Friday, February 02, 2007

"Camp as Paradigm": Bio-Politics and State Racism in Foucault and Agamben

In Michael Walzer’s 1982 essay, “The Politics of Michel Foucault,” he ends his critique of Foucauldian politics by saying that the “catastrophic weakness of his political theory” is that he neither “…inhabits some social setting and adopts, however tentatively and critically, its codes and categories…or…constructs a new setting and proposes new codes and categories” (Walzer 1986, 67). It bothers Walzer that Foucault doesn’t supplement his (admittedly convincing) genealogies of contemporary power relations with a program for altering these power relationships to the benefit of society. He acknowledges the Foucauldian emphasis on local resistance, but dismisses it saying, “Despite [Foucault’s] emphasis on local struggles, he is largely uninterested in local victories” (Walzer 1986, 59). Although this statement (along with many of Walzer’s arguments) is easy to refute, he does bring up a point that even Foucault would not deny: it is difficult to take Foucault’s work as it is and find a bright outlook for the world he describes. Foucault himself wasn’t shy about this lack either. While he does expand on his personal ideas of political praxis in some of his interviews, he says little in his formal work other than to hope for one day a “different economy of bodies and pleasures” (Foucault 1978, 159) in the first volume of The History of Sexuality, which even a Foucauldian admirer like Giorgio Agamben finds to be a little too fanciful (Agamben 1998, 187).

Perhaps the one failure of Foucault’s that, unresolved, rings as most ominous is his failure to further examine the problem of bio-political state racism that he first raises in his lecture series, Society Must Be Defended. At the end of the last lecture, Foucault suggests that bio-power is here to stay as a fixture of modernity. He doesn’t even go so far as to suggest that bio-power itself is something that even needs be done away with, perhaps given its focus on the preservation of the population of the nation it which it is practiced. Yet his analysis of bio-politics and bio-power leads inevitably to state-sanctioned racism, be the government democratic, socialist, or fascist. As a result, he ends the lecture series with the question, “How can one both make a bio-power function and exercise the rights of war, the rights of murder and the function of death, without becoming racist? That was the problem, and that, I think, is still the problem.” It was a problem to which he never returned. However, in the space opened by Foucault’s failure to solve the problem of state racism and to “elaborate a unitary theory of power” (Agamben 1998, 5) steps Agamben in an attempt to complete an analysis of Foucauldian bio-politics and to, while not solve the problem of state racism, at least give direction for further inquiry and hope of a politics that escapes the problem of this racism.

Foucault’s Rise of Bio-Politics and State Racism
According to Foucault, the foundation of contemporary bio-politics arose during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as “a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them” (Foucault 1978, 136) as had been the prior paradigm of sovereignty. Where the old paradigm of the sovereign gave the king “the right to take life or let live,” the new bio-political paradigm is one where sovereignty “…is the power to ‘make’ live and ‘let’ die” (Foucault 2003, 241). By this shift, Foucault means to highlight the fact that the exercise of power is no longer to lead subjects via a threat of death in order to maintain sovereignty, but rather to take hold of life for a different reason: “…to administer, optimize, and multiply [life], subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations” (Foucault 1978, 137). Instead of one ruler or body constituting sovereignty via a power to kill, “It is in order to live that [jurists] constitute a sovereign” (Foucault 2003, 241).

The necessity of this change from the old model of sovereignty to modern bio-politics lies in the changing conditions of the modern world, particularly, the newfound need for an increasing, healthy, productive population. Whereas the goal of the “anatamo-politics” of the disciplinary power mechanism Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish focuses on conditioning individuals into disciplined workers, bio-power creates and sustains that workforce, a “…global mass that is affected by overall processes characteristic of birth, death, production, illness, and so on.” It constitutes its subjects through “a set of processes such as the ratio of births to deaths, the rate of reproduction, the fertility of the population, and so on” (ibid., 242-43). It achieves these ends through state-sponsored welfare programs, the contemporary emphasis on charitable organizations, and through the control through creations of disciplinary discourses on a wide variety of subjects, such as sexuality (Foucault’s best-developed example) among others.

