Monday, January 31, 2011

A.R.N. on Egypt


When talk wasn't enough

Skimming through this post, I ran across the following:
In June 2005 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the American University of Cairo and pleaded with President Mubarak to allow free elections in Egypt.... Rice’s speech occurred more than five years ago. It was ignored. Authoritarian Middle Eastern governments soldiered on.
Of course Rice's plea was ignored. Pleas of this kind that don't come coupled with hints or threats to cut aid -- in this case some of the $1.3 billion annually in mostly military/security aid that the U.S. has been giving the Mubarak government for years -- are easy to ignore (cf. U.S. pleas to Israel over the years to stop settlement activity, etc.). Now one can hardly blame the Bush administration too much for not being especially eager, in June 2005, to pick a fight with Mubarak and his supporters in Congress and elsewhere, since the Bush admin's misguided invasion of Iraq had gone disastrously awry and it needed a fight with a major regional ally like a hole in the head. Still, it is not surprising that Rice's speech had no discernible effect. Talk matters, but there are times when it isn't enough.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

From the archives

In light of what is going on in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, etc., I offer this post of December 2009, titled "Is the Obama administration wise or foolish to retreat from democracy promotion in the Arab world?" I'm not even taking the time to re-read it. How's that for foolhardiness?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Morgenthau once more

An interesting post on realism (by dptrombly at Slouching Towards Columbia) raises the question of realists' attitudes toward public participation in, and influence over, foreign policy. The post suggests that Hans Morgenthau (1904-1980) and Henry Kissinger shared an elitism and a wariness about the participation of mass publics:
For the European realists who emigrated to the United States, mass politics was potentially the gateway to disorder and horror. Morgenthau’s “hidden dialogue” with [Carl] Schmitt is evident in both of their major works, and Kissinger’s admiration for Spengler and Metternich hardly lends itself to favorable opinions towards liberalism. Both thinkers acclimated themselves to their new homeland’s political traditions, but not without criticism. These German Jewish intellectuals inherited the Weimar-era sense of Verfallsgeschichte [history of decline] that seems rather lacking in the chastened internationalists and skeptical social scientists who practice and debate realist foreign policy today.
There is clearly some truth in this. In Morgenthau's case, however, Carl Schmitt was only one of several important influences on him; other influences, notably his mentor Hugo Sinzheimer, were on the left in Weimar's politics. (Sinzheimer was a prominent lawyer at the center of a circle of young leftist intellectuals.)

Fast forward to Morgenthau in his later years: From the late 1950s on, he developed a critique of American politics and society which informed his later strong and vocal opposition to the Vietnam War and which has been well analyzed by William Scheuerman in Hans Morgenthau: Realism and Beyond (2009). This critique, as expressed for example in The Purpose of American Politics (1960), drew on, among other things, a Tocquevillian concern about the threat of conformism and "the prospect of a novel form of mass-based or democratic despotism" (Scheuerman, p.189). This theme, which perhaps also reflected the wave of concern in the 1950s with the dangers posed by "mass society," does reflect a wariness of mass publics, and yet elitism does not seem quite the right word for it. Morgenthau in The Purpose of American Politics was also critical of capitalism in its consumerist guise and called for an expansion of the welfare state (Scheuerman, p.191).

Perhaps more significantly, in the 1960s a good deal of Morgenthau's writing about civil rights and other U.S. domestic issues strongly suggests that he thought too little democracy, not too much, was at the root of the country's problems. For example, in an essay published in Commentary (the old Commentary) in January 1964, Morgenthau began by declaring (echoing his Purpose of American Politics): "The unequal condition of the black American has been an endemic denial of the purpose for the sake of which the United States of America was created and which, in aspiration and partial fulfillment, has remained the distinctive characteristic of American society: equality in freedom." ("The Coming Test of American Democracy," reprinted in Morgenthau, Truth and Power [1970], pp. 209-210)

Morgenthau went on to argue in this piece (written shortly after John F. Kennedy's assassination) that the related problems of segregation and structural unemployment threatened a breakdown of democracy and a descent into violence. He observed that the governments of Southern states already were ruling by violence and decried the power exerted by Southern legislators in Congress. (pp. 213-214)

In the Epilogue to the 1970 collection Truth and Power, which is undoubtedly one of the most radical-sounding pieces Morgenthau ever wrote -- parts of it read as if they could have been written by, say, the authors of the Port Huron Statement (the founding document of SDS) -- Morgenthau saw the American student revolt as "a national manifestation of a world-wide revulsion against the world as it is," a world that "sacrifices human ends to technological means, as well as the needs of the many to the enrichment and power of the few," a world in which mechanized and bureaucratized institutions exercise unprecedented power over individuals, drain life of meaning, and confront the student with "a Kafkaesque [condition] ...of make-believe, a gigantic hoax where nothing is as it appears to be and upon which what he feels, thinks, aspires to, and does has no effect except to provide inducements for harassment and repression." (Truth and Power, pp.433, 434, 437).

