Christos Boukalas: Counterterrorism Legislation and the US State Form

In the September issue of Radical Philosophy (No. 151, pp. 31-41), Christos Boukalas analyses US ‘counterterrorism’ legislation with the help of Poulantzas’s concept of ‘authoritarian statism’.

Abstract: The counterterrorism legislation introduced in the USA after 11 September 2001 (hereafter S11) has been mainly conceptualized – by both critics and supporters – as an ‘internal’ legal development. Seen as an ‘encroachment on liberty’, as part of a ‘state of emergency’, or as a necessary fortification of ‘national security’, the value and desirability of legal provisions have been almost exclusively assessed by reference to other legal provisions and, ultimately, the Constitution itself. This article attempts to invigorate the discussion about post-September 11 counterterrorism legislation by breaking this self-referential framework. Adopting a particular (‘strategic-relational’) approach to state theory, cross-referenced with an inclusive conceptualization of politics, it assesses legislation as part of political production with effects through the overall field of politics. Politics is understood as a process coextensive with that of social institution and organization – a socially inclusive activity, punctuated by the institution of the state. The state is seen in turn as an expression of social relations mediated by institutional materiality. As such, legislation is a doubly mediated expression of social relations – mediated by the state and within the state – and can therefore reveal something about the state form; that is, the organization of state institutions, the orientation and modalities of state power, and their bearing upon the overall political terrain.

In this context, this article examines the specifics of US counterterrorism legislation regarding the organization of the police mechanism, the modalities of its activity, its targets and objectives, and the implications of these for the broader political terrain. In doing so the article attempts an amalgamation of a Castoriadian conceptualization of politics with a strategic-relational state-theoretical reading of counterterrorism legislation, to argue that the US is currently undergoing a reconfiguration of ‘authoritarian statism’, a state form characterized by the organic development and proliferation of authoritarian elements within the institutional cell of the republic. This article assesses the latter as political production and aims to spell out its political implications. In so doing it is situated against the mainstream interpretations of counter-terrorism legislation introduced since 2001.

Read the full text here (pdf-file)

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