Skip to comments.Our World-Historical Gamble
Posted on 03/16/2003 9:37:47 PM PST by Risa
Our World-Historical Gamble By Lee Harris 03/11/2003
Editor's note: The following is longer that the traditional TCS essay, but its timeliness and importance prompted us to break with tradition and publish such a lengthy feature this week. We encourage you to print the entire essay and read it at your convenience, or bookmark the article and return to it several times. We are confident the piece will challenge you and may change how you think about the coming conflict.
Of the many words written for and against the coming war with Iraq, none has been more perceptive than Paul Johnson's observation in his essay "Leviathan to the Rescue" that such a war "has no precedent in history" and that "in terms of presidential power and national sovereignty, Mr. Bush is walking into unknown territory. By comparison, the Gulf War of the 1990's was a straightforward, conventional case of unprovoked aggression, like Germany's invasion of Belgium in 1914 and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor." The implications of this remark - like the implications of the war with Iraq - are profound. The war with Iraq will constitute one of those momentous turning points of history in which one nation under the guidance of a strong-willed, self-confident leader undertakes to alter the fundamental state of the world. It is, to use the language of Hegel, an event that is world-historical in its significance and scope. And it will be world-historical, no matter what the outcome may be.
Such world-historical events, according to Hegel, are inherently sui generis - they break the mold and shatter tradition.
"The war with Iraq will constitute one of those momentous turning points of history."
But this is precisely the problem with trying to grasp such events - they are utterly without precedent, and this means that it is impossible to evaluate them prior to their actual accomplishment in historical actuality. Or, more precisely, it is impossible to evaluate them adequately, because the proper concepts for even describing the new situation have yet to be constructed. Such world-historical innovations transcend the conceptual categories of the old world, call into existence an entirely novel set of categories.
To see the truth of this remark, one need only reflect back to any previous world-historical transformation. How could one hope to explain nineteenth century nationalism to Voltaire? Or the French Revolution to St. Thomas Aquinas? You could try explaining by analogy, but any analogy would be apt to mislead as much, if not more, than to illuminate. But this is no less true in dealing with the world-historical changes that have not yet given birth to the new order of possibilities.
It is this fact that explains why all world-historical undertakings are inherently and irreducibly fraught with risk and uncertainty. Each one of them, by its very nature, is a crossing of the Rubicon, from which there is no turning back, but only a going forward - and a going forward into the unknown.
But it would be a terrible mistake to conclude that such gambles are reckless ventures. In fact, the whole point of a world-historical gamble is that it offers the only possible escape from the kind of historical impasse or deadlock in which the human race presently finds itself. It emerges out of a situation where mankind cannot simply stay put, where the counsels of caution and conservatism are no longer of any value, and where to do nothing at all is in fact to take an even greater risk than that contemplated by the world-historical gamble.
It is because this historical deadlock must be broken that the unavoidable conflict arises between the old order caught up in its impasse and the new order erupting through it. And, as Hegel observes, "It is precisely at this point that we encounter those great collisions between established and acknowledged duties, laws, and right, on the one hand, and new possibilities which conflict with the existing system and violate it or even destroy its very foundations and continued existence, on the other ." This fact explains why the old concepts and categories are of so little use in guiding us to an understanding of such transformative events, because the essence of the world-historical is the disclosure of new and hitherto unsuspected historical possibilities - it is their absolute novelty, their quality as epiphanies, that accounts for their inevitable collision with, and transcendence of, the old categories of understanding.
Today we are in the midst of this collision. It is the central fact of our historical epoch. It is this we must grasp. Unless we are prepared to look seriously at the true stakes involved in the Bush administration's coming world-historical gamble, we will grossly distort the significance of what is occurring by trying to make it fit into our own pre-fabricated and often grotesquely obsolete set of concepts. We will be like children trying to understand the world of adults with our own childish ideas, and we will miss the point of everything we see. This means that we must take a hard look at even our most basic vocabulary - and think twice before we rush to apply words like "empire" or "national self-interest" or "multi-lateralism" or "sovereignty" to a world in which they are no longer relevant. The only rule of thumb that can be unfailingly applied to world-historical transformations is this: None of our currently existing ideas and principles, concepts and categories, will fit the new historical state of affairs that will emerge out of the crisis. We can only be certain of our uncertainty.
2: THE SOURCE OF OUR UNCERTAINTY
This uncertainty underlies much of our current intellectual confusion. Since the events of 9/11 the policy debate in the United States has been primarily focused on a set of problems - radical Islam and the War on Terrorism, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. We feel that these are related problems, but we are not quite sure how. Superficially, of course, they are connected by Islam - and yet we are troubled to think that this could be the genuine source of the problems.
What unites all these issues, from our point of view, is that we do not seem able to get a handle on them. They elude us. Will the War on Iraq conflict with our goals in the War on Terror? Or will one help the other? And what about the Palestinians? If they are given a state of their own, will there be peace in the Middle East? Is there a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq? Will an attack on Iraq increase incidents of terror by Islamic radicals? How does it all connect? The debate takes many different forms and is approached from a variety of perspectives. But, with few exceptions, each side in this debate is working with a set of ethical and political concepts and categories that have been derived from an early historical era. For example, those who oppose action against Iraq often justify their position by an appeal to the Iraqi people's right to self-determination. On the other hand, those who argue that America should try to contain Iraq, or to deter it by sanctions, or even many of those who argue for a limited military intervention, justify their position on the principles of classical Realpolitik.
