Tag: Huntington

In Defence of Flawed Giants

OK, its confession time. I don’t really agree with them much, but I loved reading the post-Cold War ‘blockbusters’ of Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and John Mearsheimer, (all beautifully surveyed a little while ago by Richard Betts).

I was psyched to read Fukuyama’s prophecy that with the American-led era of market democracy, humankind had overcome the historical dialectic struggle of ideologies and had hit upon an ultimate way of being that would satisfy its fundamental longings, both material and psychological.

Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations was also audacious, in its opposite claim that far from the triumph of the Atlantic, world history was entering a period of dangerous pluralism where the global forces driving us all together would accentuate difference, and where unless we were careful, disparate cultural identity would fuel conflict and fragmentation.

And John Mearsheimer’s case for Realpolitik was a great read, making the case that no new paradigms were on the horizon, but that a multipolar power-struggle between nation-states would resume, even with the prospect of Germany and Japan unlearning their new peaceable ways and going nuclear.

So what? Go on Patrick, tell us more, I hear you thinking (get on with it, Ed).

Certainly on the UK side of the pond, academics routinely dismiss these works and other biggies like them. Not, one suspects, primarily because they, gasp, made bad predictions or were wrong on the main point.

To be sure, it seems slightly too early to proclaim the final triumph of democratic capitalism, or at least this form of it. The global financial crisis gives Fukuyama’s Hegelian ontology a day at the races, while it seems that dictatorship and the appeal of authoritarian solutions is still seductive in crisis, including in the West.

Contra Huntington, most conflicts since the Cold War have between within, not between, the civilizations and metacultural blocs that he identified. No matter how hard he argued that the first Gulf War was a signpost of the cultural clashes to come, the most impressive pattern of that conflict was how willing many Islamic states were to side with the great American Satan against the would-be Saladin to check his bid for power in the region. Not to mention the fact that in the ‘Arab Spring’, many protesters have shouted universalist, humanist and democratic slogans, not parochial or ethno-religious ones.

And against Mearsheimer’s anticipation of a return to muscular balance of power politics, EU nations aren’t yet reapplying to go back to the nineteenth century.

No, academics like to dismiss these works because the authors have appealed to a mass market, made meta-scale interpretations and predictions, and come as close to intellectual celebrity as possible for anyone who isn’t Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein. In an academic world that cherishes specialism and hair-splitting, that largely devotes its energy to internalised dialogues in exclusionary language, and which looks on fame and glory with envious suspicion, its no wonder that the mention of all three causes respectable scholars to roll their eyes.

Most strikingly of all, many folk who pronounce on these books simply haven’t read them. Huntington wasn’t issuing a racist call to arms. His book was written as a warning of the cultural complacency and triumphalism of America’s ‘unipolar moment’ and arguing that only a restrained sense of pluralism and cultural spheres of influence could lead to peace between civilisations. Ok, civilizations do not really exist in the hermetically sealed, unitary ways he told it, but there’s some value in a sense of the limits of power, the vastness of the world and the multitudes it contains.

Fukuyama’s End of History, for heaven’s sake, didn’t actually announce the end of history as a literal claim where stuff wouldn’t happen much any more. He meant history as an evolutionary, traceable process of competing ideas, and his account built consciously on Hegelian dialectics, not to mention the belief that the thymotic desire for recognition was critical to understanding why other systems had failed. He did think the rest of history would be probably quite boring, managing the gradual conversion of the world to the Atlantic way. On the other hand, the work was tinged with an apprehension that the boring-ness of market democracy would itself contain the seeds of violent revolt…

And Mearsheimer may have overstated his case for the reversion to old school power struggle, but if we migrate his interpretations Eastward, the large-scale investments in blue water navies, the scramble for bases and listening posts, the buying up of commercial clients, and the resumption of territorial rivalries in East Asia doesn’t exactly destroy his argument. There is an insecurity that seems persistent in the anarchical condition of world politics, and nation-states themselves are proving resilient both in their determination to reassert control and in the increasing demands we make of them.

Finally, a cruder point, hard to make politely. Some who dismiss these works aren’t really fit to clean the closet of a Fukuyama, a Mearsheimer or a Huntington. There is probably more virtue in their error, in terms of prompting richer and deeper debate, than in the safe, marginal and unaudacious output of most of the rest of us.

So hooray for flawed giants. Their minds might be mistaken occasionally but their shoulders are still worth climbing on.


Whither the Praetorian State?

