Tuesday, July 5, 2005

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July's Books of the Month

This month's international relations book is David Rothkopf's Running The World: the Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power. Rothkopf's history of the NSC starts with the National Security Act of 1947 and continues to the present Bush administration. I've blogged about Rothkopf's arguments in the past (click here as well) and I'm very sympathetic to his arguments about the flaws in the NSC process.

A former Clinton administration official, Rothkopf was still able to interview a number of Bush foreign policy principals, including Condoleezza Rice. Go check it out.

The general interest book comes from a U of C book group that I'm participating in on Carl Schmitt's Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. However, the book I would recommend first is Schmitt's The Concept of the Political. That book contains perhaps the most accessible and thought-provoking critique of the Western liberal tradition. Alan Wolfe, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year, provides a decent summary of Schmitt's argument (link via Ted Barlow):

In The Concept of the Political, Schmitt wrote that every realm of human endeavor is structured by an irreducible duality. Morality is concerned with good and evil, aesthetics with the beautiful and ugly, and economics with the profitable and unprofitable. In politics, the core distinction is between friend and enemy. That is what makes politics different from everything else. Jesus's call to love your enemy is perfectly appropriate for religion, but it is incompatible with the life-or-death stakes politics always involves. Moral philosophers are preoccupied with justice, but politics has nothing to do with making the world fairer. Economic exchange requires only competition; it does not demand annihilation. Not so politics.

"The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism," Schmitt wrote. War is the most violent form that politics takes, but, even short of war, politics still requires that you treat your opposition as antagonistic to everything in which you believe. It's not personal; you don't have to hate your enemy. But you do have to be prepared to vanquish him if necessary.

Wolfe goes on at one point to suggest that American conservatives have embraced Schmitt's dialectic:

Liberals think of politics as a means; conservatives as an end. Politics, for liberals, stops at the water's edge; for conservatives, politics never stops. Liberals think of conservatives as potential future allies; conservatives treat liberals as unworthy of recognition. Liberals believe that policies ought to be judged against an independent ideal such as human welfare or the greatest good for the greatest number; conservatives evaluate policies by whether they advance their conservative causes. Liberals instinctively want to dampen passions; conservatives are bent on inflaming them. Liberals think there is a third way between liberalism and conservatism; conservatives believe that anyone who is not a conservative is a liberal. Liberals want to put boundaries on the political by claiming that individuals have certain rights that no government can take away; conservatives argue that in cases of emergency -- conservatives always find cases of emergency -- the reach and capacity of the state cannot be challenged.

In this section, Wolfe succumbs to the very friend-enemy trope that Schmitt embraces. However, a conservative political operative of some reknown recently embraced this dialectic as well:

Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don't. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a "culture of life"; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion.

I believe that Schmitt's understanding of the classical liberal tradition to be deeply flawed -- indeed, Wolfe himself would have a hard time reconciling that paragraph from his Chonicle of Higher Education essay with his recent New York Time Book Review essay on Louis Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America.

However, Schmitt remains a useful guidepost. Indeed, Schmitt's friend-enemy distinction will likely be the best way to view the brewing fight over Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement (see Ann Althouse for more on this).

Go check them out.

posted by Dan on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM


Finding Wolfe's arguments about the ongoing warfare between liberals and conservatives in this country obtuse, I followed the link to the article from which they derive. What a relief to see that the man is far from the ass he appears in these fragments. These quotes are in fact quite misleading, in that Wolfe elsewhere points out that a) the liberal/conservative divide does NOT equate to Democrat/Republican Party politics and b) despite echoes of Schmitt's thought in contemporary academic and political debates, he utterly misunderstood the United States (not that we were his main concern) and his writings do NOT fall into any mainstream American political discourse, past or present.

What up, Dan?

posted by: Kelli on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

Interesting stuff. I've been toying with similar ideas for quite some time; my own take is that US political discourse has been drifting towards a Schmittian representation of political struggle.

posted by: Dan Nexon on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

BTW, I'm not sure there's such a contradiction here. In the second piece you link to, Wolfe posits a set of mechanisms (however simplistic) which might account for a tendency towards Schmittian political dynamics - the fact that American ideologies are quite close together by global standards. In the first article he talks about the comparative embrace of Schmittian approaches to political struggle by different political groups and operatives.

posted by: Dan Nexon on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

Clearly the ass in these fragments is Karl Rove.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

In that sense too, fascism is more plausibly linked to a set of "mobilizing passions" that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulated philosophy. At bottom is a passionate nationalism. Allied to it is a conspiratorial and Manichean view of history as a battle between good and evil camps, between the pure and the corrupt, in which one's own community or nation has been the victim.


These "mobilizing passions," mostly taken for granted and not always overtly argued as intellectual propositions, form the emotional lava that set fascism's foundations:

--a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;

--the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;

--the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;

--dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;

--the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;

--the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;

--the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;

--the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the groups' success;

--the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess within a Darwinian struggle.

Page 41
The Anatomy of Fascism
Robert O. Paxton

posted by: PreFascist on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

Wolfe's comment:

Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a "culture of life"; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion.

is a distortion. When the former Pope talked about this he also included staunch opposition to the death penalty. American Conservatives are being dishonest by eliding that fact.

posted by: sien on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

According to Schmitt, liberalism is the negation of politics. Is this what you mean by "Indeed, Schmitt's friend-enemy distinction will likely be the best way to view the brewing fight over Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement"?

posted by: Tom on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

With one of two exceptions a superb post on Schmitt.

"I believe that Schmitt's understanding of the classical liberal tradition to be deeply flawed ..."

Agreed. And it is classical liberalism Schmitt is referring to and antagonistic toward, not to our faux liberal cum leftist interests more prominently on display by the Kennedys, Kerrys, et al., though a highly derivative leftism it admittedly now is. Arguably a center or center-right position in the American political spectrum is far more commensurate with classical liberal interests than most any other place on the spectrum.

Schmitt can be probative and thought provoking, but his positing of irreconcilable dualities as the most fundamental of social/political concretions - rather than a dialectic which allows for a substantial measure of mutual discourse and hard-won tolerance - is very much the positing of an authoritarianism. He unabashedly favored dictatorial power, essentially, because it could operate more efficiently than a classical liberal democratic parliamentary system, and indeed it could, as the 20th century exemplified all too well. His initial embrace of totalitarian interests occurred more than a decade before he joined the Nazi party. Too, it occurred during the initial and later stages of the Weimar Republic when political chaos and economic ruin were prominent, at a time when many were looking for virtually any kind of government that would lend more stability and decisiveness.

Wolfe represents Schmitt fairly well. But his notional representation of a supposed Republican/conservative zeitgeist as reflecting Schmitt, after allowing they have no allegiance to him and possibly little knowledge of him, is oddly and conveniently abstracted. He advances Coulter's "vituperative" style as an example, and such it is at times, though it can equally be thought of as acerbic invective and highly caustic rhetoric in general, and not entirely unfitting given tempers elsewhere in evidence.

Wolfe might have probed much, much deeper. (Incredibly, he even unabashedly examples himself as a "hopeless liberal," seemingly intended to signify more charm and righteousness than hopelessness per se.) For example comparing the vilification and smear campaigns against Bork and Thomas with the lack of any such campaign vis-a-vis Ginsburg and Breyer would have been apt. Or he might have mentioned the sneering vituperations and arrogations of a MoveOn, a Michael Moore (both conspicuously absent from Wolfe's not so evenly measured probings). It is precisely due to the MoveOns, the Moores, et al. that I'm perfectly content to defend the invective of a Coulter, at least within the context of our contemporary political landscape.

Comparing the Ginsburg and Breyer nominations with those of Bork and Thomas is instructive, and deeply telling of the Left, not of classical liberals, Wolfe fails, notably, to draw much of a distinction between the two. Charming, that. Wolfe is reasonable when analyzing Schmitt per se, but is incredibly facile and far from probative when remarking upon conservatives within the American political landscape. Puhleez.

The Left and Left/Dems want to be able to wage political war, and they want anyone not of the left to be decorous, non-confrontational and appeasing, virtually subservient. This, much as it did during the Bork and Thomas hearings - and didn't during the Ginsburg and Breyer hearings - will very likely raise its ugly head again during upcoming hearings, whomever is nominated.

Place it. Where the sun don't shine. If the Left and Left/Dems want a war, then this time, give them precisely that. Wage it smartly, wage it strategically, wage it intelligently on all fronts, but wage it indeed, with utter ferocity. It's for them to choose, much as it was for the Republicans/Conservatives to eschew during the Ginsburg and Breyer hearings. Ameliorate unnecessary confrontations, but not out of any naivete or kow-towing subservience.

posted by: Michael B on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

Michael: care to explain to us why it should make a difference to Schimitt's critique of liberalism if the variety we're talking about is New Deal liberalism, classical liberalism, what passes for center-right liberalism in the US, or any other derivative of liberal political philosophy? All of these flavors see, for example, politics as the adjudication of interests, civil society as a contract designed to secure rights, and political compromise as the standard-operating procedure of representative democracy. In other words, the myriad of faults Schmitt finds with liberalism apply equally to these variants, all of which reject Schmitt's notion of sovereignty, his understanding of democratic decision-making, and his view of politics as a struggle against the "other."

