David MacGregor

What Can Hegel Tell Us About Terror After 9/11?

What Can Hegel Tell Us About Terror After 9/11?

by David MacGregor
King’s University College, University of Western Ontario
Paper delivered March 31, 2007

2007 Ontario Hegel Organization Annual Meeting
“Hegel on Conflict, Terror and War”
March 30-April 1, 2007, York University
Harry Crowe Room, 109 Atkinson

I suggest that Hegel’s political philosophy offers a unique standpoint for an examination of modern terror. His contribution revolves around the notion of a dual state – a growing, democratic social state emerging from the external state that characterizes civil society. In times of national peril the social state may face dissolution. At such periods, powerful interests from within the external state may establish a “state of exception,” an authority capable of dissolving the social state, and imposing its own mode of terror. As Schmitt said, “sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”

1. French Terror and The State of Exception

Hegel’s analysis of terror in the Phenomenology of Spirit may have a singular, though perhaps unnoticed, relevance for the terrorist strikes on New York and Washington. Hegel was looking at the horrific series of arrests and massacres initiated by Robespierre during the French Revolution. In the turmoil of destruction, intermediary bodies, such as the guilds, were abolished. The national emergency posed by the prospect of invading foreign armies, and national uprisings against the Revolution, sparked fear of internal subversion. The original democratic arrangement ensuring liberty with a weak executive power evaporated. “In this crisis, no basis for a real ‘separation of powers’ existed.” (Harris, Hegel’s Ladder, v 2, p. 393). The National Convention, elected by the people, assumed absolute power. The line between individual will and the universal will of the state had disappeared. Absolute Freedom and the Nation became identical, “an undivided substance”. As noted in John Russon’s talk last night, with nothing to connect the extreme of individual will and the will of the Nation, there could be only one result of universal freedom represented by government: death.

David MacGregor on 7/7, 9/11 and Machiavellian State Terror

July 7th as Machiavellian State Terror?

by David MacGregor

Early reports likened the 2005 July 7th London bombings to Nazi air attacks on Britain more than sixty years earlier. A Sun leader on July 8 declared: “Our spirit will never be broken: Adolf Hitler's Blitz and his doodlebug rockets never once broke London's spirit." The comparison stuck, though the July explosions appear dwarfish beside savage Luftwaffe devastation of London, Coventry and other civilian targets. Indeed ever since September 11 media commentators have portrayed Islamic fanaticism as an eruption of evil unprecedented since Hitler’s bloody European rampage.

In this essay I want to draw a different parallel, though one that returns to World War II aerial warfare and its relation to so-called Islamofascism. July 7th resembles in many respects two other instances of terror on a world-historical scale: the Dallas shooting of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and bin Laden’s nightmarish September flights into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Like these earlier incidents, the London bombings may be an instance of what I have called Machiavellian state terror, spectacular violence perpetrated against the state by elements of the state itself. This form of terror advances domestic and/or foreign policy goals of the established order, and may involve assaults (real or fabricated) on the state’s own military, on innocent civilians, or on political leaders. Government sources and compliant media rush to blame a convenient foe, whether another nation, a political or ethnic group, or a “lone nut.”

Success of such episodes of terror, especially in advanced capitalist democracies, relies on inability or unwillingness of effective oppositional power centres to challenge the official account. Both the 1964 Warren Report on the Kennedy assassination and the 9-11 Commission Report issued 40 years later, offer profoundly flawed narratives. Nevertheless, those responsible for protecting the public interest, such as the media, or mainstream academic researchers, have embraced these cover-ups as unvarnished truth. With regard to the 9-11 Report, for example, Guardian columnist George Monbiot contends that dissenters “permanently wreck their credibility” and present a “crazy distraction” that endangers “popular resistance movements.” Yet Monbiot admits the air assaults could have been averted by the Bush administration. “I believe that they were criminally negligent in failing to respond to intelligence about a potential attack by al-Qaida, and that they have sought to disguise their incompetence by classifying crucial documents.” Incidentally, Monbiot’s remarks are clearly not supported by the 9-11 Commission, which found no malfeasance on the part of the Bush White House.

It may be easier to recognize Machiavellian state terror when practiced by nations other than our own. For example, The New York Times—a long-time opponent of “conspiracy theory”—offered a sober appraisal of the Putin government’s possible involvement in terrorist bombing of apartment buildings used to justify Russia’s renewed hostilities against Chechnya. “From the start, the bombings were viewed with suspicion, especially after the discovery of federal agents planting what turned out to be explosives in the basement of another building. (A training exercise, officials finally said.) In Russian politics, the violence clearly played to the advantage of hard-liners like Mr. Putin.” The respected U.S. intelligence site, Stratfor.com, surmised that recent highly-publicized attacks carried out by ethnic Uighur separatists on the Chinese border may have been manufactured by Beijing in order to curry favour with the United States as an effective opponent of Islamic expansionism, and torpedo the nomination of an Uighur activist for the Nobel Peace Prize. Besides, noted Stratfor, “by raising the Uighur "terrorist" issue, Beijing can create a sense of trouble and a rallying point for national unity without needing to threaten its foreign relations.”