Unheard in Open Discussion (re Iranian nukes)

In a post whose main point was to praise Up With Chris Hayes, Freddie deBoer offers one criticism.

I didn’t hear, and haven’t heard, a statement of equitable political principles that explains why it is somehow more legitimate for Israel to have nuclear technology than Iran.

The answer is embedded in his definition. There is no reason in the abstract why Israel “should” possess nuclear technology (I’m assuming he’s referring to nuclear weapons technology), while Iran “should not,” but nation-states aren’t merely abstract, and “legitimacy” isn’t the same as ideal moral justice. Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and withdrawal or being judged in breach would entail costs and complications for Iran, but a prospective decision to acquire nuclear weapons or actual acquisition of them is not in itself, taken strictly on its own terms, a matter of legitimacy.

In other words, even from the pespective of the NPT regime, and taking adherence to its provisions as a standard of legitimacy, Iran could legitimately become a nuclear-armed state, but the possible legitimacy of its withdrawal from the NPT would not prevent it from becoming at that point a pariah state, even if in this regard a lawfully acting one.  In addition to Israel, both India and Pakistan are also non-signatories to the NPT, and North Korea is the only state to have withdrawn. It is neither inherently legitimate nor inherently illegitimate for them to be nuclear states – and the same goes for the states that already possessed nuclear weapons when the NPT was originally drafted – but it is presumed to be a matter of interest to other states, and arguably to the entire world, a perspective in fact legitimated by worldwide, though not universal, recognition of the NPT.

It is not difficult to reason out an argument for the justice or morality of denying nukes to “states like Iran,” but allowing them to “states like Israel.” It ends up being an argument for supporting Israel and being suspicious of or hostile to Iran at least in its present form.  Put simply:  Israel = friend, and Iran = enemy – designations that, not incidentally, neither country’s leaderships have striven much to alter over the last generation or two.  Along these lines, we occasionally hear people say that it would be a much different matter  if a non-revolutionary – i.e., friendly – Iran went nuclear, but, to return to the original point, I think the reason that the discussion is rarely if ever attempted along the lines deBoer describes is that there is no “principle” in play of the type he wants to invoke.

The above was drafted originally as a comment at deBoer’s blog.  He responded to it as follows:

See, if it’s just that, realpolitik or whatever, I understand. But it would have been nice to have that out in the open.

I think the problem is that the assumptions of most interested observers, even leftish ones like Chris Hayes, differ greatly from those of deBoer and others who seem to be seeking fairness or “equitable political principles” in international relations, rather than realpolitik or some other calculation of interests.

Realpolitik is itself only ever a derivative of pre-existing moral-ideal determinations, the same ones that underlie that very basic (for Schmitt the most basic of all) “friend-enemy” distinction. Leftist-internationalists and other free range intellectuals, including those urging an American-Iranian rapprochement for supposed real-political reasons, will question, or be much more open to questioning whether “Iran-enemy” and “Israel-friend” should continue to define so much of American policy in the region.  They will also be more interested in examining under what circumstances a revision might be both desirable and attainable.  Such a discussion will tend to leave most of the American political audience behind.

That’s not intended to be an argument against holding that discussion.  It’s an argument that the Iranian nuclear issue will retain its saliency, and likely remain impervious to fundamental re-thinking, until and unless it can be addressed in full context.

8 comments on “Unheard in Open Discussion (re Iranian nukes)

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  1. Yes, I can’t imagine the distinction, seriously, as for Iran, there was some preliminary nuclear work under the Shah, so it’s not out of the question that under different circumstances it would be a nuclear power.

  2. I’ve been thinking about some of things you’ve taught me in the last year, CK, and I think I can now question things along the friend-enemy lines. Why do we have to relate to this according to state politics? It’s stopping one connection too early. We don’t just relate to family or community or state (as in California). People who do that are limited in respect to consciousness in a way that I think even you guys recognize because state (as in country) awareness is available. There’s no reason to stop at state when global consciousness is available and it is available. Schmitt and the other philosophers who promoted the friend-enemy idea were living in a time when global consciousness was not so available. There have always been people like William Blake who relate globally, and universally, but I can see why people like Schmitt would stop at state and come up with friend-enemy ideas. That idea, however, at this point can play into people ending the planet. So it’s low level. The idea itself is the real enemy.
    So at a minimum we need to at least recognize global level politics to the point of keeping our friends close and our supposed enemies closer. That means working with everyone in a way that we’re close. Treating Iran differently than Israel is not keeping them close.

