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Strategy at a Multitude of Scales: Alain Joxe's

The American Empire is thus faced with a traditional problem. By perfecting the predatory and repressive military machine to the extreme, which could become necessary to its reproduction, the Empire could veer towards a monstrous overdevelopment of the destructive, or merely repressive, function of the state, threatening its subjects with death. The `people’ always decide the end of logistical-predatory empires through various forms of plebian secession, of anachoresis or of invasions greeted as liberations. There is a type of collapse without invasion exemplified by the fall of the Assyrian Empire.
A giant with clay feet, built on the mud of Mesopotamian irrigation, on the over-exploitation of Neolithic techniques, without any progress in productivity, save in techniques of destruction, Assyrian militarism disappeared all at once . . . (186)

From the economic offensive under Clinton to the military offensive under Bush Jr., the U.S. appears to wage a perpetual war on the globe. Their actions are not necessarily unique as far as the American presidency is concerned, but without the Cold War template in place for understanding geopolitics, it is difficult for theorists and even more so for the media-consuming public to discern the logic behind the “cruel little wars” that continually pop up on the global radar. In Empire of Disorder, Alain Joxe uses strategic criticism in order to decipher the imperial logic with which these conflicts originate and are perpetuated. By “strategic criticism,” he means the analysis of the relationship of forces at play, and the rational actions taken by individuals, whether they are individual nation-states or individual humans, when they are threatened with death, as in war. The theory of strategy draws in part from the writings on military strategy by Carl von Clausewitz, who gave us the famous equation, “war is politics by other means.”

Because this is a book on “empire,” it is also important to demarcate exactly what Joxe means by the term, as well as to place its relationship to a more well-known theory of empire, that of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in the best-selling Empire. Hardt and Negri use the concept of “empire” to talk about the rule of a global capitalist axiomatic that now irrevocably transcends the space of the nation-state and makes all persons subjects to its rule. Joxe designates a more familiar conception of empire, referring to dominant political states with imperially expansive projects, such as the Roman Empire. The “Empire of Disorder” then refers to the American Empire. These different conceptions of empire lead to the offering of different alternative projects. For Hardt and Negri, a world of subjects freed from the nation-state must accelerate through empire and realize a global multitude. For Joxe, resistance can still happen at more molecular levels and the task is simply to resist the dominance of the American Empire. He posits the EU as a hope for such a new republic.

Joxe analyzes a double disjointure in Empire of Disorder: first, the separation of economic, political, and military goals from their traditional site of coordination, the geopolitical state, and the resultant second rupture, the disjointure between political goals and military-strategic goals. This second rupture is of great significance to Joxe as a theorist of strategy, because it signifies a corruption in the philosophy of strategy and politics. According to Clausewitzian theories of war, in order for war to maintain its connection to politics, military goals must be in line with political goals. This is the same as saying that military goals must be in line with diplomacy, because politics for Clausewitz refers to the relations and interconnections between political states, each of whose primary task is survival, not only of the state, but of the people as well. In this manner, war threatens the lives of people in each of the warring states, and it is only through the resolution of war that survival is ensured. The resolution occurs through a peace pact or the conquering of one state by another, in which case the conqueror assumes the role of protector for the conquered peoples. At the root of war, Joxe says, is always the imagination of peace.

Historically, empires dominate by extending the space of their rule. Yet, unwilling to conquer geographically, the U.S. attempts to manage the world imperially through repression of symptoms of a global disorder it perpetuates in order to keep economic fluxes flowing. Joxe shows that the disappearance of traditional military strategy and the diachronic relationship between war and peace places us in a perpetual war, which by Clausewitzian definition is war without politics and necessarily leads in globalization to an empire that threatens its own subjects with death. In such a world, we have “frozen peace,” defined by escalating violence combined with “accelerated” peace negotiations and “indefinitely postponed implementation” of peace processes or nation-building (32, 92-93). Primarily through the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and Clausewitzian strategy, Joxe develops a problematic of empire, as he analyzes the economic and military power of the U.S., and the way the American Empire applies this power divorced from their connection to politics and diplomacy. Through Hobbes and Clausewitz, Joxe posits the figure of the naturally strategic individual agent who becomes his or her own sovereign in periods of civil crises as a way to re-attach politics and strategy at a different scale and make possible the formation of a new governance. Joxe’s project thus makes possible a multitude of scales for new political formations that could emerge through strategic action and resist empire, whether the American Empire or the global capitalist axiomatic.

Our situation, in which we must resist the Empire of Disorder that threatens us with death, is partly the result of the U.S unwillingness to use its military power to conquer and thus assume protection of the population. Refusing the diachronic relationship of invasion followed by protection, U.S.-organized military interventions violate Clausewitzian strategic rationality because “the common military objective of the outside participants, with no common political goal, cannot be defined except as a desire to exercise military control over the war” (94). Politics is divorced from war, and in its place appears economics. Political sovereignty has become subservient to corporate sovereignty, and there can be no politics without political sovereignty. Thus the Clausewitzian equation breaks down. The American strategy for ruling this Empire instead is to use its military power not to conquer, in which case it would have to assume a protective role, but to use that power to repress symptoms of despair. It succeeds because it is able to establish behavioral and economic norms, not because of any ability to conquer and rule, which would require diplomatic skill. Indeed the American empire is not an empire in the traditional sense, but “merely a system for regulating disorder” (14).

There appears to be no strategy to the American brand of perpetual war. War is not diplomacy by other means because there is no diplomacy when one superpower acts unilaterally. Furthermore, there are no clear roles of aggression or defense, but rather only interventionism. Thus, the American Empire violates Clausewitz’s emphasis on the passage between war and peace, as well as his favoring of the role of defense as the preferred strategic and democratic role in war. Instead, the U.S. operates by creating disorder and repressing symptoms, which in turn cause disorder, and so on. War as feedback loop replaces war as part of a diachronic relationship with peace.

The “war on terror” provides an excellent illustration. Terrorism, Joxe reminds us, is not a political sovereignty; it’s a form of violence. Thus a war on terror cannot be a strategic goal, because one cannot defeat terrorism, as it is not a sover
eign with which one could make a peace pact or interact diplomatically, and it is not a geopolitical space one could conquer. The meaning of such a declaration, then, is obvious: “the entire military apparatus will be used to attack the weak” (64).

If on a global level we have what appears to be chaos, or non-Clausewitzian war, Joxe shows how at smaller scales war reveals itself as Clausewitzian after all. Approached at their individual scale, inter-ethnic wars and barbaric violence appear for what they really are-political civil wars. Often in these cases, the “cruel little wars” are wars of balkanization, in which emerging forms of political cooperation are squashed by the U.S., or-what amounts to the same thing-NATO, as in the case of Kosovo. There is both a deployment of military force to destroy the emerging political sovereignty and a replacement with new group formations more politically inept or malleable. The new ruling classes of global economic power skillfully divert political civil wars into inter-community conflicts between ethnic or religious groups. These conflicts eliminate through bloodshed the common interests of diverse social classes. Destruction as Balkanization leads to the set-up of violent mini-systems run by small warlords and mafia networks connected to transnational finance. Empire reveals itself in these places not as a super-state, but as a fractal logic that “imposes itself at any level.” As Joxe says, “tell me what your core-fortress is, your social wasteland, your genocide . . . and I will tell you who you are. Emperor, king, mafia boss, respected citizen . . .” (104).

Spatial analysis figures prominently in Empire of Disorder, as Joxe outlines a “dynamic morphology” of empire-space, in which various spaces and spatial scales are connected by this fractal logic. These spaces include fixed geographical zones that differ both spatially and temporally. For instance, zones of genocide appear at a certain geographic distance from an “overdeveloped core” and at different scales. These genocide zones also differ by the relative speed or slowness of their genocide, for example military massacre in Rwanda versus the targeting and assassination of leftist “types” in Latin America. In addition to various genocide zones, social wastelands, and other locales, Joxe accounts for their relationship to the various military, economic, and institutional “membranes” that work as flexible borders partitioning the spaces but leaving them open to re-organization. Fixed stockpiles and moving military bases populate the zones as well. Lastly, the electromagnetic space of information, finance and surveillance of course interconnects with and at all scales.

