Thursday, March 31, 2016


For those with access to Perspectives on Politics, the article in the current issue on the UN, Haiti, and cholera looks esp. interesting.  Don't have time to write about it now but will do so later (where "later" = probably not for several weeks).

On another subject: the economist Lester Thurow has died.  He was writing about inequality well before it was a fashionable subject for most mainstream academic economists.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reading notes

I'm making a rather slow start on Before the Storm [link], despite its excellent research and -- in many passages, though not all -- very good writing.  Learning a lot about the details of U.S. politics around the time when I was born.  Where else, for instance, would I be likely to find out that "in 1957, Republican National Committee chair Meade Alcorn put one of his best men, the affable Virginian I. Lee Potter, to building a [Republican] rank and file in the South in a project called 'Operation Dixie'" (p.47)?

However, the author's skills notwithstanding, so far I'm not thoroughly engrossed, the way one sometimes can be by a good novel or even a work of history.  I'm hoping that will change as the narrative moves into the early 1960s and then the 1964 campaign.

ETA: One thing (among others) that comes through clearly in the first 50 pp. or so of the book is the extent to which the emergent or reconstituting U.S. Right in the 50s and early 60s found a key constituency in family-owned and/or privately-held manufacturing and other businesses, a sector that still exists but is presumably a good deal smaller today than it was then. Indeed Perlstein opens the first chapter with a sketch of the political views and trajectory of one such (hypothetical) businessman. Here's one actual example of many: In '59, on the eve of Khrushchev's visit to the U.S., we're told that "Milwaukee's Allen-Bradley Company bought a full page in the Wall Street Journal: 'To Khrushchev, "Peace and Friendship" means the total enslavement of all nations, of all peoples, of all things, under the God-denying Communist conspiracy of which he is the current Czar.... Don't let it happen here!'" (p.52)  Pretty clearly only a family-run or closely-held business would have felt able to spring for this kind of full-page ad in the WSJ -- a big publicly-traded company presumably would not have done this sort of thing, even if some of its executives might have shared the same views. (I use the word "presumably" because I'm not sure that this speculation is correct, but it seems fairly logical.)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lahore bombing

I had not heard of the group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in Lahore that killed at least 65 people (evidently mostly Christians, who were intentionally targeted).  Wiki says that the group split from the main Pakistani Taliban organization (the TTP) in 2014.  It is not entirely clear from the Wiki entry exactly what Jamaat-ul-Ahrar's current relation to the TTP is.

ETA 3/28: According to the NewsHour tonight, most of the victims were Muslims.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Quote of the day

I was taking another look recently at a 1994 essay by Sankaran Krishna[*] that I cited in my diss. (some years ago).  This passage strikes me as a nice summary of at least one aspect of Nehru's worldview: 
Despite his firm belief in the timeless existence of a spiritual and civilizational entity called "India," Jawaharlal Nehru nevertheless felt compelled to begin his appropriately titled Discovery of India with a solid and physicalistic description of her "natural" frontiers.  Nehru's imaginative geography depicted impassable mountain ranges, vast deserts, and deep oceans that produced a "natural" cradle for what became India.  Anxiety regarding the physical boundaries of the nation gets inscribed early in Nehru's Autobiography.  The narrative script that runs through that definitive work in imagining India clearly traces her downfall to porous frontiers and, more importantly, to an unfortunate timing by which disunited and fragmenting India encountered the cresting and united civilization of the British.  The encounter not only produced colonial rule but also with it, Nehru argued, the sources of India's eventual redemption: modernity, science, the rational spirit, and, most importantly, national unity.
Notice the tension between, on the one hand, the reference to "impassable" mountains and "vast" deserts and, on the other hand, the reference to "porous frontiers."  The mountain ranges clearly weren't impassable enough, nor the deserts vast enough, to prevent multiple conquests of the subcontinent.

