The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
Although the notion of national character has turned out to be of dubious validity, the notion of a national style holds greater promise. It is a postulate and a construct. It attempts to establish order in a chaotic mass of features by positing that a nation perceives the world, and its place in it, in a fashion which is never quite that of any other nation, just as no individual ever faces the world as anyone else does. This way is a procedure of selection, and therefore inevitably one of exclusion, and it is a procedure of distortion, because things that may be important are left out and also because the things selected are refracted through the prism of the nation's or individual's character.
Three aspects of America's singularity are relevant to the study of foreign policy: its past, its principles and its pragmatism. All three are part of a national experience whose relevance to the outside world is uncertain, because the conditions in which it has taken place have been so different from conditions anywhere else. And yet, Americans have never stopped projecting into their foreign policy the three facets of this experience: its historical component (the lessons learned and the mental habits derived from their country's unique situation); the American way of thinking, of apprehending the world mentally for judgment and for reform (a kind of rationalization of the American experience); and the American way of acting, of apprehending the world instrumentally, which consists of the tools that have made the American experience a success.
In this article I will leave out American pragmatism and concentrate on one aspect of each of the other two features: What has been the legacy of America's past to America's attitude toward history? And what is the nature of America's principles?
It might be amusing for amateur explorers of national psyches (there are no others) to establish a typology of national attitudes toward history- ranging, perhaps, from the new nations' often mythical, Rousseauistic sense of a long-buried golden age followed by the long night of corruption that preceded the recent dawn of independence, to the old nations' sense of history as an ocean with a patternless record of storms and lulls. In most cases, history is seen as a struggle-either a succession of melees with no final meaning or discernible order, or a slow, painful emancipation from various forms of enslavement to varying degrees of enlightenment. For the philosophers and ideologues who pretend to find a pattern in the record, a meaning in the jumble, history is a bruised witness constantly to be called to the bar; for historical agnostics, history is a burning garment that clings to our skins, a storybook that proves nothing.
The American attitude to history strikes me as quite different; we tend to view it placidly and from a distance. Americans know that they are in it, that the garment burns, but they do not quite realize how impossible it is to shed the garment or wear it without discomfort. The attitude is one of complacency, but the complacency is threatened.
In the United States, where conservatism is the conservation of progress, there has been-in contrast to Europe-a kind of happy simplicity that is both a domestic blessing and an obstacle to understanding, a source of inner strength and a mental and emotional impoverishment. The European response to crisis and challenge has been endlessly varied-Europeans are used to ups and downs, twists and turns, good and bad breaks. Consequently, they are skeptical about the possibility of success in applying recipes, abroad or even at home, that worked once in a particular circumstance. They are not sure enough that their history has been a success to want to extend its lessons to the universe. But Americans, whose history is a success story, tend to believe that the values that arise from their experience are of universal application, and they are reluctant to recognize that they are tied to the special conditions that made the American success possible.
The long experience of the United States in self-reliance has been followed by global entanglements which, while often brilliantly managed, have brought enormous disappointment and frustration. These would have been less if the expectations engendered by America's happy past had been more modest; as they are, they have in turn perpetuated a lingering nostalgia for a past that could not have been more different from the present. This has not paralyzed American foreign policy; it has, however, created a permanent tension between the needs of the external situation and America's inner psychological needs and hopes, and it has shaped the mood and manner in which the United States has picked up the challenge.
One manifestation of Americans' detached view of history is the tendency to discount the weight of the past. This intellectual act of faith in "modernity" is not merely the mark of a Lockean society raised on liberalism, for liberalism and belief in progress are not Siamese twins. It is the sign of a society which reads its own history as a kind of long prologue to the present and future, whose long isolation has meant that the history of others has been learned rather than experienced; whereas in Europe every nation's history is so weighty, and so closely interlocked with the history of other nations, that the legacy of monuments and memories is deeply imprinted in everyone's consciousness. It is also the sign of a society whose faith in progress takes on forms unknown elsewhere, looking forward as it does not so much to a gradual (or cataclysmic) improvement and transformation of history-bad parents engendering better children, who in turn will raise even better ones, etc.-as to a shedding of history, a perpetually renewed historical virginity. In contrast with their psychological difficulty in coming to terms with the inhabitants of Latin America-descendants of Europeans whom the United States had rejected and Indians whom in their own country Americans destroyed-the enthusiasm shown by many American students for "meeting Africa" may well be due to some affinity of one tabula rasa for another.
America's threatened complacency about history assumes many guises. One, often discussed by writers on American foreign policy, is the presumption of ultimate and stable harmony-a happy blend of liberal and conservative ingredients. Statesmen who view international relations as a permanent test of wills incur reprobation. International stability is the goal or concept toward which innumerable proposals for arms control or world policing measures have striven; indeed, the aseptic notion of a world purged of power politics-or in which the instruments of power are sufficiently blunted for international politics to become like the marginal quarrels, symbolic contests and incremental compromises of orderly consensual democracies-can be found in the most surprising contexts, such as the sophisticated arms-control discussions of recent years. History is a plain on which the pilgrims of progress move forward, it is not a mountain range with neither summits nor valleys in sight; foreign policy is seen not as a fluid interplay of kaleidoscopic forces and individuals, a continuum of conflicts and crises, but as an activity designed to deter and avert occasional nuisances that might slow down the march, as a series of rescue operations designed to bring the stranded traveler back into the plain; "trouble avoidance" and "crisis coping" define the task; it is a kind of "solutionism" that dies hard.
Obviously, though, this complacency is troubled by the intractability of the issues. And, since it is inevitable that events will not fulfill expectations, Americans tend to blame the world (i.e. others) rather than their expectations. In particular, a people that has never experienced defeat will be more likely to view the very possibility of even localized defeats as a catastrophe than peoples that are used to alternations of success and failure and whose expectations are more gloomily modest.
This distance from history and complacency about it converge in the frequently expressed conviction that we are on history's side, or vice versa, and our enemies are not. Other nations also tend to believe that they are history's favorites. In America's case, this conviction is remarkable because of the contradiction between the implied determinism-we appear to know what history will condemn to the graveyard and what it will choose for the future-and the irony or wrath that a comparable determinism provokes when expressed by Marxist opponents. Yet, whereas Marxist convictions rest on an analysis (however lopsided and crude) of economic and social processes, and belief in them can thus be called an empirically grounded act of faith, in the American case the empirical grounds are usually of the wishful-thinking variety, and the act of faith is a kind of whistling in the dark.
Another paradox of America's historical experience which affects the relation of the United States to other nations is the difficulty in cooperating with other nations as equals. American society was "born free" of the inequalities of feudalism and the hierarchical class consciousness of post-feudal industrial society, yet its encounter with the rest of the world has not been equalitarian. In this respect, the story is virtually the opposite of that of major European countries, which are far less equalitarian at home but of necessity much more so in the society of Europe.
Here, there are three effects of the American legacy. In the first place, whereas all past great powers (including Russia) have been great powers during periods in which there were no fixed amities or enmities (even the Franco-German antagonism did not become hereditary until 1870), the United States' involvement in world affairs has always occurred in a revolutionary period of total hostility, although, to be sure, the enemy has not been the same. Instead of a succession of limited antagonism and limited cooperation, characteristic of moderate periods, the United States has experienced a succession of unlimited enmities. Germany became an ally after having been a hated foe, not because the world contest cooled off but because a "total cold war" against a new foe replaced the total hot war. As antagonism toward the Soviet Union lessens, it is replaced by antagonism toward Red China. In other words, the potential equal was the former enemy, not the ally.
Second, those with whom the United States has been friendly have not been its equals: they have been dependents, ranging from Latin America since the eighteenth century to Britain during World War II-various kinds of dependents, to be sure, from subordinates to clients, but always sufficiently secondary to deprive the United States of the experience of a coalition of equals. The one time the United States was a member in such a coalition, in 1917-19, the experience seemed unbearable; isolation finally prevailed; America went home.
Third, the long tradition of noninvolvement in foreign affairs gave to American diplomacy a certain rigid limitation which the sudden veering to the extreme of total involvement in an unlimited contest did not completely overcome. The American tradition was one of unilateral action (largely by force) and of highly traditional diplomacy-stately representation and observation at the highest levels. The resistance of so many elderly Foreign Service Officers (those who have reached the memoir-writing stage) to the innovations required by the "total diplomacy" of the 1960s- propaganda, economic aid, the Peace Corps, public relations, etc.-is significant. This was not what they were trained for, but this is precisely what a policy of cooperative international involvement entails today.
