Militarization: The New “Civilizing Process”

Militarization and the “Civilizing Process”

The long process of pacification in Europe and its colonies that began centuries ago that Elias (2000) described as the “civilizing” process has been re-fashioned to instill a form of militarized consciousness (Orr, 2004). Militarization has embedded itself in almost every facet of the daily conduct of life in the West (Enloe, 2000, 2016). Militarization, as Geyer (1989) and others have argued, functions to position society in a manner in which the application of violence and the conduct of war is perpetual (Lutz, 2018; Orr, 2004). In this context new media provides the conduits through which political violence is legitimized, celebrated and promulgated. In this book I will examine and document the emergence of militarization as a form of public pedagogy. I will also expand on the proposition that the “civilizing process” at work in Western society as theorized by Norbert Elias (2000) has been supplanted by militarization. The implications for society of the emergence of two socio/political processes this century, on the one hand the lure of violent extremism and on the other militarization, is profound.

The “Civilizing Process”: Life in “Late Barbarian Society”

The major work of Elias rests on the notion that society has evolved away from the unbridled use of violence between and within states and as an undercurrent within society — at least in the West. Elias wrote about the transformation of feudal society into the network of nation-states that constitute modern Europe. He was particularly interested in the shift in attitudes in relation to sex, nudity, hygiene and violence. Elias was also interested in the emergence of a more specialized division of labor, the expansion of urbanization, the creation of monetary systems and the emergence of markets. He was also concerned with the manner in which the nature of personalities changed as people became more closely connected to each other (Turner, 2004).

An understanding of the concept of the “civilizing process” helps us to comprehend the way social practices are internalized through socialization (habitus) and how in the history of Western society this trend has been appropriated and harnessed in the process of state-formation. Central to Elias’s thesis is the repudiation of the concept as advocated by his critics that human characteristics such as “morality” as well as the propensity to live harmoniously with others is “natural” or “innate” (Dunning & Men-nell, 1998). Elias believed that a gradual process of socialization at the individual level through the auspices of the family and schools has over time produced a distinct “habitus” — (a term that was well worn before its popularization in English by Bourdieu) which has formed the kernel upon which modern Western society has evolved.

The shift in the “habitus” of the population of Europe occurred as part of a

long-term process in parallel with the monopolization of violence by the State. This, in turn, is held to have occurred interdependently with the monopolization of taxation. Expressed simply, Elias contends that monopolies of violence and taxation are the major means of ruling and that, in their development in Western Europe since the Middle Ages, they have been mutually reinforcing.

(Dunning & Mennell, 1998)

The monopoly on the use of violence as well as the ability to tax were fundamental to the process of state-formation. The internalization of “selfconstraint” was essential to the emergence and growing prosperity of the European political form as it negated the need to inflict regular doses of violence on the subject population. The use of violence by the State in response to uprisings and attempted revolutions gradually diminished as a consequence of this change. Self-restraint and a willingness to work with and for other individuals and with representatives of the State was an outcome of this long process. The emergent habitus to which Elias refers had at its core the “pacification” (Braun, 2019) of the subject population of Western Europe. Its long-term effect was to transform the various societies of Europe into relatively peaceful and massively productive territorially bounded power containers.

At this point it is necessary to make a brief aside — it is clear from the historical record that the European nation-states that explored the “New World” and elsewhere transported their propensity to inflict violence with them. So, whilst the European nations were busy creating the conditions where a form of pacified habitus became the dominant element in European socialization, elsewhere this was not the case. Whether it was in Ireland, or the American colonies, Australia or in India, the State felt no constraints on its application of violence, nor did the colonists or administrators. It could be argued that without colonialism the European story might look somewhat different to Europeans.

As Braun (2019) has argued, “Elias’s research interest [was] in social processes and the process-related development of typical Western civilized ‘modes of behavior’” (Braun, 2019). In particular Elias pointed to the emergence of a specifically Western mode of habitus which had at its center the application of both individual and societal “self-constraint” (Elias, 2000). At this point it is necessary to state that Elias wrote about Western society and was not attempting to present an argument which could be applied universally. I wish to follow this line of argument and state that this discussion is about Western society — a concept that I think still applies.

Elias argues that over the centuries that followed, the emergence of feudal society and then its collapse, there evolved a gradual movement away from the unrestrained application of violence to solve personal grievances or intra-familiar or clan conflict, as a consequence of the centralization of the legitimate use of violence by the State. The subsumption of baser passions through codes of behavior — “chivalry” for example, and later through sport, the process of civilizing society gained traction. The practice of restraint was internalized — it became unquestioned and unquestionable. This did not occur overnight. In the centuries that followed, European society normalized the acceptance of this habitus — what once needed to be justified and explained in time became internalized.

Over the same period socialization spread from the family into the emergent institutions such as schools and public or civil services — the army, the police and the various State bureaucracies that were established in European societies. These bureaucracies were the product of the nation-state political form that emerged out of the collapse of ideology of the divine rule of kings. The destruction of the Ancien Regime as a consequence of the French Revolution enabled the formation of institutions and processes which had at their core the reproduction of a pacified civil population. The State, its agents and the population which they governed were imbued with this mode of thought.

The pacification of society was not a simple or straightforward process — it also required mechanisms through which people could dissipate aggressive instincts inherent in humans. There was a need to permit people to experience violence by witnessing it, or mimicking it, rather than actually physically engaging in it at an individual level. Organizations, institutions and rituals established to enable the experiencing of “mimetic” acts of violence — in this context the creation of codified and regulated forms sport — particularly in the 19th century, did just that (Braun, 2019; Elias, 2000). Violence was constrained, codified and presented for mass consumption. But it would never again be sanctioned as an act that an individual could engage in without severe consequences. Violence was now the preserve of what Lenin called “special bodies of armed men”. The protean states of Europe in the centuries following the French Revolution constructed mechanisms that ensured that their citizens had internalized the view that only the State could engage in acts of direct violence. By the end of the 19th century, the European populations and their settler society colonies had been, on the whole, pacified. As the 20th century petered out, Western society had to come to terms with a new scenario — the need to be prepared for violence and war, but in a manner which did not upturn the many centuries of pacification that Elias has spoken about (Elias, 2000).