All of these positions are fatally undercut by the fact that they appeal to the outmoded conceptual categories of an earlier epoch - an epoch in which all the relevant actors in an international conflict were playing by the same basic rules. They were all nation states, each deploying a foreign policy - in both war and peace - that was designed to advance their own interests, where these interests could be easily predicted by the other actors in the conflict. An illuminating metaphor here is a game of chess between two equally skilled players: no matter how bitter the conflict between them, each can understand the rationale and motivation behind the other player's moves - and in fact, if the other player appears to make an irrational move, his opponent will be hesitant to conclude that the move was a mere mistake, and will be far more likely to suspect that it is a trap and act accordingly.
But what happens when you a playing chess with someone who refuses to accept the rules of the game? How do you respond if your opponent begins to jump his knight in all sorts of bizarre zigzag patterns, so that you cannot predict where he will land or what piece he will seize?
In a game of chess the answer is obvious: You stop playing with the madman and go your separate way. But this, unfortunately, is not an option in dealing with genuine conflicts arising in the real world. That is why the supposed realism expressed by the concept of Realpolitik can only be of value in a world comprised exclusively of rational actors.
This is what gives so much of the American public discussion of the present crisis an almost surreal air. For if we in fact lived in a world where concepts like self-determination and Realpolitik could be applied, there would be no crisis, since there would be no Saddam Hussein in Iraq, nor terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, nor conflicts like the Israeli-Palestine conflicts - for in such a world the players would all be limited to making rational calculations and pursuing predictable policies: their undesirable actions could be deterred through the traditional methods of deterrence, and there would be no fear that a player might suddenly undertake risks that any realist would know to avoid. Everyone could be counted on to consult his self-interest in a way that was generally recognized, even by his most bitter opponents, as realistic. For a sense of the realistic, unlike one's taste in music or physical beauty, is not a culturally specific construct, but transcends all such bounds. It embodies, so to speak, the fundamental rules of play between different cultures, even those cultures that, on other counts, may be bitterly opposed in any number of other ways.
But that precisely is the nature of the crisis we are facing. The liberal world system has collapsed internally: there is no longer a set of rules that govern all the players. And here I do not mean ethical rules, for that cannot be expected, but what Kant called maxims of prudence, those regulatory principles that enforce a realistic code of conduct on all the participants in a well-ordered system, and which allows us to know for a near certainty what the other players will not even conceive of doing. Such rules, once again, are trans-cultural, and must be trans-cultural if they are to permit all the players to participate in them. They constitute the precondition of any politically stable system, for without them there is the danger of cognitive anarchy - a situation in which no one can any longer predict with confidence what the others will do. And that is the gateway to disaster. For when you do not know what to expect, it becomes prudent to expect the worst; but when all expect the worst, the worst is bound to happen.
"The liberal world system has collapsed internally: there is no longer a set of rules that govern all the players."
This collapse of the well-ordered liberal system has come about exclusively from the side of the Islamic world. No other party has contributed to it. And the cause of this disruption is the lack of a sense of the realistic on the part of certain elements in the Islamic world. This is not a cultural judgment, but a fact - at least as much a fact as any such judgment can ever be. And this is the common thread that unites Iraq, Al Qaeda, and Palestinian terrorism.
Yet it would be to facile to reduce this lack of a sense of the realistic to some inherent flaw in Islam, either as a culture or a religion, or in Arabs as a race or as an ethnos. It arises from an altogether different source, and in order to understand the source of the problem, we need to go back to the writings of Karl Marx.
3: THE LESSON OF MARX
All previous threats in the history of mankind have had one element in common. They were posed by historical groups that had created by their own activity and with their own hands the weapons - both physical and cultural - that they used to threaten their enemies. In each case, the power that the historical group had at its disposal had been "earned" by them the hard way: they had invented and forged their instruments; they had disciplined and trained their own armies; they had created the social and economic structures that allowed the construction of their armies and navies; they had paid their own way.
In each of these cases, to use Marx's language, the society in question had achieved through their own labor and sacrifice the objective conditions of their military power. Their power to threaten others derived entirely from their own skill and genius. This, of course, is not to deny an amount of borrowing from earlier cultures, but in each case this borrowing was only the foundation upon which the affiliated culture proceeded to build its own unique structure, as evidenced, for example, by Japan's stunningly successful response to the Western challenge at the end of the nineteenth century - another vivid example of how a sense of the realistic can transcend cultural boundaries.
But the threat that currently faces us is radically different. It comes from groups who have utterly failed to create the material and objective conditions within their own societies sufficient to permit them to construct, out of their own resources, the kind of military organization and weaponry that has constituted every previous kind of threat. In the case of Al Qaeda, this is painfully evident, as V.S. Naipaul has observed: the only technical mastery displayed by the terrorists of 9/11 was the ability to hijack and to fly Jumbo airliners into extremely large buildings, neither of which they were capable of constructing themselves. But the same is true in the case of Saddam Hussein's Iraq: the money that funded both the creation of his conventional forces as well as his forays into devising weapons of mass destruction came not from the efforts of the Iraqi people, but from money paid by the West for the purchase of petroleum - natural resources that Iraq had done absolutely nothing to create or even to produce for sale.
