The administrative power
By KARL OTTO HONDRICH, DER SPIEGEL
The signs in the sky are conspicuous. The apocalyptic riders are underway, under a banner of stars, on a wild hunt spanning the globe. They burst through the clouds wherever they please. Today they own Iraq, and tomorrow the entire world. This is absurd. Those who hold this view are not Americans, but masters from Germany. The delusions of power arise in the eye of the beholder. We are still haunted by memories of Hitler. It is his dreams of global dominance that we are transferring to America. If one is to believe the augurs of old Europe, there is no greater threat to the world than America's superiority. 65-year-old sociologist Karl Otto Hondrich is a professor in Frankfurt am Main. His most recent works, published by Suhrkamp, include "Wieder Krieg" ("War Again") and "Enthüllung und Entrüstung. Eine Phenomenologie des politischen Skandals" ("Exposure and Disarmament. The Phenomenology of Political Scandal").
To whom could their arguments not apply? Yes, conflicts should be resolved without violence, within the framework of the law. Yes, the United Nations and not the United States should assume the role of global administrator. Yes, until then power in the world should be "multi-polar." Catchy as these demands are, they are based on illusions. Society is not based on legal order, but rather on the order of power. A distribution of power among multiple poles, even if it were possible, would result in less peace, not more. The overwhelming power of the United States is not the problem. It is the solution. But what is the problem?
The problem is the worldwide diversity and distribution of power. And the situation is worsening: More and more states, groups, terrorists and fanatics can acquire destructive weapons and terrorize the world. This is a problem that cannot be resolved with laws and treaties. Nevertheless, history has provided us with a solution, at least within a smaller framework. Multi-polarity, a form of equal distribution of power among many masters, once existed here in Europe. It resulted in ongoing power struggles. The modern state, with its monopoly on power, emerged from this system. Its hegemony guarantees peace, but only from within.
Competition arises in terms of relationships among states, or national hegemonies, thus increasing the risk of violence. The "balance of power" of which modern European society from Metternich to Bismarck was so proud eliminated violence temporarily, but only to collapse under even more violent circumstances. It is only because of fortuitous circumstances that the "balance of fear" between NATO and the Warsaw Pact did not develop into an inferno. Instead, it was transformed into the superiority of the United States.
None of this progresses according to plan, justice, and law. A legal order that connects power to rules is predicated on a hegemonic order of power. The old Europe appears to have forgotten the fundamental role of power. It does not feel attacked, not by Bin Laden or Saddam, and not by the Hamas commandos or the Congo. The suggestion arises that power cannot be brought under control by power, but by non-violence. Is it a coincidence that only the British and the Spaniards, who are familiar with terrorism in their own countries, supported a solution in Iraq that involved the use of power?
In spite of the fact that we have little contact with or understanding for violence in faraway places and refuse to accept it as our problem, we are quick to offer the patent remedy: The UN should handle it. It cannot. It has no power. Law does not exist where law is not enforced. But what the UN lacks most of all is the momentum of shared interests and feelings that spurs an organization toward outward action. The UN has no exterior and therefore remains internally divided. It defines itself as a whole. Therefore, and tragically, it cannot act on behalf of the whole.
The United States has what the UN lacks. Although it has no monopoly on global power, it does possess superiority within a cartel of armed powers. But that which makes it capable of acting - the differences between good and evil, internal and external, friend and foe - also seems to render it incapable of acting on behalf of the whole. Even when it is called upon by the UN, it remains a nation, or just a part of the whole, and thus bound to preserve its own interests. However, because they are the interests of a superpower, they are further-reaching than those of other states. They approximate the interests of the whole, at least in terms of providing protection against violence. Even without the will to provide order for the whole (a potentially dangerous move), it fulfills, if unintentionally, a central objective of all governmental action: to disconnect power from the free play of forces and bring it under control - a tremendous task in a quasi-global state. Since no one else is willing to do it, the administration of global power today falls, by necessity, within the realm of US hegemony.
But doesn't this task overtax the power of a nation? America is stretching itself too thinly, say its critics; it is already surviving economically at the expense of other nations, chronically importing more than it exports. This can also be interpreted differently: The world is paying America in goods for what America provides in military service.
A global distribution of tasks has existed for a long time. It functions without contracts and law, and even without justice - but it functions. The Asians are responsible for the world's labor, the Arabs its prayer, the Africans its suffering, the Americans its armament, and the Europeans its discussion. Each of these functions serves the community as a whole. But as much as the Europeans talk about and reflect on their heritage, this does not produce community. Community develops out of a struggle against itself (and against hunger).
Like all power, even that of the hegemonic state is subject to limits. It is subject to external controls by the major powers of Russia, China, and India. Although they no longer dispute the United States' right to global control, as was the case before 1989, they continue to do so within their own spheres of influence. However, these spheres of influence have dramatically decreased in size, especially for Russia, now that all of eastern Europe has switched sides and become part of NATO. In fact, even Russia, pressured by Islamic terrorism and the unbridled industrial strength of China, is leaning toward becoming a de facto member of the NATO power cartel.
And what if this organization, as a worldwide security system, were to concentrate all power within itself one day? Then it would also transform its external limitations into internal ones. They are already evident in NATO members' resistance to the Iraq war. The larger the power cartel, the more explosive is its inner unity and the greater are the concessions that the leading power must make to preserve unity and a staggering of power.
