Values and violence

by Daniel on June 21, 2006

Eve Garrard, has written a comment on this John Gray’s latest piece in the New Statesman. Since Gray got his new post-JG Ballard prose style it is often quite difficult to work out precisely what he is on about, but in this case, he is making the point that “Enlightenment Values” have historically been associated with a hell of a lot of death and destruction (things like the French revolutionary Terror). Garrard’s point is that when she and the Euston Manifesto crowd use the phrase, they use it only to refer to ” universal human rights, equality (in some sense), religious tolerance, scepticism about received dogmas, freedom of speech, a commitment to the use of reason to improve our condition” rather than blood and the guillotine, and that Gray knows this and is just being silly.

I think there’s more to it than that. It would be quite easy for Gray to come back with a cheap shot on this one; that although Eve Garrard claims to only be in favour of the nice bits of the Enlightenment and against all the revolutionary terror, the actual tangible results of her project have been Fallujah, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo.

And it would be not only easy but correct, because she’s dodged the central problem that Gray has been identifying for years; the problem that occurs when you try to bring people the benefits of freedom and democracy and they say “no thanks”. Like it or not (I don’t), there are a lot of people out there in (not just but most urgently) “The Muslim World” who simply don’t want tolerance, equality (in some sense) or freedom of speech. There are genuine democratic movements in most Islamic countries, but it is wishful thinking to pretend that they aren’t small and unrepresentative minorities. The biggest proportion of the population of Islamic states are quite happy about Islam and don’t want the same things we want[1]. There are a lot of them who don’t want these things so much that they are prepared to have a war about it.

At this point you have to either say “well you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” (which is presumably teh dreaded relativism! oh no!). Or you have to say “Let freedom ring! / eat lead hadji” and admit that a universalised view of our moral obligations to the world like Enlightenmentism is always potentially an open-ended commitment to violence. Or you have to say “I heartily disapprove of this behaviour, why not read my weblog for further hearty condemnations of everyone who isn’t condemning it enough”, which in my view is a bit of a cop out. This third option isn’t really open to those responsible for drafting the new Iraqi constitution, for example; they have had to end up drafting a compromise document with all sorts of ambiguous wording about the status of sharia, precisely because where the rubber meets the road for Enlightenment values, the open-ended commitment to violence is simply too expensive but leaving the Muslims to the society they seem to want has been set up as a betrayal of all we hold dear and a loss of face before the terrorists to boot.

A whole subsidiary strand of Decentism appears to be the complete refusal to accept that, at the highest conceptual level, political philosophy is the study of the proper use of government violence (the libertarians and Max Weber are right on this one; government is the organisation of state violence for the greatest good). I have been tearing my hair out ever since the Euston Manifesto was written, trying to get even one of its signers to admit that “intervention” and “protection” mean war, with surprisingly little success. At the root of it of course is a confusion between ethics (what we think is good) and politics (what we are actually prepared to put people in jail and kill them for), and there is a small book token prize for anyone who can guess which eighteenth-century period of European history this distinction dates back to.

This is not a particularly original analysis to me; Matthew Yglesias has posted many times on the fundamental unseriousness of claiming to have been “expressing solidarity with the best of the democratic elements in Iraq” when what one was doing was observationally indistinguishable from “providing political support for the Bush administration’s declaration of war”, but I think that this is the central problem that the Decent Left can’t and won’t come to terms with. It is of course (as they say) “hardly a coincidence” that this analysis has been so strong among people with a long personal history of pretending that what was happening in the Soviet Union and China wasn’t really anything to do with Communism.

I think this is the real problem here; unless one believes that the simple moral power of our Enlightenment values is enough to change the minds of the Muzzies, we have to (as Gray says) accept that they are, in fact, Muslims, and that whether or not we like their society, there is nothing we can do about it unless we are prepared to have a literally genocidal war. I actually do believe that the moral superiority of Western society is likely to win over the fundie world in the same way it did the Communists, but it is going to take a long time and I would rather not suck in an anthrax spore in the meantime, or watch my government bombing people into the stone age, just because somebody thought there was a short cut.

[1] I would note that it is also very likely wishful thinking to believe that Islamic women aren’t really Islamic[2] and are longing for the decline of Islamic patriarchy too, a version of this hypothesis that I’ve seen.
[2] No really guys, wishful thinking is like cigarettes; there’s no use in trying to cut down a little bit, you’ve got to do the full cold turkey. Nor do these people have “false consciousness” which will fall away like scales from their eyes once they are exposed to the chance of freedom. The whole theory of “false consciousness” ought not to have survived its treatment at the hands of communists and radical feminists but apparently we are determined to repeat this mistake. Give up; Muslims are Muslims for the most part because they believe that Allah is God, Mohammed is his Prophet and the Koran is his divine word. I don’t like it any more than you do but ignoring it won’t make it go away and being nasty about it will only make it get worse.

{ 174 comments }

1

daniel elstein 06.21.06 at 7:30 am

I’m losing track of the point here. If the argument is just that trying to impose enlightenment values on ‘unenlightened’ countries is likely to be bloody and counterproductive and generally non-utilty-maximising, then fine, we shouldn’t do it. But that doesn’t mean that we have to suddenly come over all principled about the inviolability of the democratic will of the overwhelming theocratic majorities that oppose us. The correct attitude is one of studied pragmatism: do whatever possible to change the situation in those countries, regarding the majority view as an obstacle rather than a countervailing reason. If it is possible, for instance, to coerce them not to execute people just for being gay, then we should do so when the costs, including costs to us, are not prohibitive. I’m certainly prepared to accept an increased risk of being blown up on the Tube in exchange for some tangible improvement in the lives of gay people in Iran. And if I weren’t so prepared, I should be. The relevance of the fact that the number of Iranians who care about the rights of homosexuals is vanishingly small is purely pragmatic.

Of course, it may be that this kind of cost-benefit analysis is precisely what d^2 and John Gray are arguing for. But then it’s hard to see why they come down so hard on the Enlightenment – isn’t Bentham an enlightenment figure? I should say that I don’t consider myself at all on the side of the Euston manifesto people, who I agree are the Americans’ useful idiots. But their problem isn’t believing in the Enlightenment.

2

John Emerson 06.21.06 at 7:30 am

I’ve been arguing recently that the big failure of imposed democracy was in Germany in 1918. And the ultimate consequences were as bad as could be imagined.

Germany had all the objective requirements of democracy that Iraq doesn’t have — economic productivity, an educated populace, and a tradition of public order. Yet liberal democracy never took.

In 1932 the majority of Germans supported one of the anti-democratic parties. Even the moderate Germans who theoretically supported democracy were pretty unenthusiastic about it — e.g. Thomas Mann and Max Weber (who died early on).

Bismarck actually might have been one of the good Germans. “People who like laws or sausages shouldn’t watch them being made”. That’s about as liberal as the Germans got in those days — Germans, after all, do like sausages, so Bismarck was making the best case he could for democracy.

By the evidence, most Germans abhorred the politicking and horsetrading and compromises and fudges and graft visibly involved in liberal democratic politics, and they seemed to prefer a paternalistic government whose workings were invisible. (I’ve recently been reading Strauss and Schmitt recently. Their lesson from 1932 was that liberal democracy was no good. Schmitt became a Nazi, but poor Strauss did not have that option. (In what I read I saw no evidence that in 1932-3 Strauss was an Abraham Lincoln democrat, quite the opposite. I also know of no evidence of a conversion, and to the end of his life, as far as I know, Strauss’s actual endorsements of liberal democracy are lukewarm and evasive.)

Democratization worked better after WWII because both Germany and Japan were in the Soviet shadow, and probably also because those countries had been bled white — most of the young militants had been killed, crippled, or demoralized by then.

I really believe that 1914 was the turning point in Western civilization, and not the Holocaust.

3

Alex 06.21.06 at 7:53 am

I’ve said it before, but if you want to support secular Iraqi democrats, sponsor their visa applications.

4

Daniel 06.21.06 at 7:56 am

But then it’s hard to see why they come down so hard on the Enlightenment – isn’t Bentham an enlightenment figure?

quite a controversial one, who famously argued against natural rights, which is at the base of my (and I think Gray’s) problem with the EV/EM crowd.

The problem is that we also have to take another of Gray’s points seriously (and I am here I think going quite a long way from the general CT line), which is that certain freedoms aren’t compatible with certain kinds of society. It probably isn’t possible to have a society in which traditional sharia is respected but blasphemy is legal and women have equal rights.

If we were all angels and didn’t have spatial properties this would be no problem; everyone who wanted to live in a sharia society could go and do it and everyone who didn’t could live in our society. Unfortunately, we aren’t angels; we have extension and location, and so a “society” has to be a particular bit of the planet Earth which it is inconvenient to stop living in. So if there is to be a sharia society, then it has to be somewhere.

We can have a generous immigration policy to make the existence of sharia societies less bad for people who don’t want to live in them, but this can’t (practically) solve the whole problem because people have families and other things that are important to them, so there will always be some people who want our freedoms but who, by accident of where they ended up, are located in the territory occupied by a sharia society. If we want everyone to have the freedoms that we enjoy, then we are also committed to saying that there can’t be sharia societies, even if quite a lot of people want them. Let’s also presume that these people really do want them and I am wrong to suggest they will ever change their minds.

If you believe in utilitarianism, you end up saying “tough luck”; lots of people want there to be sharia societies, so this is going to mean that some people have to live in them who would rather have been born somewhere else and had our freedoms.

If you believe in natural rights, though, then you now have the elements of a proof that sharia societies have no moral right to exist; because everyone has a natural right to freedoms which are incompatible with the existence of a sharia society around them.

And naturally (this definitely is Gray’s point) if you start from the philosophical position that some kinds of society have no right to exist (a position which seems to me to be at least in principle enshrined in the Euston Manifesto), then you are in practical terms likely to err on one side rather than another when making decisions about how much violence to use.

Another way to look at this is just to say that the EM/EV crowd are explicitly *not* framing their endorsements of Enlightenment values as lofty long term goals we should work towards; they’re offering them up as the basic principles of British and American foreign policy. As I argue above, I think I disagree with them even in principle, but the people who are loudest advocates of them render this disagreement otiose, because they are quite specifically recommending them as organising principles for state violence right now.

5

rd 06.21.06 at 7:58 am

There’s a distinction between arguing Muslims want, and must have, full-bore 21st century Western liberalism and arguing they have a right to consent to their governments and hold them accountable through periodic elections. The latter is the more fundamental requirement, and I fail to see how it conflicts with any essential tenet of the Muslim faith.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, constitutions (and the amendments likely to follow in Iraq) have been produced not as incoherent compromises between a monolithic Muslim mindset and a monolithic Western mindset, but as frameworks designed to secure the widest consent possible among diverse groups in those societies, with the hope of a working democratic process takeing root. The fact that if they survive these democracies may not establish the full extent of, say, freedom of expression that exists in the West doesn’t mean they are not distinct advances in basic human dignity. Its also hard to see how they would not be preferred by the populations there. Is it your argument that the Muslim faith inculcates a preference for arbitrary and unaccountable power that elections interfere
with?

In addition, there is a reason that the Taliban and Al Quaeda in Iraq are so violently opposed to elections and prone to kill voters and candidates. They recognize that the principle of democratic accountability and equality is not only incompatible with the pure theocracies they desire, it also contains the seed for a further development of individual rights into something like a more complete liberalism.

6

abb1 06.21.06 at 8:01 am

Enlightenmentism, huh. I like it, good word to describe these guys.

7

Daniel 06.21.06 at 8:02 am

Is it your argument that the Muslim faith inculcates a preference for arbitrary and unaccountable power that elections interfere
with?

Not the Muslim faith per se, but a particular version of it which is powerful enough in parts of Iraq to be a problem. I don’t think the Iraqi constitution was an incoherent compromise; it was as good a compromise as one could have expected, between genuinely incompatible forces.

I’d note that your position would imply that it was OK for societies to democratically elect sharia governments, which is not AFAICT compatible with the stated positions of lots of Decentists (in particular, Christopher Hitchens).

8

daniel elstein 06.21.06 at 8:13 am

I agree that the natural rights crowd will be irrationally unconstrained in their determination to rid the world of sharia by any means necessary. Their bad. But it isn’t the view that sharia societies have no right to exist which is the problem. Utilitarians think that too (or can do, e.g. Mill). The mistaken step is the one which goes from that claim directly to the claim that we are obliged to prevent them existing whatever the consequences. On some pure natural rights view that step is trivial, but isn’t for utilitarians. And I don’t think the latter will err on the side of violence (why would they?). Anyway, this is probably just splitting hairs, since it isn’t so important exactly where the EM crowd go wrong. But I don’t think the Iraq war is to be blamed on the Enlightenment, and so the choice between EM and John Gray looks like a false dilemma.

9

rd 06.21.06 at 8:14 am

Certainly its OK to elect sharia governments. Introducing the principle that Muslim law owes its authority to the popular will is the best way long term to modify and soften its hold. If your argument is purely against Decentists who would, hypothetically, use armed force against democratic governments that enact illiberal laws, then I have no argument with you at all. But its important to realize that that’s not what we’re dealing with today. The violence in Iraq and Afghanistan is between the Coalition forces, the elected governments and armed minorities who view even illiberal democracy as unacceptable.

10

Ray 06.21.06 at 8:16 am

There’s a distinction between arguing Muslims want, and must have, full-bore 21st century Western liberalism and arguing they have a right to consent to their governments and hold them accountable through periodic elections.

Yeah, and when the choice is between ‘a government friendly to the West’ and ‘a democracy’ where do you think the Western powers come down? That’s the thing that really annoys me about the Decents – the willed ignorance and gullibility. “Yeah, we’re in favour of liberal democracies, and that nice Mr Blair tells us that Iraq is going to be a liberal democracy once George is finished bombing it. But then they’ll be able to vote for whoever they like!”

11

abb1 06.21.06 at 8:20 am

I think there is a certain irony here in the fact that a society in some of these places might be pretty much ready to accept some form of these “Enlightenment Values”, but as soon as Enlightenmentist thugs move in with their guns blazing, masses of people understandably change their minds and turn back to tribalism, traditionalism and religion. Oh, well.

12

Chris Bertram 06.21.06 at 8:22 am

comme ils _disent_ .

13

Daniel 06.21.06 at 8:24 am

Introducing the principle that Muslim law owes its authority to the popular will

but this is the problem; it’s contradictory. It’s like saying that we should deal with China by first introducing the principle that Maoism owes its authority to the will of God.

Daniel:

The mistaken step is the one which goes from that claim directly to the claim that we are obliged to prevent them existing whatever the consequences

I think this is what I was trying to get at with the distinction between ethics and politics. It is, IMO a good property of some ethical theories and not others that they can be converted into programs for political action without either massive compromise on their central principles or genocide. I think (or at least Gray thinks and I think I agree) that “Enlightenment Values” scores much less well on this criterion that a lot of its supporters might think.

14

Daniel 06.21.06 at 8:27 am

rassen frassen French speakers. Disent it is then. actually I think I will get rid of the pointless Franglais comment altogether and have “as they say”.

15

Chris Bertram 06.21.06 at 8:29 am

btw, recalling the great-Maddy-Bunting-Enlightenment-debate, wasn’t Our Lady of the Guardian ridiculed by the Decents for pointing out that people in the actual Enlightenment (a) believed all kinds of stuff and (b) did a lot of head-chopping. It now seems that Eve Garrard accepts the line that, historically it was all a bit complicated, but wants to reserve the term “Enlightement Values” for stuff like the UN Declaration. Shurely shome apology to Bunting is called for?

16

rd 06.21.06 at 8:31 am

Well of course its contradictiory, but what society has been free of ideological contradiction in its development? Isn’t that in fact how development occurs?

17

chris y 06.21.06 at 8:37 am

It now seems that Eve Garrard accepts the line that, historically it was all a bit complicated, but wants to reserve the term “Enlightement Values” for stuff like the UN Declaration

Let us give things their right name. They want to reserve the term for the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. With honourable mentions for the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution (except for the embarrassing bits in the Bill of Rights).

18

soru 06.21.06 at 8:38 am

I’ve been arguing recently that the big failure of imposed democracy was in Germany in 1918.

‘imposed’ is seems a strange choice of words there. Democracy was certainly imposed on Germany (and Japan), but in 1945. In 1918, just as in France after the Franco-Prussian war, or Russia after the fall of the Wall, democracy took over by default, pretty much because the alternative sources of legitemacy no longer wanted the job.

Admittedly, I have no idea if there was any involvement of foreign intelligence agencies in the democraticisation of 1918 Germany – has that ever been claimed? It sounds anachronistic.

19

Jimmy Doyle 06.21.06 at 8:42 am

Chris: I think a lot of the ridicule had more to do with such statements as “rationality is a social construction – a way of reasoning which we believe to be objective, but never can be.”

20

tigerbear 06.21.06 at 8:44 am

So, would Shorter Eve Garrard be:

“I’m in favour of Enlightenment Values, but not in favour of the values of The Enlightenment”

21

Daniel 06.21.06 at 8:44 am

I never had any problem with that statement; cf the way in which as recently as the 1950s the Nash equilibrium concept for a two player zero sum game was introduced into the concept of “rationality” and is now treated as definitionally what it meas to be rational by a lot of people despite the fact that it’s actually not a very good solution-concept at all.

22

Aidan Kehoe 06.21.06 at 8:50 am

John Emerson, #1;

I really believe that 1914 was the turning point in Western civilization, and not the Holocaust.

Are there people (outside of the occasional Jew and German with relevant complexes) who believe the turning point in Western civilisation was the Holocaust? Who?

23

daniel elstein 06.21.06 at 9:00 am

d^2: I think (or at least Gray thinks and I think I agree) that “Enlightenment Values” scores much less well on this criterion that a lot of its supporters might think.

Sure, so long as we’re distinguishing between “Enlightenment Values” and Enlightenment Values. I think you’re making the distinction, but I’m not convinced that Gray is. I thought Gray’s point was that we should become sceptical about e.g. ‘Candide’ and ‘What is Enlightenment?’ and ‘Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation’ as an ultimate basis for political thinking. The real doctrine which we’re ending up attacking is the natural rights view of Hobbes and Locke, which gets criticised pretty effectively within the Enlightenment itself.

All of this is stuff that d^2 obviously gets, though perhaps not Gray (who seems to think that Humean scepticism is the best political idea to have come out of the Enlightenment). Gray’s idea of attacking the Enlightenment is to point out that Kant was a racist. But it seems more plausible to say that Kant was better at explaining how we should go about thinking than putting his words into practice, and that’s a limited indictment of Kant, not of his idea of Enlightenment. Old hat, I’d have thought.

24

bellatrys 06.21.06 at 9:00 am

Little known fact – the gopvernment of the bourgeoisie and the aristo exile returnees killed more rebelling workers (and poor people suspected of being rebelling workers) in less than a year than the French Revolution killed in all the Terror. (Leaving aside the problem of all the peasants killed or let die of hunger/poverty related diseases/inequitable law enforcement in the generations leading up to the Revolution, conveniently forgotten as usual. Of course they were overreacting! Our sympathies, as always, are *really* with the Sherriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Guisborne…)

25

soru 06.21.06 at 9:01 am

trying to get even one of its signers to admit that “intervention” and “protection” mean war, with surprisingly little success

I signed: intervention and protection mean war, or the threat of it.

26

Chris Bertram 06.21.06 at 9:10 am

bellatrys: your point about white terror is well taken. But a link to the Paris Commune (1871) is not a good way of making a point about the Bourbon Restoration (1814/15).

27

Robespierre 06.21.06 at 9:10 am

If the principle of the Republic in time of peace is virtue, the principles of the Republic in time of war are virtue and terror!

28

Brendan 06.21.06 at 9:18 am

The real problem with ‘Enlightenment Values’ (as I’ve argued at tedious length elsewhere on this blog that there really are no such things as Enlightenment Values, but let’s pretend there are for the sake of argument) is that they quickly run into not one but two Catch-22s.

1: The first is the famous (or notorious) paradox of democracy: what if people democratically vote for non-democratic parties?
2: What is the relationship between democracy and religion?

The first is self-explanatory and well known. The second is less often discussed which is a shame, because it possibly has even more relevance to our present state. Even the best and most intelligent of Enlightenment thinkers were EITHER religious (in the broadest sense of the word) themselves, or ELSE they tended to think that religion was a sort of confidence trick, thought up by wicked Priests, Immans and Rabbis to bamboozle the populace (there was just a touch of the ‘and the masses are stupid enough to fall for it’ about this). The solution, therefore, thought the Enlightenment thinkers was education, science, and reason. Once the masses had been persuaded of the rightness of the atheistic/secular viewpoint, religion would fade away.

And so, for the 19th and most of the 20th century, it seemed to go. Until incredibly recently. Now, however, we really have to have a loooong hard look at the ‘secularisation’ thesis and see if it holds up. Look at the United States for example. It’s the most ‘advanced’, ‘technologically’ and ‘scientifically’ ‘progressive’ country on earth, it is a democracy, it is wealthy etc. etc. etc….and yet US citizens have become INCREASINGLY religious over the last 25 years: long enough to state that this seems to be a long term trend, not a blip. Of course in the Middle East this is even more pronounced, but the lack of secularisation (au contraire) of Africa and South America is also startling.

It seems that it is the secularisation of Europe that is the outlier, and that it is simply not true that religion will necessarily wither away as science progresses.

So, it seems, therefore, that democracies are going to have to deal with the problem of religion for years, probably centuries to come, and then we end up in the problem of Iraq (and Iran)…what about when people, of their own free will, vote in radical religious parties? (This is clearly related to the ‘paradox of democracy’, point 1, above).
Whatever one decides about this, it is a real problem and a real situation. But the ‘decents’ ‘solution’ is simply to ignore it. For example, they continually OPPOSE theocracy and democracy and argue that the solution to the problem of theocracy is democracy. But what has happened in Iraq is that people CHOSE (democratically) to vote in theocrats. That simply could not happen in the ‘decents’ worldview, and so they spend much time arguing that the Shia death squads, sorry Iraqi police force, are in fact perfectly normal secular security forces, fighting against the ‘sunni fundamentalists’ and seem to be unaware why everyone is laughing at them.

Likewise, ‘democracy’ VERSUS ‘terrorism’. Again, in Northern Ireland, majorities of people voted for parties associated in some way or another with terrorist groups, and this also seems to be the case in Iraq. But again, this simply could not happen in the ‘decents’ view.

The final point about the decents is even more lethal to their case: ignoring the facts of religion about their own leaders. Whatever one might think about Bush and Blair, however one might judge them…they are not secular rationalists. Blair has defended the teaching of Intelligent Design in British schools. He has also said that he belives ‘God’ will judge the Iraq invasion, not any human being. Bush has of course been even clearer. The response of the ‘decents’ again, has been simply to ignore this, and view this (absurdly) as a battle of secularism versus theocracy, even though both sides are religious. And they can only do this because they are under the misapprehension that somehow democracy is intrinsically secular. ‘Tain’t so.

29

Brendan 06.21.06 at 9:27 am

Incidentally…..’And it would be not only easy but correct, because she’s dodged the central problem that Gray has been identifying for years; the problem that occurs when you try to bring people the benefits of freedom and democracy and they say “no thanks”.’

Interesting use of the phrase ‘freedom and democracy’ as though they are synonyms. But they aren’t. Almost everyone (not least in the middle east) wants democracy (‘rule by the people for the people’): that’s very different from saying that they also want ‘Western style’ freedom, or liberty, to choose another word for it. ‘Liberty’ has a number of meanings attached to it, but one specific meaning is its ‘Western style’ ‘Bourgeois’ definition: i.e. ‘An Englishman’s Home is his Castle’, ‘private property’, ‘sexual freedom’ and so forth.

Now, amongst other thinkers, Hayek was very clear that democracy was not the same as liberty, and he also made very clear that if he had to choose, he would choose ‘liberty’: i.e. he thought it was more important to be able to own property, buy goods from private companies and so forth, than that he could vote. And he made it clear that places like Pinochet’s Chile (where they had, according to Hayek, ‘liberty’ but not ‘democracy’) were preferable to the contrary (i.e. Allende’s Chile).

To repeat: in Iraq, Palestine and other places, they seem to want democracy, but not liberty, specifically not sexual liberty. The ‘decents’ assumed that when democracy comes, liberty must surely follow. Again: ’tain’t necessarily so.

30

Dave 06.21.06 at 9:33 am

“the fundamental unseriousness of claiming to have been “expressing solidarity with the best of the democratic elements in Iraq” when what one was doing was observationally indistinguishable from “providing political support for the Bush administration’s declaration of war”, but I think that this is the central problem that the Decent Left can’t and won’t come to terms with”

Isn’t this just the same as saying, “you love Bush”, to which they reply, “you fancy Saddam”, and then you get in a “just because I opposed the illegal attack on Iraq, initiated on a false prospectus, it doesn’t mean I like Saddam”, and they come back with a “maybe not, but it is observationally indistinguishable from providing support for the Baath regime”. And from there it’s only a short step to a couple of pages of “you imperialist swine/ Enlightenmentist thug” alternating freely with a few of variations on “you objective fascist “—ie one more run-of-the-mill contribution to the grand project of fundamental unseriousness.

31

Daniel 06.21.06 at 9:50 am

Not really, because as John posted a couple of days ago, there is a fundamental asymmetry here; there were all sorts of possible views that would have had the consequence that you opposed the war, but it’s difficult to support the war without supporting it.

32

Russell L. Carter 06.21.06 at 9:58 am

“Not really, because as John posted a couple of days ago, there is a fundamental asymmetry here”

I think Henley’s application of Hayek indicates otherwise. The main point is the uncertainty of outcomes coupled to the badness of most outcomes.

33

Daniel 06.21.06 at 10:08 am

But the point I’m making here is that there are lots of different peaces, sharing only the characteristic of absence of war (you could be in favour of Ba’athism and peace, Islamism and peace, liberal democracy and peace etc) but only one war (so whatever else you’re in favour of, you’re in favour of that particular war). There were people who expressed solidarity with the etc etc and opposed the war, and some of them have even signed the Euston Manifesto. That’s not unserious. However, what is unserious is pretending that you could support the war without supporting the actual war that was fought. Or, on a forward looking basis, supporting abstract “intervention in support of our fundamental values” while pretending that this doesn’t involve supporting the sort of wars that would predictably be fought as a result. Another example would be the clamor of people demanding that we “do something” about Darfur but refusing to say what that “something” might be (usually because they hadn’t bothered to find out what was already being done).

34

Jack 06.21.06 at 10:14 am

Enlightenment values are associated with violence to pretty much the same extent they are associated with revolution. To attribute the violence to the ideas in isolation and not the process of change and the injustice provoking it seems mistaken and unhelpful.

Failure to recognise that Islamism (or communism or fascism or enlightenmentism before it) is filling a demand for change seems to lead us into a lot of trouble.

35

Slocum 06.21.06 at 10:15 am

“The Muslim World” who simply don’t want tolerance, equality (in some sense) or freedom of speech. There are genuine democratic movements in most Islamic countries, but it is wishful thinking to pretend that they aren’t small and unrepresentative minorities.

I think that’s wrong (and wishful thinking of an another sort–most of ‘them’ don’t really want democracy, therefore we’ve no obligations in the matter). The strong electoral support of Khatami’s reforms in Iran belie that (which, of course, were tragically and systematically stymied by the mullahs). And the present problems establishing democracy in Iraq don’t derive from the fact that only a small minority of Iraqis want democracy, but rather than that a violent, ruthless, well-armed minority are prepared to stop at nothing to prevent it. The situation is very much the same in Afghanistan, by the way–a majority wanting peace and democracy, a violent, anti-democratic minority wanting to take (or, rather, retake) control by force.

And, yes, a majority in both Afghanistan and Iraq probably do want Islamic law to form the basis of the legal code. But that is a far cry from Zarqawi’s assertions that democracy itself is inherently un-Islamic. And even with aspects of Islamic law inscribed in those constitutions, women are likely to end up with greater legal rights (in particular, the right to vote) than they enjoyed in the west in the century after the enlightenment.

36

abb1 06.21.06 at 10:23 am

However, what is unserious is pretending that you could support the war without supporting the actual war that was fought.

They could denounce the actual war and support a different war. A good, clean war, a war they would have to fight personally, like those who went to Spain in 1936 and fought on the republican side. But for some reason this is a kind of war they don’t support.

37

Jim Harrison 06.21.06 at 10:38 am

The Enlightenment didn’t share a single point of view, and many of its most famous representatives were anything but democrats. Figures like the Emperor Joseph and Frederick the Great, who proposed to rationalize government from the top down, are just as characteristic as Rousseau or Adam Smith. To some extent these people had assumptions in common and agreed about which issues were important to disagree about. Otherwise, there never was consensus–at best an Enlightenment way of being an authoritarian and an Enlightenment way of being a republican.

38

Dave 06.21.06 at 10:40 am

“there were all sorts of possible views that would have had the consequence that you opposed the war, but it’s difficult to support the war without supporting it”

Of course, supporting the war for whatever reason, whether noble or base, still means that you supported a war that has had, and will have further, specific outcomes, if that’s what you’re saying.

