In his intellectual history, The First Total War, David A. Bell argues that peace, as Wells understood it as an end to barbarism, was born along side democracy during the Enlightenment, and that just as Schmitt saw it, had transformed all war into existential battles against savages; that it was the utopia goal itself that had modern warfare "unusually intense and inhuman." It might seem to make sense then that in the aftermath of the most destructive of the 'wars to end all wars' and in the shadow of the very real possibility nuclear holocaust, Gene Roddenberry imagined an utopian warship. But Star Trek wasn't just a later day democratic myth; it was the first great myth of consumer culture. The Enterprise was not built for total war, it was built to fight wars of conscience - exactly the sorts of wars consumerists fight.
Captain James T Kirk: Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of Horatii (1784)
Bell writes that, since the earliest moments of the Enlightenment, "The dream of perpetual peace and the nightmare of total war have been bound together in complex and disturbing ways, each sustaining the other... During the eighteenth-century, as in previous centuries, most Western cultures accepted war as an inevitable, and ordinary, facet of human existence. Western rulers saw war as their principal purpose and fought constantly." Total war was an innovation of early modern democracies in which for the first time war had come to be seen in a "new manner, as an unfathomable extreme, set outside the ordinary bounds of social existence, that could only end in total victory or total defeat."
James T Kirk is a democratic manly man, but he was conceived durring a moment in which American democracy was making way for consumerism, he pointedly mild in comparison to the un-compromising militancy of King Leonidas, but that is because consumerism not only made far more radical promises of equality than any democracy ever had before; consumerism did so without ever appealing to the Puritanical utilitarianism that had long stiffen the spine of democracy's hawks.
But with the war in Afganistan, while obviously poorly conceived and incompetently executed, the Bush Administration entered exactly the sort of war they had no interest in, and had repeatedly dismissed and maligned before September 11th as "Nation building." Afganistan began as a response, but all along the war has been more like the intervention in Bosnia or the attempt to pull Somalia out of anarchy. Those were wars where there was no oil; no need for new military bases or wealthy allies who needed help. Not the Bush family's typical war. These were wars fought, not only in the absence of an existential threat, but very little strategic importance.
These were also exactly the sorts of wars Banks imagined. Wars fought by peoples largely absorbed in concerns about their own "personal health and safety... congratulating themselves on their broadmindedness and lack of fanaticism." That is a pretty fair assessment of Bill Clinton - the president that actually lead the American people to fight wars that had no obvious national utility. But rather than "sit at home" as Fukuyama predicted, US consumerists rallied in support of wars that gave their comfortable, safe lives deeper meaning; they were fought in order to satisfy American, Asian, and European consumerists' "urge not to feel useless." Clinton wasn't a capitalist, he was a consumerist. (Continue Reading)
The forces of consumerism.