[This is Chapter 8 of Murphey's book Out of the Ashes.] 


                                                                      Chapter 8


                                    TOWARD AN ENLIGHTENED NATIONALISM



[Note after September 11]:  I wrote this chapter in early 2001.  As with all of this book except Chapter 1, I am leaving it essentially as written, with only a few additional notations which are placed in brackets, because I believe it shows what the substratum of American policy should be over the long run, even though it is true that the fight against radical Islamist groups and others who are willing to attack Americans is likely to be a long one.  To recommend an "enlightened nationalism" is both to point toward a policy that will serve Americans best in the long term and to highlight, once again, why it is that the internationalism of the past century has drawn Americans into the cauldron of hatreds they now find themselves in. 



            The United States' role in world affairs should be substantially different now than it was during the many years of Communist expansion.  A totalitarian ideology that preaches the right to seize power throughout the world – and that has some plausible prospect of success because of the appeal its thinking makes to certain segments of society everywhere (not the least to the intelligentsia) – is a threat not just to the nations that at any given time are under immediate attack, but to free peoples everywhere.  If such a threat arises again, it will need to be opposed, and a "hands off" policy will almost certainly not be appropriate to that opposition.  [And this is true of the terrorist threat that has made war on the United States, even though it is a misreading of the evidence to see the hatreds behind the terrorism as emanating from a movement that seeks to take over the world.]  I would be chagrined if this book were thought to justify such a suicidal position.  But in a world that has returned to the complex "normalcy" that we associate with contending nation-states and civilizations, an enlightened nationalism (to use Patrick Buchanan's name for it) is most appropriate.

            As we go into the future, care should be taken not to impute "world-dominating expansionism" to something unless it really is present.  It is easy to claim that this or that nation, religion or ideology "seeks to dominate the world" even when it has no purpose or ability to do so. 

            And it is easy to understand the word "dominate" as equivalent to "conquer."  Domination, in the sense of broad influence and leverage, may be consistent with the normal ebb-and-flow of international competition.  Universal conquest is something quite different.  And yet they sound alike in alarmist rhetoric.  People tend to accept them naively as equivalent, such as when the claim was made that Kaiser Wilhelm was out to "dominate the world" early in the twentieth century.  A moment's reflection shows that the claim was fantastic, both as to the Kaiser's intent and as to his capabilities, but that did not keep it from becoming the major premise upon which a generation of Americans acted in the utmost good faith. 

            The burden should be upon those who make the claim.  Skepticism about whether such motives and the means to carry them out really exist should be welcomed as a sort of immune system against overblown rhetoric.  In today's world, we need to be especially careful about any claim that "China is out to dominate the world" (or even "all of Asia") or that Islam constitutes that sort of threat.  Neither has a worldwide appeal; and the means for conquest simply aren't there.  One or the other may come to "dominate" a region, but that can hardly be prevented, and that isn't by itself a threat to the United States.

            The potency of such claims comes from the fact that they elevate contending aspirations into existential questions.  Survival is put at issue.  It becomes "kill or be killed" on a world scale.  The world then faces, on a fanciful basis, a situation similar to the one that existed in fact during the decades of Marxist-Leninist expansion.  Nothing could be more dangerous than for humanity to live perpetually under one or another cloud of that sort.  It will if it must, but the cloud should not be manufactured by spurious imputation.

            It is also dangerous, as this monograph has shown, to live under the delusion that men of good will can "remake the world," tidying it up nicely, or even police the world.  Samuel Huntington has pointed out that this sort of benevolence is in fact immoral because it makes necessary a presumptuous interference into the lives, and ways of life, of billions of people and the use of unacceptable means, all in an effort that is quixotic beyond anything that Cervantes ever imagined.


What Is Needed?

            There are at least three desiderata for a sound foreign policy for the United States.  They are:

            • Far more restraint than has even been proposed by those – such as Weinberger, Powell and the second President Bush – who so far have seen some need for limits on American overstretch.

            • An "enlightened nationalism" that, far from withdrawing from the business of the world, would have the United States play the role of a good and substantial citizen, but not of a worldwide social worker, puritan taskmaster or policeman.

            • A sharing of the incredible new technologies that science is now creating.  The imperative need for this arises from a fact that I have so far not had occasion to mention here [other than in Chapter 1]: That by introducing an enormous displacement of labor and enterprise throughout the world, the global market and the marvelous new technology that is coming into being have the downside of threatening to make the world a far more miserable place than it is even now – and a much more dangerous place.  And yet, that technology simultaneously offers the way out: not just a solution to misery and danger, but a chance to go far beyond them to a new plateau of human well-being.  A sharing of consumer and infrastructure technology offers great benefits on a global scale, and greater safety for everyone, without carrying with it the presumptuousness and dangers of well-intended interference. 

            No doubt every possible effort will need to be made to limit the sharing to consumer- and infrastructure-oriented technology, rather than to include technology that can be used to create weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, but there is no avoiding the fact that technology-sharing will inevitably lend itself to military uses.  This is, however, not so much a drawback as it seems: the widespread existence of such weapons, over time, is virtually inescapable in any event, despite all efforts for "non-proliferation"; and the technology-sharing, if combined with an American reluctance to "make everyone's business its own," has the potential of turning those who would be America's enemies, and who would otherwise rage against the United States, into its friends. (This isn't to suggest that envy against those who are more prosperous won't always be a factor as perhaps an irreducible source of enmity.)

            Each of the three desiderata deserves examination:


1.  A policy of restraint.

            We have already seen how certain voices have called for a more restrained American foreign policy.  The first six of the factors that will be discussed here have been included by one or more such voices.  This monograph has given reasons to add significantly to the list, however, and those additions will entail, in effect, the resumption by the United States of the policy that it followed during the first century of its national existence.


            a.  That any foreign intervention should be in the service of American national interests – with "national interest" being understood in terms of the needs of a free society and also less expansively than is seen by those who believe that American interests demand a "well-ordered" and "just" world.

            We should hesitate to delineate a "bright line rule" about which future interventions will be justified and which will not; the concept of "national interest" can hardly be defined in advance with any certainty.  When we use the term "enlightened nationalism," we don't mean in any way to strip the United States of its ability to see to its own safety or economic or social well-being.  The ways those things may be threatened are potentially infinite, and there won't be any substitute for judgment under particular circumstances.  An empirical examination of hundreds of historical situations might lead to inductive generalizations that would be useful, or it may be that a priori reasoning could tell us something; we have done much of both in this monograph; but any conclusions will also need to remain open-ended, so that future judgment will be encouraged as cases arise.

            What we can do is to cut away the overly-expansive claims of "national interest" that will lead the United States, the West and the world into trouble.  That will largely be the function of the other factors discussed here.  Two analogies come to mind: One is of the sculptor who sees his task as "removing the excess" from a block of marble to reveal the form that he creatively envisions within it.  The other is the insight that the key to a long and happy life for an individual may be simply to avoid the innumerable self-destructive behaviors that people indulge in.  This removal of negatives may not seem a positive, but it is: it makes way for the many satisfactions and rewards that life offers when it is unencumbered.  If we do away with fatuous claims of "national interest," ample content will remain.

            Why should the pursuit of national interest be important?  The question virtually answers itself.  Because Americans care about themselves and their lives, and about the values and institutions that are essential not only to themselves but as an example to others.  There is nothing ignoble about preserving and extending the blessings of a free society.

            This contains, of course, an essential presupposition: that Americans have a vision of themselves consistent with those values and institutions.  The self-image that prevailed during the nineteenth century centered around the Constitution, individual liberty, economic freedom, and a type of people who took personal, familial and civic responsibility seriously.  There are a number of self-images that would be strongly at odds with this and that would lead to a self-destructive concept of "national interest" unworthy of support.  If, for example, the American people were to develop a Napoleonic complex (which is hard to imagine), "national interest" as seen by a martial spirit would be something very different from what it is for a people who harbor no such aggressive elan.  The content of a people's self-image has much to do with what they consider to be in their national interest.

            The self-image of Americans is very different now, of course, than it was during the Old America I just referred to.  The Left has "made its march through our institutions" and dominates our national psyche.  This includes a messianic pursuit of egalitarian values and an abiding self-hatred toward the residuals of the mainstream civilization.  An "enlightened nationalism" will be possible only if Americans begin to abandon their current mental fixations.  That, no doubt, is much easier said than done.

            Of somewhat lesser importance is that there has long been ambiguity about what sort of "national interest" exists even so far as commerce is concerned.  It might be thought indisputable that "economic well-being" is a matter of national interest, but some thought needs to be given to what this entails.  If a country's citizens are active all over the world, it is one thing to say that each of them assumes the dangers that go with his activity, which is then seen as a private matter; it is another to say that Americans "have a right" to be active in other societies and that it is therefore the duty of the United States to protect them in the exercise of that right. 

            An important issue in American history has been whether Americans should be free to trade with countries at war.  There has been the view that a conflict among belligerents shouldn't interfere with the right of Americans, as neutrals, to carry on normal activity.  It should be obvious that such a position, even though seemingly reasonable on paper and even though often thought demanded by those who stridently assert the national pride of the neutral, is bound to embroil a neutral power in the wars of others; in the desperation of a struggle for survival between two or more countries, commerce will seem intolerable that benefits the opposing power, that isn't equally beneficial to ones own country, and that may even be very damaging by supplying the enemy with what it needs.  It will be something that "has to be stopped." In this dynamic setting, what seems rightful to the neutral will drag the neutral into the war with the disadvantaged party.  Indeed, there is even an incentive to the favored party to bait the neutral power into the war.

            There is a vast literature about "national interest."  For a non-interventionist policy, it is important to adopt a meaning that will not by its own logic lead to gratuitous embroilments.  The private Commission on America's National Interests has graded the interests, prioritizing them.  As we have seen, this implies limits because it ties them to the interests of one nation, the United States, and because the prioritizing suggests that the lesser interests are not absolutes.  Just the same, the Commission calls for the United States to have vast entanglements.  It is in line with a development that is new to human history: that a nation would feel itself responsible, even with some limits, for policing and ministering to the entire world.  A variation of this, which is also new, is the perception that American security requires a well-ordered world.  The power of the perception lies in the fact that it is obviously true in part.  But there is the offsetting truth that a project of overseeing world order is a project of entanglement, with all the dangers, some of them unspeakable, that come with it.


            b.  That priority will need to be given to the United States' national security.

            During the 2000 presidential election in the United States, George W. Bush at least made clear his belief that priorities are needed.  He was asked what he thought about the seeming inconsistency of the United States' having intervened in Bosnia while doing nothing to stop the Hutu-Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.  His answer was "common sense" to everyone except those who start with the premise that all wrongs, everywhere, are the United States' business.  It was consistent with the thinking of the National Commission just referred to.  He said that there must be priorities, and that Europe is more important to America than is central Africa.

            If Bush had not recognized at least this much, he would have found himself in a conceptual morass.  Any failure to intervene "in a just cause" would be reason for feeling guilty, as though the inaction were a moral dereliction.  Many of the failures to intervene would, by the principle adopted, justify charges of "racist" or otherwise unjust discrimination.  The "everybody's business is our business" principle leads to impossibilities that provide excellent fodder for what Jeane Kirkpatrick so aptly called "the ‘hate America' crowd."

            National security may require allies, but even that should receive serious scrutiny.  The alliances before World War I served as tripwires that dragged several nations into what would preferably have been "the other man's war."  Alliances bring commitments and entanglements.  For the most part, it is better to be friends with all, and to muster alignments only as they are essential to a specific situation.

