There are methodological problems with what rules can be drawn from extraordinary cases. And perhaps more analysis of what the subordinates did or didThere are methodological problems with what rules can be drawn from extraordinary cases. And perhaps more analysis of what the subordinates did or didn't do would be more informative. It's also almost impossible to take this book out of its own unique context and wonder if it wasn't too motivated by regret over the Persian Gulf War and enthusiasm for the Iraq war when the generals saw it differently.
Despite all of that, it is fertile ground for meditations on command, expertise, and democracy which is an important thing for leaders and followers alike....more
This book is important because it's timely, but much of what it talks about is also timeless. NicholsWhich is more of a problem? Elitism or populism?
This book is important because it's timely, but much of what it talks about is also timeless. Nichols's central thesis is that we are in a unique time not because people resent experts—that's normal—but because expertise is actively dismissed and ignored.
Since I'm not an expert on the topic, I can't say whether this is unique to our point in time. But I don't think it matters if it's unique. If this is a problem now, it's not enough to just say "we've been through this before." Such statements are just excuses for failures to learn from history. Nichols believes that a sign of our times is that people have decided that facts are in the eye of the beholder and a google search is as good as a Ph.D.
Nichols picks some low-hanging fruit like the anti-vaccination movement. Science says the benefits, especially at the macro level, of vaccination are several orders of magnitude in excess of the risks and the only people to say otherwise are quacks, frauds, and other non-experts.
There are other similar medical or health like issues out there, like people who believe they can weigh 300 pounds and suffer no ill health effects.
But what about harder cases—and who are "experts?" Take the Iraq War for example. There was no expert consensus that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Let's assume for the sake of the argument that the presence of WMD was really the standard upon which the invasion was decided. Who were the experts? Our military? Our nuclear weapons experts? The President?
Until we can be clear *who* experts are and that they are in the right field, it's hard to be sure about this. There are lots of cases where there isn't a specific expert. And experts in a certain field may come up with conclusions that violate public policy. One example where we don't allow this is in civilian control of the military.
I think Nichols doesn't answer this question enough. I also think he dismisses concerns of "elitism." But he should be arguing for elitism. I think he is but doesn't quite want to admit it. His argument that people still want qualified pilots to fly their planes and be their doctors is certainly true.
With those caveats, his central thesis is valid and very important in this day and age. Without an agreed upon framework for making decisions, even within the bounds of public policy, we won't be able to make good decisions and the more people will be subjected to quackery.
I wonder if the story of the next several years won't be a remedy to this problem, but a way for those who choose to follow the real experts to—well—immunize themselves from the effects of those who don't. ...more
A lot of people are trying to understand the white working class, so this book couldn't have come at a better time. I'll talk about what I think aboutA lot of people are trying to understand the white working class, so this book couldn't have come at a better time. I'll talk about what I think about that exercise later on.
For now, I have to say that so much of this book resonated with me and yet so much was foreign. My background is a jumble, so I can relate to having one foot in one world and one in another. I can relate to the small town where a matriarch great-grandmother lived (in my case in the Ozarks and not the Appalachians) that—last time I was there 20 years ago—had lost its vigor. That's one side of my family. The other side landed on Ellis Island in the Depression.
I can relate to law school and not having the social capital to make the most out of it at first. But even in my very extended family, alcoholism, drugs, abuse, and deep poverty were the exception, not the rule. Those exceptions were almost all those who remained back in the small towns of the Ozarks. My family struggled for a while—enough for it to be character building—but we never fell into the cycle. Education was always #1 in my family.
Given that preface, I have to say that this book made me think very hard about a lot of the assumptions I've had. Before I go further, I will say I think Vance does a decent job of keeping his politics out of it. However, because it's a memoir and not a diary or a journal, everything he writes is colored by his current outlook, his whole life is viewed through the lens of now. Most of what he writes seems to square with your sort of standard issue conservatism.
But it's a great read. The people Vance tells us about are more compelling than many fictional characters. It's a better take on this story than Boyhood. Mamaw is my hero and my respect for Vance is deep. I can relate to him enough to realize I could have ended up like him both on the downside and the upside. That I got somewhere in between without the downside risk is something I can accept.
