I believe, however, that the distinction between interests and values is largely fallacious, and that policy which would ignore the domestic crises that affect so many states and pseudostates today would have disastrous consequences.
MORALLY AT HOME
The national interest is not a self-evident guide, it is a construct. It is the sum of the objectives that the policymakers have set. Some of these are indeed imperatives, imposed by the nation’s location on the map of power or by clear threats and needs. But many of the goals that states, and especially the major powers among them, pursue go beyond such imperatives, and result from preferences and choices. These goals are usually controversial. Those who support them cover them with the mantle of the national interest, and those who do not back them argue, like Mandelbaum, that they deal with developments that “could [not] affect the lives of . . . citizens” and thus are not in the national interest. Even during the Cold War, the United States pursued goals that could be connected only remotely to the imperatives of national security and deterrence of the Soviet threat. Mandelbaum presents the invasion of Grenada as part of the Cold War, but does not mention the intervention in Panama, which, of course, took place after the Soviet threat had crumbled. On the other end of the spectrum, the human rights policies that American administrations pursued, in their different ways, in the late 1970s and in the 1980s cannot be explained away as mere tactical moves in the battle against communism.
Great powers pursue both what Arnold Wolfers has called possession goals and what he terms milieu goals. National security deals essentially with the former. But much of foreign policy is concerned with shaping an international milieu that will provide a modicum of order (i.e., reduce the inevitable loads of violence and chaos that an anarchic international system carries) and in which the nation’s citizens will feel not only safe from attack or economic strangulation but, so to speak, morally at home. Among the reasons the opposition between interests and values is a sham are that a great power has an “interest” in world order that goes beyond strict national security concerns and that its definition of order is largely shaped by its values. Many of America’s policies during the Cold War–especially in relations with allies and so-called Third World countries–and many of the institutions and international regimes it helped establish resulted from preferences that could not be reduced purely and simply to the need to resist the Soviet menace or communism.
More work has been done to document the impact of technology on student behavior than any other population, as technology is more readily available to these individuals and they are the first to have grown up immersed in a technology-rich environment with ever-increasing opportunities for interference. In one study, middle school, high school, and university students were observed while they were instructed to study something important for a short period of time (only 15 minutes).25Regardless of age, students were able to stay focused and attend to that important work only for a short period of time—three to five minutes—before most students self-interrupted their studying to switch to another task. During the 15-minute study period, students were able to actually study for only nine minutes. The major culprits that spurred the constant interruptions had two sources: social media and texting. Both of these were apparently offering such important information that the studying student’s attention was transferred from the task at hand—an identified important area for focus—to another source of information through the two most popular communication modalities among the younger generations.
Fascinating piece on deliberation vs argumentation in democracy.
Advocates of political deliberation usually defend it as a collaborative activity motivated by the possibility of agreement. Even when agreement proves elusive, deliberation helps people come to grips with one another’s views, draw on their different experiences and expertise, and better understand the contours of their enduring disagreements. People’s views will be better informed, and the decisions they make will be of higher quality than if they had not deliberated. When study after study reveals most people to be appallingly ill-informed about much public policy, deliberation’s appeal seems obvious. Two minds are better than one, three better than two, and so on. Democracy will be improved if its decision-making can incorporate, and build on, the benefits of deliberation. Or so it is frequently claimed.1
Deliberation should not be confused with argument. When people argue, there is an expectation that one of them will, or at least should, win. Even when we speak of one person making an argument, we see this as something that stands until it is contradicted, or challenged and beaten by a better argument. Like the deliberationists, proponents of argument believe it will enhance understanding and improve the quality of decisions. This was the essence of John Stuart Mill’s defense of the robust clash of opinions in On Liberty: it would lead people to hold better-informed and more accurate views. Mill even went so far as to worry – needlessly, it turned out – that as advancing science expanded the realm of settled knowledge, people would be deprived of argument’s benefits. No longer forced to sharpen their wits by defending their views in the marketplace of ideas, they would become mediocre dullards; less able to think for themselves and more easily manipulated by others.2
My claim here is that the argumentative and deliberative ideals should be more clearly distinguished than they usually are. They support different and incompatible institutional arrangements. I also maintain that the argumentative ideal is superior because, when appropriately institutionalized, it helps hold governments accountable for their actions. By contrast, the deliberative ideal cannot easily be institutionalized – and perhaps cannot be institutionalized at all – because people who prefer to bargain can easily abuse rules designed to promote deliberation. But deliberation’s difficulties run deeper. Its defenders fail to appreciate that, in politics, deliberation and the search for agreement are – to borrow an antitrust analogy – unhealthy forms of collusion in restraint of democracy. They should worry less about voter ignorance, which, as Anthony Downs noted long ago, might well reflect sensible budgeting of scarce time, and worry more when office-seekers fail to engage in robust public debates over the policies that, if elected, they will enact.3
Good piece on Cold War propaganda machinery, which also speaks to our era of “fake news.”
