Saturday, July 28, 2007 58 Comments

Samantha Power rules the world

Samantha Power is, as her latest in the NY Times informs us, "professor of the practice of global leadership" at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

In other words, you might say, Power is a professor of power. Global power, to be exact. One would expect her thinking to be characteristic of the Powers-That-Be, which we at UR so fondly call the Polygon.

And the piece linked above does not disappoint. A Times Book Review front-pager in the grand old style, it delivers the true Universalist goods on how to win the "War on Terror." Without, of course, calling it that.

If your views on global affairs are anything like mine, you may need a good colonic cleansing after reading Power's article. I suggest Edward Luttwak's Counterinsurgency Warfare As Military Malpractice - in Harper's, of all places.

It should go without saying that Luttwak is a realist and Power is a priest. Or priestess, I guess. I will simply take Luttwak's point of view for granted - I don't think the debate is even worth discussing. But I still think it's worth reading Power's sermon, because it demonstrates so many of the pathologies that fascinate us here at UR.

First of all, it's important to note the common denominator of all her policy proposals. Note that every solution Power proposes involves increasing the importance of the State Department, and/or decreasing the importance of the Defense Department. Presumably funding is to shift accordingly.

Of course, this reflects the fact that State is a Universalist (BDH) bastion deep in the Polygon, and the Revelationist (OV) enclave of DoD is its ancient hereditary enemy. With DoD's defeats in Iraq, State smells blood and entertains a vague hope of capturing this pesky varmint alive, the same fate it meted out to CIA in the '70s. (Unless you've been in a cave for the last five years, you may have chortled a little at how the scourge of Chile, Iran and Guatemala is now joined-at-the-hip with State and the Times. Same Agency - different people.)

But Power, of course, hardly sees herself as a foot soldier in this tawdry bureaucratic melee. (Any such thought is itself heretical.) She has a philosophy to peddle here, and it's as much a philosophy of power as Machiavelli's. Let's look a little more closely at this case study in applied Universalism.

The thing is: "global leadership" is exactly what it says it is. It's about ruling the world.

Does Samantha Power rule the world? Perhaps the best way to explain it is that she and her ilk pretend to rule the world. In both the common and monarchical meanings of the word.

Power does not have any real influence over Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Hezbollah, etc. Neither she nor anyone else in Cambridge, New York or Washington can call Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and tell him what to do. The Polygon can't even influence his behavior, except perhaps by feeding him. And feeding certainly does not tame a creature of this sort.

But the Universalist view is that, since Universalism is universal, everyone in the world can and will become a Universalist. Likewise, if they are not antagonized and constantly beaten and threatened, all these rogue states, liberation movements, etc, will eventually settle down and become part of the new world order. All humans everywhere will be subject to the Polygon. There are no aliens, only citizens we haven't naturalized yet.

A key aspect of the Polygon's power is its ability to maintain the opinion of its literal constituents - American voting taxpayers - that things are, in fact, moving in this direction. Any policy that denies this violates the vision and is a direct attack on the Polygon.

For example, any Iran policy that says Iran is Iran, that it is and presumably will always be an Islamic republic, that Islam and Universalism are two different things, and that the way for the US to deal with Iran is to make the terms of the relationship clear and provide effective disincentives for Iranian transgressions, is a serious violation. Because this says that Iran is not subject to the "global leadership" of Harvard, that all is not becoming one, that the best interests of the American and Iranian governments and populations may in fact conflict. It says that Samantha Power does not rule the world.

I don't think it's a coincidence that no mainstream party or politician in the United States has any such policy on its menu. Power is always hard to let go of, even when it's imaginary.

The essential assumption of "global leadership" is that Power and her ilk have no actual enemies. The Polygon is so powerful that no reasonable person can oppose it. Thus, anyone who attacks it is either (a) insane, (b) criminal, or (c) enraged by injustice.

