Daniel Larison

Not In Kansas, But Of It

His childhood was a peripatetic journey through Kansas [bold mine-DL], Indonesia, Hawaii and beyond. ~David Brooks

The first place on this list is a small but curious error, and one that might be subtly encouraged by Obama’s first national ad of the general election in which he talks up his grandparents’ Kansas roots.  While virtually every profile of the candidate remarks on his mother‘s home in Kansas, and the phony controversy over Obama’s birth certificate takes for granted that everyone agrees his birthplace is supposed to be (and was) in Hawaii, there is an idea that seems to be circulating that he spent some time as a child in Kansas.  This simply isn’t true, anyone who has spent any time following Obama’s career knows it isn’t true.  How does it get included on the list?  It’s not as if his non-Kansan childhood is a mystery, since it was remarked upon when he was campaigning in Kansas earlier this year when he made his first visit to his grandfather’s hometown.       

This would be almost entirely irrelevant, except that this serves as a useful example of how small, easily avoidable errors creep into prominent discussions of his biography and create the basis for other false claims on the grounds that we “don’t really know” who Obama is.  If the most basic, readily confirmed facts seem to be in dispute, when there is actually no dispute about them, the room for rumors and bizarre claims grows.  The supposedly “elusive” Obama is not really “elusive” at all, but for some reason people keep insisting on making him into this incomprehensible, protean figure who cannot be fully known.  The information is all there in the public domain, and his biography is as well-known to us as any candidate’s in recent memory (does anyone remember hearing even once about where Bob Dole went to elementary school?) thanks to his own autobiographical work, but somehow we are supposed to believe that his identity “eludes” us.  It would probably seem much more clear if everyone discussing his biography would be a bit more attentive to basic claims about where he lived and grew up.

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vechnaya Pamyat

Last night I read the sad news that Solzhenitsyn had passed away.  Besides being a great writer and an important dissident against the Soviet government, Solzhenitsyn was an impeccable moral witness against the corruption that went with great power and wealth no matter the regime or ideology.  It was this outstanding conviction, which became increasingly more tied to religious experience and Orthodox spirituality over the course of his life, that marked him out as one of the great men of the last century.  It was this same conviction that ensured that fewer and fewer people truly understood him, because he was unwilling to adopt the various fads, as he called them, that prevailed in the West just as he had been unwilling to accept the lies of the Soviet regime.   

Fiercely anticommunist, he did not make the common errors of so many anticommunists.  These usually involved praising individualism and making unqualified apologies for liberal democracy and capitalism, and furthermore urging the adoption of Western models throughout the world as if to mirror the communist desire for global uniformity.  The famous 1978 Harvard commencement address to which Dan linked on the main blog contained powerful warnings against the idea of enforcing one model on the entire world that many Westerners continue to embrace even now:

But the persisting blindness of superiority continues to hold the belief that all the vast regions of our planet should develop and mature to the level of contemporary Western systems, the best in theory and the most attractive in practice; that all those other worlds are but temporarily prevented (by wicked leaders or by severe crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from pursuing Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in that direction. But in fact such a conception is a fruit of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, a result of mistakenly measuring them all with a Western yardstick [bold mine-DL].   

Something else that many Westerners have had difficulty understanding is Solzhenitsyn himself.  Though he cannot be reduced to a mere inheritor, he was part of the Russian intellectual tradition to which Dostoevsky and the Slavophiles before him belonged, and the same pressing concern they had with spiritual and moral goods threatened by the ravages of ideology and rationalism is evident in his writings and speeches.  Solzhenitsyn’s critique of a legalistic way of life, which he made in his Harvard address, has deep roots in the Slavophiles’ combination of admiration for the material accomplishments of the West and the simultaneous repudiation of the spiritual and intellectual culture that fostered them.  Like the Slavophiles and Dostoevsky, he did not wish any more of the modern Western experience on Russia:

But should I be asked, instead, whether I would propose the West, such as it is today, as a model to my country, I would frankly have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through deep suffering, people in our country have now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.

Of course, this conviction was only deepened and made more powerful by the ruin that the attempt to impose such a model on Russia in the ’90s, and it was during this period when many of Solzhenitsyn’s remaining American admirers began to reject him.

