David Chandler, Hol ow Hegemony: Rethinking Global Politics, Power and Resistance, Pluto Press, London, 2009. 272 pp., £60.00 hb., £17.99 pb., 978 0 74532 921 5 hb., 978 0 74532 920 8 pb. Stuart Elden, Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2009. 304 pp., £46.50 hb., £15.50 pb., 978 0 81665 483 3 hb., 978 0 81665 484 0 pb. R.B.J. Walker, After the Globe, Before the World, Routledge, London and New York, 2009. 368 pp., £75.00 hb., £22.99 pb., 978 0 41577 902 9 hb., 978 0 41577 903 6 pb.
The field of global politics is much contested, in part because the forces of globalization have thrown open a conceptual disarray about the meaning of ‘world’ in philosophy, politics and economics. If a system of states often still appears rooted to the founding apparatuses of the Peace of Westphalia, the current complex of state relations, overdetermined to a great extent by transnational capital, seems wildly inconstant and sovereignty hovers more like a ghost in contemporary formulations. Each of the three books under discussion here offers explication of the ambiguities of contemporary global polity while also revealing, symptomatically, conceptual ambivalences in the structure of their own disciplines: political science, international relations and geography respectively. It is understandable that knowledge systems born of nationstate polity might now chase the conceptual horizon of a properly globalized world; what is more interesting, however, is the extent to which reading the world distils a new creative grammar of the globe, at once responsive to the lacuna of conventional disciplines while articulating the shape of new formulations of knowledge production.
For his part, Walker is the most sensitive to the trials of philosophical oscillation in the current conjuncture and the book offers many provocative insights into the logic of inclusion/exclusion that structures the current world system. Walker maintains a notable incredulity about the move from international to world politics, not because the force of the latter is not evident, but because its constitutive principles appear unable, in his account, to understand fully how ‘boundaries, borders and limits of a politics’ are negotiated between international and world. At first glance, this move is laudable because too many ‘global’ critiques skip over how the world maintains borders and obfuscate its adherence to older, sedimented genealogies of inside/outside. Basically, Walker’s argument is a warning about brave new ‘world’ philosophies that eschew the pivot of border rationality, especially when it comes to the thorny issue of sovereignty. This means recourse to tracking the traditions of modern thought on subjectivity, rationality and sovereignty with Hobbes and Kant to the fore, juxtaposed with elements of Walker’s alternative genealogy in Cassirer, Bachelard, Foucault,
Deleuze and the history of science. Increasingly, however, the methodology comes down to the original warning so that the perspicuous deconstruction of inclusion/exclusion circles around the repetition of the political as possibility and impossibility. This pattern is set by the ‘prelude’, which is then seen writ large in the rest of the book. My point is not that an introduction should not lay out the foundations of the project, but that in resisting scaling up from international to global Walker’s argument also resists building on its initial distinctions, except to ‘run in many different directions’ as itself a form of resistance.
For instance, in the space of a few pages the ‘prelude’ offers the following chorus on possibility/impossibility: ‘this book is constructed … to frame claims about political possibilities and impossibilities’; the argument ‘simultaneously imagines the possibility and impossibility of a move across the borders, boundaries and limits distinguishing itself from some world beyond’; ‘we have been encouraged to think about boundaries, borders and limits as if they were indeed just simple lines distinguishing here from there, now from then, normal from exceptional, possible from impossible’; ‘They [clichés] speak to the way we have come to imagine the possibilities and impossibilities of liberty and inequality within and under necessity’; ‘Whatever else may be said about the possibilities of other ways of thinking about future political possibilities, there can be no other such possibilities without attending to the multiple ways in which the drawing of lines as boundaries, borders and limits has been a more complicated and contested affair’; ‘the possibilities and impossibilities of a modern system of sovereign states’; and, finally, ‘While I am aware that such claims may seem abstract and remote, I am persuaded that they speak to the principles of authorization and authorization of principles that must be engaged in one way or another by any attempt to reimagine our political possibilities and impossibilities, or to reimagine who we are as political actors able to reimagine our possibilities and impossibilities as political actors.’ It often seems in Walker’s argument that the hesitation between international and world comes down to an assessment of the border as itself the ground of all things possible, and impossible. It is never clear, however, why the mantra of possibility/impossibility could not apply to ‘world’ as concept, rather than by dancing on the line that apparently resists its effulgence. Indeed, it has to be said that one can quite easily use the possibility/impossibility gambit to describe absolutely any concept of political theory in its practice. As a more or less constant rhetorical trope in the ‘prelude’ this is a demonstrable non-starter.
This is not just a stylistic quibble (although I think if you removed all instances of circling repetition the book would be half its current length) but a comment about the tizzy ‘world’ has produced under actually existing globalization. Obviously, there are few clear breaks in modern political theory, just as, in economics, capitalism does not submerge feudalism overnight.
The serious question Walker’s book poses, consciously or not, is whether this kind of hedging is itself a heuristic, a teachable moment about the kinds of change that produce a disciplinary crisis in knowledge (one can discern similar discomfort, for instance, in Comparative Literature’s hand-wringing over the ‘world’ in world literature which has mutated considerably from Goethe’s initial formulations). As Walker puts it, ‘We are, moreover, supposed to know more or less what we are talking about when we deploy such terms’ (‘international relations’ and ‘world politics’), but doubt pervades every instance of possibility and impossibility, including the imagination of a world outside international relations, so we are left only with a kind of circling song as a philosophical guide.
The second chapter begins more promisingly with a call to reimagine politics (although not outside international politics), but quickly the polemic lines up obvious empty signifiers for political theory – ‘talk shows, the best seller lists, the quick sound-bites, and the executive summaries’ – and their associated clichés.
Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze have been turned into ‘sites of interrogation’ and this ‘keeps theorists amused and off the streets’. I am not sure of the audience for such statements but in general this section offers a useful discursive sense of modern politics, particularly international politics, which is never ‘co-extensive with the world’. Circling hesitancy returns in the third chapter (‘possible ways of … political possibilities’, etc.) and resistance is posed as the attempt to move ‘in two directions at once’. The ‘we’ of this chapter is particularly grating – ‘We are all modern people’ – as if the world cannot bear a little uneven development.
This chapter offers a thesis for the book: ‘I do not think anyone is able to offer more than very tentative and humble responses to the kinds of questions about political possibilities that might emerge out of various scepticisms about the claims of the modern sovereign state and states system.’ In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the book is utterly disabled by this tack, and the articulate discussions of Hobbes and Kant in relation to sovereignty are rendered as ‘preludes’ to yet more hand-wringing. Even when Walker describes a dozen key lines of inquiry into the assumptions that gird the sovereign nation-state to political life the argument is freighted by the subjunctive, weighed down by a polemic ‘in two directions at once’ that leaves ‘the globe before the world’ in suspended animation.
A blurb calls this ‘a profound meditation’; the reader should decide which side of possibility/impossibility such judgment resides.
