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The War Machine, Power and Humans as Social Animals

Ronald Fischer


To present a commentary on the war machine is a formidable challenge. I cannot offer a fundamental critique or insight into the major themes of the essay. I am writing as a social and cultural psychologist, drawing upon some experience working in extreme parts of the world. My task or goal will be more limited. On one hand, I will examine the central words of “war”, “machine” and “nomads” and briefly reflect on some of their connotations. The second aim is to shed some doubt on the aspirations of the war machine, that is, the goal to present an alternative mode of social existences, resisting the need to be incorporated into a fixed grid of power originating from the state.
The war machine was invented by nomads. The words “war”, “machine” and “nomad” resonate strongly in a world where war is continuously waged, most strongly now identified with a continuing and expanding war on terrorism. This war and its principal agents act as a war machine. The term, as used by Deleuze and Guattari,78 can be easily misunderstood in today’s political context. This war machine organised and financed by global capital causes suffering, bloodshed and death on a daily basis. The victims of this modern war machine are the real nomads, those people unfortunate enough to live in a place that is touched, burned and razed by this inhuman machine driven by humans. The victims of this modern war machine become nomads, being displaced and driven from their rightful lands, surviving in bleak refugee camps with no prospects of returning. Many of these try clandestinely to cross borders to create a human existence elsewhere. Their aspirations are to return to a normal life, governed by a state, with clear social expectations, an established grid of norms, visible power relations and formal rigidity. They inhabit a lawless place, often suffering further humiliations and abuse by others within and outside this lawless system.
I have been visiting and working with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, driven from their land in successive waves of Israeli state aggression. It is hard for those of us living in the secure realms of state security and enjoying a middle class existence to imagine the daily life of these nomads in the real world. Until very recently, these refugees (some families living there for generations, with the first being displaced in the creation of Israel in 1948) are barred to work outside the camps, have no prospect of formal education, no prospect to find a decent job, marry and bring up children who will have a secure life ahead of them. One mother told me the story of how all of her sons, the youngest being a mere teenager, were taken in the mid-1980s by Israeli forces when they invaded Lebanon. All male members of a family, never mind their age, had to line up and were taken prisoner. They disappeared. Despite many requests and formal inquiries, this desperate mother still has no idea about the fate of her four sons. The only hope that she nourishes is a picture of a secret prison in Israel, published many years afterwards in an Israeli newspaper. A clipping of this paper was smuggled across the border and was given to her. On the blurred picture you can see a sea of faces and bodies, thin male bodies with haggard faces. One of these anonymous faces has features that remind this mother of her eldest son. This image is the life beam for her, kindling her hope and her vision of meeting at least one of her sons again and leading a lawful life, somewhere, anywhere. I met many people and made friends among these modern nomads, people without land and resisting various state powers, one that has driven them from their rightful lands, another state power now using them as bargaining chips in global politics, yet another global set of powers ignoring their plight. Yes, these people live and create an alternative form of existence. But this alternative existence is imposed on them. The aspirations are to return to “normal” life, governed by a benevolent civil state with clear rules and laws. Meeting and working with these individuals, the real nomads of our times, created by a war machine, inverts the meaning and significance of the central thesis of the argument.
However, let us assume for a moment that there could be a war machine that resists our formalised mode of being. How likely is it that humans created in the current system of power relations can create a state beyond current laws and rules? I think the chances are slim. In a series of experiments, Henry Tajfel and colleagues79 created what is called minimal groups. Get a group of university students together, the most alternative and liberal part of society, separate these young idealists into two randomly created groups, then ask these potential visionaries of a new society to divide some fixed amount of money between the two groups. What is the typical and well-replicated outcome? If there was a sincere hope of an alternative and egalitarian society, we could find a more or less equal allocation of money between individuals, independent of these randomly created and meaningless groups. However, the most likely outcome is that the creation of minimal groups now encourages individuals to allocate more money to members of their own group than members of the other group. The mere classification of individuals into meaningless groups creates in-group favouritism and in-group bias. This is the foundation stone of a modern state, built on inequality and social exclusion of distant others. My own research80 shows that is often nomads experiencing great uncertainty that then produces the greatest need to discriminate against others.
Furthermore, humans are social animals (with the ability to communicate, love and kill each other over long distances). But we need each other; we need to live in groups. Once we have groups, a different set of experiments and studies lead by Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto81 shows that all human groups and societies develop hierarchies of power. These hierarchies may be organised around age or gender or arbitrary sets of characteristics (e. g. race, abilities, intelligence – leading to our current problems of racism, social class, etc. ). Observations in anthropology of the most remote still existing tribal groups and examinations of any other social animal as currently known by biologists similarly point to the need for social organisation that involves some form of hierarchy. Can we overcome the need to structure social relations into hierarchies, when given the opportunity? I do not think we, as humans, can do this.
We may not like the outcome of these experiments. There are many arguments now that the human mind is conditioned to act this way, due to evolutionary pressures of survival. It seems to make sense to me to accept that humans had to discriminate in favour of their own kin against others competing for the same resources. This leads to the above noted tendency to favour one’s own group. Furthermore, even the simplest human form of relationship, the family, has at least two hierarchies, the gender and the age hierarchy. 5 Only women can give birth to children. Children need to be taught how to survive in the world. These hierarchies, driven and conditioned by biological facts, then generalise to society in large. Any form of alternative existence will re-create these basic human propensities. Given these constraints, what can be the outcome of this ‘radical form of being or becoming’?

In writing this, I am an optimist. The main idea of the essay on the war machine for me is the vision of a society that follows formal rules and law, but that creates a living space that is affordable to individuals. It will have discrimination and hierarchies that restrict some groups of individuals in their form of expression and gives other groups more power. But my vision would be that we can achieve a balance, where the human tendency towards discrimination and hierarchy is off-set by an institutionalised concern even for the weakest individuals and groups. I think this is the real power of an utopian state, to be able to make sure that all individuals can have a meaningful existence and making the current nomads suffering in our world disappear.



1 Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 500

2 Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy (New York: Colombia University Press, 1996), 9

3 Gilles Deleuze, “Nomad Thought,” in The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, ed. David B. Allison (Cambridge Mass. & London: The MIT Press, 1985), 148

4 Ibid. , 149. See also Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and The Vicious Circle (London & New York: Continuum, 2005)

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 For a more detailed discussion and critique of the Deleuzean objection to dialectics see Lutz Ellrich & Marion Picker, “Negativity and Difference: On Gilles Deleuze’s Criticism of Dialectics,” MLN, 111:3 (1996), 463–487; John Grant “Foucault and the Logic of Dialectics,” Contemporary Political Theory 9:2 (2010), 220–238. Deleuze and Guattari make extensive use of non- binary oppositions, some of the more well-known are the smooth and the striated, nomadic and sedentary, apparatus of capture and war machine, rhizomes and trees.

8 Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 29

9 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 423

10 Proposition VIII in a Thousand Plateaus states as follows: “Metallurgy in itself constitutes a flow confluent with nomadism”, Ibid. , 404

11 Ibid. , 405

12 Ibid. , 422–423

13 Eugene W. Holland, “Schizoanalysis, Nomadology, Fascism,” in Deleuze and Politics, eds. Ian Buchanan & Nicholas Thoburn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 82–83

14 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 204

15 John K. Noyes, “Nomadism, Nomadology, Postcolonialism,” Interventions 6:2 (2004), 159

16 Not to be confused with Spivak. See Gayatri C. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. C. Nelson& L. Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 271–313

17 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 165, 230

18 Ibid. , 214

19 Foucault writes in the Preface to Anti-Oedipus that ‘Paying a modest tribute to Saint Francis Sales one might say that Anti-Oedipus is an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life.’ Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), xiii

20 Ibid. , 214

21 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 422

22 Ibid. , 351, 380

23 Ibid. , 351

24 Ibid. , 52

25 Ibid. , 480

26 Ibid. , 353

27 Julian Reid, “Deleuze’s War Machine: Nomadism Against the State,” Millennium; Journal of International Studies 32:1 (2003), 59. Douglas Kellner has a similar problem with Hardt and Negri’s valorisation of the “multitude”. See Douglas Kellner, “Theorizing Globalization,” Sociological Theory 20:3 (2003), especially fn. 9, 293

28 Atilio A. Boron, Empire and Imperialism: A Critical Reading of Hardt and Antonio Negri (London and New York: Zed Books, 2005), 88

29 Ibid. , p. 88

30 Reid, “Deleuze’s War Machine,” 74

31 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 17

32 James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 328

33 Deleuze, “Nomad Thought,” 149

34 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 357

35 Pierre Clastres, Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology (New York: Zone Books, 1987), 213

36 Ibid. , 213

37 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 357

38 Clastres, Society Against the State, 212

39 Ibid. , 358

40 Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 148

41 See Ulrike Kistner, “Raison d’état,” Interventions 6:2 (2004), 242–251; and Christopher

L. Miller, “The Postidentitarian Predicament in the Footnotes of a Thousand Plateaus: Nomadology, Anthropology and Authority,” Diacritics 23:3 (1993), 6–35



