Robert Kagan At Brookings: ‘The Twilight Of the Liberal World Order’

Full piece here.

The gist: Trump’s apparent defining of America’s interests more narrowly and nationally, transactionally even (quid pro quo), will further re-shuffle a deck already being re-shuffled by many forces outside American control (I still think America is uniquely positioned to adapt to many changes afoot).

American relative power has been declining, and we have some serious fractures within our body politic. Arguably, there’s less appetite for the soft and hard power reach of the America experienced during the past few generations.

Trump’s potential withdrawal from the international order the United States has been upholding with blood and treasure will likely signal significant change, and perhaps not always change for the better, Kagan argues.

What to change and what to keep?

What direction might Trump give on what to change and what to keep?

Kagan from his intro:

‘In recent years, the liberal world order that has held sway over international affairs for the past seven decades has been fragmenting under the pressure of systemic economic stresses, growing tribalism and nationalism, and a general loss of confidence in established international and national institutions. The incoming U.S. administration faces a grave challenge in determining whether it wishes to continue to uphold this liberal order, which has helped to maintain a stable international system in the face of challenges from regional powers and other potential threats, or whether it is willing to accept the consequences that may result if it chooses to abandon America’s key role as a guarantor of the system it helped to found and sustain.’

Repost-From Bloggingheads: Robert Kagan Discusses The U.N. Security Council…Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy…Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’

Here’s an interview with Trump on Donahue from 1987:  Back then, it was the Japanese who were poised for imminent takeover, buying up New York City real-estate before the 1992 recession (both the Japanese and Chinese are looking at serious demographic challenges).

His appeal to national pride and trade protectionism was apparent then…as well as the self-promotion:


As previously posted:  Some other models to possibly use:

Interesting article here on Samuel Huntington.

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.”

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.


That train may have already left the station:  Which organizations/allies/partners do we back with our military?  Which alliances do we form to protect and advance trade/security/national/broader interests?

Which ideas are universal, or should be aimed for as universal in the world of practical policy and decision-making?

Which kinds of contracts do we enter into? With whom and for what ends?

I’d like to see how this has held up:

A quote from Hill’s forward to Ajami’s then new book on Syria as discussed in the video:

“[The] greatest strategic challenge of the twenty-first century is involves “reversing Islamic radicalism”‘

Both men wanted to see more leadership out of the Obama administration. They both argued that there needed American led involvement of some sort in Syria. It’s a bad neighborhood, and we’ve got to provide leadership and side with the rebels as best we can.

Hill pushed further to suggest that if America doesn’t lead onto a new set of challenges that now face the West, then Europe surely isn’t capable of leading either. If we don’t strike out on our own as Truman did with bold leadership after World War II, we will end a generations long experiment in American exceptionalism. If we don’t lead, someone who doesn’t share our values, probably will.

I wanted to contrast this vision with Francis Fukuyama’s then new piece, entitled ‘Life In A G-Zero World,‘ where if I’m not mistaken, Fukuyama is ok with such a diminished role for the U.S:

‘It is clear that no other power is going to step in to fill this role of structuring world politics on a grand scale. It does not necessarily imply, however, that the world will turn into a chaotic free-for-all. What occurs after the retreat of US hegemony will depend critically on the behavior of American partners and their willingness to invest in new multilateral structures. The dominant role of the US in years past relieved American allies of the need to invest in their own capabilities or to take the lead in solving regional problems. They now need to step up to the plate.’

and:

‘The regional military balance has already shifted toward China more than many American allies would like to admit. Moreover, while the basic American commitment to Tokyo under the US-Japan Security Agreement remains sound, the willingness of the Obama administration to risk military conflict with China over some uninhabited islands in the middle of the Pacific is not at all clear.’

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To some degree, I think both analyses are right, in that we either renew our ideals and pursue exceptionalism, confronting and pushing against those who don’t share our ideals and interests as we have in the past (including the threat and potential use of military force), and/or we re-adjust and recognize the roles of others, but also recognize that they don’t necessarily share our ideals and interests and we can’t necessarily trust anyone to look out for our interests.

This requires us to cooperate and rely on international institutions to some extent, but also institutions which have serious design flaws, poor incentives, and can bind us in treaties and obligations for which our interests can be poorly served.

What I don’t want to see is a continued squandering of our leverage and our strength, mainly at the hands of what I see as a rather utopian and naive worldview, held aloft by tempered, but still rather Left-leaning democratic radicals and activists, who claim peace but see many of their own worst enemies in the West itself, and who still must deal with the world and its political base as it is.

What’s the best way forward?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

***Addition: I’d also prefer not to see the continued squandering of American resources that came about with the promise of military action to remove Saddam Hussein.  The promise was democracy in the Middle-East, the results are apparently much less, with many serious consequences likely still to come.  Hubris and overreach is easy. Strategy and good policy is hard.

Right now, I tend to favor ordered liberty at home, a reduced role for the Executive branch, and the aim of strategic re-alignment based on a more realist understanding of alliance-making abroad.  Trade and sovereignty, patriotism tempered with patience, humility, and moral decency would be better than some of what I fear may be in the cards.

Let the math, science, trade, study and friendships form as much as possible without the silly seriousness of politics entering into daily lives, and the issues of potential conflict handled with courage and wisdom.

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Addition: Walter Russell Mead thinks Fukuyama gets Japan right.

Related On This Site: From The Wall Street Journal: ‘Charles Hill: The Empire Strikes Back’Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In DeclineRichard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’…Is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

Full post here.

Mead has a series built upon the argument that the ‘blue’ progressive social model (building the Great Society) is defunct because America will have to adjust to new economic and global realities.   In the [then] current post, he focuse[d] on the part of the model that creates and directs government agencies to try and alleviate inner-city poverty and its problems for black folks.

‘This is one danger for the Black middle class and it’s an urgent and obvious one: the good jobs are going away — and they won’t be quite as good anymore.  The second danger is subtler but no less important.  In the past, government work served to integrate ethnic minorities and urban populations into society at large.  In the current atmosphere of sharpening debate over the role and cost of government, the ties of so much of the Black middle class to government employment may make it harder, not easier, for Blacks to take advantage of the opportunities that the emerging Red Age economy offers.’

Well, I’m not sold that the Red age is upon us, nor on this analysis, but it’s an interesting thought (for where are entrenched government interests going?).  In my experience, such programs address real needs of which there are no shortage (health and nutrition services for wanted and unwanted teen pregnancies, food stamps and subsidized school lunches for probably millions of kids, subsidized housing for people to get away from predatory and criminal individuals and neighborhoods where the law often doesn’t reach and won’t ever address most of the problems).  Poverty is always with us, and black poverty in American inner cities has its own specific history.

These programs, of course, can create reward structures in which there are winners and losers (creating more inequality as well as abuse and corruption from the top down), recipients who’ve long given up any sense of shame at receiving handouts and generations of people who’ve known little else (another form of abuse and corruption).  There is also clearly damage done to the spirit of those who’ve gotten out, and those striving to get out by their own lights as they look around and see often an upside-down system of incentives (though it may be better than the reward structure of say, a gang).  There is mismanagement, entrenched bureaucracy, and like most city politics, a big political machine with sometimes ruthlessly self-interested players, many of whom have many shady connections.

I’d like to think I’m well aware of the threat such thinking poses to a balanced budget and a growing economy through lower taxation and continued political stability… and ultimately to individual liberties and personal responsibility, which would include the freedom to pursue one’s talents apart from enforced schemes of those who would decide where your moral obligations lie as they pursue their own self-interest in the name of their ideals.

