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Calm before the storm: Virilio’s debt to Foucault

| 22 April 1997
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In fact, there was no “industrial revolution”, but
only a “dromocratic revolution”; there is no democracy,
only dromocracy, there is no strategy, only dromology …
Thus, the related logic of knowing power, or power-
knowledge, is eliminated to the benefit of moving-power
— in other words the study of tendencies, of flows.
— Paul Virilio

In this short essay I aim to make a simple point: that dromocratic society cannot be understood in the absence of an historical reading of its predecessor and co-existent: disciplinary society. Paul Virilio’s claim therefore for the elimination of the logic of ‘power/knowledge’ by that of ‘moving-power’, though important, should be approached with caution. Both exist in parallel throughout modernity, the latter being only possible upon the precondition of the former.

So what does this mean? Three implications at least. First, that we may question the precision of Virilio’s dating of the ‘dromological revolution’, and the move to the ‘age of the accelerator’. As this qualification seems to me of interest only in passing I’ll not labour the point. Second, that we ought better to recognise — alongside military ‘dromomaniacs’ — the importance of a whole band of administrators, reformers, bureaucrats and technicians that sought actively to create societies at once suited for speed and tranquillity. This seems to me much more important, both as a corrective to Virilio’s overly militaristic reading of speed, and as a reminder that beneath the politics of speed (indeed, the politics of the military) is ultimately the politics of order. Third, that having better understood the history of man’s experience of power-in-motion over the modern epoch as a whole we may be better prepared to think about how political technology operates in our own immanent present. Taken together — I argue — Virilio and Foucault provide us with a whole battery of concepts with which we can approach the politics of contemporary dominant social realities.

I begin with the question of motion in the early modern period.

Imagining motion in the Classical age

In Madness and Civilization, philosopher Michel Foucault described how the ‘problem of mobility’ was central to the identification and diagnosis of insanity and unreason in the Classical age.1 Within the popular imaginary, mania was related to an ‘excessive mobility of the fibres’, leading to a lightness in disposition, and melancholia to a congestion and thickening of the blood, and subsequent dullness of character. An episteme of medical perception arose around the question of movement within the body. This episteme was embodied and reflected in a series of practices, suggestions and knowledges aimed to regulate the centre ground between the extremes of rapidity and stasis:

If it is true that madness is the irregular agitation of the spirits, the disordered movement of fibres and ideas, it is also obstruction of the body and the soul, stagnation of the humors, immobilization of the fibres in their rigidity, fixation of ideas and attention on a theme that gradually prevails over all others. It is then a matter of restoring to the mind and to the spirits, to the body and to the soul, the mobility which gives them life. This mobility, however, must be measured and controlled; it must not become a vain agitation of the fibres which no longer obey the stimuli of the exterior world. The animating movement that corresponds to the prudent mobility of the exterior world. Since madness can be dumb immobility, obstinate fixation as well as disorder and agitation, the cure consists in reviving in the sufferer a movement that will be both regular and real, in the sense that it will obey the rules of the world’s movements.2

The result, as Foucault described (also later in Discipline and Punish) was the gradual emergence of a ‘science of time’ mediating man’s relation to motion within the confines of acceptable limits to reason and order. The parameters of a whole society were established vis-à-vis the question of ‘movement’.

In Flesh and Stone, Foucault’s friend and collaborator, Richard Sennett, describes how this medical perception of movement came to define the organization of Classical and Baroque urban space. In doing so, Sennett, like Foucault, makes the crucial link between the organization of bodies and that of the broader ‘body-politic’. New principles of city planning and policing were emerging based upon the medical metaphors of ‘circulation’ and ‘flow’.3 The health of the body became the comparison against which the greatness of cities and states would be measured. The ‘veins’ and ‘arteries’ of the new urban design were to be freed from all sources of possible blockage:

Enlightened planners wanted the city in its very design to function like a healthy body, freely flowing as well as possessed of clear skin. Since the beginnings of the Baroque era, urban planners had thought about making cities in terms of efficient circulation of the people on the city’s main streets .. The medical imagery of life-giving circulation gave a new meaning to the Baroque emphasis of motion. Instead of planning streets for the sake of ceremonies of movement toward an object, as did the Baroque planner, the Enlightenment planner made motion an end in itself.4

The regularisation of cleanliness and sanitation, and the removal of madmen, beggars, vagabonds and idlers from the highway can be related to the question of the efficiency of movement that dominated the historical imaginary of the Classical age.5 As Julien Offray de La Mettrie would remark, only organised matter was endowed with the principle of motion.6 We may also add that matter endowed with the principle of motion was increasingly regarded as ‘ordered’. What was emerging was a particular relation between politics, space and time. In the words of Guillaute (a French police officer writing in 1749): “Public order will reign if we are careful to distribute our human time and space between the city and the country by a severe regulation of transit; if we are attentive to schedules as well as to alignments and signal systems; if by environmental standardization the entire city is made transparent, that is, familiar to the policeman’s eye.”7

