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亓官先生
胡卜凱

相對於社會學和心理學,我對政治學的興趣開始得比較晚。一方面從1415歲開始,我主要想了解的問題在倫理學;另一方面,我和大多數人一樣,性向上急功近利;對政治學的興趣始於軍事學。

大學一年級前後我讀了徐訏先生的《回到個人主義與自由主義》,印象深刻35歲以前,我在聖荷西大學附近舊書攤上,買了常常被其他學者介紹和引用的《君王論》和《政府論》,但大概都只讀了1/41/3。不過,馬克思的政治經濟學批判我倒是讀得非常仔細,此書也構成我對政治的基本理解。當然,之後偶而也會涉獵一些政治學方面的書籍,但為數不多。

2002年以前,除了以上四本經典名著之外,我對政治/政治學的了解,大部分來自新聞報導和報紙/期刊上的政治評論。2001年我退休以後開使在網上漫遊由於在不同論壇上經常和其他網友就政治理論與實際議題進行討論,我不時有「書到用時方恨少」的感慨。於是我開始花較多時間閱讀「政治學」領域的書籍

我對「政治」的「定義以及對「民主政治」的詮釋,都是根據以往30多年對政治實務的觀察,以及這段時間對政治理論的領悟,綜合兩者而形成。

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戰爭、謠言、和地緣政治邏輯 - Srdja Trifkovic
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崔夫柯維克教授是《年代記事》月刊的「外交事務」主編;該雜誌同仁的立場是古早保守主義

崔夫柯維克教授可說是「現實主義的現實主義者」或「冷血現實主義者」;這一點跟我的立場幾乎雷同。他批評美國國際政策部份相當到位讓非親美派人士讀起來覺得很爽。但我對該文某些觀點,如俄烏戰爭部份,不能苟同值得我花點時間來駁斥,請稍等幾天

索引:

decrepit
破舊的,老朽的,年久失修的,破爛不堪的
duopoly雙佔 (相對於獨佔,monopoly)
Washington Beltway
:環繞華盛頓特區的二級高速公路;此處指美國政府或華盛頓(美國首都)政治圈。


Wars, Rumors, and Geopolitical Logic

SRDJA TRIFKOVIC, 05/03/24

The world faces the danger of a major war. To grasp the magnitude of that threat, it is necessary to go beyond the trajectory of news from Ukraine. It is also necessary on the one hand to seek a balanced appreciation of the variable factor of human will in the management of international crises, and the immutable factors of geographic reality on the other.

The decision in Washington to expand NATO and weaponize Ukraine against Russia was an act of human will; so was the decision in Moscow to respond to this challenge with military force. The permanence of Ukraine’s geographic position, on the other hand, makes this challenge an existential issue for Russia, no less than the control over the Jordan river valley and the Golan Heights is an existential issue for Israel, and the control over its coastal seas is an existential issue for China. A state striving for security can change segments of its space by building Great Walls and Maginot Lines, but it is inseparably bound to the physical framework of its existence: to the location of its land, its position, shape, and size, its resources, and its borders.

Unlike mountain ranges and rivers, however, borders are not fixed realities that separate sovereignties and legal authorities. They are military-political arrangements subject to change depending on power relations. There is nothing sacred or permanent about them. They have been shifting for centuries in favor of the stronger and at the expense of the weaker, regardless of legal or moral claims. The future border between Ukraine and Russia, or between Israel and its Arab neighbors, not to mention China’s maritime frontier, will not be decided at a conference table. They will be decided by the realities created on the ground by force and threat of force.

Of course, the new borders will also be challenged in the fullness of time. Their durability primarily will depend on the raw might of the winners, and on the consensus of their decision-makers to defend the new status quo. In the drama of international politics, power has always been based on strength and will. Territory and physical space has always been the ultimate currency in that cruel and dangerous business.

Most Russians, Jews, and Chinese have finally come to understand that there is no “right” or “wrong” side of history. In the 20th century, all three have paid dearly for this progressivist fallacy—the belief in history as an independent agent that will lead humanity to a better world. This belief engenders megalomaniac visions and leads to horrors of the Gulag, the Holocaust, and the Great March Forward. This fatal misconception is alive and well inside the Washington Beltway, however.

That misconception of history having “sides” also explains why a war with Russia in the near future, or with China at some later stage this century, is a distinct possibility. It rests on the narcissistic assertion of American exceptionalism, the claim that “our values” are universal (transgenderism included). Closely related is the claim, as was once asserted by Madeleine Albright, that “if we have to use force, it is because we are America, the indispensable nation; we stand tall, we see further into the future than others.” Such insanity facilitates dehumanizing and killing designated foes: in Serbia in 1999, in Iraq in 2003, in Libya and Syria soon thereafter.

The corollary of this “vision” is that a world which fails to accept America’s exceptionalism, indispensability, and farsightedness does not deserve to exist. It is therefore not only possible but mandatory to keep upping the ante: moderation is weakness, and restraint is cowardice. Such an approach to politics among nations treats the factor of space as irrelevant, since America is guided by an abstract concept of national interest. In other words, “our values” will continue to define “who we are” in the context of “rules based international order.”

Contrary to this collective psychosis, most other states think in traditional terms and base their calculus on real, visible, and tangible spaces. The bigger the country, the more resilient it is, as the historical experience of Russia shows. Instead of the conqueror swallowing the territory and gaining strength from it, the territory repeatedly swallowed the conqueror and exhausted his strength.

This has not changed even in the nuclear age. It is precisely in the nuclear era—as both Russians and Chinese have come to understand—that a great power needs a great territory to deploy its production potential and military effectiveness over as wide a space as possible. The grand strategy of both powers is based on survival, security, and economic strengthening. It may evolve depending on specific circumstances, but it still stems from a set of basic assumptions which would be recognized by the great statesmen of the past, from Caesar to Churchill.

In Washington, by contrast, for the past 30 years we have had an ongoing deviation from the accumulated experiences of previous generations. As the examples of Kings Philip II and Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Hitler show, putting ideology before geopolitics in formulating grand strategy—or simply allowing personal grandomania to override reason—is a sure path to failure.

The United States seems determined to follow this path. America’s near-complete diplomatic isolation over Israel’s actions in Gaza is unprecedented and just one example of a deeper malaise. Its continuation of the proxy war in Ukraine regardless of cost and risk, and despite the catastrophic military situation on the ground, is reminiscent of the failed powers of yore trusting in willpower to trump reality.

It is not just the matter of Ukraine today or Taiwan tomorrow. Rejection of geopolitical reality is pervasive in the current administration as it refuses to see the spontaneous aspiration of the international system towards polycentricity. This tendency has been present from the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire until today. Europe in the classical era of the balance of power—from the end of the Thirty Years War to the outbreak of the Great War—functioned according to the matrix woven in Renaissance Italy. It proved effective in suppressing challengers aspiring to a hegemonic order, from Louis XIV to Hitler.

The system collapsed with the two-stage suicide of the West between 1914 and 1945, the bipolarity of the Cold War, and America’s “unipolar moment” after the implosion of the USSR. Unipolarity proved to be an atypical and unnatural moment in history. Despite the hegemonic rhetoric, laden with ideological platitudes, the spatial dimension of rivalries in specific geographical locations is impossible to overlook. Ukraine, the Middle East, and Taiwan all belong to the Rimland that surrounds the Heartland. The geopolitical map has changed faster over the past hundred-odd years than in any previous period, but the dynamics of spatially determined conflicts among the key players are constant.

For nearly half a century after World War II, the world rested on a relatively stable bipolar model. Both superpowers tacitly accepted the existence of rival spheres of interest, which was seen in the marked restraint of the U.S. during the Soviet interventions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The geopolitical game was played out in the disputed areas of the Third World (the Middle East, Indochina, Africa, Central America), but the rules of the game rested on a relatively rational calculation of the costs and benefits of foreign policies. Client wars remained localized. The implicit rationality of both sides made possible the de-escalation of occasional crises (Berlin 1949, Korea 1950, Cuba 1962) that threatened disaster.

The world is becoming multipolar again, but the U.S. is not yet ready to accept that fact. The situation has no historical precedent: a hegemonic power has temporarily achieved monopolar dominance of the system and is now resisting its return to the normal state of multipolarity. From the Congress of Vienna until 1914, international relations were dominated by a stable model of balanced multipolarity. It provided Europe and the world with 99 years of relative peace and prosperity. Would-be hegemons faced coalitions ready to make any sacrifice to defeat them, regardless of ideological differences.

Today, Russia and China also have potential causes of mutual conflict, but their differences are minor compared to the challenge of suppressing a hegemon that does not know its measure. We have seen a bizarre reversal of roles. The Soviet Union was a revolutionary force, a disruptor in the name of ideologically defined utopian objectives. It was opposed during the Cold War by an America practicing containment in defense of the status quo.

Today, by contrast, the United States has become the bearer of revolutionary dynamism with global ambitions, in the name of postmodern ideological norms. It is resisted by an informal but increasingly assertive coalition of weaker forces, such as the rapidly expanding BRICS nations, that strive to reaffirm the essentially conservative principles of national interest, identity, and state sovereignty. They stand up against the American variant of the old Soviet doctrine of limited sovereignty, which today goes by the name of “rules based international order.”

The new, American emanation of that legally and morally unsustainable concept does not have a geographically limited domain, unlike the Soviet model that only applied to the countries within the socialist camp. Sooner or later, it will result in the creation of a counter-coalition like those that successfully opposed other would-be hegemons, from Xerxes to Hitler. The big question remains whether, and at what cost to themselves and the rest of the world, this fact will be understood by the neoconservative-neoliberal duopoly in Washington.

Declining powers tend to make risky and destabilizing moves, as shown by the example of Philip II sending the Armada against England in 1588, or Austria-Hungary annexing Bosnia in 1908. America seems ready to follow suit on a much grander scale over Ukraine. Much of Europe—culturally and morally decrepit—seems ready to follow obediently. The story cannot end well unless there is a belated outbreak of sanity in the collective West.

Today’s international relations are conditioned by geopolitical considerations which override ideology. There is no value system—especially not the monstrosity of wokedom espoused by the U.S.—capable of changing the aspiration of major powers (Russia, China) or regional ones (Israel) to increase their security by expanding control over spaces, resources, and access routes.

The essence of spatial competition does not change; only the essential pressure points do. It is in the American interest for the U.S. policy making elite to understand that this will be true until the end of history, which will come about only when the world passes from time into eternity.


Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad


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評介當下四個全球政略學派 -- Gabriel Elefteriu
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俄勒弗特瑞悠先生是英國政略學家,立場應該屬於中間偏右」;對英國全球戰略政策曾有過建樹。但從下文看來,他大概不再是主流派。

這篇文章的內容相當有營養,文筆也很犀利,看得出作者有兩把刷子;值得細讀玩味。另請參考此欄2023/12/162023/12/17兩篇貼文。

附註:

ab initio
自始,從開始以來
aberrations
脫離常規,反常現象,異常行為
appeasement
姑息政策綏靖政策;緩和,討好
Applebaum-type
:應該指Anne Applebaum
bleeding-heart
老好人,爛好人
contortion
扭曲,被扭曲(或歪曲)的事物;抽筋
Dughin, Alexandr
:普丁麾下極右派政治哲學家
hew
堅持,固守
Kallas, Kaja
愛沙尼亞現任總理
Mearsheimer, John
美國著名國際關係學家
Mosley, Oswald
:英國納粹黨領袖(已故)
power:實力
primacy
:主導地位,宰制地位,宰制能力
retrenchment
:此處指在國際霸權鬥爭中「轉進(「撤退」是也)縮編,緊縮開支,裁減工人
starry-eyed
天真的,過分樂觀的,不切實際的
Whitehall
:此處指英國政府及其官僚系統


Where do you fit in? Today’s four schools of thought on strategic policy: Post-Modern Globalists, the Multipolarity School, the Eurasianist School, and the Classical Primacy School

Gabriel Elefteriu, 04/11/24

The Western conversation on statecraft and defence in our times appears to have reached new peaks of strife, cacophony and sheer multiplicity and divergence of views even on basic tenets and assumptions of policy. Modern democratic societies traditionally possessed of free speech have never been short of strong debates and varied opinions on the big questions regarding the most advisable course of action in international affairs.

But in the past – even the recent past – these exchanges, for all their sharpness, were anchored in a greater corpus of shared beliefs.

One of these beliefs that has informed the worldview of generations of statesmen and foreign policy experts has been the Western ascendancy in the world system, and the fact that this was a good thing. Today there are disagreements on both – and much more.

The reasons for this intellectual fragmentation are not difficult to discern. It is an incontrovertible fact that the West, which has dominated global affairs for hundreds of years, is now experiencing an unprecedented challenge to its collective power and standing, primarily from the rise of China.

This is happening at the same time as a certain dysfunction in the Western mind – brought on by the postmodern intellectual development, in different guises, of the Marxist infection that began in the 19th century – has now metastasized across our governing classes and cultural elites.

Today’s foreign policy debate thus has to take place in the context of a highly destabilising mix of unprecedented external systemic pressure and internal loss of coherence and inversion of values – which is striking deeper than ever, at the very roots of Western civilisation and philosophical traditions.

No wonder there is confusion even on fundamental ideas such as what constitutes realism, with every faction under the sun seemingly trying to appropriate the label for themselves, from ultra-isolationists to the most aggressive hawks.

But stronger and increasingly clearly delineated intellectual positions are also coming into sharper focus. In this respect, the debates over the Ukraine war and over how the US should deal with the China challenge are serving to separate some of the conceptual waters.

We can arguably distinguish four schools of thought when it comes to the political-intellectual “camps” that are fighting over the West’s strategic policy today.

These are but broad categories that group people and perspectives by what they have most in common; as such, they are not exclusive and the views and positions of some figures may spill over across other factions. But this classification may help bring some understanding to the debates of our times.

1.  The Postmodern Globalist School This school represents the incumbent elite that, by and large, populates Western foreign policy and defence establishments. In their ranks are found the high priests of the US and European “strategic community”, often holding tenured professorships, running the biggest and most influential think tanks, or enjoying a post-retirement career from high level official government jobs as consultants, authors or all-round “sages”.

They are the rules-based international order” and “liberal democracy” stalwarts who pontificate on the “moral” aspects of this or that policy, virtue-signal about “human rights” and inveigh against “tyrants” and “illiberal democracysuch as that supposedly overseen by Viktor Orban in Hungary.

This is the Davos and Munich Security Conference crowd, aligned to all the pieties and nonsensical policies of our times, from Net Zero to EU’s integrationist agenda (with its end point, the United States of Europe).

They also form the backbone of the “transatlantic community”, but, as with almost everything else – and unlike the generation before them – they’ve made an idol out of NATO and of most of the other key tenets of their worldview, which they worship uncritically with religious fervour.

This explains the unhinged fury they unleash upon those, like Trump or the erstwhile Brexiteers, who threaten to slaughter their sacred cows: such acts are seen not as merely foolish mistakes (which could be a topic of reasoned debate) but as impieties that are beyond discussion ab initio.

Like all schools of thought, Postmodern Globalism includes sub-groups and factions that sometimes cross over in interesting ways. The Neocons – from Cheney to Rumsfeld and Bolton – notorious for their disastrous post-9/11 adventurism, readiness to bomb other peoples, and ideological commitment to democratising the whole world, if possible, at the point of a gun, are only the most prominent example.

But the biggest and most nefarious faction – which, unlike the relatively niche neoconservatives, has actually marched through all the institutions during the “unipolar” era – are the mainstream Liberal Internationalists. Unlike the cynical, “red in tooth and claw”-Neocons, the bleeding-heart Liberals are motivated by the rule of law and Biblical levels of self-righteousness that can be equally ferocious when it comes to the use of force in the cause of so-called “justice”.

For all their faults, the Postmodern Globalists fundamentally believe in a world system set to Western standards, in which “the West” – however loosely defined – remains the dominant organising force.

As with all postmodernists who reject reality forideology” and “constructedaberrations, they’ve become lost in their own hypocrisy. They are sympathetic to Third World calls for “reparations” for colonial-era “sins”, and push for high foreign aid spending, but instinctively they are convinced this is the way to shore up the West’s – and their ownposition in the world. There are also genuine cases, among them, of true believers in things like aid spending for its own sake and out of a desire to “help others” (with other people’s money, of course).

2.  The Multipolarity School. In an earlier age this would have been called “the balance-of-power” school. But today’s notion of Multipolarity – or Poly-centrism as it is often known primarily in Russia – carries much more meaning, across multiple dimensions, than the “mere” Realpolitik outlook associated with a Bismarck-type approach to foreign affairs or with the original pragmatism of the balance of power construct negotiated by the likes of Castlereagh and Metternich at Vienna in 1815.

Today’s Multipolarists hold to a few core, shared tenets: from (Western) declinism to the inexorable – and even welcome – rise of China. Many of them are also deeply impressed by new anti-West formats like BRICS and tend to accept theories about at least the existence if not the superiority of the so-called “civilisational states” like, supposedly, Russia and China.

Multipolarists have a hefty dose of scorn for the current state of the West and are starry-eyed about its enemies and their “achievements” – even if they cannot always bring themselves to praise the likes of Beijing publicly.

There are two main sub-schools or branches of Multipolarity thinking. Engagement Multipolarists are essentially demoralised, defeatist Postmodern Globalists. They are a hybrid or “transition” sub-school of foreign policy thinking that is currently rising through the ranks in Western establishments, challenging the Postmodern Globalist ascendancy.

It holds to the old “rules based international order” doctrine – at least declaratively – but at the same time it advises engaging with China and other rivals or unsavoury partners on pragmatic grounds.

Not necessarily admirers of the West’s rivals, Engagement Multipolarists are nonetheless willing to compromise some of their principles and “make room at the table” for the autocracies, on account of the latter’s supposed power as well as the “justice” of their “demands”. On Ukraine, they mostly hew to the Postmodern Globalist NATO consensus.

The rising star of this branch of Multipolarity is best observed in the UK, where the Government’s 2023 Integrated Review Refresh (Britain’s highest strategic document) was explicit that we have “definitively” transitioned to a “multipolar world”.

It further noted – in complete opposition to the Biden doctrine – that “today’s international system cannot simply be reduced to ‘democracy versus autocracy’”, a statement that overturns the main Postmodern Globalist tenet. At the same time, though, Britain remains a pillar of the “free world” with all its liberal-internationalist trappings, institutions and so on.

But in a British context the struggle between the two factions – the incumbent Postmodern Globalist establishment and the rising Engagement Multipolarists – can be seen clearly in the vicious Whitehall “wars” over decisions like banning Huawei from Britain’s 5G network, which are precisely over engagement with Beijing.

The second distinctive branch of the Multipolar school are the Bloc Multipolarists.

Like the others, they fundamentally believe that the West has definitively lost its position of primacy in the world, but they come to different conclusions as to what is to be done. Instead of engagement, they believe in its opposite:

drawing sharper distinctions with our rivals and dividing the world into “spheres of influence” or blocs. These are often the Mearsheimer-typerealists” who expound on the necessity of pushing Ukraine into a “negotiated” peace with Russia.

They think in terms of “grand bargains” with our systemic rivals and in the possibility of long-term co-existence of very different geopolitical alignments and sub-systems on the same planet – an old dream that goes back to the early Cold War, or indeed to the Fascist and Imperial Japanese visions for how the world should be run.

Interestingly, this has also endured as one of the core ideas behind the EU, whose raison d’etre is to create a continental bloc that can “compete” with the others in Asia and America. It is precisely for this reason why a fascist like Oswald Mosley became such a strong champion of a European union.

All types of Multipolarists masquerade as realists”. Listen to them and you will hear endless reasons why the West can’t do this or that, why it has to compromise with its rivals to various degrees, and why various forms of retrenchment – at the expense of erstwhile allies – represent good strategy “in the national interest”.

Indeed, a splinter group of the Bloc Multipolarists – the so-called “Isolationists” – positively reject the concept of primacy and foreign entanglements in the first place.

All this, again, comes from a fundamentally defeatist mindset: these are people who have convinced themselves that “China is the future– or versions thereof – and that the West is doomed. Unlike the Eurasianists, however, Multipolarists do not like the results of their analysis.

3.  The Eurasianist School. The name of this school references the concept most closely associated with Alexandr Dughin, one of Putin’s court intellectuals. Stripped down of all the extra nonsense, the core Eurasianist belief is that the degenerate West, overrun by godless progressive liberalism is in terminal decline in every sense: culturally and socially, but also economically and – in the longer term – militarily as well. In this reading of world affairs, the future belongs to the “family-values”, Church-inspired ultra-conservatism – and the “normality” that it will restore to Christendom – all coupled with the stupendous technological and manufacturing power of China.

No matter that the Chinese Communists are by history, culture and by Marxist-Leninist definition not just non-Christian but full-on atheists: they compensate, in Eurasianist eyes, through their fervour against that most hated of Western ideas, individualism, and the notion of personal choice – not to mention democracy.

Tightly entwined with all this is the other great “Eurasianist virtue” that both China and Russia share: a working model of vigorous authoritarianism that operates through a strong State and is able to get things done.

This heady mix of virile political-military power, performativetraditionalism”, intense anti-individualism, and monumental achievement (in China’s case) works wonders on increasingly significant sections of Western societies and political parties, particularly – but not only – on the far Right.

Many of the older forms of Leftwing politics also make soft targets for this kind of propaganda, especially when it comes to the classic Left-wing critiques of “individualism”, Western/American “imperialism” – including the “neoliberal economics” associated with degenerate Capitalism – but also the in-built socialist appreciation for the power of the State in the service of the “people”.

In Western foreign policy discourse, Eurasianism translates into anti-NATO, anti-American, anti-EU, anti-Ukraine, pro-“peace” and anti-“globalist” positions. Eurasianists will readily recite the familiar Kremlin-style charge sheet against the West, starting with Kosovo, Iraq and Libya, continuing with “NATO’s aggressive expansion”, and, of course denouncing the supremacy of the dollar, Western sanctions policy and so on.

The conceptual meeting point of all those of a Eurasianist persuasion in foreign policy is the doctrine of non-intervention, long cherished by every autocrat past and present. This is where Eurasianists come closest to the more extreme, isolationist versions of Bloc Multipolarists.

4.  The Classical Primacy School. The Primacists are conservative realists who essentially take their cue from “the greatest generation” of statesmen and strategists: the conquerors of the Second World War and the creators of the post-war world order – from Eisenhower, Marshall, Truman and Acheson to Churchill, Bevin or Ismay and many others – with its international institutions and security system grounded in American military power and informed by a sober understanding o what war means. For all these same reasons, Primacists are often dismissed as out of touch with today’s “realities”, intellectual relics from a bygone age.

Essentially the Primacists are old-school Machiavellians who care about mantenere lo Stato, a phrase which in today’s globalised world we may adapt as maintaining the status quo. They are proud of the historical achievements of the West and believe that the postwar world order has worked well in the interests of Western peoples – and that the first priority is to try to maintain and shore it up.

Unlike the Multipolarists, Primacists are not declinists: while acknowledging the West’s problems they are not ready to throw in the towel. They retain an optimistic view of what the Western alliance, led by America, can still achieve – if it gets its act together.

They differ from the Postmodern Globalists too, in that the Primacist view of the world is based on power, not on constructivist notions like “rules-based international order”. They are realists in the Kissingerian (rather than Bismarckian, or Realpolitik) mould, which is to say they hold to a form of higher realism that prioritises the role of power over morals not from an inherent amorality but because they understand that without victory in the geopolitical competition no defence of liberal principles is possible at all.

The Primacist prescription for strategic policy centres on old-school military competition, and even roll-back: restoring the West’s military capacity, and strengthening its political-military alliances, in order to secure or recover strategic positions around the globe in order to contain and balance-out the power of the new Axis of Russia, Iran and China.

They are fundamentally optimistic about the West’s underlying resources and ability to reform and bounce back from its current low ebb, and they tend to believe that adversaries like China and Russia have more and deeper problems of their own than commonly acknowledged.  

Classical Primacy, as its name implies, rests atop the classical tradition of what today we call “strategic thinking”, going back to Thucydides. It draws on the body of knowledge about the conduct of war – the quintessential issue in relations between independent polities – as revealed by historical experience.

In other words, it precedes the multiplicity ofinternational relations theories and the reams of “intellectual” contortions about foreign policy produced from the 20th century onwards with the academic mainstreaming of these subjects. It also operates not with “values” – another innovation of modern politics – but with “principles”.

Classical Primacy reflects the true, natural or common-sense realism of statecraft throughout the ages – well summarised by Machiavelli in The Prince – which, quite sensibly, holds that being first in the pecking order of your surrounding “system” is the best position, and that achieving and maintaining that status is a matter of (military) powe coupled with cunning, self-serving diplomacy – including useful alliances and other means of influence.

So there isn’t much room, under the banner of this School, with its rich heritage, for significantly distinct sub-currents or branches; but two dispositions or flavours of Classical Primacy may be usefully noted as applied to the context of our times.

The first is Reactionary Primacy, now a vanishingly-small faction which is essentially driven by an imperial mindset and that concentrates the more hardcore-radical and intransigent energies and perspectives found amongst Classical Primacists.

The Reactionaries of this school are adamant that we need to double down on the postwar paradigm of Western power, American exceptionalism and a US-led “free world”, while driving hard reforms at home and ditching all distinctively liberal-internationalist prescriptions.

The second grouping comprises the Transactional Primacists who likewise subscribe to all the headline beliefs of Classical Primacy – especially the vital, bottom-line need for a strong America as the prime mover and ordering power in the world – but are more flexible on the methods for achieving that bottom-line. As shown in these pages, Donald Trump is a representative of this sub-category – as is, by and large, Elbridge Colby.

Transactional Primacists take perhaps a too honest view of the problems with Western power, thus running the risk of creating self-fulfilling prophecies. They are willing to reprioritise foreign policy goals and to acknowledge that not all aspects of the status quo can be saved in the first instance – hence the retrenchment calls from figures like Colby for the US to switch focus from Europe to Asia, which are wrongly read as a form of American “retreat”.

Transactional Primacists are therefore ready to leave room for détente and tactical adjustment of the international system by negotiation with the autocracies – but, crucially, from a position of strength. This essentially harks back to the Kissingerian conception of détente – and especially its de facto successful implementation under Reagan – recently re-articulated in a typically expert fashion by Niall Ferguson.

The struggle for influence

Naturally, all these foreign policy schools of thought correspond or are connected to political movements. Their influence over the actual policy direction of key Western powers – and, eventually, the West as a collective of free and open nations – is

The Postmodern Globalists still rule across most of the West, but the Liberal Internationalist elite is now on the backfoot, squeezed between the “second coming” of Applebaum-type Neocon hawks (and their European equivalents, like Kaja Kallas) on the back of the Ukraine war, and the rise of the Engagement Policycentrists who are driven by China’s growing power.

The Eurasianists are currently confined to the far Right fringes of the European political community and to some of the true-isolationist groupings in the United States.

Theirs might look like a hopeless cause, but a more correct analogy is with the completely marginal position occupied by the Bolsheviks right up to 1917. A war that went the wrong way for the Imperial establishment of the time and a political revolution run by incompetents suddenly opened the way for a shock Bolshevik takeover at lightning speed. So the Eurasianists should not be dismissed as a false problem.

In their turn, Reactionary Primacists look to be the weakest grouping. They are fighting a rearguard political-cultural battle against both postmodern liberal extremism and the radical, populist backlash – while their foreign policy solutions involve such high levels of military spending and economic re-orientation of Western states as to be practically unfeasible except in a revolutionary situation.

Nonetheless, they are closest to the mark, at least in theory, in terms of what needs to be done; and their arguments can help stiffen up others who reject the notion of inevitable Western decline.

But the most interesting and also important intellectual battle over foreign policy in this period is that between the Bloc Polycentrists and the Transactional Primacists.

Both claim a “realist” reading of the global balance of power, recognising that the West is in decline. But the former believe it’s irreversible and want to save what they can from the Western position through appeasement dressed up as “accommodation”, while the latter believe it’s still all to play for and have a hardnosed recovery agenda centred on re-building our strength and confronting our adversaries.

Who will win this Game of (foreign policy) Camps is no mere academic question: the outcome will determine the West’s future.


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《歐洲的民族主義源於自由主義》短評
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休漢默教授是一位政治學家;只是此文思路嚴謹度很低(請見本欄上一篇文章)。我沒有時間和精力詳細討論,略舉四點於下:

1) 
他把「民族主義」和「民族國家」混為一談。

2) 
他宣稱「自由主義」跟「民族主義」兩者間有淵源;但他沒有說清楚這個「淵源」的來龍去脈。事件A和事件B同時發生或先後發生,並不蘊含事件A和事件B之間有任何關係。

3) 
鼓吹「民族主義」無法讓新移民「同化」或「融合」到移入國。

4) 
「認同」是一個有意識的「抉擇」/「決策」行為但推動此行為的因素在「意識型態」之外,還有其它「客觀因素」。如休漢默教授指出:第二、三代阿拉伯移民有「回歸」自己的宗教和文化傳統這個趨勢,我可以想到兩個無法藉宣揚「民族主義」來突破的「融合」障礙:
a. 
由於膚色、口音、行為模式的「不同」,移民很難進入移入國原有國民的「生活圈圈」;也就不得不走上「同類相聚」的老路。當過留學生和高教育水準兩岸三地移民都能體會我這個觀察。
b. 
在被歧視/霸凌/排擠的情況下,第二、三代阿拉伯移民只能尋找「同類」來得到「同類感」;並從而結合起來,對抗歧視/霸凌/排擠她/他們的人或一群人。

新移民教育水準導致的社會階層經濟收入」兩個議題,對新移民能否「同化」或「融合」到移入國有高度的相關性。新移民的社會地位與經濟條件,一定會驅使這些人在移入國家引發衝突或反擊。休漢默教授卻未就此類議題著墨;它們需要專業學者來研究,我就不予深論了。

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歐洲的民族主義源於自由主義 - Ralph Schoellhammer
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索引:

conditio sine qua non:必要條件
cosmopolitanism大同主義
tutelage
:監護; 託管;輔導; 指導


European nationalism’s roots are found in nineteenth century liberalism – if the EU sweeps away the nation-state it will prove a victory for the forces of reaction

Ralph Schoellhammer, 02/09/24

The upcoming elections in Europe are often described as a competition between the reactionary forces of a resurgent nationalism and the cosmopolitanism of liberal progressive. Such a description, however, obscures the important role the idea of the nation played in the emergence of European liberalism.

