I received the following remark from an interlocutor in email:
For me, politics are a way of accounting for the forces exerted among interacting objects in systems, and as such ontology and politics are inseparable. It could just be that our conceptions of politics are radically different, where your polis is much more narrowly defined than my tendency toward a cosmopolis.
This might get at the crux of the matter between people who claim “everything is political”, and people such as myself, Badiou, Ranciere, and Zizek who vehemently reject this thesis. In my view, the idea that politics is a field of “forces exerted among interacting objects” is about as apolitical as you get and is not a politics at all. Entities exerting force on one another is merely a state of affairs, not a politics. People live for centuries with certain forces being exerted on them in highly despotic ways without ever encountering these forces as political. Rather, they see these things as “merely the way the world is” and as natural as the regular movement of the stars.
Politics is something that happens at a very precise point: it is what happens when that field of forces is contested and agents begin to envision the possibility of doing things differently. Nothing is inherently political. Things have to be made political. Indeed, making things political that were before apolitical is one of the most significant aspects of political struggle. The domestic space of the home does not begin by being political or a site of the political, but is made into a political site. Sexuality does not begin by appearing political, but is made into a political site. The workplace does not begin as political, but is made into a political site. As Philip says in a comment responding to my last post, “nothing is in and of itself political, but anything can be made political.”
If you claim that everything is political and reject the thesis that politics is a specific moment and type of activity, you’ve entirely given up politics and all that is important about politics. Politics is not merely the presence of things exerting force on one another, but is that precise moment where that field of forces is contested, challenged, and it is declared that something else is possible, that things don’t have to be this way. Making something political that was previously apolitical requires a lot of hard work. Go into any workplace around the world and you will find people that deplore their working conditions, think that they are horrible, but who also believe that this is just the natural and inevitable order of things and the natural lot for people such as themselves. Talk to any number of people suffering from incredible debt due to dishonest credit and loan practices, and you will discover, much to your frustration that while they deplore their crushing debt they do not see it as a political issue but their natural lot resulting from their own actions. It takes work to shift these things from being “the natural order of things” to something that is politically contested. The politics is not there already. The whole point is to get the politics there. Politics isn’t a state-of-affairs, but is the moment of intervention.