Apart from the physical devastation, or perhaps haunting it, the eeriest part of Hurricane Sandy, in my estimation, was how an entire region, or a city actually shuts down, in an orderly process. In New York, first the bus and subway system is shut down, all the food gets bought up in the supermarkets as people stock up on food and water, bridges and tunnels are closed. Critical Theorists please take note, the system is shut down in a deliberate and controlled manner and then continues to work, even under a state of emergency. And then there was the Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York telling everyone to stay at home, and don’t call 911 unless it’s the emergency is life threatening, don’t go out on the streets, don’t touch downed electrical wires. At one point at the height of the storm, 10,000 calls came into 911 every half hour, but the bars and restaurants, according to one report on NPR, remained open in Hell’s Kitchen.
All this more than suggests that this is how government is supposed to coordinate at the highest levels of organization, which means at the federal level. And this is political. At some point in the primary debates Mitt Romney said that disaster relief should be handled at the more local level of the states and, even better, by private interests, which is not how government “works.” Because all the problems that beset us transcend the county and state lines and require higher orders of organization. Private interests and the states cannot marshal the kind of resources that the federal government can secure quickly.
I’m pasting below comments by Chris Christie, the pugnacious in-your-face Republican governor of New Jersey. I found them online at the New York Times. The key word is “coordination,” along with “Federal,” “Management,” and “Agency” (as in FEMA, which the Republicans seem to want to gut, or to hand over to the states, which we all know is a bad idea).
Mr. Obama earned repeated praise on Tuesday from an unlikely source: Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey and one of Mr. Romney’s top surrogates. In several appearances on morning news programs, he called Mr. Obama’s efforts for his state “wonderful,” “excellent” and “outstanding.”
“It’s been very good working with the president,” Mr. Christie said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “He and his administration have been coordinating with us. It’s been wonderful.”
Speaking about the damage to his state on NBC’s “Today” show, Mr. Christie called the president “outstanding” and said the response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. had been “excellent.”
In a Twitter message from his official account, Mr. Christie said he wanted to “thank the president personally for all his assistance” as New Jersey recovers from the storm.”
But it’s not just people on the conservative right who despise liberalism and distrust government. For my colleagues and friends further over on the left who are still investing their energy in Critical Theory, I’d make two quick points.  In a robust, liberal polis, a state of emergency has nothing to do with suspending the law. Non-moribund systems can calibrate in order to secure life, limb, and, yes, capital and property.  Law and liberal governmentality are not necessarily bad things, not per se. The value of any system depends upon organizational pragmatics and the value placed on human life and human dignity. It doesn’t always work out in neat ways, not the way we might want it to, but conflict, organized conflict, is the name of the game in a liberal polity.
Not sure if by “further over on the left” you’re talking about people like me. I agree with you that governmentality is not intrinsically bad. To say governmentality is bad is far too “procedural” a critique for me. I’m interested in how certain regimes serve the interests of those affected by the regime—the critique, for me, fundamentally turns on whose interests are served whose are not, rather than the nature of the form of government. Nice post. Sharing on fb …
CRAIG!!! No disagreement here. And, of course, I’m referring to you and to peole like “you.”! Please take that as a compliment!