New Directions for American Foreign Policy: Can Communitarian Pluralism Bring Peace through Justice?

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Aug 19, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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New Directions for American Foreign Policy: Can Communitarian Pluralism Bring Peace through Justice?

by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

  On August 14th, 2006, President Bush visited the Pentagon for a two hour lunch with a select group of “outside” advisers to demonstrate that he does not rely entirely on his own staff, as he once admitted, as his sole source for news and analysis.  The topic of discussion was whether the U.S. military must continue or even augment its mission to impose “unity” on the peoples of the Fertile Crescent.

  This topic will arise increasingly as a political issue now that the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign relations Committee, and prospectively the chairman beginning in either 2006 or 2008, Senator Joseph Biden, as well as the ultimate insider at the Council on Foreign Relations (the CFR) and its Aspen Institute think tank, Leslie Gelb, now are arguing publicly that the U.S. strategy to impose unity from without has backfired.  The alternative would be to declare victory and let the nations of Iraq follow their own inclinations to separate as independent regions in a larger federation or loose confederation. 

  This revolutionary movement toward confederalism might be triggered or energized by the democratization of oil ownership through the privatization of Iraqi oil resources in equal shares of inalienable, voting stock to every resident of the federation, so that every Shia, Kurd, and Sunni would have equal incentives to support the federal movement that makes this possible.  They would also have an equal incentive to prevent global oil companies in cooperation with local mafia from stealing their natural heritage.  Of course, such a common initiative would spell abject defeat for the Neo-Con policies of global aggrandizement.

  Apparently relying on his press secretary, Tony Snow, for expertise on the peoples of the Middle East, Bush says that allowing self-determination for the three major nations in Iraq will never be permitted as long as he is president.  Snow informed the press the next day that “the Iraqis see themselves as a nationality rather than as unmeltable ethnic groups” and that these nations’ primary royalty is to the State of Iraq.

  Perhaps we should be forgiven for suggesting that Bush is following the strategy applied by the British in their creation of Iraq, which is to pit independent peoples against each other by forcing them together into an artificial country.  The other strategy is to divide independent peoples among two or more countries, like the Kurds, who suffer more than any other people on earth from both of these colonial strategies, precisely because of all the peoples in southwest Asia, based on a thousand years of history, they deserve the highest level of independence.

  The only question is whether Bush is supremely ignorant, as are most of his advisers, both within and outside the government, or whether he is merely pretending to be ignorant in order to gain support for his premeditated policies of plunder and destruction.  In a collective fit of charitableness, perhaps we should accept him as merely the most ignorant president in American history.

  If the NeoCons can persuade Bush that confederalism can dangerously unite the world against him, then it is clear that imposing centralized control to the extent possible and by whatever means, both regionally and globally, is the only possible strategy to maintain the status quo with all of its injustices.

  This paradigmatic opposition to cooperation of independent peoples in a confederation also would dictate that the Israelis must drive the Arabs into the desert before they can drive the Israelis into the sea.  Once one has a faulty paradigmatic premise behind all policy, it is logically essential to commit unlimited crimes against humanity. 

  Clearly Bush and Osama bin Laden share the common premise that one must destroy or be destroyed.  In a world of tribalism based on the perversion of religion, whether by Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Secular Fundamentalists, a policy of peaceful engagement among nations can only be viewed as a threat to the global hegemony that the NeoCons are convinced they must pursue for their own survival.

  Those who must pursue power at the expense of justice are doomed to destroy themselves, as have all the debauched leaders of past civilizations during their periods of decline and death. 

  The only alternative is a long-range strategy of peaceful engagement among all peoples based on the guiding premise of communitarian pluralism as outlined in the article, “The Vision of Communitarian Pluralism: The Conflict Between State and Nation,” first published almost forty years ago in Orbis: A Quarterly Journal of World Affairs, Summer 1969, and condensed for publication in on March 4, 2006.  This, in turn was based on a position paper later included in a book of five 50-page position papers, with a foreword by Gerald Ford, for the 1968 presidential election, entitled New Directions for American Foreign Policy. 

  The chaos in the world today follows the principal of chaos theory observable in every field of science and knowledge, which holds that there is coherent order in nature despite contrary appearances and that order will emerge from chaos only through the paradigmatic revolution that naturally results when the bankruptcy of old paradigms can no longer be ignored.  The world is at a tipping point where new paradigms are possible for those with open minds capable of moving in new directions.

