Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Rise of the Guardian State(1)

The Rise of the Guardian State
Terrorism and the Demise of Democracy

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
First draft: December 2005

“They argue that democracy, in order to fight totalitarianism, is forced to copy its methods and thus become totalitarian itself.”
Karl R. Popper[1]


With the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, by unprecedented terrorist attacks, not only the very foundation of Western democracy and open society fell apart, but also this gave pretext to totalitarian regimes to justify their oppressive methods against their peoples around the world. This also encouraged the obsessive anarchists and zealous religious reactionaries to declare war against modern society and every thing that goes with it. We have heard so far about the rise of “garrison state”[2] and the establishment of military rule for the sake of defending societies against terror and insecurity. Some critics spoke about the “end of civilization” or the “end of democracy,” [3] and return to the Hobbsian “state of nature;” and some other alluded to the age of “modern barbarism.”

How can we explain the new phenomenon associated the emerging situation? What are the plausible consequences of this unfortunate trend? How we can tackle with it and what should be done in order to save our civilization from going backward to the dark age of barbarism and savageries?

In this short paper it will be argued that the definition that best describes the emerging situation is the “Guardian State,” borrowed from the classical times, without derogatory overtone. This means that democratic societies are unconsciously being dragged to a new totalitarian state due to fear of violence and need to be guarded against terrorism. However, it does not suggest that we should surrender to this evil and give way to ill-wishers who pursue the aim of annihilation of our modern human society.

The Clash between Faith and Reason

From the beginning of human history, man has been guided by two strands inextricably woven in his very nature, the rational and the spiritual. These forces have influenced human destiny in varied patterns and in different periods when one or the other may have been more prominent.[4] Religion has been the great force for the disciplining of man’s nature, though it has also worked against his fate by denying the domain of reason.[5]

Religion has always been perceived to oppose rational process, perhaps on the theory that a God who could be approached by mere rational thought would not be worth reaching. This way of thinking accounts for all the goods and evils that humanity has experienced throughout history. Along with grandiose achievements performed by religion, it has also produced dogmatism and intolerance. It has promoted ignorance and superstition; invaded nations and slaughtered human beings.[6]

If however religion is viewed not merely as a set of spiritual and metaphysical concepts, usually beyond the reach of average mind, but as a way of life and a set of beliefs about the world, society and man, and more importantly as a dynamic force having the potentials for change in status quo, reform and revolution,[7] then we must perhaps change our perception.

In today’s world order, where hope and peril run side by side, among great and vital issues are those which involved the suppression of the evil which drive societies toward wars and hostilities. How then the whirlwind of revolutionary social forces can be directed towards a safe and constructive path? Considering the fact that constitutional foundation of world order and international law have proven inefficacious for the maintenance of peace and assurance of democratic process, the problems remain to be tackled in future are the minimum moral and spiritual requirements in order to preserve peace, security and human dignity in a tormented world.

In the absence of a superior authority over and above nation-states claiming sovereignty and political independence, power with legitimacy is the necessary instrument of government, without which political order could neither be established nor maintained and guard society against anarchy. Power without legitimacy spawns tyranny and violence, corrupts the mighty and crushes freedom.[8]

Politics and government are presumably built on logical premises and function on rational processes. On the other hand, religion is based on the foundation of faith. When government, representing the political institution, and religion, representing the value system of dogmatic beliefs, engage in a competition for power, an inevitable collision occurs. The result of this confrontation varies from place to place, depending on the degree of socio-political and cultural maturity and development of a given society. It can generate hope and dynamic force directed toward construction, innovation, and creativity. It can also produce hatred, antagonism, terror, destruction and frustration.

States in Transition: From Open to Closed Society

Ever since Plato and Aristotle explained their conception the “state,” its raison d’être, legitimacy, structure, means and ends, men have been wondering about how to deal with the problems of good governance, justice, security and realization of potentialities in human societies. For the achievement of these sublime purposes, a number of corollary questions have always preoccupied human societies: How the state should be organized and how it should be run? Who should assume the authority to rule and how the legitimate power should be conferred to the ruler? These and hundreds of other queries and inquiries on them have gradually shaped the massive body of literature we call “political science” that we inherited from the past 2500 years.

