"We Are All Interventionists Now"
Through Matt Yglesias I discovered this fabulous little essay by Timothy Burke. Without going into any of the philosophical speculation which has characterized my (much too long) posts on the need for a new kind of anti-imperialism and learning from the history of the British empire, Timothy pretty much just cuts to the chase. Here's the best bit:
"When you defend sovereignity as the only moral principle in all the world, and say that all intrusions, forcible or otherwise, are wrong by their very nature, you ought at the same moment to deny yourself any and all judgements about the places and peoples you deem sovereign. If East is East and West is West, then the twain really must never meet, and humanity is sundered from itself, the globe inhabited by ten times ten thousand variants of the genus Homo. If you rise to sovereignity as the singular sacred principle, then human rights, civil liberties, democracy, and freedom are no more than local and parochial virtues....We lose also the ability even to criticize forcible imperial interventions into other cultures or sovereignities because some cultures are demonstrably imperial by their 'nature.' If it is the culture of Islamic societies to convert other societies to Islam, by trade or by force, or the culture of early 21st Century America to bomb and invade, then who are we to criticize? That’s just their way, and in an ethical system that vaults respect for sovereignity to the supreme position of virtue, all ways have their own legitimacy, even violations of sovereignity committed in the name of cultural authenticity. A journey through that hall of mirrors always brings us back to interventionism. We are all interventionists now. The question of the 21st Century is not whether interventions should happen, but how they should happen. It is a question of method and result, not of yes or no."
I'm sure Timothy and I would disagree on a lot, but when he asks just what "sovereignty" means today, and who possesses it (states? nations? cultural groups?), and on what basis can we (if we can) distinguish between "imposing Roe vs. Wade...on a town of Southern Baptists in Georgia" and "invading Iraq with tanks," he's asking the right questions. Read the whole thing.
Saturday, March 29, 2003
"We Are All Interventionists Now"
Friday, March 28, 2003
Islam, Democracy, and Fundamentalism
Check out this wonderful round-up of views on the prospects for democracy in the Muslim world, including essays by such well-known writers as Fouad Ajami and Kenneth Pollack. (Thank heavens for A&L Daily: how any of us bloggers could find and highlight great nuggets of information like this out of the daily flood of news without the help of the A&L gang, I can't even guess.) There's not much I can personally offer on their various takes on the compatibility of Islam and democracy, either philosophically or in relation to the needs and circumstances of the contemporary Arab world, since I'm not an expert on either Islam or the Middle East; the best I can do is just add a couple of addition voices to the mix: if you want to be informed on these matters, be sure to also read Bernard Lewis and John L. Esposito, two very reputable voices who also happen to profoundly disagree with one another.
However, one thing I can add is regarding the broader issue of Islamic fundamentalism, and fundamentalism generally, as conceived as a challenge to the modern (Western, liberal) world. As I mentioned in an earlier post, John Coumarianos over at Innocents Abroad is doubtful that there is, as he puts it, "a genuine religious element in Islamism" which presents a particular, perhaps even original, challenge to the liberal order. He furthers his argument with a reference to an article by Adam Wolfson which I haven't read, and concludes that "the religous claims of the Islamists may be less genuine than Wolfson thinks." For Coumarianos, "late modern thought," with its almost antinomian commitment to "groundless" principles--in other words, nihilism--is a more likely explanation for recent developments in radical Islam than "traditional religion." "How does Wolfson account for the 9/11 hijackers frequenting strip clubs?" he asks rhetorically.
The implication, I suppose, is that if Islamic fundamentalists don't perfectly live their religion, then their religion must not really be motivating them, at least not any more than are any number of other (no doubt unconsciously held) indulgent, self-satisfying, "postmodern" attacks on the delicate compromises and accomplishments of liberal civilization. And if that is the case, well, we simply need to recognize that the tradition has adequately defended those accomplishments before, and will certainly do so again--no need, in other words, to feel overly threatened by this radical, antiliberal posture: we've survived Rousseau and Nietzsche and Heidegger, so we'll survive this. (This may be a profound misreading of John's claim, but it's what I see him saying. My apologies if I'm getting it all wrong.) I think this attitude, however, betrays a lack of thought regarding the relationship of the liberal achievement to our own tradition. The Western liberal order (usually, but not always, including democracy) is at least partly the fruit of secularization, a process which was for a long time understood rather straightforwardly in Enlightenment terms: people become secular, and hence less religious and more tolerant and (ergo) more capable of self-government, as their mastery over the environment increases, as scientific and technological accomplishments lessen their dependency upon traditional authorities and forms of life, and as new political and economic doctrines encourage individual diversification. According to this theory, complaints with modernity are at least partially complaints about secularization, complaits about the loss of "meaning." Thus did Rousseau attempt to recreate the world of religious intensity through his general will; and thus did Heidegger, in the end, say that only the appearence of a new god could save the modern world. When we look at Islamic fascism in this light, we see just one more nihilistic attack on the secular world, and particularly on its most delicate and wonderful consequence: the liberal compromise which, when rightly understood, allows for liberty and virtue, individuality and belief. But, should you doubt the secularization thesis--not just its particulars, but its whole terminology--then this analysis breaks down. The rise of fundamentalism within the modern world--Christian fundamentalism at home, and Islamic fundamentalism abroad, even in states thoroughly exposed to the possibilities and promises of the modern ethos, such as Algeria and Turkey--poses just such an analysis-breaking challenge. Of course, much of the literature on Islamic fundamentalism makes it simply a feature of elite nationalist ambitions, and thereby assimilates back into an understandable reaction to modernity. But I think that if fundamentalism and nationalism are disentangled somewhat, you'll see that there is more going on. (I disagree with this reading of nationalism too, but I've made that clear in earlier posts.)