Through the disciplining of sexuality in the anatamo-political sense of disciplining individuals toward specific views of sexuality and sexual expression, sexuality can be codified, controlled and normalized, as Foucault details in The History of Sexuality: Volume I. However, the purpose of this disciplinarization is not just for the sake of normalization of a population for its own sake, but rather so that the population can in its own turn be regulated. By disciplining people as to notions of proper sexual practices, birth control, child sexuality, hygiene, etc.—as understood by academic disciplinary study—combined with “forecasts, statistics, and overall measures” (ibid., 246), bio-politics was able to create a population of the size and type it needed for the proper “insertion of bodies into the machinery of production” in such a way that it “ensured the maintenance of production relations” that rising capitalism needed to function (Foucault 1978, 41). The problem that leads from this need to protect life is the consequences Foucault sees in any society where bio-politics is the driving force behind sovereignty, and that is the inevitable inclusion of state racism.

This state racism was not an original feature that was present in the founding of bio-politics and bio-power, but it does develop from it. Rather, Foucault traces the origins of bio-politics and bio-power from the less insidious and longer-standing discourse of race struggle or “race war.” As Foucault defines the difference, “Racist discourse [contemporary racism] was really no more than an episode, a phase, the reversal, or at least the reworking, at the end of the nineteenth century, of the discourse of race war.” The discourse of “race war” is thus not racism as we know it, but a “counterhistory” of one race in regards to that of another (Foucault 2003, 66). In this sense of counterhistory,

‘[R]ace’ itself is not pinned to a stable biological meaning…two races exist whenever one writes the history of two groups which do not, at least to begin with, have the same language or, in many cases, the same religion…The only link between them is the link established by the violence of war…[T]wo races exist when there are two groups which, although they coexist, have not become mixed because of the differences, dissymmetries, and barriers created by privileges, customs and rights, the distribution of wealth, or the way power is exercised (ibid., 77).

So the concept of “race” that Foucault is working with both in terms of racial struggle and contemporary racism is not originally solely biological, but also cultural and political. It is the constitutive conflict of whenever someone “writes a history of two groups,” as he says. What this type of history is, and what it is used for is not the mythico-philosophical history that Foucault characterizes as the history of the “right of sovereignty,” but rather a historico-political history that came into its own in sixteenth and seventeenth century England and France as a way for disenfranchised groups of society to assert their own rights, often against the state’s sovereign. It is in this sense that different groups within society would wage an internal war against other groups, and historico-political discourses were their weapons in a nonphysical struggle that, given the definitions above, constituted a race war or race struggle.

According to Foucault, the emergence of historico-political discourse was a major turning point in the political landscape of Western Europe. The mythico-political history that preceded it was primarily concerned with proving that “…the greatness of the events or men of the past could guarantee the value of the present…each of [the sovereign’s] decisions is inscribed in a sort of law for his subjects and an obligation for his successors…it makes it possible to judge the present, and make it submit to a stronger law” (ibid., 67). The historico-political discourse emerged as a form of history built upon the “decentered position” of the historian who tells a history that “…is interested in the totality only to the extent that it can see in one-sided terms” and is considered a truth in the sense that the truth “is essentially part of a relationship of force, of dissymmetry, decentering, combat, and war.” As for the historian, he is “inevitably on one side of the other…and is working toward a particular victory” (ibid., 52-53). Thus, historico-political discourse is a discourse that takes as its “truth” the truth that is in the best interest of his “race” or group’s rights that the historian can justify historically. The paradigmatic example of Foucault’s historico-political discourse is Henri de Boulainvilliers re-working of the history of the Gauls’ invasion and conquest over the Franks to show how the King of France’s use of history of as a justification for his rule was a misinterpretation of that historical event. Boulainvilliers, on the side of France’s disenfranchised nobles, re-interprets the invasion in such a way as to show how the King, a non-absolutist title in the barbarian aristocracy in Frankish society, is in fact a usurper and a crook who has robbed the aristocracy with whom he was only supposed to be a first among equals. Boulainvilliers’ purpose in this re-working is, for Foucault, was an act of social warfare where the nobles are asserting their right to equality in wealth and privelege with the King. They used historico-political discourse as their weapon.

