Recently, in the excellent Ikle review comment thread, James McCormick, had some very insightful (and erudite) remarks:
RE: “deep cultural” and “economic meta-” perspectives.
The two may seem very different however the Anglosphere discussion has often focused on the economic impacts of social behaviour. It’s not random chance that we still quote an 18th century lowland Scot (Adam Smith) on so many economic issues. Nor that he was first out of the gate. Nor that his good buddy Hume and inspiration Locke provided so much of the foundation for political science. And economic historians like Joel Mokyr and the duo that described the economic and social impact of Newton’s Principia specifically addressed why the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions (or in Mokyr’s view, an “Industrial Englightenment”) were so dependent on the unique social structure of England, and Scotland. Indeed, the work of Crosby on the momentous intellectual and economic changes of northern Italy directly sets the stage for trading republics in Holland and England. When we turn to economic historians like David Landes, or naval historians like N.A.M. Rodger, they help us put our finger directly on the nexus of culture and economics (or political “evolution”). Jim Bennett’s point is that the Anglosphere nation-state is manufactured out of non-zero sum deals — Burkean communities and Lockean contracts. The social habits to do this (and to slowly transform their political partners into thinking it a very good approach) run very deep. And take a long time to acquire. And surely deserve some reference when prognosticating on how America should deal with a turbulent and dangerous world.
The bone I pick with Iklé and Barnett is that many of their assumptions about political and economic structure (which underpin their geopolitical hypothesizing) depend on a one-size-fits-all model of development that is supported by neither cultural historians nor economists. In fact, they bear no resemblance to any America, current or past (cf. David Hackett-Fisher’s “Albion’s Seed” and Samuel Huntington’s “Who are We?”). When I, as a Canadian, read geopolitical recommendations that require large numbers of Americans of a kind I’ve never met (after 40 years of living, studying, and working amongst them) — my first question is always “how many suns in the sky over *your* planet?” Both authors have something very important to offer. And both suffer from end-state “think-tanqueray.” IMHO. Fortunately, as with so much else, near-term history is going to be dictated by the politically possible rather than the academically plausible.
Let me address McCormick’s second point first.
Setting aside Ikle for the moment, Thomas Barnett or any other thinker who attempts to put an intellectual template on a global system is required to engage in simplification of complexity. It is, as James correctly states, a ” one-size-fits-all” model and not the underlying reality in all its’ nuances and interconnections. At best, a valid model identifies common operating principles and provides a rough predictive capability, considering those principles acting in isolation. As reality is messy, policy makers being guided by any model need to exercise some degree of common sense. Pakistan is not India, much less Indiana, and while markets may exist in all three, the wise statesman makes wide allowances for local variation. The variations however, still have a common touchstone.
In his the first point, McCormick expounds on the symbiotic relationship between economics and social behavior in the historical development of the Anglosphere. That fusion is correct but the cultivation or endurance of particularist identities, what 4GW theorists refer to as “primary loyalties” provide points of friction with the collective maximizing behavior of Economic Man. The Western experience with nationalism and the erection of the Westphalian system after the Thirty Year’s War blunts the reemergence of primary loyalties here. Few Germans today think of themselves first as Prussians or Saxons or Protestants but the same cannot be said of Iraqis or Congolese where tribe, clan and sect affiliations resonate. David Ronfeldt, the influential defense intellectual at RAND, refers to tribalism as ” the first and forever form” underlying society.
Western or Anglospheric societies overcame tribalism (broadly understood) with secularization driven both by politics and economics, over a considerable period of time. Economic Man, rational man, slowly gained the upper hand over the atavistic warrior. Defusing psychological anxieties over identity, moving society beyond subsistence level to a point where risk-taking could be more safely entertained, helped transition Europeans into the abstract mental framework of the nation-state citizen, rather than that of a subject of a provincial nobleman. Outside of the West, some states like Singapore have made that same cognitive jump in the very brief period of de-colonization but most have not. That doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t.
In short, I think the caveats raised by James are significant and should be incorporated into any application of Barnett’s ideas. I’m not sure however, that Dr. Barnett would disagree as he is offering a grand strategy or a “blueprint for action” rather than attempting to supervise the every move of the construction crew.