Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Capturing the Moving Minds

The following review of the ‘Capturing the Moving Minds’ conference was published in Il Manifesto on 2 October 2005. The Italian version is available at:


I append an English version below.

A window on the world

To move without cause, to organise without ends, to flee the war against intellect: these were the imperatives that animated the conference held on the trans-siberian train: ‘Capturing the Moving Mind: Management and Movement in the Era of Permanently Temporary War’ (September 11-20, 2005). Organised by a group surrounding the online journal Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization (http://www.ephemeraweb.org/index.htm) and affiliated with Framework: The Finnish Art Review and the new Italian journal Conflitti globali, the conference brought together activists, artists, mobile communication experts, filmmakers, musicians, and researchers of all stamps. In reality, this moving event was something more than a conference. The rhythm of the train, the changing landscapes, the interactions with strangers, the border controls and currency exchanges: all imposed contingencies that demanded constant interrogation and shifts of perspective. At the same time, the train functioned as a kind of protective shell, like the set of a reality TV show, removing the participants (their discussions and creations) from the world that flitted by outside. Yet, in this isolated space, there was time for rumination, intimacy, withdrawal, and debate—an ongoing group dynamic, fight or flight, contained by neither the many nor the one.

It is not difficult to criticise an undertaking like this: a pack of intellectuals, activists, and artists, predominantly white and English-speaking, speeding past impoverished towns, disputing the finer points of immaterial labour while aestheticizing the crumbled factories on the way. To be sure, the paradoxes of this situation were sharpened as the train continued on its arrogant line, like Benjamin’s angel, but with its face unturned, oblivious to the storm behind. The outside world, as it were, reacted back on the group, sparking internal dissension, stunts of devil’s advocacy, and, in the case of one participant whose passport was stolen, delicate negotiations at the German consulate in Novosibirsk. It is tempting, following the formulation of another participant, to characterise the event in temporal-historical terms: a bunch of people from the twentieth century, hurtling past nineteenth century villages on their way (like the business leaders of our times) to find the twenty-first century in Beijing. But a mere stroll around Beijing, let alone Moscow, reveals the limits of this elegant summation.

In these former second world cities, the first world implodes upon the third. All the global divisions can be found in a single locale. The petrodollars that swell the pockets of the Russian oligarchy do not trickle down. The houtons of Beijing, rapidly being cleared for the 2008 Olympic Games, border on corporate skyscrapers and department stores. As the local participants in both Moscow (Michael Chernyl) and Beijing (Zhiyuan Cui and Wang Hui) insisted, the concept of capitalism is too wide to explain what is happening in these urban laboratories. If, as Deng Xiaoping once said, ‘we do not know what socialism is,’ perhaps today we need to add, ‘we also do not know what capitalism is.’ For it is the very precariousness of capital, its constitutive exposure to venture and risk that makes it impossible to isolate as an empirical object. As that most abstract of abstractions, capital produces an –ism to which nothing (but almost anything) can attach. Doubtless, this is why it propagates so incessantly. And perhaps this is also why the power that it breeds is so mad, indeterminate and arbitrary, no more so than at a time of seemingly permanent war.

It was the emergence of the new forms of global control (which find their principal mode of being in war) that occupied the conference’s critical core. Beyond the state of exception, beyond the borders and fences, beyond the humanitarian tragedies and suicide bombings, there operates a new and seemingly pure power that functions without institutional legitimation and seems to change day by day. The control of the mind, of collaboration between minds, of feelings, affects and the generic human capacity to relate is the borne of this power. Under its sway, politics melds with productivity and the primary struggle becomes a fight for the free use of human minds. It is no longer a matter of this or that issue, this or that injustice. When power becomes detached from any single logic or rationale, all that remains is to stay on the move, to meet its madness with a delirious rigour that shifts, twists and compulsively derails. With such movement, there emerges a variety of experience that motivates itself and, in so doing, acquires the quality of an experiment—a kind of pure theoretical practice that attempts to create something new. This, in essence, was the gambit of the conference, locking away forty brains and bodies in a train and leaving them to sense as well as cogitate. Can there, could there emerge from such an experiment a new form of politics, another way of being, within and despite the frenzy of global control?

