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Roberto Esposito “Freedom and Immunity”

Esposito, Roberto 2013. Freedom and Immunity. – Terms of the Political. Community, Immunity, Biopolitics. New York: Fordham University Press, 47-56.

Whereas both American neocommunitarianism and organicistic German sociology link the idea of community to that of belonging, identity and ownership – that is, the community as something that identifies someone with his/her own ethnic group, land, or language – the originary term community has a radically different sense. One need only open a dictionary to learn that common is the exact contrary of one’s own; common is what is not one’s own, or what is unable to be appropriated by someone. It is what belongs to all or at least to many, and it therefore refers not to the same but to the other. (48)

Whereas communitas opens, exposes, and turns individuals inside out, freeing them to their exteriority, immunitas returns individuals to themselves, encloses them once again to their own skin. Immunitas brings the outside inside, eliminating whatever part of the individual that lies outside. What is immunization if not the preventive interiorization of the outside, its neutralizing appropriation? (49)

Whether we declare that freedom has already been realized in our liberal democracies or defer it by claiming it belongs to a far-off tomorrow, we remain within the same interpretive model. that is, we remain within a subjectivist metaphysical framework wherein the political scene is occupied by a preformed and predefined subject – the individual – who regards freedom as an object to defend or conquer, to possess or extend. (50)

Freedom thus is understood as that which makes the subject the proprietor of himself or herself; as essentially “proper” and no longer “common”. (50)

Nevertheless the true immunitary turn takes place during the Middle Ages, when freedom – that is, every freedom – takes on the character of a “particular right”: an ensemble of “privileges”, “exemptions”, or “immunity” […] that exempt certain collective subjects (classes, corporations, cities, convents) from an obligation that is common to all others and grant them a special juridical condition (like that of the libertas ecclesiae) within the hierarchical order. It is here that the passage from an open and affirmative notion of freedom to one that is restricted and negative, as well as immunized and immunizing, is carried out. (52)

When, beginning with Hobbes and the model of natural law, modern political philosophy attempts to restore universality to the concept of freedom, it can only do so within an individualistic framework that has now been extended and multiplied by the number of individuals who are made equal by their reciprocal separation. Freedom is what separates the self from the other by restoring it to the self; it’s what heals and rescues the self from every common alteration. From then on, with all of the possible variations – that is, from the absolutist – to the republican or the liberal type, freedom will always be conceived as a right, good, or faculty of the individual who holds it, either through the protection of sovereign law (Hobbes) or, conversely, by protecting the individual from it (Locke). (52-53)

In both cases, this protection, first of life and then of individual property, assumes a starkly oppositional quality to the political dimension as such. As Arendt observes, beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, freedom is tightly bound to security: We are free only insofar as and if we are secure – if freedom is “ensured” by its defensive and self-identifying connotation. (53)

Freedom is nothing but the effect, or the consequence, of property; a figure of what is “proper”, the opposite of what is “common”. (53)

But freedom is either a fact or it is not. Either freedom grasps our experience such that freedom subsumes experience, or freedom remains blocked in the self-dissolving circle of idea, essence, or concept. Therefore, freedom must be understood not as something that one has but as something that one is: what frees existence to the possibility to exist as such. (54)

[…] the very task of contemporary political philosophy lies: liberating freedom from liberalism and community from communitarianism. That is, we must deconstruct the first and most entrenched of those false antitheses that modern political philosophy has built in an attempt to fill in the void of thought that it has carved out around and within the great concepts of politics. if it is thought affirmatively, freedom can only be “common”  – belonging to each and all because it’s not proper to anyone. (55)

Freedom confronts community with its own outside, or projects that outside within as it is, without neutralizing community preventively. (56)

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