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The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

BEFORE I CONTINUE


Before continuing to Part Two of What Is To Be Done, let me respond very briefly to of the interesting responses to my open-ended post Some Questions.  One of the anonymati refers me to a lengthy essay by Walt and Mearsheimer in which the authors offer at some length a policy framework they call Offshore Balancing.  I do not disagree with the authors.  As I indicated, I do not know what to think. But their essay at many points raises a question to which they do not provide an answer, and it is precisely the question [or more accurately set of questions] that leaves me without an answer to my questions.

The authors suggest intervening militarily in foreign lands only when America’s national interest is at stake.  But that immediately raises the following questions:  What [not who] is America?  Does America have a national interest?  What is that national interest?  How is it decided whether there is such a thing as America’s national interest [not what that interest is, but whether it exists]?  Is it, for example, in America’s national interest to see a balance of power maintained in the Middle East?  Is that different from the question whether it is in my interest to see such a balance maintained?  If I choose to take an interest in the economic development or political liberation of groups of men and women in the Occupied Territories, and if the democratic processes operating appropriately in America bring to power men and women who determine that it is in America’s national interest to support the current Israeli government, does that mean I am not really an American?  Could California or Missouri or New Hampshire have a State Interest different from and taking precedence over America’s national interest?

In short, I do not find the underlying and unexamined assumptions of the Walt and Mearsheimer essay to be true.  That, in a word, is why I am puzzled and why I raised Some Questions.

2 comments:

Howard Berman said...

Self interest, like time or the self, might be a primitive that can be identified but not strictly defined. One of those things you know when you see it. It might be something there is a consensus regarding in their foreign policy circles.
Anyway, can it be much harder than defining the self interest of people?

LFC said...

Discussions in the abstract about "grand strategy" or "the national interest" (a phrase with no objective definition, beyond a v. narrow core) are often less than illuminating.

Usu. better I think, perhaps esp on a site such as this one, to discuss particular policies. Much of the foreign-policy "establishment" sees Trump's rhetoric and some of his actions as deeply harmful to the US "national interest" -- e.g. withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, from the Iran nuclear deal, from the INF treaty w Russia. The "establishment," wrong about some things, is right on these particular pts. Trump's defense budgets are even more enormous than the preceding administration's. His immigration and border policies, which can be seen as both domestic and foreign policy, are a disaster. His Middle East policy is an incoherent mess, again worse in some respects than the predecessor admin. Rules of engagement for US mil activity, e.g. the bombing campaign vs ISIS, were loosened under Trump, resulting in more civilian casualties than wd have been the case otherwise. Support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen is so obviously immoral and counterproductive that the Senate, w a Repub majority after all, recently voted to de-fund it (unfortunately the House won't go along, at least not until next month).

So one can debate particular policies and also broader stances (some of which have not changed from one admin to the next) but none of this is much advanced by pointing out that "the national interest" is a phrase devoid of much substantive or any objective content, since that point is already obvious. Walt and Mearsheimer are prob just using it as a shorthand for their particular view of what the U.S. strategic posture etc shd be. One might find their view persuasive or not, but picking on their use of an admittedly largely meaningless phrase seems somewhat beside the point.