The Dangers of Democratic Determinism

Why neoconservatives, liberal internationalists, and democracy activists are misreading the present moment.

Published on: February 5, 2018
Damir Marusic is Executive Editor of The American Interest.
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  • Everett Brunson

    Once again I am very impressed with Mr. Marusic’s depth of writing and insight. Thanks to another frequent TAI commenter I am now reading Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan. It has caused me to re-examine history as a narrative and the limitations of full analysis the “narrative” imbues. Over-simplification–especially in the narrative sense–easily leads to error when drawing up sides in any conflict.

    I have long felt that Nationalism is the expected backlash against Globalism and I still hold mainly to that view. What Marusic adds to the mix is the thought and idea that trying to frame Nationalism as just backlash is an error in itself. It is more than that. Much more.

    • Angel Martin

      I think the “narrative fallacy” concept by Taleb is really important here.

      When there are important, unexpected events like: post WW2 European recovery and integration; fall of the Soviet bloc; Yugoslav ethnic wars; Trump/Brexit – there are always AFTER THE FACT narratives of why these unexpected events happened and what to expect in the future.

      What Taleb is arguing is that these “after the fact” constructed narratives are deterministic arguments attempting to explain what are actually random events. And the narrative fallacies do additional damage by creating a form of “expert blindness”, where the “experts” are the most surprised at “unexpected” future events, since subsequent events are inconsistent with expert constructed narratives.

      For example, narratives based on globalization that supposedly “explained” post-WW2 and European integration and the fall of the Soviet Bloc made the “experts” even more surprised than most when the “unexpected” vicious,ethnic wars in Yugoslavia began.

      I think we would all be much further along if we focused more on WHAT is happening, rather than attempting to construct ever more complex narrative to explain WHY.

      • D4x

        TY – I stopped reading at “As Tony Judt remarked…”, a post-modern alarm trigger. Might come back and slog through it so I understand the other comments better, but, I remain the reader of ‘dead white men’s history/biography PLUS geography’. Today, the UK announced a weapons deal with Turkey. Does PM May think it is still 1853, and the Porte needs propping up to keep Russia from using the Suez Canal to threaten British India? My theory of history is that, if not for the Crimean War, Russia would have dismantled the Ottomans, and world history would have been very different, probably in a good way, except for Poland and Latvia, 🙂
        As if Russia would ever stop trying to stop the Khan of Crimea from slave raiding in Russia…

      • Everett Brunson

        I agree and I’m surprised to find the Taleb work so timely–but, too, I shouldn’t be surprised in that explaining history as traditionally done is just way too convenient when posed as a series of cause and effect events. Life isn’t that simple.

        • Hominid

          If interpretive history had predictive value, it would be a science not a humanity.

    • Hominid

      When you peel away the undisclosed assumptions, baseless speculations, and needless meanderings, the essay has very little “depth.” You’re just a sucker for the pseudointellectual.

  • KremlinKryptonite

    I’ll show you what the liberal internationalists have been up to, and then I’ll show you why we in the service have always been skeptical, and indeed why it’s falling to pieces now.
    Russia signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security in the 90s, and it was even upgraded by Putin in 2002 which led to the creation of the Nato-Russia Council. The Founding Act committed Russia to “creating in Europe a common space of security and stability, without dividing lines or spheres of influence,” and to “respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security.”

    Clearly, the Founding Act underpins post-Cold War European security architectures, and it even acknowledges the rights of states to secure their integrity however they see fit – formerly Russian occupied states.

    Something else happened in the 90s in Russia. Actually two things happened:
    1. Birth rates dropped off steeply.
    2. The massive amount of theft by those becoming the oligarchs (Yeltsin, Putin, et al) and other corruption caused the Russian military, already behind the curve, to fall behind even more so.

    Russian planners want to do two things:
    1. Maintain access to warm water ports, like that in Crimea. They’ve been working on this for centuries. Nothing new.
    2. Plug some of the holes that are the wide open expanse leading into Russia. Look at their actions in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine in that context.
    Why the rush? The birth rates collapsed 25 years ago. Right on time, Russia is running short on 25 year old males. Russia’s army is already predominately a conscript army, and the numbers are dropping. They’ll drop off until at least 2020, likely 2022, before leveling out. If they’re going to use the military to plug those holes, then they MUST do it now. So they are.

    By the way, same story in China. about 30 years after the one-child policy, the Chinese are running out of young adults too. Masters at math indeed. They don’t care about these agreements. They see it as a matter of urgency, they are short of resources, and they are going to act now. Dont you doubt it. You’re watching it happen.

    • AnonymoussSoldier

      Seems like the new Trump administration recognizes the realities of such agreements, and how to deal with such actors. That must be why the NSS released in December states “[T]he assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners turned out to be false.”

      • KremlinKryptonite

        Yes of course it says that. However, I dont give Trump credit so much directly, but rather indriectly for letting the military say what needs saying, and for relying more heavily on the more professional, DOD elements of the I.C. as opposed to the often less professional, less specialized non-DOD elements, like CIA and FBI/NSB, etc.

        You see, central intelligence is of course part of the civilian, or non-DOD, intel community. It is they who deliver the PDB (presidential daily briefing), and that’s a real tragedy because these are not typically the best and brightest of the intel community, perhaps contrary to popular myth. At best they misunderstand or inadvertently twist facts and the implications of the intelligence that DOD intel furnishes them, or, at worst, they lie and distort to push their own agenda.

        I would know because I act as a liaison to the intelligence arm of the state department (INR), which is basically the CIA arm of the state department, n behalf of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONR). My job was invented only 11 years ago. It was finally recognized that more specialized military intel community members need to liaise with the civilian community hanging out in Langley or DC etc., To help them better understand what some of the intelligence being delivered to them actually means, because they just don’t know. Simple as that.

      • QET

        It was probably necessary that the attempt have been made, though, else people of good will and not just Left political partisans would likely have continued to believe that it was possible and therefore policy ought to try it. The attempt hopefully has removed the ability of people to reason on the basis of a counterfactual scenario.

    • TPAJAX

      So you’re saying that the world has not so much changed, but that western policy wonks, including those on the civilian side of intelligence communities, have misinterpreted things.

      • KremlinKryptonite

        Yes, that’s essentially what I’m saying. The Russians simply cannot defend several thousand kilometers of open prairie with their military, and certainly not the state that it’s going to be in five years from today. If they can plug some of the gaps and cover some more ground, well that could be reduced to less than 1000km of high risk territory. That’s more manageable. Anybody who thought that some lofty deal signed by yeltsin in the 90s would trump demographic realities and security concerns was foolish. Demographics and security concerns trumped most things in the 19th and 20th centuries, and they still do today in the 21st-century.

        On a similar token, the Chinese Communist Party has been using force since 1974 in the South China Sea. It used force to acquire the crescent islands (Paracel Islands) that year, used force in 1988 to acquire seven islands and reefs in the spratlys, used subterfuge and force to take over mischief reef. I can go on. They know that they are in a box, or rather “chained”, by the various sets of island chains in front of them. They want to break out (not likely to work for reasons I can discuss at length if you want).

        They don’t care if they sign the UN convention on the law of the seas. Anybody who thought they really cared about that was a fool. The US is not even a party to it, yet it actually follows more of the precepts. These deals and “inking some agreement” means so little it’s really rather sad, to be sure.

      • Hominid

        You just said it more concisely and accurately – but, you have to expand it with lots of fluff and convolutions to make it seem more ‘scholarly.’

    • SeaAyeA

      That’s the kind of clear eyed and sober, real politik analysis we need. If that’s what everyone else in the service with you has been thinking and saying then they had it right. The past decade of Russian behavior certainly aligns with it. I also have to admit that your views on the DOD vs non-DOD intel components are sad, yet they are clearly accurate. Although, can you give us a specific example, or more likely, due to security, a hypothetical example of the problems with military intel handing off things to civilian intel?

      • KremlinKryptonite

        I’ll do you one better and give you two somewhat more complete outlines of the scenarios. There are two distinct scenarios to cover. The first entails military intelligence inadvertently gathering intel of more diplomatic value, and the problems encountered with State mishandling it. The second scenario is a bit different. It covers the situation in which military intelligence gatherers gather only military intel, but that intelligence can or should have an impact on diplomatic policy.

        Imagine a Virginia-class sub (which houses some of the most advanced spy and intel gathering technology on earth) sitting near to country X and gathering intelligence on country X’s naval assets or military more broadly. However, in so doing, the sub also intercepts intelligence that would be of more use to the diplomatic corps, i.e. civilian intel. So, the Navy makes that determination in an official way, and passes it along officially to State [INR].

        Intelligence is “harvested”, then “consumed”, and finally “digested”. Problems have repeatedly occurred with State passing copies of the information back to elements of military intel, like DIA, which has no business receiving (or consuming) it because it’s not military intelligence in the first place. Problems have also arisen with State sending a copy to CIA, for example, before State itself has “digested” it. This means that CIA might mistakenly believe State has already carefully analyzed the intelligence, made recommendations, or what have you.
        On the other hand, CIA might become confused and think that State has simply surrendered their prerogative to have first dibs on and analyze that information. That is not standard practice, and is only supposed to be done in rather extraordinary circumstances.

