“The constitution of 1795, like its predecessors, has been drawn up for Man. Now, there is no such thing in the world as Man. In the course of my life, I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc.; I am even aware, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be a Persian. But, as for Man, I declare that I have never met him in my life. If he exists, I certainly have no knowledge of him.”
Joseph de Maistre
“The political entity presupposes the real existence of an enemy and therefore coexistence with another political entity. As long as a state exists, there will thus always be in the world more than just one state. A world state which embraces the entire globe and all of humanity cannot exist. The political world is a pluriverse, not a universe. In this sense every theory of state is pluralistic. The political entity cannot by its very nature be universal in the sense of embracing all of humanity and the entire world.”
From Political Monotheism to Political Polytheism
The EU, the UN, NATO, notions of humanitarianism, universal human rights, cosmopolitanism…these are concepts constituting a sort of ‘political monotheism’ that have permeated the international realm and general politics for decades. Much of it stemming from the democratic peace theory, secular humanism, and other similar optimistic idealism. With the impotence and ineffectiveness of the UN, the slow crumbling of the EU, the detriments of unchecked mass immigration and failed experiments of multiculturalism, we are beginning to see a reversal in direction. The reversal away from ‘political monotheism’ and toward ‘political polytheism’.
By political polytheism, I do not necessarily mean a change from unipolar to bipolar, or bipolar to multipolar, though that is certainly related and may very well be occurring. Rather the shift away from a universal humanity or ‘one world’ idealism, or universalizing entities like the EU and UN, and a return to particulars.
A Frenchman is a Frenchman, and an Englishman is an Englishman, rather than the dissolution into ‘universal humanity’. Nation states are for their own individual self-interest, defined and sovereign, rather than putting global or collective interest before it. A nation state cares about its own citizens first and foremost above the outsider, the refugee, the immigrant, the unfortunate. Borders are defined and enforced, in contrast to leftist dissolution that advocates porousness or cosmopolitanism. Native or home culture is cherished in contrast to the superficiality of multiculturalism. Political polytheism is the celebration and affirmation of differentiation, multiplicity, and uniqueness.
What is meant by a return to the particular is a return to the local, to the native, to populism, to domestic culture, to native religion and custom. We are not ‘one world’ or ‘one humanity’. We are many nations, many cultures, many peoples, many religions, many traditions. I do not mean this only in the superficial sense, as leftist cries for ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ means it, but in substance and in spirit. Acknowledgment of differentiation must go far past the superficial alone and acknowledge much deeper differentiation as well. Figuratively speaking, I do not mean many gods with an underlying unifying single God, but polytheism, many gods, in the fullest multiplicity of it. This is the political realm, as well as culturally and demographically.
We are not diversity that is unified into one. We are diverse in the most differentiated sense of it.
A Return to Realpolitik
Idealist delusions such as spreading democracy, nation building, the EU, universal human rights, humanitarian interventionism, pacifism, are beginning to dissipate and a return to realpolitik is occurring. Or to be more accurate, an acknowledgement of the realpolitik that always has been regardless of these idealistic pursuits. The acknowledgment that anarchy (absence of central governing authority) is the default state of the international realm, that fierce competitiveness is the default, that alliances and any seeming order is temporary, and the objective of maintaining power or increasing power is the sole motivation behind every act. I argue that realism fully includes and embodies political polytheism, as opposed to Wilsonian idealism which is politically monotheist; a contrast of the particular with the universal. France is to be France, Germany is to be Germany, Russia is to be Russia, and each nation strives to do what is in its own best self-interest for itself and its people. There is no such thing as the universal ‘man’; only the Frenchman, the Russian, the American, etc. The sliding spectrum that is definition on one end and dissolution on the other. We are currently witnessing a sliding from dissolution to definition, from the universal to the particular, from the monotheistic to the polytheistic. Perhaps this is optimistic of me, but this does seem to be the direction the pendulum is swinging toward.
Politics is the struggle for power, be it national or international. No matter how dressed up in liberal concepts one attempts to dress it in, from human rights to spreading democracy, it is always a matter of power struggles. As Morgenthau stated, the political realist must always ask, “How does this policy affect the power of the nation?” This includes the lofty vision of ‘progress’: a naive idea that humanity is ever marching toward a more and more enlightened, more peaceful, and more ‘socially just’ tomorrow. This idea of progress is more accurately a myth of progress that has secular religious faith in a possible historical inevitability to a leftist utopian tomorrow. Originally rooted in Whig history, now simply dubbed ‘progressivism’, and certainly reflected in Wilsonian Idealism. Realpolitik, better known as Realism, stands in stark contrast. Rejecting the idealistic to acknowledge the real, that is, struggles for power. Civilizations rise and fall, strife and conflict is the default (as Heraclitus teaches early on), there is no central authority, peace is temporary and passing, and nations are concerned with self-interest (power) foremost. It is no surprise that after a period of pervading idealistic facades that the facades pass and we again acknowledge the realpolitik that always been and likely shall always will be.
In the recent inauguration speech given by President Trump, aside from the speech being highly populist, the powerful phrase was stated twice, ‘America First’. Indeed, national self-interest and its citizens should be the top priority of a nation. Above humanitarian missions, above interventionism, above refugees, above global projects, above international community. A turning away from the universal to the particular, away from the monotheistic to the polytheistic, away from the global to the national. Similar sentiment has gained momentum across Europe as well. Brexit was the declaration of the UK putting itself above the EU, a return to the particular. Marine Le Pen in France has gained momentum as talks of France leaving the EU increases. And in Germany, tragedy after tragedy as they face the consequences of putting naive humanitarian act of accepting mass refugees above the well-being of their own people.
Meek sentimentalism has inverted morality to villainize the strong and venerate the weak, villainize the self-interested and venerate the downtrodden, villainize the victor and venerate the conquered. Fortunately no nation has ever fully succumbed to this trending sentimentalist morality, but it has altered its rhetoric to appease it. At times though this inverted sentimentalist morality has permeated decision making, and optimistically we are seeing a reversal of this. May Germany be the cautionary tale of what happens when sickly sentimentalism determines decisions, allowing a horde of foreigners into one’s country at the tragic expense of ones own people and security. This is simply one of numerous examples, from economic to immigration to interventionism. The nation and its own people must come first and foremost. Adopting the inverted sentimentalist morality that villainizes national self-interest while venerating martyrdom is a drive to suicide.