Monday, September 24, 2012

When the Positive to Normative Two-Step Goes Wrong: Scientists, Engineers, and Ideologues

. Monday, September 24, 2012
5 comments

Noah Smith has a nice post running down the history of modern macroeconomics through the lens of Greg Mankiw's "scientists vs. engineers" taxonomy. This is another way of framing the Saltwater vs. Freshwater debate, but instead of calling it a "debate" Mankiw wants to make it a division of labor. Smith, however, is having none of it:
Note that if the microfoundations are misspecified, it doesn't matter whether a model satisfies the Lucas Critique or not. Even if "tastes and technology" really are policy-invariant things, if tastes and technology don't really work the way the model says they work, the model will not give you useful advice about policy
Now, terrible microfoundations might not lead to a terrible model. But if by some lucky happenstance, crappy microfoundations produce a model that matches the macro facts, then it might as well be one of those "aggregate-only" models that Greg Mankiw labels "engineering". In this case, RBC has no theoretical advantage over a New Keyneisan model.
Emphasis added. On another day I might have wanted to get involved in this discussion on its own terms, but for now I'm interested in something else: the shift from positive argument to normative argument. It's a subtle two-step, but it happens all the time in the social sciences. Here's how it generally works. Some social scientist will say: "Given that the world works according to mechanism X (as I've just demonstrated), we should do Y." Often the "we should do Y" is masked by caveats, hedges, and other devices which allow one to walk back the initial claim; nevertheless it is almost always there in some form in almost every piece of social science research. Or if not in every particular research article, in the paradigm within which the article operates.

The problem arises when when the positive argument -- the part that goes "Given that the world works according to mechanism X" -- isn't true. And by "not true" I don't mean "not strictly true but true enough as an approximation of reality that the model works out alright". By "not true" I mean sufficiently false that the model doesn't actually work out alright. In that situation, the positive argument goes away and the normative argument is all that remains. When people advance normative arguments as if they had a valid positive argument underlying them, but they do not actually have such a positive argument, they are not doing anything like science, as Smith rightly notes:
So basically, I charge that the New Classical/RBC/freshwater macroeconomics paradigm is not really science, and not really like science...not yet, anyway. In science, evidence rules all; if a model doesn't fit the evidence you toss it out.
Once again, I'm less interested in the particulars of Smith's case than about the phenomenon he's highlighting. To go back to Mankiw's taxonomy, if the "scientists" aren't doing science and they're not doing engineering either, then what are they doing? Restated, once the foundation of the positive to normative two-step crumbles, what intellectual project remains? It is ideology, and its practitioners are ideologues.

Take an example closer to (my) home. Stephen Walt writes a blog with the grandiloquent subtitle "A Realist in an Ideological Age". This is meant to suggest that Walt recognizes the world as it actually is whereas his opponents are in denial or a state of intellectual confusion. It is a claim that the positive argument is on his side -- the world works according to mechanism X, which in this case means that (all) states pursue their national interest above all else, especially security as measured by relative power differentials -- therefore his normative prescriptions (and perhaps his frequent proscriptions as well) -- that therefore the United States should do Y, which is to also maximize its national interest, especially security as measured by relative power differentials -- are sound wisdom. This attitude is made clear by the William Arthur Ward quote at the top of his page:
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
Walt is clear on which of these he believes himself to be. The realist cannot change the wind. The realist can only adjust to it. And in fact the realist only should adjust to it, since complaint is wasted effort and optimism is folly. Yet in almost every one of his blog posts Walt writes something like this:
Instead of harping on our "global responsibilities," Americans ought to focus instead on their national interests. The litmus test of any foreign policy commitment is not what it will do for others, but rather what it will do for us.
Walt has spilled quite a lot of ink describing how and why the United States has lost its way, has forgotten its national interest, and how this has caused a series of catastrophic mistakes in both foreign and domestic policy. Can you tell the problem?

