As I mentioned here and here, I wrote an entry on"libertarianism" for the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology. The entry surveys those who have contributed to a libertarian"sociology," thinkers such as Herbert Spencer, Carl Menger, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand.
I am pleased, today, to publish that entry, with permission from Routledge, on my website:
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I just received my copy of the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology from Routledge. Some time ago, I told the story of how I came to author two articles for that newly published reference work. The 2006 volume includes two essays authored by me: one on"Karl Marx," the other on"libertarianism."
Today, with permission from Routledge, I publish an HTML version of the essay on"Karl Marx." Given my comments today in this thread, I am happy that the essay on Marx highlights one of the most appealing aspects of his work: his use of dialectical method. Readers should point their browsers to the following link to take a look at the essay:
Tomorrow, with permission from Routledge, I will publish my Encyclopedia article on libertarianism. Stay tuned!
Cross-posted to Notablog.
Okay, more shameless self-promotion...
Today, I received my copy of a new book edited by Edward W. Younkins, entitled Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond.
The book features contributions from a number of friends and colleagues, including, of course, Ed Younkins himself, along with Sam Bostaph, Doug Rasmussen, Barry Smith, Walter Block, Richard C. B. Johnson, Larry Sechrest, and Tibor Machan, among others. Some of the articles were previously published; my own is a revised version of a piece I wrote for Philosophical Books, surveying"The Growing Industry in Ayn Rand Scholarship."
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I have been following the week-long series in the New York Daily News focusing on the"9/11 Money Trough," the entirely predictable corrupt financial feeding frenzy generated by the infusion of massive government funds in the months and years after the attacks on Manhattan. It brings to mind what Errol Louis said about the promised revitalization of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina; he said that billions of dollars were about"to pass into the sticky hands of politicians. ... Worried about looting? You ain't seen nothing yet."
Well, we've seen it here in NYC. I highly recommend the series to readers.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I am very deeply saddened to report that my dear friend Bill Bradford passed away on Thursday, December 8, 2005 at the age of 58. He was the founder of Liberty magazine and a founding co-editor and publisher of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. He died at his home in Port Townsend, Washington, surrounded by family and friends, after many months of battling cancer.
Stephen Cox, the new senior editor of Liberty, has announced that"an upcoming issue [of the magazine] will feature a commemoration of Bill’s life. His work will continue."
I've posted a bit more at Notablog, but hope to contribute my thoughts more formally to that upcoming commemoration.
Rest in peace, friend.
The September 2005 issue of The Freeman includes my essay,"Dialectics and Liberty," which offers an introduction to dialectical method and its role in the works of such writers as F. A. Hayek and Ayn Rand. That essay finally makes its cyber-debut today! Another in a series of essays and interviews on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of my books Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, the article is available as a PDF here:
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I've long been a fan of so-called"horror" films, in addition to sci-fi and fantasy.
Unfortunately, the Showtime series"Masters of Horror," thus far, has been a bit of a disappointment to me; it's a mix of schlock and gore, with just a few thrills thrown in for good measure. I prefer horror to have a purpose, maybe a bit of"Twilight Zone"-like morality play at work. At the very least, it should be suspenseful, rather than predictable.
I did enjoy Friday night's episode,"Homecoming," directed by Joe Dante, which made a few biting political points. For me, the funniest right-wing caricature was played by Thea Gill, who was a"skank"-like right-wing pundit, curiously comparable to Ann Coulter. It was quite a change for Gill, who portrayed the mild-mannered Lindsay in"Queer as Folk."
The Dante-directed"Homecoming" gives us a zombie tale, in which fallen soldiers come back from the dead to right the wrongs of a Presidential administration that involved them in a no-win war. No spoilers here; if you haven't caught the episode, check it out.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
In the meanwhile, the critics keep a comin' and most of them, indeed, were former champions of the war. Vietnam combat vet, and current Democratic Congressman John P. Murtha, who supported the war, now calls it"a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion..."
