What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Power Corrupts, and Hegemonic Power Makes One Stupid

Francis Fukuyama, of End of History and the Last Man fame (or infamy, depending upon one's perspective), who has lately expressed second and third thoughts about neoconservatism, is making a great deal of sense where the global (im)balance of power and the temptations thereof are concerned:

But the fundamental problem remains the lopsided distribution of power in the international system. Any country in the same position as the US, even a democracy, would be tempted to exercise its hegemonic power with less and less restraint. America’s founding fathers were motivated by a similar belief that unchecked power, even when democratically legitimated, could be dangerous, which is why they created a constitutional system of internally separated powers to limit the executive.

Such a system does not exist on a global scale today, which may explain how America got into such trouble. A smoother international distribution of power, even in a global system that is less than fully democratic, would pose fewer temptations to abandon the prudent exercise of power.

A few points are in order. First, it is unclear whether Fukuyama, in those last two sentences, argues for a reinvigorated global balance of power, or, perhaps, strengthened international institutions that might themselves act as checks upon individual nations that have grown 'too powerful' for the good of global stability. The phraseology of a "smoother international distribution of power" leaves the matter mired in ambiguity, as far as I am concerned. Nevertheless, if read with the former assumption in mind, the point is valid.

Second, this is not - though doubtless some will desire to read it in such a manner - an indictment of the United States as uniquely or solely perfidious; it is merely an observation that the numerous fortuities and exceptions of American history do not extend to the realm of character and judgment, ethics and prudence, and that American statesmen (cough, cough) are subject to all of the frailties of human nature. No Constitutional system, exceptional historical pedigree, or ingenious political traditions can ever fully compensate for defects of character, judgment, and morals.

Third, note the reference to the American system of checks and balances.... And meditate upon the melancholy fact that that system has been debauched, ever further, for quite some time now in our history as a nation, such that the executive commands and receives deference never envisioned by the Framers, and exercises powers that those same Framers would have regarded as usurpative and deleterious to republicanism - and that these corruptions are often justified by appeal to the very exercises of hegemonic power that concern Fukuyama. A tight little circle has been established, wherein the exercise of hegemonic power is invoked to justify novel readings of the Constitutional tradition, and these latter deviations are justified by invocation of the "necessity" of hegemony. Heads, you get an empire, not a republic; and tails, you can't have a republic, but they'll give you an empire instead. Or, in other words, lousy foreign policy and Constitutional declension are integral to one another; they are two sides of one clipped coin.

Comments (5)

This illustrates why, unlike so many others, I've never been able to take Fukuyama's pronouncements seriously. He seems to have a knack for coming up with some bit of 'end of history' nonsense that's briefly fashionable among the silly chattering classes and then fades away.

What he's suggesting now is that the world would be better off if the old Cold War scenario returned, where U.S. power was balanced by Soviet power. There's no avoiding the fact that that means the following.

1. This alternate power would not be be "fully democratic" as he himself admits. In that, he's right. Historically, democracies don't compete at anything like the same level of just-short-of-war hostility his scheme requires. Canada doesn't fear an invasion from the US. If conquered, they could simply vote for us to go home and we'd have to leave. (For those who forget, that's the present situation in Iraq.) Democracies can only be threatened by tyrannies that won't allow themselves to voted out of power, hence the long Cold War struggle. Long-term power struggles of the sort he is suggesting only result from conflicts that can't be reversed with a ballot box, which are either those between democracies and tyrannies or between two tyrannies (i.e. the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany). Assuming he doesn't want the U.S. to also become a brutal tyranny, something that would hardly improve the world, that means that this other power must be a tyranny with some sort of ugly aggressive agenda that inspires them to compete with our promotion of democracy and freedom.

2. This countering power would also have to have a sufficiently large population to balance our 300 million. That means he wants to see at least that many people living under some sort of grim tyranny--perhaps more since this other power would have to counter our more advanced economy. Despite its nukes, Russia is no longer big enough to do that, and India isn't wealthy or industrialized enough. That leaves only a China turned nasty and aggressive, perhaps by some ugly sort of nationalism, or a Europe united and regimented like it was under the Third Reich, perhaps by Islamofacism. Present Europe isn't an alternative. It's rich, soft and decadent, lacking the will to fight for anything, even its own cultural existence.

Does he have a choice as to which he prefers? Would he prefer a China with over a billion people; a China undeterred by losing perhaps 300 million of its people in a nuclear war that would reduce us to rubble and turn it into the world's sole superpower, with a corresponding death toll in the rest of the world? 600 million deaths seem a bit much to counter the alleged horrors of the present U.S. hegemony.

Or perhaps he rather see Europe taken over by a radical version of Islam (i.e. the Taliban) that would systematically destroy its two thousand years of cultural heritage as blasphemous. Does he find that possibility so elating, he would himself convert and pray five times a day toward Mecca?

He must choose one or the other, since those seem to be the only choices the present world permits. He must have a tyranny. He must place it in Europe or China, and he must have it seek to aggressively spread its power, placing many small countries under its brutal rule to balance out our small, democratic allies. That's the closest the world could get to the old Cold War, "balance of superpower" schema that he seems to long for.

3. And what would be the result of this unpleasant New World Disorder? Is the enormous power of the U.S. really a force for evil in the world, as he seems to assume? If we really did conquer Iraq to steal its oil (like the French would do, had they the power), we're doing an extraordinarily poor job of it. If we succeed in what we're actually trying to do, in another decade Iraq is likely to be a stable, oil-producing democracy that'll be selling us oil at the same world market prices they sell it to the dastardly French. I fail to seem how that's such a terrible abuse of our superpower status, particularly when contrasted with the alternative, detailed in Points 1 and 2.