The problem, simply, is that if the United States is not pursuing its national interest, as defined by Walt, then there is no reason to believe everyone else is either. And if everyone else is not, then the "wind" is not blowing in the direction that the realist believes it is: the positive argument that supposedly justifies the normative claim is false. Perhaps some conception of "national interest" other than maximizing one's relative power is in operation. Perhaps states pursue a range of interests at different times and in different places. Perhaps the entire notion of a singular "national interest" is misguided. Perhaps different groups or individuals use the power of the state to pursue group or individual interest. Whatever. Something about Walt's foundational positive argument is not correct. As a result his normative advice is a non sequitur.

When this happens the positive to normative two-step is reduced to just one step: make a normative claim, advance it whenever you can, and defend it at all costs. This is not science and it is not engineering; it is ideology. For the purpose of this post I do not claim that ideology is inferior to science or engineering, but I do claim that ideology which masquerades as science or engineering should be resisted in order to preserve the latter two categories as distinct and worthwhile.

This is something that social scientists struggle with, because it involves admitting that we could be wrong. About everything. Nobody likes being wrong but intellectuals hate it because our status and income is predicated on our not being wrong. So, sometimes, we transition from scientist or engineer to ideologue -- probably without realizing it -- and once we've gotten there it's very hard to find our way back. Eventually we end up advancing arguments that are contradictory in order to defend our ideology, rather than casting aside the ideology in favor of science or engineering, all the while continuing to claim the mantle of science as our own. This is a grave mistake.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Romney and the Language of Entitlement

. Tuesday, September 18, 2012
0 comments

I'm interested in the reactions to Romney's "secret video". My initial thoughts on it were not the same as most. I was first impressed by Romney's campaign playbook. He recognizes that to win the election he has to get 5-7% of the electorate who voted for Obama in 2008 to vote for him this time. He knows that he can't get those votes from the 47% or so that are strict Obama partisans; he has to attract those in the middle. He understands that the best way to do this is not to vehemently attack Obama from the right -- as right partisans wish him to -- but to say "Obama's a nice guy and all, and he means well, but he's just not up to the job and I can do better". This, to me, explains quite a lot of Romney's campaign so far.

And it explains why partisans in both camps, and the partisan media on both sides, are puzzled by elements of the Romney campaign. It's because they think he should try to win over everyone (left) or speak primarily to the base (right). And he's not. He's not trying to persuade the unpersuadable. He's ignoring those on both sides who are partisans. He's targeting a very specific, very narrow audience. In purely strategic terms I think this is the right way for Romney to campaign. I think his understanding of the political space is actually pretty savvy. His crassness in targeting that middle group reinforces my priors as a materialist, so I like that too. He's basically admitting that his campaign strategy is only about getting the median voter on his side.

At first I didn't understand why Obama partisans were so offended by Romney's characterization of the voters that are off-limits to him. I read him as saying "They have a fundamentally different ideology from mine, one which believes that the government is well-suited to solve the problems of the day and which is based on an understanding that everyone is entitled to health care, food, and housing." I didn't read him as saying that the 47% of the population that are in Obama's camp are literally the exact same 47% of the population that pays no federal income tax. (I agree with Gelman's assessment that there is a correlation between the two variables, but nowhere near 100%.) Perhaps I was giving Romney too much benefit of the doubt. I see now that many Obama supporters in one 47% but not the other felt that they were being called free-riders. Since they're not they feel that they are compassionate. Hence, offense. Fair enough, I suppose, but for me that's the least interesting part of his remarks. It only sets up the rest, which is about campaign strategy. I found the outrage to be at least somewhat manufactured, as Twitter and Facebook got whipped up into a frenzy and "fact-checkers" worked overtime to parse the semantics of an improvised remark. This missed the broader point.

As the discussion has evolved -- in my case on Facebook and Twitter, but also on blogs and MSM -- I've become more interested in something else: why the right revert to the language of entitlement so quickly, and why the left gets so angry about it. It is my understanding that a central plank of the Obama platform is that the social safety net is defensible not only on grounds of economic utilitarianism, but on grounds of social justice: humans have a fundamental right to food, to housing, to health care, to education. Any just society will ensure a minimum standard of living for the worst-off among them. To make this argument is to claim that every member of a society is entitled to a minimum standard of living by virtue of being a member of that society. If this is true, then Romney's characterization of the ideology (rather than composition) of Obama partisans might be inelegant, as he said, but it isn't fundamentally wrong.

The left tends to hate it when the right accuses them of supporting entitlement programs. This I cannot understand. It seems to me that the appropriate response to this is not "Who does Romney think he is, calling us 'entitled'" but "Damn right we believe we're entitled to health care and food. Oh, and a living wage too". This is not only sensible philosophically, but pragmatically: Hayek and Friedman believed in the same thing. Rather than getting defensive, the left should use this to go on the offensive: "You don't believe in a minimum standard of living? You don't believe people are entitled to a safety net when capitalists like you blow up the economy?"

This is especially perplexing, to me, because that argument has already been won. The Romney-Ryan attack on the Affordable Care Act is now that it cuts too much from Medicare. Alright, the left should say. Let's increase Medicare spending too. The Romney campaign has now pledged to keep the biggest parts of the Affordable Care Act intact, repealing outright only the mandate tax. The Romney-Ryan campaign is not pledging to cut Social Security -- or even privatize it -- or end the food stamp program or cut education spending or in any other significant way reduce the size of the welfare state. So why not declare victory on "entitlements"? Why not own the term?

The other interesting thing about the Romney video is that he put all his cards on the table. He knows that he's the underdog. He knows which groups he has to win over. He knows he has to appeal to Hispanic voters. He knows he has to attract women voters. He knows that Obama has 40-something% of the voters locked up, and that he (Romney) has 40-something% of the voters locked up. He knows that he has to get 5-7% of voters in play to vote for him, and he knows that's going to be hard because many of them were previous Obama voters. He knows he can't win on foreign policy. He knows that Obama's signature policies -- health care, tax cuts for poor/middle class, tax increases on the wealthy -- are popular. So he's not even going to fight against Obama on the merits. His entire campaign rests on a non sequitur: the country isn't perfect, therefore I should be president.

He just gave the left his playbook, and the left complained about the font used on the title page. That strikes me as being short-sighted.

Finally, I agree with Gelman's conclusion: "I continue to be disturbed by claims that all or even most voters or one party or another are fools, dupes, moochers, bitter, etc etc, the idea that Democrats are a mix of deadbeats and trustfunders, or that Republicans are a mix of fat cats and religious fanatics."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why Teach "The Clash of Civilizations"?

. Monday, September 17, 2012
0 comments

Phil Arena says we shouldn't, because it's not very good:

When folks like me joke that Huntington's CoC has detracted from the sum total of human knowledge, that it shouldn't even be taught in Intro IR classes because exposing students to it does more harm than good, it's the part I'm about to turn to that we have in mind more so than his claim that economic globalization has shrunk the world, or that economic integration has proceeded more rapidly at the regional level than the global level, or that dictators in the Islamic world might be threatened by the degree to which young people in their countries embraced American pop culture.

No, the big problem here is that Huntington claims that identity is immutable (even though some aspects of his argument clearly imply the opposite!). The fundamental problem with any argument linking ideational cleavages with conflict is that identity is malleable, and we have just as much evidence that conflict -> identity cleavages as we do identity cleavages -> conflict.
Characteristically, Phil cites some literature and goes into detail explaining just why he thinks this aspect of Huntington's argument, and others, is bogus.

I just taught "The Clash of Civilizations" in class today. I agree with every criticism Phil made of the article, and could add several others too. So do I feel chastised? No. Here's why:

1. We need to teach "The Clash of Civilizations" because it's a terrible argument with no supporting evidence. That is, it is an object lesson in how not to think about global politics. It presents us with an 'in' to many issues of interest to us, including the one that Phil mentions -- identity is not immutable -- and is a good foil for alternative explanations of the ways global politics works. Because Huntington makes predictions which can be called into question empirically, it provides us with an opportunity to present an empirical depiction of the world as it actually is. Because we're examining claims with evidence, it gives us a good way to teach students how political scientists approach questions of interest.