That these nobles referred to themselves as a “nation” hearkens back to an original definition of “nation” that is divorced from the state. Rather, as Foucault puts it, “According to this [broad] definition, the nobility was a nation, and the bourgeoisie was also a nation…a nation that does not stop at the frontiers but which, on the contrary, is a sort of mass of individuals who move from one frontier to another, through States, beneath States, and at an infra-state level” (ibid., 142). These nations are the groups of people who attempt to use this new historico-political discourse as a weapon to assert their rights against other nations or targets in such a way as to be looked at as race or class struggles (or wars) within a society, instead of as only outside struggles such as physical wars and conflicts with other countries or as justifications for colonialism. Thus, a discourse of racial war was brought inside of a society through the concept of differing “nations” or social “races” and their oppositions in historico-political discourse.

As a response to these historico-political attacks by Boulainvilliers and others throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on the French monarchy, Louis XVI and his administration realized they needed to “so to speak, recolonize that knowledge” (ibid., 137) for the use of the state, to reconfirm the legitimacy of the state. “[The ministry’s] purpose was to code this discourse on history once and for all, and in such a way that it could be integrated into the practice of the State” (ibid., 178) as part of a larger project to “ensure that knowledge was centralized” (ibid., 181) in all the emerging disciplines. In this process, there was also an alteration of the meaning of “nation” to the more common “Statist” definition that stated: “[F]irst, it must be a great multitude of men; second, it must be a great multitude of men inhabiting a defined country; third, this defined country must be circumscribed by frontiers; fourth, the multitude of men who have settled inside those frontiers must obey the same laws and the same government” (ibid., 142). Further, “The nation does not constitute a body. The nation in its entirety resides in the person of the king” (ibid., 218). Again, this universalizing definition is an attempt to define the intra-state, inter-“nation” (in the original sense of the word), or racial struggles of the state as more rebellious than a legitimate historically-supported struggle over rights. Foucault argues this shift of the definition of “nation” gives rise to the idea of “class” as a replacement. Unfortunately for the French monarchy, this new use of “nation” did become the dominant definition until after the French Revolution, and further, “disciplinarization did not defuse the confrontation [between ‘nations’]…but actually made it stronger thanks to a whole set of struggles, confiscations, and mutual challenges” (ibid., 186).

The monarchical state had run out of time. After the French Revolution, with the founding of the Third Estate, there was a debate over which part of society, which “class,” best represented the new French nation (in the new, statist sense). Foucault cites Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès’ pamphlet on the Third Estate as a key answer to this debate. As Foucault paraphrases, “And yet there is ‘a’ nation in France…who have the potential capacity to ensure the substantive and historical existence of the nation. These people supply the historical conditions of existence [the necessary ‘functions’ and ‘apparatuses’ of a nation Sieyes outlines] of both a nation and thea nation” that would become “the nation” was the class of the bourgeoisie. Yet the antihistoricist bourgeoisie, without a historico-political interpretation with which to assert their rights as the nobles and the monarchy did, instead adopted a different historico-political strategy: a historico-political interpretation of Roman history as a liberal republic, as opposed to the conservative absolutist state the monarchy interpreted Rome as. That is, a state made up of primarily private citizens from whom state sovereignty springs. As Foucault speaks for them, “‘We are no more than one nation among other individuals. But the nation that we constitute is the only one that can effectively constitute a nation. Perhaps we are not, in ourselves the totality of the social body, but we are capable of guaranteeing the totalizing function of the State.’” This historico-political discourse entailed a universalizing of rights and laws by including citizens of the state into the nation as well through a “…self-dialecticalization of historical discourse...” that characterizes the present as “…the moment when the universal speaks its truth” (ibid., 236). Another effect of this transfer of power and perspective to a class with no historical grounding was an inversion of historico-political discourse in the hands of the now-dominant bourgeoisie. Instead of historico-political discourse as a weapon against other nations within the state, the bourgeoisie positioned it as “…a history that is polarized toward the present and toward the State, a history that culminates in the imminence of the State, of the total, complete, and full figure of the State in the present. And this will also make it possible…to write a history in which the relations of force that are in play are not of a warlike nature, but completely civilian, so to speak” (ibid., 224-225).

