Saturday, September 26, 2015


Realpolitik: A History, by John Bew, is due to be published in the U.S. by Oxford U.P. on Dec.1, according to Amazon; presumably the book has already been released in the UK.  It clocks in at roughly 400 pp. (some of the contents are available at Amazon Look Inside); the author's previous book, a biography of Castlereagh, was longer.  Whether Bew has much that is new to say about postwar American realism is perhaps doubtful, given the amount of extant scholarship on that particular subject, but the book claims to be the first comprehensive history to trace Realpolitik from its German roots to its American (or Anglo-American) variations.

Speaking of books, I currently have a review in the works of this, but the review probably won't be up for a while, for various reasons.  So expect things to be quiet here for the immediate future.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Quote of the day

From S. Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh (2013), pp.218-19 (notes omitted; italics added):
On 30 July 1971, a member of the [Bangladesh] Awami League showed up at the US consulate in Calcutta seeking an appointment for Kazi Zahirul Qaiyum, a national assembly member from the Awami League, to meet with the consul-general.  Instead, the consulate arranged for Qaiyum to see a political officer the following day.  Qaiyum said that he had come at the behest of Foreign Minister Khandakar Moshtaque Ahmad, who wished to reestablish the Awami League's contacts with the United States [with a view to the U.S. facilitating negotiations between Gen. Yahya Khan, ruler of Pakistan, and the Awami League].... The US embassy in Islamabad observed that even if Qaiyum's proposals represented those of the Bangladesh government, Yahya was unlikely to accept them.  In serving as a conduit for these messages, the United States risked upsetting its relations with Pakistan.  Nonetheless, in the interest of long-term relations with the Bangladesh leadership, the risk seemed worth running.  The White House had a rather different view.  Kissinger insisted that asking Yahya to parley with the Awami Leaguers in Calcutta was "like asking Abraham Lincoln to deal with Jefferson Davis."  Nixon agreed that "we can't ask Yayha to do that."  Yet, he asked the State Department to sound out Ambassador Farland [the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan] on this issue.     
To say that Kissinger's remark was an inapt analogy would be an understatement.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Just became aware of the publication last May of Stephen Benedict Dyson's Otherworldly Politics: The International Relations of Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Battlestar Galactica.  I would have expected some of the Duck of Minerva people to have mentioned this book; perhaps they have.  (I've never even seen 'Game of Thrones', so this is not really up my alley.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Stanley Hoffmann, 1928-2015

-- New York Times obituary here
-- Appreciation (A. Goldhammer) in New Republic here 

-- Harvard Center for European Studies press release here [pdf]
-- Hoffmann festschrift (Ideas and Ideals, Westview Press, 1993) here 

Added later: For previous mentions of Hoffmann on this blog, see, e.g., here (quoting his 1977 essay "An American Social Science: International Relations") and here (quoting a 1995 article of his in Foreign Policy).

Added still later: Peter Gourevitch on Hoffmann at Duck of Minerva (here), which links to other things, including a piece by Gary Bass at Foreign Affairs online that I haven't read yet.    

Self-consciousness and the ethic of responsibility

I heard a snippet of an interview today in which an unidentified politician (i.e., unidentified in the few minutes I listened), perhaps one of the Republican presidential candidates, said he was opposed to the U.S. taking in more (i.e., any significant numbers of) Syrian refugees.  He then said that the U.S. is "the most compassionate country" in the world.  That's when I turned the radio off.  I'm not sure how the interviewee was planning to connect the two statements -- presumably something along the lines of saying that as the supposedly "most compassionate" country, the U.S. need not do anything in this particular instance -- but I couldn't stand to listen further.

What was at work there? Deliberate manipulation of the listening audience? Callousness? Pandering? Ignorance? All politicians have prior inclinations about matters, prejudices if you will, just as all people in general do, but when prejudices are reinforced by ignorance their effects are compounded. Some writers (Gadamer in Truth and Method, for one) see "prejudice" not as a synonym for irrational dislike or hatred but as denoting something inescapable and even positive.  However, in the more common and everyday meaning of "bias" or irrational partiality, prejudices can be kept under control and countered only if one is aware of them.  This requires self-consciousness (in the sense of self-knowledge, not in the sense of shyness) or, to use a fancy word that is basically synonymous, reflexivity.

This connects, at least arguably, to what Weber famously called an ethic of responsibility.  To weigh the consequences of acting (or not acting) in a given situation and then to accept responsibility for the consequences brought on by acting (or not acting) is the mark of a conscientious leader.  In Politics as a Vocation, Weber wrote that "the honor of a civil servant" is to carry out a superior's instructions, whereas "[t]he honor of the political leader, of the leading statesman...lies precisely in an exclusive personal responsibility for what he does, a responsibility he cannot and must not reject or transfer."  

