‘The fear of concentration camps and the resulting insight into the nature of total domination might serve to invalidate all obsolete political differentiations from Right to Left and to introduce beside and above them the politically most important yardstick for judging events in our time, namely: whether they serve totalitarian domination or not.’
— Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951
Table of Contents
- The Return of Fascism
- Eternal Fascism
- The Fascist State and Human Rights
- Fascism and the Decay of Capitalism
- The Psychological Structure of Fascism
- From Kitsch to Woke: The Aesthetics of Totalitarianism
- Fascism, Neoliberalism and the Left
- The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of the State
- Humanity in Dark Times
8. The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of the State
What are the biopolitical forms of the new paradigm of governance that has emerged in the West from the coronavirus ‘crisis’?
- The state of emergency as the permanent form of biopower;
- The camp as the biopolitical paradigm of the state;
- Universal digital identity employing blockchain technology to store biometric data.
We might call these, respectively, the political, spatial and juridical forms of the global biosecurity state in formation, which combined are superceding the formerly dominant model of politics based on the now residual and soon to be redundant separation of powers between executive, legislature and judiciary. What need is there for a legislature when the executive can make any regulation into law under a permanent state of emergency? What need for a judiciary when the rule of law has been superceded by a totalitarian system of surveillance, control and punishment administered by artificial intelligence? What need for an executive when the powers of the state have been placed under the dictates of global technocracies? Indeed, as an emergent paradigm of governance, the global biosecurity state represents the end of the classical model of politics.
The first two of these biopolitical forms of governance are repetitions of historical forms of fascism, though with far greater powers of enforcement. The third, however, is the dream of fascism, and its imposition, therefore, perhaps warrants a new term. Describing new formations of power, however, only serves a purpose if it enables a clearer understanding of and — with that understanding — opposition to those forms. If the description of the global biosecurity state as the return of ‘fascism’ alerts the populations of the nation states enforcing it to the reality of what we are facing, then we should use this term. If, on the other hand, it allows the ideologues and propagandists of biosecurity to dismiss our warnings, as they did so successfully over the previous two years with the accusation of ‘conspiracy theory’, then it serves the implementation of these forms. What, then, are the arguments for using the term ‘fascism’ to describe this new paradigm of governance?
1. The Chinese Model
In the previous chapter I argued that, despite claims by libertarians opposed to the imposition of the global biosecurity state, the revolution in Western capitalism we are undergoing does not represent a communist coup engineered by the People’s Republic of China. That does not mean, however, that China has not provided a model for the programmes of the biosecurity state. As is widely known by now, Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London — whose fraudulent predictions of the death-toll from SARS-CoV-2 were used to justify the imposition of lockdown in the UK and the USA — in an interview in The Times published in December 2020 revealed that the members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, half of whom were drawn from Government departments, didn’t believe that the citizens of neoliberal democracies in the West would accept the removal of their rights and freedoms tolerated by Chinese citizens, and were amazed and delighted in equal measure when the imposition of lockdown restrictions in Italy suggested they would. ‘It’s a Communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought. And then Italy did it. And we realized we could.’ For Ferguson and his fellow technocrats in SAGE, therefore, the model for the regulations and programmes of the biosecurity state was undoubtedly China, which for some time now has subjected its citizens to a totalitarian system of digital surveillance, monitoring, control and punishment based not only on their adherence to laws but also on their compliance with the requirements of good citizenship.
It’s also true that the Chinese system of so-called Social Credit is one toward which we are being led through the programmes and technologies of the biosecurity state, including Universal Digital Identity and Universal Basic Income, and which Central Bank Digital Currency will take to the next level of control. First announced in June 2014 and with implementation beginning in 2020, the year following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, Social Credit is not yet a unified, nation-wide system, but the Chinese Government plans to make it mandatory for everyone. Under this system, the trustworthiness of not just citizens but also of companies and government entities are currently monitored and assessed by financial, criminal, governmental and online-credit data bases, but may in the future also include video surveillance, real-time data transfers, tax payments, bank loan repayments and employment disputes. According to the South China Post, Social Credit rankings are decided by the National Development and Reform Commission, the People’s Bank of China and the Chinese court system. Nobody outside the Government knows how the scores are arrived at, but negative behaviour includes failing to repay a loan, bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones, walking a dog without a leash, buying too many video games, wasting money on frivolous purchases, spending too much time on social media, and posting online what the Government deems to be ‘fake news’. A good rating could result in an offer of priority health care, deposit-free renting of public housing, discounts on energy bills, and better interest rates at banks; while a negative rating could see individuals banned from flights, trains and even access to education and credit, with their expenditures limited in size and content and their internet speeds slowed down. For companies, a negative rating can mean sanctions and punishments including fines, court orders, restrictions on government-approved land-use rights, public procurement and investment permits, subsidies and tax rebates. In a manner already familiar in the social-media-addicted West, citizens and companies deemed untrustworthy are publicly named and shamed.
