Geo-Politics of Environment


March 19, 2017

The Geopolitics of Environment

by Giulio Boccaletti

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/environment-economic-and-geopolitical-challenges-by-giulio-boccaletti-2017-03

Much of the world seems to be on edge. The West’s relationship with Russia, the future of NATO, the Syrian civil war and refugees, rising right-wing populism, the impact of automation, and the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the European Union: all of these topics – and more – have roiled public debate worldwide. But one issue – one might say the most significant of them all – is being ignored or pushed aside: the environment.

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That was the case at this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Beyond a mention of the Paris climate agreement by Chinese President Xi Jinping, topics like climate change and sustainable development didn’t even make it to the main stage. Instead, they were relegated to side meetings that rarely seemed to intersect with current political and economic events.

Allowing environmental issues to fall by the wayside at this time of geopolitical and social instability is a mistake, and not just because this happens to be a critical moment in the fight to manage climate change. Environmental degradation and natural-resource insecurity are undermining our ability to tackle some of the biggest global issues we face.

Environmental insecurity is a major, though often underestimated, contributor to global instability. The UN High Commission on Refugees reports that natural disasters have displaced more than 26 million people per year since 2008 – almost a third of the total number of forcibly displaced people in this time period.

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Even the current refugee crisis has an environmental element. In the years leading up to the war, Syria experienced its most extreme drought in recorded history. That drought, together with unsustainable agricultural practices and poor resource management, contributed to the internal displacement of 1.5 million Syrians and catalyzed political unrest ahead of the 2011 uprising.

The link between environmental and agricultural pressures extends far beyond Syria. Over-reliance on specific geographies for agriculture means that food production can exacerbate environmental problems, or even create new ones. This can pit global consumer interests against local citizen interests, as it has along the Mississippi River, where fertilizer runoff from one of the world’s breadbaskets is contributing to concerns about water quality.

The connection goes both ways, with environmental conditions also shaping agricultural production – and, in turn, the prices of agricultural commodities, which represent about 10% of traded goods worldwide. For example, rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns are already driving up the price of coffee. With the global land area suitable for growing coffee set to contract by up to half by 2050, price pressures will only intensify.

A sudden shift toward trade protectionism could drive up agricultural commodity prices further. Such an increase would affect farm-level household income, favoring some farmers while harming others. End consumers, particularly the poor and vulnerable, would also suffer.

Another reason why the environment should be at the center of economic debates is its role as the world’s single largest employer. Almost a billion people, just under 20% of the world’s labor force, are formally employed in agriculture. Another billion or so are engaged in subsistence farming, and therefore don’t register in formal wage statistics.

Any initiatives to support economic development must support this population’s transition toward higher-productivity activities. This is particularly important at a time when increasingly sophisticated and integrated technology threatens to leapfrog an entire generation of workers in some countries. Efforts to benefit this huge population must focus not only on training and education, but also on new models that allow countries to capitalize on their natural capital – the landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes – without depleting it.

Just as natural-resource insecurity can cause displacement and vulnerability, effective natural-resource management can support conflict resolution and sustainable economic development. On this front, efforts to achieve environmental remediation, to boost the resilience of rural communities, to advance sustainable agricultural production, and to support community-based environmental stewardship have all shown promising results.

Consider the Northern Rangelands Trust, an organization focused on creating community conservancies to enable sustainable and equitable land use in Kenya. NRT has helped pastoralist communities establish effective governance mechanisms for the environment on which they depend, reducing conflict over grazing rights, especially in times of drought.

For many communities, members’ relationship with the landscape in which they live is an integral part of their identity. With effective governance and planning, open dialogue, resource-sharing frameworks, and sufficient investment, including in skills training, these communities can translate this relationship into effective environmental stewardship – and build healthier and more secure societies.

The crises engulfing the modern world are complex. But one thing is clear: the environment is connected to all of them. Solutions will mean little without a healthy world in which to implement them.

