The R2GTFO Doctrine

Intervention

Introduction

Modern international relations scholars typically trace the origins of what John Stuart Mill labelled the ‘doctrine of non-intervention’[1] back to the founding of the modern nation-state system with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.[2] The debate over the ethical justifications for armed ‘humanitarian’ intervention, however, has its roots in an argument that predates those treaties by well over a century. In 1514, priest Bartolomé de Las Casas denounced the Spanish invasion of the Americas, arguing that Spaniards had no right to forcefully impose their will upon the native inhabitants. Las Casas attracted support from both Pope Paul III and Emperor Charles V (King Charles I of Spain), but his argument soon met with considerable resistance from those materially benefitting from the militaristic occupation.[3] One such figure was Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who argued that the Spanish were in fact obliged to forcefully intervene in the Americas, on the grounds that the native people were ‘barbarians’ who must accept the intervention ‘as rectification and punishment for their crimes against divine and natural law’. Moreover, Sepúlveda claimed that ongoing intervention was necessary to:

… prevent the harm and the great calamities [the Amerindians] have inflicted—and which those who have not yet been brought under Spanish rule continue today to inflict—on a great number of innocent people who are sacrificed each year to idols.[4]

Although contemporary debate surrounding humanitarian intervention tends to be couched in the liberal language of ‘universal’ human rights and the ‘responsibility to protect’ rather than ‘divine and natural law’, echoes of the Las Casas–Sepúlveda debate can be heard in most every argument for and against humanitarian intervention since.

This post critically examines the theory and practice of humanitarian intervention by military means[5], drawing chiefly from two works: The Ethics of Armed Humanitarian Intervention, a collection of essays edited by Don E. Scheid (2014)[6]; and The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War, by humanitarian aid worker Conor Foley (2010).[7] A number of academic journal articles are also reviewed, with those given closest attention including Gillian Brock’s (2006) ‘Humanitarian Intervention: Closing the Gap Between Theory and Practice’[8], Beate Jahn’s (2012) ‘Humanitarian Intervention: What’s in a Name?’[9], Noam Chomsky’s (2008) ‘Humanitarian Imperialism: The New Doctrine of Imperial Right’[10]; and Anne Orford’s (2013) ‘Moral Internationalism and the Responsibility to Protect’[11], while various other works are also drawn from to a lesser extent.

After a brief overview of the recent intellectual history and practice of armed humanitarian intervention in the first section, analysis is provided in the second to show that, despite some subtle changes in rhetoric, virtually nothing has changed in the great powers’ decision-making around the subject. In the final section, a number of recommendations are made, including the need for outcomes to be put ahead of intentions; a greater focus on ‘last resort’ and ‘responsibility to rebuild’; greater punishment for leaders who wage unlawful interventions; the abandonment of ‘preventive’ wars, multiple ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrines, and sanctions; and a modern debt jubilee.

State of the Field

In order to better understand the current intellectual debates within international relations (IR) scholarship around the legitimacy and beneficence of humanitarian intervention, it is necessary to ground them in the historical context in which they arose. To that end, this section provides a brief outline of the dominant arguments for and against intervention, and the events that shaped them, from the post-Second World War period to the present.

Contra British historian R. H. Tawney’s famous assertion that, ‘Either war is a crusade or it is a crime,’[12] article 2(4) of the United Nations (UN) Charter holds that any military intervention not sanctioned by the UN Security Council is—at least nominally—both a crusade and a crime:

All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State …[13]

Heavily influenced by the horrors of the Second World War, the 1945 UN Charter urged states to guarantee ‘universal respect for, and observation of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all’.[14] Exactly what those rights and freedoms were supposed to be, however, would not be delineated until three years later, in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.[15] While not legally binding, the Declaration could be invoked to apply diplomatic pressure on any government that violated its articles, thereby challenging states’ exclusive jurisdiction over their own citizens and weakening the three-hundred-year-old doctrine of non-intervention. The adoption in 1966 of both the international covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Civil and Political Rights, saw the 1948 Declaration legally codified. Collectively, the three documents are often referred to as the ‘International Bill of Human Rights’.[16]

During this period, growing tensions between the what came be known as the West, or the ‘First World’—the newly dominant United States, the traditional great powers of western Europe, and their wealthy allies—and the East, or the ‘Second World’—China, the Soviet Union, and their poorer ones—saw Western IR scholarship dominated by a similar rivalry between liberals and realists. And indeed, it is this rift that is reflected in the UN’s seemingly dichotomous goals of promoting a Kantian sort of ‘universal’ liberalism, while maintaining the particularism of robust state sovereignty preferred by realists.[17] Meanwhile, scholars in the ‘Third World’—which is to say, the poorest countries—were developing alternative explanations for the unequal power relations present in the international system. Dependency theory, developed in the late 1950s under the guidance of Raul Prebisch, Director of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America, held that the power of the ‘core’ countries—the US and Europe—was maintained by their economic exploitation of those in the ‘periphery’.[18] World-systems analysts added a further nuance, subdividing these categories into ‘semi-core’ and ‘semi-periphery’.[19] Despite gaining considerable attention from Western IR analysts during the 1970–80s, the popularity of these broadly neo-Marxist theories would soon suffer a similar fate to that of the Berlin Wall.[20] Many more orthodox Western Marxists had retreated from their commitment to emancipatory politics during this period, too—some making peace with liberalism, while others morphed into their neo-conservative opposites—as the dream of communism became increasingly conflated with totalitarianism in the public imagination.[21]

With the end of the Cold War emerged a flurry of interest among Western intellectuals and policymakers alike in the idea of promoting freedom, democracy, and human rights abroad.[22] Whereas previous Western military interventions—most notably, those in Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam—had been ostensibly justified on the basis of guarding the West against the spread of what John F. Kennedy referred to as the ‘monolithic and ruthless conspiracy’ of communism, the absence of the Soviet Union suggested that either intervention policy would have to change, or a new rationalisation would be needed. When this ‘unipolar moment’ failed to produce the peaceful, democratic, ‘new world order’ anticipated by George H. W. Bush, the latter path was chosen.[23]

The language of human rights rose to prominence in the 1990s, a period now referred to by some intervention proponents as ‘the Golden Age’ of humanitarian intervention.[24] The UN Security Council (UNSC) first invoked its Chapter VII powers with respect to a purely internal conflict in December 1992, when all permanent members supported Resolution 794, which explicitly sanctioned a military humanitarian intervention in Somalia.[25] However, ‘Operation Restore Hope’ not only failed to end the violence in Somalia, but arguably caused it to escalate, with gunmen turning on UN peacekeepers and ambushing US soldiers. The Western public’s support for intervention quickly waned, and would not resurge until after the UN had failed to prevent either the 1994 genocide in Rwanda or the 1995 massacre in Bosnia.[26]

Writing in the aftermath of a NATO bombing raid in Kosovo that had not been sanctioned by the UNSC, and a sanctioned but too-late intervention in East Timor, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pondered the tension between the moral imperative and the legal ramifications of intervention in 1999:

To those for whom the greatest threat to the future of international order is the use of force in the absence of a Security Council mandate, one might say: … think about Rwanda.

To those for whom the Kosovo action heralded a new era … one might equally ask: Is there not a danger of such interventions … setting dangerous precedents for future interventions without a clear criterion to decide who might invoke these precedents and in what circumstances?[27]

As a response to Annan’s challenge, an ad hoc commission was formed in 2000 under the auspices of the Canadian government by former Foreign Minister of Australia Gareth Evans and former senior Algerian diplomat Mohamed Sahnoun: The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). Its 2001 report, The Responsibility to Protect[28], drawing heavily from the tradition of Just War Theory—commonly associated with political theorist Michael Walzer[29]—attempted to square this circle. The report proposed a re-characterisation of the notion of state sovereignty, from one of control, to one of responsibility; specifically, the responsibility to uphold citizens’ human rights. This ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine rhetorically transformed what had previously been a right to intervene into a duty to intervene.

Despite the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US seeing many of the report’s criteria for intervention roundly ignored—for example, ‘right authority’, ‘last resort’ and ‘proportional means’—the language of R2P was widely adopted by Western leaders during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The ‘emerging norm’ of R2P gained further legitimacy when it—in a narrowed version than had been presented in the ICISS report—was unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly in its World Summit Outcome of 2005, and subsequently adopted by the UNSC.[30] The concept of R2P was invoked during crises in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mali. The first official implementation of the R2P rationale came in 2011, when the UNSC approved military intervention in Libya.[31]

As is the case with human rights discourse more broadly, the language of humanitarian intervention is unquestionably that of liberalism. The image of humans as ‘rights bearers’ was born of the Enlightenment period in Europe, and liberals tend to view international interventions in the name of human rights as merely an external expression of the values and commitments that are fundamental to liberalism. Fernando Tesón, for example, claims that ‘non-interventionism is a doctrine of the past’ and that humanitarian intervention is justified because it is based on the recognition of ‘the common humanity that binds us all’, but is at the same time rooted in individualism.[32] Bhikhu Parekh highlights the importance of intent, suggesting that humanitarian intervention must be ‘wholly or primarily guided by the sentiment of humanity, compassion or fellow feeling.’[33] What distinguishes humanitarian from other types of intervention, in the liberal view, is its moral character. This moral character is derived from the recognition of the obligation to come to the rescue of people in need, as one would in the case of a drowning child.[34] Gillian Brock proposes a ‘model of global justice’, which favours the protection of individuals’ human rights over state sovereignty, arguing that the tension between the two considerations ‘disappears in certain cases warranting humanitarian intervention.’[35]

Realists have long been sceptical of the notion of humanitarian intervention, although—to the extent that there can said to be one realist ‘rule’ on the matter—they do not necessarily oppose it, provided it is also in the intervening state’s best interest. The realist view essentially sees states as scaled-up versions of self-interested individuals, rather than the more optimistic model of ‘human nature’ than underpins liberalism. Hans Morgenthau, for example, criticised the ‘feebleness of universal standards’ that liberals attempt to apply to world affairs, noting that ‘moral and political concepts take on different meanings in different environments.’[36] Kenneth Waltz saw intervention for purposes other than immediate national interests as unnecessary and usually deleterious, although this was in the context of the Cold War, during which time he considered the maintenance of ‘the balance [of power between the US and USSR] and its by-product’ to the most important task, in order to ‘perpetuate an international stalemate as a minimum basis of security.’[37] In the post-Cold War period, realists such as John Mearsheimer and Michael Mandelbaum have warned against the use of the military to pursue ‘universal’ goals, lest it get ‘caught up in the poisonous tangle of local politics’ in far-off lands.[38] Pointing to the strain the Kosovo intervention had placed on US relations with Russia and China—who had both vetoed the operation—Mandelbaum urged others to stop trying to ‘turn American foreign policy into a branch of social work.’[39] Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have labelled liberal universalism a ‘revisionist grand strategy’.[40]

Constructivists hold that the notion of legitimate humanitarian intervention, as well as the ideas of who is human and deserving of protection on which it depends, are socially constructed.[41] In order to make sense of why states would choose to conduct a military intervention that was not in their self-interest, nor a result of pure altruism, constructivists look to the power of norms in the international system. In this view, it is the pressure from other states in the international community, who are themselves conforming to normative expectations, that causes states to intervene where they otherwise may not. Some constructivists also point to the role of emotions in humanitarian intervention.[42]

Many critical theorists oppose the notion of humanitarian intervention on the basis of its ethnocentric, imperialist nature. They typically highlight the cultural biases present in the idea of ‘universal’ rights.[43] Cultural relativism is defended on the grounds that circumstances vary widely from society to society, so what is right for one may not be right for another. Some critical theorists have argued that the atomistic individualism of Western liberalism that has encroached on other societies threatens social cohesion, increasing the likelihood of the sort of civil unrest that prompts calls for intervention.

Marxists tend to be in broad agreement with critical theorists on the above points, but see these objections to intervention as secondary concerns, which focus primarily on the superstructure rather than the base. Marxists reject humanitarian intervention on its face, because the ‘general contradiction’ is not between liberal democracy and tyranny, but between labour and capital. Marxists hold that the roots of societal conflict lie in the inequities produced by the capitalist mode of production and the profit motive that drives it. The only war worth waging, in this historical materialist view, is that of the global proletariat against the capitalist class, to seize the means of production and abolish private property.

Analysis

Anti-imperialism? Yes. But non-interventionism? No. We must intervene, but somehow it must be for the other man’s good. We must be trustees, not imperialists.[44]

Describing military interventions as ‘humanitarian’ is merely an attempt to cloak them in a sense of unquestionable moral rightfulness and legitimacy. The term ‘humanitarian intervention’ itself is question-begging, appearing to contain its own justification, which presupposes that such interventions serve ‘humanity’. Thus, the reasoning involved is tautological. Further, the label constructs a false dichotomy, in which any opposition to humanitarian intervention is tantamount to advocating for suffering and death. In this respect, it is similar to the common practice of counting only the deaths that have occurred under totalitarian regimes in order to assert that liberal capitalism is the system best equipped to eradicate poverty, or George W. Bush’s post-9/11 claim that, ‘Either you are with us, are you are with the terrorists.’[45]

Arguably, however, the real key to the endurance of the label lies in the fact that its claim is empirically unfalsifiable. Assessing whether an intervention, or lack thereof, would result in a reduction of suffering and death relies entirely on counterfactual analysis; which is to say, speculation. Even judging whether an intervention was a success or a failure after the fact is therefore impossible.[46] Many of the R2P criteria, such as the ‘reasonable prospect of success’, rely on the same type of speculation, but this is especially troublesome in those which deal with ‘prevention’, which the ICISS report lists as the ‘single most important dimension of the responsibility to protect’.[47] Although neither strictly deontological nor consequentialist in their liberalism, intervention advocates routinely assign more weight to the intentions of the intervening state than the outcomes for the people in whose states they would intervene.[48]

Further, those military interventions that have the strongest case for being successes—that is, those which seem most obviously to have resulted in a net positive outcome in terms of reducing suffering and death—have not been regarded as humanitarian. Rather, they have been routinely denounced by Western powers.[49] India’s 1971 intervention to stop the brutal civil war between West and East Pakistan, allowing the latter—now Bangladesh—its independence, is one such example. It was undeniably in India’s own interest to do so for reasons of regional stability, but self-interest and positive humanitarian outcomes are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Another example is the 1978 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that drove out the Khmer Rouge as their atrocities were peaking. Even if one accepts—as Asia Pacific Centre for R2P Director Alex Bellamy has argued[50]—that Vietnam’s primary motivation was to secure Vietnamese borders, limit Chinese influence, and remove Pol Pot because of his recalcitrance, rather than to halt injustice, it still succeeded in halting that injustice.[51]

The selective application of humanitarian intervention by powerful states, in which human rights failings on the part of that states’ enemies have received prominent attention, while being conveniently ignored in the case of its friends, suggests that realists are correct when they say that attempts to separate the national interest from states’ decision to go to war are doomed to failure. This hypocritical practice has been especially clear in the case of the United States.

Newly unhampered by the threat of retaliation by a rival superpower, the US invaded Panama in November 1989 under the banner of ‘Operation Just Cause’ in order to kidnap its former leader Manuel Noriega. Formerly on the CIA payroll, Noriega was prosecuted in Florida for narco-trafficking. In the context of the ‘war on drugs’, this effectively rendered the invasion a humanitarian intervention.[52] For good measure, the US President also listed the defence of Panamanian human rights and democracy as reasons for the invasion.[53]

After having cited humanitarian reasons for intervening to turn back Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, the elder Bush urged the Kurdish population in Iraq, upon the US military’s withdrawal, to ‘take matters into their own hands’ against Saddam Hussein’s regime, who promptly slaughtered thousands of them.[54] The intervention in Somalia was cut drastically short when pictures of the 18 US Rangers killed were beamed into American households, swaying the US public’s opinion against the operation.[55]

Of course, the US was not alone in its habit of intervening in other countries, only to abort the mission when public opinion turned. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was also a major proponent of half-hearted interventions.[56] US Army General Wesley Clark’s account of his experiences during the Bosnia and Kosovo interventions—the first of which failed to stop a massacre, the second of which arguably facilitated one[57]—concludes that the ‘real’ purpose of those campaigns was never humanitarian, but merely an attempt to re-establish NATO’s credibility as a defensive alliance.[58] A similar analysis was offered by Marxist historian Ellen Meiksins Wood, who added:

The ‘bungling’ [was] inevitable, simply because the war [in Kosovo was] driven by overriding factors, quite distinct from, and in opposition to, its stated objectives.[59]

Roughly one month after the US invasion of Afghanistan had begun, First Lady Laura Bush delivered a radio address:

Civilised people throughout the world are speaking out in horror; not only because our hearts break for the women and children in Afghanistan, but also because in Afghanistan we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.[60]

The implication being, that ‘our’ hearts were breaking for these Afghani women and children, not because they were being bombed by the US military in retaliation for an airliner attack that had nothing to do with them, but because they are being subjugated by and must be saved from Afghani men, who are savages and terrorists. As per her unwavering commitment to human rights, this white woman was ‘saving brown women from brown men’.[61]

Similar orientalist human rights rhetoric was employed by Western leaders to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when the public seemed unconvinced of the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. And, certainly, the human rights argument appeared more plausible, given how many Iraqis had died under Saddam’s watch; although, how many of those deaths occurred due to the sanctions that had been in place since the 1991 invasion is impossible to say.[62]

In March 2011, the UNSC passed Resolution 1973, which invoked the responsibility to protect doctrine, and authorised members to ‘take all necessary measures’ to protect Libyan civilians. A French–US coalition began airstrikes against government troops in Libya, ostensibly with the aim of protecting civilians and maintaining a no-fly zone. It quickly became apparent that these powers envisioned the removal of Muammar el-Qaddafi as part of their mission. Libyan rebel forces, with NATO support, captured and killed Qaddafi, as well as many of his family members. Since then, the same rebels who claimed they needed urgent protection from the dictator they were attempting to overthrow have committed scores of reprisal killings, in addition to torturing and arbitrarily detaining thousands of suspected Qaddafi supporters, and expelled tens of thousands of residents from their homes. Six months after the intervention, Human Rights Watch reported that abuses ‘appear to be so widespread and systematic that they may amount to crimes against humanity’. In 2015, it was estimated that 400,000 Libyans had fled the country.[63]

As Eyal Weizman observes in The Least of All Possible Evils, in a passage that is worth quoting in full:

… the history of humanitarian intervention appears like a series of inversions and overcompensations: the failure in 1993 of the US humanitarian–military intervention in Somalia made the Clinton administration recoil from military action to halt the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Criticism of the US failure to act prompted Clinton to commit troops to halt the Serbian attack in Kosovo five years later. The lessons Tony Blair drew from that conflict encouraged him to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on humanitarian grounds. The failure to get international mandate for the Iraq invasion led the Franco-British initiative in Libya to seek international mandate in the spring of 2011. In the wake of these bombings, Nicolas Sarkozy claimed that this drive for humanitarian intervention based on R2P was a ‘new model for world governance’, but this model has already been in the making for years.[64]

The notion of humanitarian intervention seems as little more than window-dressing for military excursions that either serve powerful states’ interests, please the voters of powerful states, or both. And, the responsibility to protect doctrine seems as nothing more than a ‘new name for old policy’.[65]

Recommendations

Providing an extensive list of recommendations around the practice of armed humanitarian intervention is both difficult, because of the complicated ethical considerations involved, and largely futile, given the absence of a ‘global police force’ to punish those powerful states that continue to abuse the concept for their own ends. But, the leaders of powerful states can be punished, and the number of rhetorical devices that might be used to escape punishment can perhaps be reduced.

In order to prevent stated intentions being put ahead of humanitarian outcomes, there must be a greater emphasis placed on the ‘last resort’ criterion, and severe legal penalties involved for leaders who wage an unlawful intervention. Further, these penalties must actually be imposed. This is similar to Harvard Law professor Robert Fisher’s proposal that nuclear codes be implanted next to the heart of a volunteer, so that a leader wishing to launch a nuclear strike would first have to kill a person with his or her own hands.[66] Only, in this case, instead of a volunteer being sacrificed, it would be the leader who waged the illegal war. Should a powerful state threaten to leave the UN system because its President or Prime Minister has been referred to the International Criminal Court, so be it. If this leads to a breakdown of the UN system, so be it. If the UN system is unable to prevent the selective and hypocritical use of interventions by the most powerful states within it, then it is little more than the public relations department for the imperial hegemon and it has no business sanctioning interventions at all.

Given that Minority Report is a work of fiction, and precognition is not a real thing, the focus on preventive war in the responsibility to protect doctrine must be remedied. All language that pertains to ‘prevention’ or the ‘threat of’ mass atrocities should not be present in any future attempts to formulate a set of criteria for humanitarian intervention. As regrettable as it may seem, intervention must only be permitted when a severe human rights violation is already underway, in order to ensure that the cure is not worse than the illness. Any leader who initiates a preventive war must also be subject to severe penalties.

The ‘responsibility to rebuild’ criterion must also be respected. Again, failure to do so must incur severe penalties. Further, laws must be put in place to ensure that the reconstruction effort employs indigenous labour wherever possible, and that no company from the intervening country may derive profit from the infrastructure provided.

The existence of two competing versions of the R2P doctrine creates both confusion and the opportunity for claiming the legitimacy of intervention on the basis of its adherence to R2P criteria, but which is not sanctioned by the UN. To prevent the misperception that states are permitted to form ad hoc coalitions in order to mount interventions, the UN should publicly distance itself from the ICISS version of the doctrine, which suggests that, since the UN has no military of its own, ‘What will be increasingly needed in the future are partnerships of the able, the willing and the well-intended.’[67]The version of the doctrine accepted by the General Assembly in 2005 contains no such recommendation.

Sanctions have never worked to remedy the behaviour of tyrants, and only work to impoverish the citizens of the tyrannical state, which invariably foments greater civil unrest, which in turn leads to greater brutality from the regime. Presuming the goal is to avoid the necessity for humanitarian intervention, rather than cause it, imposing sanctions on human rights abusers cannot be considered a sound strategy.

Perhaps most importantly, with regard to the ‘root cause prevention’ section of the R2P doctrine, the UN must act to rein in its international financial institutions (IFIs). The ‘structural adjustment’ programmes imposed on states by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with their extensive lists of ‘conditionalities’, have been abject failures, worsening inequality and breeding resentment. The mass privitisation of the public sector in poor countries has only worked to create oligarchies. In addition to revising their lending practices to better match their publicly espoused commitment to reducing inequality, the IFIs should allow a debt jubilee. Although freeing poorer countries from debt peonage alone may not be sufficient to establish global harmony, it is certainly necessary.

Notes

[1]John Stuart Mill, ‘A Few Words on Non-intervention’ [1859], in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. 21, ed. John M Robson (London: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 123.

[2]For an examination of why this near-consensus is at best, overly simplistic, or at worst, plainly wrong, see Benno Teschke, The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations(London: Verso, 2003).

[3]Immanuel Wallerstein, European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power(London: The New Press, 2006), 3–4.

[4]Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (~1545), as quoted in Wallerstein, European Universalism, 5.

[5]The reader should note that, in the interest of brevity, ‘intervention’, ‘humanitarian intervention’, and ‘armed humanitarian intervention’ are herein used interchangeably, and refer exclusively to a coercive military intervention in a target state by an outside state, coalition of states, or an international organisation, unless otherwise explicitly indicated.

[6]Don E. Scheid, et al. The Ethics of Armed Humanitarian Intervention, ed. Don E Scheid (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). Hereafter referred to as EoAHI.

[7]Conor Foley, The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War(London: Verso, 2010).

[8]Gillian Brock, ‘Humanitarian Intervention: Closing the Gap Between Theory and Practice’, Journal of Applied Philosophy23, no. 3 (2006): 277–91.

[9]Beate Jahn, ‘Humanitarian Intervention: What’s in a Name?’ International Politics49, no. 1 (2012): 36–58.

[10]Noam Chomsky, ‘Humanitarian Imperialism: The New Doctrine of Imperial Right’, Monthly Review60, no. 4 (September 2008): 22–50.

[11]Anne Orford, ‘Moral Internationalism and the Responsibility to Protect’, The European Journal of International Law24, no. 1 (2013): 83–108.

[12]Quoted in Michael Straight, Make This the Last War(New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1943), 1.

[13]United Nations (UN) Charter art. 2, para. 4, available from http://www.un.org/en/charter-united-nations/

[14]UN Charter art. 55, para. 4.

[15]Available from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

[16]Andrew Heywood, Global Politics (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 305, 309.

[17]Immanuel Kant put his faith in the ‘moral politician, for whom it is a moral task’ and a duty to bring about perpetual piece. As quoted in Orford, 84.

[18]See, e.g., Raul Prebisch, ‘Commercial Policy in the Underdeveloped Countries’, American Economic Review49 (1959): 251–73.

[19]See, e.g., Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century(New York: Academic Press, 1974), 300–45.

[20]While Prebisch himself was a liberal reformer, dependency theory more broadly built upon both Marx’s temporal and Lenin’s geospatial analyses of capitalism. Vincent Ferraro, ‘Dependency Theory: An Introduction’, in The Development Economics Reader, ed. Giorgio Secondi, 58–64 (London: Routledge, 2008).

[21]Richard Seymour, The Liberal Defence of Murder(London: Verso, 2012), 3.

[22]Heywood, 303; Don E. Scheid, ‘Introduction to Armed Humanitarian Intervention’, in EoAHI, 3.

[23]Charles Krauthammer, ‘The Unipolar Moment’, Foreign Affairs 70, no. 1 (1991): 23–33; George R. Lucas, Jr., ‘Revisiting Armed Humanitarian Intervention: A 25-year Retrospective’, in EoAHI,29; Noam Chomsky, ‘Humanitarian Imperialism: The New Doctrine of Imperial Right’, Monthly Review60, no. 4 (September 2008): 22.

[24]See, e.g., Heywood, 319; Lucas, 29; and Richard Falk, et al., ‘Humanitarian Intervention: A Forum’, The Nation 277, no. 2 (July 14, 2003): 11.

[25]Foley, 53.

[26]Foley, 5, 72.

[27]Kofi Annan, ‘Two concepts of sovereignty’, The Economist352, (September 18, 1999): 49.

[28]International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), The Responsibility to Protect (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, December 2001).

[29]See, e.g., Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations(New York: Basic Books, 1977).

[30]Orford, 102; UN, 2005 World Summit Outcome, General Assembly Res. 60/1, Oct. 24, 2005, paras. 138–9.

[31]Tzvetan Todorov ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the War in Libya’, trans. Kathleen A. Johnson, in EoAHI, 47.

[32]Fernando R. Tesón, ‘The Liberal Case for Humanitarian Intervention’, in Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas, edited byJ. L. Holzgrefe and Robert O. Keohane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 128–9.

[33]As quoted in Ned Dobos, ‘Idealism, Realism, and Success in Armed Humanitarian Intervention’, Philosophia44 (2016): 499.

[34]Jahn, 38.

[35]Brock, 278.

[36]Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985), 241; Morgenthau, ‘A Positive Approach to Democratic Ideology’, Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science30, no. 3 (May, 1971): 195.

[37]Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics(Philippines: Addison-Wesley, 1979), 185.

[38]Michael Mandelbaum, ‘The Reluctance to Intervene’, Foreign Policy95 (Summer 1994): 3.

[39]Mandelbaum, ‘Foreign Policy as Social Work’, Foreign Affairs75, no. 1 (January 1996): 17.

[40]John J. Mearsheimer & Stephen M. Walt, ‘The Case for Offshore Balancing’, Foreign Affairs95, no. 4 (July 2016): 71.

[41]See, e.g., Martha Finnemore, ‘Constructing Norms of Humanitarian Intervention’, in The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, ed. Peter Katzenstein (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).

[42]See, e.g., Vanessa Pupavac, ‘War on the Couch: The Emotionology of the New International Security Paradigm’, European Journal of Social Theory7, no. 2 (2004): 149–70.

[43]For the most influential work on the topic, see Edward Said, Orientalism(London: Penguin, 1977).

[44]Journalist Rita Hinden, writing of Britain’s obligation to the ‘non-adult races’, in New Fabian Colonial Essays, ed. Arthur Creech Jones (London: Hogarth Press, 1959), quoted in Richard Seymour, The Liberal Defence of Murder(London: Verso, 2012), 74.

[45]Poverty-related deaths between 2006 and 2010 alone outnumbered the victims of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Stalin’s repression and the Nazi Holocaust combined. Luigi Caranti, ‘The Causes of World Poverty: Reflections on Thomas Poggi’s Analysis’, Theoria57, no. 125 (December 2010): 36; CNN, ‘Transcript of President Bush’s Address’, CNN, September 21, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/ (accessed 28 October 28, 2017).

[46]Dobos, 498.

[47]ICISS, xi.

[48]Helen Frowe, ‘Judging Armed Humanitarian Intervention’, in EoAHI, 96–7.

[49]Chomsky, 48.

[50]Alex J. Bellamy, ‘Motives, Outcomes, Intent and the Legitimacy of Humanitarian Intervention’, Journal of Military Ethics 3, no. 3 (2004): 228–9.

[51]Frowe, 106–7.

[52]Chomsky, 30.

[53]New York Times, ‘A Transcript of Bush’s Address on the Decision to Use Force in Panama’, New York Times, December 21, 1989, http://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/21/world/fighting-panama-president-transcript-bush-s-address-decision-use-force-panama.html (accessed October 30, 2017).

[54]Michael Blake, ‘The Costs of War: Justice, Liability, and the Pottery Barn Rule’, in EoAHI, 143.

[55]ANew York Times/CBSpoll showed 81% support for the intervention when Bush Sr. first announced it. The battle in which the 18 Rangers were killed claimed the lives of hundreds of Somalis. Dobos, 503–4.

[56]Jim Whitman, ‘The Origins of the British Decision to Go to War: Tony Blair, Humanitarian Intervention, and the “New Doctrine of the International Community”’, in Intelligence and National Security Policymaking on Iraq: British and American Perspectives, eds. James P. Pfiffner & Mark Phythian (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008), 43.

[57]Dobos, 500.

[58]Gen. Wesley K. Clark, US Army (ret.), Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat (New York: Public Afairs Press, 2001).

[59]Ellen Meiksins Wood, ‘Kosovo and the New Imperialism’, in Masters of the Universe? NATOs Balkan Crusade, ed. Tariq Ali (London: Verso, 2000), 196.

[60]Quoted in Shakira Hussein, From Victims to Suspects: Muslim Women Since 9/11(Sydney: NewSouth, 2016), 13.

[61]Gayatri Spivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (London: Macmillan, 1988), 296.

[62]Barbara Crossette, ‘Iraq Sanctions Kill Children, UN Reports’, New York Times, December 1, 1995, http://www.nytimes.com/1995/12/01/world/iraq-sanctions-kill-children-un-reports.html (accessed October 29, 2017).

[63]Todorov, 46–8, 51; Alan J. Kuperman, ‘Obama’s Libya Debacle: How a Well-meaning Intervention Ended in Failure’, Foreign Affairs 94, no. 2 (March 2015): 68–9.

[64]Eyal Weizman, The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza, e-book(London: Verso, 2011), ch. 4.

[65]Jahn, 36.

[66]Rafi Letzter, ‘How to Stop Nuclear War with a Butcher Knife and Human Sacrifice’, Inverse Science, August 10, 2017, https://www.inverse.com/article/35378-nuclear-war-heart-code-knife-kill-president (accessed October 30, 2017).

[67]ICISS, 52.

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Hegemony Unstuck? The United States as Unwitting Prime Mover on the Road to Multipolarity

AmTruck

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw a multi-theoretical popular consensus emerge within international relations scholarship regarding a new, unipolar international system, with the United States at its apex as the sole ‘hyperpower’[1]. Despite some early predictions that this arrangement would likely remain in place for many decades, or even be permanent, recent years have seen increasing scholarly agreement on an impending return to a more multipolar world. Most of the literature generated by realists, liberals, constructivists and power transition theorists alike focuses on the ‘rise’ of one or more ‘revisionist’ states, seeking to challenge US hegemony. The following essay seeks to challenge this conventional wisdom. After providing some necessary background to the concept of hegemony, two key claims are made, drawing chiefly upon the work of theorists in the fields of international political economy and world-systems analysis, as well as critical theory more broadly. The first claim is that, should the international system become more multipolar in coming years, the primary agent of change will likely have been the US itself, whose economic policies and militarism have played a greater role in facilitating its own absolute decline than have the shifting preferences of other state actors or any purely relative global economic convergence. The second claim is that, contrary to the accepted wisdom, the true era of unchallenged American hegemony was not that which followed the end of the Cold War, but instead the roughly twenty-five-year period after the Second World War, since which time the US has been in decline.

‘Prestige’, observe power transition theorists Schweller and Xiaoyu (2011, p. 43), ‘tends to be sticky’. The prestige to which the authors refer is the special status of the United States at the apex of the international system; which is to say, its hegemony. A concept that dates back to Homer, hēgemonia was initially used interchangeably with arkhē—a term meaning, broadly, ‘rule’—by the Ancient Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon. It was Thucydides who first distinguished between the two concepts, identifying Athens’ passage from the former to the latter as the cause of the Peloponnesian War (Anderson 2017). Thucydides portrayed hēgemonia as leadership based on ‘attachment or consent’, whereas arkhē implied the mere acquiescence of subjects, extracted by the ‘superior authority and coercive dignity’ of empire (Grote 1850, pp. 395–7). ‘Force’, notes John Wickersham (1994, pp. 31), is ‘what makes the difference’. It is a distinction echoed by the key divide between the major schools of contemporary international relations scholarship, with neoliberals and constructivists eager to stress the importance of the ‘soft’ power of diplomacy, institutions and norm formation, and structural realists maintaining the primacy of material power (for seminal examples of each argument see, respectively, Nye 1990; Finnemore & Sikkink 1998, pp. 896–905; Waltz 1979).

Today, the concept of hegemony is most commonly associated with the Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci’s goal was to redress the shortcomings of the strict economic determinism—the ‘brutal materialism’—adhered to by so-called Orthodox Marxists, which viewed the triumph of socialist revolution as an inevitable historical stage of development. In Italy, Gramsci witnessed a very different outcome: the triumph not of a socialist revolution, but a fascist counter-revolution. Imprisoned by Benito Mussolini’s regime, Gramsci sought to explain how ‘an exploitative order was capable of securing the moral consent of the dominated to their own domination’ (Anderson 2017). Such ‘cultural hegemony’, according to Gramsci, results from the transformation of mere ideas into ‘common sense’, which sees the current order uncritically and indeed unconsciously accepted by most as if it were an entirely natural and inevitable condition. Hegemonic social order tends to be enduring—or, ‘sticky’—as it rests upon a foundation of moral and intellectual authority that is voluntarily accepted because it is seen as legitimate (Gramsci 1992, pp. 258, 330–3).

In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels (1976, p. 67) had claimed that, ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.’ Vladimir Lenin and the other Orthodox Marxists of the Third International interpreted this to mean that, only by first seizing the means of production could there then be a ‘hegemony of the proletariat’ (Anderson 2017). This is, for want of a better term, the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ conception of hegemony, in which coercion, plus time, equals consent. Gramsci sought to turn this on its head, suggesting that, only by ‘working to produce elites of intellectuals of a new type which arise directly out of the masses, but remain in contact with them’, could any social movement hope to ‘replace common sense and old conceptions of the world in general’ (Gramsci 1992, p. 340). Whereas Marx and Engels’ purely negative conception of ideology appeared to deny the very possibility of a proletarian revolution brought about in the first instance by the winning of hearts and minds, Gramsci saw the ‘parliamentary road to socialism’ as the preferred method (Anderson 1976, p. 41). However, Gramsci’s work does occasionally acknowledge that hegemony is comprised not only of consent but also coercion. Thus, hegemony is not synonymous with ideology. As Terry Eagleton (1991, p. 112) notes, Gramsci’s hegemony ‘includes ideology, but is not reducible to it.’

Both neoliberals and constructivists in international relations tend to emphasise the cultural aspect of hegemony: the consent won with the ‘carrot’, rather than the ‘stick’ (see, e.g., Nye 2004; Wendt 2003). In this conception, the United States is a hegemon, but not an empire, by virtue of the fact that those it dominates consent to their own domination (Ikenberry 2004a). They do so not because they are fearful of the intentions and military might of the only state to ever use nuclear weapons on a civilian population, but because they are enlightened actors who see cooperation as a positive-sum game, and are so attracted to American ideals of freedom and democracy that they—paradoxically—consider wilful subordination to be in their own best interest. Realists, by contrast, focus on the stick. Like the earliest Greek historians, realists draw no distinction between rule and hegemony. Whether states consent to US hegemony is of no concern to realists, who see states as ‘black boxes’, whose only relevant preference is that for their own survival. For defensive realists like Kenneth Waltz (1959; 1979), states are security maximisers, who accede to the will of the hegemon, because it has the biggest stick. Indeed, in this view, having the biggest stick is the sole requirement for being a hegemon. Waltz’s protégé, Stephen Walt (1985; 1999), stresses the importance of alliances to balance this power. For offensive realists like John Mearsheimer (2001; 2011), all states are power maximisers, each seeking to acquire the biggest stick for itself. Neoclassical realists maintain this focus on the stick, but are more accommodating of the non-state variables introduced by neoliberals and constructivists (Rathbun 2008).

Power transition theory—perhaps best categorised as a sub-theory of neoclassical realism— shares offensive realism’s assumption that states will seek hegemony for themselves, but only when there is a reasonable chance of success.[2] The theory holds that such periods of transition have been the cause of all major wars. Unlike offensive realism, however, power transition theorists share the constructivist view that the international system is more ordered than anarchic, and afford more weight to a state’s preferences and economic power. According to Organski and Kugler (1980, p. 61):

The fundamental problem that sets the whole system sliding almost irretrievably toward war is the differences in rates of growth among the great powers and, of particular importance, the differences in rates between the dominant nation and the challenger that permit the latter to overtake former in power. It is this leapfrogging that destabilizes the system.

Theirs is a rather mechanical and deterministic view, not unlike that of structural realists, or, indeed, the Third International. Partly for this reason, but also the numerous problems with its empirical claims—more transitions have taken place as a result of wars than vice versa—and the largely bloodless demise of the Soviet Union, power transition theory had fallen out of favour by the end of the 1980s (Lebow & Valentino 2009, p. 389). The United States, agreed most pundits and scholars, had won the Cold War, and had become the first truly global hegemon. Even those sceptical of Francis Fukuyama’s (1989; 1993) ‘end of history’ thesis were at least willing to concede that the world was experiencing what Charles Krauthammer (1991) termed ‘the unipolar moment’.[3] Importantly, though, as Gramsci (1971, pp. 198–9) observed, even academics are not immune to the allure of ‘common sense’, which is not necessarily the same as ‘good sense’.

The unprecedented economic growth of China over the last few decades has returned power transition theory to prominence among many scholars who study Asia. Two such scholars, Schweller and Xiaoyu (2011), take a decidedly more Gramscian view than Organski and Kugler, arguing that, in order for the current system to change—given that ‘the nuclear age makes … hegemonic war unthinkable’—a ‘rising challenger’ must first ‘delegitimize the hegemon’s global authority and order’ (p. 44). This perspective assumes that the ‘challenger’ is the primary agent of change in the international system. Why this should be the case when there is still another more powerful player, however, is not made clear.

Before the supposed dawn of unipolarity, another power transition theorist, Robert Gilpin (1981), had focused more on the actions of the declining hegemon, arguing that imperial overreach ‘creates challenges for the dominant states and opportunities for the rising states of the system’ (p. 186). It was a sentiment echoed by Paul Kennedy (1987, p. 515):

… the United States now runs the risk, so familiar to historians of the rise and fall of previous Great Powers, of what might roughly be called ‘imperial overstretch’: […] the United States’ global interests and obligations [are] nowadays far larger than the country’s power to defend them all simultaneously.

Some argue that the very idea of rise and decline is, by definition, relative (e.g., Olsen 2008). This may be strictly true, but when comparing a state against its own past performance, as Joseph Nye (2010, p. 3; 2012) points out, it is perhaps more useful to consider any rise or decline as absolute. One of the most outspoken critics of ‘declinism’, Nye—who, along with Robert Keohane[4] (1977) founded the neoliberal school of international relations—maintains that the US is in no danger of losing its spot at the top of the world order, because of both its military dominance and ‘soft power’.[5] However, as Gideon Rachman (2015) observes, ‘[Nye] does not fully address the possibility that one aspect of power—the economic—could ultimately be more important than the other two.’

Nye (2012) notes that it is not merely the size, but also the composition of an economy that is important to a state’s economic power. He proposes per-capita income as a better measure of this composition, claiming that, in this regard, ‘China will not equal the United States for decades, if ever.’ Indeed, a common refrain since the 2007–8 Global Financial Crisis has been, and remains, that the US is on track for a ‘strong recovery’, whereas China is headed for a ‘hard landing’ (see, e.g. Scott 2015; Wilson 2016). Actual statistics, however, suggest that China’s growth is slowing only gradually—as is to be expected due to diminishing marginal returns on investment (Solow 1956)—whereas the US is nearing stagnation (Ross 2017). Furthermore, whether or not Nye’s prediction turns out to be correct bears little real-world relationship to the actual composition of either state’s economy. Any figure derived by simply dividing a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by its population speaks only to the necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition for the prosperity of its citizens. To suggest that GDP per capita figures are representative of the living standards of the majority of a country’s citizens is to confuse mean income for median income. Although both countries have GDPs sizeable enough to potentially provide abundance to each of its citizens, neither country—so far, at least—has a policy guaranteeing the equal distribution of its wealth. But, whereas Chinese growth and policy has resulted in persistent wage growth and pulled well over half a billion people out of poverty, American wages have stagnated for decades, with the incomes of those in the middle of the distribution having actually fallen (Bivens & Mishel 2015; Han 2017). In other words, the US has experienced absolute economic decline. As a result, observe Blyth & Matthijs (2017):

Large numbers of wage earners now have too much debt in an environment where wages cannot rise fast enough to reduce those debts. And while asset holders got bailed out, wage earners got austerity cuts.

This, in turn, limits workers’ capacity to spend, which further contracts the economy (Blyth 2013). Unlike the Kuhnian (1962) ‘revolutions’ that took place in economics following previous crises—‘New Deal’ Keynesianism in response to the Great Depression, neoclassical ‘Reaganomics’ in response to the stagflation of the 1970s—no such change has occurred since the 2007–8 Global Financial Crisis. Rather than facing any negative consequences—except to their public image—those responsible for causing the crash were first bailed out by the political establishment, and then deemed by them to be the most suitable people to rebuild the system; which they did, exactly as it was before (Hudson 2015, p. 136). The political result is that the American people have become suspicious of ‘experts’ and are rejecting a system that they no longer trust to prioritise their interests over its own, most recently demonstrated by the anti-establishment Trump vote (Blyth 2016). This does not bode well for the ‘ability to attract others by the legitimacy of US policies and the values that underlie them’ (Nye 2010, p. 16). Indeed, voters throughout the Western world are demonstrating that they no longer consent to the ‘liberal world order’ that the US created in its own image (Kagan 2016, p. 11; King 2017). In other words, the US has experienced an absolute decline in its ‘soft power’.

As to Nye’s (2012) claim regarding the superiority of the US military, this is indisputably true; but, less so than it used to be, due to exactly the type of military adventurism warned against by Gilpin (1981) and Kennedy (1987). Of course, the protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, ostensibly in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have been costly for the military in terms of money, resources, and lives lost. But, importantly for the hegemonic status of the US, they have also massively depleted its ability to project power. As world-systems analyst Immanuel Wallerstein (2007, p. 59) notes:

… by 2007, it had become common currency to talk of the decline of the United States. Military power is feared as long as it is successful. But anything less than overwhelming victory reduces the fear of others, and therefore the effectiveness of expensive and advanced military hardware as an intimidating factor in world politics.

According to Wallerstein, though, the period of absolute US decline began long before the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, which only accelerated it. He argues that, contra the post-Cold War unipolar consensus—‘which has the reality absolutely backwards’—the truest period of unquestioned American hegemony occurred between 1945 and approximately 1970, since which time the US has been in ‘precipitate decline’ (Wallerstein 2007, p. 54a; 2009). Having emerged relatively unscathed from the Second World War, in 1945 the US manufacturing sector, having been boosted by wartime expansion, was capable of out-competing producers anywhere in the world in their home markets. Further, many countries were in urgent need of economic assistance, which only the US was in a position to provide (Wallerstein 2006, pp. 1–2). In return for this assistance—and because it was the only state in the world with nuclear weapons, which it had just proved itself willing to use—the US received a vastly expanded market for its goods, and it got to set the rules of the system, effectively ‘turning Western Europe and Japan into political satellites’ (Wallerstein 2007, p. 54b).

Rather than accept the public relations version of the Cold War as contained in official documents, delivered in political speeches, and dutifully repeated by media, Wallerstein infers an alternative version of the Cold War’s beginnings from the way its participants actually behaved during the period. While the typical narrative holds that it was the founding of the United Nations in April 1945 that set the world on a peaceful course—after the countries of Europe had finally realised the error of their warring ways—Wallerstein suggests that it was the meeting of the ‘big three’ two months earlier at Yalta that truly determined the geopolitical constraints of the twentieth century’s latter half. Between them, US President Franklin D Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, worked out a tripartite agreement (Wallerstein 2006, p. 2; 2010, pp. 15–16).

The first part of the agreement was that two blocs—or, ‘spheres of influence’—would be created, whose boundaries were determined by the location of the respective armies at the end of the war. This would see the Soviets controlling about one third of the world and the US the rest, and neither power would seek to change these boundaries. The second part of the agreement was that the two blocs would be largely self-contained economically. The US saw no advantage in rebuilding the Soviet Union or its Eastern and Central European satellites, so the Soviets constructed COMECON to secure their zone and the Americans established the Marshall Plan and entered into multiple other economic arrangements with their allies. The third part of the agreement was that each side would build lasting military alliances. However, the reason for the third part of the agreement was not so that either side would ever use that military force against one another. Rather, it was to add the outward appearance of real threat to each side’s sabre-rattling, thus ensuring that neither side’s citizens or allies would deviate from the party line (Wallerstein 2006, pp. 2–4; 2007, p. 55a; 2009; 2010, p. 15-17).

Besides three notable hiccups—the 1948–9 Berlin blockade, the 1950–3 Korean War and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis—this ‘balance of terror’ worked quite nicely to keep the peace internationally, allow uninterrupted growth, and give both sides a means of building national cohesion by providing a credible external threat in the form of an ‘other’ (Wallerstein 2010, p. 4). However, the New Dealers’ Global Plan had been so successful in helping Western Europe and Japan to recover after the Second World War that, by the mid-1960s, US producers were being out-competed both abroad and domestically (Varoufakis 2015, ch. 3). Economic policy became defensive (Anderson 2015, ch. 7). By the 1970s, with the rate of profit plummeting and no ‘global surplus recycling mechanism’ in place, a hefty Vietnam War bill, and all five United Nations Security Council members in possession of nuclear weapons, the period of true US hegemony, in which it could ‘get 95 percent of what it wanted 95 percent of the time’ was over (Varoufakis 2015, ch. 3; Wallerstein 2007, p. 55b). All that remains now is residue.

So, as we have seen, the exact meaning of hegemony remains contested, despite the concept having been with us for roughly 2500 years. Most agree that it contains elements of both coercion and consent, although whether one necessarily comes before the other remains unclear. Somewhat clearer is that the ideological component of hegemony is ‘sticky’, in that there can be a significant lag between the changing of conditions and the catching up of ‘common sense’, to which even analysts are susceptible. The near-consensus opinion among realists, liberals and constructivists equates US hegemony with the post-Cold War unipolar international system, although there is disagreement about whether a return to multipolarity is already underway. Power transition theorists agree that a change will come, but appear split over whether the US or China will be the key actor. World-systems analysis, by contrast, tells us that the true period of unquestioned US hegemony ended over four decades ago, due largely to its own poor economic planning, since which time it has been in absolute decline, a process made all the more rapid by its repeated waging of unwinnable wars.

Notes

[1] French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, quoted in ‘To Paris, US Looks Like a “Hyperpower”’, International Herald Tribune (1999).

[2] Thereby overcoming an apparent contradiction in offensive realism between seeking hegemony and self-preservation.

[3] One notable early holdout was John Mearsheimer (1990).

[4] Keohane (2015, p. 80), by contrast, contends that ‘hegemony is inherently unstable, and … the conditions that facilitated American hegemony in the 1950s are unlikely to recur in this century’.

[5] A term Nye coined (Ikenberry 2004b).

References

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———2015, American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers, Verso, London.

