The Moloch of National Security

Of all the smart recommendations Steve Walt makes in his post, “Don’t Give ISIS What It Wants,” this is the most important:

No. 2: Accept that 100 percent security is not possible.

As I’ve written before, of all the ideological Molochs that modernity has spawned—communism, fascism, liberalism, conservatism, whatever—none is as potent and enduring, none demands so much sacrifice, as the idea of security. If we’re going to get past the permanent state of emergency we seem to be in, we have to accept that 100% security is not possible. Risk is part of life. While the siren call of safety has an irresistible lure—though we should always remember that not everyone’s safety has the same lure to policymakers; security is a selective ideal, selectively implemented—we need to learn how to resist it. By which I mean we need to learn how to think politically about security, not simply give into its irrepressible demands, but meditate upon how, like all goods, it should be distributed; how much of it we need; who should pay for it, and so on.

National security is as political as Social Security; let’s think and act accordingly.

Here, if you’re interested, are just a few of the more analytical/theoretical articles I’ve written on security over the years

Protocols of Machismo

Language and Violence

Was he? Had he?

Yours, Mine, But Not Ours





  1. Frank Wilhoit November 18, 2015 at 12:22 pm | #

    The desire for 100% security is merely another symptom of infantilization.

  2. Glenn November 18, 2015 at 12:34 pm | #

    The best lock on a door will only delay entry, not prevent it.

    The infinite and absolute do not really exist outside of imaginings.

  3. Ronp November 18, 2015 at 2:20 pm | #

    We cloud be a lot safer in the US with better gun laws.

  4. LFC November 18, 2015 at 6:02 pm | #

    I read the Walt piece in the current Foreign Affairs (“ISIS as a Revolutionary State”), which was written before, I think, the Beirut bombings and definitely before the Paris bombings. (Haven’t read the FP post linked in the OP.)

    I’m more-or-less in agreement with Walt’s approach to ISIS as laid out in the FA piece, except that he tries a little too hard to assimilate ISIS to the model of another revolutionary state a la 1790s France, Mao’s China, etc. That’s b/c he wrote a bk Revolution and War some 2 decades ago and he’s more or less applying what he wrote there. That leads him to minimize the differences betw. ISIS and the previous revolutionary states, which differences are real. I suppose all that doesn’t affect the policy recs. too much, though, which, at least in the For. Aff. piece, basically call for ‘containment’ (“patient containment” is his phrase there).

    Although they’ll agree on certain points (such as the one mentioned in the OP), in some ways it’s hard to imagine two writers more different than Stephen Walt and Corey Robin. But as this particular comparison is largely off-topic, I will not go further with it.

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