        The second scenario, the one which has necessitated the creation of my very job, is even trickier because you’re talking about a situation in which a dedicated, long-time service member and engineer, like myself, has to explain technical details and their implications to somebody who’s not an engineer, perhaps never been in the military, and who has quite likely never even taken much advanced math or engineering at all. It can be extremely difficult to convey the importance of what might seem like a minuscule, technical detail/factoid to the non-military intel analyst, let alone why that should have an impact on diplomatic affairs.

  • QET

    I want to like this essay but ultimately can’t, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, if there is a point Marusic is trying to make, I can’t discover it. This is exemplified by the final paragraph. At that point I am uncertain just which values Marusic is cautioning us against defending. The abstract Kantian universal moral absolutist values that today are lodged in the international human rights/international law crowd? The “personal is political” despotism of today’s Western progressives? The urge to ethnic homogeneity of the post-Yugoslavia type? Regardless, the notion that one can and ought to have values and yet not defend them is, to me, incoherent. It is the very act of defense that marks it as a value. Especially when one’s values are under open assault, failing to prioritize their defense discredits them as values.

    For another thing, Marusic seems to conflate democracy and liberalism, which are not only two entirely separate things, but also are antagonistic towards each other. Nationalism may be antagonistic to certain brands of liberalism but it is not antagonistic to democracy.
    A related point is that democracy is not a value. It is an anti-value. It is like the tide: it sweeps values in, and it sweeps them out. Liberalism and nationalism are values. We in the West have been conditioned to avoid even the appearance of arguing on behalf of certain values–to avoid “defending” any values, that is (this is the modern meaning of the “tolerance and pluralism” cited by Marusic, that defense of values is per se intolerance; a far different meaning from the one Isaiah Berlin had in mind). “Democracy” therefore has become the only word one can use in polite company, the only thing one can argue for without being immediately set upon as a racist or white supremacist or Eurocentrist or any other kind of “ist.” But the word has become today merely a Trojan Horse by which users hope to smuggle in their preferred values.

    Another reason I cannot really like the article is that it fails to consider Asia; specifically, China, but also MENA. The Chinese are nationalists on steroids. They openly talk of the “Chinese Century.” The concept of “Greater China” is urged without irony (and I will just note for all those who like to pretend that the US is the imperialist aggressor in the world, the words “Greater America” were never heard, not even from Teddy Roosevelt). I have yet to see any Western liberal intellectual associate Greater China with Greater Germany. What is the Chinese word for “Reich”? The Russians seem equally nationalist to me. Indians, too. The Japanese are famously xenophobic yet I never read Western intellectuals berating them for not taking in MENA immigrants. Iran and the Palestinians are equally nationalistic, yet the prior Administration and its progressive worshippers spent 8 years actively egging on those nationalisms (in the latter case mostly indirectly by constantly vilifying Israeli nationalism). When I visited Morocco my guide was very keen to tell me that Moroccans were Berbers, not Arabs. All this nationalism all over the world, and yet only in Europe and the US is it considered retrograde and reprobate. Perhaps that is only fair, as transcending universal values issued from Europe and not from the many other nations of the world who actively pursue nationalist polities and policies, all to the acclaim of Western intellectuals who roundly condemn Euro-American nationalisms. But still: a meaningful discussion of nationalism has to take those many other nationalisms into some sort of account.

    • All valid criticisms—to a certain extent anyway.

      1) Obviously my fault if it’s not clear what I’m ultimately arguing for: A balanced approach. And that balance, I think, can best be achieved by considering time scales. Lasting cultural change can take much longer than human rights liberals consider. At the same time, one oughtn’t convince oneself that nationalism is eternal, unchanging, and worth dogmatically supporting. The essay is a bit personal in tone, so I can see how this point can get lost.

      2) You’re absolutely right that I keep it focused on just Europe, and that that does not yield a complete picture of the subject. This essay could easily have five times as long. Maybe it should have been. And maybe if I get a book grant to expand it, it will one day be. I did try to signal in the piece that I hardly felt like this was an exhaustive treatment. It’s just pivoting off an especially provocative essay by Branko Milanovic to make a point about the blindspots that many in the human rights community seem to have about the world. (And be honest: would you have read a 10,000 word essay?)

      • QET

        Thanks. I understand. But I view the “balanced approach” recommendation as a bit of a cop out. These are important issues we all face, issues that we need to act on. In concrete situations calling for action–even if only in speech–how are we to decide which side of the balance to favor then and there? You might say “there is no answer,” but there has to be an answer, even if it is only one of many possible answers.

