May 15, 2016

1. Four Ways of Making Decisions

When my former professor, Ed Banfield, was shopping for a house in Vermont, he and his wife found a house that they liked and promptly bought it. When Milton Friedman, the famous economist, was shopping for a house in Vermont, he and his wife looked at numerous houses, and systematically compared them. The Banfield Approach can be summarized as, “I liked it, it felt right, I bought it,” while the Friedman Approach can be summarized as, “After judging several houses by several criteria, my analysis led me to buy this house.”

Today’s economists would be even more scientific than Friedman. They’ve decided that truth lies in numbers, so they would assign a number to each house — or rather, a number to each criteria for each house. So house-hunting would become number-crunching.

Now we’ve identified three approaches to home-buying: The Banfield Approach, the Friedman Approach, and the Numerical Approach. But there’s a fourth possible approach, The Jungian Approach, which would listen to the unconscious, as expressed in dreams, hunches, synchronicities, etc. While the Banfield Approach attends to conscious feelings, the Jungian Approach treats the unconscious as something outside the conscious self, so listening to the unconscious is almost like listening to another person.

These four approaches to home-buying can be applied to any decision. For example, if George W. Bush were faced with the decision whether to invade Iraq, or Barack Obama were faced with the decision whether to bomb Iranian nuclear sites, they could use one of these approaches. If you feel that the Jungian Approach is a bad approach, you may still want to become familiar with it, since it was the approach used by mankind for most of human history.

Which of these four approaches represents Hubris, and which represents Humility? The Numerical Approach and the Friedman Approach represent hubris — the idea that human reason can reach truth, that reason is the most reliable guide to truth. According to ancient wisdom, hubris leads to disaster, “Pride goeth before a fall.” It can be argued that American policy in Vietnam and Iraq was characterized by hubris, and ended in disaster. Before the invasion of Iraq began, Bush’s father (George H. W. Bush) had an intuition, a feeling, perhaps a dream, that the invasion would end in disaster.1B

2. Iraq and Vietnam

I saw some interviews with Robert D. Kaplan, a travel writer and foreign-affairs writer. Kaplan often writes for The Atlantic, and his work seems to be non-partisan. In 1994, Kaplan wrote a much-discussed article in The Atlantic called “The Coming Anarchy.” In 2014, he wrote a sequel to that article called “Why So Much Anarchy?” Kaplan seems to have foreseen the current turmoil in Syria, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern nations.

Critics of George W. Bush argue that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a waste of American blood and treasure, and that the invasion led to the rise of ISIS, and de-stabilized the entire Arab world. On the other hand, Republicans argue that Obama should have kept some American troops in Iraq; by withdrawing from Iraq, these Republicans argue, Obama fostered the rise of ISIS.

Though I favored the invasion, I now see it as a mistake, a big mistake. But I was never convinced that deposing Saddam caused turmoil throughout the Middle East; I always felt that this was speculation, a tenuous theory, an example of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc [after this, therefore because of this]. If Kaplan foresaw, in 1994, the current anarchy in the Middle East, then surely this anarchy wasn’t caused by the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. Rather, it was caused by the factors that Kaplan points to, such as the migration of peasants to cities, “demographic youth bulges,” etc.

In 1994, Kaplan pointed out threats to the Mubarak regime, and discussed the possibility of instability in Egypt. It’s now apparent that these threats not only brought down Mubarak, but also brought down Gaddafi, and gravely weakened Assad. It’s quite possible that these threats would also have brought down Saddam, if the U.S. hadn’t invaded Iraq. Thus, we can see the “Arab Spring” not as the result of the removal of Saddam, but rather as something larger than the removal of Saddam, something that would have happened even if the U.S. hadn’t invaded Iraq, something that might have swept away Saddam if the U.S. hadn’t removed him.

Thomas Friedman mentions four causes of the Syrian chaos, none of which are connected to the American invasion of Iraq:

  1. the worst four-year drought in the country’s modern history
  2. overpopulation
  3. climate stresses
  4. the Internet1

If the American invasion of Iraq was a mistake, surely it was an intellectual mistake, not a moral mistake. Our intentions were good: depose a brutal dictator, establish democracy, close torture chambers, etc. One might compare the Iraq Mistake with the Vietnam Mistake; in both cases, our intentions were good. Kennedy and Johnson, both Democrats, got us into Vietnam, so it’s clear that Republicans don’t have a monopoly on foreign-policy mistakes.

Looking at the Iraq and Vietnam mistakes, one might conclude that the wisest foreign-policy maxim is, “Don’t Get Involved.” Conservatives often point out, however, that the biggest foreign-policy mistake of all was made by Allied leaders during the 1930s, leaders who followed the maxim “Don’t Get Involved” when Hitler was rebuilding the German military. When advocating the invasion of Iraq, conservatives pointed to the failure of appeasement in the 1930s, and said, “It’s better to confront Saddam now, before he acquires a bigger arsenal.”

