Terror and Consent – The Wars for the Twenty-First Century by Philip Bobbitt
The last two decades have seen a significant transformation in just about every element of the international arena. The “long war” between parliamentary republics and their totalitarian opponents ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. New technologies have enabled fundamental changes in commerce and communications that pose significant challenges to economic and cultural norms in both developed and developing nations.
Author Bobbitt posits that these changes are so fundamental and widespread as to be causing a basic reformation in the nature of the State. The nation-state, he argues, is being replaced with a new form, one that he and others have dubbed the market state. This volume, which spans nearly 550-odd pages of text, followed by nearly a 100 pages of notes and footnotes, proposes strategic and legal reforms (the author considers) necessary for the continuance of western democracy.
Bobbitt, a legal scholar with extensive experience within government, serves up a nearly overwhelming argument that this evolution of statehood faces its greatest challenge even as it is being born. We are told that future offers us only two paths: “governance by consent”, within which we knowingly surrender to oversight by an all-seeing and all-knowing state apparatus to insure our personal opportunities (Gay Marriage okay—Privacy, not-so-okay) in the face the dangers posed by; “governance by terror”, which will rule through acts of violence directed against civilian populations.
Thus, the violence of non-nation state entities (of which al Qaeda is portrayed as merely a pioneer) combined with the transformation of global economies and communications and you have the Next Great Threat facing civilization. Throw in the certainty of future “natural catastrophes” and their potential for economic and political disarray and you have the basic premise for the reforms advanced in this work.
The scholarly manner that this heavily credentialed author approaches this subject combined with his willingness to interject (and dispense with) obvious arguments that might interrupt his train of thought make writing a critical review of Terror and Consent a daunting challenge. Yet, it must be challenged. I am a mere citizen with a fraction of the education and resources available to this author and I can tell you only one thing for certain: his vision of my future and my children’s future stinks.
What Bobbitt proposes are sweeping changes in the legal system and strategies of government. Not all of these changes are bad, per se. Some of them even might make sense, given the redefinitions of political reality that have and will likely occur. Rather than use the “ultra-executive powers” approach favored in the Bush-Cheney era, he proposes that these sorts of changes be—where practical—enacted by the legislative branches of governmental and trans-governmental entities. He demonstrates an awareness that the exposure of the kind of policies that enabled torture and extraordinary rendition have not served in our national interest. But all of his proposals are built upon a recognition and awareness that terror (and all the possible variants there-in, including natural disasters) is the principal ascendant challenge faced by our civilization.
The concept of governance with a built in and specific adversarial relationship has historically led nations down a road paved with authoritarian intentions and actions. The totalitarian states of the twentieth century all posited the existence–real or imagined—of external and internal enemies that threatened the rule of law as conceived by those states. And to the extent that visions of those same sorts of enemies were incorporated into the foreign and domestic policies of the democratic-leaning industrial states, the welfare and human rights of the people in those nations have also suffered. Once a “bogey-man” has been introduced into the national politic, it’s improbable that “bogey-man” will ever go away or be defeated, regardless of the facts at hand.
Are terrorist acts being committed? Yes. Are there trans-national organizations that rely upon acts of terror upon civilian populations as both an ends and a means? Yes. Do governmental entities need to pro-actively respond to the threat of terror? Yes. But these truths should not get in the way of the reality that we may also be doomed if we allow the threat of terror (and the entities that flourish based on that threat) to define our legal and strategic interests.
It IS time for a review of all our security policies and the assumptions that they are built upon. The culture of secrecy and deception that thrived in the long war of the last century needs to be seriously challenged, so that the enemies of our freedoms are no longer able to hide behind a TOP-SECRET stamp. I, for one, think that the energies of the Obama administration would be better served by using this self-examination to focus on our future as citizens of the world than on the prosecution of the transgressions (as contemptible as they may be) of the Bush-Cheney era. Let us rise to the challenges brought upon us by this new century and propose new solutions born of open and honest debate.