En Vogue

In one of his more famous books titled Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger made a number of important points about the state of the international system in the 21st century right off the bat. For one, Kissinger wrote: “The international system of the twenty-first century will be marked by a seeming contradiction: on the one hand, fragmentation; on the other, growing globalization.” Kissinger also argued that the international system will move more towards “equilibrium” in both the military and economic domains, and that it had already become safer for countries to challenge the United States in these domains.

But the United States has largely acted as an empire in both the end of the 20th century and thus far in the 21st century and is still perhaps under the impression that its “unipolar moment” has yet to recede and thus give way to the “equilibrium” which Kissinger suggested would define the international system in the 21st century. As Kissinger wrote: “Empires have no interest in operating within an international system; they aspire to be the international system.” In turn, the United States never had to face “balance-of-power” politics and the “equilibrium” of power which European powers had to face during the age of European colonialism.

Also, despite all the talk about “democracy” and “freedom of expression” and “human rights” and so forth, interests are at the forefront of international politics and international relations, as mentioned before. Kissinger reinforces this point by writing: “Nations have pursued self-interest more frequently than high-minded principle, and have competed more than they have cooperated.” Kissinger added: “There is little evidence to suggest that this age-old mode of behavior has changed, or that it is likely to change in the decades ahead.”

Thus, the United States is now facing a new international reality, namely, a “balance-of-power” system defined by the principle of “equilibrium.” And the United States is not very happy about this new international reality, given that the United States was the unipolar power during the end of the 20th century and in the early decades of the 21st century. As Kissinger wrote: “One of the new necessities is that a world comprising several states of comparable strength must base its order on some concept of equilibrium – an idea with which the United States has never felt comfortable.”

A new international reality that is uncomfortable to deal with gives way to some of the anxiety and hysteria which has beset both Americans and Europeans over the course of the last few years. From populism in the United States which began as a reaction to the election of a Black president to coping with the failure of a whole-of-government policy which has had broad-ranging effects and impacts, anxiety and hysteria has become quite pervasive in the Western world. The coronavirus exacerbates the anxiety and hysteria which began many years ago as a result of the aforementioned factors and issues. Whereas being white was once the ideal, dark – and even “yellow” – is the new beauty. As Shakespeare conspicuously wrote in the first of his famous “Dark Lady” Sonnets:

In the old age black was not counted fair,

Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;

But now is black beauty’s successive heir,

And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:

For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,

Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,

Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,

But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.

Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,

Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem

At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,

Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:

Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,

That every tongue says beauty should look so.

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