Translation of Laruelle’s “Who Are Minorities and How To Think Them”

In honor of the recent translations of Laruelle’s work (Struggle and Utopia, Principles, Anti-Badiou), as well as a couple coming out in May (Dictionary, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy), I have decided to post my translation of an essay of Laruelle’s from the 80s on ‘politics’. The journal in which Laruelle originally published the essay is now defunct. If anyone desires the original French text, please let me know. It should also be noted that at the end of the essay there is an extensive bibliography on the subject-matter of minorities, but I am unaware whether or not this is Laruelle’s or is provided by the journal…I am under the assumption that these references are provided as further reading by the journal, insofar as they concern geopolitical/juridical discourses on minorities (no philosophy, strictly speaking, is included). The publications referenced there are in English and French.

F. Laruelle. “Qui sont les Minorités et comment les penser”. Etudes polémologiques 43 (1987): 175-89.

Who Are Minorities and How To Think Them?

            Minorities represent a certain type of problem both insistent or inevitable and never resolved. For political science, one might say that it is a crux, a theoretical impasse. The same goes for political practice. What is behind this difficulty? There are several reasons. First, for a political reason, it became a problem or a question. The problem of Minorities emerged as such with the history of the great modern States with which it is coextensive and whose constitution it accompanies. Perhaps it was a less critical or less obvious problem with the grand Empires where Minorities were recognized and sometimes repressed de facto. But in the 19th century with the establishment of the unified and more or less centralized States, they have become a question as such for political theory, which is simultaneously the sign of their problematic character and the beginning of their recognition as such.

Afterwards, it was not simply a political problem, but became social. I believe that it is important for reflection and theory and completely necessary for philosophy to overcome the political limitation of the concept of “Minorities” to which it is too often restrained. The problem has developed an incredible extension with the appearance of Minorities of a totally different type than the national and political. No doubt they are born as political and historical problems, but they now undergo new experiences and require more extensive and not simply political definitions.

This extension beyond their political origins must therefore be taken into account, even if historians are not in agreement: the new Minorities are social and moral, they are born inside the social body which is supposed homogeneous from the outset. They are defined according to age class (the “youth” or the “third age”); social class (the “fourth world”); not simply according to political power, but social, religious, cultural behaviors as such according to a power which is not always political. I realize that this extension can be denied; but, on the one hand, they themselves lay claim to the status of new Minorities; on the other hand, they offer, so as to be thought, the same theoretical difficulties as political Minorities; lastly, it is difficult to contest the fact that the modern social body is less and less homogenous, increasingly reticent to define itself by the political point of view alone, and increasingly demanding. There is a veritable continuous social production of new minorities, and it is tied to the emergence of the social beyond the political and to the emergence of the individual and particularity beyond the social. The transformation of social relations is accompanied by a continual growth of new claims which are formulated in terms of difference, identity, and right: differences of fact; differences of right; but also right to difference, the famous “right to difference” which is the foundation of all current claims of identity. How do we summarily characterize these phenomena, now that the political veil has been lifted from their definition? Do they have anything in common, and what comprises them as difficult theoretical objects?

1. The concept of Minority is unstable, poorly defined, with a tendency to be limited because it seems that new Minorities in turn develop this role (there is no definitive threshold on the basis of which a minority exists).

2. Minorities, whether political or not, are always presented as multiplicities; they are several by definition, and are themselves formed from a plurality of individuals as such; this is an important phenomenon if one considers the centralizing and unifying will of modern States.

3. They are born and manifest themselves through the mode of claim and struggle, for a different identity which can be prolonged by violence, indeed terrorism; the “right to difference,” to autonomy and recognition, if it indeed has a right, must be acquired by an initial violence.

4. They always appear somewhat like phenomena of margins or marginality, fringes, periphery, and danger simultaneously—indeed I say simultaneously—internal and external in relation to the unity of the social body or the centralized political body of the nation.

