“The Answer Is Blowing in the Wind”

Giacomo Marramao
University of Rome iii

Volume 8, 2015

Let me start by saying that the essays about my book The Passage West that are collected in this issue of Política Común encompass such a wealth of observations that I can only recall the Spinozian tenor of Hegel’s famous dictum on freedom: Einsicht in die Notwendigkeit, the awareness of necessity. Rather than respond I will attempt to reformulate my thesis and redefine its concepts along the lines of the aforementioned readings. Consistent with Hegel’s necessitated liberty I will proceed discursively. It may be the only appropriate way to reply to the many solicitations and questions raised by the contributions presented here, and by the discussion panels that several American universities organized around my book in October-November 2012, from UC Berkeley and UC Irvine to Texas A&M University, Stony Brook University and Columbia University in New York City.

Before I examine these comments, however, I would like to provide the reader with a few indications about my intellectual and philosophical itinerary. Although in the 1970s I published several essays in English-language journals (such as TelosDifferentia, and, later, Constellations) my intellectual profile is more familiar to the Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese speaking areas than to the Anglophone one. Ever since my early days in Florence, both in high school and in college, my education was marked by my crucial encounter with Marx’s work. My Marx was light-years from orthodoxy, however. I met his work at the juncture of the two tendencies that produced a radical rupture within Marxism in the 1960s: the operaismo of Mario Tronti’s Operai e capitale and Louis Althusser’s post-structuralist and anti-humanist stance. I elaborated my critique of the historicist tradition that was typical of Italian Marxism precisely at the intersection of these two interpretive axes. In my first monograph, Marxismo e revisionismo in Italia (1971), I did not leave even Gramsci’s theoretical results untouched. In my view, Giovanni Gentile’s philosophical interpretation of Marx still warped Gramsci’s. In spite of my critical opinion of Gramsci’s still idealist “philosophy of praxis”, in that initial reflection I formulated the two competing and complementary drives that would characterize my future research: a) a search for a scientific approach to historical forms and structures that comprises both moments of continuity and rupture—history-as-a-process as well as history-as-an-event; b) a search for an articulate analysis of the material and symbolic dynamics by which we constitute subjects.

In the mid-1970s, during my years at the Goethe-Universität, my encounter with the Frankfurt School drove me to deepen and broaden these aforementioned lines of research. Over the course of those intense years, I grew familiar with Oskar Negt and Hans-Jürgen Krahl’s radical Critical Theory. Later, I would undergo a fecund intellectual exchange with Jürgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel, Claus Offe, and Axel Honneth, as well as with thinkers distant from Kritische Theorie such as Niklas Luhmann and Reinhart Koselleck, and finally with Hans-Georg Gadamer and Rüdiger Bubner, the leaders of philosophical hermeneutics. On one hand, my understanding of the Frankfurt School’s main theses predisposed me to the turn heralded by the analysis of the “reification” mechanisms typical of mass society and of the practical-theoretical importance of the “objective factor of subjectivity”. On the other, it vaccinated me against the contradictions intrinsic to Horkheimer and Adorno’s notion of “totality”, whose critique I pursued via a thorough confrontation with the social sciences. My appreciation of the theoretical-economical, theoretical-political, and genealogical contributions of authors such as Friedrich Pollock, Henryk Grossmann, Franz Borkenau, Otto Kirchheimer, and Franz Neumann stemmed from my criticism of Dialectic of Enlightenment’s emphasis on “continuity”. Between 1973 and 1975, I thus wrote several essays on the “hidden side” of the Frankfurt School, on Grossman’s theory of crisis, and on Pollock’s planned economy (my friendship with Perry Anderson and encounter with Martin Jay facilitated their publication in English). Later I published the monographs Austromarxismo (1977) and Il Politico e le trasformazioni (1979), where I examined the different ways in which European Marxism tried to deal with the profound mutations in the relationship between economy and politics that occurred between the two wars. I compared those Marxist reelaborations not only to the philosophies of crisis, but also to Weber, Schumpeter, Kelsen, and Schmitt. In 1977-78, I dedicated one of my first university courses to Carl Schmitt’s “concept of the Political”, an author then virtually absent from the Left’s theoretical elaborations. It was also the first course on the topic to be held in an Italian university.

The following year, in Il Politico e le trasformazioni (1979), my writing on Schmitt garnered some pronounced criticism. I still remember the surprise, or the unease, expressed by friends with whom I enjoyed intense philosophical exchanges in the late 1970s. A few years later, those friends would consider Schmitt differently: from Christine Buci-Glucksmann to Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau (I am deeply indebted to them, especially for leading me to revise my initial negative judgment of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony), to Étienne Balibar and Giorgio Agamben (who was already the sharp scholar of Heidegger, Arendt, and Benjamin, but not yet the theorist of homo sacer and of the “state of exception”). Setting off from this background, I strove for an appreciation of the “heretical” propensity that Kulturkritik demonstrated at the juncture of philosophy and the social sciences, in-between the two wars, and in the Mittel-European context. Thus the attention I paid to the philosophical-political and epistemological debates of Weimar Germany, and to the role the Austro-Marxist intelligentsia (Otto Bauer, Max Adler, Karl Renner) played in the Austrian culture of the first three decades of the 20th century. Two distinct and complementary reasons motivated my interest in these themes. On one hand, I attempted to locate the breaking points of both metaphysical and scientific “essentialism”. On the other, I concentrated on the precise moments at which 20th century thought brought into focus the phenomena of fragmented sovereignty and of dislocated forms of power and conflict. With regard to the first aspect, in the volume Austromarxismo (which was followed by a series of articles on the same topic published in Italy and abroad) I aimed at shedding light on the all-together innovative and problematic qualities of this particular line of thought, which re-interpreted Marx through the epistemological revolution brought about by Ernst Mach and Otto Neurath, and I engaged with Hans Kelsen’s juridical and political philosophy from the point of view of Ernst Cassirer’s seminal essay “Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff” (1910). In spite of beings at odds on many issues, both the “Austro-Marxists” and Kelsen tried to “de-substantialize” the notions of State, Sovereignty, and People, and to transform them into “relational” and “functional” terms.

As far as the second aspect is concerned, in Il Politico e le trasformazioni I summed up the research I carried out during my Frankfurt years in order to inaugurate a new intellectual trajectory. By placing different forms of Marxism in conversation with Weber and Schumpeter’s analyses of the “rationalization” phenomenon, I then concentrated on the metamorphosis of the political in the transition from liberal to mass societies and on the shift from “Manchester-style” to “organized capitalism”. In that book, I rephrased a few motifs prevalent in the Anglo-American debates within the fields of historiographical and political science debates (in reference to Charles S. Maier and Philippe Schmitter) in terms of social philosophy, and pointed to “corporate pluralism” as one of the main factors responsible for the fragmentation of sovereignty. Moreover, I looked at the totalitarian solutions of the 1930s not as a reinstatement of sovereignty, but as an attempt to contain its splintering via practices of consensus, discipline, discrimination, and repression that aimed at a “nationalization of the masses”. (My first encounters with the works of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, strengthened by my friendship with Félix Guattari, dates back to the 1970s, as does my intellectual and then personal rapport with George Mosse). Furthermore, by freeing Weber’s category of “rationalization” from the unilateral reading characteristic of the Frankfurt School, Il Politico e le trasformazioni concluded by stressing the “polytheism of values” as a conflictual constellation of attack-points rather than a harmonic pluralism of point-of-views. Unlike its irenic and edifying versions, Weber’s Wertpolytheismus appeared to me at the time, and still does, not as a Pantheon but a Pandemonium. I connected Max Weber’s diagnosis-prognosis with Carl Schmitt’s “concept of the Political” along similar lines. For Schmitt, once the “epoch of neutralizations and de-politicizations” distinguished it and rendered it independent from the modern State-form, the “concept of the Political” had to relate to the tragic dimension of the conflict between values and world-visions marking the new technische Zeit. My joint reading of Weber and Schmitt, and the problem of politics’ transformations in the direction of Philippe Schmitter’s “post-Hobbesian order” have become constant reference points for my work, as attested by L’Ordine disincantato (1985) and Dopo il Leviatano (1995). Further on, I reached another conclusion: the roots of the processes that caused the crisis of the modern Leviathan’s grand structure will escape us as long as we limit our focus to traditional political philosophy. Instead, we need to broaden our analysis and produce a much-needed genealogical reconstruction of the premises of “Western rationalism”.

Within this frame of reference, Potere e secolarizzazione (1983) marked a significant turn in my intellectual itinerary. In this book, I assigned to the philosophical problem of time, axially related to the problem of power, the crucial role that it has occupied in my reflections ever since. From my perspective, the “theorem of secularization” is the most efficient analytic pattern by which we can reconstruct the genealogy of power. Such has been the case ever since the symbolic constellation established by Judeo-Christian—linear—time left the mark of its abyssal long wave on the body of Western thought. This cumulative temporality, irreversible and oriented toward the future, broke with the paradigmatic, synoptic, and Greek circularity of time, transforming the prophetic word into the first expression of worldly disenchantment, and historical time into the trajectory of the éschaton’s progressive secularization. As Max Weber and Karl Löwith pointed out, in spite of Heidegger and his “History of Nihilism and Metaphysics”, Jerusalem determined the Western destiny as much as Athens. Therefore, I saw that the metaphoric and symbolic constellation of a “futuring” time, together with the ideas of Progress, Revolution, and Liberation that were its pillars, revealed itself as the inescapable horizon of the modern concept of Universal History or World-History (Weltgeschichte) which, starting with Kant, was bound to permeate the unfolding of the philosophy of history between the 19th and 20th centuries.

In Potere e secolarizzazione, I retraced the steps of Western rationalism from the perspective of the metamorphosis of the intuition and experience of time. I summoned philosophical, artistic, and literary sources such as the Schmitt-Blumenberg debate on secularization; the Begriffsgeschichte of Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck; and, beginning with Hayden White’s seminal Metahistory, the English-language research on metaphor. Moreover, in my trajectory I addressed the very story of the social and natural sciences, from the first scientific revolution to the epistemological turn represented by Luhmann’s systemic paradigm and Thom’s “catastrophe theory”. To philosophical postmodernism I opposed the category of “hyper-modernity”, thus following Ludwig Wittgenstein’s thesis according to which Progress’ cumulative and “futuring” temporality is not merely a feature of Modernity, but rather its form, a “typically constructive” form (typisch aufbauend) whose activity amounts to erecting “ever more complex structures”. The latter assumption, via a philosophical reinterpretation of Koselleck’s “semantics of historical times”, led me to conclude that we can sum up our hyper-modern experience of time, whose “future past” syndrome is marked by increasingly intense and vertiginous innovations: we no longer wait or hope for a better future, but experience the future as a déjà-vu and as a repetition of the same. In a subsequent monograph, Cielo e terra (1994), I mapped out the long series of semantic shifts and metaphorical extensions that characterized the term “secularization”. Couched in the typically Western dualist horizon defined by the “eternity/secular world” pair, “secularization” morphed from a terminus technicus originating in the juridical realm to a theological notion and a concept in the philosophy of history. Eventually, in a hyper-modern Zeitgeist toddling along between the two poles of disenchantment, one at the hands of science and the other represented by the powerful return to myth and to forms of religious fundamentalism and “imagined communities,” “secularization” ended up denoting the crisis of all models of “teleological history”.

While Potere e secolarizzazione gave rise to intense international discussions, particularly in Italy, Germany, France, and in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, in the two ensuing volumes—Minima temporalia. Tempo, spazio, esperienza (1990) and Kairós. Apologia del tempo debito (1992), published in English as Kairós: Towards an Ontology of ‘Due Time’ (2007)—I dealt with time in the strictly theoretical sense. Somehow anticipating themes of the spatial turn, in these books I applied a “lateral shift” onto the views I had adopted in my genealogical research on secularization. Albeit with greatly different outcomes, both Bergson and Heidegger posited a pure or “authentic” form of temporality that was more “original” than its representations/spatializations. On the contrary, I argued that we could not cut through the time-space nexus. Recalling contemporary post-relativistic physics, I ascribed an aporetic and impure profile to the structure of time, whose spatial dimension was the inescapable formal referent by which we thought the paradoxes of time. Thus, I promoted a philosophical alternative, developed in dialogue with the languages of the arts and sciences, as a post-metaphysical ontology of “disorientation” and “difference” that I clearly conceived as utterly dissimilar from the current declensions of “nihilism”. I did not leverage the usual rhetoric of “overcoming” and “reversal”, but aimed at a practice of “perspectival de-angulation”. In other words, I was after a radical displacement of how the entire Western philosophical tradition—from Plato to Bergson, Aristotle to Leibniz, Nietzsche to Foucault, and Baudelaire to Benjamin—had visualized the “question of time”.

From that moment on, the category of difference came to play a pivotal role in my work. In my recent books—from Passaggio a Occidente (2003; The Passage West [2012]) to La passione del presente. Breve lessico della modernità-mondo (2008) and Contro il potere. Filosofia e scrittura (2011; English translation forthcoming with the John Cabot University Press)—I took the category of difference, which I elaborated in dialogue with the variegated archipelagos of the feminist philosophical thought of the 1970s, to be the reconstructive criterion for a “non-identitarian” i.e. plural and always conflictual, universal. In order to shed light on the conceptual and symbolic constellation of our global present, I brought together the genealogical perspective prevalent in Il Politico e le trasformazioniPotere e secolarizzazioneCielo e terra and Dopo il Leviatano with the theoretical stance of Minima temporalia and Kairós. But before I address the comments and answer the questions posed in the contributions collected here, please allow me yet another clarification.

In La passione del presente I developed further the perspective of a universalism of difference and of cosmopolitan multilateralism that already present in the first Italian edition of The Passage West (Passaggio a Occidente. Filosofia e globalizzazione, 2003). I organized the former around a series of key words; a possible lexicon the reader could use to circumnavigate the logic and structure of our world-modernity from different conceptual positions. In one of his famous pronouncements, Hegel assigned to the philosopher the task of providing a conceptual understanding of her or his own times in thought. As far as I can see, we cannot entrust this exquisitely philosophical and modern responsibility to other forms of knowledge, and even less to any self-described ultimate source of meanings. We should not, however, confuse the perspectives of an “ontology of the present” with those of an “ontology of actuality”, as Foucault did. In order to think of the present in a radical and conceptual way, we must grasp that secret, Nietzschean (and hence future-, not past-oriented), untimely fold which, Kant would say, carries in itself the signum prognosticum of an advent we conceive not as a “horizon” but as a symbolic “potential” bound to bring about an opening of experience to the future. This is how I explain the title: the passion of the present, of a present calling us, implies not only that philosophical reflection is part and parcel of the destiny of our times, but also that the present implicates our very same philosophical subjectivity (like all subjectivities) in the way we feel or suffer under the weight and the necessitating logics of such a present.[1]

In this book, I explicitly state the need to bring together the alternative styles of analytic and hermeneutic philosophies. Among the inescapable preconditions of our coming to terms with the truth/interpretation quandary that currently paralyzes contemporary philosophical research is the necessity of keeping open the tense space these two traditions of thought delimit. Moreover, and above all, in doing so we will connect our diagnosis of the present to the dimension of the possible and of decision, steering it towards the frame of reference of an ontology of the contingent. This task is particularly urgent in a contemporary global juncture such as ours, which is, more than ever, characterized at the symbolical level by the implosion of the future and the dominance of a “past future”, and at the theoretical level by the divergence of “absolutism” and “relativism”. Therefore, the thesis I propose in my book arises from the influential scene of a world-modernity I identify as the passage from the “colonization of the future” (fulfilled by the Western ideology of Progress) to the “eternizing of the present”. We see this present in the guise of a paradoxical imago æternitatis that pairs up “agitation and sterility” (Alain Badiou), feverish acceleration and stagnation, thereby incurring the risk of removing the “kairological” dimension, i.e. the possible and contingent that is proper to all junctures. Under the mask of religious fundamentalisms, identitarian violence characterizes the trans-territorial and transcultural conflicts typical of a glocalized world that is homogeneous and diasporic at once. Such conflicts are but the interface of an epoch of “sad passions” brought about by the crisis of the future as a horizon of expectations. Yet next to the perverse interlacing of the phenomena of depressive implosions with molecular explosions that we ascribe to the looming pathological quality of identity logic, in various parts of the planet we also witness the rise of freedom movements demanding a multilateral reconstruction of the universalistic project. Sharing Hamlet’s famous warning to Horatio, the participants of those movements deem that the forms of rationality, and hence the roads to freedom and democracy, are more numerous than our insufficient philosophies currently imagine. My book’s key words are therefore the threads I weave to achieve the fabric of such a philosophical reconstruction. I am convinced that only if we set off by radically critiquing the reified, substance-like, notions of the Self, acknowledging that all identities—personal or collective, cultural or religious—are irreducibly dynamic and processual, simultaneously relational and antonymic, do we open the theoretic-processual perspective of a universalism of difference that Deleuze’s fecund, quasi-Kantian intuition made pivot on the logic of “disjunctive synthesis”.

In light of this perhaps slightly impertinent but also hopefully useful self-description, I will now finally proceed to my brief “reactive commentary” to the intense and stimulating contributions collected here.

Among the first aspects of my book to attract the readers’ interest is the representational form of the global scene. I am particularly grateful to Teresa M. Vilarós for her acute and elegant remarks on the “topological quality” of my “theoretical map of the global”, and for seeing in it “a figure-movement alternative to the traditional Euclidean geometrical one”. She detects in my book the echo of the “quantum fold” of the catastrophe theory that René Thom described mathematically. Her observation is accurate. In the early 1980s philosophical and political discussions were in the throes of a “crisis of the concept of crisis”. As I already pointed out, it occurred to me that the paradigm of katastrophé, as a radical break and a change of shape (morphogenesis), was our only chance to abandon the concept of crisis, a lemma we had already weakened and ritualized by converting it from a pathological condition into the description of the physiological state of a self-perpetuating system. For this reason, the concepts of catastrophe and “bifurcation” have been firm points of reference for me since the first edition of Potere e secolarizzazione (1983). As both The Passage West and Dopo il Leviatano attest, these references are still valid today for my mapping of the glocal, and for my broader project, which is topological-qualitative (in the Leibnizian sense), not quantitative-uniform (in the Newtonian sense). Aptly comparing Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth with his 1962 lecture titled “El orden del mundo después de la segunda guerra mundial”, Teresa Vilarós stresses Schmitt’s awareness of the evident discontinuity existing between the modern, flat, and “smooth” territorial dimension of modern spatiality and the new “striped” and multidimensional feature of global spatiality characterized by “magnetic fields of energy and human work”. She also notes correctly that Schmitt’s vision of technische Zeit, though registering the “bio-political quality” of a global force field shifting from the land-sea dualism to the dominance of the air, could not account for the scenarios currently opened by the advent of the digital and of a “plethora of smart biotechnologies”.

Finally, I agree with the last step of her reasoning. She argues that the no longer Promethean, but nostalgic, posthumous (akin to a “Christian Epimetheus”) attitude typical of the late Schmitt reflects back to us a distorted, yet specular, image of Benjamin’s “Angel of History”. However, in my conception of a passage “without a destination”, which is contingent and risky precisely because neither teleology nor destiny can guarantee it, she is right to perceive my claim for a radically new philosophical style made up of non-linear sets of conjunctions and disjunctions, as my beloved poet-thinker Octavio Paz put it, via a hendiadys. By interlacing concepts and images the philosophy I pursue should in fact convey the paradoxical synchronicity of what is asynchronous in a world that has become global. On this globe, the material and the symbolic dimensions are often out of synch, thus forcing dynamics of liberation that are potentially universal and positive to coexist in the curvature of the same space with identitarian mechanisms that are merely reactive and negative. The latter, especially in their pseudo-fundamentalist and terrorist guises, are doomed to be annihilated in the internecine wars raised by the parasitical chrysalides competing for global dominion.

