Biopolitics and the Rise of the Biometric Dictatorship

In short, it means a politics of the body as opposed to the politics of the soul that characterizes the traditional view of man as a political animal in the Greco-Catholic tradition.

Biopolitics and the Rise of the Biometric Dictatorship

What we have endured over the past two-and-a-half years demonstrate what Matthew Crawford has called “the utility of moral panics.”[1]

Crawford rightly observes that the COVID regimes were justified by the hysterically exaggerated threat posed by a single virus, while all other threats to life, including those provoked by the COVID regimes themselves, were ignored.

What Crawford calls the resulting “culture of COVID” is, as he rightly argues, “the endgame of political liberalism.”

But what Crawford does not appear to recognize is that this endgame is not an abandonment of supposed Lockean conservatism, but rather the final revelation of what was apparent even to Locke’s contemporaneous critics: that Locke, whom one commentator calls “the confused man’s Hobbes,” had merely ushered in the Leviathan in the form of the principle of representation under an irrevocable social compact from which the only escape is violent revolution. Crawford argues that the culture of COVID represents a Hobbesian replacement of the summum bonum with the summum malum—the fear of death.

But what Crawford does not see is that this is a Lockean project as well.

In this paper I will examine that project under the rubric of biopolitics.

For starters, what do I mean by biopolitics, a term as equivocal as it is useful?

The precise meaning of the term varies according to the commentator or political philosopher who wields it, but in its broadest, common denominator sense, which I will develop further in this talk, it means a politics of the body as opposed to the politics of the soul that characterizes the traditional view of man as a political animal in the Greco-Catholic tradition.

We Catholics know, as Werner Jaeger has observed, that both the theology and political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, to quote Jaeger, “led the way into the newfound land of the soul,” producing “a new order of values…” which “paved the way for the universal religion, Christianity.”[2]

In short, the politics of the soul.

As Father Copleston observes in his monumental history of philosophy: “It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of Plato in the intellectual preparatio evangelica of the pagan world… The natural theology of Aristotle was a preparation for the acceptance of Christianity.” [3]

This is why the Catholic Church has recognized the seeds of the word in the Platonic and Aristotelian speculations, which as Pope John XXIII observed in Veterum Sapientia, “served, surely, to herald the dawn of the Gospel which God’s Son, ‘the judge and teacher of grace and truth, the light and guide of the human race,’ proclaimed on earth.”[4]

Now, according to the politics of the soul, versus the biopolitics of the body, the “state exists for the sake of the good life; and not for the sake of life only,” as Aristotle so famously put it in the Politics. According to the politics of the soul, as Aristotle rightly discerned them, and I quote: 

the state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange. These are conditions without which a state cannot exist; but all of them together do not constitute a state, which is a community of families and aggregations of families in well-being for the sake of a perfect and self-sufficing life…. by which we mean a happy and honourable life… [P]olitical society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of living together.”[5]

Given man’s very nature as an animal possessed of a rational soul, whose end is the life of virtue, both Plato and Aristotle teach that man’s perfection requires life in the State, originating in the society of families with its organs of government.

The state is “a creation of nature” and man is by nature politikon zoon[6]—a political animal.  But while other animals are political in that they too live in communities, man is the only political animal capable of speech, reason and the practice of virtue.

According to the politics of the soul, therefore, the good State is the one whose laws and institutions take care of the soul by promoting and protecting virtue over and above mere security in person and property.

Thus, says Plato, the good citizen—who is the same as the good man—will “keep himself from all the legislator lists in his count of things base and bad, and exercise himself with all his might in all that is in the contrary table of all things good and lovely” in order to avoid “deformity on the finest thing he has, his soul.”[7]

This is the essence of the politics of the soul versus the politics of the body: that political society must have care of the soul, which it must protect by its laws and institutions.

The disjunction between “private” and “public” morality that is a dogma of what the moderns call Liberty did not exist for Plato and Aristotle in Athens any more than it would for the Christian in Christendom.

“The same things are best for individuals and states,”[8] as Aristotle declares in the Politics.

According to the politics of the soul, therefore, the State is a moral totality without which human flourishing is impossible, and one who cannot live in political society, says Aristotle at the very beginning of the Politics, is “either beast or a god: he is no part of a state… For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice… he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in the polis…”

Now, as we Catholics know, the politics of the soul is impossible without a spiritual matrix in political society.

And that matrix can be none other than the revelation of Christ as mediated to the world by the Catholic Church in her divine commission to make disciples of all nations.

The Christian commonwealth is the good State for which Plato sought with his utopian method, the State his unnamed Athenian imagined would be called “Magnesia—or whatever name God will have it called after,” which “is not to be equaled in future ages.” It is the “dream on which we touched” that would someday “have found its fulfillment in real and working fact…”[9]

As Werner Jaeger observes in his commentary on Plato’s The Laws, “The perfect design for living given in The Laws is like nothing so much as the year as conceived by the Catholic Church, with its holy rites and liturgies laid down for every day.”

Plato was seeking no mere State, as a superficial reading of The Laws would suggest, but rather a great educational system for the formation of souls in which the State would merely play a part.

And, notes Jaeger, the Harvard scholar of Greek antiquity, “if we think of the greatest educational institution of the post-classical world, the Roman Catholic Church,” what Plato envisions in The Laws “looks like a prophetic anticipation of many of the essential features of Catholicism.”

But the Catholic confessional state is no more.

The politics of the soul has given way to the politics of body: that is, biopolitics.

The process of transformation began, of course, with Hobbes and Locke, the founders or political liberalism, where we find in germinal form the notion of a secular society and thus germinal notion of biopolitics.

