Étienne Balibar approaches Spinoza as a thinker of interaction, of the constitutive character of relations. Spinoza’s question, in Balibar’s view, is the following: ‘What is the mode of reciprocal action that characterizes the existence of a body politic?’
In this respect, the uniqueness of Spinoza is that of taking the movement (both outer and inner, so to speak) of the masses as the object of political science, and not just the legitimacy of sovereignty or the claims of order. (Of course, we may be tempted to ask, to what extent are the masses, or rather the multitude, the subject or object of politics?)
From here derives, in Balibar’s reading, both the centrality and aporetic character of the notion of democracy. Democracy is defined as a ‘united body of men which corporately possesses sovereign right over everything within its power’, as the combination of the reciprocity of duties and the equality of rights. As both Macherey and Negri note, this is not to be understood simply as another figure in a political typology of forms of government, but is an immanent tendency of political life, inscribed in the dynamic of reason and into the vicissitudes of human nature. Or, as Balibar puts it, democracy is both a kind of political order and the truth of every political order. Democracy can also be understood as the power of the multitude coordinated, cultivated and instituted without the imaginary displacement represented by sovereignty, by the alienation of the power of human singularities into the empty and formally unified place of power (the Hobbesian option, as it were). Whence the radical novelty of Spinoza’s question: How does power originate in the multitude? And, one should add, how does it continue and persevere, how is power not just originated, but also continuously constructed, in and by the multitude?
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