[…] reply to jch’s comment, with same proviso as […]

[…] apologies to john c halasz, who could not have anticipated in his comment responding to my comment, under my most recent post collecting comments, that I would decide to […]

Briefly, 1) yes, it's your blog, but the "other participants" were on the CT thread that you've cited here. 3) Yes, 2 oceans and abundant natural resources, (though the latter are somewhat relative to economic/technological systems). But geo-political considerations apply quite generally and are never completely explanatory. 3b),5), 8) I'm not po-mo. This is just standard hermeneutics (Gadamer). Any sort of tradition, as effective history, only survives and renews itself through its successive applications and re-interpretations. And any origins only become identifiable when enough distance has been gained from them, which implies also that they have somewhat lost their hold. History, insofar as it is not just one damned thing after another, concerns the conjunctural emergences and transformations of meanings, understanding, norms and world-views, together with their correlated social/institutional structures, which is the prime interest in such a study, (and why "origins" must be plural and periodic), insofar as it contributes to current self-understandings. And it also follows that there are no "eternal",  extra-worldly or trans-historical truths, reflexively, especially about history itself, which doesn't vitiate any sort of validity claim, but simply limits it, as always potentially and even inevitably, if unforeseeably, revisable. Further, there is a third alternative between reductive causal immanence and unjustifiable metaphysical teleology: teleonomy. 6) Economics is not your strong suit, eh? 7), 8) Power can't be reduced to the classical couplet force or fraud. There are also both functional and normative components to its generation and exercize, no matter how ideologically obscured or distorted they might be. Perhaps a purely Schmittian account has some functional and normative deficits which would qualify its explanatory and explicative "force". 7), 8), 9), This is what I honestly don't understand about your POV. The U.S. just has to be (itself?), regardless of any of its doings, (however attributed)? Whereas ISTM that heedless U.S. doings, (and the "Peter principle" governing its supposed elites), has severely undermined its hegemony and its reputation effects. The Mideast is a perfect example, since its actions destabilized the area to the point where neither its ostensible friends or allies, nor its selected enemies show much respect for U.S. interests or objectives. And I don't think your reading of Daesh/Al Qaeda, in terms of a supposed "clash of civilizations" and "transcendent values" is remotely plausible. Like Ebola, they are malignant and dangerous, but far more a threat over there than here, and the hysteria is rather misplaced, insofar as it ignores the contributions of "our " mistakes, which have undermined credibility and legitimacy in the region. But as I think I've remarked before here, Daesh/Al Qaeda are just a species of religious nihilism, generated from the shocks of the modern world, (rather in the manner of Arendt's take on Nazism, as a wildly slap-dash and incoherent ideology, hollow at its core, and thus self-consuming), rather than any enduring opponent, "justifying" the over-extension of the national-security state, when no such "security" is at issue and no such means are appropriate, relevant or effective. There are all sorts of "reasons" why some might seek to fight-to-death, but that doesn't make those reasons "transcendent". (That's what the "Darwin awards" are for). I prefer the term "devolution" to notions of corruption, degeneration , decadence, as repeating reactionary tropes, but the decline of the "American century" is as inevitable as a self-inflicted wound. Bottom line: reality is not a TV show.

jch - thanks for your comment. I'll respond to it with an even longer one, more or less point by point, reserving the right to revise and extend.

1. Aint never noticed "many other participants" in these here parts, jch. I try to make things easy for those who do want to participate, but I'm grateful if I manage even a handful of "sanity testers." I apologize if I don't always seem to pass the test.

2. This whole blog is the table. I've been laying cards out to the best of my ability for years. Lately, I've been working harder at organizing the content and making it more accessible for those (including myself) who want to trace the development of an argument. Guess we'll just have to see how far I get before one or both of us check out in whatever way or ways. Maybe this comment will work as a template for a future index post or page.

3. I specifically distinguish between "exceptionalism" and "exceptionality." The exceptionality of the New World is a geographical fact with far-ranging effects on culture and state formation, in other words on history. One need not pinpoint and proclaim a single origin point to support this observation, which may seem too obvious even to require argument, but which for the same reason tends to be forgotten or set aside. Even if we managed to re-assemble Pangaea, the former separation of the nations by the oceans and the late settlement and development of former North America would still influence human culture uniquely or "exceptionally."

"There are no origins" is reminiscent of similar claims typical of the skeptical and eventually nihilistic position or pseudo-position, as in "there are no causes," "there is no reality," "truth is an illusion," "consciousness is an artificial construct," "nothing matters," and so on. In other words, it's one of those seemingly possibly or certainly true statements that no one truly believes or can self-consistently think true (in part because truly to believe requires and presumes truth, significance, a conscious being, reality, cause-and-effect, etc.).

