Food for critical thinking: Hauke Brunkhorst’s discussion of Europe’s politico-economic crisis.

The intensity and intellectual quality of the German debate on the sequence of crises – financial-, banking- , sovereign debt, etc. – which starting in 2008 has finally led to a Eurocrisis on the brink of a full European crisis, is more than impressive. With authors like Grimm (2012), Habermas (e.g. 2011a, 2011b, 2013a, 2013b) Scharpf (e.g. 2012, 2013, 2014a, 20014b) and Streeck (e.g. 2013, 2014) throwing their full weight – and anger – into the public debate, the Dutch contribution seems rather bleak. And now a new voice is making itself audible, counterpointing the already established lines of arguments: the voice of Hauke Brunkhorst.  May this special issue of Krisis, dedicated to Brunkhorst’s latest publications, at least make up some ground.

In my contribution to this special issue I will concentrate on Brunkhorst’s essay Das doppelte Gesicht Europas – Zwischen Kapitalismus und Demokratie (Brunkhorst 2014a), and more in particular on his diagnosis of, and remedy for, the current European crisis. In addition I will take into account his Clough Lecture (March 13, 2007) – “The Beheading of the Legislative Power – European Constitutionalization between Capitalism and Democracy” – and the version thereof presented as “The Kantian Mindset under Pressure” at a symposium in Maastricht on 30 October 2014. The lecture and the paper differ sometimes from the essay qua emphasis and political suggestions. Yet, as will become clear, my point is not to deliver a critique on (in)consistency. To the contrary, I think it is only a question of interpretational fairness to point out that Brunkhorst has been conscious of different options and directions, and has explored and assessed them at different moments and in different outlets. And it may well be that genuine reflections on the socio-political state of the European Union (EU) inevitably produce the ambivalences, if not sometimes the paradoxes, that incite critical thought.

This contribution will address three issues: two with a more historical flavour – ‘the Kantian mindset at work’ in the late 40s and early 50s, and the ‘victory of ordoliberalism’ -, and, last but not least, the urgent political question of how to counter the hegemony of the austerity politics.

1. The Kantian mindset ‘at work’?

In Das doppelte Gesicht Europas, as well as in the two papers mentioned above, Brunckhorst depicts – rhetorically quite impressively – the second half of the 40s and the early 50s of the twentieth century as an era during which the ‘Kantian mindset’ took its chance. Opposed to the ‘managerial mindset’ with its incrementalist, technocratic inclinations, the Kantian mindset appears as a revolutionary disposition that celebrates the constitutional act by which an autonomous people gives itself its fundamental political and legal institutions as the triumph of democratic emancipation.  The paradigmatic example of the Kantian mindset at work is still the French Revolution.

According to Brunkhorst, this Kantian mindset was also the inner motive of the constitutionalization processes that took place during the second half of the 40s of the twentieth century within the countries that eventually would become the founding members of what nowadays is called the EU. The most intriguing component of this narrative is to be found in Brunkhorst’s emphasis on the cosmopolitan character of these new constitutions and how it pointed in the direction of European collaboration and integration. Except Luxembourg, the five other founding member-states stipulated in and through their constitutions the principle of ‘Völkerrechtsöffentlichkeit’ – the principle that their governments should positively approach each and every opportunity for peaceful international cooperation and the legal regulation thereof.  As Brunkhorst (2014, 23) puts it: “Verfassungsrechtlich entscheidend für die Gründung und Entwicklung der EU ist jedoch gewesen dass sich die Verfassungsgebende Gewalten aller Gründungsmitglieder sich explizit zum Staatsziel der politische Vereinigung Europas bekannt haben.„ (Italics in original).  This parallels Habermas’ diagnosis that the EU presents a new step in the history of the domestication of (potential) state violence, now regarding the violence between states (Cf. Habermas 2011a).  Yet quite interestingly Brunkhorst provides an empirical foundation for this diagnosis.

One may doubt of course whether the German constitution of 1949 represented the foundational act by which the German people gave itself its political and legal institutions; whether this actually was not a dictate of the Allied Forces, with the US in the lead. One may also doubt whether the constitutions of the other founding members really were an expression of the self-legislation of their people, instead of the (compromise) product of negotiations between the leading political elites. Above all, and this is the point here, one may doubt whether there really was such an important link between the principle of ‘Volkerrechtsöffentlichkeit’ and the founding of the EEC.  Historically the EEC was established amidst a lot of other trans- and international forms of cooperation (e.g. the TIR and the OECD) and attempts thereof – even to the point that one may well deem it a miraculous accident that in the end the EU became the paradigm, the most important instance of European cooperation and integration.  And yet, other attempts to establish European cooperation failed. Perhaps the most genuine attempt to establish a European political union, the Paris Treaty, perished in 1954 in the French parliament, notwithstanding the Völkerrechtsoffenheit principle.

One may well adhere to the idea that the process of European integration that set in with the Coal and Steel Community was indeed a new step in the civilization or domestication of state power, and concerns the relations between states. It should indeed be emphasized that European integration encompasses more than just the reconciliation of former arch-enemies France and Germany, and has aspirations beyond its contribution to a seemingly everlasting Pax Europeensis.  From a normative perspective, it is at least as important that in and by the institutionalization of European cooperation  shape has been given to a multilateral form of politics that is ‘incomparably more transparent and subject to public scrutiny and democratic accountability than the secretive, suspicion based bilateral tête-á-têtes of classical (‘diplomatic’) foreign politics’ (Christiansen 1997).

This multilateral supranationalism entails, moreover, the recognition that international law, including the various declarations of human rights, should be respected as being of a higher order than mere national interests and considerations. Accordingly, it involves the recognition of the judicial competences of European and international Courts of Justice, accepting the possibility of citizens and societal associations litigating their own governments. Finally, it means the acknowledgement of a form of international, if not global, politics that is not founded on intimidation and the clash of arms, but on persuasion and collaboration. Yet, seen historically, European multilateralism was not the result of a new outburst of democracy, but the outcome of an ‘elite project’, a project of political, administrative and economic elites.

2. An ordo-liberal victory?

In an article published in 2002 Fritz Scharpf put the counterfactual question of what would have happened if, during the negotiations preceding the Treaty of Rome, the then French Prime Minister Guy Mollet ‘had had his way’ (Scharpf 2002: 645/646). Mollet, a socialist, wanted not only an economically integrated Europe but also a harmonization of the social policies of the EEC member states. But Mollet lost to Germany (and the Netherlands), a defeat that had the lasting effect of a ‘constitutional asymmetry’, an asymmetry embedded in the European Treaties, between economic and social integration. This asymmetry legally privileges economic integration, i.e. the principles and mechanism of a common market, while eventual redistributive European social policies have been given no foothold in the Treaties.

Brunkhorst recast this early history of European integration as a victory of the ordo-liberal discourse over Keynesian and socialist approaches to economic policy, a victory that paved the way for an even more uncompromising neo-liberalism.  Of German origin, ordo-liberalism holds that the state should not interfere in economic life, but should instead guarantee the legal framework for economic competition. As Brunkhorst puts is (2014: 9 and 11) “The first basic idea of Ordoliberalism is: to get markets rid of state control” and “to get rid of democratic legislative control” (italics in original).  Adenauer and his Minister of Economics, Erhard, heavily influenced by ordo-liberal thought, severely defended its economic constitutional consequences until the French gave in. As an ultimate consequence the European Treaties supported from the beginning the primacy of economics over politics.

One could add to these kinds of diagnoses Grimm’s observation that with the Treaty of Rome market-related substantive law – the four freedoms! – acquired a constitutional status, therewith effectively isolating a large part of EU regulatory initiatives from politics and political contention. Certainly, assessments such as the ones by Scharpf, Brunkhort and Grimm do have merits, but seem to cover only a part of the story. It is also a fact that during at least the first twenty years of the history of the EU the most important policy area, and also the policy area that provoked the first serious political crisis, the ‘open chair’ crisis, was agricultural policy. The EEC´s and EC´s agricultural policies were definitely redistributive policies and very much against ordo-liberal principles, exactly like the introduction of the Structural Funds (1975) and the Cohesion Fund (1993). How could this be? How could the EU´s  agricultural policy be the most important and politically sensitive area during the first twenty years of EU integration if the theses of an ordo-liberal victory or of a constitutional asymmetry are valid? Why would we have EU environmental policies and food and feed safety regulations with their inevitable redistributive effects? Is this Mr. Jekyll´s immediate revenge? That would be nothing but a philosophical, if not metaphorical, re-description of factual history, but not an explanation.

The point is that generic assessments of the European integration process, such as those of Scharpf, Brunkhorst and Grimm, have the effect of almost a priori excluding important questions, such as: under which conditions does European politics and policy-making find itself forced to redress the subjection of politics by economics, to break through the ‘constitutional’ asymmetry between economic integration and social integration? For example, does the current sovereign debt/Euro-crisis present such a political opportunity for countering the discourse and practice of ordo/neo-liberalism?

3. How to counter the neoliberal inspired austerity policies?

Confronting the austerity policies as the EU and IMF’s answer to the sovereign debts crises of Ireland, then Greece, Spain, and Portugal, Habermas committed to an interviewer in 2009 that “what worries me most is the scandalous social injustice that the most vulnerable social groups will have to bear the brunt of the socialized costs for the market failure”(Habermas 2009). This anger concerning the fate inflicted upon those who never had a part in the licentious festival of international financial speculators also infuses Brunkhorst’s engagement with the political-economic approach the (so-called) Troika deems the only beatific recipe for states suffering from a sovereign debt crisis: harsh cuts in state expenditures, not least when it comes to social security and pensions, and a liberalization of the labour market – get rid of labour rights! Yet, how to counter these neo-liberal recipes – or: how to restore, beginning with Europe, the primacy of politics over the globalised world of financial capital?

In “The Beheading of the Legislative Power – European Constitutionalization between Capitalism and Democracy” – and in “The Kantian Mindset under Pressure” Brunkhorst pays due respect to the option of an enhanced democratization of EU policy-making. However, in Das doppelte Gesicht Europas – Zwischen Kapitalismus und Demokratie he places his bet on the emergence of a trans-European labour movement, under the banner of a  Transnationalisierung des demokratischen Klassenkampfes.  Yet there are some compelling reasons for not being very optimistic about a timely arrival of a transnational rally of trade unions that will lead the democratic class struggle against the hegemony of financial capital. In most EU countries trade union membership is declining, sectoral fragmentation serving particularistic interests is predominant, and it is very difficult to detect at the domestic level signs of a transnational, let alone a global, solidarity with the deprived of other countries. The Dutch trade unions were very much against Commissioner Bolkestein´s ‘services directive’ fearing a tidal wave of Polish plumbers. The German trade unions serve the employed, but don’t care much about the unemployed. If we look at the Southern Member States and resistance against austerity politics we see that the Greek trade unions did not align with the street protests, and, as a consequence or not, strikers in the public transport sector easily fell victim to the criminalization tactics of the Greek Government. In Spain the ideological fragmentation of the trade unions pre-empted a unitary front and certainly did not lead to a mass movement. Only in Portugal were the trade unions able to block some austerity measures, but interestingly enough only with the support of Portugal’s highest court of justice. Surely there are transnational European labour federations like the ETUC (European Trade Unions Confederation) or ETUCE (European Trade Union Committee for Education). Did we hear much of ETUC or ETUCE during the last years – were they at the front in organizing a Europe-wide class struggle against austerity politics? These are of course rhetorical questions.

Why this trust in the labour movement, why not more trust in the parlementarization of Europe? Besides the ever-growing competences of the European Parliament (EP) – since the Lisbon Treaty the EP is almost on a par with the Council of the European Union as a co-legislator –  with the last European elections an interesting precedent has been established: from the start the European Parliament had insisted that the leader of the winning European party group should also become the President of the European Commission (EC) – and so it happened. Since the EC has the almost exclusive right of legislative initiative this means that for the first time European elections gave the European citizen the opportunity to influence the policy agenda of the next five years to come.

Moreover, we know from the studies of, for example, Marks and Steenbergen (2002) and of Hix and his collaborators (Hix, Noury and Roland 2005, 2006), that the classical left-right cleavage also dominates the voting behaviour in the EP, and, further, that from the first directly elected EP onwards every new EP has shown that the internal cohesion of the party groups in terms of the voting behaviour of their members has become stronger and stronger. In fact the big party groups of the EU resemble pretty much the parties operating in the national parliaments when it comes to voting discipline. The question is of course whether these tendencies will also prevail when it is about specific solutions for the Eurocrisis. 

If we limit ourselves here to the debates in the EP between the first financial relief to Greece (Spring 2010) and the signing of the Fiscal Compact (March 2012) it can be observed that members of the European Peoples Party (EPP) – let us say: the European Christian Democrats and Conservatives – endorse the austerity discourse, also when they come from the southern member states.   For example, during the EP debate on the 19th June 2010 the Portuguese EPP member Paolo Rangel stated: “while we are supporting the austerity measures, we would also criticize the Portuguese Government … because it is not cutting spending. To reduce the deficit, it is essential not just to increase taxes but also to cut spending …” (Rangel 2010). During the same debate Theodoros Skylakakis, a Greek representative and also a member of the EPP fulminated: “Why are we in this situation? The main reason is that we have spent beyond our means and run up credit. We spent when there was no crisis, we spent during the crisis, and we are spending now on our way out of the crisis. Anyone who wants to learn what happens when you consistently spend more than you have just needs to come to Greece” (Skylarakis 2010).

Members of the European Social Democrats and the European Greens endorse an anti-neoliberal discourse also when they come from donor countries. For example, the German Rebecca Harms, a member of the Greens, emphasizes the role of the financial sector in the emergence and continuation of the Euro crisis and the need to find a European answer to it: “we believe that there should be a ban on toxic assets and short selling throughout the EU, that hedge funds should be kept under very tight control, and that we must stop talking about introducing a tax on financial transactions and finally do something about it” (Harms 2010). For Martin Schulz, a German and leader of the Social Democrats in the EP, the cause of the crisis is also clear: run amok bankers and financial speculators: “This economic system has taken us into the deepest financial, economic and employment crisis and the deepest crisis in the morality and legitimacy of the institutions since the end of the Second World War. The system is wrong. It is to a certain extent, immoral, and it is also warped” (Schulz 2010).

What does this tell us? Although there is no European ‘demos’ yet, the last decades have witnessed the emergence of political-ideologically motivated transnational collectives in the form of European political families and, more in particular, of the party groups in the EP of which the dominant groups commit themselves unconditionally to the rules of the democratic, majoritarian game. This, together with the already immensely increased power of the EP, seems to indicate a more viable route towards restoring the primacy of politics over economy than waiting for the resurgence of a Europe-wide labour movement.

4. By way of concluding

In all probability Brunkhorst’s reflections on the crooked path of European integration will not be to the taste of those EU scholars who have yielded to the growing dominance of the positivist school in political science and its preference for ever-more-sophisticated statistical analysis. Certainly, now and then there are reasons to criticize Brunkhorst’s approach and findings – as I have tried myself in this article, though admittedly in a rather ad hoc and sketchy manner. Yet, whereas positivist political scientists are starting to complain that no one is reading their (indeed indecipherable) books and articles anymore, except congenial colleagues, Brunkhorst’s writings have the literary and philosophical quality that may rouse an audience much wider than that of his scholarly colleagues. Reminiscent of the German school of ‘Critical Theory’ it seems that the thrust of essays like Das doppelte Gesicht Europas is to provoke critical debate and reflection, rather than claiming to provide ultimate empirical truths which are unquestionable because of the impeccable method by which they were produced.

Cosmopolitanism & Negation: Hauke Brunkhorst’s Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions


Before the law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. “It is possible,” says the doorkeeper, “but not at the moment.”

– Franz Kafka, Before the Law

These lines introduce a theme that repeats itself throughout Kafka’s parable: the man from the country asks admittance to the law, demonstrating his desire through obedience and submission and patience, even going so far as to bribe the doorkeeper. Yet, the man is repeatedly told that he cannot enter—perhaps tomorrow, but not today. The man dies waiting and the last thing he sees is the door of the Law being closed. The easiest way to interpret this parable is to lament the cruel fate of man from the country and to empathize with his feelings and actions towards the law: ‘the Law, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper…he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission to enter.’ Joyce Carol Oates writes that it is a typical Kafkan irony, ‘the gateway is the means of salvation, yet it is also inaccessible’ (Oates 1983, xii). Cornelia Vismann (2008) makes a similar remark on this irony, ‘lured by a law that is unreadable, delayed by a judgment that fails to appear—this is how entry to the law appears (Vismann 2008, 15). But Vismann goes further, recognizing that Kafka’s parable is a forceful reminder that prior to anything resembling rights or norms, ‘questions of law are reduced to questions of access’ (Vismann 2008, 16). Only a privileged few know the law in any way other than inaccessibility.

Hauke Brunkhorst’s Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions (2014) is a less pessimistic take on Kafka’s parable. In the tradition of critical theorists like Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and Jürgen Habermas, Brunkhorst’s theory is critical in its contention that legal concepts such as human rights or equality can be used to negate existing reality in light of realistic and rational potentials. Brunkhorst certainly recognizes that the law, for many people, is nothing more than endless administration built on promises of rights and dignities that are routinely denied, despite the willing supplication of those who wish to have access the law. But he argues that this bureaucratic nightmare is inseparable from the emancipatory potentials of the law. Both legalized oppression and legalized emancipation from oppression co-exist in a dialectical unity, bounded by constitutions that all humans and institutions are subject to. Brunkhorst’s critical history of legal revolutions theory traces this dialectical tension between the law as emancipation and the everyday administrative activities of legal practice. He defines this as a dialectic between the ‘Kantian mindset’ (emancipation) and the ‘managerial mindset’ (differentiation and instrumentalization) and he presents examples of these mindsets that correspond with what he identifies as the great legal revolutions othat make up modernity: the Papal revolution (1074-1170), the Protestant revolution (1517-1650), the Atlantic World revolution (1750-1830), and the Egalitarian World revolution (1917-1951). Take, for instance, his description of the evolution of legal rights that followed the French and American Revolutions:

“Once the Kantian Mindset had triumphed and ‘we the people’ were declared to be sovereign and endowed with inalienable rights, the managerial mindset implemented the Kantian mindset and immediately restricted the suffrage of the new sovereign to those of its members who were property holders, and reduced the long lists of human and civic rights to property rights” (Brunkhorst 2014, 253).

Brunkhorst traces this dialectic across a millennium of socio-cultural-economic legal history: the Kantian mindset inaugurates legal revolutions that extends the scope and applicability of human rights only to be interpreted and implemented by a managerial mindset that uses these rights to further administer and entrench class domination.

For Brunkhorst, the law is everything. It is co-original with modernity (which began in the eleventh century). It is the framework through which the affirmation and negation of modern society is possible—the law ‘always already is.’ Foregoing the tradition of Roman law, he confines his idea of the law to the characteristics of the legal codes and Canonical law that emerged with the Papal revolution in the eleventh century.[1] It was here that the law began to take on those features that made it distinctly modern, specifically the idea of law as a body of codes and rules that is independent of the crown, church, and feudal lords. ‘The office of the king was now explicitly separated from his person…the turn from a ruler who keeps order in his family-like state to the idea of an independent legal and constitutional order that has to be preserved by the ruler’ (Brunkhorst 2014, 98). Compare this with Roman law, which Brunkhorst writes cannot be considered modern because it was no more than a legal order. Roman law ‘had developed only a sophisticated order of legal concepts, but no concept of a concept of law. Only with a “concept of a concept” (Hegel) is a system reflexively closed. A legal system is not the same as a legal order. There was no legal system prior to the eleventh and twelfth century’ (Brunkhorst 2014, 94). Legalized differentiation and rationalization became possible in the eleventh century and after this point the law could be interpreted and administered in such a way that it enabled the formation of autonomous institutions that were bound by legal codes (universities, guilds, cities).

As a sociologically inclined critical theorist, lineages can be identified between Brunkhorst and like minded theorists, most notably Jürgen Habermas. There are also resonances with Max Weber (it is inevitable that any theorist who writes about the Protestant revolution will be compared with Weber), Martin Heidegger, and first-generation Frankfurt School writers like Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer. However, I found that the closest comparison with Brunkhorst’s work does not come from the pantheon of great German social theorists, but rather from the American philosopher and historian of science Thomas Kuhn. The legal revolutions that Brunkhorst describes have affinities with Kuhn’s (1962) scientific revolutions. Both the law and science, in the work of these writers, are subject to the similar processes of stability and revolutionary change. For Kuhn, scientists work within paradigms that provide them with a worldview; paradigms define what the world consists of and the questions that can be asked of this world. Over time, anomalies appear that problematize the fundamental assumptions of paradigms, which can lead to crisis, revolution, and the development of a new paradigm. Compare this with Brunkhorst’s description of the crisis that precipitated the revolutionary spirit of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries:

“The constitutional revolution was caused by the global crisis of the eighteenth century, which lasted from 1720 to 1820…Everywhere in Eurasia and America, a need for reform and ‘modernization’ arose, due to the growing financial pressure on government which primarily was caused by bigger and better trained armies and more expensive military technologies. At the same time, economic productivity could not balance the steadily growing costs anywhere…The fiscal crisis of government became structural. It finally resulted in a crisis of motivation. The reluctance of the landed gentry, merchants, and common men to pay taxes and duties and to give away their sons as soldiers was answered with more oppression and despotism which, in a vicious circle, caused growing disloyalty, popular riots, peasant insurgencies, civil wars, and finally, revolution…Growing protest was intellectually shaped by the successive global dissemination of egalitarian ideologies. In particular, in societies with a legal system that already included  universal subjective private and political rights of a certain degree, the exacerbation of the fiscal, motivational and rationality crises increased the likelihood of a legitimation crisis of the whole societal system of old Eurasia dramatically” (Brunkhorst 2014, 238).

In Burnkhorst’s history, the legal paradigm that had ordered the socio-cultural-economic world had begun to become unraveled by inevitable and unpredictable instabilities (anomalies) that led to crises that, in turn, led to the Atlantic World legal revolution. Just as ‘good science’ necessarily follows the path of paradigm-normal science-anomaly-crisis-revolution, for the law to be modern it has to undergo periodic revolutionary punctuations that open up new articulations of what can be legal rights and norms. However, the similarities between these two theorists of revolutionary change end if we consider their attitudes towards revolutionary change and evolutionary change. For Kuhn, paradigms are incommensurable with each other, both historically and across different scientific disciplines. Paradigms are discrete entities that can be studied and examined as worlds unto themselves. There is no continuity. For Brunkhorst, the history of legal revolutions is evolutionary; legal revolutions open up different iterations of evolutionary universals that, although not identical, can be found across the different epochs of modern law. Constitutionalism is one such evolutionary universal. Constitutionalism is the legal core of the normative constraints established by legal revolutions and implemented in the legal and constitutional systems of modern society. Thus, constitutionalism is the universal through which the dialect of modern law is expressed; for law to be modern, meaning that it contains the contradictory unity of managerial and Kantian mindsets, it has to be constitutional (Brunkhorst 2014, 57). 

Legal revolutions also trigger ‘evolutionary universals’ that work as normative universals within specific constitutional mindsets. These normative universals provide a conceptual framework and direction through which the Kantian and managerial mindsets can be realized. Brunkhorst identifies cosmopolitanism as one of these normative evolutionary universals. Cosmopolitanism, as a normative universal, predates the creation of modern law by more 1000 years. Brunkhorst writes the during Axial Age (800 BC – 200 BC), monotheistic religions endowed the Greek idea of cosmopolis ‘with the norm of universal individual equality and equal freedom for each human being,’ which ‘allowed even early Axial age cosmopolitanism to offer a radical criticism of the existing political order’ (Brunkhorst 2014, 69). This transcendent realm of egalitarianism was internalized and projected as an immanent reality against which lived reality could be critiqued. Thus, an idea of cosmopolitanism provides the conditions through which communicative negation and normative learning processes can occur.

For Brunkhorst, a Kantian notion of cosmopolitanism serves as a critical concept against which existing ideas of universalism (global capitalism, for example) can be critiqued. His evolutionary history of the legalization of cosmopolitanism reveals a dialectical tension between the universalization of human rights and the reification of abstract universal entities like property, imperialism, and capital. During the Papal Revolution, universal monotheistic cosmopolitan ideals were expressed in the ‘unique legal implementation of the most basic theological assumption of Christianity, namely that all human beings are created equally and equipped with equal and unalienable dignity’ (Brunkhorst 2014, 103). During the protestant revolution, cosmopolitan ideas of equality were extended beyond Europe to account for all people. The egalitarian idea that all humans have the right to have rights enabled a radical critical perspective, ‘the political and social radicalization of the revolution of the common man transcended the horizon of local and particular injustice. It was no longer directed against oppression by a certain particular ruler…but against any oppressive ruler…using general concepts, the insurgents universalized the critical negativity of the revolution’ (Brunkhorst 2014, 180). The dialectical darkside of this iteration of cosmopolitanism became implemented and stabilized as a property-oriented regime of class domination, leading to the universal legalization, and hence normalization, of possessive individualism. During the Atlantic Revolution, cosmopolitan legal rights led to an idea of law that balanced universal equality with popular sovereignty: The managerial mindset of this was, as mentioned previously, the transfer of human and civic rights to the exclusive purview of property rights. These examples highlight the rational, and utopian, aspects of cosmopolitanism against universalizing systems intended to entrench class division through economic and legal differentiation.

The temporal and geographical scope of Brunkhorst’s book is an open invitation for reflection and critique upon his ideas. In what follows I take up this invitation by first, subjecting Brunkhorst’s historical insights against a perspective taken from media history, asking what, if any, role is afforded to media of communication in his critical theory of legal revolutions. Second, I want to move away from asking how existing fields of study can be integrated into Brunkhorst’s theory and explore how ideas from this theory can potentially benefit existing fields of study. To this end, I will conclude this short review by exploring how cosmopolitanism, as a critical concept, can contribute to a critical philosophy of technology.

The Materiality of the Law & A Cosmopolitan Critical Theory of Technology

The ‘significant’ issues that Brunkhorst describes in his book are immaterial: rights, norms, emancipation, managerial and Kantian mindsets, etc. All of these are considered to be distinct from material objects. The most notable technology that is referred to is the printing press, which is presented as an important tool for encouraging and disseminating the ideas of the Protestant revolution. ‘The polemic against scholasticism was reinforced by the unleashing of the communicative power of the printing press’ (Brunkhorst 2014, 160); “the reformation…was an urban movement, and based on the communicative use of the printing press. The Protestants were the party of the new media” (Brunkhorst 2014, 175). At worst, this take on the printing press can be interpreted as an all too familiar triumphant history in which communication media leads social progress (the empty rhetoric that digital media, for example, are spreading democracy is a variation of this deterministic history). At best, Brunkhorst’s take on the printing press is an avoidance of the deeply intertwined nature of media of communication and legal revolutions by assuming that the printing press is a neutral medium. Against this, one could argue that the printing press was not merely a neutral medium in the service of legal revolutions, but rather that the Protestant/legal revolution was a consequence of the uniformity, repeatability, and the individualized fixed point of view that emerged alongside the printing press. To put it another way, Protestantism, as the basis of a total legal revolution, was a media phenomenon, impossible without the printing press.

An attention to media of communication as an integral dimension of the legal history that Brunkhorst explores can highlight how, a priori, the law is media. This is the perspective taken by media historian Harold Innis (1894-1952). If, for Brunkhorst, the law is everything, for Innis media of communication are everything; it is impossible to think or write or communicate from a position outside of media. Innis developed his media history through a re-thinking of the history of the great empires that make up world history (like Brunkhorst, Innis’s ambitions are not bounded to a single case study). By concentrating on the relationship between the institutions of an empire (government, religion, education, law) and the dominant media used by these institutions, Innis was able to explain how empires are able to endure. Innis explained this by arguing that media are biased towards the dissemination of knowledge through time or across space. Empires are able to endure across time through the use of durable media like stone or architecture and they are able to spread across space through lighter (and more ephemeral) media like paper or digital code. Empires emerge and expand when a balance has been struck between space and time biased media: 

“Concentration on a medium of communication implies a bias in the cultural development of the civilization concerned either towards an emphasis on space and political organization or an emphasis on time and religious organization. Introduction of a second medium tends to check the bias of the first and creates conditions suited to the growth of empire” (Innis 1972 [1950], 170).

Innis uses the two Christian empires that followed the decline Roman Empire as examples of this. In the East,

“The Byzantine Empire developed on the basis of a compromise between organization reflecting the bias of different media: that of papyrus in the development of an imperial bureaucracy in relation to a vast area and that of parchment in the development of an ecclesiastical hierarchy in relation to time” (Innis 1972 [1950], 115).

And in the West, the growth of monasticism ensured that the spatial monopoly of the Roman Empire was checked by the temporal bias of the parchment codex:

“The bureaucratic development of the Roman Empire and success in solving problems of administration over vast areas were dependent on supplies of papyrus…the problem of the Roman Empire in relation to time was solved by the support of religion in the Christian church. The cumulative bias of papyrus in relation to bureaucratic administration was offset by an appeal to parchment as a medium for a powerful religious organization” (Innis 1991 [1951], 48-49).

The Christian empire that endured from the fall of the Roman Empire until Protestantism was the result of a successful balance between space-biased media (papyrus) and time biased media (parchment codex), a balance that was were well suited to the demands of organization and control across space and time.

Following Brunkhorst, the Christian empire that developed out of the Papal revolution was, in part, the result of an infrastructure of monasteries in Western Europe that enabled the administration of this legal revolution. These monasteries, foremost amongst them the monasteries of the Cluny, were reform minded, “obsessed by the idea of law, the idea of justice, the reform of this world and salvation through law” (Brunkhorst 2014, 110). This mission could only be justified through law, which led reform-minded monks to frantically search for a specific text, “a copy of Justinian’s Corpus Juris Romani—a collection of Roman civil law arranged according to certain groups of legal textbooks… They finally found a copy in a library in Pisa in 1050, 25 years before the outbreak of the revolution” (Brunkhorst 2014, 111). For Brunkhorst, it is the content of this book that contributed to a legal revolution and its subsequent empire. He says nothing concerning the form of this text and how this form contributed to the revolutions that he attributes to its content. Following Innis, we can assume that the form of this text was parchment codex, and as such was uniquely suited to interpretation and legal revolutions. “The durability of parchment and the convenience of the codex for reference made it particularly suitable for the large books typical of scripture and legal works. In turn the difficulties of copying a large book limited the numbers produced. Small libraries with a small number of large books could be established over large areas” (Innis 1991 [1951], 48). The parchment codex was replaced by paper and the printing press, which because of its spatial bias, enabled a different type of legal revolution to take hold.

The preceding was not meant to imply that Innis or any other media theorist should be used to re-interpret Brunkhorst’s legal revolutions as media-legal revolutions. Rather, my intent is to highlight how an attention to media of communication can strengthen the historical narrative that Brunkhorst develops in his book. To conclude, I want to maintain my focus on materiality through an exploration of how ideas borrowed from Brunkhorst can open up new directions in the critical philosophy of technology.

The starting point for a serious critical philosophy of technology begins with Herbert Marcuse who examined how the technological infrastructure of modern industrial society produces the wants and needs of that society. The cost of maintaining and fulfilling these needs is quite high: unnecessary competition for dreary and unsatisfying jobs that provide us with the resources to buy things, a throw away culture premised on planned obsolescence and waste, and an attitude towards environmental degradation that is appalling. Marcuse’s solution to this problem was quite ambiguous—he hypothesized that the logic of art and aesthetics could serve the same purpose that the technocratic rationality of calculation and efficiency serve; a model premised on the Greek concept of techné. In the decades that have followed Marcuse, critical theorists have largely abandoned Marcuse’s more essentialist takes on technology and have argued that a critical theory of technology should aim towards the democratization of technical design (Bijker 1995; Feenberg 1999). The empirical study of technological design has revealed that design is culturally and historically contingent. Democracy, in this framework, is a concept through which the negation of technological society can occur by pointing to workable designs that better reflect humanistic and environmental goals instead of profit and exploitation.

The democratization of technological design is a fruitful base from which a critical theory of technological society can be articulated. However, I think that democracy should not be limited to technical design. A focus on technological design is very much the privilege of an engineering culture largely located in the global West while outsourced manufacturing processes, not to mention outsourced disposal processes, tend to remain out of sight and out of mind. Design may be democratized, but production and consumption are not. As historian David Edgerton (2006) writes, a focus on design is part of an ‘innovation-centric’ theory that is very much the purview of a view of technology familiar from books written for ‘boys of all ages’ that fetishize invention and innovation at the expense of a more a more global view of technology that is not ideologically oriented towards the West’s fascination with innovation. A focus on design tends to reify innovation as a permanent part of technological society, regardless of the necessity of innovation.

Following Brunkhorst, dialectical cosmopolitanism could be used to better understand the universalizing tendencies of technological society. The dreams of a global technology that could enable, for example, a truly global sense of communication and community needs to be balanced with the reality of a global division of labour that enables the universalizing dreams of techno-enthusiasts to be limited to the global West. This is a sort-of democratic cosmopolitanism that would give equal value to the perspectives and needs of those who build our technologies as is given to those who design technology.

Articulating an idea of what Critical Theory is and what the task of Critical Theory is has been the impetus for many treatises, including Dialectic of Enlightenment, One-Dimensional Man, Negative Dialectics, and The Theory of Communicative Action. It would be premature to add Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions to this list, but it is written in the same spirit as these texts and as such contains the potential to make significant contributions to the development of Critical Theory in the twenty-first century. A good book is always the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. Following this dictum, Brunkhorst has written a very good book. The turn to cosmopolitanism as a critical concept to better understand the history of modern law opens up interesting possibilities for other types of critical theory. In particular, a critical philosophy of technology informed by dialectical cosmopolitan opens up new potentials for a truly global critical philosophy of technology.


The assymmetries of Hauke Brunkhorst’s critical theory

Hauke Brunkhorst explicitly places himself in the tradition of critical theory (Brunkhorst 2014a; 2014b). He wants to contribute to a critical theory of the world society. This means that he not only intends to develop ideas that are helpful for explaining all sorts of phenomena in the world society, but also for delivering the intellectual tools to criticize the status quo. For his ideas about phenomena in the world society he mainly appeals to sociology, and for his critique to philosophy. Nevertheless, he also elegantly integrates the research results from many other disciplines in his critical theory. Even though he focuses in his thought-provoking book Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions on the development of law, he presents in it fruitful concepts for a more general critical theory of the world society.

It is the emancipatory claim of such a theory that makes of it a critical theory. A theory of the world society should help “to overthrow all those conditions in which man is an abased, enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being” (Marx 1974, 385). Philosophers should make explicit the ‚sense of injustice‘ of these people and reflect upon it. On being asked, philosophers must be able to justify why one should speak in a specific case about injustice.  Often they advocate an egalitarianism that pleads for the removal of inequalities among people that cannot be justified.

In addition to this more normative enterprise, it is also important to describe as well as explain phenomena of the contemporary world society, such as the growing gap between rich and poor, environmental pollution, and all kinds of fundamentalism. Like Michel Foucault, Brunkhorst envisages a history of the present: historical research as a means of critical engagement with contemporary issues (Foucault 1977, 31). If one wants to understand and change the status quo one should understand what has made the world society what it is, especially when the possibilities and limitations of emancipation are to be be explored. To this end, Brunkhorst rightly appeals to an evolutionary perspective.

He distinguishes social evolution from natural evolution. The development of social evolution is a matter of communication. Communicative negations fill the variety-pool of evolution. As Niklas Luhmann puts it: “Variation is triggered…by communication that refutes or rejects communicative propositions….The refutation contradicts the expectation of acceptance. It contradicts the tacit consent that everything continues ‘as always’. All variation therefore is contradiction as disagreement, that is, not in the logical sense of contradiction, but in the original dialogical sense” (quoted in Brunkhorst 2014a, 15-16). According to Brunkhorst the growth of variation induced by communicative negation is based on “the game of giving and asking for reasons” (Sellars).

This evolution has two temporalities: gradual and revolutionary change. After a revolution things are radically different. One of the main theses of Brunkhorst’s book is that legal revolutions are crucial breaking-points in history. After every legal revolution the base-level is completely different. So, revolutions should be conceived as a specific kind of evolutionary process. The development of productive forces and class struggles are the two driving forces of evolution. Brunkhorst points out “class struggles are not just the midwife of the unleashing of all productive forces of society, but also the power engine of normative and moral learning processes which sometimes lead to the revolutionary institutionalization of a new constitutional order” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 7).

In my comments on Brunkhorst’s challenging book, I will focus on learning processes, the so-called agent-structure problem and the distinction between system and lifeworld. I will argue that his critical theory suffers from three asymmetries that need to be overcome. First of all there is an asymmetry between cognitive and normative learning processes. Secondly, when it comes to the explanation of social evolution Brunkhorst treats agency and structure in an asymmetrical way. Thirdly, his critical theory struggles with an asymmetry between system and lifeworld.

1. Cognitive and normative learning processes

One of the presuppositions of scholars like Brunkhorst who operate with the concept of learning processes is that one cannot not learn. However, in Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions he elaborates much more on normative than on cognitive learning processes. According to him “normative learning processes are specific kinds of evolutionary developments which not only proceed automatically as blind natural occurrences (naturwüchsig), but also express and perform our plans, intentions and ideas” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 9). Brunkhorst acknowledges that there are also cognitive learning processes, but seems to reserve this concept mainly to autopoietic systems. He perceives these self-referential systems as learning systems (Brunhorst 2014a, 55). It is remarkable that he gives the normative learning process a positive connotation and seems to limit the role of the cognitive learning process to a corrective force: “It needed heroism and costumes, the ‘conjuring up of the dead of world history’ to perform the normative learning process of the revolutionary social classes. But then, the cognitive learning process of the social systems corrected the revolutionary dreams” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 318).

Because Brunkhorst pays so much attention to the development of law, it is obvious that he considers normative learning processes to be more important than cognitive learning processes. But the unintended consequence of this is that he presents a distorted view of the evolution of the world society. This comes to light in the way he treats the history of science, especially the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century.

With regard to the history of science many scholars still make a distinction between an internalist and an externalist approach (Nauta 1979; Elkana 1986). According to the internalist approach the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century should be seen as a cognitive transformation of the endogenous development of science. For instance, Eduard Jan Dijksterhuis explained this transformation in terms of the mechanization of the world picture (Dijksterhuis 1950). According to the externalist approach cultural and economic factors are decisive when it comes to the explanation of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century. Robert Merton, for instance, elaborated on the influence of the protestant ethic and economic interests on the development of science at that time (Merton 1938).

Like Merton, Brunkhorst has an externalist approach. Both emphasize the impact of Protestantism on the emergence of modern science. Brunkhorst asserts: “Like the Papal Revolution, the Protestant Revolution was accompanied by a veritable scientific revolution. (…) Even if Protestantism is not indispensable for the emergence of modern science, it caused the strongest push, particularly towards the organization of science as a corporative endeavour. No doubt the specific combination and reciprocal reinforcement of science and Protestantism has accelerated the evolution of modern society considerably. Not only the rise of a Protestant work ethic together with the class interest of the rising class of merchants explains the affinity of Protestantism to the new sciences, but also and even more so, the theologically motivated interest in legal studies. There were very close links ‘between law and the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century’. (…) The logical method of reaching general statements for scientists was inductive, not deductive inference. Against Bacon and Descartes, the new empirical scientists considered the experimental method the only one which could reach ‘moral’ certainty: that is, not absolute truth, but at best a high degree of probability. (…) What for the scientist was probable truth, for the lawyers was a judgement without reasonable doubt” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 168-169). By arguing like this, the scientific revolution becomes obscured by the protestant revolution. In addition, it is suggested that normative learning processes have paved the way for cognitive learning processes. That is the reason Brunkhorst doesn’t do justice to the particular character of the scientific revolution: the introduction of the experiment by Robert Boyle and the institutionalization of science.

The experiment, conceptualized by Francis Bacon and especially applied by Boyle, is one of the most important characteristic features that distinguishes modern science from classical Aristotelian science (Zilsel 1976; Franklin 1986; Hacking 1989). Assuming that scientific knowledge should be based on sensory perceptions, the experiment is the attempt to acquire them actively. Modern science assumes that the experimental practice leads to better sensory perceptions than the classical Aristotelean science that is based on the passive observation of nature. The experimental practice consists of keeping some factors that are relevant with regard to the object of research constant, and to vary other factors that are also relevant. Instead of only a passive observation of nature, knowledge of nature is actively acquired through the use of material resources (laboratories, telescopes, etc.). Brunkhorst is wrong when he claims that “the experimental study of nature was an important aspect of a Protestant’s methodical conduct of life” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 170). Apart from the fact that he remains silent about the precise mediation between the two, science and technology studies show that his externalist approach cannot explain why the experimental practice became successful in the seventeenth century and left its stamp on science to this day. According to Brunkhorst the social context (reduced to ‘a Protestant’s methodical conduct of life’) explains the scientific innovation (‘the experimental study of nature’). He assumes a priori an inside and outside of science that de facto is the result of the demarcation of science from non-science Boyle and others initiated (Gieryn 1983). Shapin and Schaffer show in Leviathan and the Air-Pump how they created space for their experimental practice. Boyle cum suis decoupled normative issues from cognitive issues in order to bring to light matters of fact (Shapin and Schaffer 1985). For Shapin and Schaffer the distinction between an inside and outside of science is not the basis of the explanans, but the explanandum. The seventeenth-century scientific revolution involved the differentiation of science and other social spheres. Because the difference between an inside and outside of science came into being at that time, one cannot present retrospective external factors for explaining the introduction of the experiment.

As a result of the institutionalization of science a subsystem arose with its own norms of action and a special organizational structure (Van den Daele 1977, 134-135). The foundation of the Royal Society (1662) in England and the Académie des Sciences (1666) in France were crucial for the institutionalization of science. This could only be legitimized by the demarcation of these institutes from politics, religion and morality. In his draft for the statutes of the Royal Society Robert Hooke underlines: “The Business and Design of the Royal Society is: To improve the knowledge of natural things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanic practices, Engines and Inventions but Experiments – (not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Morals, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetoric, or Logic)” (quoted in Mendelsohn 1993, 29).

The introduction of the experiment and the institutionalization of modern science imply that cognitive constraints arose with respect to political and moral issues. Since the scientific revolution the effort is to keep politics and morality as far as possible outside science. Because of the relative autonomy of science and the introduction of the experiment the truth-claims of scientists achieved  a status that challenges third parties, in particular the representatives of the church (Artigas, Glick and Martínez 2006; Livingstone 2014). For instance, Darwin’s theory of evolution soon became a cognitive constraint for the truth claims that underlie the Creation story defended by Christians. There is no god that delivered all living creatures ready-made on earth, because they are constantly changing. Darwin undermines the cognitive claim that underlies the so-called argument from intelligent design. In order to explain the complexity of living creatures it is not necessary to rely on an intelligent supreme being. That Darwin’s theory of evolution is a cognitive constraint is also proved by the fact that the ideas of the so-called creationists didn’t become part of the curriculum of secondary schools and universities. Before Darwin’s theory of evolution became widely accepted many allies had to be mobilized to support his cognitive claims. As his theory of evolution became accepted by more and more people it became increasingly a cognitive constraint for cognitive as well as normative claims that are incompatible with this theory. The discussion concerning creationism shows that the cognitive constraint that Darwin created has also moral implications (Kitcher 2009).

Because of the asymmetric treatment of normative and cognitive learning processes, Brunkhorst gives much attention to normative constraints and hardly any to cognitive constraints. He asserts normative constraints channel social evolution. But social evolution is also channelled by cognitive constraints. In a world society where science and technology belong to the main production forces, cognitive constraints refer to limits set by broadly accepted truth-claims. Just as normative constraints they can be direction-givers of the social evolution.

With regard to social evolution Brunkhorst fails to develop a dialectical perspective on the relationship between cognitive and normative learning processes, is and ought, facts and values, cognitive and normative constraints. Such a dialectical perspective examines how actors in the course of history associate or dissociate cognitive and normative claims and try to strengthen those claims by mobilizing allies (Gabriëls 2001, 177-181). In order to investigate historical transformations one has to consider the impact value-driven critique has on reality (association) as well as the fact that in many cases values are so detached from reality that they sound odd, as if coming from a priest (dissociation). Whether the gap between is and ought encourages actors to change the status quo or leads to resignation cannot be said a priori. To investigate the possibilities for such a change, it is not only the perspective of actors that has to be taken into account, but also the tension between is and ought has to be examined in the light of what is structurally possible.

2. Agency and structure

One cannot say that Brunkhorst doesn’t address the so-called agent-structure problem (Giddens 1984; Wendt 1987). He acknowledges that individuals are free agents who create and change structures that at the same time limit their actions. Structures are both limits and outcomes of actions. The theoretical framework with which Brunkhorst conceives the agent-structure problem reminds me of the distinction Habermas made between the developmental logic (Entwicklungslogik) and developmental dynamic (Entwicklungsdynamik) in history (Habermas 1976, 12 and 154).  The developmental logic sets the way the game has to be played. Brunkhorst argues that after every legal revolution the game has to be played differently, because the path-dependencies are not the same as before. The developmental dynamic is all about contingent realisations of possibilities given by the logic, i.e. within the framework given by some normative constraints. Marx would say that the developmental logic as well as the developmental dynamic is the outcome of the transformation of the forces of production and class struggles.

My point is that when it comes to the explanation of social evolution Brunkhorst treats agency and structure in an asymmetrical way. He emphasizes more strongly the structures established after legal revolutions than the actions which triggered them. This is due to the fact that he operates mainly as an historian of ideas. The flaw of the history of ideas is that the way actors make use of ideas in a specific context is often neglected. A serious evolutionary perspective on historical developments should link semantics and pragmatics, i.e. couple the history of ideas and the actors who make implicit or explicit use of these ideas (Toulmin 1974, p, 255). Here, again, the history of science is helpful for illustrating what I mean.

Science is an organized way for  systematically contesting (i.e. on the basis of theories and methods) truth-claims. Brunkhorst rightly emphasizes the importance of the act of negation as a driving force of social evolution. If actors communicate (verbally or non-verbally) a ‘no’ to others they increase the variety-pool of social evolution: “It is only the negation and not the affirmative statement that enables reflection and deliberation: the dissociation, dissolution, deconstruction and differentiation of concrete recognition and perception. (…) Only negation is a reflexive operation that can make affirmative meaning explicit” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 18-19). The constant communicative contestation of cognitive and normative claims, together with social selection, leads nolens volens to social change.

Brunkhorst distinguishes three mechanisms of social selection: functional imperatives, social differentiation and (counter-)hegemonic opinions (Brunkhorst 2014a, 14 and 295). When it comes to social selection he seems to emphasize the primacy of structure, because he talks in terms of “social structural selection” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 382) and identifies it with adaptation. Such a one-sided structuralist view of the mechanisms of social selection cannot do justice to the social evolution, because it obscures the role of agency and leads to the phrase “adaptation through social selection” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 465). Social selection isn’t a priori adaptive. Uwe Wesel rightly states that the adaptive systemic re-stabilization comes after the act of social selection (referred to in Brunkhorst 2014a, 14 footnote 17). Social evolution consists of two kinds of negative speech acts: communicative negation that leads to the increase of the pool of varieties and communicative negation that is responsible for the social selection.

The evolution of science has the same pattern as the natural evolution: variation and selection (Toulmin 1972 and 1974). From a pool of possible solutions to a scientific problem one is selected that meets certain criteria. These criteria are obviously not given once and for all, but are in turn the result of the evolution of science. In contrast to the variety of possible solutions to a scientific problem the selection is not contingent. The selection is, after all, to some extent tied to the communicative rationality of a scientific community, i.e. its collective rules for dealing with dissent. The communicative rationality also marks the difference between natural and social evolution. Within the social evolution there are mixtures that are unequalled in the natural evolution. For instance, on the basis of reasonable doubt about the existing taxonomy within science, molecular biology was created around 1950 out of crystallography and biochemistry (Toulmin 1974, 269-270).    

In order to understand the evolution of the content of science the externalist approach à la Brunkhorst has shortcomings. Attempts to trace substantive changes in science back to external factors (for example the protestant revolution) have only led to a biased picture of the content. To answer the question of why scientists select from the pool of scientific variants certain variants and not others, one has to reconstruct the rules that consciously or unconsciously govern their actions. In order to understand contentwise the evolution of science one should not study ready-made science, but science in action (Latour 1987). Instead of fixating on the already acquired scientific knowledge and how it is affected by external factors, it is better to see how scientists have acted on the basis of specific ideas. To understand the significance of their actions it is useful to explore scientific controversies (Collins 1985). So it is not only good to contrast Boyle’s experimental practice from a diachronic perspective with classical Aristotelean science, but also to study from a synchronic perspective Boyle’s rivalry with scholars of his time. Shapin and Schaffer show that the rivalry between Boyle and Hobbes is especially illuminating for an understanding of the scientific revolution (Shapin and Schaffer 1985; Shapin 1994).

Although Boyle and Hobbes disagree on some issues, they agree on others. Both embrace the mechanistic worldview, want to put an end to the civil war, and prefer a king and a parliament. Their disagreement concerns the issue of whether a vacuum exists. Like Aristotle and his followers, Hobbes denies the existence of a vacuum. By means of an air-pump Boyle tries to produce a vacuum. This experiment implies that he creates a vacuum by draining a ball. He struggles with the question of whether the information based on conscientious observation of what happens during an experiment leads to knowledge. In his time many philosophers made a distinction between knowledge and opinion. Only views that can be proven with absolute certainty may claim to have the status of knowledge. The rest is opinion. Boyle cum suis put the distinction between knowledge and opinion into perspective by asserting that physics is all about probabilistic knowledge. This means the rejection of any form of epistemic dogmatism. Boyle asks the question of under which circumstances the experimentally-generated information will be accepted as a fact. His answer is inspired by legal procedures: only when during an experiment several credible witnesses (gentlemen) have the same experiences can something be considered as a matter of fact. In addition to the credible witnesses, the detailed descriptions of what happens during an experiment and the copper engravings that are made of it are important for considering something as a matter of fact. Boyle points out that the experiment requires certain manners. A fruitful scientific discussion is only possible when the participants of the experiment possess self-control and communicate openly and honestly.

In the laboratory it is not only human witnesses reporting what they perceive who play a crucial role, but also non-human witnesses (Latour 1991, 38-41). For example, the air-pump shows that a vacuum exists. The laboratory is designed as a courtroom where both human and non-human beings bear witness. The non-human beings are inanimate instruments with a semiotic power that is detached from politics and religion. That is for Boyle a reason why the experiment according to him carries more weight than for people with prejudicated opinions: “The pressure of the water in our recited experiment having manifest effects upon inanimate bodies, which are not capable of prepossessions, or giving us partial information, will have much more weight with unprejudiced persons, than the suspicious, and sometimes disagreeing accounts of ignorant divers, whom prejudicate opinions may much sway, and whose very sensations, as those of other vulgar men, may be influenced by predispositions, and so many other circumstances, that they may easily give occasion to mistakes.” (Boyle quoted in Shapin and Schaffer 1985, 218). The experiment is a collective process in the course of which the discovery of matters of fact means that scientists set up instruments, observe, report what they observe and discuss with colleagues.  The importance of the material side of the experiment, the use of instruments, is usually ignored by the historian of ideas. The historian of ideas is fixated on representation and neglects intervention (Hacking 1983). Most of the historians of ideas are blind to the actions of scientists, i.e. what they actively do with their ideas. It is also true for most of the philosophers of science that they “constantly discuss theories and representation or reality, but say almost nothing about experiment, technology, or the use of knowledge to alter the world” (Hacking 1983, 149).

Brunkhorst would have abandoned the idea that the protestant revolution had a decisive influence on the emergence of modern science in the seventeenth century if he would have recognized the semiotic power of the pump, which consists of demarcating science from religion and politics. The semiotic power of the air-pump could only be reconstructed by studying science in action, i.e. to explore the acts of scientists. It was the agency of Boyle, Hooke and others that has ensured that the experiment to this day is a tool for distinguishing science from non-science, facts from values, and cognitive learning processes from normative learning processes. Because of the asymmetrical treatment of the tension between agency and structure Brunkhorst ignores this.

3. System and lifeworld

Cognitive and normative learning processes are embedded in the lifeworld. The lifeworld refers to background resources (shared cultural frames of reference, institutional arrangements that stabilize patterns of interaction, and individuals with a personality structure that is the outcome of a socialisation that fits to a specific context) that enable actors to coordinate their actions on a consensual basis. As a space of symbolic embodied reasons it gives actors the opportunity to deal with dissonances and contest the limits of their agency (Habermas 2012b). Communicative action is essential for the reproduction of the lifeworld. Put alternatively: the unproblematic and all-encompassing character of the lifeworld is essential for communicative action.

Like Habermas, Brunkhorst makes a distinction between lifeworld and system. The latter refers to a way of coordinating action in which the demands of communicative action have been scaled down. For instance, the coordination of action that sustains subsystems such as the market or the state is based on media like money and administrative power that reduce the burdens of communicative action. Whereas the lifeworld reproduces itself via communicative action, the system reproduces itself autopoietically via strategic or instrumental action. Brunkhorst is right that classical Marxism overemphasized the impact of one subsystem – the market – and didn’t recognize the role of law in a proper way. Classical Marxism doesn’t acknowledge that there are other autopoietic subsystems which also have a great impact on the world society. Law, education and – neglected by Brunkhorst – mass media are other important autopoietic subsystems.

In Critical Theory of Legal Studies he reflects on several aspects of the lifeworld without assigning the concept a central place in his theoretical framework. One aspect of the lifeworld is the politically subversive potential, because against this background critical questions can be generated about the imperatives of the market and the state. Brunkhorst expresses this subversive potential by systematically paying attention to the role of class struggles in social evolution. Via class struggles citizens express their sense of injustice. The lifeworld doesn’t only offer the possibility to discuss the injustice that was done to them, but also to consider political resistance. Whereas the concept (sub)system plays an important role in Brunkhorst’s theoretical framework, the concept lifeworld doesn’t. He uses the concept lifeworld only a few times. The consequences of this asymmetry between system and lifeworld reveal a shortcoming of his theoretical framework. I will discuss two consequences.

The first consequence is that Brunkhorst doesn’t address properly how relatively autonomous subsystems are embedded in different ways in the lifeworld. The double-bind relationship between system and lifeworld is based on the fact that functionally specialized subsystems are relatively autonomous and at the same time dependent on being considered legitimate by citizens. That explains why a systemic crisis can trigger a legitimization crisis (Brunkhorst 2012). According to Brunkhorst, the latter can induce collective learning processes: “A crisis of legitimization is the trigger of (progressive or regressive) normative learning processes of the affected society as a whole. In an extreme case, a crisis of legitimization can cause revolutionary change. The great legal and constitutional revolutions, therefore, are the paradigmatic cases of a collective learning that is normative. They are not the result of gradual and incremental change that leads to the improvement and growth of the adaptive capacity of the society, but of rapid, catalytic or revolutionary change that leads to a new constitutional order. The constitutional order is path-opening and path-directing because it constrains social selection normatively” (Brunkhorst 2014a, 59).     

In order to figure out how even relative autonomous subsystems are embedded in different ways in the lifeworld it’s important to study the possibilities and limits of agency in everyday life. It is not only normative constraints inherent in the constitutional order that have an impact on the actions of individuals, but also normative and cognitive constraints inherent in the lifeworld. The shared cultural frames of reference, institutional arrangements that stabilize patterns of interaction, and individuals with capabilities that enable their participation in society, prestructure the actions of people. If one wants to know how these components of the lifeworld prestructure the actions of people one has to make their tacit knowledge explicit, i.e. to translate their know-how into a know-that. Such a translation might be helpful for showing that it is not only the constitutional order that can be path-opening and path-directing, but also the transformations of the worldviews that are embedded in the lifeworld (Habermas 2012a). It’s an open empirical question as to what the weight is of their path-opening and path-directing power. Significant transformations of worldviews go hand-in-hand with collective learning processes that can result in a new constitutional order, and thus new constraints. The second consequence of the asymmetry between system and lifeworld in Brunkhorst’s theoretical framework is that he cannot do justice to learning processes that are embedded in the lifeworld. He not only pays a disproportionate amount of attention to normative learning processes, but connects them almost exclusively with law. To avoid the pitfalls of a legalistic reductionism, it is very important to pay attention to learning processes that are embedded in the lifeworld. The lifeworld is constituted by undisputed background knowledge which consists of an amalgam of cognitive and normative claims. This tacit knowledge evolves because of the communicative actions of people. The rational reconstruction of that knowledge is important for understanding learning processes. Individuals and collectives learn something if they make progress in solving problems. Collective learning processes are the basis of individual learning processes (Miller 1986). 

In order to explore learning processes that are embedded in the lifeworld and are relatively independent of the development of law, one should study the evolution of worldviews. For instance, the denaturalization of worldviews that took place during the so-called axial age is mainly the result of cognitive learning processes that also affected the way people deal with normative issues. The more people ceased to perceive the inequalities in society as an immutable natural fact, but as the outcome of actions for which they are responsible, the more they developed new ideas about justice. The exodus story of the emancipation of the Jews from the repression of the Egyptians is the product of this transformation. It tells the story of people who didn’t perceive their fate as a given fact, but as something they have to take into their own hands. In a brilliant essay Brunkhorst stresses this as follows: „Related to the normative meaning of the exodus story is the social one. Injustice becomes denaturalized (…) Behind the exodus story is a categorical transformation of the entire ancient worldview: the cognitively advanced insight, that the oppressive humid summer days and the oppressive bondage are incomparable burdens” (Brunkhorst 1990, 276 [translation: R.G.]). The denaturalization of the way people conceive of the world is the outcome of cognitive learning processes that can trigger (relatively independent from law) normative learning processes. The cognitive insight that repression, exploitation and sexism are not immutable natural facts but are man-made, opens the path for new moral reflections and emancipation movements.