It was Locke who first developed in a somewhat systematic way the idea of a “secular” realm in society, reserved to the instrumental acts of government in defense of property rights and bodily security, wherein the truths of revealed religion would be deemed politically inoperable.

As the Anglican scholar John Millbank has observed: “Once there was no secular. Instead there was the single community of Christendom with its dual aspects of sacerdotium and regnum…. The secular as a domain had to be created or imagined, both in theory and in practice.”[10]

As Locke infamously declared in his Essay on Toleration—enunciating the founding principle of the politics of the body: “The magistrate as magistrate hath nothing to do with the good of men’s souls or their concernments in another life, but is ordained and entrusted with his power only for the quiet and comfortable living of men in society…”[11]

Echoing Locke’s Second Treatise, the Essay declares that polities are created by the social contract “only to preserve men in this world from the fraud and violence of one another.”[12]

The duty of the magistrate is limited to “promoting the general welfare, which consists in riches and power” as determined by “the number and industry of your subjects.”[13]

In Locke‘s political philosophy the traditional notion of the common good as embracing both the temporal and spiritual welfare of all the subjects of the State is replaced by security for commercial activity and the peaceable possession of property.

Hence, says Locke, the magistrate “ought to do or to meddle with nothing but barely in order to secure the civil peace and propriety [property] of his subjects.”[14]

As far as religion is concerned, the magistrate must exercise “an absolute and universal right of toleration,”[15] and there must be “a perfect, uncontrollable liberty”[16] as to “speculative opinions and divine worship,” including such matters as “the belief of the Trinity,” as well as “the place, time and manner of worshipping my God.”[17]

It was the American revolutionaries and the Framers of the United States Constitution who built the first working model of what is now commonly known as the “secular state.” That is, the first biopolitical state.

And it is this biopolitical state, founded on the politics of the body, which has imposed upon us the COVID-19 regimes.

So far I have been speaking of the term biopolitics in its broadest, common-denominator usage.

But now I want to focus on a more particularized understanding of the term

I want to look at biopolitics under two aspects:

First, as a model of political sovereignty in the degenerate Western democracies, where it has served as the ground of an emerging biometric dictatorship.

Second,  some elements of that biometric dictatorship as a form of population control,

I will conclude with a discussion of our escape route from the biometric predicament, including some observations from a most unlikely source.

Biopolitics as a Model of Political Sovereignty

The term “biopolitics” appears to have originated with the political scientist Rudolf Kjellén, writing the turn of the 20th century. The term was appropriated and developed in the writings of Michel Foucault, the pedophilic philosopher and political activist who died in 1984. Foucault uses the terms biopolitics and biopower to denote the process by which political liberalism, beginning in the 18th century, employs what James Finlayson calls “technologies of power” rather than brute force to regulate and control entire populations, particularly in the areas of “health, sanitation, birth control, longevity and race.”[18]

As a model of political sovereignty, however, biopolitics has received its most important recent development in the writings of Giorgio Agamben, the Italian philosopher and literary critic, now age 80, who became something an intellectual superstar at the turn of this century.

Agamben’s thought regarding the state of Western democracy, to the extent it accords with Catholic thinking on the subject, provides the framework for this presentation.

It is always useful to cite an honest liberal in order to avoid the banal accusation of special pleading.

As Finlayson notes with barely concealed resentment, Agamben’s work, including his monumental omnibus book “Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life,”  along with his short treatise “State of Exception,” “now commands attention in the highest citadels of European and North American academia.”

Finlayson attacks Agamben’s critique of political modernity on account of its “intoxicating” conclusions, with which people are, according to Finlayson, unduly “fascinated.”

Agamben is certainly no traditional Catholic.  His metaphysics is a messy mélange of Aristotle, Hegel and Heidegger, which I haven’t bothered to examine.

Theologically, Agamben is a classic neo-modernist on the model of Alfred Loisy, the pro-Modernist who was excommunicated in 1908 after the censure of his works, which included, among other heretical propositions, the infamous pronouncement that “Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom, and what arrived was the Church.”

But in terms of his political philosophy, drawing heavily on Plato and Aristotle, Agamben belongs, along with Pierre Manent, in the category of the chastened liberal whose insights into the fatal infirmities of political modernity are all the more valuable for that.

First of all, Agamben rightly perceives that the object of modern politics in the Western democracies is not the man who lives a natural life with the form of life, but simply a body that lives a “bare life” subjected to bodily interventions, the prototype of which he sees in the writ of habeus corpus: show us the body, not the man.

The modern democratic nation state governs by what Agamben terms the “apparatus of exception” under what Agamben means the “state of exception”— the COVID regimes the most dramatic example in our lifetimes.

In the “state of exception” the modern nation-state suspends the modern notion of rights, which are purely conventional and have nothing to with man as a whole in his natural life, but only as “bare life” subject to political power.

Says Agamben in a conclusion that irritates critics like Finlayson:

[I]t is time to stop regarding declarations of rights as proclamations of eternal, metajuridical values binding the legislator (in fact, without much success) to respect eternal ethical principles, and to begin to consider them according to their real historical function in the modern nation-state.

Declarations of rights represent the originary figure of the inscription of natural life in the juridico-political order of the nation-state.

The same bare life that in the ancien régime was politically neutral and belonged to God as creaturely life and in the classical world was (at least apparently) dearly distinguished as zoē from political life (bios) now fully enters into the structure of the state and even becomes the earthly foundation of the state’s legitimacy and sovereignty.  (106)

As we can see here, Agamben’s theory involves a controversial distinction between what Aristotle called zoē —natural life as such, the life of the family and the household—and what Aristotle called bios, or political life.

According to Agamben, there is a fundamental opposition between zoe and bios and this opposition has been paradigm of politics since the time of the Greeks.

What is he really saying here?

Finlayson calls this claim ridiculous, but is it really?

Finlayson argues that zoe, the life of the household, is not in opposition to political life but continuous with it.

But in my view, Agamben is not really claiming otherwise.

What he is really claiming, and what our own bitter experience confirms, is that zoe is stripped of its form in political modernity and strapped to the Procrustean bed of “bare life”—mere biological existence.

“It is important not to confuse bare life with natural life,” writes Agamben in Homo Sacer. “Through its division and its capture in the apparatus of the exception, life assumes the form of bare life, which is to say, that of a life that has been cut off and separated from its form.”[19]

Agamben thus posits an opposition between natural life—the life of the household—and life in political society, and he sees in this opposition the hidden paradigm (il paradigma nascosto) or hidden foundation (il fondamento nascosto) of all political societies since the time of the Greeks.

So the object of sovereign power today, at least, is bare life in the modern sense: mere biological existence.

Once again, the politics of the body.

In this sense, there is an opposition between zoe, natural life, and bios, which in modern politics strips natural life of its form and governs it as a mere biological entity. This is the Lockean state that has no care for the soul.

So today, writes Agamben, “the fundamental activity of sovereign power is the production of bare life as originary political element” (Agamben 4, p. 202/181).

Bare life is the life of homo sacer, the title of Agamben’s magnum opus.

Homo sacer is a term in Roman law for the life of one who, being deprived of any participation in political society, can be killed at will.

In the Western democracies, says Agamben, homo sacer is paradoxically  both included and excluded in political society: included as the subject of sovereign power, but excluded  to the extent that this bare life has any paramount claim against the State, which can suspend its so-called rights under the state of exception—as we have seen, again, with the COVID regimes.

As Agamben tells it: “It is not the free man and his statutes and prerogatives, nor even simply homo, but rather corpus that is the new subject of politics.” And “corpus,” he concludes with emphasis, “is a two-faced being, the bearer both of subjection to sovereign power and of individual liberties”—but liberties revocable in the state of exception.

There is thus what Agamben calls a “contiguity between mass democracy and totalitarian states” such that the concentration camp is the hidden paradigm of democracy:

[T]he camp—as the pure, absolute, and impassable biopolitical space (insofar as it is founded solely on the state of exception)—will appear as the hidden paradigm of the political space of modernity, whose metamorphoses and disguises we will have to learn to recognize.”[20]

And that hidden paradigm involves the bearer of rights who can, as still a mere bare life, be subjected to a total negation of those rights by sovereign power.

Quoth Agamben: “The fiction implicit here is that birth immediately becomes nation such that there can be no interval of separation [scarto] between the two terms. Rights are attributed to man (or originate in him) solely to the extent that man is the immediately vanishing ground (who must never come to light as such) of the citizen.”  (Agamben 107)

I am reminded of Augustin Cochin’s startling observation that “for a true democrat the best guarantee against the independence of man is till the freedom of citizen.”

This is the end result of Agamben’s biopolitics: the politics of body in Western democracies.

To quote Agamben at length:

before impetuously coming to light in our century, the river of biopolitics that gave homo sacer his life runs its course in a hidden but continuous fashion. It is almost as if, starting from a certain point, every decisive political event were double-sided: the spaces, the liberties, and the rights won by individuals in their conflicts with central powers always simultaneously prepared a tacit but increasing inscription of individuals’ lives within the state order, thus offering a new and more dreadful foundation for the very sovereign power from which they wanted to liberate themselves.[21]

And even more shockingly, citing Hobbes’s Leviathan: “The absolute capacity of the subjects’ bodies to be killed forms the new political body of the West.”[22]

In other words, the homo sacer who could be killed at will under Roman law because he was no member of political society now is the very subject of political society and forms its body politic.

Now, according to Agambenm, the sovereign power of the modern-nation state, that “mortal god” to whom we owe absolute obedience, has been administered more or less continuously in “the state of exception.”

Agamben cites Carl Schmidt’s Politische Theologie for the basic proposition that, quite simply, the sovereign is “he who decides on the state of exception.”

As Agamben writes, the state of exception is a “no-man’s-land between public law and political fact…”

The state of exception is, as Agamben notes, “not a special kind of law (like the law of war); rather, insofar as it is a suspension of the juridical order itself, it defines law’s threshold or limit concept.”

For example, the Third Reich was one long suspension, but never an actual abrogation, of the Weimar Constitution.

This indefinite suspension of law is what characterizes the state of exception—just as we have seen with the COVID regimes.

Since the time of the Third Reich, says Agamben, “the voluntary creation of a permanent state of emergency (though perhaps not declared in the technical sense) has become one of the essential practices of contemporary states, including so-called democratic ones.” (p. 2)

The state of exception, he concludes, is now a basic technique of government:

Faced with the unstoppable progression of what has been called a “global civil war,” the state of exception tends increasingly to appear as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics. This transformation of a provisional and exceptional measure into a technique of government threatens radically to alter—in fact, has already palpably altered—the structure and meaning of the traditional distinction between constitutional forms.” (p. 2).

Stated otherwise, “in conformity with a continuing tendency in all of the Western democracies, the declaration of the state of exception has gradually been replaced by an unprecedented generalization of the paradigm of security as the normal technique of government.[23]

As Carl J. Friedrich has observed in his study on Constitutional Law and Democracy, there is no precise limiting formula to constrain this paradigm:

All in all, the quasi-dictatorial provisions of modern constitutional systems, be they martial rule, state of siege, or constitutional emergency powers, fail to conform to any exacting standard of effective limitations upon a temporary concentration of powers. Consequently, all these systems are liable to be transformed into totalitarian schemes if conditions become favorable to it.[24]

With the modern chief executive—President, Premier, Governor—Hobbes’ Leviathan returns with interest in the modern representative democracies, just as the anti-Federalists predicted it would in their opposition to the Constitution as replacement for the Articles of Confederation.