4. To me, "global hegemony" isn't the right term for what the US has ever achieved or sought. "Neo-imperialism" is a term that acknowledges similarities and potentially as crucial differences between actual and possible constitutions of power in the world today as compared to previous eras. I like to date the neo-imperium to the birth of the United Nations, not the organization currently housed in New York City, but its immediate precursor, declared and founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in a famous story is said to have excitedly announced the name to Winston Churchill, interrupting the latter in his bath. Churchill is supposed to have said to the startled FDR, "The Prime Minister has nothing to hide from the President of the United States": A worthy and telling origin story, in my view, since, in the Neo-Empire to come, the leaders of the former British Empire would in effect stand naked yet not truly vulnerable before the global "neo-hegemon."

But I'm happy to acknowledge this moment as just one of many candidates for leading origin among origins.

5. I'm not sure why we need to go to the periods, but in any event yours don't differ greatly from mine regarding sub-divisions of the longer "realized neo-imperial" period or "early global era" or Pax Americana. However, the sovereignty of nation-states was already compromised definitively by the new regime of international law, especially under the rather radically transformed international law of war, and in different ways throughout the period prior to the advent of neo-liberalism or financialized neo-liberalism.

As for the "unprecedented condition" of the global hegemon as debtor - everything or anyways much the global hegemon does would tend to be unprecedented, since there would have been, at most, only one other - while among empires in general, financial difficulties up to and including collapse are common.

6. The notion of an "Americanism not in the national and public interest of Americans" is in one sense paradoxical, in another, typically, to be presumed.

Specifically regarding majoritarianism, or simple numerical democratism, the American system today is arguably more majoritarian or majoritarianist than it was at inception, but still is built on numerous qualifications and exceptions against the "tyranny" of "majority faction."

As for the other contradictions you examine from your fourth, "ISTM" paragraph to the end of your comment, they comprise, ISTM, the typical tensions of the modern mixed regime. "Voluntaristic individualism" may propose a universal, but even as such it would not necessarily exhaust the whole: It suggests an essential and irreducible moment, the moment of  (Cartesian, metaphysically individual) "man" in the neo-Judaic trinity of "God-world-man": that possessor of universal rights, of a juridical "person," of "a self," whose political annihilation reveals the worst of worlds.

7. In my view Schmitt happened to understand and also to explain the functioning of the modern state - mass liberal democracy under popular sovereignty (sacrificial communion) in a global state of sates - in ways that Adorno and Arendt, always keen to judge and to justify the urge to judge, something you seem to admire about them, could never allow for themselves. From a unique vantage point Schmitt observed, analyzed, participated in, and anticipated catastrophically apocalyptic or apocalyptically catastrophic developments that were, I believe, anticipated but necessarily only dimly in Hegel's philosophy of world history, and, one might say, prophesied by de Tocqueville as well as by the American founders of the "Empire of Liberty," by the re-founders and "consecraters" of the government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," and by, as already observed, a third set of founders, of the Americanized world state of states, or of the United States of America self-consciously as world-historical power.

8. "World-historical power" is a term derived, as I assume you know, from that Hegelian discourse just referenced. It is a self-consciously "tendentious and teleological" comprehension of history, and I think in this sense Arendt, Adorno, Schmitt, among many others, whatever their differences, are all very much in Hegel's tradition, since all would view history taken as mere assemblage of facts, as one damn thing after another without tendency or telos, as pseudo-history or history without meaning, so history for meaningless people or subjectless subjects, or bourgeois science, or technologism, or ideology unaware of itself as such. More subtly, so therefore more seductively, it would be another one of those nihilisms (nowadays frequently "post-modernisms") that everyone imagines believable, but no one can really believe, yet which are not without power simply for being impossible. (Any inquiry or argument or logic at all must presume their falsehood.) It serves (as) the empty self-consciousness of the empty throne of the American neo-imperial pseudo-state or state of states, which locates and simultaneously dislocates or de-locates or universalizes absolute self-consciousness as telos properly and immanently of spirit creating itself or busy being born, never as simple particular or image or ideological reification.