5. Lastly, and this follows from the preceding point, they are regularly the object, due to the centralized State and its political agencies [instances], of a pressure destined to contain them; a pressure which is not always brutal, which can have the form of control and surveillance or indeed repression, including all their forms: policing, administrative, cultural, linguistic; and which, nevertheless, ends in the very negotiated granting of political, cultural, linguistic rights, etc., i.e. a generally relative autonomy internal to national unity.

This is a short description of a state of affairs that everyone recognizes. But what is of interest here for the philosopher and politician? The interest lies in the fact that, on the one hand, Minorities manifest themselves as an improbable object through the mode of violence and conflict simultaneously internal or intestine (civil war at the limit) and external. And also because, on the other hand, there is something unthinkable about them. I mean to stress that theoretical and political reflection on Minorities is rather impoverished and ill at ease. A recent “Encyclopedie des Minorities,” published by Caratini (fn. 1: Editions Larousse), defines them in this simultaneously vague and overly restrictive way: they are a historical subset of a nation which involves centrifugal-centripetal relations with the State. This definition perhaps does justice to the multiplicity of minoritarian groups, but it summarily describes the mechanism that ties and opposes them to the State. The traditional political and theoretical  means of which one makes use do nothing but vary/refine the first impression: these are the fringes, margins or marginalities, the subsystems of the State or subsets of the Nation.

Ultimately, political philosophy relies on three, and only three, procedures to think them. The first consists in saying that Minorities are modes or modalities—just subsets!—of a centralized unity, State, or Nation; in other words: external secondary phenomena which do not have their own autonomy because they refer to the superior, i.e. indivisible unity of the Nation or the State which they suppose in every way. The second consists in speaking of “differences.” One will then say either that Minorities are differences (of language, culture, sexual orientation, etc.) in the interior of/or in a set—which returns us to our use of “mode”—or, and this is already more interesting, one will say that they are differences identical to the State (and not under it or in it); or at least that Minorities are the universal in the social body which must be interpreted in turn as minoritarian, or as becoming minoritarian (I will return to this conception).

Lastly, the third concept utilized is that of survival or archaism; they have been repressed on the Nation’s behalf, and must still be repressed yet again. It will thus be necessary to contain, master, and integrate them—operate a veritable gestation of Minorities; also their protection—by a politics simultaneously of resoluteness and juridical and political concessions, by according them a relative, always partial and specified, autonomy. This is due to the fact that Minorities remain perceived as a residual phenomenon tied to the history of the Nations and modern States in the 19th century, representing a permanent danger of reactivating the furnaces of political and sometimes terroristic effervescence; or to the social dysfunctionings which are sensed to be provisional and amendable. They content themselves with describing what is seen or believed to be seen immediately; they perceive Minorities in reality from the point of view of the State itself which contains or represses them. In the same way that the State proposes to better integrate them into its unity, these definitions integrate them into political philosophies, which are always unitary schemata, or schemata of unification, identification, and sometimes totalization. Philosophical reflection, above all under this form, flies to the aid of the State and prepares the way for it; it is rarely put to the service of Minorities, despite certain appearances. Yet Minorities lay claim to their identity while refusing the identification proposed for them by the dominant powers: this paradox must be explicated.

What is it that makes Minorities so difficult to conceive? The common understanding means clear and distinct definitions of separated and well identified objects. But, precisely, the Minorities who claim their “identity” are not easily identifiable as such. They are only understood through rapports, relations, and relations of struggle with the State. But what is generally most difficult to understand is the war, the relations of force, because it defies this general tendency to posit properly distinct identities. The political, historical existence of Minorities is inseparable from the struggle for recognition and sometimes for autonomy; and their theoretical existence is, on its side, inseparable from contradiction, which is the war in thought. Because they are politically unthinkable, the claim or struggle is their only way of being heard. Because they always emerge “in rupture,” they are politically unthinkable.

However, philosophy, more than the discourse of political action, has means of thinking them. Political reflection often contents itself to a historical description and mentions the struggle; but it does not understand that the struggle is a mechanism necessary to the emergence of new Minorities. I will describe the four theoretical schemata, the four operative ways of understanding Minorities and doing justice to them.

