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New Terror, New Wars

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New Terror, New Wars

New Terror, New Wars

The nature of warfare and violent international conflict appears to have changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, and without anyone quite noticing until after it had occurred. At one time, war was something waged between states and where individuals found themselves as enemies through accidents of birth and nationality.


Title: New Terror, New Wars
Author: Paul Gilbert
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
ISBN: 0878403450

•  Interesting insights into warfare and the ethics of war today

•  Incorrectly portrays identity politics as always negative
•  Incorrectly assumes that a person enters politics without any prior, formative identity association

•  Explores the nature of warfare today and how it differs from the past
•  Argues that warfare today stems from identity politics
•  Proposes that identity politics be rejected in favor of "politics of role"


Book Review

Today, wars are not necessarily between states, although they may involve states, and the enmity between individuals runs much deeper and is more personal. What happened, and why? How can this new type of warfare be constrained in order to prevent it from getting out of control?

These are the topics of Paul Gilbert’s recent book New Terror, New Wars. A professor of philosophy at the University of Hull, Gilbert spends much of his time discussing the proper conduct of war and whether traditional ideas of “just war” might be applicable to the new structures of warfare we see today.

First, however, he seeks to explain just what those structures are. According to Gilbert, warfare today is a consequence of identity politics:

    “Their participants are groups which possess, or for which are claimed, distinctive collective identities; and they concern, in one way or another, the manner in which such identities should be recognised. What the politics of identity presupposes is that one enters political life as a person with a particular collective identity.”

Gilbert would like to offer an alternative view of the individual which he believes is less likely to result in group conflict and warfare:

    “What I want to contrast with the politics of identity is an earlier — at least in recent times — ‘politics of role’, as I shall call it. The politics of role presupposes that I enter politics without any essential collective identity but as someone set to perform a specific role, most usually, in the modern political world, the role of a citizen. One does not, that is to say, enter politics with prior attributes which the character of one’s political relationship should reflect, but rather one’s relationships are shaped by the way one performs one’s role.”

Unfortunately for Gilbert’s case, his “politics of role” isn’t much more than a myth while the “politics of identity” goes a lot farther in actually reflecting social life as it really is — and probably must be.

New Terror, New Wars

New Terror, New Wars

The average person simply does not — and indeed cannot — enter political life without having had their personality, their beliefs, their attitudes (in short, their identity) formed through a socialization process that occurred in the matrix of groups with which they come to identify.

Those groups are dependent upon social markers like class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, and so on. Sometimes the markers can be chosen, but more often they are products of birth or circumstances. No one stands outside such groups, although it is true that people who are members of the largest and most dominant identity groups can forget that they are identity groups and that the politics that result from them are identity politics. Only the groups formed by minorities are perceived as being “identity politics,” and then derided because it is different form the “norm.” I don’t know if this is Gilbert’s error, but I guarantee that he, too, is a part of identity groups which have influenced his own political leanings.

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