This book began on September 11, 2001: “The day the world changed.”
Hyperbole, of course. There is no event that changes everything. Still,
something changed, and the change was significant. In the aftermath of
9/11, many aspects of contemporary life reconfigured themselves around
a new dominant: preemption. It is the thesis of this book that the doctrine
of preemption that was the hallmark of George W. Bush’s “war on terror”
became the driving force for a reconfiguration of powers that has survived
his administration and whose full impact we have yet to come to terms
with. More than a doctrine, preemption has taken on a life of its own.
It launches into operation wherever threat is felt. In today’s multidimen-
sional “threat environment,” that is everywhere.
This book will argue that preemption, as it operates today, lies at the
heart of a newly consolidated mode of power. A new mode of power de-
serves a new name. In the chapters that follow, it is dubbed “ontopower.”
Ontopower does not replace prior powers. Rather, it reorganizes and re-
integrates them around the new fulcrum of preemption, changing their
object and mode of operation in the pro cess. Ontopower designates a
changing “ecol ogy of powers.” The way in which this ecol ogy of powers
pivots on preemption brings new urgency to what can only be called meta-
physical problems. Preemption is a time concept. It denotes acting on the
time before: the time of threat, before it has emerged as a clear and pre sent
danger. What is this time of the before? How can it be acted upon? How can
that acting upon already constitute a decision, given the ungraspability of
that which has yet to eventuate and may yet take another form?
Preemption does not idly pose these problems concerning the nature
of time, perception, action, and decision: it operationalizes them. It weap-
onizes them. Paradoxically, it weaponizes them in a way that is productive.
Ontopower is not a negative power, a power- over. It is a power- to: a power
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