Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004


Andrew Robinson
CRITIQUE OF AGNES HELLER "911 or Modernity and Terror"1

After the massacres at the Twin Towers and elsewhere on September 11th 2001, many politicians and members of elite groups, and those sections of the population with authoritarian personalities, have been involved in yet another crackdown / backlash / moral panic. This is founded on a string of prejudices which have enabled the almost complete concealment of the causes of the New York massacre and which have led to the replication of the very logics of militarism and exclusion which in all probability caused the massacre in the first place. The irony is that the war is a war of mirror images: two similar figures squaring off against each other (with the innocent caught in the middle on both sides). The Bush / Blair logic is based on retribution, imposition of their value-system and intransigence towards dissent. If they had been born in Afghanistan, is it inconceivable that they would have become fundamentalists? And if bin Laden were an American, would he not be on the front line of those clamouring for bombing? Yet many writers are confusing the picture by endorsing the exceptionalism with which the west views the New York massacre. This exceptionalism is racist: by making a special, extreme case of this massacre, it involves downplaying the importance of similar events, from deaths caused by AIDS and by structural adjustment policies to the Rwanda massacres and the activities of the US-supported Contras, which are common in modern history. 3,000 people died in the September 11th attacks, compared to approximately 24,000 children who died of hunger on the same day2. Far from an onward march of progressive 'modernity', we live in a world where massacres and human rights violations are routine; September 11th is exceptional only in where it happened and who the victims were. Any humanist response to the New York massacre therefore has to begin by generalising opposition to it, like Year Zero editor Adam Porter's remarks: 'look, look hard, this is what men of violence do to cities, what British and American planes did to Basra in Iraq, what British and American planes did to parts of Belgrade. When I spout on about missiles slamming into the side of escaping Kosovan women, children and pensioners packed into a train, I mean it'3. To "mean it" about September 11th, one must also oppose similar actions wherever they occur - including the present bombing of Afghanistan. Otherwise, one is simply reproducing racism, as if human tragedies are only horrific when they happen to middle-class white Americans. Further, empty condemnation is useless and will only produce more atrocities. One should ask: what causes such actions, and how, therefore, can they be prevented? Punishment, vengeance, and retributive "justice" cannot prevent an act. All they can do is make authoritarians feel better by restoring an illusion of balance, at the cost of causing immense harm and suffering to others. Bombing may make atrocities such as the New York massacre more likely by creating martyrs and enemies. And there is only so much that can be done by practical "security": there are simply too many methods of war to prevent them all.

In this climate, Agnes Heller is not helping to advance humanistic goals. Her analysis reproduces official myths and rhetoric. For instance, is September 11th really 'a wave of terror... threatening liberal democracies'4? This is a confused and inaccurate formulation. It is unclear what motivated this massacre, but it is unlikely that "liberal democracy" as opposed to symbols of American power was the intended target. (If it was al-Qaeda who carried out the attack, perhaps they intended to draw America into a long war in Afghanistan to weaken their global power - in which case, the attack worked). Further, one attack5, however horrific, is not a "wave" of anything. This attack was an act of desperation. All military and repressive institutions engage in violence; the more they are threatened, the more violent they become. They prefer that everyone obey them without dissent. When people fight back, they first resort to non-lethal weapons. If this doesn't shut people up, they shoot people dead, like in Tiananmen Square, Kent State University and Genoa. If that doesn't work, they resort to terror, as when Pinochet seized power. Al-Qaeda, if they did it, used this degree of force because they are desperate and weak. If they could impose their agenda through propaganda and CS gas, they probably would. In this context, it is important not to get carried away by the language of "threat". The New York massacre was a horrific atrocity, but this does not alter the fact that it is western governments, not tiny paramilitary networks, which pose the most potential threat to human life.

Even supposing the massacre prefigures a general "threat", how can it be a threat to liberal democracy? As an anarchist pamphlet puts it, "You can't blow up a social relationship". One can kill human beings; one cannot thereby determine what political structure the survivors adopt. Democracy and 'liberal' rights are under threat in the west - but not from bin Laden. The threat comes from western governments: America wanting to torture suspects, Australia abolishing the right to silence, Britain introducing internment, and so on. Suspected terrorists could be tried at secret military tribunals with no serious legal procedure, while America is also carrying out assassinations with a spy-plane in Yemen and repeatedly bombing civilians in Afghanistan. Governments like to deagentify themselves; they like to pretend they are not initiating these acts. This creeping Eichmannism should not, however, be endorsed by theorists, especially those such as Heller who oppose the idea that ends justify means and who emphasise "responsibility". When thousands Arabs in America are jailed without charge and effectively "disappeared", when Irish radio stations and radical rock bands are driven off the Internet, when Green Party activists are harassed by armed police while boarding planes, it is the American government which is undermining democracy - not bin Laden, and not September 11th. September 11th is the excuse.


Social movements are constructed through ways of thinking, speaking and acting. To fight totalitarian discourse, one must first avoid using it. Heller is inconsistent here. Firstly, take her strange view that one should make condemnation of the New York massacre a precondition for discussion6. This is another piece of exceptionalism: she does not make opposition to the slaughter of Afghan civilians a precondition, and if she did, it would put her own position in the discussion at risk. There is also another issue here. If one wishes to persuade someone not to do something, the last thing one should do is refuse to speak to them. If one starts introducing arbitrary standards which say "agree with me or I won't talk to you", one destroys the very basis for persuasion, and one eliminates the possibility of solving problems through discussion by creating an artifically closed speech-community unreflexive about its own assumptions. One further destroys the possibility of one's own position being 'rational' and non-oppressive. Once one starts rendering one's opponents voiceless instead of answering their truth-claims, one is outside the realm of reasoned argument and in the realm of what Heller elsewhere terms "fanaticism"; one is setting up dogmatic creeds which are beyond critical discussion. She is replicating the logic of 'fundamentalists' (and of George Bush), and acting as a standard-bearer for the discourses which generate 'terrorism'.

Totalitarians, Heller tells us, conflate all their enemies, however incompatible with each other, into a single foe7. It is therefore disturbing that she does exactly the same thing, trying to say that Leninist and Islamic fundamentalist ideology 'amounts to the same'8. One of al-Qaeda's core principles is anti-leftist. The Afghan fundamentalist resistance was directed against the U.S.S.R. and its 'Leninist' allies. During the 1980s, al-Qaeda planted bombs in 'Leninist' Russia. The Shia Muslims and fundamentalist Iran are sworn enemies of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which Heller terms "revolutionary", while "revolutionary" Syria has been helping America by "interrogating" al-Qaeda suspects. Al-Qaeda supporters were involved in putting down a leftist movement in Yemen during the 1990s. Heller may find 'Leninism' and fundamentalism equally objectionable, but that does not in the slightest make them the same thing. Similarly, her speculations about the 'peace process' and conspiracies to derail it, blaming 'the same organisation' for the New York massacre and the al-Aqsa intifada, suggests a conflation of everything in the world that does not go Heller's way, as if a global conspiracy were behind it all. Something on the scale of an intifada cannot possibly be 'masterminded' in this way - at least, not without a lot of help from causal factors internal to the situation.