———2017, The H-Word: The Peripeteia of Hegemony, Verso, Brooklyn, NY.

Bivens, J & Mishel, L 2015, Understanding the Historic Divergence Between Productivity and a Typical Worker’s Pay, Briefing Paper #406, 2 September, Economic Policy Institute, Washington, DC.

Blyth, M 2013, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, e-book, Oxford University Press, New York.

———2016, ‘Global Trumpism: Why Trump’s Victory Was 30 Years in the Making and Why It Won’t Stop Here’, Foreign Affairs, 15 November, viewed 6 June 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-11-15/global-trumpism

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Turn Left: The Redistributive Road to ‘Social Cohesion’

Introduction

Much of the history of modern political thought has been devoted to the seemingly dichotomous relationship between organicism, or holism, on the one hand, and individualism, or atomism, on the other (Bobbio [1988] 2005, p. 41). The related concept of ‘social cohesion’ has received considerable attention from academics and policymakers alike, and perhaps never more so than in the years beginning with the ‘war on terror’ in 2001 and continuing into the European refugee crisis of the present. This is largely unsurprising, as, historically, high levels of interest in social cohesion have typically coincided with its perceived absence; at which point, concerns about a lack of sense of community are generally framed as a crisis in need of immediate remedy (Council of Europe 2005; Dragolov, et al. 2016, p. vii). As a result, social cohesion policies have tended to be reactionary and geared toward restoring ‘order’ in the short term. This approach relies for its political appeal on invoking a sense of nostalgia in the majority, and aims to recapture a—real or imagined—time of greater societal homogeneity and conformity.

Significant effort has been expended by scholars in both attempting to define exactly what is meant by social cohesion and in devising expansive lists of what ought to comprise the ‘common good’ upon which all members of society should agree.[1] This post takes a critical view of all such ‘universalist’ approaches on the grounds that they are invariably ethnocentric, and entail a large degree of cultural imperialism that serves chiefly to retrospectively justify extant inequalities between different nation-states, communities, and strata of society. The bulk of the post is devoted to demonstrating why this is the case, by way of tracing the intellectual evolution of social cohesion as a concept. This section is very selective and indisputably Eurocentric, but necessarily so, as the thinkers listed were those most influential in shaping the policies imposed on much of the world during the pan-European capitalist expansion. The final section looks briefly at how little has changed in terms of social cohesion policy, and proposes a more minimalist approach. It takes the spirit of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ as its starting point toward the possibility of achieving greater social cohesion. In doing so, it aims to address what the author considers to be the root cause of much societal tension: material inequality.

A Selective Intellectual History of Social Cohesion

Arab historian Ibn Khaldûn ([1377] 2004) produced one of the first known works on social cohesion—or, asabiyyah—in which he describes how the solidarity among small groups promotes broader social integration as civilisations ‘advance’, thereby undermining the existing asabiyyah. It was this cycle, according to Khaldûn, that accounted for the rise and fall of civilisations.

In what is now commonly referred to as the ‘Western world’, the concept of social cohesion evolved into something resembling its current state during the transition to capitalism in Europe, and the concurrent expansion of European states and peoples into the rest of the world. Whereas domestic social cohesion had been something imposed by feudal lords, as ostensibly sanctioned by religion, the ‘long sixteenth century’ saw a transition to, first, centralised monarchies, and then, modern nation-states (Wallerstein 1974, pp. 132–162). Meanwhile, whatever social cohesion may have existed abroad was being ‘modernised’ by means of musket fire.[2]

One of the first prominent Western objectors to this pan-European expansionary practice was the Spanish priest Bartolomé de Las Casas. Having at first been favourable toward the Spanish system of encomienda—in which Native Americans served as forced labour for Spaniards on agricultural, pastoral and mining properties—by 1514 he had renounced his participation in the system, and managed to persuade both Pope Paul III to issue a papal bull and Emperor Charles V (King Charles I of Spain) to issue a royal decree forbidding the practice (Wallerstein 2006, pp. 3–11). No social group had the divine right to dominate another, it was decided, and social cohesion in the Americas was only to be achieved by way of peaceful evangelising (Las Casas [1552] 1974, [1552] 1992).

The counterargument put forward by Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda was that rule by force over the Native Americans was morally justified—and indeed divinely sanctioned—on the grounds that they were (as summarised by Las Casas [1552] 1992, pp. 6–7):

barbarians, simple, unlettered, and uneducated, brutes totally incapable of learning anything but mechanical skills, full of vices, cruel and of a kind such that it is advisable they be governed by others.

The Spanish, in Sepúlveda’s view, were merely ‘civilising’ those who did not share their ‘universal’ values, for their own betterment (Losada 1971, pp. 280–282). It was this argument, which drew on the intellectual authorities of the time, Aristotle, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas—and had the added advantage of rationalising the material benefits that conquests brought to the conquerors—that would eventually carry the day after Charles V was succeeded on the throne by his son Philip (Wallerstein 2006, p. 4).

The echoes of this early dispute between Las Casas and Sepúlveda, in which the right not to be dominated is counterposed with the necessity of domination, can be heard in most every argument for social cohesion since. To this day, the common post hoc justification for military conquest, economic exploitation and other injustices done to dominated peoples involves an appeal to a type of liberal ‘universalism’, which is in truth a very European particularism (Said [1978] 2003, pp. 39, 204; Joppke 2008, p. 533). The most obvious problem facing a claim that any set of beliefs is ‘universal’, ‘natural’ or ‘unquestionable’ is that, were this actually the case, every person would by definition already hold them, and neither proselytising nor coercion of any kind would ever be necessary to make them do so.

Arguably the earliest proposal of the so-called Age of Enlightenment for ensuring social cohesion was that of the ‘social contract’, put forward by Thomas Hobbes ([1651] 1969) in Leviathan. Writing in reaction to the English Civil War (1642–1651), Hobbes eschewed the notion of limited government, advocating instead rule by an absolute sovereign, which he saw as the only protection against the war of all against all that he considered to be the ‘state of nature’ (chs. 13, 30).

In the second of his Two Treatises of Government, John Locke ([1689] 1823) argued that man was, above all, free, and rejected wholesale the idea that any government has the right to ‘enslave’ its citizens in the way that Hobbes had proposed. However, he did so while simultaneously maintaining man’s individual right to own slaves on the basis that the captive had wilfully entered into a compact with the ‘lawful conqueror’, which the captive was free to exit by ‘resisting the will of his master, to draw on himself the death he desires’ (pp. 105, 114–115). To the extent that Locke saw government having a role at all in maintaining social cohesion, it was only in ‘the regulating and preserving of property’—including slaves—and ‘in the defence of the commonwealth from foreign injury, and all this only for the public good’ (p. 106).

For David Hume ([1739–1740] 1978), social cohesion was to be achieved through empathy, which he claimed could only exist between people who were physically and intellectually similar, to the exclusion of those deemed ‘strictly inferior’:

this resemblance must very much contribute to make us enter into the sentiments of others, and embrace them with facility and pleasure (p. 318).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ([1762] 2003) reformulation of Hobbes’ social contract was founded on the ‘general will’, which he considered to be ‘the sum of the differences’ of individual wills (pp. 17–18). Rousseau considered this general will to be ‘indestructible’, and the only legitimate basis for a consensual government that would require few laws and be free of gross inequality and arbitrary rule (pp. 71–72). In addition to providing much inspiration for the French Revolution (1789–1799) and its call for liberté, égalité, and—what might alternatively be called social cohesion—fraternité, Rousseau’s general will formulation is one of the first known attempts at solving the problem of aggregation, albeit only by way of assertion.

Scottish philosopher and political economist Adam Smith ([1776] 2005) similarly argued for minimal government on the grounds of ‘natural liberty and justice’, which ‘establishes itself of its own accord’ (pp. 121, 426, 560). For Smith, social cohesion was to be achieved by individuals pursuing their own interests through economic exchange, the aggregate of which would, by way of the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market, benefit society as a whole (p. 364). Contra Locke, though, Smith saw as necessary for social cohesion a role for government in ‘protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it’[3] and ‘the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works, and certain public institutions’ for the common good (p. 561).

Whereas his predecessors had seen the laws governing society as universal, Karl Marx ([1867] 2013) argued that each stage of human ‘development’ produced its own discrete laws of motion. It is the inherent ‘contradictions’ of each mode of production—slavery, feudalism, capitalism—that paves the way for the emergence of its successor: ‘it brings forth the material agencies for its own dissolution’ (p. 533). Marx challenged liberalism’s assumption that the individual precedes society and that social order or disorder can be explained in terms of individual reasons and actions. Marx’s analysis sees human societies first and foremost as conflictual class societies, in which the ruling class—slave-owners, feudal lords, capitalists—appropriates the surplus product of the direct producers: slaves, serfs, workers. His friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels ([1884] 2010) located the origin of women’s oppression in the rise of such class societies.[4] Inevitably, argued Marx, the contradictions of capitalism would eventually see it give way to socialism, in which the workers controlled the means of production, only after which true social cohesion would be achieved with the abolition of property rights, the withering away of the state, and the transition to full communism (Marx & Engels [1872] 2011, pp. 61–111).

Conservative British parliamentarian Edmund Burke ([1790] 2016) viewed the French Revolution as a ‘truly despicable’ attempt to create a new society ex nihilo, and argued against those English observers—particularly the Whigs—who saw it as a great step forward (p. 20). Burke considered it a rejection of historical experience and the ‘natural’ social hierarchy created by tradition, which would inevitably end in the total breakdown of social cohesion. This, he argued, was due to ‘fallible and feeble’ human reason being no match for the ‘sick passions’ of people, which must therefore be constrained by sound political institutions, the legitimacy of which rests on them having been established over a long period of time (pp. 18, 26). Burke held that, since ‘civil society is the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law’ (p. 33).

Émile Durkheim ([1893] 1997) saw social cohesion, which he referred to as solidarity, as existing in two distinct forms: mechanical and organic. Like Marx, he saw the change in the division of labour as central to society’s structure. Unlike Marx, he saw the ever-increasing division of labour as a positive thing for social cohesion. For Durkheim, the mechanical solidarity of ‘primitive’ societies resulted from all people being generalists, with everybody engaged in similar activities and having similar responsibilities, with this homogeneity giving rise to a sort of ‘collective conscience’. By contrast, the organic solidarity of industrialised societies arises out of specialisation, with different tasks and responsibilities for all people meaning that they must depend on others for many services (pp. 39, 60, 80). Durkheim’s functionalist approach—with its counterrevolutionary conceptual sleight-of-hand, in which camaraderie is substituted for dependency—came to dominate modern social coherence theory in the West (Ritzer & Stepnisky 2014, p. 19).

Contemporary Social Cohesion Theory

The dominant need to feel that they are morally and historically justified in being the dominant group and the main recipient of the economic surplus produced within the system (Wallerstein, 2006, p. 33).

Only after the Second World War, when the damage caused by essentialist racism came to be more fully recognised in the West, did the arguments and cultural assumptions of previous scholars come to be subjected to serious scrutiny for their ethnocentrism (Wallerstein 2006, p. 34). Still, much social cohesion research and theorising remains focused on the restoration of order, and how it might be achieved by identifying a set of universal values.

As previously mentioned, most contemporary theorising on social cohesion has taken Durkheim’s functionalism as its starting point. This view assumes a societal tendency toward equilibrium and sees order as ‘normal’, while disorder is ‘pathological’ and requires institutions to correct it (Pope 1975, p. 361). The lack of such ‘normality’ has often been attributed to the rapid cultural changes in society brought about by the acceleration of globalisation, immigration and/or modern communication technologies, and the inability of ‘regimes of cohesion’ to keep pace (Green, Preston & Janmaat 2006; Janmaat 2011; Green & Janmaat 2011; Semuels 2016). Although much of this work acknowledges the role that material inequality plays in undermining social cohesion, comparatively little attention is paid to how the problem might be addressed. A recent work by Dragolov et. al (2016), Social Cohesion in the Western World, notes that ‘greater inequality within a society goes hand-in-hand with weaker cohesion’ (p. ix). Despite this, the authors begin their attempt to find a working definition of social cohesion as follows:

Our definition of cohesion deliberately excludes material wealth, social inequality … This is intended in order to simplify the concept (p. 9).

The very specialisation championed by Durkheim has led to a lack of generalists who are capable of engaging with the realm of political economy, meaning that social theorists are limited to addressing the symptoms stemming from a lack of social cohesion, rather than its root cause. Ronald Inglehart (1971) labelled this post-materialist turn in the Western knowledge class a ‘silent revolution’. This elite consensus, born of the material abundance and historically low economic inequality experienced chiefly by white Westerners during the post-war era, became institutionalised:

Post-Materialism has penetrated deeply into the ranks of young professionals, civil servants, managers, and politicians. It seems to be a major factor in the rise of a ‘new class’ in Western society—a stratum of highly educated and well-paid young technocrats who take an adversary stance toward their society (Inglehart 1981, p. 881).

What Inglehart did not foresee at the time was that this ‘adversary stance’ would in fact become internalised by society more broadly and that, even as its members became less materially well-off as their former wealth was redistributed upward, they would identify with and aspire to be like the very knowledge class whose economic policies were the source of their discontent. In order for this consensus—which Antonio Gramsci ([1935] 1992, pp. 321–343) alternately termed ‘cultural hegemony’ or ‘common sense’—to hold, it required scapegoats in the form of, for example, communists, ‘welfare mums’, and immigrants; especially, since the beginning of the Western world’s ‘war on terror’ in 2001, Muslim immigrants. The lack of social cohesion, in this view, boils down to nothing less than a ‘clash of civilisations’[5] that poses an existential threat to ‘our’ way of life. The ‘roots of Muslim rage’ did not sprout from the West’s subjugation of Muslim people or its continued occupation of their lands, but from their hatred of ‘our freedoms’, due to their ‘backwardness’ (Said 2001). Such securitising discourse, rooted in a self-serving identitarian fiction, has been made concrete by policy, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Despite the obviously false dichotomy constructed by then-US President George W Bush’s claim that, ‘Either you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists’ (CNN 2001), its sentiment is clearly nothing new, and continues to drive policy. All that appears to vary is the extent to which it is couched in the language of liberal universalism. As Hannah Arendt ([1951] 1979) observed about those who claim to ‘speak for the nation as a whole’:

The cry for unity resembled exactly the battle cries which had always led peoples to war; and yet, nobody detected in the universal and permanent instrument of unity the germ of universal and permanent war (p. 153).

Only very recently—ten years after the global financial crisis and six years after the global ‘Occupy’ movements, with the rise of populist parties worldwide and the people of Britain having voted to leave the European Union—have politicians and other policymakers begun to acknowledge that reducing inequality will be essential to achieving social cohesion. This, though, has yet to be reflected in any meaningful changes to policy (IMF 2017; ECB 2017; Shell & Stilwell 2017; Biswas 2017; Murphy 2017; Sitamaran 2017).

Any hope for achieving social cohesion in the future should take as its inspiration Abraham Maslow’s (1943) ‘hierarchy of needs’, which acknowledges that non-physiological needs such as those for esteem, self-expression and aesthetic satisfaction cannot be met without first addressing the physiological needs for sustenance and safety. It will depend on a long-term commitment from governments to reducing economic inequality by way of progressive taxation, stricter financial regulation, an abandonment of ‘austerity’ policies everywhere, and perhaps even the forgiveness of large amounts of private debt (Keen 2012, pp. 15–31; Streeck 2014, pp. 165–174). This is not to suggest that greater economic equality alone will magically produce perfectly cohesive societies. It is merely a call for social scientists and policymakers to recognise that any social cohesion approach that attempts to address the non-material symptoms of its absence before the material causes is ultimately doomed to failure.

Conclusion

Despite a huge amount of attention having been paid by philosophers, historians, political economists and other social scientists to the concept of social cohesion, precious little appears to have been added to the debate since it began more than six centuries ago. This, however, is simply an illusion created by the fact that those ideas deemed acceptable have been those which have best served the interests of the dominant strata of society, which labelled them ‘universal’, and exported them to the rest of the world’s peoples ‘for their own good’. Whether at the local, national, or global level, the imposition of these values has invariably come at the expense of those without the means to defend themselves. Recent social cohesion research has confirmed what thinkers like Karl Marx and Abraham Maslow understood long ago: that social cohesion cannot spring from conditions of scarcity. Only once the rampant economic inequality of the present has been eradicated can there be hope for a more cohesive society.

