Note: This is part of a series of reviews for Blueprint for Action. The introduction and table of contents are also available.
“I am glad to see…,” by Jeff, tdaxp, 13 November 2005, http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/11/12/barnett-wrong-on-international-criminal-court-independence-f.html#c349284.
Commenting on Tom Barnett’s questionable words on the International Criminal Court, Jeff wrote:
I am glad to see Dr. Barnett in PNM (I haven’t read the new one yet) trying to find a positive liberal approach to the world. I disagree with him in certain aspects (his excessive optimism regarding China, and failure to see evidence that weighs against his brilliant insight of drawing a circle around the places where the US has intervened and looking for commonalities between the included and excluded parts, and so forth), but I am glad to see the attempt being made. If a muscular Left is to return in the US, this kind of effort is vital.
Indeed, Dr. Barnett doesn’t hide being a liberal hawk. While Dr. Barnett’s quixotic Kerryism–Rumsfeldism is a perfect defensible position (well, maybe), Dr. Barnett seems to have trouble decided whether he wants Blueprint for Action to be grand-strategy or liberal-strategy.
Take an excerpt from the best writing in the entire work: a commanding speech stretching from page 178 (“No one gets off free in this conflict…”) to 180 (“…and are willing to defend what they’ve earned.”).
Smack-dab in the middle of it, on page 179:
What I find so hilarious in this is the assumption of the Old Core types that their rejection of these ideas represents their death kneel, when nothing’s further from the truth.
Here’s a good example why: While Old Core Europe and Japan are more than a little bit tempted by Osama bin Laden’s offer of civilizational apartheid, both the United States and the New Core pillars understand what a false promise this truly is. America instinctively rejects the offer because., as citizens of the world’s free multinational economic and political union, we simply can’t accept the nation of a world thus divided. As a society blended from all civilizations, the very notion of such separatism is simply repulsive to our citizenry. For if such cultural apartheid really made sense, most of American history would have unfolded in vain — the Civil War, the suffragist movement, organized labor, civil rights, gay rights, and so on.
I read the section to each of my classes the week I read it, and got very good conversations out of it. While I had to change some phrases to match our text and their prior knowledge (“the Core” became “The Global North” or “the rich countries,” “the Gap” because “the Global South” or “the poor countries,” “the New Core” become “the new rising countries,” etc) I was very happy with the passage.
With the exception of the last half of the last quoted sentence.
Ultimately, I replaced it with:
For if such cultural apartheid really made sense, most of American history would have unfolded in vain — the Civil War, democracy, civil rights, and so on.”
Keeping Dr. Barnett’s original list, especially “gay rights,” would have distracted the issue away from his vision of “shrinking the Gap” and “ending war as we know it” to divisive and petty domestic concerns.
I have used concepts from Barnett in my classes this semester, and the student reaction has been extremely positive. One student reacted by approaching tears, asking “Why weren’t we just told this earlier? It make so much sense.” (I remember a similar response from a CSPAN caller once.) The materialism of student reaction surprised me (most students instinctively latched on to economy growth as the reason to defend globalization), showing that they already had the “New Core” mindset Dr. Barnett predicts for America.
Tom Barnett can be a wonderful writer, and his work overlaps well with our discussions of sovereignty, international organizations, and political economy.
I decided not to allow conversation like that to be hijacked by Dr. Barnett’s tone-deafness.
Worse, it is not just Nebraska undergraduates who will be reading Blueprint for Action. The people we most need to reach — New Core citizens in pivotal states — are the ones he is most likely to alienate.
One of my friends was an several-times-promoted officer in the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. He fits the stereotype of the modern Iranian: blaspheming, shaven, pork-eating, beer-drinking, dancing, etc. He was delighted when a friend still in Iran gave him this satiric picture of the “beloved” (heavy sarcasm) President Ahmednajad:
And his views on homosexualism would make Jerry Falwell blanch.
My purpose in this post is not to advocate capital punishment for sodomy. Indeed, as someone who referred to the weird, oddly-worded, and shellfish-strewn, wreckages in Leviticus” I oppose sodomy laws and “virtue” laws generally.
But the way to shrink the Gap is not to ruin your best work with domestic politics and is not to alienate the very progressive forces in New Core countries that globalization depends on.
The Barnett of Blueprint for Action is not the Barnett I first saw on CSPAN.
He still can spark a conversation, though.