4. Conclusion

The great merit of Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions is that it presents a theoretical framework that is fruitful for further investigations. The heuristic value of it can be increased if Brunkhorst can avoid the three asymmetries I discussed. The first asymmetry is that he pays much more attention to normative learning processes than to cognitive learning processes. One of the consequences of this asymmetry is that he doesn’t do justice to the impact science has on social evolution. His externalist approach to science cannot explain the specific character of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century. Because of the asymmetric treatment of normative and cognitive learning processes Brunkhorst ignores the impact of cognitive constraints. The second asymmetry of his critical theory is that he more strongly emphasizes the structures established after legal revolutions than the actions that triggered them. This asymmetric treatment of agency and structure affects the explanation of social evolution. When it comes to social selection he emphasizes the primacy of structure and obscures the role of agency. In the case of the evolution of science the externalist approach of Brunkhorst fails to do justice to what scientists actually do with their ideas and instruments.  The third asymmetry of Brunkhorst’s critical theory concerns the relation between lifeworld and system. In contrast to the concept of (sub)system, he doesn’t pay much attention to the concept of lifeworld. A consequence of this asymmetry between system and lifeworld is that he cannot properly clarify how relative autonomous subsystems are embedded in the lifeworld. Another consequence is that he cannot do justice to cognitive and normative learning processes that are embedded in the lifeworld and are relatively independent of the development of law. Research on the evolution of worldviews can contribute to a better understanding of these often path-opening and path-directing learning processes.

Without these asymmetries Brunkhorst would have presented a more appropriate picture of the social evolution. He would, for example, not only have given more weight to the impact of cognitive learning processes, but also have recognized that collective learning processes get their strength from the way in which cognitive learning processes are intertwined with normative learning processes. A collective learning process is spinning a thread of different fibres. Wittgenstein rightly argued that “the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres” (Wittgenstein 1986, par 67). In order to understand the intertwinement of cognitive and normative learning processes it’s important to study how they are embedded in the lifeworld and to address the way actors as relatively free agents create and change structures that limit their actions. When Brunkhorst manages to avoid these three asymmetries, he will enrich his project of a critical theory of the world society. This project is of great value with regard to the growing gap between rich and poor, environmental pollution, increasing xenophobia, all kinds of fundamentalism and the incompatibility of the neo-liberal form of capitalism and democracy.

Governing through responsibilization: managing unwanted migrants in the Netherlands

1. Introduction

Together with the normalization of the idea that migration is irregular and that it should be managed and restricted (Jansen et al. 2015: xi), the conveying of information on migration across the Mediterranean in terms of emergency, disaster, flows and numbers has become standard. Particularly in the European spring, the image of ‘swelling masses of desperate Africans fleeing poverty and war at home are trying to enter Europe illegally’ (IOM 2008: 11) is drawn upon. In April of this year for example, President of the European Council Donald Tusk warned the Members of the European Parliament that, concerning ‘the Central Mediterranean route … the numbers of would-be migrants in Libya are alarming’ (European Council 2016). The UNHCR estimates that in Libya ‘at least 100,000 migrants’ are ‘packed into towns and cities along its western coast’ (Stephen 2016) waiting for the weather to clear and to cross the sea to Europe. Military advisor for UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler claims this number to be ‘a million of potential migrants’ (DW 2016).

Similarly, in May 2014 Secretary of State Fred Teeven – a Dutch politician of the liberal VVD party who until March 2015 retained the portfolio Safety and Justice – evoked a dramatized image of migration across the Mediterranean. In the television show Eén op Eén, in which he was interviewed by journalist and talk show host Sven Kockelmann, the Secretary of State deliberately ‘rang the alarm bell’ (Eén op Eén 2014). Supposedly ‘thousands of migrants’ were to enter the Netherlands every month in 2014, ‘leading up to 65,000 people yearly’ (idem). Apart from the ‘alarming figures,’ the Secretary of State spoke of his fear of ‘organized human trafficking,’ particularly of Eritreans, although ‘it might very well be that there are people from Ethiopia amongst them’ (idem). As a solution, the Secretary of State made an appeal to ‘people working in logistics, people working in trains, in public transport, or international transportation’ to ‘open their eyes and ears’ to ‘any suspicious behaviour’ and ‘inform the police and military police’ (idem). What was to be noted for example is ‘how people are dressed’ and ‘their looks’ (idem). When the interviewer summarized Teeven’s position by rhetorically asking ‘So you are summoning all Dutch people on the road to keep their eyes open to anything that may point to human trafficking or to asylum-seekers from Africa?’ – thus suggesting that all citizens (and not only specific professions) were required to attend to visual aspects of those people now tainted with suspicion  –  the Secretary of State did not correct him (idem). In a Parliamentary Debate the following day, the Secretary of State furthermore foregrounded ‘a certain modus operandi concerning the behaviour of aliens, the way in which they are transported, or the way that is being communicated during the transportation’ (House of Representatives 2014a) as relevant factors to keep an eye on. ‘Information from society can improve visibility’ (House of Representatives 2014b), he later clarified in a letter to Parliament.

The call upon citizens to help the government in controlling unwanted migration is not an isolated anecdote. Individual citizens increasingly take part in mobility regulation, without being required to do so by their profession or affiliation. In the United States for example, citizens contribute to the surveillance and detection of migrants and to the enforcement of migration laws by calling anonymous tip lines, watching live streams of cameras monitoring border areas and reporting on suspicious behaviour, and joining border vigilantes or immigration posses (Walsh 2014). Although in Europe such citizens’ initiatives have received little scholarly attention, in several Member States it does happen that citizens are invited to report on migrants. In the UK, ‘if you think someone is living or working in the UK illegally, or is employing someone who isn’t allowed to work in the UK,’ such an ‘immigration crime’ can be reported through contacting the Home Office (Home Office 2015). In Hungary, in the summer of 2015, the mayor of the village of Asotthalom ordered village auxiliaries to trace and catch migrants and hand them over to the police (Toth 2015). In Sweden, the Migration Authority in 1999 launched the project Argus, an initiative that invited citizens to inform the Authority of ‘dubious immigrants’ – i.e. those ‘suspected of fraud (housing, employment, and social allowance), and/or assuming a false identity, giving fake asylum claims, and bogus family affiliations’ (Tesfahuney and Dahlstedt 2008).

Apart from appeals to individual citizens, Lahav and Guiraudon (2000; 2006) have signalled an international trend in which states seek to control migration by delegating authority to private and societal actors. Hospitals, schools, welfare officers, employers, and airline carriers are being included in these implementation processes (Lahav and Guiraudon 2000: 184-188) and thus provide input to policies that aim towards migration management (Lahav and Guiraudon 2006: 211).  

These outward delegations of responsibility for migration policies to citizens as well as to private and societal actors do not imply that governments fully transfer the responsibility to control migrant illegality to civil society. In the Dutch case, the government aims at preventing and managing ‘illegal’ migration, for example through pre-entry measures in ‘countries of origin’, border controls by the Border Management Renewal Program (‘Programma Vernieuwing Grensmanagement’, VGM), countering ‘illegal residency’ through controls by Mobile Security Monitoring (‘Mobiel Toezicht Veiligheid’, MTV), and facilitating return through programs by the Return and Departure Agency (Dienst Terugkeer en Vertrek’, DT&V). The observation here is rather that, in addition to these formal instruments, the Dutch government appeals to citizens and to private and societal actors in managing what they consider to be ‘illegal residency’ and ‘illegal migration’. ‘Government,’ then, refers not only to the state but rather to the set of practices and technologies of governing which operate across distinctions of state and non-state actors (Barry 2001: 175).

Using the qualification of ‘unwanted’ when referring to migrant ‘illegality’ over the course of this article – instead of ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ – emphasizes the constructed character of certain forms of migrant illegality as being problematic. Illegality is ‘a juridical status that entails a social relation to the state,’ as such being ‘a preeminently political identity’ (De Genova 2002: 422). The widely-used adjectives ‘illegal’ and ‘irregular’ would obscure this social, political and legal construction by suggesting the observation of a given social phenomenon (Düvell 2011: 276). Moreover, not all migrant ‘illegality’ or ‘irregularity’ is considered problematic in practice. For example, the American student working off the books in a London pub does not appear on the radar screens (Walters 2010: 85).

This article aims at analysing which forms of border-crossing and residency are considered problematic. Moreover, images of migrant ‘illegality’ as evoked as well as images promoting outwardly delegated forms of governing migration are put under scrutiny. Apart from problematizing the image of the unwanted migrant as called upon in mobilizing civil society, this article redescribes how ‘responsibilization’ of non-state actors redistributes power by using Foucault’s analysis of governmentality as a conceptual framework. Furthermore, the appeal made by former Secretary of State Teeven will be contextualized by Dutch migration policies aimed at countering migrant illegality since the 1990s as well the promotion of active citizenship since the 1970s; the assumption is that both developments shape the conditions surrounding the possibility of ‘responsibilization’ as a tactic of governance in the Netherlands. By doing so, the forms of thought, conduct and subjectivity that constitute responsibilization of non-state actors in the field of controlling unwanted migration will be evaluated.

2. Governmentality, biopolitics and biopower

Governmentality, characteristic of the final work of Foucault (1976 – 1984), is as much a historical notion referring to a particular regime of power functioning as constitutive for the modern state (Foucault 2007: 108), as well as a more general concept referring to the ‘strategic field of power relations in their mobility, transformability and reversibility’ (Foucault 2005: 252). Most relevant for the purposes of this article is the latter conceptualization: governmentality as a set of power instruments that is characterized by its fluidity and aimed at the population (Foucault 2007: 105). Power instruments, here, are not one-directional, top-down law-like instruments of government, but rather an assemblage of diverse tactics that aim to control the people as a whole. ‘Diverse’ here means that there is a number of different ways in which these ‘tactics’ operate (Foucault 2007: 99). As such, governmental power does not only operate through institutions, but also through procedures, analyses, reflections and calculations (Foucault 2007: 144). Governmentality thus ‘cuts out’ a very specific domain of power relations (Senellart 2007: 502), branching itself throughout the whole of civil society.

Key to the set of governmental power instruments is biopolitics, concerning the regulation of the population in terms of a species – i.e. the biological elements of population. Intertwined with the capillary character of power as it operates in governmentality, the power at work in biopolitics consists of a ‘multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate,’ meaning that power is not some sort of an externality, but rather an ‘infiltrated’ force that is interwoven with its very object – the population (Foucault 1990: 92). Thus, as power resides inside the system itself, it comes from ‘everywhere’ (Foucault 1990: 93): ‘power is exercised from innumerable points, in the interplay of non-egalitarian and mobile relations. […] Power comes from below’ (Foucault 1990: 94). This definition of power makes clear that power is not only capillary (Walters 2012: 9) but also actively (re)produced by (non-state) actors. In Society must be defended, Foucault emphasises this point by stating that ‘Power is exercised through networks, and individuals do not simply circulate in those networks; they are in a position to both submit to and exercise power. They are never the inert or consenting targets of power; they are always its relays’ (Foucault 2003: 29). People are thus not only the object of power; they also practice it.

Although governmentality and biopolitics were only introduced in Foucault’s later work, it does not exclude the workings of disciplinary power – the latter being central to Foucault’s middle-period work (1970-1976). Disciplinary power refers to a broad a set of techniques of surveillance (i.e. what Foucault coins the microphysics of power), aimed at the normalization of individuals. Whereas biopolitical power targets the population, disciplinary power targets the individual body (Foucault 2003: 249). Surveillance objectifies individuals through (permanent and invisible) registration. The crux of disciplinary power, then, is that the person it is practiced on internalizes the discipline; as such, power automatically functions (Foucault 1973: 201). Disciplinary power is therefore individualizing: it encapsulates and isolates individuals. Indeed, disciplinary power and biopolitical power do not operate at the same level and are historically established at different times (Foucault 2003: 249), but ‘they are not mutually exclusive and can be articulated with each other’ (ibid.: 250). Th­­is is emphasized by Foucault’s introduction of the concept of biopower as a type of power that emerges at the intersection of the individualizing effects of disciplinary power and the massifying effects of biopolitical power (Rasmussen 211: 36-37).

As political power is ‘capillary,’ meaning that multiple agencies and techniques all relay and as such exercise force, the researcher’s focus should not be limited to the ‘immediate’ actions of the state. Instead, (s)he should trace how power branches and ‘sway[s] throughout society by means of a ramifying apparatus of control’ (Miller and Rose 2008: 26-27). Presupposing that the population belongs to a space of governance, the concept of governmentality is then an analytic lens that may reveal the ways in which political power is located outside of institutional politics.

3. Calling for citizens to report on ‘illegal’ migrants: the tactic of responsibilization

What makes the empirical starting point of this article particularly interesting is that citizens are deliberately requested to engage in the surveillance of ‘illegal’ migrants, and that private and societal actors are professionally required to implement policies that aim to restrict the ‘illegal’ entry and residence of migrants. In addition to the concept ‘governmentality’, which provides an ontology of governmental power and as such describes the distribution and effects of power in relations between state and non-state actors, the concept of ‘responsibilization’ (O’Malley and Palmer 1996; Rose 1999; Garland 2001; Schinkel and Van Houdt 2010; 2013) refers to explicit and administrative appeals to individuals, private sector and semi-public sector, to bear responsibility for public tasks (Schinkel and Van Houdt 2010: 699). However, both concepts are related: responsibilization is a tactic (Schinkel and Van Houdt 2013: 11) whose dynamic – concerning power distribution and effects – can be analysed with governmentality as an analytical framework.

According to Schinkel and Van Houdt, a leading concept that is drawn on in responsibilization as a tactic is citizenship (Schinkel and Van Houdt 2013: 11). Through invoking images of what is considered to be good citizenship, the governmental state influences the behaviour of its citizens, and positions them in such a way that they serve the ends of government. Thus, what is promoted is not citizenship as juridical status that defines membership of a territory, but rather a normative judgment concerning what citizenship should entail (Schinkel and Van Houdt 2010). Characteristic of images of good citizenship since the ’70s in neoliberal policies in Western Welfare states is the ‘ethical principle of active citizenship’ (Rose 2006: 159-160; Verhoeven and Tonkens 2013: 25). Through the ‛inculcation and shaping of ‛private’ responsibility,’ responsibilization assigns the community with a portion of the responsibility for resolving society’s needs for order, security, health and productivity (Rose 1999: 174). Importantly, this invoked image of the community is not a given; rather, it is itself produced by the mechanism of responsibilization. Responsibilization presupposes the distinction between those mature enough to enact active citizenship and those who fail to do so (Schinkel and Van Houdt 2013: 14). The figure of community then only represents the former group as it is imagined; a collective of self-entrepreneurs who attach themselves to the value of individual responsibility.

In the Netherlands, the move towards an ‛activating welfare state’ can be traced back in the political discourse from the ’70s onwards (Kampen et al. 2013: 11). Van Houdt (2014) demonstrates in his dissertation how, in Dutch safety politics, citizens are increasingly asked to get involved with policy implementation. The developments in this branch of politics are relevant to the current purposes, both administratively – because asylum and immigration policies in the Netherlands are dealt with by the Ministry of Safety and Justice – and theoretically – because of the increasing criminalization of migrants (e.g. Commissioner for Human Rights 2010) and the emerging migration-security complex (e.g. Bigo 2002; Ceyhan and Tsoukala 2002; Huysmans 2000; Walters 2008; Walters 2010). Starting his analysis with the 1985 report Society and Crime, Van Houdt shows how citizens are asked to contribute to ‘fighting the mass manifestation of crime’ (House of Representatives 1985), how cooperation between state and non-state actors is cultivated (House of Representatives 1990), how citizens’ participation and social controls are encouraged (Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations 2002) and how neighbourhoods and individual citizens are required to engage in ‛preventive partnerships’ (Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations 2007).

In the episode of Eén op Eén, Secretary of State Teeven in effect mobilizes society (Donzelot 1991) to ‘make visible the criminality linked with [‘illegal’ migration]’ (Eén op Eén 2014). Immediately reporting these signals to the police ‘really helps [the Ministry of Safety and Justice] forward’ (idem). From a governmentality perspective, then, this call for control, in which those working in logistics are being ‘responsibilized’, can be considered to be among the tactics that are used by the governmental state to try to manage ‘illegal’ migrants from the capillaries of society via an information flow from below. Through the request to report on ‘illegal’ migrants to the police, ‘a newly conceptualized contractual relationship between citizen and state’ is established in which the citizen ‘cooperates with the state’ (Schinkel and Van Houdt 2010: 699-700). Interestingly, in parliamentary debates that followed the television broadcast, it became clear that the Secretary of State had at the time of broadcast not yet informed the Members of Parliament of the supposedly new dynamics of ‘illegal’ migration or his intended reaction. The Secretary of State thus first informed civil society (by mobilizing them through the media); a day later, he informed Parliament. Clearly, thus informing society and appealing to it in terms of surveillance is considered valuable as a strategy – as the temporal order indicates. By installing citizens – particularly those working in logistics – as agents that actively serve the ends of government, the government creates a capillary structure throughout civil society that encompasses a multiplicity of spatially distant actors.

As it is still the state that initiates the ramification of power distribution and prescribes the desired actions to be taken in line with policy goals, the citizens’ actions do not compromise the sovereignty of the state. As Mezzadra and Neilson note, although sovereignty is subjected to the rationality of governmentality, it is transcendent to its devices because it retains its autonomy (Mezzadra and Neilson 2013: 203-204). At the same time citizens may or may not be willing to engage in activities of surveillance and detection, or instead they may carry the activity of surveillance beyond its intended scope. How citizens act in practice when they encounter ‘illegal’ migrants is not a given, as they may cushion or counteract the government’s interests. The state, however, remains central in the establishment of its capillary power structure. To Ong (2006) sovereign power ‘depends on a network of regulatory entities that channel, correct, and scale human activities in order to produce effects of social order’ (Ong 2006: 100). In this sense, the appeal to citizens to get involved with the implementation of migration policies disaggregates and decentralizes state power, but at the same time reconfigures it (Mezzadra and Neilson 2013: 192).

4. The context of responsibilization in migrant management in the Netherlands: the Linking Act and the Foreigner Administration System

The presentation of ‘illegal immigration’ as a highly disturbing fact of such severance that citizens are being alerted on national television fits with De Genova’s observation that  “migrant ‘illegality’ has risen to unprecedented prominence as a ‘problem’ in policy debates and as an object of border policing strategies for states around the world” (De Genova 2002: 419). In northern European states, Broeders and Engbersen observe an ‘avalanche’ of policy measures aimed at controlling and countering the presence of ‘irregular migrants’ (Broeders and Engbersen 2007: 1592). The presuppositions of such a magnitude of policies seems to be that unwanted migration is in fact governable through migration policies and that the ‘turbulence’ of ‘unwanted migration’ can be ‘managed’ (Bojadžijev and Karakayalı 2010; Mezzadra and Neilson 2013, 179). Similarly, the call made by the Secretary of State is not an isolated episode concerning the delegation of control to civil-society actors. In the Netherlands, part of the discouragement policy launched at the beginning of the 1990s aimed at curbing illegal residence and combatting illegal employment (Van der Leun and Kloosterman 2006: 67), was to move the implementation of migration policies to Human Service Organisations (Hasenfeld 1983) such as providers of social benefits, health care, housing and education – all of which can be crucial for illegal migrants (Van der Leun 2006: 315). The appeal made to citizens in the Eén op Eén episode could then be understood in this broader context of outward delegation in the policy area of migration.  

In 1991, social-fiscal numbers were tied to residence status (Van der Leun 2006: 313), meaning that employers could no longer accept ‘irregular’ migrants to legally work (Düvell 2011, 289). In 1995, the digital database VAS, meaning ‘Foreigner Administration System’ (‘Vreemdelingen Administratie Systeem’), was launched. In this system, data on ‘all foreigners residing in the Netherlands’ was contained (Leerkes 2006: 26). Importantly, the database enabled welfare departments to verify whether their clients are lawful residents and as such eligible to their services (Van der Leun 2003: 18). Moreover, it enabled housing corporations to check whether their clients had a residence permit and hence entitled to rent their apartments (Leerkes 2006: 26). In 1998 the Linking Act (‘Koppelingswet’) was enacted which allowed immigration service registration files, census bureau data, tax data and social security data to be cross-checked (Leerkes 2006: 26). As a consequence, a whole range of Human Service Organisations got access to an infrastructure that was installed to make their provisions – such as social benefits, housing, health care and education – conditional on residential status (Van der Leun 2006: 312).

Van der Leun explicitly characterizes the Linking Act as a tactic of remote control (Zolberg 1999: 75), by which she refers to the manoeuvre in which ‘immigration policy moves to organizations that allocate social services’ (Van der Leun 2006: 315). As a side note, Leerkes observes that the Foreigner Administration System is illustrative of responsibilization, without however elaborating on this point and only referring to Garland (2001). The ways in which the Linking Act and the Foreigner Administration System as instances of responsibilization redistribute power and transform governance are not attended to. Importantly, by charging non-state actors such as house owners and those working in social welfare departments with the implementation of their policy goals, they are put in the position of executing the ends of government. As such, the state governs through community actors: throughout civil society the whole network of force-relaying entities is being put in place, that are themselves thus located in the very field in which they operate – i.e. the community as a whole. In the societal domain, ‘illegal’ migrants are thus being controlled from below through a network of Human Service Organisations in which power can come from everywhere. This multiplicity and diversity of power practitioners is exemplary for biopolitical power as it operates.

The practice of citizens’ actions in response to the appeal made by the Secretary of State does not yield a set outcome – for they may cushion or counteract the government’s interests – and the same holds for actors working in Human Service Organisations. Based on interviews with human service workers before and after the enactment of the Linking Act, Van der Leun concludes that ‘norms, values and ideologies of implementers with a high degree of discretion and professional autonomy sometimes result in outcomes that run counter to the official policy goals’ and that ‘interests of the national government and local authorities do not always coincide’ (Van der Leun 2006: 323). However, Van der Leun’s argument seems to primarily lean on instances of support (Van der Leun 2006: 331) that outreaches official injunctions – i.e. human service workers not living up to the government’s mandate to exclude ‘illegal immigrants’ from public services. Inversely, the discretionary room may similarly allow for actions that otherwise depart from the national policy goals, including for example exclusion that is uncalled-for – e.g. doctors refusing to offer ‘essential medical care’ albeit being professionally required to do so. In any case, when policy practice exceeds the government’s intentions, the national government may attempt to blame it on the respective non-state organization instead of being held accountable for failure, as their responsibility is delegated outwards.

5. Racially representing unwanted migrants: massification and individualization

Non-state actors are thus part of the capillary power network that relays governmental power, the object of power being the unwanted migrant. However, the unwanted migrant also becomes a subject by virtue of these power relations, for power, as Foucault shows, works constitutively (Foucault 2003: 30). What does the rhetorical figure of the migrant refer to, and to what extent does this rhetorical image overlap with migrants as human beings?

The Linking Act and the Foreigner Administration system problematize migrant illegality in the broad sense, i.e. ‘the presence in the Netherlands of foreign nationals who are not in possession of a valid residence permit and are therefore obliged to leave the country of unlawful stay’ (Düvell 2011: 284). Some migrants are considered ‘illegal’ because they crossed the border ‘illegally,’ whereas others arrived on tourist visas and overstayed or became ‘illegal’ when they were refused refugee status (Leerkes 2009: 16). However, on television, the Secretary of State evokes a very specific image of migrant ‘illegality’ by linking it with ‘organised human trafficking’ and representing migrant illegality with observable or audible characteristics of migrants –dress, looks, behaviour and speech which citizens are required to carefully attend to and report on.

This figure of migrant ‘illegality,’ brought up as pointers and clues concerning what citizens should administer to, reinforces a massification of unwanted migrants. The Eén op Eén episode can be interpreted in terms of creating ‘caesura within a population’ (Foucault 2003: 255). In this particular case, the caesura is based on visible and audible observables of a presupposed group, establishing a distinctive criterion of which people should be met with suspicion and which people should not. In any case, establishing unwanted migrants as a group assumes homogeneity, under-communicates diversity and does not allow for self-identifications other than that of political movement. The fragmenting power that subdivides groups, however, does not only abstract from migrants as human beings; it creates divides based on of the category of race (Foucault 2003: 254-263) which is presented as identifiable through physical characteristics of a supposed group.

Crucially, it is thus not migrant ‘illegality’ per se that is targeted: instead, the Secretary of State plays on a stereotypically racialized figure of migrant ‘illegality’, repeatedly played out on television, i.e. Africans ferried across the Mediterranean (Walters 2010: 85). Citizens are then asked to operationalize these racial assumptions. These characteristics are moreover formulated in a rather vague manner – ‘any suspicious behaviour’ suffices for calling the military police – and that seeing any group of dark-skinned people potentially justifies making a call. And as civil society actors themselves are required to look for people who meet these distinctive criteria – as opposed to ‘normal’ citizens, who pass the test as being not-suspicious – these actors produce and relay these racial assumptions throughout civil society, which has, through responsibilization, become the field from which governmental power is exercised. 

Apart from massifying migrant ‘illegality’ based on a reified image of a racialized group, by evoking a securitized image of human trafficking – i.e. a representation visible on political agendas that treats human trafficking as part of a security continuum (Aradau 2004: 252-253) – migrant ‘illegality’ becomes tainted with suspicion and lumped together with drug trafficking, terrorism, and organised crime (Aradau 2004: 252-253). Moreover, because it is the police and the military police – whose mission is the protection of internal security (Huysmans 2000: 756) – that citizens are required to report to, migrant illegally becomes similarly associated with the bulk of security issues and as such meets with risk management and crime control.

Intertwined with the racialized and securitized massification of the unwanted migrant, the rhetorical image appealed to is similarly individualizing. Although governmental power is not always disciplinary, disciplinary power and biopolitical power are ‘not mutually exclusive and can be articulated with each other’ (Foucault 2003: 250), allowing the governmentalized state to use disciplinary power as a ‘figure of political technology’ (Foucault 1973: 205).

It is through disciplinary power – a broad set of techniques of surveillance considered as a microphysics of power – that the body is constituted as something individual (Foucault 2003b: 30). The figure of the ‘illegal’ migrant in this sense emerges as a subject to be governed by virtue of juridical and political distinctions that, dependent on particular political ends (Fassin 2001), categorize some people as ‘illegal.’ By virtue of the Linking Act and the Foreigner Administration problematizing certain aspects of some migrants’ existence in relation to the state’s political interests, (s)he becomes a ‘matter of concern’ (Brown 2015: 15). This ‘body of knowledge’ about ‘illegal’ migrants – which these databases in fact are – ‘insidiously objectifies those on whom it is applied’ (Foucault 1973: 220). A substantive set of personal information about the ‘illegal’ migrant is made visible to multiple actors – i.e. every actor that can access the Foreigner Administration System, including several civil society actors.

As the Secretary of State then publicly represents unwanted migrants as bearers of visible and audible bodily characteristics, the individual body transforms into an object in which the alleged racial observables of migrant ‘illegality’ are inscribed. When responding to his call, citizens then reproduce the individualizing effect of power that sustains migrant illegality as an observable phenomenon. Notably, it is the immediate bodily activity and characteristics that people are required to attend to in recognizing and acting on ‘illegal’ migrants as targeted – i.e. to focus what can be seen and heard. The installed disciplinary power encapsulates the individual ‘illegal’ migrant in the face of surveillance. In a public space, the unwanted migrant does not know whether the person (s)he bumps into intends to issue a report. The unwanted migrant is visible for surveillance, in the face of the potential, invisible non-state actors relaying power. Based on bodily characteristics, (s)he might be considered suspicious.

At the intersection of the biopolitical massification targeting unwanted migrants as a racialized and securitized group, and the disciplinary individualization targeting the unwanted migrant as body, biopower emerges (Rasmussen 2001: 36-37), a notion of power Foucault particular discusses in the context of racism. For Foucault, racism is a basic mechanism of power as exercised by modern States – which can ‘scarcely function without becoming involved with racism at some point’ (Foucault 2003: 254) – that separates what must live, and what must die (Foucault 2003: 254). Whereas Rasmussen in his article starkly contrasts Foucault’s notion of racism with what he considers as ‘the common idea that racism, fundamentally, is a form of irrational prejudice, social discrimination, or political ideology’ (Rasmussen 2001: 35), this contrast seems to underexpose the fact that racism is not at all limited to state genealogies and discourses but rather to be observed in everyday governance. The racialized and securitized figure of the ‘illegal’ migrant, moreover, is not only sustained as a top-down representation. Rather, exactly because governmentality as an analytic framework may reveal that individual people are not only the objects of power but also its relays (Foucault 2003: 29), the tactic of responsibilization exploits this ontology of power. The figure of the ‘illegal’ migrant – which in the case in point does in fact seem to be constructed through prejudice, discrimination and ideology – is sustained by non-state actors. Clearly, the representation of unwanted migrants through an image of migrant ‘illegality’ that draws on race and security does not attend to any self-understanding of migrants other than their juridical and political status. This identity is ‘superimposed on daily life’ (De Genova 2002: 422), is what De Genova calls the ‘everyday production of ‘illegality’’ (De Genova 2002: 423) and is enacted from within the responsibilized community.

6. Disregarding migrant agency: the unwanted migrant represented as threat to active citizenship

Civil society actors thus reinforce the massification as well as individualization of unwanted migrants: both as part of the population that is isolated through listing a set of differentiating racial criteria in the face of ‘normal citizens’, and as reduced to a bodily inscribed political-juridical categorization. This image clearly omits the agency of migrants (Bojadžijev and Karakayalı 2010; Mezzadra 2010; 2015). Decisions to migrate, processes of migration itself and agency at the border are not attended to in the image of migrant ‘illegality’ as it stands, which confirms the tendency to neglect subjective stakes of contemporary migration experiences (Mezzadra 2015: 121).

