Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Failed State Syndrome and Two Struggles over Governmentality

            Stockton, California’s slow spiral into insolvency reveals a potentially widespread threat to public government: neoliberal failed state syndrome.
            Typically used to describe and justify Western military occupations in purported “third world” countries, failed state syndrome is, basically, a operative logic (a practice of jurisdiction) that runs: an aggressor invades and disrupts a country’s infrastructure (economic, governmental, material) to the point of near collapse and then uses that near-collapse as justification for further international involvement with the claim, “if we end our occupation now, country X will fail.” Such is America and the United Nation’s practice of jurisdiction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such was the British, French, Dutch, and Spanish operative logic about Sub-Saharan Africa during the height of the slave trade.
Despite a separation of over two hundred years, such iterations of the failed state syndrome share a common denominator, one that isn’t simply West-on-Orient imperialism. Rather, these historically diverse failed state syndromes are underwritten by the expansion and maintenance of global capitalism. The first iteration occurs during the reconfiguration of governmental power shifting from Mercantilism (an internal police state whose cohesion is assured by a European balance of power) to Liberalism (an internally diffuse governmentality that can ensure its efficacy by promoting “less” governance only because it is offset by a proliferation of international markets). The second occurs during the reconfiguring apex of between Liberal and Neoliberal governmentality (the radical “lessening” of governance whose efficacy is ensured by the proliferation of internal markets and third-world resource appropriation). In each case, the common denominator is a reconfiguration of the global topology of governance driven first by the expansion of capitalist modes of wealth production and then driven by the structuring of “world” as a closed system of wealth production.
This is not to say that wealth production (or capitalism) is the common denominator. Capitalism is the common denominator only after the settlement of action of reconfiguration – that is it is the result of reconfiguration not the cause or even a operation within reconfiguration. Rather, the common denominator is Liberalism – the governmentality that proceeds from the question: how to conduct the conduct of the population and men more productively by governing less. The constitutive tension of Liberalism – expansive-contraction – serves as a dominant model of thought structuring the governmentalities employing (or inventing) the failed state syndrome as a means of strengthening themselves, of reconfiguring men in their relations such that they control more sets of relations.
With the first case, failed state syndrome served as the means through which not only pro-slavery advocates defended their expansion into Africa (“sure we destroyed the sub-Saharan socius by introducing slavery, but Africans have always bought and sold their own slaves. Therefore they cannot be responsible to govern themselves and we must govern for them”), but also how anti-slavery advocates defended a reformed slave economy (“so yes, we destroyed the African socius, but Africans never discovered the Christian god or developed a capitalist economy because they are racial recidivists. We will save them spiritually and economically”).
This much is to say that the English struggle over governmentality – the struggle over which model would become dominant, i.e. which one would serve as the operative logic or practice of jurisdiction of an increasingly international network of markets – is actually the struggle the long slavery debate (1770’s until 1833) covers over. Or rather, following Althusser, one can read the slavery debate as an ideological proposition: false in what it claims to designate, it is nevertheless a symptom of a reality other than that which is designated. That is: “slavery” within the slavery debate does not exist because it is a false designation obscuring another reality of which it is nevertheless a symptom or problem.
While we can say in the context of this struggle over governmentality, “slavery does not exist,” that does not mean it is nothing. Slavery, predicated on the shared employment of failed state syndrome, is a placeholder of sorts through which the struggle over governmentality is carried out such that the actual grounds of the struggle are covered over. The failed state syndrome and its product “slavery” allow contestants in this struggle between Mercantilism and Liberalism to say, “we are not concerned with the strengthening of our governmentality but rather with this other thing, slavery.” As an ideological proposition, slavery functions according to the logic of Pynchon’s third proverb for paranoids: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.” That Imperial England abolished the slave trade (1807) and eventually emancipated all its slaves (1833) does not indicate the triumph of free trade over protectionism or even humanitarian values over crass economic calculation; rather these movements (abolitionism and emancipationism) did the work of Liberalism’s expanding over, and reconfiguring of, men in more of their relations. The abolition of slavery or the establishment of free-trade capitalism are not the causes of Liberalism (such being the Marxist line that the superstructure is in the last instance determined by the base), but rather the problemizations through which Liberalism determined itself and its efficacy.
            Failed state syndrome’s global and domestic reascendancy points to a similar struggle of governmentality, this time between, perhaps, Liberalism and Neoliberalism. Only the reconfigurations failed state syndrome is the symptom of are vastly different. Globally, such reconfigurations do not operate as an expansion of markets, but rather two interrelated assumptions: first that the “world” is an enclosure limiting the scope of expansion, and second that expansion must occur at all relations between men and their milieu. The first assumption closes off the outward expansion of governance while in response, the second multiplies markets internally. Rather than serving to open up new international markets (as Liberalism sought), neoliberal failed state syndrome serves to establish the third-world solely as resource in order to open new markets within the state infinitely. Failed state syndrome in Iraq thus underwrites failed state syndrome in Stockton. A constriction of market expansion globally (vast regions of the “world” reduced to resources) corresponds with a domestic proliferation of markets. 
