Saturday, November 23, 2013


I'm taking a break from posting through the end of the year. Best wishes to all readers for a good remainder of 2013.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

P.M. linkage

[note: last post before break]

-- China loosens its one-child policy.

-- Akash Kapur reports (paywalled) on the impact of development (or 'development') on an Indian village, and Pankaj Mishra critiques (paywalled) Perry Anderson's The Indian Ideology.

-- The Nation has a database compiling civilian casualties caused by ISAF and Afghan government forces' operations in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2012. (H/t FP's AfPak [now renamed South Asia] Daily Brief, which says that the total is in a range between about 2,800 and 6,500.) This is quite a bit less than Taliban-caused civilian casualties -- which does not excuse them, of course.

-- Latest UN estimates on global child mortality: available via this page.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


From NYRB (Oct. 24): Malise Ruthven reviews (h/t) Akbar Ahmed's The Thistle and the Drone.

A brief excerpt:
Ahmed argues...that the acts of terror or violence directed at the U.S. or its allies are set off as much by revenge based on values of tribal honor as by extremist ideologies.... It seems fair to argue, as Ahmed does, that the values of honor and revenge inherent in the tribal systems contribute to jidahist extremism, and that by ignoring this all-important factor the U.S. has been courting disaster.
But according to Ruthven, Ahmed sees the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) as "countertribal." Anyway, RTWT.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A modest proposal

When a major natural disaster strikes, like the recent typhoon in the Philippines, the U.S. military responds. On one level, that's good. On another level, however, it becomes grist for the rhetorical mill of those who argue that the U.S. is an indispensable provider of global public goods and that any cutback in its military posture would leave a vacuum that no one would fill.

What if the U.S. pushed for the creation of a multilateral Disaster Relief Task Force to be operated either as a freestanding entity or under the auspices of an international organization (it could be the UN, but wouldn't necessarily have to be)? That way, when a disaster strikes, the multilateral task force would be the main responder, not the U.S. military. That would, among other things, weaken the case of those who argue that the U.S. global military posture cannot or should not be reduced in any way.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Continuing on the Bangladesh theme...

...J. Ulfelder, here, on its fragile, 'unconsolidated' politics.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Klein on the ACA...

...and why Landrieu's bill will hurt it.

"We will go to Mars together" -- not

I recently bought Srinath Raghavan's 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh. I rarely shell out for hardcover books, so I'm planning to read it properly, probably during my upcoming blogging break. For now, though, I've been dipping into it, reading passages here and there. On p.83 I found this:
Visiting India in the summer of 1969, Nixon reiterated to Indira Gandhi his commitment to India's economic development. "We will go to Mars together," he assured her.
India has just launched a Mars mission -- alone.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quote of the day is almost certainly true...that the U.S. government, and all other governments,...base their foreign policies on the notion that these policies advance their national interests. This information does not help us analytically, however, for the concept of national interest is anything but a sure guide to policy. In fact, except within very broad limits, the national interest is no guide to policy at all. Within these limits -- which are not trivial but are not very discriminating either -- national interest means whatever different people want it to mean. As a symbol for justifying actions and for rallying or mobilizing support, the notion of national interest has considerable power.... As an analytic concept from which one can deduce or predict behavior, however, the concept has very little utility.

-- Robert A. Packenham, Liberal America and the Third World (pb, 1976), pp. 323-24 (footnotes omitted)

Added later:
from R. Aron, Peace and War, trans. R. Howard & A.B. Fox (1966), pp.91, 93:
Not only are the historical objectives of political units not deducible from the relation of forces, but the ultimate objectives of such units are legitimately equivocal.... The plurality of concrete objectives and of ultimate objectives forbids a rational definition of "national interest".... The theory we are sketching here tends to analyze the meaning of diplomatic behavior, to trace its fundamental notions, to specify the variables that must be reviewed in order to understand any one constellation. But it does not suggest an "eternal diplomacy," it does not claim to be the reconstruction of a closed system.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Verdict in Bangladesh border guards case

A civilian court in Bangladesh, in a trial criticized by human rights groups (with some reason, it would appear), has sentenced 152 people to death in connection with the violent 2009 mutiny by members of the Bangladeshi Rifles (since renamed the Bangladesh Border Guards). [H/t FP Morning Brief, 11/6] 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nowhere to go but up

A couple of things I've seen recently in the blogoshere led me to take a look at an article called "Decolonizing International Relations: Perspectives from Latin America," International Studies Review, Sept. 2012.

The author begins by saying that "the aim of this paper is to think differently about International Relations (IR) by thinking differently about the Americas." The author writes "as a Latin Americanist, and as such...bring[s] a particular geographical and disciplinary perspective to the question of power in the region, drawing on the 'coloniality of power' perspective developed by Latin American academics."

I suppose that could be interesting, provided the perspective is lucidly explained for those unfamiliar with it.

But then my eye fell on this passage, in which the author is approvingly discussing Inayatullah and Blaney's book International Relations and the Problem of Difference:
[Inayatullah and Blaney] show how ideas such as sovereignty and just war -- keystones in the edifice of IR -- are grounded in an understanding of the world which writes such ideas as universal without acknowledging that they emerged from a particular social milieu.
Let's put 'just war' aside and focus on sovereignty. How is the idea of sovereignty "grounded in an understanding of the world" which fails to acknowledge that it emerged from "a particular social milieu"? Virtually every intro IR textbook informs its readers that the idea of sovereignty (as the term is used in contemporary international law and relations) emerged from a particular milieu -- i.e., Europe during a particular era (whose precise dates one might argue about) -- and then eventually spread beyond the milieu in which it originated. No doubt the spread of the idea and institution of sovereignty was historically tied up in various ways with European imperialism, but are people not aware that the most vociferous proponents of state sovereignty and its corollary of noninterference in internal affairs are the states that emerged from the processes of decolonization in the nineteenth and then the mid-twentieth century? Try telling any leader of an Asian, African or Latin American country that the idea of sovereignty is a tool of the 'coloniality of power' because it is a European idea pretending to be a universal one. Chances are you'll be greeted with a shrug or a quizzical look and then politely asked to leave.

Things get worse with this:
...the notion of European superiority was caught up with the Peace of Westphalia, which allowed the birth of the modern nation-state to be heralded as a social advance and confirmed the nation-state as a 'natural' and desirable social model....
Actually the Peace of Westphalia had very little (indeed I would say nothing) to do with the "birth of the modern nation-state," which was a long process that did not reach its end-point until well after 1648. How much Westphalia even had to do with sovereignty is highly debatable, but sovereignty and "the modern nation-state" should not be treated as the same. As for the Peace of Westphalia allowing "the birth of the modern nation-state to be heralded as a social advance and confirm[ing] the nation-state as a 'natural' and desirable social model," I think that is little better than gibberish.

A glance at the rest of the article suggests that it gets somewhat better, but then, starting from such a low point, it has nowhere to go but up.

Friday, November 8, 2013

More on 'the nuclear taboo'

After reading the comment (by Hank) on the preceding post, I punched "nuclear taboo + Tannenwald" into Google, and the first thing to come up was a two-page summary of a 2005 article by her. I'm not sure exactly who wrote the summary, but here's the link (pdf).

The nuclear taboo is defined as a "normative belief that the first use of nukes is an 'unthinkable' policy option" (the quote is from the link).

