Monday, August 15, 2005

Huntington, vindicated.

Whose vision best describes the current world?

With revisions, one would now have to say that Huntington has won. Let's look at the evidence.

1. Moderate Islam. Post-9/11 and Post-7/7, the voice of moderate Islam is finally being heard (fn1). And what is moderate Islam saying? It's saying that Church and State are really different things. In other words, moderate muslims are saying that it's good to live within western civilisation... while the home-grown islamist thugs are living in western society, and coming to the conclusion that said entire civilisation needs to be splotted.

2. Geopolitics: Palmer's movement is fracturing. Palmer (The Real Axis of Evil) is certainly correct (from the perspective of yours truly, small-l libertarian in the west) that we should do everything we can to stomp on tyranny. But as time has passed, one sees more and more that what happens after that is explicitly culturally based. The Orange and Rose and even Tulip revolutions have gone off just fine, as did the revolutions in the Balkans... because we're seeing over time that the Orthodox civilization and the Catholic/Post-Catholic civilization have little in the way of incompatibility. Indeed, Poland coming out to bat for the average Belorussian has much to say in this regard. However, the other side of the coin also holds true. In regions where more than one civilization's ideas are represented, it's not so smooth. Iraq and Egypt both have protestors who clamor for Western freedoms, and similar groups of protestors for whom the phrase "Church and State" is a complete redundancy. Palmer's vision of "freedom from" is clear and obvious to all: Palmer's vision of "freedom for" is readily absorbed into Huntington's vision.

Which, oddly enough, doesn't necessarily cast Huntington as a vindicator of the realpolitik school.
What Huntington missed, was that he got his factions wrong. And in doing so, he documented but misunderstood a key feature of "The West."

The New Civilisational Players:

The Strongmen
The Anglosphere
The Statist West
The Islamists

There's really not a lot of further options involved here in terms of real political players. Certainly Confucian civil society has failed to assert itself in any pronounced way under the PLA. And "Latin America" seems to be less a unified cultural theory or "political culture," than a heritage, currently bitterly contested between the Strongmen (local and Chinese) and the West.

The Strongmen: Politically speaking, one can see, as Palmer suggests, a worldwide alliance of dictators, regardless of whatever surface ideology is used for domestic support. Ideologically, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has nothing in common with the strongmen in Cuba or Venezuela, let alone the Sudan. But they're more than willing to do whatever it takes to prop each other up in the face of the West, and the PLA is perfectly happy to prop up anybody anywhere, no matter how blood-soaked, who will give it politically-unquestioned access to raw materials.

The Anglosphere: It turns out that the British Empire left a lasting legacy. Much of what we call libertarian or "classical liberal" ideas come from a framework of laws and attitudes towards the rule of law that essentially boil up out of Common Law and reactions to it. Therefore, while India point-blank refuses to carry our water in any US-China friction (and rightfully so), it turns out that culturally, there's so much common ground that a strong strategic relationship is inevitable, and good for both parties involved. This has been written about elsewhere recently, notably in The Anglosphere Challenge, which I haven't read (waiting for it to hit my local library, but I'll take a review copy if somebody has a dozen available on his shelf) and therefore won't get into.

The Statist West: Oddly enough, Britain is the state most likely to leave the Anglosphere and become something else, as it more and more accepts Continental European ways of doing things. Culturally speaking, civilizationally speaking, there's not much separating the Secular West and the Anglosphere. The similarities vastly outweight the differences: take politics out of it, and the differences are so tiny as to be meaningless. Primarily the differences are that leftism in general are taken for granted as the political mainstream, (fn3) and that Continental Europe is almost entirely secular, with only Islam as a growing religion, as opposed. The Statist West has a problem, though, insofar as they would love to wield political power separate from the Anglosphere... but their top-down, centralized, often openly leftist policies have left them simply too weak economically to do anything in the face of opposition. Put bluntly, the Statis West has no muscle to flex, as can rapidly be seen in the decline of Canada from global player to complete irrelevance. Politically, this means that NATO is frequently compromised by what amounts to a brother-sister squabble between its various members, and a wholly-justified sense that some of its member governments are simply not reliable partners. Cooperation between the Statist West (which also tends to be somewhat squishy on individual rights) and the Anglosphere is by no means guaranteed.(fn3)

The Islamists: When leftists or anti-religious bigots in America want to really demonize somebody who's religious, they characterize them as being the equivalent to the militant Islamists, incapable of distinguishing right from wrong in their quest for a civilization based on the strictest and most misogynistic interpretation possible of Salafi Islam. Huntington is absolutely correct to point out that Islam seems to be incapable of being at peace with its neighbors -- as yet another murderous Islamist insurrection, this time in Thailand, seems to bear out. The current track record of militant Islamism, which seems to openly rejoice in the outright brutal murder of the innocent, whether they are men, women, or little children, justifies an interpretation that says that "militant" doesn't simply mean "interested," and that its proponents are simply uninterested in any of the civilized behavior that the rest of the world takes for granted. To some extent, one can posit Turkey and Pakistan as teetering between West and Islamism (fn5) in general outlook. A state with Islamic culture enshrined in its laws is no threat: Islam is not a political player any more than Methodism is... it is the political culture of militant Islamism that is the player. So far, the west has been pretty good about appreciatng the difference, much to Al Quaeda's disappointment.

