This week the editors discuss articles about the Olympics, integralism and post-liberalism, and Taiwan.

Rough Transcript

Mark Tooley:  Hello, this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence, A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow editors and fellow Mark’s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton reviewing three pieces from Providence this week, two by authors with the name of Patterson.  First, a piece on G.K. Chesterton and the upcoming Olympics in China by our contributor, Eric Patterson, and his collaborator, Abigail Lindner.  Secondly, an article by James Patterson from Ave Maria University, responding to Adrian Vermeule’s integralism.  And then, finally, a piece on Britain’s longstanding defense of Belgian neutrality and its contemporary relevance in terms of U.S. defense of Taiwan.  And that piece is by a new writer for Providence, named Connor Pfeiffer, if I am pronouncing that correctly.  But we’ll start with Eric Patterson and G.K. Chesterton.  We’re reviewing Chesterton’s attitude towards international competition in athletics and its relationship to patriotism.  And, somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, Chesterton argued against athletics as a fulcrum for patriotism, in that he did not think professional athletes were necessarily representative of the nation – they were a particular elite of themselves, just as they are today, persons of great dedication who sacrificed years and years towards their goal of going to the Olympics – so, how does that connect necessarily to the virtue and capacities of a nation?  Chesterton, and, I think, by extension, Patterson and Abigail are saying, “well, not necessarily, we can celebrate their accomplishments, but they don’t necessarily represent the country, the country and it’s virtues and capacities are flowing from a much deeper well that is spiritual in nature.”  But Marc LiVecche, what say you?

Marc LiVecche:  Yeah, good, great article, very interesting, timely, of course.  I found myself – I found myself discontented with brother Patterson, a little bit.  And I’m surprised by that because I don’t think he’s wrong, necessarily.  I mean, of course these athletes, in one sense, don’t represent us – they are the elite.  If you’ve met, at least, an American Olympian, they’re colossal human beings in so many different ways.  At the same time, I’ve got a couple of different complaints.  One is with the Chesterton idea that the Battle of Waterloo was not, in fact, won on the playing fields of Eton, but had to do with, you know, something deeply spiritual with the hordes of Englishmen who did the charging.  All of that’s true, and again, I don’t think Chesterton’s purely wrong on that.  But when you know something about the commanders at Waterloo, and where many of them got their training, you are left very impressed with the sense of the elite and what the elite were able to accomplish on behalf of the English people.  Now, you push forward to Trafalgar, Nelson did not go to Eton.  He joined the military, I think, when he was twelve or something, so it’s not a hard and fast rule that only the elite can do these elite things.  But there’s something to be said about it, and, I think, by extension something to be said about them being representatives.  I think it’s more than, simply, patriotic pride that occurs when I see in the Olympics American athletes victorious.  And frankly, especially when they’re victorious over the Russians, and victorious over the Cubans, or they’re victorious over the Chinese, right?  Is that jingoistic?  It might be, but about every four years, or every two years (I guess we’re on the two-year cycle), I should be allowed a little bit of jingoism, maybe.  I think there’s something that’s behind the aspirations of a nation that come out when we see our Olympians triumph.  There’s a part of us that wants to be able to say, “we can produce these.”  Right?  And all of that, in one sense, is foolish.  I had very little to do with producing any kind of an Olympian.  I might have a couple running around my home right now, but you know, we’ll have to see.  So that’s one thing, I think they do represent the aspirations of a nation, in a very tangible way.  The other thing I would add to this is I lived in Eastern Europe for twelve years, and I met more than one Eastern European who insisted that the first time that they realized that the Soviet Union would not last forever was 1980, when a bunch of American college kids beat the Soviet hockey machine.  And that was the first time they realized that the Soviet Union could go away someday.  And that pushes beyond sports as merely, you know, something trivial.  So, again, without saying Patterson’s wrong, I think he’s right, of course he’s right, especially when you find out a lot of these Olympians are just scoundrels of human beings, there’s still something – something else there.