Moreover, the unwanted migrant is likely to internalize the discipline and as such to inscribe the power relation (Foucault 1973, 202). Several authors have hypothesized on the causal relation between restrictive policies aimed at migrant ‘illegality’ and targeted migrants increasingly going into hiding. In her book, the Unknown City, a research project on ‘illegal’ migrants in the Netherlands in which she participated, Van der Leun notes that ‘it is a fact of life’ that ‘illegal’ migrants need to remain unseen by state officials and public organisations (Van der Leun 2003: 115). Moreover, she assumes that the stricter the enforcement regime, the more ‘illegal’ migrants will be pushed towards an underground existence (Van der Leun and Kloosterman 2006: 62). Engbersen and Broeders – the former author being involved in the same research project – also note that ‘illegal’ migrants are increasingly likely to go even deeper underground as a consequence of measures that exclude ‘illegal’ migrants from public services (Engbersen and Broeders 2007: 1606). Similarly, now that – in addition to those working in Human Service Organizations – citizens are invited to contribute to surveillance, this assumption probably grows in likeliness. As there are more ears and eyes implementing restrictive policies to hide from, the multiplicity of persons that may subject the unwanted migrant to the threat of being uncovered extends throughout the responsibilized community.

Taken together with increased forcing of unwanted migrants into underground existence and as such living away from the public, the omitting of migrant agency hinders identifications with ‘illegal’ migrants in terms of autonomous and ‘responsible’ agents. In the face of the ideal of citizenship that responsibilization draws on, and which applauds active self-entrepreneurs enacting individual responsibility, the abstraction from the autonomy of migrants may invigorate the divide between responsibilized citizens and unwanted migrants. As responsibilization rests on the differentiating criteria of agentive versus passive, the disregard shown to migrant agency inhibits a perception of them being agentive actors and as such allows the unwanted migrant to represent a threat to the ideal of the self-reliant and active responsibilized citizen. In their empirical comparative research on the ways in which active citizenship is promoted, Verhoeven and Tonkens (2013) found that in the Netherlands harbouring negative feelings of weariness towards those incapable of self-reliancy is being appealed to as proper. In other words, the qualification of being a ‛sponger’ is cultivated towards those considered incapable of meeting up to the requirement of being agentive (Grin 2013: 238). The promoted figure of the ‘illegal’ migrant, in which the autonomy of migrants is not engaged with, then seems a threat to the ideal of a ‘society of participation’ consisting of agentive actors capable of self-care.

7. Conclusions

The representation of ‘illegal’ employed by the Secretary of State draws on a securitized image of human trafficking and observable or audible characteristics such as dress, looks, behaviour and speech. It is thus not migrant ‘illegality’ per se, but a figure based on racial assumptions, placed into a security continuum. Consequently, this evoked image of the unwanted migrant is massified on racial grounds and is at the same time individualized by transforming the body into an object in which the alleged racial observables of migrant ‘illegality’ are inscribed. 

By inviting citizens to report on migrant ‘illegality’ through evoking this figure of unwanted migrants, the Dutch government places civil-society actors in a position where they serve the ends of the government and operationalize classifications of race and security. The appeal to citizens to contribute in surveillance is typically an act of responsibilization, which requires non-state actors to bear responsibility for public tasks by evoking a normative account of ‘active citizenship’.

In the wider context of migrant management in the Netherlands, control has similarly been delegated outwards. Notably through the implementation of the Foreigner Administration System and the Linking Act – that allow Human Service Organizations to check on and report irregular migrants – force is exercised throughout the responsibilized community. Governmentality as an analytic lens reveals that through responsibilization non-state actors become part of the capillary network from which governmental power is put into effect.

The representation of migrant ‘illegality’ undermines the subjectivity and agency of unwanted migrants. As the premise of ‘active citizenship’ that underlies responsibilization draws on a divide between those enacting agency and individual responsibility, disregarding the autonomy of migrants, articulations of their agentive experience are hindered. Given the apparent legitimacy of harbouring negative feelings towards those ­considered to fail the requirements of active citizenship, the ‘illegal’ migrant, whose autonomy is abstracted from, then seems incompatible with the image of a responsibilized community.

Subsequent research is needed to further grasp the practice of responsibilization in the governance of migrant ‘illegality’ in the Netherlands. Given that apparatuses of security are the essential mechanism of governmental management (Foucault 2007, 108), knowing how security strategies inform responsibilization tactics would contribute to an understanding of how these appeals to citizens are to be positioned in the face of what the role of the contemporary state is in relation to citizens. Moreover, qualitative ethnographical research on migrants’ subjective practices is needed to articulate the autonomy of migrants and to understand experiences of being governed from within the community sphere itself. 






Pillaged Books and Plundered Maps: Pirates and the Boundaries of Language

When the king asked him what he was thinking of, that he should molest the sea, he said with defiant independence: ‘The same as you when you molest the world! Since I do this with a little ship I am called a pirate. You do it with a great fleet and are called an emperor.’ (St. Augustine’s City of God (1963), cf. Baer (1982, 19–20)).

Societies sometime proceed through the punishment of small thefts, and the institutionalization of larger ones.[1] The same might be said of research. Pirates can be writers, and writers can be pirates. Academics teach students not to plagiarize, or steal others’ words, but citations themselves, and scholarly writing more broadly, can be viewed as a type of regulated robbery. Citations acknowledge another’s contribution, while giving the author permission to take and reuse it. Authors are also the subjects of piracy, since the term piracy also refers to the downloading of copyrighted documents, books, videos and music, either through peer-to-peer torrent software or directly from websites like, whose name references stereotyped piratical dialects.[2] Not coincidentally, in Europe earlier definitions of intellectual piracy were connected to mercantilist laws that excommunicated pirates from the national community (Temple 2000).[3]

Academic piracy isn’t limited to the internet. Entire fields have suffered from allegations of theft. Archaeology originated in conquest, as artefacts from around the world were forcibly unearthed or bought on the black market before being shipped to the urban centers of the world’s imperial powers. Underwater archaeology in particular has been singled out as a form of preservation that, some claim, is a veiled type of looting. Many of the maps used by pirates have disappeared, but maps of the wrecks of pirate ships are particularly valuable as a result of the ongoing obsession with the romantic myth of Caribbean piracy.[4]

In light of these entwined histories of piracy and authorship, this article analyzes the documentary histories of Caribbean pirates to argue for greater attention to the material boundaries of language. To understand the entanglements between texts and the world, I focus specifically on the boundaries between language and non-language–between objects that are considered linguistic and those that are not–in sources for the pirate Benito de Soto and related examples. Accounts of Caribbean pirates are very widely read, and a wealth of sources is available for the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Pirates have been hugely influential on a popular level, and the theft of documents is a recurring theme in many of the relevant texts. The study of such thefts provides insights into the materialities of writing and research, while drawing attention to how definitions of theft, and related notions of value, can change depending on their contexts.

As the historical reporting of the destruction of texts, pirate textualities provide an interesting case for the application and further expansion of sociolinguistic theory, which has explored the varied ways that language is used in specific instances and communities (Schieffelin, Woolard, and Kroskrity 1998). In recent years, linguistic anthropologists, drawing on the work of Michael Silverstein, have elaborated on the concepts of metapragmatic discourse (discourse about the practical role and purpose of language) and the related linguistic ideologies (broader ideologies about the practical role and function of language) that such discourse both draws upon and reveals (Lee 1997; Lucy 1993; Silverstein 2004; 1993; 1976; Silverstein and Urban 1996). The literature thereby builds upon J.L. Austin’s (2000) work on linguistic acts, in which he studies the ways that saying something may constitute an act, as in the ‘I pronounce you guilty,’ of a courtroom trial. As such, they have suggested a set of frameworks for analyzing the complex relationships between a diverse range of semiotic phenomena and their broader social and material contexts. These include the related study of indexicality, or the ways that statements such as, ‘Look over there!’ can be said to point to or index a relationship with its context, including the material world (Duranti and Goodwin 1992; Schieffelin, Woolard, and Kroskrity 1998).[5] However, in order to reap the full benefits of metapragmatic theory, it is necessary to also understand its scope and the limits of this notion of the Meta, and this is precisely one goal of this article.[6]

Concerns about textuality have shaped the disciplines of both linguistics and social history from early on, and this has been further developed in the Subaltern Studies literature (e.g. Chatterjee 2002; Chaturvedi 2000; Pandey 2000). But often the emphasis has been on how little the existing historical sources focus upon the majority of people in the world, such as oppressed groups, even in cases where they are named or otherwise indicated in a particular text (Spivak 1984; 1988). This also holds true for work in pirate studies as social history, which in many cases has striven to overcome the absence of direct accounts of pirates’ and sailors’ lives through a detailed exploration of those resources that do exist in light of a deep knowledge of the broader contexts in which the sources were produced (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000; Rediker 2004; 1989). However, both social history and subaltern studies have concentrated upon strategies for dealing with reading official sources against the grain, in cases where there is an absence of direct sources, such as with documents detailing sailors’ daily lives. They focus less on subject areas, such as Caribbean pirates, where an overwhelming abundance of popular sources exist, but whose main characters remain marginalized.[7]

Certainly, the wealth of sources available for Caribbean pirates demonstrates that they have loomed large in past public imaginations as well as present ones. Yet this also means that the content of the sources diverges widely from the varied and complex factual accounts preferred by many historians. Instead, the primary sources that deal with such pirates during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries tend to revolve around a few distinct, if loosely organized, genres, including legal documents and popular tracts, both of which include the testimony of pirates as well as victims, combined with folklore, travel journals and nautical charts, and reporting of pirates’ speeches in public–generally directly before they were executed. Thus, although there are a proliferation of available pirate biographies, as well as indexes of pirate biographies, and even indexes of indexes,[8] the abundance of sources is evidence of the simultaneous aversion from, and admiration of, Atlantic pirates that have shaped studies of them from the beginning.[9] And such historical fascination, as well as piracy’s status as a crime, means that documents played as important a role in the original conduct and definition of Atlantic piracy as they do in determining its legacy.

Since many of the texts were written for popular consumption by people in Europe and the European colonies of the time, it is to be expected that the authors seek to justify their accounts both as texts and as more than simple lurid accounts. Indeed, authors were concerned to show that pirates were worthy of the written word, and to demonstrate that their own writings were more authoritative than simple gossip. So overall the sources themselves tend to argue for the primacy of the written word both in legal and academic terms. What is surprising, then, is the very ambiguity of many accounts of these pirates’ relationship to texts in many documents. In the documents pirates are sometimes presented as the antithesis of society, and its textual bent, in their wanton destruction of official papers. Yet this is not the only depiction of pirates, who are also shown treasuring those same papers and the material value they represent. What emerges, both within and between different accounts and different pirates, are practices where texts are not necessarily anything special, where language is not necessarily separated from other spheres of activity.

Therefore, it is not the wholesale otherness or incommensurability (Kuhn 1996; Povinelli 2001) of the actions described that is of crucial theoretical interest here, but rather the very ambivalence about texts and textuality. Similarly, I do not aim to tease out an overarching empirical history of piracy from the documents that name and define them. Instead, I focus upon the role of the documents in select, emblematic cases from the historical accounts of Caribbean piracy–usually in the course of being destroyed, forgotten, misused or otherwise left in states of disarray.[10] I chose the accounts of de Soto because they display the full range of treatment of documents from the sources for Caribbean piracy more broadly, and I supplement his account with accounts of the more famous pirates who came before and after him. The documents for piracy are of crucial interest to a better understanding of the equally complex boundaries of textuality in contemporary theory. Although pirates’ motives are often unintelligible from the sources, those sources are not reducible to the prejudices of their authors. Something more is going on, and this paper attempts to delineate its specifics.

Indeed, this ‘something more’ both exemplifies and reveals the challenge of attributing pirate accounts to, alternately, a fabricated or exaggerated story or the actions of a pirate ‘out there’, allegedly beyond the text. Instead, I show how, due to the materiality of language and documents, the story and the empirical history are each implicated in the other in ways that do not allow for them to be extricated from each other. The quote that opens this article comes from a much older era of piracy and literacy in the Mediterranean. It can be seen as an inversion upon the legitimation of power through redefinition. It serves equally well as a commentary upon the ways that, as we will see, differing conceptions of language might serve as the medium for using the ‘same’ texts and discourses in radically different ways, even to the point of outlining the limits of textuality itself.

Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000; See also Rediker 2004; 1989) have argued that historical piracy developed in part as a response to the underpaid labor of slaves, sailors, and others, all of whom helped to build maritime empires that were made rich in no small part through conquest and predation. This provides an interesting perspective upon the ways that scholarly critique, as the incorporation and re-use of documents, has been formed in an ongoing, if generally unacknowledged, relation to piracy. For allegations of ‘theft’, through the use of pirated versions of scholarly texts, are cast in a different light depending upon the scale of the theft in question—for example, whether the unpaid and underpaid labor that sustains academic inquiry is included in the definition of theft. In addition, it’s not unheard of to assign the name of ‘theft’ to the kind of re-reading of archival sources that I will conduct throughout this article, the searching against the grain–a quest that is purposefully off-kilter. I do so in order to analyze some of the ways that texts and textuality are privileged in scholarly thought, and how this affects the form and content of research. For as definitions of theft vary, they do so in intimate relation to conceptions of language, including ideas about what language is, what it does, and what is done to it, in the world.

Adios, Todos! The Death of de Soto

According to one account, Benito de Soto appeared penitent at his execution: ‘On his arrival at the fatal spot…on the verge of the bay, he spent a quarter of an hour in fervent prayer, the rain falling heavily all the time’ (London 1830, 35). The narrator, A. B. London, who claims to have been an eyewitness to the event, declares that de Soto held a crucifix until a few moments before his death, and that he kissed it regularly and remorsefully ‘with apparent devotion’ (1830, 35). However, in Philip Gosse’s The Pirate’s Who’s Who, one of the most widely-read indexes of pirate biographies, Gosse tells us that de Soto ‘died bravely’, defiantly and without remorse (1968, 284). Moreover, Gosse makes no mention of religion. The two authors agree that de Soto stepped up on his own coffin, placed the noose around his neck, then jumped off, deliberately hanging himself. But London asserts that de Soto did this in order to ‘assist the executioner in performing his awful duty’ and that he ‘passed into eternity without the slightest struggle!’ (1830, 35). In contrast, Gosse suggests that de Soto wished to take his own life in one final act of defiance (1968, 284). London notes that de Soto’s last speech in Gibraltar was one of caution, in which he ‘harangued the surrounding populace in Spanish, acknowledging the justice of his sentence, and exhorting them to take warning by his death and to pray for him’ (1830, 35). Gosse, on the other hand, writing one hundred years later, claims that de Soto’s final statement, this time in Cadiz, consisted of nothing more than a resounding, ‘Adios, todos!’ (Goodbye, everyone!) (1968, 284).

De Soto certainly was a notorious pirate by the time of his death at age twenty-six.[11] His was not a romantic sort of fame either, but one of excessive, if fallible, cruelty. I single him out because the conflicting stories told of de Soto’s final speech illustrate quite vividly the potential that pirate studies holds for the understanding of the material role of text and language in both scholarly and everyday life. This potential is particularly notable in terms of the implications of using text, strictly defined, to relate semiotic activity that was originally neither written nor even strictly linguistic.[12] For example: after the hanging the authorities reportedly made sure that de Soto’s sentence–which, like those of seven of his companions, included dragging and quartering–was properly carried out. They drove a stake into the beach, and impaled his head on it (London 1830, 29–30).

 The accounts of de Soto’s execution reveal the indeterminacy that arises when trying to discern to what extent his death could be read as a symbolic act, an attempt to ‘speak’ through his actions. Furthermore, even if his death were symbolic, then it is entirely unclear who, if anyone, was speaking: de Soto, the chronicler who wrote the story down, or both? Due to these complexities, the extant documents for de Soto’s acts of piracy allow for a better understanding of the relationship of reported speech and practices of documentation, and thus of the boundaries of language. Any attempt to determine to what extent a document might reveal an instance of speech is intimately tied up with the varied boundaries and conceptions of text and language themselves, of acts that are considered linguistic and those that are not.

Many of the archival sources that demonstrate pirates’ disdain for documents were intended to provoke feelings of horror in the reading public, but I seek to show that they are not reducible to the prejudices of the scribe. Pirates do potentially reveal themselves through the sources, if only ambiguously, by troubling the expected accounts, by alternately subverting and reinforcing dominant notions of language and textuality. In the ensuing sections, I analyze two ways that these select sources depict pirates treating texts. First, pirates are presented as showing disdain for documents, both by destroying documents, in the sense of shredding or defacing them, or by forgoing the need for documents completely, as with required permits such as the Letters of Marque that gave permission for the plundering of enemy ships. Second, pirates are recorded as ignoring the linguistic aspects of documents, or at least showing only cursory regard to documents’ linguistic content. They did so even when preserving documents, either manipulating them without destroying them–concealing and secreting them away, changing their shape somehow–or by manipulating others in order to change the contents of future texts–often in order to avoid incriminating themselves.

Throughout, I explore the boundaries of the meta- in metalanguage, although it is a meta- that also crops up in very different guises in terms such as metadata, metaprogramming, and metaphilosophy. Metalanguage is often simplified as “language about language”, but doing so raises questions about when it is possible or useful to tell whether something is metalanguage or not. It also asks us to distinguish whether something is language or not, a formulation that is crucial in historical accounts of subaltern subjects who are often asked to ‘speak’ through their (potentially symbolic) actions or situations, rather than through their written or spoken words, which have often gone unrecorded (Spivak 1999; 1988; 1984). Thus an account of a pirate shredding a ship’s deed invites further analysis of whether the pirate was indeed committing a linguistic act, as well as the extent to which that act was also metalinguistic.

In the context of the reflexivity or intentions of a speaker of metalanguage, Jaworski et al. draw on Jakobson and Silverstein to address this question of boundaries in terms of dimensions, including to what extent they might be more explicit or more implicit. In so doing, though, they also draw attention to the danger that such dimensions or scales, such as explicit versus implicit, may indeed appear dichotomous (Jaworski, Coupland, and Galasiński 2004, 54–7; e.g. Silverstein 1993). Yet this dichotomous nature is also a danger of metalanguage more broadly, for even to use the somewhat simplistic formation of metalanguage as “language about language” is already to draw boundaries, two of which in particular are worthy of further exploration. First, to assert that something is metalanguage is to claim that it is possible to know what language is, thereby dividing the world into language and not-language. For, to claim that language is about language, it is of course necessary to know what language is. So for example, sentences would belong to the group of language, and pirates (the living or formerly living beings, to the extent that they can even be considered apart from the term pirates) to not-language.

Second, claims of metalanguage also implicitly assert that language might be further divided into two groups. The first group is language-about-language, or metalanguage, and the second is language-not-about-language, or not-metalanguage. Thus the sentence, “language is important”, would belong to the first group, whereas the sentence, “pirates are important,” would belong to the second. Yet the boundaries between these two (admittedly oversimplified) groups are deserving of further scrutiny, for it is easily possible to come up with items that transgress these boundaries. For example, paradoxes of the flavor of Bertrand Russel’s paradox or René Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe),” might belong to both and neither group. For example, consider the sentences, “this is not language,” and “this sentence is not metalanguage.” The first is both language and (if we accept its truthclaim) not-language. Similarly, the second is both metalanguage and not, provided there is a chance that its truthclaim is valid. It is this last group, of partial paradoxes on the boundaries between language and not-language, and between metalanguage and not-metalanguage, that are the concern of this paper.

I contend that the pirates revealed in these sources belong to this last quasi-paradoxical group, and that their actions, as they are depicted in the sources, are both language and not language at the same time. I argue this point by developing two contradictory sub-arguments. First, I show that the ways these pirates are depicted destroying texts is an act that potentially was linguistic, in the sense that the linguistic content of the texts did play a role in their acts of destruction. Second, I also show that their preservation of texts was not necessarily linguistic, because language as a separate and identifiable concept need not have been relevant to their actions. Destroying a document such as a deed or contract does appear to call attention to the text’s linguistic (indexical) power, even if by negating that power. Similarly, preserving a document might be an attempt at maintaining its linguistic power, or it might have a different purpose altogether. It might instead focus on its economic and practical value without signaling any use, recognition, or access to the document’s textual and linguistic worth. The acts of these pirates, as they are given in the sources, therefore emerge as being both affirmatively metalanguage and not metalanguage at all. Mapping out when and why this happens can provide texture to the application of the idea of the Meta more broadly.

The Destruction of Documents

The king asking him how he durst molest the seas so, he replied with a free spirit, ‘How dares thou molest the whole world? But because I do with a little ship only, I am called a thief: thou doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor. (St. Augustine’s City of God (1972), cf. Pérotin-Dumon (2001, 25).


Benito de Soto lived from 1805 to 1830, during the decline of what, with variable dates, has been referred to as the Golden Age of Caribbean piracy. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries more broadly, piracy in the Atlantic developed from a crime on par with smuggling or illicit trade into a catch-all term for the extremes of moral corruption (Baer 1982, 4–9). This was due partly to the successive waves of piracy over this period. Atlantic pirates were originally called filibusters, and many of them were merchants who hoped to open up trade routes through conquest, outside of all regulation. They were increasingly joined by buccaneers, the members of a society of escaped slaves and indentured servants, related to Maroon communities, who flourished on the smaller islands of the Caribbean (Neill 2000, 165–6). Their nautical pursuits succeeded and they became such a force in the region that at times they were even used as a spontaneous militia for the colonial governments–thereby serving as a group of politically-useful outlaws, a function that has far from disappeared.[13]

By the early 1800s, however, the picture was radically different. The consolidation of trade routes required the politicization of the ocean as a way of policing the new oligarchies of seaborne trade (Mancke 1999).[14] This, coupled with expansions in state power, in turn enabled more concerted policing of the fewer, larger routes, which in turn yielded the enormous profits necessary to support such a crackdown. This then inspired pirates to consolidate and go after ever-larger prizes in the open ocean. Indeed, one of de Soto’s crew, the pirate Nicholas Fernandez, suggests that he first sought out a larger brig to use for high seas piracy once armed convoys made it increasingly difficult to capture vessels within the Caribbean (1830). Over time, and especially as the use of standing navies grew in place of sea-born mercenary forces, characterizations of piracy became increasingly extreme. Gradually, piracy became linked to treason instead of banditry, and became comparable to contemporary definitions of terrorism.[15] Indeed, when capital punishment was fully abolished in Britain in 1998, after over thirty years of disuse, it was by an act that threw out the penalty of death for the only two crimes that still merited it: piracy and treason (Crime and Disorder Act, Ch. 37 1998).

Pirates were seen to be diametrically opposed to the dominant order, but self-avowed pirates to some extent also trumped that order–not only by opposing it, but also by half-heartedly ignoring it. As we will see, at different points in their piratical careers, Benito de Soto and his crew pointedly destroyed documents, usurped documents, wrecked their ship for want of official papers, and incriminated themselves by unknowingly wearing their victims’ names. Sometimes opposing mainstream conceptions of language, sometimes obviating it, these pirates dwelt in the boundaries of language and textuality. The next subsection looks more closely at the wanton destruction of documents. The destruction of documents such as ships’ papers might be seen as aggressively metapragmatic in the sense that it comments on the use of written documents to declare ownership. The act of pulverizing an important deed to a ship may readily be seen as a commentary on the futility of such supposedly valuable and inviolable written deeds. In a related move, the very metalinguistic symbolism of this act may be seen as coming not from the pirates recounted in the sources, but from the sources’ authors, as an attempt to present pirates as the antithesis of a civilized individual, such as the author him/herself, who would be expected to value documents like deeds, and texts and books overall. However, this is not the only interpretation, for the treatment of documents was part of much broader patterns of wanton destruction.

 A Golden Age of Shredded Papers and Charts

Upon taking control of a ship, it is reported that often the very first act of many Caribbean pirate captains was to demand the ship’s papers and then, upon receiving them, to destroy them.[16] The methods of such destruction were diverse, ranging from tearing to cutting to burning. For one of de Soto’s captures alone, two possible methods are noted: when the Black Joke took the Morning Star, de Soto’s most infamous capture, one of the pirate crew chopped its papers either ‘in two’ or into ‘inch pieces,’ depending on the witness (Jones 1828). Yet before destroying them, while still aboard his own ship, de Soto apparently pointedly requested that the papers be sent to him together in a rowboat with the captain of the Morning Star, and took to firing cannons at the Morning Star when this order was not followed immediately (Jones 1828).The powerful symbolic nature of such an act is evident in its inclusion within even the briefest newspaper accounts of ship captures.

The documents are imbued with the symbolic authority of the captured vessel. Without them, the ship cannot dock under normal circumstances and the captain is unable to verify his or her command.[17] Therefore, the destruction of the papers highlighted the fact that both ships were now physically and symbolically outside the realm of textual authority. This not only removed the ship from the sphere of law into a realm of illegality, but it also explicitly or implicitly pointed out the feebleness of the laws, charters, decrees, and deeds that bolstered the authority of Western political regimes, which generally privileged texts and textuality. Far from the centers of power, a legal document which might otherwise serve as the kind of evidence used to sentence a pirate to hanging was itself under the direct control of whoever had the most physical power–and often this was the pirate him/herself.

Thus the destruction of the ship’s papers, in this instance, as physical texts and manuscripts, appear to be inherently linguistic, a demonstration of the power that official texts could hold for the far-away governments which first issued them and the subjects who carried them, as evidence of their own authority, aboard the ship. This very need, for the pirate to refute the privileging of texts by ripping them up, points to an awareness and distinct opinion upon the role and function of (textual) language in the world. The message was that such a valuable text, including official seals and signatures–texts which normally would have been highly prized, fiercely guarded, and protected by all aboard–no longer counted. Furthermore, they rendered the ship’s crew and passengers official outlaws as well, requiring them to prove that they were in fact victimized castaways should they ever again reach a port. As such, the pillaging of documents was a powerful, and apparently intentional, method of using documents to both delegitimize and recruit the captives. In addition to acknowledging the importance of documents of ownership by destroying them, pirates are also depicted resisting textual regimes by refusing to obtain their own official papers, or Letters of Marque.

Plunderers’ Permits: Letters of Marque

“Little thieves are hanged. Great ones go free.” (proverb).

The above quotation, in various forms, is alternately attributed as a Russian, British, or American proverb. A related saying, given as an Italian proverb, suggests some justice for the powerful “Little thieves are hanged by the neck, big ones by the purse.” Spurious or not, these sayings indicate how important it is, in discussions of piracy as theft-at-sea, to also consider the broader thefts of capitalism and empire.

Indeed, it is not surprising that pirates might have been familiar with the importance of the written word, because for in the Atlantic of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the difference between piracy and patriotic service often depended upon a document. Pirates were a threat not just to their victims, but to the state more broadly, precisely because they encroached upon the earnings of privateers, legal ‘pirates’ who were officially sponsored by a particular state in order to attack the ships of their enemies, a practice that was especially prevalent during the early days of European conquest of the Americas. The need for justification that they were conducting legitimate pillaging was paramount for states who sponsored privateers, because in practice the distinction was often blurred, with the pirates sometimes being recruited to operate as privateers, and with privateers plundering far beyond the limits to which they were legally authorized (Irr 2001; Lane 1998; Neill 2000).

As a solution, the Letter of Marque, also known as a ‘Letter of Marque and Reprisal’, an official document which acted as a form of contract between the state and the ship in question, sufficiently burdened with specific seals from the relevant leaders, became the standard proof offered that a ship was a privateer. This amounted to the assembly of a reserve navy of privateers before standing navies were ever organized (Starkey 2001). A ship with a Letter of Marque, which only attacked enemy ships as stipulated in the letter, acted as a significant boost to the forces of European Empire during times of almost constant war, but they generally differed from pirates only to the extent that they were officially sanctioned to plunder, not in the extent of their use of force (Fuchs 2000).[18]

Privateers functioned in a way that is reminiscent of the use of private contractors or mercenaries in contemporary warfare, and despite the fact that they were generally better equipped than pirate ships, in practice the Letter of Marque was the only state-authorized way to officially differentiate a privateer from a pirate. Privateers’ abiding influence combined with the difficulty of policing their behavior at sea meant that the de jure polarization of pirates and privateers was unable by itself to abolish the de facto similarity of their conduct (Fuchs 2000). Not surprisingly, forgeries of Letters of Marque were common, as was the theft and sale of them to the highest bidder. In at least one documented instance, however, a British captain hoping to plunder ships in the Caribbean obtained a commission from as far away as the Philippines, once French and Portuguese commissions became scarce (Bromley 2001). Privateers were an important force in Atlantic history, although only recently has scholarship in several disciplines begun to draw attention to the economic roles of privateers in the Atlantic (Fuchs 2000; Mackie 2005; Neill 2000; Pérotin-Dumon 2001; Starkey 2001).

It is notable that privateers at least required a Letter of Marque. In contrast, for targets that were considered to be beyond the bounds of civilization, all-out war was legitimate by definition. Attacks against indigenous populations, for example, whether on land or at sea, were widespread and generally accepted–although a pretense of legitimation did not hurt either (Fuchs 2000; Mancke 1999; Ritchie 1986). Thus, pirates were incorporated into the textual record because their targets were ‘legitimate’ ships, yet at the same time they were defined by the absence of such a Letter, by the want of a document. In this light, the pursuit of pirates was also a struggle over discourse, including both the control of any documents the pirates might have stolen, as well as the ability to end in one swoop (namely, by executing the pirates) both the spread of unpermitted plunder as well as related pirate philosophies or creeds. These two aspects of destruction, pirates’ alleged shredding of a ship’s papers and their want of legitimizing documents, could both be considered as a metapragmatic act, an explicit symbolic commentary on what language and textuality do in the world. Thus, some pirates might in fact be conscious of the power conveyed by documents, and be defined by a textual tradition, whether they indicated this by ripping texts apart or simply defying the need to obtain official permits. However, this contrasts with pirates’ preservation of documents, which reveals no such clear boundaries.

Preservation and Death

Pirates were also avid preservers of documents. In addition to shredding a ship’s permits, one of the first treasures pirates generally took when plundering a ship were the valuable navigation charts that ships carried. Often, the ship’s original charts would be very specific to their expected route, and pirates needed to gain as many charts as possible from each ship they captured in order to have the option of moving within a wider space of ocean–and if the charts were not needed in the end, they could be sold.[19]

However, maps and charts were not the only documents among the goods stolen by Caribbean pirates. Documents–at least, those not vigorously ripped to shreds–were also among a ship’s valuable cargo that were appropriated at will. Yet despite the fact that documents were highly prized, sources reveal that spoken and written language, in such instances, was not necessarily mobilized as a concept. According to existing accounts, suspected economic worth most certainly was an element of the theft, but it is not clear to what extent documents and charts were recognized as belonging to a category, discursively and practically, that was in any way separate or special from that which contained all other valuable goods. For example, one man, who claimed to be on board another ship that was captured by de Soto and his crew, reported that they were ‘robbed of all our stores, part of our sails, boat, books, charts, chronometer, barometer, sextants, quadrants, compasses, glasses,’ as well as the cargo book, the manifest, and several cases of biscuits, opium, and hats (Carrew 1828, 3). Thus, in the account, there is little difference given between the cargo book and the biscuits.

On the part of the pirates at least, economic considerations are routinely shown trumping textual or discursive awareness, which suggests that it would be displaced, at least in some instances, to view the theft in terms of its metapragmatic implications. Indeed, in other cases it is not clear whether the pirate in question even knew that documents were inside the items being plundered. For example, in one trial excerpt, the ill-fated explorer Captain James Cook reports that upon being attacked with a sword by a pirate, ‘I parried his blows with the tin box containing the ship’s papers, till I disarmed him’ (The London Times 1850). While it is clear that both Cook and the pirate were well aware that the ship had a set of official documents, and while Cook knew that the ship’s papers were inside the box he used to defend himself, later in the testimony Cook mentions that the pirate asked him if he had brought the documents aboard–thereby suggesting that the pirate had not known what the tin box contained during the fight (The London Times 1850).

Unlike the destruction of papers described above, the un-named pirate attacked the box of documents without regard to the fact that they were texts at all, or that the box of documents necessarily worked in a different or somehow special way than would a box of another material. This shows that, in this case at least, documents were not the pirate’s first priority (although apparently they were his second priority). Instead, the search for documents, and related attempts to identify the contents of the box, were secondary to the need to physically take control of the ship. So an analysis of the heterogeneous goods Caribbean pirates stole, as well as the very practical uses to which documents were sometimes put, including self-defense, suggest that there are instances where it could be mistaken to speak of their depicted actions as being metapragmatic or metalinguistic.

In these instances we see a fully pragmatic use of language in its material forms, yet one where language is so fully implicated in the material world as to lose the discursive specificity that would lend substance to a metapragmatic analysis. Foucault’s (1978, 36) argument that it required ongoing effort to achieve the “transformation of sex into discourse”, and the related emergence of sexuality as a visible sphere of life, might thus equally be applied to language. Perhaps there is nothing natural or given about the separation of language into its own sphere. Indeed, Foucault showed that sexuality was produced in no small part through a proliferation of categories of deviance that isolated specific sexual acts. In contrast, here there is an apparent aversion to separating out the utterances, gestures, inscriptions, scribbling, etchings, and varied inscriptions into objects considered texts that form part of a broader sphere of communication that came to be called language.

Pirates Caught Wearing Their Victims’ Names

This pirate was, forsooth, something of a philosopher in his way.

(Quoted from Cicero’s On the Commonwealth (Barham 1842)).

One further example demonstrates the danger of overextending the conceptualization of language as a separate and abstract category of experience, and of taking for granted the boundaries between language and non-language. As in the above case, here is an apparent effort to claim and preserve language that nonetheless, upon further examination, reveals a disregard for language altogether. To adapt Mary Douglas’s (2002) formulation about matter out of place, language out of place might simply be dirt, since the loss of context makes it not only unintelligible, but also unrecognizable as language. Moreover, in certain cases the accounts are indeterminate to such an extent that there is no clear boundary between where the language ends and the dirt begins.

The destruction and theft of documents were not the only ways that de Soto and his crew used texts in the course of their rampages. Having captured enough ships to live a life of material ease, they deliberately crashed their ship onto a coast that they believed to be in North Africa–and which was in fact, the sources agree, Cadiz, in the Spanish province of Galicia. De Soto and his crew hoped to be allowed to come aground without the proper documents by pretending to be shipwrecked slave traders. In order to make the farce seem real, the pirates forced their prisoner, the former first mate of their mutinied ship, to dress up like his former captain, Maris de Sousa Saamento, an officer in the Brazilian navy and the son of an admiral (London 1830).

Authorities soon began to suspect something when they realized that the ship’s manifest listed twenty-six unaccounted-for men and boys and that none of the surviving passengers and crew could give a convincing account of where the missing sailors had gone. Nonetheless, with ‘all of the assistance and relief’ of the local Vice-Consul and several other ‘gentleman of respectability,’ the castaways were conveyed into Cadiz, where they took advantage of the local hospitality and soon aroused more suspicion due to their remarkable wealth and exceedingly disorderly conduct (London 1830). The conceit might still have worked, however, except for the unfortunate coincidence that their former Brazilian captain’s father was a good friend of the local Portuguese Vice-Consul. Likewise, their cause was not aided by the questionable behavior of the new Captain who, every time he passed the city gates–against all military custom–would nervously salute the guards (London 1830).

De Soto and his crew captured many ships, and accounts of them are notable for the cruelty they contain, even by the standards of the time, and in comparison to other similar accounts. However, it is notable that the final straw that sent them to the execution block was the fact that they were discovered wearing text that was out of place. Upon their eventual capture, many of de Soto’s men were wearing clothes that still bore the names of their victims, literally embroidered into their coats and collars. De Soto, for his part, had escaped to Gibraltar, where he was captured with a large trunk containing a shirt inscribed with the name ‘T. Goodwin,’ the former captain of the Morning Star, their most famous capture (Aymerich 1828).[20]

On a practical level, such an obvious mistake seems to be a serious oversight even for those who might have been illiterate. They may still very well recognize the incriminating possibilities of a text, even if they could not read it. Numerous possible explanations exist for the fact that de Soto’s crew donned the names of their victims. It could be seen as an act of defiance, although in that case, they would have also realized that the monograms would be incriminating. It might also be viewed as an act of ignorance, if they were unfamiliar with the practice of monogramming clothes which was nonetheless very common at the time. In that case, they would be caught by their inability to assimilate into dominant textual and linguistic regimes. More likely, however, it was purely pragmatic, albeit in a practical sense rather than a linguistic one. Possibly, after months at sea, they could not resist donning some of the luxurious clothes, whether or not they noticed that the embroidery contained letters. The pirates may not have been ‘speaking’ through the act of putting on the embroidered clothes. The embroidery that ultimately incriminated them may, at the time, have seemed irrelevant. In this case, then, language wasn’t alterity, but dirt (Douglas 2002). The embroidery might have been there, in the background together, say, with the color of the buttons of the coat, but so seemingly unimportant that it didn’t even form into a verbal expression or a fully-worded thought. In this case, language wasn’t absent, but neither was it fully present as text.

In contrast to the destruction of documents, then, the preservation of linguistic objects on the part of de Soto and his crew, such as the secreting away of nautical charts together with other plunder and the donning of victims’ clothes, indicates both an awareness of the objects and an instrumental use of them that fails to distinguish their economic and practical value from their linguistic importance. As tempting as it may be, it is not productive to only speak of these acts of preservation–of pirates’ attempts to do things to these documents and texts–as metapragmatic. If the sources which report these acts seek to highlight their linguistic aspects, then it is all the more important to acknowledge the possibilities of other analyses that crowd the margins–indeed, of interpretations that attempt to move past a privileging of language and textuality.


Figure 1: The frontispiece of the original Dutch edition of Exquemelin’s work, showing scenes of the torture inflicted by pirates that are eerily similar to depictions of the violence perpetrated by Spanish conquistadors during this era. The Dutch text reads [Sic] ‘De Americaensche Zee-Roovers, Behelsende een Partinente Verhael van alle de Roverye En Onmenselijcke Vreetheeden die de Engelsche en Franse Roovers Tegens de Spanijaerden in America Gepleeght Hebben.’ (‘The American Buccaneers [literally: ‘sea-robbers’ or ‘sea-bandits’], Including a Pertinent Story of all of the Banditry and Inhuman Atrocities that the English and French Bandits Have Committed against the Spanish in America.’) (Exquemelin 1972. Image retrieved on 6 September 2016;
Figure 1: The frontispiece of the original Dutch edition of Exquemelin’s work, showing scenes of the torture inflicted by pirates that are eerily similar to depictions of the violence perpetrated by Spanish conquistadors during this era. The Dutch text reads [Sic] ‘De Americaensche Zee-Roovers, Behelsende een Partinente Verhael van alle de Roverye En Onmenselijcke Vreetheeden die de Engelsche en Franse Roovers Tegens de Spanijaerden in America Gepleeght Hebben.’ (‘The American Buccaneers [literally: ‘sea-robbers’ or ‘sea-bandits’], Including a Pertinent Story of all of the Banditry and Inhuman Atrocities that the English and French Bandits Have Committed against the Spanish in America.’) (Exquemelin 1972. Image retrieved on 6 September 2016;


Conclusion: Writing as Theft

D-an ye, reply’d Bellamy, I am a free Prince and I have as much Authority to make War on the whole World as he who has a hundred Sail of Ships at Sea, and an Army of 100,000 men in the Field; and this my conscience tells me. (Samuel Bellamy to Captain Beer, his captive, quoted in (Johnson 1972).

In this article, I have analyzed the ambiguous boundaries of language among pirates who plundered official documents. The destruction of some documents served to reaffirm the linguistic aspects of pirates’ actions, while their preservation of others revealed that, to pirates, language might not have been a meaningful concept. These accounts demonstrate that pirates’ treatment of documents constituted both language and not-language, both metalanguage and not-metalanguage, at the same time. So the notion of the Meta in metalanguage is a slippery one. Yet in some instances pirates did engage in quite clear linguistic acts. Pirates named their ships, designed their own flags, changed their own names, and manipulated definitions of trade and commerce to their own ends. So if, as I argue in the introduction, researchers can be pirates, then by way of returning to the framing of piracy, it is helpful to conclude with a brief exploration of how historical pirates indeed could also be writers.

Even for pirates who would not have called themselves authors, they might still be considered inscribers of a kind. Many pirates wrote text in the sense that they named their ships and wrote or drew their own flags. In the case of Benito de Soto, textuality played specific roles in the masquerade which led to the eventual execution of both de Soto and his companions, the crew of the Defensor de Pedro, a former slave ship[21] that they had renamed the Black Joke. The very renaming of the ship ironically indexes or indicates very different cultural attributes–namely, ‘black’ or morbid humor, as well as the unspeakably devastating ‘joke’ of slavery–than the regal overtones of the initial name, which alluded to the (then-king) of Brazil. In terms of flags, to say that a good number of pirates were illiterate is in some ways a misnomer, because in addition to knowing how to navigate by reading the stars in the sky, many of them would have been familiar with a whole host of both national and territorial flags, used to either soothe or terrify their captives, as well as signal flags used to communicate between ships while at sea. The use of the flag to identify a particular pirate, especially one known to show no mercy, could go a long way towards subduing potential victims.

Pirates also toyed with their own identities, including nationalities, aliases, and the legal definitions of their actions. The members of de Soto’s crew had multiple nationalities, including French, Spanish, Brazilian, Portuguese, and two Africans whose specific place of birth is not listed (Aymerich 1828). Nicholas Fernandez himself was born in Spain, raised in Cuba, became a mariner in New Orleans, and sailed with de Soto out of Rio de Janeiro (Fernandez 1830). They also had multiple names. The documents concerning the Black Joke point out four or five names for several members of the crew, a combination of aliases and nicknames. A pirate’s reputation depended on a name that would inspire fear, but any particular pirate’s name could incorporate several pirates who adopted it in succession, if need be, or could be dropped so that its original bearer avoided capture.

In addition, some pirates wrote emblems of modern nations: articles, or constitutions, which governed their conduct (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000; Rediker 2004), and not uncommonly had their stories recorded while they sat awaiting execution.[22] Yet often, when text is attributed to pirates, it is the result of several un-named authors. For example, the testimony of Nicholas Fernandez, one of de Soto’s crew who was later executed for piracy, was released as a sobriety pamphlet. The almost word-for-word correspondence among sections of Fernandez’s account with the appended paragraphs of ‘extracts from the well written productions of very able authors on this subject,’ suggests substantial rewriting on the part of the publisher (Fernandez 1830).

Thus, even when a single denotative text is extant for a pirate, it indexes a multiplicity of not only discursive roles, but also of potential authors. More broadly, pirates who did not themselves write nonetheless did also serve as authors of a sort, by acting in order to instill fear not just in their immediate witnesses, but also in the audiences of those who lived to tell the tale, and publish it widely. The willingness to go bravely to the scaffold, then–perhaps shouting all the while–was another way that pirates inserted themselves into the textual record as an identifiable speaking subject, not only in the hope that their own words were recorded, but also that their very ferociousness would help others in their piratical pursuits.

Authors, Pirates No More

On rare occasions, individual pirates became authors and researchers, in the sense that they created documents–most notably, maps, journals, and navigational charts. However, they often did so specifically in order to signal that they were not (or were no longer) pirates. Many of these were the work of pirates turned explorers and conquerors, like William Dampier, Francis Drake, and (allegedly) Captain Cook (Pennell 2001).[23] In their now famous travel journals, they paint themselves as men of science as a way of distancing themselves from their former peers, thereby indicating that pirates might use the importance attributed to the ability to read and write as a way of changing their identities from pirates to explorers or adventurers (Neill 2000). The Dutch-French author Alexander Exquemelin (John Esquemeling), perhaps the most famous biographer of Caribbean pirates, was himself a former indentured servant who first turned pirate, then popular historian.[24] However, by creating an identity as a scientist or author in order to overcome their identity as pirate, these exceptions prove the rule that pirates, in contrast to the variety of examples above, were expected to stand in opposition to textual traditions.

The contrast between these types of expectations and pirates’ variegated linguistic and non-linguistic acts further shows the difficulty of attributing metalanguage to them, and of considering many of their actions as linguistic. Even as writers in the broadest sense, pirates neither were incorporated into the dominant order nor were mobilizing its rules to work against it. Definitions of piracy were particularly significant in light of the feeble line drawn between pirates and privateers, as well as the accusations that were often made against victims who accepted pirates’ offers, often at the threat of death, to join up and become pirates themselves. Such definitions are apparent emblems of pirates’ linguistic ideologies more broadly: they exhibit a sort of sloppy subjectivity to an extent that proves that the notion of a speaking or writing individual wasn’t present, wasn’t absent–but was simply not that relevant.

The relationships between pirates’ violence on the one hand, and the violence of government and economic actors on the other, serve to highlight the danger of privileging text and language. Put another way, the victims of pirates were also often violent, including military and merchant officers who upheld the brutal labor conditions aboard many ships. So, it would be a mistake to take authors’ depictions of innocent victims of alleged pirate atrocities at face value, thereby attributing credence to the written sources and their language simply because they are what remains. Similarly, it would be misguided to assume that the authors and publishers of accounts about pirates were disinterested players who themselves had no interest in perpetuating violence. Indeed, Alexander Exquemelin (1972) took macabre delight in portraying pirates as rogues who brutalized Spanish conquistadors in the Americas. It is highly debatable whether this was an attempt at a factual account, or whether he was simply pandering to those who felt the full violence of the Spanish empire among their subject populations in Europe–including the Dutch (Figure 1).

Regardless, de Soto and his crew came to violent ends. De Soto, for his part, was hanged in British Gibraltar, the city of his arrest and initial refuge from the law. Of those on board, only José Santos and Joaquin Palabra escaped imprisonment or execution. Santos dropped from the historical record by going into hiding. Palabra, a young adolescent of African ancestry who was between thirteen and fifteen years old, received a very cruel sentence nonetheless–he was returned to slavery in Brazil. The other African sailor, also named Joaquin though no last name is given, who had been a slave of the previous captain, also did not escape cruelty: he was murdered by the crew along with several others aboard for fear that he would turn them in.[25]

This article more fully contextualizes the variegated boundaries of language that are invoked through use of the Meta. I have investigated the ways that pirates, and the documents they abused, might serve as both valid linguistic objects and subjects. At the same time I have shown that, primarily through Pirates’ very apathy and inattention, they also serve to completely obviate the conceptions of language that are the substance and context of metapragmatic discourse. Thus, in these cases, the pirates’ actions both were and were not linguistic–or at the very least, semiotic. In order to further extend metapragmatic theory, it is therefore important to develop a better understanding of the boundaries where such definitions overlap, clash, merge and more, and to avoid the semi-conscious privileging of written language which is the outcome of the many textual traditions of scholarship. One of the most fruitful ways to do so is through research literally at the boundaries of sociolinguistic theory–including topics such as historical reported speech, subaltern groups, the materiality of discourse, and the relationship between specifically linguistic utterances and broader semiotic systems of meaning. Stefan Helmreich (2008) has proposed the notion of underwater anthropology to encourage the further focus on sound as a means of moving culture. I would like to add that, as pirates of an academic sort, it is only fair that academics more broadly begin to substantively recognize our oceanic and piratical origins.



Voorbij het multiculturalisme van Will Kymlicka?


Vrij snel na het verschijnen van Liberalism, community and culture (1989) en Multicultural citizenship (1995) werd Will Kymlicka’s werk de locus classicus binnen het politiek-filosofisch multiculturalismedebat. In grote mate kan dit werk worden begrepen als een aanvulling op en verfijning van de centrale uitgangspunten van het egalitair-liberalisme van Ronald Dworkin en John Rawls (Levrau 2015). Zo bekritiseert Kymlicka beide auteurs omdat zij ervan uitgaan dat de maatschappelijke cultuur – de cultuur van een intergenerationele gemeenschap die een bepaald territorium en een gedeelde taal heeft, maar die tevens institutioneel compleet is, opties aanreikt voor het private en publieke leven en een zekere geschiedenis kent – voor elk lid op een vergelijkbare wijze toegankelijk is. Kymlicka wijst erop dat dit voor etnisch-culturele minderheidsgroepen niet het geval is en dat zij precies daarom behoefte hebben aan multiculturele compensatiemaatregelen. In dit artikel tonen we aan waarom Kymlicka’s poging om het egalitair-liberalisme aan een gediversifieerde maatschappelijke realiteit aan te passen eigenlijk nog niet ver genoeg gaat.

We starten met een analyse van de manier waarop Kymlicka de verhouding tussen autonomie en constitutieve bindingen duidt. We tonen daarbij aan dat hij, als liberaal denker, vertrekt vanuit de assumptie dat mensen autonoom in-de-wereld staan en dus over de mogelijkheid beschikken zelf te bepalen hoe zij hun leven inrichten. Anders dan bijvoorbeeld Van Leeuwen in een aantal teksten stelt, hoeft dit evenwel niet te betekenen dat Kymlicka’s theorie daarom monistisch is. Kymlicka’s liberaal-multiculturalisme berust wel degelijk ook op een sterk erkenningsargument, dat wil zeggen dat hij erkent dat immigranten op een constitutieve wijze zijn gebonden aan culturele kaders en dat het verbreken van die binding tot een verlies van integriteit kan leiden. Sterker nog, die constitutieve binding is precies de reden waarom hij de maatschappelijke instituties van de meederheidsgroep wil aanpassen zodanig dat immigranten er meer in worden weerspiegeld. Wat Kymlicka echter te weinig verdisconteert, is dat ook leden van de meerderheidsgroep constitutief aan allerlei ‘manieren van leven’ kunnen zijn gebonden zijn waardoor ook voor hen de toegang tot de centrale instituties van de maatschappelijke cultuur problematisch kan zijn. Een egalitair-liberaal beleid dat elke burger met gelijke zorg en respect behandelt, moet daarom ‘culturele kwetsbaarheid’ ruimer definiëren dan de kwetsbaarheid van etnisch-culturele minderheden. Wat derhalve nodig is, is een verschuiving van multiculturalisme naar wat we ‘pluriforme accommodatie’ zullen noemen. Elke vraag om erkenning – waarbij het op zich niet zoveel uitmaakt welk etiket er precies op de claim kan worden geplakt (wordt de vraag om erkenning geformuleerd vanuit een etnisch-culturele of religieuze of meer ‘prozaïsche’ binding?) – dient te worden geprojecteerd tegen dezelfde achtergrond van objectieve en neutrale criteria die bepalen of de claim al dan niet accommodeerbaar is. Naar het einde van dit artikel toe noemen we op summiere wijze een aantal van die criteria. In een besluit recapituleren we de essentie van ons betoog.

Tegelijk – en tevens de achtergrond tegen dewelke deze analyse dient te worden gelezen –wordt met het argument om voorbij het multiculturalisme van Kymlicka te denken, een perspectief geformuleerd ten aanzien van de demografische toestand van superdiversiteit. Immers, waar Kymlicka nog sterk redeneert in de context van een ontvangende, liberale orde en etnisch-culturele migrantengroepen, is de demografische én politieke werkelijkheid er thans een van een gedurige diversiteit die niet enkel of primair als ‘migratie’ kan of moet worden gedacht. Mensen kunnen niet altijd zomaar van elkaar worden onderscheiden volgens de klassieke demarcatie van ‘meerderheid-minderheid’. Wel integendeel, verschillende grootsteden worden thans in toenemende mate ‘majority-minority cities’, waarbij de meerderheid van de bewoners net uit een waaier van minderheden bestaat (Geldof 2013). Een focus op etnisch-culturaliteit, verdonkermaant bovendien dat ‘diversiteit’ ook anders kan en naar onze overtuiging moet ingevuld worden, bijvoorbeeld via niet essentialistische concepties van cultuur, waarbij cultuur niet langer verwijst naar een soort grootste gemeenschappelijke deler of brede context die mensen aan elkaar bindt, maar naar een individuele manier van in-der-Welt-sein. Deze idiosyncratische positie capteren we hieronder middels de term ‘conceptie van het goede leven’. Deze conceptie kan een etnisch-cultureel of levensbeschouwelijk karakter hebben, maar zij kan ook meer ‘prozaïsch’ worden ingevuld en gerelateerd zijn aan levensstijlen, subculturen en persoonlijke overtuigingen. In een tijd waar kritische stemmen zich vrolijk maken over het epitaaf dat de dood van het multiculturalisme verkondigt, kan een ‘inclusieve politiek van pluriforme accommodatie’ identitaire verschillen opnieuw positief agenderen. Iedereen verschijnt immers als een gelijke voor de wet van het verschil. Met de nivellering van ‘bindingen’ wordt diversiteit uit de etnisch-culturele en religieuze hoek gehaald, waardoor het argument – of althans het gevoel – dat etnisch-culturele minderheden of gelovigen worden bevoordeeld wanneer zij door een multiculturele politiek worden geaccommodeerd niet meer opgaat. Dat betekent niet dat alle maatschappelijke spanningen zullen worden gedempt of gedepolitiseerd – het politieke en filosofische debat over waarom erkenning van diversiteit überhaupt moet worden doorgevoerd, ligt bijvoorbeeld nog lang niet in een definitieve plooi. Echter, precies omdat pluriforme accommodatie individualiteit en contextualiteit in rekening brengt, en omdat vanaf het begin duidelijk is dat compenserend beleid niet één groep toekomt of niet slechts wordt uitgerold ten voordele van één type erkenningsclaims, kunnen allerhande vormen van agonisme en strijd mogelijks constructiever worden gevoerd.

Autonomie: Kymlicka vs. Rawls

Voor Kymlicka is het individu in de eerste plaats een autonoom wezen, een wezen dat dus in staat is om zijn ends (d.w.z. concepties van het goede leven, doeleinden, projecten, liefdes, bindingen etc.) kritisch te bevragen en waar nodig bij te sturen of zelfs op te geven. Kymlicka onderschrijft dan ook herhaaldelijk datgene wat Rawls aangeeft, namelijk dat individuen ‘do not view themselves as inevitably tied to the pursuit of the particular conception of the good and its final ends which they espouse at any given time. Instead, they are capable of revising and changing this conception. They can “stand back” from their current ends to “survey and assess” their worthiness’ (Kymlicka 1995: 81; Rawls 1980: 544).[1] In later werk heeft Rawls zijn theorie echter bijgesteld. Mensen, zo luidt het in zijn Political liberalism (1993), zouden niet alleen op een constitutieve wijze zijn gebonden aan hun morele motivaties, maar ook aan bepaalde ends.

‘By contrast, citizens in their personal affairs, or within the internal life of associations, may regard their ends and aspirations differently. They may have attachments and loves that they believe they would not or could not, stand apart from; and they might regard it as unthinkable for them to view themselves without certain religious and philosophical convictions and commitments’ (Rawls 1980: 544-545; 1993: 31).

Rawls verdisconteert dus dat mensen zich in hun persoonlijk leven niet noodzakelijk tot autonomie aangesproken weten, maar zich laten leiden door (heteronome) culturele bindingen. Hij verwerpt echter niet het idee van autonomie, maar wil het alleen beperken tot het politieke domein. In de politieke sfeer moeten mensen met andere woorden worden begrepen als wezens die afstand kunnen nemen van hun ends.

Kymlicka volgt deze rawlsiaanse bijstelling – een bijstelling die Rawls introduceerde teneinde enigszins aan het mensbeeld van het communitarisme tegemoet te komen – maar hij gaat niet zover als Rawls om het liberalisme als een neutrale (politieke) theorie te willen voorstellen. Kymlicka (1992 en 1995) vindt dat het political liberalism van Rawls uiteindelijk nog steeds autonomy-based is en stelt dat Rawls daar dan ook beter voor had kunnen uitkomen. Het probleem bij Rawls, zo schrijft Kymlicka (1995: 160), is dat het moeilijk is om uit te leggen

‘why anyone would accept the ideal of autonomy in political contexts unless they also accepted it more generally. If the members of a religious community see their religious ends as constitutive, so that they have no ability to stand back and assess these ends, why would they accept a political conception of the person which assumes that they do have that ability (and indeed a “highest-order interest” in excersing that ability)?’

Rawls legt niet uit (en kan dat volgens Kymlicka ook niet) waarom mensen in hun private leven zouden mogen leven als communitaristen (cf. als fundamenteel gebonden individuen), maar in het publieke leven als liberalen (cf. als individuen die in staat zijn los te komen van hun bindingen). Als het inderdaad zo zou zijn dat mensen niet kunnen loskomen van hun bindingen, dan moet het beleid bijvoorbeeld ook illiberale claims erkennen omdat het altijd mogelijk is dat mensen op een constitutieve wijze kunnen zijn gebonden aan illiberale ends. Rawls erkent echter geen illiberale claims en precies daarom is zijn political liberalism eigenlijk weinig overtuigend als een alternatief voor het comprehensive liberalism dat stelt dat mensen altijd en overal autonoom zijn. Kymlicka erkent dat het soms moeilijk kan zijn om de diepste ends bij te stellen of op te geven, maar uiteindelijk geldt dat geen enkel end buiten (potentiële) revisie valt.

‘What is central to the liberal view is not that we can perceive a self prior to its ends, but that we understand our selves to be prior to our ends, in the sense that no end or goal is exempt from possible re-examination. (…) My self is, in this sense, perceived prior to its ends, i.e. I can always envisage myself without its present ends (…). There must always be some ends given with the self when we engage in such reasoning, but it doesn’t follow that any particular ends must always be taken as given with the self. (…) [W]hat is given with the self can, and sometimes does change over the course of a lifetime’ (Kymlicka 1989: 52; 1995: 90-92).

Het belang dat Kymlicka in zijn theorie aan ‘autonomie’ hecht, kan nauwelijks worden onderschat. Vrijwel alle belangrijke differentiaties die hij maakt zijn namelijk van het autonomiebeginsel afgeleid (zie ook Van Leeuwen 2002 en 2006). Zo huldigt hij als egalitair-liberaal het onderscheid tussen ‘keuze’ en ‘omstandigheid’ waarbij alleen de nadelen die voortvloeien uit ongekozen omstandigheden moeten worden gecompenseerd. Hij maakt ook een onderscheid tussen de culturele structuur die als omstandigheid geduid wordt (mensen kiezen er niet voor geboren te worden in deze of gene societal culture) en het culturele karakter dat precies omwille van de autonomie van mensen kan veranderen en dus niet moet worden beschermd via een communitaristische politics of the common good.[2] Verder maakt hij een onderscheid tussen nationale minderheden en immigrantengroepen die respectievelijk onvrijwillig zijn geïncorporeerd in een grotere staat en vrijwillig de eigen nationale cultuur hebben verlaten.[3] Tot slot is er het onderscheid tussen interne restricties en externe protecties. Interne restricties zijn claims van minderheidsgroepen om de vrijheid en gelijkheid van dissidente groepsleden te schenden. Kymlicka bepleit, als liberaal, geen accommodatie van dit soort claims. Externe protecties daarentegen veronderstellen dat de culturele eigenheid als basis voor vrijheid en gelijkheid wordt beschermd tegen ingrepen van de meerderheidsgroep. Het zijn dit soort protecties waarover het liberaal-multiculturalisme van Kymlicka gaat.

