Reflections on the Authentica Habita


After reading Derrida’s ‘The University Without Conditon,’ I started doing something like a genealogy of academic freedom, trying to think about how that mostly forgotten beginning in Bologna has some possibly implications for the way that we think about our work in the academy today. I’m sharing some of that writing in its raw form here in Formative Justice.

The Habita: the first or originary right granted to the university, articulated in the “imperial constitution” of 1158, at the Diet of Roncaglia, willed by Frederick Barbarossa, and granted to the students and faculty of the university of Bologna. As cited in Gabriel Compayre [Abelard, and the Origin and Early History of University, Scriber, 1893/1910]: “We will that the students, and above all, the professors of divine and sacred laws, may be able to establish themselves and dwell in entire security in the cities where the study of letters is practiced. It is fitting that we should shelter them from all harm. Who would not have compassion on these men who exile themselves through love of learning, who expose themselves to a thousand dangers, and who, far from their kindred and their families, remain defenseless among persons who are sometimes of the vilest?”(76)

Aside from the potential for misunderstanding whom the dispensation applies too – that is, a misunderstanding that would believe the Habita is only applicable to the faculty of theology, when, in fact, the university of Bologna was grounded in the study of Roman/Imperial/Justinian law, and thus it must be assumed that in granting this privilege, Barbarossa was, in effect, legitimizing his claim to the status of Emperor — the presentation of the Habita [perhaps following the example offered by Agamben] is intended to be part of a recollection of the covenant that establishes the dispensation of the university, specifically, the students and faculty, from the limits of their speech by local authority, with the deconstructive move being the exercise of this right in the form of a performative work that appears as an ‘internal critique’ of the university, as testing of faith in the Habita. This is where the role or identity of the critical educational theorist emerges as one who ‘tests’ or ‘examines’ the university’s ‘tolerance’ for academic freedom.

Further reflections on the Authentica Habita of are important, and should be linked, both in content and form to Agamben’s work on sovereignty. The continuity between the Jusitinian Codex, the extant body of Roman law at the time, is crucial, as noted above, insofar as it seems to be a clear attempt by Barabarossa to legitimize his claim to the title of Emperor by not only placing himself above the local authorities as the ultimate authority, but also insinuating (?) himself into what had become the principal source of study, namely, that very same Justinian Codex. Of course, this served the students and faculty in two important ways. As [citation] has noted, the original faculty at Bologna were living within a paradox: their study of the Codex was, from the standing of the Codex itself, illegitimate, because Justinian had identified [specific] locations as the only legitimate and authentic study of the law: Rome, Constantinople, and….

But this paradox experienced by the original Bologna faculty was, of course, resolved by a fiction issued by Thesodorius.

So the Authentica Habita served the needs of the faculty and students of Bologna insofar as it now appeared to authentically legitimate their study of the Codex, which, by then, had already become an established practice.

And, of course, the Habita also provided, first and foremost, the right to free study, which, for me, is what is most important. Historians place emphasis on the legal privileges and protection it provided. I see this as a fundamental protective that is akin to the walls and ramparts that provide the necessary defense in the case where there is the threat of harm. For me what is most important is Barbarossa’s naming of the faculty and students as those who, though a love learning (philosophia?), occupy a location that is a akin to “an exile”: a prolonged separation from one’s homeland, place of origin. And because of this the Habita is primarily decreed as protection for those who have withdrawn from ‘everyday life’ and taken up the ‘life of the mind,’ and are thereby “able to establish themselves and dwell in entire security in the cities where the study of letters is practiced.” (humanities? Liberal arts?)

Now there is the metaphoric sense of ‘exile’ that builds upon the imagined ‘as if’ of the legitimacy of the practice of studying the Justinian Codex, and, for me, the force of Derrida’s invitation that we should ‘say everything’ even if it is experimental performance, or a work of ‘fiction’ – and this ‘even’ is not an aside but feels like an imperative or a challenge to do the work in this way – is made stronger, or is generated by, or generates more power when we make the following reading of the beginning of the universitatis: it is ‘conceived’ via imagination [I hesitate to use the word ‘contrived’]. [although ‘contrive’ does have a primary denotation that does not carrying the full weight of the pejorative: to plan with ingenuity, to devise, to invent. Moreover, the lingering sense of ‘manipulation’ or ‘scheming’ doesn’t seem to me a problem, and, in fact, gives this origin a kind of intrigue (?), or makes it human, and points toward an less than ideal beginning, or one that does not seek to be apocryphal, but is the self-conscious product of designing and building, of making a location, of claiming a place. Of course, when written in this way, it does come across as bearing the quality and characteristic of a kind of colonial logic….] And because of this beginning the original faculty established “the study of letters” as that exact kind of theoretical work that we might describe as the performance of the oeuvre, the singular work that occupies its own space (understood from a phenomenological and ontological perspective), and in occupying this space is not by intent linked to anything beyond itself. It is ‘self-referential’ in some regards, but in sense it is like the dialogue of thinking: eme emauto, a silent dialogue between the self, the meditation.

