Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative


February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@The Washington Post

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Dr Fareed Zakara and America’s Foreign Policy Enfant Terrible Dr. Henry Kissinger

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stephen-bannons-words-and-actions-dont-add-up/2017/02/09/33010a94-ef19-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html?utm_term=.14e5d7218424

Perhaps it’s just me, but a few weeks into the Trump presidency, between the tweets, executive orders, attacks and counterattacks, I feel dizzy. So I’ve decided to take a break from the daily barrage and try to find the signal amid the noise: What is the underlying philosophy of this administration?

The chief ideologist of the Trump era is surely Stephen K. Bannon, by many accounts now the second-most powerful man in the government. Bannon is intelligent and broadly read, and has a command of U.S. history. I’ve waded through his many movies and speeches, and in these, he does not come across as a racist or white supremacist, as some people have charged. But he is an unusual conservative. We have gotten used to conservatives who are really economic libertarians, but Bannon represents an older school of European thought that is distrustful of free markets, determined to preserve traditional culture and religion, and unabashedly celebrates nationalism and martial values.

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012, Bannon explained his disgust for Mitt Romney and his admiration for Sarah Palin, whose elder son, Bannon noted, had served in Iraq. The rich and successful Romney, by contrast, “will not be my commander in chief,” Bannon said, because, although the candidate had five sons who “look like good all-American guys . . . not one has served a day in the military.”

Image result for steve bannon donald trumpPresident Trump’s Chief Ideologue Stephen Bannon–The Powerafter President Trump in 1600, Pennslyvania Avenue, Washington DC

The core of Bannon’s worldview can be found in his movie “Generation Zero.” It centers on the financial crisis of 2008, and the opening scenes — in their fury against bankers — could have been written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But then it moves on to its real point: The financial crisis happened because of a larger moral crisis. The film blames the 1960s and the baby boomers who tore down traditional structures of society and created a “culture of narcissism.”

How did Woodstock trigger a financial crisis four decades later? According to Bannon, the breakdown of old-fashioned values resulted in a culture of self-centeredness that measured everything and everyone in one way: money. The movie goes on to accuse the political and financial establishments of betraying their country by enacting free trade deals that benefited them but hollowed out Middle America.

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Historian, Civil Rights Activist and Public Intellectual, Howard Zinn

In a strange way, Bannon’s dark, dystopian view of U.S. history is closest to that of Howard Zinn, a popular far-left scholar whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a tale of the many ways in which 99 percent of Americans were crushed by the country’s all-powerful elites. In the Zinn/Bannon worldview, everyday people are simply pawns manipulated by their evil overlords.

A more accurate version of recent American history would show that the cultural shift that began in the 1960s was fueled by a powerful, deeply American force: individualism. The United States had always been highly individualistic. Both Bannon and Trump seem nostalgic for an age — the 1930s to 1950s — that was an aberration for the nation. The Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II created a collectivist impulse that transformed the country. But after a while, Americans began to reassert their age-old desire for personal freedom, fulfillment and advancement. The world of the 1950s sounds great, unless you were a woman who wanted to work, an African-American who wanted to vote, an immigrant who wanted to move up or an aspiring entrepreneur stuck in a large, faceless corporation.

The United States that allowed individuals to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s, of course, was where the young and enterprising Bannon left a large bank to set up his own shop, do his own deals and make a small fortune. It then allowed him to produce and distribute movies outside of the Hollywood establishment, build a media start-up into a powerhouse and become a political entrepreneur entirely outside the Republican hierarchy. This United States allowed Bannon’s brash new boss to get out of Queens into Manhattan, build skyscrapers and also his celebrity, all while horrifying the establishment. Donald Trump is surely the poster child for the culture of narcissism.

Image result for president donald j trumpMaking America Great Again in a Messy World

In the course of building their careers, Trump and Bannon discarded traditionalism in every way. Both men are divorced — Bannon three times, Trump twice. They have achieved their dreams precisely because society was wide open to outsiders, breaking traditional morality did not carry a stigma and American elites were actually not that powerful. Their stories are the stories of modern America. But their message to the country seems to be an old, familiar one: Do as I say, not as I do.

 

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies–Thinking the Unthinkable


February 6, 2017

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies

In Defense of Thinking

by Herman Kahn

Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.–Herman Kahn

https://hudson.org/research/2211-in-defense-of-thinking

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Futurist Herman Kahn with President Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld

Seventy-five years ago white slavery was rampant in England. Each year thousands of young girls were forced into brothels and kept there against their will. While some of the victims had been sold by their families, a large proportion were seized and held by force or fraud. The victims were not from the lower classes only; no level of English society was immune to having its daughters seized. Because this practice continued in England for years after it had been largely wiped out on the Continent, thousands of English girls were shipped across the Channel to supply the brothels of Europe. One reason why this lasted as long as it did was that it could not be talked about openly in Victorian England; moral standards as to subjects of discussion made it difficult to arouse the community to necessary action. Moreover, the extreme innocence considered appropriate for English girls made them easy victims, helpless to cope with the situations in which they were trapped. Victorian standards, besides perpetuating the white slave trade, intensified the damage to those involved. Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.

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A Message  for Donald J. Tump

The psychological factors involved in ostrich-like behavior have parallels in communities and nations. Nevertheless, during the sixty years of the twentieth century many problems have come increasingly into the realm of acceptable public discussion. Among various unmentionable diseases, tuberculosis has lost almost all taint of impropriety; and venereal disease statistics can now be reported by the press. Mental illness is more and more regarded as unfortunate instead of shameful. The word “cancer” has lost its stigma, although the horror of the disease has been only partially abated by medical progress.

