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  • Writer's pictureGeopolitics.Λsia

The Global Crossroads: The Statesman in Modern Geopolitics

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Commonly misunderstood, Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man" delves deeper into philosophical concepts than typically appreciated. As highlighted in "On Tyranny" (1961), edited by Leo Strauss, the book anchors itself in the philosophical discourse between Strauss and Alexandre Kojève, the Russian émigré who became a French citizen. The dialogue focuses keenly on the roles of the statesman and the philosopher.

"The statesman operates in time, his test being the stress of permanence. The prophet dwells in eternity, inherently devoid of temporal dimensions, and his test lies within his vision." -- Henry Kissinger

"On Tyranny" provides a reflective commentary on Xenophon's text, "Hiero," a dialogue set in 474 BC between Hiero, the Syracuse tyrant, and lyric poet Simonides. The discourse challenges the assumption that tyranny provides a more satisfying life than an ordinary one. Living both roles, Hiero dispels this myth, maintaining that a tyrant's access to happiness is not superior to that of an ordinary individual.

Hiero, at length, explores this perspective, prompting Simonides to question why individuals strive for despotism if the aforementioned holds true. He posits the pursuit of honour as a plausible motive. However, Hiero refutes this, drawing parallels between the nature of a tyrant's honour and their romantic entanglements. When Simonides proposes that Hiero abdicate his tyrannical position, Hiero retorts, lamenting that the greatest sorrow of tyranny is the inability to renounce it.

In his refutation, Hiero uses a comparison between a tyrant's honour and their romantic relationships to illustrate his point. The honour that a tyrant receives is often empty or superficial, in that it is given out of fear, obligation, or self-preservation, rather than from genuine respect, admiration, or loyalty. This can be contrasted with the honour earned by someone living an ordinary life, which is more likely to be genuine and freely given.

Due to their position, any romantic relationships they form might be tinged with fear, opportunism, or manipulation rather than true love and affection, ἀγάπη (agápē). Agápē implies a selfless kind of love, a love that isn't predicated on personal gain or reciprocal arrangements, but instead is given freely and generously, without expectation of anything in return. It's a form of love associated with empathy, understanding, and a desire for the well-being of others. Further, a tyrant's honor, as Hiero explains, can be seen as hollow, as it's usually given out of fear or duty, not out of genuine respect or love. This can also limit the tyrant's capacity to experience agápē.

In this way, Hiero suggests that while a tyrant may seem to have more access to honour and romance due to their power, these aspects of their life are often less satisfying and fulfilling compared to those of an ordinary person. The prestige and relationships a tyrant has are often shrouded in insincerity and forced compliance, casting a shadow on their perceived superior happiness.

This also ties into Hiero's lament about the greatest sorrow of tyranny: the inability to renounce it. Despite recognizing the flaws and pitfalls of his position, Hiero is trapped in his role as a tyrant, either due to external pressures and expectations, or because of his own inability to let go of the power and control it provides. This further emphasizes the overall theme of the dialogue, challenging the assumption that tyranny provides a more satisfying life than an ordinary one.

Simonides then suggests a potential advantage for tyrants: even if their honours are less than desirable, they can readily bestow honours and benefits on others. Hiero counters that a tyrant is often compelled to undertake actions inciting public disdain. Simonides replies that such detriments can be managed via delegation and mitigated through contests and prizes. Agreeing with this notion, Hiero then queries Simonides about managing mercenaries, commonly seen as a factor tarnishing a tyrant's reputation. Simonides recommends deploying mercenaries not as personal guards, but as protectors of the broader community.

Finally, Simonides advises on wealth utilisation, recommending that the tyrant dedicate his resources towards the city's common welfare. He declares the most notable triumph of one city over another is through prosperity. A tyrant channeling all resources towards this end will inevitably attract citizen affection and genuine global accolades.

Drawing on the astute analysis of Xenophon's text, the discourse between Strauss and Kojève has transformed the discussion from an archaic tyrant to a modern dictator. This evolution is evident in Strauss's "The City and Man," where Athenian jurors' verdict to execute Socrates via hemlock poisoning underscores that cities, too, can embody tyranny. The dialogue gradually expands to explore contrasting philosophical positions between the two philosophers, with Strauss subtly shifting the focus from the nature of tyranny to the interplay between philosophy and society.

In Strauss's interpretation, "Hiero" embodies the classical, Socratic perspective of this relationship: Simonides stands for the philosophical life, while Hiero symbolises the political life.

The interrelation of philosophy and society remains central to understanding both modern and ancient forms of tyranny. While modern despotism is distinctively characterised by its reliance on ideology and technology, these factors are products or by-products of the particularly modern interpretation of the philosophy-society nexus.

In this dialogue, Strauss positions himself as an advocate for the classical comprehension of this relationship, while Kojève emerges as the spokesperson for its modern interpretation.

Both philosophers concur that a tension, even a conflict, exists between philosophy and society. They also agree on the supremacy of philosophy or wisdom in the order of ends, presenting it as the architectonic end or principle. Their disagreement lies in whether this conflict between philosophy and society can - and should - be resolved. In essence, they differ in their views on the feasibility of a wholly rational society.

The choice boils down to two options: to mitigate the conflict between philosophy and society by maintaining a maximum possible distance between them, or to strive towards resolving this conflict by fostering a reconciliation. Strauss advocates for the former approach, while Kojève champions the latter.

Armed with a Hegelian triad unmatched in his era, Kojève proposed a critical role for philosophers: to provide guidance through timeless knowledge rooted in noumena to statesmen wrestling with constraints within the realm of phenomena. This symbiosis, according to Kojève, can facilitate an understanding of the zeitgeist and ultimately influence the course of history.

Embracing the Platonic tradition, Strauss argues for philosophers to maintain a distance from the potentially corrupting influence of the "city." He promotes the use of "esoteric knowledge" to subtly caution citizens against repeating errors akin to the Athenian verdict on Socrates. This nuanced use of esoteric knowledge differs significantly from overt preaching. Strauss believes it can protect both philosophers and lay citizens from harm potentially caused by radical truths the public may not accept.

Despite their differing methodologies, both philosophers concur that society will eventually reach "the end of history," a state characterised by the elimination of inequality and the peaceful coexistence of dignified citizens. However, they raise concerns – borrowed from Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" – about the potential lack of ambition and passion within such a society, leading to a dearth of political objectives. This scenario creates "the last man" as Nietzsche conceived it.

This contemplation forms the true genesis of Fukuyama's book. The author's ideas remained consistent, neither the content nor the concept altered. However, the publication of the essay – and subsequently the book – coincided with the downfall of the Soviet Union. This timing provoked ire from leftist thinkers worldwide, who perhaps failed to fully consider the profound concepts contained within.

Setting aside the role of the philosopher, our focus shifts towards the statesman or, in contemporary terms, the leader. This refocus steers us towards a reconciliation of the "noumena" and "phenomena" dichotomy. In Kojève's view, the philosopher, skilled in the noumenal world, advises the statesman, versed in phenomena. He explains, "A statesman, whether a tyrant or not, simply cannot heed 'utopian' counsel; being bound to the present, he must disregard ideas without direct bearing on the current situation. Thus, to gain audience, a philosopher must offer insights on 'current business.' Yet staying abreast of daily affairs requires full-time commitment - an undertaking the philosopher wishes to avoid. It would mean abandoning the truth-seeking that defines him as a philosopher and validates his role as the tyrant's philosophical advisor. To immerse oneself fully in governance is to renounce philosophy and forfeit any advantage over the tyrant and his 'uninitiated' advisors"

Henry Kissinger shares a similar sentiment in his dissertation-turned-book, writing, "The statesman operates in time, his test being the stress of permanence. The prophet dwells in eternity, inherently devoid of temporal dimensions, and his test lies within his vision. The intersection of the two is invariably tragic, as the statesman must constrain the prophet's vision to exact measures, while the prophet scrutinises the temporal framework against transcendental standards. The prophet poses a threat to the statesman, as an assertion of absolute justice negates nuance"

The present zeitgeist is characterised by efforts to resolve the geopolitical aftermath of the Cold War, albeit in a different context. The Soviet Union is defunct, replaced by Russia attempting to reassert its influence over Eastern Europe and redraw geopolitical boundaries between East and West. This manoeuvre is manifest in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Contrary to expectations, however, instead of Kiev's swift fall, the war has dragged on for over a year, with Russia yet to take Bakhmut.

Indeed, no military strategist, particularly not Sun Tzu in his renowned 'Art of War,' would advise a ruler to engage in a protracted war campaign, a strategy that only serves to weaken the state itself. Compounding this strategic quagmire are signs of internal discord within Russia. Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of The Wagner Group, has criticised Russia's military leadership, though he has refrained from directing criticism at Putin himself. Yet, the fissures within Russia may well run deeper than outward appearances suggest.