            Yet, the failed state syndrome is, again, a symptom of a reality other than that which it designates. The proliferation of markets is not the struggle at hand in Stockton. Rather it is the desired result of a struggle over governmentality and its dominant practice of jurisdiction. Neoliberalism seeks the expansion of markets, or rather, productive sources of wealth generation by means of its own governmentality: the radically lessening of governance. This is not to say that neoliberals suffer from false consciousness or possess a dishonest soul. They are neither stupid nor immoral because, for this analysis, they don’t function as actants in this struggle at all. The struggle occurs at a level removed from the actions and decisions of individuals, although it does operate through those actions and decisions. Neoliberalism is always about the conducting the conduct of the population and men. It just does so according to the radicalization of Liberalism constitutive principle: govern more by governing less. Even under Liberalism, governing more by governing less has been a practice of jurisdiction operating upon men in the relations, men in their milieus. One does not govern men, Foucault claims about Liberalism; one governs men in their relations. You don’t conduct the moral conduct of the population by negative law (thou shalt not X), but rather by constructing the milieu within which individuals are given the freedom to choose as they ought. At this level of analysis, Liberalism and Neoliberalism are nearly identical. The different mobilizations of failed state syndrome, however, indicate the operational differences at another, more “global” level, that is, at the level of the internal-external state threshold. The formation of a new model of governmentality is in both cases (the slavery debate and the Iraq/Stockton nexus) concerned with the expansion and reconfigurations of markets. However, the configurations of those markets’ domains (where they are located and how they are imbricated into a system) are vastly different. While in one struggle failed state syndrome as used to justify the reformation of the mode of market expansion (slavery) on a liberal model, in the other failed state syndrome is used to justify the reconfiguration of domestic markets on an expansive model.
            Yet with governmentality we are not concerned with rationalizations detached from lived reality, from the conducts those rationalizations seek to conduct. Rather, governmentality is an analytic gird with which we can examine a zone of problemazation (the employment of failed state syndrome) and a site of practice (the conducting of conduct). In other words: governmentality may not exist (as a rationalization) but that does not mean it is nothing (as “concrete” power).
            The Stockton failed state iteration shows precisely this ontological doubling. My argument is concerned not with the non-existence of the failed state but rather the claim that the failed state syndrome provides a recasting of the production and use of the failed state within larger, or rather, displaced struggle (in these historical cases a struggle over governmentality). Failed states were and are both produced and used by dispositifs for ends external to the failed states themselves. Failed states are, in my analysis, a privileged form of tool being. Accordingly, failed state syndrome expresses apophatically the ends for and to which the failed state is produced and put. Failed state syndrome represents a displacement of the struggle into another domain entirely – it gets us to ask the wrong questions so it doesn’t have to worry about its answers.
            What other ends does the Stockton failed state syndrome give expression to? First, the symptoms: neoliberal tax policy has slashed possible tax revenues for the city, whose fixed or even declining finances left it unable to pay for essential public services. Thus an aggressor external to the internal operations of a “state” inserted itself into the inner workings of that state (private, hyper-capitalism undermining the solvency of public government). What results is a failed state or bankrupt city. The next step is only too clear. Unable to pay for essential public services, Stockton will more than likely be forced to privatize those services, just as Denver privatized part of its police operations or the University of California system has turned to capital investments (underwritten by rising tuition) to fund itself.
These symptoms point to a systemic, State-level (i.e. the more-or-less entirety of American governmental infrastructure – all the dispositifs conducting the conduct of men and the population) paradigm shift and a reconfiguration of the material operations of governmentality. The public state increasingly cannot afford to support itself in its mission to provide for the health and wellbeing of its population. In turn and bit-by-bit it turns essential services over to private companies. At a local level, we are apt to think, “hey, this isn’t that bad as long as we still have a fire department or police department.” But at a systemic level “we” have nothing. Whereas the police were once tacitly in the employ of the population or citizenry (although as The Secret Agent’s Winnie Verloc perceptively points out, “They are there so that them as have nothing shouldn’t take anything away from them who have”), under neoliberal governmentality they will be exclusively in the employ of private companies and a private governmental regime whose primary goal is not the health and wellbeing of the population, but the ever-expansive production of wealth, which is consolidated in the hands of very few persons and corporations. The enforcement of laws designed to protect the health and wellbeing of the population will then be enforced for the assured expansion and production of wealth. Yet such an end is not what is at stake in the failed state. Rather, the failed state is the means through which a larger struggle over governmentality plays out in order to accomplish a given goal. With Stockton this end is the proliferation of domestic markets, or rather, sources of wealth production. Quite literally, once publically provided services become new markets capable of producing wealth according to Marx’s formula of capital: M-C-M’.
            With Stockton the failed state syndrome completes itself in a Robocop like conclusion: neoliberal tax policy hawks bankrupt public government and then blame it for that bankruptcy in order to justify its indefinite occupation. Unchecked, the drive to establish new profits and new markets will expand into all sectors of public government, leaving no public redress or possibility of resistance. Such a threat is more pervasive than calls for the end of the “welfare” state – nothing more than the crude logic of “efficient” capitalism – in that the systemic erosion of social, medical, and economic security provided by public government will be in large part carried out and enforced via the appropriated dispositifs (police in particular) that once upheld that very security.
            The Stockton failed state syndrome points to this dystopian conclusion: the operations of neoliberal governmentality – the radical lessening of governance as a means of governing more – are being constructed such that the field of governmental power is turned into an immanence of micro-markets out of which maximum profits and maximum strength (understood as the number of power relations being controlled) are consolidated in the hands of a new and limited center of control, which the designations “Wall Street” and the “1%” inadequately apply. We are not dealing simply with capitalism or privatization, but rather the production of capitalism or privatization through a radical reconfiguration of governmental relations, of the conducting of men in their relations.
Robocop isn’t a 1980’s dystopian fantasy. It is an increasingly prevalent reality.

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