State and Warfare

The manner of waging war transforms with every transformation of the state model (Many people say that it’s the other way round: the state form follows the changes in the ways of waging war. Ultimately, the warfare methods are indissolubly linked to the state model, no matter what “comes first.”)

As we discussed before, the nation-state model arose, to a significant degree, in response to a need to find a less costly way than any that had existed before to wage war on an unprecedented scale. This goal was achieved in full, as we all know from the example of the two world wars. Without the nation-state, this kind of warfare would not be possible.

As the nation-state withers away and a new state form comes to replace it, warfare changes as well. Today we are seeing a gradual consolidation of what I call “consumerist warfare.” (This is just my own term. Other people use different terminology. In Ukraine, for instance, it is called “hybrid warfare.”) Here are some of the characteristics of consumerist warfare:

  • every attempt is made to take the warfare as far away from the consumer-citizens as possible. (Russians, for instance, first brought the war to Ukraine, where the Russian citizens would not see it and then took it even farther away, to Syria.) Of course, this is a luxury that only some states can afford. There will be a huge stratification among the states that can take their warfare far away and those who have to host the battlefield. As you know, this was not the case for the nation-state, which saw the greatest casualties to the civilians of the warring countries in human history. 
  • warfare is made as impersonal as possible through the use of technology (drones, airstrikes, terror attacks, etc.)
  • the success of war effort hinges on the warring parties’ capacity to deploy non-military resources (economy, propaganda, social media.) A country that is much weaker in military terms can now win the war if it uses these non-military resources effectively. 
  • the surveillance state model flourishes because it’s easy to justify it by the fear that outsourced warfare can come back in the form of terror attacks;
  • consumer-citizens participate in the warfare through safe, sanitized long-distance means. They can experience the benefits of the war (adrenaline, excitement, a legitimate way of releasing their aggressive impulses, feelings of heroic abnegation) without having to risk their lives. Once again, this is something that citizens of more advanced consumer societies can afford better than citizens of less advanced consumer societies. 
  • societies that cannot afford to export their wars far away can assign the status of a permanent war zone to a territory within the state or close by. Consumer-citizens will use it in the same way as I described in the preceding point but, of course, it will not be as safe and cheap for them.
  • since mass conscription is not needed in this model, both the state’s interest in regulating the morality of consumer-citizens and its interest in guaranteeing their welfare will diminish. A state that outsources war also outsources its welfare system (to private companies, beneficent individuals, collective efforts by volunteers, etc.).

I think we can all agree that much of this is already happening. 

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14 thoughts on “State and Warfare”

  1. “since mass conscription is not needed in this model, both the state’s interest in regulating the morality of consumer-citizens and its interest in guaranteeing their welfare will diminish.”

    So we’re looking at the disappearance of universal citizenship here.

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    1. Yes, the concept of citizenship becomes eroded. There is an increasing volume of discussion about the possibilities of taking away citizenship from people who don’t satisfy the community in some way. Once the practice of stripping away citizenship at will becomes normalized, we will know that the new state model has fully consolidated.

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      1. Actually, taking citizenship away from people who join terrorist groups that pretend to be on the level of nation-states may give these organisations added legitimacy, but how this may occur might not be immediately obvious.

        Canada’s even trying to lead the way — would-be jihadis could find their Canadian citizenship stripped, only to be granted “citizenship” within the so-called Islamic State.

        IS may even claim they’re attempting to honour the intent of international treaties on stateless persons by making sure their people have some kind of “citizenship” as a fall-back option.

        Of course, as a more practical matter, these people will inevitably find their way to a country that can grant one of these: 1951 Convention travel document.

        I doubt smug Canadian bureaucrats understand the concept of anti-fragility, but I suspect they can understand being out-classed in terms of smugness …

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  2. What about speed? A hallmark of consumerism is a short attention span and if a conflict is not resolved quickly then it is likely to lose support.

    Alternately it can be turned into a soap opera so that consumers can follow the plot line but then story archs with exciting events and surprising turns are needed.

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    1. Alternately it can be turned into a soap opera so that consumers can follow the plot line but then story archs with exciting events and surprising turns are needed.

      As the Bomb Spins
      The Cyber-Hacker and Me
      Snapchat Sniper

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  3. Clarissa, if consumer-citizens are an essential resource in this new kind of warfare, I’m not sure it follows that the state will have less of a stake in promoting morality or welfare of the consumer-citizens. Possibly the government will find it advantageous to curry the favor of consumer-citizens through welfare in the form of bread and/or circus?

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    1. “Clarissa, if consumer-citizens are an essential resource in this new kind of warfare”

      • They aren’t, though. Nobody needs mass conscription any longer. One professional guy operating an army of drones can do the job of a platoon of soldiers. We have seen a massive withdrawal of the state from regulating morality in a widespread adoption of gay marriage, a much greater openness towards acknowledging the rights of the transgender, etc. The Fordist model depended on the state serving up a huge number of presentable, sober, family men tied to a certain geographic area who would work at the conveyor belt for the next 30 years. The Fordist model is dead, so the state is not supporting this life model any longer. It simply left all of those men and their families behind to try to cope with alcohol, drugs, etc. That their families are crumbling and their morals are sinking is of no interest to anybody. 😦 😦

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          1. Because if so many men and families are left behind, they don’t have any money to be consumers, and they are a drag on the economy. The growing percentage of unemployed, underemployed, and poorly paid workers might create a downward spiral. Maybe it wouldn’t affect the economy at large?

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