This week the editors discuss Eric Patterson’s article about boycotting the Olympics, Lubomir Martin Ondrasek’s article about Václav Havel, and a New York Times editorial presenting an integralist foreign policy. (For Klon Kitchen’s response in The Dispatch, which Melton cites, to the latter editorial, click here.)

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, covering three issues from this week. Two articles from Providence, one on the legacy and lessons for America of the Czechoslovak freedom leader Vaclav Havel by a writer named Lubomir Martin Ondrasek –

Marc LiVecche: Ondrasek!

Mark Tooley: – Who, I think, studied with Marc LiVecche, who knows how to pronounce his name, he can correct me; a piece by a regular contributor, Eric Patterson, on the moral and spiritual implications of the Winter Olympics in China, and finally, an article, not from Providence, but to which we will be responding, which appeared in The New York Times by, I’ll call them, integralist trio, Sohrab Ahmari, Gladden Pappin, and Patrick Deneen, advocating a new foreign policy perspective over and against the previous conservative consensus which they disdain as hawkish, wanting a more ‘restrained perspective’ that also calls for respecting China as a civilizational equal, interesting. But first, Vaclav Havel. Marc LiVecche, you’ve lived in Eastern Europe, I believe you know the author. Your thoughts. What can Vaclav Havel teach us today? Of course, he was the first president of a post-Soviet bloc Czechoslovakia, and I suppose left-of-center but obviously anti-Communist, and the author says he very much would oppose the challenges to American democracy today, both from the right and the left. What say you?

Marc LiVecche: Yeah, I think Lubomir was absolutely correct. Vaclav Havel was almost certainly a man of the left, but with a lot of conservative sensibilities. I think that simply occurs to one naturally when they’ve had to endure the Soviet Union for as long as he had. What can he teach modern-day America? You know, I don’t know that he would self-proclaim as a Christian realist, I think he had religious tendencies, I think he was a Christian. I don’t actually recall – Lubomir kick me for this, whether or not he was –

Mark Tooley: I think that he was not officially religious.

Marc LiVecche: I know that’s certainly the popular take. You read some of his stuff, you listen to some of his speeches, it gets occluded. But regardless, he was certainly a man who believed in at least one of the dispositions of the Christian realists, which is to call things by their proper name. Soviet propaganda was all about subterfuge, and letting names fall far away from the reality of the thing, and Havel believed, to the core of his being, that freedom begins with scrupulous honesty. And so, I think that’s one of the things that he would insist on, is that people can continue to call things by what they really are. And so, when you take that and you compare it to the woke agenda that Lubomir was speaking about, there’s an awful lot of things that Havel would have a problem with, in today’s sort of vapid, feckless, politically-correct society. He would insist that freedom begins with honesty, and we’re not seeing a whole lot of that, certainly on the progressive left, on the campus culture. And I think that those would be some of the things that Lubomir would be drilling down on in future articles, and I think Havel would be essential for helping us work through – politics of responsibility requires an accurate description of the things on the ground, before you can do anything else.

Mark Tooley: Of course, Havel’s address a joint session of Congress after he became President of Czechoslovakia, and he was seemingly a fan of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, a believer in the individual and the dignity of the individual, which certainly speaks to today’s preoccupations, whether it’s wokery on the left or tribalism on the right.

Marc LiVecche: Correct, yeah, absolutely.

Mark Tooley: Mark Melton, Eric Patterson’s piece on the Olympics understandably and rightly expressing concerns on how China is exploiting its status as host of the Olympics, recalling how you-know-who exploited the 1936 Olympics and of late, or more recently, recall, to some of us old enough, the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Olympics hosted by the Soviet Union. Eric Patterson, if I understand him correctly, does not think these Olympics should have been boycotted in the hopes that western athletes will strive to do well and to prevail and be a witness to western values in so doing, but he also advocates a very wary view of how China is going to exploit the Olympics and advocates that we strive to avoid subsidizing or encouraging corporate sponsors who seem, somehow, to align with China’s interests. He’s a little bit ambivalent on whether or not Americans should be watching the Olympics, but what are your thoughts, Mark Melton?

Mark Melton: Right, so, I mean, basically as you say he described, he is saying – I mean, he’s giving a good historical analysis of different types of boycotts that have been done in the Olympics, including against South Africa, I forget some of the other countries – well, people boycotted because, I think, South Africa was participating, if I remember that bit correctly. But, he gives, basically, different ways of how boycotts have occurred. Oh, and for clarification, when I said South Africa, I meant apartheid South Africa. But yeah, like you said, he kind of lands on this notion that the athletes should probably not boycott, that they should be an example, you know, kind of like Jesse Owens in Nazi Germany, when they hosted the Olympics, and to kind of override the narrative. I think some people disagree with that, I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter people commenting, not necessarily, I think, on this article, but some other content I’ve seen. But I mean, Eric Patterson is responding to a lot of this anger about the U.S. even participating in the Olympics, and I do wonder what the effectiveness would be of any boycott, if that could possibly backfire on the U.S. So, I think he makes a good point about, you know, at least showing up. We don’t need to send our official delegations over there. So, I think he makes some good arguments on this, and it was something that I had heard about, but hadn’t really thought through a whole lot. But yeah, like you said, he seems ambivalent about people watching. If I think I remember correctly, he basically says, like, we should consider – he gives an example of, I think it was another type of protest that someone was going to watch. Honestly, I haven’t watched the Olympics much, but that’s just because I haven’t, and would rather – I mean, I’m getting ready for the Super Bowl, that’s what I really care about what’s coming up, so.

Mark Tooley: Well, you certainly have your priorities, Mark Melton.