The idea of 'natural frontiers' has a long and somewhat checkered history.  Although natural features of the landscape do play some role in how the territorial boundaries of states have evolved, that role I think is a secondary or even tertiary one -- that is, I incline to the view that it's secondary in terms of boundaries' actual on-the-ground history, as distinguished from the often larger role 'natural frontiers' play in the legitimating myths of some nation-states.[**] 
*Sankaran Krishna, "Cartographic Anxiety: Mapping the Body Politic in India," orig. published in Alternatives v.19 n.4 (Fall 1994), reprinted in Challenging Boundaries, ed. M. Shapiro and H. Alker (U. of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 193-214.  The quotation is from p.195 (endnotes omitted).

**The relevant literature is fairly extensive and I won't go into it here (though I'm probably willing to do so in the comments if someone wants).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Trump and foreign policy

According to the front page of this afternoon's (digital edition) WaPo, Trump has announced a team of five foreign-policy advisers, a group apparently chaired by Sen. Sessions (R-Alabama), who has endorsed Trump.  Because I'm too cheap to take a WaPo sub, I haven't read the article.  The headline refers to a 'non-interventionist' foreign policy, which could mean a number of different things, and of course what looks like 'non-interventionism' to the WaPo might be anything that deviates from the quasi-messianic tradition in U.S. foreign policy that the newspaper's editorial board has been, with occasional exceptions, a fan of for the last, hmm, let's say 60 years (give or take).

ETA: More on this at some later point. There'll be plenty of time to discuss Trump's positions between now and the general election (assuming he's the Repub nominee).  For now I'll just say that even if particular Trump foreign-policy positions, e.g. on the disposition of U.S. forces abroad, should turn out to be closer to my views than certain of Clinton's foreign-policy positions, the way Trump has campaigned and what he has said about (among others) Muslims and Mexicans completely disqualifies him, imo.  So at this point if he adopted, say, Posen's Restraint word-for-word and made it his foreign-policy platform it wouldn't matter, from my standpoint.  (There is of course a long Repub tradition, albeit lately mostly submerged, of skepticism about and opposition to the U.S.-as-world-orderer, going back at least to the '30s and the America Firsters and the TaftitesIn the opening of Before the Storm, which I've begun to read, Perlstein calls Taft's foreign-policy approach "anticommunism for isolationists.")         

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Obama and Cuba

When the histories of the Obama admin are written, I'll be surprised if the change in relations with Cuba is not seen as one of the most important foreign-policy initiatives of his eight years, if not the most important.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Quote of the day (division of bad predictions)

"Some Hindus dream of going back to the Vedas, some Muslims dream of an Islamic theocracy.  Idle fancies, for there is no going back to the past.... There is only one-way traffic in Time."

-- Nehru in The Discovery of India, as quoted in Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation, p.25 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Too tired: always a good excuse

Spent a bit of time this evening catching up on (i.e., a mixture of reading, skimming, and not even that) some unread back issues of FP's South Asia Daily.  Some nuggets of interest, as per usual, but I'm too tired to relay any of them right now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Was Zionism a case of 'national liberation'? (Walzer vs. Falk)

National liberation movements are usually thought of as movements against colonial rule.  Although Zionism doesn't fit that template, Michael Walzer in The Paradox of Liberation (discussed here) nonetheless treats Zionism as a national liberation movement.  The implicit (or sometimes explicit) justifying steps are that: (1) the Jews are a people or "nation"; (2) their condition of 'exile' constituted a form of 'national oppression'; (3) Zionism as a political movement sought to end the condition of exile and hence counts as a case of national liberation.  

