Thursday, November 12, 2015

Libertarian Hegelianism is Lame

[Looking through my past reviews on, I happed upon this one of Jean Bricmont's Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War. I kinda like it. That means that I am a little surprised I wrote it. I usually hate the stuff I write.]

Well, this book did not deliver on its promise, namely to articulate a third way between the Scylla of Cultural Relativism and the Charybdis of a forced universalist morality. Mr. Bricmont makes it perfectly clear that he is a universalist, just not an imperialist one, and he wants a universalist morality that does not lead to wars in its name. Okay, good, I would like that, too, but once you have an absolute goal, then you have a justification of any sacrifice for the sake of that goal. This is, of course, a huge philosophical problem, and not just philosophical. All Bricmont does is show that what the U.S. has done is pretty much the opposite of the lofty ideals the U.S. professes and thereby reveals the U.S. to be a most bloody hypocrite. This is exactly the sort of thing Noam Chomsky has been doing for decades, and it should surprise no one that the German Edition (at least) of this book has a foreword by none other than Chomsky himself. But showing the United States to be a hypocrite does not invalidate the idea of huminatarian interventionism. Abuse of an idea does not invalidate the idea itself. And so the Enlightenment lives another day to fight more bloody wars all for the sake of human rights.

To say that the book is more or less a re-hash of what you can find in almost anything that the political Chomsky has written in the last fifty years is not to dismiss the book, of course. I really, really like Chomsky, but Bricmont, I have to say, is the much better writer and is able to make the same points that Chomsky makes with greater economy and, therefore, greater force.

But one point that Bricmont does not make with force, great or otherwise, is his suggestion for a third way between relativism and imperial absolutism. Yes, he does come up with a third way but seems to realize that it is so laughable that, like a guilty Straussian, he wants to bury it between the lines. His Third Way is what I'd like to call a libertarian Hegelianism. The developed countries developed to the End of History on their own, so let the other countries do so as well, and, presto, we have on the one hand upheld a definite telos and so avoid the trap of cultural relativism and on the other hand established a principle that lets us remove the adjective "imperialist" from absolutism.

It's neat but Hegelianism does not work that way at all. Hegelianism allows development to go only if the End of History has not been reached. See, one cannot philosophize until one knows the point of history, and one cannot know this until history has reached its end. Until then every thing must be allowed to happen, like wars, mass murder, torture, crimes against humanity, etc., because everything is part of the necessary dialectic of the Unfolding of the World's Spirit.

But once the End of History has arrived, then one immediately understands what once looked liked a tale told by an idiot. One understands the dialectic of history in a truly scientific manner and, therefore, can tell others who have not reached the End of History what to do to get there. Well, if the developed countries of this world are truly at History's End, then they are the rightful guardians of the world and as such have the right to tell the undeveloped and underdeveloped countries what to do, and instead of Humanitarian Intervention, we have Hegelian Intervention (which students of Hegel know is simply Napoleonic Conquest that is conscious of itself as Unfolding Spirit), and Mr. Bricmont would still bitch. And if no country is at History's End, then no one can philosophize, no one can make prescriptions because History remains an inexplicable tale told by a babbling idiot. In that case, Mr. Bricmont should just shut up.

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