Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Should We Celebrate Columbus Day?



Yesterday someone whose opinion I greatly respect offered his opinion that we shouldn’t celebrate Columbus Day, due to the facts of Christopher Columbus’ brutality with the Native Americans he encountered. I found myself playing Columbus’ advocate. I am not a blind supporter of all the things he did wrong, nor am I ignorant of the explorers that landed on the shores of this continent before Columbus. Napoleon Bonaparte once famously quipped, “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” It seems the agreements are changing. In deference to natives to this country, I understand the interest in that change. My concern is, we ought not throw out the baby with the bath water. As a person who has lived and worked in Latin America and Spain and presently works with a Native American tribe, let me offer a few thoughts.

Discovery Rights:

Evidence shows that Norsemen reached the American Continent probably 400 to 500 years before Columbus. They were not raiders, but Christian settlers who had been converted to Christianity about 50 years before their first probable contact with the “new world.” Some studies suggest some Irish explorers may also have stumbled upon this continent hundreds of years before 1492. Possibly 70 years before Columbus, the Chinese seafarer Zheng may not only have discovered this continent, but could possibly have circumnavigated the globe. And what of the ancient peoples who first traveled here by North Pacific land bridges or by boat from the “old world” and first populated this land? They were truly the first discoverers, weren’t they? How can someone “discover” a place if it is already populated?

My thought here is: Many may have discovered America before Christopher Columbus. But he was the first to “get published.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said it this way: “Every ship that now comes to America got its chart from Columbus.” Maybe his greatest feat was that he found this new continent at that time in history when printing was becoming ubiquitous and communications, although rudimentary, were becoming global. Historian George Santayana suggests, “Columbus found a world, and had no chart, Save one that faith deciphered in the skies. He gave the world another world.”

Columbus had an idea (which turned out to be wrong). He wasn’t looking for a new land, but a shortcut to the spices of India and East Asia. He didn’t even know where he was when he got there. But his ambition, determination, and courage changed the course of human history—for good and bad. Isn’t that the story of many great discoveries? Serendipity and good fortune don’t change the fact that Columbus was willing to sail beyond the horizon.

Columbus the Man:

Many today highlight Columbus' mistreatment of the gentle and peace-loving Arawaks he encountered in the Caribbean. But how many people are aware that one of the reasons the Arawaks welcomed the Europeans so warmly was their fear of the Carib Indians who were, as one modern historian puts it, "then expanding across the Lesser Antilles and literally eating the Arawaks up"? In interest of equal treatment, Mr Williams of the modern Carib tribe states: "Our ancestors stood up against early European conquerors and because they stood up… we were labeled savages and cannibals up to today.”

No matter the actual state of tribal relations in the 1400’s, that era and human history in general was a brutal affair. Native tribes made conquest of other tribes with battles counting thousands of deaths and at key intersections, the genocide of some groups. Europe was conquered by Goths, Gaelic’s, Gaul’s, Magyars, and Moors. In fact, the same year the Spanish Crown outfitted Columbus with his small armada, the last Moorish stronghold of Granada surrendered to the Spanish monarchy after nearly 800 years of presence on the Iberian Peninsula. Columbus was a marketer. He went to Spain, the Silicon Valley of his era, as an entrepreneur pitching to venture capitalists. He played on the Crusader frustrations that Islam had retaken Jerusalem. As Spain had just overcome the Moors, he pledged all gold he might find to the reconquest of the Holy land, a powerful vision to the Catholic monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabella. No, Columbus was certainly not perfect, but he should be judged by the motives of his age, not by our enlightened perspectives of equality and global humanity.

Near the end of his life, Columbus recorded: “I am a most noteworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous Presence.”

The Impact of His Voyages:

I will forgo a discussion of the age of Exploration and the economic, cultural, and social impacts--both good and bad, of Columbus' "discovery," to keep this post shorter than it could be and focus on ethics as this seems to be the greatest issue of discontent.

European cultural arrogance and its violation of universal human and political rights lived vibrantly for centuries before and after Columbus’ voyage. Yet no other culture in the world conceived of universal respect for human persons and the embodiment of that principle in international law prior to European development of these doctrines-prodded in part by the encounter with “New World” natives.

And what of these natives? Native religion and life were, whatever their shortcomings, clearly not the creation of irrational brutes. The Spanish crown was so sensitive to these moral arguments that in 1550 it ordered all military activity to cease in the Americas and created a royal commission at Valladolid to examine Spain's behavior in the New World. No other growing empire in history has ever similarly interrupted itself to take up moral issues. Ultimately, greed and ineffective Spanish administration led to the abuses we know of and the fame of La Leyenda Negra, the Black Legend, but the commission did bring about penalties for some of the worst offenders, as well as certain reforms in administration and policy.


Of note, Bartolomea de las Casas, the widely acclaimed Dominican priest who defended the Indians, went so far as to argue that even human sacrifice and cannibalism among the natives should not be held against them because both practices showed deep reverence and a spirit of sacrifice towards the Almighty. At Valladolid, Las Casas argued against Juan Gineas de Sepualveda, another theologian, that Indians were human beings. Sepualveda rejected that argument, but to establish his case he had to try to prove that reason was so weak in the Indians that, left to themselves, they could not live according to reason. Those who knew the “New World,” could not but accept the fact that the Indians were doing just fine before the European conquerors showed up.

We now take it for granted that even nations deeply alien to us have a right to their own territory and culture, but it is largely due to the reflections begun by Francisco de Vitoria, a Dominican theologian and friend of Las Casas, that we have such principles. Vitoria was highly respected by the Spanish king, who appointed him to several royal commissions (unfortunately, he died before the great debate at Valladolid). But Vitoria did not hesitate to tell the monarch that he had no right to lands occupied by Indians, nor could he make slaves out of rational beings. Furthermore, Vitoria went so far as to call the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, in which the Pope ceded lands to the Spanish and Portuguese, improper because the pontiff did not have temporal sovereignty over the earth, particularly over lands already occupied by natives. Later, Pope Pius III, who in response to reports from the New World proclaimed in his 1537 encyclical Sublimis Deus:

Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by the Christians are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen it shall be null and of no effect. . . . By virtue of our apostolic authority we declare . . . that the said Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God and by the example of good and holy living.


In short, we should recall that ethical developments, too, are a consequence of Columbus.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Books on Understanding America

Several people have recently asked me for a list of books to read about America. I thought of many biographies of leaders (Fawn Brodie’s Thomas Jefferson, David McCullough’s John Adams, James Thomas Flexner’s Washington, etc. up through contemporary books on Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Presidents, Industrialists, Philanthropists, Social Workers and Reformers, and so on), as well as philosophers, and religious writers—some of which I have mentioned in earlier posts in this blog, so you can look back at those. I considered several outstanding textbooks, of which I have also quoted from earlier. There are also some fictional novels, historical novels, and historical reviews that will get you thinking like: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Gore Vidal’s Burr, Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and a host of others by his son Jeff, others by Michener and Manchester, Robert Penn Warren’s World Enough and Time..., and I could go one for hours before I even get to the elementary through high school standard reading list. Instead I offer just a couple books that actually aren’t my favorites and in the case of Raintree County I am cautious about even suggesting it (see the blog link I offer on the book below).

On the other hand, these books are quoted so often and read by those who then write some of the books above—and are almost never read (except for the quotes others offer) by most people. I put out a request for others to add to the list of the less read literature that explains America and the United States in particular.

Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville

Raintree County, Ross Lockridge

The First New Nation, by Martin Lipset

The Road Not Taken. An Introduction to Robert Frost, Louie Undermeyer

Of course these books barely brush the surface of the evolution of American thought, the American Character and the continuing saga of the “great experiment.” We Americans, in general, are in such a hurry to solve the problem (whatever the problem at hand is) and to keep it pretty simple, and because of our keen interest in things local and surface understanding of things global we assume our success defines our right to transmit our form of government and life, norms, and culture on the rest of the world—yet we rarely stop to study them ourselves. Without a foundation in our history and a conception of the ideas that got us where we are, the problems we face sometimes seem insurmountable. Anxiety and mistrust in our system of government can rapidly expand in this environment. Americans know so much. We area literate and affluent society and the we enjoy the best advantages of the information age. A car bomb goes off in Beirut and my mother knows about it her little community in the California foothills within minutes. After awhile this affects our thinking. Is our society about to collapse under the weight of this glut of information? “This is the worst it’s ever been! We’ve never had so many problems before,” we hear people lament. My question is: what are we so afraid of?

I have recently heard college age youth suggest this must be the worst time in our country’s history to be starting out in life. It is as if they never heard of British Naval impressment gangs who gave aspiring college students the opportunity to see the world whether they wanted to or not. Maybe they haven’t heard about the class of 1861 who were educated at Bull Run and Antietum, or the class of 1932 who did their postgraduate work on the street corners selling apples, or the class of 1943 who had the Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima to look forward to. And what about those among the doubters who are minorities? These Americans know today’s headlines but they have only a fleeting sense of the greatness of their history, only the mediated negative impact of the worst of it. I have a college who longs to return to the 1890’s. The system seemed to work better then. My wife’s father used to say the same things about the 1950’s. In both eras though, there was a strict conformity that sat over the land. In the words of Charles Kuralt, “most Americans, blind to charity and justice, regard the nation as a finished product.” But what great changes have been made since 1890 and 1950! What the Vietnamese, Chinese, Haitian, Dominican, and Cuban boat people, former Soviet dissidents, Latin American migrants and many others know and risk their lives for, what many Americans have forgotten, but what history can teach us is that the United States is where problems yield to energy and often solutions. We certainly have our warts and blemishes. And no country is better at publicizing them. I know what Montaigne meant when he said, “The present lies full of the past and pregnant for the future.” I can never be a doubter and only wish the nay sayers about our future would spend a little more time studying the past.

The common thread of the American Experiment and especially of this time in our history is the idea of equality. When you read De Tocqueville you will come across this time and again, as when he said:

Among the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of condition among the people. I readily discovered the prodigious influence that this primary fact exercises on the whole course of society; it gives peculiar direction to public opinion and a peculiar tenor to the laws; it imparts new maxims to the governing authorities and peculiar habits to the governed.

Professor Stiles in Raintree County joins yet another spectrum of doubters in American society who equate equality with the lowest common denominator. The “perfessor” explains,

If Socrates were living today, the Perfessor said, he’d be reduced to sitting on a cracker-barrel outside Joe’s Saloon chewing tobacco and telling dirty stories. That’s what America does to greatness. The Greeks were way ahead of us. They never made the mistake of attaching undue importance to the individual.


We need a greater perspective on the idea of equality and a better understanding of the fallacies of the lowest common denominator. Jazz, big band music, comic books, Rogers and Hammerstein musicals and The Cosby Show are classics in their own right. Certainly some of our “cracker-barrel philosophers” have uttered some classic American thoughts.

“Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human sole.” Mark Twain. “Out of our beliefs are born our deeds, Out of our deeds we form our habits. Out of our habits grow our character. On our character we build our destinations.” Vince Lombardi. “Be sure you’re right, the go ahead.” Davy Crockett. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt.


On area of American thought on equality I wish we could all spend more time considering centers on our pioneer heritage. Not all of American greatness is born on the East Coast. We have always been a westward looking nation. As Archibald MacLeish said, “East were the Dead Kings and the remembered sepulchers: West was the grass.”

One of my mentors, Dr. Frank Teti once declared, “the military is on the landscape.” As a former Air Force officer I have always felt a special stewardship to understand what I have sworn to defend. Sir William Francis Butler suggested, “The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.” I have attempted in my life to be neither. Inside my class ring from the U.S. Air Force Academy, I have the last line of the well know Robert Frost poem Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening. It reads, “And miles to go before I sleep.” Another of his poems, Sitting by a Bush in Broad Sunlight also manifests to me in American simplicity, Duty, Honor, Country. The first represents the apex of duty: promises to be kept, obligations to fulfill. The second poem compliments the first in reminding us of what we stand for by ending on a note of persistent faith. The concern of the compatibility of the military and democratic society is answered with: there is something more important than the individual, and that is protecting the rights of individuals. John Stuart Mill highlighted this principle with the statement,

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.


We don’t all have to join the military—thank goodness we don’t—to be better people. Our war is now here at home—to make this country a better place than it is. To study the old books as C.S. Lewis suggested. To discover and celebrate the principles that will carry us forward. To step up and do our part. To step out of the present partisan divides that tear down and work together to build up. Yes, there are differing visions of how to accomplish that building—so go back to the principles—they are universal and apply to everyone, everywhere, always. That isn’t political or partisan. To find them we need to dig into the best books. Add your list here if you like, or email me as you have been doing.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Impact of Japan's Populist Shift

I have lived and worked in Japan. Two of our children were born in Japan. I have traveled professionally and for pleasure throughout Asia and most recently have completed international business doctoral studies at Fudan University in China. I have walked Invasion Beach on Iwo Jima and climbed to the top of Mt Sarabachi as well as Mount Fuji. I have visited the home of a successful Japanese businessman that had his ancestors’ Samurai Sword hanging on the wall. This man did not speak English because that was the language of the enemy. Yet he demanded that his children learn English, because Japan was the greatest nation on earth, but was beaten by the United States so they were a worthy opponent. The most fascinating Japanese person I have met was Saburo Sakai, the naval aviator and ace. Sushi was a staple in our diet at home since the 1970’s, long before it became a popular food item in other parts of the world. I have had long conversations with sushi chefs in little hamlets outside of Hiroshima (one of which still was tested weekly for radiation levels as a nuclear bomb survivor). For almost a year I visited a construction site of a building being built for a U.S. enterprise by a Japanese firm, interviewing the principle engineers and his staff, and published several academic papers on my findings. All that being said, I am the first to say I am not a Japanese expert. From aimai (ambiguity) and amakudari (the nation’s descent from heaven) to haragei (literally, "belly art"; implicit, unspoken communication) and Wah (harmony), Japan defies easy explanation. Perhaps my sister who is fluent in Japanese and studied at Wasada University in Tokyo could be considered more of an expert, but alas this is my blog, so I will endeavor to offer my imperfect thoughts.

Japan, by the end of 2010 will no longer be the world’s second largest economy. That position will be usurped by China. Nearly a third of Japan’s population will be pensioners with government guaranteed benefits (although not at the same level as the EU and the U.S.), but with unemployment at its highest post WWII rates and the global economy trying to find its way out of recession, tax income will be lower to support those pensioners. Interestingly, like choices made in many other countries recently, the people of Japan have made a populist choice in their 2009 elections.

