Archive for August 2011

Law, Strategy and the Transformation of the State: Forebodings.

A Critical Review of Terror and Consent by Philip Bobbitt.

By Fernando Gomez Herrero (


Initial Quotes

The world ought to be governed in new ways, ways that realistically reflect the emerging constitutional order of market states that is replacing the order of nation states. For the nation states of the world –precisely because they are organized around nations—cannot solve global problems. Those states that attempt to do so will be tarred as imperial; those states that fail to even make an attempt will always find national interests to justify their failure. Yet, driven largely by global as well as national devolving forces, deep changes in the governance of nation states are already and irreversibly under way (p. 504).


There is one scenario for which the world is not prepared. A catastrophic series of strikes against the American and British homelands using nuclear and biological weapons could remove from the world’s affairs the two states willing and, with others, able to organize the defense of the society of states of consent. Like the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is the one contingency no one has planned for. I implore the Reader to contemplate how terrible a fate this would be for human rights, for the economic development of all states, and for the security of those societies that wish to live in tranquility. We may think that it is the United States that today disturbs that tranquility because we measure our anxiety against the most peaceful recent past. We should instead measure our states against the alternative future of a world without the global but benign ambitions of America (p. 538).



I had to put some reasons down as to why give so much time to the sprawling Terror and Consent: The Wars for The Twenty-First Century by Philip Bobbitt (Penguin, [2008] 2009; 672 pages) in the hot summer of financial turmoil, European street revolt, and even some football upheaval in the little country that won the last world cup. If you say you care about the disturbing mechanisms of politics, how far can you go? How much do you want to see, and from what angle of vision, other than a horrendously small perspective, call it by the bad name of Western, and surely there will be good ones? Better the bad things in the future imperfect than the good ones in the past perfect one never had. Forebodings of momentous issues in question are sometimes delivered not by the best literary prose or the best big brain around town. Sometimes, the main tune is surprisingly better captured by second fiddlers. Happenstance: Terror and Consent never reached me through conventional channels of praise. It was instead a quick perusal of a nice bookstore shelf in London with hands in my back pocket that brought the foreign edition of Penguin to my attention and kept me busy for a few evenings in a country virtually meaningless for the author in question (I haven’t compared the US version yet. Nor am I acquainted with the “celebrated” The Schield of Achilles). Bobbitt comes to me without frames of reference (google the “Conversations with History” Series with Harry Kreisler, “Law, Strategy and the Transformation of the State,” Institute of International Studies, UCal, Berkeley, June 9, 2011) : US state official of sorts, “senior adviser” to almost all American administrations of both parties in the last four decades, combined with occasional fellow and endowed appointments in the institutional vicinity of intelligence programs and security or strategic planning on both sides of the English-speaking Atlantic. Member of the Democratic Party (p. 499), the author keeps some calculated distance from legal theorists and thoroughbred academics (p. 477, 459). Bobbitt does not however hesitate to seek proximity with and endorsement of Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair, and the book covers include abundant journalistic celebration, including book of the year by the Financial Times. Terror and Consent is mixed bag of interdisciplinary items most comfortably found inside the Anglo-American house of officialdom and always in the vicinity of, but not quite in the inner circle of US academic debates. This is the kind of social-science literature that caters to the VIP policy appetite of the hegemon, understood, make no mistake, in the manner more Thucydides than Gramsci say (p. 487). Already with some figures on the landscape, birds of the same feather?, the ideological Global Positioning System can be activated about global issues, and the intelligent reader quickly gets the conventional meaning of the aforementioned disturbance that knows no holidays. How often will you eat your tea in such distinguished company? Culture Bites brings this critical review to a global audience.

Terror and Consent is laborious, hybrid text, mixed-review social-science, mixed-review international-law, intimations of mutations of the state, minute, even minuet, variations of already existing policy measures in between Republicans and Democrats apropos uncomfortable topics such as rendition or torture for example, more often kind of investigative-journalistic account of current affairs, mostly ever-so-polite policy-advice suggestions in hypothetical emergency-situation moments, against the previous two or three decades with no big history lessons, little-to-nil political philosophy, despite one final small-letter literary afterthought on the contrary (p. 551), an unimpressively  conventional moralism of the “consequentialism” kind, call it the one proper to the dutiful state official, and some –failed— literary ornamentation included at the beginning and end of chapters, great-book literature mostly as though taking from some handy book of inspirational citations, salt and pepper?, to keep company to a kind of shoe-flavored prose walking the walk and talking the talk of officialdom never to soar to the provision of challenging vistas of geopolitical dilemmas in our new century.

Our author is happy to wear state-official blinders and offers officious and diffident  “intelligence” in the same way the handmaiden kneels to offer the refreshment tray closer to the cute princess in the painting situation. Terror and Consent is the kind of extended commentary of current events that may function well in cut-and-paste opinion-page fashion in “serious” newspapers trying to catch the fire in the prairies in the wings of dire predictions of near-future global confrontation. In other words, this geopolitical world is a man’s world, and the big game is war, what else among tested men?, and how the very idea of it is mutating fast and needs rethinking accordingly.

Who doubts that the excitement is in the theoretical vicinity of this bigness? Bobbitt is, however, no big-theory author; and yet he is not unwilling to deal ever so quickly with some influential authors, but only contemporaneous Americans (end-of-history, clash-of-civilizations, deterrence theory, containment theory, etc.), including some legal theorists of fame. The ecumenic disposition is not catholic however: the big world has produced no history serviceable to the foreign interests of the US-UK alliance cloaked in European and Western garments. If the political establishment is looking for the next Kennan, which is not entirely clear (a good moment in the text is the perhaps appropriate, ad hoc jumble of policies for our chaotic times, credited to Richard Haass, p. 434); some are still only too happy to provide good stuff, if they can, or if they can’t, then escort service. Bobbitt’s lack is not his fault. How many big guys are out there who set the prairie on fire? Who will blame those who can’t provide such magnificence?

Yet, there is something of a false modesty, a bit too much of a calculated diffidence in the presentation of policy suggestions passing through troubled waters, terror and consent, Scylla and Charybdis, Posner and Ackerman to name but two, Haass and Walzer, to add but two more, Lloyd N. Cutler and Sir Michael Howard, in the dedication, state terrorism, rendition, torture, WMDs, etc. Bobbitt’s prose reminds me of the bland body mannerisms and speech euphemisms of institutional old-timers who know how to keep their distance and also a secret or two. When you scratch these eggshells, no doubt there will be something broken and some political omelette made. There is obsequiousness in the pen touch of our author in the same way the US role is to play –ideally– the role of “claviger” and “steward” (pp. 497-8), both are magnificently old-fashioned words of uncommon use in demotic Americana. Is the valid allegory of Uncle Sam now in the new century? I doubt the American President will propose such roles in public any time soon in the profoundly violent territory caught in between “terror” and “consent.” The anti-intellectualism and anti-aestheticism of Sparta, the “rigorous exercise of the philosophical ideas of Lycurgus, the law-giving, inspiration for the 21st USA? (p. 551)? Remember the fantasy action film 300 (2007)? And yet there is something of a very American tendency in the Athens-Sparta oscillation in some foreign analysts of classical dispositions! They like these wild comparisons. Where else would these “cultured” Americans go but for some tamed pop-culture “classicism”? Better this landscape than no landscape at all. But this is beautifications of the center of the book: the listing of policy suggestions in the best utilitarian fashion. This “history” is not for nothing. In the small letter in an endnote, Terror and Consent is “a small step towards a new theory of strategic bombing or of nuclear deterrence” (endnote 75, p. 635). If history is here small portion on the plate, no other than power history in so far as pertains US interests in the imminent future and against background of a few decades, the intelligence of the world historical provided here is no other –what else would you think?—the institutional-officialist intelligence of a small world that never goes outside US power. Bobbitt is at least good to admit to the fragilities proper of the world of instantaneous communication and virtualizations. If it sounds Paul-Virilian, bet your money our author will not go to that foreign intelligence of unpredictable consequences. The oblique vision of this theoretical outside to this US frame is however no other more potent or significant than “terror.” Reversely, there is nothing else worth the devotion of this statist-bureaucratic intelligence than the inside of such US house of being, with or without the blurring of inner and outer, a theme that will find some elaboration. How warm and inviting do you find so far the house of this collective being, the “hotel” of this American civilization, in the always delicate words of the magnificent prose of the great American expatriate, Henry James? Don’t worry it will get worse.

In the Political House of Official Secrets

In the house of official secrets, Bobbitt’s authorial intention is no mystery: he is first and foremost diffident and officious policy proponent, always of course on the side of the US state, always cosy with Goliath so to speak. There are no second thoughts about an altogether insufficient English-language-only, asphyxiatingly tight breathing passage, dark-colored-monocled Anglo-American frame of vision of things past and future premonitions caught in between these two cycles, “terror” and “consent.” The borrowed Eurocentrism is so natural the very word “Eurocentrism” is missing in action, and others with it such as “capitalism,” “politics,” and “ideology” (the closing sections will expose the strategic use of Western civilization for hegemons such as the G2). In relation to the two nouns in the title, guess which one our author is against and for. And yet, there’s some cat’s cradle of cute polarities, no matter how pedagogically intelligible at first glance. The good thing: there is crossfire between national state, market state and violence, terrorism and state terrorism, messy handling of torture, entanglements of law and strategy in between the US and Europe, the West and the rest, and guess which one monumental dimension is grotesquely under-represented in the notes and selected bibliography against the preferred affection –or affectation?– for the English-pond of the special relationship. The Britain emerging in Terror and Consent is not the Britain of university liquidation, of the summer of revolt, of punk, of the New Left Review, or the Guardian, no presence of the Socialist Workers Party, no Robin Blackburn on human rights, no cultural-studies postcolonial lessons of the likes of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy. It is instead the Britain of collaboration with American interests, of usable past, of a certain tradition, a postcard picture of European prestige with no street life, the Britain of the lords and of “distinguished” diplomats who tell our American author how good America can be. No wonder Bobbitt –who lives, according to the book jacket, in Austin, new York and London — likes things British, since they speak the same language of American hegemony with a better accent (you may remember the visible role of Tony Blair in the American media talking the Bush rhetoric). Your tested Anglophilia already knows to be on the red-alert button from the dedication onwards, “strongest and wisest when [the American and Briton] in concert.” And your literary sensibility will know how to resist the embellishments around and about American supremacy and fears of its decline in the citations of St. Augustine and the delightful poet Marianne Moore (p. 520), the freedom-loving of materialism and shopping near Alicia Ostriker (p. 525), the only US native in this grand poetic pantheon. The resurgent language of human-rights protection, central to the West today (p. 526), is adorned by the eternal-wisdom of Thucydides,  and no Gramsci’s carceral wisdom. There is Machiavelli, no Pocock’s Machiavelli, predictably Shakespeare one-liners of course, not the Dollimore-and-Sinfield type, Thomas Hardy, a bit of T.S. Eliot, predictably no Ezra Pound, a little bit of Hobbes, a bit of Vargas Llosa, predictably, about Iraq becoming a free and modern country under US occupation, tokenized Eastern European authors such as Czeslaw Milosz, even 1960s anti-war quotes from Joseph Heller! Beautiful the literary humanism in scrupulous English translation, and please underline all the adjectives in this family!

Troubling associations do happen in the best families, and that’s why you had to complete the reading of the Terror and Consent that took a few good evenings, and that left you cheerless and with a strong sense of stormy-weather foreboding (some yin to this yang, the “native” American intelligence of the historical sociology of Immanuel Wallerstein, not included of course in this type of literature, will be welcome in the final section of this writing). But you will have to learn to pull yourself off by the boots straps in the holes of these situations, and even clean off the lapels, at the high table of these  “experts” and state officials. With or without Eastern-European poetry of doom and gloom, and I happen to like the “catholic” film-making of Kieslowski, in the tight knot of Polanski, and Wajda, ours is a transitional time, so much I agree with Bobbitt, a terribly tense contemporaneity always already serviced by the type of intelligence typified by Terror and Consent with one clear objective, do not let the literary stuff confuse you, how to make more modern and stronger the policy measures of the sole standing superpower. Bobbitt’s conventional American manners play the occasional anti-intellectualism, italicizing the disparaging word of “intellectual” (p. 477), for the interest of the mass-media current-affairs public still interested in the big game of global designs. Keeping a arms length distance from properly academic settings, Bobbitt offers “consequential” proposals from his “senior adviser” positions of US administrations, zigzagging the state apparatus, war-studies academic enclaves, the occasional think tank, even the American Academy of the Arts. Let us take a closer look.

In the Theaters of War…

Terror and Consent has three main parts: 1) the idea of a war against terror; 2) law and strategy in the domestic theater of terror; and 3) strategy and law in the international theater of terror. Each section has four subsections of unequal length and unequal intensity of engagement with increasing incorporation of the literature of US debates (Bobbitt’s US-centrism is not interested at all in opening up to debates elsewhere; allegorically speaking, this Uncle Sam speaks to himself about what on earth is going on in the world out there). Three parts, four chapters in each part: Beautiful, almost fearful symmetry. There is effort and calculated effort. The tone is modulated, proper to an efficient state official who wants to return to the political palace. There is a feeling, at least on this reader, of energy petering out in the last three chapters, which still engage most directly with current debates about strategy and law, probably the two most appropriate nouns instead of terror and consent. There is no “radical” novelty, despite occasional claims on the contrary in regards to one or two policy considerations. This is no hunger of memory of world history, but abbreviated power-politics history with the narrow-focus on the last four decades. Terror and Consent wants policy makers to pay attention, read bits and pieces, possibly underline or even tear a handful of pages, toss the rest, and walk with them into some situation room. The author, I am sure, would be happy to be called upon to explain himself and participate in the discussions.

The most engaging section is therefore the first part where the author does his best –and succeeds—in dealings with the uncertainties and hesitations that accompany the mutations of war in our new century. The very idea of war is slippery as          an eel and cunning as a fox in Machiavellian language in our new century of the supremely informational and intensely communicational  “global village” of advanced capitalism. One essence in Bobbitt’s message: the desirable fusion between law and strategy, the overcoming of the obsolescence of the domestic and international divides, of inner and outer borders, the need to pay attention to the debilitation of the “nation-state” and the mutation into the “market state.” Interesting shorthand, very revealing, ideologically speaking (the forceful, repressive measures, the monopoly of violence, needed for the upkeep of an upgraded version of advanced, hyper-consumerist, speculative-high-finance capitalism?): Bobbitt does not go into detail about the economics of such transition or mutation. The consolidation of the market state does not mean necessarily the debilitation of nationalism, but the reverse, although again there is no engagement with theories of nationalism, with or without the occasional reference to the Catalan variety (p. 497). Social groups are not concretized. There are individual voices circling around the totem and taboo of US strategy and national interests that may of course take on a variety of features or attributes. National labels are still used profusely and big entities dominate this mapping, with a predilection for Europe and America (Latin America is out of the picture). Terror and Consent is fundamentally re-heating and rehashing of global-affairs ideas out there still lingering since the last decade or so, but mostly in the US: Bobbitt is no grand chef of global cuisine, no Ferran Adria of El Bulli, yet this bulky book still brings the aroma of the language and the weather in the general climate of other more important players in influential high places (the second and third parts of the book do the polite engagement in such a way never to put at risk a possible invitation to controlled environments of policy discussion).

Always the fear-factor in the foreign-affairs literature: “they,” the enemies, are good copycats of these market-state configurations and “we” have no option but to continue challenging our political imagination that is a bit behind in playing catch up with these transformations. No one has to assume the naturalness of the “we-they” inside the big entities included here (US, Europe, the West… and the rest). Yet, there is no doubt that our author does the identification of the big official “US” of Uncle Sam and the small all-inclusive “us” of readers, you and me, theoretically going along with the narrative in question. Terror and Consent includes an introduction and a conclusion repeating both the attention-catching motif of the “plague,” almost in the manner of a dystopian action film. Remember the good film The Twelve Monkeys (1995) with a Bruce Willis wanting to go through security customs with some lethal weapon of mass destruction? The virus you may not see may still kill you and this is self-appointed “treatise” –and a sprawling one at that—that will help you see in the end the Heaven-and-Hell of lions and lambs of biblical descent (p. 548). I am making more adventurous and imaginative than it really is. Remember the vision of global society provided by a second great film Children of Men (2006) directed by Alfonso Cuarón? Visual popular culture delivers what Terror and Consent wants to deliver: a sense of anxiety made evident in the initial quotes. The issues are momentous and have to do with social normativity and the interlacing of tactics into some kind of grand strategy that is not yet happening. Are you persuaded, are you moved by the allusive literary emotionalization attempts of our senior adviser in the beginning and end of chapters in light of the whole package? Would you like to inhabit this intellectual and political house of being? Would you trust him with taking good care of the “lambs” in the abyss of war with no end in sight? My answer: no.




Mapping Geographies of Privilege.

The assumed geography of Bobbitt is clear, the US-UK and “our” allies, in this preferential order against Al Qaeda in the “First Terrorist War” (p. 5). My explicit enemy helps me put together a coalition of the willing. These are the “States of consent,” “the West,” thus with quotation marks, including “democratic states like Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, South Africa, and India” (p. 13). Bobbitt promotes the “alliance of democracies” (p. 452), without big elaboration. It feels like a second chapter of the Wilson proposal of the League of Nations that crystallizes around G2 proposals (I recall hearing McCain using this type of rhetoric sparingly in the campaign against Obama). Decreasing importance of the territorial factor and yet some inevitable geo-political geographies, alliance of democracies (p. 537) when the key concept is not “democracy per se” but “protection… which is the purpose of government” (p. 534).  This kind of attenuated Hobbesianism does not feel the need to interrogate the concept of democracy which is used sparingly. Easy to see, therefore, the big, yawning gaps (most of Africa, Latin America, former Russia, murky Eastern Europe, most o the Middle East, murky Turkey), with its intellectual dimension (postcolonialism is still the distant future of our author). The message: the West is not winning (p. 9) the “war on terror,” Bobbitt defends the validity of the rubric made popular during the Bush administration. Something must be done to both strategy and law. What Terror and Consent wants is to push for the fusion of both: make strategy and law coincide making a new law if necessary in the absence of a unified strategy –so far. If law is the discreet tongue of the claviger, the polite public manner of the steward, but also the gun of the gunner, the actionable policy, the normalizing and pacifying deeds of the state, Bobbitt wants a new one to respond most efficiently to the new conjuncture, inevitably global, potentially catastrophic, less geography-dependent, more virtual and dynamic, etc. The fundamentalism in the last instance of the political logic dressed as moral-ethical of this state official: the plasticity of “consequentalism”  to better respond to the specific situations that may arise taken from the Oxford Companion to Philosophy (p. 617).


One must still parse the semantic game of historical meaningfulness that matters on the global dance floor in the vicinity of this “terror.” The authorial intention: I define myself, obliquely against what is rejected and repudiated taken to a decontextualized extreme that is not processed socially, historically: I am against Al Quada, I do consent, and they do terror, and through belligerence social and political things are clarified, and you, what side are you on? The crucial thing is, from this perspective, to avoid mixtures or interpenetrations, to provide thick textures of social groupings, to see trajectories retrospectively, in already prefigured hindsight and over-determined double-takes  (what is the US victory in the “Long War” if not one bad case of the repudiated Parmenides phallacy?). This is one of the reasons why our author always goes –in public at least—for the general rendering of the enemy in toto, the bad guys in no concrete timespace. In fact, the US also always already has no concrete timespace. Market state and terrorism market state mirror each other in this double phantasmagoria and Bobbitt’s rabbit out of the hat is to still promote the US for the goodness of humanity “because it is not organized as the representative of a particular region” (p. 497).

Carl Schmitt, a lurking shadow presence in Terror and Consent,  in his impressive Nomos of the Earth (1950) already noted the key imperial devise of boundary non-specificity. The German jurist highlights the new spaceless universalism materialized in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, finding its place in between 1920 and 1938, as a fundamental fracture in the “old” understanding of jurisprudence, i.e., the making of a spatial order fought on European supremacy. What I see Bobbitt doing is fundamentally the provision of the official slogans mobilized incongruously in a landscape of recognizable figures without any kind of final solution, o drastic clear-cut slash-and-burn dressing down of inner-circle interpreters, keeping options open so to speak, that cannot cut down the channels of validation of US foreign policy, with special attention to the immediate past, the post 9/11 Bush administration. There is a disregard of all concrete spatial viewpoints, hence the appeal to “market” with or without the attachment of the greatest force, the “state,” also increasingly detached from “spatiality,” yet there is the UK-US predilection, the best friend of a docile Europe, Eurocentric history, the G2 initiative, etc. Another example: torture, o.k., bad, but one can thinking of situation, ticking-bomb moments say, in which only monsters could not do something about it. The diffident and officious policy proposals in bullet-point fashion of Bobbitt go, if my reading is correct, in this direction of everything negotiable –nothing unalienable— in between the “never” and “always.”

In between Al Qaeda and Bobbitt, what’s your choice? One must always refuse this type of question in the first place: bad guys, “they” and “terror” and “us,” consensus, and the market. The answer is over-determined. Perhaps, one can call this nomothetic disposition of policy-level procedure against some idiographic thick-texture reconstruction that the critical humanities are supposed to provide, also inevitably in some ideological position. Terror and Consent, still a book of ambition and considerable time investment, sticks to the thick middle without ever engaging historiographic schools, political philosophy and large philosophical vistas.  Yet, there is the advocacy of “change,” while paying attention to three crucial, destabilizing factors: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the self-perceived vulnerability of developed states (p. 9). Preemption is one of these features of change in relation to strategy of the state (p. 10), and the word “state” remains confusing, or under-developed, as though needing no clarification in the mutations from nation to market, since the original times of Machiavelli. Terror and Consent does not feel the need to interrogate the notion that appears to mean “lo stato,” the political dimension, the repressive-violent dimension, the federal-imperial level of global reach, the military, the bureaucracy, what exists meaningfully and of impact, the authority of officialdom, what is in place, the status quo, the constitution of a polity with its mechanisms of secrecy, etc. Without elaboration of an explicit genealogy, Bobbitt says he wants “change” of the constitutional order in the new era of the market state. The thesis of the previous book,  The Shield of Achilles: “revolutions in military affairs induced transformations of the constitutional order and that transformations in the constitutional order bred revolutions in military affairs” (bottom-of-the-page explanatory asterisk, p. 168). This is the dual motor of this policy-based history in the shade of power politics (Bobbitt seeks proximity with Kissinger). Yet this is not exactly a military book, but of the policy that must accompany the new thinking needed to the new times. Bobbitt defends official nomenclature: “A war against terror, not a misplaced metaphor, not a metaphor at all” (p. 173). A rethinking of the vocabulary is needed: “Market state terrorism is morethan just a technique… [I]t is actually a twenty-first century geopolitical reaction to globalization, even then it would still be absurd to make war against an emotion (italics in the original). [I]t is precisely against terror –and not simply against terrorism or the arming of terrorists – that war must be waged if the war aim of market states of consent is to be achieved” (p. 181).

War is not What It Used to Be.

War is not what it used to be. What if one of the fighting parties is not based in the nation-state frame of intelligibility? Do you still call them soldiers? Do the rules of war apply? What if there is not immediately recognizable “territory”? What is the “theater” of war? What rules of engagement apply? How to make sense of invisible heads of state, decentralized networks with or without leaders, what are the objectives? What does the enemy want? And what do we have to do against it? What is permissible? What is out of bounds? And who says? What does it mean to win or lose this war when it is guerrilla warfare, asymmetrical, a game of visibility / invisibility also played in the mass media? With or without Shakespeare’s quotes, is violence against civilians the proper definition of terrorism?  The exploration of these options is the most interesting part of Terror and Consent. Bobbitt speaks of Al Qaeda as “terrorist market state” (p. 126). What he means by that is that the enemies of the market state imitate the latest, most advance configuration of the same structure they are attacking. Bobbitt is courageous enough to acknowledge that the market state may occasionally generate “state terrorism” –he will deal with theoretical situations in which torture can be even put to use in what appears to be more than a mere rhetorical exercise, as in the so-called “ticking-bomb situation.” The status-quo violence meets the anti-status-quo violence: terror is another name for the fundamental challenge to what is. The issue is, for Terror and Consent, how far to go in fighting back when the Bush administration went too far in the deterioration of the legitimacy of the US state. Bobbitt’s reformism operates inside this official house paying attention to its malfunctions with no disturbing rendition of big horizons of ontological difference. The rubric of “war on terror” (p. 133) announces the possibility of such radical difference, but such announcement is never developed. The doors of perception are then open to preemption and prevention and in general terms the anticipatory type of intervention that appears to go faithfully with the times of the instantly communicational global society of increasing virtuality with fewer and fewer predictable frames of inheritance and tradition. Old theories (end of history, civilizational clash, deterrence, domino effect, etc.), associated with their recognizable names included in the end (pp. 542-5), are a bit too summarily dismissed in the new times of ubiquity and instantaneity. Jumping over Fukujama and Huntington, even Thomas Friedman, who manages to be in the same league, Bobbitt would like to be the new Kennan: “Preclusion” is the “new deterrence” (p. 138). But Terror and Consent lacks forcefulness of vision.

Many questions remain however and the interest lies in the handling with no definite answer: And who is the enemy? What to make of the nomenclature of “enemy combatant”? What to do –and not do– when one of these is captured? Who is the entity of interpellation? What is the rationale and logic of judgment? Where, when, does the judgment take place? What kind of tribunal? And if we catch one of these operatives in an “extraordinary rendition” operation, what’s next? What jurisdiction? Do we bring him “home,” or do we place him out of legal bounds in some limbo jurisdiction? What’s the (un-)acceptable manner of getting information out of him? Or do we take him to third parties who promise to do good while still using the information obtained? And who is the regulator in this unregulated mess? And who is watching over the regulator? This is far from being a pretty picture.

Definitions of Terrorism.

One definition of terrorism: the attack on civilians. What happens when the state privatizes or outsources a service? Attributes of the “market state:” devolved, outsourcing, and networked, relying on market incentives rather than legal regulation” (p. 153). What if the enemy does the same? How do you keep fighting? Bobbitt introduces and critiques the so-called “Parmenides’ Fallacy” (pp. 183-4, endnote 4 on 589), which can be rendered as the combination of past and future projection of psychological assumptions, the retrospective reconsideration of decisions taken or not taken (for example: I say I invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein has WMD and now in hindsight I see he did not have them… but the enemy and the tyrant is dead anyway, Iraq is better off without him, the Iraqi people want us, etc.). What is the so-called “ticking-bomb” situation (the hypothetical scenario in which you know that the “terrorist” knows information about an immediate situation of tremendous devastation, and he is within reach, would you go as far as torture him to get the answer that could prevent it from happening?). Bobbitt’s self-declared authorial position, the co-called “consequentialism,” also falls in my mind for the modality of Parmenides’ fallacy (how do you know what the consequences of an action will be unless after the action is taken?). This self-declared modus operandi leaves each living situation radically open against some receding background of intelligibility. Bobbitt’s policy-centric approach shrinks from the procurement of rich historicities and finds refuge in the presentation of numerous typologies for hypothetical situations (“literature” here is a-, even anti-historical, or “eternal” humanistic embellishment of sometimes disturbing policy proposals in truly disturbing hypothetical situations). Our author most often refuses to provide a final solution that would be ridiculous for any one individual state official. What he does mostly is engaging with the variations to the already existing policies, one can call it the provision of subordinate clauses of the statutes. He appears to be too pious with state secrets, the arcana without which there can be no great politics, as Schmitt would not hesitate to say. But this may well be the affectation and sprezzatura proper of a tested courtier.

Anorexic historicity –particularly one always already subordinated ab initio to immediately serviceable policy interests– means the manufacture of typologies and typologies in Terror and Consent abound. This is one of them for busy businessmen or statesmen with little time included in the fourth chapter “Victory without Parade.” It is meant to be something of a linear political evolution: 1) the perquisite (princely, individualistic state) of the sixteenth century; 2) the acquisitive (kingly, dynastic state) of the seventeenth century; 3) the territorial state that “tries to enrich the country as a whole (and its aristocracy in particular) by acquiring trading monopolies and colonies,” the phrasing gives away Bobbitt’s ideological position for the universal, frictionless wellbeing of the business of commerce, and there will be another typology of social types included in the final pages); 4) the so-called “exclusive” (imperial state nation) of the eighteenth century; 5) the consolidation of the national people, or the “inclusive” nation state, and the seeking of empire in the nineteenth century; 5) the “Long War” between 1914 to 1990  “[that] establish[es] a single, ideological paradigm for improving the material well-being of its people” (pp. 189-9).


There are five so-called “plates” with arabesque interlacing design, almost in the arco-de-herradura-apuntado fashion addressing: 1) the constitutional orders, 2) the epochal wars, 3) the international orders, 4) bases for Legitimacy and 5) “historic strategic and constitutional innovations” (pp. 190-1). I cannot resist the parallel with the following periodization: 1) 1st period, Discovery of America 1492 until the 1713 Utrecht Treaty;  2) 2nd period, 1713-1913 –fracture of the European centrality, the end of the 1st World War and the Wilsonian Moment;  3) 3rd period, 1913-1950: the League of Nations (1936-9) and the 2nd World War. Each period represents a different juridical and normative spatiality. The end is the American takeover of this constitutive Eurocentrism of world-historical consequences. This is Carl Schmitt in the impressive Nomos of the Earth, which is where this periodicity is extracted. A surprising emergence of the theory of state in the state of exception and the provisions for the emergency state in moments of severe instability is what we find, almost a hundred years, on the American shore of the liberal side of legal historiography, also in Bobbitt, obliquely, more intellectually raw and considerably less well developed. This is very serious stuff and Terror and Consent is symptom of these dangers that inform our contemporaneity.

The main interest is the future projection of Bobbitt: the market state emerging around the “Russian revolution of 1989” and the “Yugoslav Collapse of 1991,” the result of the “Long War” (1914-1990), and the “Peace of Paris” (1990!), and the justification: “the state will maximize the opportunity of its citizens.” The innovations: “nationalism and ideology” (!), “nuclear weapons, rapid computation, international communication.” Bobbitt assumes the nomenclature of the “Long War,” basically all 20th century wars on the European front, adopted by the Bush administration, despite not having part of such administration (endnote 145, p. 614). The only history that matters is European-soil history of belligerence since the dawn of the Renaissance, yet Machiavelli is the only name worthy of remembrance, to which there is discreet US American addition.

You do history fast when you contemplate policy-level approaches to bomb-ticking situations. The key thing is not to tinker too much with what the obviously thick brushstroke with no textures. This is sensible undergraduate teaching pedagogy that should ideally get your mind off the hook. Consider this: “[t]he nation state takes its legitimacy from putting the State in the service of its people; the state nation asks rather that the people be put in the service of the State” (p. 193). People and nation as such in no landscape caught in between capital letter and small letter of the abstraction of the state, also with no impulse to interrogate nationalism in relation to no social groupings and no class conflict. It is a vision of society from a state or para-state perspective. It would be a really interesting line of inquiry who in the US would be pushing for the full implementation of the market state and who wouldn’t and what fights happen among various competing social groups for the trophy of the state. Bobbitt is sensible enough not to get tangled up in this type of complexity. The reader gets the sense that he knows in advance what is there to see at the end of these six-hundred-odd pages. The over-determinations of this policy-based type of writing allow for no big surprises in procedure and achievements: typological differentiation in a minimum of background, history is background, mostly to help out with the literature circulating largely inside the bureaucratic structure assumed to be your own natural house of professional being. There is nothing else worthy of care outside such professionalism.

Market States, States of Consent.

Hence, the good formula is of “state of consent” to be promoting and have handy. With no textured sociabilities, the right rubrics walk almost by themselves on the table:  states of consent, us, are not states of terror, of course not, and we cannot survive in conditions of terror, which is what they do, therefore, we must move into the War against Terror and firmly away from the conditions of the Long War (capitalized by our author), and one of these strategies is precautionary diplomacy and even anticipatory military action, now that we do not know anymore what winning means anymore (p. 200). See how insidiously easy it is to say nothing concrete and suggestively imply an awful lot of things? Read: [to pursue] “[t]he true victory of preclusion rather than the illusory victory of mere conquest” (p. 207). I don’t know about you, but this type of writing, to me at least, is plagued by one type of Parmenides phallacy after another: “I anticipate the bad intentions and moves of the enemy, I can read his mind, I act on it in the best way I can think, kinetically, secretly or otherwise, and in so doing, I prevent him from attacking me before he does, and I truly win, with or without parades, rather than wait for his moves to activate his bad intentions.” The reader may extrapolate this to the justification of the Iraq war and situations such as state terrorism, extraordinary rendition, the erosion of privacy rights under surveillance, etc.

Did you Say the Parmenides Phallacy?

Incongruously, Bobbitt does the Parmenides phallacy time and again despite the critique. Think of a smoker speaking poorly of smoking: where else for psychologism to go in the typological presentations of situational hypotheticals? But incongruity, like hypocrisy, is never the end, but intrinsic part of the political game also with another fundamental element: secrecy. Skeletal typology allows for combination games with temporality (what might have happened, what effectively happened, and what never happened… ). Yet, from what perspective is this type of retrospection, hindsight, or double take if not from that of the omniscient narrator near statist Panopticism? (“Are we better off today without the Taliban sheltering Al Qaeda?… vastly better off; Are we , and the Iraqi people, better off now that Saddam Hussein and his sociopathic dynasty have been removed… it “trivializes” the Coalition’s intervention against Iraq to say that it was about finding and seizing Saddam Hussein’s existing stocks of WMD,” pp. 208-11). In literary terms, there is almost a nineteenth-century realist-novel narrator quality to Bobbitt’s voice in relation to fast developments two centuries ahead! (you bet your money there is no engagement with theories of the subject, philosophies of history, political philosophy, etc. outside the palace precincts). I see in essence Bobbitt squaring the circle of the Bush administration adopting its language, with or without the critique of its excesses (the bitter irony of moral contempt of much of the world of the US and UK pursuit of high moral aims such as the liberation of Afghanistan…, p. 235). Ramshackle structure of numerous typologies prevents the presentation of larger vistas of geopolitical conflict. But theoretical, big-vista multi-perspectivism is out of bounds: what matters is the engagement with operationable policy manufacture, never really with foreigners.

One disturbing human-produced destabilizing factor of the national-state-transitioning-to-market-state: “terror.” A second: natural catastrophes. Katrina is the quintessential example. Hollywood gives you a lot of these situations. Bobbitt does not address economic turbulence, depressions, financial turmoils, class relations… The fundamental function of the state in the official words of the state: the protection of its populations. The key thing, for individuals like Bobbitt, is to pay attention to catastrophic possibilities and try to prevent them. Others do disruption. State is order… and law, no matter what. A good catastrophe cannot be laid to waste and one wonders if the foreign-policy impetus can ever happen if it is not always already responsive to the radical type of change that “catastrophe” highlights, also etymologically (a conservative mindset would find this a disgrace, a revolutionary mindset would want more of this!). This type of bigness is lurking in the wings of foreign-policy environments. The issues at hand cannot be but big. It comes with the type of game, the big game, of geopolitics. No wonder it is not easy for any ambitious mind to put good intelligence to this big world. Policy has to be in a sense the simplification mechanism that the political machine can make its own and act on it. And politics will be the occupation of the political machine by different groups. What else? The ideal society is, for the likes of Bobbitt, a self-regulating (global) market (or capitalism) with the attributes of: 1) security of property rights, 2) the transparency of commercial operations, 3) broad access to capital, and 4) stable labor relations, all of which depend on 5) the “rule of law.” If you notice, the destabilizing factors are all external. There is no internality, implosion from within, or entropy in Terror and Consent. In a fundamental sense, there is no –and probably cannot be– epistemological introspection of the most advanced societies, except the recognition of its vulnerabilities associated with the openness of communicational models. Yet, the generic definition of the near future of the market state: “a devolved, decentralized, outsourcing, privatized, global and networked entity” (p. 237). Who can keep this entity together when, for example, “of the world’s 100 largest “economies” (sic) in 2000, only 47 were states, the rest were multinational corporations, [and] Walt-Mart’s annual sales… exceeded the GDP of all but 21 states” (p.  21)? Clearly, this type of economic information sinks the intact survivability of the nation-state? And perhaps the whole language of national labels, obviously operational at the street and existential levels, is more smokescreen than anything else, at least at the “higher” and more demanding level of geopolitics. It is this repressed economic dimension the impetus, the last fundamental instance if you wish, behind the “alliance of democracies” of the world’s largest economies (U.S.-E.U.), unsentimental about the U.S.-U.K. apple in the eye inside Western civilizations, in the final pages of Terror and Consent. There will be other alliances and other democracies in the decades to come. Bobbitt does not care about these.






Who is to rule inside the deregulation mechanism of market states (pp. 230, 237, 266)? Bobbitt’s advocacy is of a strong (federal) state (p. 245) with firm new laws that respond more convincingly to the new realities of a transitional or mutational moment of the “global village.” The turbulence of capitalism is not addressed. Bobbitt firmly wishes to remain at the level of ideals of the type of society he is defending. And the ideal constitution of such market-state society according to our author: the mechanism of law enforcement keeping under control the deregulation, the belt keeping the belly in shape! The apparent framelessness, or shapelessness, of world proportions requires the fusion of law and strategy. The “protector” –a stronger word to “claviger” and “steward”—needs clear guidelines. Law, or normativity, or even regulation or norms are here comparable to the road rules in the highway. Chaos would be the absence of the law, no road signs, etc. Police cars are needed. Referees are needed. The informality, the deformation, the “terror,” is always already “outside” the system in its apparently unstoppable colonization of the totality of the world. Only bad gestures of mother nature and poor state response, and big weapons in the wrong hands may bring havoc, which may cause de-legitimacy if the protector does not protect you. But is this the only role possible? Yes, according to Terror and Consent.

Militarism is the spine of the increasingly amorphous and a-territorial social body called one’s own: “The chief protector of American constitutional rights… is the 101st Airborne Division” (p. 246). Perhaps a second valid analogy: the beauty of football is not properly a feat of the football players, but is the purview of the referee (and the security forces in the stadium). Legitimacy, authority, law find the fundamentalism of the state monopoly of violence. The rub is how to jump from the arrangement in national-state entities of social meaningfulness to something like a global-international, market-friendly governance that appears bureaucratic, phantasmatic. This is obviously a big issue registered by Bobbitt and “resolved” in the allegorical personification of the US of such globality. Conversely, the theoretical possibility of non-market configuration that can still be called “American” is of no intellectual interest to our author in these policy endeavors. So, for this perfect identity of American and market, or US and capitalism,  the US is the ideal national rubric for “protector” –and never disruptive force. Its darling features: its strongest military, its phantasmatic social quality of sovereign consumers resulting from the fusion of world cultures, the thinness of its manufactured history, as made evident in the quick history pages of Terror and Consent, its less local and hence more de-localized detachments from timespaces of meaningfulness, the hypermodern takeover of European history, etc. I wonder how many Americans would eagerly embrace such thin-description utopianism. It is this type of tension, or is it incongruence?, that is pervasive in the book: denationalization of market state and yet the ferocious upsurge of nationalism. What to make of this besides the global-local pulls of force? The US becomes here something like a Star Trek shuttlecraft, a kind of streamlined United Nations, but surely there will be social, historical, linguistic features selected over others, or perhaps we can think of the “international-style” in architectural modernism. In any case, we are not dealing with a rich pinnacle of high culture, but rather with some popular-culture modalities simplified and therefore universalized.

In this view, the anti-American nationalism that rebukes foreign public figures such as Bush or Obama is always already smaller-scale provincialism running behind global market-state mutations. Terror and Consent is finished in between both administrations. With modulated critique for the administration in which he was no part, Bobbitt’s reformism remains inside US foreign policy. Where else would he go?

New Policies, New Clauses, New Statutes…

Get this: “plea bargains, amnesties, bribes and other market state approaches will be more important than public relations campaigns aimed at “hearts and minds” (p. 202). The war in Iraq is “striking example of how such struggles should not be fought” (p. 202): the fighting is not in question, it is the manner of the fighting. The issue of “extraordinary rendition” (249ff), the “presidential declaration of statutory states of emergency” (250ff), “racial profiling” of all males in between 18 and 33 of Middle Eastern and European origin (253ff), the manufacture of the nomenclature of “enemy combatant” and “enemy alien” (255ff); setting forth preventive detention statute (255ff), the US government efforts to judge suspects in secret military tribunals (269), the  suspension of habeas corpus (270ff)… Terror and Consent fundamentally keeps these measures intellectually in place. Or better said, Bobbitt cannot but engage with these measures in the manner of a deferential reformism, offering timeframe correctives, clearer norms, tighter turns to the bolts and screws of strategy that must be legalized… There are real issues here irrespective of how our author solves them, or does not. No one single individual will solve them. All these commentators are attempting is the approximation to situation rooms of political power. The difficulty: the clouded identity of the enemy, unaffiliated with the traditional paradigm of the nation-state, engaging in  asymmetrical warfare with no clear objective, except the dysfunction of the system and the chaos and fear in the population. The copycat enemy also does identical devolved, decentralized, outsourcing, privatized, global orchestrations and networked manoeuvers in the dark. Remember the lessons of visual popular culture, the film of Guillermo del Toro: Hellboy (2004), the red monster does basically the same awful things as the enemies of the state, so pick the one monster you want the most in this confusing war with no localized theater of operations.






The thing to do is to reconstruct the law, after the “disheartening spectacle of the U.S. [Bush] administration cultivation of a reputation for contempt for law” (Bobbitt worked “in some capacity” for all administrations except for Nixon and Bush, p. 550, Terror and Consent came into being during this administrative exile). The “refusal to follow existing law or create new law” that may be synthesized as Guantanamo-and-Abu-Ghraib, means the “historic defeat for the US” (p. 266). Bobbitt will not include materials in the light of Gareth Peirce’s Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice (2010), but the interested reader may.


Pay attention, the theoretical justification: states of consent are those “intimately connected to the protection of human rights –indeed, that protecting human rights is their reason for being” (p. 20). So, there has been an interregnum, a suspension of the proper duties of the “states of consent” which are also becoming “market states,” debilitating national affiliations in favor of sovereign customers and consumers. Again, Americanism is here supreme hyper-consumerism and the US becomes something like the general brand name that highlights the Robocop mechanism that keeps things in law and order. There are interesting juxtapositions: “Market state terrorist structures more greatly resemble VISA or Mastercard organization charts than they do the centralized, hierarchical structures of the nation state” (p. 51): in italics for emphasis. Al Qaeda functions “like a venture capital firm” (p. 65). It is a “reaction to globalization… a manifestation and exploitation of globalization” (p. 83). The bad side does what the good market side does: “maximize opportunities” (pp. 4, 65, 87). For whom, against whom, in what setting?: Bobbitt does not provide the direct, indirect and circumstantial complements to the sentence. His ideal assumption: for everyone! There are no differential features among these sovereign customers and consumers, kind of zombies in Romero’s shopping malls. Of course the moment you add features, they will become localized (why that piece of clothing, that accent, such mannerism, etc.).  Bobbitt: the market state “promises to maximize the opportunity of its people, tending to privatize many state activities and making representative government more responsive to its consumers.” Now, the declaration of principled faith is included in the small-letter in a clarification asterisk at the bottom of page 4 (and repeated later on pp. 65, 87). Now, the joke: imagine you pursue a good-looking woman, who likes the attention and says that yes, she will give “opportunity” to you and others, and she withholds concrete information and circumstantial evidence of time and place. Had you world enough and time, how big your coyness to persevere? This is a bit what happens with Bobbitt’s fundamental justification of the official love of the global market protected by the market state in the blurry domestic-international set-up against “the internet-dispersal of knowledge” (p. 9).

Let us put the global house in order then, or try to. A doctrine is needed. Who will provide? What type of institution? Jumble of policies, ad hoc measures, chaotic times, deceit, equivocation. Isn’t the self-declared protector an equivocator? Bobbitt’s suggestion: this is not sustainable. The market state must be straightforward and the arcana, the secrecy mechanism of politics and bureaucracy mechanisms that good readers of literature learned from Kafka? Bobbitt is not that canny, publicly.  To his credit, he wants to move forward from the precincts of the nation-state. He asserts that  the market state is “classless and indifferent to race, ethnicity and gender… also heedless to the values of reverence, self-sacrifice, loyalty and family” (p. 90). He does not address structural inequalities and subordinations. He also speaks of the “distasteful ferocity” –a rotund adjectival euphemism possibly of US Southern extraction that would have delighted Prince Don Fabrizio Salina– in politics in the transition between national state and market state (p. 91). One theoretical possibility: is it conceivable to think of the brand name of the US as one modality of the dominant imposition of the political ferocity of the market state also inside US borders? Bobbitt will not go there where some reader will wait for his intelligence, information and knowledge.

But these abstract nouns –intelligence, information and knowledge– are at stake in our moments of paradigmatic shift of global reach. I am happy to confess to combining the reading of Terror and Consent with the good essays of consumerist society of hyper-capitalism of the French sociologist Gilles Lipovetsky sharing an identical focus in the mostly First-World, and largely US-European set-up. I still feel that this street-level, existential platform of paradoxical happiness, of societal disorientation, of psychological fragility promoted by fast-paced consumerism, of fragmentation of all traditions, of monadism and nomadism framed by the dusk of duty, of rampant deception inside and outside the culture-world of mas media, etc. goes well, with or without generalized de-institutionalizations and de-regulations, with the bureaucratic-state, or institutional-level of theoretical “protection” that keeps the status quo together, but barely. When Lipovetsky speaks of the market segmentation and product proliferation, of strategies of personalization and emotionalization. of faster creative and destructive cycles of consumption, of diversification, I think of the “cultural diversity” measures also inside “liberal” university settings and of the consequentalist moralism defended by Bobbitt. How to put forth one unique rule, one unique size when customers and consumers come in all sizes and shapes? Greater opportunities of access to capital and I am sure there will also be restrictions and regimentations… The word “state” automatically summons some of these “distasteful” mechanisms, with or without the qualifying euphemism of “market.” The plural, paradoxical ethics of consumerism does not put in severe, lasting doubt in the monotheism in one global system. Neither does Bobbitt’s state-centered consequentialism in one ideal US “protector.” What about some potential multi-perspectivism of the self-protection measures of capitalism?

Bobbitt wants to have the cake and eat it too in between these two dissimilar dimensions of US market and world market, international society and US society: “how to develop rules that will effectively empower the secret state that protects us without compromising our commitment to the rule of law [my emphasis]” (p. 289). Isn’t it conceivable to think of state upholding an international or cosmopolitan frame of class privilege? Terror and Consent does not help us here. I will put it thus: if the starchy clean shirt of the honest butcher who always gives us good meat each week turns out to be a bit uncomfortable with new cutting tools and perhaps no-good anymore for the increasing demands of the job, perhaps the butcher can be persuaded to change into a less starchy, more comfortable new outfit, another cutting technique, etc. so that he can continue doing his job most efficiently, while keeping the good name of the business and taking care of our good appetite. This is Bobbitt’s fundamental policy-level working assumption. His fundamentalism has to do with the goodness of the butcher and the goodness of the customers. What if all these good adjectives turn into bad ones, what about larger alternative landscapes of food habits, what about vegetarianism, what if the butcher traffics in informal, illegal business… Bobbitt’s diffident and officious officialist-institutionalist frame of social things will not explore these hypotheticals, and you know you can place your money on the authorial positionality always on the side of the already strongest, at least for the time being.

But things are messy. There is blurring of the domestic-foreign distinction (pp. 302, 342, 532). This old “antinomy” is now increasingly becoming the “vanishing divide” (p. 313). The motor appears to be the information society, the structure of the open-source, (de-) localization mechanisms. The whole vocabulary of outsourcing, re-source, human resource intelligence (HUMINT, I could not resist the acronym!) is activated here for the vertigo of your critical intelligence. What to hold on to not to fall? The CIA and the FBI are now intersecting, not always in friendly fashion, in territories inside and outside the US borders. It has to be that way because the very notion of “provenance” is in question.  Think for example of the location of a business transaction among various agents in different international corporations, the structure of Mastercard, the structure of Al Qaeda, your latest skype or the most recent list of email exchanges, etc. What does Bobbitt do? He does not hesitate to include samples of PDB, small magazine produced by the CIA for the president’s use (p. 317-321) in which we can read the information that the Bin Ladin (sic) was preparing to hijack U.S. aircraft, and other attacks. What does that do for intelligence, information and knowledge when catastrophes still happen?

Bobbitt’s solution: law cannot be a blockage to strategy. It must combine with strategy, and both dimensions must come together as tight as possible (p. 349l see the endnote 20, on p. 640). Robocop needs no literature, but clear instructions. Beware that the butcher will be handling people! Bobbitt’s authorial position does two things simultaneously: the American (Us, us, we) position, which won the “Long War,” which may have made mistakes along the way, but which is fundamentally a force for good for the whole wide world, and the hypothetical extrication, the transitional or mutational moment to something larger, the global-market standpoint, here desirable qua universal (deontological) law of good behavior, and the best way to go, according to our author. Capitalism is jumping out of bounds and limits, exercising a-traditionalism, deregulation, opportunity, commerce, exchanges. New entities are needed to keep it under some kind of control particularly since there are forces attacking it while mimicking its structure. Since there is no rendition of political philosophy, the moral-ethical content of this policy-focus is no other than the Anglo-American philosophy of “consequentialism”! In what manner, with what utensils, must the citizens of the world eat this intellectual broth! Does our moustache move graciously chewing these boots?

If our author does not go for historical thick-textures, he will have to go for the “insipid cliché” of “ends and means” with the predictable measure of some kind of balance. Defending the rubric of “War against Terror” (pp. 351ff, sic with capital letters) as size-up in the stakes of terrorism. The latter term is defined thus: “the pursuit of political goals through the use of violence against noncombatants [by subnational groups or clandestine agents] in order to dissuade them doing what they have a lawful right to do” (pp. 352-3; the associated endnote 4 includes a reference to Locke’s differentiation of legitimate or “freedom fighters” and illegitimate insurgents or terrorists; the associated endnote 7 includes a reference to a UN panel convened by the ex-leader Kofi Annan). Failing to do the final small-letter claim of political philosophy (p. 551), Bobbitt provides a table of “terrorist” events in foreign national samples (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt; pp. 354-5), to conclude with the big surprise that the “U.S. definition” is of no help in relation to other national definitions (!). Lawfulness appears too closefor comfort with national-cultural relativism (p. 355, endnote 9 on 616), and this is dangerous territory to occupy epistemologically publicly for too long. So, it must remain under-developed. Bobbitt’s lighthouse in this darkness: the future market-state universalism to come soon, but only in so far as, and as long as it does not go against US strategy of remaining the global “claviger” and “steward” –and we must add “gunner.” Some type of UN amalgam is of use as “force multiplier” of always already US hegemony (revisit the direct interpellation –indeed imploration—to the Reader to pay attention to the benignity of US globalism!). Analogy: I love the pretty international girl dearly with universal love of humanity as long as she remains in the subordinate position and faithfully loves me back, while I pay attention to the tight bind of law and strategy according to me, as soon as she changes her mind, I will go it alone, do it otherwise, etc. Terror and Consent is on the other hand emphatically not about the historical reconstruction of international law from the assumed perspective of victory in the “Long War” in diametrical opposition to the highly sophisticated historiographic-philosophical reconstruction of the fascist legal scholar who from the position of historic defeat paid attention to American materials, Classics of International Law for instance,  produced in the vicinity of the Wilsonian moment of glory so excessively and acritically celebrated by Bobbitt.

In a prose that is mostly straight-laced, the phrasing is occasionally grandiloquent: “terrified people in a terrified society too fearful to freely choose their actions (and thus manifest their values) is an end roughly equivalent to the total destruction of Western values” (p. 357). Contagious tremendismo? I like the nuance of the adverbial modifier, the “roughly,” in the “emotional” prose of our author who started studying philosophy at Princeton University with the dignified pragmatist philosophy of Richard Rorty of the always careful prose (perhaps a source of inspiration for the consequentialism?). Rorty’s social-democratic ideology is not to blame for the insidiousness of the table-turning: it is the West that is twice terrified and fearful to follow the manner freely in the American-style split infinitive, and hence, from down there the final solution! The wealthiest and most military powerful, the aggressor in the big picture of world history is the victim! The best thing one can say is that such moments do not happen often in Terror and Consent and yet this occasional bad writing says more things than nothing: it gives yet another emotional turn to the civilizational clash of the West with no need to mention the rest. The moralism: “the nature of the end does, thoroughly, affect our judgment of the means used to achieve it” (p. 358). Moral dilemmas are mostly played out in the periphery of the West, or hypothetically put on the table in the over-determined context of the “Long War” (was it o.k. to bomb civilians in German towns during WWII type of question). Isn’t this yet another example of Parmenides phallacy? Again, four hypotheticals: 1) hostage taking, 2) head of state assassination, 3) animal-rights activist hacking computer systems, 4) generation of terror of local populations to withdraw support of larger federal entities (p. 359-60). What would you do? Bobbitt follows liberal pedagogy: discuss. The reader’s opinion is as valid as the author’s. And what is the point of this liberal fallacy of intentional individualism and the presumption of equal worth in abstract situations?