However, if we imagine an alterative history, in which the war was prevented—the wide array of reasons for opposing the war beaming in on the single consequence of making sure no war happened—then that too would have sent certain consequences ricocheting, sometimes in unforeseen directions.

But it seems to me that several of your criticisms, as well as those of some of the commenters, fall wide of the mark because they rest on mischaracterisations of the other side’s position.

My impression—to cite just one example—is that many of the Decents took a somewhat instrumental position with regard to the actions of the Bush administration on this issue, recognising that they had their own (conflicting) reasons for overthrowing Saddam, but that even if the motivations envisioned in a standard anti-imperialist narrative were true (eg to pinch the oil and impose colonial rule)—though this seemed to the Decents unlikely—was in any case unnrealisable in the modern age, not least because of the degree of violence necessary to achieve these goals was not a practical option in the days of near-instantaneous global communications, when the imperial overlords have electorates to face every few years.

That said, the imperial forces, from this perspective, certainly seemed likely to be capable of destroying the Baathist state apparatus–something that would have been much more difficult, and proably impossible in the near term, had it been anti-Baathist Iraqis fighting on their own, as in 1991.

Whereas the Indecents appear to have fallen back on the position that was imminent in their argument from the start: that Muslim societies are not really amenable to democracy and that the Iraqis were better off under Saddam. And, more importantly, we were better off with them under Saddam.

39

zdenek 06.21.06 at 10:46 am

daniel– you are running several different issues together :
1) one is whether Eve Gerrard’s criticism of Gray works or not and here you supprisingly have almost nothing to say accept develop a red herring ( maybe enlightenment values do lead to violence but that is not the issue in her discussion ) by saying that Gray has a cheep shot available to him .
2) claim that ‘Enlightenmentism’ is inherently violent or leads to violence and that that is why there is Gitmo , Falujah etc. This seems to take on board uncritically Gray’s mistaken view that enlightenment outlook is somehow conceptually commited to thinking that there is only one rational conception of good.

Gray is here simply edorsing Berlin’s point that there are incompatitble/incommensurable but conception’s of good and he uses this idea to criticise enlightenment as being utopian. The violence comes in on Gray’s view because you have to force people to subscribe to the liberal ( read enlightenment ) conception of good.

This is a serious mistake easy to see if you consider Rawls’ work which can be seen as fleshing out of Kantian ( i.e. core enlightenment stuff ) ideas and it explicitly accepts and incorporates Berlin’s point about Good.
The point is on this more sensible view we do not have Pavlovian imposistion of values on people but the opposite is the case as should be obvious to anyone familiar with Rawls.
So what has happened in other words is kind of crude caricaturing of Euston position and the way enlightenment enters into our picture.

40

Brendan 06.21.06 at 10:47 am

‘I think that’s wrong (and wishful thinking of an another sort—most of ‘them’ don’t really want democracy, therefore we’ve no obligations in the matter). The strong electoral support of Khatami’s reforms in Iran belie that (which, of course, were tragically and systematically stymied by the mullahs). ‘

I disagree, and I think the problem is to do with my differentiation between ‘liberty’ (which is a Western concept) and ‘democracy’ (which isn’t).The problem is that we have had both in the west for so long we see them as being synonyms, but they aren’t. Look at the quote again:

‘“The Muslim World” who simply don’t want tolerance, equality (in some sense) or freedom of speech.

But these are not the same as democracy. You can have democracy without any of them, as is shown in the UK. British democracy slowly began to develop just immediately before Magna Carta, but only finally achieved what WE would call democracy sometime in the 20th century (even now it’s far from perfect). For most of that period the UK (or England) simply did NOT have any concept of tolerance, equality or freedom of speech: au contraire.

Khatami DID want to reform the system but he was not in any sense a revolutionary. There is absolutely no evidence that he wanted what we would term a modern Western, secular style democracy, and there is no evidence that anyone in Iran (except a few, Westernised intellectuals) want that. There is much frustration with the Mullahs. (Some) women want to be freer in terms of how they dress. People are upset with corruption, and the sluggish employment situation, and the economy generally. But even Western diplomats admit that if free opinion polls were held tomorrow, Ahmadinejad would probably get 70% approval ratings. In other words, the Iranians want democracy in order that they can vote in anti-liberal (anti-‘freedom’) candidates. And ultimately you have to choose: do you respect democracy or liberty? Hayek chose liberty. I would choose democracy. But it’s a devil’s alternative.

41

Brendan 06.21.06 at 10:51 am

Just to back up my point, here’s Major-General Amos Yadlin who lists the major ‘strategic threat’ to Israel.

Number one:

‘(A key) factor was the adoption of the democratic model, which now aids many extremist organizations to seize power positions and be legitimized in their countries – as happened with the Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Hamas in the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim Brotherhood which has gained strength in Egypt.’

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3265380,00.html

42

Slocum 06.21.06 at 11:00 am

There is absolutely no evidence that he wanted what we would term a modern Western, secular style democracy, and there is no evidence that anyone in Iran (except a few, Westernised intellectuals) want that.

One of Khatami’s first acts in office was to follow through on promises of a free press:

“By the end of 1997 the press was growing in confidence and beginning to insist that powerful state institutions should be accountable for their actions and carry out their functions in a transparent manner. After Head of the Judiciary Mohammad Yazdi said publicly in January 1998 that it was none of the media’s business who he sent to jail, the Tehran media protested vigorously. In his speech, Ayatollah Yazdi exploded in anger against the media in general. “What is going on?,” he asked. “We tell those people: What is your business?”

http://hrw.org/reports/1999/iran/Iran99o-02.htm

Sure sounds an awful lot like ‘liberty’ and ‘tolerance’ (not just democracy) to me.

But even Western diplomats admit that if free opinion polls were held tomorrow, Ahmadinejad would probably get 70% approval ratings.

All the unnamed experts agree? C’mon — that defies credulity. Ask yourself — if that’s really the majority opinion in Iran, then why on earth did the Mullahs go to all the trouble of throwing reformist candidates off the ballot (not just at the top, but all the way down).

Do you really want to be in the position of defending the democratic legitimacy of Ahmadinejad?!?

43

Aidan Maconachy 06.21.06 at 11:04 am

It’s ironical in a sense that Americans tend to view Sharia and Islamic culture in general as non-democratic, when there is a burgeoning evangelical movement in the U.S. that seems keen on introducing a Christian variant of same.

Intolerant attitudes toward abortion, overt prejudice against gays, regressive attitudes toward the role of women and the anti-science mentality that characterizes Christian fundamentalism … arguably demonstrates a mindset that is just as “medieval” (to quote Rummy), as the anachronistic visions of the late Musab al Zarqawi.

The word “sharia” has acquired a host of negative connotations in the west, thanks largely to the exertions of radical Islamists. Aspects of the Christian evangelical lifestyle on the other hand, that are equally incompatible with the values of a free and open society, are seen as de rigueur by some.

Perhaps we need to shift our attention from the Muslim community to the real opponents of free and progressive society – and they don’t wear burqas or sport long beards.

44

zdenek 06.21.06 at 11:13 am

re the claim that Euston M. is ” enlightenmentist” (E) . What is E ? basically it involves 3 claims :

(i) there is only one set of rational values that can be known by reason

(ii) people who do not hold such values are in error.

(iii) force may be used to correct this moral error.

EM is not commited to (i) but to a Rawlsian view which distinguishes between Good and Right and goes on to allow that there are incompatible but equally well justified conceptions of good which Rawls calls ‘the burdens of reason’. This is enlightenment but not ‘enlightenmentist’.

EM is not commited to (ii) since EM rejects (i) and same obviously goes for (iii).
In other words EM is not enlightenmentist .

45

Daniel 06.21.06 at 11:13 am

Zdenek, I am “familiar with Rawls” and I think that Gray is right and Rawls is wrong on this one. You’re going to have to get a lot more detailed if you’re going to convince me otherwise. In particular, my comment #4 above on the empirical fact that societies need a place to exist is the kernel of my argument why Rawls is wrong; I think that too many of his arguments depend on a conceptual definition of a community or society and ignore the fact that there are geographical/topological constraints on them too.

46

Brendan 06.21.06 at 11:16 am

‘All the unnamed experts agree? C’mon—that defies credulity.’

It may well defy (Western) credulity but the named experts do indeed agree on that.

‘”He’s more popular now than a year ago. He’s on the rise,” said Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a professor of political science at Tehran University. “I guess he has a 70% approval rating right now. He portrays himself as a simple man doing an honest job. He’s comfortable communicating with ordinary people.”
While there are no reliable national opinion polls in Iran, western diplomats acknowledged that support for Mr Ahmadinejad is growing, defying widespread predictions after last June’s election that he would not last more than three months.

“An indication of his power is the way he has whipped up public opinion on the nuclear energy issue,” a western diplomat said. “If there was an election today, he would win.”‘.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,1801867,00.html

‘Ask yourself—if that’s really the majority opinion in Iran, then why on earth did the Mullahs go to all the trouble of throwing reformist candidates off the ballot’

The Mullahs did throw most of the reformist candidates off the ballot…but not all of them. And the ones that were left did not do well.

And if Khatami ever had any idea of turning Iran into a Western style more or less secular democracy, he certainly kept those ideas to himself. (Khatami has explicitly denied that he sees secularism as being a model for Iran: ‘Secularism is the experience of the Western culture and thought. Insisting on spreading it to places where the underlying intellectual background, and the political and social reasons for its appearance are lacking, is clearly a mistake, regardless of being desirable or not.’ (from the Wikipedia)).

Khatami did well for reasons that any politician would understand: there is high unemployment in Iran, there is a lot of corruption, and people were bored of the Mullahs and wanted to teach them a lesson. (it’s because he is seen to be dealing with these issues that Ahmadinejad is also doing well…actually better than Khatami ever did). That’s very different from saying that the average working class non-Westernised Iranian actually wanted (or wants) a secular state.

47

abb1 06.21.06 at 11:17 am

Slocum,
why on earth did the Mullahs go to all the trouble of throwing reformist candidates off the ballot (not just at the top, but all the way down).

Do you really want to be in the position of defending the democratic legitimacy of Ahmadinejad?!?

I don’t remember the exact number, but I think there were at least 6 candidates in that election. Ahmadinejad was the most religious, the most conservative, the most anti-Western of them all – and he won.

How would you explain this fact?

48

dipnut 06.21.06 at 11:27 am

Well, I’ve always been in the “Let freedom ring! Eat lead hadji” category. There’s no point in pretending to be nice.

But I’m not up for a genocidal war, just yet. Like you, I have faith that our superior values can win over the slammos in time. Unlike you, I recognize that peace in our time peaceful coexistence won’t be possible in the interim. They don’t pretend to be nice, either.

Besides, if we expect to prevail in the competition of ideologies, fighting is a most effective means of communication. Not in the “break their will to resist” sense, but literally, as in “actions speak louder than words”. Inaction speaks, too.

A good, clean war…

Abb1, what planet are you on? There has never been a good, clean war, and there never will be.

The only possible consolation is if the good guys win.

49

eweininger 06.21.06 at 11:35 am

Daniel wrote:
[W]hat is unserious is pretending that you could support the war without supporting the actual war that was fought. Or, on a forward looking basis, supporting abstract “intervention in support of our fundamental values” while pretending that this doesn’t involve supporting the sort of wars that would predictably be fought as a result.

Hitchens, I think, was one of the few who was quite clear on this—parodying Rumsfeld but also admitting something like (I’m relying on memory here) ‘you have to go to war with the President you have’. Which I’ve always found simultaneously refreshing and ridiculous.

50

Slocum 06.21.06 at 11:40 am

I don’t remember the exact number, but I think there were at least 6 candidates in that election. Ahmadinejad was the most religious, the most conservative, the most anti-Western of them all – and he won.

How would you explain this fact?

It’s not exactly a secret — the reformist candidates were disqualified in large numbers. Reformist supporters mostly decided to stay home rather than turn out to vote for the lesser of the evils (Rafsanjani).

Suppose all the Democrats, for every office from drain commissioner to president, were thrown off the ballot in the U.S. — do you think most Democratic voters would then vote for the least offensive Republican? Or would most refuse to lend legitimacy to the sham result by voting? The question answers itself.

But, of course, if we can persuade ourselves that Ahmadinejad represents the true majority in Iran (and forget about Khatami’s landslide victory in a freer election) then we can reach the convenient conclusion that those backward Iranians mostly want a repressive religious regime and so we have no need to worry ourselves about the situation.

51

abb1 06.21.06 at 11:42 am

Well, what I mean is that Hemingway, Orwell, Picasso and other volunteers didn’t go there to steal oil or build military bases or get lucrative contracts. In this sense it was clean.

52

zdenek 06.21.06 at 11:43 am

daniel– the idea that EM croud is pro war involves two different kinds of mistakes and you it seems to me make both;

1) it is a mistake to take EM as being pro war because key architect ( S. Lappin ) are against it as are many signers.

2) the other kind of mistake is deeper and it involves what we understand enlightenment to mean to us. You assume ( because you accept Gray caricature of liberalism and the way enlightenment plugs in ) that EM entails going in other countries and changing their culture. This is false and I dont know anyone who holds this rediculous view.
[ Take my own view which is Rawlsian on the justification of the Iraq war . Which is that best case has to see the war as intervention consistent with just war doctrine and conceives the whole effort as some sort of duty ( se Law of the People ). Anyway this is not a view which tries to change anyones culture and is a view typical among the sighners of EM. ]
In other words your criticism is badly off target as is Gray’s.

53

abb1 06.21.06 at 11:46 am

A lot of people come out and vote for a lesser evil, but fair enough, Slocum. Let’s say it’s inconclusive.

54

Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 11:46 am

I have been tearing my hair out ever since the Euston Manifesto was written, trying to get even one of its signers to admit that “intervention” and “protection” mean war, with surprisingly little success.

Good for you. But of course they can’t admit this obvious truth since they need to keep up the pretence that the EM’s prime movers are not pro-Iraq War agitators. Similar questions, such as why intervention in Darfur, suffering a vastly greater humanitarian crisis than Iraq in 2003, was not preferable, are equally inconvenient.

However, when you say:
There are genuine democratic movements in most Islamic countries, but it is wishful thinking to pretend that they aren’t small and unrepresentative minorities. The biggest proportion of the population of Islamic states are quite happy about Islam and don’t want the same things we want.

…I’d like to see some evidence. It is arguably more correct, on the contrary, to say that the hardline theocratic ruling elites are the unrepresentative minorities. To speak as you do may be in danger of implying that “Islam”, homogeneously conceived, is somehow inimically hostile to freedom, civil rights, voting and so on. Of course it is not, any more than Christianity is, despite the actions of many anti-democratic Christianists.

