Saturday 27 October 2018

Deleuze and Authoritarian Statism

Despite its claims to freedom, neoliberalism from the outset was an authoritarian project. It took root in tandem with or on the heels of state violence. The slaughter of the "other September 11th" in Chile, the physical breaking of Britain's labour movement by Margaret Thatcher, and the incredible levels of social murder visited on Russia by Yeltsin and the shock therapy of the neoliberal "radicals". The beginnings of neoliberalism were mired in violence, but states did not stop tooling up even while class peace, their class peace, reigned for a couple of decades or so. Terrorism is often the justification, but repressive legislation, the erosion of civic freedoms, the expansion of the security state and its surveillance powers pre-date the attacks on the World Trade Centre. What followed after was not a break with want went before, but its continuation. What were and are the processes and relationships driving authoritarian statism in liberal democracies, and why when the external threat - the Soviet Union and its clients - were dust, domestic opposition was quiescent and sporadic, and wars overseas were more police action than existential threat?

Two, road interlocking processes are in play here. One is the mutation within capitalism after society has become subsumed under and subject to the axiomatic of capital, with the growing importance of non-value producing reproductive labour for capitalism initially organised by the state and subsequently privatised, and the increasingly vital vectors of immaterial labour - knowledge, service, relationships, care, and social production itself - to the accumulation of capital. This goes along with the shift in surplus production, of capital organising the business of production and feeding off the surplus value produced under its aegis to an extractive, rentier, parasitical relation. Here, capital depends on our sociability and knowledge and like any good zombie, it wants to feast on our brains. But it doesn't consume them, they remain intact in our heads, a force of production capital can only use but never own. We are employed in immaterial labour because of who we are, it needs our subject positions and identity locations, our gregarious natures, know-how, and the whole range of our emotional and intellectual capacities. This isn't something capital can produce in a lab, it grows organically from the dense mesh of humanity doing human things. Additionally, because we own our brains the strategies, information, experiences and knowledge we do acquire while putting our cognitive and social skills at capital's service leaks over and remains part of us, to be deployed later for our benefit outside of the work relation or in future work situations. Capital then is always trying to capture bits of the social to squeeze it for value, but in so doing it enhances labour's social productivity. Because we are the force of production, objectively speaking there is a tilt in the balance of power between capital and (cognitive) labour that, in the long-term, favours us.

In this context the authoritarian state arrogates powers to itself as the capacities of capital enter into long-term decline. From here, there are other points of departure into investigating the will to authoritarianism. For instance, authoritarian populist and quasi-fascist movements thrive when social anxiety is generalised, and this tends to happen when old fixed notions of identity are challenged by a dynamic and productive outpouring of the new identities, new ways of being, new ways of seeing courtesy of the immaterial economy. Their contemporary formation is quite new, but they thrive on the old problems of unemployment, dislocation, and perceived break down of social order. And they tend to appeal to older voters now in the fixed income position of pensioners, the unemployed, workers in declining occupations, and the petit bourgeoisie. But before these movements had take off, mainstream politicians, not including a few liberal heroes, would compete over who can be toughest on immigrants, slackers, criminals, and minority ethnicities. In conjunction with the press so-called centre politicians of the left and the right stirred up authoritarian politics for perceived political gain, created a competition over it, and duly followed through when they were in government.

The second strand is a shift in what you might call the economy of power, of how institutions and, ultimately, the state manage populations. This can be characterised by the movement from disciplinary society to societies of control. What does this mean?

Foucault's celebrated but oft-misunderstood work was interested in how institutions and knowledges produced subjects - human beings of particular kinds with particular features, characteristics and attributes. This was done discursively and non-discursively. For example, his Discipline and Punish treats us to historical diagrams of the ideal prison (the celebrated panopticon), to manuals on prisoner treatment and recommendations for "improving" their characters. And then there are movements of prisoners fixed by timetable, the rigid rituals of slopping out, yard exercise, showers, the mess hall, and a battery of punishments ranging from reduced rations, curbed privileges, solitary confinement, and beatings. The institution and correctional discourse presuppose an 'ideal' inmate, and the powers of the prison, its physical application of the techniques of discipline, are designed to force its charges into conformity with the model prisoner expected in the discourses around the (so-called) sciences of incarceration. The application of discipline, in reality power, is productive of specialist knowledge (the discourse), which is disseminated via professional publication and training manuals and feeds into the next round of discipline application.