Did You say Consequentialism?

But wait: the strategic relationship between ends and means is individually “resolved” –think of a nomadic monad in the long march through the desert of history—with the “duty of consequentialism” (p. 361, endnotes 23–5 on p. 617, using encyclopedia entries such as “Modern Moral Philosophy”). The contemplation of the course of action is measured in terms of the foreseeable costs and benefits that are its result and not against any absolute or categorical rule, including regarding those intentions (the presumption being, that of an omniscient observation point, a kind of black hole of history of winning, into which multi-perspectivism collides). With no need to flesh out intellectual histories, Bobbitt’s literal encyclopedic usage is for consequentialism, which is different from utilitarianism, and opposite of deontological, categorical rule of Kantian inspiration (there is some proximity to the Princetonian group of Anne Marie Slaughter-type of Wilsonianism, affiliated with the Obama administration, yet there are some differences in regards to such moral preferences).


One concrete application: “in a war against terror, the terrorist, by his adamant refusal to provide information to which the interrogator is lawfully entitled can by that act render himself liable to coercion short of severe pain. The scope of that coercion, however, must be determined by the imminence and gravity of harm to civilians that can thereby be avoided, and the fact that this avoidance is not otherwise achievable. This much is imposed by the duty of consequentialism” (p. 393).

The position is close to Richard Posner’s whatever methods (p. 362). This is said to be the only answer available to the official of the state. This is ground zero to Bobbitt’s fundamental preoccupation: the discourse about the public morality of the state official in difficult situations that have to do with violence of the state. Bobbitt willingly gets tangled up with “native” entanglements (Posner, Ackerman, Haass, Walzer, Slaughter, the only lady in this circle of serious men) in the official foreign-relations house of official being of indeed long and international reach and myriad, tentacular consequences (if the stakes are high enough, [even] torture is permissible. Only a self-absorbed monster would say, sweetly, “Oh no, I mustn’t… sorry,” p. 362). All these fellows are travelers in the same bandwagon, aren’t they? Bobbitt would like to be part of this selective club with or without the benefit of the doubt and the hindsight that corresponds to the one and only narrator falling for the Parmenides’ fallacy despite saying otherwise. I fail to see genuine disagreements in the substance of policy in the murky statute territory of post-Guantanamo, post-Abu Ghraib torture, detention, rendition… By the time of the completion of this writing, no one single high-ranking US state official has been incriminated with or without the breach in legitimacy denounced in Terror and Consent . Bobbitt’s tool-kit consequentialism boils down to pragmatic fixing, pay better attention to timeframes, put forth template of hypotheticals, lay down possible scenarios and ready-made situations that may reach decision-makers at the right time and place of their choosing. Terror and Consent would rather be more PDB, the aforementioned small magazine produced by the CIA, than a new Phenomenology of Spirit.

The self-legitimating taboo: “the public official whose role has been authorized by the consent of the governed” (p. 363). The population of that nation consents to the secrecy of the state mechanism. The people fundamentally want it (for the policies to be kept secret, for the violence to go on, etc.). Only the cynicism of an American in administration positions can write this type of line in public in moments of systematic violation of democratic rules under the presumption of direct control of the political system by the majority of the people of any nation, but remember that there is transition to market nation. Adding the asterisk of small-letter no-clarification on the same page: “This consent I presume to include not only the laws validly adopted but also the constitution that provides for lawmaking on the basis of consent.” Do you understand this fish biting its own constitutional tail that must swim in the big international ocean? What does consent have to do with anything that deals with state secrecy? What does a soldier in war conflict have to do with consent side by side the chain of command? What about a state official following diplomatic protocol? What does a torturer servicing an enemy combatant in an undisclosed location have to do with consent? Isn’t this “c-word” a grotesque euphemism, or smokescreen, more than anything else?

The deeper you go into the troubled waters, the more troubled you get in them: “Machiavelli was among the first to appreciate this [the quandaries of public officials], and his argument that the moral imperatives for the official are different from those of the rest of us has earned him the condemnation of many successive generations” (p. 363). Bobbitt puts the Florentine close to the Walzer position of separate moralities (p. 137, pp. 363-5). While defending the occasional necessity of the dirty hands of state officials, side by side the “consequential” preference of ethical morality –and no politics– unmixed with the “deontological” or “categorical” –others will say fundamentalist–, Bobbitt’s quintessential American solution, which I have before parodied in the pedagogic vignette, is that of leaving the situation open and always poorly contextualized. He does not embrace the amoralism of politics. He does not support the permanent separation of law (as the good thing) from strategy (also a good thing of another order). Bobbitt’s cooking-book recipe: “The objective sought (the end) that justifies the violation of the law (the means) is in fact the preservation (sic) of the rule of law, which is shall we say “dented” (sic, with quotation marks in the original) by the very means that avoid a catastrophic collision” (p. 366). Mark it: “dented,” so as to keep it. Some things must change for others to remain the same. And the song must remain fundamentally the same. Leaving aside the issue of how to trans-historicize some kind of Machiavellian psychologism to our new century, anything else but the decision-making thought control of the isolated figure in power?, Bobbitt’s argumentation is fundamentally status-quo preservationist with the necessary “post-modernizations” of the rule of law. In short: casuistry.

I cannot resist the recreation of a previous suggestion: I see Bobbitt in the Burt Lancaster spirit of Prince Don Fabrizio Salina in Visconti’s masterpiece The Leopard (1963): a little dent to the edifice so that the edifice is fundamentally kept intact at least for a couple more decades. Am I Americanizing the analogy too much? Yet, there is a Southern connection embedded in the American Anglophilia, coming from the son of the Southern family’s plantation during the American Civil War, that publicizes proximity with selected foreign members of elite groups as long as they collaborate with US interests and join in the reformism of the deteriorated legitimacy after the Bush administration. Pay attention to the writer’s strategy: Bobbitt is again bringing “terror” to the privileged background (General Sherman’s cavalry riding through the family’s plantation and cutting off the geese’s heads with their sabers to force the population’s withdrawal of support for the Confederate regime), without providing larger social vistas, for the larger slavery theme, for which there is no total or absolute deontological approval or condemnation. Consequentialism prevents any such general postulate. Yet there is the advocacy of the “pursuit of virtue” (endnote 24, p. 617), unless it is understood in the Machiavellian sense as virtus, closer to strength, determination and virility. And there is the big jump in the illustration of terror to another time and place: the bombing of Belgrade by a later American government (p. 360). How to connect the dots when our author leaves it open to the reader interpretation? How to build on the comparison in the first place? The mitigated transcendentalism of a circumstantial situationalism that theoretically, ethically shies away from incremental pain, a la Richard Rorty. This is perfect morality: some general guidelines, some situations and typologies, in case of doubt follow chain of command. If I read Bobbitt’s larger position correctly, his is mild reformism of what is already in place. He prefaces his presentation of proposals with the vocabulary of diffidence and officiousness. Yes, therefore, to the correction of the “unlawful methods” at the core of the Bush administration’s efforts to legitimate coercive interrogation techniques that brought de-legitimation of the very institution, the presidency, US justice and defense departments. And who would say no to this publicly?

Did You Say Torture?

In a bizarre section, even when considered solely for the rhetorically persuasive skills, there are three types of argument for the justification of torture attending to the ends and means: 1) evidentiary, 2) political, and 3) informational (pp. 370ff). Reproductions of the signature of Guy Fawkes tortured at the rack are included! (p. 372). Remember V for Vendetta (2006)? (Hollywood action films seek inspiration in underground comic heroes to build our empathy for anti-state “terror,” while Bobbbitt would be busy fixing the pipelines in Westminster Palace!). There is a second, black-and-white photograph, of the state of terror, at the very beginning of the book, preceding the table of content: that of gunmen executing Iraqi election workers at point-blank range in Baghdad streets (p. viii). No other images in the British edition of Terror and Consent. Any other images on the other side of the Atlantic? I kind of doubt it, and certainly not in relation to the policy measures contemplated in these typologies. A certain equilibrium of means and ends is defended to justify the use of torture in various moments in history against those forces that challenge the officially constituted powers (King James I, Greeks and Romans, Westerners kidnapped and executed in the Middle East with their images available on the web, the Nazi execution of French resistance hero Jean Moulin…). This section reminded me of the exhibit on the theme of “terror” in some kind of history-of-mankind format at the Spy Museum in Washington shortly after 9/11. Splitting hairs in the name of effectiveness: “the problem is made more realistic by assuming that, in some circumstances, torture and assassination are effective” (p. 381). Whenever the word “realism” comes up in Terror and Consent: get ready for un-pretty measures: how big the difference between the bad name of torture and the good name of “coercive interrogation” (p. 381). Our author will consider four “permissible alternatives” of this barbarism of self-appointed (Western) civilization:

“1) absolute ban; 2) a qualified ban, perhaps permitting some forms of cruel and degrading treatment but banning torture; a ban with exceptions, perhaps permitting torture and any lesser means in certain certifiable circumstances; 4) rendition to a lawful authority, permitting some forms of coercive interrogation, including even torture, depending on the willingness of the State transparently to acknowledge its role” (p. 381).

The persistent reader will have to get the stomach ready for the casuistic handling of the circumstantial gradualism in abstract situations that fundamentally admits to the justification of torture building on the totem-and-taboo premiss, that the reason of the legitimate being of the state is the role of the protector of the civilian population (it is telling that the two most used qualifications of state are nation and market, and never democracy). I do not know about you but my Anglophilia is politically here on the “inalienable” side of the human rights defended by Gareth Peirce. Get the brutality of the adjectives in the rhetorical question: “is the “absolute ban” the right rule for the real world?” (p. 382). Sanford Levinson is credited with the absolute prohibition (p. 383-4). Bobbitt praises him only to bracket the absolutism or fundamentalism in the name of –you know—necessity.





There is a redundant, modifying adjective clause to the aforementioned definition of terrorism. It is violence against “persons who are behaving lawfully” (p. 384). Now, that throws a monkey business into the equation: whose definition of law and lawfulness? Although Bobbitt does not say the assumption is that the state can only define itself solipsistically. There is therefore a self-serving circularity or tautology: officialdom does violent things lawfully and when it does not according to its own legal discourse is a dent. The counter-violence is illegal violence or terrorism. US Iraq invasion, lawful? Posner’s occasional dent, when the stakes are high, the exceptional allowance in between the “always” and “never” and how often? Bobbitt’s combination, the suggestion of new laws and the pursuit of the best strategy for the new times? Does Bobbitt present a real challenge to the likes of Posner? I don’t think so. The suggestion: the “bracketing” of the calculus of necessity (p. 384), which is grotesquely “grounded” in a method in phenomenology and the reference is,  out of the blue, to Husserl (endnote 74, p. 621). In the official furniture, Bobbitt’s ventriloquism provides no grand, drastic designs, mostly upholstery with dutiful sobriety. The senior adviser cares mostly about the upkeep. There is no doubt: rendition is a “market approach” (p. 387) in this brave new world of no “deontological” absolutes. Cat’s cradle: Bobbitt will defend later the desirability of general rules not to be accused of imperialism. Doubts? Careful balance of means and ends puts state and market in a “world of casual deceit” (p. 386).  One theoretical justification for the use of violence in the Wars against Terror (always with capital letters): self-defense, the golden rule of self-preservation. See where the argumentation is going, in the splitting of hairs between torture and severe pain, the protection of secrecy of state officials to avoid reprisals, etc.?




The Emergence of the Emergency State, The State of Exception.

Get ready: emergency and the exception come to the fore. The theme of the “emergency constitution” (p. 404) is illustrated almost as though our author had been faithfully watching popular Hollywood action films. If the possibility of catastrophe does not wake you up, nothing will. For whom do the bells toll if not the big system inside which you and I are located? Bobbitt gives us four narratives of institutional doomsday scenarios, never holding the Anonymous mask of the trouble-maker Guy Fawkes (pp. 404ff): 1) airplane hijacking in a kind of more devastating 9/11 successfully destroying leading political infrastructure of the US; 2) biological attack while the US President visits Harvard for a commencement address hitting the city of Boston; 3) earthquake strike in northern California hitting identical site as the latest Planet of the Apes film, not to miss is the unhidden white fear of “No-Go areas governed by local Latino gangs;” (hello, this bit of Huntingtoniana, remember the quote of Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1993)?, meets Kathryn Bigelow’s good film Strange Days (1995)!; 4) Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) out of control, it is the fault of the Russians! (pp. 404-12). Who needs political philosophy when you have popular-culture typologies!


Bobbitt can be seen as the little brother in between the two older brothers, Richard Posner, who appears more on the Republican side, and Bruce Ackerman, more on the “liberal” side, certainly with bigger, more scholarly muscles in juridical thinking and legal historiography. I am guessing that our author is closer to the latter’s proposals to safeguard the constitution in these emergency situations (pp. 413ff), yet not quite with another “academic liberal,” Elaine Scarry, who is elbowed out to the endnote apparatus (endnote 29, p. 618). If Posner is the bad cop, Ackerman is the good liberal cop: pick one of these two intersecting parallel lines in the future fictional horizon of doomsday. The pressure situation to bring to the political imagination is the liberal suspension of the constitution due to an emergency situation. This is supposedly done to prevent falling into authoritarianism (always a bad word, but isn’t the good one of law in the same semantic field of regimentation, prohibition, setting up of limits, etc.?, I like very much Jesús Lalinde-Abadía definition of law, the “repressive culture”). As before, this is very serious stuff. The legacy of the Weimar Republic is too close for comfort, and the ghost of Carl Schmitt is never far away (Bobbitt mentions the name of Carl Schmitt obliquely (p. 414, 416). And I dare say this is one of the intellectual fountainheads of the burning issues that we all have scattered around the discussion table.





Never mounting a frontal attack, Bobbitt charges Ackerman’s measures with reflecting the passing nation state (p. 415). He add his own policy proposals to the ad hoc jumble of policies in our chaotic times. These are 12 summary recommendations, bullet points: quarantine responsible officials in case of national emergency; issue identification cards; repeal Posse Comitatus, federalize National Guard; federal Emergency will be activated in response to national emergencies; new paradigm for “packet-based information;” implementation of statutory rules for “preventive detention” with certain timeframes and habeas corpus “consistent with the protection of classified sources and methods;” resituate, replace, rewrite rules for the maintenance of the political elite (House of Representatives, US Supreme Court, Presidential Succession); measures for the study of dangerous diseases and biotoxins and restrictions of information; the appointment of a federal court with special jurisdiction to handle terrorism cases except for detentions in overseas combat handled by military tribunals; privatization of services when needed, or “outsourcing: the market will be brought into play” (pp. 417-423). The hunger of the strategic intelligence informing the sprawling Terror and Consent is of one big synthesis for the early decades in the new century. Are we waiting for Godot? In the meantime, what is left to do is tinker with the clauses, the statutes, the subordinate clauses, the timeframes. Here we are with the “illusion” (p. 429) of the lack of definite intelligence and correspondingly ours is a “world of casual deceit” (p. 386), or disorientation that is undeniable at the official-national level. These measures are purely operative in such dimension. Would this mean a return or a regression into the national-state fortress?  The US is a nation seeking its narration of the next strategy. The hunger of a thickly texture historicity not automatically subordinated to immediate policy interests appears to be of moderate intensity. Bobbitt does not care for the seductive narratives of the global market. Final square: “opportunity” and “access to capital”! When he critiques the lack of teleology in Haass’s assessment of the jumble of policies in the Bush administration, vice always?, sometimes virtue? What about Bobbitt? Is he very far away from the same horizon of the “liberal European empire,” ideally with the allegiance of the world community, what gets called “force multiplier”? (end note 28; p. 629). What is Bobbitt’s politics if not capitalist,pro-business re-energizing from the perspective of the “repressive culture” and of the policy-centric impetus? Does consequentialism have any teleology? These are big questions for anyone that necessitate many evenings.

Did You Say Wilson?

What I see is the serious lack of a reliable meaningfulness or a resilient intelligibility that could make “us” go through mounting situations of “terror.” Another thing is whether you want to stick your political nose faithfully to officialdom, US or any other. In a book not fixated on inspirational historical vistas, Bobbitt includes two historical moments: the Monroe Doctrine and the Parisian Wilson. There is eulogy and little else of these two stepping stones for US global impetus couched as the force for good of universal well-being. One must pause here for fresh air. The first one was “breath-takingly anti-imperial… [and] offered protection for the newly liberated [Latin American] states” (p. 431). Apropos Woodrow Wilson’s decision to enter WWI, he speaks of “the most selfless international intervention by a major power in the twentieth century.” The bibliography is thin. The praise, vacuous. White cats in the dark night of geopolitics in the vicinity of world wars? Bet your money the cat will be the same nationality as the author’s! Bobbitt  does not hesitate to speak of the “high-mindedness” and “magnanimous instincts” of Woodrow Wilson (p. 491). Isn’t this grotesque psychologizing of the mindset of the US President, who is a nice guy, without giving other, larger perspectives? Again, the bibliography apparatus is thin, Bobbitt does not tell us what Sigmund Freud and John Maynard Keynes among others thought of the American President, cardboard figure that has become, at least among some, little more than the visible road sign in the desert of inspirational history for some foreign-affairs and international studies circles, yet exclusively in the US, to find themselves, ideally not too far away from Princeton University. What is really at stake is the new rationale for war intervention handling liberally sovereign-state demarcation lines at one time sacrosanct.