As part of a forthcoming project to re-assess the analytical relevance of the concept of the “praetorian state” in contemporary South Asian and Middle Eastern politics, I’ve been fascinated by tracing the history of the phrase.

Although the term “praetor” or “Praetorian Guard” entered the English language from accounts of Roman history in the 13th century, the taxonomic concept (specifically as a Weberian ideal type) of the “praetorian state” first emerged after political upheavals following the Great Depression.  Max Lerner argued in 1942, for example, that a socialist state that becomes totalitarian indulges in the instabilities associated with praetorian states: a succession of garrisons and adventurist leaders (Lerner 1942, 44).  For the most part, however, Lerner associated the concept with the aggressive imperialism of fascism (Lerner 1942, 50). It is notable that while the modern concept of the praetorian state originated in discussions of what were then contemporary European regime types, in the post-war period the concept would only be applied to “underdeveloped states” that were striving toward “modernization.”

Chart 1: Google N-gram history of the phrase “praetorian state” in English language books and journals

Shortly after 1960 the phrase began to increase in usage  — although still clearly an obscure and technical term (see the Y axis in chart 1 which shows the prevalence of this two-word term or “bi-gram” out of all bi-grams in approximately 5 million books) — reaching a peak in the mid-seventies.  Of course, the concept was never as popular as other ideal type categories of authoritarian states such as the “garrison state” or “caudillismo” (see chart below).

Chart 2: Google N-gram history of the phrases praetorian state (blue), garrison state (red), and caudillismo (green) in English language books and journals

In 1961, L.N. McAlister used the phrase to describe a type of regime in Latin America characterized by “the frequent overthrow of governments by military revolutions or coups d’etat for nonmilitary purposes.”  McAlister added, “It tends to be associated with a high degree of social and political disorganization and  a low degree of professionalism within the armed forces,” (McAlister 1961, 343).  McAlister meant to distinguish the concept from both a Gendarmist State (a state in which a dictator or caudillo tames the military and uses it as a gendarmery to maintain power) and Harold Laswell’s concept of the “Garrison State” (a state in which the military attempts to militarize the state and society at large). What is of interest here is the notion that a praetorian state in 1961 was associated with a lack of professionalism in the military.

A separate school of thought which emerged around the same time is associated with David C. Rapoport and Samuel Huntington. In 1962, Rapoport published an essay — based in part on the ideas of his often cited but unpublished 1960 doctoral dissertation at Berkeley — titled “A Comparative Theory of Military Political Types” in Samuel Huntington’s Changing Patterns of Military Politics (1962) in which he used the phrase “praetorian state” to describe a military that maintains the rule of an oligarchy. Huntington would popularize Rapoport’s category a few years later in an essay in World Politics titled “Political Development and Political Decay,” in which Huntington likened the concept of the praetorian state to the Hellenic concept of the corrupt society. For Huntington, a praetorian society is characterized by political instability that oscillates between absolute monarchy and wild democracy and serves as “… the hallmark of a society where mobilization has outrun institutionalization,” (Huntington 1965, 417).

Building on the work of McAlister, Rapoport & Huntington, Amos Perlmutter significantly developed and refined the concept. His 1969 essay in Comparative Politics, “The Praetorian State and the Praetorian Army: Toward a Taxonomy of Civil-Military Relations in Developing Polities,” (which was based on an earlier article he had published in 1967 and a World Politics article on the Israeli Army he had published in 1968) helped to transform the concept by forgoing Rapoport’s emphasis on constitutionalism, consensus, and authority. In particular, Perlmutter emphasized the notion of the military as a core institution that supplies the political leadership of a society. He laid out the political and social conditions which contribute to praetorianism, placing the relevance of the concept in the “early and middle stages of modernization and political mobilization,” (Perlmutter 1969, 384). Perlmutter also created a differentiation between aribitrator-type praetorian armies and ruler-type praetorian armies.  Notably, the former type was considered to be more professionally oriented — thus broadening McAlister’s formulation to include professionalized militaries (Perlmutter 1969, 392).

[For contemporary South Asia scholars, it is notable that Pakistan, which is today considered by many scholars to be a quintessentially praetorian state, was not considered to be praetorian by scholars applying Rapoport’s defintion (Wilcox 1965. 150).]

