first basic observation is that the United States
has been moving to the right of the political
spectrum for some time, in fact for at least 25
years, and is now at a crucial juncture and could
move to the far right of the political spectrum,
as compared with the political climate existing
in other democracies, in Canada, in Australia
or in Europe.
second observation is that the ideology behind
this fundamental shift to the right is more and
more antagonistic to humanist values.
As humanists, we share a commitment to some basic
humanist values and principles that we would like
to be universal, even though they are not, i.e.
the respect for the dignity of human beings, for
human lives, the constitutional implementation
of basic fundamental individual rights such as
freedom of thought and of conscience, freedom
of expression, freedom of choice, freedom of and
from religion, freedom from governmental interference
outside of the due process of law and of justice,
and basic collective rights such as the embodiment
of the sovereignty of the people in a democratic
system, and its corollary, the right of political
self-determination, the right to have an impartial,
neutral and secular state for all; in summary,
the right to live in an open and free society
and the right to pursue happiness as one sees
humanist values and principles can be viewed as
idealistic since their adoption and implementation
are expected to improve the fate of humanity and
of human civilization.
values do not contradict the reality that different
peoples have different interests and objectives,
but they emphasize the point that the pursuit
of these legitimate interests must be accomplished
within the framework of individual freedom and
in a climate of tolerance. That is why we have
supreme laws called "constitutions" in order to
protect the interests and choices of minorities,
- and, in a democracy, everybody is a minority
of one - from the tyranny of the choices and interests
of the majority.
Of course, public affairs can be organized along
other values, other ideologies, and along other
principles. In fact, throughout History, the implementation
of humanist values in public affairs has been
an exception, rather the rule. There is nothing
inherently inevitable about the democratic form
of government with decentralized political power.
Quite the contrary, the Law of the Jungle favors
much more strongly the concentration of power
in a few hands and the rule of despotism. Even
the best democratic constitutions can be violated
when the people in power do not believe in their
are these other values and principles which compete
nowadays with humanist values and principles,
not only in the United States, but in many corners
of the world? I would summarize them by saying
they are: theocratism; militarism; and imperialism.
professes that all power in a society is ultimately
derived from abstract deities, and not from the
supremacism professes that "Might makes Right"
and that laws ultimately and realistically consecrate
the military superiority of some over others.
of course, can be a mixture of the first two ideologies,
in the sense that it can argue that it is the
"mission" of some peoples to conquer militarily
other peoples, for their own good and the good
of humanity. This was the credo behind the British
empire in the 19th Century, following Kipling's
1899 poem, the WHITE MAN'S BURDEN , when it was
said that it was "The duty of the white man
is to conquer and control, probably for a couple
of centuries, all the dark people of the world,
not for his own good, but for theirs."
fact, for most of the 19th Century, from 1815
to the First World War in 1914, the imperial system
ruled the world. There was the British Empire
which controlled a quarter of humanity. There
was the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Central Europe
(Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia,
Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, the present Czech Republic),
there was the Ottoman Empire that allowed the
Turks to control the Arab world, there were the
French and Belgian Empires in Africa, and there
was the Nippon Empire (Japan, Taiwan, Korea) in
Asia. Such empires were supranational, imposing
their rule upon other nations from an autocratic
enough, imperialist supremacist thinkers and apologists,
such as Princeton historian Bernard Lewis, advance
nowadays, at least for the Middle East, the same
crude idea that the Arab and Islamic culture and
religion are backward and that the 22 Arab countries
of the region should be force-fed "liberal democracy"
through military action. It is, according to Lewis,
because "most Islamic countries have failed miserably
at modernizing their societies" that outsiders,
i.e. the Americans, must intervene and invade
them to change their politics and their cultures.