Instead of the constant pursuit of rights codified in law, Solzhenitsyn counseled restraint and the practice of virtue, and he found the the legalistic attitude to be opposed to both:

Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: Everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames.  

The celebration and expansion of freedom at the expense of obligation also draws Solzhenitsyn’s stern judgement:

On the other hand, destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society has turned out to have scarce defense against the abyss of human decadence, for example against the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. This is all considered to be part of freedom and to be counterbalanced, in theory, by the young people’s right not to look and not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil. 

His ringing condemnations of materialism are among the most obvious examples of his spiritual and fundamentally theocentric vision, and here again his affinities with the Slavophiles are clear.  As with them, Solzhenitsyn held that moral renewal and spiritual regeneration are the means to combating the corrupting effects of materialism:

Only by the voluntary nurturing in ourselves of freely accepted and serene self-restraint can mankind rise above the world stream of materialism. 

What is so remarkable about Solzhenitsyn’s address thirty years later is how critical he was of George Kennan in particular, who was perhaps one of the few Americans who genuinely understood and respected Russia and the Russians and whose attitudes were generally more in line with Solzhenitsyn’s own than any other American of his generation.  In retrospect and at a distance from the immediate post-Vietnam moment, Kennan’s opposition to the war in Vietnam has been by and large vindicated and Solzhenitsyn’s warnings of a “hundredfold Vietnam” seem the least persuasive part of his address.  It may not have been as clear in the late 1970s because of certain policy disagreements, but in the post-Cold War era these two exceptional men were much closer to one another than they were to most of their own countrymen, and both have passed away in the first decade of this century having been poorly understood for much of their careers.  In the end, the limited ability of many Westerners to understand Solzhenitsyn properly, to appreciate him as more than the literary master and Soviet dissident (categories that are very comfortable and ultimately flattering to Western assumptions), stems ultimately from the inability or perhaps unwillingness to understand Russia both past and present.   

Update: Andrew Cusack has an exemplary obituary of Solzhenitsyn here.

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Backlash

Appealing to the crowd is not a good argument for one position or another, but it is interesting how many more voters (53%) believed Obama’s “dollar bill” remark to be actually racist than found the ridiculous “Celeb” ad to be so (22%).  That would suggest that I vastly underestimated the potential backlash against Obama for toying around with these sorts of thinly-veiled accusations of race-baiting, and I am genuinely surprised by how strong the reaction is.  I speculated that this sort of thing might not go over well with the general electorate, even as I was pretty sure that the media would eat it up, but I could not have imagined how badly it would be received by the public. 

What I find even more remarkable is the idea that anyone could interpret Obama’s comment as being racist.  It is now “racist” to hint that others are going to use a candidate’s race against him?  Does that make any sense?  Do 53% of likely voters really think Obama making an obvious reference to his race (one so obvious that you have to think your audience morons to deny it) is racist?  If so, can we officially declare that the word has no more meaning, or at least that for the most part it is trotted out whenever we want to refer to something as Very Bad?  Obama’s remark may be many things, but of all the words I can think of to describe it racist is not among them.   

What doesn’t surprise me is that the response to the “Celeb” ad breaks down for the most part along racial lines, as a majority of black voters regard the ad to be racist, while less than a fifth of whites and just 14% of “other” take that view.  The numbers are to some extent simply flipped concerning Obama’s remark, but even 44% of black respondents said that the comment was racist.  What we seem to be seeing in the results to both questions is an intensely negative reaction to McCain’s ad among the groups that give him his greatest support, but an even broader, more negative reaction against the claim that McCain was engaged in race-baiting.  Added to this is the confusion, encouraged by the bizarre phrasing of the question about Obama’s statement, between accusing someone of race-baiting and racism.  