David Chandler’s Hol ow Hegemony takes up an incredulity towards the global similar to that gestured towards by Walker, but is an altogether different book in terms of both audience and argumentative edge. Rather than hedging, Chandler reads the problem of scaling up from the international to the global as a form of negative capability; that is, the globalization of politics is produced by a ‘political disconnection between state elites and societies, and a popular disengagement from mass politics’. Globalism, as such, ‘is a lack rather than a presence. It is the lack of clear sites and articulations of power, the lack of clear security threats, the lack of strategic instrumental policy-making and the lack of clear political programs or movements of resistance which drives the conceptualization of international relations in global terms.’ To some extent, globalism is an effect of the very polemic Walker’s book performs, even if he would agree that globalism is a ‘hollow hegemony’ in terms of explanatory power.
The problem for Chandler is not that globalism fails to attract but that, in its negativity, it attracts too well (although Lacan does not feature in the critique, globalism bears something of the relationship of lack to desire). Its ideology attempts to disable counterhegemony through abstraction; indeed, political acts as abstraction. In contrast to Hardt and Negri’s emphasis on the flight from sovereignty as a creative if paradoxically positive subtraction, Chandler’s intervention is to draw attention to a global politics that substitutes abstraction for action and semiosis for social grounds.
This is not to say Hardt and Negri represent the consensus on globalism, but for Chandler there are alternative strategies available among those who take globalism on board. As with Walker, globalism signifies a general crisis in political subjectivity but one where its avatars see the nation-state as the problem rather than the contributions made by the reification and mystification of the global itself. The latter includes the supposition that territory no longer matters as much since a great deal of human interaction, economically and communicatively, occurs through scales of time/space that defy a territorial ground (this will be important for Elden’s book also). On the one hand, we have proponents of globalism who extol the virtues of globalization as a kind of integrative efficiency (this would include global civil society theorists); on the other hand, we have globalists like Hardt and Negri who critique globalization but from a position that emphasizes forms of biopolitical resistance as an irreducible multiplicity without romantic assumptions about unity or group identity. To borrow from the language of Walker’s argument once more, what sounds inclusive actually excludes the possibility of a mass action exercising a specific political subjectivity. It also excludes normative foreign policy, which ironically makes both hedge fund managers and Hardt and Negri happy. How did this odd collocation come about?
In part a globalization of power through intense financialization, for instance, was shadowed by a necessarily deterritorialized counter-critique: ‘if power was located at the global level then resistance was as well.’ Again, Chandler’s position is not that global forces do not exist but the jump to this scale elides how the politicization of the global works, how its principles are framed, how its analytic concepts perform the very process that is its object. On one level, Chandler correctly sees a technological determinism at work in which globalization exists because, well, there is a global network; on another level, globalization theory appears underequipped to understand the crude internationalism of hegemonic states, particularly the USA after 9/11. In short, Chandler seeks to separate the ideological confusions of a globalization of politics from the theoretical problem presented by global politics, which is a useful distinction between process and subject before the troublesome concept of ‘world’.
Chandler organizes his argument well, with the first few chapters probing the prominent policy discourses that appear to suture a global episteme: security/development, state-building, and a specifically human security discourse. These are obviously cornerstones of internationalism but the point is they have been naively recalibrated to represent a properly global interconnectedness. The chapter on the merging of security and development discourses is particularly noteworthy, although Chandler does have a tendency to brand every instance of globalizing politics ‘hollow’ before exegesis might suggest otherwise. The central chapters are devoted to the crux of Chandler’s approach: namely, that the global functions as an abstract substitute for liberal norms (of community, of war) and expresses the limit or lack of a global subject for politics, particularly one with agency. Chandler finds in arguments for global civil society a paradigmatic tautology of the globalization of politics, and on the whole the criticism is appreciable (especially in contrast to the work of Falk, for instance). Since Hardt and Negri are also voluble critics of global civil society, Chandler then complicates his approach by challenging their adherence to a ‘flight from sovereignty’ as a deterritorializing strategy. For those who have wondered about the logic of Hardt and Negri’s strategy, Chandler’s criticism is pointed: their view endorses a retreat from political engagement and community to communication ‘without purpose’. This is not altogether hollowness, however, since part of the political effect of Hardt and Negri’s procedures is to short-circuit precisely the regressive power formations Chandler identifies.
The question comes down to whether alternatives are meaningfully agential if representational politics is simply ejected?
It is this aspect of hollowness that leads Chandler to a pertinent and often persuasive discussion of sovereignty. It is not that Deleuzeans or Spinozists eschew sovereignty, but that questioning sovereignty does not necessarily distil a politics of its transformation or sublation. Since sovereignty’s impress on global war, particularly the war on terror, is also the subject of Elden’s book, one should not underestimate its importance to the aforementioned disciplinary crises over the subject of territoriality and the world (the latter, by the way, is not discussed conceptually in any of these three books but one may adduce its pivotal philosophical purchase in recent work by Nancy and Badiou). Liberal constructivist approaches have clearly provided an alibi for sovereign extension within globalization, and when that does not work a brute appeal to superior ‘values’ is made, as Chandler explicates by reference to a speech by Tony Blair. Rather than take a Gramscian or Foucauldian route by way of response, Chandler interestingly takes up the early work of Marx on the disjunctions between ideas and practice, ideologies and state formation in Germany at that time. The lesson of Marx is that forces structured in dominance (or a will to dominance, like the German bourgeoisie of which he writes) can mask their material interests by appeals to values as an abstraction. This certainly undoes the Blair strategy, but does it explain the hollowness in much global theorization?
The conceptual key is sovereignty, which is the subject of Chandler’s final chapter. Briefly, if the appeal to the global reflects an absenting of political responsibility, then the claims of sovereignty are submerged even when they may dictate the decisions in play. In other words, globality is not the battleground of the political but is the hollow metonym of sovereignty as the true site of political contestation and purposeful acts. I like this formulation not because it endorses sovereignty as a norm but because it continues to question its insinuation in otherwise value-laden discourses of the global with a concomitant persistence of territoriality in its suasion. One of the problems of globalism is its abject declarative force, as if terminological insistence means the revolution has already happened (and nobody really wants to miss one of those). In contrast to Walker’s hobbling hesitation, Chandler offers the heuristic of the hollow that, even when it overstates the case, is a call for reflexive theoretical clarification in the study of international relations.
Elden’s contribution takes a different tack from the other two even as it remains similarly sceptical of the claims of global politics. The novelty of the text is not necessarily its spirited defence of conceptions of territoriality but the test case it brings to bear on the polemic: an analysis of the spatiality of sovereignty through the recent histories of terror and terrorism.
Right from the start Elden signals the advantage of this approach because it requires simultaneously a mapping of terrorist events, geographically and historically, against a logic that is putatively deterritorialized vis-à-vis sovereignty and the state. In effect, it answers naive globalists in familiar terms they are then called on to take into account (thus when Rumsfeld bemoans a lack of metrics to see whether the war on terror is being won, Elden’s text immediately establishes the coordinates between terror and territory with maps, and etymologies, to underline the point). This is a refreshing take on territory because it shows via concrete examples how concepts of territoriality and sovereignty are woven through the most prominent scene of contemporary global politics: the war on terror itself.
