Freedom Not Yet: Liberation and the Next World Order

Freedom Not Yet: Liberation and the Next World Order

by Kenneth Surin


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The neoliberal project in the West has created an increasingly polarized and impoverished world, to the point that the vast majority of its citizens require liberation from their present socioeconomic circumstances. The marxist theorist Kenneth Surin contends that innovation and change at the level of the political must occur in order to achieve this liberation, and for this endeavor marxist theory and philosophy are indispensable. In Freedom Not Yet, Surin analyzes the nature of our current global economic system, particularly with regard to the plight of less developed countries, and he discusses the possibilities of creating new political subjects necessary to establish and sustain a liberated world.

Surin begins by examining the current regime of accumulation-the global domination of financial markets over traditional industrial economies-which is used as an instrument for the subordination and dependency of poorer nations. He then moves to the constitution of subjectivity, or the way humans are produced as social beings, which he casts as the key arena in which struggles against dispossession occur. Surin critically engages with the major philosophical positions that have been posed as models of liberation, including Derrida's notion of reciprocity between a subject and its other, a reinvigorated militancy in political reorientation based on the thinking of Badiou and Zizek, the nomad politics of Deleuze and Guattari, and the politics of the multitude suggested by Hardt and Negri. Finally, Surin specifies the material conditions needed for liberation from the economic, political, and social failures of our current system. Seeking to illuminate a route to a better life for the world's poorer populations, Surin investigates the philosophical possibilities for a marxist or neo-marxist concept of liberation from capitalist exploitation and the regimes of power that support it.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822346319
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 12/02/2009
Series: New Slant: Religion, Politics, Ontology Series
Pages: 430
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Kenneth Surin is Professor and Chair of the Program in Literature at Duke University. He is the author of Christ, Ethics, and Tragedy; The Turnings of Darkness and Light: Essays in Philosophical and Systematic Theology; and Theology and the Problem of Evil.

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Liberation and the Next World Order
By Kenneth Surin


Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4631-9

Chapter One

The Complementary Deaths of the Thinking Subject and of the Citizen Subject

The concept of the subject is one of philosophy's preeminent topoi, and like all philosophical concepts it operates in a field of thought defined by one or more internal variables. These internal variables are conjoined in diverse relationships with such external variables as historical epochs and political and economic processes and events, as well as functions which allow the concept and its associated variables to produce a more or less specific range of truth-effects. The trajectory taken by the concept of the subject in the history of philosophy affords considerable insight into how this concept is produced, and as a result this philosophic-historical trajectory merits examination by anyone interested in this concept's creation.

The Classical Citizen Subject

There is a conventional wisdom in the history of philosophy regarding the more or less intrinsic connection between the metaphysical-epistemological project that seeks an absolute ground for thought or reason (What is it that enables reason to serve its legislative functions?) and the philosophico-political project of finding a ground in reason for the modus operandi of a moral and political subject (On what basis is reason able to legislate for the good life or right action?). According to the lineaments of what is by now a thoroughly well-seasoned narrative, the essential congruence between the rational subject of thought and the complementary subject of morality and politics was first posited by Plato and Aristotle. This unity between the two kinds of subject then found its suitably differentiated way into the thought of Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Hegel (and a host of their successors). The core of this narrative is expressed by the somewhat Kantian proposition, characteristic of the Enlightenment in general, that reason provides the vital and indispensable criterion by which all judgments concerning belief, morality, politics, and art are to be appraised, so that reason is the faculty that regulates the thinking being's activity. This activity is in turn the essential means for reason's deployment in any legitimate thinking about the world, that is, for the thinking being's capacity to describe and explain the world in ways that accord fundamentally with reason's precepts. And this precisely because reason is the irreducibly prior and enabling condition of any use of this capacity on the part of the subject. Reason, in other words, constitutes the thinking being, and the activity of this being in turn enables reason to unfold dynamically (to provide a somewhat Hegelian gloss on this initially Kantian proposition). In the topography of this unfolding of reason, both rational thought and politics and ethics are deemed to find their dovetailing foundation.

The philosophical tradition provides another way of delineating this connection between the rational subject of thought and the moral-political subject, one that also derives its focal point from Kant. Using the distinction between a subjectum (i.e., the thing that serves as the bearer of something, be it consciousness or some other property of the self) and a subjectus (i.e., the thing that is subjected to something else), the tradition has included among its repertoire of concepts a figure of thought taken from medieval philosophy that hinges on the relation between the subjectum and the subjectus. Etienne Balibar, in his fascinating essay "Citizen Subject," uses this distinction to urge that we not identify Descartes's thinking thing (res cogitans) with the transcendental subject of thought that very quickly became an ineliminable feature of Enlightenment epistemology. Nothing could be further from the truth, says Balibar, because the human being is for Descartes the unity of a soul and a body, and this unity, which marks the essence of the human being, cannot be represented in terms of the subjectum (presumably because the subjectum, qua intellectual simple nature, can exist logically without requiring the presupposition of a unity between soul and body). As the unity of a soul and a body, the human individual is not a mere intellectual simple nature, a subjectum, but is, rather, a subject in another, quite different sense. In this very different sense, the human individual is a subject transitively related to an other, a "something else," and for Descartes this "something else" is precisely the divine sovereignty. In other words, for Descartes the human individual is really a subjectus and never the subjectum of modern epistemology, the latter in any case owing its discovery to Locke and not to Descartes. For Balibar, therefore, it is important to remember that Descartes, who is palpably a late scholastic philosopher, was profoundly engaged with a range of issues that had been central for his precursors in the medieval period, in particular the question of the relation of lesser beings to the supreme divine being. This was a question which both Descartes and the medieval philosophers broached, albeit in different ways, under the rubric of the divine sovereignty.

