30 December 2006

Ways of Picturing Our Mercenaries

The late Leon Golub (1922-2004) made a series of very large paintings entitled "Mercenaries" of which the one posted here is No. IV. At the risk of draining Golub's work of its force entirely, I want to invoke a famous dead white male political theorist, Jean Jacques Rousseau whose best known work is surely The Social Contract (1762). Rousseau is famous for having located sovereignty in "the people" and for insisting that such sovereignty is inalienable. I think he is wrong about many, many things and that subsequent democratic theory has been led astray by, for instance, his talk about the general will and by his contractarian approach more generally. That said, he does provide one of my favorite observations. Here is how Rousseau begins Book III, Chapter 15:

"As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home: when it is necessary to meet in council, they name deputies and stay at home. By reason of idleness and money, they end by having soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell it."

Golub's paintings lend a sort of visceral feeling to Rousseau's warning. More recently, other artists have focused on the surge in "marketized security" in an equally powerful but more analytical fashion. I refer to the "Privatization of War" project created by Lize Mogel and Dario Azzellini in which they literally map the connections between Private Military Contractors (PMCs) in the U.S. and various sites and events in Columbia and Iraq.

You can find an interview with Mogel, whose work seems extraordinarily interesting, here (I lifted this image from the interview page).

It turns out that Private Military Contracting is an enormous business - according to Mogel & Azzellini, worldwide governments spent $200 Billion (US) on such services annually. I will close with two comments. First, a bit of self promotion. The journal I edit for the American Political Science Association recently published a very smart paper that highlights how the rise of marketized security will effect the ways we understand international relations. Second, although - as Mogel explains in the interview I've linked to - Iraq and Columbia are proving grounds for the use of PMCs, our own Department of Homeland Security reportedly dispatched mercenaries to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So these outfits are not used solely in far-away lands, they may be coming very soon to a disaster near you.

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