City/State

— Deleuze, Gilles; and Felix Guattari "City-State [from Plateau 13 of Mille plateaux]", translated by Brian Massumi Zone 1-2 (1985): 194-217.

Keywords: City, Society and Control

Uruk, אֶרֶךְ, Ὀρχόη Orchoē, Ὠρύγεια - Sumer/Babylonia
Uruk, אֶרֶךְ, Ὀρχόη Orchoē, Ὠρύγεια - Sumer/Babylonia

In so-called primitive societies there exist collective mechanisms which simultaneously ward off and anticipate the formation of a central power. The appearance of a central power is thus a function of a threshold or degree beyond which what is conjured away ceases to be so and arrives. This threshold of consistency or of constraint is not evolutionary, but coexists with what has not crossed it. What is more, a distinction must be made between different thresholds of consistency: the town and the State, however complementary, are not the same thing. The ‘urban revolution’ and the ‘state revolution’ may coincide, but are not one. In both cases there is a central power, but it does not assume the same figure. Certain authors have made a distinction between the palatial or imperial system (palace temple) and the urban town system. In both cases there is a town, but in one case the town is an outgrowth of the palace or temple and in the other the palace or the temple is a concretion of the town. In one case the town par excellence is the capital, and in the other the metropolis. Sumer already attests to a town-solution, as opposed to the imperial solution of Egypt. But to an even greater extent, it was the Mediterranean world, with the Pelasgians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, that created an urban tissue distinct from the imperial organisms of the Orient. Once again, the question is not one of evolution, but of two thresholds of consistency that are themselves coexistent. They differ in several respects.

The town is the correlate of the road. The town exists only as a function of circulation and of circuits; it is a singular point on the circuits which create it and which it creates. It is defined by entries and exits: something must enter it and exit from it. It imposes a frequency. It effects a polarization of matter, inert, living or human; it causes the phylum, the flow, to pass through specific places, along horizontal lines. It is a phenomenon of transconsistency, a network, because it is fundamentally in contact with other towns. It represents a threshold of deterritorialization because whatever the material involved, it must be deterritorialized enough to enter the network, to submit to the polarization, to follow the circuit of urban and road recoding. The maximum deterritorialization appears in the tendency of maritime and commercial towns to separate from the backcountry, from the countryside (Athens, Carthage, Venice). The commercial character of the town has often been emphasized, but the commerce in question is also spiritual, as in a network of monasteries or temple-cities. Towns are points-circuits of every kind, which enter into counterpoint along horizontal lines; they operate a complete but local town-by-town integration. Each one constitutes a central power, but is a power of polarization or of the middle (milieu), of forced co-ordination. That is why this kind of power has egalitarian pretensions, regardless of the form it takes: tyrannical, democratic, oligarchic, aristocratic.…Town power invents the idea of the magistrature, which is very different from the State civil-service sector (fonctionnariat). Who can say where the greatest civil violence resides?

The State proceeds otherwise: it is a phenomenon of intraconsistency. It makes points resonate together, points that are not necessarily already town—poles, but even diverse points of order—geographic, ethnic, linguistic, moral, economic, technological particularities. The State makes the town resonate with the countryside. It operates by stratification: in other words, it forms a vertical, hierarchies aggregate that spans the horizontal lines in a dimension of depth. In retaining given elements, it necessarily cuts off their relations with other elements, which become exterior; it inhibits, slows down or controls those relations. If the State has a circuit of its own, it is an internal circuit dependent primarily upon resonance; it is a zone of recurrence that isolates itself from the remainder of the network, even if in order to do so it must exert even stricter controls over its relations with that remainder. The question is not to find out whether what is retained is natural or artificial (borders) because in any event there is deterritorialization. But in this case deterritorialization is a result of the territory itself being taken as an object, as a material to stratify, to make resonate. Thus the central power of the State is hierarchical and constitutes a civil-service sector; the centre is not in the middle (au milieu) but on top because the only way it can recombine what it isolates is through subordination. Of course, there is a multiplicity of States no less than of towns, but it is not the same type of multiplicity: there are as many States as there are vertical cross-sections in dimension of depth, each separated off from the others, whereas the town is inseparable from the horizontal network of towns. Each State is a global (not local) integration, a redundancy of resonance (not of frequency), an operation of the stratification of the territory (not of the polarization of the milieu).

It is possible to reconstruct how primitive societies warded off both thresholds, while at the same time anticipating them. Levi-Strauss has shown that the same villages are susceptible to two presentations, one seminary and egalitarian, the other encompassing and hierarchies. These are like two potentials, one anticipating a central point common to two horizontal segments, the other anticipating a central point external to a straight line. Primitive societies do not lack formations of power; they even have many of them. But what prevents the potential central points from crystallizing, from taking on consistency, are precisely those mechanisms that keep the formations of power both from resonating together in a higher point and from becoming polarized at a common point: the circles are not concentric, and the two segments have need of a third segment through which to communicate. This is the sense in which primitive societies have not crossed either the town-threshold or the State-threshold.

