Sun 01 Dec 2019 05:04:05 PM -03

  • Athor: Dimitris Vardoulakis
  • References:
  • Topics:
    • Ruse of sovereignty.
    • Diference between justification and judgement.


This question would be trivial if sovereignty is under­
stood simply as the sovereignty of specific states. The
question is pertinent when we consider the vio­lence
functioning as the structural princi­ple of sovereignty.
Sovereignty can only persist and the state that it sup­
ports can only ever reproduce its structures—­political,
economic, ­legal, and so on—­through recourse to certain
forms of vio­lence. Such vio­lence is at its most effective
the less vis­i­ble and hence the less bloody it is. This in­
sight has been developed brilliantly by thinkers such
as Gramsci, u
­ nder the rubric of hegemony; Althusser,
through the concept of ideology; and Foucault, as the
notion of power. It is in this context that we should also
consider Carl Schmitt’s definition of the po­liti­cal as the
identification of the e ­ nemy. They all agree on the essen­
tial or structural vio­lence defining sovereignty—­their
divergent accounts of that vio­lence notwithstanding.
The prob­lem of a space outside sovereignty is com­


Posing the question of an outside to sovereignty
within the context of the mechanism of exclusion turns
the spotlight to what I call the ruse of sovereignty. This
essentially consists in the paradox that the assertion of
a space outside sovereignty is nothing other than the as­
sertion of an excluded space and consequently signals
the mobilization of the logic of sovereignty.


To put this in the vocabulary used h
­ ere, the at-
tempt to exclude exclusion is itself exclusory and thus
reproduces the logic of exclusion.


Turning to Solon’s first demo­cratic constitution,
I ­will suggest in this book that it is pos­si­ble by identify­
ing the conflictual nature of democracy—or what the
ancient Greeks called stasis. Agonistic monism holds
that stasis is the definitional characteristic of democ­
racy and of any other pos­si­ble constitutional form. Sta­
sis or conflict as the basis of all po­liti­cal arrangements
then becomes another way of saying that democracy is
the form of e ­ very constitution. Hence, stasis comes be-
fore any conception of the state that relies on the ruse of

The obvious objection to this position would be about
the nature of this conflict. Hobbes makes the state of
nature — which he explic­itly identifies with democracy —­
also the precondition of the commonwealth. Schmitt
defines the po­liti­cal as the identification of the enemy.


ent power. Is t ­ here a way out of this entangled knot?
Antonio Negri’s most significant contribution to po­
liti­cal philosophy is, in my opinion, precisely at this
juncture. His intervention starts with his book on Spi­
noza, The Savage Anomaly, in which he distinguishes
between potentia (constituent power) and potestas (con­
stituted power). 20 It is most explic­itly treated in Insur-
gencies, which provides an account of the development
of constituent power in philosophical texts from early
modernity onward and examines the function of con­
stituent power in significant historical events. 21 The
starting premise of this investigation is the rejection of
ent power. Is t ­ here a way out of this entangled knot?
Antonio Negri’s most significant contribution to po­
liti­cal philosophy is, in my opinion, precisely at this
juncture. His intervention starts with his book on Spi­
noza, The Savage Anomaly, in which he distinguishes
between potentia (constituent power) and potestas (con­
stituted power). 20 It is most explic­itly treated in Insur-
gencies, which provides an account of the development
of constituent power in philosophical texts from early
modernity onward and examines the function of con­
stituent power in significant historical events. 21 The
starting premise of this investigation is the rejection of
and avoiding the ruse of sovereignty. 23
The appeal to constituent power gives Negri the means
to provide an account of democracy as creative activity.
This has a wide spectrum of aspects and implications
that I can only gesture t ­ oward ­here. For instance, this
approach shows how democracy requires a convergence
of the ontological, the ethical, and the political—­which
is also a position central to my own proj­ect (see Thesis
6). Consequently, democracy is not reducible to a con­
stituted form, and thus Negri can provide a nonrepre­
sen­ta­tional account of democracy. This is impor­tant
because it enables Marx’s own distaste for representative
democracy to resonate with con­temporary sociology
and po­liti­cal economy—­a proj­ect that starts with Negri’s
involvement in Italian workerism and culminates in his
collaborations with Michael Hardt. Besides the details,
which Negri has been developing for four de­cades, the
impor­tant point is that this description of democracy
and constituent power is consistently juxtaposed to the
po­liti­cal tradition that privileges constituted power and
sovereignty. 24

There is, however, a significant drawback in Negri’s
approach. It concerns the lack of a consistent account of
vio­lence in his work.


