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Power and evaluation: active and reactive force

When political theorists talk about power, they tend to mean ways in which some agents govern or exercise control over the actions of others. This was not always so. The shift from a more general concept of power as capacity to the narrower concept of power which predominates in modern political theory is exemplified in Hobbes’s discussion in Leviathan where, after defining power as ‘present means to obtain some future apparent good’, he goes on to consider only the means by which individuals can enhance their own powers by controlling the powers of others. The fact that he includes friendship as an ‘instrumental’ power alongside riches and reputation draws attention to an important feature of the concept, namely that there is nothing objectionable about exercising power (Hobbes 1968:150ff.). As we saw above, to offer advice, instruction or support is also to act upon the actions of others. The widespread view of power as essentially repressive assumes that power is by nature hostile to the interests of those over whom it is exercised. By contrast, for Deleuze and Foucault, power is not always detrimental to the interests of those over whom it is exercised.10 Indeed, in some respects, the exercise of power is what shapes and determines those ‘interests’. Their concept of power is non-normative in the sense that it includes all of the ways in which agents are able to act, upon others or upon themselves. That is why Deleuze can comment that there is no point in asking whether a new form of power, such as that embodied in mechanisms of control, is better or worse than the old: in each case there is conflict ‘between the ways they free and enslave us’ (Deleuze 1995b:178).

The question raised by this approach to power is whether there are evaluative means of differentiation immanent to the exercise of power itself? Can we distinguish between forms of domination and more benign modes of action upon the actions of others in terms intrinsic to the exercise of power? Critics such as Fraser and Habermas have pointed to the absence of any criteria in Foucault which would allow for normative discrimination between ways of exercising power. Others have pointed to his failure to address any of the normative issues which concern liberal political theory and the social contract tradition: when and in what ways is power, especially State power, justified? These issues are largely although not entirely absent from Foucault’s discussions of power up to the publication of The History of Sexuality, Volume I, in 1976.11

By contrast, in Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983), there is a sense in which Nietzsche’s theory of will to power does provide grounds for evaluation, but in a manner that is unlikely to satisfy Foucault’s critics. Deleuze argues that Nietzsche’s project is the realisation and radicalisation of Kant’s critique. For Nietzsche, it is values themselves which must be evaluated, in contrast to the uncritical acceptance of established values


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which characterises Kantian critique. According to Deleuze, we find in Nietzsche an explicit qualitative distinction between active and reactive modalities of power, and it is this qualitative dimension of the will to power which enables the evaluation of values. Nietzschean critique takes the form of a genealogical interpretation of phenomena which assesses their sense and their value. The sense or meaning of a given phenomenon is determined by the quality of force which predominates (forces are either active or reactive), and its value by the quality of the will to power which is present (affirmative or negative).

In other words, in addition to the differences between the various natural kinds of force, Deleuze draws attention to the distinction between ‘active’ and ‘reactive’ force. This finds its clearest expression in Nietzsche’s account of the differences between master and slave morality in On the Genealogy of Morality (Nietzsche 1994: essay 1, paras 10, 11). The fundamental difference is between those who distinguish the good (themselves and their like) from the bad, and those who distinguish the evil (the others) from the good (themselves). This is a difference in the direction of what Nietzsche calls ‘the value-positing eye’, between self-directed action and other-directed action:

In order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all—its action is fundamentally reaction. The reverse is the case with the noble mode of valuation: it acts and grows spontaneously.

(Nietzsche 1994: essay 1, para. 10)

In Deleuze’s systematic reformulation, this distinction is drawn in the first instance with reference to the relative strength of the forces present: the superior force, by which is meant the one that dominates in a given encounter with another force, is active, while the inferior or dominated force is reactive. The difference between these two kinds of force is thus a difference in their manner of action. Reactive forces are those whose activity is conditioned or constrained by superior forces. They are paradigmatically forces of adaptation or conservation, regulative forces whose ‘mechanical and utilitarian accommodations…express all the power of inferior and dominated forces’ (Deleuze 1983:41). By contrast, active forces are those appropriative, dominant or superordinate forces that impose forms of activity upon others. While these are to some degree constrained by their own nature, even this constraint is relative, since active forces are essentially transformative: ‘the power of transformation, the Dionysian power, is the primary definition of activity’ (Deleuze 1983:42).