Gray’s piece, meanwhile, is simply post hoc ergo propter hoc nonsense on stilts.

55

Brendan 06.21.06 at 11:48 am

‘Reformist supporters mostly decided to stay home rather than turn out to vote for the lesser of the evils (Rafsanjani).’

And how do you come by this information? You seem to be implying that Ahmadinejad was elected in on an unusually low turn out, but he wasnt: actually turn out was unusually high.

You also imply (without saying so) that Khatami was somehow prevented from standing: actually the Iranian constitution prevents more than two consecutive presidential terms.

Yet again, you ignore my main point: there WAS a reformist candidate (Mostafa Moeen): he finished fifth (out of sixth). So your comparison with an election in which ALL Democrats were banned from standing is highly misleading (surely if the Iranians desperately wanted a reformst, they would all rally round the remaining reformist candidate?) The idea that ‘all’ reformist candidates were banned from the 2005 elections is a popular one amongst the American right wing, but it is false. The idea that the elections were a ‘sham’ is also false: no serious allegations of vote rigging have ever been brought forward.

56

Brendan 06.21.06 at 11:59 am

Sorry I’ve just been reading up on the 2005 elections, and as usual, the moral of the story is, never believe a word you read in the Western Press. Actually, not only was it not the case that ‘all’ the reformists were banned, the list of candidates was evenly split between reformers and conservatives . Mostafa Moeen was a RADICAL reformist (people still didn’t vote for him). And while it is true that the Guardian council prevented some ‘liberals’ from standing they also prevented some Conservatives from standing. There was a small scale boycott by ‘reformers’ but it was mainly led by Iranian exiles in Europe and wasn’t representative.

And all the evidence is that if a perfectly transparent, ‘western style’ democratic election was held in Iran tomorrow, Ahmadinejad would still win.

57

Steve LaBonne 06.21.06 at 12:02 pm

Even though this discussion is primarily about the UK, as an American I would very much like to second Aidan’s comments (#43). Opposition to obscurantism, like charity, ought to begin at home. But here in the US, many of the biggest “sharia”-phobes arrive at that position via their own mirror-image religious bigotry, not via “Enlightenment” anything.
In this time of Guantanamo and the “don’t let me lose face” President, we have much housecleaning to do before we have any business even thinking about lecturing the rest of the world on “values.”

58

Daniel 06.21.06 at 12:02 pm

it is a mistake to take EM as being pro war because key architect ( S. Lappin ) are against it

“War” in “pro war” is a plural and thus is not described by “it”. “Pro War” does not mean “Pro the Iraq War”.

You assume ( because you accept Gray caricature of liberalism and the way enlightenment plugs in ) that EM entails going in other countries and changing their culture

I assume this on the basis of point 10 of the Euston Manifesto, “A new internationalism” and point 3 “Human Rights for all”.

Steven: there is a lot of space between “hardline theocratic elites” and anything that could be recognised as being even a little bit like Enlightenment values. It certainly looked like there was genuine popular outrage about those cartoons, for example. I don’t think that there is anything intrinsic to Islam the religion … in fact I’ll pretty much leave it there, because I don’t think there is anything intrinsic to Islam the religion. But in the political culture of Nigeria, Indonesia and the Arab states there is no popular support for civil rights or many (even most) of the freedoms we are talking about here. There is support for democracy but that isn’t the same thing – to take an example upthread, it does not seem very likely to me that gay rights are coming to any Islamic country any time soon, even though I don’t think this is intrinsic to Islam.

I don’t agree on Gray’s piece; it was densely and confusingly written (and it helps to have read a huge amount of Gray’s other stuff to understand it) but it wasn’t nonsense.

59

roger 06.21.06 at 12:04 pm

Although this is a losing argument, since it is aimed at the impenetrable stereotypes that govern the current state of controversy, I’ll make it nevertheless: the Enlightenment thinkers had much more complicated ideas about the universal and the culturally particular than you would be able to tell from the potted history of the Enlightenment thrown about between the Garrads and the Buntings. A good place to see this — because it is a crucial text in the reaction to the Enlightenment’s cultural relativism — is in James Mill’s History of India. It is a History that has, as its whole point, the barbaric state of India and the necessity of bringing civilization, i.e. British rule, to the subcontinent. To mount that argument, Mills has to knock down a century and a half of sentiment about Eastern ‘wisdom’ — and what he takes to be the wild, Rousseau-ist effusions of William Jones, the fad for China of Voltaire and Montesquieu, the myth of Persian wisdom, etc., etc.

Actually, Jones, Voltaire, Montesquieu and the rest of them were simply applying Enlightenment principles in trying to see through ‘eastern eyes’ and using that perspective to criticize the West. A real heir of the Enlightenment would, I think, ask questions about the West such as: why in the world should we allow Weapons of Mass Distruction to be indiscriminately built and stored by the U.S.? Why should we trust any state that claims that it is working solely in the service of the higher moral interests without explaining how those interests are related to the state’s own particular and material interests?

All of which is to say: the Euston crowd are mistaken in claiming to be the heirs of the Enlightenment tradition — they are, instead, the heirs of the early 19th century backlash against the Enlightenment tolerance for other perspectives.

60

roger 06.21.06 at 12:06 pm

ps — oops. Mills history was published in 1817. I should have mentioned that.

61

Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 12:21 pm

Hi Daniel,

It certainly looked like there was genuine popular outrage about those cartoons, for example.

A belated “genuine outrage” that only became popular once it had been whipped up by members of the hardline theocratic elite.

I still see no evidence for your remarkably broad assertion of “no support for civil rights” in Indonesia (of all places) or the Arab states, etc. Meanwhile, gay rights took their blessed time coming to the West, and are not all there yet. I don’t see what this has to teach us about some insurmountable difference between cultures.

I wasn’t at all confused by what Gray was saying, meanwhile; I just consider that logically it’s nonsense.

62

Slocum 06.21.06 at 12:25 pm

And how do you come by this information? You seem to be implying that Ahmadinejad was elected in on an unusually low turn out, but he wasnt: actually turn out was unusually high.

Official turnout was about 60%, but there were call for boycotts and serious charges of irregularities (all of which may be easily found via Google). But for the sake of the argument it doesn’t really matter. The mere fact that Khatami not long ago won a landslide on a platform of reforms very prominently including press freedoms makes it clear that the idea that a majority of Iranians, because of their muslim faith, have no interest in such values is just clearly wrong. Suppose it is true that a majority of Iranians prefer Ahmadinejad in 2005 (I don’t believe it, but for the sake of argument suppose it is true) — even so, it would be clear this is a new and therefore quite likely temporary preference rather than a historically deep-seated expression of their ‘readiness’ for tolerance, personal liberty, freedom of expression & etc.

63

Brendan 06.21.06 at 12:30 pm

‘To mount that argument, Mills has to knock down a century and a half of sentiment about Eastern ‘wisdom’—and what he takes to be the wild, Rousseau-ist effusions of William Jones, the fad for China of Voltaire and Montesquieu, the myth of Persian wisdom, etc., etc.’

Absolutely. At the ‘beginning’ ‘the Enlightenment’ was all about importing foreign values, because Western values (theocracy, slavery, ‘backwardness’) were perceived to be so..well..backwards. Instead the ‘enlightenment thinkers’ looked to China.

‘China is a much richer country than any part of Europe.’ (Adam Smith).

‘ Even the anticlerical philosopher Voltaire was intrigued by what he read about the Chinese. Since Voltaire was intent on attacking the power of the Catholic church in eighteenth-century France, he cleverly used the information about China provided by the Catholics to disprove their more extreme claims. If, argued Voltaire, the Chinese really were so moral, intelligent, ethical, and well governed and if this was largely attributable to the influence of Confucius, it followed that since Confucius had not been a Christian it was obviously possible for a country to get along admirably without the presence of Catholic clerical power.’

http://www.heritageeast.com/history/qing.htm

etc. Some enlightenment thinkers were trying to stamp out Western Values, not propagate them.

64

Alan Peakall 06.21.06 at 12:31 pm

Bellatrys/Chris 24/26,

The white terror that followed the Thermidorian Reaction is probably the relevant comparison. Both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence show a trend towards increasing bloodiness as history marches on. The interesting question is why. There are simple answers: greater populations mean more people to kill, more sophisticated technology means more efficient killing, but it seems to me that the most important element is an increasing proportion of the population living in mass society and so prone to moral hysteria. The role of radio in Rwanda is a significant recent example.

Perhaps we should regard contrarianism as a memetic immune response compensating for our genetic ill-adaptedness to mass society, and (even at the risk of its tipping over into denialism) welcome it as a complement to the institutional safeguards of liberal democracy.

65

Rob 06.21.06 at 12:34 pm

What mystifies me about this whole thread is that no-one (that I’ve seen) has mentioned that two fairly central Enlightenment values, on any decent account of them, are freedom from arbitrary rule and respect for human life. Invasions tend to neither respect human life nor be particularly accountable to those they are inflicted on. Consequently, you don’t have to go anything like as far as John Gray’s wilful and obscurantist misrepresentation of liberalism to get the conclusion that there’s something wrong with the Euston Manifesto’s willingness to advocate the use of force: there’s a perfectly good case to be made from perfectly respectably Enlightenment values for the badness of the use of force. In fact, I say to the Euston Manifesters, give me back my Enlightenment!

66

Brendan 06.21.06 at 12:36 pm

‘Suppose it is true that a majority of Iranians prefer Ahmadinejad in 2005 (I don’t believe it, but for the sake of argument suppose it is true)—even so, it would be clear this is a new and therefore quite likely temporary preference’.

Ipso facto, according to this logic, the fact that Ahmadinejad won by a landslide and is now unprecedentedly popular indicates that it is the Iranian’s desire for ‘reform’ which was a new and therefore quite likely temporary preference. (And in fact, as the 2005 election results show, it WAS temporary).

67

blah 06.21.06 at 12:41 pm

It is a sort of pointless discussion to pin down what the Englightenment “really” was. The Englightment was a category created after the fact to encapsulate a lot of different thinkers, who disagreed on a lot things.

Today, we typically use the term to refer to those specific views that we think are the best to have emerged from that period: democracy, liberalism, freedom of speech and thought, equality under the law, commitment to empirical science, separation of church and state, the rule of law, etc. In other words, it is simply shorthanded for the views that have mostly triumphed in Western liberal democracies.

That is why is it mostly beside the point to say that these sorts of values are somehow undermined by the past violent actions of revolutionaries or the prestent violent actions of imperialists. The values really stand or fall on their own. Likewise, the best ways for Western liberal societies to encourage devleopment of these same values in other countries is mostly just a pragmatic cost/benefit question.

68

abb1 06.21.06 at 12:42 pm

It shows that these days anti-Western populism beats pro-Western populism, and not only in Iran, for sure. And we all know who to thank for that.

69

dsquared 06.21.06 at 1:06 pm

A belated “genuine outrage” that only became popular once it had been whipped up by members of the hardline theocratic elite

But surely a polity in which riots can be whipped up by mullahs over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed is a polity in which there is no underlying support for freedom of speech when it comes to blasphemy. At the very least.

I’m not sure what sort of evidence you’re looking here and suspect that you’re looking for evidence in favour of a stronger claim than I’m prepared to defend. In Indonesia, Nigeria and many Arab states, forms of sharia are the law, and political parties which favour the extension of sharia laws (and the interpretation of sharia in a less rather than more liberal manner) are gaining in power. Sharia, in the forms currently popular in the Islamic Third World, is not consistent with civil rights as understood by (for example, but on topic) the Euston Manifesto. Hence, to this extent, civil rights do not have popular support. This is a different thesis from saying “they’re not ready for democracy” or some such.

I’m not arguing that there’s an “insurmountable gulf” between us and the Islamic third world and in fact I think I specifically said I thought it was surmountable. But it is the case that across a lot of the Islamic third world, political systems which aren’t the same as ours are in place, and they are for the most part in place because they have popular support. I also don’t think that any gulf is “between cultures”; I don’t think we need to bring culture into what is essentially a political question.

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rd 06.21.06 at 1:13 pm

Maybe Iranian voters do have a settled preference for theocracy, but the point about the current regime is that we’ll never get the chance to find out. The mullahs are committed to upholding theocracy whatever the results of elections. So Khatemi was rendered utterly ineffectual by Guardian Council vetoes of every single liberalizing piece of legislation. Press censorship and mass disqualification of reformiist candidates actually got *more* aggresive after Khatemi was elected. *Maybe* voters would have rejected liberalization, but they never got the chance to actually experience it. All we do know is that after Ahmadinejad got into the runoff with less than 20% of the vote, he won a decisive victory over the almost comically corrupt Rafsanjani. And this is now touted as proof of the deep yearning for theocracy among the Iranian electorate.

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Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 1:24 pm

But surely a polity in which riots can be whipped up by mullahs over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed is a polity in which there is no underlying support for freedom of speech when it comes to blasphemy.

Can we then assume, for example, that there was no “underlying support” for multiculturalism in Yugoslavia before the hysteria deliberately engineered by a media and political narrative of “ethnic” hatred, revisionist history and so on? How representative of populations as a whole should we ordinarily take some rioters to be? In my view the most notorious of the cartoons was simply racist, anyway. In the West we also ban speech that incites racial hatred or violence. Does that show that our underlying support for the principle of free speech is also compromised and hence that we are not very interested in civil rights?

across a lot of the Islamic third world, political systems which aren’t the same as ours are in place, and they are for the most part in place because they have popular support.

What is this “popular support”? Is it like Blair having popular support in the UK simply because he won the 2005 election? Is the reason for this popular support, if and to what extent it exists, attributable to opinions about Islam or maybe other factors? To what extent are populations seriously being offered civil rights and rejecting them?

I still think the claims are too broad to be defensible, even before you consider counterfactual examples such as slocum’s point about Khatami.

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Slocum 06.21.06 at 1:41 pm

Ipso facto, according to this logic, the fact that Ahmadinejad won by a landslide and is now unprecedentedly popular indicates that it is the Iranian’s desire for ‘reform’ which was a new and therefore quite likely temporary preference. (And in fact, as the 2005 election results show, it WAS temporary).

But the point is that, supposing you accept both election results as legitimate, you cannot argue that Iranians have a settled preference for either a liberal society or fundamentalist theocracy and, therefore, you cannot argue (as you seem to be doing) that Iranians are somehow fundamentally ‘not ready’ for liberal democracy.

