In the midst of a global crisis unprecedented in its extent, Strategika offer the clarity of thinkers and analysts recognized in their domain of expertise. We’ve asked each one a series of questions focusing on different aspects of this veritable crisis of civilization as well as its political, geopolitical, and social repercussions.
Today Robert Steuckers responds.
Robert Steuckers, born in Uccle in 1956, graduated from the Institut Maria Haps, associated with the University of Louvain, where he obtained his Master’s in English and German languages. He directed a translation agency in Brussels for twenty years before devoting himself to various tasks teaching languages. He created the think tank “Synergies européennes” in 1994, which has organized summer universities in France, Italy, and Germany. He manages, with others, the site Euro-Synergies which has posted nearly 17,000 feature articles, available to everyone. He also has a Twitter account Robert Steuckers (@RobertSteuckers) updated daily. Robert Steuckers is the author of numerous books and essays, notably the trilogy Europa, a truly complete work on the identity and history of European peoples as well as La révolution conservatrice allemande and Sur et autour de Carl Schmitt.
Strategika – We read many contradictory elements according to different sources of available information or opinions of health professionals. What is the effective reality of this pandemic according to you?
We cannot exclude a natural origin of the pandemic (though I remain skeptical regarding the fable of eating pangolin or bat) but we should also agree to discuss another hypothesis: the hypothesis of an act of bacteriological war directed against China, Iran, and Europe, the three principle hosts of the malady. The mutant virus, as it seems to have mutated, could also have escaped from a Chinese laboratory or somewhere else but then why did it strike the principal rivals of the hegemon, nearly to the exclusion of other regions of the globe? If the hypothesis of a bacteriological war is accurate, we can establish the following scenario: the nerve center of China is hit, its industry, boosted by neoliberal relocations elsewhere in the world, especially Europe, is slowed, which has an effect on its currency, capable of supplanting the dollar in the intermediary term. Moreover, this slowdown or sabotage stifles the establishment of the famous “silk roads.” Iran, the enemy number one of certain neoconservative circles, was struck in turn, as it easily could become the principal supplier of hydrocarbons to China and a very important commercial partner with Europe, as it was during the end of reign of the last Shah, notably with the EURATOM accords. This is the thesis of Houchang Nahavandi, a former minister of the Shah and author of very important books on the recent and ancient history of Iran, which I highly recommend reading.
In Europe, calamities batter the weakest links and the principal motor of the European economy, Germany. Greece must confront the refugee crisis on its Thracian border, while its economic and financial health has wavered for a dozen years, following the 2008 crisis. It has still mostly escaped the coronavirus but … Wait and see … Italy, recall, signed special accords, making it China’s springboard into the EU. Spain also received the full brunt of the pandemic crisis as it is also a fragile economy that risks ruining the European project, promoted by the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, then judged competitive and deemed, notably by the Clinton Doctrine, as “alien,” that is to say as a potential enemy, if not a declared enemy. France was struck too, even if, officially, it is considered an ally since Macron, the president was intellectually shaped by an American school. It is progressively emptied of its industrial flagships (Alsthom, Latécoère,…) and slowly infested by the coronavirus, quite simply because the hyperliberalism that has weakened it since Sarkozy’s presidency, has slashed through the non-mercantile sectors, including medical. Without a strong medical sector, robust, capable of predicting all forms of pandemic, including those which could be unleashed through a bacteriological strike, a country is an ideal target for this type of operation.
The “De-Gaullization” of France, from Sarkozy onward, constitutes the dismantling of a state that had Clausewitzian reflexes, desired by the soldier De Gaulle, at least in his theoretical writings, in the influence that Raymond Aron, the great specialist on German strategy of the 19th century, exercised on him, and in his original praxis in the 1960s, which could be described as a “third way” model between the two Cold War blocs. It was a response to the inabilities of the Third Republic, lambasted by Simone Weil in London before her death in 1943, and the political mismanagement and vacillation of the Fourth. These types of regime manage shortsightedly and foresee nothing, which leads to the incapacity to decide at opportune moments or confront unforeseen catastrophes, like a pandemic. The “French suicide,” described by Eric Zemmour is precisely this progressive dismantling of the Clausewitzian state – with all its mechanisms put in place that always predicted the worst – which the Fifth Republic sought to be at its proclamation and especially in the years 1963 – 69.
