War is coming to Europe and there is very little we can do to hold it at bay. One common way to respond to such fatalities is to rush to ascribe guilt. Tropi Rata (Tropes of War), by contrast, is interested in identifying the mechanisms at play. Our assumption is that just as conditions can be identified that promote peace, so conditions can also be identified that promote war. War is coming to Europe, in our view, because the conditions that make for peace are retreating while the conditions that make for war are advancing. War is coming to Europe, in our view, because we do no believe there to be sufficient political will to promote conditions that make for peace or ameliorate conditions that make for war.
Scholars, of course, are notoriously poor at resolving conflict. If scholars have a contribution to make therefore it would involve helping policy makers identify the mechanisms precipitating conflict or, in the alternative, promoting reconciliation among parties. War is coming to Europe because the conditions that make for war can no longer be geographically contained. This was the lesson of the One Hundred Years War, the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848-49, and the 20th century WWI-WWII-Korea-Vietnam-Palestine conflict. War is coming to Europe because war perpetuates and amplifies the conditions that make for war.
War traumatizes populations subject to war. It deprives persons in war zones of the conditions that make for peace. But war also carves neural paths specially designed to respond to conditions of war. Victims of war know better how to respond to war than how to respond to peace. War also traumatizes the children of war victims, who, though never feeling the thud of shells striking their targets or experiencing the adrenaline induced by existential terror, respond to the social signals visible on the bodies and in the actions of elders conditioned by the horrors of war. As conflict zones bleed over into zones not yet subject to war, as zones adjacent to war respond to their proximity to conflict, and as populations flow to and from such war zones, whether as combatants or refugees or as both, proximate territories are drawn into conflict. Under such circumstances, the conditions that make for peace — relative wealth, health, comfort, security, education, leisure, and a horizon that extends beyond the next day — these conditions recede from view. But tropes of war — Tropi rata — not only seeks to better understand the cultures, institutions, formal and informal arrangements and understandings, habits of speech that arise out of conflict. Tropi rata also seeks to better understand those social, political, and institutional tropes that feed into and nurture conflict.
When, in the late 1960s, the economies of Germany and Japan rejoined the game, the global economy was subject to downward competitive pressure. One response to these constraints might have been to distribute the efficiencies of the previous two decades downward and outward. In this case, investors would reconcile themselves to far more modest short-term returns in exchange for long-term stability. More modest short-term returns would also have cooled down a global economy fired up by unprecedented growth in the world’s three leading industrial economies. But spreading the social franchise downward and outward would also have permitted the victors in WWI-WWII to make good on their promises for a broader global social, political, and economic franchise. This broadened franchise was deemed essential, following WWI-WWII, for creating and maintaining the conditions that make for peace.
What happened instead in the early 1970s were a nexus of cultural, social, and institutional readjustments designed to maintain reasonably high rates of return for investors at the top of the income hierarchy. Maintaining these rates of return, however, entailed redistributing efficiencies not down and outward, but further up the income hierarchy. In other words, this nexus of cultural, social, and institutional readjustments entailed transferring up the income hierarchy those very conditions — relative wealth, health, comfort, security, education, leisure, and a horizon that extends beyond the next day — that make for peace while transferring down the income hierarchy those conditions — relative want, sickness, deprivation, insecurity, ignorance, work, and existential dread — that make for war.
Tropi rata is interested in the social and historical constitution of these conditions that make for war. But it is also interested in the social mediations that lend validity to action orientations and perspectives where these deprivations are believed necessary or inevitable. Why were policy makers so ready — culturally, politically, socially ready — for peace in 1973, when a mere seven years later they were so ready for war? To point out the obvious, that these were two different groups of policy makers, does not resolve the deeper social and cultural question of why social actors who were, for example, ready to support a labour government in the UK or Jimmy Carter in the US, were equally prepared in 1979 and 1980 to elect Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Unless we are to believe that the velcro and hooks were manufactured willy-nilly at the end of the 1970s, researchers will be curious about how 1979 and 1980 were already implicit in the prior decade.
On account of the specially close ties it enjoyed with the United States, the backstory to 1980 is particularly clear in the case of the former Yugoslavia. When Josip Broz Tito broke with the Cominform in 1948, Yugoslavia uniquely found its fortunes tied to those of western Europe and the US, which decided, mostly for strategic reasons, to underwrite the “Yugoslav Dream,” a visible token of the benefits of a free market economy and unrestricted travel. But self-governing socialism always ran at a net loss. This loss would have been tolerable so long as interest rates remained low and money cheap. From this vantage-point 1972 was a two-edged sword. On the one hand, Richard Nixon’s pulling the dollar off the Gold Standard saved the Yugoslav economy. Cheap money flowed into Belgrade and from Belgrade south to Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the leading agricultural regions of Yugoslavia. On the other hand, when in 1979 Paul Volker dramatically restricted the monetary supply and quadrupled interest rates, this saddled the Yugoslav leadership with debt obligations that they could only meet by selling of public assets, closing inefficient production facilities, and eliminating the social franchise.
Tropi rata is interested in the relationship between the decisions of US investors and policy makers in the 1970s and the ways that their decisions paved the way for the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Their decision to redistribute efficiencies up the income hierarchy played a leading role in the expansion of debt in post-Tito Yugoslavia. And, to this extent, this decision played a leading role in the principle factor — economic collapse, social and political crisis — responsible for the Yugoslav wars. What is curious, however, is that these policy decisions are grounded in notions respecting “freedom” that, while immanent to the social formation of the 1960s and 1970s, enjoy their social validity at the expense of bodies. That is to say that, already in the 1960s and 1970s the freedom to work, consume, buy and sell, to invest and expand one’s investment, has become dissociated from the bodies these decisions might help or harm. The decisions of the late 1970s or early 1980s, decisions that deprived bodies of the conditions that make for peace, were already being justified in defense of a freedom that was essentially disembodied. This means that the tropes of war inscribed on the bodies of Yugoslavs in the 1990s were already well rehearsed and internalized decades earlier in a freedom narrative in which the conditions that make for war were everywhere celebrated.
War is coming to Europe because, with full knowledge of the conditions that make for peace, global political actors appear incapable of reversing the conditions that make for war. Understanding these conditions, their social, political, cultural, and economic production and reproduction, is the leading mission of Tropi Rata.