On the other hand, how does one explain the cooperation of Kifaya and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? It si simply another case of the western-influenced sheep cooperating with the wolf to get rid of the lion, at which it is inevitably to become the next course for dinner?
Maybe... maybe not. But the mere existence of Kifaya, and many other reform movemnts, suggests that Huntington missed the boat on one crucial aspect of understanding the West at large (Statist and Anglosphere) . The West is both different, and universalist in outlook. Huntington suggests that this universalism is inherent to westerners' conflicts, and should be canned in favor of open particularism... the suggestion that the West is completely different. What Huntington misses is that the West, Anglo or Statist, has become influential far out of proportion to its otherwise culturally-set boundaries, precisely because its civilization works so well economically and militarily. The Anglosphere doesn't need to occupy other places in order to wield economic power... unlike the strongmen, they don't need to engage in mercantilist economics, because capitalist economics is more efficient, and much better at making the other half of the economic equation rich, to boot... at which point, they start to think a lot like we do. Huntington's theory has completely failed to accurately predict Japan's response to a resurgent China, because it has missed the extent to which Western universalism creates an atmosphere in which cultural assimilation on the econopolitical level can be nearly taken for granted after long exposure. It would be insulting to the Japanese to say that they've assimilated into Western culture... but it is highly accurate to say that they've kept up quite a bit of it economically and politically, long after they could have chosen to discard it.

The ramifications here are quite clear:

1. Realpolitik is alive as a tool but dead as a general thesis, because strongmen don't behave the way "they're supposed to." Learning this has cost the West tremendously during the Cold War, and continues to be a serious problem now, both for America's prestige, and in the memory of states such as Iran.
2. Similarly, the fact that Islamists seem to ache for a chance to murder non-Muslims across the globe suggests that isolationism continues to be a non-starter. Saving thousands of lives in the great Tsunami has not stopped Islamists from protesting our existence in Malaysia, and as the "Islamist butchery of the week" in Thailand suggests, it's only going to keep expanding until it's forcefully beaten.
3. Cultures and civilizations are like a salad bar: they really can pick up the parts that are useful to them, and gradually discard the rest. The PLA are not Confucians, and Al Quaeda is dependent upon Western rhetoric and intellectual capital for its own revolutionary ideals and propaganda.

Does subsuming Palmer's thesis into a slightly modified Huntington thesis constitute an endorsement of "neoconservative" policy? I don't think it does, or at least not directly. It certainly endorses smacking the hell out of militant Islamism for as long as it takes for their attitudes to change, or them to die. And this might involve us going to war in both Syria and Iran, because both are exporting well-equipped, well-financed, well-organized murderers on a daily basis. On the other hand, globally, it seems that our greatest weapons are a combination of basic security guarantees -- for example, Taiwan -- and the greatest spread of free trade and its close facsimiles possible. If one were to make politics a game of Civilization (Sid Meier's Benthamite cultural simulation game), free trade could be considered to be the geopolitical equivalent of several divisions worth of occupying troops. No wonder Pyonyang can't stand it.

What prescriptions does it endorse?

1. Defeat Islamic extremism.
2. Guarantee military stability and cooperation whenever reasonably possible.
3. Do not engage in realpolitik deals with strongmen and tyrants: conversely, support freedom movements both on their own merits, and because they're in our geopolitical interests.
4. Spread free trade, and do not use economic sanctions except where specifically required to keep military technology out of the hands of potential aggressors.

(as a side note, if anybody can tell me how to hardcode a footnote in Blogger, I'd greatly appreciate it.)
1. No counting CAIR, which says one thing to the dhimmi and another to the "faithful."
2. 3 schools of geopolitical thought: realpolitik, neoconservatism, isolationism. #3 is an unmitigated failure, #1 is a horror in its own right, and #2 is hotly debated. The standard libertarian position is to push the return to isolationism coupled with free trade -- effectively abandoning our treaty partners to twist in the wind. Most Americans would like nothing more than to tell the rest of the world to solve its own problems, except that they know that the results would be a global bloodbath.
3. Catholic fundamentalists in Germany who are regarded as a mere twitch away from Al Quaeda status actually hold positions not that far away removed from the Democratic Party, barring gay issues on which the Democratic leaders differ only rhetorically from the Republican party, and actually use "outing" politicians as a political weapon.
4. Realize, of course, that we're painting with broad brushes here. Where does Poland sit in this politically, for instance, vis-a-vis France?
5. Not because they're Europeans (some Turks are, some aren't), or westerners in terms of culture, but because the two nations are divided in terms of political culture between the two of them. This is not meant to be a chauvinist view of the rest of the globe by any stretch, but one must realize the extent to which western political philosophy has fundamentally either dictated the rules of the game or fueled local reactions against it (ironically, often dependent upon it intellectually, such as Baathism or other forms of Islamofascism) for the past hundred years.
-- unattached musing. Political cultures representing "Church != State, Church of the State, Church as State, and finally Thugocracy?"

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