FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Foreign Policy White Paper: a Plea to See Things as They Are

“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

— George Orwell.

First, let me start with a stereotypical Jesuit habit: for what you are about to read, I seek forgiveness not approval. [No doubt this slanders the Jesuits: my excuse is that I was taught by an order of priests founded in post-revolutionary France who were not especially confraternal whenever the Society of Jesus was mentioned – a disposition that only encouraged me to redefine some of their alleged conceits as intellectual virtues].

Accordingly, in the light of the evolving character of current global politics in general and the forthcoming Australian Foreign Policy White Paper in particular, there is an overwhelming need to abandon the exsanguinated accounts on offer in the great majority of media reports, general commentaries, and academic journals. This site, however, has provided many exceptions, most notable among them the recent posts by Richard Butler, Quentin Dempster, and James O’Neil.

What follows is an extension of their arguments by way of a synopsis of prevailing conditions among the many countries that now constitute the US-dominated system of alliances and strategic partnerships. By way of philosophical orientation it follows the injunction of George Orwell in a similar time: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

To begin, democracy is a declaratory and not an operational mode of governance; oligarchies and dictatorships reign expressing their putative political philosophy in simpleminded terms indistinguishable from Social Darwinism. Disintegration in the form of civil strife, anger, violence, socioeconomic collapse, homelessness, sexism, cruelty against minorities and the poor follows naturally and logically, as does depression and the sense of futility among the governed. Understanding that conventional politics has nothing to offer them, they eventually express their rage by irrationally supporting those that promise to improve their lot, or worse, those that guarantee to destroy the current establishment in its entirety and restore the exclusively defined nation and culture to an imagined antediluvian unity and grandeur. Without exception, violence – threatened or actual – will be deployed in order to achieve this objective.

To a greater or lesser extent these conditions are widespread: in Asia, IndiaJapan, and the Philippines critically informed commentary by writers of sound mind and sober judgement has come to the fore and with deeply concerning conclusions. Within NATO’s European membership, Turkey has descended into an unapologetic dictatorship, and the “toxic ideological brew” in the politics of Hungary and Poland, all the way through to government level, is now officially recognised by the European Union as a threat to fundamental democratic values. And then, not in government, but influential nevertheless, is the gathering right-wing wave of racism, resurgent nationalism and xenophobia in Austria, France, Holland, and the United Kingdom. Overshadowing even these transformations is the realisation of previously embryonic forces in the United States that have gestated into the politically regressive phenomenon of President Donald Trump.

What connects them, and they all have in common, is a cluster of features which, briefly described, includes: life conceived as a form of permanent warfare; an impatience to commit to wars of choice; a cult of tradition; the toleration of contradictions if they support the political cause; an hostility to new truths which might render the overall beliefs false; a rejection of Enlightenment rationality; distrust of the intellectual world and an obsession with action for its own sake; holding disagreement and dissent to be treasonous; fear of difference; appeals to those who feel besieged or alienated and frustrated by change or disparities of wealth by promising the restoration of a clear social identity; contempt for the weak; a disdain for women accompanied by the condemnation of nonstandard sexual behaviour; an underlying contempt for “the people” once they have fulfilled the role of theatrical props; and a form of communicating marked by an impoverished vocabulary and elementary syntax.

There is no ideological center, only rhetoric; no coherence, just discombobulation. Where one of these features exist, it is common for other to “coagulate” around it. Its strength lies in its emotional appeal to an imagined era convivial to the displaced.

The name for this form of thinking and acting which has permeated so much of the politics of what is loosely called the Western Alliance is Fascism. Needless to say it is a term that most writers have eschewed: when confronting the politics described above the preference has been to see them as outbreaks of authoritarianism, even populist authoritarianism. Rightly, they might say, where is the rampant anti-Semitism, where are the death camps, and how is it that citizens in the US conduct their lives in more or less unmolested ways?

The answers are quite clear: there is such a thing as participatory fascism and frightened and insecure people are likely candidates to practice it. More significantly, however, the reflex to exclusively define fascism as Nazism robs us of the understandings of Ur Fascism, or Eternal Fascism elaborated by the renowned Italian intellectual, Umberto Eco, in an extraordinarily prescient essay published in the New York Review of Books in 1995. Specifically, the conditions referred to above are those found in the Italian variant of fascism and that alone should provoke a more inclusive definition in these times.

To absolve current fascists by finding them a variant of authoritarianism is to fall back on the bastardised, but indulgent understanding that US Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick provided the Reagan Administration. Then, she was concerned to establish that Soviet bloc and other Communist regimes were totalitarian and thus anathema, irredeemable, but that US-supported anti-communist, militaristic regimes who professed to be pro-Western were merely “authoritarian” and thus reformable.

At considerable cost to those who suffered under American patronage she was wrong then. And Australia will be wrong, and to considerable cost once again, if the language and explicit understandings of the White Paper fall back on obfuscation and the national tradition of obsequiousness in alliance politics and allow them to overrule Orwell’s “restatement of the obvious.”   There’s a passage in Berthold Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui that is worth recalling:

If we could learn to look instead of gawking
. We’d see the horror in the face of farce,
If only we would act instead of talking,
We would not always end up on our arse.

More articles by:

Michael McKinley taught international relations and strategy in the Department of Politics, UWA.  From 1988 to 2014 he taught international relations and strategy at the ANU. He is currently a member of the Emeritus Faculty at the ANU. 

July 23, 2018
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Peaceful Revolution
Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail