Ibid., p. 39.


Bernard Flynn, The Philosophy of Claude Lefort. Interpreting the Political, Evanston, IL 2005, p. 29.


Ibid., p. 6.


Thomas Hobbes [1651], Leviathan, J. C. A. Gaskin, ed., Oxford 1996, p. 109.


To elucidate the wide-ranging meaning of this almost fashionable term a cursory glance at political philosophy is helpful. The contingent moment becomes explicit in Clark’s description of Marat’s dead body, as being «maneuvered into a state of insubstantiality.» [32] The «insubstantiality» of the sovereign’s body stands in stark contrast to the eulogising depictions of the godly Louis XIV discussed above.

This is not simply an aesthetic problem but indicates more profound theoretical implications for the understanding of society and its foundations of legitimacy. The awareness and recognition of contingency, which is the experience of the collapse of any ultimate signification, can be regarded not only as the defining feature of modern political thinking but must be understood as its very condition. Contingency derives its political dimension from the experience that society can be ordered in a different way and that sovereignty can be achieved by means other than divine mandate. The experience of contingency emerges in the moment of crises and conflict when the clash of opposing social forces creates an awareness of both uncertainty and opportunity.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) might have been the first philosopher who recognised the clash of social actions as being the driving force behind all political thinking and who described politics as an uncertain field of conflicting interests. What makes this idea modern is the assumption that the state itself is based on a perpetual struggle between «virtue» and «Fortune». Other than Aristotle for instance, Machiavelli acknowledges that there is no essential structure to conserve. The internal division of society is an «effect of the modern disengagement from both a hierarchical representation of the cosmos and a theological basis for the legitimacy of the exercise of power.» [33]

In his analysis of Lefort’s account of politics (or rather ‘the political’), Bernard Flynn emphasises that it was Machiavelli who established the idea of a «metamorphosis by which civil society is transformed into political society, a transformation which happens [...] through the process of representation.» [34] However, one must not confuse processes of representation with the formation of political society in a modern democratic sense. A century after Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) famously sought to legitimise political sovereignty and institute a «commonwealth» through a social contract that concentrates all state power in the hands of the Leviathan. By virtue of his unchecked power resulting from the individual rights ceded by each citizen, the Leviathan represents the unity of the body politic. «For it is the unity of the presenter, not the unity of the represented, that maketh the person one[35]

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