She also tells us that '[t]otalitarianism keeps the party, the state, the society in the permanent state of revolution, it wages never ending wars against the internal and/or external enemies. Totalitarian regimes need a very strong image of the Enemy, they must demonize the other... The "long live!" must be followed by "down with!" '10. Heller could almost be describing Bush's discourse. America has declared an open-ended and potentially never-ending war on an enemy, "global terrorism", which is ill-defined, impossible to locate, and impossible to defeat. (Since "terrorism" is presumably a class of acts and not a group, one can no more wipe it out with bombs than one can wipe out, say, robbery or murder with bombs). This leads to an internal state of permanent emergency: the new security measures, one spokesperson said, are 'here to stay'. A personalised image of bin Laden has become the figure of the Enemy, diabolised as "evil", "mad", "criminal" and other epithets. "Long live America" is followed by "Down with terrorism". This is true of Heller's own account, which effectively follows "long live democracy" with "crush the infamous one". Perhaps Heller is describing bin Laden when she writes of demonization, but she is also describing a growing tendency in the west, a tendency she implicitly supports by endorsing its war.

Furthermore, according to Heller, terror involves a situation where the victim cannot protect her/himself and her/his family from murder 'even through the strictest allegiance'11. Heller uses this argument to differentiate terror from other forms of political violence, but her application of it is problematic. Her definition would actually make bin Laden, the Taleban and al-Qaeda something other than terrorist; unless they kill fundamentalists, they do not meet the criterion of being 'utterly irrational from the side of the victim', even if involved in September 11th (since a fundamentalist would not be in the Twin Towers in the first place). It is also problematic to say that there is not the slightest relationship between their victims' acts and their being targeted. Heller has gone beyond saying that terrorists have no legitimate reason to single out their victims, to say that they have no reason, or at least no reason comprehensible to potential victims. However, if these groups believe that practices such as riding commercial airlines and working in the Twin Towers are sinful, they have a clear reason (illegitimate, but comprehensible) for selecting targets. On the other hand, when NATO/US bombs hit residential areas while NATO and US Government spokespeople claim they are not at war with the Iraqi, Serbian or Afghan people, or when cluster bombs explode and kill KFOR peacekeepers, as has happened in Kosova, a US-sympathetic individual or even a KFOR soldier cannot avoid being targeted by NATO's use of force; this fits Heller's definition of "terrorism" far better. Also, being pro-capitalist does not protect one against being a victim of "market forces", and nor does obeying the Israeli army preclude one being shot because a curfew is imposed without being declared. (I think Heller is here defining "terror" far too narrowly: a great many "terrors" have been based on political affiliations and the like).

Heller portrays bin Laden as a totalitarian Fhrer. She has little evidence for this. Holding someone's poster up on a demonstration does not make her/him a Fhrer. Bin Laden's network is loose-knit, and many of his recent supporters belong to different fundamentalist currents anyway. She also claims he wants 'world domination'12. Again, she has no evidence for the claim. Her account is also inconsistent because her list of "totalitarians" includes organisations which she admits have no Fhrer and no aim for total power, such as the Baader-Meinhof group and the Red Brigades.

All totalitarian organisations, Heller claims, are 'centralised and hierarchical' with a 'command/obedience relationship' and 'homogeneous power'13. There is no evidence that al-Qaeda operates in this way, as Heller explicitly states14. The Afghan section apparently has a military structure but its global cells or affiliates do not seem to be unified into a single command-structure. Indeed, the "links with al-Qaeda" which Bush and his ilk repeatedly present are often little more than tentative contacts. Movements such as the Chechen guerrillas, the Kashmiri separatists and the Moro and Aceh resistances have structures of their own and are rooted in local situations. Any help they have received from al-Qaeda is likely to have been technical or logistical, which is hardly sufficient to render them part of a homogeneous global movement.

As regards the labelling of free thinkers as traitors, this is true of bin Laden and the Taleban but also of the Pakistani state which America is allied to. A Pakistani secularist was recently given the death penalty for claiming that Mohammed's parents must have been infidels because they died before Islam was founded. It is also at least nascently true of the present American government also. Attorney-General Ashcroft is particularly prone to attempt to silence opponents of practices such as secret trials and racial dragnets by accusing them of aiding and abetting terrorism, while Bush notoriously remarked that everyone is either 'with us or against us', clearly suggesting that any free-thinking critic is an enemy. Heller also associates totalitarians with charisma and messianic rhetoric, 'shouting matches' and the like. However, she resorts to the same kind of rhetoric by saying '[c]rush the infamous one'15.

Heller defines totalitarianism in such a way that it includes everyone except her own side. She denounces fascist, 'communist' and Islamic fundamentalist totalitarianisms, but she has nothing to say about the market fundamentalism of the IMF, WTO, the World Bank and their neo-liberal supporters. These groups' adherence to dogmas and a creed to the exclusion of evidence against it is leading to a slaughter far in excess of the New York massacre, through deaths due to famine, curable diseases and poverty. Yet Heller seems to insulate them from criticism because she approves of the content of their ideology.

Heller explains fundamentalism as a reaction against the freedom offered by modernity16. She provides no evidence for this claim. Such an analysis is abstract and counter-empirical. The people who rose up against the Shah of Iran were not trying to overthrow 'the burdens of abstract freedom' because Iran was a dictatorship at the time. The Afghan mujahideen were fighting, not democrats, but pro-Soviet Stalinists. Heller is trying to read some kind of heroism, a positive "burden" no less, into what is basically an absence of some forms of overt coercion. Her conception is abstract and ethnocentric, and her refusal to examine historical conditions leads her to engage in overtly Orientalist attacks on Arab 'culture' as a substitute explanation17. Western 'freedoms' have not been extended to most of the world, partly because of the policies of western governments and corporations, and I am suspicious about how general they are even in the west. For instance, police persecution of protesters, ethnic minorities, and subcultural deviants is far greater than is compatible with an image of the collapse of traditional social control, not to mention the coercive normalising force of institutions like the carceral apparatus (prisons and their extensions), schools, the therapeutic establishment, psychiatry, the media/propaganda apparatus, organised consumption, and the capitalist production process (which hires and fires on a basis incompatible with 'abstract freedom the single person can use to the better or to the worse'). Heller's earlier work shows some awareness of these issues, yet she now seems to have forgotten such concerns and rallied to the so-called 'free world' , despite the fact that what it embodies is a 'freedom' radically different from that which Heller advocates.

