Authority, Depoliticization, Dehumanization Workshop, Kingston University London, Nov. 1, 2019

Authority, Depoliticization, Dehumanization Workshop
Friday 1 November 2019
Free, no registration required
Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy
Kingston University London

“But a Present with neither a Future nor a Past is nothing but a ‘natural’ Present, non-human, non-historical, non-political. The domination of the Bourgeoisie is therefore simply the progressive disappearance of political reality as such – that is to say, of the Power or the Authority of the State: life is dominated by its animal aspect, by concerns related to food and sexuality.”

— Alexandre Kojève, The Notion of Authority

A distinctive trait of twentieth-century theories of authority is their preoccupation with the eclipse of the political. This preoccupation is something novel and prompts an array of questions. Under which conditions, for example, is a bureaucratic or technocratic state still political? What is required of power if it is to remain political, that is ‘human’ – that is to say, something other than intelligence agencies and the administration of needs? And if the state itself ceases to be political, where and how might the dimension of the political remain open?

The twin spectre of dehumanization and depoliticization haunts and unites most twentieth-century conceptualizations of authority. Under names like ‘the human’, ‘action’, and ‘the political’, thinkers like Alexandre Kojève, Hannah Arendt, and Carl Schmitt tried to come to grips with the conjuncture of technological progress, economism and biopower that seemed to threaten the realities they were suddenly compelled to theorize. Alexandre Kojève is not alone in equating the eclipse of the political with the eclipse of the human as such. What he articulates in the opposition of the animal and the human, Hannah Arendt frames as a shifting centre of gravity within the human
condition itself, from thought and action to ‘labour’, the metabolism of life, from bios to zoe.

Everything functions as if the word ‘authority’, by way of the indefinite surplus it has always contained, could become the container for the no less fragile surplus of the human over the animal and of the political over the administrative. ‘More than advice, less than a command’, wrote Theodor Mommsen in the 19th century – and his ‘less than’ was exactly such a supplement. It is not by accident that, in English, this term, authority, has translated not only Autorität but also Würde (dignity) and in certain contexts, Herrschaft. A placeholder is intrinsically substitutable. But if authority’s
indeterminacy makes it apt to crystallize the anxieties of the 20th century, its close relation to terms like ‘dignity’ bring it to the heart of the question of the human.

The attempt to think through the eclipse of the political in terms of the opposition of the human and the animal might, today, seem like a confusion or dead end, whose only important insights have been superseded by the theory of biopower. Moreover, the narrative of decline and crisis that united these thinkers may now seem nostalgic, eroic, and politically ambiguous. Was this problem simply a manufactured panic with reactionary ends? Or does its fading urgency mean that the processes of depoliticization and dehumanization have simply advanced so far that we can no longer even understand that something has been lost? Is it still meaningful to speak about the political or the human today? If Kojève, Arendt and Schmitt’s question is no longer our own, the question concerning this question is no less urgent. What are the conditions for asking it?

– Natacha Israël (Philosophy, University of Rennes)
– Connal Parsley (University of Kent, UK)
– John Wolfe Ackerman  (University of Kent, UK)
– Hager Weslati (Media, Kingston University)

Each talk will be followed by a ten-minute response from a graduate student or early career researcher, who will have advance access to the paper. Researchers and students interested in acting as respondents to one speaker should get in touch with the organisers, Luke Collison, Kyle Moore, and Austin Gross, at

Workshop: Authority, Depoliticization, Dehumanization
For more information, visit the workshop website:

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