Deleuze describes the difference between active and reactive forces as a difference between two qualities of force, where the qualities correspond

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to a difference in quantity. In effect, since forces exist only in relation to other forces, quantitative difference is the essence of force as such (there are no equal forces in nature). But this quantitative difference in turn gives rise to a difference in quality: ‘forces in relation reflect a simultaneous double genesis: the reciprocal genesis of their difference in quantity and the absolute genesis of their respective qualities’ (Deleuze 1983:51). The will to power is the differential and genetic principle which accounts for the relationship between forces. It is the inner principle which gives rise to this double genesis: ‘The will to power is the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation’ (Deleuze 1983:50). While it does not bring the forces into relation, that task being left to chance, the will to power ‘produces’ the difference in quantity and the resultant quality which each force acquires in a given relation (Deleuze 1983:53).

Although the quality of forces has its origins in quantitative difference, it is not bound by that original state of affairs. Cultural phenomena no less than physical events involve dynamic systems. As Nietzsche repeatedly argues, the weak may triumph over the strong. In On the Genealogy of Morality he analyses some of the principal forms of reactive force which have held sway over human nature, namely ressentiment, bad conscience and the ascetic ideal. Reactive forces may get the better of active ones, but they do not thereby become active, for the reason that their mode of operation is not the same. Nietzsche’s view, according to Deleuze, is that the difference between active and reactive forces derives in the first instance from the difference in quantity: active forces are those that dominate while reactive ones are dominated. But this difference in the quality of forces cannot be reduced to quantitative difference alone. If it could, then the distinction would serve no critical purpose, whereas Deleuze clearly wants it to do so: ‘inferior forces can prevail without ceasing to be inferior in quantity and reactive in quality’ (Deleuze 1983:58).12 He therefore draws the distinction in terms of the difference between two modes of operation or functioning: reactive forces are forces of limitation or decomposition which resist the activity of other forces. They ‘separate active force from what it can do’ (Deleuze 1983:57), and in this way are able to overcome active forces by neutralising some or all of their power. By contrast, active force is force that acts of its own accord. In doing so, it may impose forms upon lesser forces or otherwise appropriate or subordinate them to its own ends. Active force goes to the limit of what it can do, even to the point of its own destruction and transmutation into something else.

At this point, Deleuze argues, a further distinction is necessary to complete the evaluative function of the will to power: ‘in order to be the source of the qualities of force in this way, the will to power must itself have qualities, particularly fluent ones, even more subtle than those of force’ (Deleuze 1983:53). These qualities are the affirmative and negative

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character of the will to power itself. Although the difference in mode of operation between active and reactive forces may appear to follow from the original quantitative difference—dominant forces are those in a position to pursue their own activity while dominated forces are constrained to respond, and constrained in their possible responses—the difference also corresponds to a difference between affirmation and negation. Active force affirms its own nature rather than seeking to oppose or limit that of the other.

Affirmation and negation or denial are primordial expressions of the will to power. They are, Deleuze says, ‘the immediate qualities of becoming itself (Deleuze 1983:54). That is why will to power cannot mean wanting power: what the will wants, to speak in anthropomorphic terms, is ‘a particular relation of forces, a particular quality of forces. And also a particular quality of power: affirming or denying’ (Deleuze 1983:85). Given that in all events a will to power is operating, it follows that every phenomenon expresses a certain combination of forces and therefore a certain type. Conversely, while the will to power is expressed in every type of body, it does nevertheless take higher and lower forms. Power in the sense that is praised above all others by Zarathustra is active and creative. It is especially manifest in ‘the bestowing virtue’: ‘the will to power is essentially creative and giving: it does not aspire, it does not seek, it does not desire, above all it does not desire power. It gives’ (Deleuze 1983:85).

