World Kaplan and the Empire of Gloom
TRACT FOR OUR TIMES
D. Kaplan has made a name for himself writing politically tinged
travelogues from various Third World pest-holes and global hot spots
for the Atlantic Monthly. Now, in his new book, Warrior
Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos (New York:
Random House, 2002), he stakes his claim to advise us well,
provisionally "us" on how "we" should
run the world. At the very least the book is symptomatic of a felt
need on the part of US imperial leaders, or their cheerleaders,
for a compelling doctrine to justify what they wish to do anyway.
I shall look at it in that spirit.
SAD, SAD HISTORY OF HOMO INSIPIENS
befits such a work, Kaplan addresses himself to the
failings of human nature revealed in history. For taking
a gloomy view of human nature, Kaplan is said to be
"conservative," a usage that helps empty the
word of what little real content it has had for several
decades. Never mind that. Conservative or otherwise,
Kaplan holds that the ancient writers are the best authorities
on such matters as human nature, fate, doom, and the
endorsements on the jacket and the people mentioned
in the acknowledgements will help the discerning reader
get his bearings on the book. Newt (Future Man) Gingrich,
Henry the K, William S. Cohen, Michael Lind, Francis
(G. W. F.) Fukuyama, and John Gray, founder and president
of the Weltanschauung of the Month Club, all praise
the book. These are not good omens, except perhaps for
neo-pagans in training.
book defies summary because Kaplan constantly moves
the goalposts and changes his own rules in the name
of realism, pragmatism, moderation, whatever, and the
latter undergo some sea-changes as well. I shall do
my best to tease out the main themes. Kaplan gets off
to a running start with a dire assessment of the current
situation, which is meant to prove that nothing has
changed much in history. "Global capitalism"
hanging in the air, undefined is fueling
"populist rage," since capitalism is not "equitable"
(an assertion dropped, rather than argued).
circumstance threatens us with new "populist"
and "utopian" movements akin to Bolshevism
and Nazism in the 20th century. Bad, angry masses mobilized
by bad ideas wrecked that century. Evidently, they did
this in an institutional vacuum, as states and politics
go rather unanalyzed in this connection.
come some warnings about terrible new enemies who "will
not fight according to our notions of fairness"
but who will attack "asymmetrically" (the
new buzz word). Thus, "[i]f our soldiers cannot
fight and kill at close range, our status as a superpower
is in question" (p. 9). Clearly, we must draw on
the unchristian wisdom of the ancients to understand
these things, but first we must take a detour with Winston
it seems, understood these things and thought like an
ancient. His account of the suppression of the Mahdi
is held up as great moral instruction. Kaplan sums up
the man's Churchill's not the Mahdi's
greatness: "Churchill's unapologetic warmongering
arose not from a preference for war, but from a breast-beating
Victorian sense of imperial destiny...." (p. 25).
). In other words, having an empire means constant warfare,
so one prefers empire itself, rather than the wars as
such, to not having empire at all. Very clear, I guess.
WISDOM DISTILLED INTO BELTWAY MOONSHINE
naturally brings us around to Titus Livy, ancient Roman
virtue, sacrifice, law, and imperially imposed order.
Hannibal turns out to be Hitler (p. 32) and luckily
far-seeing forerunners of FDR overcame "provincial
isolationists" and rallied Romans to defeat him.
All this led to executive dictatorship but happily republicanism
"survived as an ideal" in much the way that
American "freedom" survived the Cold War albeit
as a mere rhetorical device.
Sun Tzu now comes into play to show how bureaucratic
order delivered ancient China from interstate warfare.
Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War is mined
for insights about "fear (phobos), self-interest
(kerdos), and honor (doxa)" (p. 47).
All Kaplan takes from the famous dialogue between the
Melians and the Athenians is the rather startling thought
that a "completely amoral foreign policy"
might work out poorly (p. 49). One supposes, therefore,
that a moderately amoral policy has much to recommend
old Sun Tzu and Thucydides "war is not an aberration"
(p. 50). Cheery lot, they are. But now we are getting
somewhere and soon embrace the neo-pagan insights of
Machiavelli, the better to throw aside Christian silliness
about morality. The insufficiently pagan Shah of Iran
is duly scorned for having "to compromise with
street anarchy" (p. 53). Actually, the Shah shrunk
from unleashing the secret police on his people to the
extent advised by the steely-eyed US proconsuls.
Rabin, by contrast, is praised for being successfully
ruthless, which explains, one imagines, the present
peaceful disposition of everyone in that part of the
world. The wicked Pinochet of Chile, however, "lack[ed]
Machiavellian virtue" because he used "excessive
violence" (p. 55). One can only guess whether Francisco
Franco looks a proper Machiavellian under Kaplan's microscope.
lucked out by rejecting private Christian virtue in
favor of public, pagan virtue. Self-educated, he missed
out on "the scholastic abstractions that tainted
the culture of his age" (p. 57). Hypocritical Tridentine
Catholics smeared the poor fellow's reputation (p. 59),
but we neo-pagans can get past that.
pagan virtue provides us with the stones to emulate
that wonderful statesman Lincoln, "who was sufficiently
ruthless to target the farms, homes, and factories of
Southern civilians in the latter phase of the Civil
War" (p. 61).
THUGS IN OUR HOUSE, ARE THERE, DEAR?
Lincoln, we turn to suitably amoral moderns who did
the right thing, even though there is according
to Kaplan no objective morality but only reason
of state. (So if there is no objective morality, how
do we know they did the right thing?) To break out of
the "determinism" offered by the medieval
Catholics and the Marxists (p. 70), we must read Isaiah
Berlin another bad sign.
importantly, we must read Hobbes and Malthus. Hobbes
teaches that the natural state of man is on what
evidence? a war of each against all. Thus, we
must submit to a Leviathan state, within the frame of
which we enjoy whatever freedom is actually possible.
Absent the social Covenant, says Hobbes, "no action
can be Unjust" (quoted, p. 83), a piece of impertinent
nonsense from which Kaplan derives really Zbig, I mean
state causes freedom, it seems, and Little Jamie
Madison and Alexander Hamilton appear as character witnesses
for it. The American Revolution "is impossible
to imagine" absent "the philosophy of Hobbes
and Machiavelli" (p. 87) and the Founders were
all pagan virtuosos. They "substituted the
arenas of party politics and the marketplace for actual
battlefields" (p. 87, my italics), as if they were
mighty Social Engineers and as if they had any choice
in the matter!
the state giveth and the state protecteth and the state
cannot be held to mere "private morality,"
which is the whole point, really, for Kaplan. Most of
our ancestors did not actually sign up for these premises.
But, returning to the flow of the book, Thomas Malthus
takes a bow for warning us (by inference) about angry
Third World males and telling us about ecosystems (pp.
88-95). Malthus' real economic insights fall by the
wayside, because economics is, generally, beneath the
notice of well-read pagans.
a bow to the Holocaust and Immanuel Kant, we are told
that "isolationism" and American "idealism"
are just two sides of the same coin (p. 102), totally
unsuited for making pagan foreign policy. TR, Serbia,
and "the future of NATO" (p. 107) are mentioned,
even if no reason is given why the latter should have
a future. Suddenly Kaplan wants to fuse "Judeo-Christian"
values with the heroic pagan ones (p. 109), having spent
much of his time ridiculing Christian thought up to
this point (pp. 46, 51, 56, 57, 61, 62, 63, 70, 109,
114, 115, etc.).
