After Twenty Years

by Marcus G. Raskin and Richard J. Barnet
Random House, 243 pp., $5.95

Next to organizing an alliance of nominally equal members, formulating its aims in convincing language is the most difficult test of statesmanship. In a sense of course both matters come to the same thing. Alliances after all are held together by shared beliefs as much as by anything else. Ideally it should be possible to arrive at an acceptable statement of aims, simply by generalizing the common interest of all concerned. Yet experience shows that alliances break down just over the definition of what constitutes their raison d’être. If the partners are equal, they will tend to quarrel. If one of them achieves hegemony over the rest, the term “ally” becomes a euphemism for “auxillary.” If a hegemoniac relationship is avoided, it may still be difficult to elude the choice between a confederacy with fixed rules, and an ad hoc relationship which leaves the partners free to rat on each other. In the best of circumstances, material will always be at hand for a polemicist determined to denounce the conduct of the allies as a mixture of blind egoism and base perfidy.

In appearance things are greatly simplified if the original purpose of the alliance is the defense of a transcendental good, such as religion, freedom, or Our Way of Life. An appeal can then be made from private or national selfishness to a common purpose which is really perceived as such by all who are committed to the common cause. Historically, alliances have generally worked best when they were cemented by what is vulgarly called an “ideology,” meaning a common faith. Examples that come to mind are the Wars of Religion, or the wars provoked by the French Revolution. The trouble is that in these cases the normal political process tends to collapse. Politics after all is a matter of resolving conflicting interest, war (as Hegel and Clausewitz pointed out) a mere means to this end. If this is forgotten or lost sight of, armed conflicts may drag on beyond the point where they still serve a rational end. In order to get rid of the irrational element, an appeal must then be made to the cynicism of the professionals. This happened conspicuously during the later stages of the Thirty Years War—originally a religious dispute stemming from the Reformation—when Catholics and Protestants forgot what they were supposed to be fighting for and reverted to the Machiavellianism they had solemnly abjured. Europe then witnessed the edifying spectacle of Catholic France under Richelieu allying itself with Protestant Sweden to fight the Catholic Habsburgs. It was the birth, or rebirth, of Realpolitik. In later days Bismarck stood out as a major practitioner of this art, and today the Elysée is occupied by a man who resembles Richelieu and Bismarck more closely than he does the political crusaders of the recent past.

Professor Kissinger is aware of this background, as are Messrs. Raskin and Barnet. All three worry a good deal about De Gaulle, though they are not sure whether he should be…

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