And Did You Say Humanitarian Intervention?

Make no mistake: Bobbitt is an author who advocates the identity of humanitarian intervention and strategy. In other words, the disrespect of the sovereignty limit of the national state now deemed obsolete thing and great obstacle is from the perspective of strategy. I will put colloquially thus: Yes, I do humanitarian intervention, because it is good for me first and when you think of it, it is good for you too (see the endnote 20 on p. 640). The humanitarian and the geopolitical go hand in hand (p. 493).  And one gets the feeling that what Bobbitt would really like to do is to be part of the new Inquiry put together by a new President in relation to the current dilemmas. The configuration? “Fewer lawyers and more businessmen, fewer academics and more journalists, and especially persons from other important countries. The work of such a body can guide us (sic) in writing the rules for the international society of states” (p. 518). It is a kind of a private club, or think tank, something like a hybrid of Council of Foreign Relations, and Club de Madrid, a kind of European Council of Foreign Relations.

Bobbitt’s utopia. Yet another typology, and how many so far?: variations of the market state: 1) the entrepreneurial market state, 2) the mercantile market state; and 3) the managerial market state (p. 519). This is short and sweet: one page. The topic of torture took more. The thinness of the future vision is breath-taking. As the famous Jamesonian line, it is easier to imagine the destruction of the world than it is to imagine a more livable alternative, how about the collective poverty of our political imagination? The first variation is deregulation, privatization, free trade, and ad hoc legal action. The second one is “supporting commerce” and national-cultural preservation. It feels Huntingtonian: “In matters of culture, ethnic homogeneity and continuity are core values.” Behind the façade of nationalism, market states of terror can flourish. And the third one is Federal Germany: social cohesion and equality and economic efficiency subordinate to these two previous values. This is a “comfortable society… reluctant to campaign against massive human rights violations, even on their own doorsteps.” There is the plague treatise of the conclusion (pp. 521-46). Sexy the skeletal thinness of Bobbitt’s future vision in the grip of The War on Terror?

Enough said: time to put the writing utensil back in the pencil case. The interested reader can see Bobbitt’s handling of the Slaughter’s proposal of the “duty to prevent” (p. 471ff), the cat’s cradle of opaque, transparent, translucent varieties or understandings of sovereignty (p. 453, 468ff). I fail to see the illuminations to what is basically casuistry of military intervention when national-state interest is compromised at a historical moment of relative de-spatialization of theaters of war and virtualizations of advanced capitalism. In relation to sovereignty, Bobbitt defends that three dogmas must be shattered: 1) that it must be fully vested, that this “bachelor” cannot be a “little bit married;” 2) that it has to be necessarily territorial; 3) that it cannot be shared (pp. 464-5). The rule of the “one” (one supreme state authority, one set of laws, one state jurisdiction) is firmly called into question (also in relation to the sole standing superpower?). Bobbitt’s preference: he gives the American constitutional position a greater future side by side the history of European ideas of sovereignty (p. 467). Why? It is less regionally fixated and one wonders if this type of vapid indefinition with the thinness of traditions will stand erect for long.  More cat’s cradle of policy suggestions:

11 initiatives for the new international law (pp. 478ff), the “provocative proposed rule: a state of terror can never be sovereign” (p. 481), what feels like an update of the Kirkpatrick  “double standards:” the division between states of consent and states of terror (p. 482). The final emergence of the geography of privilege: Bobbitt proposes the renewal of the bond between the US and the EU in a kind of G2 (pp. 482-3). Equal members in the marriage bed? You know the answer when our author is holding hands with the resilient Democrat Zbigniew  Brzezinski from the Carter years: “the U.S. will continue to be the only state that matters everywhere” (p. 487). No need to get sentimental about avatars of Western civilization courses in the American institutions of higher learning. This is the core of what matters, US meaningfulness, against some timid background-history type of foreignness that mostly makes its presence in the two weakest chapters, “mise-en-scene” and “danse macabre,” eleven and twelve, in sing along manner. Yet some foreigners are more foreign than others. Either “terror” or the words of Sir Michael Howard, to whom Terror and Consent is dedicated, who gives the American vision our good American author wants to hear (page 488; endnote 11, p. 639). In colloquial language: Marmite and peanut butter and jelly. There is nothing else in between in the convenience store of the history of the world.






To try to avoid the charge of imperialism, the building of a system of neutral, general principles is needed (p. 499). Is this compatible with the self-professed ethical-moral consequentialism of the diffident, officious “senior adviser” collaborating with one too many American administrations, who repudiates the deontological, rigid normativity? One more step forward with the blinders: the “radical proposal” is for a strong state that needs clear regulation and the rule of law (p. 500): Hegelian identity of state and law,  and the phenomenology of this miserable spirit, as seen in the previous societal triptych of future societal alternatives, is in essence what we have had already at least since the 1950s with a few changes in policy in the vicinity of the “distasteful” topic of violence, so that political things do not change too much (p. 503). One forceful reading is provided by Immanuel Wallerstein, obviously not included in Terror and Consent: the epistemological disorientations embedded in the inevitable decline of the US, already announced a decade ago, are beyond the limits of any one individual, are instead  symptomatic of something more structural, systematic and more dynamic than is presented here. Such complexity is begging a persistent use of multi-disciplinary intelligence that cannot ever be reduced and impoverished to policy levels (see the recent article “The World Consequences of the U.S. Decline” and take it from there,

In the Manner of a Quick Conclusion.

Bobbitt’s utopian vision of the so-called imminent “market state” is close to pro-business predictions such as the ones by the Shell Company (pp. 519-20, endnote 74, page 562).  And the ontological self-definition puts the freedom-loving materialism of “who we are,” perhaps (p. 525) with the “mournful work… of sustaining relative good in the face of greater evil” (p. 520). This is “literature,” by the bad name of literature, that juxtaposes Alicia Ostriker, St. Augustine, and the magnificent Marianne Moore with the fundamental message: some very ugly things have to happen to maintain the complex system of capitalism in its place. You pick: either this or some drastically different, radically new, under the name of “terror.” Or rather, TINA (there is no alternative.

This is in essence Bobbitt’s central message in foreign-policy environments in Terror and Consent. It is vital not to swallow the official language and run with it towards the good euphemism of “consent.” The intended audience of this ominous text of Bobbitt is the English-speaking foreign-affairs and international relations communities of global power and international impact, with or without the literary embellishments that will not seek the inspiration of cultural-studies and postcolonial studies. I must say it quickly before the tremendous thought sits in: Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent is but one ordinary product of the fields of international relations and foreign affairs that screams its intellectual limitations. Here, there are no philosophical worldviews, no political compare and contrast, no historiographic dialogue with a generous portion of humanity around the best ideas and sustainable versions of democracy. It is as though the sign of democracy, which appears little in the long text, needed was of transparent meaning.  One strong suggestion is that I would not go to Bobbitt for an exegesis, would you? And I wouldn’t go to him either for big vistas of international meaningfulness. Foreignness is here understood mostly as force multiplier of US national interests, or echo chamber of immediate US foreign policy endeavors. Yet, again, it is crucial never to fall for xenophobic provincialisms, but see how seductive such social vision is. Easier said than done of course. Terror and Consent conveys the advisability of torture-chamber policies in emergency situation, and for the benefit of whom?, more than the delightful egalitarianism running around –naked?–  the supermarket of the world as in the zombie films of George Romero. The reader is invited to contemplate the imminent dystopia of  Children of Men and it is not only out there in Britain. Terror and Consent is symptom of the blindness and the occasional insights into the present turbulence of capitalism, called here the “market,” which is mostly presented as commerce and fluid exchanges among monadic, nomadic individuals running around –naked?– global timespaces of decreased historical meaningfulness. Who is watching over it? You guessed it, the “global, but benign” self-appointed “protector:” the US. In this shadow, Bobbitt, helping push, diffidently, officiously, for the new policies for the new strategies to still keep the market, the US, the world, in place. There is a really ugly dimension that has to do with the making of regimentations, normativities, inequalities, prohibitions and repressions (I still like very much the formula of the historian of law, Jesús Lalinde-Abadía who equated law with “repressive culture” historically finding rich modalities beyond the mere policy level of intelligence intervention). We always already inhabit a new century of an increasing belligerence and of intensified violence and the visions of most commentators are harrowing, Bobbitt among them. One useful question to have in the back pocket: What are the most seductive visions of the global village being promoted by the competing, identifiable parties in this or that field of knowledge production?

Terror and Consent is ambitious, bulky work that faithfully wishes to stick its nose to the policy-level rhetoric of the mutational transition of nation-state social relations becoming market state social relations. In other words, capitalism generates its necessary repressive reconfigurations for survival. The key thing would be to see into what forms, manners, content, etc., besides an apparent framelessness of timespace dimensions. Is the world becoming like the “www” of the world wide web, or the wild wild west? Any limits to political power? And what if Terror and Consent is bastard son, much less intellectual, and “consequentalist” progeny, disoriented, dangerous, “liberal” version of the new “Nomos of the Earth” in the new century, still with no clear synthesis or theory, yet clinging to winning the dirty war of the world, the “War of Terror” after the “Long War”? I leave it there. Which way for a different kind of politics, for other geopolitics?

Any thoughts, comments? Get in touch,

On Carnival and Cannibal by Jean Baudrillard.

By Fernando Gomez Herrero (

The theme of Carnival and Cannibal (2010) by noted French intellectual Jean Baudrillard, recently deceased (1929-2007) is its subtitle: “The Play of Global Antagonism.” Such antagonism, or tension, takes place between two phenomenal dimensions: that of globalizing Western modernity and that of the more localized and supposedly less “modern,” hence more “traditional” cultures, or the non-West, or the not-West-yet if you wish. But the winning suggestion is one of fusion, even confusion, and West-magnetic synthesis that does not deviate from belligerence, at least in this account. This is another modality of the “clash of civilizations” if you wish, not circulating in international-relations and foreign-affairs environments, in which the traditionalism of the West also disappears, and behaves like docile handmaiden to market modernism or contemporary capitalism. Aesthetically, Americanism has appropriated for itself –probably since the 1950s– the idea of the “modern,” including the European dimension, without letting go quite yet –think for example of New York-based museums as they expand globally—at least for now. What I will do here is to run Baudrillard’s argumentation, keeping the thick-brush dichotomy, West and non-West, which is presented to us strictly from a Western perspective without any illusions of “going native” to some other radically different side. There is a bit of imperial legacies coming home (“Empire strikes back”), but this is misguided emulation, or cannibalism. Carnival and Cannibal will tell you there is nothing substantial on the other side of the West, despite the “tease” included in the fictional story in the original Spanish language of the acclaimed Argentine author, and the alert reader surely already suspects who is behind this conventionality. There is a dim counter-West, no sustainable para-West, much less post-West dimension. The horizon does not open up, or changes drastically however, despite Baudrillard’s genuine lack of enthusiasm for the Western trajectory, but closes in on all of us, and both options are taken in the fork of the road of no apparent alternative of substance. The parallel lines of the West and non-West intersect in the near horizon or not so near future. But this is no reason for jubilation. In short: there is no post-colonialism worthy of a substantial difference, with or without no Western rejuvenation and a terminal decline. There is a feeling of an immense futility in the no-exit endgame that puts “cannibals” in a global farce of general misrecognition.




There is accordingly a double ambiguity embedded in the relationship between the European West and the non-West: carnivalesque and cannibalesque (it is important to re-emphasize the increasing American conditioning, the US appropriation, of the “proper” European and Western dimensions, at least since the 1950s, and Baudrillard’s pronominal use in the travel-narrative of America (1986), less so in Carnival and Cannibal and Agony of Power (2010), leaves no doubt as to where he stands vis-à-vis the “they, the Americans”). As the famous line, the French author admires them but does not love them and I confess that I do not find too many who do both verbs convincingly. What do we make of such ambiguity (carnival, cannibalism)? “Modernity,” or the matrix of the time of now (euphemism for capitalism, which the “free-traders” call “the market”) does have an incontinent, expansive dimension, colonizing impetus. Such modernity is “violent extrapolation” (p. 12) from a hegemonic position of the social and political equation (“us versus them”). In Carnival and Cannibal, there is the inversion of the good signs, or “ideals,” of the Enlightenment tradition, probably unavoidably for a French intellectual at least of a certain generation. There is instead grotesque deformation of these ideals, as though these allegorical idealities looked at themselves in anamorphic mirrors against a variety of jumbled-up cultures. The West is –increasingly, at least according to our author— a collection of sustainability models of grotesque simulation (p. 12): the “form of an accelerated decomposition of the universal, a caricature of democracy speaking the language of democracy and exporting it to the world.” Perhaps there was a time of more vigorous ideological assertions –say, in between WWI and WWII, the Cold War of the three worlds, the 1960s—but not now, fifty years later. The West wins all right, it is the “end of history” in a sense, but this is pyrrhic, miserable victory, according to Baudrillard’s interpretation, that maintains the generic formula of the model and copy, master and slave, victimizer and victim, the West and the rest. Winning here means the thinning out, the streamlining, the “final solution” of total-American-style assimilation, of the thicker, richer, more substantial features of other cultures, which are inevitably incorporated and kept subordinate in some kind of sketchy touristic and folkloric-recognizable caricature of themselves. In Carnival and Cannibal, cultural heavyweights lose it and they lose it to the lightweights. So, what are possible responses to this apparently inevitable process of debasement? One can run the fingers with possibilities, emotional and intellectual, to the seemingly unavoidable impact of the West: admiration, seduction, sour grapes, resentment, envy, emulation, dissimulation, assimilation, acculturation, hybridity, derision, can anyone afford indifference?, to go uneasy for the mix, resistance, embracing an iconoclastic, destructive impulse, run to the hills?, etc. Baudrillard’s mood: acedia, abjection is the “us” (p. 22) occupying zero-ground nihilism framed by general de-culturation and disenchantment (his nihilism comes from Nietzchean genealogy, but there is no sense of counter-hegemonic mutation of official values, Baudrillard is saying: the Emperor is naked, and we are all naked!). There is no ac-, trans-, but mostly de-culturation within unstoppable Western incorporation in two phases (European and now US), at least in this account. There are no illusions — of brotherhood, freedom, emancipation, voice of reason.

Our post-Enlightenment moment means the debilitation of these positivities that fail to ignite collective excitement. Baudrillard’s intellectual universe is post-Enlightenment evanescence of the intellectualist prejudice that proclaims the need for a more nuanced language and a more coherent discursivity to better and more faithfully grasp our relationship with the global “truth.” We are all in the smithereens of these nominal positivities, once inspirational concepts and Baudrillard’s message is to terminate these nostalgias better sooner than later.













Our French intellectual with a substantial American experience has no doubts about the essentially farcical relationship between these two synthetic dimensions, the imperious West and its subordinate negative, the restive non-West (one should start Americanizing the relationship, and not for the better). Carnival and Cannibal “disbelieves” the sustainable “negativity” of this non- or post-West dimension (hasty, generic definition of belief or thesis: vigorous copula of assertive thought and congruent emotion). It is as though we all already lived in the paratactic, visual, digital, non-thetic world of the fragmentary, the chaotic, the non-sequitur, and also correspondingly in the sheer impossibility of a counter-thesis to the broken thesis of the West that is here presented in the ugly-American-public style of late 20th century and early 21st century. Hence, Baudrillard proposes the double farce of the relationship, the identity of the West and the increasingly debilitated difference of the non-West moving towards the magnetism of the West in the anamorphic mirror (farce has to operate in all the meanings of the word, “we” are the butt of the jokes, and no one is spared, no matter your favorite timespace location of faithful meaningfulness). This is the fundamental situation room, severe minimalism, reductio ad absurdum if you wish, of Carnival and Cannibal.

The Farcical Relationship Between the West and the non-West.

Let us go a bit further: how to understand the insistence, or the repetition, of the political relationship, the “us versus them” in between these two big, and unequal, entities of the West and its negative Other with a clear name that does not manage to emerge in Baudrillard’s vision? The inclusive Levinasian interrelationship of this or that “identity” –-post-ontological understanding of “identity” always already through relations– finds mirrors of distortion, and “disrelationship,” between word, deed and lack of action and silences. The fracture, the scandal, the “sinning,” happens in between the spaces among the three nouns (word, deed, lack or omission). I see myself in you and you see myself in me and it is far indeed from being a mutually invigorating relationship. The etymology of farce is significant in the current historical moment of seemingly unavoidable enlargement of the West as if by cramming. How else to understand the euphemism of globalization? No “less is more,” but “more is more,” but drastically not at the level of figures of thought, or sustainable traditions, at least in relation to Carnival and Cannibal. Yet more of what if not of clatter and hence saturation? Maximalism. Baroque, partos de monte, semiotic excess in our global postmodernism: certainly! But, where is the substantial content that may reconfigure the frames of intelligibility, the rules of the game? There is play of zero-value, or nihilism, that is not “out there,” but “in here,” and the end-result is one of hybridity and indifference, also hybridity in indifference, working on both sides of the generic political formula. Baudrillard’s is a vision that does not see sustainable antagonisms to the “system” (for lack of a better word). Do we blame him quickly? Do we put ourselves, and our best friends, in the crosshairs of oppositionality? How? Differentialist readings from area studies, Latin American perspectives among them make no fundamental, violent epistemic and emotional difference to Baudrillard’s synthetic formula of carnival-cannibal matrix of intelligibility (and this is so, despite, or because of, introducing a certain Latin American representation of predictable “universalist” piece of fiction in a certain way, the predictable Argentinian of conventional love affair in comparative-literature settings at least in the last decades of the last century). There is blurring of boundaries, and there is a sense of inconsequence in such blurring. It appears that there is nothing to hold on to, nothing to go towards, except some unconvincing lightness of being global market. Baudrillard’s appeal to “form” has no “meta-morph-osis.” We are left with the place of immanence, and there is the play with these forms. There is the incapacity of pathos, since this would imply a sustainable structure of meaningfulness or referentiality and we appear to inhabit the evanescence and virtualization of all forms, visible and invisible. His preference for the solitariness of the “desert” (formlessness, a valid synonym?) in America has surely to do with the historical inevitability of the Americanization of Western forms (this is certainly congruent with his own biographical trajectory). Yet one wonders if bathos is the only collective solution (there is also disrelationship between individuality and collectivity). Light, broad, ridiculous humor going in all directions: the first pie flies and lands in the face of the Slave, a second pie flies and lands in the face of the Master, and the pie festival goes on with other characters in the situation room: classic American comedy that is now the inevitable geopolitical, hermeneutic configuration, at least according to our foreign-born interpreter, dyspeptically self-styled with no satisfactory American solution, or French or any other national label of your choice. The pie festival remains “conservative” in the sense that there is not fundamental alteration of the role-playing. Sweet, empty show of the inequality of the relationship between both gigantic personifications, West and non-West, deserving nothing but scorn, accordingly? What is the point of the pie festival in the first place?

