Over the last two weeks a few posts deserving wider dissemination have been published by Nick Nielson ("Geopolicraticus") on his blog Grand Strategy: the View From Oregon. I recommend that those interested in political philosophy and related topics give these posts a quick look.
On social contracts, written and unwritten:
...an explicitly formulated constitution is only part of how a society functions, and sometimes it is only a small part. The most common cases of this that come to mind are those egregious examples of nation-states that have constitutions replete with glittering generalities about democracy, opportunity, and freedom of expression — explicit promises that are not fulfilled in fact. The various constituent republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics all had constitutions that guaranteed all manner of edifying freedoms, while almost none of these were observed in practice.
Perhaps most if not all constitutionally chartered nation-states begin in this way. In Becoming What We Are I noted that Martin Luther King jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech appeals to the unfulfilled promise of the American dream that all men are created equal. Indeed, it was only in the twentieth century that many of the constitutional protections that we take for granted in the US began to be taken seriously and were enforced by courts and the law.
The survival of implicit social contracts within nation-states administered according to the constitutional paradigm suggests the possibilities of a widening gap or a narrowing gap between implicit and explicit social contracts. The example I cite above of the US only coming lately to a respect of its explicitly stated constitutional paradigm is an example of a narrowing gap between implicit and explicit social contracts. One of the remarkable things about the US (and perhaps a source of “American exceptionalism”) is that the current implicit social contract (reaching back to perhaps some time near the beginning of the twentieth century) is that the explicit social contract will be respected and put into practice as far as practically possible...
Reflecting on Reza Aslan's new(ish) book, How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and How to Win the War on Terror :
"Geopoliticratus." Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon. 14 October 2010
...the idea of cosmic war does not exist in an intellectual vacuum. It is part of a way of seeing and understanding the world; it is part of a Weltanschauung. This is relevant to some of Aslan’s claims.
Twice in his book, near the beginning and near the end, Aslan writes that the only way to win a cosmic war is to refuse to fight one. We are to decline eschatological combat. Aslan is right when we says that cosmic wars are unwinnable, and therefore also unlosable (p. 8). But Aslan also claims that aggrieved communities have legitimate grievances, and that these need to be addressed. I agree with this, but I also know from my reading of history the near hopelessness of this task. What task? The attempt to “help” people in utilitarian and pragmatic ways when their grievances are not expressed in utilitarian and pragmatic terms. Many efforts of the US around the world have come to grief on this rock.
Because a cosmic war does not occur in a cosmic vacuum, but it occurs in an overall conception of the world, the grievances too occur within this overall conception of history. If we attempt to ameliorate grievances formulated in an eschatological context with utilitarian and pragmatic means, no matter what we do it will never be enough, and never be right.
On the rancor of modern politics:
Both the political left and the political right cultivate anger as a means to political action: angry people can be organized to take action on behalf of a cause that they believe to be just, and which they also believe to be under threat by the outside world, of which they do not count themselves a part. But the cultivation of anger is not exclusive to this US political dichotomy between left and right. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion goes into some detail about how rabble-rousers in the Muslim world sought to whip up anger about the now well-known cartoons depicting Mohamed in the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten. When the campaign of agitation began, almost no one knew of the cartoons. After the campaign of agitation had done its work, several people had died in riots and a great deal of property damage had occurred.
Ortega y Gasset in his The Revolt of the Masses, titled his Chapter VIII “THE MASSES INTERVENE IN EVERYTHING, AND WHY THEIR INTERVENTION IS SOLELY BY VIOLENCE.” This chapter title sums up much of the thesis of the chapter. Ortega y Gasset expands on the theme of violence thus:
“Man has always had recourse to violence; sometimes this recourse was a mere crime, and does not interest us here. But at other times violence was the means resorted to by him who had previously exhausted all others in defence of the rights of justice which he thought he possessed. It may be regrettable that human nature tends on occasion to this form of violence, but it is undeniable that it implies the greatest tribute to reason and justice. For this form of violence is none other than reason exasperated. Force was, in fact, the ultima ratio. Rather stupidly it has been the custom to take ironically this expression, which clearly indicates the previous submission of force to methods of reason. Civilisation is nothing else than the attempt to reduce force to being the ultima ratio. We are now beginning to realise this with startling clearness, because “direct action” consists in inverting the order and proclaiming violence as prima ratio, or strictly as unica ratio. It is the norm which proposes the annulment of all norms, which suppresses all intermediate process between our purpose and its execution. It is the Magna Charta of barbarism. It is well to recall that at every epoch when the mass, for one purpose or another, has taken a part in public life, it has been in the form of “direct action.” This was, then, the natural modus operandi of the masses.”
-Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, Chap. VIII
What we are seeing here, with the cultivation of anger by political pressure groups of all descriptions and orientations, is the implementation of a mass political culture formulated to appeal to mass man...
For the less philosophically minded Mr. Nielson also wrote something that may be of interest. His post on the Pakistani-Indian air force arms race should be read by all Asia pundits and arm-chair generals who frequent this blog: