bitter sanity

Wake up and smell the grjklbrxwg, earth beings.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

[posted by jaed at 8:08 PM]
In the New Republic, Paul Berman comments on Robert Kagan's idea that Americans see the world as Hobbesian while Europeans see it as Kantian:
This idea seems to me almost entirely wrong. The modern European idea does not seem to me Kantian. It seems to me Tocquevillean. It is a liberal democratic idea of a sort that cannot conceive of wielding power. It assumes that liberal democracy can only follow the path of a Sweden or a Switzerland or a Florentine Republic--the liberal democracy of virtuous and admirable countries that cannot possibly defend themselves, except by being inoffensive. In the European idea, power is imperial or nothing--the power of brutal empires, such as the Europeans themselves used to administer. Kagan writes that Europe has chosen to emphasize a nonviolent approach to world events today because the Europeans do not enjoy an option of doing otherwise. But the opposite is true. The Europeans (as Kagan acknowledges in a somewhat contradictory remark), with their 400 million people and their $9 trillion economy, could make themselves extremely powerful. They do not choose to do so. It is because they wish to be liberal democrats. And liberal democracy, in their concept, is a compromise, a mediocrity. It is, by definition, a negotiation--a good thing, but, as Tocqueville took pains to show, not entirely a good thing. And, because the Europeans cannot conceive or accept the notion of liberal democracy as a revolutionary project for universal liberation, they cannot imagine how to be liberal democrats and wield power at the same time.
Berman's complaints near the end of the piece about Bush's inability to speak persuasively about the American democratic project seem to me to miss the mark - Bush's plain and sometimes emotional language seem to me to be more what's needed here than cultured phrases and hip-to-the-moment references - and his deduction that the administration is therefore "Hobbesian" strikes me as bizarre.

But the article is well worth reading for its insight into the reasons Europe has for reluctance to assume military power. And while I suspect his conclusion is motivated more by antipathy toward Bush's style than by a realistic assessment of the situation, its direction to the importance of inspiration and of moral argument is completely right.

(via Harry Steele)

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