3. Al-Qaeda and ISIS

Lawrence Wright wrote an acclaimed book about Al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Wright’s research for the book was the subject of a documentary, My Trip to Al-Qaeda.2

Joby Warrick wrote Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS.3 Warrick says that ISIS began with Zarqawi, a Palestinian who grew up in Jordan. Zarqawi was from a poor family, dropped out of high school, and became a “small-time thug,” a pimp, a drug-dealer, etc. After converting to Islam, he went to Afghanistan but arrived too late — the Soviets were leaving, the war was ending. He served time in a Jordanian prison, where he was a leader/enforcer. He was released in ’99 as part of a general amnesty by the newly-crowned King Abdullah. Apparently Zarqawi organized resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq even before the U.S. invaded; he was certainly a resistance leader after the invasion.

Some say bin Laden distrusted Zarqawi because he had been a criminal, and because he attacked Shiites and other non-Sunnis. For a time, Zarqawi refused to swear allegiance to bin Laden. “Zarqawi angered al-Qaeda leaders by focusing attacks on Iraqi Shias more often than U.S. military.”4

In an earlier issue, I said that, just as the French Revolution became more extreme, so too Islamic terrorism was becoming more extreme — ISIS was a more extreme form of Al-Qaeda. It could also be argued that, while the leadership of Al-Qaeda was at least middle class, and probably upper class, ISIS leaders like Zarqawi were from the lower class. ISIS is a coarser, more brutal version of Al-Qaeda.

4. Three Articles on the Contemporary World

A. Kaplan’s “Coming Anarchy”

Kaplan found this coarseness and brutality in West Africa in the early 1990s, and he predicted that other parts of the world would became like West Africa. “More power will fall into the hands of less educated, less sophisticated groups.” Kaplan’s essay “The Coming Anarchy” begins with a conversation with a West African official:

“We did not manage ourselves well after the British departed. But what we have now is something worse — the revenge of the poor, of the social failures, of the people least able to bring up children in a modern society.” Then he referred to the recent coup in the West African country Sierra Leone. “The boys who took power in Sierra Leone come from houses like this.” The Minister jabbed his finger at a corrugated metal shack teeming with children. “In three months these boys confiscated all the official Mercedes, Volvos, and BMWs and willfully wrecked them on the road.”5

The coup in Sierra Leone was led by a 25-year-old officer, Valentine Strasser. “The Strasser regime,” Kaplan writes, “is not really a government [and] Sierra Leone is not really a nation-state.” The West African gangs filmed their brutalities, twenty years before ISIS began filming its brutalities:

In Liberia the guerrilla leader Prince Johnson didn’t just cut off the ears of President Samuel Doe [in 1990] — Johnson made a video of it, which has circulated throughout West Africa. In December of 1992, when plotters of a failed coup against the Strasser regime in Sierra Leone had their ears cut off at Freetown’s Hamilton Beach prior to being killed, it was seen by many to be a copycat execution.

For young men from the shantytowns, violence is a pleasure, war is an adventure. Kaplan quotes Martin van Creveld, an Israeli military historian:

Fighting in many ways is not a means but an end. Throughout history, for every person who has expressed his horror of war there is another who found in it the most marvelous of all the experiences that are vouchsafed to man.

Kaplan paints a grim picture of widespread violence:

People find liberation in violence.... There is a wealth of data showing the sheer frequency of war, especially in the developing world since the Second World War.... In light of the fact that 95 percent of the earth’s population growth will be in the poorest areas of the globe, the question is not whether there will be war (there will be a lot of it) but what kind of war.

Van Creveld takes issue with Clausewitz, the famous military theorist. Clausewitz fought in the Napoleonic Wars, that is, during the period of nation-states. Clausewitz made a three-fold division: government, army, people. But warfare today is often not government-directed, and not fought by armies in uniform. The 9/11 hijackers don’t fit into any of Clausewitz’s categories — they weren’t government, army, or people. From West Africa to Syria, nation-states are disintegrating, governments are weak, and war is made by groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS that operate where governments don’t exist, that operate across national boundaries, that cohere around a website.

Where governments are weak, there’s little or no order, and crime is rampant. Van Creveld writes,

Once the legal monopoly of armed force, long claimed by the state, is wrested out of its hands, existing distinctions between war and crime will break down much as is already the case today in... Lebanon, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Peru, or Colombia.