9. What this all has to do with Syria... I've already been trying to explain, first to myself. I've written extensively on the topic of America as world-historical power, and somewhat intensively on the US in relation to the Middle East, and I've sought to link the two subjects, since current events and the longer historical and especially historical-philosophical view (ought to) illuminate each other even if the attempt brings constant risk of self-deception. The front-line participants in events seek meaning in them in a parallel way: They kill and die for something they perceive to be "transmortal" - greater than their own lives yet for that same reason lending their lives and possibly their deaths a greater meaning in a specifically and self-consciously historical relation. I think it's rather obvious, in fact, and is uppermost in the minds of leading participants, that in the fight between IS and the US, at least two theories of history, or standpoints on world history, or world-historical concepts, are also colliding.

Well, I suppose I just don't understand what your getting at and you're talking past me (and likely many other participants). If you want to criticize (?) others' "presuppositions", then just what are yours and shouldn't you be laying your cards on the table? (And if we're not talking about Syria/the Mideast and U.S. involvement/responsibility there, just what are we supposed to be talking about?)

But from what I can make out of your apparent assumptions here, they strike me as fairly dubious. For one thing the assumption of a continuous American "exceptionalism" from the very origins of the country seems tendentious and teleological. There are no origins, except retrospectively and somewhat mythical, (as opposed to a welter of confused contingencies), and the history of the country is subject to emergences and transformation, resulting is periodizations or "epochs", though only retrospectively identifiable. (History involves both continuities and discontinuities, if it is to be regarded as intelligible, which is what is wrong with Foucault's structural mutations, just as much as traditional unreflective historiography of "the West" as originating in ancient Greece and Rome, as transmitted through the Renaissance and resulting in a triumphant and distinctive Western "humanism").

SO if you want to discuss the U.S. ascendency to global hegemony and its strange from of "neo-imperialism", (without assuming some sort of pre-destination), then perhaps some periodization is in order. And post-WW2, there are two, the Bretton Woods era, and the neo-liberal era, which emerged as a result of the failure of BW and the stagflationary crisis that resulted from it. There is also, of course, the Cold War era that overlaps the two, which ended with American triumphalism, (though with no accounting for its risks and damages, which likely continue with us). But the key point is that the Bretton Woods framework, in Keynes' conception, but also partly in White's, was intended to allow each nation a measure of control over its economic policies, to suit its own peculiar circumstance and allow for its development, with some degree of success. But the neo-liberal era of U.S. sponsored "globalization", (which corresponds to the switch from net creditor to net debtor status and resulted in the unprecedented condition that the global hegemon was an importer rather than exporter of surplus capital), has persistently undermined the sovereignty of nation-states and their capacity to conduct domestic policy, in favor of the extra-territorial power of finance capital and MNCs.

So ISTM that you're rationalizing such a "logic of disintegration" (Adorno) under the guise of intrinsic Americanism, when it is not self-evidently in the national and public interest of Americans, at least conceived as a majoritarian system. But nor is the legitimacy of such a system automatically guaranteed by any sheerly autonomous proceduralism, as if such were immune from manipulation, hollowing-out and "corruption". Yes, power is said to derive from the people, as "sovereign", as is the case in our "democratic" age with nearly all regimes, even the most despotic, but that, of course, is something of a legal fiction. But likewise, the location of "the people" in the essentially private interests of individuals rather than in the public status and compact of citizens,- (rather Hobbesian, that!),- rather undermines the claim to republican self-government, (and at the limit, encourages all sorts of infantilism and paranoia and their manipulation). And it encourages the faith, not uniquely, though especially American, that political problems are susceptible to technological solutions.


I can't quite shake the impression that your perspective seeks to disable all criticism, in the name of the sheer facticity of American power and its demand for "sacrifice", (which is especially absurd in the face of the clusterf*ck that is U.S. Mideast policy over the last 2 decades).. But perhaps rather than appealing to Schmitt, you should be heeding Arendt, with her emphasis on the key role of judgment. (The two could be considered 2 halves of a broken whole, when considering the political)."Great" leaders are to be distinguished by the quality and efficacy of their judgments, regardless of the cause, party or ideology that they serve. Obviously, few completely measure up, (Bismarck or Venizelos might serve as examples though), but the point is that they are just as well subject to the judgments of lesser mortals and to be held accountable in such terms. And when the leadership so persistently fails in its judgments and forfeits the trust, (another version of legitimacy), that they have claimed from the people, then they have dissipated the very power that they have claimed. IOW there is much to be said for the power of self-restraint, for observing limits.

But then perhaps my POV is just unreconcilable with yours. I'm first generation, the offspring of post-war European immigrants and have the betwixt-and-between perspective of an immigrant. I lack the self-confident complacency of "native" Americans and their unreflective assumption that voluntaristic individualism is somehow the natural and "universal" order.

However, here you seem dangerously close to counter-Enlightenment, as if unthinkingness were to be elevated into a supreme virtue,- (and then what next, stupidity and ignorance?)