        Values require not just defense, but active defense. But if I defend a value, is the necessary implication that I therefore believe it to be universal or eternal? Are such values the only kind for which active defense is permissible? If so, and if also there are no such values that we can find or agree on, then we have just consigned ourselves to stand by and watch as others, for whom such criteria don’t apply, actively defend their values. Does your average nationalist actively defend as a universal value the abstract idea of “nationalism,” or does he actively defend as a value for him the phenomenon–and perhaps also the idea–of Serbian nationalism, or Croatian nationalism? I suspect the latter (by which I mean that I don’t believe the active Serbian nationalist is thinking that Hungarians also ought to actively defend Hungarian nationalism), which leads me to wonder whether it is appropriate, whether it is even possible, to argue against the phenomenon of a personal commitment to a specific nationalism using an argument constructed as an abstract argument against the abstract idea of “nationalism.”

        Your suggestion, both in your article and in your reply to my comment, is that nationalism is a value that ought to be overcome; you would say, “eventually.” But I think that is your position only vis-a-vis the abstract idea of “nationalism” and not necessarily against the phenomenon of Serbian or Croatian nationalism (which conflict I think you mean to indicate by your statement as to the personal nature of the essay). Because it is that concrete phenomenon, the value of a specific nationalism at a specific time and place, that I assume the Milanovic article addresses and that the human rights types willfully overlook.

        And it is this kind of abstract idea versus concrete phenomenon that I try to get at by bringing up Asian and MENA nations. The Western human rights types seem content to oppose concrete Western nationalisms by means of an abstract anti-nationalism idea, yet they will not apply that abstract idea in opposition to concrete Asian nationalisms, at least not insofar as the Asian and African nationalists loudly publicize that their own nationalism is specifically a defense against oppression by Western values (including, one assumes, the value of anti-nationalism!). In fact, to read them one can easily believe that they believe that such an abstract argument cannot be applied to those nations. And for this reason they are not credible on the subject.

        • I’m not sure I agree with your characterization of my position. I’m not suggesting that nationalism is something to be overcome, but I am suggesting that it’s not a static thing either. I’m ultimately arguing that history and culture are far more important than liberal internationalists think, but am also cautioning about being reductive about these things. Ideas *do* matter, especially over a longer timeframe.

          What’s striking about Central Europe is the imperial legacies, and how those shapes identity, and by extension national feelings and nationalism. It’s a particularly stark contrast for me, living here in the United States and now properly acclimated, with how Americans see themselves and the world. And then further still, both of these experiences are in stark contrast to how an Englishman understands himself. And that in turn is different from the French experience. And yes, then there’s Russia, India, China…

          • FriendlyGoat

            Not to try to engage you in a time-suck, but “how Americans see themselves and the world” varies widely on which Americans you might be meeting or talking about—-or even at what point in time. For instance, it’s not a good thing that Americans right now are being coached from their leadership seat toward nationalism after having experienced a democratic malfunction. Indeed, “ideas *do* matter” and it’s better when we don’t embrace junk we have to later try to “come back” from (as we seem to be doing). You have become acclimated to an America quite fractured in world views.

          • Americanism has traditionally been much more idea-based than elsewhere in the world—truly an exception. And it’s precisely that exceptionalism that has led it to often misjudge the world in the past.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Perhaps. Some of us wish we were continually (if slowly) evolving for the better, rather than suddenly regressing. The future is supposed to be about minimizing our differences and getting along, rather than regrouping tribes for perpetual conflict.

          • Anthony

            FG, something I discussed on another site and related to your point: The problem with Tribalism (nationalism [its variants], maybe) is that it knows “no real limiting principle” – anything that helps “us and hurts them” can be justified. Take a look:

          • FriendlyGoat

            That’s quite a piece. Knowing little these days about how to express myself except in lists, here goes:

            1) Damir has a point that we Americans are originally stuck on our “exceptional” idea of replacing government by the one (monarchy) and government by the few (oligarchy) with government by the many (our ongoing Constitutional experiment)—–and that this does not necessarily “fit” well when imposed over the top of other societies still marinating in their long histories.

            2) I wonder if your linked piece could have or would have been written by a person living in the main tribe of “straight”, or if living in the smaller tribe of “gay” (disclosed by author in fifth paragraph from end) gives one the added perspective to better describe the nature of various divisions. Net, net, do gay people inherit a dimension of thoughtfulness that others do not?

            3) Living in the Southwest as we now do, our society here has much more acknowledgement of and respect for actual native tribes than my Midwestern youth in a place we did not see real tribes. I cannot really imagine being born into a minority tribal identity and living that reality in the 20th/21st century. It is a life experience I can SEE, but not really KNOW.

            4) You are correct in wondering above whether the political tribalism or nationalistic tribalism can find any “real limiting principles”. I have this feeling that we only find them after excesses of “going over an edge”, AFTER testing limits and experiencing bad results.

