‘In strategic terms, the U.S. has swung between counter-insurgency and counterterrorism. Or, put another way, between enlightened self-interest and a more naked kind.’
And the problems still aren’t really solved. We likely can’t build a nation with our military and without the will of the people toward their own aims, yet the threat of terrorist figures meeting, planning, taking advantage of/having some collaboration with the locals and perhaps attacking us is still very high.
Addition: The Afghan military isn’t looking so good. U.S. public opinion against the war is high and anti-American AfPak sentiment high at the moment.
Another Addition: The WSJ has a piece on Andrew Bacevich, which is not favorable. It seems Bacevich has lost sight of what can and can’t get done in war, and perhaps in human nature.
“So the deepening divide in Egyptian political life can help if it forces Islamists and non-Islamists to sit down at the table and hash out a deal. At this point, there may still be enough that they can agree on—in terms of a more open, democratic and pluralist order—that a document can be written. The problem right now may be practical.”
I’ve still got my hand on my wallet. The conditions that can support stable, non-Islamic and Islamist institutions may not be conducive to having a strong enough presence in the public square, and the institutions that are not Islamist rely on much foreign aid and influence. The ‘middle-class,’ or those who are well enough off to maintain some order, regardless of deeper beliefs (however many idealists in the West would like to see them) may not be able to hold their ground.
A summary of chapters in a reading group presentation:
‘Jerry has argued throughout the book that the conception of the person employed within public reason liberalism and liberalism broadly speaking must move in this Hayekian direction. If public reason liberals follow Jerry’s lead, the fundamental structure of public reason and even the nature of the social contract theorists’ project must substantially change. In short, political justification must not begin with deriving the rationality of rule-following from a teleological conception of practical reason. Instead, it must begin with an understanding of the nature of human beings who are already rule-followers and the nature of the moral emotions and cooperative activities that accompany such rule-following. It is in this way that Jerry moves most forcefully away from Hobbesian conceptions of public reason. He goes further by arguing that even the Kantian conception of the person he endorses cannot be constructed out of practical reason alone. Instead, human nature contains Kantian elements for thoroughly Humean-Hayekian-evolution reasons. Our rule-following nature is contingent on our social development (though no less contingent than our goal-seeking nature).’
Allan Bloom (wikipedia) wrote the Closing Of The American Mind in 1987. It is a deep book, and an interesting one. It is also, I believe, following a vein of thought that continues to affect American life…with mixed results.
There is a direct Nietzschean influence flowing through Martin Heidegger, Leo Strauss (wikipedia), and Allan Bloom…not to mention much 20th century art and existentialism. In Bloom particularly, it is guided partially by Strauss’ project of recovering and reclaiming the Greeks from Nietzsche’s assault upon Christianity.
Strauss, of course, has Nietzsche succumbing to historicism, having followed historicist logic to its nihilistic consequences (or simply continuing what was started earlier in more Continental strains of thought). Here’s Strauss on Nietzsche:
‘The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment. To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate. If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’
But did Strauss actually endorse Platonic idealism, not finding fault with the metaphysics of Plato, as Aristotle so obviously did, and as have most modern thinkers have done? Surely, Strauss’ esoteric approach to Plato likely has issues:
‘Allan Bloom (1930-1992), although valuable as a critic, often seems merely to be promoting the ideas of Leo Strauss (1899-1973), whose own approach strikes the editor as a very idiosyncratic version of esoteric textual hermeneutics: to argue that Plato’s Republic was not a serious political theory and that Plato and Aristotle really didn’t disagree on fundamentals perhaps nicely reaffirms the views of the Neoplatonists and early Mediaeval philosophers like al-Fârâbî, but otherwise it must seem positively perverse in its strained counter-intuitiveness.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic can be found here.
Addition: Bryan Magee’s series available on youbtube is useful: Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…
Another Addition: While I may not agree with Bloom’s formulation, I suspect that from a purely administrative standpoint, working toward “diversity” and toward a “meritocracy” only seems to satisfy the ideals of some people driving change within our universities. Despite the benefits (and there are many) such ideas seem to me more ideal, and less practical when applied to how people actually behave (self-interested, self-sacrificing for their children, forming social networks, bending toward nepotism etc.).
‘New political understandings are being launched each day, it seems. From one quarter comes what we might call Praetorian Realism, an acknowledgment of Samuel Huntington’s scenario for the military disciplining of civil chaos in modernizing lands. From another comes Matrix Realism, emphasizing the army’s role in the institutional order of the Arab countries. In this expansive intellectual climate, with its growing range of options, perhaps there’s room for one more entrant. Let’s call it Tribal Realism, the aim being to bring anthropological insights to bear on our political prospects abroad.’
So, where do the social sciences and foreign policy meet? Sandall argues Fox’s new book can point out quite how we often misunderstand other parts of the world as we project our own traditions, definitions of freedom, and democratic ideals upon it:
‘Fox knows what Tierney and most other educated Americans apparently do not: that tribal communities are the default system of human social nature. Humanity evolved that way for millennia after exiting the hunter-gatherer band stage of social life. Many of the planet’s diverse societies have since moved on toward becoming modern states, but not all of them have. And even for those that have, the shadowy emotional residues of the distant past remain.’
Fox puts his thinking into a framework of evolutionary theory (as opposed to, say, religious doctrines).
Fox sees the European habit of viewing society as a loose aggregate of autonomous individuals as a barrier to understanding. It prevents us from seeing the truth of Ernest Gellner’s argument in Muslim Society that, under Islam, “the individual acts toward the state essentially through the mediation of his kin group.” It equally prevents us from seeing that in ancient Greece (meaning the Greece of legend that long preceded the reforms of Cleisthenes and the rationalistic speculations of Plato and Aristotle), both autonomous individuals and the state itself were problematic.”
Food for thought, as I always think it’s important to point out that secular post-Enlightenment ideals can suffer many of the same problems as religion when sailing into contact, conflict and engagement with other parts of the world…as that world can be a dangerous place.
‘The bottom line is that there are unmistakable signs of progress in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus is about to make a very important recommendation.’
And the sitting President has to be re-electable, and appeal to his base, and a possible pool of voters, which can be one of the biggest determining factors in the decision.
Addition: Obama says he is aiming for a surge pullout by the end of next summer. Obama’s speech here. I can’t really say I agree with Obama’s apparent vision of an American dream fiscally (last lines of the speech), in terms of government involvement, and in a lot of foreign policy, so it seems pretty transparently political to me.
Addition: And as he mentions, there’s got to be a smarter way to fight terrorism.
Metcalf is arguing, I think, that Nozick’s reasoning is unsound (philosophical father?). Here’s Metcalf:
‘When I study American history, I can see why America, thanks to a dense bundle of historical accidents, is a kind of Lockean paradise, uniquely suited to holding up liberty as its paramount value. This is not what Nozick is arguing. Nozick is arguing that liberty is the sole value, and to put forward any other value is to submit individuals to coercion.’
Well, it’s good to see a modern liberal appeal to Lockean life, liberty and property, even if for other ends (to position Nozick as extreme, and libertarians as outside the norm of a more reasonable definition of liberty). Here’s the Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy’s page on Nozick:
‘Nozick takes his position to follow from a basic moral principle associated with Immanuel Kant and enshrined in Kant’s second formulation of his famous Categorical Imperative: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” ‘
‘But if individuals are inviolable ends-in-themselves (as Kant describes them) and self-owners, it follows, Nozick says, that they have certain rights, in particular (and here again following Locke) rights to their lives, liberty, and the fruits of their labor. To own something, after all, just is to have a right to it, or, more accurately, to possess the bundle of rights – rights to possess something, to dispose of it, to determine what may be done with it, etc. ‘
‘So far this all might seem fairly uncontroversial. But what follows from it, in Nozick’s view, is the surprising and radical conclusion that taxation, of the redistributive sort in which modern states engage in order to fund the various programs of the bureaucratic welfare state, is morally illegitimate. It amounts to a kind of forced labor’
Perhaps you find Nozick’s minimally intrusive, all-that’s-morally-justifiable “night watchman” state inadequate for how people actually behave (Nozick was well prepared, however, for many of your arguments). Let’s say you’re OK with paying taxes for roads and public education (as for me I know quite well that incentives can be distorted: state workers often getting lazy, bored, resentful at their bosses, aiming for retirement etc…teachers not often being the best minds, some quite mediocre, also aiming for retirement and benefits, bored, the creative ones ground down by the red tape and petty bureaucracy…and this is if both groups DON”T unionize). But no state services for roads and education?