Obama’s strongest supporters are, as usual, rallying against any slight against their candidate in the most overwrought way possible, while Obama’s blunder of a remark seems to have given a green light for just about everyone who is not favorably disposed towards Obama to pin him with a very damaging label.  Having been shielded by a friendly press and overprotective, hypersensitive supporters for most of the year, Obama seems to have become very careless.  In making an incendiary charge (his opponents will engage in race-baiting) that was also false (to the extent that he blamed McCain by name for it), he may have done the kind of serious damage to his campaign that all of the other controversies, both real and manufactured, and all of the spurious but widely-circulated claims against him have failed to do.

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Where Did The Competent Campaigners Go?

I keep seeing this ridiculous McCain ad being approvingly circulated on conservative blogs, and I am more than a little baffled at how stupid his campaign thinks we are.  The ad claims that Obama is somehow neglecting or ignoring Latin America, as if it were wise for McCain to remind conservatives of his enthusiasm in this area, and it assumes that Latino audiences and the press are both so oblivious that they don’t know that Obama gave a Latin America policy speech in May.  There were problems with the speech he gave, but he has certainly paid some attention to the region.  Understandably, McCain wants to cut into Obama’s lead among Latinos, and he probably thinks he should be able to win over as many as Bush did, but must everything these people do be so unreservedly ill-informed, lame and clueless?

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Understatement Of The Year

McCain is not exactly a details guy. ~Chuck Todd

He is so very much not a “details guy” that he often doesn’t know the details of his own proposals, repeatedly makes errors when discussing specific aspects of vital foreign policy questions, and makes statements that contradict his own plans.  To say that he is not one for details takes for granted that he is at least competent when speaking in broad terms, but this isn’t true, either.

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Maistre (Again)

Not content with being shown to be foolish once before, the Maistre-basher responds with a trivial post that cites a pejorative characterization from Encyclopedia Britannica, which I suppose is the old-fashioned version of being a Google pundit.  The introduction to this translation of Maistre’s Examination of the Philosophy of Bacon contains the following details that are worth considering:

In 1784, when Joseph’s younger brother Xavier and some other young gentlemen in Chambery began organizing a project to launch Savoy’s first hot-air balloon…it was Joseph who was sent to Geneva to consult the celebrated physicist  Benedict de Saussure on the technical details.  He was also drafted to write the “Prospectus” to enlist subscribers to finance the project, which succeeded with a twenty-minute ascent in May 1784.  From Maistre’s diaries we know as well that while in exile in Lausanne in 1793 he found time to take lessons in “experimental physics.”…As will be apparent to any reader of his mature works, including the Examination of the Philosophy of Bacon with its citations and references to an impressive number of figures in the history of science, Maistre became one of the most many-sided and best read men of his generation.

But because it flatters the prejudices of ignorant materialists, Maistre must have hated science because his politics and religious views are not the same as theirs.  Never mind the foolishness of the claim linking modern American conservatsm to Maistre.  Unfortunately, the American conservative admirers of Maistre can probably be counted on one hand, and in this we are not exactly representative of the contemporary movement. 

Now it is true that Maistre apologetically attributed the rise of modern science to Christian culture, and believed in a harmonious relationship between theology and science, but in this he was espousing a long-standing Christian understanding of the complementary relationship between revelation and science.  In calling him a philosopher of science, I may have given the impression that his entire career was concerned with such questions, and that would be misleading.  Nonetheless, certainly he was a philosopher who was reasonably well-educated and interested in the modern science of his day and its moral and philosophical implications.  Claims to the contrary are presumably the product of simple ignorance about the man in question. 

P.S.  Further in the introduction, the translator cites a study of Maistre by Larry Siedentrop, who said:

It is knowledge of science and its effect on philosophy that takes Maistre beyond the theories of Vico and Burke.

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Shocking Discoveries

That is what Stanley Kurtz would like you to think he has found in Obama’s career in Chicago politics, but for the most part his article simply fills in the edges of an image of the candidate that is quite familiar to those of us who have been following the campaign for any length of time.  There are some interesting details, but coming on the heels of Lizza’s profile the entire story has a bit of a redundant feel about it.  The angle of the article–that Obama has supported racial preferences and quotas, opposed racial profiling and fought against harsher penalties for juvenile offenders, among other things–is not really news, and it is obviously not news that his electoral strategy for years has been to combine support from the black community and progressives.  Concerning the latter, it hardly comes as news that Obama plotted his Senate primary electoral strategy in exactly the same way he ran his presidential primary strategy, since these are the constituencies to which he has appealed during his entire career.  There is a certain breathless quality to the piece, as if Kurtz believes what he has found reveals an Obama that has escaped notice until now: “Obama is, in fact, a left-winger!”  Well, yes.  As Obama might say, if you are surprised by any of this you haven’t been paying attention.  

