Posts Tagged ‘state of exception’

Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979.

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“The April 1960 decision proved prescient. Almost exactly a year later, four senior generals executed a putsch in Algiers. In response, the regime declared a state of emergency in mainland France and invoked — for the first and only time in the history of the Fifth Republic — the unequalled emergency powers afforded by Article 16 of the 1958 constitution. Acting under this dispensation, de Gaulle issued a series of executive decisions two days later, including one that prolonged the state of emergency indefinitely.

Before the law finally expired in May 1963, it would be prolonged three times. France lived under a continuous state of emergency for just over two years, well beyond the signing of the Evian Accords and the conclusion of hostilities in Algeria.

This period witnessed a distinctive, two-pronged coordination of state violence directed against both the nationalist insurrection and the mounting threat of praetorianism and right-wing terrorism. Brutality across the Mediterranean — the systematic use of torture by French forces, massive population transfers and internment camps — was accompanied by an “Algerianization” of the metropolitan home front. Functionaries and police formed by their colonial experience re-imported practices of population control and counterinsurgency.

The bloodiest consequences of this transfer appeared over the autumn of 1961, when Parisian police murdered well over 120 Algerians, leaving bodies to float in the Seine. Scores were killed on the single night of October 17, when a peaceful march, forbidden under emergency powers by a racist curfew (targeting French Muslims), elicited a brutal response from forces commanded by chief of police Maurice Papon.

Erstwhile prefect of the Constantine region, Papon shared the belief that France was waging a new form of war; in the words of one of its theorists in the army, this conflict could not be fought “according to the Napoleonic Code.” Months after the October massacre, official violence again shook the capital when police attacked a February 8, 1962 protest against bombings orchestrated by the right-wing terrorist Secret Army Organization (OAS). Although the march was forbidden by Papon, acting on orders from the government, corteges formed at surrounding metro stations to advance to Bastille. They would not get the chance.

At the intersection of Boulevard Voltaire and Rue Charonne, a group of demonstrators was cornered by two companies of police which, after a peremptory order to disperse, charged into the crowd. In the ensuing melee, dozens of protestors were forced into the entry to the Charonne metro, bludgeoned by officers. When it was over, nine — all but one Communists, and all members of the party-affiliated trade union (the CGT) — were dead, either beaten or suffocated.

As with the murder of Algerian demonstrators the preceding October, the violence at Charonne represented not a sudden break with normal policy, but the reasoned outcome of political and strategic decision-making. Of the fourteen police commissioners present for the October 17 demonstration, thirteen were on duty on February 8. Behind the delirious behavior of individual police lay a generative matrix of colonial warfare, anticommunism, and obsessive concern for the security of the state.

Political elites were also shaped by these forces. The same paradoxical logic that presided over the crackdown on the FLN Fédération de France governed reactions to the anti-OAS campaign: if the government repressed the communist-led protests against the OAS so ferociously, this was because it was preoccupied with retaining the support of the armed forces — not least in its struggle to retain their sympathies for mobilization against the OAS itself — for whom anticommunism remained a great unifying force.

At the very moment that terrorist violence employed by colonialist settlers and their supporters was reaching its apogee, then, governmental logic dictated that maximal violence be turned against their left-wing opponents.

Perfectly encapsulating this perverse dynamic, Interior Minister Roger Frey delivered a televised address on February 10 in which he denounced two sources of subversion. “The events [of February 8],” he observed, “prove once more the collusion of extremes against the Republic.” Faced with an existential threat of “political subversion,” any threat to public order could only be seen as itself an additional form of subversive activity.

It would be another forty years before the state of emergency again took force in France. In the interim, its legitimacy was affirmed by the Socialist government of Laurent Fabius, which applied the law in 1984 to the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, with the purpose of facilitating repression of the Kanak independence movement. Contested at the time by the right-wing opposition and the Communists, this episode all the same demonstrated the bipartisan appeal of the legislation.

When Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced recourse to the law in 2005, following two weeks of revolt in the Parisian banlieus, its colonial history had not been forgotten. Unrest over discriminatory policing and harassment in the impoverished suburbs had been catalyzed by the deaths of two French teenagers, electrocuted while seeking refuge from police pursuit in an electrical substation.

Belligerent comments by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who boasted months earlier of “cleaning up” the area with a pressure washer and now denigrated the rioters as racaille (trash), further aggravated matters. Villepin avoided mentioning the “state of emergency,” referring more obliquely to the “loi de 1955.”

The relevant decree, put before the council of ministers by President Jacques Chirac, limited the scope of exceptional powers to twenty-five départements, including the region surrounding the capital. Exercised to impose curfews, a power already invested in municipal authorities, and to forbid public gatherings in Paris and Lyon, the 2005 state of emergency served little practical purpose. Villepin himself spoke of the desire to create a “shock” effect, and speculation focused on his political rivalry with Sarkozy, styled as a hard-line advocate of law and order.

If the colonial echoes of the law aroused denunciation on the Left, they did not dampen public approval; some three quarters of those surveyed voiced their support for the measure. Challenges to the legality of the November decision maintained that the threat to public order — a condition for the law’s application — had been overstated. These were rejected in December by the Conseil d’État, which nonetheless envisioned a proximate end to the emergency in view of changing circumstances.

Since 1999, the French state has officially recognized that its military operations in Algeria constituted a war. But the ambiguity of that conflict has left an enduring imprint on the state apparatus. The decade spanning the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the New York attacks of September 11, 2001 witnessed a rejuvenation of French thinking about counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.

Persistent unrest in the banlieus, coupled with military intervention in the Middle East and domestic repercussions of the Algerian civil war, inspired fresh reflections on the “enemy within.” No longer the Communist militant or anticolonial revolutionary, this figure took on a distinctively deterritorialized, racially marked form: the immigrant and the Islamic terrorist now loomed as the gravest threats to national security.