It can be highly irritating to have to cooperate with others whose relative immunity from or vigorous resistance to pressure may give them a kind of compensatory equality, despite one's own size and predominance. But to others (especially in Europe) interdependence is the world's oldest story. They have always lived like sardines in a can-and are only too used to having someone behave at times like a shark. To Americans, interdependence is a kind of decline in sovereignty, and a contribution to overcoming the nation-state. For other states, interdependence is the norm and does not really affect the core of sovereignty; what affects sovereignty is dependence (as Rousseau so well understood), being subject to the demands and commands of others. To us, sovereignty seems eaten away and diminished by entanglement; to them, it is lost, not in cooperative arrangements, but only through transfers of power.
America's past has bred expectations and shaped perceptions that can be detrimental to free choice and effective action in foreign affairs. But because America's history has been one of a national "melting pot," and because it has been so blessed with rewards, it has also bred a set of beliefs that together serve to gild the historical lily; moreover, they serve the function or dysfunction of providing norms for evaluation and action.
The United States is not an ideological nation, and its policies are not ideological ones, if by ideology one means a body of ideas, emotions and symbols that aim at presenting a systematic and global vision of the world and its history, that serve as a commitment to, a guide for and a legitimization of action, and that are institutionalized in an organized political movement. An ideology in this sense is intensely operational, because of its institutional transmission belts, its dynamism and what I would call its outer-directedness-supposedly putting into the hands of its champions a key or a set of keys with which to unlock doors, a lever with which to move men and mountains. Moreover, it provides categories for the ordering of data, explanations for events and behavior, sometimes projections for illuminating the future.
On the other hand, American principles do not provide the kind of non- ideological guidelines or traditions that some nations preserve in their foreign policy-rules of thumb defining certain objectives, such as the preservation of the balance of power, in the British case, or the so-called tradition of natural borders or of Valliance de revers in the French. What distinguishes American principles about foreign affairs from such guidelines is, in fact, something they share with ideology.
Guidelines are ordinarily conservative, and by that I mean either (a) designed to maintain the overall status quo in accordance with the nation's interest, or (b) designed to further revisionist ambitions within a system of international relations believed to possess a permanent or necessary pattern. Ideologies, in so far as they deal with international affairs, are, typically, revolutionary-whether the revolution consists of pushing the hands of the clock forward or back. The system itself must be burned down, and the ideological nation is deemed the carrier of the torch.
American principles share two features with ideologies: one negative-their supposed transcendence of national interests (i.e. they are not designed primarily to further peculiarly American ambitions or interests, even if their success has that result); the other positive-in that, in foreign affairs, they go beyond the narrow universe of interstate man?uvres, and express general views about man and society.
Yet these principles differ profoundly from ideology. They are not institutionalized: no single party, no committed state machinery is there to carry the torch and burn the nonbelievers. They do not have the cohesion and interrelatedness of ideological dogmas, and normally they do not inspire the same degree of fervor, although it would be imprudent to generalize on this point. Most important, the vision they express is reformist rather than revolutionary, and they are not so historically grounded as ideologies. While the United States hopes to revamp political life along certain lines, while it envisages global change, its purpose is improvement without apocalypse. The American vision lacks the prophecies and "valued revelations" of ideologies and contents itself with embellishments and ameliorations on a basically accepted design, rather than a repudiation of this design altogether. Ideologies are historically rooted-by which I mean not that they correctly interpret historical trends and provide foolproof instruments for action, but simply that they provide historical explanations as well as ends, means for action and fuel for faith.
Now it is true that America's principles are, in two respects, deeply historical. For one thing, "the idols Americans worship are . . . the idols of their own culture transposed upon the world scene,"[i] the fruits of America's early beliefs and historical experience. But the trouble with this is precisely this inner-directedness, for, as we know, the American scene and the world stage profoundly differ. For another, some of the principles do reflect the United States' more recent foreign-policy experience. But the trouble here is that what ought to be a flexible and conditional guideline becomes a dogma that loses touch with historical realities and complexities.
America's principles fall into two categories: first, abstract dogmas and moral imperatives, deeply felt and widely shared, setting goals and defining rules for conduct; second, assumptions about behavior that purport to provide methods of action to achieve the stated goals. These imperatives and postulates explain the unique ambiguity of American foreign policy.
They are a source of strength, precisely because they do express intensely cherished beliefs and experiences, because they are so close to the American essence. They give to the United States its evangelical force, its missionary tone. To be sure, for a long time, the notion of the "chosen people" was interpreted as requiring severance from the world, but as soon as that severance became impossible, then action in the international arena was considered justifiable provided its aim was reform through the promotion of these principles. We often hear about the French idea of a mission civilisatrice (as a foreign-policy goal it extended only to France's colonies); in the American case, we would have to speak of an emancipating mission-first from the outside world, then of this world. The deliberate transposition of policies decided on grounds of power or national interest into the language of principle thus corresponds to two characteristic assumptions: that this is the language that best moves the American people because it is its own; and that it is likely to be the most effective abroad. The first assumption reflects an experience, the second only a conviction.
