12th Grade: Do Power and Security have an Inverse Relationship?


This week we continued with our unit on “The Changing State of Nations.”

1. As we discussed last week, terrorism arises as a kind of heresy against the prevailing orthodoxy of how states are constituted and distribute power.  Their basic goals are the same, but as the rationale and goal of the state changes, so too do their methods and targets.  So, for example, a ‘Nation-State’ terror group like IRA would be quite unlikely to want to use WMD’s against England/N. Ireland.  The IRA was trying to create a national state for themselves, and it would not be in their interests to harm the territory they want for themselves to create their own national state.  Unfortunately, modern terror groups like Al-Queda would seek them and use them, as they have global goals and are not interested in national territory per se.

The targets too changed.  The ‘State-Nation’ (1776-1914), for example, ordered itself along a ruling elite ‘fit’ to rule on behalf of the people.  George Washington used  this patrician attitude towards government generally for good, and Robespierre used a similar rationale to inflict the Reign of Terror on France.  The State-Nation anarchists targeted the leaders of governments.  This made sense for in the “State-Nation,” the leaders gave the identity to the nation.

2. U.S. strategy in the Cold War attempted for the most part to separate the domestic environment from our conflict abroad.  That is, we believed that part of the key to winning the war would be to not substantially alter our normal lives.  Throughout this unit we have been guided by the thoughts and categories of historian Philip Bobbitt, who controversially asserts that we may not be able to do this in the ‘War on Terror,’ in which our national territory can be easily infiltrated and made part of the battlefield.  Is he right?  Should we adjust our concept of privacy and the powers of government as part as a ‘weapon’ against terror?  This is one his more controversial assertions that can certainly be debated.

Another controversial assertion Bobbitt makes is that we should not see the powers of government and the rights of people as always operating in an inverse relationship.  Rather, he believes they can, under the right circumstances, work together.  Think of environments like the old west.  People got there ahead of law, and the result was that many had to wear guns and could be intimidated through force.  The fastest, most aggressive gun had the chance to hold a lot power.  We would not call this freedom in the fullest sense.  As law moved west, more freedom came with increased security and rule of law.

His use of the western frontier does support his argument, but does this equation apply in every case?  Would the increase of governmental powers always lead to more rights?  If not, under what conditions would it do so?

In his ‘Discourses on Livy,’ Machiavelli praises the provision for a dictator in times of emergency for Rome.  He writes,

. . .it is the magistracies and powers created by illegitimate means which harm a republic, and not those appointed in the regular way, as was the case of Rome, where no Dictator ever failed to be beneficial to the Republic.

In the same vein, Bobbitt urges us to consider that just as we stockpile food, vaccines, etc. for emergencies, so too we should stockpile laws.

Just as the weaponry changes from the Nation-State of the 20th century to the Market-State of the 21st, so too will the tactics and targets of terrorists change.  Now

But next week we will prepare for our CIA v. Terror Cell game, which I hope they will enjoy.  The goals of the activity are to…

  • Try and mirror some of the basic tactical problems of fighting a networked terror organization, and
  • Try and mirror some of the basic strategic issues — the political and moral side of the war on terror.  How much of their success will be dependent on the good will they build up among the other students?  If they randomly detain, torture, etc. with no thought to broader consequences they may catch the bad guys but lose the people they seek to protect.


Dave Mathwin