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CRISIS AND ITS MARGINS

John Protevi
(Phyllis M. Taylor Professor of French Studies, Louisiana State University)

The preamble to the ENS colloquium asks us to consider the margins of Europe in both geographical and social senses. The geographical sense would be national borders and the attempt to regulate flows of immigrants and refugees, and the social sense would be the manner in which national governments manage their populations by distinguishing citizens and non-citizens, and, within the latter class, the criteria for and treatment of those who are documented or undocumented residents.

 

I'd like to show here, by considering the work of James C Scott in The Art of Not Being Governed (2009) and Against the Grain (2017), that Europe's current struggles with its marginalities are examples of practices that are constitutive of the state as social form.

First, let us note that Scott, like Pierre Clastres (1989; 1994), Deleuze and Guattari (1987), and others, reject any notion that the state evolves from pre-state conditions; rather, they insist, states are born by "capture," the violent imposition of the state form (taxes, obligatory labor, and rent on land) on non-state peoples. The state is then one social form among others, not the telos of sociality. Such capture, however, provokes flight or marronage. The first maroon societies are thus contemporaneous with the first states; as soon as there were states, people "ran for the hills." However, those fleeing the state could rarely simply ignore states, and would sometimes wish to return either to settle down, or to trade with the state. In fact, non-state people came to be necessary to states as supplying both non-human (raw materials) and human (enslaved people) commodities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James, C. Scott (2009) The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press; and Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press.

 

Thus, flight, while it is in one sense a mere consequence of capture, is in another sense co-constitutive of states; without those who flee, the state would have no one to trade with and would have to attempt resource extraction itself. But this would dangerously stretch the power of the state to extract taxes, labor, and rent in its core. Much better then to manage the margins of the state qua geographical border.

 

At the same time as states dealt with those on their geographical borders, internal population management by means of "social marginality," was instantly set up, as states were in constant need of importing new members whose differences in political status (free vs slave; urban vs rural; and so on) needed to be regulated.

 

Overall, Scott's (2017) analyses of the first states fit Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) "Urstaat" thesis of the necessity of assembling state forms all at once in a mutually constitutive functioning unit: taxation, including the special apparatus of collectors, assessors, accountants; work gangs for agriculture or monumental architecture; scribes and their record-keeping apparatus; military specialists; standardized weights and measures (Sibertin-Blanc 2013; 2016; Smith 2018). These mutually constituting functions of the state are themselves as a whole in constant negotiations with their geographical and social margins with non-state peoples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [PROPOSITION X: The State and Its Poles]

 

 

Scott talks of the relation of state and non-state peoples as "symbionts" or "dark twins," a situation which sometimes produced a sort of shared sovereignty (or sharing of appropriated surplus), in which state and non-state peoples are competing for ability to extract surplus from captive primary production populations (2017, 243). Non-state control of trade routes enabled them to trade with states, and also to extort "taxation" of state-traders via "tolls" to allow passage, and piracy as predation on state trading. Non-state people did not always flee or repel the state; sometime they conquered it and become the new ruling class, and at other times they become mercenaries of state armies (250-251).

 

Scott ends Against the Grain by noting that while the "Golden Age" of non-state peoples lasted a long time, enslavement of other non-state people and sale of military service to states ultimately tipped the scales in favor of states, which now dominate the globe to a much greater extent than ever before (255-56). In the periphery, surveillance with GIS and drones; force projection with helicopters, and brutality with automatic weapons, can keep peasantry in line, and keep nonstate people confined to margins and ineffective in resisting resource extraction when desired.

 

Moving now to consider social marginality, contemporary biopolitical and neoliberal state administration can keep internal population management going in the core: the middle and working classes that are registered, tracked, and managed, some with full disciplinary force, others with the more "dividualizing" practices of "control" via databases and so on (Deleuze 1992).

 

In both these ways, then, the purely geographical and the "control" management of populations, fleeing the state by seeking territorial marginality is compromised to the point that for a full picture of marronage, we must make the turn to social marginality, and the ways non-documented people, or those dissatisfied citizens, go about trying to live as squatters, as inhabitants of "no go zones," as those who "go off the grid," and other forms of evading state rule within state territories.

 

For reasons of limited space and professional training, I won't continue except to ask that we consider one last turn of the screw. Scott agrees with Deleuze and Guattari on the need to conceptually separate the primary or originary violence of statification as capture and enslavement of non-state peoples, and the ordinary, everyday, or secondary violence of policing, tax collection, and labor coercion, which repeat and reinforce the originary violence by which tax and labor become obligations and attempts to evade them and / or to appropriate surplus by private means become criminalized.

 

Might it not be the case however, that in "no go zones" that non-state actors, often seen as "criminal gangs" by the state, engage in a sort of "shared sovereignty" by which they compete with states for appropriation of surplus ("protection" rather than taxes being a form of regularizing plunder, hence requiring punishment of those even gangs consider free-lancers infringing on "their people") and, sometimes, for provision of services (food handouts, housing via squatting or camping, and so on) from the marginal populations that states show little interest in managing other than by intermittent raids for deportation and camp dismantling purposes?

 

 

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Clastres, Pierre. 1989. Society Against the State. Trans. Robert Hurley and Abe Stein. New York: Zone Books.

Clastres, Pierre. 1994. Archaeology of Violence. Trans. Jeanine Herman. New York: Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, Gilles. Postscript on Societies of Control. October, vol. 59: 3-7.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Protevi, John. 2015. Economies of Violence. http://www.protevi.com/john/ECONOMIES-28-March-2015.pdf

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

Scott, James C. 2017. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Sibertin-Blanc, Guillaume. 2013. Politique et Etat chez Deleuze et Guattari. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

-----. State and Politics. New York: Semiotexte, 2016

Smith, Daniel. 2018. 7000BC: Apparatus of Capture. In Henry Somers-Hall, Jeffrey Bell, and James Williams, eds., A Thousand Plateaus and Philosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: 223-241.

 

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