Chapter 2 – The Modern State & The Social State

mod-st8The Modern State
The machine emitted strange buzzing, whirring, and clicking sounds. The noises unsettled casual observers, but to the technician, it made beautiful music. She had listened to its movements so many times that she did not have to look at the monitor to pick out the slow set of clicks that marked the beginning of each cycle. Tck… Tck… Tck… Tck…

The machines had been a triumph over the archaic technology that came before it. It took the dreams of stargazers and a few steady hands to crank out the first prototypes. Even the wildly imperfect geometry of the early models still hypnotized onlookers.

She was charged with maintaining a machine from a newer line. The introduction of this version of the machines had ushered in a new era. In her land, authorities were crushed under the feet of rebelling peasants. As nobles bickered with the monarchy, a new class claiming to “represent the people” had seized power. But instead of quelling the waters, wars became more bloody. And there are still dissident factions trying to destroy the machines through sabotage or even cruder methods.

It is her task to keep the machine running. The rules are clear. Polarize the field. Alternate poles. Keep everything in orbit. She had been trained in basic geometric correction, which usually entailed resetting the aperture but sometimes required redacting elements. While no one told her how to control for the creeping tide of noise, she had come up with some makeshift bypasses. But if a long-term solution was eluding her, her fellow technicians were probably in just as much trouble…

Forging a Strange Complementarity
The political power of sovereignty goes through cycles. Imperial hymns sing of terrible kings’ conquests as well as the reigns of the great kings that follow. But let there be no mistake, terrible kings are only as stupid, brutish, ineffective, or disliked as good kings are inept, violent, and unpopular. That is because those labels merely indicate which of the two poles of sovereignty each ruler personifies. Horrible sovereigns are terrorizing magician-kings, and benevolent ones are jurist-priests. Much as the diplomat gets his way by switching between the carrot and the stick, sovereignty alternates between the two poles to maximize power. “Thus two kings in succession, by different methods, the one by war, the other by peace, aggrandized the state. Romulus reigned thirty-seven years, Numa forty-three: the state was both strong and well versed in the arts of war and peace” (Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 27). But the opposite is also true. A-cephalous societies evince a similar two-headed structure to ward off rather than reinforce State power. In the Americas, for instance, some groups had two chiefs, a war chief and a peace chief, whereby only one ruled at a time. Whenever one leader became too zealous, the people would mock him and follow the other leader. Especially in combination with the generalization of the ‘powerless’ titular king and the ritualization of war to disperse power rather than annihilate or enslave an opponent, these societies exemplify how the oscillations of sovereignty can be used against an accumulation of forces (Clastres, Society Against the State; Clastres, Archaeology of Violence).

Given the contrasting examples above, we can generalize by saying that the two poles of sovereignty form a complementarity. But the form and effects of that complementarity differ. Fortunately, the rhythm of the alternating poles produces a signature: the expression of the world that stands as the backdrop behind each State.[1] A Roman ritual produces the clear signatures of the Priestly and Archaic States by repeating the practice of only allowing a single pole of sovereignty to rule at any given time: once a year, the flamen-dialis priest turns a blind eye for a day so that the naked Luperci can run wild and belt women with leather straps in a reenactment of the conquest of the Sabine women (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 27-30; 96-97). Obversely, the two poles can maintain independent signatures while remaining mutually reinforcing; for example, Varuna and Mitra nearly always exist as a pair in Vedic hymns. While the two gods are contemporaneous, or even co-present, they are still distinct and separate. So “Mitra may fasten you by the food,” but if a cow were bound without any special formula, “then she would be a thing of Varuna” because “the rope assuredly belongs to Varuna” (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 97; Satapatha Brahmana III 2, 4, 18). Yet the complementarities formed when the poles turn a blind eye, exist contemporaneously, or are a mixture of the two express a basic structure that can be easily extrapolated by elaborating on the Archaic and Priestly States. Other complementarities, however, produce State forms that do more than combine the poles: they pursue different effects by transforming the poles themselves.

One complementarity bears a signature that differs from the mythological State forms: the Modern State. In the Modern State, the two poles of sovereignty are neither separate nor mixed, but fused. The transitional figure for this fusion is the Absolute State. In the Absolute State, the two mythological poles are united under the single crown of an imperial despot. This inseparable mixture of sovereignty creates a unitary power that aspires to be the single point of order for the entire cosmos. These despots spring up everywhere, but we remember most clearly the European kingdoms that took over the priestly duties of shepherding the flock in the aftermath of the Reformation. The techniques of discipline and confession advanced when the Absolute State intensifies both the magical bond and the priestly pact. Through the disciplinary bond, the conquering king generalizes power through the body, which provides force, an immanent power emitted from the internal organization of its parts. And in the confessional pact, the pacifying priest harmonizes the self through the soul, a power constituted through reflection. Yet these techniques also throw the Absolute State into crisis, since populations are no longer medals to be worn on the chest with pride but instead must be anxiously tended with care and concern. And because magicians make poor jurists and kings atrocious priests, the Absolute State is only a transitional form that sets into motion a series of operations that transform it into the Modern State.

The Four Operations of the Modern State
The Modern State is composed of The Police and Publicity. The Police ensures that every thing is put in its proper place. Publicity sees that every action is provided a public explanation. These poles are the result of four operations: separation, organization, spatialization, and systematization. It is through these four operations that the Modern State discards the mythological ground of the Archaic and Priestly states and gains a footing in the divergent paths of economics and politics through liberalism. As an effect of these operations, conquest and contract fade into the background and only occasionally get dragged out as inadequate justifications for the Modern State when it demands death and sacrifice. Otherwise, the Modern State appears as a well-oiled machine. Its existence does not depend on miraculous birth, as in the two mythological states, but on the banal fact that ‘as long as everyone does their job, it works.’ Failure can only appear as something being out of place, or a momentary lapse in transparency.

