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Dorsality : Thit1king Back th rough Technology and PoliUcs

David Wills


Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy

Rober to Esposito


Wlwn Species M eet

Donn a J. Haraway


The Poetics of DNA

Judith Roof


The Pnrn>'ite

Michel Serres

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Biopolitics and Philosophy

Roberto Esposito

Translated a nd with nn lnt rod uol ioo byTimothy C1mpbcll

posthumanltles 4

University ofMinnesota Press



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Libra ry of Congre.s.s Cataloging · in - ion Data

Es pos i to, Roberto, 1950-

IBios. English. )

Bios: biop oli tic~" an d ph i l oso ph y I Ro bert o Esposi t o; tra ns lt~ted t~nd with an int roducrion by Timothy Camp bell.

p. crn. -

(Posthumanities series; v. 4)

OriginaUy pu blished: llios: Jliopoli rica c fd osofia.

Incl udes bib liogra phical refere nce.s and index.

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Bios, Immun ity, Life: T he Thou gh t of Roberto Es posito

Timotl1 y Campbell





T he Enigm a of Biopolitics



T he Paradigm

of Immu nization


Biopower a n d


Biopo tentia li ty



Th anato politics (The Cycle of Genos)


The Philosophy of Bios



Index 2 o - 2





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Bios, Immunity, Life

The Thought of Roberto Esposito

Timothy Campbell

The name of Roberto Esposito is largely u nknow n in the United States. Outside of a few Romance Studies departmerlts who know him primari ly

fo r Communitas: Th e Origin and Desrir1y of the Communit)t, the work of this

Italia n philosopher over the past twen ty- fi,•e years remains completely un- translated into English.' That his introduction to an American audience should occur now and concern h is most recent study, Bios: Biopolitics a.11d Philosoph)\ is owing in no small part to the particular (bio)political situatioo in which we fin d ourse lves tod ay: the ever-increasing concern of power with

the life biology o f its subjects, be it American b usiJlCsses urgi ng, indeed forc - ing, workers to be more active physically so as to save on health care costs, or the American government's attempts in the "war o n terror" to expose the lives o f foreign nationals to death, "fighting them there" so as to "pro tect" American lives here.' Yet this politicizatioo of biology, the biopolitics that forms the o bject of Esposito's study, has a long and terri ble history in the tweotieth ceotury. Indeed, Bios may be profitably read as nothing sbort of a modern genealogy of b iopolitics t hat begins and ends in p hilosophy.

parame t ers of th is genea logy

and Esposito's contribution to our current understanding of biopolitics, particularly as it relates to the conceptual centerpiece of Bios. what Espos- ito calls th e "paradigm of immunization:'lmmunity has a long and well- kno,•m bistory in recent critical thought. Niklas Luhmano placed imrnuoit)' at t11e heart of his systems theory in his 1984 opus Sozia/e Systerne; DoJma 1-Iaraway deployed "an immuoc system discourse" in her seminal reading o f postrnodern bodies from 1988; Jea n Baudrillard in the early 1990s spoke

Tn the fo ll owing pages, I wi ll sketch th e


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vii i

TrJnslator•s Introduction

of artificial sterilization compensating for "faltering interoal immunologi- cal defenses:'' For them a nd for many writing today on immun ity, the term quickly folds in to autoimmunity, becoming the ultimate horizon in which contemporary politics inscribes itself. Others contin ued to discuss immu-

most prominently-as well as

nity thro ughout the 1990s-Agnes Heller

Mark C. Taylor, but no one placed it more force fully at the center of coo- temporary po litics than did Jacq ues Derrida in a se.ries of interviews and writings after the "events" of September n.' Speaking of autoimmunity aggress ion and s uicidal au to immuni ty, Derrida a ffilia tes the figure of im- munity w it h tr auma and a repe titio n comp uls ion .' As the reader will soon d iscover, much sets apart Esposito's use of immunity from Derrida's, as we ll as the o thers just men t ioned, es pecially as it rela tes to Es pos ito 's radical inver-

sion of immun ity in its communal antinomy and the subsequent effects on our understanding of biopolitics. In the first section, therefore, I attempt to trace w here Esposito's use o f the immu n ity paradig m co nverg es a nd diverges w ith Derrida and ot hers. In the second pa rt, I situate Bios m ore broadly within current American and European th inking oo b iopolitics. Here o bviously the work o f Michel Foucault in his semin ars from 1975 an d 1976 on b iopolitics and racism merits considerable attentio n for it is precisely on these d iscou rses that Esposito w ill draw his own re fl ections in Blos. 6 But as anyone who bas followed the recent for tunes of tbe term "biopolitics" knows, ti\•O other figures dominate conte mporary discussions of life i n all its fo rms a nd they bo th or igi nate in Italy: G iorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri. In Homo Sacer, Remnants of Auschwitz, an d The Op en, Giorgio Agamben declines biopolitics nega tively, an chor ing it to the sovereig n state of exception that separates bare life (zoe) from political forms of life (bios).' For Antonio Negri, writing witb Michael Hardt, biopolitics takes on a distinctly positive tonality when thought to- gether with the multitude.• It is between these two con tradictory poles that Esposi to's focus on bios must be understood. Indeed, as I argue here, Bios comes to resemble someth ing like a synthesis of both Agamben's and Negri's positions, w ith Esposito co-opting Agam ben's negative anal ysis o f b iopolitics early on, on ly to criticize later the an tihistorica l m oves tba t characterize Agamben's association ofb iopolit ics to the state o f exceptio n . In some of Bios's most compelling pages, Esposito argues instead fo r the rnode rn o rigi n of biopolitics in the immunizing feat ures of sovereignty, property, aod liberty as tbey emerge in the writings of Hobbes and Locke. It is at this point t hat the differences wi th H ardt and Negri become clear;


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Traos)3 tOr's l n1 rod o c tioo

i x

they concern oo t only what Esposi to argues is thei r misgu ided app ro p ria-

tion of the te rm " biopolitics" fro m Foucault, bu t also their fai lu re to reg is - ter the thanatopolitical declension of twentieth-cen tury biopolitics. Essen-

tia lly, Esposito ar gues that Ha rdt and Negri are n' t wrong in push ing affi rmative biopolitics-a proj ect that Esposito himself s hares -b ut

cao emerge on ly after a thoro ug hgoing decons tru ction of the in tersection of b iology an d politics that o rig inates in imm un ity. C learly, uude rstand ing ltal.iau con trib utious to b iop olitical d iscou rse is crucia l i f we a re t o r egisr . e r th e o ri g in ali t y o f E ,~po s it.o's a r g u ment . E qua ll y , though, o ther cri tical tex ts will also help us i n situati ng Bios w ithi n con - temporary work o n b iopolitics- )ud ith Butler's reflectio ns on m o urn ing

a nd community in Prect~riousLife an d Giving a.n Account Oneselfcome to

fo r an that it

m ind , as do Keith Ansell Pearson's Deleuzian mus ings on symbiosis a nd viroid life, as well as )Urgen Habermas's rece nt Tile Future of Hum<lll Natu re a nd Ro nald Dworkin's essays on euthanasia and abortion.' 0 Here too Espos-

ito's wo rk sha res a n um ber of area s o f co ntact w ith tl1em, ran girlg from th e notion of communir.y to the genetic engineering that promises ro preven t

" lives unworthy of li fe'' in Bin di ng and Hache's p hrase." But o ther t exts

fi g ure as well, espe ciall y as they relate to Es po sito's re adi ng o f commun ity/ immun ity. I will introdu ce them at app ro priate momen ts and then in my

conclusion tie up some of the loose ends that inevi tably result when

in troductions of the sor t I am attem pting are made. Mos t io1portan t will be asking afte r th e use value of bios for imagini ng a public cult ure no longer insc ribed in a negative horizon of biopolitics.

b road

Community/ Immunity

In orde r to appreciate the originality of Esposito's

u nde rstaod ing of biopoli-

tics, I firs t wan t to rehearse the re la tion o f commun ity to immu nity as Esposito sketches it, no t only in Bios but in his two earlier wo rks, Cornmu-

nitas: Origin and De.Hitl)' of the Commu nit)' and lm mu uitas: The Protection

arrd Negation of Life." Read ing the t erm s di a lect ica lly, Espos ito asks if th e relation between com mun ity and immun ity is ul timately o ne of contrast and juxtaposition, or rather if the relation isn't part o f a lar ger move in wbicb each te rm is inscribed recipr oca lly in the logic o f th e other. T he launching pad for h is reflections concerns the principles o n wb iffi communities are fo u11ded . Typically, of co urse, w hen we t h ink of commun ity, we im m ed ia te ly thin k of tbe common, of tba t wb iffi is shared am ong the memb ers of a

the commu nal, by

group. So too for Esposito: commu n ity is in habited by

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x Translator's lntroduction

that whicb is not my own, indeed that begins where "my own" ends. It is what belongs to all or most and is therefore "public in juxtaposition to 'pri- vate; or 'general' (but also 'collective') in con trast to particu lar:' " Yet Es- posito notes three further meanings of commtmitas, all associated with the term from which it originates: the Latin mu11us. T he first two meanings of mu11us- onus and officium- concern obligation and office, while the third cente rs paradoxically on the term dom1m, which Esposito glosses as a fo rm of gift that combines the features of the previous two. Drawing on the classic li nguistic studies of Benveniste and Mauss, Esposir.o marks the specific tonality of this communal do11um, to signify not s imply any gift but a category of gift that requires, even demands, an exchange in return.•·• "Once one has accepted the munus," Esposito writes, then "one is obliged to retu rn the onus, in the form of either goods or services {offtciu.m/."' 5 Murws is, therefore, a mucb more intense form of doman because it re- quires a subsequent response from the receiver. At this po in t, Esposito can distill the po li t ical tations of nnmus. Unlike dom1111, munus subsequently marks "the gift that one gives, not the gift that one receives:· " the con tractual obligation one has vis -a-vis t he other:· and finally"the gratitude that dema.nds new donations" o n the part of the recipient (emphasis in original).•• Here Esposito's particu lar declen- sion of community becomes dear: tllli1 king community through cormnu-

llitas will name the gift that keeps on gil•ing, a reciprocity i n the giving of a gift tha t doesn't, indeed cannot, be long to oneself. At its ( mi ssing) orig in, communitas is constructed around an absent gift, one tha t mem bers of commu nity cannot keep for themselves. Accordi ng to Esposito, this d ebt

or o bligation o f

those belonging to a community. The defect revolves around the perni- cious effects of reciprocal donation on individua l identity. Accepting the mu11us directly underm ines the capaci ty o f the individual to ideo tify h im- self or h erself as such and no t as part of th e communi ty. T want to ho ld the defective features of comrnunitas in reserve for the mo ment and rein troduce the question of in1munity because it is precisely the imm un ita r y mecbanism that will link community to b io politics." For Espos ito, immu ni ty is cotermin us with co mmu n it y. It does not s imply negate cornmunitas by protecting it from what is external, but rather is in- sc rib ed in the horizon of th e conunu nal rrwnus. lm n:lUne is he-and im - m un ity is de arly gendered as mascu line in the examples from classical Rome that Esposito cites-who is exonerated or has received a dispensatio

gift giving operates as a ki nd of o riginary defect for all

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Tra os)3 tOr's l n1 rod o c tioo

x i

from reciprocal gift giving. He who has been freed fro m communal obliga-

tio ns

previously contracted debt enjoys the condition o f immunitas. The rela-

tio nship immunity maintains with individual identity emerges clearly here. Immunity conno tes the means by which the indh•idual is defended fro m




what is one's own fro m the co mmunal are ted when the "subst.itu-

tion of

private or i nd ividua listic models fo r communitaria n forms of or -

being pre- sep arat ir\ g

the "expro priati ve effects" of the commun ity, pro tecting t he ooe wbo

or who enjoys an o riginary a utono my o r successive freei ng fro m a

es it

fro m th e risk of coo tact with th ose wbo do oot ( th e risk the loss of ir1d ividu al identity). " As a res ult, the borde rs

ganization" takes p lace." It fo llows therefore tha t the condi tio n of immu - nity sign ifies both not to be an d not to have in commoo . 20 Seen from th is

negates it, so that

rather thao centered simply on reciprocity, commun i!)' do ubles upon it-

self, p ro tecti ng itse lf from a p res upposed excess of communa l gi ft givi ng. For Esposito, the conclusion can only be that " to surv ive, the community, every co mmunity, is forced to introject the negativity of its own opposite,

e''en if the opposite

b eing of the commu nity itself:'" It is this in trojectio n of negativity o r im- munity that will fo rm the basis of Esposito's reading of modern biopolitics. Esposito will arg ue that th e modern subject who enjoys civil and political

the contagion of the pos-

rights is itself an at tem pt to attain immun.ity fro m

sibility o f comm un ity. Such an attempt to immu nize the indi,•id ual from what is common ends up pu tting at ris k the community as immunity turns

u pon itself and

perspective, immunity presup poses community bu t also

rema ins precisely a lacking and contrasth•e mode o f

its constituen t element.

Immunity and Modernity

Th ose fa miliar witb Jean- Lu c Nancy's wri ti ngs on the ino perat ive co mmu -

n ity or Al phonso Li ng is's re fle ct io ns on the sba red no thin gness of com - mu nity will s urely hear echoes o f both in much of the precedi ng synopsis." What sets Esposito's analysis apart from them is the degree to which he reads

immunity as a historica l category inextricably

linked to m odernity:


ha t politics has always in some way been preoccupied with d efend ing life


oesn't detract fro m the

fact that beginning from a ccrrain mo me n t t ha t

co incides exactly

wi t b th e origins of m oder n ity,

s uch a self-defe nsive

req uirement was iden tified not only and simply as a given, but as both a


past and

and a s trategic opt io n. By this it is unders to od tha t aU civ ilizatio ns

present faced (and in some way solved) the needs of their own

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xi i

Translator's Introduction

immu nizatio n, but that it is o nJy in the modern o nes that immunization constitutes its most intOnate essence . One 1n ight coJUe to affirm that it

wasn't modernity t hat raise d th e question of the se lf- p reservatio n of life~

b ut that self- prese rva t ion is itse lf

is to say it invents modern ity as a historical and categorical apparatus able

raised in modern ity's be in g [essere j, which

10 cope with iiY

For Esposito, modernity doesn't begin simply in the institution of sovereign power and its theo rization .in Hobbes, as Foucault a(gues. Ratlle(, modero ity appears p recisely when it becomes possible to theorize a relation between the commun itarian muuus, which Esposito associa tes with a Hobbesian state of generalized conflict, and the institution of sovereign power that acts to p rotect, or better to immunize, the commu nity from a threa tened return to conflict. If we were to pusb Esposi to's arg ume nt, it might be more ap propri<lle to speak of the sovereign who immu nizes the commu n ity from the commu - nity's owr1 implicit excesses: tile desire to acquire the goods of aoother, and the viole nce implicated in such a relation. Whe n its in dividual members become subject to sovereign power, tha t is, when it is no lo nger possible to accept the n um erous th reats the community poses to itself a nd to its

the comm unity immunizes itself by instituting sover-

eign power. With the risk of contlict inscribed at the very beart of commu-

nity, consisting as it does in interaction, or perhaps better, in the equ<>lily

or fo llow the momen t

between its me mbers, imm unizat io n doesn't p recede

o f commun ity but appears simultaneously as its "intimate essence." The moment when the immunit.ary aporia of community is recognized as the

nascent European natio n -states s ignals the advent o f

strategic prob lem fo r

modernity because it is then tbat sovereign power is linked theoretically to communal self-preservation and self-negation." Two further reflections ougbt to be made at th is poiiit. First, by foc using

on the immu niz ing features of sovereignty as it. emerges in mo d ernity, Es- posito takes issue with a distinction Foucault makes between the paradigm

o f sovereign ty an d th at of governmen talit y. For Foucault,

marks the "tactics of go,•ernment which make possible the contin ual defin i- tio n and redefinition of what is within the competence of the State and what is not, the public versus the private, aod so on:· These tactics are linked to th e emergence of the popu latio n as an objective of power that culrni.natcs at the eod of tbe eighteenth centu ry, particularly regarding campaigns to reduce mortality. " A full - fl edged reg ime o f govern me n ta li ty for Foucault

individ ual members,

gove rn mentality

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Tra nslalo r'slo trod uct io n


cannot be tho ught separately from the emergence of biopower that takes

con trol of" life in general -w ith the body as one pole and the popu lation

as the o ther" in

cault oscillates between sovereignty and governmentality precisely because

of his fa ilu re to theo rize the immu ni tary declension o f bo th terms. Both a re inscribed in a modern b iopolitical horizon thanks to a modernity that strengthens expo ne n tia lly its own immunitary characteristics. Secood, Esposito's focus oo immu n ity ough t to be compared to recent attempts, m ost notably by j udith Butler, to construct a con ceptual language

for describing gender and sexualit y as "pr ovid e a way of thi n king about how

relations b ut also dispossessed by tbem as well."" Esposito's language of an

a lways already immunized an d immunizing munus suggests th at Butler is

dea rly right

in affirming the importance of relationality fo r imagining com-

mun ity, but at the same time that any hoped-for future com mun ity con -

structed o r1 "t11e social

''lllnerab ility of bod ies" will founde r on t11e implic it

threat contained in any relation among the same socially constituted bodies."

eco logy o f socia lly interdependent bodies doesn't neces -

In o ther wo rds, an

sarily ensu re vulnerab ility, but m ight actually augmen t calls for protection .