Classical political philosophy identifies politics with ethics and the conception of the state as a medium for the achievement of justice, fairness and a vehicle for man’s optimal self-realization. The structure of politics depends on the forms of institutions, running from the family through the village and the town, city and the nation to the state. The state is characterized by regime, which exemplifies a particular conception of good life. The nature of the state is that it is ethically or legally “sovereign,” whose end is the highest to which all other institutions and associations should contribute and are subordinate. The constitution of a sovereign state determines where the power originates and how it is distributed. All forms of states somehow are organized on these premises and it is presumed that they should respond to those fundamental questions set-out above.

Usually, states are known with some kind of attributes which determine their nature, structure, orientation and objectives. Depending on one’s conception of man and society, various philosophers have devised different models of states and the appropriate institutions to achieve their objectives. Those for whom man should be free in a society to fulfill his goals, and a limited state should prepare the ground to that end, tended to liberalism and its various branches. Socialists gave primacy to the society and made man subordinate to it, by creating large state institutions for the purpose of exercising control over citizens. Still another category of state emerged which was considered as the sacred sublime institution, where both men and society became subordinate to its will. Fascism, Nazism and Falangism are examples of such radical institutions.

Each of the above and many other types of states and governmental institutions came into being in some historical epochs and made all the efforts they could to prove the efficiency and practicality of their political models. Numerous wars, conflicts and rivalries resulted from the confrontations of various schools of thoughts which pretended to have the ultimate solution to the perennial problems of mankind and its permanent insecurity in society. Some have persisted through times and some have perished due to their own incapacity to survive and compete with rivals. Nazi Germany, communist Russia and Eastern Europe, are examples of this process.

In his famous book: The Open Society and its Enemies, Karl Popper attempted to show that the shock of transition from tribal “closed society” to modern “open society” is one of the factors that have made possible the “rise of those reactionary movements which have tried and still try, to overthrow civilization and to return to tribalism.”[9] He further argues against historicism and denies historical necessity suggesting that some form or other of totalitarianism is inevitable by writing:

“One hears too often the suggestion that some form or other of totalitarianism is inevitable. Many, who because of their intelligence and training should be held responsible for what they say, announce that there is no escape from it. They ask us whether we are really naïve enough to believe that democracy can be permanent; whether we do not see that it is just one of the many forms of government that come and go in the course of history. They argue that democracy, in order to fight totalitarianism, is forced to copy its methods and thus become totalitarian itself. They assert that….. the adoption of totalitarian forms of social life is also inevitable.”[10]

Popper rejects the contention that democracy is not to last for ever, since, in his view, as long as there is reasons in political matters, democracy will prevail and provides the necessary institutional framework that permits reform without violence. However, the opposite argument to this logic is also true that when reason is taken out of the equation, the whole falls apart. Since, religion is said to be faith without reason. Thus, when the political realm engages into competition with religious sphere, then one should expect some kind of clash to occur.

At the beginning of the 21st century, with the emergence of new dimensions of terrorism,[11] the world history is experiencing another decisive turn. Throughout the world, democratic states are mobilizing all their capacity by using every possible scheme to guard against terror and violence. By so doing, they are being pushed inadvertently to close their societies and opt for totalitarian methods. This process is being justified by politicians who, for the defense of their national interests and democratic values, are establishing what call here “the Guardian State.”

