03.10.2022

The french lesson: violence against property pays off?

"Sovereign is who decides on the state of emergency" – if one takes this sentence by the constitutional lawyer carl schmitt literally, then sovereignty in france is currently on the street. Only as a legal matter does this sovereignty still lie with the political institutions, and in this sense the french prime minister dominique de villepin can now react to the events in the suburbs with the means of curfew and a state of emergency.

The historical-philosophical observation that in the 21. Century the 19. The idea of a guerrilla warfare, which recurs in france, receives further nourishment from the events in france: dagger against sword, proletariat against police, anarchism against order – and the citizens in between, as untrapped spectators.

In addition to carl schmitt’s bold definitions, the categories of other, "black" thinkers of political theory to adequately describe the ever escalating turmoil, which is escalating into a flat fire. In addition to schmitt, it is also worthwhile at this time to look at the writings of the preubian war theorist carl von clausewitz: the nocturnal unrest in france corresponds quite closely to the tactics of partisan or guerrilla warfare described by clausewitz. After years of more peaceful means of conflict resolution, this form of confrontation has now reached the suburbs of the west for the first time since the days of more theoretical urban guerrilla concepts.

Guerrilla means small-scale warfare; it is conducted by irregular fighters, who are quantitatively inferior, but by their way of warfare can form short-term superiorities and thus qualitative advantages by speed, mobility and tactical skill. Partisans, by definition, avoid the open field battle and prefer the unclear terrain. Without the prospect of military victory, their chance – and here at least this is comparable to what happened in baghdad – is to raise the costs for the other side in such a way that their willingness to compromise increases.

The technical developments of the last century in the field of communication and transportation favor the guerrilla warfare, making it appear in some cases as the war of the future. It reads like a foreshadowing of the uprisings in the banlieus when carl schmitt mentions in this context the partisan’s connection to his surroundings, to space in general, and his connection to the established population, his support by them.

Attention, recognition, participation

But what is it that is actually happening here in the french cities?? In any case not "baghdad before the haustur", as was already occasionally read? It is not that after all. No crusade idea, not on one side, not on the other, leads the actions. And even if it may occasionally seem so: it is not colonial masters and the oppressed, not occupiers and the occupied, who clash in the banlieus.

Nor is it that "the end of multiculturalism", that is taking place here: the events in france are not about foreigners, not about culture, and certainly not about integration. The revolters are for the most part french citoyens. Nor is it a question of any specifically french faults or traditions, although the specifically french protest culture, whose essential elements include prere from the street, blocking the normal course of events in order to make a political difference, has an important part to play here.

Even the revolt, as you can see, "the continuation of politics by other means." in a few days, the inhabitants of the banlieu have achieved what they have been fighting for for years, without success, within the framework of the usual political participation procedures: attention, recognition, participation. They appear on television, their representatives are presented to the prime minister, their situation is analyzed on many newspaper pages, and the question of how to help them is discussed. "Why not do it like this?" as an observer, one is tempted to ask. The learning process that the now revolting generation is going through in a few days contains a single central lesson: violence against things pays off. Revolt, go to the streets, demonstrate, create unrest, paralyze the institutions, burn gauze, round up cars, make such vehement difficulties for the politicians and the establishment that they can no longer look past you, that they can no longer ignore you – even if it is only to save their own naked skin.

So this is how it has to be done in the democratic mass society. Just imagine if all parents in germany who were finally looking for the kindergarten place that had been promised on paper for years were to go out on the street, for the time being without tying up other people’s cars – no question, the kindergarten places would be there in no time at all. One can also imagine that hartz iv recipients, unemployed, dissatisfied taxpayers would revolt in a similar way. One may be sure that they would achieve politically more than in the past with their electoral vote – provided they were mass enough for the quantity of protest to turn into quality.

Powerlessness and resistance

Of course, the civil disobedience that is now on the scene is also about something else: the changed role of the state in the globalized world society. The widespread discomfort with the economic culture that has existed for years has turned into powerlessness. This experience of powerlessness is now giving vent to itself in the form of anarchic resistance. Western society has made itself comfortable in the majority-middle class morality and has lost the ability to observe and criticize itself. Instead, they help themselves get by with the relief strategy of moralizing. The morally agitated have replaced the analyzing intellectuals everywhere in the west, the inconsequential whining has replaced the disputatious discourse.

What this causes can now be seen in the french suburbs. It is gradually becoming apparent how much the democratic societies of the west have needed their opposite, the undemocratic states of the east, in order to be capable of self-observation and the resulting self-regulation of the situation in the first place. With the fall of the iron curtain in 1989, they have lost this ability for the time being. They obviously do not have the ability to criticize themselves.

In france it becomes obvious what the west is suffering from: the lack of a conception of itself, of a regulative idea, against which the actual circumstances could be checked. Enlightenment and human rights, the project of modernity, could be such an idea, but it had to be concretized, spelled out in terms of current circumstances.

The grip of the economy

Instead, since 1989, it has been all about one thing: the so-called market forces, greed, money. And that is too little. In the everyday terror of an economy that had become total, every project, every forward-looking idea, every promise, every criticism evaporated. However, the permanence of the crisis – the deliberately created prere of constraints to further and further deregulate conditions – challenged not only ideas, but also the real existing institutions of western democracies: state sovereignty, the welfare state, civil solidarity, in the end also the rhineland capitalism of social market economies – in the end, all of this could be escaped from the political picture plane by a few percentage fluctuations of growth figures and euphoric trade balances. The state of emergency in the french suburbs is only the other side of this self-generated, self-willed crisis.

But the so-called market constraints are not a law of nature. Or better: they are only that. But it is important not to accept this nature, but to cultivate it. It is important to align institutions like the welfare state not with economic efficiency criteria, but with political objectives. The instrument of such pacification of the economic state of nature, of the containment of the economic war of all against all, which – as france shows – can quickly escalate to civil war, is the modern state.

It was the subordination to the primacy of the economy that ruined the political institutions – and, let there be no illusions, it continues to do so for the time being. With the disappearance of the state, its transformation into a crude enterprise, the burghers also disappear, transformed into employees and consumers, cost bearers and profit earners. Now is the time for politicians, their institutions and their citizens to begin to break free from this economic grip.

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