Channelling movements

Running parallel to this mapping of the physical body, and the regularisation of the urban landscape, was a third form of motion — a kind of civic pulsation (the actual movement of bodies) — nascent and yet to be controlled. Contrary to common perception, this new civic energy finds its threshold not in the industrial and recreational innovations of the 19th century, but rather in transformations of state and society in the Classical age. Described by Mumford, it is the sixteenth century which marks the emergence of a new era of generalised mobility. The ‘new spirit of society’, he argues: “ .. was on the side of rapid transportation. The hastening of movement and the conquest of space, the feverish desire to ‘get somewhere’, were manifestations of the pervasive will-to-power. ‘The world’, as Stow remarked .. ‘runs on wheels’. Mass, velocity, and time were categories of social effort before Newton’s law was formulated.”8 Jacob Burckhardt’s classic study, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, traces this will-to-power back even further to the reconceptualisation of distance and space during the Crusades.9 For both, this new spirit could not be explained exclusively in terms of technology, but had to be seen within the context of what Burckhardt would call ‘systematisation’ (through which man would come to recognise himself), or what Mumford more knowingly would term biotechnics (the ways in which man codifies, differentiates and stratifies in establishing mastery over the realm of men and things).10

What both Mumford and Burckhardt point the way to is a pre-existing politico-administrative, rather than technico-military, history of speed, only in part foregrounded in the works of Paul Virilio. In actual fact — viewed in this way — the genealogy of speed takes on an entirely new dimension identified in the works of Michel Foucault, Gerhard Oestreich, and Brook Blair. In The Will to Know, for instance, Foucault traces the politico-theoretical imagination of what we may call ‘kinetic channelling’: the accumulation and direction of the energies and flows of the populace as a whole. In his classic study, Neostoicism and the early modern state, Oestreich charts a similar ambition in the Netherlands Movement, the revival of stoic values (late 16th century onward), and the rise of the constitutional state. Blair, more recently, has deepened this analysis to consider the advent of what he calls ‘universal productionist order’ and the ‘mass mobilizations’ of the modern epoch of biopower.11

For Foucault, a critical threshold is reached with the genesis and ascendance of concepts and practices of ‘reason of state’. In the lecture, ‘Omnes et Singulatim’, he describes how during the course of the sixteenth century a new principle of ‘civil prudence’ emerged: the populace was to be maximised as a productive force.12 The making of individuals ‘useful for the world’ became the central objective of political reason.13 Within this reason — dominated throughout the early modern epoch by the same physiological metaphors of ‘circulation’ and ‘fluidity’ — the principle of motion was in essence synonymous with the principle of production; of the functioning politico-economic order.

As Foucault was variously at pains to point out, this ‘functioning’ was to depend upon facilitating rather than the subduing the populace. In the words of von Rohr, writing at the turn of the 18thC: “The best means of enriching a land is to take care that many people are drawn into the land, and also that all the subjects though diligent labour may have their support and means of gain.”14 The metaphor of ‘drawing in’ captures perfectly what Foucault would describe with such effect as the broader transformation taking place: the ‘entry of life into history’ (the passing of the processes of human existence into the realm of knowledge, power and political technology).15 Underpinning this transformation was the neostoic revival in military discipline and drill embodied in the practices and procedures of Lipsius, Maurice of Nassau, Gustavus and Montecuccoli, and passed on through Eugene, Marlborough, Guibert and Frederick II, to the French Revolutionaries.16 Before men could be made to run at the enemy, they had first to be taught how to stand in space and time. This disciplinary revival — practised first on the military courtyard, and then in the General Hospital, the workhouse, the almshouse, and later the prison — was the essential first step in mastering and channelling the ‘release’ of energies of the newly ascendant masses, organised and brought forth (called forth even) by a whole range of political theorists and advisers.17

The image of society emerging was one of a complex of relays, each to be synchronised, made efficient and effective. In the words of 18th century thinker von Justi: “The domestic security of a state consists in such a well-ordered constitution of the same that all parts of the civic body are held in their appropriate correlation, and in the consequent repose .. ”18 If the ‘civil machine’ achieved a modicum of fluidity, productivity and order would be achieved simultaneously. As described by Immanuel Wallerstein, a new framework was required: “ .. within which individual mobility was possible without threatening hierarchical work-force allocation.”19 The aims of this process of mobilising and ordering would be expressed throughout the Eighteenth century in a mass of directives, codes and regulations through which modern social contractarianism was practised. “The foundations were laid .. ” writes Hubert Johnson, “ .. for the future development of an entrepreneurial bureaucracy that would, in the next century, work hand in glove with government.”20

Police science and the regularisation of energies

These foundations are found nowhere better than in contemporaneous ‘cameralistic’ writings of Seckendorff, Dithmar, and Darjes, among others. Under the alternative name of ‘police science’, these writings, taken together, embody a commitment to the social order and the emergence of a progress defined in material production. The assurance of motion was, for the cameralists, the surest way to ensure the ‘happiness of the state’. Man at once decentred in the Copernican revolution was recentred at the heart of political economy — or perhaps more precisely, political technology. This recentering had its own implications. Slowly but surely an organic view of society was emerging; one in which the dynamic relations of ‘men and things’ were to be synchronised. Niccolò Machiavelli clearly stands at a threshold here, but it is not until well into the eighteenth century that the parameters of the social order emerging could be recognised, and acted upon. Alongside the ‘system of positivities’ emerging the fields of science, medicine, jurisprudence, and commerce developed an equally important order of knowledge defined not by its space, but its relation to time; what we might call an episteme of conscious mobility.21 The new requirements for social order that developed with the turbulence of the money economy in the 15th and 16th centuries had, almost independently, suggested the means by which populations could be at once maximised and minimised.