As an aside, it’s just bizarre to me that those on the left have conniptions about Florida but are quite ready to put the stamp of legitimacy on elections in Iran where it’s public knowledge that not only did unelected theocrats openly disqualify hundreds of candidates but where there is no independent press or judiciary free to investigate claims of irregularities. If the Mullahs cooked the books last year, how would you know? Who could possibly attempt to investigate and not disappear?

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blah 06.21.06 at 1:50 pm

It is impossible to say what type of government the Iranian people would prefer without free and open elections and a free press to report on the elections. The Khatami and Ahmadinejad elections may be some evidence, but ultimately I think they are not particularly helpeful in answering the question because the method of determining preference was so corrupted.

I think it is fair to say that the Iranian people at least deserve the opportunity to choose a more liberal, democratic government in free elections unconstrained by the ruling party’s decisions on who can run and what they can say, and unconstrained by crackdowns on the press.

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dsquared 06.21.06 at 1:52 pm

I don’t think these parallels make sense. Yugoslavia took a long time to break down, and in any case fighting a civil war is not the same thing as protesting within your own country against foreigners. I think there is clearly a qualitative difference between the reason we ban incitement (it’s a public order offence) and the reason why Islamic states have sharia law (it’s the will of God). And I think it’s a category mistake to compare “popular support” for sharia with support for a particular government. I’ve also specifically restricted myself to Nigeria, Indonesia and the Arab Middle East (occasionally using the term “the Islamic Third World” which I would also regard as a term which excluded Iran and Turkey) because I’m only wanting to make a point about specific polities in which I think it’s unarguable that, for historical and economic reasons, Islam is popular and Enlightenment Values ain’t. It’s possible to have all sorts of opinions about why the Muslim parts of Nigeria are the way they are, but still to agree that the way they are is not consistent with anything like the British versions of equality for women, free speech and scepticism about received dogmas.

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Brendan 06.21.06 at 1:54 pm

‘But the point is that, supposing you accept both election results as legitimate, you cannot argue that Iranians have a settled preference for either a liberal society or fundamentalist theocracy and, therefore, you cannot argue (as you seem to be doing) that Iranians are somehow fundamentally ‘not ready’ for liberal democracy.’

Aaaaaaaaaaaargh! My whole POINT was that ‘liberal’ and ‘democracy’ are two different words, with two different meanings. They are NOT synonyms.

And also, spare us the ‘not ready’. That’s a view of history that I’m obviously rejecting, the whig view that all societies are slowly trudging towards American style ‘liberalism’ and that some countries (white ones, mainly) are ‘further on’ this road than others, whereas others are ‘not ready’ for it yet.

The key point about Iran is the same as that of DSquared above, so i’ll repeat what he says: ‘In Indonesia, Nigeria and many Arab states, forms of sharia are the law, and political parties which favour the extension of sharia laws (and the interpretation of sharia in a less rather than more liberal manner) are gaining in power. Sharia, in the forms currently popular in the Islamic Third World, is not consistent with civil rights as understood by (for example, but on topic) the Euston Manifesto. Hence, to this extent, civil rights do not have popular support. This is a different thesis from saying “they’re not ready for democracy” or some such.’

And the key point is the point of the post. You might not like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbollah, etc. etc. etc. and in fact I’m sure you don’t. But they are popular and they win elections. They really really really really really really really do. It’s not false consciousness. It’s not because ‘they’ don’t know any better. It’s not because ‘they’ are stupid or irrational. It’s just that the electorate like the policies of those parties, and we in the West are going to have to get used to that. *

(incidentally I’m not putting a ‘stamp of legitimacy’ on anything: Iran’s elections are clearly not democratic in the sense we would use in the West. My point is much simpler: Ahmadinejad is very popular in Iran. And he is.)

*And despite what Donald Rumsfeld says, these parties are not fascist or Nazi either. Hitler used elections yeah, but once he had achieved power he abolished them. There’s no evidence that Hamas or Hizbollah wish to do that. Islamists have nothing to fear from elections because they tend to win them. ‘Western’ (i.e. American backed) parties have much to fear from elections because they almost invariably lose them.

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dsquared 06.21.06 at 1:59 pm

I’d even add that there are polities like Afghanistan (or at least Kabul) where the reverse is true; that there was no real underlying support for fundie Islam because of their history. I wonder if there was a long-bearded version of me saying to Osama “look it’s no good, it isn’t just a matter of the way that Wahaabism has been presented to them, they fundamentally don’t want to be Talibans and it is going to require an open-ended and ultimately unsustainable commitment to violence for us to keep ruling that territory”. Or indeed, a Somali version of me giving that advice in Mogadishu.

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Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 2:07 pm

fighting a civil war is not the same thing as protesting within your own country against foreigners

Sure, it isn’t. But the question is whether we can reliably deduce something about underlying popular opinion from the actions of some people deliberately encouraged by demagogues in an atmosphere of moral hysteria. I think it is not so easy.

I think there is clearly a qualitative difference between the reason we ban incitement (it’s a public order offence) and the reason why Islamic states have sharia law (it’s the will of God).

But that’s not the comparison I was making, which was between why we ban incitement, and why some Muslims protested about a cartoon which was arguably itself an incitement to hatred.

I’m only wanting to make a point about specific polities in which I think it’s unarguable that, for historical and economic reasons, Islam is popular and Enlightenment Values ain’t.

Yes, but you are hopping between:

1.) Islamism (Sharia law etc) is in power; therefore
1a.) Islamism must have “popular support”

or, as in this comment,

2.) Islam is popular.

In turn: 1) is a claim about some governments and is true of those governments of which it is true.

The extent to which 1a) is true is highly debatable, and you still offer precious little evidence. Election results are very unreliable evidence either way, as others are arguing here, owing to the circumstances of the elections.

Lastly, 2) is of course true in Muslim countries but has no necessary political implications. We all know there have been very enlightened (arguably Enlightened avant la lettre) and tolerant Islamic polities at various points in history.

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Cian 06.21.06 at 2:08 pm

Steve Poole: Can we then assume, for example, that there was no “underlying support” for multiculturalism in Yugoslavia before the hysteria deliberately engineered by a media and political narrative of “ethnic” hatred, revisionist history and so on?

Well there wasn’t in either Serbia, or Croatia. That was always the problem with Yugoslavia. Tito kept it under control – Milosevic exploited it. Skillful leaders might be able to exploit and worsen such cultural tendencies, but they can’t conjure them out of thin air.

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blah 06.21.06 at 2:10 pm

The part where you are wrong dsquared is the part about the commitment to violence. I am not sure why you think that anyone who wants to encourage the development of liberal democracy in places that do not have such a tradition are forced to resort to violence. It may be a slow, difficult, and piecemeal process (and it may not even be successful within any reasonable period of time) but I just don’t see how the commitment to creating “Englightenment” values requires a recourse to violence.

The use of violence may be justified in certain situations – i.e. to prevent a greater loss of life that may occur – but that is a different question.

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Daniel 06.21.06 at 2:16 pm

Islamism (Sharia law etc)

Not happy with this as a definition of “Islamism”. Saudi Arabia has sharia law but it actually executes Islamists. Islamist in my book means pan-Islamist and revolutionary (I’d regard an even narrower definition, specifically relating to Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood as defensible).

Take the example of Nigeria. It doesn’t have sharia law at the federal level and it doesn’t have an Islamist government in any sense of the term. It does have sharia courts in the Muslim regions, and it has them because the people there wanted them. In fact, they want them so much that Abuja ended up having to give them what they wanted or risk the breakup of the Nigerian state. If there is a risk that the abolition of sharia courts will lead to a secession movement and popular revolution, then I’d say that sharia courts have popular support. It was touch and go for the Nigerian government to overrule the sharia death sentence on that poor pregnant woman a while ago, that’s how popular sharia was.

Or take the case of Somalia and clitoridectomy (a practice which is not in the Koran but which is pretty widely regarded as an Islamic practice in Somalia). That isn’t being imposed on anyone from above.

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Scott Martens 06.21.06 at 2:16 pm

“I wonder if there was a long-bearded version of me saying to Osama “look it’s no good, it isn’t just a matter of the way that Wahaabism has been presented to them, they fundamentally don’t want to be Talibans and it is going to require an open-ended and ultimately unsustainable commitment to violence for us to keep ruling that territory”. Or indeed, a Somali version of me giving that advice in Mogadishu.”

Or some French general saying the same thing about secular republicanism in Algeria in the 19th century, or Henry Morton Stanley talking about Christianity and civilization in central Africa, or some Soviet general talking to Khrushchev about Hungary in ’56, or for that matter, some Roman general talking about Germania or Caledonia.

This is my principal problem with the Euston Manifesto ideas: Even if we concede that superiority of their values, how is their propagation going to be any less awful than the propagation of past ideas, both good and bad? Many of the ills they identify come from efforts to impose quite nice ideals on people who didn’t see them that way and couldn’t or wouldn’t comply with them.

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abb1 06.21.06 at 2:20 pm

incidentally I’m not putting a ‘stamp of legitimacy’ on anything: Iran’s elections are clearly not democratic in the sense we would use in the West.

I’m not putting a stamp of legitimacy on anything either, but the West (at least the US) is not that different.

Slocum says:
the left have conniptions about Florida but are quite ready to put the stamp of legitimacy on elections in Iran where it’s public knowledge that not only did unelected theocrats openly disqualify hundreds of candidates

But it’s also a public knowledge that in the US (where we have only 2, rarely 3 viable candidates, unlike Iran) unelected plutocrats openly disqualify hundreds of candidates by giving huge amounts of money and publicity to selected few and blocking the others – ask Ralph Nader.

Nevertheless, legitimacy aside, you only need 2 candidates with clearly identified positions to figure out what the prevailing popular sentiment is at the moment. In 2005 Iran is was anti-Western nationalism, that’s all there is to it and it’s not surprising at all.

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Cian 06.21.06 at 2:22 pm

Steve: Studies of Iranian attitudes that I’ve seen seem to support Daniel’s argument that support for Islamic rule as existing is still popular in Iran. I think part of the reason why we don’t believe this, is because the views of educated intellectuals tend to be overrepresented in the western media. That’s not to say that Iranians don’t want change, but they seem to be more concerned over economic problems and some of the more arbitrary aspects of the clerical rule.

In Syria there is obviously an awful lot of support for Islamic political groups (which is one reason why the regime is so repressive), as there is in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and indeed the poster child of secular Islam, Turkey.

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Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 2:23 pm

Islamist in my book means pan-Islamist and revolutionary

In the most general sense it means simply the application of (a particular interpretation of) Islam to the political sphere, so it does cover Sharia law etc. But we’ve been through this elsewhere. ;-)

I’ll ask a previous question again: to what extent are populations in the countries you speak of being seriously offered civil rights, and rejecting them?

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Cian 06.21.06 at 2:23 pm

Incidentally, walking down any English town’s high street on a friday night, I tend to find myself wondering whether the Muslims might not have a point on this “liberty” thing…

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Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 2:29 pm

That’s not to say that Iranians don’t want change, but they seem to be more concerned over economic problems and some of the more arbitrary aspects of the clerical rule.

That sounds awfully lot like a concern for civil rights to me, even if they don’t express it in that way. The government doubtless is admired for “standing up to America” and so forth. The idea that the theocratic regime is popular qua theocratic, specifically, is yet to be demonstrated.

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Brendan 06.21.06 at 2:31 pm

‘Or take the case of Somalia and clitoridectomy (a practice which is not in the Koran but which is pretty widely regarded as an Islamic practice in Somalia). That isn’t being imposed on anyone from above.’

As I pointed out in my first post (of about 300 it seems) underneath all the democratic rhetoric, there is something just a tiny little bit snobbish about the Enlightenment/Eustonite commitment to liberalism, secularism etc. By implying that religion and illiberalism are a ‘top down’ phenomenon, that all that is necessary is to get rid of the priests, Immans and rabbis and the ‘masses’ will realise the truth of science, secularism and Eustonism, is to imply that the problem with the masses is that they are just a teensy bit stupid, not quite as smart as clever middle class Eustonites, who have already seen through the lies of the religious bogeymen.

The idea that secularism and Islamism etc. might be ‘bottom up’ phenomena not ‘top down’, that they are actually ‘of’ the masses not ‘against’ them, and that the political leaders we see (like Osama Bin Laden) would be quickly replaced even if the Americans finally got round to finding them, is totally alien to the Eustonite mindset. Hence their bafflement when, after the deposition of Saddam, the Americans found themselves governing not a secular placid nation of aspiring Americans, but an angry, Islamic (and Iranian) leaning group of people who weren’t shy about reaching for the gun.

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blah 06.21.06 at 2:33 pm

Nevertheless, legitimacy aside, you only need 2 candidates with clearly identified positions to figure out what the prevailing popular sentiment is at the moment.

Not really. All it tells you is which of the two candidates the people who show up to vote will elect under the given circumstances. It may tell you precious little about what particular policies the electorate will support over the long term.

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abb1 06.21.06 at 2:43 pm

I don’t think most people come to vote for specific policies. They vote for a brand of rhetoric. Progressive, conservative, humanist, xenophobic, religious – whatever sounds right.

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Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 2:43 pm

Obviously there are both bottom-up and top-down elements. The problem is that the top-down elements are able to enforce their position with armies, secret police forces, control of the media and so forth. I don’t think even the Eustonites would be much concerned if it were just a few priests.

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Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 2:45 pm

(And one might wonder why, if they enjoyed such massive popular support, they would require such an elaborate apparatus of violent suppression at all.)

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abb1 06.21.06 at 3:01 pm

As noted above, in most Muslim countries elaborate apparatus of suppression is used to suppress Islamists, not those who oppose them.

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Brendan 06.21.06 at 3:01 pm

‘And one might wonder why, if they enjoyed such massive popular support, they would require such an elaborate apparatus of violent suppression at all.’

Well mainly because the ‘apparatus of violent suppression’ is not being used against their supporters. It is mainly gays, minorities, and ‘blasphemers’ who are being violently suppressed, with the acquiesence (or worse) of the majority. Hardly compromises the ‘they are popular’ theory.

Incidentally, when you talk about ‘secret police’ etc. I think you think I am saying that these ‘illiberal democracies’ are actually totalitarian states, which is explicitly what I am NOT saying. I’m talking about states where both in theory and in practice the governing party can be democratically voted out.

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Slocum 06.21.06 at 4:19 pm

Aaaaaaaaaaaargh! My whole POINT was that ‘liberal’ and ‘democracy’ are two different words, with two different meanings. They are NOT synonyms.

Which is exactly why I said ‘liberal democracy’ rather than just ‘democracy’. That is, with recent history Iranians have elected, in a landslide, a presidentail candidate who ran on a platform of press freedom and implemented that program once elected. THAT is a demonstration of a preference for ‘liberal democracy’ rather than just ‘democracy’.

