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Barbarians to Savages: Liberal War Inside and Out

From: Theory & Event
Volume 13, Issue 3, 2010
10.1353/tae.2010.0013

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

Evans: One of the most important aspects of your work has been to argue why the original sentiment which provoked Deleuze and Guattari’s Nomadology narrative needed to be challenged. With the onset of a global war machine which showed absolutely no respect for state boundaries, matched by the rise of many local fires of resistance which had no interest in capturing state power, the sentiment that “History is always written from the victory of States” could now be brought firmly into question. On a theoretical level alone, the need to bring the Nomadology Treatise up to date was an important move. However, there was something clearly more at stake for you than simply attempting to canonise Deleuze and Guattari. One gets the impression from your works that you were deeply troubled by what was taking place with this new found humanitarianism. Indeed, as you suggest, if we accept that this changing political terrain demanded a rewriting of war itself—away from geo-political territorial struggles which once monopolised the strategic field, towards bio-political life struggles whose unrelenting wars were now to be consciously fought for the politics of all life itself, then it could be argued that the political stakes could not be higher. For not only does a bio-political ascendency force a re-conceptualisation of the war effort—to include those forces which are less militaristic and more developmental (one can see this best reflected today in the now familiar security mantra “War by Other Means”), but through this process a new paradigm appears which makes it possible to envisage for the first time in human history a Global State of War or a Civil War on a planetary scale.

Whilst it was rather easy to find support for this non-State paradigm during the 1990’s—especially when the indigenous themselves started writing of the onset of a Fourth World War which was enveloping the planet and consuming everybody within, some have argued that the picture became more clouded with the invasion of Iraq which was simply geo-politics as usual. The familiar language that has been routinely deployed here would be of US Exceptionalism. My concern is not really to attend to this revival of an out-dated theoretical persuasion. I agree with your sentiments in Multitude that this account can be convincingly challenged with relative ease. Foucault has done enough himself to show that Liberal War does not demand a strategic trade-off between geo-political and biopolitical aspirations. They can be mutually re-enforcing, even, or perhaps more to the point, especially within a global Liberal Imaginary. And what is more, we should not lose sight of the fact that it was when major combat operations were effectively declared over, that is when the borderlands truly ignited. My concerns today are more attuned to the post-Bush era, which going back to the original War on Terror’s life-centric remit is once again calling for the need to step up the humanitarian war effort in order to secure the global peace. Indeed, perhaps more worrying still, given that the return of the Kantian inspired humanitarian sensibility can now be presented in an altogether more globally enlightened fashion, offering a marked and much needed departure from the destructive but ultimately powerless (in the positive sense of the word) self-serving neo-con, then it is possible to detect a more intellectually vociferous shift taking place which is rendering all forms of political difference to be truly dangerous on a planetary scale. With this in mind, I would like your thoughts on the Global State of War today. What for instance do you feel have been the most important changes in the paradigm since you first proposed the idea? And would you argue that war is still the permanent social relation of global rule?

Hardt: The notion of a global civil war starts from the question of sovereignty. Traditionally war is conceived (in the field of international relations, for instance, or in international law) as armed conflict between two sovereign powers whereas civil war designates conflict within a single territory in which one or both of the parties is not sovereign. War...


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