The flaws have been legion. And the illusion? Well, H. B. Acton once spoke of communism as"the illusion of the epoch." For me, the biggest illusion of this epoch is a neoconservative one: that it is possible to construct a liberal democracy on any cultural base whatsoever. Now, I'm not looking to re-open the tired debate over whether it was right or wrong to go to war in Iraq; but even the politicians realize that the time has come for a debate about the future of that war.
But that won't stop the administration from its tarring of critics, like Murtha, as a"Michael Moore ... liberal" because he is questioning the wisdom of the war. Except the charges won't stick this time, because even though the President doesn't read polls, apparently, the politicians in his own party are reading the handwriting on the walls of the Pew Research Center and the Gallop organization. The American people are becoming increasingly pissed off over this war and its conduct. And if current trends continue, the party in power, gerrymandering notwithstanding, is going to suffer in the 2006 midterm elections.
I'm tickled, of course, that the administration puts such a priority on" consistency" in its defense of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. As the ineffectual John Kerry said, effectively, during one of the 2004 Presidential debates: Consistency is great... but"you could be wrong!" Cheney is so busy reminding opponents of the war about how they've changed their positions that he doesn't even recognize how far he's come over the last decade or so.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
After last week's pronouncements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be"wiped off the map," there's been a lot of saber rattling about Iran. (I've written on the subject of Iran a number of times over the past few years; see here, here, and here, for example).
There is nothing shocking or unexpected about Ahmadinejad's rhetoric. The Iranian theocrats have been talking like that for years. Their overthrow of the US-backed Shah was a clarion call for fundamentalists across the Islamic world to mobilize against both Israel and the United States. Many others in the Islamic world have uttered the same view, including those who reside in countries that are, ostensibly, current US allies.
The fact is, of course, that US actions in Iraq have emboldened the Iranian regime significantly; some are even suggesting that the US was the"useful idiot" for Iranian foreign policy goals to undermine a hostile Baathist regime in Iraq, substituting a friendlier Shiite majoritarian theocracy in its place. With the antagonistic Taliban held at bay in Afghanistan on its eastern flank, and Hussein gone on the western side, Iran has emerged as a central geopolitical power in the Middle East—and was made so in significant part as the direct result of actions taken by the United States, purportedly in our own defense.
But it is a state that is in a deepening cultural crisis, a crisis that will have profound political ramifications over time.
Today, I've read an interesting NY Times essay about"Our Allies in Iran." It's the kind of title that is meant to surprise. The writer, Afshin Molavi, makes some very important points. Molavi states:
The new president's confrontational tone threatens to deepen the isolation of Iran's democrats, pushing them further behind his long shadow. Western powers have a dual challenge: to find a way to engage this population even as they struggle to address the new president's inflammatory rhetoric. By the time Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected in June, a sustained assault by hard-liners had left Iranian democrats disoriented and leaderless, their dissidents jailed, newspapers closed and reformist political figures popularly discredited. But democratic aspirations should not be written off as a passing fad that died with the failure of the reform movement and the replacement of a reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, with a hard-liner, Mr. Ahmadinejad. The historic roots of reform run deep in Iran, and support for democratic change remains widespread.
Iran's modern middle class, which is increasingly urbanized, wired and globally connected, provides particularly fertile soil for these aspirations. The Stanford University scholar Abbas Milani has described Iran's middle class as a"Trojan horse within the Islamic republic, supporting liberal values, democratic tolerance and civic responsibility." And so long as that class grows, so too will the pressure for democratic change.
Molavi warns, however, that war against Iran could have an adverse effect on that country's"democracy-minded middle class," providing"additional pretexts for the regime to frighten its people and crack down on dissent." Anything that undermines Iranian contact"with the foreign investors, educators, tourists and businessmen who link them to the outside world," says Molavi, undermines the movement toward political and cultural reform. That movement requires a strong private sector and a growing civil society in Iran, which can be encouraged by an extension of the global market. Such an extension would nourish"a strong and stable middle class" and the"inevitable winds of change" so crucial to peace and prosperity in the region.