Heller claims that totalitarians are anti-capitalist (although she adds that capitalism is not their main enemy); 'global capitalism is seen as one of the chief enemies for global terror'18. She is excluding cases such as Mussolini's Italy on a technicality. (Italy was totalitarian, cruel, used ethnic cleansing but did not use terror according to Heller). Presumably she is also excluding the Contras, Renamo, US-backed bombers in Cuba, and regimes such as Pinochet's Chile, Deng Xiaoping's China and Franco's Spain, which used torture and 'disappearance' - although it is unclear what basis she could have for this. Presumably she is also omitting the terror caused by the impersonal 'laws' of the global market and their enforcers. It seems as if all terrorists are anti-capitalist because if one is pro-capitalist, one is arbitrarily excluded from the list of "terrorists".

Worse still, Heller argues that '[f]reedom is the common enemy' of all totalitarians. This is simple tautology, and devoid of referential meaning. One would not call a movement "totalitarian" unless it were against what one considers to be "freedom". It is not so much that this classification unites totalitarians as that it holds together the label "totalitarian". Any attempt, therefore, to use this claim politically, as if "they" are united against "us", is based on a purely definitional manoeuvre and is invalid if used as an explanatory or empirical claim.

Heller also cuts corners to produce an overly neat account of totalitarianism and terrorism. Her account of Leninism is flawed in various ways, most notably that Lenin never said, or did not consistently maintain, most of the statements she attributes to him. For instance, Lenin never said that 'intellectuals... love to discuss, whereas workers prefer action... "Action" means here force and violence'. He believed that both theory and practice were important, and he wrote several long works of theory. He did not consistently oppose democracy; he positively advocates it in State and Revolution. He also did not subscribe to a model of 'the Marxian teaching as the Truth', in a quasi-religious sense; he was a quasi-empiricist with a "reflection theory of cognition" (as set out in his book Materialism and Empirico-Criticism)19. Furthermore, his preferred model of the party was context-dependent and altered over time. Heller is oversimplifying the origins of totalitarianism by trying to reduce it to an ideological original sin shared by fascists, Marxists and religious fundamentalists. In Russia, totalitarianism emerged contingently, not as a result of ideological inevitability. In America, it nearly emerged out of liberalism during the McCarthyist period. There are not safe and dangerous ideologies; there are different forms of discourse and different kinds of political practice.

Worst of all, Heller encourages anti-intellectualism and provides a spurious case for education cutbacks by trying to blame education for totalitarianism. First, she claims totalitarians are frustrated intellectuals. This is dubious: many, such as Hitler, Amin, Bokassa, Nguema, Franco, Pinochet, Mobutu and Mengistu, are largely uneducated people. Indeed, 'totalitarians' are far more united by having some kind of hierarchic background (army, church and the like) than by education; some are downright anti-intellectual themselves (for each Dr. Goebbels there is a Streicher, a Rohm and a Goering). The political implications of Heller's argument are disturbing. If 'mass universities are factories for producing frustrated intellectuals' and 'training grounds for all kinds of extremism'24, she must presumably be calling for their replacement with an overtly elitist structure which denies education above a minimal level to anyone but a tiny elite. This is hardly a recipe for the personal autonomy she claims to advocate.

There are several pieces of nuisance evidence which sabotage Heller's approach. Most crucially, she is relying solely on an intentionalist narrative, exaggerating the role of leader-figures as if they single-handedly generate totalitarianism. She problematised this earlier when suggesting that bin Laden has almost been thrust into the 'fuhrer' role. But a totalitarian movement requires followers as well as leaders; and frustrated intellectuals do not make a comfortable following. Often, indeed, followers generate rather than simply tagging onto a fuhrer. There were calls for a fuhrer for at least a decade prior to the rise of Hitler - it was only a question of who would fill the role. Those who follow totalitarian leaders are, I suspect, uneducated people who long for fixed certainties. In their book The Authoritarian Personality, Adorno et al. clearly show how closely linked fascistic ideas are to authoritarian modes of thought and closed-mindedness, i.e. to what universities are supposed to oppose20. In other words: the problem is not too much education, but too little. Further, many societies which have developed totalitarian forms have not had mass universities. Societies with mass universities are mostly western democracies; Uganda, and Cambodia, for instance, presumably have few university graduates.

Further, totalitarians tend to be anti-intellectual: Mao launched sweeping polemics against scientists, artists, professionals and the like; the USSR held intellectuals down through Lysenkoism and Socialist Realism; intellectuals and students were specifically targeted during the Rwandan and Cambodian massacres as possible threats to the existing regimes. Totalitarians usually pursue extensive measures to control and limit education. The Taleban, for instance, reduced school entry, while the Nazis replaced the traditional syllabus with military-style drills and practical courses. The reverse is also true. Students are a major source of resistance to regimes from Franco's Spain and Bokassa's "empire" to contemporary Iran and Serbia.

Even if university graduates are statistically overrepresented among totalitarian leaders, it should be remembered that this is also the case among elected leaders, civil servants and other elite groups in most societies. It may merely be that positions of political power require abilities (for instance, an ability to manipulate) which require intelligence and/or special training.

Heller's narrative about universities causing totalitarianism is so badly founded that it hints at an extra-empirical motive, a form of self-flagellation or a kind of threat used to keep intellectuals in line. This motive is, however, the reverse of what it should be: there is a need to overcome anti-intellectual prejudices and develop the intellectual processes of the population in general, to prevent their being convinced by totalitarian movements. Paolo Freire sees education as a means to the kind of autonomy which Heller only asserts that people have. Without critical and reflexive thought, and without creative and transformative aspirations, people subject to the depradations of present elites easily fall into line behind populist demagogues and Fhrers and are tricked by totalitarian rhetoric.

Beneath Heller's criticism of universities lurks a deeper fear, a fear that repressed energies will break through "modernist" affect-blocks and undermine procedural systems. Heller rails against those who are 'carried away' by a desire to be 'extraordinary'. It is revealing that she does not see a great deal of difference whether they murder anyone or not25. Perhaps, therefore, her refusal of debate and her misrepresentation of totalitarianism has an underlying significance. Without a taboo against questioning too much, the deterritorialising forces of "modernity" might throw into doubt the very political systems to which Heller attaches so much value. Heller uses important parts of her argument to shore up psychological defences against this kind of eventuality.


