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Cows and Sovereignty Arrow Vol 1 No 2 Contents
About borderlands Volume 1 Number 2, 2002

 

Cows and Sovereignty: Biopower and Animal Life


Dinesh Joseph Wadiwel
University of Western Sydney



1. A fragment:

Five hundred police have been ordered to protect Australian cattle in Korea after angry farmers bashed eight beasts to death in protest against live-stock imports.

The Korean Government’s move was confirmed yesterday by officers from Meat and Livestock Australia in Seoul. They said another 500 police were on standby in case of more violence…

Meat and Livestock Australia’s Korean manager, Mr Andrew Neglane, said the deployment of police, and the movement of the quarantined cattle had kept the trade alive in the face of opposition from local farmers (Sydney Morning Herald, 2001: 6).

Foucault argues that the emergence of biopolitics signifies a movement away from the rule by the sword which traditionally characterised sovereign power in the west. The new Sovereign displays a concern towards the fostering of the life of the citizen, even if, in relation to the frequent and bloody wars in recent human history, this life is secured through mass violence (Foucault, 1998: 137). Foucault suggests that the modern sovereign does not so much exercise "the ancient right to take life or let live," but is instead synonymous with a "power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death" (1998: 138). This modern sovereign has sheathed its sword, and now carefully utilises a set of instruments to regulate the biological life of the populations within its domain.

2. But how does the question of life itself relate to the life of the (non-human) animal? The scene described in the fragment above could count as a spectacle of modern biopolitics. Certainly, if the quarantined cows were substituted for humans, then it would be possible to detect with more clarity the ‘politics’ of this situation, and recognise the relation of life (and death) to these politics. That cows, and other non-human animals, are not clearly eligible for consideration within a discussion of biopolitics, is not due to any essential poverty in the potential scope of Foucault’s term. Rather, the deficiency relates to the tradition of politics itself, at least in the West, which has, by and large, exempted the non-human animal from agency as a political being. This tradition may be traced concretely to Aristotle, and his pronouncement that ‘man’ distinguishes ‘himself’ from other animals through the perfection of ‘his’ status as a ‘political animal’(1952: 446). Thus for Aristotle, ‘Man’ is not a transcendent being who is unrelated to the animal life; rather, ‘man’ is defined as an animal with a surplus ability over and above other animal life. Upon this reckoning, the gap between non-human and human animals is the ability to vocalise principles related to expediency (or rationality) and justice — a gap which, for all intents, defines the meaning of politics itself, at least in so far as it is perfected by ‘man.’ For even if there were to be a non-human animal who, through a vocalisation, could make itself understood, that being would still lack the ability to comprehend justice, which for Aristotle characterises ‘man’ as the political animal par excellence (1952: 446). This assertion, that there is something essential that separates humans from the rest of the animals, is hardly limited to Aristotle, and has remained in various forms within Western philosophy; whether in the belief that ‘man’ possesses an ‘immortal’ soul which animals lack; or that ‘man’ possesses a sort of exemplary consciousness which other living matter has no access to.

3. If it were possible to close our eyes to the gap that we believe separates ourselves from other animals, then the meaning of politics itself changes radically. In the modern context, bio-politics is not only the operation of a range of instruments which direct the attention of power towards questions of human life, but towards all life, in the broadest possible sense. This is evident when one considers the role of the modern sovereign, which not only manages the life of its human subjects, but turns its attention to the management of all animal and plant life within its domain. Thus the sovereign determines with the force of law the life which it protects and makes flourish (certain birds and whales, for example); the life which it regulates and surveys (for example the dingo and kangaroo populations which are carefully monitored in Australia); and finally the life which it must resolutely extinguish (the mass slaughter of ‘diseased’ cattle in Europe during 2001 as the emblematic example). Yet it is when one considers the concentrated mechanisms of power that have been developed in relation to other animals, such as the experimentation upon non-human life within science and medicine, and the use of non-human life for human food production, that one may sense the grand scale towards which whole global industries are devoted to the question of life. Here we find, in large factory farms, or in high-tech laboratories, all the ingenuity of contemporary bio-political control, evolved into highly developed technologies. The key questions which relate to biopolitical life are asked here: How much life? What duration of life? What is the cost of life? How best to reproduce? What manner of death? The life of cattle (or ‘livestock’ as they are aptly named) is vulnerable to a politics of ‘life and death,’ where the political question returns to life itself. The mass slaughter of ‘diseased’ cows in 2001 represents the extreme extent of this power: a power that includes the prerogative exercised by the sovereign, in the moment of crisis, to darken the skies of Europe with the ashes of the dead.

