Krisis has a long tradition of introducing and discussing the work of representatives of Critical Theory. Over the years contributions dedicated to the work of for instance Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth and Albrecht Wellmer were published. Some of them also published contributions in Krisis. This issue discusses the critical theory of Hauke Brunkhorst. The focus is on two of his recent books: Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions and Das Doppelte Gesicht Europas (‘The two faces of Europe’). An introduction to the work of Brunkhorst is followed by critical contributions on both books by Tannelie Blom, Darryl Cressman, René Gabriëls , Matthew Hoye, Sjaak Koenis, Pieter Pekelharing,  Willem Schinkel and Ludek Stavinoha. Finally, this dossier finds its closure with Brunkhorst’s reply to his critics.    

In addition to the dossier on the critical theory of Brunkhorst, this issue of Krisis contains three articles. In her article, Lieke van der Veer analyses and evaluates forms of border-crossing and residency that are considered problematic. She shows that states govern unwanted migration through the so-called ‘responsibilization’ of non-state actors. Further, Jess Bier explores in her article the documentary histories of Caribbean pirates. She argues for greater attention to the material boundaries of language to understand the entanglements between texts and the world. Lastly, François Levrau’s article is an intervention in the ongoing debate about multiculturalism. He critically reflects on Will Kymlicka’s political philosophy. This issue of Krisis also includes two book reviews. David Hollanders reviews David Graeber’s  The utopia of rules. On technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy (2015). Additionally, Frieder Vogelmann reviews Daniel Zamora’s Critiquer Foucault (2014) as well as Mitchell Dean’s and Kaspar Villadsen’s State Phobia and Civil Society (2016).

This new issue of Krisis is accompanied by an entire new digital environment. In order to make Krisis more accessible it is redesigned and equipped with an entire new website. However, with regard to the content nothing changed.  As this issue shows, Krisis stays a platform for articles that discuss issues in contemporary social, political and cultural thought, and also seeks to make the work of classic authors relevant to current social and cultural problems. Furthermore, it upholds its function as a forum for current critical thought on public affairs.



The German philosopher and sociologist Hauke Brunhorst is considered as one of the most interesting representatives of the third generation of the so-called Frankfurt School.  That means that as have the members of the first generation (Theodor w. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, etc.) and the second generation (Jürgen Habermas, Claus Offe, Albrecht Wellmer, etc.) he has developed a critical theory that not only describes and explains the transformations of modern societies, but also criticizes them from a normative perspective. A critical theory assumes that a theory of modern societies cannot get rid of the normative perspective of actors. Actors often criticize the society of which they are part. As far as their criticism is implicit, it needs to be made explicit and the subject of criticism. In contrast to the positivism of mainstream theories critical theory doesn’t want to neutralize normative criticism through the use of specific methods.

Even though Brunkhorst is particularly inspired by the work of Adorno and Marcuse, he expressly distances himself from the first generation of the Frankfurt School (cf. Brunkhorst and Koch 1987; Brunkhorst 1990). The reason for this is that he endorses the linguistic turn of critical theory accomplished by Habermas. This turn is not only helpful for throwing all shortcomings of the subject-object model overboard which are inherent to the epistemology developed by Descartes, but also for building bridges between critical theory and American pragmatism (John Dewey, George Herbert Mead, Richard Rorty and Robert Brandom). While Horkheimer and Marcuse criticized pragmatism because its alleged positivism would give expression to instrumental reason, Brunkhorst stresses that pragmatism just as critical theory rejects the correspondence theory of truth and embraces the emancipation-focused project of Enlightenment (Brunkhorst 2014c). There are many similarities between the radical democracy that Brunkhorst has in mind and the democratic experimentalism of Dewey (Brunkhorst 1998).

Brunkhorst distances himself to a certain extent also from the second generation of the Frankfurt School. For a long time the critical theory of this generation was guilty of methodological nationalism because of an identification of the society with the nation-state (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002). In a sense this is also true for Habermas’s Faktizität und Geltung (Habermas 1992). However, after its publication he broadened his horizons by examining the post-national constellation (Habermas 1998). At an early stage Brunkhorst leaves the methodological nationalism far behind by focusing primarily on the world society (Weltgesellschaft). In order to grasp this he relies on the system theory of Niklas Luhmann for which many of the second generation have cold feet. Nevertheless, he has an eye for the shortcomings of Luhmann’s system theory (Brunkhorst 2014 d). Against the background of the rise of neoliberal authoritarianism, a world-wide environmental pollution and an ever-increasing gap between haves and have-nots, Brunkhorst represents a historical materialism that explores the opportunities to do justice to human rights and democracy.  He defends a cosmopolitanism that assumes that the nation-state is no longer able to solve the problems that many politicians (especially populists) promise to solve at that level. According to him, politicians must realize that solidarity nowadays implies a shift from civic friendship to a global legal community (Brunkhorst 2005).