For any serious analysis which actually aims to contribute to preventing massacres of the kind committed on September 11th, the issue of causality must be crucial. Seeking scapegoats, inventing enemies, and finding someone to whom to cause suffering are not going to make the problem go away. When thousands died in the Turkish earthquake, people did not respond by calling for the ground to be bombed to punish it for earthquakes. They treated the issue as causal: an issue of geological prediction, architecture and the like. This is because the science of geology has managed to escape ressentiment and the desire to act out revenge. Similarly, the New York massacre was a result of causal factors. The fact that one disagrees with the massacre is no reason for ignoring these causes. The problem is, rather, that people have not set anti-causal prejudices aside and are still reacting in an unthought-out way.

Disturbingly, Heller's article contains a number of anti-causal prejudices. Firstly, her delineation of arguments is based solely on ethical criteria. This is especially the case as regards what she calls the "guilty America argument". She writes as if empirical claims that America aided the growth of bin Laden's network are equivalent to moral-religious claims that America deserved the attacks because of its decadence. Also, the issue looks a lot different if taken causally. It is very likely that the attackers were motivated by a hatred for America, which would explain why they wanted to destroy symbols of American power, and why they didn't care about killing civilians in the process. In such a case, it is crucial to examine why they may have hated America. Otherwise, one cannot even begin to ask how to stop further attacks, i.e., how to stop people hating America. This is not a question of justifying the attacks (since it is connected to a question of causality and prevention), nor is it an anti-American principle of American "guilt". There is also a related issue about similar atrocities commited by or with the complicity of American politicians and forces in Vietnam, Iraq, former Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, etc., and this issue is not entirely separate (since America may have provided the model for attacks of this kind); but the issue in this case is mainly about the broader context of the attacks rather than about explaining them (and especially about the illogical claims that this attack is the worst crime in history, an earth-shattering event, etc.). People who support American atrocities often come out with pseudo-humanist rhetoric about September 11th and try to give it an exceptional status, portraying "global terrorism" as the most important issue in the contemporary world, as if it dwarfs issues such as world hunger, capitalist neo-imperialism and the aggressive manoeuvres of the American war machine. Recalling acts of terrorism by the American state is crucial to countering such rhetoric, as well as to combatting Bush's carving of the field into "us and them".

Heller adds that 'the fact remains that the terrorist attack had nothing to do with America's previous actions... The two things are entirely unrelated'26. From where does this so-called "fact" originate? How does Heller know that the attackers were not motivated by previous American actions, that they did not imitate (or invert) the logic of American methods, and that American actions did not create the conditions for their emergence? A "fact" usually means an empirical reference, not as in this case an empty assertion.

Heller, however, is not operating among facts, but among attempts to justify. Her discussions of "guilty America" continue: 'The "guilty America" image is an ideological image. It is not the cause of anything, but serves as the justification for everything'27. This claim is simply asserted, with no backing. It is, on the contrary, entirely possible to use claims of this type causally. The fact that something can be used ideologically does not mean that it is irreducibly ideological. One cannot "justify" Hitler with the Versailles peace treaty, Heller tells us. This is a sidestep. One can partially explain (support for) Hitler in this way. Justification is beside the point. If Hitler is unjustified, one must find the causes of the Hitler phenomenon. Justification is beside the point. If the causal account is accurate, then avoiding treaties of the Versailles type could help to prevent the rise of another Hitler. It is in deciding whether one wishes to reduce the risk of an outcome in this way that justification becomes an issue.

Incidentally, it is unclear where in Heller's account "guilty-America-as-ideology" becomes "guilt". One could equally argue against the bombing of Afghanistan in Heller's way. Take the following argument: "The 'guilty bin Laden' image is an ideological image. When someone expresses horror at the bombing of Afghanistan, they get the answer that bin Laden carried out the September 11th attacks. The latter may be true, but has nothing to do with the bombing, it serves as a justification for everything... Of course, bin Laden has (or may have) done wrong. But to justify bombing Afghan civilians with this claim is certainly a perfidious lie". This reproduces exactly the structure of Heller's argument against "guilty America", and it is equally immune to any claims about what bin Laden (or the Taleban, or the hijackers) actually did. Yet in this case, Heller not only explains but justifies American bombing with reference to guilt. Heller's logic is inconsistent: she wants to write off discussion of guilt as irrelevant, except when it is directed against those she sees as guilty. The "guilty America" argument is really no different to the "guilty bin Laden" or "guilty Afghanistan" argument; it does not differ in the slightest from the entire structure of statist "justice", which is based on finding a "guilty" someone so as to act out a ritual of suffering through incarceration, execution, saturation bombing or some other form of violence. The people who carried out the New York massacre were wrong, not because they went against the logic of the U.S. state, of its so-called 'liberal democracy', but because they reproduced the logic of this state, a logic which is itself oppressive and wrong. The hijackers followed perfectly the statist logic of punishing the guilty, and Bush, Blair et al now reproduce this logic, with exactly the same attitude towards the innocent. "The price is worth it", said Madeleine Allbright on sanctions against Iraq); "When the innocent mix with the guilty, injuries such as these are inevitable", said a top cop 'justifying' brutalising hundreds of protesters during an anti-Poll Tax demonstration. This is precisely the means-ends reasoning, reducing people to means rather than ends in themselves, which Heller opposes in her wider writings. Couldn't these quotes have come straight from bin Laden? He, too, apparently thinks that harming the innocent is "worth the price" if it means he can also harm those he considers guilty. Statist "justice" plus "collateral damage" equals September 11th.

Secondly, it is not possible to be 'over-sophisticated', as Heller claims. One can only criticise others for over-sophistication if one makes a cult of crudity or if one believes certainty has been achieved. A great many people in the contemporary world are oppressed and many are not understood at all (eg. the psychologically different). In this context, calling for less sophistication is equivalent to calling for the persistence of oppression and misunderstanding. Heller's opposition to sophistication echoes the cult of "reality", conceived as something immediately obvious and beyond reasoning, which is so common in populist and totalitarian movements.

Thirdly, Heller takes an explicitly anti-causal position of aiming for an 'essence or... function' rather than causes29. This is a mythical approach. Events as lived in social actuality do not have an "essence"; they have a variety of characteristics which are not reducible to a single core (for instance, a table is not reducible to an essence of table-ness, because it has features such as colour which may be as important in some cases but which are not contained in the concept "table"). Perceptions of essence and function are added to events, people and things after the event, through the imposition on them of a set of categories which may well be alien to them. The "function" or symbolic impact of September 11th is most likely a construct of US foreign policy and the global media, and may well have nothing to do with the motives of those involved. The concepts of "function" and "essence" as used by Heller are what Alfred Korzybski terms "intensional" concepts: they refer to other aspects within an already-closed linguistic system, and they are therefore irrelevant to understanding events involving actual people and things.