Debates over Vigipirate, an anti-terrorist initiative conceived of in the late 1970s and continuously in effect since January 1991, underscored the connection between immigration and terrorism. Amalgamation of the two phenomena similarly appeared in the context of proposed reforms to French nationality law, and controversy surrounding the supposed danger posed by dual nationals.

Enemies Within
Today, reminders of this history are omnipresent. In his November 14 appearance on TF1, Valls did not hesitate to summon the menace of the ennemi intérieur. He likewise refused to rule out the possibility of establishing internment camps to house those suspected of terrorism. This eventuality, although explicitly prohibited under the 1955 law, was realized to barbaric effect in Algeria.

Laurent Wauquiez, leading figure of the parliamentary right, first revisited the notion, introducing a slight variation to Duclos’s line from Saint-Just. “There is no liberty,” he declared. “for the enemies of France and the Republic.” General Vincent Desportes, former director of the École de guerre, adopted an American idiom popularized by the country and western singer Chris LeDoux: “Freedom isn’t free.” “It must be paid for somehow,” Desportes added, “precisely by restricting liberties. This is the state of emergency.”

So far parliament has agreed. Bellicosity prevailed in the Palais Bourbon Thursday, and a rhetoric of macho hyper-violence took hold even of hitherto doveish Socialist MPs. “We need our Battle of Stalingrad!” exclaimed PS deputy and former president of SOS Racisme Malek Boutih, as Valls spoke again of war and asserted that “security is the first of our freedoms,” parroting a familiar slogan of the far-right National Front.

The modalities of the emergency law, specified by two decrees dated November 14, include heightened security measures, especially in public places, schools, and transport hubs, and limits on the movement of people and vehicles. In the Île-de-France area police have been empowered to conduct warrantless searches, assign suspects to house arrest, and ban public gatherings.

Historical precedent abounds, but so too do elements of novelty. Several modifications mark a departure from the 1955 text. Notably, constraints on the procedures for house arrest have been slackened: whereas Article 6 of the law originally referred to the detainment of those “whose actions pose a danger to security and public order,” the recent legislation instead concerns anyone “with respect to whom there exist serious reasons to think that his or her behavior constitutes a threat to security and public order.”

Those detained may also be tagged with electronic monitoring devices, a longstanding demand of the right, endorsed in parliament Wednesday evening by a number of Socialists. Philippe Gosselin, right-wing stalwart of Sarkozy’s Les Républicains (LR), saluted a sign of “intelligent progress” in this bipartisan initiative. “We have won the culture war!” he exulted.

A corollary decision, favored in the same quarters, has granted police officers and gendarmes the right to carry their weapons even when off duty. Searches are no longer limited to the homes of suspects, but extend to any locale they are known to frequent — restaurants, cafes, places of worship.

Additional refinements have updated the law for a digital age, including a wide remit to scour data accessible from personal computing devices. Punishment for violations has also been dramatically reinforced, from a penalty of up to two months in prison and a €3,750 fine to up to three years imprisonment and a fine of €45,000.

Other amendments to the law attenuate some of its repressive features. Censorship of radio and the press, which played an important role during the war in Algeria, has been ruled out, seemingly on grounds of practicability — given the proliferation of new media — rather than principle. The offices of MPs, lawyers, judges, and journalists are excluded from police searches, although a proposal that would have afforded similar protection to their private residences was rejected.

Increased judicial oversight has also been introduced, and the procedures allowing citizens to contest their treatment under the law simplified and strengthened. What significance these decisions will have remains to be seen.

In addition to amending the 1955 law, the government has expressed its intention to seek a constitutional revision to formally consecrate the state of emergency, including it alongside the state of siege under Article 36. Proposed among a slew of other reforms in the 2007 report of the Balladur Committee, this alteration is essentially technical in character.

More controversial is talk of revising French law to allow dual-nationals born in France to be stripped of their citizenship, in contravention of Article 25 of the civil code. When Sarkozy reopened this longstanding fixation of the Right in the wake of the January attacks, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve objected that it would constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Concerns are now brushed aside.

Meanwhile, the forces of order have already undertaken hundreds of raidsand administrative detentions, and strikes planned by Air France employees and Paris hospital workers called off. The assault Tuesday on a squat in Lille, conducted by the elite counterterrorism unit of the national police (RAID), encouraged fears that expanded powers will affect targets unconnected to the putative terrorist threat, a prospect confirmed days later by a wave of repression in the Nord Pas-de-Calais targeting drug dealers and petty criminals.

Operation Sentinelle, put into effect following the January attacks of this year, mobilized some seven thousand soldiers, the equivalent of two army brigades, mainly tasked with guarding public places in and around the capital. For this campaign, as the journalist Jean-Dominique Merchet has observed, “Bataclan was another Sedan.”

Hollande now declares it is his intention to recruit five thousand more police and gendarmes in the coming two years, an unlikely target given the limits of available resources and training facilities. Plans for reducing army troop strength have been put on hold until 2019; in the last week, demands to enlist are reported to have tripled.

Rhetorical intensification notwithstanding, France in fact has been continuously at war for some time. Four overseas military operations (Opex) have been launched in as many years: Libya, Mali, Central Africa, Iraq. Beset by personal humiliation and catastrophically low approval ratings, Hollande has embraced his role as commander in chief, relaying the baton of his predecessor.

Against a backdrop of crisis and diminished economic power, France more and more looks to its armed forces as warrant of international prestige. In reaction to recent events, the Socialist government has dared for the first time to declare its willingness to violate the European austerity regime, with the president proclaiming that security must take precedence over stability. The UN Security Council and the EU have rapidly acceded to French requests for support in its campaign against ISIS.

The conjunction of anti-terrorism measures at home and open-ended warfare abroad has invited comparisons with the US response to the September 2001 attacks. An unpopular president surrounded by a powerful, ideologically motivated retinue of advisers, opting for domestic repression and foreign adventurism, in each case animated by the exigencies of a “war against terrorism.”

Hitherto France has been relatively reticent on both counts. In the above-mentioned instances, “invitation” to intervene militarily was secured from local authorities. Syria, where France began conducting airstrikes two months ago, is an exception: juridically, ISIS is recognized as a territorial state, with borders encompassing parts of Iraq and Syria. Fighters who return to France are in principle subject to domestic law; unlike in the US, there has so far been no full-scale elaboration of an alternative legal regime for those accused of crimes relating to terrorism.

As the country enters its second week of emergency, public support for the government remains high. Preliminary polls suggest that Hollande’s Socialist Party may well capitalize on disaster, and the gelatinous president, his popularity reaching historic lows in the months before November 13, could emerge rejuvenated.

But contraindications have also appeared. A rally on Sunday in support of immigrant rights, planned well in advance of the attacks, went forward despite official prohibition on gatherings in the capital (prolonged through the end of the month). Some five hundred demonstrators, marching from Bastille to République, transformed their act into a protest against the state of emergency itself, and chants echoed of “état d’urgence, état policier!” Reports indicate that fifty-eight of the participants, identified by the police, are now facing prosecution.

Paris has announced that protests scheduled to coincide with the COP21 international climate talks, held the weekend of November 29, will also be banned. How authorities react to flouting of this decision will furnish an index of future repression.”

– Gerry Anderson, “The French Emergency.” Jacobin. November 24, 2015. 

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“We know that violence is something much more than mere bodily violation. Mindful of this, not only is there a need, as you have stressed in your work, to appreciate more rigorously the politics of time and how this often shapes modes of perception (especially regarding endangerment), there is also a need to address what is heard and unheard from victims of history. How do you understand the act of silencing?

For many of us who’ve lived on the bottom or in the dark corners of social value, the desire to make a claim on the world is accompanied by fear, shame, and a history of humiliation both directly, by other people, and indirectly, in the sense that one comes to expect nothing while wanting to force into existence so much. Much of what we call silence isn’t silence at all but political speech and communication that are not listened to. So if some of the violence of silencing is a genuine suppression of speech, most of it is really the experience of communicative impotence: the experience of others’ aversion to taking in and becoming different in response to the force of what one says.

More concretely, during teaching quarters I tattoo a phrase on my arm: “What would it mean to have that thought?” It points us to the inadequacy of the silence/speech dichotomy. It’s not that we aren’t talking, or aren’t being heard in a way that could be repeated technically. It means that people often can’t bear to be changed by what they hear. “What would it mean to have that thought?” means, what would it mean to see the world through those lenses, that framework, that proposition? What would it mean really to take in what we hear and to walk around the world with it and test it out, rehearsing what it would mean for it to be the case? When even our political allies phrase proposals and demands that jar us, to “silence” them means to rest with our first resistance to what we’ve heard: and to allow it to be speech means to sit with it, to generate cases and examples — to give the speech potential life. It’s much harder to de-silence inconvenient speech than it seems.

Your work is widely accredited for pushing forward thinking on the issues of vulnerability. In particular you have insisted upon moving away from universalizing tendencies, which often risk flattening out gendered-, racial-, and class-based distinctions. What does vulnerability offer us today in developing a meaningful critique of violence?

A few things. As a scholar of affect I tend to look at the difference between a structure and an experience of the impact of the world. So structurally everyoneis vulnerable. We are all taking in the world and responding to it, being disturbed even by people and institutions we’re attached to and people we don’t know but somehow take personally as though their very existence were a challenge to us. Authoritarians are motivated by many things, such as to consolidate ownership and control of the whole scope of life, but they also recognize their vulnerability to the uncontrollability of labor power and non-normative minds; so much terrible bullying and aggression live in the same space as the vulnerability that feels like an unbearable tenderness. The question isn’t how does vulnerability provide a measure for restorative justice — it doesn’t — but, what are the different costs people pay for defending themselves? That’s another way to measure privilege: by way of the available cushions and defenses against the impediments of vulnerability.

Secondly, the structure of vulnerability — from living in toxic and unequal intimacies, working unlivable worklives that barely sustain our bodies and the comfort worlds we scavenge together — isn’t always felt as vulnerability. It can be felt as desperation, numbness, realism, misery, mania, rage at others, radical confidence loss, or exhaustion and depletion. So one thing thinking with “vulnerability” can do is to expand our understanding of the difference between structural vulnerability and the piercing social atmospheres it generates. Another thing it can do is to make us realize that the ambition not to feel vulnerability is an asocial desire, since sociality produces being vulnerable to each other at many scales, in many senses.

I could go on, but thinking with your question makes me realize a few things. One is that the reason many of us choose “precarity” over vulnerability to describe a wearing state of exposure is that the latter seems more personal and visceral whereas the former always also points to what’s formal and structural — impersonal — about what pressures ordinary living on at the moment. The other resistance is that I don’t share your desire for levers that allow for “a meaningful critique of violence,” if “meaningful” means that a good critique will shift the terms in which violence reproduces its banality or predictability. I don’t believe that a well-phrased critique will break the world-sustaining processes that protect the privileged, although that brokenness won’t happen without critique. To break the back of the reproduction of the violence we repudiate (inequality, unfairness, racist/sexist/class biopolitics, for example) we have to disturb the intelligibility of the world, the terms of fairness, responsibility, and of consent, which actually is more likely in the short term to increase the experience of vulnerability rather than protect us from further proximity to it. That’s another way to describe the machinery that animates the intensified frictions of the crisis of the historical present.

I fully accept here your concerns with “meaningful” critique as a critical leveler and the need to shift the terms of engagement in the order of what is rendered (in)telligible. I’d like to connect this back to your powerful phrase “unbearable tenderness.” Can you explain a bit more about this in the context of the nomalization of violence and abuse?

We call things unbearable when we are at a breaking point or broken one; we call things unbearable when we have to bear them. Unbearable tenderness is the state of recognizing that there’s no protecting oneself from the world one is trying to survive — unwelcome, under-resourced, or with exhausted defenses. It points to an unrelenting receptivity that resists defenses. For activists, the ambition to survive the world and further disturb it produces psychic loads so very difficult to carry, seeking out breathing room for life while seeking to make more disturbance.

You have continuously warned of the dangers of focusing on the politics of the exception. Why do you think political philosophy has such a fascination with the concept? And what might we do differently when thinking about those ritualistic abuses, which are so normalized and part of the social fabric, they appear hidden in plain sight?

People are so powerfully attached to an image of the ordinary world as offering potentially a smooth life that they have to classify radical disturbance as an exception. Plus, critical theorists tend to cite Walter Benjamin’s “state of exception” as though this is what he meant. There are lots of problems with this model of interruption, but to me the strongest problem is that to exceptionalize trauma presumes too much about the scale of the event, as though the first moment of intensity reveals an ontology of the event’s significance. This especially matters in relation to the ordinary abrasions of unfairness or inequality, and is deeply ahistorical. Traumas happen within life, over time; so do ordinary disturbances. They spread throughout the lifeworld, the tradition, the constraints on imagining consequences, the projection of qualities on kinds of persons, the association of some kinds of person with some kinds of injury, one’s own visceral responses, one’s own dreamlife, one’s conscious and unconscious bargaining and arguing with the world, et cetera. This is why trauma theorists have to talk both about events and environments, the atmospheres that shape one’s capacity to attach to the world. The exception is an argument about and a wish that life doesn’t have to be constantly disturbed this way. But to me, to stay clear-eyed in the scene of violence, we have to follow the many causes that induce incidents with a world-jolting force that shakes our confidence in how to live. Exceptionality as a genre and desire gets in the way of that.”

Brad Evans interviews Lauren Berlant, “Without Exception: On the Ordinariness of Violence.” LA Review of Books, July 30, 2018.

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“It is important not to forget that the first concentration camps in Germany were the work not of the Nazi regime but of the Social Democratic governments, which interned thousands of communist militants in 1923 on the basis of Schutzhaft and also created the Konzentrationslager für Ausländer at Cottbus-Sielow, which housed mainly Eastern European refugees and which may, therefore, be considered the first camp for Jews in this century (even if it was, obviously, not an extermination camp). 

The juridical foundation for Schutzhaft was the proclamation of the state of siege or of exception and the corresponding suspension of the articles of the German constitution that guaranteed personal liberties. Article 48 of the Weimar constitution read as follows: “The president of the Reich may, in the case of a grave disturbance or threat to public security and order, make the decisions necessary to reestablish public security, if necessary with the aid of the armed forces. To this end he may provisionally suspend [ausser Kraft setzen] the fundamental rights contained in articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153.” 

From 1919 to 1924, the Weimar governments declared the state of exception many times, sometimes prolonging it for up to five months (for example, from September 1923 to February 1924). In this sense, when the Nazis took power and proclaimed the “decree for the protection of the people and State” (Verordnung zum Schutz von Volk und Staat) on February 28, 1933, indefinitely suspending the articles of the constitution concerning personal liberty, the freedom of expression and of assembly, and the inviolability of the home and of postal and telephone privacy, they merely followed a practice consolidated by previous governments.“

– Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Homo Sacer Omnibus. Stanford University Press, 2017. p. 138

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“Late-modern colonial occupation differs in many ways from early-modern
occupation, particularly in its combining of the disciplinary, the biopolitical, and
the necropolitical. The most accomplished form of necropower is the contemporary
colonial occupation of Palestine. 

Here, the colonial state derives its fundamental claim of sovereignty and legitimacy
from the authority of its own particular narrative of history and identity.
This narrative is itself underpinned by the idea that the state has a divine right to
exist; the narrative competes with another for the same sacred space. Because the
two narratives are incompatible and the two populations are inextricably intertwined,
any demarcation of the territory on the basis of pure identity is quasiimpossible.
Violence and sovereignty, in this case, claim a divine foundation:
peoplehood itself is forged by the worship of one deity, and national identity is
imagined as an identity against the Other, other deities. History, geography, cartography,
and archaeology are supposed to back these claims, thereby closely
binding identity and topography. As a consequence, colonial violence and occupation
are profoundly underwritten by the sacred terror of truth and exclusivity
(mass expulsions, resettlement of “stateless” people in refugee camps, settlement
of new colonies). Lying beneath the terror of the sacred is the constant excavation
of missing bones; the permanent remembrance of a torn body hewn in a
thousand pieces and never self-same; the limits, or better, the impossibility of
representing for oneself an “original crime,” an unspeakable death: the terror of
the Holocaust. 

To return to Fanon’s spatial reading of colonial occupation, the late-modern
colonial occupation in Gaza and the West Bank presents three major characteristics
in relation to the working of the specific terror formation I have called
necropower. First is the dynamics of territorial fragmentation, the sealing off and

expansion of settlements. The objective of this process is twofold: to render any
movement impossible and to implement separation along the model of the
apartheid state. The occupied territories are therefore divided into a web of intricate
internal borders and various isolated cells. According to Eyal Weizman, by
departing from a planar division of a territory and embracing a principle of creation
of three-dimensional boundaries across sovereign bulks, this dispersal and
segmentation clearly redefines the relationship between sovereignty and space.

For Weizman, these actions constitute “the politics of verticality.” The resultant
form of sovereignty might be called “vertical sovereignty.” Under a regime of
vertical sovereignty, colonial occupation operates through schemes of over- and
underpasses, a separation of the airspace from the ground. The ground itself is
divided between its crust and the subterrain. Colonial occupation is also dictated
by the very nature of the terrain and its topographical variations (hilltops and valleys,
mountains and bodies of water). Thus, high ground offers strategic assets
not found in the valleys (effectiveness of sight, self-protection, panoptic fortification
that generates gazes to many different ends). Says Weizman: “Settlements
could be seen as urban optical devices for surveillance and the exercise of power.”
Under conditions of late-modern colonial occupation, surveillance is both inwardand
outward-oriented, the eye acting as weapon and vice versa. Instead of the
conclusive division between two nations across a boundary line, “the organization
of the West Bank’s particular terrain has created multiple separations, provisional
boundaries, which relate to each other through surveillance and control,”
according to Weizman. Under these circumstances, colonial occupation is not
only akin to control, surveillance, and separation, it is also tantamount to seclusion.
It is a splintering occupation, along the lines of the splintering urbanism
characteristic of late modernity (suburban enclaves or gated communities).

From an infrastructural point of view, a splintering form of colonial occupation
is characterized by a network of fast bypass roads, bridges, and tunnels that
weave over and under one another in an attempt at maintaining the Fanonian
“principle of reciprocal exclusivity.” According to Weizman, “the bypass roads
attempt to separate Israeli traffic networks from Palestinian ones, preferably
without allowing them ever to cross. They therefore emphasize the overlapping
of two separate geographies that inhabit the same landscape. At points where the
networks do cross, a makeshift separation is created. Most often, small dust roads

are dug out to allow Palestinians to cross under the fast, wide highways on which
Israeli vans and military vehicles rush between settlements.” 

Under conditions of vertical sovereignty and splintering colonial occupation,
communities are separated across a y-axis. This leads to a proliferation of the
sites of violence. The battlegrounds are not located solely at the surface of the
earth. The underground as well as the airspace are transformed into conflict
zones. There is no continuity between the ground and the sky. Even the boundaries
in airspace are divided between lower and upper layers. Everywhere, the
symbolics of the top (who is on top) is reiterated. Occupation of the skies therefore
acquires a critical importance, since most of the policing is done from the air.
Various other technologies are mobilized to this effect: sensors aboard unmanned
air vehicles (UAVs), aerial reconnaissance jets, early warning Hawkeye planes,
assault helicopters, an Earth-observation satellite, techniques of “hologrammatization.”
Killing becomes precisely targeted. 

Such precision is combined with the tactics of medieval siege warfare adapted
to the networked sprawl of urban refugee camps. An orchestrated and systematic
sabotage of the enemy’s societal and urban infrastructure network complements
the appropriation of land, water, and airspace resources. Critical to these techniques
of disabling the enemy is bulldozing: demolishing houses and cities; uprooting
olive trees; riddling water tanks with bullets; bombing and jamming electronic
communications; digging up roads; destroying electricity transformers;
tearing up airport runways; disabling television and radio transmitters; smashing
computers; ransacking cultural and politico-bureaucratic symbols of the proto-Palestinian
state; looting medical equipment. In other words, infrastructural warfare. While the Apache helicopter gunship is used to police the air and to kill
from overhead, the armored bulldozer (the Caterpillar D-9) is used on the ground
as a weapon of war and intimidation. In contrast to early-modern colonial occupation,
these two weapons establish the superiority of high-tech tools of late-modern

 As the Palestinian case illustrates, late-modern colonial occupation is a concatenation
of multiple powers: disciplinary, biopolitical, and necropolitical. The

combination of the three allocates to the colonial power an absolute domination
over the inhabitants of the occupied territory. The state of siege is itself a military
institution. It allows a modality of killing that does not distinguish between the
external and the internal enemy. Entire populations are the target of the sovereign.
The besieged villages and towns are sealed off and cut off from the world.
Daily life is militarized. Freedom is given to local military commanders to use
their discretion as to when and whom to shoot. Movement between the territorial
cells requires formal permits. Local civil institutions are systematically destroyed.
The besieged population is deprived of their means of income. Invisible killing is
added to outright executions.”

–  Achille Mbembe, translated by Libby Meintjes, “Necropolitics.” Public Culture, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 2003, pp. 27-30.

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“Any historical account of the rise of modern terror needs to address slavery,
which could be considered one of the first instances of biopolitical experimentation.
In many respects, the very structure of the plantation system and its aftermath
manifests the emblematic and paradoxical figure of the state of exception. This figure is paradoxical here for two reasons. First, in the context of the plantation,
the humanity of the slave appears as the perfect figure of a shadow. Indeed,
the slave condition results from a triple loss: loss of a “home,” loss of rights over
his or her body, and loss of political status. This triple loss is identical with absolute
domination, natal alienation, and social death (expulsion from humanity altogether).
To be sure, as a political-juridical structure, the plantation is a space where the
slave belongs to a master. It is not a community if only because by definition, a
community implies the exercise of the power of speech and thought. As Paul
Gilroy says, “The extreme patterns of communication defined by the institution
of plantation slavery dictate that we recognize the anti-discursive and extralinguistic
ramifications of power at work in shaping communicative acts. There
may, after all, be no reciprocity on the plantation outside of the possibilities of
rebellion and suicide, flight and silent mourning, and there is certainly no grammatical
unity of speech to mediate communicative reason. In many respects, the
plantation inhabitants live non-synchronously.” As an instrument of labor, the
slave has a price. As a property, he or she has a value. His or her labor is needed
and used. The slave is therefore kept alive but in a state of injury, in a phantomlike
world of horrors and intense cruelty and profanity. The violent tenor of the
slave’s life is manifested through the overseer’s disposition to behave in a cruel
and intemperate manner and in the spectacle of pain inflicted on the slave’s

Violence, here, becomes an element in manners, like whipping or taking
of the slave’s life itself: an act of caprice and pure destruction aimed at instilling
terror. Slave life, in many ways, is a form of death-in-life. As Susan Buck
Morss has suggested, the slave condition produces a contradiction between freedom
of property and freedom of person. An unequal relationship is established
along with the inequality of the power over life. This power over the life of
another takes the form of commerce: a person’s humanity is dissolved to the point
where it becomes possible to say that the slave’s life is possessed by the master. Because the slave’s life is like a “thing,” possessed by another person, the slave
existence appears as a perfect figure of a shadow. 

In spite of the terror and the symbolic sealing off of the slave, he or she maintains
alternative perspectives toward time, work, and self. This is the second
paradoxical element of the plantation world as a manifestation of the state of
exception. Treated as if he or she no longer existed except as a mere tool and
instrument of production, the slave nevertheless is able to draw almost any object,
instrument, language, or gesture into a performance and then stylize it. Breaking
with uprootedness and the pure world of things of which he or she is but a fragment,
the slave is able to demonstrate the protean capabilities of the human bond
through music and the very body that was supposedly possessed by another. 

If the relations between life and death, the politics of cruelty, and the symbolics
of profanity are blurred in the plantation system, it is notably in the colony
and under the apartheid regime that there comes into being a peculiar terror formation
I will now turn to. The most original feature of this terror formation is
its concatenation of biopower, the state of exception, and the state of siege. Crucial
to this concatenation is, once again, race. In fact, in most instances, the selection of races, the prohibition of mixed marriages, forced sterilization, even
the extermination of vanquished peoples are to find their first testing ground in
the colonial world. Here we see the first syntheses between massacre and bureaucracy,
that incarnation of Western rationality. Arendt develops the thesis that
there is a link between national-socialism and traditional imperialism. According
to her, the colonial conquest revealed a potential for violence previously unknown.
What one witnesses in World War II is the extension to the “civilized” peoples of
Europe of the methods previously reserved for the “savages.” 

That the technologies which ended up producing Nazism should have originated
in the plantation or in the colony or that, on the contrary—Foucault’s thesis—Nazism
and Stalinism did no more than amplify a series of mechanisms that
already existed in Western European social and political formations (subjugation
of the body, health regulations, social Darwinism, eugenics, medico-legal theories
on heredity, degeneration, and race) is, in the end, irrelevant. A fact remains,
though: in modern philosophical thought and European political practice and
imaginary, the colony represents the site where sovereignty consists fundamentally
in the exercise of a power outside the law (ab legibus solutus) and where
“peace” is more likely to take on the face of a “war without end.” 

Indeed, such a view corresponds to Carl Schmitt’s definition of sovereignty at
the beginning of the twentieth century, namely, the power to decide on the state of
exception. To properly assess the efficacy of the colony as a formation of terror,
we need to take a detour into the European imaginary itself as it relates to the critical
issue of the domestication of war and the creation of a European juridical
order (Jus publicum Europaeum). At the basis of this order were two key principles.
The first postulated the juridical equality of all states. This equality was
notably applied to the right to wage war (the taking of life). The right to war meant
two things. On the one hand, to kill or to conclude peace was recognized as one of
the preeminent functions of any state. It went hand in hand with the recognition
of the fact that no state could make claims to rule outside of its borders. But conversely,
the state could recognize no authority above it within its own borders. On
the other hand, the state, for its part, undertook to “civilize” the ways of killing
and to attribute rational objectives to the very act of killing.
The second principle related to the territorialization of the sovereign state, that
is, to the determination of its frontiers within the context of a newly imposed
global order. In this context, the Jus publicum rapidly assumed the form of a distinction
between, on the one hand, those parts of the globe available for colonial appropriation and, on the other, Europe itself (where the Jus publicum was to
hold sway). This distinction, as we will see, is crucial in terms of assessing the
efficacy of the colony as a terror formation. Under Jus publicum, a legitimate war
is, to a large extent, a war conducted by one state against another or, more precisely,
a war between “civilized” states. The centrality of the state in the calculus
of war derives from the fact that the state is the model of political unity, a principle
of rational organization, the embodiment of the idea of the universal, and a
moral sign.

In the same context, colonies are similar to the frontiers. They are inhabited by
“savages.” The colonies are not organized in a state form and have not created a
human world. Their armies do not form a distinct entity, and their wars are not
wars between regular armies. They do not imply the mobilization of sovereign
subjects (citizens) who respect each other as enemies. They do not establish a distinction
between combatants and noncombatants, or again between an “enemy”
and a “criminal.” It is thus impossible to conclude peace with them. In sum,
colonies are zones in which war and disorder, internal and external figures of the
political, stand side by side or alternate with each other. As such, the colonies are
the location par excellence where the controls and guarantees of judicial order
can be suspended—the zone where the violence of the state of exception is
deemed to operate in the service of “civilization.” 

That colonies might be ruled over in absolute lawlessness stems from the
racial denial of any common bond between the conqueror and the native. In the
eyes of the conqueror, savage life is just another form of animal life, a horrifying
experience, something alien beyond imagination or comprehension. In fact, according
to Arendt, what makes the savages different from other human beings is less
the color of their skin than the fear that they behave like a part of nature, that
they treat nature as their undisputed master. Nature thus remains, in all its majesty,
an overwhelming reality compared to which they appear to be phantoms, unreal
and ghostlike. The savages are, as it were, “natural” human beings who lack the
specifically human character, the specifically human reality, “so that when European
men massacred them they somehow were not aware that they had committed

For all the above reasons, the sovereign right to kill is not subject to any rule
in the colonies. In the colonies, the sovereign might kill at any time or in any
manner. Colonial warfare is not subject to legal and institutional rules. It is not a
legally codified activity. Instead, colonial terror constantly intertwines with colonially
generated fantasies of wilderness and death and fictions to create the effect
of the real. Peace is not necessarily the natural outcome of a colonial war. In
fact, the distinction between war and peace does not avail. Colonial wars are conceived
of as the expression of an absolute hostility that sets the conqueror against
an absolute enemy. All manifestations of war and hostility that had been marginalized
by a European legal imaginary find a place to reemerge in the colonies.
Here, the fiction of a distinction between “the ends of war” and the “means of
war” collapses; so does the fiction that war functions as a rule-governed contest,
as opposed to pure slaughter without risk or instrumental justification. It becomes
futile, therefore, to attempt to resolve one of the intractable paradoxes of war
well captured by Alexandre Kojève in his reinterpretation of Hegel’s Phenomenology
of the Spirit
: its simultaneous idealism and apparent inhumanity.”

– Achille Mbembe, translated by Libby Meintjes, “Necropolitics.” Public Culture, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 2003, pp. 21-25.

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“The point is that the police – contrary to public opinion – are not merely an administrative function of law enforcement; rather, the police are perhaps the place where the proximity and the almost constitutive exchange between violence and right that characterizes the figure of the sovereign is shown more nakedly and clearly than anywhere else. According to the ancient Roman custom, nobody could for any reason come between the consul, who was endowed with imperium, and the lictor closest to him, who carried the sacrificial ax (which was used to perform capital punishment). This contiguity is not coincidental. If the sovereign, in fact, is the one who marks the point of indistinction between violence and right by proclaiming the state of exception and suspending the validity of the law, the police are always operating within a similar state of exception. The rationales of "public order” and “security” on which the police have to decide on a case-by-case basis define an area of indistinction between violence and right that is exactly symmetrical to that of sovereignty. Benjamin rightly noted that:

The assertion that the ends of police violence are always identical or even connected to those of general law is entirely untrue. Rather, the “law” of the police really marks the point at which the state, whether from impotence or because of the immanent connections within any legal system, can no longer guarantee through the legal system the empirical ends that it desires at any price to attain.

Hence the display of weapons that characterizes the police in all eras. What is important here is not so much the threat to those who infringe on the right, but rather the display of that sovereign violence to which the bodily proximity between consul and lictor was witness. The display, in fact, happens in the most peaceful of public places and, in particular, during official ceremonies.

This embarrassing contiguity between sovereignty and police function is expressed in the intangible sacredness that, according to the ancient codes, the figure of the sovereign and the figure of the executioner have in common. This contiguity has never been so self-evident as it was on the occasion of a fortuitous encounter that took place on July 14, 1418: as we are told by a chronicler, the Duke of Burgundy had just entered Paris as a conqueror at the head of his troops when, on the street, he came across the executioner Coqueluche, who had been working very – hard for him during those days.
According to the story, the executioner, who was covered in blood, approached the sovereign and, while reaching for his hand, shouted: “Man beau frere!”

The entrance of the concept of sovereignty in the figure of the police, therefore, is not at all reassuring. This is proven by a fact that still surprises historians of the ‘Third Reich, namely, that the extermination of the Jews was conceived from the beginning to the end exclusively as a police operation. It is well known that not a single document has ever been found that recognizes the genocide as a decision made by a sovereign organ: the only document we have, in this regard, is the record of a conference that was held on January 20, 1942, at the Grosser Wannsee, and that gathered middle-level and lower-level police officers. Among them, only the name of Adolf Eichmann – head of division B-4 of the Fourth Section of the Gestapo – is noticeable. The extermination of the Jews could he so methodical and deadly only because it was conceived and carried out as a police operation; but, conversely, it is precisely because the genocide was a “police operation” that today it appears, in the eyes of civilized humanity, all the more barbaric and ignominious.

Furthermore, the investiture of the sovereign as policeman has another corollary: it makes it necessary to criminalize the adversary. Schmitt has shown how, according to European public law, the principle par in parenz non habet iurisdictionenz eliminated the possibility that sovereigns of enemy states could be judged as criminals. The declaration of war did not use to imply the suspension of either this principle or the conventions that guaranteed that a war against an enemy who was granted equal dignity would take place according to precise regulations (one of which was the sharp distinction between the army and the civilian population). What we have witnessed with our own eyes from the end of World War I onward is instead a process by which the enemy is first of all excluded from civil humanity and branded as a criminal; only in a second moment does it become possible and licit to eliminate the enemy by a “police operation.” Such an operation is not obliged to respect any juridical rule and can thus make no distinctions between the civilian population and soldiers, as well as between the people and their criminal sovereign, thereby returning to the most archaic conditions of belligerence. 

Sovereignty’s gradual slide toward the darkest areas of police law, however, has at least one positive aspect that is worthy of mention here. What the heads of state, who rushed to criminalize the enemy with such zeal, have not yet realized is that this criminalization can at any moment be turned against them. There is no head of state on Earth today who, in this sense, is not virtually a criminal. Today, those who should happen to wear the sad redingote of sovereignty know that they may be treated as criminals one day by their colleagues. And certainly we will not be the ones to pity them. The sovereigns who willingly agreed to present themselves as cops or executioners, in fact, now show in the end their original proximity to the criminal.”

– Giorgio Agamben, “Sovereign Police,” in Means Without Ends: Notes on Politics.  Translated by Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Theory out of Bounds Vol. 20. University of Minnesota Press, 2000. pp. 104-106.

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“A life that cannot be separated from its form is a life for
which what is at stake in its way of living is living itself.
What does this formulation mean? It defines a life-human
life-in which the single ways, acts, and processes
of living are never simply facts but always and above all
possibilities of life, always and above all power. Each behavior
and each form of human living is never prescribed
by a specific biological vocation, nor is it assigned by
whatever necessity; instead, no matter how customary,
repeated, and socially compulsory, it always retains the
character of a possibility; that is, it always puts at stake
living itself. That is why human beings – as beings of
power who can do or not do, succeed or fail, lose themselves
or find themselves – are the only beings. for whom
happiness is always at stake in their living, the only beings
whose life is irremediably and painfully assigned to happiness.
But this immediately constitutes the form-of-life
as political life. “Civitatem … cotnmunitatetn esse institutam
propter vivere et bene vivere horninum in ea
.” [The
state is a community instituted for the sake of the living
and the well living of the men in it.]

Political power as we know it, on the other hand, always
founds itself – in the last instance – on the separation
of a sphere of naked life from the context of the forms
of life. In Roman law, vita [life] is not a juridical concept,
but rather indicates the simple fact of living or a particular way of life. There is only one case in which the term
life acquires a juridical meaning that transforms it into
a veritable terminus technicus, and that is in the expression
vitae necisque potestas, which designates the pater’s
power of life and death over the male son. Yan Thomas
has shown that, in this formula, que does not have disjunctive
function and vita is nothing but a corollary of nex,
the power to kill. 

Thus, life originally appears in law only as the
counterpart of a power that threatens death. But what is
valid for the pater’s right of life and death is even more
valid for sovereign power (imperium), of which the former
constitutes the originary cell. Thus, in the Hobbesian
foundation of sovereignty, life in the state of nature
is defined only by its being unconditionally exposed to a
death threat (the limitless right of everybody over everything)
and political life – that is, the life that unfolds under
the protection of the Leviathan – is nothing but this
very sarne life always exposed to a threat that now rests
exclusively in the hands of the sovereign. The puissance
absolue et perpetuelle
, which defines state power, is not
founded – in the last instance – on a political will but
rather on naked life, which is kept safe and protected only
to the degree to which it submits itself to the sovereign’s
(or the law’s) right of life and death. (This is precisely
the originary meaning of the adjective sacer [sacred] when
used to refer to human life.) The state of exception, which
is what the sovereign each and every time decides, takes
place precisely when naked life – which nominally appears
rejoined to the multifarious forms of social life – is explicitly put into question and revoked as the ultimate
foundation of political power. The ultimate subject that
needs to be at once turned into the exception and included
in the city is always naked life. 

”‘I’he tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state
of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but
the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that
is in keeping with this insight. “ Walter Benjamin’s diagnosis,
which by now is more than fifty years old, has
lost none of its relevance. And that is so not really or
not only because power no longer has today any form of
legitimization other than emergency, and because power
everywhere and continuously refers and appeals to emergency
as well as laboring secretly to produce it. (How
could we not think that a system that can no longer function
at all except on the basis of emergency would not
also be interested in preserving such an emergency at any
price?) This is the case also and above all because naked
life, which was the hidden foundation of sovereignty,
has meanwhile become the dominant form of life everywhere.
Life – in its state of exception that has now become
the norm – is the naked life that in every context
separates the forms of life from their cohering into a
form-of-life. The Marxian scission between man and citizen
is thus superseded by the division between naked
life (ultimate and opaque bearer of sovereignty) and the
multifarious forms of life abstractly re-codified as social juridical
identities (the voter, the worker, the journalist,

the student, but also the HIV-positive, the transvestite,
the porno star, the elderly, the parent, the woman) that
all rest on naked life. (To have mistaken such a naked life
separate from its form, in its abjection, for a superior
principle–sovereignty or the sacred-is the limit of
Bataille’s thought, which makes it useless to us.)

Foucault’s thesis – according to which "what is at stake
today is life” and hence politics has become biopolitics – is,
in this sense, substantially correct. What is decisive,
however,is the way in which one understands the
sense of this transformation. What is left unquestioned
in the contemporary debates on bioethics and biopolitics,
in fact, is precisely what would deserve to be questioned
before anything else, that is, the very biological
concept of life. Paul Rabinow conceives of two models
of life as symmetrical opposites: on the one hand, the experimental life of the scientist who is ill with leukemia
and who turns his very life into a laboratory for unlimited
research and experimentation, and, on the other
hand, the one who, in the name of life’s sacredness, exasperates
the antinomy between individual ethics and
technoscience. Both models, however, participate without
being aware of it in the same concept of naked life. This
concept – which today presents itself under the guise of
a scientific notion – is actually a secularized political concept.
(From a strictly scientific point of view, the concept
of life makes no sense. Peter and Jean Medawar tell
us that, in biology, discussions about the real meaning

of the words life and death are an index of a low level of
conversation. Such words have no intrinsic meaning and
such a meaning, therefore, cannot be clarified by deeper
and more careful studies.)

Such is the provenance of the (often unperceived
and yet decisive) function of medical-scientific
ideology within the system of power and the increasing
use of pseudoscientific concepts for ends of political control. That same drawing of naked life that, in certain circumstances,
the sovereign used to be able to exact from
the forms of life is now massively and daily exacted by
the pseudoscientific representations of the body, illness,
and health, and by the “medicalization” of ever-widening
spheres of life and of individual imagination. Biological
life, which is the secularized form of naked life
and which shares its unutterability and impenetrability,
thus constitutes the real forms of life literally as forms
of survival: biological life remains inviolate in such forms
as that obscure threat that can suddenly actualize itself
in violence, in extraneousness, in illnesses, in accidents.
It is the invisible sovereign that stares at us behind the
dull-witted masks of the powerful who, whether or not
they realize it, govern us in its name.

A political life, that is, a life directed toward the idea of
happiness and cohesive with a form-of-life, is thinkable
only starting from the emancipation from such a division,
with the irrevocable exodus from any sovereignty. The question about the possibility of a nonstatist politics necessarily takes this form: Is today something like
a form-of-life, a life for which living itself could be at
stake in its own living, possible? Is today a life of power

– Giorgio Agamben, “Form-of-Life,” in Means Without Ends: Notes on Politics

Translated by Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Theory out of Bounds Vol. 20. University of Minnesota Press, 2000. pp. 3-8

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