Appearing at the end of the week when Obama addressed some hecklers in Florida by stressing how relatively outspoken he has been on matters concerning the black community, a lot of the story seems quite superfluous.  For instance, Kurtz details Obama’s support for a bill banning racial profiling, but Obama just this week highlighted his position on this, he clearly supports a federal ban on his own campaign site and makes a point of mentioning his past opposition to racial profiling in the same section of the site.  Of course, it’s entirely reasonable and correct to reject Obama’s views and find fault with the legislation he backed, but the entire story seems to be an exercise in “revealing” things about Obama that he’s quite happy to tell everyone about as it is.  Yes, Obama is wrong on this question as far as conservatives are concerned, but what did anyone expect?

Kurtz also makes a number of contrasts that don’t really show what he thinks they show.  For example, Kurtz writes:

Biographical treatments of Obama tend to stress the tenuous nature of his black identity-his upbringing by whites, his elite education, his home in Chicago’s highly integrated Hyde Park, personal tensions with black legislators, and questions about whether Obama is “black enough” to represent African Americans. These concerns over Obama’s racial identity are overblown. On race-related issues Obama has stood shoulder to shoulder with Chicago’s African-American politicians for years. 

Kurtz seems to miss entirely that it was to some significant degree because his position in the community and his identity were tenuous that he adopted conventional positions on government contract quotas and all the rest.  These other claims aren’t overblown–they help explain the difficulty he had in entering Chicago politics and the positions he had to take to make it here.  He couldn’t afford to do otherwise.  Kurtz does seem to recognize this later when he writes:

To the extent that Obama can be accused of having shaky “black credentials,” that very accusation pushes him to practice race-conscious politics all the more energetically.

But, of course, the point is that he could be and was accused of shaky credentials, most especially during his attempt to oust Bobby Rush in the House primary.  Not surprisingly, many of the episodes Kurtz uses to document Obama’s “race-conscious politics” come from the post-2000 period, but more remarkably Kurtz avoids discussing how Rush explicitly attacked Obama for his weaker ties to the community and how Rush used his mixed-race background against him.  Naturally, the episodes Kurtz mentions weren’t limited only to the post-2000 period, because Obama’s position in the black community had always been relatively weak and the 2000 primary revealed how weak it was.  Obviously, to shore up that position and to build the support that Obama would later use in his run for the Senate, Obama was not going to turn against policies that are fairly popular among the people he represented.  Besides, even Hyde Park liberals typically support the things mentioned in the story because they are liberals.  Imagine someone writing an “expose” that Mike Huckabee has supported home-schooling and covenant marriage, and then imagine the bemused, yawning reaction from conservatives to get some sense of how old most of this “news” is.   

Meanwhile, the admission that Obama made during the Senate primary that he was from the liberal wing of the party isn’t new information, since most profiles that have discussed that campaign include this detail, and it is made all the less remarkable by the fact that Obama declared that he was “no doubt progressive” in order to push back against the claim that he was “moving to the center.”  Of course, progressives have reason to doubt that claim, especially in the wake of the FISA bill, but it isn’t as if he is always reluctant to identify himself with the left.  It’s true that he usually eschews the liberal label these days, but then so do a lot of progressives, since progressive has become the preferred term for many on the left.  Oh, yes, and Obama also supports social welfare legislation–who could have guessed?        

As much of a critic of Obama as I have been, I find this objection to him absolutely ridiculous:

In other words, Obama is bipartisan so long as that means asking Republicans to take incremental steps toward his own broader goals.