Despite the progress in removing barriers in the way of discussing diseases formerly considered shameful, there are doubtless thousands going without vital medical treatment today because of their inhibitions against learning, thinking, or talking about certain diseases. Some will not get treatment because they do not know enough to recognize the symptoms, some because they are consciously ashamed to reveal illness, and some because they refuse to think about their condition it seems too horrible to think about. It may now be possible to condemn unequivocally the extremes of Victorian prudery, but less doctrinaire forms of ostrichism must be considered with more care; they are, after all, often based on healthy instincts.

Everyone is going to die, but surely it is a good thing that few of us spend much time dwelling on that fact. Life would be nearly impossible if we did. If thinking about something bad will not improve it, it is often better not to think about it. Perhaps some evils can be avoided or reduced if people do not think or talk about them. But when our reluctance to consider danger brings danger nearer, repression has gone too far.

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In 1960 I published a book (pic above) that attempted to direct attention to the possibility of a thermonuclear war, to ways of reducing the likelihood of such a war, and to methods for coping with the consequences should war occur despite our efforts to avoid it. The book was greeted by a large range of responses, some of them sharply critical. Some of this criticism was substantive, touching on greater or smaller questions of strategy, policy, or research techniques. But much of the criticism was not concerned with the correctness or incorrectness of the views I expressed.

It was concerned with whether any book should have been written on this subject at all. It is characteristic of our times that many intelligent and sincere people are willing to argue that it is immoral to think and even more immoral to write in detail about having to fight a thermonuclear war.

By and large this criticism was not personal; it simply reflected the fact that we Americans and many people throughout the world are not prepared to face reality, that we transfer our horror of thermonuclear war to reports about the realities of thermonuclear war. In a sense we are acting like those ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news. This did not change the news; it simply slowed up its delivery. On occasion it meant that the kings were ill informed and, lacking truth, made serious errors in judgment and strategy. In our times, thermonuclear war may seem unthinkable, immoral, insane, hideous, or highly unlikely, but it is not impossible.

To act intelligently we must learn as much as we can about the risks. We may thereby be able better to avoid nuclear war. We may even be able to avoid the crises that bring us to the brink of war. But despite our efforts we may some day come face to face with a blunt choice between surrender or war. We may even have war thrust upon us without being given any kind of choice. We must appreciate these possibilities. We cannot wish them away. Nor should we overestimate and assume the worst is inevitable. This leads only to defeatism, inadequate preparations (because they seem useless), and pressures toward either preventive war or undue accommodation.

Many terrible questions are raised when one considers objectively and realistically the problems created by the cold war and the armaments race. For some years I have spent my time on exactly these questions both in thinking about ways to prevent war, and in thinking about how to fight, survive, and terminate a war, should it occur. My colleagues and I have sought answers to such questions as these: How likely is accidental war? How can one make it less likely? How dangerous is the arms race today? What will it be like in the future? What would conditions be if a nuclear attack leveled fifty of America’s largest cities? Would the survivors envy the dead? How many million American lives would an American President risk by standing firm in differing types of crises? By starting a nuclear war? By continuing a nuclear war with the hope of avoiding surrender? How many lives would he risk? How is it most likely to break down? If it does break down, what will be the consequence? Are we really risking an end to all human life with our current system? If true, are we willing to risk it? Do we then prefer some degree of unilateral disarmament? If we do, will we be relying on the Russians to protect us from the Chinese? Will the world be more or less stable? Should we attempt to disarm unilaterally? If the answers to these last questions depend on the degree of damage that is envisaged, are we willing to argue that it is all right to risk a half billion or a billion people but not three billion?

There seem to be three basic objections to asking these types of questions:

1. No one should attempt to think about these problems in a detailed and rational way. 2. What thinking there is on these problems should be done in secret by the military exclusively, or at least by the government. 3. Even if some of this thinking must be done outside the government, the results of any such thought should not be made available to the public.

It is argued that thinking about the indescribable horror of nuclear war breeds callousness and indifference to the future of civilization in our planners and decision makers. It is true that detailed and dispassionate discussion of such questions is likely to look incredibly hard-hearted. It should also be clear, at least to thoughtful readers, that such questions must be considered. The reality may be so unpleasant that decision makers would prefer not to face it; but to a great extent this reality has been forced on them, or has come uninvited.

Thanks to our ever-increasing technology, we are living in a terrible and dangerous world; but, unlike the lady in the cartoon we cannot say, “Stop the world, I want to get off. We cannot get off. Even the most utopian of today’s visionaries will have to concede that the mere existence of modern technology involves a risk to civilization that would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago. While we are going to make major attempts to change the nature of this reality, accepting great risks if necessary, most of us are unwilling to choose either a pronounced degree of unilateral disarmament or a preventive war designed to “settle” our problems one way or another. We therefore must face the facts that thermonuclear bombs now exist [and that] unless we are willing to abdicate our responsibilities, we are pledged to the maintenance of terrifying weapon systems with known and unknown, calculable and incalculable risks, unless and until better arrangements can be made.

If we are to have an expensive and lethal defense establishment, we must weigh all the risks and benefits. We must at least ask ourselves what are the likely and unlikely results of an inadvertent war, the possibilities of accident, irresponsibility, or unauthorized behavior on the other side as well as on our own.