The best work that is being done towards such a disentangling today is Charles Taylor's; his current research is all about understanding the relationship between "secularity" and "the public sphere" in the modern West (see here and here for examples of his thinking). Taylor's great contribution (which he admits is not wholly original) is recognizing that the "secular public sphere" within which liberalism is possible is not just a "spatial" accomplishment, but a "temporal" one as well. The modern West developed a way of thinking about time, about temporality, which shaped our sense of what may, and may not, be constituted as a meaningful relationship between persons and events. This wasn't, in Taylor's view, an act which banished God from the public square (though that is what was generally assumed, and consequently has arguably taken place) so much as one which changed our language by which God's relation to the nation, to the people, was "enframed." For example, rather than seeing oneself as primarily "acting out" a meaningful, temporally foreordained role, one derives meaning from temporally open-ended, concurrent relationships. Among other things, this new kind of enframing, even (or perhaps especially) when simplistically misunderstood, made the modern nation-state possible. But fundamentalists, whose diversion from the contemporary world is at least as much espistemological and temporal as moral, are working out (in a highly untheoretical way, to be sure, but still...) an alternative to that public sphere. This is why I've written elsewhere that political theorists, especially those who (like myself, and Taylor) hold to a basically communitarian philosophy--who, though we advocate liberalism, dislike the liberal order being reified (in our view, falsely) into the whole ontological framework of our philosophical tradition--ought to look seriously at fundamentalism. It is not simply complaining about or attacking liberalism; it is bringing out from within the tradition behind liberalism an examination of that public enframing, an examination of how one may speak about (to use one of Bernard Lewis's phrases about the perspective of Islamic fundamentalism) the community being "God's polity" while still being and remaining an modern individual. To be sure, much of this fundamentalist speaking will be profoundly conservative, even illiberally so (the condition of women under the Taliban made that crystal clear). And hence those of us sympathetic to liberalism would want to work towards a liberalizing of these communities: a "liberal fundamentalism," just as we want a liberal Catholic community, a liberal Islamic nation, a liberal Mormon space, and so forth. But this can only be accomplished if we are willing to recognize all the ways in which Islamic fascism is not "just" another nihilistic, sour grapes complaint about all sorts of modern goodies which may have passed the Muslim world by. The religious argument of today's conservative Muslims--including radical Islamism--is an important one, with echoes across the Western intellectual landscape. If Muslim nations do accept liberalism or democracy or both (whatever role Western nations play in that acceptance), it will hopefully be on terms which acknowledge, on some level or another, the multiplicity of ways to be (temporally, epistemologically, and morally) "secular" within any given community, a multiplicity that was, perhaps, always in some sense there in our modern tradition, but one which is also, nonetheless, contra Coumarianos, an idea which hasn't really ever been seen as itself before.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/28/2003 10:45:00 AM
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Berger on Illich
Peter Berger has written a touching, thoughtful tribute to the late Ivan Illich in the March issue of First Things. Illich, for those of you who never read anything by him, was a wonderfully odd thinker, one of those resolute anti-moderns whose conservatism was so profound that he was embraced by the radical 1960s left. He attacked the dehumanization of the marketplace, the devaluation of traditional modes of work (in the home, on the farm, etc.), the modern public education establishment, the "medicalization of death" brought about by the professionalization of medical care and the creation of modern hospitals, and so on. When he passed away late last year, and old friend (and committed socialist) wrote me to give me the news, and we discussed him a bit. I commented that most everything found in Illich can also be found in such disparate figures as Wendell Berry and Michel Foucault (now there's an odd twosome); my friend responded by writing that "Illich's biggest strength was as a philosopher-essayist who took much of foucaldian and neo-marxist criticism and made it readable to an informed, critical "lay" audience...his ability to turn them into understandable and entertaining social criticism were unmatched." I think that's about right. If you ever have a chance to sit down and read one of his small books, like Deschooling Society or Limits to Medicine, do so: you probably won't agree with him, but you'll be a better person for having confronted his thoughts, as Berger eloquently attests.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/27/2003 05:20:00 PM
And now, "Angloglobalization"
Following up on my post a few days ago on the terminology of the Anglosphere, here are Niall Ferguson's reflections on the British empire, its costs and accomplishments, and what the United States ought--and must--learn from it. It's a wonderful piece, if only because it attempts to advance the debate over globalization in light of the increasingly evident importance of national--that is, "imperial"--force in the spread of not just "commodities, capital, and labor," but also "knowledge, culture, and institutions." It is one thing, of course, to talk about (as I did, drawing on Benjamin Barber's critique of globalization) how America is transforming the globe through the power of a "neo-liberal capitalist compromise [which is shaping]...the world into a state of mutual, homogeneous inter-dependency"; it is another thing to consider the role which a national agent--composed of not just economic but also military might--might play in the disciplining and orienting of that process: preferably, an orientation towards the creation of liberal communities. This is an intriguing philosophical question: does globalization have a "content"--is it, perhaps, the very fruit of liberal modernity, or is it, perhaps, an entirely different sort of process, within which liberal civilization must struggle (or ought to struggle) in order to preserve and strengthen itself just as much as any other civil order? This brings up the idea of "riding the whirlwind" which I mentioned in an earlier post. To those suspicious of all manifestations of national power and identity, to turn global history in one's own direction is, by definition, an appallingly oppressive and illiberal act. But perhaps it needn't be. As Ferguson writes, reflecting on the process of "Angloglobalization" which took place in the 19th century under the aegis of Victorian Britain:
"[T]he fact remains that no organization in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital, and labor than the British empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And no organization has done more to impose Western norms of law, order, and governance around the world. To characterize all this as "gentlemanly capitalism" risks underselling the scale -- and modernity -- of the achievement in the sphere of economics; just as criticism of the 'ornamental' (meaning hierarchical) character of British rule overseas tends to overlook the signal virtues of what were remarkably nonvenal administrations....It is of course tempting to argue that it would all have happened anyway, albeit with different names. Perhaps the railways would have been invented and exported by another European power; perhaps the telegraph cables would have been laid across the sea by someone else, too. Maybe the same volumes of trade would have gone on without bellicose empires meddling in peaceful commerce. Maybe too the great movements of population that transformed the cultures and complexions of whole continents would have happened anyway. Yet there is reason to doubt that the world would have been the same or even similar in the absence of the empire. Even if we allow for the possibility that trade, capital flows, and migration could have been 'naturally occurring' in the past 300 years, there remain the flows of culture and institutions. And here the fingerprints of empire seem more readily discernible and less easy to wipe away....I do not mean to claim that all British imperialists were liberals -- far from it. But what is very striking about the history of the empire is that whenever the British were behaving despotically, there was almost always a liberal critique of that behavior from within British society. Indeed, so powerful and consistent was this tendency to judge Britain's imperial conduct by the yardstick of liberty that it gave the British empire something of a self-liquidating character. Once a colonized society had sufficiently adopted the other institutions the British brought with them, it became very hard for the British to prohibit that political liberty to which they attached so much significance for themselves."
