- A Note on the Thought of Roberto Esposito
The text presented here in its first English translation was published in 1999 as a preface to the second edition of Categorie dell’impolitico [Categories of the Impolitical], an inquiry into the concept of the “impolitical” that Roberto Esposito first published in 1988. Esposito is the author of nearly twenty books on a wide range of topics within political philosophy, including indifference, freedom, power, and communication; and on thinkers such as Machiavelli, Vico, Rousseau, Descartes, Arendt, Weil, and Nancy. Thanks to the work of scholars such as Timothy Campbell, his name is no longer unfamiliar in anglophone academia; nevertheless, his work on the “impolitical” remains less known. In this preface, written ten years after the book’s initial publication, Esposito reflects on his earlier work and evaluates the impact of his ideas, as well as some of the limitations of his past philosophical positions. In this brief introduction, I do not intend to undertake an exegesis or genealogy of Esposito’s thought, but only wish to say a word about how the “impolitical” fits in Esposito’s intellectual trajectory, particularly in his work on biopolitics.
In the 1970s and 1980s, when his thought was focused on Vico and Machiavelli, Esposito was one of the founders of the journal Il Centauro, whose name he suggested with one of Machiavelli’s metaphors in mind.1 Among the thinkers published in this journal were a range of figures including Giorgio Agamben, Remo Bodei, Massimo Cacciari, Giuseppe Duso, and Giacomo Marramao. As Esposito explains, one of the key accomplishments of the Centauro group, although still connected to the Italian Communist Party, was to have perceived the final crisis of the requisites for international stability that Carl Schmitt described in The Nomos of the Earth [“La politica al presente” 14]. After the last katechon of modern politics dissolved in 1989, some of the former members of this group argued—quite in contrast to the ludic thought of better-known thinkers of the “postmodern”— that globalization could only be the globalization of conflict. When Il Centauro ceased publication in 1986, Nicola Matteucci, Roberto Esposito, Carlo Galli, and Giuseppe Duso founded the journal Filosofia politica. Inspired by the Begriffsgeschichte of Reinhart Koselleck, but already moving beyond its scope, their aim was to reground the political lexicon of the European tradition by both rethinking classical political theory and proposing new categories. Proceeding from these intentions, the efforts of such a group naturally converged in the foundation of the Center for Research on the European Political Lexicon (Centro per la ricerca sul lessico politico europeo, now renamed Centro Interuniversitario di ricerca sul lessico politico e giuridico europeo). It is at this juncture that two years later Esposito published Categorie dell’impolitico.
While Esposito’s Categorie cannot be reduced to his prior collaborations, those collaborations are useful for understanding the genesis of this phase of his thought, for he understands his concept of the “impolitical” to be the point of departure of the new lexicon [End Page 95] he had begun building during his years with Il Centauro. Spurred on by the crisis of modern politics—but without being limited to it—Esposito articulates the concept of “impolitical” to allow for a different approach regarding the place and function of conflict in contemporary political experience. In modern political thought, the notion of conflict had often been set aside, turning “order” and “politics” into near synonyms (or better, positing the production of order through the suppression of conflict). The concept of the impolitical, in contrast, allows us to situate ourselves at the constitutive terminus of politics and thus to think through what, in modern political thought, would be merely a contradiction in terms: productive conflictuality. If it is true that there are irresolvable “conflicting powers and interests” [“La politica al presente” 18] beyond the boundaries of the political, there also exists a different kind of conflictuality, which could revive the forms and contents of the political—an idea, moreover, already present in Machiavelli. Esposito’s reflections on the impolitical also opened up the space for an anthology on the “beyond” of politics called Oltre la politica: Antologia del pensiero “impolitico...