By David Pan Telos
In concluding that “All political action has then in itself a directedness towards knowledge of the good: of the good life, or of the good society,” Leo Strauss describes an essential link between power and values. Because the power to make decisions about our future cannot be separated from the fundamental goals and ultimate meaning of our lives, we cannot exercise power that would be divorced from some set of values. Even the narrowest understanding of self-interest must come to terms with one’s own mortality and the meaning of others for our own existence. Consequently, raw power does not exist, as it can only be exercised within some understanding of its purposes.
When we consider the way in which power functions on a global level, it will also be crucial to understand how a world order will reflect a particular way of structuring the relationship between values and power. Even the seemingly most egregious use of power can only take place within the framework of an attempt to realize values in the world, and realist accounts of global order must also recognize the importance of some ideology such as nationalism as a means of establishing political values. Accordingly, discussions of balance-of-power dynamics can only begin once great powers emerge as a consequence of the political will of certain peoples to understand themselves in a certain way. Based on such measures as GDP, population, and military spending, Russia does not rank particularly well in relation to countries such as Brazil and India, neither of which pretends to great power status. If Russia can be considered a great power today, it is primarily because of the goals and values that its government embodies. Values form the foundations of global order, and Russia only continues to project its power because it maintains a sense of the global reach of its values for determining order for others.