SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.56 número1The perception of higher education students of the influence of their gap year experiences on their personal development índice de autoresíndice de materiabúsqueda de artículos
Home Pagelista alfabética de revistas  

Servicios Personalizados



Links relacionados

  • En proceso de indezaciónCitado por Google
  • En proceso de indezaciónSimilares en Google


Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


OLIVIER, Bert. Neoliberalism, "Empire" and global violence. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.1, pp.134-152. ISSN 2224-7912.

The present is a time of endless, albeit sporadic violence or armed conflict globally. This is abundantly evident in news programmes on international television channels such as CNN, Sky News or Al Jazeera, as well as in newspapers. Such armed conflict, whether as part of "the war on terror", or between government forces and rebels challenging such governments in different parts of the world (for example in Syria), is happening under the regime of the currently hegemonic economic order, namely neoliberal capitalism, where political power and economic power are increasingly fused into what Hardt and Negri (2001:9) describe as "a properly capitalist order". No doubt representatives of the world's dominant states would justify such (particularly military) violence as being necessitated by the requirements for global peacekeeping, or by "terrorist" attempts to undermine the "forces of law and order". The fact remains, however, that military action, even if conceived of, according to Hardt and Negri in Empire, as international "policing", is invariably accompanied by violent conflict. What would a comparative historical investigation into this state of affairs bring to light, and if understood as "aggressive" acts, would the violence uncovered by such an account lend itself to a psychoanalytic-theoretical interpretation in terms of "aggressivity" as condition of the possibility of aggression? An attempt to answer these questions in an exploratory manner is undertaken here. In light of the military character of global armed conflict today, one might ask whether "war" still means the same thing as in former eras, for example during the time of the two World Wars of the 20th century. Hardt and Negri's work in this regard is instructive - they call the present the age of "Empire", which means the emergence of a novel, supranational force at various levels, including the political, juridical, technological, economic and cultural. In Multitude - War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2006), the sequel to Empire (2001), they elaborate on the changed meaning of war in the present age, compared to what it meant in the modern age (namely, legal and "legitimate" state violence), to the point where it "tends toward the absolute" (2006:18) in the sense that it has become the rule, rather than the exception. They claim that this global condition has to be addressed first, before a global democracy can be conceived at all. The Thirty-Years (German-European) War of the 17th century is seen by them as marking the transition from a medieval conception of war to a distinctly modern concept, which introduces the notion of the sovereign nation state. For them, the attacks on the Pentagon and on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, on the other hand, marked the symbolic transition from a modern to a postmodern notion of war. While warfare in the modern era was conceived of as a matter of armed struggle between two or more sovereign nation states, and was known as "conventional warfare" (Hardt & Negri 2006:3-6), the idea of civil war applied where intra-national, armed conflict erupted. Today, however, Hardt and Negri (2006:12-14) claim, war is no longer what it was in modern terms. There is no longer clearly recognizable differences between the role of the military and police functions, with the result that one increasingly witnesses military personnel executing "police" missions aimed at "keeping the peace" in global political space. In other words, they assert, modern warfare between sovereign states is no longer the reigning paradigm; war has become a pervasive condition in the postmodern era of globalization, and it has increasingly assumed the guise of global civil war, if the latter means military, armed conflict between different groups within the "same" (previously sovereign national, but now increasingly sovereign, inter- and even supra-national, neoliberal, globalised) space. Given the crucial role played by images - including images of violence - in the distinctive media-oriented or "informatised" character of contemporary society (Hardt & Negri 2001:280-289; 297-300; 322-323), Lacanian psychoanalysis presents itself as an appropriate theory for understanding global violence. In Lacanian terms, images play a crucial role regarding aggressivity, which is the condition of the possibility of violence or actual aggression (Evans 1996:534). Lacan 's early work on the family complexes (Lee 1990:13-17), the mirror stage and on aggressivity (Lacan 1977 and 1977a) therefore proves to be helpful in making sense of the conditions of pervasive, image-related violence in global neoliberal space today. Aggressivity towards others is in the first place aggressivity towards oneself in the guise of the misleadingly unified (mirror-) image, ambivalently experienced as being oneself and as being "other" simultaneously (Olivier 2009). This "otherness" is transferred to other individuals (or collectively, the "image" of other nations or groups) in various social relations, and forms the basis for rivalry and aggressivity as the condition ofviolence. Seen through the lens of Lacan 's theory of imaginary identification and aggressivity, the attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States display the same pattern of identification with an (ideological) image of spurious unity, which simultaneously attracts and alienates, concomitantly engendering aggressive rivalry with the "other" in oneself as well as in others. A closer psychoanalytical look at 9/11, the event referred to by Hardt and Negri as marking a symbolic transition between "modern" war and "postmodern" war, and one in which images in global media space played a crucial role, yields interesting insights, therefore, particularly when combined with Derrida's (2003) analysis of the event. He shows that a network of mutually reinforcing agencies, including the media, technoscience, as well as military, economic and diplomatic institutions, produced what subsequently became known as 9/11. This incident first became visible as "event" in its constituent mediatised forms after having been beamed through the "prism" of language, dominant discourses, images, media and communication channels. Hence the name, 9/11, within which the image of the imploding towers has been inscribed, has become a site of identification in globalized space, dominated by the forces of Empire. The logic of identification and rivalry, accompanied by aggressivity, is inseparable from such an identification process in light of what the image signifies, and one can therefore conclude that such rivalry and aggression, or violence (engendered by latent aggressivity) is playing itself out globally between the forces ofEmpire and those agencies that oppose them. David Pavón-Cuéllar 's (2010:284-285) Lacanian discourse-analytical perspective helps one understand this as "symbolic" (as opposed to directly "physical") violence insofar as discourse must, of necessity, "kill" the real being of subjects. (Recall that, for Lacan, the signifier always "kills" the "real", or that which surpasses symbolisation.) Hence, in addition to the people who died in the collapse of the twin towers, at the level of the Lacanian "real", the subjects who have articulated their resistance to the hegemony of the capitalist states comprising Empire (not only in language, but through the work and suffering of their bodies), are repeatedly "killed" by the master's discourse emanating from the reactionary reassertion of global power in the wake of 9/11.

Palabras clave : 9/11; aggressivity; capitalism; discourse; Empire; identification; media; neoliberalism; politics; violence.

        · resumen en Africano     · texto en Africano     · Africano ( pdf )


Creative Commons License Todo el contenido de esta revista, excepto dónde está identificado, está bajo una Licencia Creative Commons