There are at least two questions that can be asked about this:

1) Should this belief be held -- i.e., if people hold this belief, is it a good thing that they do? -- or is it preferable to view nuclear weapons in the same general light as other weapons, subject to the same kinds of legal/moral analysis as other weapons?

2) Is this belief actually held by publics (and/or policymakers), or not?

The article whose abstract I linked in the previous post is concerned, or so I gather, with question #2. Hank's comment raised issues pertaining to question #1. It's worth keeping in mind that these are different questions -- they may both be worth asking, but they are different.

P.s. (added later): Hank's comment was not out of place, inasmuch as the last line of the preceding post suggested that I think the answer to #1 is: yes, the nuclear taboo is a belief that should be held (whether it is actually held or not).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Survey evidence on 'the nuclear taboo'

An article from last February in APSR, of which I've read only the abstract, concludes, based on an "original survey experiment," that the U.S. public "has only a weak aversion to using nuclear weapons and that this aversion has few characteristics of an 'unthinkable' behavior or taboo."

The cite is: Press, Sagan & Valentino, "Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons," Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. 107:1 (Feb. 2013):188-206.

What to make of this? Hard to know without having read the article, but one (elitist) inference might be that this is further evidence of the U.S. public's backwardness (for lack of a better word) when it comes to security issues.      

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Notes to readers

(1) The "recent comments" widget, which displayed comments on the sidebar, has apparently stopped working, so I've removed it. (One can still make comments, of course, so this is not that big a deal.)

(2) There will be one more post here, I think, and I will then be taking a break from posting. On my return from the break I'll likely be switching this blog to another platform.   

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Frank Wess 1922-2013

The great jazz saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess has died (h/t HC). The WaPo obit mentions that Wess's first flute solos in the Basie band, before the flute was a widely used instrument in jazz, caused the flute's use in jazz to shoot up; everywhere you looked, "here come the flutes," said Basie.

Also, this interesting tidbit from the Post obituary:
Mr. Wess was an Army musician during World War II and, at age 20, was leading a 17-piece band. "We were sent to Africa in 1942," he recalled in a 2005 interview with the All About Jazz Web site. "When we got down there, the first gig we played was for the Americans, the Germans and the English. Can you believe that? They were all dancing together."
That Wess had a gorgeous sound on both sax and flute was confirmed for me last night, hearing some of his tracks on the radio. I saw him play in person once, many years ago. RIP.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dower on the atomic bombings

We've been talking about, among other things, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and here's a passage from John W. Dower's Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq (Norton/New Press, pb, 2011) in which he lists a number of (to use an inappropriately antiseptic word) factors:
It is possible to see a terrible logic in the use of the bombs that is unique to the circumstances of that moment and at the same time not peculiar at all. This logic still begins with (1) ending the war and saving American lives. It no longer ends there, however, but extends to additional considerations, including the following: (2) fixation on deploying overwhelming force, as opposed to diplomatic or other less destructive alternatives including, most controversially, an unwillingness to back off from demanding Japan's unconditional surrender; (3) power politics in the emerging Cold War, notably playing the new weapon as a "master card," as Stimson put it, to intimidate the Soviet Union in eastern Europe as well as Asia; (4) domestic political considerations, in which using the bomb was deemed necessary to prevent partisan post-hostilities attacks on Truman...for wasting taxpayers' money on a useless project -- and simultaneously to build support for postwar nuclear and military projects; (5) scientific "sweetness" and technological imperatives -- coupled with (6) the technocratic kinetics of an enormous machinery of war -- which combined to give both developing and deploying new weaponry a vigorous life of its own; (7) the sheer exhilaration and aestheticism of unrestrained violence, phenomena not peculiar to modern times but peculiarly compelling in an age of spectacular destructiveness; (8) revenge, in this instance exacted collectively on an entire population in retaliation for Pearl Harbor and Japan's wartime atrocities; and (9) "idealistic annihilation," whereby demonstrating the appalling destructiveness of an atomic bomb on real, human targets was rationalized as essential to preventing future war, or at the very least future nuclear war. (p.223)    

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I just learned from R.P. Wolff's blog that the philosopher Arthur Danto has died. I sometimes read his art criticism in the days when I subscribed to The Nation. Also, at least one person I know quite well had some interaction with him. (The five million *cough* daily readers of this blog will be used to cryptic statements of this sort by now.)

Btw it seems to me that an unusually large number of well-known scholars have passed on lately, but I don't see much point in listing them here.

P.s. I mentioned Danto here.

'Supreme emergency' revisited

Update: Walzer gave a lecture on supreme emergency in 1988 at the U.S. Air Force Academy, reprinted in his Arguing about War (2004). 

A recent Crooked Timber thread, attached to this post, got into both empirical and moral questions about Allied bombing in WW2, including the atomic bombings. In connection with this I've been urged by Anderson to read part of Richard Frank's Downfall (which I'm planning to do).

The CT discussion led me to take another look at something which, unlike Downfall, I already have on the shelf: Michael Walzer's chapter in Just and Unjust Wars on "supreme emergency," the phrase Churchill used to describe Britain's situation in 1939 (see p.251). Walzer's argument, in brief, about the bombing of German cities is that early in the war, when "Bomber Command was the only offensive weapon available to the British" (258), the real possibility of an imminent German victory constituted a supreme emergency, i.e., the sort of rare situation which "might well" (259) have justified overriding the norms/rules of war (which he calls 'the war convention') and engaging in city bombing, which was the only thing, at that point, that the bombers could do, given their crude navigational equipment and consequent lack of precision. However, despite improvements in navigation etc. and, even more importantly, the changing military situation, bombing of cities continued until almost the end of the war. "[T]he supreme emergency passed long before the British bombing reached its crescendo. The greater number by far of the German civilians killed by terror bombing were killed without moral (and probably also without military) reason," Walzer writes (261).

Walzer rejects, on moral grounds, the defense of city bombing given at the time by Arthur Harris (head of Bomber Command) and others to the effect that it would hasten the end of the war and thus, on balance, save lives. The passage in which Walzer explains his view is worth quoting (albeit in abridged form):
The argument used between 1942 and 1945 in defense of terror bombing was utilitarian in character, its emphasis not on victory itself but on the time and price of victory. The city raids, it was claimed by men such as Harris, would end the war sooner than it would otherwise end and, despite the large number of civilian casualties they inflicted, at a lower cost in human life. Assuming this claim to be true (I have already indicated that precisely opposite claims are made by some historians and strategists), it is nevertheless not sufficient to justify the bombing. It is not sufficient, I think, even if we do nothing more than calculate utilities. For such calculations need not be concerned only with the preservation of life. There is much else that we might plausibly want to preserve:...for example,...our collective abhorrence of murder.... To kill 278,966 civilians (the number is made up) in order to avoid the deaths of an unknown but probably larger number of civilians and soldiers is surely a fantastic, godlike, frightening, and horrendous act. (261-62; textual footnote omitted)
He goes on to say that though "such acts can probably be ruled out on utilitarian grounds," it is only when "the acknowledgment of rights" comes into the picture that we are compelled "to realize that the destruction of the innocent, whatever its purposes, is a kind of blasphemy against our deepest moral commitments" (262).

