Political Cynic scoffs!
The reader, before she attempts to read Mr. Tooze’s 3,415 word essay, might profit from reading Molly Fischer’s essay at New York Magazine.
Ms. Fischer’s essay at 5,224 words wallows in Fan Magazine gush, that informs the magazine’s readers what they should ‘think’ about Mr. Tooze, and his Fan Base! this magazine tells its readers where to eat, it keeps its readers current on the most watched television/internet programs, and its political columnists keep their readership up to date on what they should think about politics, and Madam Clairvoyant…, the latest bargains on clothes, shoes and other commodities that a New York magazine reader might need- Its a would be Silver-Fork Handbook for those who live and die by the latest trends, in the life of the New York cognoscenti, or its pretenders. The pretense of being dans la mode is the lingua franca of New York social life!
Mr. Tooze in his near historically sophisticated essay, though he can’t quite match the talent of Janan Ganesh for such rhetorical curlicues, and stylistic panache, as cover for his reactionary politicking! Mr. Tooze manages to impress with adroitly executed, not to speak of its intellectual/philosophical breath, of his particular expression of a History Made to Measure! These paragraphs demonstrates Mr. Tooze’s facility, to engage in historical pastiche of near understatement?
It was the French Revolution that defined the stakes in modern war as an existential clash between nations in arms, in which fundamental principles of rule were in question. War was the world spirit on the march. That is what the German poet Goethe thought he witnessed at the Battle of Valmy in 1792, where a rag-tag revolutionary army unexpectedly turned back a much better-equipped counter-revolutionary invasion by royalist and Prussian forces. “From this day forth,” he wrote, “begins a new era in the history of the world.” Two days later, the French Republic was declared.
A “world-soul” on horseback is what Hegel thought he saw, as Napoleon cantered through the city of Jena in October 1806 on his way to the battle that would push the Prussian state to the brink of extinction. War was not simply a violent practice of princes, a duel writ large. War was History with a capital H – the “slaughter-bench”, Hegel would call it – “at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of States, and the virtue of individuals have been victimised”. It was something both fascinating and horrifying. Transformative and yet also on the edge of tipping over into absolute violence, as in the horrors of guerrilla war in Spain, depicted by Goya. Two centuries later, in the commentary on the war in Ukraine, one can feel the same spirit stirring.
The spectacle of war has always evoked mixed emotions. On the one hand, enthusiasm and something akin to relief: here, finally, is real politics, real freedom. And, on the other hand, horror at the violence, suffering and destruction.
In the wake of Waterloo in 1815, both diplomacy and contemporary social science tried to put the genie back in the bottle. For all his grandeur, Napoleon had been defeated. Millions had died in the global wars sparked by the French Revolution, and his project of modernising empire had come to naught. The lesson, according to the followers of the sociologist Auguste Comte, was that the future belonged to industry, not to the soldiers.
War at the end of history
Later in his essay Mr. Tooze engages in this explanation of American Seer Francis Fukuyama:
That this terrifying stand-off ended with the largely peaceful overthrow of the communist regimes in Europe in 1989 persuaded Francis Fukuyama, then a member of the policy planning staff at the US State Department, that we had reached “the End of History”. This is often described as a triumph of capitalism and democracy. It was certainly that, but no less significant was that the West had won the military contest without firing a shot in anger. The Warsaw Pact folded. By the time of Leonid Brezhnev, from the 1960s onwards, the Soviet system no longer seemed worth dying for. Mercifully, that spared Nato the question of whether the world was better off dead than red.
Anchored in American power and depoliticised neoliberalism, Fukuyama’s vision of the End of History remains a compelling interpretation of the decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The ideological contest seemed settled in favour of a one-dimensional vision of liberal democracy, the rule of law and markets.
The achievement of the End of History consisted in not just the triumph of the liberal model, but in that it was attained bloodlessly. That gave it both its sense of inevitability and, as Fukuyama wrote, its post-heroic quality.
Of course, the End of History did not mean the end of events or the end of war. That threat of nuclear destruction continued to hang over us. Under the de-targeting agreement of 1994, the coordinates of major cities were removed from the computers of Russian and American intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). But they could be loaded back if required. We still live under the menace of absolute atrocity. Meanwhile, actual wars have continued to be fought. But war has changed
A Strussian offers a warmed over Hegelianism, and the American Intellectual/Philosophical Provincials were instantly smitten by Fukuyama’s World Historical Merde. And what does ‘depoliticised neoliberalism’ represent but an utter lack of intellectual honesty, in service to self-promotion of Mr. Tooze – to establish his political conformity. This whole essay is awash in that imperative.
