Monday, August 03, 2009

Reading :: The Shield and the Cloak

The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons
By Gary Hart

The Shield and the Cloak was cited in Arquilla's Worst Enemy, which I recently reviewed, and I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy. Like Worst Enemy, this book, written by longtime Democratic senator and onetime Presidential candidate Gary Hart, focuses on how we might go about achieving security in the 21st century. And it provided an interesting contrast with Robb's Brave New War, which I had just finished reading when I picked up Hart's book. So I was initially very optimistic about this book.

Hart argues that there are two kinds of security: the shield and the cloak. In the past we have focused on the shield: "The narrow definition of security is the prevention of physical harm by creating a protective shield" (p.17). But, he says, we also need to provide the cloak: "The broader definition of security includes the opportunity for a stable livelihood, the chance to be productive, the comfort of community in a healthy environment, and confidence in the integrity of government - all representing a cloak of protection. Genuine security requires a cloak of economic security, environmental security, health security, energy security, and educational security" (p.17).

Hart continues:
To a degree, the difference in these definitions flows from a difference in outlook on life. If one believes that life is dangerous, that each of us is pretty much alone, that each must make his own way, that our moral duty is to ourselves alone, and that the government's job is to protect us and otherwise leave us alone, then the leaner definition of security as a shield will probably suffice.

If however, one senses that we are all members of a community, that we have a responsibility to look out for each other, that we are all in this together, and that our moral duty is to help to create a general sense of well-being, then one is necessarily drawn to the richer definition of security as a cloak and collective obligation. From the difference in these philosophical dispositions flows political parties and, ultimately, national policies. (pp.17-18, my emphasis)
Yes, go ahead and read it again. Hart has sketched out a Manichean understanding of security, built on a similarly Manichean reading of the US' political parties, essentially claiming that Republicans are by philosophy extreme Libertarians or Objectivists, while Democrats are people who genuinely care for other people. It's an extremely unrealistic depiction of the parties. It assumes a degree of party unity that is simply not present in either party. It assumes that community-building is either a governmental function or no function at all - something that is hinted at in this quote and clarified in the remainder of the text, and that ignores how people in both parties have worked with nongovernmental social sector institutions. It's an unnecessarily partisan text, and Hart's political enemies are made to seem dull, venal, and wrongheaded throughout.

Those enemies are not just on the Right: Hart grumbles that Pres. Clinton did not act on his idea to "appoint a commission of elders to consider where America was to go following the end of the Cold War" (p.35), but did eventually act on Newt Gingrich's "similar, but considerably more limited, version of the same idea" (p.36). The way Hart tells it, if people had just listened to him earlier, things would be much better: indeed, he even claims that had he been elected President in 1988, the Cold War would have ended sooner (p.35).

But, frankly, his analysis does not inspire confidence in me. Hart sees some of the same threats that Robb sees: fourth-generation warfare, private security companies, the loss of the state's ability to extend protection and a safety net. But whereas Robb was willing to go out on a limb with radically decentralized solutions, Hart's impulse is to double down: centralize Homeland Security, extend the social safety net further, increase governmental services, eliminate hunger worldwide, increase economic interdependence between states. These measures must be paid through the US' boundless funds and political will, Hart argues (an argument that probably sounded more plausible in 2006 than it does today). Hart's doubling down on the centralized benevolence of the state leaves the state open, in Robb's analysis, to the inevitable weakening of the state's legitimacy through systematic disruption - and Hart, unfortunately, does not articulate any legitimate countermeasure to such disruptions. In short, Hart's argument is (small-c) conservative, repackaging Great Society solutions to counter an emergent threat for which they were not designed.

Hart ends the book by arguing that "When every child in America is secure, then America will be secure" (p.180) - a bait-and-switch, since the two securities he describes are of different categories. From my view, Hart has simply failed to grapple with the question of fourth-generation warfare, and his conclusions constitute a faulty causal argument. I don't recommend this book.

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