The publication of Blair’s recollections and rationalisations has been a gift to many of us. Not content with the material for satire he provided during office, he has now furnished us with further damning evidence in his own hand. A weighty (non est) mea culpa. Pat psychologising, quasi-religious conviction, the hamfisted use of historical analogy and that overwrought prose (now infamous: “I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct, knowing I would need every ounce of emotional power to cope with what lay ahead“). All of this has enabled some incisive commentary, and some barely contained rage: Tony as Captain Stanhope; Tony as the ‘preacher on a tank’ (Dick Cheney’s apposite barb); Tony as delusional Christ-Pope in waiting.
Three thoughts. First, there is the question of how we can now read Blair, and Iraq as the exemplar of his style of thought. What were the mechanisms that allowed the clear advice of experts of all stripes, and the opposition of most of the population, to be translated into an unbending commitment to the projection of American power? A familiar answer is that the New Labour project was driven by the energies of Blair’s religious (or religious-like) faith, his commitment and earnestness and belief. But the scene set by A Journey and its deconstructions is far more prosaic. On the one hand, there is plenty of garden-variety ‘misperception’. Actors chose the analogies that fit their pre-established understandings, over-emphasised the pressures for action in their calculations, and failed in their responsibility to examine situations from more than one angle. These are the kind of slippages that pop up enough for some systems- and cognitively-minded scholars to trace their role in wars across the ages.
On the other hand, there is Blair’s extraordinary decisionism. Something must be done, and someone must do it. But this is in some ways the reverse of a faith-based politics. It was not belief that guided Blair, and certainly not carefully delineated actions set out by dogma or doctrine. It was the absence of such a schema which mattered, at least on his own account. “The pieces are in flux”. Hence the insistence on leadership, on grasping the truth and necessity of the moment. What continues to intrigue is this movement between an over-abundance of values and the hardened core of Machiavellianism. The necessity was never one dictated by the ends of justice, but only that of power and its demands.
Yes, ideology was at play. But structurally so. Not in the bible readings and personal psycho-dramas of two little rich boys from New Haven and Edinburgh, but in a much less appreciated, and much more insidious sense. A subjectivity with a sociology. There is something typically Žižekian about this apparent paradox. As with others nominally committed to grand projects, the issue is not one of hypocrisy, so much as of the means by which raw power and purity of purpose can be experienced as synonymous:
the figure of the ‘big Other’ as a background against which [to] exert… ruthlessness and drive for power. They had displaced their belief onto this Other, which, as it were, believed on their behalf. Continue reading →