Benjamin contra Schmitt: A Reappraisal of Agamben through “Critique of Violence”

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Erik Pomrenke looks at Adam Kotsko’s “On Agamben’s Use of Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence'” from Telos 145 (Winter 2008).

“On Agamben’s Use of Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence'” represents an illuminating attempt by Adam Kotsko to reassert the primacy of Walter Benjamin over Carl Schmitt in Giorgio Agamben’s work. These two thinkers serve alongside Heidegger, Aristotle, Foucault, and Arendt as the center of Agamben’s genealogy of bare life; as such, configuring this constellation correctly is of signal importance to the reception of Agamben’s Homo Sacer project. Kotsko contends that Benjamin’s primacy is both a theoretical and chronological matter.

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Russia’s Many Futures

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow. For additional details about the conference as well as other upcoming events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

Russia will have many futures because it has had many pasts. Three aspects in particular stand out in any discussion of Russia’s future. The first is what Marxists used to call the “present political conjuncture.” In other words, the fate of Russia is inextricably linked with the broader developments in global political practices. It is within this framework that one needs to consider the “post-revolutionary” character of Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika (restructuring) began in 1985 soon after his accession to the Soviet leadership, but the great ebb tide of emancipatory socialism had begun long before. The post-war Keynesian and welfare state consensus had already begun to unravel with the end of the long post-war economic boom in 1970 and the move to flexible exchange rates in August 1971 as Richard Nixon moved away from the Bretton Woods system of pegging the dollar to gold. The 1970s saw the first moves toward financial liberalization, and Margaret Thatcher’s election in May 1979 signaled, as Eric Hobsbawm put it in September 1978 in a famous article in Marxism Today, that the “Forward March of Labour” was halted. The election of Ronald Reagan in November 1980 further indicated the beginning of an offensive against the ideology and geopolitics of revolutionary socialism. In its place the gathering wave of the neoliberal transformation of capitalism transformed the relationship of state to society, the character of work, and the understanding of citizenship in advanced capitalist societies.

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“Then and Now,” and Now

For many today, Claude Lefort is a thinker known mainly by association, someone whose work emerges where others are asked to situate their projects relative to his thinking of the political. He is a prominent, if not central, figure for the more post-structuralist thinkers of radical democracy. Lefort’s sense of democracy—as that form of society where the place of power is empty—is vital to those projects that would likewise tie democracy to the symbolic character of power, and to the distinct workings of politics and the political. Interestingly, while debate over the correct translation of le or la politique seems to almost always return to Lefort, it remains the case that for his own part Lefort was never much interested in post-structuralism. For him, the post-structural turn, itself bound up with the legacies of May 1968 and the new knowledge, obfuscated almost as much as it made clear.

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Asymmetric Warfare: The First Three Thousand Years

The thoughts below were first presented at the 2017 Telos Paul Piccone Institute conference, “Asymmetrical Warfare: The Centrality of the Political to the Strategic.” On the perhaps naïve presumption that politics are grounded in ideals, norms, and values that guide (if not govern) societal conduct, I have extended the title to “Asymmetrical Warfare: The Centrality of the Ethical to Politics and the Strategic.” Since the writing of these remarks, Donald Trump has taken the office of president, promised a vast build-up of the U.S. military, and proposed large increases in the military budget alongside substantial decreases in humanitarian aid programs. He has detonated in Afghanistan the largest non-nuclear bomb in U.S. military history, he is saber-rattling with North Korea, and he has bombed Syria—all in his first 100 days, indicating a certain unconsidered readiness to use military force.

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Elliot Neaman’s Free Radicals Wins Silver Medal at 21st Annual IPPY Awards

Telos Press is delighted to announce that Elliot Neaman’s Free Radicals: Agitators, Hippies, Urban Guerrillas, and Germany’s Youth Revolt of the 1960s and 1970s has been awarded the Silver Medal in the Europe: Best Regional Non-Fiction category at this year’s Independent Publisher Book Awards. The annual IPPY Awards showcase the best books published by independent publishers throughout North America and the English-speaking world.

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Ecological Finitude as Ontological Finitude: Radical Hope in the Anthropocene

The vulnerability we confront in the Anthropocene is what Jonathan Lear has called ontological vulnerability: the possible collapse of our world, that is, the collapse of the taken-for-granted way of life that guides and orients us in our everyday practices. In this paper, we take up Lear’s claim that in the face of the impending collapse of one’s world, a peculiar form of hope, radical hope, is called for. According Lear, radical hope means holding on to a “commitment only to the bare possibility that, from this disaster something good will emerge.”

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