Necro-Ethics Part 8. Drones and the Divine Right of Kings: Hobbes vs. Rousseau

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Hobbes’s Leviathan

A central theme of the previous posts in this exploration of Gregoire Chamayou’s Drone Theory (2015) (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) has been the place of the body in warfare and how drones undermine this link, with dangerous results. Part 8 now examines Chamayou’s invocation of the social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in exploring the role of drones in accelerating this increasing disconnect between body and war.

‘I protect, so I am obliged’

In traditional social contract theory, social harmony and protection is achieved through the submission of individual agency to an overarching authority. With Hobbes, the social contract is achieved through the populace submitting its will to a powerful overlord, in Rousseau the same result is achieved through the populace submitting its will to itself. However, although the central logic of this contract holds during times of internal peace when the individual sacrifices a certain degree of personal autonomy to the sovereign in order to gain a greater degree of personal security, when the sovereign or the state exposes its subjects’ lives to war from an external threat it is no longer protecting them but placing them in harm’s way, so how can it continue to expect to be obeyed (p.178)?

‘I am obliged, so I am protected’

For Hobbes, what is being called in during times of war is the debt the subject owes to the sovereign in times of peace: ‘each man is bound by nature, as much as in him lieth, to protect in war, the authority, by which he is himself protected in time of peace’ (p.178). Whereas with Rousseau, the answer is that what is being upheld in war is the ‘very possibility’ (Chamayou) of protection constituted in the social contract itself. For Rousseau, this a ‘dialectic of sacrifice’ (Chamayou) in which: ‘whoever wills the end, also wills the means, and these means are inseparable from certain risks and even certain losses’ (p.179).

In either case, the ability of the state or sovereign to wage war is still grounded in the bodies of the populace it deploys onto the battlefield. Historically, this gave the people a certain power against the sovereign in times of war, for, as Chamayou argues: ‘if power is embedded in our bodies, we can always refuse to offer them’. However, the advent of drone warfare undermines this power. As Chamayou puts it: ‘with no bodies mobilised there is no longer any power’, and so the sovereign can conduct war with impunity (p.219).

If part 8 outlined the counter-intuitive idea that the gradual withdrawal of bodies in warfare will have negative consequences rather than positive ones, then part 9 will chart the dangers of the final and complete disappearance of the human Subject itself from warfare, through the arrival of entirely autonomous drones.

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