Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 6, No 1 (2010)

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The Ontology of Modern Terrorism: Hegel, Terrorism Studies and Dynamics of Violence

Gavin Cameron, Joshua David Goldstein

Abstract


While the terrorism studies literature speaks of a shape of terrorism unique to modernity, the exact nature of modern terrorism, let alone the nature of modernity or its starting point, remain much in dispute. In this article we suggest that the confusion and conflict within the literature arises from a tendency to focus on certain outward or inessential features associated with modernity. In order to truly answer the question of what makes modern terrorism modern, the question needs to be set on a new footing, one which inquires into the necessary and not instrumental relationship between modernity and terrorism—i.e., that inquires into the possibility of an inner dynamic which can take us from the nature of modernity itself to terrorism. In this article we suggest that the intellectual resources for an understanding of modern terrorism in the fullest sense can be found within the preeminent nineteenth-century philosopher of the birth of the modern, G.W.F. Hegel. More specifically, through a reconstruction of Hegel’s account of the French Revolution we can uncover the possibility of understanding modern terrorism as an ontological rather than a temporal category. In other words, we can uncover resources that help us grasp what modern terrorism is, rather than in what age—with its instrumental possibilities given by, say, technology or ideology—it is found. What makes modern terrorism truly modern, we will argue, is a particular shape of self-consciousness that, Hegel shows us, stands as the deep structure of early modernity, and which contains within it an inner dynamic towards a uniquely modern shape of terrorism. While all terrorism that occurs within modernity is not modern, a truly modern terrorism can be identified.

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