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dezembro 03, 2004

TOM NAIRN - recensão a Timothy Garton Ash - Free Word

The Free World’s end?
Tom Nairn
1 - 12 - 2004

In Open Democracy

Tom Nairn presents a searching critique of Timothy Garton Ash’s book Free World. He argues that it seeks to conserve the global status quo through a comforting subordination to American power. His wide-ranging survey suggest that the new century is not going to embrace any such outcome.

“Progress itself is not something that unfolds in a single line. Along with the natural weakening an idea suffers as it becomes diffuse, there is also the criss–crossing of influences from new sources of ideas. The innermost core of the life of every age, an inchoate, swelling mass, is poured into moulds forged by much earlier times. Every present period is simultaneously now and yet millennia old. This millipede moves on political, economic, cultural, biological and countless other legs, each of which has a different tempo and rhythm. One can see this as a unified picture and elaborate it in terms of a single cause by always keeping to a central perspective...but one can also find satisfaction in the exact opposite. There is no plan in this, no reason: fine. Does this really make it any uglier than if there were a plan?”
Robert Musil, “Notes for Readers Who Have Eluded the Decline of the West”, 1921 (in Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses, edited and translated B Pike & D Luft, Chicago 1990)

Timothy Garton Ash begins his book Free World: why a crisis of the West reveals the opportunity of our time (Penguin, 2004) with a remark that will ring true with most readers, including this one:


“I am writing soon after these events, when tempers have barely cooled. We don’t yet know if the war of words over the war on Iraq was just another of those family quarrels that have regularly punctuated the life of the West, or something far deeper. Is this the last or merely the latest crisis of the West?” (p 11)
Whether or not it’s the last, it must be more than merely the latest. Something more profound is occurring. However acute, the quarrels typical of the cold–war period were mainly about preserving the myth–family of westernness, or at least keeping up appearances. Garton Ash tries to go beyond this level. He does so with a dash and optimism unusual in the still–deepening apocalyptic gloom. One should be grateful to him for his seeking with speed and confidence and lively reporting a genuine worldview of the way forward.


While glad of release from doom, however, one may still have serious doubts about the recipe Free World offers us. A more free, democratic world must be due, beyond the crisis: but on these terms, and argued for in this way? At the risk of exaggeration, what’s wrong with Garton Ash’s view is that it remains irretrievably and, I feel, hopelessly British. Free or not so free, I doubt if any future world can now really be imagined, sourced and tagged in this way. The book is urging a new order of more open and multilateral bridge–building and rapprochement, as a response to the awful lessons of Iraq and George W Bush.

In a sense the book’s tone is over–positive, too devoted to urging reasonable individuals to do this or that. But what are the models of reasonableness? These turn out not to be so different from Westminster Bridge... with Tower Bridge still hovering in the background. Garton Ash’s tone is sometimes revolutionary; his content, all too often, carries readers back to Windsorland and, more widely, to a globe of feebly modified free trade and neo–western dominance.

And who is that official mumbling with studied casualness into his high–security phone?:


“To be the most vigorous advocate and creative practitioner of the most intense cooperation between Europe and America, together with other free countries, especially those in the Anglosphere. To be friend and interpreter in both directions. To take the spirit…(of) Winston Churchill and carry it forward into the twenty–first century post–West….”
Yes, it’s Tony Blair, bouncing back from Basra, not even in disguise. Worse is to follow. Garton Ash says the only thing wrong with this view is its underarching ambition. We need more of it, not less. He concedes that Westminsterism will no longer do on its own: this means it has to merge into something New: “the biggest bridge in the world: 3000 miles long and as many lanes wide” (p.199) – an Atlantic Bridge, “Euro–Atlanticism” as matrix of the liberated world.

Help! Yet even as we reel back, the worse gets worse again. Because, as Garton Ash’s bounding, often witty reasoning about the United States of America, Europe and elsewhere proceeds, a grim vein of truth does emerge from his new story — not quite intended, but impressive all the same. What he’s pleading for is, in effect, a globe of “special relationships”, bonding yet non–constraining. And such relations could indeed proliferate along his super–motorway bridge.

They are doing so already. I write from another bit of the Anglosphere, Australia, whose government recently fell over itself to conclude a free trade agreement–bridge with the USA and Nafta. The same government was re–elected on 9 October 2004. And the second string on prime minister John Howard’s fiddle is a planned commercial deal with Beijing (provided Australia agrees in advance to be responsible over Taiwan).

These parts of the biggest bridge in the world are not toll–free. Nor is getting on to them solely a question of being broadminded, or outward–looking: it involves being responsible, whether about Terrorism or Taiwan, which in turn implies readiness for (or at least, collusion in) future warfare.

Despite the Australian example, Ivan Krastev may be mistaken in rushing to endorse Ash’s suggestions for a grander, more permanent world bridge. Krastev claims that “we’re all Brits now”: Garton Ash’s perspective, he argues, accords with the experience of those living in central and eastern Europe.

It’s interesting that heirs of the Ottoman sultanate and the Hapsburgs respond to this inheritor of the Great–Brit equivalent – Free World’s United Kingdom reprieved, to be kept alive at all costs on a bridge–building machine, that plays both sides of the Atlantic. Krastev maintains that:


“…the general public is in love with the prophets; and everybody is angry with the bridge–builders. In the eyes of the public, the bridge–building literature is a strange mixture of old–fashioned utopianism, newborn nostalgia for the cold war west and remnants of political common sense.
So, when bridges are being burnt or regarded as boring, when readers are in search of warriors and prophets, it is a controversial strategy to write such a book.”

The basis for this odd ideological fusion is suggested by Garton Ash’s evocation of Robert Musil, on page 28 of Free World. Musil “said wonderfully of his native Austria after 1918 that it was ‘an especially clear case of the modern world’”. The same is supposed true of the UK today.
But Musil was the 20th century’s outstanding ironist. He meant the opposite. Austria before and after 1918 was a case of pathetic flirtation with modernity, ending in headlong flight. His The Man Without Qualities satirised the former empire as in essence hopelessly at odds with the future — that “cool Vienna” which had seized on and mangled every fad and project of modern times, as a way of staying the same. As for special relationships, its later rulers sought redemption through “alliance” (disguised prostration) with the greater Germanosphere that became the Third Reich. Bridges were eagerly built into the terrible womb itself, where all the most noxious and fatal aspects of great–power nationalism would attain maximum virulence. And incidentally, Robert Musil optimistically supported the Anschluss of 1938, as a highway to better times. Opposed to stupid, indiscrimate anti–Germanism, he felt strongly that the right kind of Germans were bound – and must be helped – to prevail.

Self–colonisation

No doubt some parts of the world do aspire to a condition of decayed Britannitude. But is it possible they are merely surrendering to new parameters of subordination, if not of servitude?

