Is this the world we’re in?

Will Hutton (picture London Metropolitan University)
By John Williams

The world we’re in, by Will Hutton, published by Little, Brown 2002

Re-ordering the world, edited by Mark Leonard, published by The Foreign Policy Centre, 2002

In their respective ways, both these books under review reflect upon future global structures without specific intention. As such, they provide useful food for federalist thought when read in conjunction with one another.

The central thesis of Will Hutton’s book is that American conservatism distracts Britain from its traditional social welfare conception, essentially European, of society. This being so, Britain has to return to its European roots in order to rediscover itself. In effect, Hutton pinpoints the intrinsic cause of British identity crisis.

The basis of Hutton’s thesis is a transatlantic gulf of political philosophies – the American creed based on the individual’s right to freedom and property versus the European adherence to the individual’s right to equality, liberty and fraternity. Hutton encapsulates this transatlantic philosophical gulf, thus:

‘Private property and wealth simply do not have the same legitimacy in Europe as they have in the US – witness…the qualification in the post-second-world-war German constitution that common will overrides private property rights. If the EU and its members were to copy an absolutist conservative view of government and say that their only role was to protect private contracts and the right to sack workers at will… they would be laughed out of court.’

It is the transatlantic social, political and economic ramifications of this philosophical gulf, the divide between the American absolute belief in freedom and the European relative belief in freedom, which Hutton focuses upon.

Whilst not himself a Marxist, Hutton’s thesis is framed in Marxist terms, in terms that perceive United States society as a meritocracy turning itself into an oligarchy through socio-economic and socio-political means. As such, the thesis is a superficially easy target – witness Chris Patten’s patronising review in the Guardian . Although many will agree with Patten’s dismissal, such a dismissal is glib, reflecting more upon their sclerotic analysis than upon Hutton’s. Undeniably messianic though his analysis is, it is equally undeniable that Hutton pinpoints an increasing transatlantic geo-political chasm in pertinent terms that cannot be convincingly dismissed as a transient phenomenon.

Such a dismissal is the harder to justify due to Hutton’s essentially Atlanticist historical perspective. This leads him to argue that the post-Cold War era has resulted in Washington turning away from a collectivist approach to foreign policy in favour of unilateralism. It is a dismissal made still harder if this Atlanticist perception of the Cold War, namely that it was Moscow-initiated, is replaced by the perception of the Cold War as being generated by a paranoid vicious circle relationship between Moscow and Washington foreign policy decision-makers. Perceived thus, Washington’s post-Cold War foreign policy is based on realpolitik, the logic of which is undeniable, however disapprovingly. In other words, Hutton’s analysis is realist, not implicitly extremist.

Hutton refers to the commercial success of Volkswagen, Michelin and Nokia as examples of how Europe’s social market traditions have more credibility than those of the free market embraced by the United States and increasingly by Britain. Nothing new here. What is new, however, is the comparison between America’s short-term economic success and the medium to long term European socio-economic viability. The collapse of Enron says it all.

Thus, although not a federalist himself, Hutton is poignant in his elaboration of missed federalist opportunities as he outlines the European Union’s evolution. Such is the context within which he expresses foreboding that the world’s political establishment will acquiesce in the processes of globalisation on terms of American conservatism – on terms that are reactionary, unilateralist and hegemonic.

Hutton’s analysis shortchanges itself, however, by attributing the transatlantic political gulf primarily to the current Bush Administration’s ineptitude. Viewed from a broader historical perspective, this transatlantic political gulf has persisted throughout the existent of the Atlantic Alliance, albeit in incipient forms.

It is useful to set Hutton’s analysis up against the spectrum of analyses broadly acceptable to the Blair government. In the government-sponsored Foreign Policy Centre’s collection of essays entitled Re-ordering the World Robert Cooper, adviser to Robin Cook at the Foreign Office, opens his well-publicised piece on The Post-Modern State with the following statement:

“In 1989 the political systems of three centuries came to an end in Europe: the balance-of-power and the imperial urge. That year marked not just the end of the cold war, but more significantly, the end of a state system in Europe which dated from the Thirty Years War. 11 September showed us one of the implications of the change.”

By seeking to dismiss the relevance of Europe’s federalist past to Europe’s structural future, Cooper’s statement seeks to hijack the debate on Europe’s global role on the implicit premise that the United States remains hegemonic. His advocacy of post-modern imperialism to solve the problems caused by the behaviour of ‘pre-modern’ States, crude though it is, would be convincing were it not for this premise.

Mary Kaldor’s piece on The Power of Terror grasps what Cooper fails to – namely, that President Bush response to 11 September was that of the Cold War: states supporting America are part of the alliance against terrorism irrespective of their domestic behaviour.

David Held draws out the political implications from Kaldor’s analysis by stating the need for:

“a movement for global, not American, justice and legitimacy, aimed at establishing and extending the rule of law in place of war and at fostering understanding between communities.”

Held lists the three constituent parts of this required movement as being; – 1) universal commitment to international rule of law; 2) the creation and acceptance of overriding global legitimacy; 3) the implementation of international justice based on egalitarian principles founded upon cosmopolitan values. If ever there was an implicit advocacy of global federalism, this is it.

In a piece on The Power of World Community, Tony Blair, concluding this FPC collection of reflections on 11 September, predictably yet nonetheless significantly avoids the issue of United States global hegemony. Of equal significance, though less predictable and therefore poignant, Blair also avoids mention of the European Union’s role in the process of globalisation. The avoidance of these two issues, perhaps the two most pivotal issues determining future global structures, bodes ill for posterity.

This article was contributed by John Williams, who may be contacted at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union. First edition 3 June 2002.

More information

The world we’re in

Chris Patten’s Guardian review of The world we’re in

Foreign Policy Centre

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