Paul Virilio: Another Dupe of the 'War against Terrorism'

Paul Virilio makes a few good points about "the doctrine of security" in Popular Defense & Ecological Struggles, a short book that was originally published in French in 1978, translated into English by Mark Polizzotti, and published by Semiotext(e) in 1990. Noting that France was already "considering merging police information with military intelligence," and that "turnstile-hopping is now likened to much more serious crimes, such as assault and vandalism," Virilio predicts that the nations of Europe "will try to initiate a new unanimity of need, a permanent feeling of insecurity which will lead to a new kind of consumption: the consumption of protection." In such a situation, he concludes, "we find [...], completely normalized, the conditions of the state of siege of military security."

Virilio based these predictions -- which have obviously been borne out by the post-September 11th waging of the "Global War on Terrorism" -- upon the way in which the nations of Europe responded to the emergence in the early 1970s of so-called Euro-terrorism, that is, terrorist attacks allegedly carried out by domestic groups, such as the Red Brigades (Italy) and the Red Army Faction (Germany). "Since there is Euro-terrorism," he quotes the French Minister of Justice, Alain Peyrefitte, as saying; "then let the struggle against terrorism know no borders!" Virilio is very clear on the fact that such a struggle is deeply cynical and a convenient cover for other, even more cynical strategies:

They are stretching the repression of Euroterrorism to include the industrial as well as the criminal. During the French electric company strikes of December 1977, the term "union terrorism" was frequently heard. But, in 1975, in Germany, they had already set up a crisis headquarters to deal with the strike in the Ford auto plants.

In other words, the doctrine of security -- the deliberate production of "insecurity" and the consumption of "protection" -- is simply a way for capitalism to protect itself when it is threatened by proletarian subversion.

But the problem with Virilio's analysis is the simple fact that "Euro-terrorism" was not the product of ultra-leftist revolutionaries, but the product of the capitalist State itself. In other words, unlike Gianfranco Sanguinetti,[1] Virilio believes everything that he's been told about the Red Brigades. First and foremost, he believes that the "Red Brigades" continued to exist after 1970, and were not quickly infiltrated and then completely controlled by the Italian secret services. Virilio finds nothing weird about the fact that, as he says, "Renato Curcio, ‘historic leader of the Red Brigades,'" was "also a former neo-Fascist in the Ordre Nouveau group." Virilio seems to know absolutely nothing about NATO's anti-Communist "Operation Stay-Behind," its Italian branch ("Gladio"), or the role of the P2 Lodge. He seems to think that it was by accident or mere coincidence that Euro-terrorism was used to launch and maintain a state of permanent insecurity: "In 1977," he writes, "the terrorism which providentially sustained the international repression and systems of mass incrimination praised by the various media already afforded a glimpse of this kind of asocial organization" (emphasis in original). But, perhaps worst of all, Virilio believes the exact same lie that was used by Italian prosecutors to arrest, convict and imprison such theorists as Tony Negri[2]: "the Autonomists," he says, "destroy the transmitters of State television networks, obstruct roads and railways, blow up tax offices and airports in Corsica, in Brittany. . . ."

As a result, Popular Defense & Ecological Struggles does nothing to help us in these days of Al-Qaeda-style "terrorism," which is also -- and obviously so -- the creation of the very State that claims that it is under sustained attack. But this shitty little book does help us explain why Virilio has never taken the revolutionary movement seriously. (Note for example the weaknesses of the recent collection entitled "Art and Fear.")[3] To him, technology is the only agent of change: "When the European revolutionaries in the nineteenth century claimed that to control the streets is to control the State, they had no idea of the technological way in which they would in fact lose both the streets and the State at the same time!" Virilio takes this idea to ridiculous extremes: "And, in 1868, Gambetta was already denouncing Louis-Napoleon's coup d'etat as having depended on 'the new means of communication that science has placed in the hands of men: the telegraph and the steam engine.'" And so, far from being a technophobe,[4] Paul Virilio is a technological determinist.

-- NOT BORED! 16 August 2006

[1] See especially the pamphlet he wrote with Guy Debord in 1975: On the Last Chances to Save Capitalism in Italy

[2] See our comments entitled The relevance of Antonio Negri to the Anti-globalization Movement.

[3] See our review, especially its concluding paragraph.

[4] Joseph Nechvatal, review of Virilio's "Unknown Quantities," in Film-Philosophy, vol. 6, no. 47, November 2002.

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