By asking “If libertarianism is such a good idea, why aren’t there any libertarian countries?” Michael Lind has set up the all-too familiar trap of the intellectual straw man, and it seems that many libertarians have fallen for it.
His question makes as little sense when you replace “libertarianism” with, say, “atheism” or “environmentalism” or “feminism.” Operating in a liberal-democratic system that is driven by what Isaiah Berlin described as “value pluralism,” libertarian intellectuals and activists aim at affecting the world of ideas and the political process through the policy concepts they propose, not at establishing a Utopia based on their principles.
From that perspective, it’s difficult to argue that libertarian or classical-liberal ideas as they apply to economic policies—a.k.a. “free-market ideology”—haven’t had a dramatic impact in the last four decades or so.
Anyone reading this post will be familiar with the growing power of the free-market ideas of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and the like, and their role in launching the shift towards the restructuring the welfare state under leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, a shift that in some cases (New Zealand, for example) was transformative in nature.
Lind is correct in reminding us that the welfare state remains alive and well in the United States, Britain, and other Western countries. Reaganism and Thatcherism didn’t take the form of revolutions that led to the creation of “libertarian countries.” And it’s possible that many of the reforms in the welfare state would have taken place in the form of pragmatic responses to economic stagnation and the process of globalization even without the direct infusion of libertarian ideology.
But the fact remains that for most of the 1980s and 1990s free-market ideas were in ascendancy and the political spectrum worldwide—including Democrats under Bill Clinton in the U.S. and Labour under Tony Blair in the UK, not to mention the leadership classes of post-Communist China, Russia, and India—moved in that direction.
That didn’t transform anyplace on earth into a libertarian Utopia, to be sure. In fact, Singapore, which Lind points to as an example of a libertarian state, is if anything the ultimate Nanny State, while the economic liberalization of Chile took place under a military dictatorship.
One of the main and obvious reasons why the libertarian movement in this country has failed to develop into an effective political force has been the existing two-party system. It’s not inconceivable that if the United States had a parliamentary system, a viable Libertarian Party could have played a role in shaping legislation and policy, not unlike that of the laissez-faire Free Democrats in Germany or the left-libertarian Liberal Democrats in Britain.
The good news for libertarians marginalized by the two-party system is that their thinkers and activists are not forced to implement their ideas by way of specific policies, a process that requires making formal coalitions, concessions to other political groups, and embracing a nuanced approach to issues ranging from free trade to drug legalization. Libertarians can remain ideologically pure—which is also the bad news since it allows Lind to ridicule them as dogmatic ideologues and Utopians.
My first reaction to Senator Rand Paul’s foreign policy address at the Heritage Foundation last week was that it was about time a U.S. Senator of one of the two major political parties would articulate traditional American principles of non-interventionism in a clear and concise way.
That Paul is also a Republican and a self-proclaimed conservative/libertarian political figure who is willing to challenge the neo-conservative interventionist orientation that has dominated the GOP foreign-policy agenda in recent years gave me a sense of hope that the Junior Senator from Kentucky would succeed in igniting a serious debate on America’s place in the world today.
It was also original and somewhat cool that he relied on both the renowned diplomatic historian George Kennan and President Ronald Reagan in preparing a foreign policy manifesto.
I didn’t know Kennan; Kennan wasn’t a good friend of mine; but I’m sure that Kennan (who died at the age of 101) would probably be turning in his grave if anyone would have suggested that he and Reagan had anything in common politically speaking, and especially when it came to foreign policy.