Counterinsurgency theory tells us that all members of groups (a), (b), and (c) are easy to reconcile to Power's world order. To deal with (a) and (b), either hospitalize, rehabilitate (as the ex-Foreign Service blogger New Nationalist puts it, "we got a note!"), or for the very worst cases, prosecute and imprison them. To deal with (c), redress any grievances they may have, and make very, very sure you - or, of course, your evil twins over at DoD - don't create any new ones. Obviously (c) is the hard part, but if you can do it, it's problemo solvato.

It's very difficult for me to avoid the conclusion that when historians 100 years hence look at this kind of thinking, assuming of course that there are any historians 100 years hence, their overwhelming impression will be of solipsism and hubris. Or possibly hubris and solipsism. It's sometimes hard to tell them apart.

Note, for example, that in this hefty article on terrorism, there is no discussion of actual terrorists. Power seems completely uninterested in the actual motivation and organization of these friends we haven't gotten to know yet.

She is similarly uninterested in the actual motivation and organization of unruly teenager-states such as Iran. Presumably borrowing a phrase from one of her reviewees - it's a little difficult to imagine her actually thinking the e-word - she says "the United States must learn to get inside the minds of its enemies." Does she follow this with an actual discussion of "the minds of its enemies?" Of course not.

What this diplomatic chestnut turns out to mean is that our quote-unquote enemies actually see the world in just the same way that we do. Quelle coincidence! "A Bush administration that had stepped into Iran’s shoes might have toned down its inflammatory rhetoric..." Indeed. I mean, if there's one thing you never hear from Iran, it's inflammatory rhetoric.

The way Power sees the world is about the way a kindergarten teacher sees her charges. For kindergarteners, one policy fits all. The way to deal with their tantrums is to let them simmer down, and never actually get angry at them. After all, they can't actually harm you. Remember that you're in control, and you will stay that way.

Of course, this assumes that there is no group (d) - consisting of reasonable people who are perfectly happy to fight a war to gain the usual booty of war, that is, power, or at least money. Since no one besides Power, and her fellow practitioners of "global leadership," has or can have any real power, group (d) cannot possibly exist.

If they did exist, however, one would expect them to adopt the strategy of pretending to be members of group (c), that is, people enraged by the injustices they have suffered. Redressing these injustices (which are presumably real by at least someone's definition of "injustice") involves giving group (d) power, or at least money. Of course this dissuades them from trying the same trick again. And it certainly persuades others that strategy (d) is no good and not worth messing around with.

I wonder if strategy (d) has ever been tried in the past? Hm, I can't imagine.

People throw around the word "appeasement" a lot. In my opinion, it's a mistake to use this word, because it now has absurdly negative connotations, and the word was once used seriously by those who promoted it. At the very least, before talking about "appeasement," we should understand who the "appeasers" were and why they thought it was a good idea.

The idea of appeasement was very simple. The goal was not to bribe or buy off Hitler, but to defeat him. The logic worked like this.

First, Herr Hitler's speeches are full of ranting about the injustices that were supposedly done to the German people at Versailles. (True.)

Second, injustices were in fact done to the German people at Versailles. (True.)

Third, Herr Hitler is a politician, and he derives his power from popular support. (True.)

Fourth, redressing the grievances of the German people will leave Herr Hitler with nothing to whine about, so he will fall and a reasonable government will replace him. (Not true.)

Statistically, therefore, the logic of appeasement is 75% true. While this is not true enough to be actually true, it tends to be true enough to be convincing. Especially to its supporters.

And this is the thing about how Samantha Power rules the world. The interesting thing, the dog that didn't bark in the night, is that her approach doesn't work at all. To borrow Luttwak's medical metaphor, it is about as effective as bloodletting. The only historical examples I can think of in which it's led to peace are those in which the equation has just reduced to surrender. And in many others - notably Palestine - the result has been permanent war.

But - the grain of truth behind the kindergarten-teacher mentality is that the US does, indeed, have overwhelming military power. Absent some serious changes in US immigration law, the jihadis are not about to conquer North America. And so the bloodletting is just that: bloodletting. It can continue indefinitely. At present it looks set to do just that.

Therefore, Power's proposals are not counterproductive at all. They are, in fact, adaptive. They strengthen the Polygon and weaken its real enemies - which are not foreign, but domestic. Call me crazy, but I think the whole thing makes perfect sense.

58 Comments:

Anonymous PA said...

Hopefully I'll sooner than later figure out how it serves Universalists to work themselves into a lather of hate when it comes to Serbs, Israelis, Boers, and Rednecks, and into a lather of love (to use your excellent phrase) when it comes to Albanians, Palestinians, black Africans, and African-Americans.

July 29, 2007 at 4:20 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

I think you are drastically misreading her.

What this diplomatic chestnut turns out to mean is that our quote-unquote enemies actually see the world in just the same way that we do.

Not at all. Here's how they think, according to her:

in that millions — if not billions — of people around the world do not see the difference between a suicide bomber’s attack on a pizzeria and an American attack on what turns out to be a wedding party.

And we -- including her -- feel differently.

"A Bush administration that had stepped into Iran’s shoes might have toned down its inflammatory rhetoric..." Indeed. I mean, if there's one thing you never hear from Iran, it's inflammatory rhetoric.

I think she meant the Bush administration would have toned down its own inflammatory rhetoric if they understood the effect it would have on Iranians. I don't see what the kind of rhetoric coming from Iran has to do with it.

Finally, I don't see how she disagrees with Luttwak at all. Luttwak's article basically shows what it would take to win in Iraq via warfare and says that it's infeasible because we wouldn't put up with it (and furthermore, he thinks this is as it should be.) So what part is she disagreeing with?

July 29, 2007 at 4:56 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Also, I don't see where you get this:


But the Universalist view is that, since Universalism is universal, everyone in the world can and will become a Universalist. Likewise, if they are not antagonized and constantly beaten and threatened, all these rogue states, liberation movements, etc, will eventually settle down and become part of the new world order. All humans everywhere will be subject to the Polygon. There are no aliens, only citizens we haven't naturalized yet.

July 29, 2007 at 4:59 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

It looks like you duplicated a huge chunk of this post near the bottom.

I occasionally view "bloggingheads.tv", which has had a lot of foreign policy wonks on it that would surely be great material to annoy you. All of them like to append "realism" to the end of their vision's name, presumably because the war in Iraq made non-realism look so bad. Anatol Lievin seemed the only sensible one. Michael Lind is/was a liberal hawk who promotes "liberal internationalism", and while it's nice that he admits that the neo-conservatives are/were an offshoot of his type, his confidence that he knows everything really seems to set me on edge. In particular he talks about revolutionary economic changes without actually knowing any economics.

July 29, 2007 at 7:19 AM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

The section on appeasement was interesting and convincing.

A lot of this is about inferred psychology - and one frequently repeated statement in the media (and in my personal life) concerns the need to understand our enemeies, or that the person speaking 'cannot understand' the kind of person does that this or that atrocity in the media.

Sometimes this is a kind of moral advertizment - that the speaker has such a pure mind that they cannot even comprehend evil - this perhaps a very Universalist trait. But sometimes the person really does not understand, often these people are women (when the perpetrators of atrocities are almost always men - or when they are women - eg suicide bombers - they have been trained by men).

I must admit that I have no difficulty at all in _understanding_ terrorists such as suicide bombers, even though I (naturally) find their actions disgusting.

The fact is that almost all young men (I'm not so sure about women) go through phases when they replicate in their thoughts (although, thank heavens, seldom in their actions) exactly the kind of behaviour that dominates in the hell holes of the world.

I can only assume that other people have forgotten these phases of youth. I haven't, and therefore I find terrorism, abuse of power etc. very easy to understand.

The problem (at least for men) is not 'understanding' this stuff, but stopping it.

July 29, 2007 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Oh dear. I read Powers' article and could detect almost none of this pernicious Universalism that you are so lathered up about. Does she promote the idea that we should defeat terrorists by loving and sending them to ivy league universities? I didn't see that at all. She writes:
for containment to work, Washington needs to be able to deliver credible threats. The irony of Bush’s flawed approach is that it has exposed the limits of American enforcement tools, stretching military and financial resources beyond recognition. This ... emboldens those who need to be contained.

So I don't see her at great odds with Luttwak. Maybe she has slightly more faith that counterinsurgency could work, but that opinion hardly puts her at odds with the Defense Department!

As far as I can see Powers demonstrates almost none of the Universalist pathologies that you are attacking, other than being at Harvard and writing for the NY Times. Or maybe in her Brahmin attitude that it is possible to actually do something about the world's problems.

I think your new ideology needs some tweaking if it's going to lead you to gross misreadings of perfectly reasonable articles.

July 29, 2007 at 10:02 AM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

millions — if not billions — of people around the world do not see the difference between a suicide bomber’s attack on a pizzeria and an American attack on what turns out to be a wedding party.

But of course it's much worse than that. Millions, if not billions, of people don't see the difference between a bored prison guard forcing prisoners to wear underpants on their heads and doctors harvesting and selling the organs of Arab children.

The point being, no doubt there's something to be said for understanding and respecting the cultural traditions of others but 1) with cultural traditions like firing AKs at wedding celebrations it's more or less inevitable that occasional accidental atrocities like the wedding massacre will happen and 2) People will say (and probably believe) that Americans are committing atrocities right and left whether there's any substance to the claim or not.

July 29, 2007 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

pa,

It's pretty simple: the enemy of your enemy is your friend.

July 30, 2007 at 2:46 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

JA,

Millions - if not billions - of people at Harvard do not see the difference between a suicide bomber's attack on a pizzeria and an American attack on what turns out to be a wedding party.

Actually, the way real anti-Americans see it is very simple. Invert your perspective for a moment...

The suicide bomber is OK, because it's an attack on them. The wedding party is bad, because it's an attack on us.

See? No "moral equivalence" at all!

The sort of xenophilia that Power exhibits is absolutely unique to Universalists. It is purely Christian in nature. Nothing like it has ever been seen in any other culture in history.

Of course, when they're talking to the Western press, every smart person in the world finds it appropriate to sound like a Universalist. They speak good English and they phrase their complaints in the proper diction.

But you notice that they never get upset about things that happen to anyone else...

July 30, 2007 at 2:53 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

mtraven,

The reason you don't detect it is that it's not meant to be detected.

The entire thrust of Power's article is that she's a moderate. She and her ilk are the sane ones. Crazies abound to the right and left.

This is how power always expresses itself. Power is always the voice of reason. It always speaks for the "reality-based community."

What does Power actually mean by "credible threats"? She doesn't say, but I can tell you.

She means threats which are credible, given the fact that people like her control the levers of power. She means things like barring Iranian officials from international travel - the most meaningless and ineffective of all possible sanctions. She certainly doesn't mean anything that might actually be effective, like bombing Iranian gasoline refineries.

After all, what defines the limits of actions that Americans find acceptable, and that therefore are credible? It certainly can't be traditional American values - traditional American values turned Dresden into a human barbecue. No, once again, it is the power of Power - and her ilk.

As the Texans say, "don't piss on my boots and tell me it's raining."

Power's "Brahmin attitude" is that it's possible to do something about the world's problems without, actually, well, doing anything.

What Luttwak points out is that you either do something, or you do nothing. Neither of Luttwak's options has much room for State, or for the transnational institutions it loves, which create so much employment for so many Brahmins.

July 30, 2007 at 3:03 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

Doh! Thanks. That'll teach me to post on the road.

Yeah, Michael Lind bugs the shit out of me, too. All these iconophiles pretending to be iconoclasts.

July 30, 2007 at 3:04 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

bruce,

Exactly.

