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Frédéric Gros “The Fourth Age of Security”

Gros, Frédéric 2014. The Fourth Age of Security. – Lemm, Vanessa; Vatter, Miguel (eds). The Government of Life. Foucault, Biopolitics, and Neoliberalism. New York: Fordham University Press, 17-28.

The frst age of security is the spiritual age and corresponds to the frst sense taken on by the term “security” in the West. The word “security” derives from the Latin securitas, which can be deconstructed into sine curae: without troubles, without cares. The Greek equivalent, a-taraxia, also means without worries, without unrest. Security designates, in its frst problematization, the mental state of the wise man that has attained defnitive serenity through a series of appropriate spiritual exercises. Here, security has a spiritual meaning, rather than a political one. (17-18)

The goal is to reach in this way a perfect mastery of oneself and of one’s emotions, to constitute a strong ego that would be able to act in the world and confront the world’s hazards without ever allowing oneself to become destabilized. This Stoic security designates the stability of a subject who does not allow him- or herself to be moved by anything and who has at his or her disposal spiritual means that are powerful enough to prevail over all of the world’s misfortunes. This frst sense of security as serenity, as the condition of the wise man, as steadiness of disposition has been of great importance for our culture. (19)

It is important to understand that in this frst sense “security” does not refer to the feeling of being protected or to the absence of any danger, but instead to the capacity to maintain the tranquility of one’s soul in the middle of these dangers and to find the source of security exclusively within oneself. (19)

The second age of security is the imperial age, a concept that has often been suggested by Foucault, even if he never devoted any longer exploration to this problem. (19)

This synthesis between the ideas of Empire, peace, and security had already been prepared by the Roman Empire in the time of Nero when one could fnd coins engraved with the motto “pax et securitas.” But in the European Middle Ages this security, a propaganda theme in the Roman Empire, becomes a political program founded on a mystical hope. In millenarian doctrine, this thousand-year period before the Last Judgment will witness simultaneously the end of history and the disappearance of borders. Indeed, this period of peace and security presupposes the establishment of a single Empire, the Empire of the last days, which brings together all nations around one single faith and in one single political space. One sole flock, as these millennium texts repeat over and again, with one solitary shepherd. The great problem that confronts the medieval West is how to know who this last Emperor will be: will he be French (a new Charlemagne), German (a new Frederick), or might it even be the pope, leader of Christendom? (20)

For here security is Empire; security is the unifcation of worlds; security is the end of history. (20)

The third age of security corresponds to the history of Western Europe and the rise of political philosophies centered on the state of nature and the social contract, that is, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, and Rousseau. (21)

This third age of security can be understood on the basis of the disappearance of the medieval dream of Empire, starting with the construction of a new political space composed of a plurality of sovereign states, each attempting to maintain its individual place in the midst of all the others, exemplifed by Westphalian Europe. Here it is no longer a question of security as a spiritual condition, nor of the myth of an Empire of the last days. Instead, the goal is to think the consistency of a nation-state in the midst of history. Security will be defned as the consistency of the state, which is simultaneously the consistency supplied by the state to the rights of its citizens and to the existence of its subjects, and the consistency that the state provides for itself as one political subject in relation to others. Indeed, the very meaning of the word “security” is immediately divided into internal security and external security. (21)

[…] all modern political philosophers want to give a double meaning to the word “nature”: it refers either to the savage immediacy of the state of nature, or to the conformity to Reason and God (natural law or laws). The creation of society and the institution of the state have as their purpose to make possible the application of the laws of nature understood as rational and divine laws: let ownership gained through labor be guaranteed, let the equality of all before the law be respected, let public freedom be preserved, let human solidarity be maintained and encouraged. In all these texts, security does not appear as a right among others, but as the very movement through which our natural dispositions must be assured, guaranteed, maintained, and all this against the eventual abuses of power by a biased, unjust state and against the influence of pressure groups representing particular interests. Security is the process through which consistency must be given by the state and by society to the fundamental, natural dispositions of man,
which, in the state of nature, are precarious and in vain. (22)

For a state, then, external security signifies the defense of its territorial integrity, the development of its military power, the necessity of alliances (which will always be fragile and reversible), the cynical calculation of its interests, the development of a systematic suspicion all other countries, and its ability to start wars or make peace as soon as its interests come into play. In expressions such as “nuclear security,” “UN Security Council,” or “collective security system” it is this sense of “security” which is predominant, and which has been predominant in Europe across the nineteenth century and up to the end of the Cold War. I refer to this sense of security as sovereign security. (22-23)

Biopolitics names the fourth age of security. […] The object of security has changed. The great statements of political realism named, as the principal object of security, the defense of the state’s territorial integrity, which may require the sacrifce of citizens. The doctrine of human security instead proclaims insistently that living populations and individuals ought to constitute the new object of security. They are what must be protected: what is sacred is no longer the sovereignty of the state, but the life of the individual. From here arises the principle of the right to interference, or what international institutions today defne as the “responsibility to protect.” (23)

As soon as the state is no longer the frst and fnal object of security, everything that is involved in the life of civil populations becomes an object of security. In this manner, one speaks today of “nutritional security” and “energy security.” The chief characteristic of these new objects of security is that they are constituted by flows: the flow of food, of energy, but also of images and of data (and, by simple extension, one speaks of “traffic security,” “information security,” “internet security,” etc.). (23-24)

This redistribution of objects also involves a redistribution of the principal actors of security. Previously, the state constituted itself simultaneously as the sole object and sole subject of security. Once the object of security is seen as constituted by civil populations, or by various flows, the principal actors of security change as well. One witnesses a double movement that leads constantly to the delegitimization of the state as sole actor of security: on the one hand, a privatization of security in which private companies and organisms present themselves as specialists in the control of a given flow, and on the other hand, a humanitarianization of security in which the protection of civil populations will fall under the aegis of humanitarian organizations that do not, unlike states, seek to protect one or more given sets of political subjects, but strive to come to the aid of civil populations that are at risk of death, no matter what the nature of this risk may be. (24)

After the Second World War, through the work of Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler (and later through the work of Franz Veldman and the school of haptonomy), an idea took shape in contemporary psychology that security is to be defned as the internal construction of the subject: security is what allows the child to grow up successfully. From here on child psychology is redefned as a technique for making the child secure. Security is understood simultaneously as protection—that is, the child must feel surrounded by a protective barrier, safe from external threats—and as the control of flow, since security is based on the regularity of flows of food and a regulated exchange, between parent and child, of the flows of communication and affection. It is striking the way in which the question of security is no longer posed in terms of closure as in the modern age, where the two symbols of security were the prison, for internal security, and the border, for external security, but, instead, in terms of the control of circulations and exchanges. The key sites of security are no longer borders defining the spaces of states, but, within the territory itself, airports and railway stations, that is, the nodal points of communication and exchange. The problem becomes one of “traceability”: the ability to determine, at any given moment, what is moving, where it is coming from, where it is going, what it is doing in its current place, and if it actually has a right of access to the
network in which it is moving or if its use of the network is unauthorized. (25)

This new definition of security thus produces a continuous stream of threats, whether these are economic, climactic, social, ecological, political, hygienic, medical, or nutritional. Everything is part of one single continuum: natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist attacks, civil wars, rivalries between crime syndicates vying for the control of illicit traffcking in arms, drugs, people, climate change, poverty and unemployment, and so on. Today, all these threats are considered as risks to society understood in the broadest possible sense. In the interior of states, this continuum of threats is produced through the concept of “global security” which stands to a given population as “human security” stands to the whole of humanity, and which entails, in France and elsewhere, the fusion of all those institutional security authorities that had heretofore been separate. (26)

The biopolitical age of security has led to this great equivalence of all threats. This continuity and equalization entail the effacement of figures such as the worker, the citizen, the patriot, and so forth. All of them disappear for the beneft of the living individual whose vital nucleus must be secured, and nothing exists outside of the great community of living bodies, the security of which will be the responsibility of private organisms acting with the blessing of the state. (26)

The suspect must be distinguished from the enemy, who typically belongs to the third age of security. The enemy comes from the exterior and by the very fact of his threat patches up the holes in the national community. The enemy is identifiable and definable: he is a calculating and rational agent. The suspect, however, is by definition non-locatable and unpredictable. He is here, close at hand, and his threatening presence turns me into a stranger even to my closest neighbors. We live in an age of suspicion and distrust: suspect individuals, suspicious packages, suspect food. This generalized distrust appears as the shadowy side of globalization. On the other hand, one finds the victim. The new dispositif of security turns the individual, rather than the state, into a sacred object. Thus it is the suffering of the individual, his victimized condition, which now becomes scandalous. This figure of the victim makes the biopolitical security function through a new regime of affects that turn on compassion, which for its part is triggered by the various stagings offered by the media. Security, pity, image: this is the new articulation, different from the old system of sovereignty which drove national security through heroism and narrative. (27)

Spiritual security presupposes spiritual vigilance: the vigilance of the wise man who pays careful attention to his spiritual capacities and means of support, as well as to his possible weaknesses, as studied by Foucault in Hermeneutics of the Subject as one of the aspects of the care of the self. Imperial security presupposes paternal solicitude: the Emperor watches over his subjects like the shepherd over his flock, with that kindly care studied by Foucault in his writings on pastoral government. Sovereign security presupposes centralized surveillance of internal and external enemies, all submitted to the total gaze of the state as in Bentham’s Panopticon, the kingdom of spies. Biopolitical security implies flow control: the control of movements and communications, but in a decentralized fashion, depending on competing transnational networks, which immediately raises the question of access: who will have the right of access to any given network to control or redistribute any given flow? (27)

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