Anti-Quote of the Day

Thomas PM Barnett:

“Bottom line: mature democracies trust populists more, while authoritarian states like fellow rightists.”

I like Barnett, and many of his ideas.  However, quotes like this that make me think that he belongs in a cloistered think tank deep in the beltway, where his thoughts would probably have less impact than they currently do.

15 thoughts on “Anti-Quote of the Day”

  1. My high school baseball coach used to say you’re never as good as you look when you’re winning and never as bad as you look when you’re losing. Barnett is at the top of his game. But it’s never seemed that high to me.

  2. It’s an effective statement. It got you, and probably other bloggers, to link and to start a discussion centered around Barnett’s ideas.

    Whether the statement is valid or not is a separate question.

  3. “Bottom line: mature democracies trust populists more, while authoritarian states like fellow rightists.”

    That doesn`t make sense at all.

    Mature democracies* are structurally conservative, so they will tend to have conservative governments, unless the Conservatives keep mess ing up (such as the Tories in the UK). And authoritarian governments usually sound just like our more unhinged and/or stupid populists.

    *There aren`t all that many truly mature democracies around. Among those I count the US, Switzerland, the UK, Canada and Australia. The rest of us is gradually maturing but by no means mature yet.

  4. His “SysAdmin”-“gap” stuff is just politically correct rehashed imperialism, which is apparently exactly what the military likes to hear. His style is also too brief, and he has little knowledge of economics (beyond Keynesian untruths) and (classical liberal) history. He is a very quick and smart thinker of course, but not a deep one.

    I don’t think the old Brits would be very impressed.

    This quote also seems too vague to respond too. What does he mean by rightists? Is Hitler a rightist? And Ralf’s point about “mature democracies” is appropriate. I guess he means Western Europe, which I would by no means call mature democracies, although their inhabitants like to think they are beyond history, the coming years will show how shaky the foundations are there.

    It would be better to separate between “democracies” with a constitutional history and those without. This correlates with the Anglosphere of course, although there are pockets of constitutionalists around elsewhere. The huge diversity of state forms around also doesn’t lend to easy generalizing.

  5. And Ralf’s point about “mature democracies” is appropriate. I guess he means Western Europe, which I would by no means call mature democracies,

    What I indeed meant is that the Anglosperic nations plaus Switzerland are the only truly mature democracies. By this measure, Western Europe minus the UK and Switzerland is adolescent at best (so the claim to know everything better is kind of fitting).

    the coming years will show how shaky the foundations are there.

    Well, yes, puberty is like that

  6. My impression has been that populism attracts those with a vision the government is responsible for class divisions, the woes of the lower classes, and, in general, the miseries of our daily existence. This may be a mistake on my part, but my assumption came from the teachers I’ve had who thought in what I considered a “populist” way (pro-labor union, pro-protectionist, etc.), people who thought like Willy Stark (Long), Lou Dobbs, and John Steinbeck (whose sympathies and skills transcend some of the silliness of such thinking). Of course, the appeal to populist values was more often in my experience done by a bunch of academics hanging around parties and singing old Wobbly songs, expecting to pay their babysitters “off the book,” and talking about the evils of Wal-mart. But they thought they were in solidarity with those workers at Wal-Mart and their oppressed baby-sitter.

    Wikipedia describes this as neither right nor left, but isn’t that because the solutions to populist feeling are statist and therefore both the right and the left argue that giving them the power of the state will lead to a solution that takes care of the populist needs?

    My immpression has been that immature states which have a limited experience and perhaps a limited constitutional tradition of handling the demands of factions are those that are attracted, when the economy is bad or threats arise within or without, to strong authoritarian leaders – they want a father figure who will make their lives better. Of course, that strong figure may be either categorized as right or left, but we know, similar passions put Hitler and Stalin in office and similar dictates came out of those offices.

    It seemed to me pretty obvious when we heard populist rhetoric from some of the current failed states we knew where they were going – and that it wasn’t going to be good. But, I may be quite wrong about populism – I would welcome instruction.

    Barnett’s big picture & sense of the importance of transparency seems helpful. Still, my impression was that Barnett himself came out of a tradition more sympathetic to populism and so that probably influences his thinking.

  7. Hi Everyone,

    Tom has, a tendency to post in shorthand sometimes, saving elaborate definitions of terms for articles and books. “Populism”, “Authoritarian”, “democracies” and “rightists” are all hugely elastic terms that have varying degrees of congruency and contrast.

    Given that Tom was originally a Harvard trained Sovietologist he could have defined his terms if he had wanted to get into a philosophical discussion. My take is that he was saying that the New Core states prefer hard-eyed but predictable conservatives ( Nixon, Reagan) while the Old Core likes our touchy-feely, posturing liberals ( Carter, Clinton) having a higher tolerance for the uncertainty they create

  8. My problem with the quote is the embedded assumptions. Authoritarians are only rightists? Really? When did the PRC become right-wing, and how exactly was the transformation accomplished? Does this mean that the PRC is a fascist state?

    I am also suspicious of the idea that the Old Core trusts our populists more. The conflict is more subsumed because populists will flatter them more than hard eyed SOBs on the right would but countries, Old Core or New Core have no friends, only interests.

  9. Hi TM,

    I agree with you regarding authoritarianism in general.

    Re: the PRC I think with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism discredited the party props itself up by fusing it’s empty ideology with great power nationalism, limited encouragement of xenophobia and the promise of high rates of economic growth and improved living standards. The use of nationalism may be cynical but it’s resonance in the new middle class is real

  10. I never really viewed any of the current Dems (with possible exception of John Edwards) as populists. In my earlier post on The Sustainabliity of Progressivism, I noted that the next wave of Democrats appear to be urban service-industry yuppies–not much populism there, either. Yes, there is claptrap about the plight of the American Worker(tm), but that’s just posturing for the union vote, not a sincere attempt to actually have a populist-oriented program.

    I think someone else alluded to the idea that authoritarianism is inherently rightist. We all know that it’s not, and it’s even worth mentioning that Fascism probably isn’t even a rightist ideology–it’s program is socialist in character and full of change, void of conservative fundamentals like respect for private property.

    Bottom line, Barnett throws words around without much regard to the consequences. Before thinkers adopt his views, they NEED to put some rigor into his thoughts.

  11. Hitler got a lot of his ideology regarding the state straight from German philosophers like Hegel. One of our primary tasks as defenders of individual liberty against tyrannical powers is promoting a new understanding of what “rightist” means in the english-speaking world. It has very little to do with authoritarianism.

    As Albert Jay Nock pointed out somewhere: Hegel said that “the State is the general substance, whereof individuals are but accidents”, Hitler said that “the State dominates the nation because it alone represents it.” Mussolini said that “”the State embraces everything, and nothing outside the State has value. The State creates right”

    Not to mention Hitler’s final goodbye that explains that “the building of a National Socialist State, represents the work of the coming centuries, which places every single person under an obligation always to serve the common interest and to subordinate his own advantage to this end.”

    Now can anyone tell me what this has to do with the enshrinement and protection of individual rights and the history of constitutionalism and liberty in, predominantly, the english-speaking world. Time to redefine ourselves or combat those who put us in the company of these totalitarian tyrants.

  12. Zenpundit gets it right as usual.

    I apologize if the shorthand left too much to be inserted.

    But seriously, the over-analyzing here is a bit much.

    Lighten up. It’s summer.

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