There is no such thing as society beyond individualism and statism in international security studies

Margaret Thatcher was quoted as saying in 1987 that “there is no such thing as society.” That phrase made the political point that people should take care of themselves and their families and not look to government to do it. In other words, in that context, “society” was the same as “government”. If the State wishes to spend more it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more.

More than a third of a century later, but in a larger and less political context, it might be useful to ask ourselves whether there is, indeed, such a thing as society. The cohesion that is so vital for its existence seems to be weakening.

The celebrated philosopher of science Karl Popper argued that societies do not exist. He writes that: Even ‘the war’ or ‘the army’ are abstract concepts, strange as this may sound to some. What is concrete is the many who are killed; or the men and women in uniform, or civilians and children. But it is unlikely that some of today’s states leaders perceive this concrete.

The ‘public’ is not some beneficent god that can solve all your problems, it is you and your neighbors.

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