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Contemporary Politics, Volume 11, Number 2– 3,

June –September 2005

Review article

Imperious civility: violence and the dilemmas

of global civil society
MARY KALDOR , Global Civil Society: An Answer to War (Polity Press, Cambridge,
2003), 200 pp., ISBN 0-7456-2758-7 (pb)

JOHN KEANE , Global Civil Society? (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,

2003), 234 pp., ISBN 0-521-89462-X (pb)

ELLEN MEIKSINS WOOD , Empire of Capital (Verso, London, 2003), 182 pp., ISBN 1-
84467-518-1 (pb)

‘The dilemma that confronts global civil society’, John Keane provocatively asserts
in this new book, ‘is that it is incapable of bringing peace to the world through its
own efforts. Global civil society thrives upon non-violence – yet it arguably
requires violence to preserve and nurture its non-violence’ (p. 155). It is this
paradox (some might argue inherent contradiction) in the idea and practice of
global civil society that directly or indirectly animates the three volumes under
review. Their appearance in the same year that George W. Bush and Tony Blair
authorized the invasion and occupation of a sovereign state in the name of demo-
cratizing the Middle East may have been accidental, but it proved a timely coinci-
dence, for much of what has occurred in Iraq since the spring of 2003 concretizes
the very dilemmas of global civil society invoked by Keane.
The authors of these three books have over the past four decades all been con-
cerned with the concept and history of civil society, and have, moreover, from
their respective ideological standpoints participated in this domain of transna-
tional political action for as many years. They therefore bring to these texts an
accumulated intellectual and political capital which is generously spent in deliver-
ing robust and concentrated statements on the nature of world politics today. For
Mary Kaldor, global civil society is a ‘new buzzword’ which nonetheless
‘expresses a real phenomenon’: a ‘new form of global politics’ where ‘the array
of organizations and groups through which individuals have a voice at a global
level . . . parallels and supplements formal democracy at the national level’
(p. 107). John Keane does not disagree with the ‘empirical contours’ of such a defi-
nition – he acknowledges that the term is an ideal-type characterized by five con-
tradictory features: it is a society made up of non-governmental institutions which
straddle the globe generally promoting civility, although its inherent pluralism gen-
erates a strong conflict potential (pp. 8 – 14). Keane is thus eager throughout his
volume to underline the tension between what he sees as the empirical, strategic
and normative dimensions of global civil society. Ellen Wood’s text is at first sight
about an altogether different set of phenomena and concerns: empires and
ISSN 1356-9775 print=ISSN 1469-3631 online=05=020179-9 # 2005 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080=13569770500275197
180 Review article

capitalism. But this would be misjudging the book by its proverbial cover. Wood
has dedicated much of her career to unearthing the historical roots of capitalism
and nurturing a materialist understanding of its development. In The Empire of
Capital she applies this knowledge to the puzzling question of why civil
society – that hallowed realm of the free and equal contract between capitalist
and wage-earner – recurrently adopts a violent, racist and expansionist nature.
As a mode of production, capitalism is unique in that surplus is generated and
appropriated chiefly through the private, economic compulsion of the market.
Even though the violent, ‘extra-economic’ coercion of the state and its enforcers is
never entirely detached from civil society, in liberal democratic polities where
civil liberties are respected and the formal equality of citizens is upheld, the
direct, forceful intervention of the state is perceived as being neutral and legitimate.
Similarly, Wood avers, ‘when powerful states launch military actions against
weaker ones, we are given to understand that, here too, force is operating not impe-
rially but neutrally, in the interests of an “international community”’ (p. 5)
In their own fashion, then, and with different emphases, each of these
extended essays (they are all elaborations of earlier writings for the current con-
juncture) are preoccupied with three inter-related questions: the nature of contem-
porary global civil society; the relationship of violence to this domain of social
interaction; and the potential for a more just, peaceful and cooperative world
associated with the notion of global civil society.

What’s in three words?

Like democracy, politics or indeed empire, civil society is a concept with deep
roots in western classical antiquity. Its Aristotelian origins were recovered in the
course of the European Renaissance and into the early Enlightenment to denote
a form of rule built on a reasoned contract amongst men, in contradistinction to
the lawless ‘state of nature’ where life was famously nasty, poor, brutish and
short. By the turn of the eighteenth century, civil society had been reworked by
the prominent European thinkers of the time – Rousseau, Ferguson, Hegel and
Smith – to account for a newly emerging and discrete arena of social interaction,
the capitalist market, lying between the affective domain of the family and the pol-
itical realm of the state. Civil society has since then, and contrary to its original
association with just and peaceful government, generally been understood as a
private arena outside of, and often in opposition to, the political power of the
state. Sundry forms of social interaction beyond the direct control of the state –
market exchange, pressure groups, the audiovisual and print media, social move-
ments, civic associations, even bowling leagues – have fallen within the domain of
civil society.
So far, so obvious: both Kaldor and Keane survey and expand on this by now
familiar history of civil society in their opening chapters.1 The novelty for these
two scholars arrives with the global turn in civil society over the past decades.
Kaldor is boldest in her belief that global civil society is a distinctive product of
the 1989 revolutions in central and eastern Europe which ‘legitimated the
concept of civil society and consequently permitted the emergence of global poli-
tics – the engagement of social movements, NGOs and networks in the process of
constructing global governance’ (p. 77). On this reading, the development of
global civil society represents a double transformation in the forms of rule and
Review article 181

in the modes of political contestation which had prevailed since the end of the
Second World War. The Cold War social structures built around state and class,
and represented internationally in the two antagonistic geopolitical blocs, were
by the 1970s and 1980s being eroded by advances in communications technology,
the globalization of markets, and new conceptions of transnational politics ‘from
below’. Indeed, for Kaldor, the missing element in existing explanations for the
end of the Cold War is transnational agency: it was activist networks linking
western pacifists and eastern dissidents which were largely responsible for
cutting across the Iron Curtain and encouraging the mobilization of anti-despotic
forces in the east which eventually brought down the Soviet bloc. Out of this
double movement emerged a new idea of civil society which, by demanding
the global extension of civil liberties, both transformed and transcended the
national state as a form of rule and class politics as a mode of contestation.
The problems with this formulation of global civil society are numerous.
Some – like the fact that Latin American, South African and South Korean
struggles for democracy were led by working class movements with a very differ-
ent notion of civil society to that espoused by eastern European dissidents – are
recognized by Kaldor herself, though only in passing.2 Others, however, are the
result of a wholly exaggerated association of global civil society with the type
of European transnational movements Kaldor herself chaired in the 1980s. Simpli-
fying somewhat, two inter-related sources of such shortcomings can be identified.
The first of these is the historical myopia of Kaldor’s account. John Keane ded-
icates a large chunk of the second chapter in his book to the identification of the
long antecedents of post-Cold War global civil society, rightly underlining the suc-
cessive waves of transnational interaction amongst peoples and polities over the
past millennium, many of which could comfortably fit the prevailing understand-
ing of global civil society. Tellingly, Keane links the manifold experiments in what
used to be called ‘internationalism’ – an International Bureau of Weights and
Measures, the non-governmental ‘peace societies’ which attended the 1899
Hague Peace Conference, the International Workingmens’ Association – with
the ‘new’ imperialism of the late nineteenth century. The ‘Age of Empire’ deliv-
ered a First World War which itself set the terrain for the twenty-year crisis that
erupted into the Second World War. The idea of global civil society, Keane inti-
mates, should therefore be seen as both cause and effect of that dark and
violent century: a socio-political domain that has not only a much longer, but
also a murkier past than many contemporary analysts are willing to acknowledge.
The point of recognizing the tortuous and protracted gestation of contempor-
ary global civil society, however, is not simply to retrieve the transnational experi-
ence of past generations; it is, more importantly, about avoiding a ‘presentism’
which ascribes a unique dynamism and exceptional progressiveness to the post-
Cold War era. Like all historical landmarking, Kaldor’s claim that 1989 signaled
the rise of global civil society is ideologically loaded. Seemingly commonsensical
assumptions about the ‘spread of globalization’, the ‘growing interconnectedness’
or the ‘collapse of the distinctions between western and non-western societies’
after 1989 legitimize a liberal understanding of global civil society not only as a
new, fresh and exciting arena of democratic politics but also one which is by
and large benign and irreversible. It is, in short, a Whiggish account of the evol-
ution of global civil society which, somewhat perversely, mirrors the ‘stagist’
assumptions of Second International Marxism, with its linear conceptions of
182 Review article

historical time and its own civilizing mission which saw European social democ-
racy advocating an active ‘socialist colonialism’ on the eve of the First World War.
Keane charges such conceptions of global civil society with a ‘purism’ which
‘creates (in some quarters) the unfortunate impression that global civil society is
a (potentially) unified subject, a “third force”, something like a world proletariat
in civvies . . .’ (p. 65). Yet conceiving of civil society without the ‘muck of markets’
is for Keane, to reduce this multifaceted category to its purely normative dimen-
sion. This is troubling for both empirical and strategic reasons: it obviates the fact
that civil society – whether global or otherwise – is historically tied to market
societies, and furthermore, that such market relations generate a ‘turbo-capital-
ism’ which ‘operates as a contradictory and disruptive force within global civil
society’ (p. 88). Here Keane uncovers, from a politically sympathetic perspective,
the second major problem with Kaldor’s understanding of global civil society,
namely that it has no clear sociological conception of the socio-economic and pol-
itical inequalities which attend to civil society as a domain of capitalist social
relations. Once again, this is not simply about recognizing that ‘market forces’
impact upon global civil society; it is arguably a more substantive point about
civil society in its various forms itself being an expression of capitalist social
relations. On this understanding, civil society lies neither outside or even beside
the market in ways that might allow it to act as a ‘third force’ or be ‘impacted
by’ commodity exchange: civil society is the market.
Although Keane insistently makes the connection between global civil society
and turbo-capitalism, he is reluctant (one assumes for ideological reasons) to push
this relation to its logical conclusion in recognizing that, however variegated and
‘overdetermined’, the different expressions of global civil society – social move-
ments, transnational firms, global media conglomerates – are all historically
unique expressions of a peculiar form of social reproduction, namely capitalism.
This is not to say that capitalist social relations always and everywhere mechani-
cally reproduce an extensive and thriving civil society, but rather that the forms of
associational life and communicative rationality expressive of civil society are
inconceivable outside capitalist social relations.
This is an argument that Ellen Meiksins Wood has been making for some years.
Indeed Wood opens her new book with a reminder of the historically unprece-
dented separation of economic power from political authority under capitalism,
and the consequent market-dependence of all those living under such conditions.
‘It is only in capitalism’, Wood insists, ‘that “the market” has a force of its own,
which imposes on everyone, capitalists as well as workers, certain impersonal sys-
tematic requirements of competition, accumulation and profit-maximization’
(p. 11). It is precisely this competition, accumulation and surplus appropriation
with its accompanying individualization, rationalization and commodification
which facilitates the kinds of social processes and political structures associated
with civil society – political associations, chambers of commerce, a reading
public and so on. And it is furthermore this autonomous logic of the capitalist
market which, as Marx and Engels would have it, gives ‘a cosmopolitan character
to production and consumption in every country’. For Wood and her fellow Marx-
ists, then, global civil society must not only be causally connected to the rise and
expansion of a world capitalist market, it should also be considered as an antag-
onistic and exploitative domain where competing class forces vie for political
power through transnational mobilization.
Review article 183