 

Chomsky: Trump’s National Security Adviser Wants the U.S. to ‘Go to War with the Whole Islamic World’


December 22, 2016

Chomsky: Trump’s National Security Adviser Wants the U.S. to ‘Go to War with the Whole Islamic World’

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/chomsky-trumps-national-security-advisor-wants-us-go-war-whole-islamic-world

“Trump’s position is “vulgar imperialism masked by a fraudulent concern for the working people and the middle class.”

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In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka, Prof. Noam Chomsky spoke on many issues that have pervaded the current political scenario. In the interview, he details the reasons behind the election victory of Donald Trump, his views on the rise of the right wing, and the causes that resulted in the people losing confidence in mainstream political establishments.

Q: It is both a pleasure and a privilege to have you speak for the first time to a Sri Lankan entity, the Daily Mirror. To start off with, during the recent election of Donald Trump, we saw a kind of rise of racism and xenophobia, a phenomenon of right-wing populism that we are seeing across the world, including in Sri Lanka. What are your views on this?

A: There are many factors, but there are some that are pretty common, certainly for the United States and Europe from which I have just returned, incidentally. One factor that is common and which is very significant is the neoiberal program that was instituted globally, roughly around 35 years ago, around 1980 or a little before and picking up afterward. These are programs that were designed in such a way that they marginalize and cast aside a considerable majority of the population.

So in the United States, if you take a look at say the Trump voters, they are not the poorest people. They have homes, they have jobs, and they have small businesses. They may not have the jobs they like, but they are not starving and are not living on $2 a day. These are people who have been stuck for 30 years. Their history and their own image of life and history and the country is, that they have worked hard all their lives, they have done all the right things. They have families, they go to church and they have done everything right just as their parents did. They’ve been moving forward, which they expected to continue: that their children would be better off than they are, but it hasn’t happened. It stopped. As if they are in a line, in which they were moving forward and it stopped.

Ahead of them in the line are people who have just shot up into the stratosphere: that is neoliberalism. It concentrates wealth in tiny sectors. They don’t mind that, because part of the American mythology is that you work hard and you get rewards. It is not what happens but that fits the picture, the mythology. The people behind them are the ones they resent. This is not untypical; scapegoating. Blame your problems on those who are even worse off than you. And their conception is that the federal government is their enemy, which works for the people behind them. That the federal government gives food stamps to people who don’t want to work, that it gives welfare payments to women who drive in rich cars to welfare offices.

(These are) images that Ronald Reagan concocted. Their thinking is that, the federal government is helping to put them in line ahead of me, but nobody is working for me. That picture is all over the West. A large part of it was behind the Brexit vote, in the United States they would blame Mexican immigrants, or Afro Americans, in the U.K. they would blame the Polish immigrants, in France the North Africans and in Austria the Syrian immigrants. The choice of target depends on the society, but the phenomenon is pretty similar. The general nature is pretty similar. There are streaks of racism, xenophobia, sexism, and opposition to gay rights and all sorts of things. And they coalesce when economic and social policies have been designed in such a way which essentially ignores these people and their concerns and doesn’t work for them — and seems to them to work against them.

Q: But don’t you think, Professor, the notion of an isolationist imperial power, a non-intervening imperial interest that Donald Trump has promised, is something positive for countries like Sri Lanka and the third world at large?

A: Isolationist is a very funny word. Take Donald Trump’s recent appointments — the important appointments. The most important appointment is his National Strategy Adviser who is Michael Flynn. He is a radical Islamophobe. He thinks we should go to war with the whole Islamic world. And his view of Islam is not that of a religion, but that it’s a political ideology like fascism, and it is at war with us and that we should destroy it.

Is that isolationism? Donald Trump’s position and that of Paul Ryan and other right-wingers is that we should sharply build up the Pentagon. They talk about our depleted military forces. I mean you don’t know whether to laugh or not. The U.S. spends almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. It is technologically far more advanced. No other country has hundreds of military bases all over the world, actually forces fighting all over the world. But ‘we are a depleted military force and everybody is about to attack us and we have to build the military more’—is that isolationist? We have to carry out economic war against other countries, is that isolationist? No, of course not.