In her work Debating the American State, Liberal Anxieties and the New Leviathan, Anne Kornhauser notes that this new Leviathan is a liberal project, wielding its “emergency” powers in what has become a normative pattern rather than an exception:

The sympathetic critics of liberalism looked for ways to temper the excesses of the state in light of these liberal democratic norms and to offer a principled justification for the use of concentrated executive and discretionary power should these prove necessary. They did not wish simply to excuse the invocation of emergency power or administrative fiat, but to find ways to preserve as much as possible democratic practices and legality in light of these developments. One might say they sought to replace emergency justifications for the use of bureaucratic power with normative ones. To do so they identified political and moral principles by which the new forms of coercive state power could coexist with other modern liberal values: democracy, the rule of law, and individual autonomy.[25]

This all the more apt from the European context in which Agamben writes. When we look to Europe, we see that in the epoch of COVID that transformation is well underway. They call it the Great Reset.

We see this earlier, of course, in the post-9/11 imposition of a continuing state of exception in the form of the Patriot Act, which erected a permanent state of exception, and the CIA surveillance of Americans.

So, today, the state of exception increasingly swallows the supposed rule of law.

Hence Agamben rejects the terminology of a mere “emergency decree” as used in American and European politics.

This is more than a mere exercise of extraordinary wartime powers in civil society, and even more than a mere suspension of the Constitution as such with its protection of individual liberties.

These two models—wartime emergency powers and suspension of the constitution–says Agamben, “end up merging into a single juridical phenomenon that we call the state of exception.”

Which become the paradigm of government as we see beyond doubt in the COVID regimes.

Agamben argues that the enforcement of the “state of exception” that is now the dominant paradigm of government, arises from the distinction between auctoritatis­—authority—and potestas, or sovereign power as such.[26]

Speaking of Il Duce or the Führer, Agamben notes that “The qualities of Duce or Führer are immediately bound to the physical person and belong to the biopolitical tradition of auctoritas and not to the legal tradition of potestas.”

By “the biopolitical tradition of auctoritas” Agamben means simply the autocrat.

That tyrant has always been lurking behind the legal machinery of the law in political modernity.

All that is necessary to unleash him, Agamben notes, is “the expansion of the powers of the government, and in particular the conferral on the executive of the power to issue decrees having the force of law.

Agamben cites as an early example the total suspension of the French constitution on in Year 8 of the French Revolution by a decree which stated that “In the case of armed revolt or disturbances that would threaten the security of the State, the law can, in the places and for the time that it determines, suspend the rule of the constitution.”

The city or region in question was declared hors la constitution—outside the Constitution.

Today, it is the Governor or the President or the Prime Minister, who, by the authority attaching to his person by virtue of his office, trumps mere power in the legal sense, supposedly restrained by legal norms.

And that, once again, is the essence of the COVID regimes.

Now, Agamben is still alive at age 80, and so it is now surprise that he has applied his analysis to the COVID regimes.

And he did so with great foresight at the very beginning of the so-called pandemic, back in April of 2020.

Here is what he wrote concerning Italy’s suddenly emergent biometric dictatorship:

How could it happen that an entire country has, without noticing it, politically and ethically collapsed in the face of an illness?… [T]he threshold that separates humanity from barbarism has been crossed.

How could we have accepted, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, that persons who are dear to us and human beings in general should not only die alone, but – something that had never happened before in history, from Antigone to today – that their cadavers should be burned without a funeral?

We then accepted without too many problems, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, limiting, to an extent that had never happened before in the history of the country, not even during the Second World War… our freedom of movement.

We consequently accepted, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, de facto suspending our relationships of friendship and love, because our proximity had become a possible source of contagion. [27]

Here Agamben specifically relates this travesty to his notion of “bare life” as the object of modern politics:

This was able to happen – and here we hit on the root of the phenomenon – because we have split the unity of our vital experience, which is always inseparably bodily and spiritual, into a purely biological entity on one hand and an affective and cultural life on the other.

And in the COVID regimes, says Agamben, see precisely the “state of exception” as a modern technique of government:

And we do not see how, going beyond the temporal limits of validity of the emergency decrees, the limitations of freedom could, as is foretold, be maintained.  With what juridical apparatuses?  With a permanent state of exception?

Agamben condemned the acquiescence of the judiciary to the imposition of Italy’s COVID regime:

For some time we have been habituated to the rash use of emergency decrees by means of which the executive power is de facto substituted for that the legislative, abolishing that principle of the separation of powers that defines democracy. But in this case, every limit has been surpassed, and one has the impression that the words of the prime minister and of the head of civil defense, as was said of those of the Führer, immediately have the force of law. And we do not see how, going beyond the temporal limits of validity of the emergency decrees, the limitations of freedom could, as is foretold, be maintained. With what juridical apparatuses? With a permanent state of exception? It is the duty of jurists to verify that the rules of the constitution are respected, but the jurists are silent. Quare silete iuristae in munere vestro? (Why are jurists silent on what concerns them?)[28]

Agamben has some choice words for Pope Bergoglio and the post-conciliar Church, but I will save those for my conclusion.

The emergence of the COVID regimes is a complete vindication of Agamben’s thesis on the “inner solidarity between democracy and totalitarianism” and his claim that the “biopolitical paradigm of the West” is the concentration camp.

Witness the Premier of Canada.

Only in our biopolitical predicament, in which the hidden paradigm of the camp is ever-present, could such a contemptible little pissant assume absolute power.

