An existential pause outside the confines of time: I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately. Do you ever really stand on the threshold of who you were and who you are about to become? I have always been restless, never satisfied to stay where I am and always wanting to have a change of scenery when I tire of a place. I have never wanted to settle down, not when there are so many things I have yet to see, learn, and experience. Does it necessarily have to be so totalizing a choice, that if you choose one path, the other is barred to you? Already burdened with the adult responsibility, there is a demand for certainty amidst uncertainties and a need to be independent for the sake of dignity.

But it is only now, entering the professional world, that I realize that all the reading, philosophy, writing, and intellectual pursuits that I have loved and wished to make a career of, are in reality best enjoyed as hobbies, as small doses to free oneself from the modern reality of a 9-5 five-day work week in an office somewhere. They are meant to be escapist tools for the mind which is bound to the banal through the body. I always knew things were transient, that the Platonic ideal was never truly possible nor permanent; yet at the same time, I am lost in those moments of intransience that seem to seize the soul whilst reading books and engaging in reflective philosophy, whether through journals or blogs or whatever medium of communication. Even in travel, when one can receive those flashes of beauty whilst pondering the landscape of another world. Such are the things that make student debt, rocky relationships, and boring white collar work disappear. And then, we remember our true selves again.


Kant: Genius in Metaphysics, Mediocre in IR Theory

“This facility in making war, together with the inclination to do so on the part of rulers–an inclination which seems inborn in human nature–is thus a great hindrance to perpetual peace.” -Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, 1795

Here I notice that Kant accepts the Freudian premise that humans are naturally aggressive, even warlike. This disconcerts me as I thoroughly reject this notion, while at the same time have been a great admirer of Kantian philosophy. It is also probably the reason why my political philosophy teachers told us to read this essay on our own, as they found Kant’s other writings much more important.

My favourite rebuttal to this is best expressed in Barbara Ehrenrich’s Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, where she elaborates that if humans are by nature so aggressive and violent, why do they go through such elaborate processes to prepare themselves for war? For instance, how soldiers must be brainwashed into a certain mentality in order to become obedient to their commanders and be able to live in a constant state of fear and stress. As well, wouldn’t post-traumatic stress disorder be almost non-existent in soldiers if they had such a propensity to harm their fellow man?

I am relieved to see that Kant’s first necessary condition to perpetual peace is that every state be republican, namely a democracy. He also implies that individuals are responsible for the foreign policy of their leaders, such that they can elect or reject a leader that can be morally accountable on the international stage, not only in terms of war but also in terms of law and universal hospitality.

“Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility. It is not the right to be a permanent visitor that one may demand. A special beneficent agreement would be needed in order to give an outsider a right to become a fellow inhabitant for a certain length of time. It is only a right of temporary sojourn, a right to associate, which all men have. They have it by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must finally tolerate the presence of each other. Originally, no one had more right than another to a particular part of the earth.”

Here is the refutation of the critique of liberal democracy, at least liberal democracy as elaborated by Kant, Mill, Locke and others. Sovereignty does dictate who is included and excluded from the state in the Schmittean decision, but Kant strongly advocates for a moral obligation of states to accept and tolerate human migratory flows, such that securitization is an inhibition of the individual’s natural rights and that no state can inhibit his or her free movement for the sake of maximizing his or her own human development and contribution to the world at large.

Even so, I reject his frequent references to the inherent evilness of humanity and wish that his treatise on peace would speak more often of the constructs of peace rather than the avoidance of war.


Revival of Classical Liberalism (in IR) – Part 2

Continuing my insights into Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, I’d like to devote some time to the last chapter of the book dealing specifically with international relations and liberal political theory.

I especially like Hayek’s critique of realist theorist E.H. Carr. Carr rejects 19th century liberalism’s view of war as devoid of purpose and senseless and takes up the classic realist argument that war is actually meaningful and purposeful. Hayek also makes a passing reference to Schmitt’s understanding of totalitarianism, agreeing that the political sphere is separate from the economic, social, religious, etc. domains for the sake of offsetting any concentration of power. Carr is influenced by the totalitarian concept expressed beautifully by Schmitt: the friend/enemy distinction. Naturally, Hayek finds the realist stance on war problematic since it is based on a particular view of human nature and similar to the championship of violence and revolution by Marx as a means to an end.

Hayek ultimately see the war of ideologies (reminiscent of Weber [or was it Strauss?] war of the old gods) as the real problem in creating an international order conducive to cooperation and peace. Hayek does believe that so long as there are economic transactions between nations, such relations will deteriorate into “clashes of power” if there is no superior authority to states (see Plato’s Republic and the ‘fevered city’ for acquisition as prelude to war). However, imposing a global authority that would plan the global economy would invite more tyranny than order to the fray. Here he also critiques realism for essentielly agreeing with a “might is right” foreign policy, where international authorities in the more powerful nations impose their will on smaller nations (as seen in the Cold War).

