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’

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Full post here.

From Bob Huber’s piece, Being White In Philly:

‘Fifty years after the height of the civil rights movement, more than 25 years after electing its first African-American mayor, Philadelphia remains a largely segregated city, with uneasy boundaries in culture and understanding. And also in well-being. There is a black middle class, certainly, and blacks are well-represented in our power structure, but there remains a vast and seemingly permanent black underclass. Thirty-one percent of Philadelphia’s more than 600,000 black residents live below the poverty line. Blacks are more likely than whites to be victims of a crime or commit one, to drop out of school and to be unemployed’

Following below is a quote from Mayor Nutter’s letter to the Philadephia Human Relations Commision after he read the piece:

‘Finally, I ask that the commission consider specifically whether Philadelpia Magazine and the writer, Bob Huber are appropriate for rebuke by the Commission in light of the potentially inflammatory effect and the reckless endangerment to Philadelphia’s racial relations possibly caused by the essay’s unsubstantiated assertions.’

As Eugene Volokh points out:

‘But the Mayor’s rationale wasn’t just, “this speech is constitutionally protected but so is our response.” Rather, the Mayor expressly suggested that the speech in the article was unprotected, and therefore punishable outright and not just worthy of public disapproval.’

A public and well-made response by Nutter, say, offered in the same publication, might have actually persuaded a few people.

Fortunately, we have stronger traditions of free speech in our country then the rest of the Western world, but this blog maintains that the logic inherent in 60’s political activism and Civil Rights organization will inevitably lead to future strains upon those traditions.  The Human Relations Council is a natural outgrowth of the same political activism, generally under the same Left-Of-Center secular humanism.

This is probably why Obama is trying to set up his legacy of permanent activism through Organizing For Action, as what he doesn’t achieve through legislation, he will do through other means:

‘Organizing for Action will support the legislative agenda we voted on, train the next generation of grassroots organizers and leaders, and organize around local issues in our communities’

In other words:  Good for some, especially those who get political power and who organize, but not for all.  The common good has to be defined on the activist’s terms, and through the activist’s ideals and through his political coalitions.

It’s easy to see how the limits of this vision lead to greater contentiousness in our politics, making it a kind of sad theater and a street-fight for resources. While both parties can share in the blame, and other forces are at work in our society, it’s hard to see how more Americans will be united under such a vision, and persuaded to actually work together, especially when they disagree.

This is where the logic can lead:

Up in Canada, both Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant found out the hard way that Human Rights Commissions can align with intolerant Muslims to place the costs of free speech upon citizens who speak up:

Levant was fighting what he saw as an infringement upon his freedom of speech by the Human Rights Commission of Alberta.  As editor of the Western Standard, Levant published the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, and found himself investigated by, in his words, ”a kangaroo court.”


Here’s Mark Steyn discussing complaints brought against Macleans, Canada’s largest publication, by the President of the Canadian Islamic Congress (who sent three representatives) to TVOntario.   They were upset at the pieces Steyn had published there.  The complaints went through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for alleged “Islamophobia” and “promoting hate:”


Rolled under the EuroLeft is where Lars Hedegaard found himself, as founder of Denmark’s Free Press Society.   He’s had to bear court costs to defend himself from charges of racism.

Here he is in his own words describing what he thinks are the failures of multicultural policies (addition: and why Islam is different).  Agree or disagree, he is threatened with his life for airing his views.  The public ought to support the right not to be murdered:


Also As Sent In:  Martin Luther King’s intellectual development came mainly through theology and seminary, social gospel (addressing social injustices), but also depended on various other sources, including Gandhi’s non-violent resistance (not acquiescence) to displace the force of the laws used against blacks for centuries.  He welcomed a broad definition of rights enacted into law to include black folks, and a vast involvement of Federal authority…that libertarians have trouble with philosophically:


Related On This Site:  Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Richard Epstein At Defining Ideas: ‘The End Of Unions?’

Full piece here.

Maybe, maybe not, but Epstein makes a principled case for Michigan’s recent right-to-work bill.

Libertarians who only see liberty from where they sit, and the growth of big government and big labor since the New Deal, might need to make a better case for their cause to the public, Epstein argues (libertarians tend to rise in opposition to particularly liberal administrations):

‘The call for limited government doesn’t start with the radical proposition to disband the army, fire the police, or close public highways. Rather, it relies on the theory of public, or collective, goods. The sound theory of limited government uses the state to provide those essential public goods that ordinary individuals, acting either alone or in combination, cannot supply for themselves in voluntary markets.’

He finishes with:

‘Political leaders can be expected to hold back their punches to get legislation through. But the job of independent intellectuals is to offer principled defenses of these legislative changes in order to maintain the long-term coherence of, in my case, libertarian thought, which is needed to make future labor market reforms possible.’

Click through for a good defense against unions when laws are used to protect them, as they become an industrial cartel free-riding on the public good.   That’s the line to draw, Epstein suggests.

Many people, quite frankly, find the moral case for government involvement in basic services compelling (taking people’s money involuntarily and promising to do things that voluntarily people would not do, nor do enough of).  They are well aware that people are self-interested, sometimes selfish, and that there’s plenty of suffering and scarcity in the world.

Libertarians might find it hard to believe that to many Americans, the slippery slope argument fails, even if you point out that the slope can often involve free riding, inefficiencies, crony capitalism, reduced employment, reduced consumer choice and ultimately reduced economic and political liberty for all Americans.  The system, for them, is solid, and functioning pretty well.

Obamacare supporters, in fact, point out the inefficiencies of our current health-care delivery system, the waste, the downsides of ‘the profit motive’ (as though it won’t be central going forward) as they argue that health-care is a fundamental right and function of the government.

Pointing out that modern liberalism isn’t like the old classical liberalism also sounds extreme to many Americans.  The case will need to be made, solidly and reasonably, of the dangers already in our culture and institutions.  Libertarians, as skeptically as they are viewed by conservatives, have a good handle on the faith that modern progressivism has in reason and the interests many modern liberals have in growing the State, and what can occur in the wake of that faith and those interests to freedom, opportunity, and the human spirit.

See also: Free riding in Canada, and threats to free speech when a Human Rights Commision acts like a kind of quasi-court: Update And Repost: ‘A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant’

Related On This Site:  Covering the law and economics from a libertarian perspective: Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution Journal: ‘Three Cheers for Income Inequality’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution: ‘Death By Wealth Tax’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution: ‘The Obamacare Quaqmire’

The anarchic tradition on this site:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”… …Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of KnowledgeLink To Lew Rockwell Via A ReaderRepost-Two Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’…minimal state…Repost-Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Originalism vs. The living constitution: George Will Via The Jewish World Review: ‘True Self-Government’..Still fighting the battles of the 60′s…? A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”…Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

From The Hoover Institution: ‘Nature Fakery’

Full piece here.

Our author points out two myths underlying the environmental movement. The topic is hot given the influence of the Greens on our politics at the moment:

‘The Noble Savage is that inhabitant of a simpler world whose life harmonizes with his natural surroundings. He does not need government or law, for he has no private property, and hence no desire for wealth or status, nor for their byproducts, crime and war. His existence is peaceful, free from conflict and strife. He takes from nature only what he needs, and needs only what he takes’

On this site see Roger Sandall in Australia: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Also, our author argues:

‘The myth of the Golden Age, which the West has inherited from Ancient Greece, is another idealization of the lost simplicity of living in a complex society. This myth imagines a time before cities and technology, when humans lived intimately with a benevolent nature that provided for their needs and for lives of leisure, health, and happiness, free as they were from the unnatural desires and appetites created by civilization’

As posted on this site previously:

I would offer that there are many to whom environmentalism serves as a kind of religion.  On this view, man has fallen away from Nature, and built civilized society atop it through harmful, unsustainable means.  He must atone, and get back in harmony with Nature, as he has alienated himself from his once graceful state (tribal? romantically primitive? collectively just? equal and fair? healthy?  ”spiritually aware?” morally good?).

Related On This Site:  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 LibertyFrom George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…people who argue the earth is warming sure don’t live like it:From The American Spectator: ‘Environmentalism and the Leisure Class’

Ronald Bailey At Reason’s Hit & Run: ‘Are Republicans or Democrats More Anti-Science?’

Full piece here

A bold statement, but it’s a political football at the moment:

‘On the specific issues discussed above, I conclude that the Republicans are more anti-science. However, I do also agree with Berezow that scientific “ignorance has reached epidemic proportions inside the Beltway.’

Meanwhile, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope in Chile is just coming on line.  Video at the link.

Related On This SiteRonald Bailey At Reason: “I’ll Show You My Genome. Will You Show Me Yours?”… There’s science and there’s science education. Isn’t Dennett deeper than that? From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of Books

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

There’s plenty of scientism on the Left as well.  Don’t immanentize the eschaton!: From The NY Times: ‘Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum’

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From The National Interest Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rawls Visits the Pyramids’

Full post here.

“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.

Related On This Site:  Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

From CSIS: ‘Turmoil In The Middle-East’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’

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