20 April 2008

Terror and Consent, Part II

Not having read Philip Bobbitt's previous book, The Shield of Achilles, it took a while for me to figure out exactly what a "market state" was supposed to be. It was apparent from the first references that it was going to be something less than a welfare state (or what Bobbitt calls a "nation state" but it didn't become clear immediately exactly what that would mean for the daily lives of working people. After 500 pages of Terror and Consent, he explains that market states might take three different forms: entrepreneurial states, presumably like the U.S., stress creating opportunities for their citizens through education, job training and retraining, etc.; mercantilist states, presumably like many Asian countries, emphasize industrial strategies to secure the largest market share for their exports; managerial states, exemplified for Bobbitt by Germany, come closest to the welfare-state model, sacrificing some efficiency and innovation in favor of stability and quality of life for their citizens. None of the above, however, will be capable or willing to make the same social guarantees to their citizens that welfare-nation states did.

The irritating thing about Bobbitt's grand thesis is his macro-historical assumption that the transformation of nation-states into market-states is inevitable and irreversible. Even more irritating is his equation of market states with "states of consent." While he acknowledges the possibility of "market states of terror," for which al Qaeda serves as a prototype, Bobbitt clearly thinks that the typical market state will be a state of consent. Indeed, the advent of the market state seems to make states of consent more hostile to "states of terror" than ever before.

Market states, however, require a common ethos in a way their predecessors did not....Market states must demonstrate the worth of global markets and the globalising principles -- including the rule of law -- that underlie such markets.
* * *
More importantly, a state that turns on its own citizens is state of terror no matter what its constitutional evolution, and as such it will always pose a challenge to states of consent, to their self-respect, and to their legitimacy in the eyes of their own citizens. Sudan does not threaten the E.U. or the U.S. any more than Serbia did when it conducted its massacres in Kosovo. But these states of terror do threaten the fundamental premise of the market state -- that it will maximize the opportunity of its people -- because they suggest that opportunity is bought at the price of allowing terror to triumph (if elsewhere), and once that bargain is struck it is a short step to the demand that a state of terror replace one's own state of consent when the going gets rough. (229-30)

Bobbitt predicts that market states of consent will be pressured more often by their own people to invade states of terror (allegedly) like Sudan because a globalized media will publicize that country's outrages and inflame public opinion in favor of humanitarian intervention, i.e. war. The concept of "none of our business" will be obsolete. Instead, as Bobbitt tellingly explains, states of consent "seek to maximize the opportunities of their citizens by empowering the citizens of other states." (487). Reduce that phrase to the actual policy Bobbitt idealizes and it means: market states maximize opportunities for their citizens by invading other countries. If that sounds self-interested rather than idealistic, that doesn't bother Bobbitt. Here he is discussing the decision to invade Iraq.

Iraq's oil wealth cannot have been irrelevant. Why would critics of the war demand that it be so? Why do we expect states never to have multiple, mixed motives when most of us wouldn't choose a university -- wouldn't even buy a car -- without a complicated calculus of many values, sometimes in conflict? This demand -- that a state's motives must be purely self-sacrificing if they are not to be judged discreditable -- reflects expectations about states that are so unrealistic as to be counterproductive to those very goals that human rights advocates wish to promote. Instead of concluding that states with geopolitical interests should be barred from interventions, we should instead be devising doctrines ... that clearly state how strategic interests, measured on a global scale, intersect with humanitarian interests in order to move states in the direction of protecting civilians. (493)


Bobbitt's purpose in Terror and Consent is to suggest doctrines that will justify interventions by market states of consent against states of terror. Once the proper doctrine is established, he expects, the intervening states won't be acting without justification or only out of self-interest. There has to be a doctrine because all these interventions have to happen according to a rule of law, or else the intervening states cannot be states of consent. Bobbitt's beef with the Bush administration is based on their apparent belief that international law can be dispensed with altogether, rather than rewritten, as the author urges, to legitimize American actions. He worries that moving further in Bush's direction could turn the U.S. into a state of terror, but he also worries that we could end up one if we don't pass the stronger surveillance and data-sharing laws he advocates, because our failure to have a legal system and government apparatus in place appropriate to the new threat of market-state terrorism could force us to turn to martial law in a crisis.

The foundation of Bobbitt's doctrine is that not all nations are equal anymore. The old international order, embodied in the UN and founded on the equal inviolable sovereignty of all nations, he declares obsolete. In short, states of terror have no sovereignty that states of consent are bound to recognize.

I offer this provocative proposed rule: a state of terror can never be sovereign.... Persons within a state of terror may prosecute armed struggles against the State and not be subject to lawful sanction or extradition; they are not terrorists unless they attack civilians with no connection to the state depredations they are resisting. Other states may lawfully intervene against such a state to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, genocide, or international terrorism, or to forestall mass catastrophes ignored by the regime -- all indicia of states of terror. To be assured of sovereignty, and of the protection of the international community, both domestically and among states, a state need only become transparently a state of consent. (481-2)

"Transparently" is a technical term for Bobbitt, who defines three degrees of state sovereignty. Opaque sovereignty is the old standard, which says one state's internal affairs are nobody else's business. Translucent sovereignty happens in entities like the European Union, in which the member states are accountable to each other and liable to sanctions when they violate agreed-upon rules. Transparent sovereignty is the American way, on the Jeffersonian/Federalist model, which is "founded on the notion that the People possess rights that can't be alienated by delegation to the government" (466).

At this point, Bobbitt makes a disingenuous leap. He claims that the concept of transparent sovereignty justifies humanitarian intervention against states of terror. Transparency "holds that a state's acts toward the state's own citizens, within its own territory can be judged by other states and serve as a predicate for armed intervention even in the absence of an endorsement by the appropriate international institutions" (469). The really disingenuous bit follows: "This fully fits the American concept of sovereignty, for when a state violates the compact of human rights it implicitly holds with its people, it forfeits or at least sharply compromises its sovereignty, because popular consent is the source of state sovereignty."

Did you catch the trickery? What Bobbitt just did was use the concept of government's accountability to its own citizens (the "American concept of sovereignty") to justify an invasion by another country or coalition of powers. You can deny that Bobbitt just pulled a fast one if you can show me any document in which Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison etc. theorized a right of foreign countries to invade the United States. I bet you can't.

Of course, catching Bobbitt in an error doesn't mean that his argument is wrong on its own merits, but it does make you suspect that something is wrong with his picture. That's why I keep coming back to the question of whether a welfare state transformed against the will of its citizens into a market state is really a state of consent after all. If it isn't, what are the implications for all of Bobbitt's self-described political philosophy? I hope to address that question in a third and final article.

1 comment:

crhymethinc said...

"More importantly, a state that turns on its own citizens is state of terror no matter what its constitutional evolution..."

I wonder what Bobbit makes of the "War on Drugs" which has cost billions of dollars, ruined thousands of lives, has sent thousands of people to prison, a war which is waged by the government of the United States on its own people? Doesn't that, in theory, already make the United States a "state of terror"?