Why does this matter? The answer to this question has been provided by Hegel in his Master/Slave dialectic in The Phenomenology of Spirit, and was subsequently taken up as a fundamental theme of Marx's own thinking.
When people are forced to create their own material world through their own labor, they are certainly not setting out to achieve a greater insight into the nature of reality - they are merely trying to feed themselves, and to provide their children with clothing and a roof over their heads. And yet, whether they will or no, they are also, at every step of the way, acquiring a keener grasp of the objective nature of world. A man who wishes to build his own home with his own hands must come to grips with the recalcitrant properties of wood and gravity: he must learn to discipline his own activities so that he is in fact able to achieve his end. He will come to see that certain things work and that others don't. He will realize that in order to have A, you must first make sure of B. He will be forced to develop a sense of the realistic - and this, once again, is a cultural constant, measured entirely by the ability of each particular culture to cope successfully with the specific challenge posed by the world it inhabits.
But all of this is lost on the man who simply pays another man to build his home for him. He is free to imagine his dream house, and to indulge in every kind of fantasy. The proper nature of the material need not concern him - gravity doesn't interest him. He makes the plans out of his head and expects them to be fulfilled at his whim.
If we look at the source of the Arab wealth we find it is nothing they created for themselves. It has come to them by magic, much like a story of the Arabian nights, and it allows them to live in a feudal fantasyland.
What Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have in common is that they became rich because the West paid them for natural resources that the West could simply have taken from them at will, and without so much as a Thank You, if the West had been inclined to do so. They were, by one of the bitter paradoxes of history, the pre-eminent beneficiaries of the Western liberalism that they have pledged themselves to destroy. Their power derives entirely from the fact that the West had committed itself, in the aftermath of World War II, to a policy of not robbing other societies of their natural resources simply because it possessed the military might to do so - nor does it matter whether the West followed this policy out of charitable instinct, or out of prudence, or out of a cynical awareness that it was more cost effective to do so. All that really matters is the quite unintended consequence of the West's conduct: the prodigious funding of fantasists who are thereby enabled to pursue their demented agendas unencumbered by any realistic calculation of the risks or costs of their action.
And here we have one of the deepest contradictions of the liberal system of national self-determination. A world has been virtually achieved where each nation state is an inviolable entity, its borders protected by an international consensus, and the benefits of such a system are so obvious that there is no need to enumerate them.
"What Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have in common is that they became rich because the West paid them for natural resources that the West could simply have taken from them at will."
And yet it is precisely here that the problem arises, through what Hegel called a dialectical reversal-a reversal that comes about because it is contained within the liberal world system is an internal contradiction. In this case, it is the contradiction between principle of national self-determination and the reality of weapons of mass destruction (WMD's)-for if the consistent application of this principle permits each and every nation to develop WMD's, then, sooner or later, the liberal world order will literally go up in smoke. In other words, the principle of national self-determination, like every other ideal, has unintended consequences - and it is to these that we must now turn our attention.
4: THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF THE LIBERAL WORLD ORDER
If the existence of a nation state is guaranteed by some external authority - whether by the United Nations or the United States - then it means that one of the chief incentives to a realistic policy, both domestic and foreign, has been removed from play.
To see this, think back to the old chaotic world in which the law of the jungle operated: here, if a state pursued a domestic or a foreign policy that was too grossly unrealistic, it would inevitably pay the price for doing so - it would be invaded, or annexed, or partitioned. And this meant that the price of any nation state's survival was the cultivation of a heightened sense of realism.
But this is no longer the case. Indeed, the current international arrangement might be compared to an economic system in which each business enterprise was assured of not going broke by a guarantee of a government subsidy in the face of financial insolvency. Would such a system be inclined to produce hard-nosed realism among the operators of these business enterprises, or would it rather induce them to pay less attention to the complaints of their customers, or the innovations of their competitors? And which kind of company would you prefer to work for? Or buy a product from?
The principle of self-determination in a world of perpetual peace may not in fact be the panacea for mankind's ills, but rather a means for prolonging these ills unnecessarily, by sanctioning a status quo of despotism and tyranny, by virtually underwriting the brutal caprice of petty dictators and by furthering the fantasies of ruthless fanatics. Self-determination at the level of the nation state may entail complete loss of freedom and dignity at the level of the individual - and all in the name of liberalism.
"The principle of self-determination in a world of perpetual peace may not in fact be the panacea for mankind's ills."
Nor can this issue be addressed by any kind of multi-lateral organization such as the United Nations - for it is unlikely that a league of small nation states will act in concert to liquidate a system of which they are the chief beneficiaries. It would be easier to imagine businessmen in our imaginary economic system voting to strip themselves of their subsidies. It will not happen, and it is utopian to think that it will.
And yet the blind trust in the sacred principle of national self-determination seemingly cannot be shaken in certain quarters. In September 2002, Richard Butler, the Chief Arms Inspector of the United Nations, berated the USA for its "double standard" in wishing to oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons to any nation state that wanted them. What blessing does he believe that the United States is trying to deny to smaller nations? Is he thinking about the citizens of those nations who will have to foot the bill for such fantasy projects? Or those who will likely die if the U.S. decides to abandon its "double standard?" Or the state of the world that would result from such an abandonment?
