Following are excerpts from my book, Beyond Security, Ethics and Violence: War Against the Other (Routledge, 2007). Details can be found here:


In my memory it is dark. I am with a group of other boys, on a field behind the boarding school I attended as a child. It is cold. I am lying in the grass, having been kicked and punched to the ground, and now they have sticks and rocks in their hands. As they throw them at me I start to panic, not knowing if they will stop, what could hold them back or restrain their sudden, inexplicable malice. My world shrinks to blackness and contorted, horror-film faces; I flinch from their blows and wonder if I will die. Then, just as suddenly, it stops. One of them saying no, that’s enough, the vicious knot of boys turning away, their laughter leaving a child bawling and alone. I am six years old.

There were plenty more times like that, but such experiences are trivial in comparison to those which lie at the heart of this book’s moral and political concerns: East Timorese being chased down the streets of Dili and Maliana by Indonesian troops and militia, to be murdered with machetes and gunfire; organised gangs raping and hunting Chinese in Jakarta, as the currency bottoms out and an aged President resists relinquishing a rule built on surveillance, propaganda and mass murder; Palestinians arguing with Israeli checkpoint police as a baby dies in its mother’s arms, or watching helplessly as their houses are demolished before their eyes; kids dancing at a disco on the beach at Tel Aviv, caught on freeze-frame just before their lives are shattered by a suicide bomber; asylum seekers held at gunpoint by the Australian SAS on a container ship, or going slowly mad while being held indefinitely in desert immigration prisons; Iraqis dying under US missile strikes and bombs, torn apart by the car bombs of the ‘resistance’, or tortured in police cells and vast prisons, all in the cause of freedom; office workers in New York, finding their computer screens suddenly replaced by flying glass, ripped metal, choking smoke and burning flesh.

Glimpses of a world addicted to suffering—to a rational, functional suffering embedded in the very patterns of politics and order that regulate global life. My experience and theirs are barely comparable, but they are connected by a long, glowing filament of fear and dread. I learned much from those formative years: how it felt to be displaced, torn from what is familiar and comforting and placed in a strange and ambivalent environment, where one is watched and nurtured yet exposed to vulnerability and horror; how the social, intellectual and ethical environment of the ‘school’, a conduit to the demands and values of ‘society’, coexisted with the terrorist violence of the gang; how power could be loving and nurturing, but also flawed and abusive. I learned about the selfish possibilities of parental authority, the seeming permanence of insecurity, and the nearness of cruelty. I learned, in my craving for love and protection and home, about my desire for security; I learned, in the gap between my experience and the comforting, paradoxical wisdom of Christ, about the ambivalence and fragility of ethics; and I learned, in the experience of discipline and the predations of the other boys, about the ever-present possibility of violence. In short, in the fissure between the promises of my world and my experiences of it I learned the necessity of critique.

Working between international relations, philosophy, and political and cultural theory, and with those whose daily suffering is most shocking and unbearable in mind, this book thus brings sustained critical attention to the promises and practices of security, ethics and violence as they manifest themselves in the statecraft, foreign policy, diplomacy, terrorism, war-making, geopolitics and strategy of the last few decades. This book does so to sound a warning: that not only are global patterns of insecurity, violence and conflict getting ever more destructive and out of hand, but that the dominant conceptual and policy frameworks we use to understand and respond to them are deeply inadequate and dangerous. Given this danger, the book insists upon a ‘critical’ approach: one that refuses to accept the representations of the world most available to us and apparently most credible, but instead questions the very categories we have used to understand and shape our modernity and its relation to power, violence and existence.

