Pacification theory

Pacification theory is a counter-hegemonic approach to the study of police and security which views the contemporary security-industrial complex as both an organizing and systematic war strategy targeting domestic and foreign enemies while simultaneously acting as a process that actively fabricates a social order conducive to capitalist accumulation. According to its academic proponents, such an approach to police and security reveals inherent class war dimensions that have been reinforced by police intellectuals since at least the eighteenth century.[1]

At base, pacification reflects the need to fabricate productive territories and subjects conducive to exploitation.[2] As Neocleous, Rigakos and Wall[3] explain: "The extraction of surplus, as Adam Smith[4] admits, can ‘be squeezed out of [the labourer] by violence only, and not by any interest of his own’ if he can subsist otherwise such as through access to communal land. This, in short, is the foundational bourgeois logic for the compulsion to pacify."

Central tenetsEdit

Pacification theory may vary in its use depending on the analyst, but most scholars associated with Anti-security[5] would likely agree that its central tenets encompass:[6]

  1. problematizing the objectives of security;
  2. building analytic connections instead of masking them;
  3. displacing the ubiquity and reach of security; and
  4. anticipating a state of war (including class war) viewing security as an active, unfinished project rife with resistance.

Associated with this last point and serving an essential component of pacification is its immediate connection to making subjects economically "productive" both historically within the plans of military and colonial overseers and by contemporary police actions, both domestic and international. Neocleous has characterized this process as making war through peace:[7]

" we need to grasp security as pacification... whereas for most people ‘pacification’ is associated with the actions of colonizing powers, has a close connection to counter-insurgency tactics and is therefore widely understood as the military crushing of resistance, an examination of the theory and practice of pacification reveals a far more ‘productive’ dimension to the idea. ‘Productive’ in that what is involved is less the military crushing of resistance and more the fabrication of order, of which the crushing of resistance is but one part."

From: Mark Neocleous. 2013. The dream of pacification: Accumulation, class war, and the hunt. Socialist Studies / Études socialistes 9 (2) Winter 2013:7

A final element of pacification invoked by scholars in this field of study is its connection to the apparent primacy of security thinking and planning in a capitalist economy. This pronouncement is often linked to Karl Marx's assertion that "security is the supreme concept of bourgeois society" in the Jewish Question.[8] A connection believed to be so embedded that Rigakos has argued that "security is hegemony".[6][9]


The development of pacification theory is a re-appropriation of the historical usage of the term. It is offered as an alternative to security as part of a broader analytic Anti-security project.[9] The development of pacification theory to re-cast security is believed to help radical scholars grasp the inherent objectives and operation of security politics since the Enlightenment, and is intended to give activists a ground to stand against the securitization of political discourse that increasingly surrounds the policing of dissent in the post-9/11 period.

During the social uprisings in the 1960s in North America and Europe against the Vietnam War, pacification came to connote bombing people into submission and waging an ideological war against the opposition. However, after the Vietnam War, pacification was dropped from the official discourse as well as from the discourse of opposition.[10] Although approach towards the term and practices of pacification both in the concept's sixteenth-century and twentieth-century colonial meanings were somehow related to the concepts of war, security and police power, the real connection between pacification and these concepts has never been revealed in the literature on international relations, conflict studies, criminology or political science. Neocleous[10][11] has argued that the connection between pacification and the ideological discourse on security is related to the terms use in broader Western social and political thought in general, and liberal theory in particular. In short, that liberalism’s key concept is less liberty and more security and that liberal doctrine is inherently less committed to peace and far more to legitimizing violence.

In Anti-security: A Declaration, Neocleous and Rigakos[12] provocatively summed this argument in the following way: "In the works of the founders of the liberal tradition - that is, the founders of bourgeois ideology - liberty is security and security is liberty. For the ruling class, security always has and always will triumph over liberty because ‘liberty’ has never been intended as a counter-weight to security. Liberty has always been security's lawyer."

