War without ends; Ends without war

Yesterday I heard Alain Touraine, one of my iconic heroes, speaking at NYU on "From Globalization to Regional War." I've always liked the way that man thinks -- one of the most creative sociologists alive. He is, of course, appalled and, like all of us, shocked and awed by the utter absence of any social or economic content to the Bush Administration's policies -- and, he says, Europe is no better. This is a war "without causes and without goals" -- except itself, the goal of exercising pure power. He doesn't believe the war is really about oil -- if it were, the Europeans would be the first to be involved, because they are 100% dependent on Mideast oil (and the US much less so). He thinks it is just about itself. Machtpolitik was how he described it, which has a 19th-century ring to it, because this really is a premodern, even pre-Bismarckian sort of politics for its own sake, or for "power" -- Macht -- alone. What is worse, there is no "opposition," as Touraine defines it. He doesn't mean that nobody's against it, but that the huge street demonstrations, the people taking out full-page ads in expensive newspapers, the flurry of outrage on the internet, is all occurring outside the system. We -- those decrying the policies -- are not "opponents," but outsiders. The Democratic party is "silent," the New York Times is making barely a peep, the journalists are mostly "embedded."

And what do we outsiders offer? So far, we have not advanced any compelling program of social or economic content ourselves, says Touraine. Maybe he just says that to provoke us, because we do need to get our act together, to make some demands beyond the negative one of "Peace" (meaning nothing more than "Stop the killing"). I think the place to start is with the demand for democracy, starting with the demand for respect for electoral majorities in our own United States (the election of November 2000 is when our shame began). But much more: If the UN is to become a hollow talking shop, and the European Union equally impotent, while the most unsophisticated, unglobal rubes like Ashcroft and Bush take over the world, then we have to be thinking of some creative new, world-wide channels of effective democratic expression. (Maybe Porto Alegre offers a model?)