Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 3, 2009

Too legit to quit (continued)

The second characteristic of social contracts is their ability to change. This is demonstrated in all societies (it’s hard for me to think of an example where social contracts do not change, so feel free to post an example of unchanging social contracts – maybe the most traditional societies???). I think North America provides a good example of changing social contracts. 

In North American societies, whether it be the legalization of homosexual marriages or racial profiling, the heterogeneity of social contracts in a given state is explained by Charles Tilly’s notion of protection. A brief study of the legal aftermath from 9/11 brings to light how different contracts between the state and the citizen can quickly change.

When a state engages in “protection” it is eliminating or neutralizing the enemies of their clients. The “clients” who benefit from the protection differ depending on the type of state. Although this dynamic has already been noted in this study, it does no harm to highlight this point again: Tilly observes that depending on whom the state extends its favors to and how the population is divided into “enemy classes,” statemaking actually reduces the protection of some groups (1). Although one can debate what type of state Canada and America are, after September 11, 2001, the “enemies” were well-defined. In the United States, the “[fear] and anger” that swept America prompted the United States Department of Justice to “targeted Arab and Muslim noncitizens for aggressive enforcement efforts” (2). In Canada, authorities utilized the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which “allow[ed for] preventive detention and the removal of noncitizens solely on the basis of secret evidence not disclosed to the deportee” (3). In Ontario, Mike Harris’ provincial government created a special police unit that would seek out and deport illegal immigrants (4). In both countries, noncitizens — generally Muslim or of Arab descent — were targeted; thus, immigrants were defined as at least one of the “enemies” of North America. Part of the North American states’ nature is the unequal treatment between different groups in a given population. From this example, one can apply it to other groups and situations and make the conclusion that there are essentially a multitude of contracts, endlessly changing and emerging into new forms (5).

The example of post-9/11 treatment of minorities, shows how the state can renegotiate contracts with its citizenry with the consent of different social groups. As a result of such a “renegotiation” social groups within the state can perceive the social contract as being broken, and, in effect, null and void.

The reason why I’m discussing political legitimacy and the importance of social contracts is due to contentious and coercive non-state actors (CCNAs) to obtain political legitimacy. This brief article from the BBC by Natalia Antelava highlights Hezbollah’s ability to gain political clout and legitimacy: “In the US and Britain, the group is proscribed, but in Lebanon, Hezbollah and its allies stand a strong chance of winning the upcoming parliamentary election.” (Oddly enough, the “fighter” being interviewed describes Hezbollah as being “very flexible and very understanding of those who have other commitments” – not unlike an understanding human resource friendly company). The importance of this political legitimacy is described by Dr. Russell Glenn in a Small Wars Journal article:

Hezbollah is more than a military force, and therein lies its real strength. It has political, social, diplomatic, and informational components that provide bedrock support for its military organization. That foundation, established by years of providing humanitarian aid, building physical infrastructure, educating Lebanese, and serving as medical provider would remain even in the aftermath of military defeat. 


Political legitimacy and the ability to establish beneficial social contracts is a skill that COIN theorists and practitioners will have to familiarize themselves with. I think, and I hope that the idea of “population-centric” COIN is beginning to address political legitimacy.   

I also want to note that just because I’m saying that some CCNAs have political legitimacy in certain populations, not all CCNAs exercise legitimacy. Some CCNAs use intimidation and violence to achieve compliance from individuals. I’ll address different kinds of social control in my next post.

Works Cited and Endnotes

1. Charles Tilly. Warmaking and State Making as Organized Crime (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1982), 16.

2. Kevin R. Johnson. “Racial Profiling after September 11: The Department of Justice 2003 Guidelines,” Loyola Law Review 50 (2003): 1. 

3. Kent Roach. “Canada’s Response to Terrorism,” in Global Anti-terrorism Law and Policy, ed. Victor V. Ramraj, Michael Hor and Kent Roach (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 512.

4. Reem Bahdi. “No Exit: Racial Profiling and Canada’s War Against Terrorism,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 41 (2003): 2.

5. A cursory glance over voting rights in North American is another example that reveals how different groups within a population can be denied or granted political power. The current debate on the use of torture is another example where social contracts are subject to change. A.M. Dershowitz canvasses most of his audiences to find out that the majority of them believe that torture should be used in the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario. The end result, is a drastic reversal of the philosophical reasoning of countries who have signed onto the Geneva Conventions or have made torture illegal. See, A.M. Dershowitz “Should the ticking bomb terrorist be tortured? A case study in how a democracy should make tragic choices,” Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge (pp. 132-163). New Haven: Yale University Press.



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