Most political pundits suggest no immediate changes in U.S. relations with Japan following the election of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and Yukio Hatoyama as Prime Minister.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that has ruled post-war Japan with little regard for other political influences is now in the loyal opposition seat. No matter what the potential policy changes, the DPJ will be flexing its muscles and the LDP will struggle in adjusting its processes to influence from the minority.

The DPJ has an aggressive domestic agenda that will keep it preoccupied in the short-term and if anything, will support U.S. National Interests by giving the U.S. some adjustment time as it continues to mend some of its own international bridges. Hatoyama’s populist agenda (clothed in a kamishimo of conservatism and a haori of traditionalism) will not look at all like the new populist agendas in Latin America (but should play well in Brazil, Japan’s biggest partner south of the Rio Grande). The U.S. should expect a shift and even a closer alignment with the Obama administration’s populist perspectives.

The first public outing that includes both the U.S. and Japan will be the G-20 Summit in the U.S. in September. The U.S. can expect a little push-back from Japan on U.S. global economic solutions that include expanded American-style free trade, but also some minor celebration of common ground and coalition building between both countries on a host of topics from medical system modernization, climate and environmental issues, and policies regarding common enemies.

On the issues of common enemies, over time the U.S. can expect friction from the DPJ on the housing and support of nearly 50,000 American troops on Japanese soil. The move of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, started under the LDP will accelerate and be completed before the 2014 deadline. The brunt of the cost ($6 billion of the $10 billion price tag) presently being born by Japan will be a topic of discussion and there will probably be an adjustment made to appease the DPJ. Hatoyama in his recent New York Times article suggests a shift in focus to closer alignment with China and South Korea, and other East Asian countries, but that a cornerstone of the Japanese security alignment will be its relationship with the U.S. In recent years, the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) has expanded its roles, while still maintaining the breadth and depth of its capabilities and operations as outlined in the Japanese Constitution. The world can expect the JSDF to continue to expand its multinational security operations as it expands the interpretation of its constitutional roles. Koizumi’s and Abae’s promises to amend Article 9 allowing Japan’s military to venture abroad will be set on the shelf for the time being. No actual revision of the constitution releasing the Japanese military from its strict self-defense roles is anywhere on the horizon.

Japanese relations with Russia, India, and Australia will also see a shift in focus. Hatoyama has vowed to find a solution to the long-standing feud over territorial disputes with Russia. Of course Russia is the present owner of what Japan wants back, so I see little movement there. Japanese and Indian interests continue to find common ground as India looks East and Japan expands its role in Asia. India’s concern of China establishing “too friendly” of ties with Pakistan and Bangladesh may accelerate Indian-Japanese relations. Free trade interests and raw materials fuel closer ties between Japan and Australia... although the accelerated expansions of the Yakuza and the 'Boryokudan' (the violent ones) into Australia have not helped matters.

Japan and the DPJ will be looking for more respect and a leading role in the international arena. Initially they will attempt to make good on their domestic election promises, but their international interests are closely connected to many of the domestic issues challenging Japan. U.S. national interests will not be severely tried with this change in the Japanese political landscape.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

U.S National Interest: Further Synthesis


The U.S. National Interest is complex and constantly in a state of transformation. Clues to this complexity are found in the American common identity. The concept of common identity is made up of shared values on the metaphysical level, norms as a manifestation of the general view of reality on the second level, and expressive symbols as a manifestation of specific theories, goals, and expectations. Each of these identity building blocks plays a key role in the subjective definition and perception of national interests, and as interpreters of events that impact the national interest. Shared values in the American common identity are the product of three metaphysical schools of thought, the noumenalists, naturalists and bridge builders. Through a selective investigation of some of the theories and theorists from these schools, we found that the actual shared values of the American metaphysic combine elements of all these theories, and that the overriding principle is to make the journey prove the end. The direct end no longer needs to be noumenalist or naturalist. Progress and anticipation of the future become the purpose of life. The ideal end may still be in contention, but as Unamuno explains, it is this conflict which unifies action—life! American norms reflect this important synthesis. Through investigation of the Federalist Papers, a clearer picture of these norms, and their impact on the common identity, forms. Distrust in man, but a generally optimistic attitude about his potential shines through. Although the nation has changed in many ways, America still manifests these characteristics in the Madisonian Model and in our “low stateness” and “low classness.” I then interject a caution concerning the fragility and balance of he common identity as a reminder of the importance of countervailing forces to progress and survival of our nation. Finally, through investigation of the Constitution, the importance, especially in America, of expressive symbols is highlighted. Through these three building blocks, the American common identity is defined to encompass progress in the maintenance and expansion of the open society, the requirement to continually grow economically to support a stable and increasingly liberal democracy, and the view of America as “the first new nation,” with all the blessings and responsibilities this implies. Even though there may be a variety of nations with the Nation, this only further highlights the binding element of the duality of soul inherent at every level of America and where all hold these truths inviolable.

With the common identity established, a general outline of the American national interest is built. By using Joseph Frankel’s national interest classification model and a concise case study of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, a clearer picture of U.S. national interests is presented and the linkages with the American common identity shine through. On the aspirational level, American national interests are first, to preserve and protect the Madisonian Model; second to preserve and protect the right to progress (in domestic political liberalization), domestic and foreign market economics, and democratization abroad to maintain our “great nation” status and position as leader of the “free world;” and lastly, to preserve and protect the right to self-actualization. On the operational level, stability becomes the key factor in the context of security, economic interests and political solidarity. Finally, by projecting this common identity synthesis toward the future, the potential for further synthesis and progress is bright. Friction between aspirational and operational interests in Latin America is increasing. The American will to apply aspirations to operational issues is highlighted in the push for substantive democracy for democracy’s sake, not as a means to another end (as it started out to be). As long as America can maintain some form of progress and synthesis and the people’s commitment remains strong, America will continue its great synthesis and national interest will maintain a predictable and stable course. The greatest danger to this process lies in the potential deterioration of the noumenalist counterweight to naturalism. With an overpowering naturalistic (and therefore, potentially valueless) society, the pivotal synthesis of the American experiment will cease and decay will eventually triumph.

A request came my way to clarify Joseph Frankel’s National Interest categories. Here are the characteristics of Aspirational and Operational Interests (Joseph Frankel, National Interest, 1970, pp. 32-33):

Aspirational Characteristics:
1. They are normally long-term interests
2. They are generally rooted in history and /or ideology
3. They command more attention from opposition free of the restraints of, and the preoccupation with, the tasks of governing then from the actual government. Within political parties they are concerned with ideological purity.
4. Even when they do not directly influence actual policy, they can provide purpose or direction, or at the least, a sense of hope
5. They need not be fully articulated and coordinated and they can be contradictory
6. They do not require a ‘feasibility study’ and are rarely if ever costed
7. They are determined by the political will rather than by capabilities—ideology is a strong determinant. The influence of power is ambivalent: while an ambition may be due to the people’s awareness of the power of their state, it can be likewise due to their awareness of their powerlessness and their escape into daydreams

Operational Characteristics:
1. They are usually short-term interests, capable of achievement within the foreseeable future
2. They often, but not exclusively, stem from consideration of expediency of necessity
3. They are the predominant concern of the government and /or party in power
4. They are used in a descriptive rather than normative form
5. Owing to the practical problems of implementation, contradictions among them are less easily tolerated than among aspirations
6. They are generally translated into policies which are based upon the assessment of their prospects of success and which can be at least approximately costed
7. The crucial variable in tier determination is found in capabilities rather than in political will. Hence the hypothesis can be advanced that classification of states by power is here more relevant than by ideology. It is likely that all small states, whatever their ideology, merely react to overwhelming international stimuli; with them policy is distinct from positive purpose
8. They can be systematically arranged into maximum and minimum programs, the former approximating aspirational interests. Such arrangement, however, depends upon systematic planning of foreign policy and rarely, if ever, actually takes place; only Soviet foreign policy in some aspects can be regarded as a reasonable example.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The U.S. National Interest in Latin America


The U.S. national interest, succinctly put, is the states’s most vital needs which represent the whole society. Through the concept of common identity we can derive both the perception of society and the representative nature of vital interest concerns. Before defining America’s specific national interests though, one final concept must be understood, that of national interest classification. Joseph Frankel’s national interest classification is a useful tool toward this end. He separates national interests into Aspirational, operational, explanatory, and polemical categories. The defining characteristics of these categories help correlate national interests with foreign policy actions, thus offering a clearer picture of the interests themselves.

