Was Deleuze a political philosopher or does his work, including the books coauthored with Guattari, offer a Deleuzian political philosophy? Deleuze himself clearly thought so. In a 1990 interview with Antonio Negri, “Control and Becoming,” he commented that “Anti-Oedipus was from beginning to end a work of political philosophy” (Deleuze 1990, 230; 1994, 170). Others disagree. A recent survey of the secondary literature by Jeremy Gilbert identifies two recent books which answer these questions with a resounding “No”: Philippe Mengue’s Deleuze et la question de la democratie (2003) and Peter Hallward’s Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation (2006). In fact, both Mengue and Hallward waver between denying that Deleuze is a political philosopher and asserting that he is the wrong kind of political philosopher. Gilbert summarises their respective conclusions in the following terms: “Deleuze is a mystic, a nostalgist for elitist modes of avant-gardism which have no purchase on the present, at best an implicit conservative whose romanticism leaves no scope for rational calculation or collective action” (Gilbert 2010, 10).

Alain Badiou, in a talk presented in English in 2001 and recently published in French, provides a more rigorous and consistent outline of the difficulties involved in identifying a Deleuzian political philosophy (Badiou 2009, 15-20). The first difficulty is that Deleuze never identified the political as a specific object or domain of thought, in the same way that, in What is Philosophy?, he singled out art, science and philosophy.
The second, more subjective difficulty is that Deleuze was never very interested in politics. Unlike contemporaries such as Althusser, Derrida or Nancy he never argued that philosophy had a political destination. While this is accurate in relation to Deleuze’s solo writings, it is not true of his collaborative work with Guattari. He acknowledges in his interview with Negri that May ’68 and his encounters with people such as Guattari, Foucault and Elie Sambar led him to politics and to thinking about political problems (Deleuze 1990, 230; 1994, 170).

The third difficulty concerns the content of Deleuze and Guattari’s political writings. In Anti-Oedipus (Deleuze and Guattari 2004) and again in A Thousand Plateaus outline a theory of universal history involving at least three stages (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 1987). In the short essay, “Postscript on Control Societies, ” Deleuze outlines another historical series of types of society modelled on Foucault’s analysis of the “diagram” of disciplinary society (Deleuze 1995, 177-182). However, Badiou points out, none of this is really the work of a historian. On the contrary, Deleuze subscribes to a violent anti-historicism that leads him to insist more and more on the distinction between history and becoming. For Deleuze, it is becoming that is the real object of philosophy. Philosophy as it is defined in What is Philosophy? creates concepts that express particular kinds of becoming or ‘pure events.’

Nonetheless, Badiou admits, Deleuze does come to write about politics and, in What is Philosophy?, he does claim a political vocation for philosophy. This raises two questions: What kind of politics does he advocate? What kind of political philosophy does he undertake? In answer to the first question, we can begin by noting that, like many of their compatriots mobilized by the events of 1968, Deleuze and Guattari were heavily influenced by Marxist approaches to politics. They focused on the conditions of revolutionary social change rather than the conditions of maintaining society as a fair system of cooperation among its members. In contrast to traditional Marxist politics, however, they were less interested in the capture of state power than in the qualitative changes in individual and collective identities that occur alongside or beneath the public political domain. In their view, all politics is simultaneously a macropolitics that involves social classes and the institutions of political government and a micropolitics that involves subterranean movements of sensibility, affect, and allegiance. However much they borrowed from Marx’s analysis of capitalism, their own work focused on the individual and collective forms of desire that constitute the micropolitical dimension of social change. This focus on the politics of desire led them to abandon key tenets of Marxist social and political theory such as the concept of the party as a revolutionary vanguard and the philosophy of history that sustained Marxist class politics. They proposed a nonteleological conception of history along with a more nuanced appreciation of the deterritorializing as well as the reterritorializing aspects of capitalism. They insisted that the impetus for social change was provided by movements of deterritorialization and lines of flight rather than by class contradictions. Their rejection of the organizational and tactical forms of traditional Marxist politics is definitively expressed at the end of Dialogues when Deleuze and Parnet abandon the
goal of revolutionary capture of State power in favor of revolutionary-becoming (Deleuze and Parnet 1996, 176; 2002, 147). This new concept sought to encompass the multitude of ways in which individuals and groups deviate from the majoritarian norms that ultimately determine the rights and duties of citizens.

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