But these principles are also a serious source of weakness in international affairs. They are like bottles thrown upon the wave, flares in the night, calls through the fog, for one never knows whether they will be recognized or heard. Sometimes they are, because they happen to fit a given situation. Then the success encourages the United States to try them again and again. Surprise or dismay is the reaction when the battle is lost, when the flare illuminates no landscape, when the call is answered only by its own echo. For America's principles are disembodied. They are like a wine that intoxicates the vintner, but that all others find lacking in body. While they have a considerable a priori element, their norms are nevertheless grounded more in American political and social realities.
Now, both ideologies and guidelines indicate concrete goals, reveal connections, point out relevant sectors for action, designate concrete enemies. This may explain why the revisionist and the revolutionary are often allies, why the status quo conservative and the revolutionary may agree on an occasional truce, negotiated at cross-purposes but in the same language of political history. The reformist vision, on the other hand, which often shares lofty universal goals with the revolutionary, is not sufficiently grounded in history to be fully operational, nor is it Machiavellian or flexible enough to provide the kind of management of power relations in which status quo conservatives or revisionists excel. Typically, it consists of ends without means-shopping lists without the prices marked-or of oversimplified notions about means. The Declaration of Independence is not a sufficient charter for policy. The Communist Manifesto and the various programs of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union have their share of oversimplification, distortion and illusions; but they also have enough of an analytic method, enough of a grasp of social linkages, enough of a focus on historical trends to be able to correct their own mistakes to a considerable degree.
The United States has been spared the Byzantinism of ideology, but it has not avoided a harmful oscillation from impractical principles and postulates to sophisticated but also inconclusive sociological analyses, which are even less adequate as guides for action than principles or ideologies. Nor has it avoided one of the most paradoxical consequences of the disincarnated nature of principles: the fact that they neither die nor fade away (whereas ideology can be eroded by the routinization of its institutional support, corroded by repeated errors in interpretation and failures in action). Ideological dogma and principles rely on different kinds of faith: one is rousing, demonic, dynamic, activist; the other is simply hope. The first is a high explosive, yet it does not survive repeated failures and turns, then, into cynicism or passive, bitter indifference. But hope springs eternal. . . .
It is possible here to give only a few examples of the kinds of principles to which I refer. Americans are not alone in believing in them; but they are unique in their determination to act according to those principles as if the only lesson derived from sad experiences was that which Orwell's horse in "Animal Farm" always drew from its failures: "I shall work more" and try harder.
In the category of moral imperatives, two deserve brief discussion: the principle of self-determination and the principle according to which no changes in the status quo should be perpetrated by force (let us call it the principle of peaceful change). They correspond both to domestic American experiences projected into foreign affairs, and to mummified foreign-policy experiences.
The critique of the notion of self-determination is as old as Wilson's Fourteen Points, and there is no need to repeat the arguments often made about the indeterminacy of self-determination, the problem of national minorities, the contradiction between individual and collective rights. What is relevant to our discussion here is that the principle itself represents an admirable blend of ideals and self-interest-the ideal of freedom shared by most of the Western world, and the self-interest in using as an aim and as a goad to others a political notion which corresponds to the prevailing sense of legitimacy and which contradicts the adversaries' reliance on violent action by minority groups, their preference for coercion over consent, or their engineering of some sort of rudimentary consent. However, even if the nature of the unit in which self- determination is to be granted were always clear, or if the problem were one not of nationhood but of régime, there would still remain two headaches which the United States' dedication to the principle arouses.
First, there is the dubious presumption that a worldwide application of the principle of self-determination will always "come out right"-that no nation will ever vote itself into communism, as the cliche goes. This presumption in turn is based on the postulates that no nation ever willingly turns to dictatorship and that to people intent on national independence, communism everywhere and obviously will mean subordination to Moscow or Peking. In so far as all these postulates are open to challenge, blanket support of the principle of self-determination risks a dangerous conflict between the ideal and self-interest. To be sure, one could argue that since the postulates are right in the long run and in most cases in the short run too, a better definition of American interests would permit the acceptance of the principle even where and when its application goes against our immediate interest. But the question whether this is a good argument must be answered case by case and not on the basis of the principle alone.
