[lit-ideas] Todd's little book

  • From: Teemu Pyyluoma <teme17@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004 06:25:32 -0700 (PDT)

Fashionably late as ever, I picked up on whim a
Finnish translation of Emmanule Todd's Après
l'empire/After the Empire from the library. The
translation is very well done, I particullary
apreciated using the rich idiom "carved with an axe"
to describe Huntington's thesis of the clash of
civilizations, meaning simplististic, rough,
primitive, etc.

It's a nice read, sosiological in style but more of an
essay than a scientific study. He kind of hooked me in
at the get go with the observation that both the
neo-cons and anti-americans (using Chomsky as an
example) share the same unwavering belief in USA
omnipotence. I always thought that this was exactly
the most striking thing about reactions to 9/11.

What I really wanted to write about was the reception
of it in American press, but before going to it I'll
have to briefly summarize what he is saying, because
none of the reviews really did that. So, very briefly:
- Spread of literacy and birth control are chancing
the world to a more democratic and thus peaceful
place, terrorism in arab countries is but a passing
phenomena typical of modernizing process (like US
Civil War for example was.)
- USA lacks the economic, millitary and ideological
power to maintain an empire, due to respectively trade
imbalance, weak ground forces along with unwillingness
to sustain casualties, and increasing distrust of USA
around the globe.
- Iraq, Afganistan, etc. are just shows put on to
display US military omnipotence against third-rate
- In the future, world will have four major centres,
USA, EU, Russia and Japan, with possibly China and
South America organized around Brazil to follow. It's
too big, literate, dynamic and complex world to be
governed by one power.

He is polemic and plain wrong at times, and despite
some convincing statistics, the proof side of the
argument is wanting. But still, it is a fairly
reasonable assesment of the state of the power in the
world, more prone to cynism than unwarranted optimism.

Even Foreign Affairs doesn't really bother to engage
the argument, their critique amounts to calling it
"French wishful thinking" and pointing out that major
powers "are pursuing influence and accommodation
within the existing order, not trying to overturn it"
which is contradictory to begin with. Besides, Todd
never says that fall of American Empire is something
French would want or even benefit from.
(subscribtion required, although Google has it in

NY Times review concentrates on Todd's "fury", and
helpfully explains that "relentless condemnation of
everything American arises from an acute sense of
betrayal", treating the critique as some
"anti-american" pathology.
The reality of the situation however is that
increasingly people in Europe and elsewhere are asking
what do we actually need the indispensable nation for
anyway, which IMO explains why the book has been such
a best-seller, and the inability of American
commentators to take this question seriously is
telling indeed. That perfectly educated and otherwise
reasonable people treat this some sort of irrational
hatred, equivalent to some of Nazi's craziest rambling
is extremely disturbing.

Helsinki, Finland 

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