So, read the book for a great family memoir. But if you're reading it to gain insight into Homo Appalachianus here's what I think about that:
What's hard for me here is that almost nothing about me fits into those easy categories of liberal or conservative or even moderate. I'm pretty extremely small 'c' conservative in my life. I'm a white heterosexual male married to a while heterosexual woman. No tattoos or piercings. We have two kids. We've only been married once, to each other. I don't drink much. I almost never gamble—it makes me anxious. I have four degrees. No desire to sow any wild oats other than to hunt down some restaurant Anthony Bourdain visited in a country I haven't been to yet. I am an active member of a religious institution. I could go on.
Maybe conventional or generic is the word. But I've never really cared how conventional or generic other people are. A lot of times, in fact, this background produces socially liberal views. For example, I was for gay marriage from the moment I heard of its existence in the early 90s because I thought like any good small 'c' conservative that solid family relationships are the basis of a good life and everyone should have that and it would be good for everyone if others did. I thought that was good family values.
For Vance, his broken, fluctuating, addict extended family convinced him of a need for kids to have a stable figure in their life. I think he's right. He advances the notion that schools are given the impossible task of fixing kids who are broken at home. I think he's right. But he goes on to briefly argue that these schools laden with kids from broken homes are adequate. To me, this is output from his conservative worldview more than raw input that created it. I disagree with him that government can't really do anything to fix this. Surely there are better ways to deal with the drug problem, with addiction, and with family services. Surely there are ways to open higher education beyond just community colleges to second careers and retraining.
The challenge that educators face isn't making all of the broken people fixed. Even if some think that in their professional élan, it's wrong. The challenge is getting as many of the kids on the margin over the line. Those kids right in the middle or just to the left of the bell curve are the ones that with solid effort can be saved. And the more resources we put into schools, the more of those edge cases can be helped. No, we can't fix them all and we can't fix their home life but that's not the task.
In short: I think Vance drew the right lessons about the need for stable figures and the strengthening of the family but his notion that government can't help at all is his politics talking. Maybe my disagreement is mine talking too, but I can give examples of improvement if not a total cure. For one thing, look at how much less common smoking is than 30 years ago.
So how does all of this play into the social and political issues of the time?
First, not just hillbillies, but the larger white working class sees itself as a minority and votes and behaves accordingly. We can mock them for this feeling. We can point out that they have white privilege. But this just makes those feelings seem more correct to them. It didn't work. And there are some legitimate reasons for this perception. Anyone having anything at all to do with religion in this country is subject to ridicule. It's hard not to notice that most of the same people who make fun of you for your beliefs defend those Muslims of an outside group that appears to be our enemy and whose views on many liberal hot-button issues are exactly the opposite. It's hard not to notice that no matter how poor you are, you get told, hey, at least you're white, even though we're also told this is nothing to be proud of. This is a little dizzying sometimes even for me, and I'm "elite."
I'm not saying this seeming contradictions don't stem from more legitimate positions. I'm just saying this how they come across. And when you're set upon by people who appear to use up all of their resources for tolerance on other groups and a political system that has destroyed your way of life, it's not all that surprising that voting to blow it all up might seem like the thing to do. But it surprises people enough for so much ink to be spilled.
So, I suppose, the message to be gleaned from this book, much like What's The Matter With Kansas from over a decade ago, is that we ignore these people at our peril—but more importantly, at theirs. If we really think about it, this is the core of "it's the economy, stupid!" from Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign.
But I'm uneasy with all of these sociological field missions. How many articles have there been over the last year where the intrepid explorer, the Lawrence of Appalachia, travels to some trailer park to explain this group to us and why they, against everyone else's advice, won't vote for Jeb or Hillary.
As wrong as it is for working class whites to see themselves as a minority, it's wrong for us to treat them—or any other minority for that matter—as if they are some primitive tribe in the jungle doing things the same way they were done 50,000 years ago. These are folks with agency, capable of their own decision-making, worthy of respect as fellow humans. Political disagreements aren't some mental or genetic handicap. They are not a disease. There is no treatment, there is no conversion therapy to turn these people into liberals.
Democracy really is pretty simple. To get the most votes, you have to appeal to the most people who vote. In our country, at least, you can't make people vote, so you need the people who show up to give you the most votes. You can try to get new people to show up, but until they become habitual in doing so, it's folly to rely on them. And, you know, those new people have to exist in enough places to win electoral votes if you're running for president.
