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Security, Economy, and the Cancellation of the Future

Christos Boukalas

For ten years now we live under an economic crisis, its metastases, and its effects. Since the turn of the century, we live under recurring security crises and the attempts of the state to prevent them. This paper contrasts state policies vis-a-vis these two types of crisis; specifically, it contrasts their implications for political and economic futures. By doing so, it inter-relates the reactions of the state with regard to political and economic futures, to argue that they combine into an hegemonic, terminal crisis of neoliberalism.


Political pre-emption I: in law (is this law??)

Defining contemporary security policy, is the nature of the thing it strives to protect against:

terrorism. Terrorism is a political crime. Typically, legal definitions of terrorism outline it as a combination between a ‘criminal’ and a ‘political’ element. The United States, France and Greece adopt a ‘surplus value’ approach to defining terrorism. They define it as a list of already existing crimes which, when they ‘appear to be intended’ to ‘influence the policy’ or ‘affect the conduct’ of a government, are transformed into terrorism . We note that the acts included in the definition were already criminalised. Their political motivation turns them into crimes of a different quality (‘terrorism’) and doubles the associated sentences, which can reach life imprisonment. So, if arson is punished with five years, arson intended to ‘influence’ a government is punished with ten. This penal surplus value lies in the political motivation that informs the act.


The United Kingdom adopts a different, even looser, approach. Its definition does not outline any conduct (actus reus) whatsoever. It includes acts of violence against a person or damage to property; and any conduct that may - regardless of intention - result to serious risk to life, safety or security. The British definition relies exclusively on political motivation: the act is ‘designed to influence the government’ or to advance ‘a political cause’. This includes lawful acts: a strike

1 US Code §2331; Patriot Act §802, §808; Code Penal, Art. 421-1; Περί Καταπολέµ ησης της Τρο µ οκρατίας Νοµ ος 110( Ι )/2010. An important difference here is that, while US law provides a general definition, the French and Greek laws do not.

by nurses, or a mass demonstration that, unintentionally, slows down the fire service, could be ‘terrorism’ .


In every case, the definition of terrorism involves two elements that are highly anomalous in criminal law: it makes motivation a constitutive (and decisive!) element of the offence; and it explicitly locates culpability on the political character of the motivation. In effect, terrorism collapses the distinction between antagonistic politics and crime, and this marks counterterrorism law in its entirety.

Criminal law is not only mobilised to target political motivation, but also to punish terrorist crimes before they are committed. The result is that political conviction defines criminality, even in the absence of a specific act. The UK is the most advanced country down this path. Two outstanding specimens of pre-emptive laws are the ‘preparatory’ and ‘encouragement’ offences.

Preparation offences criminalise, with a 15 year sentence, the possession of anything in circumstances that give rise to reasonable suspicion that possession is ‘for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation, or instigation of an act of terrorism’ . They provide a 10 year sentence for collection, recording, and possession of ‘information of a kind likely to be useful’ to the preparation of a terrorist act . And, there is life imprisonment for engaging ‘in any conduct in preparation for giving effect to the intention’ of committing acts of terrorism . The actus reus of preparatory offences consists of any conduct (including lawful) that can be linked to a, however remote, final act. Thus, preparatory offences expand the temporal reach of criminal law and the range of behaviours it encompasses. The final act that can recast any conduct as criminal is terrorism; and terrorism resides on political motivation. Thus, political conviction is decisive for determining the existence of the offence.




Thus, if you hire a van, you are probably ok; if you hire a car ‘while being radical’ you may be committing a crime that could get you in prison for life. (Needless to say: these ‘could’, ‘may’ and ‘probably’ outline a completely deregulated law. All this law does is provide licence to the authorities to prosecute and punish what they perceive as threatening).

2 Characteristically, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have adopted definitions identical to that of the UK. Yet, they added an explicit exception vis. ‘public protest’. They UK does not.

