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Выпуск: N 100 , 2005 г

Сводный номер Новый исторический материализм


Jan Sjunnesson

"If two men unite and join forces, the together they have more power, and consequently more right against other things in nature, than either alone; and the more there be that unite in this way, the more right will they collectively posses",

Baruch Spinoza


Draft by Jan Sjunnesson, Dept of philosophy, Uppsala Univ, Sweden, May 1998


"If two men unite and join forces, the together they have more power, and consequently more right against other things in nature, than either alone; and the more there be that unite in this way, the more right will they collectively posses",

Baruch Spinoza

"There is only desire and the social. Nothing else ",

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari


In these preliminary notes, I want to incite a discussion on the 17th century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, along with the contemporary French authors Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s joint works , that brings forth a reflection on ontology as political, constituted by powers and desires rather than a reductionist apolitical naturalism. In some sense, every philosophy of being (i.e. ontology, or the wider concpet metaphysics), has to make a place for man and his well- being in the whole of reality. That place is a political question which I do not fully answer here, neither give full account to Spinoza or Deleuze/Guattari, but only hope to open up for further theoretical reflections.

Being as the assemblage of "composable" relationships ( of powers, of desires, of essences, multiplicities. . . ) is the leitmotif in this paper. The essential element for ontological constitution is Spinoza’s focus on the productivity of being. For the Spinoza - scholar and historian of philosophy Gilles Deleuze this means ability to express being .

Expression - the movement from power (essence) to act (existence) is the concept Spinoza used to develop an immanent ontology, as shown in Deleuze thesis on Spinoza’s "expressionism" - written in 1968 as a habilitations - schrift. Four years later, and with the May ‘68 experience behind, Deleuze transformed the Spinozist expressions to political desires togheter with the left- wing activist and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari in vol 1 of Capitalism and schizophrenia. Ten years later, the marxist Antonio Negri wrote (while imprisoned in Rome 1979- 81) a treatise on Spinoza’s politics and metaphysics that is strongly influenced by Deleuze, opening up an urgent and innovative perspective on the spinozist "anomaly" that still is not surpassed but totally updated to our age of real subsumption under capital, of late modernity, late capitalism. It is these connections between power, desire, knowledge and being, that I hope to introduce here.


Part I: Spinoza

The Dutch lone thinker and optician Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) is most known for his metaphysical doctrine of monism - one substance, God or Nature. Immanence instead of transcendence. "There is only one substance which can be understood to depend on no other thing whatsoever, namely God" he claimed. The substance is expressed or actualised in two attributes, Extension and Thought, of which there are infinitely more, but unknown to human senses. The two attributes are within substance/God/nature, but need a third kind existence to "enter" the world, i.e. modi, infinite and finite modes which as the attributes all are immanently within substance, or God, or as we might prefer to call all that exists, Nature. There is nothing outside Nature. No goal, no finalism, no teleology. No external transcendent Creator, but a participating infinite existence that exists on one plane of immanence. This concept of God is not personal, but abstract and more like a principle of explanation. One does not need another relation to God than the intellectual love,scientia intuitiva, which may lead to the state of beatitudo (an individual salvation, which is supported by a commonwealth though but in the end apolitical, see Smith, p. 388).

Since all is in God as substance, political matters are also a part of God. All pieces hang together. Laws of nature and laws of the mind are the same . "The only philsopher of the day who succeded in providing a coherent theory of nature, of human passion and desire, or reason and of legal and moral norms is Spinoza", Harris states (in Deugd ed. 1984 p. 64), his 16- 17th century forerunners in political theory Grotius, Pufendorf and Hobbes were all limited in some ways .

One of Spinoza’s most important metaphysical, logical and moral concepts is conatus., which we turn to now.


No thing can be exterminated except by an eternal force, Spinoza states , referring to the concept of conatus. (latin for "striving- to- exist"). This "life-force", power to exist, is what the thing is, its essence, Spinoza maintains, in his major work from 1677, the Ethics, part III, prop 7: "The striving by which each thing strives to perserve in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing ".

Passions, affections and sadness weaken one’s power to exist, whereas actions, active affections and joy make one more powerful, having more essence, more conatus. There are metaphysical and logials correspondences between essentia, conatus, potentia, vita (life), appetitus,[desire, man’s essence ) virtus (understood in the Machiavellian sense of manly power, not humble virtue) in Spinoza’s system. What should be rememberd is that power, desire and essence are closely related in Spinoza.

In his last unfinshed posthumous work in 1677, Political Treatise (PT), Spinoza states that ". . . the power by which things in nature exist, and by which they in consequence, they act can be none other than the eternal power of God/. . . /But men are led more by blind desire than by reason; and so their natural power, or natural right, must not be defined in terms of reason, but must be held to cover every possible appetite" (Ch. II).