Kaplan is scornful of maps, which draw neat boundaries that have little to do with reality. He says that “most Arab and African states [have] artificially drawn borders.” Kaplan speaks of his “healthy skepticism toward maps, which, I began to realize, create a conceptual barrier that prevents us from comprehending the political crack-up just beginning to occur worldwide.” The state is “a purely Western notion,” and it remains to be seen if the state can function “outside the industrialized world.” The future doesn’t look bright: “Henceforward the map of the world... will be an ever-mutating representation of chaos.”

Empires like the Ottoman Empire established order across wide swaths of the Middle East. Later there were colonial powers, then native dictators that inherited the colonial bureaucracies. When dictators are ousted, anarchy reigns.

Governments can’t establish order over rising populations. The land is degraded by deforestation and desertification. Peasants migrate to the city, and live in shantytowns on the outskirts of the city.

When Kaplan visited a Turkish shantytown, he found it well-kept, orderly, safe. He praises “the fabric of which Turkish Muslim culture is made.” I was reminded of Bernard Lewis’ remark:

There is something in the religious culture of Islam which inspired, in even the humblest peasant or peddler, a dignity and a courtesy toward others never exceeded and rarely equaled in other civilizations.6

Kaplan contrasts the Turkish shantytowns with those in West Africa, which have more crime and squalor, which “terrify and repel the outsider.” In West Africa, Islam and Christianity are weak, and are mixed with more primitive, animist religions. In these religions, devotees seek power by magical means, seek power from spirits: “spirits are used to wreak vengeance by one person against another, or one group against another.”7

But if the Muslim shantytown is well-kept, it’s also a breeding-ground for extremism. “Islam’s very militancy makes it attractive to the downtrodden. It is the one religion that is prepared to fight.”8 As the nation-state erodes, and Arab nationalism disappears, Islam becomes the strongest form of identity. People identify themselves not by nation, but by civilization/religion. Samuel Huntington, using a phrase coined by Bernard Lewis, predicted a “clash of civilizations.” In such a clash, Kaplan says, cultural monuments are often a target; Kaplan anticipates the monument-destruction carried out by the Taliban and ISIS.

In Africa, religious identity is weaker, and tribal identity is stronger. In April, 1994, about two months after Kaplan’s article was published, tribal feelings burst out in Rwanda, causing genocide. It can be argued that Kaplan anticipated Rwandan genocide, anticipated the emergence of ISIS, etc. Kaplan says that the goal of his article is “To remap the political earth the way it will be a few decades hence” — a lofty goal, but one that he attains.

Kaplan is a tireless and fearless traveler. He seems to have inherited the “travel urge” from his father, who traveled around the U.S. in the 1930s, then worked as a driver for the New York Daily News. To research his 1994 article, Kaplan traveled along the West African coast, where most of West Africa’s major cities are.

Let’s start in Cameroon, and then move west (Cameroon is usually classified as “Central Africa,” it’s the last country before Africa bulges toward the west). The most populous city in Cameroon is the coastal city of Douala, though the capital of Cameroon is Yaounde. Moving west, we come to Nigeria, whose most populous city is Lagos, a coastal city (the capital is Abuja). Then we come to Benin, whose most populous city, Cotonou, is on the coast (the capital is Porto-Novo, also a coastal city). Next is Togo, whose capital and most populous city is the coastal city of Lome. Then we come to Ghana, whose most populous city, the coastal city of Accra, is also its capital. Next is Ivory Coast, whose most populous city is the coastal city of Abidjan, while its capital is Yamoussoukro. Then we come to Liberia, whose capital and most populous city is Monrovia — also coastal. Next is Sierra Leone, whose capital and most populous city, Freetown, is coastal. And finally, we come to Guinea, whose capital and most populous city is the coastal city of Conakry. (I stop here because this is where Kaplan seems to have stopped.)

There’s a stark difference between the coastal cities and the interior. West Africa, Kaplan says, “consists now of a series of coastal trading posts, such as Freetown and Conakry, and an interior that, owing to violence, volatility, and disease, is again becoming, as Graham Greene once observed, ‘blank’ and ‘unexplored.’” Throughout West Africa, peasants are migrating to the coastal cities; “the demographic reality of West Africa is a countryside draining into dense slums by the coast.” The whole coast is becoming more densely populated: “the entire stretch of coast from Abidjan eastward to Lagos [is] one burgeoning megalopolis.”

When young men migrate to the city and can’t find a niche, they often join a criminal gang, or a radical movement. As slums are growing, so too refugee camps are growing, as people flee civil war in Liberia and elsewhere.

We are entering a bifurcated world. Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel’s and Fukuyama’s Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes’s First Man, condemned to a life that is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Kaplan is an assiduous reader, and his essays frequently refer to his reading. Discussing the chief city in Sierra Leone, Kaplan speaks of, “the somnolent and charmingly seedy Freetown of [Graham Greene’s] celebrated novel The Heart of the Matter.”