Fourthly, Heller uses sophisms to hide from evidence which goes against her arguments. For instance, she says of opponents, '[o]ne has still to learn the simplest philosophical wisdom, namely that one cannot tell a lie in ten sentences without saying something true. Ideologies... turn a little truth into a big lie'. So her opponents can be telling the truth but are still guilty of "ideology". The implication is presumably that it is better to ignore uncomfortable truths which can be used by one's opponents.

Interestingly, when Heller starts speaking empirically (about her knowledge of the Stalinists' support-base in Hungary), she undermines her own argument: 'fear and faith mutually reinforce one another, and... whenever the fear is gone, faith immediately follows suit'31. If fear leads to faith in totalitarian movements, then the worst thing one could do is cause more fear by bombing a country, since this would reinforce the faith also. On the whole, however, Heller avoids discussing empirical issues of any kind. The irony is that Heller's broader philosophy involves an insistence on the danger of "abstract enthusiasm" and a preference for the "concrete". In her comments about September 11th, Heller is clearly focusing solely on the abstract.


Heller misunderstands the issues surrounding "globalisation". Again, she reduces causal issues to ethical ones ; the claim that gloval poverty causes 'terrorism' has nothing to do with how it is possible to address inequalities or whether 'terrorists' support these methods32. To take a similar case: one can claim that poverty causes suicide, without claiming that suicide is a solution to poverty. Of course one has to be alive to fight poverty, so suicide would be an ineffective response to the problem of poverty, but this does not mean that there is no causal link between poverty and suicide. Similarly with global inequality and 'terrorism'.

Heller thinks it is 'obvious that only a kind of social-democratic politics of redistribution can hope to tackle the issue [of global inequalities] with even the slightest hope of success'33. This is not at all "obvious". Social-democracy requires a level of cooperation from capitalists which is not presently forthcoming. Furthermore, democracy can only operate within political units. Social-democracy could not be applied in a world where many countries are dictatorships and where there is no overarching electoral structure. Social-democrats' record in relation to global inequality is not much better than that of neo-liberals, because they are necessarily only responsive to demands for redistribution internal to a particular 'democracy'. Overcoming global oppression (a complex situation of control and subordination which Heller has oversimplified by reducing it to a mere 'gap' in wealth) can only involve a struggle against existing structures of international domination, not a reliance on these very structures to rectify the very problems they cause.

It is unclear whether there is such a thing as an "anti-global" movement. Anti-capitalist protesters are generally against the present global system (IMF, WTO, G8, TNC'S and so on) rather than taking positions around abstractions. "Globalization" is on the whole an invention by rightists, who frequently reify the concept to hide from dissent, as if "globalization" is an irresistible thing, when actually it is an apparition used to conceal the actions of specific economic agents. Anti-capitalists are opposed to the discourse of globalisation, but not necessarily on its own terms. In relation to the mass killing perpetrated by major corporations and their allies, which cause hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, for instance through patenting and overcharging medicines so they are unavailable to the global poor and through the wave of land enclosures and dispossessions sweeping the global South, the discourse of globalisation is another version of deagentification. It is surprising how Heller seems to have forgotten her attacks on deagentification and her insistence on 'individual responsibility' in her earlier works.

More disturbingly, Heller tries to label some anti-capitalists as 'terrorist' because they use 'violence'55. This is clearly doublespeak, since the police use far more violence than protesters at anti-capitalist events, often against peaceful demonstrators and even bystanders. Given the concerted police violence, it is hard to see how a humanist can object so vociferously to some protesters defending themselves, especially since Heller is elsewhere very careful to distinguish terrorism from even such acts as ethnic cleansing and assassination. Further, protesters often find themselves fighting to defend basic democratic freedoms - for instance, the right to walk the streets of a city where a summit is being held. How can it be justified to bomb innocent people to save 'democracy' against bin Laden, but unjustified to use some degree of force to protect the right to protest, i.e. a basic democratic freedom? Heller's defence of "democracy" seems to have become an uncritical attachment to states which call themselves this name.


On the subject of American foreign policy, Heller is naive. Firstly, she does not explain what she means when she states that "America" is making mistakes, decisions and the like, and she gives the impression that she identifies "America" with American people as a whole. However, most Americans are connected only superficially to foreign policy-making, which, furthermore, is made by competing bureaucracies which may well be undermining each other. (Surely the U.S. customs department did not know other departments were smuggling drugs, for instance)35. She therefore assumes the integrity of an agent which/who does not exist in anything like the form she assumes. In fact her essay refers to actions ordered by the government. She then discusses "good" and "bad" decisions, without giving any criteria for assessing which decisions are "good" or "bad". Sanctions against Iraq may be a "good" decision for the oil companies; they are not a "good" decision for the children of Iraq. Further, before one can assess "good" and "bad" decisions, one has to ask what right "America" has to be making particular decisions in the first place.

On the subject of the Israel/Palestine 'peace process', Heller's analysis is speculative, biased and untenable. In particular, it runs against the claims made by virtually all pro-peace commentators 'on the ground', such as Michael Warshawski, Uri Avnery and Adam Keller. If the 'peace process' is such a good thing, and its failure is due only to fundamentalist agitation, why has the building of Israeli settlements been stepped up throughout the period of "peace"? Heller also depicts the Israeli state as 'democratic'36. However, the Israeli state was constructed through undemocratic acts of ethnic cleansing, and those removed as a result remain unable to vote. Palestinian inhabitants of the Occupied Territories are similarly unable to vote, whereas Israeli settlers are allowed to vote. Also, a number of liberal-democratic rights are not respected in Israel, which routinely uses torture, jails conscientious objectors and has a number of laws which treat a Jews preferentially over other ethnic groups.

Heller then adds, '[i]n my mind, the attacks against Iraq and Yugoslavia were justified'37. So where now is Heller's opposition on principle to the killing of civilians and to acts of terror? Why hasn't she, by saying this, placed herself beyond her own standards for civilised discussion? During both of these campaigns, civilian targets were bombed, some of them deliberately (Yugoslav TV, refugee bunkers in Iraq, schools, mosques, factories, hospitals, etc.). Clearly Heller is drawing advantages from the media reaction to September 11th, treating it as somehow different to the same kind of attacks elsewhere.

On the subject of 'just war', Heller is clearly drawing on operationalist conformisms. The law of war is framed by the major powers. It is therefore hardly surprising that it often justifies their actions. This is no reason for others assessing their actions to take these laws as the sole test of their validity. That is like judging the hijackers only by whether or not they followed the principles of their own ideology. If the law of war says it is justified to kill civilians as long as someone else does it first (which is what it would have to say to justify the American bombing of Afghanistan), it does not deserve any respect from humanists anywhere. Further, Heller introduces the idea of 'just war' to reply to opponents whose concern is different: that "America" is acting predictably and as part of a pattern. The pattern can exist as something to be opposed, even if in this case the American state is obeying international law. Also, the U.S. military is not exactly a paragon of democratic virtue; it is neither internally nor externally democratic, forming part of the "security state" which Heller elsewhere suggests may be a barrier to the democratic project. It is an irony to say the least that she is prepared to support such a military apparatus, even while condemning Lenin and bin Laden for using militaristic organisational models.

Besides, many American actions are not in line with international law, despite America's role in forming it.. For instance, the United Nations condemned American state policy of mining Nicaraguan harbours during the 1980s as an instance of terrorism38. Human Rights Watch said during the Kosova/Yugoslav bombing that NATO was committing war crimes. It is unlikely that the bombing of Afghanistan is any different. And if the standard for assessing U.S. actions is international law, it is important to realise that this generally only covers states. There is no such thing as a "war on terrorism" in international law. A war is necessarily between states. The New York massacre was not carried out by a state, therefore it cannot be in breach of the laws of war or a basis for declaring war. Is there provision in international law for the use of military force to pursue private individuals resident in the territories of other countries for actions which are illegal in a particular state? I very much doubt it. Yet this is what America ostensibly did in Afghanistan (despite the Taleban agreeing to hand over bin Laden, furthermore). Most likely this is a breach of international law since it goes against national sovereignty. It is even unclear whether the Taleban could be accountable to the law on war since they are not a legally recognised government, especially given the American government's insistence that Taleban members are "unlawful combatants".

Furthermore, to treat September 11th in this way assumes that America was wholly non-belligerent. If actions such as sanctions against Iraq and involvement by the American state with the state of Israel are treated as acts of war or as equivalent, this claim is weakened. If the principle of a right to wage war even if civilians are killed is maintained, and September 11th is interpreted as an attack on the Pentagon and on the economic infrastructure used to support the U.S.'s warlike actions, Heller's own principles actually render the attack "just war". She could not have moved further from her original concern with the horrific human effects of the attack than by moving onto the ground of states' rights to do things to other states (which excludes the human question a priori).

As if this argument is not bad enough as a submission to the logic of the U.S. military, Heller then starts quibbling over the distinction between a 'right to wage war' and whether a war involves "justice", "right" or "good"39. Such petty distinctions are hardly fitting to a situation where thousands are being killed. Surely if one has a "right" to do something, one is therefore "in the right" when one does it, "justified" in doing it, and also one cannot cease to be "good" if one does it. On the other hand, even if one can have a legal right to do something which is wrong, bad or unjust (either because the law is wrong or for reasons such as tolerance), one cannot by definition have a moral right to commit any such act, so that saying one has a moral right implies the absence of any such characteristic. Further, Heller's condemnation of the New York massacre is based on the fact that it is wrong, bad and unjustified, and the issue nowhere comes up of whether someone has a "right" to do it independently of whether it is wrong, bad and unjustified. She ruthlessly dismisses "guilty America" arguments as ideological excuses. However, she then gets into discussions of the attacks on Afghanistan which evade the question of "good" and in principle justify any action, provided only that it meet certain technical requirements. This is inconsistent. She should compare both by the same standard. Either what matters is whether an attack is "right", "good" and "justified", in which case the question is, as in Heller's remarks whether it is 'inhumane' and therefore 'inexcusable'40 - in which case, American actions must be subject to the same standards, and considered "inexcusable" if found to be "inhumane" (eg. if they involve deliberately or wantonly killing civilians, lead to famine, etc.), or the issue is whether an attacker abstractly has a "right" to carry out an attack, in which case the "guilty America" argument is serious and must be taken as such, and the September 11th attack not only explained or mitigated, but exonerated, should America be found to have committed any act giving others a "right to war" against it (regardless of the inhumanity of the attack, which is an issue of "good", "justice" and "right", irrelevant to the right to wage war).

Heller's further arguments persist in tailing official self-justifications which were probably designed to prevent dominant institutions being "guilty" of anything. So, 'only individuals can be good, not states'. This is very handy for states, especially since they kill more people and cause more suffering than individuals. 'Quarrelling between individuals causes fights, which can be very nasty. Quarrelling between governments causes wars, which are always catastrophic'. What is missing here is the crucial fact that states are made up of, and reducible to, individuals. The person who pushes the button to drop a bomb is an individual. President Bush is an individual. If individuals can be bad or good, then these individuals can be no exception, and their claim to be acting on behalf of a "state" is irrelevant. Individuals who act for states often use the totalitarian device of claiming not to be acting as such, since they are only obeying orders. If Americans can't be "bad" for dropping bombs because states are never "bad", then it is also impossible for the Taleban, Hitler, Eichmann or any other statist to be "bad". The idea that states cannot be bad is a deagentifying discourse used to privilege one group of "individuals" and exempt them from standards which, however, they 'enforce' violently against other "individuals".

As regards the concept of "justified self-defence", by definition self-defence is necessarily defensive. The U.S. state's war in Afghanistan involves going on the offensive. It is therefore not self-defence. It certainly does not fall within the terms of what an individual could pass off as legal self-defence, since it is similar in structure to a turf raid by a slighted gang. Gangs see such retaliation as self-defence, but in this case, the state disagrees with the gang. It is hypocritical that states then apply the very definitions they deny to others, in justifying their own acts. Referring to an "attack in self-defence", as a UN spokesperson did during the war in Afghanistan, is clearcut Orwellian doublespeak. On a similar note, the U.S. state is rather less sympathetic to actual self-defence, for instance by protesters against police violence. There is also a serious boundary problem between several of Heller's arguments. When does "legitimate self-defence" become "guilty America thesis"? How much can be justified by Heller's appeals to the law of war? She is relying on a number of different speech genres or discourses (legal, moral, genealogical, etc.), but the selection of a particular genre in a particular instance seems largely arbitrary. It is indicative of how weak her argument in support of Bush's war is that she is forced to rely on nit-picking about states, individuals, rights versus right, and suchlike to prop it up. It is especially ironic that such nit-picking occurs alongside an accusation that others who oppose her are 'over-sophisticated'.

Heller also says that bin Laden should be captured or eliminated (assassinated?), not because of any actual action he has committed, but because of his symbolic position, i.e., he is allegedly necessary for the alleged fuhrer-cult and therefore the 'totalitarian' organisation44. It is important to realise the significance of what she is proposing. People are no longer innocent until proven guilty - they are guilty by virtue of their symbolic position, and the fact that others look to them to act. Again, she is undermining her own analysis. If it is legitimate to kill someone who is personally innocent for symbolic advantage, it is hard to see how one can oppose the September 11 attacks. Principles of guilt are bad enough when applied to individuals' actions, but the consequences of applying such principles to people's symbolic significance are horrific.


