by Ian Loader and Neil Walker. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 314pp. Cloth. $85.00/£45.00. ISBN: 9780521871204. Paper. $29.99/£15.99. ISNB: 9780521691598. eBook format. $24.00. ISBN: 9780511282669.

Reviewed by Louis Fisher, Specialist in Constitutional Law, Law Library, Library of Congress. Lfisher [at] The views expressed here are personal, not institutional.


Ian Loader and Neil Walker explore the capacity of the state “to act as the pre-eminent guarantor of security to its citizens.” That model is eroded in part by conditions of globalization, failures on the part of states to anticipate and respond to terrorism, the growth of the private security industry, and the emerging role of non-state actors. Also, critics object that “under the cloak of a ‘war on terror’ governments are mobilizing and responding selectively to threats in ways that place hard-won democratic rights and principles in great peril.”

CIVILIZING SECURITY is designed to examine the idea of security. What does it mean for individuals “to be and feel secure”? Loader and Walker defend the principle that security is an “indispensable constituent of any good society” and that the democratic state has an essential role in furthering security. That duty is complicated by the existence of authoritarian regimes and non-state actors that are hostile to what is called the free world. The goal is not to have a completely secure environment, but a condition where that is “more rather than less likely.”

The concept of “civilizing security,” as embodied in the book’s title, is never fully clarified. Chapter 1 begins: “Our argument in this book is that security is a valuable public good, a constitutive ingredient of the good society, and that the democratic state has a necessary and virtuous role to play in the production of this good. The state, and in particular the forms of public policing governed by it, is, we shall argue, indispensable to the task of fostering and sustaining liveable political communities in the contemporary world. It is, in the words of our title, pivotal to the project of civilizing security.” Perhaps the reader is supposed to look at the words necessary, virtuous, and liveable to understand what is meant by civilizing.

The second paragraph attempts to illuminate the meaning of civilizing, but the guidance is difficult to follow. “By invoking this phrase [of civilizing security] we have in mind two ideas.” The first, “which is relatively familiar if not uncontroversial, is that security needs civilizing. States – even those that claim with some justification to be ‘liberal’ or ‘democratic’ – have a capacity when self-consciously pursuing a condition called ‘security’ to act in a fashion injurious to it.” Is that civilizing or un-civilizing? It would appear to be the latter. Modern states “possess a built-in, paradoxical tendency to undermine the very liberties and security they are constituted to protect.” Under conditions of fear, states “are prone to deploying their power in precisely such [*233] uncivil, insecurity-instilling ways.” The authors seem to flag state behavior that is antithetical to the goal of civilizing security. Yet they claim that the state “is a great civilizing force, a necessary and virtuous component of the good society.” In what way does a state fulfill that purpose?

Loader and Walker explain that the book’s title “has another, less familiar meaning – the idea that security is civilizing. Individuals who live, objectively or subjectively, in a state of anxiety do not make good democratic citizens, as European theorists reflecting upon the dark days of the 1930s and 1940s knew well.” Citizens who live in fear “lack openness or sympathy towards others, especially those they apprehend as posing a danger to them. They privilege the known over the unknown, us over them, here over there.” Fear becomes “the breeding ground” of authoritarian, uncivil government.” This passage is unclear. It is true that the conditions in Europe in the 1930s fostered Nazism and fascism, but the social and economic climate that led to authoritarian regimes in Germany, Italy, and Spain did not produce the same type of government in other European countries. Moreover, if “security is civilizing,” the governments in Germany, Italy, and Spain brought security (at a cost) and certainly did not yield what could be called a civilizing of their societies. The authors say that security is civilizing. It can equally be said that security is un-civilizing.

The book proceeds to argue that security “is simultaneously the producer and product of forms of trust and abstract solidarity between intimates and strangers that are prerequisite to democratic political communities.” German citizens were afraid of Communism. The Nazi regime brought them security from that threat. German citizens feared the unemployment and inflation of the 1920s and early 1930s. The Nazi regime produced prosperity. Security by itself does not yield a civilizing influence.

How much of this dilemma is recognized by the authors. They ask: “what is security? What does it mean to be or to feel secure?” They write extensively about that question but shed little light. They say that security “is, in an important sense, destined to remain beyond our grasp.” Does that mean that the concept of security cannot be understood or that the condition of security is always imperfect? Loader and Walker leave that point unclear.

Part of the reason behind the lack of clarity in pursuing these issues is the writing style of the authors. The reader is confronted by these words and phrases: “neo-liberal thematization,” “commodified,” the “ideational component,” “synchronic,” our “ideational/material/institutional triptych,” “dignitarian,” “sacralized domain,” “a cosmology of timeless hierarchy,” a “difference-blind ideal,” and attempts “to square the conceptual circle.” This kind of presentation might be understandable to some. Most readers will find it difficult to wade through these passages to find an underlying theme and purpose.

The conclusion of a book offers an opportunity to wrap up and clarify central arguments. The authors do not do it. In deciding not to issue “institutional wish lists,” Loader and [*234] Walker “would envisage an extension of our conception of anchored pluralism, now looking upwards to transnational society as well as outwards to civil and market society and downwards to substate society.” Their model is “pluralist in its principled and non-negotiable recognition, not least by states themselves, that there are two levels of abstract political community at which we can think of security as a thicker public good that are not reducible to one another but which need different registers of debate and institutional fora for their articulation.” Left open are “the large ‘reframing’ question of how to address and resolve the possible tensions between the ‘aggregative’ or convergent tendencies of proposals or approaches arrived at in the purely national and international discourse and fora, on the one hand, and the more transcendent proposals and approaches arrived at in regional and global fora, on the other.” Having referred to non-negotiable recognitions above, Loader and Walker conclude by referring to the existing tension “and the need for its negotiation.”

© Copyright 2008 by the author, Louis Fisher.