Historically, the idea of the nation state reached its apex during the second half of the nineteenth century, yet already after 1945 it became heavily discredited due to two world wars, genocides and ethnic cleansings of the twentieth century.

In much contemporary debate, nationalism and racism appear to be treated as identical concepts. History, however, begs to differ: Progressive movements between 1815 and the failed “Spring of Nations” that swept through Europe in 1848/49 had considered nationalism the twin sister of liberalism, both victimised by the Reaction of the monarchical European elites.

An eminent contemporary and the founding father of Italian unification, Giuseppe Mazzini, regarded the creation of nation states conditio sine qua non for a peacefully united and socially just Europe. Nationalism was not aimed against universalism, but viewed as a first step in its direction.

Certainly, the nation state was always more an agreed upon myth than reality – as Eric Hobsbawm points out, during the French Revolution modern French was used by a maximum of 15 per cent of the population, and as late as 1860 only about 2.5 per cent Italians used High Italian as everyday language.

But the idea proved to be immensely powerful and became a replacement for religion as the societal glue in an ever more secularizing Europe.

This emotional attachment to the nation state has been promoted culturally and institutionally by state authorities since the late eighteenth century. Education systems, military service, and the arts served to create a national consciousness.

The project of nation state building was ubiquitous, from liberal societies like Great Britain to autocratic systems like Russia. In other words, the nation built the state as much as the state built the nation.

In many respects, the early nation states were supporting the emancipation of formerly suppressed groups – equal legal status for Jews spread throughout Western Europe between 1791 and 1890, allowing for a deepening participation in the political and legal life of their home countries. Also the status of women gradually improved, with the outlawing of wife beating at the same time.

The key difference between the absolutist monarchical state and the nation state was that the claim to be legitimised by the “nation” increasingly required popular approval, and successively expanded the political rights of the masses to unprecedented dimensions.

Max Weber’s ideal type of a state that treats all citizens equally was significantly easier to realise in a nation state than in other state-forms that existed before. 

It constituted a fundamental counter-project to tribally, religiously or dynastically defined medieval societies. This is why it was welcomed by the Left and Right after 1789, since they hoped that it would free mankind from feudal vices such as clerical and monarchic tutelage or a rigidly impermeable social order.

Many also expected that this was just the first step towards a new cosmopolitan world order, resting, as proposed by Immanuel Kant, on free nation states, since neither a supranational empire nor subnational small-statism would satisfy the ideals of enlightened cosmopolitanism

The question is if an end of the nation state would create a more or less unified world. Far from being perfect, national myths have proven to be powerful forces, and national identities – in contrast to European or global ones – are a reality. If national identities were abolished, will people fill this vacuum with cosmopolitanism or more particularistic and potentially conflicting identities?

All over Europe and increasingly in the United States there is a conflict over collective identities, highlighted by the recent decision of the Bavarian government to place crucifixes in all public offices.

Similarly, the reassertion of Islam in the second and third generation of immigrants is pitching communities all over the continent against each other. 

With ongoing immigration from predominantly Muslim countries such identity conflicts will deepen, yet without the integrative power of the nation state the European future will not be the United States of Europe, but the balkanisation of the continent.

One must not support or even agree with the aggressive new nationalism of a Le Pen in France or a Viktor Orban in Hungary, but to deny the historical role of patriotism and nationalism as the fundament of societal solidarity bears its own risks. 

The problem is not so much the sentiment of nationalism than a very dangerous brand of illiberal nationalism that is spreading especially in Western and Eastern Europe, but increasingly also in the United States.

The answer to this problem, however, is not anti-nationalism but possibly a form of liberal nationalism that takes the question of solidarity among individuals seriously enough to concede that solidarity needs to be built on a shared emotional fundament.

It is questionable if the alternatives to an enlightened nationalism are desirable. A resurgence of religion or fervent local loyalties as can be seen in Scotland and Catalonia will not only weaken Europe politically, but it will breed emotional hostilities that make it unlikely that people who cannot stand the thought of living together in one country will happily join hands under the umbrella of the European Union.


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川普無免責權裁定分析 -- Alan Feuer/Charlie Savage
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本文要點已經見於聯邦上訴法院裁定川普無免責權》(該欄2024/02/07)。三位法官裁定意見書中,對「三權分立」與「權力制衡」兩個原則有所闡述,可資借鏡;故轉載於此欄此外,三位法官駁回川普律師主張「免責權」論述的詳細理由,則請參考此文


Federal Appeals Court Rejects Trump’s Claim of Absolute Immunity

The ruling answered a question that an appeals court had never addressed: Can former presidents escape being held accountable by the criminal justice system for things they did while in office?

Alan Feuer/Charlie Savage, 02/06/24

A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected former President Donald J. Trump’s claim that he was immune from prosecution on charges of plotting to subvert the results of the 2020 election, ruling that he must go to trial on a criminal indictment accusing him of seeking to overturn his loss to President Biden.

The unanimous ruling, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, handed Mr. Trump a significant defeat. But it was unlikely to be the final word on his claims of executive immunity: Mr. Trump, who is on a path to locking up the Republican presidential nomination, is expected to continue his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Still, the panel’s 57-page ruling signaled an important moment in American jurisprudence, answering a question that had never been addressed by an appeals court: Can former presidents escape being held accountable by the criminal justice system for things they did while in office?

PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY

The Times analyzed and annotated the ruling by a federal appeals panel rejecting former President Donald J. Trump’s claim of absolute immunity.

The question is novel because no former president until Mr. Trump had been indicted, so there was never an opportunity for a defendant to make — and courts to consider — the sweeping claim of executive immunity that he put forward.

The panel, composed of two judges appointed by Democrats and one Republican appointee, said in its decision that, despite the privileges of the office he once held, Mr. Trump was subject to federal criminal law like any other American.

“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the panel wrote. “But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as president no longer protects him against this prosecution.”

The three judges cast Mr. Trump’s immunity claims as a danger to the nation’s
constitutional system.

“At bottom, former President Trump’s stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the president beyond the reach of all three branches,” they wrote. “Presidential immunity against federal indictment would mean that, as to the president, the Congress could not legislate, the executive could not prosecute and the judiciary could not review. We cannot accept that the office of the presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter.”

A spokesman for Jack Smith, the special counsel who brought the case against Mr. Trump, declined to comment on the decision.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s campaign, said the former president “respectfully disagrees” with the decision and would appeal it.

“If immunity is not granted to a president, every future president who leaves office will be immediately indicted by the opposing party,” Mr. Cheung said. “Without complete immunity, a president of the United States would not be able to properly function.”

The panel’s ruling came nearly a month after it heard arguments on the immunity issue from Mr. Trump’s legal team and from prosecutors working for Mr. Smith. While the decision was quick by the standards of a normal appeal, what happens next will be arguably more important in determining not only when a trial on the election subversion charges will take place, but also on the timing of Mr. Trump’s three other criminal trials.

In addition to the federal indictment charging him with seeking to overturn his election loss in 2020, he faces similar charges brought by a district attorney in Georgia. In a footnote, the panel stressed that its decision did not address the separate question of whether state prosecutors could charge a former president over official actions.

Mr. Smith, the special counsel appointed to oversee the federal prosecutions, has also brought a case in Florida accusing Mr. Trump of mishandling highly sensitive classified documents after leaving office and obstructing efforts to retrieve them. And Mr. Trump is scheduled to go on trial next month in Manhattan on charges related to hush-money payments to a porn star during the 2016 campaign.

When Mr. Trump first sought to have the federal election case dismissed on grounds of immunity, it was an attempt to expand the protections the Supreme Court had already granted to sitting and former presidents against civil lawsuits concerning their official actions.

While not accepting that Mr. Trump’s actions were official — the panel noted that presidents have no constitutionally prescribed role in counting electoral college votes — the judges rejected his arguments about being immune from criminal charges.

“We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a president has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results,” the judges wrote. “Nor can we sanction his apparent contention that the executive has carte blanche to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count.”

The unsigned decision was issued by all three judges: Karen L. Henderson, an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, and two appointees of President Biden, Judges Florence Y. Pan and J. Michelle Childs.

During the arguments last month, the judges signaled particular concern after Mr. Trump’s lawyer argued that a former president could avoid criminal prosecution even for ordering SEAL Team 6, an elite group of Navy commandos, to assassinate one of his political rivals unless the Senate had first convicted him at an impeachment trial.

The panel rejected the Trump legal team’s arguments about the necessity of an impeachment conviction before bringing criminal charges.

And in another significant part of their decision, the three appellate judges also circumscribed Mr. Trump’s ability to use further appeals to waste more time and delay the election case from going to trial — a strategy the former president has pursued since the indictment against him was filed in August in Federal District Court in Washington.

The panel said that Mr. Trump had until Monday to ask the Supreme Court to get involved in the case and continue a stay of all the underlying proceedings. The case was initially put on hold by the trial judge in December.

But the panel imposed a rule designed to discourage Mr. Trump from making an intermediate challenge to the full court of appeals. It said that if Mr. Trump instead took that route, trial preparations could begin again after Feb. 12.

If the question does reach the Supreme Court, the justices will first have to decide whether to accept the case or to reject it and allow the appeals court’s ruling against Mr. Trump to stand.

If they decline to hear the issue, the case would be sent directly back to the trial judge, Tanya S. Chutkan. She scrapped her initial March 4 date for the trial last week, but has otherwise shown every sign of wanting to move the charges toward trial as quickly as possible.

If, however, the Supreme Court does accept the case, the crucial question will become how quickly the justices act in asking for briefs and in scheduling arguments. Should they move rapidly to hear the case and issue a decision, there remains the chance that a trial on the election charges will occur before the general election in November.

