The Politics of Speed and the Ascendancy of the Right. Thought of the Day 55.0

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Speed and Politics and (Popular Defense; Ecological Struggles) register the scope of the vast change in Virilio’s position. The problematic shifts from space to time, and from an expansive politics of mobilization and liberalization, to a defensive and conservative politics of resistance to acceleration and to a defence of the social. Responding to the appeals of theologians like Bonhoeffer, Virilio begins to warn of the dangers implied in the new state of the world, dangers to the experience of space of the city and of democracy, and of the new possibility of apocalypse brought about by new technologies and strategies available to and adopted by the military elite. In a sense the essay Speed and Politics, with its theory of power through control of movement a ‘dromocracy’, was the culmination of an analysis applicable to a world already passing away. If the proletariat still thinks in terms of the control of streets and physical movement, the military thinks otherwise: it thinks logistically in relation to new meeting points such as airports, highways and telecommunications. Communism died, fascism survives and has adapted. In this world, available in instantaneous communication and immediate information, a new permanent state of emergency is created which brings a sharp end to struggles in relative speed.

Virilio draws out these conclusions more dramatically in his book Popular Defense:

If… civilians could have resisted the assault of the war machine, gotten ahead of it, by creating a defence without a body, condensed nowhere, it is quite evident that today they don’t even realize that technology has surpassed this kind of defence.

This is because: ‘There is no need for an armed body to attack civilians, so long as the latter have been properly trained to turn on their radios or plug in their television sets’. In these conditions the political state declines, and where ‘hyper-communicability’ exists there grows totalitarian power. The right of armed defence by citizens is lost, while on the other hand ‘from now on’ the military power is so ‘shapeless’ it can no longer be identified as it installs itself in a regime of generalized security: an important and irreversible shift from a state of political and civil justice, to a state of logistical and military discipline. This is achieved through the systematic destruction of all the major forms of social solidarity which previously offered real resistance to the state: particularly the family, conceived by Virilio as essentially a combat unit. The liberation of women effectively weakens the solidarity of the family as a defensive form against the state. The resort to terrorism by ultra-left-wing groups again only serves to strengthen, not weaken, the war machine. This creates a paradox: the possibility that the revolution can succeed through control of the streets has been lost yet ‘there is no more revolution except in resistance’. Virilio returns to his bunker.

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