- Political Realism and the Cultural Imaginary
Filippo del Lucchese's Conflict, Power, and Multitude in Machiavelli and Spinoza is a welcome addition to the growing collection of scholarly works that firmly place Spinoza in a tradition of radical political thought. This movement began in France in the late 1960s with the publication of Gilles Deleuze's Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza and Alexandre Matheron's Individu et communauté chez Spinoza (Individual and Community in Spinoza), and with Louis Althusser's many courses on Spinoza during those years. This reading of Spinoza was introduced to the Anglo-American academy through the translation of these works and others, including Etienne Balibar's Spinoza and Politics, Antonio Negri's Savage Anomaly, and the seminal essays in The New Spinoza. One of del Lucchese's main contributions is to link Spinoza to Machiavelli. Taking up the line of thinking developed by intellectual giants like Althusser, Deleuze, Negri, and Balibar, del Lucchese persuasively shows that much of what is radical in Spinoza comes from his ongoing engagement with Machiavelli. Machiavelli's break with humanism and Thomism—his penetrating effort to recast virtue as a combination of force and display—formed the kernel that developed into Spinoza's profoundly democratic political philosophy. In making this argument, del Lucchese also contributes to contemporary critical discussions concerning justice and violence, multiplicity, power and resistance, and the questions that these issues raise for democratic theory. Exposing and elaborating the lines of affiliation between Machiavelli and Spinoza, del Lucchese offers a version of democracy that stands as an alternative to the liberal model based on security, contract theory, and the transfer of rights to state authority. His book is an excellent contribution to the study of democratic theory and the history of radical political thought.
Del Lucchese's central premise is that Machiavelli and Spinoza both take dissensus as a political norm. This presupposition distinguishes these two thinkers from the political thought that preceded them as well as contemporary visions of politics that take unity and agreement as desirable ends. What Spinoza learns from Machiavelli, del Lucchese argues, is the idea that power and crisis are not at odds—that crisis is not an exception to the state or to political community but is one of the means by which power is expressed. As he writes, "A crisis that faces people and states, princes and peoples, does not represent an exception to the rule." Instead, "crisis and power . . . intertwine, overlap, and meld together within the limits of a recursive relationship in which one necessarily refers to the other" (2). Del Lucchese then shows how this insight leads Machiavelli and Spinoza after him to develop political and metaphysical systems in which crisis is not mediated by sovereignty but is productively internal to the systems themselves.
Del Lucchese tends to proceed through finely argued analyses of Machiavelli and Spinoza, but it is also quite clear that he intends his analysis to serve as an antidote to the double romance of the Schmittian decision and bare life, which Giorgio Agamben posits as the "hidden matrix" of Western sovereignty (45). Schmitt conceives of crisis as a break from political norms, and for that reason he argues that it demands an excess of sovereign power. Crisis must be mediated by the personal authority of the sovereign, who alone has the right to return the state to normal operating procedures through his capacity to decide the exception. Agamben's analysis of bare life begins with a critique of Schmitt but then goes on to develop a complementary account of sovereignty and crisis through the lens of biopower. The excess of sovereignty identified by Schmitt results in an inextricable bond between the sovereign unfettered by law, on the one hand, and bare life stripped of legal protection and vulnerable to the cruelest and most sadistic operations of power, on the other hand. Responding to Agamben's argument, del Lucchese writes that
"bare life," in this sense, is more of a theoretical figure than a real thing. It is a radically negative concept intended to express...