Giorgio Agamben: The way of poverty

A reflection on Giorgio Agamben’s work, The Highest Poverty, or on the “way of poverty” against the “way of wealth or enrichment”, by Jacques Fradin. (lundi matin #186, 09/04/2019)

The Poor Way

We will pay tribute to the great Italian thinker Giorgio Agamben, the anti-Badiou par excellence.
And we will, in particular, try to illustrate one of the last books of the Homo Sacer series:
The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Forms-of-Life. Homo Sacer IV, 1 (2011).
This book opens a WAY to imagine the DESTITUTION of the economy, Destitution that we will call “Exit”.

The reflection, thus sketched out, will unfold in the last work of the series Homo Sacer, The Use of Bodies (Form of Life and destituant power), Homo Sacer, IV 2, 2014.
A work that we set aside, here, leaving it for a joyous reading.

For reasons that are both factual (or fateful) and ethical (normative), the only way that opens up onto the future is that of impoverishment.
The poor way.
The grande debacle: the EXIT from the economy.

But before this future, two positions, ANTAGONISTS, are possible.
That of the defense of the economy.
The great denial.
To continue to pretend and make believe in the possibility of enrichment, continually growing and for all.
To continue to pretend: economic governments have incorporated the idea that enrichment, continually growing and for all, was now at an impasse; growth, for the enrichment of all, is an impossibility.
The economic policy of these governments is then that of continuing to feast during a time of devastating pandemic, dancing in the time of cholera.
Since enrichment, continually growing and for all, is impossible, since the project of the economy is at an impasse, there remains only the possibility of enrichment, which can then be extravagant, for some; a very weak growth (or even a decrease) associated with a strongly unequal distribution, an inequality which increases, all of this will suit matters very well indeed. To continue to defend the economy, put into the exclusive service of the ultra rich. But this program of the new economic government must be hidden and, publicly, denied.

We must continue to believe in the possibility of growing enrichment and for all, knowing that such a thing is impossible and that the economic policies maintained are policies of impoverishment of more and more growing parts of the population and of the monstrous enrichment of increasingly restricted parts of this population (inequality increases).
The new economic government must therefore practice systematic lies, in the name of the defense of economic faith (the new name for reasons of state, or state interests).
This government thinks it is necessary to “maintain confidence” by constantly posting positive advertisements, flooding the public space with “canards”.
By never ceasing to affirm that it, alone, knows “the way out of the crisis”, that we are at the end of the tunnel, that all tomorrows (but only tomorrow) will be happy, etc.
Religious propaganda (in extraordinary growth).
Generalised Stalinism of the new economic governments.
That survives only by false promises: “the economy will be resurrected” – false promises that these governments know to be false.
Glory to the professionals of the double language or the forked tongue!
Religious villainy renewed!

But a religious power can only continue to make people believe and, thus, consolidate its power by means of these lies, if the governed remain believers (in the fable of the enriching economy or the myth of salvation by the economy).
The government can persevere (in the ravage and its denial) only if a majority of these governed continues to hope for the beneficent economy (“the good economy”).
Only if this believing majority does not imagine any other way of life, a lifestyle other than that of consumption, a lifestyle supported by “purchasing power”, the new totem, around which we must dance (in the time of cholera).

The new economic government, at the gates of world disintegration, must continue to rely on a mass of believers (often vindictive, frightened).
Cultivate belief and protect superstitious devotees.
To the point that many revolts are still develop on the field of the economy, and for its improvement (its “bonuses”) – the improvement of purchasing power -, badly timed, but to the delight of the small Machiavellis of “pedagogy” (demagogic).

“Those at the bottom”, the tail cars that the economic train, too heavy with “loads”, must “sacrifice”, abandon (offloading the snow clearing equipment), “those from below” thereby kept in the belief in the goodness of the new economic government (“it is not possible for them to lie, deceive and rejoice in it “) manifest themselves (and manifest) in the imposed language of economics, they are “possessed”(of “possession”). They demand that more purchasing power be distributed to “those below” of the statistical tables (to be improved).

When the cholera epidemic spreads, when the world seeks to emulate British self-destruction, when the highly unequal impoverishment becomes obvious, unthinkable and denied, all that remains is to dance, dance and pray, dance and believe like vulgar evangelists “possessed” by the economy.
But this position is untenable.

