Posted by: Jeff | July 25, 2010

Cosmopolitanism at the Barrel of a Gun

I’m not sure if this post by Joe Carter is the most idiotic I’ve ever read, but surely it could qualify as most idiotic of the month. Or at least of the week.

Carter essentially takes this statement by Matt Yglesias — “a cosmopolitan politics is about taking seriously the idea that the welfare of Chinese people is as objectively important as the welfare of Americans” — with which I am in total agreement, and concludes that this requires all cosmopolitan progressives to support the invasion of Iraq. Since, if said cosmopolitan progressives considered the welfare of Iraqis to be just as important as that of Americans, then “they would have supported regime change in Iraq—indeed they should support military interventionism in every country on earth in which people are being oppressed by their governments.”

Right. Because the way you demonstrate that you value the lives and hopes and struggles of another people as much as your own is by invading their country on false pretenses, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of their citizens, decimating their infrastructure, and setting loose the worst elements of socio-ethnic violence within their society. All as part of an occupation for which you have neither the manpower nor the resources to dedicate a genuine follow-through. Honestly, I’m kind of gobsmacked that Carter, who I generally take to be one of the more intelligent religious conservatives operating in the blogosphere, would invoke this line of argument.

By what metric has he determined that Iraqis in their current circumstance are better off than they were before the invasion? By what metric has he determined that the sacrifice in American blood and treasure was worth that shift? I would genuinely love to know, because the question strikes me as so fraught by moral variables and complexity as to be impossible to answer. If Carter has come up with some way to cut through that fog, I am, in earnest, all ears. But I seriously doubt that’s the situation. I suspect his thinking got about as far as “Iraq with dictator equals bad, Iraq without dictator equals better,” which is simplistic and juvenile reasoning, to put it mildly. Especially when getting rid of said dictator required, you know, launching a frickin’ war against their country.

Carter is ignoring pretty much all questions of how real, concrete human lives are proceeding on-the-ground in Iraq. Call me crazy, but I’m a tad bit skeptical that inflicting military violence upon Iraqi society on a massive scale is the best way of demonstrating that we consider their lives to be of equal worth to our own.

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Responses

  1. You seem to have missed my point. I am not saying that the regime change in Iraq was good or bad. I’m merely saying that a consistent cosmopolitan would have supported it. My point in using the reductio ad absurdum was to show that advocating cosmopolitanism is nonsensical since no one really adheres to it in a consistent manner.

    ***invading their country on false pretenses***

    A consistent cosmopolitan does not believe that nation-state boundaries trump the human rights of individuals. They would support the invasion based on humanitarian grounds alone.

    ***slaughtering hundreds of thousands of their citizens***

    Americans did not slaughter “hundreds of thousands of their citizens.” If you are going to make a utilitarian comparison based on cosmopolitan principles, you’d have to account for the number of people that died annually under Hussein. Since the number was much less after the war, a consistent cosmopolitan would say that they are better off.

    ***decimating their infrastructure***

    The Americans didn’t decimate the infrastructure of Iraq. We’ve rebuilt more than was destroyed. But for a cosmopolitan, the lack of roads does not trump the human rights considerations.

    ***and setting loose the worst elements of socio-ethnic violence within their society***

    A cosmopolitan would say that is the reason more needs to be done, not a reason to do nothing in the first place.

    ***All as part of an occupation for which you have neither the manpower nor the resources to dedicate a genuine follow-through.***

    ***Honestly, I’m kind of gobsmacked that Carter, who I generally take to be one of the more intelligent religious conservatives operating in the blogosphere, would invoke this line of argument.***

    Again, the point is not that we should have invaded Iraq. The point is that cosmopolitans don’t truly believe what they claim. Cosmopolitanism is a utopian idea that is unworkable in real world. Its fine to adhere to it in generic term (as a Christian, I too believe in the equal dignity of all people). But as public policy, progressives are the first to abandon the principle when it conflicts with the real world issues.


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