RCH: the Cherokee Nation and the US Civil War

That’s the topic of my Tuesday column over at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:

Ross was critical of the success of the death warrants against the Treaty Party Men, but the most interesting aspect of the two mens’ rivalry was the fact that they used the rule of law to fight their battles. Now, the rule of law in the 19th century meant the use of violence between factions (think here about Tombstone, Ariz., where Wyatt Earp and his friends were U.S. Marshals and the friends of the Clantons were Sheriffs), but there was a belief held at the time that violence could only be used by civilized men if the law was on their side. Ross and Watie were both firm believers in this form of rule of law.

Please, read the rest and share it with your friends.

Eye Candy: Kurdistan

NOL map Kurdistan.png
Click here to zoom (courtesy of the excellent Decolonial Atlas)

Countries with significant Kurdish populations in the Near East: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Countries with significant Kurdish populations in the Near East that the United States has bombed or put boots on the ground in: Iraq and Syria.

Countries with significant Kurdish populations in the Near East that the United States has threatened to bomb and possibly invade: Iran.

Countries with significant Kurdish populations in the Near East that the United States is allied with: Turkey.

Three of the four countries with significant Kurdish populations in the Near East are (or was, in the case of Iraq) considered hostile to the US government, so the use of Kurds to further American Realpolitik in the region is almost obvious, until you consider that Turkey has been a longtime ally of Washington.

Suppose you’re a big-time Washington foreign policy player. Do you arm Kurdish militias in Syria, encourage continued political autonomy in Kurdish Iraq, finance Kurdish discontent in Iran, and shrug your shoulders at Istanbul? Seriously, what do you do in this situation?

What on earth was the Dervish state?

That’s the topic of my latest column at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:

2. Sovereignty and suzerainty are concepts that have little to no bearing on today’s world, but perhaps they should. Prior to the end of World War II, when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. became the globe’s alpha powers, suzerainty was often used by imperial powers to manage their colonies. Suzerainty is a formal recognition, by a power, of a minor polity’s independence and autonomy, and a formal recognition by the minor polity of the power’s control over its diplomatic and economic affairs. Suzerainty was used especially often by the British and Dutch (and less so by France and other Latin states, which preferred more direct control over their territorial claims), as well as the Ottoman Empire. The U.S.-led order has focused on sovereign states rather than unofficial spaces, and this has led to many misunderstandings. Somalia, which has long been a region of suzerains, is a basketcase today largely because it is approached by powers as a sovereign state.

Please, read the rest. The Dervish state was an ally of the Ottoman and German empires during World War I.

Worth a gander

  1. the term ‘hippie trail’ began to circulate in the late 1960s: it referred principally to the long route from London (or sometimes Amsterdam) to Katmandu.| The Protestant Reformation and freedom of conscience

  2. Flags, Chinese Pirates, and the American Navy | Naval power and trade

  3. Xi Jinping is looking more and more like Mao | The legacy of autocratic rule in China

  4. that time when North Korea saved Benin from a coup led by mercenaries | The re-privatization of security

  5. how Brexit has reopened old Irish wounds | Credit and the Great Famine of Ireland

Ayn Rand and International Politics

In a previous post I promised to write about Ayn Rand and her views on international politics, based on a recently published article.

I find Ayn Rand a fascinating figure in libertarian history, for a number of reasons. Her life style and ways she went about it in her life are so far distanced from me, that made me curious. Some of her philosophical ideas are great, others do not appeal to me at all. I plainly admire her for making the moral case for capitalism and individualism, which stands out in the economist-dominated libertarian tradition.

I am on the one hand annoyed by the way she fostered such cult-like circle of followers, in her own day and after her death in 1982, that led to dogmatism and intellectual isolationism, which goes against all basic academic standards I think are crucial.

On the other hand, I think the people at the Ayn Rand Institute do a great job preserving her legacy and attempting to widen her appeal. Overall, I am convinced that no matter what your take on this fascinating figure or her work is, Rand deserves to be studied in academia, because she remains influential to this day, especially in the US, and left a serious collection of writings that warrant intellectual analysis, even by people who do not consider themselves Randian.

Against this background I made a comparison between mainstream liberal theories of International Relations (IR) and the ideas on world affairs of Ayn Rand. The brief summary of the first is as follows:

  • World peace is attainable, in the belief that humans are rational enough to overcome war and conflict.
  • The nation is seen as a problematic actor in world affairs. Its room for maneuvering needs to be curtailed, including the importance of the balance of power between states, and the alleged influence of ‘war mongering’ diplomats and the so-called military-industrial complex.
  • Peace oriented foreign policies can be fostered by domestic institutional arrangements, most notably democracy (democratic peace theory).
  • In the international realm, there is an important role for intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, regimes and international law (liberal institutionalism), which aim to overcome or neutralize the effects of the logic of power politics.
  • International trade is also expected to foster peace, often in combination with the alleged pacifying influence of interest groups and public opinion of foreign policy decision-making.
  • A recent addition is the broad support for humanitarian intervention.

To keep this blog at readable length I will not go into the details of Rand’s writings, but limit myself to her main views on these ideas, which should be seen in the context of her fierce opposition to the Soviet Union and its allies in the Cold War, and her concern for America losing its super power position through internal causes, not least the loss of the individual liberty-enhancing spirit among the American people.

  • In contrast to classical liberals from Smith to Hayek, Rand did indeed think that world peace would be attainable, but only in an Objectivist world. Among rational men living according the Objectivist principles there would be a harmony of rational interests. Yet in the current world there was also abundant irrational behaviour, bad morality, and other grounds for dispute.
  • The main causes of war were not material issues, domestic interests, institutional arrangements, or the structure of the international system. Rather, war was rooted in human nature. It went back to the tribal era, when brute force was the prime rule of conduct. The (socialist) dictatorships were contemporary examples in her mind, with their lack of respect for the rights of their own citizens, and those of foreigners alike. ‘Statism needs war, a free country does not’.
  • Rand was inconsistent in her valuation of the power of public opinion. She noted that most people often do not want war. Yet the origins of war still lay with those civilians, also in non-democratic regimes, because they failed to reject the doctrine that it was right and justified to achieve goals by physical force. If people put up with a dictatorship like the Soviet Union, or decided not to flee, they were co-responsible for the deeds, and deserved the same fate as their government.
  • Rand recognized that individuals live in groups or communities, but she regarded respect for tribal roots, ethnicity, and regional languages as uncivil and, above all, irrational and a limit on individual liberty. Ethnicity was also an important cause of war. Nationalism was perhaps less abstract than Marxism, but it was at least as vicious in stirring emotions such as hatred, fear, and suspicion. Therefore rational people would altogether disregard their roots as guides in (political) life.
  • Rand had two positions on the issues of sovereignty and intervention, depending on the moral character of the nation in question. Sovereignty was a right that had to be earned, but could also be forfeited. If a nation fully respected the principle of individual rights, it’s right to sovereignty was morally secured and should be respected by other nations. However, if a state violated the rights of its citizens it would lose its sovereign rights. ‘A nation ruled by brute force is not a nation, but a horde, whether led by Atilla, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Khrushchev, or Castro.’
  • Dictatorships were outlaws and could therefore be invaded as a matter of choice for the free nations, although there was no duty to do so. The right to self-determination and sovereignty only existed for free nations, and for societies seeking to establish freedom.
  • Yet this way, anarchy loomed. Rand divided the world into three groups of countries. First, countries complying to the Objectivist principles, with full sovereign rights. Second, countries on their way to freedom, often referred to as ‘mixed economies’, or half-way houses between freedom and dictatorship. Third, countries not worth existing, such as dictatorships and tyrannies. Unfortunately, the world lacked fully free countries. The mixed economies did not have unlimited right of intervention, they could only interfere when another country seriously breached Objectivist principles, for example by establishing one party rule, enacting censorship laws, executing people for political offences without trial, or nationalizing or expropriating private property.
  • Rand acknowledged the perpetual influence of power in world politics. The character of international politics was, and always had been among states, a balance of power game.
  • The US army was under domestic, non-patriotic attack for its virtues, for being a competent and strong force. It was unwise to cut the defence budget, while -in another contrast to liberal IR thought- ‘the military-industrial complex’ was ‘a myth or worse’.
  • Statism at the international level, in the form of ‘a planetary community’ and other cosmopolitan ideas had to be rejected. The collaboration of semi-free countries with communist dictatorships in the UN was evil and stood in contrast to reason, ethics, and civilization. The UN provided the Russian camp with prestige and moral sanction, suggesting that ‘the difference between human rights and mass slaughter is just a matter of opinion’.
  • Another point of contention with the social liberals was development cooperation. Foreign aid was nothing but ‘altruism extended to the international realm’.
  • While, in contrast to social liberals, she lacked faith in international law as such, Rand did regard international treaties as firm obligations.
  • Also, Rand saw peaceful effects of laissez-faire capitalism, because it was based on the recognition of self-interest by free individuals and the non-initiation of force. Capitalism fostered a society of traders. Therefore the essence of Objectivist foreign policy had to be free trade.