2. We need to teach "The Clash of Civilizations" because everyone else is. Not just other political science classes, but sociology classes, global studies classes, etc. Because many of our students will encounter this idea in an academic setting either way, we should teach it in a way that provides them with good frameworks for rejecting it.

3. We need to teach "The Clash of Civilizations" because it is our job to give students a sense of the intellectual trajectory of political theory related to the study of international relations. I always assign "The Clash of Civilizations" along with "The End of History," not just because the two speak directly to each other, but also to give students a sense of how the end of Cold War begat a period of intellectual confusion that (I think) largely persists into the present.

4. We need to teach "The Clash of Civilizations" because it is frequently referenced by the popular media, by policymakers, and by lay-people. For whatever reason, the argument has traction in the broader culture. Many seem to find it intuitively appealing; I suspect that it reinforces some peoples' priors. In any case, if our students go home for Thanksgiving Break and a family member finds out that they're taking a course on international relations and asks them what they think of "The Clash of Civilizations" I want them to have an answer.

5. We need to teach "The Clash of Civilizations" because foreign policy discourse is frequently conducted in very crude "Us vs. Them" terms, and this provides us with an opportunity to question that entire mode of thought. Or at least to problematize exactly what we mean by "Us" and "Them": are these things defined by material interest? Identity? Ideals?

6. Finally, I think we need to teach "The Clash of Civilizations" because students seem to respond strongly to it, one way or the other. It is one of the few readings I routinely assign where this is the case.  It is, I think, something of a gateway drug: students either like it or don't like it, but they often aren't quite sure why. Teaching the article gives us a jumping-off point which we can use to engage many of the key concepts that will be developed in an introductory course.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

QOTD: Political Science vs. Mythmaking, the Case of de Gaulle

. Sunday, September 16, 2012
4 comments

One of the few persistent myths about de Gaulle that Hazareesingh leaves unexplored is how he managed to acquire his reputation as a grand strategist among today’s historians and policy-makers. “I believe that sooner or later the United States will have to develop some operational concept of the national interest. And when that happens, we will have to be, whether we like it or not, students of de Gaulle,” remarked Henry Kissinger in a breathless 1990 tribute. But any close inspection of de Gaulle’s policies reveals an implacably pragmatic politician who was as much constrained by domestic pressures as any leader of the period. De Gaulle never hesitated to delay his grand plans for Europe in order to satisfy more local concerns, as when he held the EEC hostage to the whims of French farmers. (De Gaulle threatened to leave the Common Market unless it included the massive subsidies he thought were necessary for the modernization of French agriculture.) That the political scientist Andrew Moravcsik was roundly dismissed by scholars across the spectrum for showing this more mundane side of de Gaulle is indicative of the reverence he still commands.
Source. This was a debate that I didn't know had existed. I'm on Moravcsik's side, of course, and am pleased to (therefore) find myself on the opposite side of Kissinger once again. Here is much much more, although note that the state of art in this debate seems to be captured by this earlier piece and this more recent one.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Blogiversary, Dan!

. Wednesday, September 12, 2012
0 comments

Congrats to Dan Drezner on 10 years of blogging. He paved the way for IR/FP bloggers, and he's still the gold standard. Thanks, also, for mentioning us in his round-up as one of the "thinker" blogs still worth reading. Very kind.

I'd love to do more thinking in blog-format, but I'm swamped with job applications and dissertating and article revisions and teaching and so-forth. So it might be sparse for a bit, but we'll keep the lights on and get back to a more regular routine soon. I hope.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Actually, Recent Middle East Developments Are Good for the U.S.

. Saturday, September 8, 2012
1 comments

I'm having a difficult time understanding what Stephen Walt means by this:

[Wednesday] we learn that Iran is resupplying the Assad regime in Syria via Iraqi airspace. Hardly surprising, for two reasons. First, Syria is a key Iranian ally, so naturally Iran is doing what it can to keep Assad in power. Second, the al-Maliki government is not nearly as anti-Iranian as Saddam Hussein was, and in some ways is sympathetic to Tehran's position. 
All of which reminds us what dunderheads the neocons were when they dreamed up the idea of invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein. Of course, all those liberal hawks who eventually went along with the idea were nearly as foolish.

No, this is not nostalgia for Saddam Hussein. He was a thug and tyrant with as much blood on his hands as Assad, and I don't mourn either his ouster or his passing. But the negative consequences have been enormous, in lives and money and in geopolitical position, as this latest revelation makes clear.
Emphasis added. The situation that Walt believes indicates that the U.S.'s geopolitical position has been enormously weakened is one in one which its primary rivals in the region (Iraq) has been turned into a weakened neutral state, in which another of its rivals (Iran) has has faced massive internal dissent from the Green Revolution, in which the regime of Iran's chief regional ally is under grave threat from within and without, in which the broader region is undergoing a spasm of democratization, in which the U.S. has been largely successful in working with its allies to build up a strong sanctions regime to hamper Iran, in which the U.S. was able to work with NATO to intervene in Libya (thus preventing the worst of the possible outcomes from occurring), in which nearly all of the terrorist networks that have threatened the U.S. and its allies -- as well as the governments which sponsored or at least tolerated them -- have been dismantled or are in disarray, in which the U.S. is less dependent on the region for energy supply than it has been in decades, and in which the U.S. is able to laugh off a threat from Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz.

How does any of this indicate that the geopolitical position of the U.S. has been weakened? The U.S.'s antagonists are quite literally fighting for their lives, the neocon goal of regional democratization is underway -- albeit not in the way they had expected -- and the broader transformation of the region is proceeding in a direction that is amenable to the U.S.'s long-term interests. The Middle East is less engaged in proliferation than it was a decade ago, Tehran's intransigence notwithstanding. There are fewer security dilemmas in operation than at any point in decades. Moreover, the frictions that many believed had developed between the U.S. and its NATO allies over Iraq appear to have been transitory rather than permanent.


Yet Walt believes that the fact that Iran is cutting through Iraqi airspace in a desperate attempt to keep its primary ally from being decapitated is more telling than all of that. Excuse me?


Put in a way that a realist should understand, it is obvious enough that the relative power gap between the U.S. and its rivals in the Middle East has widened over the past decade, not narrowed. A region of the world that has troubled the U.S. since World War II has now lost enough significance for the U.S. to "pivot" away from it to East Asia. In a short time the U.S. has shown some capacity to work with several newly-democratized governments, laying the groundwork for productive relationships moving forward.

Think back ten years. If you had asked neocons then what the best possible outcome for the next decade of the Middle East, they would probably have listed some of the following: a general process of regional democratization; governments which refuse to democratize face fierce internal opposition movements and strong external pressure from the international community; Hussein, Gaddafi, Mubarak, Saleh and Ben Ali all removed from power, while the grip of Assad and Khameini is tenuous; al-Qaeda dismembered and other terrorist networks contained; Pakistan outed as a basketcase; and where the NATO force has shown a willingness to collaborate in support of political reform throughout the region. Seriously... read the Project for a New American Century's "Statement of Principles" and tell me which recent developments in the Middle East contradict them.

Certainly not everything is wine and roses, but neither was it a decade ago. Certainly things could change for the worse in the future, but at a fundamental level recent developments in the Middle East have a high probability of benefiting the U.S. over the long-run. Perhaps quite a lot. From the perspective of the U.S.'s geopolitical position the current Middle East has been an enormous improvement over the status quo ante.

None of this, or at the very least not all of it, can be attributed to the U.S.'s decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power. But neither can it be said that the Iraq invasion hamstrung the U.S.'s geopolitical ambitions in the Middle East. In the end the costs may have out-weighed the gains, but the final accounting is far from finished and the further out we get the more broadly advantageous the U.S.'s position appears to be.

Walt titles his post, snidely, "Another neocon 'success story'". It's entirely possible that the statement is more accurate without the scare quotes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Marx and America

. Wednesday, September 5, 2012
4 comments

Henry Farrell passes along something that he seems to think is a historical curiosity: an 1864 letter of admiration from Karl Marx to an American Republican leader: Abraham Lincoln. Marx's letter was graciously answered in kind.

Farrell offers no context -- I would have thought he might -- but the story is actually significantly more interesting than just that. Marx had published his Communist Manifesto (with Engels) in 1848, nearly two decades before the congratulatory letter to Lincoln (and when Marx was only 30). Shortly thereafter the German moved to London where he found ends difficult to meet. As a result he sought work as a journalist, often as a foreign correspondent for newspapers. By 1852, and until 1863, these included Horace Greeley's New York Tribune. At the time the Tribune had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the world. From that spot he wrote in favor of the American abolitionist movement -- and against British imperialism -- while constructing Capital and other more theoretical works in his spare time. Marx's journalism is mostly ignored by history, but there are some interesting moments.

For example, here is Marx reviewing a letter of Harriet Beecher Stowe's, in criticism of the British Tories who tended to take the South's side by arguing that the war was not about the emancipation of slaves, in 1861:

The question of the principle of the American Civil War is answered by the battle slogan with which the South broke the peace. Stephens, the Vice-President of the Southern Confederacy, declared in the Secession Congress that what essentially distinguished the Constitution hatched at Montgomery from the Constitution of the Washingtons and Jeffersons was that now for the first time slavery was recognised as an institutional good in itself, and as the foundation of the whole state edifice, whereas the revolutionary fathers, men steeped in the prejudices of the 18th century, had treated slavery as an evil imported from England and to be eliminated in the course of time. Another matador of the South, Mr Spratt, cried out: 'For us, it is a question of founding a great slave republic.' If, therefore, it was indeed only in defence of the Union that the North drew the sword, had not the South already declared that the continuance of slavery was no longer compatible with the continuance of the Union?
Pity him for having to do it, but Ta-Nahisi Coates has spent a good bit of his last few years making the same point, sometimes as well but always with hindsight.* Marx spent a good amount of his prime professional life, and spilt a great deal of ink, defending the American project against its detractors in Europe. He felt a kinship with the abolitionists, to be sure. He saw in these American revolutionaries, as he had seen in previous American revolutionaries, the same spirit that animated him. And he, like many of America's early leading lights, believed that this revolutionary spirit had global reach. From the letter Farrell linked:
From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class.
There are strong indications from the repetition of his writings during the period that this was not a platitude; Marx truly thought in this way. He felt that the American Civil War was simply a continuation of the War of Independence from the British Empire, which he loathed, and represented a large step towards the emancipation of mankind.**

Why mention any of this? One of the great ironies of the 20th century -- and if any could appreciate an irony, Marx could -- is that Marx thought that America was the revolutionary force in the global political economy.*** Nor can we say that Marx's mind was changed over time: by 1861 Marx had already written not only his Manifesto, but also his analysis of the proto-fascist coup d’état by which Napoléan Bonaparte’s nephew seized control of the French state, a critique of classical political economy, and his Grundrisse. It was 1867 before the first volume of Capital was printed, but enough of Marx’s intellectual development had occurred before then for him to apply his materialist conception of history to the American project.

In brief: Marx believed in America and the American project as a revolutionary force for positive change in global affairs. I tend to think he was right. I frequently wonder if he would have kept that belief had he witnessed the 20th century as well as the 19th. My suspicion is that he would, and that the tenor and argument of his later works would have changed qualitatively with a longer run of history in his view. And no, I don't just mean the deplorable parts of the 20th century that were done in his name.

This history used to be better known, to the extent that John F. Kennedy, in a 1961 speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association, remarked:
[I]f only Marx had remained a foreign correspondent, history might have been different.
Kennedy meant this as a moral lesson: Marx only ceased to be a foreign correspondent because his wages were so meager that he eventually gave them up to pursue his revolutionary agenda. Kennedy is, in other words, suggesting -- in no uncertain terms... read the context around the pulled quote -- to capitalists that they may buy off the revolutionaries if they are just a bit more generous with their salaries.

I'm not so sure about that in Marx's case. His intellectual project had begun well before Greeley came into the picture. And it continued with the full knowledge that at least one dictatorship of the proletariat -- the Taipings -- devolved into theocracy, militarization, and oppression almost immediately. So it's not clear that Marx would have seen through the Bolsheviks had he lived longer. Maybe he would have, but it's hard to think of Marx as a Menshevik given his disdain for the Gotha Program and democracy under capitalism. It's possible that Marx's Kronstadt moment would have happened well before Kronstadt. Or maybe he would have been slow on Lenin and his heirs just as he was slow on the Taipings.

It's an interesting thought.

*This does not demean Coates in any way. Orwell is famous for saying, or writing (I'm not sure which), that "We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men". Cheers to Coates for dredging that depth, and cheers to Marx for having it right at the moment. There's plenty of space for both, and many others too.

**Marx didn't get it all right. Around the same time as he was defending the cause of the Union in the New York Tribune he was also defending in the same pages the Taiping Rebellion, which abolished private property and promoted elements of gender equality. Marx later turned against the Taipings, but only after they had demonstrated a theocratic tendency which he had not recognized before. And only after some 20-30 million Chinese were killed as a result of their insurrection, which would later be applauded -- and perhaps mimicked -- by Mao Zedong. This was all finished by the time Marx wrote his letter to Lincoln in 1864. The fact that Marx, as well as later revolutionary Marxists, could have but did not take proper stock of this historical episode is another irony. The fact that China's traumas in the middle part of the 19th century were not understood in real time might be considered tragedy; the fact that they were repeated in the 20th century must be considered farce. Terry Eagleton, and his ilk, might wish to chew on that for awhile.

***Many Marxists push the corollary too far, and suggest that Marx thought that Russia was too reactionary to be a suitable place for the revolution to take hold. Terry Eagleton wrote as much in his recent (horrible) Why Marx Was Right, as many others have, but it's a misreading. In an 1881 letter to Vera Zasulich – co-founder with Lenin of the revolutionary newspaper Iskra and first translator of Marx into Russian -- Marx agrees that Russia's "rural commune" peasantry might bypass the capitalist stage of development altogether and move straight into socialism. He furthermore suggests that his theory of capitalism as a necessary stage of development was limited to Western Europe -- i.e. the places where industrialization had already occurred. Such places where this development had not yet taken place, such as Russia, Marx believed could bypass the "suicide" of capitalism altogether. Marx concluded his letter thus: "If revolution comes at the opportune moment, if it concentrates all its forces so as to allow the rural commune full scope, the latter will soon develop as an element of regeneration in Russian society and an element of superiority over the countries enslaved by the capitalist system." Zasulich was not discouraged by this, and continued to work towards a communist revolution in Russia. Eagleton might be correct in asserting that Marx would not have been a Bolshevik, but that is mere speculation; Marx's own words suggest he was strongly in favor of a Russian revolution.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

#VirtualAPSA2012 Recap

. Saturday, September 1, 2012
6 comments



My panel went today. We had a last-minute cancelation so there was just two of us. The video is above (I start at around the 14 minute mark), and my slides are below.

It was a fun experience overall. There are a few kinks that need to be worked out, especially with the audio, but the setup was relative easy (thanks to Luke Perez and free technology).

Comments welcome. As the paper is still in draft version I haven't posted it online yet, but I'd be willing to make it available upon request.
Winecoff_2012_VirtualAPSA

International Political Economy at the University of North Carolina: September 2012
 

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