Trying to establish the historical genealogy of the concept of hegemony I was prompted to read the entry on Personal Loyalty in Emile Benveniste’s Dictionary of Indo-European Concepts and Society (Hau Books, 2016, 75-90). Part of it was predictable (and consistent with Heidegger’s analysis of Roman hegemonic domination in his Parmenides, from 1942): “fides develops into a subjective notion, no longer the concept which is inspired in somebody, but the trust which is placed in somebody.” “The one who holds the fides placed in him by a man has this man at his mercy. This is why fides becomes almost synonymous with dicio and potestas. In their primitive form these relations involve a certain reciprocity: placing one’s fides in somebody secured in return his guarantee and his support. But this very fact underlines the inequality of the conditions. It is authority which is exercised at the same time as protection for somebody who submits to it, an exchange for, and to the extent of, submission” (88). Calls for a hegemonic understanding of the political have that irreducible character of unequal exchange—trust for submission, constraint and obedience. This is clearly visible, by the way, in the early Antonio Gramsci, whom we are reading right now in a working group. Persuasion—by the party which holds the secret of history—is obedience. Those who have faith in the party must first of all obey. “Fides in Latin is the abstract noun corresponding to a different verb: credo,” “in these terms we are back once again with notions in which there is no distinction between law and religion: the whole of ancient law is only a special domain regulated by practices and rules which are still pervaded by mysticism” (90). This is presumably why Gramsci may claim that “most people do not exist outside some organization, whether it calls itself the Church or the Party, and morality does not exist without some specific, spontaneous organ within which it is realized. The bourgeoisie is a moment of chaos not simply where production is concerned, but where the spirit is concerned” (Pre-Prison Writings, Cambridge UP, 1994, 72).
But something else in Benveniste’s entry intrigued me. It is the reference to Tacitus’ description of the berserk, the Wotan army: “Those fierce men improve on their savage nature by enlisting the help of art and time: they blacken their shields, they dye their skin, and they choose the darkest nights for battle. The horror alone and the darkness which envelops that doleful army (feralis exercitus) spreads terror: there is no enemy who can withstand that strange and, so to speak, infernal aspect; because in each battle the eyes are the first to be vanquished” (Tacitus quoted by Benveniste 83). Let us dwell for a second in that last phrase, “the eyes are the first to be vanquished.”
The attempt to think about the mere possibility of a posthegemonic politics, which means first of all a politics not bound by constraint and obedience, a politics that takes its point of departure in the assumption that persuasion means submission and domination, has been linked to an existential practice of freedom from domination, which we call infrapolitics. Infrapolitics does not attempt persuasion to the extent that it does not attempt domination or calls for obedience. Indeed, it places itself at the limit of any political practice, in a dark area at the border of political logic.
Benveniste starts his dictionary entry by talking about oaks, a solid tree, the embodiment of firmness and reliability. In old Germanic the oak was connected with the idea of trust, and trust was above all the virtue of a band of warriors. Friendship and community were originally and essentially the friendship and community of the warriors in a given band. The Greek word laos means both “army” and “the people.” Which means that politics is always first of all a politics of friendship, where friendship cannot avoid the hierarchies that pervade it, and which are expressed in the obligations of submission and command. So what happens when an obscure group of people, a group of friends, proposes a way of thought that subtracts itself from submission and command, and that suspends war in that sense? What kind of weird politics of friendship is at stake in a group that denies the traditional understanding of politics as much as it denies the traditional understanding of friendship?
Infrapolitics (and posthegemony as its corollary) cannot constitute themselves as a region for allegiances against a common enemy, it must subtract itself from it, prefers not to engage in enmity as primary political deployment, it dwells otherwise. But this has two immediate effects. On the one hand, it preempts the deployment of any libidinal drive connected to group militancy (not the miles but the unherdable cat is the referent here), which means that it also preempts mimetic rivalry. These two, the mimetic drive and mimetic rivalry, are two archaic characteristics or dimensions of the band of brothers, and they are probably unrenounceable as such. On the other hand, upon offering itself as an exception, it seems to undermine the very constituting principle of community at every level (trust, obedience, submission, mimetic drive, mimetic rivalry). It generates the impossible phantom of an ever more obscure, more abstract, radically opaque countercommunity, which of course unleashes every instinct for danger and therefore every reason for rejection.
That is to say, the infrapolitical form, as a theoretical option, must deal with two antinomic, hence destructive problems (they are destructive to the extent that aporia, no exit, is destructive): it does not encourage any will for mimetic solidarity, and it cannot avoid the massive rejection of the rival (another warrior) who suspects an enemy all the more dangerous to the extent it dissembles its enemy position, an enemy without a name, an obscure and unidentifiable enemy to the extent it places itself outside the common light, the solar space. To that extent it appears to be a berserk enemy, a feral and infernal soldier of the dead and nocturnal Wotan: the feralis exercitus of the infrapolitical mofos; of those who have, and want, no exercitus.
As far as infrapolitics and posthegemony go, the eyes are the first to be vanquished, and nobody wants to look beyond. Perhaps nobody can, or they prefer not to. This is, needless to say, unjust.