Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A dumb name for a drink

From a good reporter, Juliet Eilperin, a less-than-earthshaking piece about Takoma Park (Md.) and (among other things) its connections to the upper reaches of the Obama admin. A brief excerpt:
The elevation of this community of fewer than 18,000 residents to the highest echelons of government speaks to the influence of progressives in the administration — a bent that will become more pronounced during Obama’s final two years in office, even if Republicans make major gains in next week’s elections. But it also underscores how, for all of its radical leanings, the city has moved closer to the mainstream than one might think. Its residents are no longer fighting the power; they are the power.

A decade ago, Takoma Park’s downtown economic anchors included a yoga studio, a pet food store that sponsored animal rescues and a music store. Those businesses have survived, but that strip now has two coffee shops, three restaurants that serve alcohol and a hardware store. Where Murphy’s Auto Parts once stood is now the upscale restaurant Republic, which offers not just a duck confit Cubano sandwich but a “Fascist Killer” specialty cocktail that features Old Scout bourbon, Amaro Averna, basil and lemon peel.
Bourbon, basil, and lemon peel = yuk. And "fascist killer" is a stupid name for a drink.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"To be a citizen is to have an ideology"

One of the commenters at Crooked Timber has been on a crusade lately against "ideology," not against any particular ideology but against some phantom in his head that he sees as bad and to which he attaches this word. I've never read Karl Mannheim or done any deep study of the notion of ideology, but the word has no negative connotations for me. I think virtually everyone has, in some sense, an ideology, whether it's conscious or not, sophisticated or not, elaborate or not.

I'm reminded of something Judith Shklar wrote in a festschrift for Stanley Hoffmann, describing the latter's attitude toward ideology and ideologies:
He sees [ideologies] not only as inevitable, but as necessary functions of democratization and of democratic public life once it has been institutionalized.... Ideology [in Hoffmann's view] is as positive as it is a necessary part of political action. To be a citizen is to have an ideology. Without ideology there would have been no resistance to Nazism, no heroism of the few who had a faith that led them to risk their lives to save the persecuted, and no will to defend human rights.
(Judith N. Shklar, "Teaching Ideologies with Stanley," in Ideas and Ideals: Essays on Politics in Honor of Stanley Hoffmann, ed. L. B. Miller and M. J. Smith, Westview Press, 1993, p.62)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quote of the day (pre-election division)

I take it as proved that those who consider universal suffrage as a guarantee of the excellence of the resulting choice suffer under a complete delusion. Universal suffrage has other advantages, but not that one.
-- Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol.1, pt.2, ch.5 (quoted in the G. Lawrence trans.)

P.s. This is not to say Republican attacks on voting rights don't matter; they do, obvs.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Comment of the day

One of the angles in a WaPo story about Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, and Alito returning to Yale Law School to receive awards was that Thomas seems to have "made his peace" with the law school. To which a commenter, one "Publius38," remarked:
To really, really make peace with Yale, Thomas should resign as soon as possible from his current job and go teach there. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

"The army of lawyers will be annihilated"

From S. Walt, Revolution and War (1996), p.71:
Prussia's desire for action [in 1792] was based on the same sort of optimistic beliefs that the Girondins had promulgated so effectively within France.... The belief that the revolution had sapped French [military] strength was widespread.... [O]ne of Frederick William's chief advisors predicted, "The comedy will not last long. The army of lawyers will be annihilated in Belgium [i.e. the Austrian Netherlands] and we shall be home by the autumn."  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Degrade, not destroy

You (a generic "you") may notice that I haven't been writing recently about what's going in the world now, preferring instead to meander through the French Revolution and Napoleon. Ok. Time to opine on ISIS and the air campaign. Actually I don't have much to say about it beyond the thought that Obama should not have set the goal as being to "destroy" the group. That's too high a bar, and also not necessary. "Degrade seriously" would be enough.    

Tocqueville and Napoleon

Alexis de Tocqueville was born in 1805, the year of Napoleon's victory over Russia and Austria at the battle of Austerlitz (one of the consequences of which was that, the following year, the Holy Roman Empire finally went out of existence).

Was Tocqueville one of the many caught up, retrospectively, by Napoleon's mystique, one of those who breathed in what David Bell (see the previous post) refers to as the "intoxicating fumes" of Napoleon's legend?  Apparently yes, at least to some extent.  In Tocqueville's Discovery of America (pb. ed., 2011), Leo Damrosch writes (p.187) that Tocqueville "was quite starstruck by the memory of Napoleon, much though he deplored his imperial rule," though Damrosch doesn't cite a passage from Tocqueville in this connection. 