Indeed, it is to the Chinese model of Social Credit that the UK Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, is preparing British citizens through the proposed reforms to the Human Rights Act, which will supplant the universality of human rights with the constantly changing obligations of citizenship within the UK biosecurity state. When these reforms become UK law — and given the incompetence and cowardice of the worst Parliament in British history there is no reason to believe they won’t — rights described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as ‘indivisible, inalienable and universal’ will become contingent on the citizen’s compliance with the changing requirements of what global technocracies decide are the obligations of citizenship at any given moment in a permanent state of emergency. And just as China’s Social Credit system also applies to companies, this has already been copied in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals programme, which allocates capital, investment and other preferential treatment to governments and corporations according to their compliance with its Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance initiative.
History has demonstrated that neither the governments of nation states nor organisations of international laws and treaties defend or uphold the human rights of stateless individuals or people; but the imposition of the global biosecurity state nevertheless represents a historic watershed in the conception of human rights, and therefore, I would argue, in the West’s definition of what it is to be human. Indeed, when governments can decide, as they did across the Western world over the past two years, that our natural biological state is, by default, a threat to our fellow citizens, and it is therefore the state’s right and duty to correct it with biotechnology injected not only into adults but also into children almost from the moment they are born, then we have clearly moved from a humanist conception of man that has been under assault for over a century into a post-human world in which the human organism is being reduced to little more than a host for the emergent biotechnologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In Shanghai, the largest city in the People’s Republic of China, 26 million people have been kept in the most severe lockdown since 1 April under the Government’s ‘zero-COVID strategy’. Effectively placed under house arrest, residents are either prohibited from leaving their homes or allowed to do so at designated times to buy essential goods like food. Workers in white hazmat suits forcibly enter residents’ homes to spray them with disinfectant. Businesses are closed, and millions of poorer residents who cannot afford, or do not have access to, online food services are facing starvation and despair. The worst affected are the hundreds of millions of voiceless, low-income migrant labourers in China. The Government uses mass surveillance of mobile phone, rail, and flight data to track down individuals who had travelled to affected regions. Individuals suspected of being infected are tracked through their credit card transactions and CCTV footage. Neighbourhood monitors log the movements and temperatures of individuals. Facial recognition algorithms identify commuters who aren’t wearing a mask or who aren’t wearing one properly. Health and other databases have been integrated so that hospitals, clinics and chemists can access the travel information of their patients. Self-quarantine is enforced through location-tracking smartphone apps in compulsory wristbands. Government-issued identity cards are required in order to buy SIM cards for mobile phones or tickets on state-run rail companies and airlines.
Robot dogs roam streets and apartment blocks, barking orders at residents to maintain social distancing, wash their hands, test their temperature, and other biosecurity restrictions and obligations. Where the dogs can’t reach, police-operated drones perform the same task. Anyone caught breaking quarantine is caught by hazmat-suited officials using man catchers and prosecuted under the new laws on pandemic management. Protesters are severely beaten by riot police. All residents in quarantined cities and blocks are required to take regular PCR-tests, with those refusing having their Health Code status downgraded from green to yellow, indicating that they need isolating or medical treatment and restricting their movements. The Health Code, which is run by algorithms according to rules formulated by the Chinese Government and requires a smart phone, is linked to traffic data, operator data and financial institution payment data, and can track a person’s movements within fourteen days. Those who test positive are sent to quarantine camps. Some of these are converted factories, warehouses, schools and conference centres, others are residential blocks that have been forcibly emptied of residents. The biggest are purpose-built camps that can hold up to 5,000 inmates. Since late March, there have been less than 140 deaths in Shanghai attributed to COVID, less than the 186 deaths caused by lockdown restrictions, including through lack of medical care and suicides.
As of 1 June, 2022, 130 million people in at least 16 cities in China are under full or partial lockdown. Since the ‘pandemic’ was declared in December 2019, two-and-a-half years ago, there have been 5,226 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in a nation of 1.4 billion people, or 1 in every 268,000 of the population. China’s zero-Covid strategy is not expected to change before autumn 2022, when Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission since 2012 and President of the People’s Republic of China since 2013, will attempt to use the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to cement his third term as leader, following the abolition of presidential term limits in 2018. As a demonstration of how the Chinese model works, this month bank depositors were stopped from attending a planned protest in Zhengzhou against the freezing of their accounts for the past two months by the simple expedient of identifying the intended protesters and turning their Health Code red, prohibiting them from travelling and confining those who tried to ‘quarantine’. If the libertarians are right, and China is the model for the global bisoecurity state, then this post-human world is our immediate future, openly described and promoted by the World Economic Forum under the guise of Smart Cities, and in the course of being implemented by the nation states of the West imposing this new paradigm of governance on their populations without recourse to any recognisable democratic process.
There is another model, however, and another way to answer the question of whether we should describe this new paradigm of governance as fascism. This is to look at the use of this paradigm not in communist China today but in neoliberal states long before the coronavirus ‘crisis’ was manufactured. This, I think, will give us a more accurate understanding of how the political, juridical and cultural forms of the global biosecurity state will be enforced on the populations of the West, who although far more servile and obedient than even the technocrats in SAGE and WHO could have believed, have had their political values formed around the concept of ‘freedom’ for too long to give it up all at once. There is one state, in particular, where elements of this biopolitical paradigm have already been implemented, trialled and approved by the neoliberal states of Western capitalism for three-quarters of a century, and which is therefore coexistent with the organisations of global governance created by the West after the Second World War to promote this concept as the alternative to international socialism. I refer, of course, to the apartheid State of Israel, which today more closely resembles the nation states of historical fascism than any other country, and above all in its use of the camp as the biopolitical paradigm of the state.
