Francesca Bonelli's Blog

Politics at the time of the evaporation of the function of the Name of the Father

March 23, 2022

The aim of this research is to demonstrate a possible approach to international relations through the logics that support them. For almost a decade, the permanent seminar "The Florentine Lessons" has been held in the University of Florence, school of political science “Cesare Alfieri”. The seminar deals with the problem of the city without desire and without law and applies the theme of logic to the context of international relations. This theme, as well as the Florentine seminar, are not an absolute novelty - in fact, in interpreting politics, or political phenomena, there have always been two tendencies: externalism, expressed in a precise way by Boris Hessen, in his "The Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s Principles", where he explores externalist causes in conditioning theoretical and political phenomena; internalism, for which social and political phenomena are conditioned by something intimate and deep, which is the logic that sustains them. Thus, according to an internalist approach, logic (logos) generates civilization. And logos is the Master Signifier of the Western word.


Source: Bénigne Gagneraux, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Within the internalist framework, I place the cause of the contemporary conflict between the West and Russia. There is a conflict between the liberalist Western world and Putin’s Russia - both are part of the same logic (subordinative logic), of the same civilization, Greek-Jewish-Roman, but they interpret the function of the Name of the Father differently. While in the West the deconstruction, the elimination of this function is going on at all levels, in Russia we have an attempt to interpret the function of the Name of the Father by saving it from deconstruction.

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The function of the Name of the Father is indispensable for the construction of the identity of the subject but also for the construction and survival of any kind of regime and institution.

The function of the Name of the Father can be declined in different ways and this article will focus on its declination in the Western civilization. The Western civilization, which finds its roots in the Greco-Roman-Jewish-Christian civilization, has declined and elaborated the function of the Name of the Father differently from that of the Far East. The Western logical system finds its foundation on the function of the Name of the Father. This function is pyramid-shaped: at the top there is God the Father, who issues laws, represented by the 10 Commandments. Other entities then follow, among them there is politics, which, in turn, fulfills the function of the Name of the Father.

This article will show how the function of the Name of the Father has evolved in the West, from its origin (Greek world) to our days, in which we see it, instead, under the effect of the logic of deconstruction.

We can proceed with a quote from Volume X of Freud’s Works: “It can scarcely be owing to chance that three of the masterpieces of the literature of all time the Oedipus Rex of Sophocles, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov should all deal with the same subject, parricide.”

The construction of the father’s name function and subordinate logic; the three hills

I shall start by mentioning the three hills where what we will call the subordinative logic is constituted, that is the way the Name of the Father is declined, the one who gave and gives the logos.

1. Acropolis: with the tragedy of Oedipus Rex, the intimate interweaving that envelops human passions finds its pacification in the polis. In the tragedy the motifs of the father, the mother, the enjoyment and, in the background, the gaze of the God Apollo who represents knowledge, a knowledge that Oedipus delivers to Theseus. At the death of Oedipus only Theseus, king of Athens, attends. Theseus enters with Oedipus in the garden of the Erinyes and comes out pensive, Sophocles does not write anything about the dialogue between Oedipus and Theseus, which therefore remains a secret: Oedipus has given him a secret and it is assumed that the secret is how Theseus must carry out the function of his father, his political function as king. And thus, we have a human affair that becomes a political issue and delivered by Oedipus king to Theseus king so that the polis can be constituted. This is the first version we have of the function of the Name of the Father, in Greece.

2. Jerusalem with Golgotha is the Jewish side that testifies and transmits in writing the function of the Name of the father: the Jewish god, the story of Adam, Isaac and Joseph. In 1843, in "Fear and Trembling" Kierkegaard interprets the sacrifice of Isaac saying that the inheritance of the father, what remains is sin. Abraham did not cut his son’s throat, but the descent from the mountain does not mark any pacification. It certifies, on the contrary, the impossibility of the relationship between father and son. Isaac is alive, but he will no longer be able to love his father, who is guilty of having accepted to sacrifice him. It builds what Kierkegaard defines as the "obsessive circularity of guilt-debt". Another moment in the construction of the function of the Name of the Father and the logos is represented by the vicissitudes of Moses with the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. This moment marks a fundamental turning point in the function of the Name of the Father, as the God Father frees the people from slavery, from the slavery of being zoon, animal, and gives them a law, represented by the 10 Commandments. In the third turn of the Jewish dimension, we have Christ, who names, in a declared way, God as Father. When asked "What is the name of God?", Christ clearly answers "Call him father". Here we have the constitution of the Name of the Father, as interpreted by Christianity. Christianity inserts alongside the function of the Father to enact the law, what Christ calls love. The law is not eliminated, but something is added to it, love. Thus, we have a definition of the Name of the Father that is the essence of the true subordinative logic, in which at the top of the chain are placed a law and a desire. The desire is that of God who, by definition, is unreachable but who becomes the line, the desire and obligation of all Fathers who represent the Eternal Father and, in this sense, the line of politics.

