Obsessive Security and the Emergence of a Police Society

Detlef Nogala, Max-Planck-Institute

When George Orwell put down his vision of the society to come in "1984", he depicted all-pervasive methods of policing under an authoritarian regime. The most distinct element in Orwell's dystopia is the systematic use of advanced surveillance technology. One of Orwell's merits is to have anticipated the growing and potentially crucial role of technology in modern policing, due to its character as power-amplifier. Today, the applicable arsenal of surveillance systems has grown beyond Orwell's, let alone Kafka's, imagination With the presnt uynparalleled pursuit of security, the principle of permanent suspicion is progressively being seen as "normal", even in democratic and liberal societies. However, our world in this early 21st century differs significantly from Kafka's or Orwell's. In the course of so-called "globalization, the nation state has lost a part of its role in generating and perpetuating social order(s), through policing. With the imperatives of marketization, privatization and deregulation, the rules for producing and appropriating security have changed. Thus, the notion most adequate for pinning down the present nature of dystopia is not so much that of "police state" as that of "police society".

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Updated 05/20/2006