If we now turn our attention to the two thresholds of consistency, it is clear that they imply a deterritorialization in relation to the primitive territorial code. It is futile to ask which came first, the city or the State, the urban or state revolution, because the two are in reciprocal presupposition. Both the melodic line of the towns and the harmonic cross-sections of the States are necessary to effect the striation of space. The only question that arises is the possibility that there may be an inverse relation at the heart of this reciprocity. For although the archaic imperial State necessarily included towns of considerable size, they remained all the more strictly subordinated to the State the more it extended its monopoly over foreign trade. On the other hand, the town tended to break free when the State’s overcoming itself provoked decoded flows. A decoding was coupled with the deterritorialization and amplified it: the necessary recoding was then achieved through a certain autonomy of the towns or else directly through corporative and commercial towns freed from the State-form. Thus towns arose that no longer had a connection to their own land because they assured the trade between empires or, better, because they themselves constituted a free commercial network with other towns. There is therefore an adventure proper to towns in the zones where the most intense decoding occurs: for example, the ancient Aegean world or the Western world: of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Could it not be said that capitalism is the fruit of the towns and arises when an urban recoding tends to replace State overcoming? This, however, was not the case. The towns did not create capitalism. The banking and commercial towns, being unproductive and indifferent to the backcountry, did not perform a recoding without also inhibiting I the general conjunction of decoded flows. If it is true that they anticipated capitalism, they in turn did not anticipate it without also warding it off. They do not cross this new threshold. Thus it is necessary to expand the hypothesis of mechanisms both anticipatory and inhibiting: these mechanisms are at play not only in primitive societies, but also in the conflict of towns ‘against’ the State and ‘against’ capitalism. Finally, it was through the State-form and not the town-form that capitalism triumphed: this occurred when the Western States became models of realization for an axiomatic of decoded flows, and in that way resubjugated the towns. As Braudel says, there were ‘always two runners, the state and the town’—two forms and two speeds of deterritorialization—and ‘the state usually won…everywhere in Europe, it disciplined the towns with instinctive relentlessness, whether or not it used violence…the states caught up with the forward gallop of the towns. But the relation is a reciprocal one: if it is the modern State that gives capitalism its models of realization, what is thus realized is an independent, worldwide axiomatic that is like a single City, megalopolis or ‘megamachine’ of which the States are parts or neighbourhoods.

Footnotes

  1. On Chinese towns and their subordination to the imperial principle see Etienne Balazs, Chinese Civilisation and Bureaucracy, H.M. Wright (trans.), New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964, p. 410; 'The social structures in both India and China automatically rejected the town and offered, as it were, refractory, substandard material to it. It was because society was well and truly frozen in a sort of irreducible system, a previous crystallization.'
  2. From all of these standpoints, François Chatelet questions the classical notion of the city-state and doubts that the Athenian city can be equated with any variety of State ('La Greece cacique, la Raison, I'Etat' in Alberto Asor Rosa et al., En marge, I'Occident et ses autres, Paris: Aubier Montaigne, 1978. Islam was to confront analogous problems, as would Italy, Germany and Flanders beginning in the eleventh century: in these cases, politicalf power does not imply the State-form. An example is the community of Hanseatic towns, which lacked functionaries, an army and even legal status. The town is always inside a network of towns, but the 'network of towns' does not coincide with the 'mosaic of States': on all of these points, see the analyses of François Fourquet and Lion Murard, Genealogie des equipments collectifs, Paris 10/18, pp. 79-106.
  3. From all of these standpoints, François Chatelet questions the classical notion of the city-state and doubts that the Athenian city can be equated with any variety of State ('La Greece cacique, la Raison, I'Etat' in Alberto Asor Rosa et al., En marge, I'Occident et ses autres, Paris: Aubier Montaigne, 1978. Islam was to confront analogous problems, as would Italy, Germany and Flanders beginning in the eleventh century: in these cases, politicalf power does not imply the State-form. An example is the community of Hanseatic towns, which lacked functionaries, an army and even legal status. The town is always inside a network of towns, but the 'network of towns' does not coincide with the 'mosaic of States': on all of these points, see the analyses of François Fourquet and Lion Murard, Genealogie des equipments collectifs, Paris 10/18, pp. 79-106.
    Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schrept (trans.), New York: Basic Books, 1963, pp. 150-1.
  4. Louis Berthe analyses a specific example of the need for a 'third village' to prevent the directional circuit from closing: 'Aines et cadets, 1'alliance et la hierarchie chez les Baduj', L'Homme, vol. 5, no. 3/4, July-December 1965, pp. 214-15.
  5. Femand Braudel, Capitalism and Material Life, New York: Harper & Row, 1973, pp. 398 405, 411; italics added. (On town-State relations in the West, see pp. 396~106.) As Braudel notes, one of the reasons for the victory of the States over the towns starting in the beginning of the fifteenth century was that the State alone had the ability fully to appropriate the war machine: by means of the territorial recruitment of men, material investment, the industrialization of war (it was more in the arms factories than in the pin factories that mass production and mechanical division appeared). The commercial towns, on the other hand, required wars of short duration, resorted to mercenaries and were only able to encast the war machine.