The new focus not on the past and legitimizing sovereignty but instead on the health of the state in the present ensuring universal rights and laws for those within its nation is what marked the shift from the old model of sovereignty to the new paradigm of bio-power. However, with the new Statist definition of “nation,” the nations of the old definition, which waged racial war and racial struggle, were recoceptualized as the classes within a nation or state that we know today. However, by taking the notion of classes and thus class struggle (which becomes the primary site of continuing historico-political, counterhistorical discourses thereafter) out of Foucault’s original definition of “race,” the sole remainder is biological race, the basis of contemporary racism. This new form of racism divorced from old notions of racial struggle, Foucault says, “takes over and reconverts the form and function of the discourse on race struggle, but it distorts them, and it will be characterized by the fact that the theme of historical war—with its battles, its invasions, its looting, its victories, and its defeats—will be replaced by the postevolutionist theme of the struggle for existence” (ibid., 80). In other words, instead of “nations” struggling for rights, we are left with biological races vying for racial superiority. When combined with the new bio-political perspective that emerges in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—as illustrated by Foucault in the rise of the Third Estate, where the purpose of the state is to universalize the rights of its citizens and “make” them live in the ways described at the beginning of this section—contemporary biological racism, Foucault argues, inevitably is adopted by the state.

Foucault opens the final lecture of Society Must Be Defended by stating that though the theme of a war between races “was eventually eliminated from historical analysis by the principle of national universality…the theme of race does not disappear, it does become part of something very different, namely state racism” (ibid., 239). From this one can see the problem that is present when a bio- and anatamo-political society, which sees as its goals regularization and normalization respectively, is faced with external threats and internal differences it is unable to assimilate. In both cases, a society that is based on the protection of the lives of its subjects must resort to racism. As Foucault says, racism is a way “to subdivide the species [the bio-political state] controls, into the subspecies known, precisely, as races.” Further,

…[R]acism makes it possible to establish a relationship between my life and the death of the other that is not a military or warlike relationship of confrontation, but a biological-type relationship: ‘The more inferior species die out, the more abnormal individuals are eliminated, the fewer degenerates there will be in the species as a whole, and the more I—as species rather than individual—can live, the stronger I will be, the more vigorous I will be. I will be able to proliferate’ (ibid., 255).

Thus, the bio- and anatamo-political state, on behalf of members of its nation, is able to authorize bloodshed not only against other nations, but against its own people in the name of racial purification. As Foucault says, this purification process has no limit. The Nazi regime, as the ultimate example of a perfectly bio- and anatamo-political state—and thus “an absolutely racist state, and absolutely murderous state, and an absolutely suicidal state”—not only eliminated perceived biological threats to the German bloodline, but was also so absolutely intolerant to internal difference that, at the end, “Hitler gave the order to destroy the German people’s own living conditions” (ibid., 260) as a method of further purifying a losing Germany of its weak peoples that led to such a defeat. Unfortunately, for Foucault, every modern bio-political state inevitably heads in this direction, and as Walzer criticizes him for, Foucault has no answers on how to escape the problems he has unearthed.

Agamben’s Bio-Politics and Racism of Sovereignty
Another critique Michael Walzer has for Foucault in his essay on Foucauldian politics is on Foucault’s disowning of those followers of his who claim a close kinship between the carceral and the gulag. The passage in question is in an interview entitled “Powers and Strategies” where Foucault dismisses the similarities between the gulag and the carceral by mocking those who stay, “Look how skillful we are at evading the problem of the Soviet Gulag by dissolving it in the troubled waters of political imprisonment in general.” He continues, “The Gulag question, on the other hand, involves a political choice” and he encourages others to pursue a separate genealogical investigation of the Gulag (Foucault 1980, 134-137). Yet that is not good enough for Walzer, who states, “…[F]oucault provides no principled distinction, so far as I can see, between the Gulag and the carceral archipelagos…Nor does he provide a genealogy of the Gulag and…his account…contains no hint of how or why our own society stops short of the Gulag” (Walzer 1986, 62). The mistake Walzer is making and the reason he fails to see the difference is that he assumes the Gulag to be an anatamo-political institution like the carceral. Rather, when Giorgio Agamben does take up Foucault’s suggestion of studying the Gulags and the concentration camps of the twentieth centuries, he shows that unlike the carceral, these institutions are not anatamo-political normalizing institutions, but rather bio-political institutions that are “the exemplary places of modern biopolitics” (Agamben 1998, 4). Agamben also points out that, in fact, our society has not stopped short at all as Walzer thought.

