The society of enmity

RP 200 () / Article

Perhaps it has always been this way. [1] Perhaps democracies have always constituted communities of kindred folk, societies of separation based on identity and on an exclusion of difference. It could be that they have always had slaves, a set of people who, for whatever reason, are regarded as foreigners, members of a surplus population, undesirables whom one hopes to be rid of, and who, as such, must be left ‘completely or partially without rights’. [2] This is possible.

It’s equally possible that nowhere on earth has a ‘universal democracy of humanity’ ever existed; that, with the earth divided into states, it is within such states that one seeks to realize democracy, that is, in the last instance, a politics of the state which, by clearly distinguishing between its own citizens – those who are seen to belong – and the rest, keeps at a firm distance all those who are not seen to belong. [3] At any rate, the contemporary era is undoubtedly characterized by forms of exclusion, hostility, hate movements, and, above all, by the struggle against an enemy. As a result, liberal democracies – already considerably ground down by the forces of capital, technology and militarism – are now being drawn into a colossal process of inversion. [4]

The disturbing object

The term ‘movement’ necessarily implies the setting into motion of a drive, which, even if impure, is composed of a fundamental energy. This energy is enlisted, whether consciously or not, in the pursuit of a desire, which is ideally a master-desire [désir-maître]. This master-desire – at once comprising a field of immanence and a force composed of multiplicities – is invariably directed towards one or several objects. ‘Negro’ [Nègre] and ‘Jew’ were once favoured names for such objects. Today, Negroes and Jews are known by other names: Islam, the Muslim, the Arab, the foreigner, the immigrant, the refugee, the intruder, to mention only a few.

Desire (master or otherwise) is also that movement through which the subject – enveloped on all sides by a specific phantasy [fantasme] (whether of omnipotence, ablation, destruction or persecution, it matters little) – seeks to turn back on itself in the hope of protecting itself from external danger, while other times it reaches outside of itself in order to face the windmills of the imagination that besiege it. Once uprooted from its structure, desire then sets out to capture the disturbing object. But since in reality this object has never existed – does not and will never exist – desire must continually invent it. An invented object, however, is still not a real object. It marks an empty yet bewitching space, a hallucinatory zone, at once enchanted and evil, an empty abode haunted by the object as if by a spell.

The desire for an enemy, the desire for apartheid, for separation and enclosure, the phantasy of extermination, today all haunt the space of this enchanted zone. In a number of cases, a wall is enough to express it. [5] There exist several kinds of wall, but they do not fulfil the same functions. [6] A separation wall is said to resolve a problem of excess numbers, a surplus of presence that some see as the primary reason for conditions of unbearable suffering. Restoring the experience of one’s existence, in this sense, requires a rupture with the existence of those whose absence (or complete disappearance) is barely experienced as a loss at all – or so one would like to believe. It also involves recognizing that between them and us there can be nothing that is shared in common. The anxiety of annihilation is thus at the heart of contemporary projects of separation.

Everywhere, the building of concrete walls and fences and other ‘security barriers’ is in full swing. Alongside the walls, other security structures are appearing: checkpoints, enclosures, watchtowers, trenches, all manner of demarcations that in many cases have no other function than to intensify the zoning off of entire communities, without ever fully succeeding in keeping away those considered a threat. Such …