The phenomenon of the exponential inflation of the logics of identity is also the departure point of Manuela Marchesini’s intense and sophisticated essay. The true nature of the identitarian phenomenon is obfuscated by readings in the interpretive line of the “end of history” and of the “clash of civilizations”. In spite of their antithetic stances, at once neutralizing and depoliticizing, those interpretations share the same complicitous and unilateral approach to the global. On the contrary the universalism of difference that I propose clearly differs from, on one hand, the universalism of an Enlightenment tradition that is supremacist even in its nobler formulations, and, on the other, the anti-universalism of the cultural differences that call themselves multiculturalist. Because it posits what the liberal democrat Amartya Sen called a sort of “plural mono-culturalism” or, as I prefer to say, a mosaic of ironclad monads with “neither doors nor windows”, multiculturalism is no less identitarian than its supposed alternative. Manuela Marchesini appropriately connects my universalism of difference with two themes that are crucial to me: the symbolic and the threshold, or the field-effect and the boundary-line. Such themes summon illustrious theories or well-known positions in international debates, from which I nonetheless distance myself. While I do consider Lacan’s work as a definitive acquisition, as I have stated on multiple occasions and also at two international meetings organized by Jacques-Alain Miller, I cannot but find Lacan’s Imaginary-Symbolic-Real tripartition of psychic life insufficient. In particular, I deem the last two terms of the triad especially weak. The almost cacophonic variety of Lacan-inspired elaborations characteristic of both native and affiliated philosophical exponents of “French Theory”, from Badiou and Žižek to my dear late friend Ernesto Laclau, is there to prove it.

Coming now to the question that Manuela Marchesini puts forth concerning the relationship between the Symbolic and the Real, I surely do not deny the idea of the traumatic shock we suffer when we encounter the “opaque material” that resists symbolization. But I have serious doubts about the mechanical transposition of such shocks from the individual plane to the plane of political and historical events. The risk I see is that the Real will end up functioning as it does in Žižek, as a container that does not differentiate among the most disparate events. But in the sphere of collective social experience, we still have to discriminate between Adorno’s “unthinkable” Horror of Auschwitz and the unforeseeable or unimaginable character of 9/11, without renouncing the Hegelian “conceptual work” by which we bring those events to the Real that contains them. Therefore the redefinition of the symbolic I propose, implicit in The Passage West but developed in my others works, points to a field-effect that includes not just mere polyphony but also dissonance, not consent but dissent, not dialogue but conflict, not Habermas’ Verständigung but Mißverständnis, not agreement but disagreement as its constitutive and vital factors (I am not sure if at this point my interests converge with Rancière. In any case it would be an unintentional point of contact since my line of thought has been maturing independently of his writings). As far as the Real is concerned, I would posit it as a boundary-line, a threshold we conceive as a margin between the inside and the outside, between identity and alterity, like a non-place of separation-condivision or, to adopt the oxymoron used by another great exponent of post-Freudian psychoanalysis such as Wilfred Bion, a “contact barrier” between what is conscious and what is unconscious. In its orderly recursivity, as well as in the fragmentariness that the traumatic irruption of opacity engenders, the flux of daily experience springs out from this cum-tangere in forms that obviously differ at the singular and at the collective levels. Marchesini paints an exquisite portrait of the threads connecting rhetoric, narrativity, and the universal-singular interface (to which I will return later), all themes that are dear to me. I hope these ideas of mine will meet her need for an engagement with the specifically Italian—not only the philosophical, but also the literary and philological traditions—from the perspective of a cosmopolitanism of difference centering on the shift in the passage from a comparative paradigm to that of a politics-of-translation. I cannot but share her need having studied on multiple occasions key figures, such as Dante and Machiavelli, Pasolini and Gramsci. Moreover, during my studies in Florence I benefited not just from Eugenio Garin’s teachings on the culture of Renaissance Italy, but also from the great philologist Gianfranco Contini’s brilliant lessons, which notoriously encompassed literary, political, and philosophical texts.

That said, from the field of tension framed by the polarity universal/singular, we now see arising the stricto sensu political issue underlying my reading of globalization as a “passage West”: who is the subject of the passage? And, subsequently, what role is the Subject Europe called to play in this passage? These are the key questions that Alberto Moreiras poses, conjuring up several theses I put forth in the new, augmented edition of Dopo il Leviatano (2013). These eight theses summarize the (provisional) result of my philosophical journey, thus shedding some retrospective light on The Passage West. After a swift summary of the first six theses, Moreiras directs his attention to the last two, the more explicitly “normative” ones. In those two theses I try to hypothesize a potentially innovative role for the European macro-region in a context (and contest) that is global. Inviting me to purge my perspective of any suspicious Eurocentrism, Moreiras wonders if we should understand Europe not as an autonomous subject, one that is now politically absent, but as an allegory of the new global entity we need to build. I find his remark insightful and pertinent. To clarify my project, allow me to recall a few preliminary considerations I drew in the preface to Dopo il Leviatano, without which my proposal would be difficult to understand. First, how are we to understand the title of the book? We should not take it as alluding to an “overcoming” of the postmodern sort, but rather as a hint to our awareness of the forever-defining threshold that the Leviathan represents, namely the advent of egalitarianism on the scene of history. To us, this is an irreversible change, a point of no return which should remind us of Tocqueville’s injunction: once it bursts onto history’s stage, egalitarianism will never be thrown out. It may well be, as, indeed, it has been violated, denied, warped, distorted in a thousand manners; but it will never be erased from the horizon of procedural change and from the consciousness of subjugated subjects. As in any genuine rupture, however, this fact does not prevent what followed the Leviathan from unlocking the possibility of different, even unheard of, ways of rethinking what preceded it.

First of all, it lets us re-read the last five “long centuries” of Western history, as Giovanni Arrighi felicitously called them, in terms of the cyclical alternative or conflictual cohabitation of two principles: the ideas of worldhood and territoriality. Far from historical reconstruction, this perspective gives us the interpretive keys necessary to grasp three crucial features of our present as well as of our possible future. First, the demise of the state-form will not be rapid but possibly as long lasting as its formation was. Second, this demise will be anything but uniform. In fact, because of the specific dynamics of mondialisation, we see spaces that are characterized by the juxtaposition of “variable geometries”. Take, for instance, the declining state-form in the West vis-à-vis its rise in Asia and Latin America, where terms like homeland, nation, and people have positive connotations which oppose the hegemonic appetites of Western “globalism”. Third, the “bi-logic” split between the trend toward the uniformity of global capital and the trend toward the differentiation of life-styles generates not only a sort of perverse homologation/diaspora double bind, but also a structural sort of bidirectional relationship between “Supercapitalism” (Robert Reich) and the geo-cultural articulation of the global market. Any geopolitical approach that fails to take into account this articulation is bound to remain antiquarian.

The radical mutation we face today is in the order of spatiality, but not in the sense, as many are saying, that we have shifted from a modern to a global space. Neither did we shift sic et simpliciter from a solid to a “liquid modernity” (though if we look at the current political phenomenology of Europe, we might more properly talk of a “gaseous modernity”). On the contrary, each fluctuation and each current presupposes a higher source located in nuclei of power that are not in the least less “hard”, though they constantly move from one point of the planet to the next. The issue with spatiality now is that those “hard” logics of power transmigrated from the old spaces, defined by political representative systems, to the new, non-Euclidean ones defined by the relationships between geo-economy and geo-culture. The global world thus appears to be articulated in broad macro-regional or continental areas (from BRICs to Latin America) whose ethical and cultural forms of “capitalism” happen to be quite at odds with those of Western capitalism. In particular, non-Western capitalisms tend to be anti-individualistic, communitarian-hierarchical, and bound to forms of assistentialism, statism, and solidarity. For this reason, in my works I stressed the necessity to revise the extraordinary comparative framework of economical ethics that Max Weber gave us in his Religionssoziologie. Weber regarded non-Western ethics, starting with Confucianism, as unsuitable in promoting the development of a dynamic and productive society.

Although he tempered it in the last years of his life, we find a similar flaw even in Marx’s prognosis of capitalism’s future. According to Marx, the progressive expansion of the capitalist mode of production would have determined a substantial homogenization of social relationships at the planetary level. On the contrary, today we see capitalist domination on a global scale causing not mere uniformity, but generating simultaneous differentiations in the forms of social organization. This phenomenon carries a huge theoretical import, which we can summarize as follows: the production mode based on the commodity-form does not produce a society. In short, a market economy cannot totally transform itself into a market society. The passage from modes of production to social relationships is never mechanical. It always requires some symbolic and historical-deontic glue, cementing and shaping the socialization process. Consequently, every once in a while chameleonic capital must adapt to forms of social relations that arose in different times and contexts, and were modeled on different ethical, anthropological, and cultural bases. Rather, in today’s global scenario, societies shaped by communitarian ethics are able to achieve productivity levels superior to those of the individualistic and consumerist Western societies, despite, of course, the great contradictions and conflicts they undergo and the monstrous and disquieting hybrids they spawn. This drastic displacement of Western hegemony is precisely the context in which I formulated my appeal to Europe as a subject that, by upsetting the prognosis of its own great intellectuals (from Hegel to Marx, from Tocqueville to Weber), would potentially have all it takes to be … the future of America.

Of course I think of a virtual subject that is incommensurable with the actual role (once hegemonic and today subaltern) that Europe played and continues to play in the context of globalization. Moreiras is right: Europe is the allegory of a subject that we have yet to build. The constitution of this new actor is neither the exclusive or predominant business of Europe as the geopolitical entity, nor the center of cultural irradiation that spawned the civilizations of the Americas, as Darcy Ribeiro dubbed it. Instead, this new subject appeals to all the forces and drives that on a planetary scale are moving in the direction of a multipolar cosmopolitanism. In other words, Europe will contribute to the constitution of such an actor, but surely not in terms of either cultural hegemony or yet another pathetic iteration of the self-assessed, allegedly universalistic, brand of humanitas. Instead, it will play its part in terms of a politics of translation based on a genealogy of ruins.

I am aware that a genealogy of ruins is bound to sound “archeological” to those who, like my friend Toni Negri, extol in its stead the “power of the multitude” as an already-constituted subject. The noble term multitude, however, which refers to a notion that has competed with the concept of “people” since the beginning of the modern era, happens to give off an archeological whiff far stronger than my proposal: namely, the constitution of a revolutionary transcultural subjectivity that we can create via a politics of translation at whose heart will lie an act of “self-narration” on the part of the European philosophical and political heritage. This narration will not amount to a memorializing of European glories—even those genuinely revolutionary—but to an elaboration of mourning and a genealogy of ruins in line with Walter Benjamin. Since I agree with myself on the philosophical and political battle I wage against all reductio ad Unum, I cannot but agree with Negri, whose theoretical work I find of remarkable importance, when he states that we should identify “new political categories” through the “analysis of commonwealth rather than through the hypostasis of unity” (2003, 29). Therefore, I understand his call for a conception of the subject as “a multiplicity of singularities that under no condition can find a representative unity” (2003, 29) to be the same as the artificial unity to which the modern state ascribed the name of the people. However, I do not see why the only concept fitting the figure of the singular Universal or of the multiple Commonwealth should perforce be that of multitude and not that of “people”, if we take the latter to be not the juridical fiction of a tradition spanning from Hobbes to Kelsen but as a political construct perhaps more akin to Machiavelli’s postulate than it is to Ernesto Laclau’s theory of the “empty signifier”.

To me Europe is, like Latin America, a non-place, a boundary line along which we experiment a multiple universal. In his illuminating comparison of my perspective to Alfonso Reyes’s “regiomontano universal”, Pedro Ángel Palou understands my point very well. The pressing issue is to break the binomials of cosmopolitism-hegemony and of culture-identity, replacing them with our invention of a politics that effects change along the threshold running between the inside and the outside. This politics will destabilize all instances of identitarian unilateralism, regardless of whether they are global or local. It will shape our planetary “pluriverse” in the paradoxical and dynamic form of a “disjunctive synthesis” where the Commonwealth and the Singular feed one another in a constant virtuous circle. For this reason I gratefully concur with Palou when at the end of his brilliant and instructive contribution he points out that “la inteligencia americana” and “the passage West” are “two ways to tackle the same challenge: a politics that recognizes the insufficiency of univocal universalisms and specificities”.

As Carlos Rodríguez notes, we should think the as-of-yet unthought-of universalism as a way to avoid the forms it took in Western history, namely those of “domination”, “incorporation”, or “assimilation” of the particular. My gratitude goes out to him as well for clarifying the non-Eurocentric sense in which I conceive the “passage”. Arguing in favor of a “Westernization of the world” is definitely not part of my project. Not in the least, because this passage has already been causing profound changes in the socio-cultural fabric, in the lifestyles, and in the forms of relationships of that very same Western world, i.e. right at the core of its metropolitan or “post-metropolitan” centers. I see a shift in which other areas of the planet such as Asia and Latin America also enter a radically new relationship with the world-system; one I can no longer reduce to the imperialistic logic of subalternity and dependency.

On this topic, the perspective I express in my book intersects with one of Hardt and Negri’s salient theses. To comprehend the new structure of the global it is necessary to clearly demarcate the notion of Empire from the concept of imperialism that still typifies some antiquated forms of Marxism. Unlike Hardt and Negri, however, I do not think the complex and conflictual network of interdependencies they call “Empire” are endowed with any forms of “sovereignty”. As I argued in the book, I find the adoption of such a term not only conceptually unsustainable but also inconsistent with the image of globalization they depict.

I will now briefly clarify two aspects of my project: (i) I consider the perspective of a transnational democracy to be not “subordinated to ethics” but motivated in terms that are political; (ii) my idea of a “global Constitutionalism” implies a clear-cut break with the concepts of sovereignty and of global State, which are intrinsically authoritarian and not just potentially so, as Rodríguez points out. My proposal goes in the direction of an arrangement of polycentric, open, cooperative-conflictual powers exerting a mutual control on each other; of a system that is not static-vertical but dynamic-horizontal, where, as Machiavelli surmised, “the powers look at one another” with a watchful eye, rather than a contemplative one.

I am perfectly aware that my conception of the connection between the theoretical proposal of a universalism of difference and the normative plan of a global Constitutionalism articulated in a plurality of “sovereign jurisdictions” is a true oxymoron in the eyes of any classical theory of sovereignty. It implies a serious challenge. Indeed, it prompts my search for a radical democratic system capable of constantly keeping open the tension between cooperation and conflict. In this respect I find pertinent and, as far as I am concerned, exceedingly instructive, Stefano Franchi’s reconsideration of Game Theory’s status quæstionis. In the latter, starting from its canonical versions in von Neumann and Morgenstern to its dynamic extension in John Nash’s non-cooperative games, Franchi recognizes a sort of “epitome” of my universalist position. Franchi’s rigorous reconstruction offers me the welcome chance to clarify themes I discussed in La passione del presente (2008) and in other essays that are also in dialogue with Jon Elster’s theses; namely, the issues of a “limited rationality”, of the critique of the “rational choice” paradigm, and of the distinction between the conditional program of rationality (“If you want x, then you must do y”) and the imperative program of normativity (“Do x, not y”). Keeping von Neumann’s minimax and John Rawls’ maximin principles in the background, I will capitalize on the latter’s neo-contractualist paradigm. First, I will critique the structure of A Theory of Justice; second, I will address the aporetic results that Rawls’ overlapping consensus (a concept he advanced in Political Liberalism to partially revise his original plan) entails.

First. Rawls’ initial elaboration notoriously stands on two pivotal indicators or guiding notions, the “original situation” and the “veil of ignorance”, which replace the presupposition of the “natural state” that is typical of modern contractualism. That veil, however, happens to be all too thin and, as a consequence, Rawls’ “original situation” depends on the premise of a double homogeneity: a) He counts on the homogeneity of a supposedly standard “rational behavior” not just at the egoistic, acquisitive, or utilitarian levels, but also at the ethical level (we should be mindful that behind Rawls’ great work of 1971 lies not only Hobbes, or the economic paradigm of “rational choice”, but, above all, Kant); b) He counts on the cultural homogeneity of the individual or collective subjects at the base of the contract. In other words, the “veil of ignorance” is either too thin or too thick to cover agents who either ignore events such as the American and French Revolutions, or who are unwilling to attribute a universal value and significance to the principles that those events manifested.

Second. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, Rawls matter-of-factly deflated and made more flexible his theoretical premises. He changed from a paradigm founded on rationality to one based on reasonableness. To that end, he proposed the concept of “overlapping consensus” as the only way out of a phase marked by the passage from the preeminence of the conflict of interest (or better, by the conflict of preferences or redistributive conflict) to a phase dominated by the conflict of values (or better, by the identitarian conflict among multifarious metaphysics or comprehensive Weltanschauungen).

In Political Liberalism, Rawls did not aim to play down the gravity of the new forms of conflict, and he did explicitly mention the period of religious wars between the 16th and 17th centuries. As cannot be stressed enough, however, the solution that this “second Rawls” offered displayed an Achilles heel even more vulnerable than the structural one in his Justice as Fairness. Its shortcoming is evident in that he postulated the possibility (which Habermas respectfully, but vehemently, denied) of making the procedurally demarcated space of political agreement into an impermeable space or, as my friend Roberto Esposito would say, a space “immune” from the metaphysical realm that environmental pressure makes manifest in the guise of basic conflicts between sweeping world-visions.

In his contribution, Peter Baker shows his firm grip on many of the issues I mentioned above. He sheds light on the close interrelation weaving together several aspects of my book: from the constitutive ambivalence of the boundary that I conceive in a territorial and symbolic-identitarian sense, to the economy-money-code and power-code-body nexuses, where my philosophical distance from the variegated koiné of biopolitics is predicated on the hypothesis of codification in both its technologic and symbolic valence; from the crisis of “isometry” to the irreducibility of political conflict and the cultural struggle for recognition. But I would like to proceed in order, and clarify my position on a few of the issues that Franchi and Baker’s articles directly or indirectly raise:

1. In the passage from a redistributive to an identitarian conflict, I hold the paradigm of measurement to be non-viable. In retrospect, the shift from Rawls1 to Rawls2 (granted the existence of the continuum between 1 and 2, in which he attempted to reach an agreement on the criteria of procedural justice) allows us to re-read A Theory of Justice as a sort of swan song for American welfare democracy. In the fifty years between the 1920s and the 1970s of the “long twentieth century,” as Giovanni Arrighi efficiently dubbed it, we witnessed a significant historical rupture in the bond tying together economy and politics, which we can express in theoretical terms as the collapse of the measurement paradigm. In the phase of “corporate pluralism”, as Charles Maier taught us, we could still postulate a metrics for conflicts of interests, and manage them through the government-company-union triangle that the great Leviathan of democratic welfare had brought about. With the emergence of new forms of conflict this institutional dispositif, by which we had governed the economy and social work, became obsolete because no metric exists either for conflicts of values (or of identity) or for redistributive conflicts. I attempted to argue as much already in the first Italian edition of The Passage West, a few years before Amartya Sen, in his essay “Identity and Violence”, broke the economists’ reticence about the destabilizing nature and difficult governability of new forms of conflict.

2. I hold the universalism of difference to be the new criterion of politics. The crisis of the contractualist paradigm is but the tip of an iceberg at whose base lies the erosion of the presuppositions underlying the two main models of citizen-integration that we used to exploit throughout modernity. On one hand, we have (a) the assimilationist republican model, which postulates the public dimension of citizenry as a universal but neutral sphere, and which is thereby incapable of legitimizing differences in their singularity and specific historicity. On the other hand, we have (b) the multiculturalist, “mosaic-like” model, to use Seyla Benhabib’s felicitous expression, which reifies those differences by configuring the public sphere as a complex of adjacent ghettos and insular self-made structures. As I have argued in my works of the last few years, if we are to overcome those two models we should adopt a universalism of difference that is, on one side, at odds with the universalism of identity (which is neutralizing and supremacist) and, on the other, at odds with the anti-universalism of so-called “cultural differences” (which privileges context and relativism).

In my view, how each “difference” thinks or depicts the universal to itself is far more important than how different identities perceive and label themselves (as in multiculturalism), or how they view and interpret each other (as in inter-culturalism). Therefore, in proposing a universalism of difference I do not sign up for a static position like that of the many “third roads” that are disseminated throughout the European cemeteries of the 20th century. On the contrary, I start off with the demand that the new form of the universal emerge from the universalizing urges that are present, if only in nuce, in each historical-cultural identity. I am aware that we will have to decipher those drives not as “anthropological islands” but as conflictual universals that demand a political translation.

3. I hold rationality and passions, experience and narrativity to be the connective tissues of the Commonwealth. Procedural democracy remains irreplaceable, but is not the sole medium toward the creation of a public sphere that fits the project of a universalistic politics of difference. Habermas is right when, rejecting Rawls’ discrimination between truth and justification, he points out that whereas we should not discuss our tastes we should indeed discuss our values. Of course, we cannot demonstrate different values, but at least we can argue about them in order to justify the behaviors of different, individual, or collective subjects. Yet I am convinced that the model of rational argumentation, too, is insufficient, since it exposes the public sphere to the risk of an implicit but inevitable discrimination between subjects endowed with and subjects lacking in “communicative competence” and argumentative ability. For this reason, I believe that a democracy capable of dealing with the challenges of the present should make room, besides procedural argumentative rationality, for the narrative dimension, thereby breaking with Plato’s prohibition and opening the City’s doors to “rhetoric” as the participative medium of narrating subjects. Let me clarify right away that I do not mean to take narrations or “narratives” for truths, but, on the contrary, I consider them sources of a knowledge we should experience by distinguishing between a “rhetoric with proof” and a “rhetoric without proof”, as Carlo Ginzburg noted. (On another occasion, it would be interesting to examine in depth the extent to which Ginzburg’s overture to rhetoric affects the terms of his well-known polemic with Hayden White). The pivotal role that the narrative dimension plays in the democratic public sphere it nurtures, however, means also that politics, as well as economy, must appreciate the implications stemming from the “limited rationality” paradigm. Two sets of reason require it: first, because we want to avoid stylizing subjects’ actions on the basis of a rational choice guided by our “preferences”; and second, because we want to remain alert to Herbert Simon’s paradox, namely, “How do we prefer our preferences?”

In other words, because our present is the result of the interlacing of various components that are natural and artificial, material and symbolic, technological and psychic, we cannot grasp our actions and life forms in either the strong rationality or reasonability frameworks. In spite of its totalizing appearance, our present is always a transitional, precarious, in-progress, and thus structurally unstable result. A manifestation of this fact is the extent to which we struggle in deciphering the logic and the structure of the present in order to bring it to the concept, as Hegel required.

Hayden White reminds us of such difficulty, as he reads The Passage West in light of my previous books on time and secularization. The issue of the present and its conceptualization is an eminently philosophical, not a historiographical, problem. At stake is not our ability to discern the dominant trends and movements indicating the future that will enable us to visualize our condition as “past”, but rather our capacity to discern a mismatch, an “untimely”, not past but future-oriented fold that any present brings along. We should not confuse this notion of the present with the concept of “current events”, and we should be mindful that to express the “untimely” quality of this present we have to have recourse not only to concepts but also to “figures”. These two constants are especially valid in the current phase of the “global age”, which is characterized by a shifting watershed, a sort of temporal in-between-ness that expressions such as “no longer” and “not yet” demarcate. White is right to point out that this phase appears to me to be “a stage on the way to a more comprehensive process of universalisation”.

Yet this process is neither linear nor guaranteed by a “master narrative”. In the “difference between a philosophy of history and a philosophical consideration of what professional historians would call “the historical record’” lies also the sole point that my perspective shares with Lyotard’s philosophical postmodernity. But the narrative of the global that we have been witnessing since the fall of the Berlin Wall, though arranged in different storylines and opposing evaluations, may just be a return to yet another master narrative in the wake of the so-called “end of ideologies”. The set of categories I have deployed to get to the thematic epicenters of the glocalized world were meant to tease out a condition of “passage” whose nature interpreters have often misunderstood. White, on the contrary, captures it with exceptional lucidity and precision: “This ‘passage’ is not to be understood as the world-wide adoption of Western institutions, values, and aims or goals, but rather the entrance into the post-national condition into which the Occident has already passed as a result of its historical experience of exploration, colonization, imperialization, and capitalization both of itself and of the rest of the world. In other words, in our era, the West has entered a phase in which, because of globalization, it is so permeated by elements of other cultures, that it has lost most of those aspects of itself that have historically defined it”.

Judging from these words, my look beyond the horizon of “epistemological nationalism” should also distantiate me from a “utopian” stance (it does not matter if it is a non-apocalyptic or non-messianic one) more than White appears to think. He acknowledges that my philosophical inclination to abandon mere oppositions in favor of antithetical, mutually self-implicating poles leads me away from “traditional philosophy” as well as from “its postmodernist avatar”. Moreover, he sees me going in a direction that mingles the “praxis armed against abstract conceptualization” of Vico and the pragmatists with “a kind of Spinozist monism” in which difference, and modal relations among differences, play a pivotal role. I recognize myself in all these references, with the significant addition, as far as my conception of politics is concerned, of Machiavelli’s kairós and, for my conception of space-time, Leibniz’s ideas of topology and contingence. As White grasps with surgical precision, once projected onto the political dimension this line of thought leads us to realize that in our identitarian obsession (whether individualistic or collective, it does not matter) we honor the same myth of “sameness”. Furthermore it brings us to invert the ideologically dominant pairing “political disenchantment/identitarian myth” with the hendiadys “re-enchant politics/de-mythologize identity”.

