Friday, 3 April 2015

The Fun Factor



It Can’t Be Japanese

You would think, as I also did, that Superdry claiming to be in some way a Japanese company but based in the UK or somehow British design but in the ‘spirit of Japan’ would also stock a lightweight version of their tracksuit bottoms – the trouser ersatz they display en masse in their shop – seemingly overflowing with goods but mostly with more of the same thick padded and fleecy heavy duty air-holed leg cushioning swaddling clothes.  As a Japanophile I was drawn to that certain air of Japan which the store/brand projected – without really noticing what was particularly Japanese about it.  The store interior is very dark and throbs with a mind-numbing soundtrack – here and there the word Tokyo flashes up out of the piles of textile.  But surely a truly Japanese fashion line would include minimalist fragile haiku style clothing, that je ne sais quoi Japanese butterfly street chic – and not just these faux Japanese British lumberjack numbers.  I asked a sales girl slotting some of these carpetbag wide elastic waisted bottoms into a cubicle lit by a blinding spotlight which merely intensified the all pervading darkness of the shop – if they had such trousers in a lighter version for the warmer seasons or if for Superdry there was only one season of snowed in deep winter, in chilly drafty scantily heated houses - never-ending winters as fierce as the one in Kubrick’s Shining?  She showed me a rack of floral or patterned short tight fitting leggings – which were probably lighter, much lighter but we both agreed it was not the same sort of thing or cut as these futon like pants, an exemplar of which I already owned.  The Asian girl was petite in all places except her broad cheeked Eskimo face and large bust.  

Bu where does this chunky ‘Japanese’ style come from – is it an unfamiliar side of the oriental garment repertoire – this cross between a duvet and a piece of body armor?  An offshoot of Sumo culture?  But Sumo wrestlers mostly wear loincloths.  I thought I had discovered a clue in a barely decipherable newspaper photograph of a model purportedly wearing a ‘hooded dress’, which bottoms out in a duvet like flounce.  The hood is a full-face mask with only slits for the eyes, no nose holes – it is so garishly floral, a red and orange tropical camouflage print, one can only guess where the eyes might be.   In effect the dress is just a euphemism for a fitted burqa – now less provocatively re-named a ‘hooded dress’.  The fashion show was in China.    

No wonder Superdry is in the throes of a corporate identity crisis.






The Rothko Fetish

Why do the rich have a Rothko fetish?  The neotenic billionaire currency dealer holding audience in his stretch limo in the film Cosmopolis is obsessed with the one thing he apparently cannot buy – the Rothko Chapel.  In between blandly humping his art consultant (played by the frowsy somewhat grubby looking French actress Juliette Binoche, hardly a rich man’s jouissance) he repeatedly demands that she tell whoever the keepers of the Rothko Chapel are – that he wants to buy it in total with everything in it.  She tells him over and over again “they won’t sell”, - an answer the billionaire won’t, can’t accept.  “They say the Rothko Chapel belongs to the world”, she says.  But the billionaire is about to lose his world anyway.  Something to do with the fall of the yuan – he hadn’t heeded the warnings of his anatomy – the prophetic asymmetry of his prostate should have given him the key to the volatile market in yuan.

Rothko also subtly radiated from the cover of the Financial Times’ “how to spend it” supplement.  An impeccably groomed mocha colored gentleman presumably posing in his own ambient, sits on a stool in front of a black Ikea style bookshelf.  He is himself a gentleman’s tailor, a ‘couturier’, someone whose taste can be utterly trusted, as the magazine says “an aesthete”. (His knees are spread slightly too far apart on the photo, but he covers up his crotch discreetly with his large clasped hands.)  Behind him on the shelf numerous tomes are piled up – among them two very prominently display the name ROTHKO in big letters on their spine.   Books are not usually the preferred objects of a rich man’s wallet – more a decoy – the Rothko volumes are just hints, reminders of the ultimate art investment luxury.  






Burnout

In the same week Germanwings Flight 9525 endured mass ‘burnout’ – a FT lifestyle journalist urged readers who might be “burnt-out high-flyers” to indulge in Indian style therapeutic retreats in France.  For 3595 GBP one is put on a juice diet for at least half of the 6 day retreat – beginning each day with hot water and lemon – which I do almost for free at home.  For another 2495 GBP the two gurus – the O’Shaughnessy brothers from London – will have your saliva tested for its genetic properties – so that your diet, Yoga and Ayurvedic therapy can be scientifically tailored to your genetic peculiarities – a marriage of ancient healing methods and modern genetic science.  The health brothers’ procedure for obtaining your saliva sounds very much like the ‘spit parties’, which were the rage amongst the über-rich such as Ivana Trump and the Murdochs some years back.  While at the party you had to spit into a paper cup and some weeks later you would receive your results for only 400 US dollars.  The wife of one of the Google founders ran the parties and the testing company – so they could afford to test the spit of their fellow rich at a discount.  

It would appear that the FT spending consultant and her Harley Street self-taught gurus lag years behind New York.   But the London retreat therapists serve up their spit party with a high degree of medico solemnity.  They are missing the Great Gatsby fun factor – falling in love with someone’s spit.   



Monday, 16 February 2015

Biopolitics on the Installment Plan*


1.  Other Temporalities
2.  The Deep State of Exception or Deep Police
3.  What is Agamben’s Camp?
4.  The Biopolitical Dispositif  


1.  Other Temporalities

Biopolitical thought or the thought of the biopolitical is trapped in the black hole of the so-called ontological difference, Heidegger’s name for the distinction between beings or entities and Being (the Many and The One) – precisely because Life has become a metaphysical principle – an ultimate ground, a cause.  For Agamben at least, metaphysics and politics of the West converge – so that in his biopolitical thought, Life is, as he writes in Homo Sacer Sovereign Power and Bare Life, “Not simple natural life, but life exposed to death (bare life or sacred life) (…)” and it is this peculiar Life which “is the originary political element.” (Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, Stanford, 1998, p. 88) 

Life (bare life, bios etc) though – in the Heideggerian catechism – as a ground, is an Abgrund or a groundless abyssal ground – the need of the ground never disappears.  Perhaps that is why biopolitics is tainted with an immanent bipolarity of being both biopolitics and thanatopolitics – politics of life and politics of death.  Instead of a ground there is a sort of givenness of Being, a contingency of ‘thrownness’.  The lack of mediation or chorismos or unbridgeable break between a first cause (like for instance Spinoza’s natura naturans) and the unfolding of the cause as the phenomenal world – becomes itself a principle, a quasi-ground.

Life is a larva of Dasein.  Hence like Dasein Life (for biopolitics) is also a bizarre chimera whose ontic distinction is that it is ontological – by virtue of its reflexive ability, in being, to be an issue for itself.  Dasein is the only entity, which is also ontological – so in fact the ontological difference is suspended in Dasein – it is in force but does not apply – like the law, according to Agamben, in the ‘state of exception’.  Similarly, for Agamben, the ‘anomic’ construct of ‘living law’ – or law directly springing from the living body of the Führer or Il Duce – presumes the suspension of the ‘ontological difference’ between life and law.  Charismatic ‘auctoritas’ is opposed to ‘potestas’, the normative ‘rule of law’.  Yet at the same time ‘auctoritas’ – the amalgam of life and law in the charismatic ruler – is a quasi-transcendental illusion – the transcendental position or order of sovereignty – as Foucault would say ‘the place of the king’.  Sovereign power is once again irrevocably separated/severed from life.  And so the unceasing oscillation between the fiction of the immediate whole – life and law – and its continuous decay into its fragmented parts constitutes the perpetual work of the biopolitical machine.    

Hence I shall approach the question of biopolitics from both sides of the ontological difference – attempting to follow the moves and switches of its protean currencies. 

Dasein though in Heidegger’s magnum opus Being and Time undergoes at least one distinctive metamorphosis – especially crucial for biopolitical thought.  In Section 74 it departs its singular contingent/thrown mode, called fate (Schicksal), and co-historizes (Mitgeschehen) into a historical collectivity, a ‘generation’.  Dasein’s “full authentic historizing” (Geschehen) is a specific/particular destiny (Geschick) “of a community, of a people” -, here Dasein becomes ‘political’ and this ‘biopolitical body’ avant la lettre is implicitly German.

Heidegger, as a philosopher of Nazism, will later recognize Dasein’s Geschick (destiny) as being consummated in the German people, gathered in the Nazi movement and state.

The ontological difference inherent in Dasein and its ontic-ontological Mitgeschehen in the German Volk of the historical Nazi movement is reflected in other forms of ‘undecidability’.  Nazism itself in Heidegger’s philosophy inherits that exceptional ontic-ontological status of Dasein, especially after his ‘turn’ when Heidegger abandoned his overt existential analysis of Dasein in favor of the ‘history of Being’ (in a sense blurring the ontological difference).  The history of Being later flowed into the history of technology or techne: the encounter between technicity on a planetary level and modern man had been the inner truth and greatness of the Nazi movement – to paraphrase a well known interpolation in Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics from 1935 – first published after much editing in 1953. 

Each successive metamorphosis of Dasein can be seen as Heidegger’s attempt to efface the rootedness of his philosophy in the Nazi project.  To little avail – biopolitics in the Heideggerian key proclaims the utter necessity of Nazism for thought in most unambiguous terms – like the psychoanalytic return of the repressed:  Roberto Esposito in an essay entitled “Nazism and Us” disentangles Nazism from communism as two forms of a single phenomenon called ‘totalitarianism’ – but he does so not to shield communism – but to place Nazism ‘outside’ of history – in a temporality of its own made of the “decomposition of modernity”.   If communism still belongs to the paradigm of modernity, which has exhausted itself – Nazism is closer to ‘us postmoderns’.  But the temporality/historicity of Nazism itself is neither reducible to modernity nor postmodernity.  It floats in a kind of atavistic species-time.  The temporality of Nazism for Esposito alternates between the transcendental of Life – and the modern archaic (“the permanence of the origin at the moment of its leaving” (Communitas)) as opposed to communism’s transcendental of history. Agamben speaks similarly of Nazism’s modern rediscovery of arcana imperii.  Since – as Esposito posits – communism has disappeared from our contemporary field – all that’s left for us is Nazism and its unique temporality as the “realization of biology” out of the death of the modern. 
“(…) not only is the problem, or the terrifying laceration, opened by Nazism anything but definitively healed but, in a certain way, it seems to come closer to our condition the more our condition exceeds the confines of modernity. (…) That is why, once the conceptual lexicon (if not the political exigency) of communism was worn out, we turned to reckon with that of Nazism, only to find it stamped across our foreheads.” (Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political, Fordham University Press, 2013, p. 86)  

Giorgio Agamben considers the anomalous temporality of biopolitics, which for him too is synonymous with Nazism or its metonymic representative – the camp – from the point of view of sovereignty or sovereign power and not realized biology: “The present inquiry (Homo Sacer) concerns precisely this hidden point of intersection between the juridico-institutional and the biopolitical models of power. (…) the production of the biopolitical body is the original activity of sovereign power.  In this sense biopolitics is at least as old as the sovereign exception. Placing biological life at the center of its calculations, the modern State therefore does nothing other than bring to light the secret tie uniting power and bare life, thereby reaffirming the bond (…) between the modern and the archaic (…)”(Homo Sacer, ibid., p. 6)  

If Nazism merely recovers the forgotten potential of antique secret techniques of power – the archaic – in what way is that also modern?  And if the ancient revenant homo sacer - the ostracized man who can be killed by anyone, but not sacrificed – all highly archaic terms – is ‘bare life’ in the camp – it becomes even more difficult to understand what Agamben means by the camp as the biopolitical paradigm of the modern? And although Esposito sees in Nazism the decomposition of the modern as the realization of biology, biopolitics is for him undoubtedly constitutive of our contemporary world. But why Nazism must be so necessarily implicated in biopolitics qua modernity remains the 'unthought' premise of both these biopolitical philosophers.

Biopolitics, striking its roots in Nazism’s historical collapse and ruin, its decomposition of the modern, becomes a positive theory of contemporary society and of sovereign power whether in the form of a state or some more diffuse ‘exception’/ ‘state of exception’.  In biopolitical philosophy, concept and fact – or the ontological and the ontic - tend to merge into a positive hybrid with no remainder - what Agamben calls "the fact that decides on its own application".    

Foucault’s ‘new’ or salient definition ushering in the epoch of biopolitics in social and political theory “Modern man is an animal whose politics calls his existence as a living being into question.” predates the distinction between politics and ‘the political’.  But it distinctly echoes the declaration of the ‘ontological difference’ and Dasein’s exemption or special status in Being and Time:  “Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities.  Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact, that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it. (…) Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontological.” (Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, Oxford, 2001, p. 32)  Although as one knows – Heidegger expressly denies Dasein any biological meaning or substance – Dasein is spatial but not embodied. And yet  - in the dissolving of the ontological difference on its account – Dasein assumes a hegemony in Being – or if the ontological difference is a reflection of the finitude of being/entities in relation to Being – Dasein escapes such absolute finitude.  Is it so surprising that Heidegger wanted to protect his exceptional creature from biological finitude?  How strange though that such a non-biological non-corporeal quasi-transcendental ‘subject’ should give birth to biopolitics, which exposes life directly/ sans merci to politics, the political or power.  