Notes

[1] For a recent literature review, see Schiefer & van der Noll (2017).

[2] This is, admittedly, a gross simplification offered in the interest of brevity. For more in-depth accounts of the complexity of this period in Europe, see, e.g., Teschke (2003), Himmelfarb (2004), Losurdo (2011) and Wood (2017 [1999]).

[3] Although Smith opposed the practice of slavery, he argued that it was far more likely to be abolished under the ‘despotic’ type of government he abhorred than in the ‘free’ government he championed, in which ‘every law is made by [the slaves’] masters, who will never pass any thing prejudicial to themselves’ (Smith [1763] 1982, pp. 452–3, 182).

[4] While Marx & Engels’ analysis was primarily temporal, Vladimir Lenin ([1917] 1999) later added a spatial component.

[5] A term coined by Orientalist historian Bernard Lewis (1990), and popularized by Samuel Huntington (1993; 1996).

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Lukes, S 2017, Liberals and Cannibals: The Implications of Diversity, Verso, London.

Marx, K [1867] 2013, Capital, Volume 1: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, trans. S Moore & E Aveling, Wordsworth Editions, Hertfordshire, UK.

Marx, K & Engels F [1872] 2011, The Communist Manifesto, Signet Classics, New York.

Maslow, AH 1943, ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’, Psychological Review, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 370–396.

Murphy, K 2017 ‘Bill Shorten says Inequality Threatens Australia’s Economy and Social Cohesion’, The Guardian, 21 July, viewed 29 October 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jul/20/bill-shorten-says-inequality-threatens-australias-economy-and-social-cohesion

Pope, W 1975, ‘Durkheim as a Functionalist’, The Sociological Quarterly, Summer, pp. 361–379.

Ritzer, G & Stepnisky, J 2014, Sociological Theory, 9th Edition, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Rousseau, J-J [1762] 2003, On the Social Contract, trans. GDH Cole, Dover, New York.

Said, EW [1978] 2003, Orientalism—25th Anniversary Edition, Vintage Books, New York.

———2001, ‘The Clash of Ignorance’, The Nation, October 4, viewed 28 October 2017, https://www.thenation.com/article/clash-ignorance/

Schiefer, D & van der Noll, J 2017, ‘The Essentials of Social Cohesion: A Literature Review’, Social Indicators Research, Vol. 132, No. 2, pp. 579–603.

Semuels, A 2016, ‘Why So Few American Economists are Studying Inequality’, The Atlantic, 13 September, viewed 29 October 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/why-so-few-american-economists-are-studying-inequality/499253/

Shell, C & Stilwell, F 2017, ‘The IMF is Showing Some Hypocrisy on Inequality’, The Conversation, 13 February, viewed 29 October, https://theconversation.com/the-imf-is-showing-some-hypocrisy-on-inequality-72497

Sitamaran, G 2017, ‘Divided We Fall’, New Republic, 10 April, viewed 29 October 2017, https://newrepublic.com/article/141644/divided-fall-trump-symptom-constitutional-crisis-inequality

Smith, A [1763] 1982, Lectures on Jurisprudence, Liberty Classics, Indianapolis, IN.

———[1776] 2005, An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, PDF, Electronic Classics, Hazleton, PA. Available online at https://eet.pixel-online.org/files/etranslation/original/The%20Wealth%20of%20Nations.pdf

Streeck, W 2014, Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, Verso, London.

Teschke, B 2003, The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations, Verso, London.

Wallerstein, I 1974, The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, Academic Press, New York.

———2006, European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power, The New Press, London.

Wood, EM [1999] 2017, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, Verso, London.

 

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The Law of the Tendency of the Quantity of Regulation to Rise

Regulation

Since the foundering of the Keynesian consensus in the mid-1970s, the subsequent ‘neoliberal turn’ has seen governments worldwide make repeated attempts to deregulate markets, seemingly with little success. Indeed, strictly quantitatively speaking, there is far greater regulation worldwide now than at the beginning of the project. There are, of course, myriad forces behind this, and it is beyond the scope of this blog post to address them all. After first providing a brief explanation of how and why the neoliberal turn came about, this post’s primary focus is on the ramifications of the factor from which its title is derived; that is, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.[1] More specifically, it focuses on the regulatory responses generated in reaction to this inexorable tendency of capitalism to undermine itself.

Those living in Western countries in the decades immediately following the Second World War could be forgiven for thinking that the countercyclical quasi-socialist prescriptions of John Maynard Keynes (1964) had put an end to economic crises once and for all. Certainly, until the mid-1970s, better working conditions and ever-higher wages likely appeared to workers to be nothing more than the natural outcome of their collective bargaining; or, when that proved ineffective, strikes. To employers, however, the full-employment regime that had at first seemed like an ingenious way to shore up demand during a downturn had by the late 1960s revealed itself to be ruinous (Streeck 2014, pp. 25–6). As predicted by Michał Kalecki (1943), the maintenance of such a full-employment program ultimately eliminated workers’ fear of ‘the sack’, thereby removing employers’ only disciplinary measure to prevent rising wages from eating away their profits (p. 326). In 1971, unable to generate profits domestically, the United States abandoned the gold standard to enable it to recycle the world’s surpluses (Varoufakis 2015, ch.4). Needless to say, this demanded an enormous amount of new monetary regulation and administration. The rest of the decade saw prices and interest rates rise, profits fall, and workers laid off faster than jobs could be created; that is, stagflation.

Meanwhile, a new consensus had been emerging among austerity-minded economists to challenge the Keynesian paradigm. With growing hostility toward the perceived failures of Keynesianism having been aggravated by two major oil-price shocks in 1973 and 1979, the ‘golden age’ of Keynesian social democracy came to an end. As Farrell and Quiggin (2011) have argued, the problem with Keynesianism was not the economics, it was that it could never be separated from the politics. Unlike employees, politicians still feared retrenchment. Therefore, increasingly, policymakers ignored Keynes’ explicit advice about accumulating surpluses during boom years, and instead carried on with voter-pleasing spending, irrespective of economic performance (p. 100). Faced with the possibility of electoral defeat by any opposition party promising to continue spending, governments’ ability to regulate their own expenditure had effectively been undermined by the democratic process.

The new British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, inspired by the ‘neoliberal’ thought collective of the Mont Pèlerin Society—most notably, the Austrian School’s F. A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the Chicago School’s Milton Friedman—launched a project of privatisation, tax cuts, reduced welfare spending, union-busting and market deregulation. Ronald Reagan, upon his election to the US Presidency the following year, followed suit (Harvey 2005, pp. 58–62; Van Horn & Mirowski 2009, p. 140). Despite the label—which most of its proponents had anyway rejected early on—there was little that was ‘neo-’ about this economic philosophy. Like David Hume and Adam Smith before them, these neoliberals saw personal frugality and parsimony as the engine of capitalist growth, and all government debt as bad (Blyth 2013, ch. 4). All economics, in other words, was microeconomics. What was new, however, was the idea that, contra classical economists like Smith and John Stuart Mill, there was ‘no such thing as a free lunch’; which is to say, all income is earned, even that which is inherited or derived from rents (Hudson 2015, p. xiv).

This ‘supply-side’ approach sees wealth not as something to be redistributed to guarantee demand for goods and services, but as something created by private enterprise and entrepreneurial initiative, which inevitably ‘trickles down’ to workers via jobs created by the ‘self-made’ titans of industry. Employee and consumer protections are to be provided by the state only insofar as it guarantees ‘the competitive order’ between firms. In this view, the government must only be permitted to facilitate the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, never to guide it. Indeed, any attempt to do so would invariably lead to totalitarianism (Hayek 1944; Friedman 1951).

The total deregulation of the market envisioned by these neoliberal idealists was, however, always a utopian fiction. As Karl Polanyi ([1944] 2001) emphasised, the notion of ‘the economy’ as an independent and equilibrating system of integrated markets, ‘disembedded’ from society and nature, is something that cannot exist (pp. 60, 70). Even the laissez-faire system of the nineteenth century ‘was planned’; although, the necessary subsequent ‘planning was not’ (p. 141). The ‘embeddedness’ of the economy means that it can never be autonomous; rather, it is always subordinated to politics and social relations (Block 2001, pp. xxiii–iv). Any enthusiasm for the ‘freedom’ of deregulation in the good times is invariably countered by a call for regulatory protection against the excesses of capitalism in the bad. This ‘double movement’, according to Polanyi, is the motor of institutional change (Blyth 2002, ch. 1). Further, capitalism’s inclination toward monopoly and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall means that regulation is required if capitalism is to be prevented from undermining its sine qua non: the endless accumulation of capital (Ortleib 2008, p. 107).

Even before the elections of Thatcher and Reagan, the early neoliberal experiments conducted by Friedman’s ‘Chicago boys’ in Latin America had seen one-off spikes in gross domestic product figures caused by privatisation fire-sales, immediately followed by reregulation of the newly deregulated markets as soon as growth started to go backwards. But, as with any paradigm, ‘conceptual stretching’ meant that neoliberalism simply adapted to such disconfirming evidence (Kuhn [1962] 2012, p. 44). Arguably, the chief reason the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was ever allowed to implement these ‘structural adjustment’ programs in the first place was that, with the collapse of Bretton Woods and the end of gold convertibility in 1971, the IMF no longer had a function: there was literally no reason for this massive regulatory body to continue existing (Blyth 2013, ch. 5). Rather than disband, however, the IMF began engaging in ‘mission creep’ and the neoliberal program was zealously exported to less-developed countries around the world under the banner of the ‘Washington Consensus’ (Braithwaite 2008, p. 6; Babb 2012, pp. 269–74). Naturally, these huge restructuring programs, which made loans conditional on privatisation and deregulation, required their own regulation, and debtor countries soon required reregulation after the initial deregulation inevitably failed, thus creating the IMF’s new raison d’être. Aided by an ever-expanding policy checklist for ‘good governance’ produced by its sister organisation the World Bank—by 2002, the list contained 116 items—the Fund had essentially created its own perpetual-regulation machine (World Bank 2002; Sundaram & Chowdhury 2016).

The trend was hardly unique to the IMF. As Vogel observed in 1996 (p. 3):

… what we have witnessed has been reregulation, not deregulation. That is, the governments of the advanced industrial countries have reorganised their control of private sector behaviour, but not substantially reduced the level of regulation.

But, as should already be clear, the tendency of the quantity of regulation to rise, does not necessarily mean that the quality of regulation increases, nor even that it is qualitatively the same thing. To speak of ‘regulation’ in the abstract obscures the fact that there are many incommensurable types of regulation. As Caffagi and Renda (2012) point out, the continued faith in market-generated outcomes among policymakers means that the majority of guidance documents ‘award priority to self- or co-regulatory solutions before starting to consider more intrusive policy approaches’ (p.1). Only when a crisis or scandal occurs is a more restrictive form of regulation usually employed, after the fact; and even then, is typically relaxed over time (Braithwaite 2008, p. 32). The very nature of much of the regulatory policy that has emerged since the neoliberal turn is fundamentally different to that which existed during the Keynesian era. Whereas the latter was chiefly aimed at tempering the brutality of markets—a compromise solution governments proposed and businesses reluctantly accepted following the Great Depression, to appease an angry public and stem the tide of communism—much of the former has been aimed at expediting the movement of capital from those who have the least to those who already have the most (Wolff 2012, p. 23).

In the ‘idealist view of neoliberalism’, this should be of no concern, because the diminishing marginal utility of that surplus value means that the capitalist will inevitably reinvest it to create more jobs and boost productivity. In ‘actually existing neoliberalism’, wealth inequality is back at levels not seen since the 1920s, the trend is accelerating, and governments are too scared to regulate lest ‘regime shopping’ transnational corporations decide to take their business elsewhere (Crouch 2013, p. 221). The idealist view of neoliberalism, which vehemently opposes all regulation for its distortionary effects on the infallible market, today bears virtually no relationship to actually existing neoliberalism, which in practice has come to wholly embrace any and all regulation that can save it from itself. Still, the libertarian rhetoric and junk mathematical models of the former continue to be used by politicians, economists, advocacy groups, think tanks, educational institutions, the corporate media, and so on, to justify the latter (Parsons 1989). Four decades on, it has truly become ‘socially embedded neoliberalism’ (Cahill 2014, pp. 1–30). Indeed, Lady Thatcher’s claim that ‘there is no alternative’ seems somehow truer now—and in a more sinister way—than it was in the 1970s. And all the while, the quantity of regulation continues to rise apace.

 

Notes

[1] The reader should note that, despite the wording here, no strictly Marxian interpretation of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is implied.

References

Babb, S 2012, ‘The Washington Consensus as Transnational Policy Paradigm: Its Origins, Trajectory and Likely Successor’, Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 268–97.

Blyth, M 2002, Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, e-book, Cambridge University Press, New York.

———2013, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, e-book, Oxford University Press,

Block, F 2001, Introduction, in K Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, Boston, MA.

Braithwaite, J 2008, Regulatory Capitalism: How It Works, Ideas for Making It Work Better, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK.

Cafaggi, F & Renda, A 2012, Public and Private Regulation: Mapping the Labyrinth, Working Paper No. 370, October 2012, Centre for European Policy Studies.

Cahill, D 2014, The End of Laissez-Faire? On the Durability of Embedded Neoliberalism, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK.

Chester, L 2013, ‘The Failure of Market Fundamentalism: How Electricity Sector Restructuring is Threatening the Economic and Social Fabric’, Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 315–22.

Crouch, C 2013, ‘From Markets vs States to Corporations vs Civil Society’, in A Schäfer & W Streeck (eds.), Politics in the Age of Austerity, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 219–38.

Farrell, H & Quiggin, J 2011, ‘How to Save the Euro—and the EU: Reading Keynes in Brussels’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 3, pp. 96–103.

Friedman, M 1951, ‘Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects’, Farmand, 17 February, pp. 89–93.

Harvey, D 2005, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Hayek, FA 1944, The Road to Serfdom, Dymocks Book Arcade, Sydney.

Kalecki, M 1943, ‘Political Aspects of Full Employment’, Political Quarterly, 14 April, pp. 322–31.

Keynes, JM 1964, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Macmillan, London.

Kuhn, TS 2012, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th Edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Ortleib, CP 2008, ‘A Contradiction Between Matter and Form: On the Significance of the Production of Surplus Value in the Dynamic of Terminal Crisis’, in N Larsen, M Nilges, J Robinson & N Brown (eds.), Marxism and the Critique of Value, MCM’ Publishing, Chicago, IL, pp. 77–121.

Parsons, DW 1989, The Power of the Financial Press, Edward Elgar, London.

Polanyi, K 2001, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Beacon Press, Boston, MA.

Streeck, W 2014, Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, trans. P Camiller, Verso, London.

Sundaram, JK & Chowdhury, A 2016, ‘Ignore Standard Good Governance Prescriptions to Accelerate Development’, Global Issues, 31 March, viewed 8 May 2017, http://www.globalissues.org/news/2016/03/31/21968

Van Horn, R & Mirowski, P 2009, ‘The Rise of the Chicago School of Economics and the Birth of Neoliberalism’, in P Mirowski & D Plehwe (eds.), The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 139–79.

Varoufakis, Y 2015, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy, e-book, Zed Books, London.

Vogel, D 1996, Freer Markets, More Rules: Regulatory Reform in Advanced Industrial Countries, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Wolff, R 2012, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, Haymarket Books, Chicago, IL.

World Bank 2002, World Development Report 2002: Building Institutions for Markets, Oxford University Press, New York.

 

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The Securitisation of Muslim Women in Australia

muslim_women_harmony_day_howard

With the exception of a brief appearance during the Gulf War period[1], ‘the Muslim question’ had been largely absent from Australian political discourse prior to 2001. Since that time, though, concerns about Muslims and Islam have, in one form or another, remained at its forefront. With the ‘Tampa incident’ followed closely by the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the framing of Muslims as a threat to Australia’s national security quickly proved a winning political formula. What had begun life as a tall tale about the questionable morality of asylum seekers morphed first into a story about a region, and then about a religion. But, this wouldn’t be its final transformation, by a long shot.

In an effort to bolster flagging public support for the ‘War on Terror’, the official justification for it was revised to include the element of gender. Muslim women were to be seen as passive victims of religiously inspired patriarchal violence who must be ‘rescued’: first, from the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then, in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, from al-Qaeda.

