Global governance and biopolitics – controlling humans education, health and wealth etc…

Biopolitics and Normativity

Dubrovnik, April 11, 2002

In this paper we will propose an account of what the biopolitics might be in its

genetical, descriptive and normative aspects. This concept – biopolitics – the

biopolitical theory, here standing in for the work of elaborates as a matrix of

relations in the exercise of state power over, through and for the sake of its

subjects, where the state power is considered as a juridico-constitutional order

and the subjects as constituted through the government of the biological

potentialities of their livelihood. Even though this concept was devised for

purposes of a radical critique of the legal foundation of sovereign power, the

purpose of our biopolitical concern here is to discern behind this negative aspect

of a radical critique its normative potentiality that is still in want of a thorough

consideration. This lack of normative rapprochement, however, is not entirely a

question of the theoretical affiliations of biopolitical authors. It rather reflects the

strategic tension of the biopolitical theory to leave behind the totalizing negativity

of biopolitics. In its demand for a total reworking of the structure of legality, it

stakes its normative claim.

1. Biopolitics – a twofold shift

1.a. Biopolitical heteronomy of reason of state

In his lectures on

Security, Territory, and Population at the Collège de France in

the mid 70s Foucault analyzed the structural shift in the post-Westphalian

European political constitution that made itself present in the diminishing concern

of the sovereign powers with the territorial conquest and its increasing interest in

the heightening of state’s forces through population politics. This change from

“territory state” to “population state” was accompanied by the deployment of a

host of policies that had their purpose in the accretion of population’s health,

longevity, birthrate, education, wealth, etc., and that led to the development of a


host of institutionalized practices and sciences that we came to know as


New biopolitical regime was thus characterized by two important structural

changes at the heart of political constitution. Firstly, the subsistence of the state

ceased to be the sole purpose of the exercise of governance, the state was no

longer its own end. The state power had rather commit itself to improving the

livelihood of its subjects, thus maintaining its inner political stability and improving

its resources in the foreign political and economic competition. Although this may

not seem as to big of a change from the practices of the territorial state – it also

sought to maintain its authority at home and its dominance abroad – this

increased interests in the population issues, however, marked a profound

displacement in the governance of the state. Namely, the sovereign power

resided no longer in the art of conquest, now it resided first and foremost in the

governing of humans.

And this emerging immanentism of state politics, where the exercise of power

resorted for its legitimacy to the internal political issues, introduces an important

cleavage within the political system. In his analysis of the new art of government,

new governmentality, Foucault points out that only once the population state with

its internal political concerns sets in, the notion of the reason of state appears.

Though this may come as a surprise, it would be hasty and erroneous to

conclude that the reason of state should denote state as THE reason, i.e. that

state comes before any reason. The reason of state as a “new matrix of

rationality”, where the sovereign power is vested in the governing of humans,

presupposes that the reasons for state action reside somewhere else rather than

in the state itself, and thus it calls forth a differentiation between the state and the

society, which the state applies its efforts to and founds the reasons for those

efforts on. Therefore, the shift to the population state goes hand in hand with the

division between the society and state, on one hand, and sets in motion

processes of legitimation, on the other. This differentiation and the increasing


importance of the society in the processes of legitimation received another turn

with the advent of the liberalism. In the lectures

The Birth of Biopolitics, held a

year later, Foucault suggests we should understand liberalism of all different

colors and hues not as an ideology or a political theory, but rather as a method of

critical reflection of the exercise of government where government itself is

vicarious to the society’s ends. Yet, Foucault fails to go further into this process

of autonomization of the society from the state either in terms of the

consequences of biopolitics or the emergence of public sphere. But let us for the

moment leave aside the problems of liberalism and society, which we’ll come

back to later in our discussion of the biopolitics against the backdrop

globalization, and turn our attention to the second constitutive change in


1.b. Biopolitical limitation of life

As we tried to demonstrate, in managing the internal forces of state the

biopolitical regime directed its attention at the human resources of its subjects.