          • Anthony

            1) Damir is thoughtful (has always been) and he gives his perspective marinated with both outside eyes and inside (American) development. Still at bottom for me, it’s about human beings doing human things.

            2) Our Gay brothers and sisters (I’m referencing America) have had to develop a kind of 6th sense

            – or a dimension of thoughtfulness to navigate a less than friendly society. So your query answers itself.

            3) The tribal piece, as article referenced, remains a human default instinct – if America has a claim to exceptionalism then it just may be in trying to create a “more perfect union” among diverse tribes (it ain’t easy as our history shows).

            5) My apology in taking so long to reply back (other matters needed attending).

            4) The point I wanted to convey is that tribalism (where are politics seem to now reside) affects governance in terms of “norms”, “balance”, and the system we inherited from many looking beyond their immediate interest.

          • Hominid

            American “exceptionalism” is much more likely a consequence of a near-ideal geography, climate, and resource wealth – material reality – than lofty-sounding ideology.

          • Anthony

            Very few recognize the benefit historically of our geographical location, comparatively referencing.

          • Hominid

            Few recognize all manner of reality, Anthony – that’s the problem with democracy – the folks prefer their feel-good delusions.

          • Anthony

            It strains credulity to disagree, Hominid, but, regarding our Democracy, I try hard to remember: “A Republic if you can keep it.”:

          • Paul Lies

            The US has the benefit of immense natural resources, most navigable waterways in the world, and most arable land in the world. HOWEVER, the single most important factor is that it is one nation controlling it.

            Look at central and north Europe. There are natural resources, there’s arable land, and that’s where you can find the second most navigable waterways in the world.
            In Europe, that arable land and those resources and those major rivers have been points of contention and competition because there are many nations.

          • Hominid

            Agreed – and due to “diversity,” we are moving to that balkanist model. Have you seen the stupid fools who call for separation of CA – the biggest contributor state to our national economy – on ideological grounds?

          • Paul Lies

            Well lol, I’m not american so I’d love to see CA secede. I’ll be there to invade the new nation with some pals and acquire some nice real estate;)

          • Hominid

            So, you see what I mean.

          • StudentZ

            Doesn’t California gets its water from the Colorado River? That doesn’t seem like a good investment to me.

          • Paul Lies

            Do you really think someone in CA arguing for secession is bright enough to know where his/her water comes from, food comes from, and power comes from? I doubt it. Only a Californian would look at hundreds of miles of ocean-front property yet pipe in water from other states. Desalinization works well. Hard for a supposedly rich state to make a case against it on economic grounds.

            Of course that gets to a little bit of a different matter. CA may very well represent one of the largest economies in the world by itself, but it’s also in major debt and houses something like 30% of America’s poor despite only representing about 12% of Americas total population.

          • Hominid

            Humanist nonsense. Read Darwin – he has it right – not Marx.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m not a fan of Marx and we are not stuck in Darwin’s time. As for any idea of social evolution, it is supposed to occur from the continued accumulation of modern knowledge. We now know what germs are. We now have seen more of deep space than any humans before us in other times. We now know more about oceans than our ancestors. We now communicate with the help of electricity and understand how that works. We have seen increasingly destructive wars and should appreciate the importance of avoiding them. We know more about DNA and anthropology than ever before. We know more about the Bible than ever before. We are supposed to be more capable of choosing wisdom for earth and mankind than ever before.

          • Hominid

            All very accurate. But, your closing point is invalid. What findings support your claim that we are “supposed to be more capable of choosing wisdom”? In fact, the data show that we are NOT more intelligent than before — a glaring omission from your list of mainly technical advances. For instance, science has shown beyond a doubt that personality traits – especially intelligence – are the product of one’s genetic complement – not parenting, not financial status, not education, not religious beliefs – but the folks and the policy-makers fail to recognize that reality and instead waste fortunes on ill-fated “solutions.”

          • FriendlyGoat

            1) Not being “stuck” in Darwin’s time (to me) does not mean I am arguing with Darwin.
            It means (to me) that more is being discovered after Darwin’s specific era. It is not as important (to me) to “read Darwin” as to pay attention as best we can to the scientific news of our own 21st century.

            2) We (total society) may be about as capable of choosing wisdom as we ask ourselves to be—–like Lincoln said people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. You are correct that we all have different genetics . We are also dealing with different cultures, different levels of education and different ages (at all times some are 20, 40 and 60, for instance). We all choose, though, what we say we like, or want to be around, or want to see more of, or hear more of. Personally, I like that which looks like or sounds like the promotion of kindness. The more we ask ourselves basic stuff like “Is kindness wise?”, or “Is Wisdom Kind?”, the more we (in my own phrasing) are “supposed to be” evolving to better conclusions and outcomes. The more we simply stagnate in the fog of “Dilly, Dilly”, the more stunted of mind we probably shall be.

