Gopal Balakrishnan on Louis Althusser, Machiavelli and Us. The French philosopher on the Italian consigliere: a Parisian Marxism in the mirror of the Medici.
FROM FLORENCE TO MOSCOW
The posthumous publication of Louis Althusser’s reflections on Machiavelli offers an unsettling occasion to return to both thinkers. If we except the more limited cases of Della Volpe and Colletti, Althusser was the only figure in the Western Marxist tradition to engage with a number of the classics of Western political theory. But his writings on Montesquieu, Rousseau and Hegel—remarkable, even at times coruscating, as they could be—were still beholden to the idea that such theorists might be judged by how closely they came to anticipating the discoveries of historical materialism. His unpublished text on Machiavelli, dating from a later period, exhibits a different spirit. Here relations are if anything reversed—the Florentine figured as a more radical and original theorist than any successor in the Communist tradition. According to his pupil Emmanuel Terray, he once confessed that Machiavelli was ‘without doubt the author who has most fascinated me, much more so than Marx’.
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
By the same author:
In the second part of a sweeping reconstruction of the development of Marx’s thought, the ways in which bourgeois society came to be replaced by capitalism as the cardinal object of investigation after the collapse of the revolutions of 1848, and the political lessons of his passage across that watershed for rebellions in the new century.
Opening salvo of a two-part reconstruction of Marx’s intellectual passage through the Hegelian—then Ricardian—conceptual landscape of his early years, taking him to the threshold of his mature architectonics of capitalism as a mode of production. From a starting-point in the philosophical empyrean of the 1830s to a turning-point with the economic upturn of the early 1850s, the development of one sketch of an historical materialism to the brink of another.
The Geopolitics of Separation
Contra Benno Teschke’s critique of Carl Schmitt in NLR 67, Gopal Balakrishnan argues that bourgeois society’s constitutive separation of the political and economic was a central problematic for the strategist of the intransigent right.
The Coming Contradiction
Reflections on Fredric Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic and its engagement with questions of historicity, narrative and time. Categories and concepts from Hegel, Marx, Sartre and Ricoeur, used to interrogate the impasses of the present—and to envision what lies beyond.
Sermons on the Present Age
Gopal Balakrishnan on Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History. Consoling homilies for today’s liberal imperialists, from the theologian of the nuclear era.
Speculations on the Stationary State
Will the present crisis issue in a new phase of accumulation, or a growthless ‘stationary state’? Gopal Balakrishnan charts epochal trends in world capitalism, and their imbrication with the debt-fuelled imbalances of the long downturn.
News from Nowheresville
Gopal Balakrishnan on Parag Khanna, The Second World. Globe-trotting account from beyond the OECD, surveying the stakes in a coming battle between ascendant China and a West caught in imperial doldrums.
Role of Force in History
Gopal Balakrishnan takes issue with an ambitious attempt to apply evolutionary paradigms to human history, which would locate the wellsprings of conflict in the combative make-up of the species. Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization as an instance of neo-social darwinism adapted to the multicultural spirit of the age.
States of War
Reflections on the challenge of Afflicted Powers, from the Retort collective. How is America’s forward policy since 9/11 best explained, and what does it tell us about the nature of the inter-state system today? Has the age of Great Power rivalry passed, and if so, what kind of geopolitical order is replacing it? Capital, spectacle and war in the vortex of the Middle East.
Future Unknown: Machiavelli for the 21st Century
To which thinkers should we turn in a bid to ground a new conceptualization of political agency—or to determine whether such a move has been nullified by the transformations of the last decades? Gopal Balakrishnan on Machiavelli’s parables of innovation and readings of him from Rousseau to Schmitt, Strauss to Gramsci. The Florentine as strategist of beginning anew, in the context of historic defeat.