Some Links On Robert Kagan’s New Book: ‘The Jungle Grows Back: America And Our Imperiled World’

Our author reviews Robert Kagan’s new book ‘The Jungle Grows Back: America And Our Imperiled World.’

The piece contains liberal pushback (the search for a center?) against what’s argued to be Kagan’s proselytizing neo-conservatism:

‘That is precisely what today’s moment cries out for: Kennan’s humility rather than a new crusade against a new Evil Empire. It cries out for a skeptical liberalism that sees the world as it is rather than going looking for new monsters to destroy.’

Our ideological troubles spring, I have argued before, from liberalism’s lack of perceived legitimacy. Authoritarianism emerges as a symptom either where the liberal approach to organizing society has failed to take root, or where an established liberalism is seen to be overreaching unopposed. We ought to be on the lookout for these failures of liberalism—for “the appeals to core elements of human nature that liberalism does not always satisfy,”

There’s lots of stuff in the piece for regular readers of this blog (Mention of Edmund Burke, Isaiah Berlin etc.).

The author finishes with the area of most shared agreement [between himself] and Kagan (a view of ‘teleological’ progressivism as dangerously narrow and very authoritarian itself; delegitimizing and destabilizing Western liberalism from within).

It’s going to be harder to deal with the rest of the world when these core elements of debate rage within Western hearts, minds and institutions:

The Jungle Grows Back is an important book insofar as it contains all the debates outlined above within it. And Kagan opens the space for these ideas to breathe a little by rightly dismissing teleological progressivism in his book’s opening pages—a great service that makes reading the book a richer experience than it otherwise might have been. But a more moderate, and therefore much wiser, conclusion is passed over by an author whose commitment to his priors prevents him from seeing what a gem he might have had on his hands. It’s too bad.’

Kagan discusses the book here with what I’d describe as an evolutionary psychologist/soft-ish Marxist:

Also On This Site: Taking on the telos of progress and questioning  modern liberal assumptions with a largely nihilistic approach (progress is learned but doesn’t stay learned in human affairs; the lesson of various 20th centry writers and one of the main purposes of a humanities education): Repost-John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’…Repost-John Gray Reviews Francis Fukuyama At The Literary Review: ‘Destination Denmark’…Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

People on the Left and a more moderate middle, and from libertarian conservative backgrounds are increasingly challenging core ideological assumptions of far Left doctrines having crept into so many institutions.  They must defend their own disciplines and be of exemplary character: Repost-Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview…Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy: ‘The Blasphemy Case Against Bret Weinstein, And Its Four Lessons For Professors’…Charles Murray From ‘The Happiness Of People’…The Hoover Institution Via Youtube: Charles Murray On ‘Coming Apart’

Repost-Looking For Liberals In The Postmodern Wilderness-Jordan Peterson & Stephen Hicks

A restatement of Anglican, British conservatism with deep Kantian, Hegelian roots: Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’…Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

The Religious Conservative American right advocating a step back from a common Constitutional project?: Two Links To Rod Dreher On How To Live And What To Do... Another view of the 60’s radicalism on campus: Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

A Few Passing Thoughts On Conceptions Of Liberty Potentially Woven Into Current U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions

Let’s say within Western civilization there are many operational conceptions of liberty, woven into doctrines and movements, internalized into minds and informing various personal decisions (join this group or that-accept this boss’s instructions or not-date this guy/girl over that).

Such conceptions often come into conflict with religious beliefs, self-interest, duties and loyalties to family, to tradition and promises kept as citizens to other citizens.  They also come into conflict with competing factions and rival political interests.

Let’s also say, that, exhausted or not, overextended or not, ’empire’ or not, the United States has serious internal and structural conflicts over operational conceptions of liberty, woven into recent institutional, political and policy decisions.

How such conceptions might be affecting foreign policy is probably worth thinking about.  This blog believes that Barack Obama was a serious shift Leftwards politically, towards a kind of cooled liberation theology, peace idealism and identitarianism with many collectivist elements.  There may be many valid historical reasons for this turn of events (specific and institutional injustices, among others), though I think such a turn came with familiar disagreements over the interests of activist elements butting-heads with a more pragmatic, humanitarian, liberal internationalism.

I believe this has also led to the further disenfranchisement of many Tea-Party Republicans, limited-government supporters, and has helped hasten the profound populist movements within both parties profoundly unhappy with the status quo.

Despite and because of such shifts, it’s interesting to think in terms of what might be staying relatively the same, or at least, more slowly changing within ‘corridors of power.’

There are many legal constraints and similar logistical challenges placed in the lap of any sitting President.  There are unique unforeseen events which come to define any term.

Robert Kagan on American foreign policy similarities moving through time from Bush–>Obama–>Trump.

‘All this began to change as Putin came to worry about his own hold on power in Moscow. He was alarmed by the democratic revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in 2003 and 2004. But as McFaul notes, it was the disastrous Russian parliamentary elections of 2011 that had the greatest impact. The widespread protests against election irregularities and against Putin’s planned return to the presidency for a third term led him to revive the “old Soviet-era argument as his new source of legitimacy — defense of the motherland against the evil West, and especially the imperial, conniving, threatening United States.”

It seems U.S. foreign policy may be lacking a deeper, strategic vision for our place in the world and our stance towards Russia, in particular, with no end in sight to a divided political and civil debate.

In fact, I don’t know how bad it will get.  Here’s to hoping for the best, and expecting a pretty bad run, and meanwhile, for others in the world to act as they see fit.

What do you know?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

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

Another favorite of this blog, Kenneth Minogue, tried to identify the connective tissue common to ideology: ‘Alien Powers; The Pure Theory Of Ideology‘.

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.

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’

Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’

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-From Bloggingheads: Robert Kagan Discusses The U.N. Security Council

5:00 discussion here.

Well over ten years ago now, we willingly decided to pretty much ignore the U.N. and the U.N. security council with our decision to invade Iraq.  It’d be nice to think that a better system would have forced us to balance our interests against those of other powerful and influential states with some stake in the claim.  But make no mistake, the U.N. has got serious problems and seems at times hopelessly outdated and inefficient…attractive to secular humanists and idealists, inclusive of rogues and dictators, and creating lots of bad incentives.

As a result we (and we aren’t the only ones) have to rationally pursue the majority of our self-interest outside the U.N. and still must find common ground and form alliances as we did in Iraq.

Two Thursday Links On Foreign Policy

Claudia Rosett At PJ Media: ‘The Upside Of Russia’s Threat To Trash The Iran Nuclear Talks:’

Reaching out to the leadership in Iran is risky, but Rosett seems to think it isn’t worth the risk at all:

‘I’ve been in Vienna for the first two rounds of these talks, Feb. 18-20 and March 18-19, and there’s no sign that this diplomatic process is going to stop Iran from getting the bomb. Rather, Iran is making some temporary and reversible concessions, while continuing to enrich uranium, and refusing to give up its ballistic missile program or abandon construction of a heavy-water de facto plutonium-factory reactor near Arak’

Zavid Jarif seemed pretty clear about Iran’s right to enrich as of March 20th, 2014.  This will be tough to bridge.

Putin’s pursuing an ethno-nationalist petro-empire and our most common interest would still be in preventing Islamist terrorism (Iran funds terrorism, mind you).  Is the Moscow-Tehran-Damascus alliance worth bargaining with?  Meanwhile, the Saudis and Israelis are taking their own precautions, given Iran’s right next door.

Many Chinese interests line-up against ours.

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Robert Kagan at the Washington Post: ‘President Obama’s Foreign Policy Paradox:’

Per Kagan:  You wanted isolationism, withdrawal, and a light footprint, America, you’ve got it and you don’t seem pleased:

‘For many decades Americans thought of their nation as special. They were the self-proclaimed “leader of the free world,” the “indispensable nation,” the No. 1 superpower. It was a source of pride. Now, pundits and prognosticators are telling them that those days are over, that it is time for the United States to seek more modest goals commensurate with its declining power. And they have a president committed to this task.’

So, what next?

Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’

Book here.

Obama has pulled out of the missile defense program in Eastern Europe, and some are calling this a capitulation to Russia. Here’s a quote from Robert Kagan that perhaps could clarify that position a little better:

“That is the primary motive behind Russia’s opposition to American missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic.  It is not only that Russians fear the proposed sites may someday threaten their nuclear strike capacity:  Putin has suggested placing the sites in Italy, Turkey, or France instead.  He wants to turn Poland and other eastern members of NATO into a strategic neutral zone.”

Because, as Kagan argues, we’re not living anymore in the heady days after the fall of communism and a coming liberal international order (See Francis Fukuyama’s The End Of History).  We’re living in a world where Russia is playing old-style, nation-state power politics to regain its former scope, complete with a lot of strong-arming its former satellites and shutting off access to its resources when it sees fit.

Kagan broadens the picture further:   China and India are gaining national strength (though still fragile) and their governments’ and peoples’ conception of their own identity will change accordingly.  They will want more resources, to have more control over their own waters and trade routes, and have larger and larger spheres of influence.   Matters of national pride and identity (Taiwan) are not to be taken lightly.  They will push nations into potential conflicts, shifting alliances, and a scene more closely resembling 18th and 19th century European states and geo-politics.

Philosophically, Kagan clearly has doubts about the Enlightenment roots of the popular vision of  liberal international order (with roots in Kantian “perpetual peace” and Hegelian dialectical progress…).  However, he argues that there is a future, and there are moral obligations that (I would imagine individuals have in it), and that democracies have to one another to shape that world going forward (as we progress through our collective will?).

It’s definitely worth a read for its keen eye on the international scene and its challenge to a liberal internationalism.

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So,  as for the missile-defense program…was it an appeasement to Putin…do you trust Obama’s vision for the world and America’s place in it…is he positioning us well between our own interests and our own moral obligations?

Addition:  A reader links to this piece and argues that this is Obama trying to forge common interest with Russia, which may bear fruit.

Yet Another Addition:  It’s looking like Russia’s not on board with Iranian sanctions.

See Also On This Site:  From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington…From The Chronicle Of Higher Ed: Russian Forum…Dick Cheney Travels To Georgia: Is the U.S. Allied With Georgia?

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