The political present

Brian Massumi, in a bit of epoch-making(pdf), on what changed after “the day that changed everything” (via).

The overall environment becomes one that can no longer be characterized as neoliberalism, and comprises a very different ecology of regimes of power. In particular, it is given to sudden flashes of what Agamben calls sovereign power, coming as if out of nowhere. They come as if from nowhere because they come in the time-slip of the future-anterior. The paradox of lightning decision, or command power as I have been describing it, is homologous to the paradox of sovereignty as Agamben analyzes it: pure, self-preceding decision.19 What has changed in the ecology of power is the degree to which the pure decision of command stalks the political present. It always and everywhere ready to strike. It is important to note that this “sovereign” power of command is not a power of decision held by an individual. It is pure in the sense of self-effecting, like a machine that automatically cuts into the flow of individuals’ lives. It has the ideality of an event, yet effects itself materially. It is also important to remark that overall the system of power [sic; I think he means “does not revert”] reverts to a sovereign regime. Rather, command joins disciplinary and biopolitical modes of power in complex interaction in a shared environment characterized overall by no one of these modes. The ready recourse to exercises of command power is one of the distinguishing characteristics of neoconservatism, and marks its difference from neoliberalism. However, the recentering on affect associated with the regained virulence of command power also occurs in relation to the other other modes of power. Overall, the interaction of the modes of power in play are dedicated to managing threat to ensure security, for which there is no objective measure, any more than there is of a mood.

Where confidence-building was once in the service of growth, security now becomes an end in itself. The assurance of security now potentially rivals the maximization of productive capacities as the finality of governance. The tautological sterility of the pure, self-preceding decision now potentially rivals the ontogenetic fecundity of the autonomously self-propelling machine-flow process. It is this tension between continued growth and becoming in the open neoliberal field of the capitalist system, and the sovereign closure of the foregone event – also known as preemption–that most adequately characterizes neoconservatism. I would argue that it more suggestively diagnoses its nature as a regime of power than such macro-level concepts as Empire, globalization, and postnationality (because it diagnoses it directly processually rather than by assigning it a general category).

Can capitalism survive “this tension”?


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