The trans-Siberian journey was kind of learning without pedagogy, an exercise in improvisation as much as organisation, a passionate encounter where relations by hand, touch, and intuition (although not necessarily physical) outweighed those that occurred on the cusp of understanding. Beyond the lands of the Roman alphabet, with only one Russian and one Mandarin speaker, the signs become illegible and the entire symbolic realm of language begins to fall away—imposing itself as a kind of barrier, sure, but also opening new vistas of intimacy that are neither communicative nor symbiotic. To buy food on the platform, one was left only with the hands—pointing, counting the fingers, expressing gratitude by joining the palms. Some used digital cameras to display the items they wanted to purchase. But this gestural economy, importantly motivated by commodity exchange, could not go unnoticed by the group. Obsessed with the movement of the economy from the limited sphere of rationality to the in-born and adaptive human faculties, the discussion constantly veered back to these chance encounters. Perhaps because this accidental ethnography—more than the internal group dynamic—registered how the purity of experience is always contaminated by contingency and context.

The memory traces of this event were already under construction before it began. Part of the process involved the use of newly invented ‘mobicasting’ software to feed images and sounds via mobile phone from the train to a website (http://www.kiasma.fi/transsiberia) and display in the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. An exercise in the assemblage of an open archive as much as an act of intellectual tourism, the conference sought to build common resources for creative political expression. Nor has this generativity ceased with the dispersal of the participants, each of whom came and left with his own baggage. As the object of journal issues and art exhibitions, one of which will be held at the Villa Croce museo d’arte contemporanea in Genova next summer, the process goes on. Disposable cameras distributed to non-conference travellers on the train will be sent to a studio in London, film rushes shot on the journey will be stitched together with others, digital video of an action carried out at the Russian-Mongolian border will provide source material for media art, a manifesto about a network of networks will be penned. But these material products should not be considered ends in themselves. The point of the conference was to institute, through the sheer experience of movement, a mode of being that reveals itself phenomenologically—a way of living without opportunism or fear, paralysis or submission. Such a strike against boredom, or activism for the sake of activism, has no outcome. It exists only in the present, somewhere between departure and arrival, in the thick of the night, when the movement seems to slow and the rhythm of the train at once wakes you and lulls you back to sleep. In this time and space, there is neither dream nor calculation, transport nor retreat, but only the incessant clang of metal on metal.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Allegory of Peace and War

The site for Centro per la Riforma dello Stato has materials from a seminar entitled Il mestiere delle armi, la pace di domani with interventions from Tronti, Negri, Dal Lago, Hardt, Guareschi, and others. Some of this material was published earlier in Posse and Conflitti globali.

The piece by Tronti revisits Raymond Aron's 1962 text Paix et guerre entre les nations, as does this text by Eric Alliez. In particular, there is an attempt to think past Aron's famous cold war phrase 'impossible peace, improbable war'. Toward the end, Tronti recalls Swiss military historian J.J. Langendorf's Éloge funèbre du général August-Wilhelm von Lignitz. Lignitz was a Prussian general who after the Battle of Valmy began to see the enemy as kind of Kantian noumenon, beyond delimitation. Between Aron's symbolic figures of the diplomat and the soldier, there emerges the partisan, the guerilla.

Lignitz apparently was a friend of Kleist and loved the section of On the Marionette Theatre where the fencer faces off against a bear but, despite his agility, cannot defeat the beast. Langendorf draws the parallel with Kutusov's defeat of Napoleon. 'Intelligence', he writes, 'is not necessary for war, just a deep calmness of being and force'. So Tronti adds: today we must counterpose the wolf of war not with the dove but the bear of peace.