4. Giorgio Agamben’s concept of ‘bare’ life does not explicitly include animal life, although as discussed below, it inevitably returns human life to a point where it becomes indistinct from that of (non-human) animals. Agamben’s term ‘bare life’ originates in Walter Benjamin’s work "Critique of Violence," where the term used by Benjamin — bloße Leben (1966: 63) — signifies "bare life," "naked life," "uncovered life," or as in the Edmund Jephcott translation of the piece, "mere life."(1996). For Benjamin, ‘mere life’ is life that is the subject of ‘mythical violence’: that is violence which Benjamin suggests founds law, mirroring that of the gods of Greek mythology; a violence which does not merely punish (or maintain law), but at the moment at which it strikes, creates law itself (1996:248). Benjamin states that all "violence as a means is either lawmaking or law-preserving"(1996: 243). Lawmaking violence refers to an extraordinary violence which is wielded without strict precedent, which subsequently ushers in new law — the torture and execution of Damiens the regicide, which Foucault describes in his introduction to Discipline and Punish, is one example (1991). Law-preserving violence is that force which the sovereign wields within the bounds of already existing law (for example the routine prosecution of those committed of breaches of regulations.) For Benjamin, law is caught ‘oscillating’ between these two exercises of violence as a means (1996: 251).

5. Agamben’s working of ‘bare life’ is located between the oscillation of lawmaking and law-preserving violence. Agamben suggests that the bare or ‘sacred’ life may be distinguished as that ‘life that may be killed but not sacrificed’ (1998):

The most ancient recorded forms of capital punishment (the terrible poena cullei, in which the condemned man, with his head covered in wolf-skin, was put in a sack with serpents, a dog and a rooster, and then thrown into water, or defenestration from the Tarpean rock) are actually purification rites and not death penalties in the modern sense: the neque fas est eum immolari served precisely to distinguish the killing of homo sacer from ritual purifications, and decisively excluded sacratio from the religious sphere in the strict sense (1998: 81).

That the law reserves the right to take life is something that has traditionally been associated with the prerogative of the sovereign, although in the contemporary context, as noted above in relation to Foucault’s observations on modern sovereignty, this right may be exercised with differing tactics (e.g. mass war) and towards a different end (i.e. life) than that exercised by the kings of old. But what is distinctive for Agamben about sovereign power is the attempt to wrest life, both from the rule of law ("to kill without constituting homicide") and from the divine ("to kill without sacrifice.") Sovereignty, in the act of condemnation, may both commit the act which it itself forbids (thus the state reserves the right to ‘murder’ without apparent contradiction ‘in law’) and exempt the condemned from any trace of the divine in his or her punishment. If, as Benjamin states, the threat of a divine or ‘pure’ violence (that is a violence not exercised as means, rather as an expiatory force) is that it deposes sovereign power — "on the abolition of state power, a new historical epoch is founded" (1996: 252) — then earthly state making is bound in the exorcism of the threat of the divine from within the sphere of its violence. The bodies of the condemned are not presented up as an offering to the gods, but instead as boundary posts, marked by violence, of the law.

