Deleuze has had a profound impact on contemporary approaches to the theory of power. Through his studies of the philosophies of Nietzsche and Spinoza, he develops a concept of power which has none of the juridical and moral presuppositions typically associated with power in the tradition of modern political thought. This concept of power none the less enables a form of ethical evaluation which plays an important role in the social and political theory developed in collaboration with Guattari. It informs both the theory of desire that is the basis for their critique of psychoanalysis in Anti-Oedipus (1977) and the theory of assemblages developed in A Thousand Plateaus (1987). The key elements of Deleuze’s concept of power are presented in his 1962 study, Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983). The aim of this chapter is to outline the concept of power developed through Deleuze’s interpretation of Nietzsche, and to show how this is developed further in his subsequent collaboration with Guattari.
In order to do so, it will be helpful to trace some of the important continuities with as well as divergences from Foucault’s concept of power. To a considerable degree, Deleuze’s impact upon contemporary political thought has been mediated by the work of Foucault, who acknowledged the influence of Deleuze’s ‘superb book about Nietzsche’ on his own thinking about power (Foucault 1983a:203).1 Deleuze in turn commented upon and elaborated Foucault’s theses about power, first in his review of Discipline and Punish (Deleuze 1975:1207–27) and then in the additional comments on power in his Foucault (1988b). In fact, there are several ‘zones of indiscernibility’ between the concepts of power deployed throughout the texts of Deleuze, Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari, but also a number of differences between them. The most important of these differences has to do with the explicitly normative character of Deleuze’s approach to power. We will take up this issue, and the evaluative character of the social theory developed with Guattari, in the third section of this chapter.
Nietzsche is not the first to propose an interpretation of human behaviour in terms of power: Hobbes and Spinoza among others preceded him in this endeavour. But Nietzsche’s understanding of power differs from preceding theories in several important respects. First, he refuses any perspective according to which the fundamental drive is to preserve or to increase the power of the body concerned. For Nietzsche, will to power is not a matter of individual bodies striving to maintain their power or persevere in their being, in the manner of Hobbes or Spinoza. It is not energy expended in order to reach a particular goal or end-state, but simply the expenditure of energy itself. The power of a body is expressed when it acts with all of the force or energy with which it is endowed. In paragraph 13 of Beyond Good and Evil (1973), he remarks that we should beware of superfluous teleological principles such as the drive to self-preservation. His own principle is more general, encompassing the drive to self-preservation but also the drive to self-destruction or self-overcoming: A living thing desires above all to vent its strength—life as such is will to power—self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of it’ (Nietzsche 1973: part 1, para. 13).2 It follows that Nietzsche’s understanding of power must be distinguished from the homeostatic principle which underpins the Darwinian conception of nature. Deleuze comments that ‘Nietzsche criticises Darwin for interpreting evolution and chance within evolution in an entirely reactive way. He admires Lamarck because Lamarck foretold the existence of a truly active plastic force, primary in relation to adaptations: a force of metamorphosis’ (Deleuze 1983:42). The idea that life, in the broadest sense of the term, is essentially active and transformative is a recurrent theme throughout Deleuze’s philosophy.3
A second fundamental point of difference between Nietzsche and his predecessors with regard to power is that he treats it as a matter of effective capacity on the part of the body concerned rather than as something represented and therefore able to be recognised or not by others. Deleuze suggests that according to Hobbes, ‘man in the state of nature wants to see his superiority represented and recognised by others’ (Deleuze 1983:80). By contrast, for Nietzsche, it is only the slave who understands power in terms of representation since this is a mediocre and base interpretation of power. Any such representational concept of power is prone to an implicit conformism, since it implies that an individual will only be recognised as powerful in accordance with accepted values. By contrast, Nietzsche understands power to involve the attainment of new values: ‘against the image of a will which dreams of having established values attributed to it, Nietzsche announces that to will is to create new values’ (Deleuze 1983:85).
In his remarks on the history of human moral sentiments in Human, All Too Human (1984) and Daybreak (1982), Nietzsche offers many examples of the analysis of human drives or forms of moral judgement in terms of
power. Although he did not use the term ‘will to power’ until Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1969a),4 by the time he wrote On the Genealogy of Morality (1994), the concept had become so established in his thinking that he could refer to his theory that ‘in all events a will to power is operating’ (Nietzsche 1994, essay 2, para. 12). A common misunderstanding assumes that the will to power is a particular psychological drive, such as the love of power which motivates so many political actors. While Nietzsche certainly recognises this phenomenon,5 this is not what is expressed by his concept of will to power. To interpret will to power as wanting or seeking power, Deleuze argues, is to produce ‘platitudes which have nothing to do with Nietzsche’s thought’ (Deleuze 1983: xi). The will to power is not one drive among others but the immanent principle in terms of which all human drives are to be understood.
