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To find peace in war: toward the « garrison state » ? 14/01/2010

Posted by Team API in Concepts, The english corner.
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By Axel Lebrun

In 1941, Harold Dwight Lasswell, a leading American political scientist and communication theorist, wrote an article in The American Journal of Sociology, titled “The Garrison State”. In 14 pages, Lasswell hypothesized that in the future, a world of garrison states would prevail: the “specialists of violence” would have the power. In such a state, propaganda becomes natural: according to Lasswell’s “hypodermic syringe” model (of propaganda), people stay in agreement with the ideas the “ruling élites [sic]” are promoting, which constitute what we could define as the greater good. The country will live in peace, and if a war, may it be civil of global, begins, then it will be only for gaining peace back: the country will find “peace in war”. If Lasswell did not wish the existence of such a state, and thought it was not inevitable, he believed that this was a probability for the future. The garrison state was a potential evolution that rulers would apply so that peace would become the norm.

First, it is important to emphasize on the definition of the garrison state: the power is in the hands of the specialists of power. They will acquire skills of civilian management, and shall rule autocratically, while equalizing incomes (therefore keeping the people happy). Cultivation of duty, propagandized youth, compulsory labor service for unskilled workers and opponents, meritocratic recruiting for officers, struggle against nonmilitary consumerism since “the ruling class will feel itself endangered by the growing ‘frivolousness’ of the community”: all these characteristics are relevant in a garrison state.

Is there any garrison state in the world today? Not really. But there is a crawling “garrisonization”: in order to find peace, many states are using some of the characteristics aforementioned. By instance, the USA under Bush administration was seeking peace by installing the feeling of fear in people’s minds. If you demonize a foreign leader or another country, or people, or religion, then you can have peace in your country since the attention of the people is focused on that “nemesis”. Under Bush administration government did not govern: it controlled. The same process is taking place in Israel. Nevertheless, the closest match to a garrison state today is without a doubt North Korea.

For Lasswell, it is realistic, a bit sad though, to think that to have a stabilized peace, violence is necessary. Because without violence, freedom can reach its breaking point: anarchy begins. In a way, Lasswell is just pushing Max Weber logic to its paroxysm: the garrison state has the monopoly of legitimate violence, and its existence is clearly related to that characteristic, the state being even legitimated because it is violent. Hopefully one could find another kind of balance to live in peace. But nowadays, it seems more and more plausible that propaganda and violence, and then garrison states, could become a reality as a reaction to the numerous challenges faced by the human race. May some democratic values be preserved? Strangely enough, Lasswell thought that human dignity would. Why ? Without human dignity, you can’t control. And without control, you can’t have peace.

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