The Corner

Modern Age

Robert Kagan’s phenomenally successful Power and Weakness shows that Americans are thinking seriously about our emerging differences with Europe. Now comes what is surely the most philosophically penetrating account of the U.S./Europe split from a European perspective. French political theorist Pierre Manent has an important piece out in the current (Winter) issue of Modern Age called, “Current Problems of European Democracy.”

Pierre Manent opposed the war in Iraq, but he is a conservative political philosopher who in many respects embraces the American critique of Europe. Kagan’s core argument is that Europe’s peaceful paradise is built on an illusion. Europe relies on American military power for its own protection, while pretending that a international system beyond power is possible. Manent exposes another side of the illusion. Europe believes it has achieved a universal civilization that no longer requires the state. Yet Europe is simply becoming a super-state. From that perspective, to demilitarize, or to treat the United Nations as a truly universal body, is nonsense. Manent’s piece goes deeper, and presents a very interesting meditation on the repudiation of the state in contemporary Europe. Manent links European opposition to the death penalty and to military conscription with its hostility to the state, and links all this to epochal moments in the history of democracy represented by Hobbes, Marx, and Tocqueville.

By the way, Modern Age is a great quarterly. It’s a leading voice for the traditionalist, Burkean, conservatism of its founder, Russell Kirk. From the point of view of the traditionalists at Modern Age, the “paleo-cons” are actually neophyte interlopers. Certainly Modern Age eschews the kind of excesses that David Frum rightly criticizes in the paleo-cons. So for traditionalist conservatism of a high intellectual order, with large doses of literary criticism and political theory, try Modern Age.

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