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Alternative to Empire: debate about it

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What exactly would be the best alternative to Empire (Hardt and Negri's conception)? What exactly do they define resistance as?

 

And Just in case I don't really understand Empire, here is what I have come to understand of what they Kritik.

The Empire is realized when the state begins to exert its influence in a masked state (e.g. the UN). When the state no longer is questioned because of its multinational apeal, the Empire takes grip of all and crushes any possibility or resistance because the amalgum of imperialistic power has already invisibly developed its grip over the world. Eh? Is that right or am I completely wrong?

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well. empire exists now. it's in a constant state of decline, simultaneously morphing and adapting to traditional pomo or poco resistance within it.

 

the state is becoming obsolete, so they say. the nation state, so the story goes, is dead.

 

there are several alternatives discussed within the scope of the book _empire_ and several more in various journal articles and the book _multitude_.

 

some of the ones i enjoy are as follows:

cyborgs, we must make humans so unrecognizable to capital that empire will cease to function

 

and, my favorite:

 

do nothing. refuse to participate and you can decenter empire's policing aparatus. if you're able to find the following article, you will be money: Michael Rustin "Empire: A Postmodern Theory of Revolution" found in The New Political Economy vol. 7 no. 3 November 2002. This is also discussed in the book _empire_ in length, but page numbers escape me as I do not have my annotated copy with me.

 

If anyone is able to find the Rustin article, I'd really like a copy. It's also the first chapter of the verso press book _debating empire_

 

This is Negri's concept of "Exodus."

 

hope i helped,

loghry

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JSTOR and none of the other databases i have access to carries it. i could not find it otherwise so if anyone could find it, i too would be greatly apperciative.

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also Timothy Brennan "The Italian Ideology" Critical Inquiry, vol. 29 no. 2, winter 2002. also chapter 9 of _debating empire_ this article has a very "on fire" argument for why doing nothing is so badass.

 

edit: looking at brennan's faculty website, there's actually some confusion between Verso's citation of the article and what may be the actual article.

 

His website says the following:

# "The Empire's New Clothes"

Winter 2003, Critical Inquiry 29:2

 

# "The Italian Ideology"

Fall 2004, On Empire

 

so i hope this helps those looking for this article. it would probably just be worth your while to pick up the verso book.

 

good luck.

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i suppose anything is possible. you'd need to win some kind of disad to not participating in empire's new imperial constitution, because your NLT argument doesn't exactly interact with the alternative.

 

here, read this (a freebie). it's from the Brennan article mentioned above:

 

What unfolds in Empire more successfully than in Negri's earlier books is the developments of a rhetoric of ambivalence designed to suture the worlds of Sorelian workerism (accented with references to a more explicitly Marxist revolutionary tradition) and 1960s counterculturalism: the mapped territory, in other words, of Negri's divided origins. To this end, the book's slogan, 'the refusal of work', for instance (taken originally from Mario Tronti), is crafted to evoke the strike, the slowdown, or industrial sabotage, on the one hand, and on the other, an anti-autoritarian 'dropping out' -- a rejection of the work-a-day rythms and disciplines of 'voluntary servitude'.15 However, in Hardt and Negri's usage it means neither exactly. As Tronti, a lifetime member of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI), had developed the idea in his highly influential Operai e capitale (1966), the capitalist is the one, paradoxically, who provides labour while the worker provides capital, not the other way around.16 The 'refusal of work', then, is for Tronti a revolutionary opting-out of the perpetual cycle of the transformation of labour into surplus-value rather than a merely temporary stoppage of productive relations as takes place in a typical strike.17 The original move by Tronti was a bold attempt to remind labourers of their power in the context of organizational struggle, and to attack the very underlying logic of the relationship of commodity production in order to push organized labour beyond the mere search for a better deal. In the hands of new Italian thought exemplified by Hardt and Negri, refusal becomes a substitute for organization.

Readers of Empire may not be aware of the genesis of its underlying economic ideas or their development over the span of Negri's oeuvre in dialogue with his new Italian compatriots. For Negri as for the other new Italians, escaping the regimentation of a job (that is, not 'selling out' in its 1960s sense) undermines capitalism itself. As a result, politics can henceforth be based on forms of non-involvement and insubordination rather than on alliances or agendas. Practice too can be a deliberate non-practice safeguarded by inaction from the taint of an unseemly power. Invoking mass insubordination as a principle -- the refusal of work -- Empire strives to escape the merely circular trade-offs and inversions of power politics and sees itself as delving into the very foundations of political motive: replacing the principle of material interest with that of 'desire'. Postulated as being more fundamental, desire is for them more radically enabling, more an absolute precondition of activity.

