“In the name of the people”. La Boètie and Spinoza.
The frame in which we will strive to discuss the issue is this : there is never one people (even within its own) but many people and there are no good or bad populism, but just populisms which deceive, kneel the subject or make it hate himself, and populisms that serve a certain moment, frame of time or certain time.
Given this premise, i would add that the fact that the world had always been composed of the oppressed and the oppressors does not bring anything new to think. What interests us, what can serve us and i believe remains an actuality in our time, is the fact that the sophisticated tyrants of the modernity speak on "behalf of the people" and not just simply in their name as the monarchs used to do by having an absolute power. Speaking “on behalf of the people” becomes nowadays increasingly irrelevant because those in power have increasingly less need even to speak on "behalf of the people." This does not mean however that these techniques have disappeared, but that the markets which have gone beyond any control combined with the "legislative market" have produced an ironic and problematic situation : one where populisms gets sophisticated and survive longer than the people themselves. Even though, people emerge and disappear, on the other hand, the common purpose and above all, the human solidarity that gives birth to the Peoples, can only fade but never disappear.
It’s this solidarity and the common goals which are the sources of the populisms as well. This claim could be perhaps rightfully contradicted, saying that we are putting aside here the populist techniques and strategies as a means to subjugate the people, as a guarantee of their captivity. However, by recalling a phrase of Foucault, who wrote : "We must reject the division of tasks so often proposed to us : that the individuals get angry and talk and the governments reflect and act" , I would add at the extension of this advice that we should reject the same way the idea that : "There is only one or a few people who can speak for the people", that "he is as a kind of formless material which cannot speak for itself," and those who speak because of his concerns, or those who speak because they are lined up with a group or another, are populists, namely negative characters, charlatans to put it shortly.
However, although this may be entirely true, even though the populist discourses, right or left, sent people into captivity and self-destruction, however, saying that a people cannot speak by itself, means above all that : not only that it does not exist, but worse still : that he cannot exist. Therefore, if we accept the fact that at least that the Peoples can be born and affirmed, we must recognize that he can also speak with "his own language", namely in the events that it produces. This means that it produces, in one way or another, even populisms, which can serve or push it into servitude, depending in each case by the powers that emerge it consistently. And yet we know very well that this fact was not enough to liberate the people from the servitude. The latter changed the face resurfacing and showing its presence as always, through the use of old populisms or producing new ones, or more simply by creating a "monopoly of the production of populisms." And to maintain the monopoly as such, those in power, as always do not mind paying “the cost" that comes from the pejorative qualification, populist.
The fear from the populist discourse or the skepticism towards them is not in this sense, a consequence of the rational attitudes of the society, but a consequence of the action of a certain rationality that controls it and keeps it within the normative boundaries that it does not determine by itself. Going with another extension of Foucault’s thought who emphasized that : "The ruling class uses the threat of criminality as a constant alibi to tighten control over the population. The wrongdoer incites fear and this fear is cultivated. It is no coincidence that at any point where there is a social and economic crisis, we witness an "explosion of crime" and persistent calls for a government police. We’re told it’s for public order, but in fact it serves to rein above all, popular and working class illegality. Summarizing it, we can say that crime plays as a kind of internal nationalism. The same like the fear from the enemy makes us "want" the army, the same the fear from the criminals makes us "want" the police power " . I would add that just the same, the fear or skepticism by populisms taken in block makes us want and wish the populism that comes from above : that of the government, political parties, irrespective of color, or that of the trade unions, associations, media or mighty organizations. And though we are not any more in the context of Mussolini’s widely known statement : "Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state " in any case, what would prevail in the end, would be a monopoly as such, the monopoly that guarantees slaveries of all kinds.
Thus, there is no populism, but populisms, and there are no Good or Bad populisms, but populisms that serve or ruin the peoples.