            Consistently with what I have said, this suggests a criticism of Bush's response.  He rightly recalled the need for priorities.  But even though Europe is "more important to the United States than central Africa," that does not in itself establish the wisdom of the United States' assuming a role in Europe's internal affairs. It is about as likely that Europe will forever go along peacefully within itself (assuming the Balkans crisis is solved), as it is that the stock market will always continue upward or that the economy will never again fall into recession.  Americans recently have been disabused of the assumption that permanent solutions had been found to economic ups and downs.  They might as well disabuse themselves, too, of any notion that they can oversee the affairs of Europe without becoming a party to considerable future unpleasantness.  (Of course, the idea is that U.S. involvement will prevent the schisms in the first place.  It may well do that, but at the cost of entangling the United States in the schisms it cannot prevent.)


            c.  That any intervention be made only with clear objectives.

            Purposeful action entails a combination of ends and means to their accomplishment.  It is possible to act in any human endeavor by "trial and error," or just to set out and see where things take you.  But where actions entail serious costs (and all foreign interventions involve costs, both visible and invisible), "muddling through" is among the poorest ways to act.

            The United States has gone into Haiti repeatedly with good intentions, but with no objectives other than to deal with that country's myriad problems on a short-term basis.  When the United States bombed Serbia for many days "to save Kosovo," there was no realistic idea about what was best for post-war Kosovo.  (We will discuss later how presumptuous it is for an outsider even to arrogate such an idea to itself.)  The intention wasn't to give the ethnic Albanians independence or to merge them into a Greater Albania; and a Kosovo stripped (or soon to be stripped) of Serbs would hardly match the image of a "multiethnic" society; nor would it fit into Serbia appropriately, even as an autonomous province.  Sentiment and action held sway; thought was to come later, if at all.  This would justify the world in seeing the United States as a punch-drunk prizefighter.  It gives many people reason to fear the United States, and even to rage against it.  This is in no sense within the "national interests" of the United States.


            d.  That there be a high probability that the means chosen are sufficient to accomplish the objectives. 

            There is a "disconnect," too, if the means won't realistically accomplish the objectives.  The insufficiency will be a recipe for failure.  The Korean and Vietnam wars were fought to a deadlock in one case and a humiliating withdrawal in the other (combined with disaster for those the United States was seeking to protect) because American forces were not permitted, for reasons good or bad, to take the war to the enemy.  It is morally perverse to ask young men (and now women) to die in so compromised a situation.  And it is a terrible thing for the millions of inhabitants who become, in effect, the pawns whose lives may be sacrificed while things are drawn out because of the insufficient means.

            In the "bottomless pit" situations, no means will ever be sufficient in the absence of the people's having the will, the ability, the level of civilization, and the capital to help themselves.  Action "upon" them without accomplishing those things will provide only temporary palliatives.


            e.  That any involvement have an "end-game" to bring it to a conclusion and to prevent its becoming a permanent commitment, drain on resources, and source of danger.

            The need for an "end-game" is a broader desideratum than is generally thought even by those who see the need for one.  The concept tends to be used mostly in connection with specific, localized interventions, where it is thought desirable to "get in and get out."  Certainly that is an imperative in such operations; otherwise, the effort becomes bogged down interminably, with no way out except through a loss of credibility.  The United States pulled out of Somalia in haste after the debacle in which the Rangers were killed, and that both reflected little credit on the United States [and invited bin Laden's contempt].

            What is not generally realized is that the United States has undertaken a great many open-ended commitments around the world, and that those who favor global intervention don't hesitate to call for precisely that.  There is no "end-game," say, if the United States undertakes to "maintain the balance of power in East Asia" or to assure that no world "hegemon" arises, or even any regional "hegemon" in many areas.  The more sweeping the commitment, the less chance there is of an "end-game" or of anyone's even speaking of one.  Americans are then caught in a permanent entanglement; they are not only "seeking monsters to destroy" (which John Quincy Adams warned Americans against), but are putting themselves into positions where the monsters will come to them. 


            f.  The costs must be proportionate to the benefits – including the incalculable prospective costs of hatreds incurred.

            In the usual calculus of means and ends pursued by all purposeful action, there must be, implicitly or explicitly, a weighing of costs and benefits.  Without that, the action again becomes less than rational. 

            A danger is that, in this age that is so committed to quantifying everything and to considering only what can be counted, the "unseen" future costs will be ignored.  Given every advanced society's vulnerability to terrorism, there is no way to know in advance what the "costs" of enraging even a single individual will be.  They may be immense.

            There is also the difficulty of what value to give, in the assessment, to a principle, a human value, or even a human life.  It has been said, with considerable foundation, that Americans are no longer willing to suffer casualties.  That places an extremely high value on individual lives, so much so that, whether Americans have thought it through or not, a serious impediment is placed on action.  It also introduces a double-standard that the American people would just as soon not have to think about, but that is bound to strike other peoples as intolerable: that one American life is "worth" a great deal more than x number of lives of, say, Asians, Africans, Iraqis or Serbians.  My purpose is not to feed anti-American feeling, but to raise such questions so that Americans themselves will confront them.

            Cost-benefit must be considered if an action is to be taken.  To point out the difficulties and confusions inherent in it is to point to yet another reason it is perhaps best not to take the action.


            g.  A policy must reflect humility about any supposed universality of American or Western values; which is to say, it must respect other cultures.

             At present, the three values that are most considered "universal" in the literature on global meliorism are representative government, "human rights," and free trade.  Other values may over time come to rank with these; in Europe and throughout the English-speaking world ideas ebb and flow as "politically correct" in line with the fashionable Left, with opposing views rapidly denounced as taboo.  On race, say, the ideal, not too long ago, was a "melting pot"; more recently, "multiculturalism" has insisted on the desirability of minorities' (but not a European or Euro-American majority) expressing their cultural "solidarity." Not long ago reasonable restrictions on immigration were considered essential; now an argument for restrictions runs the risk of being denounced as "racist," which ranks among the worst things anyone can be called today.  [It is unthinkable that this denunciation of limits on immigration will continue among Americans after September 11.]  One can imagine that "women's rights" will become an "international norm" within the Davos Culture (and there are world women's conferences to install them as such), so that any Muslim (or other culture's) restrictions on the way women dress or on the role they play in economic life will seem intolerable.  All such things are subject to constant change.

