Mark Neocleous, The Universal Adversary: Security, Capital and the ‘Enemies of All Mankind’ – a few thoughts

As I’ve previously mentioned, Mark Neocleous, The Universal Adversary: Security, Capital and the ‘Enemies of All Mankind’ is now out with Routledge. Here’s the backcover description:


The history of bourgeois modernity is a history of the Enemy. This book is a radical exploration of an Enemy that has recently emerged from within security documents released by the US state: the Universal Adversary. Neocleous shows how the concept of the Universal Adversary draws on several key figures in the history of ideas, said to pose a threat to state power and capital accumulation. Within the Universal Adversary there lies the problem not just of the ‘terrorist’ but, more generally, of the ‘subversive’, and what the emergency planning documents refer to as the ‘disgruntled worker’. Taking the figure of the disgruntled worker as its starting point, the book introduces some of this worker’s close cousins – figures often regarded not simply as a threat to security and capital but as nothing less than the Enemy of all Mankind: the Zombie, the Devil and the Pirate. In situating these figures of enmity within debates about security and capital, the book engages an extraordinary variety of issues that now comprise a contemporary politics of security, from crowd control to contagion, from the witch-hunt to the apocalypse, from pigs to intellectual property, in a compelling analysis of the ways in which security and capital are organized against nothing less than the ‘Enemies of all Mankind’.

I’ve now read the book, which I greatly enjoyed. Mark taught me as an undergraduate, and supervised my PhD thesis, and the book is very much a reflection of his spoken style. While a serious topic, the nature of the figures examined is obviously entertaining as well as challenging. People familiar with Mark’s other work – on administration, police, security, monsters and fascism and so on – will find plenty of connections, and it’s interesting how these themes connect up together here. Indeed, it’s possibly the first thing of Mark’s I’ve read where I could see the connection between all these aspects of his work – the police and security work obviously connected to his first book on administration, and he’s shown how domestic politics and international politics often work in related ways, but The Monstrous and the Dead book (which was of course a development of his work on fascism) now clearly appears as central to that other work too.

The book ranges from serious readings of canonical political theory – Hobbes and Bodin, for example – to engagement with figures from popular culture and contemporary news events. The figure of the ‘universal adversary’ comes from US security doctrine, but as the description above indicates, draws on a much wider range of political, racist, imperial and class issues. The book retains a strong Marxist perspective, and stresses how class politics has often been written out of critical perspectives on terrorism and security. Foucault is another figure discussed and used, and it is interesting to think about how these emblematic figures – the disgruntled worker, the zombie, the pirate – function in a similar way to Foucault’s constitutive subjects of sexuality – the pervert, the hysteric, the masturbating child.

It’s quite a short book, and I read it on a couple of train journeys. Given the direction of my current work it’s not a book I expect I will be using for my research any time soon, though I’m sure I’ll return to it at some point. It’s a useful antidote to those who think that thinking about the ‘enemy’ means you need to read Carl Schmitt. People interested in, for example, Daniel Heller-Roazen’s work on pirates, or Grégoire Chamayou’s book on Manhunts will find much to consider here, as well as those working on the ongoing ‘war on terror’, security, and anticipation.

This entry was posted in Daniel Heller-Roazen, Karl Marx, Mark Neocleous, Michel Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mark Neocleous, The Universal Adversary: Security, Capital and the ‘Enemies of All Mankind’ – a few thoughts

  1. Pingback: Mark Neocleous, The Universal Adversary: Security, Capital and the ‘Enemies of All Mankind’ – a few thoughts | Progressive Geographies | PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

  2. Pingback: Academic Books of 2016 – my personal list | Progressive Geographies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s