09 July 2012

War and Ideology

War and ideology are two things as distant from each other as possible. Levinas says, “The state of war divests the eternal institutions and obligations of their eternity and rescinds ad interim the unconditional imperatives.” Nonetheless, the philosopher is drawn to contemplate war as much as the ancient explorer would have been drawn to the edge of the world. Here the very essence of humanity is divided in a great and gruesome game which operates by its own rules, distinct from the measured cadence of civilized life. But if war has traditionally divided the world into halves, its more advanced forms (those which, in fact, are even less than barbaric) destroy altogether the coherence which has normally held each partial reality together. Order is most stringently imposed at the fringes, like a hem on a garment, which must make sure that, even though the cloth is cut, the sudden cessation of the woven grid does not allow the entire piece to unravel. So in the military order is maximally enforced, a strict hierarchy maintained and rules enforced. But in guerilla warfare the order of war is itself challenged. Consequently, counterinsurgency tactics have arisen to create a military in which front lines no longer exist. Here, at the extremity of war, ideology is capable of making an entrance. Insurgents seek to re-form the cloth of society by slicing it into a million different fragments, which can then be rebound. What is challenged is not the placement of a particular seam in the garment (as it used to be, even at the time of the second world war), but the weave of the cloth itself. Counterinsurgents attempt to blot out irregularities in the weave, to create uniformity. But these basic questions of local structure, which are relevant everywhere in society, between all men at all times, are essentially philosophical. If Marx is right, and the point of philosophy is to change the world, then philosophers must always be terrorists of a sort, attempting to rip up the fabric of reality and reconstitute it under different conceptual forms.