The Workshop of World Politics (event archive)

February 28, 2011 by  

IR Professor Tilo Schabert spoke at our Liberty Forum event about international relations and european integration from a historical and philosophical perspective. During the discussion he addressed the elite-led construction of the European Union, the original French and German ideas of a European federal system and the constitutional lessons learned from the German unification, as well as potential impacts of Hungary’s EU presidency.

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Reagan and Gorbachev Up Close

Tilo Schabert, our guide in the Workshop of World Politics (held on February 28, 2011) has several hats. This senior professor has studied political science, philosophy, theology, and modern history in Germany, and lectured all across Europe and the US. He is close to officials of the French presidential palace and has a precise idea of how contemporary German politics is made – he has a seat at the high table of European politics without being a politician himself. This is how Common Sense Society came to enjoy a very academic, yet highly entertaining personal account of moments that have made political history.

For enthusiasts of IR theories and frameworks, the evening offered the following three laws to understand world politics: 1) natural political science, 2) the ‘law of escape’ and 3) the dialectic of institutionalization.

A suitable example for natural political science would be the personal profiling that Mitterand’s wife drew on the occasion of a state visit to Brezhnev, the Soviet leader. It was circulated among French staff that Brezhnev had drunk 14 vodkas upon welcoming their delegation. Such careful observations, or what were called ‘spying’ on important decision makers’ personal and health characteristics, can be classified as natural political science. When making and discussing such mental notes, politicians behave like ‘psychoanalysts’ since, in the Smithian concept they use their natural capacity to put themselves in others people’s shoes.

In fact, hermeneutics can be a helpful tool to get closer to the essence of a political situation. Minor characteristics of actors or general traits of a whole group can serve as guiding elements in the creation of profiles. These are brought to daylight via careful reading of historical notes and informal remarks. Unfortunately, this method will be unavailable for researchers of the future because the digital age supports the practice of deleting all work documents from the computer at the time of exiting a job.

Among minor traits that surfaced in historical research was the simplicity of Reagan, the complicated and unpredictable nature of German intellectuals, the fact about Reagan that he wrote all his notes himself. One such remark that survived in the Cold War documentation was that Brezhnev, even though he was distrustful of anything foreign, had also suffered greatly from the war and seemed weary. This allowed Brezhnev’s political adversaries to calculate that he would not obstruct the construction of a stable Europe.

Such hermeneutical and psychological knowledge actually grants access to the person and goes far beyond the knowledge of the rules of a political era or situation. The conclusion follows that according to this approach, the primacy of persons over institutions prevails. Therefore, the workshop of world politics, where positions and interests are played out, becomes an outspoken science of conduct.

To illustrate the law of escape, two arch adversaries were picked: De Gaulle and Adenauer in 1958. De Gaulle, the political man, had wanted Germany to disappear from the face of the Earth, yet according to the law of escape he did something completely out of his way and studied a little German to then go on and invite Adenauer for a private discussion about the future of Franco-German relations. This was a move away from institutionalized processes so the third law, the dialectics of formal and informal political processes can also be observed here.

The regular pattern of escape in the making of world politics can be traced, for example, in the early meetings of what is the G20 today. It started as an informal meeting and became institutionalized. The same can be seen in the governing bodies of the European Union, where, according to the law of escape, there are many informal meetings today. Observers of the Workshop were hopefully left better equipped to navigate in an era of devolving institutionalization.

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