It is ironic that those who speak glowingly about the need for"democratization" in Iraq as a key to Mideast peace are the same people who now speak about the need for military action in Iran, which would most assuredly sabotage the trends toward democratization in that country.
The saber-rattlers tell us that they are worried about the long-run problem of a"nuclear" Iran. Fair enough. But they don't seem to worry about the long-run consequences of military intervention in Iran, given the current context in Iraq, a context that the saber-rattlers themselves did much to create. As Arthur Silber writes here:
We now have a voluminous record, in news accounts, in government documents and in other forms, to prove beyond any doubt that the Bush administration gave almost no attention to the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. No one had any serious question about our taking down the Saddam Hussein regime, except about how long it might take and the details. Despite that certainty, we know that the Bush administration did not listen to many of its own experts and planners about what should be done once Saddam was gone. To put the point simply, the Bush administration never seriously addressed the multitude of inordinately complex issues encompassed in the question: What then?
This much is true, and this much we can agree with, as Arthur puts it:"Iran is run by viciously destructive and dangerous leaders." But as people clamor for military action against Iran, they are not asking and answering the crucial question:"What then?"
I often wonder, for example, how the Shiites in Iraq, with whom the US has cast its political lot, would deal with a US military strike against Iran. How long would it take for a strike against Iran to destabilize the situation with the US's Shiite-Iraqi allies? The Sunni insurgency against the Shiites in Iraq has been awful; I can't even begin to think of the conditions that might arise should a Shiite insurgency unfold against the US—a Shiite insurgency aided and abetted by its own ideological brethren in Tehran.
And what then? In addition to the internal combustion of Iraq, might there not be counterattacks from other Arab governments? Might not the Mideast be thrown into further chaos? And what if additional US troops are needed to"finish the job" started by planes and missiles? Where are these troops coming from? How long before military conscription is reinstituted?
As Richard Cohen tells us today in the New York Daily News, in the Middle East,"bad could get worse."
The central problem in the Middle East is not strategic. The central problem is not the spread of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The central problem is the spread of ideological and cultural weapons of mass destruction. And these weapons have been manufactured at a maddening pace for generations by countries like Saudi Arabia, a US"ally." As Jason Pappas reminds us (see here and here), the Saudis have been funding the worldwide proliferation of the very jihadist ideology that targets Western values and institutions.
But the odds are very slim that there will be any fundamental change in the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. That's because the House of Sa'ud remains a key player in US global political economy (see here). The dismantling of that neocorporatist politico-economic system is not likely to happen anytime soon.
And yet, despite its role in the proliferation of jihadist fanaticism, the collapse of the House of Sa'ud at this point could be catastrophic: it would most likely lead to the transference of power into the hands of the very worst jihadists, those who have been a by-product of Saudi education.
Yes, it's one gigantic mess of internal contradictions at work. But, currently, I have no reason to believe that a military attack upon Iran would resolve these contradictions, without engendering a host of newer and far more lethal ones.
Comments welcome. Cross-posted to Notablog.
I don't think there is much I can add to the discussion of this horrific human tragedy. But I have a few thoughts, which I've posted to Notablog.
My best wishes to all of those who are dealing with this catastrophe.
As I mentioned here, I've been celebrating the tenth anniversaries of my first two books in my"Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy": Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (which was published 10 years ago today) and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (which, though my second book, was published 10 years ago, this past Sunday).
File this blog entry under the category of"Self-Promotion." I suspect I'll be forgiven a bit of that by my L&P colleagues, who know my admiration for Ayn Rand.
On this date, ten years ago, my book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was published by Penn State Press. It was actually my second book, but it arrived four days before the publication of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, by SUNY Press. These books, together with my Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (also published by Penn State Press), make up my"Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy."