From the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century onwards, the growth of towns in Europe generated a concern over “masterlesse men,” as Thomas Hobbes puts it, and their forms of behaviour exposed in urban life such as gambling, drinking, adultery, blasphemy and wandering.[13] Pacification, then, functions as a thread that connects sixteenth-century European colonialism and the fabrication of liberal social order in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the US project in Vietnam and contemporary military exercises of Empire both throughout the globe and domestically.

General theoryEdit

In Security/Capital,[14] Rigakos offers a General Theory of Pacification. He argues that pacification is composed of three overlapping strata: (1) Dispossession; (2) Exploitation and (3) Commodification. Commodification is itself composed of three processes: (a) valorization; (b) prudentialization; and (c) fetishization. According to Rigakos, while different in their strategic targets of intervention, each of these three strata of pacification in their aggregate nonetheless both produce and rely on:

"(1) the use and/ or threat of use of violence; (2) the legal, institutional, and police subversion and suppression of non-capitalist forms of subsistence and exchange; (3) the circulation of a “moral education” aimed at ideologically reinforcing capitalist exchange, the wage-labor system, and bourgeois practices and norms among workers, and, finally (4) establishing an institutional and ideological ethic of security that equates threats to any of these aspects as threats to the state of security and the private property relations it supports."

From: George Rigakos. 2016. Security/Capital: A General Theory of Pacification. Edinburgh University Press, p.27

The aggregate effect of this theory is the conclusion that the global economic system is now conditioned by pacification as it never has been before. Rigakos suggests that "the security– industrial complex is, materially and ideologically, the blast furnace of global capitalism, fuelling both the conditions for the system’s perpetuation while feeding relentlessly on the surpluses it has exacted."[15]


  1. ^ Ozcan, Gulden and George S. Rigakos. 2014. "Pacification" The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization
  2. ^ George S. Rigakos, John L. McMullan, Joshua Johnson & Gülden Ozcan, Eds. 2009. A General Police System: Political Economy and Security in the Age of Enlightenment. Ottawa: Red Quill Books.
  3. ^ Mark Neocleous, George S. Rigakos and Tyler Wall. 2013. On Pacification: Introduction to the Special Issue. Socialist Studies / Études socialistes 9 (2) Winter 2013:2
  4. ^ Smith, Adam. 1981. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.,p.387
  5. ^ Manolov, Martin V. and George S. Rigakos. 2014. "Anti-security". The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization
  6. ^ a b Rigakos, George. ""To Extend the Scope of Productive Labour:" Pacification as a Police Project." Anti-Security. Eds. Rigakos, George and Mark Neocleous. Ottawa: Red Quill Books, 2011. 57-83.
  7. ^ Neocleous, Mark. 2010. “War as Peace, Peace as Pacification.” Radical Philosophy 159, pp. 8-17.
  8. ^ Karl Marx. 1844. On the Jewish Question.
  9. ^ a b Manolov, Martin V. (2012). “Anti-Security: Q & A, Interview of George S. Rigakos,” The Annual Review of Interdisciplinary Justice Research, vol. 3, pp. 9-26.
  10. ^ a b Neocleous, Mark. 2008. Critique of Security. Edinburgh University Press.
  11. ^ Neocleous, Mark. 2007. “Security, Liberty and the Myth of Balance: Towards a Critique of Security Politics.” Contemporary Political Theory 6, pp. 131-149.
  12. ^ Neocleous, Mark and George S. Rigakos. 2011. “Anti-security: A Declaration”, pp. 15-21 in Anti-security. Ottawa: Red Quill Books., p.16
  13. ^ Neocleous, Mark. 2011. “‘A Brighter and Nicer New Life’: Security as Pacification.” Social and Legal Studies 20(2), pp. 191-208.
  14. ^ Rigakos, George S. 2016. Security/Capital: A General Theory of Pacification University of Edinburgh Press
  15. ^ Rigakos, Security/Capital, p.123

Further readingEdit