In the years since 2001, countless Australian Muslim women have made it plain that they undertake their religious practices by choice and are more than capable themselves of resisting patriarchal oppression. This steadfast refusal to be ‘saved’, however, has seen a new discursive shift occur: Muslim women as agents of Islamisation. This post provides a brief analysis of this shifting discourse through the constructivist framework of ‘securitisation’.

(Securitisation refers to the process in which, through speech acts, specific issues come to be conceived and approached as existential threats to certain political communities. Chiefly associated with the Copenhagen School[2], the securitisation framework focuses on the constructed nature of security as a political category, and to the importance of how security functions politically. It constitutes a response to approaches that assert a universal and timeless definition of security, by pointing to the need to understand how security is given meaning in certain political, cultural and social contexts. Ultimately, the securitisation framework holds that the successful construction of an issue as a security threat facilitates the implementation of emergency measures in order to address it.[3])

Two weeks prior to the 11 September 2001 airliner attacks in the US, Australian SAS troops boarded the MV Tampa: a Norwegian cargo ship that had rescued 438 asylum seekers—chiefly Afghan Hazaras—from the disabled KM Palapa 1, which ran into trouble in international waters en route to Australia.[4] Swiftly denying entry to the vessel, the Australian Government ordered its human cargo detained in two hastily established processing centres on Nauru.[5] Amid international condemnation of its actions in the days following, the Coalition Government found itself in a tricky political situation, and polling suggested it was facing certain defeat in the upcoming Federal Election.[6] Although a tarnished international image is seldom viewed favourably by voters, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party had picked up more than one million disaffected voters at the 1998 election, running on an anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism platform.[7] Plus, white Australians have a long history of fearing invasion from the sea.[8]

The Government seized the opportunity to demonise those  picked up by the Tampa as ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘people smugglers’[9], which served to retrospectively justify their new Border Protection Bill, while simultaneously nullifying One Nation’s far-right appeal by mainstreaming its approach.[10] Press had been kept far from the Tampa and there was little mention of the asylum seekers’ background[11]—perhaps for fear of humanising them in the eyes of an Australian public still accustomed to previous governments’ explicitly multicultural policies[12]—but the message was clear: these people were not ‘good’ like ‘us’, these were Others.[13] While, at this stage, these outsiders were not necessarily to be feared, they were certainly not to be welcomed. As then-Prime Minister John Howard told radio host Alan Jones:

On the one hand we want to defend our borders, rightly so; on the other hand, we are a decent people […] and it’s probably because of that that we are seen by many around the world as a soft touch.[14]

By the time US newspapers went to press on the 12th of September[15], many were mentioning the name Osama bin Laden, and various Western leaders appeared in their pages pledging allegiance to the US and swearing revenge.[16] Two weeks later, the US had invaded Afghanistan in the name of a ‘War on Terror’[17], and the Australian government quickly invoked the ANZUS Treaty in order to provide military support. In terms of the security discourse in Australia, both the in-group and the out-group had now been massively expanded: no longer was it simply a case of Australians versus ‘boat people’, but rather a ‘clash of civilisations’[18] between ‘the West’ and ‘the Arab world’.

This is not to say, however, that when a securitising discourse shifts, it simply replaces what came before. Although speech acts may be used to rapidly securitise new concerns, the socially embedded nature of already existing concerns seems to make them somewhat ‘sticky’. They may recede over time, but securitisation does not function in a strictly paradigmatic fashion. Rather, it has an additive effect.[19]

When another boat, the SIEV (Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel) 4, was intercepted near Christmas Island on 6 October, Howard claimed that a number of those aboard had thrown their children into the sea. The allegations were completely unfounded. Thirteen days later, the SIEV X sunk inside a temporary Australian border protection surveillance area near Christmas Island, killing 353 asylum seekers.[20] Preying on public fears of a wave of these monstrous Others arriving on Australian shores, the Coalition went on to a landslide election victory. The Australian Arabic Council reported a rapid and twenty-fold increase in the rate of anti-Arab racial vilification in the month following 11 September 2001.[21]

By the time of the Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, the media was doing much of the government’s securitisation work for it. Whereas immediately following 9/11, many investigative journalists had busied themselves looking for the root causes of the attacks—the long-standing US military presence in Mecca and Medina, for example[22]—it was not long before such questioning of Western foreign policy was internalised by the media as being not ‘with us’, but ‘with the terrorists’.[23]

Despite the loss of Australian lives in Bali, public support for the War on Terror had waned, and a new justification for its continuance was needed. An effective security narrative demands simplicity, and a commonality between the Saudi hijackers and the Indonesian bombers meant that it had been delivered in the form of ‘Islam’. That there are many ‘Islams’ was of no concern; what mattered was its ‘incompatibility’ with ‘our way of life’. Further, it meant that ‘they’ were no longer on the outside, trying to infiltrate our borders by boat or in a hijacked plane, but already among ‘us’.

Singled out for special attention was how Muslim men were said to treat ‘their’ women, who, at this stage of the story, served solely as passive victims in need of rescue from religiously inspired patriarchal violence. It is a familiar Orientalist tale that has held widespread appeal for Western liberals since the seventeenth century; a tale in which, as Gayatri Spivak famously put it, ‘White men are saving brown women from brown men.’[24]

‘There is,’ said the Prime Minister, ‘within some sections of the Islamic community an attitude towards women which is out of line with the mainstream Australian society.’[25] That the staunchly conservative Howard should be so concerned with the emancipation of women no doubt came as a shock to many. But, much like Lord Cromer before him—the ruler of British-occupied Egypt who championed the unveiling of ‘oppressed’ Egyptian Muslim women, despite in England having been a founding member and sometime president of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage[26]—Howard was only a feminist insofar as it served his securitisation agenda. As Leila Ahmed observes, it is an approach in which:

Feminism on the home front and feminism directed against white men [is] to be resisted and suppressed; but taken abroad […] it could be promoted in ways that admirably served and furthered the project of the dominance of the white man.[27]

However, this double standard was not practiced by white men alone. In the Western popular liberal feminist imaginary, too, these securitising discursive moves serve to ‘shore up the positional superiority of white Western feminists vis-à-vis “other” women.’[28] It is an imperial sort of feminism that creates for itself a space of innocence in which its complicity in helping to create this subaltern archetype—which it simultaneously pities and fetishises—is denied.

Then-US President and fellow conservative George W. Bush used his 2002 State of the Union address to emphasise the importance of an ongoing War on Terror in order to ‘free’ Muslim women.[29] Large public protest marches notwithstanding, the decision for Australia to invade Iraq in 2003 as part of the ‘coaliton of the willing’ met with little political resistance.[30]

In late 2005, a scuffle between a group of Lebanese men and some surf lifesavers quickly escalated into the Cronulla Riots after a talkback caller claimed the group had previously been ‘leering’ at female beachgoers. That Muslim women should refuse to be saved from such savages proved a problem for many white liberals, who consider ‘choice’ paramount, just so long as the choice one expresses is for liberalism. That a Muslim woman should opt not to ‘free’ herself—especially from her coverings, long the primary symbol of oppression in the eyes of Westerners—despite secular society affording her every opportunity to do so, simply did not compute.

By then, the War on Terror had left both Afghanistan and Iraq in ruins, and none of the promised liberation had occurred. Further, despite the public’s appetite for ‘behind the veil’-style stories by ‘native informants’[31] about women’s oppression under Islam, it had by this time become impossible—due largely to the increasing ubiquitousness of the internet—to ignore the voices of Muslim women who flatly rejected their ‘victim’ label.[32] Given that liberalism is the default state for all people, the thinking went, these women must have been brainwashed; in which case, they are a lost cause, and we should focus on saving their (‘Our’) girls by means of liberal education.[33] Worse still, they may be hiding something. Melbourne University’s Shakira Hussein notes:

As ‘the Muslim question’ has become an increasingly important issue in domestic as well as international politics … Muslim women have come to be regarded as the accomplices rather than (or as well as) the victims of Muslim men.’[34]

As in Europe, calls to ‘ban the burqa’[35] have been frequent in Australia. However, only more recently has the purported rationale become security. Once, Muslim women were to be unveiled for their own good; now, they must be unveiled for ‘our’ safety. After all, the apparatuses of surveillance—ever-expanding and justified by the securitisation discourse since 9/11—cannot function to protect ‘us’ if people’s faces are hidden. Fears of Muslim women as agents of ‘Islamification’, ‘creeping Shari’a’, radicalised ‘jihadi brides’ and burqa-wearing suicide bombers abound, inflated by sensationalist media and politicians. All of which only serves to increase the likelihood of such fears becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

The securitisation of Muslim women in Australia is quite a recent development. What began as a security discourse about ‘boat people’ shifted its focus to the Arab world, then Muslim men more broadly, and then Muslim women. Securitisation does not operate in a strictly linear fashion, with speech acts occurring after actions as retrospective justification. Despite being initiated by the government, the securitisation discourse did not remain strictly under its control, with both the media and the public playing key roles in dictating where it led. New speech acts do not erase previous ones, meaning that at no stage were any of the concerns mentioned de-securitised and there is a tendency for short-term security measures to become permanent policy. Each new speech act builds upon the last, which can lead to contradictions, as seen in the ‘choice’ paradox of liberal feminism and the parallel but antithetical victim–suspect narratives.

Notes

[1] Although there had been comparatively more attacks on residents of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’ during the Gulf War than prior to it, their number was dwarfed by those after 9/11 and they were generally considered to be the acts of a few racist outliers, rather than part of a growing trend. Hage, G., ‘Racism, Multiculturalism and the Gulf War’, Arena, No. 96, 1991, pp. 8–13.

[2] See, e.g., Buzan, B., Wæver, O. & de Wilde, J., Security: A New Framework for Analysis, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 1998; Balzacq, T. (ed.), Securitisation Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve, London, Routledge, 2010.

[3] Wæver, O., ‘Securitisation and Desecuritisation’, in R. Lipschutz (ed.), On Security, New York, Columbia University Press, 1995, pp. 46–87.

[4] Marr, D. & Wilkinson, M., ‘They Shall Not Land’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 2001, p. 29.

[5] Every, D. & Augoustinos, M., ‘Constructions of Australia in Pro- and Anti-Asylum Seeker Political Discourse’, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2008, p. 565.

[6] Kelly, F., ‘Tampa Issue Improves Coalition Election Prospects’, The 7:30 Report, television transcript, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 4 September 2001, retrieved 31 August 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2001/s357998.htm

[7] One Nation’s political approach was, consciously or not, itself a form of securitisation that provided a convenient Other to blame for the economic insecurity many voters felt due to effects of globalisation. Tsiolkas, C., ‘Why Australia Hates Asylum Seekers’, The Monthly, September, 2013, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/september/1377957600/christos-tsiolkas/why-australia-hates-asylum-seekers

[8] That is to say, in the words of Anthony Burke, of being ‘Aboriginalised’. Burke, A., Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 18–38.

[9] McAdam, J., ‘Australia and Asylum Seekers’, Editorial, International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2013, p. 436.

[10] Burnside, J., ‘Refugees: The Tampa Case’, Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2002, p. 19a.

[11] Burnside, 2002, p. 19b.

[12] See, e.g., Stratton, J. & Ang, I., ‘Multicultural Imagined Communities: Cultural Difference and National Identity in Australia and the USA’, Continuum, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1994, p. 127.

[13] Edward Said describes the constructing of the Other as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’ in Said, E. W., Orientalism, London, Penguin, 1977, p. 108.

[14] Howard, J. W., ‘Interview with Alan Jones, Radio 2UE’, transcript, PM Transcripts, 3 August 2001, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au/release/transcript-12021

[15] ‘Newspaper Front Pages from September 12, 2001’, ABC News Online, 9 September 2011, retrieved 11 September 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-05/september-11-newspaper-front-pages/2870784

[16] ‘This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism, but between the free and democratic world, and terrorism.’ Blair, T., ‘Statement to the Nation’, transcript, BBC News, 11 September 2001, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/1538551.stm

[17] Bush, G. W., ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People’, transcript, The White House Archives, 20 September 2001, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html

[18] A phrase coined by the Orientalist historian Bernard Lewis and popularised by Samuel P. Huntington in a 1993 article for Foreign Affairs, which he expanded into the 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

[19] The problems this may pose for the Copenhagen School’s theory of ‘de-securitisation’ are beyond the scope of this blog post, but see, e.g., McDonald, M., ‘Deliberation and Resecuritisation: Australia, Asylum Seekers and the Normative Limits of the Copenhagen School’, Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2011, pp. 281–95.

[20] Commonwealth of Australia, Report of the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, Canberra, Senate Select Committee, Parliament House, 2002, retrieved 10 September 2016 from https://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/senate/committee/maritime_incident_ctte/report/report.pdf

[21] Australian Arabic Council, Increase in Racial Vilification in Light of Terror Attacks: Sep 2001, unpublished facsimile, quoted in S. Poynting, ‘“Bin Laden in the Suburbs”: Attacks on Arab and Muslim Australians Before and After 11 September’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2002, p. 44.

[22] Otterman, S., ‘Saudi Arabia: Withdrawal of US Forces’, Council on Foreign Relations, 2 May 2013, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.cfr.org/saudi-arabia/saudi-arabia-withdrawl-us-forces/p7739

[23] ‘Bush: “You Are Either with Us, or with the Terrorists” 2001-09-21’, Voice of America, 27 October 2009, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-a-2001-09-21-14-bush-66411197/549664.html

[24] Spivak, G. C., ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’, in C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Hampshire, UK, Macmillan, 1988, p. 296.

[25] Howard, J. W., quoted in Aslan, A., Islamaphobia in Australia, Glebe, NSW, Agora Press, 2009, p. 148.

[26] Massad, J. A., Islam in Liberalism, ePub, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2015, Chapter 2: ‘Women and/in “Islam”: The Rescue Mission of Western Liberal Feminism’, n.p.

[27] Ahmed, L., Women and Gender in Islam, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1992, p. 153.

[28] Zine, J., Taylor, L. K. & Davis, H. E., ‘Reading Muslim Women and Muslim Women Reading Back: Transnational Feminist Reading Practices, Pedagogy and Ethical Concerns’, Intercultural Education, Vol. 18, No. 4, 2007, p. 273.

[29] Bush, G. W., ‘The President’s State of the Union Address’, transcript, The White House Archives, 29 January 2002, retrieved 13 September 2016 from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html

[30] Jackson, A., ‘Melbourne Rallies to the Call for Peace’, The Age, 15 February 2003, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/02/14/1044927801876.html

[31] See, e.g., Manji, I., The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, Toronto, Random House, 2003; Nafisi, A., Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, New York, Random House, 2003; Hirsi Ali, A., Infidel, New York, Free Press, 2007.

[32] See, e.g., Abu-Lughod, L., ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others’, American Anthropologist, Vol. 104, No. 3, 2002, pp. 783–90.

[33] Berents, H., ‘Hashtagging Girlhood: #IAmMalala, #BringBackOurGirls and Gendering Representations of Global Politics’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 8 August 2016, retrieved 14 September 2016 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14616742.2016.1207463

[34] Hussein, S., From Victims to Suspects: Muslim Women Since 9/11, Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2016, p. 69.

[35] An item that few Australian Muslims wear, and usually employed as a catch-all term for any religious covering, including the burqa, hijab, niqab, chador and dupatta.

References

Abu-Lughod, L., ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others’, American Anthropologist, Vol. 104, No. 3, 2002, pp. 783–90.

Ahmed, L., Women and Gender in Islam, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1992.

Aslan, A., Islamaphobia in Australia, Glebe, NSW, Agora Press, 2009.

Balzacq, T. (ed.), Securitisation Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve, London, Routledge, 2010.

Berents, H., ‘Hashtagging Girlhood: #IAmMalala, #BringBackOurGirls and Gendering Representations of Global Politics’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 8 August 2016, retrieved 14 September 2016 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14616742.2016.1207463

Blair, T., ‘Statement to the Nation’, transcript, BBC News, 11 September 2001, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/1538551.stm

Burke, A., Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 18–38.

Burnside, J., ‘Refugees: The Tampa Case’, Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2002, pp. 17–28.

‘Bush: “You Are Either with Us, Or with the Terrorists” 2001-09-21’, Voice of America, 27 October 2009, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-a-2001-09-21-14-bush-66411197/549664.html

Bush, G. W., ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People’, transcript, The White House Archives, 20 September 2001, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html

———‘The President’s State of the Union Address’, transcript, The White House Archives, 29 January 2002, retrieved 13 September 2016 from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html

Buzan, B., Wæver, O. & de Wilde, J., Security: A New Framework for Analysis, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 1998.

