31 May 2014

Debating A Foreign Policy for the Left: article and response--Dictynna

A Foreign Policy for the Left

By Michael Walzer - Spring 2014

1. The Default Position

Is there such a thing as a leftist foreign policy? What are the characteristic views of the left about the world abroad? When have leftists, rightly or wrongly, defended the use of force? The arguments about what to do in Syria have led me to ask these questions, but I am after a more general answer, looking not only at the left as it is today but also at the historical left. The questions aren’t easy—first, because there have been, and there are, many lefts; and second, because left views about foreign policy change more often than left views about domestic society. Relative consistency is the mark of leftism at home, but that’s definitely not true abroad. Still, it’s possible to make out a kind of default position and then to describe the various alternative positions and the arguments for and against them. I want to join those arguments and suggest why they have gone well, sometimes, and very badly at other times.

The basic position appears early in recorded history. I first discovered it when reading the biblical prophets, who have often been an inspiration to Western leftists. The prophets argued that if the Israelites obeyed the divine commandments, stopped grinding the faces of the poor, and established a just society, they would live in their land forever, safe against Assyrian and Babylonian imperialism. Justice would bring security—and also serve a higher purpose: Israel would be “a light unto the nations.” All that was necessary was to sit still and shine.

A Foreign Policy for the Left? Defending the “Default Position”

By Eric Alterman, Jeff Faux, and Michael Walzer - May 8, 2014

In the following responses to Michael Walzer’s “A Foreign Policy for the Left”(Dissent,
Spring 2014), two interlocutors make the case for the “default position.”

Michael Walzer’s historical tour d’horizon of liberal and leftist attitudes about foreign policy is characteristically thoughtful and generous-minded, consistent with everything Walzer has published in Dissent and elsewhere during the past half-century. It is not, however, useful in the task of guiding us toward a foundation on which to construct an effective left-liberal foreign policy doctrine.

Like so many of those whose views he wishes to critique, Walzer misses the fundamental point about foreign policy: the world is what it is, not what we wish it to be. And it is the way it is in most places owing to centuries, if not millennia, of complex, often overlapping sociological, technological, economic, psychological, and of course cultural developments that have shaped regional history. In order to intervene effectively, therefore, in any one of these places, one must first understand and evaluate these forces before trying to calculate the likely effect of one’s intervention. Does this sound like something American politicians might be good at? I didn’t think so.


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