Rescuing Diplomacy in an Age of Demagogy

“Information warfare” is a new centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, with demonizing an “enemy” the predictable first step sometimes toward actual war, as we’ve seen with Russian President Putin over Ukraine. But this propagandistic approach raises troubling philosophical questions about democracy, says Paul Grenier.

By Paul Grenier

Does America always live up to its ideals?  If by American ideals we mean human rights and the rule of law, then the obvious answer would be “no.”

In the very recent past, as the Senate Report on Torture reveals, such ideals were massively violated at Guantanamo Bay and at various black sites all over the world.  But they were also violated during America’s dirty wars in Central America; and during the Phoenix Program in Vietnam; and during America’s blood-stained imperial conquest of the Philippines.  And of course, still earlier, during America’s violation of countless treaties with its native peoples

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Russian government photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Russian government photo)

That is the obvious answer.  But America’s apologists have at hand a more subtle, a more “Hegelian” answer: despite some occasional hiccups, America is always in the process of fulfilling its march toward universal freedom.

Critics may condemn America for its imperial war against the Philippines, for example, and the resulting deaths by starvation, disease or gunfire of more than 200,000 Filipinos. But by vastly strengthening American commercial power in the Far East, that war ultimately proved progressive. It furthered the cause, they will say, of freedom in the world.

Jumping forward a century brings us to the Iraq War, the legality of which, shall we say, is not at all obvious. How many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have suffered death, dismemberment or displacement is not exactly clear. What is clear is that the figure is very large.

But from the neoconservative position, which, as it turns out, is indistinguishable from the “liberal” position of President Barack Obama, the Iraq War in no way calls into question America’s moral grandeur, its preeminent position of moral leadership in the world.

“[E]ven in Iraq,” President Obama told the world during his recent speech in Brussels, “America sought to work within the international system.” What is more, “We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people.”

The President’s claim about America seeking to work within the international system is, of course, rather embarrassing. Yes, we did indeed seek to “work within the international system” — by sharing with it lies about Iraq which we presented as facts, and we used torture) to manufacture some of those “facts.”

Obama’s assertion that America did not lay claim to Iraqi territory or resources conceals, of course, that America did its very best to grab Iraqi resources for U.S. oil corporations, just as it conceals that America only “left” Iraq because the promised “cakewalk” turned into an expensive, army- destroying nightmare.

A Blindness

But Obama’s idealistic phraseology also reveals a more subtle point: America’s genuine and long-standing blindness about the universality of its civilization. This blindness has been described by the neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan with an admirable forthrightness.

In his Dangerous Nation (2006), Kagan tells us that Americans frequently fail to realize how their “expansive tendencies bump up against and intrude upon other peoples and cultures.” Americans imagine themselves “inward-looking and aloof,” responding only when necessary to attacks from without. Kagan marvels that this myth persists “despite four hundred years of steady expansion and an ever-deepening involvement in world affairs.”

Kagan does not adequately address why this myth persists. The myth persists because Americans do not think. What is called “thought” in American business and political circles (and what else counts for anything in America?) is little more than a pragmatic calculation.

If thought in general enjoys little prestige in America, philosophical reasoning enjoys none at all. America is a pragmatic civilization oriented to action, not thought, and definitely not philosophy.   Americans are therefore unaware that they bring to their action an unconscious philosophical anthropology, a prior conviction about “what man is.”

America’s “revolutionary” liberal anthropology (Kagan emphasizes precisely this revolutionary newness, which he considers admirable) is borrowed directly from Adam Smith. Humans are revealed to be acquisitive creatures. Henceforth, the eternal striving for the material “betterment of one’s condition” will be “human nature.”

That is the beating heart, as well as the sword, of American liberalism. Thus armed, America’s liberal civilization will unleash, Kagan says, “a mammoth self-generating engine of national wealth and power.”

Now comes Kagan’s punch line: “Americans believed a world reformed along liberal and republican lines would be a safer world for their liberal republic, and that a freer and multiplying commerce would make them a more prosperous nation. They were arguably right on both counts. An international order more suited to America’s interests and institutions would indeed be better for Americans.” (Emphasis mine)

Here at last we find the source of Obama’s and Bush’s and Reagan’s idealistic self-deception. If only every country in the world that wanders into America’s cross-hairs would calmly accept that it should become an extension of “America’s interests and institutions,” what a peaceful world it could be! From America’s innocent perspective innocent of thought, that is such peaceful capitulation would make everyone so much happier.