Heller also gets into difficulties over a flashpoint issue for liberal theory: whether "freedom" includes a right to choose to be unfree. This is a tricky issue for liberals because it touches on the problem that liberalism is trying to combine a positive (liberal) ethics with a claim to represent, allow or enable individual choice and self-development. If liberalism insists that one does not have a right to choose to be unfree, it finds itself in the paradox or contradiction of "forcing people to be free", and it becomes structurally similar to those it opposes, losing its special status as a bearer of freedom. One could, for instance, defend Stalinism in the same way by classifying other systems as "unfree". If, on the other hand, it refuses to assert this, it loses the ability to prescribe general principles; although it could still defend the idea of protecting oneself or others from imposed choices, it could no longer defend institutions such as law, "the market" and centralised political institutions, which rely on the idea of a "shared" set of non-voluntary beliefs.

In Heller's case, she simply asserts both claims in successive paragraphs, as if there is no problem with their compatibility: '[m]odernity is based on freedom, yet... In freedom one can opt against freedom, one can freely choose unfreedom'; yet, '[w]hy do we [sic] - democrats, liberals - need to apologise for being absolutely convinced that the open possibility... is the treasure in the maze of modern life? Why do we shy away so often from simply saying 'no!' whenever this treasure becomes a select target...?". This is a simple self-contradiction. Either one has a right to choose unfreedom or one does not.

Both statements, in the form Heller gives them, are deeply problematic. In stating that '[m]odernity is based on freedom', Heller writes out of history the entire "hidden side" of capitalism: the exploitation of workers, the colonisation and oppression of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the growth of the discourses of exclusion of the "mad", the rise of the carceral, the spread of PR and other forms of manipulation and propaganda, the vast increase in states' repressive capacities, and so on. A selected reading of limited periods in the history of a handful of Northern states are turned into an essence which turns the overwhelming majority of the history of "modernity" - from the slave trade to Hitler, from contemporary China to McCarthyism, from the slaughter of the Native Americans to the spread of CCTV - into unfortunate exceptions of no theoretical importance. Further, it is not clear here what "modernity" is. This concept lacks a definite reference-point; it seems only to speak to other concepts. Is it a historical term? Does it refer to all contemporary societies, or only some? Is the statement that 'modernity is based on freedom' a truth-claim or a tautology, and if the latter, how does one establish that fundamentalism results from modernity? Around this unclear concept, Heller builds a speculative narrative which finally starts to raise the issue of causation - albeit inadequately. Fundamentalists, she claims, are reacting against Kant46. Are Kant's writings even available to many of those who become fundamentalists? Why is he not on their list of enemies, if he is such a target? This presumably is related to her earlier remarks that they are hiding from the "burden" of freedom, which is equally speculative and unfounded.

In her remark on why liberals feel the need to apologise for their own exclusions, she evades the answer she has already provided, in her statement that for liberals, freedom includes the freedom to choose unfreedom. She also ignores other problems. If one is a liberal and one asserts a right to arbitrarily "say 'no!' in an unsophisticated way", one becomes in effect no different from one's enemies, who one, as a liberal, condemns for "saying simply 'no!' in an unsophisticated way", i.e. for making exactly this kind of 'decisive', total and intransigent stand in the name of what they hold to be the "treasure" of the world. "Unsophisticated" decisionism is a dangerous ideological choice, because it is commonly a characteristic of populist and demagogic political movements47. Furthermore, such a form of argument contradicts the content - openness - which it is supposed to be defending. Heller's three maxims are all breached: one ceases to "think with [one's] own head", since one reacts 'instinctively' and dogmatically; one ceases to "think in place of the other", who is placed beyond understanding, on the far side of a "no!" and even a ban on discussion; and one ceases to "think consistently", since one at once advocates and renounces openness. It is via such devices that the ideological illusion of "the free world" can be constructed, even while the "freedom" within this world is being corroded.

Incidentally, as regards these three standards, it is important to realise that, as Marcuse48 and others show, the first and third are incompatible with capitalism, which rests on the institutionalised manipulation of beliefs and on statements in which the antithesis is reabsorbed in the thesis (most recently, "humanitarian militarism" and probably also "war against terrorism", since the methods used to wage this war are terroristic). Also, the three principles are not strictly compatible: the imperative to "think in place of the other" (13) involves entering self-alterity, thereby no longer thinking "with your own head" but rather, thinking from an impossible standpoint outside it.

Also, the principle "think in place of the other" is not emancipatory or inclusive towards each others, since it involves assuming others to have one's own modes of thought; at the extreme, it is substitutionist, since it leads to treating others as if they are superficially different versions of oneself. Since others' thought-processes are often very different to one's own, such a logic of empathy involves a de facto privileging of sameness and a denial and resultant repression of radical difference. I would hazard a guess that the mindset of the average western academic does not extend to being able to replicate the thought-processes of a schizophrenic, reproduce the "mood of fatalism" which often motivates 'crime'49, or understand what environmental destruction means for a nomadic group whose sense of identity does not distinguish the self from its environment, to take a few examples. As a result, these forms of otherness become incomprehensible; the practical result is that problems are not engaged with, they are swept under the carpet - locked up in prisons and asylums, left out of 'policy-making', etc. The result of this is oppression, not liberation, of actual others; the small increase in tolerance towards the very similar becomes a factor in reproducing this deeper-level repression-by-pseudoconsensus. Gaps between different ethical systems, and between different individual and social logics, are too great to be bridged by any consideration, whether cognitive or empathetic, which occurs exclusively within a belief-system, and a restricted one at that. Heller reproduces what Marcuse denounces as "repressive tolerance" - a right to be different, but one which is totally socially ineffective, since it does not extend to the excluded and requires the reproduction of a fixed form of imposed discourse.

Heller's account, which portrays totalitarianism not merely as conceptually denoting unfreedom but as a positive 'rejection of freedom' on the levels of causality, essence and function, suggests that she is attempting to construct a mythical account (in the Barthesian sense) of the origin of terrorism. She projects her own ethics onto phenomena by reconstructing them in terms of images which are intensional and operate primarily within her own narrative, not in the phenomena themselves. In a broader analysis of Heller's work, Simon Tormey argues that, in applications of her philosophy, '[n]ot only is everything likely to be left as it is, but the blame for leaving it this way is... left at the door of those who for lack of desire to grasp the "choice" contingency presents to them are unable to realize themselves as decent individuals'50. This may be a standpoint from which to denounce existing evils, but it is hardly an adequate means of constructing a better world.