I wonder what the point of this foot work is? A questioning of the emergent dogma that war is peace? A sense of war and peace oscillating between two uncontrollable extremes? The notion that the neutralisation of war through politics cannot occur after the death of politics?

Allegorical indeed.

Monday, August 22, 2005


So Ratzinger is on his way to Sydney for World Youth Day in 2008.

May I welcome him with this beautiful quote from Cure Meslier, a sacreligious priest who believed in neither god nor the soul:

L'humanite ne sera heureuse que lorsque le dernier roi sera etrangle aver les boyaux du dernier prete.

(Humanity will only be happy when the last king is strangled with the intestines of the last priest).

More on Meslier via First Person.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Scattered Notes from a re-reading of Tocqueville

I was moved to re-read Toqueville’s Democracy in America by the following comments in a talk by Mario Tronti at the Università Nomade seminar on Democracy and War, January 2005:

Tutta la storia recente dopo l’ultimo novecento, dopo gli anni settanta, gli anni appunto poi del movimento ma gli anni del feminismo, tutta la storia che è seguita questo come risposta si può leggere in una chiave di recupero di un egemonia capitalistica attraverso il ritorno della figura del bourgeois. Fino a che viene a cadere la distinzione contrapozione tra bourgeois e citoyen, perché questo ultimo viene recuperato in quello. E l’incontro questo sia appunto di carattere epocale tra homo economicus e homo democraticus. Gli spiriti capitalistici hanno proprio questo sogetto che l’anima democraticum. C’è questa figura insomma ormai dominante di borgese massa che e il vero sogetto interno al rapporto sociale. Non ci sara’ una vera efficace critica della democrazia senza una grande affondo antropologico in questo senso. Antropologia sociale ma anche appunto individuale. Anche qui appunto individuale nel pensiero pratica della differenza. In questo campo c’e bisogno di dare molto attenzione all’ imaginaro, al simbolico: molto molto si gioca tutto sul questo terreno. E vedi il modo come viene giocato questo terreno, il mythos che ritorna, e ritorna dagli stati uniti verso di noi, della società dei proprietari. Viene appunto dall’ America di Bush e dei noecons questo interessante episodio di rivoluzione conservatrice che si sta realizzando li, che bisogno mettere molto sotto gli occhi dell’ attenzione. Questo ci dice che la democrazia è sempre Democracy in America. Gli stati uniti hanno sempre esportato la democrazia con la guerra. Si meraviglia perche lo facciano adesso ma lo hanno fatto sempre. L’ hanno portato in Europa anche attraverso le grande guerre. Gl eserciti alleati non ci hanno liberato, ci hanno democratizzato. Infatti, è dopo l’età delle guerre civile europe-mondiale che la democrazia è veramente trionfato. E la vittoria dell’ occidente nell’ ultima guerra, la guerra fredda, è stato l’evento decisivo.

Here's a rough translation:

All the recent history of the late 20th-century, after the 1970s - the years of the movement and feminism - all that followed as a response to this can be read as the recuperation of capitalist hegemony through the return of the figure of the bourgeois. Up to the point of the collapse of the distinction between the bourgeois and the citoyen - since the latter is absorbed in the former. This is the epochal encounter of homo economicus and homo democraticus. The capitalist spirit has a democratic soul. The true subject of social relations is the dominant figure of the mass bourgeois. There can be no truly effecitve critique of democracy without a deep anthropological exploration. Social but also individual anthropology – individual, that is, in the practical thought of difference. In this field, one must give great attention to the imaginary and the symbolic, since much is at play on this ground. And you can see this in the mythos of the society of proprietors that returns from the US toward us. From the America of Bush and the neocons comes this very interesting episode of conservative revolution – to which we must really pay attention. This shows us that democracy is always Democracy in America. The US has always exported democracy with war. People are astonished that they are doing it now, but they have always done it. They brought democracy to Europe through the great wars. The allied armies did not liberate us, they democratised us. In fact, it was after the era of the European-world civil wars that democracy really triumphed. And the victory of the west in the last war, the cold war, was the decisive event.

