Virno: more politics beyond the state


Virno, P. (1996) “Virtuosity and revolution: the political theory of exodus,” In P. Virno and M. Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 189-210, translated by E. Emory.

Virno joins the chorus of those theorizing a politics beyond the state (and beyond capitalism).  He offers a radical anti-Hobbesian perspective that seeks to return continually to Hobbes’ original moment when we agreed to surrender our own power to an “artificial person” outside ourselves.  Virno wants to return to this moment in order to disavow it, he wants us to resolve to act as if the purported social contract never existed.  It is this acting as if there never was any contract that I think best captures his idea of exodus.  The political action appropriate to exodus is both a refusal of “the baleful dialectic of acquiescence and transgression” that is our relationship with the sovereign state, and the intentional and inventive search for a life and a political community beyond the state.

“Radical disobedience,” for Virno, consists essentially of casting ourselves into Hobbes’ state of nature, imagining ourselves inhabiting  a world before the state came to monopolize control in the political community.  In this imagination, democracy becomes something radically different than we typically think of it today.  Representative democracy is nothing more than

a restriction of democracy tout court.  It goes without saying…that an opposition to this course of events [the restriction of representative democracy], if conducted in the name of values of representation, is pathetic and pointless–as useful as preaching chastity to sparrows.  Democracy today has to be framed in terms of the construction and experimentation of forms of nonrepresentative and extraparliamentary democracy.  All the rest is vacant chitchat (p. 202).

We must begin to form the practices and institutions of this new democracy, this Republic, such as soviets, councils, and leagues.  To experiment with positive alternatives to life within the state and capitalism.


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