One of the criticisms made of Kissinger by Michael J. Smith in his 1986 book Realist Thought from Weber to Kissinger is that Kissinger's complete conviction of the correctness of his own decisions and his total "confidence in his ability to judge consequences," as displayed in his memoirs, blurs the line between an ethic of responsibility and an "ethic of intentions":  
To say, "trust my calculation of consequences -- my sense of responsibility is beyond question" differs very little from saying, "trust me -- my intentions are good."... [Kissinger's] untiring efforts to place the blame for the failures of his policy anywhere but on himself do not speak well of his adherence to the Weberian notion of personal acceptance of responsibility. (p.216)  
This was arguably even truer of Nixon.  The most he did retrospectively was to admit certain unspecified "mistakes" with respect to his actions in Watergate.  If he hadn't been, in effect, forced from office, he wouldn't have left.  One should recall that when listening to replays of (or reading) Nixon's remarks on his final departure from the White House in August 1974.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The U.S.-Russia war chatter

The amount of chatter about the possibility of a war between the U.S./NATO and Russia increased over this summer.  For one thing, there was a cover piece in The National Interest on the topic; I bought the issue in hard copy, rather predictably I barely glanced at it, and now (even more predictably) I am not sure where the copy of the issue is (yes, I could find it, assuming I didn't throw it out, but it's apparently not in one of the piles on the floor any more).

Just now I glanced at a piece in Vox (h/t) from this past June by Max Fisher summarizing the alarm bells that various experts have been ringing.  The most telling point, based on my skim, appears to be that Putin has lowered the threshold for nuclear use in Russia's official nuclear doctrine.  The official position now is that Russia will use nuclear weapons if a conventional conflict poses an "existential" threat to it; that's what I took from the Vox piece.  The implication is that certain influential Russian strategists, and maybe Putin himself, now think a "limited" nuclear war is possible and "winnable."  As far as I'm aware, no serious strategist in the West has entertained this ludicrous notion since the mid-1950s.  

One can probably see (or at least this is my view) that maintenance of tactical or 'battlefield' nuclear weapons makes no sense for countries that don't see a limited nuclear war as a realistic possibility, i.e., that think any nuclear exchange will likely escalate.  That's one of the reasons why it's pointless and a waste of money for the U.S. to still have 200 'tactical' nuclear weapons (gravity bombs) deployed in Europe.  These weapons have no purpose, nor much of a deterrent effect, unless one thinks that a limited nuclear exchange will stay limited, which Western strategists, as far as I'm aware, don't.

However, recent official statements emanating from Russia suggest that Putin might have adopted the belief that a limited nuclear exchange could stay limited, or even that use of a 'tactical' nuclear weapon would not draw a nuclear response (or a conventional response of high intensity).  Or maybe Putin just wants people to think he believes this.  Yeah, that Putin.  Crazy like a fox.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Biopolitics, refugees, and other matters

It can only be a matter of time before biopolitical takes on the current European refugee/migrant crisis begin showing up in the IR journals (and other journals).  Since the crisis revolves in large part around bodies and their relation to states, it would seem tailor-made for such treatment.  Although I think I understand at least a few of the basic notions, I can't say biopolitics "does" much for me in an intellectual sense.  Thus when I learned, via a recent comment thread attached to this post at the USIH blog, that there has been a biopolitical appropriation of Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies, I was interested but not bowled over.  As I mentioned on the same thread, I cited The King's Two Bodies in my dissertation, which did not address biopolitics; I also mentioned that I had not actually read the Kantorowicz straight through (or even come anywhere close to doing so), but basically had only pillaged, with appropriate attribution of course, a couple of its footnotes that related to my subject.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Quote of the day: Freud

I had remembered Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents (orig. pub. 1930; Norton paperback, 1961, trans. and ed. J. Strachey) mainly for its emphasis on humans' (supposedly) innate aggressiveness and for its well-known thesis that 'civilization' is in conflict with 'instinct' and requires significant control of and renunciation of 'instinctual' behavior.  A recent glance at the text, which I hadn't read in decades, suggests that these rather grim themes are occasionally handled with a bit of what at least might pass for humor, as shown by this excerpt from a long footnote in chap. 4, pp.52-3:
Sex is a biological fact which, although it is of extraordinary importance in mental life, is hard to grasp psychologically.... The theory of bisexuality is still surrounded by many obscurities and we cannot but feel it as a serious impediment in psychoanalysis that it has not yet found any link with the theory of the instincts.... Another difficulty arises from the circumstance that there is so often associated with the erotic relationship, over and above its own sadistic components, a quota of plain inclination to aggression.  The love-object will not always view these complications with the degree of understanding and tolerance shown by the peasant woman who complained that her husband did not love her any more, since he had not beaten her for a week.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Orbán's fence

Heard a report on All Things Considered (NPR) today on the Hungarian government's attitude toward the Syrian and other migrants who are transiting -- not intending to stay in, but transiting -- Hungary en route to Germany and other European countries.  The latest move was to close the train station in Budapest to migrants, stranding them there.  The Hungarian government is building a barbed-wire fence on the country's border with Serbia.  Not only is that retrograde policy, it's unlikely to work.