Empire, Analysis, Disorder
Alain Joxe, Empire of Disorder, Semiotext(e),
New York, 2002
Reviewed by McKenzie Wark and Simon Dalby
:: McKenzie Wark
1. Alain Joxe, a prominent French expert in international studies,
offers a timely alternative to both a micropolitics or a politics
of the multitudes. Empire of Disorder offers a restatement
of the politics of the citizen in an age in which globalization
brings in its train a global disorder.
2. For Joxe, the social republic might still be a viable form of
resistance to the military empire. The problem with empire, which
Joxe sees as centered on US military power, is that it offers the
world only power without protection. As Machiavelli noted, a prudent
conqueror improves the lives of the conquered, thus legitimizing
its rule. But the US does not seek to conquer the world, as that
would mean assuming responsibility for it, only to manage it by
3. The American empire does not create order. There is no Pax
Americana. It merely regulates disorder through financial norms
and occasional military policings. It mainly operates by threats,
which must occasionally be made good on to remain credible -- as
we may eventually see in the case of Iraq.
4. Under the reign of President Clinton, empire appeared in the
neo-liberal guise of the economic norms of trade and sanction. Under
President Bush Jr, this economic offensive is replaced by a military
offensive. Why try to tangle diplomatically with those wily Europeans?
Why not replace a diplomatic strategy, where American superiority
is relative, with a military one, where it is absolute? Joxe is
both alarmed and bemused by American power, a not atypical European
reaction, perhaps. Observing past American geo-political blunders,
he observes: "They are not competent to rule the world. Which
is a point in their favor. " (p56)
5. The American empire is applying some of the same norms internally
as it applies externally, and this perhaps is the most alarming
development for those living within the US. The state is reneging
on its obligations to protect its citizens. Joxe is what one might
call a non-denominational social democrat. Politics is supposed
to be about class struggle, and the role of the state is to moderate
the conflict. The state is obliged to protect its citizens to maintain
their consent. But the ruling class can sometimes escape from its
obligations by transforming class struggle into ethnic struggle;
either internally, as in the case of Rwanda or Serbia, or externally,
as in the case of Bush Jr's war on the 'axis of evil'. This is a
context in which, as Joxe observes, "the notion of class needs
to recreated". (p62)
6. There is a growing intuition about that the economic system in
which we are living is not the same 'capitalism' as experience by
our grandparents. As to what exactly it has mutated into, nobody
yet really knows. Joxe provides an illuminating glimpse at this
problem. For Joxe, Max Weber had a clearer grasp of the historical
relationship between the economy and violence than Karl Marx.
7. In ancient Greece, free labor competed with slave labor. To the
extend that city-states were able to invent a limited democracy,
it rested on the political power of free labor. In Rome, the balance
shifted from free to slave labor, and with it, the empire emerges.
War becomes a slave hunt. The military mode of violence determined
the mode of production and not the other way around, as most Marxists
8. Perhaps this is a relevant historical parallel for our own times.
The factories of the underdeveloped world are based on forced labor.
The ongoing destruction of the rural way of life in much of the
underdeveloped world provides a steady supply of forced labor, which
challenges the free labor of what I would call the 'overdeveloped'
world. Slaves are gathered the old fashioned way, by violence.
9. On the one hand, a new global slavery, and on the other -- a
new global slave-owning and slave-trading nobility. This is what
Joxe calls an "imperial counter-revolution", organized
by a transnational corporate class and its para-state expressions,
which are able to force sovereign states to participate in their
10. This is not a paranoid view of a new world order, however. For
Joxe, nobody is really in charge. Globalization is achieved by remote
control. The result is what he calls "fractal chaos".
The crisis reaches all levels -- continents, nations, regions, neighborhoods,
families. As I argued in Virtual Geography (Indiana UP),
the communication vector allows power to be organized independently
of the old hierarchies of scale.
11. After the cold peace of nuclear standoff, this is an era of
"cruel little wars." Under the stress of global economic
liberalization, some states crack. The ruling class fends off the
anger of the subordinated classes with a divide and rule strategy,
diverting class war into ethnic war. But what starts as a means
of preserving power becomes the ruins of all contending classes.
12. Confronted with the crack-up of one stressed state after another,
supra-national powers are paralyzed by differing world views and
calculations of national interest. For Joxe, there is a difference
between the dominant American view of globalization as the flattening
out of political territories, and the European view in which the
emergence of economic globalization calls for stronger trans-national
forms of sovereignty and political identity, which might extend
some form of protection to citizens no longer protected by sovereign
13. This global diplomatic gridlock has replaced the cold war with
a "frozen peace." Either there is a failure to intervene,
as in Rwanda, or a failure of intervention, as in the Balkans. When
tran-national interventions occur, they are subject to "mission
creep". The result is what Joxe calls "non-Clauswitzian
wars". Clausewitz's dictum that war is the continuation of
politics by other means assumes there is some political calculation
of interests that drive military strategy. In the case of Somalia
or Bosnia, Joxe thinks it may be quite the other way around. Left
rudderless by diplomatic gridlock, commanders in the field take
military actions which cause irreversible shifts in political calculation
14. Then there are the so-called 'humanitarian' wars. In his book
Powerless By Design (Duke UP), Michel Feher argues that the
US and EU powers justified their inaction in the face of local destabilizations
of the global order by presenting them as 'humanitarian' crises
-- akin to natural disasters -- before which they were powerless
to offer anything other than food and bandages.
