Polybius and Imperial Government
Ifwe take a step back from the level of empirical description, we can quickly recognize that the tripartite division of functions and elements that has emerged allows us to enter directly into the problematic of Empire. In other words, the contemporary empirical situation resembles the theoretical description of imperial power as the supreme form of government that Polybius constructed forRomeand the European tradition handed down to us. For Polybius, the RomanEmpire represented the pinnacle of political development because it brought together the three "good" forms of power-monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, embodied in the persons of the Emperor, the Senate, and the popular comitia.TheEmpire prevented these good forms from descending into the vicious cycle of corruption in which monarchy becomes tyranny, aristocracy becomes oligarchy, and democracy becomes ochlocracy or anarchy.
According to Polybius' analysis, monarchy anchors the unity and continuity of power. It is the foundation and ultimate instance of imperial rule. Aristocracy defines justice, measure, and virtue, and articulates their networks throughout the social sphere. It oversees the reproduction and circulation of imperial rule. Finally, democracy organizes the multitude according to a representational schema so that the People can be brought under the rule of the regime and the regime can be constrained to satisfy the needs of the People. Democracy guarantees discipline and redistribution. The Empire we find ourselves faced with today is also-mutatis mutandis-constituted by a functional equilibrium among these three forms of power: the monarchic unity of power and its global monopoly of force; aristocratic articulations through transnational corporations and nation-states; and democratic-representational comitia, presented again in the form of nation-states along with the various kinds of NGOs, media organizations, and other "popular" organisms. One might say that the coming imperial constitution brings together the three good traditional classifications of government in a relationship that is formally compatible with Polybius' model, even though certainly its contents are very different from the social and political forces of the Roman Empire.
We can recognize the ways in which we are close to and distant from the Polybian model of imperial power by situating ourselves in the genealogy of interpretations of Polybius in the history of European political thought. The major line of interpretation comes down to us through Machiavelli and the Italian Renaissance; it animated the Machiavellian tradition in debates preceding and following the English Revolution, and finally found its highest application in the thought of the Founding Fathers and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. The key shift to come about in the course of this interpretive tradition was the transformation of Polybius' classical tripartite model into a trifunctional model of constitutional construction. In a still medieval, proto-bourgeois society such as Machiavelli's Florence or even prerevolutionary England, the Polybian synthesis was conceived as an edifice uniting three distinct class bodies: to monarchy belonged the union and force, to aristocracy the land and the army, and to the bourgeoisie the city and money. If the state were to function properly, every possible conflict among these bodies had to be resolved in the interest of the totality. In modern political science, however, from Montesquieu to the Federalists, this synthesis was transformed into a model that regulated not bodies but functions. Social groups and classes were themselves considered embodying functions: the executive, the judiciary, and the representative. These functions were abstracted from the collective social subjects or classes that enacted them and presented instead as pure juridical elements. The three functions were then organized in an equilibrium that was formally the same as the equilibrium that had previously supported the interclass solution. It was an equilibrium of checks and balances, of weights and counterweights, that continually managed to reproduce the unity of the state and the coherence of its parts.
It seems to us that in certain respects the original ancient Polybian model of the constitution of Empire is closer to our reality than the modern liberal tradition's transformation of it. Today we are once again in a genetic phase of power and its accumulation, in which functions are seen primarily from the angle of the relations and materiality of force rather than from the perspective of a possible equilibrium and the formalization of the total definitive arrangement. In this phase of the constitution of Empire, the demands expressed by the modern development of constitutionalism (such as the division of powers and the formal legality of procedures) are not given the highest priority (see Section 1.1).
One could even argue that our experience of the constitution (in formation) of Empire is really the development and coexistence of the "bad" forms of government rather than the "good" forms, as the tradition pretends. All the elements of the mixed constitution appear at first sight in fact as through a distorting lens. Monarchy, rather than grounding the legitimation and transcendent condition of the unity of power, is presented as a global police force and thus as a form of tyranny. The transnational aristocracy seems to prefer financial speculation to entrepreneurial virtue and thus appears as a parasitical oligarchy. Finally, the democratic forces that in this framework ought to constitute the active and open element of the imperial machine appear rather as corporative forces, as a set of superstitions and fundamentalisms, betraying a spirit that is conservative when not downright reactionary. Both within the individual states and on the international level, this limited sphere of imperial "democracy" is configured as a People (an organized particularity that defends established privileges and properties) rather than as a multitude (the universality of free and productive practices).
The Empire that is emerging today, however, is not really a throwback to the ancient Polybian model, even in its negative, "bad" form. The contemporary arrangement is better understood in postmodern terms, that is, as an evolution beyond the modern, liberal model of a mixed constitution. The framework of juridical formalization, the constitutional mechanism of guarantees, and the schema of equilibrium are all transformed along two primary axes in the passage from the modern to the postmodern terrain.
The first axis of transformation involves the nature of the mixture in the constitution-a passage from the ancient and modern model of a mixtum of separate bodies or functions to a process of the hybridization of governmental functions in the current situation. The processes of the real subsumption, of subsuming labor under capital and absorbing global society within Empire, force the figures of power to destroy the spatial measure and distance that had defined their relationships, merging the figures in hybrid forms. This mutation of spatial relationships transforms the exercise of power itself. First of all, postmodern imperial monarchy involves rule over the unity of the world market, and thus it is called on to guarantee the circulation of goods, technologies, and labor power-to guarantee, in effect, the collective dimension of the market. The processes of the globalization of monarchic power, however, can make sense only ifwe consider them in terms of the series of hybridizations that monarchy operates with the other forms of power. Imperial monarchy is not located in a separate isolable place-and our postmodern Empire has no Rome. The monarchic body is itself multiform and spatially diffuse. This process of hybridization is even more clear with respect to the development of the aristocratic function, and specifically the development and articulation of productive networks and markets. In fact, aristocratic functions tend to merge inextricably with monarchic functions. In the case of postmodern aristocracy, the problem consists not only in creating a vertical conduit between a center and a periphery for producing and selling commodities, but also in continuously putting in relation a wide horizon of producers and consumers within and among markets. This omnilateral relationship between production and consumption becomes all the more important when the production of commodities tends to be defined predominantly by immaterial services embedded in network structures. Here hybridization becomes a central and conditioning element of the formation of circuits of production and circulation. Finally, the democratic functions of Empire are determined within these same monarchic and aristocratic hybridizations, shifting their relations in certain respects and introducing new relations of force. On all three levels, what was previously conceived as mixture, which was really the organic interaction of functions that remained separate and distinct, now tends toward a hybridization of the functions themselves. We might thus pose this first axis of transformation as a passage from mixed constitution to hybrid constitution.
A second axis of constitutional transformation, which demonstrates both a displacement of constitutional theory and a new quality of the constitution itself, is revealed by the fact that in the present phase, command must be exercised to an ever greater extent over the temporal dimensions of society and hence over the dimension of subjectivity. We have to consider how the monarchic moment functions both as a unified world government over the circulation of goods and as a mechanism of the organization of collective social labor that determines the conditions of its reproduction. The aristocratic moment must deploy its hierarchical command and its ordering functions over the transnational articulation of production and circulation, not only through traditional monetary instruments, but also to an ever greater degree through the instruments and dynamics of the cooperation of social actors themselves. The processes of social cooperation have to be constitutionally formalized as an aristocratic function. Finally, although both the monarchic and the aristocratic functions allude to the subjective and productive dimensions of the new hybrid constitution, the key to these transformations resides in the democratic moment, and the temporal dimension of the democratic moment has to refer ultimately to the multitude. We should never forget, however, that we are dealing here with the imperial overdetermination of democracy, in which the multitude is captured in flexible and modulating apparatuses of control. This is precisely where the most important qualitative leap must be recognized: from the disciplinary paradigm to the control paradigm of government. Rule is exercised directly over the movements of productive and cooperating subjectivities; institutions are formed and redefined continually according to the rhythm of these movements; and the topography of power no longer has to do primarily with spatial relations but is inscribed, rather, in the temporal displacements of subjectivities. Here we find once again the non-place of power that our analysis of sovereignty revealed earlier. The non-place is the site where the hybrid control functions of Empire are exercised.
In this imperial non-place, in the hybrid space that the constitutional process constructs, we still find the continuous and irrepressible presence of subjective movements. Our problematic remains something like that of the mixed constitution, but now it is infused with the full intensity of the displacements, modulations, and hybridizations involved in the passage to postmodernity. Here the movement from the social to the political and the juridical that always defines constituent processes begins to take shape; here the reciprocal relationships between social and political forces that demand a formal recognition in the constitutional process begin to emerge; and finally, here the various functions (monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy) measure the force of the subjectivities that constitute them and attempt to capture segments of their constituent processes.
