New Europe?

As I read through some Balibar on Europe and citizenship, a few notes on the same, mostly prompted by and in response to Braidotti, quoted here.

Braidotti frames Europe’s future as a choice between two paths: retrenchment, a retreat into Europe’s nationalist, colonialist past, or advance, a “new kind of civil society” that offers “citizenship disengaged from national boundaries” and is free of racism, sexism, nationalism (ie, “fascism”). In the present, Europe is counterposed to the United States, the former being an open project while the latter is an accomplished fact, a static set of relations. European subjects are able to alter their social circumstances in ways that American subjects are not. The mechanism for this transformation is citizenship, or, more specifically, the new European citizenship and the “forms of ethical agency that it empowers.” Among other things, Braidotti does a tremendous amount of scrambling of time here: Europe’s past becomes the United States’ present, the United States is denied any sort of future, etc. I’ll return to this.

Braidotti is certainly not deaf to the problems of a new Europe: She notes that the “unification of Europe coexists with the closing of its borders; the coming of a common European citizenship and a common currency with increasing internal fragmentation and regionalism; a new, allegedly post-nationalist identity has to coexist with the return of xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism.” This she calls the paradox of the new Europe, in which “one thing and its opposite can simultaneously be the case.” She criticizes Hardt and Negri for their “overarching meta-narrative” and for locating a new mass revolutionary social subject, the multitude, and its attendant tendency to totalize and elide difference. But she also shares Hardt and Negri’s desire “of steering the incipient and struggling European Union in the direction of more political power, self-determination and opposition to American belligerence” — even as the “space for the alternative to globalization and global capitalism.”

There’s a lot to object to in the above, of course, but I’ll uncharacteristically try to steer clear of the most obvious and focus on a couple of other things for now. What Braidotti presents as a choice, and indeed even as a teleology — a particular mode that Europe will have to adopt to the exclusion of the other — might be better looked at as the poles that the new Europe oscillates between, so that rather than having to decide to be either regressive (briefly, exclusionary in Braidotti’s schema) or progressive (postnational and free of Europes’s historical exclusions and universalizing), the very substance of Europe is made up of these regressions and progressions.

To a certain degree Braidotti realizes this when she acknowledges the contradictions at work, the simultaneity of these operations, but there are at least two problems with her take. For one, the very notion that these thing are a paradox is, as Benjamin might say, quite unphilosophical — as in her occasional invocations of “Fortress Europe,” there’s a sense of it-can’t-happen-here at work. The idea that these operations can be called progressions and regressions implies a master logic that Braidotti otherwise, in other situations, specifically disavows and warns against. The name of this logic is European citizenship, which, as Balibar sees but Braidotti doesn’t, mediates between European subjects and their communities. This mediation represents many things, not the least of which are the axioms of capital. I’ll return to this also, eventually.

The other problem revolves around something alluded to earlier, namely, her relationship to time. I very much admire and sympathize with Braidotti’s aversion to linear temporalities, but there’s a way in which in the process time not only loses its linearity but becomes undifferentiated, fast, and primary. There’s certainly a lot of value in each of these — a Spinozist realization of the interconnection of past, present, and future, a time that outruns forces of domination, an assertion that time is easier for “us” to manipulate than space is in the cramped world. But capital has adjusted and is taking advantage, the ways of which can be seen in the issues at stake in discussion of “immaterial labor.” The point to my objection is not to call for a re-differentiated time or a slowing down of time, but that Braidotti’s uncritical collapsing of temporalities is in accord with capital and the state’s contemporary requirements, which Jason Adams says can be described in part as the “triumph of time over space.”

(This temporal element is also on display in some of Braidotti’s terminology, particularly her preference for the term postnational in describing Europe. Balibar, on the other hand, uses supranational. This seems more accurate to me, as it implies a nationalism above, reconstituted at a higher level, rather than one that lies in the past, presumably dead and buried.)

Like Hardt and Negri, and other Europeans who should know better, Braidotti sees the new Europe as an oppositional force against the United States. Again, there’s a lot to say against this, but I’ll just make one point: Braidotti, Hardt, and Negri seem to think that Europe can compete with and even tame the United States’ aggression and imperializing zeal and at the same time forge a new space of multitudinal subjectivity/nomadic becoming. In other words, they want a Europe that acts externally in ways that are utterly separated from its internal operations — an external colonialism, or countercolonialism, that does not intersect with domestic, internal relations. How this is possible is never addressed.

Perhaps because of her hostility to Marxism and even to Marx, Braidotti is uninterested in the capital-labor relationship, and so she fails to see the new Europe as a reorganization of work, just as she leaves untouched the mechanisms of the state at work in European integration. In other words, to put it in the Deleuzian idiom she works in, the apparatus of capture and the war machine are completely elided in her account of how the new Europe will form itself.

One final note: Braidotti doesn’t address how Europe will decide who gets to take part in the new citizenship. Her sole discussion of exclusion is that it is something bad, a feature of Europe’s history that must be avoided. This reticence often makes her exuberance about Europe a kind of bland multiculturalism, which is completely at odds with her marvelous, complex work on affect, becoming, and feminist/minoritarian politics…. Unlike Braidotti, Braidotti sees that exclusion is the crucial political question of today, and not just in Europe.


5 thoughts on “New Europe?

  1. It’s almost impossible to find someone writing about Europe who doesn’t write in these terms, or similar. Balibar does too, I think.

    Part of it has been situational: the whole preoccupation with European constitution, alongside the inclination of people to write ‘for a European public’ (as both European public intellectuals, but also in the sense of wanting to address/form a European political space) that this process has entailed, and they think is needed. The other part is, as you note, the counterposing an idealised Europe to a bad US (as if EU states are not involved in the war, which is a fantasy). It’s the neo-Eurocentrism. It won’t last, but it is annoying. It’s like Butler arguing for the inclusion of ‘non-state combatants’ in the Geneva convention – as if someone asked them ‘What is to be done?’, and they thought they might give an answer.

  2. So impossible it’s enough to make almost crazy. I wonder if I’m just provincial and bit jealous. And certainly in an area where the terms of the national are changing there is room for creativity unhinged from the state, but as far as the EU goes, the boundaries of the possible are pretty clearly laid out in advance.

    I tend to agree that it won’t last, but it’s frustrating that some are so easily seduced, and so eager to get to work with promoting. From what I’ve read so far about Balibar, I also agree, but he also complicates things a lot more than others, as he doesn’t shy away from talk of exclusion, borders, the state, etc.

  3. Thanks for the Chakrabarty links. Haven’t read him yet. Sounds like just the thing, though. Also, thanks for the B. piece, which I haven’t gotten yet as I’m away from my computer.

  4. You haven’t got because I haven’t sent as yet – I can’t seem to find it on the hardrive, likely it’s still on the old computer. I’ll either scan it from the journal, or get it to you some other way.

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