From Bloggingheads: Eli Lake And Heather Hurlbert On Samuel Huntington

9:26 min discussion here.

Did Bush over-simplify both the depths of the neocons and the American left?  Do you partially blame the current state of the left to not martial better arguments in the run-up to the Iraq war?

Is it still too soon to pass judgment on the war?

Hurlbert worries that the application of the idea of the “Clash Of Civilizations” is too simple.

See Also On This Site:  The previous post:  Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkA Few Thoughts On The FATA Region Of PakistanFrom The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

Full article here.

It’s likely you won’t agree with all of Huntington’s ideas, but he maintained a deeply learned understanding of the animating ideas behind Western/American political organization with keen observation of what was happening on the ground in foreign countries.  Here’s a brief summation from Robert Kaplan’s article:

“• The fact that the world is modernizing does not mean that it is Westernizing. The impact of urbanization and mass communications, coupled with poverty and ethnic divisions, will not lead to peoples’ everywhere thinking as we do.

• Asia, despite its ups and downs, is expanding militarily and economically. Islam is exploding demographically. The West may be declining in relative influence.

• Culture-consciousness is getting stronger, not weaker, and states or peoples may band together because of cultural similarities rather than because of ideological ones, as in the past.

• The Western belief that parliamentary democracy and free markets are suitable for everyone will bring the West into conflict with civilizations—notably, Islam and the Chinese—that think differently.

• In a multi-polar world based loosely on civilizations rather than on ideologies, Americans must reaffirm their Western identity.”

Huntington grew up an FDR liberal, and seemed to maintain humility and some respect for ideas that perhaps he no longer always found tenable personally, but realized were crucial for America’s survival…and a crucial component of America’s assumptions (often not correct) about the rest of the world.

Addition:  Of course it’s quite possible he still found many of them tenable as well…here’s a quote from Leo Strauss:

From Wikipedia:

“Strauss noted that thinkers of the first rank, going back to Plato, had raised the problem of whether good politicians could be completely truthful and still achieve the necessary ends of their society. Are myths needed to give people meaning and purpose and to ensure a stable society or can men dedicated to relentlessly examining, in Nietzsche’s language, those “deadly truths,” flourish freely? In The City and Man, Strauss discusses the myths outlined in Plato’s Republic that are required for all governments. “

See Also:  Google books has ‘Political Order In Changing Societies‘ and ‘Who Are We?:  The Challenges To America’s National Identity‘  (previews)available.

Huntington’s page at Harvard here.  Reihan Salam has a short piece here.

Also On This Site:  I still have my doubts about that Nietzschean influence on our thought and politics: A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche Connection…which also can be found in the new ‘experimental philosophy’ school:  Christopher Shea In The Chronicle Of Higher Ed On Experimental Philosophy

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A Few Thoughts On The FATA Region Of Pakistan

– It’s tough to see how any US foreign policy decisions could effectively address and ameliorate the freedom fighter/holy warrior code by which many local and non-state actors currently live in the FATA region.       

 Do we continue to justify killing them with our military force if they pose a legitimate threat to our security?  Do we try and generate a multi-lateral force to do so?

  Should we try and and drive a wedge between the locals and the non-state actors (if so, would the Bush administration’s definition of terrorism be sufficient to do so and how far does it extend?).

– How actively do we also try and allign our interests with the current/any Pakistani government in hopes of strengthening the Pakistani state (potentially killing such men with Pakistan’s military force, or better yet, having a unified Pakistan gradually censure the extremists reasons to be?).


– In addition, there’s not just a nuclear threat by non-state actors involved here, but also a nuclear threat by state actors…India and Pakistan…that we have to negotiate. 

See Also:  A Yale Page On The Foreign Policy Challenges we face there.  A good article linked to here originally published in the Christian Science Monitor. Philip Bobbitt Discusses His Book ‘Terror And Consent’ On Bloggingheads

Addition:  The Atlantic has a piece about Samuel Huntington’s recent death and life’s work.

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Elizabeth Spelke On Bloggingheads: Towards A Coalitional Mathematics?

Full diavlog here.

A very interesting discussion.

Just a few thoughts:

1Spelke is a psychologist at Harvard, who suggests that some of her research may hint at a biological basis for social grouping in humans  (babies perhaps show preference for people who speak their own language, or people who resemble their own caregivers as gateways to the social world and shared knowledge they seek to join and there may be some biological reasons for this).

2.  One of her solutions is to eventually point toward math (what joshua knobe here calls coalitional mathematics, or what is a rather long and philosophical view of mathematics…not as fixed, but as and ever changing body of the deepest knowledge we have that we can transcend and that can transcend many of the other limitiations that bind us).

So we use music, language, similarity at a very deep level to define ourselves as members of a group and the value of Spelke’s work as she sees it is in mapping a metaphysical realm that can highlight such limitations…

3.  Despite the value of Spelke’s work, I’m left with the question of why not just study math, or science…or even philosophy…instead of psychology?  


Richard Feynman was apparently not too impressed with psychology, and explains why here in “Cargo Cult Science.”  Something to talk about anyways…

See Also On This Site:  A few doubts about philosophy and metaphysics:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

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From The Internet Encyclopedia Of Knowledge: Immanuel Kant And Utilitarianism

Full entry here.

A very good overview (as clear as I’ve seen it).


What about a Utilitarianism that would throw that Dutch cartoonist to his fate, or Salman Rushdie to his?

“It would be possible, for instance, to justify sacrificing one individual for the benefits of others if the utilitarian calculations promise more benefit.”

You likely can’t accept Kant’s solution, though, without exploring where such ideas stem from in this thinking…his transcendental idealism.

To act in pursuit of happiness is arbitrary and subjective, and is no more moral than acting on the basis of greed, or selfishness. All three emanate from subjective, non-rational grounds. The danger of utilitarianism lies in its embracing of baser instincts, while rejecting the indispensable role of reason and freedom in our actions.”

The embracing of baser instincts usually comes with its attendant idealism.  However, it can also have some political and social benefits…and here in America we have a kind of avoidance of some forms idealism or at least moral realism enough to potentially avoid the greater hazards of such idealism (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not Truth, Justice and Peace)…

Addition:  Perhaps it’s good to keep Kant separate from judgments about American democracy and the traditions that have created and sustained it.  In other words, perhaps through Kant it’s easy to let a certain idealism (religious?) into one’s thinking that can be quite destructive of American democracy.  Is it a particularly German idealism?  Does it make one swing darkly to the right?

Perhaps I’m just corrupting Kant and dragging him out of the metaphysical/philosophical realm for my own purposes.

Another Addition:  As a reader points out, utilatarianism may stem from the depths of Kant, or the attempt to create a sufficiently abstract moral law.  Is that the same as a scientific law?  Freedom and morality?

See these posts, and if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them:  Kantian Metaphysics and J.S. Mill’s UtilitarianismDaniel Deudney on BloggingheadsMore On Daniel Deudney’s Bounding Power, Roger Scruton on Kant: A Response To Hume?

From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’

Full article here.

China + America =’Chimerica’

We are living through a challenge to a phenomenon Moritz Schularick and I have christened “Chimerica.” In this view, the most important thing to understand about the world economy over the past decade has been the relationship between China and America.

So is America in decline?  Ferguson isn’t convinced that the current economic crisis is any indication:

“Power is always relative, and a crisis that hits the periphery of the global economy harder than the core must logically increase the power of the core. Nemesis, too, can be exported.”

See Also On This Site:    Fukuyama seems to think so, but maybe he’s still reeling from the Iraq war…From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’…Fareed Zakaria seems to think so too…Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In Decline?…Richard Lieber’s not necessarily convinced:  Richard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set

Kenan Malik In The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Twenty Years On: Internalizing The Fatwa’-Salman Rushdie

Full review here.

Malik takes issue with some of the British left’s handling of the Salman Rushdie (wikipedia) affair:

“It has now become widely accepted that we live in a multicultural world, and that in such a world it is important not to cause offence to other peoples and cultures.”

There is an important difference between having problems with the Muslim world, and having problems with your own society’s conflicted views of the Muslim/outside world (I think Malik means the intellectually adrift, culturally relativistic, identity politicking left).  

He argues that 3 myths persist:

“The first myth is that the controversy over Rushdie’s novel was driven by religion. It wasn’t. It was a political conflict.”

“The second myth is that all Muslims were offended by The Satanic Verses.”

