Sunday, June 20, 2004


i registered my objections to what little doctrine or prescription there was in CLASH in "clash I." that was accepting the usefulness of huntington's civilizational map-redrawing.

i don't accept that either.

samuel huntington has long been an eminent scholar and was a foreign policy advisor in jimmy carter's administration. he is a serious man. he thinks big thoughts. he has what yogi berra would call "deep depth."

there is little if any of this on view in the descriptive portion of CLASH which makes up eleven of the book's twelve chapters.

the book is one of those dark malthusian works in which subtlety and complexity are beaten into submission to fit "the model." it's in the vein of paul kennedy's RISE AND FALL OF THE GREAT POWERS of the '80's which predicted the end of american economic supremacy and the ascendancy of the japanese.

it is a high-brow version of those MEGATREND books by whoever that knucklehead was, john naismith, james naismith, whatever.

it also reveals more about huntington himself, the way he thinks, what his prejudices are, what his world view is, than it does about how the world is actually is.

descriptively, CLASH is simple, brilliant but simple. if you read the original FOREIGN AFFAIRS article or even if you've talked to someone who has for 15 minutes you get the point.

i think the book fits well in describing america's relationship to islam. i think we are in a clash there but huntington divides the whole world up into different civilizations. for the record these are:

-the west
-orthodoxy (russia, et al)
-the sinic
-the japanese
-the latin american
-the islamic
-the hindu
-the buddhist
-the african (maybe)

it is a fair summary of the book to say that huntington views these as clashing civilizations also. huntingtonists would assert that that is a distortion, and obviously not all the civilizations are at present--nor may they be in the future--in conflict with one another, but the clear point is that these civilizations and their interests are so different that they will inevitably clash with each other at some time over something. this does not necessarily mean civilizational war but clashes at least.

these clashes are made all the more intractable because as huntington wrote in the original CLASH article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, "a communist today can become a capitalist tomorow, but an armenian can never become a turk."

world history certainly suggests that this may be correct. humanity indeed has a very bloody history but huntington's world view is very dark indeed, darker i think, than it is useful to view it as.

in the first chapter, under the pretense of surveying the different ways in which the post-cold war world has been viewed by OTHERS, huntington quotes from a novel called DEAD LAGOON by michael dibdin:

"there can be no true friends without true enemies.
unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what
we are."

that is shocking, and huntingtonists would say "he's not saying that's what his view is, in fact he specifically introduces the paragraph from which that excerpt is taken by saying 'one grim weltanschauung for this new era was well expressed by the venetian nationalist demogogue' in dibdin's book."

that is apologia however, not truth, because on the next page huntington does not quote from a book of fiction, he states as his own view:

"we know who we are only when we know who we are
not and often only when we know whom we are against."

huntington's entire world view as expressed in CLASH is of a world in conflict.

i challenge the most basic civilizational categorization by huntington. i have argued here previously and do so now again, that there is no "western civilization" that has geopolitical or doctrinal meaning.

huntington conflates europe and the united states and their interests. i seperate them.

his argument and mine are easy to defend. his is that america is the product of european thought, settled by european peoples.

mine is that although that is true, america broke away from europe demonstrably, we fought two wars against england itself, our "mother country" for heavens's sake, we have fought two world wars with european states, wars which huntington classifies as essentially "western civil wars."

from the perspective of the other side of the atlantic, the european union was not conceived as a proto-alliance with the united states but as a counterweight to it.

our culture rankles europe in the same way, although not with as much violence, as it does islam.

it is tempting to say in the post-cold war era that the atlanticist military alliance of nato should be perpetuated into this new era. in fact that is what huntington says. in fact, as mentioned in "clash I" he argues for expanding it to other western countries in europe.

i think he is dead wrong, wrong, wrong about that and have argued it previously.

nato was a military alliance for the cold war. it made sense then to obligate each alliance member to the defense of the other if attacked by the other half of that bi-polar world. an attack on germany--or france or england--would have and should have resulted in a combined reponse by the other nato member states.