However the popularity of the concept appears to have declined after the end of the Cold War. So… why did it decline? At this point I don’t really have an answer. If pushed, I would hypothesize (along the lines of Partha Chatterjee 1974) that the need to understand and distinguish between highly nuanced types of authoritarian regimes (i.e our sons-of-bitches from their sons-of-bitches) and to advocate for “political stability” during the process of socio-economic change to prevent a communist revolution became irrelevant to bourgeois scholars with the third wave of democratization and the triumphalist tone in support of liberal democracy and capitalism that emerged at the end of the Cold War… but that is only a guess.

In any case, with the new wave of popular unrest and insurgency in the Middle East and South Asia, it is clear that many scholars will be monitoring civil-military relations carefully and hence this concept may once again become prominent to explain the lingering or emerging impediments to democratization.


Apocalyptic Thinking in IR

I do not see the discussions about zombies as a type of new or out-of-the-box thinking. If anything, the discussions of zombies that I have noted so far are completely “in-the-box” thinking, except with a touch of geeky humor, parody, and wit that is usually lacking in the discipline. In fact, the discourse seems to consist mainly of exercises in applying existing theoretical tools to an impossible scenario for pedagogical purposes or to lampoon the generally stale pedagogy of IR theory. From my perspective, the question is not how well or fairly does this exercise treat particular theoretical paradigms, but why this apocalyptic theoretical exercise presents itself at all.

Apocalyptic thinking has been a feature of IR theorizing for over a hundred years.  In fact, I would contend that the zombie fad is at least the fourth wave of apocalyptic thinking.  The four waves are:

  1. Theories of Race War
  2. Theories of Nuclear War and Deterrence
  3. Clash of Civilizations
  4. Zombie Apocalypse

The origins of IR as a discipline, is not in Ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy, but in the US at the dawn of the 20th century. Although the discipline has effectively purged its collective memory, the origins of the discipline were in concerns about race theory, race war, and colonial administration or “racial uplift” theories.  In some cases, these origins have been obscured through rebranding, as when the Journal of Race Development adopted its new name, Foreign Affairs. As Robert Vitalis (2002) has carefully documented, the first generation of American IR theorists expressed alarm over emerging challenges to the principle of White Supremacy. Concerns about “The War of the Color Line” became intense, particularly after the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905.  These concerns, coupled with racialism and outright racism, led to fearful imaginings of yellow, black, and brown hordes invading and overwhelming the white nations (only Europeans were considered to be divided into nations in these early formulations; the rest of the world was grouped by race).

The second wave of apocalyptic thinking begins with the end of World War II and the use/accumulation of nuclear weapons. This line of thinking became obsessed with pragmatic theories of deterrence, compellance, etc. While American society added ideological panics to racial panics, the discipline of IR generally moved toward a more sober posture. Although the obsession with horizontal nuclear proliferation remained tinged with racism/paternalism, particularly given the manifest contradiction with neo-Realist theories of deterrence, the overall paradigm was pragmatic and technical. Nevertheless, the field shifted a great deal of attention and resources toward issues of security between superpowers.

[One might add another apocalyptic wave related to over population (e.g. environmental collapse), but these neo-Malthusian concerns have actually been remarkably consistent throughout the 19th and 20th centuries up to the present.]

In the third wave, Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis represented a remarkable (if unconscious) return to and re-statement of the prior alarmist concern with race war, now neatly repackaged as a meta-theory of civilizational war. That such a crude and unsophisticated world view ever made it to publication is astounding and an abiding stain on the discipline. It is not surprising that this theory was thoroughly discredited to the point of ridicule within and outside of the discipline. The real question is why a previously reputable scholar would have formulated such a completely flimsy argument.

The fourth wave then is the hypothetical obsession with zombies.  There is an interesting moment in the blogging heads video below where Dan Drezner discusses an encounter where a commentator asks him point-blank whether the zombies are just a crude metaphor for Muslims. Drezner appears to be genuinely shocked by this reductive reading, which speaks to how effectively IR has purged its own disciplinary history and genealogy. This is not to argue in any way that Drezner was re-articulating a covert racial theory.  Rather it is to argue that apocalyptic thinking in the discipline follows familiar modes of articulation that are easily conflated, and that the zombie discourse facilitates this conflation.

What interests me is not a search for hidden racial themes is discussions of zombies, but rather to inquire into the function of apocalyptic scenarios in the discipline. I would hypothesize that apocalyptic thinking functions to reassert the relevance of dominant modes of theorizing; apocalyptic thinking disciplines the discipline. Apocalyptic thinking is deeply conservative; it reasserts the relevance of theories which protect the status quo. These waves become particularly prominent at those points in which the discipline and Western society is being challenged by intellectual movements to broaden the areas of theoretical inquiry, and/or by social movements to overturn privilege. So it is not surprising to me that feminist and critical theories are given short shrift in the zombie discourse.

But what harm can it do to talk playfully about zombies? Isn’t it just a delicious send up of the discipline? Isn’t this a great way to get students and non-academics interested in International Relations?

At the end of blogging heads video, Drezner talks about how soldiers stationed in a forward operating base in Afghanistan sent him a photo of their unit reading his book. More than anything else, this makes evident the danger of such theorizing. IR as a discipline already deals in high levels of abstraction above the lives of ordinary people. More than any other discipline, IR is concerned with rationalizing or tempering an often de-humanizing raison d’etat and realpolitik. Is it wise, in that case, to promote a discourse which conceptualizes the enemy as zombies? Is this kind of alienation not precisely what should be countered and resisted through academic dialog and debate? Instead of imagining a zombie horde, would it not be better for our soldiers to try to understand the history and culture of the people whose land and lives they are occupying?

Of course, to offer a relevant alternative to soldiers on the front line would involve real out-of-the-box thinking — one that speaks to the culture and organizational structure of militants and civilians in Afghanistan. A discipline that is really relevant would need to build theories inductively rather than seeking to dig through a set of established abstract theories to see what can be forced to fit the situation at hand.


Which New Year’s Eve would you rather celebrate?

Dan Drezner and Bill have both flagged Randy Schweller’s new piece in National Interest. I’ve just finished reading the piece and I agree with them – it’s really a depressing read. But, it’s the type of piece that we see periodically – it tries to take stock of the state of the global politics and IR scholars’ understanding of it. In many way, it reads a lot like Mearsheimer’s “Why We Will Miss the Cold War” or Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations?” It aims high and tries to explain large systemic events by using a lot of broad generalizations to develop the core argument that we live in a world of disorder.

But, it got me to thinking (and since we’re all making lists of one sort or another as we end the first decade of the 21st century), how does this New Year’s Eve (and the transition from this decade to the next) compare to the past ten or so decade transitions. How unsettling is our current era relative to others? Which New Year’s Eve on the brink of a new decade would you rather celebrate?

Here’s how I’d rank mine:

1. 1999 -2000: Post-1989 but pre-9/11. Ah, the days when our biggest threat was that Y2K was going to destroy us all. Cool Millenium concerts.

2. 1989 – 1990: The fall of communism in Eastern Europe – the only real question was how would it end in Moscow. Democratization’s third wave was snowballing….

3. 2009 – 2010: Is unipolarity and American hegemony really a bust? Environmental degradation, resource scarcity, demographic stress all sound scary but many of these threats are distant while terrorism and proliferation do not seem to convey the existential threat we experienced during much of the Cold War.

4. 1959- 1960: End of the Eisenhower era and we had settled into the Cold War; but I still wouldn’t trade tonight for 1959 — kids were practicing duck and cover in school and tens of thousands of Americans were building nuclear bomb shelters in their backyards. (I grew up in North Dakota and we still had the duck and cover drills in the late sixties — remember kids, even a piece of paper can help shelter you from fallout…)

5. 1979 – 1980: Collapse of Détente and a renewal of the Cold War, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Nicaraguan revolution, the Iranian revolution, global economic recession, oil price spikes, persistent claims of US in decline — sucked to be us.

6. 1969 – 1970: Escalation of the Vietnam War — 40K+ Americans already dead as well as several hundred thousand Vietnamese; a spiraling of the arms race and social tensions in much of the West.

7. 1949 – 1950: The eruption of the Cold War with a series of crises/war scares from 1946 to 1949 culminated with the Soviet detonation of an atomic weapon in August, 1949 and the Chinese revolution in October. State S/P was drafting NSC-68 = scary.

8. 1929 – 1930: U.S. stock market collapse in October, 1929 fueling the global depression, collapse of the global trading system, etc…

9. 1919-1920: Early post-WWI recovery – refugees, property destruction, grief, a generation of young men perished, feuding among the allies, the promise of Versailles was history… Not a happy time.

10. 1939 – 1940: WWII begins in September, 1939. Enough said

I’d just add one note that I hadn’t fully anticipated before my developing my list, but my ranking goes from unipolarity, to bipolarity, to multipolarity. Hmmm…. Happy New Year’s!