Supporters of the 'west' in its 'war' against 'terrorism' would do well to remember the words of Wilhelm Reich: one cannot fight totalitarians with totalitarian methods. If one does, one may beat the fascists, but one will become just like them, and thereby destroy all hope of human freedom. 'Those who attempt to beat the mechanical automatons with their own methods will only jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, i.e., in their efforts to become more efficient scientific killers, they will transform themselves into mechanical automatons and perpetuate the process their opponents have set in motion. In such a case the last vestiges of all living hope for a different kind of human society, a permanently peaceful one, will vanish altogether'51. Sartre expresses the same principle in his play Altona: 'The beast was hiding, and suddenly we surprised his look... So we struck. Legitimate self-defence. A man fell, and in his dying eyes I saw the beast still living - myself. One and one make one'52. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker strikes down Darth Vader, only to find his own face (his "dark side") beneath the helmet. For too long, Islam has stood in for the Darth Vader figure in western politics, due to prejudice and geopolitics. But is 'the west' fighting an enemy, or its own shadow? Either way, in striking down its 'enemy' in the way it is, it risks becoming the monster it fears. The progressive demands often subsumed under the labels of "democracy" and "freedom" are at present no more than hopes - and the practice of the regimes that usurp these labels are at risk of destroying hope. The most urgent task today is not to denounce bin Laden along with nearly everyone else, but to take a stand for the hope of a better world against the western politicians and military apparatuses whose demagogy, retributive vindictiveness and inhumane methods amount to a concerted project to snuff out hope. Heller's response to the September 11th atrocity is ineffective as a way of advancing a humanist agenda because Heller is too little prepared to take a stand against the actions of western states. The struggle for a better world can only be waged, not through a "war against terrorism", but only in a struggle against this war.

1. This essay is a critique of Agnes Heller, "911, or, Modernity and Terror", Constellations 9:1 (2002), pp. 53-65. The author would like to thank Kuo-Cheng Huang, Caroline Hughes, Bissan Khadra, Susan McManus, Ming-Yeh Rawnsley and Simon Tormey for comments on earlier drafts, and the Institute for Asia-Pacific Studies at the University of Nottingham for providing the opportunity for this paper to be written.
2. Polyp, Big Bad World (Oxford:New Internationalist Publications, 2002), 91.
3. Adam Porter, "Aftermath", SchNews Yearbook (2002), 121.
4. Heller, "911", 53.
5. Three attacks, if one counts those in Bali and Kenya, although neither of these targeted the territory of western societies and the link between the Bali bombing and al-Qaeda is unclear to say the least.
6. Heller, "911", 53.
7. Heller, "911", 63.
8. Heller, "911", 56.
9. Heller, "911", 56.
10. Heller, "911", 58-9.
11. Heller, "911", 59.
12. Heller, "911", 61-2.
13. Heller, "911", 62-3.
14. Heller, "911", 63.
15. Heller, "911", 65.
16. Heller, "911", 57.
17. Heller, "911", 57.
18. Heller, "911", 63.
19. Heller, "911", 58; V.I. Lenin, **********
20. Adorno ******************************
21. Heller, "911", 65.
22. Heller, "911", 58.
23. Heller, "911", 64-5. Heller's anti-intellectualism is, however, inconsistent, since her criticism of Lenin is built around the idea that he preferred workers' action to intellectuals' deliberations.
24. Heller, "911", 64. If universities are 'training grounds for extremism', and the war on terror is to be a war against anyone who aids or shelters terrorists, then, to be consistent, Heller would have to support the extension of the war on terror to a generalised bombing of university campuses.
25. Heller, "911", 64.
26. Heller, "911", 56.
27. Heller, "911", 56. Heller's rebuttal of the "guilty America" argument is slippery, because she seems to assume that advocates of this perspective use it to justify (rather than explain or relativise) the September 11th attacks. However, she has already asserted that she intends only to argue with those who share her condemnation of the attacks. The very inclusion of "guilty America" arguments in the sphere of legitimate dissent suggests that Heller is well aware, despite her rhetoric, that these arguments are not necessarily an attempt to justify the attacks. However, her rubuttal depends on their constituting such an attempt.
28. Heller, "911", p. 52.
29. Heller, "911", p. 55.
30. Heller, "911", p. 56.
31. Heller, "911", p. 63. Heller uses similar arguments in two places in her argument. It is clear, however, that the meaning is different in each case. Although elsewhere there is an implication that fear of one's own leaders is the cause of obedience, in this case the fear which motivates faith is clearly identified as fear of external enemies.
32. Heller, "911", 55.
33. Heller, "911", 55.
34. Heller, "911", 55.
35. Saul Landau, The Guerrilla Wars of Central America (London:Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993), 58-9.
36. Heller, "911", 60.
37. Heller, "911", 56.
38. Noam Chomsky, 911 (New York:Seven Stories Press, 2001), 84-5. In her haste to portray America as a law-abiding state and its enemies as violators of international law, Heller ignores the important detail of America's resistance to the formation of an international court to try people accused of war crimes. Cases such as the intervention in Nicaragua make clear why this is the case.
39. Heller, "911", 56-7.
40. Heller, "911", 53.
41. Heller, "911", 57.
42. Donald Rooum, Wildcat ABC of Bosses (London:Freedom Press, 1991), 22.
43. David Matza, Delinquency and Drift (New York:John Wiley and Sons, 1964), 75-6.
44. Heller, "911", 62.
45. Heller, "911", 65.
46. Heller, "911", 65.
47. Herbert Marcuse, Negations (London:Free Association Books, 1988), 30-1.
48. Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (London:Routledge, 1991, originally 1964).
49. Matza, Delinquency and Drift, eg. 189.
50. Simon Tormey, "The Vicissitudes of 'Radical Centrism': The Case of Agnes Heller, Radical Centrist Avant la Lettre", Journal of Political Ideologies 3:2 (1998), 163.
51. Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (New York:Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976, originally 1946), 333.
52. Jean-Paul Sartre, Altona and Other Plays (Harmondsworth:Penguin 1962), 165.


This article is a critique and discourse analysis of Agnes Heller's essay "911, or, Modernity and Terror". The author criticises Heller's attachment to the "war on terror" and the agendas of western states. Her concept of "totalitarianism" is flawed and applied inaccurately, and her account of terrorism as a response to the freedom offered by modernity is excessively abstract and insufficiently supported. Also, her refusal to engage in causal analysis undermines her ability to explain the September 11th attacks, and renders invalid her critique of the "guilty America argument". The author also assesses the remarks on globalisation, American foreign policy and just war which Heller makes in the context of her article.


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