          • Hominid

            You missed the point – people do NOT “choose” their intelligence or other personality traits (emotionality, attitudes, preferences, predispositions, predilections, etc) and most people are not very intelligent and slaves to their emotions. You’re “expectations” for society are unrealistic.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Perhaps. I am increasingly enjoying being my own kind of “nut” and probably will pass away in that condition. Some (most everyone but me) suspect I may be getting worse and worse with age.

          • Anthony

            No you’re not!

          • FriendlyGoat

            Don’t be too sure, friend.

          • Anthony

            Well, only you know for “real” so I defer.

          • Hominid

            Americanism has never been universal in America – not even close.

          • Hominid

            Evidence that America is more “idea-based” than other cultures – whatever that blather might mean?

          • Hominid

            You speak in poorly-defined, general, abstract terms like a philosopher (bullshiiter) rather than an analytical (scientific) thinker. You attribute collective human dispositions to vague ideological catechisms that the vast majority of people don’t even consider, let alone act on.

  • Otis

    A fine essay. Most Central and Eastern Europeans have secured their nation-states only recently, often only after considerable slaughter and population transfers. It is not only ridiculous but impertinent to expect them to jump on the post-modern multiculturalism bandwagon when the traumas stemming from their national self-determination struggles are still so fresh.

    Would it be asking too much for Damir, in his next piece, to give us his take on the significance of the Nunes Memo?

    • CheckYourself

      Not much to say about it is there? We’ve been lied to for more than a year about “trump/Russia” without them ever even defining what they thought happened, and now we know it was all a lie anyway. Steele was a foreigner, British, and claimed to have paid Russian sources. Only problem is, he was working for hillary and the FBI lol. I should’ve just reminded myself of the 90s from the get go. Take what the Clintons say and then flip it upside down, because the exact opposite will be reality.

  • Kathy Hix

    “Beating people over the head with the idea that they are insufficiently virtuous can only cause resentment. Change may well come; if it does, it will be gradual.” Couldn’t you have just said that in the first place, without all the verbiage in between?

  • olderwiser

    At the end of the next to last paragraph, the author completely undermines his credibility with his proclamation of the inherent superiority of liberal democracy as he understands it.

  • JoeS54

    As I see it from the US, it’s been more a matter of continuing and expanding policies that made sense during the Cold War beyond the end of it, because that was conventional wisdom. When the objective was countering the communist goal of spreading its ideology across the world, working to spread liberal democracy and free market capitalism made sense. And it worked.

    But once the Soviet Union fell, these policy experts in Western countries knew nothing other than to continue and expand their existing agenda, with new rationalizations. And what we got as a result was “globalization”. The negative consequences for the countries in which that agenda originated have become clear. And it was at the core of Trump’s thinking, as well as Brexit. The combination of the Iraq War and following upheaval in the Middle East, the 2008 crash and resulting 10 year “recovery”, and unilateral free trade and open borders created an unsustainable environment for the citizens of those countries.

    The worst result of “globalization” for the US has been its reckless openness to China and its (still) communist government. Once again, where it once made sense for the US to improve relations with China as a counter balance to the USSR, it has morphed into a situation where the communist leadership of the PRC is treated as a welcome member of the “international community” of liberal democracies, while not reforming, and while siphoning off $500B a year from the US economy.

    Trump said numerous times as a candidate that China “is laughing at us”. No doubt they have been.

    A simple retrenchment, stabilization and shoring up of all countries affected by the Cold War is long overdue. As well as a realistic view of China. That does not mean turning a blind eye to bad actions on the part of governments in eastern Europe, but it does mean respecting their sovereignty. The most important ideal for those in the West is self-government. That the people tell the government what to do, not the other way around. That has been weakened by globalization, and the people are reasserting it.

  • 1TomLarkin9

    American nationalism is an idea based nationalism. The immigration problem (besides having too many immigrants that result in lower wages and reduced job opportunities for, at minimum, minority Americans) in the United States today is multiculturalism without the melting pot to both infuse American values and to lift immigrants into our society. There is a strong bias against discrimination which is always viewed as negative, although discrimination is how we make ourselves better. We are not allowed to make decisions based on race, nationality, etc. My favorite example of discrimination as a function of nationality is Bank of America. Bank of America started in California in the gold rush days as Bank of Italy because the Italians in California has a 35% savings rate. If the average savings rate is 12%, then if 35% exists, then someone else must be lower. Discrimination has positive aspects. As much as I like American nationalism, if you look at Chinese nationals success in the world, i.e. control of business in the Philippines and Indonesia and academic success in American universities, the Chinese model of nationalism as much to recommend it as a competing model. That said, the European model is a disaster as is globalism. I believe that those that follow the European model of democratic (and economic) determinism, which is the model for globalism, are doomed to failure.