Ferguson concludes by suggesting, as I did in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, that since "America's strengths may not be the strengths of a natural imperial hegemon," perhaps we need additional--"Anglospheric"--help if the United States is going to play the role it may, and arguably ought to take, in directing already-occuring globalization towards liberal ends. Of course, all this Whig history may seem like a little much; as a friend of mine, a former student of Tony Judt's, has recently been reminding me, we need a sense of "the tragic" as well as a sense of "history" to properly guide us; and the tragic requires a more comprehensive sense of the world than Britain's imperial history may provide. All the more reason for comparative, pluralistic, Herderian humility, I say. But whether a tragic sensibility would require us to abandon present historical opportunities is by no means clear, at least not to me. Even less clear is whether we actually have this choice, or whether we are now, like it or not, already committed, and thus obliged to act.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/27/2003 10:14:00 AM
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Political Theory Textbooks
Jacob T. Levy, Chris Bertram and Micah Schwartzman are talking a little bit about introductory texts in political theory which they use and/or like. Let me add a couple of comments. 1) Chris doesn't seem to care too much for Will Kymlicka's Contemporary Political Philosophy, and I wouldn't either, if I had to use it for an introduction to the discipline of political theory, which I believe needs to be grounded in a historical and philosophical tradition. But Kymlicka's book is wonderful for discussing topical political ideologies (liberal egalitarianism, libertarianism, communitarianism, civic republicanism, feminism, etc.) rigorously, and I've always thought my students have responded to it well. I supplement it with essays pulled from Liberalism and Its Critics, an old but still fine collection with Rawls, Dworkin, Sandel, MacIntyre and more. It even includes an essay by Oakeshott, so you can bring conservatism into the mix (though Kymlicka, wrongly, generally ignores conservative thought in his book). 2) For my straightforward political theory courses, I'm afraid I usually go directly to complete copies of primary texts: Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx and so forth. As worthy as some anthologies are, I've simply never been comfortable with dealing with anything besides the whole text of a particular work when teaching, and thanks to publications like Oxford World's Classics, it's not budget-breaking to require the same of my students. However, when I'm in the mood for a general guide, Edward Bryan Portis's Reconstructing the Classics is one I've used that introduces political theory the way I think it should be: through the primary thinkers themselves.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/26/2003 12:15:00 PM
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Islamic Fundamentalism's Original Challenge
John Coumarianos over at Innocents Abroad has expressed some doubt that the Islamic fascist attack on the modern liberal world, as recently described by Paul Berman in his essay on Sayyid Qutb, is really all that impressive philosophically, and really demands the sort of original response which Berman urges (and sees Bush has having failed to provide): namely, to recognize that today's Islamic terrorists "speak insanely of deep things....[meaning that] antiterrorists had better speak sanely of equally deep things." Coumarianos writes that "Berman is naive to think that Qutb is philosophically original in any way....Qutb's European-inspired anti-liberalism and anti-rationalism is an old story. Everyone's been saying that liberalism lacks soul (ho-hum) since Rousseau -- and nearly all without Rousseau's political caution and intellectual breadth and depth. [Berman's piece]....is entirely too enthralled with Qutb's variation on the theme of dissatisfaction with modernity. Berman says that he wants more of a philosophic defense of liberalism, but one wonders whether he's just simply dissatisfied with liberalism."
I'm no expert on Islamic thought, and I wouldn't want to judge Qutb's whole philosophy on the basis of Berman's essay. However, I've read enough to know that Qutb's radical ideas--while they may arguably parallel some elements of the the "old European story" of anti-liberalism--have a little bit more originality and heft than that. To quickly assimilate the complaints of radical Islam into long-standing arguments about modern liberalism (and by so doing, suggest that the intellectual challenge they pose is unsubstantial and easily answered by turning to our own tradition) is, I think, profoundly wrong. Roxanne Euben has written at length on Islamic radicalism, and she has shown, I think quite persuasively, that the "anti-liberalism" of radical Islam is grounded in, ultimately, a unique espistemological critique, not a moral or political one. While modern rationalism has, of course, been much attacked in the history of Western philosophy, those attacks have only in the last century or so, with the rise of post-Nietzschean criticisms of Western metaphysics, really become aligned with the sort of communitarian or otherwise antiliberal complaints which Coumarianos associates with Rousseau. (This is, incidentally, a rich and complicated problem for communitarians like myself: what, if anything, is "postmodern" about our critique of philosophical liberalism, and what, on the other hand, is actually part of the philosophical tradition of the modern West itself?) Islamic fundamentalism shares more with other (e.g., Christian) fundamentalisms than it does with any other particular "antiliberal" tradition (Rousseau, whatever else he was, wasn't a "fundamentalist," and hence can provide us with little aid in understanding Islamic fascist complaints with the West in that sense). But neither can it be understood simply by hauling out Nietzsche's and Heidegger's "postmodern" challenges; fundamentalism really is its own, original, animal. To quote from another one of Euben's essays, one included in an excellent book which you should all buy:
"The antihermeneutic foundationalism central to [Islamic] fundamentalist political thought is...incompatible with the postmodern suspicion of [epistemological] foundations. Western critics of modernity, like postmodernists, emphasize the dark side of rationalism, and insist we attend to what the post-Enlightenment vision of modernity has excluded and precluded. Contrary to postmodernists, however, voices such as....Qutb['s] contend that there are or can be bases on which to re-establish 'foundational' meanings necessary for living and living well; they thus seek an overarching unity to overcome the fragmentation of knowledge seen to characterize the contemporary world. Yet like postmodernism, fundamentalists' paradoxical relationship to modernity represents an attempt to move beyond modernity in a way that is simultaneously parasitic upon it....a dialectical Aufhebung of modernity rather than an a priori negation of it."
Coumarianos points to a piece by Francis Fukuyama that might be said to make a point similar to this, but he misses the original spin which the fundamentalist, epistemological challenge puts on the whole matter. Really, Qutb's challenge--like that of all fundamentalisms--does deserve our deep consideration as a new intellectual development in its own right; one that, as I have argued in an essay published elsewhere, the discipline of theory could potentially learn a lot from.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/25/2003 05:49:00 PM
A Humble Triumph?
If a Wilsonian/Gladstonian/liberal interventionist/call-it-what-you-will foreign policy isn't to be a disaster, humilty and triumph must go together. Sounds difficult, and it is; but it has been done. David Remnick, in an excellent piece which I have only a few quibbles with (he lets the U.N. off without enough criticism, in my opinion), points to the historical example of Eisenhower, and expresses his hopes for the contemporary example of Blair. Here are a couple of excerpts, but read the whole thing:
"On June 12, 1945, a month after V-E Day, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, received an ancient honor, the 'freedom' of the City of London. In his address that day, at Guildhall, General Eisenhower said:
"'Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends. Conceivably a commander may have been professionally superior. He may have given everything of his heart and mind to meet the spiritual and physical needs of his comrades. He may have written a chapter that will glow forever in the pages of military history. Still, even such a man—if he existed—would sadly face the fact that his honors cannot hide in his memories the crosses marking the resting places of the dead. They cannot soothe the anguish of the widow or the orphan whose husband or father will not return. The only attitude in which a commander may with satisfaction receive the tributes of his friends is in the humble acknowledgment that no matter how unworthy he may be, his position is the symbol of great human forces that have labored arduously and successfully for a righteous cause.'
"Last Tuesday, in the House of Commons, under tremendous pressure from the British public and his own party, Tony Blair set out the case for action against Saddam Hussein with infinitely more detail, intelligence, and clarity than anyone in the Bush Administration has seen fit to do. His thoughts, however, were not only on the resort to arms but also on the day after. This moment in history is no mere incident, he made clear; rather, 'it will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation.' Blair, like Eisenhower, has all along grasped the gulf between triumph and triumphalism. The first combines humility with strength; the latter, if the White House indulges it, augurs isolation and disaster."
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/25/2003 07:06:00 AM
Monday, March 24, 2003
A Conservative Reproach to Wilsonian Dreams
Several close friends of mine oppose this war. They do so for a variety of reasons--socialist, Mormon/Christian-pacifist, national-interest-related, and so forth. I take all of their criticisms to heart, because they're my friends and I respect them, but also because I'm not so utterly convinced of my model of the world that I'm untouched by those whose commitments (many of which I share) lead them to a different model. One man, a fellow who works at a prominent conservative magazine and a sharp political thinker and writer, recently shared his "night thoughts" with some of us. With his permission, I'm (anonymously) placing his comments here.
"As you know, I have been consistently, if mildly, opposed to the prospect of war with Iraq since at least the fall. And nothing I've seen since it began has convinced me I was wrong to oppose it. Above all, I've been disgusted by what might be called the battle posture of our country. The chest-thumping, preening, bragging, muscle-flexing, repeated invocations of "shock and awe" on the part of our supposedly liberal media -- all of it sickens me. I was in NYC on 9/11 -- the first plane flew directly over my head on its way to the World Trade Center -- and I feel nothing but crushing sadness at seeing our missiles do far more damage to Baghdad -- which had NOTHING TO DO WITH 9/11 -- in our name. Outside of NYC and, to a lesser extent, Washington, Americans have no fucking idea what it's like to be bombed -- as you can clearly see from the media coverage of the destruction, which treats it like some Bruce Willis action flick, as well as early polls showing that the country is excited by what they're seeing. I wish Americans could step out of themselves for only a moment to imagine the horror of living in a world in which one country is so powerful that it can lob hundreds of remote-controlled rockets into the center of your capital and destroy your skyline with impunity from 1,000 miles away. We are a behemoth utterly unaware of what it's like to live at the mercy of a behemoth.
"I am also filled with foreboding at what awaits us over the coming weeks and months. America is incredible when it comes to air power. But we have very little recent experience with ground warfare -- especially when it comes to an invasion (as opposed to the comparatively much easier task of pushing Iraqi troops out of Kuwait 12 years ago). The first few days went well because (1) we used safe-distance technology to blow up a bunch of buildings and (2) our invading troops have BYPASSED THE CITIES! We're just cruising through open desert for Baghdad, hoping against hope that if we can take the city (big IF), the rest will follow. Yet the Iraqis have so far not greeted our troops as "liberators" (the question of why they haven't goes to the heart of why I opposed this war in the first place, but I'll leave that aside for now). And they need not possess or use WMDs to do a tremendous amount of damage to our troops on the ground in hand-to-hand combat, as we saw yesterday -- even as their pathetic weaponry so far shows that they are, in geopolitical terms, a weakling state being pummeled by a gargantuan. Then there's the northern front, which pretty much doesn't exist, because of Turkey. I'm glad we refused to pay the ultimate price (permission to crush the Kurds) for use of their territory as a launching pad. The result is that we have a very difficult task ahead of us in the north, where many thousands of troops are waiting for us.
"All of which points to my central concern: our whole damn country, including, and especially the president, seems to be convinced that America is all-good -- and that everything that's good triumphs in the world (e.g., the Iraqis will greet our invading troops with smiles and a thank you). This is all so naive, I hardly know how to respond. We're surprised that they blow grenades rather than kisses at our troops? Just as we were surprised that Turkey was a problem? Who are the people in charge -- and haven't they ever read a book? As a professor of mine has said about the administration's plans, it is folly. As Dreyfuss also recognizes in the piece from the American Prospect that [another mutual friend] shared this morning. The only problem with the article, in my view, is that the neocons don't want to spread monarchy around the world. Saying so just makes the left feel better. After all, if they are trying to spread DEMOCRACY around the world -- which they are -- then the question of why a lefty should reject their ambitions becomes trickier. But that tricky question is what needs to be answered. The neocons want an endless series of "small" wars to remake the world in America's image. Doing so will be good for America (both abroad and, more ominously, at home (i.e., war leads to virtuous citizens)) and good for the world. In other words, all good things go together -- which is, for me, the most delusional conceit anyone can live by. That people who view the world this way have risen to such power is extremely dangerous -- as I fear we're all going to learn over the coming weeks and months."
The fact that this a conservative voice, a socially conservative voice that I know and trust, is a powerful challenge to me. No, he's not a liberal mole; and no, he's not someone tempted by isolationism and (what I consider to be) Buchanan's thoroughly discredited paleo-right; if anything, he's closer to people and causes that those kind of "conservatives" consider a betrayal of the Republican party than anyone I'll probably ever know. He's just an honest, religious man who fears that, in taking on a larger than necessary project, American will reap an ever-larger and ever-more uncontrollable whirlwind, one which will harm our soldiers and damage our civic soul. In the end, his fears are not all that different from those shared by many people I know. One of my wife's dearest friends, whose husband is far away in Australia presently, writes to my wife from her Washington D.C. area apartment that she is terrified about the consequences of what Bush is doing. "But what does he care?" she asks morbidly; "he has his own security detail."
Now, one may say that this whirlwind was coming whether we liked it or not, and that we had no choice but to grab on early, grab on big, and ride it through. Moreover, one might say that we ought to be grateful that we can and do have the time and opportunity to press for a liberal, anti-imperialist, humble "riding" of this whirlwind--indeed, I suppose that is in essence what I have been saying for the last several days. But that should provide no relief from those voices, conservative or otherwise, which properly insist on reminding us of the terrible harm whirlwinds always, always do.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/24/2003 04:12:00 PM
I've Been Linked!
Hah, the first step towards connecting my little outpost in Jonesboro, AR to the wider world of political theory has been accomplished! Check it out here. Today this, tomorrow...well, tomorrow I teach American Poltical Theory and wash the car. But, hey, someday. Micah is right that more and more political theorists are finally getting into the blogosphere. Now if we could just get Jacob Levy to go back to his own blog....
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/24/2003 03:21:00 PM
Liberalism: A Primer
Since I just posted something on the terminology of the Anglosphere, I thought it might be helpful to explain some other terms I've been tossing around for the last several days. Maybe this will provide me with an out from this particular rut, at least for now.
Liberalism can refer to an ideology (that is, an organizing body of ideas about political positions and actions) and a philosophy; these two usually (though not always) go together. In the latter case, what is meant is an argument about the reality of the human condition, or the worthiness of any particular organization of human possibilities, or both. To be a philosophical liberal is to hold to the truthfulness and value of recognizing the individual as a rational actor, a rights-bearing entity, a naturally (or divinely, or both) created being whose original condition is (or ought to be) characterized by personal liberty. Liberalism takes many forms; it can be grounded in a beneficent God and/or natural world (as in the case of Locke, who saw human independence as a righteous inheritance), in a kind of empirical nominalism (as in the case of Hobbes, who saw human independence as a desperate psychological fact), in a sense of historical pluralism (as in the case of Mill, who saw human independence as the only reasonable response to the ineliminable presence of diversity and disagreement), or in a form of rationalism (as in the case of Kant, who saw human independence as the concomintant of the structure of the phenomenal world). Of course, most of the time philosophical liberals do not attach themselves to just one camp, but draw upon several to support their convictions. The one substantive commonality however, generally speaking, is that liberalism, by taking human liberty as a universal (if not always realized) fact, constructs itself in opposition to efforts to collectivize the already-existing individual; it is, in short, defensive, or negative.
Liberalism, however, as Michael Walzer argued in a wonderful piece titled "On Negative Politics," can also refer to an attitude towards, or theory about, political reality; that is, as an adjective. As he wrote: "Liberal, in this sense, is properly used as an adjective: liberal monarchist, liberal democrat, liberal socialist, and insofar as the major religions are political in character, liberal Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and so on. In these formulations, the adjective expresses our fears, the noun, our hopes. This isn't a universally necessary usage, for liberalism is also....a substantive politics....But liberalism as an adjective, expressing fearfulness and negativity, is likely to be useful anywhere. I cannot imagine a political regime that I would not want constrained in at least some of the ways that [liberalism] suggests." Understood in this way, one may be liberal in how one chooses to theorize about the uses, abuses, applications and directions of political things, without necessarily granting liberal ideology final, or even superior, philosophical explanatory or justificatory power in how one accounts for the existence or value of political things. I think this is where I and many others stand.