Commonwealth of Australia, Report of the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, Canberra, Senate Select Committee, Parliament House, 2002, retrieved 10 September 2016 from https://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/senate/committee/maritime_incident_ctte/report/report.pdf

Every, D. & Augoustinos, M., ‘Constructions of Australia in Pro- and Anti-Asylum Seeker Political Discourse’, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2008, pp. 562–580.

Hage, G., ‘Racism, Multiculturalism and the Gulf War’, Arena, No. 96, 1991, pp. 8–13.

Hirsi Ali, A., Infidel, New York, Free Press, 2007.

Howard, J. W., ‘Interview with Alan Jones, Radio 2UE’, transcript, PM Transcripts, 3 August 2001, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au/release/transcript-12021

Huntington, S. P., ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, retrieved 12 September 2016 from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1993-06-01/clash-civilizations

———The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Hussein, S., From Victims to Suspects: Muslim Women Since 9/11, Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2016.

Jackson, A., ‘Melbourne Rallies to the Call for Peace’, The Age, 15 February 2003, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/02/14/1044927801876.html

Kelly, F., ‘Tampa Issue Improves Coalition Election Prospects’, The 7:30 Report, television transcript, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 4 September 2001, retrieved 31 August 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2001/s357998.htm

Manji, I., The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, Toronto, Random House, 2003.

Marr, D. & Wilkinson, M., ‘They Shall Not Land’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 2001, p. 29.

Massad, J. A., Islam in Liberalism, ePub, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

McAdam, J., ‘Australia and Asylum Seekers’, Editorial, International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2013, pp. 435–48.

McDonald, M., ‘Deliberation and Resecuritisation: Australia, Asylum Seekers and the Normative Limits of the Copenhagen School’, Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2011, pp. 281–95.

Nafisi, A., Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, New York, Random House, 2003.

‘Newspaper Front Pages from September 12, 2001’, ABC News Online, 9 September 2011, retrieved 11 September 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-05/september-11-newspaper-front-pages/2870784

Otterman, S., ‘Saudi Arabia: Withdrawal of US Forces’, Council on Foreign Relations, 2 May 2013, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.cfr.org/saudi-arabia/saudi-arabia-withdrawl-us-forces/p7739

Poynting, S., ‘“Bin Laden in the Suburbs”: Attacks on Arab and Muslim Australians Before and After 11 September’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2002, pp. 43–64.

Said, E. W., Orientalism, London, Penguin, 1977.

Spivak, G. C., ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’, in C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Hampshire, UK, Macmillan, 1988, pp. 271–313.

Stratton, J. & Ang, I., ‘Multicultural Imagined Communities: Cultural Difference and National Identity in Australia and the USA’, Continuum, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1994, pp. 124–58.

Tsiolkas, C., ‘Why Australia Hates Asylum Seekers’, The Monthly, September, 2013, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/september/1377957600/christos-tsiolkas/why-australia-hates-asylum-seekers

Wæver, O., ‘Securitisation and Desecuritisation’, in R. Lipschutz (ed.), On Security, New York, Columbia University Press, 1995, pp. 46–87.

Zine, J., Taylor, L. K. & Davis, H. E., ‘Reading Muslim Women and Muslim Women Reading Back: Transnational Feminist Reading Practices, Pedagogy and Ethical Concerns’, Intercultural Education, Vol. 18, No. 4, 2007, pp. 271–80.

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Small and white, clean and … maybe not so bright?

habermas

This post calls into question the inclusive potential of deliberative democracy, with particular emphasis on the influential model of deliberation laid out by Jürgen Habermas in Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy.[1] I outline the arguments Habermas puts forward for his particular model of deliberation, while drawing upon criticisms of it from a number of theorists, in addition to offering some of my own. I argue that deliberative democracy would be unlikely to facilitate better inclusion for marginalised groups, but would instead merely serve as an elaborate justification for the tyranny of the majority and the maintenance of the status quo.

The core assumption underlying Between Facts and Norms is that, given ‘sufficient time’ and ‘goodwill’, it will always be possible for any given group to achieve consensus. Leaving aside, for the moment, the practical limitations that the provision of ‘sufficient time’ is likely to reveal, it seems that the two conditions Habermas claims are required for reaching consensus rely on tautology for their definitions. Both ‘sufficient time’ and ‘sufficient goodwill’ are inherently abstract concepts, which can only be defined post hoc in somewhat concrete terms. This is to say that, however much time and goodwill is required to reach a consensus can only be deemed sufficient once said consensus has been reached. Likewise, any failure to reach a consensus must necessarily mean that the amount of time, goodwill, or both, were insufficient. Here, we can see that Habermas has implicitly defended his assumption with a circular argument that, while unfalsifiable, is also essentially meaningless.

Modern pluralist culture, according to Habermas, will inevitably cause various ethical traditions to come into conflict with one another, and so laws—which are given legitimacy through the universal voice of democracy—are required in order to maintain social cohesion. These laws, he suggests, must only be introduced once they have been unanimously agreed upon following public deliberation and reasoned argument between all affected citizens. The citizen, in this pure deliberative model of democracy, is ‘both the subject of the law and its author.’[2] The Habermasian citizen adheres to a distinctly liberal ideal of the autonomous individual, who, as Steven Wheatley has summarised:

… is able to give reasons for her actions, critically reflect on her own beliefs and, when exposed to a better argument, is willing to change her opinions.[3]

David Ingram notes that, ‘the model of rationality adduced by Habermas … reflects an intellectualist prejudice of the Enlightenment.’[4] Bounding acceptable discourse in such a Westernised fashion will inevitably bias it towards Western ideals; which is to say, liberalism in equals liberalism out. The primacy afforded purely discursive rationality in Western society, according to Pierre Bourdieu, is not due to its embeddedness in the nature of communication as such, but is rather a function of its capacity to secure the privilege of those who are possessors of ‘cultural capital’.[5] Further, he claims, language ‘games’, of the sort proposed by Habermas, although seemingly concerned foremost with communication, are in fact practices that have as their main purpose the maintenance of economic and political relationships of domination.[6]

The Eurocentrism of his idealised conception of the post-Enlightenment citizen aside, for Habermas, even if all the participants involved in deliberation should meet his exacting standards, and manage to reach a consensus based solely on the merits of the better argument, that consensus would still be fallible. This is due to his ‘ideal speech situation’ requirement not having been met. Briefly, it requires:

  1. no space-time limitation, so that argument may continue until every individual, everywhere, agrees
  2. no limitations on information, topics, or reasons
  3. equal participation, so that everybody has equal opportunity to influence the discussion
  4. the exclusion of any kind of coercion.[7]

Any one of these conditions—especially the first—would be difficult to meaningfully approximate in the real world, let alone all of them. Indeed, as Habermas acknowledges, the ideal speech situation is a requirement that can never be met; therefore, every de facto social consensus must be considered fallible.[8] So, either all deliberation must continue forever, or we must settle for majoritarianism at some point along the way.

By way of analogy, let us consider the online discourse of popular feminism. I choose this example because it seems to approximate the ideal speech situation as closely as any real-world example could hope to; most notably, the tricky first condition regarding time-space limitations. Further, in the self-publishing world of the internet, all information, topics and reasons are open for discussion. Equal participation is made possible, at least for those who are literate and have internet access.[9] And, inasmuch as the internet is largely unregulated, deliberation can be said to be relatively free of coercion. Finally, insofar as the goal of feminism, like any emancipatory theory[10], is to ‘do itself out of a job’, we may reasonably infer that the goal of discourse is to reach consensus, so that appropriate reforms may then be implemented that would enable the freedom of all women, and feminism would no longer need to exist.

Even with these conditions theoretically—if somewhat imperfectly—met, popular online feminism’s focus on consensus-building routinely serves to sideline minority voices. Despite widespread token agreement that a more ‘intersectional’[11] approach to feminism is required, the voices of the marginalised are typically only elevated for the purpose of appropriating them into the service of mainstream liberal ‘choice feminism’ arguments. As Gajalla, Zhang and Dajo-Gyeke observe:

[T]he ‘new languages’ of women’s emancipation in globalised media spaces are in fact re-codings of familiar liberal feminist discourses interweaved with a capitalist, consumerist rhetoric of individual choice … so that the overall effect is not participatory, but rather a lopsided hierarchy that still privileges those that designed it and produced the content for it.[12]

A common response to such criticism is that feminism is a ‘broad church’ that encourages rigorous discussion from a wide range of voices, and does not require women to agree with one another in order to be considered feminists. In practice, however, the preference for solidarity creates a self-selecting in-group that effectively serves to punish dissent. On deliberative democracy more generally, Ian O’Flynn notes:

The more familiar participants are with one another, the more likely it is that their deliberations will be successful. Knowing this, there is a strong temptation for the stronger members of society to exclude the weaker … the failure to afford dissenting voices an equal say may itself lead to the reification and polarisation of competing ethnic identities.[13]

For every blog post from a minority voice highlighting the problems with popular liberal feminism—even those republished in mainstream outlets[14]—there are a hundred more articles from bourgeois liberals espousing its virtues.[15] Further, in the ‘virtual’ public setting of the internet, cultural capital can be easily gained by declaring oneself an ‘ally’ of minorities. Surely, though, the onus is on the marginalised to determine who is and is not their ally. Furthermore, the only benefit from such an alliance seems to accrue to the self-proclaimed ally, inasmuch as creating a conspicuous ‘white saviour’ image for oneself can be considered a benefit. Ultimately, though, such rhetorical alliances appear to have little noticeable impact on shaping the primary concerns of the majority.

If our ethical project is to construct a model of democratically legitimate deliberation that facilitates inclusion and can produce a valid consensus in the real world, Habermas leaves us at somewhat of a dead end. As Christian Rostbøll notes, despite its foundational influence on modern deliberative democrats, Habermas’ notion of the ideal speech situation ‘is ignored or rejected by most contemporary versions of the theory.’[16] That is not to say that the ideal speech situation is of no use to us in critiquing actually existing discourse, or thinking in a utopian manner about how that might be reformed; it is simply to say that it cannot ever exist in any meaningful way beyond the realm of the thought experiment. And, even if it could, it would still almost certainly be heavily biased in favour of Western Enlightenment values as a result of Habermas’ Eurocentric conception of rational argument. Therefore, any attempt by deliberative democrats to build upon his work must first redress this imbalance if they are to solve the problem of inclusivity. Until that point, all deliberative democracy will do is serve as a justification for maintaining the intellectual status quo of the ruling majority.

Notes

[1] Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. W. Rehg, Polity Press, Cambridge MA, 1996.

[2] Steven Wheatley, ‘Deliberative Democracy and Minorities’, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2003, p. 510.

[3] Ibid., p. 518.

[4] David Ingram, ‘The Possibility of a Communication Ethic Reconsidered: Habermas, Gadamer, and Bourdieu on Discourse’, Man and World, Vol. 15, 1982, p. 149.

[5] Pierre Bourdieu & Jean-Claude Passeron, Reproduction, Society and Culture, 2nd Edition, trans. R. Nice, Sage, London, 1977, p. 124.

[6] Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977, p. 24.

[7] Habermas, pp. 228, 230, 322a.

[8] Ibid., p. 322b.

[9] These, of course, are not trivial concerns. Barriers pertaining to language, accessibility and free time are of primary importance in terms of inclusivity, but may in many real-word cases be insurmountable.

[10] e.g., ‘That there is a life after Marxism is the whole point of Marxism.’ Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right, London, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 2.

[11] Kimberle Crenshaw, ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Colour’, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 1241, 1993, pp. 1241–1299.

[12] Radhika Gajjala, Yahui Zhang & Phyllis Dako-Gyeke, ‘Lexicons of Women’s Empowerment Online: Appropriating the Other’, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2010, pp. 69, 70.

[13] Ian O’Flynn, Deliberative Democracy and Divided Societies, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, pp. 120–121.

[14] See, e.g., Flavia Dzodan, ‘My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit’, Tiger Beatdown, 10 October 2011, http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/

[15] See, e.g., the entirety of the New York Times’ coverage of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

[16] Christian F. Rostbøll, ‘Dissent, Criticism, and Transformative Political Action in Deliberative Democracy’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol. 12, No. 1, p. 19.

References

Bourdieu, P., Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977.

Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J-C., Reproduction, Society and Culture, 2nd Edition, trans. R. Nice, Sage, London, 1977.

Crenshaw, K., ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Colour’, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 1241, 1993, pp. 1241–1299.

Dzodan, F., ‘My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit’, Tiger Beatdown, 10 October 2011, http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/

Eagleton, T., Why Marx Was Right, Yale University Press, London, 2011.

Gajjala, R., Zhang, Y. & Dako-Gyeke, P., ‘Lexicons of Women’s Empowerment Online: Appropriating the Other’, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2010, pp. 69–86.

Habermas, J., Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. W. Rehg, Polity Press, Cambridge MA, 1996.

Ingram, D., ‘The Possibility of a Communication Ethic Reconsidered: Habermas, Gadamer, and Bourdieu on Discourse’, Man and World, Vol. 15, 1982, pp. 149–161.

O’Flynn, I., Deliberative Democracy and Divided Societies, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006.

Rostbøll, C. F., ‘Dissent, Criticism, and Transformative Political Action in Deliberative Democracy’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 19–36.

Wheatley, S., ‘Deliberative Democracy and Minorities’, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2003, pp. 507–527.

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‘The Donald’ keeps banging on about how terrible NAFTA is. Might he be right? (SPOILER: Yep, it’s a turd.)

nafta

Signed in December 1992, the stated objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico were, namely, to: eliminate barriers to trade in, and facilitate the cross-border movement of, goods and services between the territories of the Parties; promote conditions of fair competition in the free trade area; increase substantially investment opportunities in the territories of the Parties; provide adequate and effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in each Party’s territory; create effective procedures for the implementation and application of the Agreement, for its joint administration and for the resolution of disputes; and establish a framework for further trilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation to expand and enhance the benefits of the Agreement.[1]

How did they sell it?

As a former running rate of Ronald Reagan—who had used the announcement of his candidacy for President in 1979 to advocate for the economic unification of North America[2]—by 1992, US President George H. W. Bush’s position on trade liberalisation was well known to the American people. In a September address to Congress, he stated:

This historic agreement represents a comprehensive charter to liberalise trade and investment flows on this continent … It will enhance the ability of North American producers to compete in world markets, spur economic growth on the continent, expand employment, and raise living standards.[3]

With the fall of the Soviet Union still fresh in people’s minds, Bush did not hesitate to invoke Cold War rhetoric to promote NAFTA, adding:

Our Nation won the Cold War because of its faith in the abiding power of free people, free markets, and free trade in goods and ideas.[4]

Similarly, with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s victory in the so-called ‘free trade election’ of 1988, much of the heavy lifting in terms of selling the public on the virtues of trade agreements had already been done in Canada. During that period, there had been widespread fear that the Canada–US Free Trade Agreement (CUSTA)—a trade deal with a country ten times the size of Canada, both in terms of GDP and population—would inevitably lead to a significant erosion of sovereignty, making Canada the de facto 51st state of the USA.[5] But, by the time of the NAFTA negotiations, nearly four years after CUSTA had come into effect, such fears had yet to materialise.

By contrast, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari—whose proposal of a Mexican–US trade deal was the catalyst for NAFTA—faced a public far more sceptical of trade liberalisation. Efforts to liberalise Mexican trade had been made throughout the 1980s, but people remained sceptical, as unemployment rates were higher and real wages lower than they had been twelve years prior. This was largely due to the inability of Mexico to attract significant foreign investment from the US, whose businesses were weary of a shift back to Mexican protectionism and hence the nationalisation of their investment dollars.[6] Salinas opted to focus first on selling the deal to the American people, going on tour and telling US audiences unhappy at high levels of immigration that passing NAFTA would reduce it by providing employment for Mexicans in Mexico. Only once the Agreement had been signed did he turn his attention to convincing his own citizens, claiming NAFTA would set Mexico on a course to become a first-world nation.[7]

So, why did they really do it?