in like manner the united states had military treaties with south korea against aggression from the north, with taiwan against aggression from the prc.

the problem is WE STILL HAVE THOSE TREATIES! we are still treaty-bound to defend those countries if attacked even though the raison d'etre for the treaties, the threat from the soviet union and from communist china, DON'T EXIST ANYMORE!

what the hell sense does that make?

further, huntington would EXTEND these treaties to, as he says on page 312, "the western states of central europe...the baltic republics, slovenia, and croatia."

and in fact we've done that. we are now obligated to defend poland against attack FROM ANYONE.

does the american public realize any of this?

huntington, completely contrary to american foreign policy history, common sense, and present realities, would extend our foreign policy obligations far beyond our shores and our national security interests. all this because we are "kin" with these other states in the civilization of "the west."


huntington says that the western civilization is unique, not universal but unique. in fact it is the AMERICAN civilization that is unique, although i agree with him that it should not be presumed to be universal (it may be though).

huntington urges a rigid construct and responses by "the west" in response to clashes with other civilizations.

in fact, it is precisely because america has never been caught in rigid, ossified constructs of any kind, much less in foreign affairs, that we have survived and flourished.

our federalist system grounded us philosophically in non-involvement in others affairs, our "rugged individualist" psychology did the same, our geographic isolation has helped us avoid the "entangling alliances" that woodrow wilson warned against.

for these reasons and more, america has retained a diplomatic nimbleness that has allowed us to:

-become the closest of allies with the england, the country we seperated from and fought two wars against.
-become the closest of allies with germany who we fought two wars against.
-become the closest of allies with japan who we dropped atomic bombs on.
-waited out the collapse of our cold war mortal enemy, the soviet union, and have become friends, if not the closest allies with its successor, russia
-waited out the less dangerous standoff with the prc. the prc has not ceased to exist as has the soviet union but it is no longer the communist state that it was under mao and our relations with it have reflected that change.

just these examples illustrate (1) the fallacy of huntington's "western civilization" fantasy (2) the fallacy that we can not form alliances with states from other civilizations (russia, japan, china)and (3)the disastrous policy consequences to accepting huntington's dark division of the world.

in huntingtonia, we will always be in some civilizational opposition to russia. never mind that the soviet union has ceased to exist, never mind that russia has at times been an important american ally since 1989, never mind that it is now part of the g-8, never mind that, with whatever difficulty, it is trying really hard to become democratic and market-oriented economically.

for huntington this is all pap. russia can never become western. it will always be orthodox. biology is not destiny, culture is destiny. culture, a creation of man, can never be undone. once created it is forever.

similarly, he opposes the expansion of the european union to include turkey because it is a state from another civilization and hence it can never be made to fit.

the world is not like that as the examples of germany, japan, russia, china, etc. show. people, countries, civilizations can change if only to be less rigid and more tolerant of others.

the world is also too complex for one state, much less the most powerful state, to be forever locked into a rigid construct of "civilizational" alliance. as argued here in "international federalism," the united states should maintain shifting alliances as our national security requires: with israel and perhaps england in the middle east, with russia in its own clash with islam, with all of the nuclear powers in all the civilizations to reduce nuclear stockpiles and enforce non-proliferation. and etc.

huntington's prescription is not for how to deal with conflict if it occurs. structurally, he BUILDS IN conflict. he divides the world up into eight, maybe nine, clashing civilizations, he urges alliances whose only purpose is to set up an us vs. them posture, he wishes to expand those alliances which will heighten the chance of conflict, he would re-do the u.n. security council so that all the major civilizations would be represented, thus again building in conflict in the one world organization that is to prevent, not just manage, conflict.

it is not to "our western heritage" that america should return in meeting the challenges of the post-cold war world. it is to our own uniquely american heritage, of federalist acceptance of diversity and tolerance, non-involvement in the affairs of others, intellectual modesty over the applicability of our experience elsewhere, realpolitik realization of the dangerousness of engangling alliances, and generosity, both of spirit and of treasure.

it is the american--not the western or the singaporean (!?)--experiment in all these matters that gives hope that there may be a "thin" connective tissue among civilizations that allows mankind to transcend differences and avoid clashes.

-benjamin harris


ah, man. just finished CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS (the book). what a disappointment.

i have repeatedly held up the "clash" model as the one through which we should view our conflict with the islamic world. i still hold up "clash" as that model but as to so much else in the book...

first, we need a new DOCTRINE to replace george kennan's "containment" that guided us through the cold war. a doctrine guides future action. it is not so much descriptive as prescriptive. at least it's both.

it is interesting and perhaps telling that while huntington writes of the cold war world view he never mentions the containment doctrine and never once even mentions kennan!

huntington's self-described task in the book is to provide "an interpretation of the evolution of global politics after the cold war. it aspires to present a framework, a paradigm..."

the word "paradigm" is loaded and he makes the reference specifically, to thomas kuhn's "classic" (his word) THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS.

STRUCTURE however was not a doctrine, it was not prescriptive. it was descriptive. a friend in the field of physics said kuhn essentially invented the history of science. STRUCTURE shows how scientific thought--it's hard to think of the right verb here to be accurate to kuhn--"went" for example from newtonian physics to einsteinian physics. it did not show how to create an einstein.

now, of course huntington does intend the book as he says to "show us what paths we should take to achieve our goals," but that's not the focus of the book.

eleven of the book's twelve chapters are support for his redrawing of the world map along civilizational lines. the twelveth chapter, the only one that can be called prescriptive, occupies only 20 of the books 321 pages.

maybe it'll be impossible to do this but since what i'm most interested in is doctrine i'm going to try to talk about huntington's "doctrinal" views first, in isolation of whether his proposed new civilizational "structure" of the world is useful.

on page 312 he lists the components of his doctrine: achieve a greater commonality of interests between the u.s. and europe. expand the western military and economic alliances to the rest of "the west," "central europe,...the baltic republics, slovenia, and croatia."
3. to encourage the westernization of latin america and it's close alignment with the west. restrain the conventional and unconventional military capability of the islamic and sinic civilizations.
5."to slow the drift of japan away from the west and toward accomodation with china."
6. "to accept russia as the core state of orthodoxy and a major regional power with legitimate interests in the security of its southern borders."
7. "to maintain western technological and military superiority over other civilizations."
8. "and, most important, to recognize that western intervention in the affairs of other civilizations is probably the single most dangerous source" of world instability.

there are some things here that are very exciting to me. the whole "philosophy" behind "international federalism" was to apply american federalism's principles of non-intervention in the affairs of its constituent states in the international context.

we should not nation build.

we should only militarily intervene when it's necessary for our national security.

we should not presume that the american way--or the "western" way--is universal.

we need to recognize the disruptive effects of our culture on others and somehow lessen their projection into other cultures by our corporations and business interests. this is a very difficult thing to do and even in the abstract puts our business interest in opening new markets in conflict with local sensitivities.

i have explicitly written on this page of the need to maintain at all costs, including preemptive military strikes, american (note, not "western") military supremacy over every other country and civilization in the world combined.

however, i have written of my vehement disagreement with those who conflate the u.s. and europe as one "interest group," as one civilization as huntington would have it.

because i see america and europe as having different and sometimes conflicting interests i have also vehemently opposed expanding nato as huntington prescribes.

his two "recruitment" strategies, to coopt latin america and "contain" japan from flying off into the chinese orbit are simply at odds with the descriptive features of "clash," that is with viewing the world as a group of seven or eight civilizations that are fundamentally different. as i believe huntington himself explained it in the "clash" article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, "a communist can become a capitalist, but an armenian can never become a turk."

huntington or huntingtonists can certainly point to this page or that paragraph of the book and say "no, no, no you're not understanding," or "you're taking this out of context," or "you're oversimplifying"--huntington is no fool--,you can point to this subtlety or that nuance but there is just no denying that the paradigm that he argues and supports in 300 pages is a world in which the different civilizations are as immutable as the personal characteristics of their individual citizens. that is, in fact, what makes "clash" such a brilliant work, it gives us a new, compelling way of looking.