God as understood by Spinoza is not the transcendent Father, but rather what is real, existing as virtual essence or as actual realised essence in existence The power to act is not in need of a divine support. It is nothing else but the power of a certain mode itself as far it expresses an essence. For Spinoza there is no teleology, pre- give plan, either for men or nature or states. Rather, there is freedom to develop from a cause within (causa sui), an endless interaction of the powers of singular things , according to the laws of nature. There is no other order, divine or made by humans (such as in states) but the endless interaction of the powers (potentiae ) of singular things according to the laws of nature. Things are different degrees of powers, but there are no pre- established order of relations, rather he dynamizes that order . And if the "acting powers of the indiduals are the only resources on the human societies can draw, and if no one definetely renounces with his /her own acting power, than government if nothing but the disposition (potestas ) of those who govern about the acting power ( potentia ) of the governed" (Walther, p 52, 55) .

"Spinoza’s true politics is his metaphysics" Negri says (1992). The political implications of his metaphysics are his definition of things by their capacity of act (potentia agendi ). This capacity is enhanced or diminished according to the affects or passions that encounter modes, how they are being affected, affect others or let others, by their passions, rule them. If there exists nothing else but the acting powers of human individuals, it follows that the power of the state and its government is nothing but the disposition of all the citizens’ powers together, i.e. democracy in a sense before it got its liberal interpretation. And since powers give right, people have as much right as they have power, contra Hobbes who saw men as giving up their powers in a fictious contract. Spinoza states that men always retain their powers, and never actually leave them. But do people know this ? What is the political function of 1st order of knowledge, imaginatio, besides 2nd ratio and 3rd, beatitudo (salvation)in Spinoza’s epistemological scheme? Can imagination develop to some extent into reason, 2nd order of knowledge ? What is the (political) place of desire in the transformation of the people’s imagination and reason ? What role does antagonism play in the political strife of different desires, between men and men/state? These questions remain to be solved in depth in further research, and have been to a large extent by French contemporary Spinoza scholars since the 1960’s. Here we now consider passions in Spinoza’s theory.


Power has two equal sides, the power to exist and to be affected . Above all we seek in all ways to become active, yes even joyful ! Production of affects (chosen actions from self-preservation, conatus) and sensibility to be affected. Their sum is constant (either you decide, or someone else). This sensibility may be chosen, actively, internally caused , or passive, externally caused. Most of our lives are filled with passive affections, since we do not understand the real causes behind things and events.

When my body encounters another and agree, we form a new body, with a new power to exist Spinoza says. Our bodies meet other bodies and change accordingly to relations of power and affects. An encounter between two bodies, that are not fixed units according to Spinoza but may form a new "body", a relationship of bodies/thoughts/modes, will be interpreted to their composability or incomposability. A body of any kind is defined by the possible relation into which it may enter. This is its power of acting. If the bodies agree " in nature" it is a joyful passive affection that increases the bodies’ power to act. If not, sadness occur and either body or both may be decompose the relationship , the new "body".

The question arises immediately: How can we get as many active affections and as little passive ones as possible ? How do we experience as much (self-caused) joy as possible ? Most encounters are sad since men are often subject to passions. Spinoza’s pessimism may be saddening but realistic and interpreted both in a conservative and radical fashin, enlightments notions that do not really apply to Spinoza (nor his hero Machiavelli whom also has both kinds of adherers). In a commonwealth, we (hope to) organize (good) encounters, which is why we form it. But Spinoza did not mean a mediation from above, but a building of power from below, from the modes, which are the what constituts our (immanent) world, what we can perceive of substance/nature/God. The term "contract" in his Tracatus Theologico Politicus (1671, TTP) is replaced in PT with "common consent", to which individuals renounce their rights (but not all, more on contracts and rights later). The reason they do this is that the extends their power to constitute the state, if that is their goal. In order to build a community of mutual consent, free communication must be possible between citizens, who always have the right to think and speak, but not act unlawful while they adhere to the state , that is Spinoza says.

Passions like fear are important to understand for the wise in order to survive. The fear of the masses in both ways, i.e. what it fears and the fear it induces in rulers , is very present in Spinoza (see Balibar 1994). The ruler posses right only insofar as his real force is greater than the masses and as the masses accept to be ruled.


Natural rights

If we start explain Spinoza’s doctrine of the state with natural right, we find that political views contemporary or precedent to him, relied of traditional concepts of natural right; Spinoza’s solution is far more naturalistic and realistic, as immanent as his ontology. For him, all political theory must start with two basic conditions:

1) Human emotions are not contingent vices, which just can be thought away. Rather, they are necessary, in harmony with the rest of nature,

2) Therefore they must be understood, not criticised or loathed.

Spinoza had no use for theories of people written by thinkers "as they would like them to be". A political theory must start from the predicament of common men, not saints. "I have therefore regarded human passions like love, hate, anger, envy, pride, pity, and other feelings that agitate the mind, not as vices of human nature, but as properties which belong to it in the same way as heat, cold, storm, thunder and the like belong to the nature of the atmosphere." ( PT, ch. I, )

If we grant men their necessary passions, we may build up a secure state. Politicians who relies on good faith are not long-lived and would prepare his own destruction, a Machiavellian theme, the difference is that Machiavelli recognised a civic virtue in all men that possibly could ground a stable state, whereas Spinoza kept the virtuous way open only to the wise. The multitude (people,) neither could nor wanted to walk the narrow road to higher political or theoretical interests. Machiavelli resigned himself to the people’s passions ("They should know better!"), but Spinoza noted that they probably neither should nor could ("No, they’re only natural !").

