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Giorgio Agamben – Speech at the conference of Venetian students against the Green Pass on 11 November 2021 at Ca ‘Sagredo

To begin with, I would like to take up some points that I tried to fix a few days ago to try to define the surreptitious, but no less radical transformation that is taking place before our eyes.

I think we must first of all realize that the legal and political order in which we thought we lived has completely changed.

The operator of this transformation was, as is evident, that zone of indifference between law and politics which is the state of emergency.

Almost twenty years ago, in a book that attempted to provide a theory of the state of exception, I found that the state of exception was becoming the normal system of government.

As you know, the state of exception is a space of suspension of the law, therefore an anomic space, which is however claimed to be included in the legal system.

But let’s take a closer look at what happens in the state of exception.

From the technical point of view, there is a separation of the force-of-law from the law in a formal sense.

The state of exception defines, that is, a “state of the law” in which on the one hand the law is theoretically in force, but has no force, does not apply, is suspended and on the other, provisions and measures that do not have the value of law acquire the force.

It could be said that, in the limit, what is at stake in the state of exception is a force-of-law that fluctuates without the law.

However this situation is defined – whether the state of exception is considered as internal or if it is qualified instead as external to the legal order – in any case it translates into a sort of eclipse of the law, in which, as in a astronomical eclipse, it persists, but no longer emanates its light.

The first consequence is the failure of that fundamental principle which is legal certainty.

If the State, instead of giving regulatory discipline to a phenomenon, intervenes thanks to the emergency, on that phenomenon every 15 days or every month, that phenomenon no longer responds to a principle of legality, since the principle of legality consists in the fact that State gives the law and citizens trust that law and its stability.

This cancellation of legal certainty is the first fact that I would like to bring to your attention, because it implies a radical change not only in our relationship with the legal order, but in our very way of life, because it involves living in a state. of normalized illegality.

The paradigm of the law is replaced by that of vague clauses and formulas, such as “state of necessity”, “security”, “public order”, which being indeterminate in themselves, need someone to intervene to determine them.

We are no longer dealing with a law or a constitution, but with a fluctuating force-of-law that can be assumed, as we see today, by commissions and individuals, doctors or experts entirely outside the legal system.

I believe we are faced with a form of so-called dual state – through which Ernst Fraenkel, in a 1941 book that should be reread, tried to explain the Nazi state – which is technically a state in which the state of exception is not never been revoked.

The dual state is a state in which the normative state (Normenstaat) is accompanied by a discretionary state (Massnahmestaat , a state of measures) and the government of men and things is the work of their ambiguous collaboration.

A sentence by Fraenkel is significant in this perspective:

“For its salvation German capitalism needed not a unitary state but a double state, arbitrary in the political dimension and rational in the economic one”.

It is in the lineage of this dual state that we must locate a phenomenon whose importance could not be underestimated and which concerns the change in the very figure of the state that is taking place before our eyes. I mean what American political scientists call The Administrative State , which found its theorization in the recent book by Sunstein and Vermeule (C. Sunstein and A. Vermeule, Law and Leviathan, Redeeming the Administrative State ).

It is a model of state where governance, the exercise of government, goes beyond the traditional division of powers (legislative, executive, judicial) and agencies not provided for in the constitution exercise in the name of the administration and in a discretionary way the functions and powers that belonged to the three constitutionally competent subjects.

It is a sort of purely administrative Leviathan, which is supposed to act in the interest of the community, even infringing the dictates of the law and the constitution, in order to ensure and guide not the free choice of citizens, but what Sunstein calls navigability. – that is, in reality the governability – of their choices.

This is what is happening all too evidently today, when we see that decision-making power is exercised by commissions and subjects (doctors, etc.)

Through these factual procedures the constitution is altered in a much more substantial way than through the power of revision provided by the constituents, until it becomes, as a disciple of Marx said, a Papier Stück , just a piece of paper. And it is certainly significant that these transformations are modeled on the dual structure of Nazi governance and that it is perhaps the very concept of “government”, of a policy such as “cybernetics” or the art of government that needs to be questioned.

It has been said that the modern state thrives on assumptions it cannot guarantee. It is possible that the situation I have tried to describe to you is the form in which this absence of guarantees has reached its critical mass and that the modern state, giving up as is evident today to guarantee its presuppositions, has reached the end of its history. and it is this end that we are perhaps experiencing.

I believe that any discussion on what we can or should do today must start from the realization that the civilization in which we live has now collapsed – or, rather, given that it is a society based on finance – has gone bankrupt. That our culture was on the verge of general bankruptcy had been evident for decades and the clearest minds of the twentieth century had diagnosed it without reservation. I cannot fail to recall with what force and with how much dismay Pasolini and Elsa Morante, in those sixties that now seem so much better than the present, denounced the inhumanity and barbarism they saw growing around them.

Today we have the experience – certainly not pleasant, but perhaps truer than the previous ones – of being no longer on the threshold, but within this intellectual, ethical, religious, legal bankruptcy,

What to do in such a situation? On the individual level, of course, to continue as far as possible to do well what we tried to do well, even if there seems to be no reason to do it anymore, indeed precisely for this reason to continue. However, I don’t think this is enough. Hannah Arendt, in a reflection that we cannot help but feel close, because it was entitled On humanity in dark times , asked herself

“to what extent we remain obliged to the world and to the public sphere even when we have been expelled from it (it was what happened to the Jews in his time) or we had to withdraw from them (as those who had chosen what with a paradoxical expression in Nazi Germany was called “internal emigration”).

I think it is important today not to forget that if we find ourselves in a similar condition it is because we have been forced, and that therefore it is a choice that remains political in any case, even if it seems to be placed outside the world.

Arendt pointed to friendship as the possible foundation for a policy in dark times. I think the indication is correct, as long as we remember that friendship – that is, the fact of feeling an otherness in our own experience of existing – is a sort of minimum.political, a threshold that together unites and divides the individual from the community. That is, as long as we remember that we are dealing with nothing less than trying to establish a society or a community in society everywhere.

That is, in the face of the growing depoliticization of individuals, to rediscover in friendship the radical principle of a renewed politicization.

It seems to me that you students have started to do this by creating your own association. But you must extend it more and more, because the very possibility of living in a human way will depend on this.

In conclusion, I would like to address the students who are present here and who have invited me to speak today. I would like to remind you of something that should be the basis of every university study and which, on the other hand, is not mentioned in the university. Before living in a country and in a state, men have their vital home in a language and I believe that only if we are able to investigate and understand how this vital home has been manipulated and transformed will we be able to understand how the transformations could have taken place. political and legal issues that we have before our eyes.

The hypothesis that I intend to suggest to you is, that is, that the transformation of the relationship with the language is the condition of all the other transformations of society. And if we do not realize it, it is because the language by definition remains hidden in what it names and gives us to understand. As a psychoanalyst who was also a bit of a philosopher once said: “what is said remains forgotten in what is meant by what is said”.

We are used to looking at modernity as that historical process that begins with the industrial revolution in England and with the political revolution in France, but we do not ask ourselves what revolution in the relationship of men with language has made possible what Polanyi called the Great Transformation.

It is certainly significant that the revolutions from which modernity was born were accompanied if not preceded by a problematization of reason, that is, of what defines man as a speaking animal. Ratio comes from reor , which means “to count, to calculate, but also to speak in the sense of rationem reddere , to give an account”. The dream of reason, having become a goddess, coincides with a “rationalization” of the language and of the experience of language that allows us to fully account for and govern nature and, at the same time, the life of human beings.

And what is what we now call science, if not a practice of language that tends to eliminate any ethical, poetic and philosophical experience of the word in the speaker in order to transform language into a neutral tool for exchanging information? If science can never respond to our need for happiness, it is because it ultimately presupposes not a speaking being, but a biological body as such mute.

And how must the speaker’s relationship with his language be transformed, so that, as is happening today, the very possibility of distinguishing truth from falsehood may fail? If today doctors, jurists, scientists accept a discourse that renounces asking questions about the truth,hang ) – but only calculate.

In that masterpiece of twentieth-century ethics that is Hannah Arendt’s book on Eichmann, Arendt observes that Eichmann was a perfectly reasoning man, but that he was unable to think, that is, to interrupt the flow of discourse that dominated his mind and that he was not he could question, but only execute as an order.

The first task facing us is therefore that of rediscovering a springing and almost dialectal relationship, that is, poetic and thinking with our language. Only in this way will we be able to get out of the impasse that humanity seems to have taken and that will most likely lead to extinction – if not physical, at least ethical and political. Rediscovering thought as a dialect impossible to formalize and format.

Source: Giorgio Agamben – Quodlibet

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