Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Forget Equality? Security and Liberty in the "War on Terror"

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Forget Equality? Security and Liberty in the "War on Terror"

Article excerpt

The "war on terror" has triggered intense debates about the role of security and liberty, the trade-off between security and liberty, the meaning of security and the power of civil liberties. Nonetheless, while security has been closely dissected either as a governmental or exceptional practice, liberty has been largely shrouded in silence. Rather than contesting practices of security, liberty appeared degraded, a fetish, justifying restrictions and regulating conduct. This article unpacks the conditions of possibility for the degradation of freedom in the "war on terror," and argues that freedom degenerates when its relation with equality is severed and it is instead tied up with security. Rather than the dichotomy liberty/security, I consider the triadic relationship with equality and the implications of the double demise of equality: On the one hand, the demise of equality from theories of security (starting with Hobbes); and on the other, the demise of equality in contemporary social and political thought. KEYWORDS: liberty, security, equality, terror, political theory

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Critical engagements with the "war on terror" have analyzed the governance of terrorism by exploring either the element of continuity or discontinuity with liberal governance entailed by the new practices of war, security, and risk. Many of those who draw inspiration from Carl Schmitt's and Giorgio Agamben's theories of the exception argue about exceptional measures that are no longer temporally or spatially bound, but have become the norm. Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, and Abu Ghraib have been exposed as particular practices in a generalized exception (1) or "global matrix of war." (2) Others draw on governmental analyses and emphasize the continuity of practices of policing the international, of risk management, of biopolitical governance, the exclusion of aliens, and the role of law. (3) If there are discontinuities that characterize the "war on terror," these are located within governmental rationalities: the influence of neoliberal rationality upon liberal democracies, the practices of empire, the merging of internal and external security at the end of the Cold War, or the catastrophic imaginary of precautionary risk. (4)

While security practices have been subjected to increased scrutiny and their location in the continuity or discontinuity of normal practices of liberal states hotly debated, liberty has been largely shrouded in silence. (5) Even if the war on terror has rekindled debates on the trade-off between security and liberty, it is security that is closely and critically dissected, not liberty. (6) Yet, if Drucilla Cornell is right that "defending ideals" has become a necessary element of critical approaches to the "war on terror," these engagements need to get to grips with the use of freedom as a fetish or an emblem rather than as an ideal. (7) Dismissing the usage of freedom in the "war on terror" as a simple fetish does not shed light on the conditions of possibility of the degradation or fetishization of freedom. In what sense can freedom be seen as a fetish? and what are the conditions of possibility for an atrophied discourse of freedom?

In his lectures on History and Freedom, Theodor Adorno argues that "ideas that originally had a utopian complexion and critical complexion tend, notwithstanding their truth content, to degenerate in the course of history into ideologies." (8) He identifies the "infallible sign" for the degeneration of freedom in the way freedom lends itself to the "justification for restrictions on freedom, in other words, where talk about freedom is perverted into the exact opposite of what it is supposed to achieve." (9) If Adorno exposes the conditions of possibility for the degradation of freedom in a conjuncture defined by Nazism, today we need to understand the particularities of the fetishist and degraded use of liberty in the "war on terror. …

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