Th us the fre quen t s ugges tion

of imm unity in Bu tler whenever the body

mo des o f re la tion, o ne t ha t would we are no t on ly constituted by our

the n ineteenth century. 26 Esposito, however, shows bow Fou-

ap pears in all its vulnerability or the th reat of contagion sym bolically pro- duced by the presumed enemy." For his part, Esposito is attempting some- thing different: the articu lation of a political semantics that can lead to a non immu nized (or radically communitized} life. 3 "

Autoimmunity after September 11

Ye t Es posito's diagnosis of the present b io po liti ca l s cene do esn' t res t excl u- sively on reading the an tinom ies of community in immtunity or, for tha t matter, on the modero roots o f imm un iza tion in the inst itution o f sover- eignt y. In Bios and lmmunitas, Esposito sketch es the outlines of a global a utoimmu nity crisis that grows more dangero us and lethal by the day. T he reason, Esposito argues, has p rimar ily to d o with our contin ui ng failu re to appr eciate how much o f o ur current political crisis is t he result of a collective failure to i nterrogate th e immu nitary logic associated w ith modern politi- cal thoug ht. In somewhat similar fash ion, Jacques Derrida also urged for- wa rd an auto imm u nity d iagnosis of the cu rrent polit ica l rnoment, bcg iJm iJJg in bis writings on religion with Gianni Vattuno, theo in The Politics ofFriend- ship, and most famous ly in h is interviews in the aftermath of September u.

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Transla tor's Jntrodtlction

I want to summarize briefly bow Derrida conjoins politics to autoimmu -

nity so as to distinguish Esposito's ow n use of the term from Derrida's. Setting ou t their differences is a necessary step to u nderstanding more

fu lly the contemporary formation of power

ab le to reso lve the cur rent moment of political autoimmun ity crisis. In "Fai th and Knowledge;' his contribution to Gianni Va ttimo's ''o lu me tit led OtJ Re li giotJ, Derrid a u tili-tes the opt ic of immun i ty to describe a

situation i n wh ich re ligion re t urns to th e fore fwnt of political d iscou rse. Interes tingly, the change will be found in religion's relation to immunity. For Derrida, (auto)immunity names the mode by which religion an d science are reciprocally inscribed in each other. And so any co ntemporary an alysis of religion must begin with tbe recognitio n tbat religion at the en d of the millenni um "accompan ies and precedes" what he calls "t he critical and tele- technoscience reason:· or better those technologies that decrease the distance a nd increase the speed of commu nicat ions globa lly, wh ich he li n ks to cap- italism aud the Anglo-American id iom. 31 The sarne movcrncnt tl1at makes religion and the tele -tech noscience coextensive res ults in a countermove o f immunity. Drawing upon the etymological roots of religion in religio, which he associates with repetition and then with performance , Derrida shows how religion's iterability presup poses the automatic and the machinelike - in other words, presupposes a teclliJique that marks the possibility of faith . Delivering technique (technology) o ver to a faith in iterabili ty shared witb religion allows hi m to ide ntify the au to immun itary logic un d erpinn ing the current moment o f religious revival and crisis. He writes: "It ltl1e move- ment that renders re ligion and t.ele -tech noscien tific reason J secretes its

own anti dote but also it s own

space where all self-protection of the unscathed, of the safe and sound, of the sacred (heilig, boly) must protect i tself against its own protection, its own police, its own power of rejection , in sh ort against its own, which is to say, against its own immunity:'"

and what strategies are a\•ail-

powe r of auto- inunu ni ty. We are here in a

Tn the co ntext of th e ove r lapping fi elds o f religion an d te le-tech noscientifi c

reason, immunity is always

struc tive.!! is immun al because, on the one hand, religion - be w ill substi- tute the ter m "faitll" rep eatedly fo r it- can no t allow itself to s hare perfo rma - tivity with tele-reason as the effects of th at same reason inevitably lead to an unde r m in ing of t he basis for re ligion in tradition, that is, in ma intai ni ng a ho ly space apart from its iterab le features. Furtherm ore, it is au toimmunal to the degree that. t.he n of the sacred space, the "u nscathed" of

au toimmun ity for Derrida and hence always de-

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Translato r's Jntro ducl ion


the preceding same featur es

son . The result is a protective a ttack again st protection itself, o r a crisis in

a utoimmu nity. Not sur pris ing ly, rel igious (au to) imm unity als o has a biopolitical d eclen - sion for Derrida, tho ug h he never refers to it as sucb. Th us, in the mechan- ical principle by which re.Jigions say they value life, they do so only by priv -

ileging a transce nden tal for m of life. "Life"

writes, "is sacred, holy, infin itely respectable o n ly in t.he name o f what is

wor t h more th a n it and

zoological (sacrificeable):'" In this, biological life is re peatedly transcended or made the supplement relig ion p ro vid es to life. So do ing, transcen dence

o pens up the co mmunity, constitutively formed a round the living, to the

" space

pros th es is: in a word, to the dimens ions of the a ut o- i mmune and self- sacrific ial s upple rnentarity, to this death dr ive that is sile n t ly at work io C\•cry commu nity, every auto-co-immunity.''" For Derri da ( as for Esposir.o) th e apo ria of im mu ni ty operates in every community, based o n "a principle o f

sacrificial self-destructio n ruining the principle of self-protection:'" At the or igin of re ligio us immunity lies the distinc tion between b io-zoological o r

a nth ropo -the ological life and transcendenta l,

sacriftces in almost parasitical fo rm so as to p ro tect its own dignity. If there is a biopolitical mome nt to be fou nd i n Derrida's analysis of religion a nd

a utoimmu nity, it will be found here in the difference between biological

life and transcendental life that will contin ually require the difference be- tween th e two to be maintained . It is , needless t o sa y, des p ite th e co ntem - po rary co n text that info rms D errida's ana lysis, a conceptu al aporia that precedes the d iscussion of capitalism, life, and late-twen tieth-cen tury tech- no log y. Writing in 1994, Derr id a gestures to the se cbaoges, b ut in h is analy - sis of the resu rgence of re ligion wi thin a certain ki nd of political discourse,

a uto immu nity co-o r igi nates w ith relig ion in t he West. Whether the same ho lds true in the political dimension, Derrida doesn't actually answer, at least not in his import<tn t work fro m 1997, The Politics ofFriendship. T here instead, after the requisite footno te marking the debt he owes Blanch ot, Ba taill e, an d Nancy, D errid a em pbas~tes a di fferent po-

li tica l de clens ion of (p oli tical) commu nity, on e based on a certain fo rm of friendship of separation urldergird ing ph iloso phical atte mpts to th in k a futu re commun ity of so litary friends:

quo te, is created precisely than ks to the same iterability, the of pe rfor mance tha t it shares with tel e-technosc ientifi c rea -

for many religions, Derrida

what is no t restricted to t he natu r alness o f th e b io -

of death that is linked to the au toma to n

to technics, the m ach ine,

sacred life that calls fortb

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xvi Transla to r's Jntrodtl ct ion

T h us is an nou nced the anchorit ic comm uni ty of tbose wbo Jove in sepa-

rat io n

The invitation co n1es to you fro m those who can lo•'e only at

a distance. in separa tion

Th ose who love onl}' in c utting ties a re t he

uncompromising frien ds of so litary s ingular ity. T he y invite yo u to enter into this comm un ity o f social disaggregation {tiClinison}, which is not n('CC?Ssarily a srcn· t society, a co njuratio n, th e occu] l' shar in g of esoter ic


cry pto-poetic kn owledge. The d ;ossical com:cpt o f the secret belongs to a tho ught of the commun ity, solidarity, or the sect- initiation or pr iv:lte space which represents the very thing the frien d who speaks to yo u as a frie nd of solit ude has rebelled against.' '

Here a different form of political relationship emerges, one linked to Bataille's "community of those without conunu nit:y;' and one at least in itially distinct from the a utoimmunizing fe atu res of re ligion . Derrida s uggests as much with his gesture here to the Deleuzian s ingularity, those separate en tities whose very separateness fu nctions as the invitation to the common." At the

same time ,

thereby associati ng the for m of d istan t love a fforded those wh o have w ith -

drawn fo r religious re asons fro m th e wor ld with a political d in1ension. Der- rida suggests tha t in the separateness o f singularity it may be possible to

avoid some o f the immunizing his disc ussion on fa itb. If I have foc used initially on

posito's tho ug ht, it is bee<Luse they inform much o f Derrida's import<Lnt re flections o n g lobal a utoimmu n ity in th e wake of September n. W ithout

rehearsin g here all of the in tricacies of his an alysis, the rein troductio n o f

the no tion of autoimmu n ity into in his interviews w ith Giovanna

later reflections on democracy in Rogues, shows Derrida extending the

a utoimmu ne p ro cess to bility o f democracy" a t

suicida l, au to imm une crisis that has marked American foreign policy s ince

the L98os. As fo r the first , democracy for Derrida appears to have at its heart a paradoxical mean ing, one in which it continually postpones both the moment when it C<Ln be fully realized as the political government in which the many rule and simu ltaneously the possibility that when such an

event comes, the many may precisely vote to suspend

w ith the recent experience o f J99 0S Alge ria in mi nd , De rd da argues that "d emocracy has always been suicidal" because tbere a re always some wbo

Derri da d oes preface th e re m arks wit h t h e ad je ct ive anchori tic,

features of community that emerged with

these two p ieces in an in troduction to Es-

a more p ro perly political disco urse, both Borrado ri after Septem ber 11 a nd in his

t wo related fron ts: firs t, to a constituen t "perverti- the heart of defin ing d emocracy, and second the

democracy. Wri ti ng

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Translaror~s Introduction

xvi i

do no t form part of the many aod who must be excluded or sent off." The res ult, a nd it is one t hat we ought to keep in m ind when attempti ng to think Esposito's thought on commun ity/immunity, is that "the autoinunune topology always dictates that democracy be seut off [rem•oyerf elsewhere,

that it be excluded or rejected, expelled under the pretext of protecting it on the inside b)' expelling, rejecting, or sending off to the outside tbe do- mestic enemies of democracy.""' For Derrida, autoimmunity is inscribed "right onto the concept of de m ocracy" so that "democracy is never prop- erly what it is, never itself For what is lacking i n democracy is proper

the it-self

{soi-meme/, the selfsame, the properly selfsame of the itself'' 0 A fundamen- tal, constituth•e lack of the proper marks democracy. Esposito's analysis of the immunity aporia of community does, much like Derrida's analysis of democracy, implicitly evoke in community some-

thi ng like de m ocracy, but we ought to be carefu l in li nking the two discus- sions on autoimmunity too closely-first, because Esposito clearly refuses

to collapse the p rocess

suicidal tenden cy at the heart of commun ity. That he doesn't has to do p ri- marily with the larger project of which Bios and fmmrmitas are a part, name ly, how to thin k an affirma tive bio po litics through the len s of in1mu- nity. Esposito's stunning elaboration of a positive immunity evidenced by mother and fe tus in Immunitas is the p roof that iounu nity doesn't neces- sarily degenerate-and that sense is hardly unavoida ble in Derrida's dis- cussion- in to a s uicidal autoimmunity cris is. In this, Esposito sketches the our.lines of an affirmative model of b iopolitical immu nity, whereas rarely if ever does Derrida m ake explicit the conceptual language of biopolitics that undergirds his ana lysis. But, as 1 mentioned, Derrida speaks of autoimmun ity in a different con- text, ooe that characterizes Americao foreign policy after September u as essentially an autoimmune reaction to previous cold-war policy that. armed a nd trained former freedom fighters dur ing the co ld war's hot phase in Afghan istan in the early 198os. He says:

mean ing, the very {memef mean ing o f the selfsame {memej

of immunization into a full -blown au toimmune

Imm igrated, trai ned, pre pared for their act in the Un ited States by the

United State~,these IJijru:kers incorpomt'c so to speak, two suicides

in o ne;

their own (and one wiU remain forever defenseless in the face of a suicidal,

autoimmun itary aggressio n-

suicide of those wbo welco med, armed and trained the m:n

an d that is what terrorizes most) but also the

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Translator>s [ntroduction

Tbe soul-searching among the British in response to the bombings in Lon -

don in the summer o f 2005 is clearly proof of the correctness of Derrida's analysis; in the United States, a similar analogy might be found with the Oklahoma City bombings (though there was clearly less reflection on the elements that contributed to that instance of suicidal immunity than in

the Unite d su icide via

Kingdom). In any case, by li nking Amer ican foreign po licy to a utoimmu nity, Derrida not on ly acknowledges an important

hi.storical cootext for understanding September u, but implicitly links"th.esc hiJackers" to technical proficiency and high -tech knowledge and, so it would seem , to h is earlier a nalysis of tele-reason a nd technology as reciprocally implicated in religious iterability. Although space doesn't allow me more than a mere mention, it might be usefu l to probe fu rther the overdeter-

mined connection o f the "religio us" in radic.-li Islamic fundamen talism with just such a technological prowess. ln any case, for the present discussion what matters most is that Derrida believes that September n cannot be thought independently of the figure of immun ity; indeed, d~atas long as the United States continues to p lay the role of "guaran tor or guardian o f


voked in turn by future traumatizing events that may be far worse than September u.

Esposi to's reading of an immunological lexicon in bio-

continue, p ro-

entire world ord er;'

au to immun itary aggression will

H ow, then, does politics d iffer from

Derrida's? Where Derrida's em phasis fall s repeatedly on

a utoimmu nity as the privileged o utcome of American

period preceding September u, Esposito carefully avoids contlating immu- nity with au toimmunity; instead, he repeatedly returns to the question o f munus and modernity's attempts to immunize itself against the ever-present threat, from its perspective, of immunitis reversa l into the cornmuoal, from immu n ization to commun ization:'' Writing at length in Immunitas on the impe rative o f security tha t assails aU con temporary social systems a nd the process by which risk and protection strengthen each o ther recip- rocally, he descri bes the auto immu nity crisis of b iopo liti cs and wit h it the possibility of a dialectical reversal in to community. "Evide n tly, we are deal - ing;' Esposito writes, "with a limit po int beyond which the entire biopolitical ho rizon risks entering in a lethal contradiction w ith itself:' He co nti nues:

geopolitics in the

This does n>t mean tb~1twe can turn back the dock, perhaps reactivating

the ancie nt figu res

po l it i cs tha t doesn 't tu rn to life as suc h, that does n>t lo ok at the citizen fr o m t he point of view of his living body. But th is can hap pen recipro cally in

of sovereign power. It isn't possible to day to

imagine a

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Tr an sla to r' s Jn r ro d uct i o n

>: i:x

opposite for ms that put into play the differe nt m eanings of b io polit ic.s:

o n the or\< hand the self-destruct ive revolt of imm un ity against itself or

t he ope ni ng to its reversal i n co mm u ni ty:' .}

Looking back today at the series o f attempts after September 11 in t he Un ited States to immuni-ze tbe "homeland" from future attack - the term itself a powerful immunizing operator - it isn't hard to imagine that we

a re in the midst of a full-scale a utoimmunity crisis whose symptomology

Derrida and Esposito diag nose. Yet a political. a utoimmu nity cris is isn' t the only poss ib le b iopo li tica l

o utcome of the present moment. Esposito suggests that another possibility

exists, one to which his own affi rm ative b iopo liti cs is d irected, namely,

creating the conditions in which it becomes p ossib le to identify and de-

construc t the p rincipal po liti ca l, disposi tif~ tb at

n itary para di gm. On ly after we have sufficiently un ders too d the exten t to

wh ich ou r po litical catego ries operate to immu n ize th e collective po litica l body fro m a different set of catego ries associated with commu nity can we reo rient ourselves to the affirmative biopolitical opening presented by the cu rrent crisis in in1mtmity. This open ing to community as the site in which

re su lt of a dialectical r eversal at

an affi rma t ive bio politics can emerge

twentieth-centu ry b iopolitical, or better, thanato- have hi s torica ll y c ha racter i z e d th e ow de ro i. n unu -

is the

th e heart of tb e immun ita ry paradigm: once we recog n ize that immu niza- tion is tbe mode b y which b iopo litics has been decl ir1ed since th e dawn of modernity, the question becomes how to rupture the juncture between biol-

ogy an d po li tics, betwee n bios and polirikos. The necess ar y first ste p is mov -

ing away fr om a r ation ali ty o f

of politics, and so shifting the conceptual ground on which inlmuni'la tion

d epends. An affi rma tive b iop olitics t ho ug ht th roug h th e of com- m un ity proceed s with the recognition that a oew logic is requ ired to con -

c.eptualize and represen t a new commu n ity,

Esposito will say with Delcuze, characterized by its inlpersonal singularity or its sing u lar i mpersonalit y, whose con fi nes w ill run from men t.o plan ts, to an imals indepen dent of the material o f their individuation.''

bodies when atte m p ting to lo cate the object

a coming "virtual" community,

Biopolitics and Contemporary It alian Thought

Tbe refe rence to a virtual, f'lltu re commun ity immediately recalls two other con temporar y thi nkers from Italy who arc d eeply engaged w ith th e no ti on of b iopolitics in its coo tem porary configuration. O f course, I am speaking

o f Antonio Negri an d G iorg io Aga rnbe n. That.

modern Italian po li tica l

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Transla tor's Int rod uct ion

philosophy has emerged as perhaps the primary locus for research related to bi opoli tics is no t happenstance. Few p laces have bee n as ferti le fo r Fou- cau lt's teac hings; few places so well primed historically and politically to re fl ect on and exte nd his work . T he reasons , it seems to me, have to do principally with a rich tradition o f political philosophy in Italy-we need only remember J\1achiavelli, Vico, de Sanctis, Croce, and Gramsci, for in-

stance- associated with the specificity of the Italian history and a political

scene characterized by the im rnuniziog city -state.•• Many o ther reasons

may account fo r it , b u t. what th e y toge ther spe ll is a n ongo ing engagemen t in Italy wit h po liti cs though t i n a b iopoli ti cal ke y.•• With that said, the more one reads o f recen t Italian contributions to biopolitics, the more two diverging lines a ppear to characterize them: one

of Agamben and the negative to nality be awards

associated wi t h the figure

bio politics; the other a radically affLTmative biopolitics given in the writings of Michael Hadt and Toni N egr i. As th e orig inality of Esposi to's readi ng of mo dern b iopolitics ca nno t be apprec ia te d apa rt from th e irnplic it d ia- logue r.hat r uns through Bios with both Agamben, and Hardt and Negri, I want to summarize these two often competing notions of biopolitics. What

emerges in Esposito's analysis is a thorough critique o f both Agamben a nd Negri; b is p inpoin ting of tbei r fa ilures to th in k th roug h the immunity aporia tbat characterizes their respective configurations ofbiopolitics leads to bis own auemptto design a futu re, affirmative b io poli tics. That all three

la unch the ir re fl ec t ions from essentia lly the same series of tex ts , na me ly,

Foucault's series o f lectures collected

in English in Society Must Be Defended

and the fifth chap te r o f Tire Hisrory of Sexualit)> suggests that we o ught to

begin the re for an initial defi n ition o f biopolitics res pective ap pro priation s o f Fo uca ult. For Fouca ult, biopolitics is another name for b iopower, which needs to be distinguished from

befo re turni ng to their

a tecbnology of power, a the mecha nisms of disci-

pline that emerge at the en d of the eightee nth ce nr.u ry. This new configu - ration o f power aims to take "control o f life and the b iological processes of

man as species and of ensuring that they are not disciplined bu t reg ular- ized:'•' T he bio political apparatus includes "forecasts, statistical estimates,

an d overall meas ures;' in a

wo rd "security mechan isms [that] have to be in -

stalled aro und the random elemen t inherent in a population of living beings

bio po li t ics is juxtaposed in Fou-

so as to optim ize a st ate of life."·'' As such,

cau lt's analysis to the power of sovereignty leading to the important distinc-

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Translator's Jnrroduct ion


them: "It [biopower l is the power to make live. Sovereign!)'

too k life and let live. And now we have the eme rgence of a power that I would call the power of regularizatio n, an d it , in contrast, consists in mak- ing live and letti ng die:••• Biopower th us is that which guarantees the con- tin uous lh•ing of the human species. What turns out to be of abnost

tion between

greater irnporlaoce, however, for Agamben, Negri, and Esposito, is the re- la tion Foucau lt will draw between an emerging b iopower at the end of the eighteenth centu ry, often in opposition to .individual disciplinary mecha-

nisms and its cu lmination in Nazism. for Foucau lt, what links eig htee nth - century b iopower to Nazi biopower is p recisely their shared missio n in

lim iting

the alea to r y element of life and death . Thus, " (CJon trolling the

ran dom

elemen t inhereot in bio logical processes was one of the regime's

immediate o bjectives:''" T his is not to say that the Nazis simply operated one-dimeosionaUy on the body politic; as Foucault notes repeatedly, the Nazis had recourse again and aga in to di sciplinary power; i.n fact " no State could have more inary power than the Nazi regime;' presumably because the attempts to amplify b iopower depended on certain concurren t disciplinary tools." For Foucault, the specificity of the Nazis' lethal biopower resides in its ability to combine an d thereby in tensify the power directed both to the ind ividual a nd to the collecth•e body. Certainly, other vectors crisscross b io politics in Foucault's a nalysis, and a num ber of scholars have dooe rem;lrkable jobs in them, b ut the outline above is sufficient for describ ing the basis o n which Agamben, Hardt and Negri, and Esposito frame their respective analyses.; 2 Thus Agamben's no tion of biopolit.ics is certainly indebted to the one s ketched above- the impression that modern ity produces a certain form of biopolitical body is inescapable Agam beo as it is one implicit in Foucault. But Agarnben's principal insight for thinking biopolitics coocerns p recisely tbe distinction between /!los and zoeaod tbe process by whic h he links the sovereig n excep- tio n to r.he prod uction of a biopolitical, or better a zoo- poli tical, body. In - deed, Homo Sacer opens w ith precisely th is di stinction:

T he Gree ks had no s in g le ter m to exp ress what we m ean by the wo rd ''life.~

T ht'y used two terms that, al tho ug h traceab lt· to a co mm o n e tymo log ical

root, arc sema ntically an d

rhe s impl e fact of liv ing com mon to a U Jiving bein gs (an im als, me n, or gods) and b ios, which indi cated the fo rm or way of life proper to au ind ividual or group''

mor phologically distinct: zoe, which expressed

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xxii Transb.1tor's lntrodtlction

Leaving aside for the moment whetber in fact tbese terms exhaust the Greek lexicon for life, Agamben attempts to demonstrate the preponderance of zoe for the production of the biopolitical body.' ' The reason will be fou nd in what Agamben, following Carl Schmitt, calls the sovereign exception, that is, the process by which sovereign power is premised on the exclusion of those wbo are simply alive "' hen seen from the perspective of the polis."' T b u s Agamben speaks of an incl usive exclusion of zoe f rom po li tica l li fe , "almost as if politics were the place in which life had to transform itself into good a nd in wh ich what had to be politicized were always already bare li fe:• ;o A number of factors come together to condition politics as the site of exclusion, but chief among them is the role of language, by which man "separates and opposes himself to his own bare life and, at the same time, maintains himself in relation to that bare life in an inclusive exclu· sion:'" The ilomo sacer is precisely the political ftgure that embodies what is for Agamben the origi nar y political relatio n: it is the name of the life excluded from the political hle (bios) that sovereignty i.l\stitutes, oot so much an ontology of the one excluded (and therefore featuring an unconditional capacity to be killed), but more the product of the relation in which bios is premised not upon another form of life but rather on zoe (because zoe is not by definition sucb a form), and its p rincipal characteristic of being merely alive and beoce killable. In sucb a sch.eme, th.e weigbt afforded t:be classical state of exception is

grea t indeed, and so at least initially b iopolitics for Agamben is always al ready

inscribed in t he sovereign exception. Thus Agam ben

Foucauldian analysis of the emergence of biopower in the late nineteenth century, for it represents less a radical ru p tu re with sovereignty or for th at matter a disciplinary society, and will instead foregroun d the means by which biopolitics intensifies to the point that in the twentieth century it will be transformed into thanatopo litics for both totalitarian and demo- cratic states. Certain ly, a number of differences remain between the classic a nd mod ern models of biopolitics-notably t he dispersal of sovereign power to the p hysician and scientist so tha t the homo sacer no lo nger is s im ply an analogue to the sovereign - and of course Agamben will go out of his way to show how the political space of modernity is in fact a biopolitical space linked to "the birth of the camps."" But t:be Ol'erwhelming impression is of a kind of fla ttening of the specific ity of a modern b io po li t ics i n favor of a metaphysical reading of the originary aod infioite state of exception that has since its inception eroded the political fou ndations of social life. For

will de-em phasize the

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Trans lator~s [[lt(()d u ct io n


Agamben, an authentically political bfos always withdraws in favor of the me re ly bio logicaLS' The result is a po li tics tha t is po tentially forever in ru - ins in Marco Revelli's descri ption, or a politics that is always already de- clined negatively as biopolitical.'" Where Agamben's negative characterization of contemporary biopolitics as than atopolitics depends on the predominance of z(J~O''er bios, Hardt a nd Negri's radical affirmation of biopolitics centers instead on the pro-

ductive features

of bios, and "ideutifyiog the mater ia li st din1cnsiou of the

concepr. beyond any conception that is purely naturalistic (life as 'zoe') or simply anthropological (as Agamben in particu la r has a te nden cy to do, making the concept in effect indiffe re nt) :'., Leaving aside for the moment the descriptor " indifferent;' wh.icb i t seems to me fa ils to mark the radica l negativity of Agamben's use of the term , what stands out in Hardt and Negri's reading of biopolitics is the mode by whicb tb ey join contempo- rary fo rms of collective subjectivity to the tra nsformations in the nature of

labor to what a o umb er of Italian Ma rx ist th in kers have terrued irnrnater ia l labo r. 62 Thinking together these changes in forms o f labor-ones charac- terized not by the factory b ut rather by "the in tellectual, immaterial, an d

communicative labo r power" affi lia ted with new

gies- through Foucault's category of biopower allows Hardt and Negri to

see biopolitics as both the locus in which power exerts itself in empire and

the site in whicb new subjectivities, what they call social singuh1rities, sub-

sequen tl y

new social formation of singularities called the multitude but also the emer- gence of a new, democratic sovereignty, one joined to a radically different understanding of the common. As Ha rdt aod Negri themselves readily admit, rea ding tbe mu lti tude ontologica lly as a b iop olitical social format ion rep resents a significant re- versal if not outright b reak with Foucault's conception of biopolitics. Where Foucault o ften associa the negative featu res of b iopower with irs object,

a b io political subject, Hardt a nd Negri dean chor biopolitics fro m its base

in biopower in the current moment of empire to read it p rimarily and affi rma ti ve ly as a social ca teg ory. T hus: "Biopolitical production is a matter

o f ontology in that it constantly creates a new social being, a new h uman

commun ication technolo-

emerge. Th us the tc rrn "bio po li t ica l" characterizes no t only the

nature" linked

catenations of bodies."" They do the same in their reading of Agamben, forgoing h is decleosion of a twentieth- ceotury thanatopoli tics by evoking instead a new form ofsovereignty in which the star.e of exceptjon presu mably

to the "cootinuous encounters, communicatioos, a nd coo-

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Transla tor's Int roduct ion

either no longer operates or is sooo overwhelmed by the rbizomatic pro- duction of singu lar m ultitudes, u nveiling t he illusory nature of modern sov- ereignty.•·• In its place the mu ltit ude produces a concept of the common, whic h "breaks th e continuity o f mode rn state sovereignty and attacks bio- power at its heart, demystifying its sacred core. All tha t is general o r public m ust be reappropriated and managed by the mu ltitude a nd thus become

common.'' 6 ' Trans posing into tbe b io po litica l language. we have used to this poi nt , Ha rdt and Neg 6ju xtapo se the affumat bio po liti cs associate d

with the multitude and the conuno n to biopower and its

privileging of mod-

ern sovere ig n t y. ln Bios Esposito takes up a position directly opposite both Agamben and

Hardt and Negri and their conflicting uses of biopolitics. First Agamben.

Certain ly, Esposito's genealogy of biopo litics

Agamben's read ing of modern b iopolitics thro ug h tbe figu re of the


sacer. Indeed , the chapter on thanatopolitics and the cycle o f genos is noth-


ing short of au explicit dia logue with Agambeu a nd his biopolitical

pretation of Nazism, as well as an implicit critique of Agamben's b iopoli- tics. lb see why, we need to re hearse b riefl y the ch ief lines of argumen t

Esposito de velops for wor king thro ugh t he coordinates of Nazi biopolitics. Significantly, Esposito firs t pinpoints a n oscillation in Fouca ult's reading of Nazism. On the ooe ha nd , Nazism fo r Foucaul t shares the same b io-

poli tical valence with a number

wh ich Foucault li nks to a rac ist ma trb:. On the ot her hand, the mode by which Foucault frame.s his interpretations of Nazism privileges the singular na tu re of the "Nazi event:' as Espos ito calls it The resu lt is a n un derlying inco ns is tency in Foucault's reading: either Nazi b iopolitics is inscribed along with socialism as racism, and hence is no longer a singular event, o r it maintains its singularity wben the focus turns to its relation to modernity.M The second line will be fou nd in Esposi to's principal question concern - ing the position of life in Nazi b iopolitics. "Un like a ll the other for ms past a nd present;' he asks, "why did Nazism propel the homicidal temptation of biopolitics to its most co mplete realizatio n?"" That h is answer will move throug h the ca tegory of immunization suggests tba t Esposito refuses to superimpose Nazi tha natopolit ics too directly O\'er contemporar y b iopoli- tics."" Rather, he attempts to inscribe tbe mos t significan t e lements o f th e Naz i. biopo li t ical appara tu s in the large r project of im.lnUJli zi ng life t hro ugh the production of death. In so doing, death becomes both the object and

shares man y features with

of modern regimes, specifica lly socialist,

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Tra nslal o r's Jntroduct' iOn


the therapeutic instru men t for curing the German body politic, sim ulta-

neously the fi nal

tics in order to reconstruct the move from a modern biopolitics to a Nazi thanatopolitics. The Nazi immWlitary apparatus, he theorizes, is character- ized by the absolute normativization of life, the d ou ble enclosure of the body, and the anticipatory sup pression of life. Space doesn't allow me to

a n alyze each, though the reader w il.l ce rtai n ly fi o d sorue o f the most com - pelling pages o f Bios here. More usefu l is to ask where Esposito's overall

portrayal of Nazi biopolitics diverges from

the cause a nd the remedy o f " illness." Esposito dedicates much o f

third o f Bios to elaborating

the immw1izing features of Nazi biopoli -

that o f Agam ben in immu niza -

tion. By focusing on th e ways in which bi.os becomes a j uri dical catego r y and 11omos (law) a bio logized one, Esposito doesn't directly challenge Agam- ben's readi ng o f the state of exception as an a poria of Western politics, one the Nazis intensified enormo usly so that the state of exception becomes t he noon. Rat her, he pri,,iJeges th e fi gu re o f immun iza t io n as the ultinlate ho rizon w ithi n wh ich to u nderstand Naz i poli tical, socia l, j ur idical, and medical policies. In a sense he folds the state of exception in the more global reading of mo de rn immu n ity dispositifs. Im p licit in the op tic o f imm u nity is a critique o f the categories by wh ich Nazism bas been un derstood, two of wh ich a re primarily sovereignty a nd the state of exception. 69 By p rivileging the immunitary paradi gm fo r ao understanding o f Nazi biopolitics, Esposito forgoes Agamben's foldi ng o f sovereignty into bio poli tics (and so bypasses t he Musulmann as the em- bodimen t of the twen tieth-cen tury homo sacer), focusing instead o n the

b iocra tic elements o f the Nazi dictatorship. He notes, fo r instan ce, the re- qui reme nt that doctors bad to legitimate Nazi political decisions, which previously h ad been transla ted in to the Reic h's oew legal codes, as well as

the req uired presence of a physician i n a ll as pects of the

coocerlt ration camp from selection to tb e crematoria. Esposi to's anal ysis no t. only dr aws up on Robert Lifton's class ic d escri p t io n o f the Naz i sta t.e as

a "biocracy;' b ut more importan tly u rges fo rwa rd the overa rch ing ro le that


indeed, the Nazi politicization of medicine cannot be fully understood apart fro m the a tte mpt to imm un ize t he Aryan r ace.'° Central therefore to Espo- sito's reading of the b iopoliticaltonality of the Nazi dictatorship is tile recog- nition o f the therapeutic goal the Nazis assigned the concentration camp:

immun izatio n plays in the Nazi unde rstanding of its own political

workin gs of the

only by exterm inating tbe jews did the Nazis b elieve that the Ge rm an genos

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xxvi Translator's Introduction

cou ld be strengthened and protected. And so for Esposito the specificity of the Nazi experience for modernity resides in the actualization of b iology, when the transce ndental o f Nazism becomes life, its s ubject r ace, and its lexicon biological."

An Affirmative Biopolitics?