So now what? We began by talking about ideals, and contrasting them with realities. It turns out that America’s pragmatic philosophy blurs the distinction between the two. Since Americans, not just the John McCains, but also the Barack Obamas, see America’s civilizational type as universal, they often truly don’t notice that some other nation may simply not be an extension of America.

Sure, America isn’t now living up to its ideals; this is true within America as well as being true beyond America. No one denies that. But wherever America is acting, there the process of history is moving inexorably toward freedom, toward making the ideal of improving one’s condition more fully available to all. American idealism is non-refutable.

Antidote to Bad Thought

The new Cold War did not start with the Ukraine crisis. On the level of rhetoric, it started several years earlier. But once the Ukraine crisis heated up back in fall 2013, the rhetoric hardened. Now when mainstream media sources and government spokespersons talked about Russia, they almost always did so according to a certain formula.

Russia was to be judged according to its unpleasant actions, America according to its pleasant ideals. On the Russian side: soldiers occupying territory; protestors being arrested; people getting killed in an airplane; Putin not wearing a shirt. On the American side: President Obama in a crisp suit saying : “over the long haul as nations that are free, as free people, the future is ours.” On the Russian side: toilets that don’t flush; the trial of Pussy Riot.

So what is the alternative to this demagogic formula? A comparison of America’s harsh facts on the ground with Russia’s harsh facts on the ground? That might well be a good approach, and some day we should try it, but perhaps it is too ambitious for today.

How would we find out what both sides are actually up to “on the ground,” in Ukraine? And even if we did find out, what would we do with such knowledge? Imitate Gary Webb and print an exposé about it in the San Jose Mercury News?

In liberal America the truth is shy in public. The facts-on-the-ground-in-the-present-moment kind of truth is particularly shy. The Iraq War was only the most glaring example of a historical constant: demagogy is for the present, truth is for the past (if at all). After an action has been taken, after a policy course has become irreversible, after powerful bureaucratic interests are no longer against it, and if raison d’état can tolerate it, then the truth can be told.

We can learn all we wish to know about Vietnam. It doesn’t matter anymore.

Francis Bacon’s tired cliché “knowledge is power” gets it backwards. To the contrary: power is knowledge. (There is no need here to invoke the name of Michel Foucault, or Nietzsche, or any of the other theorists and prophets of suspicion. I am making here a simple empirical observation, garnered from reading the Western mainstream press. In any case, my heroes are Socrates and Simone Weil, not Nietzsche.  Behind the games of power, I think truth and beauty actually and “objectively” exist.)

Questions such as who actually shot down flight MH-17, or who actually were the snipers shooting the police and demonstrators in Maidan square, are precisely the sort of questions that, in America, can only be answered by the technique of power, not the technique of loving truth more than anything else.

To assume we can get and then effectively broadcast the facts about such things while such knowledge could still be politically effective is naive. It would be to assume that the power of the writer is on a par with the power of the modern state. That may have been true in the USSR in the time of Solzhenitsyn. It is certainly not true of today’s United States.

And yet, I cannot resist the temptation to expose at least one obvious falsehood. Over the past year we have been insulted with a stream of statements claiming that there is one, unified, legitimate Ukraine, sharing one legitimate opinion, and that opinion is oriented to “the West.”

In order not to embarrass itself with something so crude as reality, East Ukraine’s evident resistance to Kiev’s new pro-U.S. orientation has been air-brushed away as purely a function of malevolent Moscow manipulation.

But in fact we know, and have long known, that Ukraine is a divided state incorporating fundamentally different civilizations. Any student of history can see it is screamingly obvious the deep connections between Russia and Ukraine; but these connections have a particular geographic shape.

Clash of Civilizations 

Harvard’s Samuel Huntington may have had his limitations as a student of Islam, but his writings demonstrate a sensitive knowledge of Slavic history and civilization. His famous The Clash of Civilizations is nothing but a study of the impact of civilizational difference and similarity on global affairs.

Writing in 1996, at a time when Power was not yet sure what it wanted to do with Ukraine, Huntington told his readers that his civilizational approach to international politics “emphasizes the close cultural, personal and historical links between Russia and Ukraine and the intermingling of Russians and Ukrainians in both countries.”

The main fault line here, he wrote, is not the border between Russia and Ukraine as a whole, but instead “the civilizational fault line that divides Orthodox eastern Ukraine from Uniate western Ukraine, a central historical fact of long standing.” The great danger, as a result, wrote Huntington, is that Ukraine will split in half, “a separation which cultural factors would lead one to predict might be more violent than that of Czechoslovakia but far less bloody than that of Yugoslavia.”

Huntington’s thesis didn’t take into account, one must assume, the possibility that the United States itself would do its best to urge on the Yugoslav approach. Huntington, I might add parenthetically, spars in these same pages with the great proponent of political realism, John Mearsheimer, who tended to discount civilizational factors and focused instead on the behavior of Hobbesian states seeking to maximize their power and to protect their borders.

Huntington reproaches Mearsheimer for ignoring the cultural dimension and predicting a war between Russia and Ukraine as a whole. In a recent essay in Foreign Affairs, Mearsheimer declared that the conflict in Ukraine was caused by U.S. blindness and folly.

Ideals and Civilizations

So what is the task at hand? The task is to find a form of dialogue not dominated by forces indifferent to honesty, a form that reopens the door to thought. If we can’t begin with a comparison of both sides’ actions on the ground, where can we begin? What are we left with?

My first thought was to propose a comparison of America’s ideals with Russia’s ideals. The propagandist and the PR firm have less power here. Ideas, after all, belong to the realm of philosophy. They exist in authoritative books by men like Adam Smith and John Locke (and Vladimir Solovyov and other obscure names on the Russian side) that anyone can have access to.

But this approach is also not quite right. As the much-maligned and surprisingly ill-understood Samuel Huntington admitted, America’s “ideals” are easy to identify for the simple reason that America in a sense is an ideology. Its institutions are the product of the ideology invented by Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Smith. In the Soviet period, Russia was similarly dominated by an ideology, the one invented by Marx.

Today, however, the Soviet ideology is gone, and Russia is wandering in the desert trying to decide what it is. Prior to the Soviet period, Russia was not ruled by an ideology. Part of it, the greater part, lived and practiced a tradition, a religious tradition. Western liberal ideology is and indeed has long been present in Russia, but this ideology, particularly in its most recent form, is incompatible with Russia’s roots.

Russia’s future will be more stable and healthier if it builds on its past; this is true of any country. But learning to have roots will be a painful process for Russia. It is not as simple a matter as simply taking on a new ideology. New habits must be formed. Tradition, as Huntington (and Alisdair MacIntyre, and Edmund Burke and for that matter Ralph Nader) realized, is a living thing, a practice. It lies at a deeper level than ideas.

One can speak thoughtful Russians like Nicholas Berdyaev do speak of the Russian Idea, of l’idée Russe, but they are not speaking literally of “an idea” or an ideology. What is needed, then, is a respectful conversation between our different civilizational types.

Because indeed what America faces in Russia, and in Eastern Ukraine, is a different civilizational type, exactly as Huntington stated. It is an unacceptable violence to demand from Russia, and from East Ukraine, that they take on the American civilizational type which is based on the ideology of liberalism. It is unacceptable and it is also futile.

As Huntington, in his apparently rarely- actually-read Clash of Civilizations tersely put it: “belief in the universality of Western culture suffers from three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous.”

Paul Grenier is a former Russian simultaneous interpreter and a regular writer on political-philosophical issues. After advanced study in Russian affairs, international relations and geography at Columbia University, Paul Grenier worked on contract for the Pentagon, State Department and World Bank as a Russian interpreter, and at the Council on Economic Priorities, where he was a research director. He has written for the Huffington Post, Solidarity Hall, the Baltimore Sun, Godspy, and Second Spring, among other places, and his translations of Russian philosophy have appeared in the Catholic journal Communio.