Joxe works out the spatial logic of historical imperial projects in relation to the Empire of Disorder. Traditionally, empires have solved potential crises through spatial strategies. Logistical empires, such as the maritime empires that figure heavily in Fernand Braudel’s and Manuel DeLanda’s writings, spread out by connecting to new markets, increasing the flow of their goods and the strength of their reserves. Predatory empires have solved crises through violent conquest, acquiring new territories and organizing the newly accumulated surplus of goods and labor. In either case, there is a relationship between an inside and outside demarcated by a geographic frontier. Just as marxist writings focus on the use of an outside to solve capitalist crises, Joxe shows that civil crises (in other words, class struggle) can be siphoned off through the creation of an outside enemy. On the surface at least the American presidency in recent years has provided a number of such examples, as in the most recent resurrection of Saddam Hussein.

Yet, Joxe asks, what happens to this political strategy when inside and outside is no longer strictly a matter of geography? In the Empire of Disorder, the exterior is no longer peasant fields or unencountered “barbarians,” but co-inhabitants, diplomatically and economically interconnected in the same post-Cold War globality. The American Empire appears to have competing strategic tendencies. On one hand, it works toward a global smoothing-over of political identities, extending neoliberal democracy and free-market economy across the entire globe. Technological advances make it increasingly possible to coordinate violent and economic means of domination through the delocalized real time of financial markets, global surveillance, and precision targeting for the massacre of localized uprisings. On the other hand, because these strategies tend toward a smoothing over, a competing strategic tendency becomes necessary in order to recreate an outside. These strategies include the disruption of constructions of political formations and their subsequent replacement with religious or ethnic sub-group representations, of which Joxe lists numerous examples, including the destruction of nation-building processes in the post-Soviet Union bloc. In these cases, we see the organization of violence by a fractal logic in which each scale has the same hierarchization. Violent mini-systems made up of violent mini-dictators and/or mafias plug into the transnational corporate system to form a sub-state/global-state interconnection. These mini-systems make possible the continuous parasiting of local biopower and resources by a global corporate order through the re-establishing of an “outside” on the “inside,” a process that includes creation of global Souths, gentrification, and ghettoization. Finally, war as siphon of disorder finds its necessary outside through the recreation of enemies on the inside or the redefinition of peace in order to make war. We see this outside-making in the War on Terror, with the Bush Jr. administration’s infamous creation of the “Axis of Evil,” or the making of peace into a “with us or against us, with you or without you” binary logic of global diplomacy.

These spatial strategies represent the military and economic imperial projects of the American Empire. They form part of what appears today as the corruption of Clausewitzian war on the global scale, a corruption caused by the replacement of political sovereignty with corporate sovereignty. When military action does not seek political ends, but rather merely keeps economic fluxes flowing, we can say that corporate sovereignty has replaced political sovereignty. If we retain Clausewitz’s equation, as Joxe surely seems to prefer, then we have to exchange these terms. Instead of politics by other means, war is economics by other means if the U.S. is primarily a logistical empire, or economics is war by other means if the U.S. is primarily a predatory empire.

