April 25, 2003
by John Fonte
“It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world,” writes Robert
Kagan in the first sentence of his new book, Of Paradise and Power, an expansion of his seminal article in (Policy Review, June/July 2002). “Americans, “ Kagan tells us, “are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.” While Americans (by necessity) are mired in “history,” that is, in an “anarchic Hobbesian world” of power politics where “clubs are trumps,” Europeans are entering Immanuel Kant’s “post-historical paradise” of “perpetual peace.” Kagan’s original article caused a sensation among European elites. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, sent the essay to leading strategists and diplomats, describing it as must reading, and Kagan’s thesis had been widely read and debated on this side of the Atlantic as well.
Kagan argues that Europe and America are divided by a power gap and an ideological gap that “reinforce each other” and “may be impossible to reverse.” At the core of the transatlantic division is an overwhelming disparity in military-technological power that has developed over the past decade as American defense budgets and advanced weaponry have dwarfed European military capabilities. At bottom, the sharp divergences between the US and Europe “reflect, above all, the disparity of power.” Moreover, the “psychologies of power and weakness” logically dictate that the stronger power (US) is more willing to use force to accomplish its goals than the weaker power (Europe).
America and Europe, therefore, have different “strategic cultures.” Unlike an American strategic culture willing to use force to confront and coerce its adversaries, unilaterally, if necessary, European strategic culture (in the view of its intellectuals) prefers persuasion to coercion, negotiation to confrontation, international law to military force, and multilateralism to unilateralism. In addition, Kagan notes, the Europeans “try to use commercial and economic ties to bind nations together” and “often emphasize process over result, believing that ultimately process can become substance.”
Even more important than the power gap is the philosophical-ideological split in which, the Europeans, especially since the creation of the European Union (EU), have “developed a set of ideals and principles regarding the utility and morality of power different from the ideals and principles of Americans…” The Europeans have consciously rejected the power politics (Realpolitik) of their past. EU official Robert Cooper argues that Europe lives in a post-modern age in which “moral consciousness” in international relations has replaced Machiavellian statecraft.
Of course, the major historic problem of Europe of the past century was the “German problem,” Since the end of World War II a once aggressive Germany has been tamed and integrated into a peaceful Europe. Many Europeans like to believe that peace on the continent has been achieved through the transformation of European consciousness and the development of the political and economic arrangements of European integration. Kagan deftly points out the great irony that the “military destruction of Nazi Germany was the prerequisite for the European peace that followed.” US military power played a large role in the defeat Nazi Germany and it is US military power today that permits Europeans to live in a post-historical Kantian world of peace. “Europeans did not need power to achieve peace, and they do not need power to preserve it,” Kagan states, because, at the end of the day, it is American power that guarantees European security and peace.
Nevertheless, European elites believe in the superiority of their new ideology and actively promote their vision in world politics in competition with older theories of international relations and in competition, indirectly and sometimes directly, with American principles and interests. “Many Europeans,” Kagan tells us, “believe” they have a new vision to offer the world, which is not based on “power, but the transcendence of power.” The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, insists that Europe “has a role to play in world governance,” through replication of the European experience on a global scale. In the EU, Prodi declares, “The rule of law has replaced the crude interplay of power”….[By] making a success of integration we are demonstrating to the world that it is possible to create a method for peace.”
For the reasons stated above, Kagan maintains, “we arrive at what may be the most important reason for the divergence in views between Europe and the United States. America’s power and its willingness to exercise that power—unilaterally if necessary—constitute a threat to Europe’s new sense of mission. Perhaps it is the greatest threat.” Thus, Kagan points out US military action in Iraq that is carried out in a unilateral and “extralegal” manner (i.e., without UN approval) “even if successful is an assault…on Europe’s new ideals, a denial of their universal validity, much as the monarchies of 18th and 19th century Europe were an assault on American republican ideals.”
Kagan concludes that despite this divergence between the US and Europe there is still a “West” that shares a common set of “aspirations for humanity.” Moreover, he agrees with the core premise of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” theory, that the age-old question of “how mankind might govern itself had been definitively settled in favor of the Western liberal ideal.”
Finally, Kagan ends by recommending that the Europeans accept and support with good grace America’s prominent role in the world as a small price to pay for the preservation of their own peaceful “paradise.” At the same time, the Americans should show more “generosity of spirit” and “more understanding for the sensibilities of others.” Thus, US foreign policy “could pay its respects to multilateralism and the rule of law.” These small steps will not close the divide between the US and Europe, but, nevertheless, a “little common understanding could still go a long way.”