Writing in 1994, Kaplan says that the population of Nigeria is 90 million, and will double by 2019. According to Wikipedia, the population of Nigeria is now 182 million. Kaplan says the population of India is 866 million, and rising fast. According to Wikipedia, the population of India is now about 1.3 billion. Even China’s population is rising, despite its one-child policy; according to Wikipedia, the population of China is now about 1.4 billion.

B. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”

Samuel P. Huntington is best known for his 1993 article on the Clash of Civilizations. According to Huntington, the 20th century began with nation-state conflict (World War I), then had about 75 years of ideological conflict (the struggle against Communism began in 1917 with the Russian Revolution), and finally ended with a clash of civilizations/religions (Islamic terrorism, etc.). Huntington seemed to agree with Bernard Lewis about the likelihood of conflict between the West and Islam, and he disagreed with his former student, Francis Fukuyama, who spoke of “the end of history,” and a worldwide trend toward liberal democracy.

But even before his famous article on the Clash of Civilizations, Huntington was already a prominent political scientist. His 1957 book, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, was widely discussed (it was inspired by the quarrel between President Truman and General MacArthur). His 1968 book, Political Order in Changing Societies, challenged the widely-held view that developing societies need economic progress more than anything else. Huntington argued that developing societies need order more than anything else. “The most important political distinction among countries concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.”9 When Kaplan traveled in West Africa, he found a breakdown of order, a lack of government, rampant crime, etc. Huntington’s 1968 book anticipated the problems that Kaplan describes in “The Coming Anarchy.”

Huntington was a Democrat who worked for Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and Jimmy Carter. But his views on foreign affairs are often described as conservative. One might compare Huntington to George Kennan, who was also a conservative Democrat.

Huntington taught at Harvard for more than fifty years. He was there when I was an undergrad there (1979-83), and he was in the Government Department (I was a Government major), but I never had a class with him, and don’t even recall hearing his name. He liked to teach small classes, where student-professor dialogue was possible. Click here for an interview with Huntington.

Huntington was probably opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.10 Some sentences from his 1993 essay seem to be advising against such an invasion:

The efforts of the West to promote its values of democracy and liberalism as universal values, to maintain its military pre-dominance and to advance its economic interests engender countering responses from other civilizations.

The 1991 Gulf War made some Arabs angry with the U.S., though we felt that we were defending an Arab country (Kuwait).

The Gulf War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the Persian Gulf, the West’s overwhelming military dominance, and their apparent inability to shape their own destiny.

These remarks, made in 1993, seem to anticipate the 9/11 attacks, which were, at least in part, a response to the presence of American troops on Saudi territory (holy territory, in the eyes of Muslims).

Huntington anticipates the demise of Arab dictators like Mubarak and Gaddafi, and he anticipates the rise of Islamist movements:

Many Arab countries [are] reaching levels of economic and social development where autocratic forms of government become inappropriate and efforts to introduce democracy become stronger. Some openings in Arab political systems have already occurred. The principal beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements. In the Arab world, in short, Western democracy strengthens anti-Western political forces.

We tend to think that democracy and freedom are universal values, but Huntington says that much of the world sees things differently:

Western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilizations. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate such ideas produce instead a reaction against “human rights imperialism” and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures.... “The values that are most important in the West are least important worldwide.”

People are loyal to their civilization, their religion, partly because the nation-state has become less important. Huntington speaks of the “decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism.” Perhaps we can add two more “isms,” fundamentalism and regionalism (the EU, etc.), to the list of factors weakening the nation-state.

Huntington predicts that “The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” Where Islamic civilization meets OrthodoxChristian civilization, violence often erupts, as in Bosnia, Armenia-Azerbaijan, etc. And on the southern border of the Islamic world, one also finds violence, as in Sudan and Nigeria.

In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.

Huntington’s essay includes a map of Europe, showing Protestant and Catholic areas on one side, Orthodox and Muslim areas on the other. Huntington calls this “the most significant dividing line in Europe.” This line divides the Baltic States from Russia, divides Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and divides “the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine.”11 Thus, Huntington seems to anticipate the current conflict in Ukraine.

Huntington says that the countries west of this dividing line “shared the common experiences of European history — feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east.”

Being an Orthodox country, Greece is in a different “civilization bloc” than most EU countries. Is this why Greece has had a difficult relationship with the EU?

Huntington sees the potential for conflict between Russia and the West: “If, as the Russians stop behaving like Marxists, they reject liberal democracy and begin behaving like Russians but not like Westerners, the relations between Russia and the West could again become distant and conflictual.”