Even if one agrees with the first part of the
reasoning, i.e. the backwardness of many Muslim
countries, it does not follow that the second
part, i.e. outside intervention, is justified.
a militarist and imperialistic regime, nations
or empires which devote a lot of resources to
armaments such as the U.S., which accounts for
half of all annual military expenditures with
less than 5 percent of world population would
acquire ipso facto the "right" to meddle in other
countries' affairs under the main pretext that
they have the means to do so.
of this need for one nation to control other nations
through fear and violence, imperialism rhymes
with militarism, unilateralism, interventionism,
expansionism, invasion, domination, exploitation
and wars. This is the nature of the beast. This
is fundamentally contrary to the ideals of democracy
and of philosophical humanism which rhyme with
liberty and dignity for every human being, individual
freedom of choice, participatory democracy, economic
and social progress, self-determination, multilateralism
and international peace.
empires find their legitimacy in guns and military
might, they cannot allow competing nations to
encroach upon their controlled territories. They
must launch "preventive" wars of aggression to
protect themselves and their supremacy. They can
maintain "order" and stability for relatively
long periods, as the study of the 19th Century
reveals, but as circumstances change, they ultimately
result in huge destructive wars, pitting empires
against one another. The First World War was such
a war, pitting the Austro-Hungarian Empire and
the Ottoman Empire against the British and French
theocratism, (as I developed at a greater length
in a recent book, "The New American Empire"),
most religions have historically favored the feudal
system with kings, princes or emperors, or diverse
forms of dictatorship, over the democratic form
of government. This is true in the Islamic world,
but it has also been the case in the Christian
world, that is until the Renaissance in the 15th
and 16th Centuries, and especially until the 18th
Century, the century of the Enlightenment, which
gave us the American and the French revolutions.
At that time, a revolutionary idea took hold,
i.e. the idea that the individual possesses absolute
sovereignty and that political power does not
come from abstract deities, as all religions have
historically taught, but from the people themselves.
unbelievably, the idea that political power comes
from God or Allah is coming back in force and
is being proposed, not only by Muslim fanatics,
but also by fundamentalist religious groups. At
the same time, and this is not necessarily a coincidence,
the idea that power does not only comes from God
or Allah, but also from guns and armaments, and,
the concomitant idea of an imperial form of world
order, are all being espoused and promoted by
some ideologues as having validity and legitimacy.
may be a coming war of ideas, when the democratic
and humanistic ideals will have to be defended.
This new war of ideas will be camouflaged underneath
a "war of civilizations", "a war of cultures"
or a "war of religions", but basically it will
be a war of ideas and of values.
When the totalistic ideologies of theocratism,
of militarism or of imperialism are advanced in
some remote countries, with different histories
and different cultures, they are not a direct
menace to humanist and democratic ideas in our
own democratic countries. However, when such ideas
and principles are proposed by people in authority
in our own countries, this should, at the very
least, raise eyebrows and provoke a debate.
to say, such is the case in the United States
September 20, 2002, the United States government
has officially adopted an imperial doctrine, known
as the "Bush Doctrine", that is based on militarist
and imperialistic values and principles, with
some theocratic overtones, even though such a
doctrine was not debated during the 2000 Presidential
elections, and therefore, was never endorsed by
the American people.
Webster's dictionary defines democracy as " the
government by the people, usually through elected
also defines imperialism as "the extension by
one country of its authority over other lands
and peoples by political, military or economic
means." In this definition, imperialism becomes
the "government of a few people, for a few people,
by a few people."
is a fundamental fact: an imperial regime is intrinsically
undemocratic. It concentrates political power
instead of spreading it among the people. In the
case in question, only American citizens, and
in fact, only those who participate in the electoral
system, would have a voice in the running of this
new American empire. There are no checks and balance
in this application of power. It becomes the privilege
of a few persons, irrespective of what millions
or even billions of people think.
months after its enunciation, the new American
imperial doctrine has been applied to justify
an unprovoked war against Iraq, which began on
March 20, 2003.
are the proponents of this new imperial doctrine
for the United States, at least in modern times,
and what are its ideological underpinnings?
main proponents of this imperial doctrine for
the United States have been a relatively and astonishingly
small group of well-connected neoconservative
ideologues who, in the spring of 1997, launched
the American imperial project under the name of
"The Project for the New American Century". Their
main objective was to use "America's surplus of
military power" after the implosion of the Soviet
Union in 1991, to impose a worldwide "Pax Americana",
which would help promote U.S. interests abroad
and those of its close allies, such as the state
of Israel, in the Middle East region.
now, everybody knows the main proponents of the
imperial neoconservative ideology, since many
of them signed a letter to President Bill Clinton,
on January 26 1998, asking for the overthrow the
Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. In their own words,
they were asking that the U.S. foreign "strategy
should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam
Hussein's regime from power" in Iraq. The main
argument put forward then was the threat the government
of Saddam Hussein posed to "the safety of American
troops in the region, [to] our friends and allies
like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and
[to] a significant portion of the world's supply
of oil." There was no mention, at that time,
of "weapons of mass destruction", the rallying
cry for the 2003 war against Iraq. The true reasons
for the proposed war were clearly enunciated,
i.e. military control of the Middle East, the
protection of Israel and the control of oil supplies.
neocon cabal has been led for more than a decade
now by people such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz,
Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Douglas Feith, -all
high level officials surrounding the actual Vice
President, Dick Cheney, and the actual Secretary
of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld.
is important is that their ideas have been translated
into an imperial unilateral foreign policy by
the United States, characterized by preventive
aggressive wars, by the casting aside of the United
Nations and accepted international law, and by
the adoption of a militarist posture by the United
States in the world.
being actively supported by a few far-right think
tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and the
American Enterprise Institute, the basic underpinnings
of the new imperial doctrine go back to an obscure
political scientist at the University of Chicago
during the sixties, Leo Strauss.
me quickly outline Strauss's main political ideas,
to show how far they are from traditional democratic
moral liberalism and moral relativism must be
rejected and replaced by some form of moral absolutism
and a strategy of permanent confrontation with
what is perceived as evil;
religion and faith, as representatives of such
moral absolutism, should be put back into politics,
even though Strauss himself believed religion
to be a "pious fraud" which is useful only to
exert social control.
Strauss rejects individual rights in favor of
state power. he argues that classical and Christian
natural law did not impose strict and absolute
limits on state power, but that the exercise of
such power is better left to the prudential judgment
of the wise statesman.
Strauss proposes for the United States a "farsighted"
imperialism and the adoption of militaristic policies.
fifth idea from Strauss states that political
philosophers could lie to their readers for the
sake of the "social good".
totalistic ideas have rarely being openly discussed
in the general public, but their implicit acceptance
forms the basis for many policies being implemented
by the Bush administration. The first one, and
not the least, is the ongoing war against Iraq.
I will conclude by saying a few words about the
legality and the morality of the war against Iraq.
First, about the legality of aggressive or unprovoked
wars. This first war of the 21st Century is a
direct result of the 2002 "Bush Doctrine", which
is incidentally a nearly identical reenactment
of the infamous 1968 Soviet Union's "Brezhnev
Doctrine". Brezhnev challenged then the United
Nations and intended to justify, in retrospect,
the illegal invasion of Hungary in 1956, and justified
the military invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968,
and of Afghanistan in 1979, both of them equally
United Nations Charter admits only two circumstances
in which one sovereign country is allowed to use
military force against another sovereign country:
a country must defend itself against an attack
from another country;
the Security Council authorizes the use of military
force against a country that is in violation
of the principles of the U.N. Charter.
would seem obvious that the new Bush Doctrine
of "preventive" and unilateral military intervention,
just as the old Soviet 1968 "Brezhnev Doctrine"
goes against modern international law. Article
2, paragraph 4, of the United Nations Charter
clearly states that:
Members shall refrain in their international relations
from the threat or use of force against the territorial
integrity or political independence of any state,
or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes
of the United Nations."
is also Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which
stipulates that it is only in the case of legitimate
self-defense following an armed attack, that one
country may attack another, and only "until
the Security Council has taken measures necessary
to maintain international peace and security."
The doctrine of "preemption" and of "war on suspicion"
is not a part of the United Nations Charter and
of international law.