            It is hard for Americans to see why such values as at least the three first mentioned should not be insisted upon as universally applicable.  After all, they are highly desirable in themselves, and should benefit everyone.  But such a view does two things: it presumes to say that "we know best" to hundreds of millions, even billions, of other people; and it fails to see that other arrangements may be cherished by those accustomed to another way of life, and in fact may even be essential to fulfill important needs that Americans themselves would agree are vital or desirable.

            It is odd that a point of view can champion "self-determination" and "representative government" and yet not see that they run contrary to a policy of cultural domination.  What sort of self-determination is left, say, to the hundreds of millions who see existence through the prism of fundamentalist Islam if we insist that they abandon their cosmology for our own?  And is it consistent with self-determination to insist in the name of free trade that no society may insulate its economy to nurture its own local industry?  The United States did that very thing during the first century and a half of its national existence, and even today continues to interfere in many ways with the market despite the recent consensus that "of course, the world needs free trade."  Free trade is an extremely valuable goal in many ways and under many conditions, but there is profound myopia in demanding its universal acceptance (and this would be true even in the absence of hypocrisies in applying it).  Free trade does not honor parochial differences, which are the very things that loom large to local populations.

            Some nuance should it added, too, to the thought that "democracy" fits all situations.  We forget that in the eighteenth century, classical liberals on the continent of Europe assessed the population's capacity for representative institutions differently than classical liberals did in England and the United States.  Many European liberals supported "enlightened despotism" for reasons they thought most consistent with their liberalism; they were anxious to support autocratic rule if it were conducive to laying the then-still-missing foundations for a society based on individual liberty.  Classical liberals themselves saw representative government as contingent – dependent upon circumstances –, rather than as the absolute value that Americans usually consider it today.

            In his 1992 book Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World, Richard Nixon called for more funding for the National Endowment for Democracy that was created by President Reagan in 1982 to assist a worldwide spread of representative government.  But Nixon added the admonition that "much of the underdeveloped world lacks the political traditions necessary to make democracy function properly.  In some countries, ethnic hatreds, class divisions, and even tribal rivalries would frustrate the most well-intentioned advocates of democracy.  A spirit of compromise and a willingness to accept defeat in elections are not universal human traits... For democracy to work, these nations must  first transform their political cultures."[1]

            In my earlier discussion of the American interventions in  Haiti, I suggested that it may have been misguided to have presumed the viciousness of rule by the elite: it may well be that in Haiti the choice is not between democracy and rule by an elite; the choice may rather be between rule by an elite, on the one hand, and a virtual stone-age absence of civilization, on the other.  This turns on whether the foundations for self-government exist among the Haitian people.  None of their historical experience indicates that they do.

            Something similar can be said about the universality of "human rights."  Under the conditions of colonial America, the colonists three hundred years ago cut the ears off thieves, and banished the offenders from the community.  Americans don't do that anymore, but it is foolish to think that the entire world has transcended the circumstances in which reasonable people thought that was necessary.  (The amount of crime and rotten behavior in the United States today, much of it heinous, should hint at the possibility that those circumstances have not been fully transcended even in today's United States.)  Americans were scandalized not long ago when the government of Singapore punished a young American by five lashes with a cane.  But who can say exactly what is needed in Singapore (or even the United States) to deter unacceptable behavior?  Additionally, the perception of what is intolerable behavior may be different in Singapore than it is in contemporary America.  I would hesitate to say dogmatically that American permissiveness provides the lamp by which the world's feet must be guided.

            Nothing said so far in addressing this point has sufficiently suggested what is certainly most important: the existentially-defining richness of other cultures, which is something educated people everywhere might be expected to appreciate.  It is easy to be blind to the attachments that other people most often have to their own history, self-image, traditions, interests, and the like.  If we do not respect their loves and passions, we tend, through our interventions, to suck the life out of them.


            h.  A policy should not be premised on one or more of the great mental errors discussed earlier here: the assumption of a permanently legitimate world status quo; the expectation that there will be an endless downward spiral unless the United States intervenes; a desire to tidy-up the world; a perception of expansionist threats where the intention and/or capability are missing; double-standards; the demonizing of opponents; a possible insouciance toward unspeakable losses; and others.

            If we clear our minds of these illusions, it is likely that an outlook that is much more rational, moderate and practical will result.  In pursuit of that, Americans will do well to re-visit the philosophy that prevailed from 1789 to 1898.


            i.  Any intervention must be maturely considered, and not simply be a reaction to media sensationalism and the public passions the sensationalism creates.

            The reasons for this requirement are obvious.  What is not obvious is how difficult, almost impossible, it is for political leaders in a democracy not to react to an aroused public demand.  President McKinley was privately very reluctant to launch the Spanish-American War, but the yellow journalism of the press, especially after the "sinking of the Maine," made him lead America to war.  In like fashion, it would have been politically costly for President Clinton not to have intervened militarily on behalf of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, when the stream of refugees was shown night after night on American television.

            A philosophy of non-intervention, if understood generally by a substantial part of the American public, would provide some antidote to media sensationalism.  The media accounts might then stimulate a large volume of private charity-giving for aid to the unfortunates in a given situation, but wouldn't necessarily lead to calls for war.  This will, at least, be a possibility.  Vividly emotional pictures are a powerful force that will be hard to overcome even among a people who in principle see the wisdom of non-intervention.


            j.  American policy should respect national sovereignty, not just for the United States, but also for others.