Having established the pivotal role of territory in globality, Elden then examines what this might mean to the forms of Islamism seen to feed specific terrorist movements, most obviously al-Qaeda (keeping in mind the network was to some extent produced by effects of long-standing Western foreign policies in West and Central Asia). By re-reading the history of the group’s development, including the statements of its leaders and ideologists, Elden is able to track the force of territorial and sovereign rights in its otherwise stateless, virtual or networked manifestations. The point is not an either/or stratagem, but the pursuit of an explanatory framework adequate to territory’s actual meaning for al-Qaeda. To foreground this condition simultaneously reveals the territorial commitments of a global politics in response; not a muddle, nor a lack, therefore, but a material synergy of territorial aims between nation and the world.
The chapter on weak states attempts to deepen the polemic by considering the relationship between weak/failing states and the development or harbouring of terrorist groups. I think the challenge of weak states goes beyond contesting international law or facilitating havens for non-state actors. As I have argued, failed states in particular dispute conventional narratives of decolonization not because state polity has been lost, but because it may not have been found or founded.
True, this may indicate a failure of state structure, but even in the most extreme example, Somalia, local and entrenched modes of social organization and trade have attempted to maintain communities even among the ravages of civil strife and foreign intervention, however this is measured. Thus, international frameworks of polity not only fear lawlessness and terrorist ferment, but modes of polity with their own conditions of right and responsibility. From this perspective the failed state is also a logic of state failure inaugurated by the Peace of Westphalia (a response to the Holy Roman Empire as failed state).
For many, Elden’s chapter on Iraq will prove the most provocative, and one cannot help but admire his ability to sift through vast amounts of secondary material produced on the subject. Others, however, may find themselves submerged by such documentation, particularly when it is drawn from a seemingly endless procession of UN resolutions on the Iraq invasion.
Nevertheless, beyond the symptomatic paradox, Iraq was invaded, its sovereignty suspended and its territorial integrity breached in defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Elden uses his critique to sharpen the overall thesis of the book regarding the global order’s continuing pivot on sovereignty (even when contingent) as demonstrably spatial. The last chapter and ‘coda’ broaden the lessons of the Iraq example both to return to terrorism as a problem from and within sovereignty and to accentuate Elden’s notable position that the deterritorializations of globalization are not divorced from equally discernible processes of reterritorialization. In the end, this does not provide us with a working definition of contemporary regimes of globality but it does at the very least reveal Elden’s consummate ability to take global politics as itself a dynamic interrogation of his geographic zeal. While I agree with all three writers that globalization is overblown, this does not preclude the possibility that certain disciplinary analytic models are effete. To that extent, the philosophical disposition of world must also be actively contested.
Europe endlessPerry Anderson, The New Old World, Verso, London and New York, 2009. 592 pp., £24.99 hb., 978 1 84467 312 4.The New Old World is a weighty volume of some 550 pages, which contains five chapters on Europe and European integration, three on the ‘core’ countries of France, Germany and Italy, one on Cyprus and one on Turkey. There is much here that is highly stimulating and the conclusion makes a valiant effort to pull it all together. Yet, in the end, Anderson’s stated rationale for his selection of topics is unconvincing. He does not, he writes, regret the omission of Britain, ‘whose history since the fall of Thatcher has been of little moment’.
Similarly, because so much attention had been paid to Eastern Europe, ‘it seemed better to look further East’. But, in fact, the majority of the essays in The New Old World have already been published elsewhere and it seems very unlikely that they were originally conceived as a single book. Rather, Anderson presumably chose his subjects for the quite understandable reason that they captured his interest. As such, while there are certainly some recurrent themes and complementarities in The New Old World, it should not be read in the expectation of finding any pronounced overall coherence.
In each of the three long chapters on the contemporary history of France, Germany and Italy, Anderson reaches a rather sombre conclusion about the present situation while discerning some forces for radical renewal. The discussion of France is the most ambitious and, in my view, the least successful. Here he is really seeking a holistic explanation for the decline of both Gaullism and the Left by emphasizing the transmutation of French culture and society into an increasingly Atlanticist mould. But even if it is granted that intellectuals have played a particularly important role in France, he surely attributes excessive weight to certain thinkers (Pierre Nora, François Furet and Pierre Rosanvallon) in undermining earlier assumptions about the revolutionary and republican traditions, and the implication that this shift in high culture has had a major impact on current French identity and politics seems implausible. In this chapter his otherwise magisterial style also sometimes degenerates. Instead of presenting a clear argument in which the reader remains partially unaware of the extent of thinking and research that lies behind it, Anderson veers towards the other extreme, displaying his scholarship on his sleeve without always achieving clarity. Still, some of his comments are very perceptive: for example, the results of the March 2010 regional elections uphold his point that, however much the political elites unite in arguing that ‘modernization’ demands retrenchment, the French electorate always rejects governments that seek to implement neoliberalism.
The chapter on Germany also includes some discussion of intellectual currents, but here Anderson concentrates on more narrowly defined questions – the impact of unification, the move of the capital to Berlin, and the way in which Schroeder’s (and then Merkel’s) policies weakened trade unions and workers’ living standards. All this provides an explanation of the rise of Die Linke, and Anderson succeeds in demonstrating some basis for optimism about a revival of the Left across the former East–West boundary. I found the chapter on Italy particularly interesting because the focus is sharper and the analysis more trenchant. Here he seeks to explain the paradox of the Italian search for ‘normalcy’ culminating in Berlusconi’s supremacy.
While the theme may be familiar, Anderson includes some fascinating and alarming detail about such issues as the tawdry nature of the justice and prison systems, and the role of the corrupt and discredited former socialist prime minister, Bettino Craxi, in launching Berlusconi. But perhaps most compelling of all is the way that he extends a critique of the PCI in the forty-five years after the war into the post-Cold War era, suggesting that this enabled former Fascists and the Northern League to climb back into power under Berlusconi’s umbrella.
Yet it is not the chapters on France, Germany or Italy but the closely interconnected chapters on Cyprus and Turkey that are the most powerful in the book.
Here Anderson offers an alternative, critical argument to those of his bête noire: bien pensant liberals. The result is polemical in the best sense of the word, for Anderson has a clear case to argue, one that contradicts conventional wisdom and challenges those who disagree to say where he is wrong. The mainstream view has been that it is time to bring about a settlement in Cyprus and that external forces and institutions should do everything possible to ensure that the island is peacefully reunited. Hence the fervent attempt by the then UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, under British and US influence, to seek such an agreement before Cyprus entered the EU in 2004, and the exasperated frustration in all EU capitals, except Greece, when the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan. Anderson provides an engaged, historically informed refutation of the assumptions underlying such policies. Britain, he argues, was the major ‘guilty party’ before and after Cyprus gained independence, provoking Turkish opposition to Greek ascendancy both on the island and on the Turkish mainland. As a guarantor power in 1974, Britain had the primary responsibility to prevent the Turkish invasion, but failed to act against this or the partition and ethnic cleansing that followed.
Subsequently, the government of Cyprus constructed a successful state in the southern part of the island, while the North was an artificial colony maintained by Turkish subsidies and settlers. Nothing was done to bring about a Turkish withdrawal, primarily because of the Anglo-American support for Turkey in NATO.
By what right, then, had Britain, the USA, the EU or the UN to demand, through the various versions of the Annan plan, that Cyprus should agree to the dismantling of its state so as to accommodate an illegal occupation by Turkey? This leads directly to Anderson’s analysis of Turkey.
The USA has promoted Turkey’s membership of the EU so as to strengthen its key strategic base (apart from Israel) in the Middle East and Central Asia. Bien pensant liberals have, however, supported this project in the belief that Turkish membership will secure the EU’s credentials as a multicultural, multi-faith entity while also demonstrating that Islam can be moderate and democratic. Anderson’s aim is to demolish such claims. Kemalism, he suggests, was not a secular movement, but created a dictatorial regime in which Islam was both controlled and used to reinforce state power and Turkish exclusivist nationalism. The Kurds and Alevis have been massacred and dissident movements have been repressed. Nor has the shift from Kemalism to more prominent manifestations of Islam under the present AKP government been as significant as is generally thought, for there has been much continuity in foreign policy, exclusivist nationalism and genocide denial. Anderson is satisfied that the massacres of the Armenians during the First World War did constitute genocide, that this was perpetrated intentionally by those close to Kemal, and that successive Turkish governments have known what happened, but have continued to honour those responsible for it, while persecuting those wanting to acknowledge what was done. Nor can this be regarded as a matter of ‘history’: on the contrary, it is fundamental to Turkey’s self-definition, which is why the Turkish state makes threats whenever there is any international attempt to raise the question, invariably leading (as with Obama) to a climbdown. Thus genocide denial, coupled with the annexation of Cyprus and the treatment of the Kurds and Alevis, make Anderson adamant that Turkey should not be allowed to join the EU.
In the Foreword, he records his continuing enthusiasm for the architects of the Community in the early postwar years: ‘Their enterprise had no historical precedent, and its grandeur continues to haunt what it has since become.’ The three chapters on Europe and European integration at the beginning and two at the end form the heart of the book and also demonstrate the Union’s fall from grace in Anderson’s eyes. For the most part, I agree with his attitude to the general trajectory. Anyone on the Left must surely condemn the way in which the EU has become increasingly dominated by a neoliberal economic agenda, has rallied to the support of the USA, and has been marked by elitism and secretive inter-state horse-trading. Yet Anderson seems to go too far, after the first chapter (written in 1995), which provides an effective critique of the Treaty of Maastricht and its aftermath. For although the second essay (originally published in 2007) fulfils a useful purpose in counteracting the simplistic celebratory tone of many works, it goes to the opposite extreme in bundling all the negative aspects of Europe into an overall denunciation. It is here, too, that the subjectivity that Anderson’s style seeks to occlude is actually so marked. If there are certainly deeply negative contemporary features in the EU, this was also true at its origins, when the Community was partly a Cold War formation in an era of anti-Left persecution at home and colonial wars abroad. Seeking to counteract an over-simplified positive account by offering an oversimplified negative one is not particularly persuasive.
One of Anderson’s strengths has always been his ability to pinpoint the essence of theories and ideas and to evaluate them critically, and he does this in two chapters in particular. In ‘Theories’ he dissects some recent American mainstream and right-wing studies of integration quite brilliantly. Yet the chapter is also a lost opportunity in the sense that he makes only a passing comment on alternative left-wing and Marxist theories, and puts forward few notions of his own. ‘Antecedents’ is an interesting attempt to review current tendencies in the light of earlier ideas about Europe. Following the collapse of the Enlightenment, which stressed cultural and intellectual unity on the one hand and balance and division between relatively small states on the other, Anderson sees Saint-Simon as the founder of three separate traditions. The first was a legacy of revolutionary interventions and slogans for a united Europe; the second was a conception of desirable social change based on the work of scientific and industrial elites reforming society from above; and the third was a deeply conservative tradition that sought to recast Europe in a higher harmony of belief. Anderson argues that all three traditions play a part in the current EU, while the older Enlightenment emphasis on diversity is still discernible. Whether this kind of history of ideas actually elucidates twenty-firstcentury developments may be arguable, but the essay certainly provides some stimulating reminders about past debates: for example the question of whether European peace can be a defining aspiration for the Left, and whether or not the goal of a united Europe undermines the search for world unity.
Despite its success in identifying common themes in the book, and in summarizing his negative critique of the current tendencies, Anderson’s final chapter (‘Prognoses’) is disappointing. This is partly because he fails to provide the sustained development of his own arguments that it would be reasonable to expect at this point. Thus he wants to argue that it is the abandonment of class conflict by the collapse of the Left and the corruption of social democracy that have led to the current failings in Europe. But beyond observing that the cause of all this is the transformation of capitalism, he offers little explanation of the ways in which this structural shift has been projected through social, cultural and political practices. Perhaps he believes that his separate chapters on France, Germany and Italy provided sufficient insights, but these were too uneven and specific to fulfil this function. However, a second weakness is that he sometimes offers too much sustenance to those whose values and goals are quite opposed to those of the Left.
Ever since the relaunch of New Left Review in 2000, Anderson has emphasized the importance of much right-wing thought and its frequent superiority to ‘standard progressive pieties, usually shared by pillars of respectable liberalism’ (‘Renewals’, NLR 1, January–February 2000). This sometimes leads him to adopt surprising positions. Here he suggests that, in the absence of class conflict, ordinary people turn to the only available substitute: opposition to immigration.
Workers were not consulted about large-scale migration to Europe and their major remaining opportunity for contesting the priorities and values of elites lies in mobilization on this issue – hence the rise of the populist xenophobic Right across most of Europe. In itself, this argument is unexceptionable, but his assault on bien pensant liberals now takes him too far. Just before the publication of The New Old World, Christopher Cauldwell, on the US Right, produced his Reflections on the Revolution in Europe (2009), pillorying Europe for the mass migration of Muslims which, he argues, has fundamentally changed its character.
Of course, Anderson seeks to dilute his endorsement of Cauldwell’s position by repeating some classical arguments of the Left about exploitation, discrimination, world inequality, and the non-religious causes of Muslim dissatisfaction with European societies. He also suggests that the issue of immigration has had a disproportionate salience in contemporary politics.
But this is equally true of the way Anderson treats it here, and this is perhaps related to a more general point about his approach.
Anderson writes with complete authority, but this might give a misleading impression that he has a clear theoretical position. Most readers will assume that he remains on the Marxist left and is launching his attacks on bien pensant liberals from this position. But there are two reasons for doubting whether this is actually the case. The first clue lies in his choice of ‘heroes’ in the book, one of whom is Jean Monnet, a key architect of the Community. Monnet was not really on the Left, but Anderson frequently praises him and compares the subsequent deterioration of European integration with the aspirations that Monnet had entertained for it.