We shall see shortly that this class-based view of global civil society presents its
own pitfalls and contradictions. But there is an even more pressing question for
Marxists in this context: if the world capitalist market which engenders global
civil society is a realm of purely economic exchange between private parties,
why has the history of actually-existing global civil society been characterized
by the very direct, ‘extra-economic’ intervention of the national state and its
various coercive and ideological apparatuses? And why, relatedly, does the
essentially temporal logic of capitalism find spatial expression in imperial

Coercive civility
Ellen Wood’s initial response to the first of these inter-related questions is that the
everyday reproduction of the capital relation requires a legal, administrative and
repressive infrastructure which has historically been delivered most effectively by
the nation-state. Put differently, the separation of the political from the economic
under capitalism is not tantamount to the obliteration of the political by the econ-
omic: competition needs to be regulated, accumulation secured and profits
reinvested and for this to happen smoothly, efficiently and legitimately, the politi-
cal authority of the state is indispensable. In this regard, Wood challenges directly
claims by Kaldor and other globalization theorists about the relative decline of
state authority over the past decades, and the consequent emergence of alternative
sources of legitimate rule above and beyond the territorial state – be these
transnational actors or multilateral institutions. Far from undermining the
public authority of the state, capitalist globalization works best in a ‘pluriverse’
of nation-states, and indeed may itself be seen as a process ‘authored’ by the
world’s most powerful states:
. . . the very fact that ‘globalization’ has extended capital’s purely econ-
omic powers far beyond the range of any single nation-state means
that global capital requires many nation-states to perform the adminis-
trative and coercive functions that sustain the system of property, and
legal order that capitalism needs more than any other social from. No
conceivable form of ‘global governance’ could provide the kind of
daily order or the conditions of accumulation that capital requires.
Wood does not offer any substantive justification for this last assertion, except
for empirical evidence, and her emphasis on the ‘function’, ‘need’ and ‘require-
ment’ of the nation-state in reproducing the capital relation leads too easily to a
functionalist understanding of the state as the static ‘political moment’ in that
relation. Yet Wood’s own account of the state’s historical role in the origins and
development of capitalism points to a much more dialectical and strife-driven
process. From its very origins in primitive accumulation, capital has relied on
the violent expropriation of direct producers from their means of reproduction,
and the subsequent enforcement of market-dependence through extra-economic
means. Moreover, its unbounded quest for self-valorization means that capital
constantly searches for fresh markets: the essentially temporal properties of the
capital relation (the appropriation of commodified labour-time) lead inevitably
to spatial expansion as new lands, peoples and resources are exposed to the law
184 Review article