But if the justices take their time, it is possible a trial could be delayed until after the election. If that were to happen and Mr. Trump were to win, he would be in a position to ask his Justice Department to dismiss the case or even seek to pardon himself.

Even though Mr. Trump put three of the justices on the bench, the Supreme Court has not shown much of an appetite for wading into issues related to his efforts to tinker with the mechanics of American democracy.

But the question of how to handle Mr. Trump’s immunity claim is heading the Supreme Court’s way as it prepares for arguments on Thursday about another momentous question related to the former president: whether he can be disqualified from the ballot for having engaged in an act of insurrection by encouraging his supporters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Alan Feuer covers extremism and political violence for The Times, focusing on the criminal cases involving the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and against former President Donald J. Trump.  More about Alan Feuer
Charlie Savage writes about national security and legal policy. More about Charlie Savage

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Four charges for the former president. Former President Donald Trump was charged with four counts in connection with his widespread efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The indictment was filed by the special counsel Jack Smith in Federal District Court in Washington. Here are some key takeaways:

The indictment portrayed an attack on American democracy. Smith framed his case against Trump as one that cuts to a key function of democracy: the peaceful transfer of power. By underscoring this theme, Smith cast his effort as an effort not just to hold Trump accountable but also to defend the very core of democracy.

Trump was placed at the center of the conspiracy charges. Smith put Trump at the heart of three conspiracies that culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to obstruct Congress’s role in ratifying the Electoral College outcome. The special counsel argued that Trump knew that his claims about a stolen election were false, a point that, if proved, could be important to convincing a jury to convict him.

Trump didn’t do it alone. The indictment lists six co-conspirators without naming or indicting them. Based on the descriptions provided, they match the profiles of Trump lawyers and advisers who were willing to argue increasingly outlandish conspiracy and legal theories to keep him in power. It’s unclear whether these co-conspirators will be indicted.

Trump’s political power remains strong. Trump may be on trial in 2024 in three or four separate criminal cases, but so far the indictments appear not to have affected his standing with Republican voters. By a large margin, he remains his party’s front-runner in the presidential primaries.

A Guide to the Various Trump Investigations

Confused about the inquiries and legal cases involving former President Donald Trump? We’re here to help.

Key Cases and Inquiries: The former president faces several investigations at both the state and the federal levels, into matters related to his business and political careers. 
Here is a close look at each.

*  Case Tracker: Trump is at the center of four criminal investigations. 
Keep track of the developments in each here.
What if Trump Is Convicted?: Will any of the proceedings hinder Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign? Can a convicted felon even run for office? 
Here is what we know, and what we don’t know.
Receive a Weekly Update: Sign up for the 
Trump on Trial newsletter to get the latest news and analysis on the cases in New York, Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C.


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永久戰爭:古已有之的地緣政治和衝突 -- 《展望》
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(請參閱本欄上一篇)

 
The Forever Wars: Geopolitics And Conflicts Are As Ancient As History

From the ancient conflicts over hunting grounds to the ongoing wars in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine, land has continued to drive humans into warfare. The combination of geography and politicsgeopolitics— is key to understanding the timeless human proclivity for wars and conflicts.

Outlook Web Desk, 01/02/24

In the ancient Indian strategic treatise ‘Arthashastra’, Chanakya wrote that your immediate neighbour is your natural enemy as they covet your territory and resources.

While it might appear to be a generalisation, and critiques of Chanakya have been written, the core of the idea has survived the test of time. From the ancient conflicts of early humans over hunting grounds to the ongoing wars in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, the idea of land remains central to wars and conflicts.  

When geography combines with politics, geopolitics is born. From the Great Game in Afghanistan to India’s confrontations with its belligerent neighbours, the politics of geography has often led to wars. The basic cause —geopolitics— is as old as time. In its simplest sense, the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also one over land: Who gets how much of a chunk of land in the Middle East for their nation? The conflict in the region is also not new. It’s the conflict’s latest iteration. 

For centuries, the Christians and the Muslims fought over the Holy Land of Jerusalem where the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have their holiest sites at a stone’s throw from each other. Before that, the Babylonians expelled the Jews and destroyed their Temple of Solomon on Temple Mount, which was rebuilt and was again destroyed later by the Romans. Thus, the conflict in the Holy Land runs much deeper than one might realise at first. 

In his piece on Jewish-Muslim relations, Iftikhar Gilani writes that the Jews and Muslims lived relatively peacefully in the region before the 20th century. Thus, the framing of the conflict in religious terms is an incorrect interpretation of history. 

In his piece, Dilip Simeon traces the Zionist movement for Jewish nationhood and writes about the cycle of violence in the region. 

The Outlook’s year-end issue on Palestine also features an extract from Palestinian-American public intellectual Edward Said’s book ‘On Palestine’, in which he indicted the Israelis for their campaign against Palestinians. “In sum, Palestinians must die a slow death so that Israel can have its security, which is just around the corner but cannot be realised because of the special Israeli ‘insecurity’. The whole world must sympathise, while the cries of Palestinian orphans, sick old women, bereaved communities and tortured prisoners simply go unheard and unrecorded,” writes Said.


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《永久戰爭:古已有之的地緣政治和衝突》讀後 
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展望》是印度人辦的刊物,在巴議題上的立場相對公允。這篇文章可能是編者引言(請見本欄下一篇)。它雖然以「地緣政治」為標題,但其主旨在闡述「戰爭」和導致「戰爭」的動力。例如,該文第1段和倒數第3段的最後一句分別是:

Chanakya wrote that your immediate neighbour is your natural enemy as they covet your territory and resources.

“Thus, the framing of the conflict in religious terms is an incorrect interpretation of history.“

它印證了我反覆說明的:

政治是爭奪資源分配權的活動;而戰爭是政治的另一種形式。所以,只要資源不足以分配得皆大歡喜;在人類社會中,「戰爭」永遠會發生

這是該文主標題用了「永久戰爭」一詞的背景

同理,將國際間的任何暴力相向事件視為「文明衝突」,也是一種對歷史或政治的錯誤「詮釋」

該文最後一段引述另一篇文章所引用撒伊德博士對以巴紛爭的評論;讓人相當痛心。

“…, while the cries of Palestinian orphans, sick old women, bereaved communities and tortured prisoners simply go unheard and unrecorded,” writes Said.

相關閱讀

Tracing The Unholy War On Palestine

索引

belligerent:好鬥的、好戰的(該文用法);交戰國(多數)
covet
覬覦垂涎、貪圖
Great Game in Afghanista:阿富汗爭奪史
proclivity
傾向(該文用法);癖


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群眾取向路線走紅是對當前政治趨勢必須做的修正 - Jonathan Tobin
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胡卜凱

這篇分析可以跟本欄《群眾取向政治路線淪為花招》一文合看兩文作者都同意荷蘭與阿根廷新領導人的成敗將由他們兩位的治理能力來決定;但對兩位新領導人勝出的原因則有不同的看法

索引

pearl-clutching
:自以為站在道德高度,對不以為然的事或行為故作震撼狀A very shocked reaction, especially one in which you show more shock than you really feel in order to show that you think something is morally wrong.



The Populist Wave in Argentina and the Netherlands Is a Necessary Course    Correction

Jonathan Tobin, Editor in chief, JNS.org, 11/27/23

One of the laziest tropes of political analysis is the impulse to link political results from different nations in order to produce a narrative about international affairs. The point of such efforts usually has little to do with events on the ground in these disparate places and everything to do with the politics of the United States.

That's why pundits label the victors of recent elections in Argentina and The Netherlands as the "Donald Trumps" of their respective nations and treat their victories as calamities. It has a lot more to do with the political establishment's alarm about the possibility of the original Trump winning a second term in the White House in 2024 than it does about what has happened in Western Europe or South America.

The main issues that drove the victories of Javier Milei in Argentina and Geert Wilders in The Netherlands have little to do with each other. It was the hyper-inflation destroying the Argentine economy that lifted the eccentric libertarian economist and political novice Milei to victory. Meanwhile, the opening that gave Wilders his win was the sense that Dutch society and its liberal values are being subverted by out-of-control immigration from Muslim countries; Wilders has been campaigning on this issue for decades amidst constant death threats from Islamists.

And like other supposed "Trumps"—Brazil's Javier Bolsonaro or Hungary's Viktor Orban—Wilders' and Milei's ability to govern and to stay in office will hinge on local issues and their ability to represent more than a protest vote in a single election cycle.

Still, the loose talk about the existence of a populist wave sweeping the globe is rooted in more than liberal pearl-clutching about Trump leading President Joe Biden in the polls. As much as the voters in these two countries were primarily motivated by unrelated issues, the successes of both Milei and Wilders do have something in common. They reflect a willingness on the part of voters to listen to those who are treated as dangerous outliers by the political establishments in those countries and to elect them to high office.

But far from that signifying a new era of fascism driven by uncouth rabble-rousing hatemongers, as the punditry class would have it, these victories actually demonstrate the awakening of voters in very different places to the idea that they need to re-evaluate the conventional wisdom that ruling elites have been peddling. Whether you call it populism or anti-globalism or, in the case of Trump, "America First," the success of these candidates and parties is part of a necessary course correction that is happening across the board as ordinary citizens in democracies begin to pick up on the fact that the governing classes are disinterested in what concerns them.

The Dutch election, in which Wilders and his Party for Freedom won an unexpected plurality, was decided by the growing concerns across Western Europe about the impact of unlimited immigration. Wilders is routinely categorized as being on the far Right, but while he is extreme in his rhetoric about Islam and Muslims, he actually a liberal. He speaks for those who rightly understand that a society that restricts freedom in order to cater to the demands of Islamists is one that is doomed.

Others who led on this issue were either assassinated, like Pym Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh, or driven from the country, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But while Wilders is damned as an Islamophobe, decades of efforts by the Dutch political establishment to ignore the way their country is changing for the worse as a result of the refusal of immigrants to assimilate have only bolstered his standing.

While the political and cultural elites may see open borders in Europe and the United States as part of their vision for a better world, the Dutch electorate has had no choice but to turn to populists like Wilders in order to try and put the brakes on the disintegration of their national identities.

