In this episode of Marksism, the editors discuss Mark Tooley’s discussion with Hal Brands, author of “The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order”, about the US-China rivalry. Then Mark Melton summarizes his conversation with Robert Nicholson and the war between the Armenians and Azerbaijan, followed by Marc LiVecche’s review of a conversation with Brian Zahnd.

Rough Transcript

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton, for scintillating conversation about three topics from this week. Firstly, an interview with Hal Brands of American Enterprise Institute on his perspective on the U.S.-China strategic competition. Secondly, Mark Melton will tell us about his interview with Robert Nicholson on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And finally, we’re going to look at an interview with prominent pastor and author Brian Zahnd on his views on war and peace. He is a Christian anti-violence advocate.

LiVecche: Not a pacifist.

Tooley: Not a pacifist, as he insisted, as we’ll dissect later. But firstly, Hal Brands from AEI, and also teaching at Johns Hopkins, wrote a very good piece for AEI on regime realism in terms of how the U.S. addresses China. I found it very helpful, and that Hal Brands is not a strict realist nor idealist, but rather believes that for reasons both realistic and ideological, U.S. is in competition with China and would be no matter what because of what the U.S. is as a democracy. Which he believes is intrinsically threatening to the regime in Beijing. He also is optimistic and believes that the U.S. has the internal resources to outlast and to compete with China, and also noticed that China for all of its bluster is a regime often lacking in confidence, as dictatorships often do. Because they never quite know where they are with their own people in a closed society. So, Marc LiVecche, as a Christian realist, what is your response to the regime realism of Hal Brands?

LiVecche: Yeah, that was excellent. I appreciated the interview immensely. I think what he’s describing in his qualified endorsement of realism is at least some version of what we are putting forward in Providence. Realism is great. Realism is not enough. You have to have the moral component to it, and he recognizes that. So, I think that’s wonderful. And that dovetails nicely with our own aspirations. I think his push for the ideological conflict that exists between the United States and China is essential. I think ideology very often gets under looked. I wonder how much in some ways our own dedication to a liberal order scuttles our ability to recognize that ideology actually can really run very deep, and it’s sometimes not compatible with competing ideologies. Sometimes a conversation cannot work these things through. They run too deeply; they are too defining to be easily dismissed. This came home to me. I was writing this book Moral Horror on the bombing of Hiroshima. And I was reading just about some of the early conflict between Japan and China and the early 1930s, and there was a historic footnote about one of the things that China did to try to prevent the Japanese from infiltrating deeper inland. When their army was beginning to overwhelm the Chinese army, one of the things the Chinese nationalists did was to bomb the dikes of the Yellow River in order to flood great swathes of land and prevent Japanese egress into the interior. And the footnotes, all of this, it was a horrific event, of course, because it killed probably at least a half a million Chinese, but it did prevent, for a time, Japanese infiltration. And the historic footnote to this I think touches on what Hal Brand talks about. And it’s that the Yellow River was always seen as both a great good but also a potential calamity for the Chinese in that it was prone toward flooding, and whenever it would flood it would kill and devastate. It would kill millions, or many, and devastate great swathes of the land. Therefore, the Chinese government had to take a central and authoritarian role in maintaining the structure of the dikes. They couldn’t rely on local constituents to do so. It had to be centralized, and it contributed to an obsession with control, because if the dikes failed, they would flood. Therefore, the government would be seen as failing, and the government would fall. And so, this idea that for hundreds of years within Chinese society, this propensity toward a centralized commanding control over the land and the people, ran deep. And just beginning to recognize, and recognizing the benevolent component of this if we want to protect our people, not just our hold on power, we have to have this centralized obsessive authoritarian control. It runs that deep. It’s going to matter in current national politics. And so, I think his underlining that is provocative and incredibly necessary.

