The Logic of Power

Not in our nameAt the height of the Cold War, in 1974, Franz Schurmann, a respected Professor of Sociology and History at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of the already classic “Ideology and Organization in Communist China”, wrote “The Logic of World Power“. This masterly dissection of US Foreign policy, of the role of the imperial presidency, and of the significance of the nuclear arms race, remains to this day one of the most cogent analyses of the Cold War viewed from a US perspective.
The book subtitle was, aptly: “An Inquiry into the Origins, Currents, and Contradictions of World Politics”.

In his forward, Schurmann explains that he started writing the book in 1965, “when American planes began the bombing of North Vietnam.” He died in 2010, having had the time to see to the end the Vietnam tragedy and what Giovanni Arrighi would later consider “the signal crisis of US hegemony”. However his starting point was the observation that “since the end of World War II, the prime mover on the world scene has been the United States of America.”
Forty years later, in September-October 2013, the New Left Review, arguably one of the few remaining independent observers of world politics left in the English speaking media, published a two part study by Perry Anderson, “American Foreign Policy and it’s Thinkers.” In 2009 Mr Anderson gave us “The New Old World“, an unforgiving account of the origins and evolution of the European Union and its undemocratic institutions. “The New Old World” is indispensable reading for anyone who wishes to understand European current politics, and the logic of the US – European conundrum.
This new study will equally become a must read, not only for students of US Foreign Policy history, but for whoever wishes to follow up on Schurmann’ magisterial analysis, forty years later.
For the US are still the prime mover, despite all the disasters, despite the illusions of generations of prophets of doom and gloom for America’s role in the world. What was the logic of world power then, still is. Now, as then, the genesis of the new world order has US foreign policy as it’s midwife: in 1970, it was the onset of the final struggle with the USSR, the collapse of Keynesian political economies, and, soon, the rise of capitalist China, under the cloak of communism; today it is the seemingly unstoppable spread of neoliberal austerity policies in all western economies, on a backdrop of ever closer violent uprisings and local conflicts, and, still, the spectrum of conflict with China.
Schurmann wrote: “What began to wane in the late 1960s, clearly in relation to the Vietnam war, was the American Empire.” And indeed this relative decline has continued (as seen in the “longue durée”), but the reality of our world is that the logic of power is unchanged. Anderson shows that the fundamental logic of the Cold War had little to do with a “soviet threat” (for the USSR was at the end of WWII an exhausted and ruined country, contrary to the US who had hugely benefitted from the war and had been untouched by it), but rather the continuation of a bid for sustained US political and military dominance, unchallenged at the end of World War II, and with it, an economic order far remote from the official “free-world” propaganda.

Anderson observes on what was to follow, on the conclusion of the Cold War:
“In the Cold War, triumph was in the end complete. But the empire created to win it did not dissolve back into the liberal ecumenism out of whose ideological vision it had emerged. The institutions and acquisitions, ideologies and reflexes bequeathed by the battle against communism now constituted a massive historical complex with its own dynamics, no longer needed to be driven by the threat from the Soviet Union. Special forces in over a hundred countries round the world; a military budget larger than that of all other major powers combined; tentacular apparatuses of infiltration, espionage and surveillance; ramifying national security personnel; and last but not least, an intellectual establishment devoted to revising, amplifying and updating the tasks of grand strategy, of a higher quality and productivity than any counterpart concerned with domestic affairs – how could all this be expected to shrink once again to the slender maxims of 1945?”

It did not and it won’t. Despite the disappearance of the USSR, despite many localised conflicts and their costs, the logic is unchanged.
Reflecting on the dilemma, under Nixon, of US policies over Vietnam in 1970, Schurmann wrote: “but the nuclear chess game was not compatible with either popular sovereignty or parliamentary rule. As it was, the President preferred to appeal to the bottom over the middle. He spoke to what he felt was the majority’s opposition to any American defeat, appealing to their nationalism… Like any President, he had to go to his constituencies when he faced a great crisis within his bureaucratic ranks and ask for their support.”

God bless America.

Image: Ilka Hartmann Photography


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