Yesterday I used a line from an old piece from the late Steven Den Beste’s spectacular blog USS Clueless to describe why Donald Trump has no issue using the Lori Kalusius case vs Joe Scarborough, Re-reading the base piece in question it occurs to me that in that post Mr. Den Beste, despite dying in 2016 before the Trump presidency. managed to sum up what it would be like a full 15 years before it happened. Here is the piece in it’s entirety
(On Screen): For about the fifth time in a week, I have written a longish response to a reader and then decided that it would make a good post instead. (It’s a way of leveraging my time, I guess; it gives me the liberty of spending a long time on response to a letter.)
Dave from the UK discovered my site a couple of days ago and wrote to me about it. I answered some of his questions, and noted how he seemed puzzled by some of what Americans do. So I pointed him to Walter Russell Mead’s brilliant article describing the influence of Jacksonianism on American foreign policy. Dave responded to that with an attempt to claim that it seemed to him that it should be in the interests of Jacksonians to support world government and the world rule of law, and he didn’t understand their (our) deep antipathy to it.
I suppose I should mention in passing that I don’t totally align with pure Jacksonianism as described by Mead. For one thing, it relies heavily on a strong religious tradition and I’m an atheist. But I identify much more strongly with the Jacksonian policy than I do with any of the other three that Mead describes (Wilsonian, Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian). So quoting Dave and interspersing my responses:
There is a particular….attitude that Mr Mead attributes to the Jacksonian party in his piece which seems to be more dogma than sense. The assumption that any attempt to establish an international framework is doomed to failure. This is a nihilistic argument. Later in the piece Mr Mead cites the post WW2 reconstruction of W.Germany and Japan as being within the Jacksonian tradition and positive for the common good. This I accept and agree with.
I had always thought that the small government, free-enterprise tradition, of the United States was its greatest strength. “The business of America is business” and for immigrants willing to work the streets can be paved with gold BUT. Free enterprise requires regulation and rule of law to work. Without it all transactions are COD and so all economies limited to the high street.
For the Jacksonian party to be able to prosper and thrive in their individual and self-sufficient tradition then, on a national and international level they must accept a degree of regulation and rule of common law for free trade to function correctly.
Economically crippled post WW1 Germany led to WW2. Economically viable and INTERNATIONALLY LINKED post WW2 W.Germany made the concept of a war with its trading partners unthinkable.
It isn’t really dogma, it’s just realism. Jacksonians know that there are really nasty people out there and know that it isn’t possible to avoid dealing with them. There have always been nasty people and there always will be in the future. Jacksonian foreign policy is crafted to succeed even when other people are pricks.
Jacksonians don’t consider the pacification of Germany to be the result of law or diplomacy. They think that it’s the result of American military occupation. To put it simply, European peace was made possible by an American threat of war, fifty years of occupation by several American divisions and other military assets. That was the critical difference between 1920 and 1946; in 1920 American Wilsonians tried using diplomacy and the concept of international law and cooperation and friendship and trust, and failed. In 1946, American Jacksonians used military power instead, and succeeded.
George Marshall epitomizes the Jacksonian approach to things. During WWII, as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marshall as top military officer of the US led us to total victory over Germany, Italy and Japan. After the war, as Secretary of State, Marshall as the top diplomatic officer of the US led us to lasting peace and friendship with those same nations. He was resolute in war, and forgiving and generous in peace, and won both the war and the peace. But he didn’t become friendly and generous to Germany, Italy and Japan until after they had been totally defeated.
And a thousand years of Western European war was ended by American military occupation. (Which is why Jacksonians find European preaching against our military might to be ironic and deeply hypocritical. Europe has disarmed and ceased to rely on military power, but it was only capable of doing so because of American military strength. Europeans didn’t need armies to threaten each other because they were all being threatened by us as a neutral outsider.)
Jacksonians do not think that international frameworks and international cooperation are impossible or unnecessary. But Jacksonians believe that such frameworks should be limited, concentrated, and closely monitored. Cooperation is possible without trust if it is backed with vigilance and the will to retaliate for cheating. (Retaliation can take many forms, of course; it’s not exclusively military.)
And to Jacksonians, trust is foolhardy. There are a lot of good people out there, but there are also a lot of bastards, and if you turn your back someone will stab you in it. “Trust, but verify” is a purely Jacksonian watchword. Those who act honorably will be treated honorably, but those who cheat will be crushed.