42 Ronald Bogue, “Apology for Nomadology,” Interventions 6:2 (2004), 172

43 Deleuze, “Nomad Thought,” 149

44 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 65

45 Ibid. , 66

46 Ibid, 66-67

47 Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 250

48 Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004), 12

49 Ibid. , 13

50 See for example Stuart Corbridge, “Plausible Worlds: Friedman, Keynes and the Geography of Inflation,” in Money Power and Space,eds. Stuart Corbridge, Ron Martin & Nigel Thrift (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1994)

51 Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 29

52 See Ismail Ertürk et al, “Hedge Funds as ‘War Machine’: Making the Positions Work,” New Political Economy 15:1 (2010), 9–28

53 See Robert Deuchars, “Towards the Global Social: Sociological Reflections on Governance and Risk in the Context of the Current Financial Crisis,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 23:1 (2010), 107–125

54 See Euel Elliott & L. Douglas Kiel, “A Complex Systems Approach for Developing Public Policy Towards Terrorism: An Agent-Based Approach,” Chaos Solitions and Fractals 20 (2004), 63–68; E. Ahmed, A. S. Elgazzar & A. S. Hegazi, “On Complex Adaptive Systems and Terrorism,” Physics Letters 337:1-2 (2005), 127–129

55 Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Control Societies,” in Negotiations: 1972-1990,ed. Gilles Deleuze (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 178

56 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 204

57 Ibid. , 204. See also Paul Patton “Politics and the War-Machine in ‘Mille Plateaux’,” SubStance 13:3/4 (1984), 61–80

58 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1991), 276. There is clearly a problem equating the thought of Antonio Gramsci with that of Deleuze. Gramsci was a believer in the Party as the motor of change, whereas Deleuze did not. However, their analysis of fascism is very similar. They both distinguished and recognised the fundamental importance of the molecular forms of fascism that required clear distinction from the molar or state form of fascism proper. In similar vein the anti-fascism of Gramsci in the form of subaltern thought is similar to the anti-fascism found in the nomadism of Deleuze and Guattari.

59 Ibid. , pp. 279-318

60 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 427–428

61 Ibid. , 426

62 Manuel DeLanda, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 124

63 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 473

64 See Andrew Robinson & Simon Tormey, “Living in Smooth Space: Deleuze, Postcolonialism and the Subaltern,” in Deleuze and the Postcolonial, eds. Simon Bignall & Paul Patton (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 20–40

65 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 367

66 See Arturo Escobar, “Other Worlds Are (Already) Possible: Self-Organization, Complexity and Post-Capitalist Cultures,” in World Social Forum Challenging Empires, eds. Jai Sen & Peter Waterman (Montreal, New York, London: Black Rose Books, 2009), 393–404

67 Duncan Wilson “International Relations, the Washington Consensus and International Financial Institutions: Dissembling Theory and Theorising Assemblages,” unpublished manuscript, 2009, 9

68 See Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution (New York: Pathfinder Press Inc, 1973)

69 See Oli Mould, “Parkour, the City, the Event,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 27 (2009), 738–750. It should be noted that Mould is critical of Deleuze and Guattari’s view of the smooth and the striated. He argues that Badiou’s concept of the event is a more appropriate lens with which to view Parkour. I do not share this interpretation, but he does open up space for debate on urban subcultures such as Parkour.

70 Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 205

71 Space constraints preclude me from going into this debate in much detail. It is, however, important. See Eugene W. Holland, “Representation and Misrepresentation in Postcolonial Literature and Theory,” Research in African Literatures 34:1 (2003), 59–173; Amroise Kom, “Nationalists and Nomads: Essays on Francophone African Literature and Culture,” Research in African Literatures 31:3 (2000), 175–178; Christopher L. Miller, “‘We Shouldn’t Judge Deleuze and Guattari’: A Response to Eugene Holland,” Research in African Literatures 34:3 (2003), 129–141

72 Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism (New York: Zone Books, 1990), 15–16

73 Fredric Jameson, “Marxism and Dualism,” in A Deleuzean Century?, ed. Ian Buchanan (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1999), 34

74 See, for example, Robert Deuchars, “Towards the Global Social: Sociological Reflections on Governance and Risk in the Context of the Current Financial Crisis,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs Vol. 23 No. 1 (2010), 107-125

75James Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009)

76James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press 1999)

77James Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, 2nd Edition(New Haven, Yale University Press, 1987)

78 Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 423

79 Henry Tajfel, Michael Billig, R. P. Bundy &C. Flament, “Social categorisation and intergroup behaviour,” European Journal of Social Psychology, 1 (1971) 149-178; Henry Tajfel, Human Groups and Social Categories(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)

80Crysta Derham & Ronald Fischer, “Is In-Group Bias Culture-Dependent? A Meta-Analysis Across 18 Societies,” Manuscript submitted for publication, Victoria University of Wellington (2010)

81James Sidanius & Felicia Pratto, Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression(Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1999)


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