Occupy Wall Street, Prophecy, and Dussel’s Analogical Hegemon

One of the loudest complaints against the Ocuppy Wallstreet movement is that it does not have a unified and coherent list of demands. While clarity of vision is something that every political movement should strive for, it seems to me that the Occupy Wallstreet movement is right where it should be for now: it is constructing what the philosopher Enrique Dussel calls an analogical hegemon. Below I explicate what this term means, why it fits this particular moment in the Occupy Wall Street movement, why Occupy Wall Street should continue down the road it is on and what we can hope for from/in it.

Dussel’s Analogical Hegemon

In his short book, Twenty Theses on Politics, Enrique Dussel argues that the people can be viewed as a collective political actor only when they have been aligned under the banner of what he terms an analogical hegemon.[1] An analogical hegemon results when divergent social movements all find an axis along which they can unify, and thus gain a collective politically effective, i.e. hegemonic, voice for a given moment in a particular location. As such, it is not an abstract substantialization, or reification of some notion of the “people”, but instead a concrete collective movement, constituted within a particular spatio-temporal location, and moving towards a specific goal. Dussel suggests that this happens when diverse and divergent movements progressively incorporate one another’s demands so that the demand’s of the other become one’s own. To further elaborate this point Dussel states,

“Feminism discovers that women of color are treated worst, that female workers receive lower salaries, that female citizens do not occupy positions of representation, that women in peripheral countries suffer even more discrimination, etc. Similarly, the indigenous person discovers the exploitation of the community under capitalism, within the dominant Western culture, in subtle but nevertheless prevalent racism, etc. That is, through mutual information, dialogue, translation of proposals, and shared militant praxis, these movements slowly and progressively constitute an analogical hegemon, which to some degree includes all demands but might, according to Laclau, prioritize some. In the process of emancipation from Spain in 1810, “Liberty!” was given an indisputable primacy as a demand that unified all groups into the patriotic bloc of Latin America.”[2]

It is in this way that we should read Occupy Wallstreet’s statement. They’re analogical hegemon is resistance of the They. Who is the They? A comment from “tradeone”, in the comment thread, puts this particularly well:

“THEY = the criminal bureaucrats who continue to get paid by lobbyists to ignore corporate injustices and corporate agendas. THEY = the news media executives who continue to promote propaganda and lies to the American people, while ignoring the facts. THEY = the government members of congress who continue to take taxpayer-paid pay checks to fatten their own wallets while doing nothing to protect the US Constitutional laws. THEY = the executives of corporations (like Enron) who continue to steal money from the public while distributing false income statements and P&L statements to their shareholders. THEY = the government bureaucrats in the SEC who continue to shirk their responsibility to investigate and prosecute corporate criminals while getting paid to look the other way. THEY = the members of congress who continue to lie to the public and spread their propaganda while promoting fear and hatred in order to keep the population divided on the important issues.

Keep it going… I’m sure you have other definitions…”

Thus, the They, becomes anyone who is contributing, directly or indirectly, to the exploitation of the 99%, the Earth, or the global community. But is this enough? Should we expect more clarity? Here it is important to bring in another point of Dussel’s.

A Bit More Dussel.

Since the historical moment in which it became clear to individuals that they possesed inherent right and dignity, there is no political power except the people. None! However, as Dussel points out, this power is only potential (potentia), a strength and future possibility. In order for this potentia to be actualized it must be institutionalized (potestas). While this creates representation, alienation and the possibility of the fetishization of power—totalitarianism in which “power” turns into brute force severed from its source in the political community, the people—it is nevertheless necessary. It is only within the space of this primary scission, opened up by the move of potentia to potestas, that politics happens. Thus, any political movement must eventually seek some form of institutionalization.

Opposed to this reality we have, on opposite ends of the spectrum, the far left’s anarchist dream of Edenic unfettered potentia—the people are in control of their political lives directly without mediation—and on the other end the conservative dream of unrestrained potestas as controlled and fixed power.  For Dussel delegation designates the possibility of a represented action being carried out on behalf of the whole of the people, thus the best possible politics qua politics. (This is only the preliminary structure of politics for Dussel, one which he later deconstructs in helpful ways.)

At our historical moment Dussel suggests that the best stance to be taken—in light of the fact that institutional power is necessary, yet always deteriorating towards fetishized bureaucratic maintenance—is that of the Left. This is the position of suspicion and thus critique. He then willingly admits that this is a position that today has nothing to offer in the form of positive constructive strategies, modalities, etc.

Concluding Un-Construtive Post-Script

Two points are worth developing. The first, concerns the role of prophecy. The prophetic mantle, in the Judeo-Christian and even pragmatist sense of the term, is the mantle that is unafraid to bear witness to power. It takes many forms, but all of them – from Moses to Hosea, Micah and Jeremiah in the Jewish Holy Scriptures, to Jesus Christ, to Mahatma Ghandi, to Dorthy Day, Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King Jr.; include the uncompromising and courageous witness to the systemic and personal injustices of their day. While some of the time, they offered solutions, at other times they simply began with the morally clear statement that this or that practice or system is wrong and must be stopped immediately. Thus, I am hopeful about the possibility that Occupy Wallstreet is already, or could become a genuinely prophetic movement, and thus part of a long lineage of liberation for the oppressed.

This brings me to the second point. This point concerns constructive strategies and policies. It is my contention that Occupy Wallstreet should continue to refuse any easy and quick solution. While the Tea Party offers the anachronistic, at best, and often-incoherent mantra of “smaller government”, they appear to have no understanding of the important role that government plays in contemporary political life. They seem to believe that we exist in an age where corporate and international business interests are conducive to the common good or if not benign, which is far from the case. The fact is, that we live in an incredibly complex and even ambiguous time. The cultural, technological, and economic shifts that took place in the 20th century find their historical parallels only in decisive moments such as in the printing press, the steam engine, and the realization of individual liberty (to be a bit Hegelian), and the inauguration of the Bank of England. In short, humanity is still attempting to understand its place within a hyper-fast, globalized, pluralistic, secularizing, technological, digitized, image-driven, drastically unjust, and dizzyingly confusing world. In light of this, Occupy Wallstreet should continue to do just what it is: raise the level of discourse so that new imaginative visions can arise, breaking out of the domination of a two party, oligarchical system of neo-colonial, at home and abroad, violent, greedy and destructive power.


[1] Enrique Dussel, Twenty Theses on Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 75.

[2] Ibid., 72-73.

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4 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street, Prophecy, and Dussel’s Analogical Hegemon

  1. I definitely agree that the occupy movement doesn’t suffer at this stage from a lack of a coherent list of demands! In fact, as you nicely outline via Dussel and the function of prophecy, the critical and open nature of the movement is a strength. It keeps those in and around the movement engaged in a striving for clarity that brings unity and focus to the people (again, Dussel’s work is a great way to highlight this phenomenon).

    I’ve been mulling over OWS through the lens of some of the questions raised by Judith Butler in her presentation–Queer Anarchism and Anarchists against the Wall–for the Anarchist Turn conference (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tosUmZbwJ1M). In it, Butler speaks about anarchist movements in Palestine. She asks to what extent these anarchist movements depend on the current state, exist independently from the state, and/or come up with their own alternative vision of a state (or nation). One key point is that they demand rights for themselves that are not codified anywhere in existing legal codes. So their demands, and the work they do to realize those demands, function as a kind of autopoiesis. They name the rights and then work to see formalized. So what? Well, I guess it’s another critical lens that gives me hope, the hope that it is possible for the irruption of a new politics.

    Finally, by not having a coherent list of demands right away, the Occupy movement remains visible as a movement of people, of a people. And I think a people moving towards unity (or unified by a critique) is more threatening than a list of demands.

  2. Occupy protests are an organized group of Unions/Communists/facists
    that are using the homeless masses to slaughter. Read your history.
    The problem is US. We voted the criminals in office, when you vote you can NOT VOTE FOR THE INCUMBENT, but you fools continue to deny reality and vote the crooks back into office. Occupy is a distraction while the Obama corrupt administration and the corrupt congress and senators are getting ready to administer martial law and institute the dictator ship with the rich behind the scenes pulling the strings. All those being used for occupy will be lead to the slaughter to prove the point that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Never forget, the Liberals (democrats to some extent) are the rich. The conservatives are just the middle class. The Rich democrat / liberals are excellent at twisting the truth around and making the poor believe that the conservatives are the problem. The conservatives are working class people and they do not know how to use lies and deceit as well as the rich democrats.

  3. Will,

    Thanks for the great comment. I think that the idea of autopoesis is crucial when it comes to imagining a new mode of politics and I hope that OWS can continue to create and occupy a new site. In many ways they seem to be doing so.

    Gordon,

    Not sure what to say. In some ways your right, many of the liberals are simply the elites. In other ways your comment betrays an utter lack of understanding the complexity of contemporary political realities. Do you believe in Ideology? What of the massive money being spent on Fox News and other news media outlets? This whole narrative of the working class conservatives verses the elite and wealthy liberals is old news and utterly simplistic. In addition, to conflate Communist/Fascists/Unions and liberals is somewhat laughable, although it sounds like a great sound bit for Fox news. I Know I probably sound like a dick (and thus like an elite liberal!), and that this is not very constructive, but I am honestly at a loss for how to effectively address your reactive diatribe.

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