Political philosophy has lost its way, or at least this is the point of departure for Gregg Lambert’s thesis in Philosophy After Friendship: Deleuze’s Conceptual Personae. Once concerned with a project pursuant to perpetual peace, the present theoretical landscape has gone astray, consigning humanity to a state of permanent war lest it imminently change course. Lambert’s appeal, then, is towards a renewed effort to conceptualize a true post-war philosophy, an aim that may require a fundamental re-interrogation of the “essential meaning of philosophy…especially in relation to Deleuze’s assertion that the democratic ideal of friendship has become corrupted to the point, today, where it may be completely ‘rotted.’”i

In order to do so, Lambert sets out to track the evolution — or, arguably, devolution — of the concept of friendship from its archaic, Greek form to its modern iteration. Through this analysis and its implications, he seeks to clarify and potentially reimagine what meaning we ought to ascribe to a host of inextricably related conceptual personae, particularly that of the ‘stranger-guest’/’stranger-friend’ii as a means of stabilizing the framework for which this true post-war philosophy can be realized.iii

Fundamental to this critique are Deleuze’s arguments against global capitalism. He contends that the original concept of friendship is under potentially irreparable siege in what now amounts to a competition of false equals in the universal marketplace. No longer are there any discussions of the Good not under the direction of the advertisers and branding outfits that propel that system forward. What this has lead to is a status quo bearing no relation to the ‘political as such’ but “a kind of permanent and generalized Machiavellianism mediated only by an open, although not necessarily public, sphere of commerce and private finance.”iv

A subsequent shift in perspective has occurred in political philosophy as a consequence. The philosopher’s vantage point outward from the center of political life has transported to a view from the periphery, often taking the form of “an archipelago of invisible or unconscious zones, including ghettos, camps, and shantytowns that are absent from any official census.”v Lambert identifies the historical origin of this shift having taken place after World War II when radically new concepts of humanity emerged in response to the shared, but unspeakable, experiences of those who survived the Nazi concentration camps. Drawing from this novel view of man, Lambert grounds what he later develops as the persona of the ‘stranger-guest’ from which to launch a true post-war philosophy. It is at this crucial point, however, that the argument begins its unraveling.

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend

The original concept of ‘friend’ lacked all the sentimentality it has taken on in its present form. Lambert uses the work of Indo-European linguist Émile Beneviste to argue how the poetics of ancient Greek conspired to begin performing a kind of Freudian dream-work on the term. Archaic Greek was first to posit the concept of a friendship in the possessive, as in my friend. This possessive quality was also the case for kinship, i.e. my spouse, my child. With time, ‘friendship’ as a concept was emptied of its institutional obligations in the form of hospitality and adorned with the “moral, ethical, juridical, and legal sense that have over-determined its social meaning” today.vi

This change marked the erosion from a generalized definition of unsentimental, universal hospitality to a highly particular, personal, and sentimental meaning of friendship. As modern developments have proven, this particularity has nearly refined itself to nothing and is awash in its own paranoia. Religious movements introduced the concept of True Evil followed by psychoanalysis’ theory of the Unconscious. It has become clearer that perhaps “there can be no perfect friendship if my good intentions have been poisoned from the beginning by an unconscious egoism associated with class or race, even gender, allowing for the spirit of malevolence behind all overt acts of faith. The crack widens, eventually encompassing friendship itself in a vast conspiracy.”vii It serves to reason, then, that the exponential growth of surveillance practices by the modern state exists as a byproduct of this poisoning. “If the stranger must be kept under constant surveillance, then one must be especially wary of the so-called friend.”viii

These changes all indicate the distress of ‘friend’ as a conceptual/political persona, and serve to explain the rise in militant philosophies from Marx’s communism to Schmitt’s ‘pure’ politics. On the Marxist friend qua comrade, Lambert writes:

The militant idea of friend (or ‘comrade’) necessarily includes the possibility of ‘distress’ and ‘betrayal’ as the very conditions of friendship, understood in this context as the occasion of secret confidence, or a common goal of association. This is something the Greeks would have never imagined, since they did not place friendship directly into a relation of war, whereas the modern notion of ‘the friend’ already includes this relation in the opposition between ‘the friend’ and ‘the enemy.’ix

The emergence of this natural dichotomy between friend and enemy espoused by Marx argued directly against the Platonic model of friendship and democracy predicated on healthy competition and rivalry. Marx’s position was that competition and rivalry are the negative consequences of a natural deficit in man, and only through communism and the creation of a classless society can man be socially engineered and adequately corrected to then actualize as “one ‘species-being’ that would henceforth share the same conditions of social existence.”x Friend, then, necessarily incorporates militancy and can no longer be conceived of as a naturally occurring phenomenon, “rather [it] is contrived by the introduction of an artificial form of inequality between social relations that will become a source of constant” struggle, at the end of which one is revealed their ‘true friend.’xi

In Marx’s rejection of democratic friendship, he exposes the treachery and distrust at the heart of communist principles. Deleuze notes that the split between friend/enemy had so deteriorated that it “created an extreme antithesis that cannot be resolved dialectically…neither by philosophy nor politics.”xii The result, then, is not just war but permanent war. It is only on this plane of interaction that we could arrive at a point of antithesis where the friend/enemy dichotomy could split, “producing the threat of an unmediated and generalized violence that becomes too great for the idealistic aspirations of any political ideal of friendship.”xiii

It bears recognizing that Marxist doctrine is one of the first major ideological systems to begin from the perspective of the Enemy, not the Friend. Arguably, this could also be assessed as an early iteration of the outsider view that political philosophy has largely adopted wholesale, though this is complicated by Marxism’s claim to universality, as both enemy-within and enemy-armed with some claim to Truth outside the bounds of the State. Nevertheless, Marx’s outright rejection of the Goodness of man marks a pivotal moment in the history of political philosophy — one whose trajectory can later be recognized in the work of the controversial German thinker and Nazi jurist, Carl Schmitt.

It is only upon recognition of one’s enemy that identifying the ‘friend’ becomes possible. For Schmitt, this manifests as a practical approach to quantifying the ‘concrete situation’ against one’s enemies, since every enemy is ultimately a particular enemy. The ability to identify the enemy is, to Schmitt, the pure function of the state, an analysis drawing from Plato’s Republic who fashioned the friend-enemy distinction as a matter of inside-outside the city-state. Those within were friends while the outside marked the limits of the state against the natural enemy, or in Plato’s case, the “barbarian.”

The fundamental flaw of this line of argumentation is the horrors it can be used to justify. In general terms, who is the final arbiter of inside/outside, and by what standard? Schmitt himself argued explicitly for the constitutionality of racial purity laws in accordance with this political system. Marx, too, adhered to a politics of natural enmity, pronounced by the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie. It is an uncontroversial point that asserting an inherent opposition between peoples as to their value and dignity is directly responsible for the most horrific atrocities of our time.

Schmitt’s maneuver to (try to) sidestep this is by relegating the political solely to the juridical sphere as opposed to the philosophical. Since the political only actualizes at the point in which it identifies a particular enemy, then the political “would be the purest expression of a decision to kill and it is for this reason it has no separate sphere of its own,” instead underlying every sphere.xiv This concept is also commonly referred to as ‘the state of exception,’ afforded to an authority whose actions are exempt from the juridical order of its subjects. It is this status that lends the state a claim to ‘just war’ (jus belli). What has become increasingly evident, though, is that this state of exception is unending — no longer reserved for a concrete, temporally marked moment of enemy-identification. Look no further than the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, even the cultural invocations of this trope in the War on Women, and the War on Christmas, insofar as their originators are often immune from challenges to logical inconsistencies in their arguments.

