Magazine article The American Conservative

Real Kantian

Magazine article The American Conservative

Real Kantian

Article excerpt

[The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life, Michael Lind, Oxford University Press, 304 pages] Real Kantian

ACCORDING TO THE New America Foundation's Michael Lind, the "American way of strategy" has consistently provided the United States with the surest means of maintaining our external security without compromising our domestic liberty. "For more than two centuries," he writes, "mainstream American foreign policy has sought to protect two elements of American Republican liberty-the freedom of the American state from other states and the freedom of Americans from their own state-by means of the American way of strategy." No other conceivable grand strategy-not isolationism, offshore balancing, empire, or appeasement-can square this circle, in his view. Not surprisingly, he concludes that, to the country's peril, George W. Bush has abandoned the American way of strategy, and future administrations would do well to return to it.

In Lind's account, America has managed to balance security and liberty through its unique synthesis of liberalism and realism. Liberalism establishes the objective of American grand strategy (to protect our domestic way of life via international co-operation), while realism, in the form of a shared hegemony established through a concert of great powers, is the instrument through which the United States can remain secure without becoming a "garrison state." Lind's argument is hard to categorize: it is a mixture of Wilsonian idealism and hard-headed power politics.

Lind is not the only one trying to synthesize realism and liberalism these days. Writers like Charles Krauthammer ("democratic realism") and Francis Fukuyama ("realistic Wilsonianism") also seek to marry these two very disparate approaches by arguing that American power can be used to spread democracy around the world. Even some liberals like Hillary Clinton now want to blend realism and liberalism in their post-Bush grand strategy. It seems as if everyone is some sort of realist now.

But what makes Lind's approach so interesting is that his particular synthesis is similar to the system laid out by the 18th-century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant in his seminal treatise, "Perpetual Peace." To characterize Lind as a Kantian is not, by any means, to dismiss his argument out of hand. Kant was a very subtle thinker whose influence spans both modern liberalism and modern realism.

Most of us, and apparently Lind himself, regard Kant as the wellspring of what Lind rightly dismisses as "democratic revolutionism": the notion that the United States will make itself more secure simply by spreading democracy around the world, either unilaterally and by force or multilaterally and through diplomacy. The truth is that Kant was no partisan of democracy. He regarded it as a dangerous and unstable system of government. Kant's preferred political system was republicanism, in which sovereign states whose authority was divided between executive and legislative branches of government on a domestic level co-operated with other states on an international level.

Kant's system of perpetual peace is compatible with some types of modern realism. He argued, for example, that balance-of-power dynamics would play a key role in making international republicanism viable. Indeed, anyone who doubts Kant's influence on modern realism should read Kenneth Waltz's 1962 essay on Kant to understand how significantly Kant influenced Waltz's seminal realist work, Theory of International Politics.

Lind shares with Kant more than just an affinity for republicanism and some tenets of realism. Like Kant, he thinks that an anarchic international system is extremely dangerous. "It is futile to expect freedom and democracy to survive unimpaired, if they survive at all, in prolonged conditions of acute national danger," Lind writes.

Lind also believes that the grave peril of an unregulated international system will motivate the United States to eventually exit the international Hobbesian state of nature: "The only certain way to preserve civil liberties in the United States is to make . …

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