Thursday, April 06, 2006

Link Preface:

"American foreign policy in an age of proximity" by Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye

"Foreign Policy And The American Elite: Part I" by Zenpundit

"Foreign Policy And The American Elite: Part II" by Zenpundit

"Foreign Policy And The American Elite Part III": by Zenpundit

"Setting the floor (and the ceiling)" by Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye

In Part III of this series I took a look at the demographics of the new, more representative bipartisan, elite that replaced the much vaunted, deeply WASP, Eastern Establishment. I argued that despite some superior attributes ( a point hotly contested by my blogfriend Dave) this new elite was in some respects, far less effective at national leadership. A deficit that I attributed to a shift in ideology which is the subject of Part IV.

The Eastern Establishment dominated the making of American foreign policy from the Spanish-American War - which its members actively worked to provoke - through the Vietnam War. The "Best and The Brightest" blundered so badly in the jungles of Southeast Asia as to have discredited themselves, suffering not only a geopolitical debacle but in some instances, a veritable moral collapse. While many individual members of the Establishment retained considerable influence ( or institutions, even today the imprimatur of the Council on Foreign Relations is nothing to sneeze at), decisive power in foreign affairs shifted to their critics on the Left and the Right in the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Today's politically bifurcated elite does have a " vital consensus" on strategic national interests but it is weak, representing the lowest common denominator that can be reached by two factions being pulled apart by the gravitational force of partisanship. The elite has less in common politically than they do in terms of class, education and culture - and even that is being eroded by increasing religiosity on the Right. The elite today is effectively " Post-Nationalist"in their worldview a way the Eastern Establishment, for all their Atlanticism and creation of international institutions, were not.

Worldviews are inculcated, maintained and are altered by education and experience. Many readers here are familiar with the OODA loop of strategic theorist Colonel John Boyd. The "Orientation'" stage results in the efficient cognitive integration of observed data or, alternatively, self-deception and error. While this process can be consciously analytical and methodical most often it relies upon automaticity . Automatcity as the default process of cognition makes the educational aspectof worldviews ( which would fit under " cultural traditions" as well as "previous experience") deeply influential as core values are potent emotional triggers that can shut down analytical reasoning. What you are taught to believe often interferes with how you think. Or even what you may perceive.

Ivy League American universities, along with a number of others in the top tier, plus Oxford and Cambridge, West Point, VMI and the Pentagon's system of war colleges are gateways to admission in the bipartisan elite. Having gained admission is itself often more important than what you subsequently choose to study. For example, one of my former students, on his first day of freshmen orientation at Yale, before he had attended even a single class or opened a book, already had three top-level summer internships at blue chip firms lined up before dinner. That's the cachet of a gateway university. But what these institutions teach future leaders also matters as the college years often constitutes a formative experience in young adulthood. And the values inculcated at elite colleges have changed since the early-mid 20th century.

American universities were once fairly conservative places in the main, methodologically as well as politically. The philosophical impact of the European academic exodus on American higher education has already been fiercely debated after the publication of Closing of the American Mind by the late Straussian scholar, Allan Bloom .I will not retread that ground except to say that the brilliant minds of the old European Left refugees were an intellectually significant force here. What is less frequently observed is that they added weight to an already existing American radical tradition that had been in the minority in the Humanities, particularly the Social Sciences.

Henry George, Thorstein Veblen, Charles and Mary Beard, Ralph Bunche, C. Vann Woodward, Howard K. Beale, William Appleman Williams and numerous others ( including non-academic Progressive and Populist intellectuals) constituted an alternative viewpoint, often economically determinist and anticapitalist (though non-Marxist) view of American society and history. Always vocal though never dominant, the advent of European Marxists in American universities breathed new life into their attempts to foster a critical scholarship of American values and state interests. Williams, for example, influenced a generation of more radical - and often explicitly Marxist-" revisionist" historians.

These intellectual trends coincided with the golden age of postwar academia, the baby boomers, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the New Left, Feminism and wider societal changes. Universities changed as well. The intellectual Left did not succeed in imposing a neo-Marxist worldview on most American college students in the 1960's nor do they today. Their disparate efforts did succeed though in dismantling the Western canon from its old pedestal in undergraduate education, replacing it with a less coherent array of course choices, frequently taught from the critical perspective, albeit unsystematically and with less rigor due to grade inflation. The humanities disciplines suffered more than the hard sciences in terms of changing content but even the science and math departments were pressured to conform to politically correct shibboleths in hiring, tenure, funding and policy decisions.

The net result of eliminating or omitting so much of what had been the prior emphasis on positive aspects of Western culture and the critical thinking that accompanied the classical curriculum was not acceptance of socialism or various trendy schools of bastardized academic Marxism. That might have been the hope of radical professors and subscribers to Z Magazine but adherence to impractical, strange and esoteric-Left doctrines is utterly useless in seeking a place in the foreign policy establishment. Instead, there seems to have been a twofold effect on those students who went on to become members of the bipartisan elite.

