The Nomadic War Machine

by Z. I. Sadeq

The war machine is a philosophical concept, initially described by Deleuze, Guattari, Claire Parnet, and later on also Manuel DeLanda. Their use of the word machine refers to a machine in the abstract, which has inputs, outputs, and operations just like any other machine or apparatus might; in other words, the machine is capable of production. In much of the writing of Deleuze and Guattari, a machine refers to an assemblage, a network of productivity, with nodes that consist of social relationships, desires, things, beings, concepts, and so on. If one begins to consider war as a productive machine, one might then be able to analyze and describe its products.

         The war machine, if interpreted in a literal manner, could be described as having two main variants: the nomadic war machine and the state war machine. A product of war specific to the state war machine is the capture and control, destruction, or the total annihilation, of flows of all kinds: populations, commodities, capital, etc. Flow, or flows, is a Deleuzean concept referring to the movement of nodes between poles of a web. The state utilizes war and the crisis war produces in order to appropriate, assimilate, and incorporate beings, concepts, and things into the various apparatuses of capital. This process, at least in part, is sometimes referred to as striation.

         The production of war and peace by the state is predicated upon the threat of violence, in other words, the state ensures war and peace through enforcing either with violence.

         One of the main differences between the state war machine and the nomadic war machine is that the state actually desires war itself as an end. For the nomadic war machine, war is always a consequence, and often seen as undesirable. This is especially evident when undergone at a large enough scale.1

         For the nomad on the other hand, war is merely a consequence of armed individuality – uncompromising individual resistance to what has been referred to as other-control.2 In many indigenous and tribal cultures, this embodied the warrior tradition.

         It is against the interests of the nomadic war machine, and within the interests of the state war machine, for centralized, conventional, or direct warfare to breakout. This type of warfare over time has as an effect which leads to the homogeneity of culture and identity, another of the main projects of the state. This homogenization comes as a consequence of large-scale collaborative war against a common enemy of great magnitude,3 such as civilization itself. Ferguson and Whitehead aptly describe this process: encroachments of the state lead to the unification and militarization of indigenous and tribal people and the nomadic war machine. This often results in the production of an armed force similar to that of the state. The nomadic war machine then begins to adopt the arms, methods, and strategies of conventional warfare, instead of keeping with the completely different traditional modes of indigenous and tribal warfare.4

         Tribal warfare is ancient and likely predates the state, civilization, domestication, the use of fire, language, and perhaps even the species of Homo sapiens itself. Clastres refers to tribal people as being “passionately devoted to war”.5

         Ferguson and Whitehead are however mystified and confused by the cosmology of the warrior and the enemy. They misunderstand and mistakenly reject the function of violence. Their “view of violence in the tribal zone is one predicated upon the notion that humans always want peace over anything else”.6 But, as Clastres writes, in tribal societies “social being is a being-for-war.” 7

         One of the main products of war is a crisis of power. Crisis is extremely valuable to capital and the state. When faced with overwhelming foundational rot, capital and the state maintain the ability to abandon, demolish, annihilate, and replace root systems. They do this in order to freshly clone and transplant aspects of the status quo when faced with limitations, thereby escaping them. “The state goes so far as to invite war – from nomads that have themselves taken on the attributes of sovereign individualism”.8 This is because civilization desires, and even requires, the exteriority and heterogeneity of nomadic territorialities in order to satisfy its need for progress and assimilation – a process described by Robert Marzec as isomorphic incorporation. 9

         Capital always needs exotic, faraway lands filled with heathenous barbaric villains to conquer, in order to always keep up the appearance of making progress. Consider this need of the state, the need to incorporate new things, beings, and ideas, to be analogous in many ways to the bloodlust of a vampire. The desire of the vampire for blood consequently results in the creation of more vampires. But if everyone were bitten and turned into a vampire, there would be no human blood left to drink.

         Marzec writes that “Deleuze and Guattari never argue that the war machine is nihilistic”, suggesting that the war machine does not destroy solely for the sake of destruction. He then encourages us to “push this notion of itinerancy further, questioning whether the war machine actually has, as one of its functions, the conservation of territories”,10 suggesting that the war machine can destroy in order to conserve.

         Marzec continues, pointing out: “This peculiar conservative nature of the war machine gives us the first indication that its nomadic movement is more than an agentless form of postmodern fragmentation. Nomadic movement, as opposed to any kind of movement, somehow carries with it the power to conserve…The movement of the nomadic war machine…does not erase the heterogeneity of territories, but conserves it…the war machine does in fact conserve an itinerant territoriality that cannot be incorporated”.11

         Pierre Clastres makes the same point about civilization and its need to conserve heterogeneity. Clastres also demonstrates how “the absence of the state permits the generalization of war” and makes mass society “impossible.” 12

         These concepts are important to a critical theory of civilization and the state. The nomadic war machine is ever-present, and at times, effective, at opposing the state; it is a contra-historical reality. At times, the nomadic war machine has threatened the stability of civilization itself. There are many instances throughout history where tribal people toppled civilizations.

         Nomadic movement is a security vulnerability, an innate flaw in the operating system of the techno-industrial system. It describes the phenomenon of perpetual warfare and conflict of varying intensities throughout the history of civilization. It describes conflicts as varied as ancient tribal warfare and the modern War in Afghanistan. It describes hundreds of years of continuous resistance to the encroachments of the state on many different people throughout history. The war machine demonstrates that militants do have agency enough for taking up armed insurgency, even against the state.




  1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Nomadology: The War Machine. (Seattle, Washington: Wormwood Distribution, 2010). 93-102.

  1. Peter Harrison. The Freedom of Things. (Fair Lawn, NJ: TSI Press, 2017). XI.

  1. Robert P. Marzec. “The War Machine and capitalism.” Rhizomes, no. 3 (Fall 2001). Par. 19.

  1. R. Brian Ferguson and Neil L. Whitehead. War in the Tribal Zone: Expanding states and Indigenous Warfare. (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2001). 3.

  1. Pierre Clastres. Archeology of Violence. (New York, NY: Semiotexte, 1994). 141.

  1. Peter Harrison. The Freedom of Things. (Fair Lawn, NJ: TSI Press, 2017). 141.
  2. Pierre Clastres. Archeology of Violence. (New York, NY: Semiotexte, 1994). 140.

  1. Robert P. Marzec. “The War Machine and capitalism.” Rhizomes, no. 3 (Fall 2001). Par. 13.

  1. Robert P. Marzec. “The War Machine and capitalism.” Rhizomes, no. 3 (Fall 2001). Par. 20.

  1. Robert P. Marzec. “The War Machine and capitalism.” Rhizomes, no. 3 (Fall 2001). Par. 11.

  1. Robert P. Marzec. “The War Machine and capitalism.” Rhizomes, no. 3 (Fall 2001). Par. 12-13.

  1. Pierre Clastres. Archeology of Violence. (New York, NY: Semiotexte, 1994). 142.


Further Reading

Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet. Dialogues. (New York: The Athlone Press, 1987).

Manuel DeLanda. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. (New York, NY: Zone Books, 1991).

The Nomadic War Machine

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