Neoliberalism & Terrorism – Part 2

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In my previous post, I intended to show that our society becomes atomised by the characteristics inherent in neoliberalism. Now I want to try to answer the question of the similarities and draw parallels between neoliberalism and terrorism.

In my opinion the definition of violence and power are essential for the understanding of terrorism. Here, power is defined by the existence of a human community; the source of power arises out of the constitution of a group. The condition of possibility for power is action, which creates a public, political area. According to Arendt, power never belongs to one single human being only. It needs a connection, an in-between (lat. interesse as something in between), which connects the people and allows collective action. The individual can only have force and violence; violence includes, in contrast to power, an instrumental character. Using violence, we always focus on something; it is the means to an end. Moreover, with the help of the means of violence, it serves to multiply human violence. Hence, violence and force can belong to every single person, while power can only be harnessed by a group that is acting together, connected by interests in means of inter-esse. However, it is important to mention that the phenomenon of power and violence hardly ever appear separately and instead appear alongside each other.

I have shown in the first part how first of all neoliberalism generates atomisation by looking at people as competing objects who are urged in the private sector of labour and consumption. Secondly, I have pointed out the emptiness and objectification of one’s own body. Those two moments are now essential for the following argumentation. Mary Kaldor refers, concerning new and old wars, to globalisation and the profound changes of social structures it causes. Therefore, globalisation has created two quite different phenomena; firstly the group of people who have found their place in globalisation, who have adapted to the fast changes regarding social and economic aspects. Secondly, on the other side, a group has developed that actually cannot be called a group in the meaning of the group in Arendt’s understanding. Those people cannot find their place in the globalised world, whereby a great insecurity arises within one and between the individuals. Kaldor calls this development “identity politics.” Along with globalisation we have to talk about a crisis of identity, of a feeling of alienation and disorientation, which goes with the dissolution of cultural communities.[1] Neither the group orienting oneself in the globalised world nor the particularistic group contain quite a strong political awareness. Kaldor can be understood with Arendt here when she writes that so far the arising global groups do not have such a political awareness, at most they have a weak one. Further she says that this means they do not represent a fundament for political communities which then could be the beginning of power. For Kaldor the reason for this lies in the individualism and the anomy through which the present time is defined. [2] This means that neither the one group nor the other one has a strong political awareness.

As I have explained in the last part, in neoliberalism the inter-esse, that in-between of people disappears. Rather atomisation, emptiness and an acting against each other prevails. This kind of action, however, is no basis for constituting power, precisely because the commonalities of people are missing. This atomisation of society is at the same time the objective of terrorism.

So what are the conditions for the development of terrorism? For the reign of terror the previous tyranny with its focus on disempowerment of the society is fundamental. Disempowerment is reached by dissolving the connections between society; in other words by atomisation. Deprivation of power is entirely fulfilled when, with respect to the tyranny, there can be no organised opposition built anymore. Now all the predestined conditions are given: “Der Terror konserviert und intensiviert die Entmachtung durch die Atomisierung der Gesellschaft”[3], saying that terror preserves and intensified deprivation of power by atomising the society. Terror continues the game, which was played by tyranny before, only that now terrorism is doing it in an intensified way. People do not organise themselves together anymore, rather the reign of terror is organising the people with the means of the violence of atomisation. “Dem Terror gelingt es, Menschen so zu organisieren, als gäbe es sie gar nicht im Plural, sondern nur im Singular”[4]. Here Arendt states that terror succeeds in organising people as if they could not exist in plural but only in singular forms. Therefore, terror nourishes itself from powerlessness, from an impossibility to constitute power by merging and acting together. Neoliberalism produces an emptiness and forlornness in people as well as an objectification and privatisation on a social level that increasingly prevents unity and connection.

The characteristics of neoliberalism and terrorism cross each other, complement and match. I want to point out that I do not think that terrorism and neoliberalism are following the same purpose, since this would be exaggerated and quite undifferentiated. Yet, neoliberalism entails an atomised society that, as I have tried to show, is fundamental and essential for the emergence and work of terrorism.


[1] Mary Kaldor: Alte und Neue Kriege. S. 130
[2] Mary Kaldor: Alte und Neue Kriege. S. 130
[3] Hannah Arendt: Macht und Gewalt. S. 56
[4] Hannah Arendt: Elemente und Ursprünge totalitärer Herrschaft. S. 958

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