To briefly sum up: Rand’s writing show that not all liberals are peace-seeking cosmopolitans, attempting to minimise the role of the nation, the balance of power, the military, and warfare in international relations. She rejected most forms of international governmental organization and other expressions of liberal institutionalism. Often her ideas lack sufficient (legal) detail, while they are also centred on America, and hence limited to the perspective of an influential super power with large military capacity. Yet her writings show that fostering liberty in international relations can be done in several ways, and that different liberals have different ideas about the route towards that goal.

Mea Culpa: Israel and Palestine

So, I let myself be captured by Irfan’s cultured, bright, well-spoken, and fact-studded critique. He is right, on the main. My short essay is loose on many facts. I did not know what I did not know. And where it’s not completely wrong, it’s often sloppy. So, for example, I shouldn’t have said that Jews were not allowed on the mosque’s esplanade. I should have said (and the damned thing is that I knew it) that they were not allowed to pray there – but then, what if a Jew takes a walk on the esplanade and prays inside his head, and what if, unbeknownst to him, his lips move a little? As they say in French: “Irfan m’a mené en bateau.” At any rate, I will simply confess that nearly all my facts are wrong so I can recover my purpose, at last. Don’t worry, I won’t take much of your time. Here are a handful of real real facts and their obvious implications:

  • Palestinian Muslims (or a single one) assassinated two Israeli police officers a few weeks ago on the mosques esplanade or near it.
  • The assassin or assassins used a gun or guns.
  • Israeli authorities – that exercise de facto control over the area- responded by setting up metal detectors on entrances to the mosque’s esplanade.
  • Metal detectors are useful to alert to the presence of most firearms and of some bombs.
  • Palestinian Muslims protested this measure in several ways, including with riots.
  • The people whose safety could have been improved by the existence of the metal detectors were both Israeli security forces in the area and the great many Palestinian Muslims who constitute the bulk of the visitors to the same area.
  • Thus, Palestinian Muslims protested -including with rioting – security measures that were likely to benefit them most (in terms of numbers).*

That is collective irrationality.

I suppose that Irfan, or another subtle defender of irrationality, will argue that the installation of metal detectors at those sites is another step in Palestinians’ loss of sovereignty over the Holy Places, and thus the violent reaction. Sure thing! This defense implies that Palestinian Muslims have to be ready to be assassinated by other Palestinian Muslims in order to enforce a shred of Palestinian Muslim sovereignty over that small area.

That is insane.


*I ignore, of course, the idiotic view that Muslim terrorists could not possibly kill other Muslims at a sacred site of Islam. Muslims have been killing tens of thousands of Muslims, specifically, for the past twenty years. Some terrorists, who called themselves Muslims, chose to engage precisely in mass killing at Muslim religious sites such as mosques. And then, there are Jewish terrorists, and even the occasional dangerous illuminated Christian.