Lawrence Freedman has suggested that the Third World War is now under way.1 Whether or not one agrees with his diagnosis, it is clear that the events of 11 September and the responses that they have occasioned are of world-historic importance. No aspect of our globalised economy will be left unaffected, no region will escape the impact of the conflict. From Indonesia and Malaysia to Nigeria and Paraguay, domestic political stability has been rendered more precarious. The order of war itself has been inverted; civilians, and the very fabric of civil society itself, were the first targets of attacks launched with essentially civilian instruments. The iconic impact has been no less extraordinary: arguably the two most potent symbols of capitalist modernity and its awesome technological capacities – the skyscraper and the jet airplane – were destroyed, intentionally, in a brilliantly orchestrated, chillingly effective media event. The ramifications need little spelling out: the very self-confidence and normative underpinnings of western civilisation have been shaken and questioned through the terrorists’ unprecedentedly potent “propaganda of the deed”. The political capacity and will, as well as the unity, of the West are being tested as perhaps never before. The juggernaut of technological progress and economic growth appears, at least momentarily, to have been halted in its tracks, as the global economy slides into recession. The erstwhile unchallenged power of the most technologically advanced society in history has been brought into question by an atavistic, theocratic ideology joined to the will of agents working, without the aid of hyper-modern technology and with relatively small financial resources, from the very margins of the global political and economic system.

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Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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