Preface vii
Introduction 1
Jean-Luc Nancy


1 Another Experience of the Question, or Experiencing
the Question Other-Wise 9
Sylviane Agacinski

2 On a Finally Objectless Subject 24
Alain Badiou

3 Citizen Subject 33
Etienne Balibar

4 Who? 58
Maurice Blanchot

5 The Freudian Subject, from Politics to Ethics 61
Mikkel Barch-Jacobsen

6 Voice of Conscience and Call of Being 79
Jean-Franr,;ois Courtine

7 A Philosophical Concept. ... 94
Gilles Deleuze

8 "Eating Well," or the Calculation of the Subject:

An Interview with Jacques Derrida 96

Jacques Derrida

9 Apropos of the "Critique of the Subject" and

of the Critique of this Critique 120

Vincent Descombes

10 Being and the Living 135
Didier Franck

11 Who Comes after the Subject? 148
Gerard Granel

12 The Critique of the Subject 157
Michel Henry

13 Love between Us 167
Luce Irigaray

14 Descartes Entrapped 178
Sarah Ko/man

15 The Response of Ulysses 198
Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

16 Philosophy and Awakening 206
Emmanuel Levinas

17 Seisus communis: The Subject in statu nascendi 217
Jean-Franr;ois Lyotard

18 L'Interloque 236
Jean-Luc Marion

19 After What 246
Jacques Ranciere

Name Index 253

About the Editors and Contributors 256


Citizen Subject
Etienne Balibar


Both following Hegel and opposed to him, Heidegger proposes Descartes as the
moment when the "sovereignty of the subject" is established (in philosophy),
inaugurating the discourse of modernity. This supposes that man, or rather the ego,
is determined and conceived of as subject (subjectum).

Doubtless, from one text to another, and sometimes even within the same "text"
(I am primarily referring here to the Nietzsche of 1939-46), Heidegger nuances his
formulation. At one moment he positively affirms that, in Descartes's Meditations
(which he cites in Latin), the ego as consciousness (which he explicates as cogito
me cogitare), is posited, founded as the subjectum (that which in Greek is called
the hypokeimenon). This also has, as corollary, the effect of identifying, for all of
modern philosophy, the hypokeimenon and the foundation of being with the being
of the subject of thought, the other of the object. At another moment he is content
to point out that this identification is implicit in Descartes, and that we must wait
for Leibniz to see it made explicit ("called by its own name") and reflected as the
identity of reality and representation, in its difference with the traditional conception
of being.

Is this nuance decisive? The fact is that it would be difficult to find the slightest
reference to the "subject" as subjectum in the Meditations, and that in general the
thesis that would posit the ego or the "I think/l am" (or the "I am a thinking thing")
as subject, either in the sense of hypokeimenon or in the sense of the future Subjekt
(opposed to Gegenstiindlichkeit), does not appear anywhere in Descartes. By evoking
an implicit definition, one that awaits its formulation, and thus a teleology of the
history of philosophy (a lag of consciousness, or rather of language), Heidegger
only makes his position more untenable, if only because Descartes's position is
actually incompatible with this concept. This can easily be verified by examining

Translated by James B. Swenson, Jr.

both Descartes's use of the noun "subject," and the fundamental reasons why he
does not name the thin k ing substance or "thinking th ing" "subject."

The problem ofsubstance, as is well known, appears fairly late in the course of
the Meditations. It is posited neither in the presentation of the cogito, nor when
Descarte s d raws its fu ndamental e pistemologi cal consequ ence (the soul knows itself
"more evidently, distinctly, and clearly" than it knows the body), but in the third
meditation w hen he attempt s to establish and to think the causal link between the
"thinking thing" that the soul knows itself to be and the God the idea of whom it
finds immediatel y in itse lf as the idea of the infinite be ing. But even there it is not
a question of the subject.
The term will appear only incidentally, in its scholastic
meaning, in the "Responses to the Objections," in the context of a discussion of
the real difference between finite and infinite, and between thinking and extended
substances, for which the Principles will later furnish a properly formulated defini
tion. Along with these discussions we must consider the one concerning the union
of body and soul, the "third substance" constitutive of individual ity, the theory of
which will be exposed in the "Sixth Meditation" and developed in the Treatise on
the Passions.

From consideration of these different contexts it becomes clear that the essential
concept for Descartes is that of substance, in the new signification that he gives to
it. This s ignification is not limited to objectifying, each on its own side, .the res
and the res extensa: it allows the entire set of causal rel at ions between
(infinite) God and (finite) things, between ideas and bodies, between my soul and
my (own) body, to be thought. It is thus primarily a relational concept. We should
understand by this that the essential part of its theoretical function is accomplished
by pu ttin g distinct "substances" into relation with one another, generall y in the
form of a unity of opposites. The name of substance (this is ils principal, nega tive
ch aracteristic) cannot be attributed in a univocal fashion to both the infinite (God)
and the finite (creatures); it thus allows their difference to be th ought, and neverthe
less permits their dependence to be understood (for only a substance can "cause"
another substance: this is its second characteristic). Likewise, thought and exten
sion are really distinct substances, having no attributes whatsoever in common, an d
nevertheless the very re ality of this distinction i mplies a substantial (nonaccidental)
union as the basis of our experience of our sensations. All these distinctions and
oppositions finally find their coherence—if not the solution of the enigmas they
hold—in a nexus that is both hierarchical and causal, entirely regulated by the
principle of the eminent causality, in God, of the "fonnal" or "objective" relations
be tween c reated substances (that is, respectively, those relations that consist of
actions and passions, and those that con si st of representations). It is only becau se
all (fini te) subs tan ces are eminently caused by God (have their eminent cause, or
rather the eminence of their cause, in God) that they are also in a causal relation
among themselves. But, inversely, eminent causality—another name for positive
i nfinity—could not express anything intelligible for us exce p t for the "objecti ve"
unity of formally distinct c ausalities.

Thus nothing is further from Descartes than a metaphysics of Substance conceived
of as a univocal term. Rather, this concept has acquired a new equivocality in his
work, without which it could not fill its structural function: to name in tum each of
the poles of a topography in which I am situated simultaneously as cause and effect
(or rather as a cause that is itself only an effect). It must be understood that
the notion of the subjectum/hypokeimenon has an entirely evanescent status here.
Descartes mentions it, in response to objections, only in order to make a scholastic
defense of his realist thesis (every substance is the real subject ofits own accidents).
But it does not add any element of knowledge (and in particular not the idea of a
"matter" distinct from the "form") to the concept of substance. It is for this reason
that substance is p ract ically indiscernible from its principle att ri bu te (comprehensi
ble: extension, thought; or incomprchensible: infinity, omnipotence).

There is no doubt whatsoever that it is essential to characterize, in Descartes,
the "thinking thing" that I am (therefore!) as substance or as substantial, in a nexus
of substances that are so many instances of the metaphysical apparatus. But it is
not essential to attach this substance to the representation of a subjectum, and it is
in any case impossible to apply the name of subjectum to the ego cogito. On the
other hand, it is possible and necessary to ask in what sense the human individual,
composed of a soul, a body, and their unity, is the "subject" (subjectus) of a divine
The representation of sovereignty is in fact implied by the ideal of
eminence, and, inversely, the reality of finite things could not be understood outside
of a specific dependence "according to which all things are subject to God. "' That
which is valid from an ontological point of view is also valid from an epistemological
point of view. From the thesis of the "creation of eternal truths" to the one proper
to ihe Meditations according to which the intelligibility of the finite is implied by
the idea of the infinite, a single conception of the subjection of understanding and
of science is affirmed, not of course to an external or revealed dogma, but to an
internal center of thought whose structure is that of a sovereign decision, an absent
presence, or a source of intelligibility that as such is incomprehensible.

Thus the idea that causality and sovereignty can be converted into one another
is conse rved and even reinforced in Descartes. It could even be said that this idea
is pushed to the limit—which is perhaps, for us in any case, the herald of a coming
decomposition of this figure of thought. The obvious fact that an extreme intellectual
tension results from it is recognized and constantly reexamined by Descartes
himself. How can the absolute freedom of man—or rather of his will: but his will
is the very essence of judgment—be conceived of as similar to God's without
putling this subjection back into question? How can it be conceived of outside this
subjection, for it is the image of another freedom, of another power? Descartes's
thought, as we know, oscillates between two tendencies on this point. The first,
mystical, consists in identifying freedom and subjection: to will freely, in the sense
of a necessary freedom, enlightened by true knowledge, is to coincide with the act
by which God conserves me in a relative perfection. The other tendency, pragmatic,
consists in displacing the question, playing on the topography of substances, making
my subjection to God into the origin of my mastery over and possession of nature,
and more precisely of the absolute power that I can exercise over my passions.
There are no fewer difficulties in either one of these theses. This is not the place
to discuss them, but it is clear that, in either case, freedom can in fact only be
thought as the freedom of the subject, of the subjected being, that is, as a contradic-
tion in terms.

Descartes's "subject" is thus still (more than ever) the subjectus. But what is the
subjectus? It is the other name of the subditus, according to an equivalence practiced
by all of medieval political theology and systematically exploited by the theoreti-
cians of absolute monarchy: the individual submitted to the ditio, to the sovereign
authority of a prince, an authority expressed in his orders and itself legitimated by
the Word of another Sovereign (the Lord God). "It is God who has established these
laws in nature, just as a king establishes laws in his kingdom," Descartes will write
to Mersenne (letter of 15 April 1630).2 It is this very dependence that constitutes
him. But Descartes's subject is not the subjectum that is widely supposed—even
if, from the point of view of the object, the meaning has to be inverted—to be
permanently present from Aristotle's metaphysics up to modern subjectivity.

How is it then that they have come to be corifused?3 Part ofthe answer obviously
lies in the effect, which continues to this very day, of Kantian philosophy and its
specific necessity. Heidegger, both before and after the "turn/' is clearly situated
in this dependence. We must return to the very letter of the Critique of Pure Reason
if we are to discover the origin of the projection of a transcendental category of the
"subject" upon the Cartesian text. This projection and the distortion it brings with
it (simultaneously subtracting something from and adding something to the cogito),
is in itself constitutive of the "invention" of the transcendental subject, which is
inseparably a movement away from and an interpretation of Cartesianism. For the
subject to appear as the originarily synthetic unity of the conditions of objectivity
(of "experience"), first, the cogito must be reformulated not only as reflexivity, but
as the thesis of the "I think" that "accompanies all my representations" (that is, as
the thesis of self-consciousness, which Heidegger will state as: cogito = cogito me
then this self-consciousness must be distinguished from both the intuition
of an intelligible being and from the intuition of the "empirical ego" in "internal
sense"; and finally the "paralogism of the substantiality" of the soul must be
dissolved. In other words one and the same historico-philosophical operation dis-
covers the subject in the substance
of the Cartesian cogito, and denounces the substance
in the subject (as transcendental illusion), thus installing Descartes in the situation
of a "transition" (both ahead of and behind the time of history, conceived of as the
history of the advent of the subject), upon which the philosophies of the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries will not cease to comment.

Paraphrasing Kant himself, we can say that these formulations of the Critique of
Pure Reason
form the "unique text" from which transcendental philosophies in
particular draw "all their wisdom," for they ceaselessly reiterate the double rejection
of substantiality and of phenomenality that forms the paradoxical being of the
subject (being/nonbeing, in any case not a thing, not "categorizable," not "objecti-
fiable").4 And this is valid not only for the "epistemological" face of the subject,
but for its practical face as well: in the last instance the transcendental subject that
effectuates the nonsubstantial unity of the conditions of experience is the same as
the one that, prescribing its acts to itself in the mode of the categorical imperative,
inscribes freedom in nature (it is tempting to say that it exscribes it: Heidegger is
an excellent guide on this point), that is, the same as the one identified in a
teleological perspective with the humanity of man.


What is the purpose of this gloss, which has been both lengthy and schematic?
It is that it is well worth the trouble, in my view, to take .seriously the question
posed by Jean-Luc Nancy, or rather the form that Nancy was able to confer, by a
radical simplification, to an otherwise rather diffuse interrogation of what is called
the philosophical conjuncture, but on the condition of taking it quite literally—at
the risk of getting all tangled up in it. Not everyone is capable of producing a truly
sophistic question, that i is, one able to confront philosophy, in the medium of a
given language, with the aporia of its own "founding" reflection, with the circularity
of its enunciation. It is thus with the necessity and impossibility of a "decision" on
which the progress of its discourse depends. With this little phrase, "Who comes
after the subject?" Nancy seems to have managed the trick, for the only possible
"answer"—at the same level of generality and singularity—would designate the
nonsubject, whatever it may be, as "what" succeeds the subject (and thus puts an
end to it). The place to which it should come, however, is already determined as
the place of a subject by the question "who," in other words as the being (who is
the) subject
and nothing else. And our "subject" (which is to say unavoidably
ourselves, whoever we may be or believe ourselves to be, caught in the constraints
of the statement) is left to ask indefinitely, "How could it be that this (not) come
of me?" Let us rather examine what characterizes this form.

First of all, the question is posed in the present tense: a present that doubtless
refers to what is "current," and behind which we could reconstitute a whole series
of presuppositions about the "epoch" in which we find ourselves: whether we
represent it as the triumph of subjectivity or as its dissolution, as an epoch that is
still progressing or as one that is coming to an end (and thus in a sense has
already been left behind). Unless, precisely, these alternatives are among the
preformulations whose apparent obviousness would be suspended by Nancy's ques-
tion. But there is another way to interpret such a present tense: as an indeterminate,
if not ahistorical present, with respect to which we would not (at least not immedi-
ately) have to situate ourselves by means of a characterization of "our epoch" and
its meaning, but which would only require us to ask what comes to pass when it
comes after the subject, at whatever time this "event" may take place or might have
taken place. This is the point of view I have chosen, for reasons that will soon
become clear.

Second, the question posed is "Who comes . . . ?" Here again, two understand
ings are possible. The first, which I sketched out a moment ago, is perhaps more
natural to the contemporary philosopher. Beginning from a precomprehension of
the subject such as it is constituted by transcendental philosophy (das Subjekt),
and such as i t has since been deconstructed or decentered by different philosophies
"of s uspici on," different "structural" analyses, this understan ding opens upon the
enigma into which the personality of the subject leads us: the fact that it always
succeeds itself across differe nt philosophi cal figures or different modes of (re)pre
scntation—which is perhaps only the mirror repetition of the way in which it always
precedes itself (question: Who comes before the subject?). But why not follow more
fully the indications given by the language? If a question of identity is presupposed
by Nancy's question, it is not of the fonn "What is the subject?" (or "What is the
thing that we call the subject?"), but of the form "Who is the subject?," or even as
an absolute precon diti on: "Who is s ubj ect?" The qu estion is not about the subjectum
but about the subjectus, he who is subjected. Not, or at least not immediately, the
transcendental subj ect (with all its doubles: logical subject, grammatic al subject,
substantial subject), which is by definition a neuter (before becoming an it), but
the subject as an individual or a p crson submitted to the exercise of a power, whose
model is, first of all, political, and whose concept is juridical. Not the subj ect
inasmuch as it is opp osed to the predi cate or to the object, but the one referred to
by Bossuet's thesis: "All men are born subjects and the paternal authority that
accustoms them to obeying accustoms them at the same time to having only one
chief. "6

The French (or Anglo French) language here presents an advantage over German
and even over Latin, one that is properly philosophic al: it retains in the equivocal
unity of a single noun the subjectum and the subjectus, the Subjekt and the Untertan.
It is perhaps for lack of having paid attention to what such a continuity indicates
that Heidegger proposed a fictive interpretation of the history of metaphysics in
which the anteriority of the question of the subjectusl Untertan is "forgotten" and
covered over by a retrospective projection of the question of the Subjekt as subjectum.
This presentation, which marks the culmination of a long enterprise of interiorization
of the history of philosophy, is today sufficiently widely ac cepted, even by philoso-
phers who would not want to be called " Heideggerians" (and who often do not have
the knowledge Heidegger had), for it to be useful to situate exactly the moment of

But if this is what the subject is from the first (both historic ally and logically),
then the answer to Nancy's question is very simple, but so full of consequences
that i t might be asked whether it does not underlie every other interpretation, every
reope ning of the question of the su bjec t, including the subject as transcendental
subject. Here is this answer: After the subject comes the citizen. The citizen (defined
by his rights and duties) is that "nonsubject" who comes after the subject, and
whose constitution and recognition put an end (in principle) to the subjection of the

This answer does not have to be (fictively) discovered, or proposed as an eschato-
logical wager (supposing that the subject is in decline, what can be said of his
future successor?). It is already given and in all our memories. We can even give
it a date: 1789, even if we know that this date and the place it indicates are too
simple to enclose the entire process of the substitution of the citizen for the subject.
The fact remains that 1789 marks the irreversibility of this process, the effect of a

We also know that this answer carries with it, historically, its own justification:
if the citizen comes after the subject, it is in the quality of a rehabilitation, even
a restoration (implied by the very idea of a revolution). The subject is not the
original man, and, contrary to Bossuet's thesis, men are not "born" "subjects" but
"free and equal in rights." The/actual answer, which we already have at hand (and
about which it is tempting to ask why it must be periodically suspended, in the game
of a question that inverts it) also contains the entire difficulty of an interpretation that
makes of the "subject" a nonoriginary given, a beginning that is not (and cannot
be) the origin. For the origin is not the subject, but man. But is this interpretation
the only possible one? Is it indissociable from the fact itself? I would like to
devote a few provisional reflections to the interest that these qu es tions hold for
philosophy—including when philosophy is displaced from the subjectm to the

These reflections do not tend—as will quickly be apparent—to minimize the
change produced by Kant, but to ask precisely in what the necessity of this change
resides, and if it is truly impossible to bypass or go beyond (and thus to understand)
it—in other words, if a critique of the representation of the history of philosophy
that we have inherited from Kant can only be made from the point of view of a
"subject" in the Kantian sense. The answer seems to me to reside at least partially
in the analysis of this "coincidence": the moment at which Kant produces (and
retrospectively projects) the transcendental "subject" is precisely that moment at
which politics destroys the "subject" of the prince, in order to replace him with the
republican citizen.

That this isn't really a coincidence is already hinted at by the fact that the question
of the subject, around which the Copernican revolution pivots, is immediately
characterized as a question of right (as to knowledge and as to action). In this
question of right the representation of "man," about whom we have just noted that
he forms the teleological horizon of the subject, vacillates. What is to be found
under this name is not de facto man, subjected to various internal and external
powers, but de jure man (who could still be called the man of man or the man in
man, and who is also the empirical non man), whose autonomy corresponds to the
position of a "universal legislator. " Which, to be brief, brings us back to the answer
evoked above: after the subject (subjectus) comes the citizen. But is this citizen
immediately what Kant will name "subject" (Subjekt)? Or is not the latter rather the
reinscription of the citizen in a philosophical and, beyond that, anthropological
space, which evokes the defunct suhject of the prince even while displacing it? We
cannot respond directly to these questions, which are inevitably raised by the letter
of the Kantian invention once the context of its moment is restored. We must first
make a detour through history. Who is the subject of the prince? And who is the
citizen who comes after the subject?


It would be impossible to enclose the "subjectus" in a single definition, for it is
a matter of a juridical figure whose evolution is spread out over seventeen centuries,
from Roman jurisprudence to absolute monarchy. It has often been demonstrated
how, in the political history of Western Europe, the time of subjects coincides with
that of absolutism. Absolutism in effect seems to give a complete and coherent form
to a power that is founded only upon itself, and that is founded as being without
limits (thus uncontrollable and irresistible by definition). Such a power truly makes
men into subjects, and nothing but subjects, for the very being of the subject is
obedience. From the point of view of the subject, power's claim to incarnate both
the good and the true is entirely justified: the subject is he who has no need of
knowing, much less understanding, why what is prescribed to him is in the interest
of his own happiness. Nevertheless, this perspective is deceptive: rather than a
coherent fonn, classical absolutism is a knot of contradictions, and this can also
be seen at the level of theory, in its discourse. Absolutism never manages to
stabilize its definition of obedience and thus its definition of the subject. It could
be asked, why this is necessarily the case, and what consequences result from it
for the "surpassing" or "negation" of the subject in the citizen (if we should ever
speak of sublation (releve) it is now: the citizen is a subject who rises up (qui se
In order to answer this question we must sketch a historical genesis of the
subject and his contradiction.

The first question would be to know how one moves from the adj ective to the
substantive, from individuals who are subjected to the power of another, to the
representation of a people or of a community as a set of "subjects. " The distinction
between independent and dependent persons is fundamental in Roman jurispru-
dence. A single text will suffice to recall it:

Sequitur de jure personarum alia divisio. Nam quaedam personae sui juris sunt,
quaedam alieno juri sunt subjeclae. Sed rursus earum personarum quae alieno juri
subjectae sunt, aliae inpotestate, aliae in manu, aliae in mancipio sunt. Videamus
nunc de iis quae alieno juri subjectae sint, si cognoverimus quae istae personae
sunt, simul intellegemus quae sui juris sint
. [We come to another classification in
the law of persons. Some people are independent and some are subject to others.
Again, of those persons who are dependent, some are in power, some in marital

subordination and some in bondage. Let us examine the dependent category. If
we find out who is dependent, we cannot help seeing who is independent.]7

Strangely, it is by way of the definition (the dialectical division) of the forms of
subjection that the definition of free men, the masters, is obtained a contrario. But
this definition does not make the subjects into a collectivity; it establishes no "link"
among them. The notions of potestas, manus, and mancipium are not sufficient to
do this. The subjects are not the heterogeneous set formed by slaves, plus legitimate
children, plus wives, plus acquired or adopted relatives. What is required is an
imperium. Subjects thus appeared with the empire (and in relation to the person of
the emperor, to whom citizens and many noncitizens owe "service," officium). But
I would surmise that this necessary condition is not a sufficient one: Romans still
had to be able to be submitted to the imperium in the same way (if they ever were)
as conquered populations, "subjects of the Roman people" (a confusion that points,
contradictorily, toward the horizon of the generalization of Roman citizenship as a
personal status in the empire).8 And, above all, the imperium. had to be theologically
founded as a Christian imperium, a power that comes from God and is conserved
by Him.9 ,

In effect, the subject has two major characteristics, both of which lead to aporias
(in particular in the form given them by absolute monarchy): he is a subditus; he
is not a serous. These characteristics are reciprocal, but each has its own dialectic.

The subject is a suhditus: this means that he enters into a relation of obedience.
Obedience is not the same as compulsion; it is something more. It is established
not only between a chief who has the power to compel and those who must submit
to this power, but between a sublimis, "chosen" to command, and subditi, who turn
towards him to hear a law. The power to compel is distributed throughout a hierarchy
of unequal powers (relations of majoritas minoritas). Obedience is the principle,
identical to itself along the whole length of the hierarchical chain, and attached in
the last instance to its transcendental origin, which makes those who obey into the
members of a single body. Obedience institutes the command of higher over lower,
but it fundamentally comes from below: as suhditi, the subjects will their own
obedience. And if they will it, it is because it is inscribed in an economy of creation
(their creation) and salvation (their salvation, that of each taken individually and
of all taken collectively). Thus the loyal subject (jidele sujet) (he who "voluntarily,"
"loyally," that is, actively and willingly obeys the law and executes the orders of
a legitimate sovereign) is necessarily afaithful subject (sujetfidele). He is a Christian,
who knows that all power comes from God. In obeying the law of the prince he
obeys God. 10 The fact that the order to which he "responds" comes to him from
beyond the individual and the mouth which utters it is constitutive of the subject.

This structure contains the seeds of an infinite dialectic, which is in fact what
unifies the subject (in the same way as it unifies, in the person of the sovereign,
the actand its sanctification, decision making and justice): because ofit thesubject
does not have to ask (himself) any quest.ions, for the answers have always already
been given. But it is also what divides the subject. This occurs, for example, when
a " s p i ri tu al power" and a "te mporal power" vie for preeminence (which su ppos es
that each also attempts to a p propriate the attributes of the other), or more simply
when knowing which sovereign is legitimate or which practice of government is
"Christian" and thus in c onformi ty with its essence becomes a real question (the
very idea of a "right of resistancc" being a contradiction in terms, the choice is
between regieide and prayer for the conversion of the sovereign . . . ). Absolute
monarchy in p arti c ular d evel ops a contradiction that can be seen as the c u l minati on
of t h e conflict between the te mporal power and the spiritual power. A passage is
made from the divine ri ght of kings to the idea of their direct election: it is as such
that royal power is made divine (and that the State transfers to itself the various
sacraments). But not (at least not in the West) the individual person of the king:
incarnation of a divine power, the king is not himself "God." The king (the
soverei gn) is lex animata (nomos empsychos) (just as the law is inanimatus princeps).
Thus the person (the "body") of th e king must itself be divided: into divine person
and human person. And obedie,nce correlatively. ... 11

Such an obedience, in its unity and its divisions, impli es the notion of the soul.
This is a notion that Antiquity did not know or in any case did not use in the same
way i n order to think a political relati on (Greek does not have, to my knowledge,
an equivalent for the subjectus subditus, not even the term hypekoos, which desig
nates those who obey the word of a master, who will become "disciples," and from
whom the theologians will draw the name of Christian obedience: hypakoe). For
Antiquity obed ienc e can be a con tingent situation in which one finds oneself in
relation to a command (arche), and thus a commander (archon). But to receive a
command (archemenos) implies that one can oneself—at least theoretically—give
a command (this is the Aristotelian definition of the citizen). Or it can be a natural
dependence of the "familial" type. Doubtless differentiations (the ignorance of
which i s what prop erly characterizes barbarism) ought to be made here: the woman
(even for the Greeks, and a forteri ori for the Romans) is not a slave. Nevertheless
these differences can be subsumed under analogous oppositions: the part and the
whole, pass i vity and activity, the body and the soul (or intellect). This last opposition
is particularly valid for the slave, who is to his master what a body, an "organism"
(a set of n atu ral tools) is to intelligence. In such a perspective, the very idea of a
"free obedience" is a contradiction in terms. That a slave can also be free is a
relatively late (Stoic) idea, wh i c h must be understood as signifying that on another
level (in a "cosmic" polity, a pol i ty of "minds") he who is a sl ave here can also be
a master (master of himself, of his passions), can also be a "citizen." Nothing
approaches the idea of a freedom res i di ng in obedience itself, resulting from this
obedience. In order to conceive of this idea obedience must be transferred to the
side of the soul, and the soul must cease to be thou ght of as natural: on the contrary,
the soul must come to name a supernatural part of the individual that hears the
divinity of t h e order.

Thus the subditus-subjectus has always been distinguished from the slave, just as
the sovereignty of the prince, the sublimus, has been distinguished from "despotism"
(literally, the authority of a master of slaves). 12 But this fundamental distinction
was elaborated in two ways. It was elaborated within a theological framework,
simply developing the idea that the subject is a believer, a Christian. Because, in
the final instance, it is his soul that obeys, he could never be the sovereign's "thing"
(which can be used and. abused); his obedience is inscribed in an order that should,
in the end, bring him salvation, and that is counterbalanced by a responsibility (a
duty) on the part of the prince. But this way of thinking the freedom of the subject
is, in practice, extraordinarily ambivalent. It can be understood either as the
affirmation and the active contribution of his will to obedience Uust as the Christian,
by his works, "cooperates in his salvation": the political necessity of the theological
compromise on the question of predestination can be seen here), or as the annihila
tion of the will (this is why the mystics who lean towards perfect obedience
apply their will to self-annihilation in the c ontemplation of God, the only absolute
sovereign). Intellectual reasons as well as material interests (those of the lords, of
the corporations, of the "bourgeois" towns) provide an incentive for thinking the
freedom of the subject differently, paradoxically combining this concept with that
of the "citizen," a concept taken from Antiquity and notably from Aristotle, but
c arefully distinguished from man inasmuch as he is the image of the creator.

Thus the civis polites comes back onto the scene, in order to mark the quasi
ontological difference between a "subject" and a serf/slave. But the man designated
as a citizen is no longer the zoon politikon: he is no longer the "sociable animal,"
meaning that he is sociable as animal (and not inasmuch as his soul is immortal).
Thomas Aquinas distinguishes the (supernatural) christianitas of man from his
(natural) humanitas, the "believer" from the "citizen." The latter is the holder of
a neutral freedom, a "franchise." This has nothing in common with sovereignty,
but means that his submission to political authority is neither immediate nor
arbitrary. He is submitted as a member of an order or a body that is recognized as
having certain rights and that confers a certain status, a field of initiative, upon
him. What then becomes of the "subj ect"? In a sense he is more really free (for his
subjection is the effect of a political order that integrates "civility," the "polity,"
and that is thus inscribed in nature). But it becomes more and more difficult to
think him as subditus: the very concept of his "obedience" is menaced.

This tension becomes, once again, a contradiction under absolute monarchy. We
have already seen how the latter brings the mysterious unity of the te mporal and
spiritual sovereign to the point of rupture. The same goes for the freedom of the
subject. Insofar as absolute monarchy concentrates power in the unity of the
"State" (the term appears at this moment, along with its "reason"), it dissolves all
intermediate powers (at least ideally) and suppresses all subjections to the profit of
one subjection. There is now only one prince, whose law is will, "father of his
subjects," having absolute authority over them (as all other authority, next to his,
is null). "I' am the State," Louis XIV will say. But absolute monarchy is a State
power, precisely, that is, a power that is instituted and exercised by law and
administration; it is a political power (imperium) that is not confused with the
property (dominium)—except "eminent" domain—of what belongs to individuals,
and over which they exercise their power. The subjects are, if not "legal subjects
(sujets de droit)," at least subjects "with rights (en droit)," members of a "republic"
(a Commonwealth, Hobbes will say). All the theoreticians of absolute monarchy
(with or without a "pact of subjection") will explain that the subjects are citizens (or,
like Bodin in the Republic, that "every citizen is a subject, his freedom being
somewhat diminished by the majesty of the one to whom he owes obedience: but
not every subject is a citizen, as we have said of the slave").13 They will not
prevent—with the help of circumstances—the condition ofthis "free (franc) subject
dependent upon the sovereignty of another" from being perceived as untenable.
La Boetie, reversing each term, will oppose them by defining the power of the One
(read: the Monarch) as a "voluntary servitude" upon which at the same time reason
of State no longer confers the meaning of a supernatural freedom. The controversy
over the difference (or lack of one) between absolutism and despotism accompanies
the whole history of absolute monarchy.15 The condition of the subject will be
retrospectively identified with that of the slave, and subjection with "slavery," from
the point of view of the new citizen and his revolution (this will also be an essential
mechanism of his own idealization).


The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 produces a truth
effect that marks a rupture. It is nevertheless an intrinsically equivocal text, as is
indicated by the dualities of its title and of its first line: rights of man and of the
citizen, are born and remain, free and equal. Each of these dualities, and particu-
larly the first, which divides the origin, harbor the possibility of antithetical read-
ings: Is the founding notion that of man, or of the citizen? Are the rights declared
those of the citizen as man, or those of man as citizen? In the interpretation sketched
out here, it is the second reading that must take precedence: the stated rights are
those of the citizen, the objective is the constitution of citizenship—in a radically
new sense. In fact neither the idea of humanity nor its equivalence with freedom
are new. Nor, as we have seen, are they incompatible with a theory of originary
subjection: the Christian is essentially free and subject, the subject of the prince
is "franc." What is new is the sovereignty of the citizen, which entails a
completely different conception (and a completely different practical determina
tion) of freedom. But this sovereignty must be founded retroactively on a certain
concept of man, or, better, in a new concept of man that contradicts what the
term previously connoted.

Why is this foundation necessary? I do not believe it is, as is often said, because
of a symmetry with the way the sovereignty of the prince was founded in the idea
of God, because the sovereignty of the people (or of the "nation") would need a
humanfoundation in the same way that imperial or monarchical sovereignty needed
a divine foundation, or, to put it another way, by virtue of a necessity inherent in
the idea of sovereignty, which leads to putting Man in the place of God. 16 On the
contrary, it is because of the dissymmetry that is introduced into the idea of
sovereignty from the moment that it has devolved to the "citizens": until then the
idea of sovereignty had always been inseparable from a hierarchy, from an emi
nence; from this point forward the paradox of a sovereign equality, something
radically new, must be thought. What must be explained (at the same time as it is
declared) is how the concept of sovereignty and equality can be noncontradictory.
The reference to man, or the inscription of equality in human nature is equality "of
birth," which is not at all evident and is even improbable, is the means of explaining
this paradox. 17 This is what I will call a hyperbolic proposition.

It is also the sudden appearance of a new problem. One paradox (the equality of
birth) explains another (sovereignty as equality). The political tradition of anti quity,
to which the revolutionaries never cease to refer (Rome and Sparta rather than
Athens), thought civic equality to be founded on freedom and exercised in the
determinate conditions of this freedom (which is a hereditary or quasi-hereditary
status). It is now a matter of thinking the inverse: a freedom founded on equality,
engendered by the movement of equality. Thus an unlimited or, more precisely,
self-limited freedom: having no limits other than those it assigns to itself in order
to respect the rule of equality, that is, to remain in conformity with its principle.
In other terms, it is a matter of answering the question: Who is the citizen? and not
the question: Who is a citizen? (or: Who are citizens?). The answer is: The citizen
is a man in enjoyment of all his "natural" rights, completely realizing his individual
humanity, a free man simply because he is equal to every other man. This answer
(or this new question in the form of an answer) will also be stated, after the fact:
The citizen is the subject, the citizen is always a supposed subject (legal subject,
psychological subject, transcendental subject).

