Freedom from second thought is also provided by the morally supremely convenient notion (or version of the same notion) that government accountability works in one direction only, or, even better, that we can choose which actions of our government or nation with which to identity, which to attribute to somebody else’s political party or faction, and which to blame strictly on those who “commit” or “partake in” them directly. Picking which laws to follow and which not would rely on a similar concept. According to Bin Laden’s thesis, by contrast, all members of a society, including those who opposed or had nothing directly to do with a policy, down to small children, may be held accountable – or, we are accountable for the law just as we are accountable to the law. According to Bin Laden’s logic, to strike American civilians for correctly adjudicated evils of American policy would be especially just or anyway more justifiable because American policy can be presumed and is presumed by Americans themselves to express and realize their will.
This aspect of Binladenism suggests a corollary of Clausewitz’s famous dictum: If war is a continuation of politics, then combatant status is a continuation of civilian status, and in that sense there are no permanent civilians – or, as we like to say, “innocents” – there are only comparatively passive or active subjects of war, past and future, all the more clearly within modern liberal-democratic nation-states. Put more concretely, a civilian who dies under “collateral” effects of a militarily “legitimate” air strike, or the effects of a blockade or siege, is obviously just as dead as a victim of a surprise attack, or, to complete the circle, as a civilian-turned-honored-combatant on United 93. Similarly, though the occasional claim that 90% of casualties in war will be civilian is unsupported by the facts, an at least 1:1 ratio of non-combatant to combatant deaths is taken to be normal for wafare in the modern era, and much higher ratios have been typical for civil wars and counterinsurgency operations. Short of open warfare, the favorite mostly non-military (or “non-kinetic”) tool of American and Western policy, economic sanctions, also harms civilians, and in most instances is specifically intended to do so. Such punishment of a nation via its economic processes, which sooner or later are processes of vital necessity, so matters of life and death, and of the well-being of all, is meant to pressure a national leadership to alter its conduct. Without the assumption that such pressure on a populace must be assimilated by decision-makers, whether tyrants or duly elected leaders or anything in between or beyond, a sanctions policy would have no object.
As I suggested in my initial notes on the response to Rosenbaum, the idea of a citizenry accountable for its government’s actions may be finally indispensable to democratic theory, as a necessary, intended, and defining consequence of its application. Such accountability is in some sense the goal of democratism. The unsustainability if not the absurdity of the alternative position, a flagrant contradiction of our most sacred oaths and anthems, becomes even more obvious when we recognize that all warfare implicates the well-being of whatever citizenry in its entirety. Far from sacrosanct, the civilian population is always the true target of war, just as the true facilitators, financiers, recruiters, and commanders, higher than the commander-in-chief, are also, essentially and concretely, that same civilian population – in a liberal democracy explicitly or by formal mechanism, under pre-liberal or natural-legal regimes, more implicitly.
A further underlying moral assumption that might also serve as a Binladenist premise is that “every nation gets the government it deserves,” that peoples and their leaders at some point form a collective individuality: that single personage or artificial man or macro-anthropos or mortal god that Hobbes seems first to have defined philosophically, though it or he long pre-existed Hobbes: a being which or who is both meaningfully addressable and morally accountable as such – the same mortal or perhaps transmortal god among others whom we may have in mind or conjure whenever we describe an intention or sentiment or destiny as, say, America’s, or Germany’s, or Israel’s, or in polemical speech deploy quasi-mythic images and ancient names – the Russian Bear, (perfidious) Albion, and so on.
Hobbes’ archetypal name for that being was, of course, “Leviathan,” a Biblical monster linked to the sea and to Satan, among other things and non-things. ((For an extended genealogy of the word, see The Leviathan in the State Theory of Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, esp. chapter 1.)) As metaphor for the state, Leviathan is often taken to be a power outside or above a cowering people, but, as is made clear in the famous frontispiece and in Hobbes’ introduction, Leviathan stands equally for the collective entirety of the people.
Hobbes introduces him, this skyscraping being of beings towering over the land, as follows:
For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment (by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty, every joint and member is moved to perform his duty) are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength; salus populi (the people’s safety) its business; counsellors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, an artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death. Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the Let us make man, pronounced by God in the Creation.
If we cower before Leviathan, this mysterious monster-machine-deity-king as virtually incarnated in our homeland, we cower before ourselves and our own work: “the matter thereof, and the artificer[:] both which is man.”
We should at least consider that the recognition of the state in this way has been for many observers, including diverse critics and adversaries of Hobbes, an advance in the concept of the human: As exiles and stateless people testify, as their fates seem to make clear, as the Diasporetic Jews were taken uniquely to witness for all other nations – in a condition Hegel described as of “infinite grief” ((Elements of the Philosophy of Right §358)) – to be an individual cut off from a community collecting itself as one being is in this sense to remain less than fully human, or less than fully humanizable. The state and the individual are mutually constructing constructs. If the civilian/combatant dichotomy asserted by Rosenbaum’s and Bin Laden’s critics could be absolute, and Leviathan were merely a power apart from and above us, then collective culpability for evils of policy would not trouble us except unjustly, and the life-saving distinction would never be overcome, but to take this position would be to separate civilians or ourselves from the government and armed forces selected by and from amongst them or us for the sole purpose of acting on their or our behalf. This acting on our behalf also includes action on our own behalf against ourselves or our own destructive and self-destructive potentials.
Under the perspective that decomposes the artificial demiurge back into its particles, if our government somehow managed to preserve and protect us despite our disconnection from it, we could perhaps thank our good luck, but it would have nothing to do with our moral character, our identity, or our agency. American policy could be thought separate from American will, a disrelation that we do not attribute even to dictatorships, failed states, and “belligerent sui generis entities,” much less to countries governed under liberal-democratic systems “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Policy would be arbitrary in relation to us, and for the same reason could be expected sooner or later to turn arbitrarily against us. Hegel called this condition of civilization, to which reversion for us – we moderns – would count as regress, the “Roman Realm,” culminating in “universal misfortune” in which “the individualities of nations disappear… and all individuals sink to the level of private person with an equal status and with formal rights, who are accordingly held together only by an abstract and arbitrary will of increasingly monstrous proportions.” ((Elements of the Philosophy of Right §357.)) Choose your monster.
Missing the point entirely, Hamas and AQ, use civilians as shields,
and target civilians deliberately from schools, hospitals,