Can anything make clearer that intelligent men of our time are stuck with grotesquely outmoded concepts and categories?
That, indeed, is a measure of the immensity of the challenge that we are facing today: we simply lack the concepts and categories to make sense of it, and must continually fall back on those that, while once serviceable, have long since ceased to be so, and have all too frequently become sources of confusion, perplexity, and contradiction.
5: THE END OF CLASSICAL SOVEREIGNTY
In order to respond to our present crisis, we must begin by realizing that both the "liberal" concept of national self-determination and the "conservative" one of Realpolitik are no longer adequate to the historical actuality that is unfolding before our eyes. And they are obsolete for the same reason: the epoch of history governed by the principle of classical sovereignty is in the process of dissolution.
Classical sovereignty is the basis of the classical nation state. Its defining characteristic is the de facto achievement of a monopoly of physical force under the control of a single central authority. This means that it is not enough merely to have a monopoly of legitimate force - for if there is enough outstanding illegitimate force, then the state dissolves back into the anarchic condition symbolized by the rule of warlords, in which case the so-called legitimate state is merely one of several contenders for the prize of genuine authority. In other words, what makes the state legitimate is its actual monopoly of violence; and this means it is not enough to declare your internal enemies illegal; you must in fact be able to vanquish and crush them. You must be able, in short, to rule alone, in fact as well as in theory.
But with the achievement of the classical nation state one historical threat was put to rest and another emerged. For the classical nation state was itself an instrument of enormous power - just how enormous would require centuries to discern.
"...what makes the state legitimate is its actual monopoly of violence; and this means it is not enough to declare your internal enemies illegal; you must in fact be able to vanquish and crush them. "
With the coming of the classical nation state there was an abrupt change in the rules of the game: if a society wished to compete against an efficiently centralized state, it, too, would have to become efficiently centralized. This was the lesson the Kingdom of Poland learned the hard way at the end of the eighteenth century. Unable to relinquish the near anarchy that constituted Poland's "golden freedom," the Polish parliament could not resist the pressure of the highly centralized autocratic states that surrounded it, and was helpless to prevent the series of partitions that ended Poland's existence as an independent and sovereign state.
It was with the advent of the nation state that the rules of the game, in terms of conflict between societies, took on the characteristic form of Clausewitzian war - the historical form that conflict takes when it erupts between two or more different classical nation states. It is war carried out as the policy of a central organized command; and, as such, it is rational in its design and instrumental in its purpose - this purpose being to change the behavior of other classical nation states in a desired direction.
The basic terms of Clausewitzian warfare, in other words, are simply a logical consequence of the principle of classical sovereignty: for only a unified entity such as the classical state can be said to have a policy in the first place, since a policy is a conscious articulation of a coherent set of aims - something quite beyond the reach of a barbarian horde or a mere aggregate of contentious warlords.
But during the last half of the twentieth century, the concept of the classical nation state has been replaced, without anyone seeming to notice this fact, by a radically different concept, though one that shares the same term: it is what might best be called the honorific concept of the state.
How has this change come about? Because of the very success of the liberal world order in the later part of the twentieth century. It is precisely through the triumph of the Pax Americana that the substantive content of the term "state" has been imperceptibly subverted and transformed out of all recognition. The state, as this term is now used, is no longer restricted to a political entity that can in fact defend itself against all comers, and that exists as a viable unit in defiance of those who would absorb or annex it; the state is no longer at the center of a continual struggle for its independent survival in a world full of hostile forces, where a failure to face up to the imperatives of reality spells social death, as in the case of the Kingdom of Poland or the American Confederacy. It is now, instead, something very different: an entity called into being by the formal recognition of the international community. This purely honorific sense of the term "state" is reflected in the assertion, for example, that the Palestinian people "deserve" their own state. Such language makes completely clear that we are no longer even talking about the same thing. Gladstone, for example, in his famous blunder during the Civil War, when he came close to formally recognizing the Confederacy as an independent Nation, did not think he was conferring an honorary status on it, but simply acknowledging a brute and existential fact - that the Confederacy, by its own struggle and sacrifice, had de facto become a genuine state. He was wrong in fact, but right in principle - at least, from the perspective of the classical state.
There is, of course, nothing to keep one from applying the purely honorific title of "state" to the Palestinians, for example, just as the English are perfectly entitled to dub a popular singer a Knight, though it would be dangerous to rely on him to defend the realm. But merely to call the Palestinian community a "state" does not and cannot transform it into a viable subsistent entity if those who govern and decide its course are utterly lacking in a sense of what is realistically available to them. And nothing highlights this more than the official explanation, on the part of Palestinian spokesmen, for those acts of terrorism committed by the suicide-bombers, the assertion that these are acts of war. For the bitter truth is that if the Palestinian people were indeed a genuine state fighting a genuine war, they would have long since been annihilated root and branch - or else they would have been forced to make a realistic accommodation with the state of Israel, based on a just assessment of the latter's immense superiority of resources, both military and political. And the reason for this superiority, by a paradox typical of history, is not American aid or funding, but the fact that the state of Israel has been forced to struggle for every moment of its existence from the very day of its birth - and it is this struggle that has made them into what no assembly of nations can ever bestow - a viable state. And unless the Palestinians as a people can set aside their fantasies of pushing a vastly superior enemy into the sea, instead of seeking out a realistic modus vivendi with him, they may demand a state, and even be "recognized" as a state. But it will exist as a viable entity only by virtue of the liberal conscience - and seemingly inexhaustible forbearance - of the Israeli people.
