As power and legitimacy become untethered, it has become more and more untenable for establishment institutions to maintain the illusion of distance from violence and domination. In theory, the military and police have the right to mete out violence to protect law-abiding citizens from the threats posed by “enemies, foreign and domestic,” as the U.S. Army’s Oath of Enlistment puts it. It’s not murder when the police kill someone, or terrorism when the state drops a bomb, the logic goes.
But that logic is cracking. A seemingly endless War on Terror, rampant police brutality and sprawling mass incarceration have made the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence increasingly difficult to maintain. Through those cracks, it’s revealed that the state often uses violence for an entirely different reason: to shore up the class hierarchy. In the relentless search for profits and productivity, capitalism inevitably creates “surplus populations” of unemployed people.