Column on Domestic & Foreign Policy

Domestic & Foreign Wisdom
Tibor R. Machan
Tod Gitlin chimes in brilliantly on foreign policy for the United States
of American when he writes that “For the most part, when the United States
has set out, on its own and absent direct provocation, to overthrow a
government, and to think that, having installed a new one, it could tinker
with the effects and bring about a happy outcome, disaster has been the
result. To be sure, the frequently cited counterexamples of Grenada and
Panama may, to varying degrees, be conceded. But, again, unilateral
American intervention has done considerably more harm than good over the
past decades. It is worth revisiting this sorry lineage for a moment not
because it tells the whole story of American foreign policy—it does
not—but because it underscores some of the profound risks of reckless
intervention.” (Todd Gitlin, “On Liberalism and Force,” World Affairs
[Summer, 2008], p. 43)
Julian Gough, in turn, supplies the wisdom concerning domestic policies
for a free society when he writes: “Capitalism is seen as arrogant, but
that is merely the rage of Caliban* on seeing his reflection. The
extraordinary thing about capitalism is its humility and refusal to judge.
It will give us what we want; it will not force on us what it thinks we
need. Often we are disgusted by what we discover that we want–but that
reflects on us, not on the servant who brings us our fetish gear and
saturated fats. It would bring us organic turnips just as happily. If we
cease to desire a product, the product changes or ceases to exist. There
is nothing more powerless than a corporation.” (Julian Gough, quoted in
THE WEEK, 12 July 2008, p. 10.)
Detractors, such as Noami Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine, The Rise
of Disaster Capitalism (Metropolitan Books, 2007), argues precisely the
opposite, blaming virtually all maladies in the world on free market
capitalism and its champions (such as, and especially, the later Milton
Friedman). Who comes out more credible in this dispute is not my task here
to establish. Jonathan Chait, in The New Republic (July 30, 2008) has
accomplished figuring that out brilliantly already, showing that Klein
fabricated much of her evidence and besmirched the Chicago Boys utterly
unfairly, relying on reams of prevarications.
My focus here is the fact that a debate such as this one can actually
still be held in the better sectors of the American media. Both World
Affairs and The New Republic are competent, well edited publications, with
superb writers and editorial policies that bend over backwards not to
violate journalistic ethics. And that, I believe, is something to rejoice
In the United States of America and in Great Britain there is civilized
debate and disputation on vital issues of the day, the month, the year and
the decade are widely circulated, with the contributors largely restrained
and polite without being at all dull. This form of exploration of
important human topics began back in ancient Greece and was carried on in
Rome, more or less consistently, although often surrounded by overt
violence and intimidation. And, of course, in many parts around the globe
today discussions of such vital topics has a hard time being carried out
in a civil tongue–the threat of bayonets and bombs is altogether real,
should someone in the minority annoy an opponent too severely.
However, the influence of modern classical liberal ideas, especially as
regards public affairs, has been to at least compartmentalize the
conflicts so that where ideas are discussed, weapons are barred. The
progress this exhibits must not be over nor underestimated. A few steps
forward can easily be obliterated by a few backwards.
Although some genuine jewels of ideas can thus surface and have a chance
of influencing public policy, there is never any guaranteed that the good
one’s will triumph. But when a few precious morsels such as the two I
quoted above do get some run for their money, I believe we should all
cheer and make the most of it. As that saying I have quoted before put it:
Notice the good and praise it! It will encourage some more good, I am
willing to bet.

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