so it is simply inconsistent with his descriptive paradigm to argue as a component of doctrine that we should try to peel away as much of latin america as we can, and prevent the sinification of japan.

huntington urges on page 317 that each major civilization should be given a permanent seat on a revamped u.n. security council. in my view this is patent nonsense and carries to a logical if wrong-headed conclusion a specific policy proposal that would follow from the civilizational redrawing of the world map.

to me the most interesting, fruitful doctrinal recommendations that he makes are on the final four pages of the book, in a subchapter titled "the commonalities of civilization."

here he borrows from michael walzer who brilliantly distinguishes between the "thick" normative rules of specific cultures and the "thin" morality that links all civilizations: "...truth and justice" and "'...negative injunctions [like'rules against murder, deceit, torture, oppression, and tyranny.'"

as huntington puts it "instead of promoting the supposedly universal features of one civilization, the requisites for cultural coexistence demand a search for what is common to most civilizations. in a multicivilizational world, the constructive course is to renounce universalism, accept diversity, and seek commonalities."

wonderful! that's very positive stuff if a bit "thin" itself. i'll have to read walzer's book.

but isn't that the united states? don't we take peoples from different civilizations and "demand a search [from them] for what is common" between their old world and our new world? isn't the whole idea of america that? isn't our federal system in fact one explicitly "accepts diversity" so that we can have "fifty social laboratories" and "seek commonalities" on certainly a "thicker" level than we could among civilizations but still with generous allowance for local initiative and responsibility?

no, says huntington.

at least he doesn't offer american federalism as an example of a nation that has the characteristics that he would like to see in inter-civilizational relations.


there, huntington says the government, while wishing to promote traditional "confucian values" (you mean like, for example, american conservatives desire to promote "traditional [judeo-christian] values") there was recognition that these were giving way to western individualism, etc.

"it is necessary, [president wee kim wee]argued, to identify the core values which singapore's different ethnic and religious communities had in common and 'which capture the essence of being singaporean.'"

and what are these instructive singaporean core values that beckon like a beacon from the east:

-"placing society above self"
-"upholding the family as the basic building block of society"
-"resolving major issues through consensus instead of contention"
-"stressing racial and religious tolerance and harmony"

wow. real original stuff there. makes ya want to slap yourself on the forehead and say "why didn't i think of that!," huh?


jesus christ.

-benjamin harris

Monday, June 14, 2004

i'm going to try to start a mini-revival of james fennimore cooper. one of the first truly american novelists he took up writing later in life in a typically pugnacious cooperian way.

disgusted with the quality of an english novel that his wife was reading he threw it down and said "i could write better than that."

he was an imitator of walter scott, not just an admirer. he is famous for "the leatherstocking tales" of which the most famous are "the deerslayer" and "the last of the mohicans."

the writing style of the time was the intricate plot that slowly unfolds with a few well-placed "OHH!" moments when the reader makes the connections followed by a dramatic, deus ex machina ending.

it's the same style as dickens.

in this style the strained deus moments sometimes produce groans in the reader rather than pleasure. "deerslayer" particularly ended on such a note.

mark twain growled rather than groaned. he wrote an article called "the literary offenses of fennimore cooper." i have not read it but can only imagine.

anyway, the LEAST read of the leather-stocking tales, "the pioneers" is one of the most charming, enjoyable books i've ever read. it was also the first in the series that cooper wrote.

a roman a clef, it tells the story of the settling of "templeton" (cooperstown), new york by cooper's family and the many endearing personalities that comprised that family.

the characters are vividly portrayed and cooper has frissons of descriptive greatness, as in the oft-sited passage of two girls awaking on a sunny winter's morning in the wilderness, the sun glinting off the snow crystals on the trees, off the icecycles, off the lake. it is a truly wonderful scene.

too bad "pioneers" never got much of an audience. it is a wonderful little book. i will never forget it.

-benjamin harris