And also, spare us the ‘not ready’. That’s a view of history that I’m obviously rejecting, the whig view that all societies are slowly trudging towards American style ‘liberalism’ and that some countries (white ones, mainly) are ‘further on’ this road than others, whereas others are ‘not ready’ for it yet.

Mind-boggling but, at the same time, refreshingly honest. Liberal society is no farther along, no more advanced than repressive theocracy? Thanks for clearing that up.

And this the view of one who would, I assume, describe himself as ‘progressive’? Or do you disown the term ‘progressive’ as you seem to disown the idea of ‘progress’?

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Brendan 06.21.06 at 4:47 pm

Let’s cut to the chase Slocum, yes? This whole debate was started by the initial post, and the point of the initial post was this: in democratic elections, many people (not always but mainly, at the moment, in the Middle East) choose governments that are not ‘liberal’ in the Western sense. They don’t do it because they are stupid or irrational, or misled or bamboozled by Immans or politicians. They do it because they really think that these parties will best express their interests. As the first paragraph of your post of 4.19pm shows, I’m no further down the road of persuading you that this is an objective fact than I was at the beginning, but it remains an objective fact.

And I’m going to undercut the whole argument about progressive and ‘liberal democracy’ etc. by pointing out that my view, and your view, as to how the Iranians and the Palestinians and the Lebanese and the Venezuelans etc. (whether we think they are ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ or whatever) is simply irrelevant. What matters is what the Iranians and the Palestians and the Venezuelans. And if they vote in (in democratic, free elections) parties which me and you (i.e. white males who live thousands of miles away) think are ‘reactionary’ or ‘illiberal’ or whatever….so much the worse for us. We can give our opinion of course, but we don’t have the right to attempt to overthrow their government or otherwise interfere in their electoral processes.

And I’m quite happy about that. All the evidence of the last two centuries (and more) demonstrates that white middle class males really have no clearer insight into the political process, or any better ideas about the ‘good’ (or whatever) than anyone else, and I’m perfectly happy to leave things to the people to decide.

Finally, given that my and your views are of no importance to the Iraqis (or anyone else….)

‘Mind-boggling but, at the same time, refreshingly honest. Liberal society is no farther along, no more advanced than repressive theocracy? Thanks for clearing that up.’

In relatively free and fair elections, the Iraqis were offered a choice, to lean to the States (what you would probably call ‘liberal democracy’) or to lean to Iran (‘repressive theocracy’). The American backed campaign hogged most of the TV and media, was backed publicly by the American diplomats and so forth, and had money funnelled in from ‘mysterious’ (i.e. American) sources.

The Iraqis chose, overwhelmingly, to go down the Iranian route.

Y’see that’s the terrible thing about democracy: the white middle class punditocracy tends to lose their power, no matter how well inentioned their governance on behalf of the lesser breeds without the law.

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neil 06.21.06 at 4:53 pm

John Gray –

“What is needed today is not the return to faith beloved of Enlightenment believers and born-again Christians alike. It is realism and doubt – especially regarding the myth of progress in ethics and politics.”

Oh well, I’ll just have to give up on gay marriage, eradication of poverty, child abuse etc etc. The myth of progress – votes for women and such things must be all imaginings.

As someone earlier in the thread has said “Enlightenment Values” is being used to mean “liberal values”.

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James Wimberley 06.21.06 at 4:56 pm

Gray criticises Kant’s defence of slavery as justified by African racial inferiority. Fair enough, but why blame the Enlightenment? The doctrine goes back to Aristotle, and only needed a little twist around 1500 to apply it to the Africans whom the Portuguese were starting to trade. Kant failed, unlike other Enlightenment thinkers, to attack a traditional position, and in so doing contributed to the rise of scientific racism. More here.

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Daniel 06.21.06 at 4:57 pm

Stephen I still think we’re talking at cross purposes here. I’m not talking about popular support for particular political regimes here but support for the institutions of Islamic society (in rather the way that one can be opposed to the current British government but still in favour of the institutions of civil democratic society). The Nigerian muslims were certainly given a credible chance to get rid of their sharia courts and their reaction damn nearly brought down the government. Cf also Pakistan, where Musharraf has the devil’s own job in trying to maintain a non-sharia state. Even the actual Islamists in the sense of Qutbists are popular enough to need to be seriously repressed in all Islamic countries except Somalia.

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neil 06.21.06 at 5:23 pm

daniel, I take it you believe that there is, for what ever reason, a certain inertia in some Muslim societies to liberal values. And that therefore war is not a usefull instrument for spreading the ideals as set out by the EM and some sort of intelligent support from the sidelines is the way to go.

That’s all reasonable but you also seem to think that this is in oposition to the EM crowd. Now I don’t see them advocating invading Nigeria. Apart from Iraq, are you in and the EMers in that much disagreement?

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Steven Poole 06.21.06 at 5:46 pm

Daniel,
I think you have refined your claim enough for me not to disagree so heartily with it any more. ;-)

Although the Islamists/Qutbists were not, of course, very “seriously repressed” in eg Saudi Arabia before the Iraq war. (They are more so now, which is one of the more plausible reasons I know of for the Iraq war being prosecuted in the first place.)
Best,
Steven

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james 06.21.06 at 6:45 pm

Early Democracy in the United States was limited to white male landowners. The vast majority of these individuals maintained extremely close ties to religion. If this time in US history can be called a Democracy (actually Republic) it seems reasonable to assume that Muslim nations can reach something similar.

The adaptation of Sharia is almost always a choice between a repressive system of laws and corruption, death and complete anarchy. It is hardly ever a choice between a Sharia and liberal democracy.

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Daniel 06.22.06 at 12:18 am

Now I don’t see them advocating invading Nigeria

well this is mainly because they are so frustratingly vague about what they do and don’t support under the rubric of the “responsibility to protect”. Just about any country in the world seems to me to be vulnerable to it suddenly being decided that they are “failing to protect their citizens”, in “an appalling way”, particularly as Norman Geras has clarified in other posts that there is basically no statute of limitations as to how far back into the past you are allowed to go to support this (thus, Norm does in fact believe that Saddam’s massacres of the Shia and Kurds in 1991 were part of the justification for war in 2003).

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zdenek 06.22.06 at 3:26 am

re 102 — again we see the assumption ( made but not justified by any argument ) that commitment to universality of human rights and what this entails viz. duty to assist somehow automatically leads to war . This is false in the sense that no one actually thinks this among EMers nor does it follow from the concepts themselves . Even on a perfectionist interpretation ( this is the more militant outlook ) of human rights ‘just war doctrine’ will be at play and this puts meaningfull constraints on when and what sort of violence is to used.

But second this is not the only interpretation of the impact of commitment to human rights that is available to EMers because we get ‘political liberalism’ which will be even more reluctant to use violence . Rawls in Law of the People explicitly rules out using force against non agressive muslim countries ( see his discusion of fictional Kazanistan ). True violence is justified …” if the offences against human rights are agregious and the society does not respond to the impossition of sanctions , such intervention in the defence of human rights would be acceptable…” ( p.94 Lof P ).
If you add to this that even Rawls insits that use of force in these special circumstances ( i.e. against outlaw states only ) should be consistent with just war doctrine , you can see the the claim that commitment to universality of human rights will automatically lead to war is false whether you look at the more militant EM outlook or the less militant viz. Rawlzian EM outlook.

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Dave 06.22.06 at 3:49 am

“What matters is what the Iranians and the Palestians and the Venezuelans [think]. And if they vote in (in democratic, free elections) parties which me and you (i.e. white males who live thousands of miles away) think are ‘reactionary’ or ‘illiberal’ or whatever….so much the worse for us. We can give our opinion of course, but we don’t have the right to attempt to overthrow their government or otherwise interfere in their electoral processes.

And I’m quite happy about that. All the evidence of the last two centuries (and more) demonstrates that white middle class males really have no clearer insight into the political process, or any better ideas about the ‘good’ (or whatever) than anyone else, and I’m perfectly happy to leave things to the people to decide.”

“In relatively free and fair elections, the Iraqis were offered a choice, to lean to the States (what you would probably call ‘liberal democracy’) or to lean to Iran (‘repressive theocracy’). The American backed campaign hogged most of the TV and media, was backed publicly by the American diplomats and so forth, and had money funnelled in from ‘mysterious’ (i.e. American) sources.

The Iraqis chose, overwhelmingly, to go down the Iranian route.”

I’d be very surprised if this didn’t encapsulate, approximately, what many EMers think as well. To me, it seems (and I’m sorry to break this to you) that you and they are in fact in agreement in many ways, aside from the manufactured disagreements by way of (wilful?) mischaracterisation the opponent’s positions—the fabled straw-man that everyone likes to bayonet so as to be able to claim, if only for a moment, a moral victory over those awful people made of straw.

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zdenek 06.22.06 at 4:06 am

102– the distincion between interventionists ( EMers ) and non interventionists is bogus as the following shows : immagine that a neonazi boeremag group takes over South African government rouds up all black people into concentration camps and starts mass exterminations. It cannot be argued with or negotiated with and it is clear that the only way to stop this mass murder is the use of force.( -+ 30 mil. people will die if not stoped.) Would such force be justified if the contemplated military action also complied with just war doctrine ? But if you answer yes then you are an interventionist. The point is all non lunatic moral outlooks will sanction the action and the distiction between interventionists and non interventionists is empty .

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abb1 06.22.06 at 4:23 am

105 – suppose your government collaborates with these neonazis and 30+ mil. people do die. Then 12 years later your government decides to invade and occupy the place for geo- and domestic political reasons, most likely killing a few hundred thousand more people in the process. What’s your move?

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Dave 06.22.06 at 4:40 am

106.
Is it the same government with (mostly) the same old personnel, or is it a new government—or maybe even two or three governments down the line—in which the personnel are (mostly) new?

Are some of the personnel perhaps of a younger generation, with some fresh ideas of how to approach the same old problems of statecraft?
Perhaps also their social mores have changed a little, along with the society that has changed around them, and they display, if not necessarily provably a change of heart, then at least a change of plan?

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Brendan 06.22.06 at 4:59 am

‘To me, it seems (and I’m sorry to break this to you) that you and they are in fact in agreement in many ways, aside from the manufactured disagreements by way of (wilful?) mischaracterisation the opponent’s positions—the fabled straw-man that everyone likes to bayonet so as to be able to claim, if only for a moment, a moral victory over those awful people made of straw.’

If, as you imply, we are, at an abstract level, so much in agreement, why is it at that at a concrete level we disagree about almost everything then?

(incidentally, the idea that the Eustonites are in any way happy about the situation in Palestine or Venezuela is simply wishful thinking on your part. Their objections to an American backed coup (or sanctions in the case of Palestine) are purely ‘realist’: i.e. whether it is a wise move from the American’s point of view. They are unanimous that the Venezuelans and Palestinians would be better off without Chavez and Hamas, and agree that things would be better if these governments could be ‘removed’ and ‘replaced’ with one more to their liking).

‘the distiction between interventionists and non interventionists is empty ‘

Oh really? And what about a situation where a nuclear armed power invades a far weaker power on a spurious pretext, occupies it, anninhilates the infrastructure, tortures its citizens, plunders its natural resources, and engages in actions that lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its citizens? Do ‘we’ ‘intervene’ then?

Do you sorta see what I am getting at here? And does this help to illuminate the real differences between me and the Eustonites?

109

abb1 06.22.06 at 5:10 am

I don’t know, of course an individual can have a radical change of heart, but a government is an institution, not individual. It’s an institution representing not even individuals as much as economic forces and economic entities that simply have no heart. Of course societal evolution and individual leaders do have an effect, but I think it would be a very difficult point to agrue in this case.

110

zdenek 06.22.06 at 5:17 am

106 — abb1 you are little bit off the topic which is whether :
1) only Eustonites are interventionists
2) whether commitment to human rights leads automatically to war.

I offered argument for showing why both claims are false .

111

nick s 06.22.06 at 5:40 am

At times, when the Enlightenment is the subject, I regret that ‘Godwin’s Law’ doesn’t invoke the tenets of Political Justice.

112

Kevin Donoghue 06.22.06 at 5:42 am

I offered argument for showing why both claims are false.

Did anybody say they were true? The crucial question is under what circumstances intervention is justified. Daniel Davies says the EMers are “frustratingly vague about what they do and don’t support under the rubric of the ‘responsibility to protect'”. My impression is that they differ among themselves on this.

113

Bruce Baugh 06.22.06 at 6:16 am

Saying “apart from Iraq” when it comes to disagreement over the Euston stuff sounds to me a lot like saying “apart from slavery” when discussing sectional differences in the US, or “apart from the gender you’re attracted to” when comparing sexual orientation.

114

zdenek 06.22.06 at 6:52 am

112 — Gray’s criticism which Daniel endorses ( see the earlier comments above ) is that it is the very values underwriting Euston Manifesto’s talk of universal rights ( in particular how they are universally binding ) that makes EMers want to go to war and ‘impose’ these values on disinterested others.
Second strand of criticism is that the notion ‘responsibility to protect ‘ is too vague to be usefull and that is what makes it dangerous in the hands of the trigger happy Eustonites.

Does this work as criticism ? Well no because the first part involves a crude caricature of enlightenment legacy and in particular the way ‘universality’ works and so the crtiticism refutes a straw man. And the vagueness argument is even weaker because the premis of that view is that because there is disagreement about when the concept of ‘duty to assist ‘ applies the notion must be useless but this is false. We do not think that the ‘notion of just war’ is useless just because reasonable people disagree about the proper application of the notion. And of course same goes fot ‘responsibility to protect’.

115

Brendan 06.22.06 at 7:02 am

The Eustonites do not, of course, believe in Universal Rights or Values, because they think that there are certain actions (for example, invading and occupying a country which poses no threat to you) which are wrong when carried out by the ‘others’ but right when carried out by ‘us’.

116

Daniel 06.22.06 at 7:19 am

Zdenek: the commitment to Enlightenment values very much affects the kind of wars that the Euston Manifesto lot want to fight.

If we take the example of Darfur, the objective of preventing a humanitarian catastrophe could be achieved by bolstering the African Union forces and equipping a peacekeeping force. The objective of promoting equality, religious freedom etc, however, would require getting rid of the Khartoum government and thus a full invasion. Brian Brivati was the only Eustonite who I managed to nail down to a specific position on this (full credit to Brian) and unless I have completely misunderstood him he was in favour of the latter rather than the former.

117

Daniel 06.22.06 at 7:20 am

Brendan: I think that your 115 is a position specifically of Oliver Kamm (he believes it because he thinks that there are checks and balances on violence carried out by a democracy) rather than one that can be fairly attributed to the EM group as a whole.

