Violence is found everywhere, but under different regimes and economies.
—DELEUZE AND GUATTARI, A Thousand Plateaus
IN THE THIRTEENTH CHAPTER of A Thousand Plateaus, “7000 BC: Apparatus of Capture,” Deleuze and Guattari write of the differences among states, “primitive” societies, and what they melodramatically call the “war machine,” by invoking the concept of a “regime” or “economy” of violence (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 425; 447–48). This would be the pattern of violence of a particular social system: under what conditions and with what frequency do individual and groups typically act violently, and with what typical responses by individuals and groups? Deleuze and Guattari intend the generalization literally: all social processes (groups are always constituted by processes with varying ratios of centripetal and centrifugal effects) have an economy of violence.
But what is “violence” in this formulation? To take a contemporary example, in Foucault, Politics, and Violence, Johanna Oksala defines violence in a “very narrow” manner as “intentional bodily harm that reflects the sense in which violence is generally held to be categorically objectionable” (2012, 8–9). I think this focus on bodily harm is a bit too narrow for our purposes of considering social group norm enforcement; hence I think shunning, ostracism, and exile should be included as forms of “social violence.” Specifically, I want to include the social violence forms as they are a key to the antistate and antiwar effects of the economy of violence of pre-state and nonstate societies (Boehm 2012b).
This focus on nonstate societies will be a departure from Oksala and almost the entirety of contemporary political philosophy and political theory, which—after a few pro forma nods to the anarchist tradition—almost always looks at the economies of violence of concern to states as that which holds the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence: crimes, wars, and terrorism, matched by police, armed forces, and security forces. “What justifies what level of state violence?” is the question for these fields. That’s not to say that “security studies,” as a branch of the political science subfield of “International Relations,” doesn’t tackle the complexity of what is variously called “4GW” or “fourth-generation warfare,” “post-Westphalian conflicts,” and so on, but even those for the most part look at how states deal with that which escapes their control, threatens their economy of violence, and so on.
The first step away from an exclusive focus on the economies of violence of established states is to look at the economy of violence inherent in what the Introduction sketched as the Foucauldian notion of the “statification” of social organization practices. Not all societies are states, though all exercise power as a way in which certain actions may “structure the possible field of action of others” (Foucault 2000, 341). That is, all societies work at the rendering predictable of human action by institutions of external reward and punishment as well as the setting up of internal affective-cognitive patterns in “subjectification” practices. It is precisely the fact that social forms are wider than the state that allows statification. Simply as a social process, then, “statification,” either in Foucault’s European postfeudal context or in the anthropological sense of the putting into state-form of nonstate societies, has an economy of violence. Some societies ward off the state through their economy of violence, but those economies of violence are not necessarily that of war, as Pierre Clastres (1989; 1994) supposes. Thus, not all antistate violence is physical (ostracism and exile), nor is it organized as war (personalized vengeance is an antiwar as well as an antistate practice).
To return one last time to Oksala as our starting point, she wants to carve out a space for historical analyses of the “rationality” of economies of violence; she thereby calls on us to discard ontological and instrumental theories of violence. I agree that instrumental theories, which make violence a mere means to independently decided political ends, render us incapable of analyzing economies of violence. An economy of violence includes instrumental violence, but, in being tied in with economies of production and distribution, should also include the structural violence of malnutrition or disease from hyperexploitation (Scott 2017).
I also agree with Oksala that ontological theories, which include conceptual articulation—seeing this as that—are too broad, when they are used to ground political violence in the very nature of discursive thought. Oksala includes anthropological theories under the ontological category, meaning those that make violence an essential attribute of humans, grounded in some idea of “aggression”; I agree these are to be rejected, as similarly incapable of analyzing economies of violence, though I will do so precisely on anthropological grounds. Boehm (2012b), whom we will discuss later regarding the economy of violence of nomadic forager bands, posits a “social selection” process here. Exile and killing of overly aggressive types would allow the gene-level evolution of altruism to work. If so, then the puzzle about the evolution of altruism seen in many mathematical models would be solved as social selection would have been able to tip the scales toward the accumulation of altruistic genes.