I will call this new development the citizen's becoming a subject (devenir sujet):
a development that is doubtless prepared by a whole labor of definition of the
juridical, moral, and intellectual individual; that goes back to the "nominalism" of
the late Middle Ages, is invested in institutional and "cultural" practices, and
reflected by philosophy, but that can find its name and its structural position only
after the emergence of the revolutionary citizen, for it rests upon the reversal of
what was previously the subjectus. In the Declaration of Rights, and in all the
discourses and practices that reiterate its effect, we must read both the presentation
of the citizen and the marks of his becoming-a-subject. This is all the more difficult
in that it is practically impossible for the citizen(s) to be presented without being
determined as subject(s). But it was only by way of the citizen that universality
could come to the subject. An eighteenth century dictionary had stated: "In France,
other than the king, all are citizens. "18 The revolution will say: If anyone is not a
citizen, then no one is a citizen. "All distinction ceases. All are citizens, or must
be, and whoever is not must be excluded. ""

The idea of the rights of the citizen, at the very moment of his emergence, thus
institutes an historical figure that is no longer the subjectus, and not yet the
subjectum. But from the beginning, in the way it is formulated and put into practice,
this figure exceeds its own institution. This is what I called, a moment ago, the
statement of a hyperbolic proposition. Its developments can only consist of conflicts,
whose stakes can be sketched out.

First of all, there exist conflicts with respect to the founding idea of equality.
The absolutism of this idea emerges from the struggle against "privilege," when it
appeared that the privileged person was not he who had more rights but he who
had less: each privilege, for him, is substituted for a possible right, even though
at the same time his privilege denies rights to the nonprivileged. ■ In other words,
it appeared that the "play" (jeu) of right—to speak a currently fashionable
language—is not a "zero-sum" game: this is what distinguishes it from the play
of power, the "balance of power." Rousseau admirably developed this difference,
on which the entire argumentation of the Social Contract is based: a supplement
of rights for one is the annihilation of the rights of all; the effectivity of right
has as its condition that each has exactly "as much," neither more nor fewer
right(s) than the rest.

Two paths are open from this point. Either equality is "symbolic," which means
that each individual, whatever his strengths, his power, and his property, is reputed
to be equivalent to every individual in his capacity as citizen (and in the public
acts in which citizenship is exercised). Or equality is "real," which means that
citizenship will not exist unless the conditions of all individuals are equal, or at
least equivalent: then, in fact, power's games will no longer be able to pose an
obstacle to the play of right; the power proper to equality will not be destroyed by
the effects of power. Whereas symbolic equality is all the better affirmed, its ideality
all the better preserved and recognized as unconditional when conditions are
unequal, real equality supposes a classless society, and thus works to produce it.
If a proof is wanted of the fact that the antinomy of "formal" and "real" democracy
is thus inscribed from the very beginning in the text of 1789 it will suffice to reread
Robespierre's discourse on the "marc d'argent" (April 1791).20

But this antinomy is untenable, for it has the form of an all-or-nothing (it
reproduces within the field of citizenship the all-or-nothing of the subject and the
citizen). Symbolic equality must be nothing real, but a universally applicable form.
Real equality must be all or, if one prefers, every practice, every condition must
be measured by it, for an exception destroys it. It can be asked—we will return to
this point—whether the two mutually exclusive sides of this alternative are not
equally incompatible with the constitution of a "society." In other terms, civic
equality is indissociable from universality but separates it from the community. The
restitution of the latter requires either a supplement of symbolic form (to think
universality as ideal Humanity, the reign of practical ends) or a supplement of
substantial egalitarianism (communism, Babeufs "order of equality"). But this
supplement, whatever it may be, already belongs to the citizen's becoming a

Second, t h e re exi st co nflicts w i th respect to the citizen's activity. What radically
d istinguishe s h i m from the subject of the Prince is his participation in the formation
and applicati on of the decision: the fact that he is legislator and magistrate. H ere,
too, Rousseau, with his concept of the "general will," irreversibly states what
constitutes the rupture. The comparison with the way in which medieval politics
had defined the "citi zenship" of the subj ect, as the right of all to be well governed,
is instructive.21 From this point forward the idea ofa " passive citizen" is a contrad ic-
tion in term s. Nevertheless, as is well known, this idea w as i mm e diately formulated.
B u t let us look at the detai ls.

Does the activity of the citizen exclude the idea of representation? This position
has been argued: whence the long series of discourses i de ntifyi n g active citizenship
and "direct democracy," with or w ithout reference to antiquity .22 In reality this
identification rests on a confusion.

Initiall y, repres entation is a re presentation before the Prince, before Power, and,
in general, before the instance of decision making whatever it may be (in carnated
in a living or anonymous person, itself represented by officers of the State). This is
the function of the Old Regime's "deputies of the Estates," who present grievance s,
suppl i cations, and re monstrances (i n many respects this function of re presenti ng
those who are administered to the ad mi nistration has in fact again become the
func tion of the num erous elected assemblies of the c on temporary State).

The representation of the .sovereign in its deputies, inasmuch as the sovereign is
the people, is something entirely different. Not only is it active, it is the act of
sovereign ty par excellence: the choice of those who govern, the corollary of which
is monitoring them. To elect representatives is to act and to make possible all
political action, which draws its legitimacy from this election. Election has an
"alchemy," whose other aspects we will see further on: as the primord ial civic
action, it singularizes each citizen, responsible for his vote (his choice), at the same
time as it unifies the "moral" body of the citizens. 23 We will have to ask again, and
in greater depth, to what extent this determination engages the dialectic of the
citizen's becoming-a subject: Which citizens are "representable," and under which
conditions? Above all: Who should the citizens be in order to be able to represent
themselves and to be represe nted? (for exampl e: Does it m atter that th ey be able
to read and write? Is this condition sufficient? etc.). In any case we have here,
again, a very d ifferent concept from the o ne antiqui ty held of citize nship, wh ich,
while it too implied an idea of activity, did not imply one of sovereign will. Thus
the Greeks pri vi leged the drawing of lots in the designati o n of magistrates as the only
tjuly democratic method, whereas election appeared to them to be "ari stocratic" by
definition (Aristotle).

It is nonetheless true that the notion of a representative activity is problematic.
This can be clearly seen in the debate over the question of the bi nding mandate:
Is it necessary, in order for the activity of the citizens to manifest itself, that their
deputies be permanently bound by their will (supposing it can be known), or is it
sufficient that they be liable to recall, leaving them th e responsibility to interpret
the general will by their own activity? The dilemma could also be expressed by
saying that citizenship implies a power to delegate its powers, but excludes the
existence of "politicians," of "professionals," a fortiori of "technicians" of politics.
In truth this dilemma was already present in the astoni shing Hobbesian construction
of representation, as the doubling of an author and an actor, which remains the
basis of the modem State.

But the most profound antinomy of the citizen's activity concerns the law. Here
again Rousseau circumscribes the problem by posing his famous definition: "As
for the associates, collectively they take the name people, and individually they are
called Citizens as participating in the sovereign authority and Subjects as submitted
to the laws of the State. "24 The consequences of this follow immediately:

It can be seen by this formulation . . . that each individual, contracting, so to
speak, with himself, finds himself engaged in a double relationship . . . .
Consequently it is against the nature of the political body for the Sovereign to
impose upon itself a law that it cannot break . • . by which it can be seen that
there is not nor can there be any sort of fundamental law which obliges the body
of the people, not even the social contract .... Now the Sovereign, being formed
only of the individuals who compose it, does not and cannot have an interest
opposed to theirs; consequently the Sovereign power has no need of a guarantee
toward the subjects, for it is impossible that the body wish to harm all its members
.... But this is not the case for the subjects toward the sovereign, where despite
the common interest, nothing would answer for their engagements if means to
insure their fi d eli ty were not found. In fact each individual can, as man, have a
particular will contrary or dissimilar to the general will that he has as citizen
.... He would enjoy the rights of a citizen without being willing to fulfill the
duties of a subject; an injustice whose progress would cause the ruin of the
political body. In order for the social pact not to become a vain formula, it tacitly
includes the engagement . . . that whoever refuses to obey the general will will
be compelled to do so by any means available: which signifies nothing else than
that he will be forced to be free.25

It was necessary to cite this whole passage i n order that no one be mistaken: in
these implac able formulas we see the final appearance of the "subject" in the old
sense, that of obedience, but metamorphosed into a subject of the law, the strict
correlative of the citizen who makes the law.26 We also see the appearance, under
the n ame of "man," s plit between his general interest and his particular interest,
of he who wi ll be the new "subject," the Citizen Subject.

