Epistemic Regimes

In essence, when we are analyzing and deconstructing empires and world systems, what we are doing on a deeper level is analyzing the “epistemic regimes” which underlie or underpin these empires and world systems. Our “epistemic regime” in this day and age amounts to an “inequality regime” to borrow from Thomas Piketty, and in turn, such a regime is deeply interconnected or interlinked with war and violence. But as Wael Hallaq wrote: “Being trapped in this regime is not the end of history, for both the author and the critique, and with them the human as the subject and predicate of history, would then entirely cease to matter.”

Hence, in order to understand war and violence, we must understand the “epistemic regime” by which we are confounded. As G. Lowes Dickinson wrote during the 20th century “Great Wars” of Europe, and which still resonates to this day:

“There is a fight to the death now going on, not between nation and nation, but between those whose policy must destroy, and those whose policy might save mankind. Of that conflict, science is the very center. It is the instrument both of salvation and of destruction. Is it going to remain a mere instrument, passive and indifferent to the issue? Or is it coming out with all its weight, all its prestige, all its intelligence, on the side of those who mean to end war?”

As Hedley Bull argued, war has a “dual aspect.” For one, war is “a manifestation of disorder in international society, bringing with it the threat of breakdown of international society itself into a state of pure enmity or war of all against all” which in turn prompts efforts to limit and contain war so that the basic rules and institutions of international society can be salvaged. But on the other hand, and on the flipside, war can also serve constructive purposes, such as the preservation of international law and order, recalibrating the global balance of power towards equilibrium, and also, bringing about “just change.” 

Hence, war is all about complexity and war is largely an art form, and as a result, war cannot be fully reduced to rationalistic rules and regulations. Arguably, war is largely about the political and social aims or goals which it seeks to achieve. At times, it is difficult to even differentiate between a state of war and a state of peace, given both the complexity of war as well as the complexity of the aims and goals which different parties in a war seek to achieve. 

And more often than not, we are misinformed or misled about the true cause or causes of war when it does break out. As Hans Morgenthau wrote: “When war comes, it must come as a natural catastrophe or as the evil deed of another nation, not as a foreseen and planned culmination of one’s own foreign policy.” And as E.H. Carr argued, war usually arises from a set of conditions which in turn aim to either preserve the prevailing order and status quo or to change the prevailing order and status quo. In a sense, the most crucial or important aspect of war is that war aims at either preserving the status quo, or it aims at changing it. And if the aim is to change it, then in a deeper sense, what war seeks to change is the “epistemic regime” which underpins the conditions from which war arises or the root cause that prompted war in the first place. 

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