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14 comments for “Rescuing Diplomacy in an Age of Demagogy

  1. Abe
    December 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Inverted totalitarianism does not replicate past totalitarian structures, such as fascism and communism. It is therefore harder to immediately identify and understand. There is no blustering demagogue. There is no triumphant revolutionary party. There are no ideologically drenched and emotional mass political rallies. The old symbols, the old iconography and the old language of democracy are held up as virtuous. The old systems of governance—electoral politics, an independent judiciary, a free press and the Constitution—appear to be venerated. But, similar to what happened during the late Roman Empire, all the institutions that make democracy possible have been hollowed out and rendered impotent and ineffectual.

    The corporate state, Wolin told me at his Oregon home, is “legitimated by elections it controls.” It exploits laws that once protected democracy to extinguish democracy; one example is allowing unlimited corporate campaign contributions in the name of our First Amendment right to free speech and our right to petition the government as citizens. “It perpetuates politics all the time,” Wolin said, “but a politics that is not political.” The endless election cycles, he said, are an example of politics without politics, driven not by substantive issues but manufactured political personalities and opinion polls. There is no national institution in the United States “that can be described as democratic,” he said.

    The mechanisms that once allowed the citizen to be a participant in power—from participating in elections to enjoying the rights of dissent and privacy—have been nullified. Money has replaced the vote, Wolin said, and corporations have garnered total power without using the cruder forms of traditional totalitarian control: concentration camps, enforced ideological conformity and the physical suppression of dissent. They will avoid such measures “as long as that dissent remains ineffectual,” he said. “The government does not need to stamp out dissent. The uniformity of imposed public opinion through the corporate media does a very effective job.”

    The state has obliterated privacy through mass surveillance, a fundamental precondition for totalitarian rule, and in ways that are patently unconstitutional has stripped citizens of the rights to a living wage, benefits and job security. And it has destroyed institutions, such as labor unions, that once protected workers from corporate abuse.

    Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin has written, is “only in part a state-centered phenomenon.” It also represents “the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry.”

    Corporate power works in secret. It is unseen by the public and largely anonymous. Politicians and citizens alike often seem blissfully unaware of the consequences of inverted totalitarianism, Wolin said in the interview. And because it is a new form of totalitarianism we do not recognize the radical change that has gradually taken place. Our failure to grasp the new configuration of power has permitted the corporate state to rob us through judicial fiat, a process that culminates in a disempowered population and omnipotent corporate rulers. Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin said, “projects power upwards.” It is “the antithesis of constitutional power.”

    “Democracy has been turned upside down,” Wolin said. “It is supposed to be a government for the people, by the people. But it has become an organized form of government dominated by groups that are only vaguely, if at all, responsible or responsive to popular needs and popular demands. At the same time, it retains a patina of democracy. We still have elections. They are relatively free. We have a relatively free media. But what is missing is a crucial, continuous opposition that has a coherent position, that is not just saying no, no, no, that has an alternative and ongoing critique of what is wrong and what needs to be remedied.”

    The Imperative of Revolt
    By Chris Hedges
    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_imperative_of_revolt_20141019

    • Abe
      December 9, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      Sheldon S. Wolin in Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (2008) describes the arising of “a new type of political system, seemingly one driven by abstract totalizing powers, not by personal rule, one that succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, that relies more on “private” media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events.”

      According to Wolin, this new system of inverted totalitarianism “professes to be the opposite of what, in fact, it is. It disclaims its real identity, trusting that its deviations will become normalized as ‘change.’”

      Grenier’s analysis fails to comprehend how lauded figures like the “admirable” Kagan and the “sensitive” Huntington advance the profoundly antidemocratic, boundary-less expansion of Superpower in an age of inverted totalitarianism.

    • Abe
      December 9, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      Superpower “diplomacy’:
      If You Don t Come To Democracy,
      Democracy Will Come To You
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YMt0x4vfIM

  2. December 9, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    the author constantly conflates the USA with America. Disgusting.

    Most of America is nowaday somewhat free, from Cuba to Peru. Liite more in America than the United States of America still firmly in the hand of a notoriously genocidal mafia important from Europe with little more values than using that stronghold to terrorize the world in the service of the mafia.

    And so, a simple but good idea of a solution of most of the world’s problems with the mafia state of the US is missed: the immigrants should just go home to Europe and elsewhere where they came from. The natives in the territory currently occipied by an illegitimate and notoriously genocidal regime calling itself the “United States of America” are usually quite friendly. The problem is almost exclusively the foreign immigrants occupying the lands of the natives in northern America.

    When that will be dealt with, I don’t think the world will have anymore an American problem, a problem of such a rogue and greedy mafia that it destroys one country after another just to become richer an richer.

  3. Paul Grenier
    December 9, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Abe: It is one thing to call a specific point made by someone ‘admirably frank,’ quite another to call that person as a whole (as a thinker) ‘admirable.’ Having said that, I think conversation is best conducted by being willing to consider objectively what people say thought by thought, instead of automatically categorizing someone as all good or all bad in advance. If Huntington says some things that are true, they are no less true because Huntington said them.

    I am very familiar with Sheldon Wolin and have great respect for him. Indeed, my perspective overlaps in important ways with Wolin’s. There is a difference in our approaches, certainly. He focuses on institutional arrangements and the corrupting influence of money, but he is also attentive to the corrupting influence of propaganda (what I call here demagogy). What may be a difference between our perspectives is that I see the danger of force overtaking and even defining politics as an intrinsic weakness of the liberal project starting from its beginnings in Machiavelli and Hobbes. For a further exploration of that theme, see my earlier essay ( http://solidarityhall.org/on-simone-weil-and-the-new-cold-war/ ) printed in Solidarity Hall.

    • Abe
      December 10, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Thank you for your response, Mr. Grenier.

      In Democracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin presents a penetrating analysis of “inverted totalitarianism” and “Superpower”.

      Wolin specifically compares the political theories of Leo Strauss (inspiration for Robert Kagan and the neoconservative movement, despite claims to the contrary) and Samuel Huntington:

      “Although neither celebrates capitalism, neither ventures a critique nor explores capitalism as a distinct system of power. Both [Strauss and Huntington] serve an ideological function, contributing to the legitimation of some powers and the delegitimation of others.” (p. 187)

      Wolin offers a sustained critique of the Straussians and Huntington.

      A difference in your approaches, certainly.

      I don’t think Simone Weil is much help to us here. A more useful figure might be Carl Schmitt, for whom the “weakness of the liberal project” was a predominant theme.

    • Abe
      December 10, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      What Kagan and Huntington have in common is their function as ideologists and, yes, demagogs.

      In a 2008 interview published in the German weekly Die Zeit, philosopher Jürgen Habermas specifically mentioned Kagan in connection with the influence of Schmitt’s thought in the ideology and demagoguery of American geopolitics:

      HABERMAS: […] the Bush Doctrine announced in Fall 2002, which laid the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq. The social Darwinist potential of market fundamentalism has since become apparent in foreign policy as well as in social policy.

      ZEIT: But Bush wasn’t alone. He was flanked by an impressive horde of influential intellectuals.

      HABERMAS: Many of whom have learned nothing in the meantime. In the case of leading neoconservative thinkers like Robert Kagan, the thinking in terms of predatory categories a la Carl Schmitt has become only more apparent after the Iraq disaster. His recent commentary on the current regression of international politics into a nuclear armed and increasingly unrestrained power struggle is: “The world has returned to normal.”

  4. Abe
    December 10, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Belgian journalist and author Michel Collon has outlined how mass media and governments apply the “Five Principles of War Propaganda”:
    1. Obscure economic interests.
    2. Invert the victim and the aggressor.
    3. Hide history.
    4. Demonize.
    5. Monopolize the news.

    Huntington’s focus on the “cultural dimension” of geopolitical conflict was eagerly appropriated by Superpower precisely because of its propaganda utility: Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” analysis obscures economic interests and hides history.

    James Matlock, a specialist in Soviet affairs during some of the most tumultuous years of the Cold War, and U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, has pointed out the circularity in Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” theory:

    Much of Huntington’s analysis is based on circular reasoning: if differences occur between countries in the same civilization, they illustrate only intra-civilizational differences; if, however, they are between countries Huntington has chosen to classify as members of separate civilizations, the differences are regarded as “civilizational.” http://www.amphilsoc.org/sites/default/files/proceedings/Matlock.pdf

  5. Paul Grenier
    December 10, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    Abe: No time for an exhaustive response, but one point is important to clarify right away. I wrote this article in order to make a point of my own, not to prove or disprove someone else’s theory, including Huntington’s. I don’t think you have taken the trouble to read my article carefully if you still think that it in any way supports the neoconservative, imperial agenda of Robert Kagan. Apparently my use of irony was too subtle.

    Schmidt, to be sure, did write about ‘weaknesses’ in liberalism. But Schmidt was himself largely a product of Hobbes, the grand-daddy of modern liberalism.

    I wonder whether I have adequately explained the sense in which I am using the term liberalism. I thought it should have been clear from context in the article. I am using it in exactly MacIntyre’s sense, which has nothing to do with the usual modern American usage. In my (MacIntyrean) sense, Ronald Reagan is a liberal, much more so, for example, than Bernie Sanders, who I see as being more of an Aristotelian, like Marx (the early Marx at any rate, before he got carried away with ‘science’ and Hegel).

    It is true that Huntington’s categories are written in such a way as to tend to allow many readers to come away, despite his disclaimers, with a sense of the superiority of the Anglo-American civilization (the ‘Western’ one, in his terminology). That is indeed a flaw in his book, and it is correct to criticize that aspect. But please re-read sentence two of this post.

    As regards Bandolera’s word-usage complaint: I had my own, perhaps faulty rhetorical reasons for using the word America as I did. There is indeed no reason not to use United States where a noun is called for. When it comes to the adjectival form, things get more difficult, however. I am sorry that my word usage proved such a distraction. It was unintentional.

    • Abe
      December 11, 2014 at 12:03 am

      Well, sir, as an antidote to bad thought, you’ve delivered quite the poisoned pill.

  6. Abe
    December 10, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    During the Carter administration, Samuel P. Huntington served on the National Security Council staff in 1977–78 as Zbigniew Brzezinski’s personal assistant for national security planning.

    Colonel William E. Odom, Brzezinski’s military assistant, praised Huntington’s “intellectual power” in the development of PRM-10 “Comprehensive Net Assessment and Military Force Posture Review” (February 1977). A study of US-Soviet global competition, PRM-10 concluded that Iran was the are where a “crisis confrontation” was likely to occur.

    Brzezinski told Carter: “The paper identifies Iran as the ‘one contiguous non-satellite state’ that could be the ‘possible site for a Soviet-initiated [crisis confrontation].’ It meets the criteria which Soviet leaders and planners might use if they were consciously attempting to expand their influence through the political use of military force and wished to confront the U.S. with a situation in which it would suffer a diplomatic humiliation if it made no response or would risk military defeat if it made a military response.”

    In 1979, the possibility for such a confrontation was intensified by the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet intervention of Iran’s neighbor, Afghanistan.

    The emphasis on Iran found its ultimate policy formulation in the Carter Doctrine, proclaimed during Carter’s State of the Union Address in January 1980. The following key sentence was written by Brzezinski:

    “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

    Brzezinski modeled the wording on the Truman Doctrine, and insisted that the sentence be included in the speech “to make it very clear that the Soviets should stay away from the Persian Gulf”.

    In The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, author Daniel Yergin notes that the Carter Doctrine “bore striking similarities” to a 1903 British declaration, in which British Foreign Secretary Lord Landsdowne warned Russia and Germany that the British would “regard the establishment of a naval base or of a fortified port in the Persian Gulf by any other power as a very grave menace to British interests, and we should certainly resist it with all the means at our disposal”.

    Since 1979, for reasons that have nothing to do with a “clash of cultures”, the US has proven politically incapable of viewing Iran through any other lens than “crisis confrontation”. See http://undergroundreports.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-threat-of-iran-or-threat-of-saying.html

  7. F. G. Sanford
    December 11, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Abe, for what it’s worth, I note Orwell’s observation: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Perhaps as long as philosophy has entered the discussion, it is appropriate to mention Wittgenstein. At the end of his life, he had rather concluded that ‘philosophy’ amounted to ‘word soup’ afflicted by ‘stirring’ in the manner of circular reasoning. Bravo for mentioning Carl Schmitt, perhaps the world’s foremost exponent of false logic. There is no ‘philosophy’ of anthropology – I think most anthropologists would agree that human culture is arbitrary and functions to preserve the group – that almost never requires preserving individuals. What definitely does constitute a philosophy is the so-called ‘weaponization of anthropology’ by persons who assume that their culture is not only not arbitrary, but morally unassailable. And yes, there seems to be quite a bit of flawed Aristotelian thinking here. Mr. Grenier would probably benefit from a couple of long weekends alone with two very tedious books: “Manhood of Humanity” and “Science and Sanity”, both written by Alfred Korzybski. Chemotherapy is less painful, but not as effective. Language is a perfidious mistress. Orwell notes: “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” This was a very windy article.

    • Abe
      December 12, 2014 at 1:52 am

      Alasdair MacIntyre’s Aristotelian and Thomistic virtue ethics inherits the infamous circularity of Aristotle’s ethical-political thought.

      Mr. Grenier’s piece is infused with MacIntyrean anti-liberal polemic.

  8. Abe
    December 11, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Philosophy does not fulfill her initial aim to bring the results of experimental and exact sciences together and to solve world problems. Through endless, scientific specialization scientific branches multiply, and for want of coordination the great world-problems suffer. This failure of philosophy to fulfill her boasted mission of scientific coordination is responsible for the chaos in the world of general thought. The world has no collective or organized higher ideals and aims, nor even fixed general purposes. Life is an accidental game of private or collective ambitions and greeds.

    Systematic study of chemical and physical phenomena has been carried on for many generations and these two sciences now include: (1) knowledge of an enormous number of facts; (2) a large body of natural laws; (3) many fertile working hypotheses respecting the causes and regularities of natural phenomena; and finally (4) many helpful theories held subject to correction by further testing of the hypotheses giving rise to them. When a subject is spoken of as a science, it is understood to include all of the above mentioned parts. Facts alone do not constitute a science any more than a pile of stones constitutes a house, not even do facts and laws alone; there must be facts, hypotheses, theories and laws before the subject is entitled to the rank of a science.

    The primal function of a science is to enable us to anticipate the future in the field to which it relates.

    Judged by this standard, neither philosophy nor its kindred — the so-called social sciences — have in the past been very effective. There was, for example, no official warning of the coming of the World War — the greatest of catastrophies. The future was not anticipated because political philosophers did not possess the necessary basis of knowledge. To be just we must admit that philosophy has been but little aided financially because it is commonly regarded as unnecessary. The technical branches of science have been strongly backed and generally supported by those to whom they have brought direct profit; and so they have had better opportunities for development.

    Ethics in the stifling grip of myth and legalism is not convincing enough to exercise controlling influence. Such is the situation in which we find ourselves. Being still in our childhood and thinking like savages, we looked upon the World War as a personal creation of a “war-lord,” because those interested in it told us so. We neglected to use our common sense and look deeper into its origins; to perform for ourselves the duty which political philosophy did not perform for us – the duty of thinking in terms of facts and not in terms of metaphysical speculations. Knowledge of facts would have told us that the war lords were only the representatives of the ruling classes. A system of social and economic order built exclusively on selfishness, greed, “survival of the fittest,” and ruthless competition, must cease to exist, or exist by means of war. The representatives of this system determined to continue to exist, and so war was the consequence. The ruling classes carried the whole system under which they lived to its logical conclusion and natural issue, which is “grab what you can.” This motto is not peculiar to any one country; it is the motto of our whole civilization and is the inevitable outcome of our stupid philosophy regarding the characteristic nature of man and the proper potentialities of human life. Where are we to find the true doctrines ? Where the true philosophy? If we go back over the history of civilization, we find that in all “sciences,” except the exact ones, private opinions and theories have shaped our beliefs, colored our mental processes and controlled our destinies; we see, for example, pessimism opposed to optimism, materialism to spiritualism, realism to idealism, capitalism to socialism, and so on endlessly. Each of the disputatious systems has a large number of followers and each faction looks upon the others as deprived of truth, common sense and knowledge. All of them play with the words “natural law” which they ignorantly presume to have as the basis and content of their own particular doctrine.

    – Alfred Korzybski, Manhood of Humanity, 1921/1950.

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