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Book Reviews 117

Book Reviews



2. Cleveland A (1913) Indictments for adultery and incest before 1650. Law Quarterly Review 29: 57.


Golder B (2011) Foucault’s critical (yet ambivalent) affirmation: Three figures of rights. Social & Legal Studies 20: 283–312.

DANIEL MCLOUGHLIN (ed), Agamben and Radical Politics . Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016, pp. 280, ISBN 978 1 4744 0263 7, £19.99 (pbk).

The presence of Agamben’s thought as a central reference for scholars inclined to elaborate conceptual tools to inform political action represents (to some extent) an anomaly. His political writings are imbued with theology, philology, linguistic and law, all framed upon an erudite handling of classic philosophy. His style and methodology, hinged upon the idea of the paradigm and of philosophical archaeology, make his writing often allegoric, rendering the sense of his thought shifting between different subjects and semantic planes. Agamben’s political points are neither immediately accessible, nor easily viable, especially since they are often displaced on the ontological level. However, such a liminal and shifting thinking is what renders his thought so attractive. The more than two decades’ long series Homo Sacer (now completed) has traversed the borders of classic academic disciplines, providing renewed sources of meanings for the orientation before the contemporary widespread biopolitical violence and economic administration of life. Agamben and Radical Politics is a tribute to the relevance of an author whose work continues to encourage the critical thinking of the present, stimulating ever-new debates. Edited by Daniel McLoughlin, this volume is the outcome of a dialogue initiated with the ‘Giorgio Agamben: Government, Radical Thought, and Political Action’ Workshop held by the University of New South Wales, Law School in 2013. Central to the 11 essays composing this book is Agamben’s genealogy of economy and government, commenced with the publication of The Kingdom and the Glory (Agamben, 2011). Throughout the volume, the focus on the critique of economy is accompanied by the attempt to scrutinize the possibility of using Agamben’s thought to ‘resist a political situation characterised by the neo-liberal absolutisation of government’ (ibid.) and to inform political action. In doing so, this text takes also into consideration a question that remained – surprisingly – unexplored: the relationship between Agamben and ‘revolutionary thought and practice’ (p. 5). A manifest intention of this volume, in fact, is to locate the figure of the Italian philosopher as a ‘thinker of the radical left’ (p. 6), close, in a way, to the Marxian and anarchist traditions.


Social & Legal Studies 27(1)

The book begins with a contribution by Aga mben, titled ‘Capitalism as Religion’, which is a more systematic summary of the ideas that he has expounded recently, 1 starting from Benjamin’s homonymous fragment (Benjamin, 1996). According to Benjamin, capitalism is intrinsically a relig ious phenomenon, characterized by a ‘per- manent cult’ (p. 16) that permeates wit hout breaks every moment of life. Taking seriously Benjamin’s suggestion, Agambe n proposes an analysis of capitalism ‘in terms of faith’ (p. 17). In the Greek of the New Testament, pistis is the term that stands for ‘faith’, and also for ‘credit’, so much so that in Modern Greek, trapeza tes pisteos means ‘credit bank’ (p. 18). Both credit and fa ith give form and substance to the ‘hope of men’. With the process of secularization, and the retreat of religion, the whole hope and destiny of humans is entrusted to credit . ‘Capitalism’, Agamben claims, ‘is thus a religion in which faith – credit – is substitu ted for God’ (p. 18). The bank has replaced the Church; and the faith in God has been over shadowed by the faith in credit (that is to say the faith in faith). Capita lism, thus, is itself anarchic and groundless: a religion promising nothing other than itself, a ‘blan k eschatology, with neither redemption nor judgment’ (p. 23). Agamben’s provocative piece is followed, in Chapter 2, by Mathew Abbott’s ‘Glory, Spectacle and Inoperativity: Agamben’s Praxis of Theoria’. Abbott suggests that while being concerned mainly with ont ology, Agamben’s thought could be func- tional to the reconsideratio n and the critique of politics and the global dominion of economic government. Through the exploration of the volume The Kingdom and the Glory , Abbott advances the thesis that Agamben’s speculation ‘cannot lay down a prescriptive blueprint for political action’ , but it can be crucial for the elaboration of ‘new strategies for anti-work politics’ (p. 28) . Agamben, in fact, resituates human life into the workless sphere of inoperativity, through the elaboration of a renewed approach to the relation-ship between theor y and practice, directed towards a ‘praxis of theoria’ (p. 28). The volume, then, proposes a series of three contributions on Agamben’s rela- tions with leftist revolutionary thought. I n Chapter 3, ‘On Property and the Philo- sophy of Poverty: Agamben and Anarchism’, Simone Bignall looks at the proximity of Agamben’s thought to the anarchic trad ition. The chapter begins with a reference to the questions that led to the split of the F irst International, noting how the themes that pushed apart the red and the black (anarchists and communists) are central to Agamben’s thought. The focus then turns o n Agamben’s account of monastic pov- erty and on his understanding t he idea of ‘use’, as in the book The Highest Poverty (Agamben, 2013). According to Bignall, Agamben’s recent efforts uncover the essential anarchic character of his thought; ‘what is at stake in his work – she claims – is a rethinking of the paradigm o f anarchy in the contemporary light of political ontology’ (p. 51). Jessica Whyte’s essay ‘Man Produces Universally: Praxis and Production in Agam- ben and Marx’ focuses on the influence of the lesson of Karl Marx on the philosophical effort of the Italian philosopher. Whyte sustains that the observation of the recurrence of Marx is essential for a comprehension of Agamben’s conception of praxis and for bringing to light a specific limit of his critique to Capitalist economy. The essay’s focus is on the process of secularization that led Agamben to find the traces of the current

Book Reviews


economic administration of life in Christian theology and the related ‘argument that Marx secularised a Christian account of the Being of creatures as divine praxis’. Whyte points out that Agamben’s argument turns out to be a limitation in the understanding of contemporary ‘triumph of the economy’ (p. 73), since it misses the specificity of capi- talist economic relations. Agamben’s diagnosis of the contempora ry economic administration of life is further scrutinized in Chapter 5, ‘Liturg ical Labor: Agamben on the Post-Fordist Spectacle’, in which Daniel McLoughlin provides a reading of Agamben’s explora- tion of Monastic Rules, showing how it forms a viable way for the understanding of the ‘Post-Fordist spectacle’ (p. 92) of c ontemporary capitalism. The passage to the post-Fordist era has been marked by the e mergence of a renewed ‘immaterial’ form of labour’, which ‘transforms the capitalis t mode of production’ profoundly (p. 103). The rise of immaterial production envelop s the whole life of the subject; ‘living and producing tend to become indistinguishabl e’ (p. 104) and every sphere of human life and of human sociality becomes a ‘productive machine’. According to McLoughlin, Agamben’s investigation on Monastic rule, o ffers a paradigmatic figure of the form of life of post-Fordist cap italism. The life of the monk – according to the monastic rule – is regulated in every aspect by norms of conduct; it consis ts in a ‘generalised self-government’, which determines a ‘p ractice of manual and spiritual’ (p. 106) work that covers – as in the case of immate rial labour – in its totality the monastic life. Justin Clemens’s Chapter 6, ‘An Alogical Space of Genetic Reintrication: Notes on an Element of Giorgio Agamben’s Method’, expl ores the ‘genealogical interlacing of apparently antithetical concepts’ (p. 117), which form a specific argumentative tech- niques that Agamben adopted on many occasions. This operation consists in uncovering the moment of ‘inseparation’ of what is practically and theoretically, separated (religion, law, politics, economy and ultimately sovereignty and biopolitics), and is invested of a specific significance. Interestingly, Clemens argues that this intellectual operation of genealogical reintrication is properly an ‘act of radical politics’ (p. 135). Agamben’s intellectual strategy explores new viable ways of scrutinizing the obscurity of our time, providing the theoretical instruments for avoiding the repetition of the failure(s) of past political actions. The question of time in Agamben’s appro ach to political theology is central to Nicholas Heron’s chapter titled ‘ Zoe¯ aio¯ nio¯ s : Giorgio Agamben and the Critique of Katechontic Time’. According to the Pauline conception, the Parousia, the end of time, is delayed by the presence of ‘something’ (the katechon ) that prevent the advent of the Antichrist and the subsequent end of time operated by God himself. The presence of ‘secular politics’ and of the Church as an institution is possible only inside the moment of this delay, with a particular orientation towards the end of history and the establishment of the kingdom of God. However, Agamben sustains, ‘the Roman Church has closed its eschatological window’ (Agamben, 2012), renouncing to its messianic vocation, becom- ing – along with other temporal powers – a katechontic entity. In the eternal present of a suspended eschatology, there is no space to think to another (messianic) time. Thus, Heron claims that Agamben invites us to think an immanent ‘qualitative transformation’


Social & Legal Studies 27(1)

of the life we live, marked by ‘inoperativity’ and by the opening of the Sabbath rest in the present (p. 158). Chapter 8, Sergei Prozorov’s ‘Agamben, Badiou and Affirmative Biopolitics’, draws