The introduction of this primordial distinction between qualities of the will to power interjects further complexity into Nietzsche’s genealogical interpretation. Interpretation involves determining the sense and value of a thing, where its sense is determined by the quality of force which is present while its value is determined by the quality of the will to power. There is an affinity or complicity between affirmation and active force, and between negation and reactive force, but never a confusion of these two levels. This implies that active forces may in fact possess the value of negative will to power or, what amounts to the same thing, that forces of nihilism, life-denying forces, may become active. Conversely, forces of affirmation may themselves become reactive: ‘There are reactive forces that become grandiose and fascinating by following the will to nothingness and there are active forces that subside because they do not know how to follow the powers of affirmation’ (Deleuze 1983:67).

The distinction between qualities of force and those of will to power is not one that can simply be read off from the relative strength of the forces in play on a given occasion: that is why it provides the basis for a form of critical evaluation which can judge the present. But this is not the moral form of critique which judges what is against what should be, rather it is a genealogical critique which judges what is by determining the quality of the forces present and their affinity with one or other character

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of the will to power. The result is a complex and nuanced system of judgement which does not allow for any simple axiological priority of active over reactive, affirmative over negative.

Take the example of Christian religion: for Nietzsche, this has its origins in ‘the slave revolt in morality’ and possesses an essential affinity with the negative side of the will to power. This apparently doubly negative phenomenon has nevertheless produced some of the highest forms of human life hitherto.13 It is both a ‘rigorous and grandiose stupidity’ (Nietzsche 1973: part 5, para. 188), yet also the principal means by which the (European) human spirit has been educated and developed to its present state of sensibilities and possibilities. At issue here is the historical diversity of the forms which this religion has assumed, the different character (active or reactive) and nuance (affinity with affirmation or negation) of the forces which have held sway in different contexts. The reactive consciousness of sin that becomes evangelistic and denunciatory is not the same as the active abstention from all that is sinful. There are forms of religious life that display an inner strength of affirmation and enjoyment of themselves. The reactive forces of spiritual discipline and self-denial may acquire an affinity with the affirmative aspect of the will to power. Or take the example of illness or injury which separates the healthy individual from his or her powers and limits the possibilities for action. While this is clearly a reactive force, its value depends on the nature of the subject and how it responds to the illness which acts upon it. The same physiological state may weaken some powers but also open up new possibilities of feeling or bring about new capacities for acting and being acted upon. Nietzsche spoke of his illness in these terms when he suggested that it enabled him to discover life and himself anew and that it was during the years of his ‘lowest vitality’ that he ‘ceased to be a pessimist’ (Nietzsche 1969: ‘Why I am so wise’, section 2). Depending on how the illness is lived, we must ask whether it is the same condition or the same illness in each case: ‘is it the same invalid who is the slave of his illness and who uses it as a means of exploring, dominating and being powerful?’ (Deleuze 1983:67). Ultimately, it is the relationship between the illness and the patient which determines the affirmative or negative quality of this reactive force.

The dynamic aspects of the interplay between the qualities of will to power and those that supervene on force relations mean that the evaluation of particular phenomena is no simple matter. The internal complexity that is introduced by the possibility that active forces may become reactive, and acquire an affinity with the negative rather than the affirmative quality of the will to power, or the possibility that reactive forces may become active and acquire an affinity with the affirmative dimension of the will to power, implies that the meaning and value of particular phenomena can only be assessed by a patient and meticulous practice of genealogy. There is no algorithm by which we can read off the quality of a given event or

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phenomenon. Indeed, as Nietzsche’s conception of history as successive events of subduing and becoming master suggests, philosophy conceived as the interpretation of the meaning of things must be an art (Nietzsche 1994: essay 2, para. 12). None the less, defenders of the Enlightenment faith who cling to the possibility of objective judgement might still insist that there must be grounds for reassurance. Even granted the complexity of phenomena and the tortuous paths of their historical development, surely there is an objective value which is theirs alone: in the end, a given phenomenon must be assigned a single, if complex and nuanced, value.

