In a world shaped by the iron logic of markets and national interests, Vladimir Putin’s war of atavistic conquest has mystified the “deep” strategists of realpolitik. Their mistake was to forget that under global capitalism, cultural, ethnic and religious conflicts are the only forms of political struggle that remain.
LJUBLJANA – With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we are entering a new phase of war and world politics. Besides an increased risk of nuclear catastrophe, we are already in a perfect storm of mutually reinforcing global crises – the pandemic, climate change, biodiversity loss, and food and water shortages. There is a fundamental folly in the situation: at a time when the very survival of humanity is threatened by ecological (and other) factors, and when the fight against these threats must take priority over everything else, our main concern has suddenly moved – again – to a new political crisis. . Just when global cooperation is needed more than ever, the “Clash of Civilizations” returns with a vengeance.
Why does this happen? As is often the case, a little Hegel can go a long way in answering such questions. In the Phenomenology of the mind, Hegel describes the dialectic of master and servant, two “self-consciousnesses” locked in a struggle for life or death. If each is willing to risk his own life to win, and if both persist, there is no winner: one dies, and the survivor has no one left to acknowledge his own existence. The implication is that all of history and culture rests on a fundamental compromise: in the face-to-face confrontation, one side (the future servant) “looks away”, not wanting to go through with it.
But Hegel will hasten to note that there can be no definitive or lasting compromise between states. Relations between sovereign nation-states are permanently under the shadow of potential war, with each era of peace being nothing more than a temporary armistice. Each state disciplines and educates its own members and guarantees civic peace among them, and this process produces an ethic that ultimately demands acts of heroism – a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s country. The savage and barbaric relations between states thus serve as the basis for ethical life within states.
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