118

Kevin Donoghue 06.22.06 at 7:24 am

Zdenek: …see the earlier comments above….

I did, thanks. In particular I saw this:

again we see the assumption (made but not justified by any argument) that commitment to universality of human rights and what this entails viz. duty to assist somehow automatically leads to war.

No, we don’t see any such assumption being made.

119

Bruce Baugh 06.22.06 at 7:54 am

Brendan: I’m appalled at the lack of imagination you show. Surely the Eustonites are firmly committed to the universal principle that all lives and fortunes are subordinate to their desires. What’s not universal about that?

(I don’t generally do sarcasm, but there’s something about mass murder and torture in the name of liberty that brings it out in me. Speaking seriously, Brendan, I very much appreciate your posts.)

120

Chris Bertram 06.22.06 at 7:57 am

I just remembered that one of the themes of Daniel’s post gets some theoretical treatment in Mike Otsuka’s Libertarianism without Inequality which I reviewed chapter-by-chapter soon after we started CT. I’m thinking specifically of the thought that whilst liberal egalitarians tend to think there is one (or a very small number) of possible legitimate forms of state, there is another view that says that a Sunni fundamentalist state would be just fine, so long as people had viable exit options.

See

http://crookedtimber.org/2004/01/02/libertarianism-without-inequality-6/

and the subsequent discussion.

121

Chris Bertram 06.22.06 at 8:14 am

BTW, I’d just like to say something about the recruitment of Rawls in support of the Euston Manifesto by Zdenek, a recruitment that Daniel appears to accept, but which I don’t think he should. There’s actually very little about this in Law of Peoples, but a relevant section is 13.3 “Law of Peoples as a Guide to Foreign Policy” (pp. 93-4). I cite:

bq. “Their [well-ordered societies] long-run aim is to bring all societies eventually to honor the Law of Peoples and to become full members in good standing of the society of well-ordered peoples. Human rights would thus be secured everywhere. How to bring all societies to this goal is a question of foreign policy; it calls for political wisdom, and success depends in part on luck. These are not matters to which political philosophy has much to add … What to do on these questions is … essentially a matter of political judgment and depends upon a political assessment of the likely consequences of various policies.”

(1) Since Daniel’s position on the war has throughout centred on a judicious assessment of the likely consequences of an war conducted by the Bush administration, I suggest that Rawls is closer to his position than to Zdenek’s. (2) The current United States is very far from being a well-ordered society in the Rawlsian sense. The relevance to current policy debates of what Rawls’s view on what the correct foreign policy for a well-ordered society would be, is therefore open to a good deal of argument.

122

soru 06.22.06 at 8:53 am

They are unanimous that the Venezuelans and Palestinians would be better off without Chavez and Hamas, and agree that things would be better if these governments could be ‘removed’ and ‘replaced’ with one more to their liking).

Would it be possible to ask you politely to stop making shit up?

123

zdenek 06.22.06 at 8:57 am

chris just a brief comment. In this discussion I bring in Rawls to argue that like Eustonites he is an interventionist and to that extent he is not closer to Daniels concerns since the force of most of his comments it seems to me is hostile to intervention. Is Rawls interventionist ? consider the following long footnote on p 93 of LoP :

” … is there ever a time when forcefull intervention might be called for ? If the offences against human rights are egregious and society does not respond to the imposition of sanctions such intervention … would be acceptable and would be called for.”

This is an essentially Euston position as far as I can see.

124

Chris Bertram 06.22.06 at 9:11 am

What a pity that you didn’t quote the whole of that footnote, zdenek. In it, Rawls is discussing the hypothetical case of “a developed society resembling the Aztecs”, which “holds its own lower class as slaves, keeping the younger members available for human sacrifice in its temples.” Even there, Rawls suggests, in the part of the footnote that you do quote, that intervention would only be justified once the society had failed to respond to other attempts to get it to change.

I think you’ll struggle to recruit Rawls to Euston based on that one footnote.

125

zdenek 06.22.06 at 9:16 am

is Rawls an interventionist even in this limited sense or not ?

126

Brendan 06.22.06 at 9:20 am

‘Would it be possible to ask you politely to stop making shit up?’

Really sorry about that. For some reason, when I read posts at Harry’s Place, sometimes one a week, sometimes more often, criticising Chavez’ treatment of the press, arguing that Chavez is accruing more and more power to himself, interviewing (sympathetically) Chavez’ opposition in Venezuela, criticising those in Britain who support Chavez and so forth, I inadvertantly formed the bizarre impression that the HP team in some way disapprove of Chavez’ government. Again real apologies: I promise never to make such wild inferences again.

And when (as a quick entry of ‘Hamas’ into the HP search engine will show) the HP crowd point out (for the seven millionth time this year) that the Hamas constitution is anti-semitic, I’ll be careful not to infer that this in any way implies a value judgement. The HP crowd (obviously) aren’t in any way implying that this means they disapprove of Hamas, or that the Palestinian people would be better off without them: they are just pointing it out in the way one might point out that it’s a sunny day, or that the library is closed or something.

What can I say? I just rush to judgment, I guess.

127

Chris Bertram 06.22.06 at 9:24 am

In the sense that he’d hypothetically sanction intervention against a developed society practising slavery and human sacrifice that failed to respond to other methods to get it to change?

Um yes.

Does that amount to a posthumous endorsement of the Euston Manifesto.

No.

128

zdenek 06.22.06 at 9:26 am

what bad grace but thanks anyway

129

Ray 06.22.06 at 9:46 am

zdenek, do you think that anyone who disagrees with the EM is therefore opposed to all interventions everywhere in any circumstances?

130

soru 06.22.06 at 10:09 am

brendan: ‘unanimous’ does not usually mean ‘one person in the group I was talking about’, or even ‘a group of people some of whom are members with the group I was talking about’.

Also, criticising the beliefs and actions of a political party in government is commonly recognised to be the something distinguishable from a formal declaratian of war.

131

Dave 06.22.06 at 10:43 am

As you suggest yourself, Brendan, it it possible to have a negative opinion about a government from the outside—such as that of Chavez or Hamas, or even of the religious Shia parties in Iraq—and at the same time realise that they have some democratic legitimacy and that it is really something to be left to the electorates in question.

abba 1: I think it’s certainly defensible to argue—and furthermore, I think it is also true—that states over time often demonstrate features and change along side features of continuity, whether you look it the question from a “personnel” or a structural perspective.

132

Ray 06.22.06 at 10:53 am

What reason do you have for believing that the motivations of the US government have changed fundamentally in the last 20 years? They’re still allied to dictators, they still support coups, they still ignore international law when it suits them – but now they’re more interested in spreading democracy than in installing friendly governments?

133

Dave 06.22.06 at 11:07 am

I think that they’re more interested in supporting democracy where they perceive it to be in their strategic interests, and when not, not. I don’t know if that’s a fundamental change—it’s not as fundamental and moving against the prevailing socio-economic system, for example—but it seems to be a notable one.

My view is that when the Americans are for democracy, the left (very broadly speaking) should also be for it; and when they’re not, we should still be for it.

134

Ray 06.22.06 at 11:15 am

So you’re saying that the Americans are in favour of democracy when democracy returns friendly governments, and isn’t when it doesn’t. This is a change? This is a reason to believe that establishing a democracy is going to be high on the list of invasion priorities?
That’s the problem with supporting the war. You’re not supporting a single decision, war or no war, Saddam or no Saddam. Once war starts, there are thousands and millions of other decisions that are going to be made, about the priority given to force protection compared to civilian protection, for example, and about post-invasion administration. The motivations of the invading and occupying powers are crucial in those decisions.

135

abb1 06.22.06 at 11:27 am

Obviously, under current conditions real democracy almost anywhere on the planet is pretty much the worst outcome for the US government.

Almost every (very few exeptions) government cooperating with the Bushies is completely out of sync with reliably anti-American sentiment of its population. Including the European population; not to mention middle-Easterners and Muslims in general. Democracy anywhere in the ME would be a disaster.

136

Dave 06.22.06 at 11:29 am

I think it’s a change of their policy in that part of the world: they might have been put off now by getting their fingers burned and switch back to the policy of backing repression and stability under a relatively “strong but pliant” leader.

The goals and motivations of the invaders are certainly crucial in conditioning their actions, though these take place in, and are checked and molded by, the social and political context in which they take place—so that the motivations to dominate and steal may not be possible, even if we were to believe that those were the motivations.

137

Dave 06.22.06 at 11:36 am

But if real democracy anywhere in the ME would be a disaster for the American elite, shouldn’t all sincere anti-Americans be rooting for it?

138

abb1 06.22.06 at 11:45 am

I suppose some anti-American ME-erners are rooting for democracy – which would allow them, for example, to use Saudi oil production as a leverage – while other anti-Americans, including Europeans, are probably rooting for stability and suppression of extremist movements that US and Israeli policies brought to life.

139

Dave 06.22.06 at 12:00 pm

And yet other anti-Americans, including Europeans, are no doubt rooting the success of the extremist movements that US and Israeli policies brought to life, if only because it might be one in the eye for the hated Bush-Cheney gang. But the Frakenstein’s monsters of the extremist movements weren’t brought to life only by such policies: they willed themselves into life with their specific responses to those policies: they are their joint creators of their monsterliness, and, as such, deserve equal credit.

140

abb1 06.22.06 at 12:02 pm

Algerian civil war is a good example of possible conflict between democracy and liberalism.

141

abb1 06.22.06 at 12:05 pm

No, I don’t think anyone with a functioning brain is rooting for success of any extremist movements.

142

Ray 06.22.06 at 2:56 pm

And the argument that the main reason people oppose the Iraq war is ‘anti-Americanism’ is complete bollocks.
There is an enormous difference between disliking the citizens and culture of a country – which is what ‘anti-Americanism’ means – and being suspicious of the motives of an imperial power.
I find it quite amusing that Decents who think it’s okay for governments to lie their countries into war – in the face, in the UK, of massive public opposition – think that those same governments will be so restrained by that same public opinion that they are forced to create genuine democracies in the countries they invade. Amusing in a ‘wow, some people have never found a straw too weak to clutch at’ way, that is.

143

Martin James 06.22.06 at 3:24 pm

Setting aside all the talk of religion, war, and enlightenment for a moment, it does seem to me that there is a critical problem with democracy – the size of the political entitity.

Between one person one country and a universal democracy, there is no good place to draw the line for the size of the political unit.

Our current nation-state politics runs into trouble whenever the residents of a geographic area and the their assigned nation don’t match up.

Face it, we have nation-state citizenship apartheid. Its clearly wrong (under any but the most ethnocentric moralities) AND there is practically nothing we can do about it. We’re all nationalists now.

This is one judgment that the makers of history (be they global capitalists, extremists, or CO2 molecules) have in common, they, appropriately, do not respect national boundaries.

I think the issue of war or no war is a side-show to the real issue, that the nation-state is the sick man of the world. It encourages both despots and imperialists. Its the political crack to which we are addicted.

144

soru 06.22.06 at 3:35 pm

forced to create genuine democracies

Can you point to anyone who actually thinks that?

This whole thread really is very little but people making stuff up and then criticising imaginary people for believing that crap.

Maybe it’s therapeutic, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be very enlightening.

145

neil 06.22.06 at 4:25 pm

102
Daniel, if you have to exaggerate the position of your opponents to such an extent you must have a pretty weak argument.

I thought this was a discussion in good faith but to turns out to be another bitch session about the EMers dressed up as some sort of intellectual analysis of the Enlightenment etc.

146

Kevin Donoghue 06.22.06 at 5:10 pm

Neil: Daniel, if you have to exaggerate the position of your opponents to such an extent you must have a pretty weak argument.

A look at the comment in question reveals that Daniel is actually complaining that his opponents refuse to say what their position is: “they are so frustratingly vague about what they do and don’t support under the rubric of the ‘responsibility to protect'”.

For my part I don’t have a problem with a group of people being coy about their position. I simply conclude that they don’t have one, which is fair enough. If householders in my neighbourhood join forces to oppose the building of a multi-storey carpark in place of the local playground, there is no reason why we should thrash out a common policy on the Middle East.

The Eustonistas got together and agreed that Robert Fisk, Michael Moore, Tariq Ali, George Galloway and various others are a shower of shits and a threat to civilization. That’s their gripe and they really don’t need to address larger issues. So what’s the problem?

But of course it is quite fair to point out that if all people really want to do is have a go at various journalists, entertainers and a maverick MP, it’s a bit silly to pretend to be taking a stand on behalf of the Enlightenment.

147

EPUesque 06.22.06 at 9:51 pm

I don’t think most people come to vote for specific policies. They vote for a brand of rhetoric. Progressive, conservative, humanist, xenophobic, religious – whatever sounds right.–abb1

best abboneism

Obviously, under current conditions real democracy almost anywhere on the planet is pretty much the worst outcome for the US government.

second-best abboneism

abb1, the only contributor who made scanning through these posturings worth the 10-20 minutes of your time

148

Martin James 06.22.06 at 11:19 pm

As a religiously xenophobic, progressively conservative humanist, I second epuesque’s props for abb1’s first abboneism, but mostly why wonder why its hard to get people to agree with the observation.

149

zdenek 06.23.06 at 2:14 am

cant resist making following last ( I promise )remark about whether Rawls’later work lends support to Euston outlook : Chris in his 121 comment suggests that the only relevant section of LoP in this regard is 13.3 p.92. This is wrong I think and one needs really to read the whole of part 2 and 3 of LoP if you want to capture what Rawls thinks about intervention.

Here is an argument Rawls seems to be making :

1) no state has right to war in the pursuit of its ‘rational’as opposed to its *reasonable* interets.

2) having reasonable interests includes promoting freedom and justice among other people.

3) there are outlaw states that systematically abuse its citizens and that are a threat to other law abiding people.

4)it is in the reasonable interest of of the law abiding people to secure freedom and justice to citizens of outlaw states but this must be done in the manner consistent with Just War Doctrine.

therefore 5) provided such war is consistent with JWD it is legitimate.

Of course the claim is not that this shows that US intervention was legitimate but rather more modestly that Rawls’ later work sits comfortably with EM.

150

Chris Bertram 06.23.06 at 2:50 am

Chris #121: “a relevant section is”.

zdenek #149: “Chris in his 121 comment suggests that the *only relevant section* of LoP in this regard is 13.3 p.92. This is wrong ….” [emphasis added]

I realise that English is not your native language, but when I say that a passage is relevant, I don’t thereby say that it is the only relevant passage. I’m afraid this just shows how basically intellectually dishonest you are (maybe hoping people won’t scroll back and check?).