The Guardian State

When societies are faced with violence and threat from the environment, whether natural or political, they tend to close themselves in order to become less vulnerable to eventual dangers and diminish the adverse effects of forces threatening their existence. Such is the case in times of wars and crises, when people accept wholeheartedly all social restrictions and economic limitations. American liberalism tended to what has been coined as “the garrison state” during World War II. This is somehow the reverse of what is known as the natural course of history which is supposed to be “progressive and upward from bellicose, militaristic cast society to pacific, bourgeois, democratic society.”[12] The garrison state is either the logical product of world revolution or the reaction against it.[13]

In this line of argument, basic to the guardian state is the subordination of all other purposes and activities of the society to the raison d’état. In other words, in such situation the whole machinery of the state, including military, bureaucrats, judges and other power-holders gains preeminence because of their vital role for the defense of the state and the values cherished by the society.

The guardian state as employed here should not necessarily be taken equal to garrison state or any other totalitarian or extremist regimes such as fascism or absolutism, though there may be some similarities among them in certain respects. The guardian state must function efficiently in order to respond to the growing need for order and security. Thus, it requires the centralization of power in the hands of a selected oligarchy, especially among the military. Quite naturally, in such circumstances the various branches of government either become subordinate to the military or will be occupied by them.[14] Of course, not all polities transform the same way in this transition. Democratic states usually follow their own established norms and rules; while authoritarian regimes find a pretext to justify their oppressive way of handling the business of the state. Perhaps Plato was the first political thinker who alluded to some sort of guardianship in the polis, where the whole power of the society was vested to the “philosopher king,” who was supposed to protect people from the evil of tyranny.[15]

The guardian state should not be equated to fascism, though this latter may include every form of authoritarian state. Fascism is always associated with a very high degree of nationalism, centralized control of private enterprise, and, after it attains political control of a country, involves a powerful, dictatorial state that views the nation as superior to the individuals or groups composing it. Fascism also typically calls for the regeneration of the nation and uses populist appeals to unity[16].

The guardian state justifies the hardship it imposes to the people with the simple reason of necessity for national security and protection of social, economic and democratic values. It thus appears that we are facing a paradox. On the one hand, the society is presumably defending itself from the evil of terrorism and tyranny; on the other hand, totalitarian rules are being imposed to people by political apparatus. This is now the prevailing situation in the United States[17] as well as other democratic states of Europe and elsewhere in the world. Restriction of civil liberties, arbitrary search, arrest and detention, denial of justice, torture, military courts and the like are being experienced every where and justified for national interest and security reasons.
In this way, “democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism."[18] In such an event, democratic institutions become mechanisms of injustice and oppression, thus defying the moral law to which they, like all human institutions and actions, are subject.
What happened in Guantanamo with Al-Qaeda detainees and in Abu-Ghoraib with Iraqi prisoners after American intervention and liberation of that country from the subjugation of a brutal and despotic regime, was indeed contrary to any human standards. Even now, what the provisional Shiite majority government (or at least a faction of it) is doing with the Sunni opponents in Iraqi private jails is unbelievable. The prime motto of Americans to overthrow Saddam regime was to establish democracy, order, rule of law and justice in Iraq, as a model for the grater Middle East. But apparently, the evil of terrorism impeded the country to move forward to those ends. Unfortunately in such circumstances people have no other choice than to go along the imposed state of affairs and live in a permanent state of insecurity and violence. Western societies, which were so much proud of their democracy and freedom, are now caught in the same trap as people under subjugation of totalitarian regimes. The result of the emerging situation is the steady alienation of people from the political sphere and every thing associated with it.[19] Regrettably, this condition is fulfilling the wishes of backward terrorists whose objective is to destroy the amazing achievements of our modern civilization.
Whatever we call the emerging situation, we are entering a new phase of man’s history that no prophet ever predicted. Without trying to be apologetic, an optimistic view may equate the guardianship to the way mother or parents care about their children, not only in human beings but also in all other species. In other words, in time of danger and distress, we tend to react by instinct and natural feeling and not necessarily by reason and rational, in order to save a life or to protect one from the imminent threats. The “Guardian state” is the outgrowth of the current crisis in the international system. No country is immune from the impact of the new world disorder. Modern democratic states as well as traditional developing countries are vulnerable and exposed to the same dangers.[20] Indeed the destiny of mankind is tied more than ever to the way political leaders and statesmen tackle with the problem. However, they should not be frustrated or give up hope and resolve, nor should they lose reason and faith in their endeavor toward democracy.


