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Synopsis of François Regnault, ‘Avertissement: Politique de la lecture’

[‘Foreword: The Politics of Reading’]

CpA 6.Introduction:3–4

The problems that a philosopher poses are inscribed in a relation of ‘difference’ (rather than ‘reference’) to other philosophers, Regnault argues in this introduction to the Cahiers volume on ‘the politics of philosophers’. Whereas (as with Plato) ‘exhaustive, disjunctive dichotomies chase difference to its thinnest edge’, the readings at issue in this volume (for instance of Rousseau by Fichte, of Machiavelli by Descartes, of Hume as distinct from Locke or Hobbes, etc.) seek to ‘calculate the area’ that a system or an argument ‘suffers or sustains’ in its difference with other arguments or systems.

If difference rather than reference is at issue in political thought, the goal of analysis will not be to demarcate political opinions or theses as so many distinct positions that partition a field ‘without intersections or gaps’. Political space does not obey ‘Euclidian’ rules. While the field of reference might seem to unite a certain set of (early modern) philosophers under the figure of ‘sovereignty’, for instance, analysis of the logic of difference at work in various conceptions of ‘divine right, or of origins, or of obedience, or of the taking of power’ allows us to distinguish ‘he who does theology, who philosophy, who psychology and who science.’ As a general rule, ‘politics and reading can then be shown to obey analogous laws: the politics of a philosopher is his reading of another philosopher.’

To what extent is the field of political thought divided by an essential transition, e.g. one separating modern from pre-modern or ancient? Has there been a ‘Copernican Revolution’ in political thought, or is its history merely traced by the ‘successive recuperations by the subject (of the sovereign or of the ideologue) of the place it loses each time’? Insofar as a ‘science of politics might be or has been invented’, Regnault concludes, it will not empty the ‘ancient’ problems of their meaning or significance but will instead ‘re-read’ them more effectively. Such a science will show how the differences that divide philosophers are nevertheless internal to a single field, the shared field of politics (in the singular [la politique]), such that ‘the difference of a reading between two of them will have been a matter of difference in politics itself.’

English translation: