Apologist for the Wretched Crimes of Socialism Speaks. Michael Walzer, the last sane Leftist on Earth, which, unfortunately, doesn't stop him from routinely twisting himself into knots trying to construct elaborate apologia for Leftist totalitarianism, mass-murder, and all-around political evil, tackles the vexing question of Empire.
The war in Iraq has given new urgency to the debate about "American imperialism." In fact, there hasn't been anywhere near enough of a debate; the term is used routinely by critics of the war and routinely rejected by its supporters-though some of the supporters seem to believe if not in imperialism exactly, then certainly in empire. So, is Washington the new Rome? Is there an American Empire? Was Iraq an imperialist war? It seems to me that we need a better understanding of America's role in the world than this old terminology provides. Criticizing the uses of American power is now a central political task, so we had better recognize what is going on before our eyes.
Still, the easiest answer to my questions is, "Of course!" Hasn't the United States played the major role in constructing a global market? Don't we control its regulatory agencies-the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization? Aren't most countries around the world open to the profit-seeking of American corporations and entrepreneurs?
Point #1: Imperialism=Capitalism. Walzer tries to back away from it later, but never manages to refute it openly. "Critiscizing the uses of American power" is a great phrase, as if the Left is involved as anything as intelligent, discerning, and informed as "criticism". The Left is involved in one thing and one thing only: slander.
But empire is a form of political domination, and it's not at all clear that market dominance and the extraction of profits require political domination. Perhaps they did in an earlier age-so the history of European empires and of the United States in Central America suggests.
Ok, first of all, why is anyone talking about the era of European imperialism anymore? Its dead as an era can be. If there's any part of the world that has become the opposite of imperialistic, i.e. painfully timid and increasingly isolationist in every way, its Europe. The remark about Central America is barely worth commenting on. The United States involved itself, and rightfully so, in the the battle against Communism in Central and South America and the brutal crimes which the Left committed there cannot be washed out of history, no matter how hard Walzer and his ideological ilk attempt to do so. Walzer here tries to accomplish the typical Leftist sleight of hand: identifying whole countries with their Left wing. Contrary to his lies, not everyone in Nicarauga, El Salavadoe, et. al. wanted a Socialist totalitarian system, and were quite happy to recieve help from the US in resisting the brutal attempts of their indigenous Left to take over their nations by force.
If less than two years after 9/11, on the eve of a major war, we could not count on such states as Mexico and Chile-well, what kind of an empire is that? As I write today, the prospects of the United States imposing a regime of its choosing on Iraq don't look terribly good, and this after decisively winning an "imperialist" war!
Afghanistan=imperialist war. Now, Walzer doesn't seem to be endorsing this point of view, but the fact that he uses it indicates that it is a widespread belief in many circles on the Left, and this does illustrate something. Its this: the Left is still spending the majority of its time and energy defending political evil and totalitarianism. The fact that the Left is so resoundingly narcississtic that it cannot concieve of any non-imperialist reason (such as the fact that we were attacked by terrorists originating in that country and supported by its government, for instance) for the invasion of Afghanistan. Morons.
By the way, 9/11 goes virtually unmentioned in this essay, underlining the total inability of the Left to process the event in any meaningful way. They are living, and will live forever in a Sept. 10th world, just as the America Firsters spent the rest of their political lives in Dec. 6, 1941.
"Empire" needs extensive qualification if it is to describe anything like what exists, or what is possible, in the world today. (Hence the appeal of terms such as Michael Ignatieff's "empire lite.") But perhaps there is a better way of thinking about contemporary global politics, drawing on the related idea of "hegemony." In common use today, "hegemonic" is simply a less vivid way of saying "imperialist," but it really points to something different: a looser form of rule, less authoritarian than empire is or was, more dependent on the agreement of others. Consider these words from Antonio Gramsci, the foremost theorist of hegemony-who wrote, however, in the context of domestic political struggles: "The fact of hegemony presupposes that one takes into account the interests and tendencies of the groups over which hegemony will be exercised, and it also presupposes a certain equilibrium, that is to say that the hegemonic groups will make some sacrifices of a corporate nature."* Hegemony rests in part on force, but it rests also, even more so, on ideas and ideologies. If a ruling class has to rely on force alone, it has reached a point of crisis in its rule. If it is to avoid that crisis, it has to be prepared for compromise.
This is total balderdash. Walzer, for all his intelligence, still cannot escape the Marxist shibolleths about all things being political and all relationships being constructions of the application of power. What the US has today is not so much hegemony or empire, but influence. Its like the planet in Einstein's concept of gravity, an enormous mass which pulls the surrounding objects towards it. If Walzer could get his head out of the Left's obsession with America as invariably driven by sinister motivations, he might understand this. He might also be able to confront (as his colleague Paul Berman quite courageously has) the foul love affair on the Left with conspiracy theories and paranoiac analysis.
George W. Bush's unilateralism is a bid for hegemony without compromise; perhaps he sees America playing an imperial-perhaps also a messianic-role in the world. But unilateralism is not, so to speak, the natural mode of American power; since World War II we have played a major role in shaping international organizations; we have negotiated alliances; and we have generally been willing to consult with our allies in responding to critical events, such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and in dealing with dangerous political or environmental tendencies, such as nuclear proliferation and global warming. The wish to act alone is new. Perhaps it has something to do with 9/11 and the fear of future terrorist attacks. But fear is a better explanation of Bush's political strength among the American people than it is of the policies he is pursuing. Unilateralism predates 9/11; it is the product of arrogance and ideological zeal, perhaps also of a certain recklessness; it reflects a view of American power as inaccurate as that held by many of Bush's critics. In the contemporary world, imperial rule is an exercise in futility-but a dangerous exercise nonetheless.
Firstly, Bush's foreign policy is not unilateral. It does, however, bypass two major factors which are held fast to the heart of the left: the United Nations and our erstwhile continental allies France and Germany. The fact that both of these factors have historically been deeply problematic and often feckless to the point of seriously undermining American security and foreign policy counts for nothing with Walzer, of course. He also buys the nonsense that these alliances have been somehow fruitful or have aided the US or the world in some substantial way, which they haven't. In fact, the UN must take credit for having helped to legitimize much of the terrorism we face today, and France and Germany with opening the European mond to the virtues of mass slaughter in the name of Islam. Hardly much of a track record. Perhaps Mr. Walzer ought to turn that oft-mentioned critical faculty of his against our allies instead of his own country for a moment.
At the height of the cold war, indeed, we refused to bear with (more or less) democratically elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile.
They never give up, do they? The "more or less" is a nice touch. As I've said, more stupifying inability to acknowledge that the left is a specific political movement and does not define an entire country and that in internal struggles such as that between communist totalitarians and everyone who doesn't want to live under their utopian tyranny one does sometimes have to take sides.
I don't think there's much to add to this. Once again, the Left is not engaging in a debate, its having a genial, safe, utterly close-minded conversation with itself. The fact that one of the few remaining Leftist intellectuals who believes it necessary to stand against this kind of incipient intellectual totalitarianism seems unable to break out of that room of mirrors is depressing indeed.