April 14, 2005

Loudly, With a Big Stick (David Brooks, New York Times, April 14th, 2005)

From the start, the U.N. has had two rival missions. Some people saw it as a place where sovereign nations could work together to solve problems. But other people saw it as the beginnings of a world government.

This world government dream crashed on the rocks of reality, but as Jeremy Rabkin of Cornell has observed, the federalist idea has been replaced by a squishier but equally pervasive concept: the dream of “global governance.”

The people who talk about global governance begin with the same premises as the world government types: the belief that a world of separate nations, living by the law of the jungle, will inevitably be a violent world. Instead, these people believe, some supranational authority should be set up to settle international disputes by rule of law.

They know we’re not close to a global version of the European superstate. So they are content to champion creeping institutions like the International Criminal Court. They treat U.N. General Assembly resolutions as an emerging body of international law. They seek to foment a social atmosphere in which positions taken by multilateral organizations are deemed to have more “legitimacy” than positions taken by democratic nations.

John Bolton is just the guy to explain why this vaporous global-governance notion is a dangerous illusion, and that we Americans, like most other peoples, will never accept it.

We’ll never accept it, first, because it is undemocratic. It is impossible to set up legitimate global authorities because there is no global democracy, no sense of common peoplehood and trust. So multilateral organizations can never look like legislatures, with open debate, up or down votes and the losers accepting majority decisions.

Instead, they look like meetings of unelected elites, of technocrats who make decisions in secret and who rely upon intentionally impenetrable language, who settle differences through arcane fudges. Americans, like most peoples, will never surrender even a bit of their national democracy for the sake of multilateral technocracy.

Second, we will never accept global governance because it inevitably devolves into corruption. The panoply of U.N. scandals flows from a single source: the lack of democratic accountability. These supranational organizations exist in their own insular, self-indulgent aerie.

We will never accept global governance, third, because we love our Constitution and will never grant any other law supremacy over it. Like most peoples (Europeans are the exception), we will never allow transnational organizations to overrule our own laws, regulations and precedents. We think our Constitution is superior to the sloppy authority granted to, say, the International Criminal Court.

Fourth, we understand that these mushy international organizations liberate the barbaric and handcuff the civilized. Bodies like the U.N. can toss hapless resolutions at the Milosevics, the Saddams or the butchers of Darfur, but they can do nothing to restrain them. Meanwhile, the forces of decency can be paralyzed as they wait for “the international community.”

Fifth, we know that when push comes to shove, all the grand talk about international norms is often just a cover for opposing the global elite’s bĂȘtes noires of the moment – usually the U.S. or Israel. We will never grant legitimacy to forums that are so often manipulated for partisan ends.



April 12, 2005

Passion plea (Drake Bennett, April 10, 2005, Boston Globe)

MICHAEL WALZER is a liberal who has spent much of his career unsettling the opinions of other liberals. The political philosopher’s enormously influential 1977 book ”Just and Unjust Wars,” an effort to outline the demands and limits of morality in war, was read by many as a challenge to an American left that, in the wake of the Vietnam War, had become increasingly pacifist. Twenty-five years later, in a widely read essay for Dissent magazine (of which he is co-editor) pointedly titled ”Can There Be a Decent Left?,” he took liberal thinkers to task for refusing to acknowledge and appropriately denounce the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. […]

IDEAS: What’s wrong with what you call ”liberal reasonableness”?

WALZER: One example is the love of the courtroom, and a general antipathy to old-fashioned political struggle…. In the literature of liberalism today, there’s a great dislike of bargaining. When political scientists talk about ”deliberative democracy,” they mean to describe a process in which people talk through very complex issues and eventually reach a consensus. But, in fact, in politics that’s very rare. People have very strong positions and interests, and what usually happens in democratic politics is a bargaining process, a negotiation process that ends in a compromise, not a verdict. It’s not a deliberative outcome, it’s a negotiated outcome.

IDEAS: You also argue that the liberal idea of the autonomous individual is a bit of a myth. Why is this a problem?

WALZER: The most intractable forms of inequality in the United States are connected to the collective disqualification of the members of pariah groups, and that requires a different kind of remedy, which addresses the problem of the group, rather than just the problem of this or that unlucky individual.

One way of doing that is to strengthen the organizations of the group, the mutual aid organizations, the philanthropic and welfare societies. We have a lot of those mutual aid organizations in the United States and some of them are very, very successful, particularly [those created by] groups like the Catholics and Lutherans and the Jews. I think it would make a big difference in American life if black churches, for example, or Hispanic churches, were providing services of this sort for their members.

IDEAS: Wouldn’t this just create a more fragmented public sphere?

WALZER: That certainly has not been the experience of groups like the Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Jews, whose members don’t seem to be isolated or withdrawn from public life. In fact it’s the weaker groups, which are not able to provide these sorts of services to their members, that tend to be isolated and withdrawn in our society.

I’m not proposing that the state help in any way to defend the boundaries of these groups, I think that there would be a lot of coming and going. One of the motivating factors in my argument is the discovery by political scientists that people who are active in the kinds of [mutual aid organizations] I’m describing are also active participants in the larger polity.

IDEAS: What you’re describing looks a bit like President Bush’s faith-based initiatives. Is that something you’d support?

WALZER: ”Faith-based” is their term. I was thinking more of community-based.

Fine, we can change the name.


April 9, 2005

All God’s Children Got Values (Michael Walzer, Spring 20905, Dissent)

Liberals and leftists are engaged on many fronts, but we are not coherently engaged. No one on the left has succeeded in telling a story that brings together the different values to which we are committed and connects them to some general picture of what the modern world is like and what our country should be like. The right, by contrast, has a general picture. I don’t think that its parts actually fit together in a coherent way, but they appear to do so. And in politics, despite the common view that all politicians pander to their constituencies, saying one thing here and its opposite there, the appearance of coherence is the name of the game.

Scattershot doesn’t work, not in arguments and not in campaigns; you need a coordinated barrage. And somehow, right-wing intellectuals and activists have managed to convince themselves and a lot of other people that the free market, individual self-reliance, the crusade for democracy, the war against terrorism, heterosexual marriage, conventional sex and gender roles, religious faith, and patriotic sentimentality all hang together. They are a coherent set, and together they constitute the American Way. And then the defense of “values,” even if it’s narrowly and weirdly focused-say, on sexual license in Hollywood movies-calls to mind everything else. Well, I guess it’s not entirely weird; there is a recognizable picture of America here, even if it’s a nostalgic picture, and even if a lot of Americans (maybe, today, most Americans) are left out of it.

Much of this essay is quite sensible, typical of Mr. Walzer, but his confusion here is strange. The entire set of values that conservatism defends–the American Way–derives from the recognition that men are Created beings endowed with human dignity. All else follows.