Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Cult of Internationalism

Internationalism, an idealistic philosophy on global political relations that argues for global cooperation as the means to maintaining peace and security, is nothing new. Immanuel Kant, a favorite of mine, sketched a vision of international cooperation, diplomacy, and disarmament in To Perpetual Peace more than two hundred years ago. The irony apparent in a Prussian's adherence to such internationalism the century before his native land would defeat the Danes, Austrians, and French, unite the Germanic states, and form a militaristic state that, in the twentieth century, would take on the entire world twice, seems to me a testament to the futility of the internationalist vision. But I think there was at least something to be said for internationalism at the time of Kant. Kant grossly misunderstood international politics and the nature of the relations among states. He chose to believe that all men were essentially good, had the same values, and could be made to agree if given enough time to deliberate. Machiavelli, so long a whipping-boy of the Right, at least understood the inherent selfishness and cunning of mankind, and the enlightened self-interest that is required in promoting oneself on the national or international level. It is rather a testament to Machiavelli's understanding of human nature and his genius than a true reproach to Kant that Kant happened to be so misguided. After all, Kant did not have the experience of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to correct his judgment.

The current fervor with which internationalists express their vision reminds one very much of cultish devotion. I excuse the early internationalists, like Kant, from this characterization because they were merely hoping for a universally agreeable settlement among men that would end all strife. They thought their plan of an international cooperative body would be well suited to serving that end. But since the end of the First World War, we have seen the utter failure both of the League of Nations and of the United Nations, bodies created with the noble but naive goals of ensuring security, peace, and the enjoyment of human rights around the world. There are still many who choose to believe, against all evidence, as if they were the devotees of an outmoded faith, that the UN will solve all our problems, end all war, cure all diseases, and obsolete poverty. With decades of UN failure to sharpen our judgment, we can say nothing more of the UN that it was a charming fantasy, condemned before its inception by the deficiencies of human nature, and that the mature mind must go beyond this schoolboy's infatuation and deal with the obvious fact of inborn dissent and malice among the international players. The UN Cultists will not have any of this, will insist on "diplomacy" and "multilateralism" even as the people of Iraq are murdered by their ruthless dictator.

Internationalism's time is up. The adults must now have their say. The intellectual children without the courage and strength of will to manage foreign policy should remain silent, except to remind us of the folly of "collective security" and other empty phrases.


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