Michael Dillon: Ten years of the War on Terror I think has to be locat­ed also in the con­text of more than ten years of lib­er­al wel­fare since 1989, and the dis­so­lu­tion of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War structures. 

This was not an aber­ra­tion. The last twen­ty years I think have been an oppor­tu­ni­ty seized by lib­er­al regimes to write the world accord­ing to the moral sen­ti­ments and com­mer­cial dynam­ics of a lib­er­al polit­i­cal econ­o­my. And to give expres­sion in fact to mil­i­tary and mar­tial dri­vers that were always there in lib­er­al­ism from the very begin­ning in the 18th cen­tu­ry. First enun­ci­at­ed in the 18th cen­tu­ry as a the­o­ry of moral sen­ti­ments, and as an aston­ish­ing inno­v­a­tive com­mer­cial and finan­cial enter­prise. The argu­ment was—made by Smith, David Hume, many oth­ers, and repeat­ed since—the argu­ment was that this the­o­ry of moral sen­ti­ment and this com­mer­cial inno­v­a­tive capac­i­ty, not least in rela­tion to the inven­tion of cred­it, would help to estab­lish peace­able rela­tions nation­al­ly and internationally. 

The para­dox all of this ear­ly enun­ci­a­tion of lib­er­al­ism was not that it brought an end to war but that it mul­ti­plied the rea­sons for mak­ing war. Those are the moral sen­ti­ments of lib­er­al­ism. And not that it lim­it­ed war finan­cial­ly, but that it extend­ed also the means for mak­ing war, since the move from mon­ey and species and bul­lion to cred­it vast­ly increased the finance avail­able for the wag­ing of war. So there you’ve got it. A cen­tral para­dox at the core of lib­er­al­ism, pro­claim­ing itself as a means of restrict­ing war, para­dox­i­cal­ly mul­ti­ply­ing means, mul­ti­ply­ing rea­sons, for mak­ing war.

Fast for­ward to the late 20th cen­tu­ry. Again we find lib­er­al regimes wag­ing war. And we find lib­er­al regimes giv­ing expres­sion to the the­o­ry of moral sen­ti­ments and the com­mer­cial dri­vers and ambi­tions of lib­er­al­ism, but in spe­cif­ic ways con­tem­po­rary to the last twen­ty years. 

One of the ways in which there was a dif­fer­ence, but it was a dif­fer­ence I think which inten­si­fied the para­dox of the 18th century—multiplying rea­sons for mak­ing war, extend­ing the mech­a­nisms for wag­ing war—was a shift from the polit­i­cal anthro­pol­o­gy that had under­writ­ten the the­o­ry of moral sen­ti­ments of ear­ly liberalism—Smith, Hume, and the rest. A kind of the­o­ry of moral sen­ti­ments which is based upon the notion of the pos­ses­sive indi­vid­ual lib­er­al sub­ject. A shift from, at least a sup­ple­ment­ing of that, but this curi­ous bio­phi­los­o­phy of the late 20th cen­tu­ry which gave rise to a kind of polit­i­cal biology. 

Expressing a kind of zeit­geist of the age, this polit­i­cal biol­o­gy, this bio­phi­los­o­phy, was tak­en up by mil­i­tary strate­gic thinkers in the United States in the after­math of the dis­so­lu­tion of the Cold War as they rethought glob­al, inter­na­tion­al, and com­pet­i­tive rela­tions and threats to secu­ri­ty and ways of wag­ing war in the future in the absence of the old Cold War struc­tures. Life would become infor­ma­tion­al­ized. Complex adap­ta­tion, trans­for­ma­tion, and change was giv­en a bio­log­i­cal twist as well as a com­mer­cial twist. And much of this found its expres­sion not just in com­plex­i­ty think­ing but in what was called network-centric think­ing, giv­ing rise in mil­i­tary strate­gic terms in the United States to a trans­for­ma­tion of the United States mil­i­tary strate­gic appa­ra­tus and indus­tri­al appa­ra­tus through what was called a rev­o­lu­tion in mil­i­tary affairs,” so called, to the adop­tion of a network-centric war­fare strat­e­gy. Which was not just a strate­gic the­o­ry but dug deep down into the struc­tures of the American mil­i­tary. Indeed, under Rumsfeld and Cebrowski, the archi­tects of this mil­i­tary strate­gic think­ing, an office of forced trans­for­ma­tion, sig­nal­ing the com­mit­ment to life and to mil­i­tary life as a process of con­tin­u­ous adap­ta­tion and change was insti­tut­ed in the Pentagon. 

Here then I think you get a mul­ti­pli­ca­tion again of rea­sons for war. But unin­hib­it­ed now by any com­pet­i­tive moral argu­ments to lib­er­al­ism. And that mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of rea­sons for war after 1989…there was no com­pet­i­tive moral argu­ment against it, only the lib­er­al argu­ments for it in terms of rogue states, inter­ven­tion into civ­il wars, and so on. That mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of the means in the late 20th cen­tu­ry, and mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of rea­sons in the late 20th cen­tu­ry, was of course also com­ple­ment­ed through the cred­it rev­o­lu­tion of the late 20th cen­tu­ry, a vast increase in the finan­cial means for wag­ing war as well. 

Credit, com­merce, moral sen­ti­ments, allied again in the last twen­ty years, but allied and giv­en expres­sion through the War on Terror. Allied and giv­en expres­sion through the adop­tion of network-centric think­ing, rev­o­lu­tion­ary in mil­i­tary affairs, and so on.

Now, the para­dox of 18th cen­tu­ry lib­er­al­ism was that the moral sen­ti­ments in com­merce gave rise to a mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of rea­sons for war, and an exten­sion of the mech­a­nisms for wag­ing war. An addi­tion­al com­plex arose in the last twen­ty years. Here, a vast appa­ra­tus of inter­na­tion­al and glob­al inter­ven­tion, War on Terror, inter­ven­ing in failed states, and so on. This vast appa­ra­tus for increas­ing secu­ri­ty of course seemed in addi­tion, or para­dox­i­cal­ly, to gen­er­ate vast inse­cu­ri­ty. Indeed inse­cu­ri­ty became inter­nal­ized. And the para­dox for lib­er­al­ism was that this appa­ra­tus for cre­at­ing secu­ri­ty, cre­at­ing vast insecu­ri­ty, also cre­at­ed mech­a­nisms for threat­en­ing lib­er­al freedom.