Today, at the cafe I frequent, I had a brief discussion with some friends, all of whom seemed ultimately unconvinced by my reasoning, and claimed that radical political philosophy requires, if it is to have any relevance whatsoever, some notion of an “outside” to power (i.e., an outside to capitalism, ideology, patriarchy, and so on). I argued that we need to preserve this notion of an outside to power if we are going to have any possibility of mounting a resistance to power. This is not by any means a new argument – it was something that Saul Newman put forward in his first book on post-anarchism back in 2001. I’m sure the argument has been made countless times and in countless variations.
For Newman, and for the theorists of constitutive lack (most Lacanian political philosophers, but notably Alenka Zupancic, Slavoj Zizek, and Saul Newman), the outside is paradoxically on the inside of systems of power. And so we could diagram it like this:
Capitalism [ OUTSIDE ]
In other words, capitalism has within itself a real which limits it and which inadvertently provides a point of departure for radical political movements and philosophies. I note that this is something like a form of bracketing. The outside is bracketed by capitalism, it is that which capitalism desperately tries to suppress, overcome, and ignore. And it is the task of political philosophy to discover the new outside during each political epoch.
If there is anything worth holding onto from political philosophy it is this distinction between outside and inside. It could be diagrammed like this:
Inside [ OUTSIDE ]
It seems to me that this is the crucial political opportunity afforded to us by the turn toward speculative realism: the outside is no longer paradoxically on the inside, it is the inside which is paradoxically on the outside. In other words, the inside is now bracketed by the outside.
Outside [ INSIDE ]
Thus, the question is no longer how it is that capitalism comes to limit itself; that is, the question is no longer one of capitalism’s real. The question is much rather: how can something like capitalism or even socialism emerge from the real; what is the real’s capitalism? This is where the critiques – a la Andrew Robinson and Allexader Galloway – get it right. What, within realist political philosophy, allows for the emergence of something like capitalism or socialism? When we bracket the question of the inside we open up the possibility of thinking new points of departure there. No longer are we stuck within the old frameworks, but we can authentically imagine entirely new frameworks which have within them ever new blindspots or outsides:
Outside [ INSIDE ( OUTSIDE ) ]