Book Discussion with Walter Russell Mead

Book Discussion with Walter Russell Mead

Opinio Juris is pleased to announced that in cooperation with the Council on Foreign Relations we will be sponsoring a book discussion with Walter Russell Mead about his new book, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World.

The book discussion will be held the week of February 4, and we wanted to announce it early to give our readers the opportunity to buy the book and participate in the discussion. In addition to Mead’s participation, we will have prominent guests as well as the participation of the permanent contributors.

God and Gold is currently a bestseller on the Foreign Affair’s Bestseller List. The book posits that Britain and America were singularly responsible for shaping the modern world, helping to create the liberal, democratic capitalist system whose economic and social influence continues to grow around the world.

The New York Times has a nice review of the book, which includes this choice summary:

[Mead] believes every age needs a “liberal empire” to control the world’s seas and make free trade possible. This was discovered by the United Provinces of the Netherlands four centuries ago, then by the United Kingdom — and now by the United States. Indeed, “the last 400 years of world history can be summed up in 10 letters. … The story of world power goes U.P. to U.K. to U.S.” Each of these “liberal” maritime empires defeated towering, glowering rivals. From the Spanish Armada to Soviet tanks, they prevailed for one reason: they adhered to an unwritten code that the author wryly terms “the Protocols of the Elders of Greenwich.” These are simple. Build an open society at home. Channel its dynamism outward, toward the global economy. Use the full force of the state to control the oceans, protect commerce and defeat illiberal adversaries abroad. Open the global system to others, even your enemies, if they agree to abide by the rules. Then the world’s waters — and markets — will be yours.


Please go buy the book and join us the week of February 4 for a lively discussion with Walter Russell Mead.

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Benjamin Davis
Benjamin Davis

I look forward to reading this book but I would think the French and the Spanish would demur from this vision. I suspect also the Chinese. It sounds so rosy – no slavery, no imperialism, no carving up of the New World and Africa. Just protecting commerce and defeating illiberal adversaries abroad. Amazing!

Best,

Ben

extevasleld

Make peace, not war!

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

The imperialist mania for control and possession, i.e., for an empire of any sort, ill-suits a true democracy in a world where the U.S. could and should lead by example. A “liberal empire” should be an oxymoron, as the quest for same betrays a lack of self-confidence in the integrity and viability–the universalization or generalization–of democratic values, principles, and ideals. That world history has, for whatever number of years, gone in a particular direction is no excuse to construct ideological apologies for maintaining that direction: this strikes me as Hegelian historicism gone amok. That it once was that way (e.g., ‘Each of these “liberal” maritime empires defeated towering, glowering rivals.’), and remains this way (i.e., ‘The story of world power goes U.P. to U.K. to U.S.’) does not amount to a compelling ethical and political argument that things should remain that way. Perhaps history needs to move in a new direction, take a different course, if we are to flourish and survive as a planet of human beings who, in the end, are not beholden to blood and soil, to geo-political borders that often lack rhyme or reason, to economic structures and values that trump non-economistic criteria for what constitutes… Read more »

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

Erratum: please place the closed parenthesis immmediately above after the word ‘politics’

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

I trust Professor Walter Russell Mead will forgive the mispelling of his name above: I suspect it was some sort of subversive Freudian slip (cf. ‘Russell Means,’ Oglala/Lakota Indian activist and first director of the American Indian Movement).

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

Incidentally, it is rather telling that, as the review notes, “Mead ends with a call for a rehabilitation of the thought of the late theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.” Niebuhr’s Protestant theology is utterly beholden to Luther’s political theology insofar as it sanctions a doctrine of double moral standards: one for the individual in her private life or intimate sphere, and another for the conventional political realm and collective conduct. As one of my former political science teachers explained, “prudentia politica or niti is held to be the charioteer of the other virtues, and adapts the natural law or dharma to raison d’etat or artha. Politics may be subordinated, but it must not become subservient, to morals.” In effect, this political theology necessitates, when not justifying, political policies and practices that an individualistic ethic (say, of Kantian provenance) “must always find embarrassing.” Indeed, I see this doctrine as putting us on that ethically slippery slope that leads to elaborate if not tortuous apologetics on behalf of “dirty hands” and in which, justice ultimately serves, after Thrasymachus, the interests of the stronger, that is, might comes to make right. The disturbing corrollary here is that “good governance” sometimes requires the sacrifice of moral… Read more »

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