Tbe same reasons underlying Esposito's critique of Agamben's biopolitics also spell out his d ifferences w ith Hardt and Negri. Not only docs Esposito explicitly distance himself from their reading of the multit.ude as an affirma-

ti,•e biopo li tica l ac tor who resists b iopower- he no tes how t heir line of

in terp re tatio n pus hes well beyond Fouca ult's manifest intentions when

de limiting biopolitics, beyond the resistance of life to powe r - but he asks

a decisive question for their use of b iopolitics as an organ izing principle around wbicb tbey posit their critique of empire. "If life is stronger than

the power that besieges it, if its resistance doesn't a llow it to bow to the

press ure of power, tbco

how do

we account for t he outcome obtained io

modernity of the mass prod uction of death?"" In a number of interviews Esposito has continued to challenge Hardt and Negri's reading of b iopoli- tics. What troubles Esposito prin cipally is a categor ical (or h istorical) am- nesia vis-i\-vis modernity's negative inflection of biopoliticsP Essentially, Esposito charges that Hardt and Negr i's reading of the multi- tude is riven by the same irnmunitary aporia that characterizes Agamben's

negat ive b iopolitics. Jn what way does t he bio po li t ical mu ltitu de escape t he immw1itary aporia that resides at the heart of any creation of the common? Although he d oesn't state so explicitly, Esposito's a nalysis suggests tha t

fo ld ing b iopower into the socia l in no way saves Hardt and Negri from t he

long and deadly genea logy of biopolitics in which life is protected and strengthened thro ugh deatb, in what Esposito calls the "enigma" of biopoli- tics. Esposito laid some of the groundwork for such a critiq ue in the early 1990s when, in a series of reflections on the impolitical, he urged forward a thorough deconstruction of many of the same political categories that under- gird Hardt and Negri's analysis, m ost particu larly sovereignty. It certain ly is plausi ble (and productive} to read Bfos through an impolitical lens, in whicb

Esposito offers biopolitics as the latest and ultimate o f all the m odern poli-


categories tbat require deconstr uction . Indeed , i t's not by chance that

t he fi rst chapter of Bios aggress ively positions biopolitics not on ly as onc of the most significant ways of organizing contemporary political discourse, but also as the principal challenger to the classic political category of sover-

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eignty. For Esposito, sovereignty, be it a new global sovereignty called em- pire or the long- lived na tional variety, doesn't tr ansce nd biopolitics bu t rather is immanen t to the workings of the immu nitary mechanism that he

sees driving all forms of modern {bio)politics. The multitude remains in- scribe d in modern sovere ignty, whose fi na l horizon, fo ll owing Espos ito's reading of Foucault, is the immunitary par<ldigm itself.ln other words, the multitude remains anchored to a genealogy of biopolitics. Thus Esposito not only deeply qucstioos the hermeneutic value of sovereigrlty for under- standing the conr.emporary political scene or for imagining a progressive

politics or iented to the fu tu re, b ut also

remai nde r in

the figure of multitude. Bios also offers another less explicit o bjection to Esposito's analysis of

Hardt and Negri's use of t he term

and Negri the m ultitude produces a new concept of the common, which

co rrespo nds to their belief tha t the multit ude represents a rupture w ith a ll forms of state sovereignty. T h is occurs than.ks to the econorn ic and bio -

political activity of the multitude,

created by the positive externalities or by the new informatio nal networks, and more generally by all the cooperative and communicative forms o f labor.''' '' Tbe multitud e mobilius the common io tbe move from a res- publica to a res-commu11is, in which the multitude comes to embody ever more the expa nsive logic of singularity-commonality. However, Esposito's reading of commu11itas!immunitassketched above suggests that there is no common ob ligation join ing members of a community;, pote11tia that can be thought apar t from at.tempts to immunize the commun ity, or in this case the mu ltitude. As Esposito notes, " w ith ou t th is immunit y appara tus individual and common life would die away:'" Tbe impolitica l question Es posito ra ises for Hardt and Negri is prec ise ly whe t her the new biopolitical mu ltitude somehow transcends the political aporia of imm unity that under- girds every conception of comrnunir.y. Perhaps in the new configuration o f the common t ha t they describe and t he fu ndame ntal changes in the nat ure of immaterial production, the global mwrus changes as well, so that, unlike e''ery previous form of community, the multitude no longer has any need of immun izing itself from the perils of commuttitas. ) ust such a reading is suggested by Hardt and Negri's repeated troping of the multitude as a net- work of rhizomatic singuladties, who presumably would have less need o f immunizii1g tbemselves because the network itself provides the p roper threshold of virtual contact. Esposito in Bios implicitly raises the question of

points to a so,•ereign

"biopolitics." We recall that for Hardt

which coincides with a "co mmon ality

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whether tbese singularities acting in common and so forming "a new race

or, rather, a new humanity" do n't also produce new forms o f immu nity.'•

of commu nity

for Esposito, when the common threatens personal identity. Thus it isn't

difficult to read those pages in Bios dedicated, for instance, to the immunitary mechaoism in Locke as aimed as well at Hardt ;tnd Negri. Writing apropos of the. potential risk of a world that is given in common (and therefore e.x- posed to an unlimited in distinction) is ne utralized by ao element presup-

name ly, that o f relatio nship one

posed in t.he o rigi nary manifestation

Immunity, we recall, emerges as a constituent element

has with oneself in the form of personal identity, Esposito once again situ- ates personal identity as the subject and object of immunitary protection." The res-communis that Hardt and Negri see as one of the most importaot productions of the mu ltitude is in Esposito's reading of Locke always seen

as a threat to a res propria. Following this line of inq uiry, Bios asks us, what becomes of personal identity when the multitude produces the new sense of the common? Is it now less a threat given new forms of communication and labor, or rather does the threat. t.o in dividual identity increase gh'en the sheer power of extension Hardt and Negri award the multitude? What

here, but the p reva-

lence of one or the other in the mu ltitude. Seen in this optic, tbeir empha-

sis on tbe singularity and commooality of the multitude may iiJ fact be an attempt to W<lrd off any suggestion of an underlying antinomy between

is at stake isn't on ly a question of identity o r difference

the mu ltitude as a radica lly new social form ation and

personal identity.

A Communal Bfos

Given these differences, the obvio us question will be what form Esposito awards his O>''n conception of b iopolitics such tha t it avoids the kinds of difficulties raised in tbese other contributions. After two illuminating read- ings of bios in Arendt and I·leidegger- which m ay be read as dialoging w ith Agarnben's discussion of homo sacer and his appropriation of "the open" via Heidegger-Esposito sets out to construct just such an affirmative vision by "opening the black box of b iopolitics;' returning to the three disposirifs that he had previously used to characterize the Nazi bio-thanatological project and then reversing them. These are the normativization of life, the double

enclosure o f tbe body, and the an tic ipatory suppressio n of life that I no te d earlier. The effect of appropriatulg thern so as to rC''crse Nazi immunitary procedures will surprise aod certainly challenge many readers. Esposito clearly

is aware ofsuch a possible reactjon and his response merits a longer citation:

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Yet what does it mean exactly to overturn them and then to turn them iu.:.~ide ou t?T be attempt we want to l"nake is that of assurning the same categories

o f ~(life." « bo dy,'' and "bi r t h, " and then of converting t he ir im m unitary

(which is to say the ir self-negating ) declension in a direction that is ope n

to a more o rig inar y and in tense sense of commmdtns. Only in this way -


the point of in tersection and tension between co nte mporary re flections that

h'we moved in s uch a direction - will it be possible to trace the initial fea- tures of a biopolitics that is finally a ffirmative. No longer over life but of life."

Esposito recontextualizes his earlier work on commuuita.1 as the basis for

a n a ffi rmative biopolitics: fo llowing his te rmino logy, the te rm becomes the operator whereby a long-standing immunitary declension of bios as a form of life can be reversed." He premises such a reading on the belief that

con tempo rary between Nazi

truth;' he writes, " is tha t many si mply believed that the collapse of Nazism would also d rag the categories that had characterized it into the inferno from which it bad emerged!''" On ly by identifyi ng the immunit.ary appa- ratus of the Nazi biopolitical machine and then overturning it-the word Esposito uses is ro1•esciare, which connotes the act of turn ing inside out- can contemporary p hilosophy come to terms with the fu ndamen tal im- munitary features of today's global b iopo litics and so devise a new lexicon ab le to confron t and alter it.

It's precisely here that Esposito synthesizes Agamben's negative vision of b iopolitics with Hardt and Negri's notion of the common as s ignaling a ne w affirmative biopolitics. Esposito doesn't offer a simple choice between inununity and community that will once and for all announce the arrival o f a new h uman nature and with it an affirmative biopolitics.The continuum between Nazi a nd contemporary biopolitics that characterizes Agamben's approach is less sign ificant from th is point of view than the continuum of immun ity and community. At the risk of reducing Esposito's line of argu - men t, he suggests that if Nazi thanatopolitics is the most radically negative expression of inm1Unization, the n inverting the terms, or changing the negative to a positive, might offer contemporary thought a series of possi- bilities for thinking bios, a q ualified form of life, as the communal form of life. Such a positive conception of biopolitics can only emerge, however, if

one si.mul t.aneo usly de vclo ps a conception of life t11at is aporet ica lly exposed to otbers in such a way that the individual escapes an inlmun ization of the

self (and

ph ilosophy bas fundam entally fa iled to grasp the rela tion bio-thanatological practices and biopoliti cs today. "The

hence is no longer an i ndividual proper)." For Esposito, it is less

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xxx Tr.-.nslator's Introduction

a m atter of exposure of openness to what is held in comm on with

o thers." The reader will find much of interest in the way Esposito draws on the work of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and Deleuze when elaborating such

a conception." The reference to the singu lar and the common also echoes those pages of Aga mben's The Coming Communi!)\ especia lly the sections i n wb.icb

Agam ben ancho rs

that the coming commu n ity for Agam ben begins w hen a me an ingfu l coo - text for life emerges in which d eath has mean ing, that is, when it can be communicated. Only when the previously meaningless a nd unfelt death o f the individual takes o n meaning can one speak mo re properly of s ingular- ities without identity who enjoy th e possibility of commu nication. Su ch a commu nity will consequently be "without presuppositions and without subjects" aod move "into a communication without the incornmuoicable."'' So too for Esposito, though Bios doesn't offer many details on the commu-

nicative aspects of an affirmat ive b i.opo litica l co mmu n ity. To fi nd them we need t o turn t.o Co mmtmitas, w here Esposito lin ks for ms of comm u n ica- tion to s ingular Jives open to each other in a co mmun ity. There the differ- ences wit h Agamb en can be reass um ed around their respective readings o f Heid egger and Bataille. Th us, when Aga mben emphasizes death as the means by which a life may uncover (or recover) an au th entic opening in to Da seitt, he rehe arses those moments o f Heidegger's th ought that cele b rate


is too

glossing Bataille, " is o ur comm un al impossibilit y of being that which we endeavor to remain -isolated individuals."•;

In that sense, Aga mben and Esposito certainly agree be tween i ndividua ls or subjects and commu ni ty. But for

posito, the crucial though t fo r a futu re commun ity conceros precisely what puts members of the community o utside themselves; not their own d eath,

"s ince t ha t is inaccessible," but rather " the dea th of the o t.her." 86 Tn s uch a

on the antinomy Bataille as for Es-

a o ud e, exposed life to incommun ica bility. We re call

as the fi nal horizon o f our existence. For Esposito, such a perspec tive

limiting for thinking futu re fo rms o f community. "Death;' he writes,

reading, communication occurs when beings lose a part of themselves, the Bataillian rent or a wound, that unites them in communication while sepa- rating them from their id entity." It is in Bataille's notion of"strong com-

munication" li nked to sacrifice that Esposito locates the key for un locking

a co ntemporary communitas, one in whic h commu nicat ion wi ll na me "a contagion provoked by the breaking of in di,,idual boundaries and by the


infection o f wounds" in a sort of arch -event. of contagion and

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communication.'' The implicit question for Esposito appears to be how to

crea te conditions in which such a co ntagion can be contained witho ut in -

we need to develop a and its other, in bio-

juridical fo rms tha t recognize the one in the other such that any living be-

ing i s tho u g h t in " tbe u nity of life;• in a c o-b e l onging o f

Essentially, then, Esposito's em phasis on dif feren ce is linked to b is larger defe nse of personal iden tity througho ut Bios, which is deeply in fle cted, as the reade r will discover, in chapter 3 by Esposito's encounter with a hyper- indi vid ualistic N ietzsc he. This may exp lain in par t h is defense o f bios as i n divid uated li fe as opposed to zoe.

vo lving the en tir e immu n itary machinery. To do so ne w voca bular y for thinking the boundaries of life

wh<H i s d ifferent .•~

Birth and Autoimmunity

Esposito's emphasis on man and h is re lation to his living being (as op-

posed to Heidegger's dis ti nctio n between life and exis te nce) ca lls to mi nd o ther attemp ts to think nonon tologically the d ifference between living be- ings through other perspectives on life. Keith Anse ll- Pearson's p riv ileging of symbiosis and of inherited bacterial symbionts is perhaps the most so-

gorgings and abor ted

invasions" a reciproca l infection arises sucb that the bacteria "are reinvigo-

tbe incorporation of th.eir permaoent disease." The hum an becomes

nothing more tha n a viroid life, "an in tegrated colony of ameboid beings;' not distinct from a larger history of symbiosis that sees germs "not simply as 'disease-causing; bu t as ' life-g iving' entities:' 9 °Consequently, anthropo- cen tric readings of human nature will give way to perspecti\•es that no longer focus on one particular species, such as human kind, but rather on those

phisticated, i n his attem p ts to show how "amid cell

rated by

that allow us to think life togethe r across its different forms (biological, social, economic). The refe rence to dise ase as life -giving cerw in ly recalls Esposito's

own read ing o f Nietzsche

well as Machiavelli's category of p roductive social conflict, suggesting that some fo rms of immunity do not necessarily close off access to an authen-

tically political form of life. lndeed , reading the immunitary system as only

in terp retive perspectives in which immu -

nity doesn't protect by attacking an a uthen tic bios grounded in a common mutws, b ut rat her a ugmen ts its me m bers' capacity to interac t with their enviro n me n t, so t hat community can ac tu ally be fo rti fi ed by irnm u n it y. The primary example Esposito offe rs fo r such an inununitary opening to community will be found in birth. In Immunitas, Esposito introduces

self-des tr uctive fails

and th e category of compensatio in Immunitas, as

to see other

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pregnancy as a model fo r ao imm unity that augments the ability of the fetus and mother to remain healthy as the pregnancy ru ns its course. Their inter-

action takes place, however, in

mo th er's sys tem o f se lf-defense is reined in so that the fe tus does not be- come the object of the mo ther's own immunization. T he immun ity system of the mother "immunizes itself against an excess of immu nization" thanks to the extraneousness of the fetus to the mother. 91 lt isn't that the motber's body fai ls to attack the fetus- it docs-bu t the irnrn uoological rea ct ion winds up p rotecting the fetus an d not.destroying it In the example o f p reg- nancy with its p rodu ctive immunitary fea t ures, Esposito finds a suggestive metaphor for an immunity in which the greater the diversity of the o ther, which would in traditional immunitary terms lead to an all-out immunitary struggle against it, is o nly o ne possibility. Another is an immunization that, rath er than attacking its communa l antinomy, fortifies it. Bios as a political form of life, a community, emerges out of an immu nization that success- fu lly irumun izes itself against attac ki ng w hat is ot her, with the result that a more genera l defe nse of t.he system its elf, th e community, occu rs. T his may accow1t fo r the distance Esposito is willing to tra,•el in awardin g birth a political valence. In some of Bios's most rewarding pages, Esposito sug gests that immunization isn't tbe on ly categor y capable of preserving or protecting life from death, but rather that b irtb, or the con tinual rebirth

o f all liJe in diJ'ferent g uises, can function sinlihuly. Dra,ving on Spinoza's t heory o f li fe and Gi lb ert Si mo ndo n's re flec tio ns o n ind ivid uati o n, Esp os - ito extends the category o f birth to those moments in which the subject, "moving past one th reshold ;' ex-periences a new for m of individua tio n. He

all living beings s hare, a co mmo n bios t hat is

assumes a strat um of life tha t

always already politica l as it is tbe basis on which the continued

an immun itary framewo rk in which


birth of tha t :We

individuation occurs. So do ing, he elaborates bios in s uch a way

will in turn be inscribed with in it: tbere is no life witbout individuation through birth. Although Esposito d oesn't say so e xp lici, the sugges tio n is that a new affirmative biopolitics might begin by shuftling the term s by

which we thin k of the prese rva tion of life. Life is no longe r linked exclusively to those deemed wo rthy of it along wit b those who are no t, but now comes

to mar k

every form of life tba t ap pears thanks to individuation. He wr ites:

If one th inks about it. life a nd birth are both the contra ry of death: tbe 6.rst synch ro n ically and the seco nd diac hronically. The only way for life to defe r

dea t h is n't to p rese rve it as s uch ( pe r haps i.n t he i rnm un itary fo rm of n.ega ·

t ive

protec tion)) b ut rat her to be reb or n co ntin ually in diffe re nt guises. 9 ~

