Liberal Terror

Book Review

Reviewer: Lukáš Makovický (Political Science graduate)

Publisher: Polity Press ISBN: 978-0-7456-6532-0
Available at: Amazon
Author's page: Brad Evans

Liberal Terror

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Given the number of recent, quality, poststructuralist accounts of the War on Terror (de Goede, Dillon and Reid, Elden, Graham), why should one pay attention to Brad Evans’ new book, Liberal Terror? There is no short answer, but if one were to give such, it would include the expressions ‘complex,’ ‘carefully thought out,’ and ‘setting new academic standards for nomad theorising.’ To paraphrase one of the book’s core intellectual influences, Gilles Deleuze, Evans takes the readers on a journey. Take into account the globally spread fear and insecurity, in spite of us living in, arguably, the most secure of times, the popularity of apocalyptic imaginary in an Age of Reason, or the increasing turn to pre-emptive security practices, whether speaking of drone strikes, military interventions and extra-legal politics in democracies committed to state sovereignty and the rule of law. To use a metaphor, for Evans, as others, all of this renders the prevailing imaginaries and explanations of the world suspicious and constitutes a ‘desert of the Real,’ to borrow from a well-known Slovenian theorist. Like a nomad, Evans takes the travellers across this desert, moves from theme to theme, from theory to theory and from example to example, oftentimes through seemingly bizarre movements from Enlightenment philosophy through speeches of Bush and Blair to discussing advances in counter-insurgency strategies in a single chapter. At the end of the book the reader-traveller is left with a superb knowledge of the desert and a feeling there is always something more to discover, more to contemplate, more to do, as the desert has a life of its own. Perhaps the most telling is chapter 4, titled ‘On Divine Power,’ which turns the thinker of liberal peace, Immanuel Kant on his head. In contrast with some recent works, Evans does not hesitate to contextualise and give textual support to claims that Kant’s project has a structure of a theodicy that seeks to answer why is there evil in the world. For Kant, while humans are born innocent, evil enters the world once humans take action and haunts the presence since universal reason is unattainable (p.119). So is peace. But, according to Kant, we still need to aspire towards such universalism of a society that forces progress upon its subjects. For Evans however, this is to say it is always from a conception of evil that a universal good is assembled, never the other way around, ironically exploring how it is the hunt for monsters that makes up the possibility for a future good order that casts doubt on contemporary world’s very present reality: ‘Humanity is realised only by the wars that are fought in its name’ (p.105). It is against this horizon that the global ambitions of liberalism try to set up a secularised image of Providence, which has its own set of implications. Evans, for example, shows how, for Milton Friedman and others, the prospect of a free society and liberal virtues set aside egalitarianism, which was never a liberal virtue, nor more than a hopeful by-product (p.126). And, in chapter 3, for example, it is an exploration of the theories of network society and complexity, which, for Evans only complicates, but does not negate such a Kantian dictum – the imaginary of fear is distributed and naturalised inside society, so that the security-speak only intensifies practices of risk, insurance and resilience that force the society to return to “normal:” ‘for the liberal subject everything changes, so that everything remains politically the same’ (p.75), no matter how ridiculous it should be for a social scientist to think that terrorists and violence came from Mars. To give an example, a revision of four terrorist biographies in the UK shows that there have been histories in wealthy and poor families that some had education, some not, some were exposed to radical Islam, some not and some had criminal records, while others did not (p.93). The point is that the Kantian evil of choice got transformed into an impersonal mechanism of complex emergence: ‘all randomness is potentially evil and all intentionality potentially disastrous’ (p.174-175), neglecting the core ethical question of particularity. Hence, chapters 1 and 5 build on the linkages between resilience and environmental terror, in particular by highlighting how the liberal view that the state is obsolete now gets translated into the very fabric of security governance with implications for the political utility of catastrophe—suffering is now seen as an opportunity for resilient individuals to adapt, so that the ever more pressing problems related to ecology, population growth or natural resources are decoupled from the social fabric of liberal governance, making the world’s poor a threat to be pacified, if not eliminated, instead of cared for (p.18, p.140, p.174). Evans’ book draws a bleak picture, but as many points scattered throughout the book and the last chapter argue, little is lost as post-structuralism, in its less vulgar versions, offers a different ethical promise – all of this is ever more an invitation to look for events that trigger alternative worlds, for a political philosophy that de-naturalises such a temporal structure that makes liberal terror possible and for a yet stronger call demanding the impossible, all this making Evans’ work a deep well of ideas for twenty-first century security thinking. 

 

2019 - Volume 13 Issue 3