of value. Wood deploys a life-time’s research into the historical structures of

exploitation and authority to deliver a magisterial overview of the varying
forms of imperial power from Rome and Han China through to the commercial
empires of Venice and the Netherlands, and capitalist empires of Great Britain
and the USA. She extends the differentia specifica of capitalism in its domestic
context to the international domain, arguing that ‘it was England that first
created a form of imperialism driven by the logic of capitalism . . . it was
English colonization, in contrast to Venetian or Dutch commercial imperialism,
that was responding to the imperatives of capitalism’ (pp. 73– 74). In contrast to
previous (non-capitalist) empires, English (and very soon Scottish) colonization
served as the conscious mechanism for the literal transplantation of capitalist
social relations abroad.
This, however, was not a smooth or uncontested process. Capital and labour
work here as explanatory categories used to abstract out very concrete social
agents with their own complex and contradictory histories, cultures and political
aspirations. Wood illustrates in some detail how named individuals like Sir John
Davies, representative of an emerging agrarian capitalist class, had very strategic
conceptions of how colonial expansion, in this case to Ireland, might be harnessed
to capitalist accumulation. In a classic early defence of capitalist imperialism,
Davies suggested that:
. . . civility cannot possibly be planted among them [the Irish] by this
mixed plantation of some of the natives and settling of their possessions
in a course of Common Law . . . half their land doth now lie waste, by
reason whereof that which is habited is not improved to half the value;
but when the undertakers [the settlers] are planted among them . . .
and that land shall be fully stocked and manured, 500 acres will be of
better value than 5000 are now. (Quoted pp. 81– 82)
This was, to be sure, a new, properly capitalist conception of colonization as
value-creation. But it was never realized in the pristine form conceived by its
advocates because, as a social relation, capital is always subject to the contingen-
cies attached to social and political antagonism. Bourgeois and proletarians, land-
lords and peasants, farmers and petty-commodity producers have cooperated and
struggled amongst and between themselves over the reproduction of capitalism at
home and abroad, under very specific historical circumstances, often delivering
very different socio-political outcomes. Once again, Wood notes the contradictory
result of attempts to transplant agrarian capitalism to North American and the
Caribbean: rather than reproducing islands of civility in the style defended by
Davies, the American colonies engendered variegated social formations ranging
from those dependent on plantation slavery in the south and the Caribbean, to
those characterized by pretty-commodity production in New England and mer-
cantile agriculture in the ‘middle’ proprietary colonies of New York, Pennsylvania
and New Jersey. This contradictory – combined and uneven – international repro-
duction of capitalism was repeated time and again in future European conquests.
Thus, for instance, the expansion of French capital in Algeria during the course of
the nineteenth century was carried out by named capitalist enterprises, politically
defended by a self-organized ‘colonial party’, enforced by celebrated military men
and heroically resisted by tribal leaders, marabouts and later, a national liberation
army. This was, once again, a process driven by the market imperatives unique to
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capitalism; but its actual unfolding was constantly compromised by the realities of
human (and occasionally environmental) resistance to the logic of capitalist com-
petition, accumulation and profit-maximization.
It is arguably this multifaceted socio-economic and political resistance that lies
at the heart of a response to the question of why the global reproduction of capital
so often takes on a violent, racist and militaristic character; that is, why it is imperi-
alist. For capital reproduces the peaceful civility of the private contract amongst
seemingly free and equal individuals so long as the exploited party accedes to
its own subordination – once there is significant resistance to the terms and con-
ditions of the contract, the hidden hand of the market becomes the visible fist of
the state. And it is here too that a more dialectical, non-functionalist explanation
emerges for the persistence of the nation-state as the dominant form of political
rule under global capitalism. Struggles for political and social democracy emer-
ging from the antagonisms of civil society have historically been resolved
(however temporarily) through the institutions and resources of the nation-state
(parliamentary representation, welfare provision, industrial legislation). On this
account, capitalism is understood not only as a peculiar mode of social reproduc-
tion which separates economic from political power, but also as a structure of
social relations which encourages forms of collective action and identity that
make the nation-state and its various public institutions the primary locus of pol-
itical contestation. The private arena of the market certainly remains a domain of
social antagonisms, but these tend to be mediated through the political insti-
tutions of the state and a broader ‘public sphere’ encompassing the broadcasting
and print media, socio-political associations and social movements more gener-
ally. In sum, if we are to explain the persistence of a ‘territorial logic’ in global
capitalism – be it of a national or imperial kind – it is essential to incorporate
the role of both social antagonism and political contestation in this process. Capit-
alism, nationalism, and imperialism are from this perspective inextricably tied
together and, counter-intuitive as it may seem, there is a strong argument to
suggest that the slippery notion of ‘global civil society’ can help us to focus on
the historical link between them.
Of the three authors, it is Keane who is most amenable to making this connec-
tion: Kaldor, as we have seen, is reluctant to stretch back the history of global civil
society beyond the Cold War whilst Meiksins Wood pays too little attention to
aspects of modern mass politics like nationalism, racism or anti-colonialism in
her account of Empire. Keane on the other hand readily acknowledges the
burden of colonialism in the formation of a global civil society, noting early on
in his book that there is a powerful sting in the tail of this seemingly benign
sphere of associational life:
. . . an originally European way of life, some of whose members set out
brutally to colonize the world in the name of civil society, helped lay
the foundations for its own universal appeal and, with that, strengthened
the civil resistance to colonizing forms of power and prejudice originally
traceable to the European region. (p. 35)
He therefore gives scope to a more historical– sociological reading of global
civil society as a distinctive space of modern, transnational activism fostered,
however contradictorily, by the development of capitalist imperialism. Like
many other penetrating insights offered in the book, this one is not pursued
186 Review article