Beyond Security, Ethics and Violence

How stable and comforting then is security? Can it be at all meaningful, and what ethical and conceptual resources can be called upon either to restore it to wholeness or help us conceive a form of existence and relation beyond it?  It is to these questions this book addresses its enquiry. The book’s methodology is carefully chosen, being both transdisciplinary at the theoretical level, and tightly intertwined with empirical (but not empiricist) cases and policy studies. This is because I prefer to derive theoretical problems from worldly situations, using them to challenge theoretical constructs and assumptions, and vice versa, using critical theories to pose new questions of the real. I have always been sceptical of theory that overstates its universality; too often, especially in IR, this is little more than power play. Rather I see theory as perpetually linked to, and limited by, specific contexts and problems. Thus the book’s theorising is underpinned by a Foucauldian analysis of power-knowledge, which sees each implicated in the other in a ceaseless struggle over the status of knowledge and the shape of our social and political worlds. Particular philosophers and theorists are then of concern not in relation to the ‘integrity’ of their thought, or their place in an intellectual canon, but in terms of how their works constitute sources of socio-political authority, insight or possibility. In this sense the discourse of policy-makers, institutions and media is just as important, and the book analyses theorists and political actors in terms of what they might reveal about the structures of ‘truth’ that underpin particular forms of social and political power, define the limits of possible critique, or provide clues to alternative futures. And beyond them, the book seeks to think the problems anew and alone.

The book is divided into three parts, tracing out a thematic and conceptual development whose concerns and insights continually fold back on each other. Part I, Security, provides a conceptual underpinning to the book by first developing a genealogy of security in the West, and then exploring ethical and political strategies which can be used to resist or refigure it. After first analysing some of the contemporary paradoxes of security which have placed enormous pressure on its status as an unproblematic end of policy, Chapter 1 (“Aporias of Security”) traces the development of security into a powerful political technology that combines what Michel Foucault calls ‘individualising’ with ‘totalising’ power, linking sweeping forms of bureaucracy, regulation and coercive power focused on territories and populations with forms of discipline, self-government and identification that work at the level of the body and mind. Building upon and going beyond his work on ‘governmentality’, the chapter traces the complex development of security as a technology from the ‘social contract’ theory of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to its evolution into the 20th Century national security state.

Their founding political theory is, notwithstanding their differences, responsible for the modern sovereign state as we know it. Their work conceived the modern political community, driven by a desire for security, as an organic unity of sovereign and subject constituted by a primal existential estrangement from the Other of the criminal, the subversive, the Indian, and the minority—directly incorporating an image of violence, otherness and fear into the very basis of modern political life. (While they did not theorise the state among states, their ontology provides a basis for the later Schmittian vision of ‘collectivities’ of friends and enemies engaged in an existential struggle for survival in the international realm). Then, via analyses of the liberal utilitarian thinkers Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, the chapter traces this formation through the development of liberal political economy, a project to which a refined and reformulated idea of security was central, linking this in turn with nineteenth and twentieth century discourses of citizen-state subjectivity, imperialism and historical progress—as most starkly exemplified by the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel and former US Department of State official Francis Fukuyama. The chapter also links this genealogy with a feminist analysis of the masculine images of force, identity and privilege in mainstream security practices, before concluding with some speculations on the possibilities of moving beyond such a violent political technology via new approaches to ethics, agency and resistance.

Chapters 2 (“Poetry Outside Security”) and 3 (“After Security”) continue the critical excavation of such images of security in new contexts (Asia-Pacific conflict and security discourse in Chapter 2, and Israeli security discourse in Chapter 3), while further developing the ethical theory that could begin to radically rethink security and possibly move beyond it as a modern political ontology. “Poetry Outside Security”, which was drafted for a special issue of Alternatives on “Poetic World Politics” edited by Roland Bleiker, does this by linking political discourse with the critical potentials opened up by cultural theory and poetic texts, specifically those of Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and Gig Ryan, who combine powerful insights into the psychological structure of security discourse with an ironic critical challenge to its forms of power and truth. (This methodological approach, combining aesthetic, cultural and political theory, is also evident in Chapters 4, 7 and 9, and could be characterised as a contribution to the ‘aesthetic turn’ of recent critical IR theory.)

