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Okay, But...

David Brooks is genuinely interesting today but he seems to be missing something. In the domestic sphere, conservatives and libertarians call for deregulation, not for anarchy. There are still, in other words, policemen and jails and prosecutors. And there are lots of semi-arbitrary coordination rules, like how you can't just pick which side of the street to drive on. Extend this vision of social order to the international sphere and you get Kerry's worldview, not Bush's. What Bush proposes for the international realm would be as if you moved to a city where there was no police and no laws, but you had a gun while everyone else is armed with sharpened sticks so you figure you'll be okay and cops and rules and stuff will only hold you back. If you think about that scenario, you can see why someone might think it would be a good idea to be the only guy with a gun in a lawless town, but you can also see that this is a bit shortsighted. Soon enough, for example, you're going to have to sleep....

October 12, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

You undermine the ability of the troops to fight The Forever War, traitor?

Posted by: scarshapedstar | Oct 12, 2004 10:19:38 AM

I just read Brooks'/Wolfson's op-ed too, and took it as a muted endorsement of Kerry (intentional or not...).

Brooks writes:

"When Kerry talks about the world he hopes to create, he talks first about alliances and multilateral cooperation. He's really talking about a crowded world. People from different nations would gather to work out differences and manage problems."

Given the reality of 5 BILLION people (or is it 6 billion already), and the reality of widespread conflict, it's hard to take the alternative view (what Brooks calls "decentralized" and ties closely to the ideas "empty land" and "sparsely populated") very seriously. The world clearly IS crowded in all sorts of important ways.

Ergo, Brooks is endorsing Kerry's approach to foreign policy, though given his role at the Times and the Times' infamous "on the one hand, on the other hand" style, he can't just come out and say it.

And of course, he's not "shrill" yet!

Posted by: PQuincy | Oct 12, 2004 10:25:40 AM

Brooks is a genuinely nauseating fascist I refuse to read today.

He's an evil turd, lying any chance he can get so his foul persona can survive in today's putrid media environment.

Disgusting. I'm not ruining my morning reading that idiot.

Posted by: paradox | Oct 12, 2004 10:40:18 AM

In the domestic sphere, conservatives and libertarians call for deregulation, not for anarchy. There are still, in other words, policemen and jails and prosecutors. And there are lots of semi-arbitrary coordination rules, like how you can't just pick which side of the street to drive on.

Conservatives don't even call for deregulation except rhetorically, they call for regulation with a different focus.

OTOH, I've heard quite a few libertarians argue for civil-only law courts, since litigation is always between persons and not "society", or for prisons and/or prosecutors and/or law enforcement not being public but private functions -- heck, even for courts being private, though that's usually even more poorly thought out than the other arguments.

Posted by: cmdicely | Oct 12, 2004 10:45:01 AM

Great post. MY description of Bush's worldview is in fact a pretty accurate description of the US position in the world. A lot of the disdain for international institutions is related to the fact that Republicans can't conceive how does it feel to be the guy without the gun.

Posted by: Carlos | Oct 12, 2004 11:02:09 AM

Great post, Matt. I've never heard a convincing argument why laws and government are preferable to a posse system INSIDE the United States, but not on an international scale.

No, I'm not proposing a single world government per se - just wondering why "international law" has reached Nazi depths of evil in circles on the right.

Posted by: T: Central | Oct 12, 2004 11:02:12 AM

PQuincy: "Given the reality of 5 BILLION people (or is it 6 billion already)..."

It passed 6 billion a few years ago.

But there are 10 billion registered voters in Afghanistan! ;)

Posted by: Grumpy | Oct 12, 2004 11:04:52 AM

I am at a loss to explain the fascination so many have with David Brooks, who I find to be simply wrong so often it doesn't pay to pay him such attention.

I think there is a glaring example of his wrongness in today's column:

"[What Bush is] really talking about is a decentralized world. Individuals would be free to live as they chose, in their own nations, carving out their own destinies."

I don't think that that's Bush's aim one bit. When I look at Bush's actions, not his campaign rhetoric, it seems obvious to me: Bush wants the U.S. to be able to assert its will anywhere across the globe, with impunity, without constraint, and that other nations should fall in line or suffer the consequences. To cite just one example, the 14 or so military bases under construction in Iraq are not there to help Iraqis "carv[e] out their own destinies." They are being built to help assure American hegemony over Iraq, not to mention other countries in the region. The rhetoric about freedom is a smokescreen, and if Brooks wants to believe that it's Bush's primary aim, he's mistaken.

