Disorienting Political Humanism in Tiqqun’s Introduction to Civil War

Alden Wood, San Francisco State University

In Introduction to Civil War, a work of political philosophy by Tiqqun (a twenty-first century, pseudonymous, autonomist-Marxist collective of militants and theorists based in France), a conception of the confluence of late-capitalism, the actualization of new power dynamics, and the crisis/disintegration of the modern state form emerges as a totalizing socio-historical episteme of domination. Tiqqun labels this new form of governance ‘Empire’, or the result of the complete politicization of all aspects of the social and, paradoxically, the complete socialization of all aspects of the political. Empire forms the conceptual basis for understanding an episteme in which there is no longer any distinction between the political and the social, the private and the public, capitalist exchange relations and non-capitalist relations – it is the flattening of reality to a mere discursive network of domination through the hyper-proliferation of apparatuses of control. Without explicitly acknowledging so, Tiqqun’s premise begins with a disorientation of traditional humanist values and logic, as they argue such beliefs are concomitant with the development of late-capitalism. Therefore, they elucidate an analysis of life within Empire which implicitly draws from what this essay intends to argue is an inherently anti-humanist tradition. By explicitly relying on Michel Foucault’s work on biopower and the development of disciplinary practices, the criticism of rationality and reason by Friedrich Nietzsche, and implying familiarity with Walter Benjamin’s attack against a progressive historicism, Tiqqun’s theoretical position disorients and problematizes values stemming from ‘Enlightened’ thinking. Embedded within Tiqqun’s analysis – and subsequent critique of such humanistic tropes as the formation of the individual, idealism, rationality/reason, and a progressive view of history – is a deeply anti-humanist temperament which unequivocally informs their politics of resistance to Empire.

The Individual

Tiqqun supports its critique of the humanist notion of the ‘individual’ by analyzing the ways in which Empire, through the use of biopower and the Spectacle (in the Debordian sense of the term), produce subjectivities – or, in Foucauldian terms: the process of subjectivation. This concern runs counter to Enlightenment-era thinking in the sense that the humanist tradition starts with the individual as the measure of experience, that fundamental unit, whose ultimate aim prescriptively should be that which allows for ‘individual freedom’ and the fullest expression of individual desire. Tiqqun’s thinking in regards to the formation of the individual and production of its subjectivities stems directly from the anti-humanist tradition. Tiqqun claims that this process of subjectivation finds its point of highest development through biopower, precisely because the biopolitical processes of producing subjectivities function by ‘containing each being within its Self, that is, within his body, in extracting bare life from each form-of-life’.1 It is here, at the point where even essential individual existence – one of the most sacred aspects of humanism – is immediately problematized by its belonging to discursive relationships which effectively dominate it.

Tiqqun posits that the fundamental impetus of Empire is the pacification of ‘civil war’ or put differently, the quelling of ethical intensities. The only response to this pacification is a further intensification of ethical inclinations, not a proliferation of predicates through subjectivation. Thus, this forms a fundamental critique of the way in which the individual is formed as it implicitly argues that the individual is nothing except the conglomeration of a whole set of interconnected predicates, identities, and subjectivities which are entirely mediated by Empire and its apparatuses of control. This is fully in-line with conventional critiques of humanism which argue that the individual, as a fully independent and autonomous construction, simply does not exist and is instead completely mediated by the socio-linguistic/discursive fields of the context the pre-subjectivated body finds itself in.2 Tiqqun claims that Empire’s predilection has been to complicate and obfuscate forms-of-life, and in their place foster and affirm (through apparatuses like biopower) identities instead. They argue that ‘paradoxically, in this civilization that we can no longer claim as our own without consenting to self-liquidation, conjuring away forms-of-life most often appears as a desire for form’.3 Here the affirmation of that which is one’s ‘own’ is actually posited as ‘self-liquidation’ – thus, the further one inscribes themselves in a predicative identity the further one is removed from their fundamental form-of-life.

Identity formation often assumes essentialist rhetoric, as its own logic positions it as a project of recovery – of getting to the foundation of the ontology of the singular individual, what or who it ‘really’ is. Disorienting this essentialist logic, Tiqqun, like the anti-humanist theorists before them, argue that in direct opposition to this way of thinking a project ethically aligned purely and only against the totality of Empire must necessarily entail the assumption of forms-of-life, not further implication within the discourses of imperial domination through the assumption of identities/subjectivities. They argue that ‘actually, to assume a form-of-life is a letting-go, an abandonment. It is at once fall and elevation, a movement and a staying-within-oneself’.4 Here the distinction between ethics and metaphysics becomes more apparent. Abandonment, in this theoretical context, is the ‘letting-go’ of such basic metaphysical questions as ‘what am I?’ or ‘what is the fundamental nature of my being?’

Instead, what is put forth is an ethics of becoming, it recontextualizes all questions of being as questions only concerned with ‘how one is being’. This ‘abandonment’ forms the basis of the negative component to the assumption of a form of life – the ‘fall’. Conversely, the ‘elevation’ within the assumption of a form-of-life – its positive component – is seen through the affirmation of new ethical ways of being which are done in concert with other bodies assuming the same form-of-life. This coming-together of commiserate forms-of-life, ethically aligned in their opposition to all other forms-of-life against them, is communism made immediate.

  1. Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010), p. 86. []
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1989); Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York, 1996). []
  3. Tiqqun, p. 21. []
  4. Tiqqun, p. 21. []

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