1. The most conservative and classical way of conceiving Minorities is to turn them into residual, secondary, external phenomena of survivals and archaisms; ultimately irrational phenomena. There are two presuppositions to this:

a) Political rationality is represented by the Nation or State as unifying, if the meaning of politics is unification;

b) Politics is itself understood as the reason where everyone must fulfill themselves.

If one grants these presuppositions, then, in effect, Minorities will be vanishing phenomena at the limit of nothingness; they will only have a political lack-being; and, at the limit, no political future, no historical destiny, no creative signification for national culture and unity. But, precisely, too often philosophy and political philosophy makes equivalent unities which are global (People, Nation, State, Sovereign, Country) or specific (a Mother Tongue, a Tradition, a common History, a Culture, etc.). The thrust of such unities is that they maintain an apparently simple relation from their point of view to Minorities, but a relation which is in fact complex and whose complexity they do not recognize. From their point of view, everyone that lays claim to an existence outside or in the margins of these unities has no existence (political, historical, cultural, etc., philosophical) proper: they are particular deficient modes, modalities of these Unities. They must be understood and reduced as such. No real existence, thus not even a violent and conflictual hierarchy with Minorities. The latter are vanishing and condemned to disappear the moment that they manifest themselves on the periphery of the social body. They are political nothingnesses; simple limits through absence, privation, political insufficiency. Here politics still has not encountered real opposition, but simply nothingness or absence of existence. There is thus no longer an efficacy proper or political causality of these Minorities; the only causality is that of the unitary social body represented by the sovereign (man, people, State). Political efficacy as a whole goes in a single and linear direction: from Unity towards the vanishing periphery and thus nowhere. There is a de jure impossibility of fixing, placing, and identifying Minorities: their existence is annulled by decree (all political identity comes from elsewhere). The logic of power is to be coextensive with logic. Minorities are analytically contained in sovereign unitary power, they bring about nothing new = real. Power is master of itself and thus of the political real. The political auto-determination or auto-position of the sovereign includes Minorities.

2. A revolutionary conception in the broad philosophical (not simply political) sense of Minorities is much more modern. Minorities will finally have an autonomous existence here, almost as strong as that of the State, but only under the form of a fringe of the State. Their relation to the State would be by definition always a relation of force or tension. Their existence would be non-manifested, not as manifest as that of the social body, but it would act through violence, conflict, the risk of destabilization and “blind” or “primary” terror. Being given their reality, and thus the constitution of the social relation as a relation of force or hierarchy, it is necessary to examine this relation from two points of view, for there will be a double causality, and that on the one hand and on the other.

            From the State’s point of view: a double and no longer single action; ensemble of the same gesture specific to any hierarchy, the State can only try to repress them (as Other, Stranger, Unclassifiable) and integrate them through force and violence, be it that of right, which is still a force.

The action of the state is double and single: repress, exclude, internalize. This double relation, where the social body is in fact commanded by what it represses, is a symptom. The social body does not see Minorities in their reality, does not see what it does, and this double-edged or contradictory repression weighs down on them. It would be necessary to study this complex mechanism of repression or self-defense, i.e. of conflictual repression.

From Minorities’ point of view: what is the response? It is double:

a) Through reversal and terror; they are the source of heterogeneity and conflictuality. This is the flipside of repression. Reversing the hierarchy of relations of force is the only strategy possible; there is no other solution (if at least Minorities exist-as-repressed). The reversal, destabilization as inversion of all social relations, is inevitable and positive;

b) Through the global displacement of the Unity of the social and political body which is reorganized otherwise, or whose economy of internal relations is modified. Unity is reconstituted, must be reconstituted under the form of a global political order which will be different, where Minorities will be heard and their claims will be partially taken into account in the general economy of the forces of a society. These (double) effects signify that global functioning is not much different, yet it is modified. If the claims of regional or popular cultures are taken into account as well as those of social groups primarily perceived as deviant or anomic, what changes is the general tonality of a society. Everything has slowly shifted around, even if whole blocks of social relations have remained as such.

Here the novelty is the discovery of the political relation of force as such, power as real power and no longer logical or identical to the logical unity of the social body. Minorities are no longer analytically contained in socio-political Unity, they are external and necessarily = structurally given in concurrence with the State and affecting the finitude of the political body.