As Kennan saw it, “Reagan viewed the world through dangerous simplicities, not realist subtleties,” according to his biographer John Lewis Gaddis (George F. Kennan: An American Life) who added that Kennan, an intellectual elitist, a snobbish, and to extent, a bigoted WASP, suspicious of the masses, and with no great admiration to modernity–he even decried the invention of the car–”distrusted both happiness and California” and “probably would have distrusted Reagan, even if the president had tried to win his trust” (although before his death Kennan admitted that Reagan had helped end the Cold War). Read More…
I was told recently that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) now allow young men and women who have Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, characterized by awkward and repetitive forms of social behavior, to join the ranks. “Aspies” may have difficulties functioning as part of a combat unit, but they are also very good with computers, and that makes them ideal recruits for high-tech jobs in a military force whose task is to fight and win wars.
That is the point one should highlight when the issue of gays in the military or women in combat is being discussed: winning wars. By that criterion, allowing gays to join and fight in the military was a no-brainer to me. The notion that gay men would not fit into framework of a combat unit, a “band of brothers” assumes that those “brothers” don’t already include more than a few anti-social types, not to mention, say, heterosexual weirdos or asexual creeps. Then there are those guys who supposedly would feel “uncomfortable” taking a shower with a gay guy, despite the fact that they are trained be ready to see the body of their comrades being blown up in combat.
Since the Pentagon lifted the ban on women serving in direct ground combat, the spin in the media has been that the debate over the role of women in combat is similar to the one we had about gays in the military, and only cultural Neanderthals would object to the idea of women leading a unit of marines to attack a military base in North Korea. Haven’t you seen “G.I. Jane”?
But guess what? “G.I. Jane” and “Alias’s” Sydney Bristow don’t exist in the real world but are a figment of Hollywood’s imagination, much like the notion popularized by Law and Order and other television cop shows that female detectives confront violent criminals on a regular basis.
Women do serve in the U.S. and other militaries, including in direct combat units, and in a way the new Pentagon rules only makes it official, to ensure that female soldiers serving in Iraq or Afghanistan receive equal pay and benefits. But the main question is whether women serving in combat units make the military more or less effective in executing its mission of fighting and winning wars. My approach to evaluating this is utilitarian, pragmatic, and conservative.
First, let’s get one issue off the table: I really don’t even want to get into the argument that women disrupt the unit’s fighting capability because their presence makes guys horny and supposedly ignites intra-unit rivalry between the men over the relatively few women. Since that is happening in almost every organization and business in America, I don’t see why the military should be considered a special case.
But I do have great skepticism over what seems to be becoming the conventional wisdom: that women as a group have the physical attributes to fight in combat units.
In my gym where I work out and lift weights I occasionally encounter a woman who is younger, taller, and more muscular than me and could probably beat and tie me up. And there are individual women who can and do perform active combat roles. Yet the idea that the goal of the U.S. military should now be “to provide a level, gender neutral playing field” just boggles the mind and reflects the kind of politically correct mumbo-jumbo that liberal pundits like to bombard us with.
Here is a commonsensical counter-argument: why do we continue to separate (segregate?) men and women in almost all sports and athletic competitions? In fact, there are different requirements for men and women in athletic competition, and they will probably be in place until science can change our entire biological makeup and the evolutionary process—when say, men are able to get pregnant.
Until that happens, here is a simple question: would you like to see the Redskins go coed and would you expect such a team to win the Superbowl? Well? That’s what I thought. So why would you want the Marine Corps “to provide a level, gender-neutral playing field” and also expect them to win the next war with China?
After following Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearings and reading Daniel McCarthy’s thoughtful post asking “Can a Realist be a Republican?”, I want to remind TAC readers and others that they should not confuse a realist global strategy with a non-interventionist (or anti-interventionist) foreign policy.
In fact, for much of the Cold War and its aftermath, Republican foreign policy was synonymous with realism. It reflected an emphasis on protecting U.S. national interest measured in terms of military and economic power and dealing with the world as it is, as opposed to a preoccupation with transforming the existing international system based on American principles of liberal democracy.
It was never an either/or choice of course, but Republican administrations’ default foreign-policy position has historically been realism, which never precluded military intervention abroad or opposed the formation of alliances with foreign nations. The realists stressed that this extensive involvement in world affairs should be driven more by hard-core nationalism and less by the kind of vague universal principles that Oliver Stone (among others) argues should have guided U.S. diplomacy and national security (like sharing U.S. atomic secrets with the Soviets).
