In the place of the Citizen Subject posited as an ideal by the liberal democratic political systems of the past two centuries by and large now stands a new kind of ideal subject, to wit, a consumer subject cajoled and tutored in this country by Disney, Fox News, and USA Today. Kenneth Surin, Freedom Not Yet, 31.
One of the great insights of this chapter is that the “sovereign political subject”–the autonomous and rational citizen living–doesn’t need to be critiqued for it–he–has already passed away. This mythical ideal citizen, whose rational actions are grounded in a transcendental Reason and expressed through its political community, has no place in the current world. We all know that we aren’t led by principled, rationally guided, ethical leaders. Our leaders are corporations, media outlets, financial investors, and entertainers (which includes politicians). We vote in this system, with our consumption (money and time).
In this situation, Surin aruges, we must move beyond the critique of this “Man Citizen” and towards the production of a revolutionary, instead of merely consuming, subject.
Surin’s chapter provides an opportunity to reflect on some of the concerns I brought up in my previous post. In describing this earlier, Kantian subject, Surin says,
[T]he reason that grounds the subject is not a reason that can be specified within the terms of the activity of the subject: this reason is the basis of this subject’s very possibility qua subject, and by virtue of that, reason is necessarily exterior to the “activity” of the thinking subject. Reason in this kind of employment is thus the activity of a single and universal quintessence whose object is reason itself, so that reason has necessarily to seek its ground within itself, as Hegel noted.
To simplify this complex point: the basis of politics aren’t the actions of the reasonable subject but the subject who stands on Reason. Reason itself gives rise to–or births–the rational citizen, and it is through the life of this community of rational citizens that Reason is expressed.
The Kantian and Hegelian moment here is important, for what Surin has helped us see is that “the human,” as a rational animal, is not prior to the Citizen Subject but follows from it. What it means to be human is brought about, created, by the Rational Citizen as he (or she…) is the living embodiment or fulfillment of Reason.
To try to simplify this point even more: we know what it means to be “human” as we trace how our own political citizenry unfolds the nature of Reason itself. For both Hegel and Kant, Africans or Black Subjects were so foreign to this European citizenry that they had to exist at the point furthest from both Reason and the true form of the Human.
Lingering on the racial background allows us to see that the desired “revolutionary subject” must come through a direct attack on the race-humanism that subtends the political subject (whether as rational citizen or consumer). The political point (and one that Frank Wilderson makes), put simply, is that “Humanity” is an anti-Black category and so the “revolutionary political subject” to come cannot be configured from the site of “Humanity” but must come from the site, the figure, of the Slave. (I’m still working through the meaning and implications of this critique but it is one that will keep pressing into my reading of Surin’s book).
A semi-related (to the circle between Reason and the Citizen) and great comment in the chapter:
Sovereignty is thus vested by a polity which in turn is deemed
by the sovereign to be the body politic instituted to confer sovereignty, in an unending loop of mutual affirmation (29).
It parallels Žižek’s point (in First as Tragedy, Then as Farce) that this circle of “mutual affirmation” is a circle of faith in which what matters isn’t that both sides believe but that each side believes that the other still believes.