2. The Apartheid State of Israel
The exemplary application of this paradigm is the Gaza Strip, to which Palestinians escaping the Naqba fled in 1948, and whose borders were fixed by the armistice between Israel and Egypt in February 1949. Initially administered under the military authority of Egypt, Gaza was subsequently occupied by Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War. In 1993 its administration was taken over by the State of Palestine, which also exercised partial authority over areas in the West Bank; but Israel retained control over its borders, airspace and territorial waters. In 2005, Israel withdrew its settlement camps and soldiers from the Gaza Strip. The following year, Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist political party, won the Palestinian legislative elections and expelled Fatah, the social democratic party, thereby creating two separate governments in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In response, Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip that continues to this day.
Although Israel now describes Gaza as a de facto independent state, it maintains direct external control over the strip and indirect control over life within it. In addition to Gaza’s air and maritime space, Israel also controls six of Gaza’s seven land crossings, and it reserves and exercises the right for its military to enter Gaza at will. Israel maintains a buffer zone within the already limited territory of Gaza, which in 2010 it expanded to 300 meters, and on which Palestinians homes are regularly bulldozed and farmers attacked by Israeli Defence Forces. Gaza is dependent on Israel for water, electricity, telecommunications and other utilities, and the population is not free to leave or enter, or to import or export goods freely. As a result of this blockade, Gaza today, with a population of over 2 million people on 365 square kilometres of land in which 17 percent is off limits, is the third most densely populated political authority in the world, and 70 per cent of its inhabitants are living below the poverty line.
In December 2021, Israel announced the completion of the enhanced militarised barrier by which its blockade of Gaza is maintained. Stretching 65 kilometres (40 miles) around the Gaza Strip and out into the Mediterranean Sea, the double-walled barrier cost US$1.1 billion, extends 6 meters above ground and an undeclared number of metres below ground to block tunnels, and is armed with antennas, cameras, radars and a sea barrier. Watchtowers every 2 kilometres are equipped with remote-controlled machine guns, and motion sensors are inserted into the fence between and the ground beyond. As a result of the buffer zone beyond, 35 per cent of arable land and 85 per cent of fishing waters along the Gaza coast are off-limits to Palestinians. Under new rules of engagement for Israeli soldiers, any Palestinian in this zone is shot. After 15 years of maintained blockade, 52 per cent of Gaza’s population is unemployed, 80 per cent is dependent on international assistance, 97 per cent of the drinking water is contaminated, 39 per cent of pregnant women and 50 per cent of children are anaemic, and 17.5 per cent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition, which is increasing. Israel only allows food imports that are vital for the survival of the civilian population, to determine which, it uses an equation that calculates the minimum level of calories necessary to sustain Gaza’s population at a level just above the UN definition of hunger.
In May 2021, the Israel Defence Forces, which includes 160 fighter jets, bombed Gaza with high-explosive weapons dropped on heavily populated areas for 11 days. The result was 259 Palestinians killed, including 66 children and 41 women, and 2,211 injured. In addition, 6 hospitals and 11 medical clinics were destroyed, 53 schools, a bookshop that held an estimated 100,000 books, as well as 1,042 homes and commercial units in 258 buildings, including 4 residential tower blocks. The Israeli Government claimed these towers were being used by Hamas for military purposes. However, Human Rights Watch has challenged the truth of this claim, declaring that the air strikes ‘violated the laws of war and may amount to war crimes’. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced as a result of these strikes. During the Israeli offensive, social media posts by Palestinian activists documenting the effects of the bombing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were censored or removed and their accounts suspended. Meta subsequently issued a statement that there had been a ‘technical glitch’ at the time. At the end of the month, Israeli police arrested 348 Palestinians. In August 2021, in mass protests along the Gaza barrier, 40 Palestinians were injured, including a 12-year-old boy who was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers. Omar Hasan Abu al-Nil later died from his wounds. The protests continued into September, when more Palestinians were killed by the Israel Defence Forces. During the last days of the air strikes on Gaza, the foreign ministers of Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia visited Israel to expressed their countries’ support for and solidarity with Israel.
In a speech made in the House of Commons during the air strikes, the UK Minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly, declared that Israel had a ‘legitimate right to self-defence’. In response to questions about the UK’s arms deals to Israel, Cleverly added: ‘The UK has a robust arms export licensing regime and all export licences are assessed in accordance with it’. In fact, since May 2015, the UK has licensed £400 million of arms sales to Israel: £183 million on military technology; £104 million on aircraft, helicopters and drones; £20 million on grenades, bombs and missiles; £4.6 million on armoured vehicles and tanks; £1.9 million on ammunition, and £1 million on small arms. And far from having a robust licensing regime, the UK has issued 43 open licences, which allow for unlimited exports. On top of this direct arming of the Israel Defence Forces, BAE Systems, the UK arms manufacturer and largest ‘defence’ contractor in Europe, produces 15 per cent of the value of every US F-35 fighter, the same model that was used in the bombing of Gaza in May 2021. At a cost of $78 million each, Israel has ordered 50 of these stealth fighters. In December 2020, Israel and the UK announced a joint military agreement whose contents are classified, but which is thought to cover air, land, maritime, space, and cyber and electromagnetic warfare. The British Armed Forces already deploys Israeli-manufactured drones over theatres of war. Then in November 2021, Liz Truss, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, signed a 10-year trade and defence deal with Israel, promising a closer alliance on cybersecurity and technology. Israeli spyware has already been used against journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders in the UK.