In the Far East, China has cultural links to several neighboring nations — Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, etc. These cultural links foster “the rapid expansion of the economic relations” between these countries. “The principal East Asian economic bloc of the future is likely to be centered on China.” Huntington does, however, mention China’s clashes with Buddhists in Tibet and with Muslims in western China, and he says that China has “outstanding territorial disputes with most of its neighbors.” Japan lacks the cultural links that China has; since Japan is a separate civilization, it’s difficult for Japan to play a leading role in regional economic integration.12

Huntington describes Mexico, Turkey, and Russia as “torn countries,” that is, countries whose leaders want to Westernize, but whose people are attached to their traditional ways. Huntington says that President Salinas of Mexico was trying to change Mexico from a LatinAmerican country to a NorthAmerican country, but didn’t want to say that publicly. Likewise, the Turkish leader, Ozal, wanted to Westernize, but made a pilgrimage to Mecca to placate Turkish Islamists. “Historically Turkey has been the most profoundly torn country.” Now, however, Turkey’s leaders seem less eager to Westernize, so perhaps Huntington would no longer describe Turkey as a “torn country.” As for Russia, the fall of Communism revives the old debate between Westernization and Russification.

President Yeltsin is adopting Western principles and goals and seeking to make Russia a “normal” country and a part of the West. Yet both the Russian elite and the Russian public are divided on this issue.

Russia’s current leader (Putin), like Turkey’s current leader (Erdogan), seems to have little enthusiasm for Westernizing, and more enthusiasm for maintaining traditional ways, non-Western ways. Should we add India to this list? Is India’s current leader (Modi) trying to bring India back to its Hindu roots?

Like Kaplan, Huntington anticipates the rise of ISIS, the civil wars in Syria, Libya, etc., and the refugee crisis. Population growth is surely one factor behind the current refugee crisis. Huntington writes, “The spectacular population growth in Arab countries, particularly in North Africa, has led to increased migration to Western Europe.” We noted earlier that population growth was probably a factor in the “Arab Spring,” that is, the overthrow of autocratic regimes in the Arab world. Other causes that contributed to the “Arab Spring” are “urbanization and rising expectations due to literacy, education and the spread of media.”13 Huntington’s essay is an excellent historical sketch, and also an excellent anticipation of the future.

Are civilizations static and permanent? Or do they appear and disappear, depending on changes in religion/worldview? What if the monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) gradually disappear? Will their respective civilizations also disappear? What if a new philosophy/worldview emerges, one that draws from all civilizations, and appeals to all civilizations? Is it possible that two civilizations will merge into one? Is it even possible that all civilizations will merge into one? And if there’s one worldwide civilization/worldview, will there be less conflict?

C. Fukuyama’s “End of History”

Around 1885, Nietzsche said “God is dead,” yet many people still believe in God. Was Nietzsche wrong? Nietzsche meant that God is dead for philosophers, for leading intellectuals, for the “vanguard.” He meant that, in the future, philosophers wouldn’t subscribe to traditional monotheism, and he was probably right. What philosophers believe now, what the “vanguard” believes, tells us where mankind is heading, tells us what everyone will believe in the future.

Fukuyama said that history has ended insofar as the “vanguard nations” are no longer fighting over ideology, the “vanguard nations” now agree that liberal democracy is the best option. Fukuyama argues that, around the world, liberal democracy and free-market economics are gaining adherents, while competing ideologies, like Fascism and Communism, are dwindling away. Fukuyama says that liberal democracy will prevail “in the long run.”14 Fukuyama’s essay is interesting, even profound. It was probably true when it was published in 1989, and it’s probably still true today.

Fukuyama published his essay in The National Interest, then expanded it into a book. His idea of “the end of history” apparently came from Alexandre Kojčve, who got it from Hegel. Fukuyama probably learned about Kojčve from Allan Bloom, who in turn learned about him from Leo Strauss.15

Hegel argued that history ended, and government reached its ultimate form, after the 1806 defeat of the Prussian monarchy by Napoleon’s army. Hegel felt that the principles of the French Revolution (liberty, equality, etc.) had triumphed. The French Revolution itself probably expressed the ideas of earlier thinkers — Rousseau, Montesquieu, Locke, etc. Hegel believed that, once thinking is changed, reality will follow: “once the realm of notion is revolutionized, actuality does not hold out.”16

Fukuyama agrees with Hegel that, once certain ideas become dominant, eventually they’ll be put into practice; the world of politics eventually reflects the world of ideas. When the Soviet empire crumbled in 1989, Fukuyama felt that the world was moving toward liberal democracy, that the predictions of Hegel and Kojčve were coming true.

