The supreme social concept: the un-worldliness of modern security

Autumn 2010

Since Hobbes, the capacity to govern through providing ‘security’ has been understood as the way of producing and organising political order and subjectivity. Hobbes’ claim that the security of domestic peace is founded on fear of violent death meant that modern individuals must be taught to love life. The discourse of ‘security’ is arguably the most powerful discourse of the modern age since it has largely set the parameters of modern thinking about politics and war. However, contra Schmitt and his followers, this is not because ‘security’ is the political discourse par excellence, allowing the sovereign to decide the law and exceptions to the law. Modern security is an exemplary instance of the rise of the social, as understood by Hannah Arendt. Modern discourses and practices of security have provided the justification and mechanism for the expansion of what Arendt described as the ‘life process’ of ‘society’ and the liberal view that ‘life is the highest good’. Arendt’s unwieldy and strange concept of ‘the social’ is eccentric, but defensible, both in terms of its origins in her unique form of philosophical anthropology and her socio-historical analysis of capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state.

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NF 71 Hannah Arendt 'After Modernity'