Anti-politics does a subversive reading of three modern political theorists: first, Niccolo Machiavelli and his sober analysis of how state violence underwrites the law; second, Karl Marx and his study of the objective mechanisms that drive the silent compulsions of the capitalist market; and third, Friedrich Nietzsche and his investigation into the power of life when it is stripped of moralist illusions. Force pervades each of these three theorists’s writing, but what is unique about their approaches is the common notion that force does not emerge from the state sui generis. Rather, they write about a force that exists as a material power. This force is often seized and put to use by a state, but it is equally likely that others make use of that force, and they often use it against the state. Like these thinkers, anti-politics begins from the basic insight that power exists outside the state and that to do politics one need not be recognized by the state. In addition to these thinkers, there are transitional figures within this intellectual history, namely anabaptists, utopian socialists, and anarchists, which I would be happy to talk about in the Q/A if anyone is interested.
Despite these modernist roots, anti-politics spends most of its time contending with contemporary theory. The two contemporary theorists I find essential for studying anti-politics are Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. Anti-politics utilizes Foucault’s study of governmentality. Foucault, so sure that power did not reside in the state itself, refused to study the state. In the place of the state, Foucault proposes studying government and its subsequent “state effects.” Foucault’s work is critical to understanding how power is generated in a whole array of things: architecture, the training of bodies, medical practice, demographics, and the list goes on. And Foucault’s near-obsessive cataloguing of the so-called micro-physics of power shows how individual practices must be developed and regularly maintained in order for larger networks of power to operate.
In contrast to Foucault, Deleuze is still willing to include the state in his analysis. However, this is because Deleuze provides a thicker system that both incorporates both practices of government and larger purely-conceptual entities such as states. Deleuze is able to account for these multi-scalar phenomenon, by which i mean micropractices and molar entities, with a sophisticated materialist metaphysics of difference. Also helpful for this project is Deleuze’s assertion that flight, or what I call escape, is the dominant tendency of difference. But rather than continuing expanding Deleuze’s metaphysics, it is important to note that anti-politics does not make use all of Deleuze’s expanded metaphysics, and does it need to. It is my contention that a few key ideas from Deleuze are enough to sustain anti-politics as a field of inquiry. In particular, I think Deleuze’s idea of affect holds the key to contemporary anti-politics.
Crystallizing insights Foucault and Deleuze, theorists in two fields, Queer Theory and Post-Marxism, have adopted affect as a political tool. Within queer theory, the feminist group Public Feelings has been using affect to study contemporary life. For them, affect provides a shared term to assess the type and quality of interactions across a social realm fragmented by political power. Through experiments in affect, Public Feelings groups test out ways to transform negative feelings born out of politics into resources for public life. These concrete studies are supplemented by developments in marxist and post-marxist theory. Marxist theoretical innovations use affect to expand economics from the wallet to other aspects of life; whether that be where the attention economy meets the bedroom or how cognitive capitalism influences digital culture. Both approaches promise to by fruitful for the study of anti-politics, as they not only escape politics as usual but totally reconfigure the political altogether. at the limits of freedom and politics
As the global capitalist axiomatic subsumes the State, the locus of power has shifted from politics to economics, and the Metropolis replaces the Social State. Governing the bloated space of the Metropolis requires such a proliferation of authorities that the poles of sovereignty have become diffuse. Such diffusion does not cause individual states to disappear but to cede their power to Empire, which exercises its power in the Metropolis. This is how Empire is lived on the ground. Together, Empire and the Metropolis exercise a form of power altogether different than other States: the Modern State made power into a substance by slowing it down enough to find something measurable and therefore pliable or easy to control – territory and population become expressions of the health of the sovereign; and the Social State developed The Social to hold the fragmented body of the king together, extending sovereignty into all dimensions of modern life. Both of those States transmuted the two poles of sovereignty that capture power – the Modern State introduced The Police to take over the functions of conquest and established Publicity to forge a new type of contract, and the Social State generalized The Police into Biopower and expanded Publicity into The Spectacle. Everywhere The Social is in crisis and the Metropolis has taken its place. And what has taken over Biopower and The Spectacle is not a State but the subsumption of all states; it is Empire.
governance has shifted from producing good citizens to controlling virtuous and un-virtuous subjects alike by patterning their space of potential and disciplining their aftereffects (Dean, Governmentality, 184-5). prelude