Drone-Ethics part 5

Where Hegel Feared to Tread: Dialectics, Drones and the Sacrificial State

Drone-Ethics part 5
An Air Force sensor operator practicing on drone flight simulators at Creech Air Force Base

After investigating how the categorical imperative, orthodox price theory, virtueless warfare and jus in bello relate to drone warfare, Chamayou now draws on Hegelian dialectics to illustrate how drones perfectly synthesise the immanent contradiction between the modern state’s need to protect the life of its citizens whilst waging war.

According to Chamayou, Hegel himself refused to dialecticise this connection between “protective sovereignty and warring sovereignty”, believing that subordinating the power of the state to the protection of its subjects was an affront, undermining the very basis of state power itself. Indeed, for Hegel, the very affirmation of the state was found in its ability to sacrifice life in pursuit of a higher goal, not in the reproduction of bio-politics (p.180).

Once this line is crossed, Chamayou draws on the historian Edward Luttwak to argue, a “postheroic era” arises: It is not that modern states value the lives of their citizens so highly that they are unwilling to risk them, but that under the sovereignty of the liberal, minimal security state conceived of as a safety officer for civil society, there is nothing worth dying for (p.180).

Ultimately, dialeticizing Hegel where Hegel feared to tread, Chamayou therefore argues that drones allow the modern bio-political minimal security state to negate this inherent contradiction between protecting its citizens’ lives through the use of deadly violence by “waging war but without sacrifices” (p.181).

However, in classic Hegelian style, this apparent synthesis and solution to the minimal security state’s problem of killing without risk is not spawned without containing its own immanent critique. Though the use of drones protects the pilot from physical harm, it does so at the expense of breaking the phenomenological link between the actions of the killer and the act of killing. In part 6, we will examine how this phenomenological derailment can lead to a psychological break in drone pilots.