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xxx ij i

An ontology of the individual or th.e s ubject b ecomes less a concern thao the process of i ndiv iduation associa ted w ith the ap pearance of life, be it ind ivid ual or collective. Attem p ts to immunize life aga inst death g ive way to strategies that seek to promote new forms of individuation. The em- phasis on individua tion (a nd not the individual) a llows Esposito to arg ue that the individual is tbe subject that produces itself through individua- tion, wbich is to say that the individual "is not defina ble outside of the political relationsh ip with. those tbat s hare the ' ' ital experience." So too the collective, which is no lo nger seen as the " neutralization of individual- ity" b ut rather as a more elaborated form o f individuation." Rather than

limiti ng bios to the immun izatio n of life, Esposito imagines a n a ffi rma tive bios tha t privileges those conditions in which life as m<tn ifested across dif- ferent forms is equ ipped for individuation. T here will be no life that isn't born anew and hence that isn't inscribed in the hor~wn of bios. Thus Es- posito repositio ns bios as the living common to a ll beings that allows for individuation to take p lace, not thw ug h the no tion of a common body- for that too assumes an immun iz ing function -bu r. rather th rough a bios that is inscribed in the fles h of the wo rld. Those pages dedicated to Francis


reversal of the Nazi biopolitica l p ractice of animaJizing man, b ut a lso an opening to fles h as descri b ing the condition of the majority of bumanity. Or more than an opening to the catego ry of flesh, we might well speak of a non belonging or a n intcrbelonging amo ng bodies that makes certain that what is different isn't closed hermetically with in itself but remains in contact

with the outside. Essentially, Esposito is describing not an exteriorization of the body b ut rather an in ternal, even Bata illian rending, th at imped es the body's own absolute immanence. It is on this basis that an affirmative biopolitics can begin to be imagined.

are significan t here for Esposito sees in Bacon's pain tings not on ly a

The Biopolitics of Biotechnology

What does the opening to bios as a political category that h uman ity shares tell us abo u t that o ther development that so decidedly marks the curren t biopoliticaJ moment, namely, biotechno logy? The ques tion isn't posed in the reflections and exchanges with regard to biotechn ology between ) li rgen Habermas and Ronald Dworkin; indeed, missing is precisely a reflection on the ro le biotechnol ogy plays fo r con tempora ry biopolitics."' The uJlCOvering of tbe immun itary paradigm in Bfos, however, allows us to see just where b iopolitics and the eth ical u ncertainty surrounding biotech nology might

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inte rsect. Consider first Ha ber mas's objection that genetic p rogramm ing, which allows individuals to enhance what they believe to be the desirable

places the future of hu man nature at risk. De-

features o f future offspring,

scribing a new type of in terpersonal relationship "that ar ise.s when a person makes an irreversible decision about the n atu ral traits of another person:· Habermas argues tbat our self-und erstanding as members of the s pecies will be al tered wben a person or persons can man ip ulate tbe genetic basis of life of a nother; the basis of free societies that arc premised on relations "between free a nd equ al hu ma n beings" will be un d ermined. He adds:

" T h is new type o f relationship offends our moral sensibility because it con - stitutes a fo reign body in the legally institutionalized re lations of recognition in m odern societies:'" The refe ren ce to foreign bodies in new recogn ition pro tocols makes it clear that Habermas's language is o ne largely indebted to the lan guage of irnrnunit)'· Wbat's more, the impression is tha t for Haber-

mas symmetrical relations among the me mbers of a group are homo logo us to the fou ndation of a moral and ethical co m.mur1ity; he assumes some-

thi ng like an un problematic origin of community that is both the cause and the effect of " hum an nature:• With the genet ic manipulation of the

the de,•elopmen t o f certain individuals becomes un hinged fro m

their free and unhindered growtb. Knowing tbat o thers a re responsible for who aod what they are no t on ly alters bow they see themselves an d the kinds of narra tives they co nstruct about th eir indi vidual lives, b ut also jeop- ardizes how ot he rs will sec them (as p ri vileged, as escaping somehow from the natural de velop men t of characteristics that occur in interactions wit h o thers). These social fo undations o f society will be irreparably damaged when some m embers ar e a llowed to inten•e ne genetically in t he develop- ment of others. Certainly, Esposito's ana lysis in Bios an d elsewhere shares a number of fea- tures with Hab errnas's sym ptom ology of a catastroph ic oeoliberal eugen ic regime in wh ich i ndivid ual cho ice o n fut u re genetic programmi ng oper- ates, i n no t so di fferen t for m, to immu nize certa in individ uals fro m the commun ity. But Esposito parts ways with H abermas in two areas. First, by disclosing the nega tive m od ality of commun ity in imm un ity, Esposito deconstructs the transcendental concept ion o f commun ity that fo r Haber- mas is s tructu red by "forms of comm unica tion thro ug h which we r eacb a n u nd erstandi ng wit h one another.""" For Espos ito , t here is no o d g inary moment o f ind ividual self-un dc rstaoding tha t b rings together s ubjects to for m a commu ni t.y, but. rather an im po litical irnrnunitary mechanism


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operating at th.e h.eart of th.e genesis of community: everyone is joined to - gether in their subtraction from community to the degree the gift o f the mu11us does not belong to the subject. There is "nothing in common;' as he titles a chapter in Commuuitas, and hence no self-understanding that can bridge the irreducible difference between subjects. If there is to be a d e- fense of community ag<tinst the th.rea t of future members whose geneti-

caUy altered bodi es u nde rcut th e shared life experiences of aU, it can not be prem ised on the effects of biotechnology to subtract certain members from the communal giving o f the mtmus. A critique o f the dangers of con - temporary eugenics based on the threat it raises for the bio logical con - formity o f its members ru ns aground therefore on the in1pu lse to create a

transcending This by no

no rm of biological li fe.

means precludes a thoroughgoing critiqu e on Esposito's part

of the bio politicallexicon in which

Although Esposito i n Bios doesn't discuss curren t neolibera l eugenics, cer- tai nly genetic p rogram m ing cannot be though t apart frorn a history of twentieth-century immunizing biopo litics. Thus, in genetic en hancement

o ne observes the domination of the p rivate sp here in questions of pub lic

interest, which is captured in the blurring between therapeutic and enhanc- ing i nt erventions. As Esposito shows, s uch a blurring was alrea dy a par t of early-twentietb -cen tury eugenics b eginning in tbe Uo ited States. The result is th<tt in the realm of biotechnology and geoetic engineering, politics con- tinues t o cen te r o n - Espos ito wi ll say t o be crushed by-th e purely b io - logical. But there is mo re. Neoliberal eugenics often appears to combine within it the three immunitary procedures sketch ed abo ve that Esposito locates in a Nazi thanatopolitics. The enormous influence that bio logists enjoy today for how individual life may uofold later suggests that the ab- solute norma t ivizat ion o f life has inc reased exponentia Uy, witnessed in the

example with wbich Esposito opeos Bios of the French ch ild, born witb serious genetic lesions, who sued his mother's doctor for a missed diagnosis.

One can easily imagine other such cases in the near fu ture in which a failu re

neoliber<ll eugenic practices are inscribed.

cases aga inst paren ts or

to in tervene ge netically mig h t we ll lead to similar

doctors. So too the second immunitary procedure in wbich the bodies of a

future generation of geneticaUy enhanced individuals can be said to belo ng no longer to themselves, bu t rather to the individuals who had ea rlier

d ecid ed on their genetic makeup. A

elimination of weaker elements will

euthanasia or sterilization, but rather by selecting beforehand the desired

heredita ry patrimony based on the occur oo lo nger primarily th roug h

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Transl ator's Int ro du ction

cbaracteristics. In this sense, where the bodies of the German people during

Nazism were said to belo ng to the Fuhrer, neo liberal eugenics disperses the choice to the m arketplace and science tha t together will determine which genetic features are deemed of value. Thus, in ever more rapid fashion


and science. So too the preemptory suppression of birth that now takes place

rou tinely in those insta nces in wbich the risk of genetic defects surround- irl g a bir th leads to early te rminat ion of the pregnancy. Tb is is no t to say, o f course, that. Nazi t.hanato politics and contemporary neoliberal eugenics are coterminus for Esposito. In his recent discussion of to talitarian ism and b iopolitics, Esposito anticipates o bjectio ns to any kind o f superimposition

of Nazism an d

bodies may be said to belong to the mechanisms of profi t



with Locke, man has a body, which is to say he possesses his body-

for Nazism man is

b is bod y and on! )' h is bo dy, for li be ra lism , beginn ing


therefore ca n use it) transtOrrn. i t, and sell it rnuch like an iJtte rnal sl ave. ln

t hi s se nse liberalis m -

naturally I'm speak ing of the ca tegory

t hat fo und s

it -

fro m the State to the in div id ua l, b ut within the same b io po li t icalle:dco n .-n

overturns the Nazi perspective} transferring the property of the b ody

Here Esposito im plicitly marks the shared vocabulary of liberalism that col- laborates deeply with capitalism and twen tietb -century thanatopolitics- not the double of Nazi biopolitics o r its return, but their s hared indebted- ness to the te rms of an immu nizing modern b i.opolitics.

Dworkin and Life's Norm

The acuteness of Esposito's a ngle of vision o n liberalism also allows us to sit uate his position w ith re gard t o Ro nal d Dworkin's disc ussi.on of abo r- tion, euthanasia, and bio technology. What we fin d is a t horoug hgo ing de- construction of the biopolitical and immunizing features of many o f the terms Dworkin employs. To review: in Life's Dominiou from 1994, Dworkin speaks of the sacred and inviolable characteristics of " buman life" in c ur· rent debates ou euthanasia and abortion in an atterupt to undercut any

arg ume nts abou t the fe tus as enjoyin g any in trinsic righ ts as a person. H is

argument hinges

on a reading of the sacred as embedded in human a nd

"artis tic creation,:

O ur special concern fo r ar t a n d c ult ure reflects the respect in which we ho ld

artistic creatio n, and our s pecial concern for the survival of animal species reflects a parallel respect fo r what nature~understood as divine or as secular,

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Translato r's Jntro d ucl iO[l


has produced. These twin bases of the sacred come together in the case of

survival of o u r own spec ies, b eca use we treat lt as cruc ially j rnpor tant that we survive no t o nly biologically b u t cul tu ra ll y, that o ur species not on ly lives b ut thr ives.j$

Nat ur ally, the sacred life Dworki n defends is not bios at all b ut what he

calls su bjective life, the "personal value we have in

normally a person's life is the most important thing he or sbe has;•wbicb

is t o say bare li fe. Such a con fla tion of ba re life and bios acco un ts for h is

fai lu re to think life across different forms; a sacred life is one limited

mind when we say that


entirely to ba re life and hence to all the associations that it calls forth. No t surprising ly, the em p has is he p laces o n artist ic a nd divine c reation appears again in b is most recent defense of biotechnology. Tbere the invi-

o lability of life is linked to a defense of biotech nology via the notion of creation. In an essay titled "Playing God;' Dworkin strongly pushes for

w hat appears to be a neolibc ra l euge nics program masked by the term

" ethic ind ividualism." " There is no th ing in itself wrong;' he writes, "with the detached ambition to make the lives of future generations of h uman beings longer and more fu ll of talent and hence ach ievement." "On the

contrary;' he continues, "if playing God means struggling to im p rove our species, bringing into our conscious designs a reso lution to improve wha t God deliberately or natu re blindly has evolved over eons, then the first principle of ethical individualism commands that struggle, and i ts second

princ iple forbids, in t he absence of posi t ive ev iden ce of danger, hob b li ng the scientists and doctors who volunteer to lead it!''' To the degree the

we ig ht we affo rd human lives is con tinge nt on a

" playing God"

implicit sacred nature of created life in all its forms. The emp hasis on cre- ation (a nd not creation ism, we should be clear ) leads Dworkin down the path of a ro bust de fe nse of b io techn o logy. Wbo, tbe argument runs, would

disag ree with th e implicit d esire of r.he no t.-yet. -born individua l to li ve a

lo nger a nd more successful life?'""

Here too Esposito offe rs a rejoinder. By foc using o n the invio lability o f individual human life, Dworkin fa ils to weig h properly the singularity of a ll life, which is to say that as long as the emphasis is placed on the individual and o ther traditional forms used to decline the subject, D'vorkin's perspec- tive 011 li fe is d isast rous for any affirmative biopo li t ics. What's m o re, in such

a scbeme, eth ic individualism quickly becomes the oorrn tha t transcends

life; it is a no rm of life that. limi rs life t.o the confin es o f an individual subject

no tion of creati on, t he

of the title, b iotech nology cannot be separated from t he

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Translator's Jntrodm:tion

and individual body; in th is it operates, as it has traditiooally done, to im- munize the communi!)' and modern icy itself, from the immanence of im- personal, singular life . Such an immanence Esposito ancho rs to the bios of commrmitas-not one based, as Dworkin would have it, on a commun ity of citizens who "recognize that the community bas a communal life," but rather an ecumenical comrn uo ity that runs to all life-forms and one that is not always and everywhere transcended by notions of citizenship and indi-

viduality.'0' In o ther words, Dwork.i.u's explicit of the "sacred" na- tu re of bio techno logy and bare life depends not simply on the function of creation but more importantl y is riven through with a debt owed the notion

of the individual. It isn't simply that the governm en t and commerce o ugh t

to "fuel, restrain, or shape these developments fin biotechnology];' but rather th at life understood as the opening to the impersonal singularit y and to the trans- or preindividual cannot emerge as the immanent im-

pu lse of life so long as the norm of life i.s on ly thought in terms of the in -

dividual subject. 10 ' The open twee n biotechnology an d the

in q uality of the immunizing paradigm. How one answers t hat will de te r-

mine the prospects for a coming, affirmative biopolitics.

question is to what degree the ma rr iage be- individ ual subject represents a radical jump

A Fortified Bios?

How, then, can we set about reversing the cu rren t thana topolitical inflec- tion of biotcchnics and biopolitics? Esposito's fina l answer in Bios will be found by rethinking precisely the relation between nor m and life in oppo- sition to Nazi semantics by developing ano ther semantics in which no fun - damental norm exists from which the others can be de ri,•ed. This is because "every behavior carries with it the norm tbat places it in existence within a more general natural order. Considering that there are as many multiple individuals as there are infu1ite modes of substance means that the norms will be mu ltiplied by a corresponding number."' 0 ' Once the notion of in - dividual no longer marks an individual subject but the process of individ-

uation linked to the b irth of all forms of life, our attention w ill then shift

to producing a multiplicicy of norms within the sphere of law. The ind ividual

will no longer be seen as simply the site in which previous genetic program- ming is executed, no mere hardware for a genetic software, but instead the


thanks to every livu1g fo r m's inter-

dcpeodeoce with otber livu1g fo rms. Norms for individuals will give way to individualizing norms that respect. the fact that the human body "lives

i.n which individuation takes place

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in an infinite ser ies of re lations with the bodi es of o thers ." '"'I-Jere as else- where Esposito is drawing o n Spinoz.a for his elaboration of a new, non- immunitary seman tics of a multiplicity o f norms, in which no rms cannot be though t outside the " movement o f life;•o ne in which tbe val ue of every norm is linked to its traducibility from o ne system to another. The resu lt is the continual deconstruction of any absolute norma tive system, be it Nazi thanatopolitics or con tem por ar y capitalist b ioenginee ring of the hu man . The result is both a defense of difference among life-forms and their asso- ciated norms an d an explicit critique o f otherness, which fo r Esposito in -

fo rth immu nizatio n fro m th e impl ici t threat o f co ntagion and

ev itably c.alls

death.'"' The emphasis on differe nce (and no t o therness) amo ng life- forms in the closing pages of Bios is l inked to change, whic h Esposito sees not on ly

radical tole r -

ance toward a world understo od as a mu ltiplicity of dif fe ren t living forms. The ques ti on, fi nally, is how t o fo rtify a li fe's ope nin g t o o th er lives with- o ut at th e same time inscribing it in ar1 i.rumu nitary paradigrn . For Esposito, the an swer, as I suggest.ed when addressing Dworkin's neoliberal perspec- tive on biotech no logy, lies in des tab iliz ing the absolute immanence of the individual life by for go in g an emp has is on the ind ividual life in favor o f an " indefin ite life:· T he reference to Deleuze's last essay, "Pu re Imma nence;• allows Esposito to counterpose the absolute immanence of individ ual life to the absolu te singularity of a "life." Tbe relevan t quote fr om Deleuze

merits ci tation:

as a prerogative of the living, but as tbe basis for elaborating a

T he life of the individual gives way to an impe rsonal an d yet s ingular life

that releases a pure even t freed from the acc id ents o f internal and eA'ternal

life, that is, from s ubjec tivity a nd o bjectiv ity of what ha ppens: a "Ho m o

lan t um" with \vh om CVC'ryonc empathizes and who at tain s a sort

of bcati t lld (' .