That said, we come to our question, a question as equally essential and current. This question put like that by Baruch Spinoza : "Why do people fight for their servitude as if it was for their rescue ?” Why then, they want more yoke, subjugation, humiliation, slave security, and keep away with fear and terror, the freedom ? Why do we allow ourselves to be deceived, humiliated, using populist discourses or other techniques ? Ultimately, there would neither be tyrants nor oppressors if freedom would be above everything. How is it then that we come to the point to wish the suppression of our own ? Before trying to examine the problem, it has to be said that before Spinoza, another thinker, wrote this : "Be determined not to serve any more, and here you are free ; I don’t want you to push or shake (the tyrant, underlined by me. DK), but just do not support him anymore, and you will see how a great giant, whose base has been removed, will be broken down and weathered away by its own weight."
These lines were written by Etienne de La Boétie (1530-1563), French writer and diplomat. He lived at the time of major religious clashes between Catholics and Huguenots and served for some time as a diplomat in the service of Catherine de Medicis, who intended to establish peace between the Catholics and the Huguenots. However he will be known mostly for a single text of almost thirty pages which he wrote when being only 18 years old. According to Michel de Montaigne, La Boètie called his text "Discours de la servitude volontaire" (Discourse on the voluntary servitude), but others baptized it according to Montaigne "Le Contre’Un" . All this short text is built around a single issue-the reasons that lead people to become slaves or kneel with their own will (according to La Boètie). For Etienne de La Boètie, it was not that important whether people were kneeled because of fear, stupefaction, or love for the tyrant, what was important in his view, was the fact that in any case, slavery could be only voluntary, although he stated that freedom is the "natural condition" of the human being.
The essence of the problem in the submission of La Boètie is not much the force, cruelty or brutality of the tyrant, but the fact that this force exists as such precisely because of the voluntary servitude, being that as he writes : "Apparently, people just freedom do not want at all, not for other reasons besides that, if they wanted it, they would have it ... " . As we can see, for Etienne de La Boètie, slavery is connected to the free will of people. This approach thus assumes the existence of "the free arbiter", namely a kind of detachment from the concrete objective conditions of choice. And precisely for this reason, the beautiful text of Etienne De La Boètie, yet presents a problem since it can simultaneously inspire resistance against subjugation, but also a kind of simplistic conclusion (this depends on each of us), that "the fault is of the people", people and societies that choose the slave safety instead of the full unknown horizons of freedom. Therefore this text could qualify as "popular populism" and also as "superior populism." Once again, it is not the populist discourse important in itself, but its political use.
La Boètie thesis is in this sense, as essential as well as complex, as simple "as ambiguous," precisely because it can be used equally well by an ethical approach (in the sense of Spinoza and Deleuze later), so as un analysis of the conditions and circumstances that lead people to slavery "with their own will ", and at the same time, can be used in a moralizing approach that would not do anything else but increase the weight of guilt and hatred among each other simultaneously.
On the other hand, it is true that when fear dominates the desire for freedom and human dignity, what rules is slavery, be it tyranny or the contemporary institutional democracy. However, if we confuse the discourses constructed around the concept of guilt and visions of an ideal world, with those that push towards freedom, then we’re confusing politics with the parliament, politics with the parties, politics with the politicians or simply with the demagogues.
However La Boètie has the great merit that he does not build his analysis on a certain tyrant or tyranny, but on the phenomenon itself. But on the other hand, the weak point of this analysis is that it is built, assuming a free will in desiring the slavery. That said while the circumstances or the conditions in which we are born and grown up are always associated with a particular socio-political context, although this does not justify on the other hand, in any case, the apathy, resignation or "acceptance of things as they are" . This is why Deleuze and Guattari at the Anti-Oedipus (1972), avoided in a way, La Boètie, backing themselves at Spinoza (and Wilhelm Reich). Precisely because what Spinoza ethics dismisses clearly and unequivocally is at the same time, the idea of "the free arbiter" and Moral Judgment ("you are guilty because if you wanted, things would be different", "you deserve what you have" ; “you deserve the government you have"etc.). The problem in this regard is not the plight of the people, but the issue of slavery as such, is it voluntary or involuntary. This means that what we need is not just simply the judgment or condemnation of a situation or particular group of people (as the problems are presented by those starting with strict ideological perspectives), but through criticism, to make the problem obvious and to point out all its dimensions. We can say that between the lines, this is exactly the non-ideological approach of the analysis of the concept of the desire of Deleuze and Guattari at the Anti-Oedipus .
So, we should not start from the idea that slavery or servitude might be considered starting from the fact that people are fooled by those who oppress them or that they take their slavery like it was freedom itself, but by aiming to understand the nature of our thinking and action as such. Thus, following Spinoza’s path, the question would be this : "Is it possible to make a collectivity of free people instead of a collection of slaves, with a collectivity ? This question or better to say, this way of laying this problem, will also be the point where philosophy and politics intersect naturally, the point where the situation or the case and thought change each-other mutually. This means that a philosophical-political problem cannot be analyzed as such except in an ethical perspective, or rather in a political and ethical perspective, as Deleuze says in "Spinoza et le problème de l’expression" : "Ethics considers feelings, behaviors and goals, putting them in relation not to the transcendent values, but to the mode of existence that they assume or imply : there are things we cannot do, and even not say, believe, feel, think, except by being poor, slave, helpless, and other things that we cannot do, feel, etc.., except by being free or strong. A method of explaining the immanent modes of existence, thus replaces the sheltering at the transcendent values”
Spinoza approach in this sense exceeds or defeats the morality to write towards an ethical-political conception of the world. Beyond the conceptual double of punishment and reward, beyond the superstition and blind obedience, we have at Spinoza concepts such as that of strength of a plurality constructed as such constantly in the relations of forces that give it life as such. The freedom thus appears as what characterizes the plurality always in movement, in thinking, in simultaneous action and thinking, by the self, for the self, on the self. Spinoza writes : “It is said free the thing that exists only by the necessity of its nature, and which is determined only by the self to act, and necessary or better to say constrained, what something else determines to exist or operate in a precise and definite manner." But we must not forget that the nature of which Spinoza speaks is the (unique) substance as such and not "the human nature" or "the social nature of the human being." Therefore the concept of law at Spinoza loses the moral reference to another world or an alleged human nature, even if we conceive this as an "original condition" substantially free as at La Boètie, even if we understand it as wild as to Hobbes. On the contrary, with this approach, even the laws themselves are nothing but words, words that are produced and shaped in a particular historic and social context. Which means that words or phrases that use to speak for the people, to suppress it or to free it, are neither divine nor an essence of truth or false, but in the first place lectures which should always be seen in relation to concrete practices to which they refer to claim to give voice.
There are therefore no terms or notions of the sacred or divine, which can be separated from practice or the real situation that they produce or can condition. Spinoza said : Even God has given only words " , words that produce or mark certain actions, actions which are ours, not the words themselves. This is the reason why Spinoza insisted, just as Nietzsche later, in a split of the theological perspectives from those of philosophy. And in this sense, when we remain hostages of the dilemma : is populism Good or Bad, we assume at the same time that there are some real essences of truth which legitimize speaking on behalf of the people on one side and others that do not have this essence. While considering the ethical-political approach like that of Spinoza we would say that these so-called "essences" of slavery as well as other populisms produced in the society and whether they have an "essence", it is the process of their production and not the "essence" which is true or false. Consequently, the natural rights of every human being, according to Spinoza, "are not defined by sound reason, but the desire and strength" To put it in different words, these rights or discourses on them as in the case of populism, are not determined by an "essence" but a process, by doing, or better, from a making-process.
