- Issue 3 - April 2015, Volume 42

The Future as a Concept in National Security Law

Article by: Mary L. Dudziak

42 PEPP. L. REV. 591 (2015)

With their focus on the future of national security law, the essays in this issue share a common premise: the future matters to legal policy, and the law must take the future into account. But what is this future? And what conception of the future do national security lawyers have in mind?

The future is, in an absolute sense, unknowable. Absent a time machine, we cannot directly experience it. Yet human action is premised on ideas about the future, political scientist Harold Lasswell wrote in his classic work, The Garrison State. The ideas about the future that guide social scientific work are rational predictions, he suggested.

If law is premised on ideas about something unknowable, something that can, at best, be a prediction, then it seems important to examine what those ideas, assumptions, and predictions are. This Essay examines future-thinking in prominent works related to national security, including the ideas that the future is “peacetime,” a “long war,” a “next attack,” and a “postwar.” Drawing from scholarship on historical memory and conceptions of temporality, this Essay argues that understandings of the future depend on more than the rational empirical predictions that Lasswell had in mind. The future is a cultural construct that depends, in part, on the way we remember the past. It does not exist apart from the politics and values that inform our perceptions. The future does not unfold on its own. We produce our future through both our acts and our imaginations. Culture matters deeply in this context, for the future we imagine is a well-spring of law.

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