Planetary Politics after the Cold War by Panagiotis Kondylis: plain English Version

"One will certainly scandalise our ethicists (that means: the ideologues of our (own) society), if one ascertains as a sociologist that in [human rights] universalism both social atomisation (i.e. the breaking up or fragmentation of society into individuals), which is indispensable for the highly developed (advanced) division of labour against the background of unlimited mobility, as well as the democratic claim of material equality, are reflected ideologically".

"Ethical-normative ideas are not made up in order to be taken (or understood) and to be realised at face value, but in order to constitute an identity and to be used as weapons of this identity in the struggle against other identities. Whoever cannot understand that will also not be able to ever comprehend either ethical-normative ideas' internal intellectual (thought) structure nor their external historical effect".

One of the fundamental insights Kondylis shares with his readers in Planetary Politics after the Cold War is that all societies, including our own, justify, beautify or propagandise concrete power relations by means of ideological embellishment, lies and deceit. A descriptive and analytical or explanatory (i.e. value-free) consideration of the way international affairs have taken place, do take place and will possibly take place as a broad outline of what has occurred, is occurring and what might occur as form (or structure) and possibility (not as content and event), is what Kondylis's short book provides, inter alia, to its readers.

Whether the dominant ideology is "love thy neighbour", "the survival of the fittest" and racial "superiority", "proletarian internationalism", "human rights" universalism or being "tolerant" of, and "understanding", others' values and perspectives, etc., the basic modes of action of individual and collective subjects remain the same: power claims and the struggle for self-preservation, striving for power and power's expansion; the viewing of, and acting in relation to, other subjects on the basis of the friend-foe spectrum, including the most blatant abuse of one's own stated "principles" in order to further one's own interests (e.g. the USA's openly selective "enforcement" of "human rights" and turning a blind eye to its allies' and its own flagrant "human rights" abuses, or the Soviet Union's, China's or other communistic movements' at times highly nationalistic, or at any rate statist, interpretation of "proletarian internationalism"). In other words, the instrumentalisation (by concrete (individual and collective) social actors) of ideological programmes is the norm, and only propagandists or the utterly naive (or stupid) could possibly believe otherwise (whilst ideas do not reflect reality in any vulgar Marxist or simplistic mechanical sense, they do not exist without some ultimate reference to concrete individuals, groups, and social action, i.e. when they take ideological-political form they can or do reflect (aspects of) concrete social relations, and at the very least their bearers' striving for power).

Apart from giving readers a basic understanding of how the international system operates (on the basis of small, middle and major, great and planetary (or world) Powers with the interspersed (between these just mentioned main groups of Powers) subgroups of subordinate, local, regional or supraregional, colonial, economic and or military, and or leading Powers, even though at the time of writing the book only one great or leading Power, the USA, was also a planetary Power in the full sense of the term), including with regard to these Powers' relations with one another as (sovereign) states (e.g. as subjects and objects of planetary politics) and with regard to the (possible) formation of large spaces or spheres of influence, i.e. various forms of unfolding spaces and correlations of forces), Planetary Politics after the Cold War also gives readers an understanding of the potential advent of planetary or at least regional anomie (where it does not already exist) because of the planetarisation of, and many variations on, Western mass democracy, with its hedonistic mass consumption flowing from mass production, the advanced division of labour and distinctly mass-democratic material interpretation of the formal legal rights characteristic of the bourgeois liberal and European colonialistic era. Kondylis never shies away from drawing ultimate conclusions from the driving forces at work, no matter how nightmarish possible future scenarios might turn out to be: as in the case of the biologisation of the political and the pitting of man against man in conditions of generalised anomie arising from the population explosion, a possible breakdown of sovereign statehood and the uncontrolled migrations of the peoples.

Furthermore, while always keeping in mind the social-historical character of all things human, e.g. how the world has reached the mass-democratic planetary era as a result of European colonial expansion, the Liberal and Industrial Revolution, European liberalism, capitalism and imperialism, national and international massification and (extreme) atomisation, the transition from closed oligarchies and fixed hierarchies to the game of the open elite and (unlimited) social mobility (the leveling of hierarchies and of authorities) with increasing individualism, egalitarianism, value pluralism and permisiveness, i.e. the process of democratisation, the legal (not actual) equality of collective (i.e. state) subjects coming about in the twentieth century, the role of economic modernisation and economic growth, along with democratisation and the economisation of the political as defence mechanisms against the anomie latent in massification etc., a thorough introduction to basic political and sociological concepts is given, including such crucial matters as the distinction between estate-based society, oligarchic liberal capitalism and social or mass democracy (including its "devious" variants of communism and fascism). In particular, the contribution of communism (with its (ideological and real) promotion of international and national legal and material equality) in the 20th century to the formation and planetarisation of mass democracy (with its at times relatively "not so brutal" (over many decades commencing during nineteenth century mass society, predating its mass-democratic phase in which inter alia everyday life is mechanised and the worker also becomes a consumer on a mass scale, especially after World War Two) and at other times relatively "brutal" (e.g. within two or three decades in the 20th century) undermining and destruction of the vestiges of pre-industrial, patriarchal and stricter hierarchical group-based social formations and culture) is potently conveyed to the reader. Kondylis makes it clear that while nations [a nation being, inter alia, a collective subject with an (at least partially) shared collective consciousness based on myth and or historical reality with often some degree of commonality as to race or ethnological background, (and or) language, (and or) religion, (and or) customs or practices, (and or) legal system, (and or) ideology, etc.] and states can come about, but not exclusively in the case of nations, as new creations based on political decisions and actions; peoples, races, cultures, civilisations and or certain nations can exist for (very) many centuries (as evolving entities with elements of continuity and elements of change) and do not appear out of nowhere (i.e. historical and social reality does not fit into simplistic dogmatic categorisations as promoted by both "nationalists" on the "Right" and "internationalists" on the "Left"). There are also sections on radicalised traditionalisms and or nationalisms or regionalisms and modernisation (which definitely puts for instance the outbreak of "Islamic fundamentalism" into an illuminating social-historical perspective), as well as on the new shape of hot war, with particular emphasis on the effect of the end of the US-Soviet nuclear standoff, the diffusion of (new) weapons technologies and the possible variable consequences on smaller and greater Powers, the unlikelihood of "total" war, conceptual clarification of both "total" war and "war of annihilation", and the advent of other forms of war in the planetary era including the possible interweaving of war violence with criminal violence within the framework of widespread (worldwide) anomie.

As is the case with all of Kondylis's works, the insightfulness of his thinking, the implications of his conclusions and the uniqueness of his analytical consistency (e.g. his observations that "liberal democracy" and "human rights" have never existed, and do not exist, as scientifically defined terms and social phenomena (social facts) (likewise, "conservatism", as with "liberalism", has only a present-day mass-democratic polemical-political use; scientifically (descriptively and explanatorily), real-world historical-sociological changes have rendered terms such as "conservatism", "liberalism"[, and "democracy" as polity,] obsolete as regards their present-day application); his view of the Stalinistic five-stage schema of the course of History as being something much more ideologically substantial than mere dogmatic stubbornness; the observation that the original communistic ideal of a classless society was actually reaslised as a caricature (thanks to the heterogony of ends) in Western mass democracies; or the scientific validity of the interaction between (the anthropological and socio-ontological magnitudes of) power relations (social and political relations), action and the concrete situation and not a priori value-based conceptions, or confessions of faith in particular views, of History, Man, economics, class, gender, race, democracy, etc.) make Planetary Politics after the Cold War another stunning contribution to the social and political sciences worthy of the great thinkers (notwithstanding the serious shortcomings in some of these thinkers' work) who proceeded him: from Thucydides and Aristotle to Hobbes, from Machiavelli to Pareto and Weber, from Spinoza and Kant to Marx and Mannheim, from Clausewitz to Aron, to mention only a few such men in the extremely rich Western tradition of thought.

Also of interest: 

Kondylis Panagiotis: ""Human Rights": Conceptual Confusion and Political Exploitation", translated from the Greek by Stephen Stafford and Raymond Petridis.
In: Telos. Critical Theory of the Contemporary, no. 166, Spring 2014, pp. 161-165; doi: 10.3817/0314166161 (http://journal.telospress.com/content/2014/166/161.extract)


Planetary Politics after the Cold War (Planetarische Politik nach dem Kalten Krieg) by Panajotis Kondylis: alternative words and phrases version with some German text

 

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