Sunday, January 11, 2009

Saying Something

"... I can't tell you how the president handles the question of health insurance in America. But on the issues having to do with us he has a very clear worldview. Like Arik, he has a loathing of violence; a loathing of everything having to do with terrorism and the use of force. And he has a loathing for untruthfulness and for failure to carry out commitments. He doesn't accept the Middle Eastern political style in which you come and say something and then forget what you said. From that point of view he is very American. He doesn't tolerate nonsense. He can't stand the Middle Eastern jabbering with nothing underlying it."

Dov Weisglass on soon-to-be-ex-President Bush. (Hat tip to the Colonel for the link.)

And by this time next year, will many of us forget our prior derision of simplistic Republican moral binarism (and a hypocrisy towards violence), and expound rational Democratic programs for humanitarian militarism in all pockets of the world in order to reach the exact same goals, i.e., the "spreading" of "democracy/peace/freedom" from our glorious bag of tricks? I wonder if there will be, can be, anything short of our economic downfall to prevent this.


Joel Bocko said...


To contextualize your views, do you feel America should ever have any role to play in the larger world, or do you feel that any active foreign policy (be it pointedly unileteralist or ostensibly internationalist and collaborationist - say, focused on working through and in concert with the UN and other international institutions) will inevitably lead to oppression and manipulation of the countries we deal with, and thus that the focus of the American population should be on keeping its government more or less isolated from foreign affairs, operating primarily within its own borders? And if the latter, do you think this is goal is possibly attainable? For myself, I must admit I remain skeptical on all counts - that American foreign policy can become fundamentally isolationist, or that this would be desirable, for America or for the world. But I'd be interested in your thoughts on that matter.

Obviously these are complicated matters to discuss briefly, so if you have any previous writings on the subject and wish to point me there, I'd gladly take a look.

Alex said...

It all depends on whether the US is actually doing just things or not, doesn't it? I.E. all statesmen CLAIM they pursue the good things (justice, peace, etc). Most statesmen, however, do not know what the good is. That does not mean we cannot judge whether each statesman is more or less virtuous than the next.

I would challenge your view that empires are necessarily bad or unjust simply by virtue of them being empires. The only consideration is whether the empire is more just or less just than the previously independent states or peoples it absorbs.

ZC said...

Do I feel America "should" ever have any role to play in the larger world? Well, I have nothing against that giant range of possible activities ("roles") in theory--but when it comes down to which roles US institutions play, no, I don't particularly admire their handiwork. A return to classical international relations and respect of national sovereignty would, in general, be a better alternative than the state of things now, I think. But I do not believe that is going to happen in my lifetime, not even a little bit. So like you I am skeptical as to the practical value of a return to isolationist statecraft. Still I must vent my rage at the degradations of our epoch--that is, if I am to succeed in my ambitions of one day becoming a fourth-rate Debord.

And of course a world of neutral states would have no special guarantee that all or most states would satisfy Alex's demand, i.e., that states act to promote the Good. But I think that this nightmare of the 20th century can lay much blame at the feet of imperial ambitions.

This is not to say, Alex, that I am squeamish about discussing empire. But I think the pursuit has failed miserably for almost everyone in the past century, for reasons of scale, the trajectories of nationalism, technology--mind you I do not claim to understand all the mechanics of these reasons. This is not an expert conclusion but a perennially-more-informed impression ...

I don't know if Iraq right now is 'more' or 'less' just than ten years ago--or how it will look in ten years. This doesn't mean I'm an apologist for Saddam Hussein; but are our government's actions toward the Iraqi people more defensible? At all defensible? Have our leaders not merely acted in the interests of a ruling elite, just as with Saddam? What interventionalist (whether anti-communist or "humanitarian") actions have our government truly undertaken for reasons of spreading justice, order, liberty, peace? How many instances of withheld support or active resistance have they notched on their stick towards peoples who are acting in the interests of their own justice, order, liberty, peace?

What I want to know is this: let us forget the starved masses, our blighted inner cities, our schooled-but-uneducated populace [of which I am no exception], the murdered people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc. What has America achieved in the past, say, forty years? Great wealth, but zero magnificence. (We can't even rule as tyrants of the world properly!) A great many of the American and African societies crushed by our ancestors come back to haunt us, mockingly. These were sustainable civilizations; John Henrik Clarke talks of African societies that existed for thousands of years with no jails, no word for jail. Yet the liberal Western subject enjoys artworks which conceive of their society, their existence even, as like a prison ...

Alex said...

I would very much agree with you that the current US domination of the world scene leaves a great deal to be desired: but that is because the US currently does not pursue justice prudently, not because domination (or empire, in other words) is of necessity always a bad thing. And when the US did pursue just causes in it's past, such as WWI or WWII, many good things - sometimes even things of the greatest possible good, such as the reformation of Germany and Japan, previously two of the worst and most vile tyrannies ever to exist - did come about.

We must, in judging practical things, be prudent. Certainly there is much to be dubious of and critical of when any nation/empire that comes to dominate the world. It is very easy to become corrupted when you effectively rule the world.

"What I want to know is this: let us forget the starved masses, our blighted inner cities, our schooled-but-uneducated populace [of which I am no exception], the murdered people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc. What has America achieved in the past, say, forty years? Great wealth, but zero magnificence. (We can't even rule as tyrants of the world properly!) "

I would very much agree, but again, America has had in it's past efforts of the greatest honor and very high achievement (as well as the most vile crimes and temptations). The examples of Lincoln and FDR, for example, do show that men of the highest virtu (indeed, I would argue that Lincoln stands as perhaps the greatest statesman in history and FDR as the greatest one of the twentieth century) can be created by America. That America has produced such men as Lincoln, George Washington, FDR and Truman (not just great statesmen of the first rank, but great democratic statesmen who strengthened the demos through their examples, which is an even rarer and finer thing) gives us much to hope for. And, of course, that also means we have great depths to which we may decline. The US has survived - and even benefited from it's own tremendous sufferings in - things that would and did destroy many other nations (the Great Depression, our Civil War).

ZC said...

Alex, I'm curious what justifications you'd hold for WWI?

Alex said...

"Alex, I'm curious what justifications you'd hold for WWI?"

Well, your question is actually more "Why was America's entrance into WWI a just thing?"

I probably wouldn't argue that WWI's beginnings in 1914 were just (for very complex reasons that are quite different from the conventional understandings why the war was unjust), but I would conversely argue that America's entrance into the war in 1917 was just.

Beyond the obvious reasons of provocations of the US by Germany, the US's entry into the war is justified by what Wilhemine Germany had become by 1916 - a rabidly right wing military dictatorship that could not be permitted to dominate Europe. (It should be pointed out that Erich Ludendorf's political evolution after WWI points out his political character - this was not a man that could be left to control Europe in 1916/1917).