Into the “Hidden Abode of Production” of Endless War: The Social Relations of the Military-Industrial Complex and the End of U.S. Hegemony

Corey Payne, Johns Hopkins University

In the twenty-first century, U.S. wars have taken an ‘endless’ or ‘infinite’ character. While in the twentieth century the economic costs of warfare, the participation of workers and citizens, domestic public opinion, and international opposition served, to varying degrees, as checks on the length of war, the twenty-first century is characterized by the seemingly limitless expansion of militarism. This begs the question: What explains the lack of social, political, and economic constraints on the expansion of U.S. warfare in the twenty-first century? While existing explanations rightly emphasize both geopolitical dynamics and domestic social forces, this question demands a closer analysis of the arrangements, capacities, and contradictions of the U.S. war-making apparatus itself. Just as Marx sought the secrets of profit-making beyond the “noisy sphere” of circulation, if one is to seek out the secrets of war-making, it is also necessary to explore the “hidden abode of production”—in this case, the production of and for war. In short, the advancement of capital-intensive weaponry, the professionalization of the armed forces following the end of the draft, the expansion of private military companies, and globalization of war-materials production have meant that the political-economic arrangements of the military-industrial complex have undergone a striking transformation during the same period that the United States has dramatically expanded its militarism. Using mixed archival data, this paper argues that the reorganization of the military-industrial complex in the post-Vietnam era was instrumental in weakening constraints on U.S. militarism. This reorganization, which mirrored a broader ‘neoliberal project,’ has largely been successful in releasing U.S. militarism from constraints. However, this paper also argues that the contradictions of this reorganization have set the stage for the terminal crisis of U.S. hegemony by creating the conditions of a “protection racket” abroad and abandoning a social compact at home.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 39. U.S. Empire Reconsidered