Reductionism, Huntington, and Mimetic Theory

Huntington’s clash of civilizations as a method to view the world seems inherently flawed. Many criticize the article for its reductionist view of the world, but I think this is a secondary consideration to what I believe is a greater misstep by Huntington. Huntington assumes that people fight because they are different, that the inherent differences between these “civilizations” will drive them to conflict. I believe that this is completely false.

“It is not difference that dominates the world, but the obliteration of difference by mimetic reciprocity, which itself, being truly universal, shows the relativism of perpetual difference to be an illusion.”  Rene Girard – The One By Whom Scandal Comes.

People do not fight because they are different, rather we fight because we want the same things. Girard outlines a theory of desire, called mimetic desire that can explain why there is so violence between individuals (or the states they create)  exists.  We want things, inherently because other people want them. We see someone desiring an object, and we in turn are driven to desire the object. Girard terms this Mimetic Desire, or that desire is all driven by imitation.

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This desire drives conflict, because humans are driven to want envy. We want our position to be desirable, so that people desire us. I propose that this is why states fight. They fight because they are the same, because they want the same things.

“It is not difference that dominates the world, but the obliteration of difference by mimetic reciprocity, which itself, being truly universal, shows the relativism of perpetual difference to be an illusion.” – Rene Girard – The One By Whom Scandal Comes

I believe the great sin of Huntington’s theory is not its reductionism, but that it reflects a common misconception about the human condition.


Questions Raised by “Defining Terrorism”

The word terrorism brings many different things to mind depending upon who’s ears or eyes the word falls upon. The evolution of this word, and the way that it is used in today’s media helps reveal much about the way warfare is understood today. Terrorism, the term, has changed somewhat analogously to the way we have been observing warfare’s change over the course of the last two decades. As we have been observing in class, examining warfare reveals a possible shift in the way wars are held globally today in comparison to the past. Defining Terrorism reveals that the history of the concept of terrorism has shifted in many respects similarly to the way warfare has shifted. Terrorism’s shift, from its revolutionary roots in the 1700’s to today’s many iterations including cyber terrorism, is one such way that warfare itself has shifted in a radical way. Not dissimilarly to terrorism, warfare has made a shift as well. From wars against nations, to the war on drugs, as well as the war on terrorism itself, the way a generation conceptualizes conflict globally has shifted radically. This suggests a link that I’m not positive I can identify as articulately as I would like to be able to, present between warfare itself and terrorism. Obviously the two are connected, and I believe in a very relevant and important way, but in addition I believe that the two have perhaps grown, and influenced growth in the other. Warfare is held in radically different ways today as opposed to a century ago, but likewise terrorism has shifted almost equidistantly. The question that I feel this raises is: “is terrorism as a concept fundamentally linked to (Perhaps even inseparable from) warfare, and if not what other reasons could explain the very similar metamorphosis that both seem have undertaken in the last century?” Although I understand that the two concepts go together and they are linked, I believe the question of exactly how they are linked in such a way that has caused the two to evolve so similarly is an important and interesting question worth being raised.

On “Defining Terrorism”

There were parts of this article that cleared some mystifications about the concept of terrorism, especially in the way that even in its earliest formation its been connected to a political purpose. And this way terrorist acts commit some form of symbolic acts–like how the Narodnaya Volya targeted heads of the state or those who stood for their oppressive regime. And I think this attachment to symbolism is important because of the way victims of terrorist acts have changed from its first meaning to now.

Firstly though, number of victims: When Hoffman distinguishes the difference between a a criminal and a terrorist, he suggests another idea that terrorism is never aimed at only one individual. Terrorist acts can and often harm at least one person, but what makes them different from a bank robber is the intent & ability to instill fear in a larger audience. This suggests a strange role that media has in regard to terrorism. These acts, no matter the victim count, are not as “effective” unless it has been publicized, and without the proper coverage/publicity, they wouldn’t exist.

