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FOR Hannah Arendt, one of the principal concerns of political philosophy was to “think the new” in human affairs. As the art of making distinctions, thinking had to bring to bear upon political phenomena categories that would enable one to grasp the novelty of what had transpired, but without losing a sense of the past. The history of philosophy, therefore, should not be treated as a source of eternal dogma, but as the repository of distinctions, categories, and arguments that would still orient one in the present. Arendt, as is well known, named this the “activity of the pearl diver” (Arendt, 1978a: 212; cf. Benhabib, 1996: 91-101). I begin this essay in an Arendtian spirit with an attempt to think the new in our political world. One of the most commonly heard contentions in the aftermath of September 11 was that even if the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon equaled war in the civilian and property damages they inflicted, in the deliberateness and precision with which they were executed, and in the brazenness with which they violated customary moral, legal, and international norms, the United States Congress could not actually declare “war”: not because the enemy was as yet unknown, but because a state can declare war only against another state. The idea that a SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Summer 2002) Political Geographies in a Global World: Arendtian Reflections* BY SEYLA BENHABIB *A shorter version of this essay was given as a lecture at the Hannah Arendt Tage in Hannover, Germany (October 16, 1999) and published in the Hannah Arendt Newsletter 2 (December 1999). A revised version will appear as “Kantian Questions, Arendtian Answers. Statelessness, Cosmopolitanism, and the Right to Have Rights” in Pragmatism, Critique, Judgment: Essays for Richard J. Bernstein. Edited by Seyla Benhabib and Nancy Fraser (Cambridge: MIT Press, forthcoming). democratic nation-state would declare war on a global network of loosely organized sympathizers of a religious cum civilizational cause strained all categories of international law with which the world has lived since 1945, and in which nation-states are the principal recognized actors.1 Recall Max Weber’s classically modernist definition of the state as “the legitimate monopoly over the use of violence within a recognized and bounded territory” (Weber, 1978: 904-905). Modern statehood is based on the coupling together of the principles of territoriality, administrative and military monopoly, including the use of violence, and the legitimacy to do so. When states decay, dissolve , or secede, these three principles fall asunder. Their territory can become a staging ground for operations not only of guerrilla warfare, but of drug smuggling, weapons production, contraband, and other illegal activities; administrative and military competence is overtaken by units at the substate level such as warlords, commandos, traditional chieftains, or religious leaders; and legitimacy loses its representational quality in that there is no longer a unified people to whose will it either refers or defers— legitimacy either flows from the barrel of a gun or from other sources of supra- and subnational ideological worldviews, be these race-, religion-, or civilization-based. The decaying and weak nation-states of the contemporary world bear similarities as well as differences to the totalitarian regimes of the mid-twentieth century. The breakdown of the rule of law; the destruction of representative and democratic institutions ; the pervasiveness of violence and the universalization of fear are features of both state forms. The totalitarian regimes of the mid-twentieth century, however, although at times they mobilized “the movement” against the state bureaucracy, by and large strengthened and rebuilt the state by rendering it subservient to their ideologies. But the postmodern/quasi-feudal states of the present, like Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, and Rwanda, emerge as a result not of the strengthening but of the destruction of the territorial and administrative unity of the state in the name 540 SOCIAL RESEARCH of subunities, which are then globally networked. As Hannah Arendt has shown us, totalitarian movements also had globalizing ambitions in that they touted supranational ideologies like panGermanism and pan-Slavism (Arendt, 1968 [1951], part 3). Yet the global ideologies of today’s terror movements are both larger and smaller in range...


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