The thing is that real power - until the revolution comes, of course - doesn't come from having these kinds of irresponsible teenage thoughts.

So they are thoughts that people like Power, whose entire career has been focused on power - aka responsibility - have never had. And are more or less incapable of understanding.

July 30, 2007 at 3:06 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

MM:

I'm seeing a lot of "this is what she REALLY means" from you, but it doesn't seem to be obvious to anyone but you that she's implying all these things that she didn't actually write. It's particularly absurd, because you chose to highlight this article as an example of U/B thinking -- which is only apparent if you have psychic abilities. ;-)

What Luttwak points out is that you either do something, or you do nothing. Neither of Luttwak's options has much room for State, or for the transnational institutions it loves, which create so much employment for so many Brahmins.

Again, I don't see that at all. He is writing an "is" argument about how asymmetrical wars can be won. The only "ought" in the piece is that we shouldn't start these wars because we cannot (politically) win them. Diplomacy and State aren't mentioned, but it seems obvious to me that having an intermediary -- like Saddam -- use the tactics we are not willing to use to keep the population in check while containing the threat he poses to us is exactly the role of diplomacy and the state department. And it was something that was being done perfectly adequately before the war, as it turns out.

So I see you reading essentially arbitrary stances into both articles -- supposed D/U ones into Powers's and supposed ones you agree with into Luttwak's. Now it may be possible that your readings are correct, but you're going to have to do a much better job of explaining your methods of divining true intent from the written word before I can buy any of this.

July 30, 2007 at 7:08 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"It's pretty simple: the enemy of your enemy is your friend."
That more-or-less contradicts your assertion that Samantha Power, or more generally Universalism, consists substantially of the belief that one has no enemies.

July 30, 2007 at 9:04 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Speaking of foreign policy and bureaucracy, you might be interested in the work of Chris Coyne, a GMU Austrian. The Economist discusses his writings on why the United States is doing a crappy job of rebuilding Iraq here.

July 30, 2007 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

And the torture, kidnappings and indefinite detentions carried out at the behest of senior administration officials have blurred the moral distinction between "us" and "them" on which much of Bush’s logic rested

Now maybe she really believes that nonsense and maybe she doesn't, but she said it, and so I think we should accept her at her word. And I agree that only a Universalist could think that stupidly. Notice that she's not arguing that these tactics are strategic errors because it's pissing off Arabs and making more terrorists, she's actually saying that it's a bad approach because it is wrong - that the whole world is turning against us because we kidnap, torture, and deny due process to a handful of terrorists. How laughable is that?

No, they're turning against us because we invaded Iraq and we're losing. Had we been winning in Iraq, the world would be kissing our asses, lining up to set up rendition sites. Italy wouldn't dare be prosecuting our spies. Iraq has weakened us, and the jackals of the world have reacted predictably by taunting the limping lion.

July 30, 2007 at 8:23 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

ziel,

The real problem is that you may not believe that logic, I may not believe that logic - but Bush believes that logic. He is hoist on his own petard.

July 31, 2007 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

JA,

I find your criticisms quite fair.

This post wasn't one of my best, and it's a good example of why I usually start with abstractions and then descend to examples, rather than the other way around.

History is the task of finding patterns which explain events. If you see the same patterns that I see, the relationship between Power and Luttwak fits them quite neatly. But I'm not sure it's a useful way to demonstrate these patterns or convince others that they are real.

July 31, 2007 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

michael,

Ah, but in this case the enemy is someone entirely different.

"The enemy of your enemy is your friend." In this case, enemy A (the proxy enemy) is the Third World militant, and enemy B (the local enemy) is the Revelationist/Optimate-Vaisya/Republican /conservative axis.

Of course, most followers of the Universalist/Brahmin/Democrat/liberal way consider the Republicans their opponents, not their enemies. But this is really a distinction without a difference, if you remember the analogy of democracy as limited war.

