A universalist wants the U.S. to keep defending its “exclusivist national interests”

Carol Iannone writes:

You say that in Robert Kaplan’s article, “The Rise of Toxic Nationalism,” he shows himself to be “an all-out universalist ideologue.” But did you get his extremely qualifying last paragraph?

Yet because values like minority rights are under attack the world over, the United States must put them right alongside its own exclusivist national interests, such as preserving a favorable balance of power. Without universal values in our foreign policy, we have no identity as a nation—and that is the only way we can lead with moral legitimacy in an increasingly disorderly world. Yet we should not be overturning existing orders overnight. For it is precisely weak democracies and collapsing autocracies that provide the chaotic breathing room with which nationalist and sectarian extremists can thrive.

Note how he makes clear that the U.S. does have to preserve its “exclusivist national interests” even in this global/cosmic/galactic world. He does say we have to have universal values as well, but we have to be careful not to “overturn existing orders overnight” because if you do that in the name of the universal values you might ironically allow the hated “nationalist and sectarian interests” to arise in the ensuing chaos! He’s trying to square the circle. He doesn’t understand culture and its part in the life of a people, all he knows is global/cosmic/galactic values, but he can see that if you go too fast you will create chaos in which the toxic nationalism he fears can thrive, so he counsels the U.S. to be universal, but protect your own interests and be careful not to overturn existing orders overnight. Doesn’t this sound something like the old-fashioned Realist position, the one that got pushed aside for Bush doctrine of democratization?

LA replies:

It sounds to me like an unprincipled exception to his ideological universalism. He realizes that his universalist program for the destruction of all nations, if actually carried out, will destroy all existing order and unleash chaos. So he says that we still have protect our own exclusivist national interests. But this realization does not lead him to abandon the universalist program and assert the goodness and necessity of nations, because that would be to assert a non-liberal principle. He wants non-liberal things to exist in the world in order for the world not to slip into chaos, but he will not defend those non-liberal things in principle, but only as a temporary expedient.

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James N. writes:

Kaplan sez: “and that is the only way we can lead with moral legitimacy in an increasingly disorderly world”

So, ending the disorder which is consuming whole nations is not moral, in its own right?

Leaving aside the question of whether it is desirable (in our interest) to intervene to end disorders, does it really “lack legitimacy” unless it is tied to mythical universal values?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 31, 2012 11:49 AM | Send

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