A variation of the objection to careful consideration of these problems focuses on the personality of the thinker. This argument goes: Better no thought than evil thought; and since only evil and callous people can think about this, better no thought. Alternatively, the thinker’s motives are analyzed: This man studies war; he must like war much like the suspicion that a surgeon is a repressed sadist. Even if the charge were true, which in general it is not, it is not relevant. Like the repressed sadist who can perform a socially useful function by sublimating his urges into surgery, the man who loves war or violence may be able to successfully sublimate his desires into a careful and valuable study of war. It does indeed take an iron will or an unpleasant degree of detachment to go about this task. Ideally it should be possible for the analyst to have a disciplined empathy. In fact, the mind recoils from simultaneously probing deeply and creatively into these problems and being conscious at all times of the human tragedy involved.

This is not new. We do not continually remind the surgeon while he is operating of the humanity of his patient. We do not flash pictures of his patient’s wife or children in front of him. We want him to be careful, and we want him to be aware of the importance and frailty of the patient; we do not want him to be distracted or fearful. We do not expect illustrations in a book on surgery to be captioned: “A particularly deplorable tumor,” or “Good health is preferable to this kind of cancer.” Excessive comments such as, “And now there’s a lot of blood,” or “This particular cut really hurts,” are out-of-place although these are important things for a surgeon to know. To mention such things may be important. To dwell on them is morbid, and gets in the way of the information. The same tolerance needs be extended to thought on national security.

Some feel that we should consider these problems but view them with such awe and horror that we should not discuss them in normal, neutral, professional everyday language. I tend to disagree, at least so far as technical discussions and research are concerned. One does not do research in a cathedral. Awe is fine for those who come to worship or admire, but for those who come to analyze, to tamper, to change, to criticize, a factual and dispassionate, and sometimes even colorful, approach is to be preferred. And if the use of everyday language jars, that is all the more reason for using it. Why would one expect a realistic discussion of thermonuclear war not to be disturbing?

The very complexity of the questions raised is another reason why many object to their consideration. There is no doubt that if we reject hard thinking about alternatives in favor of uncritical acceptance of an extreme position we make the argument simpler and most of us prefer simple arguments.

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To summarize: Many people believe that the current system must inevitably end in total annihilation. They reject, sometimes very emotionally, any attempts to analyze this notion. Either they are afraid of where the thinking will lead them or they are afraid of thinking at all. They want to make the choice, between a risk and the certainty of disaster, between sanity and insanity, between good and evil; therefore, as moral and sane men they need no longer hesitate. I hold that an intelligent and responsible person cannot pose the problem so simply.

The last objection to detailed thought on thermonuclear war rests on the view that the subject is not only unpleasant but difficult. Many people feel that it is useless to apply rationality and calculation in any area dominated by irrational decision makers. This is almost comparable to feeling that it would be impossible to design a safety system for an insane asylum by rational methods, since, after all, the inmates are irrational. Of course, no governor or superintendent would consider firing the trained engineer, and turning the design over to one of the lunatics. The engineer is expected to take the irrationality of the inmates into account by a rational approach. Rational discussions of war and peace can explicitly include the possibility of irrational behavior.

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The Danger for America Today–The Unthinkable is Thinkable under Donald J. Trump  45th  POTUS

Of course, analysts may be misled by oversimplified models or misleading assumptions, and their competence readily attacked. However, except for irrelevant references to game theory and computers, such attacks are rare, and are usually so half-hearted that it is clear that their main motivation is not to expose incompetency. Given the difficulty of the problems, one would expect the critics to work more effectively on the obvious methodological problems and other weaknesses of present-day analysts.

Critics frequently refer to the icy rationality of the Hudson Institute, the Rand Corporation, and other such organizations. I’m always tempted to ask in reply, “Would you prefer a warm, human error? Do you feel better with a nice emotional mistake?” We cannot expect good discussion of security problems if we are going to label every attempt at detachment as callous, every attempt at objectivity as immoral. Such attitudes not only block discussion of the immediate issues, they lead to a disunity and fragmentation of the intellectual community that can be disastrous to the democratic dialogue between specialist and layman. The former tends to withdraw to secret and private discussions; the latter becomes more and more innocent, or naive, and more likely to be outraged if he is ever exposed to a professional discussion.

Finally, there is the objection that thermonuclear war should not, at least in detail, be discussed publicly. Even some who admit the usefulness of asking unpleasant questions have advocated raising them only in secret. One objector pointed out to me that if a parent in a burning building is faced with the problem of having to save one of two children, but not both, he will make a decision on the spur of the moment; it wouldn’t have made any difference if the parent had agonized over the problem ahead of time, and it would have been particularly bad to agonize in the presence of the children. This may be true, but other considerations dominate our nation’s choices; our capabilities for action and the risks we are assuming for ourselves and thrusting on others will be strongly influenced by our preparations both intellectual and physical.

Other reasons for this objection to public discussion range all the way from concern about telling the Soviets too much, and a fear of weakening the resolve of our own people, through a feeling that public discussion of death and destruction is distastefully comparable to a drugstore display of the tools, methods, and products of the mortician. Perhaps some or all of these objections to public discussion are well taken. I do not know for sure, but I think they are wrong.

They are wrong if we expect our people to participate rationally in the decision-making process in matters that are vital to their existence as individuals and as a nation. As one author has put it: “In a democracy, when experts disagree, laymen must resolve the disagreement.” One issue is whether it is better that the lay public, which will directly or indirectly decide policy, be more or less informed. A second issue is whether the discussion itself may not be significantly improved by eliciting ideas from people outside of official policy-making channels.