The amendment I'd make here would be to replace the word "innocent" with "non-combatant." Why? Because if an 'average' civilian is innocent, so an 'average' soldier, one who has not committed atrocities but simply participated in battles or worked behind the lines, may also be, in some relevant sense, innocent. What is he guilty of, other than doing what soldiers are expected to do? The appropriate distinction, it seems to me, is not between innocent and not-innocent but between non-combatant and combatant. Putting aside the word "innocent" means that one doesn't have to inquire into any particular non-combatant's actions or, in the case of Nazi Germany, awareness of genocide, which a fair number of German civilians probably had. It was their status as non-combatants, not their "innocence," which made deliberately killing them, especially after the supreme emergency no longer existed, unjustifiable.

Notes: (1) Just and Unjust Wars has gone through several editions, with new prefaces, though I believe the main body of the text hasn't changed. I'm quoting in this post from the first edition (1977).  (2) There are at least several journal articles specifically about "supreme emergency" as Walzer uses it. One is here [abstract; full text is gated].

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Indonesia 1965

Several days ago I heard a talk by the co-editors of 1965: Indonesia and the World. Also, the author of this book was there.

One of many points made by the speakers was how difficult it still is to discuss openly "the events" (as they are called) in Indonesia today.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Yet another journal special issue on Realism

Int'l Politics, Nov. 2013
[link to table of contents]

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

That Eton exam and The Prince

The Prince was written 500 years ago and it's still, after a fashion, making headlines. That's pretty impressive.

Item: Last May a New Statesman column (via) criticized an Eton scholarship exam question which asked candidates to imagine themselves as prime minister and to write a speech justifying calling out the army to deal with violent protests. The gist of the question (shortened and paraphrased) was: It is 2040. You are prime minister. There have been violent protests in London and you have deployed the army, which has killed some civilians. Write a speech for national broadcast in which you defend your actions as necessary and moral.

The headmaster apparently defended the question by saying it was intended to gauge candidates' knowledge of The Prince. This is, if not exactly amusing, somewhat bemusing. There are, I suppose, two or three quotes from The Prince that one might, if pressed, dredge up in answering this question, but not many more than that. Machiavelli certainly does not advise the prince to kill his own subjects as a routine matter -- if you need to be cruel, he says, do it all at once and get it over with in one fell swoop -- and I think he likely would not countenance it at all except perhaps in extremis. And by the time 'extremis' is reached, the prince is probably done for anyway (cf. Bashar al-Assad).

The New Statesman columnist seems too caught up in understandable indignation to grasp that the question is a weird one even on its own (i.e., the headmaster's) premises. She has a throwaway line suggesting The Prince should be read as satire rather than as instruction manual. While both those views can be found in the literature, I think neither is very convincing. That is, I don't think it's a satire except insofar as it may be indirectly satirizing the "mirror of princes" genre that was popular at the time. But I think Machiavelli was serious about the contents. As for 'instruction manual,' that's too narrow to encompass what is better seen as, to trot out a clichéd phrase, a meditation on the nature of power and authority.  

Quote of the day

From Jack Snyder, Myths of Empire (1991), pp.97-99 (footnotes omitted):
The most powerful explanation for German expansionism...focuses on the domestic political consequences of Germany's late industrialization.... It was characterized by the comparatively abrupt development of large-scale heavy industry, centrally financed by bank capital and organized into cartels.... Its social concomitants were the divergence of agricultural and commercial interests, the organizational concentration of economic power, the immobility of investments and consequently of interests, and the emergence of mass political movements without the prior completion of a bourgeois-liberal political transformation.

This pattern had decisive consequences for the power and interests of the key actors.... Junker landowners... had an overwhelming incentive to use [their] political power to inflate the price of grain...through protective tariffs.... The military used its high degree of operational pursue...apolitical, offensive strategies for decisive victory.... Cartelized heavy industry used its market power, high-level political access, and political subsidies to mass groups to promote industrial protectionism and the building of a fleet while blocking a liberal political alliance between labor and export industry.

These group interests promoted policies that led to Germany's diplomatic encirclement: Junkers got grain tariffs that antagonized Russia; the navy and heavy industry got a fleet that antagonized Britain; and the army got an offensive war plan that ensured that virtually all of Europe would be ranged among Germany's enemies. Thus three key elite groups had the motive and the opportunity to advance policies that embroiled Germany simultaneously with all of Europe's major powers.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Likely to be of particular interest to TBA: Hew Strachan had a review in NYT of M. Hastings' 'Catastrophe 1914'. Unfortunately too tired to find and link it (am writing this Fri. night for scheduled posting Sat. a.m.). Was, on the whole, favorable.

Added later: Speaking of books, two substantial new ones on the creation of Bangladesh in '71: one recently published, the other about to be released.

Friday, October 18, 2013

(Unexciting) housekeeping note

Just now I was over at R.P. Wolff's blog, and I noticed he said that, in checking his spam filter, he had found lots of serious (i.e. legit) comments on his posts that Google/Blogger had classified as spam. This prompted me to check my own spam comments filter, which I almost never do; indeed it took me a little while just to remember how to get to it. I found one comment there and, sure enough, it was not spam. So I hit the button "not spam," thinking the comment would be published. Instead, it simply vanished. The ways of Google/Blogger are mysterious.

Anyway, the lost comment was a brief one by 'anonymous' who said, in response to my statement in this post that the last "really big interstate war" was the Iran-Iraq war, that he/she would have thought the last interstate war was the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yes, that was, in its inception at any rate, an interstate war (so, arguably, was Russia-Georgia in Dec. '08, btw), but the Iran-Iraq war was considerably longer and caused more deaths. Which is not in any way to endorse the '03 invasion of Iraq which, as readers of this blog will know, I have a very negative view of, and which is still having repercussions in the violence that is continuing in Iraq today.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

World Day for Overcoming Poverty

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty; see e.g. here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


The Atlantic runs a piece on the growing appeal of ancient Chinese philosophy to college students (with specific reference to a popular course at Harvard). [I may have some comment on this later.]

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Playing the cycles game

A flippant title for a serious subject. In the course of a thoughtful post about 'state collapse' viewed from a systemic perspective, Jay Ulfelder links to an article in Nature from last August about Peter Turchin's work on political instability, which Turchin argues goes in 50-year cycles. (The Nature piece footnotes a Journal of Peace Res. article by Turchin that looks at U.S. data from the late 18th century to the present. Presumably the idea is that this is a global phenomenon (extending how far back?), but he began with data on a single country.)

Though my inclination is to be skeptical, I have not even read the whole Nature piece, let alone the footnoted article. It struck me as interesting, however, that it was left to a commenter on the Nature article to mention Kondratieff cycles, which are posited 50-year swings in economic activity. Apparently the author of the piece didn't think the parallel was worth noting. And indeed, there are significant differences between (postulated) economic cycles and (postulated) political cycles. The former are somewhat less obviously and directly linked to or entangled with individual agency. (Not everyone will think that a valid point, of course.)

The notion of cycles of unrest/stability is not new; I believe that, w/r/t the U.S., Huntington's American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony made this kind of argument. Schlesinger's The Cycles of American History did too, though, I would guess, in a somewhat different way. 

But, to quote the Nature piece:
What is new about cliodynamics isn't the search for patterns, Turchin explains. Historians have done valuable work correlating phenomena such as political instability with political, economic and demographic variables. What is different is the scale — Turchin and his colleagues are systematically collecting historical data that span centuries or even millennia — and the mathematical analysis of how the variables interact.
Especially since I'm not going to understand the details of the mathematical analysis, who am I to say he (or they) shouldn't do this? Let a hundred flowers bloom, and it'll all come out in the wash. Or something like that. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Speaking of the central bank...