systematically to deliver an overall argument about the implications of a global

civil society built on forceful colonization. Instead, as in the rest of the book,
Keane chooses to flag a number of significant consequences of this history – the
uneven and unfinished nature of global civil society, its potential to act as a
cover for naked power politics – with reference to other commentators, all too
often tantalizing the reader with nuanced and insightful, but ultimately indeter-
minate qualifications on the idea of global civil society rather than an outright
affirmation of the concept’s usefulness.

A cosmopolitan response?
If Keane’s predominantly interrogative style is appropriately reflected in the ques-
tion mark that accompanies the title of his book, Kaldor’s assertive subtitle – ‘an
answer to war’ – also mirrors her faith in global civil society (whatever their
other merits or shortcomings, Ellen Wood’s title loses on the marketing stakes
as it undersells its rich content). Though fully aware of the strong normative
impulse to her argument and the possible empirical and theoretical objections
to it, Kaldor insists that ‘the most hopeful approach to the contemporary
problem of controlling war, today, is through the extension and application of
international humanitarian law (the ‘laws of war’) and human rights law’
(p. 128). Globalization once again plays a pivotal role in this account, as according
to Kaldor it has transformed not only forms of governance and political contesta-
tion but also the prevailing modes of warfare. Building on her earlier work around
the ‘new wars’ of the 1990s, Kaldor identifies new forms of ‘network’, ‘spectacle’
and ‘neo-modern’ warfare, represented crudely by warlords and paramilitaries,
aircraft and missile technologies, limited inter-state war and counter-insurgency
operations respectively. These innovations in the organization of violence
require corresponding changes in the forms of confronting war. Agents of
global civil society and multilateral institutions can mobilize for and realize
such changes through the defence of international humanitarian law and the con-
struction of corresponding international forces capable not just of keeping the
peace, but also enforcing and policing it. These new humanitarian institutions
are, however, not to be conceived simply as firefighting organizations ‘on call’
for complex humanitarian emergencies; they bear, for Kaldor, the seeds of a
new and strengthened cosmopolitan governance where multilateralism, global
civil society and humanitarianism reinforce each other in a virtuous circle
leading to a shift from war-making to law-making on a global scale.
John Keane labels this emerging form of rule a ‘cosmocracy’, agreeing with
Kaldor that it represents an unprecedented ‘conglomeration of interlocking and
overlapping sub-state, state and supra-state institutions and multi-dimensional
processes that interact, and have political and social effects, on a global scale’
(p. 98). Like Kaldor, he considers conventional, territorial conceptions of political
authority of little value when analyzing the nature and dynamics of this new form
of rule. Yet, unlike Kaldor, he is unwilling to endorse a straightforward cosmopo-
litan celebration and defence of global governance as a potentially democratizing
force. Instead, Keane enumerates in his chapter on cosmocracy four structural
limitations to global governance: the absence of resources capable of actually
enforcing stability and cooperation, a lack of accountability among its major insti-
tutions, the continued prevalence of a dominant power in the form of the USA and
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the consequent contradiction of a Kantian international civil society which admits

