in Europe. A serene harmony between religion and freedom. Common sense and natural fairness. Free discussion between convinced and civilized people. Opportunities for all. A shaken but still substantial moral consensus. You could feel that something was beginning to sour, but the mood was still excellent, compared to the fetid atmosphere I had left behind.

On the plane ride back, I again listened to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9. But I was now returning, strengthened, to my Europe that was slashed by wars, revolutions, ideologies, totalitarianism and absurd atheism. The America from which I returned was more like the Old World, but not frozen or hardened, rather preserved alive and modernized, like an eighteenth-century Europe that had evolved without trauma, highly civilized, without anti-religious fanaticism. Is it all over? Does that America no longer exist? Must America also be a heartbreak for me?

If it does not find both reason and God, the USA will have a war and it will lose it. It will remain a great nation, like France after Napoleon and his excesses. As for Europe, alas, I wonder if there will be any of it left.

****

Finally, the question for the USA, which I am taking the liberty of asking, in publishing this book, is quite simply: “Have you decided to be Leviathan?” And the second is its sequel: “Or will you decide, on the contrary, to make us dream again?”

****

Let us take a closer look at Leviathan’s prerogatives. Leviathan will have at its disposal all national armed forces, which will have become international mobile gendarmerie squadrons; the nations themselves having become mere territorial administrative divisions within the state. This unique and rigorous organization will prevent the proliferation and dissemination of weapons.

Armed groups outside the world’s public forces shall all be classified as terrorists. National independence, local autonomy, freedom of association and individual freedom will no longer be relevant. Given the level of risk, the precautionary principle will demand that all citizens and groups be considered potential terrorists and placed under continual surveillance. Every opponent of Leviathan becomes an irresponsible, reckless person; a madman, an insurgent, a terrorist, a criminal, because mankind can only choose between (1) War or (2) Leviathan politics (Leviathan’s continual, universal and irresistible action of force, constitutive and conservative).

Leviathan is the solution to the problem of real Absolute War, but on condition that all claims to freedom, all claims to natural rights, are repressed. This repression is the essence of Leviathan’s policy. It is indeed a war against any plurality that might be reborn—against peoples and nations, against individuals, groups, families, against all freedoms. Through this heroic, titanic act of force, Leviathan, a single, total state, unjustly threatened by the deaf hatred of all, but indifferent, free and resolute, sure of its right to absolute power, will impose itself on all, not without the consent of all, and truly at the call of all. It thus shall force them all to total disarmament (military, political, legal, technical, physical, moral and intellectual). From what was a chaos of nations and individuals in mortal danger, it shall make a single world people, no longer terrified, but reassured by their partly happy, partly angry submission to absolute world power. Barring a profound cultural change, such is our future.

To preserve humankind’s right to survival, Leviathan will neutralize any threat, even preventively, in a discretionary manner. It will generalize and trivialize the anti-terrorist practice of targeted assassination, but not only against individuals, also against human groups.

The Leviathan State shall remain a Republic, unique and universal. There will still be a social pact. This pact will be made between every terrified individual on Earth and the unique Leviathan, endowed with absolute power, spiritual as well as temporal, whose sole law shall be public salvation. It shall be the very reason and free will of every individual on Earth.

To be strong enough, Leviathan shall remain concentrated. It must include only the wealthy and educated elite—and only them—provided they adhere to Leviathan’s policies. They are the ones who will benefit from medical progress. What will be the relationship between the rich and the rest? “The relationship between humans and animals is the best model we have for the future relationship between superhumans and humans.” No doubt this is why the culture of powerlessness talks so much about animal rights and promotes vegetarian eating. Inferior individuals will be reassured to know that they will not end up as corned beef.

Excluded from sovereignty will be the people, and above all the middle classes, if there are any left. These masses shall be deprived of political and economic rights. This deprivation shall be ensured by biocratic surveillance, repression and prevention—including genetic augmentation or diminution, remote brain control and regular intake of various prescribed drugs/medication. Elections could probably continue without much inconvenience, but we shall need to be sure that their outcome will not endanger Leviathan. The anxious fear of death and war, and the culture of powerlessness, will allow us to associate a reassuring servitude with a happy awareness of security and freedom.

Analysis of the Leviathan inevitably has the whiff of a “conspiracy theory.” Let us say a few words about this. What we call “conspiracism” lies at the crossroads of (i) a hypercritical philosophical tradition, (ii) the new postmodern class struggle and (iii) the historical dynamic tending towards the realization of Leviathan.

A) Philosophical conspiracy is central to the constitution of modern and postmodern critical reason. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud set out to reveal or denounce the occult interests, material or impulsive, unconscious or masked, that pull all the strings in our individual or social lives. More radically, this conspiracism goes back to Descartes. Its major feature is “doubt,” the basis of philosophical modernity, which remains inoperative without the introduction of the “Evil Genius,” a hidden, fictitious or mysterious power which, in its power and malignity “has employed all its industry to deceive me.” But then,

B) why do modern and postmodern elites hate “conspiracy?” For the same reasons that Descartes reserved the use of modern, critical reason for a thinking, conservative elite. If everyone began to doubt everything in morality, law, history, religion and, above all, politics, there would be revolution, communism or anarchy. Postmodern enlightened elites do not hate hypercritical (and therefore conspiratorial, in the philosophical sense of the word) reason, but since they have disrupted certain social equilibria and renewed the class struggle, they do fear revolution, if the use of criticism does not remain their monopoly, or were insufficiently controlled. Globalization, for example, would then be the object of a more or less Marxist critique. Marxism has long accustomed minds to seeing ideologies as the masks of powers and their means of domination. In line with this idea, conspiracy theorists (especially in long-developed countries) see in the praise of globalization an ideology at the service of elites and capital against people and labor. Elements A) and B) converge as follows:

C) with the dynamics of the Leviathan, which unfolds by virtue of a rather impersonal and involuntary logic, which surpasses all those who pride themselves on creating it. The elites believe, often in good faith, that Leviathan is the solution, even if they have reservations about one aspect or another. Leviathan will undoubtedly favor the elites, but their privileges will serve the general interest, and the people are quite irresponsible when they oppose it. Their populist demagogues will be potential terrorists. The people, who do not see it that way, think like George Orwell and attribute historical dynamics to the psychotic will to power of monstrous and perverse elites, from whom it is always legitimate and rational to expect the worst.

In summary, the term “conspiracy” is somewhat contradictory, as it tends to disqualify a political critique of globalization in the name of a modern or postmodern reason that is nonetheless philosophically conspiratorial. It is also a source of confusion, because it mixes relatively classic and timeless political issues (such as the tensions between oligarchy and democracy) with the problematic of Leviathan, specific to the hypertechnical age.Let us now complete our analysis of Leviathan. Under its empire, war can only exist between Power and each individual or group, large or small, potentially delinquent or rebellious. This war, if well waged, will be reduced to a reassuring political and cultural police action, as extensive as necessary, but conducted with discretion—and to a gendarmerie or special forces action, or secret political police, against all attempts at secession or sedition (liberation). This war will be permanent and without end, just as the fight against the underworld is for the police.

The social pact implies adherence to the politics of Leviathan (its constituent war). The freedom of the social pact exists authentically as unconditional adherence to global security totalitarianism, which has become the only reasonable regime imaginable. And all rational liberals have finally rallied to enlightened despotism.

Leviathan will not afford, especially in just a few decades’ time, to let a single lone wolf slip through its net, even for a moment. One would be enough to destroy everything. Universal control shall therefore be preventive. Surveillance shall be continuous, focusing not only on outward appearances, but also on everything that cannot be seen with the naked eye, such as brain waves and hormonal flows. Anything that is not authorized must be prohibited under the most severe penalties.

Leviathan will control everything. Attempt and intent will be punished as much as action. A sci-fi movie like Minority Report is a pretty good approximation. As it is impossible to take the slightest risk of recidivism, extra-judicial elimination is the only conceivable measure against any untimely exercise of freedom. But Leviathan will be worry-free. With technical progress, death is no more than an instantaneous, painless, non-tragic and unannounced obliteration. Public opinion will just believe it to be a natural death.

It is in Leviathan’s interest to make people believe that war is an inevitable effect of the unchecked ecological crisis, since this would be the cause of a global food crisis, leading to a furious struggle by all for the means of subsistence. In the final analysis, this crisis is itself the effect of human proliferation. Peace therefore will require that Leviathan have the right to regulate demographics and impose appropriate morality—libertarian or rigorist as the case may be—to ensure that the set numbers are respected. Aldous Huxley understood that the reproduction of the species is too serious a matter to be left to the freedom of individuals. Here again, a science-fiction film like Gattaca provides a pretty good approximation. “The love of servitude cannot be established except as a result of… a greatly improved technique of suggestion… a foolproof system of eugenics, designed to standardize the human product and so to facilitate the task of the managers.” Demographic and eugenic totalitarianism, as well as the most imperious sexual moralism (lax or rigorous, depending on what social utility requires), will be therefore indispensable to social and political control, barring major cultural change—and this (it should be noted) irrespective of anything one might reasonably think on the subjects of demography and ecology. All growth is incompatible with totalitarianism, without which there can be no true Leviathan, and therefore no guaranteed world peace.

****


Artists as Intellectuals?

In a society like ours, of consumption, opulent for the few, whose god is the market, the image has replaced the concept. We stopped reading to look, even when we rarely see one.

And so artists, actors, singers, announcers and TV hosts have replaced intellectuals.

This replacement comes from a deeper one; when intellectuals, especially after the French Revolution, came to replace philosophers. It is true that philosophers continued to exist, but the general tone of these last two centuries marks their public disappearance.

Progressivism, that infantile disease of social democracy, is characterized by assuming the vanguard as a method and not as a struggle, as was the case with the old socialism. The old newspaper La Vanguardia still exists in Barcelona.

The vanguard as a method means that for the progressive it is necessary to be, against all odds, always on the crest of the wave. Always ahead; in the vanguard of ideas, fashions, uses, customs and attitudes.

The progressive man always places himself in the temporal ecstasy of the future, neither the present, much less the past, has any significance for him, and if it does, it is always in function of the future. He is not interested in the ethos of the historical Nation, and even goes against this historical-cultural character. And this is so, because the progressive is his own project. He is always installed in the future because he has adopted the avant-garde as his method. No one and nothing can be in front of him, otherwise he would cease to be progressive. This explains why the progressive cannot give himself a project of country or nation because it would be placed in front of him, which implies and creates a contradiction.

And as no one can give what he does not have, the progressive cannot give himself nor give us a political project because he himself is his political project.

The progressive man, being the one who says yes to every novelty that is proposed to him, finds in artists his intellectuals. Today, in our consumer society where images have replaced concepts, we find that artists are, in the end, those who translate concepts into images. And the formation of the progressive consists in that, in a succession of truncated images of reality. The homo festivus, the emblematic figure of progressivism, of which thinkers such as Philippe Murray or Agulló speak, finds in the artist his ideologist.

The artist frees him both from the effort of reading (a habit that is irremissibly lost) and from the concrete world. The progressive does not want to know but only to be informed. He is greedy for novelties. And the world is “his world” and he lives in the glass bell of the old neighborhood stores where the flies (the people and their problems) cannot enter.

Porteño progressives live in Puerto Madero, not in Parque Patricios.

The tactic of the progressive governments is to transform the people into “the public;” that is, into a consuming public, with which the people cease to be the main political agent of any community, to cede that protagonism to the mass media, as ideologists of the masses, and to the artists, as ideologists of their own elites.

This is a mechanism that works at two levels: a) in the mass media, hundreds of journalists and broadcasters, those loquacious cultural illiterates, according to Paul Feyerabend’s (1924-1994) apt expression, tell us what we should do and how we should think. They are the messengers of Heidegger’s “anonymous one” that through the dictator “is,” says, thinks, works, dresses, eats, plunges us into improper existence; b) through artists as translators of concepts into images in theaters and cinemas and for a more restricted public with greater purchasing power: for those who are satisfied with the system.

The artist fulfills his ideological function within progressivism because he sings the infinite themes of vindication: gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, adoption of children by homosexuals, consumption of marijuana and cocaine, the fight against imperialism, the defense of indigenism, immigrants, the reduction of sentences for criminals, a nod to marginality and a long etcetera. But he never sings about the insecurity in the streets, prostitution, the sale of children, pedophile tourism, the lack of employment, the increasing murder and robbery of people, gambling for money, etc. No, that is not what Mastroiani’s film talks about. In short, he does not see the sufferings of society but its joys.

The artist as an actor represents all those plays where political correctness is represented. And in this sense, as Vittorio Messori says, in the first place is to denigrate the Church, to criticize the social order, the bourgeois virtues of moderation, modesty, thrift, cleanliness, fidelity, diligence, reasonableness, making the apology of their opposites.

There is no actor who does not rend his clothes talking about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, although no one represents the Christian or gypsy women in those same concentration camps.

Thus, if they represent Heidegger as a Nazi and Stalin as a master of humanity. The Pope always as an executioner and the nuns as perverts, but the moneylenders as needy and the pimps as liberators. No more depictions of the Merchant of Venice, nor of Martel’s La Bolsa. The conductor who dares to touch Wagner is excommunicated by the thought police of Jewish aesthetics in classical music.

In the local order, if they represent Martin Fierro, they remove the payada and duel with Moreno. General Belgrano is portrayed as a doctor. Perón as a bourgeois and Evita as a revolutionary. Even when the emblematic figure of every actor is Che Guevara.

All the theatrical hermeneutics is penetrated by psychoanalysis tinged by the logic of Freud and his hundreds of disciples. Logic that is resolved in the rescue of the “other” but to transform him into “the same,” because in the heart of this logic “the other,” like Jehovah for Abraham, is lived as a threat; and that is why in the supposed rescue I have to transform him into “the same.”

The artist is educated in difference; we see it in his outlandish clothing and behavior. He thinks and looks different but his product ends up being one more element for the homogenizing cohesion of all differences and otherness. He is one more agent of cultural globalization.

The pluralism preached and represented ends up in the apology of the sweet totalitarianism of the social democracies that reduce our identity to that of all equally.

Finally, the political mechanism that is at the base of this dissolution of the other, as the distinct, the different, is consensus. In it functions the simulacrum of the Kantian “as if.” Thus, I lend an ear to the other but I do not listen to him. A delayed negation of the other is produced, because, in the end, I seek to bridge the differences by reducing him to “the same.”
This is the ultimate reason why we have been proposing for years the theory of dissent, which is born of the real and effective acceptance of the principle of difference, and has the requirement of being able to live in that difference. And this is the reason why it is necessary to practice metapolitics: a discipline that involves the need to identify ideological diversity in the area of world, regional or national politics, trying to turn this diversity into a concept of political understanding, according to the wise opinion of the political scientist Giacomo Marramao.

Dissent should be the first step in making genuine public policy and metapolitics the philosophical and axiological content of the political agent.


Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles. His website is here.


Featured: The Serenade, by Jacob Jordaens; painted ca. 1640-1645.


The Archimedean Point: The Political and the Legal Sphere

The distinction between “political” and “legal” is particularly difficult because the scope, purpose, and assumptions of one and the other are the same, or similar, or, at least in part, coincident.