In treating will to power as central to Nietzsche’s system, Deleuze anticipates the argument of a number of more recent studies of Nietzsche.6 In common with a number of these studies and contrary to the widespread view of Nietzsche as an unsystematic or even anti-systematic thinker, he presents him as a rigorous philosopher who ‘uses very precise new terms for precise new concepts’ (Deleuze 1983:52). Alongside nihilism and the eternal return, he argues, ‘will to power’ is one of the most important of the new concepts that Nietzsche creates and introduces into philosophy (Deleuze 1983:80). Deleuze’s systematisation of Nietzsche’s theory of will to power takes its point of departure from those passages in the posthumously assembled The Will to Power (1968), in which Nietzsche extends his theory that ‘in all events a will to power is operating’ to include the physical universe. Against the atomism then prevalent in physics, he proposes a conception of material reality understood as centres of force. This implies a universe in which there are no ultimate, irreducible particles ‘but only dynamic quanta, in a relation of tension to all other quanta’ (Nietzsche 1968: para. 635). In these terms, physical bodies are constituted by relations of opposition or collaboration between forces, which are themselves effects of the differential power relations between the centres of force. These point-forces are dynamic quanta, in Nietzsche’s view, because each strives to become master over all space and to thrust back all that resists its extension. In doing so, they ‘continually encounter similar efforts on the part of other bodies and end by coming to an arrangement with those of them that are sufficiently related…thus they conspire together for power. And so the process goes on…’ (Nietzsche 1968: para. 636). It is this expansive character of forces, the active element internal to them which Nietzsche calls will to power: ‘The victorious concept force, by means of which our physicists have created God and the world, still needs to be completed: an inner will must be ascribed to it, which I designate will to power’ (Nietzsche 1968: para. 619).
Deleuze’s reconstruction of Nietzsche’s concept of will to power begins with this conception of reality as a field of quanta or quantities of force. These forces are virtual capacities to affect and be affected by other forces which are actualised in determinate form in a given material. According to Deleuze, forces are essentially related to other forces and the will to power must be understood as the inner principle of the relation between forces. Chance brings particular forces into relation with one another, but the will to power determines the character and the outcome of the relations between forces: whether a particular force is primarily active or reactive; which force prevails in a particular encounter given that active forces do not always prevail over reactive forces. In any event, both the dominant and dominated forces are manifestations or expressions of the will to power. Taking the differential calculus as his model, Deleuze argues that the will to power is the differential and genetic element which is realised in the encounter between forces or capacities of different kinds. There is a relation of mutual presupposition between, on the one hand, the forces or capacities of particular bodies which are only realised in such encounters and, on the other hand, the will to power which is inseparable from the existence and interrelation of particular determinate kinds of force. That is why the will to power is an ‘essentially plastic principle’ that is no wider than what it conditions (Deleuze 1983:50).
In Deleuze’s usage, the language adapted from Nietzsche’s remarks on physics is intended to apply not only to biological forces but also to the psychical, moral, social and political ‘forces’ which characterise the field of social and political action. ‘Force’ here assumes a very broad sense which has no necessary connection with violence. Foucault follows Deleuze in this usage of the term. It is because forces are of different ‘natural kinds’, as well as different magnitudes, that he refers to the space in which forces confront one another as ‘a ‘‘non-place”, a pure distance, which indicates that the adversaries do not belong to a common space’ (Foucault 1977b: 85). Nevertheless, in any given encounter, one force will dominate and another will be subordinated: in one context, the law may prevail over racially discriminatory public opinion; in another, public opinion may force politicians to override the rule of law. In this sense, a certain stable or precarious but always reversible balance of forces will be established. ‘Force’ should be understood, in abstraction from any determinate kind of action or interaction, to encompass all of the means by which bodies interact with one another. In this sense, ‘force’ is equivalent to ‘power’ in its primary sense of capacity to do or to be certain things. Forces are the potentials for acting and being acted upon which constitute bodies as bodies of a particular kind. Deleuze’s abstract and relational concept of force leads to an equally abstract concept of bodies, according to which the different kinds of force involved will determine the nature of different kinds of bodies: physical, organic or social. Bodies are understood here as
assemblages of particular kinds of force or capacity: ‘every relationship of forces constitutes a body—whether it is chemical, biological, social or political. Any two forces, being unequal, constitute a body as soon as they enter into a relationship’ (Deleuze 1983:40).
As the inner principle of relations between forces, will to power is manifest both as a capacity to affect and a capacity to be affected. Deleuze points out that, even before Nietzsche had fully elaborated his concept of will to power, he treated power ‘as a matter of feeling and sensibility’ (Deleuze 1983:62). The significance of the feeling of power derives from the fact that human beings are animals whose actions give rise to a corresponding subjective affect. Not only do they act, but they are also affected by their own actions. Before he had fully developed his theory of will to power, Nietzsche spoke about the feeling of power as the single most important element of human agency. Although he does not refer to it by name, the concept may be discerned in Human, All Too Human, where phenomena such as pity and teasing are analysed in terms of the ‘feeling of superiority’ thereby obtained, and where he advances the hypothesis that in all actions ‘it is the individual’s sole desire for self-enjoyment…that gratifies itself in every instance’ (Nietzsche 1984: bk 2, para. 107). In Daybreak, Nietzsche suggests that
because the feeling of impotence and fear was in a state of almost continuous stimulation so strongly and for so long, the feeling of power has evolved to such a degree of subtlety that in this respect man is now a match for the most delicate gold-balance. It has become his strongest propensity: the means discovered for creating this feeling almost constitute the history of culture.