I don't think any serious observer of American politics would not find, among both sides, political rhetoric that can take a Schmittian turn. I'll skip over your problematic interpretation of past and recent events (your comparison of Clinton's nominees with Bork and Thomas overlooks key aspects of the nomination process and of the relative positions of the nominees on the political spectrum, while itself ignoring the Borkian fate of some of Clintons *other* appointments), and simply posit a question: among which mainstream political operatives and representatives can you currently find claims that the other side are, in effect traitors to the nation?

posted by: Dan Nexon on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

Social Democrats, USA
Copyright: 1996, SD, USA

Kristol described the current Republican coalition as consisting primarily of two main strains: economic and social conservatives. The economic conservatives are anti-state and the social conservatives are anti-liberal who view liberalism "as corroding and subverting the virtues that they believe must be the bedrock of decent society." He believes that the differences between the economic conservatives and the social conservatives produce "tensions" between the two groups. Kristol's long range view is that the social conservatives represent "an authentic mass movement that gathers strength with every passing year."

Splitting the Republican Coalition

posted by: NeoDude on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

"I'll skip over your problematic interpretation of past and recent events (your comparison of Clinton's nominees with Bork and Thomas overlooks key aspects of the nomination process and of the relative positions of the nominees on the political spectrum, while itself ignoring the Borkian fate of some of Clintons *other* appointments)" Dan Nexon

Firstly, a disclosure. I'm openly polemical concerning this and a variety of other issues I deem to be pivotal, of critical concern. So if you're put off with that, at least refrain from taking it overly personally.

A rather presumptuous, even patronizing, reply and a far too convenienct skipping-over. Firstly, I'm talking Supreme Court nominees and am doing so because there are additional problems concerning the federal nominees, also because we now have a Supreme Court nominee process waiting in the wings, so am focusing. Secondly, I don't accept your presumptuous formulation concerning the political spectrum, another far too convenient arrogation. Concerning your reference, presumably, to Coulter's book title, I already prescribed the sense in which I'm willing to defend her. On the other hand I did hear a broadcast on Air America in which gun shots were part of the schtick along with comparisions of the President to Fredo(sp?) Corleone in Godfather II.

Concerning "New Deal liberalism" and "classical liberalism," while critiques of New Deal initiatives can be made within at least some conceptions of classical liberal interrests, I for one don't have a fundamental problem with most aspects of FDR's program per se. My problem concerns the soixante-huitards and subsequent manifestations. In terms of U.S. politics that would reference the '68 and '72 presidential elections. I do not consider, as already indicated, the pseudo "liberalism" as forwarded by the ideological Left to be commensurate with classical liberal interests. Wolfe's anemic failure to draw adequate distinctions are merely one reflection of the pseudo profundity he attempts to forward - it's risible.

Frankly, get serious or seek a "dialog," if that's what you're offering, with someone else. Save me the presumption, the conflations, the arrogations and save yourself some time. I'm a registered indep. and long have been, classical liberalism describes my political philosophy as well as anything does and the hard and the softer Left does not reflect classical liberal interests. Get serious and address the "problematic" Bork/Thomas processes as compared to the Ginsburg/Breyer processes. Or don't.

posted by: Michael B on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

As an afterthought, the ever thoughtful and well informed J. Rosenthal at Transatlantic Intelligencer has two relevant posts concerning the Schmitt discussion, here and here, he also comments on Wolfe's amusing take on things.

posted by: Michael B on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

Alan Wolfe's account of Schmitt's definition of the political is wrong on the most important point.

That is that BECAUSE politics is about defining who you are and who you are not (and who is not you), THEREFORE it is vital, and a condition of civilized politics, that the friend-enemy duality NOT escalate into war. (And if it does, to prevent that war from becoming a moralized war of annihilation, in which the enemy is not just the Other, but a Non-human to be destroyed).

The friend-enemy duality is supposed to be a way of understanding the political and therefore understanding how to prevent political opposition from degenerating into civil or any other kind of war.

The friend-enemy duality is not, repeat not, the same as a declaration that all politics is necessarily confrontational or leads to war.

To imply that it does is to get Schmitt totally backward. He was advocating limiting conflict, not totalizing it.

Now, then, who is today totalizing political oppositions?

Identify them, and you have identified those who violate Schmitt's prescriptions, insisting on moralizing and totalizing political conflicts, camouflaging them as moral oppositions. I except no one here. The neocon "terrorists are evil, let's end evil" slogans are just as wrong, in Schmitt's terms, as are Wolfe's moralistic, but inherently aggressive and intolerant, platitudes about how disinterested his crowd is and how narrow-minded and confrontational others are. (Wolfe's aggressivity camouflaged as reason is one of the oldest tricks in the trade of corrupting political opposition by moralizing it, as perusing Greek tragedians or Plato will show. No one is more aggressive and therefore inherently murderously violent than a political moralizer).

Almost nobody, from George W. on down, today understands the distinction between political and moralized dualities, and that is perhaps the single greatest philosophical problem of international politics today.

posted by: David G on 07.05.05 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

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