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Leviathan and Kraken: States, Corporations, and Political Economy

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Publication details

JournalHistory and theory
DateAccepted/In press - 24 May 2019
Original languageEnglish


In our politico-philosophical bestiary, no monster has historically been more prominent than the Leviathan, the whale of the Book of Job, transformed by Hobbes, which has long been ubiquitous as a metaphor or as a signifier in all intellectual traditions touching upon the political. Like the state itself, we argue, the Leviathan has played an outsized role in the way we theorize and imagine relations of sovereignty in the world. This essay seeks to add a new hermeneutical creature to the bestiary: the Kraken. Said to be huge and to lurk in
Norway’s icy waters, the Kraken first emerged in the accounts of natural philosophers in the eighteenth century, at the very moment when political economy was becoming the premier science of governance in Europe. Leviathan is an emblem of a kind of state that no longer exists and has never existed, and it remains our most potent emblem of the state’s reification, a relentlessly compelling figure that has long blinded historians to alternate sovereignties within, across, and outside the physical territories of states. From stateless financial capital to multinational corporations acting like states on the world stage, such forms of sovereignty are an essential feature of the global politics we are now living, but they are not new. Their emblem is the Kraken.

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