Blueprint for Divisiveness

Note: This is part of a series of reviews for Blueprint for Action. The introduction and table of contents are also available.

Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating,” by Thomas Barnett, 20 October 2005, [author blog]

I am glad to see…,” by Jeff, tdaxp, 13 November 2005,

A comment by Jeff of Caerdroia provides a perfect segue for the second part of my Blueprint for Action multi-review

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 KerryismRumsfeldism 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.

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 . 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:

Ahmadinejad Shunned by the world
Political Speech from Iran

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.

3 thoughts on “Blueprint for Divisiveness”

  1. Still haven't been able to work my schedule to permit me enough time to read Blueprint for Action, though I'm working on it, so I can't comment to the actual work and must focus solely on the cited passage.

    With regard to Barnett's placing domestic concerns in that section, I think it reflects his own conviction on the subjects mentioned. He is a democrat, even if a hawk, for a reason. He doesn't shy away from where he stands, and it's really part of his writing style (the blog's influence is notable). It might be divisive, but hey, you were able to see through his domestic stand and see the idea to which he was getting to, don't underestimate the ability of many in the Gap to do the same.

    Thanks for posting a brief window into BFA. It is much appreciated.

  2. Nykrindc,

    Thank you for the kind comment.

    I recognize the ability of many in the New Core and Seam to “see through” Barnett's writing — just as I recognize the ability of many in those places to say “No, please.” Barnett elsewhere writes about how direction is more important than speed, and trying to move too fast can get you nowhere. By presenting a litany of “triumphs” of American liberals to the New Core and Seam as progress on par with democracy, many in the New Core and Gap will wisely conclude that accepting globalization's cultural rule set includes accepting these themes into the public debate.

    Just as it is unlikely that the American people would have embarked on World War II if they could have seen the full consequences of it by, say, 1971, we should not be shocked if many in the New Core and Seam are hardened against us.

    In “Blueprint for Action,” Barnett repeatedly fails to see where globalizaton can co-opt powerful actors; instead he seeks to spread American social discourse out very quickly. But that is a post for another time…

  3. Larwyn

    Barnett's a feminist, and that's in his books too, but not as glaringly. Barnett typically couches his beliefs in practical terms — what is strangely missing from his defense of homosexualism.

    Take the last sentence of his “Hero yet Discovered: The Feminist Neocon.”:

    “Such a voice would have to acknolwedge the disutility of continuing to let America's support for women's rights in developing countries remain hostage to the white-hot politics of abortion back home.”

    Barnett's saying that America should have a feminist foreign policy on abortion, lives lost be damned. But he's smart enough to make it sound technocratic (“…acknowledge the disutility…”) and not overtly political.

  4. Essentially, then, the “connectivity” is really the building of cheesecloth or a wide net across the globe: tentative connections between America and misogynist, homophobic (what Dan might call, “antihomosexualist”), and even illiterate states in order to fake connectivity.

    Nope, I don't think so.

    As long as gaps are built in the process of globalization, it will not be globalization — even if the gaps are made diffuse throughout the world rather than allowed to follow the “old borders” of the “old, unglobalized world” as they now do.

    Barnett's problem is not that he mentions the things he mentions. His problem is in assuming that connectivity on an inter-NATIONal scale will be sustainable even if we largely disregard the issues of connectivity on an INTRA-national scale. This is a recipe for disaster. It will allow dissidence to fester within the “connected” states, and these “connected” states will ultimately prove unstable or weak because of this. It is the French Syndrome (and old British syndrome) — or a reworking of the colonialist principles of 2-3 centuries ago. Perhaps this isn't so much a criticism of Barnett, but a criticism of the criticisms of Barnett in this tdaxp post; still, the failure to recognize the importance of intranational connectivity leaves a large gap in the PNM theory…

  5. Larwyn,

    Excellent point on religion, sexuality, and democracy. Too-fast “westoxification” — the import of the most progressive Western values into non-Western countries — can create democratic movements we, and internal minorities, will not like.


    “As long as gaps are built in the process of globalization, it will not be globalization As long as gaps are built in the process of globalization, it will not be globalization ” is a form of fundementalism. It is an all-or-nothing attitude that is removed from practicality.

    The social friction of caused by homosexualist agitation is likely to create less intranational connectivity, not more.

    Larwyn and Curtis, I hope you both will check out It is the third part of my “Blueprint for Action” review, and touches on these subjects.

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