Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 5, No 1 (2009)

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Natural-Historical Diagrams: The ‘New Global’ Movement and the Biological Invariant

Paolo Virno

Abstract


This article puts forward the thesis that the contemporary global movement against capitalism, and the post-Fordist regime it is responding to, is best understood in terms of the emergence of ‘human nature’ as the crux of political struggle. According to Virno, the biological invariant has become the raw material of social praxis because the capitalist relation of production mobilizes to its advantage, in a historically unprecedented way, the species-specific prerogatives of Homo sapiens. Through the concept of ‘natural-historical diagrams’, the article explores the significance of socio-political states of affairs which directly display key aspects of anthropogenesis, and, making use of Ernesto De Martino’s concept of ‘cultural apocalypses’, considers the different relations that a biological ‘background’ and a socio-political ‘foreground’ entertain in traditional and contemporary societies. The attempt to develop a ‘natural history’ of such diagrams leads Virno to reflecting on the importance of the language faculty, neoteny, non-specialization and the absence of a predetermined natural environment for political action. This reflection on the contemporary importance of political anthropology leads Virno to a set of concluding remarks on the role of ethics and the idea of the ‘good life’ in the practice of the ‘new global’ movement.

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