Communitarianism, nationalism, republicanism and so forth are hardly all identical philosophies; all have distinct philosophical (not to mention historical and methodological) genealogies and provenances. All, however, overlap (or at least potentially overlap) in the sense that they see the reality of the human condition, or the worthiness of any particular organization of human possibilities, or both, in terms other than those of human liberty, autonomy, independence and so forth. Rather, they recognize the embeddedness, particularity, and connection which grounds our ability to conceive of political possibilities, assess them, and respond to them. In innumerable ways, drawing on anyone and everyone from Aristotle to Aquinas to Rousseau to Hegel, this network of philosophies constructs community, nationality, and/or citizenship (or discipleship, for that matter) as positive, or at least potentially positive, features of human life. The problems which arise from this turn away from natural or rational universalism and towards an engagement with the values and norms of specific, culture-bound collectivites are numerous; the question of exactly what constitutes such a "collectivity" in the first place being only the first. But for people like me, a morality which doesn't have a home outside of a distant act of divine will or natural discovery isn't much of a morality at all. Which is not to say that the proven importance of assessing such "homes" (communities, nations, etc.) in a liberal fashion has been lost on us; it hasn't, and hence we use labels like "liberal communitarianism," "liberal nationalism," and "liberal republicanism," as confusing and as much in need of philosophical reflection and critique as those positions may be. Whether any of this justifies the development of an "Anglosphere" is, of course, far from certain. But at least this primer may grant some clarity in how at least some of us find ourselves thinking about and debating this war, and its aftermath.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/24/2003 12:18:00 PM
The Terminology of the Anglosphere, or the Lack Thereof
A nice piece in the Sunday Boston Globe on the emergence of the "Anglosphere" as a viable international relations concept makes a couple of interesting points. One, the article indirectly shows that the language which has been used up to this point to describe rapidly changing political perspectives is neither settled nor clear. I've been talking about "liberal nationalism" and "anti-imperialism," but does liberal nationalism lead to "liberal imperialism"? Or does it lead to "neo-Wilsonianism"? And is there any difference? It may, depending on if you're using these terms to make a "conservative" point or a "liberal" one. The fact is, we simply don't have consensus in these matters--there has been no George Kennan "X" article to establish the basic terms yet, and until and unless we do, neoconservatives and liberal internationalists are likely to misunderstand and perhaps misrepresent each other.
Two, that a great many advocates of this shift in international relations thinking are either non-Americans or Americans who have roots in or prolonged involvement with another country, often one which was once part of Britain's 19th-century empire. This sort of cultural-historical pigeon-holing (frustrated Brits, Canadians and Australians trying to rebuild what London lost through Washington D.C.!) really doesn't appeal to me too much, but it's fun to contemplate. And, I suppose, add to: you might want to claim that American defenders of liberal internationalism will always need these "Anglospheric" allies, at least intellectually, since Americans themselves have too much of the classic republican heritage--small government, popular democracy (more or less), community isolation and/or independence, and an attachment to "revolutionary virtue"--shoved down our throughts by our own history to ever effectively play the liberator role solely on our own.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/24/2003 07:06:00 AM
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Liberal Nationalism and Anti-Imperialism
I’d like to connect some of what I’ve written lately to the question of “what next?” which so many people have been (rightly) asking themselves over the last several days. Whether one opposed Bush’s immediate military aims in Iraq or supported them, it seems apparent that they will very quickly be achieved; hence, arguments about Iraq must change. The best summary of what is needed now that I’ve read appeared here, and I support whole-heartedly the authors’ claim that what is necessary is a movement which insists that this invasion, whether or not you believe it was strategically or morally justified, be conducted as every bit as liberal an invasion–in terms of the postwar occupation and reconstruction of Iraq--as what the best international, institutional understanding of the nation-building project (namely, in my view, Blair’s understanding) demands it ought to be.
A brief excursus: a close friend of mine has responded to my writings on the liberal nationalist ideal by suggesting that it hearkens back to the old concept of noblesse oblige, and suffers from the same drawback: namely, that no matter how much good one group of people may be able to do for another, the power imbalance which results sets up a dynamic that causes resentment and misunderstanding. The work of the liberator may liberate people, but by liberalizing them it also makes them, as my friend put it, “exploitable.” When slaves are freed by others, rather than by themselves, they are freed on someone else’s terms; and while those terms may be generous and noble, they are still someone else’s terms, which means that all of the social, economic and cultural ramifications and results of the slaves’ freedom will be more easily acted upon by the liberators themselves or their fellow-travelers rather than anyone else....including by the liberated themselves. (Think of Iraqi oil fields–who is going to be able to rebuild the pipes, upgrade the technology, get the tankers moving? Why, American companies of course; after all, they have the investment capital–which the Iraqis don’t–and they’ll be the first ones on site too. Anyone paying attention to the news of the last few days can see the beginnings of this dynamic already.) Hence my friend, who is Dutch Indonesian and thus speaks as a descendent of just such a colonial environment, concludes that “it is too easy for Westerners of mean spirit (or simply those accountable to a profit-maximizing board of directors) to convert the liberalizing works of the liberator to the oppressive machinations of the foreigner. And at that point, the native population begins to wonder if the original liberator wasn’t a duplicitous smooth-talker that had intended subjugation (be it economic or actual) all along.”
My friend’s observations really hit home with me, especially when he argues that this dynamic is exacerbated when societies with “strong non-Western traditions” are the recipients of interventions which are themselves through an appeal to firmly rooted Western values (as I have argued, with my communitarian language and sympathy for the “Anglosphere,” that they ought to be). The issue of cross-cultural dialogue and “interventions,” broadly understood, is something I’ve long thought and written about (though my focus is East Asia, not the Islamic world). One doesn’t have to give into some sort of easy relativism to acknowledge the enormous distance between Western and Islamic perceptions of political reality, and we owe a great debt to those (like Roxanne Euben) who have productively explored it. The short and simple reason why that distance doesn't paralyze my liberal intentions, however, is simply that I have a hard time believing that what lies on the other side of that distance is somehow already free of "interventions," thus making the question one of interference vs. non-interference. In truth, the question--as Benjamin Barber has persuasively argued--is one which asks us to choose between interferences; whether we shall act globally to preserve (and, presumably, build) communities, or refuse to intervene and, by such a refusal, allow the neo-liberal capitalist compromise to put all the communities in the world into a state of mutual, homogeneous inter-dependency. Unapologetic globalists see nothing wrong with the second option; to them, besides making the whole world a market, it removes the pesky cultural and philosophical problem of borders by, in practice, creating a kind of universal ideology or public world. Certainly advocates of this future may rightly affirm that their solution is superior to conquering all communities and simply forcing them to submit to a single imperium. No liberal can disagree with that; but no communitarian can believe such a homogenization of the world is either possible or desirable. So contemporary liberal nationalists (or liberal communitarians) like myself need, if we are to respond to my friend's challenge at all, to find some way to ground the Western liberalism on behalf of which we intervene in a sense of the world which allows for space, for diversity, for humility. Paradoxically, in order for what I believe we Westerners value (or at least ought to value) about communities and nations to be realized, we must intervene in such a way that the values of the liberated communities and nations are not prevented from developing differently from our own.