At this point, a further bifurcation appears in Deleuze’s reconstruction of Nietzsche’s metaphysics of power. At the level of empirical acts of judgement by particular, historically constituted subjects, there is no transcendent point or uniform standard of judgement. Ultimately, it is the will to power which interprets and which evaluates (Deleuze 1983:53–4), and the will to power is divided. As a result, all evaluation must be grounded in one or other character of the will to power, one or other quality of force. Values cannot be abstracted from the standpoint from which they draw their value, and that standpoint is ultimately the affirmative or negative character of the will to power. At this level, evaluations reflect the quality of the forces which make them, and there will be as many evaluations of a given phenomenon as there are subjects of evaluation. There is no transcendent standard, no God’s-eye point of view to ground the possibility of objective evaluation. Any particular judgement will be an expression of the nature of that which judges. For this reason, Nietzsche and Deleuze argue, ‘we have the hierarchy that we deserve, we who are essentially reactive, we who take the triumphs of reaction for a transformation of action and slaves for new masters’ (Deleuze 1983:61). In this sense, the Nietzschean philosophy of power supports Foucault’s refusal to get caught up in the play of justifications, since it shows why there is no possible accommodation between conflicting points of view.

At the same time, considered as a transcendental principle of the qualities of force, the will to power does enable a critical perspective on values:

High and noble designate, for Nietzsche, the superiority of active forces, their affinity with affirmation, their tendency to ascend, their lightness. Low and base designate the triumph of reactive forces, their affinity with the negative, their heaviness or clumsiness.

(Deleuze 1983:86)

The will to power is not only divided but internally ordered such that the affirmative quality and active forces are primary. For Nietzsche, the will to power is ultimately affirmative. Wherever it assumes a negative character, this can only be understood in relation to the more fundamental affirmative character: thus nihilism, the will to nothingness, ‘is and remains a

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will’ (Nietzsche 1994: essay 3, para. 28). Similarly, there is an important sense in which active force is the primary quality of force: while the reactive is no less present at the origin, it can only be understood as reactive ‘in relation to and on the basis of the active’ (Deleuze 1983:42).

In this sense, the will to power is already a partisan principle, one that cannot claim the neutral status of ‘objective truth’ but only consistency with its own fundamental nature. Will to power is itself an affirmative thought, capable of expressing new forces: ‘A thought that would go to the limit of what life can do, a thought that would lead life to the limit of what it can do’ (Deleuze 1983:101). There is no independent answer to the following question: in what sense and by what right is nobility higher or better than baseness? There is no external justification for the preeminence of the affirmative and active. It is not enough to point to the logical pre-eminence of the active over the reactive, the affirmative over the negative, since if the will to power only exists in its determinate and qualified forms, then it is no less present on the side of the negative and the reactive. In order to function as a basis for critical evaluation, Deleuze argues, the will to power must be considered in the context of Nietzsche’s philosophy as a whole. We cannot only consider the will to power ‘in itself or abstractly, as merely endowed with two opposite qualities, affirmation and negation’ (Deleuze 1983:86). We must also refer to the ‘test’ of eternal return. Ultimately, Deleuze’s Nietzschean metaphysics implies a selective concept of being, or a concept of being as a selective process, in which it is only the active and the affirmative which return, and in which the negative must eventually be transmuted into the affirmative. Because it implies a principle of selection, Deleuze’s Nietzschean philosophy of difference is no less ‘moral’ in its effect than Plato’s. But it involves a different principle of selection, allowing only the return of the excessive and transformative forms, those that go to the limit of their capacities and transform themselves into something else. Since being is conceived in terms of degree of power, this amounts to the selection of the ‘higher’ forms: those with the greatest capacity to act and to be acted upon, those with the greatest capacity and the greatest sensibility. The eternal return thus defines and selects that which is ‘noble’ in Nietzsche’s sense of the term: ‘Eternal return alone effects the true selection, because it eliminates the average forms and uncovers ‘‘the superior form of everything that is”’ (Deleuze 1994:54–5). In this sense, unlike Foucault’s analytics of power, Deleuze’s Nietzschean metaphysics does offer a surrogate for hope.