This conception, which winds up in a quasi-dualism, discovers the relation of force as indivisible autonomy, as the only reality. Minorities are simultaneously outside and inside the State, and thus all the more dangerous; what is real is the conflict common to the State and the Minorities. The State is condemned to self-defense, but for Minorities it is the other way around. They form a sort of Other of the State, a political unconscious of the Nation and even an other-than-political unconscious: linguistic, sexual, social, cultural, economic. It is all of this, masked or disguised by all of this, but globally anti-political. Minorities cannot simply be political, for they are conveyed and masked by all types of social relations. They are individual, but like the Other can be, thus always also anonymous like the Other: it is an opaque, obscure, unintelligible power [puissance]; but an efficacy by its immediate political non-rationality, by this moment or this virtuality of radical terror. Minorities will then be an instance of Antipolitics simultaneously relative and absolute in the political intelligence of a society. But, at the same time, this structural moment of unintelligibility, which is itself incomprehensible in its unity with the social body, re-establishes a unity or a new hierarchy with it.

This conception is much more subtle, differentiated, and realist than the preceding which is a dogmatic metaphysics of politics. It gives right—right of existence—to Minorities and to their multiplicity as such. But this is at the price of rendering them unintelligible, obscure as a primary process of force. Hence a third conception that synthesizes the first two by conserving, from the first, its sense of unitary political intelligibility and, from the second, its sense of multiplicity (heterogeneity, alterity), but without turning it into an external unconscious.

3. Consequently, a third solution, also contemporary: the synthetic conception of Minorities as “difference.”

It will thus be admitted that it is necessary to think together the socio-political Unity, represented by the State or embodied by it, and at the same time the heterogeneous multiplicity of individuals, cultures, languages, peoples, sexes, and therefore: to think the unity of the individual (in a broad sense) and the State. Here still and as always, this identification is not reevaluated: the most individual forces can reclaim their autonomy, but they can only do so in view of the State, a new unity, or a relation ultimately better accomplished by the State. The presupposition is the same: Minorities indeed have to struggle against the State, or rather simply struggle against some of its old forms, they are ultimately and even initially inseparable from it, for one continues here more than ever to define Minorities in terms of force, struggle, and combat, thus in globally political terms.

What is then specific to this identity of the State and Minorities? It is difficult to say. Between them, a smaller distance or exteriority is supposed than previously. Minorities are indeed always those who bring about distance, distension, and the risk of ruptures in social relations or in consensus. But they only bring it about, and it is only they who can bring it about everywhere: everyone is minoritarian, there are nothing but Minorities in all social relations: the State is the ensemble of their functioning. There is no longer, as before, a distance between a State supposed given, already there, and Minorities already given but as the unconscious. There is no longer this quasi-duality of realities here, these two modes of heterogeneous realities which was supposed earlier, including the political and the non-political (the unpolitical is as non-negotiable as ever). But a single type of reality, which is the political. Hence a return to a conception of the political-All or social-All, like in the first solution, where everything is again grasped in Unity and thus also in rationality and intelligibility. There is indeed a multiplicity, an unconscious if you will, but it is immediately embodied by this superior Unity, a single reality which can thus be read simultaneously as nothing-but multiple, nothing but heterogeneous or also even as nothing-but statist or nothing but social. There is no superior and central State on one side and peripheral and marginal Minorities on the other; this would still be to place an exteriority in them, a distance, that of a center fixed to its periphery or a Unity fixed to its margins. There are nothing but partial sequences of connection which must be called immediately and inseparably statist-minoritarian. Every socio-political phenomenon can and must be read as statist or universal, creating a rule for other phenomena which are minoritarian in relation to it; and as itself minoritarian in relation to another equally worthy as superior rule. There are only Relations of force, of forces in relation, but in a greater and smaller distance than any bond or synthesis through a “generality.” The buffer zones between the State and Minorities have been dismantled, including all the economic, institutional, political, and social generalities which Minorities no longer identify with, which they themselves even critique (destruction of the gregarious and intermediate generalities which code desire or statist-minoritarian flows), but to better identify themselves with the State.