The Vision of Communitarian Pluralism: The Conflict between State and Nation
Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Mar 4, 2006


The Vision of Communitarian Pluralism:  The Conflict between State and Nation

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

The long-run impact of 9/11 may not be the emergence of neo-conservative utopianism in the form of unilateral preemption to impose democracy and freedom on the world through creative destruction.  It may be a return to the pre-9/11 obsession with stability and, in turn, the abandonment of these goals and of the respect for human dignity that undergirds them.  The very failure to fulfill dreams of remaking the world into a monolithic mirror of one’s own secular utopia may reinforce the previous “establishment” paradigm calling for the enforcement of stability without any higher goals.

The unprecedented challenges of a rapidly changing and interacting global society, which threatens the traditional identity and even the physical survival of many of its members, produced during the last half of the 20th century an obsession for “law and order.” The same is true domestically, where random violence globally seems to be competing with domestic violence in a vicious cycle of cause and effect.

The danger both globally and domestically is that other premises, both teleological or goal-oriented as well as methodological, may become dependent variables in a macro-model limited to the goals and requirements of “law and order.” Many positive goals relating to progress in improving man’s social, economic, and political environment may remain important.  But, the principal independent variable would be stability.  The name of the game, as in the past, would be not progress with maximum feasible stability, but stability with whatever progress is consistent with it.  Caught in such a weighted and inflexible framework of analysis, many policymakers over the last half century have drifted into an open-ended commitment to preserve the status quo even in the middle of systemic revolution.  This in turn created pressures to militarize American responses to foreign policy challenges by addressing the effects of injustice rather than their causes.

In order to return to the pre-9/11 world order that led to 9/11, a macro-model specifically designed to maintain flexibility must provide whatever is needed to control short-run inter- and intra-nation crises at various levels of the conflict spectrum.  But the overriding objective should be to provide systematic background research and analytical planning for a foreign policy, as well as a domestic policy, geared not primarily to the security of man but to the dignity of persons and communities.  One of the most important by-products - and it should remain a by-product, not an independent goal - of reorienting strategic planning from military threat analysis designed to secure the status quo to political opportunity analysis designed to promote the peaceful pursuit of justice might be a significant demilitarization of America’s role in the world community.

In order to prevent extremism in American policymaking resulting from our frustrations in attempting to mold the world environment, the United States should promote those forces that support our basic interests without conscious American direction.  The most important such force is global pluralism. 

Pluralism is a technical term used in religious discourse.  It is the higher end of a spectrum that runs from tolerance to diversity to pluralism.  Tolerance might best be defined as merely “Don’t worry.  I won’t kill you yet.” This is what the Soviet Communists used to call “peaceful coexistence,” which was a codeword and in Soviet jurisprudential literature a well-defined legal term meaning a tactical truce in a strategic war finally to liquidate the enemy.  This contrasts with diversity as a simple fact of life.  The promotion of diversity as a policy goal or mindset might be defined as “Let’s face facts, we exist in a world of many cultures and we have to live with it.” This in turn is one step toward the higher level of pluralism, which might be defined as “We all can learn from each other, because each of us has so much to offer.” This higher level, quite new in Western thought, but emphasized throughout the Qur’an, recognizes the pluralism in the universe, ranging from the atoms to trees to clusters of galaxies and on to religious traditions as part of the divine plan as an essential means to recognize the Oneness of God.  The essence of all religions, regardless of diversity in outward expression, is awareness of an ultimate reality beyond all forms, which Muslims and Arabic-speaking Christians call Allah and some Christians call Being (which is beyond existence) or even Beyond Being (beyond the trinity).  The essence of religion involves recognition that from the Oneness of the ultimate comes ineluctably the coherence of existence, which Muslims call tawhid.

In foreign policy the choices are between pursuing global uniformity to achieve stability and global pluralism to promote justice, which is the only reliable source of stability.  As a basic foreign policy premise global pluralism would dictate continued movement toward genuine cooperation with Europe and its constituent nations, and final abandonment of the hegemonic relationship that the United States maintained with Europe for many decades as essential to the success of a condominium with the Soviet Union.  We might even revive DeGaulle as one of the wisest statesmen of the twentieth century, because he fought consistently most of his life for the right of France and Europe to determine their own destinies.

The most important role of pluralism as a basic premise, however, is in America’s relationship with the peoples of the Third World, and now especially with the Muslim peoples who are trying to build meaning into a secularized and therefore empty world by restoring their traditional cultures.