Damrosch does, however, quote Tocqueville's reaction to hearing the Duke of Wellington speak in the House of Lords: "La gloire is invested with such extraordinary prestige that when I saw him take off his hat and begin to speak, I felt a shudder run through my veins" (Voyage en Angleterre, 1833).  T. evidently had a weak spot for generals, especially perhaps titled ones, who had won famous victories. Damrosch: "Tocqueville believed that only great generals, like ... Napoleon and Wellington, deserved political eminence" -- unlike Andrew Jackson, whom T. did not see in that light.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book review: The First Total War

David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It. Houghton Mifflin, 2007. 420 pp. (including notes, bibliography, and index).

Historians and social scientists do not agree, and likely never will, about when (or how) certain key features of the modern world originated.  One such feature or phenomenon that eludes universally accepted definition and a universally accepted date of origin is "total war."  International-relations scholars these days refer to "major war" or "hegemonic war" but don't use the phrase "total war" much, although Hans Morgenthau had used it, indeed had devoted a chapter to it, in Politics Among Nations.  At any rate, for most people the phrase "total war" brings to mind the world wars of the twentieth century; however, a good case can be made that the kind of war that engulfs whole societies was invented in the era of the French Revolution.  Although various writers have made this point before, in The First Total War David Bell explores it in detail, deftly combining cultural, intellectual, political, and military history.  

The intensification of warfare during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period reflected, Bell maintains, a change in the prevailing "culture of war," from one that assumed war was an unexceptional, normal phenomenon to one that viewed war in apocalyptic terms:  "A vision of war as utterly exceptional -- as a final, cleansing paroxysm of violence -- did not simply precede the total war of 1792-1815.  It helped, decisively, to bring it about" (p.316).  He argues that a mindset that demonizes enemies and presents conflicts in stark good-vs.-evil terms continues to affect the way Western societies prosecute wars.  Clearly this argument is influenced, perhaps overly influenced, by the rhetoric of the G.W. Bush administration, during which The First Total War was written.  Bell refers to Carl Schmitt a few times, and those who see the 'war on terror' as a 'Schmittian moment' will find support for their position here.  The book's value, however, lies perhaps not so much in its main thesis as in the wide range that it covers, from works of philosophy to poems and paintings to rhetoric to battles and strategy, and in its effort to draw connections among these.  Most of the book's detail cannot be covered in this post, unfortunately.      


The opening chapter describes the aristocratic and relatively restrained character of eighteenth-century warfare (the key word being relatively).  The nobles who dominated European officer corps before the French Revolution viewed their behavior on the battlefield as a kind of elaborate performance, similar in that respect to their behavior on the dueling field, on the dance floor, and (in certain cases) in the bedroom.

According to Bell, this aristocratic ethos took war to be a normal, ordinary part of existence.  During the Enlightenment that assumption came under a dual intellectual assault: on one hand, from various philosophers who saw war as irrational, primitive, and likely to disappear as commerce, civilization, and morality progressed; on the other hand, from writers such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, who called war "one of the healthiest phenomena for the cultivation of the human race" (p.82).  The eighteenth-century nobility generally saw war as neither primitive (in d'Holbach's or Condorcet's sense) nor healthy (in Humboldt's sense), but as something one regularly did between May and October (see p.25).  The two-pronged critique of that view of war gave rise to what Bell calls "a new culture of war in embryo, one grounded precisely in the assumption of war's exceptionality" (p.82).  Add the idealization of the classical (Spartan and/or Roman) ideal of the citizen-soldier, as extolled by Rousseau and Mably and then by various orators in the Revolutionary assemblies, and the ground was prepared for a new style of warfare.  

Revolutionary and Napoleonic France led the way in the adoption of this new unrestrained and often brutal style of war, while the other European powers lagged behind.  And in the case of the counterrevolution in the Vendée and its violent suppression, described vividly in chapter 5, the French turned the brutality on each other.      

As for how and why the Revolutionary wars were launched in the first place, Bell emphasizes the belligerence of the faction known as the Girondins, and especially Jacques-Pierre Brissot.  They thought war would "regenerate" the Revolution.  While some scholars have seen France more as a victim of Austria and Prussia in 1792 than as an aggressor, Bell writes (pp.110-111): "The apparent weakness and chaos within [France] certainly tempted Austria and Prussia to behave more aggressively...but.... [w]hat proved decisive was that an influential group of French radicals [i.e. the Girondins] began to push for aggressive international action, in apparent contradiction of the declaration of peace [by the National Assembly in 1790]."   