Indeed, as scholar Colin Dueck proposes in his Hard Line: The Republican Party and US Foreign Policy Since World War II Republican and conservative foreign policy post-World War II was very hawkish and nationalist in contrast with the earlier more anti-interventionist approach of Republican Robert Taft.
And I doubt very much that even President Dwight Eisenhower, who is now being romanticized as a prudent Republican foreign-policy president (one whose secretary of state bashed containment and called for rolling-back communism and employing tactical nuclear weapons), would have found it un-American to deploy drones around the world or to allow enhanced interrogation techniques.
At the risk of turning this site into an online seminar on international relations, I feel obliged to respond to comments made by my colleagues Daniel Larison and Noah Millman in response to my earlier post about Obama and foreign-policy realism GOP-style.
I think that this discussion is important because Republican leaders and conservative/ libertarian thinkers need to bid farewell to the neoconservative agenda and to embrace a new foreign-policy doctrine. That process should evolve out of the re-examination of U.S. global interests and result in the readjustment of American policies to the changing geo-political and geo-economic realities. But this debate hasn’t been taking place among Republicans and conservatives who seem to be ceding the control over it to President Obama, with Republican Chuck Hagel being now part of his national-security team.
I do agree with Noah that realism is an international-relations theory and that it is difficult to identify “realists” or their old intellectual rivals, the “idealists,” in the real world of foreign policy. But in the narratives we draw up about the debates over social and economic policies, “conservatives” and “liberals” play the leading role—even though, like “realists” and “idealists,” they are nothing more than “ideal types” to use Max Weber’s terminology, a construct that helps us make sense of the messy social and political reality around us by stressing the common characteristics of a certain phenomenon or school of thought.
So, for example, we all recognize and accept that there are conservatives who are “pro-choice” (in itself an ideal type) and who support gay marriage and some liberals who are “pro-life” and are opposed to the decriminalization of the use of marijuana. But we use the term “liberal” or “conservative” to describe the political views of someone, instead of detailing all his or her positions on political issue, even when some of his or her views are exceptions to the type.
Similarly, consider, for example, Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski, who together with Republican Brent Scrowcroft is considered now by the Washington establishment as the elder statesman of American realism. Zbigniew is strongly committed to the main tenets of Realpolitik and argues that America’s. strategic interests, and not its devotion to lofty ideals like human rights. should determine U.S. foreign policy, especially when it comes to the use of military power, which explains why he supports expanding U.S. ties with China.
But then whenever the issue of American policy towards Russia comes up, “Zbig” is transformed into a flaming idealist, charging the Russians with the violation of human rights and repression of ethnic minorities, and urges Washington to punish Moscow. Why the difference between the attitude towards China and to Russia? Well, I invite you to lunch at your favorite Polish restaurant if you know the answer. Read More…
Historians studying Russian and German foreign policy in the last century have tried to figure out whether the strategic thinking and diplomacy of Nazi Germany’s Hitler and the Soviet Union’s Stalin were driven by traditional national interests or by the ideologies of communism and fascism.
One way of analyzing this issue would be to ask what German or Russian leaders who were clearly pursuing Realpolitik-type foreign policies–say, Peter the Great in the case of Russia or Bismarck in the case of Germany–would have done had they been in Hitler’s or Stalin’s shoes. The general consensus tends to be that Peter the Great’s foreign policy during and after World War II would not have been so different from Stalin’s conduct; and that when it came to foreign policy, Hitler was clearly no Bismarck.
I am bringing this up in part to respond to the comments by my colleague Daniel Larison and other critics of my article on Obama’s brand of Republican realism. I did point out President George H. W. Bush and his foreign policy advisors as standard bearers of Republican foreign policy realism. So Larison brings up Libya as a way of demonstrating that Obama is no Bush I.