American society, Morgenthau concluded here, had chosen preservation of the status quo over its original animating purpose. "Abroad, the United States has become the antirevolutionary power par excellence, because our fear of Communism has smothered our rational insight into the inevitability of radical change in the Third World. Our interventions in Indochina and the Dominican Republic are monuments to that fear. At home, our commitment to making all Americans equal in freedom has been at war with our fear of change and our conformist subservience to the powers-that-be." (ibid.,p.439)

And here is the last paragraph (p.439), which should be read in light of his belief that nuclear war under the then-prevailing trends was not only likely but virtually certain:

The extent of the repression in store for the dissenters will depend upon the subjective estimate of the seriousness the powers-that-be place upon the threat to the status quo. Considering the thus far marginal nature of the threat, society will need only resort to marginally totalitarian methods. The dissenters will people our prisons, our graveyards, our Bohemias, or -- as utter cynics -- our positions of power. Those last will not be unlike the Marxist-Leninists of the Soviet Union: They will mouth a litany of slogans which they not only do not believe in but which they also despise. Such a society can carry on for a while, like a body without a soul, but sooner or later it must either recover its soul -- that is, the purpose that has given it life -- or disintegrate from within. Perhaps, then, a new society, with a new purpose, will be built upon the ruins of the old; or perhaps nothing will be left but ruins for later generations to behold.
In sum, although Morgenthau was perhaps not an especially profound or original democratic theorist (his most acute insights lay elsewhere), he did come to insist that the normative core of liberal democracy ("equality in freedom" as he called it) had to be reflected in U.S. foreign policy, and that U.S. foreign policy, in order to be justifiable and effective, had to retain a very close connection to the country's moral foundations. If one still wants to label Morgenthau a classical realist, his version of classical realism is arguably quite compatible with an enlightened, egalitarian, and progressive version of liberal democracy.

P.S. It may be of interest to note that Morgenthau was an original trustee of the
Institute for Policy Studies and served on its board of trustees for five years. (Source: Letter of Marcus Raskin in The Washington Post's Book World, Sept. 22, 1991)


Note: I also discussed Morgenthau, in a different connection, in this post.

Update: Response by DPTrombly.

Brooks, Burke, and Hamilton; or, tell me what will happen when the national debt hits 90 percent of GDP

David Brooks is exercised today about the size of the deficit and the projected national debt. In the guise of Alexander Hamilton having a drink with Edmund Burke, Brooks says:
You’re mad, Burke! Obama has completely misread the national situation. The United States is careening toward disaster. The deficit this year is the highest in history: $1.48 trillion. In a mere eight years, the national debt will hit 90 percent of G.D.P. Interest payments alone on the debt will be $1 trillion! And he goes before the country with nostalgic happy talk and decides to spend the next two years treading water?

He pats himself on the back for a spending freeze projected to save $400 billion over 10 years. That’s an infinitesimal sliver of the $45 trillion the government will be spending over that time.

Is he aware of the national bankruptcy rushing ever closer? Doesn’t he see that the nation wants a fundamental change in Washington, not a few more tax credits for solar panels?

Obama is going to go down in history as the Nero who fiddled as Rome burned. He reformed health care without changing the ruinous incentives that were bankrupting the system. He submitted budgets that hastened the national collapse. The Republicans accuse him of being a socialist, but, the fact is, he’s Mr. Status Quo.

Brooks advises people to read Tyler Cowen's new book The Great Stagnation. Maybe Cowen explains there exactly what will happen when the national debt hits 90 percent of GDP. Brooks doesn't bother to do that here. The one concrete consequence that occurs to me is that eventually Social Security and Medicare will run out of money without substantial reforms in how they operate. This is related but not identical to the general concern about the size of the deficit and the debt. It will be interesting to see whether the U.S. political system manages to change the entitlement programs in some way before they go bankrupt. But that still doesn't answer the broader question why the deficit and the debt herald, in Brooks's phrase, "national collapse".

UPDATE: Brooks's colleague Mark Shields said on the NewsHour tonight that running a big deficit is bad public policy because it transfers money to bond-holders, who tend to be rich. Huh? Running a big deficit may be bad (in some circumstances), but I think this may be the first time I've heard someone say it's bad because it's upwardly redistributive. Shields also said that no dollar paid on interest on the deficit ever put food in the mouth of a hungry child or built a bridge or.... Of course, what he didn't say is that any given dollar of deficit spending may in fact be doing those things. Or it may not; it depends on which dollar of the budget, so to speak, one looks at. Shields's "reasoning" here would not get a passing grade in Econ 101.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A few somewhat jaundiced thoughts on the 2011 State of the Union

Candidate Obama in 2008 said repeatedly that tax breaks which reward U.S.-based corporations for "shipping jobs overseas" needed to be ended. After his inauguration, however, other, apparently more pressing issues (stimulus, health care, etc.) took precedence, and we heard little in his public addresses about ending such tax breaks. Even if the issue came up in Congress in the first two years of the administration (and it might have -- I don't follow tax policy closely enough to know), I'm reasonably sure those parts of the tax code are still in place. But the State of the Union speech this evening hit a rather different note on tax policy: the emphasis fell on lowering corporate tax rates, with an eye supposedly to creating a climate more conducive to hiring and job-creation. There was a glancing reference to ending loopholes in the corporate tax scheme, another glancing reference to ending tax breaks for oil companies, but the emphasis was clearly on a more 'business-friendly' approach -- one dictated, or perceived to be dictated, by political and economic 'realities'.

Listening to the State of the Union this evening, you'd think that lots of Americans are just chomping at the bit to start small businesses and become entrepreneurs, and all they need is a few encouraging words and more government investment in certain kinds of research-and-development to propel them off their butts and to the drawing boards. Of course there are creative people who start businesses in their garages and succeed brilliantly, but most small businesses, I believe, actually fail rather than succeed, and the commanding heights of the U.S. economy continue to be ruled by huge multinational corporations like, oh, General Electric, a company that has closed many U.S. plants and laid off many U.S. workers in the past 25 or so years (as have many others) and whose chairman was just appointed by the President to be head of a new 'jobs council'. (Bit of a through-the-looking-glass effect here?)

Another prominent theme in the speech tonight was education. The emphasis here was, as one might have expected, almost entirely instrumental. We need a more educated population because the jobs of the future will increasingly require post-secondary education, so the message went. But of course this is post-secondary education of a particular kind -- technical, scientific, narrowly vocational. If you're a young person not interested in science, applied math, and technology, the President's message had very little for you: no mention that I recall of the arts, literature, history, the social sciences, philosophy. Of course not: these things have no immediate, direct vocational value, and the President didn't even bother with the usual comforting cliché about the benefits of a liberal arts education in encouraging transferable skills, critical thinking, etcetera, etcetera. Such honesty is perhaps on one level brutally refreshing, though it does leave one wondering, as I say, about the fate of those whose talents lie in other areas than science and math. I guess some observers who are in a cruel mood might say, well, it's just their own bad luck for having been born with the wrong set of dispositions; and yet one can't help noting that most of the people who were loudly cheering the President's words in the House chamber are themselves not scientists, not applied mathematicians, not entrepreneurs (except for a few select invited guests), and the President's own education, of course, was not in math or the sciences.

If one has lived long enough and heard enough State of the Union addresses, it is possible to find them depressingly similar in certain respects: how many times have presidents called for improvements in education and in international competitiveness? For a simplification of the income tax system? Not even a president with Barack Obama's formidable rhetorical and expository skills can completely avoid the impression that much of these occasions consists simply in going through certain specified motions, much like a dancer or actor following a script, and that if the right keywords are struck -- competitiveness, entrepreneurial spirit, clean energy, high-speed rail, meeting the challenges of the digital world -- people will applaud and all will be well. And then of course you end with a reminder that "none of this will be easy," lest anyone actually dare to suppose that some concrete achievements might be quickly forthcoming. This is not, I hasten to add, a criticism of Obama so much as a criticism of the form: the State of the Union has increasingly become a set of quasi-mandatory figures of speech, much as have, say, the public statements of nominees in Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

The last part of the speech, on foreign policy, had the air of an afterthought. The obligatory references to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where the President said that safe havens of terrorist/extremist elements were shrinking as never before, conveniently avoiding any specific mention of the difficult, precarious position the government of Pakistan is in vis-a-vis, e.g., Baluchistan and areas in the northwest like North Waziristan. No mention of drone strikes, of course, since the U.S. does not officially acknowledge that they exist. No mention of grand strategy or anything approximating it. No mention of continuing violence and political gridlock in Iraq. And South Korea, our competitor in jobs and education and exports in the first part of the speech (though this was tempered somewhat by the call for ratification of the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement), is magically transmogrified into our brave ally in the last part of the speech, standing up to potential aggression by the North. I think the whole foreign policy section could have been dispensed with: the performance had already been given, the prescribed moves made, the applause lines spoken, the new spirit of bipartisanship affirmed, and everyone was eager to leave.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Multipolarity and normative convergence

What can someone who is not at all a China expert, makes no real effort to keep up with the literature on China, and is also not an expert on Northeast Asia (or Southeast Asia for that matter) or on the politics of international economic relations, have to say about Hu Jintao's U.S. visit that might be of interest? Probably not much. But as they say in the blogosphere, you get what you pay for, and I herewith hazard a thought or two on a visit that has already faded from the news cycle -- or rather, I use the visit as an excuse to reflect on more general issues.

