§2. Nancy's aim is to run this quintessentially modern logic in retrograde, to start with what he calls "Being Singular Plural", noting that Being is a "we", constituted of singulars who as singulars are constituted by other singulars, be they human or not, animate or not. My mind, Nancy would say, is not an immanent point of self-producing essence that may or may not turn outward to face a similarly constituted world. What there is, he says, is radically different, and so much richer. In his paean to the unique particular we can see his Nietzschean sensibilities:
Whether an other is another person, animal, plant, or star, it is above all the glaring presence of a place and moment of absolute origin, irrefutable, offered as such and vanishing its passing…
If we do not have access to the other in the mode just described, but seek to appropriate the origin—which is something we always do—then this same curiosity transforms itself into appropriative or destructive rage.
§3. To put it in other terms, the singular is not a unity. Its structure is ecstatic or exteriorized, held together, not by substance or essence, but by its birth and death, limits over which it has no control, and by the births and deaths of others.
§4. When this hard Cartesian opposition of the me and the not me moves into the political, the result is the individual as the bearer of rights—to self-preservation for Locke, to freedom from interference for Mill. The private sphere is thus wrested away from its relationally with others; the dichotomy of identity and exclusion arises; the subject as bearer of rights and the private sphere, as such, is ideally indistinguishable from all other subjects: to be equal, in the liberal democratic tradition, is to be substitutable.
§5. Because the great hope of communitarianism, in the forms of communism and socialism, have failed, we might rightly despair of the communitarian project. We complain of the abuses of these governments in the name of "human rights", but doesn't this appeal only further our pursuit of self-alienating projects? The we is not something we attain, but it is already there waiting to be found once our illusions of a prior or transcendent Being have been stripped away.
§6. But what of those streams of modern thought, such as that of Burke, in which government restrains itself so as to let local communities, traditions, churches, etc., hold their sway? Would Nancy say that these local entities, too, thrive on the logic of inclusion and exclusion? But this is problematic. First, if the singularity that is the community depends on the assimilation of singularities that make it up, that is, if some singularities thrive on the suppression of others, doesn't this reveal the impossibility of Nancy's project? Also, is it really true that every such community does in fact promote the assimilation of its members?
§7. Another issue: For Nancy, the philosophical act of "thinking singularity" resists the political slide from humanism (with its inclusive/exclusive essentialism) to anti- or sub-humanism witnessed in the genocides which pose the very antithesis of singularity. But isn't this circular? "One ought to think singularity so that singularity won't be violated." What pray is so good about singularity that it ought to be upheld? Doesn't this require the convergence of Being (in Nancy's sense) and the Good? But there is nothing outside of Being (§5), he tells us, so whence the good? Whence ideals?
§8. Nancy sees in the unique particular the ineffable and unrepeatable value of everything that is (§2). Again, whence the "ought"? Doesn't every ought presuppose that there is something yet better than what is now? But if what is now is of irreducible value, there is no room left for that which is of greater value, even if the greater value is to be found in a recovery.
§9. Nancy, trollified: two cattle cars on their way to a death camp, one full of stones, one full of people. Which do you stop, if both are full of unrepeatable singulars?
§10. Is inclusion/exclusion, and its concomitant violence, really the exclusive domain of failed modern ontology in the West? Shouldn't the homocide rates and the mutual demonization of rival tribes as sub-human among primitive tribes (as Jared Diamond recounts in The World Until Yesterday) finally disabuse us of this Rousseauian pretense? For all Nancy's repudiation of Rousseau's nostalgia for lost community, it doesn't seem he has entirely escaped it.
§11. Is it really the case that essentialism always and in every case marks a step toward totalitarianism? Or is it that only bad essentialism does this? Or perhaps...the abandonment of essentialism?
Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism by intuition. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and those who claim to be the bearers of objective immortal truth … then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity... From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. --Benito Mussolini