Kojčve made his prediction shortly after World War II, at the height of the Cold War. Kojčve deserves credit for realizing that Communism was losing adherents among intellectuals, and would eventually lose power in the “real world.”

What about the Muslim radicalism that we see today? Perhaps it reflects an earlier victory by radicals in the realm of ideas. Fifty years ago, Muslim intellectuals like Qutb and Shariati advocated jihad and radicalism. Qutb and Shariati were familiar with Western thought and Western society, but the West didn’t steer them away from radicalism. The rise of Muslim radicalism may be a failure of Western thought; the West ceased to believe in itself, ceased to be hopeful about the future, ceased to offer an attractive and convincing worldview. So Muslim intellectuals turned back to the Koran, and eventually brought many Muslims with them. In order to defeat Muslim radicalism, we must defeat it in the realm of ideas, we must convince the Muslim vanguard that there’s a better way.

Though he was writing in 1989, before the emergence of al-Qaeda and ISIS, Fukuyama is aware of Muslim radicalism: “In the contemporary world only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism.” But Fukuyama dismisses this theocratic state as an ideal that has no appeal to non-Muslims.

As I mentioned earlier, Fukuyama agrees with Hegel that our politics eventually reflects our thinking; philosophy is cause, not effect.

For Hegel, all human behavior in the material world, and hence all human history, is rooted in a prior state of consciousness — an idea similar to the one expressed by John Maynard Keynes when he said that the views of men of affairs were usually derived from defunct economists and academic scribblers of earlier generations. This consciousness may not be explicit and self-aware, as are modern political doctrines, but may rather take the form of religion or simple cultural or moral habits. And yet this realm of consciousness in the long run necessarily becomes manifest in the material world, indeed creates the material world in its own image. Consciousness is cause and not effect.

But Hegel’s view was rejected by Marx, who argued that philosophy and culture are shaped by economic factors. And this Marxist emphasis on economic factors has become popular among modern intellectuals, who no longer believe in “the autonomous power of ideas.” Fukuyama speaks of, “the materialist bias of modern thought,” and he says that this bias affects intellectuals on the Right as well as the Left. Fukuyama sides with Weber against Marx:

A central theme of Weber’s work was to prove that contrary to Marx, the material mode of production, far from being the “base,” was itself a “superstructure” with roots in religion and culture, and that to understand the emergence of modern capitalism and the profit motive one had to study their antecedents in the realm of the spirit.

Applying this theory to contemporary affairs, Fukuyama argues that Russia and China began moving away from Communism because Communism had been defeated in the realm of ideas. The shift toward Capitalism “was in no way made inevitable by the material conditions in which either country found itself on the eve of the reform, but instead came about as the result of the victory of one idea over another.”

Perhaps the truth lies in the middle, perhaps the shift toward Capitalism was driven partly by economic factors, partly by ideas. Fukuyama admits the importance of economic factors when he says that “the spectacular abundance of advanced liberal economies” bolsters the victory of liberalism in the intellectual sphere and in the political sphere. Russia and China shifted toward Capitalism partly because of the disparity between this “spectacular abundance” and their own economic situation.

If most of the world’s leading nations agree about ideology, will they nonetheless quarrel over self-interest? Will they compete for power, and be suspicious of the motives of other nations? Fukuyama says,

There is a very widespread belief among many observers of international relations that underneath the skin of ideology is a hard core of great power national interest that guarantees a fairly high level of competition and conflict between nations.

This view of international relations is sometimes called realism; one of its leading advocates today is John Mearsheimer.

Fukuyama dismisses the realist view:

The legitimacy of any kind of territorial aggrandizement has been thoroughly discredited.... The nineteenth-century model of great power behavior has become a serious anachronism.... International life for the part of the world that has reached the end of history is far more preoccupied with economics than with politics or strategy.

But the realist view can explain the current behavior of Russia and China — Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, China’s military spending, etc. On the other hand, Fukuyama’s comment on China seems inaccurate: “Chinese competitiveness and expansionism on the world scene have virtually disappeared.” But Fukuyama’s view of Russia seems more accurate: “Ultranationalists in the USSR believe in their Slavophile cause passionately, and one gets the sense that the fascist alternative is not one that has played itself out entirely there.”

Huntington speaks of a “clash of civilizations,” and thinks there will be tension between Russia and the West because they represent different civilizations. Fukuyama, on the other hand, divides the world into “historical” and “post-historical” nations, and thinks there might be tension between Russia and the West because Russia is still “in the grip of history.” In general, however, Fukuyama thinks that major wars are unlikely because of the trend toward liberal democracy, free-market economics, and the end of history: “Large-scale conflict must involve large states still caught in the grip of history, and they are what appear to be passing from the scene.”

