Contrahistorical
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Contrahistorical

An Absurd Gesture Becomes Its Destiny

Giorgio Agamben’s August 4 Text, Translated and Annotated

The racial laws of Mussolini were ‘scientifically’ confirmed by some of the most famous scientists of the time.

Science and politics, be attentive to these two: History warns us against mixing them, Ethics and research do not always go together.

Giorgio Agamben

One often talks, to justify the ordinances issued by the government, with regard to the green pass, but also the entire way the pandemic has been steered politically, about the scientific rationale on which these ordinances are based. It is good to do some thinking on the relation between science and politics that is, in this way, recklessly established, without considering whether or not the consequences that it implies are acceptable.

When Mussolini decided to introduce racial laws in Italy, his primary concern was to give them a legitimacy and a scientific foundation. For this reason, a month before the publication of the first decree-law [Regio Decreto] of September 5, 1938, appeared in the Journal of Italy of July 14, a statement signed by ten distinguished scientists, all professors in major Italian universities (the list of which I would like the virologists and doctors, who today pronounce with so much certainty on what science infallibly demonstrates, to read) which stated, on “purely biological” basis, that races exist and that Jews do not belong to the “pure Italian race.”

[Annotation: It should not be forgotten that this decree was made at the end of 1938… Mussolini had become Prime Minister of Italy in 1922, after the March on Rome, he then assumed more dictatorial powers (though he never gained the total authority achieved by Hitler), between 1923 and 1925, beginning with the passing of the Acerbo Law.

1938 is over ten years after Mussolini gained power. And the 180 signatories of the Manifesto of Race — of whom some were prominent scientists, and which laid the ground for the Regio Decreto — were not simply ‘non-aligned,’ they were supporters of Hitler’s anti-Jewish program. Mussolini himself said he did not believe in this theory, which excluded Jewish people from citizenship, but used it for his own political purposes (his alliance with Hitler).

It is also worth noting, in regard to the comment regarding the list of names, that prior to this text from Agamben an anti-lockdown protester in London gave a speech on July 24, 2021, to a large crowd, where she stated that: “At the Nuremberg trials, the doctors and nurses stood trial and they hung.” The phenomenon of ‘names and lists’ and those who may have to pay for their errors clearly already exists within the discourse of the anti-vax far-right.]

For a minimally attentive and responsible mind this should give rise to two sets of considerations: the first being, that claiming to base decisions on scientific reasons that by their nature imply political consequences is extremely risky; the second being, that scientific competence and ethical conscience do not necessarily align with each other. Indeed, If we remember that those scientists who were considered important in 1938 did not hesitate to use the deportees to the camps as human guinea pigs for their experiments, we can see that research and ethics seem to diverge very often. And it will not be out of place to remember that the first time a state programmatically assumed the care of the health of its citizens was in July 1933; when Hitler, immediately after coming to power, enacted a decree to protect the German people from hereditary diseases, which led to the creation of special medical committees that decided on the sterilization of around 400,000 people.

Less well known is that, well before Nazism, a eugenic policy, heavily funded by the Carnegie Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation, had been planned in the United States, particularly in California, and that Hitler had explicitly referred to that model. If health becomes the object of a state policy transformed into biopolitics, then it ceases to be something that primarily concerns the free decision of each individual and becomes an obligation to be fulfilled at any price, no matter how high.

[Annotation: Compulsory sterilization, linked to eugenics, has been a factor in many countries across the world since the late 19th century. Hitler was not drawing upon some kind of ‘secret’ (“less well-known”) conspiracy, developed by American eugenicists and their tycoon backers, this was a well-known, if abhorrent, practise. The targets of eugenic-inspired sterilization were, and are, those who do not fit the stereotype, or category, of the white, educated, law-abiding, reasonably affluent, ‘abled,’ heterosexual. The ‘targets’ of the Green Pass, on the other hand, are those on the extreme right, or Vitalist ‘left,’ who refuse to get vaccinated. These people generally represent a petit-bourgeois, or middle-class, anti-left-wing, populist, racist, and ‘pioneer-spirited’ mish-mash milieu. If one is unaware, the Vitalist ‘left’ (Vitalist International, Ill Will Editions, Noncopyriot, etc.), has persistently defended Agamben’s pandemic stances. Vitalists, to help understand them, are often keen on the concept of the Noosphere, which presages a ‘global consciousness.’]

This is not, I must stress again, an equating of different historical phenomena, but is about getting scientists, who seem insensitive to the history of their own disciplines, to reflect on the possible implications of an uncritically assumed link between science and politics. Just as law and life must not be confused, and legislature, as the Constitution reminds us, must be especially cautious when touching upon the life and dignity of the person, so it is right that law and medicine should not claim to coincide.

[Annotation: Agamben writes: ‘this is not about equating different historical phenomena.’ If this is so, then why make the comparison, which only draws the fire of those who will claim that Agamben is making an exaggeration in the style of a reductio ad Hitlerum? The whole breadth of his arguments ‘against’ the pandemic, contained in his recent book, Where are We Now?, and beyond, fail to convince those who ‘matter,’ and only feed the imaginations of the reactionary right. In another very recent essay on his blog at Quodlibet, ‘Humans and Lemmings’ [Uomini e lemmings], Agamben reveals, astonishingly, his rejection of the fact that the ‘mass suicides’ of lemmings is a myth. Perhaps he has never read that the Walt Disney production White Wilderness (1958) was based on this myth and that the camera crew made it visual by forcing a group of lemmings off a cliff.]

Medicine has the task to treat diseases according to the principles it has been following for centuries and which the Hippocratic Oath — which doctors seem to ignore and transgress in many essential points today — irrevocably sanctions. If, by entering into a necessarily ambiguous and indefinite pact with governments, it instead -implicitly or explicitly- places itself in the position of legislator, as we have seen in Italy and elsewhere in regard to the pandemic, this does not necessarily bring positive results in terms of health and may lead to unacceptable limitations on the freedoms of individuals with respect to the observance of medical rationale — something which, as should be evident to all today, is the ideal pretext for an unprecedented controlling of social life.

[Annotation: As US Republican Representative, Marjorie Taylor Greene, proclaimed at the end of July, 2021:

“You lucky people here in Alabama might get a knock on your door, because I hear Alabama might be one of the most unvaccinated states. Well, Joe Biden wants to come talk to you guys. He’s going to be sending one of his police state friends to your front door to knock on the door, take down your name, your address, your family members’ names, your phone numbers, your cellphone numbers, probably ask for your Social Security number and whether you’ve taken the vaccine or not. What they don’t know is in the South, we all love our Second Amendment rights [the right to bear arms], and we’re not real big on strangers showing up on our front door, are we? They might not like the welcome they get.” And, as Vitalist International recently tweeted: “fuck a vaccine pass.”]

4th August, 2021, Italian Press.

Translated by Contrahistorical.

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