July 31, 2007 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

No one who works at GMU can possibly be a real Austrian. Don't you know anything about ideological purity? I would sacrifice my precious bodily fluids first.

I'll look at the paper. The Economist's summary makes it sound reasonable, if overfocused and rationalistic in the usual academic way.

July 31, 2007 at 8:34 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

Mencius,
I don't dispute your last reply to Michael about proxy enemies in principle.

But I'm still fascinated by the mechanism that determines *who* the proxy enemy and friend is. From a truly neutral standpoint, what dog do Universalists have in the fight between, say, Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo? Yet they clearly painted the former as demons and the latter as huddled angels, but from the perspective of propaganda, it could have worked either way.

Also, it's interesting that, albeit reluctantly, the Brahmin class gives a seal approval to Poland's anti-communist movement Solidarity, arguably a Vaisya political movement with nationalist aspitrations and animated by Roman Catholicism.

July 31, 2007 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

History is the task of finding patterns which explain events. If you see the same patterns that I see, the relationship between Power and Luttwak fits them quite neatly. But I'm not sure it's a useful way to demonstrate these patterns or convince others that they are real.

Kudos for your fairmindedness, MM. :-) It's too rare in the blogworld.

July 31, 2007 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

PA asks: But I'm still fascinated by the mechanism that determines *who* the proxy enemy and friend is.

It's pretty simple really: the Universalist supports the perceived underdog. I don't know enough about the Balkans to comment on that, but as for Poland and Solidarity -- it's clear that early support for Soviet communism was based on support for the underdog. It quickly became obvious to some (ie, Orwell) that communism was not going to be liberating, but this insight took decades to percolate into the general universalist mind. By the time of Solidarity it was clear to all that they were the underdog while the communists were the overdog.

You would think that Nationalist movements are explicitly anti-universalist. But universalists support them when they are the underdogs and are "national liberation movements" (ie, Palestinians) and oppose them when they are overdogs ("murderous gangs of fascist thugs"). Universalists are fond of Castro because while he's clearly an oppressive overdog relative to the Cuban people, he's an underdog relative to the United States.

July 31, 2007 at 9:44 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

One possible reason for the support for Solidarity was that it was a labor union and they could see the change coming and wanted to be on the winning side so they wouldn't be tarred by association, even if they couldn't succeed in tarring their local enemies with association with past enemies, though I don't know how the Hungarian uprising compared. The real reason I think is that they really aren't so bad and had figured out the Soviet Union wasn't a worker's paradise, just as they don't have anything good to say about North Korea today. As for Serbs vs Albanians, you could say that they had tired of slavic commie nationalists (which Milosevic was one) and were ready to jump for the coming replacement ideology/faction of islamists. I personally think sometimes it is pointless trying to analyze this stuff. Why did they favor Tutsis over Hutus and farmers over herders in Darfur? I don't know? Who did they side with when India fought China or Pakistan, or when China invaded Vietnam or Vietnam invaded Cambodia? I don't know. I'll have to find Col. Trevor Dupuy's Future War again and go through the list of flashpoints and look up media attention that has been given to them.

Mencius, are only the Rothbardians Austrians or do Kirzner and Lachmann's followers (let alone those who idolize Menger and Hayek) count? Was Hans Sennholz? Seriously though, I found myself cheering on the anonymous poster xyz in his belligerence toward the non-GMU Austrians in the series of posts beginning with 10 Austrian Vices. Speaking of that, I find it disappointing both that Dan Klein doesn't have a blog and that he is so wishy-washy toward Austrianism and libertarianism, where he's definitely for something but it's clear as mud what it is.

July 31, 2007 at 9:34 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

mtraven:
I'm of the impression that Universalists are typically more critical of Castro than he deserves. Honestly, if he was immortal he would fit Mencius's preferences fairly well. Iron grip on power, low level of violence after consolidating it, fairly high level of freedom for the people but no power and no serious pretense of Democracy (which is why Universalists don't like him)

Mencius: Have you ever thought that it might be a little, you know, silly, to be a contrarian and yet aspire to ideological purity?