151

Ray 06.23.06 at 3:04 am

forced to create genuine democracies

Can you point to anyone who actually thinks that?” (soru)

That appears to be dave’s position in 136. The US govt might not want to create democracies, but they will be constrained to do so by the political context.

Of course, if that’s not what you think, perhaps you can explain why you believe the US would rather set up a (possibly hostile) Iraqi democracy rather than a friendly puppet state?

152

zdenek 06.23.06 at 3:07 am

150 — yes very sloppy of me and I must appologise but while we are on intellectual dishonesty what about your totally uncharitable reading of Rawls on intervention , you must know that when Rawls is talking about outlaw states he does not mean Aztek like only so why put this interpretation on that passage ? Anyway I think you are cluching at straws on this issue and you should admit that.

153

Chris Bertram 06.23.06 at 3:40 am

No, I’m afraid that you are the one clutching at straws. There’s actually a body of _criticism_ of Rawls from a position much like your own. See, for example, Chris Nattichia, “The Law of Peoples, the Old and the New” in J of Moral Philosophy vol. 2 no. 3 (2006).

But I’ll reiterate the point I made above. Even if Rawls had not made the points he does make about the need for political judgement in foreign policy, and about the lack of expertise of political philosophy concerning the practical means by which justice might be achieved in the international order (points starkly at variance with your attempts mechanically to read a foreign policy out of his principles), there would still be the not-inconsiderable matter that Rawls’s principles concern a well-ordered society’s foreign policy. Since the USA is not a well ordered society in Rawsian terms, there is bound to be room for considerable disagreement concerning how the principles that would ideally guide a well-ordered society apply to the United States.

154

zdenek 06.23.06 at 4:23 am

re 153– now your reading skills ( even though English is your mother tongue ) are a problem : it is tendentious to suggest as you do that Rawls endorses intervention only if the outlaw state is Aztek like ( with slavery ) . This is totally uncharitable reading of Rawls general worry anout the existence of outlaw states. My point is this is either bad reading or it is intellectual dishonesty.

155

Kevin Donoghue 06.23.06 at 5:55 am

Zdenek, your reckless use of the verb “to suggest” and the adverb “only” is, I suggest, only harming your case.

I know nowt about Rawls but I can scroll back through a thread. What Chris Bertram is actually suggesting is that Rawls is very wary indeed about endorsing intervention. The “Aztec” example supports that claim. It hardly means that only Aztec-like states would have had anything to fear from a President Rawls, but then nobody around here is actually suggesting that interpretation.

For all I know you may be quite right about Rawls. But your method of argument is lousy. You won’t be taken seriously unless you clean it up.

156

soru 06.23.06 at 5:58 am

The US govt might not want to create democracies, but they will be constrained to do so by the political context.

Now that is getting much closer to an accurate statement, although it is still assigning way too much agency to the US.

It’s not about _creating_ a democracy, it is about _allowing_ one, partly out of ideological preference but mainly because there is no realistic alternative.

157

Ray 06.23.06 at 6:19 am

I’m assigning too much agency to the occupying power in Iraq? You don’t think those hundreds of thousands of troops, and those hundreds of billions of dollars, are going to have veto power over the kind of government Iraqis form?

How, precisely, do you think the US is going to be constrained? By Western public opinion – the public opinion that in Europe didn’t stop the war and in the US seems to be mainly concerned with avoiding casualties? (Hands up who thinks there’ll be a massive wave of public protest in the US if Bush announces that he’s found a friendly dictator to keep the oil flowing, and now the troops can come home)
By Iraqi civil society, what’s left of it – assuming that at any point there was a majority in favour of ‘functioning democracy’ as opposed to ‘my guy being in power’? Or maybe you’re the one cheering on the insurgents, because they’ll “keep the US honest” and prevent a puppet govt being installed?
Or maybe this is just more wishful thinking – supporting a war because the best-case scenarios are so nice that it’s worth the risk of hundreds of thousands of people being killed along the way.

158

Dave 06.23.06 at 6:42 am

I think you’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick, ray.

I wrote in 136 that “The goals and motivations of the invaders are certainly crucial in conditioning their actions, though these take place in, and are checked and molded by, the social and political context in which they take place—so that the motivations to dominate and steal may not be possible, even if we were to believe that those were the motivations.”

But I wasn’t only, or even primarily, thinking of the domestic social and political context of the invaders—whether or not they had to lie to sell the invasion, or whether or not they faced at the time both large-scale opposition as well as widespread support—but rather more of the social and political context, the activities, of the invadees (both those who are more hostile and those who are less hostile), who might have plans and motivations of their own.

And why do you think that the possible outcomes are limited to just two: either a puppet democracy friendly to imperialists or a genuine democracy that is hostile to them? What about, for instance, a real democracy—one that adapts over time to suit local conditions—that is hostile to the US in some policy areas and friendly in others? Which asserts its own interests where it is able, and when not, comes to the best accommodation it is able to manage?

As regards your point on anti-Americanism: of course! Is it also necessary to say that not everyone who critcises the policies of the Israeli state is unfailingly motivated by anti-Semitism (though some of them undoubtedly are), or that not all criticism of Islamists need be a covert method of attacking Muslims as a whole (though it sometimes undoubtedly is)?

[Footnote: Did I really spell the verb “mould” in the US manner, because that really is taking cosmopolitanism too far. My excuse: deadlines yesterday (although I also blame the parents).]

159

Ray 06.23.06 at 7:02 am

Then I’d ask you the same question I asked soru – why do you think there was a majority in favour of genuine democracy in Iraq (ie. not secession, and not rule for their own faction, however that rule is maintained), and how do you that hypothetical majority would be able to enforce it’s will on the US? Any Iraqi government was going to be dependent on money from the US, at least for a few years, and US troops would always be by far the most powerful force in the region. If you don’t think the US was going to choose to roll over and play nice, who was going to make them?

Sure, a US-friendly democracy was a possibility, but it was hardly realistic. And this is why I brought up all thousands of smaller decisions that follow from an invasion – the fact that the US priority was force-protection, the fact that Bush is incompetent, the absence of a post-invasion plan (and the way the attention of the US visibly moved away from Afghanistan once the initial fighting was over) – all of these factors argued against the US overturning a background hostility in Iraq.

Finally, do you think you could tell the EM people about anti-Americanism? They seem to be a little obsessed.

160

Dave 06.23.06 at 7:20 am

According to my understanding, governments in liberal democracies face usually an array of checks and balances on their actions and, for the most part, these work tolerably well, in my view.

Apart from that, if I may restrict myself to a single, possibly controversial, example: I think that the free press in the West does a reasonable job of keeping the imperial forces in line, pointing out where they fail to live up to their own society’s standards and demanding prosecutions where there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. In this way, paradoxically—or dialectically, as we used to say—anti-war criticism is essential to the success of the Iraqi democracy—if it is going to be successful over the long run, that is.

161

Ray 06.23.06 at 7:34 am

Hang on, a minute ago you said you weren’t talking about the domestic social and political context of the invaders, but about the response of the invadees?

If you’re talking about the domestic context, then why do you think the UK public opinion that couldn’t stop the war could stop the invaders pursuing their own interests? Especially given the well-known ‘rally around the troops’ effect once a war has actually started? For all the good job that you think the Western press does, Abu ghraib and Guantanamo are still open for business. The pressure the US applies to Iraqi governments is likely to be less obvious, and less easily described. And the longer the occupation goes on, the less people going are to care about the form of the Iraqi government, compared to the price of oil and the number of US and UK dead.

162

Dave 06.23.06 at 8:16 am

If you take a look back at my entry at 158, ray, you will see that I wrote: “I wasn’t only…thinking of the domestic social and political context of the invaders”.

That means that I was thinking of the domestic social and political context of the invaders, but not exclusively.

163

Ray 06.23.06 at 8:24 am

I wasn’t only, or even primarily, thinking of the domestic social and political context of the invaders

Clearer without the ellipsis, I think.
But now I’ve asked you why you think the invadees would be able to over-ride US interests, and I’ve asked you why you think domestic public opinion would be effective in this given that it hasn’t been effective in related cases, and you haven’t answered either question.

164

Dave 06.23.06 at 9:11 am

No, not primarily: that’s right, I think. The main role in constructing a state on a new basis was always going to be down to the Iraqis, if it’s possible at all. But:

i) I think there are several notable occasions on which many anti-war commenters would agree that the invadees were able to exert pressurise on the US. One example that used to be often cites was that in which Grand Ayatollah Sistani was said to have made the imperialists press ahead with elections earlier than they would have liked.

ii) I think public and press opinion, here and in the US, has had some effect in ensuring that soldiers and guards are presecuted when there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing on their part, as in the case of the guards who tormented prisoners in Abu Graib (the US guards that is, not Saddam’s guards, when they were in charge).

165

soru 06.23.06 at 9:14 am

But now I’ve asked you why you think the invadees would be able to over-ride US interests

That’s interesting, a lot of commentators would say the US can’t possibly win this war. You would appear to be claiming they can’t possibly lose, no matter what tactics or strategy they adopt, what current allies they turn into enemies, what political changes happen at home. Because, surely, that is what is necessary in order to think that he ‘invadees’ (the Iraqi people) have no power over the situation in Iraq.

Could you justify that view in the face of the 400 textbooks and generals I could quote disagreeing?

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Ray 06.23.06 at 9:36 am

Dave,
i) do you think Iraqis will be able to elect a government that says “we’ve decided we don’t want your troops based here, we’re going to negotiate our own oil contracts, and we’ll put whatever we want in our constitution.”
2)As I said, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are still open. A few soldiers of extremely low rank were hung out to dry. Bush has signed presidential orders reserving the right to torture if he thinks it’s necessary. If I were looking for evidence that domestic public pressure would ensure that the US supported an Iraqi democracy even against it’s own interests, I would start looking somewhere else.

Soru, as I said in 157, the US is not being deflected from it’s course by a thriving Iraqi civil society intent on creating a healthy democracy even in the face of the occupying power, but by a range of violent groups intent on seizing as much power for themselves as possible. I’m not sure why you see this as a vindication of your position.

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soru 06.23.06 at 10:02 am

166: are you suggesting you think it is likely that the US will switch sides to supporting those groups?

Now obviously they have does stuff like that in the past, but only out of sight of the media. This is where democratic constraints (hopefully) do count – I can’t really see Bush getting away with standing up at a press conference and saying ‘al Qaeda are now Freedom Fighters, we will be sending them arms to aid their overthrow of the corrupt secular-atheist regime’.

Admittedly, I could be wrong on that…

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Dave 06.23.06 at 10:03 am

i)
“we’ve decided we don’t want your troops based here, we’re going to negotiate our own oil contracts, and we’ll put whatever we want in our constitution.”

I don’t think they have to say any of that, ray, but rather just to do it at some point down the line, when the democratic state is in a somewhat more secure position.

ii) Of course, Rumsfeld should have been out on his ear. That is why I said that the public and press opinion had some impact, rather than, say, a throughgoing or decisive impact.

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Ray 06.23.06 at 10:13 am

If you think he’d say it like that, then yes, you’re most likely wrong.

But I think even the most prudish members of the US government will think “Fuck a bunch of Iraqi democracy” if they think they can pull the troops out (or back to bases where they won’t get shot at) and leave someone in power who’ll keep the oil flowing. They’ll probably make sure that they don’t have to hand power over to someone who’s appeared on a ten most wanted list recently, but that’s about it. Any criticism will be met with “now it’s time for Iraqis to make their own mistakes – and look over there! I think I see a plane full of our brave men and women returning home! Didn’t they do a great job?!” How many reporters are going to want to stay in Iraq looking for the disappeared then? Who is going to be interested in stories of torture chambers – who is going to want to be interested in those stories?

What other scenario do you think the US is going to hold out for, and at what cost?

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Ray 06.23.06 at 10:20 am

Dave, the Iraqi government is entirely dependent on US support right now. Do you actually expect a stable inter-ethnic and independent govt to appear any time soon? And do you not agree that ‘accepting a hostile Iraqi democracy’ is closer to ‘firing Rumsfeld’ than ‘jailing a handful of rednecks’ on the sacrifice scale?
(As far as I can see it would be a much bigger deal.)

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soru 06.23.06 at 11:34 am

The thing is, an undemocratic leader chosen by the US would have a greater need to prove himself by avoiding acts that make him seem a puppet than one with more democratic legitimacy.

Compare Pakistan and Afghanistan – which has the dictator, and which allows US troops in?

Power is about choices: if the US doesn’t have any plausible alternative options to supporting the Maliki government, it doesn’t have any power.

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roger 06.23.06 at 1:34 pm

Ray’s question strikes me as right on target:
“why do you think there was a majority in favour of genuine democracy in Iraq (ie. not secession, and not rule for their own faction, however that rule is maintained), and how do you that hypothetical majority would be able to enforce it’s will on the US?” We have a good example of this in today’s news. The Iraqi government has been trying to negotiate with the insurgents. A minister or subminister floats one amnesty idea — that the insurgents who have only fought Americans will be eligible for a pardon. From the Iraqi perspective, this is a great idea — it recognizes the nationalistic impulse in the insurgents and seeks to annex it. This is definitely how you negotiate an end to a civil war. But it conflicts with U.S. political interests — so it is zapped. In this way, the U.S. occupation, far from being an act of moral responsibility, is a multiplier of conflict. It boxes any Iraqi government into a set of unacceptable choices. They are unacceptable because they serve U.S., not Iraqi interests.

Here’s a small list:

1. The razing of Fallujah
2. the institution of airstrikes to support counterinsurgency;
3. the high security construction of the Green Zone;
4. the writing of the constitution with the heavy handed advice of Amrican advisors, many of whom have publicly expressed support for Kurdish separatism (for instance, Peter Galbraith);
5. the use of divide and conquer tactics in military operations — using the Peshmerga, for instance, to attack in Sunni cities.

I think I could go on for at least fourteen or fifteen points. But I will have mercy on this CT thread and … Not.

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Ray 06.23.06 at 3:27 pm

An undemocratic leader would have two choices – court public opinion by criticising the US, or kiss up to the US and use their deep pockets and big sticks to secure power.
The first option is certainly workable in general, but it’s complicated in a divided society. You can’t just identify yourself as anti-US, you’re also Sunni, Shi’ite, or Kurdish. Hard to build a stable coalition like that.
If you’re Bush’s poodle, on the other hand, you don’t need to build that coalition. You have money to throw around, and you have the threat that anybody putting together a military opposition will find themselves on the receiving end of an airstrike.

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abb1 06.24.06 at 4:16 am

The first option is not workable even in general, because there are always enough ‘kiss up to the US’ members of the parliament to facilitate blocking any anti-American (or even potentially anti-American, anyone suspected of being anti-American) politician from rising to the leadership position in the first place. Ask Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

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