Struggle over the Constitution
Our ultimate objective in this analysis of the constitutional processes and figures of Empire is to recognize the terrain on which contestation and alternatives might emerge. In Empire, as indeed was also the case in modern and ancient regimes, the constitution itself is a site of struggle, but today the nature of that site and that struggle is by no means clear. The general outlines of today's imperial constitution can be conceived in the form of a rhizomatic and universal communication network in which relations are established to and from all its points or nodes. Such a network seems paradoxically to be at once completely open and completely closed to struggle and intervention. On the one hand, the network formally allows all possible subjects in the web of relations to be present simultaneously, but on the other hand, the network itself is a real and proper non-place. The struggle over the constitution will have to be played out on this ambiguous and shifting terrain.
There are three key variables that will define this struggle, variables that act in the realm between the common and the singular, between the axiomatic of command and the self-identification of the subject, and between the production of subjectivity by power and the autonomous resistance of the subjects themselves. The first variable involves the guarantee of the network and its general control, in such a way that (positively) the network can always function and (negatively) it cannot function against those in power. The second variable concerns those who distribute services in the network and the pretense that these services are remunerated equitably, so that the network can sustain and reproduce a capitalist economic system and at the same time produce the social and political segmentation that is proper to it. The third variable, finally, is presented within the network itself. It deals with the mechanisms by which differences among subjectivities are produced and with the ways in which these differences are made to function within the system.
According to these three variables, each subjectivity must become a subject that is ruled in the general networks of control (in the early modern sense of the one who is subject [subdictus] to a sovereign power), and at the same time each must also be an independent agent of production and consumption within networks. Is this double articulation really possible? Is it possible for the system to sustain simultaneously political subjection and the subjectivity of the producer/consumer? It does not really seem so. In effect, the fundamental condition of the existence of the universal network, which is the central hypothesis of this constitutional framework, is that it be hybrid, and that is, for our purposes, that the political subject be fleeting and passive, while the producing and consuming agent is present and active. This means that, far from being a simple repetition of a traditional equilibrium, the formation of the new mixed constitution leads to a fundamental disequilibrium among the established actors and thus to a new social dynamic that liberates the producing and consuming subject from (or at least makes ambiguous its position within) the mechanisms of political subjection. Here is where the primary site of struggle seems to emerge, on the terrain of the production and regulation of subjectivity. Is this really the situation that will result from the capitalist transformation of the mode of production, the cultural developments of postmodernism, and the processes of political constitution of Empire? We are certainly not yet in the position to come to that conclusion. We can see, nonetheless, that in this new situation the strategy of equilibrated and regulated participation, which the liberal and imperial mixed constitutions have always followed, is confronted by new difficulties and by the strong expression of autonomy by the individual and collective productive subjectivities involved in the process. On the terrain of the production and regulation of subjectivity, and in the disjunction between the political subject and the economic subject, it seems that we can identify a real field of struggle in which all the gambits of the constitution and the equilibria among forces can be reopened-a true and proper situation of crisis and maybe eventually of revolution.
Spectacle of the Constitution
The open field of struggle that seems to appear from this analysis, however, quickly disappears when we consider the new mechanisms by which these hybrid networks of participation are manipulated from above. In effect, the glue that holds together the diverse functions and bodies of the hybrid constitution is what Guy Debord called the spectacle, an integrated and diffuse apparatus of images and ideas that produces and regulates public discourse and opinion. In the society of the spectacle, what was once imagined as the public sphere, the open terrain of political exchange and participation, completely evaporates. The spectacle destroys any collective form of sociality-individualizing social actors in their separate automobiles and in front of separate video screens-and at the same time imposes a new mass sociality, a new uniformity of action and thought. On this spectacular terrain, traditional forms of struggle over the constitution become inconceivable.
The common conception that the media (and television in particular) have destroyed politics is false only to the extent that it seems based on an idealized notion of what democratic political discourse, exchange, and participation consisted of in the era prior to this media age. The difference of the contemporary manipulation of politics by the media is not really a difference of nature but a difference of degree. In other words, there have certainly existed previously numerous mechanisms for shaping public opinion and public perception of society, but contemporary media provide enormously more powerful instruments for these tasks. As Debord says, in the society of the spectacle only what appears exists, and the major media have something approaching a monopoly over what appears to the general population. This law of the spectacle clearly reigns in the realm of media-driven electoral politics, an art of manipulation perhaps developed first in the United States but now spread throughout the world. The discourse of electoral seasons focuses almost exclusively on how candidates appear, on the timing and circulation of images. The major media networks conduct a sort of second-order spectacle that reflects on (and undoubtedly shapes in part) the spectacle mounted by the candidates and their political parties. Even the old calls for a focus less on image and more on issues and substance in political campaigns that we heard not so long ago seem hopelessly naive today. Similarly, the notions that politicians function as celebrities and that political campaigns operate on the logic of advertising-hypotheses that seemed radical and scandalous thirty years ago-are today taken for granted. Political discourse is an articulated sales pitch, and political participation is reduced to selecting among consumable images.