Tronti also has a discussion of Tocqueville and the critique of democracy in the fourth of his ‘Tesi su Benjamin’ [Theses on Benjamin] (available here in French) in his 1998 book La politica al tramonto. Again, a rough translation:

Tocqueville prophetically foresaw the antipolitical destiny of the modern democracies. Political demoralisation arrived punctually, reaching its completion at the end of the 20th century in political atheism. The great liberal saw the end of modern politics realised in American democracy, a heavy announcement of the future of the world. Umberto Coldagelli has intelligently located in Tocqueville’s distinction between political science and the art of government the ‘substantial dualism’ between democracy and liberty. With this immediate consequence: ‘the safeguard of liberty comes to depend exclusively on the capacity of the art of government to oppose the spontaneous propensity of the political state to hide itself in the social state.’ And he reports this variation in the Democracy of 1840: ‘The social state separates people; the political state must bring them together again. The social state gives them a taste of wellbeing; the political state must give them grand ideas and emotions.’ The distinctive mark of bourgeoise modernity is a ‘natural’ subjectivity of social action and an ‘unnatural’ subjectivity of political action. ‘Conscience and ideas do not renew themselves, the soul does not expand and the human spirit does not develop, if not by the reciprocal action of men upon each other. I have shown that this action is near absent in the democratic countries; it must therefore be created artificially.’

It's no surprise that a political thinker as ambiguous as Tocqueville gets pulled in all directions. The most recent republication of Democracy in America was greeted by the New York Times with a review entited ‘Tocqueville for the Neocons’. And Roger Kimball followed by arguing that Tocqueville’s warnings about despotism in democracy augur the rise of political correctness. Intellectual Conservatism lists Tocqueville as an icon of conservative thought alongside Ratzinger, Hayek, and Strauss. But, as with Schmitt, Tocqueville has important lessons to teach, particularly regarding the nonequivalence of freedom and democracy. At the present juncture that would seem the crucial point.

Join the dots:

  • Can it be believed that the democracy which has overthrown the feudal system, and vanquished kings, will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists?
  • The people have learned to despise all authorty, but they still fear it.
  • In America, there are factions, but no conspiracies.
  • America is therefore a free country in which, lest anybody should be hurt by your remarks, you are not allowed to speak freely.
  • In the United States, then, that numerous and turbulent multitude does not exist, who, regarding the law as their natural enemy, look upon it, with fear and distrust.
  • Accurately speaking, there is no such thing as a mixed government in the sense usually given to that word, because in all communities some one principle of action may be discovered which preponderates over the others.
  • Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.
  • In speaking of philosophical method among the Americans I have shown that nothing is more repugnant to the human mind in an age of equality than the idea of subjection to forms. Men living at such times are impatient of figures; to their eyes, symbols appear to be puerile artifices used to conceal or to set off truths that should more naturally be bared to the light of day.
  • I am persuaded that, in the end, democracy diverts the imagination from all that is external to man, and fixes it on man alone.
  • The taste which men have for liberty and that which they feel for equality are, in fact, two different things; and I am not afraid to add that among democratic nations they are two unequal things.
  • Freedom has appeared in the world at different times and under various forms; it has not been exclusively bound to any social condition, and it is not confined to democracies. Freedom cannot, therefore, form the distinguishing characteristic of democratic ages.
  • I should be surprised if mysticism did not soon make some advance among a people solely engaged in promoting their own worldly welfare. It is said that the deserts of the Thebaid were peopled by the persecutions of the emperors and the massacres of the Circus; I should rather say that it was by the luxuries of Rome and the Epicurean philosophy of Greece. If their social condition, their present circumstances, and their laws did not confine the minds of the Americans so closely to the pursuit of worldly welfare, it is probable that they would display more reserve and more experience whenever their attention is turned to things immaterial.
  • The aristocracy created by business rarely settles in the midst of the manufacturing population which it directs; the object is not to govern that population, but to use it. An aristocracy thus constituted can have no great hold upon those whom it employs, and even if it succeeds in retaining them at one moment, they escape the next; it knows not how to will, and it cannot act.
  • I do not assert that men living in democratic communities are naturally stationary; I think, on the contrary, that a perpetual stir prevails in the bosom of those societies, and that rest is unknown there; but I think that men bestir themselves within certain limits, beyond which they hardly ever go. They are forever varying, altering, and restoring secondary matters; but they carefully abstain from touching what is fundamental. They love change, but they dread revolutions.
  • If ever America undergoes great revolutions, they will be brought about by the presence of the black race on the soil of the United States -- that is to say, they will owe their origin, not to the equality, but to the inequality, of conditions.
  • I am of the opinion that a restless and turbulent spirit is an evil inherent in the very constitution of democratic armies and beyond hope of cure. The legislators of democracies must not expect to devise any military organization capable by its influence of calming and restraining the military profession; their efforts would exhaust their powers before the object could be attained.
  • Nothing is strong in a democratic country except the state.
  • Democratic nations often hate those in whose hands the central power is vested; but they always love that power itself.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