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the infuriating way kritikers seem to grasp every kritikal argument as anti-statism makes me want to throw things.

 

true, hardt and negri remain extremely skeptical of the liberational possibilities of state action - more skeptical in fact than some of those whose work they build upon such as foucault (compare pages 349-50 of 'empire' with page 154 of 'politics, philosophy, culture', for example).

 

why the skepticism? because nation-states have precipitously declined in import. even deleuze and guattari theorized this in 1972 :

 

"Today we can depict an enormous, so-called stateless, monetary mass that circulates through foreign exchange and across borders, *eluding control by the States*, forming a multinational ecumenical organization, constituting a de facto supranational power untouched by governmental decisions." ('a thousand plateaus', p453. emphasis mine.)

 

hardt and negri refer to this "de facto supranational power" as 'Empire', and it constitutes "a globalized biopolitical machine" ('empire', p40) without territorial boundaries.

 

as for alternatives, 'multitude' begins with this reservation :

 

"Keep in mind that this is a philosophical book. We will give numerous examples of how people are working today to put an end to war and make the world more democratic, but do not expect our book to answer the question, What is to be done? or propose a concrete program of action." (p.xvi.)

 

kritiks are not utopian counter-plans in drag; they're rigorous attempts at what foucault calls 'problematization' (see the post-scripts here, http://www.cross-x.com/vb/showpost.php?p=1023882&postcount=23 ... and while you're there, please give a go at tagging that polemics card).

 

 

.k (kevin.sanchez@gmail.com)

 

 

p.s. in response to those who run foucault as anti-statism, i'd encourage you to cut the turn on page 103 of 'the foucault effect' where he states matter-of-factly : "[T]he state is no more than ... a mythicized abstraction, whose importance is a lot more limited than many of us think." ... or look at part IV here : http://www.cross-x.com/vb/showpost.php?p=1019101&postcount=1.

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the infuriating way kritikers seem to grasp every kritikal argument as anti-statism makes me want to throw things.

 

true, hardt and negri remain extremely skeptical of the liberational possibilities of state action - more skeptical in fact than some of those whose work they build upon such as foucault (compare pages 349-50 of 'empire' with page 154 of 'politics, philosophy, culture', for example).

 

methinks the argument advanced in _Empire_ is decidedly not anti-statist. i hope i hadn't given off that impression.

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I'm confused.

Hardt and Negri are opposed to the state.

Foucault is opposed to the state.

 

That doesn't mean that either of them are opposed to all state actions (H&N are for the ICC, Foucault often worked within the state) but it would be silly to confuse pragmatic tactics with an overall strategy that is supports the state. Despite H&N belief to rethink the tactic/strategic divide in Empire (which I am confused as to why they feel that way), I still think you can't confuse the two.

 

Of course, that doesn't mean that every kritik is anti-statist. Zizek isn't, for one.

 

 

I am perpetually confused by why debaters feel that realism is an answer to all kritiks?

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I'm confused.

Hardt and Negri are opposed to the state.

Foucault is opposed to the state.

 

That doesn't mean that either of them are opposed to all state actions (H&N are for the ICC, Foucault often worked within the state) but it would be silly to confuse pragmatic tactics with an overall strategy that is supports the state. Despite H&N belief to rethink the tactic/strategic divide in Empire (which I am confused as to why they feel that way), I still think you can't confuse the two.

 

Of course, that doesn't mean that every kritik is anti-statist. Zizek isn't, for one.

 

 

I am perpetually confused by why debaters feel that realism is an answer to all kritiks?

 

So Scu, can you explain what "Empire" really is. I was under the impression it was a new form of biopolitical control outside of the state, like the UN. Something not associated with one thing that has the supposed purpose of multinational representation. Someone tell me what it means and why I am wrong, also, I still don't know what a good alternative is. It isn't very indicting to a judge to sayThe alternative is to work against the empire! I mean, what action(s) does that constitute?

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So Scu, can you explain what "Empire" really is. I was under the impression it was a new form of biopolitical control outside of the state, like the UN. Something not associated with one thing that has the supposed purpose of multinational representation. Someone tell me what it means and why I am wrong, also, I still don't know what a good alternative is. It isn't very indicting to a judge to sayThe alternative is to work against the empire! I mean, what action(s) does that constitute?