This brings us to the second headache, which is that the principle of self- determination can be worked out only through machinery and institutions; the key question is often not so much whether a people will be able to determine what their government will be as whether it will be provided with the choices and political instruments of choice without which a vote would be a farce. For self-determination, like most ideal values and deities, has to be "mediated." "The people" is a driving force only occasionally; mostly it is a reserve force or a final arbiter. When there are no organized potential winners, where the people is an inchoate mass, or when there is only one organized force, the problem of self-determination is moot.
The principle of peaceful change (which has as its corollary that the United States must support or promote resistance to aggression) presents some of the same profits and problems. Once again, it blends self-interest and ideals. Once again, the main trouble comes in the application. Once again, it may be self-defeating or not operational at all. It may be self- defeating whenever the United States faces a situation in which its interest appears to dictate its crossing a border with forces or by force and without the invitation of the government in power. The argument that a sound definition of America's interest would prohibit any such violation of the principle begs the question. For the competition often dictates its own rules, and there may be an overwhelming need to violate the principle either for "possession" or "milieu" reasons, either to safeguard concrete interests or to uphold a symbolic value such as prestige. To be sure, a casuist can argue that such a move is not aggressive when the purpose is to overthrow a communist régime itself established by force or to prevent a forcible communist take-over. But is the régime then installed any less coercive because it was put in by the champion of the free world? Can one equate a régime established by free elections or by popular revolution, which then drifts into communism, with a régime imposed by force?
Or the principle of peaceful change may simply be irrelevant. For, as the specialists who wasted their wit and wile trying to define aggression found out, the notion of aggression is applicable only when there is a clear-cut, forcible crossing, by a foreign army, of the border of a well-established state with a government in orderly charge thereof. The very idea of "aggression" corresponds to a neat peaceful dichotomy in international relations and to a situation of domestic stability. Its applicability in an era of "neither peace nor war" is highly dubious-hence the collapse of so many of the rules of international law dealing with civil or interstate war. In the case of protracted conflicts, in which it is almost impossible to find out who struck the first blow, and even more in the case of civil wars fought over shaky régimes, the principle of resistance to aggression tends to become a rationalization invoked easily by all sides. And the notion of peaceful change in one case frequently conflicts with an absence of any channel for the peaceful redress of grievances or settlement of disputes; in the other it conflicts with a principle which Americans ordinarily cherish, the right to revolution. The reconciliation of that right with the dogma of peaceful change is a formidable task.
In the category of American principles that consist of assumptions (containing implicit goals, just as the dogmas rest on implicit assumptions), a few words can be said about two of them. The first is one that pervades American plans and programs for underdeveloped areas; it is the assumption that the central problem the newly independent nations raise is economic development. This presumes, first, that the behavior of the new nation will be determined largely by the level of its economic development; second, that the domestic régime is to a considerable extent a function of the level of development; third, that action in the economic sector of society will, if correct, produce beneficial results in the other sectors; fourth, that the proper goal of a genuine leader of one of these nations should be the development of his country. And the implicit goal in this set of postulates is that the United States ought to concentrate on helping underdeveloped economies reach a stage of self-sustaining growth. Now this is not a wrong objective; but if the postulates are only partly accurate, concentration on it will not necessarily lead to the expected results, or there may be instances in which it ought to be abandoned.
Obviously, economic development is an urgent necessity, and political leaders who neglect it are not likely to lead for long. But in the world as it is, only rarely do political leaders consider economic development either as the supreme end or as a goal to be achieved apart from many others, some of which might well curtail development in some way, and all of which tend to imbue this abstract goal with the color and flavor of politics. The experience of today's new nations does not differ so much from that of the nations of Western Europe at a comparable stage: their leaders are moved by a formidable array of motives, among which (for reasons already mentioned) the desire to scintillate on the the world stage, the drive to consolidate domestic control, the determination to integrate disparate elements of the population or to achieve certain social reforms figure as prominently as development.
This means that economic development is often seen as a means to other ends. Consequently, development aid will often be appreciated only to the extent to which it furthers those other ends; or development will be minimized if, in the leader's hierarchy of ends, those for which economic growth is a prerequisite are low or if those that are highest might be compromised by the acceptance of foreign aid. There is much truth in the argument that the absence of development is an assurance of chaos (the counterargument that development often leads to dislocation and trouble, while occasionally true, does not dispose of the case). But it may happen that development will lead to a different sort of irresponsibility-that of a complacent, "inward-looking" society that savors its growing prosperity and leaves the worries to others.
Behind this assumption about economic development, then, one finds less an analysis of the world scene than an idealized projection of America's own experience of economic growth which was accompanied by a large amount of social stability, social progress and political democracy; the projection of a nation where for a long time statesmen did indeed "concentrate on making progress at home instead of trouble abroad,"[ii] yet felt no remorse for looking inward, because they found the outside world to be quite ugly. But how can we forget that the United States' resources and social makeup were almost unique; that its institutions preceded and consequently shaped and channeled American economic growth (as shown by the persistent validity of Tocqueville's analysis, written before the age of mass consumption) ; that American abundance, the consensus of a "liberal society," and the voluntary limitation of objectives abroad spared the United States those painful choices among equally desirable but not simultaneously attainable goals which confront societies less rich in goods but wealthier in conflicting aims; and that the concentration on domestic issues did in fact entail turbulence and some irresponsible negligence abroad, and in any case was made possible by a completely different international system? For the United States also, economic development was a springboard, a means of action, a prerequisite for world power; but due to their prolonged isolation and their dislike of that power, Americans oscillated between the view that the country's business was business and the view that its business was universal emancipation-two beliefs that tend to isolate the process of economic growth from the pattern of foreign affairs.
Another frequent assumption (or set of assumptions) is summed up in the word "consensus." Americans are convinced of what I have elsewhere called the procedural illusion: that consensus is not only possible, as the outcome of mutual adjustments among men of good will, but the best basis on which leaders can make choices. The implicit goal is, of course, the achievement of consensus. What one finds behind this notion is a certain conception of rationality-a faith in the existence of a single kind of rationality, often obscured by prejudices and bad habits, but, like Rousseau's general will, ready to shine when the layers of dust and dirt have been removed. One also finds the cousin concept of ultimate harmony: just as there is a single rationality between competing biases, there is a potential community behind conflicting interests. Since diversity of views does not preclude the triumph of reason and harmony, it is quite true that community and diversity are twins. Third, one finds the implicitly assumed universe of utilitarianism, which defines values in measurable terms and aims at the greatest good of the greatest number.
These notions lead to a definition of politics as interpersonal relations. There is an implicit vision of a continuum of small groups and international politics; each larger whole appears reducible, and susceptible, to analysis in terms of a small group of claimants groping toward consensus through what has been called partisan mutual adjustment.
What appears to this writer as a sin of transposition-from one type of social action to a very different kind of reality-is, once again, a projection of the American experience; it is the "liberal ethos" writ large; it is the liberal society superimposed on a state of nature. For at the back of all this, there is a kind of super-model of a community whose members share fundamental beliefs (including this unconditional faith in a certain procedure of adjustment). They haggle over a little more or a little less in the distribution of goods, but they are agreed on the need to agree, and adjustment is facilitated by a network of rules and conventions. In such a community, all that is at stake are indeed what Charles Lindblom has called "relatively concrete choices at the margins," where trading is helped by the knowledge that my loss today will be compensated by a gain tomorrow. The only point in common with the international state of nature is the multiplicity of claimants. But national claimants are under no compulsion, mental or physical, to define values in such a way, to bargain only at the margins, or to reach agreement. In the one case, the lack of any dominant power is an incentive to mutual adjustment, in the other it is a handicap. The intelligence of (a certain kind of) democracy is not that of international relations.
What Pascal said of the quest for God applies to the search for consensus: "You would not seek me if you had not already found me." Consensus is possible when a sufficient basis for community exists at the start. When there is a fundamental harmony on ends and disagreement is only over means, or when the means are abundant enough to reconcile diverging hierarchies of ends, pluralism is effective and creative; the ultimate consensus exudes from the procedural consensus that framed the debate, and it is likely to be sufficiently clear to incite and to guide action. When there is no preestablished harmony in a world of competing units, each with its own rationality, it takes more than good will and personal relations to establish agreement; the choice is between a verbal consensus that maximizes ambiguity and paralyzes policy, and discord. The United States, especially in its self-idealized version, is to a large extent a Rousseauistic society, moved by a vision of the general will and marked by a strong social pressure toward conformity. But Rousseau, who was a thorough pessimist, never applied the social contract to the international scene.
[i] Max Lerner, "America as a Civilization." New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957, p. 920.
[ii] Arthur Schlesinger, "A Thousand Days." New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1965, p. 567.