It is not that I pine in any way for warriors and prophets, who stand reconfirmed in the camp of great–power conviction after Bush’s 2 November 2004 victory. No, my doubts about any re–baptised Free World are far more conservative and mundane. All I’m arguing for is nations, minus the dratted “–ism”: democratic–national independence, diverse, ordinary, even boring rather than 18th century museum–pieces, or dictators, or hustlers like Blair and Berlusconi.

In Free World, Garton Ash repeatedly envisages staging–posts along Freedom’s new Liberal Highway. Much of the book is taken up with exhortations to move on and get to the next one, credentials of reasonableness in hand. But in his British original this process has turned into moral life–mortgage. It is less a bridge Westminster has to America than a chasm (self–plunged) right to the aortal valve. What Garton Ash is pointing to can be described in a quite different way: as a process of general “self–colonisation”, the willed prostration of the non–great–power world to the great power. Free World, it seems to me, rests upon a kind of downgraded, free–on–parole future – a globe of abject suivisme and conformity, from élites persuaded (on the whole sincerely, but who cares?) that their own interest must represent that of the misled or indifferent nations they “serve”.

During the era of mainstream great–power nationalism, between the 1870s and 1989, forcible colonisation was the standard form of expansion and dependency. Even then there were variants, for example the famous British formulae of “indirect rule”, or government by interposed native élites. And there were also accessory modes of dominance like “spheres of influence” (agreed or contested) and protectorates. However, the decisive format was inseparable from the new–imperial conflicts that followed the Franco–Prussian war: imposed occupation, military repression, and cultural assimilation. Lordship of Human Kind was always in the script somewhere, whether rudely proclaimed or implicit in a self–deprecating cough. One or other Chosen People must be destined to prevail, and the rest would eventually see the light, or have to put up with it.

Self–colonisation is a successor trope, characteristic of the post–colonial period. The phenomenon is much older than post–1989 neo–conservatism. There is indeed an ancient history of it. But today’s form was mainly rooted in certain circumstances of the cold war. The half–century stalemate after 1945 oversaw the ending of that older–style colonialism, now far too dangerous in a globe where nuclear missiles were deployed. National liberation was multiplying the number of independent states, but doing so on a mainly cautionary basis, where the essential duty of the new citizen–populations was to choose their side.

Formal freedom was indeed attained partly (mostly) via such responsible choice: that is, the sapient formation of national identities and interests that would fit in with whichever “world” they belonged or aspired to. There was also vicious competition over marginal or dubious cases, with subversive (and occasionally open) warfare. This was the world of Henry Kissinger. Most new countries had little option but conformity, the style of self–subordination that was unknowingly preparing the way for Francis Fukuyama’s world without qualities, the post–1989 End of History.

The long counter–revolution

Formerly fought for, independent statehood is now mainly taken for granted, as a necessary condition of politics. But it can be kept “formal” (i.e. trouble–free) in the sense of being linked to substantially dependent practices, in both policy and ideology. The resultant self–colonising formula is a gratefully–willed alignment and economic subordination (in the “realistic” terms appropriate to an accelerating capitalism) plus plausible philosophies of democracy–limitation.

Liberation from outside repression or occupation has been attained; but only to find expression in a selection of wider, or grander–seeming norms and prescriptions, the emanations of an outer sphere from which real choice is eliminated, or consigned to private spheres. Imposition in the old legionary mode is now rare, though not (as Iraq has shown) out of the question. But there’s steel in the exchange, none the less: the point always has to be, there’s no alternative– least of all within an economic order still in vigorous expansion, and able to dominate, or at least influence, almost all developmental chances.

The détente period of the cold war was the training–school for this, more diffuse, dense and politically–willed acquiescence which Joseph Nye calls the exercise of America’s “soft power”. Reagan and Thatcher fostered and reared it. As Jeremi Suri observes in his study Power and Protest (Harvard, 2003) it saw stability “artificially enforced by the besieged leaders of the largest states”, after the unwelcome shocks and surprises of the 1960s:


“The history of globalisation is, in this sense, intimately connected with détente. International institutions continue to embody the conservative inclinations of leaders. They are generally opaque, elitist, and dominated by the largest states. They have important public influence, but they remain creatures of national governments. Détente protected a state–centred world and forestalled hopes for the creation of truly independent international authorities…Like their predecessors in the late 1960s, leaders have protected stability at the cost of liberty.”

What Suri calls “détente’s function as counter–revolution” was simply carried forward, and hugely intensified, by the all–round western victory of 1989. Certain aspects of the counter–revolution ascendant under Reagan and Thatcher now found themselves exalted. What was already the hard–nosed common–sense of the times during the slow thaw of the 1980s was fetishised as the Word of economic globalism – if not of God himself (the latter optional until 9/11, a position reinforced by Bush’s 2004 election). What had been an ideological militia–rabble became a standing army, with eternity in its laser–sights.
The number of new states went on mounting, and accelerated again with the collapse of the Soviet imperium and Yugoslavia. But these new or restored national identities found it even less possible to resist conscription into the unipolar orthodoxy. The embryo of Donald Rumsfeld’s “new Europe” was born.

For a time at least, self–colonisation into the US’s assertively internationalist norms seemed the sole alternative on offer. But another opiate was very important. Promised economic prosperity and liberalism were now underpinned by a novel Tablet of ideological law, unsparingly ideologised between 1990 and 2004. The greatest planets were supposed to obey this new millennial rule too, not just the asteroid belt where most of humanity’s ill–organised rabble hangs out. The latter need no longer dread identity–loss and national subjection, because nationalism itself – the essence, not merely the excrescences – was on its way to the twilight home, if not to the deathbed. Were not all nation–states, including the US and her Atlantic allies, fading away into the light of global capitalism?

Remaking nationalism

No. They were not. Today everybody knows the truth: but with the customary hopeless hindsight. The intéllos of all lands come glumly to what’s left of their senses, contemplating decades of post–post–modernism. The great historic womb which bore that creature is fertile yet. Nor can this be solely because of the Trade Towers atrocity, or the American (and British, and Australian) response. The sense of inevitability and native righteousness informing US reaction in 2002–2003 has shown vividly how much was preserved of the “old world”, beneath the veneer of History’s End. The tree is green – some may think, burgeoning as never before – with Minerva’s owl as elusive as ever.

Anatol Lieven’s incisive account of American nationalism in America Right or Wrong has become the indispensable reference–point. As he makes clear, the furnace–blast following 9/11 was no mere lapse, or half–hearted return to the familiarity of war, the shock–effect of a single moment. Lieven analyses “not only the strength of this nationalism and its alternation between messianic idealism and chauvinism, but also its highly unreflective character”. Americans still find it hard to “step outside American national myths and look at the nation with detachment, not as an exceptional city on a hill, but as a mortal nation among other nations...” (p 222). After 2001 the messianic Creed – a mixture of Enlightenment motifs with Christian fundamentalism – and “right–or–wrong” chauvinism achieved critical mass as never before, and generated a chain reaction or historical pattern “whose consequences could be sinister indeed” (p 221).

When Thomas Mann‘s yellow–shoed Devil in Doctor Faustus – “a bully, a strizzi, a rough” – gets down to business with aspiring composer Adrian Leverkühn, a great–nationalist diatribe bursts forth: “I am in fact German, German to the core, yet even so in an older, better way, to wit cosmopolitan from my heart...” As he speaks, the cold wind accompanying his intrusion becomes an Arctic blast, causing Leverkühn to shudder in his overcoat. “Wouldst deny me away, wouldst refuse to consider the old German romantic wander–urge and yearning...?” Satan goes on, evoking the universal values so evidently inherent in those of old Kaisersaschern (Munich). In spite of his fascination, Leverkühn recoils from this glacial shaft as “it went through my overcoat and pierced me to my marrow. Angrily I ask: ‘Cannot you away with this nuisance, this icy draught?’” But as he is instantly reminded, death is inseparable from the intrusion, the vision, and also from the pact about to be signed.

That was all back in the time of Paul Celan ‘s Deathfugue:

“Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at middday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink...
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams der Tod ist ein Meister aus
Deutschland... “


It was not thought then that another master might one day come aus Amerika, with a quite different “deathbringing speech” – the cant of a neo–conservatism that fuses together cosmopolitan claims and core Americanness, the free–trade mission with a particular (and archaic) manifest destiny.

The result has been what Fred Halliday calls in openDemocracy “the crisis of universalism”. The previous main bearer of “growing world consensus”, by lapsing into great–power nationalism, has inevitably encouraged a gathering response in kind:


“Around the world, the constraints of law and general moral decency that once restrained nationalism seem to have been eroded. In Israel, the public mood has shifted further towards aggressive action; across Europe, advocates of immigration and multiculturalism are under attack; in many former Soviet republics and in eastern Europe, nationalist demagogues hold sway; in Japan, a revived rhetoric of national assertiveness is taking hold...This ideological shift was underway before 9/11. It was given intellectual support by the spread of a vapid relativism, sometimes termed ‘postmodernism’...”
But such “relativism”, it can be argued, was a by–product of a previously established self–colonisation – that is, of general political demobilisation linked to a perfectly phoney style of universalism, the new Devil’s brew of neo–liberal levelling, refashioned oligarchy and popular apathy. The answer can’t be an alternative abstraction, snatched in desperation from the cupboard of “–isms”. Halliday’s timely verdict must be seen as pointing in another direction. Accelerating inequalities among nations and classes, he argues, has generated “the rising world resentment of the west, and especially of the United States”, and the resultant explosion of great– nation prepotency has aggravated this dilemma:


“The efficiency of the United States as a bureaucratic, logistic and military administration, combined with the utter inability of the US government to comprehend – let alone adequately respond to – the attacks of 11 September 2001, makes vividly clear the ‘failed’ character of the US state.”
Spores of subjection
But if this is right, then at bottom Timothy Garton Ash is also exhorting everyone to build a bridge to failure. And failure for his hopes has only been underlined by the results of 2 November 2004. We are familiar with the concept of failed states (to which I will return below). But these have usually been discerned from the vantage–point of one or another metropolitan eminence: distant, marginal places beset by economic failure and political cramps. For the globe to be dominated by such failure is, obviously, much more serious. Garton Ash’s multifarious bridge–constructions will then in themselves lead only to collusion with (or even support for) a version of existing globalisation, still all too compatible with “the west” in the general, resented and feared, sense that Halliday describes.

In short: abstract, the third–wayish globalisation Garton Ash says is on offer is one thing – but globalisation plus continuing great–power nationalism is quite another. Free World charts many sympathetic hopes and suggestions for the former; but the latter is what is really on offer. The armed, great–nationalist storm has given new life to a “failed” state; and (though we can’t yet be sure) that state may be constitutionally incapable of moderating or repudiating its violence. If this turns out to be true, then the imagination is forced back towards Adrian Leverkühn’s own Todesfuge, the great cosmic lamentation towards the end of Doctor Faustus, where the Devil’s music soars up to voice the eternity of human sorrow, permitting “to the very end no consolation, appeasement, transfiguration”.

Garton Ash s rhetoric is warmly persuasive, but evokes the style of permanent present that suits his moral and ideological approach. He believes in Life after Crisis, but situates his formulae in too recent a historical perspective. His standpoint remains the 1990s, and the emancipation of central and eastern Europe. But it was surely unlikely that all the famous “burdens” of former imperial conflict and world wars would simply vanish, along with the Berlin wall, into Francis Fukuyama’s spellbinding The End of History.

The latter was only an anti–Communist Manifesto, destined for a far shorter life than its great ancestor. Like the heady projections of 1990s, it distracted thought away from what Musil’s historical millipede was up to. The latter went on wriggling, with renewed energy after the long, unnatural chill; since 2001 it has been threshing violently about, as if impatient to burst forth into something else.

No complaint is more commonly heard today than accusations of “mass apathy”, or even cynicism – the wilful popular conviction that politics doesn’t matter, or that they (politicians) are in the business for some self–interested motives, either personal or group, in the sense of party, or élite. What else is to be expected, in a world of “no alternatives” and generalised masochism? Popular indifference is not unconnected with a largely justified sense of being governed by zombies. This isn’t new either. A whole generation had been required to cultivate entropy of such depth and persistence. Jeremi Suri describes how. “At its core”, he argues, “détente was a mechanism of domestic fortification”, on both sides of the cold war boundary:

“Détente had a powerful domestic component that exceeded a mere agreement to avoid nuclear armageddon. Responding to both domestic and international pressures in the late 1960s, leaders pursued what I call a balance of order...to preserve authority under siege...Cooperation among the great powers became a substitute for both domestic and international reform. It served as a balance against what policy–makers saw as unreasonable public expectations.” (Power and Protest, pp 213–216)

It was this period of restoration that installed, not merely capitalism, but the authoritative, sacrosanct, realistic mode of development of post–1989 globalisation – the aged babe of neo–liberalism, tetchily anti–political from its cradle, persuaded that not merely socialism but nation–state public order itself is suspect, or cage–like. As Suri concludes, postmodernism has been its ghastly comfort–doll: “...the search for freedom from, rather than freedom in the nation–state”, so that “scepticism towards authority is today a global phenomenon”. Leaders are now despised, rather than either loved or feared, and “in some of the largest democracies they are ignored by as much as half the electorate, which refrains from voting”.

Two of the missionary powers occupying Iraq naturally spring to mind. The third in line, Australia, doesn’t quite fit, but only because voting is compulsory here. The electorate has found other ways of despising its state. How do they get away with it? Hardware superiority, heirloom democracy; and reanimated ethnocentric passions (never called “nationalism” in public). These jointly ensure the prevalence of reasonable expectations — save when freedom’s trumpet has to be sounded, and homo economicus is called upon to become Nicolas Chauvin overnight.

This is what has been genuinely conserved and brought to life by the new Frankenstein monster of “neo–conservatism”. Reactionaries still know instinctively how people can be blooded via what’s best in them, the soul and honour of cohesion and siblinghood. Is it loot–control that furnishes this power of insight, alongside so many stupidities? No doubt those who need things to remain unaltered do tune in more easily to certain socially inherited wavelengths, what Philip Larkin called our “almost instincts”. But progressives like Garton Ash tend to be impatient with these, devoted as they are to a secular evangelism of onwards–and–upwards. They regard nationality as a nuisance, rather than as nature’s lot.


Chronicles of servitude

Again, it is the US case that has forcibly renewed our acquaintance with Adam and Eve, as so vividly recounted in Chris Hedges’ War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (Public Affairs, 2002), a brilliant example of left–inclined critique that has been bothered to investigate the matrices of nationalism and genocide. In the fifteen years since 1989, astonishing ideological constructions have arisen around all these themes, which are worth comparing with Garton Ash’s.

Readers of openDemocracy have had the good fortune to enjoy appraisals of some of these. I have already referred to Anatol Lieven and Fred Halliday’s contribution. There has also been an analysis of the revived élitism of Leo Strauss, for example, whose philosophy of oligarchy is so perfectly adapted to the demands of present–day neo–conservatism (see Danny Postel, “Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neocons, and Iraq”, October 2003); and Stephen Howe’s brilliant dissection of the recent work of historian Niall Ferguson (“An Oxford Scot at King Dubya’s court: Niall Ferguson’s Colossus“, 22 July 2004).

The latter reinforces my argument because of the sheer contrast between Ferguson and Garton Ash’s worldview. Immanuel Wallerstein greeted the appearance of Colossus with a sarcastic online notice entitled “Hail Britannia!”. He argued that the book depicts Bush’s imperium as a replica of earlier British dominance, in some ways better, in others defective (and still needing to learn a thing or two). However, his title might have been more accurate: in truth, “Hail Scotia!” does more to convey the original source of the Ferguson Weltanschauung.

A case–study: Scotland’s self–colonisation

The land Niall Ferguson hails from represents one of the longest extant traditions of effective self–colonisation in the contemporary world. Founded in 1707, British Scotland has for close on three centuries embodied most of the traits mentioned earlier. It’s one of the oldest bits of the western “millipede” portrayed by Musil at the top of this essay – in “Notes” that were devoted to a polite yet thorough demolition of Oswald Spengler. Scotland was a pioneering specimen of today’s “failed states” – the range of recent and current phenomena to which, from his confident Washington–Beltway vantage point, Francis Fukuyama has drawn our attention in his most recent doctor’s prescription, State–building: governance and world order in the 21st century (Cornell University Press, 2004). His thesis is that US–based order requires more viable local states to function properly – obedient state–nations, naturally, who must be warned away from the damnable folly of wild–card nationalism, exceptionalism and city–on–the–hill antics.

Overwhelmed by the ruins of abortive colonisation, and threats of discrimination and renewed mass starvation, the early 18th–century Scottish élite was an original example of such obedience. It went for state–deconstruction instead, and actually merged its parliament with England’s to compose modern Britain. Empire: the rise and demise of Britain’s world order (Penguin, 2003) and Colossus: the price of America’s empire (Penguin, 2004) are in effect a Scottish interpretation of recent world history.

Ferguson thinks the Scots did so well out of failure and political self–castration, that it is now time for all other peoples to follow their example. Britain most obviously, but ideally other European countries too. Neo–liberalism has sown the spores of dependency widely, even irresistibly. So today’s applicants need nothing as drastic as the suicide–note of old Caledonia (the Treaty of Union, 1707). Britons have already learnt that the UK is not expected to turn itself formally into a native, home–rule reservation. No, satrapies fit better into postmodern oligarchy, never more proudly independent than when anticipating orders, occasionally even encouraged to lead the way: a world of Blairs, Aznars and John Howards, rather than of Vidkun Quislings and Pierre Lavals.

This toxin works by political blood–constriction. It paralyses the sense of agency, in a way described most acutely in a despairing essay I came across last week, entitled “Helpless Europe”. The author points out how modern circumstances of themselves incessantly harbour “a tremendous optimism”, gestating hopes for change and betterment. This mass impulse has to be channelled and policed by “particular groups of people or tendencies” whose essential duty is to instil a sense of central fate, of near–immutable direction:


“Self–appointed paragons of Realpolitik who speculate on the falling of humanity’s stock (and) take as real only the base side of human nature, believing it to be all that can be counted on...What we saw of this during the war, though, and in the most disgusting caricatures, is at bottom precisely the same spirit as the one that Ministries of the same state employ towards each other whenever their interests on a given issue diverge, and the same as the one adopted by the clever businessman when dealing with his own ilk...”
But I didn’t stumble on this in the op–ed pages of Melbourne’s The Age, nor even The Guardian. No, it was Musil again, brooding eighty–two years ago about how he had personally witnessed everyone switch over from being “bustling good citizens” into “murderers, killers, thieves, arsonists, and the like”, either actually or by interposition – and somehow without changing things much.

Normalcy reasserted itself. The revolutionaries were in parliament, he pointed out, but behaving like responsible philistines. A paralytic sense of “no alternative” had come to hide understanding that “out innermost being does not dangle from the puppet–strings of some hobgoblin of fate” and that, consequently, if we are “draped with a multitude of small, haphazardly linked weights, then we ourselves can tip the scales”. “But”, he bitterly concluded, “we have lost this feeling”.

Ferguson’s new metaphysic of servility is aimed at renewing and amplifying such loss, making it simultaneously global and fashionable. Learn from Caledonia, his readers are beseeched: several centuries have taught its inhabitants all about how cringing works, and the spectrum of reverberantly outgoing purposes that obeisance can be turned to serve. Today’s Scots may grumble about lacking self–confidence, but nobody should be deceived. Historically they substituted confidence in The Other — and were richly rewarded. Voicing this culture of alienation with a certain compensatory bombast, Ferguson does of course genuinely understand how considerable the input of a dependent minority can be – provided it acknowledges who’s boss, learns the majority rules and (above all) learns how to exaggerate and outdo them, generating caricatures on demand.