Separation is the first operation that gives rise to the Modern State. Mythological States project power through the glory and justness of their reign. Yet order and reason wage war on those mythological States by slowly tearing down the ramparts that defend its authority. Myths cannot but wither from fantasies for a State that would tend to “all the living conditions of the people” or demands that laws to be passed “before the eyes of men” (de Mayerne, La Monarchie Aristodemocratique; Kant, Perpetual Peace, 185-196). Besieged by iron efficiency and blistering critique, a waning older form of sovereignty learns to excrete a new substance that will serve as the new substrate on which to build back State power. And when the State stops fighting order and reason but instead turns those partisan weapons into the tools of universal governance, the Modern State is born.

The modern transformation of the two poles of sovereignty occurs in the paired work of the two processes of modernization: the production of a new substance that delivers order and the technological transformation of a weapon into a tool. The modernization of the first pole discards conquest but retains the sovereign quest for glory through the appearance of splendor. By importing the technique of discipline, the power of The Police in the Modern State prefer symbols of strength to the garish displays of royal bragging. The Police shares the aim of conquest, as they both perform the positive task of adding to the strength of the State. But the Modern State is a two-part technological advancement of order over conquest. First, the army and the law are relegated to the negative task of repelling enemies externally and internally. And second, the Police enhances the already existing forces of the State through the permanent intervention in the lives and behavior of citizens. The motor of conquest, the practice of capturing outsiders to put them to work, is replaced by a well-ordered State that adorns itself with the wealth and happiness of its people. Concurrently, the second pole is modernized by abandoning sovereign right for public reason. The modernizing introduction of the confessional mode to governance installs reflection as the highest principle of politics. While the mythic jurist demands faith in the benevolent rulings of a jurist who communicates between humanity and the divine, Publicity establishes laws through public right as authorized by the general will of the people. This leap occurs when the history of sovereignty is separated from the sovereign. The initial separation happens as sovereign history is weaponized and turned against the State, for instance, when European nobles recast sovereign history as a history of betrayals and thefts from the nobility. As that battle over history rages, however, the State vanishes to become a hidden mediator because it serves as both the object and space of struggle. The separation completes itself when history speaks of citizens who recognize the Modern State as an expression of their own right and will.

The second operation of the Modern State is organization. The poles of sovereignty are embodied differently in each State form. Mythological States personify their poles, and they weave deceitful magicians and kind judges into the fabric of their art and culture. The frightening monotheism of absolute despots also embody the State in human form, but these sovereigns imagine their body to extend to everything they can touch. For them, all the land serves as a great skeleton upon which human subjects hang as flesh to be dressed with the sovereign’s great wealth. If there was any doubt, take a glance at the frontispiece of The Leviathan. Modernization breaks the grand game of chess whereby the singular task is to capture your opponents king. To modernize the State, the whole body of the deposit must be split apart. After cutting the head of the king off its amalgamated body, the rest of the State is dismantled and slowly pieced back together again. The Modern State puts together the fragmented body of the sovereign by institutionalizing the two poles of the sovereignty. The effects of this institutionalization are the figures of the Modern State: The Police and The Public.

The switch from personified power to the figures of The Police and The Public through institutionalization enables a new mode of governance. Once the king’s organs are freed from the elaborate rituals performed to maintain the corporeal integrity of the king, they are each set out to complete their own specific functions. With a mode of governance that sets so many things in orbit, Modern States are overrun by a multiplication of institutions that deal with tasks like justice, war, and finance. Yet The Police is not just one institution amongst the others but an entire art of government that oversees them all (Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 414). Contrary to the specific and limited tasks of other institutions within the Modern State, The Police is charged with securing all forms of co-existence, and seeing to their well-being (420-422). Furthermore, The Public emerges as the mediator of these institutions. In Archaic and Absolute States, all things are public, as the sovereign owns them, but by his grace, he is willing to share. In the Modern State, however, the nobility seize those public assets for themselves. What is left becomes The Public. The Modern State does not grant access to the public through benevolence or grace: it sets standards and rules to manage access on the basis of legal conflict and material scarcity instead.

Spatialization is the third operation of the Modern State. Spatialization is the result of the Modern State breaking through the Absolute State’s totalizing despotism. Once separated from the circular logic of omnipresent authority, the Modern State is forced into a sober realization: sovereign power is only one force among many other possible forces. Given the pluralization of force, the Modern State responds by calculating power as a matter of physics. To produce this political physics, force is first materialized by slowing down the forces within its control. Land is appraised, people counted, commodities tracked, and conduct evaluated. From this ecology of forces, the Modern State slowly introduces linear time and a discretization of space to mark out discrete blocks of space-time that serve as the architecture for its power. Like a giant relief sculpture, the Modern States is a material form carved out of a single block to reveal what lies beneath. The Modern State begins from a territorial mass, framed from the earth, from which the sculpture will be formed. To stabilize its form and find the shape imagined to already exist inside, the Modern State first eliminates excessive forces through subtraction (land is partitioned, deviants locked up, black markets shut down). Next, to bring the frozen world back to life, it sets certain forces within that territory back in motion through manipulation (the fields are seeded, goods made, and currency exchanged). Next, to enhance, supplement, and cover up imperfections, it introduces institutions that intervene within forces through addition (emptied monasteries are made into factories, indigents put to work, and the army professionalized). And lastly, to transact between the still porous inside and the world outside it, it enables exchange through substitution (regions annexed, skilled workers imported, and foodstuffs sold). To complete the process, The Police put a station on every corner and a patron on every street, all set up to keep watch over the recently surveyed territory of the Modern State.

