Democracy and Homeland Security: Strategies, Controversies, and Impact
Comparative Perspectives on Democracy and Homeland Security: Commentary
It is my privilege to discuss three very interesting papers, and it is also my challenge, because of the great diversity among the three papers. Despite this diversity, each paper contributes to the understanding of democracy and security from a comparative perspective, and I will start by addressing this common ground.
A comparative perspective is one that learns from the diversity of human experience, across cultures, across nations, and throughout human history. This perspective derives its name from the methodological principle of learning by comparison, which involves noting relevant similarities and distinctions between different societies or between different historical periods, trying to understand selected differences in terms of other differences and selected similarities in terms of other similarities, in a rigorous search for meaningful and useful generalizations. Some of these generalizations allow us to better understand current affairs by placing them in a global and historical context that goes well beyond the here and now.
A comparative and historical perspective on democracy must
start with the acknowledgment that democracy, as a form of government, is
a historical development fostered by certain social, political, cultural,
and economic conditions. In early modern Europe, these conditions included
the decline of divine monarchies (Bendix 1978) and the rise of the middle
class associated with the development of capitalism in early modern Europe
At times, democracy in early modern
Liberal as well as conservative theorists of democracy have
expressed these concerns about the dangers posed by democracy. Such concerns
go a long way toward explaining why the
Partly due to different sources of social support and different
sources of political resistance, the development of democracy took different
forms in different national contexts and in different historical periods.
Today’s democracies vary greatly on characteristics of key significance,
including different degrees of secularism, militarism, cultural diversity,
and racial and ethnic integration. Americans rightfully take pride in American
democracy, but there is no justification for complacency. Many Americans
don’t realize that a comparative perspective reveals that American democracy
is tainted by a level of economic inequality, poverty, crime, and racial
tension that hardly makes the
A comparative perspective on homeland security must start with the acknowledgment that every society and every nation, across the globe, faces security risks of one kind or another. This same point holds as a historical generalization. Democracies are certainly no exception to this general rule and, in some sense, may be more vulnerable, as democracies are more or less open societies. The phrase homeland security is a recently popular variation on the general theme of national security. The innovation is arguably significant in that the notion of the “homeland,” like similar notions of “fatherland,” “motherland,” and “heartland,” appeals to a variety of folksy sentiment that in the United States is called patriotism but which, in comparative analysis, would have to be considered a variety of nationalism. The term nationalism is a decidedly more ambivalent term for referring to political initiatives and political sentiments premised on the use of mass media to stoke national pride and the fear of foreign threats.
Comparative analysis applied to the topic of democracy and homeland security refers to the method of learning from the diversity of human experience on political, military, and other matters, providing us with a deeper and broader understanding of the relationship between security and democracy. Each of the papers prepared for this panel contributes to a deeper and broader understanding of democracy and homeland security in this comparative manner.
Professor Curren has mentioned socioeconomic conflicts between
status groups in classical
Professor Collins has reminded us of World War II and warned us about the political dangers of subscribing to ideological simplifications of national character and national culture that are not entirely distinct from wartime propaganda efforts. In referring to Huntington’s work on the “clash of civilizations” (1996), Professor Collins brings to our attention that stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims are guiding Western thinking about international relations not just during times of war with other nations, as during the two recent wars with Iraq and the campaign in Afghanistan, but also in times between wars, and also prospectively, looking into the future.
Professor Das argues that democracy and security are inevitably in tension, which makes it all the more important for the pursuit of security to be moderated by social and political forces representative of democratic values. Traditionally, the moderation of policing and security efforts have been understood under rubrics such as civilian oversight, political accountability, the separation of power between branches of government, a watchful media, and informed public opinion (cf. Das 2000, 5; Freeman 2003, 9–10; Chalk and Rosenau 2004, 45–46; Lustgarten 2003, 328). Importantly, Professor Das recognizes that professionalism among the police and security forces themselves can moderate the more undemocratic liabilities of policing and security measures (cf. Freeman 2003, 10). This is consistent with important but still insufficient American efforts since roughly the late 1960s increasingly to consider questions of minority representation, community relations, and civil rights in the hiring and training of police officers.
