Adi Ophir is associate professor at the Cohn Institute for the history and philosophy of science and ideas, at Tel Aviv University. Ophir's main interest is modern and contemporary continental philosophy in the domains of ethics, political philosophy, and critical theory. He has written on twentieth thinkers like Arendt, Foucault, Lyotard, Leivnas, and Agamben, and about various aspects of Israeli culture and society. In his Order of Evils (Zone Books 2005, originally published as Lashon lara, Am Oved 2000) he presents an outline for "moral ontology" based on understanding of the social production and distribution of "evils" (losses, damages, injuries, suffering, and risks), and proposes a new interpretation of the concepts of evil and injustice. Working for the Present (Avodat Hahove, Hakkibutz Hameuchad 2001) is a collection of deconstructive readings of some major texts and events in contemporary Israeli culture. In 2002 he published with Ariella Azoulay Terrible Days (Yamim Raim, Resling 2002), a collection of critical essays on the political situation in Israel. This Regime Which is not One, his most recent book, co-authored with Ariella Azoulay (Resling 2008), is a historical survey and a comprehensive anatomy of the Israeli rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and its impact on the Israeli political system. His forthcoming book, The Birth of Theocracy out of Catastrophe reconstructs models of theocracy in the Hebrew Bible.
What is "the political"?
What is the political? For Aristotle it was the most human of all human qualities. Against a prevalent mystification of the notion I will go back to Aristotle to rethink the political as a predicate, not a noun, a quality not a sphere of action. With Arendt I will insist on drawing a firm distinction between power and authority, the sovereign, the state, their apparatuses and those who act in their name, on the one hand, and the political as a feature or quality that any object, artefact, action, speech act, or person might have, on the other hand. Finally relying on both Arendt and Foucault I will define this quality to be that which things "have" when - and only while - they are involved in public problematization of power (by public I mean being exposed and accessible to many, more or less simultaneously).
This understanding of the political implies that not "everything is political", but rather anything may become political when and while it takes part in publicly presenting (pointing to, showing, displaying, analyzing, demonstrating, etc.) existing power as problematic. Among the many implications of this formula I will deal with the following:
The political is a quality that subsists in its object only during the occurrence of events of a certain kind.
Power is not always political but by definition its public problematization always is.
The political is a parasite of power and one of its possibilities - power and authority come first, they are always already there, while the political is just one possible form relation of power, or of being-with those in power.
At the same time the political is also that which introduces a difference which may interfere with power's reproduction.
The question of the political presupposes an answer to the question what is power, which should be posed and answered independently of the former.
The critical study of power is a paradigmatic political act which, more than the struggle for ceasing power or re-distributing keeps the distinction between power and the political.
However, contrary to Aristotle and a long tradition of political theory, the political is not good in and of itself and its moral significance depends entirely on the kind of power it problematizes and the kind of distance it takes from this power.