    • Hominid

      Due to advances in technology, commercial globalism is here to stay and will only grow. American workers, like American manufacturers, will compete in the global labor and production markets or go extinct. Protectionism will fail as it always has because it is illogical.

      • 1TomLarkin9

        Only with free trade on both sides. That has never existed in history.

  • rambothedrughunter

    I read many blog/opinion commentaries. This has to be the absolute best set of actual well-thought out comments and responses on the planet. Congratulations to the author, and to all those who have commented on it thoughtfully, rather than throwing around attacks with no content. This is what a comment section ought to look like.

    • Hominid


  • Carolinatarheel

    Democrats will gladly allow our government to shut down while they protect illegals and weaken our military and border patrol, They need the illegal votes in November in hopes of gaining seats in Congress!

    They want to keep Chain Migration and the visa Lottery, which will flood our borders and in a few years, we’ll have another DACA! If it’s allowed to continue, at some point American citizens will be a minority!

    Thank God for President Trump. He stands behind what’s good for America and we should stand behind him!

    America First!

  • Hominid

    This is the needlessly convoluted, obfuscatory, pseudointellectual sociopsychology that passes for ‘scholarship’ in today’s academy. Seeking to understand collective human conditions and behaviors in lofty-sounding terms of delusion-based ideologies is equivalent to debating the true nature of god or how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. It’s a needless waste of time. One need only understand that, despite the feel-good fallacious humanist ideologies of Liberalism and Christianity, the protection and propagation of genes – the root of racial identity and ethnic nationalism – is the essential driving property of creatures the world over.

    • You’re making my point—first by agreeing with my criticism of ideologies, and then by going over the top and assuming that you’ve discovered some kind of reductive truth when in fact you’re no better than an ideologue yourself.

      • Hominid

        That’s a false declaration – I am no ideologue and nothing I wrote would suggest that I am. I did not take the time – nor will I because too much scientific thinking and biological knowledge are required – to present my reductive analysis (not “truth”). You’re a liar and a blatherer.

        • “Scientific thinking”, indeed.

          • Hominid

            That uninterpretable remark is a perfect illustration of what I criticized in your essay – you make no sense.

  • Jamawani

    “Judt notes that Hitler managed to administer Norway with only 806 German overseers, and that 35 million Frenchmen made little trouble for some 1,500 German officials and 6,000 German civilian and military police.”

    The numbers are absurd. In Norway, the German battleship Tirpitz, alone, had a crew of 2000. Half the Kriegsmarine’s forces were deployed in Norway. 100,000 army troops were needed for the invasion – the occupation required nearly as many to protect key strategic areas from Allied incursions. Luftflotte provided air protection. And then there were were 5000 SS personnel that maintained dozens of prison camp facilities and provided unrestricted terror to the German occupation head, Reichskommissar Josef Terboven. German forces numbered more than 300,000 at the time of surrender in May 1945.

    In France, as well, German forces were never insignificant. Although Hitler envisioned a quick armistice with Britain and ensuing relations with a subservient, proto-fascist French regime, there remained massive troop number in France through the fall of 1940. Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3 conducted the Blitz while Army Group A with three armies planned the cross-Channel assault – more than 500,000 troops. Even after the cancellation of the invasion of Britain and transfer of forces for the invasion of the Soviet Union, 250,000 were required to occupy northern France and man the so-called Atlantic Wall. And although the Luftwaffe was soon put on the defensive, huge air installations were needed to defend against Allied bombing. And the U-boats installations in Brittany. Not to mention the SS units provided the essential element of terror.

    806 German overseers. 1,500 German officials. 6,000 German police. How utterly absurd.

    If your critique of the western democratic tradition rests upon this rather inflammatory statement, then its core premise is false. While there was Quislings and his few supporters in Norway and Petain and the Milice in France, they hardly compare to Pavelic and the Ustase in Croatia. In Norway and France the regimes were, indeed, puppet regimes imposed by the German occupiers, while in Croatia the regime was home-grown and willingly allied with the worst extremes of Nazism.

    Undoubtedly, there was a core, small number of active supporters of Nazism in Norway and in France. There was a far larger number of people who tolerated Nazi rule and showed a blind eye to Nazi atrocities – perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of apathy. Given that the economies of Norway and France were pilfered for German benefit – few in this second group stood to benefit, although bare economic survival was a strong motivator. Nor does this minimize the active cooperation of French authorities in the deportation and murder of French Jews. And although the Nazi occupation of Norway and France was not nearly as barbaric as the occupation of Poland, Serbia, or Ukraine – the destruction of Oradour is no different than the destruction of Kandanos.

    But it is a jump too far to suggest that the vast majority of Norwegians and French acquiesced willingly to Nazi rule and, by implication, Nazi values. Because isn’t that what you are getting at? That western liberal values weren’t even that deeply grounded even in Norway and France. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    • That’s not at all what I’m getting at. I’m saying that the experience of World War II was profoundly humiliating, especially for West Europeans, and the European Union we have today, with all its absurdities and flaws, was the end result. The post-historical ideology and narrative that accompanied all of this has led to dangerous blindspots.

      • Jamawani

        No, the Judt quote and your comment here are in complete contradiction.

        There is no reason to say that the Norwegians and French acquiesced to Hitler’s overlordship with merely hundreds to enforce Nazi rule. In fact, there is no reason to use such an outrageous and false statement unless to suggest and effete and dissolute West and the supra-nationalist postwar Europe which emerged – – and, by inference, the validity of today’s re-emergent nationalist ideology.

        Smrt fašizmu.

        • You initially wrote:

          “Because isn’t that what you are getting at? That western liberal values weren’t even that deeply grounded even in Norway and France. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

          And that is in fact not what I am getting at—at all! Western liberal values are well entrenched in the West. The mistake Westerners make is assuming that they’re not so entrenched for prosaic reasons, and thinking they are instead universals.

          And in writing about Eastern Europe, I’m careful not to valorize nationalism. But it is critically important to note exactly to what extent the experiences of World War II differed vastly across the continent. As you note, there were enthusiastic quisling regimes up and down the East, which appropriated national liberation narratives in service of genocidal fascism. And at the same time, there was a much more meaningful resistance in the East as well. Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia are one important example. Serbian Chetniks were another. Both movements were far more significant than anything that is dramatized in the mythology of the West European WW2 experience on the continent.

          You can quibble with Judt’s figures or my citing him, but it doesn’t negate the vasty different historical experiences. And I’m claiming that those vastly different experiences help explain why Westerners think nationalism has been miraculously transcended by liberalism (broadly defined) and why Easterners feel like they’re being talked to in a language that is hopelessly idealistic and somewhat meaningless when confronted by this kind of talk

          • Jamawani

            If one is offered tickets to La Scala –
            One shouldn’t complain that the music is opera.

            Central European states knew full well the value system of the West when they sought admission into the E.U. In fact, much of the accession process is about the degree of implementation of these values in applicant states. Or was it just the “goodies” that the former Soviet bloc states were after?

            And, yes, much of the article does read like an apologia for the right-nationalist trends in central Europe. Why else would you include the Judt figures? The difference between thousands and hundreds of thousands is the difference between a small influenza outbreak and the Spanish Flu of 1918. It is a geometric difference – not to mention, wrong.

            Although the histories of West and Central Europe are different, there are also strong parallels. Western Europe has had to deal with nationalism – violent with the IRA and the ETA and nonviolent with Scottish and Catalan independence movements. Finland and Estonia both have significant minority populations. Both were part of the Russian Empire, both had Red and White civil wars, both experienced Soviet hegemony – Estonia more than Finland. And yet, these countries seem to be comfortable with what you call “democratic determinism”.

            No city in Europe was more cosmopolitan than Vienna a century ago. It was home to some of the greatest thinkers in the 20th century western liberal tradition – Schoenberg, Klimt, Freud, Einstein. The collapse of the Hapsburg Empire may have reduced Vienna’s importance, but one could argue that supra-national values were established along the Danube far before they were in London or Paris.

            Sorry, but I simply do not buy this defense of right nationalism in Central Europe. Certainly it exists and has been growing, but not because of any fault of Western values.

          • Overall, I think you’re willfully misreading me if you think I’m offering an apologia for nationalism. Maybe it’s because you disagree with my assertion that liberalism is more contingent than most of us would like to believe. That’s a fair disagreement to have, but it’s no reason to impute bad faith.

            And yes, my argument is that the accession process across most of Central and Eastern Europe was bureaucratic, superficial, and ultimately transactional. That it’s conventional wisdom to think otherwise I offer as further (though far from dispositive) proof of the blindspots I’m trying to write about.

  • Che Guevara

    I’m originally form Poland, and I find this article to be extremely insightful. The fall of communism was about national liberation, and it caused the liberation of extreme xenophobia that was suppressed by the communists. The West doesn’t appreciate this point.

  • Carmine

    Excellent, thought provoking piece as usual Damir — particularly your take on the dubious view of many that liberalism has naturally (should I say scientifically) eclipsed political ideas like nationalism. Hope you are doing well!

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