There are a few major questions raised by Foucault’s genealogy of bio-politics that Agamben helps to clear up: We know it is the bourgeoisie that initially presided over the rise of bio-power in France, but Foucault also states that socialist and fascist states are just as prone to bio-politics and state racism, if not more so; so what is common factor leads all three governments in that direction? What role does the sovereign body that presides over bio-political states play if bio-power is diffused into the capillaries of the state? Finally, if bio-power is so diffused, how does state racism get a foothold in such a state, when that would mean the moral and political cooperation of vast numbers of people? For Agamben, the answers to these questions begin with a disagreement with Foucault: While Foucault sees the genesis of bio-power as a relatively recent movement, Agamben rather argues, “…the inclusion of bare life in the political realm constitutes the original—if concealed—nucleus of sovereign power. It can even be said that the production of a biopolitical body is the original activity of sovereign power” (ibid., 6).

Though likely Agamben would agree with Foucault’s genealogy of the rise of bio-politics to a social paradigm from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Agamben sees the genesis of bio-power and bio-politics as coinciding with sovereignty itself. For Agamben, sovereignty is grounded in the state of exception. That is, the power of the sovereign is that “…of proclaiming a state of exception and, therefore, of suspending the order’s own validity.” Either the sovereign suspends the order’s validity in order to create or change law, or he does nothing, allowing the norm of law to stand. Thus, “the sovereign…legally places himself outside the law”; however, what the sovereign says when he is outside the law then becomes the law. In that sense, the sovereign always both acts outside the law, but by the fact that this is the mechanism of law-making, is still always within the law, being the source of law (ibid., 16). In this way, the logical mechanism by which the sovereign exercises power over bodies is the same mechanism: by excluding them from the norm of law. Agamben calls this mechanism the “relation of exception…the extreme form of relation by which something is included solely through its exclusion” (ibid., 18). This is the case in any situation where sovereign power is exercised simply by the fact that every case is an example, and “[t]he example is thus excluded from the normal case not because it does not belong to it but, on the contrary, because it exhibits its own belonging to it. The example is truly a paradigm in the etymological sense: it is what is ‘shown beside,’ and a class can contain everything but its own paradigm” (ibid., 22). Hence, if the domain of bio-politics is “situated at the point at which the individual as a simple living body become[s] what is at stake in a society’s political strategies” (ibid., 2) and the power of the sovereign over individuals is in excepting them from the juridical order (thus stripping them of the political existence granted by this order), what is left is the sovereign bringing back into society (through the relation of exception) only the bare life of the individual thus constituting a bio-political relationship between the two at the individual level.

Agamben’s paradigm for this relationship is Roman legal figure of homo sacer, or “sacred man.” In Agamben’s genealogy, the term “sacred” is meant in the original Roman sense of one who is “…simply set outside human jurisdiction without being brought into the realm of divine law”—one who is excepted from human law, but not consecrated to the Gods. Thus, the homo sacer, being outside of both human and divine law is “[l]ife that can be sacrificed and yet may be killed.” This term referred to the original form of Roman capital punishment where the homo sacer is stripped of all political relationships and could be killed by anyone without punishment. In a social order where any scripted killing was a sacrifice, the only way to enforce capital punishment, and thus exercise the sovereign power over the body of the individual was to except that person from the norms of the law in order for the norm prescripted by the law to be able to be carried out. Thus, with political existence stripped from homo sacer, all that remained was the bare life of the individual reinscribed within the community “in the form of his being able to be killed” and given to God “in the form of unsacrificeability” (ibid., 82). As shown above, the sovereign relationship with any object of its power is the same as with homo sacer in that the relationship between sovereign and the individual always involves the reinscription of the bare life of the subject back into society. The implications of this, Agamben goes on to explain, is that:

[H]omo sacer presents the originary figure of life taken into the sovereign ban and preserves the memory of the originary exclusion through which the political dimension was first constituted…The sovereign sphere is the sphere in which it is permitted to kill without committing homicide and without celebrating a sacrifice, and sacred life…is the life that has been captured in this sphere…and, in this sense, the production of bare life is the originary activity of sovereignty…The sovereign is the one with whom all men are potentially homines sacri, and homo sacer is the one with respect to whom all men act as sovereigns (ibid., 83–84).