But in this the Palestinians are not alone. It is a common feature of much of the Arab world to entertain the illusion of viability. In a world that had abandoned the liberal system, they would have long been extirpated, or else - a far happier and more probable outcome - they would have rapidly shed their delusions for a more realistic manner of proceeding.
This gives a sense of Greek tragedy, with its dialectic of hubris and nemesis, to what has been unfolding in the Islamic world. If they continue to use terror against the West, their very success will destroy them. If they succeed in terrorizing the West, they will discover that they have in fact only ended by brutalizing it. And if subjected to enough stress, the liberal system will be set aside and the Hobbesian world will return - and with its return, the Islamic world will be crushed. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. And the only way to avoid this horrendous end is to bring the Islamic world back to sanity sooner rather than latter.
Nothing but force can break them from their illusion. Not because there is something wrong with them as a race, but simply because they are acting like any other individual who has been permitted to live in a dream world - they continue to fantasize. And who can blame them? It is only brute fact that shakes any of us from the single most cherished of our illusions - the myth of our own grandeur and omnipotence. And this is as true of a culture as of an individual.
6: THE THREAT OF A "ROGUE" NUCLEAR STRIKE
The greatest threat facing us - and one of the greatest ever to threaten mankind - is the collision of this collective fantasy world of Islam with the horrendous reality of weapons of mass destruction.
For weapons of mass destruction are unlike any other previous kind of physical threat.
The capacity of a nation state to threaten another, prior to the advent of nuclear weaponry, depended on its mastery of an enormous number of diverse circumstances. It had to be internally united; it had to have economic strength; it had to possess an abundant, and not easily threatened, supply of necessary natural resources; it had to have a military tradition that instilled a fighting spirit into its troops; it had to have an efficient system of transportation; it needed to have a clear cut and reliable chain of command; it needed to have a substantial base of technological expertise; it required a settled tradition of authoritative command. In other words, a society's capacity to threaten depended on its successful coping with its own internal and external challenges.
But a stockpile of nuclear weapons will remain a threat even when those who originally put them together have long vanished. The example of the former Soviet Union is a clear cut case of this. Here a social order, no more viable than the Kingdom of Poland, has perished, and yet its weapons of mass destruction linger on.
We now live in a world in which a state so marginal that it would be utterly incapable of mounting any kind of credible conventional threat to its neighbors or to anyone else - a state unable to field a single battalion or man a single warship, and whose level of technological sophistication may be generally so low that it would be incapable of providing for itself even the most elementary staples of modernity - such a state could still make a devastating use of a nuclear weapon that literally chanced to come into its hands.
The procedure would be simplicity itself. Such a state figures out a covert method by which it detonates a nuclear device, and then simply fails to claim the act as its policy. For why, after all, may not a state act covertly, without declaring an attack to be official policy? After all, isn't this covered by the right to self-determination? Who are we to tell another country what kind of covert policy it may operate on the side?
Before 9/11 the first question that an intelligent person would think upon hearing such a scenario is why on earth would anyone want to do such a thing. But it is no longer our first question. Our first question is who will do it first? And that is the difference 9/11 made.
Like 9/11, this kind of attack would have no Clausewitzian justification - indeed, from a realistic point of view it can serve no purpose. But the same is most emphatically not true if those who chose to use nuclear devices were merely acting out of a fantasy ideology: for in this case, the act of violence need possess only a magical or fantasy significance to the perpetrator in order to motivate him to perform it. It need not bring him any other goal than the sense of achievement in having brought it off.
And beyond this, there is even a danger of rogue states, unable to maintain their domestic viability, degenerating into being merely front organizations for the social force of radical Islam, much as occurred in Afghanistan under the Taliban. In such a scenario the forces of radical Islam - having become the true focus of loyalty - could play a kind of shell game with the West, making use of the state's convenient façade of legality in order to bring about its own purposes. It would accept the rules of the international liberal system, represented, for example, by the UN, in order to destroy the viability of this system. It would be doing, in effect, precisely what the Nazi Party did with the Weimar parliamentary system: it would force it into a deadlock, in order to destroy it.
"...there is even a danger of rogue states, unable to maintain their domestic viability, degenerating into being merely front organizations for the social force of radical Islam."
This is one of the dangers inherent in a fantasy ideology: it forms the primary group identity of its adherents, cutting across and annihilating other group loyalties, so that one is a Nazi before being a German and a true believer in radical Islam before being a Pakistani or a Saudi or an Egyptian. The fantasy ideology is the underlying reality, of which this or that state regime becomes merely an epiphenomenon, a formal and legal cover to conceal the machinations of the Party - in this case, the Party of radical Islam. And again this finds a parallel in Nazism, which, as a fantasy ideology, transcended the international convention of merely legal borders, and whose constant justifying principle was precisely the sacred principle of self-determination.