Studies at the Hudson Institute as early as the mid-1960s indicated that the three main causes of conflict in the Third World are the failure, and usually the refusal, of local governments to meet the just political, social, and economic demands of their increasingly enlightened peoples; the attempts of essentially artificial states to maintain order by imposing centralized institutions on their multinational populations; and the religious revival that is part of a worldwide phenomenon but is accelerated throughout the Third World by the first two causes of conflict.

Failure to recognize these elemental facts of life produced various forms of utopian determinism as unstated but vitally important premises of American foreign policy.  One such premise is economic determinism.  This was first raised to center stage by Robert McNamara after he left his position as Secretary of Defense and joined the World Bank as its president.  In his book, The Essence of Security, published by Harper and Row in 1968, McNamara summed up this premise by asserting that conflict in the Third World is a simple product of economic backwardness, and that conversely “in a modernizing society security means development.” In his effort to project American managerial concepts to the solution of Third World problems, McNamara opined that organization of the kind taught by American management consulting firms will provide the elixir of peace and progress:

The irreducible fact remains that our security is related directly to the security of the newly developing world, and our role must be precisely this, to help provide security to those developing nations. ... If security implies anything, it implies a minimal measure of order and stability. ... Law and order is the shield behind which development, the central fact of security, can be achieved. ... When the people of a nation have organized their own human and natural resources ... then their resistance to disorder and violence will enormously increase. ... We must help the developing nation with such training and equipment as are necessary to maintain the protective shield behind which development can go forward.

This theory received superficial support from conflict statistics indicating a high incidence of violence in countries of low economic status.  Thus during the decade before McNamara wrote his book of solutions to the problems of the world, the twenty-seven rich countries of the world with per capita annual incomes above $750 had experienced a total of only one major internal conflict, whereas the thirty-eight poorest countries, with a per capita income under $100, suffered thirty-two significant conflicts, most of them of a prolonged nature.  On the basis of these statistics, McNamara concluded, “There can be no question but that there is a relationship between violence and economic backwardness.” Another version of this argument is evident in the theory that the resurgence of Islam or any other revolutionary movement is a simple product of economics.

McNamara postulated further that the only way to overcome violence and to promote democracy in the Third World is to introduce better management methods into poor countries, because, “paradoxical as it may sound, the real threat to democracy comes not from over-management, but from under-management.” The derogatory view of decentralized pluralism inherent in this philosophy of development is underlined in McNamara’s related dictum that “vital decision-making, particularly in policy matters, must remain at the top.” This premise of American foreign policy helps to explain why the United States, despite appearances both before and after 9/11 to the contrary, was never committed to promote representative governance in any Muslim country, since tyranny is the ideal way to keep policymaking where it allegedly belongs, at the top, and under reliable American tutelage.

Such a centralist philosophy, pursued relentlessly by American foreign policy throughout Asia and Africa, has resulted in catastrophic unrest, because the first major cause of conflict in the Third World, namely, the refusal of the local tyrants to meet the just political, social, and economic demands of their subordinate peoples, is magnified by the second major cause of conflict, which is the clash between the centralizing efforts of modernizing states and the upsurge of independence among ethnic and other subordinate communal groups that want to modernize in their own way and at their own speed. 

The conflict between state and community has become an important source of disorder throughout Asia and Africa, second only to the conflict between the secular tyrannies and the religious revival that has been spreading throughout the entire world.  The state/nation or state/community conflicts became acute when the new states inherited large colonial administrative territories.  The immediate goal of those who replaced European rulers was to hang onto their new power, and the departing colonial masters tried to arrange the transfer of power in ways that would maintain the status quo as much as possible.  When the European imperialists created their colonies, they paid scant attention to ethnic boundaries, carving up diverse peoples who formerly were largely independent.  These same peoples today often reject their new indigenous overlords as bitterly as they did the European imperialists.  This seems to be true not only in Afghanistan but especially in Iraq, where occupation by a well-meaning power centralizer from abroad is opposed just as much as was centralizing occupation by a home-grown tyrant.

This kind of state/nation conflict is endemic only in Asia and Africa.  In Latin America, as well as in the United States and Canada, the Europeans were so successful, and brutal, in their colonization that they almost completely replaced indigenous cultures and political loyalties with their own.  In Asia and Africa, on the other hand, the loyalties of indigenous ethnic and cultural communities or nations often survived intact throughout the period of European control.  Since the formal end of the colonial era, the spread of education and the advent of mass communications have served to make these peoples conscious of their own unique values and the comparative deficiencies of neighboring peoples who might claim jurisdiction over them.

