The Economics of Trauma: Naomi Klein on “Disaster Capitalism,” #2 of 3


This is the second of three consecutive posts with entries from my philosophical journal pertaining to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.  The entry below was first written on the date indicated.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Klein, pp. 222ff, cites a speech American economist John Williamson gave at a by-invitation-only conference on January 13, 1993, in Washington, D. C., as the first time the transition was made from  the idea of economic “shock therapy” as a matter of the exploitation of crises when they occurred–exploitation of the “opportunities” crises afford for imposing otherwise unacceptable and impossible “neoliberal” [that is, “Chicago School”] economic reforms such as privatization, massive spending cuts on social programs, and deregulation–to a matter of actually engendering/fostering crises in order to introduce such reforms.

Either way, as with Bush after 9/11, it becomes the willful, manipulative, unconscionable exploitation of trauma by further traumatizing the already traumatized for one’s own, extrinsic ends.


Related is [Michel] Henry, again.  His Du communism au capitalism, p. 178, defines “the political” as the emergence of the notion of “une affair général” (his emphasis)–an ideal abstraction which then threatens always to set itself up as reality itself, imposed upon and without regard to the individual lives which alone give sense to the idea of the political  in the first place.  That occurs not just in the communist countries of the [former] East block, but also and especially at the heart of the very idea of democracy, as he goes on to articulate, culminating in this passage on p. 198:

In a democracy it is the people who govern.  Unfortunately the people does not exist:  it is no  more able to govern than to work a field or sow it with seeds.  The concept of democracy is thus a lure, the most extraordinary ever invented by men [les hommes] to abuse themselves or others.  That this lure rings like a bell before the stupefied regard of all nations that together make up Europe changes nothing of the ontological mystification on which it rests, but only makes it more dangerous.

For Henry, given how he defines it, “the political” must  be subordinated to the life of individuals, whereas for, say, [Alain] Badiou, the formulation is nearly reversed, given Badiou’s very different way of using that term.  But behind that superficial, merely apparent disagreement, there is profound agreement, as there is of both with [Jacques] Rancière and with Klein’s analysis whereby the problem is formulated as the liberation of economics from politics and the substitution of the former for the latter in global capitalism.


Klein, p. 380:

Through all its various changes–the War on Terror, the war on radical Islam, the war against Islamofascism, the Third World War, the long war, the generational war–the basic shape of the conflict has remained unchanged.  It is limited by neither time nor space nor target.  From a military perspective, these sprawling and amorphous traits make the War on Terror an unwinnable proposition.  But from  an economic perspective, they make it an unbeatable one:  not a flash-in-the-pan war that could potentially be won but a new and  permanent fixture in the global economic architecture.

P. 39:

In the heat of the midterm elections in 2006 . . . , George W. Bush signed the Defense Authorization Act in a private Oval Office ceremony.  Tucked into its fourteen hundred pages is a rider that went unnoticed at the time.  It gave the president the power to declare martial law and “employ the armed forces, including the National Guard,” overriding the wishes of state governors, in the event of a “public emergency” in order to “restore public order” and “suppress” the  disorder.  That emergency could be a hurricane, a mass protest or a “public health emergency,” in which case the army would be used to impose quarantines and to safeguard vaccine supplies.  Before this act, the president had these marital powers only in the face of an insurrection.

Pp. 392-293:

As proto-disaster capitalists, the architects of the  War on Terror are part of a different breed of corporate-politicians from their predecessors, one for whom wars and other disasters are indeed ends in themselves. . . . That’s because what is unquestionably good for the bottom line of these [directly benefited] companies [such as Lockheed or Haliburton] is cataclysm–war, epidemics, natural disasters and resource shortages–which is why their  fortunes have improved dramatically since Bush took office.


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