Authority, Depoliticization, Dehumanization

November 1, 2019
CRMEP, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University

John Galsworthy Building, JG5002
Penrhyn Road campus
kingston-upon-thames KT1 2EE
United Kingdom


Kingston University

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Authority, Depoliticization, Dehumanization
Friday 1 November 2019
Free, no registration required
Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy
Kingston University London

“But a Present with neither a Future nor a Past is nothing but a
‘natural’ Present, non-human, non-historical, non-political. The
domination of the Bourgeoisie is therefore simply the progressive
disappearance of political reality as such – that is to say, of the
Power or the Authority of the State: life is dominated by its animal
aspect, by concerns related to food and sexuality.”

— Alexandre Kojève, The Notion of Authority

A distinctive trait of twentieth-century theories of authority is
their preoccupation with the eclipse of the political. This
preoccupation is something novel and prompts an array of questions.
Under which conditions, for example, is a bureaucratic or technocratic
state still political? What is required of power if it is to remain
political, that is ‘human’ – that is to say, something other than
intelligence agencies and the administration of needs? And if the
state itself ceases to be political, where and how might the dimension
of the political remain open?

The twin spectre of dehumanization and depoliticization haunts and
unites most twentieth-century conceptualizations of authority. Under
names like ‘the human’, ‘action’, and ‘the political’, thinkers like
Alexandre Kojève, Hannah Arendt, and Carl Schmitt tried to come to
grips with the conjuncture of technological progress, economism and
biopower that seemed to threaten the realities they were suddenly
compelled to theorize. Alexandre Kojève is not alone in equating the
eclipse of the political with the eclipse of the human as such. What
he articulates in the opposition of the animal and the human, Hannah
Arendt frames as a shifting centre of gravity within the human
condition itself, from thought and action to ‘labour’, the metabolism
of life, from bios to zoe.

Everything functions as if the word ‘authority’, by way of the
indefinite surplus it has always contained, could become the container
for the no less fragile surplus of the human over the animal and of
the political over the administrative. ‘More than advice, less than a
command’, wrote Theodor Mommsen in the 19th century – and his ‘less
than’ was exactly such a supplement. It is not by accident that, in
English, this term, authority, has translated not only Autorität but
also Würde (dignity) and in certain contexts, Herrschaft. A
placeholder is intrinsically substitutable. But if authority’s
indeterminacy makes it apt to crystallize the anxieties of the 20th
century, its close relation to terms like ‘dignity’ bring it to the
heart of the question of the human.

The attempt to think through the eclipse of the political in terms of
the opposition of the human and the animal might, today, seem like a
confusion or dead end, whose only important insights have been
superseded by the theory of biopower. Moreover, the narrative of
decline and crisis that united these thinkers may now seem nostalgic,
heroic, and politically ambiguous. Was this problem simply a
manufactured panic with reactionary ends? Or does its fading urgency
mean that the processes of depoliticization and dehumanization have
simply advanced so far that we can no longer even understand that
something has been lost? Is it still meaningful to speak about the
political or the human today? If Kojève, Arendt and Schmitt’s question
is no longer our own, the question concerning this question is no less
urgent. What are the conditions for asking it?


- Natacha Israël (L'Autre Prépa, Paris) - 'Is the mechanics of bio-power inhuman or all-too human?'

- Connal Parsley (Law, University of Kent) - 'The Authority of the Artist'

- John Wolfe Ackerman (New College of the Humanities) - ‘Authority, politically speaking’


Each talk will be followed by a ten-minute response from a graduate
student or early career researcher, who will have advance access to
the paper. Researchers and students interested in acting as
respondents to one speaker should get in touch with the organisers,
Luke Collison, Kyle Moore, and Austin Gross, at

Workshop: Authority, Depoliticization, Dehumanization

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