After almost 200 pages, Bell turns to Napoleon, discussing Napoleon's character and the cult of personality that he fostered, as well as Napoleon's campaigns.  Even as French forces' often brutal suppression of insurrections in various parts of Europe (notably Spain) blurred or eliminated the civilian/combatant distinction, within France there was "a growing cleavage between military and civilian spheres" (p.217).  The legitimacy of civilian authority was eroded by crises, factionalism, and incompetence, while the citizen army's main loyalty increasingly went to its generals and to Napoleon in particular.  And although Napoleon as emperor was not exactly a military dictator, maintaining a civilian administrative apparatus and keeping or institutionalizing certain features of the Revolution, the influence of militarism on society and culture increased (p.243).  The casualty figures on all sides in the Napoleonic wars (not only from battle but, significantly, from disease) still have the capacity to shock, lending some credence to Metternich's claim in his memoirs that Napoleon told him: "I grew up on the battlefield.  A man like me does not give a shit about the lives of a million men" (p.251; see end-note on p.351).  Yet, as Bell remarks in the epilogue, Napoleon's legend has survived the gore for which Napoleon was responsible: "Julien Sorel [the protagonist of Stendhal's novel The Red and the Black] stands for millions of real men and women who have breathed in [the legend's] intoxicating fumes" (p.307). 


Not all historians are inclined to emphasize the discontinuities between the pre-1789 and post-1789 worlds as strongly as Bell does, nor will everyone be fully persuaded by his attempt to connect the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars to the early twenty-first century.  Some will be irked by his dismissal of "trend analysis" as applied to armed conflict (p.315).  Bell's stress on the causal role of ideas, rhetoric, and ideology will be congenial or not, depending at least partly on the reader's prior commitments.  But whether one cottons to the main arguments or not, this book is well worth reading for its engaging narrative backed by solid research.  Students of international relations will find much of interest in The First Total War, and they may find it worth comparing to the approaches of political scientists who have dealt with the same period, such as Stephen Walt (in Revolution and War) or Mlada Bukovansky (in Legitimacy and Power Politics).    

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pictures of the Scottish highlands

Update (9/19): Now that the vote is over, the first part of this post on the implications is informative.

Since I have nothing notably insightful, informed or original to say about the Scotland referendum, here, in lieu of that, is a link to a report that aired on the NewsHour yesterday in which Dan Rivers of Independent Television News interviews some people in the highlands. Never mind the interviews; just look at the scenery. The word sublime means, among other things, awe-inspiring, and this is sublime, as the correspondent says. (Except my dictionary defines awe as a mixture of reverence, fear, and wonder, and I think there's not much to fear here, unless, I suppose, one were to go on a hike without the right equipment, or something like that.) 

P.s. The highlands segment starts about halfway through.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

'Offensive realism' and state motivations

One of the weak points of structural realist theories (or at least of Mearsheimer's, which has been the topic here recently) is their lack of a strong theory of state motivations. M. says states want more rather than less power, because that's the best way to be secure, or safe, in a world in which, according to M., "uncertainty about [other states'] intentions is unavoidable." (TGPP, p.31)  

In the body of the text of Tragedy of Great Power Politics, M. says that "the only assumption dealing with a specific motive that is common to all states says that their principal objective is to survive...." (p.32) But because "there are many possible causes of aggression" [what are they? he doesn't say] "and no state can be sure that another state is not motivated by one of them" (p.31), assuming that all states all the time want nothing more than survival is not warranted. Indeed, in an important end-note -- why this material is buried in an end-note rather than being in the text is rather perplexing -- M. makes clear that:
Security concerns alone cannot cause great powers to act aggressively. The possibility that at least one state might be motivated by non-security calculations is a necessary condition for offensive realism, as well as for any other structural theory of international politics that predicts security competition. (p.414 n.8)
Again, he doesn't say what these "non-security calculations" or motives are [except for a brief discussion on pp.46ff.], but this is nonetheless an important clarification. It's one that tends to get lost later in the text, however, for example at the beginning of ch.6 when he writes that "security considerations appear to have been the main driving force behind the aggressive policies of Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union" in the twentieth century (p.170). This, of course, is in some tension with the statement in the end-note that "security concerns alone cannot cause great powers to act aggressively." It may not be a fatal logical contradiction; it's probably more the result of careless use of shorthand phrases (and, to be fair to M., I have quoted only part of the end-note here, not the whole thing). Still, someone who only reads the text of TGPP and doesn't read the notes is likely to be even more puzzled about this issue than someone who has read the notes.