Mark Melton: Yes.

Mark Tooley: Well, and then, finally, this piece by the three integralist thinkers advocating a restrained U.S. foreign policy. I’m going to write a piece in response. Marc LiVecche, maybe you are as well. Hopefully others will. It seems to be mostly an echo of conventional pseudo-paleoconservative critique of American, allegedly neoconservative foreign policy, over the last thirty years. They want a, sort of, pullback from international commitments, they sort of fault the U.S. and NATO for provoking Russian anxieties via NATO expansion, they, by application, don’t want a strong U.S. stance with the Ukraine against Putin and although they do, sort of, affirm standing against Chinese international expansionism, they also are wary of confrontation, they want collaboration with China, and they want America to respect China as a civilizational equal, in their words, and instead they want America to focus on domestic concerns and interests, rebuilding our industrial capacity and, presumably, working on social concerns that are of special interest to integralists. So, I found their proposals not new or creative or not especially very interesting, but their, as I perceive it, soft attitude towards China, I think, comes from their overall very negative attitude towards America, which they view as decadent. That’s my thought. What say you, Marc LiVecche?

Marc LiVecche: Yeah, you would have to be pretty down on the United States to say that China, currently, is our civilizational equal. So, I mean, I knew that they were thinking that things were going badly here, and many of us do, but that takes it to a whole new – I was going to say levels, but more precisely, depths. It’s asinine, I think, to suggest that the United States, presently, is a civilizational equal with China. That’s overstated and incredibly unfortunate. So, that said, I largely agree with you. You know, I think it was full of rhetoric, but an essentially calorie-free essay on, kind of, their ongoing complaint. It was pretty short on concrete proposals. Not exactly sure how we’re supposed to retreat on China while continuing to pursue some other aspirations. I think any sort of, or I guess, I’m sorry, I sort of went to the punchline. They didn’t say retreat on China, they said restraint on China. But their prescription seems to be essentially “retreat,” because any other means of restraining China is going to be incredibly active. And, in fact, you could take the Olympic piece by Patterson and couple it with this, and some of their proposals might have been some of Eric’s proposals, which is “okay, we don’t necessarily need to militarily confront China unnecessarily or provoke them unnecessarily. But there’s a whole bevy of savvy foreign policy things that we could do, short of war. Let’s ostracize them to the degree that we are able. Let’s have the IOC get some grit and ban them from the Olympics until they stop some of their genocidal policy, etc. So, there’s all sorts of things one can do to avoid military confrontation to the best that we’re able. But I don’t think they would look quite like the way the authors would want them to look. Restraint can be a very active foreign policy. So, not really sure what they’re after. I think the situation’s a little bit more complex than restraint, or you know, what they called us, a crusader nation. I think there’s an awful lot of space in between, for a lot more intelligent foreign policy.

Mark Tooley: Do you think there are parallels between this perspective from the self-identified New Right and the old left in terms of their attitude towards America and the world stage?

Marc LiVecche: Yeah, and it seems to be, right? Yeah, it seems to be. Certainly, in the sense that, you know, “America’s imperialist ambitions,” you know, that we ought to be “inwardly focused,” “not seeking,” as they say, “Adams’ Monsters to Destroy.” You know, more of a retrenchment. So, nothing new.

Mark Tooley: Mark Melton, any thoughts on this integralist manifesto for American foreign policy?

Mark Melton: Yeah, I think your comment about the old left is, I think, apt. When I read it, I thought about Henry Wallace’s speech. Obviously, there are major differences there, but in 1946, Henry Wallace gave a speech that said the U.S. needed to stop this “get tough on Russia,” and basically, Henry Wallace was a former vice president under FDR, and then was replaced with Truman. He then runs again Truman, I think, in, what, 48, and loses spectacularly. And Truman still becomes president – wins the election. So anyway, I thought there were some kind of parallels there, it might be interesting to dive deeper into that, but I think kind of the root similarity, I think, between the two, is that they’re both aiming at domestic policies, where I think Henry Wallace wanted a left-wing, socialist, Communist agenda for America, and, you know, the New Right, you know, different tact, but their foreign policy is being driven by what they want domestically. And I think the problem with that goal is that sometimes, in the case of Henry Wallace, it depended upon what the Soviet Union was going to do, and that was not going to happen. So eventually, Henry Wallace came out and recanted and actually became a Republican voter later on, which is interesting, and an agricultural capitalist, and probably had much more impact on society doing that than he ever did in politics. But with the New Right, like LiVecche was saying, they try to set up this dichotomy of either you’re a crusader neo-con or you’re for restraint. And in the Dispatch, if I may pull the guy up here, Klon Kitchen, if I’m saying his name right. I think he had a really good takedown and analysis of where this New Right foreign policy agenda is trying to go, and how it’s already been kind of laid out. But there’s a lot of variety in foreign policy going on that they’re ignoring, and at the end of that article, he says, if basically restraint is just Obama’s pivot to Asia, or a variation of that, then that’s really not anything very new or interesting. But if it’s more than that, if it’s pulling back much further than that, then there’s going to be, I think, a lot of other problems if we completely retreat from the world.

Mark Tooley: Well, as I read this integralist manifesto from Sohrab, etc., I was recalling George McGovern’s theme in 1972 as he ran for President: “come home, America.” So, this idea of retrenchment and withdrawing from international responsibilities is persistent in American history, as is the so-called crusader mentality of spreading the light and fruit of democracy around the world. That tension will inevitably continue. Gentlemen and fellow editors and fellow Mark’s, thank you for this latest episode of Marksism. Until next week!  Bye-bye!