The CSS Blog Network

Wanted: A New Ideology

Courtesy of Renaud Camus/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by SAGE International Australia (S.I.A) on 28 February 2017.

At present, it is very difficult to avoid examples and discussion of terms such as ‘truthiness’, ‘post-fact’, and ‘alternative fact’. We appear to have entered an era in which immediate, subjective, and emotional perception has the power to steamroll clear thinking and rational analysis, reducing public debate to ‘us versus them’ polemics. Pronouncements by many of our political leaders are emotive rather than instructive, ephemeral rather than incremental or iterative, and unanchored from shared experience and intersubjective understanding. And then there is President Trump: a distilled product of decades of corrosive and inflammatory processes.

Enough is enough. For at least 2,500 years philosophers have argued that we are, or should at least aspire to be, rational beings. No matter how much effort it takes to carefully think things through, and how much time it takes to develop effective thinking tools, surrendering rational effort in favour of gut instinct, “it feels true,” can only end badly. As David Eagleman has argued in his book, Incognito, our unconscious mind will happily get on with running our day without our conscious input, and our limbic system will immediately colour our experience with primal emotions, if we do not choose to think our way to deeper awareness and understanding. While the problems we are facing are becoming larger and more dangerous, our collective unwillingness to do more than legitimise unconscious responses is leading to progressively worse circumstances.

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Carl von Clausewitz Reviewed

Courtesy of Hagens_world/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published in Volume 17, Number 2 of the Canadian Military Journal in spring 2017.

These four recent books on the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) attest yet again to this master theorist’s ongoing interest to practitioners and scholars in the fields of strategy, international relations, military theory, and civil-military relations. His masterpiece, On War, has been of enormous influence worldwide ever since its posthumous publication in the 1830s. There have been innumerable testimonials to its impact, but four will suffice here to make the point. According to Major-General JFC Fuller, Clausewitz rises to the level of a Galileo, a Euler, or a Newton. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) considered Clausewitz the intellectual master of all writers on the subject of war, and the British philosopher W.B. Gallie is of the view that On War was the first and to date, the only book of outstanding intellectual eminence on the subject of war. Finally, one of the leading strategic theorists still writing today, Colin Gray, has concluded that for as long as humankind engages in warfare, Clausewitz must rule.1

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The Natural Selection of Ideas: Prerequisites and Implications for Politics, Philosophy and History

Courtesy Rhoni Mcfarlane/Flickr

This article was originally published by Global Policy on 4 May 2016.

Why do certain ideas and political paradigms endure while others become obsolete or are rejected?

This question has preoccupied political and philosophical scholarship for millennia. This article puts forward four conditions for the survivability of ideas. It argues that modern tools for understanding human nature, such as those offered by neuroscience, provide us with unprecedented insights about human predilections and needs. Based on these findings, we can better conceptualize why some ideas thrive while others do not and their possible implications to international relations. The human need for dignity is central to this explanation: no ideas can thrive if they do not guarantee and safeguard human dignity.

In 1859, Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection in On the Origin of Species, and J.S. Mill explored the flourishing of ideas in On Liberty. In Darwinian natural selection, features that do not contribute to the function of the individual vanish over the course of generations, as bearers of such traits lack the reproductive fitness to pass those features on to their offspring. Mill applied a similar argument to ideas: good ideas would survive the rigors of critical debate, but there were no means of discovering which ideas would endure apart from testing them. In my attempt to continue this debate, I turn to neuroscience. Advances in neuroscience and brain-imaging inform us about underlying predilections in our nature, which indicate that we will be more likely to choose and validate certain ideas over others. My task here is to unpack this premise and to do so by looking at four prerequisites for the selection of ideas.

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Nietzsche, Morgenthau, and the Roots of Realism

Edvard Munch’s 1906 painting of Friedrich Nietzsche. Image: http://www.munch150.no/no/Presse/Pressebilder/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by E-International Relations.

Thucydides. Hobbes. Machiavelli. Realists have (re)turned to these thinkers time and again in order to construct and fortify the basic contours of their theories of global politics. From their texts, realists have extracted and put to use a series of ontological arguments concerning the nature of power, the human, the state, and the global milieu through which these forces traverse. The consequent interpretations of global politics tend to be ones that dramatize a tragic and unending struggle for power among nation-states that takes place under a condition of anarchy and insecurity, where morality holds little hope for redemption. While the discourses of realism substantiate this agonistic sense of global politics with rotating reference to a pantheon of classical and modern philosophical figures, they nonetheless consistently fail to mention one particular name: Nietzsche. This is a remarkable absence considering the fact that Nietzsche was the most decisive intellectual influence for realism’s principal modern architect, Hans J. Morgenthau. It was Nietzsche, more than any other thinker, who served as Morgenthau’s ‘foremost intellectual authority’ (Frei 2001: 94). From his lifelong encounter with Nietzsche, Morgenthau developed his basic way of looking at people and things, the ontological and conceptual coordinates that would ground the realist paradigm (Frei 2001: 94). This intellectual convergence between Nietzsche and Morgenthau presents a serious challenge to realists. It reveals to them that one of their most important philosophical forerunners remains a little known figure, an unnamed origin. » More

Interview – Michael Walzer

Israel and Gaza

Israel and Gaza. Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/flickr.

Professor Michael Walzer is one of America’s foremost political philosophers and public intellectuals. He has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy, including political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice, and the welfare state. He played a critical role in the revival of a practical, issue-focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. He has published 27 books and over 300 articles, including  Just and Unjust WarsOn Toleration, and Arguing About War. He has served as editor of the political journal Dissent for more than three decades, and is a contributor to The New Republic. He graduated Summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a B.A. in History, studied at the University of Cambridge on a Fulbright Fellowship (1956–1957) and completed his doctoral work at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. in Government in 1961. Currently, he is working on issues having to do with international justice and the new forms of welfare, as well as on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought.

Professor Walzer answers reader questions about intervention in Syria, just war in the age of drones, preventing genocide and mass atrocities, and Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. » More

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