When we say that the spectacle involves the media manipulation of public opinion and political action, we do not mean to suggest that there is a little man behind the curtain, a great Wizard of Oz who controls all that is seen, thought, and done. There is no single locus of control that dictates the spectacle. The spectacle, however, generally functions as if there were such a point of central control. As Debord says, the spectacle is both diffuse and integrated. Conspiracy theories of governmental and extragovernmental plots of global control, which have certainly proliferated in recent decades, should thus be recognized as both true and false. As Fredric Jameson explains wonderfully in the context of contemporary film, conspiracy theories are a crude but effective mechanism for approximating the functioning of the totality. The spectacle of politics functions as if the media, the military, the government, the transnational corporations, the global financial institutions, and so forth were all consciously and explicitly directed by a single power even though in reality they are not.
The society of the spectacle rules by wielding an age-old weapon. Hobbes recognized long ago that for effective domination "the Passion to be reckoned upon, is Fear." For Hobbes, fear is what binds and ensures social order, and still today fear is the primary mechanism of control that fills the society of the spectacle. Although the spectacle seems to function through desire and pleasure (desire for commodities and pleasure of consumption), it really works through the communication of fear-or rather, the spectacle creates forms of desire and pleasure that are intimately wedded to fear. In the vernacular of early modern European philosophy, the communication of fear was called superstition. And indeed the politics of fear has always been spread through a kind of superstition. What has changed are the forms and mechanisms of the superstitions that communicate fear.
The spectacle of fear that holds together the postmodern, hybrid constitution and the media manipulation of the public and politics certainly takes the ground away from a struggle over the imperial constitution. It seems as if there is no place left to stand, no weight to any possible resistance, but only an implacable machine of power. It is important to recognize the power of the spectacle and the impossibility of traditional forms of struggle, but this is not the end of the story. As the old sites and forms of struggle decline, new and more powerful ones arise. The spectacle of imperial order is not an ironclad world, but actually opens up the real possibility of its overturning and new potentials for revolution.
3.6 - CAPITALIST SOVEREIGNTY, OR ADMINISTERING THE GLOBAL SOCIETY OF CONTROL
As long as society is founded on money we won't have enough profit.
Leaflet, Paris strike, December 1995
This is the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself, and hence a self-abolishing contradiction, which presents itself prima facie as a mere point of transition to a new form of production.
Capital and sovereignty might well appear to be a contradictory coupling. Modern sovereignty relies fundamentally on the transcendence of the sovereign-be it the Prince, the state, the nation, or even the People-over the social plane. Hobbes established the spatial metaphor of sovereignty for all modern political thought in his unitary Leviathan that rises above and overarches society and the multitude. The sovereign is the surplus of power that serves to resolve or defer the crisis of modernity. Furthermore, modern sovereignty operates, as we have seen in detail, through the creation and maintenance of fixed boundaries among territories, populations, social functions, and so forth. Sovereignty is thus also a surplus of code, an overcoding of social flows and functions. In other words, sovereignty operates through the striation of the social field.
Capital, on the contrary, operates on the plane of immanence, through relays and networks of relationships of domination, without reliance on a transcendent center of power. It tends historically to destroy traditional social boundaries, expanding across territories and enveloping always new populations within its processes. Capital functions, according to the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari, through a generalized decoding of fluxes, a massive deterritorialization, and then through conjunctions of these deterritorialized and decoded fluxes. We can understand the functioning of capital as deterritorializing and immanent in three primary aspects that Marx himself analyzed. First, in the processes of primitive accumulation, capital separates populations from specifically coded territories and sets them in motion. It clears the Estates and creates a "free" proletariat. Traditional cultures and social organizations are destroyed in capital's tireless march through the world to create the networks and pathways of a single cultural and economic system of production and circulation. Second, capital brings all forms of value together on one common plane and links them all through money, their general equivalent. Capital tends to reduce all previously established forms of status, title, and privilege to the level of the cash nexus, that is, to quantitative and commensurable economic terms. Third, the laws by which capital functions are not separate and fixed laws that stand above and direct capital's operations from on high, but historically variable laws that are immanent to the very functioning of capital: the laws of the rate of profit, the rate of exploitation, the realization of surplus value, and so forth.