Virilio, Paul. (trans. Mark Polizzotti) Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology. Semiotext(e): New York, 1986.

Paul Virilio asks the question: If the world is run by the engine of capitalism, then why is it that it continuing acceleration has not stopped at the limit of the realization of capital? His answer is that it is because what drives our technocratic society is not capitalism but militarism, the dromological state, the state of movement.

From this perspective, revolution is the first form of mass transit and the city is a "human dwelling place penetrated by channels of rapid communication" [p.5]. In this world, the engineer is the high priest, his current role a thinly veiled version of the original militaristic meaning of the term. The engineer overlays geometries of circulation onto nature and seeks to structure human geography for the optimum of control. Technology has freed us from the bounds of immobility and bound us instead by a dictatorship of movement. In this dromological imperative, the vehicle is far more important than the message it delivers.

This process, in its modern form, he describes as a combination of the ideal of the medieval fortified city with the ideal of Reason. Reason has moved the seat of power from the human soul to the process of Reason and has thereby transformed all bodies to technical bodies, subjected to the force of reason. This is, in his opinion, the very basis of Fascism, which is "one of the most accomplished cultural, political and social revolutions of the dromocratic West" [p.117], and therefore not likely to go away.

The hazard of this fixation on speed is that has structured the world to function in a constant state of crisis, an unending cold war of environmental and economic exploitation. Speed is making hot wars increasingly impractical. If it is over in an hour and everyone loses, then the only way left to fight a war is through economic and environmental attrition, to see who collapses first. In this sense, the book predicts the fall of the Soviet Union a decade before the event (the French edition was published in 1977). The culture that develops out of this permenant state of crisis is a culture that is fixated on security; security and speed: who can protect theselves best and fastest. The result is a war waged in time instead of in distance. The physical world ceases to be the battle field and instead the battle becomes one of ideologies and economics and speed. "All that counts is the speed of the moving body and the undetectability of its path" [p.135]. Humanity and the environment cease to be relevant in the face of a war that has no material component and can function better without one.

The book should be read by anyone who is interested in the built environment and the nature of its structure. For Paul Virilio, the modern built environment is a product of the militaristic, dromological state, where speed is progress and everything else is the spoils of war.

Some salient quotes:

The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street, where for a moment it stops being a cog in the technical machine and itself becomes a motor (machine of attack), on other words, a producer of speed. [p.3]
Bourgeois power is military even more than economic, but it relates most directly to the occult permanence of the state of siege, to the appearance of fortified towns. [p.11]
... revolution is movement, but movement is not revolution. [p.18]
The man in the battlefield has no safety, it seems, other than in a suicidal entrance into the very trajectory of the speed of the engines. [p.22]
... violence can be reduces to nothing but movement. [p.38]
The right to the sea creates the right to the road of modern States, which through this become totalitarian States. [p.45] The class struggle is replaced by the struggle of the technological bodies of the armies according to their dynamic efficiency. [p.48]
What "makes war convenient" is transportation. [p.55]
"Good conduct" is no longer morals taught in public school, but driver's education. [p.90]
[American government] is convinced at the time that the promotion of a paternalistic and humanitarian comfort civilization will perfectly replace social aid through the technical assistance of bodies. [p.110]
The reduction of distances has become a strategic reality bearing incalculable economic and political consequences, since it corresponds to the negation of space. [p.133]
In this precarious fiction speed would suddenly become a destiny, a force of progress, in other words a "civilization" in which each speed would be something of a "religion" in time. [p.141]
... the more speed increases, the faster freedom decreases. [p.142]

 

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Copyright 2000 -- Peter L. Kantor [daaq@daaq.net]