Asymmetry and the Reimagining of Political Theology

If the phrase “asymmetrical warfare” is taken to connote scenarios where “one side is possessed of overwhelming power with respect to its adversary,” together with manifold embodiments “of asymmetry in media representations, ideology, religion, sub- and supra-national actors, the environment and even psychology,” then there would appear little doubt that today’s world is pervaded by such conflict. Necessarily, the unique historical conditions of the present, globalizing era—with its fragmenting as well as revanchist states, and its dizzying technological accelerations—are evoked by “new wars” that embroil a proliferation of non-state actors, along with states who believe that they should rightly monopolize (or be immune from, as the case may be) such asymmetrical modalities as nuclear arsenals, mercenary forces, drones, cyberattacks, and propaganda innovations.

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What Is Asymmetry in Asymmetrical Warfare?

The definition of asymmetry in asymmetrical warfare could, it seems, contribute to illuminating the link between war and politics, or war and peace. For Clausewitz, “War is a simple continuation of politics by other means.” Now, we could ask: what is the politics of asymmetrical warfare? Still following Clausewitz, war is “a wide-scale duel” and, as a duel or fight, war “takes two distinct forms: attack and defense.” Additionally, for Clausewitz, politics would be a form of “wide-scale commerce” between states. In his book Drone Theory, the French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou defines asymmetrical warfare as cynegetic (in other words, a form of hunt). He uses as an illustration the name of a recent model of unmanned vehicle: “the Predator,” le prédateur. But how can asymmetrical warfare be considered as war if the fight dynamic is absent? And if asymmetrical warfare is a manhunt, how could politics as commerce be possible?

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Lawfare and the End of History

This paper focuses on the modern practice of using law, both national and international, to achieve policy goals and political ends that usually are the result of tactical military action. Lawfare, as this practice is referred to, is now a crucial tactic in the modern era of international relations, where war is largely carried out in a far from traditional manner. Lawfare, then, is a unique form of irregular warfare that can be employed by nations against one another and against insurgents in asymmetrical conflicts at home and abroad. This new reliance on irregular and asymmetrical warfare generally and lawfare specifically is reflective of Hegel’s view of the end of history, particularly as articulated by Alexandre Kojève. Basically, that as individuals gain equal recognition, the mode of satisfying desire will necessarily take the form of law and bureaucracy.

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The Force of Resistance: Religious Events and Political Discourse

Although a frustrating incalculable for the engineers of government, religion must be acknowledged as that without which the techniques and technologies of human subjectivity would not exist. I am not here arguing for the adoption of certain religious practices or beliefs, but simply qualifying the centrality of the political by insisting on the necessity of the religious. I maintain that the asymmetry characteristic of all civilizations stems from ruptures that I describe as religious, or evental—terms that I maintain are equivalent. To probe the intricacies of asymmetrical warfare in the twenty-first century is to ask, “Whence and whither the Event?”

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Terrorism, Modernity, and the Politics of the Tactical

During his 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry stated, “We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance.” Though this statement was widely lampooned on right-leaning American media outlets, it is worth examining: swimming pools, and choking on one’s food, are more deadly, all things being equal, than terrorism. Yet terrorism produces a “conceptual helplessness,” in which, “We seem to be left with no good choices. To call what happened on September 11 evil appeared to join forces with those whose simple, demonic conceptions of evil often deliberately obscure more insidious forms of it. Not to call the murders evil appeared to relativize them, to engage in forms of calculation that make them understandable—and risked a first step toward making them justifiable.”

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Sacrifice and the Crypto-theologies of Management

Sacrifice, or at least the discourse of sacrifice, is a recognizable aspect of popular management discourse and management scholarship of the “post-bureaucratic” variety, especially popular in America from the 1980s to the 2000s. The absence of bureaucratic structures of command necessitates other forms of authority, and notions of sacrifice form part of the symbolic armory of the post-bureaucratic chief executive—though, of course, post-bureaucracy is itself a symbolic myth more than a practical solution. In this talk I will set out some aspects and suggest, playfully, that there are crypto-theologies at work in management discourse and scholarship; I will finish by connecting these to the sacrifice and excess inherent in neoliberal forms of organization.

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