Is it Anne-Marie Slaughter’s mission in life to make realists look like colossal geniuses compared to her? I was groaning when I first watched her talk with Anatol Lieven. I had somehow got the impression that Stephen Walt was to the left of his famed realist colleague and co-author, John Mearsheimer, but I didn’t see any indication of a bleeding heart in their recent diavlog. I actually laughed when Walt is listing strategic priorities for America and she adds the security of Israel as if he had merely forgotten it, giving no indication that she was aware of that book. She talks about the imperative of the new Obama administration to act “boldly” and how in attempting to create peace between the Israelis and Palestinians or Indians and Pakistanis (same thing I guess) he could “win big but also lose big”. And in case I haven’t asked this before, why the hell would anyone want to be associated with Woodrow Wilson?
Going back to foreign affairs of the past, David Henderson has a veteran’s day tribute to economist and WW2 pilot Richard Timberlake “a veteran who did not give his life and knew that he wasn’t fighting for our freedom”. Only interested in staying alive, he sounds like a character from Catch-22, which I still haven’t read. I recall hearing that Heller himself was not so cynical when he was actually flying but became so later. In the Viggo Mortensen narrated cartoon authobiography of Howard Zinn he describes realizing that he was fighting for American imperialism when he was bombing Europe in that same war. I’m glad that at least some lefties have a dimmer view of the “good war” and I wonder if he put in a good word for Charles Lindbergh in any of his books.
What follows is a long-rambling with hardly anything to do with the above, so I have put it below the fold.
Tim Burke is one of Mencius Moldbug’s favorite targets, which is a bit dissapointing as I think that’s aiming rather low. In one of their recent learning-free discussions Tim suggested that the easy availability of weapons like the AK-47 has evened the balance of forces and made colonialism less tennable. I don’t know about the specific case of Africa (Tim’s area of study and MM’s favorite laughingstock) but I’m drawn to that kind of technological determinism. You can call that Marxist historicism if you wish, but I find it a much better lens than the Douglass North kind of Marxist historicism (which MM seems to share) that places so much emphasis on ideology. Greg Clark’s “A Farewell to Alms” ignores both ideology/institutions as well as technology but I’d still say it’s a nice example of the sort of thinking to aim for. Would an alien anthropologist view ideology as the shaping factor or technology? My guess is the latter.
The common reason given for why Athens was so democratic was that they were heavily reliant on their navy, in which any citizen could serve about equally well as an oarsman. Hoplites in general were less resource-intensive than the elite units of other militaries, resulting in citizen armies and citizen republics. Contrast this to the middle ages. The average peasant could hardly afford a warhorse and suit of armor (and theh servants required to maintain it), and the commonor’s contribution as peasant levy served only to provide cannon fodder. The first democracy of modern Europe is Switzerland, whose mountains provided protection and whose citizens became expert pikemen mercenaries that could halt the charge of heavy cavalry. The rise of the mass military comes with the introduction of hand-held gunpowder weapons, which are initially of inferior power compared to cross-bows but are cheaper and easier to use. The English are late in adopting them due to their Welsh reserve of highly effective but expensively trained longbowmen, whose right-arms are visibly distorted in their skeletons today. Light and heavy infantry (cavalry-defeating pikemen being an example of the latter) are able to fuse with the introduction of bayonets that do not obstruct firing and horseback cavalry’s heyday fades (bayonets become unnecessary when rifling is commonplace). The nobility shift from their previous privileged position to that of infantry officers, armed with close-range weapons chosen to be effective against the men under their own command rather than the enemy. The age of mass-warfare and mass-democracy is firmly esconced with the rise of revolutionary France, although the French monarch had made open his dependence on a mass commoner army back with Malplaquet (I might also add that the English king’s dependence on his burgher’s for military fundings resulted in British parliamentary supremacy). Mencius is surely aware of this view of history tying together mass conscription with modern democratic liberalism (and its nationalist/socialist offshoots) as it is a major theme of one of his favorite books: Bertrand de Jouvenel’s On Power (which I reviewed here). And hod France wind up red-handed for all the trends Mencius despises? Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s answer is urban density, which made the mob of sans cullotes a great threat. Since you can’t download that for free, see Ed Glaeser’s Why Doesn’t the U.S. Have a European-Style Welfare State? which relies on their theory. Mencius seems to think any uprising can be easily crushed if the government is ruthless, and this explains why there weren’t any succesful uprisings under communism. Except that there have been, most famously Afghanistan. Mencius calls it “a rather suspicious exception”, but doesn’t say why it’s suspicious or how it might be explained. He has a sort of conspiracy-theory of history where if the Israeli airforce inadvertently bombs a secret rebel force to replace communism with Islamic monarchy in Albania it can’t simply be because shit happens but evidence that the commies and/or their fellow travelers must have been pulling strings behind the scenes (not that he’s actually claimed this, I just like it as an example). Insurgencies are of course more able to thrive in the Third World outside direct Soviet control, and that includes other anti-communist proxy forces like UNITA and the Contras. While people like Harvey Mansfield may whine that liberal constitutional democracy with it’s checks and balances on the executive hamstring it when up against evil-doers, the record of communist revolutionaries in the first-world is pathetic. What success did the Baader-Meinhoff gang, Japanese Red Army, Red Brigades, Angry Brigades or Symbionese Liberation Army have? Certainly nothing on the level of the “pure, 200-proof, full-on Holocaust-grade political evil” he ascribes to them. Because of that some have claimed that liberal democracies are invulnerable to insurgencies, but I wouldn’t go that far.
Going back to Burke’s thread, Mencius claims that surely in the absence of Western meddling (I didn’t know we had prevented this) Paul Kagame would conquer the Congo and bring peace to it. Earlier when he claimed that the State department is the cause of all the world’s problems he asserted that Africa would immediately have a wave of coups and be divided up among profit-maximizing neo-cameralist states. The odd thing is that he also claims that if Africa was actually independent its governments would more closely resemble those of 16th century Africa. As Africa never developed something like the modern nation-state on its own but rather was more characterized by anarchic tribalism (which Peter Lesson praises here). That is a great amount of confidence about a complicated issue that sounds odd from one who praises Nassim Taleb’s writings about black swans and radical uncertainty. I think he is similarly overconfident about whether a 100% gold standard would defeat any kind of fractional reserve absent government intervention, completely ignoring any of the historical evidence the “free-bankers” muster up.
For good reason Mencius is enamored of Western conceptions of freedom, order and good government. Why would he expect Africa to generate those things on its own? Burke also asks the same question I focused on a while back: why the hell does Mencius even care about the lives of Africans? When talking to me Mencius responded by adopting neutralism and indifference (if that’s imitation, I’m flattered), against Burke he praises humanitarian imperialism. He’s surely cynical enough to know that the original Scramble for Africa was not driven by humanitarian motivations but that it was used as the sort of political pablum he normally despises.
On a final note, I feel like pushing back a bit on a possibility that Burke has immediately rejected. He is correct that theories about the economic benefits of imperialism in the modern world are quite obviously false, and should be lumped in with the Frankfurt School’s laughable “false consciousness” as a desperate attempt to preserve Karl Marx’s theories from falsification (in this case by Lenin). Foreigners aren’t going to drink their oil but are plenty willing to sell it to us, and somebody local is bound to do the job of making sure it gets shipped out. But Burke specifically mentions African labor, which I would say is greatly wasted. Much of it is devoted to destructive warfare and their dysfunctional economies put little of the remainder to good use. However, as Greg Clark would note, the productivity of their labor is far lower than ours so we would gain far less than they from improving Africa, giving us little reason to incur the expense.