Chapter 3, “Security After Security”, situating its problem in relation to the insights of Chapter 1 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, more systematically develops the ethical theory hinted at there via a critical analysis of thinkers such as Foucault, Edward Said, Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Buber, and William Connolly. These writers offer ways of rethinking violent and exclusivist ontologies of nationhood and security in favour of (agonistic but non-violent) forms of ethical engagement and interconnection that go beyond the fantasies of control and separation inherent in post-Renaissance images of political being. In particular, the ethics of Buber, Connolly and Levinas radically undermines the enclosed and alienated form of being central to the modern sovereign state and turns it—ethically, sympathetically, and existentially—towards the Other. At the same time they critique those ways of thinking being through an objectivising knowledge that makes the other into an object that can be reduced to control and use. Hence by rethinking the form and structure of being that security secures, along with the instrumental forms of strategy and diplomacy that accompany it, we can begin to develop relationships not of dominance and antagonism but mutual dependence and responsibility. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict—where the existence, security and histories of both peoples are hopelessly interdependent and intertwined, yet their relations are dominated by increasing alienation—provides an example par excellence of the relevance of such an ethics of responsibility. However, given the perseverance of rigid ontologies of security in Israel and Palestine, deriving their power from a stubborn historical paradigm and every new act of violence, the chapter does not underestimate the difficulties in putting such an ethics into action.

Part II, “Ethics”, explores this ethical theory in a range of new contexts. Chapter 4, “Strangers without Strangeness”, draws on a conceit of Julia Kristeva’s to critique the images of identity and difference structuring the strategic, cultural and diplomatic relationships between Australia and Indonesia. These it relates to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, the 1999 referendum crisis and international intervention, and the Soeharto regime’s efforts to consolidate its power and destroy its political enemies by redefining Indonesian cultural identity in tandem with the development of a pervasive security apparatus. It argues that the elite rhetoric of the two nations being ‘strange neighbours’ who must nonetheless cooperate masks efforts to violently consolidate identity within both societies. This brings about a paradoxical situation in which state discourses of sensitivity to difference are part of a systematic effort to violently repress or annihilate difference—whether this takes the form of struggles for economic justice, self-determination or indigenous rights. A better ethics, it argues, is one that shapes interdependent relations within and between identities that are no longer bounded nor whole.

Chapter 5, “The Perverse Perseverance of Sovereignty”, is framed as an argument with Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s important work of critical theory, Empire. Its particular focus is on their view that the globalisation of capital and the political ascendancy of neo-liberalism are seeing modern (state) sovereignty recede in favour of a new form of transnational imperial sovereignty. While this is a powerful and suggestive argument, the chapter argues that it is overstated, and misunderstands the way in which modern forms of sovereignty have actually become more virulent in a complex functional interrelationship (and sometimes dissonance) with capitalist globalisation and neo-liberal politics. Against Hardt and Negri’s dismissal of the political relevance of deconstruction, Levinasian ethics and postcolonial theory, the chapter argues for their continuing importance via analyses of Indonesia’s treatment by the International Monetary Fund, European and Australian refugee policy, the war on terror and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which together form sites where violence, identity and economic power coalesce in diverse and complex ways.

Chapter 6, “Just War or Ethical Peace?”, focuses on the mutually constitutive relationship between ethics and force in the war on terror. It bridges Parts I, II and III of the book by placing the conduct of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq under close scrutiny, particularly in relation to the moral apologetics offered for the violence by US officials, IR scholars such as Barry Buzan, and ‘just war’ theorists Jean Bethke Elshtain and Michael Walzer. In tandem with an analysis of the impact of coalition military operations on civilians, the chapter closely critiques the conceptual commitments and limitations of post-Vietnam just war theory, and its claims about the legitimacy and humanity of the war on terror. It criticises just war theory for normalising war and—due to its investment in a de-contextualised procedural ethics, and the restrictive moral community of the social contract—for creating dangerous ethical loopholes for militaries in which the killing or injury of civilians, however systematic and foreseeable, can be excused as ‘unintentional’. To this the chapter contrasts a vision of ‘ethical peace’ that asserts a multiple affirmation: of peace as a norm, a moral community above and beyond the state, a strengthened and more enforceable international legal framework as a basis for protecting civilians in war, and gradual demilitarisation and disarmament as the best way of securing communities and protecting ‘innocent’ life. This is to offer a normative vision of how both ethical and strategic practices must be transformed if a ‘security after security’ is to be possible.

Part III, “Violence”, draws the various themes of the book together by placing violence as such under rare critical scrutiny, especially as it takes the form of strategic power and military force directed to apparently ‘rational’, political ends. Chapter 7, “Violence and Reason on the Shoals of Vietnam” does this by interrogating a number of key historiographic texts about the American war in Vietnam (by journalists Stanley Karnow and Neil Sheehan, former US Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and film-maker Francis Ford Coppola) in terms of the way in which a tragic narrative of American identity (‘the end of American exceptionalism’) combines there with an obsession with an effort to develop forms of political and strategic reason that might have staved off defeat. The chapter critiques the narrowly instrumental, mechanistic limitations of this reason, explaining why it ultimately failed and had such terrible human and social costs for Vietnam.

Chapter 8, “Iraq: Strategy’s Burnt Offering”, further develops this critique of modern political and strategic reason as it played out in US Persian Gulf policy over the next thirty years. It surveys some of the key positions in the debate over the 2003 invasion (neo-conservative, liberal and realist), but finds them ultimately wanting because of their common acceptance that force, in varying circumstances, can be a legitimate and effective means to a political end. In this sense they all present differing contemporary faces of Clausewitz. In parallel with a critical survey of western policy towards Iraq since the early 1980s, it develops a critique and partial genealogy of Clausewitzian strategy by tracing its antecedents to the scientific world-view of Francis Bacon and René Descartes. This in turn forms a discursive foundation for twentieth century strategy via Henry Kissinger’s faith in the West’s superior Newtonian paradigm, a geopolitical obsession with control over the third world, and a widespread faith in political utility of strategic violence—which culminates in the 1975 ‘Kissinger plan’ for the takeover of Persian Gulf oil, the 1990s policies of ‘dual containment’ of Iraq and Iran, and the invasion and occupation in 2003. This period sadly demonstrates the validity of Martin Heidegger’s critique of modern ‘technological’ reason as a debased form of thought that reduces humans to a ‘store of energy’ for use. When Western policies of containment, sanctions and regime change are thus considered together, Iraqi suffering was conceived of as a resource. However the 2003 invasion and the chaos that followed demonstrates not only the inhumanity, but the political failure of such a ‘strategic’ paradigm, which cannot understand—as Hannah Arendt did—that a reliance upon violence eventually results in the disappearance of ends into means, until means become ends in themselves, the ‘end result of which is meaninglessness’.[i]

Chapter 9, “Freedom’s Freedom”, draws the book’s analysis together in a critical analysis of the Bush administration’s relentless rhetoric of freedom—one manifest in numerous Presidential speeches and the naming of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with deep historical roots in the US political imagination. Rather than representing a standard liberal account of ‘negative’ freedom, the Chapter argues it is best understood in this context as a form of instrumental and unbounded action by a nation that conceives itself as the subject and engine of world history. My critique echoes and builds upon Isaiah Berlin’s suspicion of ‘positive freedom’ in his “Two Concepts of Liberty” and Freedom and Its Betrayal, and Jacques Derrida’s concerns, in Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, about contemporary manifestations of the Greeks’ image of ‘unlicensed’ freedom.[ii] Berlin is right, in opposition to Rousseau, to wonder whether the ‘transference by a successful rising of unlimited authority, commonly called sovereignty, from one set of hands to another does not increase liberty but merely shifts the burden of slavery.’[iii]