The moral of this is that any state or state group, must imperatively, if it wants to survive the intrigues of its enemies (there’s always an enemy as Julien Freund said), retain its industrial assets and refuse relocations and mergers with foreign firms, preserve solid medical infrastructures and a competitive academic / university system.
In Germany, the expected mechanisms for a pandemic have been retained, which explains their superior management of the coronavirus crisis. Nevertheless, the future of Germany isn’t rosy: the flows of refugees who’ve settled on their territory are ruining their exemplary system of social security which was established in the post war era and generate ceaseless disorder in streets of towns; today the principal partner of German industry is China but this dependency is fragile, the Chinese always end up producing what they need for themselves, notably automobiles. German industry has wagered too heavily on the export of its excellent automobiles, without imagining that this flow could dry up one day. Furthermore, the German – Russian gas partnership is in the hegemon’s sights: European enterprises that contribute to the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline are directly threatened with trial by American “justice” or the confiscation of their holdings in American banks. The affair of Frédéric Pierucci, the Alsthom executive, illustrates well what this risk is, notably in the testimonial book this executive drafted after his imprisonment in the United States: The American Trap.
Finally, Germany is experiencing a political crisis unparalleled in its post-1945 history. The parties which have been the standard-bearers of the Federal Republic since the economic miracle and the reunification following the disappearance of the Berlin Wall, are in free fall. The socialist SPD is only a shadow of itself; the CDU, the real pillar of the country, is experiencing problematic downturns and is in depression in all Länder of the former GDR. This downturn or decline is not an exception in Europe: the Italian Christian Democrats disappeared from the stage long ago; the Spanish PPE is in liquefaction, which allows a false left, despite labels, to poorly govern the country in crisis and face the pandemic; the two Belgian Christian Democratic parties are also on the way to disappearance. The erasure of the Christian Democrats and Socialists raises an issue: another political normality is being constructed but we do not yet know what form it will take. Only Orban keeps his Hungarian form of Christian Democracy in a functional state, simultaneously obtaining a certain consensus in his country but lambasted, even ostracized by Eurocratic bodies who are pressing for him to be excluded from everything.
German decline is inevitable, contrary to what we generally believe in France today, where certain circles stir the specter of offensive Pan-Germanism again. Beyond the Rhine, literature protesting the system is flourishing and it’s no longer limited to margins of the left or right but henceforth comes from the highest economic and intellectual spheres. We must refer to it because the arguments advanced by these critics would combine very well with the critiques of Eurocracy in vogue in France. It’s an excellent theme for Strategika!
If the pandemic strikes the United States, whose hospital system leaves much to be desired, one could argue that the hypothesis, which is only a hypothesis, which I sketched here is erroneous because the hegemon, accused unleashing bacteriological war, would be exonerated of this accusation, seeing that it is struck by the pandemic itself. But the first victim can easily throw it back and spread the disruptive agent back to the sender, every bacteriological operation has this particular feature.
Strategika – Does this pandemic precede an economic and systemic collapse?
I think so. Firstly, confinement slows down industry in a system that tolerates no pause. For Carl Schmitt, the world globalized through Roosevelt’s will in the 1930s and 1940s, highlighting the element of “water,” because the hegemony erected by this American president is an ideologically liberal thalassocracy: so we navigate this immense symbolic ocean on the flows of merchandise and communications controlled from the start by American naval power: which quite simply treads water against a flowing background as Carl Schmitt wrote in his Glossarium (not yet translated). Finally, I always thought that the crisis of 2008, much deeper than we believed until today, was not really resolved: they plugged breeches on an ongoing basis through all sorts of artifices, they delayed its consequences twelve years. These patch-up maneuvers are coming to an end. And they will blame the virus for the definitive implosion of the system so that people don’t seek to name the guilty.
Strategika – More than three billion people on earth are being asked to confine themselves. For the first time in history, humanity seems to have succeeded in coordinating themselves in a unitary manner against a common global enemy. What does this situation make you feel?
This situation is frightening because if there is a pandemic, it has doubtlessly not been much more explosive than habitual seasonal flus, at least until now. The virus is certainly more virulent than other flu viruses, more resilient once expectorated from a human body and more aggressive towards the respiratory system of the weakest patients, whose immune systems are weakened by other pathologies. We’re facing a situation comparable to the situation in 1968 and 1969-70 where a flu virus killed, at times, up to 4,000 people a week in France alone! In 2018, from February 26th to March 4th, 2,900 people died from the seasonal flu in Belgium, in one little week!