            The central implication of a respect for sovereignty is that the internal affairs of any nation will be its own, not the world's, business.

            For the past century, there has been a trend away from respect for sovereignty – and this has emerged from a large body of opinion embraced by well-meaning people.  The dangers of the nation-state were hammered home most especially by World War I.  I am tempted to write that "at some distant time, a world government, or at least an effective world order, will serve humanity much better than sovereign nation-states," but I hesitate to do so, because that might be misunderstood to suggest a more sanguine view of world government than I hold. The most that is at all feasible at our juncture in history is for nations to work together as well as they can to create some of the preconditions for that future.  Right now, and for as far ahead as the eye can see, the preconditions are missing.  If the presence of slavery in the South and a desire for tariffs in the North were enough to shatter the early American republic despite the sharing of many fundamental values, the vast differences among nine highly individual civilizations seem far more insuperable. 

            One condition that presently nullifies the necessary consensus is precisely the combination of ideas and attitudes we have discussed.  That combination amounts to a claim for Davos-culture primacy.  To the other eight civilizations, that would be an intolerable basis for confederation unless they come to feel as luke-warm about their own beliefs and ways of life as, unfortunately, most Americans do about their own.  (It is ironic that the claim to primacy comes at a time when those who make it have themselves lost sight of their own roots – and believe in little more than fleeting ideological fashions.)

            If the preconditions for world government are absent, what would seem called for is a world of "live and let live" in which a country pursuing a policy of enlightened nationalism can thrive and provide leadership by example.


            k.  Any intervention should be decided upon only in ways  consistent with democratic processes.

            We have already seen how difficult, almost impossible, this is.  If the electorate knows little or nothing about such places as East Timor, Somalia, Haiti, or Kosovo – just to name a few –, any decision to intervene must come from a few "experts" or from the Davos Culture elite (or in response to media images).  This is hardly "democracy," even if polls show "support" and the electorate later accepts or acquiesces in the intervention.  "Democracy" in that context is the consensus of the congenitally blind.

            There is no real solution to this.  The electorate in a large "democracy" is composed of people who are busily going about their daily lives and who can't be expected ever to know all there is to know about everything in the world.  (No one has that capacity in any event, and the average human being is included in that incapacity.  Even the experts don't have that level of knowledge; and neither do the people's elected representatives.)

            Neither is it enough to speak in terms of "knowledge"; "wisdom" is equally essential.  The fact that these preconditions for genuine "democracy" can't exist is yet another factor that points strongly to why a non-interventionist philosophy is desirable.


            l.  The American military's ability to perform its primary defense mission should not be compromised.

            When all the threats to American national security are considered, the mind reels at what is needed to confront them adequately.  Endless questions come to mind: Does the United States have enough trained medical personnel and supplies to handle a massive biological-warfare attack?  Does a back-up ("redundant") system exist to supply the population with food, water and other necessities almost instantly if a cyberwarfare attack disables computers (recognizing that the infrastructure in advanced societies has come to rely almost totally upon computers)?  Are there redundant systems of electricity?  How is terrorism to be prevented; and if it is not, how is the chaos of suffering and recrimination to be handled if it strikes massively?  But, of course, as daunting as they are, these are just a few of the concerns "national security" demands be solved.  [I wrote this several months before September 11.  The vastness of the needs demanded for true "homeland security" is now strikingly more apparent than it was then.]

            Many of these needs are hardly being addressed at all.  Instead, American forces are spread out over the world, not only serving as tripwires to involvement in remote places, but consuming the always-limited means any country, even an affluent one, has for its own defense.

            A policy of global intervention is, in fact, irreconcilable with adequate provision for the United States' own needs.  Americans like to think that involvement around the world "keeps the enemy at bay" and assures that the battlefields will be on other people's turf.  To the extent it does that, it does serve domestic security.  But to the extent it entangles the United States in conflicts Americans would otherwise avoid, and to the extent it enrages others and causes them to declare, say, a "holy jihad" against the United States, it does just the opposite.  There is no guarantee American space will be inviolate, any more than there was a guarantee that the Japanese would not attack Pearl Harbor.


            m.  Although it is seldom considered a "national security issue," the almost two-century alienation of the dominant "intellectual" subculture against the mainstream of American life is a major source of anti-American and anti-Western hatred.  If it can ever be moderated or transcended, the world will become much safer.

            So far, I have not mentioned the most important single factor that I have long considered central to the history of the past two hundred years.  It hasn't come into this review of foreign policy issues because it doesn't seem directly pertinent to the long debate over America's international role.  This impression is superficial, however; the factor I have in mind has been the key element in the ideological crusades that have been conducted against "bourgeois civilization," and hence in much that has endangered the United States and the whole complex of post-Enlightenment institutions and values that are identified with it.

            The factor is the alienation of the main literary-artistic subculture against the mainstream of Western society since at least the early nineteenth century.  This alienation has led to vast consequences.  As just one "small" example, we see that in the history of nineteenth century Russia the desire to emulate the United States that was evident among the early voices for change gave way by the 1830s to stridently alienated, nihilistic, morally absolutist, socialist voices.  Marxism-Leninism took its place as one of them early in the twentieth century, and laid the foundation for totalitarianism.  Elsewhere in Europe, Marxism as a growth from left-wing Hegelianism, and the militant rejection of "bourgeois society" by right-wing Hegelians, each had the "alienation of the intellectual" as its main ingredient.  The world no longer headed toward the "normalcy" that we associate with social orders based on individual freedom.  The post-Enlightenment world was ripped to shreds and became a seething cauldron.

            The alienation is based on a number of forces, which I have discussed elsewhere.[2]  Because many of those are subtle, the alienation may at some time become muted or even disappear.  It hasn't so far, however – as we can see from the attitudes of the Left in the United States and Europe.  (Many of these attitudes are becoming increasingly fashionable and are now even celebrated as part of the society's history, but that has not caused them to be "co-opted" and rendered less cutting by their absorption into the society at large.)