More History Made to Measure foreshortened:
The Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s was perhaps the last conflict in which two sides commanding substantial armed forces had everything at stake; any means could be mobilised to secure victory and neither side could afford to lose. The bloodiest wars in more recent decades – notably those in the former Yugoslavia, central Africa and Syria – were sprawling civil wars, often involving multiple non-state actors. In Iraq and Afghanistan the stakes were existential, but only for the locals. The US, which led the invasions, was shaken by the 9/11 attacks, but the global war on terror was always more of a policing action than a conventional war.
The Reader has arrived, after Mr. Tooze groundwork has been laid from the large canvas to the mere sketch, at Putin:
The question posed by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is whether in this fundamental sense the spell of the End of History has finally been broken. Has history restarted in a tragic key, as President Macron has recently put it? Have we reached the end of the end of military history?
The answer we give to that question initially depends on the interpretation of Putin’s motives.
There is yet 2,379 words left in Mr. Tooze’s polemic against Putin, still framed by ‘The End of History’, a crippled antique by a Staussian foot-soldier. The topic sentences of the remains of this essay, offer some vital clues as to the arguments Mr. Tooze marshals. Note that Mr. Tooze employs the Straussian rhetorical strategy of exhausting both the critical acuity of The Reader, and her patience!
The most obvious reading is that he has never accepted the verdict delivered by history in 1991.
But if this is his basic motivation why in 2022 was he willing to risk the ultimate trial of battle?
One argument is that Putin gambled because he is a man of war.
This embrace of war leads some analysts to describe Putin as a man of the 19th century.
These are pleasingly simple ideas.
The defining characteristic of the Russian invasion, other than its brutality, is the sense of history repeating itself as farce.
In this reading, far from rupturing the End of History, or forcing a return to primal conflict, Putin saw himself as adjusting an anomaly created by the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych government in 2014.
Perhaps the most telling moment came when the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, denounced Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a “war of choice”.
Putin’s invasion and the attack on Iraq in 2003 by the US-led coalition have in common a disregard for both international law and geopolitical logic that left much of the rest of the world aghast.
In the war in Ukraine, the wildcard is the Ukrainians.
But we should beware our Eurocentric prejudices.
What marks this war as different is that the Ukrainian resistance has stopped Putin’s invasion in its tracks.
The result is that Putin awakens from the resentful nightmare of Russia’s post-Cold War memory into a bona fide, existential crisis, a “real war” that the Russian army is far from certain of winning
Again, the experience of defeat and discredit on the part of the larger power is not itself novel.
To escape the nightmare, Putin may choose to escalate the invasion, even toying with the nuclear option
Putin may have challenged the post-Cold War order but, given the liminal status of Ukraine – neither a member of the EU nor of Nato – and the underwhelming performance of the Russian military, which makes an attack on the Baltics or Poland seem unlikely, it is up to others, principally China and the Western alliance, to decide what to make of this clash.
Ukraine, of course, has every interest in using the momentum of its early successes to widen the conflict.
Clearly, if it so chose, Nato could turn this war into World War Three.
Putin’s allegation that Ukraine was being developed as a base from which to strike at the soft underbelly of Russia seems less plausible now than it did before the war.
Although Joe Biden has blurted out his indignation that bad characters like Putin are in charge of modern states, the West remains shy about embracing regime change as its ultimate goal
As critics of the interwar order like Carl Schmitt sensed, the hegemony of the victorious powers in 1918 threatened the first End of History.
In 2022, if Putin were to be brought down by military frustration and economic exhaustion, and were his regime to be replaced by one that was pro-Western and ready for peace, all those who have levelled cheap criticism at Fukuyama over the years would owe him a giant apology
However, if the war does not escalate to a Third World War and Putin’s regime does not collapse, there will be no option but to face the difficult business of diplomacy and peace-making
Mr. Tooze demonstrates that he is a political/moral conformist, he is not John Mearsheimer, but another of a long line of apologist for the murderous political interventionism, of the Centrism of the political present: the alliance between the Neo-Liberals and the Neo-Conservatives!
Not to the reader:
On question of Hegel, let me offer my experience of trying to read The Phenomenology of the Spirit: I was stopped at entry 243, as I recall it in utter bewilderment, and then read Hegel’s Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit by Michael N. Forster. It took me months to read this book, impressive doesn’t quite cover the scope of Prof. Forster scholarship.