The War-Machine and “a people who revolt”
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The War-Machine and “a people who revolt”

As Deleuze and Guattari argue in A Thousand Plateaus, the State has historically had only two choices with regard to violence: (1) it can form a special part of its apparatus specifically made to deploy violence against its own populations (i.e., its police force, its prisons, its judges, and its bureaucrats, who are responsible for both legalizing and “making abstract” the various forms of state violence); or (2) it can acquire an army.

The war-machine, therefore, is not intrinsic to the form of state power, which Deleuze and Guattari define as essentially conservative: the function of state power is to conserve and to protect, even to replenish, the organs of state power. By contrast, the nature of the violence deployed by the war-machine is not conservative, but essentially destructive: to vanquish, destroy, thereby to ruin the organs of state power. In the Republic, Plato distinguished the two forms of violence between the terms of stásis (civil conflict or internal discord) and pólemos (pure war); therefore, another way of defining the conservative function of state power is to say that it is dialectical.1 The violence inflicted by the police, or the courts, even by prisons, is made to conserve a form of state power. For example, crime is treated by a form of violence that seeks to either repress or to correct its inherent contradiction to the principles of law and order. The activity of the criminal represents the expression of conflict that must be dialectically remedied in order to restore the principle of identity, and it is not by chance that the form of violence or repression is made to be equivalent to that initial expression: the robber is stripped of all his possessions and imprisoned, the murderer is executed. Although crime certainly represents a form of exteriority, defined as a concrete instance of contradiction that appears against the abstract law, through the organs of state power (its police, courts, prisons, and its executioners) the concrete and external existence of conflict is cancelled-out and the contradiction is “peacefully” resolved in the identification of the criminal with the crime. In this manner, productive violence restores unity to the normally abstract principle of law by giving it a concrete instance of identity in which it can bathe itself anew, or revitalize its organs. “Order is beautiful” (kalos) and becomes the primary virtue of the city, the first and most primitive of the state forms.

What about the violence of polemós (war)? Plato never admits its comparison with the notion of conflict, which is why he outlawed the idea of civil war from the Republic. He in fact compares it to “self-laceration,” the willful destruction of one’s own organs. Here, we find the second determination of exteriority; war represents a violence always directed outward, away from the body proper. It is aimed at the destruction of the organs of another body, alien or foreign. Plato employs the term “barbarian” (barbaros) to characterize this foreign body, in other occasions, “the natural enemy” (i.e., Persian).2 But to say that the nature of violence defining polemós is characterized by its “exteriority” with regard to the body proper, which metaphorically represents the internal precincts of the city-state, also entails that its violence cannot be internalized as a conservative function of statepower. There is always something essentially lawless, random, undisciplined, and most importantly, non-dialectical about war and especially those who “wage war”; something that can even be an anathema to the form of power favored by the State. “In every respect,” Deleuze and Guattari write, “the war machine is of another species, another nature, another origin than the State apparatus.”3 It is precisely this essentially lawless and un-disciplinary character that becomes a key feature of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “the war machine,” and it is the contradictory nature of the war machine that I will highlight in my analysis of their “Treatise on Nomadology,” especially concerning their frequent references to the contradictory, lawless, and even suicidal character of the warrior caste (e.g., Achilles, Kleist’s Michael Kolhaas...