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The rise and fall of modern

political space*
Carlo Galli

*Testo della conferenza tenuta da Carlo Galli il 23 giugno 2014

nellaula Prodi del Dipartimento di Storia, cultura e civilt
dellUniversit di Bologna, nellambito della Bologna Duke
Summer School on Global Studies and Critical Theory.

In order to analyze the rise and fall of modern political space,

it is necessary to understand how space matters in political
thought and in politics, starting from an exposition of what is
meant with the concept of implicit space. This is the aim of
my paper, which is based on the ideas I developed in Political
Spaces and Global War (2010).

implicit space qualitative space political space space globalization politics


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What does it mean that space matters

in political thought and in politics

1. The relevance of space in poli- politics. This space operates both

tics does not only concern the fact when political thought and institu-
that political power has to calcu- tions openly theorize it and when
late the spaces of its own applica- they exclude it from their self-un-
tion according to dimensions and derstanding or treat it parentheti-
distances, thus giving birth to the cally. This space is made up of lines
distinctions between empires and of differentiation, inclusion and ex-
small States, or among climates clusion that are more or less mo-
and characters. It also means that bile: according to these lines, one
there is a concrete relationship in is situated within or outside the
history between politics and ge- political borders of legal citizen-
ography, power and territories or ship, at the margins or at the core
rather which is our main concern of productive fields, routes and
a relationship between thought traffics. There are lines (and spac-
and institutions, on the one hand, es) of amity, color, religion, gender,
and the nature/culture link on the economy, language, culture, good
other. Above all, space is a hidden or bad manners; there are escape
pattern in political thought and in- and centripetal lines, constructive
stitutions: it is often presumed and or fracturing lines. These lines are
used implicitly rather than in an not metaphorical but real, though
open and self-reflective way. they are not natural but rather his-
torical and political.
2. This implicit space is not a life- Political space does not coin-
less geographic factor or a pas- cide with the physical one. Space,
sive nature. Rather, it is the sys- power and differences are strongly
tem of differences, distances and interlaced. Political space is a rela-
proximities, superordination and tionship among differences. There-
subordination that formal and in- fore, it does not have an ontological
formal powers establish. It is the substance; it is not the substitute
topological structure of the Being of the Being and the foundation
to which, either consciously or un- of the world, as it emerges from
consciously, political thought re- some preparatory fragments of the
fers. This space does not have two Zarathustra, where Nietzsche says:
dimensions only, but three or even With its sturdy shoulders, the
four, when we take into account its space opposes the nothing; where
chronological articulation. It is a po- there is space, there is being. The
litical space, it is made by politics, space does not have an ordering
it is thought and presupposed by power in itself, as the old geopo-


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litical thought believed as much ity, proximity, homogeneity (i.e. the

as Schmitt, with his ambivalent Der State itself) and to hide the space
Nomos der Erde. Rather, the polit- in order to emphasize the dimen-
ical space is power, interpretation sion of time (i.e. of progress). A
and mobilization. This space be- close reading of modern thought,
comes valuable today in order to however, allows stressing that the
understand the world once time difference is not erased, but rather
or, history conceived as progress driven off. The existence of a specif-
is not a trustable compass anymore. ic spatial distance, that is the out-
The conceptual couples inside/out- side of the colonies, is admitted or
side, high/low, static/nomadic ex- at least acknowledged. In the col-
plain more than the opposition be- onies one can find magnificence
tween old and new, according to and horror, difference and anoma-
which politics defines itself. Rather, ly; there, one can see power overt-
this opposition should be reartic- ly acting according to dynamics of
ulated and deconstructed accord- inclusion and exclusion. From colo-
ing to the one between right and nial power we can understand that
left (which, however, is not of our the great modern idea of equality
concern today), so to understand incorporates inequality.
the political character implicit in
the opposition between old and 4. Our aim is precisely that of read-
new. Briefly, to recall the contri- ing the implicit spatiality of moder-
butions of Sassen (2006) and El- nity starting from the assumption
den (2013), politics is always spa- that, while they establish an out-
tial and space is always political: it side, the lines of power also bring
is impossible to determine which it inside, because power cannot
one comes first. Even though these work without the outside. Fur-
two domains can be distinguished thermore, we will analyze the con-
on the basis of the disciplines to temporary global world where
which they refer (namely history everything is inside by stress-
of political thought and geogra- ing that it is crisscrossed by sev-
phy), they actually converge and eral lines of power which produce
should be analyzed by philosophy, a hierarchical inclusion in order to
a meta-disciplinary thought that provide a functional and dynamical
is able to understand their inter- order for each part of the globe, by
actions. establishing homogeneous regions
(of exchange, of monetary units,
3. During the modern age, within of legal uniformity). These lines of
the modern State political thought power are in turn overcome and
and institutions tried to produce, transgressed by counter-powers
from a formal point of view, equal- and, in general terms, they are not


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easily established and maintained. inequality through its lines. These

They claim to be barriers, but they lines, these implicit spaces, can
are first of all places of encounter be acknowledged both in political
and transit: they are frontiers and practices that is in law, econom-
battle-fields. In general terms, in or- ics, social differentiation and in
der to understand the power that ideology, in political discourses, in
provides a form and an imagine of the conceptual frames supporting
the world, though a changing one, material Constitutions. In order to
we should interpret it as a power point out implicit spaces, it is nec-
that produces and removes spac- essary to deconstruct and to crit-
es, that produces equality but also icize them.

How space matters in political thought: a short survey

Which implicit spaces can be re- istance the distinction between civi-
vealed in political thought and in- lization and barbarism is conceived
stitutions? Since the beginning as natural, while in the second one
of political modernity marked it is based upon legal foundations.
by the discovery of America and
the enlargement of the Europe- 2. Machiavellis agonistic space
an space on the one hand, and by According to Machiavelli, space
the rift in the supposedly universal is the field of civil and military
space of Christianity determined struggles. The city and the ter-
by the Protestant Reform on the ritory interpreted by the Prince
other different implicit concep- must be marked by virtue, that is
tions of space followed one anoth- by conflict. Accordingly, unpleas-
er. Though this movement seems ant places as Machiavelli calls
to be characterized by their mutu- them in his Discorsi (book I, 11)
al opposition, each of them actual- should be preferred since they al-
ly develops some implicit features low strengthening virtue. Further-
of the previous one. These implicit more, the space should be seen
conceptions of space can be clas- from the point of view of the pos-
sified as follows. sibility of engaging a war (Discor
si, book III, 39; Principe, 14).
1. A qualitative space characterized
by natural differences 3. The Catholic space of Thomism
This is the ancient political space and of the Second Scholasticism
both of the Greek polis and of Rome. This conception of space devel-
There is, however, a difference be- ops some features of the univer-
tween these cases, since in the first sal Christian space of Middle-age


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(even though the latter was actu- there also exists an internal utopia
ally dualistic, insofar as it was built dressed as an external one, that is
upon the struggle against the Is- a critique developed from a point
lamic world). Francisco de Vitorias of view as innocent as the one of a
De Indis is an early example of this stranger (this is the case of Mon-
conception. For Vitoria, space is not tesquieus perspective in his Per
differentiated according to onto- sian Letters).
logical criteria, since every man is
an Imago Dei and everybody is able 5. The smooth universal empty spa
to govern himself. Only differenc- ce of modern rationalism
es in terms of development and of This space exists before things, it
knowledge of the Gospel may legit- is a space where things are placed
imize the Christian powers to pro- according to the order and seg-
vide their benevolent help to the mentation provided by politics.
savages. Furthermore, Christian I) First of all, it is an operative
powers should not be prevented universalism, insofar as space as
from their commercial exchang- Heidegger suggests is where
es and the work of evangelization. the human artifice, the image of
Thus, the universal and homoge- the world defined by technique,
neous space full of qualities is dif- is placed (Heidegger, 1950). The
ferentiated along lines that, at least true dimension of this space is a
in theory, are provisional. Beside progressive time: time is progres-
Vitoria, a different conception of sive when an artifice is built with-
space is articulated by Sepulveda in the homogeneous space, when
in his 1547 Democrates Alter, ac- a movement from the state of na-
cording to which Native Americans ture to the Political State, from bar-
are nothing more than homunculi. barism to civilization, takes place.
However, as Gerbi explains in The This universal space is made up
Dispute of the New World (2000), of natural subjective rights. Para-
the latter conception was accept- doxically, the modern and secular
ed until the 18th century. universalism is realized by a plu-
rality of particular States, each es-
4. The utopian space tablishing itself as an empty, ho-
Placed outside the is, this space mogeneous, neutral and legalized
concerns the ought to be: it is an space in order to overcome the rift
island in the middle of the sea, it is produced by religious civil wars. In
at the antipodes, and it is far away. such a space, as Isin pointed out,
It is an extreme universalism that the natural rights of each subject
stands before the real world and become civil and political rights,
its manifestations with an indif- thanks to the systems of citizen-
ferent abstractness. Furthermore, ship and to the struggles for being


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included in it (Isin, 2002). implicit. According to Schmitt (Der

The movement from war to Nomos der Erde) sovereignty is ex-
peace, from anarchy to order, from clusively European and its condi-
nature to property is possible ev- tions of possibility are given by
erywhere, at least theoretically, the exercise of a non-legal pow-
even though it happened only in er in the maritime and extra-Euro-
Europe. America is the metaphor pean space. Locke, as well, stated
of a natural, undifferentiated uni- that America could have been con-
versality, which opposes to a civ- quered because there was no prop-
il, progressive and differentiated erty therefore no labor there:
universality. In his Second Treatise conquest cannot provide a justi-
on Government (Ch. V, Of proper fication when a civil State is con-
ty), Locke states that: In the be- quered, as he explained in chapter
ginning, all the world was Ameri- 16 of the Second Treatise. Howev-
ca, just like Hobbes in Leviathan er, when it is established through
(Ch. 13), even though for Hobbes settlement and labor in an aban-
progress is always threatened and doned place, it is legitimate. Ac-
reversible. The difference between cording to Grotius (De iure predae)
America and Europe, therefore, is where there is no territory that
enormous, but it is a transient state is, in the sea a private war can
that can be overcome. The only in- be fought in order to protect and
trinsic spatiality of modern ratio- take back property: in both cas-
nalism is the one which is imposed, es, therefore, the line of power is
it is a political spatiality. It is the re- established by labor and proper-
lationship established and created ty. According to Kant, illegitimate
by the sovereign State between in- violence is usually practiced out-
ternal and external, between crim- side Europe through occupation,
inal and enemy, between peace colonization, commercial exploita-
and a war fought by subjects who tion, that are not justified in them-
are different but equal in quality: selves but only insofar as they are a
hostes aequaliter iusti. These are bridge, a passage towards a full in-
the categories upon which political tegration of savages within a le-
modernity is based, the only (bina- gally organized civilization (Meta
ry) space that is openly admitted. physical principles of the Science
The homogeneous internal space of Rights).
and the external made of strang- Even within political ratio-
er, alien spaces. nalism there is a civilized echo of
II) However, in this simple and the terrible exportation of uncon-
empty space one can find other trolled and savage violence to-
concrete and differentiating lines wards non-European spaces such
of political power that are always as the Atlantic and Asian ones:


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from slave trade to piracy, from gle against privileges) and external
the devastation of South America (the armed revolutionary nation);
to the hard struggles described in Ritter, space is not only politics
by Milton (1999) between Portu- or nature, but also history; even
guese, English and Dutch for the Hegel believes in his Philosophy
Moluccas, the islands of spices. All of Law ( 2447) that space de-
these processes are the one true velops progressively from East to
driving force of capitalist accumu- West: in fact, the space is simulta-
lation, where war and commerce neously crisscrossed by inner con-
interlace on a global level (be- tradictions (the civil society) that
side and against doux commerce). are pushed outside (through col-
World capitalism is the truth of the onization). So, the relationship be-
European State: the lines of the Eu- tween the internal and the exter-
ropean space of States dividing nal space is complicated since the
the interior and the exterior space outside is interpreted as the con-
are actually interlaced and fueled dition of possibility of the inside.
by the multiple extra-European The space is articulated in time, in
lines of power such as the ocean- a before and an after. In Marx
ic routes of unequal commerce, of this is even clearer: the internal
war for extermination (even be- space (the State) is crisscrossed
tween European powers, though by a class line, which is truer than
outside Europe) and of slavery. The the empty homogeneity of democ-
exterior space is the core of the in- racy. This spatiality is made pos-
terior one. Capitalist universalism sible by the spatiality both dif-
generates infinite differences that ferentiating and hierarchizing of
are not ontologically determined the historically determined global
by the physical space. Rather, they capitalism. In other words, space is
are determined economically and modified by history and economy.
politically, according to their dif-
ferent places within the regimes 7. The natural, quantitative, differ
of production. entiated space of Positivism.
Here the space is ruled by physical
6. The revolutionary, romantic and and anthropological that is quan-
dialectical space between nature titative laws, that can be scientif-
and history ically known and that differentiate
The modern space, supposedly it: The burden of the white man con-
empty, is now filled with nature, sists in managing these differenc-
society and history by the Nation es rather than overcoming them.
and the bourgeois State. In Sieys The (real) economic and technical
the lines of power are internal unbalance is politicized by refer-
(the division of labor, the strug- ring to natural laws that bound pol-


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itics and legitimate it. As Kipling globe is divided into heteroge-

clearly stated with his motto East neous and closed blocks.
is East and West is West, and nev
er the Twain shall meet, differenc- 9. The dual planetary space
es cannot be fully overcome since This space was born after WWII and
they produce hierarchies and sep- after the subdivision of the world
arate spaces: colonialism and rac- realized by the USA and the Sovi-
ism enter the stage of political dis- et Union and the end of Euro-cen-
course as primary actors. Together trism. It is the space of a struggle
with them, at the beginning of the between conflicting universalisms:
20th century geopolitics emerged the basically undifferentiated space
together with the idea that space, of democracies, rights and capital-
with its internal differences and ism versus the basically undiffer-
its immanent logics, provides laws entiated space of socialism. Here
for politics. In other words, the link a couple of observations can be
between space and power is gov- made: the first concerns the divi-
erned by physical and geograph- sion between East and West, which
ical laws that politics should ac- is complicated by the one between
complish, as it is for instance in North and South. The South can
Mackinders concept of Heartland be the theatre of events and ac-
(1904). tions that are not tolerated into the
North, such as the armed conflict
8. The inverted and differentiating between the two Worlds. The Viet-
space of totalitarianism nam War is one example, together
Here the inversion concerns the with the anti-colonial war fought
classical self-definition of the mod- through guerrilla (the case of Che
ern State. In totalitarian regimes, Guevara) or by regular armies (the
the internal space is character- case of Cubas intervention in An-
ized by homogeneity rather than gola). The second observation con-
equality, while the difference be- cerns the fact that, since the world
tween the inside and the outside is was the theatre of a clash between
brought within. In other words, the universalisms, the implicit spatiali-
enemy is within, it is the object of ty of the Cold War is in fact the Uni-
an internal war. Another inversion versal, that is the One rather than
concerns extermination, formerly the Two: as Schmitt suggested in
practiced in extra-European spac- his World Unity (2003), the unity of
es and now imported into Europe. the world was provided by techni-
The element of differentiation is ex- cal and industrial production, the
plained by the German and Japa- common base both of capitalism
nese theories of the Great Spac- and of communism.
es, openly anti-universalistic. The


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10. The global space that is meant to take the place of