This is vulgar imperialism masked by a fraudulent concern for the working people and the middle class. Is there any such concern apparent from his cabinet appointments? (They are) straight out of Wall Street and Goldman Sachs. Take a look at the stock market, that tells you how people with power are evaluating his presidency. (It) shot up as soon as he was elected. The financial institutions zoomed.

The world’s biggest coal company, Peabody, which was in bankruptcy had its stock go up by about 50% within days of his election. The military industry, energy industries, pharmaceuticals…they are all going to the sky. Is that an illusion? No, it’s not. That’s the policy, the appeal is not so much the poor, but working people who have suffered, not suffered in the sense of real deep poverty, but suffered in the sense of a loss of status, a loss of dignity, and a loss of hope for the future. In the United States this is combined with an objective fact. That this country is built on extremist white supremacy, comparative measures of white supremacy across the world has put the United States way in the lead, even ahead of white South Africa, and now the white population is becoming a minority.

Q: You bring in two interesting points; one on white supremacy and the other on Islam and Islamophobia. Firstly, this idea of supremacy, we have seen this even in parts of South Asia. If you see the rise of Narendra Modi, it was along the same populist lines and even in post-war Sri Lanka we are seeing these same attitudes swelling up. So it is not something confined to the U.S. What do you think the real reason is for this?

A: Different reasons for different places. In India it’s the rise of Hindu nationalism, which is extremely dangerous. It looks like there is an alliance building up with these xenophobic right-wing forces around the world. If you noticed, the reactions to Trumps election across the world, was great enthusiasm from the ultra-right all over. In fact, his first contact was with Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP in England and it went on like that. There are common features, but different factors in different countries. In India, it is the Muslims, in the United States it’s Muslims too. But there were also Mexicans and so on. But I think throughout the world you see a similar failure of mainstream establishment institutions to deal with the people’s real problems.

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Q: Even in Sri Lanka, there is this fear about the Muslims, along the lines of the fear prevailing in the West. Aren’t these fears about the Muslims real?

A: They are not unreal. Hitler’s fears about the Jews under the Nazis were not totally unreal. There were rich Jewish bankers, there were Jewish Bolsheviks. Any propaganda system, no matter how vulgar or disgraceful, can only succeed if there are at least small elements of truth. They may be small. While you are in Boston if you listen to talk radio, the main radio, all very right wing, you will hear people speaking about Syrian refugees and how they are being treated like princes. That they have been given all kinds of money, that they have been given health services, and education—‘all kinds of things that we don’t have the Syrian refugees get.’

How many Syrian refugees are there? A couple of thousand! They probably do get health services, so it is not totally false. But the typical history of scapegoating is to pick vulnerable people and find something that is not totally false about them—because you have to have some element of truth—and then build it up into a colossus which is about to overcome you. I mean there are states in the United States in the Midwest, where the legislature has passed laws banning Shari’a. How likely is Shari’a going to be imposed in Oklahoma? I mean you know it is not zero. You can find a woman somewhere who is wearing a veil, so there is something. But that’s the way it works.

I think in Sri Lanka there is a pretty ugly history after all; I don’t have to recount it. You can find plenty of cases of massive atrocities and crimes and so on. A demagogic leader and the administration which is not working in the interest of the population but in the interest of wealth and power, almost reflexively is going to turn to attacks on the vulnerable with the support of the media and often the intellectual classes, and blow up small elements of truth into a massive attack. The United States is extremely interesting in this respect. It is the most safe and secure country in the world, but it is probably the most frightened country in the world. Do you know any other country where people feel that unless they take a gun to church or a restaurant they might be attacked? I mean, does it happen in Sri Lanka? No! Does it happen anywhere else? But it happens in the United States of America. All over the United States people feel terrified — ‘they are coming after us’, and that goes way back in American history, and it has roots. There are historical roots.