IMPERIAL EAGLE IS A BIRD OF PREY
nightsoil intersects the cooling device, at last, in
chapter nine. Here we learn that to deal with warlike
humanity, we must take up Churchill's burden. The distinction
between civilian and military leadership will blur,
even more than in the heroic Cold War; wars will come
and go all of them undeclared. Even better, wars
will take place "within states" and international
law will go by the board (p. 118).
shall be ruled by a new "aristocracy of statesmen,
military officers, and technocrats..., motived, one
hopes, by ancient virtue" (p. 121). Ah yes, one
would indeed hope so, but since virtue has already
been defined as pagan ruthlessness, perhaps this isn't
as good a bargain as it might appear.
childish moralizing of the mass media may be a problem
for the neo-pagan world-improvers. Kaplan makes no suggestions
here, even though "[t]he power of the media is
willful and dangerous" (p. 129). This cheered me
immeasurably, for Kaplan has finally noticed a form
of power that might be dangerous amidst all his
calls for toughness, aerial bombardment, and urban counter-insurgencies.
last chapter meditates a bit on the Emperor Tiberius,
whose career is conveniently divided, unlike Gaul, into
two parts. Tiberius I was a likeable fellow who caused
prosperity. Tiberius II, however, apparently lost
track of his pagan virtues while cavorting at Capri,
and became bad. This does not seem to make Kaplan question
the imperial form of rule.
the world's loom, weave the Cons doom, or so one
might think. It has fallen to "us"
that is, the US to build the, ahem, new world
order of "governance" (that sounds so much
nicer than World Government). Kaplan writes that this
happy outcome will rest on peacekeeping missions, war
crimes tribunals, and democracy but not too much
of the latter, since the pagans need some room to work
the interim, American patriotism must be kept alive
so as to swindle the masses into backing and paying
for this realistic, pragmatic, pagan creation of order.
Bring on the Fourth of July fireworks. Down the road,
all this backward American nationalism can wither away.
Our critics at Free Republic might wish to ponder the
role Kaplan has chosen for them in this process.
BRIEF FOR THE RULING CLASS
utter, well-nigh ruthless, partisanship of Kaplan's
treatment of historical and contemporary figures is
quite stunning. There is no thesis in this book. There
is merely lawyer's history and special pleading in the
interest of the present ruling class. The morality of
actions in foreign affairs is entirely to be judged
by consequences. This threadbare utilitarianism goes
nowhere, but it would take a separate essay to do it
justice (provided there is justice outside Kaplan's
and Hobbes' Leviathan state).
argument meanders and waffles on anything substantive.
We mustn't believe in determinism, yet he predicts the
future. Realism is flawed, but we must be realists to
some undisclosed extent. Morality is after-the-fact
but we must sometimes intervene to do good on the basis
of justice, which doesn't actually appear to exist objectively.
There is no ontological order in Kaplan's world, not
the least glimmering of economic insight, no political
shreds the constitution, belittles democracy, defames
the founders as pagans, but informs us that we are prosperous
because we enjoy "the rule of law" (p. 9).
He must have an odd notion of what law is. He equates
Hitler and Hannibal but also announces that "medieval
popes," Mohammed, and Hitler were "armed prophets"
(pp. 32, 60). Does this make Hannibal a pope or a prophet?
Between Kaplan and Hobbes and Calvin and Hobbes, I think
the choice must be clear.
this Case for the Ruling Class Restated, Kaplan waves
his hands in the general direction of an unspecified
"West." The "West" takes in Greece
and Rome, skips the Christian Middle Ages somehow, and
shows up again in the British and US Empires. How convenient.
How unconvincing. But necessary: you can't have Augustine,
Aquinas, Mariana, Grotius, and the like messing with
morality, can you?
the two Marxists right out of Monty Python, who wrote
a treatise on "pre-capitalist modes of production"
and then had to write a corrective sequel to sort out
the forces and relations of production, Kaplan will
need to write another, longer book just to rectify the
contradictions and inconsistencies in his present book.
That, or he can go back to reporting from the imperial
frontier on the latest triumphs or setbacks of his preferred
foreign policy. It is the business he has chosen.
apparently, have no choice in the matter, and hence
Kaplan's attack on constitutional details, "democracy,"
and freedom of the press.