In February 2022, Amnesty International made a submission to the UN Human Rights Committee based on its 2022 report titled ‘Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity’. Among its many condemnations of the extensively documented human rights abuses by the State of Israel, this report stated:
‘All governments and regional actors, particularly those that enjoy close diplomatic relations with Israel such as the USA, the European Union and its member states and the UK, but also those states that are in the process of strengthening their ties — such as some Arab and African states — must not support the system of apartheid or render aid or assistance to maintaining such a regime, and cooperate to bring an end to this unlawful situation.’
This detailed, factual and studiously documented 280-page report on the human rights abuses committed by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people under its power was immediately condemned by Jewish organisations around the world as an ‘anti-semitic’ attack on the State of Israel. Another example of how identity politics is used to defend the crimes of Western imperialism, this condemnation and dismissal of the report was echoed by government ministers in the US, UK, Germany, France, Austria, the Czech Republic and Australia. Then at the end of February, Russia invaded the Ukraine, and the following month the UK’s Foreign Secretary addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva:
‘The UK stands united in condemning Russia’s reprehensible behaviour. There are no shades of grey to this conflict. It is about right and wrong. The UK is proud to be at the forefront of support for Ukraine economically, politically and defensively. We were the first European nation to send defensive weapons to the country, and we are leading the way in humanitarian support.’
The UK has yet to make a statement condemning the human rights abuses and war crimes committed against the Palestinian people in Israel and the Occupied Territories, who for 74 years have lived under an apartheid regime largely financed by the USA and armed by successive UK governments.
It is a tragedy of Biblical dimensions that the Jews of Israel now more closely resemble the perpetrators of the Shoah than any other nation state, right down to creating their own Untermenschen in the Palestinian people, and Gaza is their Auschwitz. At the end of The Origins of Totalitarianism, where she reflects at length on the use of concentration camps in both the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, Hannah Arendt observes that, although these camps initially held first political prisoners and then professional criminals, the latter of whom were used by the SS to enforce the camp’s violence, the third and by far largest category of inmates were imprisoned on purely arbitrary criteria, outside of any legal system, accusation of criminality or definition of guilt; and that it was this that constituted the function of the camp within the totalitarian systems of Nazism and Stalinism. This went far beyond those imprisoned in the camps:
‘The aim of an arbitrary system is to destroy the civil rights of the whole population, who ultimately become just as outlawed in their own country as the stateless and homeless. The destruction of a man’s rights, the killing of the juridical person in him, is a prerequisite for dominating him entirely.’
As the 74 years since the Naqba have demonstrated, this is the aim of the State of Israel, which cannot be contained within the racist ideology of Zionism, but which constitutes a properly totalitarian system within which the Palestinian people are deprived of their juridical status as citizens. In her 2013 book, Catastrophe and Redemption: The Political Thought of Giorgio Agamben, Jessica Whyte draws the comparison between this destruction of the civil rights of an entire population and what the Italian philosopher of biopolitics calls the ‘bare life’ to which we are reduced by the power of the biosecurity state. As Agamben has argued, most fully in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995), this is not the former power of the sovereign over his subjects, which was manifest through his divine right to order their death, or, in the democratic model of politics, the sovereign power of Parliament to make the laws determining what constitutes a crime and how it should be punished, the most extreme form of which is their death; but rather the power of the institutions and technologies disposed of by the state (family, army, schools, police, medical, administrative, etc.) to administer the life of citizens, to monitor, regulate and control us by making our biological existence the object of a political strategy. In a state of emergency, this reduces us to our biological existence, which the state then takes into its care outside of any legal framework of human rights or civil liberties. Whyte writes:
‘There is a terrible and specific continuity between the absolute novelty of Auschwitz and Israel’s decision to allow into Gaza only those goods that are “vital for the survival of the civilian population”. That Israel determines the threshold of this survival by using a mathematical equation that calculates the minimum level of calories necessary to “sustain Gaza’s population of 1.5 million at a level just above the UN definition of hunger,” should not blind us to the fact that what is at stake here is the attempt to reduce life to survival.’
In reducing the lives of Palestinians to their bare existence, the Gaza strip has been described as a concentration camp, and in function it is; but it would be more accurate to say that the entire State of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a concentration camp: one in which more than half the population has few if any remaining rights of citizenship and lives in abject poverty under military occupation, and in which the other half is trained and armed by the biosecurity state and financially supported by the wealthiest nation on earth; in which certain areas are ringed by impassable walls, barbed wire and military watchtowers and its inhabitants are imprisoned, tortured and killed with impunity, while others enjoy all the luxuries of their expropriation of the inmates’ wealth, which began with their land; and in which, finally, the Jews are no longer the captives and have now become the guards, but are still living, despite that, in a concentration camp.
Even saying so, however, is now forbidden. According to definitions proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ is now an example of anti-Semitism. This definition, which censors and tries to criminalise any criticism of the apartheid State of Israel, has been adopted by 34 countries, including the UK, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, Italy, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Albania, Slovenia, Serbia, the USA, Canada and Australia, as well as the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and Israel itself — in other words, by the global biosecurity state of the West — but not by the Palestinian National Authority. We shouldn’t be surprised that one of the sources of this censorship is Friedrich Hayek’s casual and contemptuous assertion in The Road to Serfdom, whose importance to the neoliberal revolution I discussed in my previous chapter, that ‘anti-Semitism and anticapitalism spring from the same root’ — this being, of course, socialism.
That the neoliberal governments of the West have accommodated the imprisonment of the Palestinian people in this camp for nearly three-quarters of a century is a tragedy; but that it has done so on the justification of compensation for the extermination of millions of Jews in the camps of the Third Reich is a farce. As the reaction of the West to the report by Amnesty International demonstrated, any criticism of Israel and its fascist treatment of the Palestinians is immediately and uncritically represented as a ‘stain on the memory of the victims of the Holocaust’ (etc). Beyond the forced removal of the rights of an entire people, this tells us something, I think, about how the camp functions not only in the State of Israel but in the global biosecurity state that’s been constructed over the past two years on the justification of combatting a supposedly civilisation-threatening virus.
Attributing the observation to Hegel, Marx famously wrote that every great event in history occurs twice: ‘the first time as tragedy, the second as farce’. But in our post-historical present, tragedy and farce occur simultaneously. To take only the most obscene examples, the theft of two years of our children’s lives and the abandonment of our elderly to death alone in care homes and hospitals is a tragedy; the complete lack of medical justification for doing so is a farce. The credulity with which the most educated, wealthiest and technologically advanced generation in history has consented to the destruction of its civil rights is a farce; while the consequences for all of us of doing so is a tragedy whose extent we cannot, at this present time, foresee. The targeted killing of the respected Al-Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, by Israel Defence Forces this May is a tragedy; the condemnation by the European Union and United States of America of the violent attack on her funeral by armed Israeli police is a farce.
The simultaneity of tragedy and farce are the post-historical mode of our present, in which the end of history does not mean that the erasure of our humanity and freedoms will lessen, that the civil wars of the state against populations will stop, that the arming and violence of our police forces won’t escalate, that wealth and power won’t be increased and concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, that the middle classes of the West can’t be further cretinised by technology designed to make their work-from-home lives easier, that the poor cannot be forced further into poverty, and the legally dispossessed and politically voiceless cannot be silenced once and for all, as they are in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. A camp in which inmates and guards coexist is a vision, and perhaps a model more applicable than that of China’s quarantine camps, of the global biosecurity state of our future, in which the biopolitical legislation of the Third Reich meets the quantum leap in technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And if, 77 years after the Shoah and 74 years after the Naqba — both of which mean ‘the catastrophe’ — we still haven’t learned their historical lessons, work will not set us free.
3. The Space of the Camp
The logical and inevitable outcome of our continued compliance with medically meaningless and illegally imposed restrictions on our human rights, like social distancing, face coverings, ‘asymptomatic’ testing, ‘vaccine’ passports as a condition of citizenship, ‘quarantining’ healthy people and mandatory medical intervention with experimental biotechnology, is the camp. But what is a camp? In ‘The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of the Modern’, part three of Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Agamben writes:
‘The camp is the space that is opened when the state of exception becomes the rule. In the camp, the state of exception, which was essentially a temporary suspension of the rule of law on the basis of a factual state of danger, is now given a permanent spatial arrangement, which as such nevertheless remains outside the normal order.’
The ‘state of exception’ is the term Agamben uses to encompass the various legal bases, including the declaration of a state of emergency, for suspending the rights and freedoms of citizens. This applies to both a period of time — such as the twelve years between February 1933 and May 1945 during which the Third Reich was ruled by emergency powers conferred by the twice renewed Decree for the Protection of People and State, or the politically declared ‘emergency period’ under which the UK was governed between March 2020 and March 2022 — and a spatial arrangement defining and delimiting the application of this period. Because of this, Agamben argues, we find ourselves in the presence of a camp every time such a space is created in law, paradoxically by designating a place outside the law, irrespective of who is held there, on what justifications, the design and layout of its structure, what crimes are committed within its limits, or how the camp is designated.
As an example of which, the complex of huts (BI) to the west of the earliest architectural plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, dated October 1941, was designated as ‘Quarantänelager (quarantine camp)’. When the camp opened in March 1942, those to the north (BIb) were used to hold male prisoners of various nationalities. That August, those to the south (BIa) were turned into a women’s camp. And by July 1943, both blocks held over 10,000 women prisoners. The entire complex, which was never completed, was designed to hold 100,000 inmates. ‘The camp’, Agamben writes, ‘is produced at the point when the political system of the modern nation state enters into a lasting crisis, and the state decides to assume directly the care of the nation’s biological life as one of its proper tasks.’ As we have seen, this describes the ‘care’ taken by the State of Israel over the lives of the 2 million Palestinians imprisoned in the Gaza camp, and by the Chinese Government over the 60 million citizens quarantined under its ‘zero-COVID’ strategy.