Autonomie en constitutieve bindingen: een kritiek op Van Leeuwen

Volgens Van Leeuwen (2002 en 2006) vormt het belang van autonomie het exclusieve normfunderend aspect van Kymlicka’s multiculturele theorie. Zijn autonomie-ideaal zou de aanspraak op erkenning tot één zelfde type herleiden en het multiculturalisme vanuit de beperking van één morele logica verdedigen – vandaar dat Van Leeuwen Kymlicka’s werk monistische allures toedicht. ‘What cannot be affirmed in this theory is that social attachments are themselves of value and of relevance for members of social groups’ (Van Leeuwen 2006: 406). Culturele bindingen zouden dus, althans volgens Van Leeuwen, door Kymlicka alleen maar worden erkend omwille van hun instrumentele rol – dat wil zeggen omdat ze het palet bieden op basis waarvan het individu op een autonome manier keuzes kan maken. Deze instrumentele logica zou het intrinsieke belang negeren dat mensen aan hun maatschappelijke cultuur hechten. Van Leeuwen (2002 en 2006) stelt verder dat het weinig waarschijnlijk is dat leden van etnisch-culturele groepen hun binding met een groep of cultuur (enkel maar) ervaren als een conditie voor reflectie en keuze. Minderheidsgroepen, zo geeft hij aan, zijn niet zozeer verwikkeld in een erkenningsstrijd omdat zij daarmee een vertrouwd medium willen veiligstellen waarmee ze hun eigen opties kunnen verhelderen, maar omdat zij zin ontlenen aan het besef van verbondenheid met een unieke traditie of culturele groep. Hij contrasteert dit inzicht met Kymlicka’s zogenaamde reductie van respect voor etnisch-culturele bindingen tot respect voor autonomie en stelt dan dat Kymlicka te weinig recht doet aan de betekenis van bindingen vanuit een intern perspectief.

Wij lezen Kymlicka echter op een andere wijze. Het klopt dat de multiculturele bescherming van cultuur – in casu de cultuur als structuur oftewel als keuzecontext – bij Kymlicka steeds een instrumentele operatie is, maar het is niet steeds enkel een instrumentele operatie om de individuele autonomie veilig te stellen. Het is Kymlicka wel degelijk ook te doen om de veiligstelling van het zelfrespect dat mensen ontlenen aan de erkenning van hun fundamentele en niet-inwisselbare verbondenheid met die societal culture (zoals die verbondenheid bijvoorbeeld bij immigranten tot uiting komt in het feit dat ze in de societal culture van aankomst erkenning vragen voor praktijken en tradities waaraan ze in hun oorspronkelijke societal culture verknocht waren). Wanneer Kymlicka (1997: 83) bijvoorbeeld zegt ‘it is the instrumental, not the intrinsic, value of culture which grounds claims for political powers and resources in my liberal theory’, dan wil hij zich vooral afzetten tegen de communitaristische opvatting die stelt dat culturen op zichzelf een waarde hebben en derhalve moeten worden beschermd – desnoods tegen de belangen van de individuen in – via een politics of the common good.

‘As a result, while individuals are free to adopt such an attitude for themselves, and to try to persuade others to do so, it doesn’t allow the group to restrict the basic civil liberties of its members in the name of the “sacredness” of a particular cultural tradition or practice. It is up to the individuals themselves to decide how sacred they view the particular traditions and practices of their culture’ (Kymlicka 1997: 83).

Kymlicka zegt dus inderdaad niet dat culturen op zich van waarde zijn; maar hij ontkent daarmee niet dat culturen (en de opties waaraan men binnen die maatschappelijke cultuur is verknoopt) in de ogen van de participerende individuen een intrinsieke, constitutieve waarde kunnen hebben. Van Leeuwen beaamt dit, maar stelt dat de morele betekenis van die band met een maatschappelijke cultuur slechts een afgeleide zou zijn omdat individuele autonomie onmogelijk is zonder de vertrouwdheid en identificatie met een culturele context. ‘Het morele belang van de band is dus afgeleid van het morele belang van autonomie, het is er immers een voorwaarde voor. Het logische gevolg is dat culturele bindingen als zodanig niet zijn beschermd’ (Van Leeuwen 2002: 176). Dat het intrinsieke belang slechts een afgeleide betekenis zou zijn en dat de bindingen op zich in het werk van Kymlicka niet zouden zijn beschermd, overtuigt ons niet helemaal.[4]

In het geval van immigranten is duidelijk hoe Kymlicka’s erkenningsbeleid zowel gericht is op autonomie – de maatschappelijke gelijkheid en vrijheid van immigranten wordt bespoedigd wanneer men de meerderheidsinstituties van de nieuwe societal culture aanpast in functie van het identitaire verschil – als op de erkenning van het intrinsiek belang dat immigranten hechten aan hun bindingen met de vorige societal culture. Dat immigranten gehecht blijven aan hun eigen maatschappelijke cultuur vormt voor Kymlicka, anders dan wat Van Leeuwen laat schijnen, wel degelijk meer dan alleen een praktisch bezwaar. Zo kunnen we denken dat Kymlicka niet zou instemmen met een hypothetische machine, procedure of pil die snel en pijnloos de banden met een minderheidscultuur in een hechting aan de meerderheidscultuur kan omzetten, precies omdat hij de fundamentele verknoping van mensen aan hun vorige societal culture erkent. ‘Like self-government rights, these polyethnic rights are not seen as temporary, because the cultural differences they protect are not something we seek to eliminate’ (Kymlicka 1995: 31). Het is precies omwille van de waarde die individuen aan culturele praktijken, tradities en opvattingen kunnen hechten dat Kymlicka zoveel inspanningen levert om immigranten de politieke rechten en vrijheden te bieden om in de societal culture van aankomst te leven volgens de praktijken en opvattingen waaraan ze zich sinds lang ver/gebonden weten. Mensen die vrijheid ontnemen – bijvoorbeeld het multiculturalisme voor immigranten niet implementeren – betekent een kaakslag voor het zelfrespect omdat immigranten dat respect precies voor een deel ontlenen aan het respect dat men voor die unieke bindingen krijgt.[5]

Waaraan immigranten dus hun respect ontlenen, is de erkenning van het feit dat zij aan bepaalde aspecten van hun oorspronkelijke societal culture gebonden blijven. Wat Kymlicka immers via zijn multiculturalisme voor immigranten wil erkennen is niet die oorspronkelijke societal culture als zodanig – het gaat niet om zelfbestuursrechten, maar ‘slechts’ om poly-etnische minderheidsrechten (zie noot 3) – maar wel enkele gewoonten in verband met voedingrestricties, kledij, ontspanning, tradities, praktijken, religie etc. Dat betekent dat Kymlicka wel degelijk een morele rechtvaardiging articuleert teneinde de culturele hersenspoeling tegen te houden. Immigranten zouden niet akkoord gaan met de potentiële assimilatiemachine omdat ze het gevoel zouden hebben dat ze er een ‘ander mens’ door zijn geworden (cf. integriteits- en continuïteitsverlies). Kymlicka pareert de assimilationistische kritiek omdat hij zich heel goed bewust is van het feit dat mensen op etnisch-cultureel niveau fundamenteel gebonden wezens zijn met thick identities. De kritiek die wij op Kymlicka formuleren en in het vervolg van dit artikel uitwerken is niet dat zijn theorie monistische allures zou hebben waarbij etnisch-culturele bindingen op zich niet zouden zijn beschermd, maar wel dat zijn monomane aandacht voor de constitutieve etnisch-culturele bindingen verheelt dat er mogelijk ook andere constitutieve bindingen bestaan die ceteris paribus nopen tot een vergelijkbaar accommoderend beleid.

Een liberale politiek van extimiteit

In navolging van Dworkin formuleert Kymlicka (1989 en 1995) twee structurele kenmerken van het goede leven. Enerzijds moet het leven van binnenuit worden geleefd, dat wil zeggen dat het individu zijn leven vorm moet kunnen geven volgens zijn eigen opvattingen. Anderzijds moeten individuen steeds in staat zijn om hun doeleinden, projecten en bindingen te herevalueren. Dat laatste vloeit voort uit het feit dat mensen feilbaar zijn wanneer het erop aankomt te bepalen wat precies een zinvol leven betekent. Beide kenmerken wijzen op het fundamentele belang van persoonlijke autonomie. Door de nadruk te leggen op het feit dat mensen de vrijheid moeten hebben om de ends te kiezen en te herzien, toont Kymlicka echter aan dat het hem niet zozeer om de autonomie an sich te doen is, maar wel om het belang dat mensen aan bepaalde ends hechten.

‘Liberals aren’t saying that we should have the freedom to select our projects for its own sake, because freedom is the most valuable thing in the world. Rather, it is our projects and tasks that are the most important things in our lives, and it is because they are so important that we should be free to revise and reject them. (…) Freedom of choice, then, isn’t pursued for its own sake, but as a precondition for pursuing those projects and practices that are valued for their own sake’ (Kymlicka 1989: 48).

De ends zijn voor mensen belangrijk, vandaar dat mensen die ends zelf moeten kunnen kiezen en, als ze dat nodig zouden vinden, herzien.

Mensen ervaren sommige ends duidelijk als belangrijker dan andere en het gebeurt dat zij hun eigen (over)leven ondergeschikt maken aan een bepaald end. ‘It is difficult, properly traumatic, for a human animal to accept that his or her life is not just a stupid process of reproduction and pleasureseeking, but that it is in the service of a Truth’ (Žižek 2002: 69-70). Deze ends die mensen er soms toe brengen de eigen overleving op het spel te zetten, zijn wat we ‘extieme’ ends zouden kunnen noemen.[6] Mensen worden erdoor op sleeptouw genomen zonder dat ze altijd precies weten waarom ze er zo aan verknocht zijn. Ze worden er als het ware als een buitenstaander door gecapteerd (extern) en tegelijk voelen ze dat het hun meest persoonlijke kern bepaalt (intiem) en dat ze zichzelf zouden verraden mochten ze er geen gehoor aan geven. Als we aan het bestaan van deze extieme ends geloof hechten, dan betekent dit dat niet alle ends zomaar potentieel herzienbaar zijn en dat er dus wel degelijk een soort hiërarchie van ends bestaat.[7] Kymlicka beweert nergens dat in het leven van een individu alle ends zullen veranderen, hij stelt alleen dat ze in principe kunnen veranderen (ook als dat niet eenvoudig zou blijken te zijn) en vooral dat een beleid mensen in staat moet stellen om hun ends te overdenken en indien gewenst ook te veranderen. Het is perfect mogelijk dat een individu bepaalde ends als onveranderbaar beschouwt (dat lijkt Kymlicka dus niet te ontkennen), alleen moet de overheid een individu altijd zo behandelen dat het zijn ends (indien gewenst) toch kan veranderen.[8]

Het is precies het liberalisme (en bijvoorbeeld niet het communitarisme) dat, via de vrijheid van organisatie, geweten, meningsuiting etc. de meeste ruimte laat voor het feit dat mensen extieme bindingen hebben die ze niet zonder meer kunnen veranderen. Deze vrijheden en grondrechten zijn niet enkel belangrijk omdat mensen moeten kunnen kiezen, maar ook omdat de overheid respect wil opbrengen voor de bindingen die mensen met en door hun opvoeding, socialisatie en cultuur meekrijgen en die hen omwille van een bepaalde psychologische constitutie op een extieme wijze capteren. Godsdienstvrijheid is dus bijvoorbeeld niet (alleen) belangrijk omdat mensen hun godsdienst moeten kunnen ‘kiezen’ (zoals men de smaak van een ijsje kan kiezen), maar ook en wellicht vooral omdat mensen in religieuze aangelegenheden niet kunnen kiezen en zich categorisch aangesproken voelen en zich gebonden weten aan tradities, teksten en praktijken.

De aandacht voor de extieme bindingen zou het liberale denkkader (en met name ook dat van Kymlicka) meer dan nu het geval is moeten doen inzien dat neutrality of justification vaak niet helemaal toereikend is en dat er redenen kunnen zijn om aanvullend ook neutrality of outcome mee in rekening te brengen. Anders gezegd, niet alleen de gronden, maar ook de gevolgen van het beleid moeten in acht worden genomen. Als het individu bijvoorbeeld primair wordt begrepen als een individu dat autonoom in de wereld staat en dus over het vermogen beschikt om zijn ends te herzien, dan maakt het voor een beleid eigenlijk weinig uit of de regels, wetten, praktijken en instituties sommige mensen benadelen in de mate dat zij hun integriteit op het spel moeten zetten. De riposte dat de wet, regel of institutie nu eenmaal altijd sommige mensen meer zal benadelen dan anderen, wordt dan een argument om de gevolgen eigenlijk niet al te ernstig te nemen (zie bijv. Barry 2001). Zolang de onderliggende motivatie voor het beleid neutraal is – zolang een regel bijvoorbeeld niet in het leven werd geroepen om een bepaalde conceptie van het goede leven moedwillig te benadelen – is er weinig aan de hand. De stelling echter dat mensen ook constitutief gebonden kunnen zijn aan een pluriformiteit aan ends en dus over thick identities beschikken, biedt juist een argument om in de rechtvaardiging van een beleid nadrukkelijk rekening te houden met de neutraliteit van de justificaties én consequenties.

Kymlicka lijkt slechts in beperkte mate een politics of extimacy voor te staan. Immers, daar waar zijn liberaal beleidskader lijkt uit te gaan van ‘grondenneutraliteit’ is zijn multiculturalisme nadrukkelijk geënt op ‘grondenneutraliteit’ in combinatie met ‘gevolgenneutraliteit’.[9] Een samenleving, zo geeft Kymlicka aan, kan niet volledig neutraal staan (inzake de outcome van haar beleid) ten opzichte van alle etnisch-culturele identiteiten en daarom moeten die groepen die worden benadeeld op het niveau van de toegang tot de sociale instituten, het spreken van de taal, het verkrijgen van vakantiedagen, het zich herkennen in de symbolen van openbare gebouwen, het zich herkennen in curricula en musea etc. extra worden ondersteund.

‘Government decisions on languages, internal boundaries, public holidays and state symbols unavoidably involve recognizing, accommodating and supporting the needs and identities of particular ethnic and national groups. The state unavoidably promotes certain cultural identities, and thereby disadvantages others. Once we recognize this, we need to rethink the justice of minority rights claims’ (Kymlicka 1995: 108).

Dit is een krachtig argument. Via legio multiculturele accommodaties wordt de samenleving niet alleen rechtvaardiger en neutraler, maar mag ook worden verwacht dat immigranten zich sneller aan deze samenleving zullen binden (Levrau en Loobuyck 2013). Deze logica van benadeling en compensatie is echter ook van toepassing op groepen die niet in etnisch-culturele termen zijn gedefinieerd. Dat Kymlicka dat niet expliciteert, maakt dat hij immigrantengroepen eigenlijk via de poly-etnische rechten bepaalde prerogatieven verleent.[10] Een soortgelijke bezorgdheid over de gevolgen zou Kymlicka eigenlijk ook moeten tonen ten aanzien van andere bindingen. Concreet, als Kymlicka er bijvoorbeeld voor wil zorgen dat etnisch-culturele minderheden halalvoedsel kunnen eten, waarom zou hij dan niet garanderen dat vegetariërs ook een alternatief menu ter beschikking staat?[11] Immers, als de etnisch-culturele diversiteit die via migratie wordt binnengebracht een manier is waarop mensen wensen te leven – bijvoorbeeld volgens de religieuze gebruiken van een bepaalde etnisch-culturele groep – dan wordt het moeilijk aan te geven hoe dit zou verschillen van de manier waarop, bijvoorbeeld, een autochtone groep individuen wenst te leven volgens de principes van het vegetarisme. Wat maakt de binding van de immigrant aan zijn religie anders dan de binding van een ‘autochtoon’ aan een vegetarische levensstijl of subcultuur?[12] Als het constitutieve karakter van de binding aan bepaalde gebruiken en opvattingen een argumentatieve basis is voor Kymlicka’s immigrantenmulticulturalisme, dan moet hij toegeven dat mensen aan velerlei bindingen en manieren van leven kunnen zijn gehecht en dat ze aan elk van die bindingen en lifestyles zelfrespect kunnen ontlenen wanneer de samenleving er positief mee omgaat. Zo is het perfect mogelijk te denken dat de erkenning van het vegetarisme er voor een overtuigd vegetariër toe zal leiden dat hij zich, als een gewenst lid van de samenleving, meer met die samenleving zal associëren.

 Wie het multiculturalisme dus op basis van het erkenningsidioom wil verdedigen (cf. erkenning voor de etnisch-culturele ends waaraan immigranten op een constitutieve wijze zijn gebonden), kan echter niet duidelijk maken waarom het slechts de etnisch-culturele bindingen zouden zijn die moeten worden erkend. Mensen behoren (potentieel) tot velerlei groepen en zij hebben (potentieel) velerlei bindingen waaraan ze verknocht zijn en waar een erkenningsbeleid meer rechtvaardigheid zou kunnen creëren.  

Pluriforme accommodatie

De liberale politiek van extimiteit noopt dus tot een postmulticulturele theorie waarbij etnisch-culturele en religieuze, maar ook seculiere en meer prozaïsche bindingen in aanmerking kunnen komen om te worden geaccommodeerd door difference sensitive policies. Immers, een beleid dat  burgers met gelijke zorg en respect behandelt, moet een beleid zijn dat uitgaat van het feit dat mensen thick identities hebben en precies voor die identities respect kunnen vragen indien zou blijken dat er met deze in de vormgeving van de instituten, regels en wetten onvoldoende rekening werd gehouden. Dat betekent dat een beleid het best kan uitgaan van een inclusieve vorm van neutraliteit die rekening houdt met zowel de gronden als gevolgen. Van regels, praktijken, instituties en wetten mag met andere woorden worden verwacht dat ze voldoende aangepast zijn aan die identiteiten. ‘Laws are meant not just to make coexistence between people with different conceptions of the good possible, they are also meant to make the pursuit of those various conceptions possible, as far as is reasonable’ (Quong 2006: 59). Mensen kunnen zich namelijk altijd miskend voelen en die miskenning, dit onrecht, moet ernstig worden genomen. Precies daarom is er behoefte aan een aantal objectieve criteria aan de hand waarvan claims voor erkenning op objectieve wijze kunnen worden aanvaard of verworpen. Iedereen moet in staat zijn om erkenningsclaims te formuleren en elk van die claims moet tegen de achtergrond van dezelfde criteria worden getoetst.

We noemen kort een aantal criteria die apart en zeker cumulatief behulpzaam kunnen zijn in de beoordeling van de redelijkheid van accommodatie – waarbij redelijkheid niet in de eerste plaats verwijst naar wat er wordt gevraagd, maar wel naar de haalbaarheid van de accommodatie. We hebben hier niet de ruimte om er dieper op in te gaan, maar willen een beeld schetsen van hoe ‘pluriforme accommodatie’ – het concept dat we willen introduceren om duidelijk te maken dat er een veelheid aan claims mogelijk is die moeten worden afgewogen tegen een veelheid van criteria – in de arbeidscontext precies kan worden gedacht.

1) Het liberaal proviso. De liberale bandbreedte vormt een initiële grens. Claims die niet binnen het liberale kader van vrijheid, gelijkheid en respect vallen, kunnen niet geaccommodeerd worden. Dat wil daarom niet zeggen dat er geen minimale concessies kunnen worden gemaakt. Zo kan een contextuele en pragmatische analyse uitmaken of er inderdaad kan overgegaan worden op een accommodatie. Dit roept een reminiscentie op van de justice as evenhandedness benadering van Carens (2000: 13).

‘Now being fair does not mean that every cultural claim and identity will be given equal weight but rather that each will be given appropriate weight under the circumstances within the framework of a commitment to equal respect for all. History matters, numbers matter, the relative importance of the claims to the claimants matters, and so do many other considerations.’

Neem het voorbeeld van een ambtenaar die op grond van zijn geweten homostellen niet wenst te huwen. Het probleem is dan de vraag of een verplichting aan ambtenaren om elke huwelijksvoltrekking bij te wonen (en dus geen seksuele minderheden te discrimineren) moet prevaleren boven het recht op erkenning van hun gewetensbezwaren en geloofsovertuiging. Een contextuele analyse leert dat het in de eerste plaats de overheid is die moet garanderen dat homostellen kunnen huwen. Die garantie wordt geboden door de wet die het burgerlijk huwelijk openstelt voor personen van hetzelfde geslacht. Zolang die garantie er is, doet het er in principe niet zoveel toe dat er onder het stadspersoneel ambtenaars zouden zijn die het er moeilijk mee hebben dat homoseksuelen met elkaar huwen en daarom de huwelijksceremonie verzaken. Als de ambtenaar zich daarentegen actief zou verzetten tegen de wettelijke taken die moeten worden uitgevoerd voor het sluiten van een huwelijk, dan wordt de uitvoering van de wet verhinderd en kan de weigerambtenaar gesanctioneerd worden.[13]   

Stel nu dat er veel weigerambtenaren zijn. In dit geval gaat de wet (dus de principiële mogelijkheid dat homostellen met elkaar huwen) voor op het (individuele) geweten van de ambtenaar. De situatie mag immers nooit van dien aard zijn dat homoseksuelen niet meer zouden kunnen huwen. Van de burgemeester of minister kan dan verwacht worden dat hij tussenkomt door middel van het uitvaardigen van een dienstbevel. In dat geval geldt ‘Lex dura, sed lex’ (de wet is hard, maar het is de wet) en zijn accommodaties dus niet op hun plaats.

2) Het subsidiariteitscriterium en het accommodatie-proviso. Accommodaties en het verlenen van uitzonderingen staan in het teken van substantiële gelijkheid en dat veronderstelt dat men de ongelijkheid niet verplaatst. De accommodatie mag er met andere woorden niet toe leiden dat anderen slechter af zijn. De lasten moeten dus ook na de accommodatie gelijk verspreid blijven. Een weigerambtenaar die alleen maar de (niet-verplichte) ceremonie bij het huwelijk niet wil leiden, die doet op zich niet zoveel verkeerd en zou daarom mogen vervangen worden door een andere ambtenaar, tenzij die collega’s daardoor veel meer werk krijgen en ook hun eigen taken niet langer kunnen uitvoeren.

3) Het functionaliteitscriterium en proportionaliteitscriterium. In de politiek-filosofische literatuur en in nogal wat jurisprudentie worden accommodaties als ‘proportioneel’ gekwalificeerd wanneer zij slechts een ‘minimale beperking van vrijheid’ impliceren en wanneer de ‘balans tussen lusten en lasten’ voldoende in evenwicht blijft. Dat betekent dat wat er wordt geclaimd billijk moet zijn, bijvoorbeeld met betrekking tot de kosten die de werkgever moet maken. Werkgevers mogen niet worden verwacht om het ‘onmogelijke’ te doen. Bovendien moet ook, zoals hoger al aangegeven, de tenuitvoerbrenging van de job steeds gegarandeerd blijven. Het goede functioneren van het personeelslid mag niet worden gecompromitteerd.

Hier kan met name worden verwezen naar de ‘redelijke accommodaties’ die in Noord-Amerika en in Europa (er zijn ook niet-Westerse voorbeelden te geven) worden geïmplementeerd voor andersvalide werknemers. Werkgevers zijn verplicht te accommoderen, maar de kosten mogen niet excessief zijn (Alidadi 2012). Van gelijke strekking zou ook het karakter van de accommodaties voor ‘concepties van het goede leven’ kunnen zijn: verplicht, maar niet excessief wat de kosten betreft en dus billijk wat betreft de verdeling tussen lust en last. De claims en de daaruitvolgende accommodaties mogen tevens het goede functioneren niet beletten. Zo kan bijvoorbeeld worden beargumenteerd dat non-verbale communciatie een wezenlijk aspect is van onderwijs en dat daarom het gezicht van de leerkracht voor de leerlingen steeds goed zichtbaar moet zijn. Dit betekent bijvoorbeeld dat een hoofddoek wel, maar een boerka niet toegelaten is. In dit verband zijn twee uitspraken van het Europees Hof van de Rechten van de Mens veelzeggend.

De eerste zaak betreft Mevrouw Eweida die werd gevraagd om tijdens haar functie aan de balie van British Airways geen zichtbaar kruis rond de hals te dragen (Eweida v British Airways [2010] EWCA Civ 80; [2010] I.C.R. 890). Omdat zij zich daartegen verzette, werd zij gevraagd onbezoldigd thuis te blijven tot British Airways in haar intern reglement opnam dat kruisjes getolereerd werden. Mevrouw Eweida wilde echter financieel vergoed worden voor de periode waarin zij thuis was en dus geen inkomen verwierf. Zij verwees daarbij naar het feit dat moslima’s en sikhs wel aan de balie mochten verschijnen met hoofddoeken en tulbanden (weliswaar steeds in de kleuren van British Airways). In de uitspraak van het Europees Hof werd geargumenteerd dat de vrijheid van religie van Mevrouw Eweida inderdaad niet werd gerespecteerd. Het kruis, zo werd gesteld, bracht het goed functioneren niet in gevaar, noch bracht het schade aan het imago van British Airways, temeer omdat hoofddoeken en tulbanden reeds werden aanvaard. Het betrof uiteindelijk ook ‘maar’ een discreet kruisje dat bovendien ook later door het interne reglement van British Airways zou worden toegelaten.

De tweede zaak is die van Mevrouw Chaplin, een verpleegster die tijdens de uitoefening van haar job een kruis rond rond haar hals wou dragen (Application no. 59842/10). Om redenen die te maken hadden met hygiëne en veiligheid van de patiënten verkreeg zij hiervoor geen toestemming. Volgens het Hof bracht het ziekenhuis neutrale argumenten aan die in de balans meer gewicht horen te krijgen dan het recht op de vrijheid van religie van Mevrouw Chaplin. Dit betekent dat Mevrouw Chaplin geen kruis mocht dragen omwille van wat als het ‘functionaliteitscriterium’ kan worden geduid.

(4) Het criterium van de interpretatieve neutraliteit in relatie met een terughoudende objectieve toetsing. Enerzijds mag iedereen claimen wat hij wil – het is niet aan de overheid om te bepalen wat iemand vanuit zijn religie of conceptie van het goede leven moet doen – maar anderzijds moet er worden nagegaan of er geen sprake is van misbruik. De staat kan dus bijvoorbeeld niet stellen dat de boerka een symbool van onderdrukking is en daarom zou moeten worden verboden. Het is aan het individu om de betekenis van de boerka te bepalen. Tegelijk kan men altijd iets te weten komen over de ernst, het belang en de intensiteit van de claim en wat het voor de persoon zelf betekent. In die zin kan/mag de waarachtigheid, de subjectieve intentie, de betekenis en de ernst van de claim altijd minimaal getoetst worden. Deze ‘terughoudende objectieve en minimale toetsing’ vormt een soort clausule bij de terughoudende interpretatie die kan helpen de potentiële vloedgolf aan accommodaties in te dijken. Het is immers noodzakelijk om toch een zekere afbakening te bieden aan het object dat ter bescherming staat. Immers, als iedereen een aanspraak kan maken op grond van zijn geweten, identiteit, religie of conceptie van het goede leven en als alles volledig wordt gesubjectiveerd, dan wordt het recht op accommodatie van de conceptie van het goede leven een schier onhanteerbaar recht.

Iedereen gelijk voor de wet van het verschil

Een dergelijke postmulticulturele ‘outcome related theory’ waarbij claims via een in concreto analyse en op basis van dezelfde criteria worden getaxeerd, maakt dat er in de praktijk natuurlijk veel erkenningswerk zal moeten worden geleverd. Dit is echter een praktisch en geen fundamenteel bezwaar. Het erkenningswerk kan overigens voor een stuk vermeden worden als men op de claims anticipeert en als men dus a priori vertrekt van inclusieve regels, wetten, instituties en praktijken. Accommodaties zouden dan structureel zijn en niet langer enkel fungeren als correctiemiddelen. Er zullen wellicht nog steeds borderline gevallen bestaan – het constitutieve gehalte van een binding en het fundamentele karakter van een conceptie van het goede leven zijn nu eenmaal geen alles-of-niets kwesties – en ook het argument van de slippery slope zal op de achtergrond altijd wel enige argwaan opwekken en een zekere rem uitoefenen, maar het lijkt ons finaal toch erger om iemand een accommodatie te onthouden waar hij wel recht op had dan om iemand te accommoderen die daar stricto sensu geen recht op had. Het punt is dat uiteindelijk niemand a priori mag worden benadeeld in de manier waarop hij aan de samenleving wil participeren omwille van en ongeacht de aard van zijn constitutieve binding. Door de nivellering van allerhande constitutieve bindingen, kan het ‘etnisch-culturele verschil’ mogelijks zijn beladen karakter verliezen en kan de kwalijke wij/zij coupure overbrugd worden die de multiculturele samenleving thans overschaduwt. Iedereen wordt immers gelijk voor de wet van het verschil. Wat echter nodig is en blijft, is een reasonable balancing as methods of reasoning’ (Bader, Alidadi en Vermeulen 2013: 58) waarbij met name wordt gedacht over wat er concreet nodig is voor een leefbare oplossing die fair en aanvaardbaar is voor alle betrokkenen. Dat veronderstelt, zoals aangegeven, een betrokkenheid op neutraliteit van de justificaties én consequenties.