2 .  The Deep State of Exception or Deep Police

What is the state of exception of the deep state?  The deep state of exception?  Was Nazism the unearthing of the deep state?  Nothing needed to be concealed any more.  Was it perhaps the liberation of the deep state?  Marcuse refers to the direct dictatorship of the economic powers ‘behind’ the Nazi throne.  They did not need the state any more to rule.   The deep Nazi state was also the dismantling according to him of the Rechtsstaat – that masterpiece of Prussian jurisprudence which Hegel at least in part held in high esteem.  Odd that one seldom refers to the Nazi apparatus as a ‘police state’ – although what was Eichmann’s Gestapo other than a secret branch of the police?  But in the unchained form of the police state, which Nazism was – there was little need of secrecy.  The racial völkisch bond of the German people loosened the inner constraints of secrecy just as, according to Albert Speer, the organization of mass murder could hide ‘in the open’ behind the humdrum whirring of the Big technological Machine. 
The actual size of the Gestapo reflects the relative ease with which the ‘secret police’ could operate within the cohesive German majority population: “The Gestapo in 1937 had just over 7,000 employees including bureaucrats and secretarial staff.  Together with a far smaller force of police, they sufficed to keep tabs on more than 60 million people.  Most Germans simply did not need to be subjected to surveillance or detention.” (Götz Aly, Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War and the Nazi Welfare State, Picador, 2008, p. 29 cited by Prairie Fire (llco.org) in LLCO, June 7, 2011)

Conversely, the Nazi ruling body was itself a state of dissolution from the start – its various porous segments composed of the Nazi party, industry or monopoly capitalism, the Wehrmacht, the old and new bureaucracies and the Führer were a disassociation of warring apparatuses – as Franz Neumann shows in his classic study Behemoth.  Eventually with the rise of Himmler the SS formed a nascent state in state drawing on all of the other apparatuses – especially the economy.  Neumann raises the question if the Nazi conglomerate ever was a state? When Heidegger asks himself in Introduction to Metaphysics – “What is the State?” – the only examples he can think of are the state police arresting a suspect, the Führer speaking to the English foreign minister and the sound of clacking typewriters in a Reichsministerium taking dictation.  

Adorno draws a striking analogy between the subject/particular under the ban and Neumann’s characterization of the Nazi German Volksstaat or Behemoth – or rather the totality in how it effects the particular – precipitating its own breaking apart. “The more the society steers toward the totality, which reproduces itself in the ban/spell of subjects, the deeper too its tendency toward dissociation.  This latter threatens the life of the species, as much as it denies the ban of the whole, the false identity of subject and object.  The general, which compresses the particular as if by an instrument of torture, until it splinters, labours against itself, because it has its substance in the life (italics sm) of the particular; without it, it sinks down into the abstract, separate and eradicable form. Franz Neumann diagnosed this in the institutional sphere in Behemoth: the disassembly into disconnected and warring power-apparatuses is the secret of the total fascist state.” (Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, Frankfurt, 1996, p. 337) 

But by another paradoxical movement of asymmetry – the singular is also a ‘beneficiary’ of the general – and in recognition of this effect – compulsively acts to repair (albeit futilely and temporarily) the tissue of the oppressive whole.  (For a study of the mutually beneficial symbiosis of the Nazi Volksgenosse and his/her Volksstaat see Götz Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat: Raub, Rassenkrieg und Nationalsozialismus, Fischer Taschenbuch, 2006/ Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War and the Nazi Welfare State, Picador, 2008)

The police state or the autonomous police acting within the nation state were rather late in developing – as Hannah Arendt notes in her work Origins of Totalitarianism.  Their extraordinary powers arose precisely in connection with the need to deal with those persons without a state, refugees mostly from Russia and Eastern and Southeastern Europe including Turkey – excluded from the normal legal rights of citizens after the first world war and its ensuing cumbersome ‘peace and minority treaties’ and fragile unsustainable new states.     In her analysis, these great masses of displaced populations eroded certain age old precepts of international law – especially the unwritten ones such as quid quid est in territorio est de territorio – whatever is on the territory is subject to the territory – which is the basis of the right of asylum.  These phenomena belong to the general complex of the “decline of the nation state” – out of whose decline or brokenness emerged the contrary movement – the rise of the police or the police state in the state. (Reiner Schürmann has described this topology in more noetic terms as “broken hegemonies”.)  The new state of the police is not to be confused with classic undercover or conspiratorial operations of the police in the style of the police minister Fouché, minister under Napoleon and under those who destroyed Napoleon – a type of police governance Stendhal describes so acutely and satirically in The Charterhouse of Parma nor with the enlightened police state of Joseph II of Austria organized around a system of spies and informers operating out of the tobacconist shops or Trafik in Vienna at a time when tobacco was a state monopoly.
Arendt makes it sound almost too simple:  “The nation-state, incapable of providing a law for those who had lost the protection of a national government, transferred the whole matter to the police.  This was the first time the police in Western Europe had received authority to act on its own, to rule directly over people; in one sphere of public life it was no longer an instrument to carry out and enforce the law, but had become a ruling authority independent of government and ministries.  Its strength and its emancipation from law and government grew in direct proportion to the influx of refugees.” (Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, New York, 1979,  p. 287)  She refers to the situation in France post World War I - where an order of expulsion issued by the police was far graver than one from the Minster of Interior – who could only rarely cancel such a police order.  Despite the fact, that constitutionally the police were under the authority of the Ministry of Interior.  

Before the outbreak of the 2nd World War the relations between the Gestapo and the police forces of other European countries were so cordial and independent of the official governments one could speak of a foreign policy of the police.  Such a policy had much to do with the transnational governance of exactly those stateless persons.  As Arendt describes – someone who had escaped from a concentration camp in Germany to Holland would be placed in an internment camp in Holland.  (Origins of Totalitarianism, ibid., see p. 288)  The ties between these self-governing police organs cleared the way for the later occupation.

[In the BBC series 37 Days about the prelude to World War I the characters discuss the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand – demanding Austrian policing or co-policing in Serbia.  When one of the British officials is amazed by such a breach of sovereignty – another says that it is nothing unusual for police to cooperate across borders.   Although historical fiction – it is a most plausible view, considering the fear of anarchist movements dogging the monarchies and dynasties of the 19th century – that the police began their autonomous life long before the refugees started their mass migrations.]

In light of this historical empirical situation, Carl Schmitt’s famous opening line of his Political Theology “sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (written at exactly this time in history) appears less the flaunting of sovereign supra-legal power (this is how Agamben will present it) – than a reaction to a defacto existing loss of power of the sovereign to other agencies – in this case the police.  
  