First, except perhaps for those members of the elite who come up through the military institutional gateways, the elite are emotionally detached from the traditional moral center of the American body politic. Exposed to primarily critical appraisals of American history and culture - and getting less exposure to history than previous generations - they lack the pragmatic and realistic identification with state interests that animated men like Stimson, Kennan or Eisenhower and informed their strategic choices.

Today's bipartisan elite are more hesitant to take a position of advocacy of a wholly " American" position and are more apt to be viscerally critical of those who do ( they are also critical of excessively hostile attacks on the "American" position as well - "exceptionalism" is what is being rejected in either case) . When commenting on conflicts between the United States and some third party, unless they are serving in a sitting administration, you will frequently hear the elite adopting the pose of a morally neutral arbiter who is above the fray. This is a pose that satisfies no one except themselves.

This " hands-off" approach to American interests is an attitude that trickles down culturally from the elite to the larger society. Some segments of the American media cannot bear to use the word "terrorist", when reporting stories about Islamist terrorism, even when that label plainly fits. Some leading media journals are uncomfortable with reporters even aspiring to objectivity in regard to American foreign policy and want to move to overtly critical stances. In the realm of public education, we have forsworn assimilation in favor of an intellectually vapid and ahistorical multiculturalism; a premise which leads to inane actions like banning American flags ( as if the flag was somehow on par with the flag of a foreign state) that would have been inconceivable at one time. Patriotism, if education journals like Phi Delta Kappan are to be believed, is either a suspect concept or is best expressed by critical suspicion of American motives. This is a policy of deliberately cultivating Post-Nationalist detachment in the young.

Secondly, having studied more than their share of abstruse theory, the elite manifests idealism in the sense of emotional attachment to certain universal abstractions. A factor that explains the dominance of Liberalism as an IR theory in graduate schools and the Foreign Service as well as an increasingly expansive and aggressive interpretation of the authority of International Law and foreign laws being asserted in Law Schools and even in the judicial branch. There is a perspective here that evaluates potential actions not on the grounds of morality or strategic effect but on how well those actions might fit into these conceptual schemas or disrupt them.

These complex and legalistic arguments favored by the bipartisan elite do not resonate particularly well with ordinary Americans who are apt to argue pragmatically as to national self- interest or using the simple morality of right and wrong. These arguments also sit poorly because these debates are also about the elite preference for an eternally evolving process over a clarifying foreign policy decision that would require action and incur political and personal consequences. This careerist preference for inaction is a hallmark of the new bipartisan elite and is a stark contrast with the Eastern Establishment who generally sought office as a means to certain strategic ends. The self-interest of today's elite class is not invisible to the larger public.

What does the bipartisan and Post-nationalist elite hold to be important? They are robustly in favor of globalization, which earns them the sobriquet of "Neoliberal" from the hard Left; they revere multilateralism and international institutions such as the UN, NATO, IMF, WTO, Partnership for Peace and so on for their intrinsic value as well as their utility in implementing ( or avoiding) policy choices. This makes them mildly transnationalist and accepting of new institutions that might restrict sovereignty - though they have yet to show a preference for clearly written rule-sets to go with these institutions; they are "stabilitarians" who prefer to nibble at the edges of problem states; they are legalists concerned with finer aspects of the formal process of diplomacy. Some of these qualities, many of them in fact, are good and useful things but not at every time and place. These are the attributes of an era of peace and some of them fit less well for a moment of crisis.

The ideology of the bipartisan elite is one of a professional administrative class, overly certain of their judgment, stubborn in their views but relatively timid in their actions. They meander but do not lead.

In Part V, conclusions.


Federalist X ( see comments) had an excellent example - I'm envious actually as I'd never heard it - of liberal education and the Eastern Establishment. While the substance of his comment wil have to be dealt with in Part V. Federalist X did suggest loooking at Dan of tdaxp's series on Liberal Education. Here it is:

Part I: The Petty Troika

Part II: Liberation and Rulesets

Part III: Infection

Part IV: The Mitochondrial Peace
Mark, I usually like what you say because it's a different viewpoint from prevailing wisdom.

But you've drunk the Kool-Aid on this one. You're attacking that strawman that President Bush constructed: them intelletuuls who don't know what us common folks know and who prefer an abstract stability to fighting for the right.

You were going in the right direction with this: Today's politically bifurcated elite does have a "vital consensus" on strategic national interests but it is weak, representing the lowest common denominator that can be reached by two factions being pulled apart by the gravitational force of partisanship.

Part of that partisanship is the insistence on a know-nothing approach by some so-called conservatives. It resonates for them from science and personal life up through justifying attacking other nations because they are "evil." Some of those chickens are returning politically in the immigration debate.

Our leaders (of all stripes) would do us a great service if they would use reasoning to a greater degree than emotion in putting forth their programs.

LOL ! I knew this post would elicit criticism - if it helps Cheryl I expect some brickbats from my conservative friends as well.

I like intellectuals, I am one after all, but the bipartisan foreign policy elite are often, in their own way, as ideological as the neocons. They don't welcome challenges to critically reexamine the received wisdom of their premises.

