Old Permutations, New Formations? War, State, and Global Transgression

in Social Analysis
Bruce Kapferer University of Bergen

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The very institution of the state is widely conceived of as inseparable from war. If it constitutes peace within the borders or order of its sovereignty, this very peace may be the condition for its potential for war with those other states and social formations outside it. Indeed, in different state systems their very internal order depended on predation beyond their borders. The one was the function of the other. Since ancient times it has been observed that the distribution of wealth within states, even the creation of what the Greeks recognized as democracy, was critically related to the perpetration of war. Hobbes’s royalist vision of the state within the context of England and Europe is consistent with that founding paradox of the state that I have outlined here. This is so despite his famous legitimation of the state as necessary for the overcoming of conflict and violence that was inherent in human being and especially in social processes otherwise not mediated through the institutions of the state. In other words, for Hobbes the state is an extension of fundamental human nature. The state is peace-making by virtue of its appropriation and monopolization of the wherewithal for violence. But this direction toward peace is a protective function organized to the benefit of the citizens of the state who surrender their capacity for violence to the state. Clausewitz’s celebrated recognition of war as an extension of politics expands on Hobbes making more explicit the paradox of the state. This paradox arises from the monopolization of violence, for it can lead to excessive violence demanding political constraint.

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