The chapter traces this image of freedom through American exceptionalism and Hegel’s philosophy of historical progress, paying special attention to their mutation into American defense and foreign policy via Henry Luce’s image of the ‘American century’ and the neo-conservative manifestos of Francis Fukuyama and the Project for a New American Century. Conceived in this way, freedom is rooted in a militaristic, security-obsessed ontology with overweening global ambitions, one that refuses all contrary facts, historical or contemporary. (Those who suffer its force, however, respond with biting irony. As Christian Parenti’s Iraqi colleague Akeel remarked to him: ‘Look, we have the gas-line freedom, the looting freedom, the killing freedom, the rape freedom, the hash-smoking freedom. I don’t know what to do with all this freedom.’[iv]) Not only does this self-referring ontology of freedom generate ‘grandiose aims in politics’,[v] its instrumental confidence in its rightful exercise of violence is echoed by US enemies such as Osama bin Laden, but with very different ‘ends’ of history in mind. When conceived in such absolutist and irreconcilable terms, such a struggle can only continue as an endless, ever-worsening conflict. Such a truly alarming, murderous and chaotic image of freedom raises a very serious question of whether freedom can be rehabilitated and the honour of its name recovered.

How are security, freedom and violence to be rethought, so that that they no longer constitute such a terrible triad? My answer is not to revert, as Berlin did, to a defence of negative liberty, of the ‘frontiers…within which men should be inviolable’.[vi] However laudable, this is not enough. The vast, machinic and violent power of freedom at large in our world is what must be thought, unflinchingly, and its powers and dangers recognised, limited and made subject to a test of responsibility to the world and to nature. And, it is what must be in turn unthought along with the systems of security, sovereignty, and violence that form its limbs and beating heart. What awful paradox: that all these things, so intimate with death, claim to define and support life. In defence of the living, we must rethink, and redignify, life.

Hopes and Fears

How are security, freedom and violence to be rethought? In every chapter of this book this question is engaged, but it inevitably raises, in explicit terms, the issue of the book’s normative and political trajectory. What alternative futures does it offer or imagine? I raise this because writers on security whose thinking has been influenced by post-structuralist thought—as this book partly is—have often been accused of lacking a clear normative standpoint. Richard Wyn Jones, for example, asks (not without reason) why such writers ‘have been so loath to engage seriously with emancipation? Why, indeed, do they seem to lack the necessary theoretical and political vocabulary with which to do this?’[vii] A similar question—addressed at the close of Chapters 7 and 9 in particular—is often asked about the commitment of such work to the project of the Enlightenment, as if such critique amounts to a simplistic anti-Enlightenment view that rejects any of its positive humanistic potentials.

Alert readers of this book will recognise that while the broadly ‘post-structuralist’ thought of Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva, Laclau and Connolly has a strong presence, it is not dealt with uncritically and its limits are acknowledged. My approach is neither to reject normative argument nor enlightenment, but nor is it to suggest that we can enter into such a discourse uncritically. It contains its own dangers. To the extent that some of the most destructive potentials of our modernity—of which security, sovereignty and ethics are powerful signs—are fuelled by claims about morality and enlightenment, they must be placed under sustained critical scrutiny.

With that caveat, this book does have some clear normative sympathies and could usefully contribute to existing normative projects. It also explores alternative normative potentials of its own. The two existing projects are the progressive discourses of emancipation and cosmopolitanism; the alternatives centre around a re-imagination of human subjectivity so that it is disentangled from the social contract and ‘governmental’ forms of power—to at least gain a critical and independent relation to them—and can be rethought socio-politically around an ethics of responsibility and reciprocity.

Hence I would endorse the important 1991 argument of Ken Booth’s, one associated with the ‘Welsh School’ of Critical Security Studies (CSS), that security should be rethought as emancipation: ‘a holistic and non-statist’ approach to security that does not emphasise the use or threat of force, and that would involve ‘the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those constraints, together with poverty, poor education, [and] political oppression’.[viii] He links it with cosmopolitan ideals with an argument that ‘the concept of emancipation shapes strategies and tactics of resistance, offers a theory of progress for society, and gives a politics of hope for a common humanity’.[ix] The book likewise supports J. Ann Tickner’s vision of a security based upon ‘the elimination of unjust social relations, including unequal gender relations’ and for a reformulation of international relations in terms of the ‘multiple insecurities’ represented by ecological destruction, poverty and (gendered) structural violence, rather than the abstract threats to the integrity of states, their interests and ‘core values’.[x] Together, they have stated inspirational normative goals that rightly guide many attempts to reformulate security in more positive ways.

At the same time the idea of emancipation is not without its problems, especially as it has been conceived in Welsh School thinking. Firstly, as set out by Booth, human agency is a concern of individuals who are constrained and repressed by power, who if secured properly might exercise their agency freely and be ‘more fully human’.[xi] Notwithstanding his cosmopolitan ethic and the normative drive of his argument, there is little in such a formulation to prevent its cooption by the communitarian vision of the social contract idealists, from Hobbes thru Rousseau and Hegel, for whom human existence is most realised in the body of the state, which is not an alien and repressive form but an extension of our own will. This is what it is, they argue, to be fully human. Likewise Foucauldian understandings of power, discourse and freedom have made conceptions of human agency far more complex, and in the wake of his insights this book sets out to theorise security as a political technology that enables, produces and constrains individuals within larger systems of power and institutional action. The exercise of human agency is not precluded by this theory, but it is not entirely free, for important ethical and pragmatic reasons. Rather such agency struggles with its social definition and reproduction within systems of knowledge and power that continually work to define identity, frustrate autonomy and align individual interests with those of the state and capital. Nor, for important ethical reasons that I explore in the closing sections of Chapter 9, can emancipated individuals or communities be devoted to self-realisation or heedless freedom; they must consider their impact on the Other. The struggle is threefold: to identify available ways of being, to choose among them responsibly, and if they do not yet exist, to conceive and enable them.

Secondly, with Chapters 8 and 9 as a background warning, an overly idealistic invocation of emancipation runs the danger of sliding into the concepts of positive liberty, instrumental reason and unlicensed freedom that I analyse there and were of such concern to thinkers like Berlin. This is especially true when individual emancipation becomes the target of a systemic or strategic process like US foreign policy. (Neither Booth nor the rest of the CSS school are guilty of this, which I raise as a cautionary note. Indeed Wyn Jones suggests that we should understand emancipation as a ‘process’ rather than an ‘endpoint’.[xii]) We must be careful to set out what we actually mean by emancipation, how it differs from ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ (and may be endangered by them), and why it may need to be limited in its exercise and conception.[xiii] In the wake of the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution, when modern science and reason seized the powers of heaven for the aggrandizement of man, we have been confronted by a form of freedom which accepted no limits and authorised vast impersonal projects in which ‘the pattern matters more than the individual’ (as Berlin wrote of Hegel, charging him with an ‘historically fatal identification of liberty…with security’).[xiv] The imperial idealism of the Bush Administration is one example of such freedom, but it is fed by deeper roots in modern thought and especially in the social contract where, as Rousseau wrote, we truly give ourselves up to the pattern: ‘in giving myself to all, I give myself to none’.[xv]

A further argument of the CSS thinkers, one that adds a sharply conservative note to their normative discourse, needs comment. This states that proposals for political transformation must be based on an identification of ‘immanent possibilities’ for change in the present order. Indeed Richard Wyn Jones is quite militant about this:

descriptions of a more emancipated order must focus on realizable utopias…If [critical theorists] succumb to the temptation of suggesting a blueprint for an emancipated order that is unrelated to the possibilities inherent in the present…[they] have no way of justifying their arguments epistemologically. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that a vision of an emancipated order that is not based on immanent potential will be politically efficacious.[xvi]

Certainly it is helpful to try to identify such potentials; but whatever the common sense about the practicalities of political struggle this contains, I strongly reject the way Jones frames it so dogmatically. Even putting aside the analytical ambiguities in identifying where immanent possibilities exist, such arguments are ultimately disabling and risk denying the entire purpose of the critical project. It is precisely at times of the greatest pessimism, when new potentials are being shut down or normative change is distinctly negative—arguably true of the time in which I am writing—that the critical project is most important. To take just one example from this book, any reader would recognise that my arguments about the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be extremely difficult to ‘realise’ (even though they endorse a negotiated two-state solution). This only makes it more important to make them because the available contours of the present, confined as they are within the masculinist ontology of the insecure nation-state, fail to provide a stable platform either for peace or a meaningful security. In the face of such obstacles the critical project must think and conceive the unthought, and its limiting test ought not to be realism but responsibility.

