- Something Always Escapes! : Beasley-Murray’s Posthegemony
Jon Beasley-Murray’s refrain throughout Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America – something always escapes! – is both a political caution and a methodological imperative. Politics, he contends, has for too long been based on the false dichotomy between consent and coercion. Or better, it has been based on a false resolution of the false dichotomy of consent and coercion at the heart of the modern social contract theory and contemporary Hegemony theory. While there can be little doubt that force and agreement are central to any study of the political, they nonetheless occlude other means by which societies reproduce themselves, their hierarchies, their inclusions and their exclusions. As such, modern liberalism and its ostensible critiques – most notably in Posthegemony those posed by Hegemony, Civil Society theory, and ‘radical democracy’ – are equally complicit in the same ultimately conservative political project.
Methodologically Posthegemony is as much concerned with criticizing academic fads and franchises such as cultural studies, civil society, and Hegemony theory as it is with the practical political struggle against the modern state form and capital. The left’s misplaced focus on hegemony both in theory as well as practice results in a sort of naturalized contractualism that “conceal[s] other modes of political command or struggle.”1
Posthegemony thus sets itself the task, of “redescrib[ing] and reconstruct[ing] an image of society that no longer depends on society’s own self portrayal” in order to best recognize those struggles that offer the best likelihood of changing the current exclusionary and unjust order.2 Considering hegemony theory’s key role in shoring up the status quo, Beasley-Murray contends that we must begin our work in the academy by replacing key concepts such as consent, ideology, and identity with those of affect, habit, and multitude.
The book develops over the course of two parts – ‘Critique’ and ‘Constitution’ – that then lead to two ‘alternate endings.’ In the conclusion, Beasley-Murray offers a sobering rereading of Antonio Negri’s theory of ‘the multitude’ in which he cautions, “should the multitude come into its own, unfettered by constituted power, and the state and transcendence disappear […] there would be no objectivity, only the pure subjectivity of the divine presence and power […] it would be perfect, but it would be dead.”3 He paints a strikingly different picture in the Epilogue, however, where the author offers a celebratory reading of the April, 2002 counter-coup that returned Hugo Chávez to the presidency in Venezuela as an example of the expansive and liberatory constituent power of the multitude. This move, in which Beasley-Murray balances optimism with realism, characterizes much of the work. Indeed, one of his most incisive – and potentially divisive – points of entry for the book comes in the form of an apparent dismissal of the so-called ‘pink tide.’ Twelve years of anti-neoliberal rhetoric and electoral victories for the continental left – beginning with the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998 and continuing (a few notable exceptions aside) with Dilma Roussef’s victory this year in Brazil – are for Beasley-Murray “at best a symptom, at worst a reaction” as constituted power attempts to corral the creative constituent power of the multitude.4 In other words, the regional left’s string of electoral victories is not evidence of a new cycle of revolutionary change reminiscent of that initiated by guerrillas in the Cuban Sierra Maestra in 1959 or in the Santiago of Allende’s Unidad Popular in 1970. Even if – and this is a rather big if – contemporary left of center governments have stepped away from the fundamental economic structures of the ‘Washington Consensus,’ they have not made similar breaks with corresponding structures of political and social power.
On this question, there is little in the way of consensus across the field. Beasley-Murray’s position must not be confused with neoliberal critiques of the ‘left turns’ like those of Jorge Castañeda, a secretary of foreign affairs under former...