Harknett and Yalcin, in their 2012 article "The Struggle for Autonomy," which I discussed in this post (where, I see, I also quoted the Mearsheimer end-note I've quoted here) recognized some of these problems about state motivation in realist theory and attempted to deal with the issue more satisfactorily than had been done previously. Although I was critical of their effort (not that I have gone back and carefully read that post), they should be given credit for having recognized and tried to address the problem.

Added later: For one useful discussion of this set of issues (and, of course, more thorough than the discussion in this post), see Jack Donnelly, Realism and International Relations (2000), ch.2, "Human Nature and State Motivation."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pearl Harbor, once more

Since I occasionally make cryptic, sniping remarks about Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, I should make clear that there are at least a few things in the book that I find  illuminating. One of them is his discussion of the situation that Japan faced in 1941. (Btw, the prompt for this post is a discussion about Pearl Harbor on an LGM thread that started off being about the Russo-Japanese war.)

He notes that in mid-1941 the U.S. applied a "full-scale embargo" against Japan, "emphasizing...that it could avoid economic strangulation only by abandoning China, Indochina, and maybe Manchuria." (p.223) The U.S. was determined that Japan should not dominate Asia or be in a position to strike the USSR, then on the ropes against Hitler's invasion. This left Japan with two bad, from its perspective, choices: "cave in to American pressure and accept a significant diminution of its power, or go to war against the United States, even though an American victory was widely agreed to be the likely outcome." (ibid.) The Japanese chose the latter course, he goes on to say, as the less bad of two very bad alternatives. That does not mean the decision was irrational, though it was an extremely "risky gamble" (ibid., 224).

Where I would part company (or so I assume) with Mearsheimer is in seeing the entire Japanese militarist-imperialist enterprise as irrational -- and also immoral and criminal -- from the outset. However, given that Japan's leaders at the time were committed to that enterprise and given the particular circumstances that they faced, their decision to go to war with the U.S. was not 'irrational'. Whether the specific decision to attack Pearl Harbor was a mistake is really a secondary question; the more basic question has to do with the decision to launch war against the U.S.

ETA: And it's the more basic questions that tend to get shunted aside or overlooked when discussions focus narrowly on specific strategic decisions.

2nd update: Googling "sagan origins of the pacific war" brings up results, including Scott Sagan's 1988 article that M. cites (although my browser didn't like the pdf) and a 2010 paper at by a UCLA grad student ("Revisiting the Origins of the Pacific War") that appears, on a quick glance, to take M.'s view, more or less. (But I've already conceded in the comments that TBA could be right.)

3rd update: For a somewhat different take on this, see John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday (1989), pp.229-30.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The 'authority' debate, once more

At the time of the Libyan intervention, there was a debate about the President's authority to participate, with air assets etc., in that French-initiated operation (without congressional approval). Now there may be a rerun of the debate with respect to his authority to expand air strikes against ISIS. Except that Congress is going to fall over itself in its haste to pass something that says "yes yes," so in the end the debate about presidential authority in this case won't, practically speaking, matter much. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Question of the day

Why has Kissinger, at 91, published a 400-page volume called World Order that seems, judging from this review, to be mostly a repetition of things he's said before?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

False confessions

It is well known that a problem with the U.S. 'justice' system is the way in which false confessions are sometimes obtained under often coercive circumstances from young or otherwise vulnerable suspects: see here (h/t P. Campos at LGM). See also here.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The alignments in the M. East

On Friday the NewsHour had a segment with Hisham Melhem and Steven Simon talking about the somewhat tangled alliance patterns in the Middle East: starts at about 14:00 here.

ETA: The segment referred briefly to this June post at ThinkProgress, which featured a chart of the "tangled web" of alignments in Syria.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Blaming 'manifest destiny'

In a case of timing so bad that it would seem close to unbelievable (not that any time would be good for this), the Netanyahu government has announced its intent to convert 1,000 acres of land on the West Bank into 'state land' (here).

The linked Wash. Post story has generated a torrent of comments, which at a glance appear to be mostly negative, not surprisingly. One somewhat history-challenged commenter insists the 19th-cent. U.S. doctrine of 'manifest destiny' is to blame for the current situation in the Mideast. Why? Well, according to this commenter the Zionist movement at the turn of the twentieth century must have taken its cue from the U.S.'s westward expansion and the concomitant displacement, resettling, brutalization, killing etc. of Native Americans. I asked this person if there is any evidence that Herzl or the other early Zionists were even aware of the phrase 'manifest destiny' or anything in detail about the U.S.'s westward expansion. (I'd be surprised if there were such evidence, though I'm not sure.) Anyway, drawing a straight line from the Trail of Tears to the displacement of Palestinians in the 1948 war and subsequently strikes me as -- how shall I put it? -- tenuous. (As if Israeli soldiers in 1948, when asked for their heroes, would have answered: "why, Andrew Jackson, of course.")    