This intellectual sincerity is amoral “play” in the smithereens of the culture of the universal (the Enlightenment tradition, The Conspiracy of Art, p. 143). Baudrillard proclaims the combination game of big entities, increasingly without sustainable differences, utterly without big claims or seductive discourse, traditions worthy of the veneration of the name, or the drastic cut of the modernism worthy of the good pair of scissors. What rhyme and what reason? Our French expatriate finds none, and yet he does not leave. He lingers in this “nothing.” It is as though he was beyond good and evil, with nothing to gain or lose. There is here an iconoclastic impulse that does not want to euphemize cynically the doings of the “system,” and Baudrillard’s final blunt diction remains not-mainstream and radically unconventional, restless and uneasy to handle in public (and as such it is preferable to the insincere anti-intellectualism of end-of-history managers and administrators). There is the feeling of a bitter pill that does not cure the fatal disease that is now like a plague. Baudrillard’s agnosticism prevents him from looking out the window into another different world (“As a historian, I am skeptical; as an anarch, I am on my guard,” says the narrator Manuel Venator in Ernst Junger’s Eumeswil). Emancipation makes no sense since alienation cannot disentangle identity from difference, and there is no value system, or axiology,  to hold on to. Laughably inept and ignorant, the Master enters in a relationship in a given situation with the Slave who is responding in kind. Prospero has no good language, he is naked, but neither has Caliban, who, also naked, does not know how on earth get to do otherwise or why curse in the name of what in the first or final place. Replace Prospero who has no grace and manners and no intelligence with whom, or what? These two characters look at each other in the mirror and will not leave this House of Being. The pot calls the kettle black, but also white, and vice versa and there is no way out of the farcical name-calling incongruity. Nothing is left outside the “festivities” of light entertainment in the global conjuncture. The explicit perspective of our noted French intellectual?: a disenchanted Western perspective inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s brief fictional fragments included in The Book of Imaginary Beings.  Should one wish to stress the representational roles of a certain Latin Europe and Latin America, unevenly across the great divide of West and non-West?: the publication of some Baudrillard texts have been supported by the French Ministry of Foreign affairs through the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York. Who can doubt that Borges plays such role now in relation to Argentine literature, if not of the entire Latin America, but also of a certain fictional ornamentation embraced by some French-inspired post-structuralism, and Beatriz Sarlo among others, is not entirely happy about some of these uneven global relations.

Almost 100 Years Later, Baudrillard Repeats the Latin American Difference Within, if not Entirely Against, Western Hegemony.

One possible historical response is assimilation, or adjustment, to this Western-impact. This is the still conventional American “final solution” –of de-culturation of historical pre-American legacies at the family level– in the pursuit of a better living, the so-called “American dream.” Individuality, mobility, increasing irrelevance of and attachment to meaningful timespaces, the thinning out of diachronicity, the rapid mutability of living locations, portability (rolling up your circumstance, like a carpet, and traveling with it in your back pocket). And there is no doubt your social, historical landscape is now global and virtual with no automatic attachments. There is a specific American intensity to the forgetfulness of where you are coming from, a kind of generalized amnesia in relation to “background,” or “tradition,” even a kind of structural lobotomy in relation to languages other than English, the emptying out of English from within also, and the lightening up of ethnic-group configurations…Nomadism. Monadism. And who would want to do that, willingly? I simply wish to emphasize the severity of the adaptation process –dare I say typically American?– that rescues little, or nothing, of what might have preceded such assimilation process, still a taboo topic at dinner tables by the time I write these pages. I confess to not knowing too many who would consciously want to emulate the severity of this typical cut-off from the original cultures? It is difficult not to see it as a total impoverishment, as though the ugly American abroad turned out to be uglier at home, and the joke is on you in relation to the professional settings of foreign cultural studies (the “American” sign personifies a certain moment of universal culture of capitalist degradation, and a certain intensity of a global mechanism, always following Baudrillardian argumentation). There is a certain “ignominy” in the whole process of total assimilation, not only in reference to one official-national ethos, that is linguistically marked in the violence of name changes and the ignorance, genuine, feigned?, of the origin of toponyms, family-name trajectories and even first-name assignation in no identifiable timespace. And I suppose that this exclusive focus on the immediate timespace must be a survival mechanism in a society of individuals going through desocializations and displacements, uncertainties and mounting pressures, increasingly unhinged from any notion of center, and with no concrete notion of “communal good” except metastasized, raw, naked, self-interest. When in Rome, do what the Romans…, also intellectually?: What about lightening up?, simplifying thick textures,? Make them more palatable?, roll with the punches?, make yourself Broadway-mood musical and willingly fail to attach this or that cutoff portion of your knowledge production to larger dimensions? Can do you do anything different, convincingly, and be able to circulate domestically, professionally? Aren’t you, new American, after a decade or so, undergoing some of this Americanization process? Or is this a caricature of something more dignified that is missing in Baudrillard’s attractive, uncompromising position? Remember the American saying: Do not say anything if you have nothing nice to say. What is the point of engaging in public discourse in a privatized society of disconnected individuals temporarily framed institutionality, passing through them, with fragile attachments to society at large? This is certainly one crude summary of the perhaps necessary adjustment informing a fragmented society of possessive individuals, the historical process of massive migrations predominantly from an European base, increasingly becoming globally dominant, but only since WWII, and perhaps now not keeping it together any longer. Baudrillard does not agree with the immediate decline of US power and global influence, despite his explicit evaluation of an unmistakable cultural degradation. And he does not agree see the fundamental alteration of an eminently farcical America in the incorporation of recent migrations such as Hispanic populations. You may hold your xenophobic horses: our expatriate author remains fascinated by the potency of this process of cultural incorporation, speaking of “America” as zero-culture ground, or the “desert” form (inhospitableness or homelessness, perhaps a second valid, anti-Heggerian synonym for the metaphorical sign in quotation marks). He would readily admit to integrative tendencies in all societies, and he is clearly critical of and distant from his own French origin. Yet, I –and he probably– would still defend the intensity of the American exceptionalism. This is going along a kind of thinking beyond and despite liking what the thinking generates: I find that Baudrillard’s account still lingers with me with seductive, if insidious persuasion, in spite of myself, and that his reductive formulas (West-rest, America and the world) remain, yes, facile, reductive, a bit too classroom-pedagogic, yet potent. There is no success story, no number-one winning here, no excessive clinging to the solitary individual making the most of the situation. This is instead a vision high from the skyscraper in the metropolis against a landscape of globalization (or desertification). Such vision leaves no other (symbolic) dimension safe, untouched or more desirable. In this Western carnival, Baudrillard’s lucidity grants no congratulations.

In the vicinity of this “native” assimilation, a parallel “foreign” myth: that of the cannibal: I make it (Westernization) mine, imagining that I can do so, I cannibalize that which I deem more knowledgeable, stronger, role-model, more beautiful and consequently desirable. I eat it up. I put it inside of me in the hope that I will become what I want to become. I possess what I want and my want takes me here in the direction of the West. I am my desire and I try to make happen what I desire: the West, or an ideal-ideological version of America in the West at least, vis-à-vis an immediate circumstance or timespace that is deemed less good, or subordinate, if not abject. This platform is an “external,” partially Western, semi-Western, etc. position (no escape: there is “internal” abjection in the Western position turned into a grotesque festival). Déjà vu all over again: the historical reference of the Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto), published in 1928, by Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954) to be situated in the Brazilian context of relative Latin American marginality of the West: the notion of “Western civilization,” or the “West,” when operative at all in our postmodern capitalism, is not immediately obvious to most Americans, at least this is my experience, within historical mystifications (bi-continentality of America, the split into North and South America, or the Western Hemisphere, inside a foreign-policy frame of the Western Hemisphere, in the conventional American English idiom, posed against the original center of migration from “Europe”). Most Americans will not be able, or willing, to put Latin America on the map as earlier part and richer parcel of Western history, much less as the historiographic-philosophical challenge of a “post-West” desirability. The cherry on top of the pie –and the pie in your face– is the retroactive “Americanization” of the Western legacy, arranging past-and-present geopolitical timespaces, and the “naturality” of the conventional appropriation of the sign “America” for the original national name of “United States of America,” within larger units. This Americanization is most grotesquely being naturalized in languages other than English, in the Spanish-language media on both sides of the Atlantic for example.

Some mental torsions and linguistic contorsions are needed and your foreign-language skills will easily put comparative timespaces in diachronic template. Yet, Baudrillard does not cite Andrade by name, or credits him in the endnotes. But the reference is clear: The Indians ate up the bishop. Early “Americans” wanted to incorporate the jargon of authenticity of Early Modern and colonial Christianity (you may substitute this subject position and that prestigious knowledge production with others within your favorite period in human history). The primitives consume the “superior” civilizing power. And there will be many possibilities, also around Andrade in moments of global high modernism and later in the Tropicalist movement of the 1970s also in Brazil, aesthetic escort service of the dependency theory, side by side (post-)modernism and postmodernism and modernization theories. Can we think of these “cannibalesque” options as sustainably different, “postcolonial” variations of conventional kitsch and pastiche “first-world” aesthetics during “early-modern” (early 20th century) times of high modernism? In the same timeframe of the 1970s, Fernández Retamar’s well-known Caliban text adds the Cuban difference, too close for ideological comfort surely, proto-subalternist if you wish, within the frame of the Western hemisphere (the Latinamericanist “area-studies” zone finds here one geopolitical touchstone of significant difference from the US perspective). The contemporary vindication of the Latin legacy of the Baroque, the neo-baroque aesthetics, must be included (Haroldo de Campos and Alejo Carpentier, for example) running along the consequences of avant-garde or high modernism, perhaps even “provincializing” it away from any narrow and exclusive European base, and as I am writing this I realize the need of further exploring options to the more common of postmodernism (Baudrillard, our representative “postmodernist” intellectual, despite disliking the label, makes “hyper-realism” the paradigmatic aesthetic of the zero-culture “desert” in his fascinating text of America in the same way others have made the “neo-baroque” expansive to cover also the US contemporary hybridities, but still I would argue that this normalization is not yet embedded in US popular culture, the street and academic circles). What would the predominant postcolonial aesthetics be from the 1980s onwards (Spivak spoke, borrowing from Jean Franco, of “magical realism” as the emblematic incapacity for genuine fracture of the postcolonial dimension vis-à-vis dominant Western models)? The rupture from “literature” realized by the testimonio genre?

These comparative endeavors would need a much more careful historical reconsideration that our émigré intellectual is willing to grant. Baudrillard does not appear to care too much about these specificities. His final prose is unencumbered by comparative bibliographic apparatus. Did he ever want to write conventional works of cultural-studies scholarship? His manageable carnival-cannibal formula goes for the big “evil” of the West-non-West relationship –let us stick to the baby-language if only for clarity’s sake– and one could perhaps a bit too easily say that the true evil would be in the historical and social details of who does what at what specific conjuncture and how these entanglements get played out and who gets to report about what intellectual traditions, differences and potential clashes. There is a certain blurring of the carnival-cannibal dichotomy in the homophonic, paratactic quality of the title: Turner’s “happy” translation? Why not Cannibal Carnival, or, carnivalesque cannibalism, since fratricidal self-devouring is possibly the central theme and the lingering image after “devouring” these fast and few pages? I wish to establish a possible parallel between these “cannibals” and African-American criticism, for example in figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois, and the formulation of the “double consciousness” underlining the color line. There is expansiveness of players in Du Bois trajectory –almost the opposite of Baudrillard’s minimalist reductio ad absurdum—and one would wish such a catholicity of vision to return to us, almost a hundred years later, particularly in historical and social moments of institutional and national marginality. The gesture is brave: Du Bois goes to and dies in lands of foreignness, which says something about native limitations. The color line of unequal demarcation has gone global now in messy native-and-foreign entanglements and if you have doubts you only have to double-check the latest US Census 2010 typologies in the vicinity of the “Hispanic” or “Latino” (a Borgesian-type fictionalization of incongruent typologies would certainly work and have some fun along the way). “Race,” for lack of a better word, is inevitable “passenger” and Carnival and Cannibal alludes to whitening and negrification mechanisms implicit in these “false-mirror” games, or mirrors of misrecognition: black and white, and comparable permutations, American and Latin American, Latin American and West, West and non-West; but, remember, that it is all minstrel-show of misrecognition, and this final slim text is, I dare say, provocative if arrested development, more tease than strip, more coy playing than game-playing, with nothing solid to win in the end, apparently. There is no positive-term recognition to the false-mirror of misrecognition: no true face to the black face used by the white face. There is no expressive modality outside the intentionally reductive and generic formulation of binary synthesis. You cannot have your blueprint and white paper and architectural construction of textured social relations all in one package, it seems. Yet in another way, our French author does not hesitate to point fingers at the “falsifications of all particularities” inside the self-devouring, pathological West, becoming the “global museum of the cheap finery of all cultures” (pp. 9-10). Abstraction, lack of specificity, or calculated de-referentiality, has something to do with this modality of (d)enunciation that is more resigned than confrontational, more blasé than fiery. The money move: the turn from the displaced Latin European (America, p. 134) to the white Europeanized, quintessential Latin American canonical-figure fiction, Borges, yet always already outside the intricacies of the immediate Argentine locality, while providing ironic,  distant, empty-subject perspective, endless comparativist-combinatory plays with the exclusive modality of the West (and of Western degradation, in the double “Latin” twist, of the French repetition of the Argentinian parody against global platforms of humanities-type knowledge circulation). It remains important to pay attention to the idea of provenance, not only biographically: the [suppressed] introduction [of this longer essay] brought attention to the physical manufacture of [the physical text of] Carnival and Cannibal. Both authors, Baudrillard and Borges, here operate through English-language mediations of global circulation, the Argentine narrative passing through the “Americanization” of Baudrillard and the repetition of a certain jargon of authenticity, French-inspired “continental” post-structuralism, still perhaps a valid code in some Lilliputian cultural-studies circles.

I think it is an intelligent move to want to situate the anamorphism of the bad relationship, in  philosophical and geopolitical terms (Baudrillard mentions “spiral or anamorphic forms” at the beginning of “ventriloquous evil”). Another thing is whether one wants to –or can afford to– make political enemies explicit. A certain of caution may still accompany this GPS move. This is so despite the fact that our French author is reluctant to provide explicit cognitive mappings, his condemnations remaining abstract and perhaps grand or circumspect, at the civilizational level so to speak, as is Paul Virilio’s (greater explicitness in Immanuel Wallerstein and Noam Chomsky for example). In other words, there are for the most part no proper names or concrete situations to the colossal binary belligerence, perhaps most readers will need no authorial tutelage. The said “cannibal” moment is one possible “modern” past that seeks to deal with uneven social relations, turn them around, if ever so slightly, in relation to the fictionally self-sufficient exceptionality of “America,” not to mention a certain (visual, digital) marketing of “America.” It is important to distinguish the communicational-semiotic level of symbolic production, Baudrillard’s, and the everyday particularity, the individualized, ethnographic-anthropological level of experiences, the intricate, thick-texture experiential, everyday or street-level so to speak of the social dimension.  Carnival and Cannibal and Agony of Power have little interest in the latter. These pages, one book?, two books?, remain, hurried and incomplete, at the previous level of grand-scale generality. Once with this crucial difference, there is no doubt that the semiotic violence of “America” –the desert in the middle of the skyscrapers and the shopping malls so to speak– also hits the American street, the demotic language, the recognizable habits, etc. In this vicinity, the critical analysis is –or perhaps should– never be about defending the good name of America or any other nation for that matter. Perhaps it instead more about what the “good” name of “America” prevents us from seeing and experiencing, at least for the time being. Fifty years after the Tropicalist movement and the Calibán text, Baudrillard denounces these and other resistance attempts as illusory, however. TINA: there is no alternative. There is only “America,” apparently. Also intellectually? Our author does not appear to draw heavy inspiration from the native ground. This is the nothing but the truth of this “desert.” Mirages are others’. Those wanting otherwise are “nostalgic,” and this adjective is mild euphemism for what is to be rejected once and for all (i.e. a certain confrontational legacy of the 1960s). The thrust of the “Ventriloquous Evil” has precisely  to do with the debilitation of significant difference, also with the co-optation of the negativity of criticism, or the unsustainable dimension of an irreducible Other in relation to an Identity, or the Same, that overwhelms your best intellectual instincts (the ignominy of capitalism speaks eloquently better than its critics (the figure of the cynical Patrick Le Lay in a moment of sincerity about the cynical-reason embeddedness of the system, also in a rare moment of explicitness, pp. 57-60). In the name of this “cultural diversity,” the mono-culture (system, market, what is, or capitalism) affirms itself, in a detour or even in its disavowal. Baudrillard defends the thesis of the fundamental debilitation of oppositional, “counter-“ or “anti-” strategies (pp. 88-9) engaging the West, and the US within the virtualized frame of global capitalism (the sociology of Gilles Lipovetsky emerging from the French environment also makes identical claim). Baudrillard is not tempted or willing to go to an “outside,” not even fictionally (would Borges qualify as a certain externality in this “fatal” post-structuralist attraction?). He sees no sustainable “alternatives” –internal or external– to such global system. One may critique the deliberate “narrow” scope of vision and perhaps even the weakness of his imagination (Antonio Negri has called this type of thinking (Lyotard, Baudrillard, Virilio) “revolting,” in The Porcelain Workshop, pp. 77-81, and yet again this intellectual explicitness is missing in action in our author). Yet, how many could go further into such (intellectual) revolt? The intellectual sincerity in both authors (Baudrillard, Negri) is not to be doubted. The challenge is to see various trajectories in different contexts and see the options available between these two displaced intellectuals, arguably within a Eurocentric worldview. The greater context of this double “foreign intelligence” includes Cold-War moments of the ideology of developmentalism and fractured histories of progress (think of the conventional division of first, second or third worlds). The more developed text of America flattens these out into a fourth world of global virtuality mocking unequivocal provenance, distinct specificity or singular locality. The slimmer and synthetic Carnival and Cannibal exacerbates such flattening by means of the universalizing strategy of a selective portion of Borges’ fiction, too cunning the French fox and too slippery the Argentinian eel to be caught in the “Latin” net of  conventional “area studies” formats.

