Pirates, Anarchists, and Terrorists: Violence and the Boundaries of Sovereign Authority

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This study examines how states combat episodes of violence that pose an ontological threat to the state. Sovereignty is a bundle of practices that draw, maintain, and redraw boundaries around political authority, the state is the polity constructed by these boundaries. The boundaries can be physical such as a border between state or conceptual such as that between public and private. These boundaries create the `conceptual maps that state leaders use to make sense of the world. The threat posed by violent action is constructed by narratives. Revisionist narratives of violence, the focus of this study, are illegible to states using current conceptual maps and therefore cannot be defeated while they remain. States are forced to redraw the boundaries of sovereign authority in the course of combating these threats, resulting in a transformed state.

In my three cases - golden age piracy in the 18th century, anarchist `propagandists of the deed' at the turn of the 20th, and al Qaeda - I demonstrate that the state develops creative solutions to concrete crises. For instance, golden age pirates exploited a surfeit of ungoverned land and open markets in the early 18th century Atlantic to attack trade forcing colonial states to bring their Atlantic colonies into the domestic sphere and shift the sea into an open space. Similarly, the rise of the labor movement and the development fingerprint databases and the universal passport system were, in part, responses to the threat of anarchists propounding "propaganda of the deed" at the turn of the 20th century. Finally, counterterror innovations devised to combat al Qaeda, such as targeted killing and bulk data collection, have transformed borders from sites of exclusion designed to keep out undesirables to sites of collection where they are tracked and controlled. Each case demonstrates how states re-inscribe themselves by redrawing conceptual boundaries, such as between in order to make sense of an episode of revisionist and respond effectively.