Power & balance
The pendulum of politics does not tolerate extremes.
New Delhi: Power has a simple equation with balance but this is often not understood and when understood forgotten. Power is used in a political sense here which colours nation-states, political parties and political leaders. Those who understand power also realize what sustains it and these leaders in the true sense are statesmen and stateswomen.
Power in relation to nation-states is best exemplified by terms such as the balance of power and idealism. Realpolitik may also be included in the list provided it is leavened with balance which is rarely the case. The balance of power is imbued with a certain quality of idealism if the state that emerges as a balancer among a set of neighbourhood states is foremost keen to preserve the equilibrium and prevent the onset of war. The balancer’s growth by virtue of its position is of necessity secondary but the balance of power on the whole does not sustain for any great length of time.
The principal problem of the balance of power is that it seeks to sustain equilibrium regardless of the moral quality of that equilibrium. Great Britain after the Napoleonic Wars was Western Europe’s principal balancer and put a lid on the outbreak of major hostilities bar one, namely the Crimean War. But Britain’s role as balancer ended quite miserably towards the end of the 19th century and possibly accelerated the circumstances that caused World War I.
Realpolitik’s limitations were ironically exposed by the brilliance of Otto von Bismarck’s unification of Germany. Germany’s war with France and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine became the stumbling block to Imperial Germany’s everlasting greatness and unimpeded rise. In most ways singularly gifted with wisdom, Bismarck thrust France’s defeat in war into its face, so to speak, by having the victorious terms signed in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. This was very unlike Bismarck and more suited to the character of Adolf Hitler. France never recovered from that defeat but it also made Germany fanatical. Bismarck did such a wonderful job of building Germany that two World Wars, allied occupations and one territorial division that lasted decades could not entirely destroy the country. But he failed to build political balance into the German system which could later flower to democracy and save his beloved nation from all that it suffered after he passed on.
When the United States reluctantly shared the leadership of the democratic world with Great Britain in the middle of World War I, it brought in the principles of idealism and exceptionalism that it had grown by and prospered with in its isolationist existence in the western hemisphere. Both principles held up well in the immediate post-World War II period but commenced fraying when joined with the policy of containment of Soviet Russia. Within two years of the prosecution of the Vietnam War, exceptionalism and idealism had turned on themselves and became manifested as the hatred of Americans for America in its projection of power. The cycle had turned full circle.
In every case, the balance had been upset. The balancing pendulum always returned to its position of most weightiness, which was also its position of natural equilibrium and rest from all motion. This return was accompanied by unrest and upheaval which was only natural. It taught a lesson which was either never learnt or soon forgotten. Nature will always preserve its balance. The politics of nation-states, political parties and political leaders has to adjust to this invariable. Balance takes the form of balanced idealism and exceptionalism, balanced balance of power, justness, fairness and equity. When these elements do not constitute a major component of foreign policy, that policy is doomed.
As in foreign policy, so it is the case with domestic politics. The political pendulum will not tolerate extreme swings to the Left or Right. Left and Right have their origin in the seating arrangement in the national assembly during the French Revolution. It is an accident of history and Left could just as well have been Right and vice-versa. The political pendulum will, in any case, tyrannically come to rest at its weightiest point, which shuns all swings and extremes. This is, as it also happens, elementary science. The able statesman among politicians would load the pendulum so heavily with good works that it would refuse to move either Leftward or Right or do so with the greatest labour and settle to a restful balance at the first opportunity. Balanced politics means shunning ideology like poison; being just, fair and even idealistic; and seeing power solely as a means to serve the electors. Balanced politics is about values. Political leaders and nation states that saturate their domestic politics and foreign policy with balanced aims and objectives will be favoured by history. Their legacies would continue untrammelled. The pendulum of life and politics is remorseless and favours nothing but its own balance, equilibrium and rest.