 

I've explained Empire elsewhere, as has loghry. Feel free to do searches.

 

The alternative is the multitude. I really suggest Virno. You can find all his stuff online.

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"Foucault is opposed to the state."

 

what does this even mean if the state is 'a mythicized abstraction'?

 

foucault said he refrained from a theory of the state as one refrains from an indigestible meal. that means the exact opposite of what you write above - he didn't oppose 'the state'. he was continually saying, don't look at central sites of power (the state, the market, etc.), look at local formations, look at how you're fabricated in specific power relations.

 

yes, hardt and negri oppose the state, and this doesn't mean they oppose it in all its functions (they explicitly advocate its providing basic services, contrary to fukuyama's misreading of 'multitude', for example), but they claim it's a dead-end and they refute the (chomskian) claim that the laws of the state can keep the barbarity of market in check. they are true anti-statists, to the point where they have to deny being anarchists (to keep their communist street-cred).

 

foucault, on the other hand, was never an anarchist. in fact, he once sat on a governmental commission on the sentencing of sex crimes. read his discussion of social security in 'politics, philosophy, culture' - his thoughts on welfare dependency and fiscal responsibility make one wonder if newt gingrich didn't dabble in foucault studies.

 

deleuze and guattari, for their part, make the state so abstract that their opposition to it means little ('there has never been but one State', etc.); their concept of the state doesn't even need a state proper, and becomes something on the order of a historical tendency toward government.

 

foucault is not opposed to the state. if you're reading this, please repeat that a gazillion times until kritikers finally rid themselves of this gross mischaraterization of an important thinker's work. .k

Edited by Lazzarone

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i tried to sketch out what constitutes 'Empire' in post #8. using d&g's terms, it's a de facto supranational power that governs an enormous stateless monetary mass. today we refer to this as globalization.

 

for h&n then, Empire entails the forms of sovereignty that globalization necessitates. it's the 'new world order' of which bush sr. spoke. this includes state mechanisms and yet eludes their complete control.

 

h&n offer a three-part distinction between monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy to distinguish between (1) the u.s. federal government, the u.n. security council, and the g7 major powers, (2) transnational corporate conglomerates, the w.t.o., the i.m.f., and n.g.o.s, and (3) the u.n. general assembly, mass media organizations, and the rest of the world. (i may've mis-categorized some of those; i don't have the book in front of me.)

 

Empire is de-territorial, eternal, bio-political, and peaceful. de-territorial in that it exists beyond national borders. eternal in that it believes itself to exist outside of history (see fukuyama's 'the last man', for example). bio-political in that it governs the depths of social production, reigning not just over law, but over life. peaceful in that, whatever its need for mass imprisonment and war, it seeks to make the whole world safe for global markets.

 

now, what's the alternative? ... well h&n continually say that 'we must pass through Empire to come out the other side'. they never say its defeatable, in the way marx or lenin said of capitalism's inevitable collapse.

 

so it seems one must separate two tasks - one, self-liberation, and two, social change. counter-empire first means 'a will to be against', a healthy disobedience, a refusal to submit to its control over our being, an embrace of post-humanist subjectivities.

 

but this, in itself, say h&n is empty. one must then mobilize collectivities. in their genealogy of resistance in 'multitude', they look at several examples : the palestinian intifada, the zapatistas, the seattle protestors, and so forth.

 

yet again, their task isn't to set down a totalizing alternative to Empire. their not orthodox marxist-leninists who have faith in a proletarian takeover of the nation-state, manifesting itself (temporarily) in a vanguard that centralizes the means of production and (someday) turns power back over to 'the people'. they criticize this relentlessly, both in 'empire' proper and 'multitude'; they repeat all the arguments bakunin made to marx (while never mentioning his name for fear of being labelled anarchists).

 

ugh. i was gonna respond to cj, but i got side-tracked. until next time. .k

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when i read the book over the summer, this is how i outlined section 3.5

 

 

.............................................../ \

........................(3) unification{ /US.\-military

............................................/G-7. \-monetary

.........................CONSUMERS / "G-7". \-culture [1st tier (active)]

........................................./ trans- \

......................................../ national \

.................(2) articulation{ / capitalist \-networks/flows($)

....................................../ corporations.\

...................................../ sovereign \

..................................../nation-states that\-filters of TNC's

..........COMMUNICATORS /act on a local level. \ [2nd tier (passive)]

................................./ United Nations \

................................/ "the people". \-"majority" voice

.............................../ Non-Governmental \

............................./Organizations (religion, media,\-collection of minority

.(1) representation{ /humanitarian and human rights \ voice

.........................../ organizations) ("the multitude") \

........................./ "those who cannnot represent \

........PRODUCERS / themselves" p313 \ [3rd tier (active)]

 

my interpretation was that the 1st and 3rd tiers struggle with one another on the plane of the 2nd tier, but when i asked hardt about this he responded "i dont know what youre talking about, but it sounds interesting" so who knows?

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Jeff, that is interesting. I enjoy people who work out theory in visual models.

I'll have to pay more attention to it later.

 

Kevin, answer coming up soon.

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Listen, guys. What is this really about? It's not some sort of 'empire' that you people are struggling with. It's the demons inside you. You need to learn to conquer those first. Blaming it on the government is just a way of excusing yourself for your short comings. I mean, after all, the government only wants the best for you.

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Listen, guys. What is this really about? It's not some sort of 'empire' that you people are struggling with. It's the demons inside you. You need to learn to conquer those first. Blaming it on the government is just a way of excusing yourself for your short comings. I mean, after all, the government only wants the best for you.

 

you are seriously making me laugh. you are the most hilarious guy on this entire site!! kinda. but seriously ur pretty funny

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"Foucault is opposed to the state."

 

what does this even mean if the state is 'a mythicized abstraction'?

 

foucault said he refrained from a theory of the state as one refrains from an indigestible meal. that means the exact opposite of what you write above - he didn't oppose 'the state'. he was continually saying, don't look at central sites of power (the state, the market, etc.), look at local formations, look at how you're fabricated in specific power relations.

 

And yet, if you read the first essay in Power/Knowledge Foucault is very concerned that the reintroduction of courts in popular justice would cause the state appuratus to reappear. Seems an odd concern for someone that would not be opposed to the state.

In "Society Must Be Defended", Foucault concects the creation of racism, of genocide, with the legitmacy of the state (see particularly around p.81).

Or again, check out pages 71 and 72 in Power/Knowledge. Foucault does not want to dimish the criticism against state power, but want to look at all the things that upholds the state outside of the normal domain of criticism.

Or again, the last section in Power, foucault praises this organizations for working outside of the state.

It is true to say that Foucault opposed an analysis that reduced all power to merely state power, and that Foucault would opposed an essentialization that would make it impossible to ever use to the state. But is clear and obvious and over and over again that Foucault opposes the state.

 

yes, hardt and negri oppose the state, and this doesn't mean they oppose it in all its functions (they explicitly advocate its providing basic services, contrary to fukuyama's misreading of 'multitude', for example), but they claim its a dead-end and they refute the (chomskian) claim that the laws of the state can keep the barbarity of market in check. they are true anti-statists, to the point where they have to deny being anarchists.

Yep.

 

foucault, on the other hand, was never an anarchist. in fact, he once sat on a governmental commission on the sentencing of sex crimes. read his discussion of social security in 'politics, philosophy, culture' - his thoughts on welfare dependency and fiscal responsibility make one wonder if newt gingrich didn't dabble in foucault studies.

Doesn't mean he often opposed the state. See above.

 

deleuze and guattari, for their part, make the state so abstract that their opposition to it means little ('there has never been but one State', etc.); their concept of the state doesn't even need a state proper, and becomes something on the order of a historical tendency toward government.

 

They're opposed to the state.

 

foucault is not opposed to the state. if you're reading this, please repeat that a gazillion times until kritikers finally rid themselves of this gross mischaraterization of an important thinker's work. .k

 

except, he did oppose the state. That doesn't mean that foucault's criticisms focus on the state, or that a foucault K has much to do with the state. But that doesn't get you to his not opposing the state.

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Question: You mean it will be possible to work with this government?

 

Foucault: We must escape from the dilemma of being either for or against. After all, it is possible to face up to a government and remain standing. To work with a government implies neither subjection nor total acceptance. One may work with it and yet be restive. I even believe that the two things go together.

 

that's from 'politics, philosophy, culture', p154. scu also seems not to have escaped from 'the dilemma of being either for or against', in repeating that "foucault opposed the state".

