Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Because they don't believe in it

Rob at LGM:
What is it about "hawkish" pundits that they can't understand nationalism?
Rob is talking about hawks generally, and especially the "Empire" crowd that sprung up around Niall Ferguson and assorted other public intellectuals. Basically, the existence of modern nationalism makes imperial wars much, much more difficult than they were in the bad old days of the 18th and 19th centuries. Rob again:
While the French were able to control all of Indochina in the late 19th century with a relatively small number of troops, the United States couldn't pacify half of Vietnam with a huge investment of military force in the 1960s.
Add in the spread of small weapons across the globe, and you've got a recipe for multiple disasters.

But why don't imperialists understand nationalism? It's pretty simple - the difference between a universalist ideology and a localist one. Imperialists, by definition, need to believe that the world would be better off if they ran everything. It follows, therefore, that everyone would recognize they would be better off, and sign up.

It also follows, that anyone who would choose not to be part of this grand project, or set themselves in direct opposition to it, must simply want to add to the sum of human misery. They must be either mentally ill or simply evil. So if Syria and Iran don't want to take orders from Washington, their motives are clear - they want to destroy Israel, right? And if Hugo Chavez starts supporting governments that, like him, remember the non-stellar history of American actions in South America, well he must be a Communist.

Because I don't believe in the Democratic Peace Theory, I started assuming a while ago that American policymakers would regard a Democratic China as just as much of a threat at the current version, because a Democratic, nationalist China will disagree with Washington on many (if not all) of the same important issues as the current one does. This is all part and parcel of that belief: American leaders - the ones who think America will rule the world forever - have a hard time imagining what someone else's idea of the just world would look like. That's understandable, I suppose, but the fact that other people will have other ideas isn't.

What's more problematic is that a lot of the people who advocate imperialism abroad seem to frame domestic politics in the same way: Opposition is simply illegitimate, and needs to be destroyed. See Lieberman, Joe, plus the entire Republican party.


Westacular said...

You should try to be clearer when you say you "don't believe in the Democratic Peace Theory".

Many studies have demonstrated that democracies and peacefulness are highly correlated, independent of several other factors. It's sukk to deny this aspect.

Where variations of the theory run in to trouble is in trying to assert causation on this correlation (they don't go to war BECAUSE they're democratic) or squirreling around with definitions to assert that democracies NEVER go to war with each other.

I also agree that the US, in particular, seems to have little regard for whether a nation is democratic when it comes to viewing them as a threat to American interests/hegemony.

john said...

I've addressed this in previous posts, but the short version is that I agree with what you've written: There's a Democratic Peace Fact, and a separate but related Democratic Peace Theory. I accept the existence of the former, and disagree with the latter.