Here is Agamben’s stunning conclusion:

And if in modernity life is more and more clearly placed at the center of State politics (which now becomes, in Foucault’s terms, biopolitics), if in our age all citizens can be said, in a specific but extremely real sense, to appear virtually as homines sacri, this is possible only because the relation of ban has constituted the essential structure of sovereign power from the beginning.[29]

That is, those who are excluded as bare life that can be killed at will, are also included as subject of sovereignty with “rights.”  But now no longer regarded as anything but a body to be regulated as such in the state of exception that is now a basic technique of government.

Here one other point needs to be made about the reduction of natural life to bare life in a state of exception that has become normative.

If political modernity has reduced natural man to homo sacer, then it euthanasia follows a surely as night follows the day.

And so, writes Agamben:

From the perspective of modern biopolitics, however, euthanasia is situated at the intersection of the sovereign decision on life that may be killed and the assumption of the care of the nation’s biological body. Euthanasia signals the point at which biopolitics necessarily turns into thanatopolitics.[30]

And so it is with abortion.  The child in the womb is homo sacer, who can killed at will as a bare life.

And the woman has the child killed acts in order to preserve her bare life from the burden of another bare life.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case does not eliminate this threat.  It merely transfers it to the level of state government, holding—as Justice Kavanaugh insists in his concurring opinion—that the Constitution is “neutral” on whether human lives can be exterminated in the womb.

That is, under the Constitution, human life is precisely bare life.

Hence, as the late Justice Scalia infamously observed, in perfect biopolitical fashion, the 14th Amendment and its protection against deprivation of life without due process under the 5th Amendment applies only to “walking around people.”

By now it should be obvious that what we are dealing with here is terminal condition of the body politic.

No longer moral totality in the classical sense, the biopolitical state remains a moral totality only according to the morality of the preservation, or destruction, of bodily life according to the sovereign will.

Witness the recent protest against the Dobbs decision under the title “My Body, My Choice” but with the caveat: “Vaccination Status Check Required for Admission to the Protest.”

Bare lives protesting their inability to destroy other bare lives in the womb, while pretending to protect their own bare lives with a useless vaccine that has become the baptismal rite of the civic religion.

To quote Agamben yet again, one must

try to understand once and for all why democracy, at the very moment in which it seemed to have finally triumphed over its adversaries and reached its greatest height, proved itself incapable of saving zoē, to whose happiness it had dedicated all its efforts, from unprecedented ruin.

Modern democracy’s decadence and gradual convergence with totalitarian states in post-democratic spectacular societies… may well be rooted in this aporia, which marks the beginning of modern democracy and forces it into complicity with its most implacable enemy.

Today politics knows no value (and, consequently, no nonvalue) other than life, and until the contradictions that this fact implies are dissolved, Nazism and fascism—which transformed the decision on bare life into the supreme political principle—will remain stubbornly with us.[31]

Biopolitics as Population Control

Which brings us to the aspect of biopolitics as a mode of population control, or biopower to use Focault’s somewhat interchangeable term.

First of all, we have the obvious population control measures imposed on the pretext of “limiting the spread” of COVID: the insane lockdowns, the ridiculous universal mask wearing and “social distancing”—superstitions masquerading as “science”—the vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, and, above all, the COVID detention centers for the non-compliant.

We all know these tyrannical impositions did nothing to “limit the spread” of COVID-19 and very probably guaranteed it—as we see now with not only the failure of the so-called vaccines to prevent infection or transmission, but their increasingly evident adverse effects, ranging from immunocompromise to sudden death.

These instances of Agamben’s state of exception have been imposed and maintained as exercises of power for its own sake.

But worse. as Thomas Lemke observes in study of Foucault’s Biopolitics:

The emergence of the notion of biopolitics signals a double negation (cf. Nancy 2002): in contrast to naturalist positions, life does not represent a stable ontological and normative point of reference. The impact of biotechnological innovations has demonstrated that life processes are transformable and controllable to an increasing degree, which renders obsolete any idea of an intact nature untouched by human action.

Foucault’s concept of biopolitics assumes the dissociation and abstraction of life from its concrete physical bearers. The objects of biopolitics are not singular human beings but their biological features measured and aggregated on the level of populations. [32]

Under this Foucauldian aspect of biopolitics, says Lemke, we see the development of “specific political knowledge and new disciplines such as statistics, demography, epidemiology, and biology. These disciplines make it possible to analyze processes of life on the level of populations and to ‘govern’ individuals and collectives by practices of correction, exclusion, normalization, disciplining, therapeutics, and optimization.”

As Lemke explains, with reference to Agamben’s analysis, the particularity of Foucaldian bioplitics is that it “fosters life or disallows it to the point of death, whereas the sovereign power takes life or lets live. Repressive power over death is subordinated to a power over life that deals with living beings rather than with legal subjects… the disciplining of the individual body and the regulatory control of the population (1980, 139).”

This regulatory control of the population involves something even deeper and more sinister than lockdowns and coerced vaccination: I mean the permanent biometric surveillance of the entire population.

Biometrics involves the measurement of criteria by which the restrictions of the biometric dictatorship have been imposed, lifted, and imposed again.

The PCR test and the thermometer at the door, and even infra-red scanning of crowds to see whose heat signature suggests a fever, have taken government and corporate surveillance in tandem with government from outward observation to literally observation of what is happening under our skins.

No one has observed this new kind of surveillance more acutely than

Yuval Noah Harari, the Israel historian and public intellectual—the worst kind of public intellectual. He writes:

The coronavirus is a kind of watershed event for surveillance.