The realism underlying the idea of immanent possibility sets up an important tension between the arguments of this book and the normative project of cosmopolitanism—which was most famously set out by Kant in his Perpetual Peace as the establishment of a ‘federation of peoples’ based on Republication constitutions and principles of universal hospitality, that might result in the definitive abolition of the need to resort to war.[xvii] However Kant’s image of universal human community and the elimination of war exists in fundamental tension with its foundation on a ‘pacific federation’ of national democracies. With two terrible centuries’ hindsight we know that republics have not turned out to be pacifistic vehicles of cosmopolitan feeling; instead, in a malign convergence of the social contract with Clausewitzian strategy, they have too often formed into exclusivist communities whose ultimate survival is premised upon violence. Is the nation-state the reality claim upon which cosmopolitanism always founders? Could a critique of security, sovereignty and violence, along the lines I set out here, help us to form a badly needed buttress for its structure?

A developed normative critique and reformulation of cosmopolitanism is well beyond this work, but it is a question that it begs. Nor can the arguments of this book be smoothly assimilated to existing theoretical explorations of the possibilities and shapes of a cosmopolitan ethos. However this work is intrinsically sympathetic to efforts to rethink cosmopolitanism and hospitality, and the state with them, by writers such as William Connolly, Richard Shapcott, Andrew Linklater, Paul Keal, Seyla Benhabib and Jean Cohen, among many others. In his recent works Neuropolitics and Pluralism Connolly seeks to explore the promise of a cosmopolitan politics across and beyond the state, but is concerned to pluralise the sources of morality that it might mobilise, given that we live in a world where diverse faiths must coexist, ethics is a site of political and cultural contestation, and we are forced to engage with ‘speed and dense interdependencies’.[xviii] In a similar way Shapcott and Keal are concerned to conceive of a logic of cosmopolitanism which can be both universal and enable ‘justice to difference’, especially that of minorities and indigenous peoples, and their challenge both to the dominant construction of state identities and the norms of international society is profound.[xix]

Linklater and Benhabib have been concerned to expand the limited model of hospitality in Kant to grapple with the human claims of migrants and refugees, which requires that citizenship no longer be the determining basis of moral or political subjectivity. Rather, as Benhabib argues in her 2002 Seeley Lectures, we need a ‘vindication of the right of every human being ‘to have rights’, that is, to be a legal person, entitled to have certain inalienable rights, regardless of the status of their political membership.’[xx] Cohen has also sought to defend the claims of cosmopolitanism (and a minimalistic version of sovereignty in international law) against faux universalisms like the new drive to Empire. She argues that while ‘the sovereign equality of states’ is necessary as a buffer against ‘the proliferation of imperial projects and regional attempts at Grossraum ordering’, we also need ‘a revised conception of sovereignty and human rights…the [internal and external] rearticulation and democratisation of sovereignty’.[xxi] However both Cohen and Benhabib identify a key dilemma for such a project—what Cohen describes as ‘a dualistic world order’ and Benhabib a ‘tension between sovereignty and hospitality…a fragile but necessary negotiation of constitutional universalism and territorial sovereignty’.[xxii]

The arguments of this book endorse such normative goals, and echo their critiques of Empire and exclusivist conceptualisations of the human. However, while sympathetic to Benhabib’s effort to overcome democratic exclusivism ‘through the renegotiation and reiteration of the dual commitments to human rights and sovereign self-determination’, this book can offer an important note of historical caution. Benhabib’s account of popular sovereignty and the social contract is remarkably uncritical and sanguine (the ‘rights of man’ and the ‘rights of citizens’ do not contradict one another, she incredibly claims), while Cohen mobilises a similarly sunny model of democracy as ‘popular sovereignty’ to support a laudable argument for ‘the internal democratization of all states’.[xxiii] However the Hobbesian legacy of the social contract, as formed into the suffocating and violent political ontology I here describe as security, will always threaten to defeat their goals unless the very model of sovereignty we have inherited is rethought. (Without doing so we can never abolish the ‘hierarchal, ethnocentric, and racist assumptions that informed the Westphalian sovereignty order’, as Cohen rightly hopes.[xxiv]) This is why I have been less concerned with expanding the boundaries to moral community, as cosmopolitans generally are, than with interrogating and re-imagining the fundamental concept of being that animates the modern body-politic exercising its powers of strategy and violence according to the claustrophobic ethic of its own survival. Hence the need for Levinas and Buber.