Hu's statement that China has 'some work to do on human rights' (that was the gist if not the verbatim) is striking: it was not broadcast back in China but the fact that he said it is remarkable. Talk may be cheap but it is never completely empty or meaningless. Surrounded as it was by the standard stuff about China and the U.S. being different societies at different levels of development, needing to respect each other's sovereignty, etcetera etcetera, the statement stands out all the more sharply. It struck me as noteworthy that the first-among-equals in a collective leadership of an authoritarian state would publicly utter the phrase 'human rights' at all, as opposed to finding some euphemistic substitute.

There is a wide -- albeit not universal -- agreement among observers of international politics that the world is entering a period in which power is diffusing to more countries, as 'rising powers' (China, India, Brazil, perhaps Russia, and a few others) take a more assertive, visible role on the world stage and as the relative power of the U.S. continues to decline. Because China and Russia are not Western-style democracies (though Russia has some democratic forms), one line of thought holds that an increasingly multipolar world will also be one in which basic values become bones of contention, so to speak, as the standard-bearers of authoritarianism become more assertive not just about their geopolitical and economic interests but also about the supposed merits of their domestic arrangements. A contrary line holds that because no country can escape the 'liberal' international economic system, increasing integration into the world economy, plus economic growth and development in general, should lead eventually to a softening of authoritarianism and perhaps, even more eventually, to indigenously-driven, gradual 'democratization'. Sophisticated new versions of modernization theory, based on work by Ronald Inglehart and others, maintain that there is indeed a connection, however qualified and contingent, between development (in the sense of rising incomes, rising consumption, rising urbanization, growth of a middle class, etc.) and democracy. If this view is even partly correct, then multipolarity will mean not a fiercer fight over values, at least among states, but on the contrary a growing agreement on values (the 'normative convergence' of this post's title). The new multipolar world, on this view, will be closer to what Raymond Aron many years ago called a 'homogeneous system' as opposed to a 'heterogeneous system', or at least we can expect it to move slowly in the direction of the former.

The question just raised is more descriptive or predictive (what might happen?) than prescriptive (what should policymakers, say in the U.S., do?). In an article last fall in Foreign Affairs ("Not Ready for Prime Time," Sept./Oct. 2010), Jorge Castañeda argued that Brazil, China, India, and South Africa should not be brought into the inner sanctums of global governance because they are not sufficiently committed to "the notion that a strong international regime should govern human rights, democracy, nonproliferation, trade liberalization, the environment, international criminal justice, and global health." They remain too tied to outworn notions of 'noninterference in internal affairs,' Castañeda suggested, and until that changes, they should not be invited to assume positions of greater responsibility in international institutions.

I'm not sure Castañeda got it right. How do we know that increased commitment to international regimes will not be a consequence of more responsibility? Countries that remain shut out of positions commensurate with their growing material power are likely to become resentful and may look for opportunities to disrupt rather than strengthen the international regimes that exist (except, perhaps, on particular issues such as piracy and maybe terrorism where all states' interests 'naturally' converge).

In this context, does Hu's statement about China and human rights mean something? Very possibly. As one data point, it doesn't count for much, to be sure, but if it is followed by actions it may form one piece of evidence that the 'not ready for prime time' prescription has it backwards. I'll fall back here on that old friend of pundits: it's too soon to tell.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Kennedy administration and the arts

This Jan. 18 Wash. Post article details the many events that the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is staging to celebrate the arts legacy of the Kennedy administration. On Jan. 20 there was a star-studded concert to mark the 50th anniversary of JFK's inauguration. On Jan. 25, Yo-Yo Ma recreates the famous Pablo Casals concert given in the White House in November 1961. That concert is, of course, sold out (I just checked).

Reading the article, it occurred to me that the promotion of the arts by the Kennedys (JFK and Jacqueline) may stand as one of the most important accomplishments, if not the most important accomplishment, of that administration. Partly because it was cut short and partly because of Kennedy's own caution, the administration did not have many notable achievements in domestic policy. In foreign affairs, the avoidance of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis was of course a major achievement, but it was something bad avoided rather than something good brought into being. So the legacy of the Kennedy administration is mostly the aura, the myth of Camelot, the remembrances of what David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center's board, calls "happy days" in a quote in the article. Those "happy days" were a subjective phenomenon rooted less in the existential reality of the U.S. in the early 1960s and more in the minds of those having the experience. At least that is my impression at two removes, as I was a young child in the early 60's and was living outside the U.S. for most of that period.