Well, yeah, that’s usually what both sides in a legislature are trying to do–take incremental steps toward their own goals!  The worrisome thing about Obama’s attitude towards bipartisanship is not that he tries to advance his agenda incrementally (you might as well complain that he tries to win elections or likes to get good press), but that he seems to be so oriented towards consensus-building and belonging to a consensus position that he values bipartisanship almost as an end in itself and seems to believe that the problem in Washington is that there is too little of this accursed collaboration in general rather than too much of it being used for the wrong things.   

Finally, I don’t think the following claim is entirely true:

When it comes to compromising with the other side, however, Obama says “take a hike.”

It depends.  It is not simply a question of whether he will or won’t compromise with the “other side.”  What matters is whether taking a certain position will expose him to significant political risk and confrontation.  If it does, he will avoid it.  If working with the “other side” allows him to avoid political risk, he will be glad to do that, too, as his flip on the FISA bill reminds us.  In the end, Lizza’s assessment of Obama’s career holds up much better:

Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them.  

That he accommodates himself to existing institutions to advance a broadly progressive domestic agenda is also no surprise to anyone who has looked at his policy proposals or heard what he says.

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McCain's Supposed Former Civility

Joe Conason and David Ignatius are just two of the many observers expressing disbelief at McCain’s alleged transformation from fabled truth-telling man of honor to the candidate he is today, all of which is premised on the bizarre assumption that McCain was once a civil, respectful politician in the past and is now throwing that away in pursuit of power.  The most remarkable line comes from Ignatius’ column:

What’s damaging the McCain campaign now, I suspect, is that this fiercely independent man is trying to please other people — especially a Republican leadership that doesn’t really trust him.

Of course, the “fiercely independent” McCain spent the bulk of 1999 and the early months of 2000 (and many years after that) trying to please other people. The difference then was that Ignatius and other members of the Washington press corps were the ones he was trying to please and unironically, accurately referred to members of the media as his base.  During the 2000 campaign, he referred to the GOP establishment as the “evil empire,” which seemed perfectly fair and satisfactory to his boosters in the press because they thought this was simply a description of reality and not a slur.  Pretty much every “maverick” episode in McCain’s career has involved staking out a position in opposition to his party in the interests of attracting good press and cultivating a reputation as one of the “good” Republicans–the “noble, tolerant” McCain that Conason refers to in his piece–and he has done this by adopting a haughty, self-righteous tone as a champion of reform fighting against the forces of corruption (campaign finance) and bigotry (immigration “reform”) within his own party.  By endorsing the worst prejudices about his party held by his party’s political opponents (while enabling some of their genuinely worst attributes in his warmongering), he became renowned for his integrity, just as Republicans have been lauding Joe Lieberman for his character and courage for denouncing liberals, his own party and that party’s nominee in terms that perfectly fit GOP talking points. 

Implicit in this self-construction has been the claim that he is one of the reasonable few keeping the irrational masses on the right at bay, and he has built up enough credit with journalists over the years that he can align himself with the worst of the administration’s policies on Iraq and immigration and still be thought of as different from Bush.  Indeed, to the extent that his agreement with the administration on many major policies is acknowledged, it is usually framed as part of a story of how the “real” McCain lost his way in trying to satisfy his party, but these accounts often hold out the hope that the “real” McCain might still make a comeback before the end.  People will talk about McCain’s poor relations with conservatives and the party leadership as if he had nothing to do with causing them, and as if he had never launched an unfair or disreputable attack on an opponent or another person in his life, when the creation of his “maverick” image has been founded on portraying members of his party and the conservative movement according to the worst stereotypes and exploiting his opposition to these strawman positions as proof of his political courage.  That he now approves of taking the so-called “low road” against Obama is nothing new.  Indeed, by comparison with the treatment of some of McCain’s other opponents in policy debates, Obama is still being treated pretty easily.

Cross-posted at The Daily Dish

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Democratic Globosclerosis

Michael Brendan Dougherty questions Brooks’ lament of lost unipolarity, and Michael lands some solid blows.  I found this passage in Brooks’ column to be the most telling:

This dispersion should, in theory, be a good thing, but in practice, multipolarity means that more groups have effective veto power over collective action. In practice, this new pluralistic world has given rise to globosclerosis, an inability to solve problem after problem.