The other figure who is frequently cited with approval (and to whom the book is dedicated) is Alan Milward, an eminent historian of European integration, who has occupied a broadly social-democratic position on the political spectrum. However, both Monnet and Milward combined vision with pragmatism. Monnet undoubtedly sought to create a new semi-supranational Europe that would bring about peace and prosperity, but his method was to suggest a series of piecemeal practical steps that would create new realities. Similarly, Milward had no doubt that European integration was a colossal achievement, but he insisted that it was created by hard-headed politicians and civil servants who sought to strengthen the nation-state rather than supersede it. The second clue to Anderson’s position lies in the subjects on which he really writes with passion – the genocide of the Armenians, Turkish behaviour in Northern Cyprus, the war against Iraq, the treatment of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, and extraordinary rendition. Liberals might be expected to feel equally strongly about such matters, but have often equivocated. By contrast, Anderson is surely insisting that opposition to such crimes must be an overriding issue. If, therefore, we consider both those whom he respects and those whom he denounces, it seems that his target may not be liberalism per se but bien pensant thinking. Similarly, his own perspective is probably more heterodox than Marxist. From this position he is capable of extraordinarily trenchant analysis and also vehement condemnation of political crimes. But sometimes he simply attacks orthodoxy from the indeterminate position of the maverick. His writing is invariably clever but not always wise.
Of GramsciologyPeter D. Thomas, The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism, Brill, Leiden and Boston MA, 2009. 477 pp., £104.00 hb., 978 9 00416 771 1.
According to Peter Thomas, Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (1929–35) contain ‘a vision of Marxist philosophy, radically different from many previous and contemporary formulations, which may permit a new generation of Marxists to recommence the elaboration of Marx’s legacy in a new philosophical form’. The book thus firmly situates itself within a new body of literature that takes as its point of departure the necessity to revitalize the Marxist tradition today. The ‘vision of Marxist philosophy’ that Thomas believes has most to contribute to this agenda is Gramsci’s ‘philosophy of praxis’, and in this comprehensive analysis and assessment of its key elements, and of its principal critics, the author mounts an authoritative case for placing Gramsci right at the centre of any resurgence of contemporary Marxism.
Thomas’s journey begins with two influential critiques of Gramsci’s work by Louis Althusser (Chapter 1) and Perry Anderson (Chapter 2), before moving on, in the subsequent chapter, to attack what he regards as their flawed accounts of Gramsci’s Marxism by delineating the extensive and meticulous scholarship that has been carried out on the Prison Notebooks (mainly by Italian scholars) since the appearance of Althusser’s Reading Capital (1965/1968) and Anderson’s ‘The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci’ (1976).
Chapters 4, 5 and 6 are principally concerned with the Gramscian categories of ‘passive revolution’ and ‘hegemony’. Anderson remains a continuous presence here as Thomas engages in a blow-by-blow refutation of his attempts to identify Gramsci with the reformism of Karl Kautsky and a genre of Western Marxism that set him apart from his Bolshevik contemporaries. It is, however, the final three chapters of the book which constitute its most original contribution to current scholarship, as Thomas engages in a penetrating analysis of the constituent elements of Gramsci’s ‘philosophy of praxis’, and focuses on his insistence that Marxism made a unique contribution to Western philosophy through its ‘absolute historicism’, ‘absolute immanence’ and ‘absolute humanism’. Here it is Althusser who plays the role of major foil, as Thomas demolishes the early Althusser’s identification of Gramsci’s thought with the ‘Hegelianization’ of Marxism, the abandonment of Marxist science, and a naive humanism on a par with Sartre’s ‘exaltation of human freedom’.
The great strength of Thomas’s book is the authority that he brings to the subject: one is in no doubt that he has painstakingly dissected the Prison Notebooks and the philological literature in exhaustive detail. Thomas puts this scholarship to work effectively in his confrontations with Anderson and Althusser. Among the most fertile and convincing encounters with Anderson is, for example, Thomas’s refutation of the former’s charge that Gramsci’s concept of hegemony ‘slid into’ a genre of reformism by suggesting that the crucial ramparts of the capitalist state were located in civil society, and revolutionary strategy should accordingly be confined to the battle for mass consent here. Against this reading, Thomas provides a persuasive exposition of the ‘dialectical’ relationship between civil and political society defended in the Prison Notebooks and captured above all in Gramsci’s conception of the ‘integral state’. Anderson’s ‘spatial’ account of Gramsci’s hegemonic theory of the capitalist state and revolutionary strategy is thus rejected for a ‘functional’ approach that foregrounds the ‘integral’ nature of the relations between civil and political hegemony in the capitalist state and maintains that the revolutionary ‘practice of consolidating social forces and condensing them’ in civil society necessarily ‘presents an immediate challenge to the attempt by political society [i.e. the existing capitalist state] … to “enmesh” the same’. Indeed, for Thomas’s Gramsci, ‘civil hegemony has to progress towards political hegemony in order to maintain itself’.
It is, however, the final section of Thomas’s book (Chapters 7–9) that is likely to be of most interest to a philosophical readership. Here, its most illuminating and original contribution is to be found in its exploration of the conception of ‘absolute immanence’ in the Prison Notebooks. Against Althusserian charges that Gramsci was guilty of abandoning the science of Marxism by failing to theorize any possibility of a position of externality for it in the historical process,
Thomas convincingly links Gramsci’s conception of science to immanent critique (as opposed to transcendence) and maintains that, for Gramsci, modern science had in fact made ‘a decisive contribution to the elaboration of the philosophy of praxis’. Such scientific praxis was not, however, to be associated with some imaginary access to ‘naked objective knowledge’, but to its ‘practical-experimental relationship … with nature’, which Gramsci took as a model for the necessity of revolutionary Marxism itself to emerge from practice; that is to say, to emerge from within the everyday experience and problems of the proletarian masses which it would render ‘coherent’, thereby increasing their ‘capacity to act’ collectively.
While there may be no doubting the quality of the scholarship in The Gramscian Moment, there are those who will nonetheless question whether this work would not have reaped even greater dividends via a broader engagement with the literature on Gramsci outside of the Marxist tradition. This is not to say that Thomas ignores this literature completely. It is rather to point out that in his determination to demolish Anderson’s and Althusser’s ‘Gramscis’ there is necessarily much less space for confronting those other scholars who undoubtedly have a much greater claim to authority in this area – having benefited from much of the same philological work as Thomas – than either of his two key Marxist adversaries. Indeed, some may even regard the latter as decidedly passé and peripheral to contemporary debates on Gramsci. This is especially problematic given the virtual absence of any serious authorial criticism of Gramsci’s own work in this book.
For example, we can only speculate as to what Thomas makes of Gramsci’s more recent critics who call into question his commitment to democratic politics – as in the work of Richard Bellamy and Darrow Schechter or Carl Levy – or of those, including Laclau and Mouffe, who have interrogated Gramsci’s more unreflective presuppositions: for example, the centrality and validity of class analysis; the residual Marxist teleology that continues to mark his work; and the notion that only the proletarian class can lead a revolutionary hegemonic alliance. These presuppositions in particular undermine Gramsci’s claims to ‘absolute historicism’, ‘absolute immanence’ and ‘absolute humanism’ and suggest that there is a lot less consistency in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks than Peter Thomas maintains.