The hypotheses that say the dominant circles orchestrate panic in order to establish a dictatorial, panoptical system, the vector of universal and ubiquitous surveillance, should be taken seriously. The sheep-like comportment of citizens is astonishing in such a context, when it’s obvious that it’s in the interest of the ruling spheres to promote such a system: the Italy of Salvini or even post-Salvini Italy is an unpredictable country that must be subdued; the France of the Yellow Vests that rejects the hyperliberalism they wish to impose on it deserves, in their eyes, severe punishment; and the Germany that boos Merkel at each of her public appearances should also be chastised, so long as it heats itself with Russian gas and runs its industry, automobile or otherwise, with these Putinian hydrocarbons.
We’ve entered into the era of planetary “monitor and punish” which Europe will be the principal victim of, as the Chinese and the Iranians are more willing to accept the human costs and possess capacities for resilience superior to ours, they can draw on Shi’ite or Confucian religion or the corrected and revised communist ideology, which more resembles the constructive projects of Friedrich List in the 19th century and the projects that he inspired among the ideologues of the Kuomintang, militants of a Chinese renaissance after the “century of shame,” where the Celestial Empire had fallen into a deep decline.
Strategika – Will this pandemic force humanity to endow itself with a global government as Jacques Attali predicted during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009?
At least Attali formulates the project and there are traces of this messianic vision in a good number of his earlier writings. Furthermore, in a work dealing with the world as seen by the CIA, a dozen years ago, Alexandre Adler mentioned a pandemic as an accelerator of globalization, amplified if not definitive. Nevertheless I don’t see Xi Jinping’s China or Putin’s Russia embarking on such a project. Without speaking of Iran …
Strategika – Still in 2009, Jacques Attali explained that “History teaches us that humanity only significantly evolves when it is really afraid.” What do you think about this idea?
This idea is a general idea. Almost a truism. But if Attali, promoter of the globalizing project in progress, mentioned it in 2009, he’s referring to the idea that well orchestrated social and media engineering could create, if need be, the fear needed to bring a project such as the one he’s dreamed of for a long time to fruition. This creation of a global panic is what we’re witnessing today. But Attali is henceforth an old guru, the same age as all those he wishes death upon so that hyperliberal governments don’t have to pay for their retirement. However, the new global guru is named Yuval Noah Harari, famous for two bestsellers that we find in every language in every bookshop in the world, especially in large train stations and airports, where those who adopt nomadic lives, on big or small scales, pass. March 20th 2020, this Harari published a long article in the Financial Times, where the globalizing project in progress was presented in a pleasant and attractive fashion, as usual: we can’t criticize Attali or Harari for having a boring style, incapable of keeping their readers’ attention. Harari notes that with coronavirus, there is an emergency and every emergency “fast forwards historical processes.” Then, I cite: “Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments.” Harari then evokes a world where there will only be online work and especially online teaching: the confinement, which we are subjected to, then seems to be a preparatory step to this future of complete reclusion, concocted in the highest ruling spheres. Harari then mentions the global monitoring of humanity, matched with punishments for the recalcitrant. He waxes lyrical saying that today, governments are stronger than the Soviet KGB as they now have “ubiquitous sensors and powerful algorithms” at their disposal. The coronavirus, he adds as if he wants to add grist to our mill, has already permitted the deployment of such an arsenal unseen in the history of humanity, notably in China where the state constantly manifests itself through the smart-phones of its citizens, using facial recognition technology on a wide scale and it can determine the health of each Chinese person through tools designed to determine if someone has a fever, that any policeman can carry and use on public streets. The following step is also revealed to us by Harari: feelings, like anger or joy, are biological phenomena like fevers or coughs: so we can detect them and manipulate them with the same instruments that they use to identify potentially “corona virus infected” fever patients in the streets of China. Finally, Harari unveils the final objective, quasi-Messianic, in short the Second Coming of the future: “global cooperation”, the only lifeline against the virus that should induce us all to opt for “a globalist mindset”, rendering local or national impulses useless. In other terms, Harari opts for a radically different humanity than the one Claude Lévi-Strauss advocated for in his time: Lévi-Strauss desired as many models of humanity as there were on the planet when he devoted himself to his ethnological research, he desired to promote an “ethnopluralist spirit” so that man had numerous available models to imitate or absorb in case of the stagnation or the collapse of the model to which he previously belonged, in which numerous generations of his ancestors had lived. Humanity must be plural according to this Lévi-Straussian ethnopluralism. For Attali and Harari, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I am nostalgic for Lévi-Strauss’ project, I’m not hiding it from you.