Without a
consideration of vio­lence, radical democracy ­w ill never
discover its agonistic aspect, namely, that conflict or
stasis is the precondition of the po­liti­cal and that, as
such, all po­liti­cal forms are effects of the demo­cratic. In
other words, Negri’s obfuscation of the question of vio­
lence can never lead to agonistic monism.

Production of the real:

Second, the state of emergency leading to justification
does not have to be “real”—it simply needs to be credi­
ble. Truth or falsity are not properties of power—as Fou­
cault very well recognized—­and the reason for this, I
would add, is that power’s justifications are rhetorical
strategies and hence unconcerned with validity. This is
the point where my account significantly diverges from


If we are to understand better sovereign vio­lence, we
need to investigate further the ways in which vio­lence is
justified. Sovereignty uses justification rhetorically. In­
stead of being concerned with w
­ hether the justifications
of actions are true or false, sovereignty is concerned
with ­whether its justifications are believed by ­those it af­


Greek po­liti­cal philosophy. 4 Hannah Arendt also pays
par­tic­u­lar attention to this meta­phor. According to Ar­
endt, Plato needs the meta­phor of the politician as a
craftsman in order to compensate for the lack of the no­
tion of authority in Greek thought. ­These Platonic meta­
phorics include the meta­phor of the statesman as a
physician who heals an ailing polis. 5 The meta­phor of
craftsmanship is used as a justification of po­liti­cal power.
craftsmanship is used as a justification of po­liti­cal power.
The meta­phor persists in modernity, and we can find
examples much closer to home. Mao Zedong justifies
the purges of the Cultural Revolution on the following
grounds: “Our object in exposing errors and criticizing
shortcomings is like that of curing a disease. The entire
purpose is to save the person.” 6 Whoever does not con­
form to the Maoist ideal is “ill” and needs to be “cured.”
Similarly, George Papadopoulos, the col­o­nel who headed
the Greek junta from 1967 to 1974, repeatedly described
Greece as an ill patient requiring an operation. The dic­
tatorial regime justified its vio­lence by drawing an anal­
ogy of its exceptional powers to the powers of the head
surgeon in a hospital emergency room. Th
­ ese operations
on “patients” took place not in hospitals but in dark po­
lice cells or in vari­ous forms of prisons or concentration
camps. And the instruments of the “operations” ­were
not t ­ hose of the surgeon but rather of the torturer and
in many cases also of the executioner. The analogy be­
tween the surgeon and the torturer is mobilized to pro­
vide reasons for the exercise of vio­lence. An emergency
mobilizes rhetorical strategies that justify vio­lence, ir­
respective of the fact that such a justification may be
completely fabulatory.

-- 32-33

Razão instrumental:

Let us return to consider more carefully how sover­
eign vio­lence always strives for justification. This means
that we can characterize the acts of sovereignty as con­
forming to a rationalized instrumentalism. Sovereign
vio­lence is instrumental in the sense that it always aims
toward something—it is not vio­
lence for vio­
sake. This means that the desired outcome of sover­
eign vio­lence is calculated with the help of reason. The
extrapolation of vio­lence in instrumental terms is noth­
ing new. For instance, Hannah Arendt pres­ents instru­
mentalism as the defining feature of vio­lence. 7 Yet the
instrumentalism of sovereign vio­lence is not as self-­
evident as it may at first appear. For instance, as Fran­
çois Jullien shows, the conception of an instrumental
thinking as appropriate to the po­liti­cal arises in ancient
Greece, and it does not characterize the Chinese cul­
ture, including even the ways in which warfare is con­
ceived. 8 The impor­tant point, then, is to remember that
the instrumentality of reason in the ser­v ice of a justifi­
cation of vio­lence is a characteristic of sovereignty as it
is developed in the Western po­liti­cal and philosophical
The “invention” of the instrumentality of reason is
an impor­tant moment in the history of thought, and
its “inventors,” the ancient Greeks, amply recognized its
importance. In fact, their tragedies are concerned pre­
cisely with the clash between the older forms of thinking
and new forms exemplified by instrumental reason. The
best example of this is perhaps the Oresteia. In the first
play of the trilogy, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife,
Clytemnestra. In the second play, Orestes, Agamem­
non’s son, responds by killing his ­mother. In the third
play, the Eumenides, the court of Athens is called to de­
cide w
­ hether Orestes’s murder was justified. The alter­
natives are that he is e ­ ither guilty of matricide pure and
simple or that his act was a po­liti­cal one aiming to ­free
Argos of a tyrant. Th
­ ere is, then, a standstill or stasis—­
and I draw again attention to this word, to which I w
­ ill
return ­later—­between the two dif­fer­ent l ­ egal frame­
works: one legality privileging kinship, the other privi­
leging instrumental rationality whereby the murder of
Clytemnestra is justified by the end of saving the city
from a tyrant. The judges’ vote is a tie, at which point
the goddess Athena, who presides over the proceedings,
casts the vote to f ­ ree Orestes of the charge of matricide.
Calculative reason prevails as the mode of the po­liti­cal.
But at the same time, it should not be forgotten that the
vote was equally split. For the ancient Athenians, it is
impossible to reconcile the two dif­fer­ent legalities—­the
politics of kinship and the politics of instrumental
reason. Justice persists in this irreconcilability, despite
its tragic consequences.