March 1999, one could also invoke the Kosovo precedent,
which would seem to allow a coalition of countries
to invade militarily another country, if basic
human rights of its population are violated, such
as in the case of a genocide. It remains to be
seen if the Kosovo precedent will remain an isolated
case or if it is going to be incorporated formally
into international law.
the 2002 imperial "Bush Doctrine" were to remain
the official foreign policy of the United States,
we can say that the U.S. would in fact be declaring
itself to be above international law and be claiming
the right to provoke political changes in other
sovereign countries, at its own discretion. This
would be an illegal and illegitimate objective.
(Sometimes, one can get away with an illegal act,
if it is legitimate; sometimes, one can get away
with an illegitimate act, if it is legal; but,
it is most difficult to get away with an act which
is both illegal and illegitimate).
change in a sovereign nation, as a goal of military
intervention, violates the system of international
relations, not only since the advent of the United
Nations in 1945, but also since the Westphalia
Peace Treaty of 1648, which was signed after the
devastating Thirty Years War of religion .
[I do not have time to elaborate on the 1648 Peace
of Westphalia, or on the 1837 Caroline clause,
or on the 1975 10 principles of the Helsinki Accords,
which are at the core of international law regarding
national sovereignty and regarding wars of aggression.]
Suffice here to say that The Treaty of Westphalia
incorporated four basic principles:
The principle of the sovereignty of nation-states
and the concomitant fundamental right of political
2. the principle of (legal) equality between
3. the principle of internationally binding
treaties between states;
4. the principle of non-intervention of one
state in the internal affairs of other states.
creation of the League of Nations in 1920 and
the establishment of the United Nations in 1945
were attempts to enshrine the Westphalia principles
and to replace empires with democratic institutions.
And thirty years ago, in 1975, these principles
were solemnly proclaimed in the Helsinki Accords.
the implementation of the 2002 imperial "Bush
Doctrine" would mean a de facto neutralization
of the United Nations, at least concerning the
U.S. The U.S. could bypass the U.N. to wage unilateral
wars, not only against stateless terrorist groups,
but also against sovereign states, each time its
government thought it was necessary for the defense
of America's national interests. But, once the
United Nations is eclipsed, who will be left to
Secondly, how about the morality, humanistic or
otherwise, of aggressive or unprovoked wars?
the morality of modern warfare, one useful set
of criteria is the 'Just War' theory which, following
Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century and other
scholastic philosophers during the Middle Ages
established five conditions for a "moral" war.
I have summarized these conditions in The Humanist
in last year's May-June issue. Suffice here to
repeat them and apply them to the war against
the war must be undertaken for a just cause
i.e. military force may be used only to correct
a grave threat, where the basic rights of a
whole population are at stake.
The war must be waged with the right intention
and for good reasons; that is to say, it cannot
be undertaken for revenge or for economic gain
and to acquire territories or riches, but to
restore peace and not be carried on for the
sake of pursuing a victory won by violence;
the war must be authorized and declared by a
legitimate authority, that is, an emperor or
a king. Today, when considerations of international
peace and good order are paramount, war can
only be authorized by an international authority,
either an international organization or an international
court of justice;
The war must be fought as a last resort, after
all avenues of peaceful negotiations have been
the war must be carried out in a proper manner,
without killing innocent people indiscriminately.
the tremendous and awesome destructive power of
modern weapons, it is hard to argue that such
principles of "Just War" can be invoked to launch
it is interesting to submit the on-going war against
Iraq to the test of the five traditional conditions
for a just war.
fact, such a war violated all five main criteria
for a "Just War".
it was not a just war because it was not a war
of self-defense, but an offensive war "on suspicion",
a war of revenge and of retribution to make
a statement and to avenge the Islamist terrorists'
attacks of September 11, 2001.
this war was not authorized by the United Nations
or the International Court of Justice, and therefore
it violated the second condition for a just
notwithstanding the denials, the desire to control
Iraq's riches in oil reserves, as it has been
amply documented in my book, "The New American
Empire", was a paramount preoccupation with
the Bush-Cheney administration. This violated
the third condition for a just war.
