Maurizio Lazzarato

Last updated

What is credit/debt in its most elementary sense? A promise of payment. What is a financial asset, a share, or bond? The promise of future value. "Promise,", "value," and "future" are also key words in Nietzsche's Second Essay. For Nietzsche, the "oldest and most personal relationship there is" is that between creditor and debtor, a relationship wherein "person met person for the first time, and measured himself person against person." Consequently, the task of a community or society has first of all been to engender a person capable of promising, someone able to stand guarantor for himself in the creditor-debtor relationship, that is, capable of honoring his debt. Making a person capable of keeping a promise means constructing a memory for him, endowing him with interiority, a conscience, which provide a bulwark against forgetting. It is within the domain of debt obligations that memory, subjectivity, and conscience begin to be produced.

The Making of the Indebted Man, pp. 39-40.

Lazzarato refers to the socializing process of creating individual subjects as "subjectivation". [8] He also contrasts the Nietzschean view of credit/debt with those given by Marx and by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus . The latter part of the book is a criticism of debt as used in European neoliberal governance, introducing ideas which are developed more fully in Governing by Debt.

The Making of the Indebted Man has proved crucial for the application of the theorizing of neoliberal debt in relation to material culture and contemporary art. [9]

Governing by Debt

In Governing by Debt, Lazzarato uses the vocabulary developed in Making of the Indebted Man to examine how debt is employed by states and private enterprise, as opposed to individuals. The book is a critique of neoliberalism and governmentality where the latter refers to a form of government which responds to economic demands, a notion closely related to ordoliberalism. Lazzarato characterizes American student debt as an ideal example of the credit/debt economy, and also uses history and anthropology to trace a cultural notion of "infinite debt" (e.g. life-debt, original sin) which he argues has informed the modern economy. [10]

The book's central idea is that basic categories of the economic and political spheres (which are commonly opposed, or spoken of as separate items) are in fact not distinct, but closely related and overlapping. For example, governments and businesses closely coordinate their policies, laws, business practices and expectations, and are therefore coupled with each other. Lazzarato cites the work of Carl Schmitt to illustrate the point. [lower-alpha 1] Lazzarato also cites Foucault's work The Birth of Biopolitics to illustrate the social experience of debt; however he criticizes the distinction that Foucault makes between states and economies, with classical liberalism as a mediator. [12] Further, the distinction between industrial capitalism and financial capitalism is questioned; however Lazzarato retains the distinction in the sense that financial capitalism is the "purest" form of capitalism, because it simply transforms one form of money into another form of money through valorization (e.g. via the circulation and trade of financial products), without using a commodity as an intermediate step. In Marxist terminology, this is expressed as M-M' (money creating different money), as opposed to M-C-M' (money creating a commodity, which yields different money). Lazzarato also cites Lenin's work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism to indicate the primacy of financial capitalism, emergent during Lenin's period. [13]

Lazzarato concludes the text by proposing refusal of work as a technique for the disruption of the modern economy. He advocates for this goal because he attributes responsibility for human suffering during financial crises to capitalists and state actors, and not to any national population. However (in Lazzarato's account) national populations are nevertheless made to pay for such crises and socialized to feel responsibility for them, through taxation, austerity, and media messaging:

The state, technocratic governments, and the media [must therefore] invest considerable energy to ensure a population's guilt for a debt into which it has never entered and, therefore, its responsibility for faults it has never committed. The laws, speeches, articles, and slogans deployed to this end are directly proportional to the scope of the fraud. During the crisis, technocratic governments have moved to construct a memory of debt not for individuals but for entire nations. The violence of taxes and appropriations is the privileged instrument, for only that which inflicts pain is engraved in memory, only that which hurts registers and remains inscribed in consciousness (Nietzsche).

Governing by Debt, p. 42.



  1. "Schmitt critiques 'liberal' thinking and its claim to neutralize the political nature of the economy by transforming it into 'economics'. From the lofty perspective of its scientific knowledge, economics asserts that the political solution to the 'social question' depends on the growth of production and consumption, which can be understood and function only according to the laws of the market. Conversely, Schmitt argues that the economy is the contemporary form of the political such that the international division of labor represents the 'true constitution of the earth today'. [11]


Related Research Articles

Neoliberalism, also neo-liberalism, is a term used to signify the late-20th century political reappearance of 19th-century ideas associated with free-market capitalism after it fell into decline following the Second World War. A prominent factor in the rise of conservative and right-libertarian organizations, political parties, and think tanks, and predominantly advocated by them, it is generally associated with policies of economic liberalization, including privatization, deregulation, globalization, free trade, monetarism, austerity, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. The defining features of neoliberalism in both thought and practice have been the subject of substantial scholarly debate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antonio Negri</span> Italian sociologist and political philosopher

Antonio "Toni" Negri is an Italian Spinozistic-Marxist sociologist and political philosopher, best known for his co-authorship of Empire and secondarily for his work on Spinoza. Born in Padua, he became a political philosophy professor in his hometown university. Negri founded the Potere Operaio group in 1969 and was a leading member of Autonomia Operaia. As one of the most popular theorists of Autonomism, he has published hugely influential books urging "revolutionary consciousness".

The Third Way is a centrist political position that attempts to reconcile right-wing and left-wing politics by advocating a varying synthesis of centre-right economic policies with centre-left social policies. The Third Way was born from a re-evaluation of political policies within various centre to centre-left progressive movements in the 1980s in response to doubt regarding the economic viability of the state and the perceived overuse of economic interventionist policies that had previously been popularised by Keynesianism, but which at that time contrasted with the rise of popularity for neoliberalism and the New Right starting in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.

Post-Fordism is a term used to describe the growth of new production methods defined by flexible production, the individualisation of labour relations and fragmentation of markets into distinct segments, after the demise of Fordist production. It was widely advocated by French Marxist economists and American labour economists in the 1970s and 1980s. Definitions of the nature and scope of post-Fordism vary considerably and are a matter of debate among scholars.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Credit</span> Financial term for the trust between parties in transactions with a deferred payment

Credit is the trust which allows one party to provide money or resources to another party wherein the second party does not reimburse the first party immediately, but promises either to repay or return those resources at a later date. The resources provided by the first party can be either property, fulfillment of promises, or performances. In other words, credit is a method of making reciprocity formal, legally enforceable, and extensible to a large group of unrelated people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Latin American debt crisis</span> Financial crisis during the 1970s and 1980s

The Latin American debt crisis was a financial crisis that originated in the early 1980s, often known as La Década Perdida, when Latin American countries reached a point where their foreign debt exceeded their earning power, and they were not able to repay it.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Criticism of capitalism</span> Arguments against the economic system of capitalism

Criticism of capitalism ranges from expressing disagreement with the principles of capitalism in its entirety to expressing disagreement with particular outcomes of capitalism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Autonomism</span> Anti-authoritarian left-wing political and social movement and theory

Autonomism, also known as autonomist Marxism is an anti-capitalist left-wing political and social movement and theory. As a theoretical system, it first emerged in Italy in the 1960s from workerism. Later, post-Marxist and anarchist tendencies became significant after influence from the Situationists, the failure of Italian far-left movements in the 1970s, and the emergence of a number of important theorists including Antonio Negri, who had contributed to the 1969 founding of Potere Operaio as well as Mario Tronti, Paolo Virno and Franco "Bifo" Berardi.

Semiotext(e) is an independent publisher of critical theory, fiction, philosophy, art criticism, activist texts and non-fiction.

Affective labor is work carried out that is intended to produce or modify emotional experiences in people. This is in contrast to emotional labor, which is intended to produce or modify one's own emotional experiences. Coming out of Autonomist feminist critiques of marginalized and so-called "invisible" labor, it has been the focus of critical discussions by, e.g., Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Juan Martin Prada, and Michael Betancourt.

Debtors Anonymous (DA) is a twelve-step program for people who want to stop incurring unsecured debt. Collectively they attend more than 500 weekly meetings in fifteen countries, according to data released in 2011. Those who compulsively incur unsecured debt are said to be engaged in compulsive borrowing and are known as compulsive debtors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Credit theory of money</span> Economic theory

Credit theories of money, also called debt theories of money, are monetary economic theories concerning the relationship between credit and money. Proponents of these theories, such as Alfred Mitchell-Innes, sometimes emphasize that money and credit/debt are the same thing, seen from different points of view. Proponents assert that the essential nature of money is credit (debt), at least in eras where money is not backed by a commodity such as gold. Two common strands of thought within these theories are the idea that money originated as a unit of account for debt, and the position that money creation involves the simultaneous creation of debt. Some proponents of credit theories of money argue that money is best understood as debt even in systems often understood as using commodity money. Others hold that money equates to credit only in a system based on fiat money, where they argue that all forms of money including cash can be considered as forms of credit money.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sylvère Lotringer</span> French literary critic (1938–2021)

Sylvère Lotringer was a French-born literary critic and cultural theorist. Initially based in New York City, he later lived in Los Angeles and Baja California, Mexico. He is best known for synthesizing French theory with American literary, cultural and architectural avant-garde movements as founder of the journal Semiotext(e) and for his interpretations of theory in a 21st-century context. He is regarded as an influential interpreter of Jean Baudrillard's theories, among others.

Debt deflation is a theory that recessions and depressions are due to the overall level of debt rising in real value because of deflation, causing people to default on their consumer loans and mortgages. Bank assets fall because of the defaults and because the value of their collateral falls, leading to a surge in bank insolvencies, a reduction in lending and by extension, a reduction in spending.

Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor is a classical political-economic argument asserting that, in advanced capitalist societies, state policies assure that more resources flow to the rich than to the poor, for example in the form of transfer payments.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paolo Virno</span> Italian philosopher

Paolo Virno is an Italian philosopher, semiologist and a figurehead for the Italian Marxist movement. Implicated in belonging to illegal social movements during the 1960s and 1970s, Virno was arrested and jailed in 1979, accused of belonging to the Red Brigades. He spent several years in prison before finally being acquitted, after which he organized the publication Luogo Comune in order to vocalize the political ideas he developed during his imprisonment. Virno currently teaches philosophy at the University of Rome.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Hudson (economist)</span>

Michael Hudson is an American economist, Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri–Kansas City and a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College, former Wall Street analyst, political consultant, commentator and journalist. He is a contributor to The Hudson Report, a weekly economic and financial news podcast produced by Left Out.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Franco Berardi</span> Italian philosopher and activist

Franco "Bifo" Berardi is an Italian Marxist philosopher, theorist and activist in the autonomist tradition, whose work mainly focuses on the role of the media and information technology within post-industrial capitalism. Berardi has written over two dozen published books, as well as a number of essays and speeches.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tiziana Terranova</span> Italian theorist and activist

Tiziana Terranova is an Italian theorist and activist whose work focuses on the effects of information technology on society through concepts such as digital labor and commons. Terranova has published the monograph Network Culture. Politics for the Information Age, as well as a more extensive number of essays and speeches, and appeared as a keynote speaker in several conferences. She lectures on the digital media cultures and politics in the Department of Human and Social Sciences, at the University of Naples, 'L'Orientale'.

Immaterial labor is a Marxist framework to describe how value is produced from affective and cognitive activities, which, in various ways, are commodified in capitalist economies. The concept of immaterial labor was coined by Italian sociologist and philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato in his 1996 essay "Immaterial Labor", published as a contribution to Radical Thought in Italy and edited by Virno and Hardt. It was re-published in 1997 as: Lavoro immateriale. Forme di vita e produzione di soggettività.. Lazzarato was a participant in the Years of Lead (Italy) group as a student in Padua in the 1970s, and is a member of the editorial group of the journal Multitudes. Post-Marxist scholars including Franco Berardi, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Judith Revel, and Paolo Virno, among others have also employed the concept.


  1. Lazzarato, Maurizio (1996). Les machines à cristalliser le temps : perception et travail dans le post-fordisme (Ph.D.). Université de Paris VIII. OCLC   491240299 . Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  2. "Angela Melitopoulos & Maurizio Lazzarato - Assemblages". Arsenal Forum. Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art. 2010. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  3. Murphy, Timothy; Lazzarato, Mauricio (2007). "Strategies of the Political Entrepreneur". SubStance. 36 (112): 86. JSTOR   415285.
  4. Han, Sam (2008). Navigating technomedia: caught in the Web. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.
  5. Virno, Hardt, Paolo, Michael (1996). Radical thought in Italy: A potential politics. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.
  6. Lazzarato, Maurizio (2012). The Making of the Indebted Man. Semiotext(e) Intervention Series. Vol. 13. Semiotext(e). ISBN   9781584351153.
  7. Lazzarato, Maurizio (2015). Governing by Debt. Semiotext(e) Intervention Series. Vol. 17. Semiotext(e). ISBN   9781584351634.
  8. The Making of the Indebted Man, p. 42.
  9. Simon, Joshua (2013). Neomaterialism. Berlin: Sternberg Press. pp. 39–60. ISBN   978-3-943365-08-5.
  10. Governing by Debt, pp. 61-79.
  11. Governing by Debt, pp. 46-47.
  12. Governing by Debt, pp. 91-92.
  13. Governing by Debt, pp. 213-222.
  14. Gratton, Peter (July 15, 2015). "Company of One: The Fate of Democracy in an Age of Neoliberalism". LA Review of Books.
  15. Charbonneau, M., & Hansen, M. P. (2014). Debt, Neoliberalism and Crisis: Interview with Maurizio Lazzarato on the Indebted Condition. Sociology, 48(5), 1039-1047
Maurizio Lazzarato
Maurizio Lazzarato DCRL Interview.jpg
Lazzarato in 2014
Born1955 (age 6768)
Nationality Italian
Academic background
Alma mater Université de Paris VIII
Thesis 'Les machines à cristalliser le temps : perception et travail dans le post-fordisme [1]  (1996)
Doctoral advisor Jean-Marie Vincent
Influences Marx Nietzsche Deleuze