If you choose not to appeal to these people because you disagree with what they want, then don't try and find some magic elixir that will change their minds. If you want white working class votes, you might have to say and do things that middle class liberals don't like. Ah, but "they're voting against their own [economic] interests, you say!" Well, how many liberals refused to vote for a candidate in recent elections because they weren't liberal enough, even though this resulted in an even more conservative person winning? Many. Democracy isn't about what people should do if they think like you. It's about what they will actually do. If liberals want to "understand" these people in the sense of winning elections, then they simply need to appeal to what they want more. Pretty easy in theory. But I don't imagine we will tolerate a senate candidate in California field stripping his AR blindfolded anytime soon.
Given that I come from a background in part similar to Vance's, in part because I think people are people, and in part because I disagree with standard liberalism on enough issues to know it's not infallible, I also object to these field missions on the basis that they aren't reciprocated. Someone please show me an article from a Bible Belt church newsletter or a local NRA post trying to get into the mind of a San Francisco lesbian couple. Reconciliation is a two way street. ...more
The thesis is sound and relevant to our times. There are certainly cases where the constant "management" of crises has been bad. There are a few whereThe thesis is sound and relevant to our times. There are certainly cases where the constant "management" of crises has been bad. There are a few where "peace" has resulted in genocide where one side couldn't shoot back.
A few quibbles. The thesis of the chapter on the Versailles Treaty is muddled. On the one hand, the author is very critical of British policy in the interwar years and sympathetic to the French position of wanting to punish Germany. (Recent scholarship has conclusively proved that Germany provoked World War I fearing that it wouldn't be able to maintain its edge much past 1914.) But then it turns into a history of the appeasement policy. So was the problem that the Versailles Treaty was inadequate? that the Entente should have occupied Germany? or that the League of Nations should have enforced it?
It would seem to fit better with the thesis of the book that the Entente should have pressed for a stronger victory in 1918. There's some reason to think this might have been possible. The German feelers for an armistice were fueled by a French breakthrough on their southeastern flank and their inability to hold it off and the western front at the same time.
But here's the thing, and I think this reveals the flaw in the thesis of the book: the Entente's refusal to push forward and occupy Germany was no more a betrayal than the German government looking for the armistice. The Entente countries were exhausted and often on the brink of their own collapses. Indeed, Russia had collapsed. The UK and France had seen changes of government in the middle of the war. How do we know that the Entente had the ability to completely defeat Germany in 1918 or 1919?
The countries that were democracies—and this includes France and the UK—might have not been able to sustain a policy of occupation of Germany at the time. Their publics had no appetite for more war. Even the United States who suffered comparatively little in World War II tried very hard to stay out of the next war.
Policy makers are often constrained by what their publics can tolerate. This is part of the price of democracy. The problem with the alternative is that there's no constraint on launching wars, and they do in fact usually come from less than democratic regimes. Men like Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain, or even Kissinger, have to play with the hand their dealt.
Lewis makes a point of this in the Versailles chapter, showing that the German public (and Hitler) had conviction in their cause of rearmament and national unification. But didn't the Allies have a conviction as well that another disastrous war should be avoided? Why should it have been taken for granted that the British should fight for Austria? Lewis thinks an intervention at that point would have caused Hitler's downfall and avoided the entire larger war.
This is so much Monday-morning quarterbacking. It very well could have gone differently. Britain was far behind in rearmament also—if they suffered a defeat then what?
In the end, when the public accepted that Hitler had to be defeated, he was defeated. They had to be convinced.
To me this means that while we need to understand the value of real victory, we can't just tell the public "you need total victory" and expect them to endure long conflicts. They need to understand both the cause for the need to fight at the beginning and the reasons to persist.
A good short read with some strong insights into a global phenomenon.
In a nutshell, Judis traces populism origins in America and relates a number of pA good short read with some strong insights into a global phenomenon.
In a nutshell, Judis traces populism origins in America and relates a number of post Great Recession instances to these roots, distinguishing them from the normal left-right axis. Judis's argument is that these movements are a symptom of the breakdown of the "neoliberal" order that emerged in the 1970s in response to a number of shocks that undermined the Keynesian consensus of the immediate post-war period.