This didn’t only lead to new practices in the art of governing and the ensuing

structural changes in the negotiation of reasons between state and society, the

shift to biopolitics also introduced a new anthropological paradigm in the

governance of subjects. In administrating the welfare of population the biopower

conceives of human resources in terms of the “general system of living beings”,

i.e. in terms of human as human species and not humankind. The malleable

material in which the state power now impresses its authority is the biological

composition of its subjects: new practices of medication, vaccination, sanitation,

penal correction, mass-education, manufactorial production, later factory

production, and the attendant institutions, in brief the whole emerging disciplinary

dispositive finds the immediate referent of its action in the somaticopsychological

conditioning of its subjects.

With the historical emergence of biopolitics, which we could along the lines of our

previous exposition now define as

the formation and organization of potentialities


of human life through the exercise of state power

a greater problematic

massively enters center stage of the examination of political constitution – how

does the juridico-constitutional order include life in general, or what in turn what

remains of life outside the constituted order? Taking up Aristotle’s distinction

between the two ancient Greek notions life: that of

zoe standing for the mere fact

of bare life that is common to all living beings and that of

bios standing for a

qualified life common to a group of people, a way of life, i.e. life where its

that is

indissociable from its how

how Giorgio Agamben in his seminal Homo Sacer, The

Sovereign Power and Bare Life

suggests that the established stability of political

order depends on the reigning-in and the structuring of the nativity – if we were to

go back to this Hannah Arendt’s term to describe the productive potentiality for

transformation and consequently subjectivation of political agents that is at stake

here – nativity common to the political life. Hence state-form necessarily

dissociates life from its forms-of-life by imposing in its biopolitical guise the

institutionalized prefiguration of life, on one hand, and reducing in its legal

constitution life to a protected zone of intervention, on the other. This reduced life

is nowadays either subject to the state-sponsored bioethical deliberation on

where life legally begins and ends and which technological and scientific

interventions are morally admissible, or subject to the state-sponsored

transnational humanitarian and coercive policing efforts at saving or repressing

human lives.

Consequently, in its negative aspect the biopolitical theory is a critique of the

modes of exclusion and limitation imposed by the existing state-form on the

collective forms-of-life of the multitude – forms-of-life that are based on the

productive potentiality for becoming and transforming and are governed by the

indissociability of the life from its collective form, i.e. by the collective cognitive

experience of the life in common, that we also know as the general intellect.


2. Legality in biopolitical theory

2.a Legality as the center of analysis in biopolitical theory

In the reception, at least, of biopolitical theory the importance of the analysis of

legality for the biopolitical theory has not been given due attention, even though –

and that can be rightfully said – the domain of legality occupies the central

position in the concerns of biopolitical theory.

We will quote only two examplary passages, which directly situate the

fundamental character of legal categories. Agamben: “Philosophy is always

already constitutively related to law, and every philosophical work is always, quite

literally, a

decision on this relationship” (Potentialities, p. 161). Or standing very

prominent at the beginning of Negri and Hardt’s “Empire”: “Empire is

materializing before our eyes. <…> Along with the global market and global

circuits of production has emerged a global order, a new logic and structure of

rule – in short, a new form of sovereignty. Empire is the political subject that

regulates this global exchanges, the sovereign power that governs the world.”

(Empire, p. 11)

The quote from “Empire” immediately draws attention to the way the biopolitical

theory conceives of law: law is reductively understood only through the prism of

sovereignty and sovereign power. Taking up Carl Schmitt’s concept defining

sovereignty as “a limit concept” of law, and consequently as the only one worth

anlysing, the authors at issue try to rearrange the Schmittian framework to

accommodate the reflection on conditions of post-fordist global system.

Moreover, we maintain that the relevance of biopolitical theory resides in the fact

that it made the legal production stand as a paradigm of production

per se, thus

redescribing the field of marxist theory.


Now, if law is primarily sovereignty – and according to Schmitt sovereignty is

inherently linked to the problem of the “state of exception” –, law in its radicalized

form becomes “summary judgment”, i.e. law of state of exception

in force. Or

formulated in a different manner: Sovereignty, which is according to Schmitt, now

in the biopolitical interpretation becomes a continuous extra-legal place of legal


In this view legality is primarily conceived in its constitutive function that is as the

establishing of the domain of law itself. This why for biopolitical authors the

problem of domain or space of legality becomes decisive – and that might

account for one of the reasons of the recent popularity of this kind of theory:

namely, the concept of domain or space, as expounded by Hardt, Negri and

Agamben, seems to be, without any further modification, applicable to the

phenomena of globalization and production of global space.

What is meant by that?

If the sovereignty constitutes the fundamental category of biopolitical analyses,

following there in Schmitt’s footsteps, and if the sovereignty is concomitantly

extra-legal, it is not difficult to conclude that the space of legality is in fact

“empty”, i.e. in it all categories with the exception of sovereignty are eliminated,

and sovereignty occupies the whole of the domain. Such space is in what

concerns legality qualitatively or categorially indifferent, and maybe the only

remaining criterion is a quantitative differentiation of the extension of factual

spaces where such

Standrecht legality is applied. Legality in that sense is the

issue of geography, and so it should not come as a surprise that the vocabulary

the biopolitcal thoery uses to speak of the globalized world seems so simple.

Or as David Harvey points out in his book “Spaces of Hope”, while discussing the

Communist manifesto

, and we think this applies also to the intention of the

authors at issue: “How to build a political movement at a variety of spatial scales


2.b Normative rapprochement to biopolitics – legality and exclusion  (Agamben & Honneth)

As we have previously pointed out, the juridical life – life codified within the legal

system, is reduced to a life in need of protection from the technological and

scientific encroachments. This leads us to conclude that the ultimate figure of this

biological life safeguarded by laws is a life that is under threat of ceasing to be

life, and ultimately life that is threatened by death. Legality is thus constituted in

this liminal case of political life and death. In keeping with the Schmittian

understanding of the sovereign power as that one that decides on the life and

death equally as on the state of exception and (re-)establishment of legal order,

we see that the proceduralization of the sovereign power in the law making

introduces the limit case of sovereign decision on the inclusion and exclusion of

life into the legal order. Although this might be construed along the lines of the

perpetual state of exception argument, we won’t pursue that line of argument.

We take recourse to this normalization, rather than the totalization, of limit case

to point to the normative kernel behind the legal inclusion and exclusion and the

threat of death.

Axel Honneth in his

Struggle for Recognition, in the section 6 on the Personal

Identity and Humiliation

, draws attention to the metaphors of death and corporeal

corruption that beckon to experiences of exclusion and respective pahtological

symptoms and affective motives in the struggle for recognition. There he refers to

the notions “psychological death” and “social death” commonly used to designate

the experience of abuse (Mißhandlung) and denial of rights/discrimination)

Entrechtung). The figure of social death thus presides over the exclusion from

the social and governs the dynamics of normative processes of recognition.

The two regimes of exclusion – exclusion from the legal order and exclusion from

the social recognition – are different, because the biopolitical regime not only

denies the social recognition, but also excludes from the dynamics of social


recognition those who are tributaries of the legal order yet are not equal

members of the society, and thus cannot enter reciprocal processes of

recognition. Such is the case of illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, of

all those who do not take part in the deliberative processes of a legal order, yet

fall under its authority. And to include those tributaries yet not members, it would

require to create legal accommodations beyond limitations of state.

Consequently, if we were to restate the biopolitical analysis in normative terms,

we could claim that it is (an appeal for) a normative theory of legality beyond


3. Normative aspects of biopolitical theory

3.a Non-state-forms

Earlier in our exposition we promised to come back to the differentiation

processes between state and society that were created along with the new form

of governmentality within the disciplinary dispositive. From the analyses of

Michael Hardt and Toni Negri in their two books,

Labour of Dionysus, A Critique if


and Empire, two following three developments in the postmodernity

can be retraced: a) instead of the mediation there is a complete separation and

autonomy of the state from the society, in the sense that the state maintains its

stability through increased proceduralization and administrativization of the social

processes of decision-making and production, thus warding itself of from the

social struggles and unrest; b) the disciplinary mechanisms expand to exit the

confines of institutions and to imbue the entire society with their functions of

education, health, labor, etc., so that the social life becomes a perpetual process

of learning, healthcare, work, thus creating what Gilles Deleuze dubbed the

society of control; c) social processes and economic processes integrate on a

global scale to create a global society of control that is one and has no outside.


