Book reviews


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 29 May 2009



Richardson, J. (2009), "Book reviews", Foresight, Vol. 11 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Book reviews

Article Type: Book reviews From: foresight, Volume 11, Issue 3

La géopolitique de l’émotion (The Geopolitics of Emotion)Dominique Moïsi,Flammarion,Paris,2008,209 pp.,€20.00

The respected international analyst, Dominique Moïsi, has produced a foresighted message as simple as it is full of impact. The evolution of geopolitics, whether “good” or “bad”, he contends, will continue to spring primarily from three human sensibilities.

Fear may be the basic apprehension, states Moïsi, stemming essentially from lack of confidence in oneself. The second is humiliation, a thoroughly negative reading of one’s own history. And the third is hope, sensed particularly when one’s hour has arrived: tomorrow is sure to be better than today. These three, motivating senses comprise the persuasive formulaic thesis advanced by Moïsi, author or co-author of four other books and long a leading light, as well as co-founder, of the French Institute of Foreign Relations (IFRI).

His thesis becomes the basis of a question that Moïsi asks about the state of the world today, Are we in the midst of a clash of emotions? The interrogation begs comparison, the reader will agree, with the late Samuel Huntington’s claim that the world today finds itself squarely involved in a clash of civilizations. North America and Europe, for example, find themselves confronted by an identity crisis aligning them against the “BRIC” states (Brazil, Russia, India, China). Is there a valid basis for such a rivalry of identities, this fear of the other? The query extends itself to the political configuration that tends to align the Muslim/Arab world against the “other”, probably a format for our time and one that may energize many of us to renew, in turn, the human value of seeking out the neighbour.

Fear. This is the emotion obsessing the west in our time, confirms Moïsi, “especially as a reaction to the events and sentiments originating and manifesting themselves elsewhere. Why is Asia on the verge of surpassing us economically? Why are the integrationists set on destroying us? … Perceiving our vulnerability and being pushed aside lie at the heart of our identity crisis, which is summed up by one question: What is becoming of us?” (pp. 145-6).

While the author remains a good friend of the USA (not by chance is his wife American), Moïsi does not hesitate to pin much of the blame for this state of affairs on America. He contrasts the euphoria prevailing in much of the world during the short years of John F. Kennedy with the prolonged fear and even revulsion generated by the government of George W. Bush. He mentions having seen in Berlin recently a version of Beethoven’s Fidelio in which the prisoners were dressed as the captives held at Guantànamo – comparing such opprobrium with the “triumphal reception” given by Germans to a visit by Barack Obama in July 2008 (p. 177).

The Western model, in other words, seems to have lost its aura of monopoly on all the right sentiments, “probably inevitably. But this does not mean that the West is reduced to being the new epicenter of fear and decline – on condition, at least, that it will change direction” (p. 193).

Humiliation embodies the lack of power, “when one has lost control of one’s own life” (p. 97. Moïsi’s father somehow survived the death camps of the Second World War; today he still wears the serial number tattooed on him at Auschwitz).

Humiliation is bound encounter hope

When in the 1980s Taiwan and South Korea wanted to show that they could compete with Japan, their former military occupier, this sense of defiance transmitted itself to China. China then boomed economically. Is Japan now feeling that is has been left by the roadside by the enterprising Chinese?

Not necessarily, claims the author. For humiliation to be of a “good” kind, the sentiment calls for both a minimum of confidence and the right conditions, such as appropriate political and economic strategy. The latter depend, in turn, on resilient and intelligent leadership

Today “bad” humiliation thrives in much of the Muslim/Arab world, with the notable exception of the tiny city-states comprising the Gulf Emirates. Beyond the Emirates, humiliation has been transformed into despair.

But even despair is not a bottomless abyss, just as “Islam” is not a cohesive “entity” and the “Arab world” (p. 99) is not homogeneous. The West and its interpretation of terrorism as enemy (as emphasized by Philip Bobbitt in his latest book, Terror and Consent) need to transform the concept of terrorism into tactic. Only in this way, says Moïsi, can terrorism “be reduced to the level of an acceptable menace” (p. 137), implicitly a manageable one.

Hope. “To hope is to have confidence”, reminds Moïsi. He cites the cheerful words of a Chinese worker in Angola, reported earlier in The Financial Times. Exclaimed in paraphrase, the Chinese said: I came here to build a new society, to build the homes that people need. I earn money, yes, but this is not all that counts. A total of 30 years ago China was like Angola. That was sad, but now things are lovelier.

Contrast this, writes Moïsi, with the current mood of discouragement among many people of the west. The “practical” hope existing in much of the west during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has capitulated to dejection and spiritual resignation among many Occidentals. The discouragement to which the latter react is giving way, contrarily, to a pronounced rise in Asia of an attitude not only of seeking better but the certainty that it will be found (pp. 59-61).

In a coda of divulged conscience, political scientist Dominique Moïsi expresses his own belief system regarding the emotional genesis of geopolitical development. “I am convinced” he stresses, “that the world is perfectible and that it is our duty to make it better, even if only marginally – but based just as much on the tragic nature of the historical process … Reconciling ethics and politics: all my professional life has been concerned with nothing else” (pp. 250-51).

After the French and English editions already available, language versions of the book are appearing in 2009 in Dutch, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish.

Jacques Richardson

Related articles