Ariel Center for
Policy Research



NATIV  Volume Sixteen   Number 3 (92)  ■  May 2003 ■ Iyar 5763 ■ Ariel Center for Policy Research





Our World-Historical Gamble

Lee Harris

Used with the permission of

The war with Iraq will constitute one of those momentous turning points of history in which one nation under the guidance of a strong-willed, self-confident leader undertakes to alter the fundamental state of the world. It is, to use the language of Hegel, an event that is world-historical in its significance and scope. And it will be world-historical, no matter what the outcome may be.

Such world-historical innovations transcend the conceptual categories of the old world, and call into existence an entirely novel set of categories. Each one of them, by its very nature, is a crossing of the Rubicon, from which there is no turning back, but only a going forward – and a going forward into the unknown. This means that we must take a hard look at even our most basic vocabulary – and think twice before we rush to apply words like “empire” or “national self-interest” or “multi-lateralism” or “sovereignty” to a world in which they are no longer relevant.

Since the events of 9/11 the policy debate in the United States has been primarily focused on a set of problems – radical Islam and the War on Terrorism, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The liberal world system has collapsed internally: there is no longer a set of rules that govern all the players. Such rules are trans-cultural. They constitute the precondition of any politically stable system, for without them there is the danger of cognitive anarchy – a situation in which no one can any longer predict with confidence what the others will do. This collapse of the well-ordered liberal system has come about exclusively from the side of the Islamic world. And the cause of this disruption is the lack of a sense of the realistic on the part of certain elements in the Islamic world. Indeed, this is the common thread that unites Iraq, Al Qaeda, and Palestinian terrorism.

The threat that currently faces us comes from groups who have utterly failed to create the material and objective conditions within their own societies sufficient to permit them to construct, out of their own resources, the kind of military organization and weaponry that has constituted every previous kind of threat.

If we look at the source of the Arab wealth we find it is nothing they created for themselves. It has come to them by magic, much like a story of the Arabian nights, and it allows them to live in a feudal fantasyland.

What Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have in common is that their power derives entirely from the fact that the West had committed itself, in the aftermath of World War II, to a policy of not robbing other societies of their natural resources simply because it possessed the military might to do so. The quite unintended consequence of the West’s conduct is: the prodigious funding of fantasists who are thereby enabled to pursue their demented agendas unencumbered by any realistic calculation of the risks or costs of their action.

Nothing but force can break these from their illusion. Not because there is something wrong with them as a race, but simply because they are acting like any other individual who has been permitted to live in a dream world – they continue to fantasize.

The greatest threat facing us – and one of the greatest ever to threaten mankindis the collision of this collective fantasy world of Islam with the horrendous reality of weapons of mass destruction.

We now live in a world in which a state so marginal that it would be utterly incapable of mounting any kind of credible conventional threat to its neighbors or to anyone elsesuch a state could still make a devastating use of a nuclear weapon that literally chanced to come into its hands.

The act of violence need possess only a magical or fantasy significance to the perpetrator in order to motivate him to perform it. It need not bring him any other goal than the sense of achievement in having brought it off.

And beyond this, there is even a danger of rogue states, unable to maintain their domestic viability, degenerating into being merely front organizations for the social force of radical Islam, much as occurred in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The motivations of those who want to murder us are not complicated: To watch an American city go up into a fireball is its own reward.

The fantasy ideology of radical Islam does not want the West to fulfill its will, but to cease to exist. And to achieve this end, any historical catastrophe will do.

This is the lesson that 9/11 should teach us in dealing with the fantasists of the Islamic world. A fantasy does not need to make any sensethat is the whole point of having one.

They are not playing by the same rules of realism that we are. And it is this that renders so much public debate so historically dated.

The US must be willing to discard the Clausewitzian goal of making another nation state merely fulfill its political will. It must in fact be prepared to dismantle and reconstruct the other state, if, like Iraq, its behavior poses a threat to the general international system.

There is only one solution, and that is for the United States consciously to adopt a policy of what might be tentatively called neo-sovereignty.

At the heart of the dialectically emergent concept of neo-sovereignty is a double standard imposed by the US on the rest of the world, whereby the US can unilaterally decide to act, if need be, to override and even to cancel the existence of any state or regime that proposes to develop WMD, especially in those cases where the state or regime in question has demonstrated its dangerous lack of a sense of the realistic.

If any social order is to achieve stability there must be, at the heart of it, a double standard governing the use of violence and force. There must be one agent who is permitted to use force against other agents who are not permitted to use force.

In its role as neo-sovereign the United States, in pursuing its selfish policy, is also forced to increase the general level of security throughout the world.

If we are to teach others a sense of the realistic, it is imperative that we not lose our own. We must not let our noble ideals betray us into betraying our very ideals. The only way that these ideals will find a place in the world of tomorrow is if we are prepared to defend them todayand to defend them at whatever cost is required.


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