It is haecccity no longer of in dividuatio n but of singul;orization: a life of

p ure immanence, neu tra l beyond good and e'·il, fo r i t was o nly the subject that incarnated it in the midst of rbings that made it good or bad. Tbe life

o f s uch an irl dividu ality

fades away in favor o f t he singular life imman en t to

a m a n who no l o nge r has a name . t ho ugh he can be m i staken fo r

A s ingular essence. a life. 106

no othe r.

to ar t icula t e

the necessary conditions in ' "hich the character istics of just sucb a singular homo tan turn ca n be actua lized ; imp lic it in the figu re of th e homo tarrtum is a " oo rm of life tha t doesn' t subject life to the traoscen deoce of a oo r m, but makes the n orm t.he imm anen t imp ulse of life :' '"' If we were to exp ress

Esp os ito's excursus on fl es h and individu ating bir th attempts

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xl Trans l;;1to r's ln trod uctjon

such a figure biopolitically, the category of bios wiU name the biopolitical thought that is able to think life across all its man ifestations or forms as a unity. There is no zoe that can be separated from bios because "every life is

and every form refers to life:'' " Esposito here translates

Deleuze's singular life as the reversal of the thanatopolitics he sees under·

pinning the N<lZi normative project in wbich some Jives were oot coosid·

ered fo rms and hence closed off from bios. The opening to ao affirma ti ve

harming one part

of life- forms that

epitomizes Esposi to's readi ng of contemporary b iopolitics is therefore based on the convictio n that every life is inscribed in bios. No greater obstacle to fortifying bios exists today tban those biopolitical practices that separate out z6i! from bios, practices that go hand in hand with the workings of the immunitary pa r<l digm. Esposi to seems to be sug· gesting tha t our open ing to an affinnative biopolitics becomes thinkable only when a certain moment has been reached when a philosophy of life appears possible in the folds of an ontology of death, when th e irnrnuni- tary mechanisms of the twenty-first century reach the point of no return. In such an event, when the immunitary apparatus attacks bios by produc- ing zoe, a space opens io which it becomes possi b le to posit bios as not io opposition to z6ebut as its ultim ate horizon. Th us the subject of Bios is l.i.fe at the beginning of the twenty-fi rst century, its fortunes inextricably joined to a duct ile immunitary mechanism five hu ndred years or so in operation. Five hundred years is a long time, but the conditions, Esposito argues, may be right for a fundamental and long overdue rearticu lation or reinscrip- tion of bios in a still to be completed political lexicon that is radically humanistic to the degree that there can be no z6i! that isn't already bios.

One of tbe shorthands Esposito offers in Bios for tb.inkiog the difference

a form of life

b io politi.cs takes place precisely when we recogn ize that o f life or one life banns all lives. T he radical toleration

w ill be fouod in the juxtaposition between a " politics of mastery and the negation of life" and another future, affirmative politics of life.'

Life as Bios

T hese ;u·e, it seems to me, the most significant elements of Esposito's geneal· ogy and ontology of contemporary biopolitics. What 1 would like to do in the remaining pages is to s uggest possible areas of contact between Bios and contemporary public cu lture. Esposito's uncovering of tbe reciprocity between community and immu- nity captures brilliantly the stalemate that continues r.o characterize debates

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l 'r:tnslaror's ln trod uct io n


about the choice between security and freedo m . One need only recall the

Pa tri o t Act a nd th e justifi catio n for its attacks o n civil l iberties in th e nam e

o f " homeland security" to see where the disastrous effects of excessive im- munization on a community will be registered: precisely in immunity's closing to community. Once we see immun ity/commu nity as a continuum we can understand the p recise meaning of " the war on terror begins at home" as directed aga inst the radical ope.ning to social relations tha t are

imp licit in th e gift and ob li.gation of tb e rnunus, bo th globally aod loca lly. We are living, Esposito suggests, in one of th e most le tha l imm un itar y

mechanisms of the

modern period, lethal for both global re lations, which

now are principally based on war, an d the concurrent repression sanctioned by securit y concerns. As I ba ve noted repea t edly, recogniz ing the dangers

o f immun ization for meaningfu l a nd productive relations between indi- vidual mem bers and among commu n ities doesn't in any way lead Espos-

ito, ho wever, to argue for a retu rn to some p ri vileged orig in of comm un ity. Attempts to locate such an or ig in arc doomed to a melancho lic sea rch for community that can never be met. At the same t.ime, recognizing the fu til- ity of such a search creates an opportun ity, thanks to the con temporary immunity crisis, to think again what the basis for co mmunity might be.

Wbat needs to take

to singularize "we." Esposito's itii1erary that mo,•es tb rough imm un ities that fortify singular "we's" than ks to tbe articulation of individuation can help ma ke us not only mo re attentive to our encou nte rs w ith others and the other, but also to examine more deeply the kinds of motivations that undergird th ese kinds o f encoun te r s. Obvio us ly, the oppo rtu ni ty fo r thinking anew the assumptions o n which communities come together will have a profound iinpact on the kind of pub lic c ulture we wish for ourselves. What kind of p ub lic cul ture, fo r in- staoce, makes possible and nourish es an open ing to the common tlesb of

a ll, one tha t. is capable o f vitalizing all fo rms of life? Is there already im- plicit in the no tion of pub lic cultu re a private space tha t can have no truck with the kinds of retoo led relations Esposito is describing? These kinds o f questions are not easily asked in the current war on terror, a war founded

precisely on excluding "terrorists" fr om tbe horizon o f bios, that is, as forms of life (now enemy combatan ts) wbo do not merit any political q ualification.

Th us, when Presi dent Bush speaks of teuo d sm as

danger to all hu m anity" or wben h e describes "tense borders" u nde r assault, the i mp licit n to an immu nitary pa radigm beco mes o bvious. 110

place therefore is tb inking thro ugh a dia lectic of ho w

re p resenting "a mo rta l

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xli i

TrJ nslator•s Int rod uction

It is beca use terrorism represen ts a wa r oo b um ani ty it is a war against

life itself, that borders must be defended and

s trengthened . Not s imply geo-


borders bu t, m o re significa ntly, the b orders o f the kind o f life that

can and

can not be in scribed in bios. The result is once again the politiciza-

tion o f life an d fec t o f lim iting

ma rk, however, those who can be sacrificed as homo sacer, as Agamben wou ld have it, b ut rat her to attack w ith violer1ce t he mw rus irnm unity sha res with commu nity. In te restin gly, i n som e of his speeches P res iden t Geo rge W. Bush also speaks o f liberty as the vital catalys t fo r im proving "the l ives of all"; leavin g asid e just what he in tends fo r liberty, clear ly tod ay liberty is disclosed ever more readily as a n effect of the i mmu nity mod ality,

much as Esposito describes it in those pages d edicated to Locke.'" In per- h aps more obviou s f.1sh ioo than in recent memory, liber ty is spectacu la rly

reduced to

secure(d ) citizen. Althoug h Esposito doesn' t elaborate oo the relation of

with it th e dema rcation of th ose

lives ou ts ide bios. T he ef-

bios to only those on one side of the border isn't simply to

th e security of th e subject; a subject who possesses liber ty is the

as the closing pages of Bios make clear,

necessarily to wa rd a genealogy of"the person"- he

d oes explicitly suggest that a semantics of the individ ual or the citizen has a lways functioned within an immu ni tary paradigm.'" As tem pting as it

m igbt be to r ead lib erty as a vi tal mu

the modern his resea rch

s ubject to the citizen -

is moving

lt ip lier of co mmunity in oppos ition to

imm u niry, such a strateg y is d oo med to failu re as well, given li berty's his to r- ical fai l ure to m ai n tai n a ny au to no my w ith regard t o th e p ro tectio n o f li fe. If we rea d Esp os ito care fully, t he fi rst step t o a public c ultu re ma de vi t al by communi tas begins wi th the recogn ition tha t the lives o f "terro r ists" can in no way be detached fr o m a p olitica l qu alificatio n tha t is o rig inary to life. Ra th er th an merely agreeing to the ir ex terioritat io n to bio s, whicb a ppea rs as bo th an ethical and a ph iloso phical fa ilu re of eno rm ous magn i- tude, wbat we need to do is to uoderstand aod p ractice differently the u nity o f bios a nd po litics in such a way t.hat we n o longer rein fo rce t.he poli ti- cization of li fe (w hich is p recisely wha t the wa r o n te rro r is inte nded to d o), b ut instead create the conditions for what he calls a "vitalization o f

polit ics:'" ' No greater task confro nts us today than imagining the fo rm such a vita lized politics migh t take, as tha t is p recisely the direction in which an originary and in tense sense o f communitas resides.

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Prance, November 1000. A decision o f the French Appeals Court opens a lacerating conflict in French jurispr udence. Two appeals arc overt urne d, which had in turn reversed the previous sen tences. The cour t recognized th at a baby by th e name o f N icolas Perruche , who was born with serio us ge netic lesions, had the rig ht to sue the doctor who bad misdiagnosed a case of German measles in the pregnant mother. Against her expressed wishes, sbe was prevented &om aborting. What appears to be the legally irresolv;lble object of controversy in the entire incident is attributing to

sma ll Nico las the r igh t. not to be bor n. At issue is not the proven error of the med ical laboratory, but rather the status of the subject who contests it.

recourse against the only circu mstance

that furn ishes him with juridical su bjectivity, namely, that o f his own birth?

Tbe difftculty is both of a logical and an ontological order. If it is already problematic that a being can invoke his or her right not to be, it is even more difficult to tb ink of a nonb eing (wh ich is precisely who h as not yet been born) that. claims the right to remain as s uch, and therefore not to enter into the sphere of being. What appears un decidable in ter ms of the law is the relation between b io logical realty and the j uridical person, tha t is, between natu ral life and a form of life. It is true that being born into such conditions, the baby incurred harm. But who if not he himself could have decided to avoid it, eliminating beforehand his own being as the su b - ject of li fe, the life proper of a subject? Not on ly. Because every su bjective right correspor1ds to the obligation of not obstructing those who are in a condition to do so signi fi es that. th e mother wou ld have been forced to

How can an individual have legal


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abort irrespective of her cboice. The right of tbe fetus no t to be born would be configured therefore as a preve ntive duty on the part of the person who conceived to eliminate him fsopprimerloj, instituting in such a way a eugenic

caesura, one that is legally recogn ized, between a juridical life that is judged as valid and a nother " life unwort hy of life:' to use the Nazi phrase. Afghanistan, November zoOJ. Two montbs after the terrorist <lttacks of September n, a new kind of "humanitarian" war takes shape in the skies above Afghanistan. The adjective Jrumtmitarian no longer co.ncen1s the rea-

sons behi nd the conflict-as

to defend entire populations from the threat of ethnic genocide-but its privileged instrument, which is to say a ir bom bardments. And so we find that both bighly destructive bombs were released along with provisions and medicine on the same te rritory at the same tim e. We must not lose sight of the threshold that is crossed here. Tbe problem doesn't lie only in tbe du-

b ious juridical legitimacy of wars fought in the name of u niversal rig hts on the basis of arbitrary or biased decisions on the part of those who had the force t.o impose and execute them, and not even in the lack of unifor- mity often established between proposed ends and the results that are ob- ta ined. The most acute O):ymoro n of h uman itarian bombardment lies rather in the superimposition tbat is man ifested in it between tbe declared

of the twen -

had occurred in Bosnia and Kosovo, nam ely,

intention to defend life and to prod uce actual dea tb . The wars

tieth century have made us accustomed to the reversal of the proportion between military deaths (which was largely the case before) and civilian victims (which are today far s uperior to the former) . From time immemo- rial racial persecu tions have been based on the presupposition that the death of some strengthens the life of others, but it is precisely for this reason that the demarcation of a clear division between lives to destroy and lives

to save end ures and indeed grows. It is precisely such a distinction that is tenden tio usly erased in tbe logic of bombardments that are destined to kill and protect the same people. The root of such an indistinction is not to be sought, as is often done, i n a structu ral mu tation of war, but rat her in the much more radical transformation of tbe idea of huma.nitas that sub- tends it. Presumed for centuries as what places h uman beings {gli uomini/ above the simple common life o f other living species (and therefore charged with a political value). humanitas increasingly comes to adhere to its own b material. But once it is reduced to its pure vital substance and for that reason removed from every juridical-political form, the humanity of man remains necessarily exposed to what. both saves and annihilates it.

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Russia, October zoo2. Special groups of the Russian state police raid the

Dubrovska Theater in


almost a thousand

128 hostages as

Moscow, where a Chechen commando un it is ho ld-

people hostage . The incursion results in the death of

well as almost all of th e terrorists thanks to

an incapacitating

and lethal gas. T he episode, justified and indeed praised by other govern- ments as a model of firmn ess, marks <tnotber step witb respect to the others

I've alread y described. Even if in this case the term " human itarian" was not used, the underlying logic is no different: the deaths here emerge o ut of the

desire t.o save as many lives as possib le . troubling circumstances (such as the use o f

international treaties or the impossibility of making available adeq uate an ti- dotes wh ile kee ping sec ret tbeir very nature}, let's co nsider the poi nt that interests us most. The death of the hostages wasn't an in direct and accidental effect of the raid by law enJorcemen t, which can happen in cases sucb as these. l t wasn' t the C hec hens, who, s urpr ised by t he police assault, killed t he hostages, but the police who killed tbem d irectly. Frequently one speaks of the specularity of the methods between terrorists and those that face off against them. Th is is understandable and u nder certain lin1its inevitable.


Wit hout linge ring over o ther a gas that was prohibited by

But never before does one see governmental agents, charged with saving prisoners from a possible d eath, ca rr y out tbe massacre themseh•es, which

the terro rists had themselves on ly threatened. Various facto rs weighed in the Russian president's decision: the desire to discou rage o ther attempts of the sort; the message to the Chechens that their fight had no hope of succeed- ing; an d a display of sO\•ereign power in a time o f its apparent crisis. But, fundamentally, someth ing else constitutes its tacit assump tion. T he blitz o n the Dubrovska Theater not only m ar ks, as 1said , t he withdrawal of po li- tics io the face of bru te force, nor is it irreducible to the unveiling of an

o riginary conn ection between politics a nd evil [male/. lt is th e extre me pression that politics can assume when it faces, with out any mediation,

a nd evil [male/. lt is th e ext re me pression that politics can assume



ques tion of th e survival of human bein gs suspe nded be tween life a nd

d ea th . To kee p them a li ve at a ll cost, o ne can eve n dec ide to ha sten t heir death. China, Februflry 2003 . The Western media circulates the news (strongly


there are a million and a ha lf Chinese who are sero posi tive, with some vil- lages such as Donghu ha,,ing a percentage that reaches upwards o f So per- cent of the population. Unlike other Tb ird World cou ntries, the contagioo does nor. have a natural or a sociocultural cause, immediar.e economic

by the Ch inese government) that in the sole province of Henan

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6 Int roduct ion

and political one. At its origin is not unprotected sexual relations nor dir t)' drug needles, b ut rather the sale e n masse of blood, wh ich the central gov- ernm ent encouraged and organ ized . The blood, which the government had extracted from peasants who were in need of mo ney, was centrifuged in

large containers

former was sent to rich buyers, the latter was again injected into tbe donors

so as to avo id anemia and to fo rce them into repeating the operation . But

that separated the plasma from the red globu les. While the


on ly took one of th em to be infected to contaminate the entire stock of


loo d conta i ned in the h uge ca uldrons. Thus, en ti re villages were fi lled

with those who were seropositive, wh ich, given the lack of medicine, be- came a death sentence. It is true that China has recently sold cheap an ti- AIDS medicines produced locally on the market, b ut it did not make them available to the peasants of Henan , whom it no t o nly ignored, bu t whom it obliged to keep quiet at the risk of imprisonment. The affa ir was revealed by someone who, left alone after the deaths o f h is relatives, preferred dying in prison rather than in his own hut alo r1e. It's enough to move o ur gaze

onto another, larger phenomenon to see that b io logical selectio n in a coun- try that co ntinues to define itself as commun ist isn' t o nly of class, b ut a lso

o f sex. This hap pens at the momen t when the s tate policy o f"a single ch ild" (wh ich was intended to halt a growing demographic) is joined to tbe tech- nology of ecography, causing the abortion of a large o umber of those who wou ld have become futu re women. Tb is made the former traditional prac- tice in th e cou ntryside, of drown ing fe male infan ts upon birth , UJHJeces - sary, but it was bound to a ugmen t the n umerical disproportion between males and females. It has been calcu lated that in less than twen ty years it

tear her away

w ill be difficult for Chinese men to find a

from her family as an adolescent. Perbaps it's for this reason that in China the rela tion between female and male suicides is five to one. Rwanda, Apri/2oo4. A Uoited Nations report tells us that around ten thou- san d bab ies of the same age are the bio logical resu lt of mass ethn ic rapes

that occurred ten years ago d uri ng the genocide that the Hutu committed

o n the Tutsi . As occurred later in Bosnia and other parts of the world, such

a practice modified in original ways the relation between life ;md deatb that

had until then been recognized in traditional wars and even in those so- called asymmetrical wars against terrorists. vVhile in these 'vars death al- ways comes from life-and even comes through life as in kami kaze su icide attacks-in the act of eth o ic rape it is also life that emerges from death,

wife, if the y don't

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from violence, and from the terro r of women who were made pregnant while unconscious fro m the b lows they had rece ived or immobi lized with

a knife to their th roat. It is an example of "positive" eugenics that is no t

juxtaposed to the negative one pr acticed in C hi na or elsewhere, but rather


tors carried out genocide b)' preemptively destroying birth, those of today do so th rougb forced birth and therefore in the most drastic perversion of

th e event tbat brings essence to self {in se /'essetwl ), oth er tba n t h.e prom - ise o f life. Contrary to t hose who saw in the ne wness of b irth the symbolic a nd real presupp ositio n for renewed politica l action, et hnic rape makes it the m ost acu t e po int o f connection b etween life and death, b ut which oc- cu rs in the tragic pawd ox of a new generation of life. That all Rwandan mothers of the war, when asked about their own experiences, declared

childre n bo rn from hate signifies that the fo rce of life over that of death . Furthermore, the most extreme irn-

th eir love for their prevails once agai n

rn un itary p ractice, w hich is to say affirming the superiority of one's own blood t.o the point of imposing ir.on those with whom one does not share it, is desti ned to be turned against itself, p rod ucing exactly what it wanted

its counterfactual res ult. Whereas the Nazis and all their imita·


me n, are tb e objective communitarian, wh ich is to say multietbnic o utcome

of the m ost violent racial immuni~ation.We are faced here too witb a sort of undecidability, or a dou ble-faced phenomenon in which life and poli-

ti cs arc jo ined in a r elatio n whose interpretation de m ands a new concep- tual language. Ar. the center of s uch a language is the no tio n of biopolitics. It is by

starting with b iop olitics that

events such as those I've just described, wh ich

avo id. The Hut u

children of Tutsi wome n, or the Tutsi ch ildren o f Hut u


a m ore tradi tional in terpreta tion, find a complex of meaning tha t

mo ves

beyond their simple ma nifestation. It is

true that they pro vide an

extreme in1age (though certain ly not unJaitbful) of a dynamic

that already

involves a ll the most i mportant political p heno me na of our

time. From

the war of a nd against terro rism to mass mig ratio ns; from the politi cs o f p ub lic health to those of demography; from measures of security to the un limited extension of emergency legislation - there is no phenomenon o f in ternational importance that is extraneous to the do ub le tendency tha t situates the episodes I've just described within a single of line of meaning. On the one hand, a gwwing superimpositio n between the domai.n o f power or of law /diritto) and that of life; oo the otbe r, ao equally close implicatio n

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8 In troduction

that seems to have been derived with regard to death. It is exactly the tragic paradox that Michel Foucau lt, in a series of writings dating back to the

politics o f life always risk being

middle o f the 1970S, examined. Why does a reversed into a work of death?

