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Interpreting Progressive Militarism: An Exchange with David Atkins

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David Atkins, whose recent Hullaballoo post I discussed here, has written a succinct reply to my piece. (Please see my original post for context). Atkins writes:

"A complete misinterpretation of my post. I'm advocating international consensus with credible enforcement as the means for resolving this problem. It's not as if there isn't a model for that: it's called a police force enforcing laws voted by consensus, and it's the model in every major world democracy.

"The tendency of hairless monkeys in every community and nation state is restricted by the progressive power of the community to limit the private power to enforce injustice. My argument isn't a difference in kind, but only in degree. I do not see the nation-state as the pinnacle of human governmental organization."

My reply:

Thanks for the response. However I disagree with the notion that my piece distorted your views. It dealt entirely with your idea about an international police force (or multinational peacekeeping force, as you originally put it) to impose enlightened, civilized values on nations, societies and religious groups. You reiterate those views here with admirable clarity. Where then is the misinterpretation? I simply tried to apply the logic of the system you advocate to existing reality, and inquired how such a system would really work in practice.

But the questions I addressed in my piece remain unanswered: Who will control this force? Who will pay for it, equip it, command it, staff it? (I see in the comments to your original post that you call for international conscription for the latter, even volunteering to sign up for a two-year hitch yourself. I applaud you for that; too many of our advocates for military solutions never offer to join the military crusades they advocate.) But again, who makes the decisions for this international military force, which must of necessity be a gargantuan war machine, capable of invading nations and bending not just whole countries but, in your own words, whole civilizations to its will?



Or to use your latest terms, who will forge this "international consensus"? Who will define and decide precisely which values, beliefs, policies and practices of this or that "in-group" requires "credible enforcement" by armed force? How will these deciders and definers be chosen? By whom? By what mechanism? Who will validate this choice? If, as you clearly say, we are all "essentially hairless monkeys whose basic dispositions haven't evolved that much" and who will "fight each other for the stupidest reasons," which group of stupid, unevolved, violent hairless monkeys do you suggest take on this leadership role?

These are all your own words and concepts, by the way. They are not being "misinterpreted"; they are being carefully considered and taken seriously. And if one does you the honor of taking your proposal seriously, such questions about "command and control" of this international police force keep multiplying. And given the terms you lay out, there is no apparent answer as to who will make these decisions other than a self-appointed elite who have somehow evolved a higher understanding.

It is clear that you don't see the nation-state as "the pinnacle of governmental organization." That's fine. Only a fool would believe that any kind of organization devised by imperfect human beings is a "pinnacle" that cannot be bettered. But that is not the issue here. The issue is the kind of human governmental organization you are advocating, and if such an organization -- predicated on the power of implacable, irresistible violence -- would in fact produce a more peaceful, humane and happy world.

And no one denies that these matters involve "differences in degree." But that is true of almost everything. I have a small cut on my arm: one doctor prescribes a dab of alcohol to prevent infection; another doctor prescribes hacking the whole arm off with a machete. This isn't a difference in kind, but only in degree. It is the degree that is the whole question here. A local police force is entirely different, in degree, from a global military force capable of breaking whole nations and killing vast amounts of people to impose "the progressive power of the community" (as defined by unknown people according to unknown criteria.)

Again, I believe I have not misinterpreted your post at all. If anything, I have understood your post -- taken it more seriously, thought about it more carefully -- than you seem to have. In the end, I think it comes down to the "Karamazov question": which innocent child should we kill to ensure universal peace and harmony? And who will make that decision?

And yes, it is a difference in degree: in order to have a local police force, making arrests with warrants, writing tickets, etc., you don't necessarily have to rip the bodies of small children to shreds. But you cannot have a "international police force" capable of doing what you specifically advocate -- invading and "policing" whole nations and societies and civilizations and imposing your value system on them-- without killing many, many innocent people, over and over again.

Perhaps this doesn't trouble you. Perhaps this collateral damage is, in Madeline Albright's famous words, "worth it" to you in order that your idea of proper order be imposed across the world. But such considerations do trouble me. And that's why I addressed them in my piece.

 

Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more...)
 

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