Deleuze and Guattari are among those who argue against this modern dichotomy of friend/enemy (and its subsequent actualization as the state in Schmitt’s terms). They write that the two identities cannot be conceived of as entirely separate social concepts. Instead, the relationship is “molar and molecular. Enemy is molar as the most abstract determination [given that the] ‘concept of the enemy in its purest sense [is] as the negation of otherness in the self.’”xv The enemy, as an object constructed and conceived of through differentiation, does not present with individuating characteristics. Lambert notes that “this is why the enemy is always one…the enemy does not have a particular face.”xvi Lambert, though, does not pay lip service to the many instances where this could not be further from the truth. Is it not the case that Osama Bin Laden’s became the face of global terror in a post-9/11 world?

Levinas’ ethical philosophy in relation to the face conjures a number of relevant questions towards the work in question. The face, to Levinas, becomes the ethical battleground. “Ethical difference can only be phrased in the accusative mode, which is derived from inter-subjective space that is primordially asymmetrical.”xvii The face is the site of provocation as well as empathetic recognition; though the latter event is desirable, it can never be without the risk of misrecognition or perversion. While Lambert pays lip service to how the asymmetry of the friend/enemy when mapped onto the Face has been used for political formations around race, it is also prevalent now in more granular forms I argue are manifesting under the banner of identity politics.

This catalog of ever-expanding identitarian categories for political organization all fall prey to Levinas’ conclusion: that we must “install in the very seat of subjectivity, in the heart of the ego, the obligation to the stranger-guest as a fundamental limit to sovereignty of the ego, a limit that is defined in terms of fundamental passivity.”xviii The explicit division of political blocs along identity lines is done so with the aim of invoking a specific image (or face), and this central project is at the root of most internal conflicts, particularly on the Left, between vying particular interests for hegemony over the Message. Who gets the Face (today)?

At the intra-political level, this kind of competition succeeds only in breeding resentment amongst already-aggrieved groups so as to ultimately preclude any unified political project. This disoriented messaging could certainly speak to the aimlessness of the Democratic Party and its salient lack of a coherent political platform given its competing identitarian factions.

This competition for primary recognition as the Other is further complicated when that Other positions itself as a natural enemy to its political opposition. This, too, is a problem clearly illustrated on the left where comrades are bound only in their distrust against a shared, natural enemy as opposed to working towards a coherence in their shared political understanding. Look only to third wave feminism’s inexplicable alliance with political Islam as one of many examples relevant to this dysfunction. There exists in camaraderie of this stripe the unspoken, though not altogether secret, reality that the relationship is no more than a means to an end. Following the elimination of their shared enemy, no guarantee exists — nor is it likely — that the two fundamentally contradictory systems will not be at odds.

Lambert concludes that we must then settle for conceiving of friendship with an artificial spontaneity, one determined by existing socio-political and cultural factors. Even though this is limiting, it is preferable to beginning any political philosophy at the enemy because friendship, at least, opens up “the possibility of multiple affirmations as opposed to one form of opposition.”xix Could identity politics reformulate itself to instead offer this friendship in multiplicity? That certainly ought to be the aim. Some will no doubt argue that is its current formulation, but to do so requires conceding one’s blindness to the militancy and malevolence to present tactics. To be clear, the criticism made here is not that groups who have adopted this political strategy are enemies as such, rather that their political ideology necessarily requires poles of natural enmity, placing them on ends in definitive opposition of the other, where this other is not an abstraction or idea but is often characterized using particular groups from the white rural poor in America to minority groups viewed within activist communities as having fewer legitimate grievances than others. This is an opposition of their own making, and not one that serves any other ultimate purpose than destructive violence.

Upon undoing the friend/enemy duality, Lambert argues that a truly radical revision of the current political landscape and its militant ideologies is possible by working through the concept of “stranger-guest.” With democratic friendship as its starting point, this political examination strives towards the constitution of a political humanity that can realize a state of perpetual peace and allow us to enter a truly post-war era.

The Stranger-Guest

Lambert argues that the concept of the stranger-guest belongs to the category of friendship. Looking to the early Greek’s “possessive form of the stranger-friend relationship” indicates that the term, like ‘friendship’, was not possessive purely in the linguistic sense. Rather, it meant there was an obligatory expectation of behavior from a host to their guest integral to the concept.xx This formal duty was tied to either “dependency or political alliance” illustrated well by phrases like friend of Caesar or friend of Christ.xxi

In fleshing out this concept, Lambert suggests that the human infant could serve as the ‘most primitive figure of the stranger-guest’ in its straightforward illustration of a being absolutely dependent on its host. Moreover, the infant’s immunity from harm exists only as a byproduct of the host’s attitudes towards it as a particular being that ‘appeared’ in the context of the closed group (i.e. the family) and the larger culture (also as a being subject to its norms). Beneviste then tracks sentiments of pity on behalf of the head of the family towards its absolute dependent as well as mutual sentiments within the family (of regard, honor, loyalty, goodwill, modesty, and despair). He then identifies the departure of all of these emotions from the private home to the religious sphere in the form of a ‘special pact.’

[It is] around this special pact that one finds the extreme expressions of pity and despair that now determine the state of absolute dependency of the creature before his God and, in response, a special kind of reverence and obligation that is particularly reserved for the relation between God, the ‘Host of hosts’…and his own particular stranger-guests. Christianity…is a religion of strangers, orphans, and widows, all of whom lay claim to the right of [hospitality] in the name of a divine master, or host. In turn, Beneviste defines this form of absolute dependency that determines the Christian understanding of finitude as the obligation that defines a mortal creature…who becomes a ‘being towards death.’… [It’s] only according to a Christian sense of religion that death assumes the obligatory form of finitude.xxii

Christianity completely changes the original religio from a quality of having moral scruples to a sacred oath bound to an institution of belief, shifting religious meaning from something distinctly inward to outward. The ‘blessed poor’ depends on the goodwill of the wealthy, which in turn requires a sacred quality in the poor that satisfies and necessitates the rich’s redemptive acts of charity. The sanctity of these obligations has remained largely concentrated in the religious sphere the more secular society has become, but post-WWII philosophies of man have argued that any remaining justification for a religiously sanctified system of codependency between the rich and poor ended in the concentration camps. It is through their novel concept of man that was born of a shared experience of trauma that we now turn.

The Stranger-Guest as Victim-Survivor

Robert Antelme, a survivor of the camps, argues certainty through refusal as the central conviction towards a new humanity. Of all places, he argued that it was in the camps that he “witnessed the unity of the human species.” This abject and utterly dehumanizing site revealed that man could not be broken in the face of his own negation, that he responded with certain refusal to this attempt, and it was at that relational point between the prisoner and the SS officer that the overwhelming horror of this unity of the species crystallized. The officer and prisoner remained members of the same human category, and Antelme argues that history’s long project of genocidal ideologies arrived at its terminus in the camps as a consequence. It was here that racist division was exhausted and the Nazi project reversed itself towards a “living expression of the unity of Man.”xxiii

It is Giorgio Agamben who takes this to its absolute extreme by positing that “the original social division finds its ultimate expression in the camp…in the production of ‘bare life.’”xxivWhat follows, then, is that any and all remaining members of divisions among classes in society now have to be understood as survivors of this final divisive event. Lambert directs the implications of this argument towards its impact on the previously established dichotomy of the global rich and global poor, once sanctified in its codependency. Antelme condemns the wealthy as an exploitative and evil class and the poor of this formulation as complicit in the evil deeds of the wealthy and their own suicide lest they not renounce their ‘blessed’ status. It is in the camps that the dialectical reversal to illustrate this occurs. The SS officer becomes the “rich man who no longer needs the poor man as a path for his own salvation in this world” thereby losing any identification he once had with the poor man.xxv

Antelme’s argument that the camps introduced a new way of seeing humanity that supplanted the prior Christian form relies on the view that its certainty possesses a historical consciousness. This consciousness defies its own reversal and represents universal freedom on that basis as independent of any master. In this form it adopts a spirit of ‘combat’ (one that certainly echoes the earlier discussion of militancy). Nevertheless, Lambert points out a crucial flaw in the construction of this argument given that “the certainty of this consciousness can only exist as long as their power of extermination and division of the species is actualized in the camps.”xxvi Therefore, the political philosophies uncritically following this line of thought all implicitly concede to the necessity of the camps in order to arrive at such a spirit of refusal. Given that Antelme’s analysis prohibits any justification of the horrors committed by the SS in the camps to where no God could ever permit it, it stands to reason that the necessary precondition of the camps towards a just humanity would fail this test as well lest it fall prey to its own circularity.

