The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society

The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society

MIGUEL VATTER
Timothy C. Campbell series editor
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x035m
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  • Book Info
    The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society
    Book Description:

    This book takes up Foucault's hypothesis that liberal "civil society," far from being a sphere of natural freedoms, designates the social spaces where our biological lives come under new forms of control and are invested with new forms of biopower. In order to test this hypothesis, its chapters examine the critical theory of civil society--from Hegel and Marx through Lukacs, Adorno, Benjamin, and Arendt--from the new horizon opened up by Foucault's turn to biopolitics and its reception in recent Italian theory. Negri, Agamben, and Esposito have argued that biopolitics not only denotes new forms of domination over life but harbors within it an affirmative relation between biological life and politics that carries an emancipatory potential. The chapters of this book take up this suggestion by locating this emancipatory potential in the biopolitical feature of the human condition that Arendt called "natality." The book proceeds to illustrate how natality is the basis for a republican articulation of an affirmative biopolitics. It aims to renew the critical theory of civil society by pursuing the traces of natality as a "surplus of life" that resists the oppressive government of life found in the capitalist political economy, in the liberal system of rights, and in the bourgeois family. By contrast, natality offers the normative foundation for a new "republic of the living." Finally, natality permits us to establish a relation between biological life and contemplative life that reverses the long-held belief in a privileged relationship of thinking to the possibility of our death. The result is a materialist, atheological conception of contemplative life as eternal life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5603-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-14)

    One of the legacies bequeathed by the twentieth century to political language is the confusion of politics with government. Politics today seems to be reduced to the alternative of having more or less government. Liberalism has taught that the less politics we have, the less governed we are, and thus the freer we become. The republican understanding of freedom rejects this basic axiom of liberal government. Republicanism stands for the irreducibility of politics to government; it teaches that more politics may be necessary if we are going to be governed less. The Courses that Michel Foucault delivered at the Collège...

  5. Part I Biopolitics of the Economy
    • 1 THE TRAGEDY OF CIVIL SOCIETY AND REPUBLICAN POLITICS IN HEGEL
      (pp. 17-59)

      Liberal civil society is characterized by intrinsically expansive dynamics, whose unforeseen consequences have become familiar to everyone: staggering accumulation of private capital that widens the gap between rich and poor and forces sovereign states into crippling financial crises; quantum leaps in technological and industrial advances that cause a dramatic destruction of nature and of the environment; proliferation of subjective rights and extraparliamentary legislation that is accompanied by a terrifying increase in police controls over individuals both within and outside of their society; and last but certainly not least, the worldwide web of information that has sacrificed the ideal of a...

    • 2 LIVING LABOR AND SELF-GENERATIVE VALUE IN MARX
      (pp. 60-96)

      As members of civil society, we seek the best “value” for our money; we tend to behave as if we believe that anything that increases the overall “value” in society is somehow legitimate, whereas anything that decreases it is somehow illegitimate. Individual persons and companies that generate “value” are considered good, whereas individuals or institutions that waste “valuable” resources are considered bad. Even if it is granted that democratic legitimacy comes from the agreement between actors reached under open and fair conditions of communicative activity, we sense that no amount of talking, or exchanging of “good reasons,” in itself generates...

  6. Part II Biopolitics of the Family
    • 3 REIFICATION AND REDEMPTION OF BARE LIFE IN ADORNO AND AGAMBEN
      (pp. 99-128)

      InHomo SacerAgamben argues that the project of total domination over life, which comes into its own with totalitarian and biopolitical forms of power, depends on a logic of sovereignty that has run through Western civilization since its origins in Greece and Rome. According to this logic, every legal system, in order to enforce its norms, must capture the bare life of its addressees in a virtual state of exception to its own laws (Agamben 1998, 27). Bare life (nuda vita) is a concept that Agamben develops from Benjamin’s expressiondas blosse Lebenfound in his early writings like...

    • 4 NATALITY, FERTILITY, AND MIMESIS IN ARENDT’S THEORY OF FREEDOM
      (pp. 129-155)

      Arendt calls natality, defined as the fact that each human life begins with birth, the “central category of political thought” (Arendt 1958, 9). “Because they areinitium, newcomers and beginners by virtue of birth, men take initiative, are prompted into action” (Arendt 1958, 177). The human capacity to act freely is said to be “ontologically rooted” in this “fact of natality” (Arendt 1958, 177). There is something very puzzling about identifying the root of human freedom in the condition of natality. Why should birth, of all things, condition human beings to live freely? The puzzlement only increases if one considers...

    • 5 THE HEROISM OF SEXUALITY IN BENJAMIN AND FOUCAULT
      (pp. 156-194)

      When political rationality is deployed on the terrain of the biological life of the human species in order to make this life healthier, more capable, and more “worthy of being lived,” it also postulates that some life can be potentiated only at the expense of killing off other life. Foucault thus introduces the idea of biopolitics along with that of thanatopolitics (Foucault 1990, 137). Since Foucault, one of the urgent questions has been how biopolitics turns into a thanatopolitics, and under what conditions this turn can be prevented or transformed into an affirmative politics of life. In this chapter I...

  7. Part III Biopolitics of Rights
    • 6 FREE MARKETS AND REPUBLICAN CONSTITUTIONS IN HAYEK AND FOUCAULT
      (pp. 195-220)

      The renewal of post-Marxist thought in the last decade—led by thinkers such as Negri and Agamben—was made possible in part by the reception of Foucault’s posthumously published lectures on governmentality at the Collège de France. Up until that point, Foucault’s thought had fallen out of favor with the Marxist and post-Marxist Left, mainly because of his rejection of the Freudo-Marxist “repressive hypothesis” inThe History of Sexuality, Volume One. His genealogy of governmentality quickly revealed itself as a genealogy of liberalism and neoliberalism, two regimes that, to a degree, seek to substitute the ideal of government for the...

    • 7 BIOPOLITICAL COSMOPOLITANISM: The Right to Have Rights in Arendt and Agamben
      (pp. 221-260)

      The general hypothesis of biopolitics is that the activity of government in modernity is no longer just articulated through law, with citizens as its agents. Instead, it has become exercised through disciplines and norms and it takes the living individual or population as its subject. If this is the case, then it is likely that the meaning of liberal rights also undergoes a similar transformation in the passage from “reason of state” to “neoliberal governmentality.” The recent historiography of “universal human rights” has shown that their meaning, institutional reality, and political force have changed over time: from the first period...

  8. Part IV Biopolitics of Eternal Life
    • 8 BARE LIFE AND PHILOSOPHICAL LIFE IN ARISTOTLE, SPINOZA, AND HEIDEGGER
      (pp. 263-289)

      Foucault introduced the concept of biopower in order to explain how something like “thanatopolitics,” the mobilization of entire populations “for the purpose of wholesale slaughter in the name of life necessity,” became the norm in the twentieth century (Foucault 1990, 137). Agamben and Esposito have since offered two paradigms that seek to explain the seemingly inevitable transition from a biopolitics to a thanatopolitics. Yet Foucault had reservations about whether thanatopolitics could really be understood solely from a consideration of the idea of biopower. Indeed, he had recourse to the paradigm of sovereignty (and its sacrificial logic of “blood”) to account...

    • 9 ETERNAL RECURRENCE AND THE NOW OF REVOLUTION: Nietzsche and Messianic Marxism
      (pp. 290-326)

      An important component of the social imaginary of modern civil society is an image of history as progress into an indefinite future in which the human species keeps perfecting itself. In our age of imminent environmental catastrophe, the belief in progress has reversed itself into the widespread sensation that precious little time remains for the human species to get its relation to its own species-life and that of other living beings right. As the time that remains gets abbreviated, the messianic and the apocalyptic mindsets resurge. Yet all civil societies uphold economic imperatives that keep postponing meaningful political decisions at...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 327-364)
  10. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 365-386)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 387-404)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 405-406)