Another conundrum emerges on the opposite side of the "world island," Eurasia. The resolution of the Taiwan question and the tension in the South China Sea have resulted in a hardening of stances between the defence ministers of the US and China. News reports indicate a cordial handshake was exchanged, but further dialogue was absent. Reuters has reported clandestine, sideline discussions amongst intelligence officers from several countries.

The Financial Times also revealed the covert visit of CIA's chief, William Burns, to Beijing last month. While the specific agenda remains undisclosed, it is anticipated that both parties aim to defuse tensions, particularly in the wake of the suspected Chinese reconnaissance balloon incidents.

President Biden, consistent with our earlier discussion on the role of a statesman, is tackling various constraints. However, rather than adopting a Machiavellian strategy, he is striving to bridge the chasm in American politics. His approach aims to create a moderate consensus between both the GOP and Democrats on the contentious debt ceiling debate. This should provide a flexible budgetary environment for the president through 2025, following next year's election. This, in turn, ensures sustained support for Ukraine. As evidenced in the first week of 2023, the United States reiterated its robust support for Ukraine and its European allies by announcing over $3.75 billion in new military assistance.

The ball is now in Beijing's court, tasked with resolving the quagmire that its strategic ally Russia finds itself in Ukraine. China has pushed for dialogue, if not peace talks, between Russia and Ukraine. Beijing also faces its own internal challenges regarding the Taiwan question, with a presidential election in Taiwan due early next year. Although the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost the local elections to the Kuomintang, we suspect history will not repeat itself next year. If this proves accurate, it could escalate tension between China and the US.


The Current Geopolitical Tension: A Metageopolitical Perspective

The contemporary geopolitical landscape is witnessing a significant contest between two prominent worldviews. On the one hand, we have the United States and its allies upholding the status quo and Western-led ideologies that prioritize human rights and democratic values. On the other hand, China, Russia, and their aligned nations advocate for a shift in the global order towards a multipolar world, which emphasizes respect for sovereign, locally-rooted values and traditions and adherence to the post-World War II United Nations Charter.

Three Geopolitical Perspective according to our Metageopolitics lens

Our metageopolitical analysis approach situates these two conflicting narratives not as a battle between right and wrong, but as a regular phenomenon inherent to global politics. This perspective recognizes that what we are witnessing is a natural contestation of the global order between two primary powers – the United States and China.

The ideological differences between these two camps are starkly visible. Democracies such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, and Japan consistently score high on the democracy and human rights indices. They advocate for a world order centered around democratic governance, human rights, and a liberal economic system, underscoring these values as universal principles.

In contrast, China and Russia, scoring significantly lower on the same indices, champion an alternative world order. They contend for a multipolar world where each nation's sovereignty, local values, traditions, and different paths of development are respected. Their stance raises questions about the universality of Western values, challenging the post-Cold War unipolar moment.

In the midst of this tension are nations like India, Brazil, and South Africa. These countries exhibit nuanced positions, not firmly aligning themselves with either camp. Their relatively moderate scores on democracy and human rights indices, coupled with their significant economic weight, make their roles crucial in shaping the evolving global order.

Considering the current tension, there are several key areas that warrant close monitoring for future geopolitical risk assessment:

  1. US-China Relations: As the two most prominent powers representing contrasting worldviews, the dynamic between the US and China will continue to shape global geopolitics significantly. Any shift in their relations, be it escalation or de-escalation, would reverberate across the world.

  2. Role of the BRICS: How countries like India, Brazil, and South Africa navigate this tension will be consequential. Their potential to play a balancing role in the global order, or tilt towards one side, could influence the pace and direction of the global geopolitical shift.

  3. Global Governance Institutions: The struggle between the two worldviews is likely to play out in global governance institutions such as the UN, WHO, WTO, among others. Any changes in the power dynamics within these organizations warrant careful attention.

  4. Regional Hotspots: Territorial disputes, conflict zones, and regions of strategic importance (like the South China Sea, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) will continue to be significant sites of contestation between these worldviews.

  5. Global Challenges: How these powers cooperate or conflict on global challenges such as climate change, pandemics, or cyber-security could provide insight into the evolving dynamics of their relationship.

The current geopolitical tension, rooted in these conflicting worldviews, underscores the transformational phase that the global order is undergoing. As metageopolitical analysts, it is crucial to view these shifts not in terms of a moral dichotomy but as a complex and continuous evolution of global power relations. Understanding these dynamics in their full complexity is vital for navigating and mitigating geopolitical risks effectively.


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