Private Property, Urbanisation and the Territorialisation of Debt

Real Estates_life without debt

First appearing in Real Estates: Life without Debt

Life and property, being and having, person and thing are pressed up together in a mutual relation that makes of one both the content and the container of the other.

Roberto Esposito

Private property has come both to reside at the centre of our individual lives and to spill beyond the horizon of our political imagination. It is also the mechanism which transformed forever the notion of debt, displacing it from its ethical form, as a bond between people, and embedding it into a totalising mechanism of modern economic sovereignty.

Lazzarato’s punchy exegesis on debt argues that debt is the originary apparatus of subjectivity (creditor-debtor relation) which develops its intimate purchase on the subject from its most ancient configurations, through capitalism, to the contemporary neo-liberal debt economy, bearing evermore deeply into the construction of the self. Reading Marx and Nietzsche (via Deleuze), he argues that in its capitalist form, “debt exploits the ethical action constitutive of the individual and the community[1] by mobilising faith, trust and confidence toward the general goal of capitalist expansion. However, by mapping the growth of debt economy onto the history of capitalism, he misses a crucial transposition in the very workings of debt that coincided with the history of capitalism without being the result of it: Debt, far from merely ‘exploiting’ the ethical sphere of the individual and community, is literally uprooted from this sphere in order to neutralise it. In other words, the very construction of both the Hobbesian state and the liberal nation-state was predicated on the neutralisation of the dangers of communal ethics—the perils of unregulated debt (munus) circulating throughout and undermining the social whole. It would be precisely the possibility that such communities (communitas), bound together outside of any social contract, could erupt uncontrollably, which threatened the neat homogeneity of both the Commonwealth and Civil Society, each defined by and sustained through their status as singularities.

[1] Lazzarato, M., 2012, The Making of the Indebted Man: An essay on the neoliberal condition, Translated by J.D. Jordan. MIT Press, p. 66. Original emphasis.

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