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Giorgio Agamben “Stasis”

Agamben, Giorgio 2015. Stasis. Civil War as a Political Paradigm (Homo Sacer II, 2). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  1. Stasis

The ambivalence of the stasis, according to Loraux, is thus attributable to the ambiguity of the oikos, with which is it consubstantial. Civil war is the stasis emphylos; it is the conflict particular to the phylon, to blood kinship. It is to such an extent inherent to the family that the phrase ta emphylia (literally, ‘the things internal to the bloodline’) simply means ‘civil wars’. According to Loraux, the term denotes ‘the bloody relationship that the city, as a bloodline (and, as such, thought in its closure), maintains with itself’ (Loraux 1997, 29). At the same time, precisely because it is what lies at the origin of the stasis, the family is also what contains its possible remedy. (7)

Insofar as civil war is inherent to the family – insofar as it is, that is to say, an oikeios polemos, a ‘war within the household’ – it is, to the same extent – this is the thesis that Loraux seems to suggest here – inherent to the city, an integral part of the political life of the Greeks. (8)

Toward the end of her essay, Loraux analyses the case of a small Greek city in Sicily, Nakōnē, where, in the third century bce, the citizens decided to organise the reconciliation following a stasis in a particularly striking way. Tey drew the names of the citizens in lots, in order to then divide them into groups of five, who in this way became adelphoi hairetoi, ‘brothers by election’. Te natural family was neutralised, but this neutralisation was accomplished simultaneously through a symbol par excellence of kinship: fraternity. Te oikos, the origin of civil strife, is excluded from the city through the production of a false fraternity. Te inscription that has transmitted this information to us specifies that the neo-brothers were to have no family kinship between them: the purely political fraternity overrules blood kinship, and in this way frees the city from the stasis emphylos. With the same gesture, however, it reconstitutes kinship at the level of the polis: it turns the city into a family of a new kind. It was a ‘family’ paradigm of this kind that Plato had employed when suggesting that, in his ideal republic, once the natural family had been eliminated through the communism of women and goods, each person would see in the other ‘a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, a son or a daughter’ (Rep., 463c). (9)

Let us attempt to summarise the fndings of Loraux’s essay in the form of theses:
1) In the frst place, stasis calls into question the commonplace that conceives Greek politics as the
defnitive overcoming of the oikos in the polis.
2) In its essence, stasis or civil war is a ‘war within the family’, which comes from the oikos and not from
outside. Precisely insofar as it is inherent to the family, the stasis acts as its revealer; it attests to its irreducible presence in the polis.
3) The oikos is essentially ambivalent: on the one hand, it is a factor of division and conflict; on the other, it is the paradigm that enables the reconciliation of what it has divided. (10-11)

What relations should we suppose between zōē and the oikos, on the one hand, and between the polis and political bios, on the other, if the former must be included in the latter through an exclusion? From this perspective, my investigations were perfectly consistent with Loraux’s invitation to call into question the commonplace ‘of an irresistible overcoming of the oikos on the part of the polis’. What is at issue is not an overcoming, but a complicated and unresolved attempt to capture an exteriority and to expel an intimacy. (12-13)

In the stasis, the killing of what is most intimate is indistinguishable from the killing of what is most foreign. This means, however, that the stasis does not have its place within the household, but constitutes
a threshold of indifference between the oikos and the polis, between blood kinship and citizenship. (14-15)

Te stasis – this is our hypothesis – takes place neither in the oikos nor in the polis, neither in the family nor in the city; rather, it constitutes a zone of indifference between the unpolitical space of the family and the political space of the city. In transgressing this threshold, the oikos is politicised; conversely, the polis is ‘economised’, that is, it is reduced to an oikos. Tis means that in the system of Greek politics civil war functions as a threshold of politicisation and depoliticisation, through which the house is exceeded in the city and the city is depoliticised in the family. (16)

Te document in question is Solon’s law, which punishes with atimia – which is to say, with the loss of civil rights – the citizen who had not fought for either one of the two sides in a civil war. As Aristotle bluntly expresses it, “whoever did not join sides [thētai ta opla, literally ‘provide the shield’] with either party when civil strife [stasiazousēs tēs poleōs] prevailed was to be held in dishonour [atimon einai] and no longer a member of the state [tēs poleōs mē metēchein].” (17)

Not taking part in the civil war amounts to being expelled from the polis and confned to the oikos, to
losing citizenship by being reduced to the unpolitical condition of a private person. Obviously this does not mean that the Greeks considered civil war to be a public good, but rather that the stasis functions
as a reactant which reveals the political element in the extreme instance as a threshold of politicisation that determines for itself the political or unpolitical character of a certain being. (17)

Te Athenian amnēstia is not simply a forgetting or a repression of the past; it is an exhortation not to make bad use of memory. Insofar as it constitutes a political paradigm inherent to the city, which marks the becoming-political of the unpolitical (the oikos) and the becoming-unpolitical of the political (the polis), the stasis is not something that can ever be forgotten or repressed; it is the unforgettable which must remain always possible in the city, yet which nonetheless must not be remembered through trials and resentments. Just the opposite, that is to say, of what civil war seems to be for the moderns: namely, something that one must seek to render impossible at every cost, yet that must always be remembered through trials and legal persecutions. (21-22)

