Stanley's blog

The ‘audacity of hope’ will replace the ‘climate of fear’ in the White House in January. It is useful to reflect on the influences behind President Barack Obama’s thinking. He stated, in his ‘national security strategy’ speech in Washington on 15 July, that his inspiration for the renewal of the global order is George Marshall. Barack Obama regards Rheinhold Niebuhr as an important influence on his social and political thinking. In his book, “The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness” the chapter on “The World Community” contained the exact same message as the one Jean Monnet wrote about the peace to be established. Monnet’s note was written in 1943 and Niehbuhr’s book published in 1944.

To Jean Monnet, the greatest obstacle to establishing lasting peace was the concept of sovereignty – that is the right of every state to act according to its own, autonomous judgement. This principle, supported by the whole world, divides nations economically and politically from each other.

Niebuhr states that a balance of power is in fact a kind of managed anarchy. And that “an equilibrium of power without the organising and equilibrating force of government, is potential anarchy which becomes actual anarchy in the long run.” Therefore he concluded that, “The problem of overcoming this chaos and of extending the principle of community to worldwide terms has become the most urgent of all the issues which face our epoch.”

In the last paragraph of his Memoirs, talking about the European Community, Jean Monnet summarises his political philosophy,

“Have I said clearly enough that the Community we have created is not an end in itself? It is a process of change, continuing that same process which in an earlier period of history produced our national forms of life. Like our provinces in the past, our nations today must learn to live together under common rules and institutions freely arrived at. The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present: they cannot ensure their own progress or control their own future. And the Community itself is only a stage on the way to the organized world of tomorrow.”

Niebuhr would clearly have agreed with these lines.

Today the world is in danger of returning to the old balance of power politics. If our leaders forget history and – often out of fear – to re-arrange their policies in the direction of a real Community, none of our worldwide problems will be resolved and the danger of conflict returns.

The political thinking and acting of men such as Niebuhr and Monnet is today more relevant than ever. Many of today’s leaders may say and believe that these men were dreaming idealists. But, they, trusting their military power on the open world market to solve our problems and guarantee peace, are the Utopians: men like Niebuhr and Monnet are the realists.

May necessity and the audacity of hope rekindle the slow and difficult process of community-building, and expose the fallacy of lasting peace based on a simple balance of power policy.

In the face of wars, perilous financial and economic crises, climate change…our optimism must be measured. What we do now have is a group of transatlantic leaders who recognise the absolute necessity of working together. A group led on the European side by a French President with out the usual British ambiguity.

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  1. It’s interesting to see whether transatlantic policies will change in any significant way. I am however quite confident that the US will trully become more globalistic (at least in its approaches to the Middle East, Latin America and East Asia).

  2. Yes, the concept of souvereign nations implies a certain amount of global desaster and anarchy. But isn’t a certain amount of anarchy fundamental to democracy and freedom? How do we deal with the enormous risk of a powerful world government that leaves its democratic controls behind, simply, because on a global scale they are even tougher to maintain then already in the European Union? Not to speak about corruption which is also a tough challenge already in the EU?

  3. Stanley, that’s a particularly elegant link between Obama and Jean Monnet, which I doubt many people would have made.

    But do you really think that the US will sacrifice any of its sovereignty anytime soon to make the world more rules-based? Or will they wait if/until they are really ‘past it’, and then put their diminishing weight behind global rules in order to keep punching above their weight? Like some 19th century powers in Europe, for example?

    @Martin: Corruption in the EU is no worse than in most EU member states – the main problem with signing off the EU accounts is that the money goes to the national governments to spend, which is exactly the way they like it.

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