On a methodological level, then, Boehm (2012b) is of interest for demanding that the anthropological study of the social selection practices of egalitarian forager bands be taken into account when analyzing the mathematical models that propose that the evolution of altruism is puzzling. Let me note that a current in contemporary biological anthropology mostly avoids gene-for-a-trait evolutionary models (Welsch, Vivanco, and Fuentes 2017; Fuentes 2013; Marks 2010). From the perspective of work on epigenetics and development (Griffiths and Stotz 2013; Jablonka and Lamb 2005), social selection can also be seen as eliminating child-development practices that would set in place gene-expression networks allowing free-riding behavior by setting conscience kick-in levels lower. (That’s of course if free-riding or aggressive dominance needs something as fancy as gene-expression networks and is not just learned opportunistic behavior.)
Deleuze and Guattari on “Regimes of Violence”
The economy of violence of statification is invisible from within successfully formed state assemblages, which, in good Weberian fashion, present the force employed by state agents as legitimate protection of victims from violence coming from recalcitrant factors inside or outside the state, that is, criminals or barbarians. To render the violence of statification visible, it is necessary to see how it is “pre-accomplished,” as Deleuze and Guattari put it (1987, 447–48).
Deleuze and Guattari begin by sketching Marx’s analysis of capitalism as resting on violence that necessarily operates through the state but that precedes the capitalist mode of production and constitutes “primitive accumulation” or proletarianization as the removal of access to the means of production for some, thereby forcing wage labor upon them. Primitive accumulation is a violence accomplished in other modes of production, producing the proletarian and the owner, who then step onto the capitalist stage already formed and ready to play their roles. Hence the violence of primitive accumulation is difficult to pinpoint in capitalism; it is “pre-accomplished” elsewhere, though reactivated every day (as we will see in chapter 5).
Deleuze and Guattari enlarge upon Marx’s analysis to put it at the origin of the state as well as operating in capitalism: primitive accumulation at the origin of the state does not arise from agriculture but precedes it. Deleuze and Guattari enunciate a general principle: there is primitive accumulation wherever an “apparatus of capture” is installed (1987, 447). (An “apparatus of capture” occurs whenever a social organization can produce comparison of abstract quantities and appropriation of surplus. In the case of the first states, Deleuze and Guattari write, the quantities are those of rent based on land productivity, labor based on regulated human activity, and taxes based on monetary flows [1987, 443–44].) The violence of primitive accumulation qua statification is thus the very constitution of the apparatus of capture: it is the violence directed at nonstate peoples that constitutes those whom it is directed against (the “cheats,” “vagabonds,” “criminals,” “smugglers” . . . who refuse rent, labor, and taxation). In concrete terms, nonstate people (who, as we will see in chapter 4, might have pastoralism or multicrop agriculture along with foraging in complex mixtures) have to be conquered by the primary violence of statification to turn them into the primary producers—whether taxed peasants, debt bondsman, or chattel slaves—whom the tax collectors and police and army can target as cheater, delinquent, criminal, heretic, runaway in the secondary violence of the lawful mundane reactivation of statification. (Scott  does allow for some voluntary joining of states, but Deleuze and Guattari [1977 and 1987] are quite consistent in emphasizing conquest as the primary mechanism for statification.)
Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 447–48) go on to distinguish four “regimes of violence”; this quick sketch will be our guide in the rest of this chapter and in chapter 4. It is important to see these as “topologically” distinct regimes of violence, not steps in an evolution from savagery to civilization. They are virtual “diagrams,” which coexist on a plane of immanence; history is that concatenation of contingent circumstances that transform such virtual coexistence into actual succession (1987, 430). The four regimes are “struggle” [lutte], “war,” “crime,” and “lawful violence.” Struggle [lutte] is the violence of nonstate or “primitive” societies. As we will see, Deleuze and Guattari elide the difference between nomadic foragers and sedentary horticulturalists; the former practice what Boehm (2012a) calls a “reverse dominance hierarchy” that prevents purely dominant individuals (so-called alphas), while the latter practice “primitive war” as “a certain ritualization of violence” as analyzed by Clastres (1989). War simpliciter for Deleuze and Guattari refers to the practices of the steppe nomads and their “war machine,” which directs violence against the state. Crime is the violence of illegality or capture without self-bestowed “right”—the scare quotes here allowing us to compare barbarian raiding as an alternate form of predation on primary producers as opposed to self-created “legitimate” state taxation. State policing or lawful violence, then, has both “originary” and “secondary” aspects: it is capture simultaneously constituting the right to capture.
The earliest attempts at statification then involve the incorporation of foragers or autonomous villages and their territories into imperial legal and administrative systems. (The empire operates a “deterritorialization” in which land becomes “striated”—instead of foragers spreading out over the earth, the land is surveyed and people are assigned to plots of land—and an “overcoding” in which local customs are fit into a centralized system.) Insofar as statification creates what it is used against, state lawful violence “always seems to presuppose itself” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 448). Thus, a state can say violence is natural (or, echoing a certain Hobbesian logic, that the state of nature is a state of war), so it uses violence against the (naturally) violent primitives or (steppe) nomads in order that peace may reign. But the state’s peace is a regime of violence that disavows itself, that structurally hides the primary violence of statification qua the primitive accumulation that denies access to the earth to nonstate people, forcing them into peasantry, debt bondage, or outright slavery; that is, those against whom secondary state violence as lawful policing of the rights of capture (rent, corvée labor, and tax collection) is then used against.
With this forecast in mind, I will examine nonstate economies of violence in the rest of this chapter, and the economy of violence of the first state-events in chapter 4.
There is no teleology here in discussing processes that ward off or instantiate statification; states are not the “mature” form of social life and nonstate societies possess their own positivity in mechanisms for warding off state formation. Even as they have for the most part abandoned unilinear “evolutionary” theories of social “stages” (Widerquist and McCall 2017 provides a brief overview), anthropologists would still acknowledge that the nomadic forager band is the social form for the vast majority of human life, prior to the institution of the state. (In chapter 4 we will see how Scott synthesizes new research that calls into question any notion of a “Neolithic Revolution” that simultaneously—or even quickly and necessarily—brought together states, urbanism, and agriculture as a clean break from foraging.) Despite current research showing more variability than previously acknowledged among currently living foragers (Kelly 2013), we can cautiously speculate that pre-state nomadic forager bands were most likely egalitarian or “acephalic”; that they practiced “fission-fusion” and frequent interband visiting, rendering group identity fluid; that they often had a gendered division of labor, though with little specialization within genders; and that while there was most likely a prestige gradient relative to prowess, group discussion was the decision-making process; hence, while there was rhetoric and persuasion, there was no top-down command (Kelly 2000; Boehm 2012b; Sterelny 2014).
According to Boehm (2012b), the nomadic forager economy of violence has an antistate effect by preventing centralized power of the would-be alpha or dominating “head.” Boehm is an expert in the ethnography of contemporary nomadic foragers. He cautions against the “living fossil” view, though he attempts cautious extrapolation to pre-state social existence. The forager economy of violence focuses on intragroup personal violence. Here we find individual acts of fighting and murder, and group response of ostracism, exile, or killing, i.e., “capital punishment.” Intragroup anonymous violence is a void category for nomadic foragers; everyone knows everyone else in the group.
We turn now to intergroup violence. The term “intergroup” is tricky, as fission-fusion practices mean forager group membership is so fluid strict boundaries are difficult to establish. Nonetheless, there is evidence of intergroup personal violence or vengeance. Individual, personalized acts of fighting or murder sometimes call for a group response of delegating close kin to perform an individualized vengeance targeting only the murderer (Boehm 2012b). Using Boehm’s reconstruction of the forager economy of violence, then, vengeance is an antiwar process; it prevents escalation to anonymous intergroup violence. So, for Boehm, forager economies of violence are (intragroup) antistate and (intergroup) antiwar.
We could say that Boehm is upping the ante on Nietzsche’s Genealogy (Nietzsche 1997): “Of course the herd of weaklings ganged up and killed the solitary strong ones! You say that like it’s a bad thing, when in fact, it’s the secret of human evolution!” Of course, Nietzsche is not complaining about social selection or about the development of conscience (that which interferes with free-riding or domination by warning about group retribution); he’s not resentful that this has occurred; he’s not saying what he does as a moral argument about what should have happened—“see what you lot have done? wouldn’t it have been better if the herd had stayed in its place way back when?” So, Boehm is not really defeating Nietzsche, since Nietzsche himself would certainly expect the descendants of herd maneuvers to think this way—“of course lambs do not like lions! Why should they?”
As we mentioned above, there is a vigorous debate as to whether pre-state nomadic forager bands engage in warfare. We have dealt with controversies about the archaeological record and about the biological continuity or “deep roots” thesis above in chapter 2; here we turn to ethnography, which might allow a careful extrapolation to pre-state conditions.