Immigration isn't the problem in Argentina. Their worry is a corrupt governing class that has presided over a failing economy for decades because of the country's addiction to socialist ideas. The legacy of Peronism, a unique combination of a neo-fascist authoritarianism and collectivist economics with a populist base, still hangs over Argentina. Milei's platform opposing globalism, socialism, and the "siren song of social justice" and replacing it with one based on economic freedom provides an alternative that the elites fear and long-suffering Argentine voters welcome.

Both Wilders and Milei face formidable challenges implementing their ideas and, like Trump, could well be derailed by their own inexperience in office and a concerted campaign by the establishments in their countries to ensure that their victories are transitory.


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維護自由主義的歧路 -------- Alexander Stern
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史特恩博士公益》雜誌上這篇文章相當有料(請見本欄下一篇文章)。雖然文章有4,000多字,約一般論文的三到四倍;對美國政治「自由主義」和「自由主義」前景有興趣的朋友,不妨花點時間和腦力仔細讀讀。

How Not to Defend Liberalism

Embracing technocracy will only fuel the populist surge.

Alexander Stern, 09/14/23

Liberal democracy, we are told, is under attack. On op-ed pages and cable news panels, at university conferences and economic summits, and in politicians’ interviews and speeches, defenses of liberal democracy have proliferated in the face of threats from populist and authoritarian leaders around the world. Most of these defenses, whether they come from the center-right or the center-left, share a great deal in both their diagnosis of the crisis and their prescriptions for how to recover a liberal democratic polity that seems to be slipping away.

It is hard to deny their main premise. A movement has indeed arisen on the Right that disregards democratic norms and liberal assumptions with alarming nonchalance. It’s shown a willingness to undermine the integrity of our elections, barred discussion of certain ideas in classrooms, and even fomented a half-witted assault on the Congress itself. Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, an intolerance for dissent from progressive orthodoxy, as well as skepticism of the cultural value of free speech, have led to coercive conformity and “cancellation.”

However, the defenses of liberalism tend to dwell on, sometimes for good reason, the risks posed to liberal democracy by ordinary people and popular movements—i.e. “wokeness” and populism—while neglecting those posed by the people closer to the levers of power. These defenses also tend, implicitly or explicitly, to equate liberalism with technocracy, or rule by expertise. In the end, they suggest that we must settle for an undemocratic, technocratic form of liberalism that leaves power in the hands of the few in order to forestall the most illiberal outcomes. This line of argument threatens to exacerbate the crisis of liberalism, widen the fissures in our society, and provoke the very outcomes it seeks to prevent.

Although centrists tend to portray liberalism as besieged by both the woke Left and the populist Right, they usually acknowledge the obvious fact that the threats from the Right are much more serious and immediate, targeting political institutions and processes. The repudiation of liberal values on the Left remains for the most part limited to cultural institutions, journalism, education, and human-resources departments.

The explosion of identity politics on the woke Left is, according to George Packer’s Last Best Hope, a “rebellion from below,” driven by the youth. “Young people coming of age in the disillusioned 2000s,” Packer writes, picked up ideas from “critical theory,” which “upends the universal values of the Enlightenment.” In Liberalism and Its Discontents, Francis Fukuyama writes that the woke regard racism not as a personal or policy problem but as “a condition that is said to pervade all American institutions and consciousness.” Systemic injustice thus provides a rationale for the suspension of liberal values in reeducation programs that take cultural sensitivity to an illiberal extreme, in policy proposals that would try to distribute goods like vaccines on the basis of race, and in a culture of sanctimony, censorship, and cancellation.

Whereas the woke Left regards the establishment as a continuation of rule by straight white men, the populist Right conceives of it as a left-liberal, globalist elite that has seized power and decimated traditional white working- and middle-class communities. According to the right-wing narrative, this elite imposes its woke cultural values on everyone, unfairly distributes handouts to undeserving minority groups, and opens borders to new immigrants. In The People vs. Democracy, Yascha Mounk pins the worldwide rise of populism on “rising immigration, coupled with a deep, sustained stagnation of living standards,” along with a loss of establishment control of the means of communication. This combination provides the rationale for a suspension of liberal values that will hand the country back to its rightful heirs, who can forcibly reestablish nationalist, Christian values and bring industry back to the American interior. This kind of right-wing populism leads eventually to its own bizarre postmodern consequences: nationalist and “trad” LARPing, wild conspiracy theories, and the carnivalesque assault on the Capitol.

Centrist defenders of liberalism, such as Packer, Fukuyama, and Mounk, tend to see a common root in these two illiberal movements, despite their obvious differences. Packer writes:

In some ways Just America [Packer’s term for the woke Left] resembles Real America [his term for the populist Right] and has entered the same dubious conflict from the other side. The disillusionment with liberal capitalism that gave rise to identity politics has also produced a new authoritarianism among many young white men. Just and Real America share a skepticism, from opposing points of view, about the universal ideas of the founding documents and the promise of America as a multi-everything democracy.

In short, Packer sees both these movements against liberalism as misguided reactions to social and economic dislocation: a “new tribalism” that comes from the bottom up. Coupled with this tribalism is an assault on reason itself that started with “critical theory” and postmodernism, which, according to Fukuyama, undermined the objective, scientific standpoint intimately tied to liberalism. “Of late,” Fukuyama writes, “many of the arguments pioneered by the progressive left have drifted over to the populist right. When combined with modern communications technology, this critique lands us in a cognitive wasteland.”

There is good reason to doubt aspects of this centrist narrative. To begin with, it doesn’t go back far enough. The history of American politics from the 1960s shows that it is not “disillusionment” but satisfaction with liberal capitalism that has underwritten the rise of the cultural politics that undergird both the woke Left and populist Right. Both standpoints arise from the culture war that has increasingly gripped American politics since the 1980s and taken over from the more materialist political conflict that dominated the immediate postwar period. Indeed, the turn toward cultural politics depended on a period of relatively widespread prosperity in the West. As Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have argued, this broad prosperity allowed baby boomers to focus their political energies on issues that were less obviously material, such as civil rights, gender equality, and gay marriage. But according to Inglehart and Norris, this kind of cultural politics eventually helped undermine the prosperity on which it was based. As traditional left-right disputes over economic issues were left behind, a technocratic, neoliberal consensus on economic policy set in. This consensus allowed the proceeds of growth to go to an increasingly small and wealthy minority while marginalizing the left-wing economic dissent that had made the relative equality of the postwar boom possible.

Instead of class conflict, politics became a battle between two cultural factions, neither of which represented the working class. On the left side of these politics are many professionals whose concerns for equality have narrowed to involuted and essentialized conceptions of race and gender detached from the real material needs of the marginalized groups they claim to support. Meanwhile, the reactionary Right is populated by many relatively high-earning but uneducated small-business owners and tradespeople who obsess over the excesses of the Left, indulge in fear-mongering about crime and immigration, and toy with—or outright embrace—racist tropes. While this right-wing identity politics likes to invoke the downtrodden white working class and sometimes borrows from the rhetoric of mid-century labor politics, it effectively serves the interests of another set of the elite through a standard business-oriented Republican playbook. Our fervid cultural politics do not emerge, bottom-up, from a public that channels its economic anxiety in misguided, illiberal directions; it originates with those at the top of the economic system, whose privileges it obscures.

These cultural politics may appear to “politicize” absolutely everything—from sports and music to gas stoves and canned beans—but in actuality the public sphere has been effectively depoliticized, to use Jürgen Habermas’s term. In his 1962 book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Habermas already recognized that the liberal space in which ideas about how to organize society were once debated—however exclusionary that space may have been—had given way to a largely simulated public sphere captured by advertising and other forms of manipulation. He writes:

When the laws of the market governing the sphere of commodity exchange and of social labor also pervaded the sphere reserved for private people as a public, rational-critical debate had a tendency to be replaced by consumption, and the web of public communication unraveled into acts of individuated reception, however uniform in mode.

The commercialization of media, in other words, effectively turns the public sphere into the plaything of the interests that control it. Entertainment and information are mixed together to the point that “instead of doing justice to reality,” the media tends “to present a substitute more palatable for consumption.” Radio and television tend to replace critical public debate with manipulable preferences and tastes. Finally, the public and private spheres become inextricably tangled together. On the one hand, public matters “are garbed in private dress and through personalization distorted to the point of unrecognizability.” And, on the other, private life is “pried open” to the point that not just individual lives but “the problems of life” themselves become media fodder and “politicalmatters.

The embrace of neoliberalism in the decades since Habermas’s book was published has only further advanced commercial control over the public sphere, including on the internet. Depoliticized culture-war content monopolizes attention, drives subscriptions, and pleases advertisers, while catalyzing anger and further confusing private and publicculture and politics—through partisan sensationalism. The political conflict that plays out in the media is not the negotiation of conflicting material interests and ideas about the common good, but a dramatized escalation of personal grievance and cultural antagonism.

It is this manipulation, far more than the adoption of little-read postmodern texts, that has placed us in a “post-truth” moment. And it is this manipulation, far more than any spontaneous discontent emerging from the youth or the hoi polloi, that has produced our illiberal, “depoliticizedpolitics. The tribalism that so concerns centrist liberals is not just a misguided expression of discontent, but the predictable and increasingly uncontrollable escalation of the pseudo-politics that our elites have favored for decades. As Nancy Isenberg memorably put it in her book White Trash, “When you turn an election into a three-ring circus, there’s always a chance that the dancing bear will win.”

In the face of ubiquitous culture war, we should actually be heartened by the relatively material—and, in their way, liberal—concerns of the general public. Take the line of critique that united the surprisingly popular Trump and Sanders campaigns in 2016. Both candidates emphasized a rigged economic and political system where decisions were made by an entrenched elite. Both candidates claimed, albeit with wildly different degrees of sophistication and credibility, that the costs of elite failure were borne by the middle and working classes, and that the priorities of global corporations had been allowed to take precedence over the interests and desires of the American people. But cultural politics either completely overwhelmed these critiques from the start (in the case of Trump) or were deployed against them (in the case of Sanders).