August 1, 2007 at 5:37 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

I am still baffled, because Powers and Luttwak seem to be basically on the same side, although they have somewhat different points of view. The true Universalists who are doing harm in the present world are the neoconservatives, who think they can defeat "evil" and install democracies in countries that aren't particularly interested in it. The antiwar liberals are also the hardnosed realists in the present circumstances.

August 1, 2007 at 12:59 PM  
Anonymous bbroadside said...

(Hope I'm not confusing anyone here; I am quoting from mtraven's reply to the "original sin" thread.)

It's one thing to identify Universalism as a strain of thought that manifests itself variously in different times and places. It's quite another to reify it as this unified power structure-cum-conspiracy that rules the world. It lumps together wildly different thinkers. For example, Michael S says: "The fatal flaw of Universalism is its refusal to acknowledge human nature. That refusal, and Universalism's blind faith in human perfectibility" OK, now look at the Samantha Powers article. I defy you to find an iota of that belief in her worldview. She's written a whole book on genocide, I don't really think her problem is a blind faith in human perfectibility. So either she's not a Universalist or Univeralism does not mean what you just said it means.

I agree that we should resist the temptation to lump disparate thinking together (all we're really talking about here is patterns of thinking, no?) I also agree that conspiracy thinking is misdirected.

IMHO, Mencius made a strange choice of article to illustrate his point. If Prof. Power is a universalist, she isn't really talking like one in that article. The only relevant thing I get out of the article is a sort of obvious criticism that the war in Iraq is more than a simple military operation. It's typical for Brahmins to say that Optimates are too simplistic in their their thinking and too quick to use force.

In this particular case, I think the Brahmins are correct, so I'm not really one to criticize. The part of Mencius's schema which is relevant (and, I think, correct) is that the Brahmin policy moves tend to fit into a pattern:

1. The Brahmins promote a worldview - universalism and progressivism - which encourages nation building abroad, on the reasoning that since everyone deep down wants democracy, equality, and peace, all you have to do is build a sound state and you will achieve all these things.

2. Conservative kids go to Brahmin-led colleges and develop a taste for nation-building. When a country offends us, we reply by building them right back to the Stone Age.

3. Since the central assertion of universalism is wrong, progress is not achieved and war continues.

4. The Brahmins see this as an argument for more power for government and certain NGOs, but only the ones that are Brahmin-led. Others, after all, have been discredited.

I know this is a harsh criticism and I'm not entirely comfortable with it. There are a lot of sharp progressive (and maybe some neocon for all I know) thinkers out there. Maybe the war in Iraq will work out for the best; I certainly hope so.

Until then, I am thinking it is very strange for the notion to keep cropping up that The Great Debate on the war in Iraq is between cruise missile-loving neoconservatives and development loan-loving progressives. It sounds to me like a lovers' quarrel.

August 1, 2007 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

The Kirzner-Lachmann school is so small that it approaches negligibility, but I'd have to say that no, the Mises-Rothbard line is the only really orthodox one. Granted, this doesn't make them right, it just makes them orthodox.

Does xyz have anything to say? He seems to just be arguing from authority and ridicule. It's hard to see how this would impress you.

August 1, 2007 at 5:24 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

As for Solidarity, the trade-union thing certainly plays a part.

But I hope I haven't suggested that all Universalists are motivated entirely by pure cynicism and hate. Quite the contrary - I think their positions on Serbia, Darfur, etc, are motivated entirely by sincere moral and even spiritual thinking.

It's just that the structure of this thinking has evolved so that, in any case where the enemy of their enemy is in the game, there is an instant friendship response, and vice versa to the friend of their enemy.

Inasmuch as the US has actually somehow managed to remain neutral in certain conflicts, this reflex is not engaged. The result is that at most you get a sort of loose, dispassionate outrage, because there is no one to actually hate.

