The Governing and the Governed

In his book “The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World” (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), Partha Chatterjee rejects Benedict Anderson’s notion of a homogeneous time-space of modernity which politics inhabit, suggesting instead that such time is “the utopian time of capital” (6), and that time is heterogeneous, unevenly dense, since modernity is, in which he follows Foucault, heterotopia.

Foucault’s notion of heterotopia is evoked of describing the spacio-temporal characteristics of ambiguity, in which the subject finds herself in several places or points at once, for instance, looking at the mirror. To say that the modernity is heterotopic, is a productive way of speaking about modernity, in my opinion. Modernity is characterized by this ambiguity of positioning, when futurity and remnants of the past commingle and coincide, but also contradict one another and clash with one another.

Homi Bhabha, according to Chatterjee, formulated heterotopic ambiguity around the axes of nation in which “the people were an object of national pedagogy because they were always in the making, in a process of historical progress, not yet fully developed to fulfill the nation’s destiny” (6), yet at the same time, “the unity of the people, their permanent identification with the nation, had to be continually signified, repeated, and performed” (6). Chatterjee announces it to be an inherent feature of modernity, or “modern politics itself” (6)–and one might agree, but there is no big contradiction here, it appears. Both these statements describe the nation in becoming, in flux, in progress. What does contradict each other though, is that the people in the making and in process are simultaneously already perceived or framed as nation today, already–the nation which has a glorious history and bright future; which is a key feature of nation building. Apart from having the future, the past, and the present, nation is as a rule relates somehow, sanctioned by divine providence and blessed by God. To evoke the specter of Vl. Solovyev: “The idea of nation is not something that the nation itself thinks about itself in time, but something that God thinks about it in eternity.” (Соловьев, 1911, 3)–a standard motif of governmentality engaging into what might be called “narrativization of the nation.” (“efforts to narrativize,” as Chatterjee puts it, 8).

The analysis of the untouchables in India, affords for understanding that “Citizens inhabit the domain of theory, populations the domain of policy.” (34).

Chatterjee shows that Lockian idea of two types of citizens–sound-minded citizens who get to govern and those who should be governed because they could not be subjects of consensual politics–is deeply ingrained into structures of democracy; this is indeed modernity’s constitutive, foundational idea, and not some glitch or malfunction happening occasionally.



Chatterjee, Partha. The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Соловьев Вл. Русская идея. М., 1911.


Citizenship Debates: Exclusions and Inclusions

Whereas Locke establishes that all human beings are free, rational, and interested in protecting their property individuals, receiving the right of existing as such from birth, the whole clusters of people do not fit this definition, because they are “lunaticks,” “ideots,” do not own property, or are children; the question of whether women fit or not the Lockean figure of a citizen, is up to further consideration (Mehta, 59). Such individuals could not be considered independent agents of consensual politics, and belong to the sorts of people who should be guarded, their volition notwithstanding, in the process of taming. Some of them could not hope to achieve the destination of becoming citizens (“lunaticks,” “ideots,” and women), and for some, un-citizenship is a temporary state. Thus the complex play of exclusions and inclusions begins.

To the question of Mouffe, “Is it possible to disentangle political liberalism from the vocabulary that it has inherited from the rationalism of the Enlightenment on the one hand and from the connotations in has acquired by its long association with economic liberalism on the other?” (Mouffe, 1993, 41) there could be one reasonable answer: no, this is not possible. For whatever this is that ends up being disentangled, it could not be called “liberalism,” precisely for the reason that the very term liberalism is the term which originated and gained its history and weight within the contexts of the Enlightenment discourses. To disentangle liberalism from its origin and a very nature, means to deduct the liberalism from liberalism.

This is a debate related to the debates around the issues “Can the Subaltern speak?” (Spivak) and of “provincializing Europe” (Chakrabarty), which stumble upon the linguistic impossibility of having one’s own voice while navigating the political, philosophical, and scientific thought of a colonizer. To “provincialize” a geographico-political locale using the instruments which are imminent to the locale and reinforce its power by virtue of being used, is a task which too easily slips into further “metropolizing” of the metropole.

In the contesting modernities, the one modernity is privileged: that which is predicated on the Enlightenment ideals, largely Anglophone, grappling with its own colonial history and reluctantly renouncing positions.

In 1988, Partha Chatterjee wrote: “This is the task which, I think, faces non-Western political theorists: to find an adequate conceptual language to describe the non-Western career of the modern state not as a distortion or lack, which is what inevitably happens in a modernization narrative, but as the history of different modernities shaped by practices and institutions that the universalist claims of Western political theory have failed to encompass” (Chatterjee, 1998, 279). Whereas this magical language, the philosopher’s stone, has not been found to this days, hopefully, the task described is not only the concern for non-Western theorists. One wishes Western theorists should be also interested in completing this task, if they are loyal to the ideals of Enlightenment of freedom and equality in their best possible reduction, developed since Locke in corpuses of texts.

Empire is a governmental organization of the utopian thought. And the thought of Enlightenment is one of the most persistent utopian thoughts, generating dystopian worlds with a remarkable frequency and equanimity, on a great scale.

“The dynamism of empire is so thoroughly wedded to the betterment of the world that it is easy to see why the deployment of power despite its acknowledged and sustained abuses <…>, and the often wholesale erasure of extant life forms, could have been countenanced as justified by a higher purpose.” (Mehta, 87). I would argue that there is no need in countenancing or justifying abuse as a deed performed for a higher purpose while it was indeed performed for a higher purpose—the purpose of establishing of the universal freedom as a particular (imperial, colonial) power sees it. There is no deception going on, because the power deploying itself is genuine in its deployment. If there should be numbers of exclusions, sorting-outs, stratifications, standardizations, groupings, hierarchizations, and selections performed, for a better governing, so be it (in the imperial consciousness).

Still, as Taylor points out, it is remarkable that the world, which has only known the hierarchical structures of societies, begets the very idea of equality and that it is now so widespread (Taylor, 100). “Cosmos as a work of God’s providence” (Ibid), mimicked, in the medieval understandings, the kingdom with its orders of “oratores, bellatores, and laboratories—those who pray, those who fight, and those who work” (Taylor, 95).

Zoon politicon (Aristotle), political animal, continues its desperate search for endamonia—happiness, the intrinsic part of the fantasy of which, equality seems to be.




References (Incomplete)

Chatterjee, Partha. Community in the East. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 33, N.6 (Feb 7-13, 1998): 277-282

Mehta, Uday. “Strategies: Liberal Conventions and Imperial Exclusions.” Chapter 2 in Liberalism and Empire.

Mouffe, Chantal. The Return of the Political. Verso. London—New York. 1993.

Taylor, Charles. “Modern Social Imaginaries.” Public Culture 14 (1): 91-124