Te form that civil war has acquired today in world history is terrorism. If the Foucauldian diagnosis of modern politics as biopolitics is correct, and if the genealogy that traces it back to an oikonomical-theological paradigm is equally correct, then
global terrorism is the form that civil war acquires when life as such becomes the stakes of politics. Precisely when the polis appears in the reassuring fgure of an oikos – the ‘Common European Home’, or the world as the absolute space of global economic management – then stasis, which can no longer be situated in the threshold between the oikos and the polis, becomes the paradigm of every conflict and re-emerges in the form of terror. Terrorism is the ‘global civil war’ which time and again invests this or that zone of planetary space. It is no coincidence that the ‘terror’ should coincide with the moment in which life as such – the nation (which is to say, birth) – became the principle of sovereignty. Te sole form in which life as such can be politicised is its unconditioned exposure to death – that is, bare life.(24)

  1. Leviathan and Behemoth

What is decisive, in any case, beyond the opposition between land and sea, is the surprising fact that the  ‘mortal God’, ‘the Artifciall Man called Common-wealth or State’ (as Hobbes defines him in the introduction), does not dwell within the city, but outside it. His place is exterior not only with respect to the walls of the city, but also with respect to its territory, in a no-man’s-land or in the sea; in any case, not within the city. Te Commonwealth – the body political – does not coincide with the physical body of the city. (35, 37)

Te unifcation of the multitude of citizens in a single person is something like a perspectival illusion; political representation is only an optical representation (but no less effective on account of this). (41)

‘The people’, he writes, is something single [unum quid ], which has one will and to whom one action can be attributed. None of these can be said of the multitude. Te people reigns in every city [Populus in omni civitate regnat]; even in a monarchy the people commands, for the people wills by the will of one man. Te citizens, that is, the subjects, are the multitude. In a democracy and an aristocracy, the citizens are the multitude; but the council is the people [curia est populus]. And in a monarchy, the subjects are the multitude, and (although this is a paradox [quamquam paradoxum sit]), the king is the people [rex est populus]. Common men, and others who do not notice these things, always speak of a great number of men, that is, of the city [civitate], as the people; they say that the city rebels against the king (which is impossible), and that the people will and nill what troublesome and murmuring subjects will and nill; under the pretext of the people, they rouse the citizens against the city, that is, the multitude against the people. (Hobbes 1983, 190) (42)

Te people – the body political – exists only instantaneously at the point in which it appoints ‘one Man, or Assembly of men, to beare their Person’ (Hobbes 1996, 120); but this point coincides with its vanishing into a ‘dissolved multitude’. Te body political is thus an impossible concept, which lives only in the tension between the multitude and the populus-rex: it is always already in the act of dissolving itself in the constitution of the sovereign; the latter, on the other hand, is only an ‘Artifciall person’ (Hobbes 1996, 111), whose unity is the effect of an optical contraption or a mask. (44-45)

It is a commonplace that in Hobbes the multitude has no political significance; that it is what must disappear in order for the State to be able to exist. Yet if our reading of the paradox is correct – if the people, which has been constituted by a disunited multitude, dissolves itself again into a multitude – then the latter not only pre-exists the people-king, but (as a dissoluta multitudo) continues to exist after it. What disappears is instead the people, which is transposed into the figure of the sovereign and which thus ‘rules in every city’, yet without being able to live in it. Te multitude has no political significance; it is the unpolitical element upon whose exclusion the city is founded. And yet, in the city, there is only the multitude, since the people has always already vanished into the sovereign. As a ‘dissolved multitude’, it is nonetheless literally unrepresentable – or rather, it can be represented only indirectly, as happens in the emblem of the frontispiece. (47)

Te people, that is to say, is the absolutely present which, as such, can never be present and thus can only be represented. If we call ‘ademia’ (from dēmos, the Greek term for people) the absence of a people, then the Hobbesian State – like every State – lives in a condition of perennial ademia. (51)

Te state of nature, as Hobbes explains in the preface to De Cive, is what appears when one considers the city as if it were dissolved (civitas […] tanquam dissoluta consideretur […] ut qualis sit natura humana […] recte intelligatur) (Hobbes 1983, 79–80), which is to say, from the perspective of civil war. In other words, the state of nature is a mythological projection into the past of civil war; conversely, civil war is a projection of the state of nature into the city: it is what appears when one considers the city from the perspective of the state of nature. (53)

If our hypothesis is correct, the image from the frontispiece presents the relation between the Leviathan and the subjects as the profane counterpart of the relation between Christ and the ekklēsia. Yet this ‘cephalic’ image of the relation between Christ and the Church cannot be separated from the thesis of Pauline eschatology, according to which, at the end of time, when ‘the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him’, God ‘will be all in all [panta en pasin]’ (1 Cor. 15: 28). This apparently pantheistic thesis acquires its properly political sense if we read it together with the cephalic conception of the relationship between Christ and the ekklēsia. In the current state, Christ is the head of the body of the assembly; however, at the end of time, in the Kingdom of Heaven, there will no longer be any distinction between the head and the body, because God will be all in all. (62-63)

If we take seriously the Hobbesian assertion according to which the Kingdom of God should be understood not metaphorically but literally, this means that at the end of time the cephalic fiction of the Leviathan could be erased and the people discover its own body. The caesura that divides the body political – a body visible only in the optical fiction of the Leviathan, but in fact unreal – and the real, yet politically invisible multitude, will be bridged at the end in the perfect Church. But this also means that until then no real unity, no political body is actually possible: the body political can only dissolve itself into a multitude and the Leviathan can only live together up until the end with Behemoth – with the possibility of civil war. (63)

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