Marching for Darfur makes people feel a little nice and fuzzy, but it doesn't evoke combat emotions the way marching against Bush does. The march is more for the Darfuris than against the Sudanese government.

August 1, 2007 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

mtraven,

If you think there's a "high level of freedom for the people" in Cuba, where are you posting from, the Venceremos Brigade's Internet lounge?

Castro is actually a very insecure dictator, who has to reward his Party "shareholders" with extensive fringe benefits, and suppress any action by his opponents that would allow them to realize that they are the vast majority of Cubans. His control is mainly psychological, rather than military, hence quite fragile. He certainly does not have a security force that he can trust to shoot into a mob.

August 1, 2007 at 5:34 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

mtraven,

Powers is for counterinsurgency, Luttwak is agin' it. This is a pretty big difference.

More broadly, even, Powers favors ruling the world through "soft power," Luttwak favors abandoning it.

You are very right to note the Universalist roots of Bush's policy. He appears to have thought that he could combine Luttwakian "hard power," albeit in very small doses, with Powerian paternalistic, pseudo-democratic postcolonialism.

Instead what he got is real democracy, which is no kitty-cat, and various militant Iraqi groups that saw right through the false toughness of the US military and immediately began working to seize power - in ways that could only be countered by real "hard power."

August 1, 2007 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

bbroadside,

A lovers' quarrel it is - the fallacy of the excluded middle.

And how do middles get excluded? Funny, it just seems to happen...

August 1, 2007 at 5:40 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Hey, I never said Cuba had a high level of freedom! That was somebody else.

Castro seems pretty popular among Cubans, but I have no way of knowing if that's really so. It is indisputable however that he has been El Jefe longer than any other world leader, and shows no signs of going away other than for health reasons, so it's funny you should call him "insecure".

I'd also be interested in knowing how you can tell the difference between a monarch (which you seem to approve of) and a reasonably popular authoritarian dictator like Castro. Is it that a hereditary monarch rules because his great^4 grandfather seized power through violence, rather than doing it himself? Surely it can't be because you think everybody loves the king.

August 1, 2007 at 5:58 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

mtraven,

Doh, you're right! That was michael. My apologies.

Castro is insecure because foreign observers wouldn't be too surprised if he was overthrown in three days. One protest, two protest, boom. This is not true for, say, the government of France.

You ask excellent questions. No, it is not because everyone loves the king. It's because there is no alternative to the king - if the legal heir is not the king's son, or whoever is proclaimed heir by the Salic law or whatever, there is no reason to choose anyone over anyone else.

In other words, a stable monarchy is a Nash equilibrium. It is not to anyone's advantage to contest the legitimate succession.

If the succession ordinance is unclear or unworkable, a crisis arises. If there is a clear alternative to monarchical rule as a whole - for example, democracy - stability also disappears. Foreign interventions, etc, can produce the same effect.

August 1, 2007 at 6:08 PM  
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Does xyz have anything to say? He seems to just be arguing from authority and ridicule. It's hard to see how this would impress you.
I am not knowledgeable enough about economics to even have a clear idea what many of the economists and journalists he references are like, I merely enjoyed his belligerence in the face of offended Austrian purists. Even if Huxley himself had nothing original or insightful to contribute (this is a hypothetical, not an accusation), I would still have cheered Darwin's bulldog on against his enemies. I think it well that people be offended now and then by someone that enjoys mocking them, and the huffy response from Salerno and others lowered my opinion of them, although to be honest Kinsella's behavior was no surprise. He makes up for a bit of that with his belligerent attitude toward cranks though, which I think the LewRockwell-sphere could use more of.

August 1, 2007 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Stick around for the economics section of the program. We'll see who's right.

Many people whose intellectual training predates the Internet don't know how to handle trolls. Fear the troll, and it will bite you. Treat it as if it was a person, and the thing will slink away in shame.

August 3, 2007 at 12:47 PM  
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March 2, 2009 at 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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