This is, however, totally opposite to the more utopian vision of Wilsonians and some Europeans, of a new international order based not on vigilance and retaliation but rather on good will and cooperation and friendship. Were that possible, the result would be wonderful. But Jacksonians think such ideas are delusional; there are just too many people out there waiting for an opportunity to cheat.
In fact, trust does work in some cases. There are people out there who are honorable. But it’s better not to depend on it, and Jacksonians don’t think that it’s necessary to do so. Jacksonians are always prepared for betrayal, because it will happen, somewhere, by someone, eventually.
The structures we require to maintain international trade can be sustained without trust or any kind of world government. Such international frameworks work quite well as long as they are limited, monitored and enforced by a threat of war or other retaliation. What won’t work is any kind of utopian world government where the people of the world band together in peace, harmony and brotherhood, and cooperate with each other just because they’re such nice folks and all. They ain’t. Probably a lot of them are, but there are always going to be bad apples, and there will always be some who will cheat if they think they can get away with it. Such people will react to scolding and other toothless diplomatic reactions to their cheating with contempt; the only solution for them is to nail them to the wall.
The rule of law works within our nation because it is enforced by police and the courts. The rule of international law works because we’re willing to fight when others ignore it if we think the issues involved are sufficiently important.
By Jacksonian lights, no rule of law works without the threat of force, and if the threat of force is removed then lawbreakers will come out of the woodwork. And sometimes they’ll appear anyway, which is why war will always be with us and why good Jacksonians make sure that their nation always remains militarily strong.
Having police and courts doesn’t prevent crime, but it does give us the ability to deal with it. By the same token having a strong military doesn’t prevent the need for war, but it does give us a better chance of winning when the time comes. Nobody wants a war, but if you have to fight one it’s much better to win it than to lose it.
And the police do deter some crime, and having a strong military does prevent some threats of war. Jacksonians are deeply practical; perfect solutions aren’t possible and this one is the best available to us.
While it’s true that some degree of international regulation is required in order for trade and other international dealings to take place, Jacksonians are always suspicious of such regulations because they want to make sure that the regulators don’t have an ulterior motive, and to make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules. The situation works because it is subject to constant scrutiny and because we don’t go overboard relying on it.
Basically, Jacksonians believe that others will play fair, but some of them will only do so as long as they know they’re being watched.
In its distrust/rejection of international government the Jacksonian party hurts itself. Jacksonian traditions and goals of free enterprise and self-reliance can spread globally via Global Free Trade, without it, their capacity to prosper within the US itself is constrained and ultimately doomed.
Jacksonians don’t have any interest in spreading their philosophy around the world. It isn’t evangelistic; indeed, the entire concept of trying to actively spread that or any other philosophy around the world is deeply repugnant to pure Jacksonians. Jacksonians are anti-imperialistic.
The whole point of Jacksonianism is “You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone. You play fair with me and I’ll play fair with you. But if you fuck with me, I’ll kill you.”
To Jacksonians, it is entirely possible to create an adequate world framework of consistent and fair behavior, sufficient to support trade, through vigilance and the threat of reprisal (military or otherwise). Going beyond that to a world government as such is neither necessary, desirable nor even possible, and the best case is where there is as little international framework and governance as can be: only the bare minimum required but no more. Anything beyond that will eventually be abused by someone, so it’s better to do without it.
Wilsonians want a world government. Jacksonians think that’s a fool’s quest. And contrary to your supposition that world government is required for successful international trade, the reality is that the last fifty years of international trade were managed under Jacksonian principles, and quite successfully too.
Free trade inside the US works because of the threat of force implicit in the police and the courts. Free trade works internationally because we are strong, alert and willing to retaliate against those who cross us. To Jacksonians, that is sufficient. Nothing else is needed, and nothing else can work.All italics represent quotes in the orgional all bold is my empasis
I defy anyone to read that post, particularly the parts I’ve bolded and not think: My God, he’s talking about Donald Trump.
Incidentally Mr. Den Beste was in my opinion, one of the greatest bloggers who ever lived. his writing was intelligent, well reasoned. That most people today have never heard of him and even those who might have heard of him in passing, but never read his work, have no idea what they missed.
I submit and suggest that he is definitely worth your time and I’d suggest a peek at the old archives or if you’re (unlike me) into Anime, his last blog chizumatic which in his final post referring to a possible outage warning from his internet provider, ironically closes with this, the last line that he would ever blog: