Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Power of Example II

In the September/October Foreign Affairs, Joseph Biden is quoted thusly, “America’s greatest strength is not the example of our power but the power of our example.” These are not fightin’ but idealistic words and they make you wonder what would have happened if Biden had chosen to run. At the same time they beg the question of how such such lofty conceptions can be maintained, considering the complexity of international politics, and the subtext of Darwinism, (especially Spenser’s Social Darwinism), which turn every possible initiative into an agenda. The problem lies in distinguishing realpolitik from political ideals. Ideals cannot possibly exist in a vacuum, but sometimes it feels like the price the idealist pays is the discovery that everyone else is fighting with their gloves off. No matter. A politician like Biden is as experienced on the chessboard of international relations as anyone  so when he comes forth with a high-minded pronunciamento, readers may be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. But how seriously are we to take the constitution and the bill of rights? In the face of increasing violence and threats to security, Donald Trump will find considerable support for reinstituting the torture techniques used on terrorist suspects that were repudiated by the Obama administration. Taking the higher road always leaves the fear that Americans while setting an example may be caught with their pants down and the idea of holding the bar high always becomes more challenging, when adversaries who don’t, place it under threat.

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