"It is certain, in fact, that people naturally tend to relate to each other, either because of a hope or a common fear, whether because of impatience to avenge for a loss they have suffered together ; and being that the right of the City is defined by a common power of pluralism, it is certain that the power and right of the City is reduced to the exact extent that it gives itself or not, the reason to connect together a bigger number of subjects"
Taken from this perspective, we can say that populisms or different discourses, on people, for people or simply on its behalf, may arise from the power, from the intention to control them, to cut or reduce them. What is important in any case, is the fact that this distinction cannot be made by the words or discourse, but from the practice from which it flows and to the practice it produces ; the concrete conditions of slavery or those that lead to freedom. The right of the state itself as such was determined by Spinoza as a result of the powers of the plurality and not vice versa . From this perspective, what matters above all is the attempt to have the plurality not being kneeled by the silence or simple moral judgments "Good - Bad" imposed to it.
The human being, Spinoza says : "is not born free, but made or freed." And in connection with our discussion, this means that more than the fact that people are deceived and enslaved, the important thing are the ways which lead to liberation or freedom. And for this, what should be preserved at all costs, according to Spinoza, is freedom of thought because, as he writes : "The most violent State will be one where everybody will be denied of the freedom to say and learn what he thinks. And on the other hand, a well regulated State, will be one where each will be given this freedom.”
And this means that the risks for the common freedom cannot come from the populisms of speaking on behalf of the people, but by the monopolization of these discourses ; from this monopolization which leaves us only "the choice" to morally judge if these discourses are true or false, good or bad, noble purposes or with low background. They therefore should be judged in relation to the possibility of making a particular community and not in connection with the authority that proclaims them or by themselves. Referring to Foucault once again, I would say that where some try to rationalize something, "the essential problem is not to ask whether or not they are in conformity with the principles of rationality, but to discover the type of rationality that they use » .
In this sense, when we think about the populist discourses, the issue is not to discover whether they are simply popular or just populist, but to understand to which people they refer to, and whether they serve to make people freer or more enslaved. And this cannot be based on moral discourses, or by new moral discourses, as evil on them, is always embodied by the other. And those that dominate in each case are judgments, ridicule, anger, revenge and anger. While on Spinoza’s ethics, as Etienne Balibar says : "the theory of "the political body "is neither a mere physics of the power, nor a psychology of the enslaving of the people, nor the means to formalize a legal order, but the search of a strategy for collective liberation, whose motto could be declared like this : we should be much more numerous, and let’s think as much as possible (Ethique, V, 5-10)" .
• BALIBAR, Etienne. Spinoza et la politique. PUF. France 2005.
• DELEUZE, Gilles. L’ile Déserte. Textes et entretiens 1953-1974. Edition préparée par David Lapoujade. Les éditions de minuit. France 2004.
• DELEUZE, Gilles. Spinoza et le problème de l’expression. Les Éditions de minuit. France 2005.
• DELEUZE, Gilles. Spinoza philosophie pratique. Les Éditions de minuit. France 2004.
• Etienne de la Boétie. Discours de la servitude volontaire. Vrin. France 2002.
• FOUCAULT, Michel. Dits et écrits I et II. Quarto Gallimard. France 2005.
DiE II- Face aux gouvernements, les droits de l’homme.
DiE I - La prison vue par un philosophe français
DiE II - « Omnes et singulatim » : vers une critique de la raison politique. • Michel de Montaigne. Essais. Tome Premier. Édition Lutetia. France 1933. • SPINOZA. Ethique. Texte original et traduction nouvelle par Bernard Pautrat. Éditions du Seuil. Paris 1988. • SPINOZA. Traité Politique. Traduction de Charles Ramond. Épiméthée PUF. France 2005. • SPINOZA. Traité Théologique Politique. Traduction de Jacqueline Lagrée et Pierre-François Moreau. Épiméthée PUF. France 1999. • TRAVERSO, Enzo. Le totalitarisme. Le XXe siècle en débat. Textes choisis et présentés par Enzo Traverso. Éditions du Seuil. France 2001.
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