The Scholar’s Stage: You Do Not Have the People

[T]he Korea issue is but an extreme expression of a tendency that blights the entire field. We are uncomfortable with democratic accountability, unwilling to subject ourselves to public debate, and uninterested in the constraints public opinion and popular politics place on the policies we craft. This complacency is not excusable. It is not sustainable. We cannot defend the cause of freedom without the support of the people. To try and do this is to risk terrible disaster.

We cannot defend the cause of freedom without the support of the people. To try and do this is to risk terrible disaster.

When have “the people” ever risen to defend the cause of freedom other than in the face of disaster?

There is also a contradiction in terms here: To commit to any project at all, and especially to great military or defense project, is to accept constraint, in some senses or for some even radical constraint, on freedom. This philosophical problem will undermine all projects seeking American strategic coherence. The American idea simply does not permit the latter. They are mutually exclusive.

Some day I may have much more to say on this subject than I have already said.1


  1. And I don’t mean just in conversation with T Greer, the author of the above post.

    T Greer–

    I wouldn’t want to get caught up in a simplistic literalism, but the disaster sufficient to justify or force American popular-political readiness for a war strategy for World War I is conventionally taken to be the sinking of the Lusitania, as connected to German attacks on US shipping. (World War I itself was a gross concatenation of disasters, and the attacks on American shipping can be taken as crystallizing or catalytic events, rather than as true causes of war.)

    The disaster that achieved the same effect in relation to the Iraq operation was, of course, 9/11. The unifying disaster upon which the Cold War was predicated, again in relation to popular readiness to accept constraints on freedom in relation to a strategic concept, was probably the detonation of the atomic bomb, unless it was the Holocaust, unless it was the entire cataclysm of World War II, unless it was the spread of Communism.

    In each case a kind of mirror image positive justification for the strategic regime or orientation also existed, and can be thought to have re-assured the American citizenry. For a citizenry convinced by events that a type of involvement in the world (for preservation and expansion of political-economic freedom as Americans have defined it) was incredibly profitable, necessary, and good, the threatened de-stabilization of that same involvement would represent impending disaster.

    The view may be difficult to accept when reduced to this particular set of terms, and may even be wrong, but that doesn’t make it unreasonable. Even at this peculiar moment in history, we are more within than beyond the historical epoch defined by the rise of American global power, and have not really had the popular commitment to it tested. After all, American popular opinion had demonstrably reverted to an isolationist tendency up to the very eve of American assumption of leadership of an international military alliance and program of global governance.

    We may be approaching such a test, one we can be said to have helped produce for ourselves. It might take just such a disaster as you imagine happening in Korea to unify us around a true departure.


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Noted & Quoted

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