 

scu cites foucault's conversation with marxist 'popular justice' advocates in the first interview of power/knowledge. foucault is skeptical that so-called 'civil society' projects (in this case, informal methods of arbitration) will act any less unjustly than official state mechanisms: you create a community court, and yet you reenact the same statist scripts you believe you're leaving behind. as foucault explains it (ibid., p167-8),

 

Although the opposition between civil society and state may quite rightly have been greatly used in the late eighteenth century and in the nineteenth century, I'm not at all sure that it is still operational. The Polish example in this respect is interesting: when one assimilates the powerful social movement that has just traversed that country to a revolt of civil society against the state, one misunderstands the complexity and multiplicity of confrontations. It is not only against the state-party that the Solidarity movement has had to fight.

 

The relations between the political power, the systems of dependence that they engender, and individuals are too complex to be reduced to such a schema. In fact, the notion of an opposition between civil society and state was formalized in a given context with a particular intention: liberal economists proposed it in the late eighteenth century with a view to limiting the state's sphere of action, civil society being conceived as the locus of an autonomous economic process. It was a quasi-polemical concept, opposed to the administrative power of the states at the time, in order to bring victory to a certain liberalism.

 

But there is something else that bothers me about this notion: it's that the reference to this antagonistic couple is never exempt from a sort of Manicheanism that afflicts the notion of "state" with a pejorative connotation while idealizing "society" as a good, living, warm whole.

 

What I am attentive to is the fact that every human relation is to some degree a power relation. We move in a world of perpetual strategic relations. Every power relation is not bad in itself, but is a fact that always involves danger.

 

Let us take the example of penal justice, which is more familiar to me than that of social security: a whole movement is at work at present in Europe and the United States in favor of an "informal justice" or certain forms of arbitration carried out by the group itself. To believe society capable, by mere internal regulation, of solving the problems that it is presented with is to have a very optimistic notion of society. In short, to get back to what we were saying, I remain fairly circumspect as regards a certain way of opposing civil society and state, and to any project for transferring to the first a power of initiative and decision that the second is seen as having annexed in order to exercise it in an authoritarian fashion: whatever scenario one takes, a power relation would be established, and the question would still remain of how to limit its effects, this relation being in itself neither good nor bad, but dangerous, so that one would have to reflect, at every level, on the way it should channel its efficacy in the best possible way.

 

again, one can see this simplistic opposition between "the state" and "civil society" in many claims to generically 'oppose the state'. to assume the state necessarily acts "in an authoritarian fashion" and to assume that non-problematic ways of resolving conflicts exist 'outside the state' - these two assumptions are explicitly criticized here by foucault. now, in the entire sweep of his career, to say that he opposed specific state actions, and even to say that he placed the invention of the state in a historical context of totalitarian and racist practices, still does not mean that he essentialized the state enough to oppose it in principle. as he suggests above, the state is neither good nor bad, but dangerous - same as all power relations. what colin gordon wrote - foucault's research assistant and translator (writing in 'the foucault effect: studies in governmentality', p4) - should send the point home,

 

Foucault acknowledged the continuing truth of the reproach [from his Marxist critics] that he refrained from the theory of the state, 'in the sense that one abstains from an indigestible meal'. State theory attempts to deduce the modern activities of government from essential properties and propensities of the state, in particular its supposed propensity to grow and to swallow up or colonize everything outside itself. Foucault holds that the state has no such inherent propensities; more generally, the state has no essence. The nature of the institutions of the state is, Foucault thinks, a function of changes in practices of government, rather than the converse. Political theory attends too much to institutions, and too little to practices.

 

even in foucault's more anarchistic moments (and we could cite some), this important distinction between institutions and practices holds. a clear message resonates throughout his career:

 

'don't oppose a given institution as such; examine the political practices that prop it up; because if you oppose the institution as such, you may find yourself ignoring the very practices and recycling the very assumptions that supported that institution, and you'll help to create new institutions which accomplish the old functions, only now they'll be less vulnerable to criticism/attack'. hence, don't 'oppose the state' - analyze and critique practices of governmentality instead (ibid., p103),

 

We all know the fascinations which the love, or horror, of the state exercises today; we know how much attention is paid to the genesis of the state, its history, its advance, its power and abuses, etc. The excessive value attributed to the problem of the state is expressed, basically, in two ways: the one form, immediate, affective and tragic, is the lyricism of the monstre froid we see confronting us; but there is a second way of overvaluing the problem of the state, one which is paradoxical because apparently reductionist: it is the form of analysis that consists in reducing the state to a certain number of functions, such as the development of productive forces and the reproduction of relations of production, and yet this reductionist vision of the relative importance of the state’s role nevertheless invariably renders it absolutely essential as a target needing to be attacked and a privileged position needing to be occupied. But the state, no more probably today than at any other time in its history, does not have this unity, this individuality, this rigorous functionality, nor, to speak frankly, this importance; maybe, after all, the state is no more than a composite reality and a mythicized abstraction, whose importance is a lot more limited than many of us think.

