ADVICE FROM THE COUSINS
we have been hearing quite a lot from our Cousins
across the water. All eaten-up with post-imperial
malaise and envy of US leaders' apparent good fortune,
the Cousins are hard at work handing out friendly
advice on how best to rule the world. They gave us
a lot of advice just after 1763, if memory serves,
but we weren't very receptive that week and kicked
them out of North America, not counting Canada. For
typical recent examples see Paul Johnson "From
the evil empire to the empire for liberty,"
The New Criterion, June 2003, and Max Hastings,
stayed to rule. They want to conquer and go,"
The Telegraph, 26 June 2003.
IRREALISM OF THE NEO-REALISTS
brings us back around, somehow, to the realist school
of foreign policy, and to their successors the neo-realists,
treated in an earlier column. The best of the realists,
such as George F. Kennan, had a sense of how the world
works, a vague notion of "balance" in international
relations, and a willingness to try looking ahead
at probable consequences of interventions. Their policy
prescriptions were not exactly the strict non-interventionist
ones that some of us might want, but on the other
hand, they were hardly chest-thumping optimists certain
that force will always prevail in the end. In other
words, they were quite different from currently influential
the neo-realists, some time after World War II.
don the "mantle of science" and assert that
their ideas are "empirical," "testable,"
and all that. A reading of their journals International
Organization will serve as an example reveals
a mind-set given to formulating hypotheses about what
goes on in the international state-system, testing
them against actual historical "data," however
recent, and then tightening up the hypotheses in the
light of the data.
is a rather odd way to proceed and, aside from the
circularity involved, it seldom seems to produce the
results the neo-realists seek, especially the power
to "predict" what will happen next in the
state-system. Odd or otherwise I mean the method
rather than the practitioners neo-realists
often claim that the state-system works best when
one hegemonic power oversees the whole show. Here
we must turn to an interesting critique by Isabelle
writes that neo-realists hold that "cooperation
and a well-functioning world economy" require
"a structure characterized by the dominance of
a single actor. Dominance by a hegemonic power constitutes
the optimal situation for ensuring and maintaining
an open and stable world economy." She quotes
David Calleo's observation, in 1987, that US leaders
appeared "ensnared in the fantasy of a reborn
Pax Britannica."(2) At this
point in the fray, the revelers hand out drinks and
toast Great Britain and, now, the United States for
having been, or being, just such benevolent overlords
of the world system.
undertakes to unpack the neo-realists' assumptions.
While she might disagree with the following generalization,
she has in effect discovered that a discipline whose
perpetrators imagine they can study human action with
the methods of natural science that is, empirically
and inductively will be driven back upon myth and
narrative structures, just as soon as the natural-scientific
quest is seen to fail, and even if the failure is
never directly admitted. The myth dear to the neo-realists
is that of benevolent hegemony gained and lost.
notes that mythical truth is subjective to individuals
or peoples and does not, therefore, provide a working
guide for the conduct of international relations.
In practice, national leaders project their mythical
assumptions onto the wide world,(3)
and the Devil take the hindmost. We have seen a lot
of this lately.
organizing myth rests on "a hierarchical perception
of world order and a cyclical vision of time."
Reviewing the work of Robert Gilpin, Grunberg replies
to his picture of history as a succession of empires,
writing, "it is also true that the world has
often relied on a decentralized way of maintaining
security, often referred to as a balance of power."(4)
claims that hegemony fosters free trade and is,
indeed, the only path to free trade rest, Grunberg
writes, on an "assumption of benevolence on the
hegemon's part," on a noble sacrifice of that
power's own self-interest. With self-renunciation
and deep wisdom, the imperial leaders undertake to
provide the world with global public goods: security,
free trade, order. Thus empire (okay, hegemony) yields
worldwide Pareto optimality, i.e., no one is worse
off for it, and most are better off.(5)
seems a bit dubious at best. Grunberg notes that "the
theory of hegemonic stability is of American origin
and is quite strongly biased in favor of the United
States." This is of course no problem for the
theorists in question. Power held by a uniquely righteous
nation can only bring about good; and the only gains
to that nation are of an almost spiritual kind. True
hegemons as against evil empires are generous
and giving, marked by "their ethical natures."(6)
so neo-realism looks more and more like a doctrine
for a Hegelian ethical state bestriding the globe.
STRUCTURES HANGING IN THE AIR
analysis of neo-realism as myth now begins in earnest.