The poles of sovereignty are materialized as a result of the four sculptural methods of spatialization. With spatialization of The Police in the Modern State, the irregular army of obligation is replaced with legions of professionals. These professionals include the petty police, as in the ones that shout orders and detain people, but also include any number of policy advisers, license granters, and paper stampers. In short, they are anyone who abandons the abstract duty to a liege in order to better find a place in whatever is at hand. Plenty of court jesters and sycophants fill their ranks, but the bottom line is that everything has to be identified, counted, and divided; rewarded and punished. And regardless of who asks, their reports must stay the same. Likewise, the spatialization of Publicity in the Modern State creates the public sphere. We are told that the public sphere is a loose connection of coffee shops and salons where critics debate official policy and cook up pamphlets to spread dissent. However, there is more to public space than shops and squares. Politics exists in the Modern State as a space of appearance, the organization of people acting and speaking together (Arendt, Human Condition, 198). And in the Modern State, the spatialization of publicity occurs when personal opinion is made political. Yet the public sphere is not born out of good will but the uneasy consensus between government and critique. The Modern State gives citizens a monopoly on morality in return for keeping the monopoly on force. Therefore, whenever critique is transformed into force, the State swoops in to shut down the presses, quash the riots, and jail the subversives. Publicity is set to the specific terms of the public sphere: “Argue as much as you like and about whatever you like, but obey![2]

The Modern State’s fourth operation is systematization. The disciplinary power generated through a micro-physics of the body lays the groundwork for this process. The disciplining demonstrated in monks strict regulation of the body in time and space  – from the time-table they set to perform daily routines to the architecture of the monastery, and from the pacing of fasting and meals to the gestures of prayer – paradoxically increases the body’s power by limiting it. The Modern State demonstrates through systematization that knowledge can be disciplined as much as bodies. Systemization begins with technical knowledges, which appear as a disparate multiplicity of practical approaches to local problems, and disciplines them. This disciplinary power draws in knowledge to systematize the two poles of sovereignty: through selection, expensive knowledges are made frugal; in normalization, independent knowledges are made interchangeable; through hierarchicalization, particular knowledges are subordinated to a general system of classification; and finally, by centralizing all three procedures under a system of control, State Science becomes the handmaiden for extending sovereignty (Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 179-182). And so through the development of a science of policing and the technologies of publicity, States become fully Modern.

State Science subtly transforms the occasional brutality of conquest into the permanent violence of The Police. In fact, the Modern State does not use violence to escalate combat but as a system of preemptive and preaccomplished force that is justified before it is used. In 1806, the British Mercantilist Patrick Colquhoun indicated in the preface of A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis that “Police in this Country may be considered as a new science; the properties of which consist not in the Judicial Powers which lead to Punishment, and which belong to the Magistrate alone; but the PREVENTION AND DETECTION OF CRIMES, and in the other Functions which relate to INTERNAL REGULATIONS for the well ordering and comfort of Civil Society” (Preface, 1). Alternately, the German Cameralist Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justi imagined The Police to be more than the basis for a utopia of a well-ordered and well-behaved state, or even the long arm of a systematic set of regulations to be followed, but rather a disciplined science that fosters both the lives of citizens and the strength of the State. His science of The Police, polizeiwissenschaft, combines the ancient art of government with statistics (“the science of describing States”).[3]

Publicity follows a slightly different path. Publicity is not unique to the Modern State. Gods, monarchs, and aristocrats of all sorts enjoy the publicity of representation of the grand show of personal attributes found in the finer points of formal rhetoric, the elaborate customs of greeting and poise, the garish display of dress, and the self-important insignias of badges and arms.[4] For representation in those States, the mere presence of a person of publicness makes things visible that were otherwise so worthless as to be invisible. Everything too lowly to be made public is the mere ordinariness of the common. But the Modern State wants to cast its gaze everywhere. Therefore, the Modern State does not just overturn the exclusive right to publicness but demands universal participation in the publicity of representation. To paraphrase Kant: “Each person was called to be a ‘publicist,’ a scholar ‘whose writings speak to his public, his world’” (Habermas, Structural Transformations of the Public Sphere. 106). To publish its nation of publicists, the Modern State authorizes freedom of speech, mass literacy, state-run presses and publications, and electrification – in short, the technologies of publicity that make up the media. And from this systematized visibility, sovereignty has a grand stage for its theater of operations: the public display of personal preference.

Insurgencies
A number of mechanisms prevent the Modern State form accomplishing full totalization of the forces that it engages. From within the Modern State, there are paths of resistance always available by virtue of the mechanisms that keep it operating. The first internal resistance is revolutionary eschatology. The plodding history that underwrites the Modern State is short-circuited by the notion that one is living in the ‘end times.’ Such a disruption dreams of the end of politics, the withering of the State, and a perpetual peace. This approach produces resistance by opposing the State with civil society (Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 453). The second internal resistance is the right to revolution. While the Modern State does away with demanding allegiance, it requires obedience to the law. But those rules of obedience are occasionally broken. To change the law, some rise up and break the law. This approach produces resistance by opposing the State with the population (453-454). And the third internal resistance is partisan knowledge. The Police and Publicity of the Modern State act as if they hold the truth of what is happening and what must be done. But some come to feel that every nation within the phenomenal republic of interests possesses their own truth and are entitled to their own knowledge. This approach produces resistance by opposing the State with nations (454). The intertwining of these three forms of resistance is incorporated into the Modern State even as they oppose the State and therefore constitute its genetic makeup. Opposition to any particular Modern State through these mechanisms presumes a new or better state but not a world without them. Yet the Modern State is not monolithic. Rather, its escape routes are simply found elsewhere.