 

in sum, to say 'foucault opposes the state' gives in to the reductionist view criticized above, and that's the "cold monster" from which academic debate should immediately free itself.

 

_

 

this suggests a kritik of focusing too much on the state. as foucault warns,

 

However, one must avoid a trap in which those who govern try to catch intellectuals and into which they often fall: 'Put yourself in our place and tell us what you would do.' It is not a question one has to answer. To make a decision on some question implies a knowledge of evidence that is refused us, an analysis of the situation that we have not been able to make. This is a trap.

 

and this seems the trap that cj sets up by suggesting that one must choose between 'standard policy debate' and 'kritikal debate'.

 

let's assume you said to me in a coffee-shop one day, 'the u.s.a. military should intervene in sudan'. i may make many arguments against such a proposal; i may note its disadvantages, i may question its underlying assumptions, i may offer a better suggestion. one argument i would not make, however, is that such a policy hurts bush's political capital. why? because such a concern isn't intrinsic to the proposal itself. in typical policy discussions, no one assumes immediate passage. paradoxically, fiat was invented to focus the debate on the plan itself. that is, to argue that the u.s.a. military won't intervene in sudan doesn't mean it shouldn't. compare this statement by foucault in 1983 ('foucault reader', p377),

 

Let's take an example that touches us all, that of Poland. If we raise the question of Poland in strictly political terms, it's clear that we quickly reach the point of saying that there's nothing we can do. We can't dispatch a team of paratroppers, and we can't send armored cars to liebrate Warsaw. I think that, politically, we have to recognize this, but I think we also agree that, for ethical reasons, we have to raise the problem of Poland in the form of a nonacceptance of what is happening there, and a nonacceptance of the passivity of our own governments. I think this attitude is an ethical one, but it is also political; it does not consist in saying merely, 'I protest,' but in making of that attitude a political phenomenon that is as substantial as possible, and one which those who govern, here or there, will sooner or later be obliged to take into account.

 

this is the essence of ethics as a kritikal practice. and it was (and remains) at the heart of this activity before wacky u.t. students invented the kritik proper. you cannot reduce policy discussions to the search for only practical solutions. that's what fiat itself commands: imagine the impossible! refuse to be strictly practical! ... this doesn't mean debaters have to be anything other than debaters - not legislators, not academics; they can still deploy an illusory recommendation in order to make a political phenomenon 'as substantial as possible'. that's ethos.

 

 

.k

 

 

p.s. i also don't think the negative need offer an alternative 'vision' (or a competing decision-making model). sometimes the impractical search for alternatives itself impairs our understanding, and they're within their rights to point this out. as foucault says,

 

I have never tried to analyze anything whatsoever from the point of view of politics, but always to ask politics what it had to say about the problems with which it was confronted.
Edited by Lazzarone

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Question: "You mean it will be possible to work with this government?

 

Foucault: We must escape from the dilemma of being either for or against. After all, it is possible to face up to a government and remain standing. To work with a government implies neither subjection nor total acceptance. One may work with it and yet be restive. I even believe that the two things go together." (politics, philosophy, culture. p154.)

 

scu also seems not to have escaped from 'the dilemma of being either for or against', in repeating that "foucault opposed the state".

 

scu cites foucault's conversation with marxist 'popular justice' advocates in the first interview of power/knowledge. foucault emphasizes a skepticism that 'civil society' will act any less unjustly than official state mechanisms: you create a popular court, and yet you observe the very statist models you think you're leaving behind. foucault expounds (ibid. p167-8.) :

 

"Although the opposition between civil society and state may quite rightly have been greatly used in the late eighteenth century and in the nineteenth century, I'm not at all sure that it is still operational. The Polish example in this respect is interesting: when one assimilates the powerful social movement that has just traversed that country to a revolt of civil society against the state, one misunderstands the complexity and multiplicity of confrontations. It is not only against the state-party that the Solidarity movement has had to fight.

 

The relations between the political power, the systems of dependence that they engender, and individuals are too complex to be reduced to such a schema. In fact, the notion of an opposition between civil society and state was formalized in a given context with a particular intention: liberal economists proposed it in the late eighteenth century with a view to limiting the state's sphere of action, civil society being conceived as the locus of an autonomous economic process. It was a quasi-polemical concept, opposed to the administrative power of the states at the time, in order to bring victory to a certain liberalism.