If, for example, one asks “what is the purpose of politics?” the prevailing answer is the “common good,” understood as security (and protection) from (internal and external) threats, as (internal) concord, and as well-being. If one asks the same question for the law, the prevailing answer will be to justly and surely regulate social relations; which coincides, in part, with the “common good” understood as concord in the community, given the need for rules on the one hand, and for them to be shared and accepted (predominantly) by the members on the other.

If, likewise, we start from the ambit, while the “social” character of politics is taken for granted, that of the law, it has given some problems: this does not detract from the fact that for a legal norm or command to exist there must always be a society, though of only two people. A norm that, like the moral norm, is only internal and has the individual and God (or conscience) as subjects, is not juridical. Further, it is juridical only if it is concretely enforceable (and violable); and—at least to some extent—enforced.

Which leads to the other problem of the effectiveness of the law, which necessitates the use of coercion, that is, force, itself a (typical) means of politics. And thus, it could go on for a long time.

On the other hand, there are the differences and irreducibility of one to the other.

An example for the enduring relevance (and rightly so) of an essential difference is the one made by Max Weber about the different attitude of the politician and the official: “To take a stand, to be passionate—ira et stadium—is the politician’s element, and above all the element of the political leader. His conduct is subject to quite a different, indeed, exactly the opposite, principle of responsibility from that of the civil servant. The honor of the civil servant is vested in his ability to execute conscientiously the order of the superior authorities, exactly as if the order agreed with his own conviction. This holds even if the order appears wrong to him and if, despite the civil servant’s remonstrances, the authority insists on the order. Without this moral discipline and self-denial, in the highest sense, the whole apparatus would fall to pieces. The honor of the political leader, of the leading statesman, however, lies precisely in an exclusive personal responsibility for what he does, a responsibility he cannot and must not reject or transfer. It is in the nature of officials of high moral standing to be poor politicians, and above all, in the political sense of the word, to be irresponsible politicians. In this sense, they are politicians of low moral standing…”

In this passage the distinction is formulated between the political attitude and function (which is to give commands) and that of the official (of the bureaucracy) which is to execute them. That being said, in order to understand and demarcate the different spheres of the political and the legal, it is necessary to identify the points of contact, as well as the differences between them.

As for those, the first is given by the character and social sphere in which they are necessarily carried out. As mentioned, the rule ubi societas ibi ius applies, as does the specular ubi ius ibi societas. The assumption of the sociality of the legal, as well as the political, is evident. As has been written, even on Robinson Crusoe’s island, the law came into being only with the presence of Friday: before that it would have been absurd. For politics (and the political) no one, to our knowledge, has ever questioned the presupposition of the social rapport (relation), since politics is always the activity of human groups.

Another common character is that of the preservation of society; a given also, for the most part, taken for granted for politics, somewhat less so for the “legal.” In reality if the law carries within itself, more prominently than politics, the idea of justice (with the extreme consequence, expressed in the saying, fiat justitia pereat mundus) it is also true that for a legal command (norm) to be (mostly) enforceable (hence effective) it is necessary for it to be shared, at least in prevalence, in society: a certain degree of concord must support it. More generally, it must be remembered how one of the prevailing conceptions of the law is that it is a social technique: a good “technique” must achieve the specific and assigned purpose of preserving society. Only commands on which a large proportion of associates agree are likely to be executed with a minimum of force and a maximum of consensus. And the same argument, mutatis mutandis, applies to welfare: the “good” technique must achieve goals of “good” (i.e., effective and positive) management.

As for the points of difference, the main one is the autonomous character of the political, which is contrasted with the heteronomous character of the legal. It is necessary to clarify these concepts, and the relationship between the autonomy of the political and the heteronomy of the legal.

First, the autonomy of politics (and the political) should be understood not only in the traditional sense, as independence from moral (and legal) precepts, but also in the literal sense, of that which gives goals, rules, to itself; that is, in the positive sense, before the negative sense, of possibility/ability of before freedom from. Valid for politics (and the political) is Spinoza’s consideration that the limits and rules to be observed by the state are those of nature and not of civil laws, and that being autonomous consists for man in being “able to reject all violence, to demand in his own judgment compensation for the harm he has suffered, and, in a word, to live at his own pleasure (Political Treatise, II.9);” and for states, being “together are to be considered as a man in the state of nature” (Political Treatise, VII, 22.), the situation is the same. Hence the character of politics is to be autonomous, in the sense of giving law: either to subjects, (in and with) peace, or, to (possible) enemies in (and with) war. The connection that the Roman spirit had identified between hostis and auctoritas and expressed in the Twelve Tables—adversus hostem aeterna auctoritas—can be explained thus.

Thus, character of politics (and the politician) is not to recognize laws (commands) other than those that (the community) chooses to give itself; if one obeys the commands of others, it means one is in a pathological situation. Like that of a protected state versus the protecting power.

Conversely, the “juridical” is unthinkable except within a framework of heteronomy: Autonomous is, in man, or can be, the conscience (moral or religious); but the command, the juridical norm, never. The most that can be done to increase the degree of “autonomy” is to participate in the formation of public norms (commands), as advocated by Hobbes and Rousseau. But even in a democracy as close to the “ideal type” of democracy as possible, the subject who commands (i.e., the assembly of citizens) is distinct from the “commanded”—thus as Hobbes wrote—there “passeth no covenant, between the sovereign and any subject” (De corpore politico, XXI, 2).

Thus, if autonomy is connoted by the political—understood as an attribute of collective unity (obviously not of the individual)—heteronomy is of the legal.

In this sense Kant’s principle that “the sovereign has only rights against his subjects and no duites (that he can be coerced to fulfill), (The Metaphysics and Morals, p. 95),” fully expresses both the heteronomy of the juridical and the autonomy of the political, obviously in relation to the modern state. Having only rights and no duties means both being able to give commands (laws) and (in an emergency) not having to comply with any (not even those autonomously assumed). Moreover, that coactive in parentheses indicates precisely legal obligation and duty, i.e., enforceable by resorting to force (that the sovereign has duties of other kinds—not legal—is conceivable and argued, with reason, by many). Thus, on the one hand the law, even that produced by private autonomy, rests in every case on a political decision and will (even to allow and support autonomy; that is, it is a rare example of heteronomous autonomy); on the other hand, the political, that is, the essential character of sovereign power is to be free from all legal conditioning and limitations.

The “heteronomous” character of the law, with regard to legal decision, also results from the structure of the same, which is based on the authorization/application of commands (norms) that have already been decided (elsewhere); so that a measure or judgment can be reviewed and qualified as valid (or invalid) on the basis of a check of conformity with respect to the norm or commands that support them. This is so whether these have normative content (as is, for the most part, the case in the modern state) or consist of mere commands (i.e., lacking generality and/or abstractness). A policy decision is, conversely, not reviewable with respect to a norm. While a ruling is good (valid) if the Judge has correctly applied existing law, the policy measure is good insofar as it is congruous in resolving a situation, at the limit breaking the law, including constitutional norms. While the above saying, fiat justitia pereat mundus (meaning by justitia the applicable law) applies to the Judge, the other salus populi suprema lex applies to politics (Hobbes writes that law, duty and profit of the Sovereign “are one and the same thing, contained in the sentence, Salus populi suprema lex,” De corpore politico, XXVIII, p. 177). And the salvation of the state is not properly a matter of the law, let alone of norms.

The same thesis was espoused by Thomasius and Kant regarding the distinction between the law and morality. For the former, all law consists of external and not internal commands; Kant then argues that “The pure agreement and disagreement of an action with the law, he says, without regard to the motive of the action itself, is called legality (conformity to the law) while when the idea of duty, derived from the law, is at the same time motive of the action one has morality (moral doctrine). Duties imposed by legal legislation can only be external duties, because this legislation does not require that the idea of duty, which is wholly internal, be in itself a determining motive of the agent’s will, and since it needs motives appropriate to its laws, it can only admit external motives. Moral legislation, on the other hand, although it erects internal actions to duties as well, does not exclude external actions for this reason, but refers in general to everything that is duty.” Hence it follows that “to the right is thus immediately connected, according to the principle of contradiction, the power to compel the one who undermines it,” and “a narrow right can therefore only be called that which is completely external;” whereby “it right rests solely on the principle of the possibility of an external compulsion which may consist with the freedom of everyone according to general laws.”

From this it follows that the rules (laws) of politics, that is, those against which the appropriateness of political behavior (and political institutions) is assessed, have as a common feature precisely that of not being juridical; that is, of not being able to appreciate (and coerce) those behaviors with respect to rules of law (particularly positive law, or to, depending on the meaning one gives to the latter, natural law). One may or may not agree with Hobbes’ view that “natural law is, to define it, a dictate of right reason as to what is to be done or not done in order to preserve, as long as possible, life and limbs,” from which it follows that the relevant behaviors are true or false, and not like those, evaluated from the legal aspect (as well as the rules) lawful or unlawful, valid or invalid; or that of Spinoza, according to whom the state must observe only the rules, not of civil law, but of natural law; but it is certain that on the “effected” plane, this appears to be true.
On the other hand, if one starts precisely from the “presuppositions” of the political, as defined by Freund, it is not clear how the choice between peace and war could be formulated in terms and on the basis of legal presuppositions (preventive and general), nor whether an action should be commanded and by whom, or whether an activity should be public or private.

The first, moreover, does not depend (except partially) on one’s own will, because choosing to be an enemy of a given political unit is another unit’s decision; as for the other two assumptions to claim to codify what must be public or who must be obeyed (including the form of state) is to want to plaster history. Even if in the Enlightenment and among the revolutionaries of 1789 the conception of the legislature (and of the law, including constitutional law) destined to last was widespread, nevertheless the conviction that one generation cannot bind (eternally) future ones was equally widespread; and, on the other hand, saving them from the “legal” drift was the concept of constituent power which, in any case, stands above (and before) the Constitution itself, by the same amendable, even integrally.

The other presupposition of “legal” is, according to Freund, the relationship between permitted and forbidden. Like that between social and individual it is not exclusive to the law but common to many other areas of human activity, especially morality. However, it is the condition of (thinkability and) existence of a command, since commanding something presupposes the freedom to choose and thus the prohibition of something else. Neither in a society in which everything is permitted, nor in one in which impossible things are commanded (ad impossibilia nemo tenetur) is an executable command (in general) conceivable, and therefore neither is a legal rule. Certainly, a society whose Grundnorm consists in “everything is permitted” is conceivable, but this, as well as never seen in history, would not need the law, understood as an apparatus of coercion (hence institution), since it would not be possible to compel anything. Such a society, without institutions and prohibitions, is ultimately the exact representation of the Hobbesian state of nature.

It follows from the above that the essential character of the rules of politics is precisely that they are not legal, that is, susceptible to external command and coercion. It could be argued that politics has no rules (laws); but this consideration is not supportable. In fact, politics has the rules it wants to observe (this is the first face of the autonomy of the politician); the other consists of those rules that determine its end (the Hobbesian salus rei publicae suprema lex); or the “technical” rules for the protection of the community and the exercise of power. Philosophy and political thought have elaborated many of them. From the one (De Benoist) of reducing the number of enemies, which has had the most varied formulations and expressions throughout history (from the Roman divide-and-rule to the “never war on two fronts” of the Germanic HQ of the last century). Machiavelli, but also Hobbes and Spinoza have indicated several—whose common (prevailing) connotation is to depend on the purpose of political activity. That is, on the protection of communal existence and the order it ensures, to which they are instrumental as means to the end.

The other character of the “political” and its rules is to be “superordinate” to the “legal” (and its norms). This is not only because of sovereignty—a key concept because it is the junction point between politics and the law—and which has (also) the function of guaranteeing/protecting order through the exercise/discipline of coercion; and not only because the purpose of politics, in the case of emergency (and sometimes not only in that) prevails over that of the law (justice, or rather equity), so that, as Jhering wrote “force will sacrifice law to save life,” i.e., according to Santi Romano, necessity is the source of law; but also because in following legal (or, in a different respect, moral) rules rather than those of “reason of state,” a community prepares, as Machiavelli wrote for The Prince “more quickly ruin than its preservation.”

If, for example, the Western powers had militarily come to the aid of Finland, which was attacked in 1939 by the Soviet Union (as demanded by much of the public), they would have had international law on their side (the Geneva Protocol of 1924 condemned war of aggression, and the war on Finland was such) but would have made a very bad political choice—both because, in addition to the war with Hitler, they would have found themselves in another one with Stalin, and because they would have consolidated the recent (and tenuous) alliance between their enemies. Quoting Odilon Barrot, since sometimes la legalité nous tue, in order not to die one must “break” or “derogate” from legality.

On the other hand, it is precisely the positive law, with its large casuistry of derogations and exceptions to constitutional and ordinary law that demonstrates the character and structure of this relationship: constitutional ruptures, states of exception, states of necessity, derogations and extenuating circumstances to criminal legislation.

Hence, Santi Romano correctly held, in the passage quoted above, that even in case it is forbidden to make use of exceptional powers, necessity legitimizes the violation of existing right (or rather law).

In other words, in every order (that is viable) there is a “general clause” (even if unwritten, even if prohibited) by virtue of which the protection of (collective) existence prevails over legality. Coinciding, according to Santi Romano, the concept of institution with that of order, this clause is juridical, because it is constitutive-conservative of collective existence. Together with sovereignty—and from an objective standpoint—it is the connecting point between the end of the political and the purpose of the law. It follows from this that the political institution (in modernity, and par excellence, the state) has the task of bringing together the demands of politics and law, sein and sollen. Precisely in institutionalist (legal) thought, and in the concept of institution, this is felt most sharply; according to Hauriou “power is a free energy of the will that takes on the enterprise of governing a human group through the creation of order and law.” Thus, in the beginning, there is power; this creates order through institution; power (and government) in fact is thus transformed into power (and government) in the law. The relationship between power, order through the law (i.e., the institution) and coutumier consent means that the institution must take into account both power and consent and order, and thus the “two” poles, political and legal.

The relationship of “superordination” or “decisiveness” between politics and the law, and of the prevalence-precedence of the former over the latter, to which Hauriou’s thesis on power and order has brought us closer, is particularly evident in the moment of foundation (or re-foundation) of the institution, and, in particular, of the institution-state.

Santi Romano has been very attentive to this, both in his early and later writings; the same problem is, however, usually neglected by jurists, partly with the extenuating circumstance that the jurist interprets the law that is, and does not investigate the genetic moment of the institution. But the very latter shows the essence and modes of the relationship: Sieyès’s theory of constituent power comforts him (and is its clearest expression). Sieyès bases it on three distinguishing features of such power: the first negative, of being freed from all forms, “une nation est indèpendente de toute forme.” In contrast to constituted powers, which are bound by legality (“il n’est legal qu’autant qu’il est fidèle aux lois qui lui ont été imposées“), the national will (i.e., constituent power) “au contraire n’a besoin que de sa réalité pour être toujours lègale, elle est l’origine de toute lègalité.”

The nation is not subject to a constitution, and cannot (nor should) be; not only is it independent of all forms, but it needs no legal justification (support). In it, reality and legality coincide: the latter is the development-emanation of the former. Lastly, “De quelque manière qu’une nation veuille, il suffit qu’elle veuille: toutes les formes sont bonnes, et sa volonté est toujours la loi supreme;” whereby it is it that determines (and institutes) the form(s) in which the institution will be organized and articulated. The politician thus does not have a given form, but is the creator of (his own) form. The fact that this form(s) is viable (i.e., effective, capable of causing command to be exercised with success and consensus) is due to the degree to which it is accepted by the consociates, which is expressed in essentially political (and “factual”) categories (and concepts), such as authority and legitimacy. Thus the “political” and the political will (both of the “creator” of the order and of the governed) is the Archimedean point of the (state) legal order: by taking away, modifying, or replacing that, it changes this; whereas the reverse is not true; for the change of one, or several (even most) norms, nor that of institutions, changes the constitution (understood in the Schmittian sense of fundamental decisions about the modes and forms of political existence), much less constituent power.

In this regard, it should be recalled how many jurists have noted that there are original and derivative institutions. The former are “those in which a legal order is embodied which is not posited by other institutions and which is therefore, as to its source, independent. Conversely, there are derived institutions, whose order is, that is, established by another institution, which thus asserts, in this respect, its superiority over the first, which thus remains subordinate to it;” just as the state has, according to Rudolf Smend, the character that “its functioning is not maintained by an engine or judge external to its structure, is not supported by a heteronomous cause or guarantee, but is integrated, through objective legislativeness with respect to value, exclusively in a system of integration gravitating on itself.” whereby “in a sense quite different from the constitution of an association, the written constitution of a state can therefore only stimulate and limit that constitutional life which gravitates on itself and which cannot be guaranteed heteronomously.” In sum, the political (and original) character of the state institution means that it is the political—and sovereign—power inherent in it that guarantees unity, stability and enforcement of law; for others, it is a power external to the institution (i.e., mostly another institution), precisely because it lacks sovereignty.

One could with a bold comparison, adapt to the law Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, for which there are points that the system cannot decide or prove independently. Conversely, the political, as Sieyès wrote in the passage quoted above, has no need for legitimacy or to conform to a legal norm or procedure.

The point of junction (and friction) between the juridical and the political is provided by public law, by which is meant what—in other Romance languages, as well as in Italian in Romagnosi’s time—is also called “political law.” In its higher branches, but sometimes also in its lower ones, several points of junction (and conflict) between the needs of politics and legal principles and institutions can be discerned.

The very positive law (positive rights) of modern states concurs in proving how the political (and politics) are irreducible to the juridical; in particular, if one understands this essentially as a rule, as a norm applicable exactly by a judge or official. The forms of this irreducibility are various. We recall the main ones:

1) First, there is no need to have law in order to create law. This is implicit in Sieyès’ assertion that the Nation, by the mere fact of its existence is all that it wants to be; that is, that it needs no legal legitimation. This, as well as by others, is taken up (and in a sense, expanded) in the well-known thesis of Santi Romano, whereby even without legislative authorization for the use of “exceptional and extraordinary powers, these may be assumed and exercised by virtue of necessity. As is customary, indeed all the more so given its greater energy, necessity is an autonomous source of the law, superior to the law.”

2) Even without wishing to recall the protective-conservative function of political authority, which is particularly clear and evident in the ” state of exception,” not even in relationships and situations not connoted by emergency, but, in a sense, normal, the scope of the “political” coincides with the “normative.” In fact, particularly relevant acts are removed from judicial review, even in liberal democracies, where control is, conversely and usually, penetrating and general. Thus, in Italian law, political acts; in French law, actes de gouvernement are not appealable before the judge. In this regard, it has been argued that “political activity cannot be defined solely as a free activity, but a free activity because it is political,” and that acts expressing the function of government are “institutionally subtracted from any judicial review. They are subtracted by nature, not because there is Article 31 T.U. on the Council of State.”

Even in the presence of Article 113 of the Italian Constitution (which prescribes the general reviewability of administrative acts), the category of political acts has “survived” the Republican Constitution; hence, the argument that such acts are not justiciable by “nature” is reinforced.

3) Representative powers (and sometimes not only those) are immune from criminal jurisdiction. The first modern European constitution, that is, the French constitution of 1791, already provided for this (Title III, ch. I, art. 3) prescribing that courts could not interfere in the exercise of legislative power or suspend the implementation of laws: similar prescriptions, and those on the immunity of parliamentarians (of heads of state and ministers) from arrests and trials were carried over into practically all subsequent European constitutions, of first liberal and (later) democratic-liberal states; as were the exceptions to ordinary powers and forms in the case of political trials.

The decisive argument for explaining immunities (and exceptions) for certain “supreme” organs of the state is the one expounded, in the wake of a tradition of thought about (or of) the state going back to Bodin and Hobbes, by Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, in a 1933 essay. In fact, he wrote: “That among the organs whereby the State manifests its will and implements it, there is one that towers above all others, superiorem non recognoscens, and that precisely because it cannot admit a superior (for then supreme power would be transported to this other), it must be removed from all jurisdiction and becomes, for that very reason, inviolable and unaccountable, is well known” (italics are ours).

The above brief excursus I hope has served to clarify of what is political and what is legal. The interpenetration of which—in the constituted forms—creates multiple types of interaction and relations, of which positive law is the testimony; and from which the distinctive criteria are recorded.

The fact remains that the law is by nature heteronomous, and form and procedure are essential (and “given” to it; whereas the political is autonomous, is morpho-poietic, and (ultimately) does not need to observe legal procedures or legitimations to impose its will.

When one tries to forget—or belittle—such characters, there are two reasons: either one tries to use the law as a support in a political battle ( as, for example, the Leninist use of legality), cloaking oneself in the “added value” of the law, aimed—as an extra weapon—against the enemy; or one confuses legality and legitimacy, forms and procedures, subordination and coordination, being and ought-to-be, command and obedience, public and private, in a chaos, which the lack of a visible and recognized (“public”) Archimedean point makes enduring (as much as harmful). Which may be the ideological form of a polycratic moderatism, in which the moderation of words covers the particularized ends of an (irresolute and) tendentially anarchic congeries of private powers, though not always in object, mentality and function.


Teodoro Katte Klitsche de la Grange is an attorney in Rome and is the editor of the well-regarded and influential law journal Behemoth.


Featured: Study for Divine Law, by Violet Oakley; painted ca. 1917.


1968 and 1989: The Two Fundamental Dates of Turbo-Capitalism

Capitalism dialectically overcomes the antagonistic demands of the proletariat (class struggle, spirit of splitting, partisan organizations, revolutionary passion); and it does so by anesthetizing its consciousness in a consumerist sense, but also by “economizing” the conflict (since the 1970s, the proletariat fights for higher wages and not for overcoming the mode of production, thus metabolizing the ideology of capital as an ineluctable horizon). Simultaneously, capitalism overcomes the bourgeois “unhappy consciousness.” In fact, this also represents, no less than the vindicatory and potentially revolutionary antagonism of the proletariat, a contradiction within capitalism; and this above all, if we consider that the bourgeoisie: a) presents its own universalist vocation which can lead it—as in the case of Marx—to contest the historical capitalist world in which it is still the dominant class; and b) has a non-marketable valuational and ethical sphere and, therefore, ultimately incompatible with the processes of omni-mercantilization proper to absolute capitalism.

The bourgeoisie is, consequently, incompatible with absolute capitalism, just as the latter is, by its essence, irreconcilable with the bourgeois class, both on the immaterial plane (unhappy consciousness) and on the material plane (properties of the middle classes). In reality, turbo-capital presupposes the happy unconsciousness of the resilient, post-bourgeois and post-proletarian consumers, and the destruction of the material bases of the very existence of the bourgeois middle class by the work of the auri sacra fames of cosmopolitan finance and its cynical managers. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat, in their dialectical conflictuality, had developed within the framework of eticity in the Hegelian sense; that is, in the real and symbolic space of the solid and solidary “roots” of community life, linked to the family and the school, to the trade union and the sovereign national State.

By making the world of life precarious, mobilizing, uprooting and completely commercializing it, absolute-totalitarian capitalism provokes the “dejectification,” the annihilation of the sittlich element. It deconstructs any residual community other than the intrinsically anti-communitarian one of the ephemeral do ut des of the market. It neutralizes the family and the unions, the school and the sovereign national state. And it produces the open space of the world reduced to a market and inhabited only by uprooted and homologated consumers, without proletarian antagonistic consciousness and without bourgeois unhappy consciousness.

The post-traditional society, according to Giddens’ expression, becomes a deregulated market, in whose borderless spaces social classes dissolve in the false interclassism of “homologated consumers,” who have as many rights as they can buy. The 1968 ideology—confusing the struggle against the bourgeoisie with the struggle against capitalism—acts as a symbolic order of reference for the new absolute-totalitarian capitalism, itself 1968-ist in its struggle against any legacy of bourgeois ethical life and in its anarcho-deregulating essence. For this reason, as Michéa suggests, since 1968, the Left has been transformed into “a simple political machine destined to culturally legitimize, in the name of progress and modernization, all the forward escapades of liberal civilization.”

With 1968 came the divorce between the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. The latter, from ascetic and disciplinary (i.e., bourgeois), became permissive and transgressive (i.e., post-bourgeois), along the inclined plane that leads from the rebel to the narcissist and from the revolution to the new age. The formal subsumption of the adversarial couple under capital is verified: Right and Left advance more and more towards the horizon of capital, mutually accepted as natural-eternal destiny. De-anticized and precarious, society becomes a simple consumer society, a planetary “system of needs” (Hegel) and an unlimited “commercial society” (Adam Smith); a cosmopolitan market populated no longer by citizens of nation states and by fathers and mothers, but only by competitors; competitors who, in the absence of any community spirit, relate only on the basis of the principles theorized by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations—the omni-lateral dependence of necessity and acquisitive egoism—in relation to the brewer, the butcher and the baker. Following the Hegel of Elements of the Philosophy of Right, a society stripped of the elements of “eticity” (Sittlichkeit) decays into a mere and competitive “system of needs” (System der Bedürfnisse); that is, a simple place of mercantile exchange, governed by the “unsociable sociability” of conflictual atoms that relate only to compete and exchange goods, according to what Alain Caillé has called the axiomatique de l’intérêt.

On the side of intellectual production, the “unhappy consciousness” has dissolved. And, in place of the dialectical class of the bourgeoisie, a global class has taken over that is no longer bourgeois but ultra-capitalist, inclined to frivolously accept the “polytheism of values” and consumerist lifestyles within the “iron cage” of the idolatrous monotheism of the market. It is what, in Historia y conciencia del precariado, we have called the new post-bourgeois, post-proletarian and ultra-capitalist “financial aristocracy;” it is, in short, a class that, bearer of postmodern happy unconsciousness, lives in a parasitic and usurocratic manner, exploiting the slave labor of the dominated class.

For its part, the dominated class (so far not “per se”) coincides with the aforementioned precariat, dynamic fusion of the old bourgeois middle class and the old proletarian working class. The dissolution of the alliance between the unhappy bourgeois consciousness and the struggles for the recognition of menial labor is dialectically reversed in the passive acceptance of the capitalist world frame as irreversible horizon, making its own the “sad passion” of resilience. The planetarized market society of capitalism absolutus no longer knows any social resistance (it lacks a class that contradicts its project), nor political opposition (Right, Left and Center share the same ultra-capitalist vision of the world), nor philosophical delegitimization (with rare exceptions, intellectuals, devoid of “unhappy consciousness,” are today “organic”—in the Gramscian sense—to the system in force, to its relativistic nihilism and its competitive individualism).

The proletariat was dominated but not subdued. In fact, it had its own conceptual maps, largely coinciding with those of the Left in its various historical figures, capable of unmasking class domination and proposing paths of emancipation that would lead to making the cosmos transcend capitalist morphology. On the contrary, the precariat (national-popular servant) is both dominated and subjugated. And it is so to the extent that, in addition to suffering material domination (id est, exploitation and its economic-political organization), it also endures the immaterial and ideological, guided by the same maps provided by the dominant plutocratic groups. In them, the figure of the conflict—now only apparent—between Right and Left plays a role of primary importance. In short, if in dialectical capitalism the Right was theoretically the part of the master and the Left was primarily that of the servant; in turbo-capitalism Right and Left are equally the parts through which the dominion of the master is legitimized. The servant is now represented neither politically nor culturally; i.e., he is dominated in politics and culture as well as in economics.

According to the maps of domination outlined above, “progress” is the name that the pedagogues of the new mental order of culmination of power relations assign to everything that favors the dominant pole. On the contrary, “return” (or “regression”) is the infamous qualification with which the order of the dominant discourse delegitimizes any figure of the limit or, even simply, of non-alignment with respect to the omni- enveloping advance of the commodity form and the reification of the world of life.
According to what we have explained in Minima mercatalia and in Glebalizzazione, 1968 and 1989 mark, successively, two nodal stages of the evolutionary dialectic of capitalism in its transit from the dialectical phase to the absolute. It is from 1960 onwards that we witness the mise en forme of the diverse but equally expressive processes of the Zeitgeist of the new spirit of capitalism: (a) of the eclipse of the unhappy bourgeois consciousness; (b) of the neutralization of the anti-capitalist utopia of the proletariat, now “economicized;” and (c ) of the new anti-bourgeois and ultra-capitalist physiognomy of a new Left which, abandoning Marx and Lenin, has gradually become a “radical mass party” and accepting the reasons of the new order of power relations, which has finally ended up reabsorbing it. The hodierna speculative phase is ultra-capitalist precisely because it is anti-bourgeois first (1968) and post-bourgeois later (1989).

Beyond the irreducible prismatic heterogeneity of the events that have characterized 1968 on a planetary scale, we believe—following in the wake of Preve and of what we have examined in more detail in Minima mercatalia and in Il futuro è nostro—that it is possible to identify a common expressive function. Illusorily hailed as a revolutionary process of opposition to the capitalist structure, 1968 asks to be interpreted, in a diametrically opposed way, as the foundational myth of post-bourgeois and post-proletarian absolute-totalitarian capitalism; and more precisely as the decisive transit point from the dialectical to the speculative phase. The latter is characterized by the eclipse of the two instances (as well as of their alliance) of the anti-capitalist struggle of the servant and of the unhappy conscience of the bourgeoisie and, as a whole, by the substitution of the patriarchal and authoritarian dialectical capitalism for citizen-subjects, by the current turbo-capitalism of the new liberal-libertarian power for consumers with total deregulation (the gauchiste capitalism of the “forbidden to forbid” and of the plus ultra). Exemplum sui generis of the “color revolution,” 1968 was a decisive moment of emancipation not from capitalism, but for capitalism. This was aimed at overcoming the oppositional dichotomy between bourgeoisie and proletariat, and certainly not in the direction of the “sun of the future” of a post-capitalist society governed by relations between equally free individuals, but in the direction of an individualistic liberalization of consumption and customs; and this in the framework of a new capitalism no longer inhabited by bourgeois and proletarians, with their “eticity,” with their non-marketable values and their possible emancipatory anti-capitalism, but only by post-identitarian and Robinsonian consumers, colonized by a commodity form that has now become the new raison du monde.