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Q: Going by what you just said Professor, Edward Said, one of your contemporaries, pointed out in the ’80s that Islam has been portrayed by the West as a monolithic entity. That the West ignored the different histories and different cultures and so on. Have the Muslims of today, 30 years on, bought into this propaganda and believe that they are in fact a monolithic entity?

A: Take the U.S. or the British policy toward Islam. It has been highly supportive of the most radical elements of Islam. That is true of the British and it’s true of the Americans after they took over from the British. So who is the leading U.S. ally in the Islamic world? Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most extreme, radical, fundamentalist State in the world. But certainly in the Islamic world. And a missionary state, which uses its huge resources to sponsor its Wahabist extremism through Madrasas and so on. It is the main source of Jihadism. The main ally is that — monolithic. I mean what state power does, and propaganda usually follows, is (to) find what will support a power interest.

In these cases imperial policy. If it happens to be radical Islam that’s fine. At the same time we might be fighting radical Islam somewhere else. The propaganda system would create images of Islamic terror seeking to destroy us when that turns out to be the plausible kind of scapegoating. So 9/11 happened and the Tamil Tigers atrocities happened. You can use those as ways of building up fear, anger, and anxiety to support the tendency to hide under the umbrella of power from these forces about to destroy us. Like Shari’a law in Oklahoma, got to protect ourselves!

Q: You spoke of a new shifting of the world order when you spoke of Nigel Farage and other right-wing elements shifting toward Donald Trump. Is there a shift in the international sphere, like we saw during the Cold War, where the world went into two different sides including the non-aligned? A kind of shift today that is happening, between the right-wing nativists on the one hand and the left-wing internationalist on the other?

A: First of all, I don’t really agree with the conventional version of the Cold War. You take a look at the events of the Cold War. Not what intellectuals talk about, not the ideology. Take a look at the events. The events of the Cold War consisted of violent attacks by the U.S. within its domains — which is most of the world. And Russian, violent attacks its much smaller domain, which was Eastern Europe. That was the Cold War. Each side used the alleged threat of the other as justification for its own internal repression. So the U.S. had to support a terrorist war against Nicaragua because of the Russians, who were not anywhere nearby. The Russians had to invade Hungary because of the Americans. That was the Cold War.

There was, in a way, you could describe it as a kind of tacit compact between the two imperial powers: The huge imperial power of the United States, the smaller imperial power of Russia. Kind of a tacit compact in which each side was authorized to carry out violence and repression in its own domains, for the U.S. this means most of the world, without an actual conflict. Now there was a danger, always, a serious danger that an actual conflict might blow up in which case we’re finished. As soon as there is a major nuclear war, humans are done with. So there was always a fear, if there is a confrontation; but if you look at the events of the Cold War you get a very different picture. And it’s the events that matter, not the words.

Q: But is there a realignment across the world, Professor, between this right-wing populist xenophobic elements and…

A: No, there is left liberal populism too, take the United States.

Q: You gave me a good precursor to the next question. Isn’t the left liberal dead? I know you’ve had your differences with Slavoj Zizek, but as he points out what Clinton personified and is a symbol of is that left liberal position—a coalition which had you and also Alan Dershowitz, which had Occupy Wall Street and Wall Street together. 

A: There is lack of comparison there. Alan Dershowitz speaks for the, it’s kind of a mixture, but the xenophobic extremist right—he is all over the place. The left liberal media, say NPR, he’s on it all the time; right-wing media he is on it all the time.

Then there’s me. Am I on (them)? In fact, when you leave, take a photograph of one of my favourite front pages of a journal. I liked it so much I framed it. It’s the main left liberal journal, American Prospect, and it has a picture of two evil creatures who are threatening American liberalism: one is Dick Cheney and the other is me. That’s the parallel. And it indicates what’s in the mind of American liberals: “We’re being attacked by these monsters on both sides”—one of them who sits in an office and has no access to anything, the other, the guy who controls the biggest military machine in the world and is invading Iraq, those are the two forces.