The ethnography of contemporary foragers shows multiple antiwar mechanisms, including delegation of vengeance to kin, thus heading off feud. Feud—as opposed to vengeance—would allow targeting any member of the other group, but this requires a “logic of social substitution” that not all forager societies have (per Kelly 2000). Feud would be on the way to anonymous intergroup violence or war. In feud, there is collective duty to avenge wrongs that is directed at a group that holds collective responsibility for the wrongs committed by its members. According to Kelly (2000), this pattern holds only in “segmented” societies (those in which marriages and other social ties are regulated across subgroup formations such as lineages); many nomadic forager bands are “unsegmented” and hence practice only personalized vengeance rather than collective feud.
Sterelny (2014) notes that foragers have no territorial motivation to attack, as they do not invest much labor into the land and have no interest in permanent occupation (though this point is nuanced by Scott (2017), who notes that permanent settlement is compatible with foraging when a multi–food web site can be found in resource-rich wetlands, whereby foragers can access multiple food webs by remaining in place and allowing the resources to come to them rather than having to chase the resources). Sterelny also notes a psychological implausibility that war provided a selection pressure for our evolved traits of intragroup cooperation, which does not seem compatible with also selecting for people able to easily access the berserker rage useful in intergroup war. It would be, Sterelny claims, too difficult to partition such aggressive taking into only war; it would be too difficult to suppress its in-group expression. But such in-group expression is what triggers anti-alpha capital punishment, as we saw in chapter 2.
Kelly (2005) sketches a geo-eco-techno-social multiplicity that results in a period of “intrinsic defensive advantage.” The geographical aspect is that defenders know their territory and can hold ambush positions. The ecological aspect is that low population density meant defenders can flee if needed. The technological aspect is that single kill–capacity thrown weapons allow inflicting damage from afar on invaders with low risk to defenders. The social aspect is that invading parties would be nonspecialists while defenders would have throwing skills developed in hunting. Kelly concludes that, faced with such a period of defensive advantage, foragers developed positive, peace-seeking, intergroup mechanisms (diplomacy, feasts, contests).
With a universal-war anthropological perspective, you assume hostility is the default setting for intergroup relations, and war, prior to being territorially motivated, aims at women capture qua acquisition of reproductive resources. But this is not the only possible materialist position, as peace-seeking mechanisms are just as materialist as war. In fact, per Kelly (2005), they allow more efficient resource exploitation: the two sides are not afraid to exploit to the border of their territories, as they would be if border raids were frequent. For Kelly (2005), then, it’s a shift to state military specialization that allows strikes at the home camp that shifts the balance and allows state territorial acquisition and enslavement warfare, as we will see in more detail in chapter 4.
Sedentary horticulturalists (also called the “autonomous village” social form) have chiefs; they do not command, though they do have perks and must show their prowess in warfare. The Yanomami people of South America are among the most well-studied of this kind of society (Clastres 1989; Chagnon 1988 Ferguson 1995).
Although one can criticize Clastres (and Deleuze and Guattari for taking on this point) for overgeneralizing from sedentary horticulturists to talk of “primitive society” that includes nomadic foragers (and thus overlooking crucial differences in their respective economies of violence), his discussion in “Society against the State” (the main essay of Clastres 1989) of “subsistence economy” and “imperial state slavery” is important and deserves some time here. (I’ll maintain his use of the term “primitive,” though of course his own concept of “non-state society” would be more acceptable today, as it eliminates the lingering evolutionism of the term “primitive.”)
Clastres (1989) decries the political focus and ethnocentric bias of early accounts. As first-contact narratives are written by people of a state society, to them, a society without the state must be incomplete, lacking that which they should have, a king. The nineteenth-century “social evolutionists” see nonstate societies as a preliminary step in a progressive history, so that existing nomad foragers were “living fossils,” a “window onto the past.” For Clastres, the economic and technical focus of the anthropologists of his time is hardly better; for them, nonstate societies have only a “subsistence economy.” Having no surplus implies incapacity to produce surplus, due to their inferior technology.
