by BagNewsNotes Contributor, Robert Hariman
Among the sophisticated, raison d’état (”reason of state”) is the first principle of foreign policy. Decisions are to be made on behalf of the national interest without regard to confounding values. So it is that democracies can support dictators, to take one example that might apply to U.S. foreign policy now and again. Although the idea has been the subject of extensive debate, it has at the same time become ever more deeply embedded in practices of state administration. It should not be surprising, then, that those practices acquire the look of rational, efficient mechanisms of control.
This photograph of a common room at Guantanamo Bay prison is a study in rational organization, everything in its place. The room is used for activities such as watching television, but its real purpose is obvious: maintaining comprehensive control of the inmates while they are out of their cells. And, yes, those are leg irons on the floor; the prisoners are locked in while sitting at the table. The photo may be intended to feature the functionality of the room: containment appears almost transparent–no dungeons here–while the asceticism and cleanliness double as substitutes for morality.
Modern regimes of control rely heavily on assumptions about reason and necessity in the use of power. They can’t be less powerful or more moral, we are told, because the rational consequence will be that a more powerful and less moral opponent will triumph. They can, however, apply instrumental rationality and modern technologies to maintain security, and that competence becomes sufficient justification for administrative sovereignty. If they can’t be moral, democratic, or otherwise defined by anything other than the use of power to maintain security, at least they can be systematically organized to achieve their one objective.
Fair enough, but for one problem.