Movement : Hagar Kotef

5. Final Notes: The Movement of the Leviathan

Movement is the change in the position of a body (object or subject) or part of it over the course of a certain interval of time. This was the definition with which I started. To a certain extent, at least, all of the uses of the concept through which I passed mark such a change, even if the concepts of “body” or “position” may take different forms and meanings across these uses. Accordingly, a social or political movement (to begin to answer the question ending 2.3) is a certain plurality mobilized into action or organized under a shared cause/ideology. The appeal to “movement” may seek to denote, precisely, the formation of a political body by the means of this organization—be it the body of the social movement of the state or of some “multitude.”

These movements, moreover, seek to redirect the course of the body-politic, its policies, and political sentiments (the issues which move people; in the double, perhaps triple meaning of the word). Other movements (such as the occupation movement, but also many forms of activism that can no longer be captured within the traditional concepts of social movements) seek rather to interrupt the ordinary movement of things (life, politics). Sit-ins, occupying public spaces, chaining one’s body to a bulldozer to prevent house demolitions—all are modes of action that operate by bringing to a halt the habitual movement of the everyday, or what have become the unquestioned movements of political powers. Or, alternatively, we can follow Agamben to argue that this use of the concept seeks to mark the dynamic powers in society, in an opposition to the staticity of the state.

Yet contra Agamben we can further argue that states are not necessarily static. Often, they can be seen as moving bodies as well, and their movement, too, is a change of position in space: expansion. This movement is precisely the matter empires are made of. Once again Hobbes may provide the key. The Leviathan is but a giant moving body whose movement is dual: the vital, more internal movement of blood/money, and the external movement of war.63 As Anidjar points out in the previous issue of this journal, the circulation of money is what keeps the body of the Leviathan alive.64 Firstly, the “reduction” of commodities into “Gold, and Silver and Mony” makes them portable enough “as not to hinder the motion of men from place to place”; almost as if a circulation of full-scale commodities would create clogs in the veins of the commonwealth. Commerce, which is thereby enabled, thus provides the necessary nourishment to the entire body politic: it “goes round about, Nourishing (as it passeth) every part thereof.”65 Yet unlike the blood in mortal men, this blood does not flow in a closed system. On the contrary, the reduction of commodities into blood/money is necessary in order to allow its flow beyond and outside of the boundaries of the commonwealth:

For Gold and Silver, being (as it happens) almost in all Countries of the world highly valued, is a commodious measure of the value of all things else between nations . . . By the means of which measures, all commodities, Movable, and Immoveable, are made to accompany a man, to all places of his resort, within and without the place of his ordinary residence.66

Moreover, the need to sustain this circulation sets in motion other parts of the body politics, which has to reach out, beyond its borders, to obtain more of this vital power.

Silver and Gold . . . have the privilege to make Common-wealths move, and stretch out their arms, when need is, into foreign Countries; and supply, not only private Subjects that travel, but also whole Armies with Provision.67

Often, this practice of “reaching out” produces more blood; both blood-money, which can be acquired via the resources of the new territories, and that red fluid which is shed in wars.

Violence, war, conquest, colonization, life (which is, for Hobbes, “but the motion of limbs”), reproduction (as “The Procreation, or Children of a Common-wealth, are those we call Plantations, or Colonies”), all become part of a single, even if multifaceted movement of the commonwealth.68 As we saw, however, this unimpeded movement is also the definition of freedom. Freedom itself thus emerges as a form of violence, as a threat to be managed, monitored, constantly under surveillance. At the level of bodies, populations or states, movement folds these into each other.

As a physical phenomenon, an iconography, an image, or a concept, movement thus appears as a fundamental political matter. Thus, when Arendt identified politics as a space in which “each man moves among his peers” and via this movement negotiates the conditions of life in a plurality, she identified more than some ideal-type of a Greek political model.69 She identified a certain image of politics that is more widely shared, as well as more diverse, than she cared to admit.


Hagar Kotef is a Post-Doc fellow at the Society of Fellows at Columbia University.


Published on March 1, 2013

63. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan 149. For Plato, as well, motion is totalized as war via “an unproblematic treatment of war as coextensive with motion, indeed, as the moving of bodies.” Claudia Baracchi, Of Myth, Life and War, 153.

64. Gil Anidjar, “Blood,” in Political Concepts: A Critical Lexicon., accessed March 2012.

65. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 174.

66. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 174.

67. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 175.

68. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 9; Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 175; Indeed, “an unstoppable wave linking state systems to colonial ones, a surging flow and flood of money and blood.” Gil Anidjar, “Christians and Money,” Ethical Perspectives 12:4 (2005): 505.

69. Hannah Arendt, The Promise of Politics, 117. (my italics)

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