Not only is the relationship of the sovereign exception the essential mechanism of sovereign power over life, but it is also the method for politicizing bare life as the essential object of sovereign power. Further, it is important to note that once an individual has been designated homo sacer, “all men act as sovereigns” insofar as each has the same bio-political prerogative as that which belongs to the sovereign, to make live or let die, which becomes vitally important when, as Foucault describes, bio-power becomes a paradigm of modern power.

As Foucault tells us, one of the first tasks of the bourgeoisie after the French revolution was the universalization of rights and laws, the guarantee of by the new sovereign bodies of the West that they would take care of their citizens equally. Both Foucault, as we have seen, and Agamben agree that this is a vital event in the rise of bio-politics during this period. Agamben relates these universal rights to bio-politics initially through their paradigmatic example, the writ of habeus corpus, a legal procedure “…originally intended to assure the presence of the accused at the trial and, therefore, to keep the accused from avoiding judgment” which has another, hidden face as “…grounds for the sheriff to detain an dexhibit the body of the accused.” Thus, “Corpus is a two-faced being, the bearer both of subjection to sovereign power and of individual liberties” (ibid.,125). This turns out to be the case, in Agamben’s analysis, with all declarations of rights. Rights attach themselves directly to the body, or bare life, of the subjects in that the rights to citizens is guaranteed by birth in a nation-state. It is the emergence of a subject as bare life at birth that is granted rights, as bare life is the only relationship the sovereign can have with the subject. As such, “Declarations of rights represent the originary figure of the inscription of natural life in the juridico-political order of the nation-state” (ibid., 127). As such, when universal rights are declared, every subject is now in a bio-political relationship with the sovereign body, where the source of rights only comes when one’s bare life is excepted from the juridio-political order at birth only to be reinscribed as a citizen, a member of a nation-state who is guaranteed rights only insofar as they are located at the site of the citizen’s bare life. Thus, every citizen is related to the nation-state only through the relation of exception, the same mechanism through which the Romans designated homines sacri.

Such a new system of this is unequivocably bio-political. In applying the relation of exception to all members of a nation-state, the reality within that nation-state is that, as Walter Benjamin put it, “the ‘state of emergency’ [or state of exception] in which we live is not the exception, but the rule” (Benjamin 1968, 257). We can see this in the linking of “life and politics—originally divided, and linked together by means of the no-man’s-land of the state of exception that is inhabited by bare life—begin to beome one, all life becomes sacred and all politics becomes the exception” (Agamben 1998, 148). The juridical order only has power over life by excepting it and reinscribing it back into the juridical order in the form of bare life, and in the bio-political state, bare life is the subject and foundation of politics. In this sense, law and life become indistinguishable. This state of exception as rule is the ideal environment for bio-politics to flourish, as it is only in this way that the nation-state can achieve full political sovereignty of the bare life of the citizens that constitute it and thus ensure its ability to carry out its program of the management of bodies.

In the new “nation-state” that both Foucault and Agamben have described as a state of universalized rights and laws, there is no singular sovereign king, but rather a sovereign nation, where the nation is made up of its citizens. In this sense, “bare life…now fully enters into the structure of the state and even becomes the earthly foundation of the state’s legitimacy and sovereignty…Declarations of rights must therefore be viewed as the place in which the passage from divinely authorized royal sovereignty to national sovereignty is accomplished…birth [thus bare life]…here for the first time becomes…the immediate bearer of sovereignty.” In other words, sovereignty resides in every citizen, and every citizen is part of the “members of the sovereign” (ibid., 127–129). People are simply divided into those who exercise the “passive rights” of the general population or the “active rights” of those who govern on behalf of the nation. In this sense, the individual power to govern does indeed come from the people, though only few exercise the “active rights” of a governing figure. These are the common factors all bio-political governments have in common.

