Yuri Zalevksi

Geopolitics affirms that the most important category of human life and political relations is space.

—Aleksandr Dugin

Geopolitics doesn’t ask. It affirms. If ever there was an iron cage of modernity, it is the paranoid dynamics of competing techno-industrial complexes. Geopolitical imperative is the ultimate consideration of every state apparatus. Politically, it evaporates possibility and cannibalizes utopia. The violence geopolitics represents as changing colors on maps is the unforgiving ontological raider determining the material existence and prevalence of civilizations: Might is right. It also poses the very conditions of every cogito-ergo-sum and delineates the absolute limits of constructivism. Civilizations and states shrouded in luxurious excess efficiency and technological advantage are free to ignore their foundational violence for a while, but do so at their own peril: They risk being forced into devastating concessions by other peoples who combine a stronger will, a superior logistics to impose it and a more reductive and scarcity-trained zero-sum vision of the world. Historically, geopolitics has thus been the supreme theater of nemesis. If political discourse is symbolic gesticulation and flirtation, the Real of geopolitics has been and continues to be – that which consummates. 

On the primacy of space 

Geopolitics could be defined as the political organization of collectivities against a metaphysical scarcity of available resources (“space”). The collective body is of importance here since it incorporates a superindividual temporal dimension of perennity: Violations of the foundations of power may not immediately affect one generation but become detrimental to successive ones.  The dramatic notion of metaphysical scarcity in return concretely concerns the problem of commodities which remain the indispensable basis of current techno-industrial supply chains. Despite the ingenuity of the Japanese and the Germans[1] in World War II, their respective defeats were also due to a scarcity of resources, fatal military decisions to attain them and the victorious strategy of the embargoes imposed by the Anglo-American sea powers. The tragedy of technological aspiration is that is has not yet allowed power to implode. Bleeding heart assertions that there “really is enough for everyone” matter little in this regard, as long as nobody can guarantee that dominant states will not invent and organize scarcity against another. As a result, the control of space, fittingly dubbed “Lebensraum” (“Vital Space”) by Friedrich Ratzel, continues to be both at the origin of contemporary power as well as its supreme expression. It is not a coincidence that the concept is the product of a German, a son to that continental corridor which has always been a geopolitical penny pincher and parvenu squeezed in between the British, French and Russians as the most resource abundant space eaters. 

But how does Liberalism tie into this? Recently, we’ve witnessed an increase in the most devastating critiques of Liberalism by statesmen and intellectuals alike. In their focus on Liberalism as a moral horizon these critiques are interesting exercises yet fail to penetrate to the heart of the matter. Liberalism will not go away anytime soon because rather than being arbitrarily linked to Western power, it is functional to the current political organization of world space. Liberal ideology must, above all, be understood as a concession to the necessity of controlling space. 

On Flow and Disruption

In all essential geopolitical cosmologies from early Mahan and Mackinder to late Brzezinski and George Friedman, we find the recurrent theme of a struggle between Land (the Eurasian continental powers) and Sea (the offshore and outlying islands UK, Japan and North America). Liberalism’s spirit element is water, liquid and transparent, specifically born out of Anglo sea power. The challenge of British geopolitics was to maintain overseas territories and trade outposts with a minimum of manpower. When Lord Shelburne says, “we prefer trade to dominion,” he overturns traditional static conceptions of space to recode them as functional territories and supply chains. Sea power reimagines space via logistics. The world is shrunk into a network where the Southern Cape is moved closer to London than continental Frankfurt while global commodities are weighed against each other with their costs rapidly spiralling towards zero seducing every state to develop cheap commodity addictions to far away territory. In the process, politics withdraws to razor-thin militarized logistics interfaces multiplying negotiating power externally as well as against domestic constituencies. This state of flow and interconnection can be suddenly altered by the blockade, which fully reasserts the real of space. British and later US sea power have historically installed themselves as the chief guarantors of circulation.[2] And – by extension – of its exception. As illustrated by continued global military presence of US troops and US use of sanctions in the legacy of Amato-Kennedy and Helms-Burton, in Liberalism, sovereign is he who decides on the state of disruption. 

As evidenced by the development of a Chinese “String of Pearls” naval strategy, until today, world trade continues to be mainly sea-based and naval geopolitics, as a result, to be about the control of choke points (Panama, Suez, Singapore etc.) and the prevention of land-based alternatives (from the Berlin-Baghdad railway in 1903 to the Belt and Road initiative today). What liberal ideology prefers to be silent about is that Anglo-American Liberalism is precisely not about just any free circulation but about a very specific one under the ever looming threat of the Anglo-American naval embargo.

On Sacrosanct Capital

In the cool liquid darkness of Liberalism’s Yin, we find the immovable and dense spot of Yang. It is the absolute of property. Capital, after all, is only liquid on the surface. The guarantee of property in a common system of accounting meanwhile must be absolutely stable, rigid, and universal, or as Schmitt would describe it: capital must be sacrosanct. Capital may thus circulate around the world and between stock exchanges and British tax havens a million times a day, it must precisely be the orderliness of the transfer itself that must be absolutely stable and defended with tooth and nail. When Nixon suspended the convertibility of the dollar in 1971, the currency did not collapse precisely because the convertibility to gold was replaced by the hegemony of US military power to guarantee, materially back up and force the stability of the exchange between dollars and commodities. Historically, Nixon is thus as much an alchemist-magician as a President because he transubstantiated steel into gold in a public spectacle. 

In this respect, another particularly lucid and sobering observation about the very concrete foundation of capital has been made by David Graeber in his piece on “Despair Fatigue”. He strips down the persistence of London as an in-demand location for international capital to its most essential preconditions.”

First of all, Russian oligarchs or Saudi princesses know they can get pretty much anything they want in London, from antique candelabras and high-tech spy devices, to Mary Poppins–style nannies for their children, fresh lobsters delivered by bicycle in the wee hours, and every conceivable variety of exotic sexual service, music, and food. What’s more, the boodles will be delivered by a cheerful, creative, and subservient working-class population who, drawing on centuries of tradition, know exactly how to be butlers. The second factor is security. If one is a nouveau riche construction magnate or diamond trader from Hong Kong, Delhi, or Bahrain, one is keenly aware that at home, something could still go terribly wrong: revolution, a sudden U-turn of government policy, expropriation, violent unrest. None of this could possibly happen in Notting Hill or Chelsea. Any political change that would significantly affect the most wealthy was effectively taken off the table with the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Graeber makes a crucial point here: London is above all a brand, a guarantee and promise given to capital across the world: “You and your property are safe here. And you are free to convert it into everything you desire.”

On Liberal Individualism

However, not only must the City of London and its money laundering network of offshore tax havens[3] guarantee the professional and discrete administration of capital and safe and orderly extraction from its place of origin. The owner of capital must also feel at ease in Britain. The foreign potentate – according to British strategies of colonialism often chosen as unpopular minority in its imperial dependencies – must also be allowed to walk and talk freely and equally amongst the locals. It is here that we find the geopolitical function of liberal individualism. The modern metropolis ensures the security of this imperial Gauleiter by legally guaranteeing him the same standing as any local. And, until today, for the infinitely sophisticated foreign oligarch the choice can still only be between London and New York (maybe Paris) as the cosmopolitan capitals par excellence. Here eccentric Saudi princes, African dictator clans and Jewish diamond dealers can walk hand in hand beneath the rainbow of diversity: No Clash of Civilizations ever troubles Manhattan, Chelsea, or Neuilly-sur-Seine. The places must be prepared at all times to open their warm and forgiving embrace of splendid luxury apartments, fine dining, opulent nightlife with lenient drug sentences and sex services in all shapes and forms to lure and sooth every potential and accomplished traitor from abroad. 

This dynamic also shows how unprepared China still is for its role as successor to the Anglo-American thalassocracy. Whereas in air-polluted Beijing, peasants still openly ridicule foreigners and hold their noses in the subway, in the West, the guilt-ridden middle classes in deference to the “discriminated” open all doors to the adulated outsider. The privately schooled French-Congolese diplomat daughter can thus give lessons in grievance politics to the autochtonous peasant and secure grants, scholarships and positions qua (“diverse”) heritage.

