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of non-​interference in the re­served do­main of States, the weight of the (re­cent) co­lo­nial past – are de facto no longer valid in this glob­al­ised world, which emp­ties the prin­ciple of sov­er­eignty of any meaning.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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