It is indeed a question of an antinomy. Precisely in his capacity as "citizen,"
the citizen is (indivisibly) above any law, otherwise he could not legislate, much
less constitute: "There is not, nor can there be, any sort of fundamental law that
obliges the body of the people, not even the social contract." In his capacity as
"subject" (that is, inasmuch as the laws he formulates are imperative, to be executed
universally and unconditionally, inasmuch as the pact is not a "vain fo^ula") he
is necessarily under the law. Rousseau (and the Jacobin tradition) resolve this
antinomy by identifying, in terms of their close "relationship" (that is in terms of
a particular point of view), the two propostions: Just as one citizen has neither more
nor less right(s) than another, so he is neither only above, nor only under the law,
but at exactly the same level as it. Nevertheless he is not the law (the nomos
This is not the consequence of a transcendence on the part of the law
(of the fact that it would come from Elsewhere, from an Other mouth speaking atop
some Mount Sinai), but a consequence of its immanence. Or yet another way: there
must be an exact correspondence between the absolute activity of the citizen
(legislation) and his absolute passivity (obedience to the law, with which one does
not "bargain," which one does not "trick"). But it is essential that this activity and
this passivity be exactly correlative, that they have exactly the same limits. The
possibility of a metaphysics of the subject already resides in the enigma of this
unity ofopposites (in Kant, for example, this metaphysics of the subject will proceed
from the double determination of the concept of right as freedom and as compulsion).
But the necessity of an anthropology of the subject (psychological, sociological,
juridical, economic, . . . ) will be manifest from the moment that, in however small
a degree, the exact correlation becomes upset in practice: when a distinction
between active citizens and passive citizens emerges (a distinction with which we are
still living), and with it a problem of the criteria of their distinction and of the
justification of this paradox. Now this distinction is practically contemporary with
the Declaration of Rights itself; it is in any case inscribed in the first of the
Constitutions "based" on the Declaration of Rights. Or, quite simply, when it
becomes apparent that to govern is not the same as to legislate nor even to execute
the laws, i. e., that political sovereignty is not the mastery of the art of politics.

Finally, there exist conflicts with respect to the individual and the collective.
We noted above that the institution of a society or a community on the basis of
principles of equality is problematic. This is not—or at least not uniquely—due to
the fact that this principle would be identical to that of the competition between
individuals ("egotism," or a freedom limited only by the antagonism of interests).
It is even less due to the fact that equality would be another name for similarity,
that it would imply that individuals are indiscernible from one another and thus
incompatible with one another, preyed on by mimetic rivalry. On the contrary,
equality, precisely inasmuch as it is not the identification of individuals, is one of
the great cultural means of legitimating differences and controlling the imaginary
ambivalence of the "double." The difficulty is rather due to equality itself: in this
pri n c iple (in the proposition that men, as citizens, are equal), even though there is
necessarily reference to the fact of society (under the name of "polity"), there is
conceptually too much (or not enough) to "bind" a society. It can be seen c learly
here how the difficulty ari ses from the fact that, in the modern concept of citi zenship,
freedom is founded in equality and not vice versa (the "solution" of the d iffi culty
will in part consist precisely of reversing this primacy, to make freedom into a
foundation, even, metaphysically, to identify the origi nary with freedom).

Equality in fact cannot be limited. Once some x's ("men") are not equal, the
predicate of equality can no longer be applied to anyone, for all those to whom it
is supposed to be applicable are in fact "superior," "dominant," "privileged," etc.
Enjoyment of the equality of rights cannot spread step by step, beginning with
two individuals and gradually extending to all: it must immediately concern the
u niversali ty of individuals, let us say, tautologically, the universality of x's that it
concerns. This explains the insistence of the cosmopolitan theme in egalitarian
po l itic al thought, or the rec i procal implication of these two themes. It also explains
the an tinomy of equality and society for, even when it is not defined in "cultural,"
"national," or "historical" terms, a society is necessarily a society, defined by some
particularity, by some exclusion, if only by a name. In order to speak of "all
citizens," it is necessary that somebody not be a citizen of said polity.

Likewise, equality, even though it preserves differences (it does not imply that
Catholics are Protestants, that Blacks are Whites, that women are men, or vice
versa: it could even be held that without differences equality would be literally
unthinkable), cannot itself be differentiated: differences are close by it but do not
come from its application. We have already glimpsed th is problem with respect to
activity and passivity. It takes on its full extension once it is a question of organizing
a society, that is of instituting functions and roles in it. Something like a "bad
infinity" is implied here by the negation of the inequalities which are always
still present in the principle of equality, and which form, precisely, its practical
effectiveness. This is, moreover, exactly what Hegel will say.

The affirmation of this principle can be seen in 1789 in the statement that the
king himself is only a citizen ("C i tizen Capet"), a deputy of the sovereign people.
Its development can be seen in the affirmation that the exercise of a magi s t ratu re
excludes one from citizenship: "The soldier is a citizen; the officer is not and cannot
he one. "27 "Ordinarily, people say: the citizen is someone who participates in
honors and dignities; they are mistaken. Here he is, the citizen: he is someone who
possesses no more goods than the law allows, who exercises no magistrature and is
independent of the responsibility of those who govern. Whoe ver is a magis trate is
no longer part of the people. No individual power can enter into the people . . . .
When speaking to a functionary, one should not say citizen; this title is above
him. "2B On the contrary, it may be thought that the existence of a society always
presupposes an organization, and that the latter in turn always presupposes an
ele m ent of qualification or differentiation from equality and thus of "nonequality"
de v eloped on the basis of equality itself (which is not on that account a principle of
inequality).29 If we call this element "archy," we will understand that one of the
logics of citizenship leads to the idea of anarchy. It was Sade who wrote, "Insurrec
tion should be the permanent state of the republic," and the comparison with Saint
Just has been made by Maurice Blanchot.30

It will be said that the solution to this aporia is the idea of a contract. The
contractual bond is in fact the only one that thinks itself as absolutely homogeneous
with the reciprocal action of equal individuals,31 presupposing only this equality.
No other presuppositions? All the theoreticians are in agreement that some desire
for sociability, some interest in bringing together the forces and in limiting freedoms
by one another, or some moral ideal, indispensable "motor forces," would also be
required. It wi11 in fact be agreed that the proper form of the contract is that of a
contract of association, and that the contract of subjection is an ideological artifact
destined to divert the benefits of the contractual form to the profit of an established
power. But it remains a question whether the social contract can be thought as a
mechanism that "socializes" equals purely by virtue of their equality. I think that
the opposite is the case, that the social contract adds to equality a determination
that compensates for its "excess" of universality. To this end equality itself must
be thought as something other than a naked principle; it must be justified, or one
must confer on it that which Derrida not long ago called an originary supplement.

This is why all the theories of the contract include a "deduction" of equality as
an indispensable preliminary, showing how it is produced or how it is destroyed
and restored in a dialectic either of natural sociability and unsociability or of the
animality and humanity in man (the extreme form being that of Hobbes: equality
is produced by the threat of death, in which freedom is promptly annihilated). The
Declaration of 1789 gives this supplement its most economical form, that of a de
fact: "Men are born and remain ... . " Then—as Michel Foucault saw
beginning from other premises—the time of competing theories of human nature
comes to an end. The time of man-the subject (empirical and transcendental) can


I think that, under these conditions, the indetermination of the figure of the
citizen—referred to equality—can be understood with respect to the major alterna-
tives of modem political and sociological thought: individual and collectivity, public
sphere and private sphere. The citizen properly speaking is neither the individual
nor the collective, just as he is neither an exclusively public being nor a private
being. Nevertheless, these distinctions are present in the concept of the citizen. It
would not be correct to say that they are ignored or denied: it should rather be said
that they are suspended, that is, irreducible to fixed institutional boundaries which
would pose the citizen on one side and a noncitizen on the other.

