Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Tooze in the New Statesman: "John Mearsheimer and the dark origins of realism"

Realism is as old as politics. "Realism” is the bastard child of political pragmatism and liberal idealism, invented by ideological optimists who wanted to rule the world and congratulate themselves on their willingness to bear the burden. It's fundamentally European and Christian. Remember that Mearsheimer is a Kantian: it was immoral to ally with Stalin against Hitler. The pic above is at the top of the article, chosen as an image of fear and earnest moral concern. In defense of what?

The USSR post-war was not expansionist. Its policy was defensive. It was realist to see the cold war as predictable but stupid, and that backing dictators and empire to protect against democracy and maintain your own power would only result in a more popular dictatorship opposing you. Realism is knowing that power corrupts, that people are weak, foolish, vain, and easily manipulated. 

“You never beat us on the battlefield.”  “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”
The tragedy is that in the end, Nike won the war. That was predictable too.

Some realism from Raquel Welch

Sending girls like me to Vietnam to entertain the troops is like teasing a caged lion with a piece of raw meat,’ she said. ‘I’m not criticizing our boys’ thoughts or feelings one bit, I’m just telling you that I know what is going through their minds. There they are, fighting an aimless war in a foreign land where they aren’t wanted. . . . Deep down inside, I think it would be best if stars like me stayed home and the Government sent off troupes of prostitutes instead.

It's hard to find the source of the quote now. I remember hearing it as a 7 year old; my father, spitting it out in a rage. The original source in footnote is Mark Jury, The Vietnam Photo Book. I think my parents had a copy. I remember looking at the photographs of prostitutes.


Long Thread Alert: As ever, Adam does a great job dissecting the Mearsheimer 'the west is at fault' critique.

But I think he misses one point. 
It's not just a question of agency and responsibility being dissolved by structural forces. Its also about the possibilities each perspective opens and closes. If we take Mearsheimer's line that its the West's fault...

Then there are things we can do to end this. Namely, do NATO and the EU differently = problem solved. Personally, I think this is wrong, but go with the argument...
Now, if we take the other perspective, that this a 19th Century blood and soil crusade by an unhinged dictator...

then we can't end this by our actions...Instead, the result has to be escalation with no clear exit for any side.
Ironically then, Mearsheimer's structuralism gives us the possibility of ending this, while the (probably) more accurate view contains no such path. Just sayin...

The need to moralize, in otherwise intelligent people, amazes me.  "Let us recount the sequence of events."

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