Home > Uncategorized > Book Summary: Wendy Brown: Walled States Waning Sovereignty

Book Summary: Wendy Brown: Walled States Waning Sovereignty

Sovereignty being transfered from state to global capital, legitimate violence transferred to religion.

(19) The world we live in today is filled with tensions as spaces open up, states seek to wall their borders, many examples exist as a form of formalizing sovereignty and emphasizing the isolation of states, there are also internal walls.

(20) Commonalities of walls even though they are built to keep out different populations (different purposes):

  1. Rich and poor fantasize of walls. As cosmopolitanism tears down distances they are also erecting walls
  2. In democracies they are also erecting walls
  3. Walls provide security against massive and silent and hard to detect destruction.

Three paradoxes of Walls:

  1. Blocking/opening
  2. universilization/ exclusion startification
  3. Networks and virtual power/physical barriers

Walls not for states versus states but for states versus non states.

(22) Definition of sovereignty and we live in the post-sovereign era. Sovereignty is not over yet, but not uncontested. (were we ever in a sovereign age?) So sovereignty is piecemeal changing its shape wont disappear will be residual somewhere.

Sovereignty (Bodin, Hobbes, Schmitt):

  1. Supremacy (no higher power)
  2. Perpetuity (no term limits)
  3. Decisionism (no boundedness of sovereign to law)
  4. Absolutely and completely (sovereign can’t be probable  or partial)
  5. Nontrasnferability (cannot be conferred without being cancelled)
  6. Territoriality (specific jurisdiction)

(22) Challenge on inside and out, economic, linerlaism, rationality, technological, international institutions. Process is 50-25 years old.

(23) state persisting as non-sovereign actor. Sovereignty transferred to political economy and religious violence.

(23) Disagrees with Hardt and egri, sovereignty is not going to the global empire, unlike Agambin sovereignty is not moving towards a global civil war, migration of sovereignty to capitalism and God sanctioned violence. (why not just say Islam)

(23) Criteria of new sovereign : bows down to no other power. Indifferent to international or local law. Spurns or supercede juridical norms. Decisive without being decisionist. So new sovereing is not decisionist, this may be an attribute of the state.

(24) Walls symbols of state weakening as it remains potent in national identification. Walls blur outside/inside police/army. Walls as replacement for absent power but ineffective because they can’t act. They reassure us of teleology of sovereign even as it is failing in its link to the state.

(27) Common phenomena is that walls are always reaction of nation threatened by globalization or not enough of a state. Like overcompensating for small penis.

(33) Walls are always argued to be temporary as such not in law but suspension of law but in reality they are quite permanent.

(36) 9/11 let us build second Mexico wall. 36 laws were violated to build the second wall.

(39) Continuity between contemporary and older walls. Spectacularize power, performative and symbolic effects, shape identity. Often has been counterproductive, inverting their purposes some are paranoid and scared.

The subjects blocked out of the wall are reproduces in the wall itself. Reinforces paranoid, doesn’t solve anything, attempts to freeze a state of things not change it to the better, wall is the epitome of status quo. (you gave up on the future)

(47) State, secular and religious co-constituted with walling off in early days idea of temple requires walling off but walling off requires idea of temple. Modernity walling off was dropped, only found in colonies or hostile territories.

(51) Paradox of sovereignty, split between people and state, between democracy and anti-democratic, and as boundary marker.

(53) look at book. Paradoxes of sovereignty, democratic but not, needs law above individual but consensus of all. (is this a problem of language?) Very interesting section actually on how sovereignty has two origins, one decision and authority, other popular legitimacy, one external autonomy, other internal supremacy. means self sufficiency but is actually a referential concept that can only exist in comparison to something else and by validation of others. Why radicals and leftists seek to do without it.

(56) “the birth of the political through the social contract is at the same time the birth of political sovereignty.”

(58) Political sovereignty is not service to capital as Negri and Hardt argue. Even is the modern state emerged and develops in response to capital, political sovereignty is not  equivalent to state or service of capital. But it is a theological political formulation and formation that aims to subordinate nd contain the economic and to detach political life from the demands and imperatives of the economic. Even if impossible to realize it is a potent material fiction.