            The Report of the Commission on America's National Interests lists the prevention of "massive, uncontrolled immigration across U.S. borders" as an "extremely important" value.  (One wonders why it is not considered a "vital" interest, since those are defined as "indispensable for survival.")  Nowhere in the text of the Report is this need even discussed, beyond its bare mention.  What is important to realize is that since World War II the Left in the United States (and just as effectively in Europe) has abandoned its earlier championing of the "proletariat" and has centered its efforts on a war against mainstream culture and on nurturing allies among disaffected and unassimilated minorities.  The ideology of "multiculturalism," which insists on  the transformation of European and Euro-American society into something its earlier population would hardly recognize, has been the result.  The ideology is strengthened by each new wave of immigration (so that by now we are beginning to see letters-to-the-editor from at least some Hispanics saying "we were here first" and damning the history of "white society") and there is no effective opposition to it.  The absence of effective opposition means the on-going destruction of the society-that-was will continue.  This is a "national security" issue to those who have some sense of what the "nation" has been.

            This demographic invasion is accompanied by the alienation's destruction of Americans' historical memory and their shared myths. At least two generations have now gone through schooling that has taught them that much about the United States before World War II was vicious.[3]  (An incongruity today is that the "World War II generation" is praised as "the greatest generation" at the very same time as films such as "Men of Honor" picture it as a thoroughly bigoted generation.  It is the generation that is said to have thrown 112,000 patriotic Japanese-Americans into "concentration camps."  Americans are hardly aware that the images they are presented don't fit together.)

            Still another point is significant about the alienation.  Before 1898, Americans saw their international role as primarily setting the example of a free and prosperous society, a "city on a hill."  What is not realized is that this role was largely nullified by the alienation after the rise of the world Left in the 1820s and 1830s.  A striking fact about the nineteenth-century history of Latin America, for example, is that Latin Americans were much more inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution than by those of the United States.  I have already mentioned the shift that occurred in Russia.  Seen through the prism of intellectual alienation, the United States did not seem to embody ideals worth emulating.  This became even more true in the twentieth century in the Third World: Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot, say, looked to Marxism-Leninism, not to America, for their ideas.


2.  An "Enlightened Nationalism."

            As we near the end of this study, the question becomes: If Americans aren't going to run the world, what are they going to do?  It is a question that seems almost ludicrous when asked that baldly, but it is one that nevertheless throws us into something of an existential crisis, much like that faced by the young John Stuart Mill when he asked himself, in effect, "If everything I advocate so passionately were suddenly put into place, would I be happy?"

            Think of good neighbors.  If they don't run your lives, aren't they exceedingly valuable to you just the same?  What do you count on them for?  Primarily, to conduct themselves in a way that creates no nuisance for you, to offer a friendly salutation when you see them, and to make their own home attractive so that it enhances the appearance of the neighborhood.  Secondarily, perhaps to become good friends and to render reciprocal minor services from time to time such as bringing in the newspaper and the mail when you are away.

            What this analogy suggests is that there is much that is intrinsically valuable in a family's or a nation's existing as a civilized member of a community.   Most important to its contribution is that it maintain, and enhance as it can, its own level of civilization and culture.  If a nation does this, it will have much to share with the rest of humanity in science, art, music, literature, architecture, ethics, philosophy, education, amusements, the example of individual attainment in countless fields of effort – the list is endless.  If the alienation of the intellectual subculture doesn't blind others to its merits, it can offer a living example (or, in the pedestrian phrase of modern social science, a "role model") of what can be attained by human beings.

            The foreign policy of such a peaceable community can (or even must) be active in several ways.  One is to maintain a superior military preparedness so that enemies will be deterred and wars, if they have to be fought, will be won.  The Gulf War [and the recent defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan] illustrated graphically how essential it is to be on the leading edge technologically: one might well say, "God grant mercy to those who aren't."  Our earlier discussion showed that preparedness has come to have a number of aspects in an excruciatingly dangerous world.  The nation's security from attack today has many dimensions.

            Because significant danger now and in the future will come from shadowy terrorist sources that aren't clearly aligned with any given nation and that don't offer defined targets for retaliation (and hence for deterrence), a major and long-term effort through covert intelligence and preventive action is essential.  "Covert" may seem sinister, but it gives the best chance to defuse situations that point toward attack on the United States, and to do so without angry face-offs with others.  If the United States is not undertaking to police the world, but only to prevent attacks, its intelligence needs will be substantially different, although not necessarily less, than they have been in the past for conventional defense. 

            In the book referred to above, Richard Nixon favored "a U.S. policy of discriminating engagement."  He advocated strategic cooperation with nations similar to ourselves and only tactical cooperation with those that are fundamentalist and radical.  Even though he used the concept in the context of vast world commitments, his observation recalls memories of the original American policy between 1789 and 1898: short-term alliances as needed, but no long-term entanglements.  This conformed to the spirit of the policy of "minding our own business"; and it reflected the wisdom that friends and enemies change over time, with no nation necessarily staying one or the other permanently.  (The effort should ideally be made, of course, to have no enemies, with friendly relations with everyone.  That is only conceivable if other peoples don't feel that the United States threatens their own interests, and even then it is probably less than fully attainable.)

            I have pointed to the warping of law that is involved in "war crimes" prosecutions, but there are countless ways the United States can work toward the development of international law and toward mutually-advantageous cooperation among nations.  In the broadest context, there should be an evolution toward that distant world in which a true world order, or even world government, will be feasible.  America's role in the United Nations should be reevaluated to make this a principal, though very long-term, goal.

            One of the largest areas for cooperation is economic.  The principle should be to welcome free trade to the fullest extent each nation considers that to be in its own self-interest.  (You will notice the qualification in the second half of the sentence; free trade is much to be valued in general, but a truculent insistence that it serves everyone best in all situations is a transgression on sovereignty.)  There will be much room for joint ventures, too, not only on earth-bound projects but as the human race goes further into the space age.

