Hallward’s ‘The Will of the People’

This could very well by old news, but a pdf of Hallward’s piece from the last radical philosophy is available here.

While this has been around for a couple of months now, I’ve yet to see any interaction with it on the world wide interwebs. This may due to lack of accessibility, or because this piece (as well as Hallward’s current project) seems to fall outside the realm of what’s ‘in’ in interweb based philosophy these days. Personally, I have lots of sympathies with his project, and will try to find time to post some thoughts of critical affirmation soon. As I said in a previous post, I was surprised with the hostility towards Hallward’s position which emerged at the Immanence/Materialism conference in London a few weeks back, so would be interested in hearing others thoughts on this piece, and the project in general.

14 thoughts on “Hallward’s ‘The Will of the People’

  1. Jan says:

    Hi Michael,
    Could you expand on what kind of hostility there was towards Peter’s work at the Immanence/Materialism conference?

    I’ve not yet had time to read this particular piece of writing, but I can imagine that this singular emphasis upon the “will” is going to cause some problems within the sphere of continental reception.

    I myself also share sympathies with this project, and think that the problematic of “will’ is an important one, in regards to questions of subjectivity and political transformations.

    I don’t know if you read the third edition of collapse, which was devoted to the first speculative realism conference, in which Peter posed a question regarding the possibility of politics, making commitments, and the function of will, to Iain-Hamilton Grant. It’s page 361.

  2. Scu says:

    I haven’t had time to read the article in toto yet, but it seems like an extension of the keynote I saw him give at Cornell a couple of years ago. I really loved the lecture, so I look forward to reading the whole thing when I get the chance.

  3. Probably cause it’s pretty much a vitalist position, but he tries to deny vitalism and other people hate vitalism.

  4. Scu says:

    Sad for him, and all those other anti-vitalists.

    Still, look forward to reading the whole article. And I checked, the Cornell lecture is a part of this work in progress.

  5. Ben says:

    I’ve made a very minor comment in terms of positioning Peter’s project in this post: http://leniency.blogspot.com/2009/07/marxism-as-culture-or-towards-new.html
    I’m not sure I see his position as intrinsically vitalist, although I can see why it might be counted as such. I think it is more an attempt to specify a generic political sequence, or the conditions of possibility for such. There was some further debate in the discussions available here: http://materialism.mi2.hr/
    which is quite critical.

  6. michaeloneillburns says:

    At the materialism/immanence conference there were at least two papers directed at Peter, and in discussion a critique of this position came up again. I think the primary point of contention was between those committed to a sort of dialectical determinism (or in some cases, a version of spinozism) and those of us who seemed to follow Sartre’s critique of this deterministic account (and I think we can safely say Hallward follows this Sartrean-Badiouian line). Two of the terms that seemed to frame some of the debates were ‘will’ and ‘freedom’, and clearly one contesting the efficacy of those terms for a political ontology would have serious problems with Hallward’s position.

    In regards to this position being vitalist, I’m not sure if I see it. One issue would be that for Hallward I think life/living would be similar to Badiou’s definition that “to live is to live for an idea”, and that basically life is the process of working on the implications of a subjective-political sequence. It also seems that rather that a position in which there is one totalized absolute life, this position seems more akin to the early Marx’s use of ‘individual life’ (Sartre, Henry, and Dussel all place emphasis on this part of Marx’s work).

    That said, my biggest problem with Hallward’s project is similar to my biggest problem with Badiou’s project, which I think is a lack of a properly theorized pre-evental anthropology.

    I think some of these issues may come from the fact that Hallward as been presenting this project as ‘notes’ or ‘thoughts’ and the like for the past couple of years, whereas many would wait until they’d worked it through before presenting it as such. I’m glad he has not done that, but I do look forward to him working through all this issues and presenting it as a proper piece of work.

  7. Jan says:

    Thanks for that Michael.

    I was taught by Peter earlier this year as part of my MA, and the course which he gave on Badiou and Sartre, was filled with references to this particular project on the will. As well as his more long term project of developing a relational ontology.

  8. michaeloneillburns says:


    I’m envious! I’m really interested to hear more about his project of relational ontology, so if you felt sharing any hints of what he’s working on it’d be much appreciated.


  9. Jan says:

    I’ll have to find my notes (which could take a little time, as my filing system has fallen into ruin), and then post up the pieces I have.


  10. By calling it vitalist I am being polemical and obscuring my point. What I mean is that it seems, from the times I’ve seen him present on it, that it has a similar structure to vitalism. Will = elan vital of a material situation. This is why I’ve heard some refer to it as folk-psychological or politically naive. I could, of course, be way, way off.

  11. N Pepperell says:

    I noticed the focus on Hallward’s work at the conference as well. I haven’t had a chance to look back at the other papers presented, and I’m not certain I have a handle on the various theoretical and political commitments involved, but I did want to say something quickly about this:

    I think the primary point of contention was between those committed to a sort of dialectical determinism (or in some cases, a version of spinozism) and those of us who seemed to follow Sartre’s critique of this deterministic account (and I think we can safely say Hallward follows this Sartrean-Badiouian line).

    These may not be the only options under consideration – certainly they wouldn’t be for me personally, although clarifying this wasn’t the explicit focus of the paper I presented (I did focus on this issue a bit more directly in a paper presented to a different conference a couple of weeks prior).

    But: it’s certainly possible that, for many people, what’s happening is a straightforward free will/determinism debate (with whatever nuance is then applied to the sides of that dichotomy). But it’s also possible that for some people – unless I’m in a minority of one here 😉 – the issue is more downstream from this: yes, certainly there is a potential for agency – the question is of what kind. Certainly I wouldn’t aim for some sort of “dialectical determinism” understood as being in some sense in opposition to agency.

    With reference to Marx’s work, at least, the question is more: Marx thinks we make history – but that we do this by transforming the materials that lie ready to hand. This means that, by analysing those materials (which is an expansive concept in his work), we get a better sense of how those materials are most likely to be amenable to transformation. This doesn’t mean that the course of transformation is in any sense predetermined – only that some possibilities are more intuitive and easier to achieve than others, and that it can be useful, when thinking about political projects, to have some grasp of this.

    This leaves plenty of space upstream still for thinking about potentials for agency in a more abstract way – general conditions of possibility, etc. I don’t think this is the level at which Marx’s critique, at least, is operating – and I was exploring the downstream space I see his analysis to occupy. But my point is simply that it might not be the case that people are aiming at determinism – dialectical or otherwise – in the conference pieces: they might instead have been trying to ask what sort of creativity or agency is closest to surface in our particular situation…

  12. michaeloneillburns says:

    Thanks for stopping by. I think you’re correcting making things a bit more complex than the freedom/determinism dichotomy, which is easy to fall into. I find this notion of creative agency really interesting. I guess my initial intuition would be that, at least at an ontological level, a sort of transcendental materialist theory of subjectivity seems to give us the best possibility of having a freely willing subjectivity that is also materially grounded. I do need to think about his more in terms of agency and political economy though.

    Also, really enjoyed your conference paper, although I need to go re-read it to make sure I’m actually getting all of it!

    I definitely see where a an accusation of vitalism can come up in Hallward’s work, which is somewhat ironic as it seems to be a position he’s strongly opposed to (unless I’m reading him wrong). It seems like the issue for him would be an account of life which was inherently multiple and non-totalized. I would guess though, that his handling of the question of life/vitalism would end up being pretty similar to Badiou’s notion of life as ‘living for an idea’, which is terribly inadequate if we’re going to try to rigorously theorize individual will/agency.

    That said…I think I’m just going to re-read that piece and write a post about it, and maybe we can all discuss it in a bit more detail.

  13. […] website. Good discussions of the conference themes are also underway at Daily Humiliation here and here, and at Duncan’s blog. Benjamin has written a particularly generous analysis of my paper at […]

  14. […] Hallward’s ‘The Will of the People’ « Daily Humiliation […]

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