Mexico faced the prospect of the West German investment it had previously enjoyed being diverted to former Eastern Bloc countries as Germany focused its attention on the reunification process at the end of the Cold War in 1991. Mexico’s then-Secretary of Commerce and Industry, Jaime Serra Puche, who led the negotiation and implementation of NAFTA, recalls:

The wall in Berlin had just fallen, so people were looking at the Eastern European countries … Salinas came to my room and said, ‘We have to do something. We are not on the map for foreign direct investment. Why don’t we start thinking about this idea of trade with the US?’[8]

Puche lists three economic rationales for the decision. First, the aforementioned need for foreign investment, ‘because [Mexico] did not generate enough domestic savings to support growth’. Second, the Generalised System of Preferences meant that Mexican exports were only tariff-free up to a certain quota, above which tariffs would be applied to the entire amount; therefore, ‘Plants … would close in October because they did not want to lose the preference and they did not want to accumulate inventories’. Third, Mexico had to negotiate, annually or biannually, the quotas for the central agreement; ‘So, exporters could say, “… As I don’t know how the negotiations will go this year, I’d better not invest more”.’[9]

As previously mentioned, free trade with the US had become far less contentious in Canada by the end of 1992. Direct competition from a developing nation, though, had the potential to radically change the dynamic.[10] Mulroney, fearing divestment by US firms seeking cheaper manufacturing costs from their southern neighbours, insisted on Canada’s involvement in negotiations. Not only would this allow Canada to be privy to the terms of the US–Mexican deal, and thus able to raise any objections before its finalisation, it also provided an opportunity to shore up and extend the benefits it had gained from CUSTA.

The United States’ dominant economic standing gave it by far the strongest bargaining position, effectively giving it the ability to dictate the rules in a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ manner. Furthermore, Bush, despite having obtained trade promotion—or, ‘fast track’—authority for the deal, and notwithstanding the hyperbole in his address to Congress, appeared relatively indifferent to the outcome.[11] A trade deal with Mexico was, after all, the brainchild of Carlos Salinas and Ronald Reagan; the latter of whom ‘clearly viewed CUSTA as a prelude’.[12] Bush could perhaps have been preoccupied with the upcoming election; or, he may have simply recognised that, should the NAFTA negotiations fail, plenty of other countries would be only too happy to accept the United States’ conditions in return for a slice of its market.

And this all sounded like a good idea, why?

A trade deal with the US was undoubtedly the best strategic move for Mexico at the time, although much more protection was needed for its agricultural sector against the large-scale and highly subsidised US farmers.[13] It should perhaps have also removed its constitutional bans on foreign energy ownership to drive investment, even though this might have been politically challenging.[14]

Canada might potentially have been better served by renegotiating CUSTA, instead of entering the trilateral agreement. Not only is it easier to reach an acceptable compromise between two parties than three, but, given the markedly different economies of the US, Canada and Mexico, any one-size-fits-all rules were virtually guaranteed to be inappropriate. As such, Canada stood a better chance of negotiating desirable Chapter 19 antidumping and countervailing duty regulations with the US if it were not lumped in with Mexico.

By adopting a common external tariff, the NAFTA partners could have promoted commerce among themselves and reduced distortions generated by rules of origin. A higher level of cooperation on domestic regulatory standards may have been beneficial, particularly in the area of food safety.[15]

More like WTAFTA, AMIRITE?

Much of what has occurred since NAFTA cannot necessarily be attributed to the agreement. As Hufbauer and Schott note, ‘Trade pacts create opportunities; they don’t guarantee results.’[16] With so many exogenous factors, such as financial crises and the myriad trade deals that have come since, accurately measuring NAFTA’s economic impact is effectively impossible.

The accord certainly helped facilitate investment and trade, and international competition has fuelled increased productivity, but this trend began decades ago and NAFTA’s implementation appears to have done little to alter its trajectory.

Income disparity between the three countries has converged little, if at all, but wealth inequality within each country has expanded dramatically.[17] Mexican manufacturing wages were 11 per cent lower in 2001 than 1994, and considerably lower than prior to Mexico’s free market reforms in 1981. Cheap US corn imports led rural poverty rate to rise from 79% in 1994 to 82% in 1998. Mexican environmental protection spending decreased by 45% between 1994 and 2009, and environmental funding from a trinational commission charged with addressing this concern has amounted to just US$3m a year.[18]

Workers, communities and the environment in all three countries have suffered. This, though, may have come to pass irrespective of NAFTA, due to increased competition from Asia. Mexican manufacturing in particular, notes Varoufakis, has been negatively impacted by China’s startling growth:

Mexico was among the first to suffer from China’s rise. Because it had chosen to invest much energy in becoming a low-wage manufacturer on the periphery of the United States … China’s emergence was a nightmare for Mexican manufacturers.

Cheap Chinese labour and China’s market access to the West (courtesy of World Trade Organisation membership) allows Chinese manufacturers to undercut their Mexican and other Latin American competitors in the manufacture of low-added-value sectors, such as shoes, toys and textiles. This two-pronged effect is causing Latin America to deindustrialize and return to the status of a primary goods producer.[19]

‘Trade’, notes Scott, ‘both creates and destroys jobs.’ Exports lead to increased domestic employment, while imports lead to job displacement. Which is to say that, as imports are substituted for domestically produced goods, production levels supporting domestic jobs falls, displacing existing jobs and precluding new employment.[20] And, obviously, not everybody can run a trade surplus.

Chapter 11 arbitrations in investor–state disputes have severely undermined each state’s ability to regulate foreign direct investment.[21] Since 1994, corporations have used Chapter 11 to challenge land-use, mining, energy, and other laws passed by the governments of all three NAFTA countries. By 2012, more than US$350 million had been paid by Mexico and Canada in investor–state cases, with billions more in claims still pending.[22] Chapter 19 arbitration has likewise proved ineffectual in the face of US Congress.

Some qualitative changes have taken place, most notably in Mexico, as Zakaria notes:

… only three decades ago, Mexico was one of the world’s most anti-American countries … Today, Mexico is transformed, unambiguously allied with the United States … It has become a core component of a closely intertwined North American economy that is the world’s most vibrant regional bloc. Many factors led to this transformation, but NAFTA was chief among them.[23]

However, privatisation has meant that employers have been granted more power to suppress workers. Attempts to unionise are met with state-sanctioned police violence in Mexico, or, in the US, employers’ threats to move operations to Mexico.[24]

Tl;dr

Judged solely on gross domestic product figures—and if we ignore exogenous factors on the three partners’ economies—NAFTA appears to have been an unmitigated success. But, applying this sort of ‘black box’ approach to economic outcomes tells us little about the material realities for the people inside those boxes. If we seek to define NAFTA’s success in terms of living standards, or environmental impact, a different level of analysis is required. And, as we have seen, this finer granularity reveals much less positive results. Or, as Chris Hedges has it:

Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 4.01.12 PM.png

Chris Hedges & Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, New York, Nation Books, 2012.

Notes

[1] ‘North American Free Trade Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America, the Government of Canada, and the Government of the United Mexican States’, 8–17 December 1992, US–Canada–Mexico, 32 I.L.M. 289, p. 605 et seq. [hereinafter NAFTA], retrieved 13 October 2015 from https://www.nafta-sec-alena.org/Home/Legal-Texts/North-American-Free-Trade-Agreement

[2] The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, ‘Candidacy for Presidency: Ronald Reagan’s announcement of Candidacy for President of U.S. 11/13/79’, YouTube, Online video clip, 16 April 2009, retrieved 9 September 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAtYMD-H2UY

[3] George Herbert Walker Bush, ‘Communication from the President of the United States transmitting notification of his intent to enter into a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the governments of Mexico and Canada’, NewsBank, 102nd Congress, 2nd session, H.Doc. 392, 18 September 1992, retrieved 7 September 2015 from http://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.newsbank.com:SERIAL&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_dat=132CD718D11FD5B8&svc_dat=Digital:ssetdoc&req_dat=102D23E2B9847C9F

[4] George H. W. Bush, loc. cit.

[5] M. Angeles Villarreal & Ian F. Ferguson, ‘North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)’, Congressional Research Service, Report prepared for Members and Committees of Congress, 16 April 2015, p. 22.

[6] Thomas Oatley, International Political Economy, 5th Edition, Routledge, NY, 2012, p. 39.

[7] David Clark Scott, ‘Salinas Plays It Cool After Big Win on NAFTA’, Christian Science Monitor, 19 November 1993.

[8] Jaime Serra Puche, ‘NAFTA: From Conception to Creation’, in Michael J. Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges, Hoover Institution Press, California, 2014, ebook.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Liberal Party of Canada would go on to oppose NAFTA in their successful 1993 election bid, only to reverse their position days after taking office. Michael H. Wilson, ‘NAFTA: From Conception to Creation’, in Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20.

[11] Maxwell A. Cameron & Brian W. Tomlin, The Making of NAFTA: How the Deal Was Done, Cornell University Press, 2002, p. 227.

[12] George P. Shultz, ‘The New North America’, in Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20. Bush, unlike his avowedly Friedmanite predecessor, was not in thrall to the Chicago School economists, having famously dismissed the neoliberal rationale behind Reagan’s 1980 tax cuts as ‘voodoo economics’. Bush espoused neoliberal policy only insofar as it was politically advantageous, such as in his 1988 Presidential acceptance speech, in which he urged the public to ‘Read my lips: no new taxes’, after which he promptly raised taxes.

[13] Monica Campbell & Tyche Hendricks, ‘Mexico’s Corn Farmers See Their Livelihoods Wither Away: Cheap U.S. Produce Pushes Down Prices Under Free-trade Pact’, SFGate, 31 July 2006, retrieved 12 October 2015 from http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Mexico-s-corn-farmers-see-their-livelihoods-2515188.php

[14] Loren Steffy, ‘Are Mexico’s Oil Reforms Enough to Lure Foreign Investors?’, Forbes, 19 August 2013, retrieved 12 October 2015 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lorensteffy/2013/08/19/are-mexicos-oil-reforms-enough-to-lure-foreign-investors/

[15] Gary Clyde Hufbauer & Jeffrey J. Schott, ‘NAFTA Revisited’, Policy Options, October 2007, retrieved 15 October 2015 from http://www.piie.com/publications/papers/paper.cfm?ResearchID=898

[16] Ibid.

[17] Robert A. Blecker & Gerardo Esquivel, NAFTA, Trade, and Development, Working Paper 10-03, Center for US–Mexican Studies, the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and El Colegio de México, 2010, p. 2.

[18] Sarah Anderson & John Cavanagh, ‘Happily Ever NAFTA? A Bad Idea That Failed’, Foreign Policy, 9 November 2009, retrieved 9 September 2015 from http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/09/happily-ever-nafta/

[19] Yanis Varoufakis, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy, Zed Books, London, 2015, pp. 186–188.

[20] Robert E. Scott, Heading South: US–Mexico Trade and Job Displacement After NAFTA, Economic Policy Institute briefing paper #308, 3 May 2011, retrieved 14 October 2015 from http://www.epi.org/files/page/-/BriefingPaper308.pdf

[21] Chapter 11 affords a foreign investor the right to take a host country’s government to special international arbitration bodies of the World Bank and the United Nations if it believes the value of its investment has decreased as a result of government action. Despite involving the government, these arbitration procedures are closed to public participation, observation and input. The US has made sure that this provision is written into every of its free trade agreements since. Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Bloomsbury Press, London, 2010, p. 163.

[22] Hufbauer argues forcefully for Chapter 11’s renegotiation in 2003, only to claim in 2007 that its provisions are ‘relatively uncontroversial’ and that the amounts awarded to businesses were ‘a small fraction of the overblown claims of business plaintiffs and a tiny amount compared to three-way FDI within NAFTA, now amounting to almost $900 billion’. Gary C. Hufbauer & Gustavo Vega, ‘Whither NAFTA: A Common Frontier?’, in Peter Andreas and Thomas J. Biersteker (eds.), The Rebordering of North America: Integration and Exclusion in a New Security Context. Routledge, New York and London, 2003; Gary C. Hufbauer & Jeffrey J. Schott, ‘NAFTA Revisited’.

[23] Fareed Zakaria, ‘You Can’t Stop the Trade Machine’, The Washington Post, 14 May 2015, retrieved 8 September 2015 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/you-cant-stop-the-trade-machine/2015/05/14/208d74a2-fa6e-11e4-a13c-193b1241d51a_story.html

[24] Sarah Anderson & John Cavanagh, ‘Happily Ever NAFTA?’

References

Anderson, S. & Cavanagh, J., ‘Happily Ever NAFTA? A Bad Idea That Failed’, Foreign Policy, 9 November 2009, retrieved 9 September 2015 from http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/09/happily-ever-nafta/

Blecker, R. A. & Esquivel, G., NAFTA, Trade, and Development, Working Paper 10-03, Center for US–Mexican Studies, the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and El Colegio de México, 2010.

Bush, G. H. W., ‘Communication from the President of the United States transmitting notification of his intent to enter into a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the governments of Mexico and Canada, Pursuant to Section 1103(a)(1) of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988’, NewsBank, 102nd Congress, 2nd session, H.Doc. 392, 18 September 1992, retrieved 7 September 2015 from http://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.newsbank.com:SERIAL&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_dat=132CD718D11FD5B8&svc_dat=Digital:ssetdoc&req_dat=102D23E2B9847C9F

Campbell, M. & Hendricks, T., ‘Mexico’s Corn Farmers See Their Livelihoods Wither Away: Cheap U.S. Produce Pushes Down Prices Under Free-trade Pact’, SFGate, 31 July 2006, retrieved 12 October 2015 from http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Mexico-s-corn-farmers-see-their-livelihoods-2515188.php

Cameron, M. A. & Tomlin, B. W., The Making of NAFTA: How the Deal Was Done, Cornell University Press, 2002.

Castañeda, J. G., ‘NAFTA’s Mixed Record: The View From Mexico’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 1, January/February 2014, pp. 134–141.

Ha-Joon, C., Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Bloomsbury Press, London, 2010.

Hufbauer, G. C. & Schott, J. J., ‘NAFTA Revisited’, Policy Options, October 2007, retrieved 15 October 2015 from http://www.piie.com/publications/papers/paper.cfm?ResearchID=898

Hufbauer, G. C. & Vega, G., ‘Whither NAFTA: A Common Frontier?’, in Peter Andreas and Thomas J. Biersteker (eds.), The Rebordering of North America: Integration and Exclusion in a New Security Context. Routledge, New York and London, 2003.

Krugman, P., ‘The Uncomfortable Truth About NAFTA: It’s Foreign Policy, Stupid’, Foreign Affairs, Nov–Dec 1993, retrieved 7 September 2015 from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/mexico/1993-12-01/uncomfortable-truth-about-nafta-its-foreign-policy-stupid

‘North American Free Trade Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America, the Government of Canada, and the Governement of the United Mexican States’, 8–17 December 1992, US–Canada–Mexico, 32 I.L.M. 289, retrieved 13 October 2015 from https://www.nafta-sec-alena.org/Home/Legal-Texts/North-American-Free-Trade-Agreement

Oatley, T., International Political Economy, 5th Edition, Routledge, NY, 2012.

Puche, J. S., ‘NAFTA: From Conception to Creation’, in Michael J. Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges, Hoover Institution Press, California, 2014, ebook.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, The, ‘Candidacy for Presidency: Ronald Reagan’s announcement of Candidacy for President of U.S. 11/13/79’, YouTube, online video clip, 16 April 2009, retrieved 9 September 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAtYMD-H2UY

Scott, R. E., Heading South: US–Mexico Trade and Job Displacement After NAFTA, Economic Policy Institute briefing paper #308, 3 May 2011, retrieved 14 October 2015 from http://www.epi.org/files/page/-/BriefingPaper308.pdf

Shultz, G. P., ‘The New North America’, in Michael J. Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges, Hoover Institution Press, California, 2014, ebook.

Steffy, L., ‘Are Mexico’s Oil Reforms Enough to Lure Foreign Investors?’, Forbes, 19 August 2013, retrieved 12 October 2015 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lorensteffy/2013/08/19/are-mexicos-oil-reforms-enough-to-lure-foreign-investors/

Villarreal, M. A. & Ferguson, I. F., ‘North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)’, Congressional Research Service, Report prepared for Members and Committees of Congress, 16 April 2015.

Wilson, M. H., ‘NAFTA: From Conception to Creation’, in Michael J. Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges, Hoover Institution Press, California, 2014, ebook.

Zakaria, F., ‘You Can’t Stop the Trade Machine’, The Washington Post, 14 May 2015, retrieved 8 September 2015 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/you-cant-stop-the-trade-machine/2015/05/14/208d74a2-fa6e-11e4-a13c-193b1241d51a_story.html

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