The birth of the camp, which notoriously dates back to the concentration camps of the British Empire during the Boer War but which found its most extreme application under the Third German Reich, signalled the political space of modernity. ‘Today,’ Agamben writes, ‘it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West’. As such, the camp regulates the new laws and customs of human behaviour. Anticipating the global biosecurity state of today, Agamben, who was writing in 1995, argued that every attempt to rethink the political space of the West must begin with the awareness that the classical distinction between the private life of the citizen living at home and their public life in the city no longer exists.
‘There is no return from the camps to classical politics. In the camps, city and house became indistinguishable, and the possibility of differentiating between our biological body and our political body — between what is incommunicable and mute and what is communicable and sayable — was taken from us forever. And we are not only animals whose life as living beings is at issue in their politics, but also — inversely — citizens whose very politics is at issue in their natural body.’
Is there a clearer description of the assault on the human that has been undertaken across the world over the past two years under the guise of protecting us, by national governments and global technocracies that have used this manufactured ‘crisis’ to take our biological existence into their care, even against our will, and in doing so tried to reduce our citizenship to bare life? Let’s look at an example of the camps that have sprung up in the former neoliberal democracies of the West, ostensibly in response to the coronavirus.
Manigurr-ma Village, a residential mining camp in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia, was master-planned and designed by the US-headquartered multinational engineering firm AECOM. In 2014, the camp received the State commendation award for Urban Design – Northern Territory Architecture Awards. In March 2020, the Northern Territory government renamed the camp the Centre for National Resilience and began using it to ‘quarantine’ Australians repatriated from overseas, regardless of their state of health. Under a politically-declared state of emergency, all Australians on Commonwealth-facilitated flights into the Northern Territory were required to undertake 14 days of mandatory supervised quarantine at a cost of $2,500 AUD for an unvaccinated individual and $5,000 for a family or couple. Before being permitted to leave the camp at the end of 2 weeks, inmates had to produce a negative RT-PCR test. Refusal to do so incurred a further 7 days incarceration at an additional cost of $1,750 AUD for an individual and $3,500 for a family.
- stay in the person’s allocated room, including on any veranda space allocated to the room, unless permitted by an authorised officer;
- when not in their room, or on their veranda, residents must take all reasonable measures to stay at least 1.5 metres away from any other person in the quarantine facility, except for the person’s spouse, de facto partner, child or parent;
- wear a face mask when outside their room unless an authorised officer permits the person to remove the face mask;
- comply with any directions given by an authorised officer to avoid congregating in a quarantine zone;
- must not leave the quarantine zone in which the person’s allocated room is located unless the person is escorted by an authorised officer, except in an emergency.
Failure to comply with these instructions, or with any other instructions from a camp officer, is a criminal offence punishable by fines ranging from $5,000 AUD for an infringement notice up to a maximum of $62,800.
In November 2021, 3 teenagers escaped from the camp, and following a state-wide manhunt were arrested by the Northern Territory police. None tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. At the time, a total of 58 people in the Northern Territory had tested positive with a PCR test out of a state population of 250,730, and not a single death had been attributed to COVID-19. Since then, 5 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in the Northern Territory after a period of nearly 2 years. 6 people have tried to escape the camp. All have been apprehended. Of the 2,639 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Australia between March 2020 and 31 January, 2022, 96.7 per cent had underlying health conditions, with an average of three conditions per deceased. Chronic cardiac conditions were the primary underlying health condition of those whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19. During the same period, 100,000 Australians died from cancer, 32,000 from heart disease, 30,000 from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and 10,000 from diabetes. Of the 273,901 deaths in Australia over this period, COVID-19 was identified as the 38th highest cause of death, representing only one per cent of all fatalities nationwide. The average age of death was 83 for men and 86 for women. In the nearly two years since SARS-CoV-2 reached Australia, only 83 people have had COVID-19 identified as the sole cause of their death, without other underlying causes.
In July 2021, the Australian Government announced the contract to build a Centre for National Resilience in Melbourne, Victoria, and the camp opened in February 2022. Another, being built in Brisbane, Queensland, was set to open this June; and a fourth in Perth, Western Australia, is still under construction. All three camps currently have a planned capacity of 1,000 inmates each. Those who point to the comforts of the isolation cells in which inmates are kept compared to the converted shipping containers in China and mock the idea that these ‘quarantine facilities’ should be called camps, or who point out that, appalling as they are, the conditions of life in the Gaza Strip are not as terrible as they were in Auschwitz — as if this refuted any comparisson between them — miss the point made by Agamben. Whatever their ostensible use, designation, location or design, the camp is the permanent spatialisation of the state of emergency, and those interred in them are deprived of their status as citizens and reduced, instead, to their bare life, over which the biosecurity state has complete and absolute control. What is done with that life is a matter of degree not of kind. Indeed, it is the normalisation of the camp as a form of residence, fitted with all the technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, that points most clearly towards their future use. If apologists for the use of the camp as a ‘temporary measure’ don’t think this paradigm of governance won’t expand under the technocratic governance of the global biosecurity state and its increasingly violent and unaccountable enforcement by the police, security services and military, they have forgotten — or more likely have never known — everything history has to teach us about our immediate future.