For all its skill, erudition, reasoned argument (and ironic thrusts sure to delight American readers), Kagan’s essay is ultimately unsatisfying. It stops short of examining and, more significantly, obfuscates the core ideological problems facing the West—the problems of democracy, self-government, and the fate of the liberal-democratic nation-state.
Kagan tells us that “the new Europe” (which is to say, the EU) is a “miracle,” a “paradise,” and a “reason for enormous celebration” by Americans, as well as Europeans. But EU Europe is not a cause for American celebration on the grounds of either Realpolitik (practical-political) or Moralpolitik (philosophical-moral). The governing structure of the EU with its universally recognized “democracy deficit” is a mostly unaccountable, unrepresentative hybrid regime that is, in reality, a post-democratic form of governance. Whatever it is, it is not “government by consent of the governed,” and it is morally inferior, not superior, to that great achievement of the West, the liberal democratic nation-state.
Moreover, as we have seen recently, in the practical world of international politics, it is the liberal democratic nation-states of Europe, not the post-national EU that have rallied to the support of the United States. What the Economist called the “gang of eight,” (Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, and the CzechRepublic) endorsed the US stand on Iraq in their capacity as democratic nation-states in opposition (explicitly and implicitly) to the implied common European foreign and defense policy crafted by EU elites. Pace Kagan, the political integration of Europe does not, in most cases, necessarily, “benefit” American foreign policy.
Instead of “celebrating” EU Europe, as Kagan suggests, we should be celebrating (and politically encouraging) democratic nation-state Europe. The true “miracles” of post World War II Europe are not the bureaucratic institutions of Brussels, but the emergence of genuine democratic nation-states. Let us celebrate and give support to self-government, not bureaucratic collectivism. It is the emergence of new democratic nation-states in Spain, Portugal, and Poland, and the endurance of British parliamentary democracy that are reasons for celebration—not the creation of the EC, the European Commission.
If the Europeans are more divided than Kagan asserts, so too, perhaps are the Americans. While he does say that many in the American intellectual elite are more “European” in their approach to power, he does not examine the extent to which the American liberal-left (including foreign policy specialists, NGO activists, and elected officials) seeks both to constrain American power, and manipulate democratic self-government by empowering transnational institutions (e.g., International Criminal Court), with authority to make decisions that constitutionally reside with the American Presidency, the Congress, or the courts. As Jeanne Kirkpatrick noted, “more than a few activists here at home, seek to constrain and control American power by means of elaborate multilateral processes, global arrangements, and UN treaties that limit both our capacity to govern ourselves and act abroad.” (emphasis added)
In a sense two “Wests” are fighting for the soul of the Occident. There is the “West” of the liberal democratic nation state friendly to American power, American democratic self-government, and the parliamentary democracies of Britain, Spain, Poland, and other Western nation-states. Then, there is the ”West” of a post-national “progressive” coalition on both sides of the Atlantic that seeks to limit American power, (and implicitly) American constitutional democracy, and the self-government of the democratic nation-states of Europe in the name of transnational authority.
Near the end of the book Kagan states that, “Americans, as good children of the Enlightenment still believe in the perfectibility of man, and retain hope for the perfectibility of the world.” On the contrary, the American Founders did not believe in the “perfectibility of man.” Moreover, they created a constitutional republic based on the principles of federalism, the “separation of powers,” and “checks and balances” precisely because (unlike the French Revolutionaries) they knew that human nature was flawed and that human beings were not perfectible. They did, of course, believe in improvement, and, as Madison put it in Federalist 55, “there are other qualities in human nature that justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. “
In the final analysis Kagan’s Hobbes vs. Kant metaphor abandons the moral high ground to the EU ideologues. The essay fails to defend either the principles of America’s democratic constitutionalism against the challenge of EU Europe’s post-democratic governance (lauded as a “paradise”) or America’s friends in Europe who prefer to act within the context of the democratic nation-state rather than the strictures of Brussels. He also underestimates those elements in the American elite, who, unable to contain American power through institutions of American democracy such as the Congress and federal courts, increasingly turn to international law as a weapon block to American policy.
Throughout his career, Robert Kagan has been a severe critic of foreign policy realists who emphasize the “balance of power” at the expense of morality, ideology, and principle. Yet, in this book Kagan’s emphasis is mostly on power, not morality or democracy. Thus, ironically, as the author of this text he is “objectively,” as Marxists used to say, a realist. Unfortunately, this leaves the crucial philosophical-ideological divisions within the West (the great issues of Moralpolitik) that are central to the US-European controversy mostly unexplored.
John Fonte is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson's Center for American Common Culture.
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