Anyone who thinks I may be exaggerating the point should look up Niall Ferguson’s last interview on home ground, with Cate Devine in the (Glasgow) Herald [15 September 2003 (paid–for only)]. In the course of a visit to his old school, he claimed proudly to represent “virtual Scotland”, the satrapy–model for all creation, and on no account to be confused with the leftover dump that recently made the mistake of reviving a futile parliament. Even worse, non–virtual Scots may soon be misled into overmuch concern for democracy, equality, even independence.

Nor should it be overlooked that Ferguson’s posture has been preceded by another historian of ideas and philosophy. In 2002, Arthur Herman published How the Scots Invented the Modern World: the true story of how western Europe’s poorest nation created our world and everything in it (Three Rivers Press,). This tract suggested the Enlightenment and Adam Smith must have taken off because the former state was abandoned, rather than as a civil compensation for loss: what began as a desperate, forced compromise turned into the first cockcrow of neo–liberalism. The Scots had given up clannic feuding and religious strife in order to join (and boost) Civilisation, more or less as the Iraqis are being invited to do at present. In his massive extrapolation of the same theme, Ferguson maintains that, in the post–second world war era, London–led civilisation order then renounced its imperium in order to serve better the ascending one across the Atlantic.

Since Stephen Howe‘s critique appeared on openDemocracy, Ferguson has summed up the message in a blood–freezing sermon, “A World without Power”, for Foreign Policy (July–August 2004). Musil would be vexed to witness Spengler’s return – but now to defend The West, rather than attack it. If the world refuses to follow Scotland and Britain’s example (starting in Baghdad) then it could very well collapse back into Highlanders everywhere: religious and clannic strife, systemic piracy and terror, sword–dancing with Kalashnikovs – ‘“he anarchic nightmare of a new Dark Age”, in fact, something akin to the later middle ages. Isn’t comfortable serfdom at King Dubya’s court preferable to such a hegemony–less world? “Apolarity could turn out to mean...an era of waning empires and religious fanaticism; of endemic plunder and pillage in the world’s forgotten regions; of economic stagnation and civilisation’s retreat into a few fortified enclaves”.

Quite rightly, Ferguson stresses that disintegration, the downward and outward diffusion of power, is a striking feature of globalisation. But in his optic, only outlaws and terrorists can benefit from this, not democracy and diversity, or Lieven’s ordinary “mortality of nations”. Adam Smith’s invisible hand has now taken institutional shape as the American Enterprise Institute, and real choice lies between that and the base side of human nature (such as Terror) – a globe of not–so–minor warfare, haunted by wild–eyed zealots promising escape into something better. “Be careful what you wish for”, he concludes darkly; “The alternative to unipolarity would not be multipolarity at all. It would be apolarity – a global vacuum of power. And far more dangerous forces than rival great powers would benefit from such a not–so–new world disorder”.


Self–decolonisation

Timothy Garton Ash’s conception of a more liberated “post–9/11” world is a welcome contrast to the pulpit tirades of Japanese–Americans, Jewish–Americans and Ferguson style Scots–Americans – small ethnies, but always with a big axe to grind. He stands resolutely for left–wing globalisation, one that encompasses (or at least aims for) emancipation and democracy. But the trouble is, his angelus novus continues to share too much common ground with Musil–like “hobgoblins of fate”. “Common ground” has a positive and generous ring to it, just like bridges and highways to all men. I am saying Garton Ash’s visions may be just the opposite, where the ground belongs to the enemy, and the bridges turn out to be mainly for carrying travellers beyond the bourn, and into his power, whether they realise it or not.

In his chapter on Britain, Garton Ash cites a Canadian friend who told him: “The trouble with this country is that it doesn’t know what story it wants to tell” (p 29) Without a new story, the old ones get reiterated, or more precisely, rehashed – what Tony Blair has done, in a way the author sees as inadequate, and yet without bringing himself to simply disown it either. However, may it not be that disowning is what’s most needed? That is, disjuncture, refusal, exit and the recovery or construction of different voices and stories? This is the path of self–decolonisation: quite a different process from earlier post–second world war decolonisation and national liberation, though in some ways continuing from the latter. “Freedom” without it will be merely the reach–me–down version of one or other empire: the Ottomans (with luck), or the Americans and Chinese (without it).

Today a remaking of nationalism has been made possible via the unity put crudely in place by neo–liberal economics (however contradictorily), by electronic communication, and the wider information revolution still transforming all societies. However, these changes are encountering states and polities evolving far more slowly. Musil’s blind worm of progress has been slowed down, as if rendered obese by so many successes of restoration. The hardened arteries of yesterday have imposed themselves on the birth of a more united world. Moral exhortation Garton Ash–style won’t pull the old thing together or rally its spirits.

What happened after 9/11 was the return of ruling–class strategies of a century and a half ago, when nationalism (as distinct from nationality politics and identity) was invented by aspiring great–power elites who thought that cosmopolis might yet be within their material grasp, as well as in their hearts (like Thomas Mann’s Devil). Industrialisation, the spread of capitalism, meant that they needed mass popular support for the decisive adventure.

Le nationalisme and das Nazionalismus were originally children of the Franco–Prussian war, orchestrated reprises of certain popular themes and romantic emotions generated earlier in that century, and most vividly expressed in the great outbursts of 1848. Now such ideas were awarded their “–ism”: frockcoats, diplomas, official status, and ruling–class patronage. “Nationalism” (c 1874) and the transfer of “Chauvinism” from sleazy vaudeville to the academy (mid–70s onwards) were soon followed by “Jingoism” (London, 1878). It was this bunch of strizzis and roughs that soon pupated into the state–patriotisms of contending empires.

Today, every–evening TV news programme demonstrates how much of that ambition and fate survives: most of it, actually. Leaving parade–ground Universalism behind it, US great–nation expansion has now raised counter–nationalisms against its own, far more durable and organized than the Wahhabite zealots of September 2001. The artificial state–nation of Iraq has broken down into at least two national states in revolt, Kurdistan and the southern Shi’a–dominated country that British colonialists called Mesopotamia. The future of Sunni–dominated northern Iraq is less clear.

Writing in the New York Review of Books, US ex–ambassador Peter Galbraith argued that “the breakup of Iraq seems more likely than a successful transition to centralized democracy…Iraq can be held together only as a loose federation consisting of Kurdistan, A Sunni entity in the centre, and a Shiite entity in the south, with Baghdad as federal capital” (“How to Get Out of Iraq”, 13 May 2004). He pointed out the absurd discrepancy between this probable result and the original Bush/Blair plan for a secular market–driven democracy: their “triumphalist policy” has given way to nationalist realties, with national uprisings driving the US out of central Iraq, while “Kurdistan operates as a virtually independent state where the central government has no presence”. In the general terms evoked earlier, a great–national (or imperial) expedition is once more being defeated by insignificant asteroids who have rewritten the script — a bitter irony underscored by the fact that one of them, Kurdistan, was probably the most outstanding national question “left over” (for a century) by Acts One and Two of the play, once thought terribly old–fashioned.