La differenza italiana

A new 28 page book by Toni Negri.

Chi furono in Italia i filosofi del novecento? Negri dà una risposta che susciterà molto stupore, molto scalpore e molto furore. Per Negri, spazzati via con mano impaziente quei pensatori che sono il nostro abituale riferimento, i veri filosofi sono invece coloro che hanno inventato e lavorato su un concetto: il concetto di differenza. “Il fatto è,” dice Negri, “che differenza è resistenza … Una differenza creativa, un esodo intenso e radicale.” E sono anche coloro che, pur non non creando scuole, hanno lasciato discendenze: “Le forme, i modi, i contenuti, le prospettive della differenza sono usciti dai seminari e dai laboratori: essi operano e sono oggi sviluppati e reinventati nei movimenti e nelle nuove reti sociali della cooperazione produttiva.” Un vero sasso lanciato nei giardini della filosofia e del pensiero politico italiano, da quel concretissimo visionario, quell'impenitente rivoluzionario e quel grande pensatore conosciuto sotto il nome di Toni Negri.

First three pages here.

Negri nominates as the three philosophers who made a difference in 20th century Italy those who worked on the concept of difference: Gramsci, Tronti, Muraro.

Here is an announcement for his public dialogue with Muraro in Milano, which would be fascinating since, unlike Tronti, he has never really engaged her thought.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Agamben, From Political Theology to Economic Theology

Rough translation of an interview with Giorgio Agamben by Gianluca Sacco


At a recent confernce on Walter Benjamin held in Rome at the end of last year Giorgio Agamben presented a paper that anticipates some results of his current research on ‘economic theology’. We interviewed him about this topic and its possible connections with the issue of this magazine that was also inspired by this talk.

The interview was held in Agamben’s house in Rome on Monday 8 March 2004.

Giorgio Agamben, your last book State of Exception, published less than a year ago, locates itself within the project of Homo Sacer, your work from the mid-1990s that deals with themes of ‘sovereign power’, ‘bare life’, and the ‘concentration camp’ as the nomos of the modern. A complex work that positions itself in the wake of the thematics and methodologies of Foucault. Does your new research on economic theology place itself on this same horizon?

I see my work as definitely close to Foucault. In my last two projects on the ‘state of exception’ and ‘economic theology,’ I sought to apply the same genealogical and paradigmatic method practiced by Foucault. On the other hand, Foucault worked in many areas, but the two that he left out were precisely the law and theology. It seemed natural for me to address my two latest studies in this direction.

How then did you come to rediscover this ‘disavowed’ concept of economic theology and when did you decide to make it ‘paradigmatic’ for your research?

I found the impetus for the research in the studies I was doing for the last few years on Schmitt and his Political Theology and in particular in my exploration of the debate between Carl Schmitt and Erik Petersen, which took place more or less from 1935 through to 1970.

