Philosophers at War

In times of confrontations between explicitly material interests, and in the absence of any real public debate involving the Italian Government (busy protecting the orgy of power), what could be better than a proper exchange between internationally-​renowned philosophers, on the alleged necessity of a military intervention in Libya? In an article published on the 28th of March on Libération, Jean-​Luc Nancy defends the Western operation. Bengazi insurgents, he explains, are asking us to defeat the ‘vile murderer’ Gaddafi, and the West is called upon to assume the political responsibility for that desired change. Nancy believes that the non-​interventionists’ arguments – the potential collateral risks of the operation, the suspicions about the real interests at stake, the principle of non-​interference in the reserved domain of States, the weight of the (recent) colonial past – are de facto no longer valid in this globalised world, which empties the principle of sovereignty of any meaning. In such a world it is rather necessary “to reinvent the act of living together and, before all else, the act of living itself”. This, ultimately, would be what the Arab people are forcing us to acknowledge. Hence the necessity of the intervention, in order to protect the rebels from Gaddafi’s bloody clutches. In the second instance, only in the second one, the Western people (we all) should act so as to neutralise oil, financial and war merchants’ interests, already responsible for bringing and keeping such ‘puppets’ as Gaddafi in power.

The answer to Nancy, coming from a stupefied Alain Badiou, deserves the greatest attention. First, he reminds, in Libya we didn’t face a popular uprising such as the Egyptian and Tunisian ones. In Libya there is no trace of documents and flags of protest of the same character as those employed in Egypt and Tunisia, and no women are to be found among Libyan rebels. Second, since the last autumn British and French secret services have been organising Gaddafi’s fall; this would explain, third, both the weapons of unknown origin, available to the rebels, as well as the sudden formation of a revolutionary council to replace the Raìs’ government. Fourth: in contrast to the other Arab countries, explicit help requests have been coming from Libya. According to Badiou, the Western objective is evident: “to transform a revolution into a war”, to replace the rebels with weapons (heavy weapons, armoured vehicles, war instructors, blue helmets), so as to allow “the despotism of capital” to “reconquest” the effervescence of the Arab world. If this wasn’t the case, Badiou asks – and we ask our regime too – how could those same Western leaders, friends to Gaddafi, perform such a turnaround?

What, then, is to be done? Even in the case we would be willing to concede – and we are far from being persuaded by it – that the humanitarian motivation would suffice to justify the intervention. As Peter Singer contends recalling the catastrophe of Rwanda, it is still impossible to ignore that the UN resolution does not authorise a military intervention (Singer himself reminds that). From a utilitarian perspective – in his consequentialist version, that is – collateral risks do matter indeed. Wouldn’t it have been better to seek to obtain the desired outcome by resorting to deterrent measures and high-​efficacy sanctions, emphasising precisely (and uniquely) the humanitarian reasons for opposing to Gaddafi? In any case, Nancy’s solution is wholly unsatisfying: why wait (for the military intervention to succeed) to prevent (only in the second instance) the sordid material interests from coming back onto the political scene? Doing this, Badiou explains, would equate to bowing to the Western will, repressing the “unexpected and intolerable” (for the Western warlords, that is) character of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, and thus the “political autonomy” and “independence” of the Arab revolutionaries.

Badiou is right: as I wrote in this blog some posts ago, the multipolar world has its own needs. It is simply not enough to remind all that the Western Imperialism of the cold-​war and post cold-​war era can no longer aspire to dominate the world. The true revolution will come when the West will learn to step back, to accept the difference, to realise that in a globalised world the concept of sovereignty has even more significance. Nancy’s is a logic mistake: it is exactly the world we wish for, the (international) society in which we would wish to live – to use the words written by Singer somewhere else – which calls upon us to revisit the traditional criteria of the interventionist logic. The world in which we would wish to live, today and tomorrow, is not that of Sarkozy and Cameron, but rather one in which the Arab countries, likewise those of Latin America and Asia, will be legitimate to build from a position of independence and equal rights with respect to the Western nations.

Published first here in Italian, and translated by Andrea Pavoni.

  1 comment for “Philosophers at War

  1. Jean-Luc Nancy
    11 April 2011 at 11:36 am

    Dear Gianni,

    I understand everything. I just note that the conclusion is always the same: do nothing to move something, neither here nor there; globalization is only for the commodity; nowhere is there the slightest sign of moving, at least in all our revo-​convo-​devolutions of the past 50 years. If there seems to be one, it is be cautious: the beast is already there.

    We shall make a mondial declaration: people of the entire world, forget hope and dignity!

    Do we?

    Un abbraccio caro Gianni.

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