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Terror in all Eventuality

From: Theory & Event
Volume 13, Issue 3, 2010
10.1353/tae.2010.0009

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Terror in all Eventuality

Following the events of September 11th 2001 the “uncertain” has become all the more certain in meaning. The two most notorious “flights” in history have contributed to a global (in)security situation in which we have all in one way or another become connected through an assured vulnerability to the catastrophic “event-to-come”. This dangerous certainty unfortunately seems to be the only truism of the 21st Century. Naturally, facing these conditions the strategic landscape has been radically transformed. With security broadened in scope and deepened in meaning, governmental reason has been forced to confront each and every potential threat posed to our settled political existence. However, whilst these efforts could be seen to be indicative of a new global humanism, one which is properly concerned with protecting life from all manner of violent and traumatic encounters, they do not necessarily guarantee any prospect of success. To the contrary, the advances made in complexity thinking have taught us a rather disturbing lesson: despite our most strident attempts, radically interconnected and dynamic systems cannot be calculated with absolute precision. With another attack by all accounts “inevitable”, at best, it is hoped that our efforts will disrupt capacities for destruction, improve our early warning systems, or make our logistical arrangements more responsive when dealing with the aftermath of some future attack. To be expected, in this climate the Global War on Terror has moved well beyond bringing the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice. Tasked with protecting the future productive vitality of all species existence—not to mention the critical infrastructure which sustains that existence, it has become a generic term for a planetary security effort which is increasingly taking all life to be its object.

Michel Foucault’s revival is fully revealing of this new security terrain.1 Foucault was the first to point out that the modern task of making secure implied more than securing territories. During his seminal lectures Society Must Be Defended; Security, Territory, Population; and The Birth of Bio-Politics given at the College de France (1975–79) he explained how the emergence of a “life centric” security paradigm first appeared in the 18th Century.2 For Foucault, what marked out this new security arrangement from the previous sovereign model of abandonment was that its productive remit demanded modes of “incorporation.” And it was through the need to meet these productive demands that the original conception of man (homo) would be gradually transformed. Life would for the first time become a “species-life” whose very “species-existence” was understood to be productive and yet precarious. What Foucault therefore brought to our attention were the onset of new bio(logical) forms of power, which operating at the level of life itself sought to shape the conduct of “populations” in calculable and profitable ways: ‘One of the great innovations in the techniques of power in the eighteenth century was the emergence of “population” as an economic and political problem: population as wealth, population as manpower or labour capacity, population balanced between its own growth and the resources it commanded.’ 3 The theoretical significance of this economising perspective should not be lost in us. Writing counter to the familiar juridical script, what Foucault effectively argued was that the Liberal art of governance does not, as Kantian revisionists would argue, appear by claiming to promote and protect certain universal or inalienable rights. It arrives by making life itself the object for political strategy. Liberal rationality in other words only becomes meaningful when it first began posing the ‘question of constituting something like a milieu of life, existence.’4

Foucault thus began to pinpoint the emergence of a new set of discourses and practices which recognised that life needed constant supervision for its own productive and hence social betterment. Invoking notions of progress and development, this modern conception of security—the Liberal bio-politics of security, begins by operating entirely in the strategic field of possibility. Working alongside the traditional sovereign problem of maintaining territorial integrities, it did not repress, but functioned by “letting things happen.” 5 Accordingly, given that this new governmental reason did not revolve around natural notions of right...