So, this week, I'll be looking back at Notablog, at L&P, and at SOLO HQ, which publishes one of my retrospective pieces today, entitled"Ten Years After." There will be interviews posted to different sites throughout the week, and additional pieces will be published into the Fall 2005 semester.
Thanks to those readers who have given me their support, even if they didn't always agree with my conclusions.
Yesterday, I read a really interesting article by Michael J. Bugeja in The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled"Master (or Mistress) of Your Domain" (shades of Jerry), with the descriptive subtitle:"Creating a Web site for your latest book can showcase the work and aid your case for tenure and promotion."
I'll put aside the issue of aiding one's case for tenure and promotion. I'd like to suggest that it might actually aid one's cause (which might not actually aid one's tenure or promotion). And I think more classical liberal and libertarian scholars should consider doing it.
First, let's take a look at Bugeja's points. He writes:
For better or worse, the Internet is playing a larger role in editorial decisions about books and in promotion and tenure evaluations. It is commonplace for external reviewers to Google Web sites or troll databases before rendering their decisions on behalf of publishing houses and institutions. Search committees also are using the Web to evaluate the writing or scholarship of job applicants before inviting them to on-campus interviews. ...
I advise authors to create a Web site with the title of their texts as the domain name and to assemble other sites with domain names identifying their scholarship. ... Authors are responsible for getting their books reviewed, purchased by libraries, and adopted by professors for use in research or in the classroom. In the past, that required an author to fill out a questionnaire for the publisher, identifying editors, book reviewers, and colleagues who might have interest in the work. The Internet has changed that.
Bugeja explains how he marshalled his own resources to promote his own work. Who is a better salesperson than the person who authors the work and knows it, inside-out? He"e-mailed reviewers and technology columnists, directing them to the Web site" he had established for his book,"asking if they would like a copy. Several said yes, generating reviews and citations that I added to my site under 'latest news.' Without the site, the book would have died along with the trees that gave it life at the printing press. Instead, it went on to win a research award with reviews in top publications. That's the benefit of a book site."
Bugeja tells us that his book site boosted classroom sales too. He reminds us that those who surf the web expect some things for free. The Internet may not be a"medium for professors concerned about copyright issues or intellectual property," but Bugeja encourages authors"to share [their] pedagogies or methodologies," giving readers, potential teachers and students alike,"all manner of free information, including lectures for each chapter; sample syllabi for large, middle-range, senior, master's, and doctoral classes; end-of-chapter materials; forms for paper assignments, journal exercises, and presentations; sample midterms and final exams; a bibliography; and an index." He even provides
a 103-page instructor's manual in both Word and PDF formats. Online manuals save the publisher printing costs and allow potential users to manipulate syllabi, lectures, and other downloads. The most popular free feature on my site is a twice-monthly teaching module meant to stimulate classroom discussion. To date, I've added more than two dozen such modules to the site on content too topical to include in a new edition but nonetheless related to the concept of the work.
I especially like Bugeja's suggestion that authors archive"reviews, recent articles, and information about" themselves. I've been doing such things for over ten years now on my own site, and I've had URL forwarding for the titles of all of my books. Just try typing totalfreedomtowardadialecticallibertarianism.com or, more simply, marxhayekandutopia.com, and see where that takes you. I'll never forget how my pal and colleague, Lester Hunt, once characterized my site. Linking to it from his site, he wrote:"Chris is a true liberal. In the interest of provoking dialogue, he puts some very adverse criticisms of his controversial work on his site, together with his replies." I think that's actually very important. And I think more liberal/libertarian scholars should be doing it precisely because it documents the history of a discussion of a particular work, while also providing the basis for future dialogue.
The one thing authors should not supply, of course, is: the book. But links to services where you can order the book online are always helpful. As Bugeja puts it:"That's the point of the site, and all links lead to that outcome."
I've not yet put a syllabus for my books online, but I do have one available for use in a cyberseminar that I give now and then on my"Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy. But Bugeja has given me a good idea about developing more study guides and syllabi for my various publications so as to facilitate their use in the classroom.
