In Praise of Lesser Evils
Can Realism Repair Foreign Policy?
The world of the 20th century, if it is to come to life in health and vigor, must be an American Century . . . our Century.-Henry Luce, "The American Century," Life, February 17, 1941.
DESPITE many qualifications, there are several senses in which Mr. Luce was right-senses in which this has turned out to be the American Century, far beyond anyone's poor power to add or detract. In all the unfolding indices of quantitative preëminence, the United States is indeed a new kind of power in the world. Our gross national product, our massive output of the food the world needs, the unequaled scale of our technology, the burgeoning talents that still pour by the millions from our troubled educational system, the qualitative skills of our manpower, the seed money with which for years we have capitalized the new world bank of the social sciences, the manifold horizons of the computerized century-all these and more testify to the steady pulsations from contemporary America which circle and recircle the globe. They evoke demands and cravings for things American, often precisely among those very people and governments most vitriolic about official American policy. America's great twentieth-century technological revolution sweeps across sovereignties, beats against Walls, and eats away at Iron Curtains. The full implications of this peaceful, pulsating phenomenon for those whose lives and livelihoods have hitherto been at the whim of managed societies-as well as for the interests and ambitions of those in charge of such societies-remain to be fully tested.
But there is much more to the century than that. Centuries have many dimensions. If the world's prominent men of a century ago were to rise today from their graves and look around them, who would be the most surprised? Who among them, politicians all, would be most transfixed by the ironies of history and the vagaries of circumstance? Where today would they find their lineal descendants? How far would they have to travel to feel at home again? Who continues their tradition? Across what cross-cultural leaps?
There is the assassinated Tsar Alexander II, interred in St. Petersburg, awakening in Leningrad. How much of the surroundings are Lenin's? And how much are Peter the Great's?
There is Cecil Rhodes, the impatient imperialist, in his tomb in Bulawayo. What sanctions, if any, would he employ against the cowboy champions of white supremacy who have taken over his Rhodesian patrimony and broken with his Queen?
There is Lincoln in Springfield, perplexed about another North-South war 10,000 miles away in Vietnam. Is his first groping reaction really a misconception that America has been committed to a secessionist cause?
There is Bolívar in his pantheon in Caracas. Like many others he discovered that life was unfair. Would he still be sure, as he once was, that to "serve a revolution is to plow the sea?"
There is Bismarck at Friedrichsruh. He is entitled to smile with self- satisfaction over the continuing triumph of blood and iron, but the pursuit of his prophetic principle devoured Prussia in the process and cut his capital city in two.
There is Hung Hsiu-ch'uan, leader of the Taiping Rebellion, whose peasant revolt once swept 11 provinces of China. He was ruling in Nanking in the 1860s. If he had waked in that city during the Cultural Revolution a hundred years later, he would have found a familiar fratricide.
These were among the leaders of the age a century ago. They all tried "to make history, not write it"-in Bismarck's words-"to set the clock of evolution at the right hour." But since then many clocks have struck, turning success into failure for some, defeat into victory for others. For still others slumber remains simply slumber. They and their work testify to the uniqueness of history, to the great moments which never recur, to the fate which each man has at the hands of his successors, to the tricks and the toll of the centuries.
Here, in microcosm, lie some large questions: Whose century has it been? Whose century will it be? But behind these questions lie the other ones: Which century was it then? Which century is it now?
I. WHICH CENTURY
In 1900 there was a great argument over whether that year marked the first year of the twentieth century or the last year of the nineteenth. But beyond the artificial dates which the calendar sets, there are many ways to think about a century. Thus we now know that the nineteenth century began in 1815 and that it actually ended in 1914, not 1900. It is plausible that the twentieth century is already over-that the problems of the 1930s, forties, fifties and sixties have more to do with one another than with a new century which has already arrived. In a world of agitation, it is hard to tell when, if ever, a new century is far enough advanced to be irreversible-when the turbulence has jelled sufficiently for characterization. Centuries overlap and phase into one another.
Even worse, a century, like beauty, shifts with the eye of the beholder. Thus Victor Hugo aspired to live for a future century. He represented "a party which does not yet exist," civilization. "This party will make the 20th Century," he said, "and from it will issue first the United States of Europe and then the United States of the World." More often, however, people have preferred to live in past centuries, like those described by Gilbert in "The Mikado":
The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone.
All centuries but this, and every country but his own.
Some things are immune through centuries of change. For instance, there exists a papyrus dating from the Ptolemaic era, second century BC, with the following instructions warning the ancient Egyptian bureaucracy, as it were, against writing 47 volumes of putative Pentagon Papers: "To the King one should not write long reports nor deal with all kinds of problems. Instead one should report only what is necessary and urgent in as concise a form as possible." For bureaucrats, such testimony to the enduring dilemmas of the bureaucracy through the centuries may be reassuring.
In the field of actual warfare, a new century has often conquered not only through unconventional weapons but also through organizational innovations. In ancient Greece and at the end of the Middle Ages the knights were vanquished by the phalanx, which in later days succumbed to more mobile units, even simple guerrillas. By contrast, in the political and economic fields, innovations often succumb to inertia. How many other revolutionaries and reactionaries alike have come to appreciate the poignancy of Andres Bello's summary of the Latin American wars of independence: "In the wars of independence against Spain, there were no victors and no vanquished. The Spanish constancy defeated itself."
Twentieth-century politics and economics are a mosaic of all the centuries when it comes to motivation, organization, attitudinal affinities and capacity for coöperation. One may ask of a foreign head of state, of a diplomatic colleague passing in the hall, or of their wives at the dinner table: Which century are you in? Whether we and our contemporaries are actually living in the same century, are willing to work in the same century, and are coming to grips with the same century, will largely determine whose century our successors will say this has been. Yet often, these days, only a wizard can conjure up what is present, what future, what past, and what is merely daubed here and there with a twentieth-century brush.
Today, for example, if we ask what most of the world's three and one-half billion people are doing, it would be true to say: Most of them live in Asia, are poor, are ill-fed, are sick, are illiterate, lack freedom, are proud, fear war, and feel neutral in many contests which others think vital. But most people in the world could have been described that way a century ago or ten centuries ago. In a sense, the century never belongs to the people who live in it. The City of the Rich and the City of the Poor was an Aristotelian distinction, not an invention of the hapless Lin Piao.
The receptivities and tolerations of both governments and people have to be mutually calculated and recalculated, never in entirely satisfactory ways. The rates and magnitudes of current United States assistance to Latin America, for instance, run head-long into nineteenth-century banking systems, eighteenth-century commercial codes, corporate arrangements based on familial patterns of ownership, and investment attitudes of a low-risk, high-yield, short-term nature like mercantilist seventeenth-century England. Sometimes we find ourselves trying to infuse contemporary notions of credit, fertilizers, coöperatives and storage systems into an ancient Indian culture predating the arrival of Columbus in America.
The conflicting elements of many centuries bounce off the politics and economics of the present. Thus we have all had lessons in accommodating ourselves to certain unwelcome facts of life. What looks like leadership to some may look like exploitation to others; what here looks like help, may there be seen as interference; what to the provider is assistance, may to the receiver be intervention. On the Texas border, we may call it the Rio Grande, they the Rio Bravo. We may consider ourselves a Good Neighbor, they may think of us as the "Colossus of the North." As the Dictator Porfirio Díaz used to say, "Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to the United States."
The culture problem is a human problem, not a scientific one, and it is the child and victim of many centuries. Hence, half-seriously, one can say that the twentieth century is currently made up of fourteenth-century farmers, fifteenth-century theologians, sixteenth-century politicians, seventeenth- century economists, eighteenth-century bureaucrats, nineteenth-century generals and twenty-first-century scientists.
Some people-perhaps some centuries-have a much greater facility than others for self-deception, wishful thinking and false expectations. Thus one has to consider whether a strenuous effort to clarify every element in the picture really helps or hinders mutual objectives. One may legitimately ask which combination of the centuries in which societies provides the most forward motion on basic problems at a given time. Therefore it is also true that many of those most vociferous in laying claim to the century operate on a base which is only faintly in touch with the verbal gloss they employ. In a sense, every would-be claimant presses his claims to the century under false pretensions.
Many of the world's contemporary politicians do so doubly, for neither their cause nor they themselves are clearly contemporary. Just as the current century contains residual elements of all preceding centuries rolled into it, so we may also consider, as John Morley did in his "Life of Gladstone," that "Every man of us has all the centuries in him." Many of the leaders are born in the wrong century, serve the wrong governments and talk the wrong tongues. Many are perhaps only dimly aware of how much more at home they would have been abroad at some earlier point of history. Some of them, in unexpected places far beyond Europe, are perfectly cast for leading roles in latter-day analogues to the seizure of Silesia or the partitions of Poland. Others would gladly proclaim some new Pragmatic Sanctions of their own. Still others would happily grace a new Congress of Vienna, yearning even this late in history for another world restored.
But if the question-Which Century?-still vexes analysts and actors alike, how much more insidious, elusive and provocative is the question evolving from it: Whose Century will it-should it-be?
II. A CENTURY OF GOVERNMENTS?
Whose century? Three and one-half billion people implicitly ask that question. Suspended over them all, asking the same question, are some 145 governments. These governments provide many contrasts in the manner of their arrival and their prospects for stability.
They vary widely in their approaches to poverty, pollution and the population explosion; in their reaction to prejudice, racism and crime; in their efforts for more health, housing and human dignity.
They differ dramatically in their commitment to democracy, social justice, nonviolence, economic growth, law and order, and peace.
They show marked contrasts in their enthusiasm for, or resistance to, demands for equal access to wealth-or even to the propriety of asking how 100 percent of the world's people can get at 100 percent of the world's resources.
These governments have varying stakes in East-West tensions; in the Sino- Soviet rift; in the United Nations; in NATO and the Warsaw Pact; in the OAS and OAU; in SALT and disarmament; in trade and aid; in frequency allocation and weather modification.
They differ in their dependence on, or independence from, the United States and the Soviet Union, although most are deeply affected by what the superpowers do or fail to do.
They form shifting constellations of agreement and disagreement on issues full of consequences for others. They all want to change the policies of others toward themselves, often in different and inconsistent ways.
Each government is nervous about the absence of fixed points in the world horizon to which many of them were formerly accustomed. Each worries about a possible decline in the interest and attention of others. Each differs from the others in the degree to which it desires to be respected, feared or admired. Each probably overestimates its own role. Each government, even the autocracies, is concerned with domestic demands, and each wants to interest others in its domestic survivability. Each must consider how to mesh domestic requirements with the fast pace of world affairs. Each must grapple with priorities. Each must decide whether to go for long-term or short-term results. Who will initiate what? Who will gamble between the penalties and rewards of inaction? Each is in a box, but some are in bigger boxes than others.
Many governments are uncertain representatives of the viewpoints their people held. Many of their people are increasingly uncertain about what their governments really think. Many governments include bureaucracies which are privately anxious about the reliability of their political leaders. Many of the leaders lack admiration for the bureaucracies which they theoretically control. Many fail to distinguish between declaratory policies and actual policies. Many are tempted toward claims and commitments beyond their capacity. Many fail to recognize the policy points of no return.
Some governments are in doubt which rift to heal, or which détente to encourage. Some are engaged in making progress through sham. Some are adept at the techniques of divesting responsibility. Some will find the complexities so overwhelming that they will simply be overcome with indecision. Some will be the century's "laughing heirs."
Most governments will pursue several policies at once. Most will be looking for points of identification, appeal, connection and mutually acceptable involvement. Most will consider that they have a mandate for change, but they are increasingly aware that patterns are different, and that the world is moving Left and Right at the same time. Most will crave frequent consultation and the reassurance that comes from easy access.
All governments govern countries where certain important public questions have traditionally been badly posed. All are worried about the East-West division between the communist and noncommunist worlds. All are caught up in the North-South racial division between the colored and the less-colored people of the world. All must grapple with the North-South economic division between the low-income nations and the so-called developed ones. All would prefer to line up with the ascending rather than the descending forces in history. Yet all, whatever their doctrines, probably believe that nothing in history is really inevitable until after it has happened.
All are betting on different answers to the question: Whose Century?
The answer to the question remains elusive, whether viewed from the perspective of peoples or governments. Thus governments may think of themselves as sovereign and equal, but each government has long understood that some governments are more sovereign and equal than others. Governments exert disproportionate claims to the century. They also enhance or frustrate their people's claims to the century in disproportionate ways. This much has always been true. But I should like to suggest that we are now witnessing another, more grossly disproportionate, development which will have profound and unpredictable consequences for the character of the century. I have in mind the steady reduction of the old-style role of government in the Western world without a symmetrical or compensatory development elsewhere.
III. A LESS GOVERNMENTAL WEST AND THE REST
When Adam and Eve left the Garden, Eve reportedly turned to her husband and said, "Adam, we live in an age of transition." Today in the West we may be leaving the familiar garden of intergovernmental relations where by definition only a hundred-or-so flowers can bloom. It would be too much to call this familiar intergovernmental world a paradise like Eden, for diplomats or for anyone else. But for over a hundred years we in the West have used its forms, imposed them on others, organized the world's commerce and investment around them, and built our international institutions of war and peace upon them.
Today this familiar intergovernmental world is crumbling, beginning in the West where it itself began. Here, breaking through the intergovernmental crust of what we used to call international relations are pluralist manifestations of many assertive kinds. Together they are reducing, relatively speaking, the roles of Western governments. And they are also making life more difficult for many international institutions whose organization and well-being have, until now, been predicated on the reliability of certain Western governmental roles. These new degovernmentalizing manifestations are by no means coherent or consistent. They often appear Janus-faced, hydra-headed or omnidirectional. They themselves are engulfed in adversary cultures. They involve differentiating and integrating tendencies alike.
Thus the contemporary flight from foreign policy may take on various forms of rejection and reassertion, and become neo-isolationist and neo- transnational as well. For example, the significant domestic opposition to unpopular foreign policies that has been occurring in Britain over entry into the Common Market and in the United States over our fiasco in Vietnam can spill over into either a frustrated, localized retrenchment or into a new frontier-crossing politics of the Left. The Weltschmerz of the intellectual insurrection and the exuberance of the youth revolt can too. At another level, the growth of the multinational corporation can evoke a transnational economics on the Right, as well as provoke a reaction opposing it on both the Right and the Left.
The governments of Western democracies are discovering that their people are deficient in the deference that governments used to think was their due. Governments devoid of credibility confront citizens devoid of patriotism. Patriotism! It is not only not enough any more. It is not only the last refuge of scoundrels. To today's avant-garde, scoundrels are the only patriots around-surely a thin base of reliable support for Western governments cumulatively under siege. These governments preside with deteriorating effectiveness over societies which at one and the same time threaten to become too proud to fight, too sophisticated to agree, too democratic to be directed, too assertive to acquiesce, too liberal to be led, too complicated to be consistent, and too élitist to accept majority rule.
Democratic societies can, of course, burst their own societal bounds of toleration. Deeply felt oppositionist tendencies, for instance, while less than sufficient to capture the state, may prove more than sufficient to immobilize it. E pluribus unum-one out of many-can depreciate at least as fast as the American penny which carries that maxim on its reverse face. At minimum, today's democratic, affluent societies in the West face explosive new struggles for identity and coherence as the individuals and groups within and between them sort out their contemporary purposes and priorities. Their diverse publics are diversely interested. Old forms have become demonstrably less useful as practical guides for significant personal behavior. Old forums may likewise become perceptibly less useful as the relevant terrain for future decision-making.
The most striking fact about the resulting new relationships is that they are less and less international in the old intergovernmental sense. Western governments and the intergovernmental institutions extrapolated from them are by no means the exclusive or even the centrally active elements. Instead, as often as not, these elements are extranational and nongovernmental in character. Compared to what has gone on before, the new forces now sweeping across Western life are marked by the bypassing of government by ever larger portions of the population, and by the explicit rejection of government by many. Whether governments-including some governmentally based international organizations-are ostracized or simply ignored, the feeling is inescapable that the proportionate importance of governments in the daily life of the West is dwindling. Nationally and transnationally, their pivotal position is eroding. Certainly Western governments do in fact preside less and less effectively over the burgeoning pluralisms emitted by Western societies.
