Archive for the ‘Michael Hardt’ Category

Michael Hardt “The Withering of Civil Society”

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Hardt, Michael 1995. The Withering of Civil Society. – Social Text No. 45: 27-44

In order to situate Foucault’s work on the terrain of Hegel’s civil society,  however,  we  need  to  take  a  step back  and  elaborate  some  of  the nuances  of  Foucault’s  theoretical perspective.  Hegel’s  understanding  of the  historical rise  of  civil  society and  the generalization of  its  educative social role does  correspond in several respects to the process  that Michel Foucault  calls the governmentalization of  the  State. (32)

The  exertion of power is organized through deployments,  which  are at once  ideological, institutional, and corporeal. This  is  not to say that there is no  State, but rather that it cannot effectively be isolated and contested  at a level separate from society. In Foucault’s framework, the modern State is not properly understood  as  the  transcendent  source  of  power  relations in society. On  the contrary, the State as such is better understood  as a result, the consolidation  or  molarization of  forces  of  “statization” (etatisation) immanent  to social power relations. (33)

The  State, Hegel  claims, is not the result but the cause; Foucault adds, not a transcendent but an immanent cause, statization, immanent  to  the  various  channels,  institutions, or  enclosures  of social production. (33)

Deleuze  suggests that it is more adequate, then, to understand the collapse of the walls defined by the enclosures not as  some  sort  of  social  evacuation but  rather as  the generalization of  the logics that previously functioned  within these limited domains  across the entire  society,  spreading like  a  virus.  The  logic of  capitalist production perfected  in  the factory now  invests  all forms  of  social production.  The same might  be  said also  for the school, the family, the hospital,  and the other disciplinary institutions. (35)

The  panopticon,  and disciplinary diagrammatics in general, functioned primarily in  terms  of  positions,  fixed points,  and identities. Foucault saw the production of identities (even “oppositional” or “deviant” identities, such as the factory worker and the homosexual)  as fundamental to the functions of rule in disciplinary societies. The  diagram of  control,  however,  is  not  oriented  toward position  and  identity, but rather toward mobility  and  anonymity. It  functions  on  the  basis  of  “the whatever,”5 the flexible and mobile performance of  contingent identities, and thus its assemblages or institutions are elaborated primarily through repetition and the production of simulacra. (36)

Control functions  on  the plane of  the simulacra of  society. The  anonymity and whateverness of the  societies  of control is precisely what gives them their smooth  surfaces. (37)

Marx calls the subsumption of labor real, then, when the labor processes themselves are born within capital and therefore when  labor  is incorporated not  as  an  external,  but  an  internal force, proper to capital itself. (38)

In this light, the real subsumption  appears as the completion  of capital’s project  and  the  fulfillment  of  its longstanding dream-to  present itself  as  separate from labor, and pose  a  capitalist society that does  not look to labor as its dynamic foundation. (39)

What  is subsumed, what  is accepted  into  the process,  is  no longer a potentially conflictive force but a product of the system itself; the real subsumption does not extend vertically throughout the various strata of society but rather constructs  a separate plane, a simulacrum of society that excludes  or marginalizes social  forces foreign to  the system. Social capital thus appears to reproduce itself autonomously, as if it were emancipated from the working class, and labor becomes  invisible in the system. The  contemporary decline  of labor unions  in both  juridical and political terms, as the right to organize and the right to strike become  increasingly irrelevant in  the constitution,  is only  one  symptom of  this  more  general
passage. (39)

Not  the State,  but  civil  society has  withered  away! In  other  words,  even  if  one were  to  consider  civil  society  politically  desirable-and  I hope  to  have shown that this position is at least contestable-the  social conditions necessary for civil society no longer exist. (40)

Civil society, as we  have seen, is  central to  a form of rule, or government, as Foucault says, that focuses, on the one  hand, on the identity of the citizen and the processes  of civilization and, on the other hand, on the organization  of  abstract labor. […] What has come  to  an end,  or more  accurately declined in importance in postcivil  society, then, are precisely these  functions  of  mediation or education and the institutions that gave them form. (40)

Instead  of  disciplining  the  citizen  as  a  fixed social identity, the new social regime seeks to control the citizen as a whatever identity, or rather as an infinitely flexible placeholder for identity. It tends  to  establish  an  autonomous  plane  of  rule,  a  simulacrum  of  the social-separate from  the  terrain  of  conflictive  social  forces. Mobility, speed, and flexibility are the qualities that characterize this separate plane of  rule.  The  infinitely programmable machine,  the  ideal  of  cybernetics, gives us at least an approximation of the diagram of the new paradigm of rule. (40-41)