Same with the rest, Occupy vs. Wall Street, what’s the comparison? Actually, there is a comparison, but not what’s being described. Occupy is very small, it doesn’t begin to compare with Wall Street. But the population does. And a lot of the population supports them (Occupy). In fact, take the U.S. election, in terms of numbers, Clinton won pretty easily. But more interestingly, if you look at younger voters, first of all Clinton won overwhelmingly, but Sanders won even more overwhelmingly. Here is somebody who came out of nowhere, no economic support, no rich supporters, no corporate support, 100% media opposition, basically unknown, talking about socialism, which is a bad word, and overwhelmingly won the youth support. Well, the constituency that supported him does not have money, power, corporate backing, and so on. So they are not considered popular, they are just kind of off the spectrum of discussion, but they are there. And they can change policies.

Q: Professor, since you spoke of the youth, we have watched you speaking about how universities dumb down thinking or intellect. You are a person who, since your early teens, you have questioned the status quo. Do you see that among the youth today? Are the youth questioning the status quo as much as they should?

A: Well, why did an overwhelming majority of young people support Bernie Sanders? That is the answer to your question. Yes, of course they are challenging the status quo. They don’t have wealth, military power, corporate backing, media backing, nor support from intellectuals, but sure, they are challenging the status quo. All the time.

Q: But across the globe, aren’t you also seeing them move toward the nativist nation state concept?

A: You are seeing that, but you are also seeing something like the Sanders phenomenon, Soy Podemos in Spain. I just happened to be in Barcelona, Barcelona is a major city, and the mayor who was just elected is a left-wing activist. These things exist all over Europe. The Corbyn phenomenon in England, the Labour Party elite is bitterly opposed to it, of course the Tories kind of like it, because they want to see the Labour Party collapsing. But, it’s substantial. As soon as Corbyn opened a possibility for people, ordinary people, to participate, the Labour Party shot up. These are real opportunities. Take the Trump voters in the United States, many of them voted for Obama in 2008. Why? If you remember the campaign slogan, it was hope and change and they were voting for hope and change. They didn’t get any hope and they didn’t get any change, so they are disillusioned and now they are voting for someone else who is calling for hope and change.

Q: But don’t you see that happening even in South Asia? That it’s either Trump vs. Corbyn? That the liberal middle ground, for which I use Hillary Clinton as a symbol is losing ground. That you need to pick a side, instead of staying in the center?

A: Everywhere. Everywhere, the mainstream political organizations which are kind of centrist — center left or center right — are diminishing and collapsing. That is true of institutions too. There’s anger at institutions, contempt for them, hatred of them. Not just the political institutions, but the banks, the corporations, just about everything except the military. This, to go back to our original discussion, is a reflection, substantially, of the neoliberal policies of the past generation. It has harmed much of the population, offered nothing to them, given power and prestige to extreme wealth and professional elites who are protected. So, it leads to anger and resentment against the established institutions.

Q: Moving on, has the media changed landscape since you wrote ‘Manufacturing Consent’ in 1989? Is the media manufacturing consent now?

A: Well, we didn’t actually say that media is manufacturing consent; we said that that is what they are trying to do. We discussed the nature of the media. There’s a separate question; to what extent is it effective? And that’s an interesting question, but we didn’t discuss it. They’re still doing it in the same way. In fact, dramatically.

Take November 8, two things of critical significance happened on November 8. One of them was massively reported, the other, which was much more important, received no report – that was the Marrakesh Conference of 200 countries that tried to implement the Paris programs to try to save the human species from destruction. That’s a lot more important than what happened in the U.S. election. And, in fact, it was undermined by the U.S. election. What happened in Morocco is astounding if you look at it; one country was leading the way to try to save civilization from self-destruction. One country was way behind, trying to lead the way toward self-destruction, the first was China, the second was the United States. That is a remarkable spectacle. Did you see a comment on it?

Q: Nothing.

