Headline: A World Safe for Democracy by G John Ikenberry — free thinking
Sub-headline: This thoughtful and profound defence of liberal internationalism looks at the political philosophy as a guide to future actions
Is Mr. Rachman’s enthusiasm for one of The American Foreign Policy Mandarinate a surprise? G John Ikenberry is the co-inventor of the catch phrase of ‘Liberal International Order‘ :
There are few political scientists who can claim to have come up with an idea that has shaped real-world politics. G John Ikenberry, a professor at Princeton University, is a member of that small group. Together with his colleague Daniel Deudney, he coined the notion of a “liberal international order” in 1999. Within a few years, the phrase had been adopted by the western foreign-policy elite as shorthand for the world they were seeking to build and defend.
Mr. Rachman describes not a ‘Liberal International Order’ but American Hegemony in a bespoke suit! All carefully tailored, to sooth the fractured political nerves, of an electorate waiting for the Inauguration of ‘Liberal Hero’ Joe Biden.
For Ikenberry, the idea of a liberal international order describes a situation in which powerful countries agree to work together, in their mutual interests, through international institutions. It is a world in which principles like open trade and international law are firmly embedded.
Prof. Ikenberry, ‘the poet laureate of liberal internationalism’ plays a featured role in Perry Anderson’ s ‘American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers’ of 2013: From page 128 etc. of the print copy of New Left Review.
Mandelbaum’s edges are too sharp for either requirement, as his relations with the Clinton Administration showed. Their perfect embodiment is to be found in Ikenberry, ‘the poet laureate of liberal internationalism’, from whom the dead-centre of the establishment can draw on a more even unction. In 2006, the Princeton Project on National Security unveiled the Final Paper he co-authored with Anne-Marie Slaughter, after some four hundred scholars and thinkers had contributed to the endeavour under their direction.footnote21 With a bipartisan preface co-signed by Lake and Shultz, and the benefit of ‘candid conversations with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright’, not to speak of the ‘wisdom and insight of Henry Kissinger’, Forging a World of Liberty under Law: us National Security in the 21st Century sought, Ikenberry and Slaughter explained, to offer nothing less than ‘a collective X article’ that would provide the nation with the kind of guidance in a new era that Kennan had supplied at the dawn of the Cold War—though nsc–68, too, remained an abiding inspiration.
Ikenberry’s subsequent theoretical offering, Liberal Leviathan (2011), revolves around the idea that since the American world order of its subtitle ‘reconciles power and hierarchy with cooperation and legitimacy’, it is—emphatically—a ‘liberal hegemony, not empire’. For what it rests on is a consensual ‘bargain’, in which the us obtains the cooperation of other states for American ends, in exchange for a system of rules that restrains American autonomy. Such was the genius of the multilateral Western alliance enshrined in nato, and in bilateral form, of the Security Pact with Japan, during the Cold War. In the backward outskirts of the world, no doubt, the us on occasion dealt in more imperious fashion with states that were clients rather than partners, but these were accessories without weight in the overall structure of international consent it enjoyed.footnote22 Today, however, American hegemony was under pressure. A ‘crisis of authority’ had developed, not out of its failure, but from its very success. For with the extinction of the ussr, the us had become a unipolar power, tempted to act not by common rules it observed, but simply by relationships it established, leaving its traditional allies with less motive to defer to it just as new transnational fevers and forces—conspicuously terrorism—required a new set of responses. The Bush Administration had sought to meet the crisis with unilateral demonstrations of American will, in a regression to a conservative nationalism that was counter-productive. The solution to the crisis lay rather in a renewal of liberal internationalism, capable of renegotiating the hegemonic bargain of an earlier time to accommodate contemporary realities.
That meant, first and foremost, a return to multilateralism: the updating and refitting of a liberal democratic order, as ‘open, friendly, stable’ as of old, but with a wider range of powers included within it.footnote23 The expansion of nato, the launching of nafta and the creation of the wto were admirable examples. So too were humanitarian interventions, provided they won the assent of allies. Westphalian principles were outdated: the liberal international order now had to be more concerned with the internal condition of states than in the past. Once it had recovered its multilateral nerve, America could face the future confidently. Certainly, other powers were rising. But duly renegotiated, the system that served it so well in the past could ‘slow down and mute the consequences of a return to multipolarity’. The far-flung order of American hegemony, arguably the most successful in world history, was ‘easy to join and hard to overturn’.footnote24 If the swing state of China were to sign up to its rules properly, it would become irresistible. A wise regional strategy in East Asia needs to be developed to that end. But it can be counted on: ‘The good news is that the us is fabulously good at pursuing a milieu-based grand strategy.’footnote25
At a global level, of course, there was bound to be some tension between the exigencies of continued American leadership and the norms of democratic community. The roles of liberal hegemon and traditional great power do not always coincide, and should they conflict too sharply, the grand bargain on which the peace and prosperity of the world rest would be at risk. For hegemony itself, admittedly, is not democratic.footnote26 But who is to complain if its outcome has been so beneficent? No irony is intended in the oxymoron of the book’s title. For Hobbes, a liberal Leviathan—liberal in this pious usage—would have been matter for grim humour.
G John Ikenberry is the newest addition to the apologists for, in his characterization, ‘liberal hegemony, not empire’.
Mr. Rachman describes the bad actors in the political present :
The idea of a liberal international order has also come under sustained ideological attack from three directions — the nationalist right, the “anti-imperial” left and from illiberal nations outside the west. For “America First” nationalists, grouped around President Donald Trump, liberal internationalists are simply “globalists” who had sold out US interests. For the left, meanwhile, the current world order is associated with the defence of an exploitative neoliberalism, and with an international power structure with its roots in the age of imperialism. Parts of this critique have also been adopted by nationalists in China, Russia and elsewhere, who argue that the liberal world order is just code for American hegemony.
Note, that by inference, ‘The Left’ acts as the accomplices of both Russia and China. This is The Financial Times, this kind of defamation of ‘Left’ political actors is part of the Old Cold War baggage, subject to a tactical historical revisionism. Note the ‘Left’s’ obsession with Neo-Liberalism, as narrated by Rachman: it rings hollow as this newspaper and its writers were and are its paid advocates/apologists.
The Rachman Political Melodrama gathers rhetorical momentum:
In response to this formidable political and intellectual assault, Ikenberry has produced A World Safe for Democracy, a thoughtful and profound defence of liberal internationalism — both as a political philosophy and as a guide to future actions. By tracing the evolution of liberal internationalism over the course of two centuries, he demonstrates that this is a set of ideas with deep historical roots, rather than triumphalist fluff produced after the west’s victory in the cold war.
For Ikenberry, the ideas of international co-operation, law, open trade and democracy have followed a “crooked trajectory” throughout history, advancing at times — but also experiencing many trials and setbacks. The point is made by the cover illustration chosen for the book: a picture of St Paul’s Cathedral, surrounded by the smoke of bombs, during the second world war.
The patient reader then confronts the central idea/construct of the Rachman/Ikenberry Alliance! That they are both Neo-Liberals – Free Trade, the sine qua non of this failed economic/political toxin. With ‘Liberal Internationalism’ as its newest window dressing. Except that it is just that moldering left-over of ‘Wilsonian Idealism’.
That suggests that future American governments are going to have to be more cautious about free trade. This is no small adjustment because, as Ikenberry demonstrates, support for free trade has been a core commitment of liberal internationalists stretching back into the 19th century.