So, what is Metcalf’s response to Nozick? After two readings, I’m still unclear:
‘The ploy is to take libertarianism as Orwell meant it and confuse it with libertarianism as Hayek meant it; to take a faith in the individual as an irreducible unit of moral worth, and turn it into a weapon in favor of predation.’
The ploy? Predation? Clarity please.
‘When Hayek insists welfare is the road is to serfdom, when Nozick insists that progressive taxation is coercion, they take liberty hostage in order to prevent a reasoned discussion about public goods from ever taking place.’
Not too impressive. I could see how liberals might want to keep Rand and F.A. Hayek and perhaps Nozick (thinkers grappling with communism and socialism on the ground in the former cases…and the results in both Russia and Austria…from defining the debate, but….well…make the arguments). Comments might be worth a read.
Addition: Libertarianism often rises during liberal administrations, and is particularly active in California. If liberalism has at its core some socialist and communist elements (and in my experience, it does), then I see a real need for a Nozickian defense of liberty as do many libertarians and Californians who’ve seen the rise of a union and special interest controlled democratic party, crony capitalism, and much corruption and waste. Those are serious threats to individual liberty as are the good intentions of many universalists and idealists, even if you find Nozick extreme.
As to Nozick perhaps unwittingly building a Kantian/Lockean extreme defense of liberty, built upon the largesse of a mix of state/private enterprise that modern liberalism has helped build, then where is a more clear path from modern liberalism to classical liberalism, and to Locke?
‘It is for this reason that to the liberal neither moral nor religious ideals are proper objects of coercion, while both conservatives and socialists recognize no such limits. I sometimes feel that the most conspicuous attribute of liberalism that distinguishes it as much from conservatism as from socialism is the view that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion.’
It’s important to note that Hayek needed a response to the chasm that grew into a war between the hard, nationalistic, conservative Austrian right…and the hard socialist Left (Bryan Magee heard Popper affectionately referred to as the ‘totalitarian liberal’). I find the principle compelling: Upon reflection, do you support coercion in order to advance or defend your principles? Not a bad litmus test.
‘ I have already indicated that, though I have all my life described myself as a liberal, I have done so recently with increasing misgivings – not only because in the United States this term constantly gives rise to misunderstandings, but also because I have become more and more aware of the great gulf that exists between my position and the rationalistic Continental liberalism or even the English liberalism of the utilitarians.’
Food for thought. I suspect one of Hayek’s main appeals to libertarians is his use for battle with collectivists of the American Left (Idealists and Statists who have trouble with individual and economic liberty). Libertarianism in the U.S usually rises during Liberal presidencies.
A very detailed and thorough piece on Bin Laden’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri; his childhood in Cairo, the Islamist movement in Egypt…the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan…how he got where he was going:
“This great victory was possible only by the grace of God,” he says with quiet pride. “This was not just a human achievement—it was a holy act. These nineteen brave men who gave their lives for the cause of God will be well taken care of. God granted them the strength to do what they did. There’s no comparison between the power of these nineteen men and the power of America, and there’s no comparison between the destruction these nineteen men caused and the destruction America cause.’