It would be a good idea, I think, if those in the liberal/libertarian academy do more to develop these kinds of web resources in a more formal manner. It is one way to develop a"parallel institution" of learning, while at the same time providing a blueprint for the use of such materials in established institutions of learning. Additionally, it gives each of us, as authors of the works, a chance to frame the discussion in a way that is most likely to generate further interest in our own contributions and the contributions of our colleagues in the libertarian academy. I've seen some development of this model on the sites of some of my colleagues; in the light of Bugeja's essay, I think this is something that can benefit each of us individually and the cause of liberty more generally.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I really like the name of this magazine. In it, Carl Schreck reviews a new book by Bruce Adams entitled Tiny Revolutions in Russia: Twentieth-Century Soviet and Russian History in Anecdotes. I've not read the book, but it does look as if it is"No Laughing Matter," insofar as it shows how jokes served as a means of critiquing the Soviet police state.
Here are a few excerpts from Schreck's piece:
Jokes, or anekdoty, were indeed risky business in the Soviet Union, Bruce Adams maintains in the introduction to"Tiny Revolutions in Russia," his light if thoroughly entertaining recap of Soviet history told through a mix of amusing, tragicomic, baffling and plain unfunny jokes that will strike a familiar chord with any foreigner who has shared a couple bottles of vodka with a table full of Russians.
George Orwell was the first to dub jokes"tiny revolutions," but it's an especially fitting title for Adams' book, which reminds us that humor can have very serious consequences when the joke is on a totalitarian regime. The eight years Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent in prisons and labor camps came as punishment for jokes he had made about Josef Stalin in his private correspondence, Adams writes."The anecdotes were necessarily underground humor shared only with close friends."
So, how about a few jokes?
When no African delegates showed up at a Comintern Congress, Moscow wired Odessa [a very cosmopolitan port city with a large Jewish population]:"Send us a Negro immediately.""Odessa wired right back: 'Rabinovich has been dyed. He's drying.'"
"Who built the White Sea-Baltic Canal?""On the right bank -- those who told anecdotes, on the left bank -- those who heard them."
Because the BBC always seemed to know Soviet secrets so quickly, it was decided to hold the next meeting of the Politburo behind closed doors. No one was permitted in or out. Suddenly Kosygin grasped his belly and asked permission to leave. Permission was denied. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. A janitress stood there with a pail:"The BBC just reported that Aleksei Nikolayevich shit himself."
Cross-posted to Notablog.
Camille Paglia, who contributed to the anthology Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, which I co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, has raised her voice in defense of women philosophers who were marginalized by a recent BBC-Radio 4 Greatest Philosopher poll that placed Karl Marx at the top. Paglia writes in The Independent:
For most of history, the groundbreaking philosophers have all been men, and philosophy has always been a male genre. Women had neither the education nor the time to pursue the life of the mind. ... Now that women have at last gained access to higher education, we are waiting to see what they can achieve in the fields where men have distinguished themselves, above all in philosophy. At the moment, however, the genre of philosophy is not flourishing; systematic reasoning no longer has the prestige or cultural value that it once had. ... Today's lack of major female philosophers is not due to lack of talent but to the collapse of philosophy. Philosophy as traditionally practised may be a dead genre. This is the age of the internet in which we are constantly flooded by information in fragments. Each person at the computer is embarked on a quest for and fabrication of his or her identity. The web mimics human neurology, and it is fundmentally altering young people's brains. The web, for good or ill, is instantaneous. Philosophy belongs to a vanished age of much slower and rhetorically formal inquiry.
Paglia is spot on with regard to a number of points here. Systematic reasoning is clearly at a disadvantage in a culture that embraces atomizing and dis-integration as the preferred mode of analysis.
