One Can Be Both X And Y, But If One Is X, Does One Have To Be Y?


Peter Lawler at PomoCon:

So here are some personal observations: I didn’t say and don’t believe that war with China is inevitable, and I’m not provoking the Chinese. But war is always likely eventually, and free and powerful nations have the duty always to be ready for it. The Chinese, of course, are getting more and more ready. That doesn’t mean they have a plan for invading us, but great powers, they assume, will collide. Thinking in terms of nations and wars and all that is part of getting over the postpolitical fantasy characteristic of contemporary elites, especially in Europe. A variant of that fantasy seems present in the resurgence of Midwestern isolationism on the “American conservative” right. Wars, that isolationist thought is, is caused by greedy capitalists, and so no more greedy capitalism, no more war. There’s also the libertarian (Ron Paul) variant of that theory: War is caused by people who want to be more than greedy capitalists by intervening politically in the affairs of others. As long as we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us.
But we postmodern conservatives who think politically–although not only politically–believe that it’s always prudent to be ready for war.

Daniel Larison:

As a representative of what I suppose must be called Midwestern isolationism, I have to say that I have no idea what Lawler is talking about. The idea that the central complaint among non-interventionists on the right is that U.S. wars are driven by anything so rational as pursuit of new markets is just hilariously wrong. Many non-interventionists may also be critical of corporate power and influence, but perhaps aside from a very few firms the only ones profiting or gaining from war are governments, and they typically start or enter into wars to pursue state interests. As for Ron Paul, he can speak for himself, but my guess is that he thinks that wars are caused by governments that start wars to increase the power of the state, control more territory and resources or project power over and against rivals.

Some “postmodern conservatives” (I suppose we can all use scare quotes) may not be interested in opposing aggressive warfare and empire, but they could at least make some minimal effort to understand the positions of those who do. If they bothered to make that effort, they would understand that non-interventionists are quite interested in being prepared for wars that provide for the common defense of this country, which will normally mean not preparing to fight wars in territories on the other side of the planet where no American interests are at stake. In other words, we think that the military should be concerned primarily with American defense, which will likely never have anything to do with going to war against China.

James Poulos responds:

Daniel doesn’t like Dr. L’s linking up of anti-capitalism to isolationism. Unfortunately, he passionately exaggerates, to the point of disfigurement, Dr. L’s discussion of a certain anti-capitalism as a “variant” [my bold] of the “postpolitical fantasy” of certain, often midwestern, conservatives. So it is true that

[t]he idea that the central [my bold] complaint among non-interventionists on the right is that U.S. wars are driven by anything so rational as pursuit of new markets is just hilariously wrong,

just as it’s true that nobody’s alleging that. Everyone should agree that the outrage against the Iraq war, right and left, is incomprehensible without any reference to the real manner in which big geopolitical decisions are sometimes made with economic factors in mind. The controversial idea, of course, is that ultimately the United States can’t prevail in its ongoing quest for security unless the whole world is cumulatively integrated into the Western-led economy of capitalist institutionalism. Despite the wild passions that surround this notion, at its root it touches a real empirical question about what ensures the durability of ‘the West’ as we know it. So it might very well be the case, for instance, that maintaining open access to Kuwaiti oil was a basic American interest worthy of forcible protection, defensively speaking. But probably conservatives who don’t really like Gulf War I aren’t too excited about viewing such quasi-public economic interests as the sorts of national interests proper for a spirited defense. I myself have a lot more love for the capitalism of individuals than the capitalism of corporations. My crunchy tendencies are a subject for another post, but there’s no doubt that corporate personhood has brought with it a load of insanity and perversity on a scale and of a type by no means foreordained by the rise of mere capitalism. And US superpowerdom is an unnatural and overexpensive condition from which we need to withdraw with perhaps unparalleled cleverness.

Daniel Larison:

Allow me to rephrase: the idea that non-interventionists on the right believe that wars are caused by “greedy capitalists” is hilariously wrong. James says that I didn’t like Lawler’s linking of “anti-capitalism” to isolationism, but the issue isn’t whether I like it or not–it simply isn’t true that the people Lawler was criticizing believe what he claims they believe.

Even when certain “paleo” critics recognize a close relationship between economic globalization and U.S. hegemony, or criticize the “empire of consumption,” they do not hold the views about war Lawler attributes to them. Indeed, a recurring theme in our criticism of most military interventions over the last two decades has been how draining and wasteful of American resources these have been. Quite often, we have criticized interventions because they have gained America nothing but casualties, debt and global hostility. On the whole, we have emphasized the ideological forces propelling the U.S. into one deployment after another. More basically, non-interventionists don’t disagree that the United States should be prepared to fight wars, and many of us consider a high level of preparedness for defensive warfare necessary to avoid entering into larger, costlier wars. Lawler’s remarks on these points were wrong and misguided from start to finish.


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