The Cartesian subject is thus a subjectus, one who submits, and this in at least two ways significant for both Descartes and medieval political theology: (1) the subject submits to the Sovereign who is the Lord God, and (2) the subject also yields to the earthly authority of the prince, who is God's representative on earth. As Descartes put it in his letter to Mersenne (15 April 1630), "Do not hesitate I tell you, to avow and proclaim everywhere, that it is God who has established the laws of nature, as a King establishes laws in his Kingdom." From this passage, and from his other writings, it is clear that the notion of sovereignty was at once political and theological for Descartes, as it had been for the earlier scholastic philosophers.

This is not the place for a detailed discussion of Balibar's essay, or the magisterial work of Ernst Kantorowicz on this topic; the former, in addition to being a little brief (the section on Descartes is only intended to be an overview), is also not entirely new in what it proposes, since Leibniz, Arnauld, and Malebranche had long ago viewed Descartes, roughly their contemporary, as a follower of Augustine, who found philosophy's raison d'être in the soul's contemplation of its relation to God, and who therefore took the dependence of lesser beings on the divine eminence as philosophy's primary concern.

But if Locke is the true inventor of the modern concept of the self, as Balibar maintains, who then is the real author of the fully fledged concept of the transcendental subject, if Balibar is indeed right to insist that it is not Descartes? The true culprit here, says Balibar, is not Descartes, but Kant, who needed the concept of the transcendental subject to account for the "synthetic unity" that provides the necessary conditions for objective experience. Kant in effect foisted onto Descartes a philosopheme that was really his own "discovery," with Heidegger as his more than willing subsequent accomplice in this dubious undertaking. The outcome of this grievous misattribution has been momentous for our understanding, or lack thereof, of the course taken by this branch of the history of philosophy.

Kant, however, was about more than just the "discovery" of the transcendental subject. The Kantian subject also had to prescribe duties for itself in the name of the categorical imperative, and in so doing carve out a realm of freedom in nature that would enable this subject to free itself from a "self-inflicted tutelage" that arises when we can't make judgments without the supervision of an other; this of course includes the tutelage of the king. The condition for realizing any such ideal on the part of the enlightened subject is the ability to submit to nothing but the rule of reason in making judgments, and so freedom from the power of the despot when making one's judgments necessarily involves a critical repositioning of the place from which sovereignty is exercised. Kant declared that no more is the locus of sovereignty the body of the king, since this "tutelage" is stoppable only if the subject is able to owe its allegiance to a republican polity constituted by the rule of reason and nothing but the rule of reason. Whatever criticism Balibar levels at Kant for the (supposed) historical mistake he made with regard to Descartes, the philosopher from east Prussia nonetheless emerges as a very considerable figure in Balibar's account. For Kant also created the concept of a certain kind of practical subject, one who operates in the realm of freedom, and this practical subject, whose telos is the ultimate abolition of any kind of "self-inflicted tutelage," had to cease to be the "subject" of the king (i.e., the subjectus of Descartes and medieval political theology) in order to become a "self-legislating" rational being.

Kant's great achievement therefore lay in his simultaneous creation of the transcendental subject (i.e., the subjectum of modern epistemology) and the philosophical discrediting of the subjectus of the previous theologico-philosophical and political dispensation. The concomitant of Kant's philosophical gutting of the "subject" who owed his fealty to the king was thus the political emergence of the republican citizen who from 1789 onward (though a good case can be made for including 1776 in this periodization) would supplant the subject/subjectus of the previous historical and philosophical epoch. In the process, Descartes's philosophical world of subjects who submit, albeit "irrationally" from the Kantian standpoint, to the laws of God and king was dislodged by Kant's world of "self-legislating" rational subjects who engage in this legislation precisely by adverting to the rational and non-theological notions of right and duty.