Ensuring that the international order is conducive to aiding developing nations is also within Hayek’s mandate, but economic powers must ensure that they are adopting policies that create conditions in which people can develop their own lives. That is, development of poorer countries must be organic, not imposed.

A large, loose federation of state was always the ultimate goal of 19th century liberal thinkers for reducing the risk of war. The creation of an international order or international governance (versus government) or international legal system was preferable since it did not interfere with the independence of individual nations. Liberalism has always sought to reduce the frictions leading to war versus the elimination of war (which is impossible due to the acquisitory nature of states and scarce resources). Essentially, it is a model of negative powers accorded to an international political federation, which should have strictly defined cases of intervention in individual state’s affairs. It is not (necessarily) meant to be paternalistic or reinforcing of Western values, but it does enforce a liberal moral code and founds itself on the pragmatism and utility that John Stuart Mill was so fond of. As well the infamous checks and balances that must be in place at all levels of governance.

Interestingly enough, Hayekian libertarian IR theory and postmodern IR theory both problematize the state and its powers. One deals with the economic flows and politico-moral order as undermining modern state sovereignty (see the writings of Saskia Sassen and John Ikenberry). The other attacks the state through the rise of securitization of human migration flows and governmentality (biopolitical control of the population by Foucault’s Panopticon and Agamben’s ban/camp).

So it is that I argue for an abandonment of neoliberal IR theory and seek a revival of 19th century classical liberalism integrated with the critique of postmodern IR theory to develop a whole new understanding of how the world is or ought to be. It will be a solution the postmodern question insofar as international relations theory must return to political philosophy to find its progress, rather than the scientific models that it has championed for decades. As you can see, I have my academic work cut out for me.

Reviving Classical Liberalism – Part 1

*Ok, I’m out of hibernation. I promise this will be an authentic first-class session of intellectual masturbation to make up for the neglect.

[Liberalism] came to be regarded as a “negative” creed because it could offer to particular individuals little more than a share in the common progress – a progress which came to taken more and more for granted and was no longer recognized as the result of the policy of freedom. It might even be said that the very success of liberalism became the cause of its decline. – Friedrich A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

As I’ve mentioned before, I was reading Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” which reflects my bias towards liberalism in a postmodern world, namely that it still works. Hayek argues that liberalism worked too well and we took it for granted, such that we lost sight of what it really meant and thus, allowed it to be synonymous with social democracy and socialism (leading to the totalitarianism regimes of the 20th century). It’s interesting to parallel this alongside Arendt, who blames the imperialist and bourgeoisie attitude for Hitler’s rise and anti-semitism. No doubt both Hayek’s and Arendt’s account give us a much fuller picture of the problem. It was not liberal democracies of the West that permitted imperialist rule, but socialist democracies under the name of liberalism. Liberalism, by its moral prerogative, does not permit inequalities of race, gender, etc. and advocates tolerance as a way for people to live together with their differences. No doubt this sounds like sunny idealism, but such moral prerogatives cannot be found in anywhere in the socialist or communist or fascist record and thus, they impede moral progress. The modern despair gripped the world too soon for liberalism to continuing actualizing itself.

Hayek also had a unique understanding of modernizing John Stuart Mill’s philosophy and bring liberalism “back” in vogue, as it were. As Hayek writes: “the limits of our powers of imagination make it impossible to include in our scale of values more than a sector of the needs of the whole of society”. In other words, liberalism realizes that there are limits to collective organization as well as addressing all the needs of an individual in the great conglomerate and bureaucratic machine of the state. Allowing individuals to be the judges of their own ends empowers collective organization to be more effective in addressing these needs versus the state bearing the responsibility of the masses (enabling the minorities versus forcing a majority on everything). Rather than acknowledging minor differences  (see William Connelly’s Identity/Difference), socialism and even some forms of conservatism seeks to disregard such differences altogether.

As well, the Rule of Law (personified by Justice blinded, holding the scales) ensures equality by restricting the powers of the state, allowing it to intervene against the individual only in clearly defined cases. The socialist state reserves the right to intervene at its discretion and seeks to regulate everything, which is where we can bring in Foucault’s notion of governmentality and the Panopticon.

Socialist governments and planned economies are based on the production of agreement on every issue, so that in a paternalistic way, the state dictates what should matter to people (i.e. drawing attention to poverty primarily and commandeering liberal tolerance as a way to produce consent that such issues are important).  Indeed, socialism makes the same moral claims as liberalism in its mission, save that it believed that it was the state which must be held morally accountable and not individuals themselves.