            Another thing that can be done is humanitarian aid, although even here delimiting points apply: 

            First: for a free society that hopes to express libertarian values as much as it can, giving by individuals is preferrable to giving by government, which obtains the money or property through forcible exactions (taxation).  The first President Bush spoke of "a thousand points of light."  Americans have long been generous.  Efficient private charities can help the United States play a constructive role.

            Second: it should be kept in mind that even humanitarian aid can hardly be neutral if there are conflicting factions in the recipient society or the recipient is at war with some other nation.  The impulse to help should be constrained by all of the reasons for humility we have seen in this book.  Media sensationalism, jumping to conclusions about who's right and who's wrong, cultural presumptuousness, an awareness of our own ignorance of context – these are all reasons to tread carefully even if the only thing Americans are doing is giving humanitarian aid. 

            The history of humanitarian assistance shows that there is a difficult moral choice to be made: whether to give it "from human being to human being" because of the evident need regardless of which side of a conflict the recipient is on (which has historically been the purely neutral policy of the International Red Cross), even though this means helping some whose conduct and cause may be repulsive to the giver; or to exercise a moral judgment and selectivity, with all of the pitfalls just mentioned.

            Third: humanitarian aid is often ineffectual.  It frequently winds up in the hands of those who don't need it and not of those who do, such as when warlords or corrupt or inefficient governments absorb it.  And in a world of endless needs, the assistance may often be only cosmetic.  It may have value for the immediate good it does, but it may prolong and maybe even compound the agony by encouraging high birth rates, unproductive economic attitudes and policies, corrupt factions, and the like.  If so, as many or even more people may ultimately die because of the famine or disease, say, as would have died without the aid.


            Problems during the transition.  If a consensus forms in favor of enlightened nationalism, it won't be possible for the United States to move immediately to the policies it requires.  Most pressingly, the war against terrorism stands between the United States and a less interventionist policy.  And each of the myriad commitments the United States has all over the world will need to be reviewed.  [This can go on even during the present war.]  If the review shows that it should be terminated, ending it may entail a number of legal niceties, such as a need to give notice to abrogate a treaty.  And the termination may need to be phased in if the United States is to act in good faith toward others who have relied on American involvement and if those others are to be given time to adapt and to become more oriented toward helping themselves or entering into alliances with others.  These things apply, for example, to each of the many "tripwire" situations in which the United States has forces that would bring it into an emerging conflict.

            Four commitments are especially troublesome, and perhaps rather than outright termination, new arrangements need to be worked out.  One is America's role in Europe.  What will be required to have Europe stand entirely on its own feet?  How long should we expect that to take?  What are the legitimate needs that substitutes for American entanglement can serve?  And what are those substitutes?

            But this issue, as tangled as it is, is easy compared to the United State's long-standing commitments to Israel, Taiwan, and South Korea, each of which puts America in the middle of a hotspot of incalculable danger.  Americans have supported those commitments, but seem hardly conscious of the repercussions that each may come to entail.

            Well-meaning readers will no doubt understand that a frank discussion of these commitments does not suggest anything other than the greatest respect for the people involved.  A central difficulty with regard to America's commitment to Israel in particular is that a truly honest discussion runs the risk of being perceived as "anti-Semitic."  I have no anti-Semitic feelings or preordained biases against any people, and any characterization of that sort, if it occurs, will need to be understood as a demand to curtail speech. 

            In my "post-September 11 essay" in Chapter 1, I talked of how imperative it is that the United States adopt a new policy toward Israel, insisting upon a peace satisfactory to the Palestinians and other Arabs.  The interests of the United States are put seriously at risk by its role as guarantor of Israeli security.  It is primarily because of that role that the United States is hated by so many Muslims.  American presidents attempt to appear as, and perhaps even to be, "honest brokers" of a peace, but the fact isn't lost on the Palestinians, Arabs and Islamic world that American politics is such that each administration must in no way demonstrate anything other than total loyalty to Israel, which makes a genuine "honest broker" role impossible.

            The United States continues as that guarantor for several reasons:

            One of these is the never-ending cultivation of "guilt" over the Holocaust through on-going and well-funded propaganda to keep the imagery of suffering Jews alive in public consciousness.  (It will shock a good many readers for me to suggest that the flow of Holocaust dramas is "propaganda."  The ever-present motion picture or television series seems a genuine outpouring of human sympathy.  But consider these things: that the subject-matter is purely selective, with rarely any interest shown in the suffering of the tens of millions of other victims of twentieth century totalitarianism, each of whom was a living, breathing human being who has, hopefully, also left survivors who feel deeply about the loss.  Selective sympathy, funded by large grants to keep the flow coming, is the hallmark of a partisan literature – i.e., of propaganda.)  Some of this propaganda suggests that the United States and Europe share in the culpability for the Holocaust (despite having sacrificed so much in life and treasure to defeat Nazi Germany), and that what happened to the Jews was so unique and so unspeakable that there is an unquenchable need for redemption, primarily through support for Israel.

            Another reason is the prominent role Jews play in America's national life, combined with the iron-clad taboo against open discussion.  The most evident manifestation of this power is that virtually no one, much less an American politician, dares broach the subject (or even entertains the thought of doing so).

            These are not valid reasons for the U.S. commitment, other than politically.  Nevertheless, Israel does exist as a concrete reality; and a conflict exists between two peoples, each with a strong claim on American sympathy.  Nor is there any prospect that the political reality within the United States will change.  Under those circumstances, withdrawal of American involvement seems out of the question.  In this discussion of the value of non-involvement, there is little to be gained by advocating something that has no possibility of being accepted.  What we are left with is the hope that politics and ideology will at some time ease up enough to allow the United States to at least approximate the role of an "honest broker" so that perhaps compromises can be worked out that will meet the most pressing needs of both sides.  There is no reason such compromises aren't possible.  [After September 11, this is essential.]