[1] Karl Raimund Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Harper Torchbooks, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, Vol. 1, p.2
[2] William F. Jasper - Rise of the Garrison State - July 15, 2002.htm, The New American
[3] The End of Democracy.htm: See also Jean Marie Guehenno, La Fin de la Democratie, (1993)
[4]. CF. S. Radhakrishnan, Religion in a Changing World (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. 1967), p. 18.
[5]. Radhakrishnan, Ibid. p.9.
[6]. S. Radhakrishnan. Religion in a Changing World, p.71
[7]. CF.W.T. Stace. Religion and the Modern Mind (London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd.. 1953)pp. 219-222;
[8]. Robert Strausz-Hupe, Power and Community (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1956), p.3.
[9] Karl Popper, Ibid.
[10] Karl Popper, Idem.
[11] See my recent paper on this subject: Ali-Asghar Kazemi, “ Religion, Politics and Terrorism,” in Middle East Academic Forum
[12] Cf.: Samuel P.Huntington, The Soldier and the State, The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, New York: Vintage Books, 1957,. P.347
[13] It is argued by Huntington, referring to Harold Lasswell, that during the cold war both the Soviet Union and the United States organized their respective societies on the garrison state pattern. See ibid. p.348
[14] This is the case of most third world states where societies are in a pre-democratic stage.
[15] According to this model, the principles of Athenian democracy (as it existed in his day) are rejected as only a few are fit to rule. Instead of rhetoric and persuasion, Plato says reason and wisdom should govern. This does not equate to tyranny, despotism or oligarchy, however. Plato describes these "philosopher kings" as "those who love the sight of truth" (Republic 475c) and supports the idea with the analogy of a captain and his ship or a doctor and his medicine. Sailing and health are not things that everyone is qualified to practice by nature. A large part of the Republic then addresses how the educational system should be set up to produce these philosopher kings. Plato further says: "Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,... nor, I think, will the human race." (Republic 473c-d). See :Plato - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.htm
[16] The problem of defining fascism is complicated by the fact that the word fascist, used as an epithet, became an all-purpose insult after World War II, being widely applied to people on all sides of the political spectrum. In contemporary political discourse, adherents of some political ideologies tend to associate fascism with their enemies, or define it as the opposite of their own views. There is also controversy surrounding the question of what political movements and governments belong to fascism. The most restrictive definitions of fascism include only one government - that of Benito Mussolini in Italy. Fascism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.htm
[17] President Bush’s proposal to create a Homeland Security Department is one of several unprecedented efforts to centralize military and law enforcement power in the executive branch in the name of fighting terrorism. Another dramatic step is the administration’s claim that it can hold alleged terrorists, including American citizens, in military custody indefinitely, and can deny them habeas corpus and access to legal counsel, by designating them as “unlawful combatants.” In principle, President Bush is claiming the power to start wars at whim and to commission his subordinates to detain “unlawful combatants” indefinitely — all in the name of fighting terrorism. These police-state measures, presumably, are being devised only because “thousands of trained killers are plotting to kill us,” and would be renounced once the crisis has passed. But administration officials from the president on down have advised that the current “war on terrorism” may last for decades. See: William F. Jasper, Rise of the Garrison State. The New American-Rise of the Garrison State - July 15, 2002-.htm
[18] Cf.: Robert P. George, “The Tyrant State”, in: The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics, 1996 First Things 67 (November 1996): 18-20.
[19] See: Ali-Asghar Kazemi, The End of Politics and the Last Myth… (Excerpt) in Scholar E-Journal

[20] Iran is an exemplary case where at present time the “Guardian State” model could fit. Since, after the failure of the reformists and the increasing threats from outside (especially because the nuclear issue), gradually all the state power has been capitulated by war veterans, coming from the revolutionary guards and Bassijis background. The case needs to be examined in a separate paper.