In dit artikel hebben we onderzocht hoe Kymlicka precies de verhouding tussen ‘autonomie’ en ‘constitutieve bindingen’ begrijpt. We hebben aangetoond dat er – anders dan wat Van Leeuwen daar in een aantal teksten over beweert – wel degelijk een ‘erkenningsargument’ in het werk van Kymlicka aanwezig is dat recht doet aan het interne perspectief van het individu. Dat betekent dat zijn theorie niet zomaar als een liberaal-monistische theorie kan worden geduid. Kymlicka begrijpt heel goed dat mensen op een constitutieve wijze aan allerhande ends kunnen zijn gebonden en dat een beleid daar dan ook rekening mee houdt. Desalniettemin zit er een spanning in zijn egalitair-liberale theorie. Kymlicka erkent de diepe bindingen van migranten door hen poly-etnische minderheidsrechten te verlenen die ervoor zorgen dat bepaalde tradities, gebruiken en manieren van leven die met de societal culture van herkomst worden geassocieerd worden beschermd in de societal culture van aankomst. Die erkenningsgedachte extrapoleert hij echter nauwelijks naar andere bindingen. Enerzijds is hij als liberaal grote voorstander van diversiteit. Over de ends zegt hij bijvoorbeeld dat ze de the most imporant things in our lives zijn (Kymlicka 1989: 48) en precies daarom voor het beleid een aandachtspunt moeten zijn voor zover elk individu steeds de vrijheid moet worden gegarandeerd om volgens die ends het leven vorm te geven én van end te veranderen mocht hij dat wensen. Anderzijds lijkt hij een buitengewoon belang te hechten aan de binding die mensen ervaren met de societal culture en lijkt het erop dat hij vertrekt van een soort etnisch-culturele hegemonie waarbij de multiculturele beschermparaplu wordt opengeklapt voor immigrantengroepen en dat terwijl andere groepen en bindingen er in zijn theorie eigenlijk betrekkelijk bekaaid vanaf komen. We hebben aangegeven dat een beleid best volop diversiteit en pluralisme kan bevorderen en dat een diversiteitstheorie dat ook expliciet aangeeft omdat mensen zich nu eenmaal aan eender welke binding of manier van leven constitutief gehecht kunnen voelen. Bindingen moeten daarom, meer nog dan het geval is bij Kymlicka, zowel in theorie als in praktijk op voet van gelijkheid worden behandeld. Via een pleidooi voor pluriforme accommodatie hebben we daartoe een aanzet geformuleerd.

Wie van neoliberalisme af wil, zal ook bureaucratie moeten elimineren

Recensie van: David Graeber (2015), The Utopia of Rules. On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. New York: Melville House, 261 pagina’s.

Men hoort wel eens beweren dat liberalen tegen de overheid zijn – en vóór de markt. Dat is altijd  een problematische propositie, want liberalen – of zij zichzelf nu omschrijven als sociaal-, progressief- of conservatief-liberaal en of zij zich beroepen op Mill, Friedman of Von Hayek – propageren altijd bescherming van eigendomsrecht, af te dwingen door de (rechts)staat. De uit politie, justitie en leger bestaande liberale minimale staat houdt altijd al maximale protectie van eigendomsrechten in, oftewel maximale bescherming van bezitsverhoudingen, oftewel volledige consolidatie van de status quo. Een status quo die aan vrijheid gelijk wordt gesteld, of liever: liberale vrijheid houdt op waar de status quo wordt bedreigd.

Was het altijd al problematisch liberalisme als anti-overheid te kenschetsen, sinds de neoliberale contrarevolutie van Reagan en Thatcher is het onhoudbaar. Het voorvoegsel neo duidt daarbij op een mutatie in het liberalisme dat in de door Graeber in voetnoot elf geparafraseerde woorden van Foucault zo kan worden begrepen: ‘this is the difference between the old and new varieties: those promulgating markets now understand that they do not form spontaneously, but must be nurtured and maintained by government intervention’ (mijn onderstreping.) En inderdaad wordt de ‘bankenmarkt’ gevormd door een Europese bureaucratie in Frankfurt die de rente vaststelt van de Ierse tot de Egeïsche Zee, worden failliete banken gered door de staat, verplicht de Nederlandse staat deelname aan private pensioenregelingen en private zorgverzekeringen en ziet de Autoriteit Consument & Markt erop toe dat huisartsen niet samenwerken maar levert het de ‘zorgmarkt’ uit aan een kartel van vier grote verzekeraars.

Neoliberalisme is dan die liberale stroming die in de naam van de markt de staat inzet ten behoeve van kapitaal. Dat betekent een proliferatie van toezichthouders, centrale banken, marktautoriteiten en planbureaus. En dat betekent vervolgens – nog altijd in de naam van marktwerking – een explosie van bureaucratie.

Graeber kiest, zoals de titel al aangeeft, voor bureaucreatie eerder dan neoliberalisme om het postdemocratische Ersatzkapitalisme van de eenentwintigste eeuw te begrijpen. Wat water is voor vissen, is bureaucratie voor de laatkapitalistische burger: alomtegenwoordig, daarom nauwelijks geproblematiseerd en dus zelden begrepen.

Graebers bureaucratieanalyse steunt op vier pijlers. Ten eerste zijn zowel publieke als private actoren bureaucratisch. Privatisering leidt zelfs tot meer bureaucratie. Banken dienen bijvoorbeeld te worden gereguleerd omdat private banken publieke taken (geldcreatie, financiële infrastructuur en geldbewaring) vervullen. De regulering neemt nog verder toe omdat banken lobbyen om hen welgevallige regels. De identificatie van bureaucratie met de overheid is dus misleidend. Dit vat Graeber samen in zijn ijzeren wet van liberalisme: elke privatisering, de- of re-regulering en ‘liberalisering’ leidt tot meer bureaucratie.

Ten tweede is bureaucratie gewelddadig. Achter elke regel staat uiteindelijk een man met een geweer. Wie de verplichte zorgpremie niet betaalt, belandt in het cachot. Volgens Graeber zijn geweld en bureaucratie onlosmakelijk verbonden:  politieagenten zijn bureaucraten met wapens. Politieagenten – dienaren van de staat – zijn dan ook vooral gewelddadig tegen demonstranten die hun gezag uitdagen, ze worden vooral agressief tegen bevraging van hun bureaucratisch monopolie. Wie zich identificeert met de status quo heeft daarmee weinig te vrezen van de politie of, in de woorden van Graeber: ‘the real definition of middle-class is whether, when one sees a policeman on the street, one feels more, rather than less, safe’.

Ten derde is een wel degelijk bestaand antibureaucratisch individualistisch sentiment gekaapt door de commercie die het weer ingekaderd heeft in een liberaal idioom. Jezelf zijn, flexibilisering, reiszucht, uitdagingen, hervorming, zelfexpressie, vrijheid zijn marketingslogans geworden waarmee multinationals door uitgebuite kinderen gemaakte schoenen (just do it) aan de man brengen. De kern, volgens Graeber, is dat rebellerende fantasieën niet meer in de politieke ruimte worden gearticuleerd maar enkel nog in de consumentensfeer worden gesitueerd, in andere woorden: ‘rule-bound organization’ in de ‘sphere of production’ en ‘self-realization through consumption’.

Ten vierde heeft bureaucratie ook een zekere aantrekkingskracht. Dat is de aantrekkingskracht van het spel dat aan vaste, voor iedereen geldende regels is gebonden. Het is de aantrekkingskracht die iedereen kent die graag bordspellen speelt. De ondubbelzinnigheid van de winst is alleen mogelijk door de ondubbelzinnigheid van de regels. Spelplezier is een product van een utopia van regels, de miniversie van de uiteindelijk maar niet geheel ironische utopia of rules uit de boektitel.

De analyse van Graeber overtuigt omdat hij een ogenschijnlijk versleten begrip als bureaucratie van onvermoede en onderling contradictoire kanten beziet. Bureaucratie is aantrekkelijk én weerzinwekkend, gewelddadig én regulerend, rechts én links, privaat én publiek. En omdat we – dixit Graeber – leven in het tijdperk van de volledige bureaucratisering, dienen mensen zich permanent te verhouden tot het meervoudige en dubbelzinnige karakter ervan. Zo weet iedereen die in grote organisaties werkt dat promoties niet afhangen van in functieprofielen neergeslagen meritocratisch geheten ‘competenties’. Kantoorpolitiek is de samenvatting voor een geheel aan vriendjespolitiek, gunfactor, coöptatie, verdeel-en-heers, netwerken, quid pro quo en nepotisme dat tezamen toch goeddeels de hiërarchie bepaalt. Tegelijkertijd echter hangt succes ook af van de mate waarin men bereid is te doen alsof bevorderingen volgens de regels geschieden. Bureaucratische organisaties maken iedereen die er succesvol in opereert medeplichtig. Het is alleen daarom al dat men er niet eenvoudig vanaf raakt.

En alle meerduidigheid ten spijt maakt de auteur van begin af aan helder dat hij bureaucratie negatief waardeert. Hoe er dan vanaf te geraken? In elk geval dient men bureaucratie niet met nog meer bureaucratie te lijf te gaan. Dit leidt – kortweg – tot het ‘creating committees to deal with the problem of too many committees’-probleem. Globalisering is evenmin een oplossing, wijl dat historisch juist bureaucratisering impliceert. Globalisering is een administratief, neo-imperialistisch project waarbij via instituten als de Wereldbank, Europese Unie, NATO, IMF en OECD een bureaucratisch net over de wereld wordt uitgeworpen.

Er zijn slechts twee politieke uitwegen, een rechtse en een linkse. Basis voor het rechtse antwoord is de constatering dat in een bureaucratisch utopia autoriteit verwordt tot de mogelijkheid om de regels te breken. Om Carl Schmitt te parafraseren: hij heerst die de noodtoestand kan uitroepen. Het rechtse, of zo men wil fascistische antwoord is om bij monde van een leider de wet te verzetten en de noodtoestand uit te roepen.  

Het linkse en uiteraard door Graeber geprefereerde antwoord is vervat in de jaren zestig leuzen ‘de verbeelding aan de macht’ en ‘wees realistisch, eis het onmogelijke’. Realisme betekent hier het serieus nemen van staatsgeweld. De Occupy-beweging werd uit elkaar geslagen door de politie, in Nederland werden in Gouda demonstranten tegen de Zwarte Piet-figuur genekklemd, werden in Amsterdam Maagdenhuis-bevrijders door stillen gevangen genomen, werd een ‘fuck de Koning’ zeggende demonstrant ingerekend en werden in Spijkenisse feministische demonstranten opgepakt. Men dient realistisch te zijn, en tegelijkertijd het onmogelijk te eisen. Dat onmogelijke is samen te vatten in het imperatief stop making capitalism. Kapitalisme is een economisch systeem van sociale verhoudingen dat oplost als mensen collectief opstaan. Dat is het principe immers van stakingen (‘Gansch het raderwerk staat stilals uw machtige arm het wil’). Zo’n wereld is onvoorstelbaar, juist omdat kapitalisme – een term die Graeber in toenemende mate inwisselbaar gebruikt voor bureaucratie – alomtegenwoordig is. Er moeten dus alternatieven worden gedacht en verbeeld, en die verbeelding moet aan de macht geholpen. Zonder macht gaat het niet, want zonder staatsmacht kan er geen revolutie zijn.

Het begint echter met verbeelding en daarom bestaat het ultieme doel van neoliberalisme – een term die Graeber weer inwisselbaar gebruikt met contemporain kapitalisme – eruit ‘to create a world where no one believes any other economic system could really work’. En dat lijkt te lukken want we kunnen ons inmiddels beter voorstellen dat de wereld vergaat dan dat het kapitalisme vergaat. Linkse politiek is eerst dan werkelijk kapot als het niet meer kan worden gedacht  – zoals in de middeleeuwen atheïsme niet kon worden gedacht.

Via analyse van het begrip bureaucratie komt Graeber als vanzelf uit bij analyse van de begrippen kapitalisme (een economisch systeem) en neoliberalisme (diens politieke pendant). Het begrip neoliberalisme is mijns inziens uiteindelijk het inzichtelijkst (vandaar de lange inleiding daaromtrent), omdat het de ruptuur in de jaren tachtig belicht met de daaraan voorafgaande keynesiaanse, sociaaldemocratische consensus dat de trits volledige werkgelegenheid, overheidsinvesteringen en sociale zekerheid doelen waren die overheden konden én moesten realiseren. De breuk bestaat eruit dat de staat zowel machtiger als impotenter is geworden. Hij is machtig in het creëren van markten en stutten van marktactoren. De Nederlandse staat redde de banken met een totaalbedrag van 112 miljard dat door het kabinet in een reeks weekenden zonder parlementaire goedkeuring op tafel werd gelegd. 

De staat is evenwel impotent bij het nastreven van de keynesiaanse doelen. Fiscaal beleid was al lastig omdat kapitaal de laatste decaden steeds meer belasting ontduikt, maar is sinds de ‘fiscale pacts’ vanwege de Europese Monetaire Unie (EMU) onmogelijk gemaakt. Monetair beleid in één land is onmogelijk in een wereld waarin de geldpers in Frankfurt staat, bewaakt door een oud-Goldman Sachs bankier die door de media onafhankelijk president wordt genoemd. Als meer overheidsinvesteringen, geld bijdrukken, valutadevaluatie en belastingverhoging (althans voor kapitaal) onmogelijk zijn, dan rest slechts bezuinigen (op arbeid) en de uitverkoop van publieke activa. Wat dat in de praktijk betekent, is manifest geworden in Griekenland in 2015.

De eis van de Griekse volk om de bezuinigingen te doen stoppen werd effectief gesaboteerd door de al te geloofwaardige dreiging van de Europese Centrale Bank (ECB) om het Griekse bancaire stelsel op te blazen. Er is veel inkt gevloeid over de vraag of Syriza goed gedaan heeft aan het accorderen van het memorandum waarin de bezuinigingen en uitverkoop van publieke goederen aan Duitse opkopers werd gecodificeerd. Uiteraard hield de ECB een pistool tegen het hoofd van Syriza onder de Godfather-toevoeging ‘either your brains or your signature are gonna be on that contract’. Met andere woorden, materieel was het memorandum altijd doorgegaan, ongeacht de opstelling van Syriza. Desnoods was er een rechtse coup geïnitieerd of een Europese versie van blauwhelminterventie. Achter elk memorandum staat een man met een geweer.

Het verweer van Syriza is dat zij de minimale politieke manoeuvreerruimte zullen benutten om tenuitvoerlegging van het memorandum te vertragen en te ontregelen. Hoe dan ook, het grote nadeel is dat een links alternatief in de EMU daardoor nog lastiger denkbaar is. Syriza – en de andere linkse partijen en bewegingen in Europa – had geen goed alternatief voorbij de euro, voorbij de memoranda, voorbij het Groei- en Stabiliteitspact, voorbij de ECB,  oftewel voorbij de regels, voorbij de bureaucratie. En zo komt alles bij elkaar. En is het – Graeber indachtig – wachten tot een links alternatieve verbeelding wel levensvatbaar blijkt, of een sterke man opstaat die alle EMU-regels verzet – ofwel het neoliberalisme erin slaagt zichzelf als permanent hegemoniaal te vestigen. Dat laatste zal een tijd zijn waarin Graebers boek als nietszeggend zal worden beoordeeld. Tot die tijd is het een even overtuigend als inzichtrijk en daarmee onontbeerlijk boek.

Reading Practices: How to read Foucault?

Review of: Daniel Zamora and Michael Z. Behrent, Eds. (2016), Foucault and Neoliberalism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 152 pages; and Mitchel Dean and Kaspar Villadsen (2016), State Phobia and Civil Society. The Political Legacy of Michel Foucault. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 196 pages.

Does Foucault have sympathies for neoliberalism? Is his analysis of it therefore rather an “apology” (Becker, Ewald and Harcourt 2012: 4) than a critique? Is his theoretical and political antistatism complicit in the neoliberal dismantling of the welfare state? Such are the questions that have sparked a lively discussion in the last year, mostly on various web blogs[1] but also in journals (Hansen 2015) – and in books, as the two under review here.

Set off by Daniel Zamora’s interview with the strange title “Can We Criticize Foucault?” in the journal Ballast (an English translation appeared in Jacobin),[2] the bold and sweeping accusations that not only had Foucault himself been at least uncritical, if not supportive of neoliberalism, but also that “Foucault scholasticism” (Behrent 2016 [2014]: 54) is therefore implicated in the neoliberal strategy and that this constitutes Foucault’s “political legacy”, (Dean and Villadsen 2016) seem to have touched a sensitive spot within current Foucaultian scholarship. Although Johanna Oksala (2015) is fundamentally right in her assessment that “this debate itself seems misguided,”[3] there is something to learn from this misguided debate because it brings out two questions mostly left unattended by all its participants (but see Erlenbusch 2015): How do we read Foucault? And how does Foucault read (neoliberals like Gary Becker, for example)? By way of reviewing first the English edition of Daniel Zamora’s Critiquer Foucault (2014), and second Mitchell Dean’s and Kaspar Villadsen’s monograph State Phobia and Civil Society (2016), I will argue that the questions of how we read Foucault and how Foucault reads are not sufficiently addressed.


Foucault and Neoliberalism (Zamora and Behrent 2016 [2014]) consists of eight texts, most of which have been published elsewhere before.[4] In his short introduction, Daniel Zamora frames the volume by turning Foucault into an exemplary figure: Although he was (and is?) notoriously hard to pin down politically and although he “always seemed one step ahead of his contemporaries” (2), his positions and the questions we should ask of them “pertain not only to Foucault himself, but also to the ambiguities inherent in the Left” (3). Thus, it would be “the wrong question” to ask “whether Foucault became neoliberal at the end of his life” (5); instead, Zamora’s aim is to understand and criticise what he takes to be his influence and the issues he forcefully put on the agenda of the Left. The right questions to ask include the following:

“How should we interpret Foucault’s radical position on social security, which he essentially saw as the culmination of ‘biopower’? Or his support […] of the ‘new philosophers’? How should we view his lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics and his presumed sympathy for the engaging and very social-liberal ‘Second Left’? One might, finally, question his illusory belief that neoliberal forms of power would be less disciplinary and that prisons would ultimately disappear.” (3)[5]

Zamora takes up the first question in his own contribution. His overall critical diagnosis is that struggles over the redistribution of power and a politics of identity have replaced struggles against exploitation and for equality (70). With the object of the struggle, the subjects struggling changed as well: “The agent of this resistance no longer has any clear economic basis, but is defined, rather, by the position it occupies in relation to various forms of power.” (67) This is a problem, Zamora holds, because exploitation and inequality were first lost from sight theoretically and then ceased to be political goals. Thus, the neoliberal Right won both economically and ideologically (80).

To demonstrate that Foucault’s thought is complicit with (if not responsible for) this ‘neoliberal’ shift, Zamora refers to Foucault’s critique of “social security as a tool that standardizes conduct and individuals” (69). Although criticising the welfare state already makes him an accomplice of its neoliberal dismantling for Zamora (cf. 73), further proof is not hard to find:

“Without adopting any critical distance from it, Foucault cited [in The Birth of Biopolitics; F.V.] a 1976 report published in the Revue française des affaires sociales, which maintained that social security raised the cost of labor excessively, and was partly responsible for unemployment.” (73)

This is a fine example of how Zamora reads Foucault: citing means approval.[6] We could of course note that Foucault presents the report in question as the second side of a discussion on the economic impact of social policies after having equally affirmatively cited Pierre Laroque’s argument that the economic effects of social policies are exclusively positive (Foucault 2008: 198 f.). Yet what is even more important is the word “critical”, for Zamora presupposes that only a normative condemnation could license citing ‘neoliberal texts’ and arguments without oneself becoming neoliberal. So his reading of Foucault is organized by a presupposition of what critique truly is – without discussing why that would be the case and without taking into consideration the huge debate about Foucault’s concept of critique. Following Zamora’s reading practice, one could also argue that Foucault affirms torture – at least we find no critical distancing from the quartering of Damiens in Discipline and Punish.

Zamora concludes by restating his surprise about “the ‘last’ Foucault’s thinly veiled sympathy for, and minimal criticism of, the emerging neoliberal paradigm” (79) with which he started in his introduction. There, a second fundamental problem of Zamora’s text becomes apparent when he writes: “Although Foucault cannot be held responsible for events that he did not witness, it seems legitimate to ponder the ‘last Foucault’s’ political implications.” (64) Whereas the second half of the sentence seems trivial, the first half is puzzling: are we responsible for any event that we witness? Behind the awkward formulation lurks the problem of how to think about the “influence” of theories or the power of ideas. Though Zamora seems determined to find and ascribe guilt and responsibility, he never reflects on the apparent need to do so or even on the criteria justifying it, instead resorting to insinuating questions. How we practice the history of ideas, how to connect them to political struggles, how we read (not just) Foucault and what citing and critique mean – these, I think, are the questions Zamora’s text poses – though, unfortunately, without being aware of them.

In his chapter, Michael Scott Christofferson takes up the second question and examines Foucault’s reasons for writing a supportive – even laudatory – review of André Glucksmann’s The Master Thinkers in 1977. He finds three: first, Foucault, disappointed by the reception of La Volonté de Savoir (Foucault 1976), wanted to exploit Glucksmann’s success in the mass media (11–13). After all, Foucault “had a history of taking philosophico-political stances that seem to be based more on a desire to situate himself within the avant-garde than on sincere conviction” (12), Christofferson claims, citing Foucault’s flirt with Marxist vocabulary after 1970. Second, Foucault had a political reason for supporting Glucksmann because of his “anti-statist attachment to direct democracy, his vehement anti-communism, and his criticism of the Union of the Left” (13). Yet the third and most important reason was, according to Christofferson, Foucault’s inability to analyse communism (17–21). His most sustained attempt to do so can be found in Society Must Be Defended, and was, Christofferson argues, an utter failure because it proceeds from Foucault’s analytic concept of biopower without any empirical evidence to support it. Furthermore, on the basis of his analysis, Foucault cannot account for why certain “states decide to kill in massive numbers and are able to do so” (20) while others do not and/or cannot do so – for Foucault cannot even distinguish between “dictatorial and democratic” (20) states.

Christofferson is right, it seems to me, in claiming that Foucault’s supportive review of Glucksmann’s The Master Thinkers can partially be attributed to his contempt for a Marxism that explains away Stalin’s massacres as a reading error (cf. Foucault’s review, 171 f.). Yet I doubt the psychological reasons Christofferson ascribes to Foucault: his “thirst for recognition in the broader intellectual scene” (12) and his desire to be avant-garde. For a convincing argument it would take much more than a passing reference to his usage of Marxist vocabulary, a topic which has itself sparked a lively debate about Foucault’s relation to Marx and Marxism (a good starting point is Balibar 1995) and that Christofferson does not even mention. Finally, Christofferson’s third reason fails completely. Christofferson claims that the most important reason for Foucault’s support of Glucksmann is the “ambiguities in his [Foucault’s] mid-1970s conception of power and its shortcomings in the analysis of twentieth-century communism” (17). Yet in order for them – the ambiguities and shortcomings – to be the reason that drove Foucault to write a supportive review would require Foucault to realize his failure – and the reasons Christofferson offers as to why Foucault’s analysis was a failure surely cannot be Foucault’s own, as they completely miss the point of what his concept of power is designed to do (certainly not to make normative distinctions between democratic and non-democratic regimes).

Again, the problem lies in reading Foucault: in order to argue that his support for Glucksmann is a result of him realizing that Glucksmann does what he could not do one must be able to explain why Foucault should assess his own concept of power and the resulting analysis of communism as failures; in other words: one would have to provide explanations that are not external to his conception. That does not mean that Christofferson needs to uncritically agree with this conception – but his own normative ideas about what would constitute a successful analysis of twentieth-century communism cannot be reasons for Foucault’s support of anything.

What then, finally, about Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism that Zamora already alleges to be a “thinly veiled” affirmation? In his contribution, Michael C. Behrent offers an interpretation in support of Zamora’s charge[7] by reading The Birth of Biopolitics as Foucault’s “neoliberal moment” (26). He directs a lot of rhetorical energy against mostly unnamed (American) readers of Foucault who are “tone-deaf to the character of his evolving political commitments” (26), apparently because they neglect the historical and political context in which Foucault developed his analysis of neoliberalism – and because of the “unwillingness of many of his readers to hear what he [Foucault] is saying” (27). Thus one would expect that Behrent intends to show that Foucault was attracted to neoliberalism for methodological reasons by taking into account the historical setting of the lectures (which he indeed sketches: cf. 31–39).

Even more important are the commonalities Behrent’s Foucault has with “economic liberalism” (26, 30), namely antihumanism and antistatism.[8] On the one hand, Foucault’s antistatism drove him to appreciate neoliberalism because “liberalism is, for Foucault, both one form of power among others and the form that demonstrates most effectively how little power has to do with law” (48). Liberal thought, in other words, had already cut off the king’s head and thereby granted Foucault’s wish. His antihumanism, on the other hand, was well served by “the thinness of [economic liberalism’s] anthropological claims” (54). Thus we already have, according to Behrent, two good reasons for Foucault’s “strategic endorsement of economic liberalism” (53).[9]

For all his emphasis on ‘hearing what Foucault really said’ in the lectures, Behrent is surprisingly silent about Foucault’s methodological remarks and conceptual definitions, as becomes most apparent in his usage of “liberalism”. Foucault spends the first three lectures of The Birth of Biopolitics explaining his perspective as a history of “veridiction” – a history of how certain domains are made to fall under the distinction between true and false (cf. Foucault 2008: especially 33–37) – and to define liberalism from that perspective by indicating “three features: veridiction of the market, limitation by the calculation of governmental utility, and […] the position of Europe as a region of unlimited economic development in relation to a world market. This is what I have called liberalism.” (Foucault 2008: 61)

An important corollary is that Foucault is not especially interested in liberalism because it would guarantee more freedom than the disciplinary society, as Behrent argues (42–44), for freedom “is not a universal which is particularized in time and geography. Freedom is not a white surface with more or less numerous black spaces here and there and from time to time.” (Foucault 2008: 63). Hence, comparing the amount of freedom in a disciplinary and in a liberal society “does not in fact have much sense” (Foucault 2008: 62) – if we really listen to what Foucault said in the lectures.

Behrent’s refusal to engage with Foucault’s methodological perspective also undermines his two reasons for interpreting Foucault as strategically endorsing neoliberalism. On the one hand, “cutting off the king’s head” is an imperative on the theoretical level (Foucault 1978 [1976]: 88 f.) – Foucault is not normatively judging power relations based on how much or how little they rely on laws but claims that we miss what is going on in these power relations if we think of them purely in a juridical framework. On the other hand, Foucault’s antihumanism is not just the quest for freeing ourselves as much as possible from anthropological premises. It is the much more ambitious claim that from the standpoint of an archaeological and genealogical critique, ‘man’ exists as a specific configuration of power-knowledge regimes (such as the disciplines; cf. Foucault 1977 [1975]: 224–228) that have a history and which might disappear some future day (most explicitly in Foucault 2005 [1966]).

Again, and especially in light of Behrent’s insistence on actually listening to what Foucault said, the questions of how we read Foucault and how Foucault reads come centre stage. Yet this gives rise to a more general point: throughout the volume, the authors refuse to engage in any reflection on these crucial questions, simply referring to a sentence or two where it suits their particular aim, without any attention to their conceptual status or their context within the lectures.[10] We need not agree with Foucault’s way of reading (i.e. with his method) but if we do not take it into account in arguing about his conclusions we are destined to get them wrong. A debate about Foucault’s political legacy and its problematic effects for our critical thinking today might indeed be timely, yet this book is primarily a missed opportunity. By consistently refusing to reflect on how Foucault reads and by neglecting to reflect on their own way of reading Foucault, the authors of this collection obstruct further discussion by obscuring rather than criticising Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism.


Mitchell Dean’s and Kaspar Villadsen’s monograph State Phobia and Civil Society (2016) promises precisely to assess The Political Legacy of Michel Foucault, as its subtitle reads. In it, the authors argue for three claims:

  1. State-phobic or antistatist positions lead those who hold them to affirm “civil society” as the locus of emancipatory politics.
  2. Although Foucault himself showed that “civil society” cannot serve as “the foundation of and source of opposition to the state” (Foucault 2008: 297) because it is a correlate of liberal governmentality, his own analysis falls prey to its “analytical and normative antistatism” (178).
  3. It is this “antistatism” that leads Foucault to support neoliberalism.

