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In the August 13, 2018 issue of The National Review magazine, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a compelling article about the growing distance in geopolitical strategic matters between the United States and the European Union.  For purposes of this piece, however, I will focus on one particular passage of general interest:

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, most NATO and EU countries assume that the strategic and conventional military superpower of the United States vitiates the need for European military readiness. Because Europe did not invest in its military commensurately with its size and wealth, it adopted the necessary compensatory ideology that war itself was obsolete. (Emphasis added.)

Victor Davis Hanson

Compensatory Ideologies and Necessary Compensatory Ideologies

A “compensatory ideology” is adopted to make amends for, or to counterbalance, something that comes with a certain course of action.  This is simple enough – one may see fit to adopt a worldview in response to some preceding event or condition.  Here, Mr. Hanson asserts not only that “most NATO and EU countries” have adopted a compensatory ideology – that “war itself [is] obsolete”– but also that the adoption of this compensatory ideology was necessitated by several factors.  That is, once these factors adhered, the NATO and EU countries in question could not do other than adopt their compensatory ideology.

The Necessary Compensatory Ideology that War Itself is Obsolete

Mr. Hanson identified three factual factors underpinning the compensatory ideology:  (1) The condition of “the strategic and conventional military power of the United States”; (2) The assessment by NATO and EU countries that the power of the United States “vitiates the need for European military readiness”; and (3) The resulting decision of NATO and EU countries to “not invest in [their] militar[ies] commensurately with [their] size and wealth.”  

In Mr. Hanson’s framing, NATO and EU countries reaped several benefits from their acting on the belief that the strategic and conventional superpower of the United States reduced their need to spend on their own defense.  As a result, the countries in question concluded that they would not only be able to spend more money on the general welfare but also  be less likely to find themselves entangled in foreign wars.  Conversely, however, nations that conceded dependence on the United States would also face negative consequences.  For example, pursuing this path may have an adverse effect on the self-conception and perception of many NATO and EU countries, and it may also entail their assuming a subservient role in foreign affairs.   From this, Mr. Hanson suggests that, in order for NATO and EU countries to reap the benefits of reducing defense spending based on assumptions about the United States’ military might without acknowledging the negative import of doing so, it was necessary for the countries to adopt a new worldview – that “war itself [is] obsolete” – to counterbalance the negative effects of their actual policies.

A Broader View

The concepts of a compensatory worldview and a necessary worldview are broadly applicable outside the context of transatlantic relations.  In a manner similar to Mr. Hanson in the foregoing passage, we can examine which of our beliefs are compensatory, and to what extent if any, those beliefs are the necessary consequence of some preceding circumstance or condition.