The excluded third



Considerations on the recently released book by Fernando Haddad

Any national development project that transcends contingencies and the immediate pragmatism of real politics has to deal with the structuring contradiction of Brazil (but also of industrialized capitalist democracies) – the alienation of part of the population as a strategy for domination and maintenance of power structures . In the Brazilian case: the archaic structures of power functionalized by the specificities of peripheral capitalism in its origin in the slave-owning and patriarchal monoculture landholding, an origin that we reiterate on a daily basis. This is the central thesis of Fernando Haddad's new book, The excluded middle: contribution to a dialectical anthropology.

The thesis, if not formulated exactly in this way, seems to faithfully reproduce Fernando Haddad's work in its entirety, beyond the reading of apparently disparate intellectual traditions, reconnecting critical thinking to a project of political intervention - the intellectual and the political , theory and practice. This thesis, at the same time, inherits the Frankfurtian tradition of rigorous critical reading, even outside the comfort zone of traditional Marxism, but also points to concrete political intervention, something that the old Frankfurt School never took as a task.

It reads: “From the theoretical theses defended in this book, a whole line of political action can be drawn. Especially because one of the conclusions reached is that there is, from a biological or cultural point of view, absolutely nothing that prevents the human species from conceiving itself as a single group open to radical alterity. Dealienating practices, in all areas of social, economic, political, racial, sexual life, etc., are easily imaginable, as well as the historical consequences of their success: less material and spiritual shortages” (p. 21). If the work does not detail these steps, it is because they are a practical task, not a theoretical one.

Some hurried comments skipped the surface of what the book is about. Fernando Haddad's work connects national development with the utopian horizon of human emancipation. The task joins the best tradition of critical thinking and the best lineage of interpretation in the country – even if there is not a specific chapter on concrete problems in Brazil, this is the concern that the central concept of the work – the neologism “alienation” – transmits. Because one way of understanding Brazil is to envision how our society is entirely supported by massively excluding, bestializing practices.

The book is structured in three intense chapters, in which three intellectual traditions (the modern synthesis of biology, anthropology and linguistics) are put to the test. What connects these parts? Resistance to the scientistic impulse coming from biology that is projected onto the social sciences. Once again faithful to the Frankfurtian project, Haddad states that knowledge of society is guided by an essentially non-positivist logic, because it is determined by contradiction. The fascination that Darwin exerted on Marx is well known and there is, undeniably, a teleology in Marx – a “law” of necessary historical causality, resulting from the class struggle and the evolution of capitalist society to a higher level of civility – that so permeated the Marxist tradition definitive, and which the old Frankfurt School tried to get rid of. Fernando Haddad joins this project.

In very general terms, the modern synthesis of biology intended to explain the emergence of life without reducing it to purely physical-chemical phenomena. It was not enough to explain that evolution had taken place, as Darwin had; the modern synthesis advanced population studies to explain genetic variation in populations of individuals, the selection of mutations in these populations and their transmission to new generations. The problem is that biology intended to derive from this evolutionary logic both the explanation of culture and language. But culture and language follow their own logic, different because they are based on contradiction: “Just as the passage from physics and chemistry to biology is transcendent, when life is established from physical-chemical processes, the passage from biology to culture it is also a transcendent movement, in which one dimension does not deny the previous one, despite the disruptive nature of both: the origin of life and the appearance of human language. If symbolic language is, in fact, a result of evolution, it produces an “other” nature that goes beyond the biological” (p. 18).

And, to explain the specificity of cultural and symbolic evolution, Fernando Haddad presents two concepts: alienation and revolutionizing.

Giles Deleuze once said that a book must solve an error or an understanding problem, bring something essential about a theme or develop a new concept. Haddad's book appears to meet these criteria. The author seeks, in The excluded third, present a dialectical reading of cultural dynamics, straining the usual description of anthropology and immanently politicizing the construction of culture as a process supported by a founding contradiction – the denial of the other as a person. To this end, it presents the concept of alienation. The history of human society is not only the history of class struggle, but also the history of processes of depersonalization and alienation. Fernando Haddad does not use reification for this process, which would be an anachronism.