The global space is the space of the both the space of nature and the
winners of the cold war, namely lib- one of modern metaphysic cen-
eral-democracy and capitalism. tered on the subject (Sloterdijk,
I) According to its self-rep- 19982004).
resentation, this space claims to II) Actually, the global space is
be smooth, free of obstacles, a a chaotic and a paradoxical space,
space for commodities and mar- but also a paradoxical time. There
kets, rights and democracy to be are two reasons for this. First, each
exported. Qualitative differences, point is immediately in contact
or differences in terms of principle, with the whole (the so called glo
do not have any right of existence calism): there are no more filters
here: neither the difference be- and intermediate spaces, every-
tween nations, nor the difference thing can happen everywhere, any-
between the internal and the ex- time, and what happens in one
ternal space of the State. The en- spot immediately produces con-
emy and the criminal are equiva- sequences in every other place
lent, and as a consequence there on earth. This is the case both of
are not wars anymore, but rath- terrorism and of financial opera-
er police operations aimed at pro- tions. Second, the global space is
viding protection. Law rules the a discontinuous and hierarchical
world, at least theoretically: the space, though hierarchies are not
nomos of the Earth is composed by rigid or fixed: there are different
the principles of universal democ- positions and configurations with-
racy and universal human rights, in the system of global capitalism.
the United Nations with their re- On one side we find the superpow-
sponsability to protect and a uni- ers the United States, China, the
versal exchange, the lex mercato European Union - trying to artic-
ria, which overcomes the spatial ulate concurrent Great Spaces, all
streaks produced by post-sover- of them open rather than closed.
eign States. The symbols of this On the other side, new States are
universalism which is the ex- approaching the world scene (the
treme heir of modern rationalism so called BRICS) while failed States
are the world wide web and fi- become a field of struggle be-
nance: these forces treat the space tween the US and China. All these
according to modern logics, as if it spaces are crisscrossed by differ-
was completely at their disposal, ent forces: on the one hand, mass-
and tend to turn it from universal es of migrants that are expelled
to virtual. This means, as Sloter- by the borders of failed States
dijk suggests, to create a type of according to logics clearly ex-
space that is artificial in itself and plained in Saskia Sassens latest


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book (2014), and then dispersed bling remote wars

around the world as a living sign of analyzed by Chamayou (2013)
contradictions, caught within new fought with drones that over-
border spaces of struggle, as Mez- turn the relationship between
zadra and Neilson suggest (2013); friend and enemy and its im-
on the other hand these spaces be- plicit spatiality.
come the scene of new and trou-


Globalization produces a political formation of the meaning of citi-

space crisscrossed by lines even zenship; the relationship between
more complex than it is presumed. settlement and nomadism (a rela-
This leads us to suggest that, in tionship which is much more pro-
the present, alternative interpre- ductive than the one between Em-
tations of the Global are needed. pire and multitudes); the role and
First of all, these alternative inter- the reciprocal difference between
pretations of the Global must con- edges and boundaries, between
cern its genealogy, which should borders and frontiers. Lastly, it is
take into the account Atlantic and necessary to deconstruct the ab-
postcolonial studies and the new stract universalism of global spati-
geopolitics, i.e. those approaches ality so to expose the manifold lines
that show how far the centrality of of power, both new and old, which
Europe and political modernity has constitute it (the line of gender,
been based upon a never ending linked with that of religion, remains
confrontation with non-European crucial). At the same time, it is nec-
anthropological and spatial factors; essary to avoid the nostalgia for
alternative interpretations, howev- frontiers, identities and close spac-
er, must also take into account the es, like the one of Debray (2010).
problems that globalization forces This research program shows that
us to face. These problems can be the dimension of space is decisive
summarized as follows: the redefi- both for a genealogical critique of
nition of the role of post-sovereign the Modern, and for a political cri-
State in the context of the Great tique of the Global. This critique is
Spaces according to which global nothing more than a cartography
capitalism is articulated; the trans- of the present.


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Galli, C. (2010). Political Spaces and Global War. Minneapolis: Minnesota
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