Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Blogging Line of Least Resistance... to put in a gratuitous link, or a slab of text from somewhere else.

The gratuitous link is to Ross Gittins' article today in the Devil Bunny City Morning Herald.

And here is the slab of text, an extract from 'The Treason of the Clerks', by Julien Benda, 1927:

Peace, it must be repeated after so many others have said this, is only
possible if men cease to place their happiness in the possession of things
"which cannot be shared," and if they raise themselves to a point where they
adopt an abstract principle superior to their egotisms. In other words, it can
only be obtained by a betterment of human morality. But, as I have pointed out
above, not only do men to-day steel themselves entirely against this, but the
very first condition of peace, which is to recognize the necessity for this
progress of the soul, is seriously menaced. A school arose in the nineteenth
century which told men to expect peace from enlightened self-interest, from the
belief that a war, even when victorious, is disastrous, especially to economic
transformations, to "the evolution of production," in a phrase, to factors
totally foreign to their moral improvement, from which, these thinkers say, it
would be frivolous to expect anything. So that humanity, even if it had any
desire for peace, is exhorted to neglect the one effort which might procure it,
an effort it is delighted not to make. The cause of peace, which
is always surrounded with adverse factors, in our days has one more against
it—the pacifism which pretends to be scientific.

I can point to other sorts of pacifism, whose chief result I dare to say is
to weaken the cause of peace, at least among serious-minded persons:—

(a) First, there is the pacifism I shall call "vulgar," meaning thereby the
pacifism which does nothing but denounce "the man who kills," and sneer at the
prejudices of patriotism. When I see certain teachers, even if they are
Montaigne, Voltaire, and Anatole France, whose whole case against war consists
in saying that highwaymen are no more criminal than leaders of armies, and in
laughing at people who kill each other because one party is dressed in yellow
and the other in blue, I feel inclined to desert a cause whose champions
oversimplify things to this extent, and I begin to feel some
sympathy for the impulses of profound humanity which created the nations and
which are thereby so grossly insulted.

(b) Mystic pacifism, by which I mean the pacifism which is solely animated
by a blind hatred of war and refuses to inquire whether a war is just or not,
whether those fighting are the attackers or the defenders, whether they wanted
war or only submit to it. This pacifism is essentially the pacifism of the
people (and that of all the so-called pacifist newspapers) and was strikingly
embodied in 1914 by a French writer who, having to judge between two fighting
nations one of which had attacked the other contrary to all its pledges while
the other was only defending itself, could do nothing but intone "I have a
horror of war" and condemned them both equally. It is impossible to exaggerate
the consequences of this behavior, which showed mankind that mystic pacifism,
just like mystic militarism, may entirely obliterate the feeling of justice in
those who are smitten with it.

I think I see another motive in the French writers who in 1914 adopted the
attitude of M. Romain Rolland—the fear that they would fall into national
partiality if they admitted that their nation was in the right. It may be
asserted that these writers would have warmly taken up the cause of France, if
France had not been their own country. Whereas Barrès said, "I always maintain
my country is right even if it is in the wrong," these strange friends of
justice are not unwilling to say: "I always maintain my country is in the wrong,
even if it is right." There again we see that the frenzy of impartiality, like
any other frenzy, leads to injustice.

My point is only this: our inherent bias towards optimisim is just as likely to be a dovish bias as a hawkish bias.

We want to think that our opposite numbers are rational, like us. We want to think that they want peace, like us. We want to think that they will see our gestures of goodwill and respond in kind, just like we would to their gestures. Anyone who has ever taught first year students knows how easily this dovish optimism can lead to disaster.


Dave said...

I won't argue with the psychology, and it's undoutedly bias on my behalf, not to mention admittedly half-arsed logic, but it seems to me that the consequences of a dovish approach to international affairs are less likely to be immediately catastrophic than a hawkish one.

By which I mean, a hawkish bias seems to me to cut straight to a solution of force, without consideration of...well, anything. The dovish approach, while admittedly more likely to result in waiting too long in the face of immediate threats, at least better positioned to assess risks and costs (something I maintain was done unbelievably poorly pre-Iraq, and with a complete lack of objectivity)

Jenny said...

I remember the first time I heard of the concept of pacifism. I thought "what a wonderful idea" Then I looked into it some more and was very disillusioned by the philosophy when it seemed that the response of pacifists to a situation where a bully is attacking a victim (read individual or nation here)was to scorn those who used force to help the victim. Which would have been less of a problem if they actually providing a workable alternative to the force. Emphasis on workable.

Dr. Clam said...

I guess, Dave, that I think hawkish optimism is more likely to turn out badly for the neighbours- unless they are sadly oppressed nations we wouldn't dream of helping if we considered what the real cost to us might be- while dovish optimism is more likely to turn out badly for us. It has been depressing to watch how with Palestine and Iran our dovish optimism has led us to accept more and more pathetic crumbs as the situation has gone along, always optimistic that these are reasonable people and that they will see sense.
I guess mostly, in the evaporation of the Grand Neo-Napoleonic Plan to bring Democracy to the World, I am just being surly and contrarian. And nostalgic for the good old days when the Armies of the Union marched triumphantly through Georgia, Germany, Afghanistan, etc.

Dave said...

Hmm, I daresay you are right about the outside world's overall dovishness with respect to Palestine, but I don't think you can seriously argue that those 'on the inside' of that particular conflict can be uniformly tarred with the dove-brush. Nope they have been (irrational, mutually contemptuous) hawks. I have long had my doubts that external inteersted parties of any inclination have sufficient influence as to overcome the central hostilities. Of course, I can easily be proved wrong by lasting and immutable peace, but I am not hopeful.

Iran I don't have a strong enough opinion on. Sometimes they seem unfairly mischaracterised in international affairs; others, they appear to be governed by raving lunatics. I shrug helplessly and hope nobody involved is actually mad.

You know that that grand Napoleonic plan was just as ill-conceived and poorly planned as every other time it's been attempted, right? Nobody ever anticipates that it will take more than their lifetime (or more recently their term of government) to change the world. Would-be world conquerors can get the ball rolling on the basis of their personal leadership, but they never remember the long-term succession planning (or they raise incompetent buffoons to succeed them, in whose hands all daddy's conquests inevitably fall apart).

Not that I would like to have seen it happen, but would an uninvaded Iraq have remained stable in the hands of Uday or the other one had Saddam died in office? My feeling has always been that like any good tyrannical dictator Saddam killed rather than groomed anyone qualified to succeed him, and that the extraordinarily fractured Iraqi society would have fallen to something resembling civil war immediately upon his death. And I think that would have been horrific and bloody, but ultimately preferable to the externally forced regime change that actually happened.

Oops, that went too long and changed the subject...

Dr. Clam said...

I *am* seriously arguing that the key players on the Israeli inside of the Israel/Palestine conflict have tarred themselves with the dovish optimism brush. This is why they withdrew from the Sinai in return for the coldest of cold peaces with Egypt, invited Yasser Arafat and his terrorist swill back into the West Bank and Gaza, unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon, then unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. What has all this dovishness gained them? Four-tenths of stuff all. They are just as vilified on the world stage as they would be if, after the Yom Kippur War, they had unilaterally annexed all the occupied territories. The only difference is that Israel's security position vis-a-vis that hypothetical is nigh-fatally compromised.

Georgia, Germany, other Georgia (which has more soldiers in Iraq than we do, parenthetically): surely empirical evidence that sometimes these Napoleonic crusades for freedom do work out.

I guess I just inhabit a different world from the one I read about in the papers. Ought to go back to work and integrate some more equations, methinks...