Frankel defines aspirational interests as “...the vision of the good life, ... some ideal set of goals which the state would like to realize if this were possible.” (Joseph Frankel, National Interest, 1970, p. 31.). These interests may not be actively pursued, but are still politically relevant. This category is helpful in highlighting the general direction desired by a nation or state. Given the opportunity and capabilities, they may shift to the next category, operational interests. Lars Schoultz points our (although not in these terms) that United States policy makers placed great importance on this concept in relation to the Soviet Union in Latin America. (Lars Schoultz, National Security and United States Policy Toward Latin America, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 109.) Most United States policy makers today know they would be incorrect in putting first priority importance (immediate operational significance) on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez’ anti American populist agenda in Latin America for example, but would be incorrect in not considering it at all. With the right circumstances, Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, and until recently, Honduras’ Manuel Zelaya have displayed the willingness to make this goal operational. In short, political will rather than capabilities determines aspirational interests and are an outgrowth of perceived power or are “daydreams” of the powerless. Chavez’ petro fueled populism has nearly drained the coffers and he suffers a less than 50 percent approval rating. Zelaya was removed from power in a military coup. Ortega is in desperate need of international aid. Ecuador's Rafael Correa, and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez and her husband, Nestor Kirchner, which unofficially identify with the populist movement are also on the ropes. Only Morales, who is his country’s first indigenous President, enjoys continued popularity. Even in these hard times, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Uruguay's Tabare Vazquez , who have distanced themselves from Chavez’ more belligerent policies, are enjoying strong support. So even with populist leaders on the ropes, their aspirational interests are driving them to manipulations to hold onto power. The United States, on the other hand, has no aspirational interest to concern them presently as it was so preoccupied with the Soviet Union’s influence in Latin America three or four decades ago.

“On the operational level, national interest refers to the sum total of interests and policies actually pursued.” (Frankel, p.32.) These interests are determined by capabilities rather than political will. Friction is inevitable between these two levels due to their differing characteristics (see Frankel for more details), divergence between aspirations, and concrete results, institutional tensions between policy makers and policy executors, and generally how these interests evolve. Operational interests are derived inductively, by adding up single elements, with overriding concern on implementation and cost. Aspirational interests, on the other hand, are the product of deductive reasoning, with principles as the guiding force, usually without considering cost or implementation. Political actors use the explanatory and polemical categories of national interests to explain, evaluate, rationalize and criticize actual foreign policy. Official statements, documents, debates, and media discussion are sources of these categories. The explanatory level supports the present policy, while the polemical level argues for change. Although these last two categories are the most prolific sources of data, they may also be the most misleading indicators of actual national interest because of hidden agendas, nuances of political rhetoric, tradition, etc.

The aspirational national interests of the United States, as derived form the common identity, are:
• Preserve and protect the Madisonian Model
• Preserve and protect the right to progress, in domestic political liberalization, domestic and foreign market expansion, and democratic expansion beyond the borders in order to maintain our “great nation” status and leader (moral and economic) of the world. The rhetoric has been toned down significantly since the departure of the neo-conservatives from direct execution power.
• Preserve and protect the right to self-actualization (to make real choices beyond social and economic freedom).

On an operational level, United States national interests consist of:
• Maintenance of political and economic stability
• Stopping terrorism and insurgency
• Establishment of solidarity of interests and actions with allies

Within the context of Latin America, the links between the American common identity and American national interests become clearer. U.S. aspirational interests most closely parallel the metaphysical values in the American experiment. We view our ties with Latin America as a “special relationship.” The Western Hemisphere is the “new country,” separated from the “old world.” Democracy and freedom are for all mankind, and our closest neighbors should benefit from what we have accomplished. Within this aspirational framework are tow general categories of ideas: the Western Hemisphere idea and the Democratic Mission idea. The Western Hemisphere idea encompasses notable foreign policy actions such as the No Transfer Policy (1811), the Monroe Doctrine (1823, the Pan American Movement (1880), the Good Neighbor Policy (1920-1945), the RIO Pact (1947), the Organization of American States (1948), the Alliance for Progress (1960), and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (1983-Present). In actuality, western hemisphere solidarity is very illusionary. Some have even suggested it is just a front for sponsoring a more rigid, hegemonic relationship such as the sphere of influence concept. Under the Democratic Mission concept are President Wilson’s stand on Mexico and its revolution, President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress/democratization initiatives, President Carter’s human rights initiatives, and the democratization initiatives of Presidents Reagan and George Bush. Many see the Latin America legacies of Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush as missed opportunities. President Obama’s first months in office suggest a possible renewed interest in Latin America. His Op-Ed article published in most large papers in Latin America, Choosing a Better Future in the Americas and attendance at the Summit of the Americas both received an enthusiastic welcome. He will have to do more than listen in relation to issues like the recent Honduran coup. Again, contradictions seem to suggest the Democratic Mission is also mostly illusion.
On the operational level, Latin America highlights some of the key concepts of our common identity. First, because of our “low state,” “low class” foundation, foreign policy in this area of the world has been fairly unconstrained. Only a select few interest groups, ad hoc groups and pressure groups are concerned with specifics in the region. Riker’s minimalist coalition building model applies here, causing a partial breakdown in the Madisonian Model. Mr. Kissinger famously summed up the general feeling toward Latin America (in terms of operational national interests) when he said in 1969, “What ever happens in the South is of no importance.” U.S. interests have predominantly been East-West in orientation, and even the “important” Latin American interests are connected to the outlook. Historically then, our operational interests have centered on three issues: security, economics, and politics. Due to our common identity, these issues are translated to mean stability. Instability has been seen as a threat to security, the free market capitalism, and as an exploitable opportunity to our political and ideological enemies. This fear of insecurity, combined with “low stateness” (which tends to simplify complex issues, narrows the questions and options, and permits urgent issues to override long term important issues) has led to the most open society in the world to support authoritarian dictators and military coups. In general, American operational national interests have dictated a reactive and regressive foreign policy in Latin America. Only in a few instances has the contradiction between aspirational and operational interests caused serious political friction. Even those policies which offer rays of hope for long-term justice have tended to impose the American common identity on Latin America as a means to other ends, not as an end in itself. Was the reason for U.S. support of the 1954 Guatemalan coup to build a foundation for democracy by tearing down an imposed communist government, or were American private economic interests groups (United Fruit Company) being threatened? The same question could be asked about the 1973 overthrow of Allende in Chile. Would the Alliance for Progress gone forward if Cuba hadn’t been “lost?” There is enough possible truth in both sides of the argument to not be completely sure.