Since the 1960s, the Left fought against the foundations of modern bourgeois civilization, without realizing that this battle was the same one waged by the new capitalism and its aspiration for the creation of a post-bourgeois space for the unlimited free circulation of commodities, of marketized persons and of the deregulated flows of liquid-financial capital: the struggle against the bourgeois world not only did not coincide with the struggle against capitalism, but finally ended up being identified with the struggle for capitalism itself or, rectius, for its definitive empowerment through the overcoming of the contradictions inherent to the dialectical phase and, therefore, for the transition to the new post-bourgeois and post-proletarian turbo-capitalism, beyond Right and Left.

With 1989, the movement of “naturalization” of capital could be considered complete (capitalismus sive natura): capitalism becomes “speculative,” as humanity sees itself reflected in the speculum of the totalitarian world of commodities. And so it is, more and more, induced to conceive it as the only possible world, in a total desertification of the imaginary. Capitalism then comes to correspond to its own “concept” (Begriff) after having gone through and overcome its own being-other-of-itself with the antithetical-dialectical phase.

As we tried to show in detail in Glebalizzazione, the annus horribilis of 1989 coincided with the epochal date of the imposition of capitalismus sive natura, that is, of economic fanaticism and planetary classism ideologically hypostasized in inescapable destiny or in nature already forever given, neither criticizable nor transformable: there is no alternative. It is the moment of the definitive dissolution of the bourgeoisie-proletariat and Right-Left dichotomies, according to the dynamics initiated in 1968 and culminated in 1989. The subsumption of the Left under capital, which with 1968 was formal and coexisted with fragments of a Left not yet integrated, was transformed into a real subsumption as of 1989, when the Left was completely reabsorbed within the horizon of meaning of capitalism and its progressive neoliberalism. It lives it as a natural and eternal horizon, producing an endless series of anthropological profiles worthy of the “last man” described by Nietzsche and classifiable under the headings of “disenchantment,” “repentance” and “conversion.”

Along with bourgeois culture, the very contradictory presence of the Soviet Union marked a limit for capital. And, as such, it had to be overcome. The Soviet Union and the Weltdualismus it made possible (cuius regio, eius oeconomia) constituted, in fact, a real and symbolic frontier for the market economy: they signaled that this was not the only possible world, nor the only one that really existed. On the other hand, the famous “thirty glorious years” of the West, from 1945 to 1975, with almost full employment and relative prosperity, from which even the less well-off classes benefited in part, were not the gift of a still munificent capitalism with a human face. Rather, they were the necessary effect of the pressure exerted by the reality beyond the Berlin Wall, an alternative model of social justice and existence. The communism implanted behind the “Curtain” was the very image of a possible alternative, or also of the real existence of the Left—albeit in a place other than the West—and the possibility of thinking and being otherwise. With 1989, the total subsumption of the Right and the Left under capital was consummated: both, from that moment on, integrally metabolized capitalism as an ineluctable destiny and the “struggle” between the two parties was fought, from then on, in the form of competition to become worthy of implementing the mere management—sometimes to the Right, sometimes to the Left—of the reforms decided by the global class and by the mercantilist order.


Diego Fusaro is professor of the History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre ReturnsThis article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.


Vademecum of the Beginner Realist

Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) published this essay in 1935, in which outlines the importance of realism to counteract the excesses of idealism. The translation is by Philip Trower and appeared in Methodical Realism (1990).

The first step on the realist path is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however hard one tries to think differently, one will never manage to,; the third is to realize that those who claim they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If one then asks oneself why, one’s conversion to realism is all but complete.

Most people who say and think they are idealists would like, if they could, not to be, but believe that is impossible. They are told they will never get outside their thought and that a something beyond thought is unthinkable. If they listen to this objection and look for an answer to it, they are lost from the start, because all idealist objections to the realist position are formulated in idealist terms. So it is hardly surprising that the idealist always wins. His questions invariably imply an idealist solution to problems. The realist, therefore, when invited to take part in discussion on what is not his own ground, should first of all accustom himself to saying No, and not imagine himself in difficulties because he is unable to answer questions which are in fact insoluble, but which for him do not arise.

We must begin by distrusting the term ‘thought”; for the greatest difference between the realist and the idealist is that the idealist thinks, whereas the realist knows. For the realist, thinking simply means organizing knowledge or reflecting on its content. It would never occur to him to make though the starting point of his reflections, because for him a thought is only possible where there is first of all knowledge. The idealist, however, because he goes from thought to things, cannot know whether what he starts from corresponds with an object or not. When, therefore, he asks the realist how, starting from thought, one can rejoin the object, the latter should instantly reply that it is impossible, and also that this is the principal reason for not being an idealist. Since realism starts with knowledge, that is, with an act of the intellect which consists essentially in grasping an object, for the realist the question does not present an insoluble problem, but a pseudo-problem, which is something quite different.

Every time the idealist calls on us to reply to the questions raised by thought, one can be sure that he is speaking in terms of the Mind. For him, Mind is what thinks, just as for us the intellect is what knows. One should therefore, in so far as one can, have as little as possible to do with the term. This is not always easy, because it has a legitimate meaning, but we are living at a time when it has become absolutely necessary to retranslate into realist language all the terms which idealism has borrowed form us and corrupted. An idealist term is generally a realist term denoting one of the spiritual antecedents to knowledge, now considered as generating its own content.

The knowledge the realist is talking about is the lived and experienced unity of an intellect with an apprehended reality. This is why a realist philosophy has to do with the thing itself that is apprehended, and without which there would be no knowledge. Idealist philosophers, on the other hand, since they start from thought, quickly reach the point of choosing science or philosophy as their object. When an idealist genuinely thinks as an idealist, he perfectly embodies the essence of a “professor of philosophy”; whereas the realist, when he genuinely thinks as a realist, conforms himself to the authentic essence of a philosopher; for a philosopher talks about things, while a professor of philosophy talks about philosophy.

Just as we do not have to go from thought to things (knowing that the enterprise is impossible), neither do we have to ask ourselves whether something beyond thought is thinkable. A something beyond thought may well be unthinkable, but it is certain that all knowledge implies a something beyond thought. The fact that this something-beyond-thought is given us by knowledge only in thought, does not prevent it being a something beyond. But the idealist always confuses “being which is given in thought” with “being which is given by thought.” For anyone who starts from knowledge, a something beyond thought is so obviously thinkable that this is the only kind of thought for which there can be a beyond.

The realist is committing an error of the same kind if he asks himself how, starting from the self, he can prove the existence of a non-self. For the idealist, who starts from the self, this is the normal and, indeed, the only possible way of putting the question. The realist should be doubly distrustful; first, because he does not start from the self; secondly, because for him the world is not a non-self (which is a nothing), but an in-itself. A thing-in-itself can be given through an act of knowledge. A non-self is what reality is reduced to by the idealist, and can neither be grasped by knowledge nor proved by thought.

Equally, one should not let oneself be troubled by the classic idealist objection to the possibility of reaching a thing-in-itself, and above all to having true knowledge about it. You define true knowledge, the idealist says, as an adequate copy of reality. But how can you know that the copy reproduces the thing as it is in itself, seeing that the thing is only given to you in thought. The objection has no meaning except for idealism, which posits thought before being, and finding itself no longer able to compare the former with the latter, wonders how anyone else can. The realist, on the contrary, does not have to ask himself whether things do or do not conform to his knowledge of them, because for him knowledge consists in his assimilating his knowledge to things. In a system where the bringing of the intellect into accord with the things, which the judgment formulates, presupposes the concrete and lived accord of the intellect with its objects, it would be absurd to expect knowledge to guarantee a conformity without which it would not even exist.

We must always remember that the impossibilities in which idealism tries to entangle realism are the inventions of idealism. When it challenges us to compare the thing known with the thing in itself, it merely manifests the internal sickness which consumes it. For the realist there is no “noumenon” as the realist understands the term. Since knowledge presupposes the presence to the intellect of the thing itself, there is no reason to assume, behind the thing in thought, the presence of a mysterious and unknowable duplicate, which would be the thing of the thing in thought. Knowing is not apprehending a thing as it is in thought, but, in and thought, apprehending the thing as it is.

To be able to conclude that we must necessarily go from thought to things, and cannot proceed otherwise, it is not enough to assert that everything is given in thought. The fact is, we do proceed otherwise. The awakening of the intelligence coincides with the apprehension of things, which, as soon as they are perceived, are classified according to their most evident similarities. This fact, which has nothing to do with any theory, is something that theory has to take account of. Realism does precisely that, and in this respect is following common sense. That is why every form of realism is a philosophy of common sense.

It does not follow from this that common sense is a philosophy; but all sound philosophy presupposes common sense and trusts it, granted of course that, whenever necessary, appeal will be made from ill-informed to better-informed common sense. This is how science goes about things; science is not a critique of common sense but of the successive approximations to reality made by common sense. The history of science and philosophy witness to the fact that common sense, thanks to the methodical use it makes of its resources, is quite capable of invention. We should, therefore, ask it to keep criticizing its conclusions, which means asking it to remain itself, not to renounce itself.

The word “invention,” like many others, has been contaminated by idealism. To invent means to find , not to create . The inventor resembles the creator only in the practical order, and especially in the production of artifacts, whether utilitarian or artistic. Like the scientist, the philosopher only invents by finding, by discovering what up to that point had been hidden. The activity of his intelligence, therefore, consists exclusively in the exercise of his speculative powers in regard to reality. If it creates anything, what it creates is never an object, but a way of explaining the object from within that object.

This is also why the realist never expects his knowledge to engender an object without which his knowledge would not exist. Like the idealist, he uses his power of reflection, but keeping it within the limits of a reality given from without. Therefore the starting point of his reflections has to be being, which in effect is for us the beginning of knowledge: res sunt . If we go deeper into the nature of the object given us, we direct ourselves towards one of the sciences, which will be completed by a metaphysical of nature. If we go deeper into the conditions under which the object is given us, we shall be turning towards a psychology, which will reach completion in a metaphysics of knowledge. The two methods are not only compatible, they are complementary, because they rest on the primitive unity of the subject and object in the act of knowledge, and any complete philosophy implies an awareness of their unity.

There is nothing, therefore, to stop the realist going, by way of reflective analysis, from the object as given in knowledge to the intellect and the knowing subject. Quite the contrary, this is the only way he has of assuring himself of the existence and nature of the knowing subject. Res sunt, ergo cognosco, ergo sum res cognoscens [Things exist, therefore I know, therefore I am a knowing subject]. What distinguishes the realist from the idealist is not that one refuses to undertake this analysis whereas the other is willing to, but that the realist refuses to take the final term of his analysis for a principle generating the thing being analyzed. Because the analysis of knowledge leads us to the conclusion “I think,” it does not follow that this “I think” is the first principle of knowledge. Because every representation is, in fact, a thought, it does not follow that it is only a thought, or that an “I think” conditions all my representations.

Idealism derives its whole strength from the consistency with which it develops the consequences of its initial error. One is, therefore, mistaken in trying to refute it by accusing it of not being logical enough. On the contrary, it is a doctrine which lives by logic, and only by logic, because in it the order and connection of ideas replaces the order and connection between things. The fatal leap (saltus mortalis ) which catapults the doctrine into its consequences precedes the doctrine. Idealism can justify everything with its method except idealism itself, for the cause of idealism is not of idealist stamp; it does not even have anything to do with the theory of knowledge; it belongs to the moral order.

Preceding any philosophical attempt to explain knowledge is the fact, not only of knowledge itself, but of men’s burning desire to understand. If reason is too often content with summary and incomplete explanations, if it sometimes does violence to the facts by distorting them or passing them over in silence when they are inconvenient, it is precisely because its passion to understand is stronger than its desire to know, or because the means of acquiring knowledge at its disposal are not powerful enough to satisfy it. The realist is just as much exposed to these temptations as the idealist, and yields to them just as frequently. The difference is that he yields to them against his principles, whereas the idealist makes it a principle that he can lawfully yield to them. Realism, therefore, starts with an acknowledgement by the intellect that it will remain dependent on a reality which causes its knowledge. Idealism owes its origin to the impatience of a reason which wants to reduce reality to knowledge so as to be sure that its knowledge lets none of reality escape.

The reason idealism has so often been in alliance with mathematics is that this science, whose object is quantity, extends its jurisdiction over the whole of material nature, in so far as material nature has to do with quantity. But while idealism may imagine that the triumphs of mathematics in some way justify it, those triumphs owe nothing to idealism, they are in no way bound up with it, and they justify it all the less, seeing that the most mathematically oriented physics conducts all its calculations within the ambit of the experimental facts which those calculations interpret. Someone discovers a new fact and what happens? After vain attempts to make it assimilable, all mathematical physics will reform itself so as to be able to assimilate it. The idealist is rarely a scientist, more rarely still a research scientist in a laboratory, and yet it is the laboratory that provides the material which tomorrow’s mathematical physics will have to explain.

The realist, therefore, does not have to be afraid that the idealist may represent him as opposed to scientific thought, since every scientist, even if philosophically he thins himself an idealist, in his capacity as a scientist thinks as a realist. A scientist never begins by defining the method of the science he is about to initiate. Indeed, the surest way of recognizing false sciences is by the fact that they make the method come first. The method, however, should derive from the science, not the science from the method. That is why no realist has ever written a Discourse on the Method. He cannot know how things are known before he knows them, nor discover how to know each order of things except in knowing it.

The most dangerous of all the different methods is the “reflective method”; the realist is content with “reflection.” When reflection becomes a method, it is no longer just an intelligently directed reflection, which it should be, but a reflection which substitutes itself for reality in that its principles and system become those of reality itself. When the “reflective method” remains faithful to its essence, it always assumes that the final term of its reflection is at the same time the first principle of our knowledge; as a natural consequence of this it follows that the last step in the analysis must contain virtually the whole of what is being analyzed; and, finally that whatever cannot be discovered in the end point of the reflection, either does not exist, or can legitimately be treated as not existing. This is how people are led into excluding from knowledge, and even from reality, what is necessary for the very existence of knowledge.

There is a second way of recognizing the false sciences generated by idealism; in starting from what they call thought, they are compelled to define truth as a special case of error. Taine did a great service for good sense when he defined sensation as a true hallucination, because he showed, as a result, where logic necessarily lands idealism. Sensation becomes what a hallucination is when this hallucination is not one. So we must not let ourselves be impressed by the famous “errors of the senses,” nor startled by the tremendous business idealists make about them. Idealists are people for whom the normal can only be a particular instance of the pathological. When Descartes states triumphantly that even a madman cannot deny his first principle “I think, therefore I am”, he helps us enormously to see what happens to reason when reduced to this first principle.

We must, therefore, regard the arguments about dreams, illusions, and madness, borrowed by idealists from skeptics, as errors of the same kind. The fact that there are visual illusions chiefly proves that all our visual perceptions are not illusions. A man who is dreaming feels no different from a man who is awake, but anyone who is awake knows that he is altogether different from someone who is dreaming; he also knows it is because he has had sensations, that he afterwards has what are called hallucinations, just as he knows he would never dream about anything if he had not been awake first. The fact that certain madmen deny the existence of the outside world, or even (with all due respect to Descartes) their own, is no grounds for considering the certainty of our own existence as a special case of “true delirium.” The idealist only finds these illusions so upsetting because he does not know how to prove they are illusions. The realist has no reason to be upset by them, since for him they really are illusions.

