Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Peretzian Verdict

Our friend Marty has issued a damning assestment of the current state of liberalism. How damning? His phrases include "bookless," "uninspired," and "patronizing." Liberalism has entered a dark time, one that Peretz likens to conservatism during the 60s. He touches on many issues, ranging from China's growing power to Affirmative Action. His last paragraph, however, makes a very biting statement about liberal internationalism:

You hear the schadenfreude in their voices--you read it in their words--at our troubles in Iraq. For months, liberals have been peddling one disaster scenario after another, one contradictory fact somehow reinforcing another, hoping now against hope that their gloomy visions will come true.

I happen to believe that they won't. This will not curb the liberal complaint. That complaint is not a matter of circumstance. It is a permanent affliction of the liberal mind. It is not a symptom; it is a condition. And it is a condition related to the desperate hopes liberals have vested in the United Nations. That is their lodestone. But the lodestone does not perform. It is not a magnet for the good. It performs the magic of the wicked. It is corrupt, it is pompous, it is shackled to tyrants and cynics. It does not recognize a genocide when the genocide is seen and understood by all. Liberalism now needs to be liberated from many of its own illusions and delusions. Let's hope we still have the strength.

I'm now taking PS-51, or Intro to International Relations, and I am very partial to Kantian Liberalism and trying to build a lasting peace between liberal states (and please keep in mind that I am still new to these ideas, so if I mess something up, be kind). And people often associate a belief in that Liberalism with support for the UN, as the UN is founded on many of the principles of Liberalism. But the problem with the U.N. is not that it does not function in the image of Kant's Liberalism (some would foolishly call it Idealism, but I digress), but counter to it. Kant wrote that liberal states cannot cooperate with non-liberal states. Knowing this, one cannot have an international governing body like the United Nations and expect things like the UN Human Rights Commission to not get hijacked by those very "tyrants and cynics." How can you expect a nation to serve on a human rights commission when it has no concept of human rights? Therein lies the problem of a liberal institution riddled with illiberal member states. We could not have our democratic republic without a popular appreciation for the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights, and one cannot have a UN without a similar global acceptance of principles.

Any thoughts? Anyone think I completely contradicted myself or made no sense?

9 Comments:

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Kyle, you made sense, and I definitely agree. I don't have much to add at the moment, but perhaps I will after I actually get some time to sit down and read the latest TNR cover stories on the UN.

 
At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the United Nations is corrupt because it allows tyrants and corruption. Speaking of tyrants and corruption or at least the suspension of habeus corpus for every ghost detainee in Guatanamo Bay...I digress. Your friend Marty is a partisan hack. Does he realize that the United States allowed genocide in Chile, Guatemala, Sudan, etc. Sudan's bloodshed could have been ended so much sooner if we weren't liberating Iraq. And yes, Saddam was a bad, bad guy. He still was not actively killing right now at the rate the Sudanese militias were.

This entire thing is partisan hackery.

 
At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry i didn't leave my name. forgot the post was anonymous.

--joshua g-m

 
At 4:32 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Kyle -
As I'm sure you know, I've always felt pretty strongly about the inherent contradiction in the inclusion of illiberal states in the United Nations. For people of your and my opinion, I think its worth asking whether the UN can ever be reformed from within, or whether its structure is too fundamentally undemocratic to ever be fixed.

Of course, I can't claim to definitively know the answer to a question like this - but I tend to think it's worth marginalizing the United Nations whenever possible. One big point here which Peretz misses is that it's not just American liberals who have a faith-like trust in the good intentions of the UN - it's by and large the people of the world as well. Outside of the United States, people tend to view the UN as a sort of impartial arbiter of justice, and champion of the principles espoused in its charter. This is about as far from the real world as a belief in Thetans. We'd be a lot more likely to see progress in human rights today if the people of, say, Turkmenistan, didn't have the faith in the UN which distracts them from their own lack of freedom by focusing on the comparatively minor human rights problems in Israel, ad nauseum. Which is a tragedy for the Turkmen - and oppressed people everywhere.

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Well, I realized that last comment of mine was a litle long on invective and short on numbers, so here are some that I think illustrate what I was getting at.

According to the 2003 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, sizable majorities in most Arab and Muslim countries were disappointed by the lack of Iraqi resistance to the US invasion (93% in Morocco, 74% in Pakistan, 82% in Indonesia and Turkey), believe that there's no way for "the Israeli state and Palestinian rights to coexist" (85% in Jordan, 80% in Palestine itself, 72% in Kuwait), and count bin Laden as one of the three most trusted global leaders (he's the most trusted in Palestine and second in Jordan, Morocco, and Pakistan). The UN isn't the sole cause of these attitudes, but it certainly contributes to them, by providing a forum for the demonization of the US and Israel which simultaneously legitimizes dictatorial regimes elsewhere in the world. This strikes me as a pretty big problem.

 
At 5:43 PM, Blogger Kyle said...

Josh, I assure you that Mr. Peretz is more than aware of global genocide, though I doubt he, or many others, would use that word to cheaply describe Chile and Guatemala. Although the morality of U.S. involvement in overthrowing South American governments during the Cold War can be debated, I hardly think that any of it can be characterized as allowing genocide (though if you care to tell me how, then feel free).

As for Marty, he directly addresses this in an article he wrote for the January 24, 2005 edition of TNR: "'We must shame them into helping,' says the protagonist in the new movie Hotel Rwanda. But shame did not help, neither in Rwanda, nor the Congo, nor Bosnia, nor now in Sudan. And the person who could not be shamed is Kofi Annan. To be sure, America's record in these crises is not pretty. But it is Annan who has presided over so many state-made catastrophes that one would think he would want finally to retire from public life and do private penance for dulling the nascent conscience of mankind. It was in these pages that the first inklings that one of Annan's predecessors, Kurt Waldheim, was a Nazi were ever so gingerly aired. Annan's sins come nowhere close to Waldheim's. They are sins merely of omission, but sins nonetheless, committed in the open and on the record."

As you can see, he realizes that the United Nations has allowed genocides to rage around the globe for quite some time. I suspect the reason why he assigns blame to the U.S. and not the U.N. is that the U.N. was specifically created to act as an aribter and enforcer of international justice, (and, after all, what is a clearer case of international injustice than genocide?) while the U.S. was obvioulsy not. This is not to say that the United States should never intervene to stop genocides (I would argue they most certainly should when the U.N. fails to do so), but the ultimate responsibility does not lie with the U.S. It lies with the institution charged by the nations of the world with stopping such atrocities, the U.N. So I don't think it is fair of you to try to blame all these deaths on America when it was more the responsibility of Kofi Annan.

I will also agree with you that the day-to-day situation in Sudan now is probably worse than the day-to-day situation in Iraq at the time we invaded it. However, I don't really see why that takes away from removing Saddam from power. You seem to be trying to quantify the brutalities of two regimes and weigh them against each other, a dubious ethical excercise if I ever saw one.

Finally, I don't really see how you can characterize Martin Peretz as a partisan hack. Sean Hannity is a partisan hack. Al Franken is a partisan hack (yes, I said it). If Peretz is also a partisan hack, what side do you see him on? He is certainly not stumping for the Republican party, as his latest writing clearly shows concern for the conservative dominance of the U.S. political sphere. And I don't think any rational person could accuse him of sucking up to the Democratic party, as he's tried to make every effort to critize their actions (in hopes, of course, of helping them to improve). So, Josh, I'm very interested in your response, and I hope that you're a little more careful before you throw around such strong terms to describe those with whom you disagree.

 
At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Kyle, I'm afraid I can't give you a good response. Because this is a blog and I am a college student and frankly, I really don't care enough to cite sources or attempt civility. As to your being wrong:

First off, I did not say that Marty Peretz is a partisan hack. I don't know the first thing about him. What I said was that his argument regarding liberalism was partisan hackery. The man and his argument are not the same. Further, I never commented on Sean Hannity or Al Franken.

Second, and this is where I'm going to be a jerk, please don't ever disregard an argument before you know all the facts about it. The early 1980's systematic assault upon the native Guatemalans resulted in deaths in the hundreds of thousands. If I tell you the sky is blue go out and look. If I tell you there was genocide in Guatemala (even that the US military was well aware of the actions and allowed it to happen) and you don't believe me, then go and check the goddamn facts so I don't have to waste my time with you.

In a few parts you are right. Illiberal states probably don't belong in the UN, although allowing them in the UN under certain stricter circumstances might be a more correct form of action for encouraging reform.

And there was not genocide in Chile. I'm sorry, there was only the mass murder of thousands of the political opposition which the US vindicated. Oh, and an assassination of a prominent diplomatic official on US soil that the US ignored. Good job, us.

So in conclusion (and I apologize for the rudeness that will follow, but your inability to check up on Guatemala and the general condescension in your reply forces me to request), please take your mouth off of Marty Peretz's dick long enough to ask someone who knows something about politics, let's say Nick, he's a smart guy, long enough to ask him to explain things to you. Then you can go back to sucking Marty Peretz's dick so you don't blueball the poor guy.

(Oh, and if this comment is not checked for grammar or words you may quibble over like genocide in my last post, it is because this is a comment on a blog. I really don't care enough to make it easy for you to read.)

--Joshua

 
At 12:39 AM, Blogger Kyle said...

I'll begin this by apologizing about Guatemala. I did now take the time to do some more reading on the genocide, and I will cede you that. I did talk with Nick initially, and I also tried to do some reading up on it, but apparently I did not do enough, for which I apologize. However, I'm still not clear how that relates to the ineffectiveness of the U.N. in preventing genocides.

Secondly, Josh, you did said Peretz was a partisan hack. The third sentence in your post is "Your friend Marty is a partisan hack." I don't know how else to interpret that. And to say the entire thing is partisan hackery is equally absurd. If you call criticism of one's own party (which is clearly the purpose of the essay) partizan hackery, I don't know what doesn't qualify.

We agree that Chile was not a genocide. I did not intend to sound as if I discounted the political turmoil in Chile as trivial, but I'm very sensitive to the use of the word genocide, as people like to throw it around to describe any conflict that they wish to portray in black and white terms, like the current conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Josh, I want to continue this discussion, if only because I already learned something from it. I know I was very dismissive in my response, but I'm old enough to admit that was immature and unnecessary. I just hope that we can continue this conversation in a more civil fashion.

 
At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Kyle, I suppose we can. I will even grant you that I did call your boy Marty a partisan hack, if only because I wrote my comments in 2 minutes time. However, my comments about the partisan hackery had nothing to do with his degradation of liberalism, it was in framing a political conflict as the direct oppostion between liberalism and conservatism that I take issue with.

As for my point about the US, it is two-fold: Most importantly, it is impossible for the US to condemn the UN as some kind of mere spectator of genocide when the US does not consistently prevent genocide. Sudan I think exemplifies this most because (as one British general said a little while ago) the US would need do no more than provide air cover for 5,000 ground troops and the genocide could be halted. That was all the US had to do.

The US needs to be reformed as badly as the UN does, and blaming the UN for our problems (or at least problems we easily could have solved) is just a waste of time.

--josh

 

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