In this episode, the editors discuss Alan Dowd’s article about the US defending democracy abroad, an interview with Samuel Goldman about his book After Nationalism, and a reflection on Donald Rumsfeld from Marc LiVecche.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, addressing you from a gas station in central Kentucky, with the pleasure of another episode of Marksism with fellow Providence editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. We’re reviewing three pieces from Providence this week. First, a piece defending America’s advocacy for democracy by Alan Dowd. Secondly, an interview by Mark Melton with Sam Goldman on his new book on America’s self-understanding. And thirdly, a personal reflection by Marc LiVecche on his personal acquaintance with the just deceased famous or infamous Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. So, first starting out with Alan Dowd’s piece, I liked it a great deal. I think perhaps this is a distinction between Christian realist and the pure realist, in that the pure realist would advocate a foreign policy largely divorced from democracy advocacy and harnessed on a concept that all nations follow their intrinsic self-interests irrespective of ideology. I think that the Christian realist, especially an American Christian realist, understands that America’s self-understanding is interwoven with our democratic identity and it’s always been part of the American soul that we wish democracy, not just for ourselves, but also for others. And that it’s also within our self-interests for the world to be friendly to democracy, understanding it’s unlikely the world will ever itself be fully democratic, but for the world at least, in Woodrow Wilson’s words, to be a safe place for democracy. But Marc LiVecche, your thoughts?
LiVecche: Absolutely that. It’s Christian Realism. It’s both things. It doesn’t discount the fact, irrefutable I think, history underlines this, stresses, that nations, like individuals, are going to behave according to their interest. But when you understand that interests very often encompass values and that values can support those interests, then the Christian realist position comes into greater clarity. Alan argues that it’s in our interest to cultivate, not accidentally fall into, but to actively cultivate, strength to have the capacity to project that strength and to demonstrate the credibility that we’ll use that strength when our interests or our alliances are put at risk. So, that’s important. He talks about the importance of friends, right. We need alliances. And to go back to a distinction that Bridge Colby made in an interview that Strand and I did with him sometime back, it’s not just alliances, but we don’t have to be best buddies with everybody. We can also have partnerships, so agreements with people with whom we share interests, say to hedge against China, to form partnerships with them. So, the value of friends. Strength, friends, the unambiguous and articulated defense of things that are important to us. So, it is a kind of grace for America to be committed to articulate very clearly those things which we will defend unambiguously and to make those things known to our adversaries so that they have an understanding of what they must not touch. This is the right kind of sort of lists that you give your adversaries. Now there are certain things that they must not do, and they must recognize that we will punish them if they do. That’s realistic. That’s a value. That’s in our interests. And then I think he talks about just the value of ideas and that various nations can coalesce not simply around interests, but around shared aspirations, shared principles, these sorts of things. And that even if we partner with nations with whom we don’t necessarily share a lot of principles, maybe only interests in the moment, maybe we can push the bubble a little further down the road and help them cultivate principles and norms that are more in line with our own. So, I think Alan Dowd’s basic principle is sort of the Jim Mattis position, America should continually be a nation known to be a great friend and a terrible enemy. That’s in our interests, and that should be in accordance with our values. So, yeah, great article. A great argument for Christian Realism.
Tooley: Mark Melton, you interviewed our friend and George Washington University political scientist Sam Goldman, who is himself Jewish, not necessarily religious but has a profound understanding of America’s religious nature. And he has this fascinating new book on various stages and epochs of America’s self-understanding, reminding us that in America in terms of polarization and division, this is not a new phenomenon, but dates back to the very beginning. What did you and Sam discuss exactly?