Certain idealists say that our theory of knowledge puts us in the position of claiming to be infallible. We should not take this objection seriously. We are simply philosophers for whom truth is normal and error abnormal; this does not mean it is any easier for us to reach the truth than it is to achieve and conserve perfect health. The realist differs from the idealist, not in being unable to make mistakes, but principally in that, when he does make mistakes, the cause of the error is not a thought which h as been unfaithful to itself, but an act of knowledge which has been unfaithful to its object. But above all, the realist only makes mistakes when he is unfaithful to his principles, whereas the idealist is in the right only in so far as he is unfaithful to his.

When we say that all knowledge consists in grasping the thing as it is, we are by no means saying that the intellect infallibly so grasps it, but that only when it does grasp it as it is will there be knowledge. Still less do we mean that knowledge exhausts the content of its object in a single act. What knowledge grasps in the object is something real, but reality is inexhaustible, and even if the intellect had discerned all its details, it would still be confronted by the mystery of its very existence. The person who believed he could grasp the whole of reality infallibly and at one fell swoop, was the idealist Descartes. Pascal, the realist, clearly recognized how naïve was the claim of philosophers that they could “comprehend the principles of things, and from there – with a presumption as infinite as their object – go on to knowing everything.” The virtue proper to the realists is modesty about his knowledge, and even if he does not practice it, he is committed to it by his calling.

A third way of recognizing the false sciences which idealism generates is by the fact that they feel it necessary to “ground” their objects. That is because they are not sure their objects exist. For the realist, whose thought is concerned with being, the Good, the True and the Beautiful are in the fullest sense real, since they are simply being itself as desired, known and admired. But as soon as thought substitutes itself for knowledge, these transcendentals begin to float in the air without knowing where to perch themselves. This is why idealism spends its time “grounding” morality, knowledge and art, as though the way men should act were not written in the nature of man, the manner of knowing in the very structure of our intellect, and the arts in the practical activity of the artist himself. The realist never has to ground anything, but he has to discover the foundations of his operations, and it is always in the nature of things that he finds them: operatio sequitur esse .

So we must carefully avoid all speculation about “values,” because values are simply and solely transcendentals that have cut adrift from being and are trying to take its place. “The grounding of values” is the idealist’s obsession; for the realist it is meaningless.

The most painful thing for a man of our times is not to be taken for a “critical spirit.” Nevertheless, the realist should resign himself to not being one, because the critical Spirit is the cutting edge of idealism, and in this capacity it has the characteristics not of a principle or doctrine but of zeal for a cause. The critical spirit expresses, in effect, a determination to submit facts to whatever treatment is necessary so that nothing in them remains refractory to the mind. To achieve this, there is only one policy; everywhere the point of view of the observer must be substituted for that of the thing observed. The discrediting of reality will be pursued, if necessary, to its most extreme consequences, and the harder reality resists, the more determined the idealist will be to disregard it. The realist, on the other hand, should always recognize that the object is what causes knowledge and should treat it with the greatest respect.

Respecting the object of knowledge means, above all, a refusal to reduce it to something which complies with the rules of a type of knowledge arbitrarily chosen by ourselves. Introspection, for instance, does not allow us to reduce psychology to the level of an exact science. This, however, is not a reason for condemning introspection, for it seems probably that, the object of psychology being what it is, psychology ought not to be an exact science, not at least if it is to remain faithful to its object. Human psychology, such as a dog knows it, ought to be at least as conclusive as our science of nature; just as our science of nature is about as penetrating as human psychology as known by a dog. The psychology of behavior is therefore very wise to adapt the dog’s outlook on man, because as soon as consciousness makes its appearance, it reveals so much to us that the infinite gulf between a science of consciousness and consciousness itself leaps to the eye. If our organism were self-conscious, who knows whether biology and physics would still be possible?

The realist must, therefore, always insist, against the idealist, that for every order of reality there is a corresponding way of approaching and explaining it. He will then find that, having refused to embark on a critique preliminary to knowledge, he is free – much freer than the idealist – to embark on a critique of the different branches of knowledge by measuring them against their object; for the “critical spirit” criticizes everything except itself, whereas the realist, because he is not a “critical spirit,” is continuously self-critical. The realist will never believe that a psychology which in order to understand consciousness better starts by placing itself outside consciousness, will give him the equivalent of consciousness; nor will he believe with Durkheim, that the real savages are those found in books, or that social life consists essentially of prohibitions with sanctions attached, as though the only society we had to explain were the one described in Leviticus. Nor will he imagine that historical criticism is in a better position than the witness it invokes to determine what happened to them or discern the exact meaning of what they themselves said. That is why realism, in subordinating knowledge to its objects places the intelligence in the most favorable position for making discoveries. For if it is true that things did not always happen exactly as their witnesses supposed, the relative errors they may have made are a trifling matter compared to those our imaginations will embroil us in if we start reconstructing facts, feelings and ideas we never experienced, according to our own notions of what seems probable.

Such is the liberty of the realist. We can only choose between deferring to the facts and so being free in thought, or being free with the facts and the slave of thought. So let us turn to the things themselves which knowledge apprehends, and to the relationship between the different branches of knowledge and the things which they apprehend, so that, conforming itself ever more closely to them, philosophy can progress once more.

It is this spirit, too, that we should read the great philosophers who have preceded us on the realist path. “It is not in Montaigne,” wrote Pascal, “but in myself that I find everything I see within.” And we can equally say here; “it is not in St. Thomas or Aristotle, but in things, that the true realist sees everything he sees.” So he will not hesitate to make use of these masters, whom he regards solely as guides towards reality itself. And if the idealist reproached him, as one of them has just had the kindness to do, with “decking himself out in hand-me-downs taken for truths,” he will have his answer ready: much better to deck oneself out in truths which others have handed down, as the realist, when necessary, is willing to do, rather than, like the idealist, refuse to do so and go naked.


Featured: October, by Jules Bastien-Lepage; painted in 1878.


Beauty against Force: Simone Weil’s Venice Saved

The tragedy Venise sauvée (Venice Saved) is Simone Weil’s only literary works. She began writing it in 1940, and continued to work on it until her early death interrupted its completion in 1943. The action takes place in a Venice threatened by a plot, but saved by one of the conspirators who, seized by its beauty, cannot bring himself to take it by force. Although, like many of Weil’s writings, it is rarely read due to its incompleteness, the play offers a synthesis of the philosopher’s views on ethics, politics and even ontology.

Inspired by the Conjuration des Espagnols contre la République de Venise en l’Année MDCXVIII (1820), by the Abbé de Saint-Réal, the action takes place in 1618 against the backdrop of a conspiracy to overthrow the Serenissima Republic of Venice and place it under the control of the Spanish Empire. A group of mercenaries, led by the characters Renaud, an old French lord, and Pierre and Jaffier, two privateers from Provence, plan to seize the city on Ascension night, just as the Venetians are celebrating their sea betrothal, a sort of national holiday during which the Doge boards his ceremonial galley to cast a golden ring into the sea, symbolizing his city’s domination over the sea. From the outset, we see the antagonism between two typical political ideals: the city and the empire.

Empire: The Archetype of Strength

First and foremost, the Spanish empire of the House of Habsburg. Its hegemonic aspirations is expressed by Renaud in a speech to his troops:

Thanks to you, the whole of Europe will be united under the Habsburg dynasty, and the ships of a united Europe, sailing the seas, will conquer, civilize and convert to Christianity the entire globe, just as Spain did for America. And it will all be thanks to you…. The House of Austria is very close to universal domination; if it lets it slip, bloody, long and ruinous struggles will ensue all around (Venise sauvée, I, 2).

Here, the empire appears to be driven by a movement of expansion, which will only end in universal domination. However, this expansion is presented here as subordinate to two aims: the verb “to conquer” is followed by “to civilize, to convert to Christianity.” Yet it is hard to give real substance to these aims, given that the hegemony of the House of Austria, which reigned over Spain at the time, immediately comes to the fore in Renaud’s discourse. If these manifestly cosmetic ends make the strengthening of the empire seem like a means, it appears here as its own end: the empire serves its strength as much as it serves itself. Indeed, Weil seems to place the Habsburg empire in a filiation that runs through Western history: that of Rome, the hegemony drunk with conquest. This Roman spirit, devoid of any real spirituality, conquering and dominating, would run through the history of Europe right up to Hitler at the time of her writing, via the colonial empires of the 15th to 19th centuries. This is what she suggests in La Personne et le sacré when she writes: “The Romans, who understood, as Hitler did, that force is only fully effective when it is clothed in a few ideas, used the notion of right for this purpose.”

Here, we find a relationship to the notion of right, analogous to that which the conspirators have with civilization or religion, which are summoned only to clothe force. Simone Weil’s notion of force is the subject of particular elaboration, notably in L’Iliade ou le poème de la force, where she characterizes it as a mechanism that acts on bodies and minds, reducing them to the status of things. Indeed, she sees force as the main subject of The Iliad, which perfectly depicts its effects on its characters, singing with equal melancholy of the loss of Greek and Trojan heroes. Force is at work, for example, when, in the hands of Achilles, it reduces a begging Hector to a thing, or when it intoxicates the victorious Achaeans, who find themselves submissive to its impulse and go on to the total destruction of Ilion:

The victorious soldier is like a scourge of nature; possessed by war, he is as much a thing as the slave, though in a very different way, and words have no power over him as over matter…. Such is the nature of force. The power it possesses to transform men into things is twofold and is exercised from two sides; it petrifies equally the souls of those who suffer it and those who wield it (L’Iliade ou le poème de la force)

Through the Spanish conquests, the mechanics of force are at work, making both the conqueror and the conquered their own. Rome, Habsburg Spain, Hitler, the empire is thus the collective at its most dangerous, the vessel through which force crushes individuals, the allegory of the Big Animal with its random movements used by Plato (Republic, 493d) to imitate the inertia of collective opinion that drags souls along.

The City: Archetype of Harmony

Facing the empire, the city. The lexicon of the city refers almost systematically to beauty. This beauty is crystallized in the betrothal festival at sea that is about to take place, as seen in the joy it brings to the character of Violetta, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman:

Oh, how I wish I could be there tomorrow! Have you never seen the Venice festival? There’s nothing like it in the world; you’ll see tomorrow! What a joy for me, tomorrow, to show you my city in its most perfect splendor! There will be such beautiful music… (Venise sauvée, II, 3).

The beauty of the feast seems to culminate in music. Given the centrality of reading Plato in Weilian thought, it is hard not to see an echo of the role he attributes to it in Books IV and VII of The Republic. Like gymnastics for the body, music is described as the cultivation of harmony in the soul. Here, Venice appears on the side of Western Hellenic heritage. In contrast to Rome, Greece represents the rooted civilization par excellence, a community that, rather than crushing individuals, nurtures them by allowing them a “real, active and natural participation in the existence of a community that keeps alive certain treasures of the past and certain presentiments of the future,” so as to “receive almost the totality of its moral, intellectual and spiritual life through the intermediary of the environments of which [the individual] is naturally a part” (L’Enracinement). This moment of Venetian communion in the beauty of one of their traditions is precisely the one chosen by the Spaniards to subdue the Venetians by uprooting them by force, as Renaud explains to Jaffier, in charge of executing the plan: “Tonight and tomorrow, the people here must feel that they are only toys, that they are lost. The ground must suddenly and forever give way from under their feet, and they must be able to find equilibrium only by obeying you” (Venice Saved, II, 6). Thus, by uprooting it—that is, by destroying the beauty and harmony that the city cultivates—the empire seeks to throw it into the arms of the force that drives it, in order to subjugate it.

A City Saved by its Beauty

The action concludes with Jaffier’s denunciation of the conspiracy, resulting in the arrest of his companions and his banishment from the city, hated by the Venetians who see him as a traitor to the Republic as well as to his own people. Haunted by the guilt of having delivered his companions to their death, he finally takes his own life. His decision to betray the conspirators seems to come from a sort of revelation of the city’s beauty during a discussion with a Venetian nobleman and his daughter Violetta: “No man can do such a thing as Venice. Only God. The greatest thing a man can do, which brings him closer to God, is, since he cannot create such wonders, to preserve those that exist.” The effect of beauty on Jaffier’s soul cannot be summed up here as a form of seduction that would divert him from his mission. It is to be understood in the context of the ontology that Simone Weil developed in various writings at the end of her life, consisting mainly of a rather original exegesis of Plato.

According to Fernando Rey Puente, this exegesis postulates a profound internal unity in Plato’s work, set in the context of a Greek civilization whose spirituality was centered around the idea of mediation between divine eternity on the one hand, and human misery on the other. Thus, Plato’s thought consists of the articulation of pairs of antagonistic notions: “identity and diversity, unity and multiplicity, absolute and relative, pure good and good mixed with evil, spiritual and sensible, supernatural and natural” in two relationships: contradiction and analogy. This confrontation of opposites, from which the intermediary between them emerges, is then understood by Weil as the driving force behind Platonic dialectics, described in The Republic as the means by which the soul tears itself away from appearances and rises to the contemplation of the intelligible.

In the ontological domain, this structuring duality is the relationship between Good and Necessity, understood as the chain of causes and effects that conditions the becoming of all things here below. At first glance, it appears as an antagonism, particularly in the Weilian reading of The Iliad, which shows the world inside the Cave, deprived of good, where necessity is embodied in the force at play with characters struggling, passive in the face of it. Plato’s work then consists precisely in thinking the intermediary and the passage from this reality to the good. In this respect, The Republic must be seen in relation to other dialogues, as she points out in her Cahiers (“February 1942-June 1942”):

“An Aborted Iliad”

Basically, there is only one path to salvation in Plato; the various dialogues indicate different parts of the path. The Republic does not say what first does violence to the chained captive to remove the chains and compel the unfortunate. We will have to look for that in The Phaedrus. It is beauty, by means of love (every value that appears in the sensible world is beauty). It is the contemplation of beauty in the order of the world, conceived a priori. Next comes beauty as an attribute of God, and then the Good. Then the return to the cave; this is The Timaeus.

Indeed, The Timaeus depicts the sensible world in terms of the Demiurge’s will: “He (the Demiurge) was good, and in that which is good there is no jealousy of anyone. Without jealousy, he wished all things to become like him” (29e). From this perspective, necessity, which orders the becoming of the sensible world, is an imitation of the Good emanating from the Demiurge. This perspective clarifies what, in The Republic, appeared to be an abrupt dualism between the intelligible, good world, and the sensible, marked by necessity. Indeed, in The Timaeus, becoming is beautiful insofar as it bears the imprint of the Good. The Symposium and The Phaedrus make this intermediary role of beauty explicit, showing how it is the sensible presence of the Good in things, correlated with the love personified by Eros, the daemon who comes to possess souls in the form of madness, to carry them towards it.

