France: Let there be order

… power is not defined only by its capacity to be obeyed but, first of all, by its capacity to give orders and commandments, even if those orders are not totally obeyed. A power does not fall when it is no more obeyed or completely obeyed, but when it ceases to give orders.

Giorgio Agamben, Che cos’è il commando?/ What is a commandment?

“The lesson I draw is order, order, order. Our country needs a return of authority at every level, and firstly in the family.” – French President Emmanuel Macron speaking in an a television interview, on July 24th, 2023 (Politico 24/07/2023)

“Knowing that he is in prison is stopping me from sleeping … In general, I believe that ahead of a possible trial, a police officer should not be in prison, even if he may have committed serious faults or errors in the course of his work.” – France’s national police chief Frederic Veaux in an interview for the newspaper Le Parisien, 23rd of July, 2023

The two statements, the second, from France’s police chief and the first, from the country’s President, coincide perfectly to reveal the nature of political power: to command, without justification, for the sake of commanding, or, inversely, the justification for commanding is to command.

Ultimately, nothing lies beyond political order than order itself, and order by itself is but willed imperatives. Grandiloquent justifications or foundations arise after the fact and are little more than the vestments of authority, with one garment easily replaced by another.

The two statements cited above come in the wake of the July riots in France, after the police killing of Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old of North African descent, during a routine police check on June 27 in Paris.

More particularly, the police chief’s comments were made in relation to the arrest of a police officer – part of a group of four –, who are accused of shooting (with a blast ball), beating and seriously injuring a young man in Marseille, at the time of the riots in that city, without the man being involved in the disturbances. (The Guardian, 27/07/2023)

A case of excessive zeal, some might and will say. But this is to take the norm for a mistake, for zeal is precisely what is necessary to govern; to command necessarily implies the exercise of violence, for command is the imposition of a controlling will against what is possible among others and oneself, against what is potentially present in us, but which defies authority.

The meaning and function of the [will] are perfectly clear: it is a matter of containing and bridling potentiality, of imposing a limit on chaos, … which would otherwise render impossible an ordered government of the world. The instrument that realises, so to speak from the interior, this limitation of potentiality is the will. … Nietzsche’s hypothesis was correct. To will is to command and what the will commands is nothing other than potentiality. I would like then to leave the last word to one of Melville’s characters, to someone who obstinately lingers at the crossroads between the will and potentiality, Bartleby the Scrivener, who to the man of law who asks, “You will not?”, he incessantly answers, “I would prefer not to”…

Giorgio Agamben, Che cos’è il commando?/What is a commandment?

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