Caroline Kennedy is quoted in the article as saying she does not remember those famous White House musical evenings but remembers hearing about them "all my life, especially from my mother. For me, these concerts are reconnecting to those memories with her...." It's nice that the Kennedy Center is allowing those memories to be revivified and recognizing the Kennedys' contribution to the arts. It emphasizes a side of the late president and first lady that coexisted with the hard-nosed, occasionally ruthless politician that JFK also was. If the razor-thin election of 1960 had gone the other way, Richard Nixon would have been inaugurated in January 1961 and the world might have been incinerated in a nuclear war in October 1962. And Pablo Casals would not have played in the White House and Yo-Yo Ma would not be playing on Tuesday. Change a few votes in Chicago and one or two other places, and a lot of things would have been different.

P.S. Apart from the handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the setting up of the Peace Corps, JFK's foreign policy was nothing to celebrate. But that would have to be the subject of another post.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New book from Hobsbawm

I learn from a couple of places in the blogosphere that Eric Hobsbawm's new book How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism has just been published in the UK (not yet in the U.S.). It's listed at UK Amazon, possibly some other places too.

Bentham to the rescue; or, Why voting is rational

Andrew Gelman makes an argument for the rationality of voting (against some resistance). Here's my personal take on this. If I did not vote I'd feel guilty about failing to discharge a basic obligation of citizenship; hence voting, in my case at least, avoids psychic pain. It also gives some, albeit small, psychic pleasure as a form of self-expression. Avoiding pain, gaining pleasure: what could be more rational? Cue Jeremy Bentham.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fire and ice

The Tunisian revolution is great but the recent spate of self-immolations (in Tunisia, Egypt, Mauritania, Algeria, and now apparently a teenager in Marseilles) is distressing. There are, obviously, ways to protest that don't involve setting fire to oneself.

Meanwhile, from the profound to the mundane: dealing with the aftermath of an ice storm here.

I'm sorry if the title of this post may strike some as disrespectful or flippant. Chalk it up to the sick whims of a fifth-tier blogger.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tucson memorial service

I thought the President's speech was just about pitch perfect. And, for the moment at least, that's all I have to say.

Which is it, guys?

Spotted in the same bookstore section, easily within spitting distance of each other: Fred Kaplan's 1959: The Year Everything Changed and Rob Kirkpatrick's 1969: The Year Everything Changed.

P.S. I get first dibs on 1979 (Iranian revolution, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Three Mile Island, hostage crisis, comedy of errors over Soviet brigade in Cuba...) An advance in the higher five figures will do nicely. Call my agent.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rhetoric in the blogosphere

In the wake of the Arizona shooting, Stephen Walt voices some concerns about heated rhetoric in the blogosphere: "Edginess is part of what makes the blogosphere entertaining, I guess, but is it also contributing to the coarsening of our political values and the erosion of any sense of shared identity, humility, and common humanity?"

Perhaps. Although in my case, when I do cross the line into incivility on occasion (and I try not to), I can comfort myself with the (true) thought that, given the size of this blog's readership, it doesn't much matter.

Phillipe Sands lecture

Tomorrow; see here.

65 million not enough for 'em

"Delusional, spoiled brats" sounds about right.

Monday, January 10, 2011

'Nations' and 'states'

I learned just now, from one of my infrequent visits to the Opinio Juris blog, that Bolivia officially changed its name in 2009 to the Plurinational State of Bolivia, thus formally affirming that it is not a "nation" but a state of several nations, including indigenous peoples. Actually, very few 'nation-states' in the world today are nations in the sense of being composed of just one ethno-national group; most sovereign states are multinational or "plurinational," in fact if not in official name.

The author of the Opinio Juris post, Peter Spiro, remarks that "the nation has generated and justified the state." No, not always. In the case of France, for example, I think it was more the other way around: the state generated the nation. (See Rogers Brubaker's 1992 book Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany.)

And what about the coming-into-being state of South Sudan? Plurinational? Well, from what I gather, there are ethnic and tribal divisions, so yes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vitriol and tragedy

In the wake of these horrifying shootings, the Pima County, Arizona, sheriff was right to denounce the vitriolic political rhetoric that characterized the 2010 election season, in Arizona and elsewhere. The brew of nonsense, hatred, and misrepresentation that constituted much of the Tea Party's rhetoric might have appeared to be, on one level, harmless raving; but it helped create a climate which, if it did not cause this event, certainly appears to have influenced the disturbed young man who did the shooting.

Update: "appears to have influenced" may be too strong (emphasis on "may"). See the discussion at The Monkey Cage (sidebar for link).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sciences of the mind -- and of society

One can still find Freudians in the ranks of American psychiatrists, but you wouldn't know it from reading Eli Zaretsky's review (in Perspectives on Politics, Sept. 2010, pp. 940-41) of Kurt Jacobsen's Freud's Foes: Psychoanalysis, Science and Resistance (2009).

Zaretsky, author of Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis (2004), manages both to tell a story and to make an argument, which is quite a feat for a two-page book review. The story is this: Once upon a time, there was psychoanalysis, "an intervention in the long-standing modern project of understanding the human mind." It drew on nineteenth-century brain neurology, but also Enlightenment philosophy, literature, and Darwin, among other sources. Psychoanalysis, Zaretsky says, was "a genuinely new, unified, and brilliant theory":
This theory was scientific -- a new science -- but a science of a particular character, one that studied the mind not as one studies chemical or geological phenomena, that is from the outside, but rather from within, as part of a process of self-study.... [P]sychoanalysis was a critical theory, a Wissenschaft, and not a natural science per se, although it contained natural science elements.
Psychoanalysis lost "its critical dimensions" in the U.S. when it "became part of psychiatry, and in that way became part of an official system of power/knowledge...." Then came the assault on American psychoanalysis that began in the 1970s and was carried on by an odd alliance of big drug companies, feminists, and the gay rights movement. The "decimation of psychoanalysis" can be seen as "a vanguard maneuver, initiating a long period of corporate rationalization in every area of the economy." Needless to say, the result, according to Zaretsky, was not good:
The destruction of a supposedly malevolent past was accompanied by the creation of a set of new gods, new ways of thinking about the mind. These, however, lacked the element of self-reflection that had been critical to psychoanalysis. According to the new worldview, we can know the mind objectively by understanding the chemistry, neurology, and physiology of the brain.... If we have a disturbing thought or a strange dream, we could speculate that it's a wrinkle in the amygdala or a bit of protein imbalance in the hypothalamus, but we really don't have to because a doctor can adjust the chemical mix for us; self-reflection ("navel gazing") belongs to a previous epoch. What drops out of the new dispensation is not only self-reflection, but any general approach to the problem of human motivation, that is, to a dynamic theory of the psyche, the very quality that had distinguished psychoanalysis from the brain psychiatries that preceded it.
OK. Deep breath. What is my problem with this? It's not about Freud. I'm willing to stipulate that Freud was a brilliant thinker (he made some rather weird forays into speculative social theory, but that's another story). No, the problem is not Zaretsky's positive view of Freud; the problem is that he is determined to link the quarrel between psychoanalysis and its critics to the broader question of how to do 'science' and to "the need to restore the line...between the kinds of questions that can be answered in a causal and deterministic manner, and the kind that require self-reflection, democratic deliberation and cultural exploration." So intent is he on making this argument that Zaretsky neglects to mention that some people who suffer from serious mental illness actually have been helped by drugs (or pharmacological therapies, if you prefer). Has there been misuse and overuse of drugs? Undoubtedly, but that doesn't undermine the point.

Zaretsky's review poses, implicitly if not explicitly, a false choice: either
pharmacology or psychoanalysis; and, by extension, either science from the outside or science from the inside. But we do not have to choose, and we should not choose. We can have both drug therapies and talking therapies; both a science of causal explanation and a science of interpretive understanding. (Max Weber's definition of sociology encompassed both.) Each approach has its place, whether we're talking about the sciences of the mind or the sciences of society. The trick (easier said than done!) is knowing what that place is, and what each is good for.

Brazil's progress on poverty

One reason Brazil's president Lula left office recently with such high approval ratings is the reduction in both poverty and income inequality that occurred during his time in office. An NYT article, discussed in this blog post, looks at the source of the success in the Bolsa Familia program.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Re-reading Barrington Moore

Barrington Moore's Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, published in 1966, is a modern classic of historical sociology that has been assigned to generations of students. I read large parts of it in college and again in grad school, but it was not until the other day, when I had occasion to take it down from the shelf and look at the first chapter, that it fully dawned on me why the book is so famous. At the same time, I realized that the kind of social-scientific writing on display in Social Origins is an endangered species.

The first chapter, "England and the Contributions of Violence to Gradualism," shows Moore's remarkable ability to outline a centuries-spanning argument in less than 40 pages, and to do it in prose of such clarity and directness that it can be understood by virtually any interested reader. The chapter's main question is why England/Britain's route to capitalist modernity culminated in parliamentary democracy (as opposed to dictatorship of right or left) and why it took the relatively peaceful and gradualist form that it did from the eighteenth century on. Compressed into a few sentences, the basic argument runs as follows: The
key social-political development in early modern England was the destruction of the peasantry. This was the result of the enclosure (i.e., the seizure for private use) of common lands by landlords and their richer tenants. The enclosures were under way in the sixteenth century but accelerated in the seventeenth century, after the Civil War severely weakened the power of the monarchy, which had served as a brake on enclosing landlords and a protection for the peasants. The destruction of the peasantry effectively removed from "the historical agenda" two possibilities: the reactionary/conservative route to capitalist modernity (as in Germany, e.g.) and the social-revolutionary route (as in Russia and China). (p.30) There's a whole lot more there, but in highly oversimplified form that is the core of the argument in the first chapter.