This episteme is expressed nowhere better than in the actions of the single most successful and influential figure of the period: Frederick II of Prussia. Indeed, so aware it seems was he of the new requirements of conscious mobility (not only in warfare, also in bureaucratic management22 was its rapidity .. His secretaries and ministers testify to the tyrannical discipline which he exercised over his mind and body.  With punctilious regularity he disposed of everything as soon as it came to him .. He was compelled to order his ministers to send reports of no more than two folio pages … The kind was forever threatening officials with disgrace and dismissal if their reports were not drawn up with the utmost brevity.” Walter L. Dorn, ‘The Prussian Bureaucracy in the Eighteenth Century’, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. XLVI (1931), pp. 412-4.] … ) that one imagines that the remarkable words of the cameralist von Justi were written entirely for him: “A properly constituted state must be exactly analogous to a machine, in which all the wheels and gears are precisely adjusted to one another; and the ruler must be the foreman, and the main-spring, or the soul .. which sets everything in motion.”23 The threshold in the political economy of power at which he stands is so significant that perhaps it is necessary to add to Foucault’s formulation of the ‘birth of biopower’ with the notion of the ‘birth of biokinesis’ (the passing of movement into History, and the realm of political technology).

1789 and the disciplinary/dromological revolution

In the words of Martin Heidegger: “The breeding of human beings is not a taming in the sense of a suppression and hobbling of sensuality; rather, breeding is the accumulation and purification of energies in the univocity of the strictly controllable ‘automatism’ of every activity.”24 With Frederick we find the first statesman of the modern period to bring together the two themes that were emerging to dominate an historical horizon: biopower and dromological power. It is true that at the turn of the 19thC these elements were in any case running parallel. Foucault seemed well aware of this:

At first, [disciplines] were expected to neutralise dangers, to fix useless or disturbed populations, to avoid the inconveniences of over-large assemblies; now they were being asked to play a positive role, for they were becoming able to do so, to increase the possible utility of individuals. Military discipline .. increases the skill of each individual, coordinates these skills, accelerates movements, increases fire power, broadens the front of attack without reducing their vigour .. The discipline of the workshop, while remaining a way of enforcing respect for the regulations and authorities, of preventing thefts or losses, ends to increase aptitudes, speeds, output and therefore profits; it still exerts a moral influence over behaviour, but more and more it treats actions in terms of their results, introduces bodies into a machinery, forces into an economy.25

A ‘collective, obligatory rhythm’ was emerging; a ‘meticulous meshing’. “We have passed .. ” Foucault continues:

… from a form of injunction that measured or punctuated gestures to a web that constrains them or sustains them throughout their entire succession. A sort of anatomo-chronological schema of behaviour is defined .. Time penetrates the body and with it all the meticulous controls of power .. Disciplinary control does not consist simply in teaching or imposing a series of particular gestures; it imposes the best relations between a gesture and the overall position of the body, which its condition of efficiency and speed .. The principle that underlay the time-table in its traditional form was essentially negative; it was the principle of non-idleness .. Discipline, on the other hand, arranges a positive economy: it poses the principle of a theoretically ever-growing use of time: exhaustion rather than use; it is a question of extracting, from time, ever more available moments and, from each moment, ever more useful forces. This means that one must seek to intensify the use of the slightest moment, as if time, in its very fragmentation, were inexhaustible or as if, at least by an ever more detailed internal arrangement, one could tend towards an ideal point at which one maintained maximum speed and maximum efficiency .. 26

As Foucault goes on to describe, it was exactly this implementation of a new economy of movement through time that enabled Frederick to dominate the 18thC, becoming the model for military knowledge from there on in. Speed was to be taught as a virtue. Yet if Frederick was the foreman of this newly constituted machine-in-motion, Napoleon Bonaparte would become it’s soul. That great disciplinarian, commander of detail, would make his life-project the discovery of disciplinary-kinetics. More than anyone prior, he would embody the next phase of history, defined not so much by the ‘art of governing’, as what we might describe — with a certain sense of misgiving — as the ‘art of motorizing’.27 How far had European practice travelled from the Bourbon King who declared, “l’etat, c’est moi.”, to the military-Emperor who drew the subtle and yet profound distinction, declaring, “I am the man of the state. I am the revolution.”28

It is this moment in history that serves — as we know — as Paul Virilio’s point of departure. “Up until the nineteenth century .. ” he writes, “ .. society was founded on the brake.”29 Agrarian society then gives way to industrial or transportational society (or better still, ‘dromocratic society’). This society is built upon the possibility of ‘fabricating speed’: “And so they can pass from the age of the brakes to the age of the accelerator. In other words, power will be invested in acceleration itself.”30 An ‘unrecognised order of political circulation’ was emerging, crystallised finally in the French Revolution. The events of 1789, he writes:

… claimed to be a revolt against subjection, that is, against the constraint to immobility symbolised by the ancient feudal serfdom .. the arbitrary confinement and obligation to reside in one place. But no one yet suspected that the ‘conquest of the freedom to come and go’ so dear to Montaigne could, by a sleight of hand, become an obligation to mobility. The ‘mass uprising’ of 1793 was the institution of the first dictatorship of movement, subtly replacing the freedom of movement of the early days of the revolution. The reality of power in this first modern State appears beyond the accumulation of violence as an accumulation of movement.31

From this turning point (which was perhaps nothing more than a confirmation of a broader political investment in motion running parallel to the rise of commerce and the money economy, the militant-bureaucratic state, and new advances in the physical and medical sciences), Virilio goes on to charts the active planning of the time and space horizons of whole societies: what he calls the: “ .. primordial control of the masses by the organisms of urban defense.”32 For Virilio, as for Foucault, the aims of modern political rationality are clear: to make mobile the citizenry within the parameters of order, reason and tranquillity. Yet for Virilio, as again for Foucault, these parameters also included the channelling of surplus civic/kinetic energy for warfare. In the words of Virilio:

We can clearly distinguish two functions (or functionings) of the thus-mobilized proletarian base .. the new commercial bourgeoisie tends to enrich itself by amassing the productive movements (actions) of the industrial proletariat .. while the military class amasses the destructive act of the mobile masses, and the production of destruction is accomplished by the proletariat’s power of assault.33

And in the words of Foucault:

… wars were never as bloody as they have been since the nineteenth century, and all things being equal, never before did regimes visit such holocausts on their populations. But this formidable power of death — and perhaps this is what accounts for part of its force and the cynicism with which it has so greatly expanded its limits — now presents itself as the counterpart of a power that exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavours to administer, optimise, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations.34

So what we find — clearer in Foucault, but implicit in Virilio — is a parallel development of biopower and dromological power: a power that invests in bodies, and a power that puts those bodies in motion. Both forms of power — as their very roots in the classical age highlight — are concerned in the last analysis with the ordering, channelling, and disciplining of populations.

The biopolitical/dromological reversal

What Virilio adds to the story is a more focused description of the nineteenth century evolution of political technology, hinted at yet not fully assimilated in the works of Michel Foucault. From the threshold of modernity onward, disciplinary power invests less in the constitution of space than in the constitution of time. We may think of this as something of a rupture at the heart of modern political technology — one which continues to affect the practicalities of our lives. Individuals become subordinated to a higher realm of ordering (speed). Despite his interest in architecture, Virilio is then less concerned with the ways in which ‘stone can make people docile and knowable’, than the means by which revolution and not stasis has established itself as the universal principle of modern order, leading finally to what he has termed the ‘peace of exhaustion’.35 In essence (though Virilio seems uninterested in extending his historical analysis to take account of the early modern period) his works describe in outline the political technique through which the ‘problem’ of early modernity (of how to maximise the power of individuals for the prestige of the state within the confines of stability and good order) was transcended and neutralised. Over the modern period proper, no longer is the dilemma of government how to mediate between the extremes of rapidity and stasis, productionism and docility, circulation and revolution. By the time of Napoleon, the sentiments expressed just fifty years earlier by Julien Offray de La Mettrie had already been surpassed. As he had written:

The nature of motion is as unknown to us as that of matter .. [and I am] .. as content not to know how inert and simple matter becomes active and highly organised, as not to be able to look at the sun without red glasses … 36

Not only now would political rationality understand the motion of matter, and of bodies, it would seek above all to perfect the mechanisms of producing it. The ‘movement-of-movement’, or ‘speed’, as a technical achievement, emerges at this time (the early 19thC) as a societal principle, reordering the whole of the modern world.37 In the most radical way possible Virilio begins to answer the question of how efficiency was established in the modern urban landscape. He also uncovers — in the most discreet and disarming way (despite his want for rhetoric) — a whole new realm of power; one that still — 20 years after Speed and Politics was written — is yet to be explored in detail.

In the way of a summary of the history that I have aimed to highlight, let us imagine the flagpoints of that history in an alternative form: in early modernity we find a rabble populace, poorly disciplined, wandering, and blighted by the spectres of unreason, idleness and environmental destitution. The aim of political reason — in the context of broader societal transformations (the discovery of order through production, the rise of the money economy, commercialism and early mercantilism38 … ) — is to navigate a course between the extremes of revolution and stagnancy. Having recognised that (in the words of Botero) the ‘true strength of a ruler consists in his people’, political rationality aims to ‘multiply’ the citizenry as a productive force.39 A new politics of order, both of detail (looking into men’s souls), and of generality (the constitution of a whole society) becomes a technical necessity. Working together (what Foucault would describe as ‘anatomo-power’ and ‘biopower’), these techniques of intervention produced at the heart of the Classical age an initial halt. The power of movement was subject to a spatial codification (in the city, in the workhouse, in the hospital, in the manufactory).