If we are to understand the measure of the present threat that we must realize that we are not fighting a Clausewitzian war, and there are immense dangers ahead of us if we do not squarely face the implications of this fact: they are not playing by the same rules of realism that we are. And it is this that renders so much public debate so historically dated.
The motivations of those who want to murder us are not complicated: To watch an American city go up into a fireball is its own reward.
This is the lesson that 9/11 should teach us in dealing with the fantasists of the Islamic world. A fantasy does not need to make any sense - that is the whole point of having one.
In dealing with the Japanese or with the Soviet Union, we were never forced to wonder whether they might delegate their actions to such utterly informal and irresponsible entities as Al Qaeda. The threat they posed they posed in their own right, and hence they were accountable for their actions, and knew that we would hold them accountable. But this is no longer the case. For example, even today, over a year later, there is still debate about the possible connection between Iraq and the events of 9/11 - a debate that may well never be resolved. And this means that if a nuclear device were to be detonated in downtown Chicago tomorrow, from an unknown source, could we really count on being able to find its "return address" if in fact it was the work of a "rogue" state? We know that, in fact, the answer is no; and we know that "they" know this as well; and they know we know - all of which only begins to suggest the surrealism that is characteristic of the crisis with which we are faced. For it means that if they chose to delegate such a horrendous act to an entity like Al Qaeda, they would force us into an impossible choice: Either we accept such an attack without retaliating, or else we are forced to lash out blindly - and in the same spirit of blood feud and vendetta with which the attack was made. And either choice transcends our present categories of comprehension.
"...they are not playing by the same rules of realism that we are. And it is this that renders so much public debate so historically dated."
The first "rogue" nuclear strike - a strike from an unknown and even unknowable source - is a genie that once out of the bottle can never be put back in. It would cause an overnight catastrophic transformation of the world. In many ways we must be grateful that Al Qaeda's fingerprints were over all 9-11. For what if we had had no clue - even today - who had perpetrated such an act?
7: CUTTING THE GORDIAN KNOT
Here we have the heart of our historical impasse, and the only way out of it is to cut the Gordian knot. And this is precisely what the current United States administration has elected to do, beginning with its post-9/11 declaration of the Bush doctrine which unapologetically asserts that states sponsoring terrorism are legitimate targets - the first of the basic, and vital, negations of the concept of national self-determination.
This doctrine, however, can be only coherently implemented if the U.S. is prepare to negate the other basic principle of the liberal world order, the refusal to use unilateral force, except in those cases of the "straightforward, conventional unprovoked aggression." And this next logical step was taken by the present administration in its declaration of the policy of the pre-emptive strike.
But this in turn, if it is to be carried through coherently, necessitates yet a final negation of the principle of the right of national self-determination: the U.S. must be willing to discard the Clausewitzian goal of making another nation state merely fulfill its political will. It must in fact be prepared to dismantle and reconstruct the other state, if, like Iraq, its behavior poses a threat to the general international system.
This limited negation of the principle of national self-determination, however, does not mean an abandonment of the liberal world order. On the contrary, it is the only way of saving this order from its own internal contradictions. And let there be no doubt about it. If we permit every honorific state to pursue the acquisition of WMD under the cover of national self-determination, this will spell the end of the liberal world order as we now know it, and will mark a steep descent into a Hobbesian world of nightmarish proportions.
This is the problem: We must preserve what is still viable in the old concept of classical sovereignty, and yet we must not allow the unrestricted principle of national self-determination to permit the destruction of the liberal world order. How do we achieve this goal?
There is only one solution, and that is for the United States to consciously adopt a policy of what might be tentatively called neo-sovereignty.
At the heart of the dialectically emergent concept of neo-sovereignty is precisely the double standard that Mr. Butler denounced - a double standard imposed by the U.S. on the rest of the world, whereby the U.S. can unilaterally decide to act, if need be, to override and even to cancel the existence of any state regime that proposes to develop WMD, especially in those cases where the state regime in question has demonstrated its dangerous lack of a sense of the realistic.
What the critics of this policy fail to see is the simple and obvious fact that if any social order is to achieve stability there must be, at the heart of it, a double standard governing the use of violence and force. There must be one agent who is permitted to use force against other agents who are not permitted to use force. The implementation of the fashionable myth that all violence is equally immoral and reprehensible would inevitably result, in a typical dialectical reversal, in the Hobbesian state of universal war.
Every civilized order, precisely in so far as it is a civilized order, relies on such a double standard. The only alternative to this is the frank and candid acceptance of anarchy, the state in which all recourse to violence is equally legitimate. But what Mr. Butler and others fail to realize is that anarchy with clubs and sticks is a much preferable to anarchy with nuclear weapons.
But if this double standard is necessary to avoid inevitable historical catastrophe, it is equally necessary that this standard be imposed by an agent who has the will and the force to do so. Only the United States that can fill this role. It has the force to do so, and it alone has the ability to act alone. A double standard, by its very nature, cannot be imposed by a multi-lateral body; else it quickly ceases to be a double standard.
But this is one of those areas where the habitual reliance on our old concepts can be dangerous. To invoke antiquated concepts like Empire to describe this new stage in world-history is sheer anachronism. For this overlooks a number of critical distinctions.
"...if any social order is to achieve stability there must be, at the heart of it, a double standard governing the use of violence and force. There must be one agent who is permitted to use force against other agents who are not permitted to use force."
An empire acts to insure its own self-interest. But, in this case, the U.S. is rather acting as an agent for the interests of others at precisely the same time it is acting to insure its own national interests. Indeed, this is what Hegel meant by the cunning of reason. No matter how cynically one might choose to view American motives, what matters, at the world-historical level, is the objective consequence. Interpret America's true motives as cynically as you please - let it be the defense of the interest of big business in the stability of world markets - it makes no difference. What counts in the long run is the kind of world that arises out of this subjective intent. And this is where the enormous difference between the obsolete concept of empire and that of the emergent neo-sovereignty becomes strikingly clear. For in its role as neo-sovereign the United States, in pursuing its selfish policy, is also forced to increase the general level of security throughout the world.
First, by closing the nuclear club to any new members, it acts to secure the monopoly of those states that are already members in good-standing of this club. Hence the U.S. is defending its interests as much as its own.
Second, by closing the nuclear club, it takes away one of the main incentives to enter into this club, namely, the fear that your neighbor will get there before you do. Would India and Pakistan have been worse off if such a double standard had been applied to them? And this fear would become endemic in a world in which every state, no manner how marginal, was developing weapons.
And, third, the principle of neo-sovereignty is strictly limited to a monopoly of violence above a certain threshold, namely, the threshold created by weapons of mass destruction. It will only be viable if the U.S. scrupulously refuses to intervene in the self-determination of any state except for the purposes of maintaining the double standards in respect of nuclear weapons. Indeed, neo-sovereignty is entirely compatible with less, rather than more, U.S. involvement in matters like the internal disputes of the Balkans.
These enormous transformations of the world system must be recognized, both by their defenders and their critics, as genuinely world-historical in the full sense of this term. But the critics, if they are to be responsible, must do more than merely apply outmoded labels to the newly emergent possibilities - they must suggest others that realistically grapple with the impasse the world is facing, and with the consequences of failing to act at this time, when it is still possible to prevent the kind of nightmare scenarios that we have explored. They, too, have the intellectual duty to think the unthinkable.
8: BEYOND CLAUSEWITZ
The modern liberal world system has permitted the growth of power in the hands of those who have not had to cope with reality in order to acquire this power: it has simply been given to them, out of the sense of fair play prevalent among Western liberal societies. Iraq was paid for its oil, which in return paid for its weapons - and both were produced by us, to be used against us. But this, tragically, has had the unintended consequence of diminishing the value of the sense of the realistic in the eyes of those who have thus acquired their power and wealth - a fact just as much in evidence in the behavior of Saudi Arabia as in that of Iraq. It is the re-enactment, on a world-historical scale, of what has been done by many well-meaning Americans in the case of their own children - by giving them so much, we have robbed them of that indispensable sense of the realistic that can only be achieved by the head-on collisions with the irremovable object called the real world. We have nourished their fantasies, instead of forcing them to face the facts of life. And in doing so, we have done no one any service - least of all, the hapless multitude of impoverished human beings who have themselves derived no benefit whatsoever from the West's fair play, and whose children's lives will continue to be wasted in the counter-productive pursuit of their leaders' delusional dreams.
The greatest danger, however, arises from the coalescing of these delusional dreams into the fantasy ideology of radical Islam, the essence of which is that the West must be destroyed. For what this fantasy ideology seeks to accomplish is the abrogation of liberal modernity, and its greatest symbol, the United States of America. And this means that its "war aims" cannot be reduced to Clausewitzian terms: for the fantasy ideology of radical Islam does not want the West to fulfill its will, but to cease to exist. And to achieve this end, any historical catastrophe will do.
This is where we must move beyond Clausewitz. For how do you fight an enemy whose goal is simply to create a world-historical disaster that will annihilate the current world order in its entirety? This is not the traditional politics of the classical nation state, but the apocalyptic politics of fantasists. And as such it constitutes a threat that cannot be contained simply because it acknowledges no borders within which it could be contained. And in precisely the same way, it too recognizes no limits to the kind of acts that it will undertake: anything will do that promotes the breakdown of the West.
But if this thesis is correct, then at least it provides us with a criterion for measuring the success of any action on our part, whether this be in our war on terrorism or in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The criterion is, Does our action tend to make the Islamic fantasist more or less realistic in their assessment of the world? Success comes when we have created a higher degree of pragmatic realism on their part; failure comes when we have simply encouraged them in their fantasies.
And judged by this criterion, much of American policy toward the Islamic fantasists has been a signal departure from the American tradition of realism. For so much of our policy, from the Iran hostage crisis up until the events of 9/11 have almost been designed to encourage the growth of fantasy thinking among the most dangerous social forces in the Islamic world. Their policy has been to make us fear them through displays of force, whether in taking the staff of our embassy hostage or by flying airplanes into our buildings. And we have given our enemy the ultimate satisfaction - we have shown we are afraid. We have displayed how much their acts have devastated us, and our grief has provided a sickening opportunity for Schadenfreude on the part of far too much of the Islamic world. We must learn not only to exact a price for those who murder our citizens - but for those who, though technically innocent of the crime, dance in the streets to celebrate its consequences. This thirst for the indulgence of bloody fantasies at our expense must be brought to an end by whatever means it takes. Indeed, in the long run the greatest danger we face comes not from the terrorists of today, but those being bred for tomorrow - the children who are being inducted and brainwashed into the terror cult that is at the heart of the fantasy ideology of Islamism.
"...for the fantasy ideology of radical Islam does not want the West to fulfill its will, but to cease to exist. And to achieve this end, any historical catastrophe will do."
The use of this criterion also allows us to pass a sobering, if retrospective, judgment on the first Gulf War. By Clausewitzian standards, it was an unparalleled victory: we got the enemy to fulfill our will - at least, temporarily. But in terms of increasing Saddam Hussein's sense of the realistic, it had the exact opposite effect. By surviving such a stupendously orchestrated attack, Saddam Hussein was encouraged to indulge his fantasy of invulnerability - he proved his fantasies of omnipotence by merely surviving.
But it is equally critical that we are not misled into trying to win the hearts and minds of the Islamic fantasists. We must not set about trying to convert them in believing in our principles and accepting our values, however noble and lofty these values might be. Nor must we be seduced into believing that we are in a popularity contest, as if we were trying to sell Western values as if it were a consumer product. If it should happen to come about that these values make inroads in the Islamic world, fine and good. But it must not became our aim.
Our aim is simple. It is to make the Islamic fantasists respect the dictates of reality. If they wish to compete with us, if they wish even to be our enemies, we will accept that, as we accepted this situation with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But they must be made to accept the basic rules of play - rules that are accepted by the rest of mankind, from the U.S. to Communist China.
And that is why, in order to achieve our end of heightening their grasp on reality, no means should be ruled out. We must be prepared to use force "unstintingly," as Woodrow Wilson declared on America's reluctant entry into World War I. On this count, we must have no illusions. Until they are willing to play by our rules, we must be prepared to play by theirs.
The irony of Richard Butler's attack on America's "double standard" is that we have in fact practiced a double standard, but not the one that he had in mind in his critique of American policy. Our double standard has been one in which we allow others to attack us out of blind hatred, animated by the barbarous principles of the vendetta or blood feud, while we, on our part, strive in every way to minimize any unnecessary loss of enemy life, even at the risk of endangering our own. They murder innocent Americans in the pursuit of their wretched fantasies, simply because of who we are, while we refrain even from subjecting them to airport searches, out of fear of making them feel unwelcome in our society.
If we are to teach others a sense of the realistic, it is imperative that we not lose our own. We must not let our noble ideals betray us into betraying our very ideals. The only way that these ideals will find a place in the world of tomorrow is if we are prepared to defend them today - and to defend them at whatever cost is required.
But perhaps our greatest challenge will be to our own thinking. We must take a hard look at every idea we hold dear and ask, Does this idea even fit any more? And does it any longer make sense to speak of conservatives in a world in which a catastrophic change of some kind looms, or liberals when it is the core liberal values of all of us - even the most conservative - that are being threatened?
Once the world-historical magnitude of the risk is understood, it is possible for men of good will to differ profoundly over the wisdom of this or that particular response - and not only possible, but necessary. But this must be done in a climate free of pettiness and personalities: the cult of naïve cynicism - that oxymoron that characterizes so much of what passes today for intellectual sophistication - must be dismantled and as soon as possible if we are to make our response as intelligent and as creative as it must and can be. To call prudence appeasement is wrong. But to call the United States' response a bid for empire is simply silly.
No one's crystal ball is in such good shape that they can afford to be too vehement in denouncing those who disagree with them. Fear and trembling is the first order of the day, both on the part of those who counsel action and those who do not.
Copyright © 2003 Tech Central Station Tech Central Station - www.techcentralstation.com
has no precedent in history
anyone who has ever punched out a schoolyard bully
for picking on others, set the precedent...
it's as natural to humanity as breathing....imo
A great deal of blather for such incorrect assumptions...
The basic problem is that the allies of Saddam do not accept his obvious non-decision to disarm as a threat to the world. Forget the millions he's already responsible for killing, the allies of Saddam --France, Germany, Russia, and China-- know that the problem with passing these resolutions is Saddam has not concluded to disarm voluntarily ... he still holds weapons he agreed to destroy at the close of the Gulf War, as condition of the cease-fire he signed to save his evil ass from extinction in 1991.
As the President and his staff have repeatedly pointed out, it is not difficult to recognize the decision to disarm, we've seen countries do it. Saddam has never decided to disarm and until someone takes the country and disarms it, the allies of Saddam will continue to run interference for him so that he may continue to possess and produce weapons of mass destruction for farming out to terrorists. Iraq is a terrorist sponsoring state. His allies are aiding and abetting his continued terrorism sponsorship ... because these same countries are selling him the materials he desires to develop on-going weapons programs! That is the reality of what France, Germany, and Russia are seeking to accomplish, for they aid in our destruction as Saddam's allies against Saddam's chosen enemies. Period.
This is a great article.
The Islamists have had 24 years to develop their fantasies of the Caliphate and the Ummah, and that they can and must destroy the West.
Now we must beat them into submission and the recognition of reality.