For the moment I'm not interested in how much validity this argument has; to be blunt, I don't care whether it's right or not, at least not here. I'm certain it's been challenged and debated many times since Social Origins was published (and indeed, several of Moore's students produced major works bearing on the themes of the book). Rather, what I want to emphasize is the lucid way the argument is presented and Moore's mastery in handling multiple strands without ever losing sight of the central thread. Moreover, I don't think this clarity is entirely accidental (it's no accident, as a Marxist would say).

Although Social Origins (SO) was published in 1966, Moore began working on it years earlier, before the so-called behavioral revolution in the social sciences became so influential that even some Marxists felt they had to wrap their writing in the language of variables and falsifiability. As Theda Skocpol observed in a critical review-essay on SO published in 1973, the book "is not organized or written in the style of a scientist trying to elaborate clearly and minutely justify a falsifiable theory of comparative modernization. It is, rather, like a giant mural painted in words, in which a man who has contemplated the modern histories of eight major nations seeks to convey in broad strokes the moral and factual discoveries that he personally has made, about the various routes to the 'world of modern industry' traveled by his 'subject' countries, about the role of landed upper classes and peasantries in the politics of that transformation, and about the consequences of each route for human freedom and societal rationality." (T. Skocpol, Review of SO, reprinted in her Social Revolutions in the Modern World [1994], p.26)

That SO is not written "in the style of a scientist" is no doubt one of the reasons I was struck so forcefully by the lucidity of the opening chapter when I looked at it the other day. My reaction, at a gut level, was something like: "My God, they're not writing like this anymore, are they?" In other words, Moore stands in contrast, it seems to me, to much of the historically-oriented social science being published today, which tends to be preoccupied with methodology, weighed down with references to 'causal mechanisms' and the like, and generally no fun to read. Perhaps that is academic 'progress'. Perhaps there has been a gain in scientific precision and cumulative knowledge. Indeed, as I have written in earlier posts, I think causal explanation is an entirely legitimate goal of social science.

Nonetheless, a growing methodological and theoretical sophistication has come at a cost. With one or two possible exceptions, I know of no work of historically-oriented social science (not history, but social science) published in the last 20 years that I could put into the hands of an intelligent, curious high school student and say: "Here, you will enjoy this and find it fascinating and your life will be changed and you will see the historical sweep of human sufferings and occasional triumphs and you will want to become a historical sociologist." No. Uh-huh. Not happening.

Well, look on the bright side: Social Origins is still in print.

P.S. (added 1/5): If you think the reference to methodological sophistication in this post is a throwaway, track down the Fall 2010 issue of the newsletter of the Am.Pol.Sci.Assn. Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research and look at the essays published under the heading "Symposium: Causal Mechanisms, Process Tracing, and Causal Inference."

Monday, January 3, 2011


In the course of a post criticizing the journal International Political Sociology for publishing too much postmodernism and not enough "sociology as it is actually practiced by sociologists," Henry Farrell writes that "there are many, many important things that international relations scholars can learn from sociologists."

"Many, many important things" is perhaps a bit of an overstatement. I'd be more inclined to say that there are some things that international relations scholars can learn from sociologists.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jobs crunch

The recent protests and unrest in Tunisia (see here and here) highlight a problem in many parts of the world, 'developing' and 'developed': unemployment and underemployment among educated young people whose societies are not generating enough jobs for them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A post about music (mostly pianists)

I don't write much about music here, but it's a new year and I've just quickly read R.P. Wolff's reminiscing post about music and its pleasures, so I figure: why not? But this is not going to be a comparable "the role music has played in my life" post, just a few stray thoughts/reactions.

I heard/watched (on PBS) some of the NY Philharmonic's New Year's concert last night. I tuned in during the middle of the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto, with Lang Lang. I generally like Tchaikovsky, but this piece is not one of my particular favorites; and the performance left me underwhelmed, to put it politely. I'm sure Lang Lang deserves his reputation but this didn't do a whole lot for me, and the orchestra didn't help by sounding rather sloppy and perfunctory. However, the music from the second act of The Nutcracker, performed after the intermission, was much better. This sounded like the NY Philharmonic is supposed to sound, with excellent wind and brass work.

