Broadening biopower beyond its Nazi encampments in order to build a critique of liberalism, Timothy C. Campbell argues that modern politics captures life through invasive technologies of communication and consumption that promise protection from mortality, disability, boredom, and loneliness. Campbell links mass media and bioengineering to the birth of a global petty bourgeoisie defined by a terrifying lack of distance and the relentless dismantling of community. This compelling, powerfully argued book should be read by anyone interested in the futures of collective life in the age of smart bombs and cloud computing.
The most influential dimension of Agamben’s work in recent years has been his contributions to political theory, a contribution that springs directly from his engagements in metaphysics and the philosophy of language. Undoubtedly, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Lif e is Agamben’s best-known work, and probably also the most controversial. It is in this book that Agamben develops his analysis of the condition of biopolitics, first identified by Michel Foucault in the first volume of his History of Sexuality series and associated texts. In this volume, Foucault argued that modern power was characterized by a fundamentally different rationality than that of sovereign power. Whereas sovereign power was characterized by a right over life and death, summarized by Foucault in the dictum of “killing or letting live,” modern power is characterized by a productive relation to life, encapsulated in the dictum of “fostering life or disallowing it.” For Foucault, the “threshold of modernity” was reached with the transition from sovereign power to biopower, in which the “new political subject” of the population became the target of a regime of power that operates through governance of the vicissitudes of biological life itself. Thus, in his critical revision of Aristotle, Foucault writes that “for millennia, man remained... a living animal with the additional capacity for a political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question" (HS1 143).