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On Security & Terror, Giorgio Agamben

(unauthorized translation by soenke.zehle@web.de, source: FAZ 09/20/01)

On Security and Terror
By Giorgio Agamben

Security as the leading principle of state politics dates back to the the birth
of the modern state. Hobbes already mentions it as the opposite of fear,
which compels human beings to come together within a society. But not until
the 18th century does a thought of security come into its own. In a 1978
lecture at the CollÈge de France (which has yet to be published) Michel
Foucault has shown how the political and economic practice of the
Physiocrats opposes security to discipline and the law as instruments of
governance.Turgot and Quesnay as well as Physiocratic officials were not primarily
concerned with the prevention of hunger or the regulation of production, but
wanted to allow for their development to then regulate and "secure" their
consequences. While disciplinary power isolates and closes off territories,
measures of security lead to an opening and to globalization; while the law
wants to prevent and regulate, security intervenes in ongoing processes to
direct them.In short, discipline wants to produce order, security wants to
regulate disorder. Since measures of security can only function within a
context of freedom of traffic, trade, and individual initiative, Foucault
can show that the development of security accompanies the ideas of

Today we face extreme and most dangerous developments in the thought of
security. In the course of a gradual neutralization of politics and the
progressive surrender of traditional tasks of the state, security becomes
the basic principle of state activity. What used to be one among several
definitive measures of public administration until the first half of the
twentieth century, now becomes the sole criterium of political legitimation.
The thought of security bears within it an essential risk. A state which has
security as its sole task and source of legitimacy is a fragile organism; it
can always be provoked by terrorism to become itself terroristic.

We should not forget that the first major organization of terror after the
war, the Organisation de l
ArmÈe SecrËte (OAS), was established by a French
general, who thought of himself as a patriot, convinced that terrorism was
the only answer to the guerrilla phenomenon in Algeria and Indochina. When
politics, the way it was understood by theorists of the "science of police"
in the eighteenthe century, reduces itself to police, the difference between
state and terrorism threatens to disappears. In the end security and
terrorism may form a single deadly system, in which they justify and
legitimate each othetrs

The risk is not merely the development of a clandestine complicity of
opponents, but that the search for security leads to a world civil war which
makes all civil coexistence impossible. In the new situation created by the
end of the classical form of war between sovereign states it becomes clear
that security finds its end in globalization: it implies the idea of a new
planetary order which is in truth the worst of all disorders.

But there is another danger. Because they require constant reference to a
state of exception, measure of security work towards a growing
depoliticization of society. In the long run they are irreconcilable with

Nothing is more important than a revision of the concept of security as
basic principle of state politics. European and American politicians finally
have to consider the catastrophic consequences of uncritical general use of
this figure of though. It is not that democracies should cease to defend
themselves: but maybe the time has come to work towards the prevention of
disorder and catastrophe, not merely towards their control. On the contrary,
we can say that politics secretly works towards the production of
emergencies. It is the task of democratic politics to prevent the
development of conditions which lead to hatred, terror, and destruction !=
and not to limits itself to attempts to control them once they have already