Returning to the subject in a more recent edition of the NYRB (“Iraq: The Bungled Transition”, 23 September 2004), Galbraith suggests the sole remaining way out for empire would be the “loose federation” that might “create powerful regions and thereby a possible escape from our dilemma…recognizing that Iraq’s diverse peoples want very different things”. Three (or two–and–a–half) democratic nations would then be more likely to “cooperate effectively against the common enemies of terrorism and extremism than those preoccupied with protecting their national identity”.

But, what exactly is a “loose federation” in this sense? It could be nothing resembling the US, Australia, India, Brazil, L’España de las Nacionalidades, or any similar structure. Modern federations are, not surprisingly, by–products of the modern nationalist and neo–imperialist era. Like Abraham Lincoln’s United States after the defeat of the secession, all are in truth forms of the unitary, armoured state designed to prevent unavoidably diverse peoples from wanting things too diverse and uncontrollable, above all in relationships with other states. Federation is an expression of nationalism, not a repudiation of it. As Galbraith himself explains, there would not be the faintest chance of Kurds accepting federation with a Shi’a–national majority, and calling it “loose” won’t make it possible.

If on the other hand he means confederation, a system in which sovereignty remains lodged in its separate parts, then it must be pointed out that (as well as being unacceptable to the Shi’a) this could only rest upon recognized all–round rights of independence and self–government, which cannot be bequeathed by departing armies of occupation. Naturally, both the new constitution of the European Union and the United Nations would recognise such a status. But they will only be able to do so post hoc, once the wars are over.

The question of America

Free World deals mainly with the Atlantic area and its neighbours or offshoots. But the pattern described is not so confined. I mentioned Australia and China. At an “Asialink” forum in Canberra in August 2004, Professor Zhang Yunling from the Chinese Academy of Social Science told the audience that, while China certainly does not want a war, “At the moment it is seriously preparing for a real war” over Taiwanese independence. Why?

“For China, Taiwan is an emotional and sentimental issue. The Chinese people cannot go on accepting a steady move by Taiwan towards independence. China’s worries…are based on two judgements: the independence trend on the island and increasing US military cooperation with Taiwan.”

Hence it would be prudent for Australia to consider a more “independent” foreign policy – meaning a less one–sided obedience, which may in time carry the added benefit of participation in China’s economic dominance. No Australian expeditionary force to help subdue Taiwan will be required. A simple, steadfast refusal to defend democracy in Taipei will do, couched in the standard editorialese of Realism or safeguarding national interests. The Professor, one must assume, was well aware of Australia’s chronic identity and story–telling problems, and resultant proneness to great–power mesmerism.

Australian governments are indeed inured to balancing–act invitations. Since the massacres following East Timor’s independence in 2002, they have had to confront three farther affronts to the “emotional and sentimental issues” of another great–state neighbour, Indonesia: in West Papua, in the old sultanate of Aceh, and most recently in the partly Christian territory of Molucca.

Northwards and westwards again, great–Chinese and great–Indonesian identity dilemmas are matched by the rise of great–Indian, Hindu–based power complexes, combined in this case with nuclear arms and the sub–continental equivalent of Taiwan, Kashmir. Where great India arises, can a greater Pakistan be far behind? Prostration–choice will not be lacking in our region. Nor, by most accounts, is it likely to diminish much in a foreseeable future. Prophets of an Asian century have abounded over the last few years, usually locating their apotheoses in the second half of the 21st century. Naturally, all such expansive moments will invoke globalisation as support and entitlement, accompanied by cosmopolitan incense, UN lobbying, and combinations of bribery with the cold–shoulder.

Globalisation made in the USA

openDemocracy readers have been treated to all too many definitions of globalisation already. Yet another may be suggested, with due diffidence: “globalisation” is the process that brings the great–nation debt–collector to the front door of each non–great client every day of the week – not just now and then, or when “crisis” impends. But in any case, we have learnt from the US example that crises will forever impend. In the era of regenerate nationalism, these retain all their old utility, in the vital “emotional and sentimental” areas of mass allegiance – wherever identity is showing signs of realism–deficiency, undue pluralism, or over–concern about democracy and equality.

Whatever the capo dei capi offers can of course then be “formally” turned down; but only on pain of sanctions or worse. Not much use refusing to answer the doorbell, either. There’s muscle in the background, and other ways of imparting lessons in honest dependency. The World Trade Organisation and other organisations provide tutorials in the kind self–colonisation that knows its place.

Garton Ash wants Britain to survive, and continue to exercise the function Winston Churchill prescribed for it over half a century ago: a pivotal, or linking position between Europe and America, plus its remaining overseas links with Commonwealth states. “It must keep trying to pull America and Europe together” (p 53). But this possibility has become obscured by European development itself. So his argument is forced back on to “Europe as Not–America” (Chapter 2), where he finds that “the new enlarged Europe is engaged in a great argument between the forces of Euro–Gaullism and Euroatlanticism” – a debate upon which the future of the west depends (p 58). Unfortunately, the only conclusion the writer comes to about this is a two–faced one as well: he takes us from Janus–Britain to Janus–Europe – “America and most of the diverse countries of Europe belong to a wider family of developed, liberal democracies. America is better in some ways, Europe in others” (p 81).

His argument has been extended in a recent example of his widely–syndicated column. Perceiving that Blair’s servile posture towards Bush, which Garton Ash describes as “the Jeeves school of diplomacy”, he advocates a combination of British and French attitudes to form a Jacques Blair policy that is three–quarters Jeeves.

The argument hinges finally on what one thinks of the US itself. But maddeningly enough, the verdict reached is as two–faced as the questions that have led up to it. For he finds the Americans to be equally Janus–afflicted, “between unilateralism and multilateralism” (p 136). Garton Ash perceives the ascent of nationalism under George W Bush, of course, but stresses equally the preceding traditions of looser, more cultural hegemony. He maintains that no die is cast between these attitudes. Hence the vital importance of avoiding anti–Americanism. The rest of the world can help to ensure that the more tolerable sort of US authority and strategy prevails.

In such circumstances, those who govern us “are not utter scoundrels. But half the time they really don’t know what they’re doing...(and)...we can influence them”, above all by avoiding the perils of nationalism, British, French, American, European or whatever (pp 249–50, “What Can We Do?”). Britain should at last “find its role” in this cause, not by forsaking but by renewing its exceptional, or pivotal destiny (p 207). A former Archbishop of Canterbury who remarked that Britain is now an “ordinary little island” is fiercely rebuked: “These islands are anything but ordinary...” and remain capable of being “world–shapers”, at least for the next twenty years or so.

What principles should guide this British–inspired new coalition of the Free? There really isn’t much to say about them: Free World naturally can’t avoid the central pillar of the received wisdom – free trade, elaborated and endorsed several times in the course of the argument, with admonitions about the industrialised north becoming more systematic and “genuine” in its application, so as to encourage the less industrialised south. Equally conventionally, Trade is to be followed by Aid – much greater, and more focused in the same direction; and also, accompanied by genuinely global, enforceable agreements on the environment. But how many economists, foreign ministers, and editorialists have made identical pleas over the past twenty years? These didn’t avert (or remotely foresee) the “crisis” that Garton Ash is so concerned to resolve; why should any farther pursuit or repetition of them do any better, even on the much broader front he is proposing?

It should also be observed that the author refuses to tackle certain deeper, more antagonistic theses that have questioned the foundations of the neo–liberal creed. He recognises that new stories are needed, but not just how many, or how all–encompassing, these will have to be. Like Amy Chua’s study World on Fire (2002) for example, (“How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability”), where the argument is that rapidly expanding transnational trade in itself can’t avoid generating counter–trends of heightened ethnic and national resentment. “Identity politics” is no cultural pastime, but a struggle for survival and a demand, even a deadly demand, for protection. Or Emmanuel Todd’s After the Empire (Columbia University Press, 2004), an anthropologist’s analysis of the missing foundations for American or any other would–be globalising system.

Anti–Americanism

It is this combination of ahistoricism and unwillingness to seek any wider philosophical scale that compels Timothy Garton Ash to rest his argument so heavily on morals. Many readers are sure to enjoy such exhortation, but may grow somewhat fatigued by it. He counts too much on their goodwill, and his main argument rests too much on the conjectured goodwill of Americans. To be “anti–American” will just make things worse, he fears, thus endangering the rejuvenated Free World order he hopes for.

Few will doubt what he says about loud, highly–articulate American opposition to their new empire. My own file on the question is like everybody else’s: about two–thirds of it consists of outraged and vehement Americans who can’t stand what has happened to them and (like Michael Moore) want the country they know and love back again. Everything worst on neo–liberalism and Bush’s wars has come aus Amerika; but so has everything best, on this incredible scale, and vented with unremitting force and passion.

The trouble is, it’s not enough. Not enough for them, and certainly not enough for the millions of outsiders who want the direction of the American state to be righted, partly through sympathy and foreign commitment. Halliday was absolutely right on this point: the problem isn’t policies and moral attitudes, it is the nature of the state. But states are also nations; and Lieven has shown more clearly the character of the nation intertwined with this state.

The question may be clearer if one recalls roughly parallel past episodes, for example in Ferguson’s British tradition. In the early 20th century, at the height of UK supremacy, the arguments for not being indiscriminately anti–British were just as strong as those presented here. Were there not great oppositional movements within the metropolis itself? One school of Liberalism, the nascent Labour movement, “Little England”: all denounced the folly of imperialism, and sought governmental office in London, promising an end to colonialism and its pseudo–mission.

At that time too, liberationists from all round the globe found themselves forced simultaneously to oppose Britain, and appeal to this better side, to well–meaning allies and sympathisers within. The same was true in France’s North African and other overseas domains. Then as now, it was indeed futile merely to turn racism on its head, and apply identical criteria to the whole societies of the dominant oppressor powers.

Yet being decent about the Brits and the French didn’t help either them or their victims much. Indiscriminateness was never just stupidity, in other words. Stereotypes serve a purpose, and this is why moral entreaties have so little effect on them. They tend to be necessary conditions – both of the imperium, and of its counter–force, or resistance. It was simply not the case that there was “no point” in anti–Britishness and anti–Frenchness. And in the same sense, being anti–American isn’t thinking that Bush and Kerry, or Noam Chomsky and Paul Wolfowitz, are “just the same”, or as bad as one another. But what it does recognise is that both can’t help being part of a larger entity, of a cohesive state–nation or – looked at the other way round – of a nation that may have all too few powers of redressement, of reforming and righting its inherited state. The entity isn’t an abstraction; it’s a cohesive historical reality that populations cannot help “acting out” – a constitution in the true, indwelling sense, usually hard to escape from or reform. The greater the nation–state, the harder this is.

Take a recent, fascinating example that underlines the point. Jürgen Habermas and the late Jacques Derrida brought out a joint statement when the Iraqi war began in 2003, trying to establish just what is distinctive about European attitudes and politics, and to justify common opposition to the conflict. When interviewed on the subject “America and the World” in Logos, Habermas claimed that the war has shown the need to reform international relations, but that one must bear in mind how —


“…the project can only succeed if the USA, as in 1945, takes on itself to be the locomotive at the forefront of the movement. For one thing, it is a lucky accident of world history that the sole superpower is the oldest democracy on earth, and hence…has, so to speak, innate affinities with the Kantian idea of the legalizing of international relations.”
But there is no luck about the accident at all. No neo–conservative pundit ever omits deference to the “oldest on earth” from his or her daily diatribe. As Anatol Lieven points out, this is part of the “right or wrong” syndrome. The 2001 reanimation of US nationalism, with attendant ethnocentricity (chosen people) includes it perfectly naturally within the new external frontier (terrorism, evil) ideologically imposed by George W Bush’s Republicanism, and manifested in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. American liberals and leftists often say their country is “a republic, rather than an empire”, as if the problem is to get back to the former – the revolutionary state that schoolchildren sing praises of, and Immanuel Kant approved. But the problem is that this sacrosanct entity was long ago absorbed into what Habermas himself calls the “thick tradition” of a national identity that has been “hijacked” because it was hijackable – that is, taken for granted, unassailable, heartthrob guaranteed, a collective soul at once binding and transcending the citizenry.
Being “oldest on earth” and a vital part of the Enlightenment is part of the dilemma, not its resolution. As Mann’s Devil understood so well, this is what renders the unspeakable untouchable, and even Kant–worthy. Today’s US constitution was in fact up–graded and re–directed by Lincoln’s defeat of the southern Confederacy, and the subsequent establishment of Federation as a compromise between the old founding state and the demands of a rising great power; but that tends not to figure at the ideological level. Almost everyone in the American nation does or did support the resultant thick tradition. Some consequences became clearer with the presidential election of November 2000, when the oldest democracy on earth proved incapable of electing a leader. They are now clearer still, as he has been actually elected – inevitably, an act of profound enablement and national justification.

“Anti–Americanism” is based upon the intolerable prospect of living alongside a state like this, on a globe now too small to ignore or shelter from it. It is not founded upon half–wit counter–racism, guilt by association, or daft ideas about Europeans, Muslims or anyone else being superior, better–endowed, or closer to Nature. Rejection and resentment of hegemony concerns state power, not people directly.

Of course, states are organically connected with peoples, the one fashions and is fashioned by the other in a multitude of ways. And the most important inner nerve of this “thickness” is that of the lived constitution – constitutional democracy or its lack, the pretended, corrupted or failed forms of it. This is always something more than, and also quite distinct from, “what people are like”, in an everyday personal or emotional sense.

The strenuous, ethically–powered democratic opposition in the USA is admirable; but unfortunately, it also remains a primarily national problem, since it has to be conducted within the incredible, constricting, anachronistic framework so well described by Daniel Lazare in studies like The Frozen Republic: how the constitution is paralyzing America (1996) and The Velvet Coup: the constitution, the Supreme Court and the decline of American democracy (2001).

Not against reason

And now, an intensification of nationalism has intersected with such paralysis and decline, with the results that Lieven has described. It’s surely this that determines the anti–American positions so much in evidence and endlessly discussed following 9/11. These are unavoidable because (as Halliday suggests) it’s the identification of Americanism with Reason that has failed. Nor has this happened as any side–effect of the array of wild theories that Richard Wolin has recently surveyed in his The Seductions of Unreason (Princeton, 2004). There has indeed been what he calls an “intellectual romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism”, and it has had denigration of America as a constant theme, albeit “an imaginary or metaphorical America — the New World as a projection of European fears concerning progress, modernity, democracy, and an escalating rate of social change” (p 23).

Wolin’s impressive line–up of scoundrels and lookalikes, from Joseph–Arthur Gobineau to Jean Baudrillard, via Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger and the Frankfurt School, all perceived America as embodying an unreal, abstract humanity – the human nature of a deluded or mechanised Reason. Against this they have always invoked a romanticised irrationality and difference, whether as “blood” or (more recently) the life–giving virtues of ethnic diversity and multiculturalism. Such “anticivilizational rants” (p 301) tend to simply overlook “America’s contributions to the history of political democracy – a constitutional commitment to popular sovereignty, a Bill of Rights, periodic creative upsurges of democratic populism”, the “real America” Wolin promises to defend in his Introduction.

Garton Ash’s determined optimism is another chapter of this same defence. It is therefore very important to make clear that the counter–theses advanced here (and in other texts cited above) bear no relationship whatever to Wolin’s dreary heritage of anti–civilisational scaremongering. What they have come out of is the failure, or breakdown, of precisely what he extols: “real America” in its own terms. It’s the absence of commitment to popular sovereignty, the betrayal of the Bill of Rights spirit, and the non–upsurge of democratic populism following the non–election of George W Bush in 2000 that have done the trick – not mysterious mass conversion to relativist or neo–racialist twaddle. The triumph of 2004 was not just another election. It was the rite of passage of a reborn great–nationalism – and indeed, of many of those things Wolin denounces so effectively as romantic, irrational, and anti–civilisational.

All that “anti–Americanism” really entails in this sense is quiet (and pretty often disenchanted) consciousness of the Americans as just another country. I suggested in earlier contributions to openDemocracy that this might be a result of the 9/11 aftershocks. The US return to great–nationism was not a manifestation of globalisation as such, but an attempt to guide (or hijack) it more directly, and unanswerably – in other words to prevent it being global in the sense of shared by all. The rebirth we are witnessing is first of all, a birth. In this case, that of a nationalism with fewer restraints, overwhelming not simply in power but in the justification of a supposed war against Terror, and anti–Godly Evil. Refusal of such guidance and its implications has already divided the world, not only the United States.

Now as then, the inevitability of this “anti–” poses the bigger question of what the “pro–” is to be — something at least faced up to by Habermas and Derrida in their joint declaration on Europe. If there is an “opportunity of our time” staggering out from under the crisis, I don’t think it’ll be at all like what the British would like to see in Garton Ash’s narrative: a benign force that proceeds from Britain outwards, via Europe, America and the rest of the world, claiming to find a new, and naturally pivotal, role for London as it does so.

It’s not Reason or Civilisation that’s at stake here: just great–nation stage–impersonators convinced that the global audience would always accept their versions of human nature. As for the future of nations, nationality–politics, confederations of resistance and alternative, and so on: “There is no plan in this, no reason: fine. Does this really make it any uglier than if there were a plan?”

After the end

In her openDemocracy comments on George W Bush’s November 2004 electoral victory, Susan George remarks that it may live far longer in infamous reputation than “9/11”. Like Bush’s original non–election of the year 2000, the latter was only an event. The confirmation of Bush–style Republicanism and neo–conservatism three years on is much more like a settled direction – a situation long–term enough to mean relatively permanent changes, and accompanying differences over a broad range of matters.

A somewhat different United States, and an altered pattern of international relationships, are the very least that anyone can expect. This will be true even if later events – a Democratic party renaissance, a slump, intensified conflict inside the USA as well as outside it, and so on – bring about a defeat of the present régime. For any subsequent Washington government has to inherit the state so reconfigured, the present weird mixture of economic domination and financial dependence, and the huge and tumultuous wake of post–9/11 foreign policy all round the globe.

Timothy Garton Ash has been kind enough to update readers of Free World on his views of this prospect. In his column immediately after the election (“Great vote, grisly result”, Guardian, 4 November 2004), both the best and worst aspects of Free World are vividly on show. Ash visited the poor, black areas of Washington DC on polling day, and talked to numbers of indignant voters determined to oppose George W Bush.

“It’s South Africa!” was his first thought, or as he put it more theoretically: “one of those elemental moments as in South Africa, as in Poland in 1989, as in Afghanistan a few weeks ago, when the great, tempestuous river of democracy breaks through all the barriers erected in its way …” But alas, the barriers held, and as he admits: “There was the gut instinct of so many American voters…to put moral, cultural and lifestyle choices before anything else” and it was this instinct, so strongly infused with life after “9/11, that carried the day – and of course, far more than the day.”

Yet he still has to conclude, as in his book, that it’s a huge mistake to conclude that “George Bush is the true face of America”, which remains “one country, but two nations”. Hence it will be our self–colonising duty to put up with it, and make the best of whatever the victorious nation chooses to offer – choking back “the bitterest bile” as we do so – since it’s “our enlightened self–interest” to do so, in order to preserve what’s left of the free world and also to “keep faith with the other America”, those he met across black Washington. And in four years time they, and we, will probably get a better US president.
(...)

Publicado por maria teresa monica às dezembro 3, 2004 06:02 PM

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