The real difficulty with multipolarity is not so much that there are more groups vetoing collective action as it is that many rising powers don’t agree with Washington or Brussels what the real problems are.  They veto collective action in one area or another because that “collective” action increasingly appears to be actions directed against their interests or the interests of their client states.  “Globosclerosis” is inevitable in a politically diverse world with hundreds of nation-states and multiple major powers.    

Officially, everyone solemnly intones that nuclear proliferation is undesirable and should be prevented, but the Iranian acquisition of nuclear technology does not appear to India or China as a threat.  Their perspective as rising powers that have more recently acquired their own nuclear arsenals means that even an Iranian bomb seems far more rational and justifiable to them than it does to our government.  At the same time, the real power and status that India has derived from its arsenal, such that our government has been trying to seal a nuclear deal with New Delhi in pretty obvious violation of the NPT, show every aspiring state that the way to be taken seriously by the U.S. is to possess this sort of power.   

What a multipolar world really shows is the limits of multilateral institutions.  During most of the Cold War, the U.N. did not provide much in the way of collective security because the member states were either divided between the two superpowers or organized under the Non-Aligned Movement, and after the Cold War the U.N. was able to provide meaningful collective security only when the remaining superpower backed the action.  Now that there are multiple new powers emerging in the world, the multilateral framework, which presupposes a consensus that will almost never exist among so many divergent interests, has been breaking apart.  This has been exacerbated by the consistent targeting of Russian and Chinese satellites for sanctions and attack, while leaving U.S. allies that have their own egregious records unscathed, but these are simply symptoms.  The problem, if you want to call it that, is that the artificial and unusual disparity of power between the U.S. and the rest of the world that occurred in the wake of WWII has been steadily narrowing, and it will continue to do so.  This is essentially a return to something more like a normal state of affairs after the extremely abnormal 20th century.

So what is the immediate cause of Brooks’ lament?  The failure (yet again) of the Doha round of global trade talks.  The Doha round has run into these problems before, memorably depicted in an Economist cover a few years ago, and the issues continue to be the same: developing countries want the major industrialized states to open up their markets more to their agricultural products, while the major industrialized states have very comfy farm protections and subsidies that they have no intention of changing very much.  How does Brooks portray the collapse of trade talks?  Like this:

The Doha round collapsed, despite broad international support, because India’s Congress Party did not want to offend small farmers in the run up to the next elections. Chinese leaders dug in on behalf of cotton and rice producers.

In other words, the Indian and Chinese governments were pursuing the interests of their farmers in a bid to open up more agricultural trade, which U.S. and European governments did not support to the degree that was being demanded.  So, in fact, the Doha round has failed yet again not so much because of rising powers and multipolarity, but rather because the established powers would have preferred to be able to impose their agenda on poorer states as they did in the past and refuse to make concessions necessary to conclude the negotiations successfully.  Of course, the established powers have legitimate interests as well, and they are answerable to their constituents back home, but they would like to continue to benefit from giving developing nations short shrift in the Uruguay round without paying a price for this in the new round of talks.  It is no wonder that the negotiations keep collapsing.  Brooks chides the Indian Congress-led government for not wanting to alienate small farmers, but this is entirely rational, since Congress came to power nationally on a wave of discontent with the BJP, whose “Shining India” economic progress did not apply very much to vast numbers of Indians. 

This reminds me of a point that Zakaria makes in The Post-American World when he marvels at the productivity of China and approvingly quotes a Chinese official, whose simple answer to addressing rural poverty was increased industrialization.  Zakaria then remarked:

When I have put the same question to Indian or Latin American officials, they launch into complicated explanations of the need for rural welfare, subsidies for poor farmers, and other such programs, all designed to slow down market forces and retard the historical–and often painful–process of market-driven industrialization.