Against the dominance of corporate sovereignty, in which the U.S., at the bidding of corporate power, organizes wars of repression and works to create Balkanization, Joxe posits a return to political sovereignty by way of Hobbes. Hobbes is an interesting, perhaps problematic choice, as he is part of a genealogy of Enlightenment philosophers that Hardt and Negri argue in Empire are responsible for gathering up the flows of the newly created plane of immanence into an apparatus that recreates transcendental sovereignty. In Hobbes’ thought, sovereign power is constructed from its deconstruction. Once the sovereign, whose defining role is “naturally” that of the protector, can no longer protect its citizens, those citizens are allowed to return to a state of civil war. In this micro-sociological state, every citizen is on his/her own and is governed by his/her own strategic sovereignty. These citizens will eventually enter into a social contract that will create an “artificial man,” or a new sovereign, that represents the people. For Hardt and Negri, Hobbes’ social contract hands the autonomous power of the multitude, newly freed from earlier forms of transcendental sovereignty dominated by religion, over to a sovereign power-the Leviathan-that stands above and rules it. Hobbes’ schema is thus an example of what Hardt and Negri call the “abstract machine of national sovereign
ty,” which operates through two functions: first, the creation of a minimal state, which reduces social functions and laboring activities to one measure of value, in other words forming a synthesis between sovereignty and capital; second, and directly following from the first operation, the return of transcendental authority, an economic transcendental that has operated from European modernity up until our present time.

The comparison between Joxe’s Hobbes and Hardt and Negri’s Hobbes is important, because the different conceptual renderings of sovereignty are crucial to the different projects they call for in response to Empire. Joxe says he chooses Hobbes in order to demonstrate the possibility of a democratic political sovereignty because of the importance of crisis and chaos in Hobbes’ thought. Hobbes shows that the republic cannot be born without revolution and that crisis is a fertile moment of disorder from which many possible orders could emerge. Hobbes’ method, which Joxe explains was informed by his experience of the crisis of English monarchy and the mechanistic methodology of Galileo, was to analyze the construction of power through its destruction. We can see here why Hobbes is so important to Joxe. In Joxe’s conception of the Empire of Disorder, chaos rules the world of political sovereignty as the nation-state self-destructs itself, modernization being an act of suicide for political sovereignty. This destruction creates both a period of crisis and, crucially, an opening for a new construction of the sovereign. Whereas Hardt and Negri see Hobbes as one of the philosophers that mends the crisis and gathers up the singularities of the multitude through an abstract machine of national sovereignty, Joxe sees Hobbes as primarily interested in the crisis itself as a productive moment. Hardt and Negri focus on Hobbes’ analysis of the construction of power; Joxe emphasizes Hobbes’ analysis of the deconstruction of power.

The sovereignty machine mends the crisis of modernity by sorting out the newly released flows of biopower and then gathering them up into a new stratification. One may call this sorting-sedimenting process an example of the abstract machine of the hierarchy, which can be seen in such diverse material as geological layers and social formations (this variety of appearances is precisely what makes it a properly abstract machine). The appearance of the hierarchy machine cutting through Hobbes’ thought is not necessarily troublesome for Joxe, though, as he claims “fixing hierarchies is the only way of stabilizing a political formation” (153). Joxe may emphasize the deconstruction of the sovereignty in Hobbes’ theory, but he does not deny or wish to do away with the erection of a new sovereignty. Is this nostalgia politics or merely the nature of the sovereign-pact, which would then be open to any number of political formations?
If the sovereign is he who protects, then in Hobbes’ mechanistic method of reasoning the sovereign is any form of governance that can ensure the protection of a population proportionate to the scale of governance. Similarly, the sovereign that cannot or will not protect its subjects is no longer sovereign and its people no longer owe allegiance. It thus becomes absurdly obvious that resistance to such governance is not a radical politics at all, but merely the nature of politics in any functioning regime. It may be that the increasing appearance and emphasis of patriotism and nationalism during the presidency of Bush Jr. indicates people’s increasing awareness of this reality.
Connecting Hobbes to Clausewitz is central to Joxe’s theory, both in analysis of the decadence of American military-political action and the possibility of a political project of creating new sovereignties. Joxe calls Clausewitzian continuation “an avatar (a reincarnation, fixture) of Hobbesian sovereignty” (165). This reincarnation works in a number of ways. Most notably, the Hobbesian contract that refuses the state of civil war appears in Clausewitz as the strategic preference of defense (168), and the Hobbesian passage from civil war to peace appears in Clausewitz as diplomacy (168). Joxe’s reworking of the term “continuation” is central to understanding the Hobbes-Clausewitz passage. Joxe shows that “continuation” is a poor translation from the German fortsetzung and is in fact misleading. Whereas “continuation” could lead one to see a Hegelian dialectic at work, in which moments of crisis and civil war always mend in a march toward the perfect State, the German fortsetzung means a break plus an arrival. Rather than a continuation of the State, there is a disorder from which a number of orders could emerge and from which eventually one does. Thus, in his resurrection of Hobbes, Joxe makes possible the imagining of a continuum of possible governance-scales that could emerge between the Empire of Disorder, and Hardt and Negri’s multitude.