If these are issues which Thomas may well have felt were beyond the remit of this book, we can certainly look forward, with a justified sense of expectation, to a broader engagement with such critics. For, despite its limitations, The Gramscian Moment has clearly established Thomas as one of the leading experts in the field, and the book will no doubt become essential reading for all serious students of Gramsci’s work.
SusceptibilityJean-François Lyotard, Enthusiasm: The Kantian Critique of History, trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele,
Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2009. 67 pp., £41.50 hb., £16.50 pb., 978 0 80473 897 2 hb., 978 0 80473 899 6 pb.
In this slim volume, published in English translation more than a decade after his death, Lyotard reissues Kant’s call, in his preface to the first Critique, for a ‘critical tribunal’, and denounces ‘perpetual peace … by the death of the capacity to judge’. Critique, Lyotard argues, sets a limit to the pretensions of political, no less than metaphysical, illusion. The Kant interpretation Lyotard sketches here, relative throughout to the question of ‘the political’ and to the name ‘Wittgenstein’, proceeds along several converging lines of enquiry:
how it is that the critical is ‘analogous to the political’ (Chapter 1); how it is that judgement, in Kant, is less a ‘faculty’ than a constitutively inconclusive ‘power of [finding] “passages” between the faculties’ (Chapter 2); how it is that judgement retrieves a sign of ‘the Idea of freedom’ from the affect of ‘historico-political enthusiasm’ (Chapter 3); and how it is that this judgement, as a critical sensitivity to what is ‘delivered up by our time’, serves to ‘sanction the coexistence of what is heteronomous’ (Chapter 5). The ‘heteronomous’ is basically coterminous with Lyotard’s ideal of ‘ethical culture’ in this work, but that the word here has only a lexical relation to heteronomy in the second Critique is indicative of a radical shift in problematic. Lyotard seeks the ‘trace of freedom within reality’ in the wake of a ‘sublime feeling’, and not in practical reason as such. It is out of the formlessness of insurgency and the suspense of historico-political purposiveness, rather than respect for a pure ‘form of lawfulness’, that judgement comes to concern itself with the possibility of emancipation. A critical ‘discourse of emancipation’ – whose precondition, here citing Kant, is an ‘Empfänglichkeit to Ideas’; and thus ethical culture – takes a surge of purposive lawlessness as its inaugural sign.
The translator orients us in his preface to the occasion for this study, a version of which Lyotard presented in 1981 to a recently convened ‘Centre de recherches philosophiques sur le politique’ in Paris, on the invitation of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy.
Lyotard opens the volume with an ‘Argument’ that names Wittgenstein, and the name resurfaces at decisive points in his text. It is Wittgenstein who inspires Lyotard’s substitution of ‘phrases’ and ‘phrase families’ for the Kantian terminology of ‘presentations’ and ‘faculties’ (which never entirely disappears). A paragraph from his 1983 essay ‘Wittgenstein “After”’ illuminates this linkage – this decision – which remains quite obscure in Enthusiasm: this Viennese from the beginning of the century continues to sense the malaise of his time. Nietzsche had thought that it was a sickness of the will. But Wittgenstein is a republican, like Kant. Like Kant, he thinks that the time is diseased by language.
Kant did not know capitalism, however, while Wittgenstein had been immersed in it. The examination of language games, just like the critique of the faculties, identifies and reinforces the separation of language from itself. There is no unity to language; there are islands of language, each of them ruled by a different regime, untranslatable into the others.
This dispersion is good in itself, and ought to be respected. It is deadly when one phrase regime prevails over the others.
However impossible – or, in the vulgar sense, uncritical – this series of ‘passages’ may seem, it beautifully anticipates the structure, basic concern and leitmotifs of Enthusiasm.
As a single instance of this: Lyotard’s reference to ‘islands of language’ here recalls ‘the archipelago’, a figure to which he devotes the second chapter of Enthusiasm. But it is in the 1983 Wittgenstein essay, and not in Enthusiasm, that Lyotard intimates how the very form of Wittgenstein’s investigations may have provided him with this figure of the archipelago, according to which he reconceives Kant’s faculties and the factions of the various antinomies.
And, clearly, Lyotard does reconceive Kant. The valorization of ‘Kantian critique’ in this volume is a renovation, a recalibration: despite the volume’s subtitle,
Lyotard produces an unapologetically post-Kantian ‘critique of history’. What intrigues is the way in which it appears to be post-Kantian in the strictest sense: displaying a less marked affinity to Marx and Wittgenstein, perhaps, than to certain preoccupations in German philosophy in the last decade or so of the eighteenth century.Enthusiasm is a ‘metacritique’ or perhaps a ‘Romantic critique’ of the historico-political in Kant – to echo a polemical title of J.G. Hamann’s and the aspirations of the early German Romantics (while avoiding, as Lyotard does, the moribund term ‘postmodern’). And these allusions are not a distraction.
On the contrary: having recourse to Hamann and the Frühromantik, respectively, could perhaps have clarified for Lyotard – and can clarify in retrospect – the provenance of this work. Hamann’s Metacritique of the Purism of Reason was written in response to the typesetter’s proofs of Kant’s first Critique (it is unclear how they came into Hamann’s possession).
Its sole relevancy here is this: Hamann accuses Kant of glossing over, perhaps of repressing, critique’s material and its crux – namely, language. Where Lyotard has Kant recognize that his ‘time is diseased by language’, Hamann has Kant suffer from the disease of idealistic philosophy in their time: a disdain for language. Thus, in his very concern to revisit critique as a ‘philosophy of phrases’, Lyotard – however disparately and indirectly – is perhaps not executing Kant’s ‘unannounced program’, but what Hamann desired in the Metacritique.
It is, incidentally, Hamann who also fore-echoes Lyotard’s figure of the archipelago (while Kant envisions a perilously solitary island in the first Critique).
In Socratic Memorabilia – a work he dedicates to Kant, among others – Hamann writes: ‘On this occasion Socrates spoke of readers who could swim. A confluence of ideas and feelings … made his [Heraclitus’] statements into an archipelago, perhaps, for whose communication bridges and ferries of method were lacking.’ It is this figure that Hamann very consciously employs against the architectonic impulse that Kant would profess in the first Critique and pursue thereafter. Lyotard decides – less convincingly, and less instinctively – to interpret Kant’s architectonic as archipelago.
One laudable result of this decision, however, is Lyotard’s attention to Kant’s minor works, and the most impressive instance of this is his reflection on the ‘Conjectural Beginning of Human History’ in Chapter
This 1786 essay has been wrongly neglected, and here Lyotard’s instinct – which is that the ‘strange “manner” in which [it] is written’ has not been exhausted, or even seriously investigated – is sure. And yet: Lyotard imposes a ‘novelistic phrase’ on Kant’s speculative reconstitution of the myth of the Fall, when Kant here – an admirer of Rousseau’s novels, at the very least – has no more concern with the roman as a genre than with holy writ as revelation. By way of contrast, Hölderlin and Novalis, in the years immediately following the publication of the third Critique, set their hands to novels and novellas; and Hyperion would more likely answer to Lyotard’s desire that the novelistic phrase be seen as ‘a legitimate fashion’ in which to ‘phrase the historico-political’.
The questions could thus become: Why does Lyotard valorize Kant when the Enlightenment ‘has become obsolete’, rather than Counter-Enlightenment figures such as Hamann? Why does he conjure an archipelagic, linguistic Kant rather than revisit the Metacritique and the early German Romantics? And why plead that Kant drafted some species of novella in 1786, rather than appeal to Novalis’s and Hölderlin’s genuine efforts a decade later? And there are less extrinsic questions that could follow. In what phrase-regime could an injunction ‘to judge justly, without criteria’ serve as an injunction? What could ‘justly’ here enjoin that is not said in ‘judge’? Perhaps only this: that the word ‘judge’ must conserve within itself an Idea of justice; and, as Lyotard cites Kant, ‘all that our Ideas make known to us really is that we know nothing’.
In the end, it is against the oscillations of sensitivity and insouciance in this work, elegantly translated throughout, that such questions are raised. It retains its beauty and its capacity to keep us alert in the Kantian corpus, and in history, to a ‘vigorous emotion’ which is, so Lyotard suggests, the only moral passion.
David van dusen
It’s the way he tells themBen Fine, Theories of Social Capital: Researchers Behaving Badly, Pluto Press, London, 2010. 271 pp., £75.00 hb., £27.50 pb., 978 0 74532 997 0 hb., 978 0 74532 996 3 pb.
In stand-up comedy circles, as in journalism, there’s a well-known phrase with which to characterize the work of some comedians: ‘hack’ material refers to subject matter peddled by those comics who are content to regurgitate clichéd, dull, formulaic, obvious, oft-repeated, staid and tired observations about the world. (A typical example of a hack comic premiss is the remark that food on aeroplanes is awful.) In his new book, Theories of Social Capital: Researchers Behaving Badly, Ben Fine suggests that it is equally possible to identify hack academics. Unsurprisingly, considering his intended target, those academics who utilize the middle-range concept of social capital are held up by Fine as particularly definitive.
Social capital, to simplify, is associated with networks of reciprocity and trustworthiness in communities through which individuals create bonds and bridges with one another. For example, many people help out freely in their communities by, for example, sitting on school boards, getting involved in a local sports club, or taking part in a local campaign. In these instances, so some argue, social capital is being created in communities by ordinary people coming together to help out one another by bonding together around particular concerns or enjoyments and by (in many cases) constructing bridges of reciprocity and trustworthiness between different individuals and groups. Fine argues that those academics that study and (critically) endorse social capital more often than not engage in hack analyses because they take an easy-to-apply and all-encompassing concept – social capital – and then add some other variable to it in order to claim originality. Building on and developing his previous critical analysis of social capital in his 2001 book Social Capital versus Social Theory, Fine’s aim in part is to explore how such hack practices came to prominence in the social sciences and to dissect the ideological and practical effects these practices have had in various social science disciplines.
The book is divided into nine chapters, and each discusses a quite stunning array of sources. Indeed, the chapters serve, if nothing else, as invaluable critical literature reviews of particular areas concerned with social capital. Fine demonstrates that social capital emerged as a buzzword during the 1990s from the dual retreat of the excesses of neoliberalism and postmodernism. Social capital was perceived by many as a way to think about non-market responses to imperfectly working (neoliberal) markets. At the same time it offered up an opportunity to move beyond the postmodernist concern with (relativistic) attributes like cultural identity and instead bring back in more conventional analytical categories such as social class.
But Fine also demonstrates that those who champion social capital have often attempted to invent an intellectual history for it that stretches back to the beginning of the twentieth century, though evidence for such a history tends to be based on the work of a handful of social scientists who had in fact remained relatively obscure before their work was ‘discovered’ by more contemporary theorists. Given this, it should not surprise us, as Fine notes, that the vast majority of historians have managed to ignore the analytical potentials of social capital.
While Fine’s arguments on these issues are firstrate they might have been strengthened if more had been said about social capital’s role and unique position in the history of theories of civil society and political culture. At the end of the final chapter Fine does note that those claims which state that social capital offers something new to the study of civil society are erroneous because the latter is already so extensive as to render superfluous anything that social capital has to offer to it. Nonetheless, it would have been helpful if a little more detail had been given on the intellectual and theoretical history of studies of civil society in order to provide a more robust defence of this claim.
If it is true that each chapter remains a self-contained review of social capital research areas, this does not detract from the book’s coherence as a whole. One continuing theme of the book, it seems to me, is to critique social capital as a middle-range theory. In practice, a middle-range theory places social capital between systematic understanding and methodological individualism. It is thus interested in how social capital produces specific outcomes (e.g. how greater levels of social capital – trust, reciprocity, and so on – might lead to a more positive outcome for education).
Problematically, argues Fine, by squeezing in between systematic understanding and methodological individualism, social capital theorists tend to ignore deeper determinants of capitalism as a systematic whole along with other outcomes. At the same time, however, social capital theorists do in fact bring in other factors and variables into social capital’s explanatory framework by translating them into middle-range observable and measurable categories. Subsequently, those ignored deeper determinants can be accounted for in social capital literature by ‘bringing back in’ various middlerange categories when the need arises, to show the limitations of existing theories of social capital whilst developing and extending analytical boundaries. One of Fine’s compelling arguments throughout the book, then, is to illustrate how social capital has a gargantuan appetite that swallows other categories and variables into its rather ill-defined framework. Indeed, Chapter 4 looks in detail at how various categories are brought back into the social capital framework.
Another continuous theme evident in the book is social capital’s relationship with neoliberalism. Fine correctly observes that social capital shares similar ideals to neoliberalism, such as a focus on rational choice theory. He also shows that social capital arose as one way in which a more human face might be painted on neoliberalism. For example, the World Bank initially demonstrated a marked interest in social capital during the 1990s as one way in which to respond to non-economist critics of its neoliberal programmes in developing countries. As Fine notes, the World Bank has used social capital as a pretence to encourage community self-help programmes in developing countries so as to make privatization schemes in those very same countries a success. However, the World Bank soon dropped social capital once it had served its purposes of engaging non-economists within its development programmes and once social capital as an analytical category itself had slipped beyond its confines to other academic and research institutions where it was (re)defined in a plethora of often competing ways.
A final theme of the book is an outright rejection of the category of social capital itself. This might seem self-evident given the critical nature of the book.
However, Fine demonstrates that even those social scientists and social researchers who express a degree of scepticism towards social capital nevertheless often attempt to salvage its analytical and theoretical potential by rethinking its usefulness in some way or another. Fine is unsparing in his criticisms of those who attempt to rescue social capital in this manner, and this goes even for those who work within his own preferred theoretical framework of Marxism. For example, Fine believes that any attempt by Marxists, as has in fact been the case, to make social capital more applicable to the exploitative realities of capitalism only results in a series of rather obvious observations about power within and across social classes, which can in fact be made without introducing social capital in the first place.
The strength of Theories of Social Capital is that the main arguments in favour of this elusive concept are knocked down with vigour, while also taking the reader beyond the immediate confines of scholarship in the field, highlighting links between social capital and a variety of other pressing concerns such as neoliberalism and the practices of the World Bank.