The wars of the early- to mid-20th century were devastating in human terms and profoundly shook the foundations of Western society and, in the case of the First World War, created revolutionary conditions across Europe culminating in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Intra-state conflict was a reality despite the effectiveness of the civilizing process and the pacification of the European subject population. War between the nation-states of the West became an unimaginable proposition following the end of the Second World War. Instead this prospect was replaced by the potential of war between rival ideological and economic blocs and alliances. Intrastate conflict in Europe was replaced with the prospect of global “thermonuclear” war. This period was known as the Cold War era and was marked by the “low intensity conflicts” or “brush-fire” wars of Korea, Vietnam and the various Third-World flashpoints. One way of interpreting these conflicts is that they were arenas in which the rivalry between the competing ideological blocs could take place without the direct military confrontation that would lead to a nuclear conflagration — they acted as a safety valve.

With the end of the Cold War the supposed “peace dividend” did not appear. The collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by a resurgence in tribalism, religious extremism and ethnocentrism, leading to outbreaks of terrorism and genocide (Betts, 2012). It became apparent that the perpetual state of war that the West found itself embroiled in required a reliable pool of human materiel (Betts, 2012; Danner, 2005; Gregory, 2011; Horne, 2019; Leitenberg, 2006).

From a military perspective the mass mobilizations of the early and midcentury conflicts were no longer necessary and in fact proved, as the century wore on, difficult to sustain. As I have argued previously in this book, in the late 20th century the draft ceased to be effective and led to mass civil disorder. The war in Vietnam and the draft created huge political and social problems for the United States and its Western allies such as Australia (Abney, 2019; Fielding, 2012). The ongoing process of pacification in Western society had perhaps worked too well. In America and Australia young men resisted being forced to go to war in Vietnam and as a consequence the conscript army of the First and Second World Wars became an all-volunteer force. This trend was soon adopted by the various nations of the West (Choulis, Bakaki, & Bohmelt, 2019; Poutvaara & Wagener, 2007).

At the same time technological advances meant that fewer soldiers were needed to engage in armed conflict. The development of advanced digitally controlled technology such as armed drone aircraft now meant that killing could occur at a distance (Martino, 2015). It also became apparent that when the United States engaged in conventional warfare — as seen in Gulf War I — its opponents were easily and quickly defeated. This was the consequence of both the size and capability of the United States armed forces, as well the relative weakness and incompetence of its opponent. Gulf War II on the other hand, and the subsequent state of perpetual war, was an altogether different prospect. Modern asymmetrical warfare has meant that war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria requires a constant stream of fresh recruits. The commitment to these conflicts has been open-ended and they all share a common characteristic: the US and its allies have had no clear military objective or exit strategy. Unlike the invasion of Kuwait in Gulf War I, where the removal of Iraq’s army of occupation was a clear goal and a measurable outcome, the current state of perpetual war seems aimless. Civil wars rarely have a decisive end and in fact continue to produce animosity and conflict for decades.

After the turn of the century the need to engage in sustained conflict in the post-9/11 period demanded a steady stream of potential military recruits. As I pointed out earlier, this need led many in the military establishment to look for opportunities short of conscription to meet their needs. The process of militarization which had been operating at a societal level was given a cultural boost through the addition of entertainment to the mechanisms being harnessed to achieve its goals. What had been driven by the engine of the military-industrial complex was now augmented by entertainment — a shift that has been given the descriptive term “the military-industrial-entertainment complex” (Beauchamp, 2018; Eisenhower, I960; Gagnon, 2010; Lenoir & Lowood, 2005; Leonard, 2004; Spigel, 2004). The American journalist Nick Turse (2008) has coined the shortened term “the Complex” to refer to this set of arrangements and affordances.

I wish to re-state the underlying argument of this book — that the process of militarization which had been at work for much of the 20th century was not simply augmented by the growth in entertainment as a cultural and economic force — the expansion of entertainment through new digital technologies positioned it as the dominant characteristic of Western society (Enloe, 2016; Lutz, 2018; Orr, 2004). Militarization has become the mechanism which constructs both individual habitus as well as manufacturing the societal disposition conducive to the prosecution of armed conflict — it positions the whole of society for the application of violence and the conduct of the current perpetual war. It has replaced the “civilizing process” — the pacification of subject populations and the instilling of a particular habitus that integrated a series of rules and schema that constrained the use of violence and made the adherence to acting in a particular way as normal — as the only way to live within Western societies.

In the 21st century the nature of habitus has been modified in Western societies. It now has at its core on the one hand the maintenance of the sublimation and containment of violence — here I recognize that at the microlevel violence between individuals still occurs, but it is at least in the West rigorously constrained and sanctioned through legal structures. On the other hand, the needs of the perpetual war that the United States and its allies find themselves in requires the modification of the habitus in order to inculcate military ideas and thinking within the subject population. Throughout this book I have argued that this process is enacted through the affordances presented by digital technology. New media, video games, the internet and other technologies help to disseminate and construct the militarized form of habitus. In the following sections of this chapter I will draw together how militarization has morphed out of the civilizing process and helped to reconstitute the foundations of Western society. Contemporary nation-states are functioning within the context of global garrison at the service of the first truly global Empire (Bernazzoli & Flint, 2010; Lasswell & Stanley, 2018).

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