This is a complex and ambiguous position, for the revolutionary force of Minorities is indeed conserved, but limited to non-statist generalities rather than turned against the State itself. On the contrary, the latter is devoted to becoming immanent to individuals and to triumph over the ruins of the intermediate and middle bodies. Ultra-anarchism is identical to ultra-statism: an anarchism against the intermediate social forms, but so that Minorities themselves still incarnate the State. The statist-minoritarian complexes revolutionize or reverse the entire social structure and the whole intermediate social basis in a permanent and unlimited way, so as to make the State triumph better.

This is a purified position, the pure political diagram in relation to the preceding position. But, above all and consequently, it illuminates an aspect of the philosophical theory of Minorities. The statist-minoritarian connection is purified, manifested as such, relieved of its external forms. What philosophy can do for Minorities is thus fully manifested.

I believe that it is the individual who seeks to be heard in Minorities. But all these conceptions are similar because they posit that the individual is ultimately identical to the State, that the individual realizes herself in it, or despite it, but in every way with it, that the individual forms a system with the State for better or worse. I call these conceptions “mixed Minorities” or “statist-minoritarian,” and I oppose them—this will be the fourth solution—to another conception, nothing-but-minoritarian, which will give an absolute right to the individual’s claim and would recognize the existence of Minorities absolutely autonomous in relation to the State. The first three conceptions describe the social body, and thus their point of view is still that of the unified social body or the social body of the state; they are on the side of the polis or political reason. This is why, on the one hand, they reduce the existence or reality of Minorities to their struggle—and in struggle it is always the State that is ultimately the victor with a few concessions; and, on the other hand, they remain content with describing the surface of the phenomena without explaining them. From my point of view, these are philosophical and not scientific theories of Minorities; they are engaged or partisan (simultaneously on the side of the State and on the side of Minorities—thus still of the State, for if one gives a simply political meaning and struggle to Minorities, this will still be on the final behalf of the State). Certainly, one can remark that these solutions are increasingly on the verge of recognizing an autonomous reality to Minorities; not merely a right acquired or conquered in struggle, but a reality irreducible to the State, not relative to it, not accidental or irrational, and more so a reality of opposition to it. Yet they still concede to them a reality of simple concurrence with it, and they are content with tracing the most external conflicts (social, cultural, etc.) in their concept.

For both of these reasons, I prefer a scientific type of description, if possible, of Minorities. By scientific I understand at least this—this is not all, but at least this: a description which would not reduce them to their struggle alone, thus to their relation to the State alone, which would attribute them a reality before, prior to their relation to the State, which does not mean that they do not maintain relations to the State! It is a requirement of their description to posit their autonomy. Just like any science implies, in opposition to philosophical and political partisanships, it recognizes an autonomy in its object without mixing it with something else, a consistency by itself. From my point of view, only a science of Minorities as individuals rather than a political philosophy renders intelligible what is at stake in minoritarian struggles, what is concealed in them, the value of that which announces itself, which is the recognition of the individual as such or in her multiplicity; it is the recognition of her reality, which is not necessarily political or cultural or linguistic, etc. Aside from the philosophical Minorities which I have described, the only one still possible is a science of man as individual that would replace the famous “human sciences” which do nothing but confuse man with his political, social, and historical forms of existence.   

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9 thoughts on “Translation of Laruelle’s “Who Are Minorities and How To Think Them”

  1. As it pertains to Minorities, as a Queer, feminist anti-racist activist, It appears that some people say I am being ‘weird’ and ‘popping up’ on ‘philosophy blogs’ – I do apologise to any- all- if I have ‘popped up’ unnecessarily, as I am just conversing and exchanging. Warmly, Eilif

  2. Pingback: Laruelle Bibliography (English & French) | Linguistic Capital

  3. How can I obtain a copy of Francois Laruelle, “ “Qui sont les Minorités et comment les penser”. Etudes polémologiques 43 (1987): 175-89. Many thanks for the post.

  4. Pingback: Non-Philosophy in Translation | Fractal Ontology

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