Professor Curren argues that the survival of a democracy depends upon public vigilance in regard to the mistakes, corruption, and ambitions of government officials. Many scholars would include public vigilance in the idea of a democratic civic culture. Professor Curren sees this public vigilance as including not only an independence of judgment but also a political voice for expressing independent judgment. Americans often pride themselves on just these qualities: independence of judgment and political voice. In fact, these qualities or qualities like them are often included in descriptions of the American national character. Some might object that independence of judgment is a myth in light of American tendencies toward conformism, and that the disinterest in rigorous journalism suggests that independence of judgment refers to a reactionary skepticism and anti-intellectualism more than any positive tendency toward informed citizenship. Professor Curren expresses concerns that these traits of independent judgment and political voice so commonly attributed to Americans are not sufficiently widespread and deep-seated to prevent our own government from encroaching upon our liberties as a people. Crucially, he suggests that Americans’ own fear of alien threats is what fuels this domestic threat upon our own liberties.
In this respect, Professor Curren is in a sense expressing skepticism about popular conceptions of American national character, in a manner reminiscent of critiques of mass society, and connecting this traditional concern with another tradition of social criticism, the analysis of racism and xenophobia. And this is exactly what is required by any critical analysis, because American notions about American national character are predictably self-satisfied rather than self-critical, to the point that such notions are best understood as part and parcel of our national patriotic sentiments.
As Professor Collins points out, even the academic study
of national character has to be understood in light of the historical origin
of national character studies in government-sponsored research during World
War II. These wartime studies often involved academics lending their scholarly
credentials to popular stereotypes about foreign peoples. Perhaps even more
problematic, these studies at times suggested political ambitions of altering
the national character of conquered peoples in a process of social or cultural
engineering, as Professor Collins politely suggests. If this has been the
academic version of national character stereotypes, there should be little
wonder at the excesses of popular or folk versions. Academic and folk versions
have both reflected notions of American cultural superiority and manifest
destiny. These notions have also been coupled with militaristic or paternalistic
ambitions of assisting states in the former Communist block and in the developing
world, and now in the
The American study of American national character has often neglected more balanced or skeptical concerns about American culture and American traits, such as Professor Curren’s concern about insufficient vigilance in defense of liberties. But the study of the American national character does include important moments of skepticism and criticism, and often enough we owe these moments to foreign and immigrant scholars. In what is arguably the first comparative study of American democracy, American national culture, and American national character, the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville noted that the problem of racial inequality would be a pivotal challenge to the long-term security and success of American democracy. He suggested that racial inequality was a feature of American society and economy, but not a feature of democracy, so racial inequality was simultaneously an important and a marginal issue in his discussion of Democracy in America (see, e.g., Kohn 2001).
More recently, and at the same time that American social scientists were engaging in national character studies as part of World War II and its aftermath, German social scientists who had escaped Nazi Germany began gauging attitudes toward religious and racial minorities in the United States, resulting in a very influential study, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, on The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al. 1950). The title alone is very effective in suggesting that these refugee intellectuals found cause for concern in their surveys of American attitudes toward minorities. These authors argued that intolerance is un-American, but their studies suggested that the realities of American attitudes diverged from the ideals of the American national character. As with Tocqueville, American liberty and equality seem to be most secure for white Christians.
If research findings about authoritarianism and intolerance predictably failed to alter our national self-conception as an egalitarian society, this skepticism has had a more limited and lasting impact on our cultural stereotypes about the character and the organizational culture of the police and the military, which brings us back to Professor Das’s concerns. Professor Das suggests that the organizational pressures of policing largely work against democratic principles. However, he also acknowledges that professionalism among the police can serve to moderate what some might call the authoritarian liabilities of police and policing. One aspect of professionalism is surely the avoidance of discrimination and scapegoating based upon prejudiced cultural stereotypes, of the type discussed by Professor Collins. These stereotypes, including stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims as retrogressive extremists prone to resentment and terrorism (cf. Esposito 1995), are no longer merely a characteristic of international relations. Due to immigration, stereotypes about international threats have been carried over into thinking about internal security threats and policing, in that fellow citizens are treated as embodiments of foreign threats (cf. Katzenstein 1996, 535–36; Cole 2003, 115). As Cole notes with reference to the Japanese internment during World War II, “alienage discrimination is often closely tied to (and a cover for) racial animus, and is therefore particularly susceptible to being extended to citizens along racial lines” (Cole 2003, 7).
The increasingly multicultural nature of democratic societies is undermining whatever credibility was left to national character studies. Notions of racial, ethnic, or religious traits can no longer be mapped onto national boundaries, because contemporary democracies are less and less owned by single ethnic groups with every passing decade (cf. Gutierrez 2001, 12). National boundaries cut across cultural boundaries, and vice versa. The nation is at once too small and too large a unit of analysis, given the reality of transnational cultures or civilizations represented partly by intranational minorities.
Indeed, some insightful scholars have suggested that the rhetoric of national security interests simplifies the divergence of interests present within nations and effectively treats the interests of the most influential voices as the interests of all (cf. Edelman 1971; Millet and Moreland 1976). Lustgarten and Leigh, in a comparative analysis of national security and parliamentary democracy, express this concern rather well when they argue,
National security is bedrock, and therefore limited. . . . Hence more extravagant declarations about the needs, claims, or rights of a state couched in the language of “national security” ought to be treated with extreme suspicion. They are likely to prove dangerous in their effect on relations with other states, and to turn out on closer examination to be no more than disguised attempts by a favoured class, ethnic group, or political-military elite to seize some advantage for itself. (Lustgarten and Leigh 1994, 8)
This concern seems to be especially relevant in the case
of the contemporary
Arguably, the greater threat to the security of citizens
in democracies around the globe comes from their own governments, acting
on the basis of broad but partisan social interests, much more than threats
from foreign governments. Lustgarten suggests, “For every
The ever-increasing multiculturalism of democratic societies
can surely pose problems, but problems such as interreligious and interracial
violence are grossly misunderstood if the perpetrators are treated as representatives
of their faiths or races. The challenging nature of maintaining peaceful
and mutually beneficial relations in a diverse community of political interests
is greatly complicated when political or paramilitary behaviors by individuals
or fringe groups are seen as expressions of collective action at the level
of entire faiths and races. Cultural stereotypes elevate problems associated
with particular people into conflicts between entire peoples, to the point
of suggesting a “clash of civilizations” (
By contrast, democratic respect for minority rights and
human rights, both at home and abroad, enhances domestic and international
peace, as Singh argues with respect to post-Communist
What is needed at the national level is partly suggested by Professor Das. At the national level, security and police forces need to be moderated from without and from within, by external review based on principles of oversight and accountability, and by internal deliberation and self-control, as denoted by the term professionalism. A key element of professionalism in security and police forces must include the appreciation of the fact that the mandate of providing security includes a mandate for securing civil liberties and democratic freedoms, as well as physical safety. Constraints can be imposed on police and security forces by law, but the effect of external constraints is minimal compared to the effect of democratic values among police and police subculture(s) (cf. Lustgarten 2003, 326; Marenin 2000; Freeman 2003, 10–11). We cannot afford to allow the government responsibilities for security and civil rights to be split among agencies divided by unequal public policy support and minimal communication. Objecting to the metaphor of striking a balance between human rights and national security, Lustgarten and Leigh argue, “The loss of liberty must be counted on both sides of the scale and thus deducted from any asserted gain in national security, as well as recognized as a loss to the individuals or groups specifically affected” (1994, 9). The several goals of policing and national security, including the protection of civil rights, must be reflected in the training and judgment of individual officers, rather than left to a lopsided model of checks and balances between different agencies or branches of government.
At the international level, as Professor Curren suggests, we need a vision of international peace instructed by the historical lessons that gave rise to democracy in classical Greece, which gave rise to religious tolerance and secular government in post-Reformation Europe, and which also gave rise to the League of Nations after World War I and the United Nations after World War II. These institutions were modeled with the benefit of hindsight, but they will not accomplish their purpose if hindsight dies off with the retirement of every next generation of diplomats.
The terrorist attacks of
But this emphasis upon immigration as a threat to national
security clearly predates even the cold war. David Cole places
This historical pattern is not unique to the
This rethinking of risk, with increasing emphasis on peoples
of different colors and different faiths, took place at the level of political
symbolism and cultural stereotyping, as well. It was at the end of the cold
war and before the Persian Gulf War that the late scholar of political symbolism
Murray Edelman noted a symbolic vacuum that he predicted would be filled
by substituting Arabs for Communists as
As a nation, we do have to be vigilant of both internal and external threats, but internal threats need to be understood more broadly. They include more than terrorist cells, organized crime, and drug traffickers—and note here that even our national understanding of internal threats borrows heavily from our national skepticism toward foreigners and immigrants. Internal threats to democracy can also appear as the excesses of mass politics and the excesses of national security policies. This is especially true when municipal, county, and state police forces are asked to staff the supposed front lines of a domestic war on terrorism for which they have not been trained, and it is especially true when even many citizens, with no relevant training at all, eagerly assume the role of deputized officers, policing their minority neighbors. And I am not referring only to the nativist proclivities of many white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but to the invidious suspicions and actions of many racial and religious minorities as well.
An understanding of the challenge to provide security without
undermining democracy requires that contemporary threats be understood in
a broader context than has informed public opinion and counterterrorism strategies
I would like to thank the panelists for their interesting and diverse contributions to the panel and the Symposium, and to thank the Symposium planning committee, and especially the chair, Nawal Ammar, for the opportunity to serve as discussant.
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