The citizen is unthinkable as an "isolated" individual, for it is his active participa-
tion in politics that makes him exist. But he cannot on that account be merged into
a "total" collectivity. Whatever may be said about it, Rousseau's reference to a
"moral and collective body composed of as many members as there are votes in the
assembly,"32 produced by the act of association that "makes a people a people,"33
is not the revival but the antithesis of the organicist idea of the corpus mysticum (the
theologians have never been fooled on this point).34 The "double relationship"
under which the individuals contract also has the effect of forbidding the fusion of
individuals in a whole, whether immediately or by the mediation of some "corpora-
tion." Likewise, the citizen can only be thought if there exists, at least tendentially,
a distinction between public and private: he is defined as a public actor (and even
as the only possible public actor). Nevertheless he cannot be confined to the public
sphere, with a private sphere—whether the latter is like the oikos of antiquity, the
modern family (the one that will emerge from the civil code and that which we
now habitually call "the invention of private life"), or a sphere of industrial and
commercial relations that are nonpolitical35—being held in reserve. If only for the
reason that, in such a sphere, to become other than himself the citizen would
have to enter into relationships with noncitizens (or with individuals considered as
noncitizens: women, children, servants, employees). The citizen's "madness," as
is known, is not the abolition of private life but its transparency, just as it is not
the abolition of politics but its moralization.

To express this suspension of the citizen we are obliged to search in history and
literature for categories that are unstable or express instability. The 'concept of
mass, at a certain moment of its elaboration, would be an example, as when Spinoza
speaks of both the dissolution of the (monarchical) State and its (democratic)
constitution as a "return to the mass. 1,36 This concept is not unrelated, it would
seem, to that which in the Terror will durably inspire the thinkers of liberalism
with terror.

I have presented the Declaration of Rights as a hyperbolic proposition. It is now
possible to reformulate this idea: in effect, in this proposition, the wording of
the statement always exceeds the act of its enunciation [U6nonc6 excede toujours
the import of the statement already goes beyond it (without our
knowing where), as was immediately seen in the effect of inciting the liberation
that it produced. In the statement of the Declaration, even though this is not at all
the content of the enunciation of the subsequent rights, we can already hear the
motto that, in another place and time, will become a call to action: "It is right to
revolt." Let us note once more that it is equality that is at the origin of the movement
of liberation.

All soils of historical modalities are engaged here. Thus the Declaration of 1789
posits that property—immediately after freedom—is a "natural and imprescriptible
right of man" (without, however, going so far as to take up the idea that property
is a condition of freedom). And as early as 1791 the battle is engaged between
those who conclude that property qualifies the constitutive equality of citizenship
(in other words that "active citizens" are proprietors), and those who posit that the
universality of citizenship must take precedence over the right of property, even
should this result in a negation of the unconditional character of the latter. As
Engels noted, the demand for the abolition of class differences is expressed in
terms of civic equality, which does not signify that the latter is only a period
costume, but on the contrary that it is an effective condition of the struggle against

Likewise, the Constitutions that are "based" on the principles of 1789 immedi-
ately qualify—explicitly and implicitly—the citizen as a man (= a male), if not as
a head of the household (this will come with the Napoleonic Code). Nevertheless
as early as 1791 an Olympe de Gouges can be found drawing from these same
principles the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizenness (and, the
following year, with Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman),
and the battle—one with a great future, though not much pleasure—over the
question of whether the citizen has a sex (thus what the sex of man as citizen is)
is engaged.

Finally, the Declaration of 1789 does not speak of the color of citizens, and—
even if one refuses to consider37 this silence to be a necessary condition for the
representation of the political relations of the Old Regime (subjection to the Prince
and to the seigneurs) as "slavery," even as true slavery (that of the Blacks) is
preserved—it must be admitted that it corresponds to powerful interests among
those who collectively declare themselves "sovereign." It is nonetheless the case
that the insurrection for the immediate abolition of slavery (Toussaint L'Ouverture)
takes place in the name of an equality of rights that, as stated, is indiscernible
from that of the "sans culottes" and other "patriots," though the slaves, it is true,
did not wait for the fall of the Bastille to revolt. 38

Thus that which appeared to us as the indete^ination of the citizen (in certain
respects comparable to the fugitive moment that was glimpsed by Aristotle under
the name of arche aoristos, but that now would be developed as a complete historical
figure) also manifests itself as the opening of a possibility: the possibility for any
given realization of the citizen to be placed in question and destroyed by a struggle
for equality and thus for civil rights. But this possibility is not in the least a promise,
much less an inevitability. Its concretization and explicitation depend entirely on
an encounter between a statement and situations or movements that, from the point
of view of the concept, are contingent.39 If the citizen's becoming-a-subject takes the
form ofa dialectic, it is precisely because both the necessity of"founding" institutional
definitions of the citizen and the impossibility of ignoring their contestation—the
infinite contradiction within which they are caught—are crystallized in it.

There exists another way to account for the passage from the citizen to the subject
(subjectum), coming after the passage from citizen to the subject (subjectus) to the
citizen, or rather immediately overdetermining it. The citizen as defined by equality,
absolutely active and absolutely passive (or, if one prefers, capable of auto-affecta
tion:that which Fichte will call das [ch), suspended between individuality and
collectivity, between public and private: Is he the constitutive element of a State?
Without doubt the answer is yes, but precisely insofar as the State is not, or not
yet, a society. He is, as Pierre-Frangois Moreau has convincingly argued, a utopic
figure, which is not to say an unreal or millenarist figure projected into the future,
but the elementary term of an "abstract State. "40 Historically, this abstract State
possesses an entirely tangible reality: that of the progressive deployment of a
political and administrative right in which individuals are treated by the state
equally, according to the logic of situations and actions and not according to their
condition or personality. It is this juridico-administrative "epoche" of "cultural" or
"historical" differences, seeking to create its own conditions of possibility, that
paradoxically becomes explicit to itself in the minutely detailed egalitarianism of
the ideal cities of the classical Utopia, with their themes of enclosure, foreignness,
and rational administration, with their negation of property. When it becomes clear
that the condition of conditions for individuals to be treated equally by the State
(which is the logic of its proper functioning: the suppression of the exception) is
that they also be equally entitled to sovereignty (that is, it cannot be done for less,
while conserving subjection), then the "legal subject" implicit in the machinery of
the "individualist" State will be made concrete in the excessive person of the

But this also means—taking into account alljhat precedes—that the citizen can
be simultaneously considered as the constitutive element of the State and as the
actor of a revolution. Not only the actor of a founding revolution, a tabula rasrasa
whence a State emerges, but the actor of a permanent revolution: precisely the
revolution in which the principle of equality, once it has been made the basis or
pretext ofthe institution ofan inequality or a political "excess of power," contradicts
every difference. Excess against excess, then. The actor of such a revolution is no
less "utopic" than the member of the abstract State, the State of the rule of law. It
would be quite instructive to conduct the same structural analysis of revolutionary
utopias that Moreau made of administrative utopias. It would doubtless show not
only that the themes are the same, but also that the fundamental prerequisites of
the individual defined by his juridical activity is identical with that of the individual
defined by his revolutionary activity: he is the man "without property" (der Eigen
"without particularities" (ohne Eigenschaften). Rather than speaking of
administrative utopias and revolutionary utopias we should really speak of antitheti-
cal readings of the same utopia narratives and of the reversibility ofthese narratives.

In the conclusion of his book, Moreau describes Kant's Metaphysics of Morals
and his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View as the two sides of a single
construction of the legal subject: on one side, the formal deduction of his egalitarian
essence; on the other, the historical description of all the "natural" characteristics
(all the individual or collective "properties") that form either the condition or the
obstacle to individuals identifying themselves in practice as being subjects of this
type (for example, sensibility, imagination, taste, good mental health, ethnic "char-
acter," moral virtue, or that natural superiority that predisposes men to civil
independence and active citizenship and women to dependence and political passiv-
ity). Such a duality corresponds fairly well to what Foucault, in The Order of Things,
called the "empirico-transcendental doublet." Nevertheless, to understand that this
subject (which the citizen will be supposed to be) contains the paradoxical unity of
a universal sovereignty and a radical finitude, we must envisage his constitution—
in all the historical complexity of the practices and symbolic forms which it brings
together—from both the point of view of the State apparatus and that of the
permanent revolution. This ambivalence is his strength, his historical ascendancy.
All ofFoucault's work, or at least that part ofit which, by successive approximations,
obstinately tries to describe the heterogeneous aspects of the great "transition"
between the world of subjection and the world of right and discipline, "civil society,"
and State apparatuses, is a materialist phenomenology of the transmutation of
subjection, of the birth of the Citizen Subject. As to whether this figure, like a face
of sand at the edge of the sea, is about to be effaced with the next great sea change,
that is another question. Perhaps it is nothing more than Foucault's own utopia, a
necessary support for the enterprise of stating that utopia's facticity.