I was working on the same theologians (the early apologetics, Justinius, Ignatius, and Tertullian) that Petersen analysed in his book on monotheism (in order to redsicover the origins of the political theology that he wanted to criticise). I realised that at the centre of these texts were not only and not so much the concepts of monarchy and political theology that Petersen wanted to reconstruct but another concept: oikonomia. It was a curious fact that every time this concept appeared Petersen interrupted the citation. Rereading these texts, I asked myself why this concept was being removed. In this way, I realised that the concept of oikonomia was central for these authors and I tried to construct a genealogy for it.

Immediately it became clear to me that from christian theology there derive two political paradigms (in the wide sense): political theology, which locates in the one God the transcedence of sovereign power, and economic theology, which substitutes the idea of oikonomia, conceived as an immanent order—domestic and not political in the strict sense, as much a part of human as of divine life. From political theology derives the political philosophy and modern theory of sovereignty; from economic theology derives modern biopolitics, up until the current triumph of the economy over every aspect of social life.

The book I am writing was born with this realisation. I have tried to reconstruct the origin of the theological concept of oikonomia, and then, in the second part, to follow its disappearance and secularisation in the modern. It seems to me that at a certain point this concept disappeared and reemerged with the birth of animal economy and political economy in the 18th century.

So you are in open disagreement with the univocal attention given by both Petersen and Schmitt to the connection between theology and politics. An attention so particular as to be suspect. But in your opinion were they aware of this removal of oikonomia from the theological horizon?

Undoubtedly! The theological culture of Petersen was vast and it is unthinkable that he would avoid the problem. He interrupts the citations, in Tertullian for example, exactly when the word oikonomia occurs. Schmitt, on his part, saw clearly what he called the triumph of the economy and the depoliticisation of the world that it implied in modernity; but for him it was strategically important to deny that this development had a theological aspect. Not only because this would have meant giving a license of theological nobility to economics, but also and above all because it would have put in question the very theological-political paradigm that was close to his heart.

Let’s return to the beginning of your reconstructive research and to the concept of oikonomia censored by Petersen but used precisely in patristic theology. The natural reference would seem to be to Aristotle, even if his concept is very different from the current significance of economy. But what notion did the early church fathers have of it?

Obviously the term oikonomia used by these theologians was the same as Aristotle’s, which in Greek described first of all the administration of the household. But the oikos, the Greek household, was a complex organism with different interwined relations, stretching from family ties in the strictest sense to master-slave relations and the management of agricultural enterprises of often large dimensions. What holds these relations together is a paradigm that we can define as ‘managerial’: it is a system that is neither held down by a set of norms nor constitutes an episteme. It is a science in its own right but one that requires different decisions and dispositions to confront specific problems. In this sense, a correct translation of the term oikonomia would be, as Lidell-Scott suggests, management.

But why did the early church fathers need this concept?

The need arose during the 2nd century with the emergence of what later (with the Councils of Nice and Constantinople) would become the dogma of the trinity. The fathers who began to elaborate the trinity had before them the so called monarchists, who held that God was one and that by introducing the other two divine figures there was a risk of falling into polytheism. The problem was how to reconcile the trinity, from which they could not back away, with monarchism or monotheism, which was also unrenouncable. Oikonomia was the concept, the instrument or organ that rendered possible this conception and transition. The reasoning is simple: as much as God is one in his essence and his nature, he can, in the management of his oikonomia, oikos or household, have a son and divide himself in three. The managerial paradigm of the oikos is what renders possible the reconcilation of the trinity and monotheism.

What are the implications of this terminological choice?

For Aristotle oikos and polis are opposites and economy and politcs are separate like the house is distinct from the city, that is, in a substantial and not a quantitative way. In Xenophon it is already different. In the Stoics the two concepts tend to become indeterminate. What is interesting, from my point of view, is that the christian theologians make the concept of oikonomia the essential theological paradigm. The question that spontaneously sprung up at this point was: why do theologians understand divine life and the divine government of the earth as an economy and not as politics?