In a critical essay on The Paradox of Liberation published online last year, Richard Falk argued that since the establishment of the state of Israel involved, among other things, the (unjust) displacement of Palestinians from land they occupied, Zionism was not a national-liberation movement in the sense that the Indian and Algerian independence movements were.  Falk acknowledged Ben-Gurion's statement in 1947 to a meeting of his political party (quoted by Walzer on p.99 of Paradox) that "[i]n our state there will be non-Jews as well, and all of them will be equal citizens, equal in everything without any exception, that is, the state will be their state as well."  However, Falk wrote: 
In my view, it is questionable in the extreme whether this idealistic goal ever represented the actual intentions of Zionist leaders. It should be evident to all that such egalitarianism was never expressive of Israeli policies and practices on the ground from even before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Walzer for his part (Paradox, p.100) judged that "[t]he invasion of the new state in 1948 by five Arab armies must count as one of the reasons, perhaps the crucial reason, why none of the governments over which Ben-Gurion presided lived up to the commitments he described." [See the discussion in the comment thread.]

My own position may fall somewhere in between Walzer's and Falk's, though I'm also not entirely convinced that the actual gulf between them is quite as big as Falk thinks (though it may be).  Certainly they differ on various historical and normative questions, but it's not clear that their views on the current way forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are all that radically different.  But to hash these issues out thoroughly would require too long a post than I have time for right now and also a more detailed knowledge of the relevant history than I can command without some substantial research (which I have no present intention of undertaking).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Williamson's disgusting screed

Repellent as Trump is, this piece from Nat'l Review, as excerpted here, is just as repellent.  

Quote of the day

All of the data suggests that illegal immigration has slowed dramatically, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has declined, more Mexicans are exiting than entering the United States .... “The border is much more secure than in times past,” R. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has said. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Weird headline of the day

Spotted in WaPo (though didn't read accompanying article): "North Korea claims it could wipe out Manhattan with hydrogen bomb."  This is weird on at least a couple of levels, one of which is that a hydrogen bomb (even, I think, a 'small' one, if that adjective even makes sense here) would wipe out a hell of a lot more than Manhattan. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Linkage: yet another piece on Obama and foreign policy

Drezner comments here on Goldberg's essay (which I haven't read).

Where did 'national liberation' go wrong?

Review of:
Michael Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions. Yale Univ. Press, 2015. 178 pp. (including notes and index).

Movements for "national liberation," which seek to free a people or "nation" from colonial rule or from other kinds of statelessness or national 'oppression', have a sometimes complicated relationship to the traditional culture and religion of the "nation" on whose behalf they act.  That relationship is the focus of Walzer's The Paradox of Liberation, which considers three national-liberation movements -- the Algerian FLN, the Indian National Congress, and Labor Zionism -- all of which achieved their goal of founding independent, (more-or-less) secular states only to be met with fundamentalist religious reactions roughly 25 years after independence.   

Walzer's main argument is that these three movements, in their drive to create "new men" and "new women" and new polities, were too dismissive of the religion and culture of the peoples they were seeking to liberate.  Of the leaders of these movements, only Gandhi consistently spoke to 'the people' in a traditional religious idiom (p.20).  Although the FLN and early Zionists made some religious noises (the FLN said it respected "Islamic principles"), their "long-term political agenda" was not "significantly influenced by their people's religion" (p.22).  According to Walzer, "[i]t is the absolutism of secular negation that best accounts for the strength and militancy of the religious revival" (p.109).   

On this account, the results of this "secular negation" were: an Islamist movement in Algeria that led to civil war in the 1990s; the growing strength of Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in India (where the BJP, the political party of this movement, currently is in power); and ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel (and its offshoot, the settler movement).  Walzer thinks an attitude of "critical engagement" with traditional religion on the part of the national-liberationists could have led to the creation of some kind of middle ground (though he doesn't use that phrase).  

Walzer's examination of the histories of these movements, however, suggests that this would not have been easy.  With respect to the case about which he is most deeply concerned, he acknowledges that the gulf between political Zionism and "the mentality of exile" (p.39) of traditional Judaism "was very wide, and it wasn't easy to find continuities" (p.46).  Indeed, as Walzer points out, a key part of Zionism's self-definition was and is its rejection of the traditional commitment to waiting for the Messiah and all that idea implied in the way of passivity and (perceived) weakness.  "[T]he anti-Semitic stereotype of the pale, stooped, fearful Jew is also a Zionist stereotype" (p.47), and Zionists replaced this stereotype with the image of the strong, self-sufficient pioneer.  Ironically perhaps, a rather similar image was later appropriated by the Orthodox Jewish settlers of the occupied territories, who see themselves as warriors for a cause.  The difference is that the Labor Zionists envisioned a state in which all citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, would enjoy the same rights and to which, as a result, they would feel the same ties (see the quotation from Ben-Gurion on p.99).

Within the secular 'negation' of tradition, it is, Walzer writes, "[t]he demand for gender equality [that] poses the greatest challenge to traditional religion and is probably the most important cause of revivalist zealotry in all three...cases" (p.115).  Citing the work of (among others) the Indian scholar Uma Narayan, he argues that the solution is to connect the quest for gender equality to "national narratives and religious traditions" (p.119), as some feminists are already trying to do.  The implication is that those who are unwilling to do this cannot succeed and will only generate an increasingly intense backlash.  

Hindu nationalism, ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and the political versions of fundamentalist Islam (whether, say, in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or, in perhaps the most extreme form, with ISIS) can be seen as part of a global religious revival, but The Paradox of Liberation, largely because of its case-study approach, pays little attention to such global dimensions.  The strongest criticism of this book will likely come from some on the left who will see Walzer as too accommodating of tradition and won't be mollified by, for instance, his quotations from Gramsci (see p.124) or his discussion of some Marxist and postcolonialist critiques of his argument.  Even if one disagrees with or is skeptical of Walzer's position, the book provokes thought and has the advantage of being very short, and the notes contain useful references for those interested in the histories of, and debates surrounding, the three 'revolutions' and 'counterrevolutions'.  In addition, there is a postscript on the American Revolution and why it differs from the three main cases.

ETA: There's some good material in the book's postscript that I may address in another post. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The neocons weigh in

Various Repub members of the "national security community" have delivered a blast at Trump (h/t).  A glance at the list of signatories reveals some big neocon names (though not all are neocons).  This open letter is going to have no effect on Repub primary voters.  As to the substance, many (not all) of the points are, imo, valid, but that's partly because they're pitched at a high level of generality.  It's mildly amusing, in a black-humor sort of way, to see so many supporters of the G.W. Bush admin expressing grave concern about Trump's remarks on torture.

ETA: NYT notes some people who didn't sign the open letter. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Do something else with your life

From a critique of the GRE, which is the exam one usually has to take when applying to grad school in the U.S.:
Grad-school admissions is a competitive venture; researchers call grad school a “high-status opportunity.” For Fall 2014 admission, 2.15 million students applied to graduate school in the U.S.  Only 22 percent of the doctoral applicants and about 48 percent of the Master’s-degree applicants were accepted, however. Score well on the GRE and your odds of entry to this high-status opportunity look better. Don’t score well, and—at least traditionally—you may have to consider something else to do with your life.
Which might be, regardless of how well (or badly) you do on the GRE, a very, very good idea.

Some movies of the 1980s

These days I usually don't feel like shelling out 11 or 12 dollars to see a movie, and going out to the movies somehow seems more of a project than it used to.  In the 1980s, though, I saw a fair number of movies, as a recent USIH post about an 'ad hoc canon for the '80s' reminded me.  I mentioned in a comment there a few that I recall seeing (these are all by American directors, because the post's focus is U.S.-specific): Dressed to Kill and The Untouchables (both directed by Brian De Palma, the latter with a pram-down-the-steps scene paying homage to Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin); David Lynch's Blue Velvet; and Rob Reiner's Stand By Me, which -- although I remember none of it in a plot or a scene sense -- I recall as striking emotional chords in such a way that one walked out of the theater feeling warm, uplifted, and convinced, if only fleetingly, that everything was right with the world.