Meet the Book Author: Biosecurity, Economic Collapse, the State to Come

Christos Boukalas, Northumbria University

In our Meet the Book Author Series, the Journal of Law and Society and the Centre of Law and Society provide first-hand accounts from authors who have recently contributed notable socio-legal books to their respective fields. In this post, we hear from Christos Boukalas, who’s new book Biosecurity, Economic Collapse, the State to Come was published in November 2022 with Routledge.

What is the book about? 

This book offers a first, tentative outline of the state-form that was hatched during the pandemic and is now emerging. 

The pandemic forced the state to confront two crises in its core areas of responsibility: security and the economy. These crises were enormous and simultaneous. Crucially, their management was mutually canceling: everything done to alleviate one, necessarily exacerbated the other. In response, the state mobilised previously unthinkable powers, upending the meaning of all our practices and relations: domestic, public, work, leisure, health, economy, safety, trust, politics, self… But it exercised those powers in a contradictory and confused way, without clear purpose or coherent strategy. The twin crises, in short, combined into a crisis of the state leading to its transformation. The book examines the state’s response to the biosecurity and the economic crisis and, on this basis, draws an outline of the emerging state. It is the first study to address both crises that erupted during the pandemic and to synthesise their effects into a comprehensive account of the state to come. 

Part I of the book addresses biosecurity: its logic; the knowledge (scientific or otherwise) that informs it; the law mobilised in its context; its public health policy; the subjectivity and relations it calls forth; its erasure of the public realm and its power to cancel society —a power both absolute and self-defeating. Part II addresses the economic crisis. It examines the state’s economic policy and its differential effects on capital and labour. It outlines the new —spatial, political, and ideological— environment for economic activity, including its drivers and its crisis-tendencies; and concludes that the state has embarked on a dual economic policy that uses pseudo-Keynesian methods to promote wealth concentration and pauperisation. Finally, Part III outlines the emerging state-form: the new logic of the state; the modalities of state power; its legal framework; the structure of the state, and —most importantly— the state’s relation to society. It concludes that the emerging state is one of “neoliberal despotism”: a neoliberal state with intense authoritarian features that is set to impose social stasis. It also notes that this form is structurally unstable, faces significant social resistance and it will therefore rely on violence for its (unlikely) preservation. 

Why did I write it?

My work is concerned with the transformation of the liberal-capitalist state in the 21st century. It monitors and interprets shifts in politics, law, political economy and, ultimately, in the relations between the state and society. This state is forever fighting crises. The security crisis that erupted on 9/11 and the counterterrorism saga that ensued, was later combined with the 2007-2008 financial crisis and its metastases. As a result of combating these crises, the state has morphed into an oligarchic and authoritarian entity.

The pandemic forced the state to combat an economic and a security crisis at once; and alleviating one inescapably aggravated the other, putting the state in an impossible position. My contention in spring 2020 was that the impossibility of managing the twin crises will cause a crisis of the state with revelatory and transformative effects. That realisation triggered the writing of this book. 

As crisis becomes perennial, as the future holds nothing but crisis, this book offers a first outline of a state designed to maintain a social order that has become highly unstable and undesirable.

What was my research strategy?

This book was written during the pandemic. The object of research —the state response to the twin crises— was ahead of the writing. The latter was trying to make sense of an unfolding reality, its contradictions and reversals, and was regularly forced to adjustments and reviews. From early 2021 onwards, developments tended to confirm and expand my analysis rather than challenge it. It was gratifying to see that my analytical framework was true to the reality it was addressing.

In grappling with a reality that precedes its analysis, the temptation was to theorise it pre-emptively, forcing the event into pre-existing theoretical schemas. This is what I tried to avoid. Instead, my analysis foregrounds the event, and the theory that informs it remains submerged, the hidden part of the iceberg. After all, theory speaks on reality (and, if it is lucky, through reality) or not at all. Crucially, an event of that magnitude could not leave theory unaffected. Theory not only informs my analysis of the event, but is informed by it. This is evident in the conceptual innovations the book makes, regarding the state’s economic policy; its fundamental logic (“threat governmentality”); its legal framework (“endless pseudo-necessity”); its overall form (“neoliberal despotism”); and the purpose towards which state efforts cohere: the imposition of social stasis. This mutually informing dynamic between reality and its theory enriches the understanding of the former and prevents the latter from ossifying into ideology.

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