Issue 62 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

My son has beaten me hands down. His start-up , which tells you when, what, and where to buy, has been featured—three times—in the New York Times, and highlighted on NPR, the Today Show, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. My “You Don’t Need to Buy This” video made it all the way to YouTube where is garnered a mere 13,000 viewers.

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Usually I don’t understand half of the cartoons published in The New Yorker, but in the current issue I found two I dig and I am sure so will you. One depicts a man standing next to a giant catapult, explaining to his friend, “I’d rather have one and not need one than need one but not have one.” Another shows a man in a dirty suit talking to children around a campfire, all looking rather ragged, “Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.”

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The artistic director of Theater J, Ari Roth, recently sang the praises of folk icon Woody Guthrie: “He was adopted and loved by many. He had intimate bonds that waxed, waned and grew stronger again even as his physical state weakened. Woody was revered while remaining unassuming; a patron saint for a secular age; a free spirit who bespoke communitarian values. He was a complex husband, father, son and musical mentor and one of the most prolific songwriters of our time. He sang the song of this nation.”

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Henry Tam, a dedicated communitarian in Britain, is seeking to spread the message beyond politicians to young people with his fantasy novel, ‘Kuan’s Wonderland,’ a communitarian fable set in a surreal world (appropriate for age 14 and up). It has been published on Amazon. The Kindle version is only $1.23 and from December 7-11it can be downloaded at no cost here.

The Next Four Years in Foreign Policy

After the election, the New York Times editorial board laid out a foreign-policy agenda for President Obama to follow over the next four years. It combines wooly-headed idealism with half-baked thinking.

The leading suggestion—which is dedicated much more text than any other—is to aim for a world free of nuclear weapons. Yet zero is the wrong number, because if any one nation hides a few nukes, it would lord over those who do live up to their disarming commitments. One can surely dial down the numbers, but a low level of mutual deterrence is unavoidable—and history shows it works. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that further cuts by the United States and Russia, which the Times holds the president should lead with, will inspire other nations to follow suit. The focus instead ought to be on the hot spots like Iran and especially Pakistan, which is accelerating its production of nuclear arms and which is the most likely place terrorists can get them one way or another.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

The Five Minute Cliff

Allowing the nation to go over the fiscal cliff for a very short period of time will provide all the legitimate political benefits of such a policy dive — with few to none of the menacing losses that are looming at the bottom. We can readily fly off the cliff on January 1st and be back on the top by January 2nd, 2013 — even earlier, if you cannot wait that long.

The gains have often been outlined. Allowing the Bush tax cuts to be reversed would allow Obama to increase tax revenues and subsequently introduce new tax cuts. It this gets the Republicans who promised not to raise taxes off the hook and allows all politicians to crow that they cut taxes while increasing revenues — pure magic. The math is simple: if allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire increases tax rates on average by 4.2 percent, and the new cuts amount to 2 percent — we still have the remaining 2.2 percent difference as new revenues.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post.

Liberal Victory? Count Again

Liberals are making victory laps and scoffing at the GOP, which is having great difficulties drawing lessons from the 2012 election debacle. However, liberals also have much to learn from the election. They will need to find other groups to collaborate with if they hope to get President Obama — and, above all, Congress — to advance many programs dear to their heart.

Liberals are celebrating. Molly Ball at The Atlantic characterized the results as, “a ringing victory for liberals across the board.” Ari Melber at The Nation called it, “the most decisive mandate for an assertive, progressive governing model in well over a generation.” The top story at The Huffington Post read, “Welcome to Liberal America.” Across the pond, Michael Cohen argues in the Guardian that while the election was generally good for Democrats, “for liberals, the victory is even sweeter, because not only is their party getting more progressive, but so, too, it seems, is the nation.”

Read the rest at The Huffington Post.

The “Ugly American” Trainers

Much has been made about the difficulties we have in training the Afghan Army and police. Most noted are the so-called green-on-blue incidents in which those we train turn their weapons on their trainers and kill U.S. troops. But these incidents are not due to Taliban fighters enlisting in the Afghan Army or police. As Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, explained in the Washington Post, “fewer than a quarter of the attacks have been attributed to Taliban infiltration.” The rest are due to cultural frictions.

At stake is not merely the ability to prevent our young people from being killed by our ally but also the pace at which we can extricate ourselves from Afghanistan without fear that its regime will collapse the moment the last American takes off. In Iraq, we face a similar challenge: the main projection of power Washington has left in the country is U.S. trainers who, while rarely shot at, are nonetheless failing.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Recent Publications

Communitarianism,” The Oxford Companion to Comparative Politics, ed. Joel Krieger, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp 221-223.

Communitarianism differs from liberalism (in the political theory sense of the term) in that communitarians hold that society should formulate shared conceptions of the good, while liberals hold that each person should make such determinations by himself or herself. Normative support for investment in basic research, whose benefits are often fifty years or more down the road, is a case in point. One cannot predict who will benefit, but such research is favored for the “common good”—so is the protection of the environment. (Economics refers to these as “public goods.”) This key concept provides a three-layered foundation by which to compare different polities. They differ in terms of how thick their shared formulation of the good are, the extent to which they rely on the state or society to promote and enforce the good, and the “balance” between individual rights and social responsibilities (for the common good).

Keep reading here.

“The United States’ Premature Pivot to ‘Asia’,” (Society 49.5 (September 2012), pp 395-399) has been translated into Mandarin.

Click here for the Chinese version.

I Read

The Pentagon announced that an estimated 75,000 troops would be needed in a military effort to seize the chemical weapons in Syria, to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. The size of the force required to carry out such a direct intervention, “called into question whether the United States would have the resources to act quickly if it detected the movement of chemical weapons.”

Read the full article inThe New York Times.

At the same that the military is deploying Special Forces to nations all over the world to provide counterterrorism assistance, even where “the threat from al-Qaeda affiliates has been virtually nonexistent.” “Much of the new assistance is being directed toward countries in Asia and has been fueled by the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” to the region. In Cambodia, for example, the Defense Department is training a counterterrorism battalion even though the nation has not faced a serious militant threat in nearly a decade.” The Pentagon has sent similar forces to the Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia, with “little public notice.” Read the full article in The Washington Post.

An article in The Economist discusses a report released by two economists at the World Bank that challenges the widely held belief in the development community that local is always better. For years there has been a push to decentralize aid project at agencies like the World Bank, IMF and UN: “Where local participation does not happen organically, in groups that represent parents, women or workers, development aid often tries to nudge such efforts along by ‘inducing’ it.” But the recent study found that “Entrenched elites, bribery and fraud are as much of a problem in village life as they are in big emerging-market bureaucracies.” And it is those that help the most—women, ethnic minorities and rural populations, that are most often short-changed.

Upcoming Events

SASE 25th Annual Conference – States in Crisis

June 27-29, 2013 – University of Milan

SASE is organized into “networks,” one of which is dedicated to communitarianism and is run by José A. Ruiz San Román. Colleagues interested in presenting a paper or author, or organizing a session should promptly contact Professor Román at [email protected]


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Edited by Ashley McKinless