Well, if I am not mistaken Bush the Elder deployed hundreds of thousand of U.S. troops into Iraq, Panama and Somalia. In all these cases, Bush and his advisors justified the interventions in “internationalist” terms: Saddam violated international law by invading Kuwait; Panama’s leader was a drug dealer; and Somalia was facing a humanitarian crisis.
There is a clear realist argument to be made that those military interventions didn’t advance U.S. interests. And the only good thing that you could say about Desert Storm is that (in my view) Bush I decided not to invade Iraq and depose its leader, which he did in Panama.
So one must explain why a non-direct U.S. military intervention in Libya should be considered more “internationalist” and “interventionist” and less “realist” than the first Iraq war, Panama, and Somalia.
A few days after the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt in early 2011, I published in TAC a somewhat bearish analysis of the prospects for liberal democracy in the Arab world with the headline, “Don’t Party Like It’s 1989“.
In particular, I dismissed the popular western narrative that attempted to draw a historical analogy between the Arab Spring and the collapse of Communism and rise of elected governments committed to political and economic freedom in Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia.
I applied a different historical analogy. The 1848 revolts led by liberal movements in Europe had produced a political backlash from conservative forces and ignited a wave of nationalism. My point was that we should be ready for a long period of political upheaval that may not necessarily end with a clear victory for the “good guys” in the emerging narrative. This was a work in progress.
At a time when the major media celebrated the fall of Mubarak as a “revolution,” this sense of skepticism was rejected both by neoconservatives on the right, who argued that pro-democracy protests in Egypt and elsewhere represented a triumph of George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda, and by liberal democracy promoters on the left, who explained that the problem with Bush’s strategy was its reliance on American military power. The left assumed that the end of military regimes in the Middle East would be followed by similar challenges to authoritarian monarchies in the region, and demands for free elections, individual liberty, free press, religious freedom, women’s rights, free markets, international peace, and, well, you name it.
That many young students and professionals who text, use Skype, and have Facebook accounts were among the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, and in fluent and idiomatic English expressed what sounded like liberal principles on CNN and Al Jazeera, only raised the expectations among members of the elite in the West that these were the intellectual and political descendants of Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. Spring was indeed in the air, and anyone who doubted it was out of step with the reigning Come-the-Revolution Zeitgeist.
But two years after the Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, it seems that the Zeitgeist has changed dramatically. In November, TheThis Is Not a Revolution“. Not to mention the numerous op-ed, magazine commentaries, and books that have played around ad nauseam with the notion that the “spring” has turned into “winter.” That’s what happens when you rely on the wrong political weather forecaster.New York Review of Books, an unofficial organ of American liberal intellectuals, ran a cover story with the headline, “
Nate Silver had an interesting piece yesterday which concludes based on statistical evidence (as opposed to wishful thinking) that President Barack Obama and the Democrats had won the support of “80 or 90 percent of the best and the brightest minds in the information technology field,” who reside and work in the San Francisco Bay Area and its peripheries. Some of the numbers that Silver provides:
- Obama won the nine counties in the Bay Area by margins ranging from 25 percentage points in Napa Valley to 42 percentage points in Santa Clara (and its Silicon Valley) to 71 (!) percentage points in San Francisco. Overall the difference in percentage points between Obama and Romney in the Bay Area was 49 percent compared to 22 percent in California.
- Republicans have been losing every county in the Bay Area by double-digit margin since 1988 with the margin of loss continuing to grow with each election.
- Among employees who work for Google, Apple, and eBay Obama collected between 89 percent to 97 percent of the itemized political contributions this year. Silver also refers to a study that indicates that between the two presidential candidates, Obama raised 83 percent of the funds among the ten American information technology companies featured on Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 most admired companies.
