30 Mar 2000


Carr, Kissinger, and the Rejection of Natural Right

More sales calls today, which went reasonably well. 

I did not get a chance to have lunch, however, until about 2:30 in the afternoon.   I took a recent copy of The National Interest with me to read over lunch.   Apparently, there is a new biography out on E.H. Carr, which was reviewed in the journal.  The review itself was not terribly noteworthy, and the biography does not sound noteworthy.  But Carr is an interesting case.  Some of the people at DSS considered Carr to be a great realist thinker.  But that's strange, when one considers that Carr's rejection of Wilsonian utopianism was largely because Carr thought history taught a different lesson, a progression towards socialism.  Wilsonian internationalism was flawed (was "unreal") because it was premised upon an idea of American utopianism, according to Carr, namely that the American ideal was universal and could be imposed by like-minded nations without regard to power arrangements.   

Now, it's interesting, because Carr's rejection of Wilsonian internationalism was largely on historicist grounds, one of the few cases where Wilson, himself an historicist, actually embraced what he thought was an objective truth (it turns out his "truth" WAS flawed because he did NOT consider international power arrangements properly, not, I would contend, because the principles of the American founding are flawed).

Ultimately, Carr must be rejected as a thinker because his historicism leads him to reject the possibility of natural right, and hence the entire possibility of the American regime (and, to an extent, the entire possibility of the Israeli regime!).  While Carr has fallen into disfavor in recent times, he really is not dissimilar intellectually to a much celebrated so-called realist, Henry Kissinger.  Ultimately, Kissinger is an historicist who rejected the possibility of an American renaissance because he thought history pointed inevitably toward socialism/authoritarianism, and that therefore the United States must negotiate the best preservation of the status quo power arrangement possible.  In this sense, Kissinger's realism might better be called pessimism (or something much worse!).  (Incidentally,  it is interesting to note how Kissinger downplays this notion of his in his later writings, now that he's turned out to be dead wrong -- I guess nobody bothers to read his early works or talk to other players in American foreign policy during Kissinger's early years these days).

One of these days, I need to write a paper (a book?) that refutes all historicist "realists" of the Carr/Kissinger ilk by elaborating on a notion of mine that has been percolating for a while, the idea of natural right as a source of national power.   That's a very deep topic that I'm only beginning to have read and thought enough about to start to flesh out.  There's so much more to be done that it won't be written anytime soon!

And on that note, I'll be away from journal writing for a few days for some R&R.

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  Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited