Historical analysis allows us to come up with such frameworks. Human actions confound such frameworks for many reasons. The study of rhetoric can illuminate at least some of the reasons why grand abstractions such as those Jeremy and Josh put forth in their discussion are unlikely to translate into foreign policy objectives. In the study of rhetoric we come to respect the power of not just the written and spoken word, but the unspoken understanding in which words gain and lose meaning. This unspoken milieu is deep and profound. It defies analysis and confounds actions taken based on the results of analysis. Such power does it hold that history itself is bent and shaped by its force while the study of history is rendered unable to describe it.
Their wonderful discussion has haunted me since reading it. As I wrote through the uneasy feeling, the result became too long for a comment. I can only hope it furthers the conversation, which in itself is a wonderful example of bloggers rising to the joy of good conversation and transcending the artificial bounds of "who writes where".
History, as a discipline, must depend on what is written or spoken (and recorded) and whatever artifacts we can find. Unlike mathematics, where an equation can predict things and outcomes never articulated before, historical analysis seeks to explicate and articulate what has already happened. From this analysis, many disciplines such as political science, sociology, psychology, international relations, etc. attempt to defy the well-worn maxim that "those unfamiliar with history are doomed to repeat it" -- yet repeat "it" we do, quite reliably. Defy or avoid "it", we fail to do more often than not.
What is spoken and written is a tough body of facts with which to start. Without context, the meaning of these facts can be misconstrued. Even with context of the time, the place, the people, the culture, the economic circumstances and the whole panoply of understandings a person may possess (i.e., cultural literacy), the meaning of these facts can be validly different from person to person and in the same person, especially at different times in their lives. With so many factors of the observed facts and the observer's context moving independently of each other (and the causes of those motions hidden in the unspoken milieu of a "time" or an "age").
Josh notes the Declaration of Independence seems to "be of two minds" on a key point of the discussion. He touches upon another subtle and powerful aspect of rhetoric -- that one discourse can evoke principles and ideas which contend with each other even as they coexist in support of the point of the discourse. Indeed, the ceaseless struggle between the rights of individuals and the will and weal of a People who needs be united toward a common purpose is such a dynamic. Add to that frameworks such as "securing rights" and "legitimacy by popular ascent" and an abstract plenum explodes into our imaginations -- leading to interesting conversations and enlightening insights, certainly; but to coherent actions thousands of diplomats can coordinate worldwide in all cultures for all peoples in all nations?
I would not call such endeavors fallacies or misguided. But I do step back with a nagging sense of caution. I share George Washington's cautionary missive in his famous Farewell Address:
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
In my work as a scientist and engineer in the field of software, I do analysis based on facts written and spoken every day. When I build information systems for businesses, I have the opportunity to record and collate the facts within the history of one human organization, down to the cost of every last paper clip and every word in every letter or memo or email within it and which crosses its boundary with the external world of entities. The closer I come to realizing that potential, the more suspicious I am of attempts to harness these ephemeral products of human vocalization when I see the power of the unspoken tempest upon which the organization is tossed. Whole models of future profitability and actions to obtain it can be scuttled with a single new tax law passed by Congress, or an epiphany by an auditor upon analyzing the same facts that the facts themselves are false or misleading even when the point can be argued; in such cases the auditor always wins.
When I think of scaling this endeavor up to that of nations influencing each other through something we can call "foreign policy" and based on facts which are twisted, filtered, constructed, obscured and inverted -- which are then heard by people who have not the first clue of what context those who wrote or spoke those facts into existence were immersed in when they took those actions (or how they would see those facts a day, week, year or decade later even if you could know): well, I'm skeptical. I'm skeptical that foreign policy is a thing, that it rises based on reason and that it can be guided by categorical tautologies derived from careful and patient analysis.
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
Historical analysis needs be done. Such analysis yields the first tier of knowledge. I go back to the battle each day within my clients' organizations, no matter how much prior work must be ripped out and how many facts must be re-embedded, realigned and reorganized into new frameworks which emerge from the epiphany of one or more human beings who have the authority or power to force the change to be made. Rarely does the software structure itself change. Rarely do more than 10% of the document frames (reports, charts, etc.) change. Never do the raw facts, represented as records in a database change, although new attributes are often added. But the selection criteria change and the sorting patterns change and the collating categories are thrown out and new ones overlaid.
