Here Is Humanity! I: There Will Always Be Shit, A History Boy, 09/09/2016

Check the introduction to this series here: Humanity Is Gone! – Here Is Humanity!
• • •
One of the things I really enjoyed about that book of Etienne Balibar essays on nationalism is the flashback. We, the People of Europe? was published in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and many of its essays spoke to the issues that dominated politics of the time.

What dominated those politics was George W Bush and his impending invasion of Iraq. I was part of the opposition, and I made my voice heard as loud as I could. I was part of my city’s local media – I attended and covered protests, I interviewed people about their stances. 

The protests against Bush's invasion of Iraq that I covered
in Newfoundland were never quite this big, of course.
But they had a good, healthy size.
One of my courses in the same year that book was published even had a major paper project where we analyzed the Iraq invasion vote in the Security Council from the geopolitical perspective of our choice of permanent member. It became my first essay writing award as a student – declared the best undergraduate paper in all the humanities and social science disciplines of my 12,000-strong student body.*

* And I won again two years later for an essay about Michel Foucault’s concept of power. You can’t say I didn’t get a lot of encouragement to find a career in the academy.

The Iraq invasion and the Bush years were when I became politically mature. How I thought about W’s government and the unfolding disaster of that war was the starting point for a lot of my views about politics, war, activism, and ethics today. And I think that’s true for a lot of people my age.

The storm of conflicting ideas that flew around in that turbulent time** informs the philosophical standpoint of Utopias. It’s examining the paradoxes of buoyant idealism co-existing with stark pessimism.

** Like the turbulence has ever stopped. It was the time when turbulence began. It only felt turbulent at the time, because we were leaving the 1990s, when all the conflicts the Bush years brought to the forefront had a low enough intensity that we could ignore them.

In the book’s last essay, Balibar is trying to squeeze what utopian energy he can from the depressing situation of neoconservatism’s triumph. When he gave the talk that became that essay, the United States was barrelling toward the invasion of Iraq. One of the pro-war voices that Balibar singles out for critique is Robert Kagan, one of the leading neoconservative intellectuals.

Robert Kagan, today of the Brookings Institute, who
believes in the inevitability of war and the eternal
necessity of military power for peace.
Kagan offers a sobering challenge to any idealist of world peace who sees a model to be followed in the project of the European Union. In his essay “Power and Weakness,” Kagan basically calls bullshit on the idealism of international law, and pretty much any political program aimed at establishing perpetual world peace under the rule of law.

You can read the whole essay without having to look for pirated versions – it’s still available for free. And the argument is essentially that European state leaders have only focussed on international diplomacy and rule of law as the best route to peace because they can no longer bomb their enemies into submission.

The world, in Kagan’s view, will always be a violent place where everyone can potentially descend into horrifying war with everyone else. And I’m not disputing this claim – he has plenty of evidence on his side. 

The world is a place where massive military power, or a good relationship with it, will always be necessary to survive. Even while being such a massive military power invites violence on you, makes you a target.

Europe used to be a massive military power. Several, in fact. Kagan uses the term machtpolitik, foreign relations based on force and the threat of force. But centuries of state-vs-state military violence since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 created the modern Western state? Eventually, it led to a point of mutually assured destruction.

And the destruction happened. It was called the first two world wars. European military force was so decimated by decades of total war that they could no longer really function as global military powers anymore. European economic power – especially as the EU – was the basis of its global power after their military implosion.

European politics has been associated with international
law for so long that we forget that a militarist philosophy
remained strong in Western European nations for a long
time after the Second World War. Kagan discusses in
"Power and Weakness" how the peaceful European
continent of the early 2000s was the product of
militarists like France's Charles de Gaulle essentially
getting neutered by the shadows of American
military might.
That's nothing to sneeze at – we’ve seen many examples of Europe’s economic power. Both for good, as in the global growth of European companies with social democratic models of worker relations and innovation like Siemens and IKEA. But also for ill, as in the European Central Bank’s punitive destruction of the Greek economy.

Yet for Kagan, none of this is enough, because it’s still possible for any truly great power to carpet-bomb all the major countries of Europe to rubble and blood without serious resistance. For Kagan, the definition of great power is solely in military terms, for this exact reason. 

So when you bring those premises to your political thinking, of course you won’t seen any alternative to the massive state violence of a military with global reach. It’s not as if those militaries can’t get a lot of stuff done. Not that you’d really want to do any of what a massive military can do when it really gets moving on a mission.

For Kagan, taken as the voice of the model neoconservative military hawk, European leaders could choose a path of diplomacy and international rule of law for their global politics because they had a patron. They had a protector. They had a country who was willing to front the military budget and the lives of its soldiers.

The USA had their back. The American military would do the dirty work so European leaders and people could afford to be peaceniks. Is that the only way peace can be possible? . . . . To Be Continued

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