of both state sovereignty and political authority above and beyond the state. In a
damning passage toward the end of the chapter he charges cosmopolitanism with:
. . . bad political sociology and poor history. Empirical applications of the
concept of global civil society – a concept whose emphasis upon plural-
ism sticks a pin in the bottom of cosmopolitan universalism – are vir-
tually absent . . . It also ignores the structural problems that currently
dog the system of cosmocracy . . . [it] supposes, secretly but implausibly,
that the world is in the tightening grip of something like a teleology of
normative progress. (p. 125)
With friends like these, one wonders how the whole idea of global civil society
ever got off the ground in the first place.
Keane’s sobering reminder of the limitations of global civil society and its
attendant projects for cosmopolitan democracy are well taken. But they remain
just that: sceptical notes over a mot du jour, not a systematic critique of the
concept and its prevailing formulations. For this we must arguably turn to the
sort of historical sociology offered by Ellen Meiksins Wood in her Empire of
Capital. Shorn of its normative glad rags, global civil society can work as an
analytical category which not only identifies an historically unique arena of trans-
national political agitation, but also offers a sociological insight into the hierarch-
ical structures and process which guide such international relations. Whilst
capitalism and its spatial expression in imperialism are central to the history
and present of such relations, the notion of global civil society adds to this story
the crucial dimension of transnational resistance. This is something which is
underplayed in a predominantly structural account of empire and capital like
that offered by Wood, with its emphasis on the historical specificity in forms of
rule and exploitation, but not contestation.
Lest this be seen as a merely academic debate it may be worth returning, in
conclusion, to the world-historical conjuncture which accompanied the publi-
cation of these three books. For all three authors, the events of 9/11 and their after-
math in the second Afghan and Iraqi wars signal a turning-point in contemporary
international relations which, depending on the ideological perspective adopted,
deliver different notions of what is to be done in political response to war and
Kaldor is most forthright in her restatement at the end of her book that ‘the
answer to this destructive stalemate is to minimize violence at a global level,
through the extension of global rule based on consent’ (p.156). Keane is character-
istically sceptical about any foundational response and, like most intelligent liber-
als prefers to live with the contradictions of our time rather than resolving them: in
a multicultural, politically fragmented and socio-economically unequal world:
. . . the practical adjudication of [ethical] claims and counter-claims is not
easy, but there is one way in which these normative disputes can be
openly handled and reach a compromise, with the maximum of fairness,
and openness, without igniting violence. It is called – paradoxically –
global civil society. (p. 196)
Ellen Meiksins Wood is much less sanguine, arguing in her closing chapter that
we face today a ‘war without end’; a new doctrine of war crafted by an Anglo-
188 Review article

American alliance which departs from the just war tradition in that now ‘military
action can . . . be justified without any hope of achieving its aim, but it would prob-
ably be more accurate to say that military action now requires no specific aim at
all’ (p. 149) The niceties of international law or global civil society are at best ren-
dered irrelevant and at worst are being trampled upon and discarded by a US
state bent on, and capable of, exercizing global primacy. The one point of agree-
ment between Keane and Wood is that such aspirations of supremacy are
riddled by the contradiction of an American empire which cannot, in a post-colo-
nial world, exercise its power directly over people and territories. The USA may
be dominant over air, sea and in space, but its occupation of Iraq is proving it is not
dominant on land.
In sum, these parting thoughts and the analyses that accompany them reflect a
world in turmoil and distress. The political responses offered in these texts are
different and indeed antagonistic. The idea of global civility society emerges
somewhat tarnished from the discussion: less as a solution than as part of the
problem of disorder, inequality and violence. Now the contradictions and short-
comings of global civil society as a normative project have been uncovered, it
remains incumbent upon its critics to offer other, preferably non-violent, means
of addressing global war, poverty and inequality.
Birkbeck College, University of London

1. Ellen Wood has explored this in her classic polemic ‘The Uses and Abuses of Civil
Society’, Socialist Register 1990, London, 1990.
2. As Keane rightly points out with reference to glib appropriations of Gramsci as a theorist
of civil society, ‘it does not occur to assorted fellow-travellers of Gramsci that their
master’s [sic] (rather inchoate) account of civil society was bound up with all sorts of
communist presuppositions: about the ability of the Party-led proletariat to dismantle
the “bourgeois state” and institute a new social order . . . in which “civil society”
would become merely a word from the bourgeois past’ (footnote 57, p. 63).