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Mid-Term Elections, 2006

I've received a bit of email from people who were wondering why it is I have not commented on the upcoming mid-term elections. "Sciabarra, you're a political scientist, for Chrissake! What do you think?"

Well, let's leave aside the question of how much science goes into politics: It's always nice to know that some people find value in what I say. But with all due respect: There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. I have not changed my views of this two-party, two-pronged attack on individual freedom by one iota: A Pox on Both Their Houses! In truth, however, the modern Democratic Party has always been honest about its Big Government agenda. But the "small-government" GOP has long embraced the politics of Big Government. As the majority party, they are a total, unmitigated disaster for individual liberty, whether they are religious rightists or so-called "progressive conservatives"—who are actually much truer to the GOP's 19th-century interventionist roots than so-called "Goldwater" or "Reagan" Republicans (those who embraced the rhetoric of limited government, while still paving the way for a growth in the scope of government intervention). You have to chuckle when even Hillary Clinton sees the hypocrisy: "The people who promised less government," she said, "have instead given us the largest and least competent government we have ever had."

Still, I must admit that my political perversity would like very much to see the Bush administration get a royal slap across the face, such that the Democrats take the House of Representatives and, at the very least, close the gap in the GOP-controlled Senate. This is purely a strategic desire: Party divisions can have utility in frustrating the power-lust on both ends. In any event, I think it's probably true that the GOP will suffer a setback, and I have been saying so for over a year.

Please understand, however: THIS WILL DO NOTHING TO CHANGE THE CURRENT DOMESTIC OR FOREIGN POLICY DISASTERS. I don't mean to shout, but with regard to foreign policy alone: The Democrats handed this administration the current foreign policy debacle on a silver platter. They will not challenge one inch of the Bush administration's Iraq policy or its ideological rationalizations for that policy: that "democracy" can be imposed on societies that have little or no appreciation of the complex cultural roots of human freedom.

Either way, I'll be watching the results of politics-as-bloodsport on Tuesday, November 7th.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted at L&P.


I was shocked to find a reasonable viewpoint on L&P (or any of the venues I visit daily) that views current events from a wide context and broad cultural perspective.
Regards, Jason

Watch not just the winners and losers but how people vote on referedum. Remember there be another election in two years.

Well, it's not quite "Morning in America," as I hold out no hope for real reform from Democratic party hacks. But. Still. It's a good sign when exit polls show that a lot of people are pissed off at the Bush administration for its handling of the war in Iraq. Let's see how this drama unfolds; the House goes to the Dems, and the Senate... still too close to call, but much tigher than expected.


I think there is something your missing in the statement where you opposed the policy "that 'democracy' can be imposed on societies that have little or no appreciation of the complex cultural roots of human freedom." How much appreciation did the Japanese have for "complex cultural roots of human freedom" right after WWII? Yet that society has embraced democracy - or freedom to a great degree. My point is that there is a mystic common denominator with both Japan and Iraq, and we've seen Japan change into a modern country by US intervention.

Obviously, there are many different factors to consider when comparing Iraq to pre-WWII Japan, but your statement did not leave any room for explaining Japan unless you contend that pre-WWII Japan had appreciation for "the complex cultural roots of human freedom."

Eric, thank you for your feedback on this.

Understand that my comments in this particular blog entry are rather off the cuff; I've written many thousands of words on these topics and I think that sometimes when we are posting brief entries like this one, we're not as careful as we might be in restating an argument made many times before.

You might want to check out entries here and here, for example. As I say in the latter piece (published in the Spring of 2003):

And I believe that a projected U.S. occupation of Iraq to bring about "democratic" regime change would not be comparable to the German and Japanese models of the post-World War II era. Iraq is a makeshift by-product of British colonialism, constructed at Versailles in 1920 out of three former Ottoman provinces; its notorious internal political divisions are mirrored by tribal warfare among Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and others. By contrast, both Germany and Japan possessed relatively homogeneous cultures and the rudiments of a democratic past, while retaining no allies after the war. And in the case of Japan, the U.S. had the full cooperation of Emperor Hirohito, who stepped down from his position as national deity, to become the figurative head of a constitutional monarchy.

I also have a lot more to say about the relationship between culture and politics here. There is no doubt that politics can influence culture, since there is an interrelationship between these factors after all, but even in that case, there has to be some kind of cultural base upon which to build a change in direction.

I would, however, be very interested to hear what you have to say about that "mystic common denominator with both Japan and Iraq..."

I would like to state that I am new to your blog and books and I have to apologize for not reading all of your writings on this subject. The links and quote in your reply helped to clarify your position, and for the most part I agree. The emperor's capitulation is an obvious and essential difference between Japan and Iraq (although that fact could not be foreseen when we went on the offensive in Japan). I used the phrase "mystic common denominator" because both Iraqi and Japanese pre-war cultures heavily embraced religion and their dogmas, and both had/have a certain portion of their culture willing to martyr themselves for Allah in Iraq, or Family Honor in Japan - both fundamentally irrational and anti-life absurdities. So why are the outcomes so different?

I think it is critical to understand why the Japan model worked, and the Iraqi is not, for anyone to put this conflict in full context. All to often I hear people (I am not speaking of you) declare that "you can't force democracy on a people." To which I always reply with the example of Japan.

Consider this: If Iraq had initiated the conflict, what psychological differences would that fact have on Iraqis - and Muslims in general - with regard to our occupation? Is US preemption the difference between the two conflicts and their outcome (at least so-far)? I find it hard to believe that Iraqis and Muslims worldwide wouldn't rationalize their initiation of war by the usual propaganda methods of fact distortion, religious dogma, and all out lies.

Having said all that, I have 2 questions that I'm sorting out:
1. What is the basic moral principle for going to war? Self interest? Retaliation/Justice? Both?
2. Considering the cultural similarities pointed out above, what are the causes for the current Iraq outcome (so-far) compared to Japan's after WWII?

Eric, thanks for your follow-up here. Let me briefly address some of your points:

First, no apology is necessary; thank you very much for reading more of my blog and essay entries postred to my site. Thanks also for your clarification of the phrase "mystic common denominator." You're right about the predominance of religious cultures in the two countries, but, of course, the religions themselves differ considerably. And, in fact, there are also deep doctrinal differences within, for example, Islam, which partially explains the sectarian warfare of Shi'ite and Sunni in Iraq.

I don't think that the fact of initiation or preemption is the key distinction between the Iraq and Japan models. I think that many of us who opposed the Iraq invasion looked to history, specifically the history of Iraq, which was a makeshift creation of British colonialism, and saw deep sectarian divisions that would be unleashed with the collapse of the Hussein regime. This, of course, didn't justify keeping Hussein in power; but it did provide us with a real-world context for projecting the current civil war nightmare as a most likely outcome of U.S. intervention.

While this addresses your second question, I don't have an answer with regard to your first question. Many of my colleagues have worked on issues concerning "just war," etc., but I've not done enough work in this area to offer a satisfactory response.

In the abstract, I would think that "rational self-interest" should underlie any military actions. But there are many problems with implementing such an abstract principle. I address some of this in a series that is indexed here.

Some of the problems:

Treating nation-states as collectives; treating "self-interest" as applicable to governments (which themselves are made up of individuals, each of whom has differential interests defined by membership in competing groups and/or classes); and not taking into account the serious "unintended consequences"--of both military action and nonaction in various contexts, globally.