6. It is this power of the sovereign, to create a space where life is neither subject to law, nor to divine sacrifice, that Agamben links to Carl Schmitt’s argument that sovereignty’s definitive power lies in its ability to constitute exception (Schmitt, 1988). The moment where the sovereign decides upon the exception is the moment when the law is apparently suspended. The ‘state of emergency’, declared in the moment of ‘crisis’, is evoked in order for the sovereign to exercise a power which temporarily puts out of operation the laws and rights which are otherwise enforced. The ‘martial law’ declared in Beijing in 1989, for example, which eventuated in the death of up to 4000 people, created the opportunity for a violence which did not clearly make the law, nor maintain law, but moved indeterminately between these two forms of violence (the military were both ‘maintaining order’ and ‘taking extra-ordinary measures’). Yet whilst for Schmitt the essence of the power of exception is encapsulated in the decision the sovereign casts in the state of emergency — "an absolute decision created out of nothingness" (1988: 66) — for Agamben the exception is treated as a ‘sphere’ within which the exceptional decision may be made, and where the life that is captured within this sphere becomes the focus of exception. To refer once more to the example of the Beijing massacre, on 1.30am on June 4th government loudspeakers around Tiananmen Square broadcast a warning that the army "would no longer exercise restraint" and that the "personal safety of those who disregarded this warning 'could no longer be guaranteed'" (Brook, 1992: 135).

7. Agamben’s notion of bare life is the synthesis of three theoretical reflections upon sovereignty; firstly, Benjamin’s ‘bare life,’ which for Agamben, is the "bearer of the link between violence and law,"(1998: 65) secondly, Schmitt’s concept of exception; and finally Foucault’s reflections upon the relation of sovereignty to bio-power. Agamben’s bare life is not only the subject of the violence of the law, but also specifically, the life that occupies the space that is vulnerable to the exceptional violence of the sovereign. The power of the sovereign is founded upon the right to declare an exception with regard to life, and rule indeterminately over that life which is subject to this ban. (For example in 2001, the Australian government located ‘detention centres’ for asylum seekers on various islands in the Pacific, outside of the jurisdiction of regular law.) Yet it is this very focus of the sovereign upon the life that is held within the sphere of exception that also transforms the sphere of exception into a biopolitical space: Agamben comments, therefore, that "Western politics is a biopolitics from the very beginning" (1998: 181). If the distinctive power of the sovereign is to name the exception, and this power is founded upon life itself, then the political question, in so far politics remains articulated through the State, has never been able to escape from the constitution of life.

8. It is in this sense that Agamben can proclaim that today "it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the west" (1998: 181). The city, which stands as the symbol of the civil politic and the sign of the "Covenant’" through which citizens join together and invest their authority in the sovereign (Hobbes, 1994: 100), does not for Agamben represent the founding impulse of the modern state, rather this impulse is to be found in exception. If Western sovereignty is characterised by exception, then it cannot be founded fundamentally upon inclusion, rather an inclusive exclusion; the creation of a space within the realm of sovereign power which is nevertheless exempted from both law and rights: "Sovereign violence is in truth founded not on a pact but on the exclusive inclusion of bare life in the state" (Agamben, 1998: 107). The camp, as the physical space where life is held within a zone of sovereign exception, is not regarded by Agamben as an historical "anomaly," but rather as the "hidden matrix and nomos of the political space in which we are still living" (1998: 166). The relation of the camp to sovereignty is one where the powers exercised routinely by the sovereign are present within the space of the camp in a refined and intensified form. If one considers for example the ‘law’ of the camp, it is difficult to locate its governing rules, since within the space, as is infamously recorded in the history of concentration camps in the twentieth century, anything is painfully possible. The law appears as suspended, because the camp is a physical space of pure exception, where decisions over the life of its inmates may be made quickly, without reference to regular legal convention (courts, defence, evidence etc.) Yet this same space is legitimised by the sovereign as ‘within the law.’ The camp is also a space for the exercise of a concentrated biopolitics. Not only is this a space where nutrition, sleep, movement, sexuality and work may be ruthlessly surveyed, but the character of every decision is one that inevitably refers to the mere fact of living. (In the Nazi extermination camps, prisoners either joined the queue for the gas chamber, or if fit enough, joined the ranks of prisoners forced to assist in the exterminations). In this sense, the politics of the camp is purely of ‘life and death.’

