Book Reviews

The Liberal Way of War, The Liberal Way of Policing?

Tim Dunne, professor of international relations and head of humanities and social sciences, University of Exeter, reviewing the new book The Liberal Way of War:Killing to Make Life Live in Times Higher Education:

In the West, the thawing of the Cold War coincided with a revival in liberal internationalist ideas about the importance of regime type. Leading American thinkers including Michael Doyle and Francis Fukuyama seized on a claim initially articulated by Kant about the peaceful character of democracies. From Reagan onwards, every US President has endorsed the mantra that democracies are more peaceful than authoritarian regimes.

In The Liberal Way of War this hubris is dramatically punctured. Kant appears not as an exponent of a separate peace forged among republican states but as a philosopher of biohumanity. The consequence of the emergence of the human species as a referent for security is that war “becomes war without end”. On this logic, liberals are pushed closer and closer to the realist position that war is necessarily a recurrent feature of politics.

via Times Higher Education – The Liberal Way of War: Killing to Make Life Live. (emphasis added)

If the argument is that once the referent for security becomes “the human” that the result is a temporally indefinate state of affairs best described as “a war without end,” what do we make of the anagolously indefinate state of policing?

My first impression is that there are least two issues at stake here:

  1. What is/are the object(s) of contemporary policing?  What, exactly, is being “policed” in each of our projects?  In my own fieldwork, the answer to this question certainly varied–was a point of considerable debate, actually, but in a daily sense it was certainly not “the human species” itself.  yet the temporality of “security” seems the same (perhaps)…
  2. In a more tangential manner–though key to understanding what, exactly, we’re up to here in this blog–is the question of police vs. military, or quotidian policing vs. war (even the variety “without end”).  Certainly there exists a now almost overwhelming amount of social science, anthropology being one of the key contributors, on war and its aftermaths.  Oftentimes the instinct is to take the insights garnered from this material and apply it to the kind of situations that we study, leading to descriptions of police as a broadly “paramilitary” exercise.  Again, I know form my own work that this is only partly true, at best.  how to articulate the difference?

2 thoughts on “The Liberal Way of War, The Liberal Way of Policing?

  1. socdeputy says:

    I think that Dunne is in error, and the great body of anthroplogical and archeological research on warfare would show that his main thesis simply is not true. Permanent war, or the expectation that war is ongoing and indeterminate is a feature not only of many pre-capitalistn societies, but of honor societies from North Africa to Iceland. Russia’s history since about 1000 CE is a perfect example of war without end. However the Russian conceptualization of war as an open ended crusade against the Church on the one hand and the hordes from the Steppe had constantly shifting discourse surrounding it. But the main point is that many societies at many different times have either conceptualized or indeed experienced indeterminate war and “war without end.”

    As for policing, I think the matter of comparing the military and the police is very important. Laura Mangels and I had a very long discussion about the similarities and the differences between the police and the military in the American context back in January.

    I think this would be a fruitful place to start a discussion. I had spent nearly two years in Army officer training and now have two years plus experience in law enforcement. I think that any comparison, in the U.S., between military and police has to be done very carefully. Even the term “paramilitary” I think needs to be used very carefully as most sociologists (e.g. Kraska) and certainly liberal activists and writers, use the term very loosely without delineating exactly what paramilitary refers to.

    Anyway, maybe an next blog post?


  2. #Brian: Having only read Dunne’s review of Dillon and Reid’s book (although it’s certainly now on my “to read” list. do I see a candidate for our first “Book Club” piece?) I’d hesitate to attribute to it the large claims that you do. From what I read, I don’t think they attribute security of the human as the sole cause of “war without end”. I think their provocation is that such wars are not outside the scope of liberalism conceived as a political project.

    One of the difference between all the examples you cited and Dillon & Reid’s material is that part of the very justification of liberal democracies is that, as a political form, it claims to have moved beyond violent and authoritarian means of political action: “From Reagan onwards, every US President has endorsed the mantra that democracies are more peaceful than authoritarian regimes.”

    This, in a word, is bullshit (although maybe not complete bullshit). Part of what I’m interested in is finding ways of conceptualizing and describing the forms of violence endemic to liberal political practice…


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