In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • U.S. Counterinsurgency: A Historic Plan under a New Guise
  • Bryan Prior

Thomas Hobbes’ social contract theory laid forth in Leviathan sought to eliminate religious zealots and glory-seeking aristocrats in two ways: by the government attacking them from above, and the people undermining them from below. Counterinsurgency today faces the same challenge—removing dissident factions to ensure a more peaceful and stable order. In fact, consciously or not, western counterinsurgency efforts seek to implement a similar form of governmental transition that Hobbes put forth in 1651.

What was a flaw in Hobbes’ theory then is still a problem now. Hobbes’ social contract hinges on a contractual society like 17th century Europe. However, Afghan society may be too segmented for a central government to successfully overcome an ethnically divided people in a large mountainous swath of land. Omer Taspinar is right to emphasize human development in order to win over radicals in the population while marginalizing insurgents. But the implementation of human development will have to adapt to unique societal structures, be they tribal or otherwise, in order to successfully undermine what Hobbes calls glory-seeking zealots, or what westerners simply categorize as terrorists. Unfortunately, the Hobbesian structure for establishing civil governance may not immediately work in all circumstances. Other forms of transition for societies like Afghanistan must be identified.

Hobbes’ Model: An Attack from Above and Below

Despite the common perception that the West is imposing a program of democratization of under-governed territories, at its roots our system of governmental transition mirrors Hobbes’ model for instituting civil governance. Few would arrive at this conclusion given the infamous caricature of Hobbes, which simply sees the philosopher as an advocate for absolute power in the hands of a monarch. Yet this caricature overlooks why so many consider him the father of liberalism. For Hobbes, government was based on consent of the governed. Hobbes’ blueprint would bring individuals into a covenant with the state in which individual rights were protected by the social contract. As an architect of a political system, Hobbes sought not the best regime, but one that avoided the worst by ensuring civic peace. Hobbes [End Page 87] believed most civil strife derived from those seeking honor and glory and from debates over good and evil—often in the controversial and irresolvable realm of religion. Glory-seeking crusaders and religious zealots are thus intentionally eliminated in the Hobbesian schematic by exploiting man’s most basic drive for self-preservation. In cases like 17th century England, the social contract relies on an attack from above—from the state—and below from the people seeking their own self-interest out of a fear of violent death. This would establish a liberal society where people are free to do as they please so long as they obey the state and do not harm others—an essential precept of western liberalism.

What needs to occur in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan is no different. It is this historic plan under a new guise that is currently being implemented in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Presently, Afghan civil society remains in shambles in part because of the instability caused by a number of glory-seeking religious zealots. A reemphasis on a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy was reintroduced into key national security circles by Retired General Jack Keane, General David Petraeus, David Kilcullen, and John Nagl, among others, and managed to insert itself into the center of ‘the surge’ strategy in Iraq and counterinsurgency thinking at large in the defense community today.1 It is this population-centric approach, made famous by David Galula, that works at winning the support of the people to undermine insurgents.2

This shift in emphasis created positive results in both countries. However, the key actors have not proven they understand what type of political government may be necessary to ensure pressure from above maintains civic order after American fighting power slowly retreats from the battlefield. For example, recent Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) estimates call for an unrealistic force of 818,000 personnel to secure Afghanistan.3 These statistical forms of analysis are too static as they fail to account for dynamism in the type of government...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 87-91
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.