- Reason, Anamorphosis, and the Snowden Case
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The prevailing understanding of politics today is based on the project of mutual recognition of free and responsible agents. According to this understanding, politics is the struggle for the better argument. People interact as rational agents in the political sphere and strive to organize their community according to justified norms. In this context, the American neo-pragmatist Robert Brandom speaks of an obligatory “scorekeeping” in discursive practices within a “space of reasons.”Like in a soccer game, arguments are registered in this space like goals on the playing field, so that a clear winner is established at the end of the game or the discussion. As human beings are not islands unto themselves, they are part of an inferential web of norms, values, and practices that they cannot escape—at least, so it seems.
As famous as this definition of the “space of reasons” is, going back to (among others) Wilfrid Sellars,2 it suppresses an important fact: that the mentioned space is transcendentally constituted via a constitutive lack of its own reasonability; a lack that can be described as the foundational distortion that installs facts according to a mode of objectification. In other words, normative facts and states of affairs are grounded in a coordinated system that cannot reflect on itself from the outside. As such, a blindness, a lack, or call it a “foundational distortion,” is inscribed within justification since the lack itself grounds axiomatically the condition of the facts and the states of affairs to be perceived. The collectively maintained web of reasons has therefore always already infiltrated the individual agent to give him—with the “foundational distortion” at his back—the ability (under the appeal of politics) to form his judgments in relation to what in his community has the potential to be truthful in the first place. To explain this argument in detail the art-historical concept of anamorphosis will be applied in what follows, as it underlines allegorically the constructive and self-referential dimensions within the very understanding of political representation and political rationality. An anamorphic picture gives a coherent representation of what is to be represented as fact in relation to a preconstructed viewpoint. This viewpoint is explained as an allegorical image of the preconditions of politics and will be of importance in relation to a political act where, as in the case of Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified documents, an agent deviates from the focal viewpoint of what political reality is supposed to represent: unshakeable normative beliefs as basic conditions of the social contract. These beliefs commit every individual to keep away from illegal acts, which not only put the social contract in peril; they also imperil reality, understood as political reality (combining facts and values), in itself.
Philosophers, especially since Hegel, have struggled with the question of how to precisely understand a singular exception—like Snowden’s illegal act—as being of universal value despite its illegality. And Snowden’s act indeed shows the potential to incorporate this dialectical shift where an exception paves the way for its justification to come. It can prove that in certain political situations like the one Snowden found himself in (or better: declared himself to be in) the only authority of a justified belief might just be the individual agent him- or herself. And if this individual is lucky, i.e., if History with a capital “H” grants him a future in favor of his deed, he becomes—despite acting illegally—the singular point of universality through being exceptional. [End Page 7]
This topic is discussed today especially in Left-Hegelian debates, where such prominent philosophers as Alain Badiou, Claude Lefort, Jacques Rancière, and Slavoj Žižek find common ground against well-established philosophical schools of pragmatism, philosophies of recognition, or of ethical discourse.3 To some of these authors I will refer repeatedly in what follows, as they share similar insights into the conflict of universality and particularity at the heart of this article.
To deepen my line of argument outlined here within the broad scope of its philosophical and political implications, a more detailed explanation of the reference to...