3. The third hill is represented by the Campidoglio (Rome). The third hill is, in the first place, represented by the union made by St. Augustine between Judaism and the pagan world. St Augustine was the bishop of Hippo, a late convert and his background was Greek/Pagan. Two strands are important for St. Augustine; and these strands influenced the evolution of the subordinative logical system. The first is the concept of free will, freedom of the subject to choose. Augustine always affirmed that man is a free being, he is not libertas, he is free. The subordinative logical system is based on the individual, on the subject, who creates his identity in relation to the choice of a desire that the Father gives him.

The other theme is love, which consolidates the subordinative logic, which is also an erotic logic. As written by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who followed the writings of Augustine, love is a form of appetite—hunger. —“The drives necessitate us in the sexual order—they come from the heart. To our great surprise, he [Freud] tells us that love, on the other hand, comes from the belly, from the world of yum-yum”. On the same wake, in her doctoral thesis “On the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine: Attempt at a philosophical interpretation”, Hanna Arendt linked the theme of appetite to a specific object, just as motion is determined by the objective that it moves towards. In fact, according to St. Augustine, love is a form of movement, thus it is directed towards something, while the movement of desire drives from a certain object rather than towards it. The Hebrew word for “please”, tehfatz, has a double meaning: the desire and the object that are signified in one word—hefetz. As love is built around an object of desire, love should not be awakened until the object appears. And, as etymology of the world desire suggests (desire: de + sidus: feeling the lack, lack expressed by the prefix de, of the stars; sidus, star), the object is something missing.

Deconstruction begins. The paradigm shift

We have described the moments of the construction of the function of the Name of the Father in the West, highlighting which are its, and therefore those of the subordinative logic system, characteristics and products. What happened from that time to the 600s? In the 600’s science broke in with the figures of Galileo and Newton. This triggered a different interpretation of the Name of the Father, breaking the discourse, as it is evident from the narrated events in “Hamlet” and in “The Brothers Karamazov” with the story of the Grand Inquisitor. This is the new paradigm of the modernity of the Father: the Father who becomes a fake Father. Newton and Galileo do not seek the truth but, certainties. Certainties are found and then described with the mathematical-scientific method and this leads to great results, as the scientific discourse can provide certainties and predictions. Science is the mother-signifier which prevailed after the clash between Galileo and the Church: science became a truth-sayer and a technology-producer. However, at the time of Galileo and Newton, the scientific method remained applied only to matter, to celestial bodies, and it did not enter in the life of men, in their morals.

In 1761 the academy of Berlin made a call for competition. The call asked if it was possible to use the scientific method in ethics in order to reach the same certainty that the scientific method gave to the understanding of matter, of celestial bodies. Immanuel Kant too took part. Kant’s attempt was that of applying the scientific method to ethics, eliminating God. Whereas previously truths came from God, God is put aside.

These drivers of change precede events of even greater magnitude, such as the French Revolution -after which science has assumed the role of sole Master Signifier, detaching itself from God-, Kant’s Critique of Pure and Practical Reason and around all this turmoil fits the drama of Hamlet, in which the relationship with the father undergoes a profound change. Hamlet’s drama is linked to the father figure, whose ghost, at the beginning of the tragedy, intimates to his son to avenge him. As Freud later wrote about the father-son relationship: "It is necessary for the son to grow up and become a man, that he kills his father". But Hamlet could not kill the figure of his father, because his uncle Claudius did it in his place, before time, usurping his throne and undermining his wife. It follows that Hamlet will never grow up and become a man, never be a father himself, having to pretend to be crazy to try to feel wise in a Denmark that for him is "the worst of prisons".

The next turning point, necessary in order to read the change under analysis, is Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of the Father, of God, "God is dead". It will be Dostoevsky to take up the Nietzschean metaphor in the novel "The Brothers Karamazov": "God is dead, nothing is allowed to us". The death of God is an aphorism, a metaphor that recalls the decadence of the Western world and its values.

Thus, it begins what the French psychologist Derrida calls deconstruction: "What is not deconstruction? Everything! What is deconstruction? Nothing!". Derrida elaborates on the term "deconstruction" by developing the Heideggerian concept of "destruktion," by which Heidegger wanted to unearth those essential elements of Truth that remained buried and concealed by the "intersections" of metaphysics. Derrida goes a step further and uses the concept of deconstruction to define that act of looking beyond things as they are, not to unearth the Truth of things (as Heidegger did) but to reveal the complexities that lie behind the first facade of reality, that is, of a historical, theoretical, social, cultural event: one must "[...] undo, decompose, desediment structures (of all kinds: linguistic, phonetic, logocentric). [...]"

With deconstruction, therefore, a historical moment begins (in fact, Derrida clarifies that deconstruction is not an act or an operation. [...] Not only because it does not depend on a subject taking the initiative and applying it to an object, a theme, etc... Deconstruction takes place, it is an event that does not wait for deliberation, consciousness, the organization of the subject, nor of modernity. It deconstructs itself.") in which everything is questioned and must be questioned.

From 1950 to the present day. The conflict between the West and Putin’s Russia

With the First World War, all monarchies fell and the Name of the Father expressed by monarchies is decapitated. Hitler’s and Mussolini’s dictatorship represented an atheistic attempt to restore the function of the Name of the Father. These were interpretations of the function of the Name of the Father that had no contact with God. On his behalf, the Soviet Union under the leadership of Stalin attempted a rehabilitation of the function of the Name of the Father. The cult of personality revolving around the Soviet leader would also include representations of him as a Father. On the other side, the democrats/liberals who first defeated Nazism, then communism, advanced.

In 1848 Marx said, "A ghost stirs and disquiets Europe, Communism." Defeated Nazism, liberalism and communism have tried to interpret the subordinative logic and in this sense the function of the Name of the Father, trying to define it in a different, conflictive way. However, in the period of the Cold War, they managed to find a balance.

At the end of the cold war, with the SS-20 missiles crisis gone, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the free world found itself freed from the cap of communism, going towards a direction that arouses many perplexities for the rapidity of its evolution. Space and time have changed so much that they pose to the subject serious problems of adaptation. The relationship between the “Real”, understood in a Lacanian way as “being”, as that of which one has no idea, thus the opposite of reality (according to Lacan the real is God), and the Symbolic (the world) has undergone an unprecedented modification. This is especially evident in economic relations. The symbolic economy has taken over the real economy until they become completely independent. The 2008 collapse of the pyramids has led the sovereign states to the risk of bankruptcy, putting at stakes the indebted individuals. The global market found itself without an order, without an ethic, without a Name of the Father and this brings out a question: is this the end of illusions or a decisive step towards the destruction and change of a logic?

In 2009, an American article, for the first time, used the word “stream” to explain how the Internet had begun to be used, i.e. a continuous flow of news. The Internet is another important element, when understanding the logic of deconstruction. Already starting from the 50s the signifier master is no longer science but, technology. In English there is a term not translatable with the same effectiveness, “nownews” that indicates the instant, the moment, in which something occurs. The Internet is like a river in which we see the last thing dragged by the current and then we lose it after a few moments. The only criterion is instant, what I see in front of me, not necessarily what is useful or interesting, but simply what it is published now, in the moment I am seeing it. This represents what the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus defined as “panta rei”: there is nothing stable and everything flows.


In this framework, the conflict between the interpretation of the Name of the Father takes place in the Western civilization.

In fact, in our contemporaneity, the process of deconstruction has gone to affect and destroy, in the liberal West, the function of the Father in politics, which had, on the contrary, always been protected through institutions. The protection of authority was clear and continued at least until the Kennedys. The politician, the authority was protected in is function of Father, of guide, no matter how he would behave in his private life.

Now we are increasingly witnessing the systematic demolition of this function in the liberal West: examples such as the trials and allegations against Silvio Berlusconi, the arms scandal around Francois Mitterrand, the ongoing accusations against Pope Hemeritus Benedictus XVI for his “inaction in sexual abuse cases”, show the demolition of politics as worthy of issuing ideals, of representing an authority, of guiding and ruling, leaving the individual without a guide, without that Father who, as argued by Freud and Lacan, must be killed in order for the individual to become a subject.

On the other hand, there is Russia which, although belonging to the Western, Greek-Roman-Christian civilization, tries to decline the function of the Name of the Father in a different way: Putin defends the function of political power as authority, while in the West authority is totally demolished.

These two ongoing opposite trends at the heart of the same logical system, of the same civilization, are the evidences of the distrust of the Western world towards Russia, which is depicted as an "authoritarian democracy" and even as antonym of democracy. If in 1989 Samuel Huntington would use the concept of “clash of civilizations” to explain the prospects of international relations, if we understand logic and civilization as sinonyms, the clash forecasted by Huntington reaches its inner level.

In the wake of the understanding of international relations dynamics through the logics that sustain them, the clash inside what was supposed to become, according to the post-cold war project, Common European Home, is the consequence of Putin’s fulfilment of the function of the Name of the Father in a traditional way, where politics imposes, guides, creates ideals and desires. Conversely, in the West, politics has abdicated its traditional and fundamental function of providing individuals with a desire and a law. Exactly according to these two words, the Western logical system has been organized: law, which comes from the Germanic word liegen, to put order, and desire, which comes from latin de sidus, feeling the lack, lack expressed by the prefix de, of the stars, sidus is star. As the first mentioned constitutive element of the subordinative logic system presupposes, we need to formulate laws to pass from a situation of chaos to one of order. However, our logic system was not and is not static, as it is based upon desire, the second element, and this presupposes a continuous quest for something that it feels like missing. The evolutive process of the Western civilization thus relies upon the relation between law and desire and this is precisely how our logical western subordinative system has been developing. However, nowadays, the ever more dominating wide-spread paradigm relies on a new axiom, stating that “it is forbidden to forbid”. This is even more enhanced in what is becoming a liquid world, where time and space acquire new meanings.

The individual thus finds himself in a chaos that, finally, presupposes the loss of identity. How can the subject survive, live, without an identity? And how can a logic (civilization), which is based on the subject, survive, if the subject ceases to exist?

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