You said before that at a certain point this economic reference disappears from the trinitarian concept, why?

The reasons are obvious even if they are never explicit. By the time of Nice and the grand councils, we see the development of a sophisticiated theological-philosophical vocabulary, like the concept of homoousia, the unity of substance. Oikonomia, which was the initial paradigm in which the trinity was thought, became a kind of pundenda origo that had to be put aside.

What we are recovering then is a history of theological ideas that at a certain point abandons the clear reference to the oikonomia of the trinity. But when does it reemerge? Do we have to wait for Schelling, as you suggested briefly at the conference on Benjamin, or does it reappear, if only rhapsodically, in other periods and historical contexts?

Part of the work I want to do is to reconstruct this intermediate phase. Because what happens is that at a certain point the concept of oikonomia becomes confounded with that of pronoia or providence. With Clement of Alexandria the fusion has already taken place. Clement clearly says that oikonomia would be irrational and absurd if if did not take the form of a divine providence that guides history.

And here the discourse becomes, in my opinion, very interesting. It has been said many times that the ancients had a cyclical view of time, while the conception of history, philosopy and christian theology is linear. With Clement and Origen, when we see born the first embryo of a christian conception of history, it presents itself, with a singular reversal of a Pauline expression, as a ‘mystery of the economy’. History is thus a mysterious economy, a divine mystery that is the object of the christian revelation, and that man must therefore attempt to decipher. Hegel (and Marx after him) will not do anything but pick up this paradigm to definitively reveal the mystery.

Have you already had the time to verify that in the texts of Hegel, for instance in the early theological writings, there is in some sense a reference to the theological-economic mystery of history?

I think you can say that the difference between Hegel and Schelling is two different ways of understanding the theological heritage of oikonomia.

But to close the Hegelian parentheses, and returning to history as an economic mystery, what remains particularly interesting about this concept?

On the one hand, it is basically through this mystery of economy that the first embryo of a concept of the history of christianity appears. On the other hand, divine life as much as the divine governance of the world and the course of history reveal that this divine plan of the world is an economy and not a politics. As I said before, what is significant is that an economic theology and not a political theology derives from christian theology. Political theology can affirm itself only by suspending economic theology: thus the Schmittian doctrine of kat-echon, which is a suspension or dilation of the economic plane that rules the world. According to Schmitt, political theology can found itself only through a deferral or dilation of the economy.

In this way we arrive at the modern concept of economy that Weber, in a certain sense, found to have a theological origin in his well-known work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. But before asking you about the century that has just passed, I want to ask if you have also confronted the relations between ethics, economy, and theology in Spinoza, particularly in Tracatatus theologico politico.

This is a problem that I haven’t yet confronted. What I am quite certain about, however, is that the economic paradigm, which continued in a subterranean way throughout the medieval period, reappears in the 17th century with Leibnizian debate on the theodicy and in the 18th century with the emergence of animal economy. In the Encylopedia of Diderot and D’Alambert there are two distinct entries: political economy and animal economy. These are two things that have nothing to do with each other, since animal economy refers to medicine and natural science while political economy is close to our own notion of political economy. I believe I can demonstrate that animal economy derives from the paradigm of economic theology. And if you consider that the 18th century authors (Quesnay and the other physiocrats) who are at the beginning of political economy also wrote tracts of animal economy, it is possible to advance the hypothesis of a theological genealogy for the modern economy.

In the Schmittian phraseology could you say that the modern economy is a secularisation of economic theology?

I don’t think that’s exactly right. What I am proposing is rather to reconstruct the often forgotten history of economic theology and to identify marks and traces of its influence upon the birth of political economy. Adam Smith’s notion of the ‘invisible hand’ is definitely one of these traces.