It also suggests a link, however tenuous, to the growth of a certain politicized species of victim culture, as is most prevalent on American college campuses. This view of the subject in natural opposition to his oppressor must invariably occupy modern iterations of the perpetually marginalized subject, lending him a distinctly moral status by virtue of his ontological victimhood/survival. When one’s political project requires a philosophy of man that necessitates any perceived experience of being oppressed as parallel to the concentration camp prisoner against his SS captor, there comes a point where the inability to eradicate any conceivable inequity necessitates an immutable status of victimhood, even mandates an express interest in maintaining the perpetuation of that status. Given the circularity of requiring oppression in order to achieve justice, it begs the question as to whether this status-as-victim could very well have perverted itself into desire, an enjoyment of being ascribed moral virtue simply for belonging to a category associated with a claim to having been oppressed in some way. As already stated, these ‘categories’ only continue to become more particularized: the personal is political.

Lambert’s characterization of the spirit of refusal central to this view of man and its usurpation of prior concepts of man in the prevailing political philosophies of the present have manifest in a new form of combat. This form threatens the very possibility of a politically relevant humanity or universal friendship. The status quo lends itself only to the state of permanent war endorsed either explicitly or implicitly by the mainstream commentariat on the left and right since their prevailing political projects have failed. To accept this resignation is fatal, condemning man to repeat what he is so ironically commanded to never forget. Are we to continue down this path, then — as Deleuze and Guattari posit — we may very well bring about a state of peace “more terrifying than fascist death.”xxvii

How Bad Is It?

Friendship as a conceptual persona has been fractured and dichotomized along poles of natural enmity. Terms once used to ritualize obligatory behaviors of hosts towards their guest(s) and temporary alliances have been “corrupted by capital.” More and more, it seems that “no political form [is] capable of establishing a truce between the two [apparent and] immortal enemies: the global rich and the global poor.”xxviii Instead of attempting to think beyond the presupposition of material capital as our only interrogative frame of reference, Lambert then seemingly concedes territory to those same flawed arguments he took pains to identify:

Perhaps we are witnessing the overturning of an earlier philosophical idealism that invoked friendship as the destination of the political and in its place the emergence of what I will call a non-philosophical understanding that has determined conflict of war (polemos), even the realization of a perpetual war between the two permanent classes (or populations), which today are represented by the global rich and the global poor, as the ultimate ground from which any future thinking of the political must now depart.xxix

A critical fissure takes place at the moment of Lambert’s apparent consignment to perpetual war between the natural enemies of ‘global rich’ and ‘global poor’ (or two permanent classes) that evidently force him to adopt, in part or in full, the qualities of a post-WWII concept of political man.

Lambert’s invocation of the immortal enmity between ‘global rich’ and ‘global poor’ is paid little lip service in the way of its justification as a prerequisite, though one can identify a parent node for this in an earlier allusion to Giorgio Agamben’s concept of homo sacer, or bare life — namely, that man’s dignity can best be understood through the proxy of his nakedness. This nakedness expresses his “shame of being exposed, outside society, without friendship or hospitality.” From this, Agamben would argue that there is no distributive justice that can “compensate for the universal shame of poverty.”xxx However compelling or practical it may initially seem to frame the discussion as one taking place at the intersection of the global rich and the global poor (in forms that go so far as to argue this split is synonymous with the SS officer and the concentration camp victim), Lambert’s failure to offer an evaluative mechanism for judging precisely why material capital is the criterion, to the exclusion of all others, that must underpin our concept of the moral and juridical Good ends up undermining his entire position at the outset.