Two other notes about pianists: I saw the new (or new-ish) movie about Glenn Gould (PBS again) not too long ago. It was interesting, as I didn't know all that much about Gould's life and don't own any of his work in my admittedly small CD collection. I knew nothing, for example, about the 1962 concert Gould played with Leonard Bernstein at which Bernstein -- yes, this actually happened -- addressed the audience with a disclaimer before conducting one of the Brahms piano concertos (I can't remember now whether it was the first or the second), dissociating himself from Gould's interpretation (which apparently took it at half the usual tempo).

Gould didn't care all that much for a lot of the Late Classical/Romantic repertoire and specifically didn't like Schumann. This may partly explain why I never have warmed up to Gould, since I like Schumann and the Romantics generally. Which leads to the last note: I recently bought a CD of Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950) playing the Schumann Concerto and Mozart No.21 (EMI Classics). The Schumann was recorded in 1948 in a studio in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra and von Karajan. The Mozart was recorded live in Switzerland in 1950. Both performances are very good.

Tocqueville on 'the military spirit'

Last month’s repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law has met with widespread and justified approval. Some voices, however, have issued reminders that military culture continues to be 'gendered' (see, for instance, here). Whether or not you agree with this, and whether or not you are troubled by it, it's perhaps worth reflecting on the degree to which attitudes on this bundle of issues have changed over time. Alexis de Tocqueville – not usually considered a militaristic thinker – wrote in this respect a revealing note to Volume Two of Democracy in America (which I quote below).

As Alan Ryan recently observed (“Tocqueville’s Lesson,” New York Review of Books, Dec. 9, 2010), Tocqueville in Volume Two of Democracy was concerned with "the dangers of ‘soft despotism,’ a condition in which the population were reduced to a sheep-like dependency on a state that made them comfortable, saved them the necessity of thought, and destroyed their will by enervation rather than oppression."

In the note to Volume Two to which I’ve referred, Tocqueville ruminated on what the taste for comfort might do to "the military spirit":

If the love of physical pleasures and the taste for well-being which are naturally prompted by equality [i.e., some social mobility and absence of a quasi-feudal class structure--LFC] should get such a hold on a democratic people that they should come to absorb it altogether, national mores would become so antipathetic to the military spirit that even the army, in spite of the professional interest leading soldiers to desire war, would come to love peace. Living in such a soft society, soldiers would come to think that slow but convenient and effortless promotion in peacetime was better than a more rapid rise in rank paid for by all the toils and privations of the battlefield. In such a mood, the army would take up arms without eagerness and use them without energy.... The remedy against such dangers does not lie in the army, but in the country. A democratic people which has kept its manly mores will always find courageous soldiers when it needs them.[1]

Today, this explicit equation of courage with 'manliness' would sound jarring to many people (though admittedly not to everyone). Which is an indication of, for lack of a better word, progress.

P.S. An interesting question is: when would this have started to sound jarring? Possibly not until quite late in the twentieth century. Note for instance that William James, writing almost a hundred years after Tocqueville, shared his general view of 'manliness' and concern about 'softness': "A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure-economy.... Martial virtues must be the enduring cement; intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command, must still remain the rock upon which states are built -- unless, indeed, we wish for dangerous reactions against commonwealths fit only for contempt, and liable to invite attack whenever a center of crystallization for military-minded enterprise gets formed anywhere in their neighborhood." [2]

Afterthought (added Jan.2): "A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure-economy": sounds like something that might have been said by a revolutionary who's just come to power and is trying to prepare the people for an extended period of hardship and adversity. Did Fidel ever read "The Moral Equivalent of War"?


1. A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. G. Lawrence, ed. J.P. Mayer (Anchor Books, 1969 [and subsequent editions]), p. 734.

2. "The Moral Equivalent of War" (1910), in William James: The Essential Writings, ed. B. W. Wilshire (State Univ. of N.Y. Press, 1984), pp. 357-58.

Iraq: all is not well

Eight years since the invasion, four years since the 'surge,' and roughly a half-year since the end of direct U.S. participation in combat operations, the situation in Iraq is far from what anyone would call normal. Some fifty thousand U.S. troops remain in the country. It took months to form a government after the last parliamentary elections, and recent suicide bombings in Ramadi and Mosul, the latter of which killed a police commander who had been on al-Qaeda's target list for a long time, show that violence remains an ever-present possibility in at least parts of the country. There is a tendency in a polity with a short attention span, in which category I would place the U.S., to assume that if an issue is not in the headlines every day, things must be fine. In the case of Iraq, that assumption is unwarranted.

Close to 4,000 civilians were killed by violence in Iraq last year; that's a reduction from the 2009 figure, but the Iraq Body Count, an organization which tracks this, says further reductions are, unfortunately, not likely.