Impotence in Contemporary Politics

“The true ethical test is not only the readiness to save the victims, but also — even more, perhaps — the ruthless dedication to annihilating those who made them victims.” ― Slavoj Žižek

F Berardi, Futurability

H Berardi, Heroes

FT Bilal, The Fundamentals of Tawheed

NSE Bolaños, Nietzsche, Spinoza, and the Ethological Conception of Ethics

CR Fisher, Capitalist Realism

SO Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology

To begin, we must start with how Berardi beautifully defines potency:

I call potency the subjective energy that deploys the possibilities and actualizes them. Potency is the energy that transforms the possibilities into actualities (F, 1).

Although, I would like to add — if that first sentence is not addressing it — is this emphasis on potency being possibility as such. Essentially, in the beginning of Futurability, Berardi presses his idea of possibility as “that which is not impossible” (4). Impossibility exists by virtue of the concept of possibility, and vice-versa; already contained within the concept of possibility is impossibility. This of which is precisely why we are living in a world of both possibility and impossibility. Within the concept of possibility, already, is that which is possible only insofar as that which, in the idea, can be actualized in Geist; that axis/determinacy of impossibility constitutes exactly that which is possible (Berardi very well acknowledges this by saying, “History is the space of the emergence of possibilities embodied in subjectivities endowed with potency” (7)).

In a homologous way, this perfectly sums up what Mark Fisher would call capitalist realism: that which views the possible as impossible.

Needless to say, what counts as ‘realistic’, what seems possible at any point in the social field, is defined by a series of political determinations. An ideological position can never be really successful until it is naturalized, and it cannot be naturalized while it is still thought of as a value rather than a fact (CR, 16).

This laterally following Berardi’s notion of power as,

the selections (and the exclusions) that are implied in the structure of the present as a prescription: power is the selection and enforcement of one possibility among many, and simultaneously it is the exclusion (and invisibilization) of many other possibilities (F, 2).

(The germ-cell of Marx’s notion of Ideology laying concealed in this is to note.)

Here is where I am, honestly, quite disappointed in Berardi. Following these lines of thoughts my Hegelian brain was all fired up, only to find him, ultimately, expressing distrust “… I don’t want to use the word ‘idea’, preferring to say that a future state of being is possible when it is immanent or inscribed in the present constitution of the world” (2–3). This is where there is, essentially, a scene of foreclosure, in that the perfect philosopher for such a situation as such is Hegel! Already within Hegel is the radical notion of the idea being actualized, in the exact same manner as Berardi explicates; if an idea fails to actualize it is because there is a failure in the idea itself, already. This is why we must radically change Marxism, Leninism, etc… if there is anything the 20th century has shown it is that communism has been a total failure, a disaster even. Such a body of work must be rethought, not for any end political constitution, but rather, in a twist: of communism being the description of the problem, not the solution.

The implications of this are massive and in multitudes, for example, it’s implications on Islam. In The Fundamentals of Tawheed by Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips he covers Islam’s rejection of such views of possibility. He begins by noting how the Prophet was expressly against deviations (FT, 12), stating, “This is my path leading straight, so follow it. And do not follow the other paths, or else you will be separated from His [Allah’s] path…” (Qur’an 6: 153). He then goes on to cover the three categories of Tawhid,

1. Tawhid ar-Rububiyah (lit. “Maintaining the Unity of Lordship”) that is, affirming that Allah is one, without partners in his sovereignty. [Expressed succinctly as, “La ilaha illallah” (There is no god but Allah).]

2. Tawhid al-Asma was-Sifat (lit. “Maintaining the Unity of Allah’s Names and Attributes,”) that is, affirming that they are incomparable and unique.

3. Tawhid al-’Ibadah (lit. “Maintaining the Unity of Allah’s Worship”) that is, affirming that Allah is alone in His right to be worshipped (FT, 18).

Now that we have some beginning premises (wherein he goes more in-depth in the book), let’s get on with Islam’s view of possibility wherein we find their rejection of Berardi (technically his argument dates back to Bergson, but you get my point).

Essentially, Muslim historians/scholars view free-will in Islam as a strain of Christianity, infecting the religion (19). In Islam, “nothing happens in creation except what He allows to happen”, that is why the Prophet Muhammad exclaims, “La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah.” (There is no movement nor power except by Allah’s will) (21–22). And here we continue with just straight verses on why free-will is incompatible with Islam,

“And Allah created you all and whatever you do” (Qur’an 37: 96).

“… It was not you who threw when you threw, but it was Allah Who threw…” (Qur’an 8: 17). [Here I would like to note that some fans of Spinoza who tried to apply his work to Islam were executed.]

“And no calamity strikes except by Allah’s permission…” (Qur’an 64: 11).

Here, to quickly note, with that last quote it might still seem there is some leeway for Berardi, however, Berardi states that “possibility is not one, it is always plural…” (F, 1).

Returning back to the Prophet,

“Be aware that if the whole of mankind gathered together in order to do something to help you, they would only be able to do something for you which Allah had already written for you. Likewise, if the whole of mankind gathered together to harm you, they would only be able to do something to harm you which Allah had already written to happen to you” (an-Nawawi’s Forty Hadeeth, 68).

Here Dr. Bilal makes clear that, “… what man conceives as good fortune and misfortune are merely events predestined by Allah…” (FT, 23).

We need, first of all, to establish the nature of ‘semio-capitalism’, and what I think is the perfect encapsulation of it — on the level of ideology. Through this level of ideology, we find this fetishistic avowal of money; the incontinence of the void constitutes itself on this level of ideology. Similarly, as with the constitution of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value, wherein we find the homogeneous nature of abstract labour times, and the heterogeneous nature of use-values, we find semio-capitalism — the sphere of communication is pragmatically constituted, wherein it is not truth but effectiveness against which we measure the value of exchanged signifiers. Truth — being the heterogeneous — has been lost in semio-capitalism. “Signs are exchanged with signs, not with real things” (H, 25). Following from Žižek, “… the ‘real abstraction’ is the unconscious of the transcendental subject…” (SO, 11).

On the one hand, the ‘real abstraction’ is of course not ‘real’ in the sense of the real, effective properties of commodities as materials objects: the object-commodity does not contain ‘value’ in the same way as it possesses a set of particular properties determining its ‘use-value’ (its form, colour, taste, and so on). As Sohn-Rethel pointed out, its nature is that of a postulate implied by the effective act of exchange — in other words, that of a certain ‘as if’: during the act of exchange, individuals proceed as if the commodity is not submitted to physical, material exchanges; as if it is excluded from the natural cycle of generation and corruption; although on the level of their ‘consciousness’ they ‘know very well’ that is not the case (11–12).

Contra Marx definition of ideology, Žižek believes that ideology is no longer on the side of knowledge, but rather on the side of how we act. The unconscious is no longer some thing beyond us — in some other realm, a form of thought external to thought itself— the unconscious is now reality as such. “The symbolic order is precisely such a form order which supplements and/or disrupts the dual relationship of ‘external’ factual reality and ‘internal’ subjective experience” (13). Ideology “is a social reality who very existence implies non-knowledge of its participants as to its essence” (15-16), thus capitalism’s reality is itself already ideological, if the subject were to acknowledge the concrete nature of objects the logic of capitalism collapses.

Thus, we find (one way) to define the symptom, as a “formation whose very consistency implies a certain non-knowledge on the subject” (16), as soon as the analysand realizes the real conditions of their symptom (as filling a void), it collapses (insofar as the fundamental enjoyment attached to the symptom). Here is where we must analyze the most popular ideological stance today, that of cynicism.

Almost everyone today is a cynic, “the cynical subject is quite aware of the distance between the ideological mask and the social reality, but he none the less still insists upon the mask.” The proper Sloterdijkian formula would thus be: ‘they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it’ (25). We find this juxtaposition between that of cynicism and Sloterdijk’s kynicism, kynicism ridicules the ruling ideology, whereas cynicism recognizes it but still retains the ideological mask. Thus, ideological critique no longer functions— the negation is negated — “even Adorno came to this conclusion, starting from the premiss that ideology is, strictly speaking, only a system which makes a claim to the truth - that is, which is not simply a lie but a lie experienced as truth, a lie which pretends to be taken seriously” (27). So when strictly speaking, it is not that the subject is (in theory) thinking of money as a sublime object, it is that they are (in practice) acting as if money is a sublime thing. Today, against what Marx could’ve ever thought, ideology is not constituted by knowledge, instead it constitutes reality as such, precisely how people are acting immanently in society, in Geist. No matter how many critiques you write, how many theories you have, you are still reproducing the logic of capitalism.

It reminds me of an old joke Žižek told (which I am surely to butcher): there is a scientist who had a dream-catcher, and one day he had a friend come over.

“Hey, you’re a scientist, don’t you know dream-catchers don’t work?”
And the scientist had the perfect reply,
“Oh, I know it doesn’t work, I was just told it works even if you don’t believe in it.”

This is the logic of today's politics, no one believes in our democracy, they just act as if it works; they know our democracy does not actually fulfill the wishes of the people, they just act as if it does, and so on. This is why Marx and Freud differ on the point of a fetish, for Marx the fetish blinds us from the positive social relations (i.e. labour), whereas for Freud the fetish blinds us from the lack in the symbolic network. The contradictions in capitalism are the very thing that holds it together, it is what is concealed by ideology thus causing its very own reproduction (53).

Here is where we find the crucial point of radical theorists such as Berardi and Žižek, they both agree on a fundamental task of radical political change: to change the very structure of how one lives. We find this achieved in possibly more Authoritarian ways in Žižek, and possibly more Anarchistic ways in Berardi, but they both agree that radical political change necessitates a change at the level of daily life (this is the key point former communist countries missed out on, leading to their ultimate failure). Wherein we find Berardi resisting any sort of Leninist project (the State being involved), we find him, instead, advocating for solidarity at the level of the people themselves. The people, through their potency, give us a potential which is only limited by the power subjected onto them.

In Subversive Spinoza, Toni Negri advocates for a ‘Spinozian’ view of an infinite potency in humanity:

“Being does not want to be subjected to a becoming that does not possess truth. Truth is said of being, truth is revolutionary, being is already revolution” (1).

“The world is absolute. We are happily overwhelmed by this plenitude, we cannot help but associate ourselves with this abundant circularity of sense and existence… This point defines the second reason for Spinoza’s contemporaneity. he describes the world as absolute necessity, as presence of necessity” (4).

This is a position I’ll say dates more importantly back to Hegel — the idea actualizes in Geist — however, this properly reductive view is exactly what made past Marxist projects fail (to note, I am referring to Geist becoming other than that which is as a failed project in the idealist sense, not the materialist sense I advocate for). It doesn’t account for power (in the way Berardi describes it) as a cultural hegemony of sorts — subjugating the proletariat. Only the potency of the proletariat can counteract such power. And the presupposition of a ‘being [not wanting to be] subjected to a becoming that does not possess truth’ struggles to have any actual consistency in our understanding of today political situation, and with how ideology functions. “Liberation is not an absolute necessity, but a possibility that needs potency in order to be actualized. And sometimes we don’t have that potency” (F, 9).

The following is where I find some slight tension between my own views and Berardi’s, because he states that “in Hegel, infinity is the energy of the spiritual becoming; in Spinoza infinity is nature, and potency is the body” (10). Let us take a look at what Spinoza means by a ‘body’:

“Deleuze argues that a body is a force, and that it could be anything: “an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic corpus, a social body, a collectivity” (Deleuze 1988, p. 127). Spinoza’s concept of the body, therefore, does not solely refer to human bodies, but instead to forces or singularities” (NSE, 120).

Spinoza’s constitution of potency as the body is more of a materialist-esque view of potency, however, I would argue Hegel’s concept of Spiritual becoming (AKA. Geist) can be just as much a materialist theory. We need to recognize the wholly external nature of belief (thus, also truth), first, as that, I think, will lay the groundwork for what I’m attempting to explain. Such an explanation is exhaustive, so as to alleviate this I feel an obligation to quote a joke from Žižek to explain it in the most succinct and easy to understand way,

“If we do not take into account this objective status of belief, we might finish like the fool from a well-known joke who thought he was a grain of corn. After some time in a mental hospital, he was finally cured: now he knew that he was not a grain but a man. So they let him out; but soon afterwards he came running back, saying: “I met a hen and I was afraid she would eat me.’ The doctors tried to calm him: ‘But what are you afraid of? Now you know that you are not a grain but man.’ The fool answered: ‘Yes, of course, I know that, but does the hen know that I am no longer a grain?” (SO, 33).

Now we can continue onto how interpassivity is the perfect explanation for the current predicament we face with Spinoza and Hegel, wherein we find that belief is placed onto objects themselves. For,

“contrary to the usual thesis that a belief is something interior and knowledge something exterior (in the sense that it can be verified through an external procedure). Rather, it is belief which is radically exterior, embodied in the practical, effective procedure of people. It is similar to Tibetan pray wheels: you write a prayer on a paper, put the rolled paper into a wheel, and turn it automatically, without thinking… In this way, the wheel itself is praying for me, instead of me — or, more precisely, I myself am praying through the medium of the wheel. The beauty of it all is that in my psychological inferiority I can think about what I want, I can yield to the most dirty and obscene fantasies, and it does not matter because — to use a good old Stalinist expression — whatever I am thinking, objectively I am praying” (31–32).

Similar also to how/why capitalism produces so much anti-capitalist content, essentially, capitalism is doing the anti-capitalism for us, alleviating our need for pressuring capitalism — engaging us in interpassivity.

— Berardi, Franco. Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility. Verso, 2019.

— Berardi, Franco. Heroes. Verso, 2015.

— Bilal, Philips Abu Ameenah. The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism). A.S. Noordeen, 2008.

— Bolaños, Paolo. Nietzsche, Spinoza, and the Ethological Conception of Ethics. Minerva , vol. 11, 2007,

— Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books, 2010.

— Žižek Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso, 2009.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store