Influence and Liberal Internationalism

Michael Walzer in Dissent:

[I]nfluence is a normal feature of political life. We all try to be as influential as possible. So how should influence work? When is it legitimate?  There is a Marxist argument about this in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, which starts from everyday social life. Assume, Marx writes, that our relation to the world is a “human” relation: “Then love can only be exchanged for love, trust for trust…If you wish to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you wish to influence other people, you must be a person who really has a stimulating and encouraging effect upon others.” I suggest that the case is the same with political parties, social movements, all sorts of NGOs, and with states, too. If they want to influence people in other countries, they must be stimulating and encouraging, which means materially helpful, politically supportive, ideologically persuasive. What is ruled out by the idea of “human” relations is military force, coercion, manipulation, and subversion. Barring those four, influence isn’t limited to a regional sphere—any person, any party or movement, any state can be influential anywhere.

So if democratic states in western Europe, say, provide ideological support, political encouragement, and material assistance first to new democrats and then to new democracies in eastern Europe, this isn’t imperial politics. It is an attempt at influence, indeed, but it isn’t the creation of an old-fashioned sphere of influence. The expansion of NATO is a harder question, and I am not going to address it here. But support and encouragement for the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine fit Marx’s account of how influence ought to work—while the U.S. instigation of a Guatemalan coup obviously doesn’t.