About professoriguana

Professor of Philosophy of Education, Hofstra University, where I teach grad and undergrad courses. Member of the Downtown Philosophy and Education Studio (D-PES), based in NYC. My book "Being and Learning' (Sense) was published the summer of 2012. I am host and producer of the Dead Zone, airing Sundays 6-8pm EST on WRHU.ORG, Radio Hofstra University 88.7FM. I also produce the radio show Black Diamond Discography, which airs sporadically on WMPG, Portland, Maine. I'm also occasionally producing a radio project called "Musings," which will combine music and philosophical talk. Shared files of 'Musings' and 'Black Diamond Discography' can found at
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3 Responses to Reflections on the Authentica Habita

  1. Here is the most general context for the writing that lead me back to Bologna, to the Habita, and, before even that, to Irnerius and the ‘first’ reading of, and writing of glossae on, the Justinian Codex. What I’ve learned since writing of the chapter abstract (back in March), is that the overwhelming majority of students at Bologna were ‘from abroad,’ so that the ‘stranger’ or the ‘foreigner’ (including Irnerius himself), was actually what we might call the ‘founder’ of the university. Indeed, as you all know, ‘university’ is a word that was initially used to describe the collegi of students from ‘abroad’ who were gathered together as ‘nations’!

    Some CONTEXT for Iguana’s musings on Derrida and the university without condition:

    Chapter on Derrida: “The University Without Condition? Raising the Question of the Stranger, and Testing the ‘Faith’ in Critical Resistance”

    In his lecture “The University Without Condition,” Derrida declares what he calls a ‘profession of faith’ towards the university without condition. We must make such a declaration of faith, which is both expression of trust and loyalty, but also one of hope, because, he tells us, the university without condition does not in fact exist. Nevertheless, and because of its ‘non existence,’ we must speak of the university “‘without power’ and ‘without defense,’” because, “it is absolutely independent” and “should remain an ultimate place of critical resistance – and more than critical – to all powers of dogmatic and unjust appropriation.” He goes on: “Consequence of this thesis: such an unconditional resistance could oppose the university to a great number of powers…” And finally, he poses the question: “Can the university (and if so, how?) affirm an unconditional independence…?”

    In this chapterI take up Derrida’s lecture by focusing on the promises and pitfalls that arise from operating under a ‘profession of faith.’ And to do this I read Derrida’s lecture on “The University Without Condition” against his lectures on hospitality, specifically, the first lecture, “Foreigner Question: Coming from Abroad/from the Foreigner.” Finding myself playing the ‘stranger’ for the university, which means I am often asked to ‘perform’ the role of the ethnic/racial ‘foreigner,’ I understand myself to bear what Derrida calls “the question of the foreigner.” The stranger’s question is first and foremost the existential question regarding one’s standing within the place where one has been ‘welcomed’ as an outsider. It is a question that identifies one as an outsider/newcomer, “as though the foreigner were being-in-question, the question-being or being-in-question of the question.” Who are you?, and How does your presence here test ‘our’ profession of faith? The second question emerges from an ontology of ‘being-in-question,’ because the foreigner who is ‘welcomed’ is “the one who puts the first question…the one who, putting the first question, puts [the university] in question.” If the ‘first’ question is the originary question, it is the question addressed to the creed, to the profession of faith. Posing this ‘first’ question is thus to test the ‘unconditionality’ of the university. If to exist ‘without condition’ is to exist ‘without power’ then how does power circulate with/in the university, especially with respect to the formation of discourses, fields of study, the inclusion/exclusion of knowledge?

    What follows from this ‘first’ question raised by a welcomed stranger is a thesis in response to the profession of faith: if the university without condition is the ‘ultimate place of critical resistance…to unjust appropriation’ then it has within itself the capacity or resources to remain independent from itself, i.e., it has the capacity and the resources to resist its own closure, its walls and towers that require codes, keys or other discursive unlocking devices; the university must oppose its own power to exclude; the university must remain ‘unconditional’ in its critical resistance towards its own ‘independence,’ which can be both the realization of the positive principle of liberty (liberté) (i.e, state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views, viz., academic freedom) but also the enactment of negative liberty (i.e, the libertarian ‘freedom from’ engagement), which places the university outside the ethical and political jurisdiction of acting in concert with democratic principles such as openness, transparency, and equality. In sum, the reading Derrida against Derrida will reveal strategies for actualizing the force of principles that always remain potential, or outside of existence, yet somehow immanent in the thinking of the university.

  2. Pingback: Does Education Need Science? | Formative Justice

  3. What you are doing, striking off from Derrida’s “University Without Condition” and going back to the roots of the University That Got Conditions, is important. Thinking has probably always wanted to be free, but it gets bogged down in the mortal embodiment of life. Derrida professed an intimation of significant changes, perhaps the disappearance, of the conditions that have historically come with the university. But people would have to make that all arrive. Perhaps we help it do so by studying past attempts to have a university without conditions and why those limits came about all the same. You’re pointing the way.

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