Right as power

Spinoza starts his theory of right from a state of nature, as in Hobbes, but this right is equal to the power of the right - holder. The contract is not an abstract entity which keeps a society stable. Rather all rules must depend on power, i.e. Machiavellian force or Spinozist (divine) power in all beings:

"It follows that the power by which things in nature exist, and by which, in consequence, they act, can be none other than the eternal power of God. / . . ./Now from the fact that the power of things in nature to exist and act is really the power of God, we can easily see what the right of nature is. For since God has the right to do everything, and God’s right is simply God’s power conceived as completely free, it follows that each thing in nature has as much right from nature as it has power to exist and act.; since the power by which it exists and acts is nothing but the completely free power of God " (PT, ch. II, Spinoza’s italics).

Passions lead the multitude to use its power by natural right. If people are in bondage by their passions it follows that they may use it in a wrong or good way. To strive to exist, conatus, is the base whatever means one chooses. The multitude use passions, the wise reason. Both ways have the same natural right to do it. Non- utopian politics may just use the first way, the passions of the multitude. "The natural right of the passions, and therewith the rule, founded in natural right, of conflict, hatred, anger and so on is against reason in respect to our [the wise] nature, but not against reason in respect of the laws of nature as a whole "( Strauss , p. 232).

Rights as external norms are not to be taken seriously, when judging acts according to Spinoza’s theory of causality. Less if they are "freely chosen", as Spinoza does not believe in a simple form of human freedom of choice . Power gives rights as in "To be able to exist is power " ( Ethics, part I, prop 11, 3rd proof). Power is the essence of substance, as the concept of conatus showed. We should not confuse Spinoza’s concept of right as power with cynicisms as "might as right", "the right of the stronger" etc in an elitist fashion. "He is not only the first modern thinker to defend democracy as such, but to do so on the principle that might makes right" (Smith, p. 376). Weak men have as much power as the strong in absolute terms, but is somehow separated from what his powers, his essence, can attain. To attain as much as we can, we must increase our actions and increase our active affections, joys and lessen what makes us sad and powerless.

"When considering right as a natural ability, including the ability of reasoning, Spinoza never leaves to any degree the ‘naturalistic’ level. Whatever one does is ‘right’ in his concept of right, because one can do it and must do it", historian Geismann notes (p. 44). Spinoza bases his doctrine of natural right not on humanity but on God or the one substance where all participate as part of nature.

Each being in its essence is a result or an element in God, so all beings are comparable in that they express God in different degrees, i.e. that they are to different degrees. " Man is only a particle of nature. But this particle of nature which is man must, in an eminent sense, be nature, be power" ( Strauss , p. 239). The right to exist is greater in beings that "exists" in a higher degree. The power of the multitude has greater power and therefore right than the wise men, if they not quantitatively change that balance (with technical and ideological means for example, as shown below ).

If we conceive power as the power of a body, we get closer to Spinoza’s concept of power. We do not know what a body can do, he says, but we know that it will exercise its natural powers, its rights, if not blocked as in "anti- production ( see last Part III in this paper). "Pushing to the utmost what one can do is the properly ethical task. It is here that the Ethics take the body as a model; for every body extends its power as fast as it can. In a sense every being, each moment, pushes to the utmost what it can do " (Deleuze 1990, p. 269). This model applies to states too, and people’s ability to conceive new states, or abolish states altogether as the radical interpretation by Hardt: "Spinoza’s conception of natural right, then, poses freedom from order, the freedom of multiplicity, the freedom of society in anarchy" ( 1993, p. 109) .x

The contract theory as in Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau does not have the same value in Spinoza, although he mentions "pactum" in TTP for men in order to live in security beyond the reach of fear. Men must obey their rulers, not subvert or overtake the state. Unreasonable laws shall be exposed in public but all citizens must submit to their power, although they do not agree. But this contract does not mean that men give up all their power to a sovereign ( whether monarch, noble or democratic council).

"Nobody can so completely transfer to another all his right, and consequently all his power, as to cease to be a human being/. . ./It must therefore be granted that the individual reserves to himself a considerable part of his right, which therefore depends on nobody’s decision but his own" (TTP, ch.17).

The "void" left by the absence of contracts, and State authority, is filled by the practices and powers of the masses, in Negri’s (1992, 1994a) and Hardt’s (1996) radical democratic interpretations which we turn to at the end of this part.