An odd state of union

I actually did watch the SOTU on Tuesday, in part because there was nothing else on television, and in part because I figured it might be a good topic to discuss in class. Wednesday night I was the substitute teacher for a colleague’s graduate seminar on the Domestic Sources of US Foreign Policy. We ended up talking about the ideals that put the “American” in American Foreign Policy, and the assigned reading for the day was Samuel Huntington’s 1982 article “American Ideals versus American Institutions.” We put Huntington’s article here for two reasons: First, its great for generating discussion an debate. Second, it is great for caputuring the key elements of the “American Creed” of liberty, democracy, and equality that define America’s sense of self, expectations for government, and desires for the rest of the world.

The juxtaposition of the two is telling.

Huntington writes:

Historically Americans have generally believed in the universal validity of their values. At the end of World War II, when Americans forced Germany and Japan to be free, they did not stop to ask if liberty and democracy were what the German and Japanese people wanted. Americans implicitly assumed that their values were valid and applicable and that they would at the very least be morally negligent if they did not insist that Germany and Japan adopt political institutions reflecting those values. Belief in the universal validity of those values obviously reinforces and reflects those hypocritical elements of the American tradition that stress the United States’s role as a redeemer nation and lead it to attempt to impose its values and often its institutions on other societies.

As Bush framed the war in Iraq in an attempt to muster Congressional and Public aquiessence for the new “surge” policy, he invoked that very theme:

This war is more than a clash of arms. It is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our nation is in the balance.
To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come and kill us.
What every terrorist fears most is human freedom — societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience and live by their hopes instead of their resentments.
Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies, and most will choose a better way when they’re given a chance.
So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates, reformers and brave voices for democracy.
The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security: We must.

The goal of this struggle:

Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security and is an ally in the war on terror.

He couldn’t have put this any other way.

Huntington seems to caution against what many critics of the Bush Administration have identified as undermining core American values in the name of the War on Terror–Gitmo, wiretapping, and whatnot.

The continued existence of the United States means that Americans will continue to suffer from cognitive dissonance. They will continue to attempt to come to terms with that dissonance through some combination of moralism, cynicism, complacency, and hypocrisy. The greatest danger to the gap between ideals and institutions would come when any substantial portion of the American population
carried to an extreme any one of these responses. An excess of moralism, hypocrisy, cynicism, or complacency could destroy the American system. A totally complacent toleration of the ideals -versus-institutions gap could lead to the corruption and decay of American liberal-democratic institutions. Uncritical hypocrisy, blind to the existence of the gap and fervent in its commitment to American principles, could lead to imperialistic expansion, ending in either military or political disaster abroad or the undermining of democracy at home. Cynical acceptance of the gap could lead to a gradual abandonment of American ideals and their replacement either by a Thrasymachusian might-makes-right morality or by some other set of political beliefs. Finally, intense moralism could lead Americans to destroy the freest institutions on earth because they believed they deserved something better.

While it feels somewhat odd to deploy Huntington in this manner, especially given how his later Clash of Civilizations work becomes so instramental in discourse of the War on terror, there is a certain resonance to it. If nothing else, it certainly made for a good class discussion.


Didn’t Huntington say this in 1968?

On Monday, Slate ran a three-part book review by Bill Emmott and Fareed Zakaria in which they discuss Ian Bremmer’s new book The J-Curve, which purports to explain the difficulties of political transitions. Now I have not read the book, but this discription of Bremmer’s thesis struck me:

Bremmer’s argument is that history shows that the most stable countries are often also the most closed: North Korea, Cuba, China under Mao, Soviet Russia. But as countries become more open, they generally become more unstable in the first instance, as existing institutions are challenged and undermined, and the old power holders lose their grip. Only as and if new institutions are built and gain legitimacy, credibility, and power will stability rise again.

Any political science graduate student should immediately see the resemblance of this idea to Huntington’s famous thesis in Political Order in Changing Societies, a collection of Huntington’s lectures on the subject published in 1968. Huntington famously remarked that countries became more unstable as mass mobilization increased at a faster rate than the institutional capacity of the state. This disconnect led to instability. The book rightly focused scholars attention on the problems associated with transitions (the process of political change) rather than end states such as authoritarianism or democracy.

Given that Huntington’s book was published almost 40 years ago I am prodded to ask the question, “do we ever learn?”. The answer, based on recent American policy, would seemingly be–“no”.

Perhaps Dr. Rice and Dr. Wolfowitz should go back and retake their comprehensive exams.


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