It is no secret that contemporary western universities and their respective philosophy departments are oversaturated with Marxist/post-Marxist/post-capitalist criticism. This is at the expense of conceiving outside the bounds of man as defined and dignified in his relation to capital. Lambert avoids this until conceding a political constitution of humanity as partially predicated on that ‘spirit of refusal.’ In mapping this negation qua unity as the terminus for which we can no longer refuse to see that class divisions are merely another means of the SS’s symbolic order to exert its genocidal mechanizations on the world’s exploited labor classes, it becomes difficult to imagine Lambert’s ‘post-war’ philosophy as one extricated from these concerns. Given that much of Lambert’s larger point is to call out the failure of modern political philosophy which has lost sight of perpetual peace as a goal, it’s hard to reconcile how one is to resolve Lambert’s analyses of natural enemies simultaneously with his privileging of friendship as the start of a new political philosophy. What emerges is an a priori concession that the equality of material conditions is a necessary feature of Justice.

What if we reformulate the question of a political constitution of humanity another way, instead shifting to a theological context divorced from material? Given Lambert’s extensive use of Kant in the conclusion of the book, it’s worth looking to Kant’s deontological philosophy of man as having a fundamental value in and of himself as the pointer in a new direction. Kant’s representation of humanity through politics presupposes “systematic unity”, a concept that lacks any material referent since an ideal humanity is a “purely theoretical appearance” in the same manner as the soul.xxxi Just as the soul resists empirical proof as does a universal humanity. In a conception of God, then, “we consider every connection in the world according to the principles of a systematic unity, hence as if they had all arisen from one single all-encompassing being, as supreme and all-sufficient cause.” Lambert concedes that some may view that God, as an idea, already incorporates the ‘maximal extension’ of community, but he insists that only an idea of Politics can “contain the maximal extension…of the principle of right, law, or justice and the concept of free will.”xxxii

If this is the salient distinction between Politics and a theological concept of God, it does beg the question as to whether, like God and religion, Humanity in the universal sense operates as an article of faith. At which point can we credibly distinguish between the project of perpetual peace as an organizing principle of political man and a religious project in pursuit of universal friendship. Do the institutional obligations imposed by a universal theology from one man towards another not align with the impersonal democratic friendship of the ancient Greeks? Here I am not disputing Lambert’s credit of right, law, and justice to the realm of politics, as such, rather that the vehicle by which we can conceivably arrive at a universal concept of Politics may well require a more thorough consideration of its relationship to theology. If a new, post-war political philosophy begins from this view, it relinquishes itself of the circularity inescapable in conceiving of man as naturally opposed along material lines, e.g. oppressed lines.

Man Online, Man at Peace?

Though Kant (as well as Lambert’s) ultimate aim is to quit the original state of nature, it is in this original state — a place without borders and without masters — where Kant argues the laws of hospitality do not apply. Where there are no hosts, we are all strangers. If a positive universal humanity fails to realize itself in political philosophy, theology, or a synthesis therein, perhaps all hope is not yet lost if we merely direct our study towards those virtual wastelands befitting a Kantian description, one that exempts them from the guest-host relationship. The results of such an exemption produce a novel ‘state of exception’ if to nothing other than the hellish reality of the present in its state of permanent war outside of the virtual sphere. The subtraction of essential features like physical space (resources), proximity, the face (in many cases), as well as the absence of one’s ritual obligation to serving as either the host or guest, all raise provocative questions about an entirely different view of ‘universal’ humanity. This humanity is paradoxically made whole only through its particulates scattering across an immanent virtual plane, along multiplying lines of communication and interaction, where consummate identities are in constant flux, always subject to fracturing into new, creative potentials.

The implications of there existing the mere possibility of a political constitution of virtual man offers enormous and exciting possibilities for examination and interrogation, avenues once open only to the likes of the science fiction author. Now, the individual nomad shifts into focus, not bound to spatial and temporal limitations, where even the spatial and temporal are unbounded from the fixed norms of particular time and space.

It is from this deterritorialized subject that we must depart.