 

But there is something else that bothers me about this notion: it's that the reference to this antagonistic couple is never exempt from a sort of Manicheanism that afflicts the notion of "state" with a pejorative connotation while idealizing "society" as a good, living, warm whole.

 

What I am attentive to is the fact that every human relation is to some degree a power relation. We move in a world of perpetual strategic relations. Every power relation is not bad in itself, but is a fact that always involves danger.

 

Let us take the example of penal justice, which is more familiar to me than that of social security: a whole movement is at work at present in Europe and the United States in favor of an "informal justice" or certain forms of arbitration carried out by the group itself. To believe society capable, by mere internal regulation, of solving the problems that it is presented with is to have a very optimistic notion of society. In short, to get back to what we were saying, I remain fairly circumspect as regards a certain way of opposing civil society and state, and to any project for transferring to the first a power of initiative and decision that the second is seen as having annexed in order to exercise it in an authoritarian fashion: whatever scenario one takes, a power relation would be established, and the question would still remain of how to limit its effects, this relation being in itself neither good nor bad, but dangerous, so that one would have to reflect, at every level, on the way it should channel its efficacity in the best possible way."

 

again, one can see this simplistic opposition between "the state" and "civil society" in many claims to generically 'oppose the state'. to say that foucault opposed specific state actions, even to say that he put the creation of the state in a historical context of totalitarian and/or racist practices, does not mean that he essentialized the state enough to oppose it in principle. colin gordon was a research assistant of foucault's and translator of his works :

 

"Foucault acknowledged the continuing truth of the reproach [from his Marxist critics] that he refrained from the theory of the state, 'in the sense that one abstains from an indigestible meal'. State theory attempts to deduce the modern activities of government from essential properties and propensities of the state, in particular its supposed propensity to grow and to swallow up or colonize everything outside itself. Foucault holds that the state has no such inherent propensities; more generally, the state has no essence. The nature of the institutions of the state is, Foucault thinks, a function of changes in practices of government, rather than the converse. Political theory attends too much to institutions, and too little to practices." (the foucault effect: studies in governmentality. p4.)

 

even in foucault's most anti-statist moments (and one could cite some), this important distinction between institutions and practices holds. his message is clear throughout his career: 'don't oppose the institution as such; examine the political practices that prop it up; because if you oppose the institution, you may find yourself reifying the practices that support it, creating new institutions which accomplish the previous functions, only better'. hence, don't 'oppose the state' - analyze governmentality instead :

 

"We all know the fascinations which the love, or horror, of the state exercises today; we know how much attention is paid to the genesis of the state, its history, its advance, its power and abuses, etc. The excessive value attributed to the problem of the state is expressed, basically, in two ways: the one form, immediate, affective and tragic, is the lyricism of the monstre froid we see confronting us; but there is a second way of overvaluing the problem of the state, one which is paradoxical because apparently reductionist: it is the form of analysis that consists in reducing the state to a certain number of functions, such as the development of productive forces and the reproduction of relations of production, and yet this reductionist vision of the relative importance of the state’s role nevertheless invariably renders it absolutely essential as a target needing to be attacked and a privileged position needing to be occupied. But the state, no more probably today than at any other time in its history, does not have this unity, this individuality, this rigorous functionality, nor, to speak frankly, this importance; maybe, after all, the state is no more than a composite reality and a mythicized abstraction, whose importance is a lot more limited than many of us think." (ibid. p103.)

 

in sum, to say 'foucault opposes the state' gives in to the reductionist view criticized above, and that's the insidious monster from which academic debate should immediately free itself.

 

_

 

this suggests a kritik of focusing too much on the state. foucault warns :

 

"However, one must avoid a trap in which those who govern try to catch intellectuals and into which they often fall: 'Put yourself in our place and tell us what you would do.' It is not a question one has to answer. To make a decision on some question implies a knowledge of evidence that is refused us, an analysis of the situation that we have not been able to make. This is a trap."

 

and this seems the trap that cj sets up by suggesting that one must choose between 'standard policy debate' and 'kritikal debate'.

 

let's assume you said to me in a coffee-shop one day, 'the u.s.a. military should intervene in sudan'. i may make many arguments against such a proposal; i may note its disadvantages, i may question its underlying assumptions, i may offer a better suggestion. one argument i would not make, however, is that such a policy hurts bush's political capital. why? because such a concern isn't intrinsic to the proposal itself. in typical policy discussions, no one assumes immediate passage. paradoxically, fiat was invented to focus the debate on the plan itself. that is, to argue that the u.s.a. military won't intervene in sudan doesn't mean it shouldn't. compare this statement by foucault in 1983 :

 

"Let's take an example that touches us all, that of Poland. If we raise the question of Poland in strictly political terms, it's clear that we quickly reach the point of saying that there's nothing we can do. We can't dispatch a team of paratroppers, and we can't send armored cars to liebrate Warsaw. I think that, politically, we have to recognize this, but I think we also agree that, for ethical reasons, we have to raise the problem of Poland in the form of a nonacceptance of what is happening there, and a nonacceptance of the passivity of our own governments. I think this attitude is an ethical one, but it is also political; it does not consist in saying merely, 'I protest,' but in making of that attitude a political phenomenon that is as substantial as possible, and one which those who govern, here or there, will sooner or later be obliged to take into account." (foucault reader. p377.)

 

this is the essence of ethics as a kritikal practice. and it was (and remains) at the heart of this activity before wacky u.t. students invented the kritik proper. you cannot reduce policy discussions to the search for only practical solutions. that's what fiat itself commands: imagine the impossible! refuse to be strictly practical! ... this doesn't mean debaters have to be anything other than debaters - not legislators, not academics; they can still deploy an illusory recommendation in order to make a political phenomenon 'as substantial as possible'. that's ethos.

 

 

.k

 

 

p.s. i also don't think the negative need offer an alternative 'vision' (or a competing decision-making model). sometimes the impractical search for alternatives itself impairs our understanding, and they're within their rights to point this out. as foucault says, "I have never tried to analyze anything whatsoever from the point of view of politics, but always to ask politics what it had to say about the problems with which it was confronted." (ibid. p385.)

 

 

Kevin, I'm confused.

You support evidence that Foucault doesn't believe that criticism should just focus on the state, that power can operate and oppress outside of the state, that the state can tactically be used, and that Foucault is no anarchist in any bakuninian sense of that term. None of which I am arguing. I am making a simple claim: Foucault opposes the state. Not as a focus of his philosophy or project, but a simple restated fact in foucault. This is in much the same way I can say that foucault opposes capitalism, but is not a marxist nor agrees with analyizing markets as the base of oppression or sees the markets as anything but growing out of biopower.

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hrm. you miiight demonstrate to me that foucault opposes capitalism, but capitalism isn't centered around any central authority - it's simply a historical set of practices. to say he opposed capitalism would be over-simplifying, sure, but it wouldn't be too far off the mark. (for instance, when foucault notes in 'the history of sexuality, volume 1' that biopower was indispensible for the development of capitalism, all the way to his early post-`68 days.)

 

of course, for the same reason, oddly enough, you could also say foucault opposes marxism, insofar as he criticized the base/superstructure model that reduces everything to economic rationalities (even such topics as campaigns against childhood masturbation - marxists: 'well, capitalists wanted a more efficient workforce' ; foucault: 'hahahahahha').

 

no, you're not confused. you'd just rather give an obfuscating 2nr than give up the debate. foucault called the state a mythicized abstraction. he said we must give up being either for or against it. he refrained from essentializing it as one refrains from an indigestible meal. he sat on a governmental board and concerned himself with improving his own state's functioning. he argued that we shouldn't focus on rejecting institutions but on criticizing practices. so... foucault did not oppose the state. where's the confusion? .k

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"I am not saying that all forms of power are unacceptable but that no form of power is necessarily acceptable or unacceptable. This is anarchism. But since anarchism is not acceptable these days, I will call it anarcheology-- the method that takes no power as necessarily acceptable." -Michel Foucault, "Du Gouvernment des Vivants"

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i bet that's pretty early in foucault's career (before or after may '68?). foucault carefully avoids such terms/labels as his work progresses, and as he goes from archeology to genealogy. he'll quip later that he's pleased when critics call him an anarchist, an orthodox marxist, a bourgeois academic, etc., as none of the above labels fit him with much accuracy.

 

further, the type of anarchism he's discussing isn't anti-statism as he refers to 'all forms of power', not only macro-institutional ones. lots of thinkers believe that no power is acceptable a priori and don't call themsleves anarchist per se. ... "i am not saying that all forms of power are unacceptable" : perhaps a true anarchist would say this, or at least that some forms of power are by their very nature unacceptable; as foucault makes clear again, when it comes to the state, he's consistently anti-essentialist, even in his more radical days.

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