States as persistent political entities

What is the relationship between the state of things and the political State? This is Badiou’s question, after you take away all his mathematical obfuscations. Machiavelli suggests the initial connection: starer, the verb for persistent existence. From this we derive the ‘state,’ the thing that lasts beyond particular politicians. Politics, after all, doesn’t mean what we think it means: for a long time, political questions were questions about the best regime. Only recently have we decided that politics is the lottery-cycle by which we select the next party to run our specifically democratic/capitalist regime.

Does the ontological difference between beings and Being have a political expression? Perhaps Jean-luc Nancy starts this conversation with the difference between the various freedoms (from fear, from want, to pray, to speak) and Freedom itself. Indeed, Nancy takes the relationship to be quite perfect, since freedom comes to resemble the becoming or happening of events, rather than a particular human’s action. Freedom stands in for the novelty or instability at the heart of futurity. Is there a crucial distinction, then, between esserer and starer? Is this a false distinction? Between lo stato, the state, and mode of persistent standing characterized by starer, we can perceive an analogous difference. It is not the same, however. In English and French, this is expressed by “going” or “aller.” “Ca va?” (“How’s it going?”) becomes in Italian or Spanish, “Come stai? Sto bene.” (“How does it stand with you? It stands well.”) This persistent state of being is the ‘way it’s going,’ the trend or prevailing movement.

In politics, this trend is supposed to be manifest or set into law through state institutions: the king’s whims, the people’s will, are both subject to all sorts of manipulations and perturbations. The State suspends those perturbations a bit, but not completely. The State’s laws are not static, nor is the rule of law an utterly consistent, wholly unchangeable situation. In fact, thus understood, stasis itself takes on a different flavor: it is no longer the immortal and unchangeable, but rather simply the persistent and locally prevailing state of things. To stand is not to stand immobile, but rather to stand still. It does not preclude movement, but nor is it characterized by flux.

Heidegger’s notion of ec-stasis, standing-outside-oneself, initially intended to show the internal motion at the heart of stasis: the reaching forward (projection) and backward (throwness) of temporality, as well as the spatial diffuseness and plurality of every identity that claims to be sui generis or authentic. Yet at some point, it appears that Heidegger became more interested in the breaks and novelties of eventuations than the persistence of the work or the constancy of the product.

Note that the State doesn’t resist the dynamic flow of events: it simply has a tendency to steady them, to stabilize them, often by managing and regulating flows. From the regulator’s perspective, a flow of currency or goods looks like a steady stream. Its velocity becomes a known and calculated quantity, and only the acceleration or deceleration of its flow remains to be quantified and stabilized. Large events, like accidents, assassinations, disasters, or even revolutions cannot destroy the state. They can alter it, sometimes even transform it into an unrecognizably new form, but the new political entity will tend to persist. A series of such insurmountable surprises will tend to institute l’etat de siege, the state of exception. Yet even when martial law sacrifices the patterns of authority for the brutal reign of physical force, it only does so in an attempt to discover what persists in the tumult: violence.

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