The ‘decline of the nation-state’ in Arendt’s phrase – or rather the ending of states and empires after the First World War, hollowed out sovereignty and consequently the status of citizens and subjects.  An absolute loss of power establishes in the minds of theorists such as Schmitt and Agamben the absolute sovereignty of the exception. Agamben’s idea of the sovereign ban is equally tinged by Heidegger’s “powerlessness of abandonment” – an effect of Dasein’s superior power of being free for death, its finite freedom.  What is more of an exception for a state than when it collapses and becomes extinct?  Is its collapse itself part of the state?  Or is the state’s in extremis part of the ‘deep state’?
Schmitt writing his Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, after the German Kaiserreich’s ignominious defeat and end in World War One, insists defiantly on an even more absolute sovereignty – the suspension of all law in the sovereign decision on the exception – with the idea/hope perhaps that this would prevent the worst from happening again.

If the sovereign decision is the negation of State law – then the positive ‘body’ to rise in this void is the biopolitical police – or the fusion of politics and police – whereby the police become masters of the ‘care of life’ hence Life’s overseer or governor.  The police are the instrument through which the state intrudes ever deeper into the despotic ancient regime of the oikos – the household – and inversely the paterfamilias’ absolute power over life and death (vitae necisque potestas) invades the functioning of the state.  The deep state of exception gives birth to the deep police.







In Benjamin’s terms in Critique of Violence written also during this time (1920-21) – the police became the fusion of law making and law preserving power or violence. Benjamin saw the coinciding of these powers in the hands of the police as a sign of the decrepitude of the Weimar parliamentary system.  Derrida in his essay Force of Law takes umbrage at this particular observation of Benjamin about the police in Weimar Germany - seeing it as an inexcusable slur upon ‘the spirit of the police’ in general.  More importantly, Benjamin violates Derrida’s and deconstructionism’s holy principle of iterability.
The identity of law founding power or violence and law preserving power or violence is one of its axioms.  Iterability means for Derrida’s concept of law and justice – the infinite repetition of the mystical foundation of authority at every moment as if happening now for the first time. 

Benjamin’s historical vision is the more lucid one – especially considering the post Weimar transformations of the police apparatus in Nazi Germany.
The organization most representative of the Nazi regime was the Reichssicherheitshauptamt – Reich Security Head Office – a hybrid of police and SS, a novel invention of the Nazi arcanum dominationis. Himmler who created it was its supreme ministerial head.  His double title was chief of German Police and Reichsführer-SS.  The official task of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt was to find and eliminate the enemies of the Reich inside and outside the borders of Nazi Germany.  Its numerous subdivisions included the Sipo, the security police comprised of the Gestapo and the Criminal Police, and SD, the SS intelligence service. The RSHA as it was called was in charge of all deep police operations inside and outside the Reich from domestic criminal police matters, to Nazi indoctrination to the death squads accompanying the Wehrmacht (the German army) in Eastern Europe and all other stages of genocide.

In effect, Agamben almost reduces biopolitics to the rise of the police – not yet quite the camp, the genealogy of the police is biopolitics’ rather unspectacular back entrance or back room.  But the police were not just suddenly entrusted with the administration of surplus refugee population (as Arendt suggests) – the so-called science of the police had been evolving since the 18th century, concerned with the ‘care and well-being of the population proper’.  

Echoing one another Agamben and Esposito follow Foucault’s cue – giving utmost weight to the role of the police, in the ‘genealogy of biopolitics’, above that of the Christian tradition of the pastorate (the confession), and a related ‘art of government’.  The old style sovereignty over territory influenced by physiocratic thinking saw in it a possession, granting sovereignty unlimited prerogative to extract value from its natural and human resources – now the ‘government of men’ must nurture and discipline the human resources qua population or species, of course ultimately to maximize productivity and benefit the state. 

Pastoral care is a form of disciplinary institution based on the relation of a shepherd and his flock.  A similar idea of governance emerged in the 6th century amongst the nomadic empires of Central Asia – nomadic conquerors such as the Avars or Huns had to change themselves from ‘shepherds of sheep to shepherds of men’.  The Ottomans later perfected this rather unstable form of government in the 14th century under Murat the First.  It was during his reign that the Ottomans (now sedentary nomads) with the Janissaries, Murat’s praetorian guard of Moslem converts, conquered much of the Balkans.  The Ottoman ‘art of government’ consisted of choosing and training ‘human watchdogs’ to manage and control the ‘herd of men’ and the human neighbors of the herd. (see Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries, New York, 2002, pp. 51-53)
In the West, the disciplinary institutions and structures of schools, armies, barracks, hospitals etc were also the mode of hegemonic subjectivation and subjection. 

Von Justi the 18th century author of Elements of the Police introduces a new distinction between politics and the police.  Politics has a strictly negative authority – it is engaged in the control of the internal and external enemy – the sovereign defending the territory; the police though are positively concerned with the welfare of the population.  Agamben turns this distinction into an identity of politics and police which he discovers in Nazi biopolitics – claiming it cannot just be seen as ‘racism’ in a biological sense, but should be regarded in the context of this 18th century police science legacy:   “National Socialist biopolitics moves, (…) in a horizon, in which the “care of life” inherited from eighteenth-century police science is, in now being founded on properly eugenic concerns, absolutized. (…) National Socialist biopolitics (…) cannot be grasped if it is not understood as necessarily implying the disappearance of the difference between the two terms:  the police now becomes politics, and the care of life coincides with the fight against the enemy. (…) Only from this perspective is it possible to grasp the full sense of the extermination of the Jews, in which the police and politics, eugenic motives and ideological motives, the care of health and the fight against the enemy become absolutely indistinguishable.” (Homo Sacer, ibid., pp. 146-147)

In other words, following Agamben’s argument, National Socialist biopolitics – by and large consisting of the extermination/genocide of European Jewry – was in essence an action of this new deep police.  The police in Agamben’s words are modern politics’ method of “giving form to life” – not just in the Third Reich.  

Here Agamben’s concept of biopolitics parts ways from that of Foucault and Esposito – or rather they both remain undecided about how to classify biopolitics itself.  When sovereign power or the state dissolves into Agamben’s identity of politics and the police, does it then inexorably unleash or reveal the biopolitical ‘scythe’, so-called thanatopolitics?  Is biopolitics then rather a symptom or form of the decomposition of the sovereign political state of citizens and the general will (the declaration of the rights of man and citizen)?  Foucault, writes Esposito remains unresolved about his two models, ‘running in two directions’ – the sovereignty model (juridico-political hegemony) and the biopolitical model.  Are they one and the same or different from each other?  Esposito describes these two positions as ‘continuous’ or ‘discontinuous’ – meaning are sovereignty, biopolitics and totalitarianism implicit in one another or does biopolitics constitute a break or rupture of sovereignty?  In effect, Agamben admits that biopolitics is not seamlessly continuous with the sovereignty of citizens or the Rechtsstaat, noting that even in Nazi Germany – the most full blown biopolitical regime in history – Nazi officials felt obliged to completely denationalize Jewish German citizens before they sent them to the gas chambers.

The reason Foucault remains cautious, according to Esposito, eventually abandoning the biopolitical line of query is quite clear:  “(…) if the thesis of indistinction between sovereignty, biopolitics, and totalitarianism were to prevail – the continuist hypothesis – he would be forced to assume genocide as the constitutive paradigm (or at least as the inevitable outcome) of the entire parabola of modernity.” (Roberto Esposito, Bíos, Biopolitics and Philosophy, Minneapolis, 2008, p. 43)   

Foucault’s hesitation, the ‘abyss’ he looked into, though is precisely at the point where Agamben unveils his theory of modernity which he calls unambiguously – the camp as biopolitical paradigm of the modern or alternatively the camp as nomos of the modern.









3.  What is Agamben’s Camp?

Agamben develops his idea of the camp most thoroughly in his book Homo Sacer – Sovereign Power and Bare Life.  The English translation shows an architectural drawing on its front cover – one of the versions of the Auschwitz ‘master plan’– lest there be any doubt about the contents.  In Homo Sacer Agamben offers several definitions or situations/positions with which or from which to regard the camp – from a fairly minimal one, at a maximum distance from its exterminatory genocidal aspect, to a maximum ascription, at the minimal distance from its determinate genocidal form.  The minimal signifier camp means simply the ‘historical disjunction between birth and nation’.  Birth no longer automatically inscribes the individual in the nation.  Here Agamben defers to Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the impact of refugees on the political history or decline of the nation-state;
the plight of the refugee is both a prototype of this disjunction and its evidence. 

The old nomos, a term borrowed from Carl Schmitt again, was the trinity: land (physical territory), order (state) and birth (nation).  This nomos is now broken – its new regulator is the 4th pillar – the camp.  The camp decides on the inscription of birth in the nation.  Birth in that Heideggerian turn of phrase, is now an issue for the new nomos.  Natality thus is already bare life – even before it is born. “The growing dissociation of birth (bare life) and the nation-state is the new fact of politics in our day, and what we call camp is this disjunction.” (Homo Sacer, ibid., p. 175)  In this minimal definition there is little spatiality – let alone physicality.  The camp is a kind of bureaucratic stoppage – a break in the mechanism of sovereignty, a symptom of its brokenness and at the same time its regulative principle.  Birth today for Agamben thus has no place - or a non-place, - or rather every birth has its first ideal place – the camp.   The new nomos is at least in part the camp as the principle of including birth by way of excluding it from the nation-state, a variation of the sovereign ban. 

But Agamben does not stop at this minimal claim.  He contends that the camp is the biopolitical paradigm of the modern.  The camp thus is biopolitics itself and as such defines the modern era, modernity.  His minimal claim comes to soften or prepare the site for his maximal claim.  But one still does not know the spatiality of this camp – as a spatial entity it is again only a function of the juridical structure or condition he calls a ‘state of exception’ when the law is suspended – the camp is a localizing kit, where supposedly the state of exception has become the rule, hence permanent.  Permanence is both temporal and in some unspecific way potentially spatial.  One still does not quite see how the ‘state of exception’ can be so restricted as to be in only one space – and at the same time be everywhere. Whatever its locale though, the camp as a “dislocating localization (it) is the hidden matrix of the politics in which we are still living, and it is this structure of the camp that we must learn to recognize in all its metamorphoses into the zones d’attentes of our airports and certain outskirts of our cities.” (Homo Sacer, ibid., p. 175)  

Those non-places, however, refer only to Agamben’s minimal claim – 
that the camp is sovereign power discharging itself upon new kinds of nomadism,  asylum seekers, people without papers, migrant workers, refugees from war zones and natural disasters, terrorism etc.   The “hidden matrix” alias the camp, also includes the intensive care wards and laboratories where doctors and scientists, according to Agamben, exercise sovereign-like power over neomorts, faux vivants and overcomatose creatures – those who hover between life and death, human and animal tissue.

The maximal camp of Agamben’s argument – is not a refugee camp, a temporary holding zone for people whose papers are not valid, nor a hospital ward – it is the death camp, built especially for the purpose of meting out death.  Quite simply it is Auschwitz.   Auschwitz is not a localization, it was a historical physical space for the arrival of transports, for barracks, gas chamber and crematoria and for the ‘new town’ especially constructed for the SS and its industrial enterprises.  Auschwitz in all of its 48 sub-camps was built as an artificial disciplinary town in the middle of nowhere – modelled on another sort of camp - the Roman military camp whose 17th century revivals Foucault describes in Security, Territory and Population.  But unlike these towns Auschwitz was also destined ideally to ‘capitalize’ the still unfinished eastward expanding territory of the 1000 year Reich. 

But is it possible to combine these two camps – the minimal refugee camp, including the hospital ward and the maximal historical death camp?  Is the refugee question identical with the genocide of European Jewry and its localities?  It would seem rather, that the refugee question serves Agamben as a kind of ‘screen memory’ to borrow Freud’s term within the text for that other question ‘the final solution’ which must be suppressed and expressed at the same time – in other words a way of forgetting whilst remembering and enunciating.  Auschwitz is both erased and kept – in that refrain of Agamben – like the law, it is in force but does not apply. Law figures in his analyses as the term for the political, the sovereign, and the ban – the ontological.

The Nazi exterminatory drive was not haphazard nor opportunist – they did not wait for refugees to uproot themselves so they could denationalize them - they ripped the Jewish people as a group from their national habitats – where they were citizens – creating these circumstances in one European country after another.  This was done according to plan.  

The Jewish person caught up in the relentless mechanism of Nazi genocide was decidedly not a refugee. Refugees are a contingent mass – arising as an effect of major upheavals – wars, natural disasters, collapse of states, famine, plague etc. – Nazism was all of that in intentional human form.

The Jewish people were fake refugees – they did not flee and present themselves in a new place.  Rather they were made to look like refugees.  The familiar images from the midst of genocide – the lines or columns of Jewish men, women and children carrying their belongings tied up in blankets or in suitcases, marching through empty streets – their yellow stars on their coat sleeves, faces etched in weariness and a certain aloofness – these images are fabrications of the Nazi cinematography of genocide.  They had to look like refugees as they passed through Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian etc streets to keep up the fiction of resettlement.  Although no one was fooled for long.  It was a fake exodus of the people known for their exoduses – these were not refugee treks along lines of flight.  These scenes were as Agamben correctly recognized – the mise en scène of police actions.  Occasional armed police guards, as if there to escort them to safety are sometimes visible on the margins of these photographs.   