Is that an impossible demand? Difficult yes, but not necessarily impossible. Practically speaking, what it means is drawing a firm line between America and Great Britain and other powers acknowledging their national power and responsibility, and abusing it. This article, though I don't agree with all of its claims, comports with all I've been saying about the proper international role of the liberal nationalist: those of us who want the best for Iraq must work to form a "mainstream anti-imperialist movement" in the United States, one which recognizes that, for better or worse, we've crossed into an area which Americans haven't confronted since the late 19th century, and should borrow from the arguments of turn-of-the-century luminaries like Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie (how bizarre that such men were allies) to press the claim that American interventions must not become conventionally colonialist. John McCain has said much the same thing, though he doesn't describe his position as "anti-imperialist" in so many words. But that, I think, is the best way to put it. Bush has pushed through a policy which strikes many intelligent people as, simply put, dictatorial. If it had not been for men like Blair, who insisted that the best way to present the interests and aspirations of the American nation was through procedures that recognized (or at least gave a show of recognizing) all nations equally, that impression would be even more substantive than it already is. The obligation of liberal nationalists like myself, then, is not to congratulate the administration (which would only allow Bush & Co. to believe that the fears some express of his actions are groundless), but to get behind men like McCain and Blair in insisting that America conduct this intervention in an anti-imperialist manner; that it make room for the contributions of other nations, that it back away from a mentality which expects the native Iraqis and Kurds to feel obligated to their liberators, and that it be humble enough to allow its national work of liberation to strengthen international institutions (which after all, in the end, the sovereign nation of Iraq will be much more interested in than it ever will be in the United States, given that were not going to up and make Iraq the 51st state). This may not enable us to escape the noblesse oblige dynamic entirely, but I think it's a better route, I think, than whatever either the neocons or the bulk of the antiwar left are offering.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/23/2003 05:04:00 PM
Another Liberal Nationalist in Support of the War
Michael Ignatieff, whose excellent analysis of America's current "imperial" position in the world remains required reading, has written a fine, fairly personal little piece explaining why, when it comes to Iraq, he is siding with an administration that he has little sympathy for and, strictly speaking, doesn't even particularly trust. His point is to defend the idea that one can believe that, as he puts it, "the president is right when he says that Iraq and the world will be better off with Saddam disarmed, even, if necessary, through force," without necessarily becoming a "Cheney conservative." I'm not a fan of everything Ignatieff has written, but this a good essay, and deserves a thoughtful reading.
I'm not privy to the inner workings of Ignatieff's mind and memory, of course. But on the basis of this article, as well as the essay "The Burden" linked above, it seems plain that for Ignatieff the difference between the Vietnam War (which he marched against) and this one is that, however Cold War imperatives and communist ideology may have warped the former, it was ultimately too much of a civil conflict, too much of a competition between nation-building strategies, to justify America's wholesale remaking of it into just another domino in our 1960s anti-communist foreign policy. Whereas in the case of Iraq, he believes that the intervention of an "American empire" may plausibly (though he admits by no means assuredly) serve to enable a stable nation-building project, something which Iraq desperately needs. An interesting and, I think, even persuasive argument.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/23/2003 09:40:00 AM
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Blair vs. Rumsfeld vs. Chirac, et al
After my huge post on Blair yesterday, you'd think I wouldn't have anything else to say about today's Gladstone. Well, I don't; but Timothy Garton Ash does. I don't agree with his whole analysis, but it's worth reading, and thinking about. Enjoy.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/20/2003 07:12:00 AM
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Blair, the Nation, and Liberal Interventionism
One more thing I want to add here, and then I'll let it alone (for a while anyway). Yesterday, I wrote that Blair was "the liberal nationalist cause's greatest ally." This needs some further explanation, since in many ways Blair seems anything but a "nationalist" as traditionally (that is, stereotypically) understood. According to this understanding, nationalists are those who defend their nation, right or wrong, and despise international entanglements as threats to their sovereignty and identity. Clearly this doesn't fit the Blair which Anne Applebaum described as "a British prime minister who has enthusiastically taken his country into every multilateral institution he could, signing up to everything from the European Convention on Human Rights to the Kyoto protocol to the International Criminal Court. Blair's wife is an international human rights lawyer; Blair's own lawyers have spent the past few weeks earnestly discussing which U.N. resolutions would make war in Iraq 'legal.'" It is wrong, however, to assume that a concern for international legality somehow shows a distrust in, or dislike for, the role of the nation in "organizing the world," as it were. Blair is very much a communitarian in the sense that he fully agrees with the proposition that all which is virtuous and moral about human civilization is the product of particularity: that is, relations of trust, commerce, dialogue and development which are grounded in particular places, particular times, and particular peoples. In a speech Blair gave in Tübingen, Germany back in 2000, he talked about the challenge which globalization poses to the creation of "communities of values," values which he considered to be clearly, though not necessarily uniquely, religious:
"The inevitability of globalisation demands a parallel globalisation of our best ethical values; not a distilling or unnecessary uniformity of the rich values that make up our communities of faith. But the basic premises of our faiths; solidarity; justice; peace and the dignity of the human person are what we need in the age of globalisation. Traditionally, these were religious values. But we now know, through several quite different disciplines, that they are universal values. Economists call them 'social capital.' Evolutionary biologists call them 'reciprocal Altruism.' Political theorists call them communitarianism or civil society. Each of these phrases stands for what is really a quite simple idea – that what gives us the power to survive in a rapidly changing environment are the habits of co-operation, the networks of support, our radius of trust. And we learn those habits in families, school congregations and communities. It is there that we learn the grammar of togetherness, the give and take of rights and responsibilities, where we pass on our collective story, our ideals, from one generation to the next. Without them, society is too abstract to be real. Community is where they know your name; and where they miss you if you’re not there. Community is society with a human face."
It might be easy to dismiss this as quaint gemeinschaftliche rhetoric, one of the typical props of what is essentially a social nostalgia or antiliberal conservatism. (In the discipline of political theory, this charge has been made frequently, and just as frequently responded to; consider Stephen Holmes's polemic The Anatomy of Antiliberalism, and these critiques of his work here and here.) But in Blair's case, I think it is fair to say that he has joined his communitarian convictions to an old Whiggish liberal tradition, going back to Gladstone: that of the nation as an exponent (and exporter) of ideals. That Blair thinks highly of his country is indisputable; consider the sort of "nationalist" language he has regularly preached to his own Labour party, long supposedly an enemy to patriotism:
"Don't tell me that a country with our history and heritage, that today boasts six of the top ten businesses in the whole of Europe, with London the top business city in Europe, that is a world leader in technology and communication and the businesses of the future, that under us has overtaken France and Italy to become the fourth largest economy in the world, that has the language of the new economy, more brilliant artists, actors and directors than any comparable country in the world, some of the best scientists and inventors in the world, the best armed forces in the world, the best teachers and doctors and nurses, the best people any nation could wish for. Don't tell me with all that going for us that we do not have the spirit to meet all the challenges before us. For that is another choice; confidence or cynicism. All we need is the confidence to make the right choice for the future. Just as we did in the party so, on a larger scale, the same is true for Britain. We are on a journey of renewal....But the purpose of our journey is not to lose our values as a nation: but to make them live on....We are in a fight and it's a fight I relish. For it is a fight for the future, the heart and the soul of our country."