But there are a number of women thinkers, says Paglia, who merit our attention. Among these: Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand. Paglia writes:
Both Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand, another favourite of mine, have their own highly influential system of thought, and therefore they belong on any list of great philosophers. Rand's mix of theory, social observations and commentary was very original, though we see her Romantic sources. Her system is broad and complex and well deserves to be incorporated into the philosophy curriculum. Simone de Beauvoir's magnum opus, The Second Sex (which hugely influenced me in my youth), demonstrates her hybrid consciousness. It doesn't conform to the strict definition of philosophy because it's an amalgamation of abstract thought and history and anthropology—real facts. The genre problem is probably why both these women are absent from the list. But Plato too was a writer of dramatic fiction—so that it is no basis for dismissing Rand.
It's a worthwhile read.
Hat tip to David Boaz.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
Suffice it to say, we have been told by the leaders of the"coalition of the willing" that"we" have to"take the war to the terrorists" and fight"over there" so that"we" don't have to face death and destruction"over here." Or as President Bush put it:"Either we take the war to the terrorists and fight them where they are ... or at some point we will have to fight them here at home."
Well,"home" is now London.
And fighting terrorists"where they are" does nothing to stem the tide of their ever-increasing numbers.
Read the whole post here.
That's what Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said today on"Meet the Press."
And in that simple phrase, Hunter has summarized one of the crucial constructivist principles at the foundation of the Bush administration's stated neo-Wilsonian initiative in the Middle East.
Having seen various recent blog posts on Islam and secularization (including this one by Jason Pappas), I found this morning's NY Times essay by Abbas Milani of the Hoover Institution an interesting read. In"The Silver Lining in Iran," Milani argues, in essence, that the tightening of reactionary forces in Iranian politics is actually a sign that the reigning mullahs are in their death throes. For Milani, the ruling" cabal of conservative mullahs and Revolutionary Guards who have absconded to ivory towers with their dogma and greed for power" have ignored"serious signs of crisis [as] they masterminded Mr. Ahmadinejad's victory." This is the same President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that is being fingered by former US hostages of the 1979 embassy crisis as one of their captors.
Nevertheless, contrary to the common perception, this election is not so much a sign of the Iranian system's strength as of its weakness. Last week's presidential election is only the most recent example of the tactical wisdom and strategic foolishness of Iran's ruling mullahs. ... In the process they may have unwittingly opened the door for democracy - because their hardball tactics have created the most serious rift in the ranks of ruling mullahs since the inception of the Islamic Republic. The experience of emerging democracies elsewhere has shown that dissension within ruling circles has often presaged the fall of authoritarianism.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's presidency will force a crisis not only in Iran's political establishment but also, and even more important, in its economy. Only a huge infusion of capital and expertise, along with open markets, can even begin to address the country's economic problems, which include high unemployment, a rapidly increasing labor force, cronyism and endemic corruption.
And only an"infusion" of"security and the rule of law" will help, says Milani. But the president-elect is too busy opining"that the stock market is a form of gambling with no place in a genuine Islamic society. Not surprisingly, Mr. Ahmadinejad's election brought about the single greatest plunge in the Iranian stock market's history. The day is already known as Black Saturday, and the president-elect has been scrambling to undo the damage since." As the ruling clique turns to"the old populist slogans of revolutionary justice, economic autarky and pseudosocialism, ... they have helped bring Iran one step closer to democracy."
When certain groups are threatened, it is only natural that they will fight that much harder to retain or expand their influence. I think an argument can be made that this is indeed the case in Iran, but the regime still has a lot of mileage left in its gas tank and can do a lot of damage to the growth of opposition forces.
I know that it's comparing apples and oranges to some extent, but I wish I could be as optimistic on the home-front, especially with regard to the US's own home-grown reactionaries among the religious right. One would like to think that in their successful attempts to bolster their own political power, their influence too is waning.