Domestically, too, the tactics have the effect of polluting the conversation. “The paid trolls have made it impossible for the normal Internet user to separate truth from fiction,” says Kremlin critic Navalny. “The point is to spoil it, to create the atmosphere of hate, to make it so stinky that normal people won’t want to touch it.”
But civic duty and self-interest do not capture the ways that middle- and upper-class Americans are engaging in politics. Now it is the Facebooker who argues with friends of friends he does not know; the news consumer who spends hours watching cable; the repeat online petitioner who demands actions like impeaching the president; the news sharer willing to spread misinformation and rumor because it feels good; the data junkie who frantically toggles between horse races in suburban Georgia and horse races in Britain and France and horse races in sports (even literal horse races).
What is really motivating this behavior is hobbyism — the regular use of free time to engage in politics as a leisure activity. Political hobbyism is everywhere.
… What, exactly, is wrong with political hobbyism? We live in a democracy, after all. Aren’t we supposed to participate? Political hobbyism might not be so bad if it complemented mundane but important forms of participation. The problem is that hobbyism is replacing other forms of participation, like local organizing, supporting party organizations, neighbor-to-neighbor persuasion, even voting in midterm elections — the most recent midterms had the lowest level of voter participation in over 70 years.
I don’t fully agree with whatever Machiavelli (appears to) suggest in his treatises, but I’ve always found them (or others’ interpretations of his writings) provocative/insightful:
It’s as if Machiavelli’s treatise is saying, almost against its own doctrine, that this vision of the world, this sort of radical political realism, where any means are justified if they serve the securement and consolidation of power, is doomed never really to flourish. It’s like Cornwall. Some fatality of fortune will always win out over the shrewd, efficacious strategies of this sort of virtù.
What I’m putting forward as my own interpretation of The Prince is that the treatise was doomed from the beginning to the same sorry failure as Borgia’s political career. By that I mean that it’s not by chance that the unredeemed realism of The Prince has not had any direct, concrete effect on political history. If its ambition was to be a handbook by which rulers could advance their own agendas, if its ambition was to instruct a prince who could one day unify Italy and throw out the foreigners, if its ambition was to found a school of political theory or promote some kind of trans-formation in the history of nation states, or even if its ambition was much more modest, namely to ingratiate its author with the Medici rulers of Florence, then we have no choice but to conclude that as a political treatise The Prince was an abortion. It failed to achieve its ends.
The abortive fate of The Prince makes you wonder why some of the great utopian texts of our tradition have had much more effect on reality itself, like The Republic of Plato, or Rousseau’s peculiar form of utopianism, which was so important for the French Revolution. Christianity itself— its imagination of another world beyond the so-called real world—completely transformed the real politics of Europe. Or Karl Marx, for that matter. It’s not the realism of the Marxian analysis, it’s not his critique of capitalism’s unsustainable systemic contradictions—it’s more his utopian projection of a future communist state that inspired socialist movements and led to political revolutions throughout the world.
You cannot get reality to bend to your will, you can only seduce it into transfiguration. And the fact remains that reality cannot be seduced by realism, only by trans-realism, if I may use a word that denotes more than fantasy, utopianism, intuitionism, or religious supernaturalism. Trans-realism refers to something that neither resists nor escapes reality but calls on reality to transcend itself, and to turn its prose into poetry.
What I’m trying to suggest is that realism itself is doomed to a kind of fecklessness in the world of reality, while the real power—the real virtuous power—seems to be aligned with the faculty which Machiavelli held most in contempt, namely the imagination. It’s the human imagination that in the long run proves itself the truly efficacious and revolutionary force.