Now, the globalization recasts in new light the relation between the state-form

and society and, consequently, the issue of biopolitics. If we were to follow the

transformations of labor – and labor is for the biopolitics, as has been

demonstrated by Paolo Virno in his

Grammatica della moltitudine, of utmost

relevance, because labor as labor-force is the productive potentiality of life itself

–, we see that the regime of factory production spreads all over society to create

a society-factory, where production processes increasingly include social

communication, thus creating a new form of labor – social labor. This is labor that

has re-conquered its collective potential sunstance and is only managed by the

capital. This is why this process is ambivalent – new immaterial collective

transnational labor, created by the capital, creates also possibility for the

multitude – the subject of resistance to the global domination of capital – to


“The productive cooperation of the social worker, through its technico-scientific,

immaterial, and affective labor, creates the network of self-valorization that

animate constituent power.” (

Labor of Dionysus, 295)

3.b Auschwitz as an ethical question

In his book “Remnants of Auschwitz” Agamben analyzed more concretely some

of the phenomena he already addressed in his book “Homo Sacer”. For

Agamben Auschwitz constitutes primarily a philosophico-ethical issue, that he

tries to strip of the legal categories of guilt, innocence and responsibility.

Moreover, the very possibility and actuality of an ethics that would correspond to

the biopolitical epoch is formulated as: Ethica more Auschwitz demonstrata.

“With the emergence of biopower, every people is doubled by a population; every

democratic people is, at the same time a demographic people. In the Nazi Reich,

the 1933 legislation on the “protection of the hereditary health of the German

people” marks this caesura perfectly. The caesura that immediately follows is the

one by which, in the set of all citizens, citizens of “Aryan-descent” are


distiguished from those of “non-Aryan descent”. A further caesura then traverses

the set of citizens of “non-Aryan descent” separating Jews (Volljuden) from

Mischlinge. <…> Biopolitical caesuras are essentially mobile, and in each case

they isolate a further zone in the biological continuum, a zone which corresponds

to a process of increasing Entwuerdigung and degradation. Thus the non-Aryan

passes into the Jew, the Jew into the deportee, the deportee into the prisoner,

until biopolitical caesuras reach their final limit in the camp. This limit is the

Muselmann <“half-dead” prisoner of the KZs>. At the point in which the Haeftling

becomes a Muselmann, the biopolitics of racism so to speak transcends race,

penetrating into a threshhold in which it is no longer possible to establish

caesuras. Here the wavering link between people and population is definitively

broken, and we witness the emergence of something like an absolute biopolitical

substance that cannot be assigned to a particular bearer or subject, or be divided

by another caesura.

It is then possible to understand the decisive function of the camps in the

system of Nazi biopolitics. They are not merely the place of death and

extermination; they are also, and above all, the site of the production of the

Muselmann, the final biopolitical substance to be isolated in the biological

continuum. Beyond the Muselmann lies only the gas chamber.

In 1937, during a secret meeting, Hitler formulates an extreme biopolitical

concept for the first time <…>. Referring to Central-Western Europe, he claims to

need a volkloser Raum, a space empty of people. How is one to understand this

singular expression? It is not simply a matter of something like a desert, a

geographical space empty of inhabitants. Hitler’s “peopleless space” instead

designates a fundamental biopolitical intensity, an intensity that can persist in

every space and through which peoples pass into populations and populations

into Muselmaenner. Volkloser Raum, in other words, names the driving force of

the camp understod as a biopolitical machine that, once established in a

determinate geographical space, transforms it into an absolute biopolitical space,

both Lebensraum and Todesraum, in which human life transcends every


assignable biopolitical identity. Death, at this point, is a simple epiphenomenon.”

(Remnants of Auschwitz, p.84-86)

This long passage from Agamben demonstrated once again that here the

concepts of legality and space are thought together. But the point Agamben

wants to make – and that he thinks is of decisive ethical relevance – is the status

of life and death. Or rather the anachronic character of those concepts in regard

to the ethical dimension.

Muselmann, a half-dead human being in the concentration camp in whom



bios have collapsed in one another to indistinction, is according to Agamben

the liminal figure of western societies, i.e. an outlaw that can be killed, yet whose

killing does not enter into any sort of economy of tragic religious sacrifice, but

rather guarantees the continuity of biopolitical production.

Or formulated in a different manner: if the function of the classic sovereignty was

“make die, let live”, then the 20

th century biopolitical production can be summed

up in the function “make survive”.

But ethical issues in Agamben seem to be rather “anthropological” ones – it is

rather a sort of “weak anthropology”, where Auschwitz designates the

emergence of a new kind of humanity and of respective philosophical questions.

It is in deed something that Agamben described elsewhere as an

“anthropological change that is just as decisive in the context of the individual’s

natural history as the liberation of the hand by the erect position was for the

primate…”(Potentialities, p.260)

4. Normative aspects of biopolitical theory

The normative aspect of the biopolitical theory has been more or less left aside

both by the biopolitical authors themselves and in the reception of their work. We


maintain that that is not by chance, because that which we call biopolitical theory

is in a way a “theory without name”. What do we mean to say by that? We mean

to say that the biopolitical theory as a theory of the post-fordist capitalist system

in a sense does not have a positive title to designate its own theoretical agenda.

It seems that the “hidden” name of the biopolitical theory is highly relevant, for we

think that when Negi\Hradt or Agamben speak of biopolitics that they provide

“only” the descriptive part of their efforts, and that the concealed theoretical

intention lies elsewhere.

It might be the case that, for instance, the concept of life, as used by the

biopolitical theory and as presented here, as a truly fundamental part of that

theory conceals another deeper, we think, normative part of that theory.

In brief: for the authors at stake the index of normativity is neither the concept of

life nor that of production – it is rather concepts such are Arendtian notion

“miracle” (in Virno), Benjaminian understanding of Messiah (in Agamben) or trick

or notion of kairos (in Negri).

Therefore, we maintain that the context that the biopolitical theory stems from is

more of a messianic provenance rather than political theory – even though the

convergences between the two domains are almost endless.

The inherent messianism of the biopolitical theory is in the central position of

legality that is first taken only to be destroyed or relinquished, but that extra-legal

space of social production, unlike the affiliate concept of sovereignty in Schmitt,

is not determined by the ecstatic elan of the tragic hero, nor is thought

teleologically. So, in what sense can the trick, miracle or kairos be normative?


We’ll offer three possible directions.

1. Phenomenology of the collective in the biopolitical theory is radically set apart

from the phenomenology inspired by Heidegger, because at its center it places

the phenomenology of love and solidarity, and not of death. Namely, the figure of

heroic sovereign decisionism in Heidegger is structurally determined by the fact

that the death is on one side entirely certain, yet the moment of its incidence is

entirely undetermined. From there follows a certain Heideggerian kairology, i.e.

the enduring mobilization of the individual that is tragically confronting its finitude.

The biopolitical phenomenology does not start out from such ecstatic model,

exactly because it holds such model for an already historically actualized in the

conditions of post-fordist production, and in that sense a banal one.

2. Thus understood, post-fordism is in the same time the realization of utopia of

the collective of virtuosos. Namely, if the prevailing form of labor in the postfordist

conditions is intellectual – not only with regard to the division between

manual and intellectual labor, but also with regard to the very structure of

intellectual labor as of a heterogeneous production where the worker is not

exhausted in the process of production – past-fordism can be called the

“communism of capital” (Virno). But the post-fordist virtuosity is a servile

virtuosity that subsumes itself to work and to present conditions of work, whereas

the authors at stake want to think the virtuosity that would be associated with


3. In his book “On Psychotheology of Everyday Life – Reflections on Freud and

Rosenzweig” Eric Santner placed the biopolitical analyses in the context of

Rosenzweig and Benjamin’s philosophy. Following him we can say that the

primary intention of the subject of messianic action, who is the hero of the

biopolitical narrative, is twofold:

– messianic collective action is primarily concerned with verification, and not the

legitimation of the existing state of affaires


Original link:


~ by blombladivinden on January 20, 2012.

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