Friday, July 08, 2005

Terrorism, War and Fascisim

It is an error to confuse terrorism with war, despite the lethal means they share. According to General Schwartzcopf, war requires "killing people and breaking stuff." But that is where the similarity between war and terrorism ends.

Terrorism as Annette Baier describes it, is "violent demonstration."(Baier pp. 203-223) Thus terrorism entails a perverse but real mutual trust between the terrorist and the terrorized dominant culture. The terrorist must trust the dominant culture to report the terrorist's killing and listen to the terrorist's demands. The terrorized people must trust the terrorists to stop their murdering once the terrorists' demands are taken seriously. The goal of the terrorist is to kill, to make the news, to make them finally listen to us, so we can finally influence the policy of the dominant culture. "See, I'm not kidding," says the terrorist, "listen to me or I will keep on breaking stuff and killing people."

The goal of war on the other hand is different. As Hobbes states, the virtues of war are force and fraud. So trust of one's enemy is a military blunder in war, where it is a requirement in terrorism. War, unlike terrorism, is the utter rejection of the enemy's policy-making language in favor of one's own. As Clausewitz understood "…war is a form of social intercourse…. 'an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will."(Bassforth, pp.16) The goal of war is to replace the language of the defeated with the language of the victorious. In war the winner makes the policy, the loser suffers it. The will of the winner in war, though always tenuous, is yet supreme.

Still, despite the different ends of war and terrorism, in Clausewitz's terms, both are "simply the expression of politics by other means."(p.2) Which is to say both war and terrorism occur in language. But they use language very differently, with very different goals. The terrorist interjects; the warrior supercedes.

Again, one of the greatest differences between the speech of war and the speech of terrorism is that the speech of war requires no trust from one's enemy. In war, speech is solely for the sake of military gain. In terrorism, however, both the terrorist and the terrorized must speak within the same basic circle of discourse -- to some degree the same cultural language. So, the goal of the terrorist is to get into the conversation, not to eliminate it. The ironic reason for this is the terrorist is always in some way at least a peripheral member of the terrorized group. "I'm not kidding Mom, I will break this lamp if you don't listen to me." So says the terrorist.

The enemies we currently face, however, are an organized group of cells of soldiers, in numerous nations, who together hope to crush American culture. That is not terrorism. That is guerilla war.

Fascism waxes when culture wanes. Not only are Jerry Falwell and Osama bin Laden similar in that both are religious fascists, both also hold similar presumptions about American liberalism that are not entirely false. Their shared presumption is we are a culturally insipid, generally weak-willed nation of consumers who lack both familial loyalty and moral courage. We are an atheistic nation of spoiled, solitary, isolated people. And to the degree that the fascists believe this, they will be emboldened to attack us. As our individual moral courage wavers, their fascist resolve strengthens. According to "The Doctrine of Fascism" by Benito Mussolini,

The fascist conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the individual and raising him to conscious membership in a spiritual society.

Fascism denies, in democracy, the absurd conventional untruth of political equality dressed out in the garb of collective irresponsibility, and the myth of "happiness " and indefinite progress. Fascism has taken up an attitude of complete opposition to the doctrines of liberalism….

For us fascists, the State is not merely a guardian…. The State… is a spiritual and moral fact in itself…. The State… is the custodian and transmitter of the spirit of the people… in customs, and in faith. It is the State which educates its citizens in civic virtue, gives them a consciousness of their mission, and welds them into unity, harmonizing their various interests through justice and transmitting to future generations the mental conquests of science, of art, of law, and the solidarity of humanity.

The individual in the fascist state is not annulled but rather multiplied, just in the same way that a soldier in a regiment is not diminished but rather increased by the number of his comrades. (pp. 425,434,437,439)

So what we can conclude from Mussolini, is that when individuals cease to make genuine judgments, danger lies in the wings. When individual responsibility is weakened, the opportunity for fascism increases. For at root fascism is no more than state-dictated morality, and the elimination of the terrifying requirement that individuals actually make unique free decisions. The free individual is the enemy of fascism. The isolated soul is his friend.

Finally, confusing war and terrorism is dangerous for two reasons. First, if we approach war as if it is terrorism we may foolishly presume that somehow we really can come to a trustworthy agreement with our opponent. Like Neville Chamberlain we may actually accept the false speech of a fascist enemy who cares not a jot for our language our policy or our culture. Fraud, after all, is a prime weapon of war, and if we misdiagnose our enemy's intention their ability to use fraud will be enhanced. Al-Qaida is waging guerrilla war against us not terrorism.

Second, if we treat terrorism as if it were war, our risks regarding lost civil liberties are staggering, particularly speech. In war speech must, to some degree, remain under the auspices of the military; for speech is both weapon and weakness in war. But terrorism is violence melded with media. The goal of terrorism is to use media and violence to influence policy. It is all about communicating with the enemy. From this perspective, terrorism is violence used to maximize discourse, not violence to eliminate discourse. But if we meet acts of terrorism with responses only justified in war, we may lose civil liberties when they should be protected. The horrible fact is terrorism works, and encroaching on civil liberties to attempt to squelch terrorism, would be an unjustifiable blow to constitutional democracy itself, while doing little to curtail terrorism. In a democracy, we actually do need to know what the terrorist wants.

Democracy requires freedom. Yet contemporary American culture encourages us to abdicate our individual moral responsibility in favor of psychological platitudes based on pseudo-science, popular media and simplistic social determinism. As a consequence, we delicate, liberal, politically correct Americans have become fearful of moral judgements. All values are feelings, and all feelings are to be vented, validated and dismissed. But as we have seen from Mussolini, bin Laden and even Falwell, fascists do not believe this. And neither finally do we. For after all it is certainly more than a felt opinion that blowing up the World Trade Center was immoral. Religious fascists are waging a fatwah against us. They do not want to enter our conversation. Liberally delicate ethical cowardice has no place in war. But it is even more dangerous in a war that is misconstrued as terrorism and the pinnacle of danger when the line between the two is blurred as in such dangerous jargon as "The War against Terrorism."

Christopher Bassford, Clausewitz and his Works,, 2000.

Annette C. Baier, Moral Prejudices, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1995

Benito Mussolini, "The Doctrine of Fascism" in Social and Political Philosophy, ed. John Somerville and Ronald Santoni, Anchor Books, New York, 1963.


Blogger Ed said...

Fascinating post. The distinction you make between guerilla war and terrorism is a valuable and timely one.

You lost me on a couple points, though. Jerry Falwell a fascist? Though he does a good bit of handwringing about our godlessness, I don't see him as a statist (more of the free-enterprise conservative school, it would seem), unless you see right-wing criticism of liberalism as ipso facto fascism.

Also, you say a current problem with democracy is that we have lost our capacity to make moral/value judgments, primarily because we have relinquished this responsiblity to the pseudosciences, media etc. Many people would diagnose this faith in the pseudosciences as a new religion filling the yawning gap left by the vanquished Judeo-Christian morality (the old basis for moral/value judgments). That's a problem, isn't it? How do we reclaim the difference between right and wrong? What is our foundation for value judgments in a universe of failed gods?

2:05 PM  

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