A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman.of the Board and Chief Executive Officer What Terrorism Tells America By Benjamin R. Barber Terrorism and the poignant dilemmas it raises for America teach an ancient lesson: the incompatibility of democracy at home and empire abroad. We have treated the confrontation with Libya as a problem of foreign policy, but the more disturbing question is domestic. Can we project our military and economic power on a global scale and continue to exist as a democratic society open, tolerant, modest and humane? What terrorism has done to the United States is to re-expose the tension first revealed by Vietnam between our democratic ideals and our power politics globalism. We need not call ourselves imperialist to recognize that our nation has assumed global responsibilities and acquired the aspirations and tastes as well as the onerous responsibilities of a superpower. Our international stature and the force by which it is sustained invite resistance from the less powerful and revenge from the victimized and dispossessed. We are targeted not simply because we favor Israel here or oppose Syria there, because we are too slow to support national liberation movements or too quick to exploit foreign economic opportunities, but because we are a great global power with large appetites and extensive interests. “Innocent” Americans are slaughtered because the nation whose passport they carry is not innocent: The powerful never are, despite good intentions. The ancients would not have been perplexed by our situation. They understood democracy to depend upOn a high degree of economic autarky and political selfsufficiency, and connected the passing of town democracy in Attica with the rise of Athenian economic imperialism. No philosopher of republicanism, no witness to the history of Rome, would ever imagine that a gentle, self-sufficient democracy could survive its transformation into an ambitious empire with its freedom intact. Our own founders worried from the outset that we might have difficulty preserving our liberties, and we preserved our innocence into this century only by pursuing a policy of assiduous isolationism. Our engagement in World War I was reluctant, and we fought World War II in a mood of moral outrage. But in the postwar world, we have been overtaken by the contradictions between our power and our freedom. Terrorism presents the argument with a vengeance. It mocks our humble liberties by attacking our crusading internationalism; it argues against our modesty by demonstrating our ubiquity. It discredits our humanity by provoking our brutality. It sets our democracy at odds with our empire by revealing our incapacity to serve either modest liberty or brute force with conviction. Thus we find ourselves pinned between our democracy and our empire, paralyzed as imperialists because, as democrats, we are devoted to justice and lack the stomach for murdering civilians on the scale demanded from empires, yet paralyzed as democrats because as imperialists we are committed to a struggle for hegemony and are unable to eschew the brutal means by which hegemony is secured. Finally, ours is a failure of imagination, for we imagine ourselves to be a modest democracy insulated from the world by two oceans even as we pursue the policies of a superpower. The world may be forgiven for seeing the empire with which it must contend rather than the democracy about which it only hears. The terrorist strikes at the superpower, dumbfounding the modest democrat who sees his ideals rather than his power. So, as a nation, we find our global ambitions hobbled by our democratic conscience and our democratic ideals compromised by our global ambitions: After all, the democracy depends upon an open and free society, a dispassionate and informed public opinion, significant civic participation, tolerance in the face of dissent, and above all a refusal to permit the politics of reason to be displaced by violence. The empire on the other hand requires the projection of national power abroad, an intolerance for resistance and dissent, and a disposition for ruthlessness in the choice of means, which must include those of the terrorist and the assassin, as well as the statesman and the diplomat. Nor is it a question of ruthless foreign policy alone. To make America terror-proof in its global incarnation is ultimately to curb its liberties at home. It is to curtail mobility, to increase surveillance, to hamper concourse, to violate rights; it is to watch, to spy on, to follow, to search, to seize and to control citizens and foreigners alike until all the world comes to resemble a well-secured airport or an invulnerable embassy. Thus it is that terrorism wins, even where it loses. Its victory comes not when it blows an airliner out of the sky or sends an innocent tourist to a watery grave but when it eggs the democracy into actions that undo sacred liberties and corrupt the devotion to justice that is democracy’s finest achievement. Not to resist terrorism is painful to the empire, but to resist it may be fatal to the democracy. So terrorism may be history’s ironic way of compelling us to confront the ancient question we have so long sought to avoid: What price empire? Benjamin R. Barber, professor of political science at Rutgers University, is the author most recently of Strong Dethocracy of Newsday. American Income Life Insurance Company EXECUTIVE OFFICES: P.O. BOX 208. WACO, TEXAS 78703, 817.772-3050 BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer 22 JULY 31, 1986
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