In a radical echo of Durkheim's thinking on the division of labour, the logics of and disciplinary power moved out of carceral institutions and spread throughout society. The application of the intersection of power and knowledge in different situations produced human beings of best fit for the multiple subject positions attending the complexity of the division of labour. The ideal factory hand was different from the ideal domestic servant was different from the ideal clerk, and so on. Disciplinary power and its attention on individual bodies means it is inseparable from the birth of modern individuality. It also everywhere and always encountered resistance, but variously met it, adapted, percolated around and incorporated it into ever more sophisticated schemes for managing humans. Nevertheless, the fit between institution, the discursive elaboration of subject positions, application of discipline, and wriggling, desiring, reluctant bodies were never and couldn't ever be total. Even if the flesh was willing and compliant.

Disciplinary power is still with us. It hangs around in the background as an important but increasingly eclipsed configuration of power. Marx's classical discussion of exploitation and surplus value can't fully account for contemporary capitalism, so disciplinary power can't explain the shape, flows and diagrams of power by itself any longer. In his lectures on security, territory and population given in the late 70s Foucault suggests that the object of power is less the management of individual bodies to that of populations as a whole. Big deal, you might wonder, wasn't disciplinary power an economy of power that managed populations too? However, he suggests the axioms of disciplinary power have become so internalised, naturalised and matter-of-fact, power can scale up and turn its attentions to large aggregates of bodies. This entails knowing their patterns, their useful bifurcations and strata, and of mapping its movements to predict and, therefore, manage. This has always been a feature of statecraft, but the sophistication of technology, the importance of even greater accumulation of knowledge as a force of production allows for the segmenting (and management) of populations beyond good and problematic ethnic groups, between the traditional oppositions of us and other.

For Deleuze, the problematic of security marks the passage of disciplinary societies to societies of control, but deepens Foucault's argument while doing so. Whereas discipline created modes (subject positions) into which human beings were crammed, Deleuze suggests we should think about them as modulations. Disciplinary power was interested in the soul stuff, of manufacturing ideal subjects by subsuming them totally and turning out bodies utterly sincere and happy in their vocation - a logic played out in the breaking and incorporation of Winston Smith by Big Brother. In the societies of control, this is far less pressing. It cares less about generating identities appropriate to work locations, lip service and the discharge of duty matters more. If conformism is largely spontaneous thanks to the disciplinary legacy, total subsumption is obsolete and surplus to requirements. Secondly, following an undeveloped point of Foucault's, Deleuze recognises that human bodies occupy multiple modulations, oscillates between them, and interacts with and is captured by modulations temporarily with varying intensity and completeness. Put another way, we mobilise different competencies and different presentations of self (Goffman) according to the social settings and social actions we're engaged in. The self therefore isn't just incoherent, the very idea of a true self is a matter of mythology.

Modulations therefore operate and capture at the sub-subject level - the individual is displaced by the 'dividual'. For Deleuze the segmentation of the population can apply to the multiplicities contained by our bodies. We are addressed as employees, citizens, believers and non-believers, as sexualised, racialised, and gendered potentialities, as enthusiasts of hobbies and interests, consumers of branded products, as family members, friends, bearers of specific skills. The more you slice it, the more you dice it, the personality, the subject, the individual itself it an assemblage of preferential particulates. The key difference between this for Deleuze and disciplinary society is is that we are not positioned and shoved into these slots by the sorts of technologies described by Foucault. Rather the dividuals are enticed and elicited. Modulation are attempts at stimulation, of uncovering preferences, mapping their patterns and archiving information about them. We are not forced, we are invited to choose. A permissive society indeed.

For Deleuze, this does not mean control societies are free. With Guattari they explored striated and smooth space. Different social formations organise the flows of desire that permeate all societies differently. Striated space is more or less structured. Any organisational diagram sketches and specifies in advance how its parts are supposed to relate to one another. The mass of bodies find the flows of their relationships structured, guided, diverted in particular ways. Smooth spaces, by contrast, are virtually frictionless and allows for free desire to play and make new connections unencumbered by the striation of racialised, sexualised, classed hierarchies. The old radical politics of desire, like Marcuse, identified desire with a repressed libido and located freedom in its liberation from the uptight striation of socio-sexual space. However, the smooth and the striated aren't necessarily antipodes. Consider the axiom of neoliberalism: the free play of capital. It demands a life free of responsibility and rapid mobility, and this expectation is granted. For capital, neoliberalism is a globalised smooth space congenial to and flattering of its appetites, but such smoothness is only possible because labour inhabits a world that is much more striated. The transition from capitalism to socialism can be read as this process in reverse, a closing down of the smooth grooves and circuits that feed capital and throwing upon it the chains of striation. Some of those links can be Keynesian, but only those involving conscious, democratic regulation can successfully erode the striation of labour and open up new smooth spaces of becoming, of freedom.

