Author: Adam Lovasz (PhM), Co Founder of Absentology, Associate Editor of "Philosophical Views"
The challenge of writing a political philosophy is the challenge that faces all philosophy. What Georges Bataille writes of humankind could, arguably, be written of political philosophy and political theory in the early twenty first century: „maybe humankind’s a pinnacle, but only a disastrous one.” We would argue that political philosophy, in this day and age, can only constitute an exercize of self-discipline, an agonistic confrontation with its own limitations. In other words, political philosophy must become apolitical. This „pinnacle”, the sunset of the political, may only be achieved in the ecstasy of laughter, produced by a simplicity that cancels theory. Laughter, argues Joachim Ritter, is an „incongruity” that is fundamentally opposed to all forms of order, political or otherwise. A philosophy that does not fail to laugh at itself would be the ultimate transgression, a voiding of discursive seriousness. One of the fundamental problems of contemporary discussions relating to political affairs is the overwhelming lack of humor involved in such debates. As if – in the long run – philosophy were anything other than irredeemably incompetent. In the end, it is not human intentionality that has the final say in the world’s affairs. Social agency is far more complex, and comes in so many shapes and sizes that it is, to all intents and purposes, irreducible to human intentionality. Bearing this in mind, political philosophy must realize that its object perpetually eludes its grasp. No single conception of the political community can integrate all actants into its fold. Alas, without borders, without clear delineations, how could one hope to construe a clear cut political community? The very absurdity of such a project belies its impossibility. The sole object of any politics must be the impossible itself, as it manifests itself through laughter. Like the „dying person” described by Bataille, political philosophy, in the instant of its grotesque enlargement, must cease: „in that instant tears start to laugh, laughter weeps.” But should we shed any tears for political philosophy?
Judging by their track-record over the past century, the political sciences are manifestly undeserving of our tears. The simplicity that cancels out deathly temporality (the experience of death is impossible – how could one experience one’s own disappearance?) must be achieved by the one who is dying. In the case of political philosophy, the death of the political must entail the disappearance of community and a disastrous self-evacuation of meaning. Karl Hess, one of the first proponents of „anarchocapitalism”, called for the explicit destruction of all forms of state power in his influential 1969 article, „The Death of Politics”:
„Once the power of the community becomes in any sense normative, rather than merely protective, it is difficult to see where any lines may be drawn to limit further transgressions against individual freedom. In fact, the lines have not been drawn. They will never be drawn by political parties that argue merely the cost of programs or institutions founded on state power. Actually, the lines can be drawn only by a radical questioning of power itself, and by the libertarian vision that sees man as capable of moving on without the encumbering luggage of laws and politics...”
Whatever we may think of this provocative suggestion, one thing is certain: philosophy in general cannot continue to pursue its interests as if it were endowed with some kind of universal competence. The intellectual poverty of most politicians in the existing „liberal” democracies is already, in itself, a condemnation of political philosophy. Political philosophy, for the most part, fails to even enter into existing political and ethical debates; instead of ideas and theories, in the world of everyday practice, driven by what Niklas Luhmann has identified as the imperative of self-referential functional differentiation, what we have is the limitless transgression of all kinds of borders, the destruction of lifeworlds through ostensibly legal means, and the general banalisation of political discourse, among a myriad of other social pathologies. Instead of a further overproduction of words and sentences that have little connection with social praxis, what philosophy needs is a reckoning with its own impotence. Instead of viewing its own incompetence with shame, political philosophy needs to embrace the possibility represented by the apolitical. Indeed, Odo Marquard has recommended a general skepticism in philosophy, a recognition of the fact that „philosophy has absolutely no effect even if – and especially if – one believes in it.” However much we may believe that the creation of artificial hybrid embyros from human and animal stem-cells is wrong, however deeply we may cherish the cultural values of peoples and communities threatened by economic interests and imperatives, we shall achieve nothing by inventing new political philosophies. We may philosophize from dusk till dawn, that will not halt the manufacture of genetic freaks or the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built. Only a reflexive action that recognizes the need for communities to defend themselves, and the actual organization of such a defense, can lead to results.
Any theory that remains within the fold of political philosophy is doomed to impotence. Paradoxically, it must be recognized that awareness of of this impotence is the precondition of a theory that would translate itself into social change. For the libertarian, community self-defense is the sole form of acceptable violence. Yet Hess fails to define the borders of this violence, even while excoriating statists for their legitimation of government violence. In Hess’ view, anarchy is acceptable to social oppression and unquestioning obedience: „certainly my values would have a better chance of surviving – with a Watts, Chicago, Detroit, or Washington in flames than with an entire nation snug in a garrison.” In the eyes of the anarchocapitalist, even the uncomfortable predicament of being killed in the street is preferable to a regime of state-sponsored violence. A political theory, especially of the anarchist kind, is truly „on the verge of total incompetence.” Libertarian political theory does not seek after legitimacy: it is the self-defense of a community that actively wills the emancipation of violence and negativity, albeit on a far smaller scale than state-controlled violence. If we are to believe Hess’ rather polemical opinion, violence in a libertarian society would be, though more frequent, on a smaller scale and less intense than the enormous orgies of large-scale state violence, driven by special interests and lobbies, that have convulsed the world over the past few centuries. Whether we would desire to live in a society such as that envisioned by Hess and anarchocapitalists of his ilk is another question altogether. A glimpse of what such a society could look like is given by the film trilogy „The Purge.” The film series depicts a United States that has recently survived a major social upheaval, most probably connected with an economic crisis of even larger proportions than the Great Recession of 2007-2009. While the government wields a large degree of authority, on one day all emergency services are suspended and all crime – barring terrorism – is legalized. Citizens and communities of various classes are free to murder one another and indeed proceed to do so, releasing their frustrations and destructive energies, „unleashing the Beast”. When presented with the excrementality of contemporary politics, as well as the failure of the political sciences (including the spectacular failure of opinion polling methodology) political philosophy „has no chance today to be anything but a failure.” The apolitical is that which debases. Apolitical philosophy is a form of political theory that chooses debasement as its tool of critique. Apolitical philosophy recognizes the death of the political. Mikhail Bakhtin, in his influential philosophical treatment of laughter and the carnivalesque in literature and society, mentions an interesting ritual that occurred throughout during the medieval „feast of fools”:
„We know that defecation played a considerable role in the ritual of the "feast of fools." During the solemn service sung by the bishop-elect, excrement was used instead of incense. After the service the clergy rode in carts loaded with dung; they drove through the streets tossing it at the crowd.”
Apolitical theory, when enacted within the sphere of the political, must become a form of politics that does not seek to purify the social body. Rather, having suspended itself in the recognition of its own incompetence, apolitical theory can freely toss its own theoretical dung at the crowd. Through the loss of its own meaning, politics can finally be made productive again, once its living connection with the earth is recognized. Dung, after all, is the material that fertilizes the soil. Having soiled itself, political philosophy – once rendered base – can become a „fertilizing and generating stratum”, for excrement itself is a product of this corporeality and that which is excreted maintains an „essential link with birth, fertility, renewal, welfare.” The abasement of the political is none other than the restoration of the dignity of the lifeworld and its installation at the heart of praxis, the integration of the heterogeneous into apolitical discourse.
 Bataille, Georges (1988 ) Guilty (Venice: The Lapis Press), 7
 Ritter Joachim (1941) „Über das Lachen’’, Blätter für deutsche Philosophie, 14, pp.1-21
 Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press)
 Bataille 1988 : 7
 Luhmann, Niklas (1982) „The world society as a social system” International Journal of General Systems 8(3): 131–138
 Marquard, Odo (1989) Farewell to Matters of Principle (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press), 25
 Marquard 1989: 26
 Marquard 1989: 35
 Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984 ) Rabelais and His World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 147
 Bakhtin 1984 : 148