I think I can say, without failing to acknowledge the extraordinary ana·

lytic power

of h is work, that Foucault never fuUy ans1vered the question; or

better, that

he. always hesitated choosing from among differen t responses,

responses tha t were for their parr t ri butaries of different modes of approach - ing the question that he himself had raised . The opposite interpretations of

b iopolitics, the

that tod ay lead the fie ld, do nothing except make absolute (by sp reading them apart) the two hermeneutic options between which Foucault never

decided. Withou t an ticipating here a more detailed reconstruction of the

affair, my i mpression is that this situation

stalemate originates w ith a questio n that is either missing or has

sufficiently posed coocero ing the presuppositio ns of tl1e t heme in question:

not just what biopolitics signifies but bow it was born. How is it configured O\'er time and which aporias does it continue to carry? It's enough to extend research on the diachro nic axis as well the horizon tal level to recognize that Foucau lt's decisive theorizations are nothing but tbe fina l segment (as well as tbe most accomplished) of a line of discourse that goes rather fur· ther back in time, to the beginning of tbe last century. To bring to light this lexical tradition (for the firs t time I wou ld add ), revealing its contiguity and sem an tic intervals, o bviously doesn't o nly ha1•e a p hilological empha- sis, because o nly a s imilar kind of operation of excavation promo tes th e force and or ig inali t y of Foucault's thesis th roug h differences with i t; bu t above aUbeca use it aUows us to peer into the black box of b iopolitics from a variety of angles and with a greater breadth of gaze. lt becomes possible to construct a critical perspective oo the interpretive path that Foucault bimself created; for example, wi th reference to the complex re lationship, wh ich he instituted, between the biopolitical regime and so,•ere ign power. We will re - turn in more detail to this specific point further on, but what ought to draw our a tte n tion - beca use it involves the very same meaning of the category in question- is the relation between the politics o f life and the ensemble of modern political categories. Does biopolitics precede, follow, or coincide tempora lly witll mo dernity? Does it have a h ist or, epoc ha l, or o ri gi.nary dimeosioo? Foucault's respoose to such a question is not completelyclear, a ques tion that is decisive because it is logically connected t.o th e in terpreta-

one radically negative and the o ther abso lutely euphoric

of pb ilosopbical and

political been in -

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lntroduc1 io o


tion of contemporary experience. He oscillates between a continuist atti- tude a nd ano ther tha t is more inclined to mark different ial thresho lds.

My thesis is th at th is kind of an epistem o logical uncertain ty is attri bu t- able to the failure to use a more ductile paradigm, one that is capable of a rticulating in a more intrinsic manner the two lemmas that a re enclosed in the concept in question, which I have for some time now referred to in

Without expanding here on its overall mean ing

(which I've had occasion to defi ne elsewhere in all its projections of sense), the elemen t r.hat qu ickly needs to be esr.ablished is the peculiar knot. tha t

immu n izatio n posits between biopo litics a nd mo de rn ity.' I say quickly be- cause it restores the missing lin k o f Foucault's argumentation. Wha t I wan t to say is tbat only wben biopolitics is linked conceptu ally to the imm un i- tary dynam ic of the nega tive pr otectio n of life does b iopolitics reveal its specifically modern genesis.This is not because its roots are missing in other precedi ng epochs (they aren't), but because on ly modernity makes of indi-

vid ual self- preservatio n t he presuppos it ion

from sovereignt y to liberty. Na tu r ally, the fact that modern biopolitics is also embodied th roug h the mediation of categories that are s till ascribable to the idea of order (understood as the transcendental of the relation be- tween power and subjects) means that tbe politicity of bios is s till not affirmed absolutely. So tbat it m ight b e, which is to say so that life is imme- diatel)' translatable into politics or so that politics might assume an intrin- siwlly bio logical characterization, we have to wait for the totalitarian turn - ing point o f the 1930s, in particular for Nazism. There, no t only the negative (wh ich is to say the work o f d eath) will be fu nctio nalized to stabilize order (as certain ly was still the case in the modern period), but it will be pro- du ced in growing quantities according to a thanato political dialectic tha t is bound to condition the strengthening of life vis-~-visthe ever more exten-

si,•e realization of death. In th e point of passage from the first to the second form

will be found the works of Nietzsche, to whom l've dedicated an entire chap- ter of this boo k. 1 have do ne so no t on ly for his underlying biopolitical rele- vance, but because he cons titutes an extraordinary seismograph of the ex· haustion of modern political categories when mediating between politics and life. To assume the will of power as the fundamental vita l impulse means a ffirtn i•\g at the same time that life has a constit ut ively political di mension and tbat politics bas n o other object tban the maintenance and expansioo o f life . It is precisely i n the relationsh ip between these two ulr.imate modes


of immu nization.

of a ll othe r political catego ries,

o f immunization

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of referring to bios that tbe innovative or conservative, or active or reactive character of forces facing each other is established. Nietzsche himself and t he meaning o f his works is part of this compariso n and struggle, in the sense that together they exp ress the mos t explicit criticism of the modern immu- nitary loss of meaning and an element of acceleration from with in. From

here a categorical as well as s ty listic splitting occurs between rwo ton<llities of thought juxtaposed and interwoven that constitutes the most typical cipher of the Niet~schean text: destin.ed o r\ the side to anti.cipatc, at least on t he theo retical level, the des tructive and self-destructive s lippage of twentieth-century biocracy, and on the o ther the prefiguration of th e lines of an affi rmat ive biopolitics that has yet to come.

The fina l section of the book is dedicated to

the relation between phi-

losophy and bio politics after Nazism. Why do I insist on referring p hilos- ophy to what \\•anted to be the most explicit negation of philosophy as ever appeared? Well, first because it is precisely a similar negation that demands to be understood ph ilosop hica lly ir1 its darkest corners. And then because Nazism negated philosophy no t on ly generically, but in favor of biology, o f which it considered itself to be the most accomplished realization .! exam-

ine in de tail this thesis in an extensive chapter here, corrobor ating its truth- fulness, at least in tbe literal sense that the Nazi regime brought tbe biologi- zation of politics to a point that had never been reacbed previously. Nazism treated the German people as an organic body tbat needed a radical cure, wh ich consisted in the violent removal of a part that was already considered spiritually dead. From this perspective and in contrast to communism (which is s till joined in posthumous homage to t he category of totalitarianism), Nazism is no longer inscribable in the self-preserving dynamic of both the early and later modernities; and certainly not beca use it is extraneous to immunitary logic. On the contrary, Na-tism wo r ks within tbat logic in such a paroxysmal maoner as to turn the protective apparatus aga inst its owo body, which is precise ly what happens i n a utoimmu ne diseases. The fina l orders of self- dest ruction put forward by Hitler barricaded in his Berli n bun ke r offer overwhelming proof. From this point of view, one can say

the culn1ination of biop olitics, at least

in that qualified expression of being absolutely indistinct from its reversa l

into thaoa topolitics. But precisely for this reason the catastropbe in wbicb it is immersed constitutes the occasion for an epocl1al rethinking of a cat- egory that, fa r from disappear ing, every day acqu ires more me aning, no t

that the Nazi

experience re prese nts

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only in the eveots I oo ted above, but also in the overall config uration of contemporary experience, and above all from the moment when the im-

plosion of Soviet communism

cleared the field o f the last p hilosop hy o f

modern history, delivering us over to a world that is completely globalized. It is at th is level that discou rse today is to be cond ucted: the body that experiences ever more intensely the indistinction between power and life is no longer that of the. individua l, nor is it that sovereign body of nations, but that body of the world that is both torn a nd un ified. Never before as today do the confl icts, wounds, and fea rs that r.ear the body to p ieces seem

to pu t in to play no t h ing less t ha n li fe itself i n a singu lar reversal bet ween the classic philosop hical theme of the "world of life" and that theme heard so often today of the " life of the world ." T his is the reason that contempo- rary thought cannot foo l itself (as still happens today) in belatedly d efend- ing modern political categories that h ave been shaken and o verturned. Contemporary thought cannot and must not do anythi ng of the sort, be- cause biopoli.tics or iginates precisely in t hese political categories, before it rebels against. them; and then because heart of the problem r.hat we are facing, wh ich is to say t he mod ifica tion of bios by a part of politics ide ntified

posed for the fi rst t ime (in a man ner tha t

w ith tech no logy [tecnicaj, was

wou ld be insufficient to define as a poca lyptic), precisely in the antiphilo- sophical aod b iological ph ilosophy of H itlerism . I d o r ealize how delicate this kind of statement may seem in its contents and still m ore in its reso- nance, but it isn't possible to place questions of expediency before t he truth of the matters at han d . From another perspective, twentieth -century

thought has fro m the beginning in1plicitly undersr.ood this, acceptin g the comparison a nd the s truggle with radical evil o n its own terrain. It was so

for Heidegger, along

an itinerary tbat brougb t h inl so close to that vortex

t ha t he r is ked letting himself be swa Uowed b y it. But the same was al so tru e

for Arendt an d Foucault, both of wbom ways, r.hat one cou ld r ise abo ve Nazism

prec ipices. It is the pa th th a t I myse lf h ave tried r.o fo ll ow h ere , working back to fron t within three Nazi dispo>~tifs:the absolute normativization of

life, the double enclosure of the body, and the anticipntory suppression of

were conscious, albeit in differen t o nly by knowi ng its drifts a nd its

birth. 1 have traced t hem w ith the inten tion o f p rofi ling the admittedly

an affirmative bio politics that is

a pproximate and provisional contours of

capable of overtum ing the Naz i politics of d eath in a po litics that is no

longer over life b u t ofW'e.

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Here there is a fina l point that seems to me useful to daruy b efore pro-

c.eeding. Without denyi ng the legitimacy of o ther interpretions or

o ther

normative projects, I do not believe the task of p hilosophy-eve n


biopolitics challenges it-is that of proposing models o f political action that make b iopolitics the flag of a revo lutionary manifesto or merely something

but bec.1use it isn't i ni tial presupposi-

tioo according to which it is no longer possible to disar ticulate poli.tics

an d life in a form in whic h the fo rmer can provide or ientat ion to the latte r.

reformist. T h is isn't beca use it is too radical a concept radica l enough. Tb is would, moreover, contrad ict the

Th is

is not to say, o f course, tha t politics is in capable o f acting on what



i ts object and su bject; loosenin g the grip o f new sovereign powers


p ossib le and necessary. Perhaps what we need today, a t least for those wbo practice ph ilosop hy, is the converse: not so mu ch to th ink life as a function of politics, but to think politics within the same fo rm o f life. It is a step that is anyt hing but easy because it wo ul d be con cerned wit h b ri ngi ng life into relation with biopolitics not from the outside- io the modality of accepti ng or refus ing-bu t from with in; to open life to th e po in t at which something emerges which had unt il today remained out of view because it

is held tigh tly in the gr ip o f its opposite. I have attemp ted to offe r more

than one example of such a possibility a nd of s uch a dema nd with rega rd to the figure of flesh, norm, and birt·h thought inversely wi th respec t to body,

law, and nation. But the most gen era l and in tense structive deconstruction has to do pcecisely with

dig m tha t constitu tes the distinct ive mo de in which biopolitics has until

no w been

that of the negative protectio n o f life, reveal a fu ndamental re la tion with its cornmunitarian opposite. If immuttitas is no t even thin kable outside of the common munus tha t also negates it, perha ps b iopolitics, whicb until now has been fo lded tightl y in to it, can also turn i ts nega tive sign in to a different., positive sense.

dimension of th is con- that immuni ta ry paca-

p u t. forward . Never more

th an in th is case do es its semantics,

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The Enigma of Biopolitics


on ly has the notion of "biopolitics" moved to the center o f

international debate, but the term has opened a completely new phase in contemporary thought. From the moment that Michel Foucault reproposed and redefined the concept {when not coining it), the entire frame of politi- cal philosophy emerged as profoundly modified. It wasn't that classical cate- gories such as tbose of "law" [dirirto }, "so,•ereignty;• and "de mocrac y" sudden ly left the scene-they con tinue to organ ize current political dis- course-but that their effective meaning always appears weaker and lacking any real interpretive capacity. Rather than explaining a reality that everywhere slips th ro ugh their analytic grip, these categories themselves demand to be subjected to the scrutiny of a more penetrating gaze that bo th deconstructs and explains them. Let's consider, for instance, law / Iegge}. Differently from what many have arg ued, tbere is no th ing that suggests that such a domaio has somehow b een reduced . On the contrary, the impression is that the domain of law is gaining terrai n both domestically and internationally; that the process of no rmativization is investing increasingly wider spaces. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that j uridical language per se re,•eals itself to be incapable of illuminating the profound logic of such a change. When one speaks of "human rights;· for example, rathe r than referr ing to estab- li shed ju ri dical su bjects, one refers to ind ividuals defined by nothing othe r than the simple fact of being alive. Something analogous can be said about the political dispositif of sovereignty. Anyt hing b ut des tined to weaken as

Recently, not


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14 The En igma of BiopoUtics

some had rashly forecast (at least witb regard to tbe world's greatest power), sovereignty seems to have extended and inte nsified its range o f ac- tion-beyon d a repe rtoire that fo r centuries bad characterized its relation to both citizens and other state structures. With the clear distinction between inside and outside weakened (and therefore also the distinction between war and peace that had cha racterited sovereigo power for so long), sover- eignty finds itself directly engaged with questions of life and death that no longer have to do with si.ogl.e areas, but with th.e wodd in all of its exten- sions. T he refo re , if we take up any perspective, we see that. something that goes beyond the customary language appears to involve directly Jaw and politics, dragging them in to a dimensio n that is outside their conce ptua l apparatuses. Tbis "something" - this element and this substance, tb is sub- strate and this up heaval- is precisely the object of biopo litics. Yet there doesn't ap pear to be an adequate categorical ex:actitude that correspo nds to the epochal relevance of biopolitics. Far fwm havi ng ac-

quired a definitive order, the co ncept of biopo li t ics appea rs to be traverse d by an u ncerr.ainty, by an u neasiness that impedes every stable connotation. Indeed, 1 would go further. Biopolitics is exposed to a growing hermeneu- tic pressure that seems to make it no t only the instrume.n t b ut also the object of a bitter philosophical and political figh t over the configuration and destiny of the current age. From here its oscillation (though one could weU say its disruption) between interpretatioos, and before that e''eo its different, indeed co nflicting to nalities. Wha t is at stake of course is the nature of the relation that fo rces together the two te rms that make up the

category of b iopolitics. But even before tha t its defi ni tion:

wha t do we

understand by bios and how do we want to think a politics that di rectly addresses i t? The reference to the classic f•gure of bios politikos doeso't help, since tbe semantics in question become meaningful precisely when the meaning of th e term withdraws. If we waot to remain with the Greek (and in particular with the Aristotelian) lexicon, biopolitics refers, if a ny- thing, to the dimension of zoe, which is to say to life in its simple biological capacity [tenuta/, more than it doe.s to bios, u nderstood as "qualified life" or "form of life;· or at least to the line of conjugation along which bios is exposed to zoe, naturalizing bios as well. But precisely with rega rd to th is terminological exchange, the idea of biopolitics appears to be situated in a zone o f double iodisccrnibility, fi rs t because it is inhab ited by a te rm that does not beloog to it and indeed risks distorting it. Aud then because it is fixed by a concept, precisely that. of zoe, which is stripped of every formal

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Th e enigma of lli opolit ics


connotation. Z6<! itself can only be defined problematically: what, assum-

ing it is even co nceivab le, is a n absol utely na tu ra l li fe? It's eve n mo re the case today, when the hum an body appears to b e increasingly challenged and a lso litera lly traversed by technology / tecnica j. ' Po litics penetrates

di rectl y in life and life becomes other from itself. Th us, if a na t ura l life

doesn't exist that isn't <H tbe same time tech.nologic<Jl as well; if the r elation between bios and z6i! needs b y now (o r has always n ee.ded) to incl ude in it

a third coHclatcd term, techne-th en how do we hypothesize an exclusive rela tio n between politics and life?