There are in any case at least two significant obstacles to full public debate of national security matters. The first, of course, is the constantly increasing problem of communication between the technologist and the layman, because of the specialization (one might almost say fragmentation) of knowledge. The other lies in the serious and paramount need to maintain security. Technical details of weapons’ capabilities and weaknesses must remain classified to some degree. Nonetheless, technical details may be of vital importance in resolving much broader problems. (For instance, who can presume to say whether the military advantages of atomic weapons testing outweigh the obvious political and physical disadvantages unless he knows what the military advantages are.) Moreover, those who feel that in some areas “security” has been unnecessarily extended must concede that in certain areas it has its place. To that extent the functioning of the democratic processes must be compromised with the requirements of the cold war and modem technology. Fortunately, non-classified sources often give reasonable approximations to the classified data. I would say that many of the agonizing problems facing us today can be debated and understood just about as easily without classified material as with provided one carefully considers the facts that are available.

It is quite clear that technical details are not the only important operative facts. Human and moral factors must always be considered. They must never be missing from policies and from public discussion. But emotionalism and sentimentality, as opposed to morality and concern, only confuse debates. Nor can experts be expected to repeat, “If, heaven forbid. ….,” before every sentence. Responsible decision makers and researchers cannot afford the luxury of denying the existence of agonizing questions. The public, whose lives and freedom are at stake, expects them to face such questions squarely and, where necessary, the expert should expect little less of the public.

*Herman Kahn, Founder, Hudson Institute

January 1st, 1962 Adapted from Thinking About the Unthinkable (Horizon Press), © Hudson Institute

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The Pangs of an Itinerant Thinker– Of Ethics and Deathics


December 19, 2016

The Pangs of an Itinerant Thinker– Of Ethics and Deathics

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

In the course of my long-running participation in the human race, and my increasingly urgent strivings to figure-out where I’m likely to be placed in this enthralling event when old age and death finally force me to drop out of it, I’ve become increasingly confused about its rules.

At the start it seemed to be childishly simple. Obey the so-called commandments of some alleged heavenly father and earthly representatives like priests, parents and teachers, and you’re a guaranteed winner in either this life or the next, if not both.

But then adolescence kicked-in, activating not just antagonism to the rules, but a growing awareness that adults seemed to be running the human race according to not just a single set of rules, but countlessly competing and conflicting ones.

Some clearly and sincerely intended to render the race as fair as humanly possible, and thus genuinely ethical; but others designed to rig the contest in favour of themselves and their running-mates, and thus downright unethical, or, if you like, deathical to the rest of us also-rans.

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In other words, there is an ethical/deathical divide in the human race that explains but by no means excuses the dismal fact that, as Aristotle wrote 2,500 or so years ago in his ‘Politics’, “man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is the worst of all when divorced from law and justice.”

And, despite the system of ‘virtue’ ethics that Aristotle famously advocated as a solution to this infernal contest between good and evil in the human race, and all the myriad other ethical systems, both ‘sacred’ and secular that have been proposed before and since, the problem is seemingly eternal.

Possibly the oldest and most widely-known ethical principle, and certainly the first secular one I recall hearing about, is the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ to do unto others what we would wish others to do to us.

But, while at first sight this is a perfectly reasonable rule for the fair and successful running of the human race, on further examination it has a fatal flaw lurking in the apparently innocent word ‘others’.

Because as has been horribly evident throughout history, the word ‘others’ has been routinely (mis)interpreted as meaning and including ‘others just like ourselves’, and thus excluding all other others.

As including only other Aryans, to cite an especially evil perversion of the Golden Rule by the Nazis, but excluding non-Aryans and even allegedly non-humans like Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other groups thus targeted for torture and killing.

And in a perennial virtually worldwide sense, including ‘others’ of our own race, skin-colour, creed, gender, nationality or some other equally spuriously significant common factor, and excluding other others accordingly.

‘He who makes the rules gets the gold’

A further problem with the Golden Rule as an ethic, of course, is that it is so easily subverted by such cynically self-serving deathics, as, for example, ‘he who has the gold makes the rules’, and the corollary intended to form greed into a vicious circle with power, ‘he who makes the rules gets the gold’.

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These Guys of the Eastern Philosophy School are beginning to make sense to us in the 21st century world–Holistic Thinking

Given all these difficulties with the Golden Rule, I personally, like Confucius (551-479BC), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and doubtless many other philosophers, vastly prefer the Silver Rule: do not unto others what you would not want them to do to you.

While superficially this seems just a negative version of the Golden Rule, the crucial difference that becomes clear on further examination is that, while what we want for ourselves and others tends to be impossibly vague and various, we’re far more sure what we definitely don’t want and thus should not inflict on others, or, for that matter, on other others.

In other words, the Silver Rule in both theory and practice sets us free to aspire and strive toward the most golden of our aspirations by equally denying us the right to kill, rob, abuse, persecute, impoverish or otherwise disadvantage each other in ways that anybody in his or her right mind would possibly want.

And, thank goodness it’s largely the Silver Rule that forms the basis for our systems of ‘religious’ and secular law.

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UMNO’s Strategic Thinker

Unfortunately, however, laws and the systems of ethics underpinning them have always, as today by Islamic State, Boko Haram and similar rogue organisations, along with allegedly criminal ruling regimes in countless countries ranging from Russia and Syria to Zaire and Zimbabwe, not to mention Malaysia, been supplanted by the deathic variously known as the Law of the Jungle or the Iron Rule declaring that ‘might is right’.

And under this deadly deathic it is possible to discern a good many subsidiary ones that might be called, for example, the Steel Law that apparently grants the potentates, or in the case of Malaysia, the UMNOputras, the power to take what they want from the people; the Copper Law that decrees that the regime owns the police; and the Rubber Law designed to render the constitution and laws of the country sufficiently flexible as to always protect the regime and its cronies and to punish its critics and opponents.

But thankfully there are finally some signs that UMNO-BN’s Steel Law is getting rusty, its Copper Law terribly tarnished, and its Rubber Law perished beyond repair. And that there are so many good, honest, courageous and truly ethical Malaysians who are hell-bent on finally destroying this deathical regime that it’s finally and deservedly doomed.

 

The Concept of Middle Power


November 15, 2016

The Concept of Middle Power–A Perspective

by Dong-min Shin

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Giovanni Botero, a mayor of Milan in the 15th century, defined a “middle power” as an actor with sufficient strength and authority to stand on its own without the need for help from others. Since then, the concept of middle powers has been consistently mentioned in the field of international relations (Wight 1978: 298). The “grading” of state actors first became a subject of diplomatic debates at the peace settlement of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. It was then that a class of middle powers was formally recognized, among them the states of Germany (Wight 1978: 63).

The concept of middle powers received serious examination in the final stages of World War II (WWII) in relation to Canada and Australia. The two countries tried to find ways of enhancing their influence based on their contributions to the Allies. At the early stages of the establishment of the United Nations (UN), Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King insisted that middle power countries should co-operate with each other, with an eye to securing their influence in international society, suggesting the concept of ‘Middlepowerhood’ in 1944 (Holbraad 1984: 57-67). In Australia, Minister for External Affairs Herbert Evatt discussed the concept of middle powers with a view to secure his country’s national interest in a new world order after WWII (Ungerer 2007: 538-51). Since then, the concept of middle power has become a trademark of the two countries’ foreign policy (Hurst 2007).

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In the East Asian context since the late 1990s governments as well as academics in the ROK and Japan have tended to view these countries’ foreign policy and affairs with the middle power concept in mind, and this trend has become stronger in recent years (Shin 2012; Soeya 2009).

Theoretical Trends in Approaches to Middle Powers

Normally, established IR theories such as neo-realism assume a dichotomy in terms of classifying states, such as great powers and others (Waltz 1979 : 131). From this dichotomous view of types of states, middle powers and weak states are qualitatively the same: they are sub-structural units which are considered as a mere object shaped by power politics among great powers.

However, international politics has witnessed a different reality. Some states change the behavior of great powers, but others even fail to defend their own position. Accordingly, from the perspective of this article, the simple dichotomy, states who have a structural level of influence versus states who do not, leads to an oversimplified explanation of international politics. In this respect, the concept of middle power, as a category distinct from great power and weak state, can be a perspective to examine international relations beyond the limitation of the dichotomy. Specifically, middle power discourses are based on second-image analysis. By “bringing the state back in” (Hobson 2000: 45), middle power theory naturally allows more space for agency. In this context, it is possible to say that middle power discourses can broaden the areas which IR theory covers by providing a frame to read and analyze the foreign affairs of a group of countries such as middle powers in a subjective manner.

While there has been little agreement on what constitutes the features of a middle power within the field of IR theory, the largely accepted theoretical approaches to the subject are classified into three perspectives: functional, behavioral and hierarchical (Chapnick 1999: 73-82). The functional perspective argues that a country able to influence certain areas and functions in international affairs is considered a middle power. For example, in 1942, Canadian diplomat Hume Wrong emphasized that international society should respect Canada’s role as a middle power in three functional criteria: extent of involvement, interest, and ability (Foreign Affairs 2013). The behavioral perspective holds the view that a country is a middle power if it plays certain roles considered as those of a middle power or if it identifies itself as such. Cooper and his colleagues (1993: 19) proposed that pursuing multilateral solutions to international problems, preferring compromise positions in international disputes and embracing notions of good international citizenship constitute the typical behavior of a middle power.

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The third approach is the hierarchical perspective. This approach ranks and categorizes states by applying standards relating to their capabilities. Countries with medium-range capabilities are grouped as middle powers, and great powers and weak powers can be categorized in the same manner. Kim (2009: 19) noted that the hierarchical perspective tends to use statistical indices for categorizing countries such as size of territory, GDP, the volume of trade and foreign currency reserves, population, and number of soldiers.

The Theoretical Limitations of Existing Perspectives

However, the existing perspectives, functional, behavioral and hierarchical, have several theoretical weaknesses. First, the existing perspectives cover limited aspects and issues of international relations. These perspectives have been elaborated in the liberal-leaning political contexts of western countries, which postulate that the chances of building cooperation among states are high and, accordingly, seek to find the roles of middle powers in this context. For example, the typical behaviors of middle powers identified by the behavioral perspective are catalyst (triggering diplomatic initiatives), facilitator (forming collaborative activities) and manager (building institutions; Cooper et al 1993: 24-5). In other words, “realist” issues such as survival, security and conflict are not considered as decisive factors in defining the concept of middle power by the functionalistic and behavioral perspectives.