this was not a war of last resort since Bush's
war against Iraq was launched without having
given sufficient time to the United Nations
inspectors to complete their work of inspection
and of disarmament of Iraq.
fifth, the war against Iraq involved long range
bombings, missile launchings and tank blitzes
that killed many thousands of innocent human
In conclusion, we can ask if the United States
will resist the imperial temptation?
since its foundation, the United States has shown
a repulsion to the imperialist approach to world
affairs. The Declaration of American Independence
was a supreme attempt to escape from the centralized
British Empire, from its religious kingdom and
from its colonialism.
the twentieth century, in particular, the United
States stood as the main force behind the movement
to rid the world of imperialism and of colonialism.
Successive U.S. governments remained faithful
to the Jeffersonian ideals of democracy, with
each individual, rich or poor, having an equal
voice in national affairs. The U.S. has supported
international law and multilateral international
cooperation, and rejected imperialism and colonialism
as a basis for international political order,
and as a basis for U.S. foreign policy. This is
a political philosophy that traces its roots deep
in the writings of the Founding Fathers of the
Republic (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin
Franklin, George Washington...) and in the U.S.
the United States is not immune to the imperial
temptation. Indeed, each one hundred years or
so, it seems, the imperialist doctrine resurfaces
in force, even though the Jeffersionian principles
have been inscribed in the U.S. Constitution.
the very beginning, there was a clash between
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), a firm believer
in participatory democracy and in the republican
form of government, and Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804),
Washington's Treasury Secretary, who espoused
a much more elitist form of government along imperial
lines. For instance, Hamilton proposed a presidency
and a senate elected for life, in a plutocratic
and aristocratic way, whereas only the representatives
would have been elected for short terms. Hamilton
was an admirer of the British monarchial empire,
while Jefferson wanted a government modeled along
the lines of the French republican ideas.
imperialist doctrine was resurrected one hundred
years later by William McKinley (1843-1901) and
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) when the U.S. undertook
to replace Spain as a colonial power in Cuba,
Puerto Rico, Panama, the Philippines and the Pacific
Islands of Guam.
however, the United States opposed colonialism
and imperialism during most of the twentieth century.
one thinks especially of Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924),
who promoted the idea of the League of Nations
in 1920 and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)
who actively supported the creation of the United
Nations, in 1945.
21st Century: Imperial or democratic?
of today, I do not think that the 191-country
modern world is ready to accept a return to a
21st Century version of the 19th Century's imperialism
and colonialism - especially not a mere 15 years
after the demise of the Soviet Empire. It would
be nothing less than scandalous for the United
States, which was founded on humanistic and democratic
principles, to attempt to replace the old empires
of the past and to deny the fundamental democratic
right of other peoples and other nations to self-determination
strength of the United States is not in its military
power, but in its basic philosophy of government.
The fact that the U.S. devotes more resources
to armaments than any other country - its military
budget accounting for half of total world military
expenditures with less than 5 percent of world
population- does not give it the right to violate
other nations' sovereignty simply because it has
the means to do so. This would be a throw-back
to a very primitive world, indeed.
Like any other country founded on humanistic and
democratic principles. the United States should
refrain from unilaterally wanting to exert military,
political, economic and cultural power over other
foreign populations. It should attempt to reinforce
its own security through collective legal means,
such as is possible within NATO and within the
United Nations, and it should use foreign aid
as the main lever to assist poorer countries toward
reform and democratization. Above all, it should
not abandon the ideal of an open and democratic
world society. This should be, front and center,
the peaceful objective of the democratic world.
leaders would be well advised to meditate and
embrace the wise precepts of Benjamin Franklin
regarding public policy in his seven "great virtues"
in public affairs: These are: aversion to tyranny,
support for a free press, a sense of humor, humility,
idealism in foreign policy, tolerance and respect
of "The New American Empire",
Achon Books, 2004
dist Infinity (Toll Free: 877-289-2665)
Posted: May 7, 2004