William PfaffFrom rogue state to state of concern to the end of history
Paris, Saturday, July 1, 2000
NEW YORK - The decision that rogue nations are not irredeemably roguish but are subjects for therapy provides a belated application to international relations of the currently popular American notion that the object of interpersonal relationships is the maximization of self-esteem.
A rogue nation can only bolster its self-esteem by more roguery, whereas a "state of concern" - as rogue states are now designated - is one with potential for self-improvement and for winning the esteem of others.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who now asks to be called Dr. Albright, and her colleagues are applying to U.S. foreign relations a notion current in progressive educational circles - that all must have a prize - and leaving behind the guilt-inducing moralization of a past in which it was America and its friends against the outlaws.
James Rubin, Dr. Albright's former spokesman, has said, "When the United States speaks, the world listens, so it matters what language the United States uses." Hence it is now O.K. to think of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and others as real countries with real complications.
The "rogue nation" notion was fatuous from the start and proved diplomatically counterproductive. It alienated foreign opinion and annoyed other governments with its arrogance. Worse, it was hopelessly reductive: It treated complexity in a simple-minded way. All it really meant was punishment for small countries that dared to strike at the U.S. government's self-esteem.
Those in the press and policy community who took the idea seriously have opened a new classification for former rogues (and others) as politically and economically "failing" or "failed" nations that stand against the tides of modernization and democratization. They are the ones who refuse to join the rest of us, on the other side of the end of history.
Behind the political conflicts that gave rise to the rogue nation notion, there is a conceptual issue. In the United States, the conventional assumption is that every nation is going down the same road, headed for the same destination, which Americans naturally identify with their own prosperity and their own form of democracy.
In Warsaw last Tuesday, some 100 countries were invited to sign a declaration on democracy that The New York Times described as having been conceived "as a way of highlighting the spread of democracy since the end of the Cold War and enshrining the United States as its leading light."
However, it is not true that societies are all headed in the same political direction. This has never been true. It represents a secular translation of a Western view of history that is religious in origin - in Judaism's and Christianity's view of human existence as a journey toward the establishment of God's kingdom, hence as a progressive movement toward an event that will bring human history to a close.
Other civilizations have had different conceptions of history. Some have thought of it as a decline from a golden age, some as static and some, such as China, as dynastic and cyclical. Both Greek paganism and certain versions of Asian religion conceive of existence in terms of reincarnation and reenactment of the cycle of life.
Marxism also has had a great influence on the thinking even of Western political conservatives. Materialist Marxism turned God's kingdom into the universal workers' state, in which cooperation and goodwill would supplant the competition and exploitation of the past. The enemies of Marx and Lenin took this so seriously that the "father" of American neo-conservatism, James Burnham, called the Cold War "the struggle for the world."
When the West won the Cold War, it was natural for it to interpret the collapse of communism as the end of history (when, as Francis Fukuyama himself warned, life would probably become very boring).
The decision that even rogues now should be reclassified in implicitly progressive, rather than condemnatory terms, while Washington moves to increase contacts with Iran and lighten sanctions on Cuba and Sudan, expresses the assumption that we are approaching the secular thinker's latest substitution for God's kingdom: universal democracy and universal consumer markets, wired by Internet.
Few have imagined that the end of communism might actually be a new beginning, that we are now at the start of a new stage in history in which Marxism, Leninism, anti-communism and Cold War neo-conservatism are no longer of any importance.
What will become truly important remains to be discovered. Think of people in 1900. How could they have imagined what history was really to bring to them? Yet war between Russia and Japan was only four years away - and World War I was only 14 years in the future.