    • A lot of it will come down to another theme of Schmitt’s, which is that your political outlook will be greatly affected by your pre-suppositions about human beings. If you pre-suppose, as Schmitt does – and as Hobbes very much did, and as the voice of experience tends to vs the voice of innocence – that human beings are dangerous and risky beings, then friend and enemy with the limit of lethal violence (giving or receiving) re-asserts its head in some form, even if somehow attenuated, even if the threat of force (or threat of a threat) is somehow masked or suppressed. Even if you insist that this way of viewing human beings is limiting, and that propagating it is evil, if you’re not aware of it and its effect, then whatever you’re observing, it’s not human life.

      I think you know that “friend close, enemies closer” was a rule for a violent world. I think you really want “no enemies.” I want to be a global idealist-universalist, too, but to imagine the world as one is to imagine the one, and to imagine the one implies two, and two implies many, and so on… We’ve always known we were one, but rather than preventing us from dividing, it is the condition of our dividing again. Even if I find a way to think beyond, it does no one any good if my “beyond” loses touch with what is.

      • But Schmitt and the rest didn’t have all the information. Ken Wilber thus believes that even the Buddha was working with less info. We evolve. From a real world biological perspective, we evolve beyond “Reptilian Brain” logic like the ones you’re relating to and get into frontal lobe higher thinking, or we all die. We can’t advance into nuclear power potential and keep relating to the old brain structures. The new ones are there. Biologists are finally admitting that we have neural cells in the heart and the whole glia cell potential gives us another biological, real world potential to access. Some of us accessed higher brain functioning to work with the science that makes nuclear war possible. We either drop the relative reptilian brain thinking of friend-enemy logic or perish. Maybe we will perish. Lots of aggressive rep brains run countries. No rep brains think globally. So we must champion global thinkers not rep brains. I do know that friend close enemies closer is a violent world rule, but I was thinking that we could appease the state level rep brains with the idea because it’s better than thinking that pushing your enemies away can ever work.

  3. Where I acknowledge the “human life” of it is that we live in the nuclear age. Schmitt did not. He could afford to think on a state level. We can’t. It’s not realistic to think that state level thinking is appropriate when we have forced ourselves into a global perspective where eventually our supposed enemies will have nuclear capabilities. Smaller countries like North Korea and Pakistan are right that the US stops pushing smaller countries around once they get the bomb. We keep nuclear countries close because we have no choice. That’s the reality now but we can use the human life reality to motivate us toward higher thinking and that isn’t beyond what is, it is more real than the “what is” we perceive with the reptilian brain. The rep brain is not all that there is. You know that. You know it’s not what is even. Hegel recognized that I believe.

  4. I realize that there is no reason for us to go around the same circle we have in the past, which is why I think it’s important to stay with the state issue. In my opinion, your defense of staying on a state level (instead of evolving to world consciousness) is that the world is a dangerous place. That is the same logic that family consciousness level people use to keep their family from evolving and expanding out to community consciousness. To family folk, community can’t be trusted. To community consciousness folk, California can’t be trusted, and to Cali consciousness folk, the country can’t be trusted. You are stuck at a nationalist level consciousness because you related to the world as a dangerous place. Of course, it is a dangerous place. So is country, regular state, community and even family–perhaps especially family. That’s what figures like Jesus were here to tell people. Evolve beyond family because you can’t do it (raise your consciousness) if you stick yourself on the family level. You defend your state consciousness according to old philosophies thought up by state consciousness folks who could afford to think that way because the destruction of the world was not possible back then. Now it is. We must think globally and to think with a world view, realistically, in connection with “human life” and the ability to continue human life, we must be brave enough to face the fear that is there on every level. Even family is dangerous so the danger issue you raise is silly. We can stop using dated ideas like friend-enemy. Those ideas will end human life. That’s the most real fact of all. Philosophy is misused if we use it in connection with our own personal life. It’s bigger than us as individuals. It’s not about our human life, or the only the human lives of Americans. It’s about all of human life. That means having a world view and a world view does not see things according to friend-enemy, especially not at this point when nuclear arms issues are being decided.

      • I attributed positions you took in the comments about “losing touch with what is” and “human life.” Those were your comments, not Schmitt’s. See comment in new stream about the pre-trans fallacy. It goes to the judgments you assess, not the things you’re seeking to understand. So please do me the favor of recognizing that I recognize the difference between what you are seeking to understand and what your expressed beliefs.

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