│Retired professor of Philosophy. Was teaching philosophy at the universities of Vienna, Hannover, Hamburg and last Braunschweig. Was visiting professor at Urbino and Naples. Wrote about 30 books (at publishers as Reclam, Rowohlt, Fischer, Suhrkamp and Fink) and many essays and articles. Publishes in German, English, French and even in Spanish. Is known on an international level in Europe and America as well. Has been translated into Netherlands, Danisch, Portuguese and Italian. Expert in Nietzsche and French philosophy of the 20th century and in topics of metaphors, including Shakespeare and Cervantes, as well. Deeply concerned with political philosophy (Nietzsche and Fascism, second enlarged edition, Reclam Leipzig 2000. Human Dignity in the Era of Its Vanishing 2006, 2008 in Brasil) and global surveillance: Überwachungsdemokratie. Die NSA als Religion (Democracy of Surveillance. The NSA as Religion) was published in 2014 as a rather dark forecast about the comprehensive power of global surveillance, made in US-NSA.
From Gnosticism to Hamlet and to NSA. Different types and limits of Surveillance and Resistance
This talk is looking for answers to two main questions. Firstly: are there different types of political surveillance and could they be characterised in ethical terms of benevolent versus malevolent political surveillance? Secondly: What different forms of resistance could be learnt from the long tradition of dealing with political surveillance?
The first question will be answered as follows:
There are indeed very different types of political surveillance to be found in religious ideology, political theory and dramatic poetry as well. The tradition of political surveillance from late antiquity to NSA does by no means suffer from a lack of productive imagination.
Using a rough distinction between benevolent and malevolent political surveillance, benevolent surveillance is used as a means to protect or to improve the moral life of human populations. According to Stoicism and to Rousseau as well, ‘Divine Providence’ is protecting the whole of humanity or the ‘citizens of a republic’ united by a social contract. Additionally, we see a type of benevolent surveillance in Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’: Surveillance used as a means to correct the moral behaviour of its citizens.
Malevolent political surveillance has the meaning of being controlled by a vicious God (Gnosticism), by a vicious religious and political system (inquisition, absolutism in France), by some murderous political leadership (King Claudius in Hamlet) or by an ambiguous warfighting system (NSA, GCHQ).
Concerning the question of resistance; it is resistance against malevolent surveillance that matters. The Gnostic’s claim to resist surveillance was their ideology of having an absolute knowledge (“he gnôsis” in Greek) how to escape from a world of total metaphysical control. Hamlet tried to resist Claudius’ machinations in a tragic plot of hesitation and research. During the enlightenment, Voltaire discovered a new method of how to escape a system of political and religious oppression: Telling the truth in public about cruel acts of clerical and political hypocrisy (“l’affaire Calas” and other events). Concerning resistance to quasi-almighty secret services, there may be a way of depriving NSA of its mystique by publicly stressing its character of ugly espionage and of risky cyber-warfare as well. This way would use Voltaire’s way a second time, yet with methods of disenchanting the hidden agenda of political systems.