- A Revolution without Revolution:Dardot and Laval's Common
A movement is haunting the globe—the movement of the common. Such is the scale of the argument of Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval's new book, Common: On Revolution in the 21stCentury. Against the hostile background of the global hegemony of neoliberal rationality, which Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval examined in their previous work, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, Common investigates this new focus emerging in a range of contemporary movements, struggles, and discourses over the past few decades (6).1 In their earlier text, Dardot and Laval explicated neoliberalism as a rationality which constructs an intermeshed ordering of states and markets centered around the principle of competition.2 Neoliberalism is misunderstood, according to this reading, if it is perceived as a struggle between the market and the state. Rather, it is a comprehensive rationality that governs both and, as such, cannot be eliminated "through a mere change of policy" or "changing governments."3 The rationality itself must be challenged. Accordingly, the principle of the common must assert itself as a "counter-force" (1). In this erudite and creative book, Dardot and Laval explore the dynamics of this counter-force as not merely a negation, but as an alternative to neoliberal capitalism.
The common, as Dardot and Laval understand it, is not a form of possession or a type of object so much as it is an activity of sharing things in common and sustaining those things through ongoing, cooperative activity (159). Crucially, this activity must never result in any form of appropriation, whether private or public. Common things by their mode of appearance resist being possessed by any individual or group. To chart the history and potential future of the political principle of the common, Dardot and Laval organize the book into three parts. The first part, "The Emergence of the Commons," gives the historical contexts for the dialectical development of the common. This history begins with the failure in the twentieth century of state communism, which Dardot and Laval found to have suppressed and withered the democratic dreams of nineteenth century socialism. At the fall of the Soviet Union, the barren landscape of the failed dreams of a democratic form of socialism allowed a blossoming of the common. However, this blossoming only happened in the shadow of the race for a second enclosure fostered by global neoliberal policies, such as those of the Washington Consensus, which were no longer restrained by the countervailing force of the Soviet Union. Once Dardot and Laval set up this historical backdrop, they proceed with an immanent critique of prominent theorists of "the commons," from the work of Elinor Ostrom to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, to which I will shortly return. [End Page 297]
The second part of the book, "Law and Institution of the Common," is the richest of the text. Here Dardot and Laval produce a legal history of the common to counter the legal history of property. Against the despotic power of dominium which holders of property retain against laborers, renters, and others, Dardot and Laval excavate and then theorize the contemporary institutionalization of a law of the commons. From a creative and impressive reading of Marx's early articles from the "theft of wood" debate of 1842 to a genealogy of customary law going back to the Magna Carta, this part of Common is highly rewarding for those who believe in the power of history for seeing one's place in time as suffused with a suppressed potential which may be released through acknowledgment and action. Furthermore, Dardot and Laval explore how a new law of the common may be institutionalized through radical democratic practice in both the economic and political spheres. Finally, the third part of the book steps beyond the academic structure of the preceding two parts to elaborate an ambitious political program of the common on the global scale of Kant's Towards Perpetual Peace. This part presents nine propositions from the...