As I said to myself when I read this, “Yes, but then the Indians and Latin Americans allow their people to vote!”  The day may come when China does have some form of elective government, and when that day comes we are probably going to see an enormous backlash against the kinds of policies that have been promoted for the last thirty years.  One of the most important factors in what Brooks calls “globosclerosis” (and what I might call states acting in their own interests) is democratization, which empowers all those who benefit least from globalization and encourages political opposition to continuing economic and trade practices that seem to serve the interests of multinationals and foreign countries more than the interests of one’s own country.  Whenever the majority is permitted a say in how economic and trade policies are set, there will always be resistance to ever-greater liberalization and free trade.  This has happened in every industrializing country, and will happen on an even larger scale as the vast majority of the world participates more and more fully in the global economy.    

The connection between “globosclerosis” and democracy becomes even more clear when you see another of Brooks’ complaints:

Europe’s drive toward political union has stalled.

This is a reference to the defeat of the reworked European constitution in the form of the Lisbon Treaty in the recent Irish referendum.  Consistently, whenever plans for closer European political union are put to a vote in member states, including some of the oldest members in France and the Netherlands, most of the voters refuse to accept it.  This “failure” stands out as the least worrisome of all the things Brooks mentions, and instead of lamenting the defeat of a political project most Europeans don’t really understand and don’t want when they do understand it we should be glad that an even more centralized, continental political apparatus has not prevailed on the other side of the Atlantic.  To frame this as a conflict between “strong narrow interests” and “diffuse, generalized interests” explains exactly why these things have failed and why, in certain cases, it is an undeniably good thing when considered as a matter of representing the people who will have to bear the costs and consequences of the policies in question.  One of the principal causes of opposition and resentment against globalization and the policies that promote it is the impression that these policies are set without respecting the wishes and interests of the people affected by them.  Obviously, everyone can’t get everything that they want, but there would be far fewer entrenched opponents of these policies if they were not so often advanced and defended with such obvious contempt for the interests of the citizens in their respective countries.

The poor approval ratings of various heads of government around the world can be explained much more readily by looking at each case and recognizing that Bush, Brown and Fukuda in particular are deemed to be either political or policy incompetents (or both).  Indeed, Fukuda’s opponents are gaining at his expense amid rising prices by exploiting anti-globalization sentiment.  These three leaders are unpopular because they and the policies they support are unpopular, and particularly in Japan it is the LDP’s support for free trade that is helping to do it in.  Obviously, in light of the resistance from democratic electorates to the very policies Brooks is defending, it makes absolutely no sense to say that a League of Democracies is the “best idea” out there right now.  A League of Democracies, assuming that it were not simply a vehicle for U.S. interventionism, would duplicate and perhaps even compound the difficulties current multilateral organizations are experiencing precisely because the organization’s members would have to answer to their voters at some point. 

Cross-posted at The Daily Dish

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The Kaus Phenomenon

Matt and Ross have been discussing the rather strange question of whether Slate is a center-right publication, and Matt said most recently:

And I’ll admit that while I look at Slate all the time, I’m not a particularly thorough reader of it and the Mickey Kaus phenomenon looms large in my mind.

This is something that puzzles me about liberal views of Mickey Kaus.  Kaus has repeatedly said that he will vote for Obama, he was an early neoliberal (as those involved in the debate over the merits of neoliberalism last year will remember) and has worked at other such “center-right” publications as The New Republic and The Washington Monthly.  He has the habit of criticizing what he considers to be excesses and errors of those to the left of him, at least partly because this is simply what neoliberals do.  They are not usually in the habit of reinforcing liberal conventional wisdom when they find it lacking, but even neoliberals are center-left people.  Kaus’ refreshingly sensible opposition to so-called comprehrensive immigration reform and his concerns about the effects of mass immigration on social equality are, as far as I can tell, the main reasons why he is routinely accused of being a crypto-conservative, because people who are “really” on the left aren’t typically concerned about these things. Even his reasons for challenging the immigration status quo are rooted in his desire to promote social equality, which I assume most liberals would also want to promote.

Meanwhile, dissident conservatives who are on the right frequently attack shibboleths of the mainstream right, but we do so from a conservative perspective.  Even when our arguments are undermining some part of conventional wisdom on the right, we are not therefore mostly publishing liberal content.  It works the same way among liberals, too.

Cross-posted at The Daily Dish

Update: Commenter Freddie has a good post at his own blog reflecting on his comments below.

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