TTP states fully that right (ius) must rely on and is the same as power (potentia) (Montag 1995 and Balibar in Montag ed. 1997). If right as a subjective right is identical to the power to act, it follows that the laws as rules of politics own their force, in the last instance, to the acceptance of the governed themselves, i.e. their collective power to agree. If Hobbesian individuals would gain all natural and contractual rights without full power, they would be in a powerless and contradictory position visavi the state. Now, individual powers are less isolated than taken together, which is what rulers know. From what the ruler fears, the mass (multitudo) can know. "If it is true that we can know the people only from he view of the prince [ as Machiavelli stated], it is equally true that we can know the people only from the point of view of the Prince" (Montag 1995, p 101).

Peace and stability are the aims of the state for Hobbes, as they are for Spinoza. But peace is not to best at all costs for Spinoza. Peace must be endurable, otherwise opposed, even with arms.


Spinoza envisioned that men only can live as reasonable and free in a state or a city. Experience teaches man that living together in states or other commonwealths is the best way to attain security and develop free thoughts . The formation of society is necessary and useful, although not " natural" in the sense of being self-evident to all citizens at all times. If men lived according to reason, and were not prey to superstition, a state based on reason would be possible. "There is no singular thing in Nature which is more useful to man than a man who lives according to the guidance of reason (Ethics, part IV, prop 35, cor. 1). / . . . /Still, it rarely happens that men live according to the guidance of reason. Instead, their lives are so constituted that they are usually envious and burdensome to one another "(ibid, schol.) .

The urge to exist, conatus, teaches man that life in common is better than solitary life in a state of naure. Better in the sense of useful to oneself, to one’s advantage. Spinoza lets the "satirists" laugh at human affairs, the "theologicians" curse them, and "melancholiacs" praise lower animals and disdain mankind - all are mislead by not taking man’s own desire for his advantage, his conatus, , as his real cause for building society (ibid). Democracy is to be preferred, being the most natural government of men. A democracy is better since there is less danger of a government behaving unreasonably, for it is practically impossible for the majority of a single assembly, to agree on the same piece of folly. But Spinoza views democracy also as an effective means to rule. Tyranny might arise, but they do not last long . Spinoza notes ( as Seneca) that despotic regimes never lasts long,whereas moderate ones do. The state is usually superior to the individual by its united strength of many citizens, that power is the state’s " right". Spinoza asserts that

" . . . Since the right of the commonwealth is determined by the collective power of a people, the greater the number of the subjects given cause by a commonwealth to join in conspiracy against it, the more must its power and right be diminished. . . The right of the state is nothing more than a natural right, limited not by the power of the individual , but by that of the multitude, which is guided by one mind" (PT, ch.3).

The balance of powers are important: "The reason of the state lies not in the governing nor in the governed, but in the capacity of the ruler to rule, and in the capacity of the ruled to be ruled " (Strauss , p. 240). A state ruled by force is weaker than ruled by a free multitude. Therefore the state must secure that the citizens get freedom and security, out of adhering to the state . "The state proves its own reason against the irrationality of men not by an appeal to reason of its citizens, but by the realization of self - preservation [conatus] according to the principles expounded in the ontology. This is realized by a power that force the masses. ", Bartuschat says in Deugd, ed. p. 35.

Contracts, ideology and religion

The state must rely on a balancing of collective powers, rather than individual rights, obligations and contracts. Since it is not individuals who counters the state’s Power, but the united mind of the multitude, the conclusion is that this mind of its own has a certain existence, essence and power. History becomes a history of mass struggle, not of relationships between individuals and states (Balibar 1994 and Negri 1992).

Spinoza rejected in PT the juridical and transcendental apparatus of contracts, obligation and rights since he saw where the real power was, in the multitude. Individual power were never as strong as collective material forces. Hobbes started from pure individuality in the origins of the state, where Spinoza could speak of a "body" being composed of several individuals, with one nature as we’ve seen. The multitude is not reducible to anything but itself, a new body of (former) individuals. It has then attained a state when its passions have been transformed to actions.

The multitude is hard to govern, since "whoever has experienced the inconstant temperament of the multitude will be brought to despair by it. For it is governed not by reason but by the affects alone" (TTP, ch 17). The state must combine affective means ( piety, patriotism, superstition) with rational ( utility, private wealth). The "affections of reason" are outside the scope of the free community’s mutual consent, since they are useful, at least in the long run, to the community. "Men should really be governed in such a way that they do not regard themselves as being governed, but as following their own bent and their own free choice / . . / they are restrained only by love of freedom" (PT, ch. x)

Religion can degenerate to superstition Spinoza showed. But other ideological means are just as efficient and lead to obedience and destructive stupidity. A central question if men strive for self- preservation is why do men fight for their own repression, in wars, in fights for fascism, despots? The answer is that inadequate but useful ideas for a short brutal life, hold us down with power from material strength. The reasons why the mass obeys its rulers are not just pure power, but foremost ideology in a Marxist sense. Spinoza’s analysis of 17th century ideology, i.e. religion, degenerated to superstition and dominating theories, have Norris 1991 and all of and on Althusser). And free communcation of individuals, humans, states, modes of all kinds, are to be a political (and ontological) question, as Etienne Balibar concludes:

"If we admit with Spinoza /. . . / that communication is structured by relations of ignorance and of knowledge, of superstition, of ideological antagonism, in which are invested human desire and which expresses an activity of bodies, we must also admit with him that knowledge is a practice, and that the struggle for knowledge (philosophy) is a political practice. In the absence of this practice, the tendentially democratic processes of decision described by the PT would remain unintelligible. We understand thereby why the essential aspect of Spinozist democracy is from the outset liberty of communication. We understand also how the theory of the ’body politic’ is neither a simple physics of power, nor a psychology of the submission of the masses, nor the means of formalising a juridical order, but the search for a strategy of collective liberation, for which the password is: to be the greatest number possible to think the most possible (thoughts)"(p. 118 in Balibar 1985, my transl).





Spinoza the proto- marxist

Negri goes much further than Balibar in his summary: "Spinoza’s innovation [of the genealogy of the power of the multitude] is in fact a philosophy of communism; Spinozian ontology is nothing but a genealogy of communism"(Negri 1994a, p. 139). His interpretation of Spinoza is very decisive to any reflection on Spinoza’s political philosophy, Marx and Deleuze/ Guattari, although I can only turn to it briefly here (see Surin for in depth analysis).

Negri views Spinoza as an "anomalous thinker", situated between the crisis of the renaisance humanist utopia and the change from mercantile to industrial capitalism. The bourgeois utopia of the market underpinned his aspiration towards a fuller and richer humanity. Just as Spinoza came after an era of hope and meditated (although only as a metaphysician) on its crisis, the contemporary crisis of the revolutions of 1917 and 1968 has a similar experience, a lapse in time, in post - modernity just as Spinoza was pre - modern (or "L’anti- modernit’e de Spinoza" as in Negri’s essay in 1994, ch. 6). The crisis of Keynesianism and the brutal transition to its susseccor, Integrated World Capitalism (Guattari & Negri), is what motivates Negri to read Spinoza through Marx’ eyes, as Surin notes so well:

"First he [Negri] has seen the need to shift his own focus as a reader of Marx from Capital (with its negative emphasis on the irresolvably constradictory nature of capitalist production) to the Grundrisse (with its positive stress on the constitute capacity of the proletariat to appropiate social wealth; and second, he has turned to Spinoza in his quest for an ontological foundation for the new revolutionary subjectivity that has emegerged since 1968" (Surin, p. 13).

Negri takes Marx’ notions of formal and real subsumption (see Hardt 1995 for the marxist notions) to deal with what has happend in 20 th century capitalism. In formal subsumption, there exist still pre- or noncapitalist modes of production, of pre - bourgeois values etc, but in real subsumption, all of society is dominated by the command of capital (and what is left of non - capitalism is fully integrated. This move spreads the antagonism between capital and labour (and its allies) to all of the planet and all beings in its entirety. The sites of struggle become fluid, generalized and diffused, just as the student rebellions, the sudden presence of marginalized groups, were in the 60’s and early 70’s, especially in southern Europe. There is no way to establish the old corporate order in such a flow of desires and productions, but rule through postmodern fragmentatization by a postfordist capitalist ideology and command by political measures (fiscal crisis e.g.), which creates new protests and so on.


Negri’s other reason for using Spinoza now, is his position against the concept in political philosophy from Hobbes, Rousseau to Hegel, especially in the contractarian tradition, to pose a dialectic between powerless individual men and a powerful state. In the state, individuals subsume their power (which they give over in Hobbes’ as well as in Rousseau, and get aufgehoben in Hegel), to the potestas of government. In the age of real subsumption, it is impossible to rule as before ( e noted above), it possesses no power of it own, but is a site for capitalist command and labour struggles. "In this society -state complex there cannot be a ‘vertical’ resolution of the manifold contradictory individual wills (as maintained in the Hobbes - Rousseau - Hegel tradition [the" democratic soup" Negri calls them], because in an integrated world - capitalism which is essentially ‘paranational’ in form, there is no state. No ‘new state’ into which the contradictions of civil society can be sublimated by negative power", (Surin, p 14 , referring to Hardt 1995 on civil society).

In Spinoza’s time there was no possibility for his "physics of the power of the multitude" to develop, but now, in late 2nd millenium, late capitalism, late modernity, we finally have a politics that needs this kind of open surfaces that immanence provides.

" . . Spinoza needs new real conditions to be given: Only teh revolution poses these conditions. The completion of the Political Treatise [see Negri 1997], the development of the chapter on democracy [which never got started as Spinoza died 1677], or better, on the absolute, intellectual and corporeal form of the government of the masses, bcomes a real problem only within and after the revolution. Within this actuality of the revolution, the power of Spinoza’s thought gains a universal significance " (Negri 1992, p. 210.) The only comparable work to Spinoza’s are Deleuze/ Guattari’s, Negri maintains (in Negri 1995), to which we now turn.


PART II: Deleuze and Guattari

In this part, I will express some aspects of Deleuze/Guattari’s philosophy and politics, with emphasis on their conception of desire as a part of a politics and ontology. Deleuze/Guattari’s political and social thought is less a critical theory of capitalism and conformism, than an effort to create effects, practical and theoretical for change. Their books must be used, rather than read as theory claiming the truth of society, the world, mankind. The relation between theory and society that interests them, is not a question of represention, models or reference, but of the genetic (biological, social and historical) relations by which society produces theory. The question of truth of any theory is less important than what political and desiring intersts it expresses, in products, effects of all kinds. This anti- representationalist strategy is uncommon in political theory, but has a theoretical tradition in anarchist and libertarian socialist thought to which the French "gauchists" Deleuze/Guattari belong (see May 1993).

Their politics has more to do with 19th century French utopian - socialists like Charles Fourier than scientific socialists like Karl Marx, more with alternatives than deconstruction (Derrida only deconstructs, never constructs). Too much energy gets wasted in critique of the establishment (reactive thought in Nietzsche’s sense) , better to build the new (create values "beyond good and evil"). Artists are better creators than most political theorists they claim, which is why authors of all kinds, painters, film directors, musicians etc abound in their books rather than political philosophers.

First, their overall picture of society. Deleuze and Guattari argue that capitalism is a schizophrenic system. Because it is interested only in the individual and his profit it must subvert or deterritorialize (as they name a down- mantling process, of leaving land) all territorial groupings such as the church, the family, the group, indeed any social arrangement who occupies a practical or theoretical "territory". But at the same time, since capitalism requires social groupings in order to function (for work and sell goods to), it must allow for reterritorializations (taking back land), new social groupings, new forms of the state, the family, or the group. These events happen at the same time. The life of any culture is always both collapsing and being restructured. We turn to Deleuze/Guattari’s general theory, their "philosophy of desire", a unique mixture of Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, avantgarde art, French structualist - semiotics, and a good sense of humour.

Political unconscious

The French psychoanalyst Jaçques Lacan is unavoidable in this context. He united Freud’s (sexual) desire and Marx’ politics. He likened psychological repression to political repression, when stating that "the unconscious is structured like a language"(as society, laws, desiring stratas), a Political unconscious. But like Plato, he argued that desire was constituted as a lack, and was impossible to fulfil other than in dreams. Deleuze and Guattari undertook an analysis of desire that is distinctly political, more than Lacan. According to them, desire may fix on one of two alternatives. It may affirm itself, go along as far as it can, or it may choose (ruling) power as its centre and the establishment of order as its purpose.

Their two 19th century precedessors, Marx and Freud, were overun at high speed (unlike with other "May‘ 68 - thinkers", e.g. H. Marcuse and the Frankfurt schoolin sociology). For a Marxist, any purely human discourse cannot be the final word. It must be located within the relations of production, so that there is an opposition, between production (base) and ideology (superstructure). But Deleuze and Guattari argued for a "productive desire" which rejected the Marxian notion that desire belonged to ideology. It also rejected the Freudian notion of an unconscious and hence, except in dreams, unproductive desire. Desire is something else than lack, want, instinct, wish, interets, need etc, which are produced within a certain fixed social status and metaphysics. It is unconscious desire that produces interests, wishes etc, which may act against conscious wishes, interests etc. Desire may be repressed by another desire when its immanent production is blocked. The politics of desire aims to break down the dichotomy between desire and interest, so that people can begin to desire, think and act in their own interests, and become interested in their own desires.

The productive desire of Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis is, in fact, another form of Nietzsche’s will-to-power, or better, Spinoza’s conatus (as analyzed by Spindler 1995). This will-to-power/conatus of productive desire is balanced by a reactive desire for repression, the slave mentality. The controllers (priests, gurus, bosses, intellectuals) turn the active strength of productive desire against itself and create guilt which accompanies any active expression of the will, when bound. For Deleuze and Guattari, schizophrenia is the model for the production of a human being capable of expressing productive desire, but it is an active schizophrenia as a process and not a medical schizophrenia to which they refer. We will not dwell on this uncommon interpretation, though.

Deleuze himself was not a Marxist, evn though Guattari was in a loose libertarian sense. There is no class struggle because there is only one class, the class of slaves, some of whom dominate others. Almost no desiring individuals can ever fulfil their desires, as Spinoza also concluded his Ethics:

"For if salvation were at hand, and could be found without great effort, how could nearly everyone neglect it ? But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare".

In Deleuze & Guattari, this is because each individual moves between two poles, between schizoid desire, which is revolutionary but anti-social and paranoid desire, which is social but codified and demands its own repression

Nor fare they Freudians, but post- Lacanians. The Oedipal prohibition which produces the neurotic who has internalized guilt in order to repress desire is not a fact of nature but the result of social codification. In practice, Deleuze and Guattari have created a new vocabulary to permit them to speak about psychoanalysis and society without falling into either Marxist or Freudian ideas. Rather, their ideas are taken from Spinoza (ontology) and Nietzsche (ethics), but transcribed into a bricolage of French structuralism in the 60’s, cybernetics, non-linear science and pure theoretical fun (see appendix for their new vocabulary).


