I’ve been enjoying vacation for a couple of weeks and thus the blog has been quiet, but let’s kick it back off again with The Long View from John J. Reilly.
The occasion of then Senator Barack Obama speaking to an audience in Berlin gave John J. Reilly an opportunity to do some very applied political philosophy. As my internet friend John D. Cook says of his own expertise in very applied math, political philosophy is something of an armchair discipline at present, something that could potentially be applied, but in practice many people espouse allegiances and opinions that are at best loosely related to actually existing political movements and power structures.
The present trajectory of the world is toward some form of universal state, although as John notes here there are lots of different ways that could fall out. The present contender to hold preeminence of position within that system is the United States, something that has been slowly developing over the last hundred years:
Theodore Roosevelt was the first person to run for President of the United States by running for President of the World.
It has become increasingly common for the people of foreign lands to hold strong opinions about the American presidency, which is an example of the principle that there are not separate countries, only rebellious provinces. However, the ultimate form of the thing has not yet coalesced, so it would be unwise to assume that the United States will retain its position over the two generations it will take to form such a thing.
John goes on to enumerate three different philosophies of universal governance that have been articulated by men of genuine power and influence in the early twenty-first century:
There are three basic templates for ideologies of universal governance in the late modern era. One is Perpetual Peace; another is Violence Interdependence. The third is Dantean Imperialism, which holds that the universal public good implies the necessity of ecumenical institutions to which all other public structures are subsidiary. In today's world, by great irony, this is essentially the Catholic Church's view of the international system, a view that Benedict XVI has expressed most articulately.
John thought the third was the most likely to actually happen, since it matches the historical pattern best.
Obama in Berlin
Theodore Roosevelt was the first person to run for President of the United States by running for President of the World. In his case, it happened after he had already served as U.S. President for two terms and then decided, after a little interregnum, that he would like to try for a third. When he left office in 1909, he went on a world tour that involved big-game hunting in Africa and a particularly grand progress through Europe. As H. W. Brand points out, it was only after Roosevelt left the White House that he became, for a while, the most famous man in the world. Certainly the crowds and crowned heads that greeted him as he traveled could not vote for him, but they could keep him in the eye of people who could; and even in those days, there were influentials he could meet abroad whose support was by no means irrelevant to a domestic election campaign.
Most of the quarter-million people who turned out to hear Senator Obama speak in Berlin on July 24 can't vote for him either, or at least not legally; but again, it never hurts a candidate to be seen speaking to a sea of enthusiastic faces, especially when he can do so in English on topics that he might present in identical terms to certain audiences in the United States.
Several commentators have taken it amiss that the senator would make such an address when still a mere candidate for the presidency. It would have been inconceivable for John Kennedy to have spoken in Berlin that way when he was running for office in 1960 (to which one might answer that it is doubtful Senator Kennedy could have drawn such a crowd). Actually, President Kennedy's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech was a more modest affair than Senator Obama's July Address. President Kennedy was speaking merely as the leader of the West to the citizens of an ally. The senator, in contrast, seemed not just to be running for President of the World, but to have already been elected by a landslide:
People of Berlin people of the world this is our moment. This is our time.
The scope of the mandate these words presume finds no parallel in American history, perhaps, but George Bush's Second Inaugural Address. Those remarks, though directed more narrowly to an American audience, nonetheless asserted the necessity of universal revolution. The president derived his mandate from, in effect, Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace, the principle that the only really tolerable world is a society of liberal republics.. The senator, for his part, derives his mandate for universal governance from what seems to be a variant of Deudney's theory of "violence interdependence." This is the principle that polities that present a persistent existential threat to each other will eventually form a cooperative "republic" to mitigate risk.
For the senator, to the extent that he is able to contemplate a threat from inter-human violence, the threat comes from terrorism rather than from state actors. Rather ingeniously, he has extended the principle to include environmental risk, so that industrial activity in Beijing and Boston threatens agriculture in Kansas and Kenya, therefore all must follow a common rule.
When two such different public figures present arguments of the same class within a few years of each other, we may reasonably surmise that we are seeing the manifestation of some common feature of their period. There are three basic templates for ideologies of universal governance in the late modern era. One is Perpetual Peace; another is Violence Interdependence. The third is Dantean Imperialism, which holds that the universal public good implies the necessity of ecumenical institutions to which all other public structures are subsidiary. In today's world, by great irony, this is essentially the Catholic Church's view of the international system, a view that Benedict XVI has expressed most articulately.
A final point about Senator Obama's July Address: no one, to my knowledge, has yet noted that the speech resonates almost eerily with the the R.E.M. song, World Leader Pretend:
This is my world
And I am the world leader pretend
This is my life
And this is my time
I have been given the freedom
To do as I see fit
It's high time I've razed the walls
That I've constructed
What a merry election campaign this will be.
Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly