Part 2 – Crisis

Unlike the mythic State, governance today is no longer a question of divinity or even mastery. Empire is instead the force of prevention. What Empire prevents is the future, which it claims is only full of horror, chaos, and disappointment – where apocalyptic monsters or dystopian nightmares come true. The present, we are told, is in crisis. Paradoxically, Empire’s solution is to deepen the crisis in order to save the present. The experience of this drawn-out present is a combination of the profusion of difference paired with the vague notion that nothing is really changing. To achieve this confusing state – where the more that things change, the more they stay the same – Empire undertakes two abstract processes: circulation and management. These two processes are its essential modes of operation.

Proposition 1: Empire is circulation.
Exteriorization is the abstract process of Empire’s mode of circulation.

Empire’s exteriorization is a reversal of the interiorizing tendency of the Modern State, which operates through folding. Folding is the interiorization of the outside, or “inside as an operation of the outside,” that constitutes a doubling of the outside (Deleuze, Foucault, 99-100). A common example of interiorization is the architecture of a house, which erects a structure on a frame set against a landscape. Floors, ceilings, and walls concretize frames to provide a barrier from the outside while windows and doors are frames within a frame that enable a selective flow of materials and affects in and out. Furniture is placed within the fold as the double of the outside and thus model the outside environment with which bodies touch and interact even while lacking any resemblance to it (Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art, 13-17). Analogously, The Modern State governed people and things as an architect constructs a house, crafting a well-ordered interior that carefully folds in aspects of the outside so that “from now on, things will be represented only from the depths of this density withdrawn into itself” (Foucault, Order of Things, 251). Interiorization is a control mechanism, as it slows down forces to a speed where they are easily captured and managed. But the power of the fold is not one-sided, for it holds force like a spring. Following this realization, the Social State intensified interiorization by increasing the relative speed of force within the fold. To extend the interior, however, the Social State did not build an array of interiorities (the school, the kitchen, the prison) but encouraged circulation within a single shared inside: The Social. The Social State unfolded conflicts into a single intersecting mass so they do not arise within the interiority of separate folds but rather play out in the unified field of The Social. And the fold of The Social serves as a membrane that enables the State to exchange with aspects of the outside without internalizing them.

Empire’s mode of circulation is unfolding. At first glance, Empire seems to appear only when there is a mistake in the circuit, but circulation does not occur on its own accord; it is Empire that directs this expansion. Under the watchful gaze of The Spectacle and through the selective membrane of Biopower, Empire first exposes interiorities to the outside and subsequently transforms them into exteriorities themselves. No interior is safe. Yet in the beginning, the outside might appear to be the breath of fresh air that everyone needs: families are reunited despite distance or borders, old enemies find new grounds for friendship, and all kinds of deviations are allowed to flourish. But countless illustrations draw a bleaker picture of exposure: social rights such as healthcare vary according to a privatized system of global debt, labor competes for jobs half-way across the world, and pockets of the so-called third world grow throughout the first. Those examples of circulation only describe the first action of exposing interiorities to one another, however. Empire’s circulation also performs a second operation: desubstantializing the power that is sprung from folds, which is used for shaping exteriorities that expand the Metropolis. This operation occurs by transduction – the conversion of energy from one medium to another (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 60). To complete this operation, interiorities are not just made risky but they are exploded through a turning-inside-out. Or to repeat a phrase that is popular today, capitalism is not just in crisis but capitalism is crisis.[1] Empire turns every breakdown into something positive – positive in both senses: a presence that can be positively identified and that which can be benefited from.

Although every type of circuit encounters resistance, Empire re-counters resistance by increasing social conductivity. Everyone in such a system is asked to be a transparent conductor of social information (Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, §59). This conductive circuit extends through diffusion, which does not spread from a single center but goes in-between already present formations. Such diffusion forgoes the homogenizing impulses of States in order to “constitute an intermediate milieu between coexistent orders” that expands through multiplying difference rather than flattening sameness (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 435). Moreover, since Empire does not emanate from a single point, diffusion allows every node to be a possible temporary or local center. Ultimately, the biopolitical principle behind conductivity means that Empire affords us our power – we live in its house, wear its clothes, and eat its food. While diffusion ensures that resistance is both everywhere and nowhere at the same time, it is equally true that resistance to Empire is also resistance against ourselves – a human strike that turns the force of self-abnegation into a strike against Empire. There are at least three consequences that follow from the diffusion of conductivity: first, the simultaneous demands for transparency, flexibility, and self-reliance establish thin social bonds on the basis of weak solidarity; second, we are all always-already guilty because no form of life serves as a perfect conductor social flows, and Empire materializes that guilt at any moment it finds useful; and third, a global economy of responsibility ensures that a guilty party is identified after every event, even if they are not punished for it (Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, §59).

Proposition 2: Empire is management. The production of difference is the abstract process of Empire’s mode of management.

The basic unit of Imperial management is the differential. Empire has learned that ‘to exist is to differ’ and therefore abstains from ruling through a social whole. Imperial management does not start from scratch every time by inventing new terms (a student, soldier, or citizen) or undertake the laborious task of independently treating every element within its purview. Rather, this management modulates what exists between terms, their differential, which gives it a wide reach while still retaining the uniqueness of everything it affects. Assisted by modulation, Empire presents the world as a swirling constellation of differences liable to descend into chaos, a chaos it vows to prevent by maintaining the current state of things. This is a balancing act, as Empire’s constant exteriorization pushes nearly every system into crisis, which creates a generalized state of exception. Such a state generates faith in the present, for the present appears under the guise of security and is sealed with its promise to prevent the future. Crisis thus serves as a mechanism of normalization for Empire, justifying its existence.

During times of crisis, certain allowances are made as long as they remain limited. Something with such a degree of intensity as to be excessive may still threaten Empire, but “under Empire, nothing forbids you from being a little bit punk, slightly cynical, or moderately S & M” because prohibitions against deviance are replaced by the management of differences, “molecular calibrations of subjectivities and bodies” (Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, §55, Gloss α). The watchful guise of The Social sought norms that discouraged transgression because it is seen as a risk to the shared image of a unified social body.  But both transgression and norms disappear within Empire – only normalization remains. Empire’s operations are far more limited than the Social State, which produced virtuous subjects that tend to follow norms of good behavior. Empire performs only one primary act, which has two aspects, one positive and one negative: it invests in as many possible worlds as are necessary to prevent the future.

Empire’s form of management draws on the power of limiting its own appearance. It does so by multiplying its techniques through the privatization of law. This privatization transforms the Social State’s a priori use of the law to privilege particular forms-of-life to Empire’s impersonal and practical use of the law, which it makes available to every citizen (Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, §49). Despite constitutional scholars’ best assurances, Empire’s contradictory patchwork of laws does not establish order through reason. Rather, the laws of Empire are there to empower citizens just as it authorizes the police, making the techniques of Imperial management available to all the residents of the Metropolis, all parties involved knows how rare it is for things to actually end up in court. Imperial management therefore appears as private interest that is covertly operating through the force of law. Further limiting Empire’s appearance is existential liberalism, the belief that each person relates to the world according to their own unique perspective, which they are made to believe exists as a result of the series of choices they made in the life (Anonymous, Call, Scholium II). The confessional aspect of existential liberalism complements the privatization of law, as subjects’ desire to produce a personal and positive ownership of the world covers up the impersonal and negative dimension of Imperial management. Much as wealth appears under economic liberalism as nothing but the result of differential exchanges, Empire appears under existential liberalism as the effect of a variety of personal choices.

When management appears as the effect of Empire, which when it intervenes, appears as pre-accomplished fact. Biopower’s cessation of the future is never complete, however. Differences are always breaking through or slowing down, opening up paths to the future. Empire thus intervenes to put them back in their place. Empire often chooses a state as its agent of intervention. This is why it would be a misunderstanding to think that Empire does away with states. States still exist, but mostly because they are useful. As centers of command, states control and direct resources, and state sovereignty exists as a justified force without the need for an explanation, available as a strategic resource – even when financial capital, drug syndicates, outlaw warlords, and Special Economic Zones make global sovereignty look more like Swiss cheese. So just as Imperial management drives some states to sell their resource-rights to corporations for enclave accumulation, Empire dispatches other states to intervene under the cover of national interest or humanitarianism.

Many radicals engage in alternativism by proposing management solutions that appear realistic if only they could find a source of legitimacy. But already Empire presents us with all the best possible forms of management available. That is why there is no good management, only different versions of the present and no future at all. This is why you cannot critique Empire, all you can do is oppose it forces – wherever you are.

The Birth of the Metropolis
Empire, an incorporeal system, is realized in the daily life of the Metropolis. The architecture of the Metropolis is built to optimize circulation and management, which is built as a space of capture. The space of capture of the Metropolis emerges from two distinct diagrams of control: the leper colony and the plague city (Agamben, “Metropolis,” 6-7). The leper colony is an intentional outside, a closed-up and excluded space to which lepers are sent into permanent exile. A plague city, in contrast, cannot stem its affliction by simply casting out the victims; instead, the plague city fixes everyone in place by confining them to their homes and sets someone to watch each street – provisions are delivered through elaborate delivery systems that connect the street to each house while closing off communication, and residents must regularly appear in their windows for an observation, which is recorded and made into a system of permanent registration. The first diagram produces a space of exclusion based on a single binary division (normal/abnormal; mad/sane), while the other produces a divided space of individualization that encases, surveils, and cures illness through a complex set of programs and practices (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 195-200).

Despite their differences, the diagrams of the leper colony and the plague city are not incompatible; yet it takes the Modern State to combine them, which it does by creating a space of double capture that treats subjects as simultaneously plague victims and lepers. By introducing articulation and division to the space of exclusion, separations such as borders and walls are still erected but the effects change, a generalized binary division is replaced by particularized differential individuations – certain subjects are not excluded but cured through the careful tools of plague control (the productive effects of registration, monitoring, treatment) while others subjects are intentionally helped through exclusion itself (the exclusivity of private networks, accumulation enclaves, sidestepped regulations). This differential control weaves the elementary fabric of the Metropolis (Agamben, “Metropolis,” 3-6). This is the origin of Hardt and Negri’s claim that struggle no longer link “horizontally,” but instead “each one leaps vertically, directly to the virtual center of Empire” (Empire, 58). Not every strike against Empire is equally effective, however, because the fabric of the Metropolis fabric is not continuous, homogeneous, or isonomic but extends through a series of veins. This interweaving pattern of control allows the Metropolis to expand without subjugating difference to a unified principle of organization. The result is a new understanding of relation where every point is potentially inside and out – watched by the Spectacle but also ignored, cared for by Biopower but also abandoned. The struggle against Empire must then address the uneven development of the Metropolis and the role that its veins play in imperial control.

[1] The slogan ‘capitalism is the crisis’ is perhaps even more popular than ‘capitalism is crisis,’ but it does not capture the key transcendental point that capitalism is both the cause and beneficiary of crisis.


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