On Nationalism as Defensive Technology

Against the ever-luring powerful promise of the soft marshmallow core of empire – and who wouldn’t want to trade in Khartoum or Yaoundé against New York City – the notion of Volk, as a solidarity pact of the indigenous, must above all be understood as a defensive technology.  Fichte, Jahn, and Arndt as the founding fathers of German nationalism do not arbitrarily summon the nation but do so cast in the pressure cooker of Napoleon’s military campaigns. Concerning its place in the history of ideas, contemporary pundits are thus right when they smugly assert that nationalism is for losers. In the 21st century, the resurgence of nationalism after all appears above all amongst the loser entities in the imperial organization of space: Poland or Hungary with their respective intelligentsia drained to US, British and maybe German cities against which they cannot compete on internationalist terms. Volk, the ethnos, is the appeal to the solidarity of the blood and earth against the great brain and resource-drain. For any entity with imperial aspirations, it must therefore constitute the greatest threat and absolute enemy. Not only is nationalism an immune response that asserts an absolute limit to extraction, it also risks granting the periphery undue influence in the imperial core itself: From abroad, emigre ennui, even after generations, can be reformatted as grievance and nostalgic identity. Particularly, if, as frequently the case during economic crises, trust breaks down in the imperial centre. In this case – of distrust followed by group strategies and intensified stress collaboration – the alienated immigrant with his guaranteed minimum of resentment against the host society can be recuperated as a grateful collaborator by an idealized homeland. 

On Viscosity 

This power dynamic makes obvious why the 21st century has announced itself as a struggle of viscosity: In the struggle between thick blood and thin water, information warfare becomes key to identity modulation. Centre and periphery encounter each other in attempts to recode individualist “thin” subjectivities as “thick” ethno-subjectivities and vice versa.  The empire promises freedom from the violence of the repressive collective body (heteronormative sex, conformity, formal hierarchy, religious dogma), while the periphery promises belonging, unconditional acceptance and a home to the disenchanted and uprooted increasing numbers of economic losers or alienated autochtonous peoples. While the empire tries to reinvent the patriarch as repressed closet homosexual, the periphery tries to generate the necessary paranoia to recuperate the immigrant as disenchanted spy and nostalgic traitor-in-waiting, the autochtonous population as identitarian xenophobes to fracture the imperial core. 

Today, both viscosities have become paradigmatic for the management of populations. In their defensive positions, states like Russia, China and Hungary have rediscovered their native populations as an asset to be invested in. Native births and local cultural expression is supported to guarantee defensive coherence and undivided loyalty. In return, this coherence limits spatial expansion.

In the West, the paradigm of thin water reigns supreme. The attitude towards populations can best be illustrated by statements like that of neocon Bill Kristol suggesting that new immigrants should replace lazy working-class whites in the United States. “Let them struggle,” is the message of US coastal elites – of course themselves shielded by enough dysgenic cultural, financial and social capital to escape any such struggle in toto. By now, however, Western nations, despite the historical superiority of their cultural production apparatuses, are experiencing the limits of human malleability – a resistance to immigration both from immigrants – who refuse to be integrated into a thin culture which is rapidly losing its appeal – and from the autochtonous – who refuse to be replaced. In return, a Eurasian and East Asian (re-)emergence is generating considerable soft power and a mimetic desire for thick culture. Western powers are slowly running out of capable populations to import without friction while at the same time realizing they have overestimated their technological edge to guarantee the military and economic domination of competitors. In opposition to the Cold War era, not only the military but also the productive and cultural apparatuses of China and Russia are closer than ever to catching up with their Western rivals. In return, China in particular has yet to develop a world ideology to secure its claim on the resources abroad, which its vast population is likely to depend on for a while: The limits of Win-Win are that China in the long run cannot afford to develop its commodity suppliers which are ultimately bound to become its competitors in the consumption of resources. Thus paradoxically, with Donald Trump as the liquidator-in-chief of the American Empire pursuing a policy of domestic re-industrialization and having steered the country closer to self-reliance, autarky and a souring of alliances, the world may well see an expanding China, much more dependent on space abroad, as the unlikely main heir to liberal ideology.

[1] In his 1930s work “The Worker,” Ernst Jünger, a well-informed war hero with connections in the highest ranks of the Wehrmacht, already states that the next war will be about such resources as oil, cobalt, and steel.

[2] The Obama National Security Strategy was much more globally focused than its successor, hence still postulates the need to “Assure Access to Shared Spaces” (Cyber, Space, Air, Maritime).

[3] According to Palan et al, Tax Havens, p.11 The City of London and its network of overseas tax havens still accounts for almost half of international bank assets.