All the religions of management (of populations) and of (political) tenure end up crashing in upon themselves, under the weight of their false double legend:
Happiness is to be found in the growth of enrichment (money does not make happiness, but …);
Certainly, this growth is impossible and that implies accepting austerity and the greatest rigor (like the hunt for the poor);
But this austerity, the selective and nevertheless massive impoverishment, must allow continuing along the economic path of increasing enrichment and for all;
Hence the Orwellian slogan of the new government:
impoverishment is enrichment!
It is under the weight of such Orwellian lies that faith exhausts itself, disintegrates, and then vanishes.
We must then come to the second position, antagonist (of the first).
The one that advocates “the exit from the economy”, the destitution of the economy, the exit from false promises.
Growing enrichment for all is neither possible (fact) nor, if still considered a project, acceptable (norm).
We must come to the “poor path”.
Break the lies, break the denials, reverse the Machiavellianism of despicable economic governments (all liars).
Only the “poor way” is compatible with mere survival – the thesis of political ecology;
But only an egalitarian “poor way”, “the way of equals”, is acceptable – communist thesis (anti-productivist).
Against the impostures of the economic religion,
Against the charlatans who feed promises of “enrichment by impoverishment”, or promises of growth found through the most hateful austerity (still the British model) or, again, Pétainist promises (taken up by the Blairists) of “the blissful rigor”.

It must be announced:
The oldest myth of the Horn of Abundance and the Paradise of proliferation (or the end of any shortage),
This oldest of myths (which defines economic humanity) supports a devastating hope.
Disastrous hope in that it leads to technocratic government and ruins any democratic attempt (the old “materialistic” myth of liberation by means of abundance for all must be rejected);
Desolate hope in that it justifies all of the ravages, all of the conquests and their plunder, all the colonisations.
The Thirst for Gold and the mirage of a Golden America.
The madness of the Conquistadores and their vulgar children, the Bollorés [Vincent Bollorés], golden, then bolloré!
Aguirre or the Anger of the vindictive god of the economy; of the evil god, with his magic of Golden Cities.
But, and this is crucial, this second position, “the poor way,” “the path of wisdom,” can not imagine deploying itself calmly and peacefully.
Because it would be “the way of wisdom”, one could imagine that it imposes itself without difficulty.
Or because it would be the expression of a higher rationality (as the old socialist project of the 19th century had thought), one would think that it dominates all debates.
But this second position implies conflict, STRUGGLE.
Because she is antagonistic from the first.
Because it puts into question an entire established system of power (and which is based on economic religion and, therefore, can not accept unbelief).

A rational and peaceful deliberation, a dialogue, can in no way be a way to transform a religious despotism, supported at the same time by its main beneficiaries, the ultra rich capitalist and their butlers, and by believing serfs.
Perhaps a “moral” view of the conflict is a good starting point, perhaps a “moral” critique of intellectual corruption is needed?
But such “moral” criticism remains quite inadequate.
In the conflict, “morality” is swept away.
Like deliberation, the moral call or the demand for moralisation (“moralising capitalism”) is totally empty.
Certainly, the legitimization of the poor path is necessary.
And constitutes, in itself, a difficult struggle.

Not only a cultural war (or a conceptual conflict) for cultural hegemony, but above all a war (of dislocation) against the apparatus of propaganda for the economic path (saving enrichment).
But if legitimisation is necessary, it is still insufficient.
The militants or the heroes of the poor way will collide with the collective equivalent of repression”: diversion, recuperation, lies, denials, denigration and, finally, “foreclosure”, the test of strength.
Militants will clash with climate skeptics and other joyful liars.
But also, with all lobbyist-henchmen (hidden and camouflaged).
And, finally, with the armed core of the managers (of their fortune).