Add to these figures the fact that Obama, according to a report on CNBC, carried eight of the ten richest of the counties in the nation, including Fairfax and Ludlum in Virginia, and it becomes clear that Romney’s former chief strategist Stuart Stevens still doesn’t get it, having made the case this week is that Obama and the Democrats had won thanks to the support of the underclass and minorities and by promoting a liberal agenda.
As I noted on this site, one of the minority groups that Obama won were Asian Americans whose median annual income is higher than that of whites in this country, and that Democrats are trending very well among educated and relatively affluent voters like these precisely because of the more liberal positions they advocate on social-cultural policy issues like abortion, gay marriage, and drug legalization.
Indeed, as Silver noted in his analysis, libertarian Republican candidate Ron Paul raised about $42,000 among Goggle workers, much more than the $25,000 that Romney collected, concluding that “perhaps a different kind of Republican candidate, one whose views on social policy were more in line with those of the Bay Area and the cultures of the leading companies there, could gather more support” among the Silicon Valley types.
It does indeed make a lot of sense for Republicans and libertarians to start promoting a “Silicon Valley Republican” brand that in theory could start attracting young, educated, and affluent voters into the GOP. But my guess is that such a strategy would face many obstacles.
While the libertarian agenda on social-cultural issues like drug legalization and gay marriage was advanced on November 6, there is no evidence of any growing support for libertarian economic positions in general, and among members of the “creative class” in places like the Silicon Valley or Fairfax County in particular. For example, I doubt very much that many of these voters share the more skeptical libertarian view on climate change or care a lot about the future of the Fed.
In any case, I am also very skeptical that the Republican Party is going to suddenly change its positions on abortion or drug legalization (although we may witness less ideological rigidness on gay rights). Liberal Democrats are better positioned now to push for more progressive legislation on these issues, while young voters now associate the Republican brand name with xenophobia, religious intolerance, gay-bashing, and war-mongering. In that context, a Silicon Valley Republican sounds to many of them like an oxymoron.
The guys at MSNBC allege that Senator John McCain’s campaign against the nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice as the next Secretary of State and his entire pre-occupation (obsession?) with the Benghazi thing is driven in part by racism. As someone who was accused of racism and misogyny after bashing another African-American female and foreign policy professional named Rice (“You probably hate your mom,” emailed an angry reader of a column in which I proposed that Condoleezza Rice was kind of an intellectual light-weight. See some of the reactions here). I beg to differ.
No. McCain is not a racist but a cranky old man (there I said it) who sounds like a parrot on crack when he goes on and on calling for arming rebels, changing regimes, bombing countries, and then invading them. I suppose that this is the point in which I need to state that McCain was a war hero (he was) and that we should thank him for his service (we should). But let me remind you that General Douglas MacArthur was fired from his job by a U.S. president; which brings me to my next point, that Republicans should retire McCain as their leading spokesman on foreign policy and national security, a position that has to involve more that just reading editorials from the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal on the Senate floor (I think).
But personally I do no think that Susan Rice would be a great choice for SoS and not because she is “unqualified.” Like Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski her main selling point is that she is an intellectual with advanced degrees from Ivy League institutions. But unlike those two and more like her namesake, she has never authored any groundbreaking book or article that tried to advance new ideas about America’s role in the world.
While I must admit that I have never followed her career closely, my impression is that Rice comes out of the liberal interventionist foreign policy wing of the Democratic Party which is the intellectual twin sister of neoconservatism on the political right (which explains perhaps why Robert Kagan has come to her defense).
Indeed, Rice was a driving force behind the Obama administration’s decision to take military action to oust Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi from power, and as Maureen Dowd suggests in the New York Times (quoting Senator Susan Collins), Rice’s initial insistence that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was not perpetrated by Al Qaeda terrorists may have been driven by her concern that that “would destroy the narrative of Libya being a big success story.”
My guess is that if nominated to the job, Secretary Rice would go out of her way to placate McCain and other Republican critics by burnishing her humanitarian interventionist credentials, including by promoting “doing something” in Syria and elsewhere.
