Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
For Kristian Krieger, life is not meant to be merely lived; it’s meant to be discussed. The intellectual and inquisitive 26-year-old was born in Bremen, Germany. Today, he’s living in London, where he is pursuing an advanced degree in politics of the world economy. In his free time – what little there is – Kristian indulges in literature, fine food and drink and philosophical discourse with friends. He’s traveled throughout Europe. He is Protestant. On Sept. 11, Kristian was in Leipzig, Germany. He wrote his essay Sept. 26.
This is neither a contribution adding another piece of consolation, dismay and solidarity to the countless responses of reasonable people on the terrible occurrences in New York. Nor is this supposed to be a piece of hatred against “the evil” – as President George W. Bush used to call the terrorists. Although both forms of reaction are understandable or, in the case of the first one, even supportable, I would prefer to risk a very brief look into the future or rather into the present and its forward-looking trends.
(Such a rational point of view simply prevents me from developing irrational stirrings like revenge, hatred, etc., side by side with existing positive feelings like compassion. The development of the dark sides of irrationality would in my opinion be the worst thing that could happen.)
Thus we have to find a few trends in the reactions of societies in the present that can be prolonged into the future.
The permanent repetition of the term “civilised nations” as the targets of the terrorist attacks in media, academia and politics is the expression of the first “cultural” trend that might be continued in future. This constitutes a trend toward differentiation and drawing borderlines between people.
The extreme political focus on (national and international) security policy issues (although there is consent on the impossibility of perfect security) is an expression of a second trend – a very political trend that might be important in the future. This second trend might lead toward a repolitisation of the international relations. But is a repolitisation not one of the major demands of the critics of globalisation? Yes, it is, but in a different sense of the concept. Whereas the opponents of globalisation are asking for a democratic social and liberal internationalised “state” (in the tradition of John Locke’s models), the repolitisation after September 11th means something different – it is the reanimation of a “security” state in the tradition of the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes.
If these major trends can outweigh the possible positive effects (which is – as I will demonstrate later – not that unlikely), the picture one has to draw of a future world is dominated by dark colours.
Why do I think that these trends will be very effective?
In times of crisis, pain and a feeling of vulnerability, there has always been a call for a strong state. And this cry for the bundled strength of a collective organisation is – in terms of effectiveness – perfectly reasonable. A strong and hierarchised state can react quicker than the decentralised actors of society. In the case of September 11th, 2001, we are facing a situation in which a feeling of permanent vulnerability exists, a sense for an enduring insecurity persists so that the strong state should – in the opinion of a majority of the people – be institutionalised for a longer time.
But it is not reasonable if we understand the reanimation of a Hobbesian state as the reconstitutionalisation of antagonistic communities. A Hobbesian state is founded upon the delimitation against others and the dense control of the citizens. Both aspects can be found in the above-mentioned trends. Firstly, there is a dissociation of the civilised world against a “un-civilised” world. Secondly, the focus on security policy, particularly domestic security policy, is a movement toward the installation of better control mechanisms.
Delimitation (which heads to a lack of communication and common interest) in an environment in which strong states (with their dominant interest in national/regional benefits to gain legitimacy and prestige) predominate is increasing the likelihood of conflicts. Furthermore, the strengthening of domestic control mechanisms contributes to the lack of communication. Building the legitimacy of a state on political dissociation reinforces the cultural, societal trend, leading to the separation of the people of different areas.
A transnational civil society – as a source of opposition against the repolitisation in a Hobbesian sense – is weakened by the two trends. Firstly, as it does not have the monopoly on the use of force at its disposal, which is the first counter-measure that people are asking for after an act of violence, it cannot achieve the same degree of legitimacy like the state. Secondly, the political topics within the civil society are coined by economic and social problems so that acts of violence and responses on those can hardly be found as policies in the civil realm of liberal societies. The political and cultural dissociation leads to a decreasing communication, which is the foundation of the transnational civil society.
A drawback of the expansion and strengthening of the transnational civil society is equivalent to a drawback of liberal values like liberty, tolerance, civility and rationality, which are fundamental for any peaceful society.
I am seriously afraid of such a conservative roll back, and I do really hope that by communication and cooperation between the societies in the beginning of this crisis, which means right now, we can prevent the states from becoming intimidating leviathans massively restricting our individual and collective freedom.