3 Terrorism act 200, s.57(1), 121

4 Terrorism Act 2000, s.58

5 Terrorism Act 2006, s.5

Encouragement offences apply to all forms of expression: speech, writing, art, drama, music, etc. They punish the publication or dissemination of ‘a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to them to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism’ . It is irrelevant whether anything in the statement or publication relates to the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorist acts; or whether anyone has been encouraged by the statement to commit, prepare, or instigate such acts. These offences rely on the interpretation of a communication by some members of its audience. The audience and its predispositions, the decisive factor for encouragement, is itself interpreted - by the authorities. Thus, publishing this text on an ‘academic’ forum is probably alright; publishing the exact same text in an ‘anarchist’ forum could be encouragement of terrorism, leading the author and the forum’s host to 10 years in prison. Thus, encouragement offences give state authorities license to selectively prosecute and punish political expression.


Counterterrorism marks a pre-emptive turn in criminal law. It undermines legal certainty; expands criminalisation; and outlines a chaotic criminal law, that only coheres thanks to its political targeting. Pre-emption refers to the neutralisation of the enemy’s capacity to strike. It entails preventing threats from materialising. For criminal law, it means that the law must punish uncommitted crimes. It therefore must punish their potentiality, and their potentiality resides in the actor’s political conviction. Counterterrorism law aims to pre-empt the possibility of antagonistic politics.

Political pre-emption II: beyond the law

The political targeting of counterterrorism and its pre-emptive character are taken a step further in strategies to combat extremism. The UK defines extremism as ‘the vocal or active opposition to British values’. These are ‘democracy, the rule of law, equality of opportunity, freedom of speech, and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind’ . So, extremism is anything that diverges from the core premises of political liberalism. Counter-extremism seeks to repress extremist ideologies and those who promote them; to protect people from becoming


6 Terrorism Act 2006, ss.1-2

7 Home Office (2011) ‘CONTEST. The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism’, p.34, 44, 107

radicalised; and to intervene in institutions where there are risks of radicalisation: schools, universities, prisons, mosques, hospitals, the internet, etc.

To achieve this, it sets up an enormous, vertical mechanism that is strategically determined by the Prime Minister, organised in the Home Office, promulgated by the police, and implemented at ground level by nurseries, schools, universities, hospitals, prisons, and local authorities. The personnel of these institutions is legally obliged to look out for, and report, symptoms of radicalisation in their students, patients, welfare recipients, inmates, etc. These symptoms are invariably politically determined: association with known extremists; expression of grievances against social injustice or foreign policy; criticism of Parliament or any state authority; mistrust in the police…

Counter-extremism is an advanced pre-emptive strategy: it seeks not only to disrupt the threat before it materialises, but before it is formed. To do so it sets out a state machinery that intervenes in the individual’s idea formation - in the individual’s mind. It does so in order to prevent the formation of political subjectivities that are not liberal.


Pre-emption is essentially the management of future potentialities. Through it, an actor attempts to control aspects of the future. In our case, the actor is the state. And pre-emption is an attempt to expand the state’s temporal sovereignty. Temporal sovereignty is the capacity of the state to initiate, define and determine the outcomes of social, symbolic, economic, and political processes within a variable temporal horizon. This implies, first, that state assumes a strategic agency, an agency that envisions and seeks to impose a specific future and avoid alternative ones; and second that the temporalities of the state can determine the temporalities of other social processes.

Security policy expands the temporal sovereignty of the state over politics: the state seeks to determine and control the long term political outlook of society, by penalising antagonistic politics and by repressing the formation of non-liberal subjectivities. In other words, the state expands its temporal sovereignty over politics in order to deny society a political future - in order to guarantee that the political composition of society will remain in an eternal liberal present.

The approach of the state to the economy is completely different; yet the result is the same.


The state response to the 2007-2008 financial crisis came in two waves: one of reaction and one of reform. The first wave (2008-2009) comprises emergency measures to ‘stabilise the financial sector’ - and the socio-political arrangement that depends on it. This period is marked by an unprecedented (in areas other than security) empowerment of the Executive to do all it takes to combat the crisis. In the US, the Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act authorised the Treasury to take ‘any action necessary’ to save the financial system. Congress, very elegantly, set out a list of 17 priorities that should guide Treasury intervention. These range from ‘promoting financial stability’ to ‘protecting college funds’ and, between them, make any conceivable Treasury intervention perfectly justifiable. What Treasury actually did was to implement a programme that gave almost $1trillion to the banks, partly in exchange for bank shares - shares that did not allow the Treasury to participate in their Board of Directors even when it was the majority shareholder. In the UK, the Banking Acts of 2008 and 2009 legalised the hitherto prohibited ‘nationalisation’ of unredeemable financial institutions, which was the government’s preferred method for bailing out failing banks. Notably, the real crisis-fighting action occurred beyond these authorisations, in the unilateral action of each country’s Central Bank. It took the form of ‘quantitative easing’, the euphemism for the mass provision of fiat money to the banks. It is estimated that, in the US, quantitative easing endowed them $10trillion.