Mark Tooley:  I tend to agree with you, Marc LiVecche, that the accomplishments of these athletes do, in some sense, reflect the spirit of the nation – the nation is, in some sense, collectively with them when they prevail in their athletics.  But, Mark Melton, do you have any thoughts before we move on?

Mark Melton:  Yeah, I actually – talking about the elites – I actually kind of agree, I think, with Patterson and Chesterton about – I see more of a divide between the elites and the masses who are fighting in those situations, like in the fields of Waterloo.  And, I don’t know if that’s coming from like, a certain background where, you know, coming from the deep South, I think there’s a distrust of certain American elites, or at least the ones from the urban centers.  And so, there might be like an ingrained part of that.  And also, living in Scotland, there is an ingrained hostility to English elites, and there is that divide there, so I think it’s interesting that Chesterton – you know, I’m believing he’s probably from that elite, but criticizing that elite culture and that elite assumption – I think it’s probably more accurate to say that there is a mixing – like you do have the officers who were there, but they also screwed up horribly in World War I, so you can’t take that away from – like, you know, they have had failures too.  And so, yeah, I think we have to be cautious about how much we think the elites are important because sometimes the elites want to go in one direction, and the rest of the country is like, “L.O.L., I am not doing that.” 

Marc LiVecche:  Hey, I’m an American.  The best dog breed is a mutt.  I don’t know what that has to do with anything, but there it is.

Mark Tooley:  Moving on to the other, James Patterson, a critic of Adrian Vermeule and of integralism, in particular in this article challenging Vermeule’s cosmology, or his vision of his brand of Catholic integralists’ commandeering American society through the managerial state, although a small minority, a very determined and dedicated small minority that he thinks will replicate the success of secular elites who have imposed their agenda, according to his narrative, on American society through their discipline and their focus.  James Patterson thinks that this cannot be replicated, in that secular elites had systems in place, already controlled institutions, that could reward and incentivize their devotees in ways that the integralists do not have.  So, the integralists may have dedication and focus, but they don’t have a system of rewards, and so he thinks this scenario is extremely unlikely.  What say you, Marc LiVecche?

Marc LiVecche:  Yeah, I’m interested in following this.  We’ve talked before on this – I think there’s room for critique, kind of, across the board.  I don’t think the integralists have it correct, but I appreciate a lot of their critique.  There’s something to be said – I do think they’re absolutely right when he talks about this, he calls it the futility trope, right?  You shouldn’t simply look at the project and say, “Oh, it’s going to fail out of hand, therefore, let’s not worry about it.”  You do have to recognize that, I think, Vermeule is right that the progressives will benefit if too many of the conservatives indulge in something like the futility trope.  They will benefit.  I think something else has to be said about the idea – and this is sort of a caution – if we think that the postliberal – and it’s intriguing to me that within the article, we understand its context, so it works – but within the article, he simply refers to the postliberals, with the assumption that we know he’s talking about those on the right.  But postliberals exist across the political spectrum, and that can’t be forgotten.  If a liberal is simply somebody, you know, the most basic definition of somebody who believes in liberty, then you can’t say that all our progressive interlocutors are liberals anymore.  A lot of them are exceedingly postliberal, and that has to be taken into account.  You know, liberty for many has become license, and that’s the kind of thing that a lot of the integralists are trying to push against.  It’s no longer simply, you know, what can be called a negative freedom, where we, you know, in a pluralistic society, we leave people as much alone as we can, so long as all of us can get along and, you know, positive law is not violated, and basic human dignity is not violated, and things like that.  Now we’re indulging increasingly in a kind of manic positive freedom, in which it’s not enough just to leave me be.  I have to be permitted, indulged, and even celebrated in my desire to be essentially autonomous and, you know, completely self-directed.  And that kind of postliberalism, when found on the left, is rightly viewed by many as a danger to the liberal project itself.  So, you’ve got these postliberals on both sides, trying to figure out what to do now that liberalism has seemingly, in many ways, failed.  And so, I want to see what the, you know, the different solutions on offer are.  I want a conservative mentality that recognizes that if we simply played by the liberal rules of old, we may find ourselves increasingly driven out of certain public spaces.  It’s not true that both sides of the political spectrum are interested in getting along.  There are some on both sides that would drive the other side out of public life, and neither of those options should be accepted.  So, where’s the via media?  Where do we find a way to address the weaknesses of liberalism, now that we, you know, live in a fairly thoroughly post-Christian society, without recourse to these kinds of machine politics that force at a state level a particular viewpoint over all others.  So, I think the critiques on multiple sides are valid.  I haven’t seen solutions that I’m incredibly comfortable with yet.  I don’t think Vermeule has it, but I don’t think he’s entirely wrong.  And so, I want to know more about that.