(Nietzsche 1982: bk 1, para. 23)7
Deleuze points out that this dimension of Nietzsche’s concept of power brings him close to Spinoza, who ‘in an extremely profound theory, wanted a capacity for being affected to correspond to every quantity of force’ (Deleuze 1983:62). However, this affective dimension of the concept of power is not only a point of contact between Spinoza and Nietzsche: as we shall see in Chapter 4, it forms an important bridge between the Deleuzian concepts of power, desire and becoming.
At the level of sociopolitical analysis, the outcome of this differential concept of force and will to power is a proto-deconstructive concept of power, according to which the power of any given body resides not in the body itself but in its relations to other bodies. The suggestion that power is essentially relational is not in itself an original insight. C.B.Macpherson drew attention to the fact that Hobbes defines men’s natural powers not in terms of any absolute level of bodily endowments but in terms of the ‘eminence’ of those faculties (Macpherson 1968:34). In other words, the
power of a body depends upon its differences from other bodies and an individual in society is more powerful to the degree that his or her capacities exceed those of others; less powerful to the degree that they are exceeded by the capacities of others. There is, of course, a variety of ways in which the relative power of an individual body can be increased, including combining with or capturing the powers of others, or reducing the power of other bodies by imposing constraints on their capacity to act. The techniques of disciplinary power, which Foucault describes in detail in Discipline and Punish, involve both the combination of individual powers and the subordination of the resultant complex power to superior ends. Hobbes points out in Leviathan that the power of an individual in society includes not only the ‘natural’ powers of the body concerned but also the ‘instrumental’ powers, where these are the means by which one can command the forces of others, such as riches, reputation or friendship (Hobbes 1968:150). The greater the instrumental powers, the greater the degree to which the power of an individual will exceed the power of others.
Another way for individual bodies to enhance their power is to form alliances with other bodies. Interpersonal relations such as friendship may involve alliances that reinforce the powers of both parties, but so may political movements or institutional arrangements. The body politic of classical social contract theory might be considered a composite body which serves to enhance the power of its individual members, even though in its Hobbesian form it also involves the capture of individual powers by the sovereign.8 Deleuze and Parnet point to another kind of composite body which involves an increase of the powers of its constituent bodies through their example of the symbiosis of the wasp and the orchid. This is a phenomenon of ‘double-capture’ whereby
The orchid seems to form a wasp-image, but in fact there is a wasp-becoming of the orchid, an orchid-becoming of the wasp, a double capture since ‘what’ each becomes changes no less than ‘that which’ becomes. The wasp becomes part of the orchid’s reproductive apparatus at the same time as the orchid becomes the sexual organ of the wasp.
(Deleuze and Parnet 1987:2)9
Such processes of double-capture are only one of the ways in which the powers of an individual body may be transformed by entering into a relation with the powers of another without incorporating or weakening the other body. More generally, this kind of metamorphosis in the powers of a given body or assemblage is what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘becoming’. The primary concern of Plateau 10, ‘1730: becoming-intense, becominganimal, becoming-imperceptible’ in A Thousand Plateaus is the analysis of
the affective dimension of certain kinds of relationship between bodies by means of the concept of ‘becoming’. This concept is examined in more detail in Chapter 4, pp. 78–83.
Because human bodies are complex and possess a range of ‘natural’ powers, including the power of imagination, they are capable of many different kinds of interaction with other bodies. The kinds of action of which a human body is capable will depend upon its physical constitution, the enduring social and institutional relations within which it lives, and the moral interpretations which define its acts. In Daybreak (1982: bk 1, para. 38), Nietzsche points out that moral interpretations of phenomena are among the most important means by which human beings act upon themselves and others: it is by such means that an individual can enjoy his own magnanimity or arouse pity in others. In On the Genealogy of Morality (1994), following the principle that ‘All events in the organic world are a subduing, a becoming master’ (Nietzsche 1994: essay 2, para. 12), he applies the concept of will to power to the historical analysis of moral and cultural phenomena such as punishment, guilt, bad conscience and asceticism. These are events in the evolution of human consciousness which involve the emergence of new forms of human self-interpretation and which therefore determine the nature of social institutions and possible forms of action. Similarly, the systems of thought in relation to mental illness, punishment and sexuality described by Foucault are elements of the interpretative framework within which Europeans have acted upon themselves and others. These systems of thought serve to integrate and coordinate moral as well as physical and institutional forces.