a parallel examination of the congruencies and divergences between the two philoso- phers. Prozorov advanced the thesis that despite the manifest differences of their thought, as to style and arguments, there is a strong similarity between them: both are ‘working through the possibility of an affirmative biopol itics’ (pp. 166–167). Agamben and Badiou ‘have developed two versions of the same political logic that constitutes a positive form of life out of the condition proper to the unqualified being’ (p. 184). The volume, then, turns on Agamben’s crucial idea of form-of-life. This concept conveys the image of a way of existence that has deposed its ties to the architecture of sovereign power and the capitalist form of labour and production. A form-of-life is a life for which the customs and habits – codified legally and socially – have lost their binding character re-entering the sphere of potentiality. In Chapter 9, “Form-of-Life and Antagonism: On Homo Sacer and Operaismo,” Jason E. Smith argues that Agamben articulation of the idea of a form-of-life ‘through the mobilisation and displacement of three key concepts’ that is general intellect, multitude and antagonism (p. 191) has been influenced by the lessons of operaismo (a current of thought, which has informed the action of militant groups between the end of 1960s and 1980s). The idea of a form-of-life

is further scrutinised by Steven DeCaroli’s ‘What is a Form-of-Life? Giorgio Agamben

and the Practice of Poverty’. This chapter locates the question of form-of-life in Agamben speculation on monasticism rule. Through a close analysis of the Franciscan highest poverty DeCaroli establishes how Agamben’s form-of-life consists in a form of

life ‘that remains aware of its way of living as a way of living’ (p. 217). A form-of-life is

a life that has gained the consciousness of its intimate contingent linkage to social and

juridical forms and, therefore, has the possibility to act differently with respect to its actual configuration. The possibility of thinking life outside the law and sovereign power is central to the conclusive chapter of this volume, ‘Law and Life beyond Incorporation: Agamben, Highest Poverty and the Papal Legal Revolution’. Here, Miguel Vatter retraces the lines of Agamben’s enquiry in the Franciscans’ attempt to abdicate any kind of law and property, focusing on the critique of ‘corporate personality’ as a political and legal form of association. The idea of trust as an ‘unincorpo-rated body’ (p. 249), Vatter sustains should be seen as a ‘dispositive’ offering a ‘materialist and juridical basis for an idea of association that is alternative to that of the corporation’ (p. 253), designating the possi- bility of the ‘common’ as a form of association that escapes the sovereign structure of power. Within the landscape of the critical literature on Agamben, this book represents a unique and detailed investigation of his later works. Making sense of the articulation and the complexity constituting Agamben’s theoretical enterprise is not an easy task. How- ever, this work succeeds in disentangling, quite clearly, the main theoretical knots of his account of economy and government. Overall, the efforts enclosed in Agamben and Radical and Radical Politics , succeed in opening novel diagnostic perspectives to the current dominion of economic governmental rationality. The dedicated focus of Agam- ben’s alternative critique of economy is an opportunity to think a politic guided by a

Book Reviews


different ethic alien to the logic of sovereign power and the capital. This volume, thus, is an engaging read for those who are interested in understanding and resisting the archi- tecture of power that pervades the biopolitical era.

GIAN GIACOMO FUSCO University of Kent, UK


Agamben G (2011) The Kingdom and the Glory for a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government . Stanford: Stanford University Press. Agamben G (2012) The Church and the Kingdom . Calcutta: Seagull Books. Agamben G (2013) The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life . Stanford: Stanford University Press. Available at: blica/archivio/repubblica/ 2012/02/16/se-la-feroce-religione-del-denaro-divora.html (accessed 13 February 2017).

DEBORAH L. RHODE, Adultery: Infidelity and the Law . Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2016, pp. 260, ISBN 978-0-674-65955 -1, £21.95 (hbk).

Adultery remains a crime in 21 US states, a potential ground for civil liability in a number of others, and a factor in numerous courts-martial. The key argument of Deborah Rhode’s readable and wide-ranging new book is that the law in these jurisdictions should cease to attach such punitive consequences to infidelity. The justifications presented are both domestic and global: Within the United States, she argues, there is the increased respect for privacy that makes the law’s intrusion into sexual behaviour inappropriate, while on the world stage, the need ‘to reform laws and social practices that impose a sexual double standard and barbaric punishments’ means that the United States should ‘place its moral authority on the side of decriminalization’ (pp. 182–183). To make this argument, Rhode begins by sketching out the history of the legal prohibitions and penalties in both England and the United States and then moves to a more detailed overview of the American legal landscape. Two further chapters are devoted to the sexual shenanigans of those serving in the military or political life, while another deals with what are billed as ‘alternative lifestyles’, such as swinging, polyamory and polygamy, which explicitly reject monogamy. The final chapter provides interna- tional perspectives, with a whistle-stop tour of the rest of the globe. This inevitably leads to a somewhat broad-brush approach: adultery, we are told, is ‘common’ among Eur- opean leaders. Prince Charles might be delighted to find himself included in the category of ‘European leaders’, although puzzled by the reference to his desire ‘to live inside Camilla’s trousers’ (p. 164). One difficulty that presents itself in adopting such a wide frame of reference is whether there is a common definition of adultery across time and place. It would have been useful to have more details on the legal definition of adultery and whether this is understood differently in different contexts: Rhode defines it simply as ‘sexual relations between a married person and someone who is not his or her spouse’ (p. 3), but even this