From Leo Damrosch, Tocqueville's Discovery of America, p.190:
By the time of Tocqueville's arrival, the Second Bank [of the United States] and its provincial satellites had become the focus of bitter populist resentment; a senator from Ohio charged that they did their work "not in the light of day, but in darkness and in secret, between the walls of subterraneous caverns." The banks' powers and procedures were indeed bafflingly complicated, and as a historian [Lawrence Kohl] says, "One of the important functions of Jacksonian rhetoric was to help individuals order their world. It made the unseen visible, the complex simple, the confused orderly, and the impersonal personal."

Quote of the day

Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog (WaPo):
While [George] Akerlof's books only earned him and [Janet] Yellen between $5,000 and $15,000 (which is a shame, because Animal Spirits is great and you should all read it), the couple also has a stamp collection, which Yellen apparently inherited from her mother, that's worth between $15,000 and $50,000. I'm not sure there are any policy implications here, I just think it's cool.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Nobel season

Another blizzard of Nobel prizes is upon us. The science and medicine prizes are interesting in a way but mostly don't mean much to me since I can't really appreciate, certainly not at a deep level, the achievements for which the prizes are awarded. The economics prize means a little more, sometimes more than that if I've heard of and know something about the recipient(s) (e.g., Sen, Schelling, or Ostrom, to take three from fairly recent years).

That leaves the prizes for peace and literature. Putting aside the former for now, what about the literature prize (which is apparently due tomorrow)? If you ask me who won the literature prize last year, I don't think l could tell you without looking it up. (Chinua Achebe, maybe? No. Just checked Wiki. But he died earlier this year, which perhaps is why he came to mind.)

I think the only effect of the literature prize on my reading recently was a year or two ago, when I took J.M.G. Le Clézio's Desert  (in translation) out of a library. It's haunting and poetic, particularly the parts set in the North African desert itself, and I'm quite sure I wouldn't have read it had he not won the Nobel prize (he got it in '08). But that was unusual for me, since I don't generally rush out and read the work of whatever author has just won.  


R. Lizza (of The New Yorker) on the Keystone pipeline.

Monday, October 7, 2013

And this is...

esp. for TBA, who I think will find it amusing, though others may too -- "it" being an opera called 'Scalia/Ginsburg'. An echo of 'Marat/Sade', perhaps? (Though which is which?)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weekend linkage

-- Giap: WaPo obit. For a link to the NYT obit, see this post.

-- Another view of the govt shutdown mess.

-- Added later: Phil Arena and I discuss the Civil War (see his post here and the comments thread).

Friday, October 4, 2013

Extreme poverty in Africa: glass half full?

Sometime in the next few days I was planning to post a link to the new UNICEF figures on global child mortality (once I had taken a look at the report), but Jeffrey Sachs in the NYT (via) beat me to it (at least w/r/t the figures for Africa).

Sachs has a glass-half-full view of poverty and its effects in Africa, observing, among other things, that malaria is down by 30 percent (over what period exactly he doesn't say) and that economic growth is up to 5.7 percent in the period 2000-2010. He doesn't discuss how that growth has been distributed, however. And the child mortality figures, although better than they were, are still terrible: almost 10 percent under-5 mortality per 1000 births in 2012 (or in plain language, for every 1000 children born, 98 died before their fifth birthday). [ETA: Oh yes, the (supposedly) key figure: the percent living below the W.Bank's $1.25-a-day extreme poverty line was down to 49 percent in 2010 for sub-Saharan Africa, 21 percent for developing countries taken altogether.]  

Sachs is probably right that private-public 'partnerships' are required to make progress on further reducing extreme poverty. But structural reforms are also needed, such as, to mention just one, ending offshore tax havens that cost developing countries more money every year than they receive in official development assistance. This last point I take from a book that I've checked out of the library but as yet have only glanced at: Gillian Brock, Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account (Oxford U.P., 2009). She discusses taxation and its connection to global poverty in chap.5. (I'm assuming this particular problem is as bad now as it was several years ago when Brock wrote. In the unlikely event that's wrong, someone can correct me.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The tyranny of the minority

Tea Party and other right-wing House Republicans have brought the country's public services grinding to a halt and furloughed thousands of workers in pursuit of a profoundly anti-democratic (small "d") agenda: weakening or destroying a law they were not able to defeat in the normal course of political competition.

As both E.J. Dionne and Harold Meyerson (here) point out in op-ed columns, the strength of the Republican right wing in the House rests on gerrymandered congressional districts, ones that were drawn by Republican state legislatures after the 2010 census to ensure safe seats for right-wing members.

Dionne writes:
House Speaker John Boehner’s approach has been driven by fear: fear of the most right-wing House members, fear of rabid talk-show hosts, fear of the Frankenstein monster of fanatical organizations the party has relied upon to gin up the faithful.
The government is shut for only one reason: Boehner wants to keep his job. This is not a sufficient cause for throwing hundreds of thousands of other people out of theirs. “This is the conservative right versus the reckless right,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Budget Committee Democrat. “The country should not become the victim of the Republican civil war.”
If this is a Republican civil war, it is one that the somewhat sane part of the Republican caucus seems to be losing. The right-wing House Republicans are not simply crazy and dangerous -- though they definitely are those things -- they also have a deep contempt for the democratic process. Faced with a law they don't like but couldn't roll back through ordinary channels, they have resorted to doing an end run around majority rule and risking bringing the country back into recession in order to further their policy preferences.

Various theorists of democracy have worried about the tyranny of the majority. This is the reverse: the tyranny of the minority.

(Note: post edited slightly after initial posting)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One functional government, at your service

Not far from the exceptionally unedifying spectacle unfolding on Capitol Hill, some WW2 veterans from Mississippi surmounted barricades to visit the closed WW2 memorial, in the company of what the WaPo article describes as "jubilant" Republican Congressmen. If I were those Congressmen, I don't think I'd be jubilant right now about much of anything.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A reading list on the history of U.S. foreign relations

Matt Fay shares his comps reading list here.

Quote of the day

From a poem by Patrice de La Tour du Pin (entry in French Wiki here; there is no English Wiki entry), as quoted by S. Hoffmann, Decline or Renewal? France Since the 1930s (1974), p.280, at the conclusion of a piece on DeGaulle's last memoirs:

Comprends-moi: j'ai soif de la gloire
Avec la gorge amère des adolescents
Quand ils prennent leur grand vol doré sur l'histoire

D'un seul claquement de coeur!

[Understand me: I thirst for glory
With the bitter throat of adolescents
When they take their bold golden flight over history

With a single flapping of their hearts!]

Nice metaphor: "with a single flapping of their wings" would be obvious, but "with a single flapping of their hearts" is striking.

Speaking of sexism...

...I quoted this (from Cyril Connolly) here a few years ago. The punchline: " more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Canon to the right of them, canon to the left of them

I picked the wrong time to complain, as I did not too long ago, that things had gotten dull at Crooked Timber.

All hell has broken loose there over questions of literature. Well, sort of. Actually relatively few people want to have the discussion about what makes a great novel great that George Scialabba (geo) wants to have. The majority prefer, well, I'm not sure what to call it. But mcmanus is quoting Hardt & Negri (their bearing on the questions at hand being less than blindingly and immediately obvious) and Hector St Clare is trumpeting on about "the basic and eternal truths of human nature," one of which is (supposedly) that women are Meek Souls in search of the Strong Manly etc Because Evolution etc, so some things in the threads are par for the course.

This might be a good time (actually probably not, but who cares) to let Jean-Jacques have another guest appearance:
Let us begin by distinguishing the moral from the physical in the sentiment of love. The physical is that general desire which leads one sex to unite with the other; the moral is what gives rise to this desire and fixes it exclusively upon a single object, or at least gives it a greater degree of energy for this preferred object. Now, it is easy to see that the moral aspect of love is an artificial sentiment, born of social custom and celebrated by women with much care and cleverness to establish their ascendancy and to make dominant the sex that should obey [sic]. This sentiment, being founded on certain notions of merit or beauty that a savage is not in a position to have, and upon comparisons that he is not in a position to make, must mean almost nothing to him, for, just as his mind cannot form abstract ideas of regularity and proportion, so his heart is not susceptible to the sentiments of admiration and love, which, even without being perceived, arise from the application of these ideas; he listens solely to the temperament he has received from nature and not to the taste he has not been able to acquire, and any woman is good for him.
(Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, Norton ed., p. 30)

The point being, as he goes on to say, that because sex is purely physical in the state of nature it is not accompanied by those "ardors" that muck everything up once they appear.

Note that R. says women "should obey" -- of course he's writing in the mid-18th century. People writing in the mid-20th century have less of an excuse. (But if you want that argument in full, see B. Waring's CT posts.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What Snowden was given to read

Back in late July, when Snowden was stuck in the Moscow airport, his lawyer gave him books by Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Karamzin, the last being "the court historian to Tsar Alexander I."

Maybe Ted Cruz should have read Karamzin on the Senate floor instead of Dr. Seuss.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A system in crisis

It's well known that higher education in the U.S. is facing a number of problems (so is K-12 education of course, but we'll put that aside for now). To mention a few, in no special order: First, the adjunct-ification of the faculty (which can lead to rather horrible stories, see e.g. here). Second, continually rising costs and resulting debt burdens on students. Third, budget constraints facing institutions that are partly or largely dependent on state funding. Fourth, there is the question of how much students are actually learning in U.S. colleges and universities, with some recent studies suggesting that the answer is: on average, not very much (sorry, don't have links for this). J. Quiggin at Crooked Timber also has hammered on the point that there has been relatively little expansion in recent decades in the top rungs of the system, in terms of number of student places. It has also been pointed out that economic inequality contributes to rising tuition, as the wealthy and well-to-do bid up the price of the most prestigious institutions. Universities in turn try to compensate by expanding financial aid, but sometimes, as at UVA recently, such programs themselves come under budget pressure.

Although these issues are systemic, the anger they have generated is often focused on the institutions at the top of the prestige/cost hierarchy. Some may doubt that these institutions are actually much concerned about education, as opposed to the perpetuation of their exalted positions and the passing of the advantages of their "brand" on to their graduates. A commenter at the LGM blog expressed this view recently when he wrote (in a comment thread attached to this post):
Harvard’s chief concern has not been education for a very long time. It’s about producing powerful people. Yale, too.
This remark is confused. To be sure, in an inegalitarian society one of the functions of elite education is, at least to some extent, the reproduction of privilege. But "one of the functions" does not mean "chief concern" or "primary purpose."

It is reasonable to ask whether a handful of institutions should be relatively well off while others scape by. But it is not credible to suppose that Harvard wants to raise 6.5 billion dollars -- the target amount of its just-launched campaign -- simply so that it can more effectively, in the words of the LGM commenter, "produc[e] powerful people." It doesn't take billions of dollars to do that. The number of "powerful" slots is limited: there are only nine Supreme Court justices, only so many CEOs, etc. If Harvard's main or overriding concern were insuring that its graduates continue to have a disproportionate share of such positions, 6.5 billion would seem an excessive requirement. But expensive labs, libraries, other buildings, and personnel costs do mount up and they might well have some connection to education, the thing that the LGM commenter is convinced is not "the chief concern." My interest here is not to defend wealthy, elite universities which sit on multi-billion-dollar endowments but rather simply to observe that heaping all the blame for the system's problems on a few institutions will not solve those problems.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"An almost invisible brake"

I'm reading Leo Damrosch's Tocqueville's Discovery of America (pb, 2011), which has lots of well-chosen quotations from Tocqueville's and Beaumont's letters, Tocqueville's American notebooks, and Democracy in America itself. Damrosch did his homework with, among other things, the historiography of the 1830s, and his book not only conveys the travelers' insights but also occasionally notes their blind spots (and they had a few: for instance Tocqueville was not very interested in the nitty-gritty of practical politics, e.g. the early Tammany Hall). Among their blind spots was definitely not the opposite sex: the young Frenchmen had an eye for women but were stymied sexually during the trip since they were unwilling to have intercourse with prostitutes, while 'proper' young women, although flirtatious, were not available for physical dalliances.    

At one point (p.60) Damrosch quotes the passage in Democracy (Vol.1, Pt.2, ch.8) in which Tocqueville sets forth his view of the social role of American lawyers. I decided to compare Damrosch's translation of this passage to the version on my shelf, which is the George Lawrence translation. (Other translations have appeared in recent years, e.g. Arthur Goldhammer's.) 

Here's Lawrence's version of the passage (I've added the word in brackets):
When the American people let themselves get intoxicated by their passions or carried away by their ideas, the lawyers apply an almost invisible brake which slows them down and halts them. Their aristocratic inclinations are secretly opposed to the [people's] instincts of democracy, their superstitious respect for all that is old to its love of novelty, their narrow views to its grandiose designs, their taste for formalities to its scorn of regulations, and their habit of advancing slowly to its impetuosity.
Here's Damrosch's version:  
To the democratic instincts of the people, they secretly oppose their aristocratic inclinations; to the people's love of novelty, their superstitious respect for the old; to the vastness of the people's designs, their narrow views; to the people's contempt for rules, their love of forms; and to the people's hotheadedness, their habit of moving slowly.
As can be seen, the biggest difference is that the first is mostly in the passive voice ("their...inclinations are secretly opposed") whereas the second is in the active ("they secretly oppose").

What I should do now is look up the French original and make my own call. But that feels like work and this blog is all about fun. (No, not really. I jest. But it was worth a try...)

Added later: If the (or a) basic theme of Democracy in America, as Damrosch says somewhere, is that habits and mores are firmer safeguards of liberty than laws (I'm paraphrasing), then T. might have been ambivalent about what he saw as the role of lawyers. On the one hand, they counter the "hotheadedness" and possible tyranny of the majority (a good thing to do, in T's view) but on the other hand lawyers' necessary preoccupation with law means that they are somewhat peripheral to the 'deep' foundations of democracy. Neither T. nor anyone else can be read as a kind of timeless oracle, and the fact that a lot has changed in the U.S. since the early 19th cent. must be taken into account. On the other hand, some things have not changed much, e.g. the formal constitutional architecture -- which, btw, seems to be working pretty badly right now.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


-- Juan Cole on Syria and Iraq (h/t).

