The Cini Dialog of 2017 now out as a volume A Book of the Body Politic

Posted: May 11, 2020

Just at the moment when the idea of sovereignty has become obsolete through the intensification of globalization, planetary changes and migrations, the new political mood is to withdraw behind the borders that Nation States invented in previous centuries. In spite of the vast transformations that the new climatic regime requires, it is today a politics of identity, nationalism and borders that seems the most attractive to voters. Everywhere the choice is either to prolong the extension of globalization or else return to the older ideas of strictly enforced sovereignty. There seems to be no other alternative.
In this Dialog we wish to open the way for another political orientation, one that relies neither on the idea of globalization nor on those of sovereignty, identity and individuality. Our assumption is that most of the ideas about the Body Politic come from ideas about the biological body, and vice versa. There has always been a two-way stream of exchanges between biology, law, religion and social theory to the point that it is very difficult when people talk about ecosystems, identity, genetics, organism or globalization to decide if they speak about human or non-human entities. Biologists don’t seem to worry that they import social theory to talk about organs and tissues, sociologists don’t hesitate to use a legal conception coming from Church history to define the individual, while economists happily mobilize what they take as a “naturalistic” notion of competition to render the optimum calculable, while organization theorists borrow offhandedly the DNA metaphor of cell organization, and so on. Metaphors travel freely, transporting the same unexamined perplexities from field to field.
This confusion has become even more complete, at the time of the Anthropocene, when politics has to be expanded to the former objects of nature. The solution is certainly not to add to the confusion by treating humans and non-humans as if they were the same, either by treating all of them as being equally “social”, or all of them as equally “natural”. When selfish genes look suspiciously like Wall Street executives, when the planet Earth is treated as a goddess, when organism themselves are treated like corporations, when anthills are treated as macro-organisms, cells as if they were cybernetic machines, States as if they had natural boundaries, it is extremely difficult to specify the differences between collective forms. It is at this point that we wish to intervene. The newly emerging Body Politic requires a careful examination of what is meant by body, organism, individual, identity and collective.