Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Necessary Arrogance of Ideology

Neil Clark’s column in the Guardian does raise a good point. That is, if foreign political commentary on the domestic politics of the US or the UK (or Australia, to put words in his mouth) can raise ire in those countries, then it should raise the same ire when the Anglo-sphere makes comment on the domestic political situation in other countries.

He posits an example with the shoe on the other foot. Suppose the Serbian foreign minister said that his country would not “accept any US administration that "did not include members of the ultra-nationalist Republican party"” and that “George Bush, who launched an illegal war against Iraq in 2003, is a "war criminal".

Are we meant to immediately turn our ire against our own governments on the basis of this parallel? Yes, apparently we are. We are meant to respond to Clark’s observation by demanding that our governments act as they expect other governments to act (e.g., by not financing organizations in Australia who have the intent to destablise the Australian government).

But we must ask, then, about the limits of such non-intervention. What is an acceptable intervention and what is unacceptable neglect? How can we allow a nation to determine its own government in one instance (e.g., USA, Palestine, Germany, Japan) and not intervene in other cases (e.g., Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan)? When is it appropriate for a country to intervene in the domestic affairs of another country?

At the heart of criticism by one government about another is an ideological struggle. A government does not rise to power without surfing on the wave of doxa or ideology and we should not be surprised when that government continues to preach the doctrine in each circumstance that it encounters – particularly those circumstances that are in the national interest (whatever that means). If anything, making political statements on the domestic affairs of another (ideologically opposing) country should be expected. It's necessary for the ideologue to continue their promotion of the doctrine, otherwise they are exposed as charlatans.

If anything, the criticism that should be levelled as a consequence of Clark's article is that foreign governments do not criticise our governments enough. Not only should we be unsuprised about them doing it, we should be encouraging it. The perspective from another way of life is unlike anything that we, who live and breathe and work inside our own cultures, can offer. This ideological arrogance is necessary.
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