To their credit, many centrist liberal authors acknowledge the fact that inequality is a principal cause of our political crisis. However, their construal of the problem suggests solutions that would neither distribute economic power more evenly nor promote democracy. This starts with how they conceive of the relationship between democracy and liberalism.

Both Mounk and Fukuyama treat liberalism and democracy as completely separable categories: they may be historically intertwined but they are, according to this view, logically unrelated. As Mounk and Fukuyama rightly point out, there can be illiberal democracies—like those of the ancient world—and undemocratic liberalismHong Kong under British rule, for example. For Mounk, this is evidence against the claim that liberal rights and democratic sovereignty are naturally complementary; they were not always associated in the past and need not be in the future.

Mounk admits that the technocratic rule of developed nations today amounts to its own form of “undemocratic liberalism,” but he seems to find this trend inevitable—and preferable to the alternatives. Fukuyama, meanwhile, contends that “the present-day crisis of liberal democracy revolves in the first instances less around democracy strictly understood than around liberal institutions.” The implication is that we can combat the crisis in liberalism without combatting the crisis in democracy. The important thing is preserving individual rights; genuine democracy is a luxury at best and a threat to liberalism at worst.

But as Marc Plattner 
puts it in an article for Foreign Affairs, “overstating the disjunction between liberalism and democracy can easily lead to new misunderstanding.” The illiberality of ancient democracies—which heavily restricted voting rights—also made them, by today’s standards at least, undemocratic. Similarly, illiberal restrictions on freedom of speech in nations like Russia and Turkey put the democratic nature of their elections in serious doubt. Meanwhile, undemocratic liberalism tends—because of its restrictions on voting rights—to restrict other freedoms as well. Without access to the ballot in the United States, for example, women and Black people were also denied other basic rights. Democratization made the country more liberal, and liberalization made it more democratic.

The intertwining of liberalism and democracy is not just historical contingency, but the result of the fact that, as Plattner writes, “the political doctrine at the source of liberalism also contains a deeply egalitarian and majoritarian dimension.” Classical forms of liberalism have emphasized that, in addition to a balance of powers within government, liberal democracies require a “wide dispersion of power in both the private economy and civil society,” as Paul Starr 
explains in his book Freedom’s Power.

Early- and mid-twentieth-century American liberalism made advances by recognizing that, under industrial capitalism, supporting individual liberty and economic freedom required democratizing workplaces through support for unions, preventing undue concentrations of market power through antitrust lawsuits, regulating financial institutions to prevent unfair and destabilizing speculation, and maintaining a robust welfare state to provide aid to those left behind by the market. This liberalism recognized that liberty needed to be protected not just from governments or the masses, but also from an economic order that, for example, colludes to raise prices on consumers, extracts burdensome rents from small producers by monopolizing distribution, and undermines worker power by intimidation and, sometimes, coercion. As Edmund E. Jacobitti 
puts it, “[T]oday wealth is as powerful a threat to liberty as the masses ever were.”

Separating liberalism from democracy allows centrist liberals to sideline the egalitarian implications of liberalism and associate it with anti-democratic technocracy. While expressing some regret that deference to expert decision-making may be undemocratic, Mounk doesn’t even seem to consider the possibility that it might also be illiberal. Given the “considerable technical expertise” required to understand an “increasingly complex” world, he writes, “it seems we must choose between achieving international cooperation on key issues by a troublingly undemocratic path—and not achieving it at all.”

Fukuyama, for his part, presents a narrow account of the origins of liberalism that focuses exclusively on its protection of individual and cultural freedom. Liberalism arose, Fukuyama writes, in the religious wars following the Protestant Reformation, where various “Christian sects” sought “to impose their religious dogma on their populations.”

Classical liberalism can therefore be understood as an institutional solution to the problem of governing over diversity, or, to put it in slightly different terms, of peacefully managing diversity in pluralistic societies [my italics]. The most fundamental principle enshrined in liberalism is one of tolerance: you do not have to agree with your fellow citizens about the most important things, but only that each individual should get to decide what they are without interference from you or from the state.

Liberalism, in other words, is little more than an antidote to culture war. Its guarantees of individual rights, a private sphere of autonomy, and limited state power are emphasized at the cost of its prescriptions for how private and political power should be distributed and exercised in society. Liberal governance, meanwhile, is conceived of as a form of apolitical management that balances diverse interests according to its own calculations rather than allowing them a measure of genuine political power.

A conception of governance as a technical matter for experts, as Habermas writes in his 1970 book Toward a Rational Society, obfuscates its fundamentally value-laden nature and takes deliberation about the best way to organize society out of the hands of the citizenry. Technocracy is the natural partner of mass media’s reduction of information to entertainment, which places the real work of governance behind an emotionally charged screen. For Habermas, this system amounts to a form of domination, since the arena for rational deliberation by an informed populace is both degraded in itself and detached from the actual levers of power.

A narrow focus on individual liberty allows centrist authors to ignore these substantive threats to liberalism. The only important danger, they believe, is that one side of the culture war or the other will take control of the government and impose its beliefs on the public at large. Other dangers get short shrift. Even when these authors are critical of policies that have led to the upward redistribution of wealth and power, they tend to construe them as examples not of elite capture of the economic system, but rather of “too much” philosophical liberalism in economic policy—an error of management that requires a managerial fix, rather than the predictable result of too much concentration of political and economic power in the hands of too few people.

Fukuyama cites Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek as among the liberal thinkers who “sharply denigrated the role of the state in the economy and emphasized free markets as spurs to growth and efficient allocators of resources.” Beginning in the 1970s, neoliberal policymakers and economists freed corporations from what they regarded as counterproductive and inefficient regulation and held individuals more responsible for their well-being by cutting welfare spending.

But it is misleading to characterize neoliberalism as simply “anti-regulation” and “pro-market.” As Quinn Slobodian shows in his book Globalists, proponents of neoliberalism conceived of it from the first as a movement to develop and shape a new super-national regulatory structure for a global economy. It was not primarily an anti-government movement in favor of an unfettered market, but rather an effort to insulate the global economy from what neoliberals regarded as the irrational behavior of democratic nation-states. Hayek himself rejected the idea of a “minimal state” and made explicit that he was after a “dethronement of politics,” not of government as such. The goal, Slobodian writes, was a new form of empire with “an invisible government of the economy first, and a visible government of neutered nations second.” The government of the economy was designed not to protect individual rights, nor to constrain government per se, but to create institutions that would “override national legislation that might disrupt the global rights of capital.”

The global economic order created by neoliberals has not merely dethroned democratic politics; it has established a new kind of political power. As governments turned from containing to facilitating the excesses of big business, the lines between national governments and private banks and corporations have blurred. Our technocracy involves the alignment of private and public bureaucracies, facilitated by revolving doors between them. Consider the U.S. bank bailouts of 2008. The bailouts and favorable terms given to reckless banks—however necessary they may have been to rescue the larger economy—involved a state of exception where sovereignty itself was difficult to locate, as Adam Tooze points out in his book on financial crises, Crashed. “If this was an act of sovereignty, whose sovereignty was it? The American state’s, or that of the ‘new Wall Street’—the network personified by figures like [Henry] Paulson and [Timothy] Geithner who tied the Treasury and the Fed to America’s globalized financial sector?”

For centrist authors, part of liberalism’s role of “peacefully managing diversity” involves correcting the mistaken policies that have led to the populist surge. Here, they reflexively take on the perspective of the managers without seeming to realize that technocratic management is a significant part of the problem. Their proposed reforms leave untouched the existing private-public power structure, the tendency toward policymaking by compromised, if not outright corrupted, actors, and the insulation of economic power from democratic accountability.

Mounk, for example, proposes reforms like more progressive taxation, better job training, and expansions of the welfare state. Tellingly, he does not mention reforms to make collective bargaining easier or to enforce antitrust laws more vigorously. Nor does he have anything to say about the way neoliberals themselves dismantled liberal regulatory structures and liberal democratic institutions like trade unions. He rightly condemns the folly of extremists who would simply tear down existing liberal institutions. But not everyone who supports radical changes in pursuit of fairer economic conditions is bent on nihilistic destruction.

In lieu of such changes, centrist liberals tend to recommend cultural solutions like individual self-restraint and moderation (Fukuyama), or being “willing to criticize your own” and resist vilification of the other side (Mounk). Packer places more emphasis on the ills of corruption and concentrated economic power than Mounk and Fukuyama do. Still, because he focuses on cultural threats to liberal democracy, he also relies heavily on personal prescriptions: he asks Americans to ditch social media and spend more time with those “who don’t look or talk or think like them.” “Creating the conditions of equality requires new structures and policies,” he writes. “Acquiring the art of self-government needs something else—new ways of thinking and living.” Such platitudes gloss over the fact that our polarization and democratic incompetence are the consequence of material disempowerment. Fixing the former requires fixing the latter. Policy tweaks and cultural exhortations will not do.

Real solutions to our political crisis would reverse the concentration of power caused by neoliberal policies. Reducing inequality by technocratic means—an unlikely prospect in any case—wouldn’t be enough. Thanks in large part to pressure from the Left, the Biden administration has taken some initial steps: Biden appointees to the National Labor Relations Board have begun to enforce labor law against companies used to interfering with their employees’ right to collective bargaining; the administration’s Department of Justice has more aggressively tackled corporate concentration; and its Federal Trade Commission has proposed rules to stop unfair hiring practices and anti-competitive mergers and acquisitions.

But, as the administration’s foiling of a rail strike and its bailout of Silicon Valley Bank show, there is still a long way to go. Alternative forms of worker representation should be pursued, such as sectoral bargaining—where a federation of all the firms in a given economic sector is forced by the government to negotiate wages with representatives of that sector’s entire labor force. A comprehensive anti-corruption program, such as the one Elizabeth Warren has outlined, is needed to combat the influence of the financial industry. Absent such a program, it is difficult to see how the hyper-financialization of so much of our economy can be checked.