Second, although functional, behavioral and hierarchical perspectives approach the notion of middle power in different ways, they all postulate that the main determinants of such power are individual state-level factors: a country’s performance in certain functional areas, its behavior and capabilities calculated in a quantitative way. In other words, the established middle power perspectives presuppose that individual-level features of a country are the first judge of whether or not it meets the criteria of a middle power.

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However, it is questionable whether defining middle powers without considering interaction with other political entities is appropriate. This is because the concept of “power”, which is the sole criterion determining where countries fit on the great, middle and weak spectrum, is a relational notion, particularly from the perspective of classical realism. Hans Morgenthau (1965: 30) defined power as “anything that establishes and maintains the control of man over man”. As power is a phenomenon with respect to “man over man”, without the existence of other actors and interactions with them, the concept cannot be established. In this respect, this article argues that if this dimension of the nature of power is not considered, the features of middle powers cannot be well reflected and accordingly differentiated from others.

An Alternative Theoretical Perspective: Classical Realism

As mentioned above, the concept of middle power serves as a useful tool for examining IR phenomena, although the existing theoretical trends in middle power approaches are limited in their explanatory capacity. Accordingly, this articles argues that an alternative theoretical perspective for studying the concept of middle power is needed. This article proposes a theoretical alternative originating from classical realism, the school represented by Morgenthau, Carr et al. The reasons are as follows.

First, the theoretical viewpoint of classical realism fits well into the assumptions which the concept of middle power presupposes. As partly mentioned above, the discussions focusing on the independent realm of middle powers naturally assume: 1) more space for agency in terms of level of analysis 2) contrary to the monolithic nature of the state which neo-realism assumes, a different nature and performance of each state-level agent (a middle power is different from a great power and a weak state). According to Hobson (2000: 17), classical realism argues that all states have sufficient levels of international agential power to shape the inter-state system. For example, Morgenthau focused on the “intelligence” of a state, the capability of a country to identify a rival state’s foreign policies as “imperial”, “status quo”, “prestige” driven and to counter these different types of foreign policy in a proper manner with “containment” or “appeasement”. Therefore, classical realism assumes the capability and performance of each state can be differentiated (Hobson 2000: 48; Morgenthau 1965: 6, 70).

Second, classical realism brings security affairs into the center of the investigation of the nature of middle power. Given the fact that the existing middle power literatures leans towards liberalism, middle power discussions based on classical realism expand the boundaries which the concept covers. In other words, the concept of middle power can be applied to the analysis of countries whose foreign policies are centered on security affairs.

Third, while maintaining the centrality of security issues, classical realism can be compatible with the existing middle power literature. Classical realism argues that along with material strength, immaterial aspects also constitute sources of power. Morgenthau (1965: 9) stated that power reaches from physical violence to the most subtle psychological ties by which one mind controls another. For Morgenthau (1965: 186), the most important material aspect of power are armed forces, but even more significant is a nation’s character, morale and quality of governance. In this way, it is possible to say that classical realism does not exclude the roles of middle power in liberal-leaning theories by taking into account sources of power on a broad spectrum. Lee Geun (et al 2001: 181) added that classical realism has something in common with constructivist theory as both consider the ideational factors such as norms, equivalence and identity.

Based on classical realism, this article proposes a tentative working definition of middle power as follows:

A middle power is a state actor which has limited influence on deciding the distribution of power in a given regional system, but is capable of deploying a variety of sources of power to change the position of great powers and defend its own position on matters related to national or regional security that directly affect it (Shin 2012).

Middle power as a relational concept exists on the continuum of other state groups such as weak state and great power. Accordingly, to compare middle powers with other types of states helps to make distinctive the nature of middle powers. Elements of the working definition are:

A middle power’s “limited influence on deciding the distribution of power in a given regional system”: How is a middle power different from a great power? Discussing various ways of defining a great power, Wight argued that the most satisfactory definition is that great powers are powers with general interests as wide as the states-system itself (Wight 1978 : 50). Putting Wight’s definition of “great power” in Walt’s terms (1979: 97), outcomes in the international system are determined by relations among great powers as a group of countries having enough resources to decide the distribution of power of a regional or international political system. In this respect, it is natural to view states which are not great powers, such as middle powers, as having limitations in injecting their power into regional and global scales.

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A middle power can “change the position of great powers and defend its own position on matters related to national or regional security that directly affect it”: how is a middle power different from a weak state? As mentioned above, in reality, some states change behaviors of great powers but others even fail to defend their own position. This fact proves that applying the simple dichotomy, states who have structural level of influence and states who do not, to reality has limitations. The working definition argues that this limitation offers a watershed, separating a middle power from a weak state.

Conclusion

This article began with a short history and an overview of theoretical trends in middle power discussions in the field of IR, pointing out that the existing trends of middle power study are limited in their explanatory capacity due to a tendency towards liberalist criteria and a lack of considerations of interactions with other political entities. As a way to overcome this limitation, this article focused on the theoretical relevance of classical realism. Approaches to middle powers based on classical realism can help to broaden the areas which the concept of middle power covers by bringing security affairs into the center of investigation.

(This article is largely based on the author’s PhD thesis and published article.)