The individual and mass alienation that everywhere has accompanied the process of secular modernization has impelled hundreds of millions of people to seek individual identity and group solidarity in what may be called communal nationalism.  This fact conflicts directly with the attempts of modernization theorists to achieve greater societal efficiency by assimilating peoples into large centralized states.  Centralization in turn accelerates the drive toward communal nationalism, and in some areas has triggered movements toward confederal regionalism among communal nationalists extending beyond the confines of any single state.  In effect, modernization, if it implies the centralized assimilation of politically conscious communities, is not an elixir of order and security but a cause of the very instability McNamara and his successors hoped it would cure.

The drive toward self-determination of independent-minded peoples and the growth of transnational solidarity among like-minded communal groups have given rise to powerful forces of revolutionary nationalism and supranational regionalism.  Unless a corresponding rise of pluralist federalism can accommodate them, they will erupt into waves of conflict that may remake the map in parts of the Third World.

The nature of the problem was indicated quantitatively in work at the Hudson Institute, which was the world’s first think-tank specializing in global forecasting.  My study there, entitled, “Postwar Ethnic/Cultural Conflicts: Some Quantitative and Other Considerations,” which was published in various professional journals but taken from the Hudson Institute publication, Some Third-World Issues: Volume I, Context and Methodology, HI-979/BN/l, March 4-8, 1968, showed that of 164 internationally significant outbreaks of violence between 1958 and 1966, only fifteen were military confrontations between two states.  And of these nearly 150 major internal conflicts, more than half, including the most serious ones, resulted in large measure from state/nation conflicts.  The fatalities resulting directly and indirectly from such conflicts between state and nation during the first post-World-War-II generation exceeded five million, most of them unreported and ignored because the international law of human rights had not yet developed sufficiently to “pierce the corporate veil” of the sovereign state.  The problem for American foreign policy is that the entire thrust of American development theory supports the centralizing efforts of secular and assimilatory “nation-building” which kindle communal nationalism and fan its growth into a powerful revolutionary force.

If the leaders of the United States want to exert world leadership during the coming century, they need to abandon the vision of global uniformity that underlies the concept of globalization in a New World Order and replace it with a vision of global pluralism.  We need only to support the probably irreversible trend toward decentralized initiative and pluralist responsibility in the world.  Americans can best provide global leadership simply by preaching abroad what we practice at home.

If our commitment to help the peoples of Asia and Africa is not to become a casualty of our cultural myopia, now is the time to consider whether some of the political forces we have helped to suppress, both communal and cultural or religious, and some of the economic forces we have deprecated or ignored, may have a positive potential in the development of parts of the Third World.  Far from being anachronisms in a sophisticated world of globalization and mass society, the forces of communal nationalism and local initiative within a federal framework, and the forces of spiritual and religious self-determination, may prove more powerful than all the military strength and economic aid the United States could possibly bring to bear either alone or in conjunction with its allies in transforming the Third World so that it supports the enlightened self-interest of the United States in building a world of peace.

Developing a Pluralist Vision

The needed changes in strategy require first a change in an informing vision to shape the future.  One of the most unfortunate consequences of the growing conflict between the artificial “nation-state,” such as Iraq, and the existing nations that may want to become states, as well as of the conflict between the inevitable growth of religious fundamentalism hostile toward the United States and the secular fundamentalism that American policymakers support as the only antidote, is the distortion in our perceptions of communal nationalism and of religious revival throughout much of Asia and Africa.

The imposition of centralized secular power as a method of modernization without the concept of community-based coherence and responsibility behind it, the propagation of atomistic individualism as a means to societal transformation without a moral recognition of the value of the individual person, and the accompanying attempt to impose an omnivorous collectivity without an appreciation of the responsibility and value of free community, all combine to create a crisis in identity and authority that has profoundly unsettled the Afro-Asian peoples.  The efforts of the mobilizing state to monopolize personal and group loyalties at a single level of the political spectrum, and to diffuse legitimacy downward from the corporate state rather than to permit loyalty and legitimacy to spread upward from the families and communities of individual persons, have tended to cause a radical contraction of the individual away from nature and from other people into the material boundaries of the calculating ego.  The primordial loyalties of communal nationalism in the first instance have become a fulcrum either for a passive longing not to belong to any other group or for the blind aggression of defensive self-assertion.  Inevitably, the primordial instincts of literally billions of people will bring them to awareness of a higher reality and create a willingness to live for this reality, as well as even to die for it.