Also, whereas terrorists targeted members of a ruling class or an oppressive regime, the modern-day conception is that the victims of terrorism are civilians. If terrorism is an act of violence with a political purpose, then what do these victims stand for? Are terrorist attacks against civilians supposed to be stand-ins for an even larger, more nebulous metaphor of a regime of oppression? I guess sometimes those connections are more clear than the others, like capturing news reporters, etc., but it seems like the most twisted, terror-inducing acts are when they are misdirected. And maybe that’s why the word “terror” is so vague and illogical–misdirected anger toward a misdirected victim.

– Trisha R.

Inside Terrorism – Bruce Hoffman

Reading the first chapter of Hoffman’s book Inside Terrorism made me aware of the issue of how to define the terms “terrorist“ and “terrorism”. In my eyes, Hoffman found a nice way to describe the history of the term “terrorism” and how the meaning of the term has changed. After having read the text, I would state the following terms as the some of the key characteristics of terrorism: threat of violence, act of violence, aim to “change ‘the system’ “ (42), political change and the refusal to be bound to rules of warfare (cf. 35).

I agree with the distinction Hoffman made between the term “terror” which means the “internal political violence directed mostly against domestic populations […] [ordered] by those already in power” (23) and “terrorism” which means “the violence committed by non-state entities” (23). However, there are also a few points that I do not fully agree with. As an example, Hoffman claims that a certain kind of self-denial is a characteristic of terrorists. To me, this statement seemed to be too much of a generalization and I do not think that it should and can be applied to all terrorists. The same applies for the argument that “[t]he terrorist will never acknowledge that he is a terrorist and moreover will go to great lengths to evade and obscure any such inference or connection” (30). In addition, when Hoffman mentioned that the news media used to avoid the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” and rather used the words “guerrillas” and “extremists” (cf. 37), I started to wonder if this was only the case in the U.S. or if one could speak of a global phenomenon.

Lastly, I agree with Hoffman’s statement that today, there is “no one widely accepted or agreed definition for terrorism” (37) since probably every country (government) defines the term in a different way.

– Chantal M.

“Rebuilding America’s Defenses”- a Response

I’m curious—where did the funding for PNAC come from? This non-profit, educational organization strikes me as born of conservative values seeking to reinscribe American exceptionalism. I found it difficult to digest PNAC’s jingoistic tone. Erroneous statements such as—“it [the U.S.] faces no immediate great-power challenge…and its political and economic principles are almost universally embraced” (iv); “today the task is to preserve an international security environment conducive to American interests and ideals” (2); “[we need] a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad” (preamble)—not only conflict with international realities but downright make me uncomfortable. The report reads like a propaganda piece. Moving beyond my affective response to more critical points…

1) I very briefly researched PNAC and discovered that of the 25 members, 10 went on to serve in former President George W. Bush’s administration. Not surprising as the report could have (or perhaps actually did) serve as an outline for Bush’s foreign and defense policies. Which brings me to my next point…

2) This report pre-dates 9/11/2001; however, the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 eerily satisfied PNAC’s four essential missions on p.6: homeland defense, large wars, constabulary duties (increased military and non-military surveillance bracketed under the “war on terror”), and advanced military technologies (for instance, drones have become so commonplace post-9/11 that they’re influencing cultural and artistic expressions in Pakistan—

3) Finally, I couldn’t get Foucault’s panopticon (footnote to Bentham, of course) out of my head with all the demand for increased surveillance and centralized power becoming decentralized (yet still framed in strictly U.S. terms) as it permeates living bodies, the environment, the internet, and whatever else is left to cannibalize—“the hegemonic gaze is alert and everywhere.”

All said, I found the contents of this report disturbing.

– Christina S.


You have found the website for Critical Security Studies: The New Wars, Fall 2015, UNC Chapel Hill. Our course website is under construction, but should be up and running within a week! In the meantime, first drafts of the syllabus and schedule are available from the menu. Thanks!

Students: Please note the minor change in the required books. The list on the syllabus page here is correct and the bookstore has been notified of the change.

Also note that I recommend joining dropbox or another online backup website. This will make sure that you never lose an important paper or other file! You can join dropbox for free here.