1. Letter by Descartes to Elizabeth, 3 November 1645, Oeuvres de Descartes, ed. Charles Adam and
Paul Tannery (Paris:
J. Vrin, 1969), vol. 4, p. 333. Cited by Jean-Luc Marion, Sur la thdologie
blanche de Descartes
(Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1981), p. 411.

2. Oeuvres de Descartes, 1:145.

3. I am aware that it is a matter of opposing them: but in order to oppose them directly, as the recto
and verso, the permanence of a single question (of a single "opening") must be supposed, beyond
the question of the subjectus, which falls into the ashcan of the "history of being."

4. Applying it to Kant himself if need be: for the fate of this problematic—by the very fact that the
transcendental subject is a limit, even the limit as such, declared to be constitutive is to observe
that there always remains some substance or some phenomenality in it that must be reduced.

5. As Nancy himself suggests in the considerations of his letter of invitation.

6. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Politique tide de des propres paroles de l'Ecriture sainte, ed. Jacques Le
Brun (Geneva: Droz, 1967), p. 53. Bossuet states: "All men are born subjects." Descartes says:
There are innate ideas, which God has always already planted in my soul, as seeds of truth, whose
nature (that of being eternal truths) is contemporaneous with my nature (for God creates or conserves
them at every moment just as he creates or conserves me), and which at bottom are entirely
enveloped in the infinity that envelops all my true ideas, beginning with the first: my thinking

7. The Institutes of Gaius, trans. W. M. Gordon & O. F. Robinson (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.,
Ltd., 1988), §48 50, p. 45.

8. Cf. Christian Bruschi, "Le droit de cite dans l'Antiquite: un questionnement pour la citoyennete
aujourd'hui," pp. 125 53 in La citoyennete et les changements
de structures sociales et nationales
de lapopulationfraru;aise, ed. Catherine Wihtol de Wenden (n. p.: EdiligiFondation Diderot, 1988).

9. Emmanuel Terray suggests to me that this is one of the reasons for Constantine's rallying to Pauline
Christianity ("All power comes from God": cf. Epistle to the Romans).

10. On all these points, see, for example, Walter Ullman, The Individual and Society in the Middle
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966), and A History cf Political Thought:
The Middle Ages
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965).

11. On all this, see Ernst Kantorowicz, Frederick the Second, 1194 1250, trans. E. O. Lorimer (New
York: Ungar, 1957); The King's Two Bodies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960); Selected
(New York: J. J.
Augustin, 1965).

12. How does one get from the Roman serous to the medieval serf! Doubtless by a change in the "mode
of production" (even though it is doubtless that, from the strict point of view of production, each
of these terms corresponds to a single mode). But this change presupposes or implies that the "serf"'
also has an immortal soul included in the economy of salvation; this is why he is attached to the
land rather than to the master.

13. Jean Bodin, Les six livres de la ftepubliqte, vol. 1, pt. 6 (Paris: Fayard, 1986), vol. 1, p. 114.

14. Ibid., 1:112.

15. Cf. Alain Grosrichard, Structure du s£raiL: La fiction du despotisme asiatique dans VOccident
c/asnque (Paris: Editions du seuil, 1979).

16. Cf. the frequently developed thcme, notably following Proudhon: Rousseau and the French revolu-
tionaries substituted the people for the kingofdivine right" without touching the idea ofsovereignty,
or "archy."

17. In the Cahiers de dolt!ance of 1789, one sees the peasants legitimize, by the fact that they are men,
the claim to equality that they
raise: to becoTM citizens (notably by the suppression of fiscal privileges
and seigneurial rights). Cf. Regine Robin, La sociitifraru;aise en
1789: Semur-en-Auxois (Paris:
Pion, 1970).

18. Pierre Richelet, Dictionnaire de La Langue /raru;aise, ancienne et ^derne (Lyon, 1728), s. v.
"citoyen." Cited by Pierre R6tat, "Citoyen-Sujet, Civisme," in Handbuchpolitisch-sozialer Grundbe-
griffe in Frankreich,
1680 1820, ed. Rolf Reichardt and Eberhard Schmitt, vol. 9 (Munich:
Oldenbourg, 1988), p. 79.

19. (Anon.), La libertf du peuple (Paris: 1789). Cited by Retat, "Citoyen-Sujet, Civisme," p. 91.

20. Robespierre, Textes choisi.*, ed. Jcan Poperen (Paris: Editions sociales, 1974), vol. 1, pp. 65 75.

21. Cf. Rene Fedou, L'Etat au Moyen Age (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971), pp. 162

22. Cf. the discussion of apathy evoked by Moses I. Finley, Democracy, Ancient and Modern, rev. ed.
(New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1985).

23. Cf. Saint-Just, "Discours sur la Constitution de la France" (24 April 1793): ''The general will is
indivisible . . .
. Representation and the law thus have a common principle." Discours et rapports,
ed. Albert Soboul (Paris: Editions sociales, 1977), p. 107.

24. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du contmt .tocioi, 1, 6, in Oeuvres completes, ed. Bernard Gagnebin and
Marcel Raymond (Paris: Gallimard, Biblioth£que de la Pleiade, 1964), vol. 3,
p. 362.

25. Ibid., I, 7, in Oeuvres completes, 3:362-64.

26. During the revolution, a militant grammarian will write: "France is no longer a kingdom, because
it is no longer a country in which the king is everything and the people nothing .... What then
is France? A new word is needed to express
a new thing . . . . We call a country sovereignly ruled
by a king a kingdom (royaume); I will call a country in which the law alone commands a lawdom
(loyaume)." Urbain Domergue, Journal de l
a langue fraru;aise, 1 August 1791. Cited by Sonia
"Le loyaume des mots," in Lexique 3 (1985): 47.

27. Louis-Sebastien Mercier and Jean-Louis Carra, Annales patriotiques, 18 January 1791. Cited by
Retat, "Citoyen-Sujet, Civisme,"
p. 97.

28. Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just, Fragments d'institutions rtpublicaines, in Oeuvres completes, ed.
Michele Duval (Paris: Editions Gerard Lebovici, 1984), p. 978. C i ted by Retat, "Citoyen-Sujet,
Civisme," p. 97.

29. The Declaration of Rights of 1789, First Article, immediately following "Men are born and remain
free and equal in rights," continues: "Social distinctions can only
be founded on common utility."
Distinctions are social, and whoever says "society," "social bond," says "distinctions" (and not
"inequalities," which would contradict the principle). This is
why freedom and equality must be
predicated of man, and not of the citizen.

30. Maurice Blanchot, "L'insurrection, la folic d'ecrire," L'entretien infini (paris: Gallimard, 1969),
p. 323 42.

31. Instead of reciprocal action, today one would say "communication" or "communicative action."

32. Du contrat social, I, 6, Oeuvres completes, 3:361.

33. Ibid., I, 5, Oeuvres completes, 3:359.

34. I am entirely in agreement on this point with Robert Derath,,'s commentary (against Vaughan) on
the adjective "moral" in his notes to the Pleiade edition of Rousseau (Oeuvres
completes, vol. 3, p.


35. Cf. Karl Marx, Capital, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), vol. 1, p. 292: "The
product [of the worker's labor in his workshop] belongs to [the capitalist] just as much as the wine
that is the product of the process of fermentation taking place in his cellar."

36. Cf. Etienne Balibar, "Spinoza, l'anti-Orwell la crainte des masses," Le. temps modernes 470
(September 1985): 353 94.

37. As Louis Sala-Molins does in Le. Code Noir ou le calvaire de Canaan (Paris: Presses Univcreitaires
de France, 1987).

38. Cf. Yves Benot, La revolution frant;aise et la jin des colonies (Paris: La d£couverte, 1988).

39. Let us note that this thesis is not Kantian: the accent is placed on the citizen and not on the ends
of man; the object of the struggle is not anticipated but discovered in the wake of political action;
and each given figure is not an approximation of the regulatory ideal of the citizen
but an obstacle
to effective equality. Nor is this thesis Hegelian: nothing obliges a new realization of the citizen to
be superior to the preceding one.

40. Pierre-Fiancgois Moreau, Le rtcit utopique: Droit naturel et romande lEtat (Paris: Presses Universi-
taires de France, 1982).

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