Thus, when Jaffier pays attention to the beauty of Venice, he is literally seized with love for this city, which, as Weil writes of art, “is an attempt to transport in a finite quantity of matter shaped by man an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe” (Formes de l’Amour implicite de Dieu). The emergence of this beauty in his soul subtracts it from the inertia of force and imbues it with a movement of love, which translates into a renunciation of the need to destroy the object of love. In the words of Léo Tixier in the preface to the Payot et Rivages edition, Venise sauvée is “like an aborted Iliad,” in that Jaffier prevents another sack of Troy. Paradoxically, through the beauty of the city of the Doges and his attention to it, Jaffier also saves himself through his sacrifice.

This state of grace gives it full life in a final gesture of love, in contrast to the state of inertia in which force holds man under its sway. This double salvation by beauty, of a city and a man, illustrates how, far from being superfluous and ornamental, beauty is a need of the soul just as fundamental as food is to the body, as Weil herself writes in L’Enracinement: “The point of view of aesthetes is sacrilegious, not only in matters of religion, but even in matters of art. It consists in having fun with beauty by manipulating it and looking at it. Beauty is something to be eaten; it is food.”


Mattis Jambon writes from the Sorbonne. This articles appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.


Featured: The Bucintore Returning to the Molo on Ascension Day, by Canaletto; painted ca. 1727-1729.


Péguy in the Afternoon

As the light fades in the epilogue of this afternoon, I approach one of the shelves of my library. There sleep, crowded, a legion of French authors. Those of us who live possessed by a bibliophile passion usually ask ourselves: are we the ones who seek out books or are they the ones who come to meet us? Are we surrounded by fossils that receive the vital pneuma when we take them in our hands? Or is that the books let themselves be annihilated by the dust of the years, as the skin of their pages silently oxidizes? Have we ever found ourselves in this enigmatic and peculiar way of living, surrounded by a chorus of absent voices that emanate from the walls of our house?

Among the names, I read one: Charles Péguy. The title sounds irrefutably Pascalian: Pensamientos (Thoughts). The book gathers a series of brief meditations, in the form of aphorisms that do not reach the level of greguerías because they lack that principality of images and metaphors, so typical of Ramón; but they have plenty of depth, rebelliousness and seriousness.

Péguy’s work compiles a bunch of quotations taken from the original version of his Cahiers de la Quinzaine, notes of the French writer between 1900 and 1914. In fact, in an entry dated April 1914, we read the following: “There are as few painters who look as there are philosophers who think.” And that sentence is enough to light the flame of a new article.

Art and philosophy have an urgent task that cannot be postponed: to learn to look. Art, because it has lost its way in the subjectivism that turns into inconsequence; philosophy, because it has accepted its descent from queen to vassal and has lost its dignity: without a metaphysical horizon, in this invention of “post-truth” it is reduced to an ancilla of the ideologies of the moment.

It is necessary that the painter does not forget to look, or better yet, to see properly in what he looks at. Atahualpa Yupanqui wrote it in a milonga of my land: “For the one who looks without seeing, the land is just land, the pampa, the stream or the willow grove say nothing to him.” The painter must have the vocation of a demiurge; that is to say, to capture that which he has first contemplated. In an article published by the newspaper El País on September 4, 1987, Paco Umbral praised the work of the painter Antonio López in these terms:

Antonio looks for the same thing in Madrid that he looked for in his landscapes of Tomelloso: a last or first glimmer; that way of behaving that reality has, a sun wound in the glass chest of a viewpoint. Life, in short, that his pupil distributes in jewels.

It is almost an Augustinian itinerary, from the outside in and from the inside up: co-creators with the Word; art as a vocation of fidelity to the real. Antonio López’s painting is a prayer arising from things, from the flesh of a quince, from a cracked wall, from an ignored refrigerator, from the bathroom mirror or from La Gran Vía in Madrid when the morning dawns. Antonio knows how to look.

And what is the task of the philosopher, you may ask? To answer this question, it is first necessary to make a distinction of the circles: it is one thing to be a professor of philosophy, another to be a teacher of philosophy, and a last, more arduous and higher vocation is to be a philosopher.

A professor of philosophy is one who carries in his head the ideas of others. It is a necessary vocation to make the essentials of this subject accessible to others. A good professor of philosophy tries to expose each thinker by putting on his shoes; the critical task comes later. Here is the first circle.

A teacher in philosophy is one who fulfills the principle established by Thomas Aquinas: “Contemplata allis trader;” that is to say, to transmit what is contemplated. As one senses, it is a higher degree than the mere expositor of the ideas of others. The teacher in philosophy not only expounds, shows, reveals, carries to the end the heart of a philosophical doctrine, but also opens windows towards autonomous thought. If philosophizing is “to go on the way”—as Karl Jaspers said—while the philosophy teacher tells us about the forest, the teacher points out its paths, showing us the clearings as revelations.

And on the highest rung, the philosopher. Philosophizing is a vocation marked by a yearning for the ultimate possible reality. Another Frenchman, Etienne Gilson, saw this very clearly when, in Vademecum of the Beginner Realist, he taught that, while the philosopher speaks of things, the professor of philosophy speaks of philosophy. Philosopher is he who can coin in a peculiar synthesis a thought of his own. “Own” here means “personal,” which has nothing to do with extravagance, with intellectual pose or with the eroticism of mere novelty. True philosophy requires two spheres: one intra nos, that which we macerate in intimate solitude, an inhabited solitude that will never be a cloistered monologue. Its raison d’être is given by listening to the real. At the beginning of our life, were we not listeners before we spoke? The other sphere is given inter nos, “between us,” for the philosopher can never renounce community. Every philosopher, as a being-in-the-world, is traversed by a language, by a spiritual imprint, by an inalienable cultural ethos.

Péguy takes the floor again to complete our intuition:

A great philosopher is a man who has discovered, who has made explicit some new aspect, some—new—reality of eternal reality; he is a man who, with his own voice, enters in his turn into the eternal concert.

Péguy has things of Plotinus and Augustine, of Thomas and Pascal, of Kierkegaard and Bergson; I believe that they converse at night, wall to wall, in this house full of books.


Diego Chiaramoni is Professor of Philosophy at the Instituto A.M. Sáenz and holds a degree in Philosophy from the UNSTA, in addition to having studied Psychology at the USAL.


War as an Object of Study in French Political Philosophy

Introduction

Hopes for a peaceful development of mankind in the 21st century have not come true, and the predictions of polemologists led by Gaston Bouthoul have largely become the reality of today. In this regard, theories that have not recently had a wide reception, as they chose war as the object of research, are now coming to the fore. Among them we should mention the area of the “philosophy of war,” which has found numerous proponents among French political philosophers.

Continuing the French tradition of viewing war through the prism of philosophy, a study by the renowned French philosopher Henri-Paul Hude, A Philosophy of War, was published in France, in November 2022, and in English in 2023. In it, Hude poses the problem of the emergence and the possibility of eliminating war from the life of mankind in our time. On April 11, 2023, at the Department of Philosophy of Politics and Law, Faculty of Philosophy, Lomonosov Moscow State University, a discussion of this book was held online with the participation of the author of the book. The event included a fruitful dialogue on the causal links between war and politics. The French professor presented his point of view on the importance of penetrating into the essence of war through its philosophical interpretation. Obviously, his views are based on a solid foundation created by French political philosophers and thinkers over several centuries, which I would like to describe in this article.

Philosophical Understanding of War: The Emergence of the Term, “Philosophy of War”

Since ancient times, philosophers have tried to understand the meaning of war and the reasons for its emergence. The philosophical approach fundamentally differed from other forms of understanding this phenomenon: mythological, religious, historical. Rational comprehension of this phenomenon allowed us to identify its essential features and thereby understand the cause-and-effect relationship between the factors that give rise to it and the coming consequences. We find such attempts in European antiquity in Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and others. War as an essential part of the life of society was reflected in the works of military leaders, thinkers, philosophers, but for a long time there was no separation of the field of knowledge about war into a separate branch.

One of the first to speak of a “philosophy of war” was Marquis Georges de Chambray, a participant in the Russian campaign of 1812. In the preface to his work called Philosophie de la guerre (Philosophy of War), (first published in 1827, then continuously reprinted), he explains in what sense he treats the concept of “philosophy,” which he connects with the concept of “war” to penetrate into the essence of this phenomenon:

As the word “Philosophy” has several meanings, I feel I must make known the one I have given it in the title of this work.
There are four stages in the exercise of human intelligence: 1. Craft; 2. Art; 3. Science; 4. Philosophy. Craft is a routine or skill acquired through practice, without knowledge of principles and rules; art is subject to rules or principles; science is a system of knowledge about a useful object; philosophy is the background, the positive, the essence or even the generalities of a science.
I have used the word Philosophy in this sense: (a) Linné, (b) Voltaire, (c) Fourcroy, (d) Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and many other authors have used it in the same sense (Philosophie de la guerre, pp. v-vi).

It should be noted that the Marquis de Chambray’s book was published several years earlier than Carl von Clausewitz’s work, On War, in which the Prussian military thinker did not use this term. Of course, this does not indicate that his work had no philosophical significance. Clausewitz is rightly written about as a representative of the philosophy of war, but the priority in the creation of the term does not belong to him.

Formation of the Field of the “Philosophy of War”

It is noteworthy that at the initial stage of the emergence of the philosophy of war, a significant contribution to the formation of this field was made by professional military men (von Clausewitz, de Chambray). The continuator of this tradition was the French author, Captain R. Henry, who wrote another book on the philosophy of war. It is not by chance that his work is referred to by the Russian and Soviet military commander Andrei E. Snesarev, who created a training course on the philosophy of war for officers-in-training at the Military Academy of the Red Army, of which he was the head from 1919 to 1921.

On the eve of the 19th century, pacifist sentiments prevailed in European philosophical and socio-political thought. In France, as in other European countries, there were illusions among intellectuals that war would be replaced by a new system of relations between states, when wars would become unnecessary because an adequate substitute would be found. In this case, war becomes pointless, as it is replaced by other ways of conflict resolution: diplomatic, economic, expansion of cultural contacts, etc. Among those who did not share optimism about the peaceful development of mankind was the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who doubted that war could be done away with. In his two-volume study, War and Peace (La guerre et la paix), he comes to the conclusion that war is inseparable from the life of society and that it is a necessary condition for its existence:

In my own view, it is plain that war has deep roots, scarcely discernible, in the religious, juridical, aesthetic and moral sentiments of peoples. It might even be argued that it has its abstract formula in dialectics. War is our history, our life, our very soul; it is legislation, politics, State, homeland, social hierarchy, the rights of people, poetry, theology; it is, once again, everything. We hear talk of doing away with war, as if it were some sort of toll or tariff. And there is no appreciation that if we discount war and its
associated ideas, nothing, absolutely nothing remains of humanity’s past and not a single atom upon which to build its future. Oh, I may well say to these clumsy peace-mongers, as I myself was once told in respect of property: How do you envision society, with war abolished? What ideas, what beliefs are you offering? What literature, what poetry, what art? What would you make of man, that intelligent, religious, justice-dispensing, free, individual and, for all of those very reasons, a warring creature? What would you make of the nation, that independent, outgoing, autonomous collective? What becomes of the human race in its eternal repose?

Proudhon was not satisfied with the superficial reasons by which wars are usually explained; he wanted to penetrate into the essence of the phenomenon. Another French author, François-Odysse Barot, reflecting on the philosophical problems of history, in particular on the paradoxes of war, noted:

Above all these numerous species of animals is man, whose destructive hand does not spare anything living. He kills to feed.He kills to clothe.He kills to dress up.He kills to attack.He kills to defend.He kills to educate.He kills to have fun.He kills to kill. An arrogant and formidable king, he needs everything, and nothing resists him. However, what creature would destroy the one who destroys them all?He himself?. It is upon man that the killing of man is entrusted.

In doing so, he points to the cause of wars, which lies in man himself. The illusions inspired by optimistic authors were not justified. The First World War, which the French called the Great War (La grande guerre), was a severe test for the participating countries, showing the depth of contradictions that became the real cause of the cataclysm, and gave food for more realistic assessments of this phenomenon.

Teilhard de Chardin, who participated in this war as a medic, in his free time from duty kept notes, which were later included in a collection under the general title, Writings in Times of War. In them, musings on various topics are interspersed with thoughts about the war. Life on the front line gave, strangely enough, rich food for philosophical reflections on war and peace. And it is quite natural, as it is difficult to separate one from the other. It is noteworthy that the observations of an eyewitness, a participant in the events and at the same time a thinker and philosopher give this collection a special value. In one of the essays in this collection, entitled, “Nostalgia of the Front,” he writes:

And so, when the desired peace of the nations (and of me first of all) comes, something like a light will suddenly be extinguished on earth. War had torn through the crust of banalities and conventions. A “window” had opened onto the secret mechanisms and deep layers of human becoming. A region had opened up where men could breathe air charged with heaven. With peace, all things will be covered by the veil of monotony and ancient pettiness.

He contrasts this with war, which reveals to the participants a superhuman reality:

Happy, perhaps, those whom death will have taken in the very act and atmosphere of war, when they are driven, animated by a responsibility, a conscience, a freedom greater than their own, when they are exalted to the very edge of the world—very close to God!

Thus, war becomes for him an encounter with the Absolute.

Henri Bergson, a representative of intuitionism and philosophy of life, published a text in November 1914 in the Bulletin des armées de la République, in support of France and its soldiers. In the first line, he declares that the end of battle is beyond doubt: Germany will fall. This is not really a foresight; it seems like a prophecy. Jean-Philippe Cazier evaluates this short address to the French soldier:

Thus, Bergson’s text carries out a series of shifts from the very beginning: history and politics overlap there with metaphysics, chance is shifted to a higher necessity, the singular is placed in the category of the political and the moral, as well as the vital, which embraces the individual and the subject, defined as the means of this order. The soldier becomes a kind of antique hero, and France becomes both a mythical and metaphysical figure.

The theme of war, although not explicitly expressed, is also constantly present in Bergson’s work, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, published in 1932. We find elements of nihilism and mysticism in the conceptualization of war Georges Bataille’s works Inner Experience, The Limit of the Useful. The theme of war in Marcel Proust acquires a real philosophical resonance in his work In Search of Time Lost. Philippe Mengue argues that Proust has two types of understanding of war: orthodox, integrated into the state apparatus, and the second, original, anticipating the views of Gilles Deleuze, showing the existence of “war machines,” independent and external to the state. The war also influenced the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, who participated in the Second World War. The period at the beginning of German hostilities against France was called the Phoney War (in French, “Funny” or “Strange War”). During this time, the French philosopher served as a private at a surveying station in the Vosges. There he had the opportunity to devote his leisure time to writing diaries in which he described the events around him. These entries were later published under the title, War Diaries: Notebooks from a Phoney War, 1939-40. The war was a turning point in Sartre’s destiny: a break with pacifism and a transition to active citizenship.The time spent in captivity and participation in the Resistance also played an important role in his philosophical formation. His diaries have a syncretic character. They contain observations, reasoning and inferences of a socio-philosophical nature. In War Diaries, Sartre applied the experience of his philosophical novel, Nausea (1938), where he had already used the genre of diary entries kept by the protagonist Antoine Roquentin. The influence of previous philosophical works is also evident. His observations on the “world of war” are not yet philosophy, but they are no longer mere eyewitness notes:

Man—I want to say, the enlisted herd? The messiness of war and the ambiguity of the warrior’s nature stem from the fact that man is treated simultaneously as a machine and as a psychic being sensitive to ceremony.
1) Like a machine. Like the worker, the soldier provides work. But it is unproductive work. Its ultimate purpose is to destroy, and when it is not actually destroying, it is nothing more than a simulacrum—firing blanks, big maneuvers, endless drills. So, you cannot rob him of his labor, because his labor doesnot provide value, in the Marxist sense. It is a naked effort. A soldier is not exploited, but even more than the worker, we maintain him like a machine.
2) Like a ceremonial being. Yesterday’s gathering emphasized “the high significance of saluting.” We see the conservative thinking process: the salute as ceremony. Then there is the search for a higher meaning. This is the thinking of Maistre and Bonald. We are bound by ceremonies and dances; we are captives of military politeness. The men of Verdun were forced to exercise during their rest periods, to “keep them well in hand.” Here, Alain’s analysis is perfectly accurate. It is obvious, however, that he is far from complete. The ambiguity is that command, in its representation of the enlisted herd, cascades endlessly from the material to the ceremonial and from the ceremonial to the material. And, of course, following the command in his representation of himself, the man himself jumps?

