Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kenneth Anderson: Review of Bobbitt's Terror and Consent

Several blog entries ago, I mentioned that I was reading Philip Bobbitt's tome Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century and that I would be writing more . . . eventually.

I'm not yet ready to write the definitive review, for the book is overwhelming, especially, in my case, because of my weakness in legal theory, one of the three fields from which Bobbitt draws his ideas and offers his proposals.

So, I am relying upon the words of others to shape my thinking. This morning I read a review written by Kenneth Anderson, who teaches law for the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington DC, but who is also a research fellow of the Hoover Institution, at Stanford University.

Anderson's review, "States of terror, states of consent: Philip Bobbitt's strategic transnational politics for the twenty-first century," appeared in The Times Literary Supplement on July 23, 2008. Since readers of this blog can go directly to Anderson's article if they have sufficient interest, I want to focus on just small bits of the review. Here's his summary of the book's scope and argument:
Terror and Consent . . . offers strategic thinking on an unapologetically grand scale. It is synthetic across three large fields: history, law and strategic international politics. Bobbitt is able to combine academic and real-world experience -- a Democrat by affiliation, he has served in senior positions in both law and intelligence in the Clinton and Bush senior administrations. His core insight is that transnational jihadist terrorism must be understood on the largest historical scale, and that requires understanding the shifting nature of the state and society in both the liberal democratic West and the rest of the world. For Bobbitt, jihadist transnational terrorism gets going by being able to exploit the interstices of the state system, not just on a geographical basis -- the failed state of Afghanistan, for example -- but on a historical basis, as the nature of the state moves from its incarnation in the twentieth century to something quite different in the twenty-first. Bobbitt's main point is that al-Qaeda terrorism, and what might eventually replace and transform it, cannot be understood without reference to the state system and its evolution over a long period of time. This leads Terror and Consent into a long walk through the history of the state in the West.

Narrow specialists will register many particular objections, and if one rejects in principle the notion of grand synthetic history, then one’s reaction will be positively allergic. Bobbitt outlines, as a deliberate caricature, a kind of rough historical sketch (picking up the thread of his earlier masterwork, The Shield of Achilles, reviewed in the TLS, June 21, 2002), that the "princely state" system of Europe eventually gave way to the nation-state system that gradually emerged in the nineteenth and then dominated the twentieth century. Wars of the twentieth century were wars between Westphalian nation-states . . . . [E]ven the wars of decolonialization were fought largely by parties that aspired to the status of nation-states. Since the end of the Cold War, however, liberal democratic nation-states -- what Bobbitt calls "states of consent" -- have been moving towards something different from the nation-state, which Bobbitt calls the "market-state". In the market-state, consent becomes less that of the citoyen [i.e., the citizen] and more that of the consumer, for whom the state is a supplier of services. The market-state itself bears some resemblance to a corporation, outsourcing and privatizing significant activities; it is more relaxed about its territorial sovereignty while at the same time being willing to extend its regulatory reach beyond its borders. Globalization's increased wealth is one driver of the market-state, but so is the secular (in both senses of the term) drive of individuals towards greater individual liberty. "States of consent" contrast with "states of terror" -- the end aim of the transnational, nongovernmental and, today, Islamist terrorist groups that are also able to grow in the eco-system of economic globalization and the relaxed conditions of, and among, market-states. States of terror are the evil twin of the states of consent -- parasitical upon and enabled by the states of consent, at once pre-modern and postmodern but never really modern, and hostile toward states of consent.
One might add by way of clarification Bobbitt's central distinction between a nation state and a market state. The former promises to protect and increase its citizens' material well-being, whereas the latter promises to guarantee and maximize its citizens' opportunities (cf. Bobbitt, Terror and Consent, pages 11-12).

But this distinction leads to a question that Anderson formulates as follows:
As a believer in liberty and consent, I should greatly like to share Philip Bobbitt's hopes for the market-state. It does not take a conservative to wonder, however, whether this is enough to sustain liberal democracy in the face of spiritual threats. A long tradition of what Lawrence Solum has called the "left Burkeans" -- Christopher Lasch, for example, or Zygmunt Bauman -- has argued that the market is as much socially corrosive of the values of liberal democracy as it is materially supportive. The market and democracy are both sustained by wells of social capital that stable material prosperity helps to deepen, but which are not the moral logic of the market itself.

The market of the market-state is not self-sustaining. On the contrary, it requires a form of social life that goes outside it in order to function in the long term. Honour, loyalty, sacrifice, gratitude to those who came before -- these are not the evident virtues of capitalism, but they are necessary virtues in a liberal-democratic-capitalist form of life. Without them, society eats its seedcorn, the social capital bequeathed by the past to bless the future. Even after the marvellous argumentation of this marvellous book, therefore, room remains to question whether the market-state pays sufficient attention to the spiritual habits of the heart that make the market-state -- and the willing defence of states of consent against states of terror -- over the long struggle of years in this twenty-first century even possible.
The expression "habits of the heart" is a nod to my old advisor Robert Bellah, who argues that the radical individualism of a capitalist society can undermine the values essential for a good society. Bellah's is a critique from the left, but it has some points in common with the Burkean conservative critique of capitalism in wondering if the market itself might undermine its own foundations. As Anderson puts this concern:
The logic of the market, after all, is to write off the past as past, cut losses and get out as soon as cost-benefit analysis says things are looking dim. Is that really enough? If these are indeed its market values, is the market-state sufficiently nurtured by other values to have the will to defend itself?
I guess that we'll find out.

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At 7:52 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Those who are influencing government, see those values as intrinsic in their market system, therefore no need to look to the past for values.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, you're correct, and that's the limitation in their thinking.

This sort of thing happens rather often in people's thinking. In my Sunday Bible study people sometimes make claims about human rights, women's rights, democracy, or something or other of good value being grounded in the Bible. Such claims can be rather weak, for the Bible might say very little on the topic at hand, and many such values stem from Ancient Greek or Modern Enlightenment sources.

I do think that market freedoms are connected to other sorts of freedom . . . but not always directly.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:09 PM, Blogger dinesh said...

George Bush's claim that we are involved in a war against terror has been widely ridiculed. At best, it was a politician's rhetorical flourish like the war against poverty or the war against drugs; at worst, it was a cynical device to justify interventionist wars overseas and encroachments on civil liberties at home.

Arkansas Alcohol Addiction Treatment

At 7:51 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dinesh (or Pamban?), is this a comment on Bobbitt's argument, or is it an advertisement for an Arkansas Alcohol Addiction Treatment?

You don't squarely address the topic of the blog entry, and you have that link, so I'm not sure.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The radical Islamists believe that they are in a holy war with infidels (non Islamists), and have publicly stated their goals.
The events of the past sixteen years demonstrate that the radicals are actively promoting and practicing terroristic warfare.
To think we are not in a war with terror seems to me to be a failure to comprehend the situation.

At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I failed to sign my name to the above.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I've concluded that Dinesh-Pamban's 'comment' is merely an advertisement, for I had a similar one this morning . . . which I deleted.

I suppose that one could contend that a war cannot be waged upon "terror" but only upon "terrorists."

Bobbitt, however, argues that we must also fight terror itself.

Jeffery Hodges

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