In any event, it will be very interesting to see how the anti-mullah, more"democratic" movement among Iranian youth (noted here in a number of posts) will proceed.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
I am way behind in my reading but finally had the opportunity to read Barry Gewen's interesting review essay from the NY Times Book Review (5 June 2005),"Forget the Founding Fathers." Gewen's focus is on"the constantly change narrative of American history" and the move toward"a globalized history of the United States." He discusses, among other books, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which I have not read. Though I don't agree with Gewen on many points, his comments on how"American idealism can go wrong" are worth repeating:
MacMillan's focus is on Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I. A visionary, an evangelist, an inspiration, an earth-shaker, a holy fool, Wilson went to Paris in 1919 with grand ambitions: to hammer out a peace settlement and confront a wretched world with virtue, to reconfigure international relations and reform mankind itself. Freedom and democracy were ''American principles,'' he proclaimed. ''And they are also the principles and policies of forward-looking men and women everywhere, of every modern nation, of every enlightened community. They are the principles of mankind and they must prevail.'' Other leaders were less sure. David Lloyd George, the British prime minister, liked Wilson's sincerity and straightforwardness, but also found him obstinate and vain. France's prime minister, the acerbic and unsentimental Georges Clemenceau, said that talking to him was ''something like talking to Jesus Christ.'' (He didn't mean that as a compliment.)
As a committed American democrat, Wilson affirmed his belief in the principle of self-determination for all peoples, but in Paris his convictions collided with reality. Eastern Europe was ''an ethnic jumble,'' the Middle East a ''myriad of tribes,'' with peoples and animosities so intermingled they could never be untangled into coherent polities. In the Balkans, leaders were all for self-determination, except when it applied to others. The conflicting parties couldn't even agree on basic facts, making neutral mediation impossible. Ultimately, the unbending Wilson compromised—on Germany, China, Africa and the South Pacific. He yielded to the force majeure of Turks and Italians. In the end, he left behind him a volcano of dashed expectations and festering resentments. MacMillan's book is a detailed and painful record of his failure, and of how we continue to live with his troublesome legacy in the Balkans, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Yet the idealists—nationalists and internationalists alike—do not lack for responses. Wilsonianism, they might point out, has not been discredited. It always arises from its own ashes; it has even become the guiding philosophy of the present administration. Give George W. Bush key passages from Wilson's speeches to read, and few would recognize that almost a century had passed. Nor should this surprise us. For while the skeptics can provide realism, they can't provide hope. As MacMillan says, the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the League of Nations, was ''a bet placed on the future.'' Who, looking back over the rubble, would have wanted to bet on the past?
Little has changed in our new century. Without the dreams of the idealists, all that is on offer is more of the same—more hatred, more bloodshed, more war, and eventually, now, nuclear war. Anti-Wilsonian skeptics tend to be pessimistic about the wisdom of embarking on moral crusades but, paradoxically, it is the idealists, the hopeful ones, who, in fact, should be painting in Stygian black. They are the ones who should be reminding us that for most of the world, history is not the benign story of inexorable progress Americans like to believe in. Rather, it's a record of unjustified suffering, irreparable loss, tragedy without catharsis. It's a gorgon: stare at it too long and it turns you to stone.
Take a look at the whole review essay here.
Cross-posted to Notablog.
In any event, I decided to say a bit more about this topic at Notablog. In part, I write:
I have long held that there is a distinction between"intended" and"unintended" consequences, not only in a social context, but in a textual sense as well. (The study of the unintended consequences of a text has long been a focus of those trained in the methodology of"hermeneutics," which began in the realm of Biblical interpretation and scholarship.) No author can possibly know all the interpretations and misinterpretations, applications and implications, that might result from his/her writing—given that the context of knowledge changes and that different people coming from different perspectives will engage that writing differently. This does not mean that"objectivity" is impossible in the assessment of a given work. It just means that as analysts, we need to be very careful to distinguish between original intent and unintended consequences (be they good or bad). It also means that we are probably doomed to argue eternally about the legacy of any given writer.
Readers are invited to take a look at the whole post here. Comments welcome.