Finally, experiments with other, more local forms of economic and political power must be encouraged. Some contemporary authors, like Branko Milanović, have proposed programs remarkably akin to the distributism championed in the early twentieth century by Catholics writers such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. These would distribute capital ownership downward through cooperatives and other common ownership structures. Others, like Michael Lind, have called for a form of “democratic pluralism” that would delegate rulemaking power in particular areas to small institutions like wage boards, with mandated representation of various stakeholder groups. Without access to new forms of power like these, the resentment and cynicism that brought us Trump will continue to grow, as will interest in a “post-liberal” future.

Centrist liberal authors are rightly troubled by exponents of post-liberalism like Patrick Deneen and Adrian Vermeule, who have argued that liberalism’s hands-off attitude toward morality deprives liberal democracies of the virtues needed to sustain a healthy political community. For Deneen, liberalism is behind a drift toward atomism that will ultimately doom the whole project to collapse, since the virtues on which liberalism depends—self-restraint, civic-mindedness, democratic competence—are systematically degraded by the logic of liberalism itself. Liberalism, on Deneen’s view, can’t help but produce technocracy and a nationalized, sensationalized politics. To the extent that the people do have a say, Deneen writes in Why Liberalism Failed, it is not surprising that an isolated, powerless electorate will opt for a strongman who claims to be capable of “reining in the power of a distant and ungovernable state and market.”

Despite their distaste for Deneen, the arguments of centrists like Mounk and Fukuyama unwittingly lend force to his critique. They propose to contain the populist threat by means of the same technocratic mechanisms that generated it. Deneen writes, “Today’s liberal critics of democracy...condemn the deformed and truncated demotic actions of a degraded citizenry that liberalism itself has created.” He is right that “their cure is the source of the ills they would redress,” but wrong to call this “liberalism.” Technocratic neoliberalism is not the rightful heir of the liberal tradition, but an anti-democratic distortion of it.

Published in the September 2023 issue: 
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左派在加薩議題和「解除殖民統治」上的思考盲點 ----- Slavoj Žižek
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齊椰克教授是當代頗有功力和名氣的左翼學者。我看過他兩本書和幾篇論文;對他的思想說不上熟悉。

他在大作中展現了他「務實現實主義者的睿智和深邃洞察力(下文倒數第5段);以及他挑戰短視左派的勇氣(1)。由於我也自認為是個「務實現實主義者(該文第2)希望以後能擠出時間進一步申論他這篇文章。

附註:

1. 
「短視左派」其實是我一種客氣的說法。「彈腿反應式的」或「不經過大腦的」庶幾近之


What the left gets wrong about Gaza and “decolonisation”

The West needs to remember that not all freedom movements are progressive or democratic.

Slavoj Žižek, 12/20/23

When left-wing critics of 
Israel characterise what it is doing in Gaza as genocide, they are often accused of inverting the true relationship: Israel is just defending itself while Hamas plans an actual genocide of Jews.

But genocidal rhetoric is increasingly present in the public speeches of Israeli politicians themselves. When the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip after the Hamas attack, he said: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed… We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly. ” More recently, in October, when 
Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the Palestinian people in the besieged Gaza Strip, he invoked the Amalek, a nation in the Hebrew Bible that the Israelites were ordered to wipe out in an act of revenge. “You must remember what Amalek has done to you,” he said in a speech announcing the start of a ground invasion in Gaza, and added that Israeli soldiers were part of a chain that goes back 3,000 years. Genocide justified by religious fundamentalism.

There is no place for peace treaties here. 
Tzipi Hotovely, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, insisted in an interview with Sky News on 16 October that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza: “Israel is in charge of the safety of Israelis; Hamas is in charge of the safety of the Palestinians.” Of course, there is no humanitarian crisis among the Palestinians, since the Israeli high command apparently consider them to be not fully human. No wonder that, together with Netanyahu and other leading Israeli politicians, Hotovely resolutely rejects the two-state solution: “human animals” don’t deserve a state.

A day before three Jewish hostages were mistakenly killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza on 15 December, Netanyahu said: “I say this in the face of great pain but also in the face of international pressures. Nothing will stop us.” The addressees of this message are not only the relatives of the remaining hostages, who accuse the government of not doing enough to release the estimated 129 that remain in the Strip; the main addressees are perhaps foreign governments, including the US, that are exerting pressure on Israel to show more restraint. Netanyahu’s ultimate message is: even without the support of its Western allies, nothing will stop Israel in achieving its goals (total annihilation of Hamas; rejection of the two-state solution).

The problem with this radical stance is that, as Hani al-Masri, the director-general of the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, pointed out correctly, in pursuing them, Israel is “a prisoner of its own unreachable goals”. Why? Because, to use another quotation, as the anarchist and pacifist president of the Palestine branch of the War Resisters’ International, Natan Hofshi, wrote back in 1946: “Without an understanding with our Arab neighbours, we are building on a volcano and our whole work is in jeopardy.”

Peace will only emerge when Palestinians are allowed to organise themselves as a strong independent political force, broadly democratic and rejecting all forms of religious fundamentalism – something Israel is doing everything possible to prevent by giving Palestinians one choice: to accept Hamas as the only voice that is fighting for them. The 
latest opinion polls show that anger over the war is boosting Palestinian support for Hamas, particularly in the West Bank, where the IDF is not conducting an all-out offensive and where Hamas does not have control. Throughout the Arab world, hundreds of thousands are protesting against Israel, and tensions are reaching a point of explosion. Some on the left may see in such an explosion a moment of truth, when liberal-pacifist illusions about the occupation are upended – I see in it a catastrophe, not only for Jews and Palestinians but for the world.  

Netanyahu’s “nothing will stop us” speech echoes 
Vladimir Putin’s statement the day before, on 14 December, in which the Russian president vowed to fight on in Ukraine until Moscow secures the country’s “demilitarisation”, “denazification” and neutrality – unless Kyiv accepts a deal that achieves those goals. “There will be peace when we achieve our goals,” Putin declared. “As for demilitarisation, if they [the Ukrainians] don’t want to come to an agreement – well, then we are forced to take other measures, including military ones.” Putin couldn’t restrain himself from cynically remarking that Russia is demilitarising Ukraine by way of destroying hundreds of its tanks and guns – war is thus presented as the ultimate act of demilitarisation. But did some Western heads of state not make a similar point when, reacting to the desperate calls for a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict, they advocated a “sustainable ceasefire”? Though their idea was a ceasefire that would lead to permanent peace, it ultimately amounts to the claim that the only “sustainablepeace is that which follows a (military) victory.

The parallel between Israel-Palestine and Ukraine is imperfect: in the case of the Palestinians and their Israeli neighbours, a compromise between the two peoples is the only way out, while Ukraine is a victim of brutal aggression and has the full right to persevere until victory. Ukraine is now paying the price for exclusively choosing the side of the Western powers, ignoring the link between its struggle for independence with the developing world’s decolonisation process, as well as suppressing its own political left as suspect, somehow associated with 
Russia. Now that Western states are sceptical about the extent to which they can continue to help Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, Ukraine may find itself in a desperate position.

We have to engage with the topic of decolonisation. The scholars Eve Tuck and K Wayne Yang are right when they insist that “decolonisation” should 
not be used as a universal metaphor: “Decolonisation brings about the repatriation of indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools. The easy adoption of decolonising discourse by educational advocacy and scholarship, evidenced by the increasing number of calls to ‘decolonise our schools’, or use ‘decolonising methods’, or ‘decolonise student thinking’, turns decolonisation into a metaphor.” Such a metaphoric universalisation blurs the actual violence of decolonisation. “Decolonised thinking” (done in a safe academic environment) is a poor substitute for the real and brutal struggle of the oppressed against their masters.

What now overshadows this is the violence of Hamas, which was perceived by many as an attempt at actual decolonisation. However, this is where things get more problematic. First, it is all too easy to dismiss the state of Israel as a result of the colonisation of the Palestinian territory – I agree with Edward Said who thought that both Palestinians and Jews have a right to live there, and that they are condemned to live there together.

I don’t consider Hamas’s stance “leftist” in any meaningful sense of the term, and I don’t envisage a military defeat of Israel as a solution to the 
Middle East crisis. In a recent piece for Al Jazeera, Jamil Khader, a professor at Bethlehem University, condemns my “lofty aspirational vision” as “completely disconnected from the realities on the ground”. What he finds “incomprehensible” is my insistence on “some liberal politics of hope in this catastrophic context”, like when I see a possible change coming through “the slow rise of solidarity between the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Jews opposing the all-destructive war”. As a pragmatic realist, I am well aware that such a solidarity is difficult to imagine today. But it is here that we should resuscitate the famous motto of the May 1968 protests in Paris: Soyons réalistes, demandons l’impossible. Be realistic, demand the impossible. The truly dangerous utopia is the idea that the solution to the Middle East crisis can only be achieved through military force.

The second point to address on the subject of decolonisation is that the reality of it often is a metaphor for another process. Recall numerous African countries, from Angola to Zimbabwe, where the overthrow of Western imperial control ended up with corrupted social orders in which the gap between the new masters and the poor has become greater than it was before independence. “Decolonisation” was thus a metaphor for (or one aspect of) the emergence of a new class society.

South Africa today has the 
biggest gap between the poor and the rich – no wonder that a very depressing thing happened to me in July 2023. In a public debate at Birkbeck Summer School in London, a black woman from South Africa, a veteran activist for the African National Congress, which has ruled the country since 1994, said that the predominant stance among the poor black majority is now increasingly a nostalgia for apartheid. Back then, she said, that demographic’s standard of living was, if anything, a little higher than it is today, and there was safety and security (South Africa was a police state, after all). While today, the woman explained, poverty is supplemented by violence and insecurity.

If a white person were to say this, they would be, of course, immediately accused of racism – but we should nonetheless think about it. If we don’t do it, the new right will do it for us (as they are already doing, lambasting what they regard as the inability of South Africa’s black citizens to run a country properly). The temptation to risk brutal “decolonisation” irrespective of what follows should be resisted. Mao said: “Revolution is not a dinner party.” But what if the reality is that after the revolution there is nothing to eat?

The question we should raise with respect to Hamas is not just what will happen after it loses this war – it is what would happen if Hamas was to survive and continue to rule Gaza? What would be the reality in the Strip, after the waning of enthusiasm for liberation?

[See also: 
The fightback against US anti-Semitism has begun]


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