It is thus possible to see the embedded binaries of original / derivative, model / secondary or subaltern as historical moments of this re-articulation of West-non-West with the Latin American dimension occupying a murky in-between, relatively subaltern position (neither Europe nor “America,” but both, neither “fully” West, yet historically earlier portion of an expansive West, “Hispanic” with or without the meaningfulness of the Spanish-language historical experience, “Latin” in more ways than one, not only “out there” but also in “here,” etc. For a symptom of these confusions, it is good to pay attention to the bureaucratic definitions of social typologies within US Census Bureau (and who doubts that objects and subjects of knowledge production are vehicles within larger frames of intelligibility?). What happens now according to Baudrillard, since Andrade’s 1928 Manifesto Antropófago? Bluntly put: the cynical, conservative-institutional narrowing of mental possibilities within if not against a certain (de-)structuring of the “global village” (I mean “cynical” in the Latin (Spanish / French) sense of the word, of deliberating saying one thing and doing another, and not in the conventional US English sense of being skeptical of institutional intentions). Baudrillard accompanies such narrowing with harsh intellectual sincerity, emphatically not in the manner of a cheerful cheerleader, perhaps impressionistically, which one may still find persuasive, if underdeveloped (I am wondering if Negri’s scope of vision in which America has dim intellectual dimension, and Spinozist-love declarations work globally any better). One possibility of critical analysis of this narrowing may bring the aesthetic of pastiche and kitsch, escort service of re-articulations of power/knowledge inequalities (the German etymology of “kitsch” is significant: “to scrape up mud from the street:” the once shameful, later attitudinal “publicity” of what was once deemed unworthy of public attention, shameful, tawdry, the show of the lack of taste, etc.). Don’t we witness the “elevation” of this low quality, sentimentalism, sensationalism, slickness, crassness, silliness, every day at the street level, and perhaps also in the certain vulgarization of academic culture undergoing liquidation? The Conspiracy of Art is a valid diagnosis of what is happening aesthetically: the promiscuity of levels (high, middlebrow and low or popular), the blur of provenance, the shrinking and speed-up of chronologies, the mystifications of geographical origins all the way down to the basic (food) production, knowledge production, jewellery and custom jewellery, bisutería and cursilería, Pedro Almodóvar, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, etc. Neo-baroque is also complicit of this strategy of hybridity with no resolution. I am here writing hastily about a certain semiotic overdose and a genuine existential-philosophical disorientation that is not (yet) finding proper frames of intelligibility, cognition and outlet or release that a recognizable American anti-intellectualism or even mindlessness has come to appropriate for itself. The Baudrillardian disposition is to go towards the magnetism of this American-named degradation, a fatal case of a bad attraction if you wish, with nothing better to do otherwise apparently, also intellectually.

The diagnosis is grim: Americanization makes spoils of all other cultures as drastically as its own traditions (blues, jazz, rock and roll, funk, punk, the Hollywood industry, etc.). Within the West-and-rest frame, I think the invigoration of the intercourse in all directions, is what Baudrillard would defend, while not seeing, or failing to see, but who does?, that there is no serious challenge, or momentous threat, to the “ignominy of capital” (p. 57), or, the culture of what is, the market, the status quo, or the system, if one wishes to stick to this type of language (the retreat of the proper name of capitalism from public discourse in the US is telling symptom, as though the mere naming of the dominant monoculture violated some totem and taboo better preserved in silence, as though the mere naming was taking the system in vain, while suggesting discomfort, if not revolt; does not this linguistic “shyness” betray the lack of faith among the believers who are still “cynically” repressing impertinent inquisitions, even in the official absence of radical alternatives?). “Capital” is uncommon, “foreign,” even thunderous word that conveys distance,  accusation, expletive, the display of the obscene, the possibility of a remedy or cure. Our “foreign” author uses it, unlike the “natives,” sparingly and never in a celebratory mode. The language of “game” comes up (pp. 28, 77, 80), and the expressivity of the American English idiom (the short-term advantage of going along, “playing the game” and “gaming the system”) is symptomatic discursive production of the times (or is it the English translation of the original French?). In the smaller-scale of things, Baudrillard defends that there are symbolic gestures of global importance such as Zinedine Zidane’s one-time bad manners in the multitudinous event of World-Cup convergence (a note: the US is marginal to this sport, the sport being also marginal, yet growing inside the US). Baudrillard interprets this type of gestures of “small” revolt as still meaningful revolt precisely in its refusal to make it big  and to make big claims about anything systemic, since this is an impossibility in our contemporaneity, always according to Baudrillard (pp. 28, 77-78, 82-3). So, a headbutt when cameras are rolling in a France-Italy game is something worth paying attention to (would the same player in a business suit representing the Real Madrid also count?). Protestation is not anymore critiquing the system in any sustainable fashion. For our author it is about unplugging. Zidane gets the red card. He must exit one important game. The game goes on. Yet there is a small interruption and lingering doubts, perhaps. Our author puts one dramatic example: the refusal to go along with the unilateral wish to save the life by Gary Gilmore (Baudrillard follows the inspiration of Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, pp. 64ff).











Yet, how not to engage in a meaningful relationship, even one of “cannibalistic self-destruction” (pp. 25, 75)? To destroy, and cannibalize, better than the others? To (de-)centralize? To peripherialize, to provincialize? Or, can you afford “to lie aslant on a slanting plane” as the anarch Manuel Venator can in Junger’s Eumeswil? The disturbing horizon in Baudrillard’s vision is the identity of meaningfulness and self-destruction in a global situation that cannot quite pin down the theoretical (consideration of the) center of meaningfulness (universe or world). How to hold on to a modicum of integral (individualistic) space in relation to the proliferation of farcical signs in a vertigo of increasing fragmentation? Baudrillard “de-emotionalizes” –the positive term coming from mass-media strategies–  the (Western) center of such mockery without seeing sustainable counter-possibilities. There is a strategy of self-evacuation and also of self-distancing. Again: Venator: “The special trait making me an anarch is that I live in a world which I “ultimately” (sic) do not take seriously. This increases my freedom; I serve as a temporary volunteer.” One has therefore to go along to a certain extent and in a certain way, I suppose, and there is a very fine line indeed, almost impossible to see separately from authorial intention, between those wanting to conserve the institutionality of what is, and those wanting to break it open, or leave it behind, those who want to preserve it and those who want to “disturb it” somewhat, if not fully break it, and one hesitates with a good, definite, terminal or fundamental verb. The seduction of the end is latent in these two final texts Carnival and Cannibal and Agony of Power. But this again remains an individualistic symbolic gesture such as the ones mentioned before (Zidane, Gilmore). There is the insinuation of the “faint lines” of rebellious forms in the depths of the mirror in the timespace of the Yellow Emperor in Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings. Baudrillard turns to the Calibanesque tradition of Latinamerican differentialism: his is a rendition of the increasing attenuation of the difference of the margins in relation to the center that falls prey to the self-parodic symbolic logic of the center (Baudrillard operates at the semiotic mass-media level of symbolic production, economic dimensions remain underdeveloped, are they equally willing to engage in parodic theatricality?). That is why turning to a famous author such as Borges (the master of parodic irresolution and endless play) makes sense. The longer version of this piece develops the critical insufficiency of such interpretive gesture of irresolution.

Still with some insistence: there is epistemic bite in Carnival and Cannibal: the “center” cannot hold; it is the butt of the jokes, the crypt in the temple is empty, geopolitics has no “trove” of knowledge and beauty, the ornamentation is kitsch, the food is bad, the manners deplorable, the emperor and empress are naked, the imperial tongue is incoherent, illiterate. The face in the mirror is the Master’s, George Bush and a former foreign body-builder who made his name in Hollywood action films (or is this only window-dressing or larger social relations?). Baudrillard does not hesitate to name these names, but where’s the risk? Think of the figures of sadistic violence in David Lynch’s films. Check out the manners of the managers in your march through the institutions of academic humanities in the home of the brave. Baudrillard’s move: the attenuation of a certain fascination exerted by a vacuous, Disneyfied “simulation of everything,” even if, or because of there is no other side of simulation. Carnival here is mistrel-show self-presentation of the “West,” in front of a distortion mirror of relative, and unsustainable difference. How come those in this America inside this West do not want out? Are they chatting away and amusing themselves to death like the wonderful people in Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel? Baudrillard: there is no “out.” And the disavowal is yet another form of subtler attachment. We are dealing with the false-mirror and the double caricature: the whiteface-blackface show ridiculing subordinate groups while keeping them apart, finds now another twist in our new century in the modality of the caricature of the Whites laughing at themselves while knowing that they have nothing substantial or fundamental to offer. “Welcome to the desert of the real!,” says the character Morpheus in the entertaining film The Matrix, inspired by Baudrillard’s thinking. So, this is the exchange: the misrecognition of the subaltern who wants to appropriate the supposed beauty and theoretical knowledge of the master, and the master who upon close inspection of his wallet and pockets finds that s/he has nothing good to offer, not even the good name of the system, no good rhetoric, poor sociability skills, crude and rude manners, no artistic awareness or sophistication, no inspirational historical vistas so what else but make a fool out of himself in a farcical show… ? You say you want to know about the world and you go to the “knowledge factories” –Stanley Aronowitz’s suggestion—and you will find Kafka’s “Amerika” (with k) in bureaucratic-privatized settings of individualization and desocialization, the administered society of cheap labor conditioning, outsourcing, etc. (impossible not to see the illiberal, illiterate state of farcical anti-humanities in the poor house of linguistic Being in contemporary US! Would your best eloquence want to be understood  in this eminent domain of social-bureaucratic control?).

The “whites” –start thinking in terms of the latest reconfiguration of the social typology in the US 2010 Census—do the self-deprecating humor mostly to keep things under control. And they do it in the name of “cultural diversity,” with no grace and manners, no pomp or circumstance, with the stereotypical manners of the Ugly American, if you wish. This is the phenomenal farce of the relationship between Americanness and foreignness that does violence domestically too. The over-determination of the “minority” types against the ideological euphemistic mono-chromatism performed daily in the informality of the speech, clothes, food habits, flaccid sociability over-compensating for a brutal conformism (Bertolucci’s great film The Conformist of fascist Italy is for us the closer idiotic comformism of small-college life in De Lillo’s White Noise). What is not to be doubted is the evacuation of knowledge, of care, of experience, etc. in the self-decapitation of a society that refuses to take a good look at itself in the context of the postmodernist cultural logic of customer service and consumer satisfaction that yields cynical reason (“the customer is always right”). Isn’t our everyday embedded in the normalization of the violence of the farce of the institution, the saturation, absorption, deterrence, the emptying out (The Consumption of Art, pp. 137-141)? Isn’t advertising the true speech of commodities? Isn’t euphemism the conventional discourse that declines to give reasons to justify itself, that empties out the vigor in and of language in the ever-so-fragile houses presumably devoted to knowledge production, foreign languages among others? (Baudrillard distinguishes hegemony from domination and makes the former our situation in the termination of narrative, justification, de-skilling, outsourcing, etc. and the fact that hegemony remains a relative neologism in conventional American idiom is telling, pp. 35-41). How to go about when Corleone tells you he wants to protect you, or when witnessing from one small opening the sadistic character forcing the victim, telling her she is wonderful while the midget figure dances slowly in the corner of the room to slow-tempo soulful music in David Lynch’s dark world (there is meaningful dissociation when the great filmmaker shows up in public advertising his good coffee and meditation!). But you must learn how to deal with conventional Anglo-American cultures that explicitly reject nothing, welcome plurality of interpretations, camouflage axiology, do their best to hide discipline-and-punish mechanisms, burocratize the muddy waters of belonging and activate expulsion as silently as possible whenever possible.

What to do then? Become like them? Let them seduce you? Go silly? When in Rome, fake it? Travel through the desert? Stay put? “Unplug” in the manner of Zinedine Zidane or in extremis in the manner of Gary Gilmore as suggested by Baudrillard himself? Intellectually, stay within bounds? Simplify discourse? Or, do the opposite? To historicize: to frame “modernity” in chronological and geographic referentiality, to try to see specific social groups, to try to see foreign landscapes (the book production of Carnival and Cannibal deterritorializes “one of the foremost intellectuals of the present age”)? In this “culture,” what would it mean to do anti-culture, counter-culture instead, at least selectively? To debilitate, de-culturalize? To think the apparent impossibility, at least according to our author, of the negativity of culture, the non-culture? But, what do theses prefixes mean in increasingly bureaucratic-privatized spaces posed against virtualized mass-mediated panoramas of global society. Remember one moment of cleverness of the main character in the film Fight Club fighting with himself in the manager’s office to construct a make-believe scene of the boss’s physical abuse? Perhaps intellectual life will have to do some of that to try to survive). Does the final view from the skyscraper window allow self-consciousness still to fall in love with the totality in its moment of desirable collapse? Does Baudillard fight more or less? Does he still fight? And for what? He speaks of the virtual system of technocratic abstraction and of the de facto if not de iure evacuation of critical-iconoclastic language from it (pp. 42-48). Assuming his critical intelligence is also undergoing such evacuation: what to make of the paradox? Assuming it is not, how come? There must be a fine line of difference between collaboration and resistance, and here who can stay –even with self-deprecation– in the indefinition for ever?

How does one keep lucidity in this cannibalesque carnival? Baudrillard’s lucidity goes solo, and clings to its guns so to speak, with no apparent nostalgias or deviations. There is a tremendous solitude in his travels in America, yet never an acknowledgement of the isolation or a fleeting complaint for lack of community. This is an isolated individual contemplating the desert with no grand gestures to vindicate this or that matrix of intelligibility, as though all had been sucked into the black hole (of Capital in cheap Americana?). Our author does not appear to want to have yet another mirror of misrecognition in the endless game of simulacra exchange. There is no gain in this game apparently, except perhaps not falling for false consolations or mirage ways out of it. There is something Beckettian and futile about Baudrillard’s willingness, accordingly: he “travels” through the global theater of absurd capital going on because one cannot go on and therefore he goes on for no other better reason than to get nothing out of it, nothing done at the end of the day and another day follows with no social landscape of meaningfulness. I feel to see any occasional lighthearted vaudeville-like camaraderie either, no fleeting mirth of Chaplinesque creativity in such dispossession. No utopian huddling for warmth in foreign entanglements of dispossessed minds and bodies. No registered dialogue in America. It is as though intellectual life pushed itself by the straps of the boots inevitably collecting some of the sand of the dessert. Think of the Spanish saying: hacer de tripas corazón. Think of the Hamlet line: “Feed capons in the air:” making do, with no “home,” in fact rejecting the very idea of it, with no desire for polis, certainly no explicit politics, since intelligence and power, at least in this vision, do not go together (pp. 12-15). The intelligence of this anarch repudiates power. Power is “idiotic” in the true etymology of the word, of narrow horizons, and it is a mistake of any intelligence to want to sit in the power seat. In point of fact, the more visible you become, the  “higher” you go, the more idiotic you have to perform, become or are (Bush and Schwarzenegger are personifications of this systemic and structural acephalia). Yet it appears that concrete personalities matter less in the calculated performance of accessible messages in the window screens of politics against the increasing virtualization of “reality,” ever so difficult to grasp intellectually and emotionally. Hence, a certain survival mechanism appears to demand –from each one of us?– a certain attenuation –also dissimulation?– of the congruence of intellectuality and emotionality (our times deliver for each one of us something of a culmination of T.S. Eliot’s well-known formula of “dissociation of sensibility”).

Baudrillard’s unconventional intelligence is not militant “conservative,” in the sense of wanting things to continue being what they are. In fact, it is a bit the opposite. There is something of a want to do a withdrawal from the “game,” a wish for the iconoclastic tear of the carnival mask, a bit of a slap in the cannibal’s face (why does s/he want to suck the Master’s lollipop?). The occasional insinuation is one to smash the mirror of distortion, to give in occasionally to a semi-secret receptivity to the apocalyptic irreversibility and the absolute event in moments of global convergence, be it World Cup, 9/11, etc. This is the “end” of both sections of Carnival and Cannibal and also of Agony of Power: the reader witnesses something of a theoretical release, emotional and intellectual (pp. 28, 81, 89). Think of the end of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970) and also of David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999).