This new subject is the embodiment of right (Recht) and of the operation of practical reason (right being for Kant the outcome that can be guaranteed only by the proper use of practical reason). Furthermore the subject is considered a citizen to the extent that he or she embodies the general will, in which case the only laws worthy of the name are those which "come only from the general, united will of the people." Sovereignty is thus glossed by Kant through a recasting of the Rousseauan social contract. Laws are rationally promulgated only when they exemplify the general will, and this exemplification of the general will is possible only if there is a perfectly just civil constitution. As Kant put it in his "Idea of a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose," "The highest task which nature has set for mankind must therefore be that of establishing a society in which freedom under external laws would be combined to the greatest possible extent with irresistible force, in other words, of establishing a perfectly just civil constitution." The outcome, as the philosophy textbooks tell us, was a crucial separation of the earthly from the heavenly city, of earthly sovereignty from divine sovereignty. However, if Kant is the true inaugurator of the Citizen Subject, then for Balibar, Michel Foucault is the great theorist of the transition from the world of monarchical and divine sovereignty to the world of rights and duties determined by the state and its apparatuses. Balibar concludes his essay with the following observation: "As to whether this figure [the Citizen Subject,] like a face of sand at the edge of the sea, is about to be effaced with the next great sea change, that is another question. Perhaps it is nothing more than Foucault's own utopia, a necessary support for that utopia's facticity." I would like now to address the Foucauldian question left by Balibar for future consideration and pose the question of the current destination or fate of the Citizen Subject. To do this we have to look again at Kant.

The reason that constitutes the subject is perforce a Transcendental Reason. The obvious Kantian inflection here is not accidental, because the reason that grounds the subject is not a reason that can be specified within the terms of the activity of the subject: this reason is the basis of this subject's very possibility qua subject, and by virtue of that, reason is necessarily exterior to the "activity" of the thinking subject. Reason in this kind of employment is thus the activity of a single and universal quintessence whose object is reason itself, so that reason has necessarily to seek its ground within itself, as Hegel noted. Reason, by virtue of its self-grounding, is perforce the writing of the Absolute. The subject's ground, which has to reside in Reason itself, is therefore entirely and properly metaphysical, and any crisis of Transcendental Reason unavoidably becomes a philosophical crisis of the thinking subject. Kant himself was the first to realize this, though it was left to his philosophical successors in the movement known as "early Romanticism" (Frühromantik) to make the acknowledgment of this crisis of Transcendental Reason into a starting point for philosophical reflection.

With Nietzsche, however, the hitherto radical figure of the transcendental subject is propelled into a crisis, and with this ostensibly terminal crisis the fundamental convergence between the rational-epistemological subject and the moral-political subject is denied any plausibility. We know from the textbooks of the history of philosophy that reason, insofar as it operates on both the understanding and the will, is placed by Nietzsche entirely within the ambit of the Wille zur Macht, so that power or desire becomes the enabling basis of any epistemological or moral and political subject, thereby irretrievably undermining or dislocating both kinds of subject. The "will to knowledge" for this Nietzschean-Foucauldian school of thought depends on a logically and psychologically antecedent "will to power." As a result of the intervention represented by Nietzsche, truth, goodness, and beauty, that is, the guiding transcendental notions for the constitution of this epistemological and moral-political subject, are henceforth to be regarded merely as the functions and ciphers of this supervening will to power. The same conventional wisdom also assures us that Marx and Freud likewise "undid" the two kinds of subject and thus undermined even further any basis for their essential congruence. The constellation formed by Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud (and their successors) shows both the transcendental subject and the ethicopolitical subject of action to be mere conceptual functions, lacking any substantial being (Kant having already argued in the Critique of Pure Reason that the subject of thought is not a substance).

This hackneyed narrative about the collective impact of the great "masters of suspicion" is fine as far it goes; what is far more interesting, however, is the story of what had to come after Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud, of what it is that was going to be done with the ruins of the epistemological and moral and political subject who ostensibly had reigned from Plato to Hegel before being dethroned in the late nineteenth century. It is interesting that Balibar, who is as resolute a marxist as anyone could be in these supposedly post-marxist days, appears not to take on board in "Citizen Subject" Marx's well-known critique of bourgeois democracy, but instead regards Foucault as the thinker who more than any other registered the crisis of this bourgeois Subject. Be that as it may, it is hard to deny that the transcendental subject of modern epistemology suffered calamitously at the hands of Nietzsche (and of Heidegger and Foucault after Nietzsche), and that political and philosophical developments in the twentieth century have cast the Citizen Subject adrift in a rickety lifeboat headed in the direction of the treacherous philosophical reefs mapped by Foucault.


Excerpted from FREEDOM NOT YET by Kenneth Surin Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I

1. The Complementary Deaths of the Thinking Subject and of the Citizen Subject 21

2. Producing a Marxist Concept of Liberation 34

3. Postpolitical Politics and Global Capitalism 65

4. The Exacerbation of Uneven Development: Analysis of the Current Regime of Accumulation 94

5. The Possibility of a New State I: Delinking 125

Part II

6. Models of Liberalization I: The Politics of Identity 141

7. Models of Liberalization II: The Politics of Subjectivity 165

8. Models of Liberalization III: The Politics of the Event 197

9. Models of Liberalization IV: The Religious Transcendent 226

10. Models of Liberalization V: Nomad Politics 241

Part III

11. The Possibility of a New State II: Heterotopia 265

12. Prospects for the New Political Subject and Liberation 285

Conclusion 295

Notes 299

Bibliography 371

Index 407

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