steampunk heart

The accomplice and the ruler

I would like to share with you some reflections on the extreme political situation we have experienced and from which it would be naive to believe that we have escaped or even that we can escape. I believe that not all of us have realized that what we are dealing with is more and more than a flagrant abuse in the exercise of power or a perversion – however serious – of the principles of law and public institutions. I believe that we are rather faced with a shadow line which, unlike that of Conrad’s novel, no generation can believe it can cross with impunity. And if one day historians investigate what happened under the cover of the pandemic, it will turn out, I believe, that our society had perhaps never reached such an extreme degree of cruelty, irresponsibility and, together, decay. I used these three terms rightly, tied today in a Borromean knot, that is, a knot in which each element cannot be untied by the other two. And if, as some not without reason maintain, the seriousness of a situation is measured by the number of killings, I believe that this index too will be much higher than we believed or pretend to believe. Borrowing from Lévi-Strauss an expression that he used for Europe in the Second World War, one could say that our society has “vomited itself up”. This is why I think that for this society there is no way out of the situation in which it has more or less consciously confined itself, unless something or someone puts it into question from top to bottom.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. Rather, I would like to question myself with you about what we have done up to now and what we can continue to do in such a situation. In fact, I fully share the considerations contained in a document that was circulated by Luca Marini regarding the impossibility of a reconciliation. There can be no reconciliation with those who have said and done what has been said and done in these two years.

We do not simply have before us men who have been deceived or have for some reason professed erroneous opinions, whom we can try to correct. Anyone who thinks this is deluded. We have before us something different, a new figure of man and citizen, to use two terms familiar to our political tradition. In any case, it is a matter of something that has taken the place of that hendiadys and which I propose to call provisionally with a technical term of criminal law: the accomplice – provided that it is specified that it is a special figure of complicity, a complicity so to speak absolute, in the sense that I will try to explain.

  • In the terminology of criminal law, the accomplice is the one who has put in place a conduct which in itself does not constitute a crime, but which contributes to the criminal action of another subject, the offender.
  • We have found ourselves and we find ourselves facing individuals – indeed an entire society – which has become an accomplice in a crime in which the offender is absent or in any case unmentionable for it. In other words, a paradoxical situation in which there are only accomplices, but the offender is missing, a situation in which everyone – be it the President of the Republic or the ordinary citizen, the Minister of Health or a simple doctor – always acts as accomplices and never as guilty.

I believe that this singular situation can allow us to read the Hobbesian pact in a new perspective. In other words, the social contract has assumed the figure – which is perhaps its true, extreme figure – of a pact of complicity without the offender – and this absent offender coincides with the sovereign whose body is formed by the same mass of accomplices and not it is therefore other than the incarnation of this general complicity, of this being complicit, that is, folded together, of all single individuals.

A society of accomplices is more oppressive and suffocating than any dictatorship, because whoever does not participate in the complicity – the non-accomplice – is purely and simply excluded from the social pact, he no longer has a place in the city.

There is also another sense in which one can speak of complicity, and it is the complicity not so much and not only between the citizen and the sovereign, but also and rather between the man and the citizen. Hannah Arendt has repeatedly shown how ambiguous the relationship between these two terms is and how in the Declarations of Rights the inscription of birth, i.e. of the biological life of the individual, in the juridical-political order of the modern nation-state is actually in question .

  • Rights are attributed to man only to the extent that he is the immediately vanishing presupposition of the citizen. The permanent emergence in our time of man as such is the indicator of an irreparable crisis in that fiction of identity between man and citizen on which the sovereignty of the modern state is based. What we are faced with today is a new configuration of this relationship, in which man no longer passes dialectically into the citizen, but establishes a singular relationship with him, in the sense that, with the birth of his body, he provides the citizen the complicity it needs to constitute itself politically, and the citizen for his part declares himself an accomplice in the life of the man, of which he takes care. This complicity, you will have understood, is biopolitics, which has now reached its extreme – and hopefully ultimate – configuration.

The question I wanted to ask you then is this: to what extent can we still feel obliged to this society? Or if, as I believe, we still feel somehow obliged, in what ways and within what limits can we respond to this obligation and speak publicly?

I don’t have a complete answer, I can only tell you, like the poet, what I know I can no longer do.

  • I can no longer, in the face of a doctor or anyone who denounces the perverse way in which medicine has been used in these two years, not first of all question the medicine itself. If we do not rethink what medicine has gradually become and perhaps the entire science of which it believes to be a part, we will in no way be able to hope to stop its lethal race.

I can no longer, faced with a jurist or anyone who denounces the way in which the law and the constitution have been manipulated and betrayed, not first of all revoke the law and the constitution in question. Is it perhaps necessary, not to mention the present, that I recall here that neither Mussolini nor Hitler needed to question the constitutions in force in Italy and Germany, but rather found in them the devices they needed to establish their regimes? It is possible, that is, that the gesture of those who seek today to base his battle on the constitution and on rights is already defeated from the start.

If I have evoked this double impossibility of mine, it is not in fact in the name of vague metahistorical principles, but, on the contrary, as an unavoidable consequence of a precise analysis of the historical situation in which we find ourselves. It is as if certain procedures or certain principles in which one believed or, rather, pretended to believe had now shown their true face, which we cannot fail to look at.

By this I do not mean to devalue or consider useless the critical work we have carried out so far and which will certainly continue to be carried out here today with rigor and sharpness. This work can and certainly is tactically useful, but it would be blind to identify it simply with a long-term strategy.

In this perspective, much still remains to be done and can only be done by letting go of concepts and truths that we took for granted without reservations. The work before us can begin, according to a beautiful image by Anna Maria Ortese, only where all is lost, without compromise and without nostalgia.

Source: Giorgio Agamben -QUODLIBET

  • Speech to the DU.PRE commission on 11-28-2022