The use of camps today, however, in order to deprive people of their juridical status as citizens is not confined to quarantine centres in Australia and China or to the Gaza Strip in the State of Israel. On the contrary, the economic, geopolitical, security and military axis of the West to which the UK belongs is in many ways founded on the camp. I will only briefly refer here to the USA, in which 22.8 million people do not have citizenship, and which, in addition to the more than 200 immigrant detention centres within its national borders, has an unknown number of camps across the world in the more than 80 countries in which it has over 750 military bases. It is from these that the Guantánamo Bay detention camp draws its prisoners, just as Auschwitz drew its prisoners from the archipelago of concentration camps across the Third Reich and occupied territories of Europe. The ongoing criminality of the actions of five successive US Governments in Guantánamo Bay, or indeed every other country in which the US has a military presence, is outside the parameters of this article; but the forms of torture used against the inmates of Guantánamo Bay, who have been kept imprisoned for years and even decades without charge or trial or access to legal representation under either US criminal or international law, include the following:
- solitary isolation for between 1 and 12 weeks;
- sensory deprivation for between 12 and 48 hours;
- sensory bombardment by sound and light for 3 to 48 hours;
- standing handcuffed in stress positions for 12 to 48 hours;
- physical beatings for 1 to 4 hours;
- water boarding for between 30 minutes and 6 hours;
- repeated suffocation with a plastic bag for between 30 minutes and 4 hours;
- being threatened by dogs for 3 to 30 minutes.
All these tortures are prohibited under the third Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of prisoners of war, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984, none of which have jurisdiction in the state of exception to which the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, as Agamben wrote, gives a permanent spatial arrangement. Reduced to the status of bare life, even those who try to escape these tortures by killing themselves through hunger strikes are force-fed by their guards. In response to challenges to the ethics of this practice, US Navy Captain Robert Duran responded: ‘We do it to preserve life’. This is the ultimate goal of biopower: to so deprive human beings of their rights that no act committed against them is any longer regarded as a crime. What it produces is a biological entity, but this bare life is an abstraction from social and political life, that unity of the corporeal and the spiritual we call a human being. And as Agamben has consistently argued for the past quarter of a century, it is the governance of this abstraction that is the goal of the technologies of biopower, of which the camp is the juridico-political paradigm. Guantánamo Bay, which like the Gaza Strip is separated from the rest of Cuba by a militarised border fence, is perhaps the most extreme form of the camp in the West that we know of today — although doubtless the US and Israel, and perhaps the UK too, has even more terrifying dungeons about which we know nothing. But there is a legal and spatial continuity between it and the comfortably appointed Centres for National Resilience in Australia, a shared spatial arrangement of the state of exception that the difference in degree between the tortures in the former and the removal of freedoms in the latter does not erase; and both point toward the new biopolitical paradigm of governance in the West.
For Agamben, the real — which is to say, historical — function of human rights lie elsewhere than in their repeated failure to protect the stateless and homeless. On the contrary, Agamben argues that the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen approved by the National Constituent Assembly of France in 1789 inscribed bare life in the juridico-political order of the nation state. With the declaration (Article 3) that: ‘The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation’, the former subject of the divinely authorised sovereign of the ancien régime was transformed into the citizen of the sovereign nation state, from which the authority of any individual or government body ‘emanates’. From the start, however, there was an ambiguity about whether these were human rights (droits de l’homme) or rights of citizenship (droits du citoyen). If our birth is identified with our nation — both of which have their etymological origin in the Latin ‘natio’ — our rights, as Arendt argued, have repeatedly been shown to be contingent upon our status as citizens of a sovereign state. This ambiguity was most fully exposed by the National Socialist credo of ‘Blut und Boden [Blood and Soil]’, which made bare life into the foundation of the Third Reich, from which those not conforming to this sacred unity of birth and nation were either expelled or erased, having first been stripped of citizenship by The Reich Citizenship Law of September 1935.
However paradoxically, therefore, human rights, far from protecting citizens with their expression of eternal and supposedly metajuridical values, are the foundation of modern biopolitics. Beginning with the 3 million Europeans made stateless in the wake of the Great War, which increased to 40 million after the Second World War, this separation between the rights of man and the rights of the citizen is today most widely enacted in the camps in which an unknown number of the nearly 90 million refugees worldwide are currently detained. Indeed, under the new paradigm of biosecurity, the concept of citizenship is being transformed into something resembling the bare life of the refugee. This is the context in which the new Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which came into effect this April, has empowered the Home Secretary to remove, without prior notification, the British citizenship of anyone not born in the UK, or who is of dual nationality, or who is judged to be a threat to national security, or whose behaviour is deemed to be ‘unacceptable’ — as an example of which the Government has suggested ‘the glorification of terrorism’. Given that, last November, the UK Government designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, this might now include condemning air strikes on the Gaza Strip — a right of conscience and expression no longer merely condemned as anti-Semitic but now justification for being rendered stateless and homeless.
