Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Moyn is ripping me off  :-) 

Or not. If he is, it's not the first time someone has.

But he misses the point. I'd like to see some enlightenment. I'd like to see some progress, but there hasn't been much. The humanists were not optimists. Kant was not an optimist. Republicanism predates liberalism, and will outlast it. Utopia means "no place" etc, etc.

I should send him a note and politely rip him a new asshole. Now he has a tag.

I'm adding other tags—that are appropriate. I'm going to come back to this, and Judith Shklar. [I did. See below]
Utopianism is illiberal, in every understanding of the word that makes liberalism worth defending.  Political realists are more likely to be functional liberals than idealists are.
The rest was written earlier as another post. But it belongs here.

I've never thought of people as very smart. That's why I've always focused on finding the small gestures of intelligence in what's called art. People are predictable not rational. 

Chotiner interviews Mearsheimer. As others have said they talk a little around each other; they don't speak the same language. 

Chotiner: "What if Ukraine, the people of Ukraine, want to live in a pro-American liberal democracy?"

That's irrelevant. But Mearsheimer can be a bit of an idiot. Americans at best were lying to themselves.

There’s a big difference between how the United States behaved during the unipolar moment and how it’s behaved in the course of its history. I agree with you when you talk about American foreign policy in the course of its broader history, but the unipolar moment was a very special time. I believe that during the unipolar moment, we were deeply committed to spreading democracy.

And some people are debating as if it's all a Gettier problem. If Mearsheimer's predictions were right, but his justifications were wrong, the next step is ask why he was right.

Seva Gunitsky

The unasked question: what is the actual existential threat to Russia? How does Ukraine joining NATO and/or EU actually threaten the *existence* of Russia? 

Perception is reality. If you're negotiating with a man who's fearful, the fear is a fact. Whether it's justified or not is part of the analysis of that fact. Gunitsky reminds me of the anthropologist who was exited about some recent important historical event, because "it gives us more things to theorize about." I've forgotten the source but the sentiment is common enough. In philosophy as in theology the history of ideas takes precedence.

The history of events merely provides a series of pegs to hang the history of ideas on, and it is the latter that is of real interest.


You will remember that Plato said that only his body still inhabited the City and, in the Phaedo, also explained how right ordinary people are when they say that a philosopher's life is like dying. Death, being the separation of body and soul, is welcome to him; he is somehow in love with death, because the body, with all its demands, constantly interrupts the soul's pursuits. 

Philosophy by definition is either conservative or reactionary.

JM: "I don’t know anybody who talks about this whole problem in terms of imperialism. This is great-power politics." He has an old-fashioned maybe pedantic definition of imperialism. That may turn some people off.

IC: I went back and I reread your article about the Israel lobby in the London Review of Books, from 2006. You were talking about the Palestinian issue, and you said something that I very much agree with, which is: “There is a moral dimension here as well. Thanks to the lobby of the United States it has become the de facto enabler of Israeli occupation in the occupied territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians.” I was cheered to read that because I know you think of yourself as a tough, crusty old guy who doesn’t talk about morality, but it seemed to me you were suggesting that there was a moral dimension here. I’m curious what you think, if any, of the moral dimension to what’s going on in Ukraine right now.

JM: I think there is a strategic and a moral dimension involved with almost every issue in international politics. I think that sometimes those moral and strategic dimensions line up with each other. In other words, if you’re fighting against Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945, you know the rest of the story. There are other occasions where those arrows point in opposite directions, where doing what is strategically right is morally wrong. I think if you join an alliance with the Soviet Union to fight against Nazi Germany, it is a strategically wise policy, but it is a morally wrong policy. But you do it because you have no choice for strategic reasons. In other words, what I’m saying to you, Isaac, is that when push comes to shove, strategic considerations overwhelm moral considerations. In an ideal world, it would be wonderful if the Ukrainians were free to choose their own political system and to choose their own foreign policy.

But in the real world, that is not feasible. The Ukrainians have a vested interest in paying serious attention to what the Russians want from them. They run a grave risk if they alienate the Russians in a fundamental way. If Russia thinks that Ukraine presents an existential threat to Russia because it is aligning with the United States and its West European allies, this is going to cause an enormous amount of damage to Ukraine. That of course is exactly what’s happening now. So my argument is: the strategically wise strategy for Ukraine is to break off its close relations with the West, especially with the United States, and try to accommodate the Russians. If there had been no decision to move nato eastward to include Ukraine, Crimea and the Donbass would be part of Ukraine today, and there would be no war in Ukraine.

I've said before it drives me nuts that so many people, specifically Americans, who defend illiberal states as a matter of policy—vis-a-vis US hegemony—end up defending them as as matter of belief. In my twitter days I always used the alliance with "Uncle Joe" as the definition of realism.

And Mearsheimer has a very Kantian definition of morality: "the lesser evil" is not a moral choice. So much for military piety, and trolley problems. And this fits with the need for people like Max Blumenthal to identify with the people they defend. It's two versions of the same need for simplicity, though one is affective and one affectless. 

It's obvious as Mearsheimer says that China is the biggest threat to US interests, but I'd tell smaller countries in Asia the same thing I would have told the smaller countries in eastern Europe in 1995: join together and create your own center of gravity. The US doesn't defend democracy. It protects its own interests.

Shklar, After Utopia, Chapter IV-The End of Radicalism 

What answers can be offered to these counsels of social despair? Romanticism refuses to analyze the social world with any degree of thoroughness, and Christian fatalism subjects modern history to an excess of simplification in order to satisfy its sense of outrage. But to have noted all these shortcomings is not a reply. In fact, no reply is forthcoming. The spirit of rational optimism which alone could furnish a reply does not flourish at present. The Enlightenment was not killed by its opponents; even its most natural followers found its leading conceptions inadequate in an age that has proved all their hopes false. There are, of course, traces of survival. Sartre, very characteristically, notes that the conformism of Americans is really due to their uni­versal rationalism and optimism. But even in America this spirit is no longer encountered among social philosophers. There are few serious people who really believe today that the advantages of democratic government are so self-evident that once it is established it must appeal to all. Probably President Wilson's Fourteen Points were the last great document to testify to that faith. By now it is only too well known that democracy is not inevitable, that it may be destroyed from within, and that even the most successful constitutional de­mocracies are not the models of social perfection that the En­lightenment had dreamed about. This disenchantment—per­haps it is realism—even among the most consistent advocates of democratic government is the real measure of the decline of social optimism.

"The spirit of rational optimism... does not flourish at this moment" "Sartre, very characteristically, notes that the conformism of Americans is really due to their uni­versal rationalism and optimism." Hilarious.

Her reference to Woodrow Wilson reminds me of Mearsheimer. Hope, and delusion, the white man's burden—Liberia and Israel are not caveats—springs eternal: "I believe that during the unipolar moment, we were deeply committed to spreading democracy."

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