15. Joxe is likewise critical of the ideology of humanitarian aid,
a politics wherein "the clean conscience of the torturers is
protected by the bad conscience of politicians." Humanitarian
missions put soldiers in the paralyzing situation of not being able
to defend anyone, having to watch murder in the name of impartiality.
16. For different reasons, the cruel little wars and the humanitarian
interventions both end up being irrational military actions on both
sides. Self-destructing states that descend into genocide are met
with directionless military responses or none at all. "Without
political rationality, war is nothing other than madness."
17. There may be no ready solution to the new global disorder, but
for the European opinion that Joxe is mainly addressing, there is
the question of choosing which chaos it prefers. As Joxe says, "In
the current disorder, it is preferable to organize a sphere of political
fraternity with citizens and without states, rather than sitting
back to watch the victory of the transnational wealthy classes and
their smiling neofascism." (111)
18. Empire of Disorder is not just a stirring and timely
political tract, however. It also offers some theoretical tools
that may outlive the particular issues Joxe chooses to address.
Curiously, Joxe goes back to Hobbes, who he identifies as a rare
enlightenment thinker who includes chaos and civil war in his political
thought as constitutive categories, rather than as mere inconveniences.
He sees Hobbes' 'archaic' monarchism as a useful critical tool for
analyzing forces that betray popular sovereignty in the name of
19. Building on Hobbes, Machiavelli and Clausewitz, Joxe constructs
tools for analyzing empire refreshingly free of wishful thinking,
and not colored by current theoretical fashions. What makes this
book so timely is that its thinking is so untimely. It is a shame
that Joxe does not explore that other geneaology, that runs from
Locke to Smith to Ricardo and Marx. This might yield a comparable
analysis of the abstraction and globalization of property -- that
other kind of abstract territorialization at work in the world today.
Perhaps the role of the abstraction of property, from land to capital
to 'intellectual property' -- is a topic for another book.
20. For Joxe, the empire emerges as the republic betrayed. Joxe
sees a link between expansion of the market and eruption of cruel
little wars. As with Hobbes, in Joxe violence and civil war are
constitutive categories -- globalization cannot be thought without
them. This makes his book a useful challenge to both neo-liberal
ideologues and the various versions of a transnational anarchic
21. For Joxe, the global concentration of wealth can only be protected
by violence. The worldwide repression of the urban and rural poor
is part of the same process as the WTO's trade regime. Responding
to the violence of empire requires forms of para-state, supra-national
power able to act in the name of protection. Democracy, since the
Greeks, has always required a delimitation of the city state, to
count votes, to manage tensions between the classes. One can think,
with Joxe, of forms of democracy without the nation, but not without
some kind of spatial delimitation.
22. The challenge to think through new forms of spatial inclusion,
new forms of sovereignty and protection, becomes even more pressing
as we appear to move from what Joxe calls a logistical to a predatory
empire. In the logistical empire, economic interest sets some limit
to violence. The empire insinuates itself subtly, bypassing borders,
through the virus of trade. In the predatory empire, the economic
is subordinated to violence. Damage to the mode of production is
offset by a sharing out internally of the loot. Predatory empires
do not creep into the cracks of the world, they seek confrontation
with the other.
23. It's hard not to see this as a description of the regime of
Bush Jr. Internally, attention is diverted from a vicious class
struggle against workers and farmers by war talk, symbolically unifying
the citizens against vaguely defined external threats. Meanwhile,
a new police state takes shape. The economy is in a serious under
consumption crisis, due to the failure of real wages to rise in
line with increasing productivity. So the surplus is to be consumed
through military spending, with the promise of seizing the nationalized
oil reserves of Iraq as a pay off. As Joxe warns, "Something
resembling global structural slavery has reappeared, leaving us
with the prospect of... totalitarian empires with camps and slavery."
24. In this context, "Europe should make clear that America
is mistaken in its search for military space without sovereignty,
peace without pacts and economic space without politics." (215)
Make clear to whom? There is no national media space in the US where
Americans can debate and calculate their interests, and certainly
none where they might hear what Europeans have to say on the matter.
25. One can subscribe to the excellent new English language edition
of Le Monde Diplomatique (www.mondeiplo.com).
Or one can read Joxe's useful little book. It's a more mainstream,
trad-left title than one usually expects from Semiotexte, which
introduced much of the English speaking world to Deleuze, Guattari,
Baudrillard, Lyotard and Negri. But under the current geo-political
circumstances, Semiotexte have made a wise tactical decision in
bringing Joxe to the English speaking world.
:: Simon Dalby
26. The theme of empire is back in circulation in cultural discussions
and analytical exercises in many places. The cultural themes are
prevalent in everything from "Star Wars" movies to the
biting critique in Ridley Scott's reinvention of stoicism in "Gladiator".
In academic circles Toni Negri and Michael Hardt's book Empire,
with its sweeping claims and infuriating vagueness, has stimulated
discussion in quite a few languages. In the United States the near
taboo on discussing matters of American foreign and military in
imperial tropes has crumbled.
27. Into this revived concern with the theme of empire Alain Joxe's
meditations on Hobbes, Clausewitz, politics and war arrive with
a simple argument that is important if not very precisely specified.
The title suggests the key theme of this slim volume; imperial matters
are juxtaposed with disorder to challenge the usually implicit assumptions
that empire provides order. Its rationale as the overarching authority,
the ultimate arbiter and protector of the commerce and markets that
allow prosperity within the writ of imperium, is challenged directly
by the specification of the current imperial arrangements as the
antithesis of the conventional formulation.
28. Joxe suggests that the American dominated international order
that emerged in the 1990s in the aftermath of the cold war is clearly
imperial in terms of violence and trade. But it is not a traditional
arrangement of conquest and territorial occupation. The American
military preponderance has rarely been used to defeat, occupy and
completely rebuild conquered polities. Direct administration is
also frequently anathema. The exception is the case of what became
Western Germany. Even Japan in the 1940s was only partly remade
with many of the economic and political arrangements of the prewar
period refigured minus the overt militarism of the 1930s.
29. Rather the American way is, Joxe argues, a matter of military
destruction of opponents, support for counterinsurgencies rather
than pacification and development, surveillance and temporary military
arrangements rather than long standing political coalitions. This
is not warfare in the Clausewitzian mode, but it is political violence.
Disorder is the result; its not the American role to build nations.
Removing military opponents is considered enough. Other powers and
peoples clean up the mess. But the lack of an overarching political
structure leads to many instabilities and a power that prefers military
interventions to economic development.
30. In the aftermath of the cold war American military power is
unchecked. The conventional international relations theories which
suggest that power will be balanced, that a preeminent power will
stimulate alliance building and cooperation among rivals to check
its influence, has not worked in the last decade. Bandwagoning,
where states take sides with the hegemon, rather than allying against
it to check its power, has been the order of the day. The preeminence
of American military power is unmatched; few states have either
the inclination or the capabilities to challenge this power. But
without a matching political commitment to rule the American commercial
and military power provides only disorder, injustice and insecurity,
an empire of disorder.
31. But what to do about this state of affairs? The speculations
in this volume suggest that European republican traditions may provide
the basis for a constructive opposition to all this. Hence the return
to a consideration of Hobbes, Clausewitz, Cromwell, Napoleon and
the possibilities of political resistance to American power. But
how this might be mobilized and what the enlarged European Union,
becoming more sympathetic to American themes in the process of expansion,
might offer is not clearly specified. But then that is not entirely
unexpected. Few analysts have a clear idea of how the current political
order is to be understood, much less how political initiatives to
challenge the disorder that operates under the sign of globalization
might be mounted and to what end.
32. The value of this short book is that it specifies the nature
of contemporary empire so clearly. The combination of military and
commercial power in the absence of any political vision, or any
willingness to provide political leadership, is a succinct analysis
of the post September 11th situation. It is useful precisely because
it focuses on the key military dimensions of global politics. It
suggests a formulation that is clearer than most other discussions
of empire; it is consistent with recent history and contextualises
political discussion in the language of political theory, violence
and security rather than only in conventional political economy.
This dimension is not ignored. Rather it is usefully incorporated
into the discussions of the absence of overarching political authority.
33. For all these reasons this short volume is well worth reading
very carefully. Its lack of an explicitly worked out political program
does not detract from the appropriate elegance of its basic propositions.
But it does leave the big political questions of how to proceed
open; the apparent necessity of Europeans taking the lead does not
imply that current leaders are up to the job. This task of considering
political options will nonetheless be helpfully clarified by this
book's careful reflection on the precise nature of contemporary
disorder and the military underpinnings of this new violent form
of disorderly empire.
McKenzie Wark is the author of Virtual Geography and several
other books. He teaches at SUNY Albany and is a guest scholar at
NYU. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Simon Dalby teaches geography at Carleton University. His most
recent book is Environmental Security, which is
reviewed in this issue by Katrina Lee Koo. Email: Simon_Dalby@carleton.ca
© borderlands ejournal 2003