No, this is yet another situation where Fukuyama is talking Hegelian nonsense, trying to create a thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis view of events simply because a long dead German professor told him that was how history worked. He and those who are again taking him seriously deserve the ridicule they've earned. What they long for is to recreate the Cold War, with over a billion people under repressive dictatorships and the entire world facing the doom of a nuclear holocaust.

I fail to understand why anyone, even a silly-minded Hegelian like Fukuyama, can support that.

--Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle, Editor of several Chesterton books including the soon-out Chesterton on War.

"If conquered, they could simply vote for us to go home and we'd have to leave. (For those who forget, that's the present situation in Iraq.)"

Right. With 80% of the Iraqis opposed to the occupation and with a majority of Americans opposed to an occupation with no ending date, we instituted a surge in occupation forces. Were it not for an entrenched minority in both countries, a timetable for withdrawal would have already been set. Good thing the rubes/serfs/citizens have influence over what their government does. Just hold on for another decade (or two) and things will turn around, always that distant tipping point to make it all worthwhile.

"The illusion which exalts us is dearer to us then ten-thousand truths."-- Alexander Pushkin

For all that I am aware, not having read Fukuyama's most recent book - and, concededly, having no intention of squandering my time doing so - it may well be the case that he is, in his recent work, merely extending his pop (mutilation of) Hegel's thought, now advocating/wishing/calling for the emergence of a new antithesis to posit against the thesis of the American imperium.

However, I'm exceedingly dubious that this is the most natural construal of the piece in question. The prima facie significance of his words is, first, that the "unipolar moment" in world history subsequent to the denouement of the Cold War has tempted American policymakers to undertake foolish, imprudent, and counterproductive things. This is sufficiently obvious that I consider the argument for the proposition superfluous for the present. Second, his terminology regarding a "smoother distribution of global power", while ambiguous, as I have noted, is not malignant - it betrays no obvious desire for a return to Cold War dynamics involving a pair of ideological empires contending for world mastery. After all, Fukuyama has reconsidered his earlier affirmations of a Hegelian dialectic leading to the establishment of democratic capitalism as the globally normative mode of political economy. As such, the most that it seems likely to bear is a desire for a return to traditional great-power, sphere-of-influence balancing, or perhaps strengthened international institutions. The former would require not only greater humility on the part of American policymakers, but - quite probably - more skill, intellect, and acumen than American policymakers have evidenced in decades. The latter, as a conservative, I'd consider undesirable in itself; we need no revivified UN, World Court, LOST Court, or what have you.

Two final observations: First, and ironically, the neoconservatives who have been instrumental in making the unipolar moment a moment of hubris have also committed themselves to an ideology of "free trade" and corporatist capitalism - and it is this system, more than anything else, which is now, and will continue to be, responsible for the elevation of China to great-power status. This may attest to the ideological incoherence of neoconservatism, or it may simply attest to neoconservatism's status as the ideology of managerial, corporatist capitalism; but it assuredly demonstrates that the theorists of the Pax Americana have actually set in motion that 'dialectic' by which nemesis arises to confront hubris. (In more ways than one.)

Second, while a Pax Americana, and American Imperium, might be preferable to a Russian or Chinese Imperium, this is to say rather less than might be intended. The American Imperium not only represents a degradation of the American Constitutional tradition, but is inexorably evacuating America herself not only of her historic civilizational substance, but of the very structural, cultural, and customary 'conditions of possibility' for conservatism or traditionalism. This, because the Imperium, by its nature, is predicated upon a denial of the specificity of that culture and tradition, and because it is instead posited in terms of putatively value-neutral concepts such as Military Power, the Indispensable Nation, The Free Market, The Free Movement of Goods, Labour, and Capital, and the Proposition Nation. It is technocratic and multiculturalist, positivist and relativist; and, operationally, it is rather shockingly anti-Christian in its specific effects (What has happened to the Christians of Iraq, for example? And why has American policy connived at the creation of Muslim states in Eastern Europe?). Fukuyama is all kinds of foolish, but so are some of his targets.

After Mike Perry was done with Fukuyama only fine dust has remained from Fuk thesis.

But there is also this:
"perhaps he rather see Europe taken over by a radical version of Islam (i.e. the Taliban) that would systematically destroy its two thousand years of cultural heritage as blasphemous. "

For the last 4 years I searched for someone or something to show the difference between radical Islam and plain vanilla Islam.
Do they use different Koran? Do they interpret Koran differently? What radicals say about Islam that plain vanilla Muslims disagree with?

The only answers I could find so far are no, no and nothing.

Then what Mike Perry means when he says "radical version of Islam"?

Wasn't Taliban just another Sharia state? Perhaps a bit more pure than Iran?

Long-term power struggles of the sort he is suggesting only result from conflicts that can't be reversed with a ballot box, which are either those between democracies and tyrannies or between two tyrannies (i.e. the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany).

Well, there are tyrannies, and then there are "tyrannies," just as there are (or were) democracies, and there are "democracies". The US is a "democracy," and has been for a long time. Just look at what our "choices" for "leaders" has been for the past two decades (if not longer). We get to pick the tie-breaker between candidates with whom the global corporatists are equally comfortable. Heaven forbid anyone who opposes them actually get a real chance at making a difference.

For the rest of us, bread and circuses.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.