Insofar as identity and the constitution of the Self are at issue, I shall now proceed from the remarks of a master of the “historical imagination” such as White, to those of the master of the “dialectical imagination”; Martin Jay. In his contribution Jay focuses on the metaphorical expression “theatrical cavity”, which I use as a metaphor indicating an individual subject that is in reality a “multiple Self”. In the container of a cavea, we can hear the echoes of the different experiences, encounters, and diverse traditions that shaped and constituted that particular “subject”. [2] I employ this expression, although I am aware of its ambivalent status suspended between subjectivation and subjectification, and I am mindful of the turn that the Cartesian baroque scene epitomized when it raised the subjectum-hypokeímenon from the substratum of the foundational undergrounds to the sphere of the Cogito. In similar fashion, in my book I use the term “individual” while knowing that the latter is irreducible to the “possessive individualism” thesis, and in full awareness of the plurality and variety of the Self’s expressions that characterize the modern epoch. In that respect, Jay is right in mentioning Jerrold Seigel’s book The Idea of the Self: Thought and Experience in Western Europe Since the Seventeenth Century. A formidable and important work, it too is built according to precise criteria of selectivity, from the periodization he adopted (the 17th century to today) to the choice of modern cultural areas he privileged (the British, French, and German regions). (I wonder, though, how a history of the idea of the Self could ever leave out the Italian contributions; from Ficino and Pico in the Renaissance to Machiavelli and Giordano Bruno; or, in keeping with the temporal arc chosen by Seigel, from Vico to Gramsci). But let me return to the metaphor of the theatrical cavea. The metaphor of the mind and of consciousness’s theater comes straight from Hume, for whom we are all but bundles or agglomerates of different perceptions streaming in constant flow at an unconceivable pace. Our mind is a sort of theater, we read in the Treatise of Human Nature, a scene in which images and representations mix in an infinite variety of situations in which neither simplicity in a given time nor identity in a different one ever exist.

Martin Jay fears, if I understand his concern correctly, that such a vision would bring about the risk of foreclosing and renouncing communicative rationality and critical thinking. Personally I think that neither the metaphor of the theatrical cavity points to a closure, nor is the anti-essentialist idea of a “multiple Self” an obstacle to the constitution of a critical subjectivity. On the contrary, I am convinced that the true obstacle is a substantialist conception of personal identity.

In conclusion, since I find Jay’s contribution engaging and rich in important insights, I will limit myself to a few brief observations:

  1. The perspective of my book is not a strictly historical one. Its purpose is, rather, to provide a set of concepts that would allow us to circumnavigate the “post-national constellation” (Habermas) or the “post-Hobbesian Order” (or disorder) that typifies the current phase (and the current form) of globalization.
  2. I agree with Jay that we need to scrutinize and historically specify some actual models, which is what I have tried to do in my previous books devoted to secularization (Potere e secolarizzazione, 1983; Cielo e terra. Genealogia della secolarizzazione, 1994) and to the question of time (Minima temporalia, 1990). Unfortunately, these books are not yet translated into English. With the metaphor of the “theatrical cavity” I meant to emphasize the constitutively contingent, plural, and conflictual nature of our identity. I in no way aimed at denying our freedom and responsibility as individuals. On the contrary, I am convinced that we are unique and irreplaceable persons who shape our own irreducible singularities. In this sense, the biography of each one of us weaves the different “voices” of the theatrum we are.
  3. My critique of communicative reason does not prevent me from recognizing that Habermas’ position is one step ahead of Rawls’ Neo-contractualism. I just think we should take one more step beyond Habermas and interlace argumentative rationality with narrative rationality (which is, by the way, a topic very close to Jay). I am also wary of normative theories unable to analyze the dynamics of the real, having spent, as Jay knows, very philosophically formative years in Florence and then in Frankfurt. Even before I learned from Marx I learned early on from Machiavelli, that we need to interweave the practice of dialogue with the vital moment of conflict.

In short, unlike philosophical postmodernism my position is a universalist one, albeit a universalism that I temper through the crucible of the “thought of difference”. To conclude, I am not enlightened, but rather against anti-Enlightenment. As dialectical thinking taught us, two negations do not cancel each other out, but radically transform identity through the terms they negate.

Last but not least, I am in debt to Andy Lantz for his extraordinary “assist” that brought Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation to my attention. As he rightly notes, one of the implications of the notion of “passage” is precisely the question of translation, the genuine hallmark of the cosmopolitanism of difference that I propose. By translating we not only gain but always lose something because an untranslatable “x-factor” is always bound to remain, whether in the shape of silence or misunderstanding. Yet the more translations are destined to remain inexorably incomplete, the more they become necessary. Translating is the only way we can go beyond the modality of “recognition”. We cannot use recognition as the tool to forge a political space capable of hosting the interaction between different visions of the universal and our being-in-common. The reason is simple but crucial: recognition is the source of our problems, not their solution. We can “recognize” one another at the upmost degree when we are adversaries or mortal enemies, but not in a simple comparison or in a dialogic-analogic juxtaposition.

Therefore, as I often argued in accordance with Gayatri Spivak, we should operate a passage from the paradigm of comparison to the politics of translation. This step requires that we envision a deliberative democracy on a global scale capable of overcoming the still state-centric view of the contractualist theories of distributive justice. We should reconstruct what is universal, not only as the need to translate the universalizing impulses that are present in different cultures, but to rebuild it in the transnational issues that the new movements of active citizenry put forth: from the old and new inequalities to the common goods; from the quality of spaces to the environmental emergences; from the “de-democratization” processes that Wendy Brown and Étienne Balibar have studied to the invention of new forms of participation-decision. We should do all of this while remaining fully aware that translating always implies a remainder, something that is inevitably lost in translation.

The only way we can deal with differences is by translating them one into the other. Since the act of translating already presupposes the intrinsically multiple character not only of religious and cultural identities but also of the individual Self, translating is the only way in which, on one hand, we can “redeem” the rational fool that Robert Musil called the “ratioid” from his presumption of self-sufficiency, and, on the other, recover the fundamentalist fool from his identitarian obsession and pretense to truth. We know that Kant’s universal community of humankind will be nothing but irreducibly plural. Each one of its syntheses will be destined to remain, as the mathematicians say, an unsaturated formula, or a totality that will remain inevitably, and luckily, unachieved.

I will conclude by expressing my deepest gratitude to all the authors for the attention they have dedicated to my book, and for their generosity in commenting, discussing, and critiquing it. Many are the unresolved issues, and many the questions that I wish I could have addressed. But as a great artist-philosopher of my generation wrote, the answer is blowing in the wind.

(Translated by Manuela Marchesini)


01. Translator’s Note: Passion and passive stem from the Lat. noun passio and adj. passivus, which are both related to the verb patior, eris, passus sum, pati, “to suffer, to feel”.

02. Translator’s Note: In Latin cavea means cavity, cage, and also the hemicycle-shaped bleachers where the spectators sat in Roman theaters.

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