Several months ago, I wrote that I was struck by the fact that three different corruptions of the common offered by Commonwealth, family, corporation, and the state, are the three different institutions/concepts of civil society in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. The same figures are repeated, but the massive, some would say overpowering, dialectical structure is missing.
Thus I was struck again to find something of a similar return, only more explicit, in Etienne Balibar’s Violence et Civilité*. Balibar considers Hegel’s Philosophy of Right under the general rubric of civility, the third of his three concepts of politics, after emancipation and transformation, and the one most explicitly concerned with the problem of violence and anti-violence. (All translations here are mine)
“…The idea that is at the heart of the problematic of Sittlichkeit is that of a dialectic of deconstruction and reconstruction of belonging, which profoundly defines a certain modality of political subjectivation: from this point of view, the life and liberty of the individual consists in what is effectively a permanent play between two poles which cannot be abstractly opposed to each other and which also provide an immediately transindividual character to self-consciousness, making the constitution of the “self” a function of its relation to the other”
For Balibar, family, civil society, and the state are as much particular modalities of subjectivation, particular articulations of the transindividual, as they are institutions. Balibar’s reading of Hegel is not without its critiques and reservations. These reservations take on a historical, almost empirical, dimension. As Balibar argues Hegel underestimated the violence contained in civil society, a violence that requires an equally violent, or excessive, nationalism in order to hold it in check. There are thus echoes of Balibar’s claim that Marx should be understood as an active incompletion of Hegel’s politics, interrupting the smooth transition from the particular to the universal with the violence of class struggle. This violence cannot be subsumed, or converted, by any philosophy of history: it is not history advancing by its bad side.
“The reading of Capital, coming after the Hegelian philosophy of history, appears thus as an immense demonstration of the fact that much of the violence at work in history has been ignored, or denied by Hegel, as by all of the representatives of the ideology of progress, despite their dialectical ambitions.”
The dialectic is simultaneously affirmed and denied: one divides into two. It is affirmed as a transindividual constitution of subjectivity, as the generation and corruption and subjectivity, without telos or end. It is criticized, however, as a matrix for the interpretation of history, one that subsumes all violence into the order of history. There is no passage from the conflict of particularity to the universality of the state, just the constant interplay between citizen and bourgeois, “man without qualities” and “man of qualities.” Balibar’s reference here is to Marx’s “On the Jewish Question,” suggesting that the bourgeois, civil society, is not the truth of the state, but one pole of identity that is torn between quality and universality, civil society and state. (This is similar to Jameson’s recent book)
What is striking, beyond the revival of the Philosophy of Right, a revival that is somewhat different than the much touted philosophy of recognition, is the way that this general formula, the destruction and generation of subjectivation, also makes its appearance in philosophies which are explicitly anti-dialectical, namely Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari. This tendency is taken to its extreme in Maurizio Lazzarato’s Expérimentations Politiques. As Lazzarato writes, drawing from Guattari and Duchamp:
“It is in order to activate and put to work this creative potentiality that [Félix] Guattari makes an appeal to artistic techniques insofar as they are techniques of “rupture” and “suture,” of desubjectivation and subjectivation, abandoning of roles and functions that we are assigned, and seizing new realities and subjectivities. What in the turn towards these techniques is useful for the process of subjectivation in general? In the traditional workers movement, the rupture was overdetermined by a dualism (worker/capitalist) which delimited its possibilities. It acted as a totalizing and predetermined break, the outlines of which were, in a certain fashion, already traced. History has been the history of class struggle since the very beginning, and it would be abolished by the same class struggle. The question of suture (of organization, of the composition/constitution) would follow from this rupture. It would already be traced, since class struggle not only defined the conditions of rupture, but also the conditions of composition, of its evolution and development, the passage from class in itself to class for itself, to resume the terms of its original formulation. In contemporary capitalism, alongside the dualistic divisions, it produces fractal and differential ruptures, which are open to partial liberties and subjectivations that are not predetermined by any “structures.” Artistic practices can thus aid in seizing the unpredictable developments of these ruptures and works through always partial compositions.”
There is much of Lazzarato’s book that I like: the emphasis on the aesthetic dimension of the constitution of subjectivity, in which aesthetic is as the general transformation of sensibility and perception (hence the importance of Duchamp). However, in this latest book, as in the earlier Les Révolutions du Capitalisme, Lazzarato takes as a polemical opponent a Marxism, and a dialectic, that almost no one actually believes in. It is a strawman, and it definitely lacks a brain. It is governed by the stark oppositions between subject/object and worker/capital, oppositions which always overdetermine the sheer plurality of existence.
My intent here is not to make Hegel inescapable once again, to show that he has anticipated and answered all objections in advance. I want to simply propose that “subjectivation” and “desubjectivation” are not the outside of Hegel’s thought. More to the point, I would like to argue for nuance in relation to dialectical thought, to put an end to categorical opposition to THE dialectic, which is only ever a caricature, produced ironically by those who claim to espouse philosophies of difference. It is also to argue for a materialist dialectic in multiple senses. As Balibar argues, Marx’s interruption of the Hegelian dialectic is less about dualism or teleology than it is about contesting the smooth transition from civil society to the universality of the state. Which is not to dismiss the materialist dimension of Lazzarato’s critique, of the emphasis on the constitution of subjectivity through sensibility, belief, and desire. Hegel’s description of the family and the state encompasses some of this, but it must be liberated from its progress and telos, to encompass the multiple intersections of structures, subjectivations, and contradictions.
*= Violence et Civilité is largely made up of Balibar's Wellek library lectures, the same series that Judith Butler gave her lectures on Antigone and Jameson gave his lectures that became The Seeds of Time. Balibar's lectures were recently published in French, but have yet to appear in the series by Columbia University that has published past lectures.