The longer term response was set out between 2012 and 2013, once the financial system was safe - and, in fact, stronger than ever. It was codified in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2012 and the Banking Reform Act 2013 (UK); and in the famous Dodd-Frank Act (US). The UK Acts legalise bail-in as a method of avoiding insolvency, and make mergers subject to due diligence. Crucially, they require that the investment activities of big banks are ring-fenced from their ordinary lending activities. The US curtails some transactions between banks and hedge funds; introduces regular stress-testing to be conducted by the Federal Reserve; and regulates bonuses, so that top bankers are not ‘systemically’ tempted to high-risk endeavours. Both countries require banks to hold capital as a buffer against potential liquidity shortages; and they both establish a robust regime of financial regulation, that targets both the level of the firm and that of the market as a whole. Regulating agencies perpetually monitor virtually all aspects of bank activity, and can impose a freeze on

certain types of transaction when they become too risky. In the UK, regulating agencies can even veto the appointment of bank directors .


These laws outline a strengthening of state presence in the financial sector. Yet, this presence is an enabling rather than a reforming one. By allowing bailing-in and enhancing insolvency solutions, the state softens the blow of bank failure. The regulating bodies have great intervention capacity, but only in an ad-hoc, targeted basis. None of the practices that led to the 2007 collapse have been banned - they are just being monitored and could be temporarily restricted if they are deemed to become dangerous. With regards to the structure of the sector, due diligence only assesses the risk a merger may pose to the banks involved. It allows mergers to continue, resulting to banks that are even bigger to fail. And, there is no breakup of banks to their investment and ordinary lending components, but only ring-fencing of respective activities. This only became law 6 years after the crisis erupted; will only become operational in 2019, 12 years after the crisis; and is wrought with exceptions and loopholes. In all, the state seeks to prevent another economic crisis through better monitoring and by installing resilience, while keeping financial structures and practices intact.

In short, the long awaited, sweeping reform of the financial sector never hapenned. This is no surprise given the utter dependency of the neoliberal regime of accumulation on ‘high finance’. Nor is it surprising that the state would not reconsider such an unstable and crisis-prone regime. Not only there is deep, systemic collusion between state and finance, but also financial capital was the only interlocutor of the state in planning its reform. Financial policy is nothing but the self- institution and self-regulation of financial capital by means of state law and action. Ergo, while the financial crisis is long overcome and the financial sector is wealthier than ever, the economic crisis is still devastating society. The non-reform of the financial sector betrays a perfect strategic incapacity of the state: its interventions are strictly defensive and conserving because it cannot contemplate any different course with regards to the economy.

Beyond the particularities of financial reform, the state has made no attempt to reform economic processes so that it can control them. This would involve the deceleration of economic activities to match the decision-making temporalities of state institutions. Crucially, the state leaves the causes of the crisis unmolested - it even promotes policies that further strengthen them by intensifying the concentration of wealth. Finally, the state makes no strategic intervention in the economy: it does

8 See: Putnis, J, Hammond, B and Bonsall, N ‘United Kingdom’; and De Ghenghi, L and Agrawal Sahni, R ‘United States’. Both in: J. Putnis (ed.) The Banking Regulation Review, Fifth Edition. London: Law Business Research, 2014

not try to reshape the mode of accumulation, the associated social regime, the operational modalities of economic actors or the power relations among them.

In all counts, in terms, i.e., of strategic configuration, institutional temporality, and modality of intervention, the state does not assert a temporal sovereignty over the economy. This means that economic processes will, in perpetuity, continue as they are - stumbling from one crisis to the next, while the crisis-generating causes are left intact.


We have compared state responses to crises in its most important areas of activity: security and economy. The contrast could not be starker. Security policy is predominately pre-emptive. The state utilises it to shape the political register. It goes deep into the past of the future to annihilate the causes of potential security crisis by preventing the formation of antagonistic political convictions and subjectivities. It expands its temporal sovereignty in order to deny society a political future.

By contrast, with regards to the economy, the state remains re-active. It goes after capitalist crises, cleans up their mess (or, rather, forces us to clean up), and, politely, tries to support capitalist practices rather than change them. More than anything, it does not intervene on the fundamental crisis-generating practices and relations. In all, it seeks to galvanise the economy to continue as it is. Thus, the drastic expansion of temporal sovereignty over politics and the withdrawal from such thing over the economy, paradoxically achieve the same result: that politics and the economy will remain as they are in perpetuity - that the future in both registers is cancelled. The two motions are deeply related: the cancellation of the political future is a requirement and a guarantee for the cancellation of the economic future: it allows capital to impose its crises on society, while ensuring that society cannot impose a crisis on capital.

This aversion towards a future that is something more than the reproduction of the present is the result of the triumph of neoliberalism in forming the economy, politics and society. The triumph of neoliberalism is the triumph of capital, especially financial capital, over all other social classes. The effect of capital’s full scale victory is multiform. In economic terms, it means extreme concentration of wealth, which constantly generates crises. In political terms, it means that the state (national states, but also supranational directorates and governance networks) becomes the private affair of capital. The state does not synthesise conflicting social interests anymore, it simply implements the

interests of capital over society. And capital has completely lost its appetite for the future. Its dominant mode of accumulation is rentier: it cares not for investment, expansion or growth, but for maximum extraction. It feeds on its power to dictate the way society lives - and uses this power to secure that society continues as it is. In this stagnation, the only force that can energise it is crisis. The intra-capital cannibalism and the social dispossession that economic crises entail have become the predominant mode for igniting accumulation: capitalism depends on crisis. This is why security, and the negation of a political future, are so important: the condition for the recurring, vital crises is the certainty that they will indeed lead to further deepening of extraction and exploitation, and that the exploited will not be able to inflict a crisis on capital. Finally, the stagnation of the capitalist mode of accumulation means that the state loses its capacity for strategic, long term planing. In short, the triumph of neoliberalism means that capital and its state are not only averse to a qualitatively different future; but also organically unable to envision one.

What we have here is a complete hegemonic implosion. Unlike the old aristocracy whose rule was based on reference to the past, to origins; the rule of the capitalist class is based on its capacity to lead society to a desirable future. These visions of the future were, selectively and synthetically, codified by the state into hegemonic projects, able to mobilise society towards a state-defined vision of a common future. From equality, fraternity and liberty, to the new deal, the affluent society and the global village, these visions marked different stages of capitalism and its continued capacity to lead society. These visions have ceased since the turning of the century. Our ‘leaders’ do not lead us anywhere. They do not suggest any desirable future; they ask us to stick with them or face barbarity: Isis, Trump, the Russians, the Korean bomb. The future will either be an ever deteriorating continuation of the present, or a catastrophe.

Two parting remarks. First, the capacity of capitalism to reinvent itself, produce future visions and lead society was the outcome of its capacity to incorporate social resistance, co-opt and reshape it to deepen its rule. It has now lost this capacity precisely because it has achieved full spectrum dominance over society. The triumph of neoliberalism already signals its demise. And second, capitalism is by definition a future-oriented relation. The current loss of vision and appetite for the future is, for capital, an existential threat in the truest sense of the term.

Apart from my permanent indebtedness to K. Marx, A. Gramsci, C. Castoriadis, and N. Poulantzas, this text draws ideas from:

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I wish to thank Telemachos Antonopoulos-Xxxx for his encouragement and his expert translation of this text. Also, Alexandros Xxxx, Natalia Xxxx, Makis Xxxx, Maria Xxxx, and Elias Xxxx for their critical, encouraging comments.

Christos Boukalas is a law- and state-theorist and expert on counterterrorism. He teaches at Northumbria Law School