While showing that today's populist movements defy easy left/right definitions, he notes differences between left-wing-derived populism which pit the "people" versus the "establishment" and the right-wing-derived populisms that include the establishment's favoring of some out group as part of how they disregard the popular will.
These are all very interesting insights and I suspect as the next several years unfold, they will be put into sharper focus. There are a few problems with Judis's claims where I think he is putting the finger on the scale of the left-wing. For example, drawing a line from George Wallace to Perot to Trump on the base of their support dances very close to the edge of reducing everything back to a racial issue, which Judis, in a recent interview at Slate at least, seems to deny. Judis does point out that claims that the right-wing populists are "fascists" is merely rhetorical on the major basis that there is no imperial or expansionist motive in them; on the contrary, they are largely isolationist. More on this below.
Also, I think a deeper dig into American populism shows some essential traits that Judis says are only the most tenuous links. Garry Wills lays some of those traits out in A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government. Amateurism, authenticity, provincial, candid, traditional, populist, organic, and spontaneous are some of those traits. There opposite are associated with the "establishment" going back to the Revolutionary period. There's more of a link than Judis suspects.
But here are the major quibbles I have:
(1) It's not just the "neoliberal order" that is breaking down. I suspect that it's the entire post-WWII order that is in a process of decay as it rotates out of living memory and the lessons it taught become merely vicarious and not visceral. Economics explain a lot, but they do not explain how a major party candidate can have a cavalier attitude about NATO, for example. It's not just because we're paying for it. Indeed, the entire idea of a more isolationism means that the belief that the oceans separate us from the world's problems—something Pearl Harbor and 9/11 both seem to refute—has come back into fashion. When was the last time that the UN satisfyingly resolved an international crisis?
Judis spends a lot of time linking the "neoliberalism" imposed by the EU to the genesis of European populism and their morphing from right-wing to something different. (What do you call a politics that is OK with redistribution but only between people in the nation.... national...) But while he mentions the origins of the EU he neglects to connect the dots to it too being part of the Post-WWII order that only accidentally took on "neoliberal" features, the same as the IMF which initially did not impose "Washington Consensus" neoliberalism. The EU was not established as a Thatcherite union; instead it was meant to tie European countries so tightly together they could never engage in a destructive war again. The Eurozone has become less about neoliberalism and more about tight money.
(2) What is the "neoliberal" order? Judis identifies it with Thatcherism/Reaganism and Globalization (I think). But this term is so abused at this point, it's best to throw it out. If the Great Recession was the breakdown of anything, it was of unregulated liberalism. In reality, most arguments against "neoliberalism" amount to arguments against capitalism and trade, and most lefty arguments against trade are really arguments against capitalism. But it was capitalism in a modified form that drove the postwar boom too.
I tend to believe that the mother of the Great Recession was fraud. That's maybe a darker take on it, but it's not the capitalist system per se. It doesn't have to be that way.
As for the trade issue, Judis seems to take it for granted that it has been harmful. Even accepting for the sake of the argument that liberalized trade has hurt the United States, has it hurt the whole world? There are parts of the world that have less people living in poverty now, more stable governments on average now, and higher development indexes than they did before the "neoliberal" move of the 1970s.
(3) Left-wing groups also accuse the establishment of coddling certain groups. Perhaps the right-wing tends to argue that it's illegal immigrants or some other disadvantaged group, but it's a difference of the target, not the existence of a target. Left-wing populists believe the establishment coddles, variously, billionaires, defense contractors, oil companies, the police, Zionists, corporations, and so on. It's merely a question of politics who the out group is. This isn't to say that there's no value difference in whom you choose to blame for the world's problems. Some people deserve more blame than others. But it does mean that there is no scapegoat on the left.
(4) Unrealistic demands. Judis identifies populists as largely using unrealistic demands as a means of separating the people from the establishment and gives several examples including Trump's wall. But his inclusion of Bernie Sanders in this seems a bit misplaced. Sanders indeed ran on a platform that was unlikely to pass Congress, but unrealistic strikes me as a bit odd since many countries have most or all of his ideas, especially universal healthcare and free college.
I don't deny that Sanders's followers had a populist tinge to the manner in which they supported him, but I think there was a lot of that in Obama's 2008 campaign as well. Sanders would have been a conventional politician in the end, just a social democratic one.