For Deleuze and Guattari, history is a process of de- and reterritorializations of desire and social production. At the beginning is the primitive tribe, a "primitive territorial machine", in which everything is coded. The society is static, and every gesture, action and even the body is governed by rules. This occurs both at the level of economic production and libidinal/desiring production. Everything is social. The territory is clearly marked out. At later level in history, the age of empires, the tribe gives way to the despot,a "barbaric territorial machine", who deterritorializes the tribe, but continues to maintain social order through a highly coded production.

The end of history is Capitalism, a "civilized capitalist machine", which radically decodes and deterritorializes social life from its medieval despotic regimes. It invents the private individual, owner of his own body and its labour. In order to accomplish this deterritorialization, everything sacred, ritual or traditional has to go. Capitalism has no need of any sacred system of belief. It is the most radical of all systems, since it undercuts anything that represses the autonomous individual. And yet, the reality of capitalism is the greatest repression of desiring production in history. Presumably, it should have led to an absolute freedom, but it has not. Instead, disciplinary societies in early capitalism as analyed by Michel Foucault has ginven way to societies of control of late capitalism, where poeple in (developed) countries are controlled by infinite digital systems rather than a structuring disciplinary gaze.


Ontology and desire

If we now turn to their conception of ontology and the place of man and his desire, we find not a romantic play of innocence but a materialist "machinic" thought. Their effort is not critical deconstructive or naive escapist stance from hegemonic discoures, power structures and lives, but affirmative, posing alternatives instead of judging the old and wearsome.

They want to construct a social space where immanent "surface" relations can be produced, which may, instead of acting out pregiven roles by some real or imaginary God/Ruler/System, be capable of crerating new relations, a social space non-existent before its immanent construction. First, they mean that a ontological whole, a One, must to be replaced by a Multiplicity, an heterogenous intensive manifold of differences where as many connections as possible are established (Spinoza’s concept of substance in not understood as a hierachial One by Deleuze). Secondly, to move this multiplicity, we need it to create something, produce a "consistency". A machine is something (organic or non- organic, or mixtures as cyborgs) that is able to draw and assemble new events from old in a creation, the second element in the immanent multiple relations. Thirdly, Deleuze /Guattari pose desire as the tendency to come into existence of such creations.

"Desire, a concept deterritorailized from adult sexuality, while not losing its erotic character, becomes applicable in any context or relation: it is a spontaneous emergence that generates [new] relationship[s] through a synthesis of multiplicities . Desire is the machinic relation itself, in respect of both its power of coming into existence and the specific multiplicity to which it gives a consistency" (Goodchild, p. 4). To liberate is to relate knowledge to desire and power. Knowledge must deal with what kinds of multiplicities and immanent relations exist in society; power concerns production and transformations of relations (capacity to affect and be affected in Spinoza’s sense); desire handle the driving force behind creation and relations.

[Exkurs on univocity (may be skipped on to next section)

The inspiration from Spinoza’s ontology is clear in this context, as I will try to show in a brief exkurs on expression and univocity ( a concept where "being is said in the same sense [in one voice] of all there is , whether finite or infinite - although the sense may differ modally" , Boundas , p. 51) :

Spinoza has philosophy of immanence appears from all viewpoints as the theory of unitary Being, equal Being, common and univocal Being. This claim, which applies equally to both Spinoza and Deleuze, must be understood if we are to see how a Deleuzian philosophy of surfaces and differences is to be coherent. Deleuze’s concept of difference is essentially an anti- transcendental one; he is trying to preserve the integrity of surfaces of difference from any reduction to a unifying principle lying outside all planes of immanence/consistency, a metadiscourse that would hold other discursive practices under its sway.

For Deleuze, the central Spinozist concept is expression as we noted earlier. Expression is the relation among substance, attributes, essences, and modes that allows each to be conceived as distinct from, and part of, the others; "The idea of expression accounts for the real activity of the paticipated, and for the possibility of participation. It is in the idea of expression that the new principle of immanence asserts itself. Expression appears as the unity of the multiple, as the complication of the multiple, and as the the explication of the One" (Deleuze 1990, p. 176). With Spinoza, it is not merely a neutral description of being but at the same time revealing of being as an object of affirmation, of desire. It is expression that, by substituting itself for emanation and by displacing all forms of dualism, introduces into philosophy the anti- transcendental notion of the univocity of being ."What is expressed has no existence outside its expressions; each expression is , as it were, the existence of what is expressed"(ibid, p. 15-16). Exactly the same defintion as machinic creation and desire ! All three concepts, multiplicity, creation and desire cannot be grasped apart from one another ( in a social world),