Posted by: JJF | Oct 12, 2004 11:25:26 AM

Thanks for the pointer, but I have to say, I miss your summaries of the Sunday op-eds this week. I depend on you to tell me which op-edI must read. :) (Hey, I'm a working mom with two young kids--I need help sorting through it all because I don't have time to read everything!)

Posted by: Wendy | Oct 12, 2004 11:43:39 AM

Remember how in the first debate both sides agreed nuclear proliferation was the biggest threat to our country? Is Brooks' "flexible, organic, spontaneous order" really the best way to go about this? Or to use Matt's metaphor, is brandishing a gun the best way to convince people that they don't need guns?

Posted by: wagster | Oct 12, 2004 11:44:18 AM

Brooks is a genuinely nauseating fascist I refuse to read today. He's an evil turd, lying any chance he can get so his foul persona can survive in today's putrid media environment. Disgusting. I'm not ruining my morning reading that idiot.

Good think conservatives don't take that attitutude. We'd never know what the real forces of evil were thinking.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Oct 12, 2004 11:55:44 AM

There are notable contrasts between Bush and Kerry on matters like intelligent engagement with issues, sobriety of temperament, approach to responsibility, tolerance of different opinions. Given the disadvantages of his political situation, Brooks tells us the difference is just a matter of abstractions about social organization. Merely a slightly different angle of view, really.

It' s an examle of the rhetorical flypaper theory. He would rather fight on the rarified level of pop sociology than defend Bush' s character. Sweeter and more proper to read over breakfast than accounts of bombed mosques and ruined lives.

Posted by: Roger Bigod | Oct 12, 2004 12:10:23 PM

Brooks doesn't know what he's talking about.

Brooks is attributing to the Bush administration the super-optimistic global libertarianism or anarchism of 90's-style neoliberals - the belief in a laissez-faire world in which there is no need for institutions of global governance because "free" economic actors naturally create self-regulating, overlappping, interconnected networks, where security is defended locally and in an ad hoc manner, and underpinned by recognition of mutual benefit and interdependence. This is a globalist version of 19th century libertarianism, in its right-wing, laissez faire manifestation rather than the left-wing anarachist or libertarian socialist version.

Brooks apparently hasn't been paying attention for the past four years. The libertarian globalist world is not the Bush world - or at least it is not the dominant theme in his administration's foreign policy. What the Bush administration seems to have sought is an American imperium - a world in which there is still plenty of strong, centralized global governance, but the sources of that governance are either the United States alone, exercising its power tyrranically to extend American influence and institutions throughout the world(neoconservatives) or a very small number of great powers (China, Russia, the US, the European Union), each exercising tyrranical governance over their own sphere of influence, and occasionally cooperating in temporary coalitions of the willing for difficult global security challenges (Rice).

The dominant Bush worldview seems to be just as darkly Hobbesian as that of the most pessimistic of internationalists, and disparages many international institutions and treaties not for philosophical reaasons, but only because the United States is the most powerful country in the world, and they see international governance as tying US hands without providing sufficient compensating benefits. This is, we might say, the Sicilian model of order - powerful strongmen, controlling a group of dependents through fear and the distribution of benefits, and in ruthless competition with one another. Bush is for authoritarianism at home, and ruthlessly exercised militarism abroad, and is much happier with economic protectionism than the neoliberals Brooks has in mind. It's more proto-fascist than libertarian.

There also seems to be more than a whiff of Robert Kaplan in the Bush administration ideology. Rather than celebrating, in libertarian fashion, the decline in strong institutions of global governance, they sometimes seem to see the world as entering a new era of terrifying global anarchy, in which the task of the rich and powerful US is to consolidate its wealth and power so that it can defend itself against, and eventually crush, the restless and desperate hordes of incorrigible, dispossessed barbarians.

Kerry's world view is closer to the European view, and the classical international legal tradition. He believes in the possibility of nations creating institutions that can govern their relations among one another, thus avoid violence and promote general prosperity. And he seems to believe that the proper response to the defects in the institutions that currently exist is to strengthen or reform those institutions, not trash them or simply opt.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Oct 12, 2004 12:13:00 PM

"He believes in the possibility of nations creating institutions that can govern their relations among one another, thus avoid violence and promote general prosperity."