It may be helpful, then, to expand on a recurring concept/outcome of Joxe’s analysis of strategy, space, and sovereignty in this Empire of Disorder. I do not find Joxe’s optimism for the EU as a space of resistance to be mere nostalgia for a national political sovereignty that has been wiped out by its larger predator, corporate sovereignty. If we instead take Joxe’s methodology seriously and learn to “apply” strategy as a theory to a study of empire, we can see that Joxe has provided us with an immensely productive way of thinking strategy at the more complex level of individual spatial scales and their interconnections.

What if our internalization or individual mirroring of our economic and military institutions and logic limits our generation of forms or scales of resistance or collectives? In the military sphere, labor has long divided between strategy and tactics, strategy taken as the realm of generals and politicians, and tactics as the realm of individual soldiers. This division has effectively reduced the roles of individuals to that of automatons, as it separates what Joxe calls the “political-operational dialectic” from the “technical-operational dialectic.” The economic sphere has similarly divided and automated labor through Taylorism and Fordism and its current more insidious forms proper to the move from disciplinary to control society. Just as in the military sphere, the individual at a micro-scale is a mere tool ensuring the deployment of a strategy decided at a transcendent spatial scale. In other words, the organization of work takes place at a different level from the completion of that work. Our more common forms of resistance or populist movements similarly rely on the same division. We attempt resistance at the level of the workers union or the political party, forms that are becoming obsolete in the empire of disorder. The slogan “think global act local” keenly illustrates this blockage, as its implied logic suggests that one who would resist acts according to a logic coordinated at a higher level and whose action can only have limited value measured in relation to the global level. Similar to Hardt and Negri, then, Joxe allows for the leap from any scale to the heart of empire.

Borrowing from General Lucien Poirier, who borrowed from the mathematics of fractal objects, Joxe sites the concept of “scale invariance” to show that strategy happens at every political scale, from politicians and armies to the individual citizen. Death threats appear at a number of scales in the Empire of Disorder, such as the modernization-suicide of the nation-state, the genocide of large populations, the killing of worker collectives through anti-union practices, the political de-membering of every minority imprisoned due to profiling strategies of police, and the death threat that hangs over all of us, each of whom could be part of the next “outside” created by a parasitic empire in order to siphon off class struggle and solve civil crises by means other than protection and democracy. If, in Joxe’s methodology, strategy is a process of decision-making in face of the thre
at of death, then strategy can happen at any number of spatial scales and any number of combinations of these scales. The initial difference between Joxe and Hardt and Negri in their readings of Hobbes and alternative projects of sovereignty fades in importance compared to this larger project. Each ultimately proposes a project of sovereignty that can be acted immanently. Perhaps this is how an empire can be said to “disappear all at once.” Through the continuous inter-relationship between and experimentation with political formations operating strategically at different spatial scales, a threshold is crossed and a new sovereignty, or series of sovereignties, emerges spontaneously, and as if suddenly, simply to replace it.

Aron Pease is a PhD student in the English department at the University of Florida. His research focus is contemporary theory, specifically theories of spatiality, including Deleuze, Jameson, Lefebvre, Virilio, and DeLanda, and their connections with media theories. Other emphases include 20th century American literature

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