TOWARD A NEW POLITICAL REALISM
The Montreal Review, June, 2010
"It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land, but on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you... Understand, then, it is not because your righteousness that the Lord, your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people." (Deut. 9:5-6)
Moses's revelation in Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Old Testament, was a promise and a warning to the Israelites. A promise that they were chosen people, and a warning that they were chosen as God's servants. The promise gave the wandering tribe superiority over the established kingdoms in Canaan. It was a gradual conquest and despite the moments of weakness and disbelief, the Israelites were exalted by the opportunity to be a "chosen nation". This privilege was not without consequences. God's message, revealed by Moses, was plain: Do not forget, the earthly victories are not men's merit; men and nations are just servants, God is the Lord, because He is the righteous!
In different times, Jews, Romans, Ottomans, Germans, Frenchmen and Britons, Spaniards and Russians, Americans and Chinese, and a surprisingly long list of other peoples achieved world prominence and power. Powerful states appeared and disappeared all making the human history, but all blind for the warnings and the truths that Moses revealed to the Jews more than three thousand years ago: the Providence gave them victory, not their righteousness or integrity.
Perhaps Hegel, the philosopher, is the most prominent secular mind who explained the logic of historical process as a work of an universal super-natural power whose goal is exceeding every particular interest. Here we would not speculate what this super-natural power exactly might be - in fact, neither Moses, nor Hegel dared to do this (they only explained its manifestations)- here we might just begin with the supposition that human history has been unfolding unconsciously toward something that looks like "progress" (or " regress") to conditions of pre-historical peace and freedom. The goal of this writing is to prove the truth of this hypothesis.
But let's continue with the Biblical examples. The positive message of the Holy Scripture to the chosen people - Jews, Christians, men and nations searching for God - was not to conquer the world, but to conquer themselves. The blessing demands self-constrain and self-control. Only through righteousness people will become powerful, not servants, but "children of God" (Matthew 5:43-44), peacemakers, meek and righteous, clean of evil passions.
The New Testament offers another example of what usually happens when Moses' revelation is made to a nation with great power. When Apostle Paul met Felix Antonius Claudius, the Roman procurator of Judea, he talked about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. Felix trembled, the Bible reports, and answered Paul: "Go your way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for you." (Acts 24:25) It is interesting to notice the symbolic in this Biblical passage. The name Felix means "lucky" in Latin and Felix was a Roman governor in the time when the Roman Empire was going to reach the limits of its territorial expansion. Obviously, as Felix replied to Paul, for the Roman Empire there was not a convenient season for self-constrain.
The real power, the Kingdom of God belongs to the righteous; only those who do not commit sin are able to bear responsibility. I think that the origin of the saying: "There is no power without responsibility" 1 is Roman. Paul's encounter with the Roman governor was in the 50s (AD), at this time, Rome had already forgotten her republican institutions that earned her international power and influence. The Empire reached the limits of its expansion fifty years after the meeting of Paul and Felix, but its internal degradation had already begun about 50 years earlier with the destruction of the republic. The republican institutions were the flavour of life that Rome enjoyed some 500 years, in 50 AD, despite the continuing territorial expansion and the external brilliance, Rome already breathed the flavour of mortality. Paul's message was not heard.
History constantly proves that wicked people or wicked states (regimes) do not possess real power; the seed of self-destruction is sowed in their own success. If we do not have difficulty to assess what is wicked, we would not have difficulty to predict the fate of a state, business organization, or a politician.
A popular storyteller said once "There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies - which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world - what I want to forget." 2 He said these words in nineteen century in the middle of a journey toward the heart of dark Africa. Nineteen century was a time of severe and ultimately preposterous colonial competition between the European powers. This competition was a lie that finished with the entire old world order in the next century after two devastating wars.
It is true; there is a flavour of life and a flavour of mortality in the history of human civilization. Lies, prejudices, wrong interpretations and self-deception often blurred human actions and judgement. We do not know the sources of our successes and failures. That is why human history has been unfolding unconsciously toward its end and only knowledge would make us believers in a future brighter than the past we know.