A: That is manufacturing consent.

Q: Finally, you have come to the evening of your life after over half a century of being the epitome of pioneering thought and intellectual discourse. What are your views on religion? And what is your personal belief of life after death?

A: Personally, it means nothing to me, but if it means something to other people, that is fine. As long as they don’t bother others. I don’t ridicule it, I don’t have contempt for it, I have respect for their views, but they are not mine.

Q: And your views on religion, you were born into a Jewish family and raised…

A: Well, remember that Judaism is fundamentally a religion of practice, more than belief. So, say my grandfather, who was basically still living in the 17th century Eastern Europe was ultra religious. But if I had asked him, did you believe in God? He probably wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. Judaism means carrying out the practices. My father was basically secular, but deeply involved in Jewish life. If you go to a New England church on Sunday morning, you would find people who are deeply religious, but not believers. Religion to them means community, associations, helping each other, having some common values and so on. Religion could be all sorts of things. But to me, it doesn’t happen to be a value; if other people do, that is their business.

 

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plays smart realist geo-politics–Pivot towards China


September 15, 2016

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plays smart realist geo-politics–Pivot towards China

Even as the US pivots towards Asia, one of its most longstanding allies in the region appears to be turning away.

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 “China is now in power, and they have military superiority in the region,” Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’s new president, said this week as he announced the end of joint naval patrols with the US in the disputed South China Sea, and expelled US forces from Southern Mindanao.
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The developments come amid a broader fracturing of the geopolitical landscape in Southeast Asia in the face of deepening Chinese influence.

Relations between the US and Thailand — which Washington designates a “major non-Nato ally” — have cooled because of western criticism of the May 2014 coup launched by the ruling generals in Bangkok. Thailand said in July it would start a submarine fleet by buying three vessels from China at a cost of about $1bn.

Cambodia has received billions in civil and military aid from Beijing seemingly in exchange for its efforts to tone down ASEAN criticism of China’s territorial ambitions, while Myanmar has also drawn increased interest since the arrival this year of a new civilian-led government under Aung San Suu Kyi. On a visit to Beijing last month, she was told that China wanted closer links between the two countries’ militaries, state media reported.

Chinese encroachment on disputed islets in the South China Sea had for years pushed Manila and Washington into a tighter embrace, and in April this year resulted in the start of joint naval patrols — a development that Mr Duterte has now reversed.

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Yes, back off, the US and its poodle Australia. Stop meddling in our internal affairs. For making their position on this very clear, I respect HE Samdech Techo Hun Sen of Cambodia, and now HE President of The Philippines Rodrigo Duterte for their stance as embodied in The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia (SEATAC). BTW, before becoming an ASEAN dialogue partner. the US signed this treaty. It is time for the US to honour its commitment. And keep Australia out of ASEAN.–Din Merican 

“We are not cutting umbilical cords, but I also would not want to place my country in jeopardy,” said Mr Duterte, who has vowed to chart an independent foreign policy. The Philippine leader has also told US forces to leave the country’s Southern Mindanao island — claiming their presence is contributing to an Islamic insurgency — and has announced plans to seek military equipment from China and Russia.

It would not be the first time American troops were ordered off Philippine soil. In 1992, the US Navy was told to vacate the strategic Subic Bay, west of Manila, amid impassioned debate that the base was a remnant of colonialism and a symbol of foreign domination.

At the time, officials said the closure would not affect the “friendly and cordial relations between the United States and the Philippines”.

Nearly 25 years on, the rhetoric has decidedly changed. Speaking before last week’s ASEAN summit in Laos, Mr Duterte referred to US President Barack Obama has a “son of a whore” and threatened to further curse the American leader if he broached the topic of the Philippines’ “war on drugs”.

The comments prompted US officials to cancel a bilateral meeting between the two leaders in a spat that highlighted the challenges facing the US as it attempted to reorient towards Asia.

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Meanwhile, Chinese officials have quickly — and warmly — welcomed the new policies of the Philippine leader, who as recently as April had pledged to confront Beijing by riding a jet ski to disputed islands.