“The third myth lies in the perception of the anti-Rushdie campaigners as male, middle-aged, poorly educated, badly integrated…”many, equally, were young, left-wing, articulate, educated, integrated.” 

and his main conclusion:

“So why were these people drawn to the anti-Rushdie campaign? Largely because of disenchantment with the secular left, on the one hand, and the institutionalisation of multicultural policies on the other.”

Would Malik indict the British left itself, or is it a larger problem?  Is it the current excesses of the left and British society (classical liberalism lost in the shuffle?) or something deeper?  

For my part, it’s not a prescription to be filled with organized religion…or a swing too far darkly to the right…as is too easy to do right now.

See Also On This SiteTheodore Dalrymple Still Attacking Multi-Culturalism In BritainMartha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West BengalFrom The American Conservative: Going Off The Rawls–David Gordon On John Rawls

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie by Nrbelex.

Photo found here by Nrbelex
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From First Principles: Locke, Our Great Founders, and American Political Life

Full article here.

Maybe there’s something in the air, but there seems to be a trend toward re-considering religion’s role in society in many political/philosophical quarters lately.

Perhaps it’s due to:  Islamic extremism?  An excessive secularism? A push back against a long period of excessive individualism? Some other forces at work? 

Here’s a post on a Martha Nussbaum essay I put up a few months back:  Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

From the article, here’s a quote which has the author, Peter Lawler, discussing two recent books on John Locke:

“Brownson and Murray agree that our framers understood themselves primarily as Lockeans but also that their work was less guided by the individualist’s thought than they believed. Brownson pays them the compliment of having been theoretically radical as thinkers but prudently conservative as statesmen. Murray sees them as sort of Thomistic Lockeans; their understanding of Locke’s modern thought was more compromised by traditional debts than they knew. They built so well because they averted their eyes from the voluntaristic and nihilistic depths of modern thought. Their providential—or we might just say lucky—theoretical confusion or in-betweenness, their lack of theoretical greatness, is the cause of our nation’s practical greatness.

The argument here states that because the founders didn’t fully understand (or follow) Locke’s radical individualism to its logical conclusions, they went deeper than they knew.

There’s a standard dig at the French (French perfectionism and theoretical excesses are the enemy of our good) there at the end as well.

Actually,  this just seems like our democracy functioning as it does:  the right is re-grouping and figuring out how to include religion out of political necessity:

“Our healing American task may be to show that Thomism is the true realism, that it reconciles reason and revelation through a realistic account of the whole human being.”

See Also On This Site:  Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam may be resisting such a trend: From Bloggingheads: Jon Chait Not Convinced By ‘The Grand New Party’

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From Bloggingheads: Aubrey De Grey On Aging

Diavlog here.

De Grey thinks about, and perhaps would like you to think about aging as a disease to be treated, not a problem so large as to be insoluble.

In the clip above he lists his 7 major reasons why we die, suggesting there is enough biological evidence that pursuing solutions to them might be fruitful.

He rather offhandedly discusses some pretty grim facts we put out of our minds…

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From Slate: William Saletan’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Full article here.

Saletan especially wants to focus on this fact:

“Race is a less, not more, reliable gauge of physical characteristics than genes are.”

I think he sees great moral danger in this kind of racial categorization, where some scientific research is haphazardly mixed with cultural assumptions and myth.  He argues that genetic research doesn’t necessarily nullify many cultural assumptions:

“So, yes, all other things being equal, you can expect this gene to cause Africans and African-Americans to be disproportionately represented at the highest levels of speed and power sports.”

There are clearly genetic differences between different groups of people…yet they allign much more closely to genetic rather than racial categorization….and this is not taking a look aside at many other cultural differences.

Saletan also points out the limits of racial categorization (perhaps even in the social and political realm?) which seems to be a core belief among many equity ideologues, mostly on the left:

I’ve had my share of arguments with people who deny that race is biologically meaningful. Many of them are dedicated to the proposition that all humans are created equal, not just in the sense of moral worth or treating each person on his merits, but literally, in the sense that no genetically based difference can be admitted in average ability between populations. That kind of egalitarian literalism—I call it liberal creationism—becomes harder and harder to sustain in the face of evidence such as the data on ACTN3.

Not bad.

See Also:  An interesting essay containing this quote:

It is now odd to note that Jefferson was under the impression that blacks were physically inferior to whites.”


The debate between culture and inheritance consequently must still be carried on, with factual reasons, not with moral self-righteousness.”

Is this too much too ask?

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