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Federico Luisetti “Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben”

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Luisetti, Federico 2011. Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben: From Biopolitics to Political Romanticism. – Journal of Philosophy of Life, Vol 1, No 1: 49-58

The epistemic shift indicated by Foucault, from the traditional vocabulary of sovereignty, founded on the power of death, to a biopower that “exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavors to administer, optimize, and multiply it,” is presupposed by Schmitt’s reformulation of political categories. Thus, war must not be waged in the name of the sovereign but, as in Foucault, “in the name of life necessity,”12 for the sake of mobilizing entire populations and politicizing them on the biological ground of the optimization of life-forces. (52)

Schmitt has repeatedly and explicitly formulated this biopolitical tenet: a political entity is sovereign exclusively in the sense that the decision about the critical situation resides in a decisive human grouping. The locus of the political is not sovereignty as decision or as exception but the intensity of union and separation of life-forces. As in Foucault, the goal of sovereignty is the manipulation of biological life, not “the defense of sovereignty.” (52)

An action becomes political when it reaches its most intense expression, leading to a state of association or dissociation. The ultimate goal of politics is to recognize and maximize the immanent dynamics of life. (53 – of Schmitt)

This is the secret nature of romanticism denounced by Schmitt: romanticism has invented a lyrical, antinomic, and dialectical practice of emotional states and judgments; an empty yet seductive form of activity that seeks to replace all intensive distributions of human beings and historical facts. The aestheticization of politics pursued by the romantics is nothing but a bio-aesthetics of organic passivity, a surrogate of political vitality. Concrete reality is for political romanticism a mere occasio for a heightened form of productivity that claims to be more vital” than political action and decision. (54)

By stating that “the sovereign decision on the exception is the originary juridico-political structure on the basis of which what is included in the juridical order and what is excluded from it acquire their meaning,”22 Agamben transforms Schmitt’s biophilosophical defense of political activity into a disembodied machinery, attributing ontological autonomy to the sovereign decision and thus erasing the difference of intensity between political actions and bare life. The decision on the state of exception now acts by undermining vital conflicts and existential political groupings, preventing the Schmittian localization of sovereignty in the biohistorical perturbations of life: “As such, the state of exception itself is thus essentially unlocalizable.” (55)

As a consequence of this conception of movement, the naturalistic immanence of vital activity—which is the essential presupposition of both Schmittian and Foucauldian biopolitics—is suspended by Agamben in a theological zone of indifference, in the threshold of indeterminacy of an ontological stasis. (55-56)

[…] Agamben gets rid of a key presupposition of Foucault—the thesis that an epistemological discontinuity has been introduced when, in the Eighteenth century, biological life has entered into history—and substitutes Foucault’s genealogy with a rememoration of eternal life. (56)

This new theoretical physiognomy, invoked by Agamben and imposed by the primacy of theōria, implies the loss of connection between pouvoir and savoir. (56)