Sure, you could say again: just more Reaganesque boilerplate. Wrap yourself in the flag. But how much easier, today, would it be for Blair to wrap himself in the flag while saying, as he always has please note, that "Britain stands for the rule of law and the international order"--and mean, by saying that, that he will not support the United States in its planned invasion of Iraq? Given current polls in Britain, that strikes me as a far more reasonable, far more plausible way for an elected politician to so wrap himself. But he hasn't said that; instead, he has argued that the case against Iraq as a potential threat to peace is strong enough, that the humanitarian need is profound enough, and that the possible outcome is worth pursuing enough, that he will align his country's military with the United States's in order to see this war through. And he has argued that as a responsibility which the British nation has to the world. This is not some sort of imperialism hiding behind complaints that the international community didn't respond to one's self-interested pleas (no, that's what we fear about Bush); this is the conviction that the international community is--or at least ought to be--the shared product of nations bringing what they have (interests, yes, but also aspirations and values) to the table, rather than some transnational ideology which floats free of any specific incarnation. Global action on the environment, on the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other WMD, on all sorts of issues, requires the investment of nations which see themselves as obliged, by their own (communitarian!) values to intervene in the world. As a liberal nation (indeed, in many ways the historical home of liberalism), Britain is impelled, Blair believes, in an arguably religious sense, to respond to threats to the liberal order. This was Gladstone's ideology, and Woodrow Wilson's too. It isn't without its faults and drawbacks: it is often condescending, often self-righteous, often resistant to internal criticism (all of which perfectly describe Wilson, a good man who was also aristocratic, racist, and profoundly close-minded), which is why I believe that the faith which animates it requires serious (preferably Herderian) reconsideration. But the alternative, in my view (with sincere apologies to my libertarian friends who believe life is best left uninterfered with and all this is hogwash), is to let Hobbes's world become a self-fulfilling prophecy: since there can be no morality without the sovereign, and sovereignty exists only through a desperate, self-interested pact, the world must remain morally shapeless (except perhaps in the most minimal way) until and unless fear drives it towards accepting the rule of a single, imperial force. The growth of international law and institutions, Blair obviously believes, puts the lie to this world: it is not inevitable, there can be moral progress through national cooperation. But that cooperation must be national, not premised upon procedures and conferences which, simply because they exist, have absolute precedence over the various embedded, particularist values which make them meaningful in the first place.
In the long run, assuming the liberal nationalist theory is true, and that technology or other forces are not going to bring into (or haven't already brought into) existence a global "public sphere" within which Habermasian rules of discourse replace national expressions, then Blair's stand, whatever it may cost him (and also assuming whether, when all is said and done, this is the right cause to make such a stand regarding--remember that not all liberal nationalists are in agreement with this policy), can only do his nation and the world some good. As James Bennett put it:
"That Blair takes the same stance as an American president is neither opportunism nor coincidence, but rather an expression of the underlying shared Anglosphere values. What makes Blair difficult to understand is that he is more of a Gladstonian than the sort of Labourite we have been familiar with over the past century. The Gladstonian tradition in Britain is a political expression of a wider moral tradition that has been one of the distinct temperaments of the Anglosphere for centuries. As such, it has a political cousin in America, the Wilsonian tradition. It is characterized by the moralization of political issues, the assignment of a didactic and improving role to government, the enshrinement of reason and law as a process for resolving both domestic and international disputes, and a crusading side that refrains from force. Refrains, that is, until the offending party has demonstrated a moral depravity that identifies him as an obstacle to progress, in which case, Wilsonian/Gladstonians are then willing to commit overwhelming force in chastisement and correction....One of the many ironies in this situation is that here Blair is being a more consistent backer of the international order and the United Nations than his critics on the left, and on the European Continent. It is exactly the same motivation that leads Blair to criticize America for failing to ratify Kyoto that causes him to support Bush on Iraq. Even more ironic is that the same motivations that lead Blair to cross swords with Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder over Iraq are the same that lead him to be such an ardent Europeanist. Blair's modern-day Gladstonian vision of moral purpose in international affairs leads him to equally pursue the global legitimacy of the United Nations and the regional legitimacy of the EU. This seemingly strange but actually quite understandable alliance is bringing an awareness of a change that has been in progress for the past decade: Britain's return to a substantial status as an international actor."
As a student of Herder, with his focus on language as the defining core of both national identity and moral reasoning, I've been intrigued by this concept of an "Anglosphere," the idea that English-speaking nations (and those heavily influenced by them) share a heritage which may position them in jointly bringing something moral to bear on the world. Certainly whatever this "something" is, it shouldn't be reduced to mere cover for the American way of life: as should be clear, Blair may stand beside Bush, but he stands beside him on an (I hope not entirely) different pedastal, and Australia and Canada have their own takes on the question of Iraq as well (pro-Bush and anti-Bush, respectively). Regardless, perhaps there is a silver lining to this war: that it will force upon Europe, and the United States, a re-evaluation of those international forums which Blair, and historically the United States, has invested so much; an evaluation which may lead to a clearer sense of how nations (and perhaps emerging supra-national entities, like the EU or even the "Anglosphere") should identify with them, and hence with one another. If that happens, it will be because of Blair's example, not Bush's. A close friend of mine, an editor at a leading conservative magazine in the United States, e-mailed me and some friends after Blair's speech in the House of Commons yesterday, confessing that he wished he was our president. If some conservatives in America feel that way, then perhaps the liberal nationalist cause can be served through (or despite) Bush after all.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/19/2003 12:09:00 PM
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
More on "Liberal Empires"
Here's a defense of "liberal hegemony" that I wish I'd read before blogging this morning. The author, Daniel Kruger, argues that:
"Slowly, obscurely, enunciated with difficulty in thick Texan accents, a new doctrine of international order is emerging, of which the imminent war is a crucial outing. It is the doctrine of humanitarian intervention — or, to give it its proper name, neo-colonialism. This doctrine is driven by the firm belief — uncluttered by relativist self-loathing — in the universal principles of liberty and justice. It gives expression to our sense that everyone, not just the West, has a right to live in a decent country — and that the West has a duty to help them do so. In particular, it gives substance to the vacuities of the ‘ethical foreign policy’."