Mythic structures, she writes, "are causative
models" that have "a 'subjective, rather
than objective, coherence.'" They sway people
because their content is already familiar.(7)
central mythic sequence is this: 1) the hegemon falters,
and 2) doom and gloom stalk the earth. It is right
out of the Poetic Edda. Grunberg quotes Charles Kindleberger,
who writes that, "there has to be a stabilizer
one stabilizer." Summarizing his claims, she
adds, that hegemony permits "harmony of interests
Ring to stabilize them all.
US leaders have volunteered their loyal subjects'
services in this thankless task.
PATTERNS AND ETERNAL RETURNS
presented by Grunberg, neo-realists give sundry reasons
for the cyclical nature of hegemonic projects in human
history. The much-feared decline of a hegemon may
follow from 1) its open-handed efforts at providing
the world with "liquidity" something
which only cynics would
see as exporting inflation; 2) over-investment abroad,
which raises up competitors; 3) sacrifice of the hegemonic
nation's technological lead; 4) generous imposition
of "free trade" resulting in a trade deficit:
a statistical illusion, as Tom Paine long ago noted;
and 5) drag on the hegemon's economy from subsidizing
those who "free-ride" on imperial generosity.(9)
Grunberg displays the various water metaphors employed
by neo-realists, a poetic alternative to those unedifying
input-output diagrams used by political scientists
in the 1960s. As a virtual international Mitra-Varuna,
the hegemon provides "gift and guarantee";
it "provides and protects."(10)
One wonders what Émile
Benveniste would make of it all. He would have
to revise his etymological dictionary at several points.
now, the hegemon has become a real, embodied person,
a paternal figure father to all men of good will.
As such, however, he is subject to those mythic reversals
in which sons rise up and kill their father. But as
long as he lasts, he is the World Savior or Healer,
and ground of all true order. Grunberg writes "the
figure of the hegemon-doctor is a messianic one."
He is a benevolent despot.(11)
is odd that an empirical science should rely so much
on "cosmological images" or "cosmogonies."(12)
I shall only mention Gnosticism in passing. There
are, as Grunberg shows, many sources for the mythical
structures of neo-realism.
a few other themes worthy of our heed. There is, to
be sure, the Fall. The collapse of the true hegemon
is a cataclysm like the "death of the sun."
It is part of an eternal return to primal chaos and
disorder. No wonder that, like the Straussians, but
for different reasons, neo-realists are always quoting
Thucydides.(13) It is their particular
contribution to neo-paganism.
course a Fall requires an earlier Golden Age, supplied
at present by the British Empire, as the Cousins never
tire of telling us. There is a divine genius at work,
it seems, in the true hegemon, when things are going
well. Grunberg writes: "Dean Acheson implies
that postwar America is the godlike creator of our
contemporary world. That the hegemon's power of creation
is a myth, however, can be seen by examining how two
allegedly hegemonic types of monetary systems were
actually created: although the nineteenth-century
gold standard was influenced by Britain, it in fact
had a decentralized, informal beginning; and although
the creation of the Bretton Woods system was strongly
influenced by American leaders, British influence
was felt to a surprising extent, given the power discrepancy
between the United States and Britain."(14)
mythical structures of neo-realism also allow for
projecting fascism onto "small, free-riding nations"
depicted as "predatory dwarfs" wilfully
getting in the way of the hegemon's good works.(15)
This is a much-needed maneuver, for otherwise the
discontented might begin comparing the hegemon's methods
and ideology to those of fascism, or other like systems.
That would never do.
hegemon's claim to inspired benevolence must stand
at all costs. When the empirical evidence remember
that? indicates otherwise, so much the worse for
the facts. The explanation will be that narrow, economically-oriented
domestic interests sometimes move the hegemon slightly
off his natural path.(16) That will
all be fixed in the next election cycle.
what does it all mean in the end? At the risk of sounding
ungenerous, it seems to mean that neo-realism is yet
another ideological cover tailor-made for those who
want to rule the world anyway. The results are not
as poetic as Vergil's work, but all the same they
draw from the deep well of myth. A first-century Roman
also seems to mean that neo-realism is not especially
Grunberg, "Exploring the 'myth' of hegemonic
stability," International Organization,
44, 4 (Autumn 1990), pp. 431-477. Grunberg identifies
Robert Gilpin, Robert O. Keohane, Charles P. Kindleberger,
among others, as the neo-realists whose claims she
pp. 434-435. "Balance of power" theories
have their drawbacks, too, but I leave that to one