Decisive disruptions to the expansive geometry of the Modern State come from the outside. This outside is not a great beyond but a power that camps outside the gates of the City. Barbarian is the name given to these destructive foreigners who have arrived at regular intervals throughout the long history of States. What distinguishes the Barbarian from other outsiders is that these foreigners are not educated in the language of the polis, and so their conduct appears to be a savage roughness that inexplicably ends in blinding violence (Crisso and Odoteo, Barbarians, 40-42). Barbarians appear immune to the mechanisms deployed by the Modern State to reign in everyone and everything around it. Without a common language, the State lacks the means to form a pact that would reconcile differences and ease conflict. And without the possibility of negotiating a truce, the Modern State fights these invaders to the last drop of blood (42).

Barbarians also upset the emissaries of the State who feel compassion or even affinity for them. Even though the Modern State wields power as a physics of controlling bodies in time and space, communication remains the essential means for connecting those bodies across time and space. Incommunicable bodies that prattle in a foreign language or unintelligibly stammer from not knowing what to say or how to say it right are treated as dangerous. The fear is that once the tongue is paralyzed, they will use their hands to relieve frustration (Crisso and Odoteo, Barbarians, 47). But the real hurdle to stopping Barbarians is that they sow infantile disorder (for in Latin, infans are the speechless and inarticulate, in addition to being childlike) by following their passions, which drives them to struggle furiously. This leaves the Modern State, founded on obligation and ‘a good days work,’ to ineffectively castigate its offspring and demand that they get a job (45). Tolerance, resignation, and respect will never be enough to turn away the guttural sounds and thoughtless acts of Barbarians motivated by hatred, fury, and outrage (52).

The Social State
They are the same as us now, but nobody told her. She had to figure it out for herself. At first she second-guessed herself. How could those machines, those things, be the same? Before it had been so clear: the rules, the enemy… everything. But now that she knew, she felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath her, as if anything could change at a moment’s notice. In fact, just last week, a childhood friend of hers was dragged in for questioning. How could the idiots at the bureau think that he is one of them?

Even worse, she felt like she was the only one worrying. Everyone else seemed so damned indifferent. Of course people need to get on with their lives. But, with those things in our midst, threatening our very way of life, why were people acting so carefree? That is surely what confused her the most: that once something carried in the opinion polls it was made into policy; even something as treasonous as embracing those putrid things.

With this, she thought as she looked at her hands, I will surely cross the line. If there even are lines anymore. People need to understand the real cost of their petty little guarantees. The wars waged in the name of a house, a job, and three meals a day.

But just then she heard a loud knock on her door…

The Rise of The Social
In the Modern State, the two poles of sovereignty work together to create an elegant geometry of forces. In the Social State, they create an interface that grafts otherwise unrelated elements together into a whole organism.

If the Modern State is the complementarity of politics and economics, through the politics of Publicity and the science of The Police, then the Social State is an intensification of this complementarity through the blurring of the two poles of sovereignty. While the Modern State de-personified the two poles of sovereign by wresting its authority from the power of both the king and the priest, it still organized society from above, like a commander sending troops into the field. The Social State does not wield the two poles of sovereignty as two different tools to ply matter but rather connects them through by making them co-extensive with the whole social field.

On its face, the co-extension of the politics and economics given by the Modern State would seem infeasible. The politics of right speaks the maxim ‘my rights end where yours begin,’ whereas the economics of preservation follows an alternate one: ‘my selfish interests multiply with those of others to satisfy everyone’s needs’; one is private and limited, the other public and shared (Lazzarato, “Biopolitics / Bioeconomics,” 5). In an attempt to stave off a false resolution that would subordinate one term to the other, the rear-guards of the Modern State screamed out that economics irreversibly degrades politics, whether by turning politics into measured calculations, or by depoliticizing the struggle for life with the competition of business men (ibid). But the architects of the Social State silenced most critics by finding an invention in an art of government that combines these forms of power: The Social.

The Social arises when the State ceases to be the tyrannical head of society and becomes a poison seething through the whole organism. Its operations are constructed from a combination of the two poles of sovereignty. To bring The Social to life, however, the poles are not simply modified but made somewhat indistinct, as each pole is given characteristics of the other. In this transformation they are made into Biopower and The Spectacle (Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, §48). The science of The Police is stripped of the moral philosophy from which it was birthed. As the science of prevention, The Police governs possibilities, but with Biopower, it is given the additional task of conditioning possibility itself. Moreover, the relative autonomy of the public sphere is taken from Publicity. So in addition to determining what appears, The Spectacle shapes how those things appear. In short: The Social is a collection of worlds made evident by The Spectacle and Biopower (Anonymous, Call, Scholium II).[5]

The Social exists as a hybrid in which differing forms of power are captured. But its contours are vague, as the knowledge, institutions, and people that inhabit The Social are an irregular mixture of worlds that have all somehow been made into ‘social problems’ – social illnesses like drug use, social programs for health and reproduction, as well as anti-social perverts and gang bangers (Deleuze, “Rise of the Social,” ix). Once something is caught within the pincers of The Spectacle and Biopower, it is socialized according to three principles:

First, The Social makes guarantees. The Social takes care of you, it gives you something to believe in, and it promises you progress. These social guarantees are not certainties but bargains; for antagonism is the real target of socialization. The social body is grown through massification, the production of great masses, such as races, classes, and other categories. And the rise of the mass lends itself to a whole series of frictions, tensions, and outright conflicts that could prove fatal. These differences are bridged when The Social fosters solidarity. The most familiar example of solidarity, worker’s call for ‘solidarity forever,’ intensifies conflict by closing off solidarity within a mass, but this limited solidarity is overtaken when The Social creates solidarity across masses. The key tools in the production of solidarity are social rights, which are the guarantees made by the Social State to make up for the shortcomings of society. Once made social, Biopower takes on problems as a matter of management; workplace injury or poverty are no longer the fault of a negligent boss or capitalist exploitation, just simple administrative oversights. As a result of addressing these ills through these bureaucratic means, the Social State makes a nation of claimants who are entitled to compensation from the State (Donzelot, L’Invention du Social, 139; 175; 224). And once cooperation is secured, The Social then projects itself into the future. Behaviors are set, trends extrapolated, and the future is determined as a well-mananged social aggregate.

Second, The Social produces human nature. All States employ human bodies for their ability to produce objectively determinable products such as life, labor, and language. Yet within the Social State, humans are not really set to work for those products themselves but for their appearances, which condition and structure lived experience (Foucault, Order of Things, 352-4). Here, The Social works as a great anthropological machine that objectively changes the subjectivity of humanity. But transforming the embodied structures by which humans experience the world requires more than convincing them that their lived experience is an illusion. Therefore, The Spectacle manipulates the unconscious structure of norms, rules, and systems that give rise to the representations of function, conflict, and meaning that underwrite how humans think of their world (361-366; 373-387). Ultimately, by making political the axiom that humans both condition and are conditioned by the sensible, the Social State constructs humanity out of what appears, and nothing else.

Third, The Social looks like a giant organism. This organicity treats social problems through the anatomy of bodies. The architecture of the Modern State is the hardened exoskeleton of the insect, which serves as a container that simultaneously connects its various segments and protects its fragile interior from the outside. But the fortress walls must come down to lay a Social infrastructure extending into the countryside. Therefore, the Social State introjects the mineralized exterior of the exoskeletal shell, converting it into an endoskeletal structure that it stretches across the earth (DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, 27; 84; 92). Hanging on its ever-growing infrastructure is a biopolitical membrane for the Social State to interact with a whole web of life. Importantly, that membrane allows the Social State to exchange with elements without internalizing them. This membrane also allows the State to fold in taken-for-granted aspects of the external environment into The Social and organ-ize them so that the State directly regulates certain necessities of life.

While the refracting expanse of The Social does not eliminate conflict, the social conflict it engenders looks nothing like the protracted civil wars of other States. Simply put, social conflict floats because it replaces the law with norms; The Social exercises control through a patchwork system of guidelines that float and change as they interact. Other States rely on standards set by the law to which the issues of the day are pegged (these are the proper religious practices, those are the actions of a criminal). Instead of standards, which stick reference points into the swirling uncertainty of change, free-floating norms are used to manage conflicts against and through one another rather than on their own. Unpunctuated by coordinates, this expanding block of norms is a mobile mass of intersecting concerns, with none considered valuable in their own right. This unmooring demonstrates the shifting role of a State invested in The Social. Without the law, the Social State employs a positive form of power. Norms reign, not by introducing the lost concept of the normal, but by ensuring that everything under the gaze of The Spectacle becomes normalized. Normalization does not care if you are good or bad, normal or abnormal, rather, it only cares what is possible and impossible. Conflict, while still at times a liability, is then fashioned into a tool of governance that creates as well as destroys. And instead of preserving fundamental interests such as rights by quelling internal conflicts, this State proves its worth by winning modest victories to satisfy social interests (Hardt and Negri, Labor of Dionysus, 71).

Norms help feed the Social State’s truly global aspirations. Even though The Social is an oddly shaped net that catches an even stranger set of problems, it dreams of being a continuous fabric that covers the earth. Therefore, despite its sundry appearance, the Social State undertakes a global program of integration and regulation, as if pretending that nothing escapes its grasp. The unrelenting advance of the Nazi state is perhaps the easiest image to conjure of the Social State’s global pretensions. Yet the distinctive feature of the Social State is not the unification of politics but the socialization of production (Hardt and Negri, Labor of Dionysus, 28-30). The total mobilization of the Nazi state was for expansionist war while Social States undertake total mobilizations for economic development  (264).[6] The outcome of this total mobilization is not a society still driven by the State, as in the Modern State, but the socialization of the State through an indistinction between the state and society. Therefore, instead of the Nazi State, it is two other twentieth century States that therefore serve as the paradigmatic examples of the Social State: the Welfare State and the Socialist State.

Both the Welfare State and Socialist State functioned primarily through connection, not repression. This connection worked by first priming the pump and then normalizing the result. This began with enormous State projects in the arts, culture, society, politics, and the economy, from which it picked and chose which ones to extend. However, a bifurcation occurred as each built The Spectacle and Biopower around this production of flows. In particular, it was the political strategies employed for releasing and plugging flows that diverged. On the one hand, the wild oscillations in the economies of the West, in particular a capitalist America that was riding out the anarchic development of the Gilded Age, expanded the contractarian pole of sovereignty across large swaths of society; while on the other, a whole series of nations initiated aggressive modernization programs that followed the lead of the Soviet Union in the hopes that the socialization of production under the rationalist watch of the authoritarian pole of sovereignty would outperform their less predictable capitalist neighbors.

The Welfare State
The stability of the Welfare State was secured through the productivist bargain. After two crises, the Great Depression and mass working class autonomy, upset confidence in the future of the capitalist heart of many Social States, the Welfare State emerged to restore certainty, and it did so by performing a singular task: defending the present against the future. There are three paths that led the campaign to renew faith in the present: the interventionist Keynesianism, Fordist social relations, and Taylorist production.

Under Keynesian interventionism, the future was projected from within the present. To do so, the State first seized exclusive representation of production itself (not just management but goals and even the presentation of facts), which began the metamorphosis of the State from occasional corrector to the organizing structure of investment, making the State into its own productive subject (Hardt and Negri, Labor of Dionysus, 39-40). And second, the State committed itself to a series of norms, which did not guarantee any particular event in the future, just that future development would be a simple extension of the forms and rhythms of the present (39). Moreover, because the future was set to the internal structure of production, far less intervention was needed, as production itself was designed to address the one political element that seemed likely to derail the Social State: class struggle (42-44). Ultimately, the Welfare State repelled revolution by promising a continual improvement in life and by erecting a structure that served production in delivering on its promise. This success was in part due to the flip side of this productivist bargain, which is that, for an ever-increasing standard of life, social subjects are required to forgo antagonism and get to work.

Next, with Fordist social relations, the Welfare State was able to split militants from the working class. Fordism theorizes that a new relationship between production and consumption that provides simple reforms in the life of a worker would result in even greater improvements in the workplace. Inspired by various utopias, from back-to-the-land subsistence farming to ‘self-help,’ Ford introduced significantly higher wages, incentives for good social conduct, and institutions to facilitate self-betterment as an experiment to create a ‘New Man’ (Harvey, “Fordism,” 126-127). Fordism should never be confused with Ford the man, as many of his innovations were codifications of already existing trends, and his plans were never brought completely into fruition. Yet the central tenet of Fordism – that the massification of consumption would drive the massification of production – spread across industrial capitalist nations as a whole way of life (127-137).

Lastly, Taylorist production was the technical tool used to hold the social subjects to their side of the productivist bargain. Taylorism standardized the time-management of tasks on the assembly line. The assembly line was not the first place to break down bodies into a series of gestures to be mindlessly repeated, as this disciplining predates the industrial age, but with Taylorism it is made into a science. Through time and motion studies, tasks were distilled into a single best way, which reduced the workers to near automatons programmed to complete a single task. These workplaces were not mere dungeons, though they were ostensibly silent as there was nothing for the workers to share among themselves: they formed giant machines that followed a unified rationality imposed from above. Japan, however, demonstrated that the worker need not be subjected to the machine. Toyotist management through internal control mechanisms set the worker to innovate even more productive ways to work the machines, and thereby reintroduce initiative into production (Dohse, Jürgens, and Nialsch, “From ‘Fordism’ to ‘Toyotism’?,” 121). What Toyotism shows is that The Social’s takeover of the Welfare State is not complete when the human is subjected to standardization and therefore to machines, but rather, The Social can be a permanent engine for change if production is run by “machines with a human touch” (Ohno, Toyota Production System, 6-7). To rule The Social is to conquer not the body but the soul.

In spite of this tripartite system of totalizing control, the Welfare State insists first and foremost that its people are free. But it is an odd, paternalistic form of freedom; for in the Welfare State, everyone is treated like family. Sons and daughters are free to strike out on their own, but they are just as likely to work for the family business and live under their father’s roof. Having operationalized the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Welfare State will always welcome its lost sons back into the fold, as long as they learn the cost of freedom. The Spectacle of freedom is therefore the freedom of choice, even if it is not exercised. Especially when it is not exercised. “Love it or leave it.” “If you hate your job, why not get another one?” The paths to success and the channels of power are already set up in advance. Or as one political theorist says, power can be irrigated.[7] “The Spectacle manifests itself as an enormous positivity, out of reach and beyond dispute. All it says is: ‘Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear.’ The attitude that it demands in principle is the same passive acceptance that it has already secured by means of its seeming incontrovertibility, and indeed by its monopolization of the realm of appearances” (Debord, Society of the Spectacle, §12).[8] And all that appears is the Welfare State’s outstretched hand, offering socialized productivity as a fair bargain.

The Socialist State
In contrast to the Welfare State, the Socialist State supposes that The Social is all that is necessary. This premise comes from a socialism before Marx. Aristocrats and dreamers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the so-called utopian socialists, laid out fanciful social solutions as the answer to society’s ills. For them, the rational benevolence of planned communities would skip past the reckless and greedy merchants who were setting the groundwork for industrialism. And for a time, a whole constellation of factory towns dotted the land east of the Mississippi, run by communities who collectively owned their own mills. Miraculously, these separatist spaces served as stops on the Underground Railroad, provided the freedom for sexual experimentation, and resisted assimilation by adopting subversive lifestyles like naturism. And for that, these towns offered excellent sites for creative advancement of the subjective element of socialism: new modes of production, forms of cooperation, means of participation, principles of co-management, and collective process. However, a few decades after they appeared, most were steamrolled by the merciless advance of industrial capitalism.

It took Marx to propose a scientific basis for the development of socialism, who offered a guide not only for its subjective elements but for its objective elements as well. In its most orthodox form, the Social State followed the Marxian ‘stages of development’ theory and set about the program of socialism to lift humanity up to a higher form of life. To direct this process, the first step to socialism was to seize the reins of an already existing State and transform it into a government of development. Once such a government was in control, which proceeded with the objective development of capitalism – namely, the socialization of the means of production and the rationalization of command. After subsuming civil society, the Socialist State then brought about the total reign of Biopower. This redirection of forces animated the great mass of The Social, not through the long patchwork process of the capitalist West, but by swiftly imposing the objective elements of socialization. For even though the Welfare State pursued productivity with a scientific program as well, the total mobilization of the Socialist State prioritized planned efficiency from the beginning.

The price the Socialist State paid for its singular pursuit of efficiency was high. In trying to make history, the Socialist State used the conditions laid out before it: juridical socialism and liberal reformism (Hardt and Negri, Labor of Dionysus, 308). Through a juridical socialism, the Socialist State commanded. This strategy, motivated by a desire to bring about a ‘revolution from above,’ commanded socialized labor and capital according to certain rationalized principles set forth by Biopower. Furthermore, in an attempt to socialize the benefits of an internalized class struggle, the Socialist State launched reformist campaigns to make evident the benefits of socialism (205-209). This reformism took the form of public spending, for instance, which only highlighted the fact that the Socialist State had given up on abolishing the class system and merely sought to socialize wealth by further proletarianizing its population (209-213).

Caught in the race to out-produce its industrial neighbors, the Social State hastily installed The Spectacle to produce a social order. However, this version of The Spectacle shut down the horizon of liberation unique to the Socialist State. Che addresses this very problem in a note to a friend after serving as Finance Minister and President of the National Bank of Cuba, writing that “pursuing the chimera of achieving socialism with the aid of the blunted weapons left to us by capitalism” set the Socialist State on a path where “the adapted economic base has undermined the development of consciousness.” Pointing out what was missing, Che insists: “To build communism, a new humanity [el hombro nuevo] must be created simultaneously with the material base” (“Socialism and Man in Cuba,” 217; trans. modified). But the liberatory experiments in the subjective elements of socialism, futurism or socialist realism for instance, were set aside to win the great showdown with its capitalist enemies. Those subjective experiments were suspended and replaced by the middling humanism of The Social, which prematurely ended the quest for a radically different humanity. And it is this shared vision of The Social that led the Welfare State and the Socialist State to their strikingly similarity, even if each initially sought different visions. The convergence of these Social States did not result from the failures of socialism, however, but is an unintentional effect of the speed and efficiency by which the Socialist State expanded the market and civil society in countries ignored by capitalism (Hardt and Negri, Labor of Dionysus, 265). The greatest mistake of the Socialist State was made irreversibly clear as the final barrier between the Socialist State and the Welfare State crumbled with the Berlin Wall – in its failure to create a completely different way of life, “real socialism carried the world of the East into the heart of the West” to extend the life of capitalism (269).

Escaping The Social
The Welfare State and the Socialist State fostered different forms of control and resistance despite their similarities. Biopower and The Spectacle may have provided both States the mineralized skeleton of industrial market society, but social divergence eventually gave rise to significant anatomical differences. For example, the dull distinction between alleged Soviet opacity and Republican transparency is worthless unless we note that the membrane of each utilized contrasting modes of communication and selection. The Iron Curtain was not an impenetrable veil that blocked out modernist publicity; rather, it was the hardening of the organic membrane between two clusters of Social States. A better diagnosis is found in the differences between George Orwell’s 1984, which depicts a totalized Socialist State, and Huxley’s Brave New World, which depicts a totalized Welfare State:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us. (Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, vii–viii)

Despite drift in the expression of the three principles of the Social State, the most important aspect of Cold War isolation is the politically decisive forms of corporeal escape birthed by each.

The Social State makes escape part of the everyday functions of its body. While the Modern State freezes space in time so it could get a handle on everything within its reach, the Social State sets its organs free, giving them the resources to self-regulate. The Social State therefore does not care if subjects think that they are going it alone. Moreover, corporeal escape does not begin with declaring independence from the body politic. Exit must come from the body itself. What escapes must first threaten the life of the organism. Then, the State will purge, shit, or excise whatever frightens, scares, or frustrates the life of The Social. And it will either empower or ignore the rest – Native Americans are sent into exile on reservations, poor blacks are freed from slavery but left to die in urban ghettos, and illegal immigrants are deported. There is nothing glorious about this slow gnawing death by disregard, but it opens up a potential passage out of The Social. Accordingly, escape must ultimately grow from being a threat to having a life of its own. Running to the hills is the oldest form of escape to illustrate what it takes to start a new life. As we have seen, those who ran from the Archaic State into the mountains of Southeast Asia used highlands for cover, practiced slash-and-burn agriculture for mobility, lived in small dispersed social units to avoid appropriation, and prayed to heretical priests that broke the pact. What the Social State demonstrates, however, is that you do not have to run to the hills to start a new life.

The examples of politically decisive escape in the Social State are numerous. Laying the groundwork for social war while still under the watch of the Modern State, the Calico Indians flouted social norms with a ridiculous set of names, clothes, and traditions which they used to wage a successful anti-rent insurrection that broke three-hundred thousand farmers out of debt bondage (Metzger, “Transform and Rebel”). A century later, the rucksack revolution struck at the consumer core of the Welfare State.  A generation of hippy-refusenicks dropped out and hit the road with little more than a deep dissatisfaction with the fruits of America’s post-war boom. Or in perhaps a deeper fashion, the specter of Makhno haunted the whole history of Soviet Russia. The short-lived anarchist society in Ukraine lived on in the hearts of peasants, with the black flag raised time and time again by guerrilla partisans, Tolstoyans, and gulag insurrectionists (Avrich, The Russian Anarchists; Foster, “The Tragedy of Karaganda”).

In general, holes in The Social that open into potential escape routes for two social subjects: the dangerous and the unaccountable. The dangerous individual is a product of the Social State. To begin with, for dangerousness to even appear, the law must be on its way out. The Social State does not look at danger as a matter of juridical fault or liability (Foucault, “Dangerous,” 16). Nor does it consider danger to be an abomination or deformity (having profaned god or nature). Moreover, it does not treat danger as an illness or even a symptom. The Social State rather speaks of danger in terms of risk. This may seem odd, as everyone takes risks, whether it be jaywalking or taking a stroll in the wrong side of town. But the Social State knows precisely when risks become danger: it is when the dangerous threaten the health of both themselves and others (16). Put another way: individuals are considered dangerous not because they have committed acts that violate the law but because their existence itself poses an unacceptable risk, as deemed by the preventative mechanisms of the norm. What sets up the dangerous individual as an agent of escape is that they are dangerous as long as their intentions are hidden. The powerful mechanisms of The Social are designed to extract pleas of guilt, sobbing criminal confessions, and a whole string of detailed explanations aired to make right with God (1-8). But without an identifiable reason for the danger, whether from the mouth of the accused or cobbled together by the experts, the Social State is unable to manage dangerousness (8-11). Even more striking, as the Social State casts its suspicious gaze across its wide body, it finds that dangerous individuals are not rare and monsters gptou but common creatures (17). Therefore, the inhabitants of The Social are never far from a standoff with the Social State that would end in either fight or flight. The struggle would begin with a refusal to keep feeding useful information to the managers of Biopower and The Spectacle.

As the Social State shows, the escape of the dangerous comes in many different forms. The Socialist State, for instance, centralizes The Spectacle in order to present the official publicity of the people, even if it is really centered on a cult of personality or a central committee. What escapes here does not come in the form of universal pronouncements of humanism but acts that bear an oddly strict adherence to the party line. When Soviet constructivist art showed a new industrial humanity with everyone performing as a perfect cog in the machine, Stalin shuddered, and responded with a gag order (Žižek, “Leninist Freedom,” 123-124). Yet critics found ways to make the socialist Spectacle leak time and again, as shown by East German playwright Heiner Müller, who could pack eight hundred people into a theater, all knowing that his staging of classic theater was really a critique of the party bureaucracy (Müller, Germania, 38-39). Alternately, while things can be discussed out in the open in the Welfare State, everything is risky but few become truly dangerous. Here, The Spectacle controls risks by indulging the most fickle tendencies of the masses. Escape, however, follows the same route. Mass exodus comes in the form of ‘movements’ that whip up popular sentiment. But with the quick, violent oscillations of the attention cycle, few can maintain their self-imposed exile from Biopower.

The second class of subjects that escape The Social are the unaccountable. The unaccountable evade Biopower and The Spectacle by means of autonomy. This struggle is less striking but is far more common than inviting danger. Instead of provoking the publicity of The Spectacle in order to force a confrontation, the unaccountable withdraw to upset the social guarantees the Social State employs to buy support. Withdrawal does not mean ‘go it alone.’ Rather, it means pursuing autonomy, which is to say totally abandoning the perspective of management. This is the only meaningful definition of autonomy. Separation and freedom must prevent reconciliation by scrambling the State’s attempts to organize The Social as a body (Tiqqun, This is Not a Program, 59-63). This disruption can be as simple as punks trying to prove wrong the Welfare State’s maxim that ‘there is no such things as free lunch’ or as monumental as an autonomous union springing up in Tiananmen Square to rebuff the Socialist State’s standing offer of ‘a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.’  Whether it is by reappropriating the forces taken away from them after being captured by The Social or by finding a passage that leads to something altogether new, the decisive politics of the unaccountables is their demonstration that one can enjoy the benefits of life without paying the price demanded by the Social State.

Those both avoiding accountability but also intensifying danger usually succeed only as long as their actions remain unregistered. Many subversions work by refusing Biopower’s demand that everything good must be universalized. Whether it be looking the other way when a house on your block becomes a squat or shrugging off someone’s bald attempts to cut work, there are many ways to support efforts that would otherwise shrink under the public scrutiny of The Spectacle. But talking about or even imagining a world operating without accountability and confrontation requires a discourse more akin to telling ghost stories than keeping the books. Or for those who prefer something more substantial, consider the fictions, characters, and narratives that leave behind the “paper life” of revolutionaries that exist only in books (Rancière, “The Thinking of Dissensus,” 12-14).

Regardless of how one chooses to think ‘the existence of the inexistent,’ the stakes are clear: the politics of escape is the search for dis-junctions. Broken promises, misplaced memories, startling anachronisms, and habitual repetitions are all little pieces of untimeliness stuck in the present (Rancière, “The Thinking of Dissensus,” 5). Therefore, against the total advance of the Social State, escape can be rethought. Instead of dreaming of a flight that would carry you across space to foreign land or to a cabin in the woods, escape carefully searches for loose threads of time left untrimmed by the Social State. And just maybe, when the correct ones are pulled, they slowly unravel the present to reveal new worlds already in place.


[1] “The expressive is primary in relation to the possessive, expressive qualities, or matters of expression, are necessarily appropriative and constitute a having more profound than being. Not in the sense that these qualities belong to a subject, but in the sense that they delineate a territory that will belong to the subject that carries or produces them. These qualities are signatures, but the signature, the proper name, is not the constituted mark of a subject, but the constituting mark of a domain, an abode. The signature is not the indication of a person; it is the chancy formation of a domain” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 316).

[2] Attributed to King Frederick II by Kant in “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?,” 55.

[3] Interestingly, polizeiwissenschaft gave rise to political economy. This transition marks the historical moment when capitalism tries to make a jump from the coercive pole of sovereignty to the contract pole. This point is not lost on Marx, who famously points out that the bloody expropriations of original accumulation only later turned into the silent compulsions of the market in Capital: Volume 1. When economics rises to the status of a science, after the marginalist revolution of the late 19th-Century, it creates just-so stories that try to break its ancestral ties to the repressive force of the Police.

[4] For a thorough treatment of the arts of representation under the French Monarchy, consult Louis Marin’s excellent study of the “incessant crisscrossing” of aesthetics and kingship in seventeenth century France.

[5] Or, as the authors of Call would insist, when we talk about worlds we are really talking about the sensible, which they take from the work of Jacques Rancière.

[6] Arguably, the Nazis mobilized first to overcome the disastrous effects of World War I and the Versailles reparations on the German economy, whose continued development may only subsequently have required expansionist war. The memory of the Nazi war state usual weighs too heavily on history to allow a balanced analysis.  However, a few texts, such as Schivelbush, Three New Deals and Apparatus of Capture plateau in A Thousand Plateaus offer such accounts.

[7] This is a phrase commonly used by Wendy Brown.

[8] Modified, taking the first three words out of full capitalization.

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