The greatest limit on hegemonic power comes from the innermost core of the hegemonic power itself. It embodies the oldest and most popular modern democracy - a people that considers itself its own master, more so than any European people can imagine. It does not wish to see its soldiers die on foreign battlefields. In the long term, it does not wish to share its government's attention with Burundi, Berlin, or Baghdad. When it takes action vis-à-vis other countries - has "some business to do," as waging war is called in American - then it wishes to do so in its own interest and not to support plans to make the world a better place, such as those that have been in the works in Europe for ages. If its wars produce benefits for other peoples, such as freedom and democracy, Americans' proud response is: "they are welcome." And the claim that they are forcing the American Way of Life onto others? Ridiculous: People do not have to be forced to accept the things they themselves want.
And not even with money. The American people prefer to invest at home: in education, healthcare, security. If they do not see these interests being met, the president, like his father, will be out of office. The farther a hegemonic power extends its bounds, the more likely it is to reach its financial limits. For this reason alone, it requires internal and external approval, or legitimacy, since any resistance increases the risks, duration and costs of war.
Even the hegemonic power that appears to be acting globally does not control the world. In faraway places, it stops in its tracks before entering the spheres of influence of other major powers. At home, even with the massive power of its own weapons of mass destruction, it is powerless against acts of violence and terrorism on its own soil, in Belfast, San Sebastian, or New York. Its hegemonic zone of control in the world does not extend beyond a medium-range flight path. For the master thinkers of an imaginary global interest, preaching from their European ivory towers, this is not enough. They want order for all. They want the United States to be small and large at the same time. In their view, the United States cannot be small enough as the bearer of aircraft, but it also cannot be far-reaching enough as the bearer of an idea to promote global well-being.
But the fact that the hegemonic power is a nation and nothing else - not a council of global elders, not a non-governmental organization, not a global state - is everything but deplorable. This makes it possible for it to act in its own limited self-interest and not out of unbridled universal idealism, particularly when so much erraticism and fundamentalism flickers within its borders. It can make mistakes, as it did in Vietnam. But there is nothing to suggest that it will ever discard the rationalism of its own self-limiting national interests. This is a rationalism derived from the experiences of an old, mature, unbroken, elementally democratic and multicultural nation. Germany's experiences with delayed, imperially perverted, broken nationalism cannot be further from the experiences of the United States. The rift between experiences cannot be bridged, except with mistrust.
Is this not rational? The fact that hegemony is anchored in the American democracy certainly provides no guarantee for consistently rational behavior. Just as its internal workings are based on checks and balances, it requires counterbalances from without. This is what the illustrious concept of "multi-polarity" is about. It can mean many things: a reality, an attractive illusion, or foolishness.
The small and large poles that develop as a result of balances of power are a reality. In their relationships with their former colonies, France and Belgium form a pole of power. Therefore, it is perfectly logical that an EU force under their leadership would be dispatched to the Congo. The Balkan states lean toward Germany, inadvertently making it a pole of power. In this form, multi-polarity does exist.
However, it becomes an attractive illusion when it leads us to forget that it represents an inner staggering of power within a larger hegemonic system. The hegemonic state depends on it and it depends on the hegemonic state. France, Great Britain and Germany are the subjugated and subjugators at the same time. They are part of a collective hegemony. To those on the outside, in the South and East, they explain the fearsome consequences of opposing the hegemonic power. Conversely, they explain the fears and resistance of the remainder of the world to the hegemonic power. From their perspective, the Europeans are simultaneously servants of the devil because they participate in inflicting punishment and demigods clad in white because they are filled with compassion and deploy hospital ships. In this way, they discover their function: that of a broker between supremacy and powerlessness.
The hegemonic power has already become so strong that it permits considerable freedoms, both externally and internally. A state can choose to participate in the hegemonic power's war or it can decline. Even without its own parliament, the system creates its own form of extraparliamentary opposition: Gerhard Schröder's Germany and the France of Jacques Chirac - with the moral backing of Habermas, Derrida and Rorty - are the extraparliamentary opposition to George W. Bush' America. The members of the 1968 Movement in Germany can resort to their arsenal of old arguments: the dangerousness and nastiness of America, the endangerment of democracy and to the state governed by the rule of law. Is all of this simply the anti-Americanism of yesterday and today? No, in fact it represents opposition within an entire, pan-Atlantic system. The Germans have arrived in the West. Too bad that it turns out to be not only an open society, but also a solidly hegemonic structure.
A way out no longer exists. Should they nonetheless dream of their own European state, blind to the fact that, separated from the rest of the world, it would find itself on the brink of disaster? It is to be feared that this is precisely the fate that Europe faces: Europe functioning as a power pole outside US hegemony, one that, in an alliance with other poles - Russia, China, India, Africa? - is to eliminate hegemony. "Multi-polarity" would certainly not be the first project designed to bring about progress that would prove to be a step backward (socialism comes to mind). It would take us back to new dimensions of old power struggles we have already relegated to the past. We should be thankful for US hegemony. We should go ahead and let this indignity remain stuck in our throats.
Translated by Chris Sultan
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