In a sense, of course, the depolarization of world politics has been occurring simultaneously with the polarization of domestic politics in the West. The latter process, often indistinguishable from the degovernmentalizing phenomenon previously mentioned, is bound to cut unevenly across the competitive claims to the century, be they popular or governmental or both. For the time being basic forces are loose in the West which are precipitating a new asymmetry in world affairs. Western societies are internalizing much of their combative energy and disputatiousness, nongovernmental and antigovernmental sentiments are popular, and the Western governmental component itself is diminishing in the totality of transnational relationships.
The world of formal intergovernmental relations will continue, of course, even among Western capitals, if only because no one can think what ceremonial life would be like without it. Yet the result of all this internal combustion will be a less governmental West. The affluent democracies will be living in a halfway house to transnationalism.
But it will be a transnationalism putting the West out of phase with the rest No comparable degovernmentalizing tendencies will have taken hold in the authoritarian governments of the ideological East or the nation- building governments of the developing South. Metternich, a European from the Rhineland, felt that the Hapsburg Empire did not belong to Europe. "Asia," he said, "begins at the Landstrasse," the road out of Vienna to the East. Today, in a notably different setting and with momentous new forces at work, one can visualize a future where the residual Metternichian world of intergovernmental relations will itself begin at the Landstrasse, with networks of governmental and bureaucratic traditionalism spreading out from it for hundreds and thousands of miles over the lands to the East and the South.
Peoples and states in the East and South may indeed have little else in common except for the vital similarity that their governments still remain their ultimate representatives externally. In dealing with Western governments, however, they will be dealing with only one of the components in the Western picture, by no means the exclusive or even "responsible" agent for the society they are said to represent.
For in the West the virtues and defects of pluralist democracy will be thriving in unpredictable profusion, puncturing pretentiousness and splintering sovereignties. An old contrast is likely to spring up again between that part of the world where, in certain fundamentals, governments immobilize their people, and that part of the world where, in certain fundamentals, the people immobilize their governments.
Eventually, of course, the decline of governments in the West may erode the stability and affect the continuity of government roles in the East and South. But in the period just ahead, these phenomena will continue historically out of phase. The unevenness of the change will amplify the contrasting vibrations from and between the new-style transnational relations in the West and the older-style intergovernmental relations of the East and South. For the time being these tendencies will remain asymmetrical and will introduce unbalancing, even destabilizing, elements in world economics and politics. The strategic implications could be unsettling if this dichotomy applies, as it would seem to do, to America in her declining superpower role on the one side, and to the rising or remaining power roles of China, Japan and the Soviet Union on the other.
On a more universal scale, the totality of international relations will also partake of this house-divided phenomenon. The old mythologies of state sovereignty will be less convincing than ever before. International institutions, already suffering from severe constituency imbalances of sovereign size, wealth, power and weight, will have to begin to come to terms with the newly destabilizing effects of factions flourishing in the West.
Whatever else it may signify, the transnational phenomenon in the West, simply by deëmphasizing governments, will be pioneering and evocative. It will carry large and unpredictable implications for the whole world: for politics and personalities, for economics and cultures, for war and peace. It adds new and disturbing dimensions to the unanswered question: Whose Century?
When Metternich confronted his imperial master with a troublesome proposition, Francis I would postpone a decision by responding: "Darüber muss man schlafen." Indeed, "Let's sleep on it" eventually became the Emperor's motto for all questions of state. Whose Century was difficult enough to discern when we were on the threshold of transnational politics. Today with its arrival, we have an occasion portentous enough to require deep and serious thought. We too will have to sleep on it before coming to any hasty conclusions. Diplomats and other officials in the West, however, will find when they awake that the forms no longer fit, that the rules no longer work, that the old government-to-government cake of custom has been broken, and that earlier notions of how societies are represented-central questions of Who, Whom?-must be fundamentally revised.