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Of course, we may be tempted to ask, to what extent are the masses, or rather the multitude , the subject or object of politics? As both Macherey and Negri note, this is not to be understood simply as another figure in a political typology of forms of government, but is an immanent tendency of political life, inscribed in the dynamic of reason and into the vicissitudes of human nature.
Or, as Balibar puts it, democracy is both a kind of political order and the truth of every political order. Democracy can also be understood as the power of the multitude coordinated, cultivated and instituted without the imaginary displacement represented by sovereignty, by the alienation of the power of human singularities into the empty and formally unified place of power the Hobbesian option, as it were.
And, one should add, how does it continue and persevere, how is power not just originated, but also continuously constructed, in and by the multitude?
The key notion at this juncture is that of the striving for self-preservation, of the conatus of both individual and State, which is intimately connected in Spinoza to the extremely provocative thesis of the identity of right and power though, as ever we should understand this as potentia , power to, and not potestas , power over.
Natural right is recast by Spinoza as the power to act. How then does this equation of right and power translate into a treatment of the mass or multitude? But, we may ask, is there a dichotomy then between the construction and the restriction of the multitude? Or could we think both in term of immanent practices of self-limitation? These questions are then complicated by the reciprocal fear of the masses and of political authorities, as well as by the strife and antagonism at the heart of the multitude itself.
In this framework, institutions are always ambivalent , though their first role is to stem the tide of fear arising out of our mortal awareness of chance and of violence. Rulers and ruled, sovereign and citizens, all belong to the multitude. However, Balibar remains sceptical about the multitude qua multitude.
It is a medium for the amplification of passions and the imitation of the affects. Embedding decision in the masses is thus a strategy of stability which monarchy is immanently led towards, for instance.
As Balibar shows, in democracy this obedience cancels itself out in the reciprocal love of men and the love of God. There is nothing more miserable, sadder, than intellectual, moral and political solitude. Furthermore, thought is, in the final analysis, de facto inalienable, any attempt to strip this minimum of humanity or irreducible minimum of individuality and autonomy can only result in the eventual explosion of antagonism and the ruin of the commonwealth.
The genesis of society is in any case both reasonable and passionate, for such is human nature. In the construction of society as an extension, resolution and amplification of human nature men communicate affects and reason to one another. What is at stake in political change is the transformation of collective temperament.
But the very idea of communication now loses any hint of liberalism, becoming a superior transindividual quality of the experienced cooperative power in which we become aware that we are eternal. We will then be able to experience the omnino absolutum imperium of democracy not as utopia, limit-stage or promised land, but rather in our everyday life, in an intellectual and affective activity in which we are the adequate cause of our own preservation.
This allows us to juxtapose the reason embodied in a communicable good and the barbarism which dominates a community of fear and of non-cooperative imitation imitation of fear, or fascination. In communication we thus see how conatus of self-preservation and cooperation turn out to be one and the same. Now the multitude can move beyond its fear and its ambivalence and be communicatively redefined as an exchange and free communication between irreducibly singular beings.
So what we are dealing with is not just the freedom of thought but necessarily the freedom of communication. In conclusion, for Balibar:. In Deleuze, we encounter most powerfully the notion that Spinoza does away with a pre-existence of Good and Evil as external standards for disembodied judgment, for the sake of an understanding of ethics as an immanent evaluation of ways of life.
As he writes:. There is in Nature neither Good nor Evil, there is no moral opposition, but there is an ethical difference. This ethical difference appears in various, equivalent forms: that between the reasonable man and the foolish, the wise and the ignorant, free man and slave, strong and weak. And wisdom or reason have in fact no other content but strength, freedom. This ethical difference […] relates to the kind of affections that determine our conatus Deleuze The plane of immanence is juxtaposed to a plan or plane of organisation, where every relation and every production is always referred back to an independent and external principle, a principle which is itself immune from relationality and construction.
As always with Spinoza this is not simply an ontological or epistemological thesis but has profound ethico-political consequences. This juxtaposition of plane of immanence and plan of organisation is also expressed as the crucial distinction between ethics and morality. Moreover, it also implies a completely different understanding of the concept of law, whether in scientific e.
In other words law and sovereignty is never separable from its execution, from its power of application. This is, for Deleuze, the very meaning of culture as an apprenticeship where passion and reason are commingled under the guidance of the latter. It is no longer a matter of utilizations or captures, but of sociabilities and communities. How do individuals enter into composition with one another in order to form a higher individual, ad infinitum?
Is it not the case that the political dimension introduces fresh challenges and aporias, such as the one of the collective construction of freedom, into the serenity of ethical apprenticeship? In other words, what happens to the plane of immanence when it is fully socialized? This is, I would venture, perhaps the best point of approach into the interpretive project of Antonio Negri. Via Spinoza we are thus confronted, in this contemporary Spinozism, with a concept of the composition of behaviour, of ethical life not built upon the identity of a fixed subject Deleuze , with a notion of communication that does not restrict it to the transmission of content or the deliberation among rational beings, but conceives as the rational and passional medium of politics Balibar and finally with a concept of constitution as the persistent collective construction of a common political project of the multitude, as opposed to a fixed set of norms regulating, a priori and externally, the behaviour of subjects Negri.
Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. As he writes: There is in Nature neither Good nor Evil, there is no moral opposition, but there is an ethical difference. In Conclusion Via Spinoza we are thus confronted, in this contemporary Spinozism, with a concept of the composition of behaviour, of ethical life not built upon the identity of a fixed subject Deleuze , with a notion of communication that does not restrict it to the transmission of content or the deliberation among rational beings, but conceives as the rational and passional medium of politics Balibar and finally with a concept of constitution as the persistent collective construction of a common political project of the multitude, as opposed to a fixed set of norms regulating, a priori and externally, the behaviour of subjects Negri.
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Spinoza and Politics
Spinoza and Politics. With Hobbes and Locke, Spinoza is arguably one of the most important political philosophers of the modern era, a premier theoretician of democracy and mass politics. In this revised and augmented English translation of his classic, Spinoza et la Politique , Etienne Balibar presents a synoptic account of Spinoza's major works in relation to the political and historical conjuncture in which they were written. Balibar admirably demonstrates, through fine readings of the principal treatises, Spinoza's relevance to contemporary political life.
The Politics of Spinozism – Composition and Communication (Part 2 of 2)
With Hobbes and Locke, Spinoza is arguably one of the most important political philosophers of the modern era, a premier theoretician of democracy and mass politics. Category: Philosophy. Add to Cart. Also available from:. Paperback —. About Spinoza and Politics With Hobbes and Locke, Spinoza is arguably one of the most important political philosophers of the modern era, a premier theoretician of democracy and mass politics. Also in Radical Thinkers.