“At present, China-Philippine relations are at a new turning point,” Liu Zhenmin, Chinese vice-foreign minister, told a delegation from the Southeast Asian nation on Wednesday.

The White House played down the developments, attributing Mr Duterte’s statements to his erratic temperament rather than a fundamental re-evaluation of the 65-year-old alliance.

The Obama administration was not surprised “primarily because of the tendency of this individual to make some rather colourful comments”, said a spokesman.

Additional reporting by Grace Ramos in Manila and Geoff Dyer in Washington

Whither Political History on US campuses


August 29, 2016

Whither Political History on US campuses

American political history, it would seem, is everywhere. Hardly a day passes without some columnist comparing Donald J. Trump to Huey Long, Father Coughlin or George Wallace. “All the Way,” a play about Lyndon B. Johnson, won a slew of awards and was turned into an HBO film.

But the public’s love for political stories belies a crisis in the profession. American political history as a field of study has cratered. Fewer scholars build careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.

This wasn’t always the case. Political history — a specialization in elections and elected officials, policy and policy making, parties and party politics — was once a dominant, if not the dominant, pursuit of American historians. Many of them, in turn, made vital contributions to the political process itself, whether it was Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s role in the Kennedy White House or C. Vann Woodward’s “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the “bible of the civil rights movement.”

But somewhere along the way, such work fell out of favor with history departments. According to the American Historical Association’s listing of academic departments, three-quarters of colleges and universities now lack full-time researchers and teachers in the subject.

There appears to be little effort to fill the void. A search of the leading website advertising academic jobs in history, H-Net, yielded just 15 advertisements in the last 10 years specifically seeking a tenure-track, junior historian specializing in American political history. That’s right: just 15 new jobs in the last decade.

As a result, the study of America’s political past is being marginalized. Many college catalogs list precious few specialized courses on the subject, and survey courses often give scant attention to political topics. The pipelines for new Ph.D.s in the subject, and therefore new faculty, are drying up, and in many graduate programs one can earn a doctorate in American history with little exposure to politics.

How did it come to this? The trend began in the 1960s. America’s misadventure in Vietnam led to broad questioning of elite decision making and conventional politics, and by extension those historical narratives that merely recounted the doings of powerful men. Likewise, the movements of the 1960s and 1970s by African-Americans, Latinos, women, homosexuals and environmental activists brought a new emphasis on history from the bottom up, spotlighting the role of social movements in shaping the nation’s past.

The long overdue diversification of the academy also fostered changing perspectives. As a field once dominated by middle-class white males opened its doors to women, minorities and people from working-class backgrounds, recovering the lost experiences of these groups understandably became priority No. 1.

These transformations enriched the national story. But they also carried costs. Perceived “traditional” types of history that examined the doings of governing elites fell into disfavor, and political history suffered the effects (as did its cousins, diplomatic and military history).

The ramifications extend well beyond higher education. The drying up of scholarly expertise affects universities’ ability to educate teachers — as well as aspiring lawyers, politicians, journalists and business leaders — who will enter their professions having learned too little about the nation’s political history. Not least, in this age of extreme partisanship, they’ll be insufficiently aware of the importance that compromise has played in America’s past, of the vital role of mutual give-and-take in the democratic process.

Change will not be easy, and will not come from history departments facing tight budgets and competing demands. What is needed, to begin with, is for university administrators to identify political history as a priority, for students and families to lobby their schools, for benefactors to endow professorships and graduate fellowships and for lawmakers and school boards to enact policies that bolster its teaching — and without politicizing the enterprise.

This matters. Knowledge of our political past is important because it can serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy “lessons of the past.” It can make us less egocentric by showing us how other politicians and governments in other times have responded to division and challenge. And it can help us better understand the likely effects of our actions, a vital step in the acquisition of insight and maturity.

Judging by the state of our political discourse during this dismal campaign season, the change can’t come soon enough.