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"Politics? Totally. . ." - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
"Politics? Totally. . ."
Inspired by my friend and colleague Eric's Printculture entries on Giorgio Agamben yesterday and today, I'm revisiting Carl Schmitt's Political Theology. I either hadn't read the 1934 preface Schmitt wrote for the book's second edition or didn't pay much attention when I did, because otherwise I would surely have inscribed a mental note about this passage:
We have come to recognize that the political is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced.
While I've long been of the opinion that Schmitt is to be credited, whether with praise or blame, for helping to pave the way for the conviction that "everything is political" -- and, as a corollary, that said conviction should be regarded with suspicion as a consequence -- I hadn't come across the right quote with which to support that view. This passage fits the bill and is concise as it is clear for good measure. I have to admit that I'm struggling to find anything to argue with in Schmitt's formulation. But the urge to keep trying is strong. G-d knows I don't want to follow Paul Piccone and company down the well-ordered path to an authoritarian post-Left where an idiosyncratic synthesis of Schmitt and Gramsci à la de Benoist serve to insert garlic cloves into the flesh of a modern welfare state that has already been scored and trussed for roasting. Incidentally, while I was writing this I found an interesting piece that traces Schmitt's influence on UC Berkeley Professor of Law and Bush Administration apologist John Yoo that gives a good sense of the thorny issues raised by attempts to make use of Schmitt's work for progressive ends, namely that it is well-suited for the pursuit of reactionary ones.

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From: pants007 Date: January 13th, 2006 06:51 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Mad Libs

We have come to recognize that the Romantic is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unromantic is always a romantic decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced.

We have come to recognize that the imaginary is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unimaginary is always a imaginary decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced.

We have come to recognize that the spectacular is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unspectacular is always a spectacular decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced.

.... The beauty of it is that all these are TRUE!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 13th, 2006 07:16 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Mad Libs

Awesome! I especially like the weighty hesitation induced by, "a imaginary decision." Fuck that "an" business. It's too exceptional.
From: bobo_amargo Date: January 16th, 2006 05:42 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Homo Sacer Blue

I'll take Karl Popper, nut case though he sometimes was, over Carl Schmitt any day of the week. If it can't be falsified, it can't be verified. Vatic Agamben would profit from this consideration, on occasion, as well.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 16th, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Homo Sacer Blue

I wish I weren't so drawn to the Dark Side myself. Schmitt is working in the Nietzschean tradition, broadly speaking, where power makes truth and truth is only a function of power. The same criticisms that have been levied against Foucault apply to Schmitt too. But the romantic "realist" in me still believes that I need the will-centered critique of parliamentary democracy as a counterweight to (Neo-)Kantian idealism.
From: bobo_amargo Date: January 16th, 2006 06:42 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

In Partibus Infidelium

Well, Charlie, we've surely come full circle if it's I who will play Ariadne to your Theseus. Though I did plenty of flirting myself with what you call the Dark Side, I never thought it made much sense to gloss truth as a function of power. I DID often think it made sense to critique parliamentary social democracy in terms of any of a number of poststructuralist categories. I now think that though there's much to be gained by reading and experimenting philosophically with, say, Derrida, the politcal purchase of "this" mode of thinking (of course, I do violence to all the important nuances by lumping it all together) is scant, and sometimes scandalous, when compared to what you call Neo-Kantian approaches (of course, beyond Kant himself, I think of Rawls). For example, the Agamben-inspired claim Eric makes at his site, cited above in yours, to the effect that the Bush regime is a kind of wicked telos of constitutional democracy verges, to my mind, on the ludicrous. Constitutional democracy does not have an historical essence because historical essences are philosophical fantasies having as much explanatory power as the god of the gaps of the creationists. If the Bush administration has manipulated the concept of the state in exception, and it has, then the cause of that manipulation is that administration's abuse of a system nobody ever claimed was exempt from corruption. What that manipulation has never been is a teleological necessity -- as Kant put it, the teleological outlook is regulative, not constitutive.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 16th, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: In Partibus Infidelium

Of course, coming full circle brings us back to where we begin. Ever since I started reading Theory and, not to sound arrogant, even before I did, I've felt myself torn between two perspectives that are ultimately incapable of being recognized, but which can perhaps be used in tandem if the compulsion to think ultimately is dispensed with. There are many ways of characterizing these perspectives, but the one that resonates most for me is encapsulated within the Axel Honneth-edited collection of the Habermas-Foucault debates. Being a fetishist of Berkeley lore, I have frequently dreamed of arriving at Berkeley in the early 1980s instead of 1987, so I could have been on campus when both Jürgen and Michel were. I have never thought it made much sense to gloss truth as only a function of power, yet see the importance of being attentive to the ways in which power shapes the production of truth. What I find useful in reading Schmitt is that he makes clear what others in his lineage obfuscate. I read him and think, "Yes, but. . .," along the lines that you suggest when you write that, "what manipulation has never been is a teleological necessity." It's funny. Florence -- you remember Florence, I'm sure, as well as our drunken association at both La Val's locations -- used to lambast me for being so Foucauldian. She railed against what she perceived to be my cynicism. I remember one day, though, rather late in her graduate career, when she came up to me and said, "Chuck, now I think I understand why you're such a Foucauldian. You've been at Berkelely too long." That struck me as a plausible conclusion, not because Berkeley is so exceptional, but because being anywhere too long seems to lead to a swerving away from the pragmatic-idealist Habermasian pole toward the idealist-cynical Foucauldian one. The longer I'm in Arizona, the more I see that Berkeley experience being reduplicated in myself and my colleagues.
From: bobo_amargo Date: January 16th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: In Partibus Infidelium

Well, for my money you're absolutely right (to court a contradiction) that the compulsion to think ultimately (or absolutely) is a compulsion to be dispensed with. As you're well aware, another revolution in thought that was occurring just before and during our tenure at Berkeley was the one wrought by Donald Davidson. His voodoo was to jettison all of the usual Platonic suspects while still managing to preserve a host of our naively realist, fondest prima facie beliefs (Putnam calls the set of these beliefs internal realism, but thereby gives up Davidson's game). One axiom of that project was that truth is indefinable and irreducibly primitive. So while I too see the importance of being attentive to the ways in which power shapes WHAT PASSES AS TRUE, I still insist that power has nothing to do with producing what is true, because that which is true, whatever that may be, is not a product at all.

It does not follow from such a claim that truth is nontemporal or universal or absolute; it does follow that something's being true or false has nothing to do with coercion. Foucault's sleight-of-hand consisted in getting us all to yield to the idea that epistemology, or, as he styled it, the episteme, is a foreshortened effect of deeper ideological forces. Now, if Davidson used semantics to bypass epistemology, it was only the better to serve the longstanding philosophical claims epistemologists had been making throughout the modern period -- and Habermas is part of that tradition. Without the concept of truth as primitive, we'd have no way of talking about power's production of that which passes as true.

As to the truth of the claim about being somewhere too long, I'm not sure I understand it. In any case, I experience Foucault's cynicism as less a product of place and more a product of nationality and sexuality (the lady doth protest too much, methinks). As to your cynicism, you're one of the least cynical persons I've ever met.
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