In any case, it does not make sense for Obama to pick-up a major fight with the Republicans over her nomination. And the idea of John Kerry getting the job instead of her is making me drowsy already, recalling what comedian Bill Maher said about Mitt Romney: “Ambien takes him when it cannot fall asleep.” What a bore, indeed.
So here is my idea. In the spirit of bipartisanship and a lot of common sense, President Obama should nominate another Republican Mormon who ran against him for president in 2012. Jon Huntsman would be perfect for job of the top U.S. diplomat. The former Ambassador to China and Singapore who is (supposedly) fluent in Mandarin and has some business experience is just the kind of person we need now at a time when the U.S. is shifting its strategic priorities from the Middle East to East Asia and responding to the rise of China as a geo-strategic and economic power.
You lovely island . . .”
“I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!”
(From West Side Story, “America,” lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)
With much of the focus by Republicans on “demographics” and as conservatives review their positions on immigration and attitudes towards American Hispanics post-election disaster, they should be paying more attention to one historic vote that took place on Election Day 2012.
A majority of the electorate of Puerto Rico voted on that day to follow in the footsteps of Hawaii and Alaska in achieving full American statehood and becoming the 51st state.
Congress will still have to admit Puerto Rico before it can become a state, and it is doubtful that the Republicans who now control the House of Representatives would support a move that would probably result in Democrats winning two more Senate seats and increasing their numbers in the House.
After all, while the residents of the Atlantic Ocean island are not allowed to vote in U.S. presidential elections, close to 85 percent of stateside Puerto Ricans did vote for Barack Obama on November 6th. You do not have to be a political expert to presume that Obama’s margin of victory on the island would have been as wide as among Puerto Ricans in New York.
So expect the issue to become a central debating point in Washington and certainly among Hispanics, with Democrats pledging to support Puerto Rican statehood if they take the House in 2014.
More than 3,700,000 people live on the island that came under U.S. control in 1898 and an even larger number of Puerto Ricans (more than 4,600,000) reside in the 50 states and DC. As the second largest Hispanic group in the U.S., Puerto Ricans represent a significant electorate bloc.
And in the aftermath of the 2012 election, just as the party tries to recover from Mitt Romney’s abysmal performance among Latino voters, GOP opposition to admitting Puerto Rico into the union could help Democrats in promoting their Republicans-hate-Hispanics narrative even if GOP lawmakers suddenly declare their support for comprehensive immigration reform that until recently many of them decried as “amnesty” or if party activists draft Senator Marco Rubio to run for president in 2016.
For what it’s worth, the 2012 Republican Party platform did express support for the right of Puerto Rico to be admitted into the union and President Obama has yet to state his position on the issue. But according to a recent FOX News Latino report, most GOP House members are opposed to the idea, and with conservative House Democrats in decline, it is more than likely that Democratic members will back statehood if politicians in Puerto Rico decide to push the issue.
In any case, while Republican politicos will face an electoral dilemma — whether opposing statehood for Puerto Rico would antagonize Latino voters — conservative intellectuals will have to consider whether admitting a state whose official language is Spanish and one that would immediately become the poorest American state (with a median household income of about $18,000, half that of Mississippi, currently the poorest state) squares with the movement’s traditional principles that reject multiculturalism and bilingualism and discourage economic dependency on government largesse.
That stateside Puerto Ricans are a culturally segregated community that is largely poor (with the average income of its members lower than that of Cuban and Mexican Americans) raises the specter of an additional 4 million Puerto Ricans that will be in position to use their new political power to promote a distinct cultural identity and to squeeze more cash transfers from Washington.
At the very least, the dilemmas involving Puerto Rico’s prospects for statehood make it clear that the notion of winning the hearts and minds of Latino voters goes beyond making compromises on the issue of illegal immigration or picking Hispanics to run for political office.