Saul Newman

The politics of post anarchism.

University students in Barcelona protest austerity measures taken to end Spain’s debt crisis, June 2011.
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

As if in anticipation of future insurgencies, the power of the state has exponentially increased in recent years. Securitization becomes the dominant paradigm of the state – the matrix for an unprecedented deployment of strategies and technologies of control, surveillance and preemption, and for a permanent war-like mobilization.

The continual blurring of different forms of dissidence and protest into the idea of a threat to state security – climate change and antiwar protesters and activists being arrested under antiterrorist powers, for example – suggest that the so-called war on terrorism has as its target all those who dissent from the state-capitalist order. At the same time, however, we should see this logic of securitization and exception as a reaction to a certain crisis in the symbolic order of the nation-state under conditions of capitalist globalization. This nation-state as the container of sovereignty is less certain; its boundaries and identity are less clearly delineated. Security therefore, becomes a way for sovereignty to re-articulate itself in this more fluid global order. Through mechanisms of security, state power spills out beyond its own borders, constructing networks of surveillance, incarceration, control and war-making that are no longer strictly determined by national boundaries. Prisons are not prisons but camps, wars are no longer wars but “policing” operations; global networks of surveillance and information-sharing ... We are in the midst of, as Agamben would put it, a zone of indistinction, in which national sovereignty blurs into global security while at the same time reifying and fetishizing existing borders, and erecting new ones everywhere.

These developments open up two important sites for contestation. First, the logic of security itself, which has become so ubiquitous and omnipresent today, has to be seen as a mechanism of depoliticization: it is a way of imposing a certain order on social reality which is self-legitimizing and beyond question; it is an ideology that authorizes the infinite accumulation of state power. Moreover, as Foucault showed, the idea of security – as it functioned in liberal discourses of government in the 18th century – has become coextensive with the idea of freedom itself. Today we have come to think of freedom only as strictly circumscribed by security; freedom and security become part of a binary, in which the former cannot be imagined without the latter, and in which the former always gives way to the exigencies and prerogatives imposed by the latter. The liberal idea of an appropriate balance between security and liberty is an illusion. The only vision the security paradigm offers us – with its pernicious technologies and its perverse logic that grips us in a double bind – is an empty, controlled, overexposed landscape from which all hope of emancipation has faded and where all we have left to do is obsessively measure the risks posed to our lives from the ever-present specter of catastrophe. The security paradigm intensifies a micro-politics of fear, producing a kind of generalized neurosis. It is against this state fantasy of security, and the affect of the fear and despair that it produces, that radical politics must stake out its ground. It must reassert the hope of emancipation and affirm the risk of politics. This involves more than clawing back lost liberties, but rather inventing a new language of freedom that is no longer conditioned by security. Freedom must be discovered beyond security, and this can be achieved only through practices of political contestation, through forms of resistance, through modes of collective indiscipline and disobedience. For instance, the refusal and subversion of surveillance, and even the surveillance of surveillance, become part of a new language or resistance that expresses the desire for a life that no longer seeks to be “secured.”

The chasm between ordinary people and political elites has never seemed wider or more stark. Therefore the appearance of social movements on a global scale suggests the attempt to constitute an alternative political space, a new body politic: no longer the body of obedient citizens who respect the formal democratic mandate of power, but rather a rebellious, dissenting body – citizens who do not obey and who refuse to recognize the authority of those who represent them, thus breaking the bond between the subject and the state. Therefore the anticapitalist movement challenges not only the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism but also the symbolic claim of the “democratic” state to speak for its citizens. Radical movements today are not post- or anti-democratic, however: they simply find the current forms of democracy on offer inadequate, and seek to open the political space to alternative and more democratic modes of democracy.

Democracy today consists in the invention or reinvention of spaces, movements, ways of life, economic exchanges and political practices that resist the imprint of the state and which foster relations of equal liberty. The struggles that take place today against capitalism and the state are democratic struggles. At the same time, however, we might sound a certain note of dissatisfaction with the term “democracy.” We can echo Bakunin, who finds the term democracy “not sufficient.” As Derrida himself said of democracy: “[A]s a term it’s not sacred. I can some day or other, say, ‘No, it’s not the right term. The situation allows or demands that we use another term …’” The situation is changing, and the new forms of autonomous politics that are currently emerging demand the use of another term: anarchism.

Shipwrecked on the craggy shores of state power, anarchism is now moving to the forefront of our political imagination. There has been a certain paradigm shift in politics away from the state and formal representative institutions, which still exist but increasingly as empty vessels without life, and toward movements. Here new political challenges and questions emerge – concerning freedom beyond securities, democracy beyond the state, politics beyond the party, economic organization beyond capitalism, globalization beyond borders, life beyond biopolitics – challenges and questions that anarchism is best equipped to respond to with the originality and innovation that our new situation demands.

Saul Newman is a post-anarchist political philosopher whose anti-authoritarian perspective is an important counterbalance to the influence Leninist Slavoj Žižek and Maoist Alain Badiou have exerted on the far left. This article is an edited extract from Newman’s just-published book, The Politics of Post Anarchism.