The Liberal Way of War Book Review: killing to Make Life Live Essay (Book Review)


The book “Liberal Way of War” was written by Dillon and Reid Foucault theorists of global security. The book is important as it tries to develop Foucault’s bio-political criticism of the “liberal way of war”. The authors also seek to explore the relationship between conception of bio-politics by Foucault and comprehension of international politics and peace in modern day.

First, they claim to Foucault for international age by developing his bio-political framework of analysis of bio-politics to theorize the “liberal way of war”.

They perform this by beginning with an inquiry of what happens to power and politics when it takes human life as its referent point. They then go on to ask what becomes to that bio-political regime of power thus established when the life it assumes as its referent object is informationalized (Dillon 149).

Understanding Liberal War

The book makes important reading for those trying to understand the shift from modernist or rationalistic discourses of global security to post-modern, post political international security.

It gives differing but important insights into the blurring of traditional categories of global politics, global law and understandings of war and politics. It draws out how war problems and interventions shape around protection, or securing, of life that has become dangerous, both to itself and to others.

The book suggests that advances in technology and the end of cold war have enabled liberal discourses of securing life to take new forms of control and strategic intervention at a global level. The authors provide governing interventions such as waging of war which have become bio-politicized. They also construct all behavior in adaptive terms that are emergent common to network centric doctrines.

This has caused intensification of liberal contrasts where war is waged to secure life; understood as under threats from complexities of globalized existence (Dillon 118). The book borrows more on conceptual framings taken from the work of Foucault, particularly his conceptualization of bio-politics.


Dillon and Reid explain how, in modern thoughts of rule and war, the issue of rights is reduced to an object of regulatory intervention. They are motivated by imbrications of liberal rule with purpose of enhancing human life.

For Dillon and Reid, bio-political is the way of politics and power which, considering human existence as its reference point circumscribes the aim of what it is to be a living being to policing, auditing, and augmentation of human properties (Dillon 29).

The difference between liberal way of war and general conceptualization of war today as a geo-strategic contestation is well articulated in the book. It considers territorial state as referent object. Liberalism in this context never fitted this model of current politics and today’s complication of war effectively (Dillon 83).

In other words, the authors define liberalism and liberal way of war as different from war in modern times. Liberal way of war means less to real wars and conflicts than to an abstract bio-political technique of crisis. This is defined as need to separate war from human life which derived from the way in which liberalism assumes human life as its reference object of bio-politics (Dillon.84).

In this framing, the self descriptions of the conflict by war proponents determine liberal nature of war. Examples provided include; liberal ideological constructions of the US on the cause of freedom during cold war conflict with USSR and leaders of US and British propagation of war on Iraq in the cause of humanity (Dillon 6). The book also concurs that war can be waged on other intentions than universal humanity (Dillon 84).


The authors’ claims to develop the work of Foucault and in addition extend his conception of bio-politics to the liberal way of war. Bio-politics, however, merely turns to be way of viewing the world which examines humanity as its starting point.

The sections dedicated to the effect of the sciences- of the transformation of biology, of cybernetics, complexity and the digital revolution, and of the revolution in military affairs. This highlight the deterministic and technicised frameworks through which bio-politics is grasped as expressed in “informationalization of life”.

The book explains that the “reduction of human existence to information and code become central to the contemporary expression of liberal bio-politics (Dillon 56), offering international liberal governance with a programmatic agenda of transforming life itself.

Human is reduced to bio-human and taken as a reflection of scientific and technological development that allows new insight on what life is; and how it should be governed and secured through war (Dillon 57).


In sum, this book offers a genealogy of ‘informationalisation of life’ which is deterministic (Dillon 52). It assumes that people live in a liberal world of rule and war. This, they say, can be assessed through development of bio-politics, a concept of Foucault.

In exploring Foucault’s concern with liberal ways of rule to an understanding of liberal ways of war, the book takes a body of historical work about changing political nature of liberal rule. It then goes on to transpose it into an essential understanding of liberal war (Dillon 53).

Work Cited

Dillon, Michael, and Reid Julian. The Liberal Way of War. London: Routledge. 2009.

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