-- Speaking of grand theory (see a couple of previous posts), Charles Cogan reviews Thierry de Montbrial's Action and Reaction in the World System at H-Diplo's (and ISA's) International Security Studies Forum (the whole site is definitely worth a look).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cultures of blogging

The blog LGM (Lawyers Guns and Money) has political scientists among its bloggers but it has a more freewheeling -- for lack of a better word -- view of its role than most academic political science blogs (see Robert Farley's piece "Complicating the Political Scientist as Blogger" which appeared a while ago in the journal PS).

That freewheeling character extends to LGM's comment threads, where name-calling is pretty standard (someone called me a "pious schmuck" there recently in connection with remarks on the op-ed referred to in the previous post). Contrast this with, e.g., The Monkey Cage, where chances of one's being called something nasty are considerably lower (though not zero). However, The Monkey Cage is moving to The Washington Post (with a three-year contract, apparently) and what will happen to its comment sections after the move is anyone's guess. I read the comments on WaPo articles only infrequently, but their general tenor seems to be occasioning some prospective worry on this score among The Monkey Cage's regular readers. (I don't read TMC every day or even every week but I was there not too long ago, quickly catching up on a few weeks' worth of posts.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Progress, pleasure, and poverty

An NYT op-ed by Manu Joseph (via E. Loomis at LGM) insists that the poor, in this case in India, want to have fun and that they should be given Internet connectivity via cellphones and should decide the uses to which it is put (as opposed to a government official telling them). Because, Joseph intones: "It is not always true that entertainment is the collateral consequence of progress; progress, often, is the collateral benefit of the pursuit of pleasure."

I'm happy to agree with Joseph that fun is "a profound human need" and I'm for autonomy and all that, but I'm not sure about the notion that progress is often a collateral benefit of the pursuit of pleasure (sometimes it may be, sometimes not). Anyway, it's beside the point, which is, as I pointed out in a comment at LGM, that extreme poverty remains a serious problem in India, despite its considerable economic progress in recent years. Whether a parent whose child has died of a preventable poverty-related cause will be consoled by watching serials on TV or online seems to me an open question, to put it mildly.

(This reminds me that I've had a related post sitting in draft for a while. Will try to post it fairly soon.)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

More on Afghanistan

Rachel Maddow, reviewing Andrew Bacevich's new book (via), writes: "When the drawdown is done and the Afghanistan war hits its scheduled end-date next December, the plan is for the Army to still be larger by 10,000 soldiers than it was on 9/11."

That's a very bad sentence. The reason it's a bad sentence is that the Afghanistan war will not end when ISAF forces end their active role at the close of December 2014. Rather, as Stephen Biddle points out in the Foreign Affairs piece I mentioned in the previous post (here; paywalled), the war will continue, likely in a stalemated mode, between the Afghan army and the Taliban. 

Biddle argues that the U.S. Congress is likely to tire of funding the Afghan military sooner than the Taliban is likely to tire of fighting. Accordingly he urges the Obama admin to pressure Karzai to reach a meaningful negotiated settlement with the Taliban, one that would involve giving them a role in the government (albeit not a controlling role). Failing that, the U.S./ISAF should withdraw sooner, he maintains. Biddle contends there is no point in dragging things out on the present path, at the cost of more soldiers' lives, only to have the war's original objectives go up in smoke when Congress stops funding the Afghan security forces and the Taliban proceed to win. A settlement is possible, he suggests, but the Obama admin is not doing enough to achieve one.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


-- Corey Robin's beautifully written appreciation of Marshall Berman compares Berman's All That is Solid Melts Into Air (which I've read some of) to Rousseau's Second Discourse and Said's Orientalism in being "intensely, almost unbearably, intimate." Having recently read the Second Discourse, I can't say it struck me quite that way, but chopping it up into tiny bits was probably not the best method of approach.

-- Two pieces on Afghanistan in the current Foreign Affairs: by S. Biddle (which I more or less read; it's sort of depressing) and K. Eikenberry (haven't read).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bringing North-South relations back in

Duck of Minerva is currently running a symposium on "The end of IR theory?" special issue of European Journal of International Relations. In his article in that issue, "The Poverty of Grand Theory," Chris Brown (of LSE) calls for "critical problem-solving theory," i.e. theory which addresses real-world problems from the perspective of the powerless (or the underdog, to use the word in his abstract). I commented on Brown's DofM post (summarizing his article), and Nicholas Lees has a post on Brown's article here.

I think Brown is pretty much right that poststructuralist IR has not been sufficiently engaged with the real world and that both realist and liberal IR theory, while often quite engaged with the world, aren't concerned enough (or at all) with issues of global poverty and inequality. As Nicholas and I both point out, IR theorists could draw on resources in the literatures of international political economy, development, and applied ethics if they were to decide to make more concerted efforts to fill the gap(s) Brown identifies. 

One might ask why it matters who is working on a subject (in this case, global inequality and related issues) as long as it is being addressed by someone. I would suggest it's important that more IR academics focus on these issues partly because they do connect to the discipline's main concerns, in addition to being highly important in their own right. The other side of the equation, as Nicholas suggests, is that there need to be 'addressees,' people who are willing to consider the scholarship that's produced and who are or might be in a position to try to act on whatever is actionable.

Writing this post has led me to take a quick look at a piece I have long been intending to read: Giovanni Arrighi and Lu Zhang, "Beyond the Washington Consensus: A New Bandung?" (It was published in an edited volume [link] a couple of years ago but I have it in a separate pdf.) From a glance, Arrighi and Zhang contend that the economic rise of China may create the conditions for the formation of a new Southern bloc, held together as much or more by economic interest as by political/ideological solidarity. China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, the key countries in this scenario, are consciously promoting intra-South economic cooperation and activity. The focus on the possibility of 'a new Bandung' draws attention to issues that used to have a more central place in IR, including questions about how the interests of states and governments connect (or don't) to those of struggling individuals. If one wants to make a start on the tall order of 'critical problem-solving' theory ('grand' or otherwise), perhaps bringing North-South relations back to the field's center stage would be a good first step.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quote of the day

"When the ability to have movement across social class becomes virtually impossible, I think it is the beginning of the end of a country...  if we don't figure out a way to create greater mobility across social class, I do think it will be the beginning of the end."

-- Shirley Tilghman, former president of Princeton, on the NewsHour recently [link]

Friday, September 6, 2013

Note on norm enforcement

In the conclusion of their article "The Political Economy of Imperialism, Decolonization and Development" (British Journal of Political Science, July 2011), E. Gartzke and D. Rohner refer to "American enforcement of a norm of territorial integrity,...[which] could decay if the United States weakens or developing states become more capable of conquest."

I don't think this statement, especially the first part of it, is very convincing. The territorial integrity norm is quite deeply internalized by most states, making its enforcement largely unnecessary. In other words, its effectiveness is not generally dependent on enforcement by a powerful state. That situation conceivably could change but there are few indications that it's going to change any time soon.

From linkage at DofM I see that Richard Price (who wrote a book on the chemical weapons taboo) is making a rather similar point about the norm against chemical weapons use: it will continue to be generally observed, even if the U.S. does not enforce it by taking military action against Assad. (I haven't read Price's piece yet, however.) It might be interesting to compare the number of times these two different norms (territorial integrity and chemical weapons) have been violated in recent decades, by whom, and with what consequences.