I believe in that possiblity, too. I just think it's delusional to think the possiblity is remotely near being realized. Today's international institutions are hopelessly corrupt and compromised, due to the stubborn insistance of their creators to treat civilized democracies and sociopathic dictators as equals.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Oct 12, 2004 12:20:37 PM

Poor Brooks. He looks at the Bush administration, and sees support for torture, dismissals of Geneva convention laws as "quaint," support for coups and rebellions against already-democratic governments in Venezuala and Haiti. He knows that his neoconservative ideals are being betrayed by Alberto Gonzales and the like, yet as a quintessential movement conservative -- in a way that, say, Andrew Sullivan never was -- he cannot do other than swallow his humiliation with the administration's misconduct and pretend that they really are the idealists he originally thought they would be. He can acknowledge that they're misguided, but he cannot (publicly) conceive of anything but them wanting to get back on the right track of democracy and freedom, as soon as they hear the inner light of their neoconservative consciences and heed Brooks' wise advice.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 12, 2004 12:25:51 PM

Brett,

I agree with you. But my instinctive response to this bad situation is reformist. let's see the media and the candidates put some proposals on the table for reformed international security and economic institutions, new kinds of treaty arrangements, etc. and debate them.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Oct 12, 2004 12:36:01 PM

David Brooks? Interesting column? Well, you know what they say about blind squirrels and the nuts they occasionally find.

Posted by: George W. Bush | Oct 12, 2004 1:29:52 PM

Today's international institutions are hopelessly corrupt and compromised, due to the stubborn insistance of their creators to treat civilized democracies and sociopathic dictators as equals.

Pinochet? The Shah? Saddam Hussein?

Posted by: Roger Bigod | Oct 12, 2004 1:41:00 PM

The problem with the "the UN shouldn't treat a dictatorship as the equal of a democracy" argument is that until democracies acquire enough military power to completely dominate all non-democracies without a major war, it's not very practical. Insulting a dictatorship that you don't have the means to attack without a nuclear war is not very effective.

Posted by: Carlos | Oct 12, 2004 2:20:03 PM

Just to add that I also thought Matt's response to Brooks was brilliant.

Posted by: Michael Otsuka | Oct 12, 2004 2:29:00 PM

"But my instinctive response to this bad situation is reformist."

My analogy to the UN including dictatorships is one of founding a Christian denomination that would refuse to admit sinners. If all the members of the UN were non-corrupt democracies, I doubt it would be needed or have any point.

MY was indeed brilliant. I simply don't trust Brooks, and read and reread his stuff in search of the hidden hack. He is in there somewhere.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 12, 2004 3:25:04 PM

I like that line: "Have to sleep".

Self-interest in order, precedent, and transparency.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Oct 12, 2004 3:47:18 PM

"And there are lots of semi-arbitrary coordination rules, like how you can't just pick which side of the street to drive on. Extend this vision of social order to the international sphere and you get Kerry's worldview, not Bush's."

I don't follow this at all. There is no law with legitimacy in the part of the world in which we are operating. No one is suggesting that we should walk into Paris with the same disposition with which we walked into Baghdad.

The question for foreign policy, then, is wherein lies legitimacy when power does not flow from the people? One camp sees international institutions as legitimizing while the other believes (or recognizes, IMHO) that when dealing with tyrants, the stick is all that matters.

From the perspective of the despot, international institutions without teeth are laughed at utterly when they issue condemnations and resolutions, but are appealed to when it is convenient. International institutions don't help anyone by legitimizing tyrants on a regular basis, say, by granting them a podium from which they can lecture the rest of us about human rights.

Preserving the rule of the tyrant is not to support 'semi arbitrary rules', but is rather to intentionally preserve oppression as a preference over temporary chaos.

Posted by: Jason Ligon | Oct 12, 2004 4:31:25 PM

Genuinely interesting? How so, Matt?

This was typical Bobo blowing bubbles. It's the perception of people who live in the wide-open spaces of Redland and the crowded cities of Blueland that shape two worldviews: Freedom and Internationalism? And the two choices he presents us with are Barry Goldwater, a John Birch reactionary from 1960's AZ and Ted Kennedy, a bloated walking parody of liberalism? Brooks has nothing to say. He just puts pretty melodramatic cliches around talking points and says them politely.

As JJF points out above, he's full of shit. Dan Kervick should be getting that NYT real estate. His comment here is better than just about anything I've read in the Times, especially from Brooks.

Posted by: Chibi | Oct 12, 2004 8:20:15 PM

Chibi,

Your first paragraph was perhaps the most accurate synopsis of Brooks that I have read.

Posted by: Waffle | Oct 12, 2004 9:38:43 PM

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