Baruch and Hobbesy, freedom of speech, etc.

rc-am rcollins at
Sun Mar 19 20:04:22 PST 2000

Ken wrote:

> Now justice and what you may or may not do
> depends not at all upon ones self-interest but on whatever the whim of
> the sovereign may be.

Schmitt wrote about 'whim' (the power to decide the exceptions) as the condition of sovereignty, did he not?

Anyway, Etienne Balibar discusses the sense (and eventual resolution through an adherence to absolutism) of the seeming paradox between egoism and sovereignty, in a wider discussion of Hobbes and Spinoza, thusly:

"Hobbes no less than Spinoza, of course, is a theorist haunted by the fear of the masses and their natural tendency toward subversion. His [Hobbes's] entire organisation of the state, including the way in which the distinction between the public and the private spheres operates, can be understood as a system of preventative defence against the mass movements that form the basis of civil wars (of classes and of religions) and of revolutions. It is in this context that the multitudo becomes in his writings the initial concept in the definition of the contract (see De Cive, chapter VI, and Leviathan, chapters XVII and XVIII), in order to constitute the system juridically, and establish it ideologically (on equality). But in Hobbes's writings it is only a question of a point of departure, which is immediately left behind. For Hobbes the 'multitude' that establishes the contract is not the concept of the 'mass'; it is the concept ('methodologically' individualist, as current Anglo-American sociologists say) of a 'people' always already decomposed, reduced in advance (preventatively) to the sum of its constituent atoms (people in the state of nature), and capable of entering one by one, through the contract, into the new institutional relationship of civil society. It is this Hobbesian 'multitude', let us remark, whose concept Locke -- the philosopher of 'tolerance' in a sense diametrically opposed to Spinoza, despite certain verbal similarities -- will transform in chapter VII of the Second Treatise, in order to show that majority agreement takes the place of the act of all, or of unanimity, both by right and in fact.

Spinoza, on the other hand, immediately combines these two elements. He speaks from the outset of the role of the 'multitude' in the constitution of the state, understanding it not as the abstraction of the people, but as the historical and political reality of the mass and of crowds in movement. This is why the role of the concept in his case is not that of an abstract presupposition immediately denied, superseded in a teleological dialectic, but that of a principle of concrete analysis, which proceeds by expanding continuously within a constructive dialectic. This is why, above all, the question of unanimity, which is no less central for Spinoza than for Hobbes, acquires a diametrically opposite significance. For Hobbes, unanimity is the essence of the political machine, implied logically by its very apparatus. For Spinoza, unanimity is a problem."

There's also an essay on Spinoza and Marx in Cultural Logic, 2:1, 1998, (on their website), where Eugene Holland writes: "A Spinozan-Marxist politics would, for another thing, eschew mediation, in the sense of a dialectical synthesis/resolution of conflicts or differences on a higher plane -- such as the State or the Party, because they tend to re-impose the "higher plane" as self-interested domination over the parties in conflict or difference, as Power (potestas) over force (potentia). Instead, political oganization would focus on "the multitude," working from the grass-roots outward (rather than "up"), making horizontal connections with other grass-roots groups rather than forming hierarchical pyramids; these are already the strategies of "autogestion" and "micropolitics" in France, "autonomia" in Italy (of which Negri was a prominent spokesperson and theoretician), "direct," "radical," or participatory democracy and coalition politics in the United States -- all of which are profoundly suspicious and critical of "representative" politics in both its institutional and theoretical forms, and construe the State as itself a terrain of immanent struggle among, rather than the transcendent, synthetic mediation of, conflicting social forces."

Holland admits this essay is a 'thought-experiment' in the development of a spinozan marxism; but he's right that Spinoza has been taken up by these groups as a terrain for raising different questions and responses to many issues, including that of constituent power and constitution.

Apologies for the citation-frenzy, but I'm still trying to pretend my attention is on other matters, namely overdue work.

Angela ________

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