In October 2014 the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of Maastricht University organized a symposium on the critical theory of Brunkhorst. The symposium focused on two books that were released that year: Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions and Das Doppelte Gesicht Europas (Brunkhorst 2014 a en b). In the former book Brunkhorst reconstructs from an evolutionary perspective the development of law. He is obviously more interested in the social evolution than the natural evolution. In his opinion, communication plays a crucial role in the social evolution, because the variation is triggered by the rejection of communicative propositions. Through social selection a social system can improve adaptation to its environment. Social evolution can be gradual as well as revolutionary. Brunkhorst argues that legal revolutions are crucial breaking-points in history, because they imply that the basic structure of society radically changed. The driving forces behind the social evolution are the development of productive forces and class struggles. Brunkhorst uses a broad concept of class struggles; it encompasses more than just the antagonism between two classes. Class struggles cannot only unleash productive forces, but also trigger normative learning processes. Under specific historical circumstances, normative learning processes can lead to the institutionalization of a new constitutional order. A constitutional order consists of normative constraints that channel social evolution. They can channel social evolution because of what Brunkhorst calls the ratchet effect: a barrier against regression to earlier stages of the moral and legal insight of people. After a legal revolution the constitution can establish normative constraints on certain forms of purpose-oriented adaptation of a social system. These normative constraints create the opportunity to transcend the status quo of a society from within. If the normative constraints are implemented in the legal system they give people the opportunity to articulate their sense of injustice and fight for their liberation. Emancipation implies the destruction of the illusion of an unchangeable world. The more the egalitarian ideas of personal and political autonomy, or of human rights and popular sovereignty, have been globalized, the more they can be mobilized to challenge or even change the power structures of the world society.

In Das doppelte Gesicht Europas Brunkhorst makes use of the evolutionary perspective that he has developed in his book on legal revolutions. He sees the European Union as the product of both normative learning processes and systems adapting themselves to their environment. According to him the adjustment processes and normative learning processes correspond to a Kantian and managerial mindset. The Kantian mindset consists of the universal ideas of justice and popular sovereignty that are part of daily praxis. Although these universal ideas are immanent, i.e. part of this world, they transcend it. Therefore they are a resource of resistance and emancipation. The managerial mindset operates in praxis incrementally, contributes to the consolidation of power structures and preserves evolutionary advances by adaptation. With this distinction Brunkhorst doesn’t want to sketch a Manichean image of Europe, but rather point to the dialectic relationship between both. The point is that the Kantian mindset and the managerial mindset are the two faces of Europe. According to Brunkhorst the history of Europe shows both the repression and the recurrence of the emancipatory potential of the Kantian mindset. Now that the European Union is struggling with both an economic and political crisis the tension between the two mindsets is clearly visible. Like nearly every crisis the one in which the European Union now finds itself also entails dangers and opportunities. Brunkhorst points out that there is a danger that politicians who embody the managerial mindset and stick to a neoliberal political agenda and austerity policies support nolens volens right-wing populism in Europe. But he also points to the emancipatory potential that is part and parcel of many European treaties and can be used in the fight against the increasing social inequality and democratic deficits. This fight can only be won when the socially deprived in the various European countries understand that they have the same interests, and realize that class struggles should take place on a transnational level.

This dossier on the Critical Theory of Hauke Brunkhorst is based on the papers that were presented during the symposium on both books. The contributions of René Gabriëls, Darryl Cressman,  Matthew Hoye,  Willem Schinkel and Ludek Stavinoha concentrate on Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions. And the contributions of Sjaak Koenis, Pieter Pekelharing and Tannelie Blom focus on Das Doppelte Gesicht Europas. Brunkhorst responds to the challenging objections of all these scholars. Krisis hopes that this dossier contributes to the further discussion of his Critical Theory.  


The first Krisis of 2016 will be the last issue before the re-launch and redesign of Krisis online. With a new website, Krisis will continue to publish articles that focus on contemporary issues as well as those that engage classic authors in a new light.

The articles of our current issue reflect both these aims. Femke Kaulingfreks opens the issue and analyses street protests, like the one in the Netherlands in reaction to the death of Mitch Hernandez in 2015, as cases of unruly politics. This opens the possibility of recognition for the politics of rioting and signals gaps in current structures of representation. Thomas Wells proposes in his article to ‘exile the rich’ by pointing to how democracy is undermined by unlimited accumulated wealth. The main problem for Wells is the way the rich gain independence from and command over others, instead of simply finding ways to curb wealth.

Sina Talachian dissects the shifting relationship between universalism and particularism in the work of Karl Marx. His article shows how a close reading of Marx’ work can still be relevant for contemporary debates on post-colonialism and intersectionality. In his essay, Merijn Oudenampsen considers the controversial but inescapable role of ‘utopia’ in the Dutch political and intellectual sphere. Through a critical reading of More’s classic text on utopia, Oudenampsen argues the need for utopian thinking in politics today.

