The Question of Peace

comments 5
Whitehead / will / wittgenstein / Zeno

Bush’s new plan is worthless. Not because it is a bad strategy based on a false hope that this war could be won, or because he’s dismissed vital recommendations; Bush’s new plan for Iraq is worthless for the same reasons the Iraq war itself was senseless.

We must protest that the Iraq War would not have been made a “better” or “just” war even if this administration had not lied to us about why we were going there. Even if they had not dissimulated the truth about what could be expected and what the material and human costs would be, this war would not be justified. This war would be excessive and prejudiced even if there had been none of the major slip-ups, criminal oversights and grossly negligent miscalculations. No, even if they could have guaranteed their mission would unfold flawlessly, the mission would still be delirium: the war would still be sadistic and unjustified.

The notion of a war on terror is as incoherent as this administration’s delusional vision of the prospects of the Iraq war (“We will be greeted with open arms, as liberators!”) I say even if Bush had never told a lie and never made a mistake, the doctrine underlying the war is inherently flawed: the very concept of a war on terror (which is not a war of terror) is unstable, and has led Bush to an apocalyptic worldview where only brutality is significance. Of course, this is nothing more than a misguided nihilism. But the fact remains that this war is as unjust as it is hopelessly paradoxical.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying human rights, democracy, freedom and so on aren’t important values; I am saying that we are dreaming if we think these are universally coherent notions upon which we can forcibly establish a benevolent government in a tumultuous region torn by millennia of ethnic strife and religious conflict. This dreaming is precisely the point–we now must consider pivotal role fantasy has played in the presentation of this conflict. A simple question can illustrate this point: why, despite the humanistic and democratic image we vainly uphold, is so much of U.S. foreign policy concerned with the more or less brutal assertion of American hegemony?

The central fantasy around which all this orbits is the ethos of “militaristic humanism” or even “militaristic pacifism,” which is an otherwise ordinary military intervention, but supposedly conducted to advance the cause of peace or of humanity. We must protect human rights, as long as these have a consistent meaning. This also means we have a right (and a duty) to a consistent interpretation: we must be critical when the government tells us we have a duty to intervene militarily on the basis of a “morality” of human rights. Such a morality is already suspect, but when it asserts itself as higher than international law, and higher because of terrorism or the new world order, we must protest.

The most obvious feature of this morality of human rights and promoting democracy is that it actually separates and marginalizes human beings. This ideology does this in the same way religion separates rather than unites and in the same way capitalism exploits workers and marginalizes the poor. The Bush doctrine is a misguided ideology of entitlement, constructed to protect entrenched wealth and U.S. business interests. Such a “morality” disfigures lust for power, transforms it into “love” for humanity, but the ideology remains completely congruent with expanding the reach of global capitalism. The whole spectacle (Christianity, democracy, capitalism) is espoused as an apocalyptic, military-invigorated “humanism.” This supposedly “enlightened” philosophy ultimately means nothing more or less than the U.S. asserting its unilateral right to supersede state sovereignty in defiance of international law on behalf of national interest.

My problem with all this is not that the fact that the rapacious pattern of globalization is exploitative, or that its perpetrators are delusional, or even that our moral gestures in the international arena are little more than cynical performances presented in bad faith. My issue with the imperialistic policy of this government is the blatant lust for ascendancy, for unquestioned American dominion. We must bring an end to hiding this lust for power behind a veil of “spreading freedom” not because it’s wrong but because it’s disgusting and dishonest. Disguising an obsession with control behind humanism and “bringing new hope and opportunity” is an easily recognized fascist pattern. A much stronger injunction is concealed behind offering a seemingly free choice (e.g., to Iraqis, to consumers): to obey, to enjoy, to belong, to be the same.

The hypocrisy of militaristic pacifism is that it is a pure fantasy. The thing which causes the illness is supposed to cure it. Opposite ends of the political spectrum coincide. This confused war is at once pure idealism and real materialism. On the one hand, we are obviously fighting to increase security—that is, to protect American business interests, especially oil—and of course this is pure materialism, capitalistic expansionism of the kind we’re getting pretty used to by now. On the other hand, we are also fighting (ostensibly) to protect human rights and democracy, though this is a web of fantasy which shields us from the trauma the rest of the world experiences as the vicious declaration of American supremacy.

This is not morality as in a question of business “ethics,” of reigning in corporate or government corruption; this is now a question of empire and global peace, of theocracy and extremism, of eschatology and theology proper. The secret desire is not that different, only more carefully concealed, from the underlying motivation of countless other religious wars: to know whether or not our conceptions of God are identical, which is also to prove our God “true.” God is the unspoken word that structures the entire discourse in debate regarding this conflict. The stain, the irremovable split in humanity’s (un)shared understanding of God is the true significance of this war.

God pervades the logic and rationale of American military intervention as the basis of a morality which suspends the consensual democratic ethics of state sovereignty and international law. This is a clear-cut example of religious fundamentalism. The cure is the cause of the disease. We are combating extremism with extremism, force against force, violence against violence in a purely un-religious struggle for power (which is then disguised and represented as a religious struggle.) What we secretly desire is a clean war, a war without casualties, only converts. In other words, we desire the transformation of war into a pure operation, an obscene video game–a virtual war.

