Dominique Moïsi has written a well-read and generally well received book titled The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World (Doubleday, 2009). It argues emotions can and do drive world politics in much a similar way that culture, religion, nationalism and “civilizations”. It sits as a challenge to Samuel Huntington’s frequently maligned “clash of civilizations” theory. It is a book worth reading, generally; it accurately describes many trends in world politics through a lens that is somewhat original — especially the trembling that Asia’s (read: China’s) rise inspires in many westerners. Like many books of its kind, this is what it is good for: an interesting look at the world in broad, general terms. Here is a general overview of this blogger’s sense of the book followed by a brief nitpicking session (after the jump).
Moïsi’s overall argument regarding the “clash of emotions” (hope, humiliation and fear, each of which, he argues, characterizes important cultural and political trends in Asia, the Middle East and Euro-America respectively) is reasonable, though not wholly satisfactory because of its boringly simplistic treatment of Africa and Latin America. Like most traditional geo-politicians, Moïsi puts these regions in the periphery — Eurasia and North America are where the action is at. So Brazil (which gets more attention than all the rest of Latin America) and the African states get only the broadest generalities in The Geopolitics of Emotion. But Moïsi avoids writing in inherent great-power conflict or setting up these regions as testing grounds for future geopolitical ascendency. Still, overall paradigim is sometimes frustratingly simplistic and reductive but its core demand is for readers to mind “the Other,” to overcome Fear of the Yellow Peril or immanent decline. It allows for greater societal agency than many similar works and his focus on political psychology sets it apart from much of the declineist literature circulating today. The psychological perspective on world politics and proper respect for agency are often missing in popular writing and Moïsi provides this in his discussion of the great northern powers.
In this it is particularly effective, though one is still troubled by pronouncements such as: “Africans must create hope in their own homelands, not search for it elsewhere.” Moïsi praises Paul Kagame and other African leaders as potential African Le Kwan Yews, “benevolent autocrats,” “strong but humane” managers capable of mobilizing hope. Where Brazil is concerned there is “hope” — “energy, dynamism and optimism” but social cleavages are a hindrance (pg. 134). His view of the leftist tendency in Venezuela and Bolivia is dim; Chile and Brazil maintain hope as their “dominant emotion.” In his discussion of Africa and Latin America Moïsi’s vision is at its most limited.
This is, though, a blog about North Africa and its geopolitics in regional and global terms. Moïsi’s narrative with respect to North Africa, therefore, is of special interest. In a section titled “Arab Cultural Decline,” Moïsi writes: Continue reading