John michael roberts
GroundedChristian Kerslake, Immanence and the Vertigo of Philosophy: From Kant to Deleuze, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2009. 334 pp., £65.00 pb. 0 748 63590 4.
Deleuze never gave us a real indication as to how to understand his philosophical project. There is no discourse on method. There is no account of the practice of ontology. We might know that being is multiple, but what we do not know is why we know that. Kerslake puts it this way: ‘in Deleuze’s published writings we appear to find no key, foundational texts whose predominant concern is to produce and account for philosophical method in, say, epistemology, the study of subjectivity, or ontology.’ The itinerary of Deleuze studies is a good testimony to this. Deleuze has been read as a pre-critical philosopher, as a Kantian, as a phenomenologist, as a radical or not so radical vitalist, as a philosopher of mathematics or contemporary physics (or both at once), as a Lacanian, a Marxist, or, more often, simply as a machine for the production of neat-sounding concepts. Kerslake’s book is an attempt to end this ambiguity and show us once and for all what Deleuze was up to.
What is surprising is that he apparently succeeds.
Kerslake’s argument is the most convincing account yet of the nature and assumptions behind Deleuze’s philosophical project. These basic ‘assumptions’, Deleuze’s ‘real questions and problems’, are, for Kerslake, fundamentally post-Kantian in nature. ‘The main claim of this book is that the philosophical work of Gilles Deleuze represents the latest flowering of the project, begun in the immediate wake of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, to complete consistently the “Copernican revolution” in philosophy.’ This is a compelling claim, but like any claim it needs to be grounded.
The circumstantial evidence for this argument is strong. Kantian and post-Kantian themes arise with a surprising consistency throughout Deleuze’s early work. In his very first book he reads Hume as a proto-Kantian who thinks the subject as both ground and self-transcendence, ultimately finding its unity in a system of ends. Proust’s Bergsonism is spread across a theory of the faculties which received its theoretical elaboration in Deleuze’s 1963 essay ‘The Idea of Genesis in Kant’s Esthetics’. Not only does Deleuze’s Nietzsche rewrite the Critique of Pure Reason, calling it instead Genealogy of Morals, but, when, at the end of Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze reads Zarathustra as the principle of a hypothetical positing which opens the way, finally, for Dionysius, an unconditioned positing, he is reading the movement of Nietzsche’s work as a whole through Kant’s elliptical claims at the end of the Opus postumum that ‘Zoroaster’ represents ‘philosophy in the whole of its complex, comprehended under a principle’. Difference and Repetition is arguably a rethinking of the central Kantian concepts and problems: synthesis, intensity,
Ideas, representation, schematism, and, as Kerslake emphasizes, grounding.
All of this evidence, however, remains deeply suspect in the light of Deleuze’s free-indirect philosophizing and the broad and spotty distribution of these allusions across Deleuze’s works. We know that the readings of Hume, Nietzsche and Proust are not of the same sort as the literal, good-willed commentary we would conventionally expect, and this forces us to submit all of the allusions to an initial suspicion: how do we know it’s not Kantianism that’s being taken from behind here? Further, what would allow us to say that these scattered allusions are not simply allusions to the Kantian project, but the real questions, problems and assumptions animating Deleuze’s work? Kerslake avoids these difficulties by grounding his claims in a recently discovered transcription of a 1956 course given by Deleuze at the Lycée Louis le Grande: What is Grounding? This lecture course isn’t an ideal ground given the pressing textual problems surrounding it (how accurate and complete are the notes?), but the course is remarkable for a number of reasons, and Kerslake’s long introduction is both an excellent summary of the course and a very persuasive argument for its centrality to our understanding of Deleuze’s philosophical project.
Kerslake emphasizes that this is the only lecture course in which Deleuze is not ‘ventriloquizing’ another thinker. Here he is working through a fundamental philosophical problem – what is a ground? – and, rather than ironically paraphrasing another author so as to let an indirect content slip through, Deleuze’s characterizations seem to be surprisingly accurate and reliable. For this reason, we can grant it priority over virtually all of Deleuze’s other texts.
Second, the course reveals a deep and original engagement with Kant, the post-Kantians and Heidegger. Kerslake convincingly shows that it is specifically within this tradition and its assumptions that Deleuze is posing his questions and determining his philosophical problems. In the engagement with these thinkers the central Deleuzean concepts which we find scattered throughout his later works are unified around two problems raised by Kant’s critical project: (1) the problem of metacritique, or the project of accounting for the possibility of reason’s self-critique, and (2) the problem of immanence, or the possibility of completing the critical project by obtaining some mode of access to the absolute from the standpoint of our constitutive finitude, thus realizing, as Kerslake puts it, the promise that ‘thought is capable of being fully expressive of being’.
It is well known that these problems occupied the post-Kantians, but Kerslake doesn’t tell the usual story in which Hegel appears at the end of the narrative as the inevitable destination of Kantianism after the valiant efforts of Fichte and Schelling. Instead, he argues that Deleuze goes back to Kant himself, and ‘re-excavates’ Kant’s ‘original ideas concerning the self-critique of reason’. The heart of Kerslake’s book is thus occupied by a lengthy and highly original rereading of Kant in which Kerslake directly addresses the problems of metacritique and immanence as they arise across Kant’s work and are reconfigured by Deleuze in What is Grounding? and in Difference and Repetition.
Kerslake’s reading of Deleuze’s published texts turns on Deleuze’s description in Difference and Repetition of the third synthesis as ‘the final end of time’.
According to Kerslake, this means that just as Kant ascribed a set of ends to reason, Deleuze will claim that ‘an internal teleology can be ascribed to the synthesis of time itself’. In Deleuze’s case, however, the end of this internal teleology, the final end of time, is not reason’s pursuit of a still more perfect unity, but is a transcendental ‘apocalypse’ in which a ‘regrounding of the subject in a properly ontological and creative “life”’ is accomplished. This transformation was already secretly animating Kant’s reformulations of reason’s ends across the three critiques and the Opus postumum, but it took Deleuze actually to see it and to follow through its implications. In doing so,
Deleuze is able to ‘transform Kantianism from within’ and ‘produce a self-grounding post-Kantian system of complete self-differentiation … in which spiritual creativity and “becoming” take over as the true “ends” of thought’.
Kerslake has done something here which, to my knowledge, has not yet been attempted in Deleuze studies, at least not at such a level of argumentation.
He has provided a well-grounded account of Deleuze’s fundamental philosophical problems. He has convincingly identified something like a key, foundational text which can account for the method directing Deleuze’s epistemology, his study of subjectivity, and his ontology, and he has reinforced that text with an admirably lucid reading of its historical sources. This is invaluable and it should transform Deleuze studies. It is also incomplete. What Kerslake cannot do – understandably, given the nature of the project – is get into the details of Deleuze’s texts and show how the particular concepts created in each work together to realize the apocalyptic ends of thought. In straining at the limits of Kantianism, he is also straining at the limits of Deleuzism. What we now need to do is show how this project animates the specific configuration of concepts in Deleuze’s major works.