States of War

States of War: Enlightenment Origins of the Political

David William Bates
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    States of War
    Book Description:

    We fear that the growing threat of violent attack has upset the balance between existential concepts of political power, which emphasize security, and traditional notions of constitutional limits meant to protect civil liberties. We worry that constitutional states cannot, during a time of war, terror, and extreme crisis, maintain legality and preserve civil rights and freedoms. David Williams Bates allays these concerns by revisiting the theoretical origins of the modern constitutional state, which, he argues, recognized and made room for tensions among law, war, and the social order.

    We traditionally associate the Enlightenment with the taming of absolutist sovereign power through the establishment of a legal state based on the rights of individuals. In his critical rereading, Bates shows instead that Enlightenment thinkers conceived of political autonomy in a systematic, theoretical way. Focusing on the nature of foundational violence, war, and existential crises, eighteenth-century thinkers understood law and constitutional order not as constraints on political power but as the logical implication of that primordial force. Returning to the origin stories that informed the beginnings of political community, Bates reclaims the idea of law, warfare, and the social order as intertwining elements subject to complex historical development. Following an analysis of seminal works by seventeenth-century natural-law theorists, Bates reviews the major canonical thinkers of constitutional theory (Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau) from the perspective of existential security and sovereign power. Countering Carl Schmitt's influential notion of the autonomy of the political, Bates demonstrates that Enlightenment thinkers understood the autonomous political sphere as a space of law protecting individuals according to their political status, not as mere members of a historically contingent social order.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52866-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Dick Howard

    The question that motivates David Bates’s reconsideration of “Enlightenment origins of the political” is found in actual dilemmas facing contemporary political practice and its theory. His analysis concludes with a brief demonstration of how this historical reconstruction can offer more convincing answers to these questions than those proposed by Carl Schmitt and his heirs, including contemporaries such as Jacques Derrida, Étienne Balibar, Jacques Rancière, or Jean-Luc Nancy. Between these contemporary bookends, Bates proposes a conceptual rereading of some of the landmarks of Enlightenment thought that is grounded in an understanding of how historical context affects theories that seek to explain...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION Constitutional Violence and Enlightenment Thought
    (pp. 1-31)

    The crises of the early twenty-first century have revealed once again a perennial conflict at the heart of the modern constitutional state. The demands of war, in particular, but also terror, civil conflict, and even economic catastrophe all have put a great deal of pressure on the theory and practice of constitutional states because they throw into relief the inherent tension between legal concepts of state power and more existential visions of political authority. This is not merely a question of constitutional theory. Given that the normative conceptions underlying constitutional ideas of legitimate authority also ground our deep commitments to...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Autonomous State and the Origin of the Political
    (pp. 32-51)

    The modern European state was the product of a historical development in which a certain form of coercive power was separated and set apart from competing ones and ultimately recognized as the preeminent power, the “final authority,” within a defined territorial space. We cannot assume that the emergence of such an independent sovereign state in early-modern Europe signals either the practice or the concept of the political as such. Without a doubt, the foundations of the modern sovereign state lie in the formation of a new space of authority, and their consolidation and centralization in the volatile conditions of the...

    (pp. 52-92)

    While natural law has a long history and was a particularly important dimension of scholastic philosophy, the theory was deployed in the seventeenth century in a profoundly new context and with radically new methodological principles. It is too simplistic to locate that modernity simply in the secularism of the philosophical approach, exemplified in Hugo Grotius’s infamous claim—the so-called etiamsi daremus—that his derivation of natural-law principles would be true even if there were no God. As we know, neo-Thomistic writers were saying much the same thing in this period, echoing earlier scholastic use of this idea.¹ Still, the fact...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Locke’s Natural History of the Political
    (pp. 93-133)

    In the history of constitutional and political thought, John Locke is renowned for the idea that political power is fundamentally limited by the legal foundation of the state. If Locke’s thinking about law and political authority was indebted to a (peculiarly British) “tradition that believed power, where legitimate, was essentially judicial,”¹ it is also the case that Locke’s argument opened up a particularly modern constitutional theory that grounded law (and its adjudication) in the power of the people to organize their own civil society. Not surprisingly, then, Locke has usually been interpreted as the first important modern thinker to define...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Systems of Sovereignty in Montesquieu
    (pp. 134-170)

    As a political thinker, Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu is usually read from two fundamentally different perspectives. He is, on the one hand, often acknowledged as the first true political scientist, someone who tried to understand the sociological and even environmental foundations of political organization while making the effort (not always successfully, to be sure) to be objective about the plurality of political forms. Yet Montesquieu’s immense influence in the history of political thought and practice has been tied more to his constitutional theory—namely, his conceptualization of the division of governmental powers and their...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Rousseau’s Cybernetic Political Body
    (pp. 171-214)

    In the early Enlightenment work of John Locke and Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, we see the political emerge as a distinct category of analysis: the principle and logic of defending a historically situated social formation against enmity and internal forces of disorder. However, this dependent relationship makes it difficult, if not impossible, to locate any kind of critical distance from the political—whatever serves the continued existence of the community so defined is inherently legitimate. Whether the community (as a social form of organization) is dissociated entirely from the operations of the political (as...

  11. CONCLUSION From the Concept of the Political to the Rule of Law
    (pp. 215-230)

    In the constitutional state, political authority is necessary to protect the rights of the individual citizen and to uphold the law. Political power is enabled by the constitution for this purpose, but it also must be fundamentally restrained so that the state and its agents do not overwhelm and threaten the legal norms underlying the existence of the state in the first place. The relationship between a political authority that must exercise some autonomy and the legal framework that institutes that authority has long been a vexing question throughout the history of political thought and constitutional theory. One of the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 231-252)
  13. Index
    (pp. 253-260)