In his Dairies, Sartre’s reasoning about freedom, democracy, fascism, civilization, values is close to political philosophy:

One should not confuse the origins of this war, which may be clear to the historian, with the motivations that drive us to fight, which, as I indicated above, are unclear. Indeed, one should try to think of this war as an event, as a meaningful reality and as a value. It is precisely the value of this single war that is elusive.

The widespread assertion that the phenomenon of war is a common theme for twentieth-century intellectuals is well-founded. Many French writers, politicians, and thinkers wrote about this phenomenon. Among the famous names is Raymond Aron, Sartre’s friend at the École Normale Supérieure, who later became his opponent and ideological adversary. Aron’s versatile oeuvre did not ignore the fundamental theme of modernity—war. As a prominent theorist of international relations, Aron paid great attention to the phenomenon of war.

Among Aron’s significant works in this regard are, The Century of Total War (Les guerres en chaîne), Peace and War (Paix et guerre entre les nations), and Clausewitz: Philosopher of War (Penser la guerre, Clausewitz). In The Century of Total War, Aron emphasizes the idea of the ratio of quantity and quality in the process of creating a “critical mass.” Wars can reach it, thus creating the conditions for the emergence of a “chain reaction.” Thus, the First World War developed into the Second, and has the possibility of moving into the Third. Another of his works, Peace and War, published in 1962, is devoted to the justification of the theory of international relations. In an extensive article on the publication of this book, the French historian and political scientist Jean-Baptiste Duroselle elaborated on the contribution made by Aron to the development of the theory of international relations:

This abstract theory, which consists in conceptualization, presupposes, naturally, a second part: the search for determinants. Theory suggests what elements are to be analyzed; sociology influences these elements. The sociologist’s task “lies between that of the theorist and that of the historian.”The historian interprets the totality of the particular, the singular. The sociologist looks for judgments of “some universality.” So, there are two categories of possible determinants. One is physical or material: space, population, resources; the other is of a social nature: the nation and its regime; “civilization,” a phenomenon of the future whose relatively stable features (regularities) and transformations must be comprehended; and, finally, humanity, that is, a regularity related to the essence of human nature. The great problem relating to the last concept is to know whether man is aggressive by nature, whether there is biological aggressiveness or whether war is a consequence of the social condition. “The difficulty of peace refers rather to the human essence than to the animal beginning of man.”

In our opinion, this part of the task belongs not only, and not so much, to the competence of a historian or sociologist, but to the competence of a philosopher. Therefore, it is quite appropriate to talk about Aron’s contribution to the philosophy of war, but not only. At the same time, in his work he tries to reflect on the future of humanity. To an even greater extent, Aron reveals himself as a proponent of the philosophy of war in one of his later works, Clausewitz: Philosopher of War. André Glucksmann, who was influenced by his teacher during his tenure as an assistant to Aron, published his first book, Le discours de la guerre (A Discourse of War), in December 1967, which he characterized twenty years later as a mixture of philosophy, military strategy, nuclear deterrence and game theory. Nevertheless, it determined his interest in military issues, conflicts, the problem of violence, and terrorism.

At this time in the study of the phenomenon of war was developed polemology—”a new science of war”—in the words of creator Gaston Bouthoul. This field aroused interest in scientific and political circles in France. The French Institute of Polemology in Paris (Institut français de polémologie) has been under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of State for Scientific Research. Although Bouthoul believed that polemology was the sociology of war, this field was characterized by interdisciplinarity in the study of the phenomenon “war-peace.” Polemologists widely used heuristic possibilities of related disciplines. The fundamental works of the founder of polemology often contain reasoning that is philosophical in nature. This is noted by Alexis Philonenko in his Essais sur la philosophie de la guerre (Essay on the Philosophy of War), identifying the philosophy of war and polemology. He highlights the philosophical orientation of the reflections in the works of Bouthoul, who felt the urgent need to move away from the sociologism of his theory andtoward generalizations of a philosophical nature. A similar idea is formulated by the Romanian author Vasile Secăreş: “The ideas of the father of polemology, which are controversial, no doubt returning unexpectedly for our days to Durkheim’s sociologism, nevertheless have the merit of emphasizing the need for a holistic view of man and his past.”

Philosophical Paradigm for the Study of War

Since the emergence of the “philosophy of war,” its representatives have sought to consider war within the philosophical paradigm. Thus, the above-mentioned R. Henry in his essay tried to depart from the established standards of considering war from the point of view of military science. He wanted to give his study a philosophical character. His book in structure and style resembles the work of Carl von Clausewitz, On War. Henry combined philosophical and political reasoning about the phenomenon of war with military-strategic inferences. In a number of instances, he managed to find a connection between war and other areas of human activity. He points out that war “…is linked to politics and social science by its causes and results; it combines all the knowledge accumulated by mathematics, physics, and the natural sciences to increase man’s strength a hundredfold and to raise the intensity of his collective action.Finally, it gives rise to a real philosophy through the consideration of simple principles and natural laws with which the thinker can relate all the social, moral, and technical questions put at stake by these conflicts, in which the mind and vitality of the human race are periodically tempered.”

The Dutch ethnologist and sociologist,Sebald Rudolf Steinmetz, writing on the eve of the First World War, devoted his work (Die Philosophie des Krieges) to a philosophical consideration of war as a phenomenon inherent in the human race.In it, he analyzed the causes, consequences and trends of this phenomenon. Relying on a solid base of sources, he paid tribute to the contribution of researchers who devoted their research to the study of war. Among them he mentioned the names of French colleagues: Gustave Lagneau, Charles Létourneau, Ernest Lavisse, Alfred Nicolas Rambaud, Jean Lagorgette, Maurice Loir. Later, Emile Ollivier devoted his work to this problem. Following Loir’s example, he analyzed the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 in his book, Philosophie d’une guerre: 1870 (The Philosophy of One War: 1870). In the context of sociology’s offensive against philosophy, the position of the philosophy of war was weakened. However, the outbreak of the First World War brought philosophy of war to the fore. Paul-Louis Landsberg published an article entitled, “Réflexions pour une philosophie de la guerre et de la paix” (“Reflections on the Philosophy of War and Peace”) in the October 1939 issue of Esprit, a journal aimed at French-speaking intellectuals. He writes at the very beginning of the article: “…philosophical thought must remain clear and pose problems in its own way.”

A great contribution to the formation of the philosophy of war was made by Charles de Gaulle. His political and philosophical thought covered the most diverse aspects of the development of the French state and nation. Military and national security issues were not the least important. His concept of “defense in all directions” was influenced by the French philosophers Jean Bodin and Montesquieu, who attached great importance to the geographical and psychological factors in the political development of nations. The concepts of “nation” and “national interest” became the axis of the policy pursued by de Gaulle during his presidency. French military policy became a derivative of these determinants. The problem of national interest remains very important to this day, although it is interpreted differently by some theorists (Raymond Aron, Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, Régis Debray, Thierry de Montbrial). The realistic approach of a number of French political thinkers, philosophers and sociologists to the interpretation of the concept of “universal values,” which under certain circumstances can cause conflict situations at different levels, deserves attention. The position of the famous French polemologist Julien Freund, who warned about the danger of fighting for mythical “universal values,” which he perceived as an acceptance of political dependence, is interesting in this regard.

Philosophy of War and Modernity

Years and centuries pass, but the relevance of the philosophy of war does not diminish. The French philosophical community has reacted vividly to the military conflicts and wars that periodically arise in various corners of our planet. Publications devoted to this problem are multiplying. Alexis Philonenko’s work, Essais sur la philosophie de la guerre is a large-scale work on the coverage of problems and personalities. The author refers to the concepts of such thinkers and philosophers as Machiavelli, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Just, Clausewitz, Proudhon, Tolstoy, and de Gaulle. The comparison of Tolstoy’s and Clausewitz’s views on war is certainly unexpected.

Philonenko’s reflections on the correlation between language and war, logic and strategy, respectively, are interesting. The philosophical tradition in discussing the phenomenon of war continues in the socio-political and professional philosophical thought of France, and the 21st century has convincingly proved it. The debate involves members of the public and professional philosophers. Lecture-debates such as those organized by the Philosophical Society of Nantes in 2003-2004 around the theme of “Philosophy in the Face of War” demonstrated the interest in the philosophical treatment of the phenomenon of war in relation to modernity. During the debate, presentations were made by well-known French philosophers J. Gobert, Thierry Ménissier, B. Benoit, and P. Hassner. In addition to the already mentioned experts on this problem, we should name P. Gallois, J. Guitton, D. David, Régis Debray, A. Joxe, Roger Caillois, E. Murez, P. Lelouch, C. Le Borgne, D. Herrmann and others. The philosophy of war has attracted the attention of many French philosophers. In particular, the work of Clausewitz was the subject of research both by Raymond Aron and René Girard.

The views of the French philosopher and political scientist Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer on the problems of modern wars are of interest. In his book, La guerre au nom de l’humanité (War in the Name of Humanity), he considers a whole set of problems affecting the basics of understanding the phenomenon of war. His multifaceted education (philosophy, law, political science) allows him to consider war in a political-philosophical way with the knowledge of legal issues. Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, in the “Introduction” to this book, notes his commitment to realism, a sense of proportion, balance, without any theoretical excesses or dogmatic simplifications. Early 2019 saw the publication of a book by the French engineer, philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy, La guerre qui ne peut pas avoir lieu: Essai de métaphysique nucléaire (The War That Cannot Happen: An Essay in Nuclear Metaphysics). It would seem to be a return to the old theme of the inadmissibility of nuclear war. One recalls the statements of progressive scientists who put forward pessimistic predictions of the fate of humanity after nuclear war, about the possibility of a “nuclear winter.” Dupuy is concerned that the world has come even closer to the brink of nuclear war than during the Cold War, but most people ignore the danger. He discusses the possibility of war breaking out uncontrollably regardless of the will of politicians, because of the triggering by “apocalyptic machines.” He raises in a new way the problem of the effectiveness and morality of nuclear weapons.

Conclusion

Given the presence of competing approaches to the cognition of war, there have been and are different points of view on the way to penetrate to the essence of this phenomenon. At the present stage, we can say that none of the paradigms has clearly proved its superiority in the realization of the epistemological goals set by the supporters of one or another direction. Apparently, mutual complementarity remains the fundamental principle of truth comprehension. In this respect, there are proposals to create a “new science of war.” Here, however, conceptual questions arise. One of them is the question of what a “new science” is. For example, the Russian military scientist Nikolai N. Golovin meant by this “the sociology of war,” as Gaston Bouthoul later did (though with significant inclusions of philosophy). Andrei E. Snesarev called the “philosophy of war” a universal tool for understanding the phenomenon of war. Gustave Le Bon considered war from the standpoint of psychology. The need in our time to create a “new science of war” requires combining different approaches, which can give a positive effect of understanding this phenomenon and the influence upon it.

This is all the more relevant now, since terrorism is gaining such a scale that a number of authors consider it as a kind of war. In the complex of methodological approaches to the study of wars and military conflicts, philosophy occupies an important place, as it perceives and conceptualizes this phenomenon in the most general way, which allows us to get close to its essence and find methods and means of counteraction. It is philosophy that can answer the following questions: what is war? What are the causes of wars? What is the relationship between human nature and war? Are there just wars, etc.?

The Department of the Philosophy of Politics and Law, in the Faculty of Philosophy, at the Lomonosov Moscow State University does a lot to study the phenomenon of war in keeping with the times: special courses devoted to this problem are offered, such as “The Philosophy of War” (since 2009), “Fundamentals of Polemology” (since 2016); numerous articles devoted to polemological problems have been published; members of the department have participated in various conferences on the problems of wars and military conflicts. One of the features of the departmental approach to the study of the phenomenon of war is the focus on the comparison of different points of view on this problem. As a result, we have formed the opinion that the concepts of French philosophers writing about war, in the paradigm of the “philosophy of war,” are characterized by originality and deserve careful study in the context of the dominance of Anglo-American theories.

Complete references are found in the Russian original.


Alexei V. Soloviev is Associate Professor in the Department of the Philosophy of Politics and Law, Faculty of Philosophy, Lomonosov Moscow State University.


Featured: Le siège de Paris (The Siege of Paris), by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier; painted in 1870.


Do You Know René Girard?

On April 16, 1978, the famous French weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, published an article by Michel Serres, philosopher and historian of science, with the now legendary title, “Do you know René Girard?” In it, the author presented Violence and the Sacred, the latest book published by a hitherto little-known French literary critic and university professor based in the United States. It was, according to Serres, a work called to illuminate the unfathomable abyss that surrounds the mystery of the foundation of human cultures. All of them are tombs and “Girard has long endeavored to decipher their tombstones.” Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, cities are created by men with their hands stained with innocent blood. Blood of brothers and also of strangers, those scapegoats whom myths and rites remember in the life-giving commemoration of the founding murder.

Violence is at the root of all institutions, but it is veiled, disguised by culture. By all cultures, except for one: “One culture, just one, is the exception and starts to uncover the secret. It starts to say that the victim of these murders is not responsible for all the evils. It starts shouting the innocence of Abel and Joseph. It is the Jewish culture…. The prophets are the first ethnologists. Girard dares to reopen Scripture, at the very moment when it is most forgotten, at the hour when to do so seems scandalous…. Read this clear, luminous, sacrilegious, calm book. You will have the impression of having changed your skin. You will crave, you will need peace…. With Darwin’s fire, remember, the old assemblages collapsed, everything was directed towards time, towards the general time of evolution, by means of operators of an unexpected simplicity. The same thing happens with Girard’s fire. We had not had a Darwin on the side of the human sciences. Here we have one.”