References

Cooper, Andrew F., Richard A. Higgott and Kim Richard Nossal (1993), Relocating Middle Powers: Australia and Canada in a Changing World Order (Vancouver: UBC Press)

Chapnick, Adam (1999), ‘The Middle Power’, Canadian Foreign Policy, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 73–82

Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Development of Canada Canada and the World: A History, 1939–1945: The World at War (2013),http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/206/301/faitc-aecic/history/2013-05-03/www.international.gc.ca/history-histoire/world-monde/1939-1945-1.aspx@lang=eng, 1 Apr. 2014

Hobson, John (2000), The State and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Holbraad, Carsten (1984), Middle Powers in International Politics (London: Macmillan), pp. 57–67

Hurst, Lynda (2007), ‘On World Stage, a Best Supporting Actor’, The Star, 29 September 2007, http://www.thestar.com/columinsts/article/261324 (accessed 1 Oct. 2015)

Kim, Chi-wook (2009), ‘Middle Power as a Unit of Analysis of International Relations: Its Conceptualization and Implications (국제정치분석 단위로서 중견국가)’, Korean Journal of International Studies, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 7–36

Lee, Soo-hyung (2009) ‘Middle Power Theory and Security and Foreign Policy of the Roh Moo-hyun Government (중견국가와 한국의 외교안보정책)’, Journal of National Defense Studies, Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 3–27

Morgenthau, Hans (1965),  Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: Alfred A. Knopf)

Shin, Dong-min (2012), ‘Concept of Middle Power and the Case of the ROK: A Review’, KoreaYearbook 2012: Politics, Economy and Society (Netherlands: Brill), pp. 131-52

Soeya, Yoshihide (2009) ‘prospects for Japan as a Middle Power’, East Asia Forum, 29 July 2013, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2013/07/29/prospects-for-japan-as-a-middle-power/ (accessed 1 Oct. 2015)

Ungerer, Carl (2007), ‘The Middle Power Concept in Australian Foreign Policy’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 538–51

Waltz, Kenneth N. (1979), Theory of International Politics (New York: Random House)

Wight, Martin (1978), Power Politics (New York: Holmes & Meier)

A Critical Review of the Concept of Middle Power

Islamisation and its Freudian discontents


October 27, 2016

Islamisation and its Freudian discontents

by Azly Rahman

http://www.malaysiakini.com

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I am back. I took a few weeks hiatus from this column to wrote a few literary essays, chapters from my memoir of growing up in the “sewel but sober and sensible seventies” – the best of times of the times of P Ramlee – as well as writing a long essay on the key novels of Salman Rushdie.

I spend days listening to the music of Pink Floyd and reading a collection of essays from the book ‘Pink Floyd and Philosophy’. These however did not keep me away from thinking about the issues in Malaysia, viewed from a global perspective.

The unresolved issue if the world’s record-breaking, hideously-linked case of the 1MDB. The ongoing drama of PAS, UMNO, Amanah, and the opposition parties. The continuing push for the Sharia Law add-on of the hudud. The story of the insanely massive amount of cash found in Sabah as it relates to corruption in the Water Department. The seeming helplessness of the Malaysian people in their struggle to demand for better and cleaner governance.

The failure of the Mahathirist slogan of ‘Bersih, Cekap, Amanah’ (Clean, Efficient, Trustworthy). The continuing saga of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad-Najib Abdul Razak-Anwar Ibrahim triangulating vendetta in the tradition of Mario Puzo’s la Cosa Nostra.

And today, I read about the story of the young father who jumped off the Penang Bridge in an apparent suicide for personal and political reasons, it seems. A Muslim who ended his life, leaving a wife and two young children – leaving this world after asking for forgiveness from God as well. A suicide note written both in despair and in great confidence.

At the global level, I thought of these: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – both will be warmongers of the new age of Russian-American authored Armageddon. World War III. New weapons of mass destruction. Aleppo, Syria. The battle for Mosul. The new Saudi Arabia after the fall of the empire of oil. The Saudi attacks on Yemen. The new Saudi Arabian venture: finance, tourism, and arms manufacturing.

Then there are also these global bogeymen called Al-Qaeda and IS – the invisible and elusive armies of Islam it seems that are keeping the American and the Russian war-machine going.

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All these in my mind as song after song from classic Pink Floyd albums play on. “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?” asks Pink Floyd in the lyrics and I thought of Aleppo and the total destruction of once-beautiful Syria. Just like the total destruction of the once-beautiful and learned Baghdad. Destroyed by the Americans in their tens of trillion-dollars war.

I thought of these. I thought of this thing called ‘Islamic philosophy’ I thought existed. I had these questions:

Is Islamic philosophy totally dead? Murdered by the Charlotte Cordays of the theocratic-hypocritical imams of its own creation? As we know from the history of the French Revolution, Charlotte Corday murdered the scientist and revolutionary-philosopher Marat, signifying the beginning of the political war between the Jacobins and the Girondins.

How could it be possible for Muslims, whose daily confessions include saying that “God is closer to you than your jugular vein”, be creating governments that help “society be closer to Nature”, to philosophies of sustainability, rather than be destroyers of it?

Progress mistaken to be monopolising of licences

How could such a spiritually-cognitive dissonance be the leitmotif of many an Islamic government when the religion itself is supposed to preach, amongst others, ecologically sustainable plans for national development rather than surrender to Das Kapital – or capitalism – spiced with Quranic verses calling for the advancement of the ummah through economic progress, yet progress here is mistaken to be the monopolising of the licences to rape and plunder Nature – cutting down trees, destroying rainforests, desertifying fertile lands, throwing indigenous peoples out of their traditional lands (because they are not Muslims and therefore spiritually incomplete as human beings), and to do everything that tak

In short, what manner of a French-Revolution that Islamic societies, such as Malaysia, such as the state calling itself “the verandah of Makkah” (serambi Makkah) that is allowing the rape of Nature to happen whilst the idea of Islam as a religion of peace (at peace with Nature) is being made the agenda of global dakwah?

