Hegemony or Survival

As Hannah Arendt wrote, imperial hegemony has two “political devices” at the heart of it all, namely, race or a sense of racial superiority on one hand, and bureaucracy or heavy-handed control of foreign lands on the other hand. Arendt wrote: “Race…was an escape into an irresponsibility where nothing human could any longer exist, and bureaucracy was the result of a responsibility that no man can bear for his fellow-man and no people for another people.” 

In turn, the two major political devices of hegemony – namely, a sense of racial superiority and the heavy-handed control of foreign lands through bloated bureaucracy – were justified and legitimized through “legends” such as “British Greatness” or “American Exceptionalism” as Arendt noted: “Legends were the spiritual foundations of every ancient city, empire, people, promising safe guidance through the limitless spaces of the future. Without ever relating facts reliably, yet always expressing their true significance, they offered a truth beyond realities, a remembrance beyond memories.” 

Within the American context of hegemony, the two “legends” or myths or “redeeming ideas” of American hegemony are “American Exceptionalism” on one hand, and the myth of “National Security” on the other hand. Hence, the notion of “American Exceptionalism” and the myth of “National Security” serve as the two core elements of the ideology which justifies and legitimizes hegemony in Washington. As Andrew Bacevich wrote: “Through constant repetition, the elements of this ideology have become hardwired into the American psyche. They function as articles of faith, beyond question and beyond scrutiny.” This ideology also “serves as a device for sharply narrowing the range of policy debate.” Bacevich added:

“Dissent, where it exists, seldom penetrates the centers of power in Washington. Principled dissenters, whether paleoconsevatives or libertarians, pacifists or neo-agrarians, remain on the political fringes, dismissed as either mean-spirited (that is, unable to appreciate the lofty motives that inform U.S. policy) or simply naïve (that is, oblivious to the implacable evil that the United States is called upon to confront.” 

The reason for why this ideology persists, even though it has no basis in reality or truth, is explained by Bacevich in the following manner: “The ideology of national security persists not because it expresses empirically demonstrable truths but because it serves the interests of those who created the national security state and those who still benefit from its continued existence – the very people who are most responsible for the increasingly maladroit character of U.S. policy.” 

In reality, and as Bacevich noted, the geopolitical motives have “eclipsed” the ideological motives of hegemony such as “democracy” and “values” and so forth, even though ideology is used to justify and legitimize hegemony both to a domestic audience and to a foreign audience. The truth of hegemony is that: “Asserting control, direct or indirect, over territory, resources, and populations – or denying control to the other side – defined the aim.” And the primary method for achieving this aim has been “perpetual U.S. military hegemony in each of the critical regions of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe” as Michael Lind noted. 

“Hegemonic stability” through military might is also seen by certain thinkers as the only viable means available towards overcoming what is known as the “Security Dilemma.” What the “Security Dilemma” dictates is that one side’s defensive measures are seen as offensive by the other side, which in turn leads to an unending arms race. But as mentioned before, the “Security Dilemma” is more a matter of perception rather than a matter of reality or truth. The fact of the matter is that a “Security Dilemma” is not inevitable, despite the use of the “Security Dilemma” to justify a hegemonic policy. In reality, a “Security Dilemma” arises if rival powers are pursuing a policy of global hegemony. And when a country does in fact pursue a policy of global hegemony, as was the case with Nazi Germany in the 20th century and the United States in the 21st century, other countries band together to resist the hegemonic policy. Moreover, the statistics show that the United States outspends the next nine countries combined when it comes to military spending. In recent years, China has spent only about 30 percent of what America spent on Afghanistan and Iraq alone over the course of the last two decades. 

Thus, not only is a policy of hegemony unnecessary when it comes to keeping America safe, but it is also too costly over the long run, and it is a policy which the American public would reject if the true aims and motives of the policy were not kept secret from them. In other words, if the American public knew that the real aim and motive of American foreign policy was conquest and subjugation of other nations, then it is highly unlikely that a majority of Americans would be on board with such a policy. In practice, the policy of hegemony has included “riding roughshod” over international law as well as forcing countries to divert their resources away from internal development in addition to the censorship and suppression of both domestic and foreign voices who oppose a policy of brute conquest and subjugation and are too knowledgeable and smart to fall into a “conformist subservience to those in power” to borrow from Hans Morgenthau. In short, the time is ripe to explore the alternatives.

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