And The Right to the City
Le droit a la ville (The Right to the City) was written in 1967 to mark the centenary of the publication of Karl Marx's Das Kapital (1867) but it wasn't published until the following year. Lefebvre had been thinking about cities since 1947, when he published the first volume of his pioneering study, Critique of Everyday Life. But he remained lodged in and attached to the countryside in which he'd been born and raised until the mid-1950s, when he moved to Paris. In the city, Lefebvre eventually met several young, very attentive readers of his book, including such future members of the Situationist International as Constant Nieuwenhuis, Guy Debord, Michelle Bernstein and Raoul Vaneigem. As a result, Lefebvre decided to take up the issue of the city once more. His decision came at an interesting time. As he says in The Right to the City,
Over the last few years and rather strangely, the right to nature entered into social practice thanks to leisure, having made its way through protestations becoming commonplace against noise, fatigue, the concentrationary universe of cities (as cities are rotting or exploding). A strange journey indeed! Nature enters into exchange value and commodities, to be bought and sold. This 'naturality' which is counterfeited and traded in, is [in fact] destroyed by commercialized, industrialized and institutionally organized leisure pursuits. 'Nature,' or what passes for it, and survives of it, becomes the ghetto of leisure pursuits, the separate place of pleasure and the retreat of 'creativity' [...] In the face of this pseudo-right [to nature], the right to the city is like a cry and a demand [...] The claim to nature, and the desire to enjoy it displace the right to the city. This latest claim [the right to nature] expresses itself indirectly as a tendency to flee the deteriorated and unrenovated city, alienated urban life before at last, 'really' living [...] The right to the city cannot be conceived of as a simple visiting right or as a return to traditional cities. It can only be formulated as a transformed and renewed right to urban life.
Until now, in theory as in practice, the double process of industrialization and urbanization has not been mastered. The incomplete teachings of Marx and Marxist thought have been misunderstood. For Marx himself, industrialization contained its finality and meaning, later giving rise to the dissociation of Marxist thought into economism and philosophism. Marx did not show (and in his time he could not) that urbanization and the urban contain the meaning of industrialization. He did not see that industrial production implied the urbanization of society, and that the mastery of industrial potentials required specific knowledge concerning urbanization. Industrial production, after a certain growth, produces urbanization, providing it with conditions, and possibilities. The problematic is displaced and becomes that of urban development. The works of Marx (notably Capital) contained precious indications on the city and particularly on the historical relations between town and country. They do not pose the urban problem. In Marx's time, only the housing problem was raised and studied by Engels. Now, the problem of the city is immensely greater than that of housing.
Who can ignore that the Olympians of the new bourgeois aristocracy no longer inhabit. They go from grand hotel to grand hotel, or from castle to castle, commanding a fleet or a country from a yacht. They are everywhere and nowhere. That is how they fascinate people immersed into everyday life. They transcend everyday life, possess nature and leave it up to the cops to contrive culture. Is it essential to describe at length, besides the condition of youth, students and intellectuals, armies of workers with or without white collars, people from the provinces, the colonized and semi-colonized of all sorts, all those who endure a well-organized daily life, is it here necessary to exhibit the derisory and untragic misery of the inhabitant, of the suburban dweller and of the people who stay in residential ghettoes, in the mouldering centres of old cities and in the proliferations lost beyond them? One only has to open one's eyes to understand the daily life of the one who runs from his dwelling to the station, near or far away, to the packed underground train, the office or the factory, to return the same way in the evening and come home to recuperate enough to start again the next day. The picture of this generalized misery would not go without a picture of 'satisfactions' which hides it and becomes the means to elude it and break free from it.
The revolutionary transformation of society has industrial production as ground and lever. This is why it had to be shown that the urban centre of decision-making can no longer consider itself in the present society (of neo-capitalism or of monopoly capitalism associated to the State), outside the means of production, their property and their management. Only the taking in charge by the working class of planning and its political agenda can profoundly modify social life and open another era: that of socialism in neo-capitalist countries. Until then transformations remain superficial, at the level of signs and the consumption of signs, language and metalanguage, a secondary discourse, a discourse on previous discourses. Therefore, it is not without reservations that one can speak of urban revolution. Nevertheless, the orientation of industrial production on social needs is not a secondary fact. The finality thus brought to plans transforms them. In this way urban reform has a revolutionary bearing. As the twentieth century agrarian reform gradually disappears from the horizon, urban reform becomes a revolutionary reform. It gives rise to a strategy which opposes itself to the class strategy dominant today.
Lefebvre's The Right to the City certainly looks rather weak in comparison to Giorgio Agamben's writings on "the city," or, rather, Agamben's writings expose several serious weaknesses in Lefebvre's book. In Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995, translated from the Italian by Daniel Heller-Roazen, 1998, Stanford University Press), Agamben calls attention to the fact that the French philosopher Michel Foucault -- despite introducing the concept of biopolitics in the late 1970s (see his The History of Sexuality, Volume I) -- "never dwelt on the exemplary places of modern biopolitics: the concentration camp and the structure of the great totalitarian states of the twentieth century." Instead Foucault dwelt on disciplinary institutions, in particular, the prison. But, to Agamben, "the camp -- and not the prison -- is the space that corresponds to this originary structure of the nomos."
This is shown [Agamben continues], among other things, by the fact that while prison law only constitutes a particular sphere of penal law and is not outside the normal order, the juridical constellation that guides the camp is (as we shall see) martial law and the state of siege. This is why is not possible to inscribe the analysis of the camp in the trail opened by the works of Foucault, from Madness and Civilization to Discipline and Punish. As the absolute space of exception, the camp is topologically different from a simple space of confinement.
Yet it is time to stop regarding declarations of rights as proclamations of eternal, metajuridical values binding the legislator (in fact, without much success) to respect eternal ethical principles, and to begin to consider them according to their real historical function in the modern nation-state. Declarations of rights represent the originary figure of the inscription of natural life in the juridico-political order of the nation-state. The same bare life that in the ancien regime was politically neutral and belonged to God as creaturely life and in the classical world was (at least apparently) clearly distinguished as zoe from political life (bios) now fully enters into the structure of the state and even becomes the earthly foundation of the state's legitimacy and sovereignty.
It is not the free man and his statutes and prerogatives, nor even simply homo, but rather corpus that is the new subject of politics. And democracy is born precisely as the assertion and presentation of this 'body': habeas corpus ad subjiciendum, 'you will have to have a body to show' [..] Corpus is a two-faced being, the bearer both of subjection to sovereign power and of individual liberties.