So Clastres sees two European prejudices in first-contact narratives, nineteenth-century evolutionists, and modern economic anthropology: politics must be the state and economics must be “work.” For Clastres, the reality of primitive “technology” might not be “Cartesian” mastery of nature, but it does master their environment relative to their needs or they would have died or left. We always see a coevolving multiplicity: technology, social relations, and environment are interdependent processes with “intensive” relations (Clastres 1989, 192). Hence, to repeat a very widely held contemporary anthropological position, today’s nomadic foragers are not “living fossils”; they are adapting to their (state-surrounded) eco-social environment.
So, what really is a “subsistence economy”? For Clastres, it is a European prejudice to say that subsistence is a constant scramble at edge of starvation, dissolution, or war with others (Clastres 1994, 105–18; see also Sahlins 1972; Widerquist and McCall 2017 summarize recent research that nuances Sahlins’s often overly enthusiastic account). According to the “subsistence economy” prejudices, such a society does all it can just to let its members get a minimum survival. Yet, Clastres notes, we also see in first-contact narratives complaints about the “laziness” of natives: they do what they need and then lounge about. So, it is an odd kind of edge-of-starvation “subsistence” if natives were healthy and had plenty of leisure.
For Clastres, “primitives” thus have all the time they would need to develop surplus if they so desired. They do not work for a surplus because they are not forced to externally. They refuse to produce a useless excess: they produce for their needs. In fact, they do produce a surplus that is then consumed in festivals when neighbors are invited. So, primitives refuse “work”; they have leisure and affluence (again, Sahlins 1972 and Widerquist and McCall 2017 should be consulted).
Among the reasons for Clastres’s popularity, it seems to me, is his graphic description of initiation rites; for our purposes, these are crucial parts of the antistate mechanisms preserving the political positivity of “primitives” (Clastres 1989, 177–88). In being initiated, you are being obligated to distribute production in a way that prevents hoarding of personal property, and requires extravagant consumption. Initiation rites have an ambiguous position in an “economy of violence.” Even though they can be “torturous,” they are “voluntary” or better, key elements in social desiring-production. You are constituted by your desire to distribute to others and consume what they give you. So, for Clastres, initiation rites inscribe the “Anti-One” group law; they are hence antistate mechanisms (Clastres 1994, 93–104). In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari see initiation rites as antiexchange rites. They produce “mobile blocs of debt,” and hence are antistate. Initiation ensures saturation of the social field with always-unequal relations and provokes “anti-production” that prevents stock (Deleuze and Guattari 1977, 184–92).
At this point we should pause to note that the use of “debt” by Deleuze and Guattari to indicate social obligations must be distinguished from the Nietzschean torture of “debtors.” The use of “debt” by Nietzsche (1997) and by extension Deleuze and Guattari (1977) is criticized by David Graeber (2012) as projecting an individualism and a money economy onto pre-state society. Obligations in pre-state society are not oriented to restoration of precontract individuality as are “debts.”
Now, sedentary horticultural chiefdoms are nonstate, but they do practice war. In fact, Clastres thought their form of warfare was an antistate process. Chiefs would have to continually prove their valor in war (Clastres 1994, 185), but precisely the high mortality rate would prevent their consolidation of power, enabling command relations rather than persuasion, and preventing nepotism. Political positivity of nonstate societies for Clastres resides in the way the locus of political power is the tribe itself, which holds “absolute and complete power over all the elements of which it is composed” (Clastres 1989, 207–12).
In Clastres’s analyses, the clue to the political positivity of sedentary horticulturalists as nonstate societies is that the chief is not a king. Despite his prestige, the chief has no authority, no power, no coercion, no command. The locus of political power of the tribe is the tribe itself, not the chief, who serves the tribe. The function of the chief, per Clastres, is to resolve conflicts via his prestige used in oratory. Within the group, chiefs would persuade people in conflict to calm down, to emulate harmonious ancestors. Sometimes the chief will “play the chief” because he has no other choice. Due to his technical competence as war leader, he has a “minimum of authority.” But he cannot convert (war-derived) prestige into (civil political) power. If the desire of the chief for war prestige matches that of (young men) in tribe, then all is well. But an overweening desire by the chief risks inverting his political relation to tribe as its servant. So, such hyperbolic desire might have been an origin of the state for Clastres. But this inverted political relation through excessive war desire never works. Because sometimes the society wants peace, and then the chief has to fight alone. He is thus “condemned to death in advance.” Clastres’s conclusion is that primitive society does not permit replacement of the chief’s desire for prestige by a will-to-power that would institute a state-form of command in kingship (Clastres 1989, 189–218).