WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Citing Thucydides, Livy, Sun-Tsu, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Winston Churchill, author Robert Kaplan said that to lead the world to a system of international governance, America must draw upon -- and romanticize -- its patriotic past long enough to make such patriotism obsolete.
Until now, "realism" been defined as the self-interest of a nation, Kaplan told a forum at the New America Foundation Thursday, but he said in the future he thinks it will be defined as the self-interest of "the system."
The Atlantic Monthly correspondent was quick to say that by a "system," he did not mean a world government. Rather, he anticipates "a gradual interlocking system of international institutions that may ultimately form a loose kind of world governance where nations will have to decide what degree of sovereignty or freedom it is useful to give up in order to provide for this system that will safeguard them to a greater extent than they have been safeguarded in the past from other nations."
Kaplan is a foreign policy theorist of the first rank whose thinking is grounded in some 25 years of political ethnography done all over the globe, sometimes under the most difficult and dangerous conditions -- the proverbial "anthropologist from Mars."
His new book, "Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos," demonstrates the enduring relevance of classical thought to the present and the future.
So Kaplan is always worth heeding, even when his strategic conclusions require close scrutiny, as this one does. Let's trace the steps of his logic.
Kaplan bases his belief in the desirability of supra-national governance from his reading of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), coupled with his interpretation of ancient Chinese history. Hobbes, author of "Leviathan" (1651), is the early modern philosopher whose thought, Kaplan said, most resembles the giants of classical antiquity. Of course, Hobbes is popularly remembered as saying that the natural state of humanity is a war of all against all in which life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Therefore, by means of a "social contract," people establish a state (the Leviathan) to set rules and limit violence.
Kaplan said Hobbes defined our deepest fear as "violent death at close quarters at the hands of another human being." We will give up a part of our freedom to be safe from that fear. That is the ultimate psychological incentive for the creation of government. For individuals, then, the Hobbesean question becomes: "How much freedom do we have to give up to be safe?"
Problems arise, however, when Kaplan extends the model based on the uncertain assumption that the United States would be more secure, not less, by fostering an as yet ill-defined supra-national system of governance on the order of the Han overlordship that emerged after the "warring states period" in China (475 B.C.-221 B.C.) This was not a strong central government, Kaplan said, but a loose system of governance that significantly reduced the level of strife among the formerly warring states.
It was made possible because, even as conflict continued, a uniformity of thought emerged among the elite of China.
Kaplan writes: "While today's world is culturally diverse, a singular, upper-middle-class cosmopolitan culture is forming, nevertheless. As this nouvelle cuisine culture expands, so will international institutions. Just as modern states arose contemporaneously with an industrial middle class, the expansion of this new global upper class will ultimately mark the transcendence of states themselves."
The Qin overlordship preceded the Han but lasted only lasted 20 years because it was very legalistic, Kaplan said.
"The lesson I drew from that is that unity by itself is not necessarily a good. If the European Union becomes a kind of insipid bureaucratic despotism, it could breed nasty nationalist reactions here and there in Europe. Unity has to do something to send a chill up people's spines to replace patriotism in some way.
"The Han overlordship was much more flexible, and it lasted several hundred years.
"If you breed ancient China out worldwide, you see a vague parallel between a period ... when the international elites are more and more uniform -- and through the development of war crimes trials and other things there is something coming into existence at least at the top that may not have existed before.
"And despite all the chaos in Africa and other places that I've written about, those things may actually impel this governance rather than impede it. Because it will only put more pressure on the elite to unify, to form global constabulary forces, and other things to deal with a lot of these humanitarian questions.
"So that gets us to the role of the United States. ... With 200-odd nations and thousands of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), there are too many narrow, particularistic interests to advance a whole global interest.
"That can be done only under the organizing principle of some great power, or hegemon. Global unity in the past, to the degree that it's ever existed, has always been done through a great power. But in order to face up to the challenge of hegemony, we will have to draw upon our patriotic past and our romantization of history. Fourth of July celebrations and flags on pickup trucks are necessary to drive our foreign policy at least for enough decades to ultimately make such patriotism obsolete."
But is it realistic to assume that "unity" within some amorphous world system would ever send chills up the spine of any American? So far, all political unions have been forged in war, or the danger of war. (The European Union is a novel exception.) And as Walter Russell Mead has observed, a plurality of Americans are the spiritual descendants of Andrew Jackson. They distrust international organizations, the Kyoto Protocol process, land-mine treaties, and don't want their soldiers judged by an international criminal court.
What's more, the intellectuals among them (and there are some) disdain the "singular, upper-middle-class cosmopolitan culture" of the decision-makers whose children do not enter the military, thereby escaping the consequences of their parents' policies.
Kaplan admires the classical philosophers and the founders of the American republic partly because of their pessimism. He called The Federalist Papers "an unrelenting record of worst-case scenarios. But because the founders thought in the bleakest, most pessimistic terms, they bred a nation of optimists for 200 years," he said.
Perhaps, before real optimism about a new system of world governance is warranted, Kaplan should consider a series of worst-case scenarios in which the United States surrenders its sovereignty to suit the tastes of an emerging caste of cosmopolitan elites.