Alienation designates the founding contradiction of the social process: the social relationship takes place not only between ego e alter, but between ego e alter at the expense of alien – at the expense of the excluded third, at the bottom of the social pyramid, the element not included in society's own self-understanding. Here Haddad recovers an intuition from his doctoral thesis – the role of violence (from the war of conquest) in the foundation of civilizations. In this previous work, Fernando Haddad sought to offer a counterpoint to Habermas' proposal for the reconstruction of historical materialism, showing that the beginning of social organization is not the construction of a world of life in which the telos common understanding, but the violence of subjugation. Alienation creates the basis of society by excluding the slave from it – whether in ancient cultures or in colonial society – and this depersonalization is precisely the shadow of the Enlightenment. There is a clear alternative to the simplicity of Axel Honneth's reinterpretation of the relationship between master and slave. Therefore, change and cultural evolution configure a contradictory process that does not follow the logic of biological evolution – designated by the verb revolve. Societies revolutionize: they change by restoring the contradiction of the triadic relationship between ego, alter e alien. The excluded third is the negative of civilization, its shadow and condition of possibility. In this key, anthropology becomes (has to become) dialectic.

The task of a dialectical anthropology is launched by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the last chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment, in which some notes are presented in a fragmentary way. In this classic of critical thinking, Adorno and Horkheimer point out the contradictory effects of the Enlightenment – ​​its structure equivalent to myth, the limits imposed by the overlap between Enlightenment, science and instrumental reason, and the political effects of this hypostatized rationality, which culminates in the fascist State. In this story, the Enlightenment breaks the boundaries of the Enlightenment itself. From this diagnosis, the task of a dialectical anthropology is imposed.

Adorno and Horkheimer formulate the task in very general terms: “In European history, the idea of ​​man is expressed in the way in which he is distinguished from the animal. The absence of reason in the animal proves the dignity of man. (...) The world of the animal is a world without concept. There is no word in it to fix the identical flow of phenomena, the same species in the variation of examples, the same thing in the diversity of situations”. There is a passage from man as an animal (portrayed by biology) to symbolic man (who lives in a linguistically structured culture) supported by the assumption of reason. Haddad retraces the passage from biology to symbolic culture to undo this rationalist assumption. This passage is contradictory because it denies the foundation of man – his very human nature. It is a process of alienation.

With this, Fernando Haddad continues and expands the Frankfurt project – an absolutely indispensable task nowadays, in which the so-called critical theory of society has been converted into a moral philosophy of law, while social movements seem to have lost themselves in reciprocally insurmountable differences that circumscribe the reach of dialogue, the strength of language in building a common project. Haddad continues the Frankfurtian project, on the one hand, by subjecting the modern synthesis of biology, anthropology and linguistics to immanent criticism. He casts the lines of a dialectical anthropology in a kind of addendum to the Dialectic of Enlightenment. But it expands its reach beyond Frankfurt, on the other hand, because the task is carried out with a view to the national development project anchored in an emancipatory utopia. It aims to overcome the inertia of theory in the face of real-world challenges.

There is, on the new campus of the University of Frankfurt, a memorial to Theodor Adorno: his desk is preserved in a glass dome, in the middle of the campus:

Adorno-Denkmal Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main. Photo by João Paulo Bachur.

Interestingly, the memorial is a good metaphor to represent the current state of critical theory of society. The real task is to break the dome. Reappropriating the intellectual power of the critical tradition to recover the commitment to transforming the world. This, it seems, is the reading key to situate The excluded third, by Fernando Haddad, in the intellectual tradition to which he is affiliated.

*Joao Paulo Bachur Professor of Constitutional Law at IDP/Brasília. He is currently a visiting researcher at the Department of Interdisciplinary Theory of Law at the Max-Planck Institute in Frankfurt. Author, among other books, of The doors of the labyrinth: towards a reception of Niklas Luhmann's social theory (Quicksilver).



Fernando Haddad. The excluded middle: contribution to a dialectical anthropology. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 2022, 286 pages.


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