[Note: post edited slightly after initial posting]

Confusion about 'humanitarian intervention'

Reading/skimming Alan Gilbert's latest post, one finds this:
Obama right now relies on Bush's illegal "preemption," that is aggression in Iraq, for his precedent for going it alone in "humanitarian intervention"....
This is confused, but the confusion is perhaps somewhat understandable because the Obama admin's statements on Syria have suggested several different, albeit related, rationales for a strike against Assad: (1) norm enforcement, (2) punishment/deterrence, (3) protection of the Syrian population from further chemical weapons attacks, and (4) prevention of chemical weapons possibly getting into 'the wrong hands' and being used against the U.S. or its allies. Only #4, which has not been emphasized that much, has any connection to Bush's 'preemption' doctrine (which was actually a prevention, not a preemption, doctrine). #3 is the humanitarian intervention rationale, which also brings in elements of #1 and #2.

The notion of humanitarian intervention has a very long, albeit controversial, history/pedigree in international law and practice, a fact that is apparently not widely understood. (It long predates Bush's preemption/prevention doctrine, which has nothing to do with humanitarian intervention.)

In her 2003 book The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs About the Use of Force, Martha Finnemore pointed out that "[b]efore the twentieth century virtually all instances of military intervention to protect people other than the intervenor's own nationals involved protection of Christians from the Ottoman Turks." (p.58) Over the course of the twentieth century the notion of who is 'human' and thus worthy of protection expanded to include non-Christians and non-whites. To quote Finnemore again: the late twentieth century all human beings were treated as equally deserving in the international normative discourse. In fact, states are very sensitive to charges that they are "normatively backward" and still privately harbor distinctions. When Boutros-Ghali, shortly after becoming [UN] Secretary-General, charged that powerful states were attending to disasters in white, European Bosnia at the expense of non-white, African Somalia, the United States and other states became defensive, refocused attention, and ultimately launched a full-scale intervention in Somalia before acting in Bosnia. (p.83)
Whether what the Obama admin is proposing to do w/r/t Syria is a good idea is debatable. But it's wrong to suggest, as a Democratic congressman did on the NewsHour last night, that the admin is seeking to create a "new category" of "humanitarian war."

P.s. (added later): Whether the notion of humanitarian intervention would have supported or required earlier, more forceful action by the admin w/r/t Syria is a legitimate question but in a sense irrelevant to the main point of this post.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Comment on Braumoeller (first installment)

I've just taken a quick look through B. Braumoeller's paper arguing that interstate war is not in decline.

This post comments on a passage that appears early in the paper. I will have more to say about the paper as a whole, or other aspects of it, later on.

In discussing the two world wars of the 20th century, Braumoeller writes on p. 3 that:
World War II may have been begun by Hitler, but the ground was made fertile for him by the punitive peace of World War I and the crushing terms of German reparations. The Allies took these steps knowing full well that there was a risk of substantial backlash: although no one could have foreseen Hitler, some hypernationalist response leading to a Great Power war was hardly out of the question.
In fact, there is, at a minimum, serious historiographical debate about whether the terms of the Versailles treaty were indeed 'punitive'. I discovered this a while ago in the course of reading the roughly 350 comments attached to a post of last May 7 at Crooked Timber. Eric Rauchway's post "Sympathy and the Sources of Keynes's Critique of the Peace" sparked a long comment thread that contained contributions from an historian (writing pseudonymously) who maintained that the Versailles settlement was not punitive. This commenter wrote (among other things):
Nobody tried to squeeze “the German lemon” dry. Go read Sally Marks. The reparations imposed on Germany were below what Keynes thought doable. Sally Marks established this over forty years ago.
The peace was not punitive....  The peace was largely a form of restorative justice intended to repair the enormous damage done to Belgium and northern France (much of it as Germany retreated). The only element that can be considered punitive was Jan Smuts' insertion of the war pensions into the reparations....

Now obviously this is one viewpoint, but it became clear in the course of the thread that there is serious historiographical debate on this issue. By failing to acknowledge that and simply repeating what many of us were taught in high school -- namely, the peace was punitive and the reparations "crushing" -- Braumoeller gets his paper off to a somewhat rickety start.

This is a minor point but not completely negligible. I will have something to say about more central parts of Braumoeller's argument later.

P.s. (added later): Does it matter to the point Braumoeller is making here, namely that Hitler  shouldn't be seen as the indispensable (i.e. necessary) prerequisite of WW2? It does somewhat, because if the peace in fact was not all that punitive but was inclined to be seen as punitive by large segments of the German public, then Hitler's demagogic skills were arguably quite vital to helping shape and reinforce a distorted view of the treaty in the public's mind. (And this of course was connected to other parts of the German right wing's perspective on WW1, such as the "stab in the back" thesis.)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bull, Waltz, and the variety of grand theory

There was some interest in this earlier post, to which this post is a sort of follow-up. Its focus is two 'big' books, published around the same time, which are considered the touchstone works of, respectively, structural realism and the English School: Kenneth Waltz's Theory of International Politics [TIP] (1979) and Hedley Bull's The Anarchical Society [AS] (1977). A large amount has been written about both books and I won't try to canvass that literature. (I will mention, however, that the E-IR site has a downloadable collection of essays System, Society & the World: Exploring the English School [here].) I should note that this post says nothing new or startling and almost its entire contents would/should have been covered in a decent Intro to IR Theory course.     


First, are TIP and AS even about the same subject? The question may seem odd; surely they are both about international politics (or world politics)? Bull writes at the outset that "this book is an inquiry into the nature of order in world politics" (AS, p.xi); Waltz writes that his aim is "to construct a theory of international politics that remedies the defects of present theories" (TIP, p.1). So Bull's focus, at first glance, might seem narrower: he says he is concerned "not with the whole of world politics but with one element in it: order" (AS, p.xi). However, the notion of 'order' he uses is general enough to undergird a discussion that, in its own way, is as sweeping as Waltz's. Both books are big-picture "grand theory," albeit very different examples of the genre. Waltz is self-consciously constructing a parsimonious theory that he claims meets "philosophy-of-science standards" (TIP, p.1), whereas Bull is not interested in constructing a theory of that kind (or, arguably, of any kind). Waltz's theory is a 'systems theory' in that it gives special importance to (one particular definition of) the structure of the international system as distinct from the 'units'; Bull's approach, while focusing on system-wide institutions that the 'units' themselves have created and through which they regulate their relations, is not a 'systems theory,' at least not in the Waltzian sense.

The past and continuing preoccupation of many IR theorists with the notions of 'system' and 'structure' has sparked a reaction by some (e.g., R. Jackson, The Global Covenant, p.31: "There is no international 'system' or 'structure' that exists and functions outside human decision, responsibility and control"), but the allure of 'structure' -- now often reformulated as 'networks' -- remains quite strong. (I won't address networks here, nor will I discuss the "practice turn" in IR theory, which perhaps has some connections to the English School.)

