Metropolitics

“Metropolitics, a rootless, placeless and increasingly timeless politics concerned with the dissolution of barriers to speed”[1]. Virilio describes a new mode of politics within the modern city as a post-Leviathan beyond the space of the nation-state. Metropolitics is a politics in the tradition of the friend-enemy distinction, yet its enemy is abstract. Barriers to speed constitute its primary locus of action, being the means through which these are sped up or eliminated altogether.

The city is more a metaphor, as its resembles no actual city as such. The city-in-abstract of metropolitics is a set of flows organised around hubs, whether these be customs processing points, ports or logistics centres, all of which are being expunged and accelerated as the speed of flows increase exponentially. In contrast to the city as a war machine in the fortress which was emplaced and solid[2], the metropolitan centre is diffuse and opaque, defined by an ambiguous architecture of high rises and office blocks and a lack of identificatory markers. The recent UK census showed that Birmingham and London, the largest cities in England, are now minority white. Similar demographic shifts are happening across majority white countries where the national connection between the city and its native population is diminishing or non-existent.

Power is also diffuse in the metropolitan. Not in the sense of decentralisation or disaggregation, but in the sense of opacity. It is difficult to identify their place or even existence as administrative structures are disassembled messes of overlapping authority and self-regulation. Vast power structures in finance, culture industries or trade are laws unto themselves. In some ways this can be seen as a regression from statehood into an administrative feudalism. The reversal of what Strayer described as one of the defining characteristics of the modern state, the control of economic activity and particularly control over foreign trade. Traditions of “local self-regulation” where “internal economic activities were controlled almost entirely by local authorities”[3] appear to be re-emerging as the city becomes a regulatory and coordinative hub for international economic activity.

However it would be mistaken to assume metropolitics followed a distinctive set of traditions that are locally defined. The rules of metropolitics are defined entirely by “the law of least action”[4] and increasing the speed and scale of interactivity within and between its nodes and hubs. The power centres of law or finance are concentrated upon the same goal, the increase of flows through their networks. Rather than a regression it is an inversion of political power. Instead of attempting to control the interactions within one’s sphere of activity, the goal is to exponentially increase speed and decrease the extent of time or presence. Metropolitics isn’t the politics of speed, but making politics an arena of speed i.e. regulatory arbitrage, contractual-legal systems, trade processing are all functions in reducing the intervals between points.

From this the metropolitan becomes universalised through new concepts and forums such as stakeholdership or cosmopolitanism. Ideological ramparts within the architecture of metropolitics. The urbanisation of the international population is only accelerating this dynamic as cities become both immovable and always in flux. From them is produced a retrogression as a never-ending array of cultural and economic matter is combined and contrasted, forcing the constant reproduction of an ersatz culturation. Metropolitics is the defeat of time and space as variables of politics itself. An ineliminable progression towards the ultimate contradiction, the endless flow within hubs of networks. There is the constant tension of place (in the city) and placelessness (as a product of the flows cities create). What is emerging is not an international politics of regulation, but a timeless set of instantiations flitting between points in an inter-urban continuum, from one city to the next.


[1] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2022/11/24/time-place-becoming/

[2] Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics

[3] Joseph R. Strayer, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State

[4] Paul Virilio, Open Sky

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