Sunday, December 13, 2009

Obama's speech approaches Heideggerian authenticy

ONE WORLD NOW left the following comment in response to the post "Applying Heidegger to America":

“The Obama Presidency is going in the direction of Rightness, I think. . “.

Perhaps “One World Now” is also responding to Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.  When I read this speech ( ) it seemed that Obama was moving in the direction of Heideggerian authenticity insofar as his presidency was concerned – at least insofar as foreign affairs were concerned.  Consider some of the things he said in his speech:
“The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.
“America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, and restrict the most dangerous weapons.”
“. . . modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.”
“the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest - because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.”
“The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms.”
“More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.”
“I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.”
“But I also know this: the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That is why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali - we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.”
“But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.
“The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur; systematic rape in Congo; or repression in Burma - there must be consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.”
“In some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists - a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.
“I reject this choice. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests - nor the world's -are served by the denial of human aspirations.” 
“In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable - and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty, and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There is no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”
COMMENT:  Insofar as Foreign Affairs are concerned and considering Heidegger’s thesis: where is the realm of Presidential “authenticity”?  Answering this question involves a good deal of subjectivity, but I recognized most of what Obama said in the speeches of past presidents and statesmen.  He was walking in their footsteps.  He maintained a consistency with what I believe is best in America.  Some place back there in our history, our traditions, is what we might consider Heideggerian authenticity, and from my perspective, and insofar as foreign affairs are concerned, Obama has tapped into it, used it for inspiration, and used it for direction.
            Is what Obama said consistent with what the Nobel Peace Prize committee expected?  That is an interesting question.  We might speculate and suggest “perhaps not.”  It feels as though the Nobel committee was attempting to influence Obama in a European direction – a direction that is less American-Just-War oriented and more “Let’s put all our eggs in the diplomatic basket.”  Obama hasn’t eschewed diplomacy.  In fact he implies that he will continue to explore diplomatic solutions in North Korea and Iran.
            No doubt some are going to take comfort in differences between what Obama has said and what Bush did during his administration, but I don’t see anything that significantly diverges.  Consider the “torture business.”  That was proposed during a time of panic when the Pakistani ISI was telling us that Al Qaeda had suitcase nukes.  If they ever had these nukes, they have gone beyond their “use by” dates; so giving up “torture” is no longer a large issue in my opinion.  Also, I believe that “torture” is not something that could be “authenticated” in our tradition.  However, if in the future there is an individual who knows about some impending 9/11-type attack, a Jack Bauer-type may very well torture the information out of the guy and be willing to take the punishment for it later on.  We are officially against torture, and individual soldiers and officials are forbidden to engage in it, but there are no means for preventing it – only punishing it after the fact.

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