- Preamble to Apolitics
For as long as social dissatisfaction has existed, the most immediate solution, and the most reasonable, has been to change some causes, some effects, or some actors. In the most extreme cases, the suggested therapy consists in a massive reorganization of forces, a metabola of powers. “The earth shall rise on new foundations,” promises the first stanza of The Internationale, and in the tradition begun by the Abbé Sieyès, the chorus can sing “we have been naught, we shall be all.” Whatever the violence of the change—and let’s just say that the past century has given us everything from the yoke of colonialism to “soft” democracy, from the dictatorship of banana republics to that of the bureaucratic proletariat, from total genocide to popular struggles, from Barack Obama’s merely cosmetic Change to a total police state—the foundation nevertheless remains the same and is rarely questioned. By this I mean that the metamorphosis will always belong to the plane of politics; and it is only the definitions of this political plane that vary, ranging from government and popular representation to insurrectionary combat, from nationhood and race to lifestyle and permanent revolution. In any case, despite these tremendous divergences and inconsistencies, one point remains: the channeling of discontent, unease, and refusal through political action, be it administrative, bloodstained, molecular, spectacular, or something else. From this, it is possible that beyond, before, or even in addition to political demands, distress, or dismissal, the desire for an even greater defection, the urge to get rid of politics, might make itself heard. Hence the dream of breaking away not only from the police, but also from all forms of politics and the political.
This desire can barely find expression in contemporary philosophy where what prevails is most often an increase in theoretical authority, allowing the sometimes violent and “radical” blaming of a portion, a facet, a conception of the political—to the benefit of another political way or space. Hence the faith in biopower versus biopolitics (Agamben, Esposito), politics versus police (Rancière), the multitude versus the State (Hardt and Negri), the “to-come” [à-venir] in the face of Realpolitik (Derrida), the political community versus common politics (Nancy), etc. All of these articulations, sometimes caught up in a real oppositional binarism, sometimes put forth in the time of différance, have their virtues. Thus, as I stated not so long ago in this journal,1 the recent insistence on biopolitics helps us better grasp the hold the political has on the socio-historic experience of life—and, possibly, well beyond the inept consensus regarding the end of modernity. Similarly, one can hardly doubt that a figure of the multitude might derail the old State machinery, although its cogs are easily mended. Likewise, the association between the [End Page 5] reality of the polis and that of the police signifies quite directly the kind of dictatorship that would seek to erect itself as a global model. Or: the distance from the “to-come” prompts us never to believe in the unity of time, or political action, at the risk, perhaps, of not being completely rid of a nostalgic messianism. And, to say the least, something like the political might orient our existences without curling up inside institutionalized politics; it might account for an apparent note of discord and situate the dream of politicizing outside of the system. And yet, how difficult it is not to see a tireless and repetitive effort at conservation in these articulations and many others: Saving Concept “Politics.” Conversely, the question I would ask is that of the possibility, for Politics, to sort out completely the misdeeds of politics. From there, one should ask whether—if the wrongs of politics are politically unsolvable—it is still useful to wish to preserve the conceits of a worn-out category. In other words, whatever the value of an “articulated” analysis of the political may be (this value being totally variable), is it truly necessary to stop along the way and mystically return to a noble action and lofty conception, obviously sullied, obscured, distorted, limited, or tarnished by the...