            The commitment to Taiwan is rooted in the history of Mao's 1949 victory on the Chinese mainland and of the Chinese Nationalists' having fled to the island.  During the long confrontation with Communism, the United States stood against Communism's expansion, including to Taiwan.  We have stood beside the "Republic of China" as against the Communist regime, although often doing so in a way that has been designed to hold the anti-Communist forces in check almost as much as to protect them.  Especially since the American rapprochement with Red China in 1972, the United States has been willing to engage in verbal hair-splitting to mollify the Communist government's demands.  The desire to mollify, however, has not removed the commitment to deter Red China from invading the island.  Accordingly, a commitment continues that pits the United States against a power of growing magnitude: 1.2 billion people with a growing nationalist fervor and a burgeoning economy, with advancing technical expertise.  That power is in close physical proximity to Taiwan.  Needless to say, the American commitment is full of danger.

            If a philosophy of "enlightened nationalism" were able to be thought through fully and implemented, it is a virtual certainty that guaranteeing Taiwan's security would not be a part of it.  The idea that Taiwan is a necessary part of the United States' "advanced Pacific defense perimeter" is ludicrous unless the American policy is "to assure a balance of power in East Asia," as so much current thinking calls for.

            Rather, the commitment continues because friends have long relied upon the United States in a common struggle.  It is important to realize that any sign of weakening resolve on the part of the United States will invite attack, just as occurred in Korea in 1950.  My discussion here is not to weaken that resolve, but to look ahead to the long-term implications of a "mind our own business" foreign policy.

            Thus, it is only with that longer term in mind that we should recall what was said in the preceding chapter about how the Taiwanese's own actions are undermining the reasons for an American moral commitment to their security.  Military preparedness for their own defense has been cut back; and, far from considering contact with mainland China anathema, Taiwanese investors have pumped billions of dollars into mainland enterprises, including those that strengthen Red China's technology.  Negotiations for a peaceful unification at some future time shouldn't be considered out of the question.  When such unification occurs, and if the commitment to South Korea comes to be resolved in some similar fashion (most likely through the collapse of the North Korean monolith), those developments will remove the residuals of the Cold War and ought to bring the end of American military oversight in East Asia.


3.  An involvement essential in the future, but that by its nature will not incur hatreds and tripwires to war, will be a sharing of consumer and infrastructure technology.

            Earlier, I mentioned the need within the foreseeable future for world-wide technology-sharing for consumer and infrastructure needs.  Such sharing can do much to address the point made by those who argue that "the United States must do all it can to make the world a less dangerous place, and in large part this calls for worldwide development and a lessening of poverty."  And it has several other advantages: we can act in that direction without incurring rancor and entanglements; technology-sharing does not involve a presumptuous effort to "remake" other cultures from what they are or want to be, since the extent they use it will be their own choice; it will not drain American resources; and it doesn't amount to tokenism tossed into a "bottomless pit."

            I have argued against the premise that "the world will go to hell in a handbasket without American oversight."  But there is one emerging force that does create that prospect, with all the immense dangers that go with it.  Right now, vast amounts of physical and other labor are performed by billions of unskilled workers around the world.  There is concern that this foreign labor, either entering the United States through immigration or obtaining the work through the export of jobs to where they live, is taking jobs that would otherwise go to American workers.  The prospect, however, is that the transfer of work to low-paid labor in the underdeveloped countries is only a transient phase.  As Jeremy Rifkin has illustrated in The End of Work, information technology, including biotechnology, offers to make productive processes possible that are more economical even than low-paid labor.  Those billions of people will over time lose their role to robotics, factory farming, nanotechnology, and the like.

            As that occurs, the world will face the prospect of an affluence far beyond anything previously thought imaginable.  That will offer well-being in countless dimensions, including health and nutrition.  Simultaneously, however, there will be the question of how the billions of people who do not own the capital will share in that affluence.  Without jobs, or at best severely underemployed, they will sink into misery and revolution (or misery and lethargy). Much of the world, as we know, is in that condition already.  It offers to get much worse.

            Given those prospects, the argument for technology-sharing could be made on purely humanitarian grounds, out of fellow-feeling.  I think it is vital to note, however, that the fate of civilization, and of the individual liberty that many of us hope go with it, is also at stake.  Extremes of wealth and poverty are not only miserable for those in poverty, but also exceedingly dangerous to the wealthy; and it is important that people in the advanced economies understand that even if other considerations don't move them.  It is also worth noting that the technology, capable of incredible productivity, will fail to reach its potential, actually falling far short of it, if there are relatively few consumers for its products.

            There are many who hold the same free-market philosophy the author does who will object that "what you are suggesting is socialist."  In the past, the socialist arguments about "underconsumption" and "overproduction," giving rise to a "crisis of capitalism," have been ingenious criticisms of a system that worked for the benefit of the vast majority through high productivity and a wide enjoyment of the benefits.  But it poorly serves those who have understood this to fail to see developments, as they arise, that make underconsumption a genuine threat.  By failing to look ahead to what is coming, they run the risk of having themselves, and all they stand for, swamped by changing circumstances.  If the introduction of these prospects at this time seems too "futuristic" to be taken seriously, it is sufficient for time either to confirm or disprove my projections.  The danger will be that, hardened in ideology, the supporters of a free, advanced civilization will rationalize the developing polarization until it is too late for themselves and the values they hold.

            If the United States and the other advanced economies undertake a role of technology-sharing, it is a major answer to the question of what sort of world involvement an "enlightened nationalism" entails.    




1.  Richard Nixon, Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), pp. 251, 248.

[2].  See especially my book Understanding the Modern Predicament (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982), Chapters 7-12.

[3].  An excellent discussion of the cultural attack on the United States, and of other threats to America's national existence, can be found in Patrick Buchanan's The Death of the West (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002).