The goal and by-product of this perverse, neurotic desire is real death: the fantasy that guards us from the encounter with reality thereby structures our relationship to the world through aversion and fear. This fear becomes hatred and then annihilation in an ever-quickening circuit of greed, deception and violence. There is no single answer: we must each begin to think for ourselves. The more we look for some savior to illuminate the path to freedom, the more we are guilty. The more we demand some great leader show us the way to universal justice, the more we sink deeper into a permissive, sloth-like society of perverse enjoyment without freedom, into the commercialized herd mentality of addiction without truth.

So we must criticize warlords when they argue their violence is justified by appealing to a humanity which they truly desire to subjugate. We must confront them with their bald contradictions, hold them accountable for their greed and its consequences, force theocratic and nationalistic ideologies from the halls of power and from our own minds. In other words, we must combat complacency and “militaristic pacifism” with direct action, with a militancy of our own. The struggle for peace is at once a struggle for freedom, and as such it can only be achieved through greater understanding, through communication, through collective action and solidarity.

We must reject the false unification of fantastic ideology, and reach for a higher collective based not upon an “ideal of humanity,” but upon nothing. That is, upon being free. Force and violence cannot create anything. Only thinking, speaking and actively working for freedom and justice can establish a lasting peace. In closing, I urge you to see the threat posed by our delusional aggression and to act on behalf of humanity and history. To act for all of us, for the question of peace is stark, inescapable and glaring— shall we universally renounce war, or shall we abandon humanity to extinction?

The Author

mostly noise and glare


  1. Given that the Iraq war is unjustified and our government is run by a clumsy, hegemonic evangelist, how then do you propose to deal with the problem of terrorism as it directly threatens our citizens? Communication, direct action, and pacifism sound nice and I truly wish the world worked that way, but terrorism isn’t about “talking it out.” Terrorists are religious extremeists who want to kill all infidels (that’s you and me) and believe that by doing so, they ensure themselves a great reward in heaven. Honestly, how do you respond to that in a non-violent way?

  2. I guess the flip side of that question is: how do you respond to “terror” in a violent way without becoming an agent of terror yourself?

    This is not abstract pacifism. Sometimes it is OK to be violent, sometimes destruction and pain and suffering can be good and beneficial in the long run and so on. Perhaps most importantly, abstract pacifism is truly idiotic if we don’t stand up against threats and the abuse of power. We’re being lied to by our leaders and they’re being lied to by theirs; the real problem, then, is the dishonesty and manipulation of people’s faith BY their government, not just a particular interpretation of faith.

    “Infidelity.” Extremism is itself a faithlessness in the possibility of dialogue; terror demands only a singular monological reality. So yes, despite the fact that extremists who deal in absolutes refuse to believe that communication will foster peace, we do urgently have a need to “talk it out.” The issue is not new– only now a little more explicit– and your question already has in it the answer: “How do you respond to [terroristic violence] in a non-violent way?”

    The answer is: responsibly. Without abusing power or position or privelege. Without using terrorism as an excuse to erode civil liberties, to declare the ascendancy of the executive branch or to destroy constituional separations between church and state. We must respond responsibly or else we become terrorists, too.

  3. Pingback: Inter(esting)Net Elsewhere: Fractal Ontology « massthink

  4. “Force and violence cannot create anything. Only thinking, speaking and actively working for freedom and justice can establish a lasting peace.”

    I’ve greatly admired the output of this site in the past few years, particularily in the realm of postmodern thought (Deleuze, Lacan, etc), but when it comes to pop politics like this the writing seems rather sophomoric and cliche. Force and violence cannot create anything? You’re totally right, other than every civilization that has ever existed. To deny violence is to deny possibility, it is to deny creation. The world we live in was founded on injustice and violence, the very act of coming into existence is unethical(philosopher David Benatar outlined this best). But underlying this is the obvious paradox and failure of ethics-its ungrounded nonsense. No hostility to you but I can’t casually accept spoonfed moralism, Badiou would have fell over laughing (see On Evil with Alain Badiou). What does freedom and justice even mean to you? You deconstruct western liberalism, dismiss American hegemony, throw a few trendy Marxist buzzwords in, and then speak of freedom and justice as if it is obvious to everyone what you are speaking of. It is ironic that you speak of ‘eschatology’ and ‘perverse neurotic desires’ when this entire article smacks of the same absolutist sort of thinking (capitalism-bad, USA-bad). I’m sorry, but I expected something better from otherwise brilliant and critical thinkers such as yourselves.

    Sorry this comment comes 2 years later, I still think your article was good none the less and that is why I commented on it after finding it in the PDFs.

  5. While this is definitely an early article, I think the basic point doesn’t age. As Guattari puts it, the earth is undergoing a period of immense techno-scientific transformation. The species stands at a cross-roads. Against neo-Platonists like Badiou it is necessary to advance an ethical framework which highlights our responsibility to others. What is ‘truth’ if it doesn’t reconcile us to living together in peace? I think it’s a little too easy to call this “spoonfed moralism” — it’s reactionary, to be sure, but a reaction to an existential threat to the species!


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