Relatively recently (the past 30 years), new reforms in American national interest application in Latin America has taken place. Whether inadvertent (rhetoric leading to perception leading to policy), or by plan, the United States has begun to put democratization for democratization’s sake ahead of economic and less than vital security interests in Latin America. The same cannot be said for other part of the globe (e.g. Iraq). Most recently, a new group of policy makers has cautiously begun to accept instability for justice; Aquinas and Locke triumph over Hobbes. Our initial concern with democratization was of the “top down” version. Procedural democracy was imposed through elections in the hope that it would “dribble down.” With the recent wave of “bottom-up” democratization movements

in the last decades of the 20th century in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Haiti, and the Philippines, the United States has sacrificed some political and economic interests in support of substantive democracy. These fledgling democracies are not required, as in the past to be a replica of the U.S. system of government, or mirror our political spectrum of party interests. In the past, U.S. policy makers viewed the Radical Party in Argentina (Christian Democrats) as too far left to be trusted. Not only are they now supported, the U.S. was a supporter to put pressure on the IMF and the World Bank to refinance Argentina’s foreign debt at a loss to U.S. financiers. The Madisonian Model is also at work on the issue of the Central American imbroglio. The most recent synthesis has opened political space that has brought the Central American nations closer to peaceful progress that they ever have been in three decades. Restraint and reform have begun to replace reaction and regression.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Expressive Symbols: Manifestation of Values and Norms

The third level in the construction of common identity is encompassed by expressive symbols. It is this level that influences the largest number of people. Most people do not consider their actions and reactions to events on the second level, let alone the first level of the common interest. This is especially true in the “low state,” “low class” society in America. In fact, in America estimates of the “informed public” (those who would most likely consider analysis on the second or first levels... and who are quite possibly this country’s natural aristocracy) range around 15 percent. That leaves 85 percent of the population that is almost exclusively drawn into the common identity by expressive symbols. This situation highlights the pivotal importance of such symbols as the Constitution of the United States of America. It represents the metaphysical ideas of Plato’s Locke’s and Hobbes’ tripartite government; the balance between Hobbes and Locke; the separation of church and state as Augustine called for; the potential and dangers of democracy as seen by Thucydides; interest group formulation as called for by Harrington; the inalienable rights of Locke and Rousseau; the “We the People” concept of Rousseau; the “More Perfect Union” of Aristotle; the “Justice” required by Aquinas and Locke; the “Domestic Tranquility” and order called for by Hobbes, Aristotle, and Burke; the “Common Defense” of Plato, Augustine, and Hobbes; the “General Welfare” of Aristotle, Locke, and Rousseau; and the “Blessings of Liberty” of Aquinas, Locke and Rousseau.

To more fully comprehend the importance of expressive symbols, we will take a closer look at the Constitution. This single, amazing document had made it possible for the American experiment to continue to progress to the present day. Not only is it the foundation of America’s democratic experiment, but it is also the foundation of America’s bridge building metaphysic. In looking back in retrospect over the past six thousand years of human history, never has such a document been created, or such an experiment attempted. Freedom’s moments have been fleeting and often flawed. In the words of Ezra Taft Benson,

From Nimrod to Napoleon, the conventional political ideology has been that the rights of life, liberty, and property were subject to a sovereign’s will, rather than God-given. We live in one of history’s most exceptional moments—in a nation and a time of unprecedented freedom. Freedom as we know it has been experienced by perhaps less than one percent of the human family... (Ezra Taft Benson, The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986, p.3.)

The constitution is of pivotal importance in the American experiment because it embodies the law by which progress has thus far enjoyed. The American Republic stand on the principles that without law there is no “sin;” without “sin” there is no righteousness and therefore no happiness. The naturalist might counter that, without “sin” there is no punishment and therefore no happiness, but this happiness is only hedonism and cannot be enjoyed by all because as the philosopher would explain, Kant’s categorical imperative has been rejected. Freedom and rights either have a noumenalist foundation of divine inspiration, or they are granted by government as part of a political plan. If we accept the naturalist argument that they are granted by government, then we must accept the corollary that they can be taken away by government. Most Americans would rebel at the idea. As America has moved closer to the naturalist view point though, government has seized the opportunity to exert itself. For instance, many agencies that are not represented by the people now have the power to make laws and regulations restricting citizens (with no power for citizens to recall the law by vote) which is unconstitutional. At some point the common man will realize the American metaphysic and norms have been violated and he may rebel (hopefully within the law of the republic). The critical question is, will he see the linkage between these losses and the absence of the countervailing force of noumenalism? It would do America well if it were to look at what those men at the time of the creation of the Constitution had to say about it. Some examples suggested by Ezra Taft Benson are:

Rights are not gifts from one man to another, nor from one class to another.... It is impossible to discover any origin of rights otherwise that the origin of man; it consequently follows that rights appertain to man in right of his existence, and must therefore be equal to every man... Thomas Paine, The Political Writings of Thomas Paine, Boston: J.P. Mendun, 1870.)



Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? (Thomas Jefferson, quoted in David C. Whitney, ed. Founders of Freedom in America, Chicago, J.G. Ferguson Publishing Co. , 1965)


Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other... (John Adams, quoted in John R. Howe, Jr., The Changing Political Thought of John Adams, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).


It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to ur belief in the critical stage of the revolution. (James Madison, Federalist Paper #37, quoted in David C. Whitney, Founders of Freedom in America).


And one "post Constitution publication" thought:

Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it wsa the fact that life, liberty and property existed before hand that caused men to make laws in the first place. (French political economist Frederic Bastiat, The Law, trans. Dean Russell, New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1950).

Expressive symbols, therefore, can come to connote different norms and values with the passing of time. Again, the echo of Burke is heard calling for caution when tampering with tradition. With care though, expressive symbols will maintain a direct link to norms and values. Together, values, norms, and symbols make it possible to construct and maintain a common identity. This common identity, in turn, provides the solidarity, and meaning to justify past actions, explain the present, and set the course and goals for the future. For America, this common identity manifests a country concerned with its own progress in three areas. First, America is striving for maintenance and progressive expansion of the open society. Second, America needs to continually grow economically to support a stable and increasingly liberal democracy. Third, America is the “first new nation.” This democratic experiment should expand beyond our own borders and be enjoyed by all humankind—by example, not by force. The lofty concepts of individual freedom, happiness, security, growth, prosperity, and confidence in the future are the binding elements of this nation.