9. Upon consideration of these aspects of the camp, and its relation to exception and bare life, the applicability of animal life to these concepts becomes apparent, particularly in the case of the literally billions of animals held in factory farms, as well as those who are subject to scientific experimentation. The numbers killed provide a sense of the scale of these operations: Kim Stallwood claims that in 1993, "93 million pigs were slaughtered for consumption in the United States…as were 33.3 million steers, heifers, calves and dairy and beef cows; 5.2 million sheep and lambs; and 7 billion chickens" (1996: 194). The life of particular non-humans, such as that of battery hens, involves the careful management of the life of the hen, where a balance is struck between achieving maximal profit through the imposition of the most minimal conditions for life: "on a sloping wire floor (sloping so the eggs roll down, wire so the dung drops through) the birds live for a year or 18 months while artificial lighting and temperature conditions combine with drugs in their food to squeeze the maximum number of eggs out of them" (Singer, 1996: 16). The horror of such a life is only imaginable when one considers the human equivalents of such shrewd and calculating management of life, which of course can be found most clearly in the camp. It is therefore not without significance that Isaac Bashevis Singer states that in "relation to them [animals], all people are Nazis: for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka" (qtd. in Wynne-Tyson, 1985: 335).

10. But the relation of non-human life in the factory farm or laboratory, and human life held in the camps is not merely limited to outward appearance. For the exceptionary power of sovereignty, which Agamben suggests is central to the power exercised over the human in the camp, can also be applied to non-human animal life. Exception is an increasingly general principle for the organisation of vast sections of animal life across the planet as a whole. Animal life, even when not held in captivity and governed by specific regulations relating to the use of animals for food or research, is nevertheless contained by the powers of the sovereign. Oceans and rivers, forests and deserts, are not only physical territories held within the domain of the sovereign, but increasingly sites for the investment of resources and technologies towards the management of non-human animal life. Vast socio-technical networks may be mobilised for such operations, which, as Catharina Landström argues in her analysis of the release of Rabbit Calicivirus Disease in Australia, involves not only the deployment of means for control, but the development of narrative by which such means may be justified (Landström, 2001). Yet such management does not operate through some uniformly applied principle relating to all biological life (e.g. all life has a ‘right to live’): rather, to spaces of exception where each respective bio-population is given consideration, value and a tailored strategy. The extension of law over particular aspects of non-human animal life during the century, which in some cases has arguably allowed particular populations of species to enjoy the protection of the law, has also enabled the extension of the State’s managerial powers over an increasingly large section of both human and non-human life on the planet.

11. In the cases of factory farming, and animal experimentation, the lives of the animals involved in these industries is always caught in an exceptionary space. Thus the anti-cruelty acts which have been passed at various times over the last century, particularly in the West, have always provided an exception for animals used for science, and animals used for food. Hence the apparent contradiction, that it is illegal to act violently towards a dog on a public street, yet, this same dog, within a laboratory, may be used in a variety of painful experiments without attracting legal attention.

12. Further, in so far as it is licit to inflict violence upon a non-human animal in particular situations (e.g. for research or for food), the test for animal cruelty, that non-human animals are not to unnecessarily suffer, also contains within it an implicit exception, that non-human animal suffering deemed necessary is acceptable by law. Mike Radford, writing on the relation of animal welfare to law, states:

the notion of unnecessary suffering means not only that the law contemplates there to be situations in which suffering can be regarded as necessary, and therefore lawful, but also treatment that might be regarded as unlawful in one context- on the basis that it causes unnecessary suffering- can be considered lawful in another because the court takes the view that suffering is necessary (Radford, 1996: 69).

Yet the capacity of the law, to deem suffering necessary in particular circumstances is not a power that is limited in scope to non-human animals, but includes humans themselves, since this is the prerogative the sovereign exercises in the use of legitimised violence: the ability of the sovereign to make suffer, or "disallow to the point of death," is one that is inescapably part of the power to punish. The only discernible difference between the suffering imposed upon the human, and that of the non-human animal, is that humans, in so far as they have attributed themselves freedom of will, are also liable to suffer the weight of ‘guilt’ before the law, something non-human animals are usually exempt from since they are, at least in the modern era (Scott, 1995: 278), always ‘innocent.’ Yet if consideration over the innocence or guilt of non-human animal life is left aside, then any obscurity around the nature of all animal life (human included) in the state of exception vanishes. For it may be observed that the control of life, the power to allow and disallow life, extends to all living beings within the space of exception: in this sense, Agamben’s analysis of the relation of life to sovereign power may be extended to incorporate the life belonging to the non-human.

13. The concept of bare life, which refers to life that is held within the grasp of the legitimised violence of the sovereign, is directly applicable to the life of the animal, particularly that life which is subject to a biological control which is directed towards power. Consider the following passage from Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation on the life of calves raised for veal production:

Without any iron at all the calves would drop dead. With a normal intake their flesh will not fetch as much per pound. So a balance is struck which keeps the flesh pale and the calves — or most of them — on their feet long enough for them to reach their market weight (Singer, 1986: 132).

The short life of the veal calf is one which is determined strictly within the coordinates of domination. Calculations made around nutritional and fluid intake, lighting levels, stall size and flooring are directed towards the maximisation of market profit from the production of the correctly coloured and textured flesh of the animal. But the priority of the life of the veal calf, no matter how short or painful, is apparent in this process. The life of the calf, maintained in a bare, weak state, is maintained scrupulously to prevent a premature death; a death that threatens the profitability of that life for the livestock complex. Thus a ‘balance’ is struck, where life is held at a point that borders upon death itself.

14. Digging deeper into Agamben’s concept of bare life, we find a further link between human bare life, and the life of non-human animals. For Agamben suggests that the bare life is not only a site of indistinction between lawmaking and law-preserving violence, but also the point where a number of other fundamental distinctions are blurred, including that between nature and society, and the animal and the human:

Accordingly, when Hobbes founds sovereignty by means of a reference to the state in which "man is a wolf to men," homo hominis lupis, in the word "wolf" (lupus) we ought to hear the echo of the wargus and the caput lupinem of the laws of Edward the Confessor: at issue is not simply fera bestia and natural life but rather a zone of indistinction between the human and the animal, a werewolf, a man who is transformed into a wolf and a wolf who is transformed into a man - in other words a bandit, a homo sacer…This threshold alone, which is neither simple natural life nor social life but rather bare life or sacred life, is the always present and always operative presupposition of sovereignty (Agamben, 1998: 105-6).

The Hobbesian sovereign delivers human life from the chaos of nature through the promise of a legitimised violence, in lieu of ‘natural’ violence wielded by life in the state of nature: a war, "as is of every man against every man" (Hobbes, 1994: 71). The investment of the civil populace in the sword of the sovereign is the divestment of nature into the sovereign power. But this is not a divestment that promises the extinguishment of violence, only the illegitimisation of violence not wielded at the sovereign’s blessing, and thus the internalisation of the ‘violence of nature’ into the hands of the state. Consequently the life which is caught in the ‘ban’ of the sovereign is not a life that is exempted from the law (and thus surrendered completely to nature), but life that is both held within and without the sovereign. The power of exception is a power to reduce the human to the animal, yet in this same movement, animal life is not provided a freedom or redemption from law, rather a life caught between law and ‘nature’. This life is "a threshold of indistinction and of passage between animal and man, physis and nomos, exclusion and inclusion: the life of the bandit is the life of the loup garou, the werewolf, who is precisely neither man nor beast, and who dwells paradoxically within both while belonging to neither" (Agamben, 1998: 105).

15. Further, it is upon consideration of the terrifying reality of the biopolitical regime in the camp, that one can recognise clearly the insoluble link between the bare life of humanity and that shared by all animal life as a whole. In Remnants of Auschwitz, Agamben discusses in detail the Muselmänner (or ‘Muslims’), the term given to the ‘walking dead’ of the camps, who due to the infliction of continued violence — malnutrition, sleep deprivation, extended work, psychological trauma etc — are reduced to a state of fragile indifference to their immediate conditions (Agamben, 1999). The insensibility of this figure to the world, and his or her disjunction from the social interactions of the prisoners and guards around, is also the process by which the Muselmänner are apprehended as living beings who have in some way lost their humanity. Agamben states that the "Muselmann is not only or not so much a limit between life and death; rather, he marks the threshold between the human and the inhuman" (Agamben, 1999: 55). It is in this sense that one cannot fully understand the life held within the camp without understanding the possibilities for non-human life, upon which human life itself is wrought:

The decisive activity of biopower in our time consists not of life or death, but rather of a mutable and virtually infinite survival. In every case, it is a matter of dividing animal life from organic life, the human from the inhuman, the witness from the Muselmann, conscious life from vegetative life maintained functional through resuscitation techniques, until a threshold is reached; an essentially mobile threshold that like the borders of geo-politics, moves along according to the progress of scientific and political technologies. Biopower’s supreme ambition is to produce, in a human body, the absolute separation of the living being and the speaking being, zoé and bios, the inhuman and the human – survival (Agamben, 1999: 155-6).

In the extreme situation of the camp, the ‘gap’ which is assumed to exist between the animal and the human — that between the living being and that between a speaking being, or that which merely has life (zoé) and that which also has a cultural or political life (bios) — soon eclipses. It is not surprising, then, that in such situations, human life takes on the characteristic of that of livestock (people are transported ‘like cattle’, or humans are forced to ‘live like swine’). Livestock represent that which only possess life itself: beings for whom survival may entail a few short months spent in a cramped, dark, and painful factory feedlot. The life of cattle therefore shares its limit condition with that of the human, as an empty survival that promises life alone and nothing else.

16. To the extent that the political landscape has altered in such a way that questions of politics involve questions of life for both human and non-human life, and that the bare life of sovereignty is a life that occupies a space of indistinction between the human and the non-human, then the following assertion may be made: the destiny of humanity lies in animal. This assertion is not a hollow and limited reference to a Darwinian biologism; rather it is an indicator of a significant political problem of the present. The challenge of contemporary biopolitics is the challenge of a politics which persistently moves to strike from the political that which does not relate to life itself, a politics which is intrinsically tied to the operation of modern sovereignty. And the consequence of this politic — which operates in an exemplary fashion in modern sovereignty — is that humanity is returned to the animal. The erasure of that gap (the gap through which humanity posited the distance between itself and animal), finds humanity on level with the non-human which it had previously condemned to the necessary suffering of the factory farm enclosure, of the slaughter en masse, or the vivisector’s knife.

17. Yet these observations should not be read as a demand for the reinstatement of the gap between human and non-human animals. For the gap itself inevitably returns to the point of its erasure. The reason for this lies in exception, and the exercise of violence which is intrinsic to sovereignty. The right to constitute an exception, to exercise a violence which is otherwise forbidden, a process which Benjamin refers to as an "objective contradiction in the legal situation, but not a logical contradiction in the law" (1996: 240), is also the decisive point where any gap that is posited between the human and the non-human animal may be eroded. It is exception which makes it possible for a seemingly peaceful society of humans to exercise violence on a massive scale upon non-human animal life. And the gap between the human and non-human is constituted purely by exception — in the belief that humans are deserving of something more than that of the animal, or alternatively, that the animal may be subject to that which human life should never be subjected. Yet in so far as human society actively constitutes the limit for bare life within factory farms and experimental laboratories, the life of the non-human animal captured within this sphere of exception represents the limit possibility for human life. And this human life may, by the hand of the sovereign, be banished to this same sphere which non-human life is condemned. The problem remains then, that as the West tries desperately to reconstitute the space between humanity and the animal, it inevitably is returned to the animal once again, since the meeting of the human and the animal can only be postponed, and never indefinitely. This is perhaps why Emile Zola comments that the "fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous: it is indissolubly connected with the fate of men" (qtd. in Wynne-Tyson, 1985: 432). If the destiny of humanity lies in animal, then the true political challenge of the contemporary era revolves around the removal of the gap in its entirety.

