Giorgio Agamben On Security and Terror

Security as a leading prinicple of state politics dates back to the birth of the modern state. Hobbes already mentions it as the opposite of fear, which compels human beings to come together within a society. Michel Foucault has shown how the political and economic practices of the Physiocrats opposes security to discipline and the law as instruments of governance. Physiocratic officials were not primarily concerned with the prevention of hunger, but wanted to allow for the development of hunger to then regulate and “secure“ the consequences. While disciplinary power isolates and closes off territories, measures of security lead to an opening and to globalization; while the law wants to prevent and regulate, security intervenes in ongoing processes to direct them. ln short, discipline wants to produce order, security wants to regulate disorder. Since measures of security can only function within a context of freedom of traffic, trade, and individual initiative, Foucault can show that the development of security accompanies the ideas of liberalism.

Today we face extreme and most dangerous developments in the thought of security. In the course of a gradual neutralization of politics and the progressive surrender of traditional tasks of the state, security becomes the basic principle of state activity. What used to be one among several definitive measures of public administration until the first half of the twentieth century, now becomes the sole criterium of political legitimation. The thought of security bears within an essential risk. A state which has security as its sole task and source of legitimacy is a fragile organism; lt can always be provoked by terrorism to become itself terroristic.

In the end security and terrorism may form a single deadly system, in which they justify and legitimate each others‘ actions. The risk is not merely the development of a clandestine complicity of opponents, but that the search for security leads to a world civil war which makes

But there is another danger. Because they require constant reference to a state of exception, measures of security work towards a growing depoliticization of society. In the long run they are irreconcilable with democracy.