Fukuyama studied under Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, but became disillusioned with postmodernism. He criticized postmodernism in The End of History (the book, not the article), saying that it “undermined the ideology behind liberal democracy,” and that it “offered no hope and nothing to sustain a necessary sense of community.” Fukuyama preferred “the hopeful attitude of the Progressive era.”17

I share Fukuyama’s dim view of postmodernism, but I think that philosophy today has much more to offer than a return to the Progressive era. Since Fukuyama doesn’t understand what’s happening in philosophy now, doesn’t understand what I call the Philosophy of Today, he’s pessimistic about the future. He says there will be “centuries of boredom at the end of history.” He speaks of, “the impersonality and spiritual vacuity of liberal consumerist societies,” and he says that “the emptiness at the core of liberalism is most certainly a defect in the ideology.”18

Fukuyama calls his book The End of History and the Last Man. Nietzsche’s “Last Man” was un-heroic and easily satisfied, with no large ideas or large ambitions. Fukuyama describes European nations after World War II as “those flabby, prosperous, self-satisfied, inward-looking, weak-willed states whose grandest project was nothing more heroic than the creation of the Common Market.” We need a philosophy that can inspire people in the West, and also inspire Muslims and other non-Westerners. If we have nothing to offer but “centuries of boredom,” how can we steer Muslims away from radicalism? Why would they want to trade jihad for centuries of boredom?

5. John Mearsheimer

John Mearsheimer is a professor at the University of Chicago and a leading exponent of the realist view of international relations. According to the realist view, nations will always compete with each other, always struggle for hegemony, because they’re motivated chiefly by self-interest, and they’re suspicious of the motives of other nations. The world is a “brutal, amoral cockpit.”19 Mearsheimer argues that China will pursue hegemony in the Pacific region, and could come into conflict with the U.S.

One indication of an economist’s expertise is that he was able to foresee the 2008 meltdown. Likewise, one indication of a political thinker’s expertise is that he was able to foresee the Iraq debacle. Mearsheimer foresaw the Iraq debacle as clearly as anyone. He also foresaw that the Gulf War of 1991 would be a quick victory for the U.S., and he foresaw, twenty years before it occurred, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Robert D. Kaplan, a fan of Mearsheimer, says that Mearsheimer’s attitude toward the Iraq War was his “finest hour.” Mearsheimer gathered

a group of 33 scholars, many of them card-carrying academic realists, to sign a declaration opposing the war. On September 26, 2002, they published an advertisement on the New York Times op-ed page that cost $38,000, and they paid for it themselves. The top of the ad ran, “War With Iraq Is Not In America’s National Interest.” Among the bullet points was this: “Even if we win easily, we have no plausible exit strategy. Iraq is a deeply divided society that the United States would have to occupy and police for many years to create a viable state.”

Kaplan wrote a long article about Mearsheimer in The Atlantic. Mearsheimer’s magnum opus is The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001), which has been called “one of the three great works of the post-Cold War era,” along with Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and Fukuyama’s End of History.

Mearsheimer became embroiled in controversy after writing about the “Israel Lobby.” He argued that the Israel Lobby harms both American interests and Israeli interests.

Mearsheimer admires Samuel Huntington, whom he regards as a modern realist, and he admires Hans Morgenthau, a realist from an earlier generation.20 Mearsheimer also admires the British historian E. H. Carr and his book, The Twenty Years’ Crisis (1939).

6. Islam and Violence, Part 2

In a recent issue, I posed the question, Does the life of Muhammad sanction violence, even terrorism? Now I’d like to pose the question, Do the holy books of Islam — the Quran and the Hadith — sanction violence, even terrorism?

According to the scholar Nabeel Qureshi, the Quran begins peacefully, and ends violently:

Starting with peaceful teachings and proclamations of monotheism, Muhammad’s message featured violence with increasing intensity, culminating in surah 9, chronologically the last major chapter of the Quran, and its most expansively violent teaching.... Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians (9.29) so that Islam may “prevail over all religions” (9.33). It is fair to wonder whether any non-Muslims in the world are immune from being attacked, subdued or assimilated under this command. Muslims must fight, according to this final chapter of the Quran, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites (9.44-45). If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys: Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits (9.111).21

According to Nabeel Qureshi, terrorist groups like ISIL are following Islam’s holy books. And they attract new members by quoting these holy books:

While ISIL may lure youth through a variety of methods, it radicalizes them primarily by urging them to follow the literal teachings of the Quran and the hadith, interpreted consistently and in light of the violent trajectory of early Islam. As long as the Islamic world focuses on its foundational texts, we will continue to see violent jihadi movements.... Any solution, political or otherwise, that overlooks the spiritual and religious roots of jihad can have only limited effectiveness.