18. But such a political program has far reaching consequences, both for Western sovereignty, and the way that the business of politics is conducted. The living population of the earth has inherited a vision of sovereign power, which has spread cancerously into even the most seemingly inaccessible aspects of everyday life. This vision commands all, claims legitimacy for all, and determines the conduct of living for all within its domain. Politics ‘as we know it’ is caught inextricably in the web of sovereign power, in such a way that it seems that modern political debate cannot help but circulate around the same, routine issues: "What is the appropriate legislative response?"; "Is it within the State’s powers to intervene in this particular conflict?"; "How can we ensure the citizen’s rights are maintained in the face of the state?". To challenge such an encompassing and peremptory political discourse — where every question implies the sovereign absolutely, and every decision made refers to life itself — would require the most intensive rethinking of the way in which territory, governance and economy are imagined. In this sense, whilst Agamben’s analysis of bare life, and Foucault’s theory of bio-power, provide a means by which to assess the condition of non-human life with respect to sovereign power, the political project must reach beyond these terms, and embrace an intertwining of the human and the non-human: an intersection which may be found in the animal life shared by both entities.

19. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s work Empire is significant because their analysis does not merely refer to globalisation as an economic phenomenon, but as an evolution in the concept of juridical rule (2000). In fact, Hardt and Negri criticise contemporary commentators for failing to recognise this distinctive aspect of the phenomena of globalisation, that it is neither an economic shift nor simply a constitutional shift, but a wholesale shift in global networks of power: "Juridical transformations effectively point towards changes in the material constitution of world power and order" (Hardt & Negri, 2000: 9). Yet Hardt and Negri do not argue that these developments are entirely problematic; on the contrary they argue that globalisation has opened new avenues for human emancipation. With respect to Agamben’s analysis of sovereignty, Hardt and Negri suggest that Agamben "has used the term "naked life" to refer to the negative limit of humanity and to expose behind the political abysses that totalitarianism has constructed the (more or less heroic) conditions of human passivity" (2000: 366). Hardt and Negri argue that naked or bare life need not be a negative limit condition; they argue instead that the various forms of exception which produce bare life, the camp for example, represent attempts to quash the potential for this life to constitute itself and demand its own terms of survival (2000: 366). Hardt has recently stated:

Our critique of Agamben’s (and also Foucault’s) notion of biopower is that it is conceived only from above and we attempt to formulate instead a notion of biopower from below, that is, a power by which the multitude itself rules over life…What we are interested in finally is a new biopolitics that reveals the struggles over forms of life. (Hardt and Dumm 2000)

The political demands which conclude Hardt and Negri’s Empire — demands that include a right to freedom of movement, a globalised minimum wage and collective control over the networks of technology and communication (2000: 396-407) — indicate the forms which a sovereignty of the multitude might take, and the effect that this may have over life. Certainly such demands represent a different conception of sovereignty from that offered by Agamben and Foucault: for Hardt and Negri sovereignty need not merely involve the exercise of power over life, but the means for life to itself constitute the terms of its own existence. Yet one would be correct to ask whether even this radical vision of sovereign power can offer reprieve for the current position of the non-human life in relation to that life which has been deemed ‘human.’ Can a "new biopolitics" positively renegotiate the gap between the human and the non-human animal? One wonders, if it were actually possible to seize control of bare life — perhaps even democratise its formation — whether such a new struggle over life will be expansive enough to finally rid the threat of the animal from human life, or alternatively, exorcise the terror of the human from the life of animals: two projects which, as this paper asserts, may amount to much the same thing.


Dinesh Joseph Wadiwel is completing a doctorate at the University of Western Sydney. Email: 99016177@day.uws.edu.au

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to Julianne Elliott, Catharina Landström and Zoë Sofoulis for their comments upon the draft of this paper.

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The URL for this essay is:
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