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The progressive response is likely to still be their moral high-ground:  But for moral concern of principled actors responding to the horrendous injustice of American institutionalized slavery, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  The path to justice therefore, and to make society more moral and equal lies through the use of activism to gain popular support for a cause; to enshrine one’s ideals through legislation and the use of State power.   Of course, many progressives assume this legitimizes the broader political platform and all manner of other causes (and their use of the race card shows what happens when politics is used as a driver of change).  These ideas have been making their way through our culture, our courts, and our institutions as Mead points out, for long over a half-century.  They definitely are shaping our current political landscape, come what may.

Comments are worth a read.

A quote from John Locke, found here:

For wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer Justice, it is still violence and injury, however colour’d with the Name, Pretences, or Forms of Law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, War is made upon the Sufferers, who having no appeal on Earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such Cases, an appeal to Heaven.”

Related On This Site:  Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French RevolutionRepost-Two Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Mubaraks, Mamelukes, Modernizers and Muslims’Walter Russell Mead’s New Book On Britain and America

Saturday Quotation-Jerry Pournelle

As previously and consistently posted-Thanks to a reader. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

I’d add this:  Bureaucratic elements exist within companies, of course, but, sooner or later, such elements are subject to market forces (if there ain’t too much collusion with lawmakers).

Decisions made within companies often receive more direct feedback (monthly and quarterly reports), customer feedback (client management is key) and competitive threats (Company B across town risked some money/time and invested in data analytics which now sets the industry standard) etc.

The disruptive forces within bureaucracies often tend to be internal (opposing blocs at odds with the bureaucratic elements), or enough free people who won’t subject themselves to the bureaucracy and/or or whose self-interest works against those in current control of the bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, many bureaucracies end with a political defeat and/or the entire collapse of the political economy.

-Bureaucrats and idealists, as well-meaning and hard-working as some may be, often find themselves unable to escape the inertia of the systems they’ve helped to create, incentivized to spend other people’s money on other people.

-Via friesian.com, a cold but humorous eye: The Practical Rules Of Bureaucracy.

One problem here lies in getting how people actually behave wrong, or overlooking the self-interested nature of so much human motivation and action, while still recognizing one’s moral obligations to other people and the intractability of so much human suffering and so many human problems.

Naturally, I think pretty highly of myself, and aim to operate under the ideas that none of us is selfless, none of us has special possession of universal truths (some are wiser than others), and none can design systems from the top down that work for everyone.

This world being what it is, I have resigned myself to the idea of there being some bureaucracy, but constant vigilance and vigorous freedom is required to even sustain some of it.

A Henry Kissinger quote found here.

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

Via Architizer-‘A Brief History Of Modern Architecture Through The Movies’ And A Few Quotations Gathered Over The Years

Full post here.

Chronologically done with choice examples of each style.

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Ever since I was young, I found myself wanting to live in that Mt. Rushmore house at the end of North By Northwest.  I suspect some among us have wanted to occupy a modernist lair.

From an article in Der Spiegel on the Bauhaus, where modernism got its start:

‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘

I’m always a little skeptical of such grand visions.  Utopianism runs deep.

Robert Hughes wasn’t a fan of some of what’s modern.  Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York seems pretty out-of-place, and pretty authoritarian-looking:

I think we may be seeing the mix of the corporate/bureaucratic alliance so common in post-war America coming-up for re-examination and undergoing some kind of resurgence in our current politics:


Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism. From the banner of his blog:

‘The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’


Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

See Also: They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Richard Epstein At Hoover: ‘Scott Pruitt And The Environment’

Full piece here.

‘The current law is equally defective in its choice of remedies in the event of pollution. Everyone agrees that polluters should ordinarily be required to pay for the damage they cause to both public and private property, as was long required under the common law. But one key element in the private law equation was to wait until the potential nuisance was imminent or actual before issuing an injunction. The EPA does not worry about these limitations in the exercise of its enormous permit power, but requires the proponents of any new project to run a huge regulatory gauntlet that consumes years and many millions of dollars before anything can be done.

As previously posted:

Ron Bailey at Reason on Obama’s trip to Alaska:

‘In other words, whatever benefits the administration’s convoluted energy and emissions regulations may provide, they are costing American consumers and industry three times more than would a comparable carbon tax. Talk about negative impacts!’

I think this comment gets to the heart of what some folks are likely thinking:

‘Look, if we can model the economy, we can model the climate.’

YOU should feel guilty about the poor, the downtrodden, and the global victims of industrial activity. WE should ‘re-wild’ nature and bring it to a state it achieved before man came and despoiled it. Humans have the power to shape their world, but only if they follow the right ideals and the right knowledge, as well as perhaps feeling the guilt and commitment and passion that come with those ideals. WE should aim for a simpler, collective life, and feel ’empathy’ with everyone (oft times the noble savage) around the globe.

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To be fair, we don’t often see genuine socialists out in public in the United States pushing green causes, but there’s more than a little anti-corporate, anti-industrial activism that often finds expression within environmental movements. This activism can make its way into laws, and forms a major plank in the Democratic party platform nationally.

Whatever your thoughts on the natural world and conservation, I think it’s fair to say that from cartoons to schools to movies, there’s also been remarkable popular success in making environmental activism mainstream conventional wisdom; easy, cool and fun to join.

Rarely though, is there much discussion of the costs environmental laws can impose on private landowners and consumers (not just big real-estate developers and industrial interests) through compliance with the laws and higher prices. Supporters of environmental causes don’t often connect the dots between their interests and the potential for bureaucratic waste and mismanagement, nor the downright twisted incentives that can result for citizens, lawmakers and even budding scientists looking for grant money.

As we see in California, I think once you get enough public sentiment believing in the basic tenets of green thinking, then climate science, whatever its merits, often becomes a sideshow, while politics and money can become the main event.

***I think Monbiot was on much more stable ground when he appealed to J.S. Mill’s harm principle regarding people harmed by industrial activity. Sometimes people in industries just don’t care about some of the consequences of their actions, and legal recourse can be hard to come by for those without money or connections. There have been beneficial consequences to individuals’ health and to those parts of nature sought to be conserved…but again…at what cost?

It seems worth continually discussing.

From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…

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Related On This Site: A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing?-’Rewilding’ And Ecological Balance

Repost-From The American Spectator: ‘Environmentalism and the Leisure Class’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From The Boston Review: ‘Libertarianism And Liberty: How Not To Argue For Limited Government And Lower Taxes’From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

Is it actual Nature, or a deep debate about civilization and morality, man and nature that fuels this Western debate: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’Karl Popper’s metaphysical theory: Falsifiability

Did Jared Diamond get attacked for not being romantic enough…or just for potential hubris?: Was he acting as a journalist in Papua New-Guinea?: From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit

Instead of global green governance, what about a World Leviathan…food for thought, and a little frightening: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Ronald Bailey At Reason: ‘Delusional in Durban’A Few Links On Environmentalism And Liberty

Some Quotations From Samuel Huntington

A quote from this piece over at the Atlantic: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”

I’ll keep putting it up, as it’s so relevant. A few central quotes from this article here:

Huntington was instinctively a conservative because he valued an ordered society, but he also championed conservatism as a necessary instrument to defend liberal institutions against communism. In many of his books he attacked idealistic liberals for holding such institutions to impossible, utopian standards that undermined their effectiveness in the world.”

and:

“An iconoclast to the core, Huntington never threw his lot in with left or right. He was too statist to be a libertarian, too realist to embrace neoconservatism, and too sympathetic to nationalism, religion and the military to identify with liberal Democrats. As a conservative Democrat, then, he is an intellectual rarity.”

Political Order In Changing Societies info here, a book likely worth your time.

Update And Repost: Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

A Few Thoughts On Foreign Policy-Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Conservative Principles Of World Order’

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