Striation and smoothness operate simultaneously but differently at the dividual level. For example, many cultures are more or less fine with camp, which circulates effortlessly around a smooth space provided by the entertainment industry, but explicitly homosexual behaviours and identities encounter space that is much more striated, bordering on the disciplinary. Each body is shifting with dividuals popping in and out of meaningful existence while others are more durable. Social space is congenial to some of these, but not to others, but as a rule the more 'control' and less disciplinary a society is, the greater modulation predominates with its attempts to capture behaviour and utilise it than literally controlling and punishing.

Security, segmentation, modulation, dividuals, the economy of power Deleuze-Guattari advances maps on to the attention economy with its drive of extracting and managing population data for profit. But where does the state come back in? How to explain the increased powers and acquisition of ever more intrusive and sophisticated surveillance technologies? In addition to declining class power and rising anxiety, this enables the tabling of further questions about where authoritarian drivers are coming from.

1. The state is irredeemably authoritarian, and operates according to disciplinary logics. In the absence of domestic opposition, it's following through the disciplinary trajectories of total subsumption despite their purchase being limited and largely obsolete.

2. Modulation and dividuals are fundamentally uncertain. The production of subjectivities and the injunction to choose never guarantees social integration and, from the state's perspective, its (i.e, the state's) smooth traversing of social space is above the striation its operation continually lays down. Resistance is always prior, even in societies of control. Eliciting responses is a risky business and can lead to unwelcome political consequences. Best be ready.

3. Because modulation does not subsume like the lines of flight of modes, they are coincident with and identical to the mass anxieties powering authoritarian movements. But states are not unaffected, and they are not reified - in Deleuze-Guattari theory they are molar entities, which you can (non-exhaustively) describe as a condensed and stable packaging of an assemblage of social relations organised hierarchically. State authoritarianism takes place in the context of the slippage of capital's mastery over its own reproduction, but perhaps the drive for repressive compensation derives from the uncertainty, the spontaneously creative and unpredictability of how dividuals manifest, combine, operationalise resistance, and undermine striated locations. Modes, it knows. Modulations, as properties of social order realise surplus value and keep the show on the road, it doesn't.

4. Control societies finds populations the object of study and management. Decking out the state's surveillance kit and expanding its insider/outsider rhetoric is one way of effecting this when pesky dividuals are nigh on impossible to track.

5. The state is a molar entity, but one in many Western societies that is dispersed. Hardt and Negri liken globalisation to the emergence of an unconscious, decentered supra-national sovereignty - Empire - in which states and other global actors are subordinate, albeit with variations in power and capacities between them. There is a sense of an erosion of authority from without, but internally states can and do divest themselves of functions. Empirically, the UK state is not monolithic. It is a set of competing, parallel, semi-autonomous and often dysfunctional institutions and centres of political power. It encompasses departmental civil service bureaucracies, local government and devolved authorities, NHS, police forces, quangos and, of course, competing divisions within them. The centre is political power constituted as government, and its relationship to the rest is one of command, though not of control or subsumption - the vertical integration of the state is overstated. Authoritarianism in this context could, again, be read as compensation for an erosion of authority within, but also the dynamics contributing toward it can be generated from the dispersed institutions and assemble with similar coming from others. That is authoritarianism is an assemblage, a conscious or unconscious alliance, between institutions that are autonomously generated by their operation or in conjunction with wider anxieties on the 'outside'.

No answers then, but an interesting set of questions to think about.


Blissex said...

I noticed 0 comments so far perhaps because of the sociological terminology, but if I understand it, I am fairly sympathetic to the arguments made.

However in my thinking I have a complementary view, which says that politics/society are an ecology where every possible opinion and tendency is represented in different numbers, and the general flavour of the age is that of the more numerous or powerful ones, and that currently authoritarianism is also a strong demand from voters, because the percentage of voters of a certain type has increased.

