Just over a year following the release of the nine volumes of Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, the rationale of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben is now greater than ever. Labelled as one of the fathers of the so-called Italian Theory along with fellow philosophers Tony Negri and Roberto Esposito, Giorgio Agamben is considered the spokesman for some ontological and political questions intended to develop the Foucauldian biopolitical discourse, with the aim to shed light on the dynamics of contemporary power.
Homo Sacer’s embryonic architecture embodies the idea of a circular and recursive narrative dimension, a genealogy of endless western politics, an open structure destined to be integrated and modernized over the years. Agamben’s philosophical research takes the form of archaeology in its premises and a critique of power structures in its conclusions. Thus, the author reaffirms the importance of starting a historical-comparative process in an era in which the “state of exception” becomes “the rule” within post-democratic societies.
In order to understand the current implications of his thought, while avoiding a purely speculative debate, it is necessary to start from an assumption: the entrance of the zoè, intended as “naked life”, into the sphere of politics. Therefore, the man who has always been self-determined himself within the dialectical process of inclusion/exclusion from the political life, placing, in fact, a boundary between public and private sphere, ends up normalizing himself according to defined patterns.
As a result, the concept of “naked life”, in its purely biological, natural, and vital dimension is an original and exclusive object of interest by exogenous power structures that also becomes an element of negotiation by the living subject. The image that perfectly synthesizes this circular process is that of the Nietzschean Ouroboros: a snake devouring itself in a perennial cyclic, unique, and eternal movement.
The commodification of the most intimate aspects of our existence, the pervasive strategies of manipulation which we are the target of and the devaluation of the meaning of “naked life” are just some of its logical consequences. This is why the concept of sacertas becomes a prevailing logic and a necessary sanction: the infringement of the pax deorum sanctioned by exclusion from the community and the possibility for anyone to kill the transgressor. It is a human law that becomes inherent and transcendent at the same time, whose indirect punishment consists of divine punishment. Therefore, the individual is not executed or sacrificed, but excluded and declared “killable” as a subject not worthy of the protection offered by the civitas.
“Sacerty is a line of escape still present in contemporary politics, which, as such, moves towards ever larger and darker areas, until it coincides with the same biological life of the citizens. If today there is no longer a predeterminable figure of the sacred man, it is, perhaps, because we are all virtually sacred homines”.
The contemporary homo sacer is the subject whose existence is negotiable by virtue of the lack of adherence to a model. Not only the “marginalized” or the “insane” according to Lombroso’s definition, but the one who does not standardise his biological existence to the logic of dominant power. At the same time, he is the one controlled by the infinite and schizophrenic reproduction of the capitalist process, the person expropriated of his “naked life” because he is “precarious” by productive and productive needs. Accordingly, the homo sacer is the “anomic” individual par excellence.
This privative and predatory process is also known as “expropriation of the common”, an expression coined by the philosopher David Harvey to indicate modern capitalism. The man who objectifies himself is thus the same who cancels himself out in cultural and social indifference, the “mimetic” being who sacrifices all of himself out of fear of exclusion from the social fabric of society. We are all virtually sacred homines because we are excludable by the indifference of our models of reference. Therefore, the ban and existential exile decree the “killability” of the “naked life” of individuals.
As Agamben points out, to label violence as sacrificial means to justify it as necessary, investing it with an aura of sacredness. He warns, for example, that to have wanted to give back to the extermination of the Jews a sacrificial meaning through the term “holocaust” is historical blindness because they have been eliminated “like lice”, hence as insignificant “naked life”. The space in which the extermination took place is, therefore, that of “biopolitics” in its most dramatic and all-encompassing sense.
Where individuals are invested in their “naked life”, the law gradually fades to make room for the “state of exception”. The “state of exception” is, therefore, a paradox; it is the law that denies itself by virtue of a greater good. As it is easy to guess, in this way, an empty space is created, a non-legal logic within which everything becomes potentially derogable, including the “naked life” of individuals.
The “state of exception”, however, is both a political strategy and a rhetorical divertissement. Clear examples of this tendency are the disregard of international law, the suspension of human rights and the limitations of fundamental rights in accordance with the raison d’être of the state. We only need to think about the endless incarcerations in Guantánamo prison, the war on terrorism, xenophobic policies, and “port closures” in order to understand how dangerous the power to decide is on the “naked life” of individuals.
Nowadays, It is always more frequent that simplistic measures have been adopted by governments in order to indulge the vox populi, with the mere purpose of increasing consents. On the contrary, such short term strategy purely based on de-legitimation of the “enemy” in its broadest sense, it marks the beginning of the end of the same political group who claim the authorship of its electorate. Therefore, within this spiral of unmitigated negotiability, blind opportunism and shifting alliances, victims and perpetrator impersonate the same blurry image: the end of democracy.
In this regard, the common thread is represented by the progressive degradation of the “naked life” intended also as the importance that ethical issues have regarding democratic processes as well as power structures.
But the natural following question is : What does it mean today to speak about the “State” when the concept itself has been undermined? When do the dynamics of post-democratic power cancel out any dialectical “check and balance” processes in the name of an immediate and resolutive “decisionism”?
Unfortunately, the interpreters of this modern tragedy – in its original meaning of “goat song” – are both contemporary victims and executioners who try to survive in every way to an announced end. With all this background noise we should learn to be more patient, to expand and to protect our “naked life” by protecting it from denial and blackmail, and by elevating human beings, their humanity and dignity before anything else.