Strategika – How do you view the evolution of the pandemic and its political and social consequences in the weeks to home?
I think that it will incite panic at least until mid-May, until the moment where the slowdown of European industries will have irreversible consequences and the crisis will be quite palpable, with an incalculable number of failures among SMEs (small and middle sized enterprises). The social crisis in France will be accentuated and the Yellow Vests movement will regain vigor and continue with enhanced intensity. The other European countries will follow, Germany included. Next, confinement will end up agitating even the most patient natives and provoke unrest in risky neighborhoods as Ramadan starts at the end of April and extends until the end of May. There is something more serious: globalization aims to eradicate European culture, of which the clearest and most spectacular symbol was the burning of Notre-Dame de Paris. Confinement has sabotaged the implicit liturgy of our civilization: Easter vacations and paschal festivities, including the Spanish semana santa, were canceled for the first time in centuries, as well as the spring season in May, with religious festivals and communions, pretexts for familial celebrations that unite society. Following this sacrilege, as it must be called such, the summer vacation season will quite likely be disrupted, although it is a secular tradition, also punctuated by festivities. The humanity of our sub-continent will be deeply disturbed, psychologically undermined, with both somatic and psychological effects. It’s the most frightening short term risk as once the sacrilege to smash our millennium old liturgy has been unleashed, there will always be the risk of repeating it. But even by itself the yearlong rupture of the liturgical cycle, inherited from Rome, heralds catastrophes: they’ve never dared to do it before.
Strategika – Does a political solution to the situation you just described exist and what form could it take according to you?
A political solution, truly political in the sense meant by Carl Schmitt and Julien Freund, is only possible through an act of force, a cruelly conflictual ordeal. Through an upheaval equivalent to the Russian Revolution of 1917. But we are no longer in the 1920s or 1930s where millions of soldiers were returning from the front and didn’t fear being wounded or dying confronting the bullets of regime supporters or political adversaries. Moreover, today we can’t bring down a regime with simple rifles fitted with bayonets anymore. States are endowed with more sophisticated weapons, that one cannot purchase at the corner store, not even in the United States. They have “ubiquitous sensors and powerful algorithms” at their disposal, to paraphrase Harari. In our days, there are drones, cameras, centers hidden so well that it no longer suffices to seize the General Post Office as in Dublin in 1916, or, confronting Yeltsin’s armor in 1993, the Moscow radio tower. Our humanity is much too weakened by decades of “liberalism” (or the ideology of pleasure-seeking [Translator’s note: festivisme – see Philippe Muray’s work on the “Homo festivus”, a characteristic figure of contemporary Western modernity whose primary focus is to keep himself entertained]) to dare such an adventure.
The only form that a reaction could take would be a slide towards illiberalism in the manner of Orban or Putin, without duplicating the stupid left-right divide, as the enemy of both is the same: the hyperliberalism brought about in our societies by the Thatcher-Reagan duo from 1979 onward. But on the left, they retain heavy hostile reflexes towards the political, on the right, there’s still a tendency to sink into one form of liberalism or another. These are pitfalls to avoid, by making an appeal to a metapolitical imagination that can fuse opposed bodies into a new synthesis, where the principles of social justice and suum cuique [Translator’s note: Latin for “may all get their due”] are respected.
Strategika – How do you link the present crisis to your domain of expertise and your field of research?
I’m not an expert but an engaged observer. For me, the present crisis is the culmination of the restrained crisis of 2008 and, I could be fooling myself, a well targeted act of force, perpetrated through an act of bacteriological warfare that aims to annihilate European economic power (the only form of power that remains on our sub-continent), annihilate the Chinese challenger, and ruin the “silks roads” project, with the continued support of planetary media orchestration. We are engaged in hybrid wars or fourth generation wars, that is to say wars where they no longer line up armies of tanks and infantrymen but where they skillfully apply indirect strategies. Europe, as certain observers already noted in the 1990s and 2000s, was the least well prepared handle the media and cultural tools of this new dimension of warfare: that’s extremely true and it’s paying the consequences heavily today. If Europe’s project was Clausewitzian instead of neoliberal, it wouldn’t be in this situation …