An end of politics?

Is it possible or desirable to conceive an end to politics? Many theorists on the left today are fixated on “the political,” reemphasizing it in an effort to counter the spurious “end of politics” represented by neoliberal globalization — and I think that’s proper and necessary, as is the development of political strategies. What I wonder, though, is whether all this line of thought goes too far in positing a completely inescapable and interminable political struggle.

Agamben memorably calls the idea of an eternal economy/governance/management “hellish” in The Kingdom and the Glory, and it seems like an eternal political struggle would be, if anything, even moreso.

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14 Responses to “An end of politics?”

  1. PE Says:

    Isn’t that like saying “Is it possible or desirable to conceive an end to being?” Politics is a mode of existence, a way of negotiating life in the big city, so it can only end when life ends or the big city ends, which is more or less the same thing.

  2. Scu Says:

    I guess I am with PE on this one. And end to politics strikes me as an end to history. And an end to history strikes me as end to being’s protean nature. And that strikes me as, well, death or isolation.

    I can see the desire for an end to struggle and an end to debate and an end to politics. But, I can’t see that coming without an end to all sorts of things I care about more (like life, or the existential reality of freedom).

  3. Robert Saler Says:

    If a defensible definition of politics is “negotiation of difference,” then I can’t see the “end of politics” as anything other than the triumph of total homogeneity.

    The fact that such a picture is disturbing should, I think, have some implications for eschatology, particularly those that cling closely to such images as “the triumph of the Beloved Community.”

  4. PE Says:

    I agree that as an eschatological or science fiction question, it is an interesting one. What would a world without politics look like? It would probably be a post-human world.

  5. voyou Says:

    As Marx points out in “On the Jewish Question,” “the political” as a distinct phenomenon is historically specific, something that is only possible as a result of capitalism’s creation of a separate and autonomous economic sphere. To claim that this historically specific thing, the political, is somehow inescapable and interminable is, it seems to me, to claim that history is ended. An idea like Chantal Mouffe’s agonistic pluralism, where politics continues for ever with no resolution, is a mirror image of the liberal end-of-history utopia, with “the political” switching places with “the market” in what is effectively the same structure.

  6. Hill Says:

    Marx may have “pointed this out,” but he also may have been wrong.

  7. Hill Says:

    Which is just to say, the coextensivity of “politics” and “the human” seems to be precisely the issue in question. The previous commenters seem to be saying precisely that they are coextensive. According to you, Marx doesn’t think so, but it would be interesting to know what his argument for that is.

  8. Hill Says:

    I get the impression that we should also distinguish between politics and “the political.” The concept of “the political” may well be historically specific, but that doesn’t mean “politics” is.

  9. PE Says:

    In that case let’s also define “political struggle.” Is that an ideologically charged term (the struggle of the oppressed) or an ontological term to denote that all form of politics is contestational?

    But as far as ending the “political” is concerned, isn’t that what totalitarian regimes of the 20th century had claimed to have accomplished? I suppose there is North Korea still as a non-capitalist space (though as I gather they are only surviving because they are fed by the capitalists, as part of a political settlement).

  10. Scu Says:

    voyou, I really tried to follow what you said at the end. I really couldn’t.

    As far as Marx is concerned in “On the Jewish Question”, I think you are somewhat off base from what I think most people on this thread is talking about. Marx is talking about political emancipation, that is to say, emancipation from the state. So the state becomes minimalistic in regards to civil society, and all the fucked up and oppressive relations are left intact, even encouraged to the degree that humans are encouraged to understand themselves as monads in civil society. So, what Marx is critiquing in the essay is the divorce between Man’s political life and her social life. Hence the ending of the first half of the essay, “Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognized and organized his “own powers” as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.” So, maybe I am missing something, but basically I think everyone on this thread is talking about the political not in some sort of libertarian wet dream in which civil society is distinguished from political life, but rather the political is what happens because humans have social powers that constantly are morphing and shaping the community and world around them. Yeah?

  11. voyou Says:

    Well, yeah, but if politics means something that is so general that it’s coextensive with the human, I’m not sure that it means anything at all, although maybe I’m wrong about that. But that’s why I wanted to bring up the idea of politics as a distinct and autonomous sphere, because that seems like something more specific, and so easier to talk about; and that is also the sense of “politics” that the left theorists Adam mentioned are fixated on.

  12. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The end of a “humanity” whose existence is co-extensive with politics may not be self-evidently undesirable, nor the end of a “history” that is co-extensive with politics.

  13. Anna Johnson Says:

    Is this a definitional question? I think depending on your definition of ‘politics’ you could say it’s something that, far from ending, has not yet begun…


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