I'm not really comfortable with the way he slings around the idea of "universal principles," or his obvious sympathy for a basically Hayekian defense of liberal capitalism. "Universal" is an easily misused word, and it is too simple for friends of liberalism and democracy to wrongly dismiss legitimate concerns with working from the basis of "local knowledge" as "relativist self-loathing." Much contemporary communitarian thought is devoted to exploring just this balance (see, for example, the introduction of Daniel A. Bell's excellent book East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia). But regardless, Kruger's on the right page, I think, especially when he writes (regarding some neocons, I would guess) that "there is a ‘butcher and bolt’ lobby in Washington, which must be resisted." Read the whole thing.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/18/2003 02:26:00 PM
The End of the Beginning
So, that's it. Unless Saddam decamps in the next day or so, and those he leaves behind welcome American troops with open arms, Gulf War II will begin, probably within the week.
My support for an invasion of Iraq, with the aim of deposing Saddam, has never been very strong. Partly because of my temperament, and partly because, while I'm far from having worked out a whole philosophy of how my religious convictions ought to guide or at least impact my political views, I'm really affected (if not completely convinced) by those Mormons who have argued against any "pre-emptive" war with Iraq whatsoever on grounds right out of my own religious tradition. But mostly, it's simply because my assessment of the arguments both for and against an invasion never depended, at least not too much, on a solid understanding of the "facts": whether Saddam actually had WMDs, and if so which ones and how many, and what he intends to do with them or whether that could actually be known, and whether regardless of Saddam's intentions we could be certain that he could be prevented from ever making them available to terrorist organizations, and what his actual relationship with such organizations really is anyway, and for that matter what Bush's relationship with Saddam really is and what his intentions are, etc., etc., etc. I've never attempted to develop anything like any real expertise in these areas; while I'll read with interest reports on U.N. resolutions, the Iraqi opposition, neoconservative ideologues at the Pentagon, al-Qaeda, Bush the First's deals with Saudi Arabia and so forth, I lack confidence in my ability to work out all the contrasting military, strategic, political and conspiratorial claims.
So why have an opinion at all? Because, in the end, the language of the pro-war argument fits well with an intellectual and moral paradigm I find persuasive. It's a theory--usually called "liberal nationalism" by political theorists--which holds that the international order depends upon expressions of national conviction and power. If you're not a fan of the existing "international order" (and I am one, though with some big reservations), you could just as well replace that phrase with "human rights" or "the spread of democracy": either way, the idea is that the accomplishment of certain humane, liberal conditions depends upon national action. While obviously there's a fair amount of cross-over between this theory and the "national interests" talk of straightforward realpolitik, the liberal nationalist position differs in two respects. First, obviously, it embraces the principles of liberalism as normative, for various philosophical or religious reasons. (Obviously, the philosophy or theology which leads one to this theory makes a big difference in how one expresses the theory, but I won't go into that now.) Secondly, it depends, at least implicitly, on recognizing a particular communitarian truism: that culturally (and hence, arguably, nationally) unencumbered human beings do not exist, and thus neither do unencumbered human ideals, including liberal ones. Thus any talk about rights or freedoms must be grounded in some historical community to be sensible; otherwise, it is merely a projection, and however rationally appealing the projection may be, its long-term survival requires (whether this is openly acknowledged or not) that it be woven into the life of a particular people. Translated to questions of international politics, this attitude suggests that the use of national power to accomplish liberal ends is not necessarily corrupting of those ends; on the contrary, it is possible that without real, specific, national engagements with the liberal project, those ends will never emerge.
In other words, to talk about the United States acting forcefully on behalf of liberal goals, even if such action takes place outside the procedures of the presently-existing international community, even if such action is pre-emptive and not premised upon any sort of immediate threat as has been traditionally recognized, shouldn't be dismissed as incoherent outright. The foundation of liberalism--for the oppressed people of Iraq, or anyone for that matter, anywhere--is the work of liberal nations, not an ungrounded ideology which exists to constrain such nations. Does this mean that assymetrical--even hegemonic--relations between national actors is not, in itself, an obstacle to liberal ideals: that you could have a "liberal empire"? The answer, as best as I can see it, is "maybe so."
If this sounds like Wilsonian interventionism, a willingness to fight wars for democracy, I suppose that's because there's a lot of truth to that label. But it's not the whole truth: Wilson's liberal crusade was culturally-limited and condescending, as was much 19th-century liberalism. There is a need to inject a little Herderian humility and faith into the enterprise; to see the goal as primarily serving the liberation of national communities in all their diversity, not the replication of our own. Obviously, this is where the liberal nationalist parts company with today's neoconservatives, who seem to hold, for the most part, that the American community is the template for the world, and that the more we vigorously pursue that, the better (to say nothing of the more secure) America will be. For the liberal nationalist, America--and American power--is not an essential template, but rather a vital tool.
Having said all this, why am I doubtful? Because, for very good reason, many of those who might otherwise describe themselves as agreeing with this theory (such as Michael Walzer, Paul Berman and others) are deeply conflicted (as was famously revealed in this article), and I share their conflicts. Is the Bush administration really interested in directing its power toward liberal ends, even in a general way? How could the Bush administration have been so dismissive of the role of the U.N. and inspections in, if not disarming Iraq, then at least establishing a just case for American action? That latter point is a vital one. Just because one believes that the ultimate justifiable source for liberal action is national does not mean that one should treat international institutions as a hindrance: on the contrary, such institutions are essential forums for the development of the sort of trust and recognition necessary for nations to be able interact with each other without turning suspicious and xenophobic (or, in other words, to avoid fulfilling all the negative stereotypes which turn so many liberals off on nationalism in the first place). Consider this analysis of Bush's approach, particularly the following passage: "Alliances give less powerful countries some feeling of control over the military power of larger partners. That, in turn, gives the lesser country's elected officials reason to support (and cover for supporting) the alliance's majority decisions—decisions usually orchestrated by the big boys." This may sound like more harsh realpolitik, but it's perfectly compatible--indeed, perhaps necessarily compatible--with the liberal nationalist argument, properly understood: in order for one's own national voice to be acknowledged, other national voices need to be recognized as well, meaning they must be heard, meaning there needs to be a place where real (or at least a show of real) listening can take place. Again, I don't claim anything like any kind of expertise on the inner mechanics of the Bush administration. But it does seem to me that, the very best that can be said for them--even if one believes that the international hostility to Bush is personal and cultural and hence couldn't have been mitigated regardless of what the administration did--is that many of them are so fearful of other nations hampering our ends that they forgot that listening to others isn't the same as hampering: that, on the contrary, listening is an essential part of expressing.
Of course, the worst that can be said for the Bush administration is that people like me have been taken for a ride; that Bush is not only not interested in liberal ends even in a abstract way, but that he is in fact actively hostile to such, and fully intends to move towards the creation of a world in which the American nation has imperial prerogatives, where American corporate power can move unobstracted through the world and the American people are left uninvolved with and uncommitted to this enterprise, personally, financially and otherwise. Which is why this is just the end of the beginning. In a frustrating, inconsistent way, Bush's team has made an argument to act outside of the argubly paralyzed parameters of the post-World War II international community, along the way doing harm to much that was nonetheless good in that community (much to the regret of Tony Blair, Bush's--and the liberal nationalist cause's--most important ally). What comes next--in Iraq, North Korea and elsewhere--will be the first steps that will truly show us what path Bush has set American upon.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3/18/2003 11:12:00 AM