So against these fears I pit my hopes. I am no longer a frightened boy, kicking and panicked in the dark; and, as a global community, we need be no longer beholden to such existential visions of exclusion, dominance and violence, where life exists at the whim and mercy of power. No more war against the Other; we can light our own paths out.

[i] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition(London: Cambridge University Press, 1958), p 154.

[ii] Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty”, in The Proper Study of Mankind (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998), pp 191-242; Isaiah Berlin, Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003); Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005).

[iii] Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty”, p 234.

[iv] Christian Parenti, The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq (London and New York: The New Press, 2004), p xi.

[v] Hannah Arendt, “The Concept of History”, in Between Past and Future (London: Faber and Faber, 1961), pp 78-79.

[vi] Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty”, p 236.

[vii] Richard Wyn Jones, “On Emancipation: Necessity, Capacity and Concrete Utopias”, in Ken Booth ed. Critical Security Studies and World Politics (Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner, 2005), p 218.

[viii] Ken Booth, “Security as Emancipation”, Review of International Studies, Vol. 17 No. 4, 1991, pp 317-319.

[ix] Booth, Critical Security Studies and World Politics, p 181.

[x] J. Ann Tickner, Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), pp 127-144.

[xi] Booth, Critical Security Studies and World Politics, p 183.

[xii] Wyn Jones, “On Emancipation”, p 230.

[xiii] A thoughtful analysis of the meanings of freedom and emancipation in Critical Security Studies is developed by Hayward Alker, “Emancipation in the Critical Security Studies Project”, in Ken Booth ed. Critical Security Studies and World Politics (Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner, 2005), pp 199-203.

[xiv] Berlin, Freedom and Its Betrayal, pp 93, 103.

[xv] Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty”, p 235.

[xvi] Wyn Jones, “On Emancipation”, p 230.

[xvii] Immanuel Kant, “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”, in Hans Reiss ed. Kant’s Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp 93-108.

[xviii] William E. Connolly, Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), pp 180-184 and Pluralism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).

[xix] Richard Shapcott, Justice, Community and Dialogue in International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Paul Keal, European Conquest and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The Moral Backwardness of International Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[xx] Seyla Benhabib, The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p 3; Andrew Linklater, “Political Community and Human Security”, in Ken Booth ed. Critical Security Studies and World Politics (Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner, 2005), pp 113-131.

[xxi] Jean L. Cohen, “Whose Sovereignty? Empire Versus International Law”, Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 18 No. 3, 2004, p 3.

[xxii] Cohen, “Whose Sovereignty?”, p 3; Seyla Benhabib, “On the Alleged Conflict between Democracy and International Law”, Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 19 No. 1, 2005, p 90.

[xxiii] Cohen, “Whose Sovereignty?”, p 21; Benhabib, “On the Alleged Conflict”, pp 91-92.

[xxiv] Cohen, “Whose Sovereignty?”, p 17.


  1. Erin Pearce says:

    This is very helpful. I am needing to write an essay based on Chapter 1 and have spent many hours reading and reflecting on your work trying to reconcile the little I knew of the examples you use to understand your point of view. It is very dense material and requires considerable introspection as I try to determine your beliefs, and then my own so I can take a position in my essay. Thank you.

  1. […] thinking world politics:: anthony burke career & writing:: fear of security:: beyond security, ethics & violence RSS  Subscribe:  RSS feed Thinking World Politics Anthony Burke's […]

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