The realists (especially K. Waltz) 3 observing the system and the structure of international order and relations base their analysis on the hypothesis that the international system is an anarchic order that is functioning like our material world. Like Newton's theory of gravitation, powers and balance rule the international system. Powerful states and alliances shape the world, but unlike the heavenly bodies their life span and endurance is far shorter and unpredictable. International system is anarchic, argue the political realists, because of the lack of international government.
In international system, there is no law other than power. When there is no law other than power in a system of ever changing balance of power we cannot predict how tomorrow's world would exactly like. In international system, power and potentialities can hardly be measured, and this often leads to wrong calculations and useless conflicts. Institutions that exist in modern domestic political systems make politics relatively foreseeable. It is true that international system resembles a lot party system, both systems are composed of independent units that have similar relationships and goals (the achievement of power), but government, political power and battles in domestic scene are constrained by hierarchy and legal rules. It is not the same with the international environment, where great powers raise and fall, alliances constantly change, and the units (the states) act without respect of legal system or Constitution. Other important feature of international system is its oligopolistic character - the small states are not equal players, the world powers determine the system. And as the historian Raymond Aron notices in "Peace and War" "a change of regime within one of the chief powers suffices to change the style and sometime the course of international relations." 4
In international system, power and weakness are relative qualities that often change despite the will or the efforts of the states. When we speak about power and weakness one factor is of primary importance, I call it - the environment. The environment is the sum and combination of all factors - history and culture, geography, neighbours, etc. - that persons or states must conform from their beginning as individuals or units. The environment is the name we receive from our parents, the education and the culture we breathe in childhood, our natural physical and mental qualities, the economy and government of our family, community and country. We may call environment everything given, not belonging solely to us, and not under our full control. The environment is the bigger whole in which every person or state exists, the combination of all things that we receive not by choice, but by chance.
To accept the constraining realities of environment is not to get defeated. If we do not like the world around us, we may try, like Abraham, a spiritual and physical journey. We may use our qualities and the existing opportunities to make our own history. In this way, like Abraham and Jacob, we may earn, through our will and actions, a new name, new education, new qualities and surroundings. Yet, the states and the persons are ultimately connected and dependant on environment in which they exist. The free will of the individual or the state depends on given in advance potentialities. There is no absolutely free will; we never create something from absolutely nothing. Humans and states are not creators; they are distributors.
A politics that accepts the importance of the environment has better chances to understand the real configuration of powers and the available resources. The knowledge of the environment increases the possibility for right choice and predicts the outcomes from a given action. Acquirement of such knowledge requires cautious political calculation and behaviour that avoids excesses. More importantly, every politics that conforms to the realities of environment considers peacemaking as possible and rational. Politics of peace is possible and realistic without rejection of Hobbesian view of human nature.
"Politics of peace" sounds like "end of history." Francis Fukuyama's attempt to predict the advent of a liberal, more peaceful, world immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall was not without merit, and the clashes that followed the 9/11 attacks do not devaluate his thesis as many argue. But I do not speak as a Utopian about the possible cessation of the international conflicts and competition, I only believe, as Fukuyama did, that it is time the stakes in the international conflicts and competition be diminished and the wars that take human tolls forgotten. I believe that today is rational to think about the advent of the "peaceful conflict." For first time in the documented history we have a chance to make the international conflicts resemble the bloodless political battles in democracies, and to make the competition between the states similar to the competition between national teams in soccer championship.
Today, peaceful politics may be a part of political realism, because it is increasingly possible and accepts the basic fact of political realism - the existence and the primary importance of the particular state interests.
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1 I think this phrase comes from the Roman tradition of governance, but I found it used also by Paul Janet in his "The Philosophy of the French Revolution" (Penn Monthly, Volume 3, University Press Co., 1872).
2 Marlow in J. Conrad's " Heart of Darkness " (Penguin Books, 1995)pp. 49-50
3 Among the most prominent: Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, E.H. Carr, H. Morgenthau, G. Kennan, and H. Kissinger.
4 See Raymond Aron, "Peace and War. A Theory of International Relations " (Dubleday & Company Inc., Garden City, New York. 1966), p. 95.
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