-- 33-35

Soberania como persuasão e interpretação:

In other words, the absoluteness of
sovereignty has nothing to do with the power of sover­
eignty as it is exercised through its institutions—­the
police, the army, the judiciary, and so on. Rather, the
absoluteness of sovereignty is an expression of the rhe­
torical and logical mechanisms whereby sovereignty
uses the justification of vio­lence to dominate public de­
bate and to persuade the citizens. The exercise of sover­
eignty is the effect of an interpretative pro­cess. Differently
put, this entails that the justification of vio­lence is more
primary than the legitimate forms assumed by constituded power.
Without an effective justification, any government loses its
mandate to govern, even though its
decisions and po­liti­cal actions, its policies, and its legis­
lative agenda may perfectly conform to the law of the

-- 52-53


How can democracy as the other of sovereignty be
mobilized to respond to sovereignty’s justification of
vio­lence? This final question is, I believe, the most fun­
damental po­liti­cal question. It essentially asks about
the relation of sovereignty and democracy. What is re­
quired at this juncture in order to broach the relation
between democracy and sovereignty further is a better
determination of democracy.

-- 53

The first ever democracy was instituted through the Solonian reforms that were introduced to counteract a chronical political no less than social crisis in Athens. The crisis was the result of a protracted animosity between the rich and the poor parties. The confrontation was largely because of material inequalities, such as the requirement to hold property in order to be a citizen, and the economic inequalities that were threatening to turn into slaves a large portion of the poor population who had defaulted on their payments. Unsurprisingly, given the sensitivity of these issues, tensions ran high, and the city often found itself in conflict or stasis, with the two sides taking arms against each other. The situation had reached an acute crisis, at which point the Athenians re­ solved that they had to take decisive action. They turned to Solon, who was largely viewed as impartial and wise, to write a new constitution for the city. He responded by compiling the first ever democratic constitution.


The crisis is the condition of citizenship and residency within Athens and even of the possibility of the operation of the state. Solon's law does not describe mea­sures whereby the crisis can be avoided. Instead, it describes how everyone is required to participate in it -- as if the aim is to accentuate the crisis. Those who avoid conflict will be punished. The democratic overcoming of crisis consists in the institutionalization of crisis within the constitution. According to Solon, his fellow Athenians need to recognize the illusion that the implementation of measures can always prevent crisis. According to Solon, democracy consists in the dispelling of that illusion. This does not mean that certain measures or policies cannot and should not be devised to ameliorate or evade predictable crises. Rather, it highlights that such mea­sures are never adequate. Or, to put it the other way around, Solon sees crisis as a way of being, as a condition of existence, and he is determined that his democratic constitution aknowledges this.

-- 57-58

Democracy does not seek to be charitable to the other but instead affords the other the respect to give them a voice to express their opinions as well as to debate and rebuke these opinions.

-- 73

These insights amount to saying that a democratic being is conflictual -- which is to say that it cannot find certainty in any political regime promising unity or in a state characterized by order, peace, and stability. Rather, democracy in this sense is a regime that is inherently open to the possibility of conflict without any underlying structure to regulate this conflict or to resolve it to some­ thing posited as higher.

-- 76