Firstly, it is spreading everywhere with the disease. And secondly, we are seeing a change in the nature of surveillance from over the skin surveillance to under the skin surveillance.

Over the skin surveillance is the things that we do, where we go, who we meet, what we watch on television. We know that, for years, corporations and governments have been developing the abilities, the technological tools, to monitor what we do. And this gives them a lot of insight into our political views, our preferences, even our personalities.

But what is happening now is that surveillance is beginning to go under the skin – revealing not just what we do, but how we feel…

Of course, it is, at the moment, focused on the disease itself. In order to know whether we are sick, the surveillance systems need data about what is happening inside our bodies – our body temperature, maybe our blood pressure, perhaps our heart rate. All of these things can be used to establish our medical condition.

But once surveillance goes under the skin, it can be used for many other purposes….

And one of those purposes is, just as Lemke notes, the manipulation of human nature on the basis of the data collected by this surveillance, from bodies that are plugged into the data-gathering network by various devices and even implants.

“We need to realize that humans are now hackable animals,” says Harari in one video.

In another video, he states, “Humans are developing bigger powers than ever before. We are really acquiring divine powers of creation and destruction. We are really upgrading humans into gods.”

Hence the title of his new book, perhaps a play on Agamben’s title:  Homo Deus.

Harari is the prophet of the new age of biopolitics.

The new religion of “Dataism”: what he calls the Data Religion.

“Dataists are sceptical about human knowledge and wisdom, and prefer to put their trust in Big Data and computer algorithms.[33]

“Dataism is most firmly entrenched in its two mother disciplines: computer science and biology.,” says Harrari.

“Of the two biology is the more important. It was biology’s embrace of Dataism that turned a limited breakthrough in computer science into a world-shattering cataclysm that may completely transform the very nature of life. You may not agree with the idea that organisms are algorithms, and that giraffes, tomatoes and human beings are just different methods for processing data. But you should know that this is current scientific dogma, and it is changing our world beyond recognition.”[34]

What Harrari envisions is the ultimate in biopolitics in the Foucaldian sense: the reduction of all humanity into a single networked and manipulable biomass in which, as he puts it, “the entire human species [is] a single data-processing system, with individual humans serving as its chips.”[35]

Here Harrari predicts the creation of what is already under construction: ”a new and even more efficient data-processing system, called the Internet-of-All-Things. Once this mission is accomplished, Homo sapiens will vanish.[36]

“According to Dataism,” says Harari in all seriousness, “human experiences are not sacred and Homo sapiens isn’t the apex of creation or a precursor of some future Homo deus. Humans are merely tools for creating the Internet-of-All-Things, which may eventually spread out from planet Earth to pervade the whole galaxy and even the whole universe. This cosmic data-processing system would be like God. It will be everywhere and will control everything, and humans are destined to merge into it.”

Biopolitics will lead to something even more radical than transhumanism.  There will be no more humanity to transcend.

Dataism will end even the project of the Enlightenment to do away with God in favor man.

Dataism will do away with man as well. In the days of Locke, Hobbes and Hume, says Harari,

humanists argued that ‘God is a product of the human imagination’. Dataism now gives humanists a taste of their own medicine, and tells them: ‘Yes, God is a product of the human imagination, but human imagination in turn is just the product of biochemical algorithms.’ In the eighteenth century, humanism sidelined God by shifting from a deo-centric to a homo-centric world view. In the twenty-first century, Dataism may sideline humans by shifting from a homo-centric to a data-centric view.

Because he views man as merely a complex biochemical algorithm, Harrari denies the existence of free will—biochemicals being governed by the deterministic laws of nature.

But of course if there is no free will, then absolutely nothing Harari writes or says can have any value.  Thought itself would be an illusion. And speech would be nothing but a series of noises devoid of linguistic content.

Harari is obviously a crackpot. Homo sapiens will never “vanish.”

But while what he says can never be literally true, it is true by analogy.

It increasingly appears as if homo sapiens, the human person made in the image of God with an eternal destiny has indeed vanished.

Is this not the essence of Agamben’s bare life?

What we see in social order today, especially during the lockdowns of the COVID regimes, Is something akin to the Matrix of movie fame to which everyone is plugged in, receiving not only food and entertainment but a news feed that sustains a virtual reality having nothing to do with outside world.

So where is our red pill?


The COVID regimes in Europe, Australia and New Zealand exhibit precisely Agamben’s “new and more dreadful foundation” on which the “bare life” of subjects who are no longer treated as sacred life find themselves entrapped all the more by “the very sovereign power from which they wanted to liberate themselves” during the age of so-called democratic revolution.[37]

Turning to America, about the only things that still save us here, to an extent, from this new and more dreadful foundation, are the remnants of federalism and judicial review, which remains a prominent feature of the American juridical order.

But recent Supreme Court decisions with 5-to-4 majorities confirm the warning of Senator Ted Cruz that we “On so many issues, we are just one vote away from losing our liberties – such as religious liberty and our right to keep and bear arms – and seeing our country fundamentally changed.”[38]

The Supreme Court, by the barest of majorities, has declared that “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.” Roman Cath. Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, 141 S. Ct. 63, 68, 208 L. Ed. 2d 206 (2020).

So did five justices of the Court declare in respect to Governor Cuomo’s attempt to limit occupancy of churches to 10 persons in the “red zone” he declared to exist based on specious COVID metrics he himself had invented to justify the measure.

But in that case the same five justices did not call for any absolute limit on such tyrannical overreaching, but only, “a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure.”

Thus, it is not existence the state of exception as such that is called into question, but only its scope in particular circumstances.

While the COVID regimes have not been removed entirely from judicial oversight, they have largely been upheld, and thei have been upheld precisely on the basis of the Supreme Court’s own deference to auctoritas versus potestas.