The idea of rational and argumentative deliberation (or debate), this idea (of power) has no meaning in the Machiavellian world of generalised lies or corporate secrets.
And this “repression” expresses an “evil will” (and not a “bad will”), a malicious and ineradicable will, that of the domination and defense of hierarchies, in particular technocratic or economic, that of contempt for ” those at the bottom “, who should be content to obey (obedience as the price to pay for living in the land of milk and honey).
While the great billionaires (the patrons of the economic order) have struggled, their whole life, to gain supremacy and to stay on the gaping heights (these ultra rich justifying their wealth by this incessant fight), how can we imagine that they yield without a fight?
By a simple “moral” rejection (by “revelation” in the manner of Pasolini’s Theorem) of the economic horror that fed them?
The economic order is more than a armoured order, it is a fighting, crusading order.
The destitution can not consist of a simple secession; for secession already calls for a more general conflict.
The local constitution experiences along the ways of the poor(or of ZADs) will immediately be considered a declaration of war; or rather as the very beginning of an asymmetric “hybrid” war without a declaration.
The mere beauty of the mendicant orders, preachers or minors, was immediately considered a violent threat, which had to be “brought back to order”.
The “moral” superiority of the poor way, or even its philosophical superiority (let us not forget that “Sophie” refers to wisdom, of which we have spoken), gives it no political supremacy, and still less military.
The conquest of hegemony, which is a very difficult struggle, of which we have spoken, does not guarantee any more substantial victory.
Intermediately necessary, the change of “the imaginary” (which, in itself, may require a very long time) will never lead directly to the establishment of the poor way.

The example of the Iranian revolution (narrated by Foucault), a revolution which rested on the (religious) delegitimisation of the former imperial power, this example shows that the dissolution of the old power, its removal, only makes sense when the army or armed police “change sides”; which then leads to the paradox of capturing a force to destroy that very force – the vicious circle of sovereignty that Agamben denounces by criticising Badiou: one can not get out of power by means of power, the poor way (which is a weak path – a reference to asymmetric warfare – can not be imposed by the means of its antagonistic adversary: to make weakness strong is the best way to annihilate (destitute) the poor way (removal of destitution).
The change of world, from the economic path to the poor one, will be both very slow, very long and endlessly threatened (for example, by the “betrayal” of the renegades).
It must come about, but in another context, different from the “militant values” (new military values for weak forces) defended by Badiou.
Starting with “fidelity”.

Badiou would tell us that this change requires a Body of Truth, a disciplined militant collective that carries the Truth (of the poor way), as a religious order.
Badiou, like Agamben, posing these religious orders, poor orders, beggars or minors, as the model of “militant fidelity”.
And it is precisely this model of the begging or minor order (the weak force of the poor way) which, for Agamben, leads to this form of life emancipated from the economy, wealth, hierarchy, the law, etc., to this form of life, which is the poor but fighting life, the life according to the poor way, a way that is always known to be threatened.

The way of life of the radical ecologist (“eco-terrorist”) may present itself as a contemporary expression of the fighting life form of poor orders.
Meeting the same difficulties as the forms of life constituted by the poor orders: the hostility of the authorities (who consider these orders as an internal enemy), the contempt of “neighbours”, the danger of voluntary seclusion and underground struggle.
And, perhaps this last danger, the impasse of “withdrawal” or the clandestine struggle (to go into hiding), the impasse of the modernised hermit life, is the most devious (as shown by the flight forward, in the armed struggle, the old radical groups of the 1970s).

When the poor way is supported only by hermits (armed) or “sectarian” collectives of terrorist anchorites, when it folds in upon itself, beyond all of the insufficient necessities (the cultural war, the constitution of a form of weak life and its defense out of the paradoxes of mimetic conflict, minorities having a majority destiny following the conquest of hegemony, etc.) of the struggle, then the way is threatened with extinction.
Is the thirst for gold or power a “natural” given characterising a “human nature”?
Certainly not.

But a hold or “moralisation” (in the context of economic religion) of so great a length of time implies that “fidelity” to the poor way – even if this poor way possesses wisdom, reason and any other ethical justification – that its fighting patience will be put to a rude test.

The hardest test for the poor way: the contradiction between the weakness to be maintained and the strength to be constituted (the paradox of the sovereignty which opposes Agamben and Badiou).

The most severe test: the test of the STRUGGLE to hold, without metamorphosing into its police-like opposite.

Jacques Fradin is an anti-economic economist, mathematician at war against evaluation. For 40 years, Jacques Fradin has been conducting a meticulous work of the genealogy of capitalism.

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