I'm trying to understand, jch, not to advocate or to praise. As I understand Americanism, it does not locate "supreme virtue" in the administration of government or in policy, including foreign policy. It locates supremacy in the people or popular sovereignty prior to particular governmental (or formal political, administrative, and juridical) forms or actions. In this sense Americanism is pessimistic about government, though optimistic about the prospects for a national community well-guarded against excessive governmental optimism (or "governmentality" as apparently some are saying of late). From this point of view, for the sake of self-government, the government of "checks and balances" must itself by checked and balanced by the government that functions under a different name or under no name, and that is is customarily located in the "private" as opposed to "public" realm.

The theory of the mixed government or polity doesn't presume perfect and immortal success. It's a making the best of a situation (human life on Earth) in which the best in governance (rule by the wise) is either unattainable or, if attainable for a time (the rise of a Cyrus), unsustainable (Cyrus is mortal), and, as such, highly dangerous (succession crises tear apart the state), but I don't have time today to expand upon my parentheses and rehearse the defense of American liberal democracy before the court of history. It's also not my purpose to do so in these comments on Syria policy. As in my initial reply to Professor Quiggin, my objective is to view Syria policy apart from certain presumptions that I also see informing your critique.

I'll just add for now, until some time that I can develop the idea further (or look through places where I already have done so), that "grand strategy" is not the same as "grand design." Grand strategy can be as simple as its premises are stable. It can be seen to emerge more or less spontaneously from particular geographical and broad historical circumstances, and doesn't necessarily require a lot of self-conscious effort, or supreme virtue either, on the part of the people implementing it. For various reasons, that description may apply to America and Americans especially and typically, since we were born on 3rd base geo-historically: exceptionality prior to exceptionalism. To observe as much doesn't make me any more "aggressively Americanist" than natural history turned out to be.

I didn't further reply because I was busy,- (had to organize a meeting),- and by the time I was free, the thread had been over-run by some of the usual spam commenters.

However, here you seem dangerously close to counter-Enlightenment, as if unthinkingness were to be elevated into a supreme virtue,- (and then what next, stupidity and ignorance?)

And I don't think you have much sense, in the current Mid-east crisis, of how much the U.S. has already lost in terms of credibility and legitimacy, from both ostensible allies or friends and opponents and irremediable enemies. (This is also more general, as with the German finance minister blaming the U.S. for the GFC, which is not entirely incorrect, but, of course, blame-shifting for German stupidity in dealing with the Euro crisis).

You don't get to make drastic "mistakes" and then simply declare "time out" and ask for a do-over. The "mistakes" already have consequences and implications, and trying to cover up that fact, at home or abroad, is bootless. And by now, the concatenation of mistakes piling up has left few viable options. In the case of Daesh it is not simply enough to defeat it, but a viable source of local/regional "legitimate" rule in the aftermath needs to be formed. And the U.S. has no basis in the region for doing so. (Aside from the fact that one pick-up costs $30.000 and one bombing run costs $500,000).

Power, however generated or arrived at, can be used effectively or heedlessly squandered. There is something like a conservation law involved. And whether it is Albright/Clinton or Cheney/Rumsfeld or the shallow Obama and his patently hypocritical moralizers, too much has been presumptuously and imcompetently squandered for any "grand strategy" based on geo-political alliances to be recuperated and rendered effective, rather than just reactive and ad hoc. Gratuitous moralizing stands revealed as just empty moralizing, and abstracting into ahistorical "theological" history, as opposed to actual temporal history, just rationalizes the problems away.

The underlying justification will be in the first instance that the truly legitimate representatives of the Syrian people - i.e., not Assad, viewed as having lost legitimacy - will request and require assistance.

The possibility of force and the will to use it have not hitherto proven susceptible to the wish for their non-existence, meaning either that people will have to give in to whoever possesses it or call upon force of their own. So if absence of force is desirable, but not obtainable, and if giving in is not acceptable, then the question always comes down to the effort of putting preponderant force on the side of desirable ends. That formula even holds true for Gandhian pacifism, which of course relies on "soul-force" as a theoretically higher and more just or absolutely just means to compel obedience.

The discussions about rebuilding the Syrian government by outsiders just... What gives anyone other than Syrians the right to even attempt to decide how things go in Syria?

Why is it so far-fetched to desire a world, if it is to be interconnected, that is so by peaceful commerce & discussion rather than by being constantly reconfigured by whoever has the most & best arms? What gives anyone the right to claim such authority AT ALL?

Does it all simply come down to "we can, so we will"?