In my next post, I will look at the U.S. National Interest in Latin America as a way to bring the philosophical points of the past posts to practical practice. Unless I have some additional thoughts on the subject, I will follow my Latin America post with some concluding thoughts on the future synthesis of the U.S. national interest. From there, maybe I will wander into some thoughts on political and cultural risk topics for American business abroad, or a topic suggested by this blog’s readership...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Defense of American Noumenalism

The danger to American norms has insidiously and rapidly grown in the post World War II era. The hypocritical corruption of the aristocracy in the 1890s, as Burke warned, led to the corruption of society; World War One shattered, for some time, their noumenalist foundation; modern science, quantum physics, some bio-tech research, and relativism again caused some to question noumenalist theory. Through all these challenges, the tenuous balance was maintained between noumenalism and natural ism, but chinks in the metaphysical armor have begun to appear. To those who question noumenalist beliefs, they only see an illusion for the weak to lean on. In actuality, the illusion is with the naturalist in that he sees himself “newly freed” from noumenalist or teleonaturalist values. The difficulty is, free agency gives us the choice to take the leap of faith, but now the chasm has widened. In addition, since World War Two, America has witnessed an unprecedented growth of material well-being. This, in itself, is a positive event, and as Almond and Lipset point out, it may actually strengthen democracy. Unfortunately, this materialism (fueled by consumerism)
has also led to an unprecedented moral decay. To borrow from the thoughts of Dostoevsky, whose fiction manifests the concern that moral decay of the individual springs from his neglect of his spiritual being, Freedom is what separates man form the animal kingdom, but without values,

“The first manifestations of newly-freed man are exaggerated individualism, self-isolation, and rebellion against the exterior harmony of the world; he develops an unhealthy self-love which moves him to explore the lower regions of his being...” (Nicholas Berdyaev, Dostoevsky, Ne York: Living Age Books, 1957, p. 133.)

When an entire country finds itself under the illusion of being “newly freed” from values, norms become situational and decay accelerates. Some of the developments in America are sexual permissiveness, less emphasis on the family unit, apathy toward abortion, and a misunderstanding of such values as freedom of speech. Values today are being defined more and more by Kant’s hypothetical imperative (do an act because of the consequence is desirable), and less and less by his categorical imperative (act only upon a maxim that you think should be for all men at all times). One “illusionist,” Skinner, would disagree with Kant and say that man’s actions are amoral because they are only reactions to his environment. In this clever half-truth, Skinner is correct; man does react to his environment. What he misses is, man has the capability to mold his environment to more closely parallel “higher values.” And in either case, man always has the freedom to choose, not just simply react. Thucydides, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Jefferson, Weber, Dewey, and Niebuhr saw the importance of environment, and it is time we should also. Dostoevsky tells a story of two trees, either of which could symbolize the America of the future. The dialogue between the trees continues,

“But I grow towards the sun,” says the healthy tree.

“There is no sun,” say the little shriveled tree. “Neither I nor you can see it.”

“But I feel the sun, its lovely to open out to its warmth and, as it were, to touch it with ever new and sprouting buds.”

“I too feel the warmth,” answers the little shriveled tree. “It is a condition that repeats itself in us regularly: a condition known as spring. But I am not so credulous as you are, and I reserve all my sap for my own inner sustenance.”

So the little shriveled tree continues in the garden in the delusion that it is inwardly self-sufficient, until the gardener comes and cuts it down. (Vyacheslav Ivanov, Freedom and the Tragic Life, New York: The Noonday Press, 1959, p. 136.)


We are free to choose, but that does not change the universal principles, or the consequences of our choices. In the final analysis, it is not God, nor God’s laws that are on trial, we are.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

U.S. National Interest: Norms, The General View of Reality

The second level in the construction of a common identity is the nation’s general view of reality. This general view is manifested specifically in its norms and generally in its national character. The national character is the “sum of acquired tendencies,” “expectable action,” and “unity of purpose.” The Italian statesman, Mazzini, offered these words of warning concerning the important role of unity of national character:

Nationality comprises common thought, a common law, a common aim. These are its essential elements... Wherever men do not recognize a common principle and accept it with all its consequences, wherever there is no unanimity of mind, the nation does not exist; there is only a multitude, a fortuitous agglomeration that any crisis can dissolve. (Anthony D.S. Smith, Nationalism in the Twentieth Century, New York: NYU Press, 1970, p. 125.)

This caution is particularly ominous when considering the complex metaphysical foundation upon which the American national character is based. The Founding Fathers of this nation were aware of this danger and created a system of government that would create norms conducive to the American metaphysic.

The general view of reality that the founding fathers harnessed to create the norms of the new nation came from a multitude of sources. Beyond the baseline of metaphysics, three ideologies were influential in the shaping of the United States of America. The first, conservativism, emphasized primordial ties, sacred ties, and elitism. Secondly, liberalism emphasized civil ties over primordial, personal, or sacred ties. The liberals believed that man now existed in a state of geographic and social mobility which lessened the importance of primordial and personal ties. They also believed that religion was a private concern. The third influence came from radicalism which espoused the importance of social contract. This school of thought called for the establishment of a “civil religion” which would make traditional religion apolitical. These ideologies and the metaphysics discussed earlier highlight the fact that Americans did not have an entirely “blank sheet” to write upon as Thomas Paine had supposed. “In the establishment of our forms of government,” said George Washington in his circular letter to the governors of the states at the conclusion of the War for Independence, Americans were able to draw upon “the treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of philosophers, sages, and legislators, through a long succession of years.” (Jack Greene, “Washington’s Circular Letter, 8 June 1783,” Colonies to Nation 1763—1789: Documentary History of the American Revolution, New York, 1975, p. 438.)

The general view of reality that sprang forth from this multitude of knowledge was one of distrust and optimism. They generally agreed that the natural rights of man existed independently of government. Hobbes’ view of a social contract delegating sovereignty to a monarch was rejected in favor of Locke’s social contract making the people responsible to themselves. The Articles of Confederation (1774-1787) incorporating Lockean philosophy proved to be less than required if the nation was to survive. Representatives of the states met at the Annapolis Conference to improve the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton got the states to agree to meet again in May of 1787 for a Constitutional Convention.
The men that met were political theorists, pragmatists, and politicians. The new Constitution needed to be ratified and these men went to the people. Governor Clinton of New York started writing anti-federalist papers under the pseudonym of Kato. Hamilton fought this move with articles written under the name of Caesar. Then Hamilton, Jay, and Madison,
under the name Publius rationally attacked the anti-federalists with a series of articles. The Federalist Papers, as they became to be known, provide the best insight into the general view of reality of the times. The distrust in man is highlighted in papers nine and ten where factions and a republican form of government are discussed. Majority rule was favored over tyranny and “tyranny of the majority” would be checked by an extensive republic (multiplicity of interests and rule of law). The founding fathers also manifested optimism in man as highlighted in Federalist Papers one, 23, and 51. The first Federalist Paper was an appeal for unity through reason. Publius was entrusting the fate of the nation to the reason of his fellow countrymen. The 23rd Federalist Paper was also a call for unity and for a strong central government for defense. Again Publius trusted man’s reason to make the right choice and in addition assuming the capability to construct an effective political system. In the 51st Federalist Paper the Madisonian Theory of an effective political system is outlined, highlighting the same cautious optimism in man. A system of vertical and horizontal separation of powers is constructed so ambition will counteract ambition. This same counteracting theory would also work in building coalitions within government which would create change and stability. This cautious trust in man would prove valid over the next 200 years.

Most scholars today reject the notion that national character persists permanently. At one time the Germans were reputed to be a musically gifted peaceful people. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries manifested that they could be warlike and aggressive. In America, where the metaphysic is based on progressive change, the question arises, “Are we the same nation the Founding Fathers created?” The answer of course is “no.” America has continued on the path its metaphysic pointed. Democracy and pluralism are more inclusive, liberalized and generally more responsive. Freedom, besides the substantive institutional freedom conceived by the founding fathers, now includes the concepts (whether or not the reality) of social freedom, economic freedom, and self-actualization. America has seen the rise in importance of the Supreme Court, the challenge to the federal union in the Civil War, the rise of civil rights for many of the “forgotten,” and an opening of society on a fairly orderly basis unknown anywhere during any time in history. The important question to ask, in interest to the future is, “Is this the country the founding fathers envisioned?” The answers to this question are, “Yes!” They had no way of knowing exactly what progress would be made by this point in time, or if the grand experiment would last this long. But it has and by their formulation. We still hold the basic “truths to be self-evident.” We are still the “low class (no class interests in politics, especially foreign policy),” “low state (diffuse government)” society Jefferson envisioned. Both Downs and Riker have validated the brilliance of the Madisonian Model and its applicability to 20th and 21st century America. We have held to our rich heritage while demonstrating the will to meet the present on its own terms. The future presents challenges of a lethal and insidious character though.

My next post will take a stand in defense of American noumenalism.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The U.S. National Interest: The America Metaphysic

The American is a new man who acts on new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions. J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur






The American metaphysic is a complex synthesis of a soul within a soul. One soul is a bridge building system linking noumenalism with naturalism, which is not as I have discussed in earlier blogs, merely pragmatism or realism. The other soul, as Renan pointed out in my earlier blog post The U.S. National Interest, is the concept of heritage linked with the present context. Within both souls is the will to continue to synthesize and build a common heritage. Plato’s idea to continually reexamine tradition and build upon it, Aristotle’s conclusion that history is disintegrating toward “the good” and that change and stability are the key factors in this movement, Burke’s call to cautiously conduct political experiments, and both Lipset’s and Almond’s emphasis on stability through system maintenance and access of new groups manifests a metaphysic based on optimistic progress. The answer to the question: “what is the American metaphysic”... In the final analysis, the answer closely approximates John Stuart Mill’s own discovery: happiness (or understanding, or defining the cosmos, knowledge and being) can only be achieved by not making it a direct end. The only chance for happiness is to treat not happiness, but something external to it (progress and anticipation of the future), as the purpose of life. In other words, the journey is more important than (because it proves the) arrival. Unfortunately, this metaphysic can also get lost in quick fixes like consumerism for example.

The very fact that there is movement presupposes confidence in man and that there is a “good.” The questions: “what is reality?”, “what is the good?” and “can we actually know ‘the good’?” are still not answered to suit all, but that becomes secondary (but still very important). Confidence in man is manifest in Augustine’s noumenalist theory that God is “good” and God created man, therefore man is “good.” Aquinas sees man’s reason as still incorrupt and capable of finding “the good.” Virtually all the theorists discussed (Plato, Aquinas, Augustine, Rousseau, Locke, Mill, Weber, Dewey, and Strauss) think of man as a duality of “good” and “bad.” They all also offer a way to stimulate the “good.” Even Nietzsche in an ironic way highlights the danger of rejecting reason over impulse. Augustine states that selfish desires are not enough, in fact alone they will cause decay. Weber calls for an enlightened self-interest and Rousseau calls for commitment to society for moral development. Whether the “good” is of noumenalist or teleo-naturalist origin, or whether it is actually reachable are not part of the common American metaphysic, but are uncommon (and important) subsets. We will find out if and when we get there.

With such a fluid and dynamic metaphysical base, caution and order become critical. There are many obstacles to the key issue of progress. Burke warns of corruption. Rousseau, Weber, and Dewey fear the dangers of alienation and identity crisis due to industrialization, specialization, and bureaucracy. The loss of commitment and hedonistic self-interest void of recognition of Rousseau’s society (collection more than the sum of the parts) is mentioned in an earlier post. Too much of the noumenalist or naturalist schools could break the delicate balance of the countervailing forces of this metaphysic. With such a nebulous “end” the means could actually become the end which would leave the metaphysic rudderless. The liberalist movement of equality and the populist sentiments of the Obama zeitgeist could crush the (or create a new) “natural aristocracy” that Plato, Aristotle, Burke, and many others hold as so important. The aristocracy could break the move toward the “open society,” as Popper charges Plato with inciting, or as Nietzsche foresaw Hitler doing. Progress could come too quickly and challenge stability as Burke and Lipset warn. Progress could come too slowly and civil society would have the right to rebellion as Aquinas and Locke argue. The challenges and obstacles to an open and changing society continue on and will multiply as progression continues.

To combat the dangers to this fluid and dynamic metaphysic, precautionary measures become pivotal issues. The concept of checks and balances becomes a key issue long before the concept of government is considered. Order becomes more important than justice in the eyes of some. As Lipset and Almond point out, stability (order) is evidence of justice (goodness). This is because justice in any form is only realizable in a context of order. Even this has a check in Aquinas’ and Locke’s theories of rebellion. This metaphysic also highlights the pivotal importance of the individual, and his fragility. Therefore, human, environmental, and capital investment called for by Aristotle, Weber, Niebuhr, Almond, and Lipset becomes very important. Finally, government, in general terms, is an issue on the metaphysical level because it too must reflect the open-ended answer of this complex philosophical framework. The rights of Locke’s and Rousseau’s man are inalienable, so government must not be too powerful. Yet the dangers of disorder (as Hobbes feared) and the threats to Burke’s “natural aristocracy” are threatened by the masses, so government must not be too weak. If confusion persists concerning this discussion of the American Metaphysic, let me offer one final explanation by paraphrasing and transposing the thoughts of Miguel de Unamuno about himself to personified America. The country America seems to come to no conclusions, she vacillates—now she seems to affirm on thing and then its contrary. She is full of contradictions—I can’t label her. America affirms contraries; she says one thing with her heart and another with her head. It is this conflict that unifies action—life! Therefore, it is this uncertain America that acts, not because she deems her principle of action to be true, but in order to make it true, in order to prove its truth, in order to create her own world.

Friday, June 19, 2009

U.S. National Interest: The Bridge Builders

We have looked at the naturalist and noumenalist concepts that are part of the American common identity. With this brief discussion of bridge builders we will complete our general philosophical discussion. My next post will delve into the specifics of the American Metaphysic Synthesis.

Bridge Builders

In the strict definitions of noumenalists and naturalists, these two metaphysics are mutually exclusive. In actual practice though, there are theorists from both camps that incorporate elements of the opposing school in an attempt to perfect a synthesis. Although I did not include them in this category, both Aristotle and Augustine have elements of the naturalist school in their works. Aristotle’s work in metaphysics places him squarely in the noumenalist camp, but in his work on psychology he manifests strong naturalistic tendencies. Augustine, in The City of God, draws on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire for his analysis of the earthly city using naturalistic psychology and reason. Two more important bridge builders from the noumenalist school that I discuss below are Edmund Burke and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Noumenalist bridge builders are nor necessarily realists (as is Niebuhr). Realists assume universal principles are not more real than objects as sensed. Noumenalists could place higher importance on some empirical “facts” over some ideas, but will continue to equate the “best government” with divinely ordained values above all else (something pure realists could not do). Bridge building naturalists, subjectively, seem more numerous. This may be due to pure naturalists’ difficulties in coming to grips with a source of morality and search for a foundation that offers rational hedonism, or a Nietzschean extreme. These modified naturalists (teleo-naturalists) have, on the other hand, built bridges to altruistic motives, hierarchical value systems, and ideals of perfection (if only as psychic facts). This group of teleo-naturalists includes John Stuart Mill, Lipset, Almond, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Dewey.

Naturalist bridge builders are not necessarily pragmatists (as is Dewey). From the definition of teleo-naturalists, it is clear that not all in this school are concerned with practical consequences and most would certainly not agree with the pragmatists’ stand that if there is no difference in the consequences between two alternatives, then they mean practically the same thing.

Burke was a firm believer in God and that He gave us laws to follow. We can know these laws through our instincts. The institutions which survive in society over time are those that parallel our instincts and therefore may be good (but survivability may not be the only requirement of the “good.”). We must adhere to the social and political institutions to find the “good.” If a society doesn’t follow the natural order, it will decay (France of his day—a very British viewpoint!). Political experiment is important, though to refine the “good” institutions, but we must act cautiously. Burke believed in a natural aristocracy that defines and leads the nation. The aristocracy must do what is best for the people because they know what is best. If leaders don’t follow their superior instincts, society will collapse. The reason corruption occurs is because aristocratic society itself is corrupt. Religion is crucial for public virtue, for the aristocracy and the masses.

Niebuhr’s work is a reaction against the neoclassical rationalists (who are naturalists).
He was part of a wave of realists (including Kennan and Morgenthau) who believed that American foreign policy, if continued to be based on rationalist assumptions, might prove to be disastrous. Niebuhr rejects the possibility of reason to solve all problems and that at best only a precarious peace could be hoped for. Niebuhr is committed to Judeo-Christian noumenalism and sees transcendent theological values in every aspect of realist/rationalist combat. This viewpoint offers hope of gradual progress toward a more just world and that the influence of the Freudian irrational id can be reduced.

Thomas Hobbes sees all men as too equal, which causes conflict. Man’s appetite is selfish and in the pursuit of his own values, leads man to deprive others, but he is guilty of no moral sin. If there were a “pecking order,” problems of equality and appetite could be dealt with. As long as this conflict continues, man will not develop because it is easier to steal than produce. For self-preservation, man should be willing, when others are too, to come to an agreement and establish a society. Man is selfish though and therefore it is unreasonable to expect that this society will work self-imposed. Covenants such as this only work when a third party (the sovereign) is available to keep order. Without the sovereign there is no government. Without the government, there is no society. He sees temporal and spiritual sovereignty as the same thing (religion is only a branch of government). Hobbes, although writing in support of monarchy, states that the form of government doesn’t matter, as long as it can impose its will to keep order.

John Locke’s work was stimulated by the same civil stresses that led Hobbes to his conclusions.
There are in fact some epistemological parallels of these two men’s works. Both men said our knowledge extends no farther than our ideas. We cannot know the inner meanings of essence and purpose. Hobbes continues beyond ideas to make judgments on the cosmos. Locke, although believing in God, is agnostic concerning the cosmos. He feels we cannot know the ultimate “why,” but only the “how.” We can reason what God wants though, by seeing what man tends to and establish natural laws from these tendencies. “Good” to Locke is what gives us pleasure, “bad” is what does not. Therefore, we can know “the good,” because “good” is our passions. Mankind has the natural right to pursue these passions (such as self-preservation, property, etc.) because they are “good.” A social contract is formed to get and keep rights. When men’s passions are in conflict, the majority should rule. In Hobbes’ social contract, individual rights are ceded to the sovereign. Locke says we give our rights to society. Government is the protector of this social contract and has the duty to preserve live, property, and equality. Government does this by elections and separation of powers, with the legislature dominant (parliamentary). If government does not meet these conditions, men can look to heaven and revolt.


Jean Jacques Rousseau believed in a good-hearted common man in contrast to the Machiavellian man of Locke and even more so, of Hobbes’. To Rousseau, man in the stat of nature is personified by the peace and innocence of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Self-preservation is still man’s first desire, but he is not aggressive and his wants are simple. Rousseau’s natural man is his own master and his only authority is his own will. Rousseau’s society is a synthesis of noumenalist teleological tradition and naturalist utilitarianism of the Enlightenment. Man discovers the utility of association and from association arises the habits of living together, which in turn spawns a new development in man’s moral life (through a sense of commitment). With the development of society, new wants also develop. The rich want to dominate the poor. Society becomes corrupt in its goal to gain prosperity and wealth. A “good” society is possible though (characterized by common interest and moral unity). Through the general will (the collective is more than the sum of its parts) of society decisions are made. Rousseau calls for a middle class economy with little specialization, legal equality of all members of society and majority rule.

John Stuart Mill was trained in the principles of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian ideals. Bentham proposed a political philosophy centered on the precept of “greatest happiness of the greatest number.” Happiness to Bentham simply meant pleasurable sensations. This pleasure is the only thing that man actually pursues. Motives and abstract principles such as natural right had no place in his theory. Bentham confines his philosophy to the world of facts. He felt that to leave this realm would destroy the possibility of objective measurement. Mill, at the age of twenty, began to question strict utilitarian theory. As told in his Autobiography, “Suppose that my highest aim in life—complete public reform—could be effected at this very instant, would this really make me happy? And a distinct vice answered—NO!” (John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, New York: P.F. Collier & Sons, 1937, p. 10.) Mill came to believe that happiness could only be achieved by not making it a direct end. The only chance for happiness is to treat not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Mill transcends the naturalist state of phenomena to a noumenalist set of values (ends). Through out his life Mill refused to give up his naturalist premises, but insisted on noumenalist conclusions, trying to unite value with fact, purpose with process. Mill offers the lesson of “open-mindedness of the many-sidedness of truth; [and] he became the most tolerant of philosophers.” (F. Parvin Sharpless, Essays on Poetry by John Stuart Mill, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1976, p. xii).

John Dewey expands the freedom and pluralism ideas of Rousseau in the context of turn of the century America. Dewey believed that social equality is a necessary precondition for society. The problem is, how does one obtain a sense of cohesion in a society while still maintaining equality and individualism? His answer: Man as an individual is meaningless, but in society he can develop morally. Democracy is the only political system that can meet the needs of moral development. In a democracy our individual actions all have effects on society. Therefore the establishment of a social contract is justified. This is not a static entity, however, and from time to time new forms of state must be evolved to express new interests. Dewey saw specialization, industrialization and bureaucracy as working against the general good by alienation the individual. He could not reconcile that modern fact that where ever there is a large effort to establish social equality, etc. bureaucracy and hierarchy are also developed. He saw social science as the best hope in developing correct policies, such as expanding the social obligation of the better off to enhance equality and thus true freedom. He did not agree with the behaviorists though, that certain laws will happen.

Seymour Lipset and Gabriel Almond complete this discussion of bridge builders with their contemporary Aristotelian synthesis.

Lipset studied various democracies and then described the social conditions under which a democratic order can be constructed and maintained. He theorizes that the more well to do a nation, the more likely it will sustain democracy. Rather than poverty though, inequality is the key causal factor which leads to instability in any system. For equality, and thus stability, Lipset offers three conditions which must be present in any system. First, the status of conservative institutions must not be threatened. Second, major new groups have access to the system. Finally, new structures must be effective. Only a democracy can encompass these three conditions successfully.


Almond offers a final key factor for stability, system maintenance through change and adaptation. System maintenance has three criteria, subsystem autonomy, cultural secularization, and structural differentiation. Both Lipset and Almond seek to define an implicit process, like Aristotle. There theories are empirically oriented. They also make the judgment though, that stability is impossible without “goodness.” Therefore, stability must be evidence of “goodness.”