Accordingly, the same Supreme Court shows no inclination thus far to strike down state compulsory COVID vaccination as a condition of employment, military service, and even life in society.

Deference to the state of exception still seems to apply to executive decrees of all kinds in the name of COVID, save those closing churches while abortion mills, marijuana dispensaries, and liquor stores remain open for business.

Exactly one vote prevents us from being entombed behind a wall of restrictions on our merely conventional rights, like Montressor lured by the cask of Amontillado only to see his life being taken away brick by brick.

How, then, do we escape from our biopolitical predicament?

Agamben rightly concludes that “that we no longer know anything of the classical distinction between zoē and bios, between private life and political existence, between man as a simple living being at home in the house and man’s political existence in the city.” (153)

“The “body,” he writes “is always already a biopolitical body and bare life, and nothing in it or the economy of its pleasure seems to allow us to find solid ground on which to oppose the demands of sovereign power.” (152-153)

What Agamben is ultimately describing, perhaps not even being fully aware of its contours, is the final outcome of the emancipation of the body politic from the influence of Catholic Church.

On this score, Agamben appears to be groping toward this truth when he writes that the state of exception as we know see it is a novelty of political modernity:

“The idea that a suspension of law may be necessary for the common good is foreign to the medieval world.”  It is only with the moderns that the state of necessity tends to be included within the juridical order and to appear as a true and proper “state” of the law. (State of Exception, 26).

And in the following key passage in Homo Sacer, Agamben—again, no traditional Catholic—stumbles across both the cause of and the escape from the tyranny of political modernity and its state of exception:

As long as the two elements remain correlated but conceptually, temporally, and personally distinct—as in republican Rome, in the opposition between senate and people, or in medieval Europe, in that between spiritual power and temporal power—their dialectic can function in some way. But when they tend to coincide in one person alone, when the state of exception, in which they are indeterminated, becomes the rule, then the juridico-political system is transformed into a killing machine.[39]

In observing the absence of mediation between power and pure life, Agamben calls to mind the admission of the “moderate” liberal thinker Pierre Paul Royer-Collard, one of the French Doctrinaires ultimately routed by Charles X.

Royer-Collard provides a key insight into why the Charter of 1814, conceded by Louis XVIII at the beginning of Bourbon Restoration, had to fail.

In his famous address on the Restoration in 1822, Royer-Collard observed that the Revolution had destroyed “that crowd of domestic institutions and independent magistracies which carried within it [a] strong bundle of private rights, true republics within the monarchy…. Not one of them has survived and nothing else appeared to replace them.”

In consequence, said Royer-Collard, the Revolution had “left only individuals standing,” and the French had thus become “an administered people, under the hand of irresponsible civil servants, themselves centralized by the power of which they are agents.”[40]

And so it is today in America and throughout the West, in which not only the influence of a crowd of domestic institutions serving as baffles against the tyranny of the administrative state over our bare lives have been eliminated, but above all the Catholic Church, which has taken itself out of commission.

Agamben does seem to grasp the problem, but from his Modernist perspective and with his pneumatological conception of the Church.

In this regard, as hinted earlier, he has some choice words for the role of the current occupant of the Chair Peter in the COVID regimes.

I cannot fail to mention the more serious responsibility of those who had the duty to keep watch over human dignity. The Church above all, which, in making itself the handmaid of science, which has now become the true religion of our time, has radically repudiated its most essential principles. The Church, under a Pope who calls himself Francis, has forgotten that Francis embraced lepers. It has forgotten that one of the works of mercy is that of visiting the sick. It has forgotten that the martyrs teach that we must be prepared sacrifice our life rather than our faith and that renouncing our neighbor means renouncing faith.[41]

In his short work The Church and the Kingdom, published some ten years before the so-called pandemic began, Agamben had already explicitly tied the state of exception under we suffer to the state of the Church:

The crises—the states of permanent exception and emergency—that the governments of the world continually proclaim are in reality a secularized parody of the Church’s incessant deferral of the Last Judgment. With eclipse of the messianic experience… comes an unprecedented hypertrophy of law—one that, under the guise of legislating everything, betrays its legitimacy through legalistic excess.

I say the following with words carefully weighed: nowhere on earth today is a legitimate power to be found; even the powerful are convinced of their own illegitimacy. The complete juridification and commodification of human relations—the confusions between what we might believe, hope and love and that which we are obliged to do, say or not say—are signs not only of crises of law and state but also, and above all, of crises of the Church. The reason for this is that the Church can be a living institution only on the condition that it maintains an immediate relation to its end.

The problem with Agamben is that he attributes the surrender of the Church to modernity not to Modernism, its breakthrough at Vatican II and the disastrous opening to the world in titshe aftermath, but, a la Luther, to loss of her Messianic mission very early on in her history.

He sees the loss of the Messianic mission in what he terms  katoikein, (Kat-ee-kine), from the Greek “to inhabit,” the willingness of the Church to “live as a citizen and thus function like any other worldly institution.”

But he fails to see that the Church which is not of this world must be in this world in order to transform it.  He is blinded by his neo-Modernist, pneumatological concept of Church to the social kingship of Christ as mediated to the political order by the Church as institution.

And so Agamben queries how we can return to politics the “natural sweetness” of zoē versus bare life.

And he laments as follows:

Nevertheless, until a completely new politics—that is, a politics no longer founded on the exceptio of bare life—is at hand, every theory and every praxis will remain imprisoned and immobile, and the “beautiful day” of life will be given citizenship only either through blood and death or in the perfect senselessness to which the society of the spectacle condemns it.[42]

Again, what is Agamben groping toward here?

What is this completely new politics he calls for?

