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The Ethical Political Continuum 3

An overview of some concepts from Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This is the third of a series on the ethical and political theory of Gilles Deleuze.

Economies of Desire

Desire as production operates on two levels: the unconscious and the social-political-economic.

A libidinal economy of desire and a political economy of desire are one and the same. The unconscious drives of the psyche and material drives in the political economy are continuous, and both are vulnerable to becoming dominated by the products they produce.

For Deleuze and Guattari, the discovery of labor by Smith, Ricardo and Marx parallels the discovery of the libido by Freud:

The discovery of an activity of production in general and without distinction, as it appears in capitalism, is the identical discovery of both political economy and psychoanalysis, beyond the determinate systems of representation. (Anti-Oedipus)

The psyche can become overcoded through representation and transcendence, just as the state can. Affects and drives inform the infrastructure of both:

[I]t is through a restriction, a blockage, and a reduction that the libido is made to represent its flows in order to contain them in the narrow cells of the type ‘couple,’ ‘family,’ ‘person,’ ‘objects’.” (Anti-Oedipus)

The same restrictions and blockages apply to the social-political-economic register. When either the libidinal economy or political economy become ensnared in representational thought, transcendent ideas or structures, desiring-production is stifled and repression results:

We come to desire our own repression.

Marx and Freud

There are references to Marx and Freud throughout Anti-Oedipus. The genius of both was to identify production and desire at the heart of society.

But Deleuze and Guattari defend neither Marx’s vision of economic production as the fundamental driver of history, nor Freud’s vision of the structure of the psyche, and the repression of desire cashed out in terms of lack.

Deleuze and Guattari synthesize the ideas from Marx and Freud to find desire as production in the political economy and the psyche. And desire and production invested in the transcendent apply to both the sexual and the social:

The truth is, sexuality is everywhere: the way a bureaucrat fondles his records, a judge administers justice, a businessman causes money to circulate; the way the bourgeoisie fucks the proletariat; and so on… Flags, nations, armies, banks get a lot of people aroused. (Anti-Oedipus)

A form of social production and reproduction, along with its economic and financial mechanisms, its political formations, and so on, can be desired as such, in whole or in part, independently of the interests of the desiring-subject. It was not by means of a metaphor, even a paternal metaphor, that Hitler was able to sexually arouse the fascists. It is not by means of a metaphor that a banking or stock-market transaction, a claim, a coupon, a credit, is able to arouse people who are not necessarily bankers. And what about the effects of money that grows, money that produces more money? There are socioeconomic “complexes” that are also veritable complexes of the unconscious, and that communicate a voluptuous wave from the top to the bottom of their hierarchy (the military–industrial complex). And ideology, Oedipus, and the phallus have nothing to do with this, because they depend on it rather than being its impetus. (Anti-Oedipus)


Deleuze and Guattari call their approach “schizoanalysis” (as opposed to psychoanalysis).

Compared with the psychoanalytic conception, schizoanalysis takes the view that the libido does not need to be de-sexualized, sublimated or metamorphosized in order to invest in the economic or political.

Desire is part of the economic base of society, not an ideological, subjective superstructure.

Schizoanalysis seeks to show how the subject who desires can be made to desire its own repression and servitude by connecting with the a social sphere explicated representationally in terms of a transcendent object of desire.

Mechanisms such as the family, class and the general ordering of society distort desire as production and lead to the desire for self-repression:

If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire, no matter how small, is capable of calling into question the established order of a society: not that desire is asocial, on the contrary. But it is explosive; there is no desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social sectors. Despite what some revolutionaries think about this, desire is revolutionary in its essence — desire, not left-wing holidays! — and no society can tolerate a position of real desire without its structures of exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy being compromised. (Anti-Oepidus)

It is not that these mechanisms seen through an immanent lens are inherently repressive. It is only when structured as transcendent ideals that desiring-production turns against itself and leads to our willingness to accept servitude. The parallels with Nietzsche’s ressentiment and bad conscience are obvious.

Perspectives Only

Traditional liberal theory ossifies life by clinging on to ideals, such as the individual, the family, class, the rule of law, the state, the nation, the economy, the military.

Deleuze and Guattari posit the micropolitical approach as a means of finding our way back to an immanent view of society: thought that creates within society, not above it or from an objective point of view standing outside of society. From this perspective, all societal structures must be viewed as temporary actualizations of a deeper process based on pure difference.

Macropolitics left to its own leads to a transcendent theory of society, because it focuses on the temporary effects or wholes in society, and is blind to the forces of difference driving society forward. To bring difference into the fore, the micro, the machine and its pure process of desiring-production must be the focus:

There is no general prescription. We have done with all globalizing concepts. (Dialogues II)

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading!


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Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference (Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of the New) Copyright © 2021 by Tomas Byrne. Learn more here.



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