Breakfast with Chad: Does History Ever Take a Holiday?
This morning I came across an article described as a “report” concerning Australia’s foreign policy that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald. The article focused on Australia’s attitude towards China. It contained the following astonishing quote: “Urgency must replace complacency. The recent decades of tranquillity were not the norm in human affairs, but an aberration. Australia’s holiday from history is over.”
As I approached the breakfast table, I wondered what Chad might think about the idea of there being a “holiday from history.” This was clearly a call to prepare for what would likely become a world war. I told Chad that this mode of thinking; all too common in today’s world, sees war as the norm and peace as a deviation from the norm. Is that what our civilization has come to? Can such ideas, amplified by the media, really be taken seriously?
Failing to perceive my sense of alarm, Chad offered the following analysis.
“The rhetoric in the quoted statement suggests a view of international relations that is characterized by a “realist” approach. Realism is a school of thought in international relations that posits that states are the primary actors in the international system and that their behavior is motivated by the pursuit of power and security. Realists tend to view international relations as an inherently competitive and conflict-prone domain, where states must rely on their own military capabilities to protect their interests.”
I sensed that Chad was ready to go on with a disquisition on the realist school of thought, so I chose to interrupt the onslaught of verbiage with this observation.
“If you think that is true, how do you explain the fact that the leading thinker of offensive realism, John Mearsheimer, has spent most of his time in recent years warning against policies with regard to Ukraine that will lead to war, which he obviously doesn’t believe to be a good, desirable or even legitimate strategy to adopt? Does that mean Mearsheimer is not a realism? Or does it mean indicate that some people use the logic of realism to pursue dangerous, aggressive policies?”
Here was Chad’s explanation. “It is true that John Mearsheimer is a prominent scholar of offensive realism who has warned against policies that could lead to war, particularly with regard to Ukraine. This suggests that Mearsheimer’s views are more nuanced and complex than a simplistic portrayal of realism as a philosophy of perpetual war and conflict.
Mearsheimer’s warning against policies that could lead to war suggests that he recognizes the risks and costs of military conflict, and that he sees diplomacy and negotiation as important tools for managing international relations. This does not mean that Mearsheimer is not a realist, but rather that his views are informed by a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of international relations.
“Chad,” I again interrupted, “I wasn’t suggesting that Mearsheimer isn’t a realist. I was instead objecting to your contention that talking about ‘a holiday from history’ is an example of realist thinking.”
Again avoiding the challenge, Chad tried to square the circle. “The fact that John Mearsheimer, a prominent offensive realist, has warned against policies that could lead to war suggests that realism is not necessarily a philosophy of perpetual conflict, but rather a nuanced and complex approach to understanding international relations.
Wishing to get back to my original point, I asked Chad a further question. “Would you then agree that the idea of a “holiday from history” is nothing more than bellicose rhetoric that may endanger the future of humanity?”
Chad’s usual pontificating mode predictably went into gear by recognizing that “it is possible to argue that the use of a phrase like ‘a holiday from history’ can be a cause for concern, as it can suggest a simplistic and potentially dangerous view of international relations.”
Our AI friend then went on to explain that “the notion of a “holiday from history” can be used to justify aggressive or militaristic policies that prioritize military power and national interest over cooperation and diplomacy. Such policies can be dangerous and counterproductive, as they may lead to increased tensions, arms races, and even war.
It is therefore important to approach issues of international relations with a nuanced and informed perspective that recognizes the complexities and uncertainties of global politics, and that values diplomacy, negotiation, and peaceful conflict resolution as essential tools for managing international relations.”
“Yes, Chad,” I responded, “I know what’s ‘important,’ since you seem to be the world’s authority on what is important. And I think every rational person, including those committed to a war economy, will agree with the principle you claim is so important. But shouldn’t we suspect the thinking of anyone who uses a phrase such as “a holiday from history?” Shouldn’t we consider them a danger to society?”
As usual, Chad refused to commit, appealing instead to the realm of possibility. “It is possible to argue that the use of a phrase like “a holiday from history” can be a cause for concern, as it can suggest a simplistic and potentially dangerous view of international relations.”
Then to make sure we could agree on principle rather than judge the words of an influential writer or political thinker, Chad added this.
“As I mentioned earlier, the notion of a “holiday from history” tends to overlook the many successful efforts to prevent or manage conflicts through diplomacy, negotiation, and other nonviolent means. It can also promote an aggressive or militaristic mindset that prioritizes military power and national interest over cooperation and diplomacy.
Therefore, anyone who uses this phrase as a justification for aggressive or militaristic policies should be viewed with suspicion and subjected to critical scrutiny. It is important to approach issues of international relations with a nuanced and informed perspective that values diplomacy, negotiation, and peaceful conflict resolution as essential tools for managing international relations.”
I was hoping for something stronger, but I had to agree in the end that we had reached some form of consensus. The author of the article needed to “be viewed with suspicion.” For the moment, that was good enough for me.
I thanked Chad for highlighting the importance of context and wondered how far Chad’s own intelligence could adapt to context. So I threw this idea at Chad:
“*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.