The Ethical Political Continuum 4

An overview of some concepts from Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Tomas Byrne
Published in
5 min readFeb 11, 2022


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This is the fourth of a series on the ethical and political theory of Gilles Deleuze.

Natural Registers

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari elaborate on the theory of desiring-production by going beyond the registers of the unconscious and the social to include a broad range of the natural: cosmic, geologic, evolutionary, developmental, biological, ethological, anthropological, mythological, historical, economic, political, literary, musical, artistic and more.

The central concepts that provide signposts for understanding the book are “rhizomes,” “lines,” and “deterritorialization.”


A rhizome can be contrasted with a tree. A tree is arboreal, structured, hierarchical, vertical, unidirectional, binary, totalizing. A rhizome, on the other hand, is horizontal, uncentered, non-hierarchical, continuous, interactive.

A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb “to be,” but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, “and… and… and…” (A Thousand Plateaus)

A rhizome has heterogeneous links: anything can be linked to anything else.

The rhizome is the concept that is offered as a way of thinking of connections of machines both in society and in the natural world.

Traditional liberal thought is arborescent, with its roots in the individual. Machinic thought is rhizomatic: there are multiple connections between machines and multiple perspectives from which to view these connections.


Deleuze and Guattari assert that we are “assemblages,” composed of lines, and there are three types of lines we must consider: lines of rigid segmentation, molecular lines and lines of flight.

Segmentary lines are things like family, school, army, job, factory, profession, retirement. Segmentary lines are bureaucratic and hierarchical; they are the lines that operate at the level of traditional political thinking.

Segmentary lines are representational, and at the limit transcendent. Deleuze and Guattari do not suggest that these lines are not real, but they propose that there is more than this:

We have lines of segmentarity which are much more supple, as it were molecular… rather than molar lines with segments, they are molecular fluxes with thresholds or quanta. A threshold is crossed, which does not necessarily coincide with a segment of more visible lines. Many things happen on this second kind of line — becomings, micro-becomings, which don’t even have the same rhythm as our history. (Dialogues II)

Molecular lines exist within and run through our actualized history, the history we learn in school and the personal history we tell ourselves. Within our official histories, there are connections and links that permeate through us, forces continually at work shaping society and us.

Beneath molecular lines are lines of flight, the pure difference that informs the fluid becomings of molecular lines and the actualized identity of segmentary lines. Lines of flight are the virtual running through the actual, overflowing the actual.

Lines of flight:

… [are] even more strange: as if something carried us away, across our segments, but also across our thresholds, towards a destination which is unknown, not foreseeable, not pre-existent. (Dialogues II)

Lines of flight are the paths of becoming and transformation.


Deleuze and Guattari replace the virtual-actual terminology of Deleuze’s earlier writings with territorialization, deterritorialization and reterritorialization:

Multiplicities are defined by the outside: by the abstract line, the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities. The plane of consistency (grid) is the outside of all multiplicities. The line of flight marks: the reality of a finite number of dimensions that the multiplicity effectively fills; the impossibility of a supplementary dimension, unless the multiplicity is transformed by the line of flight; the possibility and necessity of flattening all of the multiplicities on a single plane of consistency or exteriority, regardless of their number of dimensions. (A Thousand Plateaus)

Lines of flight are the immanent forces of deterritorialization, which is at the heart of a process in which lines of flight are captured or territorialized, culminating in molecular lines and lines of segmentarity, only to be destabilized or freed.

Territories arise from a process of deterritorialization, always subject to being redrawn or erased by forces of becoming, new lines of flight. Lines of flight are always pure creativity, whether captured or freed, working within territories and deterritorializing territories, creating new beginnings.

Lines of flight are the material of life and deterritorialization is the process of becoming that lines of flight are continually engaged in.

Lines of flight come together as assemblages of desire.

Assemblages either form rigid lines of segmentarity and a reterritorialization that normalizes desire, transforming, at least temporarily, it into a representational form of desire. Or, assemblages form lines of creativity and deterritorialization that allow desire to continually transform in a process of becoming.

State Oppression

The state, as a transcendent whole, is a territorialization that interrupts the process of deterritorialization. The state overcodes molar lines of segmentarity when it becomes a transcendent whole that stands outside of the process of deterritorialization.

Reactive forces at the state level work to slow the process of becoming, to create sedentary lines that prevent lines of flight from freely creating.

When the state overcodes, it becomes an abstract machine that utilizes monopoly of force, the real force of discipline and violence, as well as enforced and ordered knowledge, the transcendent idea, to block the process of becoming, ie., deterritorialization, in society.

On this account, the state is no longer an arbiter of interests under a liberal theory of representation. The state is by its nature oppressive.

The state promotes conformity, stifles desire and shuns creativity.

The state reinforces molar lines, conforming territories.

State Capitalism

Deleuze and Guattari view free market capitalism as a deterritorializing force, decoding flows and creating new relations and connections. But capitalism, like the state, is manipulated by forces bolstering dominant social relations, and becomes entangled in overcoded priorities, resulting in the reduction of its potential for creativity and productivity, and the rise of oppression.

When this occurs, capitalism is put in service of, and becomes aligned with, the dominant order of the state. Capitalism reterritorializes along the lines of dominant reactive forces, becomes macro, becomes state capitalism; no longer a free market concept, but primarily an axiom of exploitation.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading!


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Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference (Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of the New) Copyright © 2021 by Tomas Byrne. Learn more here.



Tomas Byrne

Jagged Tracks Music, Process Philosophy, Progressive Ethics, Transformative Political Theory, Informed Thrillers, XLawyer