Waltz and "structure"

Structural realism is structural because it holds that the most important thing to know about international politics is the distribution of power across (or among) states, and this distribution is considered a  "structural" rather than a "unit-level" property. Thus, according to this way of thinking, the fact that the U.S. is the most militarily powerful country in the world is not considered a fact about, or a property of, the U.S.; rather, it is viewed as an aspect of the current system's structure. As Waltz put it: "How units stand in relation to one another, the way they are arranged or positioned, is not a property of the units. The arrangement of units is a property of the system." (TIP, p.80) "The distribution of capabilities is not a unit attribute, but rather a system-wide concept." (p.98)

Like many of his realist predecessors, Waltz stresses that the "ordering principle" of "anarchy," i.e., an absence of central authority or world government, means that states (the 'units') ultimately can look only to themselves to protect against (real or perceived) threats and to ensure their survival. The result, in his view, is a strong tendency for balances of power to form over and over, as states find it necessary to prevent the most powerful state in the system from becoming so powerful as to threaten their respective existences as independent entities. 

Thus two main "expectations" of Waltz's theory are that "balances of power recurrently form, and states tend to emulate the successful policies of others." (p.124)  A problem with the first of these expectations or predictions is that it doesn't seem to match up very well with fairly large swaths of history. Waltz tries, to some extent, to anticipate this objection by stressing the difficulty of testing theories, especially those which yield general rather than specific expectations, and by noting that "[b]ecause only a loosely defined and inconstant condition of balance is predicted [by the theory], it is difficult to say that any given distribution of power falsifies the theory." (p.124) He cautions in the opening chapter that "the rigor and complication of tests must be geared to the precision or to the generality of the expectations inferred from the theory." (p.16) He never says explicitly 'don't subject this theory to overly rigorous tests because its expectations are general not precise,' but he comes very close to saying that.

Another main point readers usually take away from Theory has to do with "the stability of a bipolar world," to quote the title of Waltz's 1964 article on that subject. Partly in the interest of keeping this post to a reasonable length, I won't address that aspect of the book here.   

Note (1): The degree to which the entire 'realist tradition' is 'structural' in its emphases is a debatable question. For one perspective on the issue, see J. Parent & J. Baron, "Elder Abuse: How the Moderns Mistreat Classical Realism" (International Studies Review, June 2011).

Note (2): Waltz's definition of 'structure' is obviously not the only one possible. Contrast, for example, the view that "international structure consists fundamentally in shared knowledge...." (A. Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics [STIP], p.31)

Bull and the "element of society"

Unlike Waltz, Bull doesn't have to worry, at least not explicitly, about theory construction and testing because he doesn't see himself as doing science (see the so-called 'second great debate'). So whereas Waltz begins with a chapter about what a theory is, Bull doesn't need one. A separate point is that Bull rejects the idea of "value-free" social inquiry (see AS, p.xv), but he doesn't elaborate much on this, at least not in meta-theoretical terms, in the book.

As is well known, Bull distinguishes between an international system, in which states interact enough that "the behaviour of each [is] a necessary element in the calculations of the other" (p.10), and an international society, in which states, "recognising certain common interests and perhaps some common values,...regard themselves as bound by certain rules in their dealings with one another...." (p.13) As is also well known, he aligns himself with what he labels (aptly or not) "the Grotian tradition," which emphasizes the "element of co-operation and regulated intercourse among states." (p.41) It coexists, in different degrees at different times, with 'Hobbesian' and 'Kantian' elements (respectively, "state of war" and "transnational solidarity and conflict"). (pp.41,51)

The heart of The Anarchical Society is Part 2, where five institutions -- the balance of power, international law, diplomacy, war, and the special role of the great powers -- are assessed in terms of their contributions to 'international order'. This is preceded by a chapter on "Order versus Justice." Quoting a passage from that chapter (p.97) will give a taste of Bull's style and also show how normative considerations are woven into his analysis:
...not only is order in world politics valuable, there is also a sense in which it is prior to other goals, such as that of justice. It is does not follow from this, however, that order is to be preferred to justice in any given case. In fact ideas of both order and justice enter into the value systems, the justificatory or rhetorical stock-in-trade of all actors in world politics. The advocate of revolutionary justice looks forward to a time when a new order will consolidate the gains of the revolution. The proponent of order takes up his position partly because the existing order is, from his point of view, morally satisfactory, or not so unsatisfactory as to warrant its disturbance. The question of order versus justice will always be considered by the parties concerned in relation to the merits of a particular case.
For Waltz, the international system is a case of "order without an orderer and of organizational effects where formal organization is lacking." (TIP, p.89) To elucidate these characteristics Waltz looks to "microeconomic theory" (ibid.), in which actors' normative beliefs or commitments are basically irrelevant. For Bull, by contrast, actors' values influence how they behave, which in turn influences system-level outcomes. 

It's sometimes overlooked that Bull in AS sees international society as only one element of international politics. If you're a grad student writing a comprehensive exam, the statement that the English School "treat[s] the international system as a society governed by shared norms" (to quote Wendt, STIP, p.31) will get you through. However, in a brief section called "The Limitations of International Society" Bull writes that the element of international society "is always in competition with the elements of a state of war and of transnational solidarity or conflict" and thus "it is always erroneous to interpret international events as if international society were the sole or the dominant element." (p.51) The word "always" here seems too strong; why foreclose the possibility that there may be periods in which the element of international society is "dominant"? Whether that is the case today is a question best left for another occasion.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Luttwak on Syria

Via TBA, this E. Luttwak piece argues that stalemate is the only outcome in Syria that serves U.S. interests. The case may seem logical. However, as the refugee population, already around one million, grows and places more strains on the host countries (Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey), the political situation in the latter may become more tense and in some cases violent, as is already happening in Lebanon and Iraq. The U.S. has a humanitarian and possibly also strategic interest in seeing that the refugee problem does not become even worse than it is now, and that in turn makes an indefinite civil war an undesirable prospect (not to mention the suffering in Syria itself).

It's instructive to compare Luttwak's line with McCain's. For the latter, "our interests are our values." For the former, the 'realist' calculus is all that matters: both A and B are hostile to the U.S., therefore A and B should be encouraged to weaken each other by fighting each other indefinitely. Luttwak and McCain are both wrong. Values are one basic component of interests; the trick is to find a way to accommodate the entire package, so to speak, of interests, without claiming (a la McCain) that values exhaust interests because interests and values are identical, or (a la Luttwak) that values are essentially irrelevant to interests. Easier said than done? Yes.

Added later: And if there are no policy options that accommodate the whole 'package,' which there probably won't be (see previous decisions on Afghanistan, Libya, etc.), then that should be acknowledged, without pretending that the chosen option is better than it is.

Someone please tell me where the **** the English language has gone

Clarifying note (added later): Isn't substance the important thing, not grammar? In general, yes. I'm no grammarian and can never remember certain rules, if I ever knew them. I just have a few pet peeves.    

Grazing through LGM I come upon this post, whose first link leads me to this page from a Politico article, where I see this:
Boot continued to provide POLITICO with email correspondence between he [sic] and Rosen and he [sic] and Roberts throughout the day on Friday.
You don't have to know the rules of English grammar -- "between" is a preposition and therefore takes the object "him," not the noun "he" -- to know that "between he and Rosen" is wrong. It sounds wrong. Someone who has never cracked an English grammar text and whose native language is English should be able to write reasonably correct English if he or she has a reasonably good ear. 

So, all together now: "Between he and Rosen" is wrong. "Between he and I" is also wrong. "Between you and I" is also wrong. Thank you. Jesus ******* *****.

Added later: Technically, it should be "the first link in which," not "whose first link." But some rules can be broken. Other rules should never be broken. The way to tell the difference is to listen.