Autonomism - Antonio Negri

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Dedicated to the writings of the Autonomist Left: including, but not limited to Antonio Negri.
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17.07.2017 22:14
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Financial capitalism seems to be driven by a form of nihilism. It is worth exploring the philosophical implications of this word, whose root is the Latin word for 'nothing', nihil. In Nietzsche, the concept of nihilism refers to the absence of an ontological foundation of judgement. In his vision, moral judgement is not based on a metaphysical basis, but on the will of men.
In The Dawn of Day the philosopher writes:

'The illusion of the moral order of the Universe. –There is no 'eternal justice' which requires that every fault shall be atoned and paid for, –the belief that such a justice existed was a terrible delusion, and useful only to a limited extent; just as it is also a delusion that everything is guilt which is felt as such. It is not the things themselves, but the opinions about things that do not exist, which have been such a source of trouble to mankind.'

According to Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche's thought, the absence of a metaphysical truth, and the consequent lack of objectively existing moral values, confers the responsibility of knowledge and moral choice to the act of interpretation, and to the act of will. We could call this conception a form of 'hermeneutic nihilism'.

This form of nihilism assumes that the conceptual activity is based on the ontological nihil. In this conception, this form of nihilism has a positive and constructive implication, as the condition of moral freedom and of conceptual creation. Nihil is the starting point of the conceptual and practical process, and from this starting point the conceptual and historical activity of men is responsible for the creation and meaning of the world as we know it. The form of nihilism that seems to prevail in the culture and practice of the ruling class today is quite different from this constructive, hermeneutic nihilism. We could call it a form of 'annihilating nihilism', since it actively produces nihil as its effect.

Hermeneutic nihilism originated from the realization that the world is not a place in which an ontological essence is embodied, or a moral truth is revealed, but the place where meaning is continually created by the conscious activity of men. Conversely, annihilating nihilism actively destroys the shared values (both moral values and economic values) produced in the past by human production and democratic political regulation, in order to affirm the primacy of the abstract force of money.

Franco Berardi, Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide.
As everyone knows, a privileged place was occupied within the 'reasonable ideology' of the third estate by the organs of repression required to put down rural and urban revolts (revolts by craftworkers who were really just proletarians) when these revolts threatened capitalist development. No matter where on the spectrum of political thought one stood, some reference to transcendence was required in the age of Descartes in order to underwrite absolute sovereignty and the efficacity of its action. Power, which was being organized in the bosom of capital and which allowed and stimulated its development, had necessarily—or rather, given the intensity of the resistance it encountered, could not not—root itself in the absolute of transcendence. Theological necessity had, in that age, totally permeated the development of capital and the philosophies of the present: this is precisely how the ontotheological metaphysics of modernity was instituted.

In other words, when the modern world was opened up to capitalist development, the new productive forces (above all living labor) had to be subjected to an old eternal figure of power, to the absolute character of a power capable of legitimizing the new relations of production. From that moment on, any attempt to challenge this state of affairs was regarded as damnable and heretical, and any aspiration to modify this general framework was only acceptable if it touched on the relations of production in a highly theoretical and moderate manner, and with a very prudent lucidity. This is exactly what Descartes did. So part of my task was to register the degree to which modern metaphysics (and when one speaks of metaphysics one is also always speaking, one way or another, about theology) honed and reinforced its political pretensions. From then on, metaphysics has always been political.

It was within a climate governed by such moderation and reticence that the theory of power develops in the modern era. The political thinkers of transcendence become hegemonic. The modern theory of sovereignty is born with Hobbes. Bodin had already tried, with all his well-known intelligence—for what he in effect maintains is that every form of government is logically monarchical. Monarchy covers both aristocratic government and democratic government, because both of them are governed by the principle of the One. Consequently they are monarchic, whatever the hypocritical cloak of legitimacy donned by power. But we have to wait for Hobbes for the citizens as such to become fundamental in the construction of the absolute character of power. What we have with Hobbes is a transfer of the potency of civil subjects to the sovereign.

It is a strange thing, this transfer of the potency of the citizens to the sovereign. Why does that have to happen? Because of the English civil war? But isn't it precisely with Leviathan, which enables sovereign power to come into existence, that civil society itself is enabled? So then how can there be a civil war prior to civil society? And as if that fairytale weren’t enough, Hobbes can always fall back on the divine potency that overrides and legitimizes the power of Leviathan. Genuine civil war of the kind that primitive accumulation had unleashed (and the surplus of violence that the expropriation of the common had provoked)—is that what the critical gaze is being trained on here? No, not that at all, and without any critique either: everything is immediately justified, rendered necessary and legitimate simply by the theological power of the sovereign.

Antonio Negri, Spinoza for Our Time: Politics and Postmodernity.
One corrupt form of love is identitarian love, that is, love of the same, which can be based, for example, on a narrow interpretation of the mandate to love thy neighbor, understanding it as a call to love those most proximate, those most like you. Family love—the pressure to love first and most those within the family to the exclusion or subordination of those outside—is one form of identitarian love. Race love and nation love, or patriotism, are similar examples of the pressure to love most those most like you and hence less those who are different. Family, race, and nation, then, which are corrupt forms of the common, are unsurprisingly the bases of corrupt forms of love. From this perspective we might say that populisms, nationalisms, fascisms, and various religious fundamentalisms are based not so much on hatred as on love—but a horribly corrupted form of identitarian love.

A second form of corrupt love poses love as a process of unification, of becoming the same. The contemporary dominant notion of romantic love in our cultures, which Hollywood sells every day, its stock in trade, requires that the couple merge in unity. The mandatory sequence of this corrupted romantic love—couple-marriage family—imagines people finding their match, like lost puzzle pieces, that now together make (or restore) a whole. Marriage and family close the couple in a unit that subsequently, as we said earlier, corrupts the common. This same process of love as unification is also expressed in many different religious traditions, especially in their mystical registers: love of God means merging in the divine unity. And it is not so surprising that such notions of mystical union often use the conventional language of romantic love, invoking the betrothed, divine marriage, and so forth, because they are aimed at the same goal: making the many into one, making the different into the same. Similarly, various forms of patriotism share this notion of setting (or pushing) aside differences and alterity in order to form a united national people, a national identity. This second corruption of love as unification is intimately related, in fact, to the first identitarian corruption of love: love of the same, love making the same.

One philosophical key to our argument here, which should be clear already, is that the dynamic of multiple singularities in the common has nothing to do with the old dialectic between the many and the one. Whereas the one stands opposed to the many, the common is compatible with and even internally composed of multiplicities. This compatibility between the common and multiplicity can be understood in simple terms (perhaps too simple) when posed in the field of political action: if we did not share a common world, then we would not be able to communicate with one another or engage one another’s needs and desires; and if we were not multiple singularities, then we would have no need to communicate and interact. We agree in this regard with Hannah Arendt’s conception of politics as the interaction and composition of singularities in a common world.

Promoting the encounters of singularities in the common, then, is the primary strategy to combat love corrupted through identity and unification, which brings the production of subjectivity to a halt and abrogates the common. Sameness and unity involve no creation but mere repetition without difference. Love should be defined, instead, by the encounters and experimentation of singularities in the common, which in turn produce a new common and new singularities. Whereas in the ontological context we characterized the process of love as constitution, here in a political context we should emphasize its power of composition. Love composes singularities, like themes in a musical score, not in unity but as a network of social relations. Bringing together these two faces of love—the constitution of the common and the composition of singularities—is a central challenge for understanding love as a material, political act.

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Commonwealth.
The primary form of power that really confronts us today, however, is not so dramatic or demonic but rather earthly and mundane. We need to stop confusing politics with theology. The pre-dominant contemporary form of sovereignty—if we still want to call it that—is completely embedded within and supported by legal systems and institutions of governance, a republican form characterized not only by the rule of law but also equally by the rule of property. Said differently, the political is not an autonomous domain but one completely immersed in economic and legal structures. There is nothing extraordinary or exceptional about this form of power. Its claim to naturalness, in fact its silent and invisible daily functioning, makes it extremely difficult to recognize, analyze, and challenge. Our first task, then, will be to bring to light the intimate relations between sovereignty, law, and capital.

We need for contemporary political thought an operation something like the one Euhemerus conducted for ancient Greek mythology in the fourth century BC. Euhemerus explained that all of the myths of gods are really just stories of historical human actions that through retelling have been expanded, embellished, and cast up to the heavens. Similarly today the believers imagine a sovereign power that stands above us on the mountaintops, when in fact the dominant forms of power are entirely this-worldly. A new political Euhemerism might help people stop looking for sovereignty in the heavens and recognize the structures of power on earth.

Once we strip away the theological pretenses and apocalyptic visions of contemporary theories of sovereignty, once we bring them down to the social terrain, we need to look more closely at how power functions in society today. In philosophical terms we can think of this shift in perspective as a move from transcendent analysis to transcendental critique. Immanuel Kant's 'Copernican revolution' in philosophy puts an end to all the medieval attempts to anchor reason and understanding in transcendent essences and things in themselves. Philosophy must strive instead to reveal the transcendental structures immanent to thought and experience. 'I call all cognition transcendental that is occupied not so much with objects but rather with our mode of cognition of objects insofar as this is to be possible a priori.' Kant’s transcendental plane thus occupies a position not wholly in the immediate, immanent facts of experience but not wholly outside them either. This transcendental realm, he explains, is where the conditions of possibility of knowledge and experience reside.

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Commonwealth.