Robert Kaplan: War Is Purpose, Peace Is Decadence


Globe-trotting grumpus Robert D. Kaplan, whose great reporting usually makes his less-great political thinking worth getting through, may just have completed his journey from hopeless, let-them-die Realism to sour, let-them-serve National Greatnessism. Exhibit A is his Berlin Wall piece for The Atlantic, with the subhed "We may have gained victory in the Cold War, but lost Europe to apathy and decadence in the process." The kicker:

What does the European Union truly stand for besides a cradle-to-grave social welfare system? For without something to struggle for, there can be no civil society—only decadence.

Thus, with their patriotism dissipated, European governments can no longer ask for sacrifices from their populations when it comes to questions of peace and war. Ironically, we may have gained victory in the Cold War, but lost Europe in the process.

At the UK Spectator, Alex Massie has what I think is an appropriate response:

I'd say that the EU stands for, or at least has ambitions towards, peace and prosperity and that, whatever one may think of the organisation, these are hardly small things. Indeed, their absence through for much of the twentieth century was, shall we say, marked.

For that matter, absorbing the countries of central and eastern europe into the EU is itself no tiny task and one that, not unreasonably, has preoccupied europe these past twenty years. That this absorbtion has, generally speaking, been a success is also an achievement of note. And, of course, the process is not yet complete.

There is a central grain of truth in Kaplan's critique: European governments, and to a greater extent their citizens, seem to be animated by an ever-smaller sense of responsibility for international affairs. If we take that as a bad thing (for the sake of argument; it might not be), then we should certainly observe that some of that pathology has been exacerbated by Euro-tweaking (and Kaplan-reading!) National Greatness types in Washington.  

Here's a long and critical case against Kaplan's career by Tom Bissell at the Virginia Quarterly Review. Reason on Kaplan here.

NEXT: Some Officers of Their Own

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  1. There were decadent leftists all over Europe during the cold war. Lots of people in Europe would have gladly surrendered the whole place to communism. Leftists like to pretend that they were really anti-Soviet. But they were not. They were a fifth collumn through most of the cold war. So I don’t really think there was some golden age of national purpose during the cold war.

    Beyond that, Europe reached its height in the late 19th Century and then in 1914 proceeded to commit suicide. National greatness was great until it ended in the fields of Flanders and Galacia. And cold war national greatness wouldn’t have been so great if it had ended in World War III.

    There is a place for national greatness. And it is so that you can defend yourself and other people don’t come in and conquer and enslave you. In that sense, it is a necessary thing, but not really a desireable thing.

    1. Post-1945 (for western Europe) and post-1989 (for eastern Europe)were and are much better periods for Europe than anything pre-1914 (if you’re an average citizen, if you’re a politician obsessed with national greatness pre-1914 with all its regional wars was great).

      1. It was only better post war because it had so much to draw on. The 19th Century was a miracle of progress. 1899 was much better relative to 1800 than 1989 was to 1945. If the world could have improved as much in the 20th Century as it did in the 19th and stayed on that path, we would be much better off today.

  2. It’s definitely a BAD THING that I have to subsidize the defense of these Europussies.

    Fuck them. I want the US out of NATO now and I want US troops pulled out of Europe. Maybe one medical base in Germany and that’s it.

    It’s bad enough we heavily subsidize their health care as well by inventing most drugs, devices, and processes.

    1. We want you fuckers out, don’t pretend you’re doing us a favor.

      1. C’mon, I’ve been stationed in Germany, you love us. :p

        1. Like whores, they love our money.

          Fuck Europe.

  3. “For without something to struggle for, there can be no civil society?only decadence.”

    Sounds like Kaplan might appreciate this political thinker:

    [Our doctrine] conceives of life as a struggle, believing that man’s place is to conquer that of which he is truly worthy, making himself the supreme instrument (physical, moral and intellectual) for building it” – Benito Mussolini 1933.

    Europe already went down that path in the 1930s and it didn’t turn out so well. Can Kaplan really be that ignorant of history?

  4. Yeah, because Europe was so much better off when Germany and Russia had “something to struggle for”. Sod off, Kaplan. Some of us, believe it or not, don’t need a great patriotic war to give purpose to our lives.

    1. Europe was better off, right up until the first shot was fired in 1914. But was national greatness the reason why Europe did so much in the 19th Century? Or was it a luxury steming from the huge economic progress that happened during the 19th Century? Further, even if Europe all of the sudden found its national greatness again, would that create the conditions for it to start producing great art and great ideas again? I doubt it.

