Montag, September 26, 2005

Something Positive in "Der Spiegel"?

Amazingly enough, there is something NOT anti-American in this week's Der Spiegel, the major German newsweekly. It's on page 216ff in Spiegel 39/2005

If you know David's Medienkritik, you know that Spiegel is invariably anti-American: it's part of who they always have been (I've been a regular Spiegel reader since sometime in 1976, when I started learning German, and some things rarely change: they write very, very good German and it is the big seller, so I continue to read it...) and probably always will be.

But in today's issue there was a surprise. I haven't been able to find an on-line link, as the interview is too new for Spiegel to provide it for free on-line (they like lagging their articles).

It's an interview with Andre Glucksmann, probably the only French intellectual that actually deserves the title. Here's a link that gives you an inkling of what he's about, as is this.

I've been reading Glucksmann since the mid-1980s as he was the premier French thinker on dissuance in French strategic thinking on nuclear weapon in the 1980s (had to do with my master's thesis...)

I'm not going to translate the article, since I've got a forecast and rating to get finished (and I don't want to run afoul of copyright nonsense: hence only this "fair use") and it's not my job.

But these are the key points that Glucksmann brings that I really wish I could have said as well.

It's about evil: through the major restructuring of the world after WW2, a moral vacuum arose affecting 3/4 of the world's population. Old ways were broken and discarded and new ways haven't made much sense. Rules, norms, institutions and the like have been thrown into turmoil, resulting in armies of "new warriors" (Heerscharen neue Krieger) which explicitly includes the anarchistic child-soldiers of Africa and Asia. These "new warriors" know no limits and no borders for their behavior: their motto is "anything goes". This is the logical result of modern nihilistic philosophies, the negation of any moral strictures within massive societal changes.

The difference between this sort of militarized chaos and anarchy and the chaos and anarchy of the Thirty Year's War is that there is no longer any sense of evil. Everyone argues about what is "good", this is standard political dialogue (we should do x because it results in y, which is a good thing, with others having competing ideas of what needs to be done in order to achieve something that they consider "good") in the modern body politic. This is the core of modern political pluralism, which doesn't really do in and of itself any damage.

What is new is that the existence of evil is not something that anyone is willing to admit to. If there is no evil, than anything goes: it's all relative, right? This is the basic principle of current nihilistic politics in the West, especially Europe and is the core of "political correctness" in the US (this last is my take on this). Civilization is not necessarily based only on common conceptions of a common good, but also on limitations, on setting of taboos and of codifying, via laws, what is considered to be evil. Thus we define evil.

The Spiegel reporer then asks (and I can just hear his tone of incredibility here...): Then President Bush was right, like Reagan before him, and in stark contrast to "old Europe" in speaking of the Axis of Evil or The Evil Empire?

Glucksmann answers him thus: we are defrauding ourselves (Wir betrugen nur uns selbst...) if we think that in the run of history all that is needed is scientific and technological advances, prosperity, tolerance, respect and diplomacy in order to work everything out. This kind of naive "waiting for things to work out", that time is on your side, is deadly. The peaceful end of history, ala Fukuyama, isn't going to happen peacefully because we want it to: western democracies need to realize that there are forces out there that are evil, that will try to acquire absolute power if not challenged.

The Spiegel reporter (Roman Leick, by the way), is appalling here: he says "the Pope couldn't have said it better."

Glucksmann isn't talking about the devil and supports the idea of a secular morality defended by a union of democracies. We need to be closer to Bush than to Putin: Putin is anything but a pure democrat, which is the way the German chancellor, Schroeder, refers to him in a fit either of naivete or cynicism (if you know German politics, it's the latter - JFO).

Now Leick trots out the "objective causes for hate": he insists that hate, manifested by terrorism, has usually a factual, external reason: poverty, repression, slavery, etc.

And Glucksmann says: This may shock you, but yes: I deny that there is such a basis for terrorist hate. He doesn't deny people a right to revolt against tyranny and occupation, but he does deny that there is any objective basis for terrorism, which is the deliberate indiscriminate killing of civilians, human bombs and the use of children as hostages, as was the case in Breslan.

Spiegel: Sure, but how do you prevent such breaking of taboos? (Grenzüberschreitung)

Glucksmann: Throughout history people have been repressed, tyrannized, occupied, have experienced deliberate famines and exploitation without resorting to the kind of hateful terrorism that you see today. For Glucksmann, true heros are those who under such circumstances do not resort to mass murder and terror. Terror has poisoned all modern liberation movements, from Algeria to Vietnam; when the means become horrible, they destroy the ends, regardless of how noble they might be.

And modern terrorism based on hate isn't a function of poverty, but is also at home in the palaces of the rich.

This hate is centered on three objects: Jews, Americans and Women.

The reporter: How did Antisemitism survive Auschwitz (either the reporter is leadng the question or he's incredibly naive. I hope the former...JFO)

Glucksmann: The Jew is the eternal disrupter, a witness of the chaos of the world, the "other" as such. Jewish presence in the middle ages placed into question the christian identity of Europe, since he knew, in contrast to heathens, the bible. In more modern times he was never German enough, never Rusian enough, never French enough, but rather had his own cultural identity, and today the presence of the Jew in Israel means that the dream of a harmonic, peaceful, comprehensive and encompassing vision of the world (Sideline: it was a French diplomat, after all, who complained about that "shitty little country" that was making such a ruin of what could be a wonderful business relationship with the Arab world - JFO)

Further, the survival of Jews after Auschwitz is, for the antisemite,  an unexcusable blot on the record of a world that for the most part was more than willing to stand aside and simply watch it happen.

Now, this is fundamentally the same as anti-americanism: America is accused of disrupting the world order by simply existing, one of the long-term basic arguments of anti-Americanism going back to the founding of the country. The mythology of American superiority is used to make the US responsible for everything and to make it guilty for everything.

(Seldom have more accurate words been spoken on the subject of anti-Americanism. - JFO)

The world has been multipolar for quite a while, the US cannot dictate everything. Putin is more imperial than the US, and modern China resembles ancient Egypt of the Pharoahs, with the modern technology married with the modern equivalent of mass slave labor.

And women are targeted because they challenge the traditional role of men in society and family.

And that's basicaly the end of the article.

I'm slightly amazed: rarely has such an article appeared in Spiegel which puts lie to so much nonsense that Spiegel normally propagates.

Could this be a turn for the better?



Scott hat gesagt…

"Could this be a turn for the better?"

Don't hold your breath.

John F. Opie hat gesagt…

Hey Scott -

So I'm an optimist. I know too many Germans for me not to know that they can be positive if they want to. :-)


CasualReader hat gesagt…

The short version...

"Evil flourishes when good men do nothing."

John F. Opie hat gesagt…

Hi casual -

In a word, yes.

But also think of it this way: it's not just a function of evil flourishing when good men do nothing, but also of evil flourishing when good men deny that there is evil.

Big difference.

Anonym hat gesagt…

>>probably the only French intellectual that actually deserves the title

I'd also put Alain Finkielkraut in this category.

John F. Opie hat gesagt…

Hi Anonymous...

Good point: Finkelstein does argue well on "the fallacies of a new emancipation": that the fundamental problems remain.

Thanks for the pointer, I'll have to see if my rusty French is up to reading him in the original...