Dean and Villadsen start with some scene-setting (chapter 1). They argue first that state phobia is a form of antistatism which, according to Foucault, unites liberals with the militant left and still presupposes the state as a central concept for their analyses. Hence and secondly, “governmentality” is introduced by Foucault to analyse the state without presupposing it, although for Dean and Villadsen “the question [remains] whether Foucault escaped the antistatism he had identified” (18). Thirdly, by sketching the political contexts of Foucault’s governmentality lectures, Dean and Villadsen want to support their claim that although Foucault’s “rejection of a theory of the state […] marked a break with a prevailing Left intellectual problematic” (19) in 1978/9, today such a rejection merely repeats the mainstream agenda of neoliberals. This is an argument repeated throughout the book: any analysis which does not include a pre-given concept of the state (Dean and Villadsen opt for Weber’s concept: cf. 20 f.) must theoretically locate political power in civil society and is politically defenceless against being hijacked by neoliberal antistatist discourse – if it does not outright support neoliberalism.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri as well as Nikolas Rose are charged with these accusations in chapter 2 and 3. Although their seemingly radical differences are noted (cf. 23, 33, 43), Dean and Villadsen find commonalities: both approaches share the aim of overcoming the state/civil society dichotomy and both rely in one way or another on a political vitalism inherited from Deleuze (43 f.). Thereby, both Hardt’s and Negri’s theory of empire and Rose’s work on advanced liberalism

“oddly reinvent the traditional privilege given to the inventiveness, creativity, and mobility found not in the ‘rigidities’ of the state and formal political organizations but in the domain of energy, expression, and vitality that lies beyond them, opposes them, or occasionally breaks forth inside them and which they seek to recode, reinscribe, discipline, and organize.” (44)

This is “the classical dream of civil society” (31), whether called “multitude” or “non-conventional communities” (44), and it demonstrates that neither Hardt and Negri nor Rose successfully overcome the dichotomy between state and civil society.

Due to the focus of this review, I will limit myself to the critical remark that these are highly uncharitable readings. Because their concepts of state and civil society are so broad that they essentially coincide with the distinction of constituted versus constituting power, and because Dean and Villadsen take this opposition to be exhaustive, any theory not focussed on constituted power must, according to their logic, rely on “civil society” as constituting power. Yet the interpretive work this theoretical device is supposed to do would have required a careful analysis of it, as well as an argument for why reading Hardt and Negri or Rose through this traditional lens of political theory might be illuminating.

The same argumentative strategy is used in chapter 4 to show that Foucault “was an advocate of a kind of antistate and antiauthoritarity politics located in civil society” (48). In his interviews (48–52), the introduction of Society Must Be Defended (52–56) or his talks “What Is Critique?” and “What Is Enlightenment?”, Foucault takes an “anti-institutional and antistatist position” (51). In the well-known sentence from “What Is Critique?” where Foucault defines critique as “the movement by which the subject gives himself the right to question truth on its effects of power and question power on its discourses of truth” (Foucault 1997 [1978]: 33),[11] for example, Dean and Villadsen discover a Foucault who “does not quite repeat the classic opposition of truth to power but indicates the emergence of a new space from which it becomes possible to speak to and oppose the ways we are governed, an opposition certainly redolent of the theme of civil society against the state” (57).

Well, if civil society is equated with constitutive power, then any opposition against what one construes as constituted power will certainly smell of civil society. Yet this does tell us more about the view of those who read Foucault’s text than about the text – which would be fine, if this chapter (or the book) would be intended to defend Dean’s and Villadsen’s own views and would not present itself as an assessment of the views of others. Still, we can now understand how Dean and Villadsen argue for their first major claim: antistatist approaches must necessarily take a “civil society” perspective because, within their interpretative framework, to be against the state is to be against constituted power, which (tertium non datur) means rooting for constitutive power which is in turn to support civil society.

We have also already seen that for the same reason, Foucault himself is said to tend towards supporting civil society. Dean and Villadsen argue for their second claim – that Foucault’s analysis, for all its explicit warnings against state phobia, succumbs to “analytical and normative antistatism” (178) – in two steps: chapters 5–7 are devoted to the question of how Foucault decentres the state and to assess whether this already amounts to taking a civil society perspective. Chapters 8 and 9 finally investigate The Birth of Biopolitics, arguably the most important reference point for the debate, because it is in this lecture course that Foucault warns against state phobia and analyses civil society as “the correlate of a technology of [liberal] government” (Foucault 2008: 296) – and it is of course here (and in Security, Territory, Population) where Foucault most directly attempts to analyse the state.[12]

In a first step, Dean and Villadsen read Foucault’s decentring of the state through his concept of the “dispositif” as elaborated by Gilles Deleuze. This is a surprising interpretative move – the authors rely on Deleuze’s reading of Foucault without bothering to “re-establish the precise connections and demarcations between Foucault and Deleuze” (88) because they want instead to “consider what kind of approach to state governance and institutions emerges from the invigoration of Foucault’s concepts by the Deleuzian vitalist epistemology” (88). This approach poses serious problems, since Dean and Villadsen do not only repeatedly judge Foucault’s account based on this conflated reading (cf. 88, 103 f., 114–119) but also fault him for political vitalism (cf. 98, 101, 103). This is not to deny that Deleuzian-inspired readings of Foucault are exciting and have been influential, yet without any arguments for why we should concentrate on these interpretations, Dean and Villadsen’s conclusion that Foucault’s account in itself tends to dissolve the state to such an extent that it can no longer become an object of analysis is a non-starter. Even worse: if they want to argue that Foucault’s work exhibits “vitalism as an enduring ontological premise” (116), this should not be argued for by using a Deleuzian reading of Foucault; rather, the task would be to show that alternative interpretations miss important points or must misconstrue Foucault’s analysis. Furthermore, in a book about The Political Legacy of Michel Foucault, these should certainly not be seen as “concerns […] of a more limited, biographical interest” (116) for they separate fruitful and critical engagement from zeitgeisty polemics.

Unhindered by such ‘subtleties’, Dean’s and Villadsen’s second step consists in assessing whether The Birth of Biopolitics offers a corrective to what so far looks like an analysis of the state that “throws the baby of political liberalism and democratic theory out with the statist bathwater” (86). In an interesting twist, relying heavily on Dominique Colas (1997 [1992]), Lisa Hill (2006) and Giorgio Agamben (2011 [2007]), they argue that Foucault’s critical diagnosis of “civil society” pays insufficient attention to the theological roots of the concept in Adam Ferguson, Foucault’s main source. This matters, Dean and Villadsen argue, for it indicates that Foucault’s genealogy of governmentality turns into an eschatological conception of a historical trajectory towards immanence, towards a governmentality based on pure self-governing (138–144) – and thus towards another version of the ‘dream’ of civil society. In short: “Foucault has negated economic theology only to produce a version of it” (142).

Again, however, Dean’s and Villadsen’s arguments remain rather unconvincing because, on the one hand, their overall reconstruction of The Birth of Biopolitics remains fragmentary and is tied to the insufficiently justified Deleuzian reading of the previous chapters. On the other hand, while they do offer some good reasons based on alternative historical interpretations e.g. of Ferguson by Lisa Hill (2006), Dean and Villadsen mostly rely on arguments by analogy, such as this one:

“In his suppression of the theological roots of the physiocrats, Rousseau, Smith, and Ferguson, we could ask, has he [Foucault] not given us a typology of power that takes a distinctly Trinitarian form and that, moreover, resembles the three ages of Joachim di Fiore in the twelfth century?” (142)

This amounts to little more than one of those annoying but “harmless enough amusements for historians who refuse to grow up” (Foucault 2010 [1969]: 144) – and it certainly does not add up to an argument.

In this way Dean and Villadsen arrive at their last chapters, convinced they have shown that Foucault’s approach is antistatist despite his warnings against the theoretically and politically disastrous effects of “state phobia” and that he embraces a “civil society” perspective despite his analysis of it being deeply implicated in the exercise of power according to (neo)liberal political rationalities. Their final claim, even more ambitious than their first two, is that this antistatism leads Foucault to an “apologia” of neoliberalism, because his (later) thoughts express an “affinity much more fundamental than [a] limited, politically conditioned, strategic endorsement” (164).

How do Dean and Villadsen argue for this conclusion? Oddly enough, the two main arguments are the exemplary status of François Ewald as a “Foucaultian” and some lines from the discussion between Bernard Harcourt, Gary Becker and (again) François Ewald (152–158). The first argument goes as follows: since Ewald is the editor of Foucault’s lectures and the Dits et Écrits, he is “the most influential and loyal Foucauldian today” (146). If this exemplary figure endorses neoliberalism (as Ewald does; cf. 152), there must be something in Foucault’s thought that allows, if not triggers, this endorsement. The conclusion of the second argument asserts that because Harcourt’s attempt of interpreting Foucault as a critic of neoliberalism (cf. Becker, Ewald and Harcourt 2012: 7–10) fails in the eyes of Dean and Villadsen (154) and of Colin Gordon, whom they praise as “the closest English follower of these [the governmentality] lectures” (155) – though we are neither told what Harcourt’s interpretation of Foucault’s critique is nor why it fails – Becker must be right when he thinks Foucault simply agrees with him.

‘Puzzlement’ surely is too weak a reaction to this ‘argument’; dismay might be more appropriate. Dean and Villadsen neither present Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism (except in the most abstract and summary of ways: cf. 147–149), nor do they substantively engage with why so many interpreters have judged it to be critical. Their ‘discussion’ of Thomas Lemke’s reading dismisses it without giving any reason other than again citing the discussion between Becker, Ewald and Harcourt. Even worse, the lament that Foucault never explicitly took a normative position against neoliberalism (159) returns us to the problem encountered in Zamora’s contribution to Foucault and Neoliberalism: with it, Dean and Villadsen (just as Zamora) ignore the whole debate about how to understand Foucault’s concept of critique. According to their way of reading Foucault (although this expression suggests something too methodologically self-aware for what actually happens in the book), Discipline and Punish advocates torture as a non-disciplinary sanction, and one might even have to wonder if Foucault’s detailed discussion of all those small disciplinary techniques would not amount, for Dean and Villadsen, to enthusiasm for discipline – after all, we never got any explicit critique from Foucault, did we?

In summary, then, Dean’s and Villadsen’s book suffers (mostly) from the same lack of interest in providing compelling arguments based on a methodologically sound and self-reflective reading of Foucault as do the contributions to Zamora’s and Behrent’s volume. Using Foucault’s warning against “state phobia” as an objection to (some) recent developments in critical (political) theory, and insisting on Foucault’s argument that “civil society” cannot ground criticisms of (any form of) liberalism because it is “absolutely correlative to the form of governmental technology we call liberalism” (Foucault 2008: 297), might raise interesting questions. Yet in order to development them fruitfully, Foucault’s objections and the accounts of politics they are supposed to object to would have to be elaborated in far more detail and with far more serious engagement with the scholarly literature. As it stands, the book is a hasty polemic designed to attract attention in the current debate about Foucault’s stance towards neoliberalism.


As for the debate itself, what should have become apparent is that how we read Foucault and how we take him to read are the two fundamental questions that have to be answered by any contribution that seriously attempts to understand and assess Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism. This requires, at a minimum, a consideration of the overall methodological architecture of Foucault’s lectures in 1978 and 1979 and to account for his concept of critique (cf. my attempt in Vogelmann 2012). Yet the same standards hold for those who defend Foucault as a critic of neoliberalism: it simply will not do to state, as Stuart Elden does, that “Foucault’s mode of reading texts often makes it look like he is agreeing with arguments, when he is really trying to reconstruct them, to understand their logic, and so on.” (Elden 2015) Without systematically accounting for Foucault’s methodological perspective on which his analyses (e.g. of neoliberalism) rely and without explicating Foucault’s concept of critique with respect to this methodology (cf. Vogelmann 2014: ch. 2, Vogelmann forthcoming), we are back with the tired debating style often found between Habermasian and Foucaultian scholars in the 1980s: demanding critique to be an explicit normative distancing and reciting Foucault’s refusal of that demand. Thankfully, this debate has moved on to a more nuanced and fruitful exchange – and we should reject any debate that returns us to its stale past.


Brunkhorst’s Critical Theory: Evolutionary Paths or Path Dependency?

Hauke Brunkhorst’s Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions marks a significant contribution to our understanding of how law, society, and political economy co-develop. Through a novel methodological approach—studying the social development of evolutionary universals in legal, moral, and political thought—Brunkhorst provides not only a general account of a millennia of human history, but often novel insights into its particulars.

Legal Revolutions intervenes at a specific moment in the critical theoretical tradition. Habermas’s communicative theoretical turn responds to a tradition weighed down by various theoretical monisms (labour monism, bureaucratic monism, and the defeatism of the dialectic of enlightenment), and sets out to overcome these limitations while creating space for an active critical theory. Based on some justified criticisms, much of the post-Habermasian critical commentary has turned away from grand sociological and historical analyses, focusing instead on the aleatory, the immanent, and the partial. This is evident in the recent focus on identity politics in its various forms. We also see this tendency in some of the more (self-proclaimed) radical celebrations of pure-political action, or resistance for the sake of resistance. Though these lines of critique have much to recommend them, they risk over-compensating for the limitations of communicative action, losing sight of both the big picture and, perhaps, the more general critical disposition.

I read Brunkhorst’s work as a reconsideration of the critical theoretical tradition and Habermas’s communicative turn, one that further takes into account both the critiques of that project, and the limitations of the criticism. The project’s heuristic is what Brunkhorst calls the legal-historical “evolutionary perspective.” The evolutionary perspective allows for the incorporation of the best of these systems while addressing many of their critiques. It is a return to grand theory, going against a tradition that has been moving quickly away from it. And quite a project it is, with new heuristics, new critiques, new limitations. In what follows, I will put aside the commendations the first two contributions surely deserve and focus only on the limitations.

Evolutionary paths or path dependency?

For Brunkhorst, the Kantian and Managerial Mindsets—the two schematic antitheses casting all political-juridical orders—are not ultimately drawn towards a specific end. Here, there is no teleology. But the weight of history certainly bears heavily upon it. To Brunkhorst, human history has followed a specific path because of the dialectical logics, because this dialectic is driven by a sort of linguistic vitalism, because this linguistic vitalism unfolds along a historical trajectory, and because that history gives it momentum. These logics delineate the scope and limits of future evolutionary and revolutionary change. Yes, we are historically situated beings, but the weight of history appears to bear heavier in Brunkhorst theory than in others. History does not stand as a repertoire of political strategies and techniques—strategies and techniques that can be used to emancipate or to repress. Instead, it stands as a reservoir of potential energy waiting to transform into the kinetic energy of a revolution. Revolutionary discursive negation of the present managerial stanches is functionally free of memory. Indeed, the memory of previous revolutions is only passed on positively by the managerial mindset itself. The analogy speaks to the evolutionary constraints and revolutionary new faculties which delineate the past, present, and presumably the future of socio-juridical-economic history. This perspective allows us to see the historical variation, change, and endurance of certain ideological, juridical, and economic structures.

Brunkhorst focuses on the positive “ratchet effect” of this soft-dialectic, asserting that what was critical in yesterday’s Kantian inflections is inherent to tomorrow’s managerial systems. Capacities tend towards expansion, and freedoms tilt towards the universal. This process can certainly be stalled, but it does not regress. This is the essence of the managerial mindset. The critical disposition of communicative negation (language’s inherent capacity for negation) is in the here and now. Emancipatory critique addresses today’s injustices. The fault is in institutions of the present, and the goal is realizing certain freedoms tomorrow. Emancipatory struggles are similarly framed by way of this negation. Hence, the Kantian Mindset is a manifestation of the immediate epistemic framework, an immanent critique of the present, which takes its political orientation by way of negation of the actually existing. There are very good reasons why emancipatory struggles should focus on exactly these politics. But some critical scepticism is in order.

Path dependency and memory politics

All of the above commits critical theory to a form of path dependency, and thereby a problem of memory politics. First, Brunkhorst’s critical theory, as expressed by the politics of the Kantian mindset, is strikingly presentist. All previous struggle—those not granted institutional standing by the managerial reaction—are swept away as inconsequential or inapplicable to present politics. Today’s pragmatic concerns take their vitality from today’s enemies, not yesterday’s lessons. That which needs to be negated over-determines the spectrum of emancipatory potential. Consequently, all that held emancipatory potential in the past, but does not pertain to the negation of the present, is left out of the repertoire of the possible. History pushes on these problems, and history frames them. But at  the same time, history is forgotten. Historical alternatives, tactics, strategies, crimes, and utopian revelries have no bearing on these ideas.

Let us look at concrete examples. Consider the role of cities in enabling insurgent republicanism in the 16th and 17th centuries. As Brunkhorst notes, one the crucial junctures in the 17th century came when the sovereignty of the people took an effective role in the constitution of Kantian mindset, as the less transcendent conceptual anchor of popular sovereignty. This move would establish pouvoir constitutent as the preeminent claim against all institutional legitimacy. Brunkhorst argues, quite correctly, that the city was the institutional space where these ideas were realized. The city was a particular social space that was productive of certain forms of counter-power against the revamped Platonism of Jean Bodin, among other things (Bodin 1967). This was the case in Britain, as in the Netherlands before and the American colonies after (Israel 1998; Withington 2005; Carp 2009; Weber 1978; Stasavage 2014). Class played an important role—such as guilds, merchants, new-money urban elites—but these economic forces certainly do not define them. There came a frenzy of ideological advancements (especially in republican and radical democratic thinking), then a matching flurry of critiques, followed by a sort of synthesis of the sovereignty of The People and the state. Nevertheless, the ideas that emerged in this context were quickly usurped—perhaps Hobbes’s most insidious assault on republican liberty was his co-creation of the fictional state, which was quickly taken up by the republicans who followed—and replaced with the newly transcendent and state-compatible notion of The People and The State.

Two further points of critique stem from this example. The first is institutional. While this new ideological-juridical-intuitional framework built the foundation upon which the Kantian mindset was based—pushing forward beyond the state and towards the ideals of human rights beyond the sovereign sphere—it did so while setting aside the potentiality of the city and encompassing the forces usurping tradition. Where rebel cities were once identified with rebelling republicans, the hidden managerial appropriation of the Hobbesian state quietly pushed these politics to the side. The increasing intensity of the Kantian mindset ratcheted down revolutionary memory. Freedom from the state is seen as freedom over the state at the cosmopolitan level, but never as a reversion to the city.

The problem does not only refer to our memory of institutional alternatives; it similarly refers to our memory of ideological alternatives. Here, we could plug in the exact same theoretical manifestation of republican liberty as above (e.g. the notion of freedom as non-domination at the utter loss of this idea to the modern ear) (Skinner 1997 and 2008; Pettit 1999 and 2012). As Brunkhorst notes (quoting Somek and Muller), once the Kantian Mindset is within the legal system, it can “be halted or inhibited. But it cannot be eliminated” (Somek 2012, 8.). It “can strike back.” (Müller 1997, 56). This is true, but what is crucial here is what has been given up, not what has been retained. Consider how alien the present neorepublican language of politics sounds to the modern ear. The idea of freedom as non-domination no longer gains traction.

The effect of “ratcheting up on memory” appears to pivot on the inherent limitations of linguistic negation. Consider slavery as another example. Though slavery has been constitutionally banned in much of the world, it is still rampant, and expanding into new categories of human trade. Yet anti-slavery discourse has been all but abandoned. What does this imply for Brunkhorst’s normative embrace of the Kantian Mindset? Here, there is something like a “ratchet effect” on memory too, wherein previous struggles and their dilemmas are institutionally addressed, yet qualitatively similar but nominally different problems are left out of consideration. What is revolutionary about the critique of slavery, Brunkhorst correctly notes, is that it is an evolutionary universal that applies to all. He asserts that these ideas cannot stay siloed within a specific people; they do not have any specific cultural boundaries. Much of this is tied to the negation of the word itself, as opposed to the negation of the thing itself. Today—if we look at slavery the “thing,” instead of the legal definition—we are in a world where 18th century slavery has been largely banned, but there are more slaves than at any other moment in history. Sex slavery, however, is not simply banned. It has not even been named. The word is absent, but the thing itself is quietly celebrated. The role of discursive negativity—and the whole managerial apparatus instituted to ratchet up old ideological critiques of slavery—are circumvented by means of a simple redescription. Therefore, the Kantian mindset appears to be, subject to the blinders of language and culture. It is closed to history.

Alongside the problem of forgetting is the problem of the wholly new. This problem, along with an evolutionary critical theoretical perspective, create an impediment in positing a critique. How, we could ask, would Brunkhorst respond to Hannah Arendt? Here, I am reminded of Arendt’s response to Eric Voegelin’s review of Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951. In Origins, Arendt assertion that the Holocaust marked a unique event which cannot be accounted for by either our Kantian or Managerial traditions, or their equivalent. “What is unprecedented in totalitarianism” Arendt wrote,

is not primarily its ideological content, but the event of totalitarian domination itself. This can be seen clearly if we have to admit that the deeds of its considered policies have exploded our traditional categories of political thought [. . .] and the standards of our moral judgment [. . .] 
Mr. Voegelin seems to think that totalitarianism is only the other side of liberalism, positivism and pragmatism. But whether one agrees with liberalism or not [. . .] the point is that liberals are clearly not totalitarians[.]

This same retort applies to Legal Revolutions. The managerial mindset is not totalitarianism, we could say with Arendt. But if this is the case, what are we to make of it? If we cannot situate one of the great disasters of the 20th century within any of the traditions that preceded it—managerial or Kantian—then we need to be exceedingly careful in ascribing too much explanatory power to the managerial/Kantian framework. Similarly, we need to call into question the critical potentiality of a theory that so easily moves beyond this major historical departure from the evolutionary process. Indicatively of the difficulty of incorporating the new, Europe and Germany spent decades trying to avoid even talking about the problem (Hoye and Nienass 2014).

Arendt’s example speaks to another problem regarding memory politics. Consider another genocide, likely a far bigger, more thorough one: the mass annihilation of the indigenous native populations in (unceded) North America. Brunkhorst does not miss this at all. Indeed, it is a central discussion of the book. However, one pertinent point was missed. Unique forms of social and political organization were practiced, along with rationalities of justice and injustice. Presumably, there were also unique manifestations of moral and political universals. However, the extent of their destruction has been so thorough that we really have no idea about how these systems were organized. From the angle of evolutionary perspective, we have to ask whether another completely different mindset—an Aboriginal Mindset—may have existed, a competing species of ideas that have gone extinct. The path built into the evolutionary model by dependency occludes this possibility on its drive towards cosmopolitics.

There are some cases of legal systems trying to accommodate these ideas—in Canada, important cases have gone through the courts, and are continuing to do so—but that accommodation has taken place fundamentally within the Western constitutional order nevertheless. It is for the best that these attempts are being made, but we still have no idea what we are missing. The reason for this is important and, perhaps, difficult for any legal order to address: oral cultures that come into conflict with well-developed administrative cultures tend to be obliterated. The Kantian mindset criticizes its immediate managerial context; it looks at the iteration prior to the revolution and prospectively at the ideal future. When it encounters something wholly lost to its own history, it simply plows forward. Brunkhorst quotes Kant’s writing that the French revolution “will not be forgotten”; my concern is that under the aegis of Kantian universals that cannot be forgotten, there is a whole world of other universals that have been forgotten or exterminated.

The question at hand, however, is not only one of forgotten alternatives. It is an issue of actively forgetting those alternatives. Arendt’s own work is a manifestation of this. Arendt writes that when she first heard of the Holocaust, she found it inconceivable, because it did not follow the usual practice of war-making that the west had perfected. Thus, it sparked her subsequent search for its uniqueness. This is a curious statement on Arendt’s part. One could venture to think of what an aboriginal inhabitant of North America would have thought of his or her own Holocaust, or a Congolese of their genocide at the hands of the Belgians (Moses 2013). Arendt is very clear about what she thinks of the slaughter of 10 million Congolese; she is dismissive: “The world of native savages” she begins,

was a perfect setting for men who had escaped the reality of civilization. Under a merciless sun, surrounded by an entirely hostile nature, they were confronted with human beings who, living without the future of a purpose and the past of an accomplishment, were as incomprehensible as the inmates of a madhouse.

“The senseless massacre of native tribes on the Dark Continent” Arendt, channeling Hobbes, concludes “was quite in keeping with the traditions of these tribes themselves.” They have no politics, no human rights, no artifice, no justice. For Arendt, this was not a holocaust. It was a war of all against all, a mere footnote. Arendt’s unthinking racism is not the point, however. The point is that Arendt arrives at these claims by means of the highest manifestations of the Kantian mindset. I am not trying to ascribe anything like this to Brunkhorst (indeed, Brunkhorst takes exactly the opposite approach). But it does allow me to set up a counterpoint to the general evolutionary path-dependency thesis. Arendt is a wonderful exponent of the Kantian mindset. And it is exactly this mindset that sustains her failure to account for the humanity of the Congolese.

The managerial mindset and the virtues of constraints

The previous point brings me to the Kantian potential of bureaucrats. With some uniformity, the managerial mindset is set in strict opposition to the Kantian one. The managerial mindset—and the coterie of professionals who implement it—are functionally reactionary and in the service of dominant class and ideological interests. Here, the Weberian and Arendtian themes shine through. My concern is that this critique encompasses too much, undermining both the progressive and the democratic elements that are often encompassed—and maybe only realizable—by the tedium of the bureaucratic apparatus. If this is true, Brunkhorst risks celebrating the revolutionary Kantian Mindset at the expense of the previous standing managerial democratic feature.

Consider three examples. First, examine the role of the legal system in protecting the aforementioned problem of sex workers (and by extension slavery). The managerial mindset has proven incapable of providing sex workers with the status of even basic labourers, instead readily accepting their ascribed deviant status. The limited protections they have been afforded (I have the case of Canada in mind) have been wholly the function of legal experts working within standing case law and institutional order, and through normal procedures. Though they have met with some success, they are constantly under attack by conservative elements of the Kantian mindset. To these Kantians, the selling of one’s body for sex treats people as a means, instead of an end in themselves. This ties into the previous point regarding memory politics and path dependency. The Kantian mindset presupposes that the problem of slavery has been addressed, and what remains are the simply smaller brushfires. On the level of language, law, and ideology, this is indeed true. However, on the level of practice, the problem of slavery is worse today than before. Slaves in the Americas were treated as tools, but they were at least tools that had to be cared for. The modern slave is not a tool, but a consumable good that is easily replaced.

Consider, next, the death penalty. In the United States, the death penalty has flourished on the backs of a mindset (perhaps not Kantian) that has ordained the rule of law as sacrosanct, with certain crimes are punishable by death. The greatest impediment to these practices has been deeply technocratic and managerial in nature, pushed through by highly sophisticated lawyers. Indeed, the only thing that staunches the flow of death in the American justice system is the pervasive bureaucratization of every step of the procedure. This is not simply evolutionary incrementalism. But neither is it a revolutionary happenstance.

Finally, consider a third example. The negativity of the Kantian Mindset is not simply rational or discursive. The motivating force behind the Kantian mindset (presumably) also has deep emotional energy at its foundation. Injustice is not a logical evaluation, or an application of an idea; it is an evaluation of the heart as well. If this is true—particularly to the Kantian Mindset and less so (or not at all) to the Managerial Mindset—then there are many situations which will lead the well-meaning Kantian to arrive at unjust, undemocratic, and repressive measure. However, as in the point above, these measures are garbed in ideals and apparent justifications. Consider how a population responds to heinous crime involving the use of drugs. One quite rational response, apparently corresponding with the Kantian mindset, would be to have stricter laws on the books. This mindset is realized both by the people and the politicians who want to be voted into office. In the end, these laws could have hugely repressive effects on the population, but they nevertheless pass, with general, enthusiastic and quite rational democratic support. Drug laws in the US, for example, have been a disaster for certain segments of the population. Occasionally, these laws are rolled back–though often after decades of implementation that destroyed communities. Interestingly, however, very often the managers lead these charges. In both cases, there are good reasons to think that the Kantian political mindset and the politicization it drives towards are not inherently linked to democratic legitimacy, simply because of the purported participation of the people in its politics, or the apparent justness of the revolutionary disposition.

Similarly, I argue that this form of administration can often be more democratic—and a better promoter of freedom/justice/community— because of its lack of direct responsiveness. Here, I have in mind Philip Pettit’s work on indicative representation. The argument runs that organizations are often more representative of the people as a whole—regardless of class—when they are not allowed to have immediate influence. For example, consider the representative nature of a jury. The jury is selected at random, because any other system would invite a measure of control by one group or another. Or examine the testing of drugs or the regulation of hospitals, energy systems, etc. In these cases, specialists do the work not only because they are properly trained, but also because any other system would politicize the organization. The power of the people can, counterintuitively, often be expressed most democratically by divesting that power. The point is not that the managerial mindset has the power to implement the evolutionary advances of the Kantian mindset, a point Brunkhorst makes himself. Instead, it is that that there could be specific democratic functions that only pertain to that mindset independently of the Kantian imperative.

Where does the critical theory start and the genealogy of law end? The first chapter concludes by equating critical theory with communicative negativity with the Kantian mindset; they are one and the same. If this is the case, then the role of critical theory is strikingly limited. Critique is an output condition of the negativity produced through communication. But is there no positive role of critical theory beyond the negation of the present? I would suggest, and I will conclude here, that Legal Revolutions may be missing a fourth chapter, one that addresses the role of critical theory specifically. This chapter could make the injustices of the present, unaccounted for in the Kantian mindset, newly comprehensible. It could act as the immanent critique of the that mindset, identify the best of the Managerial mindset, and reassert the value of those historical phenomena which the evolution of society has left in its wake.