In whatever country the Germans had invaded and occupied, the stages of genocide followed a standard pattern – first was the definition of who was considered to be a Jew, then the legislation forcing these so defined persons gradually or quickly out of economic, political and social life, the confiscating of their property, this could even go on for several years as in the unusual case of the Jews of Hungary, but eventually they were ghettoized or incarcerated in a transit camp like Drancy – the pre-camp space of exception, only then stripped of citizenship, and the final stage was the transport to Auschwitz or one of the other death camps.  They were shipped like packages, already in the clutches of their murderers at discount rates paid for from their confiscated assets.   Their journey was not random; it did not have the uncertain destination of a singularly wandering refugee, the quarters awaiting them were not temporary constructions to house – but permanent constructions to murder.  Their itinerary was preordained by the German death machine and the railway timetable – as Alain Resnais says in his film Night and Fog – while the Jews of Europe were still living fairly carefree lives in all the corners of the continent – their barracks in the ‘new town’ – the camp and its crematoria were being built for them.   

It is this historical physical space which Agamben calls the most absolute biopolitical space ever – and it this site (his maximal claim) which is “the very paradigm of political space at the point at which politics becomes biopolitics and homo sacer is virtually confused with the citizen.” (Homo Sacer, ibid., p. 171) The space he speaks of here is one which cannot be duplicated – you won’t find it in our airports, or banlieues, – because besides its destructive, annihilatory task, the camp was a destinal, historial world in the Heideggerian sense.  Auschwitz was both locus and act of the genocidal rite de passage “by which the German biopolitical body is made actual” (ibid., p. 174) – in Agamben’s words. 

Auschwitz – and its brother and sister camps – is the historical unique space where Agamben’s two major concepts of bare life/homo sacer and state of exception coincided absolutely, the only space where mere killable but not sacrificable life (his definition of homo sacer) and the law of no law could invest each other with total grisly effect.  Homo sacer though continually changes costume in Agamben’s text – from werewolf, to outlaw, to man in the Hobbesian state of nature, to the sovereign himself, the Muselmann, the Führer and even the biopolitical body of the West – all are alternative persona/incarnations of homo sacer alias bare life.   
Agamben’s camp itself is an ontological allegory, a metaphysical topology, the biopolitical utopia of the West. 

If one had any doubt that Heidegger is inspiring this ensemble – Agamben confirms that Dasein is itself homo sacer – performing one of his typical re-investments of the same concept in a nearly opposite setting, the trick of the floating signifier. Suddenly, rising from the most abject depths of the Muselmann or the living corpse shuffling along its way to the crematoria - homo sacer becomes that ontic-ontological being “whose very own life is always at issue in its every act – instead becomes Dasein, the inseparable unity of Being and ways of Being, of subject and qualities, life and world.” (ibid., p. 153)  
Bare Life itself comes closest to Pure Being in the ontology of the west – just as metaphysics and politics in the West, according to Agamben, meet in Auschwitz on the so-called “ (…) threshold of absolute indistinction between law and fact, juridical rule and biological life.” (ibid., p. 187)  

This threshold crossing through Auschwitz is the defunct ontological difference.

Agamben’s provisional conclusion at the end of Homo Sacer is that the camp has replaced the city as the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West.  In Agamben’s ‘camp’ are buried his minimal and maximal versions, - the refugee camp cum hospital and the Vernichtungslager (extermination camp), the screen memory and the repressed forbidden content.  In this portmanteau form, the camp or Auschwitz has migrated from the extreme outer reaches, the outside of the permanent state of exception to the heart of Western politics –, now understood only as biopolitics - to become its ontological capital.









4.   The Biopolitical Dispositif

Esposito alone attempts to unravel what that ‘secret tie’ is between ‘us post-moderns’ and Nazism – it follows from his rejection of totalitarianism as a concept adequate to both Soviet Communism and Nazism.  In his essay “Totalitarianism or Biopolitics: Towards a Philosophical Interpretation of the Twentieth Century”, he contends that Nazism can no longer be filed away with Communism under the genus totalitarianism (the well-known thesis of Arendt), they must be disunited/separated.  Communism is more related to the Western political tradition of the French Revolution – egalitarianism, universalism, historical becoming, transcendence, democracy, rights of man – than it is to Nazism or Nazism to the French Revolution.  Hence one is free to discover Nazism’s secret ties to liberalism until now overshadowed by the paradigm of totalitarianism.  Citing Carl Schmitt’s essay of the 1920s The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy Esposito observes – liberalism is neither by nature nor necessity democratic – its logic is rather “anti-egalitarian, particularistic, and at times even naturalistic.” (Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political, ibid., p. 108) 
Never mind that Carl Schmitt does not exactly make these claims in that essay – although he does point to affinities of dictatorship to democracy.  Liberalism in his view is not anti-egalitarian, but believes, as opposed to democracy, in an impossible ethical equality of all persons as persons – an empty equality – democracy in Carl Schmitt’s rendering is if anything more biopolitical than liberalism.  The equality of the sovereign people is substantive – they must be nearly homogeneous, consequently inequality of foreigners or aliens is a necessary condition of inner democratic equality.  But Esposito’s argument compels him to exaggerate the differences between liberalism and democracy in favour of his new correspondences. 

Relieved of the false alternative of totalitarianism or democracy, one can today recognize that the hidden regime, which unites liberalism and Nazism, is biopolitics.  Nazism is closer to us post-moderns not because historical Nazism is necessarily returning – but rather the biopolitical paradigm immanent in liberalism has raised its biopolitical precursor from the dead.  The interrupted continuity between liberalism and Nazism has been resumed.  Not Nazism itself – or a longing for its historical return – makes it indispensable as a matrix (skeletal key) of the present, but the contemporary desire to interpret/illuminate liberalism’s present biopolitical dispositif via biopolitics’ previous life as Nazism.  Liberalism’s self-knowledge of its own reality passes through Nazism.