Mark Tooley:  And finally, Mark Melton, this piece by Connor Pfeiffer, if I’m pronouncing his name correctly, our new writer for Providence, drawing a comparison between America’s attitudes and protective interests towards Taiwan relative to Britain’s protective attitude towards Belgium.  He dates it to the early nineteenth century through World War I, though I would say, actually, de facto, it was much earlier.  And he says it was nearly catastrophic that Britain did not offer a firm guarantee to Belgium until just a few days before World War I, which incentivized the German violation of Belgian neutrality as they attempted to outflank the French in 1914, and therefore, he says, we should not continue our policy of strategic ambiguity with Taiwan.  But we it should be much more specific and declaring that the U.S. will protect Taiwan in the event of a mainland Chinese attack.  So, Mark Melton, your thoughts?

Mark Melton:  Right, so, yeah, I think it’s good that this article looks at the situation from a non-Cold War perspective because, you know, for Americans, it seems like international relations starts with World War I.  And, that’s because a lot of our institutions and writings – we start thinking about how we address these problems, and of course the Cold War has dominated our focus on China and our rivalry.  You know, even the terminology of “do we call this a cold war or not?” And I think on that question, you can even look at – I don’t think the Soviets called the Cold War “the Cold War,” I think they had a different term for it.  So, whatever you call this rivalry, there’s going to be challenges, and there should be lessons learned, not just from the past seventy-five years, but going back hundreds of years to see other parallels, and so in this one, he’s looking at Britain’s guarantee of neutrality for Belgium.  And for Britain, this entire region – it was very important that they were, you know, in this rivalry or conflict between Germany and France, it could be a highway between the different countries, and so, Britain, to balance the powers, wanted Belgian neutrality.  And, I think like this idea of guaranteeing or being very clear that Britain would defend Belgium – or would they not do that?  Were they squishy, or like ambiguous?  And applying that to Taiwan today is, you know, there can be some good lessons there.  And I think there’s also going to be some lessons from America’s war in Korea, where I believe, if I am not mistaken, we were ambiguous with whether we would defend the South Koreans from a North Korean attack.  And some say that ambiguity kind of led to the North thinking that they could get away with invasion.  And so, in that situation, the lesson is, well, be very firm with your statement that you will defend it.  I’m curious, I don’t know if there’s any historical examples where this ambiguity has led to peace.  Maybe some other writers could look at some historical example and see if there is anything there.  So yeah, I think it’s very important for us to look at non-Cold War examples, especially from the 1800s and Europe, because I think we’re heading towards a multi-power world, where the Cold War dynamic doesn’t – it’s a bipolar situation, so I don’t think it’s going to be the best paradigm for us as we think about China’s relations with the U.S.

Mark Tooley:  And of course, the longtime policy of strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan, although still officially in place, de facto is less and less ambiguous.

Mark Melton:  Yeah, I think we had an article earlier this year where I kind of made that point, where we’re kind of being ambiguous, but we’re kind of not.

Mark Tooley:  On that note, thank you, gentlemen and fellow Mark’s, for another episode of Marksism!  Until next week!  Bye-bye!