Here too the concep t of biopolitics seems to wi t hdraw or be em ptied o f

it is form ulated. What remains clear the ho rizon of sense that marks its

closing. Bio politics has to do with that complex of m ediations, opposi- tions, and dialectical o perations that in an extended phase made possible

the m ode rn political order, a t least acco rdi ng to curre nt interpretation.

con tent in the same mo ment in which is its negative value, wbat it is not or

With respect to these and tl1e q uestions and p roblems to

spond re la tive to r.he definitio n o f power, to the meas u re of its exercise

and to the delineation of its limits, it's indisputable that a general sh ift of fiel d, logic, and the object of politics has take n place. At the mo m ent in which on one side tbe modern distinctions between public and private, state and society, local and global collapse, and on the other that all o ther


sou rces of legitimacy dry up, life becomes e nca mped in the cen ter of

political procedu re. No o ther politics is co nceivable other than a politics of life, in the o bjective and subjective sense o f the ter m . But it is precisely

which they corre-

w ith reference to the relation between the subject an d object of politics

that the interpreti,•e di,•ergence to which 1 alluded earlier appears again:

How are we to com pre hend a politica l go ,'ero ment of life? In what sense does life govern politics or i n wbat sense does politics govern life? Does i t concern a govero ing of or over life? It is the same conceptual ahe rnative that one can express through the lexical b ifur catio n between the te rms,

used indiffere ntly somet imes, o f "biopolitics" and "bi o powe r :• By t he fi rs t

is m eant a po litics in t he name o f life an d by the second a life subjected to

the command of po litics. But here too in tb is mode the pa radigm tha t seeks a conceptual linking between the terms emerges as split, as if it bad been cut in two by the very same movement. Compressed (aod at the same time destabilized ) by competing readings a nd subject to con tin uous rota- tions of mean ing around its own aris, the concept ofb iopolitics risks losing its identity and becoming a n enigma.

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The Enigma of Biopolitics

To understand wh.y, it isn' t enough. to limit our perspective simply to Foucault's observations. Rather, we need to retu rn to those texts and to authors (often no t cited) that Foucault's discussion derives from, and against wh ich he repositions h imself, wh ile criticaJJy decons tructing them. These can be cataloged in three distinct and successive blocks in time (at least those tha t explicitly refer to the concept of biopolitics). Tbey are character- ized, respectively, b y an approach that is organ is tic, ant hropologica l, an d na t ura.listic. lo the first i nsta nce, they refer to a su ser ies of essays, primarily German, that are jo ined by a vitalis tic co nception o f the stat.e, such as Karl Binding's Zurn Werden und Leberr derStaa ten ( 1920), o fwhich we will have occasion to speak later; Eberhard Den nert's Der Staat als

lebendiger Organismus ( 1920); and Edward H ah n's Der Staat, ein Leben-


wesen (1926) .' Our a ttention will be fo cused, however, most intently on

Swede Rudolph KjeUen, probably beca use be was tbe fi rs t to employ the term "biopo li tics" (we a lso owe him t he exp ressio n "geo po li t ics" tha t Friedrich Ratzel aod Karl Haushofer will later elaborate in a deci dedly racist ke y) . Wi th respec t t.o such a racist prope ns ity, whic h will thereafter culm inate in the Nazi theo rization of a "vital space" (Leben -


we shou ld no te that Kje JJe n's his p ro claimed sympat hy for

pos ition remains less conspicuous , WiJh elm in ian Ge rman as well as a


ce rtain

arg ued in h is book o f 1905 on the great powers, vigo ro us states, endowed

w ith a limi ted te rri tory, discover the need for extending their bo rders

through the conquest, fusion , and colonialization of other lands-' But it's in the vo lume from 1916 ti tled Th e State as Form of Life that Kjellen sees th is geopolitical d em and as existing in close relation to an o rga nistic co ncep- tion tbat is irreducible to constitu tional theories of a liberal framework:'

While these latter represent the sta te as the a rtific ia l product of a free cboice of ind ividuals that have created it, he un de rstands it to be a "living

fo rm" (som li•'sform in Swedish orals Lebensform i n German), to the exten t

that it is furnished with instincts and natural dri ves. Already here in th is transformation of the idea of the state, according to which the state is no longer a su bject of law born from a voluntar y con tract bu t a whole that is integrated by men and which behaves as a single individual bo th spiritual and corpo real, we can trace the originary n ucleus of biopolitical seman tics. In Outline for a PolitiCill S)•stem, Kjc llcn brings together a co mpendi um of the preceding theses:

propensity for an aggressive fo reign po licy. As be bad previously

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The En igma of Bio po liti cs


T his te nsion that is characteristic of life itself

p ushed me to denominate

such a discipliJle biopolitics, which i.s ana logous with t he scie nce of l ife,

namely, bio logy. In so doing we gain muc.h, considering that the Greek

word bios designates not only na tural and physical life, b ut perhaps just as

significantly cultural life. Naming it in this way also expresses that depend-

ence o f the laws of li fe t ha t society ma nifes ts a nd that promote, more than anything else, the state itself to that role of arbiter or at a min imum of




These are expressio ns that take us beyond the ancient metap hor o f the body-state wi th all its multiple me tamorphoses of post-Romantic inspira- tion. What begins to be glimpsed here is the reference to a natu ral sub- strate, to a s ubstantia l p ri nciple tba t is resis tMt an d that tmderlies any abstraction or construction of institutional character. The idea of the im- possibility of a true overcoming of tbe natura l state in that of the po litical emerges in oppositio n to the modern conception derived fro m Hobbes that

with regard to

one can preserve life only by instituting a n artificial barrier

nat.ure, which is itself incapable of neutralizing the conflict (and indeed is boun d to strengthen it) . Anything but the negation of nature, the political is nothing else bu t the cont in uation o f nature at another level and therefo re destined to incorporate and rep roduce natu re's original characteris tics. If tb is process of the na turalization of poli tics in Kjellen remains in -

scribed wit b in a historica l-cu ltural ap para tus, it experiences a decisive ac-

c.eleration in the essay

tha t is destined to become famous p recisely in the

fie ld of compa rative b io logy. I am re ferri ng to Staatsbiologi e, which was

a lso p ublished in 1920 b y Baron Jakob von Uexkiill wi th th e symptom ati c

subtitle Allatom)'• Physiology, and Pathology oftl1e State.• Here, as with Kjel-

l~n, the discourse revolves around the b iological coo figuration of a state- body that is unified by h<~rmonic relations of its own organs, re p resen- tative of different professions aod competencies, but with a dual (and

a nyth ing but. irrelevant) lexical shift. with respect t.o the preceding model. Here w hat is spoken about is not any state but the German state w ith its peculia r characte ris ti cs and vital deman ds. Wha t m akes the d ifference, however, is ch iefly the emphasis that pathology assumes with respect to

wh at is

already spot the harbinger of a theoretical weaving- that of the degenera-

tive syn drome and the consequent regenerative program-fated to reach its macabre splendors in the foUowing decades. Tb reatenii1g the public

s ubo rdi nated to it, na me ly, a natomy and physio logy. Here we can

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18 Th e E nigm a of Bi o po ~tjcs

health of tbe German body is a series of diseases, which obviously, refer-

ring to the revo lutionary tra umas of t he

trade un ionism, electo ral democracy, and th e righ t to strike: tumors that

grow in the tissues of the state, causing anarchy and fina lly the state's dis- solution. It would be "as if the majority of the cells in ou r body ( rather

impulses to commu nicate to the

nerves:' ' But even m ore re levan t, if we conside r the d irection of futu re totalita rian developments, is the b io political reference to those "parasites" which, having penetrated the political body, organ ize themselves to the d isadva ntage of ot her ci tizens. T hese are d iv ided betwee n "symbion t.s" from different races who u nd er certain circumstances can be useful to the state and true pa rasites, which install themselves as ao extraneous living body within the state, and which feed off of the same vita l substance. Uexkiill's th rea teningly p ro p hetic conclusion is that ooe needs to create a

time, are located i n subversive

than those i n our brain) decided which

class of sta te doctors t o fi g ht the pa r asites , o r to confer o n th e state a med - ical competen cy tha t is capable of b ringing it back to bealtb by remov ing the causes of the disease an d by expelling the carriers of germs. He w rites:

"Wh at we are st ill lackin g is an academy wit h a forward -looking

vision no t

o nly fo r creating a class o f state docto rs, but also fo r institu ting a state sys- tem of med ic ine. We possess oo organ to wb icb we can tr us t the bygiene of the state."• T he third text that shou ld ho ld o ur attention- because it is expressly ded- icated t o the catego r y in ques t ion- is Bio -poli rics. Wr itten by the Engli sh- ma n Mo rley Roberts, it was pu b lis hed in London in 1938 with the subtitle

Au Essay in th e Plt)'>~olog)\ Patholo gy aud Politic s of th e Social aud Somatic

Organism.' Here too the underlying assumption, wh ich Roberts sets forth immed iately in the book's in trod uction , is the connection, oot only analog- ical, b ut real, between politics a nd bio logy, aod particularly medicine. His perspective is not so distan t fu o dam en rally from tha t of Uexk i.ill. If pbys i- o logy is indivisible from the pathology fro m which it d er ives its meaning a nd emphasis, the state organism can not be ttu ly known or guided except by evaluating its actual and p otential diseases. More than a simple risk, these diseases represent the ultimate truth because it is principally a living entity that in fact can di e. For this reason, bio politics bas th e assign me n t on the one band of recognizing the organic risks tha t jeopa rdize the body politic a nd on the other of locating and pred i.sposi ng mechanisms of defe nse against them; these too are rooted in the same b iological te rrain . T h e mos t in no var.ive part. of Robe rts's boo k is con nected p recisely t.o r.h is u ltimate

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Tbe £nigma of JliopoHtics


demand and is constituted by an extraordinary comparison between th e

defensive apparatus of the state and the immuni tary system that antici-

pa tes an in terpr etive

paradigm to which we will return:

T he stm plcst way to think of tmmunity is to look on the human body as a

complex sociaJ organism, and the nationa l org<lnism

as a simpler functiona l

individual, or "person." both of which are ex-posed to dangers of innumerable kinds for wh ich they must contlnually provide. Th is provision is im mun ity

in action. 10

Beginning with this first formulation, Roberts develops a parallel between the state and the human body involving the entire immunological reper- toire- from antigens to antibodies, ftem the function of tolerance to the

system-and finds in each biological element its politi-

cal equivalen t. T he most.s ign ifican t step, however, one that moves in the di- rection p reviously taken by Uexkull, is perhaps constituted by the reference to mechan isms of immu nitary rep uls ion a nd expu lsio n of the racia l sort:

re ticuloendotbelial

T he student of political biology should study national mass attitudes and

their results as jf they were actual secretions o r ex.cretion. National o r inter· national repulsions may rest on little. To p u t the matter at once o n the

lowest phys io logical level, it is well know n that t he sm ell of o ne race may


as much or even more than

differe nt habit's

and customs. 11

Tbar Roberts's text d oses witb a comparison berween an immunitary rejec-

t ion of the Jews by t he Engl ish a nd an a nap hylactic shock of the po li t ica l body in th e year in which th e Second Wo rl d War begins is indica tive of t he increasingly slippery slope t.bat th e firs t biopolitical elabora tion takes on: a polit ics constructed directly on bios always risks violen tly subjecting bios to politics. The second wave of inte rest in t he thematic of biopolit ics is registered in

Prance in the 1960s. The difference from tbe a nd it couldn't be o therwise in a h istorical

fust wave is all too obvio us frame that. was profo undly


by the epochal defeat of Nazi biocracy. The new biopolitical theory


to be conscious of the necessity o f a seman tic reformula tion e\•en

a t the cost of weakening the s pecificity of the category in favor of a more

d omes ticated n eoh umanistic d eclension, with respect not on ly to Nazi biocracy, but a lso to orgaoistic theories that had in some way anticipated their themes and accents. T he volume that in 1.960 virtually opened this new stage of study was programmaticaUy titled La biopolitique: Essai d'irrterpn!-

tatiorr de l'l1istoire de l'humani te et des civilisations [Biopolit.ics: An essay on

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20 The En igma of Bi o politics

the interpretation aod history of human ity and civilization], and it takes exactly th is step." Already the doub le reference to history and human ity as the coordinates o f a discourse i nte ntio nally oriented toward bios expresses

the central d irection and conciliato ry path of Aroon Starobinski's essa y. When be writes that "b io politics is an attempt to explain t he history of civilization

well as the mos t elementary bio-

logical life," he does not in fact intend to p ush his treatment toward a sort of naturalistic outcornc. " Oo the contrary, the author argues (sometimes even acknowledging the nega ti ve conno tat ions tha t the natura l powers [pote11ze} of life enjoy), for the possibility as well as the necessity that po li-

on the basis of tbe laws of cellu lar life


tics inco rporates spir itual elements that are capable of gove rning these natu ral powers in funct ion of metapolitical values:

Bio polit ics does n't negate in a ny way the b lind forces of violence

and the

will to power) no r the fo rce.s of self~destruction that exist in man and in human civilization. On the contrary. biopolitics affirms their ex-istence in

a way that is comp le tely particula r beca ust· these forces a re che eleme ntary

forces of life. But b iopolitics de nies tha t these forces :ue fdtal and that they c.1nnot be opposed a nd directed by spiritual forces: the forces of justice,

charity, and truth. 1 ' 1

That the concept of biopolitks thus risks being whittled down to the point

of losing its meaning, tbat is, of being overturned into a sort of traditional

is also made dear in a second text pu blished fo ur years later

by an author destined fo r greater fortune. Tam refe rring to Edga r Morin's

Introduction a rme politique de l'homme." Here t he "fields" that are tru ly

of life and of survival" are inclu d ed in a more sweeping ag -

gregate o f the "an thropolitical" type, which in tu rn refers to

a "mu ltidimensional politics of man."•• Rather than tightening the biological- political nexus, Morin situates his perspective on the problematic connec- tion in whicb the infrapolitical tbemes of murin1al survival are p roduc- tively crossed with those tha t are suprapolitical or phi losophical, relative to

"b iopo litical


the project o f

t he sense of life itself. The resu lt, more tha n a biopolitics i.n the strict sense

the task of cir-

o f the expression, is a sort o f"on to- po litics; ' whic h is given

cumscribing the development of the human species, limiting the tendency to see it as economic and productive. "And so all the paths of life and all the paths of politics begin to intersect and then to peoetrate one aoother. They announce a n onto -politics that is becoming ever rnore in timate ly and globally mao's being."" Althougb Morin, in the following book dedi- cat.ed to the parad igm of human na tu re, con tests in a pa rtia lly se lf-cr it ica l

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Th e En igma of Biopo liti cs


key the h uman is tic mythology that defines man in opposition to the an i- mal, culture in opposition to nature, and order in opposition to disorder,

there d oesn't seem to emerge from o f all this an idea ofbiopolitics endowed with a convincing physiognomy''

weakness as well as a seman tic

Here we are deal ing with a theo retica l

u ncertain ly to which the l~vo vo lum es of Cahiers de 1<1 biopolitique, pu b- lis hed in Paris at the end of the 196os by the Organisation au Service de Ia Vic, certain ly do oot put ao. is true that witl1 respect to the preced- ing essay we can recognize in them a more concrete attention t.o the real conditions of li fe of the wor ld's pop ulati o n, exposed to a doub le checkmate of neocapitalism and socialist realism-both incapable of guiding pro- ductive development in a direction that is compatible with a significant in-

crease in the quality of life. And it is also true that in several of these texts


references concerning technology, city pla nn ing, and medicine (or better the spaces and the material form s of liviJlg beings) . Still, oot even here can

we say that. the definitio n of biopolitics avoids a categorical

that will wind up reduc ing

as a science by the con duct of states and h uman co llective.s, determined by laws, tbe natural environment, and onto logical givens that support Life an d determine man's activities."'; There is, however, no suggestion in such a defmition of what the specific statute of its object or a critical analysis of

its effects

Bordeaux in December 1966 , so too works have difficulty freeing the

concept o f

conceptual elaboration.'" The th ird resumption of biopolitical studies took