Sunday, August 4, 2013

Krauthammer may agree with Ian Morris

I got off to a rocky start reading Ian Morris’ Why the West Rules – For Now.  I have in the past argued that the only two plausible paradigms for the future were described in Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, and Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations.  Morris who seems to know nothing of either book takes a different, and perhaps trivial, position.  I haven’t read very far in his book but far enough to know that he means something by “rules” and it isn’t what Fukuyama and Huntington mean.

On the other hand, perhaps I am trying to make more of what Morris is saying than he intends.  Perhaps he has no interest in a paradigm for the future but is merely looking at the realpolitik of what exists now and how it might change in the not-too-distant future, and perhaps he means what Krauthammer means.  In this morning’s The Press Enterprise is an article by Charles Krauthammer entitled “’Republican crackup’ doesn’t quit hew to media script.”  In it he describes the “natural tension” that has resurfaced between isolationists and internationalists.  He writes “The Paulites, pining for the splendid isolation of the 19th century, want to leave the world alone on the assumption that it will then leave us alone.

“Which rests on the further assumption that international stability – open sea lanes, free commerce, relative tranquility – comes naturally, like the air we breathe.  If only that were true.  Unfortunately, stability is not a matter of grace.   It comes about only by Great Power exertion.  In the 19th century, that meant the British navy, behind whose protection America thrived.  Today, world order is maintained by American power and American will.  Take that away and you don’t get tranquility.  You get chaos.”

Krauthammer, and I suspect Morris, probably disagree with both Fukuyama and Huntington.  Fukuyama on these matters would perhaps argue along the lines of, “no you don’t get chaos if American power is withdrawn because the economic interests of each nation will prevail.  It is in each nation’s interest to reach agreements with its trading partners.  Wars inhibit these agreements.  Ultimately all nations will realize this.  We are undergoing a lot of trial and error, but “the end of history” in which all nations are Liberal and Democratic is inevitable.”

Huntington would, perhaps, say that since each Civilization has a “Core Nation,” a nation that steps in when member nations get into trouble, it isn’t necessary that the world itself has a “core nation,” but if it does that any particular “core nation” is required. The various “core nations” will make sure that the world doesn’t degenerate into chaos. 

At present the U.S. is the “core nation” for Western Civilization.  China is the “core nation” for the Sinic Civilization.  If Iran, for example, closed the Straits of Hormuz and the U.S. had an Isolationist President, China would have to step in to open those straits up.  In this case we would see that if the U.S. wasn’t willing to counter Iran’s “chaos producing” act, China or some other core nation would probably do it.  But we also see that the core nations are largely in agreement as to what has to occur.  Krauthammer’s assessment that the world will descend into chaos if the U.S. abandons its role as “world policeman” doesn’t work well with Huntington’s more-carefully-thought-out paradigm.

Ian Morris is a Professor in Classics and History at Stanford University.  Samuel P. Huntington (died in 2008) was, and Francis Fukuyama is a Political Scientist.  I am probably treating Morris unfairly at this point and should have read further before saying anything about his book.  After all the subtitle of his book is “The Patterns of History, and what they reveal about the future.”  If only his main title hadn’t been Why the West Rules – for Now.

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