Octavo Dia

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Modern Hatreds

Kaufman, Stuart J. Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War. Ithaca, NY; Cornell University Press, 2001.

Kaufman argues that symbolic politics are the necessary condition for ethnic war. His analysis, in the form of a comparative case study, is that the one universal feature of ethnic wars is the use of a symbolic explanation of what's happening, for example, extinction myths.

To this extent, his analysis builds on a macro-level what David Grossman's On Killing did on a micro-level. It is the process of dehumanizing the enemy--the rapacious other who seeks to destroy us--while simultaneously humanizing ourselves--who are therefore good and just by seeking to destroy them. The ethnic myth also has the purpose of group definition--it tells the hearer who is one of their co-ethnics and who is not.

Where I think he errs is in his claim that there has to be a pre-existing mythology with the other group--that such a mythology must exist before it can be exploited. A pre-existing mythology, I believe, only makes the process of adoption of the mythic explanation easier. All you need is a really good lawyer who can explain why this situation is like a historical situation. It's just easier to get people to buy into an explanation with which they are already familiar--which is why Hitler is the universal bad guy comparison.


Sunday, November 16, 2008


I hereby predict that Algeria will abandon its nascent democracy and become a dictatorship, based on the scrapping of presidential term limits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pulling the plug

Here's my two cents on the GM/Chrysler bailout idea. The auto industry was in trouble long before the late unpleasantness. This is really part of a long term market cycle, not a one time blip. To return companies to profitability in a saturated market, a producer has to exit. Pass the bailout, and force the exit of a car company. Short term help and available market share for the remaining producers.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Book Review: The Post American World

His foundational argument is unassailable: there is little that Americans have that others cannot copy, so to expect America to maintain its privileged condition is unrealistic.

The initial arguments and analysis were relatively routine. His conclusion, however, was an analysis of history I had not heard before. I've read numerous suggestions that the United States should follow Britain's example and act as a balance to other powers. The sheer weight of the United States, however, makes counter-balancing a far to delicate task, and in a world were everyone is playing by the rules, there's nothing to balance against. He suggested a Bismarkian strategy, in which the United States develops "stronger relations with every state than they have with each other."

Everyone understands hard power and soft power. I shall coin a new term. Hard imperialism and soft imperialism. A soft empire is what soft power produces. A hard imperial power forces everything to go to the imperial seat--all roads lead to Rome. A soft imperial power makes everyone want to go to the imperial seat. If there was ever a form of empire to which the United States was well suited, this is it. Individuals are all ready trying to come to America. All we must do is make states desire it as well.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Book Review: Dangerous Business

Half of this book consists of the author misinterpreting the times. He identifies three trends in globalization: mercantilism (or more precisely, neo-mercantilism), elitism (in which there is a ruling class who shifts from political, economic, and cultural leadership), and corporatism, in which corporations are no longer linked to a single nation or political ideology.

He sees these trends as a result of U.S. actions--reminding us that the United States is a mixed economy--and that free trade agreements are actually political deals. (If trade were truly free, he says, an agreement could be a single sentence.) And blames the advocates of free trade for pursuing free trade policies in an environment which is anything but. That is, if you open your markets and no one else does, you're going to lose out.

His solutions are all about what the government could be doing. I believe any solution in the form "The government (or Congress, the president, etc.) should..." as meaningless. Power is devolving, diversifying, and spreading. Purely governmental solutions are simply fighting the tide. A real solution includes actions from multiple layers--as an individual, a member of various organizations, a consumer, a worker, a citizen, etc.

He's right in describing it as dangerous business (and many of his illustrations are frightening and enlightening), but he missed the depth of the problem. The difficulty goes far deeper than just the economics of globalization and what the government can do about it.