The essence of substance/God/Nature (Spinozist terms) is its infinite (but not indefinite) power, the absolutely unlimited power to exist and generate affects. "Essence is power" Spinoza states several times. Now, things exist not as essences but as existent finite and infinite modes. Substance is both the process of making expressions, natura naturans, |creative nature] and those expressions, natura naturata [created nature]. Throughout all its expressions, being remains univocal. It must be seen that to univocal is not to be identical; "The significance of spinozism seems to me this [Deleuze writes]; it asserts immanence as a principle and frees expression from any subordination to emanative or exemplary causality. Expression itself no longer emanates, no longer resembles anything. And such a result can be obtained only within a perspective of univocity" (ibid p. 180). Back to the discussion of ontology and desire. ]


Readers unfamiliar with philosophic desiring machines (see appendix) must free themselves from a naive conception of Deleuze/ Guattari’s philosophy of desire as simply envisaging a celebration of anarchy or sudden removing all political and social obstacles. Rather, one must extract, express, produce, or better, multiply, create and desire the new in a selective way, as what empowers people, make them able to do more, go as far as they did not know. Desire is not a universal ontological concept (there are none as such in Deleuze own philosophy), underlying all of existence, but as something existing "outside or alongside" existence. In Deleuze earlier writings (on Hume, Bergson, Nietzsche), he developed strange irreducible concepts like "intensive difference", "becomings", "extra - sense" to escape traditional Western philosphy of representation, that relates all being to a model, a standard, to represent something or someone, in order to get away from a hegelian dialectic, whether liberal universialist or marxist proletarian. Instead he posed difference as something in itself, not different in ressemblance, identity, in opposition, by analogy (see Deleuze 1994). In his preface to the French publication of Negri 1992, Deleuze called this tradition a "juridicism" which Spinoza opposed as himself. This implies four things: 1) that forces have an individual or pirvate origin, 2) that they must be socialized, 3) that thre is a mediation of Power (potestas ) and 4) that being is inseparable from a crisis, a war or antagonism for which Power is presented as the solution, but an "antagonistic solution" (like in Hobbes’ contract), that never will be abolished if not its conditions (of capital) are.

Spinoza’s way of considering bodies is important here. He envisaged as we saw before that bodies could be of all kinds, of matter, thought etc. Bodies then are composed of relations between parts that also have smaller parts etc. But since all boides have the same substance, they are distinguished in two ways; their degrees of speed and slowness, movement and rest; and "their sets of affects that occupy a body at each moments, that is, the intensive states of an anonymous force [i.e. desire] (force for existing, capacity for being affected)" (Deleuze 1988, p 127-8, written 1970 before his preoccupation with desire). Bodies can only be known through the changes that happen to them. The affects of a book for example. "We will never ask what a book means . . . we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connections with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities. . . " (Deleuze/Guattari 1987, p. 4). The question is not, is it true ? but, does it work ?

Part III: End notes

We do not know the relations of bodies, their forces, not in society nor the world. There is no vantage point to start with, but multiple. All one must to is experiment with was is, to create the new. In a "proper" production of desire there is no unrealized capacities, whereas in anti- production (of desire), such as in normal capitalist production or state government, there is not sufficient energy, power, desire, to create change to something new, but only repetition of old forms of representation, models, identities, standards, habits etc. What is immanent, and present, is not as important (in anti- production, where "bodies" is hindered from what they can do) as what "we always do here". Desire on the other hand, is everywhere, a part of infrastructure and society, and crosses all limits which is why is must be repressed by established orders and the so- called "reality". But it is historically coded and thus made to change when capitalism and states change, as individuals and bodies must do too.

Spinoza enables us to regard our governments and their ideological apparatus with fresh eyes, with adequate ideas. As all things are explained be their acts, and capacities for affecting and being affected, man and his collective efforts will be judged by of what they are capable of. What are we capable of ? What are states capable of ? What makes us and political initiatives joyful or sad, effective or powerless ? Spinoza and Deleuze & Guattari, helps us posing new questions in politics and ontology. To use our powers and release our desires in politics as well as everywhere else.



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Web resources:












Machines: A term coined by Guattari to escape the Lacanian notion of the "subject" which is often mistaken for consciousness itself. A machine is any point at which a flow of some sort (physical, intellectual, emotional etc), either leaves or enters a structure. A baby’s mouth at its mother’s breast is a mouth machine meeting a breast machine. There is flow between these two machines.

Desiring machine: a machine connected to a "body without organs, engaged in productive desire

Body without organs :A phrase from the French author Antonin Artaud. Any organized structure, such as a government, a university, a body, or the universe. Desiring machines and the body without organs are two different states of the same thing, part of an organized system of production which controls flows.

Paranoic machine: A state in which the body without organs rejects the

desiring machines.

Miraculating machine: a state in which the body without organs attracts the

desiring machines.

The Socius: a body without organs that constitutes a society, as in the body of the earth of primitive societies, the body of the despot in barbaric societies and the body of capital in capitalist societies.

The nomadic subject: the free autonomous subject which exists momentarily in an ever shifting array of possibilities as desiring machines distribute flows across the body without organs.





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