Although Agamben compares bare life to the vegetative state in which medical science has for some decades now been able to keep a human being alive for many years, a more appropriate comparison in the biosecurity state is with the residents of care homes under coronavirus-justified restrictions, which for many of them continues to this day. Isolated in their rooms for months on end, subjected to unrelenting terrorism on television, deprived of access to normal medical care from GPs too terrified to visit, refused visits from their family and even when allowed prohibited from physical contact, prohibited from leaving what had become and for many remains their prison, residents were transformed into a form of bare life, in which most of their human rights had been removed on the justification of keeping them alive at whatever cost. As Captain Duran said: ‘We do it to preserve life’. The fact that huge numbers of them died, most probably from the dementia that 70 per cent of residents of care homes suffer, and which was then falsely attributed to COVID-19 under the absurd testing protocol, demonstrated the lack of medical justification for such measures, which to a lesser degree have been imposed on the rest of the population with a similar degree of disastrous consequence.
Since the 1980s, when privately-funded care homes tripled in a decade, their purpose has been to extend the lifespan of the human organism whatever the cost to the quality of life of the person it houses. The exponential increase in the lifespan of populations in the West, which in the UK has risen 25 years over the past century and 10 years since 1970, is now one of the most lucrative markets into which the medical care and pharmaceutical industries have expanded, effectively draining individuals of whatever savings and assets they may have previously passed on to their children over a protracted biological existence whose cynical exploitation and violation of the dignity of human life the coronavirus ‘crisis’ has revealed for what it is. Indeed, most of us can expect to end our lives in a legal state of bare life, deprived of our rights and at the mercy of the private companies to which the state has handed the responsibility and duty of prolonging our biological existence for as long as possible. Not only our lives, therefore, but even our deaths will be lived under the biopolitical paradigm of the camp.
Agamben concluded his thoughts on the camp with this warning — which has gone unheeded, it appears, by anyone except the architects of the ‘crisis’ on which the global biosecurity state has been constructed, and certainly by the intelligentsia of the West — philosophers, scientists and jurists — whose servile and willing complicity with its construction has surpassed, if anything, that of European intellectuals of far higher calibre with the rise and coming to power of historical fascism a hundred years ago:
‘It we give the name form-of-life to this being that is only its own bare existence, and to this life that, being its own form, remains inseparable from it, we will witness the emergence of a field of research beyond the terrain defined by the intersection of politics and philosophy, medico-biological sciences and jurisprudence. First, however, it will be necessary to examine how it was possible for something like a bare life to be conceived within these disciplines, and how the historical development of these very disciplines has brought them to a limit beyond which they cannot venture without risking an unprecedented biopolitical catastrophe.’
That catastrophe is upon us. To believe that the huge numbers of so-called ‘quarantine’ camps built over the past two years were constructed in response to the specific threat of COVID-19 and in anticipation of future threats to public health is to ignore the history of the uses of camps. More importantly, it is to fail to recognise the legal state of exception to which they give a permanent spatial arrangement and the paradigm of government this has increasingly come to constitute across the globe. Already present in the former neoliberal democracies of the West, whether in immigration centres for refugees or torture facilities for prisoners abducted through the extra-legal process of extraordinary rendition, the coronavirus ‘crisis’ has justified and initiated the expansion of this spatial arrangement. As we have experienced, it was under a state of exception that the populations of the West were governed for the past two years with little complaint and no organised forms of rebellion beyond protests and demonstrations, and the camps will make permanent this ostensibly temporary measure.
As Arendt insisted, the purpose of the camp is not to punish those who challenge the authority or break the laws of a dictatorial, despotic or tyrannical rule; the purpose of the camp is to serve the totalitarian system of which it is the goal. As the State of Israel has demonstrated for all the world to see and to which the West has given its political approval and financial support, the aim of totalitarianism is to govern entire populations according to the biopolitical paradigm of the camp, in which some are criminals, some are political prisoners, some are guards and some are commandants, but in which the vast majority are human beings reduced to their bare life. In this society, there is no ‘normal order’ for the camp to remain outside, no ‘rule of law’ that has been temporarily suspended for its inmates; for the state of exception is now the permanent rule under which the population is governed, and the camp the new normal whose militarised border no longer serves to separate its extra-legal space from society, but which is coextensive with the obligations of biosecurity. The aim of a totalitarian system is not to build so many camps that the whole population can be housed in them — something not even the Peoples’s Republic of China could achieve — but to turn the social space itself into a camp, and thereby subject the population to its paradoxical logic of being placed outside the law by the law, of being guilty in the absence of charge or sentence, of being citizens without citizenship, humans deprived of human rights, housed while remaining homeless, stateless under the rule of the biosecurity state, of subsisting without being permitted to exist, the juridical person killed. If Auschwitz was the setting for the death of humanist man, Gaza is the post-historical time of our futureless present. Indeed, everything about the new forms of global governance emerging from this ‘crisis’ points to the conclusion that it is under the biopolitical paradigm of the camp that vast numbers of the global population will be forced to live in the Twenty-first Century.
Architects for Social Housing
In the final section, ‘Humanity in Dark Times’, I’ll conclude this study with some considerations of how we can respond to the return of fascism today.
Collections of articles by the same author about the UK biosecurity state :
- Virtue and Terror: Resisting the UK Biosecurity State (May-October 2021)
- Brave New World: Expanding the UK Biosecurity State through the Winter of 2020-2021 (October 2020-March 2021)
- COVID-19: Implementing the UK Biosecurity State (March-August 2020)
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