State, Violence, and Global Order
Over on the front page, Tim Kowal offers a considered meta-observation of how American power functions in the world:
True, America wields a big stick in the world. But it wields it clumsily, taking imprecise whacks at different ideas for different reasons. Despite an economic and military might that would make any dictator green with envy, the structural dysfunction our Constitutional democracy imposes renders our government chronically unenergetic, inefficient, and ultimately incapable of acting like a totalitarian.
Kowal writes in response to Robert Kagan’s new book The World America Made, specifically Kagan’s musings on the global costs of a decline in America’s military power. Like Tim, I’m nowhere near remotely qualified to comment informatively on the particulars military policy. Even a meta-observation is beyond my capacity to offer. Instead, I’d like to raise a question related to the underlying theme of Kagan’s book and Tim’s post: is state violence, specifically the exercise of military power, necessary for establishing and preserving global order?
For the record, I ask this question as someone who quite rightly passes for a peacenik; I maintain that war can never be “just.” War must always be an evil and a moral failure, even when circumstances render it the only rational option for the protection of life and freedom. Killing is always an injustice; murder gravely so. War involves both. I desire a world without war. I long for a time when all war can be outlawed by international consent. I have no faith in war to plant the soil for a lasting peace. Peace is rather the fruit of solidarity and development.
It would seem, then, that my answer to the question would be “No.” To my dismay, I’m not sure I can say that. History, at least, speaks otherwise. The pacifist refusal to embrace violence profits those willing to use it. So Paul Ricoeur reminded us. He also observed, following the insights of Machiavelli, that “the State is that reality which up to now has always included murder as the condition of its existence, of its survival, and first of all, of its inception.”
It is here, at the point where I am prone to despair for an end to war, at the stage where my faith in humanity floats away like a dead body in the water, that my hope for the future becomes distinctly religious. My hope for the reconciliation of human persons cannot be a hope in any human power. Human intelligence and ingenuity can secure order, but they cannot bring peace. They can punish and protect, but they cannot save or sanctify. If there is hope for peace, it must come from elsewhere.