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Public Display of Piety in Malaysia by UMNO Malays

Help us understand this:How do Muslims remedy this situation? Resolve this contradiction? Reverse this trend of Islamisation? Could it be that Islam as a religion does not have a praxis (applications of the principles of Philosophy to social needs), demanding Nature to be preserved and the dignity of human Nature be upheld?

This could be an improbable claim but judging from the way Islamic governments engaging in destroying rainforests, building weapons of mass destruction, allowing leaders to live like Pharaohs and Croesus (Firauns and Qaruns), and bombing each other to the seventh level of Hell (as in Saudi Arabia and Yemen) – it looks as if Islam is devoid of a Lao-Tzian/Daoist philosophy of living and statecraft much-needed in this world already destroyed by the excesses of Western Civilisation which pride itself in a strange descartian pride of controlling and destroying Nature through the growth of Empires, colonisation, Imperialism, and now post-Imperialistic post-Apocalyptic regimes engaged in all forms of state-sponsored terrorism, sanctioned as well by an underlying philosophy of false Judeo-Christianity.

Guns, guts, glories – destruction of the colonies. Civilising mission. The Crusades. The Conquistadors and the Cross – these are prelude to the anti-humanism of the teachings of the Jesus at The Sermon on the Mount – of the reminders of the Beatitudes. These are ignored and hence, the new world of a strange brew – religion, capitalism, a truncated version of Weber’s protestant ethics and the ghosts and spirits of capitalism roaming the modern world ruled by cybernetic-terroristic technologies.

Is this the world we created? A nightmare of Cartesian absurdities? Help explain these.

 

Excellence: A Point of View


October 18, 2016

Excellence: A Point of View

COMMENT: Everyone in Malaysia talks about the pursuit of excellence and some pretend to know what it means, especially  our mediocre politicians in power and men in the public service who are tasked to implement our national education policy and Blue Ocean Strategy.

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We employ snake oil consultants  and experts to write glossy blueprints and reports at horrendous cost to taxpayers but fail to execute them.  We create institutions like Pemandu to promote Najib’s deformation agenda, and Permata for bright kids, while our Chief Secretary to the Government makes himself advocate-in-chief of the Blue Ocean Strategy concept to suck up to Najib Razak. In reality, we do not know what excellence is, what it takes and how to get there.

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Excellence is a simple idea if we are serious about it. All we need to do is change our attitude. Talk is cheap. Stop it and start taking action.

Malaysia has an attitude problem and it is our greatest obstacle to our future as a people and a nation. Where to begin? It has to be first fixing our education system to become a nation of high achievers and second we must stop playing politics  with the education of our future generation. But we are not doing that because UMNO politicians are afraid of  smart and pushy Malays in particular.

I wish to share with you A C Grayling’s thoughts on Excellence. This philosopher is endowed with the ability to communicate with ordinary men and women in clear and concise language. Read his article and share your comments.–Din Merican

Grayling on Excellence

When Matthew Arnold wrote Culture and Anarchy over a hundred years ago, he described the pursuit of excellence in the fostering of culture as “getting to know, on all matters that most concern us. the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.”

Arnold was an inspector of schools, and a champion of higher education, and he believed in excellence in education as the way not only to staff the economy but to produce an enculturated society which would live up to the ideal in Aristotle’s noble dictum about the educated use of our leisure.

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From China to France, every country that is or aspires to be developed has an elite educational stratum, aimed at taking the most gifted students and giving them the best intellectual training possible. In China this is done at an early age, with special schools for the brightest children. In France the system of Hautes Ecoles–superior universities, entry to which is fiercely competitive–creams off the outstanding minds and subjects them to a rigorous discipline. The aim in all cases is to enhance the best in order to gain the highest quality in science, engineering, law, national administration, medicine and the arts.

Few could object to the rationale behind this, save those for whom universal mediocrity is a  price worth paying for social equality (or in the case of Malaysia where mediocrity is a means of political control, added by Din Merican). But there is the danger to which meritocratic means to the cultivation of excellence – or what should be solely such – fall prey. It is if, after the establishment of the means, merit by itself ceases to be enough, and money and influence become additional criteria. In many, perhaps most, countries in the world, money and influence are the determiners of social advancement, even where meritocratic criteria still apply too: in America money is needed to gain social advantages, in China it helps to be a Party member.

The rich and the well connected are not the kind of elite an  education system ought to be fostering. It is easy for popular newspapers and populist politicians to make pejorative use of the term ‘elite’ to connote these elites of injustice; but they are just as quick to complain if doctors, teachers, or sportsmen playing for national sides fail our highest expectations- if, in short, they are not elite after all, in the proper sense of the term.

Although there are few if any true democracies in the world– most dispensations claiming that name are elective oligarchies–the democratic spirit nevertheless invests Western life, for good and ill both. The good resides in the pressure to treat everyone fairly, the ill resides in the pressure to make everyone alike. The latter is a levelling tendency, a downward thrust, which dislikes excellence because it raises mountains where the negative-democratic spirit wishes to see only plains.

But democracy should not aim to reduce people and their achievements to a common denominator; it should aim to raise them, ambitiously and dramatically, as close as possible to an ideal. And that means, among other things, having institutions, especially of learning, which are the best and most demanding of their kind.

The Meaning of Things–Applying Philosophy to Life by AC Grayling (London: Weidenfeld &Nicolson, 2001) pp.160-161