By the beginnings of the 19thC this ‘codification’ had been achieved, and a second ‘reordering’ could now be effected. This reordering, rather than charting the middle ground between rapidity and stasis, aimed to ‘release’ the full productive, dynamic efficiency of the (national) population in and through time. Motion had emerged as the destiny and law of a new politics of order. The full equivalence of Virilio’s ‘metabolic vehicles’ to Foucault’s ‘bearers of order’ becomes clear. Dromological power — or in the words of Foucault, ‘capillary power’ — had emerged as the practical basis and first principle of the ‘free society’ and ‘coded individual’ established simultaneously with the apparatus of modern ‘governmentality’. Mobility, in other words, had become simultaneously the means to liberation and the means to domination; the ‘accumulation of men’ running simultaneously with ‘the accumulation of movement’, and — one might add — the ‘accumulation of capital’.

Bio-dromology and (global) capitalist modernity

On this note I want to change gear, moving now to consider — if only briefly — the importance of deepening Virilio’s genealogy of motion in the fashion outlined. As alluded to in the introduction, all of the above is not introduced as a corrective to Virilio’s historical slant. To do so would in many ways be irrelevant. Virilio is a dromologist, not an historian. As he himself admits: “I don’t believe in explanations. I believe in suggestions, in the obvious quality of the implicit.”40 Rather, the reason why I have attempted to sketch-out, in crude simplicity, the development of our modern experience of motion is because I think that together, the works of Paul Virilio and Michel Foucault describe in that experience the genealogy of capitalism. In doing so they open up a whole new political space for the effective critique of contemporary discourses of social reality, and in particular the ‘social reality’ of contemporary ‘advanced capitalism’.

For Foucault, biopower was the essential missing link in genealogy of capitalist modernity. As he insisted in Discipline and Punish: “ .. the two processes — the accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital — cannot be separated.”41 On the other side of the equation, Paul Virilio has stressed that his focus on speed in no way detracts from the importance of capital. As he insisted in Pure War: “Wealth is the hidden side of speed and speed is the hidden side of wealth.”42 And lest we forget, Marx also understood the political advantages of the collision of dromological/biopolitical technology:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and with them the relations of production, and with them all the relations of society .. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify … 43

Once in motion, political rationality had only to: “ .. give rhythm to the mobile mass’s trajectory through vulgar stimulation.”44

Nowhere better do we find resonances of this ‘vulgar stimulation’ than the ensemble of discourses that seem now in the ascendant (the discourses of globalism and globalization), fast overtaking the globe, and in the same movement creating anew a fast globe. These discourses, and their subsidiaries (informatisation, risk, competition, efficiency) — reflected and enacted in a whole panoply of specific practices —  are all linked the double movement sketched out above (the ‘will-to-speed’ and ‘modern governmentality’). Taken together — I argue — we stumble across the unwritten history of globalization, and in that, the unwritten history of contemporary advanced capitalism.

The links are fairly simple. With dromology: the will-to-speed finds its final realisation in the destruction of the space (astronautical flight, space obliterated in proportion to the velocity of the vehicle). This destruction, as a social principle (Mumford’s ‘desire to get somewhere’), has reduced the expanse of the world to naught, thrusting us into the global epoch. With governmentality: we need look only to the proliferating discourses of risk, competition, informatization, self-monitoring, self-organization, efficiency, effectiveness and excellence to get a taste of the ways in which the discourse of speed works to order the world into which individuals — indeed whole societies — are thrown. Each element feeds of the other: dromocratic power has encouraged the release of the will-to-speed through which we face what Virilio has termed the ‘negative horizon’ (the implosion of space under the violence of speed). In parallel, disciplinary society has actively sought to produce this violence of speed (first in the military, then in the factory, then in the school, then in the prison) as a technical instrument in the ordering of populations (‘populations at speed’).

Two principles then: speed and governmentality. These principles conform to two others: spatial annihilation; and the obligation-to-motivation. Both impulses are reflected in the deep social myths that accompany the discourses of globalism in our contemporary era. On spatial annihilation: in 1973 First National City Bank run an advertisement for their ‘global transfer system’ with the headline: “Citibank — the bank to look to for speed in moving money.”45 In 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev hails the ‘mechanism of acceleration’, and the putting of ‘society in motion’, by quoting the words of a Western politician: “If you do what you’ve conceived, this will have fantastic, truly global consequences.”46 “You wanted to travel?”, asks an ad for Sky-TV: “No need to bother.” “We believe .. ” runs a promotion for Kawasaki, “ .. that to fulfil our potential as a global corporation, we have to continually push back frontiers of space .. “47 On the obligation-to-motivation: in 1989 Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric talks of the ‘global moment’, of ‘lightening speed’, ‘fast action’, and ‘acting with speed’. “The world moves much faster today.”48 In 1991, President and CEO of Asea Brown Boveri, asks: “Why emphasise speed over precision? Because the costs of delay exceed the costs of mistakes.”49 In September 1994 The International Herald Tribune, distil perfectly the fearful risks apparent to all that operate to ensure the operation of universal governmentality: “For U.S. Corporations, the Modern-Day Byword Is ‘Globalize or Die’”.50

As suggested, both impulses have a deeper history. The following words accompanied a picture of the globe from space on an advertisement published for Ashland Oil and Refining Company in 1969:

Who can fail to be moved by the photographs of our earth — this great globe upon whose surface we dwell — taken from outer space? We gaze downward through the lens and from the vehicles of technology, seeing our planet from the perspectives provided by science. Uncounted centuries of thought and work preceded this moment; the contributions of generations went into its preparation. We count ourselves in this effort.51

Alternatively, take the advertisement for Daimler Benz published in 19 under the epigraph ‘Progress is the realisation of Utopias’ (Oscar Wilde), and beneath, the NASA earthrise. The dialogue ran as follows:

Making dreams come true is both a poetic and an accurate definition of progress. Consider man’s ancient dream of ‘automotion’, fulfilled at last by the automobile a century ago. But mankind’s dreams have always refused to remain earthbound. They have enabled him to soar like a bird, to explore distant planets. And today, science continues to uncover new mysteries and realise ever bolder dreams .. We continue to build the best automobiles in the world .. 52

The automobile is linked to the planets, the planets to the dreams of the ancients, and ourselves to the possibilities of the future. It is that future itself which establishes the obligation-to-motivation. “Companies that do not adapt to the new global realities will become victims of those that do.”53 “The good news is .. ” writes Tom Peters, “ .. You have no choice.”54 There is, in the words of Walter Wriston, ‘no place to hide’.55 ‘Man waiting for motivation’, ‘productivity through people’, ‘involve everyone in everything’, ‘create a sense of urgency’, establish ‘friction-free capitalism’: as Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute has argued, in the face of global competition: “ .. people are going round with guillotines over their heads.”56

Bio-global, biokinetic society: securitization through speed

“[I]t is the permanence of speed that creates the total peace, the peace of exhaustion.57 In one sentence Virilio illustrates perfectly what I would argue are the biopolitical impulses of our immanent (global) present. What I have tried to do is to introduce the longer political history to this ‘peace of exhaustion’, through an analysis of the imagination of motion in the early modern period, and its subsequent inclusion into the development of disciplinary society. I also suggested along the way that what we see emerge — over the period of modernity as a whole — is something more than simply disciplinary society. This ‘something more’ is a form of society that, in the words of Virilio again, pursues peace through exhaustion, that is, through speed. In this sense it might be possible to add to Michel Foucault’s formulation of the ‘birth of biopolitics’ (the techniques of disciplinary society), the notion of the ‘birth of biokinesis’ (the techniques of dromo-disciplinary society). In particular this seems a fruitful way to politicise the rise to hegemony of the political discourses of globalization, informatisation, risk and competition. What I have suggested is that in combination the works of urbanist Paul Virilio late philosopher-historian Michel Foucault, open new ground by which to interrogate modern political technology, and in particular, its contemporary transformations and appearances.

Virilio then, I would suggest finally, stands in part as the successor, debtor, and faithful disciple — if unrecognised — of the late professor of the Collège de France. No doubt there were differences between them (if indeed they had regular contact).58 Yet the similarities, to me, are more striking. Virilio, like Foucault, is clearly ‘taking aim at the heart of the present’.59 In doing so — again like Foucault — he opens up, as he writes, multiple sites of contestation and struggle. Indeed, if Foucault was the thinker in our century to radicalise — in his genealogies of the asylum, the clinic, philology, natural history, political economy, the prison, and sexuality — the politics of space, perhaps we may say that Paul Virilio is his complement, both in method and range, in his radicalisation of the politics of time. It remains, however, to be seen whether Virilio will, like Foucault, take on the role of an opener of worlds, suggesting, if not prescribing, how the practices and rationalities of violence that surround us may be faced-down with courage and defiance. Perhaps Virilio is himself too fascinated by velocity to pause enough to think out the alternatives.

This paper was first published as “The Calm before the Storm: Virilio’s debt to Foucault and some notes on contemporary global capital” by the eJournal SPEED, 14 November 1997.
  1. See: Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (Tavistock, 1967), pp. 123-134., pp. 160-177, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Allen Lane, 1977), pp. 135-169. Michel Foucault was one of the first thinkers of the French postwar to effectively pick up on the links between the problem of ‘mobility’ and the regularisation of society.
  2. Foucault, Madness and Civilization, pp. 172-3.
  3. See: Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization (Faber and Faber, 1994), William Harvey, De Motu Cordis (Frankfurt, 1628), and Thomas Willis, Two Discourses Concerning the Souls of Brutes (London, 1684).
  4. Sennett, Flesh and Stone, pp. 263-4.
  5. In addition to the works of Sennett and Foucault, see: Thomas Osborne, ‘Security and vitality: drains, liberalism and power in the nineteenth century’, and Alan Hunt, ‘Governing the city: liberalism and early modern modes of governance’, in: Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne and Nikolas Rose, Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, neo-liberalism and rationalities of government (UCL Press, 1996), and the essays ‘The mobilization of society’, and ‘Pleasure in work’, by Jacques Donzelot in: Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller (Eds), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991).
  6. Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Man a Machine (Open Court, 1912, origin., 1748), p. 140. The organization of the ‘idle’ was a particular concern. See: Charles Woolsey Cole, Colbert and a Century of French Mercantilism, Volume II (Columbia University Press, 1939), pp. 470-475. See also: Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization, pp. 38-64.
  7. quoted in Virilio, Speed and Politics, p. 18.
  8. Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (Harvest, 1961), p. 368.
  9. Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (Mentor: New York, 1960), pp. 211-14. See also: William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force and Society Since AD 1000 (Chicago, 1982), pp. 63-116.
  10. Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine, Volume 2 (Harcourt, 1970), Graphic 4.
  11. See: Michel Foucault, ‘Right of Death and the Power over Life’, in, The History of Sexuality: Vol. 1, Introduction (Allen Lane: 1979).  See also: ‘The Political Technology of Individuals’ in: Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman and Patrick H. Hutton (Eds), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault (Tavistock, 1988), pp. 145-162, and ‘Governmentality’ in: Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller (Eds), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), Gerhard Oestreich, Neostoicism and the Early Modern State (Cambridge, 1984), and Brook M. Blair, Knowledge, Power and the Modern State: Towards a Genealogy of Universal Productionist Order, 1500-1815 (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Newcastle, 1996).
  12. See: Michel Foucault, ‘Omnes et Singulatim: Towards a Criticism of “Political Reason”’, in: Sterling M. McMurrin (Ed.), The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Vol. 2 (University of Utah Press: 1981).  For a more in-depth discussion see: Maurizio Viroli, From Politics to Reason of State: The Acquisition and Transformation of the Language of Politics 1250-1600 (Cambridge, 1992).
  13. Viet Ludwig von Seckendorff, Der Teutsch Fürstenstaat (1656), Der Christen Staat (1685), Justus Christoph Dithmar, Oeconomie, Polizei- und Cameralwissenchaft (1755), Joachim Georg Darjes, Elementa metaphysica (1743), Institutiones juriprudentiae universalis (1745), Discurs uber Natur- und Volkerrecht (1762).  See: Albion M. Small, The Cameralists: The Pioneers of German Social Polity (University of Chicago Press, 1909), pp. 60-106, pp. 222-231, pp. 267-284.  Beyond Small’s magisterial compendium only a handful of studies have been published in English, among them: Hubert C. Johnson, ‘The Concept of Bureaucracy in Cameralism’, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 3 (1964), pp. 378-402, Marc Raeff, ‘The Well-Ordered Police State and the Development of Modernity in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Europe: An Attempt at a Comparative Approach’, The American Historical Review, Vol. 80, No. 2 (1975), pp. 1221-1243, Keith Tribe, ‘Cameralism and the Science of Government’, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 56, No. 2 (1984), pp. 263-284, and Blandine Barret-Kriegel, ‘Michel Foucault and the Police State’ in: Timothy Armstrong (ed) Michel Foucault, Philosopher (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992).
  14. Julius Bernhard von Rohr, Haushaltungsbibliothek (1716), quoted in: Small, The Cameralists, p. 189.  See: Giovanni Botero in The Reason of State (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956), Book IV, chpt. 7, ‘Of the poor’.
  15. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, pp. 141-2.  For Foucault, from the classical period onward, the body was discovered as an ‘object and target of power’, that: “ .. may operate as one wishes, with the techniques, the speed and the efficiency that one determines.”  Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 138.
  16. See: Foucault, Discipline and Punish, and Peter Paret (Ed.), Makers of Modern Strategy: from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton, 1986), pp. 32-213.
  17. For detailed historical discussion see: A.W. Ward, G.W. Prothers and Stanley Leathers (Eds.), The Cambridge Modern History, Vol IV: The Eighteenth Century (CUP, 1909) and Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Louis XIV (MJF Books, 1963), The Age of Voltaire (MJF Books, 1965), Rousseau and Revolution (MJF Books, 1968), and The Age of Napoleon (MJF Books, 1975)
  18. Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justi, Staatswirthschaft (1758)Quoted in Small, The Cameralists, pp. 315-393.
  19. Immanuel Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism (Verso, 1983), p. 85.
  20. Hubert C. Johnson, Frederick the Great and His Officials, (Yale, 1975), p. 277.
  21. for a discussion of methodology in relation to the historical analysis of ‘epistemes’, see: Foucault, The Order of Things, pp. ix-xxiv.  See also: Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (Tavistock, 1972).
  22. Frederick’s new principles of ‘rapid, massive volley’ have been frequently recognised as the core strength of his military genius.  Among other things, Frederick was the first to introduce horse artillery. See: Gerhard Ritter, ‘Frederician Warfare’, and Ernst Friedrich Rudolf von Barsewisch, ‘The Battle of Hochkirch’ in: Peter Paret (ed), Frederick the Great: A Profile (Macmillan, 1972). Yet the focus on ‘speed’ also infiltrated his entire administration.  As Walter Dorn describes: “The chief merit of [Frederick’s bureaucracy
  23. Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justi, quoted in: Geraint Parry, ‘Enlightened Government and its Critics in Eighteenth-Century Germany’, Historical Journal, Vol. VI (1963), p. 182.
  24. Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche (Harper Collins, 1991, Vol III), pp. 230-31.
  25. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 210.
  26. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 210.
  27. Michel Serres argues a similar point in analysing the transition from the ‘clockwork age’ to the ‘motor age’.  See: Michel Serres, ‘It was before the (World) Exhibition’, in: Jean Clair and Harold Szeeman (Eds), Junggesellenmaschinen; les machines celibataires (Venice: Alfieri, 1975).  See also: Elias, The Civilizing Process, p. 37., Manuel De Landa, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (Zone Books, 1991), p. 141., and Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Volume II: The Rise of Classes and Nation-States, 1760-1914 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 447-450.
  28. emphasis added. I thank Brook Blair for reference to this quotation.  See Blair, Knowledge, Power and the Modern State.
  29. Virilio, in Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer, Pure War (Semiotext(e), 1983), p. 44-5.  Virilio’s, Popular Defense and Ecological Struggles (Semiotext(e), 1990), and L’ Insecurite du Territoire (Stock, 1976), work with very similar themes.
  30. Virilio, in Virilio and Lotringer, Pure War, pp. 44-5.  As Mumford was also to describe: “From the eighteenth century on, power and speed become the chief criteria of technological progress .. While motor cars are still built with brakes, reverse gears, and steering wheels, as well as accelerators, the power complex today is preoccupied only with acceleration .. ” Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon of Power, The Myth of the Machine, Vol. II (Harvest, 1970), Graphic section I/4.
  31. Virilio, Speed and Politics, p. 30.
  32. Virilio, Speed and Politics, p. 15.
  33. Virilio, Speed and Politics, pp. 30-1.
  34. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, p. 137.
  35. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 171., Virilio, Popular Defense and Ecological Struggles, p. 32.  For Virilio this clearly has political implications: “ .. the rise of totalitarianism goes hand-in-hand with the development of the state’s hold over the circulation of the masses.”  Virilio, Speed and Politics, p. 16.
  36. La Mettrie, Man a Machine, p. 140.
  37. Virilio, in Virilio and Lotringer, Pure War, pp. 32-3.
  38. “Cities full of tradesmen and craftsmen and merchants love peace and tranquillity.”  Botero, The Reason of State, p. 102.
  39. Botero, The Reason of State, Book VII, chpts. 11 (‘The people’) and 12 (‘The need for a numerous population’), and Book VIII, chpts. 1 (‘Two ways by which a prince may increase his strength and the number of his people’), 2 (‘Of agriculture’), and 3 (‘Of industry’).
  40. Virilio, in Virilio and Lotringer, Pure War, p. 38.
  41. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 221.
  42. Virilio, in Virilio and Lotringer, Pure War, p. 30.
  43. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Pelican, 1967), p. 83.
  44. Virilio, Speed and Politics, p. 4.
  45. Foreign Affairs, Vol. 51 No. 4 (1973), p. A-1.
  46. Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World (William Collins, 1987), p. 64, p. 131.
  47. The Economist, ‘Japan Survey’ (July 09-15, 1994), p. 8.
  48. Jack Welch, quoted in: Noel Tichy and Ram Charan, ‘Speed, Simplicity, Self-Confidence: An Interview with Jack Welch’, Harvard Business Review (September-October, 1989), p. 115.
  49. Percy Barnevik, in: William Taylor, ‘The Logic of Global Business: An Interview with ABB’s Percy Barnevik’, Harvard Business Review (March-April, 1991), p. 104.
  50. International Herald Tribune (3-4, September 1994), p. 15.
  51. Harvard Business Review, July-August, 1969, p. 17.
  52. Daimler Benz marketing campaign, 1995-6.
  53. Theodore Levitt, ‘The Globalization of Markets’ Harvard Business Review (May-June, 1983), p. 93-112 (emphasis added).
  54. Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution (Pan Books, 1987), p. 189. Peter’s ‘handbook’ is precisely where the ‘archive’ of the global age—if one wants to find it—lies. The precise balance between speed and the demand for reflexivity; between the State and the decentralisation of power; between the autonomy of individual afforded by globalism and the pressures borne upon bodies, is apparent in every line.  See also: Thomas J. Peters, Liberation Management: necessary disorganization for the nanosecond nineties (Fawcett, 1994), Robert Waterman, Frontiers of Excellence: the journey towards success in the 21st century (Allen and Unwin, 1994), and Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies (Harper and Row, 1982).
  55. Walter Wriston, ‘Technology and Sovereignty’, Foreign Affairs Vol. 67 (1988), p. 71.
  56. Peters and Waterman, In Search of Excellence, pp. 55-86, pp. 235-278, Peters, Thriving on Chaos, pp. 285-294, pp. 471-477,  Bill Gates, The Road Ahead (Viking, 1995).  Norman Ornstein, quoted in: Reginald Dale, ‘Toward the Millennium: the economic revolution has begun’ Special Report: Global Agenda, TIME, International (13 March, 1995), pp. 45-6.
  57. Virilio, Speed and Politics, p. 46.
  58. only one encounter seems to have made publication in English.  This is the panel discussion ‘Confining Societies’ reproduced in Michel Foucault, Foucault Live (Semiotext(e), 1996).
  59. Jürgen Habermas, ‘Taking aim at the heart of the present’ in: David Cousins Hoy (Ed.), Foucault: A Critical Reader (Blackwell, 1986), pp. 103-108.
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We negate and we must negate because something in us wants to live and affirm — Friedrich Nietzsche