The problem is, since bio-politics functions in a state of exception, where the norm of law is always in suspension “…in order to make [the norm’s] application possible,” the sovereign power that regularizes bodies is not in fact the force of law, but rather a “force of law without law” (Agamben 2005, 38–39), the only way to exercise one’s rights is within the exception where those rights can only be enforced through a force that is not the law. What this means, according to Agamben, is that “…the so-called sacred and inalienable rights of man show themselves to lack every protection and reality at the moment in which they can no longer take the form of rights belonging to citizens of a state” (Agamben 1998, 126). What he means by this, is that, in regard to a post-World War I Europe, many countries found their borders filling with refugees who, as not having been born there, did not have citizenship, yet should still be considered a “man of rights.” Yet their existence calls into question the idea of birth and nationality as necessarily connected notions and {put the originary fiction of modern sovereignty in crisis” (ibid., 131) This fracture opened the doors for “juridical measures allowing for the mass denaturalization and denationalization of large portions of [countries’] own populations…citizenship was something of which one had to prove oneself worthy and which could therefore always be called into question” (ibid., 132). And if the political subject in the bio-political society is nothing but a bare life invested with certain rights, rights which could be taken away at any time through a loss of citizenship, all that would be left is bare life—homo sacer. In that way, any citizen is already homo sacer to the extent that the rights that citizen has are far from guaranteed within the state of exception. Also consider the emerging topic of euthanasia as a discussion about “life unworthy of being lived” that should perhaps be decided upon by “a state committee composed of a doctor, a psychiatrist, and a jurist” (ibid., 139) and a blurring of the definition of death to the point that “…partisans of brain death and modern biopolitics propose that the state should decide on the moment of death” (ibid., 165) as second and third ways of marking cases of those who are homo sacer—who may be killed without being sacrificed.

It is no surprise that in a state where all these practices are realized as functions of sovereignty—denaturalization, decision on life worth living, and definition what is considered dead—that such a state has reached the peak of bio-politics and state racism has reached a point of primacy in the employment of bio-power. In a state where everyone is sovereign and at the same time everyone is potentially homo sacer, the bio-political process or regularization takes as its mechanism of regularization a selection process by identifying and purifying of society those who are dead and who have lives not worth living—this tends to start at the level of the biological racism that is left over from the adoption of the “nation” by the state in Foucault’s analysis above. Though in a bio-political state, bio-power is diffused throughout the social body in what Agamben calls, in State of Exceptionpotestas,” those who are given the role of governance through “active rights,” and thus are the ones who hold the decision over the exception, are invested with “auctoritas” or the authority to “…assert itself only in the validation or suspension of potestas” (Agamben 2005, 86). The problem is, when a bio-political state becomes totalitarian—as in Stalinist Russia, Fascist Italy, or Nazi Germany—the people are still sovereign and have potestas, it is just that the now the leader, in this example Hitler, “His power [his auctoritas] is, rather, all the more unlimited insofar as he is identified with the very biological life of the German people.” The spheres of potestas and auctoritas, the two constitutive aspects of Agamben’s bio-power are now combined in his one person in which life and law are coexistent as well. “…[H]is existence has an immediately political character…the Fuhrer is no longer an office in the sense of traditional public law, but rather somethinga that springs forth without mediation from his person insofar as it conicindes with the life of the German people” (Agamben 1998, 184). The sovereign power constituted by the German nation is thus at once still theirs and given to Hitler to use, his word now having the power of not only authorization, but of fact in that what he says is carried out through the potestas of the people by the very fact that he says it. As Agamben says, “…when [auctoritas and potestas tend to coinside in a single person, when the state of exception, in which they are bound and blurred together, becomes the rule, then the juridico-political system transforms itself into a killing machine” (Abamben 2005, 86).

It is thus no surprise that Hitler was able to order the denaturalization and denationalization of the Jews and send them to concentration camps just as it is no surprise that Stalin did the same with political dangers in sending them to the Gulags. The concentration camp and the Gulag are thus the sites of pure exception and symbols of state racism in their purest form, where every citizen, in this case the guards, had the right of sovereignty over the bare life that was left to the homo sacer that were there interred. However, Agamben is careful to point out that such extreme racism and tactics are not limited to Totalitarian States, those are just the places of their maximum exposure. Agamben warns us, “the camp, which is now securely lodged within the city’s interior, is the new biopolitical nomos of the planet…today’s democratico-capitalist project of eliminating the poor classes through development not only reproduces with in itself the people that is excluded [and thus racially targeted as future homo sacer] but also transforms the entire population of the Third World into bare life” (Agamben 1998, 176–180). Thus, as every citizen is sovereign and potential homo sacer in a bio-political society, every citizen is involved in the creation and continuation of state racism, and every citizen can be a target, depending on who is currently being excluded.