Yes, the far right is part of the problem in terms of polarization that leaves a shrinking, weakly held, consensus. It takes two to tango.
I suspect that our disagreement is less in recognizing that there is an Elite than in my conviction that they're not elite.

BTW, Mark, I've made substantial progress in my Wave Theory series. I should be posting the next installment over the weekend and the remaining installments thereafter (five in all).
Hamiltonianism (mercantilism) and Wilsonianism (internationalist optimism) are both elite viewpoints. The American public are overwhelmingly populist (Jacksonian) in their attitudes on foreign policy.
You were doing so well with this series.... Frankly I think that you overestimate the importance of the European left intellectuals and underestimate other factors. Things like the exodus of Southern Democrats (which created a much more ideological partisan dynamic) and the new role of the USA as the dominant superpower probably have more weight.
Hi Dave,

Perhaps it is the prevalence of Mead's taxonomy as a spectrum of viewpoints among the elite that contributes to the weak consensus, along with Left-Right divisions.

Excellent on the Wave theory - I look forward to it.


You are correct that there are many factors at play and I think you named some of them.

There's a limit to the possible sweep of a blog post. I had to cut a section on Atlanticism vs, Pacific Rim orientation and Nixon to make this reasonable in size so I chose to focus on education and ideology. Is there more here to it, yes, I think that is correct but I'd need a lot more space to address your concerns, an article at least.Perhaps a small book.
The Eastern Establishment is dieing. Good.

For a century these people have our nation. Nationalists -- Gaullists really -- they worked to undermine our Constitution and destroy our Federal Republic. From the beginning they attempted to limit the ability of states to experiment, and whether Right (finding a "right to contract" in the US constitution, thus overturning local minimum wage laws) to Left (essentially, everything FDR and after) they have worked hard to end the USA as an economic and political union and hard to create something new.

One might be more sympathetic if their schemes had worked -- but they didn't. Centralist attempts to prevent states from helping the poor backfired, creating FDR and an even worse orientation. Centralist attempts to make states help blacks backfired, succeeding only in turning an underclass with strong families and high employment to an underclass with weak families and low employment. At home, these Nationalists displayed a disastrous ignorance of complex adaptive systems administration, believing in the power of Europeanist experts like them.

They are not men of our history -- who were federal Continentalists, not Nationalists -- nor men of our future -- who may be the same. Instead, by adopting the "modern" European ideology of Nationalism as a replacement of our Constitutional values, they are misguided men of their times, like their contemporaries the Marxists.

Abroad, for the most part, they did believe in greatness. We can give them that. In Russia, their equivalents the Marxists did too. We can give them that.

And in Russia, too, Marxism is dead. Good.
hi Dan,

I see this piece is going to rake in a variety of vehement opinions.

The Eastern Establishment isn't dying, it is dead. There are ppl descended from the Establishment and even aged former members in the new elite but the former have a different worldview and the latter long ago decided to collaborate in order to retain influence. The tipping point was 1974.
dmmark: as usual, very good work. am i right that dan's series on liberal education is relevant here? either way, keep it up. i wish i had more time to post a reply at my blog, but for now, an anecdote here will have to do.

the name jacob klein comes to mind... noted philosopher and mathetmatical historian as well as longtime dean of st. john's college, is almost legendar at that school. i consider myself lucky to have been invited there on occassion, and i have learned a great deal from the community there on the need for a particular type of education in a republic.

one of my favorite stories is how during WWII the naval academy needed more room. the navy secretary's office was considering commandeering the small, struggling liberal arts school across the street and using its hundred or so beds as an add-on campus.

jacob klein led a delegation to the secretary's office. they were shown in, and the secretary wheeled round in his leather chair to face the group of professors and their dean.

he is alleged to have said something like: "here is a clock, you have two minutes to tell me why i shouldn't take over your school to help us win this war."

dr. klein reached in his breast pocket, took out a pouch of tobacco and his favorite pipe. slowly packed the pipe, stood up, and walked to the window. he lit the pipe, deliberately and slowly, and began to draw on the pipe, getting several good long deep puffs in before he motioned at the outside, as if ready to address the window...

as the clock reached one minute and fifty seconds, dr. klein finally broke the now maddening silence:

"because without st. john's college, this country isn't worth defending from the nazis."

a good story, no? and more important, is what we're wanting simply a true liberal education these days?
mark: i think, though i'm not sure of course, that it would be an unfortunate mistake to lump dr. klein and his program at st. john's into the "eastern establishment". from what i can tell, the liberal arts project at st. john's college is rather rebellious and trend bucking. all the students learn greek and french. they perform euclidean geometry from memorization, and engage in the study of ptolemny, copernicus and kepler. no electives. no technical training. professors are not referred to by title, but simply by mr. or ms. and perhaps most subversive of all, they require all students study music, as well as the other traditional liberal arts.

further, if you read some of klein's work, notably his commentary on the meno, you'll note a particular strain of classical greek radicalism... seldomn seen these days.
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