Sovereignty tried to limit economy an theology but became theology. Sovereign is God-like. Schmitt all modern secular concepts of politics are theological.

(62) Sovereignty replaces god even when it is atheist so it is secular but still religious. This god-like power is waning.

Thesis: As sovereignty wanes it turns from passively theological to actively and aggresively so.

N: is religion even a helpful framework to look at sovereignty.

(63) As waning state sovereignty decontains theological violence it is transferred peacefully or violently to other places.

(I doubt this reading what is old and what is new?) Decontainment of theology itself accelerates the death of sovereignty in the state.

(64)Also state dresses itself in language of religion more and more but it is becoming more theological is contributing to its waning. From within interpretation of religion differs externally, religion is universal beyond state.

(N) This is stupid way to look at it. Religion not coming back but selective examples are taken as proof.

At the same time capitalism emerges as the only global sovereign. N: How much is this an effect of the decline of the hegemon?

(65) But capitalism is not friend/enemy based so it isn’t theological like Schmitts secular state.

(66) As brown reads it this means capital doesnt need a state organization.

(67) Despite all this states remain a if not the main actor in the world in terms of belonging, identity, protection, politics, etc… So waning not removal of state. The state is the only actor taht can mediate and moderate and protect the local from the global.

(does the global act? Is the system acting? Or is it one state using the global to act?)

Walls are a reaction to the crisis resulting from this transfer,

(71) Sovereignty cannot be divide, like god, once divided it dies. Sovereignty assumes that is is pervasive, like god felt everywhere, it needs to feel like it dominates all aspects of life, requires absolute submission and subordination.

(71) Dostoyevsky, Freud, Fenerbach, Nietzsche all talk of god and sovereignty as supreme, infinite, supervening power. It is born out of the human experience of smallness and vulnerability in a huge and overwhelming universe and that it is humans’ desire for protection and containment and orientation in the face of this experience.

Sovereignty without fence, fences surrounding entities emptied of sovereignty.

(77) “Architecture of dissassurance” Jersey Barriers around federal buildings, even though the threat was not from car bombs, still used even though the threat was planes, anthrax or saren. It is just a spectacle.

(78) Sates shape subjects emotions and are shaped by them. Loss of state sovereignty, endogenous sovereignty of the subject.

(88) Walls exceptional legality like state, exceptional is the norm. Cooperate with criminals to enforce security. USA Mexico border and minute men, IDF and settlers.

(93) Walls as spectacle, appears to do something while doing nothing.

(95) Neoliberalism as requiring walls not tearing them down.

(96) Neoliberal rationality has a corrosive effect on rule of law. Need for Jobs alternate access to cheap labour through politics.

N: interesting to think about how often do IR scholars change their minds halfway through a project. is it frequent or not? It would show that science is about confirming if not frequent (Robert Pappe, Marx, Durkheim)

(100) Likewise security is not stagnant requires mobility.

(107) Why do late modern subjects desire walls?

N: could it be that Europe is not used to empire in the eastern pluralist sense? Return of Europe as a barbarian. Or could it be that even China had a great wall 2000 years ago (seed of it) and so walls are not the mainstay of the modern subject though she argues different. Same walls different conception of them?

(108) Could be nostalgia for state, or threatened individualsubject.

(115) Parallel to past, barbarian as immigrant, was the Iron curtain a wall? So not new. barbarians plundering because immigrants take the wealth.

(120) Walls also protect vulnerable and righteous territory. European wall against plunder not as fortress against political military conquest. Image of defense against siege transferred to modern context. Everything is siege like but under-theorized.

Class Notes:

Problem with capital.

good book since it separates state from sovereignty.

Paradoxes of sovereignty: people vs absolute state overriding people. Absolute power and order internally vs anarchy externally.

Twin threats: global capital as sovereign. Decontainment of religion and religious violence.

Walls don’t just react to thing but also produce certain flows and logics, not just sign of waning but producing new state.

If states are not equal it makes less sense to say capitalism is global. US plays a great role in organizing global capital. Investment by Wall street is highest in the US, nowhere else. There is capitalism but it is associated with the United States.

Hardt and Negri, capitalism is associated with certain states not others. Brown seems to be assuming that all states are equal. There has to be one supreme sovereign.

Walls do do something, they are not ineffective, they productively do something, just not the intended something.

Agamben, sovereignty and economic logic so wall has economic function and the economic theological roots become more apparent, so theological economy is supported by the wall. Walls are politically reactionary but economically productive. So economic style of sovereignty. Used to be possible without walls but globalization makes it necessary to set up walls to maintain economic sovereignty of the state. Economics is one of the aspects of making life in the city, so in that sense in the purview of Agamben but not all sovereignty but perhaps one aspect of sovereignty and economic is reinforcing one part of sovereignty.. But still not sure that Agamben would say that sovereignty is not Waning.

Western States have to wall off what they produced, NAFTA, Mediterranean treatise etc… displaces small shop owners, south has no jobs anymore, have to go somewhere… this creates the problems against which walls are built.

How much is this the effect of the US decline? What is different today is that the Chinese wall made no claim to the Mongol empire, but today the power wants to organize the space beyond the wall and keep the people out. So interdependence makes the purpose of the wall similar to past walls but also new in some ways. What is being regulated is different from what the Chinese were trying to regulate. In our times it is quite absurd that states want to control burdens them, different context of interconnectedness. Walls part of the capitalist system, logic of neoliberalism is new, different commodity and transactions.

Why Oil states are authoritarian. In Chad state is liable if workers riot. So state cracks down on all protests. Companies negotiated contract with state where it was responsible for that.

State mediates global and local, can protect. To protect it needs to restore equality. Global is not linked to one state, even inside the US, there is occupy that asks for state protection. Not question of ideology but due to state capacity which was undermined by Thatcher Raegan. So parallel to global demand there are state differences but also global uniform  trends of states, gated communities, rich/poor, state not as protector of all but just the rich.

(what is global is it an actor or just US?)

Maybe wall building is related to inequality, no democracy for Greece fiscal policy. France and Germany say we can vote but you cannot.


(22) “Over the past half century the, the monopoly of these combined attributes (of sovereignty) by nation-states has been severely compromised by growing transnational flows of capital, people, ideas, goods, violence, and political and religious fealty.” These flows tear up sovereignty at the borders and from the inside. Neoliberal rationality also recognizes no sovereign except for the self interested individual, and a quarter century of international financial and other institutions.

(23) As nation-state sovereignty wanes, states and sovereignty do not simply decline in power or significance, but instead come apart from one another. States persist as non-sovereign actors, and many characteristics of sovereignty (though not its intact theological form) appear today in two domains of power that are, not coincidentally, the very transnational domains of powers that the Peace of Westphalia emerged to contain within or subordinate to nation-states: political economy and religiously legitimated violence.”

“This landscape signifies the ungovernability by law and politics of many powers unleashed by globalization and late modern colonization, and a resort to policing and blockading in the face of this ungovernability.” (24)

There is a blurring between the inside and the outside of the state with divisions coming to represent splits between rich and poor.

Walling reflects the anxiety over the state’s sovereign impotence which was a fiction in the past as well.

(26) “The deteriorating viability of this political fiction (of the theological dimensions of the state) generates understandable popular anxiety.”

Although Brown recognizes the fictitiousness of the state she highlights what the state is assumed to be but more interestingly she fails to problematize or fictionalize the causes behind this undermining. She assumes that flows were not as frequent in the past and that the tensions states had to grapple with and the economic dynamics were not the same as those we have today.

Schmitt, Nomos which has come to be known as law refers to a spatial concept, sovereignty is essentially a claim over  space, jurisdiction over a given space, and we have forgotten this. “it is through walling off space from the common that sovereignty is born”

The reason why there is so much confusion around sovereignty is because it has two traditions which are confused. The first is the Schimttian sense of decisionist state power, the second is Rousseau’s popular legislative power. (48) This is one reason why the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty (supposed) fails, because achieving both senses at the same time is impossible.

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