Local Resistance and Divine Violence
In the light of Agamben’s help in augmenting Foucault’s theories of bio-power and state racism, I’d like to briefly return to the critique Michael Walzer made of Foucault’s politics when he said, “Despite [Foucault’s] emphasis on local struggles, he is largely uninterested in local victories.” The local victories Walzer listed that he felt Foucault was not duly impressed by were “new laws about consent, confidentiality, access to records; juridical interventions in the administration of prisons and schools” (Walzer 1986, 59). As Foucault points out in his interview “Intellectuals and Power,” in these cases, what we are looking at are not local “victories” at all, but rather “a new disposition of the same power with, at best, a change of masters” (Foucault 1996, 81) and that is hardly revolutionary.

Rather, what Foucault means by local resistance is that the only way of accomplishing this regional, local, and non-totalizing undermining of power, as Deleuze puts it but Foucault agrees, is that “only those directly concerned can speak in a practical way on their own behalf” (ibid., 76). As Foucault goes on to elaborate, this means that there are a multitude of different forms of power and they are exercised in countless different situations on specific people. But one cannot effectively injure an entire power hierarchy alone. Nor can one ever be effectively “represented” by others. The only truly political act that can have any revolutionary potential, is to speak about the injustices of one’s own particular situation in the most specific and local manner. “It is because to speak on this subject, to force the institutionalized networks of information to listen, to produce names, to point the finger of accusation, to find targets, is the first step in the reversal of power and the initiation of new struggles against existing forms of power…[to] confiscate, at least temporarily, the power to speak on prison conditions” (ibid., 79). Thus, according to Foucault, it is only when criticism of the system is specific, not general, and multiaccented by those with direct experince, not representative, that the cracks in the facades of power can be clearly pointed out.

But what, ultimately, will these local resistances lead up to? What is their end point? According to Benjamin, “…it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency” (Benjamin 1968, 257) as opposed to the current state of emergency that is the rule which is characterized by the blurring of the limits between life and law and between violence and law. According to Agamben, this true state of exception is one where “bare life must itself…be transformed into the site for the constitution and installation of a form of life that is wholly exhausted in bare life and a bios that is only its own zoē” (Agamben 1998, 188). The exception in this case of a true state of exception thus appears to be a sovereign relationship with bare life that is a means with no ends, but rather a form of or result from Benjamin’s pure (or divine or revolutionary) violence, which “is that which does not stand in a relation of means toward an end, but holds itself in relation to its own mediality…so pure violence is attested to only as the exposure and deposition of the relation between violence and law” (Agamben 2005, 62). Divine violence can shatter the link between not only violence and law, but also life and law that were joined through the “fiction of their articulation,” but which divine violence hopes to separate. The goal of this separation, for Agamben, would be, “To show law in its nonrelation to life and life in its nonrelation to law [as a] means to open a space between them for human action, which once claimed for itself the name of ‘politics’” (ibid., 88).

This space for human action, I believe, is where Foucault’s local, political acts take place as localized acts of divine violence not with an eye on altering the power structure, thus leaving at best “a change of masters,” but with an eye toward a true revolutionary violence if these local resistances were to be coordinated on a large enough scale. As Foucault has been criticized, he does not have a particular end in mind behind these resistances, but that is by Benjamin’s definition, requisite for the violence to be pure or divine instead of constitutive, which would just reinscribe the violence back into the juridical order via the power/resistance dynamic. Agamben, however, does see a world beyond divine violence that he borrows from Kafka and Benjamin when he says, “One day, humanity will play with law just as children play with disused objects, not in order to restore them to their canonical use but to free them from it for good…a state of the world in which the world appears as a good that absolutely cannot be appropriated or made juridical” (ibid., 64).

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

———. State of Exception, trans. Kevil Attell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.

———. Reflections, ed. Peter Demetz and trans. Edmund Jephcott. New York: Schocken Books, 1978.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: Volume I, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, Inc., 1978.

———. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon, et al. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

———. Foucault Live: Collected Inverview, 1961-1984, ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston. New York: Semiotext(e), 1996.

———. “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976, ed. Arnold I. Davidson, trans. David Macey. New York: Picador, 2003.

Walzer, Michael. “The Politics of Michel Foucault.” In Foucault: A Critical Reader, ed. David Couzens Hoy, 51-68. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1986.


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