The neoliberal biopolitics of resilience and the spectre of the ecofascist state
There is no such thing as ‘the state’ but only rationalities of power and governance through which statehood is mediated. Rather, then, than make assumptions concerning the nature of the state, or presuppose the possibility of a theory of the state that might be propounded in universal terms, it befalls us to conduct an empirical examination of hegemonic assumptions concerning what is the difference between a right and a wrong way of governing, and the function of such assumptions in shaping the exercise of state power domestically and internationally. In the modern age the rationalities in accordance with which statehood has been mediated have tended to derive their authority from assumptions concerning the necessity to promote the biological welfare of human populations, the improvement of their wealth and health, and the increase of their life. Such was the hypothesis suggested by and explored exhaustively by Michel Foucault, and more recently, his followers, under the rubrics of the studies of liberal governmentality and biopolitics. But how true does this approach to the neoliberal governmentalization of the state remain? In this chapter I will argue that making sense of the rationalities of statehood contemporarily requires drawing out and exploring the paradigm shift in the account of the ‘bio’ underpinning the biopolitics of the neoliberal governmentalization of the state as distinct from more historical forms of liberal regimes. The entrenchment of liberalism in rationalities claiming to protect life itself has only become deeper over the course of liberal modernity, and the pathologization of subjects and dispositions defined by their supposed antipathy to life itself has only become more vicious. But when we examine specifically neoliberal regimes of power we see that the terms of their legitimacy have changed in accordance with a much altered account of the life that is said to be at stake. The legitimacy of neoliberal regimes, in contrast with the forms of liberal regime that Foucault examined historically, depends on claims as to their abilities to protect the life not so much of human populations, but of the biosphere. Neoliberalism has broken from earlier liberalisms in that it correlates claims for its legitimacy not simply with practices for
the development of the species life of humanity, as Foucault directed us to recognize, but with biospheric life. These correlations of governance, development and biospheric life in and among neoliberal regimes of practice and representation increasingly comprise the foundation of its biopolitics. I have argued time and again in previous works that we cannot understand how liberalism functions, most especially how it has gained the global hegemony that it has, without addressing how systematically the category of life has organized the correlation of its various practices of governance. But this contemporary and ongoing shift in the very locus of the life that is at stake for liberal governance, from the human to the non-human, seems to me profoundly important for anyone concerned with resistance to liberalism. Looking at how this shift is impacting the life of peoples worldwide, this chapter will show that it is ‘the poor’ who are being systematically targeted, on account of their being said to be the greatest threat to the security of biospheric life. Alleviating threats to the biosphere requires targeting the poor because it is precisely the poor who are said to be the most ‘ecologically ignorant’ and, thus, most prone to live in non-sustainable ways. Thus does protecting the life of the biosphere require targeting the poor and relieving them of their ecological ignorance. The means to that removal is argued to reside not only in building neoliberal frameworks of economy, governance, but building neoliberal forms of subjectivity, and within the poor it is most often women who are the principal target population for such strategies of subjectification. What I will do, therefore, in this chapter, is to chart how the discourse of resilience has been articulated, first through the emergence of the doctrine of sustainable development, and the allied rise in political influence of ecology, which can itself be attributed partly to the success of the environmental movement in reshaping the agenda of liberal governance, by shifting the locus of concern from the issue of the security of merely human life to that of the biosphere; but this must also be understood as an aspect of the ways in which neoliberalism, as distinct from classical liberalism, is grounded in a posthuman understanding of the nature of life itself. Whereas resilience was originally conceived by proponents of sustainable development as a property that distinguishes the extra-economic ‘life-support systems’ that humans require to live well, gradually it has become reconceived as a property which humanity intrinsically possesses just like all other living systems. But as a property of human populations its growth is said to be dependent on their interpellation within markets, their diversity as economic subjects, and their subjection to systems of governance able to ensure that they continue to use natural resources in sustainable ways. Thus, as we will see, did a doctrine which started out as a critique of neoliberal policy prescriptions for development transform into an imperative discourse which legitimates a neoliberal model of development based upon the constitution of markets and the interpellation of subjects within markets. In this sense, I concur with much of the analysis of Albena Azmanova in the previous chapter as to the ways in which neoliberalism has only become more powerful, while wanting to underscore the importance of the biopolitics of liberal
legitimacy. Attention to the function of the discourse of resilience is necessary, especially, if we are to understand why it is that there is no legitimacy crisis for neoliberalism in the context of this era of economic crisis and exposure of peoples to endemic insecurity. Legitimacy, as argued in the Introduction to this volume, does not derive simply from the delivery of public goods but from the interpellation of a subject commanded to recognize its regime as legitimate on account of the ways in which it is called upon to perceive itself. Comprehending the biopolitical techniques of subjectivization by which neoliberalism reproduces itself is central to this question of neoliberal legitimacy (see also Reid 2011). Every imperative discourse, regardless of how life affirmative it may be, runs the risk of turning fascistic. Indeed it seems to me that the problem of fascism today can no longer be construed in terms of the question of how to prevent the return of a despotic form of state, but how to resist the despotic nature of the ecological discourses which already underpin the exercise of liberal state power. The spectre of the ecofascist state is contemporarily haunting liberal international relations. Preaching that sustainable development will follow only when peoples give up on specifically human development, as well as attendant political ideals of progress and security, and learn to practice the virtue of resilience, so the ecofascist state renders life for human beings a finite game of mere survival. The making of resilient subjects and societies fit for neoliberalism by agencies of sustainable development is based upon a degradation of the political capacities of human beings far more subtle than that achieved in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. But the enthusiasm with which ideologues of sustainable development are turning resilience into an ‘imperative’ is nevertheless comparable with that of the SS guards who also aimed to speed up the processes of adaptive learning among those Jews and other populations in their charge by convincing them of the futility of resistance.