  5. Can’t we just go to Mars or build a few paramids or something?

    1. How about no war, no Mars and no pyramids?

      How about finding national greatness in a country’s ability to resist the urge to run it’s citizens lives?

      1. The war thing is a nice idea, but we only get half a vote. The enemy gets the other half. In that sense, you are getting some national greatness whether you like it or not.

        As far as the rest, people have the urge to do big collective things. You are better off acknowledging that fact and trying to direct those urges into something at least marginally productive. Mars wouldn’t be such a bad use of money. A lot better than giving it to broke bankers and political chronies.

        1. I’m not a pacifist. I’m fine with national defense. But the desire of Kaplan and his type is either for war qua war or a desire to see us attacked in an endless cycle to provide the conflict he thinks must drives us.

          Peace is preferable to war. This does not mean war is either impossible or unjustified.

          1. As for Mars… if it’s that important, private interests will get us there. I don’t care what the collective majority thinks I should pay for.

            1. Maybe. But perhaps the initial investment is too big for anyone but government. Government can actually be very effective at doing big things that require a huge initial investment.

              Also that doesn’t mean we have a command and control space program. Maybe we give out grants and prizes to people pursuing space flight in order to get the industry going.

              1. I’ll believe colonizing Mars is useful and practical after we’ve colonized the Sahara Desert and the interior of Antarctica. Each of these places is 100x more hospitable than Mars would be.

          2. I agree. I don’t think we should make war unless we have to. And when we do it ought to be a life altering, spirit shattering, OMG what have we done to deserve this hell experience for our enemies.

            But people who think that all things being equal war is preferable to peace are nuts. That doesn’t mean that war can’t be preferable to peace. But it is only preferable when peace entails surrender or subjegation.

            1. We don’t have any enemies that are even capable of threatening our nation in a significant way.

              Yes, John, that includes al-Qaeda. We could have had a 9/11 attack every year for the past eight years and this would still amount to little more than a pinprick against our nation. (Not including the effect of the fearmongers in our govt who see any tragedy as an excuse to grab more power)

  6. Why does it not surprise me that Reason would cite an absolute idiot like Alex Massie as a source? (See reader comments)

    Further, what’s libertarian about nations ceding sovereign powers, accountable to the electorate, to an unelected central government that they have no voice in? Most citizens of Europe didn’t even get a vote in whether or not their countries were going to be members or not. The Lisbon Treaty was largely an end run around voter’s rejection of the EU constitution.

    1. I agree with you about the EU and Europe dying. But what does that say about national greatness whatever that is?

      1. I have no idea. And given that I didn’t see a word about “national greatness” in Kaplan’s column, I have no idea where Welch is getting it, either. Read the article yourself and see if you can find it in there.

        1. National Greatness is the Kristol-McCain campaign plan for making America strong through war for Great Reasons. America always goes to War for Great Reasons though, we dont need a plan for it.

          needless to add, Europe wasnt as excited about our Great Reasons for war, it follows they are decadent and depraved.

  7. “We” didn’t “lose Europe” during the Cold War. Europe’s hellish experience from 1914-45, with a depression sandwiched by two world wars fought primarily on its soil, pretty much put an end to calls for additional sacrifice in pursuit of nationalist causes.

    It pisses me off when I hear Americans complain that French are “surrender monkeys,” or that Germans or whomever won’t support this or that war. I don’t think that any of us here in America can understand the trauma that Europe inflicted on itself in the first part of last century.

    1. aye, Jonny Scrum-half. Anyone who’s ever used the phrase ‘French Surrender Monkeys’ needs to review the casualties totals for France in WWI.

      I love America, but we are an ahistorical lot.

      1. Yeah, look how quickly we signed up to the P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act with around 3,000 dead in one day on our soil. Imagine what we would allow if we had a few months of days like that.

    2. I don’t think that any of us here in America can understand the trauma that Europe inflicted on itself in the first part of last century.

      Nations (let alone continents!) don’t experience trauma, individuals do. I can understand such feelings on the part of Europeans who lived through WWI or WW2, but the phenomenon you’re describing doesn’t just occur among those people.

      With the exception of the UK, the countries of Western Europe has become exceedingly prosperous over the past few decades while having to contribute very little to their own self-defense. Of course they’re going to be reflexively anti-war, they’ve gotten quite fat while their big brother was doing the dirty work.

      1. 5% of the entire European population then died in world war one. Another 5%+ wounded.
        In Eastern Europe, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania all lost over 12% of their population during World War Two. Poland comes out on top with 16.1% of the entire fucking population at that time. Greece 11% dead.

        Yea, the reason Europe is not that fond of war is because we’re cheap.

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