War and Philosophy of Violence: Girard on Clausewitz V (final part)

The idea of a Kantian Europe, federal and peaceful, as the nucleus of a post-Cold War world becoming more Enlightened was part of the high point of European and European Union enthusiasm at the Fall of the Berlin Wall, as part of the end of totalitarian Communism. Current crises economic, and others, have certainly tempered the 1989 kind of enthusiasm. The decline in relations with post-Soviet Russia has been associated with low intensity wars between Russia, including its agents and local allies, on one side and nations looking to break with Russia and become part of an EU centred Europe, which has culminated recently in Ukraine, accompanied by a military build up focused round the Baltic states.

Despite the EU’s economic problems, notably including the failure of a single currency to promote a broad and direct road to deepening economic harmonisation and prosperity, it continues to be attractive to migrants from low income countries, particularly those escaping from violence and political repression. The consequence has been violence at the frontier of the EU, as member states have even involved the national military to keep migrants out (or appear to be keeping them out), violence which is reaching the internal frontiers of the EU as states react to the presence of unpopular migrant populations moving across national frontiers.

Some of the apparent militarisation may have been exaggerated for effect in the public sphere, but there is still a strong tendency here  for nation states to reveal their more violent aspects, the extent to which the state itself exists in a state of war with enemies of various kinds, internal as much as external. Terrorism partly reflecting tensions between extreme forms of religious communalism and secular tolerance, is a constant threat if not in itself a major source of death, legitimising to some degree militarisation, but perhaps more significantly a more low level kind of war by the state apparatus against inhabitants a surveillance state.

European nations are militarily involved in those nations where non-state religious fundamentalism groups have established areas of provisional sovereignty, or threaten to do so, a European  (including Turkish) involvement itself reflecting colonial history, a history of government based on military conquest which conditioned state formation and reproduction in the colonising countries. A purely pacifist and passive policy of military withdrawal is however unlikely to end the multi-faceted and multi-causal antagonisms of the current situation.

Most of the above is remote from Clausewitz’ own concerns though the tensions between Russia and other European powers would have been a very recognisable interstate phenomenon for him. Clausewitz’ thought has been adapted to other aspects of recent history and this should be no exception. Girard does not really have a suitable approach for these issues, since while he has a strong interest in the idea and history of Europe it is far too focused on France and Germany with regard to their mimetic rivalries to be brought into topics other than the centrality of the French-German relationship to the existence of the European Union.

At this point Girard is open to criticism of a reductive and abstract approach coming from the more schematic aspects of his interest in mimetic rivalry accompanied by strong tendencies towards French and Catholic centred ideas of Europe. Girard of course writes with all kinds of humane intentions, but his theology could as much as anything lead to a passive expectation of the Second Coming in reaction to the growth of social and state violence, and in a disturbing parallel the political theology of ISIS is to attempt to hasten the Koranic Day of Judgement.

The recent tendencies in European politics, including its relations with neighbouring regions, can be more fully grasped if we remember that the state is driven by war as well as war driving the state, and if we think of the multiple zoners and forms of violence. Clausewitz is key here and though his analysis oriented towards organised state armies and their commander in open battle, his understanding of politics and violence is more applicable then Girard’s form of idealisation of violence in history.

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