Monday, April 07, 2003

Another Point About Kurtz...


...though it isn't my own. John Holbo, a philosopher who does his blogging from Singapore, makes an interesting point about Kurtz's discussion of democratizing Iraq, when he observes that Kurtz thinks, not unreasonably, that one thing that will have to be done in the wrong run is disarming and disempowering tribal groups. Kurtz writes: "A truly modern and democratic Iraq will require a state with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. That means in the areas where rifle-bearing tribesmen still rule, the populace will eventually have to be disarmed....It will take time to educate and train a modernizing and liberal elite. [But e]ventually, patronage through tribe and kin will have to be stamped out in favor of an educational and bureaucratic meritocracy." Holbo responds: "We would be reasonably content – insanely pleased - if Iraq became like the United States. But the USA is not only a well-armed society, it is fiercely tribal. There are fifty (!) states....Beneath that, there are stubborn satraps and satrapies all the way down to level of the local school board. Last but not least, although our Constitution did not anticipate the permanent establishment of two fiercely prideful, mutually hateful, warring tribes – Democrats and Republicans – it has actually worked out more or less OK in practice." Now, I'm not sure if there's isn't more rhetoric than argument to the claim that local government institutions in the U.S. are "satrapies," and that our major political parties are "tribes." (We'd probably need Jacob Levy, who wrote one of the better books out there on tribes and federalism, to weigh in on this matter.) Still, John's onto something. As he puts it, completely aside from all my aforementioned philosophical concerns about language and cultural imperialism, let's not set the bar too high here.
Update: a friend e-mails me to say "I think Holbo's critique of Kurtz is absurd. In the U.S., as in all functioning states, liberal or otherwise, the government (whether at the federal, state, or local level) has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In fact, I'd say (with Weber) it is the minimum definition of a functioning state. Sure, the 2nd amendment is defended using rhetoric of self-governing individuals, but that's a case of mere rhetoric: when one of those individuals decides to claim a right to use force on his own, he is promptly arrested and punished. The DC sniper is a perfect example of this. Holbo would only be right if, when he/they started shooting people, we all threw up our hands and said -- 'well, that's democracy for ya!' But of course we didn't say that, because we have (a) functioning state(s) -- just as Iraq will have to have one."
I must say, nice retort.