Yet, this intelligence can still be called “conservative” in a different sense, by default so to speak, sinning by omission perhaps, in its stubborn refusal to open up to non-apocalyptic alternatives against a sustained determination not to sing the glories of the status quo. His is a non-dynamic and relatively mono-perspectival “formalism” without apparent content (“mono-perspectival,” qua mostly Western, and a reduced notion of the West as such). Baudrillard appeals to “form.” He summons the synonym of the “desert.” And he conveys the intellectual play with “forms.” But there is no other geography (no other to the desert, not even its mirages). There is no compare-and-contrast of “area studies.” There is no effort to periodicize a before and an after, no “meta-“morphosis, no convincing rendition of how is it, how come, that we found ourselves wanting, ever so occasionally, in this desert of skyscrapers, putting both films together, and how it came into being if not in reference to the achievement of technological development. This appears to be a crucial dimension, a modicum of “technological determinism” if you wish, since there is no social depth attached to the forms being put –or not– against some kind of coherent historical world or cosmos. Following Baudrillard, we appear to inhabit fragmented jigsaw puzzle of forms with no permanent landscape of clarity of images, functional society, yes, but no recognizable social actors or interests, except some recognizable figures easily allegorized. There is no sequence of meaningful deeds either. In other words, Baudrillard’s historicity is poor, and wants to remain deliberately so, never wanting to become a “serious” professional historian so to speak, never wanting to join the ranks of “respectable” academic work, much less turning into a  perceptive anthropologist of specifically textured and collectively constructed entanglements. His intelligence is socially corrosive, burning holes through any social web, seeking rapid, occasional points of contact with figures, for example Duchamp and Warhol in his vision of contemporary art history with precious little else before and after. But there is no interest in art history, nor in art per se. He, and perhaps many others with him, would say that such isolated and distinct possibility is not available for our contemporaneity anymore, if ever. That this perhaps legitimate desire for a dignified separation that seeks meaningful creativity is another mirage that comes out of the colonization of the system in which we live, but barely. If America provides no memorable figures and no dialogic moments, being the soliloquy of a solitary character with no conventional narrative, a more introspective and different account from, say,  the unrepentant and harsh journalism of Robert Kaplan in An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America’s Future (1998), Carnival and Cannibal and Agony of Power provide no philosophical interlocutors in what must be considered a calculated gesture of emptying the discussion tables. There is no gesture of wrapping himself up in this or that tradition. Therefore, Baudrillard appears, at least in these last pages, not to be at all interested in the salvation of an intellectual dialogue, or at least registers none that I can see. No debates, no specific gatherings, but quick, nomadic transactions and impressionistic monadic observations of an unencumbered, if not supremely simplified and emptied-out subject of intelligent observation. Is this an author not desperate looking for readers, accordingly? There is mostly monologue here: the signification mechanism of the traveling individuality, a nomad, a monad, going through fractured global landscapes almost in the manner of many apocalyptic science fiction films. But here nothing conventional happens, except the record of these impressionistic observations. I will put it in the following way: Baudrillard’s intelligence conveys a “paralogical” quality that goes along the thesis of the cultural logic of late capitalism with a self-conscious attitude indifference in relation to the relative outcome, as though anticipating the inconsequence of the hermeneutic impact, and as though the system always already functioned a-thetically, para-tactically, language and being estranged from each other, pace Heidegger, through the medium of the image mostly, increasingly digitized and consumed at faster pace, but also cynically, conservatively bypassing discursive-congruity attempts and sustainable traditions and social continuities. Baudrillard’s cultural-studies critique delivers the mood of indifference that corresponds to the indifferent exchange-value operation of the system in which the art world at least in the metropolis is symptomatic example of this value of Indifference (The Conspiracy of Art, pp. 141-155). The small storms in the academic teacups could be added as second social example as well. In this narrow context, we can see this “criticism” as a self-conscious “acting out” of the arrested development of the meaningful consequences that should occur following upon corrosive knowledge production (the English expression in quotation marks: the performativity of a dissidence attempt to break-free, but not quite). Distressingly, incongruity may not be a sign of systemic weakness but of elasticity and resilience. How do you wish to continue generating knowledge inside a conservatively, cynical situation that is institutionally, socially fragile or less so than you think?

There is sustained coherence in this identifiable intellectual trajectory, which merits care. There is also the perception of futility in the exercise of this intelligence –a kind of dangling “what’s the point?”– that disavows reconstruction effort in the good name of “liberation” or “freedom.” There is accordingly an anarchic disposition going towards a libertarian ethos at work here, also intellectually, a kind of being left radically alone as much as possible against a kind of generic template of vast categories –West and non-West, America and the rest, white and black… being excuses, pretexts if you wish—while refusing to “stoop to conquer” other meanings by more specific means in more localized settings or concrete traditions. There is melting of what once was solid. There is finally progressive disentanglement of historically meaningful ties to another time and place… There is a certain evanescence, accordingly, a “virtualization,” and a sticking to it no matter what with no consolations on sight. As the female protagonist in the dangerous “heart of darkness” in Claire Denis’s recent film White Material, there is no other world, but this world of decadence, and there is no exit to historical dimensions of difference, only a violence of no difference, and the projection of an apocalypse of the present forms into a vision of no-future. There is also no faithfulness to any concrete disciplinary knowledge, no empathetic proximity to this or that social group (our author does healthy, keen “fight club” with his own petty-bourgeois background, America, pp. 94, 102-3). Baudrillard’s critical lucidity seeks more often than not non-specificity and abstraction, with or without Borges, against Beatriz Sarlo’s position, say.

Yet in another way, Carnival and Cannibal throws a bucket of cold water at the impulse that wants to see intelligence comfortably sitting in power centers. Here, power is characterized by lack of intelligence, or feeling, care and experience, or at least the dispositions and modalities of intelligence that our author would like to acknowledge worthy of such name. Simply saying the “bad” word, “intellectual,” I feel, implies in this vicinity something of an anti-institutional and counter-establishment tendency that, boomerang-like, hits also 1960s legacies of rebelliousness and protest. Those who want to keep such legacy alive, protest too much, he would say, and such protest fuels the systemic need for liveliness and creativity, as consumerism shows us. There is also, why deny it?, an entanglement with the TINA formula (“there is no alternative”), at least in form, if not in spirit, also with the “end of history,” a la Francis Fukujama, again at least in form, if not in spirit in Carnival and Cannibal and Agony of Power. Should we assume the identity of this intellectuality with individualistic anarchism? And how far is this impulse from libertarianism? Should this “negative” manner be countervailing force against the intellectualist prejudice that expects, in all naivety, the ameliorative effect of the best argumentation, the persuasiveness of the most sophisticated use of language, also in our moments of brutal evacuation of these values from administered interactions? What about the opposite? What if the cooptation of “negativity” in critical discourse, is closer to the truth of everyday in the manner of aggressive and deliberately incongruous and surprisingly referential advertisement wanting to re-catch your attention towards unscrupulous market behavior (“fcuk: French connection UK” items; “philosophy” skin care products, bath and beauty and perfume, etc.)? Holding such thin line of demarcation between the congruous and incongruous, I feel I have no resolution in the vicinity of Baudrillard, who had none either. And how to? Hasn’t doing time in academia already cured the foreign modern scholar –once and for all— of the intellectualist prejudice that affirms the final victory of the “American dream” in the production of the most elaborate language of an intensely perceptive knowledge production? Assimilate and mix with the “farce” then? Drastic solutions, repudiations, provided that you can afford them? Or, simply, maximizing the circulation, the comings and goings?

One wonders if it is possible to maintain a minimum of distance, the “little bit of symbolic space” (pp. 68, 69, 70, 72), and negotiate your best signification process inside the “liberal-”institution of structural debilitation of “content” in the market of “cultural goods” within the free-flow of lighter forms inside adjustable instruction modules (not to mention revolving doors of disposable “cultural workers”). Isn’t the dominant function of these forms a conservative one that seeks continuity via plasticity of forms and docility of minds and bodies, not to mention debilitation of discourse? The cynical managers will put the word to deed and silence to deed to do the clean-up. Baudrillard speaks firmly of the evanescence of “negativity” within bureaucratic, privatized, commodified environments by the logo sign in an increasingly frameless world wide web of a planetary-scale where few things, if anything, remain arrestingly different. But for how long?  “Scandal” is the “metaphysical” use of reason that does not conform to the cynical-institutional principle of “sufficient reason” (pp. 28, 80), perhaps blood cousin in the family of Horkheimer’s “instrumental reason.” One can see how widespread “cultural illiteracy” works to the advantage of the system and I hope my language is not becoming too conspiratorial (Baudrillard himself makes such language explicit in the context of the art market, with an occasional light touch of “confederacy of dunces”). Zizek has spoken of the sadistic logic of the (capitalist) institution that wants to see the occasional glimmers of your lively “resistance” to better give another turns to the screw. Such thematization of rebellious liveliness is already a commonplace in marketing strategies penetrating all aspects of existential life, academia included. Critical discursive production is not what it used to be, apparently.

The farce has to do accordingly with the false possibility of breaking free from the role-model modernity of the European West, the imposing symbolic modality of late-modern capitalism. Being trapped, and yet wanting out: classic comedy in the vicinity of futility, part and parcel of the farcical situation and the laughter, as long as you are observing it from the relative comfort of the spectator’s chair and not from the perspective of the one trapped in the carnival. And who isn’t? The West –exclusively the cultural furniture of capitalism?– is reaching a planetary scale, a globalization. Farce has to do with the repetition of the impulse, also intellectual I would think, that gets tangled up in the futility of the insistence and the resistance. As in the song, I can’t live with or without you. Farce must be for others, except for the authorial position who is not willing to join the carnival. There is eerie silence in Carnival and Cannibal and Agony of Power in the same way there is no sustainable sense of community in which one could find some future sense of shelter. Our author conveys a mood / mode of déjà vu all over again (the wolf tells you he never really wanted the sour grapes, his libidinal investment not finding a convincing “objective correlative,” only the making do in the “desert”!).The more substantial text America (1988, originally published in French in 1986), worthy development of Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hypereality (published in English in 1986, the articles in Italian started appearing in 1967) provides more information of this misrecognition mirror mechanism between the two big personifications, the Euro-America against the Third World (“Hispanics,” always already occupying a peculiar in-between position inside this geopolitical-philosophical imaginary). Baudrillard’s theoretical tennis ball is only circulating, with or without good intentions, between the two already dominant force fields of Europe and the US, a certain Europe and a certain field of US academia that got started in San Diego in 1975. There is a certain geography and trajectory that can be reconstructed around Baudrillard’s “body parts.” This universe is car cemetery: the accusation is of the operational breakdown of the wholeness of Western culture, and therefore the selective use of its parts. And there will be different social agents going at it for their own immediate interests. One explicit formulation of this “cannibalization” may refer to one historical moment of postcolonial questioning (say, the modern of High Modernism in Spanish-speaking and Luso-phone environments in Latin America vis-à-vis the European platform and increasingly the US appropriations of these timespaces of difference). One can thus try to discover what Baudrillard covers: the notions of “origin,” or “provenance,” and try to “personalize” a certain existential disorientation and confusion if you wish, in this or that thinker, this or that text and intellectual dialogue, and one can pay attention to concrete temporalities and circumstances to social agents and their contextual symbolic productions, particularly in the digitalizations and virtualizations of our global contemporaneity. This “confusion” may be called “carnivalization,” and it may indeed reinforce the inequality of the exchanges among different societies, or different social sectors within a given society (there is a second Spanish saying “en río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores,” that captures nicely something of the smokescreen, also in our noted thinker, so that nothing changes). Baudrillard attempts, but somewhat, to demarcate globality, streamlining the first, hyper-real (Western) world versus amorphous, “less developed,” “off-world” zones. He explicitly racializes the white-black dichotonomic divide without enriching it (there is a double arrested development, so to speak). Our intellectual is not hiding his Western observation platform of relative domination via a bemused, jaded ironic disposition that puts abjection in the “we” side by side a restive, cannibalistic “them” (the “Hispanic” sign is closer to the latter, as you might have imagined). The intentional rigidity in the political formula has to go beyond the customer-friendly intelligibility of pedagogic tricks.

The assertions remain deliberately simple and formulaic. The self-fashioning: “a diffuse, floating, insubstantial subjectivity that is an immense reverberation surface for a disembodied, empty consciousness,” as he puts it in Carnival and Cannibal (p. 46). Unbearable lightness of being? Virtualization of an increasingly evanescent Cartesian cogito? No “salvation” whatsoever in the desertification of the “circumstantial existentialism” in the famous Ortega y Gasset formula? Why the repetition of Borges’s play with the Saussarian structuralism of signs internally combining (the narcissism of) small differences? There is no fleshing out of the political formula of “us versus them,” except occasionally (mostly in The Agony of Power). The writing in Carnival and Cannibal maintains a portable, fragmentary and note-taking parable-like quality (the overlap with Agony of Power and the assemblage of these final texts at the end of his life may explain it). We are dealing with miniscule pocketsize texts. This must not have been biographically the best time for big developments (a certain quick brushstroke of intellectual impatience is also present in Virilio’s prose, and I tend to put both French thinkers together in the same knot). There is no big rendition of grand gestures of definite disclosure. No small rendition of the possibility of termination once and for all either. No commemorations of the debilitation of the Enlightenment appear to be needed. There is more whimper than blast in this wanting out. There is repression of any kind of mourning in a consistent affect-neutral mode of (d)enunciation (the word “nostalgia” feels like an insult against those who refuse to grow up). There is no happiness either as far as I can see, not even in the destruction of existing ramshackle structures of life, thought and experience, the word strikes me as supremely obscene and out of this place, even out of this earth! This is no happy carnival, not even among the cannibals who do not emerge in flesh and bone! There is none of it here, also in relation to post-Duchamp and post-Warhol art-history “car cemetery.” In healthy contrast to the “we” of the “Empire of the Good” that viewers get to witness regularly in the conventional American media, Baudrillard’s “we” of historical domination assumes an abject position, the degradation position of the Freudian death drive if you wish, increasingly colonized by the more vacuous modality of global Americana. There is a kind of “I told you so,” in Carnival and Cannibal. Some reconstructed perspectivism is still possible to be done in relation to Baudrillardian authorial intention, with or without the blurring of timespaces attributed to digital virtualizations. Whiteface looks at the mirror of the backface: One or two? Three, four or five figures included in the cover of the book in the foreshortening of the faraway Calcutta-city-based production for the global market of cultural-studies goods? And how to go about the interplay among them? What is the frame of intelligibility of what is going on? Baudrillard wants to maintain the tension of irresolution, and approaches the field not of the economy, religion, “history,” etc. but of fiction. The “we” engages the anamorphic mirror, the mirror of misrecognition,” wanting self-consciousness?, wanting simulation, dissimulation? And these hesitations see a “them,” and vice versa. The carnivalesque excess of the “we” reflects the cannibalesque lack of the “them.” This is play of the Lacanian definition of love: “I give what I do not have to someone who does (not) want it.” Antagonism: I give “shit,” in all the meanings of the word in contemporary English language, to someone who wants to eat it up because of the self-assumed lack s/he claims (not) to have and wants it and I can’t believe it is so, what does that say about my exchange? This is the paradox of empty symbolic production that constitutes Carnival and Cannibal. What would the other side of “empty” be?

Finally, and crudely put, the refusal of self-consciousness in the game of anamorphic mirrors: whitefaces mirror blackfaces grotesquely with no apparent or convincing resolution in sight (our new century is the alarming “(post-)modernizing” of the historical crudity of the minstrel show via the racial profiling in advertising and security situations, also inevitably in institutionalizations of “cultural diversity”). What’s the point? Baudrillard: there has to be a certain pointlessness, an inevitable futility, in the intellectual exercise, in the display of anarchic intelligence, as though the object in the cross hairs of the examined life was not –and could not possibly be– a pretty one. Hence, “we” have to deal with the unprettiness. The post 9/11 moment does without the nostalgia of emancipation narratives. Our cheerless author defends the new configuration of power as one of hegemony over domination in which such happy emancipations remain in the fictional museum of past endeavors. The “West” is still number one, indeed the center of the world, and the “international style is now American” (America, p. 127), and from the standpoint of this French expatriate, the larger world, the “they,” still wants “us,” which is puzzling, and “we” fail to understand why, since there is no hiding that we are full of the theater of (the shit of) nothing, symbolically, intellectually, offering little more than degraded cultural products and deteriorated social life. Almost a hundred years after the moment of high modernism, the global-village format means the quantitative, virtual overcrowding of signs and big numbers of people taking old frames and recognizable formulas of cognition to a farcical level: Empire strikes back, blowback, the white man’s burden, Orwell’s protagonist in Shooting an Elephant (written in between 1931 and 1936) are now donning a carnival mask on top of the blackface hiding the whiteface, and there is some obscene laughter of misrecognition at the misery of the exchange on both sides of the thin line of antagonism. Baudrillard alludes to Jean Rouch’s film Les Maitres-Fous, in which the blacks mock the awkwardness of the whites. But these whites are perhaps more cunning now and already know how to mock themselves (minstrel shows, Tarzan, King Kong, Planet of the Apes, the “acting out” of cultural diversity in managed education sectors, not to mention the hardcore business culture, etc.). Fancy joining in?

Note: This is a portion of a much larger piece titled “Fatal Attractions: Baudrillard, Borges and American Hegemony in the New Century.” Coherence and flow may suffer accordingly from this cut made for the blog presentation inside Culture Bites.

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