Improving the economy in Muslim countries won’t end terrorism. To end terrorism, you must change beliefs, you need to replace Islam with a new philosophy/religion. Surely this is possible, though it will take time.

Another scholar, Maajid Nawaz, says that the Quran sanctions terrorist brutality, and therefore it shouldn’t be interpreted literally:

We Muslims must admit there are challenging Koranic passages that require reinterpretation today.... Only by rejecting vacuous literalism are we able to condemn, in principle, ISIS-style slavery, beheading, lashing, amputation and other medieval practices forever (all of which are in the Quran).

But a literal interpretation is more honest, more accurate, than any other kind. Doubtless a literal interpretation will continue to find favor with many Muslims. How can the explicit words of the Quran be condemned in the name of an “interpretation”?

Scholars like Maajid Nawaz are reluctant to take the obvious step: abandon Islam altogether. The great question for the Islamic world is, If we abandon Islam, how do we retain a sense of meaning and purpose, right and wrong? How can we replace something that has guided us for more than 1,000 years?

Nabeel Qureshi says that Muslims should “accept the gospel” and become Christians, but this would be like leaving one leaking boat and entering another leaking boat. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all need to find their way to a new worldview, a worldview that’s consistent with contemporary science, that’s built on today’s knowledge.

© L. James Hammond 2016
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1B. For more on the Numerical Approach, click here. back
1. Click here for Friedman’s column. Friedman says that for many developing countries, order must develop from within, but they aren’t capable of the task: “It’s up to them, but they’re not up to it.” Hence disorder will grow, and more people will flee to Europe. Friedman praises a book called Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era, by Michael Mandelbaum. back
2. I thought the documentary was good, but not great.

Robin Wright (no relation to Lawrence Wright) has also written about radical Islam; much of her writing deals with Iran. John Nixon wrote about interrogating Saddam, after Saddam’s capture in 2003; Nixon’s book is called Debriefing the President. back

3. Click here for a review of Warrick’s book. The review praises two other books about ISIS: ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, and ISIS: The State of Terror. back
4. Wikipedia back
5. One is reminded of the latter days of the Roman Empire, when uneducated peasants seized power, and the old elites were overthrown. back
6. Earlier issue back
7. This is Kaplan quoting a government official. back
8. Kaplan says that, in Iran, the oil boom of the 1970s “put development and urbanization on a fast track,” which led to culture shock and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. On the other hand, Turkey has little oil, so “its development and urbanization have been more gradual.” Turkey is rich in water, which Kaplan calls “the most important fluid of the twenty-first century.” Turkey uses the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for energy and irrigation. back
9. Wikipedia back
10. “Even though he didn’t make a big to-do about it ahead of time, he was against the Iraq war.” (Todd Fine, a former student of Huntington, quoted in the New York Times. Click here for another obituary, here for yet another.) back
11. Elsewhere, however, Huntington says that “the likelihood of violence between Ukrainians and Russians should be low. They are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships with each other for centuries.” So he seems somewhat confused about Ukraine. back
12. Huntington notes that China and North Korea have been selling arms to Islamic countries; he speaks of “a Confucian-Islamic military connection.” back
13. Wikipedia back
14. The italics are Fukuyama’s, but the phrase “vanguard nations” is mine.

How does Fukuyama define liberal democracy? “The state that emerges at the end of history is liberal insofar as it recognizes and protects through a system of law man's universal right to freedom, and democratic insofar as it exists only with the consent of the governed.” back

15. It is said that Strauss sent his best students to study with Kojčve in Paris. But Strauss was a critic of historicism and relativism, so wasn’t Strauss opposed to Hegel and Kojčve? Fukuyama argues that Hegel and Kojčve were historicists but not relativists: “Unlike later historicists whose historical relativism degenerated into relativism tout court, however, Hegel believed that history culminated in an absolute moment — a moment in which a final, rational form of society and state became victorious.” back
16. Eric Hoffer quoting Hegel, Before the Sabbath, 1/19 back
17. Wikipedia back
18. Strauss made a similar argument. Strauss argued that, beginning with Machiavelli, modern political philosophy has no moral content, whereas ancient philosophers, like Plato, emphasized the pursuit of The Good. See my remarks on Strauss here, here, and here. back
19. This is a quote from Kaplan, who’s quoting Mearsheimer, who’s quoting historian James Hutson. back
20. One of Morgenthau’s best-known books is Politics Among Nations, published in 1948. Hans Morgenthau should not be confused with Henry Morgenthau, to whom he was apparently not related. (Henry Morgenthau, Sr. was U.S. ambassador to Turkey. His son, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was Treasury Secretary under FDR, his grand-daughter was historian Barbara Tuchman.) back
21. Article back