When two companies merge, those collating categories collide and an army of consultants and specialized teams descend, just like the presummit negotiating teams of foreign service and intelligence officers from various nations converge to hammer out what the diplomats will bless and the leaders will sign in a few moments after months or years of work. And the next day all of that work is likely to be thrown into the maw of real politik and possibly even discarded altogether.
Josh and Jeremy are valiant in their attempt to wrest reason from history (political, military and economic, writ large at least) lessons of value, and justified in asserting this analysis points to a reasoned, rational framework in which all our actions as a nation vis a vis other nations makes sense and synergizes (due to consonance of rational design) to truly leap to a new order among nations. But those in power able to nudge the course of present history unfolding will take advantage, change the collating and rhetoric will trump reason. The locus of history will move unrationally (not irrationally -- although random chance also will play its hand) -- a balance at the edge between competing rationalities will be found, eventually, and then the historians from all sides and cultures will swoop in to preserve the facts, undertake the analysis and test their theories. And then the political scientists and other disciplines will take their turns, the rippling out of facts cum knowledge cum, perhaps, wisdom.
Certainly, to be true to themselves, Americans cannot ignore the safety and happiness of other nations and peoples. We must continue to have "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." But certain, too, is it that Americans will not be true to themselves if they allow the pursuit of virtue to justify behavior on their own part that in others they would readily recognize as imperialistic or hegemonic, and if they define American interests in such a way as to demand the nation's intervention virtually everywhere and in all matters. It is worth bearing in mind that while this is the bicentennial of the Farewell Address, it is only a few years since the bicentennial of the French Revolution, an event whose impact on international politics should serve as a standing reminder of the danger of embarking on a crusade, even - or especially - one undertaken in the name of the best democratic and republican principles.
We now come full circle: As the Farewell Address argued, American foreign policy rightly begins with efforts to secure the country's basic material interests of security and prosperity. But these interests should be defined, or formed, through a domestic political process that has "our justice" as its end. Washington's advice to pursue American interests, guided by America's sense of justice, in order to command the nation's fortune in the world, remains sound. This formula, rightly understood, provides the United States with the right reasons for overcoming both excessive inwardness and immoderate activism.
Patrick J. Garrity
The National Interest, No. 45, Fall 1996
We do not know -- cannot know -- what government is best for another nation. We never could, and never will. We can't even know if our own government works for most of our fellow citizens with any certainty. We can only know whether our own government works for us, and those we know from direct experience and interaction. We can only act on that knowledge. The will of the People emerges from the struggle among millions of these microworlds, and it is in that struggle we must believe, without analysis, each and every day. We must believe the courts vs. the legislatures vs. the administrations at all levels of government will balance and check each other. We must believe no one must be allowed to overtake the other no matter how grave the situation. We must believe or facts lose context and analysis fails to find a point on which to start.
The Declaration's power was a rhetorical power -- we believe thus and so we will act thusly. Are we endowed with inalienable rights by our Creator? Do we have a Creator? Are there such things as rights? Is every human being endowed with these things by this other thing equally? I cannot know, and neither can you. But I can believe it to be so, and so can you. And if enough of us do believe it and our nation survives the vicissitudes of history and circumstance, that is all we can know -- that we survived thus far, not that our belief in any thing was the reason for that survival. Understanding that limit and testing it always with doubt and criticism is where knowledge's power ends and wisdom's begins. Rhetoric teaches us the wisdom that all reason lays on a foundation of faith -- postulates enable a universe of discourse, universes of discourse can not prove their postulates. Analysis requires postulates. Rhetoric requires faith.
Other nations will take care of themselves because they have to or they will be a nation no longer. The hardest challenge is to realize that fact, and it is this realization that the Declaration of Independence puts forth. This document is not meant for other nations, but only for our own. Whatever it can inspire in others is for them to decide, not us. George Washington was particularly wary of this propensity for us to impose on others what works for us when making it work for us is a daily and constant battle against tyranny -- our desire for it even as we are repelled by its consequences tomorrow. Eisenhower warned us against this propensity.
Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war -- as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years -- I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
Dwight Eisenhower's Final Address, 1961
The neoconservative movement's, and the neolibertarian movement's, greatest flaw is this intellectual arrogance, well-meaning though it may be. We cannot create democracy anywhere else, and attempting to do so often blinds us to the constant entropy of the universe seeking to break down and consume our own hard-won liberties. Whenever we want a stable, safe world today we tend to favor tyranny -- strong leaders who get things done and prevent others from doing bad things to us. Whenever we hope for a better world for our children and their children, we know we must face down tyranny or their lot will be worse than ours. The first struggle is to secure our liberties. The second is to secure our liberties. The first struggle is to act communally in such a way that individuals can at least eat and earn and not die and not be imprisoned or enslaved. The second struggle is to act individually so the communal impulse and DNA-encoded instinct does not keep us from seeking justice and making sure leaders are under the rule of law as individuals and minorities of individuals are protected against the interests of the majority.
When a citizen sues the government and wins, they have helped all of us secure our liberties. When the government stops a terrorist from blowing up a building, they have helped all of us secure our liberties. One sentence. Two motions. Two dynamics. Same words.
Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology -- global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research -- these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.
But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs -- balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage -- balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.
Dwight Eisenhower's Final Address, 1961
The difference is rhetorical. The difference is crucial. The difference makes all the difference. When analysis is done and we allow it to roll around in our subconscious for a time, the synthesis emerges and is spoken. If that synthesis is true, as true as we can know anything to be, it will be wise. Wisdom itself cannot be analyzed, but only appreciated by others readied by hard-won experience, and who believe the world can be better but wise enough to know the betterment will emerge from that within our commonality which cannot be analyzed or projected upon anyone else. In the voting booth, each voter can choose only among limited things: most often the lesser of two evils. But in millions of voting booths, a message no one individual could articulate emerges. In that moment, rhetoric rules. In discerning the message, history is as final a judge as we can construct. Years later. Generations hence. May that judgment of our time rise to the power of Eisenhower's rhetoric as he left office, much wiser than when he came to power:
You and I -- my fellow citizens -- need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation's great goals.
To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration: We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.
In his prayer, he does not advocate action, but contemplation and rededication to our own struggle to be worthy to be modeled by others. Two Presidents, distant one from the other in time but sharing a common uncommon experience, upon reflection of their aspirations and human limitations, spoke wisdom through the power of rhetoric and from their hearts. We need to listen, to doubt the grand stratagems we would cast upon other nations and to renew our own humility and recognize our limitations. Some things must needs be left to Providence because no human being, no matter how armed with the results of analysis and imbued with the best of intentions, should ever wield such power or, if handed such power, use it. We must speak. But most importantly, we must listen and engage a conversation the ultimate end of which none of us can know. The courage to engage comes from knowing what history teaches us what ignorance has wrought. Allowing ourselves to accept whatever outcome to which the conversation leads and disengage the better for it is the art of rhetoric.
We must have faith other nations will reach the goals set forth above. Faith requires holding ourselves to a higher ideal because we cannot lift others up in any other way. They must rise, or fall, as they choose. The same applies to us. In this, at the bottom, all of us on this tiny planet are bound. It's a start. It's not assurance that the end will be met. But it is all we have, and we must be wise enough, humble enough and faithful enough to our own ideals to understand that it is all we need to have. Dictator or populist, democracy or autocracy, their government is what they can sustain in this moment and ours is what we, together, can make it be. We are all in the struggle together, as individuals and as nations. The planet is small, finite and its balance delicate. Disturbing that balance deliberately for any rational end is the very definition of hubris and its end is imbalance. Lives will be paid to restore a new balance, of that we can be certain.
To disturb that balance instead of patiently, warily and vigilantly weighing it so we can see imbalance coming and right it before lives are thrown into the breach is the goal. Those most unlike us are the first ones to engage in conversation so we can, each of us, weigh the balance and take the measure each of the other. Rhetoric is the art of the moment, and it must be practiced mindful of history but open to insight which can only be gained face to face, time after time in the relentless pursuit of our interests -- giving up what we may want for what we really need. History will record the result, from a thousand angles, and instruct others in the future. Let us hope it will, on balance, be kind because we deserve it to be. Beyond this, real progress toward liberal ideals in others is a gift which must be discovered before it can be given. Such it has been, and will be, as long as there are nations and people to live in them.