Consensus and values

British historian Eric Hobsbawm noted a few years ago that the Soviet name for World War II («The Great Patriotic War») was a more faithful description of a worldwide confrontation which not only expressed a conflict of national interests but also a cultural clash within Western contours. The fact that the United States, and its people, was conscious of that rupture and the values cherished by the side it supported, is shown in its repeated reminders of its role in defending human values. Needless to say, its decision was driven by interests. But at the same time, it was driven by a deep conviction that America and its allies shared the same identity and values. The present rift is barely similar to the rupture back then. However, it may be this lack of analogy and of a common (cultural) enemy that has led Washington to forget that it took the reins of the Western world because of its commitment to safeguard these shared values. It seems that the US administration, being blinded by strong-headed geopolitical objectives and by the perceived significance of its own military superiority, has forgotten that the sine qua non for building a successful global hegemony is not military might but rather the existence of a broad consensus. It’s not the megatons of firepower but the constructive promotion of common principles and values that attract willing allies. The invocation by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of cultural and historical parameters during his address to the UN Security Council was not a coincidence. Similarly, dissatisfaction with and public opprobrium for the policies of the Bush administration is common in France, Germany, Russia, China and even the US itself – as reflected in students’ demonstrations and the criticism coming from moderate commentators. The breadth of reaction reflects governments’ and peoples’ disaffection with American impatience to unleash a war that will take thousands of innocent lives with no sufficient explanation. Washington’s stance is irksome, for it is at odds with attempts to forge a consensus and with the human values that underpin our Western civilization. The US government must keep in mind that consensus is a fundamental prerequisite for consolidating a Pax Americana. It also has to realize that it must focus its efforts on consolidating the pax rather than throw itself into a war against all. Its current attitude threatens to open a cultural crack which could evolve into a deep trauma in the realm of Western values.