Saturday, October 16, 2004

Again with the Germans

HDS Greenway wrote an article for the Boston Globe that compares the foreign and defense policies of the Bush administration with the eagerness of German nationalists to prove their ascendancy to the world:

One has to wonder if, among those discontented intellectuals of the Bush administration, there was not a similar impatience with America's "belle epoque," the decade of peace and plenty between the end of the Soviet Union and 9/11. Some of the Republicans close to Bush today called themselves "the Vulcans" after the Roman god of fire. Did they perceive a moral decay and a lack of imperial will in that brief, fin de siecle age of Bill Clinton, whom they despised? Did they perhaps see in the sloppy Clinton White House, culminating in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the modern equivalent of an Oscar Wilde age waiting to be swept away by the harder values of the right?

Did the German plans for war in 1914 and the German dream of spreading Kultur to other nations by force have their echo a century later in America with the pre- 9/11 plans to invade Iraq in order to spread democracy and American Kultur to lesser breeds without the law? If so, then the assassination of the Austrian archduke in Sarajevo in 1914 and Sept. 11, 2001, provided both sets of narcissistic idealists with the crisis they needed to put their plans into action.

It's good to know that Germany continues to be the historical whipping boy of politicians and commentators. They are so evil that it is easy to hate them, and to love to hate them. Imperial This comparison has some value: Sept. 11 could be used to trigger transformations that are not directly related to the war against al Qaeda: to remake the world based on American interests. And Bush's vision of American democracy appears to be rooted in the soil, much as German Kultur.

Germany was, however, not a democracy spreading its values around the world, and when we take that in to consideration, the lessons that Imperial Germany offers are limited. Furthermore, there are major differences between America and Imperial Germany that make abstracting from this comparison another two to three decades impossible. Even though I am no fan of the president, I believe it is wrong to leave such comparisons open ended.

Better comparisons to ponder are those democracies and republics that found themselves in a succession of wars in order to control the hostility around them. The Pelopenesian War show Athens attempting to asserts its domination over Greece, failing to come to terms with the complexities of politics in the ancient world and watering down their own democracy. Rome used warfare and expansion to control the kingdoms around them, creating men so powerful that the republic could not contain them--creating an empire so immense that is was destined to be corrupt. And the French Revolution proved to be a endless and restless struggle to prove the truth of its civilisation, internally and externally.

In all these cases, the war outside the state impacted the internal order of society, leading to either profound transformations of democracy or quests for social and cultural purification.

Note: I intend to update this post with more specific information over the weekend--it feels more like a work in progress.


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