Project scope

The police writ large, security is the core work of government in general, from assemblages of diverse institutions to the contemporary war on terror.

Security is the end of government. In its most precise meaning, security is the non-questioning, and non-agitation around, the prevailing order of things. This order, primarily, is a question of the regularization of human behaviour, and — in the modern era — the augmentation of productive (both political and economic) energies. Thus we can understand the evolution of governmental mentalities (what Foucault called governmentality) as unfolding amid a strategic field, and evolving technologies, that find success or failure relative to the extent to which security is maintained.

All institutions associated with the modern State are grounded in a security mentality. This includes not only obvious institutions such as the prison, but also less obvious ones, like the school, the hospital, the asylum, the factory, etc. It is a matter of historical record that all share a genesis, and a detailed orientation, in a wider historical field which can be summed up as the ordering and disciplining of live populations, collectively and as individuals.

Seen from our moment, ominous leaps have been made, and are still being made, in terms of the deepening grip of security on human and social life. And this is a process that is not merely confined to the modern West, but is also extending outward, via globalization by military means. It is arguable that something akin to a universal model is being propagated. A crude interpretation is the emergence of a New World Order, on the road to a single world government. In our view, it is not that simple. Just as the development of modern States had a multiplying effect with only minimal human planning, as if almost by vibration or echo, so globalization, though overtly pursued by imperial governments, is spreading also on a sub-level — or at a meta level — reflective of experiences elsewhere but not necessarily directed by them.

The war on terror, the extension of surveillance, both in the intelligence field and in the commercial and economic fields, is only the latest wave of a long historical process that passes back through the “democratic” transformations of the modern liberal State, through the age of biopower proper, to the emergence of disciplinary institutions, through the absolutist state, through the destruction of the commons, through the organization of modern knowledge, all the way back to successive iterations of early States, and ultimately to the origin of the State itself.