A big political problem is the rise of the mass rentier phenomenon, all those people whose income is mostly from business or property rents (among them the good pensions won them by trade unions and Labour), and many of them are middle aged or older.
These people's view of the world is one dominated by fear: they have a good comfortable lifestyle, and the only change that can happen to them is to lose part or all of it, and everything is a risk, a menace, to their lifestyle. They have no hopes, no prospects of gains, only fears and the threat of losses, and they agonize over them.

They demand authoritarianism! The "hang-and-flog" voter is far more common than in the past, in particular older women voters with property and pensions. They just want everybody who might be a threat to them to be locked up, or flogged and hung if they are ever nasty or even worse criminal.

It is these people who have celebrated joyously the boasts by G Williamson that he regularly orders the assassination by MoD/MI6 death squads of citizen suspected of being potential future criminals (brown skinned mostly), because "better safe than sorry at any cost to someone else", "we have a right to absolute safety", "you can never be too safe".

Tmb said...

Perhaps you might call it 'The Rise of Polite Fascism'.

It seems on both sides of the political 'divide', as it is, we have privileged authoritarians giving free rein to their hatred of various poor people. The Torified middle Englanders seem to hate poor people right across the board, whereas the antifas, SJWs, various so-called 'left liberals' seem to hate and despise the white working class. It seems all very convenient. I wouldn't be surprised if half or more of the SJWs were the children of middle class middle England Tories. They all seem to hate poor and working class people. Coincidence?

Dialectician1 said...

I'm not convinced by much of this. Beneath this complex theorising, Deleuze-Guattari are a couple of post structuralists. Like Foucault, they were freaked out by the events of 1968, gave up on class analysis (and Freud) and instead turned to abstract studies of power.

Jonathan Ree considers them 'a pair of snobs' unable to come to terms with the real world.

Tmb said...

It's rather telling that a political and social system, and a mainstream media, that is now essentially middle class, where people have to fit in, be the same, have the same attitudes, political opinions and PC views, hardly if ever talk about class discrimination tied to economic and social injustice.

The Rise of Polite Fascism indeed.

Unknown said...

What is meant by 'molar' in this context?
I find this a bit inaccessible - I garnered some points of interest and am willing to assume there are some others I have not had the time to get to grips with.
Still, some more unpacking would be welcome.
Just because people don't immediately understand complicated language, does not mean people are unable to understanding complicated ideas.

Phil said...

Needless to say, Dialectician, I think Ree is completely wrong. The experience of '68 reverberates through their work. They tried to think through its implications and what it meant for French culture. Sure, by What is Philosophy in 1991 they were feeling a bit jaded. Deleuze's health was fading, and neoliberalism was ascendant but there's nothing snobby about their philosophy - even if it's not the most immediately accessible.

Their project isn't anti-Marxist either and is perfectly compatible with a class analysis. Rather than ruling it out, they're interested in how social phenomena is assembled and moves. It is quite possible to have a Deleuzian analysis inhabit a Marxian one, with Deleuzian concepts used to make sense of how a class comes together and acquires a collective consciousness. What it alerts us to is nuance, difference, counter tendencies, the precarity of stability and so on - something a great deal of analysis passing as Marxist fails to do.

FYI I'm about to start rereading Capital (all three volumes and the Grundrisse) followed by D&G's three books. No doubt they will be fodder for the occasional post on here.

Dialectician1 said...

Glad to hear that you're going back to Capital. I'm still not convinced that there is much Nietzschean philosophers can tell us about living in a capitalist society but I look forward to your future posts.

Anonymous said...

This explain why modular techno is so relevant

Anonymous said...

Techno's repetetative structure speaks to our basic experience of striable space, the experience we have of moving through disciplinary is industrial machine music. Yet through modulation of the parameters of the sound a new level of movement emerges from the repetition. Harmonics, disonance, randomness can be added to the system, nested hierarchies are born, the sound can develop towards fictionlessness. The encounter between structure and freedom is basic to techno and to (post-industrial) neoliberalism. This can be seen by comparing rock and roll with techno. Rock and roll celebrated industrial production by moving from folk intruments to electric, incorporates repetition and ends with the egotistical individual soloing out. The megastar. Its great. Techno starts with industrial repetition and journeys (through modulation) toward its dissolution, the audience are an annonymous collective