A similar idea might have been behind Gillian Rose’s cryptic remark in the introduction to her 1992 essay The Broken Middle regarding the submerged political history coming to light/surfacing in the wake of the ‘revolutions’ of 1989: “The Revolution in the revolutions of 1989 has not ‘destroyed’ Marxism so much as it has dismantled post-war state-Socialism. (…)  All the debates, all the antinomies of modern state and society addressed since Hobbes, Smith and Rousseau, have been re-opened as well as the opportunity to resume the examination of the connection between liberalism and fascism from which post-war state-socialism has proved such a dangerous distraction.” (Gillian Rose, The Broken Middle, Oxford, 1992, p. xi) 

If Nazism was state biopolitics, liberalism, says Esposito, is biopolitics of the individual.  In Nazi biopolitics ‘man’ is his own body and nothing more than that.  But the state owns it.  In liberal biopolitics man has his own body and he owns it in freehold too.  But what does that really mean?  If Nazism is that explosive conjuncture in which power collides with life immediately – basing itself “on an absolutely natural given that concerns the bare biological sphere” in Esposito’s words (Terms of the Political, ibid. p. 106)  – how can liberal individual ‘ownership’ or possession of one’s body have that same political immediacy?

Ownership itself, whatever the property, is a legal term, not biopolitical. If the difference between liberal and Nazi biopolitics is simply the question of who owns the body – the individual or the state – biopolitics does not depart from age-old juridical models predating modernity, which determine the formal legal status of the person.  Locke whom Esposito cites marks the historical end of the power of the head of the household, the oikos – each person is now invested with the power to sell himself, as his own property.  Marx will call the biopolitical unit of the body – the commodity of labor power, the only asset/property of value the worker has to sell.  Of course this separation of body-self and sellable commodity is already an effect of the fetish character of the commodity.
Nazi biopolitics though would have hardly endorsed Locke’s “right to revolution”. 







Perhaps it is capitalism which is biopolitical and as such both Nazism and liberalism as variants modify its biopolitical dispositif in their contingent ways.  Eugenics, Darwinism and historicist race theories, all powerful precedents for Nazi biopolitics – originated in late Victorian liberal imperial Britain.  
Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Foundations of the 19th Century was the bible of Nazi propaganda before Rosenberg wrote its sequel – The Myth of the 20th Century.  Chamberlain already spoke of the supremacy of the Aryan race – of proto Indo European provenance.  Chamberlain rejected Darwinism though in favor of Gestalt – but Rosenberg in The Myth of the 20th Century advocated a mystical Darwinism as the basis of the new Nazi religion.
Are perhaps Darwinism and social Darwinism the biopolitics of British imperial liberalism?  But already classic liberal political economy presumed the inevitability of periodic mass death as a result of dearth, overabundance of labour (power) hence subsistence wages and semi-natural disasters such as famine. Foucault’s ‘letting die’ was built into Adam Smith’s theodicy of the providential ‘invisible hand’ and the free reign of the market. (See Warren Montag, “Necro-economics, Adam Smith and Death in the Life of the Universal” in Radical Philosophy, 134, (November/December 2005)  

[Greece’s current ‘humanitarian crisis’ – or the austerity imposed on it by the dictates of the ‘Troika’ (European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) is an example of such a market-induced ‘state of exception’.  Like in the times of Smith, Malthus and Bentham, if the poor refuse to die – the state or other authorities must intervene to assure that the 'regulative market mechanisms' are allowed to take their course.  As they continue to so successfully in present day Britain.  Some parts of the working class in ‘wealthy’ Britain earn such low wages they no longer can afford a new refrigerator when the old one breaks down – they are lured into ‘rent to own’ schemes, which eventually cost three times as much.  But when the Greek population rebels against a much more dire reduction of their living standard – the former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke condemns the rescue plans of those he dubs the “latter-day Trotskyites” from Syriza with a latter-day ‘let them die’: “It is nothing to do with just the Germans.  I can’t see why any other states should take a huge multibillion-pound hit again for the Greeks so they can hire more civil servants, raise their minimum wage, scrap all their labour market reforms and all the other things they want to do.” (Nicholas Watt, “Kenneth Clarke says Syriza victory risks Greek exit from eurozone” in Guardian online, 15 February 2015)]

But there must be more to biopolitics and its dispositif than this anecdotal evidence suggests.

If biopolitics is truly a dispositif, in the Foucauldian sense, then all the articulations of its reign – economic, political, architectural, discursive, gestural, technological, medical, criminological, bodies of grammar, bodies of pain, the world of things, the netherworld of thought, etc  - are captured within – including certainly philosophy and its methods.  Philosophy must be so formed in the biopolitical image that it too reflects that ascendancy of the bare biological sphere, the absolutely natural given, no longer needing the legitimacy of the idea, just the facts and nothing but the natural facts.  

And of course Esposito does not exclude philosophy from the biopolitical dispositif – particularly philosophy or rather its Heideggerian end – is at the heart of biopolitics.  But when he reflects philosophy’s turning within and towards biopolitics – it is not a biopolitical liberalism, which informs the new philosophical naturalism – it is once again simply Nazism.  Although, as he writes, Nazism suffered an absolute military and political defeat – it still commands a potent cultural and linguistic force – so much so that he recognizes in Nazism “the unprecedented attempt to liberate the natural features of existence from their historical distinctiveness” (Terms of the Political, ibid., p. 107). 

But Esposito claims that Nazism’s biopolitical being epitomized the 20th century even more profoundly – by far surpassing the totalitarian paradigm of the West – enacting the century’s real antithesis of nature and history, touching the deep vein of ‘the preservation of life’.  

But what Esposito describes, as Nazism’s singular deep attunement to the 20th century question of ‘the preservation of life’ in other words self-preservation would hardly amount to the specificity of Nazism or the 20th century.  Self-preservation is what Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment call the Spinozist presupposition, the “true maxim of all Western civilization” (Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford, 2002, p. 22). “Conatus sese conservandi primum et unicum virtutis est fundamentum” (Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, Part IV, Proposition XXII, Coroll.) 
“The endeavor of preserving oneself is the first and only basis of virtue.”

Indeed preservation of life, freedom and property were the negative objectives of the liberalistic state of the 19th century.

‘Self-preservation’, as the ultimate rationale, sacrifices myth, nature and eventually bourgeois subjectivity itself to its self-alienated form in the capitalist technical apparatus.  As such, the preservation of life leads to utter denaturisation. Adorno relentlessly criticizes the tautological nature of the self-preservation principle – its rudimentary identity postulate – the means (self) and end (self) are the same/identical.  It is a crucial element of his critique of a certain kind of materialism or forms of ‘naturalism’ in philosophy – that are once again very popular or still popular today as one can see in Esposito or philosophies of the animal or the brain among others.  Naturalism (in philosophy) attaches itself to the idea of Life and the natural sciences/Life sciences – Bare Life – and is predominantly biologistic – hence ultimately the ‘birth of biopolitics’ is an aspect of this naturalism.

Adorno’s anti-Spinozist stance can illuminate some of the strategies of this argumentation – and their limitations. His critique of western metaphysics – or rather its post mortem – drives his almost obsessive disparaging of ‘stubborn self-preservation’ (Negative Dialektik, ibid., p. 336), especially in its function as a quasi axiom of western thought - the natural historical norm of conformity/adaptation/adjustment – die naturgeschichtliche Norm der Anpassung (ibid., p. 339). Natural history and world spirit (or metaphysics) become indistinguishable ‘under the ban’ – a mysterious expression which variously means experience as the equivalent of the fetish character of the commodity, the false identity of subject and object (identity philosophy), the sheer weight of ‘what is’ (mere existent – das bloß Seiende), interpersonal coldness – the bourgeois ideal of coldness.  So that spirit becomes natural history – a regression to animality (not second nature).  Animal behavior differs from human in that it is compulsive – but the animal species of humans has inherited some of this compulsiveness. Human reflection is our species-means to oppose or surpass this compulsiveness inherited from the animal species that we are.

But when reflection itself is ‘bestialized’ (a second corrupt degree of animality) and is recruited or hijacked by the ‘ban’ – this inversion of itself turns reason into what Kant calls ‘radical evil’, – neither human nor animal – a new order of mythical ban, a bewitchment, a wrongness of the heart, falseness  – inescapable universal claustrophobia of the closed system.  “As a ban” says Adorno “reified consciousness has become total.” (Negative Dialektik, ibid., p. 337) Instead of a transcendental subject or world spirit, the self-preserving subject is “bestialized self-preserving reason”, Adorno writes in Negative Dialectic. Such bestialized reason – in the service of self-preservation – is a kind of mutant reason – prevalent in a society which is devoid of spirit, where the Natural has assumed a “mythical violence/power” (recalling the terminology Benjamin uses in his essay Critique of Violence) and all categories of consciousness are ‘zombie’ effects of the ban, states of delusion. 

Bestialized self-preserving reason or reified consciousness is a grotesque spiritless spirit – the force that drives spirit out of the species, which it in turn idolizes, meaning spirit. (“Das Vertierte selbsterhaltender Vernunft, treibt den Geist der Gattung aus, die ihn anbetet.”, ibid., 339)
And this demonic mechanism, Kant refers to a ‘Satanslist’ (a satanic ploy) – encases human society as a whole and each particular/individual within and of it – so that in nothing do society and the individuated harmonize so greatly and completely as in the ban – it is the glue of society or the false identity between subject and object.  Agamben also speaks of the ban – but it is the infinite distance between sovereign power and bare life, the void of bare life’s abandonment by the law and its total subordination to sovereign power.

If though in Agamben’s ban it is only the misfortunate singularity homo sacer who is included by being excluded from the community, polis, society, - for Adorno it is all of society, which is under the ban, excluded from itself without knowing it.

Perhaps the ‘ban’ is the biopolitical dispositif itself – all knowing and as unknowable as Kant’s thing-in-itself.

Under the ban, ideology is the element of fatality – and through ideology one arrives back at the biological origin of the principle of individuation – the seemingly incontestable Spinozist sese conservareleading eventually to the repression of nature and subjectivity.

What lives – obeys, says Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.  







Bíos in Esposito’s sense is the term in which preservation of life and self can be read as the same.  In both liberalism and Nazism, the real victors of the last world war, according to Esposito’s biopolitical interpretation of history, the ‘corporeal dimension’ displaces the abstract subjectivity of the juridical person.   A true exemplar of identity philosophy – “bios is the object and subject of politics”. (Terms of the Political, ibid., p. 107) 

The reversals in Esposito’s biopolitical text, always lead back to Nazism – but now excluded, situated outside of Western philosophical tradition in a fortified space all its own.  If previously in the Western tradition, the philosophy of history gave meaning to otherwise senseless facts – now for Esposito’s trained biopolitical eye novel events are in themselves carriers of meaning or meaningful, in other words philosophic.  Events are philosophy – but only the major ones such as war, technology, freak eruptions like the Twin Towers, etc – and as immediately philosophical such events, like Nazism itself for instance, exude a power or will to power in a struggle to take over the world and consequently to dominate how the world is interpreted.  History has not vanished – it is the field where these event-philosophemes battle one another.  As Esposito claims: “(…) more than oil, arms or democracy, the metaphysical stakes of the conflict underway lie in the definition of the meaning of contemporary history.” (“Totalitarianism or Biopolitics: Towards a Philosophical Interpretation of the Twentieth Century”, Terms of the Political, ibid., p. 1o1)

In a philosophy conceived within this unique space of Nazism, after identifying the concrete event – which is already a philosophical will to power - there is a next step. 
Biopolitics is not just based on facts, ‘the absolutely natural given, the bare biological sphere’ – it requires and utilizes “effective languages to render these facts intelligible.” (ibid. p. 105)  So biopolitics has brought us back to philosophy – or even worse metaphysics.  A simple working definition of metaphysics would be precisely – a system of the intelligible which dominates or gives form to that which is not intelligible (like facts) – the sensible, the chaotic, the contingent.  Such intelligibility could also be called logos, the idea, the symbolic, a philosophy of history or modernity, mundus intelligibilis – the non-intelligible is nature, the sensual, the stochastic, mundus sensibilis – that which can only be apprehended through the medium of the intelligible such as consciousness, the unity of the person, a system of norms and values, the ‘new gaze’, the metaphysics of the subject.  But since the biopolitical event or fact is already laden with philosophical meaning – in other words ontic-ontological – both fact and law (as Agamben would say) – the ontic and the ontological – have become indistinguishable. Biopolitics has refashioned Nazism itself into an effective language granting intelligibility to all its own facts – something of the nature of what Reiner Schürmann calls a ‘hegemonic fantasm’: “(…) it justifies all that may become a phenomenon in the linguistic epoch that bears its hallmark; in this respect it is hegemonic.” (Reiner Schürmann, Broken Hegemonies, Bloomington, 2003, p. 7)  Through its linguistic power it commands phenomena, made intelligible for itself.  Nazism’s biopolitical power (or in Agamben’s terms – sovereign power) is the metaphysical doctrine of the intelligible,  – giving form to non-intelligible bare life, making it intelligible for power.

For the biopolitical dispositif that it constitutes, Nazism is a singular unity or positive totality: both a novel philosophical event and at the same time the effective philosophical language in which it renders its bare facts intelligible to itself.   Regarded translocally from the outside of the ban, – Nazism in its biopolitical incarnation is an undead faux vivant ‘hegemonic fantasm’ fatally unable to phenomenalize the fact of its own extinction.



* A version of the above text was first presented in the series “Sociology Talks” at the Sociology Department, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul on 27th March 2014.