American Idealism, American Identity – Thread by @dhnexon, with Brief Comments

The main counter to Pillsy’s last tweet points beyond the Twitter fences as well as the framework within which Daniel Nexon was working: From my point of view such lower-level identities are not authentically identities unless they are identities experienced as worth the giving or giving and taking of lives. Otherwise, expressions of supposed “allegiance” would be inauthentic: not truly significant or seriously recognizable, and would in this sense reflect mere affinity, if not affectation, possibly as delusion to be exploited or unmasked or ignored, but in any event not worthy of an irrevocable stance “unto death.” Though further discussion could lead us in many different directions, I’ll just submit here that the problem is implicit in the invocations of “thymos” and, in America, “Jacksonianism” in attempts to explain the rise of the Alt-Right and possibly similar movements.

Tweetstorm re-posted with permission of Daniel [email protected]

Notes:

  1. (Pillsy []
  2. (Pillsy []
  3. (Pillsy []

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pillsy
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pillsy

I think it’s a common liberal desire, and one that isn’t at all easily obtained, to allow people to commit to those identities without ever having their commitment tested to the point of destruction. One of the great triumphs of American liberalism (mostly accomplished before left-liberalism was a distinct thing) was to allow Christian sectarian identities to peacefully coexist without the “unto death” part.

Viewing this as some sort of anodyne state of nature is where, I think, left-liberals tend to veer into “hollow universalism”. It’s a wonderful and rare form of freedom, and to quote from the more traditional American right (ctrl-right? Top 40 right?), freedom isn’t free. It’s taken a lot of work, sacrifice and care to make it possible.

As an aside, I wonder if the reason jihadists seem to pose a challenge to liberalism wildly disproportionate to any level of physical threat (relative to, say, communism in the 20th century) is because jihadism is maniacally focused on mass murder/suicide as a demonstration of authenticity.

Kolohe
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Kolohe

I’m not sure if the prism Nexon is using here works. Not the least reason is it’s tough for me to put Ike, Reagan and both Bushes on the same plane even if one is trying to draw out a distinction with Trump.

I also remember a lot of Soros haterade from the ‘traditional’ right on the internet during the Bush II administration, in the vein of ‘he’s not promoting liberal democracy, he’s promoting an international progressive socialist agenda’

To me, it still comes down to that the foreign policy establishments, left and right, have never really come to grips with the ‘what ought to be’ questions that emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Defeating Nazis and other fascists was easy and straightforward. Defeating Communism was a longer slog, but eventually accomplished (with a lot more people taking credit for it than they deserve). Then after a decade of just operating in the moment, a whole lot of people thought they found their new lodestone after 9/11, but Bush went on a disastrous neo-Wilsonian adventure, and Obama couldn’t decide whether to fish or cut bait.

wpDiscuz

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To take power, May had to pretend that she, too, dreams these impossible dreams. And that led her to embrace a phony populism in which the narrow and ambiguous majority who voted for Brexit under false pretences are be reimagined as “the people.”

This is not conservatism—it is pure Rousseau. The popular will had been established on that sacred referendum day. And it must not be defied or questioned. Hence, Theresa May’s allies in The Daily Mail using the language of the French revolutionary terror, characterizing recalcitrant judges and parliamentarians as “enemies of the people” and “saboteurs.”

This is why May called an election. Her decision to do so—when she had a working majority in parliament—has been seen by some as pure vanity. But it was the inevitable result of the volkish rhetoric she had adopted. A working majority was not enough—the unified people must have a unified parliament and a single, uncontested leader: one people, one parliament, one Queen Theresa to stand on the cliffs of Dover and shake her spear of sovereignty at the damn continentals.

...Brexit is thus far from being a done deal: it can’t be done without a reliable partner for the EU to negotiate with. There isn’t one now and there may not be one for quite some time—at least until after another election, but quite probably not even then. The reliance on a spurious notion of the “popular will” has left Britain with no clear notion of who “the people” are and what they really want.

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The most extraordinary paragraph in this op-ed, however, is this one:

The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.

...First — and this is so obvious I can’t believe I have to type out these words — the United States can’t simultaneously proclaim “America first” and then claim any kind of moral strength. Saying loudly and repeatedly that American values are not going to be a cornerstone of American foreign policy strips you of any moral power whatsoever.

The second and bigger problem is that the “embrace” of a Hobbesian vision of the world by the most powerful country in the world pretty much guarantees Hobbesian reciprocity by everyone else. Most international relations scholars would agree that there are parts of the world that fit this brutal description. But even realists don’t think it’s a good thing. Cooperation between the United States and its key partners and allies is not based entirely on realpolitik principles. It has helped foster a zone of stability across Europe, North America and the Pacific Rim that has lasted quite some time. In many issue areas, such as trade or counterterrorism or climate change, countries gain far more from cooperation than competition.

Furthermore, such an embrace of the Hobbesian worldview is, in many ways, anti-American.

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(0)

The rise of the military, if coupled with the undermining of civilian aspects of national power, demonstrates a spiritual exhaustion and a descent into Caesarism. Named after Julius Caesar — who replaced the Roman Republic with a dictatorship — Caesarism is roughly characterized by a charismatic strongman, popular with the masses, whose rule culminates in an exaggerated role for the military. America is moving in this direction. It isn’t that some civilian agencies don’t deserve paring down or even elimination, nor is it that the military and other security forces don’t deserve a boost to their financial resources. Rather, it is in the very logic, ideology, and lack of proportionality of Trump’s budget that American decline, decadence, and Caesarism are so apparent.

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CK MacLeod
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+ (Well, I didn't, four years ago, call Daniel Larison a vulgar ideologue. I suggested that his polemic on that occasion stooped to that level, in [. . .]
note on anti-Americanist conservatism in re Obama in Israel
CK MacLeod
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+ Thanks, Mr. McK. I don't see the Rs in any better a position, nor the independents for that matter. All the People's Political Scientists and [. . .]
Jennifer Rubin: Pro-Trump Republicans will get nothing, not even retention of a House majority – The Washington Post
Wade McKenzie
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+ It's a common tactic in scholasticism (vide Edward Feser) to take a term of religio-philosophical significance (such as "creation" or "eternity") that has a commonly [. . .]
note on anti-Americanist conservatism in re Obama in Israel

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