At this point, having just cited Smith on the invisible hand and following your interpretation of providence, there springs to mind the analogy between the state of exception and the concept of the theological miracle perceived by Schmitt and taken up by Benjamin. Isn’t there a relation between this reference to the miracle, the state of exception and the paradigm of economic theology that seems to traverse theology, economics, and the politics of right?

Certainly. One of the results of my research on the state of exception was precisely the idea of a double structure to the juridical-political order of the West, which seemed based on both a normative and juridical element and an anomic and extra-juridical element. Economic theology, insofar as it is essentially a managerial and non-normative paradigm, is certainly part of the state of exception.

In this way the economy would then show its true face: the political mask is removed and the government of economy (or more precisely economic theology) appears. Can we define this process, following Schmitt’s terminology, as desecularisation: from the economy to theology? Or do the terms stay the same, with the economy doing nothing but taking the place of law and politics, where at base it always was?

Let’s say that the current dominance of the economy already had its paradigm in oikonomia. It is true that rule and governance were always intertwined in the past and that history is nothing but their intertwining. But from the start, at least from the theological viewpoint, what was dominant was the paradigm of government, economy, and divine life.

In philosophical terms, this corresponds to the division between an ontological paradigm (being, divine substance) and an absolutely pragmatic paradigm. The dominance of ontology has hidden the presence of the economic-pragmatic element, which has been just as important and perhaps in the end more decisive. Today the situation is reversed. But both elements are necessary for the functioning of the system.

Staying within philosophical terms and in particular with early philosophy, is this a reappearance of the dichotomy between Plato and Aristotle?

It’s always difficult to trace things back. You can find everything in anything. But I would say that Aristotle bequeathes to the West first philosophy, ontology, and the doctrine of being. Plato is rather the progenitor of the ethos, of that which goes beyond being, of the pragmatic-political element.

Returning for the moment to the Aristotelean oikonomia, I detected in the brief intervention you made at the Benjamin conference, an attempt to interpret the essence of capitalism that, beginning with the concepts of master and slave in Aristotle’s Politics, finishes today with a kind of ‘immamentisation’ of this same economic theology.

To say that I am trying to reconstruct the essence of capitalism is definitely excessive. Certainly the idea of an immanent order is essential, and you find it also in ancient philosophy, from Aristotle to Xenophon. It is well known that the Greek economy was not an economy of production but the management of the household, of the order of things. The search for profit and earnings was outside of ancient economics. I think, though, that the idea of order that we are used to thinking of as secondary to the modern economy constitutes an essential presupposition that links ancient and modern economics. The theological paradigm respresents a kind of mediating element between them.

To conclude, let’s reconsider the moniker of Gentili ‘Silete theologi munere alieno’ (theologians should mind their own business). At this point, should theology speak and in what regard?

I would suggest to anyone who really wants to understand what is happening today not to neglect theology.

One of the things that surprised me the most when I began to work on the problem of oikonomia is that I thought I could find volumes and volumes on the concept of economy in the theological libraries. But I found next to nothing. You need to read closely within the monographs on single authors to find the point analysed. It’s unbelievable but there is no global work on this concept.

In State of Exception, when I paraphrased the monkier of Alberico Gentili, I was provoking jurists to confront this juridical condition from their own viewpoint. Today I am inviting theologians to do the same, to confront as theologians the problem of oikonomia, the removal of which has had sinister consequences both in theology and politics.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Europa, Europa

The bureaucracy is the imaginary state alongside the real state; it is the spiritualism of the state. As a result everything has a double meaning, one real and one bureaucratic, just as knowledge is double, one real and one bureaucratic (and the same with the will). A real thing, however, is treated according to its bureaucratic essence, according to its otherworldly, spiritual essence. The bureaucracy has the being of the state, the spiritual being of society, in its possession; it is its private property. The general spirit of the bureaucracy is the secret, the mystery, preserved inwardly by means of the hierarchy and externally as a closed corporation. To make public -the mind and the disposition of the state appears therefore to the bureaucracy as a betrayal of its mystery.

Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right