Melton: Right. So, we talked about his book which I actually reviewed in National Review, and like you said, he talks about the different epochs or different ideas of what it means to be an American. He talks about covenantal nationalism, a crucible nationalism, and then a credal nationalism. And I think there’s probably others he could have talked about, but I feel like these are the main ones that can be positive visions of what America is, and also the ones that people might hear today. And so, reading this as a southerner, or someone from the South, was interesting because some of these ideas that I’ve heard since coming to DC seemed very distant to me. Like growing up in the South, I never heard about this whole covenantal idea. And so, it was interesting reading that it really came from New England, and actually the South, even going decades, not that long ago, rejected it. I think now they may kind of accept a certain vision of it, but mostly because of like a Christian idea. I don’t know if it would be a widespread idea, but most common where I’m from and what I’m used to is the credal idea. In other words, the idea that America is founded upon the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, republican government, separation of powers, all of these ideas of federalism. That’s kind of like the credal nationalism, and it really had its peak according to Goldman in the 1940s and ‘50s during the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, because we were fighting this global ideological battle. And since then on, the United States has basically been reverting back to its normal set of divisions. Again, coming from the South, it makes sense to me that America has a lot of divisions. It feels like in the South, we are, we were, constantly inundated with the idea that we are different from other people, from our accents to our ideas. And watching TV, that becomes very obvious. So, to me that’s like well, I just expect that to happen. And the interesting thing with this is that it can change going into the future as well. He doesn’t talk so much about it. He talks about his vision of America and it’s basically going to be very localized, very focused on your local communities and churches. He wants more federalism. He wants religious institutions and other associations to have more ability, more liberty, to do their own thing. And it seems to me like reading his book, I would forecast in the future, if America was to going into another war, and what I mean by that is like another massive war that requires mass mobilization, a draft, have to coerce people who don’t agree with the vision, then we could have like this strong common identity. But unless that happens, it seems like it is normal, and even natural, that a country that stretches across a continent that includes hundreds of millions of people from all these different backgrounds, they’re not going to all see eye to eye. And that’s the reason why federalism is important for America.
Tooley: Thank you, Mark Melton. And finally, Marc LiVecche, you knew and were acquainted with Don Rumsfeld through a program that his foundation administered. Share a few memories about the late Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under both Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.
LiVecche: It was a great privilege to be associated with him and with Joyce Rumsfeld and with the network of graduate fellows that they supported. When he left office, Donald Rumsfeld and his wife put together this foundation to support some of the things that they were grateful for in their own lives to see those things enhanced both here at home, but also abroad. And some of these things were things like free markets, strong militaries, militaries that are taken care of by those who they support. So, he funded organizations that supported wounded warriors, that helped veterans transition to civilian life, training and school, things like this. He also supported a team of graduate fellows, that is the network that I was a part of, and also Dan Strand who writes for us all the time. And the aspiration here was to support the graduate work of people who were going into positions of public service, who were going to intersect the academy with some of the things that we do here for instance at Providence. And he also supported about 10 different nations in greater Central Asia, helping develop free markets, helping develop leaders. This was always one of the ideas around which the Rumsfeld Foundation orbited, that strong, free nations require strong moral leadership, and that those types of leaders aren’t cultivated accidentally, it has to be very intentional. And so, he brought them together from all across the nation, all across the world and helped try to develop them. I’ll be writing something up that’ll be published later today, and the aspiration there is simply a little bit of personal reflection but also to push back against some of the sort of the cruel things that are always said it seems nowadays when people of high principal die. Somebody like Donald Rumsfeld is not going to go through nearly sixty years in public service without cultivating adversaries and enemies. And some of the vicious things that have been said about his passing, I’m not going to change anybody’s mind, but I’m going to push back against them. He notes somewhere in one of his memoirs that at one point in his life when he was about 80, he had lived for almost one-third the life of the United States, which points both to, as he said, his increased age, but also how simply young the nation is. What I find astonishing is that over his 88 years, Rumsfeld spent the vast majority of it in public service. He gave and he gave and he gave and he gave, and I understand that some people wish he gave less, but I hope to push against that narrative a little bit. His behavior on 9/11 when he could have taken shelter, but instead he ran out to the crash at the Pentagon and he helped pull people from the rubble. It was extraordinary. And then his support for US troops was extraordinary. So, I’ll tell some of the stories that surround that.
Tooley: Thank you, Marc LiVecche. We will look forward to your article on Don Rumsfeld. And thank you, Mark Melton and both of you for another episode of Marksism. Until next week, bye, bye, bye.