In addition to articles, this issue Krisis presents a never before published interview with Richard Rorty by Mark Koster en Dennis Schulting. The American philosopher spoke about multicularism, right-wing and left-wing politics and intellectualism in the Spring of 1997, when he was Spinoza chair. The enduring pertinence of Rorty and this interview is introduced by Jappe Groenendijk.

Four reviews of new books of philosophy will close this issue. Beatrijs Haverkamp will review German philosopher Rahel Jaeggi’s Alienation. Eva Meijer read Animal Deliberation by Clemens Driessen. Sarah Ahmed’s latest monograph Wilful Subjects is reviewed by Eliza Steinbock. Finally Ilios Willemars will consider the newly published texts by Michel Foucault in Wrong-doing, truth-telling

The New University

This special issue of Krisis deals with the future of the university and academic life more broadly. Is a new university possible and if so, what should it look like and how do we work towards it?

The idea and, in fact, the desire for a special issue on this topic was provoked by an event that was at the same time sudden, surprising, wildly effective, deeply affective, long-awaited, strangely evolving, quickly improvised, hopeful, frustrating, maddening, dangerous, violent, multi-sited, unpredictable yet all-too-familiar – an event that, as it took place, quickly became associated with its most prominent locale, the Maagdenhuis in Amsterdam. This building, housing the executive board and central administration of the University of Amsterdam in the centre of the capital city, was where a galvanising protest of students and faculty became most eminently visible in the early spring of 2015. After a string of occupations of university buildings throughout the city, most notably the Bungehuis, it was the eventual claiming of the Maagdenhuis that not only skyrocketed the protests into the light of national media platforms but also entailed a direct, material confrontation with a centre of academic power. Being the site of well-known and at times nostalgically memorialised protests of what is now referred to as the ‘sixties generation’, the appropriation of this building by students and the paternalist response by the executive board of the university, covered live on TV and twitter, turned a longstanding and escalating confrontation between students and faculty on the one hand, concerned about the managerial containment of academic life, and administrators on the other, who claimed to be motivated by ensuring competiveness and excellence, into a full-fledged insurgency able to garner expanding support among national and international audiences. The protest quickly succeeded in clearing from the table plans for top-down reform and forced the administrators to attend to the protests instead of carrying on business as usual. Moreover, the Maagdenhuis protest was rapidly fuelling and being fuelled by remarkably similar protest across European cities, such as Vienna, Warsaw, London and Oslo.

Whereas the great student protests of recent European memory were fights between students and faculty, the former claiming a seat at the table and the latter protecting the corporatist order, this moment of protest was quite different, even if resemblances to past ‘revolutions’ helped to sanctify it with the gloss of progress. Like all successful protest, the events at and around the Maagdenhuis had many sources. Much of the mobilisation came from the humanities, where reform after reform increasingly ate away at the idea that the humanities in any real sense of the term could remain a viable part of the university as the central planners were shaping it. Push also came from other directions, such as the more theoretical and detached sections of the natural sciences. Students in many disciplines critiqued the commodification of their time at university into individualised production of human capital, as explicitly aimed for by both university administrations and a string of ministers of education. The fact that the university is both in terms of demographics and in terms of curricula still overwhelmingly white, male and heteronormative was another source of the protests. Yet, what eventually melded together this web of critiques and movements was a forceful antagonism with what was the very basis upon which public institutions were said to function in accepted political discourse: added value.

As in so many liberal democracies, a certain understanding of ‘added value’ became received wisdom in Dutch politics over the past forty years: public institutions could only and would only be financed in so far as they produced ‘goods’ – health, security, housing, applicable knowledge, human capital, cultural homogeneity, behavioural conformity, etc. – that would enable the ‘growth’ of the financial means of society and the state. It was this ideologically engrained bottom line that eventually gave way when it was shown that extra-parliamentary actions – taking over a public building and performing one’s own idea of academic life within it – could not only draw support from faculty and civil society and kick-start a public debate but actually halt the supposedly inevitable reforms that academic managers were implementing. In contradiction to Thatcher’s famous line: there were alternatives after all!

The energy of surprise and enthusiasm released by the protests should not be underestimated. The fact that direct and confrontational action ‘worked’, that it was even taken seriously and responded to, is somewhat of an anomaly for Dutch political circumstances and seemed to open up new horizons. Dutch political culture prescribes that all changes in policy follow from restrained and institutionalised negotiations between carefully regulated representative bodies. ‘Wild’ and ‘negative’ protests are to be redirected to such ritualistic negotiations or simply side-lined as ‘ideological’ and ‘unproductive’. While these familiar attempts at delegitimation were immediately mobilised against the protests leading up to and following the appropriation of the Maagdenhuis, they failed to derail the movement, not least because the protesters were outperforming the university’s PR machinery on social median and soon also in the traditional media. In fact, such attempts seemed to only affirm the case of the protesters: academic managers are unable to respond to discontent and criticism without managerial domineering. One explanation could be that management appeared to be protecting their own privileges and trying to cover up financial misdeeds. So while university students and faculty could quite easily be dubbed ‘elitist’ in Machiavellian attempts to turn wider publics against those who seemed to exempt themselves from ongoing austerity politics – a strategy that was very effective a few years earlier when budgets for arts and culture we ruthlessly cut – that same discourse of anti-elitism applied even more so to the ‘managerial class’ whose hoarding of public funds were being contested by the protesters.

It is impossible to describe in any detail here how the protests in Amsterdam developed and resonated with similar movements elsewhere. Nor is it clear at this point what those protest will mean for the future governance of and life at the University of Amsterdam – beyond the impressive immediate achievements of the stepping down of the university’s president and the promise of the board to support two independent committees set up by the academic community, with the tasks of investigating the financial situation of the university and of developing proposals for its decentralization and democratization. The aim of our special issue lies in a different direction. We strove to capture some of the imaginative energy that was released by the events this spring. We hope to document, exchange and inject some of the emerging arguments and ideas that are going around about the future of the university. Even if the direct outcomes of the protests will not satisfy on all accounts, the current systems of control over universities have suffered severe damage and will be undergoing far-reaching reconstruction in the coming period. The public debate about this future has just begun. It is in this light that Krisis wants to provide a platform for something that should not be forgotten between all of the meetings, policy papers, negotiations, late night emails and planning: thinking out loud.

The university is in dire need of ideas, and they don’t come cheap. Krisis wants to do its part in creating and spreading new ideas. In preparing this special issue, we were interested both in analyses of protests and the changing governance of universities, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, and in projective ideas about the potential future(s) of a new university. The special issue brings together a range of essays and interventions that radiate the concern, anger and passion surrounding these issues while also developing new concepts and imaginaries of what academic life is and could be.

Writing in response to moments of rupture and protest is complicated. Such writing does, at least, three things all at once. First, it commemorates by fixing certain versions of what happened to paper, adding to a collective memory of ‘how we got here’. Second, it thereby inevitably prolongs the very struggle at hand. Analyses, interpretations, accusations and justifications bend the unfolding of the fight further into the future. Protest demands a collapse of the difference between participating in and writing about an event. Writing thus raises the question: ‘where do we stand?’ Thirdly, this means that writing about protest is endemically judgemental. The genre invites all kinds of claims about what should have happened, what should have been done, what should be done now. Commemorating, taking a stand and making judgements are all part of the writings in this special issue. In doing these things in different ways and with varying emphases, the contributions provide a wide array of meanings to ‘the university’ and its future. In this sense, the special issue responds directly to and re-affirms the central claim of the Maagdenhuis protest: the university ought not be and cannot be an organisation built on the monochrome logic of ‘added value’.

Struggles, diagnoses and futures

Krisis chose to organise the special issue along three points of focus: struggles, diagnoses and futures. Under the heading of struggles, the reader will find contributions that not only describe specific fights taking place but also be able to sense the passion and engagement. We see how the work that people – in this case academics – do, is both deeply personal and overtly political. All of the contributions resist the managerial splitting of this entanglement. Diagnoses deal with the problem at hand. What is actually the problem and how can we grasp it in such a way that we do not argue ourselves into passivity? While some contributions focus more on the way in which universities tend to be organised, others foreground changing conceptions of the university. Finally, there are contributions which explicitly propose future images of the university, both in terms of structure and organisation as well as alternative concepts and callings.

Because this special issue is conceived to respond directly to protest, we start the issue with contributions about struggles. Nguyen Vu Thuc Linh, John-Erik Hansson and Ola Innset provide a sound place to start by analysing the changing circumstances of working in universities under neoliberal reform. They locate struggles emerging in cities such as Amsterdam, London, Toronto and Warsaw in histories of resistance and solidarity in the postwar period. Next, Jonas Staal takes us right into the lively practice of the Maagdenhuis protest in his essay on the art of the new university as it was created during the protests. Instead of merely taking artistic expressions, practices and objects as auxiliary to the political moment, Staal seeks to understand the protest itself as a Gesamtkunstwerk in which images, performances, posters and banners are composed. Sina Talachian and Vasileios Koutsogiannis pick apart the Maagdenhuis protest by analysing the various student movements that formed its core, showing how different notions of democratisation played out and entertained tense relations between them. On this basis, Talachian and Koutsogiannis develop an argument for sustained radical claims making, which they associate with the decolonising efforts of one of the groups involved, the University of Colour. Silje A. Andresen, Levon Epremian, Thomas S. Jakobsen, Michael Jones, and Hilde Refstie take the fight to Norway in their analysis of changing academic governance and ineffectual forms of participation. Critically discussing existing modes of representation, they show how the fight for democracy in universities can be akin to fighting a fog: the opponent continuously reforms itself in response to attempts to get a hold on it. The section is rounded off with a deeply affective essay by Josef Früchtl and Natalie Scholz, both participants in the protests in Amsterdam. Exploring the registers of political emotions at the heart of the protest and implicating personal experiences and attachment into the analysis, the essay calls for sustained engagement with the aesthetics of anger, rebellion and protest.

The section on diagnoses is opened by Rutger Claassen and Marcus Düwell, who lay out a triple democratic deficit in university governance, which will have to be dealt with. The relations between academic communities, society and university administration will have to be reinvented at all three sides, they argue, in order to make genuine progress in efforts to democratise universities. P. W. Zuidhof allows us to more fully understand questions of neoliberal reform in universities by providing a careful dissection of its tendencies and mechanisms, while also highlighting some specificities of the Dutch context. Out of an admission of complicity, Zuidhof seeks to look beyond to a post-neoliberal future. Approaching the problem from a different angle, Kati Röttger offers her perspective on how and why we should begin to recognise anew the usefulness of what is so often rejected as useless, academic knowledge. In an essay adapted from a lecture held at the Maagdenhuis as part of the academic life of the appropriated building, Röttger argues that it is the unconditional creation and exchange of knowledge that has been progressively squandered in contemporary universities. Paul Benneworth sees in the protest an opportunity to redress longstanding tensions in the relations within universities and those between universities and their environments. Applying the notion of soft-coupling, which is opposed to top-down modes of governance based on distrust, he advocates a rethinking of universities on three levels: political structures, within universities themselves and between academic generations. As somewhat of a bridge to the section on futures, Mieke Bal enacts the power of imagination in an essay, focusing in particular on the role of the humanities in contemporary universities. Tying together multiple philosophical and literary sources, from Flaubert to Benveniste and Spinoza to Zola, she argues for the work of ‘versioning’ in the humanities, implying the constant production of multiple visions of the world.

Even if all contributions to this special issue foreshadow new forms of academic life out of the rubbles of the past, the section on futures features contributions that aim to imagine and describe the future in more explicit ways. The section is provocatively opened by Willem Schinkel who argues both for the need to protest against the current state of academic affairs, yet also claims that pleas for a return to past privileges, idealized autonomy or fixation on democratic governance are but regressive moves in a fight that must articulate its own affirmative idea of the university’s place in the world. Schinkel lists what he dubs ‘the public tasks of the university.’ Such affirmative ideas for a new university are presented in three subsequent interventions. The first, by Kirsten Kalkman, opposes two attitudes toward academic study – Alcibiades’ erômenos and Socrates’ erastès – in favor of the latter and draws connections between this source of inspiration and the launch of De Bildung Academie, referring to Humboldtian ideals of academic cultivation, which she and other students are involved in. A second proposal comes from Amos and Machiel Keestra, who work out a ‘circulation model’ of university education. Identifying key shortcomings of the current education model, their intervention describes multiple ways to keep things moving: ‘circulation between research and education, between insights of teachers and of students, between disciplines, between disciplinary and experiential knowledge, between doing research and (meta-)reflection upon research, and so on.’ While much of the protest and discussion focuses on the embattled position of the humanities, Wessel Reijers provides some much need insight into how ideas for a new university might be used to reshape education and curricula at technical universities training future engineers. His proposal revolves around a new image: ‘the virtuous engineer’. On a more conceptual terrain, Rogier van Reekum argues that although ties between academic work and the outside world must be multiplied, current visions of academic worth do not allow us to imagine those connections in adequate ways. Van Reekum proposes a vision of experimental activism as an alternative to current fixations on the knowledge economy and the production of factual evidence. Finally, Mike Neary and Joss Winn describe their ongoing efforts to build and proliferate cooperative practices and organisations of academic work in higher education. Not merely concerned with labour conditions or educational forms, cooperation extends all the way into research methodologies. Thus, Neary and Winn offer a concrete example of the new university in the making.

The Krisis editorial collective hopes that this special issue – involving contributions from students, PhD researchers and faculty members – will not only contribute to and open up necessary discussions about ‘the new university’ but, in its moderate way, exemplifies some of the insurgent and collaborative spirit that drives the struggle for it.     

Pirates and Privateers


Never low on speculative long-term predictions, in §472 of his Menschliches, Alzumenschliches Nietzsche prophesies that democratic distrust of government will ultimately ‘impel men to do away with the concept of the state, to the abolition of the distinction between private and public’ so that ‘private companies will step by step absorb the business of the state’ (1996: 172). The certain decay of the state is due, he explains, to the erosion of ‘The belief in a divine order in the realm of politics, in a sacred mystery in the existence of the state’ so that ‘the state will unavoidably lose its ancient Isis veil and cease to excite reverence.’ Of this idea one finds echoes in Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt’s reflections on the connection between theology and politics: the claim, which to a certain extent they share, that structural failure by the governed to perceive the link between law-making and law-preserving violence marks the beginning of the end of an institution’s legitimacy and existence (Benjamin 1978: 288; de Wilde 2008: 36). It also occupies Jacques Derrida (1992) in a lecture on ‘the mystical foundation of authority’ as described by Montaigne and Pascal.

Anno 2015 the hypothesis that the modern nation state and/or parliamentary democracy has run its course is a truism for some, almost to the point that its contestation becomes a cliché (Harman 2007, Sassen, 1996), although debates do occasionally flare up before receding into the depths of the academic underground. Generally, that which challenges the welfare state is subsumed under the broad rubric of ‘neoliberal governance’. In this narrative, corporate powers are gradually eroding what the emancipatory social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries had gained in terms of state-recognized civil rights, social security, and so on. Yet in the cracks opened up by neoliberal globalisation various radical alternatives that defy categorization within this Manichean narrative may also prosper: local and crypto currencies (Bristol Pound, Litecoin), counter-banking (OccupyBank, Timebank), micronations (Principality of Sealand), eco-communities and hacker colonies (Calafou) and alternative internets (TOR, GNUnet). These are today’s pirates and privateers, operative in the widening gap that separates current societal norms from their institutionally embedded precursors and the laws designed to control the technologies through which these norms are implemented. Especially in the case of the internet the legal and political apparatuses are perceived as running behind and fighting a lost battle (although, as Snowden’s revelations show, agencies such as the NSA that are furthest from democratic control still seem to function relatively well).

As in most Western countries the parliamentary Left continues to defend the welfare system as a place of last resortagainst neoliberalism, it loses new generations of the open-minded and tech-savvy by reifying politics as a professional, institutionalized sphere instead of a dirty battle played out on the grounds of ‘civil’ society. Already cynical, these generations might increasingly recognize themselves in St. Augustine’s pirate when he answers Alexander the Great’s question of what he means by keeping hostile possession of the sea: ‘What thou meanest by seizing the wholeearth; but because l do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled Emperor’ (in Heller-Roazen 2009: 56).

Will the conflict between neoliberal and alternative solutions to the present spiral of crises take place in ever more deterritorialised technocratic networks beyond state control? Perhaps we will witness the proliferation of large self-regulative parallel systems, of password-protected enclaves, and of local communication ecologies and gated communities that resemble cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling’s SF novel Islands in the Net, where ‘the decay of political systems will lead to a decentralized proliferation of experiments in living: giant worker-owned corporations, independent enclaves devoted to “data piracy,” Green-Social-Democrat enclaves, Zerowork enclaves, anarchist liberated zones, etc.?’ (Bey 2001). It is around these and related questions that the articles in this Krisis dossier revolve, taking the pirate/privateer distinction as a starting point from which other dualisms are interrogated.

But why would one want to revive the pirate and privateer, remnants of the romanticized clichés of a bygone era? From the perspective of the nation-state, it might help compare the conditions that triggered its formation with the conditions that currently undermine it. Of course, there can be no return of the same strictly speaking. The globalized present is, besides still being firmly in the grip of the combined efforts of nation-states, qualitatively different from the era of piracy at its height. But this doesn’t prevent the grasping of structural analogies between the two situations as a way of elucidating the present and anticipating the future. The category of piracy has seen a revival in the context of both online file-sharing and protecting economic infrastructure, from global trade routes along the coasts of Africa to transatlantic internet cables. As such it is once again an important trope in our contemporary imaginary, which increasingly pictures the world in terms of vast multi-layered but under-governed networks, not only in the mainstream media and popular culture, where those who participate in illicit file-sharing identify with the pirate legacy, but in academic research as well. The figure of the pirate has become a site of fierce contestation, used simultaneously to legitimize and delegitimize the kind of practices to which it is made to refer. The edited volume Piracy: Leakages from Modernity (2014), reviewed here by Liesbeth Schoonheim, provides an overview of current research on contemporary piracy.

In contrast, the figure of the privateer receives far less attention: undeservedly so, if only because in its inevitable relation to sovereignty it offers a unique opportunity to better understand the different status of piracy in its relation to sovereignty. The privateer – essentially a private warrior – forms but a small part of the totality of private actors whose powers are constituted through state contracts and privileges, and in contrast with which piracy is defined: ‘The phenomenon of piracy is indissociable from the role of the State in processes of territorialization and the normalization of trade’ (Arnould 2011, my translation). The privateer also points to the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between war and peace: control over the economy by its own means partly replaces territorial political wars (albeit guided by a deterritorialized war against insurgencies that is permanent). A terrorist attack may cost ten lives, but a 0.1% increase in import tax might cost thousands, while passing unnoticed.

It is the triadic relationship between sovereign, pirate and privateer that Sonja Schillings addresses in her thought-provoking essay on Giorgio Agamben’s reflections on piracy in relation to his theory on sovereignty and bare life in the Homo Sacer trilogy. It provides an answer to the question, ‘what distinguishes a pirate from a privateer?’ by a critical engagement with Agamben’s elaboration of the ban-structure of sovereignty through what is argued to be a problematic – because selective – reading of Marie de France’s lay Bisclavret.

Does the distinction between pirate and privateer presuppose a sovereign decision that introduces the privateers as a state of exception? Does sovereignty survive the end of the nation-state by entering into ever-new formations? If so, where are these to be discerned, if no longer exclusively in state apparatuses? How is the ban that sanctions the actions of some private actors while illegalizing others re-iterated in the present in ways that profoundly challenge our political vocabulary?

Oscar Coppieter’s contribution also centers on the distinction between pirate and privateer, through an interrogation of the potentials and pitfalls of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement in a transglocal institutional arena. Although critical of its claims, he argues that it can also provide a powerful tactic in fueling counter-hegemonic resistances by politicized pirate consumers and producers. What is now a tactic that moves within the boundaries set by the given institutions might evolve into a strategy with revolutionary effects.


‘In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.’ This remark by Foucault (1984) in a 1967 lecture on the notion of heterotopia provides a good entry point because it captures the juncture at which we have arrived, the so-called network society (arguably a misnomer that provides the illusion of unity, of an elusive ‘we’). For whatever reasons, the pirates that roam the information seas (surrendering for the moment to this rather tacky metaphor) continue to crack their ways into the continuous stream of commercially released albums, games and movies, and to hack into proprietary IC systems. On the other side are the intelligence services and the police, whose gaze extends to every nook and cranny of the social by means of infrastructural states of exception tuned to emergency by design: backdoors build into the ICT we use, even at the level of hardware. Yet the produce of the general intellect is increasingly encrypted using broadly available opensource frameworks and applications. The hacker scene is a game of seduction: black and white but mostly grey hat, the hack that might land you in jail for the next ten years may also get you a well-paid contract with a security firm, or with the government itself for that matter. A story of the rise and fall of Anonymous, from black to white and back again, Maxigas reviews Gabriella Coleman’s recent contribution to the emerging field of netnography, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Story of Anonymous.

Needless to say, boats play an important role in contemporary pirate imaginaries. An offspring of Anonymous, Lulzsec sailed the seven seas of the internet in their Lulzboat. In the logo of The Pirate Bay the boat also occupies a prominent place, with a cassette tape – the symbol of bootlegging culture – replacing the skull in the pirate flag we are all familiar with. The boat is also, lest we forget, a technology of expansion and conquest, and as such is responsible for producing the sea as a legal and political problem. In the Western imagination the sea on which boats fare and in which they disappear is simultaneously a space of freedom and necessity. For both freedom and fate are beyond the human as the measure of things and the rules of the land. The sea occupies a unique position in relation to what Carl Schmitt claimed is the essence of law (nomos): an originary Nahme (appropriation) that proceeds to give the land a Name (name). So the idea of naming is also understood as part of an act of appropriation, a taking (nehmen).

Schmitt goes on to state that the older word nemein refers in its meaning to both teilen (to divide), verteilen (to distribute), and weiden (to pasture, or produce) in a way that supports his argument about the fundamentally appropriative nature of Law, i.e. that ‘initially, there was no basic norm, but a basic appropriation’ and, subsequently, that ‘no man can give, divide, and distribute without [first] taking’ (345). He attacks the idea that societies might someday pass (or already have passed) beyond the proprietary positing of the Law, considering it a very dangerous and decadent idea. Liberal, anarchist and Marxist world-views are all found guilty of entertaining precisely this idea, that the present world reaches a stage where all power over men will cease and, as he sarcastically remarks, ‘things govern themselves’ much like bees in a beehive, where ‘man can give without taking’ as he ‘has at last found its formula’ (341, 347). The same criticism may be applied to a romanticized or overly utopian idea of the commons. But the Schmittian critique itself is not without its questionable assumptions: a combination of Christian anti-eschatological thought and a Hobbesian view of human nature presses it to embrace the katechon as the highest hope, to restrain evil.

These two aspects of law that merge into an ‘appropriative naming’ point to a theme that comes back again and again in the present issue: the idea of the common(s) as the object of an appropriation, but also as the subject of various resistances against it, and using anonymity as a subversive tactic against existing intellectual property regimes. Besides the iconic Guy Fawkes mask, the hacktivist pseudo-collective Anonymous’ very name indeed contains a reference to namelessness as part of an an-archic ideal of sorts, creating an a-nomic or at least anti-nomic state of affairs, which mustn’t be mistaken for chaos, as Schmitt very well knew, but rather as the collapse of law into the unfolding of life itself, i.e. what Deleuze refers to as an immanent life.

The idea of a lawless space where things so govern themselves of course lies at the root of what may be called the American fantasy: the (lines of) flight Krisis Journal for contemporary philosophy from the old and the corresponding drive forward towards the final frontier. The Internet was envisioned as such an extra-juridical space beyond the nation-state: ‘you have no sovereignty where we gather’ John Perry Barlow proudly proclaimed in A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (2001). But what was to be a final victory cry was taken as a challenge by the representatives of the old: in the aftermath of 9/11, new money and young brains met to conquer these anomalous dwellings, although cyberspace was never quite as innocent and virginal to begin with, like the America that first needed to be purged from its native inhabitants, which only shows that there is no appropriation that is not at the same time also a disappropriation, just as there is no pure commons preceding a Nahme.

In this entangled web the figure of the pirate is similarly ambiguous and strung through with contradiction. Pirates of the early modern period both undermined and played a positive role in establishing a realm of capitalist free trade established through, but relatively autonomous from, the state. Today this ambiguity is repeated in online piracy’s relation to the advance of informational capitalism through the creative destruction of its earlier incarnations, those ‘weary giants of flesh and steel’ Barlow mentions (ironically, the headquarters of Apple originally crowned a black and white pirate flag). Media piracy undermines existing proprietary regimes, but by deterritorializing the vestiges of the old media industries they prepare new grounds for ever faster and more mobile valorizations of capital, inaugurating new divisions and distributions of property and power, perhaps even a new nomos.

Jonathan Paul Marshall and Francesca da Rimini’s contribution mobilizes both play theory, the history of capitalism and classical anarchist theory about the relations between theft and property to evaluate these structural transformations, based upon the extensive body of ethnographic research on pirate practices they have accumulated, including interviews with the main actors involved. They take two recent events – the legal attacks on the peer-to-peer torrent tracker Demonoid and the court cases around the Sony PlayStation 3 – as case studies to better grasp what they believe is an emerging ‘pirarchy’ whose basic model of operation and tactic is that of a spontaneous and disruptive swarm.


The non-political character of piracy supposedly derives from its being geared towards a private, rather than a public, interest. But this line of reasoning obviously has a tautological character, for what makes something of public interest at least partly derives from the political nature of the act. But who decides what is of public significance and what merely constitutes a criminal act? Can the categorical distinction between the public-political and the private-criminal itself be subjected to political contestation? This presents a problem, for it becomes impossible to decide if this contestation itself is of a public or private nature, as it precedes the establishment of the criterion as such – that is to say, that the injunction that posits the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate in terms of the public and the private can itself not be legitimized on that basis. It also signals the dialectical – because mutually constitutive – relation between law and property, and between political and economic power.

In a short article, Felix Cohen points out the vicious circle inherent to legal reasoning about intellectual property rights, i.e. the idea that ‘courts are not creating property, but are merely recognizing a preexistent Something’. He does so using the example of the trademark ‘Palmolive’, which if it ‘is not restricted to a single firm […] will be of no more economic value to any particular firm than a convenient size, shape, mode of packing, or manner of advertising, common in the trade. Not being of economic value to any particular firm, the word would be regarded by courts as “not property,” and no injunction would be issued […] Ridiculous as this vicious circle seems, it is logically as conclusive or inconclusive as the opposite vicious circle, which accepts the fact that courts do protect private exploitation of a given word as a reason why private exploitation of the word should be protected’ (2006: 1). Conversely, the Marxist legal scholar Evgeny Pashukanis (2003: 93-94) shows how public law can never on its own create, but rather presupposes and is determined by, privately accumulated property.

Issues of ownership and its relation to law have a long history in political philosophy and critical theory. They are also at the heart of the theme of Krisis Journal for contemporary philosophy digital piracy and the intellectual property wars pirates engage in. ‘Information must be free’ irrespective of ends (emancipation, but also just entertainment) and by any means necessary: from torrents, viruses and DDoS attacks to professional hacks into proprietary platforms and whistle-blowers leaking classified data. Are the categories of critical political theory equipped to deal with this novel constellation? How to think about individual and collective agency in the presence of algorithmic enclosures and autonomous botnets? What about the conventional distinctions between public and private, the political and the economic? What delimits political acts from mere illicit behavior? How do digitalization and globalization structurally transform the means and ends of political activism and social movements? In global networks of capture where ‘visibility and transparency are no longer signs of democratic openness but rather of administrative availability’ (Bueti 2011), are struggles for inclusion and recognition still liberatory? Is anonymity, instead of identity, in the process of becoming a new and global site of struggle, rather than a dire condition in need of an emancipatory uplifting? Or are we in for a return of the same after all? It is in the following interview with Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle that some of these questions will be interrogated.

Combined, the contributions to this Krisis dossier hopefully shed some light on the mind-boggling complexities that animate the networked present. Coming from different disciplinary directions, each article – in the specific delimitation of its own theme – provides an implicit comment on the others. It is not often that Demonoid is allowed to encounter the dark causality of ancient sovereignty, or Corporate Social Responsibility the political theology of a scholar denounced for his relation to Nazi Germany. Far from an inconsequential cacophony, however, the following articles carve out the structural ambiguities of globalization, which, far from providing an easy excuse for remaining in a state of political apathy, and without wanting to quote Hölderlin, finds potentialities opening up in the very dangers that threaten to overrun them.