The agonistic politics of eris, stasis, polemos

Questions of contest, strife, division, and war have been central to my autonomist politics.*  These questions have been circulating in my research explicitly since the 1980s. Here is a representative passage from my paper “The Rule of Justice” (1993):

We are now in a position to see polemos not as organized aggression or random violence but as the explosive, creative, political manifestation and operation of the governing order which turns chaos into cosmos. Through the agons of politics, through the exercise of government, through the political apportioning (as opposed to any custom or culture), people assemble and participate in this process by designing, deliberating their own rules of authority, their own laws, and defending them … This way of putting together a polis is best expressed by the verb “to institute” whose double meaning corresponds to that of its cognate “stasis”: “to set up” and “to start”, “to place” and “to introduce”, “to create” and “to initiate”. To institute is not to erect but to set in regulated motion, to organize a state/stasis [emphasis added] to change a society with the balance and dynamism of stasis. Instituting a polis is the indicated way/dike, the way which explicitly recognizes the institutive character of dike eris. It is based on the operations of the political principle, making authority and freedom, law and order, a matter of conscious, intense, agonistic scrutiny/scopesis (Thesis Eleven 40, p.19).

From this standpoint of my interest in state/stasis I have been following with admiration the evolution of philosopher Dimitris Vardoulakis during this decade, since his Doppelgänger study, and read with great interest his new book, which consolidates with stylistic urgency his reflections on sovereignty and stasis. In it, he argues that “the concept of agonistic democracy insists … on the inherent fragility of democracy because it is related to the contested site of violence — on how violence is justified and dejustified. … Differently put, agonistic democracy is forever vigilant on the inherent disunity that is possible and that is never effaced by the seeming stability of institutions of power, which are supposed to effectuate the unity of the state. Or, epigrammatically put, before the state comes stasis” (2018: 109).

The relatively narrow scope of this book’s references illustrates how Vardoulakis has been positioning himself in a very particular way within the post-Marxist Spinozist camp of political theory. Thus, in addition to my own studies (including one on Solon), he omits major thinkers of democratic agonism from Cornelius Castoriadis and William Connolly to Chantal Mouffe and Miguel Abensour. Nevertheless, this is a substantive manifesto of political theory that deserves energetic attention. It would be interesting to have it discussed by a panel of Greek political theorists of agonism (scholars like Athina Athanasiou, Emilios Christodoulidis, Stathis Gourgouris, Andreas Kalyvas, Nathalie Karagiannis, and Alexandros Kioupkiolis) who can mobilize the original terminology of the democratic state/stasis.

*Books missing from the above photo include Giorgio Agamben’s Stasis (2001), Andrew Schaap’s Law and Agonistic Politics (2009), Alexandros Kioupkiolis’ Freedom after the Critique of Foundations (2012), and Athena Athanasiou’s Agonistic Mourning (2017).

October 6, 2017

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