Deleuze and Guattari’s sociopolitical analysis relies upon an equally selective and partisan conceptual framework of evaluation. Consider Plateau 9, ‘1933: micropolitics and segmentarity’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:208–31), where they challenge the anthropological idea that the social space of ‘civilised’ society is centralised and hierarchical, in contrast to the segmentary space of so-called primitive societies. They point out

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that the social fabric of modern capitalist society is no less segmented in its economic and political organisation, its uses of language and its organisation of desire. Segmentarity is present in both forms of society, they argue, but there are two kinds of segmentarity: one supple and molecular; the other rigid and molar. These are distinct ‘because they do not have the same terms or the same relations or the same nature or even the same type of multiplicity’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:213). They are inseparable ‘because they coexist and cross over into each other’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:213). For this reason, Deleuze and Guattari suggest, their conception of social space in general implies a distinction between two simultaneous states of the one Abstract Machine: an abstract machine of overcoding which defines a rigid segmentarity and which is linked to the State and its apparatus of government, and ‘an abstract machine of mutation which operates by decoding and deterritorialization’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:223). These concepts and their consequences for social and political theory will be examined in Chapters 5 and 6. What is important here with regard to Deleuze and Guattari’s evaluative framework is the manner in which different types of segmentation of social space result in different kinds of line: molar lines which correspond to the forms of rigid segmentation found in bureaucratic and hierarchical institutions; molecular lines which correspond to the fluid and overlapping forms of division characteristic of ‘primitive’ territoriality. As individuals and as collectivities, Deleuze and Guattari argue, we are composed of different kinds of lines. What they call ‘micropolitics’, ‘schizoanalysis’ or social ‘cartography’ is the study of these different lines and their interactions in a given social field.

Molar and molecular lines correspond to different ways of organising or occupying social space. From an evaluative point of view, each has its own advantages and its own dangers. However, for Deleuze and Guattari’s structure of evaluation, the important figure is another kind of line altogether: the line of flight or deterritorialisation which traces the paths along which things change or become transformed into something else. The line of flight is privileged in their analysis and throughout A Thousand Plateaus. Preference is accorded to those processes or modes of existence that exhibit the greatest possible degree of creativity or life: lines of flight or deterritorialisation, ‘continuous variation’, ‘becoming-minor’ are some of these processes; ‘rhizome’, ‘body-without-organs’, ‘plane of consistency’ and ‘nomadism’ are some of the figures associated with these creative processes. There is nevertheless an ambivalence inherent in all of these Deleuzian figures of metamorphosis and creativity. Nothing in A Thousand Plateaus is unambiguously good or bad and the line of flight is no exception. It is both the line of maximal creative potential and the line of greatest danger, offering at once the possibility of the greatest joy and that of the most extreme anguish.

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As well as being creative lines or potential paths of mutation in an individual or social fabric, lines of flight have their own dangers: they may themselves ‘emanate a strange despair, like an odour of death and immolation, a state of war from which one returns broken’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:229). The danger is that, once having broken out of the limits imposed by the molar forms of segmentarity and subjectivity, a line of flight may fail to connect with the necessary conditions of creative development or be incapable of so connecting and turn instead into a line of destruction. When this occurs, the outcome can be a ‘passion of abolition’ which leads to suicide or worse (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:229). The potential danger and uncertainty associated with lines of flight are the reason for the essential prudence of Deleuzian politics. It is because we never know in advance which way a line of flight will turn, or whether a given set of heterogeneous elements will be able to form a consistent and functional multiplicity, that caution is necessary. At the same time, it is because ‘it is always on a line of flight that we create’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987:135) that we must continue to experiment with such lines.

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Date: 2015-01-11; view: 2014

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