Isaiah Berlin, inspired by a proverb attributed to the Greek poet Archilochus, reminded us that there are two kinds of people: foxes and hedgehogs. The fox knows many things, while the hedgehog knows only one. December 25, 2023 will mark a century since the birth of one of the greatest hedgehogs of all time and perhaps the most significant of the 20th century. But Girard was a fascinating and uncomfortable hedgehog. Scorned by the intellectual clergy mimetically subjected to the fashions and jargons of the moment, whether those of existentialism or poststructuralism, ignored by the French academic establishment, he eventually came to be admired and repudiated for the same reason: for having had the audacity to propose an encompassing theory (from desire to religion to violence) at a time when every conception of the world of universal scope was deconstructed and destroyed by the sorcerers of suspicion. But Girard’s suspicion was even greater than the gregarious prejudice disguised as skepticism that came to proliferate among the buffoons of postmodernism.

As Xabier Pikaza has written, “Girard accepts and in a certain sense develops the anti-religious critique of the 19th-20th centuries: not only does he assume the attitude of the masters of suspicion, but he can take it to the end, without the risk of anthropological dissolution.” With Girard sounded the hour in which disbelieving reason dares to overcome the clichés and axioms of narrow rationalism and rigid positivism. The negation of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud was always partial, an intellectual epiphenomenon of the threatened bourgeois conscience, while Girard revolutionized our understanding of violence and built a new anthropological defense of Christianity. New because he began to listen anew to what many others only heard without paying real attention: what Girard once called “the ill-known voice of the real.” A voice silenced among myths and primitive rites but that resounds like a distant echo in the murmur of the Scriptures. It is the voice that changed the world forever.

There are thinkers who acquire the category of event because, as Francesc Torralba has written, after them the way of thinking is radically transformed. René Girard falls into this category. Jean-Marie Domenech called him the “Hegel of Christianity.” Pierre Chaunu called him the “Albert Einstein of the human sciences,” and Paul Ricoeur said of him that he would be as important for the 21st century as Marx or Freud were for the 20th. A sort of Guelph among the Ghibellines and Ghibelline among the Guelphs, Girard felt himself to be a disciple of Durkheim without renouncing the lineage of Pascal. An untenable position if ever there was one, but fertile as few others.

The Logos of Heraclitus versus the Logos of St. John, the violent message of the myths versus the love of the Gospel, the city of men versus the Civitas Dei. In Girard’s work, the same dynamism emerges, the same search is manifested, the same spiritual breath beats that beats in the heart of the doctor of Hippo. In any case, the Christianocentric turn of Girard’s work was the last scandal of a thought that developed book after book over five decades. It was a thought that reached the very Apocalypse along the path marked by the great classics of modern literature and anthropology. An unparalleled theoretical itinerary. “When I want to know the latest news, I read the Apocalypse.” Léon Bloy said it, but it was René Girard who took this sentence to the extreme of its theoretical possibilities in his work.

Benoït Chantre presides the Association des Recherches Mimétiques, a French research center dedicated to promote and disseminate studies related to the anthropological and social theory of René Girard. He is also the author of the first complete biography dedicated to the great French-American theorist (René Girard, Biographie. Grasset, 2023). It has been published, not by chance, in the year of the centenary of his birth. Because the task of writing the life of this singular thinker was long pending. An intellectual biography of almost twelve hundred pages that is supported by numerous unpublished texts and a rich correspondence. In them we discover the man behind the imposing mimetic theory, a theory he elaborated with the handwriting of Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, James George Frazer, Durkheim, the prophets, St. John, St. Paul and Clausewitz. Between science and faith, the existential and intellectual journey of this authentic meteorite of Western thought who dared to bring together everything old and new in the long history of knowledge and learning.

Life of Girard

René Noël Théophile Girard was born in Avignon on Christmas Day, 1923. At a very young age, he passed the entrance exam to the Chartes School in 1942. Student in Paris during the Occupation, witness in Avignon of the American bombing of the city, the war left a deep mark on him. He was only 23 years old when he crossed the Atlantic. It was 1947 and he was unaware at the time that he would spend an entire academic career in the United States, a career that ended at the prestigious Stanford University. Girard, writes Chantre, lived on American campuses “like Hölderlin in his tower.” This exile to the American university, where researchers enjoy (or enjoyed) exceptional working conditions, was the opportunity of a lifetime. He did not miss it.

At the age of 38, he returned to the Christian faith, which he had lost during his adolescence. He had not set foot in a church since then. It was, as he often said, a conversion fruit of a grace mysteriously linked to his intellectual work. In his monumental Diccionario de pensadores cristianos (Dictionary of Christian Thinkers), Pikaza refers to Girard as “perhaps the most significant of the Christian converts of the 20th century.” For Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, “Girard’s project is certainly the one that today is presented to us with the greatest drama in soteriology and, in general, in theology itself.”

Much later, in 2005, in his eighties, Girard took Bossuet’s place at the Académie Française. The “fille aînée de l’Église” welcomed as an immortal of French letters the man who, in the words of the writer Roberto Calasso, should be described as “the last Father of the Church.” John Paul II, during his trip to France in 1980, asked the question: “France, first-born daughter of the Church, are you faithful to your baptism?” With Girard’s election to Chair 37 a discreet “yes” was heard within the old walls of the venerable institution founded by Cardinal Richelieu. However, Girard remained on the sidelines of the sterile ecclesiastical debates between progressives and conservatives, an epochal trifecta resulting from the globalization of the Church. The Avignon-born anthropologist could have agreed with Ernesto Sábato, who recalled this maxim of Schopenhauer: “Sometimes progress is reactionary and reaction is progressive.” This allowed Girard to place himself in a personal and singular way before the great themes of modernity and to cross the sinister century of ideologies and political religions, with their mental ties and their odious fanaticism, without paying any toll. For Michel Serres, Girard’s wager represented “the most fruitful hypothesis of the century.” His thought even inspired the homilies of Father Rainier Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household since 1980, who recalled something that should not be forgotten regarding his work: “Many, unfortunately, continue to cite René Girard as the one who denounced the alliance between the sacred and violence, but they do not say a single word about the Girard who pointed out in the paschal mystery of Christ, the total and definitive rupture of that alliance.”

May this Christmas season more than any other bring us, with his first one hundred years of life, René Girard (1923-2015), always young and returning to us—for the work of this giant of the 20th century sealed forever that which his compatriot Georges Bernanos wrote: “It is not the Gospel that is old. It is we who are old.”


Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020. This article appears through the kind courteesy of El Debate.


Why Does Capitalism Now Prefer the Left?

The old bourgeois capitalism, in the dialectical phase, preferred the culture of the Right, with its nationalism, its disciplinary authoritarianism, its patriarchy, its alliance with the altar and its values, at that time functional to the reproduction of the mode of production.

Today, the post-bourgeois turbo-capital of globalization, of the free market and free desire, in the absolute-totalitarian phase, prefers the culture of the Left, with its celebration of anthropological deregulation and of the unlimited openness of the imaginary and of real borders, with its dogmatics of the de-sovereignization of the States and the falsely rebellious deconstruction of the old bourgeois norms. Therein lies—in Preve’s words—the “profound affinity between leftist culture and the fact of globalization.”

Right-wing capitalism, of nationalism, discipline, patriarchy, religion and compulsory military service, gives way to the new leftist capitalism—that is, to progressive neoliberalism—of cosmopolitanism, consumerist permissiveness, post-family individualism and ERASMUS as the new “compulsory military service” for the education of the new generations in the values of precariousness and nomadism, of openness and deregulated enjoyment.

The order of the hegemonic discourse managed by the heralds of the culture of the champagne-Left, on the one hand, celebrates globalization as a natural and intrinsically good reality. On the other hand, with a symmetrical movement, it delegitimizes as dangerous ethnic and religious, nationalist and regressive reactions; everything that in various ways calls it into question. However, as Preve has suggested, it would be enough to “gesturally reorient” the gaze to gain a different perspective, from below and for those from below. Instead of “globalization,” we should speak of American-centric capitalist imperialism without borders. And instead of ethnic and religious, nationalist and regressive reactions, we should speak of legitimate national and cultural resistance to the falsely humanitarian violence of capitalist globalization of misery and homologation.

It is what Nancy Fraser has called “progressive neoliberalism,” synthesizing well the honeymoon between the class fanaticism of the market economy and the liberal-libertarian instances of the “artistic critique” of the new Left referent in struggle against any figure of tradition and limit, of community and identity, of people and transcendence. The 1960s substitution of the Marxian revolutionary, who fights against capital, for the Nietzschean hooligan rebel, who transvalues the old bourgeois values, provokes this inclined plane that leads to the paradoxical present condition: “the right to reefer” and the “surrogate womb” are conceived by the neo-Left as more important and emancipatory than any act of transformation of the world, or of taking a stand against the neoliberal exploitation of labor, colonial exterminations and imperialist wars hypocritically presented as “peace missions.”

Herein lies the deception of “civil rights,” a noble title used entirely improperly by progressive neoliberalism to: a) divert attention from the social issue and labor rights; and b) lead the Left and the dominated classes to the assumption of neoliberal points of view, for which the only struggles worth fighting are those for the individualistic liberalization of customs and consumption (we repeat, “civil rights” liberal Newspeak calls them), along with the necessary export, by missile, of those rights to areas of the planet not yet subsumed under the free market and its progressive neoliberalism.

Particularly in philosophy, the relativistic and anti-metaphysical nihilism of postmodernist “weak thought” is presented idealiter as the pinnacle of anti-conformism, when in reality it is the ideal Weltanschauung to justify the foundationless society of the liberal-nihilistic globalization of the relativistic fundamentalism of the commodity form. The individualistic liberalization of lifestyles is based on the philosophy of postmodern relativism, thanks to which values and “the immutable”—to say it with Emanuele Severino—are dissolved, and everything becomes “relative,” that is, in exclusive relation to the desires of consumption of the desiring subject.

Nihilistic relativism and anti-veritative utilitarianism are the ideal forma mentis for the liberal-market cosmos, since they imply that all representations can be equally useful, as long as they do not conflict with the market and, in this way, favor it. The postmodernist Left finds its clearest expression in the philosophical work of Richard Rorty—convinced that leftist thought is based on the “ironic” deconstruction of absolutes and metaphysical foundations—and in the apparently very different thought of Slavoj Žižek, a bizarre example of “postmodern Marxism” that, in addition to transforming Marx and Hegel into trash phenomena, ends up delegitimizing resistance to Atlanticist globalization as totalitarian and terrorist.

Gianni Vattimo’s “weak thought” itself, regardless of its ultimate objectives in an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist sense—otherwise in contradiction with its basic philosophical presuppositions—owes its success not least to its high degree of compatibility with the new liquid and post-metaphysical structure of capitalism. Theorizing the “weakening” of the fundamental metaphysical and truthful structures, Vattimo outlined, back in the 1980s of the “short century,” the new ideological frame of reference of absolute-totalitarian commercialism, effectively confirming Jameson’s thesis about the nature of postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism.

Turbo-capitalist society is no longer based on supposed transcendent truths (Christian religion) or on correspondence with human nature (Greek philosophy). It is based, on the contrary, solely on the verification of the correct capitalist reproduction actually given. For this reason, the turbo-capitalism of the global market society expresses itself economically in utilitarianism and philosophically in relativistic nihilism. As foreshadowed by Preve and as we ourselves emphasized in Difendere chi siamo (2020), the turbo-capitalist society needs homines vacui and post-identitarians, consumers without identity and without critical spirit. And it is the leftism of sinistrash that zealously produces the ideal anthropological profile for capitalist globalization, the postmodern and “open-minded” homo neoliberalis, that is, “empty” of all content and ready to receive whatever the production system wants from time to time to “fill” it with.

In fact, post-metaphysical turbo-capitalism knows no moral, religious or anthropological limits to oppose to the integral advent of exchange value as the only accepted value: the ideal subject of turbo-capitalism—homo neoliberalis—is, then, the left-wing individual, engaged in rainbow battles for the whims of consumption and disinterested in social battles for work and against imperialism; in a word, he is the post-bourgeois, post-proletarian and ultra-capitalist Nietzschean Superman, bearer of an unlimited will of consumerist power, economically right-wing, culturally left-wing and politically center-wing. It is, to stay in the lexicon of philosophy, the realization of the “protagoric man,” whose subject—understood as a desiring individual is—πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον—”measure of all things.” Thus, politics itself becomes, for the new Left, a struggle against all the limits that in various ways hinder the realization of the subjective desires of that protagoric man.

Moreover, the Left oriented individual is the ideal subject of turbo-capital, since tendentially—let us think mainly of the generation of 1968ers—he is a figure disappointed by the proletarian and communist “illusions.” And, eo ipso, he provides a depressive psychological basis in the name of “disenchantment” (Entzauberung); almost as if he were an ideal “figure” of the Phenomenology of Spirit, historicist disenchantment; that is to say, the loss of faith in the advent of the redeemed society is dialectically invested in the acceptance—depressive or euphoric—of the planetary reification of the neoliberal order. The post-modern can rightly be understood as the fundamental figure of the rationalization of disenchantment and reconciliation with the nihilism of capital elevated to the only possible world, with the addition of the definitive decline of belief in emancipatory “grand narratives.”

For this reason, the liberal new Left also presents itself as a “postmodern Left,” the guardian of relativistic nihilism and the disenchantment of the end of faith in the great narratives of overcoming capitalism: the “strong thought,” veritative and still radically metaphysical of Hegel and Marx, is abandoned by the new Left in favor of the “weak thought” of a Nietzsche reinterpreted in a postmodern key as a sulphurous “hammerer” of values and of the very idea of truth, and as a theorist of the Superman with an unlimited consumerist will to power.

As for relativistic nihilism, which the neo-Nietzschean Left celebrates as “emancipatory” with respect to the metaphysical and veritative pretensions of the Absolutes, this is precisely the foundation of capitalist disempowerment, which turns everything relative to the nihil of the commodity form and, neutralizing the very idea of truth, annihilates the basis of the critique of falsehood and of the insurrection against injustice. Nihilism does not lead to the emancipation of the multiplicity of lifestyles, as Vattimo believes, but rather leads to the disenchanted acceptance of the steel cage of techno-capitalism, within which differences proliferate in the very act with which they are reduced to articulations of the commodity form. From this point of view, Foucault also tends to be “normalized” and assimilated by the neo-Left, which has elevated him to the category of postmodern critic of the inevitable nexus between truth and authoritarian power. And, thus, they make liberation coincide with the abandonment of any pretension to truth.

As for disenchantment, it coincides with the profile of the “last man” thematized by Nietzsche. Der lezte Mensch, “the last man,” becomes aware of the “death of God” and the impossibility of the redemption in which he had also believed, and reconciles himself with meaninglessness, judging it as an irredeemable destiny. This anthropological and cultural profile finds timely confirmation in the existential adventure of the “generation of 1968” and of Lyotard himself, the theorist of the Postmodern Condition. He lost his original faith in socialism (he was a militant of the Marxist group Socialisme ou Barbarie) and reconverted to capitalist nihilism, lived as an inescapable steel cage but with consented spaces of individual freedom (in a rigorously alienated and marketized form, ça va sans dire). For all these reasons, postmodernism remains a philosophy of the rationalization of disenchantment and, at the same time, of the conversion to the acceptance of techno-capitalist nihilism understood as an emancipatory opportunity.


Diego Fusaro is professor of the History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre ReturnsThis article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.


Featured: Cut with the Kitchen Knife, collage by Hannah Höch (1889-1978); created in 1919.