I doubt that he really knows.  A politics beyond human rights. A politics that “renounces all concepts that hold life in the grip of sovereign power,” to quote one of his critics.

But, of course, we know:  it is the old politics, the perennial politics, the politics of the soul.  This, and only this, is where the natural life of zoē will be in harmony with the bios of political life.

For it is here that we find the dialectic between the temporal and spiritual that Agamben admits avoids the worst consequences of political modernity and its a more or less continuous “state of exception” in various disguises.

What Agamben views as the perennial opposition between zoe and bios is  eliminated when the temporal is subject to the spiritual power according to the proper relation between the two, according to the Gelasian doctrine.

What, then, is the new politics he looks for if not what was once the Christian commonwealth, or more precisely Catholic confessional state?

But the modern nation-state, none other than John Courtney Murray concludes, has “declared the Gelasian doctrine heretical” and has outlawed it “in the name of modern orthodoxy, which is a naturalist rationalism.”[43]

In the critique that undermines his own attempt at a Catholic defense of religious liberty in the modern sense, Murray, in We Hold These Truths, admits that political modernity has “rejected the freedom of the Church… as the armature of man’s spiritual freedom and as a structural principle of a free society.”[44]

The modern nation-state, says Murray, “has denied (or ignored, or forgotten, or neglected) the Christian revelation that man is sacredness, and that his primatial res sacra, his freedom, is sought and found ultimately within the Church.”[45]

The author Kenneth Craycraft asks: “What else can Murray be talking about but the United States of America and its political and legal institutions?”[46]

With the Church in eclipse, how do we escape our biopolitical prison? 

Must we spend our lives fighting one rear-guard action after another, in the hope of delaying the inevitable collapse of a civilization in which even the divinely ordained difference between man and woman under attack?

I am afraid the answer is yes, barring a miracle.

Yet this is a noble endeavor, and one that I am honored to be a part of alongside some very distinguished civil rights advocates.

But John Millbank has rightly warned: “Only a global liturgical polity can save us now from literal violence.”[47]

We are talking, therefore—as we always are in this place to which we come each year—about the reconversion of the Western world as the only escape from final disaster.

But then the original conversion of the entire Western world after the fall of Roman Empire was itself a miracle—a miracle of grace.

And perhaps, for all its limitations, the decision in Dobbs­—handed down on the Feast of the Sacred Heart and the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist—is a smaller miracle of grace.

Here I am reminded of the hopeful assessment of the late great Romano Amerio: “Faith in Providence thus proclaims the possibility that the world might rise and be healed by a metanoia which it cannot initiate but which it is capable of accepting once it is offered.”[48]

Nor should we forget that the same hope was expressed by none other than Socrates in his speculations on the good state in The Republic: “And you may be sure that, if anything is saved and turns out well in the present condition of society and government, in saying that the Providence of God preserves it you will not be speaking ill.”).

And with the hope of that offer in view, I conclude by making my own the words of Pope Benedict XVI during his Christmas Greeting of 2011, reciting a liturgical formula that Benedict believed originated during the decline of the Roman Empire: “Excita Domine potentiam tuam et veni ut salvos facias nos—Stir up your power O Lord and come that you may save us.”


[1] Matthew Crawford, “Covid was Liberalism’s endgame,”

[2] Jaeger, Paidea, 11, 46.

[3] Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. I, 503-4.

[4] Pope John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia (1962), n. 1.

[5] Politics, 1280a30-32; b29; 1281a3.

[6] Ibid., 1253a3-5.

[7] Laws, 728b in Plato: the Collected Dialogues, Bollingen Series LXXI (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).

[8] Politics, 1333b-37.

[9] Laws, 969b.

[10] Milbank, Theology and Social Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 9. Emphasis in original.

[11] Essay Concerning Toleration, in Locke: Political Essays (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. § 3. P. 144.

[12] Ibid., p. 135

[13] Ibid., 151.

[14] Ibid., 136.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 140.

[17] Ibid., 136.

[18] James Gordon Finlayson, “’Bare Life’ and Politics in Agamben’s Reading of Aristotle,” The Review of Politics 72 (2010), p. 101.

[19] The Omnibus: Homo Sacer – Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics, p. 1265.

[20] Agamben, Giorgio. The Omnibus Homo Sacer (Stanford University Press, Kindle Edition), 102.

[21] Ibid., 100-101.

[22] Ibid., 104.

[23] Ibid., 177-178.

[24] Carl J. Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, p. 570.

[25] Anne M. Kornhouser, Debating the American State, Liberal Anxieties and the New Leviathan (University of Pennsylvania Press: 2015), p. 14.

[26] Cf. Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (University of Chicago Press: 2005), Chapter 6.

[27] “Giorgio Agamben: A Question,” trans. Adam Kotsko,

[28] Ibid.

[29] Agamben, The Omnibus, 93.

[30] Ibid., 118.

[31] Ibid., 11-12.

[32] Lemke, Thomas. Biopolitics: 5 (p. 4) (NYU Press. Kindle Edition.)

[33] Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo Deus (A Brief History), (HarperCollins. Kindle Edition), 373.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. 383.

[36] Ibid., 386.

[37] Agamben, The Omnibus, 100-101.


[39] Agamben, The Omnibus, 126.

[40] In Aurelian Craiutu, Liberalism under Siege, (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003), 165.

[41] Agamben, “A Question,” loc. cit.

[42] Agamben, The Omnibus, 12-13.

[43] Ibid., 210.

[44] Ibid., 213, 214.

[45] Ibid., 215.

[46] Craycraft, Ibid.

[47] John Milbank, “The Gift of Ruling,” 238

[48] Amerio, Iota Unum, 761.