The problem of false vision in policymaking circles is that by generalization from the abnormal, many modernization theorists conclude that the only way to cure the patient is to prescribe more of the medicine that made him sick.  Concentration on the reaction of communal groups and religious movements to the imposition of the worst forms of Westernization makes it difficult even to raise the question whether in many areas the resulting tensions might be a symptom less of rampant separatism than of over-centralization and over-management, and less from religious extremism than from the failure of religious moderates to get even a hearing, much less support, from the foreign powers that provide the only legitimacy available to their opponents. 

An a priori opposition to communal nationalism or religious revival hides the fact that the problem of assimilation seems to arise most often when the ruling majority or elite has decided that its rival or potentially rival groups must be assimilated and for all practical purposes destroyed.  Similarly, an a priori opposition to free elections in which agents of change might win a majority hides the fact that their demand for free elections in order to restore morality in hopelessly corrupt governments is what makes their revolutionary rhetoric popular.  Even cursory analysis of communal nationalism and religious fundamentalism suggests that they reach disruptive proportions only when they are repressed in the name of stability.

The assumption has become general that coercive assimilation into a Western, i.e., secular, matrix is necessary in most of Asia and Africa for both technological modernization and stability.  The time has come to question this assumption.  We may find that only when policy is based on it do the traditional institutions of society become what many students of the modernization process and of conflict management believe them to be: mere obstacles to progress and stability.  We may gain insights into the demonstrated potential of communal nationalism within a federal or confederal framework, and of the religious motivation for initiative and commitment, to channel the most powerful human drives into cooperative self-betterment at every level from the nuclear family to the community of the human species.

Perhaps the most hopeful sign in the Third World is an increasing recognition among its leaders, both the outgoing Westernized and the incoming traditional, that the forces of political disruption and economic immobilism have resulted in part from their failure to distinguish the process of modernization from the Western secularized models in which it has been cast.  The emerging generation of leaders in Asia and Africa is demonstrating a maturity beyond that of their elders and their elders’ advisers by welcoming a resurgence of their own native cultures.  They have seen the political, economic, and cultural chaos that results when political leaders reject the traditional values, customary law, and social fabric of society without providing replacements acceptable to society’s members.

Most importantly, new generations of leaders will see that their traditional cultures can serve as suitable vehicles for technological modernization. They have the wisdom to understand that they can fill the cultural vacuum left by the Westernizing phase of the modernization process by consciously resurrecting the best from their cultures.  In particular, they will try to strengthen the institutions by which men have always been mobilized to action and those elements that promote the discipline, honesty, and general cultural infrastructure necessary for modernization.  The objective is not to borrow industrialism from the West, for this has proved to be either impossible or not essential to the material or spiritual well-being of their people.  They need only observe the most advanced industrial countries, whose experiences demonstrate that a high rate of material achievement does not automatically provide dignity, a sense of achievement, and happiness.  The aim is to create independent cultures sufficiently strong and self-reliant to bring out the character traits latent in the individual members of society so that they can apply modern technology to raise their living standards, including the infrastructural technology of pure credit and expanded capital ownership.

The most striking feature of the emerging generation of leaders in parts of Asia and Africa is a new pragmatism, well-grounded in their own moral universe.  They seek the political aggregate, the methods of government and economic production, and the spiritual vision that best can evoke the forces necessary to sustain the modernization process within a moral society.

The new political and religious movements may be destructive as well as constructive, as were all the historic forces that led to truly systemic revolutions in the organization and functioning of human societies.  Like every systemic revolution, this in the Third World may be accompanied by armed violence.  Outside powers may attempt to control it in order to channel systemic change into a kind of dead-end inimical to the material and spiritual growth of its individual participants.  But the New World Order interventionists may find that the independent spirit and increasing sophistication of the new leaders will thwart any such efforts at intervention.  Some policymakers may dare to base their policy on attempts to help Asian and African ‘allies’ suppress the ideative forces of justice, progress, and group solidarity in order to preserve the status quo.  These may find that they have hopelessly aligned themselves for the foreseeable future against a rising historical tide.  They may assert that the United States must impose its own civilization as the global norm, only to find that Western civilization will go the way of the Roman Empire, simply because all empires fail in the end.

copyright 2006 Robert D. Crane