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stent vs. Mearsheimer

Caught them on the radio last night. Although the conversation made it sound as if they disagreed about almost everything, I'm not sure they actually did. To the extent they did disagree, I think Stent had a somewhat more nuanced perspective on what's going on in Ukraine. (Which may be what happens when you put a regional expert up against an IR theorist, especially one who, like Mearsheimer, doesn't often "do" nuance; he could if he wanted, but my impression is he usually doesn't.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Intent" does not matter here

Based on the circumstances as reported here, the criticism of the IDF missile firing that killed ten people near a UN school is justified. Targeting three people on a motorcycle riding by a compound where civilians are lining up to buy food and other items amounts to an attack on civilians; the missile, according to the linked article, "hit the motorcycle" and then "crashed into the road," sending shrapnel flying "in every direction." The fact that the three people riding the motorcycle were the intended targets (and were apparently killed along with the others) does not matter, under standard notions of proportionality. So the UN Sec-Gen's statement ("a moral outrage and a criminal act") is justified.

(Note: Post edited slightly after initial posting.)

Update: Hank in comments has pointed out that the WaPo article, standing alone, does not provide enough info to determine whether this was a legal violation, because for that judgment one has to know what the personnel in the plane knew about the situation on the ground when they fired the missile. That point is right, although as I say in the comments it seems likely to me, as someone admittedly ignorant of jet-fighter technology, that the personnel in the plane either knew or could have informed themselves about what the situation on the ground was, i.e., that the motorcycle when they fired on it was passing a school with civilians standing outside.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A word on the 1976 Democratic presidential campaign

As various commenters have pointed out at LGM, anyone who thinks liberal Democrats supported Carter in any significant numbers in the 1976 primary campaign is wrong. Maybe Perlstein has some poll figures to show otherwise, but I don't believe it. The 1976 Democratic primary campaign is a live memory for me. I think Perlstein was probably not born yet. (Off the internet for the weekend.)

On how to save twenty dollars

I came close to buying the updated (2014) edition of Mearsheimer's Tragedy of Great Power Politics today in a B&N where I happened to see it. It's the same as the orig. ed. except it has a concluding chapter arguing M's view, with which I disagree, that China is unlikely to "rise peacefully." My pb copy of the orig. ed. has fallen apart so I figured why not buy the updated one. But then I decided to buy two CDs for $4.99 each, plus the current (summer) issue of NYRB, and in light of that I decided I really couldn't afford and didn't need the Mearsheimer. What I can afford is a somewhat elastic concept, but it boils down to "why the @#! am I spending this &%!@# money?"

ETA: On similar grounds I ask myself why I flush $130 down the toilet every year to maintain my 'inactive' D.C. Bar membership. There's sort of an answer, albeit not a very good one, but it would be boring and take too long to go into.

ETA (again): TBA will be pleased to know there was a prominent small table in the B&N given over to WW1 bks, including handsome (and not inexpensive, of course) new matched pb eds. of Tuchman's Guns of August and The Proud Tower. They said on them "Barbara Tuchman's great war series," even though Proud Tower is about pre-war Europe. Random House is not dumb.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Steven Cook on Israel, the PA, and Hamas

From S. Cook's blog post for The Times of Israel:
Instead of using the period after the 2012 cease-fire to help Abbas by giving him a political win and boosting his narrative about the promise of negotiations, Jerusalem did nothing. When Secretary of State John Kerry launched a push for peace in 2013, the Israeli government went along, but never gave Abbas anything he could use to close the gap between what he was telling Palestinians about talks and their objective reality, which unfortunately for the Palestinian Authority president included Jerusalem’s announcement of new settlement building and failure to honor its commitment to release Palestinian prisoners.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Of bad captions

Someone recently referred me on a particular issue to the site Sharia Unveiled, with which I was unfamiliar (though the name rang a bell). Without passing definitive judgment on the site on the basis of a brief visit (I read only a particular post, not the site's mission statement), I must say I was not struck favorably by the sidebar, which features among other things the picture of a young girl with the caption "Fight Islam for me" beneath it. Not "Fight extremism for me," not "Fight Salafism for me," but "Fight Islam for me." This kind of thing is politically irresponsible and unacceptable and, frankly, stupid.