Tooley: As I understand hardcore secular realism, it tends to minimize ideological differences between regimes and imagine there are these intrinsic interests to all nations, regardless of regime. So Hal Brands challenges, quite rightly, that perspective. Mark Melton, tell us about your chat with Robert Nicholson about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Melton: Right. So, I talked with Robert Nicholson earlier this week and the podcast dropped yesterday, talking about the latest war in Artsakh, or Nagorno-Karabakh, if I’m pronouncing those words correctly, between that territory and Azerbaijan. I think a lot of our listeners probably know, if you follow us on a regular basis, about the conflict there. But for those who don’t, this territory has been part of Azerbaijan, the global community recognizes it, but the Republic of Artsakh declares its own independence. And I think the Republic of Armenia recognizes it but Azerbaijan did not. Starting in September, or actually earlier this year, conflict resumed. And last week, the party signed a peace treaty brokered by Russia that basically gives a lot of territory to Azerbaijan’s control. And this is a pretty dramatic loss for the Armenians. And like I said, we’ve run multiple articles about this conflict already, but in my conversation with Robert, we did a little bit of a deeper dive, talking about what does this mean for Armenians. What does this land actually mean to them, both historically, they have a lot of monasteries there, and also, I think there’s a lot of strategic loss there. When you look at maps, which if you go to the podcast page, I showed the maps there. And it’s very difficult. I mean, they’re going to have to build some new roads to the mountain, so that this territory can sustain itself without the Azeris cutting them off. Right now, Russian peacekeepers are going to be in the area. They’re going to be kind of spread out. It looks like, I’m still waiting to see some more details on that, but they’re going to be there for 5-10 or so years. But if they go, then this territory I think could be under threat again very quickly. And so, the Armenian Prime Minister is probably on his way out. I don’t think he’s officially out yet, but it’s going to be very difficult for him. Meanwhile, Turkey I would say has gained a lot out of this. We ran another article by Walter, who says that Russia is the big winner. I’m kind of mixed on that opinion, but there’s lots of hot takes on that on the web that you can look at. But we talked about that, Nicholson and I, about Turkey’s gains out of this, because basically Turkey and Azerbaijan wanted to change the status quo, and they did. And that is the essence of geopolitical power. I know Ian Bremmer kind of said last week that this is an example of a world where Armenia had a lot of support, or soft power support, in the global diaspora, and yet it failed them, because Turkey and Azerbaijan were able to use their military power. And I think part of this military power is also the use of drones, that really countered the Armenian strategy. And so, this is going to be a New World Order that we’re starting to see more and more of, what I think the New World Order is going to be for the next 20 years in this conflict, because it I think is some testing ground on what strategies might work going forward.

Tooley: Very good. Thank you, Mark Melton. And then finally, taking a look at this interview I had with the Kansas City area pastor Brian Zahnd, who is a fairly well-known author in Christian circles and a prominent advocate of Christian non-violence, which we would call pacifism, which he prefers to call opposition to war and opposition to violence because he does not want to be passive. But essentially, he recounts that he became a non-violence advocate after the Persian Gulf War and during the Iraq War under the influence, unsurprisingly, of Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. Interestingly, his caveats, as opposed to others in his school of thought, he does support violence in terms of law enforcement, but he thinks violence militarily is on a scale that should be unacceptable to Christians. So, Marc LiVecche, you are a Just War scholar, what is your response to Brian Zahnd’s Christian arguments for non-violence?

LiVecche: Yeah, I appreciate that you did the interview. And just to note, I don’t think the interview is on Providence, right? It’s over on The IRD Juicy Ecumenism?

Tooley: Yes, it’s on the IRD’s Juicy Ecumenism blog, but we’re discussing it because it’s essential to the themes of Providence.

LiVecche: Oh absolutely. Just in case they go looking for it, which they should go look for it, it’s over there. I’m unconvinced. I hope that doesn’t surprise anybody. Thoroughly unconvinced. I’ve never understood, and I’m glad that you’ve tapped out to try to get him to explain it, I’ve never understood this distinction between how it’s okay for the police to in the last resort draw their weapon and fire and somehow then, nevertheless, I think it’s not allowed for soldiers to do the same thing. I’ve never understood that. I’m not necessarily accusing Brian Zahnd of this, but at root that seems awfully sort of self-serving. It’s like really good that we live in this particular zip code where we have a generally well-functioning society and we can have a police force that protects us, but when you look abroad and you see innocents being trampled can’t do anything about that. It’s really a shame to be you in malfunctioning societies. I’ve never understood that, frankly, the Christian charity that could propose that arrangement. That seems uncharitable. I appreciate his distinction that pacifism is not passive. He’s right. A lot of people will try to make that claim. And to their credit, the Claibornes, and the Hauerwases, and the Zahnds, they try to do a great many things to support and to promote the common good. But at some point, and this has always struck me as the central dilemma of pacifism, at some point if, as C.S. Lewis said, if our good people are pacifists, then eventually we’re going to live in a world where there are no pacifists. And why is that? Well, it’s because the bad people who will apparently run unrestrained will eventually eat all the good people. So, pacifism is ultimately going to be self-defeating. I don’t believe that soul force, where we’d like best intentions or prayer, are ever going to be sufficient in this world to prevent the wolves from coming after the sheep. History doesn’t bear that out. Any recognition of the disposition of the human soul doesn’t support that claim. It seems rather that the Just War tradition, operating in the same insistence on last resort that Brian Zahnd insisted the police exercise, the Just War tradition better than pacifism accounts both for the conditions of history and the disposition of the human soul. It looks for that which is the most reliable, most efficacious, most proportionate, most discriminate, most efficient means that is also the most rights-respecting for the largest groups of people to protect the innocent, to take back what’s been wrongly taken, and to punish evil. That’s been the tradition that the Christian Church, and the Greco Romans, and the Jews have been able to utilize. And I think Brian Zahnd is on shaky ground when he dismisses that. I’ve said before, it’s never a question of non-violence. If you asked me if we can promote the common good through violence or non-violence, and both are equally effective, altruism and non-violence every day. But it, in fact, is not the conditions of the world that we can choose between violence and non-violence. The Just War tradition, Christian realists, are reactive. We never launched into new acts of violence, violence has been launched and we have to respond to it. So, at the end of the day, as I’ve said before, I think pacifists are only committed to not exercising violence themselves. They don’t seem to be willing to exercise violence to protect the innocent. So, in the passivist scheme, the only people who use violence are the evildoers. And that is not charitable.

Tooley: I tried to make the point that some understanding of Just War was common to every major tradition of Christianity, and to depart from it was essentially to depart from the ethics of ecumenical Christianity. He of course argued that it was not intrinsic to early Christianity, which he insisted was pacifist. But the historical record of that is very sketchy.

LiVecche: Right. No, thoroughly agreed. And we’ve had, I think most recently, J. Daryl Charles trounced that view in the pages of Providence. There’s an article, I think it’s still up on the on the main page, people can go look at. Your invoking of Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine was apt. That book has not been refuted. It’s far more complicated than that simplistic purity of the Christian church pre-Constantine, and then Augustine comes along and screws the whole thing up in order for Christians to be relevant and maintain power.

Tooley: It’s the mythology of so-called primitive Christianity.

LiVecche: Mythology both of primitive Christianity, and it’s a Marcionite refusal to recognize that we are a Hebraic faith. And so, if you cut out the whole Hebrew Bible, and you cut out the New Testament, and you look at a very mythologized view of the early church, maybe you can come up with what they come up with, but it’s bad scholarship. It doesn’t work.

Tooley: And of course, we at Providence firmly stand against Marcionism.

LiVecche: Yes, sir.

Tooley: In all of its forms.

LiVecche: Not Marksism, but Marcionism.

Tooley: Marksism is the exact opposite of Marcionsim. Fellos Mark(c)s, Mark Melton, Marc LiVecche, thank you for another fascinating conversation. Until next week, bye bye.

LiVecche: All right.

Melton: Thank you.