22 April 2008

Terror and Consent, Part III

So how does a nation state become a market state? As far as I can tell from reading Philip Bobbitt's book, it just happens. He's a believer in large historical forces, one of which is globalization. My guess is that globalized economic competition is the major factor making it impossible, in Bobbitt's prediction, for nation states to remain welfare states in the good sense of that term. But who asked for this? That's probably a silly question when you're dealing in impersonal historical forces, but I can't help asking it because Bobbitt insists that the "Wars of the 21st Century," i.e. "the wars on Terror," will pit states of consent against states of terror. I've already asked twice over: if citizens of a nation state (or welfare state) have not consented to their country becoming a market state, how can that new market state call itself a state of consent? I have to keep asking because Bobbitt doesn't even describe a process through which people could consent to the change -- and he definitely doesn't allow that they could say no.

He does admit that many people won't be happy with the change. He writes: "From the perspective of nation states to which we are accustomed, market states seem a disavowal of much we have been taught to expect from the State. With regard to global governance, the preferences of market states for informal incentives, deregulation, and voluntary association may seem like a renunciation of the rule of law itself" (505-6).

But if so many people would presumably be hostile to the change, why can't they stop it or reverse it? Bobbitt may think that this is the sort of historical change that simply isn't subject to political will. That'd be consistent with his abstract level of thinking; after all, Terror and Consent recommends sweeping changes in military and intelligence strategy on the basis of a theory of history. At the same time, he clearly expects many if not more people to benefit from the market state order, as long as they enjoy the opportunities market states must provide. He envisions a more cosmopolitan world where individual identity trumps old claims to exclusive national loyalties.

The move to the primacy of persons as individuals and as members of self-chosen groups rather than only as nationals has several other implications for global governance. Foremost, considerations of history, culture and geography that were suppressed or highly structured by nation states will be more keenly felt (and expressed). As a corollary, it ought to be possible for individuals to be citizens of more than one state and for their states to be members of more than one regional group.(508)


Everyone will be free to join everything, Bobbitt imagines, but what happens to the sense of belonging, of membership that confers mutual obligations as well as individual benefits? What's to become of solidarity in this new constitutional order? People are going to miss these things unless they've been prepared for the change by generations of brainwashing, as has arguably been the case in the U.S. Inevitably, people are going to resist the transition from nation to market state when they see it happening in real time on their ground. My worry is that Bobbitt has painted these people and their governments into a conceptual corner, so that by resisting the transition to a market state, they become (in his mind) a state of terror.

On several occasions, Bobbitt writes that democracies won't necessarily qualify as states of consent as long as they lack a "rule of law" of the kind that would presumably be appropriate to a market state. Recall his assertion that market states of consent can't tolerate the existence of other forms of government. Consider that, while he accuses al Qaeda of an aggressive agenda to impose sharia on a Caliphate, he acknowledges that bin Laden and his pals have repeatedly asked only to be left alone to impose it on only one part of the world. Recall again that Bobbitt says that market states of consent cannot leave states of terror alone. What then, if any country (what the hell, let's call it Russia) tells the world, "we intend to remain a nation state and play by the old rules, and we have our people behind us, and we will resist the encroachments of market states by all means lawful to a nation state"? According to Bobbitt's framework, such a country is likely to be a terrorist threat to the extent that it attempts to limit opportunities for individuals outside its borders (see part II of my review) and will be increasingly desperate to preserve its old-fashioned opaque national sovereignty. How long would it take, then, before market states, under some fine-sounding rubric like a "league of democracies," wage "preclusive" or "anticipatory" war against the offending nation?

I don't mean to accuse Bobbitt of advocating such a policy, but he leaves himself open to speculation because he never acknowledges that the great transition on which all his premises are founded can ever be contested by the will of a people. As a result, the overall impression I get from Terror and Consent is that all of us are either with the program or against it, and that those of us who are against it are a threat.

Philip Bobbitt himself might ask me what I'm afraid of. Well, he paints a pretty harrowing portrait of the chaos in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and he damns the Bush administration for its incompetence, but while he would argue that that's not how a proper market state would handle things (he has plenty of his own suggestions), my own hunch is to the contrary. He hopes that future administrations, by enacting and abiding by new systems of international law, intelligence gathering and military justice, will earn the people's trust for more effective security measures, without allowing that citizens will continue to disagree about the fundamental reasons for any military venture, especially if future interventions are founded on the Bobbitt doctrine that we can't leave nasty countries alone, and that dissidents in a "war on terror" environment legitimately worry that governments will interpret dissent from war aims as subversion or treason. I can readily accept that there are parts of the world where I wouldn't be welcome, and I'm not so all-encompassingly ambitious to think that my opportunities, much less my rights, are limited as a result. If I offer my viewpoint as a model for American foreign policy, will I have Bobbitt or other people call me an enemy of freedom?

I'll leave the topic with a paradox: Can a person speak out against freedom, and still be free? When writers like Bobbitt summon visions of armed freedom on the march, and politicians like John McCain (who has advocated a "league of democracies" similar to Bobbitt's idea) seem to be listening, we had better figure out the answer soon.

1 comment:

crhymethinc said...

Seems to me that what Mr. Bobbitt is describing is an economic state. From reading your review(s) of his book, he doesn't seem to be addressing social obligations at all. Does he expect that all the "tribal" type peoples of Africa and the Middle-East, or the extended family systems of Asia will go the way of the dodo bird for the sake of the almighty Market? And as you point out, if the people have no say in the move to globalization, can their state truthfully be called a "state of consent"?

I'm guessing that what Mr. Bobbitt hypothesizes is really his own wet dream of what a Utopian society might be like. And I don't like it, no sir, I don't like it at all.