Turning finally to the economy, I have never been an advocate of early 21st/late 20th century neoliberal economic policies nor Keynesian theories as suitable or functional for the developing world. The key lies in Hayek’s advocacy of an organic economy and spontaneous organization of the free market, where jobs are generated by individuals in a bottoms-up approach (rather than the Keynesian top-down enforcement).  I think protectionism is useful in countries where the capacity and capital are fairly primitive and need to be developed. Developing infrastructure and creating a stable political environment are prerequisites to generating a healthy, growing economy. I wholeheartedly encourage FDI and output based loans with debt forgiveness if progress is made, but not international aid handouts, especially to corrupt regimes (see Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid).

All in all, reading Hayek has stimulated my thinking at a rate that I’ve not felt since reading Foucault. I’m definitely looking forward to reading Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit.

The Origins of Political Order

My job and social life have kept me preoccupied from this site of intellectual masturbation, but now that things are slowing down, I hope to turn out a few original posts. I’ve just finished Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and there was some very “sexy” philosophy which I would like to elaborate on later. In the meantime, I found this rather interesting review of Fukuyama’s new book The Origins of Political Order, which actually includes Hayekian philosophy, and now makes me anxious to read it, as I was hoping to incorporate Hayek’s philosophy in a rebirth of the liberal IR theory to address the critique of postmodern IR theory. I must get my hands on it and read it! Along with Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom and Henry Kissinger’s On China.


***Taken from

Not Quite a Review of Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order

Leave a Comment Posted by on July 5, 2011

I finally finished Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. I should really like it. Fukuyama uses many eclectic positions which I share with him, namely the importance of evolutionary psychology, the relevance of Jared Diamond’s emphasis on geography (especially with respect to influence the patterns of political institutions), and a rejection of Becker-style economics. He also employs a Hayekian method of group selection. Unfortunately for the latter, he doesn’t seem to realize it. His criticisms of things I know about are very superficial, and he’ll often use a footnote to hide the superficiality. He basically warns at the beginning of the book that in a work as sprawling as this, he would probably make a few mistakes in citing stuff outside his realm of expertise. It would help if he had simply cut the amount of material in the book- his philosophy seemed to be, why talk about Indian political development for five pages when I can do it for three full chapter?

I don’t think this is a review because I’m just bitching without providing very many good examples. I will go after him about Hayek, though. He paints Hayek as a dialogue for looking at the development of common law as always a bottom up process, even though the historical record shows that common law only became effective after the state consciously took it out of the hands of the local feudal lords and stopped the lords from issuing biased rulings. This completely contradicts what I have heard elsewhere on the topic, that there was competition amongst the courts before the central government got involved, and that the competition provided better results (as well as instituting a method of evolving the law in a much more rapid form than exists in common law today). I am more confident that the Hayekian understanding is accurate elsewhere, especially in merchant law. At no point does Fukuyama reference Bruce Benson, who developed the Hayekian bottom-up explanation of law more than Hayek himself did.

But all of this is irrelevant. Hayek didn’t disagree with Fukuyama over whether the state can intervene and improve the law. He even had a word for it, “tinkering.” The idea is that it is fine to experiment (i.e. tinker), but don’t believe that you understand civilization so well that you can build it from the ground-up, as socialism tried to. Hayek also says that tinkering is the same thing as what Popper called “piecemeal social engineering,” which makes it all the more clear that he is talking about the same thing Fukuyama criticized him for being blind to. The reason why Hayek used the word tinkering was because he was uncomfortable advocating anything called social engineering because of what it would typically connote (not to mention Hayek’s despise of the word “social”).

At the risk of venturing into bad faith, I am going to rip into Fukuyama’s manner in citing Hayek. At one point late in the book, he has a throwaway line that “Hayek is correct, however, that institutional evolution is not dependent on the ability of human beings to design successful institutions; random variation and the principle of selection by themselves can produce an adaptive outcome.” For the entire book up to this point (including that paragraph), Fukuyama never suggests that his group selection is the same as Hayek. The footnote at the end of that passage then cites Armen Alchian, not where Hayek extensively talked about group selection elsewhere. The Fatal Conceit is in the bibliography, but I’m not sure if Fukuyama really read it since it is plastered with group selection.

He also had a peculiar method of citing Law, Legislation, and Liberty. What’s strange is that he cites it as being one work (kinda it is), but from what I can tell, all of his references are to Rules and Order, which came out in 1973. In the bibliography, he cites an edition that came out in 1976. Volume 2 came out in 1976. From what I can tell, volume 1 did not have a separate edition that came out in 1976. The clearest, most sustained discussion of group selection comes in the epilogue of the third volume, which came out in 1979.

This lack of careful attention to Hayek (whom Fukuyama pretends to know deeply both here and in other works) exemplifies the superficiality of the book.